Conor Foley has worked for a variety of human rights and humanitarian aid organizations, including Amnesty International and various UN agencies, in over a dozen conflict and post-conflict zones. He lives in Brazil, and is a research fellow at the Human Rights Law Centre at the University of Nottingham. His publications include: Human rights and human wrong (Rivers Oram/Liberty, 1995), Combating Torture: a manual for judges and prosecutors (Human Rights Centre Essex/UK FCO, 2003), and A Guide to Property Law in Afghanistan (UNHCR, 2005). He is currently working on a book on humanitarian aid, to be published by I.B. Tauris. Conor blogs at Comment is Free.
Why do you blog? > I used to send letters home from the various places that I was stationed, to keep in touch with friends and family. I was asked to write a comment piece for the Guardian after one of my colleagues was murdered in Afghanistan and have since become a regular contributor to Comment is Free. There are so many misconceptions about humanitarian aid work and I hope that I can correct some of them. It is also something to do when you are on your own in a strange country.
What has been your best blogging experience? > Feedback on particular countries or issues, when I have learnt from the comments; and being able to rebut some of the appalling ignorance that mainstream journalists often show towards humanitarian aid and human rights issues.
What has been your worst blogging experience? > During the war in Lebanon the Israeli Defence Forces hit two Red Cross ambulances. Some bloggers claimed that this was a hoax, perpetrated by the Red Cross's own staff. I wrote a piece pointing out that, given the evidence, this simply could not be true. I was amazed at the ignorance, callousness and viciousness with which large numbers of people, who clearly did not know very much about the actual incident, were prepared to accept a ridiculous conspiracy theory because it confirmed their own prejudices.
What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > I had never even read a blog until after I started writing for Comment is Free, so I am still a novice.
What are you reading at the moment? > Reports about the emergency response to the recent flooding in Mozambique (where I am currently working).
Who are your cultural heroes? > Chico Buarque and Christy Moore.
What is your favourite poem? > 'An Irish Airman Foresees His Own Death'.
What is your favourite song? > 'The girl from Ipanema'.
Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > I supported NATO's intervention over Kosovo in 1999. In retrospect I think that more efforts should have been made to find a negotiated settlement to the crisis. Thousands of people suffered needless deaths and hundreds of thousands were driven from their homes basically to prove a political point. I think that we also learnt the wrong lessons from the intervention and repeated many of the same mistakes.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > The ends do not justify the means.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > Fundamentalism of the religious or ideological kind. Ideological vanguardists of left and right have caused immense suffering in the world.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > The Oxfam Poverty Report by Kevin Watkins had a huge impact on me at the time. It helped to develop my thinking about the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights.
Who are your political heroes? > Sean MacBride, the Irish revolutionary, international statesman and human rights activist.
What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > Most politicians lie, cheat and steal.
If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > To restore the policy of placing human rights at the heart of Britain's foreign policy through a strengthening of multilateralism and respect for international law.
What would you do with the UN? > Reform, strengthen and defend it. I am amazed that people who consider themselves to be progressive spend so much time trying to attack and undermine it. Have they really thought through the alternatives?
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > Unilateralism and a failure to understand that the biggest threats, such as global warming, can only be tackled by global cooperation.
Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > No.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Listening.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > Arrogance.
In what circumstances would you be willing to lie? > To the police.
Do you have any prejudices you're willing to acknowledge? > The ultra-left offspring of the English middle classes set my teeth on edge.
What is your favourite proverb? > 'If not us then who? If not now then when?'
What, if anything, do you worry about? > Being killed.
What would you call your autobiography? > A Lonely Impulse.
What talent would you most like to have? > A better ear for languages.
What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > The one I am in.
Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > Ben Elton.
Which English Premiership football team do you support? > Arsenal.
How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money? > I would not. I enjoy what I do.
[The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature. A list of all the profiles to date, and the links to them, can be found here.]