Category: Political/Social issues


(Trigger Warning for discussions of Torture)

This is the first post for “Torture Awareness Month”

J. M. Coetzee is a South African novelist who won the Nobel Prize in 2003 and was the first person to win the Man Booker Price twice. His most famous novels include “Disgrace”, “Life and Times of Michael K” and “In the Heart of the Country”. His works often deal with corruption, racial tensions, and violence. The work for which he is most well known lies probably with “Disgrace”, which a large swath of critics have praised for its complex depictions of a post-apartheid South Africa. However this is overlooking a slim volume, which one can maintain is Mr. Coetzee´s Magnum Opus, the insightful and unsettling “Waiting for the Barbarians” (published in 1980).

Mr. J. M. Coetzee

Mr. J. M. Coetzee

“Waiting for the Barbarians” tells a story of a Magistrate (he is never given a name outside of his title), who witnesses his community as it is torn apart and pieced together upside down by the arrival of a new malicious colonel. This new colonel has arrived to investigate the assumed threat of “the barbarians” who will/may invade the small haven. The Magistrate explains that the people in his village have all admitted to fearing the barbarians; afraid that they will come in the middle of a night, rape their daughters and set fire to their houses. The new colonel tortures a young boy with a knife, who due to the torture claims he knows of a group that was planning an attack. After the random interrogation the Magistrate is allowed to speak with the boy, whose body is maimed and crisscrossed with cuts. The magistrate is told that the boy was tortured with a knife (“a very small knife”, the guard claims) and the Magistrate asks the boy if he knows the full consequences of his “confession”, but the boy is understandably too frightened to answer. Whereupon a witch-hunt begins that leads to mass arrests, legal abuses and mass torture of the people of the community now under control and intimidation of the new colonel. The Magistrate tries to put a stop to the mistreatment of the people who are arrested, but never tried with actual crimes, which only leads to his imprisonment under the new regime justified in their fears of the coming Barbarians.

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These “fears” of the novel, convicted by those in power and foisted onto the populace, notably are the fears that historically have been used in propaganda to demonize the other for many a century and over many a land. “The other”, many times, may it be a different race, religious group or nation, has been posited as a threat to the sanity of members world and worldview. The Other is out too hurt and destroy “us” in these clichéd manners such as “set fire to our houses” or “rape our women”. (These demonizations also helped to cover up when people inside a certain group commits atrocities, for example the myth of black men raping white women in the US helped many white men to get away with rape, while killing many falsely accused black men). In short, it is well known that every nation has at some time feared those fears which the Magistrate describes in the content of the novel.

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In “Waiting for the Barbarians” the country or people the story tells about are never specified. Indeed the book seems to not be about any real country, but a completely fictional one. There are no dates and the years in which the events take place are absent. Furthermore, the identity of the barbarians whom people fear and the cause of the panic are never explained. These elements are what make “Waiting for The Barbarians” a masterpiece that it is, since it exposes a fundamental truth about humans and morality: that fear, if misguided, will create opportunities for powerful men to get away with grand injustices. Many critics saw parallels to the Apartheid in “Waiting for the Barbarians”; some other saw parallels to American politics post 9/11. Such scenarios which are displayed in “Waiting For the Barbarians” have unfortunately happened repeatedly and to this day people are still being tortured and killed due to the inclinations of such hateful propaganda and the vague ideologies which motivate fears of the “outside”. The message from “Waiting for the Barbarians” is important and sadly still relevant.

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While The Magistrate is the narrator, the novel still provides point of views from the people accused of being, or being “in league” with, the barbarians. One of the most memorable examples is a woman the Magistrate rescues from begging. She is nearly blind after an incident which occurred when she and her father were suspected, without any proof, of being threats. Her father was beaten. To make him feel powerless, hot iron was nearly put against the woman’s eyes; while not burning her, it severely damaged her eye-sight. The interrogators/torturers had held the iron near her eyes for a while, threatening her father that they would blind her. The Magistrate even comments that he can even see that her eyes do not resemble common eyes. The girl explains that her father became very quiet and didn’t move much after this incident during his torture and afterwards he just stared down at the floor avoiding any and all eye contact with her. He later died, leaving her by herself. She soon after found herself tossed into the streets now being seen as tainted by the mark of the Other. The Magistrate later elaborates on this incident. He suggests that the reason that the father died was that he could not stand the fact that he had failed to protect his daughter. The Magistrate puts himself in the father’s position, and concludes that such a situation was so horrid, the idea of having to just watch as one’s child is being tortured and being helpless to do anything is such a nightmare, that it is “no wonder he wanted to die”.

