Reflections on Violence

Violence All Around by John Sifton is a thoughtful, well-written book that is made stronger through Sifton's personal anecdotes, as well as his own research into the history of violence.

Sifton is an experienced human rights lawyer and researcher who has spent a significant portion of his career at Human Rights Watch (HRW), where he currently works as the Asia Advocacy Director. The book is largely based upon Sifton's work at HRW since September 11, 2001. As he notes in the preface:

This is a book about how I first started to look more closely at a human phenomenon - violence - that lies near the heart of almost everything I witnessed after September 11. In my work in the years after 2001, investigating war crimes, crimes against humanity, terrorism, torture, bombings, and the chaos of lawlessness, the unifying topic was violence. Ultimately, I found myself reflecting on violence itself - what it is, what it does, and how we think and speak about it.

Though the text itself is less than three-hundred pages long, this is a wide-ranging, ambitious work that examines the notion of violence from a panoply of angles. Over the past decade and a half, Sifton has traveled to an array of global hotspots for his work. At times philosophical, pensive even, the more abstract parts of the text are complemented nicely with Sifton's extensive field experience. That said, there are parts of the book that are too dense to read quickly.

The phenomenon of violence is nothing new, although America's response to the September 11 attacks posed unique challenges for the international human rights community - including drone strikes, extraordinary rendition, black sites and torture. Yet Sifton also reminds readers that violence is a longstanding human phenomenon.

It seems safe to assume that acts of terrorism (and violence) aren't going away anytime soon, but a degree of reflection seems to be in order. Sifton's detailed examination of violence forces readers to think more deeply about this important issue.

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