A Fall Full of Ideas

Let us not reach the end of Friday without a report from our world–skies are cloudy and grey outside, but inside the J we all hunker down and continue to process big ideas, important thoughts, and the most essential of histories.

Shirley here, trying to avoid the grey, focusing on the big stuff.

The big stuff, like GENOCIDE. Last Sunday’s panel once again brought together a superstar group of passionate experts to address our panel topic: Responding to Genocide: The US, the UN, and the International Community. In an ironically appropriate stroke, our conversation took place on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht–the overnight program that served as a prequel to the Holocaust.

Iain Guest, Executive Director of the Advocacy Project, who conducted missions to Rwanda and Bosnia for the UN, USAID and UNHCR launched the talk with a reaction that we’ve now heard several times–that HONEY BROWN EYES successfully and uniquely portrays the “common nature of conflict“. This is not about nations battling nations, this is about neighbor battling neighbor, and it’s an accurate portrayal of this war. On the subject of genocide, both in the context of this conflict and in other instances around the world he noted, “Why is it that we are so incapable of understanding or anticipating these events?” and more, why does it take us so long to get involved. The conflict in Bosnia started in 1992. It wasn’t until 1995, after the massacre at Srebrenica, that the world got involved. “It’s astonishing–three years for the international community to step in!

Our representative Bosnian, Edib Korkut, went one further in his admonishment of the world’s reaction to Bosnia. Edib was in medical school in the United States when the war broke out. As a result, he was not able to return home. He observed that “while people individually (Americans) responded well (to the issue)–they were concerned, interested, asking questions; but the organizations and institutions that should have stepped in failed miserably“. He drew parallels to our government’s ineffectual handling of New Orleans during Katrina–ironically Edib now works in a hospital in Louisiana though he calls Bethesda home–seemingly moving from from disaster zone to disaster zone. He reminded us also that the road is still long and rocky for Bosnian Muslims in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina, as there are still instances of bigotry and oppression happening there with alarming frequency.

Our panel was rounded out by Israeli playwright and peace activist Motti Lerner–a strong and passionate voice which we are thrilled to bring to life on the stages of Theater J, and by Kathryn Wichmann–joining us again after her appearance on the Catonsville 9 panel–from the United Nations Association. Kathryn and Motti both spoke of this question of how seemingly “good” people can do awful things. “A normal person becoming a murderer,” asked Motti “how does it happen?” Kate spoke of her work dealing with cases of torture, explaining that, “(To say) ‘I could never do that’–is extremely dangerous talk“.

So what DO we do? The panel stressed the power of the individual. The power to resist the dehumanization that has throughout history been encouraged by corrupt governments and despotic leaders. The power not to see someone who is different than you as the “other” simply because you are being encouraged to do so (indeed, we saw some of this in the partisan wranglings of our own recent election). To encourage the establishment of a war tribunal that can and will bring war criminals to justice. To demand that we know the truth about what is happening around the world and in our own country. And–as Motti passionately reminded us–as artists to produce theater that challenges, reveals, and provokes by asking the important questions.

Which brings us to Monday night and our third and final ETHICS AND WAR reading: the latest draft of Motti Lerner’s BENEDICTUS. The play is a the product of a unique collaboration of Israeli, Iranian and American artists, realized in an uber-political and timely story about diplomacy, identity, and loyalty. The most excellent Daniella Topol was down to direct what shaped up to be an engaging telling of this story. The audience had a lot to say; writer and director team have a lot to think about; as an exercise in new play development with the political examination as icing on the cake–it was a hugely successful evening.

And so our reading series is wrapped up in all the best ways; our country readies itself to welcome in a new president and a new age; and we continue to create and work and talk about the big stuff.

Join us again this Sunday at 3pm for: Being Bosnian–Identity, Memory and the Trial of Radovan Karadzic with this superstar lineup:

Ambassador Robert William Farrand: At the time of his formal retirement in 1998, Ambassador Farrand was a member of the Senior Foreign Service of the United States with the rank of Minister-Counselor. Farrand’s final Foreign Service assignment was as supervisor of the Bosnian municipality of Brcko and, concurrently, as Deputy High Representative for the northern sector of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1997 to 2000). Farrand earned a bachelor’s degree in economics at Mount St. Mary’s College in Maryland and a Master’s degree in economics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the National War College (1981). He was an officer in the U.S. Navy from 1957-1964, with three years sea duty and three years as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Farrand joined the Department of State in 1964 and, following language training, was posted to the U.S. Embassy, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Prague from 1883-1885, and prior to that as Deputy Director of the State Department’s Office of Eastern European and Yugoslav Affairs. He was Officer-in-Charge of Bilateral Affairs on the Soviet desk, 1978-1980; and Director of the U.S. Commercial Office in Moscow (1976-1978). Before that he was Chief of the Economic/Commercial Section in Embassy Prague (1973-1976); Commodities Officer in the then-Bureau of Economic Affairs (1970-1973); and Chief of the Consular Section in Embassy Moscow, 1968-1970. Following retirement from the Foreign Service, Ambassador Farrand has become a consultant to the U.S. Army participating as senior civilian role-player in military readiness exercises preparing army units for deployment to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, and Bosnia.

