A Peace to End All Peace

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This semester Jaci and I co-moderated an honors reading group for the book A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin. I was interested in the book since it concerned the region that I visited last summer, and I wanted to gain historical background not only about the region but also about the Middle East as a whole, since my knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs is limited.

The book begins on the eve of the first World War, a time when the Middle East was one of the only regions in the world not shaped by colonial Europe. As war breaks out and victory over Ottoman Empire seems within reach for the Allies, these major powers begin to discuss the fate of the conquered territory. The books tells of the guises the Allies adopted – concern for the people of the Middle East, protection, Zionism – to justify partitioning the Middle East according to arbitrary boundaries.

An aspect of the book that was interesting to me was the lack of preparation the main figures in the British Government had for their executive positions. While they could compose easily in Latin and Greek, they did not know an iota about the Middle East. Thus, they made decisions that were harmful to region and not in the interests of the peoples concerned, as Woodrow Wilson said they would be. A broad education did not adequately prepare these men to make these kind of decisions. I now recognize the importance of experts qualified to make policy decisions that affect people worldwide. The liberal arts still hold a critical place in the world, but so does specialized knowledge. The failure of the Allied leaders to recognize the limitation of their knowledge was prideful and foolish.

A Peace To End All Peace was not an easy read. Since I usually tear through books pretty quickly, I the time this book would demand of me. However, I am glad that I read this book. I feel that the perspective I have gained on the Middle East – and on competence – has been invaluable. More importantly, this book has taught me much about the importance of cultural competence and specialized knowledge and the damage that thoughtless decisions and unbridled foreign intervention can wreak. A Peace To End All Peace is not just a thorough historical look at the decisions made during and after World War I. It also contains deep truths about human nature that anyone, history buff or Middle East expert or not, can understand.

ICDG Fascism Panel Discussion

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Is it fair to use the term “fascism” to describe populist movements?

What is fascism? Do we throw the term “fascism” around too lightly? Do the right-wing movements around the world today deserve to be called “fascist?” These are a few of the questions that a panel of three professors, hosted by the Informed Citizens Discussion Groups, discussed last Wednesday, April 19.

Drs. David Chappell, Kathleen Tipler and Mitchell Smith began the discussion by defining fascism, a term that is not simple to pin down. The panel mentioned several recent events and elections and decisions, particularly in Turkey and France. Does Turkish President Erdogan count as a “fascist?” What about right-wing French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen? Though these leaders display some of the characteristics of fascism, Chappell and especially Smith argued that we must be very careful about whom we label “fascist.”

I was surprised to find out that fascism is not a broad term, but a rather narrow one that really only applies to political movements in Germany and Italy in the 1920s and 30s. Smith and Chappell argued that its definition is too specific to encompass much else, and that because we have so few historical examples of fascism, it is unfair to use the term to describe many political movements at all.

I was surprised to find out that fascism is not a broad term, but a rather narrow one that really only applies to political movements in Germany and Italy in the 1920s and 30s. Smith and Chappell argued that its definition is too specific to encompass much else, and that because we have so few historical examples of fascism, it is unfair to use the term to describe many political movements at all. I partially agree with Smith and Chappell that we must be careful to be precise with our language, since fascism is not a simple matter. I also partially agree with Tipler – the term “fascism” is a helpful one to mention to describe some of the characteristics of current political movements around the world.

Woody Guthrie famously put the message “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar. This slogan represents the anti-fascist ferment of the 1960s, as the panel mentioned.

Into the Mainstream: Explaining the Rise of Radical Populist Parties in Europe

 

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Last week I attended the lecture “Into the Mainstream: Explaining the Rise of Radical Populist Parties in Europe” given by Reinhard Heinisch last Tuesday, a talk addressing the alarming populist trend in Europe that is no longer a fringe phenomenon. The fact that populism is still growing comes as a surprise to me – I assumed that it had leveled out or was tapering off.

