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First Amendment Watch:Why I’m Defending Paula Deen

July 4, 2013

Ah, the First Amendment. The Right to Freedom of Speech. Who knew that you were so complicated? Who knew that the citizens you govern would speak freely, only to have their words turned against them? I am often wary of what I post on this blog for fear what extremists and nitpickers would say. But then I have to remind myself: I have the right to say this. If we are not allowed to voice our opinions, why hasn’t this amendment been repealed?

Paula Deen, sourced from npr.org

I’ve watched as the Paula Deen Story has unfolded in American-and no doubt foreign-press, lamenting the obvious death of the 1st Amendment, the one which I hold most dear (and indeed, the human right I hold most close to my heart). The right to freedom of speech allows one to be truthful; it allows one to express oneself. I am a big fan of honesty and staying true to oneself. And Paula Deen was nothing but honest, even though she could have easily lied and said that she never had used the word in her life, in order to save her Food Empire (although, really, who could have seen all of this coming?)

Paula Deen, who is embroiled in a lawsuit accusing her of using the N-word and being racist toward employees at her restaurant, admitted to using the N-word in the past. Key word: past. Does she use it now? Has anyone heard her use it? Not even Lisa Jackson, her accuser, has heard her use the word. She didn’t recently lash out at a customer, passerby, employee etc. and call them that derogatory word. And even if she has, why is it front-page news? Why does she have to be branded as a social leper because she-gasp!-used a word that every.single.fucking.rapper seems to use in his songs?

At my previous job, every single person in the office, besides my boss, used the N-word. Granted, they said it “nigga,” and they were using it in that “oh, he’s my nigga”-i.e., a non-derogatory-way. But none of them were African-American, they were either Dominican or Puerto Rican. Their sentences were liberally peppered with the N-word the way a baby says “mama” over and over again. It made me apoplectic. But no one was going to report them to some human rights watch or Communication Committee.

Now, I am fully against the N-word that I won’t even spell it out for the context of this post. It makes me feel mightily uncomfortable. It sounds disgusting and cruel, because it was meant to be disgusting and cruel. I don’t believe that people should use this word. However, she did not say it to an African American, shouting it in harassment. Paula Deen was born in a generation where using the word was acceptable, and no doubt her parents probably used it as well. This does not make it right to use the word; it is not an excuse. If she is in fact a racist, than I do not support her, but she does have the right to her own opinions and beliefs. Somebody should have tried to help her, instead of “crucifiying” her, as one article put it.

If a person can have their entire life ruined over admitting to using a word that, let’s face it, people do use today, then what about other words? Why don’t I see the endless rappers who use the words bitch (which it’s perfectly acceptable to write) or slut or ho or cunt being ostracized from society and cut off from their mikes? Because they’re talking about women? Because most rappers are African-American? There is so much garbage out there being said about women, often times in jest that even women don’t realize it, yet nobody seems to give a damn. What about the scores of teenagers who deem practically everything “That’s so gay!”–should we make them sit at the Losers Table in the cafeteria?

Or what about Alec Baldwin, who recently fired out at a gay reporter, calling him a “Queen,” among other things? No one has started a Boycott Alec Baldwin Campaign, have they? I personally like Alec Baldwin; I think he is funny and he does a lot of charitable work out in the Hamptons, where I’m from, and I don’t support his choice of words, but I do understand that people make mistakes, especially when they’re angry and being targeted (as his fiancee was by the reporter). The comparaison between Baldwin and Paula Deen shows that it’s okay to insult gays; insulting women is okay, too-but not insulting African Americans. If this is a true democracy, than everyone should be treated equally: men, women, all ethnicities and all sexualities. I understand that racism and little subtleties happen all the time on the ground level, but for the whole of American media to gang up on Paula Deen and one topic but not on Baldwin and another says a lot. Or maybe it was just because she was a woman?

Are we going to criminalize certain words and phrases? Because if we aren’t, then I’m not quite sure why we’re going to make a big deal out of a person using the words, especially if it happened in the past and was in a private, non-hostile conversation. Instead of forcing Paula Deen to flee to Mexico (which is what I’d probably do if I were her) we should focus on ending racism. It’s a delicate subject, but it can be dealt with.

As we celebrate Independence Day, the 4th of July, I hope Americans can unite in our differences. I hope Americans can work together to strengthen America, a country which, despite its flaws, I love and appreciate more than I did in the past (gasp!) I hope we can support the right to free speech, and appreciate honesty when it comes, because honesty is rare when it comes to public figures.

Happy 4th!

Sources

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Brazil, Turkey, and the Decade of Protests

June 24, 2013

Just when the protests in Turkey were getting into the full swing of things, another big country erupted in public demonstrations (that would be Brazil). CNN deemed the Turkish protests “massive and sustained;” sustainability here means that the protests in Istanbul and elsewhere are attracted enough momentum to dedicate serious time and effort (having a 10-years-in authoritarian leader in power seems to be a good inkling that a protest will become sustained). The Brazilian protests, too, seem to have caught a wave, and with their debut I now christen the 2010’s to be the Decade of Protests.

