Monthly Archives: April 2011

Global Community, Global Responsibility (Part 3)

Each and every member of the international community must be responsible and consistent, both within its own borders and in its handling of international and foreign problems. (Source: miyabbi.student.umm.ac.id)

This post is a continuation of my previous two posts of the same title. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here, respectively.

But perhaps more importantly than international interventionary action is a right international mindset toward atrocities and states that have gone bad. Many of the greatest crimes against humanity have been committed by leaders who pushed the limits and received no reprimand. The most frightening example is of course, that of Hitler. After coming to power by completely legal means, Hitler pushed the political and social boundaries in his own country, and no one stopped him from taking complete control of Germany. The fuhrer swiftly expanded his power across Europe, as the Allies flailed in diplomatic inefficacy. This policy of appeasement allowed Hitler’s Germany to grow into a colossally dangerous and destructive force.

Admittedly, there are few people alive in the world today who have as much blood on their hands as Adolf Hitler did. But after the hard lessons learned from allowing Hitler to have his way with the countries around him (at least until he looked to Poland), international leaders can no longer stand back and allow atrocities to happen, whether these are crimes committed against foreign persons or against one’s own people.

As I said at the beginning of this post, the road to international responsibility starts in a country’s attitude toward leaders who perpetrate injustice. If the international community simply sits back and allows a state to commit atrocities, either against others or its own people, the damage is twofold. First, the leader(s) responsible for such acts will see that these can be successfully perpetrated with no repercussion or retribution, at least not from any organization or institution with real power. And second, the rest of the international community risks looking toothless and tame. While the international community shouldn’t come across as hyper-aggressive, it must be not be seen as a powerless objector to atrocities, but rather as a powerful dissuadent from atrocity.

This requires both consistency and enforcement on the part of the international community. Leaders who are considering committing atrocities must be shown that any violent acts they commit will not pay off. If a dictatorial leader (Qaddafi or Mubarak would be examples) believes that he can commit mass violence (whether it is toward a political purpose or any other) without being stopped, then he will. Strong countries and international organizations must show these leaders that any violence they commit will be severely dealt with, no matter what.

This issue is particularly pressing in light of the Arab Spring sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa. As leaders like Moammar Qaddafi cling to power by violently suppressing their people, the international community’s response must be swift and decisive. A lot has already been done in Libya, but it may not be enough (I’m planning to write more on this subject soon!). And after a violent weekend in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, one wonders how long Assad’s schizophrenic alternation between reform and crackdown can go on before it reaches the same breaking point that was reached in Libya.

Without the right mindset and determination behind its actions and sanctions, the international community will never be able to act as a serious roadblock to state-sanctioned atrocities. And this determination and consistency will take some sacrifice, of course. But to be a responsible member of any community, especially one as large and all-encompassing as the international community, one must learn to give up some of their own goals and desires for the good of all.

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A Bad Moon Over Pakistan

Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Source: ACUS.org)

Things have recently gone south over the past weeks and months in an already-rocky relationship between America and Pakistan.

Truth be told, this relationship hardly goes back far. After the terrorist attacks of September 11 back in 2001 and the beginning of America’s War on Terror, Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf agreed to give the US the support it needed in the Middle East, and even to help in America’s counter-terrorist aspirations in Afghanistan. Since joining the War on Terror as a US ally in 2001, Pakistan has lent its assistance to American anti-terror operations and opposed the Taliban within its own borders and across the line in Afghanistan.

Well… sort of. The young relationship between the US and Pakistan has run into tough times as of late, due to a distinct gap in trust between the two countries, and it seems that this nascent alliance is in danger of disappearing soon.

There are a few reasons for this. First, no one on either side seems to be completely sure of the other’s intentions. This has been something of a chronic problem since the beginning of the US-Pakistan alliance, but it has heated up to dangerous temperatures recently. Both sides feel as though they are being kept in the dark about the operations and intentions of the other. This is particular troubling from Pakistan’s point of view, as they are unsure of the extent to which American agents, technologies, and agendas are secretly operating in their country.