Heinisch’s lecture explained what populism is and what populist movements have in common, political patterns in modern Europe, and the success of the current movements. Some of the characteristics of populism that Heinisch named were little respect for human rights, the breaking of taboos through provocative speech, nationalism, and nativism. The populist political parties in European nations share some but not all of these characteristics; though the “isms” often overlap between parties, some parties can lie at completely opposite ends of the political spectrum. I was intrigued by the way that Heinisch classified the similar but distinct populist movements spreading in Europe today, drawing lines between western, southern, and eastern Europe. Each geographic region of Europe, for example, shifts blame onto other parts of Europe and certain groups of people. Western Europe is characterized by using immigrants as scapegoats and blaming the failure of the European Union, eastern Europe uses the Roma (gypsies) and the liberal west, and southern Europe uses capitalism, the EU, and the advanced economies of the north.
I would be interested to hear more from Heinisch about the types of tactics populist political parties use to accomplish their ends and win support through fear. He touched on this by showing anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant posters, so I would be curious to understand more of the psychology and rhetoric behind populists’ use of scapegoats. I am also eager to know more specific reasons why men are more drawn to populist ideology than women. One of my professors asked this question at the end, and Heinisch responded that there is no definitive, proven answer.

Language and Religion: The Case of Arabic

Last Friday, April 21, I went to a talk by Dr. Muhammad S. Eissa on the connection between language and religion by using the case of Arabic. I found the talk fascinating even though I may have been one of the two members of the audience not studying Arabic.

Language and religion, Eissa said, are inextricably intertwined. To help his audience, much of which comes from a Christian frame of reference, he used the example of the connection between Latin and Catholic masses. When many English speakers hear Latin, they often think of church services because they only hear Latin in church services. As a result, the Latin language seems, to many, to have a spiritual quality. This phenomenon, Eissa said, is the same with Arabic. Muslims around the world, especially those from non-Arabic-speaking countries who only hear the language spoken from mosques, associate the Arabic language with the divine.

What do many Americans think of when they hear spoken Arabic? They often automatically associate Arabic with Islam, even though Arabic is not only the language of Islam but also a language of commerce, education, and everyday life. Many Americans’ only exposure to Arabic is through the media, so they assume speakers of Arabic are Muslim, even though Arabic is a language of commerce, education, and everyday life – not just a religious language. According to an anecdote Eissa told, the association of Arabic with Islam is a global phenomenon. He told a story about an American man who went to a conference in China. Many assumed, based upon his physical appearance, that he was American – but when he began speaking in fluent Arabic, everyone’s perception of him immediately changed. They assumed he was Muslim, and they asked him to recite prayers!

I learned that many young men in Arabic-speaking countries memorize large portions of the Qur’an, or even the entire Qur’an, from a young age. Eissa noted the cognitive benefits that come from memorizing large portions of text – it really does rewire and improve your brain. However, he drew a distinction between merely memorizing large portions of scripture and understanding it. There is a disconnect between being able to recite the Qur’an and knowing its meaning, and this difference is exacerbated when Arabic is not one’s original language.

Another aspect of the talk I found interesting was Eissa’s argument about the Qur’an’s essence, which he says lies in spoken words. Eissa believes that many Muslims place too much importance on the physical Qur’an, rather than the spoken words of the Qur’an, because the physical, printed text itself is not the Qur’an. The Quran, he says, was first spoken by the Prophet Muhammad and transmitted to his followers. It was not written down, printed, and distributed until later. The physical book itself is only a means of accessing the true Qur’an, which is spoken.

Eissa asked us to consider the link between language and religion in our own religious life. I realized that I do not closely associate my Christian faith with the English language. I believe that the Bible is God’s word whether in Hebrew, Greek, or English, and for this reason, all people can understand God’s word in their vernacular. Eissa, however, explained that if the Qur’an is translated into a different language, it loses its essence. I think he makes an excellent point. Language is powerful and precise, and a text cannot carry the exact meaning of its original when it is translated into a different language. Dr. Eissa’s talk gave me important things to consider and helped me understand the importance of studying religious texts in their original languages to extract their original meanings.

Summer in Leipzig & Spring 2018

After much deliberation and many applications, I finally have a plan for my summer. I applied for the Critical Language Scholarship to learn Turkish, but unfortunately I was not accepted. Then, I planned to go to Israel for an archaeological dig, and even had paid my deposit. But then, I heard that a spot had opened up for a trip I have been hearing about in my German classes for several semesters now.

Long story short, I’m going to be spending a month in Leipzig, Germany this summer! I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Leipzig

I’ll be traveling with about fifteen other OU students to Leipzig, where we’ll take intensive German classes each morning, make field trips around the area each afternoon, and explore the country on weekends.

I’m eager to spend a month in Leipzig and become really acquainted with the city, and I’m also eager to see many different cities in Germany such as Berlin, Dresden, and Erfurt, to name a few. In the past two years I’ve learned quite a bit of German vocabulary and grammar, and practicing speaking in the classroom and in the real world will help my fluency tremendously.

