Thursday, April 28, 2016

Weekly Report 7

Etel Adnan is a Lebanese-American poet and artist who appeals particularly to my interest in philosophy as she may also be labeled a philosopher. She received her degree in philosophy from Paris' renowned Sorbonne and later, after coming to the United States, she completed her post-graduate studies in philosophy at Harvard. This was prior to having taught philosophy at several universities over the coarse of many years. She was born in Beirut to a Greek mother who identified as a Christian and a Syrian father who identified as a Muslim and thus, she spoke both Greek and Turkish due to the influence of her parents. However, due to her living in an Arabic-speaking society, she naturally learned Arabic as well. Interestingly, while she would later study in France as earlier mentioned, she was educated at French convent schools in her youth, where she also came to know French. It would later be in French that she would write her first major works. Having mastered Greek, Turkish, Arabic, French and English (due to her eventual move to the United States), one would imagine that her command of language is exquisit. There is proof of this as her work has been heavily awarded the world over. While her cultural experience was an excellent background for both philosophical work and poetry (for which she would come to be known), she felt caught amid the confusion of all of the languages that regularly ran through her mind and thus, she felt that the best way of expression early in in her life, was through painting. Perhaps she felt that she could visually capture the cross of cultures present in her life. Here is an example of one such painting by Etel Adnan:

Being that Adnan received a French education, one can see certain parallels between much of her work and the French Cubist painting that was likely present and popular during the time of her education in France. Perhaps her use of color and shape in the above paining, combined with the somewhat chaotic look of the way the shapes collide is a representation of the clash of cultures? This is an expression of both how artistic and equally, philosophical this poet is. She is currently 91 years old and live in both California and France, depending on the time. It is fascinating that she, being a woman, has such prominence in three fields which have been dominated throughout history by men: Art, Poetry, and Philosophy. 


Lecture by Dr. Vera Jakoby. What is Text?. Writing in the Discipline. Spring 2016

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Weekly Report 6

Alaa al Aswany is an Egyptian writer and political commentator who most notably wrote The Yacoubian Building (which also became a film), among several other published and awarded works.  But only to speak of Aswany's job title or reputation however, is to miss the significance that he holds for Egypt. Before he became a formidable political adversary to the Mubarak regime, he was simply a very well informed and intelligent dentist, who often spoke of politics, corruption, and the lack of ethics therein. In January of 2012 the New Yorker published an article on Aswany, painting a picture of who he is by first describing the scene of one famous debate between he and the prime minister of Egypt Ahmed Shafik, just after the fall of the Mubarak regime. The article notes that unlike Mubarak, Shafik was an accomplished speaker, capable of masterfully turning phrases to fit his ideology. This however, was no challenge for Aswany. Aswany would not allow the prime minister to glance over the deaths of non-violent protesters whom he called "martyrs", pretending as though their lives meant nothing. The New Yorker described him with such words as "bombastic" and "menacing", and this must have been so, as the prime minister stepped down from office on the very next day. This outspoken criticism of the government is something that the Egyptian people were not accustomed to witnessing: or at the very least, not effectively. There were those in Egypt who found his unrelenting questioning of the prime minister to have been disrespectful, but many saw such speech against injustice as empowering. In looking into Aswany's family history, one finds that these revolutionary ideals and the concept of speaking truth to power, seems to run very deeply in his veins. He claims to have had an excellent childhood and speaks very proudly of the revolutionary nature of the work that his father conducted. His father, also a writer, met regularly with other Egyptian intelligentsia to "debate communism and Islam and nationalism" (The New Yorker). It should be noted as well that in his home, which he called "liberal", his mother and her faith had a great effect on his life. He claims that his profound reverence for life, that was evident in his citing of the murdered protesters in his debate with Shafik, was given to him by God, as he experienced his mother's faith. His outspoken nature is however not limited only to the affairs of others; he is also able to acknowledge the flaws wishing his own thought patterns. The New Yorker speaks of his formerly supporting the military, and switching said position due to the fact that the military seemed to have similar ideology to that of the Mubarak regime. This self-awareness and self-criticism is commendable and certainly not common among any public figure. As one Egyptian stated to the New Yorker about Aswany, “After thousands of years and a desert culture like this, this is the father of the tribe,” he said. “He might wear a suit or a pullover like Shafik does, but he’s still the father. This is the mentality. And you don’t question the father.” 

