Anik Belanger is a rookie human rights lawyer with a mission to make rape as a weapon of war recognized as a crime against humanity. Humiliated by the loss of a high profile case against a Nazi war criminal who had been hiding out in Canada for decades, she looks for redemption in the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab. Against the backdrop of a devastating African civil war, women refugees provide evidence to Anik that atrocities are happening where a UN peacekeeping operation has been deployed. Together with Omar, a renegade politician, Anik embarks on a quest for justice that leads her into deadly conflict with an ambitious UN general and a vicious warlord.
Moral Hazards is a political thriller with a social conscience that reveals the human face and high stakes below the surface of military intervention. Author and veteran diplomat Tim Martin brings the authentic voice of experience from international conflict zones to this unflinching and heartfelt exploration of a peacekeeping operation gone bad.
Thoughts, musings, and ruminations.
1. What this Blog is About
You know what they say, "It's a journey." This blog will be about my journey from being a diplomat to a novelist. I'm in the beginning of this journey with the publication of Moral Hazards in 2020. The blog will look at my experience. By the way, it has been deep and enriching for me. (You should write a book too if you haven't already.) I'll talk about current events and what I think about them from the perspective of a long time in international affairs. In my opinion, it should be about doing the right thing instead of the expedient thing, knowing who the good guys are and acting with humility. Sadly, we have to be prepared for tragic outcomes. That's just part of our shared human condition.
Tone and style matter too. I try for writing that is clear and direct. If it were music, it would have a few bars of Eric Satie, a few of The Clash and some tango.
I hope you will join me for this journey and let me know how I'm doing.
Former ambassador Tim Martin has been at the forefront of Canadian diplomacy and international peace and security. His high-level diplomatic service includes leading Canada’s civilian work in southern Afghanistan, the Kimberley Process to ban conflict diamonds and Middle East Peace negotiations. His career has covered Colombia, Argentina, Palestine, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Somalia, where Moral Hazards takes place. Tim has been awarded three medals for his service to Canada and the Award of Excellence in the Public Service for his leadership on Canada’s humanitarian assistance to Palestinian children affected by conflict.
Moral Hazards is his first novel. Another is in the works about conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Hidden Agenda: Two slow-motion outrages drove me to write Moral Hazards.
First, armies strike dark bargains with local power brokers (or warlords) when they bring military solutions to failed states. It’s logical. Imagine you’re a brigadier general taking 600 young men and women and a UN resolution to a remote, obscure, and dangerous country. You don’t know much about its history or culture. You don’t speak the language. You won’t be there long before your next mission. Maybe a year. So, you’re in a big hurry to complete your assignment and get credit. You need someone to work with. Someone ruthless enough to survive and powerful enough to make things happen. If you were that general, you might enter a marriage of convenience with your local warlord.
Second, rape is still used as a weapon of war. We may think of it as a relic of the past, and yet it persists into the twenty-first century in Congo, Colombia, and Myanmar, to name a few places. Even if the problem is not getting better, the international community is getting better at recognizing and talking about it. Here is what the UN Secretary General said about Somalia in his 2018 report about Women Peace and Security. “The following patterns have emerged regarding conflict-related sexual violence: it disproportionately affects displaced women and girls from marginalized groups; most perpetrators are described as men in military uniform; most cases involve rape or gang rape . . .”
My hidden agenda is this: the next time we see our military deployed to a distant crisis, let’s ask them about those with whom they will partner and how they will protect civilians, especially women and children.
buy moral hazards
Moral Hazards has been published and is available for purchase at the sites listed below. You can also buy a signed copy directly from me with payment by e-transfer. I hope you will enjoy it and please tell me your reactions and comments.
Direct from author price is CDN $23.00 (including tax) plus shipping. Please email your order to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A well-crafted novel that’s both informative and dramatically satisfying.
A woman fights to protect the victims of sexual violence in the world’s largest refugee camp in Martin’s debut political thriller.