“Tayyip Istifa (resign)!” Protesters in Turkey. Sourced from Socialist Party.net

What do Turkey and Brazil have in common? Plenty of writers, speculators and, of course, world leaders (such as Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister) have made the connections between the two wildly different-seeming countries. Turkey and Brazil have quite the advanced economies (Turkey is, after all, considered a “first-world” country), which not only is their main similarity but also the big irony in the whole affair. Despite experiencing growth during the past decade, even despite the Great Recession, these two nations have experienced intense discontent. Clearly an economic upturn doesn’t equate wealth and equality for all, and there might be some merit to the idea, I argue, that a glossy, globalized country isn’t what some want at all.

Protesters in Recife, Brazil, sourced from NBC News.

Take the case in Turkey: the straw that broke the turkey’s back was that the Strombulites didn’t want a shiny new shopping mall to be built on Gezi Park (I’m still mulling over the possibility whether, when the Turkish protests do finish, whether Gezi shall be bulldozed or not). Economic progress, rejected! And take the Brazilians: although the straw on this side of the world was a 10-cent increase in public transportation fares, the other reasons for Brazilian protest seem to point, again, at a dislike for what most in the Western World would deem “progress” and “modernity:” mainly, the preparations for hosting the FIFA World Cup and next World Olympics. To the Turkish, a green space to relax and connect with nature and friends is more important than another mindless shopping mall (among other things); to Brazilians, even the pride associated with hosting the beloved FIFA World Cup and Olympics cannot suppress their ire over a collapsing public-utilities sector, nor the fact that entire neighborhoods are being demolished to make way for shiny new stadiums for these temporary events.

brazil world cup protests masked man fire

Protester carrying the Brazilian flag, sourced from Business Insider.com

I’m pretty sure that World Leaders everywhere are tired, but at the same time intensely terrified, at the mention of protests. Protests, particularly in the Western world, normally don’t call for a leader to step down nor for overthrowing the government, nor are they taken seriously. Protests in either developing or more authoritarian countries are worrisome for their nation’s leaders, for they often represent regime change and overhall. I’m sure the readers of this blog are equally tired of hearing me discuss protests! But, although I myself personally am not moved to march down a street protesting and carrying a sign (I prefer to protest here on my blogs), the protests fascinate me because the-duh, you’re probably saying-99% is taking a stand. If I was a Brazilian, I’d be pretty angry too if I found out that the government had spent more than $14 billion in constructing new facilities for sporting events but couldn’t even provide basic public services. Likewise, police spraying water cannons and wielding batons during a funeral march for the 4 people who have died in the Turkish protests would make me equally apprehensive and angry if I were a Turk.

France, Spain, Italy et al. were protesting long before street protesting was ever en vogue, but it was the Arab Spring protests that ushered in 2011 (and are still going) that melded new technologies and the new phenomenon of publicly stating one’s ideas and emotions that got the ball rolling. Add numerous other protests, whether sustainable or short-lived: Britain’s mad rioting in l’ete 2011. Occupy Wall Street in fall 2011 (which led to #Occupy movements throughout the United States as well as Europe). Chilean protests from 2011-present, as well as Spain’s. Turkey. Brazil. Protesting has taken on a whole new significance in the 2010’s, and that’s why I deem them the Decade of Protests. Voicing our minds in public has never been easier, regardless of whether other’s want to hear them or not.

Governments that do not listen to their people and leaders who do anything to stay in power should not be en vogue. The people have grabbed the microphone, and they will easily outdrone the government. It cannot be denied: the Decade of Protests will continue, and it will change how our world works.

Will # Ocupy Gezi Park and the Brazilian protests achieve their goals (which now include the resignation/impeachment of both heads of state)?

A protest can end in 3 ways: it can dissolve, i.e. the protesters abandon the “mission” (for various reasons); two, the government can choose to acquiesce the requests or three, the protesters turn into full-scale violence and war. #Occupy Wall Street succumbed to the first reason; Egypt managed to eek out a “victory” thanks to reason no. 2 and Libya and Syria escalated into full-out civil wars, with the situation in Syria obviously still unresolved.

“The same game is now being played over Brazil,” Tayyip Erdogan is quoted by CBS as saying. “The symbols are the same, the posters are the same, Twitter, Facebook are the same, the international media is the same. They (the protests) are being led from the same center….. It’s the same game, the same trap, the same aim.”

Well yeah, it’s the same game: the general public (not just poor people!) is protesting because their respective governments (and capitalistic society at large) do not care about them! The aim-to achieve rights and equality-is of course the same; besides those in power, who doesn’t want equality and justice? This is no international scheme , it’s democracy at work.

Sources

1. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57590600/turkish-police-unleash-water-cannon-on-protests/

2. http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2013/06/21/whats-going-on-in-brazil/?hpt=wo_r1

3. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57590609/brazil-250k-protest-against-govt-corruption/

When Cultures Clash: When to Conform

June 14, 2013

The idea of cultures clashing is one of the great cliches of the international affairs world: it’s easy to imagine two radically different cultures, sussed up in traditional garb, running at each other with ‘traditional’ weapons. (That, ahem, would be the physical version of ‘cultures clashing’). I’m referring to the idea of cultural norms meeting and…disagreeing.