The US has been extensively using drone aircraft to strike Taliban and al Qaeda targets. These drones have not been popular with the Pakistani brass, who feel that the US should not be operating their weaponry inside of Pakistan’s borders, especially without consulting the military leadership in the very country in which they’re operating. On top of that, these drone strikes have killed a number of civilians, which the Pakistani government can hardly be blamed for objecting to. This adds yet another layer of complexity and distrust to the murky relationship between the nations.

Second is the covert nature of US operations in Pakistan. The CIA has had a shadowy involvement in Pakistan almost since the alliance began, and it’s still unclear to Pakistani officials exactly what that involvement is and how far it goes. This uncertainty surfaced violently after a CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, fatally shot two Pakistanis in Lahore. A third man was killed as another vehicle rushed to assist Davis.  An unknown number (though it’s come out that the number is likely between 40 and 60) of CIA agents are operating in the country at this point, and after the Davis incident, that’s naturally unsettling to Pakistani leadership.

Finally, the US and Pakistan seem to have very different goals and visions, both for the future of the Taliban and Afghanistan as a whole, and these are coming into the light more and more as the Afghanistan endgame approaches. While the US wants to simply crush the Taliban into submission, the Pakistani government seems to have less-straightforward plans for the terrorist group. US intelligence officials have long known of Pakistan’s tactic of choosing between “good” and “bad” Taliban groups. Whether America likes it or not, Pakistan also has its own interests in Afghanistan, and is not above using certain parts of the Taliban to advance those interests. There have been reported incidents of the ISI (Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency) warning certain Taliban factions of imminent drone strikes or other attacks, as these factions hold strategic significance to the ISI or greater Pakistani command.

With all of these entanglements and trust deficits, it’s a small wonder that things are so tense between the US and Pakistan. It’s beginning to seem that what was never a committed or involved alliance is splitting at the seams. And when things finally begin to settle down in Afghanistan (pray that this comes soon), there is little way of knowing how the two nations will resolve their differences.

I used resources from the New York Times (clicking this will use a free view), Long War Journal, and the ACUS for this article. If you want to learn more about the issue, check out these links!

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Global Community, Global Responsibility (Part 2)

The international community has a responsibility to end state-condoned atrocities in other countries. (Source: Middle-East-Info.org)

This is part 2 of a multi-part post on international responsibility. Part 1 can be found here.

The answer to this question is an unfortunately simple one: Because no one stopped it.

The international community is understandably hesitant to become involved in foreign conflicts and complications. Becoming tangled in another country’s conflict can be costly and often pointless, as the United States has seen in recent years in Afghanistan and, to a certain extent, Iraq. Sorting out other countries’ issues is difficult work.

But other nations must sometimes become involved in a country’s private affairs, even if it’s not very advantageous for the intervening country. I would consider these “private affairs” to be any act of atrocity that is committed, condoned, or simply overlooked by the ruling government. US Vice President Joe Biden had this to say about the actions of Moammar Qaddafi in Libya: “When a State engages in atrocity, it forfeits its sovereignty.”

Sovereignty is a very important concept in international relations. Simply put, it’s the quality of having supreme authority over an area of land and its inhabitants. But a state must earn this authority by being a responsible caretaker and lawmaker for its people. And when a state does not perform this duty, other nations may have to step in to force the issue.

Let me rephrase that: The international community may have to step in (yes, I know I’ve said the words “international community” far too many times!). Just as it is crucial for a country to be personally responsible to have a part on the international stage, it’s important that all countries are collectively responsible for keeping the world a safe place. I ought to say though, that I’m not endorsing a kind of world police, at least not one run by any one country (least not the United States). But perhaps we do need a world interventionary force, to prevent atrocities from being committed.