Below is an Al Jazeera interview with Alaa al Aswany: 

Sources Cited:

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Reflection 6

Dr. Leahy, in speaking of the way in which security policy changed following September 11, 2001, recognized that many of the students in the room at that moment may have been too young to remember the time prior to the start of what many Americans know as the Iraq war. For those of us who do remember that day, the memories of where precisely we were may be as fresh on our minds as though they had just occurred and one can see from her lecture, that Dr. Leahy is no exception to this. Our responses to this tragedy were quite different, however. Naturally, this is first due to the fact that at the time, I was in middle school and was only vaguely familiar "middle-eastern" geography. However, the adults around me at the time seemed no less terrified and no less confused as to why this was happening. While many grasped at what pieces of understanding they imagined they had, Dr. Leahy thought up what, to this day, seems a comprehensive strategy; and of coarse, not the one that the administration took at the time. Her comprehensive three step plan consisted of the following: 1. Cut off aid to Israel until they agree to return to the terms agreed upon in the Oslo Accords, 2. Establish a marshall fund (similar to that granted to Europe after World War II) for Afghanistan in order to help them rebuild and 3. Establish a Truth in Reconciliation Commission, in which the wrongs of the United States to the Arab World could be dealt with. It is important to note here that the original example of a Truth in Reconciliation Commission was established by President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, to be led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This was a way to bring healing to the wounds caused by apartheid in South Africa and was remarkably successful. Naturally, this was not the strategy of the United States and it would likely be laughed off, Dr. Leahy noted, were it not presented in an academic institution. Perhaps it is as Alcoholics Anonymous says: the first step in solving a problem is realizing that there is one.

I am sure that the question would be asked by some, "why should Israel have anything to do with the happenings between the United States and Iraq?" This may be asked due to the fact that many Americans are not family with the extenuating circumstances surrounding the tension between the United States and the Arab World. The United States has unconditionally supported Israel; to the tune of 40% of its foreign aid budget. This aid is not going to a third-world country who could desperately use such funds, but rather to a militaristic nation who have acted as brutal occupiers of Palestine, committing many human rights violations. And Israel, says Leahy, is not the only brutal government receiving funds and weapons from the united states. These themes as well as several others were spoken of in the News Week article by Fareed Zakaria entitled Why Do They Hate Us?.  Among other reasons in the cultural exposure that the United States id responsible for, causing a sort of relative deprivation; causing many to seek a "western" lifestyle, regardless of the possibility of achieving it. The decadence of the United States has greatly influenced the attitudes of those in the Arab World toward the west. Another very important, overlooked stressor to this relationship was the sanctions placed on Iraq after the first Gulf War. The problem with such sanctions is that most often, it effects the poorest among the population: non-combatants who should not be punished for the actions of any government. These are simply a few of the main factors in the strained relationship between the United States and the Arab World. I feel as though the three step approach proposed by Dr. Leahy would have been a position which would have begun to bring healing to the relationship between these nations. I absolutely agree that just as there are Israelis who love their country but disagree with its actions, so we must also be in references to the wrongs which, if not dealt with, will continue to cause problems into the future.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Weekly Report 5