Since I have the opportunity to spend this summer in Germany, I am considering other options for my semester abroad in spring 2018 so I can experience a different country and take classes more suited to my major, Letters. I’m browsing universities that offer courses in Classics, Greek, and Latin. Aristotle University in Thessaloniki looks like a wonderful option.

Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki

Plans could change again, as they are prone to, but I’m ready to embrace whatever travels my future holds!

Turkish Food and Art Festival

Immediately following the camping trip with the BCM and ACC, I made a trip to Oklahoma City for the Turkish Food and Art Festival hosted by the Raindrop Foundation.

Turkish food on its own is a cause for celebration. I ate some mantı, meat-filled dumplings reminiscent of ravioli and served with yogurt, dried mint, and red pepper. I also sampled gözleme, a thin pastry filled with cheese and spinach, and then grape leaves stuffed with rice, and some çay (black tea). There were also kebabs, köfte (meatballs), and Turk kahvesi (traditional Turkish coffee, which is rich, dark, and delightful and surprises the drinker when she gets to the bottom of the cup and encounters a layer of fine grounds half an inch deep).

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Mantı.

On the stage, whirling dervishes whirled, dancers called on audience members to join them, and the MC awarded recognition to children who could correctly answer a question about the Turkish flag. My favorite art-related station the festival offered was the booth with Ebru, or water marbling. Watching an artist paint delicate swirls and flowers with a fine brush on the surface of the water is mesmerizing. I have seen Ebru artwork before, but never the intricate process behind it.

The Raindrop Turkish House in Oklahoma City offers a variety of classes in Ebru, cooking, and Turkish language. Next semester, I’m planning to brush up on my Turkish by taking one of the language classes! I’m glad I discovered the Raindrop House and the classes because of this festival.

It’s been several weeks since the festival, but I’m still thankful to the Raindrop House for hosting it and sharing so much beautiful art, wonderful food, and Turkish culture with Oklahoma City. I’m already looking forward to next year. Until then, I’m going to have to keep eating yogurt on my pasta and pretending it’s mantı.

American Culture Club

The BCM, the awesome student ministry I’ve been a part of since coming to OU, hosted an American Culture Club for five weeks earlier this semester. The club’s goal is to welcome international and exchange students and help them learn about American culture. I’ve been eager to spend more time with international students at OU since receiving such a warm welcome as a guest in Central Asia this summer, and making new friends and helping facilitate discussions at ACC was a perfect opportunity.

Each week, we had time to chat and eat snacks and then discuss a set of questions over topics like culture shock, family differences, and U.S. holidays. In seeing American culture though new eyes, I ended up not only learning more about my own culture but a little bit about everyone else’s cultures, too.

One afternoon at ACC, when we were discussing family structures, a student from Cambodia shared that in her language there are five different ways to address people and five different grammatical forms based on their rank of seniority. A student from Sweden said that there were no distinctions in seniority in her country — everybody is on a first-name basis. However, despite this cultural difference, I observed that in every culture, some things are common between everyone. In every culture, people love and treasure their families.

(Not really related to American Culture Club, but I found this infographic illustrating East-West cultural differences the other day. It struck me as a creative illustration. Do these illustrations accurately represent the cultures without making too many broad generalizations? What do you think?)

American Culture Club made me realize that it’s difficult and quite funny to explain American, Southern, and Oklahoman slang. “Hit the sack?” “Twister?” “Fixin’ to…?” “Pitch in?” Where do these phrases come from, and how do they find our way into the regional collective consciousness and stay there? I don’t know. One week,  our small group’s assignment was to write a short story using all of these terms. Hilarity ensued.

One weekend, a group of us went camping at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area near Sulphur. It was my great pleasure to introduce my international friends to the s’more, which is officially the most purely American food of all American foods and also undeniably the most delicious. It was also great to sing songs and talk about our favorite music, our philosophies and spiritual beliefs, our hometowns, our goals and dreams. Something about sitting around a campfire draws people together.

I made some wonderful friends at American Culture Club, and though I wish it had lasted longer, I’m glad we’ve still been able to hang out since then.

 

A Mexican Cooking Lesson

Last week, my friend and I took part in a Mexican cooking workshop in Farzaneh Hall, offered as a part of OU’s Latin America Week. This week, I still haven’t applied my new skills to make my own guacamole or salsa, but I’m looking forward to using the recipe I got next time I have access to a kitchen.