The 2012 Contestants posing in bikinis, sourced from India Today online

A great example that’s been a hot news topic recently has been the removal of the bikini segment from the Miss World pageant, which is due to be held this September in Indonesia. In order not to insult the Muslim-majority country (religious clerics were calling for  the pageant to be moved to another country) Miss World decided to scrape the bikini segment from the show. If this had been decided after a torrent of feminist rantings (yeah, right) as a motive to encourage acceptance of different body types (albeit healthy), I could get behind the decision, even though the reality is that most girls who participate in the pageant are fit, and have worn many a bikini in their pageant days; I also like bikinis. However, this is not the case: the pageant removed the bathing suits from the program because a bunch of men were making threats and saying it wasn’t compatible with Indonesian culture. Oh, men.

Normally, I post about Islam on my S-L-M: Peace blog, but the fact is that I do not discuss Indonesia/Melaysia/countries outside the Middle East on that blog, and furthermore the incident reminded me of a subject that often comes up in the International Affairs that makes for a great (and unfortunately controversial) discussion. The question is: when, if ever, should one conform to another culture? This might seem like a completely stupid question, you might say, questioning my intelligence. When visiting another country, one should always be polite and respect local traditions, because you’re not on your home soil! What about when you visit someone’s house, I’d ask-sure, the host may ask you to remove your shoes, but the host also seems to want to make you very comfortable in a “your wish is my every command” way.

Respecting local traditions seems to be the time-honored response; any diplomat or international careerist will have certainly been in countless situations where, ahem, diplomacy is key. Of course one must remove their shoes before entering a house, accept a cup of tea or a fourth helping of a dish one loathes, cover their legs if visiting a super-conservative community, etc. Yet a lot of what I just listed is very personal, very one-on-one I’m-visiting-your-house acts. I doubt presidents and diplomats are forced through many of the traditional codes-of-conduct but-aha!-they seem to reside in that globalized upper echelon where American/Western (there, I said it) behavior is the cultural norm.

The Indonesia Miss World incident is wrong, in my opinion. Who gave the greenlight for the show to take place in Indonesia, anyway? The Indonesian government? Their Ministry of Cultural Affairs? Were they not aware of the bikini segment of the show, did they not agree to have it when they signed whatever contract that was set up? Removing the bikini scene isn’t going to destroy the integrity or scope of the pageant (unless you’re one of the contestants and want to show off your flawless thighs in that teensy-weensy polka-dot bikini), and surely if the suits really were going to offend the Indonesian people then they shouldn’t have been worn. But to cave in to a few men is unfortunate.

What I’m about to say next might come off as…well, think among yourselves. If it is common courtesy and in the interest of diplomatic relations to conform to another culture when one is traveling abroad, then the same should be said about people who either visit or, more importantly, come to live in America. Ah, one of my favorite topics. Correct me if I’m wrong, please. If I am expected to learn a few words in the local language when visiting a foreign country, then shouldn’t tourists and immigrants who visit America be expected to do the same? Citing America as the “land of the free” and how we’re supposed to be accepting of other cultures (both true) might seem justified here. But if these two truths are so valued by non-Americans, then why don’t they inject a little of them into their own cultures? So the next time I go to Egypt or some other Middle Eastern country I don’t have to cover up when it’s 110 degrees out? Why are Americans expected to be so accepting (obviously not a bad thing) but when we go abroad our conduct is critiqued or condemned?

This is a little observation I made during my first semester as a graduate student and I will state it here now: the general consensus seems to be that America has no culture. Or, that our culture can be so easily transmuted because of our melting pot heritage that it doesn’t have to remain the same; we have no true, base ‘cultural heritage,’ nothing that can be  overridden or changed. The United States government was founded using the English language, NOT Spanish. After colonialism a lot of former colonies elsewhere in the world retained the imperial country’s mother tongue as a second language, as is the case of North African countries who speak Arabic or Berber first and French second.

Sometimes colonized countries have accepted colonial languages as their first language, such as Central and South American countries which keep Spanish or Portuguese as the official language or many African countries which use French, English or Spanish as the official language of the government. Because these countries were made up of many diverse groups of people who possessed different languages (this is particularly the case in many African countries like Nigeria), picking one language seemed a good idea; the reasons for choosing a ‘colonial’ language are many and can be disputed as being bad or good. Nevertheless, the United States of America was founded on one language; if immigrants wanted to keep their native tongue this was acceptable, but the official language was expected to be learned.

No one seemed to disagree about this until recently. If I move back to France or Egypt or another country someday, I will make an effort to learn the local language if I do not already know it. Especially if I (of course) will be working. I took a taxi in Brooklyn yesterday with my twin sister and husband and the cab driver, unable to understand the street name we gave him, asked us if we knew Spanish. Que?  Were we speaking to each other in Spanish? If you can’t speak the official language, maybe you ought to try learning it-or find a job that doesn’t require you to speak to people in English. I fully understand that some people-especially adults-are not adept at learning a second language. It is difficult but not impossible, even if your are poorly educated or illiterate, a statement I can back up and will in my future post on Folk Arts Rajasthan.

