Are we back to political-religious fanaticism?

President Trump is not shy when resorting to big talk. In fact, his presidency has been marked by countless points of hyperbolic rhetoric that have far outreached any other president in modern history. Has his far reaching rhetoric been normalized in the American psyche? Let’s look at where we’ve been before…

After September 11th, presidential rhetoric became more potent because the attacks were a mythic moment for the United States. French philosopher René Girard described myths as “the retrospective transfiguration of sacrificial crises, the reinterpretation of these crises in the light of the cultural order that has arisen from them”. Indeed, the mythic nature of 9/11 brought to the fore the importance of American culture and patriotism. It came just after the fall of the Soviet Union and the economic boom of the 1990’s, where America felt invulnerable as the world’s lone superpower. The symbolic impact was particularly jolting because, not only were two of America’s most prominent cities targeted, but also its renowned institutions that represented the military and economic hegemony of the United States. American civil religion is stooped in the notion that “American is a virginal land protected by two oceans, innocent of the corruptions of the Old World, and blessed with a new mission for the world” The collapsing of the Twin Towers violated the myth of America’s divine .destiny, sanctuary, and Reagan’s “tall proud city.” A sense of vulnerability tainted the comfort of being protected from sea to shining sea. The mythic qualities of 9/11 gave context to the disproportional reaction the United States had to the actual physical damage and loss of life. René Girard also summarized a key element of myth to including “the founding of culture or creation.” The natural tendency to look back at the origins of the violated country, revived a sense of national unity. Old terms such as “manifest destiny” took on a modern meaning, to where the American values of freedom and liberty needed to be spread throughout the globe. The renewed interest in promoting America as the beacon of light for the world, the post 9/11 era ushered in sweeping changes to both America’s domestic and foreign policy. The wave of hyper-patriotism immediately after 9/11 conformed public opinion allowing policymakers to pursue options that threatened civil liberties to little opposition. The Patriot Act of 2001 and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security are just two examples of how the government expanded its surveillance structures, at the expense of personal rights, for the sake of combating terrorism. Author Daniel Lieberfeld wrote that “exceptionalism is committed to a particular political agenda that ultimately supports American hegemony or, at least fails to be sufficiently critical of pre-9/11 American belligerence or post-9/11 American military actions.” Essentially, measures intended to “restore” America were steeped in patriotism and prevented a critical self-examination of American will. Again, Stirling describes myth as maintaining “the border between the sacred and the profane.”. Hyper-patriotism streamlined public opinion after 9/11— Bush attained the highest approval rating in modern presidential history and flag sales skyrocketed— that clouded perspective and masked “the profane.”

Yes… I think we can connect the dots.

A is for Arab

A is for Arab was a cultural dialogue event sponsored by the college of international studies. It’s main goal was to address the most common stereotypes regarding Arab Americans and Arabs in general. From how they are portrayed in media to terrorism, this event helped humanize the experience of Arabs throughout the world for people who may not be as familiar with their culture. Several students took interest in supporting the event by being a representative for the display or being a participant. Located on L1 of the Bizzell Library, it was hard to miss as students searched for an ideal study space. Professor Whalid of the Arabic department, created the idea for the exhibition. Ultimately, with his talents, it was a success and remains in the library for curious students to view. Ideally, common stereotypes have been addressed and reversed through efforts of the exhibition.

 

Arabic Cultural Event

The Arabic Talent Show is a biannual event that showcases the semester’s work of the Arabic Flagship Program’s students. This semester I was involved with the poetry club and the colloquial class’s video project. I selected the Poem “Balloons” by Mostafa Ibrahim for my friend Adam to recite. Below you can find the poetry selection (it’s a brief piece that makes for an enjoyable read) and the link to the skit.

Original Poem

Balloons

To know the strength of things, sometimes we need to break them.
To know we want some things, sometimes we need to lose them.
Craving certainty, how many friends did you call liars?
Attaining certainty, you lost your friends.
How many balloons did you burst inflating them beyond their limit?
Discovering that limit, you found regret.

I now know why I burst balloons:
I longed for something never-ending –
or with an end I’d never reach.
Walls that have my back.
Walls that will stay standing, even when I knock them down.
Something certain that, when tested, will not break.

