The Pen Vs. The Blunt-Object Holders

I write a lot about politics these days; and I think about it a lot too, probably more than I should. I suppose we all do though. Not partisan politics however, at least not for me. Hit pieces against what this or that person said and what they meant or didn’t mean and why it should matter. No thanks. Who occupies a particular chair is of very little interest to me these days. Those are discussions for democracies that work well. I have instead become more interested in the exercise of authority – coercive authority, because there is no other kind – and its impact upon the personality of nations.


I write a lot about Venezuela, not necessarily because I want to ‘pick a side’ in that two decade old food-fight – although in that country the bad guys are pretty self-identifying – but because for me that is the most extreme example of ‘authority gone wild’. Not government, government is – or should be – a network or association of free men with shared interests, usually geographic, who come together to solve disputes and chart a common path forward. I have no problem with this, as no sane man does.

The issue I’ve seen increasingly around the world is the confusion of governance with ‘authority’, and its subsequent use as a blunt object with which to bludgeon certain segments of society with whom the blunt-object-holder does not agree or sees some sort of threat to their continued retention – and use – of said blunt object. Be honest, think back at every policy proposal you’ve seen for years. Look to the debates from the halls of power to the local bar. Isn’t that what most policy discussions inadvertently – and quickly – degenerate into? Less than the resolution of common challenges, it’s mostly about punishing the other for some behavior that my tribe, my clan, my party – my side – is threatened by.

Granted, the violence – in ‘free societies’ – is usually reserved for the most extreme cases. Most of the abuse comes in the form of societal pressure to conform. This is an exhausting process, as Hugo Chavez figured out fifteen years into his rule – because it requires those who would wish to wield authority to be ‘right’. And so begins the propaganda, the control of the media, the silencing of dissenting voices and squelching of debate, lest the blunt-object-holder prove to be, well wrong.

Of course being wrong should not be a big deal. Knowledge must find a way – will find a way – and that way can only be found if opinions and hypothesis hit up against each other, with only one surviving. Sure, you can torture Galileo, and he will recant. But that doesn’t change the movement of the earth. There should be no ‘safe spaces’ for the uninformed.

Back to Venezuela – again as the greatest example of “oops” in policy making by actors unwilling to admit the “oops”. No food, no water, no electricity, violent protests on the streets. Hunger running rampant, a specter haunting the silent hospital halls enveloped in darkness.

We have been told in our post-modern society that right does not exist. Eschewing the powers of reason – rational thought – gifted to us by the philosophers of the enlightenment and, well, the ‘Age of Reason’ as it was aptly called, we have instead these days chosen to chart a more tortured path – for reasons I really don’t clearly understand. Hence my writing. We are told to acquiesce to authority, an authority ordained by simple majorities and enforced using the blunt-object that seems to be getting heavier each year. ‘Authority gone wild’ has a mighty power of censure – as the Venezuelans have learned, standing in food lines to be turned away because of the neighborhood they are from or being denied medical care because their name appears on some list.

Naturally, I would argue – which I do a lot – that there is a better way. That we can return to the uncoerced interactions between men of the mind, seeking to solve common challenges that life on a resource-limited planet bring, and resolve disputes that living together in community cause. But for this way to work, we must first believe in truth – that an idea, if right, will find a way. Will in fact be unstoppable. And that foolishness – despite all the power of the blunt-object holders – will invariably also be known as such.

But I’m a dreamer.

Which incidentally brings me to my final reflection. We writers are trouble for ‘authority gone wild’, aren’t we? Bloggers like Raif Badawi lashed in Saudi Arabia; writers like Anwar Malek in Algeria surviving assassination; novelists like Salman Rushdie in hiding for decades. Fearless people who refuse to take the advice of their betters, ‘Pipe down, for we cannot allow you to be right’. As it has best been said, yes by a writer – Edward Butler-Lytton – in his play Richelieu; Or The Conspiracy:

“True, This! —

Beneath the rule of men entirely great

The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold

The arch-enchanters wand! — itself is nothing! —

But taking sorcery from the master-hand

To paralyze the Cæsars, and to strike

The loud earth breathless! — Take away the sword —

States can be saved without it!”