At this point, my honesty might have rubbed some people the wrong way, unfortunately. But here’s a tip: try replacing America with a different country. Try France: the French are going to roll their eyes even if you do speak French fluently (don’t I know) or try to. I’d imagine that going to Italy or Germany and expecting serene smiles when one asks for change in a language like Chinese or Afrikaans would be unlikely. Working in Indonesia without knowing one of the local languages would be disastrous. If I move to a majority-Muslim country I’m definitely going to be expected to act a certain way, to change myself, but when many Muslims arrive in the United States or Europe they expect to be treated in accordance to their cultural norms. They demand that they be allowed to live according to their own beliefs. Which is fine: America tolerates religious freedom, except when it infringes on American laws. If you think it’s fine to marry a 12 year old girl, then-shudder-go do that in your old country, because by law that is not permissible. This brings me back to the Miss World-Indonesia issue: it is not illegal for women to wear bikinis, or any type of bathing suit for that matter, in Indonesia. Even if most of the population is Muslim, there are many ‘types’ of Muslims, some of whom may feel that wearing bikinis (or at the least other people wearing bikinis) is fine. Yet the Miss World organizers caved to a social/personal norm being pushed by a few male clerics.

My Gender Studies in the Middle East professor (who I will probably end up quoting endlessly on my other blog) grew rightly tired of me and my classmates ranting on and on about the hijab and the freedom to dress however one likes. Am I, like many other feminists, Republicans and liberals alike (!) just getting hung up on a simple scrap of fabric, about a superficial symbol that we equate with freedom? No-because it’s so much more than an argument about letting beauty queens saunter across a stage in a bathing suit. It’s much more than my little First-World tirade about a taxi driver asking me if I spoke English in New York City. One of the first things you realize when it comes to International Affairs is that nothing, absolutely nothing, exists in a bubble. Why does this irony exist where American culture is exported around the world, yet on our home turf the English language and the Christian religion, which our Founding Fathers both spoke and believed in, became…irrelevant? If I move to Indonesia I am expected to respect Islam, but if children in an elementary school want to sing Christmas songs for their ‘Holiday’ pageant, it is feared that singing these songs might offend non-Christians in the audience? Au contraire, I think not; were non-Christians really offended by seeing Christmas decorations or hearing Christmas carols pumped through mall speakers in the past, or is this more of an apology by the majority-Christian American society (and, despite our great diversity, our government) for…for what? Our culture? In a democratic state ‘majority rules’ is not applicable when it comes to culture because people seem to feel that, even if one recognizes and promotes so-called ‘minority’ or smaller-number (in population) religions or ethnic backgrounds, that promoting the ‘majority’ group is somehow demeaning to the smaller groups…. it’s food for thought, even if you disagree.

The point I’m ultimately trying to make is that American culture is(and should be) accepting and we embrace all people into our country (this is humorous because the AIS and Immigration Office are NOT easily welcoming) but this does not mean that the inherent values which have remained at the core of American culture need to be trampled upon. American culture exists! Are you surprised? I don’t see why. Our culture is the source of what world critics like to designate “globalization,” which, in case you weren’t aware, has become quite the dirty word. The culture clash and class continues….

Turkey’s Questionable Human Rights

June 4, 2013

The Gezi Park Protests (or shall we simply refer to it as the Turkey protests?) have taken over the international news….or have they? In Turkey certainly not, with the state-controlled media failing to report on the situation; but, if one were to go solely by my blog stats, one would say that international media (particularly ‘official’ or state medias) are not doing a good job of reporting. I had 59 visitors click on my discussion on Turkey the day I posted it; the following day I had 98 visitors; both days beat my record of most visitors.

The Gezi Park Protests, sourced from The Australian.com.au

This makes me ask, why are these readers clicking on my blog, which provides more opinion and analysis, then official sites like CNN or The New York Times? I would think they want facts; but maybe analysis is important too. I admit that I am not familiar with Turkey’s government, beyond the fact that it is secular, run by Prime Minister Erdogan and prohibits the wearing of veil in public places. The extremely large turnout for the protests, which are not only continuing now beyond the weekend but are also growing, and the government’s subsequent handling has led me to believe that the human rights situation in Turkey isn’t as rosy as I believed it to be. Based on my knowledge of Turkey, I viewed the country as pretty open and ‘free,’ at least when compared with other majority-Muslim states. After a bit of light news research, I present to you the conclusion: that Turkey is not a bastion for the protection of human rights.

Kissing on the Metro

According to Al-Jazeera, demonstrators on May 25th protested in front of a subway station in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, in an unique way: they were kissing. Apparently public displays of affection such as kissing are not permissible behavior in Turkey and a couple was recently “admonished” by subway officials who urge the public not to engage in such behavior. Kissing in public or any other such displays (a Turkish friend of my sister reported that even holding hands in most places is frowned upon!) are usually either socially or legally frowned upon in majority-Muslim countries, but I was surprised to learn this of Turkey, which prides itself (although apparently not with the Erdogan government) on secularism. Kissing might seem like a silly thing to complain about, but as long as a couple isn’t being grotesque about it who is the government to ban it?

