Archive for September, 2009

Iranian Presidential Election

September 28, 2009
Iranian Election Cartoon

Iranian Election Cartoon

This argument works to evoke humor because it is satirical in nature. It highlights a negative viewpoint seen by many of the Supreme leader Ali Kamenei. While Iran supposedly has democratic elections – the Presidential elections in June have been questioned by many Iranians leading to street protests for months. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the incumbent, supposedly won the election with a 64% while his opposition Mir-Hossein Mousavi was claimed to only have won 34% of the vote. There were many inconsistencies in how ballots were allotted, how they were counted, etc. leading many to believe Mousavi won many more votes than given or could even have even won the election. The cartoon is poking at the idea that Iran is theocratic in nature and that it is the Supreme leader who is actually in control of the elections has blood on his hands. While, Ali Khamenei (the Supreme leader), originally kept quiet on his feelings towards the candidates he eventually stepped out in support for Mr. Ahmadinejad. After Khamenei’s support was released he further warned the opposition leaders of a “harsh response” if they continued challenging the government. This harsh response was realized when protestors refused to stop protesting (almost all protesting was non-violent). Police came to the streets with batons, tear gas, and even guns. Thousands and thousands of people have been arrested and some in support of the opposition have “disappeared”. This cartoon asks the readers to look at the Supreme leader of Iran in a new light – not one of religious scholar and prestige, but one of creating disruption, violence, and blood spill against innocent citizens who were exercising their right to non-violent protest. It is funny because it shows the opposite of what one would think to be true. Religious leaders spilling blood? Or course, there is historical background to support this for centuries, but when Americans or Western people think of religious leaders they think of peaceful men who try to live to the highest moral standards. This cartoon unmasks one of the problems inherent in Iran’s government structure, showing that it is not solely democratic, nor is the Supreme leader one who should be thought of as a moral stand-up man who exists outside the realm of politics.

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Liberal Democracy is Needed…

September 23, 2009

Dear President Obama,

I am writing to ask you to think about a different future for Iraq. When George W. Bush went into Iraq he wanted to establish a democracy. And a democracy is what he established. However, there is a difference between the democracy in Iraq and democracy in Europe and America. The democracy created in Iraq is one solely based on elections. This gives the government legitimacy; however, Iraqi’s are not guaranteed their individual rights, their liberties, or their protection. In American and Europe, we are guaranteed these rights. American and European democracies descend from the culture of constitutional liberalism; the powers and enumerated powers within our constitution are the law and they are not disobeyed even by those in power. Our constitutions give us freedom of speech, freedom of the press, private property. Iraqi democracy looks nothing like this. Our constitution also gives us balance of powers which protects the citizens from those who govern.

Freedom of Speech?

Freedom of Speech?

One of the most dangerous aspects of democracies such as Iraq’s is that this government has built legitimacy on the fact that it was elected by the people and represents the people. However, this is known to be false. How can a government represent the people and protect the people when there is ethnic warfare right under the government’s nose? How can it be a true democracy when a man is Iraqi police by day and terrorist by night? These men in power are Western backed, and although elected by the people are already advocating for a strong central government which they claim is needed to cut down the chaos. But is this not just a way to assure their power when America leaves? The legitimacy that this government has can be easily ruined. These men who run the country to not believe they are subject to the same laws as the citizens. The democracy in Iraq is based solely on the fact of elections. It would be sad to see Iraq and other countries like it lose faith in the democratic system and go back to governments of dictators because they see it as a better source government than democracy. Democracy is not appealing when a family is losing their sons and daughters to terrorism and war. A dictatorship may look more appealing because under a dictator the streets are safe due to their thugs, secret police, or other means.

Constitutional liberalism has been seen as a prerequisite for democracies that function not only through elections but also giving their citizens protection, liberties, and rights. No country has ever been seen to make the transition from a democracy solely based on elections to one that guarantees rights, protection, and liberties to citizens without first passing through a phase of autocracy or dictatorship that develops a liberal sense (aka economic reforms, slowly allowing more liberties to the people, giving them rights, etc). I am urging you to create a policy for Iraq that could lead them down the path of liberalization rather than solely forcing what the Bush administration believed to be democracy; that of having elections.

Thank you so much for listening to my thoughts and I hope you take them into consideration.