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According to the Swedish section of the Red Cross (who, among other things, specialize in rehabilitation of torture survivors and spreading awareness about mistreatment of civilians) this form of torture, hurting someone else to make the other one feel shame and fear, is found to be a largely typical form of torture. At times it’s a friend or a family member that is threatened harm, or actually hurt in front of the actual focus of the torture. While the girl in “Waiting for the Barbarians” is not a minor, the idea of one’s child being tortured is unfortunately not as unlikely as one could wish. According to one of the studies made by Amnesty International, children have been flogged in secret Syrian prisons. Torture of children has also occurred in Turkey (around the early 2000), as well as in Bahrain. Coetzee in this scene not only illustrates a realistic torture scene, but also invokes an important emotion through the Magistrates narration: Empathy for the victim. When the girl tells her and her father’s story, the Magistrate feels the pain in her memories. That pain is so great that it kills her father. That injustice is so harsh that doesn’t end after the interrogation. It stays and affects the girl’s life even after she is let out of the prison.

"Interrigation II", by Golub

“Interrogation II”, by Golub

The Magistrates empathy doesn’t end at the girl. When he gets to the main courts holding area, where the so-accused barbarians are kept, he witnesses a whipping. A child who is witnessing the public torture is asked to whip the prisoner in order that he can learn how to do so “correctly”. The Magistrate, reaching the limits of his own apathy, and runs up to stop the child become part of the horrid scenario as he knows that what is happening is that the child is being taught to not feel empathy, he is being taught to inflict pain without recognizing the prisoner as a fellow person. This corruption of the child, of planting a new generation of fearers and torturers, is too much.

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Painting by Vann Nath

The corrupt idea of torture is completely deconstructed in the novel “Waiting for the Barbarians”. There are few novels similar to it (if there are any novels like this at all). Not only is torture shown as a misguided way to get proper information (the young boy tortured at the novels beginning lies to put an end to his ill-treatment) but it also shows how anyone in the midst of aimless fears, empty empathy, and the discounting of the humanity of others, can become all too easily the dismissed of society and the subject of torture. “Waiting for the Barbarians” makes the reader feel the pain that the victims go through, makes the reader feel empathy for those who have been stripped of their humanity and being in torture, and bares the ideological corruption which motivates individuals and societies to embrace the sightless horror of torture. This delving into the aspects of disenfranchisement and torture, both social and as individual, is essential for us to confront as often in media news torture is separated strongly from the viewer making the torture actions seem only to be “enhanced interrogation”, or in fiction media which uses torture mainly for a prop device as a way to add excitement and to keep audience’s attention (and which also separates the viewer from the actualities of torture, see Especially American televisions 24, Warehouse 13, Homeland to name a few).

Painting by Vann Nath

Painting by Vann Nath

In this novel Mr. Coetzee demonstrates what torture actually is: it is the degradation of a human being, either causing death or at any rate causing lifelong emotional and physical scars.

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Image from Philip Glass´Opera adaption of “Waiting For The Barbarians” from 2005

“Waiting for the Barbarians” is bold in its call for empathy and humanization of torture survivors/victims. It is a challenge to see the diseased mentality of hate, and what such mentality can lead to. In its use of the imaginary lands it creates a truly universal story. For anyone who is interested in reading a more humanizing, realistic and ultimately compassionate look at people who are subjected to torture, this book is will not disappoint.

My dear Fellow Humans,

Yesterday was the International day for “Support Torture Survivors”; worldwide there were demonstrations, lectures and campaigns to help those who have faced torture and to bring an end to torture itself. For this purpose, I have decided to dedicate the remains of June and the most of July to speaking of the different depictions of Torture in Media. There will be book reviews, discussions of films, and perhaps discussions of televison shows. Most post will try and discuss media that centers on survivors stories and experiences. In about a week theere will be the first of post in this series, which will end 26-27th June.