Alcohol 

In another move that seems highly reminiscent of Arab countries, the Erdogan government is apparently continuing its seeming campaign to Islamize Turkey with its amendments to alcohol consumption. Again, unlike its majority-Muslim counterparts Turkey allowed bars, clubs and cafes to serve alcohol and there was more exposure of alcohol, whether in advertisements, on television, etc.; but a new law that has been passed (although, interestingly, not yet signed by President Abdullah Gul, as of Al Jazeera’s reporting) restricts where alcohol is served and when it is sold (shops cannot sell it between 10pm and 6am). It also stipulates that “TV series, films or music videos are not allowed to contain images encouraging the consumption of alcohol.” Although one can stress that in this case the government is perhaps more well-intentioned (especially in its heavy new fines for drunk driving), nevertheless these too are curbs on personal freedom. I guess all those foreign rap music videos are going to have to be cut from clubs and cafe TV screens….

Press’ Problems

Lest one think that human rights only means the freedom to sexily cavort and consume alcohol in public, Turkey has strictly controlled not only personal choices but any choices (read: voicing opinions) against the government. Apparently Turkey ranks no. 1 in terms of journalist incarceration rates….good job! On Friday May 31st, the first day of the protests, only one Turkish news channel reported the protests…I think the first day of the Arab Spring in Egypt did better than that!

Abortions, Detentions and All That Jazz

Besides silencing the press, Turkey seeks to silence those who oppose its current regime. Months-long detentions are the norm, even for student protesters; according to Amnesty International’s 2012 Report, many are held under the trumped-up charge of “terrorist” and then forced through unfair trials where their lawyers do not have access to the evidence being used against their client. Furthermore, those arrested and detained are often roughed up by the police and tortured. This unfair system of punishment is probably the most important human rights issue in Turkey, followed by the lack of press freedom; after all, if people will be roughed up after “speaking freely” than freedom of the press does not matter; the two go hand in hand.

Abortion, according to The Gaurdian UK, which has been legal since 1983, is facing tough new laws that will likely go into place that will “all but de facto prevent” most women from getting abortions, since the new law stipulates such rigid restrictions as limiting abortion to 10 weeks and restricting operations to hospital obstetricians only who will be allowed to “say no.” I suppose the fact alone  that Turkish women can obtain an abortion is commendable, given that in the United States this is a controversial issue. But clearly the Erdogan government is having second thoughts of allowing this life-changing operation to take place.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, sourced from turkishpress.com

Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) Party have been in power for more than 10 years. Although Soli Ozel, a Stambouli professor of International Relations at Kadir Has University, in his The Conversation discussion accuses Erdogan’s government of pushing a more conservative and fundamentalist agenda (rightly so, given the above), Erdogan himself is quoted as accusing the Gezi Park protesters of being “extremists elements!” In addition, his party is now looking into the possibility that the protesters are part of a foreign agenda. Really? Why is that whenever citizens stand up to a dictatorial ruler, they are immediately accused of being “influenced and/or funded by foreign nations?” Oh right, that’s because the dictatorial ruler is upset because it appears that he does not have control over the entire population. But he’s supposed to be democratic, don’t forget!

A government that pepper-sprays a few protesters who are trying to protect trees from being uprooted and their neighborhood park from becoming another concrete shopping mall and then proceeds to use tear gas and water cannons is a government with its priorities out of line. If Erdogan acts now, he can save his government…perhaps. Whether the Gezi Park protests fizzle out within a week or a month or five months from now; and whether they produce positive or, God forbid, negative change, I support Soli Ozel’s conclusion:

“In all likelihood the past five days will take their rightful place in Turkey’s chronicles as the “five days that changed the course of Turkey’s politics in the 21st Century”.

Sources

1. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/05/2013525191210116123.html Kissing protest

2. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/05/2013524101622966667.html Alcohol

3. http://theconversation.com/turkish-urban-uprising-has-smashed-national-wall-of-fear-14916

4. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/06/20136372149597177.html

5. http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/turkey/report-2012

Turkey: Another Park takes Center Stage in Protests

June 2, 2013

The Occupy Wall Street movement convened and took over Zucotti Park in the Financial District of downtown Manhattan. Egypt’s Arab Spring commandeers (still!) Tahrir Square, which although it is not a park contains a wide grassy circle in the middle of it which is perfect for camping protesters. Now, Turkish protesters have claimed an Instanbul park-Gezi Park- not only as the stage but also  the reason for their protests.

Gezi Park, located in the city of Istanbul, has been marked for demolition by the Turkish government for quite some time. Protesters staging a sit-in on Friday, May 31st, were broken up by the police who used excess force against the demonstrators. Since then massive protests have erupted throughout the capital, spilling over into nearby Taksim Square and spreading throughout Turkey and across the entire world. A quick scan of images online shows us protesters as far apart as Germany, the Netherlands and New York (a Turkish promoter on my Facebook was urging people to protest in Manhattan today), showing that, once again, protesters have the solidarity of the common folk everywhere.

Aerial view of Gezi Park, sourced from Samanyoluhaber.com, a Turkish news website

Protests were particularly violent today, with water cannons and tear gas being fired by baton-wielding police. CNN reports that 939 people have been detained in connection with the protesting. All of this begs the question: why? Why did the Istanbul police force decide to use excessive force when removing a small group of protesters who were protesting something that was uncontroversial compared to, say, human rights or a political leader? Now the situation has turned into a human rights protest, giving it a new drive and sparking rumors that this could be a “Turkish Spring.”