In the early 1990s, Canadian human rights lawyer Anik Belanger is on a mission to get wartime rape classified as a crime against humanity. After Anik loses her case against a former Nazi who forced her friend’s mother and other women to work as sex slaves in a concentration camp, her boss orders her to take a year off. She ends up finding a job at the world’s largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, where she interviews Somali women about their treatment in the ongoing civil war. There are plenty of women who need to talk. “This woman had terrible trouble,” Anik’s translator tells her of one volunteer. “This is why she wants to participate in our ‘punishment for rapers’ program. That is what she called it.’ Anik gave a start at the name given to their work but decided not to interrupt.” She finds an ally in Omar Khalil, a former Somali politician who now runs the camp’s school. Their mission is not so easy, however, as the women in the camp are still within the reach of a Somali warlord and his Italian protector. Martin’s prose is precise and powerful throughout this novel. The realistic descriptions of violence are startling, and some moments will stick with readers long after they put down the book: “That final night at the secret prison, there were forty-three prisoners…The first man sat motionless, blinded by the flashlight beam in his eyes.” The author states outright that he wrote the novel to inform people about the realities of military intervention and its impact on vulnerable civilian populations, but the book’s didacticism never gets in the way of the story. The deftly constructed characters help to give life to these issues while also involving readers in their particular plights.
A well-crafted novel that’s both informative and dramatically satisfying.
Moral Hazards is an instructional thriller with a clear and important message.
Anik Belanger is an idealistic human rights lawyer who works for Canada’s Department of Justice. After losing a case against former Nazi camp guard and pimp Otto Schuman, Anik feels the pangs of defeat. She decides to travel to Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, the largest such camp in the world. There, Anik pursues her private quest to get rape recognized as a weapon of war and a war crime. Alongside a Somali politician, Omar, Anik struggles for human rights against a cynical United Nations general, his peacekeeping force, and a ruthless warlord, Ibrahim.
This thriller has a purpose: to bring awareness to the use of rape in war. It draws upon well-reported instances of mass rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Somalia. Its handling of Somalia relies on a concise history of that nation’s civil war, on since the 1980s. Real-life people, including former Somali president Siad Barre, who ruled Somalia with an iron hand from 1969 until 1991, appear in the novel.
The writing is crisp and declarative. It is also humane, not only because Anik is driven by a deep-seated sense of justice. Every chapter pulsates with indignation about government corruption, the power of nihilistic warlords, and the often cynical abuse of civilians by UN peacekeepers and NGOs. Anik is the novel’s heart, while Omar is depicted as its brains. It is Omar, who serves alongside the dictator Barre before betraying him, who guides the somewhat naïve Anik through the difficult world of African conflicts, especially the never-ending holocaust in Somalia.
Anik and Omar’s actions drive the plot, from Omar’s fight against Somali violence to Anik’s quest to defeat evil. Other important figures include Sophie, whose mother’s experiences as a sex slave during the Holocaust drive Anik to pursue justice in Africa; Ibrahim, whose brutality is often depicted as somewhat logical, given Africa’s endemic violence; and the many UN bureaucrats who use amoral realpolitik as a cover for their bad actions.
The book’s conclusion is suggested from the beginning, and is followed by a somewhat unnecessary authorial reiteration of the fact that that this is, indeed, a moral tale. “My hidden agenda is,” Martin notes, “let’s ask [the military] about those whom they will partner and how they will protect civilians.”
Moral Hazards is an instructional thriller with a clear and important message.
Moral Hazards is the kind of book that will keep you awake at night, in a good way. Tim Martin’s debut novel takes you on a fast-paced ride into the chaotic, unforgiving world of a collapsing state, where we follow Anik Belanger, a young, ambitious, Canadian human rights lawyer, on her dangerous quest to find truth, justice, and a bit of fame. In the parched misery of the notorious Somali refugee camp in Dadaab, she seeks the evidence she needs to prove that systematic, sanctioned rape is being used as a weapon of war. Over the course of the novel, Anik encounters a young warlord, a UN general, a renegade government official, and a shadowy businessman on an exotic island, who all have diverse connections to life in Dadaab.