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BookViral Spotlight, Lords of Misrule by Joel D. Hirst

“An epic tale of redemption, forbidden love, and atonement against all odds.”


Riveting from beginning to end, Lords of Misrule does everything it’s supposed to do and more as Hirst delivers a genuine epic. Not one defined by a voluminous word count or an extraordinarily elaborate plot, but by the size of the ideas and visions that captivate from the very start. A coming of age novel in its truest sense it’s not dense with manufactured plot details, it doesn’t need to be, nor is it founded on cheap melodrama, but on Hirst’s ability to engage our imagination and show us his setting through the eyes of his desert born protagonist. A back drop of contrasts of which Aliuf Ag Albachar must make sense and through which he must ultimately find his way, Hirst’s telling is lush with emotionally powerful and poignant moments which he captures in sparingly acerbic prose. It’s an adventure on a grand scale, but it works paradoxically as an intimate portrait of a life interrupted by the vagrancies of fate. 

By any stretch of the imagination, Lords of Misrule proves an enthralling read and one that should attract much interest in other releases from Hirst. With broad appeal and highly deserving of your attention, it is recommended without reservation.

**I invite you to enter the BookViral review and vote for my novel for the “Crimson Quill Award”

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Joel D. Hirst – Independent Author Network Interview

I welcome you to read an interview I gave for the Independent Author Network about my most recent novel “Lords of Misrule.”

Joel Hirst-The IAN Interview

Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a writer and novelist. Author of the recently released “Lords of Misrule”, he has also written “The Lieutenant of San Porfirio” and its sequel “The Burning of San Porfirio”. He is currently working on “From the Camps”, the saga of a boy from a refugee camp in East Africa. Hirst has worked as an international aid worker for almost two decades, and has been a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Hirst is a graduate of Brandeis University. He lives in Gilbert, Arizona.

IAN: Please tell us about your latest book.

Joel D. Hirst: “Lords of Misrule” is the story of a young Tuareg boy who is brought into conflict and forced to flee his country of Mali. It is about his journey across the Sahara to become an Islamic Judge (Qadi) and jihadist, before he finds something that changes everything in the dusty libraries of Timbuktu. It is the tale of the making and unmaking of a jihadist.

IAN: Is Lords of Misrule published in print, e-book or both?

Joel D. Hirst: Both.

IAN: Where can we go to buy Lords of Misrule?

IAN: What inspired you to write the book?

Joel D. Hirst: We are in the midst of a dramatic international conversation on the issue of violent Islam, especially as terrorist attacks keep hitting the west and the Islamic State and their atrocities dominate the news cycle. There is a tendency to oversimplify issues and appeal to stereotypes or to simplistic arguments, without recognizing that Islam also has its own history and people their own motivations. Through this novel, I am telling the story of a young Tuareg boy who gets caught up in Jihad, and why. And how he finds his way out of it – and what the consequences are. The novel delves a lot into Islamic tradition, as well as Tuareg/Saharan history. Specifically, it looks at traditions of rational thought in Islam, Aristotelian philosophical traditions that were lost almost 1000 years ago and have not yet been re-discovered, and what would happen if they were. It is a hard story, but an honest one which adds my perspective to some of the ongoing debate.

IAN: Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?

Joel D. Hirst: That’s an interesting conundrum. I try to make an outline, and I usually know where my protagonist ends up at the end of the story before I write it. But when I sit down and start to write, the travails and travels and circumstances for the protagonist sort of write themselves. So I have found that I don’t do too well with a formal outline, just milestones that I want to arrive at and let the story fill itself in as I go along.

IAN: Do you have a specific writing style?