Smoke issuing from Taksim Square, sourced from a eyewitness who sent it in to HuffPost

Protesters in Gezi Park, sourced from BBC UK

The police-and more importantly, political leaders, who in other countries seem to have more of a control over police matters than, say, local governors or mayors here in the United States-clearly do not read the international news. Otherwise they would see that using tear gas and force on innocent protesters gets you absolutely nowhere with both your fellow countrymen and the international world. As a whole, the Turkish press-including television stations-is keeping mum on the subject, as is Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, the source of much ire among the protesters, whose sole comment was “Vous faites ce que vous voulez, notre décision est prise” (Do what you want, our decision has been made). However, in true 21st-century fashion, the protesters have taken to the internet: Radio France International reports that an  ‘International support for Ocupy Gezi Park, Istanbul‘ page has been set up, and Stamboulites (people from Istanbul) and foreigners alike have taken to Instagram, leaving comments on the pictures of the most-high profile people, urging followers to support the protesters.

 A semester of discussing international politics and the “right to intervene” has certainly taught me to view the situation in a different way than I would have previously. Whatever the reasoning behind the use of excessive force and then the water cannons, the Turkish government cannot take back what it has done, but that does not mean it has to continue doing it. Even if Erdogan has been careless and largely silent, it looks like President Abdullah Gul has brought about a cease-fire for now, as police withdrew late on Saturday and Turkish flags celebrating victory filled Taksim Square. The Turkish State, like all governments, forgets that its response to problems can sometimes be more significant and heavy-weighing than the problem itself. What started out essentially as a protest over replacing a nice park with a shopping mall-a local, neighborhood-situated issue that could have been argued at a neighborhood town hall (if Turkey has such democratic forums, not sure) but is now an issue spanning several issues, and the Turkish government now additionally has to deal with international backlash as well.

My advice to the press would be this: back off. If the protest has finished, let Turkey figure out how to handle this. Let’s not guilt shame the government (even though its actions were cruel, horrible, unjust, stupid, miscalculated….the list goes on); after all, didn’t the US Government use water cannons on Civil Rights Protesters back in the 50s and 60s? I don’t believe it has apologized….and even if it has, this issue does not have to become an international one blown to new proportions. Relief groups should be set up in Turkey for those who were in the protests, but it doesn’t mean the whole world has to make it this out-of-proportion issue. I know what I’m saying sounds rather, well, heartless perhaps-but just as the Turkish government made an issue exponentially bigger because of its handling of the situation, so too can outside interference, and not in a good way.

“In a democratic society, reactions should be allowed to be given in accordance with rules without causing abuses. Similarly, authorities should exert serious effort to lend an ear to differing opinions and concerns,” Turkish President Abdullah Gul said in a statement, and I believe this shows promise-as long as Gul and co. act on it. Clearly, Turkey has a problem with freedom of the press and political dissent, but the fact of the matter is that these problems are not new. So the rest of the world has to stop trying to turn this into a Cause du jour and hop off the Gezi Parki bandwagon. Turkish citizens are not ignorant. Let’s see what they can do first, shall we?

Sources

1. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2013-06/02/c_132424644.htm

2. http://www.rfi.fr/europe/20130601-turquie-violences-policieres-peuple-istanbul-souleve-Erdogan-manifestation-gaz-lacrymog%C3%A8ne

3. http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/01/world/europe/turkey-protests/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

Lookout Christianity, the Apocalypse is Coming! (JK!)

February 15, 2013

The coming of the apocalypse in most people’s minds usually involves the destruction of Earth. Today’s news from Russia was certainly disturbing–and for once it didn’t have anything to do with Putin. Meteorites hit Russia’s Ural Mountains, and while nobody was killed, thousands of people were injured when windows on the upper-floors of buildings exploded, sending glass shards everywhere. The Christian world, it would seem, is facing a crisis: the recent news of Pope Benedict XVI resigning from his post of head of the Holy Roman Catholic Church has left the world’s Catholics in disarray. And while I am strongly against homophobia, for Conservative Christians I am sure the fact that France adopts a law allowing gay marriage is another sign that the world is going bonkers. For me, the fact that people are  still protest the law is important-and not in a good way. What do these things mean for international relations? Plenty.

La trace laissée dans le ciel par l'une des météorites, dans le ciel de Tcheliabinsk.

The trace of a meteorite’s trail in Tcheliabinsk, sourced from Lemonde.fr

Le Monde reader “Elizabeth Daunis” commented on an article about Russia’s meteor shower saying “pour quoi, alors Que la tere est ronde, tourne sur Elle meme etc. est-ce toujours en Union Sovietique que ca tombs. La poisse?” At first one might be tempted to say that this reader is trolling, deliberately trying to say something stupid. But Internet trolls, as people who like to stir up emotions with radical statement are known, do sometimes reflect popular sentiments of a segment of he population. “Elizabeth’s” comment indicated two very important things: one, that she may think that either the Russian government is making up the meteorite event or that other world governments are covering up other meteor showers, and two, her using the name Soviet Union indicated that she likely thinks unfavorably of a nation which hasn’t been Communist or Soviet in more than twenty years.

