False Dichotomies

Archive for April 21st, 2011

Know Limit


On the first day of my gap-year in Israel, my group’s coordinator gathered us together to dispense essential advice. One aspect of that schpiel has remained with me ever since. She reminded us that we were in a foreign country where we didn’t know the language, the culture, or the little, almost invisible codes of behaviour which constituted true knowledge of a place. We were always to exercise caution, because we didn’t have the tools we needed to know our limits.

The extraordinary Of Gods and Men, directed by Xavier Beauvois, shows nine Cistercian Trappist monks tragically exploring their limits in the Algerian countryside. The year is 1996, at the height of the Algerian Civil War, and their monastery, which has been a fixture of the village of Tibhrinie since the nineteenth century, is under threat from roving Islamists. The monks are popular in the village: they run a free outpatient clinic, give romantic tips, help villagers apply for passports, and sell honey at the village market. As one local puts it, “This village has grown up alongside the monastery. Why leave now?” Read more

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