By Charles M. Sennott
BOSTON – The Spanish master Francisco Goya painted 200 years ago at a time not unlike the age of disruption, revolution, barbarity and torture that defined the year 2014.
The last 12 months have presented a descending darkness amid streaks of piercing light that feels straight out of one of Goya’s canvases. Painting in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Goya captured the tumult of the invasion and occupation of Spain by Napoleonic forces. He created searing scenes that seem strikingly relevant in 2014 as we look back on a year of darkness and light.
The darkness: ISIS and Boko Haram brought us to new depths while Russian President Vladimir Putin seems intent on returning Russia to the gray twilight of a retro, Cold War dictatorship.
The light: An agreement on climate change with China, a diplomatic opening with Cuba, immigration reform and an economic recovery that seems to be holding steady.
Francisco Goya y Lucientes, Two Men Fighting, 1812-20 (Courtesy)
Framing the darkness and the light of 2014 was a wider struggle between the forces of “order” and “disorder.” It’s a dividing line between those governed by inclusive democracies and the ungoverned, where militias, tribes and extremists make up their own rules within failed states.
This idea of “order” versus “disorder” was even a theme of a series of columns by the New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman over the summer.
But Goya was way ahead of Friedman in helping us understand the moment in which we live. Indeed, the current exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which frames the painter’s life and his work, is even titled “Order and Disorder.”
And Goya’s work, particularly his fascination with ‘disorder’ and the fear and sorrow it engenders in everyday people, offers a prescient way to calibrate our own response to the 2014 news cycle.
The self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) brought us “disorder” and darkness with grotesque images of brutality. This year, ISIS came to embody the complex challenges that lie ahead for the US military as it tries to decode the dangers of rising Islamic militancy.
The year 2014 will also be remembered for the horrors of Nigeria’s Boko Haram, in taking nearly 300 schoolgirls hostage, and the ghastly attack by the Pakistani Taliban on an army-run boys’ school in Peshawar, which killed 132 children. And it will be remembered for the more invisible, antiseptic barbarity revealed by the US Senate Select Committee’s investigation into the use of torture by the CIA.
For those of us at GlobalPost and The GroundTruth Project, 2014 will be remembered with great sadness as the year we saw our friend and colleague James Foley murdered by ISIS. He, along with two other American freelance journalists, was held at knife point by an ISIS leader and then decapitated while cameras rolled. These barbaric attacks were beamed out across the World Wide Web as some kind of perverse social networking, recruitment tool for ISIS.
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