Thus, even though the meteor might have showered down over a remote part if Russia, it still effects the whole world. Even governments cannot stop the laws of nature, although they can certainly try to cover them up of make them seem like something else. Apparently, what is clearly an actual event where people got hurt in the face of nature turns into a political discussion. Perhaps this is because man cannot control nature, try so very hard as he does.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (that might be a good idea at this point) then you’ve probably heard of asteroid 2012-DA 14which is passing dangerous close to Earth–the one with the 45-meter diameter. It would behoove the nations of the work to cooperate with each other in an event hat something like a asteroid hit actually occurred. I also believe that governments should share information they have in the science fields, because i think it’s wrong and utterly inhuman that one country wants to have a monopoly on information that could help save lives in another one (this kind of hearkens back to my comments on space exploration). When it comes to natural disasters, the disaster can only be mitigated by how well we work together.

Another example (at least for Christians) that the sky is falling, although not literal: the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the first pope to do so since the Middle Ages (to be precise, the last Pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415). I’m not sure what all the hoopla is over, at least on a practical level: if the pope had died, people would be sad, but they would deal with the task of appointing a new pope no differently. The issue here, then, is the image his resignation gives to the Catholic Church. One could say that he’s tired of the politics tied in with the church and the burden of being such a figurehead; cynics and anti-Christians would say that faith is not strong enough to keep him in his position, that he doesn’t appreciate te task at hand. Certainly, I must say that I have a hard time imagining a Muslim cleric “stepping down” from a n important role (alas, the almighty caliph tradition was strangely dissolved by the Turkish Empire, leaving their no Muslim equivalent of the Pope). Indeed, I feel that many would say that the Pope knows he’s fighting a losing battle.

For Christians I could thus see this being a crisis of faith amongst them; bucking tradition is always difficult to appreciate. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this means a religious war, but i wouldn’t be surprised if the pope’s resignation will one, cause Christians to question their faith and it’s legitimacy and two, to reassure believers of other faiths that they are stronger. Religion may no longer play the center role in the western world, but elsewhere (on a local scale at Least) it matters.

A third reason Christians (conservative ones, that is) might feel that the apocalypse is coming: the advent of gay marriage. Conservative, fundamental Christians have long stressed that a marriage is between “a man and a woman”. Certain states here in America have legalized gay marriage, including New York, and several other countries have legalized it on the whole, but one country that’s feeling the tension right now is France. In a move that shocked a country that’s rarely shocked, France approved “le mariage pour tous” after months of protest. The move was bold, when you consider that’s its still illegal in most of the world, and the French are still protesting: 700,000 opposing signatures were delivered to the CESE today (I guess the Valentines Day spirit was a little thin this year in France). But why should we care so much about this–at least homosexuals in France, one might argue, have other legal rights and aren’t, say, executed for their practice as night happen in an Islamic country. Why is this so important to the rest of the world?

The clear reason is that France has elevated human rights; no matter what the public thinks, the government has continued it’s secular tradition and further distanced itself from the tradition if Catholic France and granted people what should be (sorry, Christians) their God-given rights. Obviously this means that other countries could be inspired to follow France’s path. But there’s also a dark side to this. A government can enforce a law, but it can’t enforce an attitude. If religious fundamentalists in developing countries see that the “rich, educated” French, who don’t treat sex as a dirty word, don’t like fat marriage, then they may feel that it truly is bad if these Frenxh who live different (and, importantly, liberal!) lives don’t approve either. They may continue their subjection of homosexuals. A pro-gay government and irate, anti-gay-rights population also sends a mixed message to the others: does their government always act democratically? Does it have the public interests at heart? And, (kind of a stretch but] do they feel like they always have to follow their public’s wants and demands if this democratic, ‘liberal’ country does not?

Christians should take a breather: I don’t think the world is going to end just yet. After all, 2012 was supposed to be the apocalypse and December passed without incident. The asteroid is supposed to pass Earth, not hit it. Another pope is ultimately going to be elected, no matter what everyone thinks. I’m not sure how soon the anti-gay marriage flame is gonna take to burn out, but lets just hope that all of this doesn’t make a bigger impact on society.

 

Links:

1. http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/12/world/europe/pope-benedict-resignation

2. http://www.lemonde.fr/sciences/article/2013/02/14/l-asteroide-2012-da-14-si-proche-de-la-terre_1832272_1650684.htmlv

3. http://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2013/02/15/pluie-de-meteorites-sur-la-russie_1833072_3244.html

4.  http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2013/02/15/les-anti-mariage-gay-deposent-700-000-signatures-au-conseil-economique-et-social_1833302_3224.html

The Cold War Lives On!

January 30, 2013

In my last post about North Korea I mentioned how, what with the North Koreans issuing nuclear threats and Russia’s ever-increasing frigid attitude towards the USA, that it seems that the Cold War never ended. Well, I would like to expound on that idea a bit more, and say that indeed, it looks like we’re entering the age of Quiet Threats and Uncertainty again. The Cold War never ended, it was simply dormant: as The Soviet Union collapsed and had to start rebuilding, the world experienced what I would like to call a Hot American thaw-out.

Russia has since rebuilt; one can certainly say that it is strong. Unlike most European countries Russia is not crushed with piercing debt; one could even say that, monetarily, it’s better off than the USA. Russia can’t be internally absorbed with domestic issues like immigration (besides Gerard Depardieu, who wants to move there?) or human rights because, oh wait, Russia doesn’t really give a shit about those. So, a relatively strong economy, a controlled society and a ruthless dictator (yes Putin, what else would you call yourself)? Seems like the USSR is back in business.