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, is without a doubt, one of the most polarizing political figures in American political history. Recently, Mr. Trump proudly and publicly proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, the monitoring of Mosques across the country by the United States government and a national registration of Muslims so as to know who they are and where they live. These ideas are, at best, unconstitutional and in reality, absolutely un-american. My heart grieves a bit every time I see a Donald Trump sticker on a car or news reports interviewing Trump supporters, who are buying his hateful and destructive rhetoric. As of late, as many of the Republican presidential candidates have been dropping out or suspending their campaigns, these same candidates, who once fought Trump on every conceivable level, now support him. The trouble with this is not just one of political "flip-flopping", but an ethical issue as these powerful conservatives all seem to back the one who promises to "make America hate again", even though the turn of phrase is not so obvious. It is very easy, when looking at this bleak political landscape to feel a sense of hopelessness for our country and particularly, for its relations with others in the international community. The most angst is perhaps felt over the already tumultuous relationship that the United States currently has with the Arab World. There is however, some light at the end of this very long and dark tunnel. Two days ago, The Daily Star (a news source out of Lebanon), as well as others, reported that Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is offering s feeling of hope to the Aran World; particularly to the President of Egypt. Being interviewed following a conversation with the Egyptian President, Graham said, "All of us, regardless of what Mr. Trump says or does, we are going to keep being who we are, so don't let the political scenes at home get you too upset. That's what I told the President" (The Daily Star). This seems to suggest that though there is a very strong likelihood that Donald Trump could be the next President of the United States, Congress and the Senate will be standing between Mr. Trump and any unconstitutional propositions that might be made. While this may bring some comfort, and while I acknowledge that there is a system of "checks and balances" in place to ensue that a fascist minded man not reign supreme, the light at the end of the tunnel, in my view, is that conservatives are standing up to this rhetoric. To what degree this problem was created by the Republican party as a result of the presentation of poor and outright false representations of Islam and concepts such as Sharia law, particularly through harmful avenues such as Fox News, is another conversation entirely. It must also be said that it could be that these assurances are too late, as there is a large number of far-right conservatives, who have now been brought to the main stream by this problem which has grown grossly out of hand. I would like to see the response from those leaders within the Arab World, as to Donald Trumps ideology, and that of his followers. Do those leaders and the citizens of Arab world nations feel as though these reassurances are enough? Hopefully, it will be so that no reassurances are needed and peaceful relations may be sustained.

Sources Cited:

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Israel-Palestine Conflict

At the beginning of her lecture, Professor Zaru said that neither Israelis nor Palestinians should live in fear. This statement, while having been made by many humanitarians considering the conflict, holds further weight when considering the things that Professor Zaru has experienced an witnessed. At this time, the Palestinians live under Israeli occupation, being treated as a conquered people. They live under the threat of water and power cut-offs, random curfews, detainment and home destruction, just to name a few. The Israeli government need not give any reason for these measures: they may at times simply be a method of dehumanizing the Palestinian people. Many Palestinians must go through several checkpoints when leaving or returning home, which in times of emergency, may cause many additional problems. It is not surprise that the American media (main outlets) do not report on some of these situations. After all, reports on the Arab World and the tragedies that occur there rarely are reported unless those event effect the American people or their interests. At the moment, many reports seen are concerning ISIS and other terrorist organizations, leaving the Israel-Palestine conflict as the forgotten conflict.
The United Nations has ruled that the building of the wall of separation by the Israeli government violates international law. Thus, to remain within the law, the wall should be removed. The Israeli government has simply ignored this ruling and have continued with this massive, 430 mile structure that is reminiscent of past measures such as the Berlin Wall. The difference is that with the situation in Berlin, Reagan declared to Mr. Gorbachov that he was to "tear down that wall"! And so, with another human rights disaster, the United States not only does nothing, but stands with the nation of Israel, even in situations of ethical violations. Being that the United States is a major player in world politics, and that the United Nations needs it's support for any major measure, this support of Israel must be tempered with reason and equality. The action that the United Nations would need to take to enforce international law on the issue of the wall, would need the support of the United States. Regardless of where the loyalties lie, a ruling has been made, and the United States needs to renew it's commitment to Justice whether domestically or internationally. Thereafter, measures should be taken through the UN and NATO to enforce the ruling made against the wall. Thereafter, there are countless human rights issues to be dealt with in occupied Palestine. Another commitment in the past has been the United States Military's "liberation" in certain parts of the Arab world. While these movements to liberate people have often corresponded with the economic interests of the United States in the way of oil, we have the chance to redeem ourselves in the support of those living in occupied Palestine.
All of this begins with proper awareness and education as to the situation, which often, those in the United States lack.  