This force would be multilateral and international, so as not to skew power in any country’s direction too far. It would need to be much quicker to act than organizations like NATO or the UN though, and would probably work best when independent of these organizations. Unfortunately, the United Nations simply represents too many conflicting interests, and takes far too long to come to decisions; it took nearly a million deaths before the UN did anything in Rwanda, and by then it was too late. So perhaps willing and able parties of the international community should form a more fast-acting organization, to quickly strike against state-committed or -sponsored violence.

In fact, NATO did a fairly good job of this recently, in its response to the violence of Qaddafi against his own people in Libya. Even then though, it took far too long for the UN and NATO to step in, and there’s still more that should be done, such as the placement of peacekeeping troops or delivery of additional medical supplies.

If there were to be an independent, international coalition specifically set up to counteract state atrocities, mass violence could be stopped much sooner and more effectively. Assuming that specific guidelines were set in place, and all participating nations agreed on which actions constitute atrocity, this peacekeeping force might have the power to stop many humanitarian crises. The key to this would be fast, decisive action against state atrocities; dictators tend to commit these violences on their own people after the international community does nothing to stop earlier offenses.

Looks like this post is going on to a third part! Check back soon for part 3!

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Global Community, Global Responsibility (Part 1)

The international community is continually becoming more tightly-knit, but that comes with a great deal of responsibility. (Source: icicp.blogspot.com/www.icicp.org)

Our world is growing increasingly global and interconnected. Countless alliances, agreements, treaties, and organizations bind together countries and peoples all around the planet. Many companies are turning abroad to emerging markets to expand their business. It’s now almost commonplace for a student to spend months or even years studying abroad.

The degree to which the many diverse groups of people around the world are connected is astounding. We’ve managed to cross many lingual, social, religious, and cultural barriers as the world continues to become more globalized, or as Thomas Friedman might say, flat.

Globalization brings with it a plethora of advantages and advances that not only offer more opportunity to those in emerging countries but give us a chance to understand each other more. Perhaps more importantly, it has allowed many countries around the world to move past dangerous nationalism and allowed international cooperation where it hasn’t existed before.

I’m majoring in International Studies at my university, so I believe that an examination of these changes is critical, not only for gaining a better understanding of the politics and economics of the world, but for understanding the people of it. And though I’m nowhere near graduation or a full knowledge of international relations, I feel that I’m beginning to realize something about our trend towards the global.

As nations continue to draw more connections to one another, they become beholden to an increasingly high standard of responsibility and accountability. As a nation moves outside of itself and reaches out or is reached out to by other parts of the world, its standards must be carefully examined. The more involved a country is on the international stage, the higher its national credibility must be. Once a nation becomes globally active, it can no longer make decisions based entirely on its own needs and desires, nor can it expect to avoid all international scrutiny.

Yet many members of the international community are not living up to the standards that they should be expected to adhere to if they want to receive recognition from other countries. In a way, these governments – such as those of North Korea, Rwanda and Serbia in the 1990s, Sudan, and Libya, as well as countless others – want to have their cake and eat it too, so to speak. They want or wanted to have a presence on the international level (and have that), but are or were unwilling to live up to the standards that such nations must hold.

The nations I listed above have had in the past or currently have grievous human rights violations staining their records. But in each of these circumstances, the international community either spent weeks, months, or years deliberating about what to do, or is still doing nothing. Why is this? Why were 800,000 Tutsi people killed in Rwanda before anyone put a stop to the violence? Why was Slobodan Milošević allowed to stay in power in Serbia after massacres of Bosnian Muslims, when 3 weeks of NATO bombing stopped him later? Why are people still being killed in Darfur?

I’ve decided to split this post into multiple parts, as it seems likely to become rather lengthy, and I haven’t published in some time. Check back soon for part 2!

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What’s Education Coming To?

Whats education coming to? (Source: Fungiftideas.org)

For the past few years, my university has provided a service called the Collegiate Readership Program. The program supplies daily issues of the New York Times and USA Today periodicals, in an effort to keep the student population informed and involved in the world they live in.