2017 Germany Federal Elections

Germany held its federal elections with the eyes on the election for Germany’s chancellor. Angela Merkel retained her position despite an increase in anti-establishment sentiment. Chancellor Merkel, often viewed as a mainstay in fractured global ordered, was reelected to be Germany’s leader within a surprisingly safe margin. With Brexit, the migrant crisis and rise in populism throughout Europe, Germany too has fallen to its influences. AFD, originally perceived as a far right fringe party was able to gain seats. This alone has brought an uneasy tone to Germany’s political climate. Germany, a country that is still coming to terms with its past, had always resisted extremists movements while other country’s such as France brought them to the fore. German like stability and security and perhaps a vote for Merkel was once again an attempt to provide stability in a jostled order. The United States with Trump and Russia with Putin have once again polarized east-west relations. Perhaps Merkel can provide some certainty.

German Cultural Event

Throughout this semester, I have attended several stammtisch meetings. It has turned out to be an excellent opportunity to practice my speaking and listening skills in a low pressure environment with other students. Located at the Meatball House off of Boyd Street, it makes for a nice walk on Friday afternoons after a long week. Occasionally I order a beer or two, but regardless, I am relaxed amongst the regular attendees. Stammtisch allows me to answer questions that may or may not pertain to what I learned in class, but didn’t have a chance to get answered. I will continue to make to as many Stammtische that I can because I feel that my german improves each time that I attend one of the meetings.

Arabic Talent Show 2k17!

This years Arabic Talent Show was a great display of talent amongst all of the students in OU’s Arabic Program. I really enjoyed the various videos that represented different classes and levels of Arabic. Humor was apart of nearly every video and the audience certainly reflected that with the roaring laughter that filled the room. My personal favorite was skit titled The New Student by the Arabic Drama Club. It featured the famous Moha from Al-kitaab and brought in mixture of Oklahoman and Egyptian Humor. What was particularly satisfying was the food at the event. The chicken and rice filled my stomach allowing me sit perfectly stuffed throughout the night. I finished off the evening with some baklawa and tea that was a flavor I had never experienced before. I hope to be apart of next year’s talent show. I will be continuing my Arabic studies this summer and hopefully will return to campus with fresh and new skills that will contribute to the success of the Arabic department!!

Panel Discussion on Environmental Inequality

The panel discussion on, “Food and Water Activism in Global Asia,” brought together activists of various disciplines to weave together their approach towards solving inequality. Despite the diverse interests of the panels members, they shared agreement on how to increase environmental equality. The general consensus involved increasing education about environmental issues so that ordinary people can help start grassroots efforts to promote positive change.

Environmental policy will not come from the top echelons of society, but require mass social change from the common folk. In order to achieve this, the process of approving policy must include the people it will receive the bulk of the impact. One panelists from China highlighted how groups of ordinary Chinese have been effective at organizing and having their demands met. Re-asserting, and sometimes inventing, their right to participate in the decision making process, these groups have been able to avoid being subjected to dangerous ecological outcomes. Also, large companies such as Apple that patronize polluting factories have been held accountable by Chinese environmental groups. Apple was sent several letters informing the Cupertino Headquarters that its factories were major sources of pollution. At first, the tech company thought the letters coming from these organizations was a hoax, and refused to recognize the claims. Apple asked itself “How could China have active environmental groups?” The letters were eventually authenticated and Apple took steps to correct its pollutive policies. Other panelists admired the activism of the Chinese and suggested that Americans need to become more sensitive to environmental issues. Using the Chinese as an example, a cultural transformation, where citizens en masse demand environmental accountability, would be the ideal state for America.

Indigenous tribes can be seen as model for long term social change. American’s tribal communities have viewed the destruction of the environment as a part of their tribal history. Tribes, thinking in generations, want options that will protect their land currently and also for the future. The harmful impact that extractive industries have had on indigenous life culturally, politically, and environmentally, has greatly inhibited their upward mobility. Therefore, they are particularly keen at revealing the harmful aspects of profit seeking environmental policies.

Sandy Nguyen, a Vietnamese fisherman advocate from Louisiana, described her experience educating fisherman about benefits that they would normally not known about. After the BP oil spill, itinerant fisherman communities were left devastated. Uninsured, poor, and lacking basic english skills, they had little opportunity to restore their primary source of income. She acted as a liaison between the state and the fisherman. Through Nguyen’s work, fishermen were able to gain access to benefits that restored their lifestyle. Without her contribution, BP would not have felt pressured to compensate the fishing communities for their losses. Nguyen, Making decisions based on “being there” experiences was advocated by each member. Inviting politicians to the fishing communities, humanized the result of lackluster environmental policy.

The structures that promote inequality include the unfair distribution of resources. Whether it be land, water, or fossil fuels, there is a selfish protection of theses resources. Often times, according to Canadian filmmaker Gary Marcuse, “the profits are privatized and the problems are socialized.” The benefits received by natural resources are not spread about fairly, and the negative byproducts are spread throughout masses. They argue that people benefitting from unjust environmental policy are the very people who play a major role in its development.