Sincerely,

Tristan Atwood

Hate Runs Deep

September 16, 2009

israeli_palestinian

Everyone has experiences that change their life path. For me, one of these life changing experiences was in 2004 when I went on an educational trip to Israel with a large group of American Jews (I myself being Jewish). It was right after the second intifada (period of intensified Palestinian Israeli violence, which began in late September 2000) and everywhere we went was swept for explosives, as well as other means of terrorism. It was an entirely different world than the United States. While the entire trip had different effects on how I viewed the world and life, the experience that made me choose a path towards international politics happened in a little town outside of Jerusalem at a day camp for Palestinian kids. The camp was not in Palestinian territory yet extra precautions had to be taken for taking such a large group of American teenagers to the spot. When we got there we were ushered into rooms of a building complex and soon we were joined by Palestinian teenagers. We played a couple of games to get acquainted with our counterpoints that helped us show that we had similarities although from such different backgrounds and cultures. After about a half hour of talking about things we liked to do, areas of interest that we studied, etc, the conversation got more serious.

The conversation was led to the subject of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The Palestinians were given an opportunity to express their views on the situation. Before, I had never thought about their thoughts on the situation. I had Israeli friends and knew their views of wanting peace but of how after losing family members, sometimes opinions change. The Palestinian teenagers expressed the same viewpoints that my Israeli friends expressed. One girl talked about how she would love to be able to go anywhere in Jerusalem and not be stopped, or how she would love to not have to constantly worry about her family and violence. Another girl talked about how she has a few Israeli friends but that it is hard to be friends when social norms are so anti Israeli/ Palestinian interaction. In general everyone but one boy expressed hope for peace in that it would lead to a better life for everyone in Israel.

While their views had some impact on me it was the one boy who I believe made me want to study international relations and foreign policy. While in the circle discussing the Israeli-Palestinian relations he stood up and said, “No, if this were my country, I would shoot every Jew that walked down my streets”. Our entire group was taken aback, his animosity was so great. When he said it he looked directly at our Israeli group leader with a look of disgust crossing his face. When asked to explain his opinion, he went on a long speech about how this was his ancestors lands and the fact that Israelis could come and kick them out was atrocious, that people in his family had fought for their land and lost their lives and he supported them and thought of the Israelis as filthy.

Never before had I heard such hate come out of anyone’s mouth. It made me realize that there is a long process to be able to solve the problems that are going on in the Middle East today. The hate between Israelis and most of the Arab world (while Palestinians are the focal point – most Middle Eastern problems with Western relations could orbit around the Israeli/Palestinian conflict) runs deep for generations. It is not simply a matter or land but it is an inbred way of thinking. People are born and raised to think a certain way – and if this cannot be changed then there cannot be peace.

While this situation I realized is very complex, that one boy made me want to do something to change how relations are between Middle Eastern countries and Israel/ Western countries. While this is a long shot, I have since always been interested in international politics and how the relations work, what forms them, what causes certain problems to arise, what paths have been tried and failed etc. While there may be no solution in anytime in the near future, I hope that someday such long held beliefs of hate between cultures can be lessened and that people can come to understand both sides of a conflict even if they themselves are on a certain side.

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Honor Killings…They Do Exist

September 2, 2009
Zahra al-Azzo's grave

Zahra al-Azzo's grave

A ‘Dishonorable Affair’ by Katherine Zoepf argues, through the story of a girl named Zahra al-Azzo, that something needs to be done in Middle Eastern countries about “honorable killings”. Zahra was a 16 year old girl, murdered in Damascus, Syria, by her brother because she had been raped in an attempt to save her fathers dignity in the community. While the government put her in a women’s prison to protect her from her family, the family married her off to her first cousin (as to get her out of the jail) so that the “shame would be washed away”.  However, a few weeks after she was married her brother showed up unexpectedly and after her husband had gone to work, butchered her to death with a knife.

Zoepf argues that there is a need for change, however, under Syrian law an honor killing is not murder, and a man who commits it is not a murderer.  The only reason that this murder has become so widely known is because Zahra’s widow has brought lawsuit against Zahra’s brother and is refusing to let the case be forgotten. The basic culture makes it impossible for women to stand up against these activities and the law easily lets men get away with it. I see this issue as a very important issue that needs to be addressed in the Middle East. For a women, who is 16 years old to be murdered by her own family because she was raped is preposterous to me. However, the traditions in such countries are deep seeded and hard to change. The Syrian government has amended article 548 of the Syrian Penal Code to say “He who catches his wife, or one of his ascendants, decedents or sister committing adultery (flagrante delicto) or illegitimate sex acts with another and he kills or injures on or both of them, either deliberately or non-deliberately, then the penalty for this should be a prisoner sentence of no less than two years in the case of murder”. Before, the sentence was even less and this is only if the act is condoned as a “murder”.

Zahra's widower Fawaz

Zahra's widower Fawaz

While I do not know how Middle Eastern societies can come to rise above this without changes in their beliefs of tradition and culture, nor do I think that there is anything the West could do to help without blatantly enflaming issues of sovereignty;  I do believe that the Western world should be aware of what is going on. Something needs to change, but how and when is another issue.