But over the past two weeks or so, the number of papers available has been dwindling, down to only a dozen or so in one building on campus. Now, this would be quite understandable if my university had fallen on hard times… but it definitely has not. The school, a fairly small private university in the Pacific Northwest, has had a veritable explosion in attendance numbers; my freshman class is the largest in the school’s history, and next year’s class is expected to be 20% larger than mine. To add to this, the school has a number of well-off benefactors and sponsors for all kinds of programs, and it’s expanding a number of facilities, especially its athletic programs. The school will have a football team (and a brand-new field) by 2013, and is planning two new living halls and a brand-new student union building.

So why the cutback on something as simple as newspapers, when the school is doing so well and expanding so quickly elsewhere?  I think this frustrating evaporation of my favorite newspaper from campus marks a frightening prospect about education as a whole: Many people don’t seem to be at college for an education, and many colleges don’t seem too concerned about providing one.

I see this terrifying trend not just on my campus, but in universities across the States. More and more, young people (I know, I’m a young person too) seem to be choosing their colleges based not on the school’s academic strength or educational opportunities, but on how many bells and whistles are stuck on. Schools are no longer competing for students by showing off their various programs and departments, but are instead improving their entertainment and social offerings: the dances, the sports, the on-campus cafes, and so on.

Essentially, students aren’t choosing their college because of the education that might come out of it; they’re choosing it because it offers them a spot on a team playing their favorite sport, or perhaps because it’s in a lively and entertaining city or area. Quality of education is still a factor in decisions, but it’s typically only one of many. The “college experience” consists not only of education for most young students, but also requires an entertaining campus, a high number of school-sponsored events and games, and a whole host of other needs that should be decidedly secondary to quality of education.

But more worrying is the seeming trajectory of the universities themselves. My school, as well as many others (especially private universities), are getting along quite well, despite this unfortunate economy. Students continue to pour in, as does money. But where is this money going? It doesn’t seem to be furthering the student body’s education nearly as much as it should! Universities’ cash reserves now seem to be less dedicated to the expansion of their educational capacities, and have instead become focused on improving extracurricular offerings, such as sports, gym equipment, and so on. Visit a college campus, and chances are that your tour guide will emphasize the fun things to do in town or around campus, rather than the school’s strong academics.

All of this makes one wonder: How valuable is a modern college education? Are the things learned here likely to lead to a more fruitful life, or will they only give a slightly bumped-up salary? These will be crucial questions in the coming years, including in my own life and university experience. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this later, but for now, I leave you with a question: Is a university education worth the time and money anymore?

This post was heavily modified on April 25, 2011, after its original publication on April 14, 2011.

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Should Everyone Vote?

This post was inspired by (and largely based on) an excellent Opinion piece on the CNN website by L. Z. Granderson. You can find it here.

In Western democracies, we’re accustomed to the idea that all people should vote, that all people should have a political voice and some measure of influence in how their federal, state, or local government is run, and in who is running those governments. And, in theory, this is a fantastic idea!

But how often do we really stop to think about it? The principle of voting rights seems to be sacrosanct in America and many other Western countries, and any challenge to it is usually treated with shock or outright horror. Most people see the right to vote as a sacred, God-given right, especially here in America; and I would agree, to a certain extent.

But reading the piece that I mentioned above gave me pause. True, all people have a right to participate in their political process, and people should exercise that right. But there’s a drawback and a danger to this as well. A disheartening number of people are painfully ignorant of their own political system. I don’t just mean the actual mechanisms of the system (how elections work, what Congress does, the significance of the Supreme Court), but also the policies and decisions under consideration by our government.

Allow me to throw a disclaimer in here. I am by no means equating ignorance to idiocy. I’m not calling into question the intelligence of the average American, but rather the average American’s commitment to being an involved and informed voter. People may be extremely passionate their pet politicians or policies, but so much of the time, they either limit their learning to one particular issue or simply don’t bother to be informed about any of the issues they may claim to care about so much. It’s easy to denounce Obamacare, talk about creating jobs, or express deep concern about the budget deficit. But if voters are not aware of the real costs, benefits, repercussions, and payoffs of such things, how can they be qualified to vote about them? If one does not really understand the principles of Obamacare, what it takes to create more jobs, or what the magnitude of our budget deficit is, how can they vote responsibly on these issues?

