PCJ BOOK REVIEW:
An Imperfect Offering is a powerful personal memoir from a James Orbinski, a Canadian who has spent most of his adult life in front-line humanitarian work in the world's worst conflict zones. Despite its dark chapters, it is also a hopeful story about the emergence of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as a new and independent agent of civil society, and the possibilities of making the world a better place. In “An Imperfect Offering”, James Orbinski tells the story of people who have been harmed by war, and humanitarian workers who have come to heal them when possible. He engages in deep reflection on the nature of humanitarian response and the many threats to this most human activity. He has sharp criticism for governments who act to cause suffering or to prevent its relief. He asks, “How am I able to be in relation to the suffering of others?” His life as a doctor, and a humanitarian worker illustrates this answer. Accordingly, the books main thesis is that humanitarianism is about the struggle to create space to be fully human. However, he illustrates how this struggle is becoming increasingly difficult with the imperfect offering of politics, which has resulted in the blurring of boundaries between humanitarian assistance and the political objectives of military intervention.
Since “An Imperfect Offering” is written as a memoir Orbinski is not arguing for or against a particular point instead he is illustrating what he has experienced and felt while on humanitarian missions. He states the purpose of writing was to show people what to be human means. But it can also be argued that he was writing to give a voice to the people he has met. Being a doctor working in these setting he understood that his relationships with the citizens went beyond one of pity, to one of solidarity. It is this solidarity that changes humanitarian action from being apolitical and ignoring the causes and conditions that create such suffering. Therefore, through his experiences it can be seen that Orbinski’s purpose for writing was to find a way to confront unjust human suffering in the world, either through his own work or through his writing by inspiring the future generation.
Orbinski humanitarian trips to Somalia, Afghanistan and Rwanda provide great examples that illustrate his thesis. The most persuasive example was his trip to Rwanda where he was one of the few humanitarian doctors to stay on the field. In Rwanda, the genocide began on 6 April 1994, and two days later the _______(RPF) entered Rwanda and the country was now in a civil war and genocide. However, the killings in Rwanda in international news was portrayed as tribal fighting, a kind of “Hobbesian violence” inevitable in places like Africa. No one wanted to admit that Rwanda, with the backing of the West was a highly competent, and organized state. In addition, once the genocide began the United Nations Security Council refused to recognize what was occurring as...