Jonathan S. Landay is the senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, and has written about foreign affairs and U.S. defense, intelligence and foreign policies for more than 20 years. From 1985-94, he was a foreign correspondent covering South Asia and former Yugoslavia for United Press International and then the Christian Science Monitor. He moved to Washington in December 1994 to cover defense and foreign affairs for the Christian Science Monitor. In October 1999, he joined Knight Ridder, which was purchased in 2006 by McClatchy Newspapers, the nation’s third largest chain. Landay has spent much of his career on the ground chronicling ethnic, religious and political conflicts in Asia, the Middle East and the Balkans. He covered the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre in Beijing, the wars of former Yugoslavia, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the 2001 U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan, and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. He was a co-recipient of the 2003 Raymond Clapper Memorial Award, the highest award for Washington journalism, for disclosing the Bush administration’s use of bogus and exaggerated intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq. In 2005, he was part of a team that won a National Headliners Award for “How the Bush Administration Went to War in Iraq.” He also won a 2005 Award of Distinction from the Medill School of Journalism and Georgetown University’s 2007 Weintal Prize for Diplomatic Reporting Special Citation. Landay’s reporting on the Bush administration’s misuse of intelligence in the run up to the Iraq invasion was the subject of “Buying The War,” a documentary by Bill Moyers that premiered on PBS in April 2007.

Tarik Bilalbegovic acts as Vice President for the Bosniak American Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BAACBH), an organization which advocates for the interests and goals of Bosnian Americans here in Washington DC. He was born in 1974 in Banjaluka, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Mr. Bilalbegovic received his B.A. degree in Political Science from Grinnell College, Iowa; his M.A. degree in International Economics and Conflict Management from Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University; and he is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at the George Mason University. Mr. Bilalbegovic works as an Assistant Vice President for the East-West Financial Services, a boutique investment banking firm specializing in project finance in emerging markets.
Marshall J. Breger is a professor of law at the Columbus School of Law, The Catholic University of America. During the Bush Administration he served as Solicitor of Labor, the chief lawyer of the Labor Department with a staff of over 800. From 1985-91 Breger was chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States, an independent federal agency. During 1987-89 he also served as alternate delegate of the U.S. to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Breger is a contributing columnist to Moment magazine. He writes and speaks regularly on legal issues and has published over 25 law review articles in various publications. His subjects include alternate dispute resolution (ADR), administrative law, labor law and international law. He is the author and/or editor of several books and journals about Israel and Jewish Issues. He is Vice-President of the Jewish Policy Center, a Jewish conservative think-tank. Professor Breger holds a B.A. and M.A., 1967, from University of Pennsylvania, a B.Phil., 1970, from Oriel College, Oxford University; and a J.D., magna cum laude 1973, from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he was an editor of the law review and a member of the Order of the Coif.

Tom Gjelten covers intelligence and other national security issues for NPR News. He brings to that assignment many years covering international news from posts in Washington and around the world. With other NPR correspondents, Gjelten described the transitions to democracy and capitalism in Eastern Europe and the breakup of the Soviet Union. His reporting from Sarajevo from 1992 to 1994 was the basis for his book Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper Under Siege, praised by the New York Times as “a chilling portrayal of a city’s slow murder” and selected by the American Library Association as a “Notable Nonfiction Book” He is also the author of Professionalism in War Reporting: A Correspondent’s View and a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know. Gjelten’s overseas reporting experience includes stints in Mexico City as NPR’s Latin America correspondent from 1986 to 1990 and in Berlin as Central Europe correspondent from 1990 to 1994. During those years, he covered the wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Colombia, as well as the Gulf War of 1990-1991 and the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. Since joining NPR in 1982 as labor and education reporter, Gjelten has won numerous awards for his work. His 1992 series “From Marx to Markets,” documenting the transition to market economics in Eastern Europe, won an Overseas Press Club award for “Best Business or Economic Reporting in Radio or TV.” His coverage of the wars in the former Yugoslavia earned Gjelten the Overseas Press Club’s Lowell Thomas Award, a George Polk Award and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. In addition to reporting for NPR, Gjelten is a regular panelist on the PBS program Washington Week. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, he began his professional career as a public school teacher and a freelance writer.