Joel D. Hirst: I use lots of magical realism in my writing. My novels series of “San Porfirio” were Latin American magical realist novels written as dictator novels. “Lords of Misrule” also has magic, this taken from Islamic and pre-Islamic Saharan traditions, which I think you’ll find both interesting but also gives flavor and color to our understanding of different societies. Besides that, “Lords of Misrule” is written in third person limited point of view. It is sweeping, and epic – and holds closely to the flavors and sights and smells of the Sahara.

IAN: What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?

Joel D. Hirst: I hope the book allows readers to reflect on the real reasons why terrorism exists, what some of the motivations could be, and what are some ways that the power of the mind is used to combat violent ideology. The book is not meant to lecture, it is instead meant to give people a look into the mind of a young man who finds himself fighting on the ‘wrong’ side and what he feels about that, and what steps he tries to take to save his soul.

IAN: What books have most influenced your life most?

Joel D. Hirst: More than individual books, authors. My favorite storyteller is W. Somerset Maugham; and it is from him that I learned how to story-tell (I like Moon and Sixpence; I love Of Human Bondage – although I found it immensely sad). I learned magic from Isabel Allende (not all her work I like, and her political leanings annoy me, but Eva Luna is a masterpiece). And Ayn Rand of course was pivotal in my understanding of the individual as the central character in their own story – the fight for freedom and meaning and reason (Atlas Shrugged of course, but I prefer The Fountainhead. That story is a little more honest and tries less hard to be philosophical).

IAN: Do you see writing as a career?

Joel D. Hirst: I would love writing to be a career. It’s a difficult time for new authors, as all writers know. Publishing houses only invest in a ‘sure thing’ and the ‘democratization’ of the publishing world, while a good thing, makes it a little hard to break through into to the general public. These are not complains, just realities. Writers have always faced challenging times to make themselves heard above the fray. This is not new. All that to say, right now I hold a day job, which I do love, but which also allows me the income and experiences to continue to write until one of my novels “makes it”.

IAN: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

Joel D. Hirst: I come from a family of educated folks. My father has a PH.D. and my house was always full of books. My brother is a journalist and a writer (non-fiction). So writing, as a natural result of thinking, has been something that I’ve known forever. I started writing fiction after living for 4 years in Venezuela during the apex of Hugo Chavez’s “revolution”, and saw so much there that was novel-worthy and that there was no way to express in non-fiction that I decided to tell a fictional story about what I had seen. The struggles of ordinary people to find meaning in their lives under political project that wanted all of their attention. The desires of the poor to be free from hunger, and the desires of the rich to be free from the poor. An honest story that does not really take a side, necessarily, but that shows why the ideas led to the apocalypse; all of this ended up being “The Lieutenant of San Porfirio”. I followed this up with “The Burning of San Porfirio”, which starts with the collapse of the political project and the death of “El Comandante” and follows the protagonists as they try to re-discover humanity and rebuild their lives after the revolution sputtered out. “A modern day, secular Pilgrim’s Progress” is what it has been called.

IAN: Do you have to travel much concerning your books?

Joel D. Hirst: I have been blessed with wide travel. I have visited four continents and more than fifty countries; Africa, North Africa, Latin America, and Europe. I have lived for more than thirty years overseas, in some of the hardest places in the world. These travels have made me sensitive; they have made me sad. They have robbed me of my feeling of invincibility and they have made me question a lot of what I believe and was taught. But my interactions with people has given me a deep commitment to their struggles, which is something that comes out in all my writing.

IAN: Who designed the covers?

Joel D. Hirst: The artist for all my novels is Andres Rodriguez, a company called Arghoost Toons. He is Argentina and lives in the southern interior of that country.

IAN: What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing your book to life?