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Weekly Report 4

Recently when speaking to a large conference of Zionist leaders, Donald Trump denied the existence of Palestine in a rather underhanded way, pandering to his audience. There seems to have been a history of support among conservative evangelical Christians of the Israeli government and military regardless of what actions they are taking at any given moment. Many conservative zionist Christians such as the minister John Hagee, base such support of military action on scriptural references of Israel being the chosen people of God. It is important to note that this is one of many ways to interpret such scripture and often, ministers like Mr. Hagee take to a literal or fundamentalist interpretation of scripture that the majority of Christians would perhaps disagree with. Often these individuals remain blissfully unaware of the lives of individuals involved in this conflict. Lives such as Anas Murakatan who lives in the 20 percent of the city of Hebron that is occupied by the Israeli military. Anas and his wife, who was at the time pregnant, were interviewed by Al-Jazeera about their experience of living under occupation. As of December of 2016, all of the residents of this 20 percent of Hebron were being required to give their personal information so as to receive identification numbers to enter the street on which they live. They must report with this number to several checkpoints on the way to their homes and should they find themselves absent from the list owned by the checkpoint officers, they will either not be allowed home, or otherwise have to find another, more difficult route to circumvent the checkpoints. Furthermore, only the residents of the given streets under occupation may enter the area: Thus, they may have no visitors, be they family or friends- no exceptions. As Anas was being interviewed, speaking of his wife, he mentioned that should she go into labor, she would not be exempt from having to submit to the checkpoint stops before boarding an ambulance, which may as well be subject to check-ins, making it's arrival further delayed. After his wife arrives home and is recovering, she will not be allowed to receive visitors and they will have to take the newborn child to be registered, at which point, the child will be given a number as well. While this is an immense inconvenience, this is not the greatest problem. This idea of making someone identify by number is a method of dehumanizing the occupied people. It is a method of stealing identity and self-worth. I would ask those who claim that these actions are the will of God if such a God would ordain the dehumanization of any individual. The answer to that question, no matter what the faith, is an emphatic "no". Whether we are speaking of the three Abrahamic faiths or of Hinduism or Buddhism and so on, all begin with a respect for the dignity of life and hope to relieve suffering. To claim that these methods are correct is always missing the mark, in religious terms.

Sources Cited

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Reflection 4

Tuesday's special lecture with Dr. Boukhars was very appropriately timed. The tactic of those individuals calling themselves "the Islamic State" is to insight fear and confusion. So, the lecture was appropriate in that it brought understanding to yet another senseless act of violence which is very difficult to understand. The term "ISIS" gets thrown around in the American media and most recently, on the Presidential campaign trail, without the appropriate context to aid in understanding. Many candidates propose solutions as they find ISIS to be the most significant threat to our national security. Ironically, many of the solutions proposed seem to be black and white in nature: offering simplistic military solutions to a complicated problem that carries with it equally complex social issues. It would not be hard to imagine that many of the facts surrounding the rise of ISIS are foreign to many American students being that so many media sources do not frame the problem in it's entirety nor offer constructive suggestions to said problems. Perhaps the most troubling fact from an American perspective is that ISIS is not a new problem which has just arisen but rather the resurgence of a problem that existed in 2003 with the beginning of the United State's military involvement in Iraq. While the group was not at that time called "ISIS", their original surfacing was in that time, although many felt as though they were successfully dealt with. However the poor strategy to build Iraqi democracy and the poor strategies of the Bush administration began to pave the road for the rise of ISIS. The region has seen several such governmental attempts at reorganization; all of which have failed. Socialism, capitalism, the Muslim Brotherhood, and more all seemed to fail. This administrative failure is one of there three things that Dr. Boukhars claims ISIS feeds on. The three factors are as follows: 1. Failing State Administrations, 2. Oppressive political policy, and 3. The oppression of Sunnis. While it is that the vast majority of Muslims oppose ISIS (Something like 99%), ISIS continues to see Sunnis as their constituency. This is due to the fact that in the main regions in which ISIS is active (Iraq and Syria), there has been widespread persecution of Sunnis (or this is the perception of many, as Dr. Boukhars said). This dissatisfaction amongst Sunnis has created a perfect storm of political unrest, upon which ISIS lives. It is interesting to note however, that Sunnis actually hold the majority in these regions. The persecution is possible as they are a majority with a minority complex; feeling the full weight of their oppression. Up to this point the strategies to deal with the rise of ISIS have either been primarily militaristic (the Bush administration) or relatively inactive, so as to distance from previous administrations (the Obama administration), according to Dr. Boukhars. The West's failure to come to the aid of Sunnis being persecuted is an idea that those in ISIS use to their advantage to create hostility against the West. It is important to note here that these factors are just a few of the factors surrounding the rise of ISIS and their actions around the world. This is an extremely complicated issue that has very little to do with Islam whatsoever, contrary to what Donald Trump would have his constituents believe. It is a sobering thought when one realizes that the tactics of Donald Trump such as division and alienation, create there perfect conditions for ISIS. Awareness of what are really the underlying issues nee to be brought to the attention of the American public along with the recognition that to support a man like Trump, is counter to the progression of a nation and a more civil planet.