On March 25, 2022, Radical Books Collective organized a panel titled ‘How To Write About War’ to intervene in the moral and political crisis around the writing, reporting, representing and filming of war.
The event featured Bhakti Shringarpure, Suchitra Vijayan, Nadifa Mohamed and Billy Kahora. Panelists started with the discussion on the egregious coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine being described as the third world war. The conversation started by trying to expand and understand the challenges of representation, narrations and complex valences of the term "war." Vijayan noted that we have had the war on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen. Despite the overwhelming evidence that in the name of ‘War on Terror’ there has been a war for the last twenty years which has engulfed so many communities, the idea that this is going to be the third world war is appalling, Vijayan argued.
Kahora spoke about his experience covering the election violence in Kenya and the challenge that comes with the velocity at which such events happen. Writers have to forgo attention to craft and style, and have to write very fast under pressure.
The conversation then moved on to the question of dignity which goes hand in hand with the question of representing violence. Which victims are given dignity, asked Shringarpure. She reminds us that the images from Ukraine have been largely reserved unlike the gory visuals that were published after the 2019 Dulcet Hotel bombings in Nairobi. Mohamed built on this argument and addresses the problematic of the African body as a public site of violence and how one person or one death is completely interchangeable with the next. Shringarpure asserted that the masculinist nature of war and the narration of war remains a fundamental issue, and without attention to gender it remains impossible to move forward in any pivotal way.
Watch the whole conversation on our YouTube channel:
Bhakti Shringarpure is a writer and educator who co-founded and edited Warscapes magazine for ten years before it transitioned into the Radical Books Collective. Her book Cold War Assemblages: Decolonization to Digital looks at the ways in which the Cold War thwarted decolonization movements in colonized regions and used soft power to shape their literary cultures.
Nadifa Mohamed is an award-winning Somali-British writer. She has published three novels and they all center historical research to retell stories of war, violence and justice through fiction. Her novel The Orchard of Souls is about three women trapped in Hargeisa as it sinks into war in the eighties. She was nominated for the Booker Prize for her novel, The Fortune Men that is based on the true story of Mahmood Mattan, a Somali sailor who was wrongfully executed in the UK in 1952 for a crime he didn't commit.
Suchitra Vijayan is a writer, photographer and activist. She is the founder and Executive Director of The Polis Project. For her book, The Midnight's Border: A People's History of India, Suchitra traveled across the 9000-mile Indian border. A barrister by training, she previously worked for the United Nations war crimes tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda before co-founding the Resettlement Legal Aid Project in Cairo, which gives legal aid to Iraqi refugees.
Billy Kahora is a writer and journalist from Kenya and now based in the UK. He was Managing Editor of the Kwani Trust and has edited several issues of Kwani and a sci-fi anthology titled Imagine 500 with Malawian writers. His stories have been shortlisted for the Caine Prize For African Literature. He is the author of The Cape Cod Bicycle War And Other Stories and was a screenwriter for the films Soul Boy and Nairobi Half Life.