This time around, however, we’ve got some new players. Cuba is sitting this one out; with Castro in ill health, Cuba a crumbling castila and the doors open to more foreign interaction, Cubans suffered isolation long enough. Instead, we’ve got North Korea (headed by the fabulous Jong-Un), Iran (ah, Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an ayatollah in his own right) and China, ever-still Communist. China is unique in the fact that while they’re not outright (or even subtly) threatening in the way of words, their special ties to the USA and Position as (Perhaps) most Powerful Player (not to mention their good old Communism) mean they’re in on this little party.

The threat of nuclear war is probably most imminent than it has been since the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s not Russia making the threats this time, but instead North Korea. As I discussed in my previous post, the threats by NK might lack pomp and circumstance, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous; uncertainty and subtlety are hallmarks of Cold War. North Korea, according to Fox News, is planning to conduct an above-ground nuclear weapon test, this time possibly with joint Iranian  assistance on (NK’s) own borders. This is a more welcome plan than testing out their nuclear weapons on the USA, as they have stated they will do. Iran, although not officially conducting it’s experiments with nuclear material to make weapons, is nevertheless widely suspected of doing just that, given the fact that it usually won’t work with United Nations inspectors. Furthermore, as reported by Japanese Kyodo News Agency, “Iran has stationed staff in North Korea to strengthen cooperation in missile and nuclear development,” which thereby indicates that Iranian scientists have knowledge of building nuclear weapons. Iran proves quite the cold threat; a nuclear bomb in the hands of the ayatollah is more formidable than in the hands of attention-seeking Jong-un.
“The North Korean psyche is such that, every time the US downplays the significance of a successful ballistic missile test or nuclear bomb test, the North Koreans feel they have to prove the US wrong,” writes Van Hipp in this Fox News article (yes, I was reading Fox, imagine that!) and it’s an important point: the US government/media tries to act indifferent to these “bluffs” but in reality, they’re just giving the North Koreans more of a reason to prove their might. At least when it came to the Soviets, we acknowledged the threat. 

Another highlight of the Cold War, the Space Race, has also returned, only this time it’s not just between America and the Russians. North Korea finally successfully launched a Uhlna rocket into space back in December, having successfully sent off several satellites in the past. Iran has just sent a monkey into orbit, strapped onto a padded seat in a Kavoshgar rocket.

(sourced from msnbc.msn.com)

According to Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank (Reuters), “…Iran has an ambitious space exploration program that includes the goal of placing a human in space in the next five or so years and a human-inhabited orbital capsule by the end of the decade.” Iran’s Space Plans represent the lack of information that is transferred to this day between countries: the USA has sent people, for example, into space; so have several other countries, and yet this information is apparently not shared on the open market. How positively chummy the countries of the world are!

The key divide in the Cold War I was, above all, ideology: specifically, Soviet Communism versus American/Western capitalism. And while Communism might not be the great divide (China is quite materialistic, at least if you look at Hong Kong), differing ideologies still stand. Iran is an Islamic republic and takes Islamic teachings (or non-teachings) seriously. The government’s position is firmly against the decadent, tyrannical West-and that, in fact, seems to be the underlying common link between all of these cold states: their hatred of US foreign policy and the US in general, especially democracy. Thus, this is a war of Democracy versus Dictatorship. Russia, China, NK and Iran all are tightly controlled countries where daily life is monitored and personal freedoms limited.

Russia? No freedom of the press, the possibility of being thrown in the gulag for going against the government…they’re even stopping the adoption of Russian children by Americans after 2014 by enacting the Dima Yakovlev law (if that isn’t a cold move, than I don’t know what is). Iran? Leaving the country is difficult (or entering), TV and film is censored, religious police are on the street making sure women don’t wear nail polish or show their socks. China monitors the newspapers, TV and internet, tussling with Google and even forbids people from having more than one child, for God’s sake (although perhaps this is a blessing…) NK? Well, we don’t really know what goes on, but that’s kind of the whole point: the citizens have little contact with the outside world.

In short, world politics have gotten a bit scarier. The Bush years, what with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and terrorism, were tough–but least the bad guys were clearly stated. This time around, everyone’s trying not to point fingers-but finding it difficult. There’s so much hatred, so much competition…and this time, the United States doesn’t have the dough to throw around like last time. NASA’s been on the down-and-out, and our citizens are too preoccupied with themselves. Strangely enough, it was Russia which recently said for “everyone to stop acting like children” and for Iran and the West to finally schedule their damn talks about Iran’s uranium. Kind of strange coming from a country who likes to play (and support; look at Syria) the bad guy, but it’s true: let’s all stop acting like sulky, passive-aggressive siblings, get rid of the nuclear weapons and stop this Cold War from (yes, I’m going to say it) becoming incendiary.

Links:

1. http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/01/26/time-to-get-tough-with-north-korea-and-iran-as-imminent-nuclear-bomb-test-looms/

2. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/28/us-iran-nuclear-eu-idUSBRE90R0F220130128

3. http://www.aerospaceguide.net/northkoreanspaceprogram.html

4. http://rt.com/politics/duma-adoption-ban-bill-658/