My piece in Huffington Post to mark promotion of Absolute Measures
By Humphrey Hawksley
Last year it was Libya. Today it’s Syria. 20 years ago Bosnia and the break-up of Yugoslavia was the focus of human suffering through civil war — and in between there’s been Iraq, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Liberia, Chechenya and many others that never reach our television screens.
None is yet finished business.
In each of these conflicts, amid rubble, grief, weapons and funerals, come moral and human choices. When citizen becomes pitted against regime, neighbour turns against neighbour; colleague against colleague, student against student; and family against family.
Sometimes there is little choice if, in Northern Ireland, you are born a Catholic or a Protestant; in Iraq a Shia or a Sunni; in Rwanda a Hutu or a Tutsi – and the other is more powerful and out to get you.
Even then, though, it takes a big decision. At what point does a soldier desert the Syrian regime to join the opposition and why? When does an Iraqi insurgent throw in his cause and back the government? How much injustice or just plain bullying does it take to rebel.
And what do they discover when they do?
How little they count, even under television floodlights; how quickly a comfortable life can forever scar; how anonymously death can come.
Essentially, the question is why do we fight?
My novel, Absolute Measures, traces a bright young antagonist through communities – in the Philippines, Sudan or Sri Lanka – wracked with a high sense of injustice. They believe the system, unfairly stacked against them, is stripping away their dignity, freedom and security. Ultimately their survival is under threat. Therefore, they have to lash out.
With Yasin Omer, we see how resentment moves towards anger, revenge and finally to an obsession with how to operate the weapon that will deliver defeat.
His ideal of what could be achieved becomes the logistics of what needs to be destroyed – detonators, explosive arcs, delivery systems.
Even now, in the non-fiction world, there is a continuing inability to detect resentment despite repetitive evidence from decades of its root cause and the knowledge that once war breaks out polarisation can last for generations.
Yasin believes he has no choice but to destroy the system that’s destroyed him. His twin sister, Samira, retains hope. Like millions caught up in the small, harsh wars of recent years, she is pitted against her own family. The twins are orphans. Their only love is for each other. Yet she had to stop him.
Humphrey Hawksley is the BBC’s former Philippines and Sri Lanka correspondent. Absolute Measures is published by Endeavour Press.