Martin’s writing shimmers with the details, astute observations and unnerving insights of someone who has “been there.” And in fact, he has. Before turning his hand to fiction, Martin spent 30 years as a Canadian diplomat in the world’s political hotspots, including Somalia and Kenya. Having looked warlords in the eye, negotiated with generals and run for cover under gunfire, Martin’s career gave him good training to become a superb author of political thrillers.
While the book is packed with action and has an edgy cat-and-mouse feel, much of its power comes from Martin’s pacing. His close-ups zoom into the conflicted minds of his finely-drawn characters. It felt like I was inside their heads as they picked through their hidden agendas and cultural imperatives. I could almost smell a waft of cologne from his description of Italian Defense Attaché Brigadier General Giancarlo Cristiani: “The even rhythm of his hard leather soles on the corridor parquet transmitted a sense of gravitas and confidence proper to his level.” (p. 62)
While many of the characters are involved in violent and nasty business, Martin treats them with affection and compassion. There are moments where his wry humour shines through and lightens the book’s tone. One such moment is Cristiani’s interior monologue during a social engagement with a new American counterpart, Samson.
The backyard barbecue is confusing terrain, Cristiani grumbled to himself. It’s the worst place to begin this strategic relationship with the CIA. Samson wore knee-length shorts, an oversized T-shirt, and a baseball hat. What was that artificial grey substance his sandals were made from? Cristiani had a theory that infantile vulgarity was taking over American men. They wore pants that shortened the appearance of their legs, untucked shirts that elongated their torso, and hats that exaggerated their head size. He looks like a big three-year-old, Cristiani thought, except for the mirrored aviator sunglasses. (Moral Hazards, p. 69)
In addition to a compelling plot and strong characters, Martin’s evocative descriptions add a dreamy tinge of the travel writer’s sense of place. Martin shows us, for instance, one of the daily practises of Somali women in Dadaab, through the eyes of Anik, who watches Somali women perfume themselves “by standing in their long dresses over burning incense, so the smoke scented them from the inside out.” (p. 98)
Moral Hazards is more than a good read — it is an action novel with a social conscience. It provides an intimate but damning snapshot of a peacekeeping mission in disarray. While the characters are works of fiction, the failure of the mission “Operation Restore Hope” in Somalia in the 1990s was real. And Martin brings you face to face with the casualties created in the name of peace.
Moral Hazards is Tim Martin’s first novel. Drawing in part on his knowledge from his time as chair of the Kimberley Process working against conflict diamonds in 2004, his next book will be about conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
for book clubs and universities
For Book Clubs: Moral Hazards is a great book club selection. It is accessible and excellent for discussion as a novel or for the global political issues that it raises. As the author, I am delighted to participate with clubs in the discussion. Please contact me at email@example.com if you are interested. We can also provide signed copies for the members.
Here's what the Constant Comments book club in Regina had to say about Moral Hazards and the discussion with me:
Tim Martin’s first novel, Moral Hazards, is a MUST READ for book clubs! This political thriller puts the reader in the middle of the economic, political and moral collapse of Somalia. It is here Anik, a Canadian human rights lawyer, seeking recognition for herself and justice for women, gets embroiled in the conflict. Martin’s story, based on his own experience as a Canadian diplomat, lends credibility and clarity to the characters, the situations and the intrigue. Readers will come away with a great appreciation for the power of fiction to raise awareness of real human rights abuses, especially violence against women and the struggle to live a peaceful and safe existence in “a culture of war.”
Tim joined our book club discussion via zoom and enlightened us with his own experiences, including a rather frightening meeting with two warlords. He also read a couple of passages that enhanced our reading. What a gift! There are many issues and characters in this book, so it created many opportunities to talk, debate, listen and express opinions about the novel. The characters are all multi-dimensional – complex, ambitious, and believable. The novel is an eye-opener to the realities of life in war-torn countries and the moral hazards that continue to challenge even those with humanitarian motives.