But for now, just this video and one link:

(This Video is of Darrell Cannon, a man who was tortured by the Chicago police. He is one of 100 men and women of color who have been through the same injusice. To help them get reparations, click here!)

Take Care/ Maaretta

So, here´s some articles worth looking at on this subject, ending with two quotes from Jung Chang, the chinese-born writer of “Wild Swans”.

Here´s an informal essay of activist who are persecuted for trying to bring attention to the aftermath of the massacre. (If it looks blank, just scroll down.)

Go here to watch the famous incident of the brave tankman.

Sophia Richardson says: “China, the world remembers Tiananmen Square Massacfre”.

Ma Jian, the chinese author of “Stick out your tongue”, writes about his personal account on the Massacre.

Chinese Activist Hu Jia also recalls his personal experience at the Massacre.

“The tanks and the people”, another essay from a chinese writer, Liao Yiwu. He´s in exile and currently lives in Germany.

“I think because of their terrible past, particularly this century, the Chinese have come to accept cruelty more than many other people, which is something I feel very unhappy about” – Jung Chang

“What has marked Chinese society is its level of cruelty, not just revolutions and wars. We ought to reject it totally, otherwise in another upheaval there will be further cruelty” – Jung Chang

It has been 25 years, and still the slaughtered students haven´t been recognized by the chinese government nor have the massacres survivors and families gotten justice. Let´s speak up of this injustice!

Take care/ Maaretta

Hello and Happy International Women´s Day! To celebrate, this blog will feature various articles and reports about Womens´s struggles for justice and equality, for respect and freedom. Enjoy and become aware!

Firstly, it is time for us as a society to not be friends with rapist.

Buzzfeed has a collection of animated depictions of society´s most beloved couples, where such characters as Marge Simpson and Wonderwoman are vitims of Domestic Abuse. Chilling and powerful. Serious Trigger Warning!

How US Politics contribute to the the epidemic portions of gendered violence in Mexico.

The Aftermatch of the Rwandan genocide, from the Rwandan´s womens perspective.

The horrific situation when millions of women worldwide are denied abortions.


The dangers women face when religious beliefs dominate hospitals.

One brave Afghan woman´s film about rape.

Two takes on Jared Leto´s role in “Dallas Buyers Club”.

What does the recent election in Honduras mean for the countires women?

A factsheet about the almost forgotten Comfort Women.

Amnesty Internationals campaign for Reproductive rights and justice.

Seeking justice for the thousands of murdered Indigenous Canadian women.

A factsheet of Chinese activist Cao Shunli.

Black women and the burden of HIV.

15 facts on sex, pregnancy and violence.

In Nepal, widespread gender discrimination has lead to a crisis in sexual and reproductive rights.

(In Swedish, use google translations). Poor women don´t get access to women´s clinics.

(In Swedish, use google tranlsation). Same situation in Burkina Faso.

(In Finnish, use google translation). Everyone must have the right to decide themselves what their genderidentification is.

Take Action! Sign this petition to prevent a new law in Mocambique which gives rapist the right to marry their victims instead of facing jail.

Take Action! Help a Guatemalan mother find justice for her daughter, who was brutally raped and killed.


In China, single motherhood and having children outside of weddinglock are the final taboo.

A crisis for women´s sexual rights in Poland.


In China, a activist protesting child rape was made homeless by the authorities.

India´s period problem.

How landgrabs in Kenya hurt the Sengwer women (an Indeginous people in Kenya).

There is still hope for Arab feminism!

The scars of the Iraq war lead to depression and drug abuse in Iraqi women.

Breaking the silence of Domestic abuse in the palestian communities.

Israel admitted to forced birth controll and sterilazation of Ethiopian women refugees.

Breaking the silence on violence against Indeginous women, adolescents and children.


Peru will reopen the cause of forced sterilizations, subjected to thousands of Indeginous women.

Top five issues which is killing of Native Americans.