Ultimately, I agreed with much of what the panel discussed. Inspiring grass roots efforts to bring about change is necessary. This is achieved through educating the masses of the problems, but more importantly, the rights they have to correct it. A cultural transformation of environmental awareness will help etch away at the massive structures that perpetuate environmental inequality.

Journey to Europe: Experts Reflection on the Refugee Crisis

The event opened up with an oscar nominated short film about the tumultuous 4.1 mile journey that 600,000 refugees made in 2015-1016 from Turkey to Lesbos. The Greek coastguard captain heroically rescued refugees stranded in the violent sea. The documentary let the scenes speak. It was powerful and especially taxing when small children were seen dead from having drowned. After the film, there was a presentation and discussion.

Germany has learned from its Turkish population that came to the country largely in the 1970’s as guest workers. The lackluster of adequate integration policy made it incredibly difficult for Turks to become full members of German society. There are second and third generation Turks who still struggle with the German Language. In order to prevent what happened then, the German government now funds an extensive array of language, professional, and culture courses with the goal of developing productive refugee/ citizens who can contribute to German society.

Interestingly, refugee crime rates do not exceed that of native Germans. If and when a crime is committed by an asylum seeker, it is sensationalized and this fuels the rhetoric from people opposed to Angela Merkel’s liberal refugee policy. Politically motivated attacks on refugees are far higher. Revisiting integration, the speaker found that integration is paramount to avoid crime/radicalization. When people (refugee or not) do not feel like full members of society they become marginalized and eventually parallel societies sprout. Some of the countries with the largest refugee populations in the world are often deprived of the resources to take care of them. Also, they are not always politically stable and with a large refugee population. These countries include, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey. This is why other western countries need to take a stand and look at Germany as an example.

This was a great program and the discussion was particularly revealing. I hope more events like this are held next year.

The Rise of Populism in Europe

Dr. Reinhard Heinisch’s lecture on the rise of populism in Europe, highlighted the sources of populists movements and how it they differed from country to country. Conventional thought would have never predicted populist movements in prosperous western European countries such as Britain and Germany. Many scholars thought that populism was a rare phenomena that was evident in France and a few other eastern European countries. The recent wave of populism can be attributed to several issues, including Globalism. Especially in western Europe, citizens have not been able to feel the fruits of a global economy which in turn intensifies their resentment towards the current economic system.

Heinisch also described the common characteristics of populist movements which include appeals to the “common sense”, nativists movements, and a call for political and social reform. The refugee crisis that has become a continent wide issue, has helped fuel populist parties and their goals of reducing immigration. In France, a country that contains Europe’s largest muslim population, Marie Le Pen has gained remarkable momentum. Her success it reflected at many a French who believe that french culture and life is threatened by such an influx of foreigners.

The campaign techniques of these movements have been able to recruit followers. Heinisch displayed political ads/posters that attempt to send a message about social decay due to foreigners or national sovereignty due to globalization. These campaigns dog-whistle especially to young men who also make up these movements most staunch supporters. Regardless, of the sustainability of these movements, they will remain a political force to reckon with for the near future.

Randy Goodman: The Eyes for America in Iran

For Randy Goodman, photography has provided more than photo shoots. Armed with her camera she has dedicated her professional life to documenting revolutionary movements. During her remarkable career she has been the eyes for America in some of the world’s most sensitive conflicts. In college, she was invited to Iran with an American delegation to photograph. She fell in love with Iran and its people. Little did she know that she would soon be on center stage of world politics.

In 1979, she was at the heart Iranian hostage crisis. At the height of the crisis she was re-invited back to Iran, along with one other american reporter, because the Iranian student group trusted that their work accurately depicted them. She went along with with a delegation of 50 American students of diverse backgrounds requested specifically by the Iranian student group. The idea was that they would be able to inform their respective communities of the true nature of Iranians. Both the Americans and the Iranians found common ground and understood each other. Randy Goodman saw this as the special aspect of the crisis.

Interestingly, some of the documents that were shredded by the embassy staff during the takeover, were reassembled by the Iranians and distributed to showcase the true-face of American policy towards Iran. Mrs. Goodman had kept some of the publications and when she tried to bring them back into the United States they were confiscated. Fascinatingly, she successfully sued the CIA and was able to get the books back along with some of her photos.

Randy Goodman’s ultimate goal was to portray Iranians the way she saw them. Friends, students, and just people wanting to be recognized. She was often frustrated at the media blackout back in the states and the stereotypes it perpetuated. Her work is a testament to seeking the truth and how hard it can be to tell it.