Think of it this way: If a person knows nothing about navigation or seamanship, would you ask them to help you sail the Atlantic? If a friend of yours doesn’t understand the first thing about chemistry and physics, would you invite him to run the LHC for a day? Note that the people in these examples are not stupid; they just haven’t been given the knowledge to do such things! So it is, I think, with voting. If people are not properly informed about the issues their country faces, how can they vote well? We spend a lot of time getting up in arms against our politicians, blaming them for our problems, and in some cases, they are at fault. But it seems that the bigger problem here lies with the people electing them. If we expect our politicians to fix our country, then we also have to be willing to do the work required to stay informed and updated about what needs to be fixed.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we form some erudite council of qualified voters (though this is almost what our republican political system is) to make our decisions for us, and disqualify all others from the political process. But what I am advocating is that we as voters have greater respect for the power of voting we’ve been given. While it may be a basic human right to have a fair government that operates under the consent of the governed, we are also under an obligation to treat that right with the respect it demands. And the most important way to do that is by getting informed.

So if the title of this post seems radical or provocative… it is. I’m still struggling with this question myself, but perhaps if people are not willing to do the legwork required to vote responsibly, they shouldn’t exercise that right at all. As Spiderman came to learn from his Uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility. (That’s the extent of my superhero comic knowledge.) I’m not discouraging anyone from voting; in fact, I wish more people would. Instead, I’m encouraging people to go beyond simple sound bite politics and find out what they’re really voting for before they pick up the pencil and cast their ballot.

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Seeking the Spiritual: The Century of Common People (Part 2)

Will we finally let go of our differences? (Source: scu.edu)

This is the second part of an earlier post, which you can find here. If you’re a bit lost, give my earlier post a read!

Sadly, we’re nowhere near as far toward this as we could be, or should be, and I must admit there’s a long way to go. But progress is being made, and in no small way! A great example of this is in the steady advancement of gay rights over the past years. Public opinion is moving toward favoring marriage equality, DADT has been repealed (nominally at least), 6 states allow gay marriage, and Maryland will soon join them. To add to this, the Department of Justice is no longer upholding DOMA, a strong step that shows that government is moving with the popular opinion. The long run for marriage equality is looking even brighter, as more than half of voters under the age of 30 (55%, to be exact) approve of same-sex marriage, and the media generally treats it as both normal and acceptable.

Of course, this is by no means the only place we’re moving forward! Huge strides are being made across religious, social, cultural, and linguistic barriers, as people all around the world are connecting in new and incredible ways. Even just in the short time I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many new and amazing people, and talk with them about some of the most important things in life, and we’ve been able to do this across entire oceans!

This new century brings incredible new potentials with it, unlike anything in centuries past. Just as the 20th century brought about amazing new developments and turning points in our collective history, the 21st century is bringing a new kind of change, one that brings understanding and peace, instead of division and strife.

Maybe this is just the optimistic musing of a young mind, but as I mentioned above, this seems to me to be happening in a variety of very real and tangible ways! I’m finding more and more people who are willing to reach out and understand others, no matter what their differences are. People seem to be slowly becoming more willing to accommodate the different ideas of others, without feeling the need to be right. In schools, more children are being taught the value of acceptance and tolerance, instead of the value of winning an argument. There seems to be a greater and greater need and desire for interfaith dialogue, and prominent religious leaders (Feisal Abdul Rauf, Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and many others) are standing up to try and bring greater peace and unity between religious traditions, without sacrificing diversity.

As I said, there is still a lot of work to be done here, but a lot of progress is being made as well. Though we’re only a tenth of the way through it, I can see this century being a bright one, a time when people will slowly but surely realize that all of our differences, all of our outward appearances and supposed differences can be left at the wayside. This 21st century will be, I’m sure, one of Common People.

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Filed under People & Society, Seeking the Spiritual