Joel D. Hirst: Lords of Misrule is my best written (according to my editors), and most challenging, novel. It took me 2 years to research and another year to write. I had to research Islamic thought, philosophy, traditions and history. I also had to learn about Tuareg and Berber history and traditions and then I had to weave those together over the backdrop of an epic Saharan tale. All of this required a lot of reading and talking to Tuaregs and Muslims from different traditions. It helped that I was living in Mali for these years, and so I had direct exposure to so much of the fabric of the novel. And then the book went to an Islamic scholar to make sure it was accurate and respectful, as well as to an Amazigh (Berber) expert to ensure that the traditions of that ancient people were respected. It was a heavy life, and I invite you to pick up a copy and immerse yourself in something foreign, yet enrapturing.

IAN: Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand-alone?

Joel D. Hirst: I have finished writing and am currently editing my 4th novel, provisionally titled “From the Camps”. It is the story of a boy’s from a refugee camp in East Africa and his hard journey to manhood, and meaning. It is a story of poverty and of violence – for too many people across Africa, it is their life’s story.

This article originally appeared here.

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A Nobel in Literature? The Committee Does it Again.

It was more than fifty years ago – in December of 1964 specifically – that Jean Paul Sartre turned down the Nobel Prize for Literature. His contention, in doing so, was that in accepting such a prize he would cease to be “Jean Peal Sartre, writer” and become “Jean Paul Sartre, Nobel Laureate”; with all the baggage that entailed. Now, while I certainly do not agree with Sartre’s politics and am not a fan of his philosophy either – despite that both are legitimate additions to the grand debate of ideas – I find myself impressed by his courage at declining this most prestigious of all prizes. Not only for the fame it brings – fame he considered of the wrong type, hence the refusal – but also the cash reward. Writers, true writers, most often struggle financially during their lifetimes. John Grisham, Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy we are not – no offense to them. Frosting on a cake; ramen noodles with too much salt. Gross publishing contracts in exchange for appealing to the most basic in people. Real writers challenge, inspire, fight – real writers threaten; Sartre was a real writer.

It must have been difficult for Sartre to turn down so substantial a bribe by the Nobel Committee, exchange for ‘toning it down a little’ – domestication. He said so himself, in his refusal letter: “If I accept it, I offer myself to what I shall call ‘an objective rehabilitation.’ According to the Figaro littéraire (a newspaper) article, ‘a controversial political past would not be held against me.’ I know that this article does not express the opinion of the Academy, but it clearly shows how my acceptance would be interpreted by certain rightist circles. I consider this ‘controversial political past’ as still valid, even if I am quite prepared to acknowledge to my comrades certain past errors.”


Cue Nobel 2016 – this disastrous season of ‘almosts’ and ‘not exactlys’. I had only finished smarting from the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the abortive political experiment of Juan Manuel Santos, eschewing so many great people who are choosing to fight tremendous evil at astonishing personal peril, when they did it again. Yesterday they announced that the Nobel Prize for Literature would go to – wait for it – Bob Dylan. Now, Bob Dylan is a fine musician – if not one I ever listen to, nor does anybody in the generations after mine, if they’ve even heard of him, which I would assume they have not. Simon and Garfunkel I prefer if I find myself nostalgic and in the mood to dredge the 1960s and 70s. Nevertheless, he is not a writer – he’s a musician. Absent the melodies – his ‘poems’ would sit on a shelf gathering dust. They are, well simple at best. Adolescent. Nothing that would inspire great debate or personal reflection; much less philosophical or social upheaval. His words are ordinary, without the music. Not that I am surprised by the award – elites pining for a world they no longer even influence, much less control. They must sorrow for the long-lost days of yore when they sat around with people like Juan Manuel Santos, angry young men listening to Dylan.

They are a dying breed.

The remarkable thing to all this is that great changes are afoot, brought about by people – writers, activists, bloggers, and new economists – who the elites appear to be oblivious to. Good is vying against evil; peace and war are again very real to tens of millions – whole peoples are on the move. And there are legions of activists on the streets fighting, intent on doing something about it – unbeknownst to the old men sitting around pondering a world that slipped away while nobody except they noticed.