A mother was charged with fellony since she heloed her daughter to get access to an illegal abortion pills online.


19 things women writers are sick of hearing.

Some articles on the Woody Allen controversy: An former lawyer who worked on many child molestian causes explains of how despite not being convicted, it doesn´t mean Allen isn´t guilty. Another piece shows the 1993 papers from the trial, showing he infact wasn´t found completely innocent. Vanity Fair spells out 10 facts about the cause. And finally, a piece on how bizarre it is that Mia Farrow is always accused of brainwashing and Woody Allen isn´t.

One-third of European women suffer from either sexual or physical abuse.

Take Care/ Maaretta

Hi everyone!

Febuary Is Black History Month in the US. To celebrate its last days, here´s some links to check out!

Here´s a good collection of Important, early black feminist.


Top ten black inventors you should know.

A map where slavery still exists.

The myth of the black superwoman, revisited.

Also, sadly, Harold Ramis died today at the age of 69. Rest In Piece, Mr. Ramis.

Today is Martin Luther King Day!In honor of this day when we celebrate this great man, it should be reminded that the struggle wasn’t easy for Dr. King. In fact, the FBI tried to blackmail Dr. King into killing himself.

4 ways Martin Luther King was even more radical than one first thought. For instance, he denounced the Vietnam War and supported reproductive rights.

Go read and listen to Dr. Kings’ Nobel Peace Prize speech here.

The Great Angela Davis on Martin Luther King.

Scot Nakagawa over at Colorlines: “My debt to Dr. King”.

Take Care/ Maaretta

Hello Everyone!

It has been a long time. I apologize for so few post in the two recent moths. Right now I’m pretty caught up with my studies, so it will still be about a week until my next post.

But no worries! I have lots of plans for this blog, including a post on a “Bob’s Burger” episode, thoughts on various graphic novels and discussions on films and books!

But for now, check out these links!:

This month is “Stalking Awareness Month”. Stalking is a form of abuse which should be talked about and discussed more often, especially since now a days when a common trope in popular culture is “Stalking is love”, creating a romanticized image of this form of violence. Go here for facts about stalking and how it is linked to other forms of abuse and violence. And here for one simple thing you can do for this moth.

At Racilicious Latoya Peterson featured a video on the African-American culture and atheism.

Best Regards, Maaretta

Hello everyone,
A lot has happened. So, a lot has been written and talked about. Here’s a short guide to some recommended post.

Kelsey Wallace over at “Bitch Media” wrote about the ten douchiest reactions to the Sandy Hook Tragedy.

Ann Somerville wrote about Gun Controll.

The author Vijay Prashad wrote about the deaths of children that don’t make news.

Rebecca Carroll viciously attacked Quentin Tarantino’s newest film, “Django Unchained” and rightfully so.

Nuala Cabral, a feminist activist, wrote an open letter to Universal Music Group’s corporation CEO Lucien Grainge regarding the music corporations constant exploitation of women of color.

On the same note, click here to watch a video where women of color tell the rapper 2 Chainz what they want for their birthday (in response to his hit single, “Birthday Song”).

If you haven’t or have heard of 2 Chainz and his single “Birthday Song, check out the Rap Critics deliciously funny review of his hit single.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Best Regards, Maaretta

Over at the BBC, journalist Paul Mason interviewed three contemporary Chinese writers whose works have been censured in many different ways. The authors gave thoughtful insights on Chinese politics and culture as well as their own situation as writers.
Worth watching!

I can’t feature the clip anymore on my blog, so go here to watch it.

Hello everyone!
Today, as the title of this short post states, is PEN’s “Day of the imprisoned writer”. The idea of this day is to bring awareness of some authors and journalist that have been imprisoned due to the context of their essays, poems or prose. It’s also crucial to point out how much work is still unfinished in the battle against political censorship and for everyone’s right to freedom of speech and press. At PEN’s official site, they highlight some interesting journalist and authors in prison because of their work. Go here to read about them.

Best Wishes, Maaretta

a logo used by PEN

The Atlantic wrote about how we’re less likely to recognize depression in men.

A study was made about what happens when women get denied abortions.