After reading Moral Hazards and having such an amazing opportunity to discuss the novel with the author, the members of our book club came away not only entertained but enlightened about the panorama of greed and violence that still exists in our world. After this experience, our members will be asking questions of our Canadian military as to how it will protect civilians, especially women and children, when deployed to a crisis in another country. We finished our discussion hoping that Tim Martin’s second novel will soon be on the bookshelves.
Discussion Questions: Here are some suggestions for questions you may want to talk about as a club:
Did Anik’s experience make her permanently damaged or stronger?
Does Ibrahim have what it takes to be successful in Al Qaeda or ISIS or the Taliban?
Did Omar do enough to redeem himself?
If Anik revealed her plans to you about getting even with Cristiani, what would you advise her?
Was Cristiani doomed to be complicit with Ibrahim? Where could he have made different choices - and what would have been the costs?
Do you think the commercial fiction/thriller format is a good way to raise issues of human rights and violence against women?
For Universities: Clarion Reviews calls Moral Hazards "an instructional thriller". In fact, its a great way to introduce students to contemporary human rights, development and conflict issues. I am very interested in working with university professors who are interested. Here is what a professor of international development had to say about a recent presentation:
Tim Martin Presentation to Introduction to International Development Studies, IDS-1100, 1 Oct 2020
A Former Diplomat Reflects on the Challenges of Development in the Context of Conflict
Tim Martin spoke for 75-minutes to my Introduction to IDS, Menno Simons College (part of Canadian Mennonite University and affiliated with the University of Winnipeg) class in October 2020. He spoke about the challenges that states and NGOs face in promoting development in situations of conflict and when the local state has failed. Tim drew on his years of experience in many countries in the global south and focused on the topic of development assistance in Somalia during the 1990s civil war and Canadian assistance to Afghanistan during the NATO-based occupation. Mr. Martin reviewed my course syllabus and identified learning objectives that his talk would connect with. Tim effectively delivered his message to the group of first- and second-year students with a teaching style that is accessible and invitational. Very nicely woven through his presentation were quotations from his novel ‘Moral Hazards.’ I can easily imagine Tim effectively delivering his topic to a senior undergraduate and graduate class. His experiences are vast, his insights deep, and he brings humility to his presentation that will invite engagement from the class. I would invite him back.
Tim Martin’s Presentation to a Conflict Resolution Studies class, CRS-2241 Conflict and Culture, Menno Simons College, Winnipeg, 23 November 2020
A Retired Canadian Diplomat Shares Learnings about Work for Peace with Justice in Conflict-Ridden Situations
For 75 minutes on November 23, 2020, Mr. Tim Martin, a retired Canadian diplomat with experience in many countries, spoke and discussed with students in my Conflict Resolution Studies class at Menno Simons College (part of Canadian Mennonite University and affiliated with the University of Winnipeg).
Drawing on experiences in Israel/Palestine, Argentina, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Ethiopia, Mr. Martin reflected on the challenges of building trust, maintaining integrity, reaching agreements, and attaining justice. He shared a passage from his novel, Moral Hazards, that illustrated the dilemmas diplomats and justice workers sometimes face. The students engaged with him immediately with many questions, which he answered with care and humility.
In preparation, Mr. Martin studied my course syllabus in order to connect with course objectives. His presentations would work well at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The students greatly appreciated the breadth of his experiences, the depth of his insights, and the care with which he spoke. I would gladly invite him again.
John Derksen, PhD
Associate Professor Emeritus
Menno Simons College (a college of Canadian Mennonite University affiliated with University of Winnipeg)
520 Portage Ave.
Winnipeg , MB R3C 0G2
What did you think about Moral Hazards?
Please let me know what you think about Moral Hazards with a note. I would love to stay in touch, hear your reactions and respond to any questions you may have.