Friday, March 19, 2010

An Imperfect Offering from me to you

another book that you absolutely must read (well, if you are in to this kind of stuff, that is) is An Imperfect Offering by Dr James Orbinski.  again, like many of the books i read, it explores the challenges of humanitarian assistance during a violent conflict.  which, coincidentally was also the name of the masters degree that i finished a few years ago.

this book is not always easy to read, it is haunting, it is disturbing, and it left me with a lot  more questions than it answered, but i think that that is the nature of humanitarian or development work and Orbinski was honest, modest, and sincere in the telling of his personal story, which includes a career as a doctor, time spent as the director of Medecins Sans Frontieres, and many missions to countries in the tight grasp of war and violence.

like i said, it certainly doesn't give the answers to the questions of how best to implement humanitarian response activities, but it does provide insight into providing basic health care to those affected by war.  i'd be lying if i didn't say that this book made me wish that i was doctor because that seems like it could be more simple than what i do know how to do and this isn't the first time i have thought that.

i can never imagine being in the position that Orbinski was in to decide whether or not to go against organisational philosophy and principles (msf has historically refused to engage in the 'political' aspects of conflict) and speak out against government action (and indeed, inaction) and make bold statements about why the situation in rwanda, somalia, kosovo, afghanistan, and the drc is the way it is.  he chose to point msf's finger at the actors that could change things, if they so wished.  often, these actors are foreign governments and in reading his accounts of each of the above regions, i began to understand even further the complexities of humanitarians' involvement in a conflict.

the book could have easily gone the direction of Lloyd Axworthy's concept of The Responsibility to Protect, which i was a wholehearted follower of years ago (but my faith in this concept is no longer as strong as it once was) and will never become a reality, but Orbinski never gets overly idealistic and keeps the dialogue in his book based on the real challenges and potential impossibility of having one 'right answer' to its many questions.

the book's title, An Imperfect Offering, comes from a Leonard Cohen lyric and it couldn't be better suited for the realities and complexities of its content.

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