Back to Sartre; and the stress of the bribe. I’m not sure if Dylan needed the money – my guess is that he’s doing just fine. Juan Manuel Santos sure doesn’t – coming as he does from one of the 12 families that have ruled Colombia since La Violencia. This being the case, they should have followed Sartre’s example – if for different reasons. They should have recognized that their contributions to ‘peace’ and ‘literature’ respectively were illusory, and that wearing the ‘Laureate’ label with nothing to show for it was in fact hollow, and frankly embarrassing. They could have come closer to earning these prizes by refusing them, or – better yet – they could have taken with them to Oslo and Stockholm somebody who they knew deserved the award but whose name doesn’t fill the google-alert inboxes of elites who have lost touch. That would have represented a great gift to humanity indeed; and maybe earned them a real place in history.

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Recension des Seigneurs du chaos de Joel Hirst, par Francis Richard

Francis Richard vient de publier une recension du roman de Joel Hirst, Les seigneurs du chaos : l’odyssée du djihad. Nous la republions ici en le remerciant et en invitant nos lecteurs à découvrir ce livre. Les seigneurs du chaos: l’odyssée du djihad, de Joel D. Hirst Comment expliquer qu’un jeune Touareg devienne un jour […]

Source: Recension des Seigneurs du chaos de Joel Hirst, par Francis Richard

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America Is Not Aging Well

Our republic is not aging well, is she? Age should come on slowly, and without great fanfare – a mellowing, a ripening. New wisdom meeting old experiences in the perfection of advancing time. A seasoned English gentleman, content in his parlor contemplating so great ordeals; a matronly woman elegant and secure – a queen even – propriety overtaking excitement. No longer careless or indiscreet.

But America is old before her time; and with that retains some of the negligence of youth despite what should be by this time discernment. To be sure stress and worry can prematurely age, draining even the sprightliest of beings; and America has seen her cup overflow with both. She has expended her lifeblood in the service of virtue: leaving trails of it from the beaches of Normandy to the smoke-filled room where Chris Stephens breathed his last. And now she is spent, and she is in trouble. And as we see her failing, I fear she will fall – as Cicero once said of his own republic, before they killed him – “for want of men to stand by” her.

atlasAnd such a fall would be apocalyptic. Because our republic is enormous. No longer however with the meek might of our bygone days when we stood atop the world, holding it in place with the gargantuan power of our industry and the goodness of our will. Erect, tight, hard – Atlas keeping ablaze the kiln of human progress. Young but staid. America is these days obese; layers upon layers of fat, enveloping each other. Sclerotic muscles – shriveled for lack of real use; loosely holding in place rarefied bones – decaying roads and corroding cables and rotting railroads of an infrastructure abandoned to the elements as we stare vacantly at the 24 hour news cycle, bumper sticker slogans thrown senselessly into cyberspace to inflame the idiots.

Is it really possible that America these days resembles a dirty old man – un viejo verde as they say in Spanish – grabbing at women as they pass by in the night, foul breath following even fouler words? Or perhaps a cackling old gorgon, for sale sign on her back and a power-hungry gleam in her twisted eye? ‘How did we get here?’ I so often hear. I suppose we shouldn’t really be surprised at the detour we have taken. It doesn’t take special clairvoyance to have seen this day coming for years. Hate, division, paralysis. Divide and conquer politics. Intolerance. And when government becomes the instrument by which we bludgeon each other – it is only natural that the fight for that greatest of clubs attracts such a crowd as these.

So I write, and I work, and I worry.

I early-voted this year; I made my decision. My infinitesimally small voice at least will be heard. I won’t say who I voted for – those who are intuitive are welcome to guess and I’m sure will get it right; as I’ve said before, this year – of all years – I’m sitting it out. Nevertheless I can’t help but think of Cicero. I wonder what he would have said about the cage fight. I wonder if he would have found across our national landscape a reason to hope; even in this the bleakest of times. I’d like to think he would. Because our old new republic is still out there – I’ve seen her. Every time a missionary is commissioned; or somebody returns a wallet they find; or when a policeman helps recover a lost child or a businessman makes a wonderful new gadget: in every gentle act of goodness a spark is given off which, if it catches the right tinder, will again set ablaze the old glory of our republic. And so we keep fighting, those of us who will – and we keep writing, those of us who can; believing in God and in each other as we repeat over and over as a prayer “this too shall pass”.

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To Whom The World Is Turning

There’s something peculiar going on in the halls of power these days. A few years ago I wrote a post titled “We Revolt Because We Are Leaderless”. I was reflecting upon the strange anonymity that characterized the Arab Spring. Those were not the epic rebellions of the powerful figures we all know: Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, John Garang, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Boris Yeltzin and the list goes on. Instead the springtime rebels were anonymous – bloggers and fruit vendors and cartoonists and students who’d had enough and who at long last finally came together to defy their tormentors. The elites of their countries responded – ratcheting up political and police pressure and the spring sputtered out.

And we thought it was over.

Little did we know that the spring would make it to our shores. The governing class, our own elites – those who comfortably swagger through the halls of power – are these days frantically circling their own wagons. Today the Nobel Peace Committee gave that most coveted prize to the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos. Forget that the Colombian people had just said “NO!!!” to that stillborn project. Forget that they saw through the façade that their ‘leaders’ were attempting to foist upon them and stood against those who would usher their country into another period of instability and misery. The Nobel Committee didn’t care. It’s almost like they acted out of spite, the most eloquent “F&%# You!” possible to the Colombian people – a nation that had the courage to defy the world. Putting aside the Olympian struggles for freedom that the Nobel Prize was supposed to enshrine; what they ended up with this year was the commemoration of an “E” for effort on the part of one of their own. It wasn’t going to end the war – everybody knew this. That was never the point. They needed a ‘win’, those who pretend they know better. This was going to be it; and they are angry.


This hasn’t been their only blunder. Those who would rule are having a rough time of it these days. #Brexit, Donald Trump, the Hungary referendum. People who cannot properly identify gender, who cannot name a religious idea that terrorizes their citizens, and who are unable (or unwilling) to understand the angst of their commoners are having difficulty telling the world that they are competently in charge.

The world is in a restive, belligerent state, isn’t it? Frustrated. Disappointed. Deceived. The international order is fraying. Debt, war, violence – and that bizarre assault on common sense that leaves the ‘common’ man perplexed.

All this has happened before. The American Revolution, the French Revolution. Hell, even the Bolivarian revolution. Moments when ordinary people finally stand, anonymously, and call “bullshit” on the nonsense they see around them. These times have never presaged ease for those who love so much to go to Davos and Zurich and Geneva. And this has made them anxious.

Back to the Nobel Prize. I’m only disappointed because I live in this wide world, in hard places, and I know of so many folks who fight the darkness and who deserved the prize. Lorent Saleh, a young Venezuelan student activist being tortured in “The Tomb”, who President Santos – today’s celebrity – expelled from Colombia to win favor with Venezuela for his ill-conceived peace project. The “White Helmets” – those remarkable Syrian men and women who scale buildings and dig through rubble to find babies still alive after Bashar Al Assad’s barrel bombs level whole neighborhoods. “Ensemble Nous Sommes Un Peuple” – that organization of young Malian activists who actually helped achieve a peace deal with the restive Tuaregs in the north and ended a civil war. Grand people, fighting for what is right at great personal expense, outside of expensive Presidential palaces and with no hopes of a shiny medal for their troubles.

All this to say, those who pretend to rule us should remember, occasionally, that we are a great people – we common men who fight for liberty. That we know better, and that we are not easily fooled. While they might not know our names, and they might think we are insignificant – it is to us that the world is turning.

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