Armando Rivera, the owner of Puebla Tacos y Tequileria on Main Street and our instructor, greeted the class of ten or twelve warmly and asked who had traveled abroad this summer and who spoke Spanish. He then expressed to us his passion for Mexican food and culture because it is an integral part of his life — he grew up in Mexico and first learned to cook from his grandmother when he was six years old.

As he told us a brief history of the South and Central American civilizations, the adoption of the tomato by the Spanish, and the Aztec origins of salsa, Rivera passed around specially fire-roasted tomatoes, garlic and jalapenos to smell. The technique of fire roasting chars the outside of the vegetables and sugarizes the inside, he explained, resulting in an unrivaled and irresistible flavor.

Rivera drafted a few volunteers to help him prepare the ingredients, which he sources and hand-selects, to ensure quality. I asked him where he buys his avocados, and he vaguely replied that he has four sources, and he buys his from whichever source offers the best avocados on that particular day.

Finally, we gathered around several bowls and enjoyed the best salsa and guacamole we had eaten in our entire lives. Needless to say, I’ll be paying a visit to Puebla on Main very soon.

The aftermath.

The aftermath.

When I’m traveling, trying popular food is always an important part of experiencing other cultures. But when I’m chowing down on chips and salsa or guacamole at home,  I don’t always take the time to appreciate their close ties to Latin American history. This workshop and Mr. Rivera’s enthusiasm for Mexican food and culture was an excellent reminder that the United States owes appreciation to countries around the world for many of its popular foods. And thanks to other cultures, in my opinion, the United States is a much more delicious place.

Adventures in Central Asia

Thanks to the provision of God and some wonderful family and friends who supported me, I had the opportunity to spend six weeks in Central Asia this summer making friends, learning the language and culture, helping with an English club, and seeing beautiful places with four fellow OU students.

(Note: the reason I say “Central Asia” and not the name of the country is that this country is becoming more and more difficult for Americans to visit. For the security of my friends there, I can’t give a lot of information about our program. But bear with me, and feel free to use your imagination and speculate where I was!)

My friends Erin, Anna, Dillon, Stephen and I spent the bulk of our time in a city of millions of people, with a few excursions and weekend trips to other parts of the country. The district we lived in was populated by universities, students, restaurants, pubs and coffee shops. So. Many. Coffee shops. Coffee culture has been introduced to the city in the past five years, and it is thriving.

The squad, from left to right: Stephen, Anna, Dillon, Erin, and me!

I wish I could sum up our six weeks in this post, but it’s impossible because each day was completely different. Some days, we volunteered our English speaking abilities at a neighborhood club for students and professionals seeking to improve their English. Other days, we set out into the city in search of good food, interesting places to shop, and friends to show us around.

This has been my first international trip longer than six weeks, and this six weeks has changed the way I see the world, people, America, and myself.

A warm welcome speaks volumes.

In Central Asia, we met some wonderful friends who took us around the city, to restaurants, and into their homes and places of worship. We were strangers in their country who spoke little of their language, got lost frequently, and asked lots of redundant questions, but they graciously helped us beyond pointing us in the right direction. If we needed a place to sit down and have coffee, they would come with us and chat for a while. If we wanted to purchase certain items, they took us to the best places to buy those things and then helped haggle the prices down.

Now that I’m back in the United States, I want to be the friend to international students that my friends in Central Asia were to me.

I recently heard the story of a student from Africa who studied in the United States for a total of eight years and was not once welcomed into an American’s home. And I’m sure he isn’t the only one. What does that say about Americans and our culture?

Love has no language.

Anna, Erin and I experienced significant language barriers this summer. We knew very little of the language coming into the country, and picked up some helpful words and phrases but were never conversational in the short period we were there. Thankfully, many of our friends speak English much better than we speak their language.

I struggled through some conversations when I wanted to explain complex things, and when I knew my friends wanted to explain complex things yet only a word or two was understood. I learned to listen well, and to explain things in creative ways that my friends understood, verbally and nonverbally.

But even though many things were unsaid because of the language barrier, our friendships did not suffer. Two of my closest friends in Central Asia do not speak much English, but I had many a wonderful time with them regardless. We swapped stories and talked about what true love is and whether it really exists and told each other our hardest struggles and biggest goals in life.

Love is not just words – love is actions. One friend I met, who hadn’t yet taken her year of English preparation and could only speak in broken phrases, said that she felt loved (as she made a hugging motion to her chest) by the way that me and my friends were talking to her, even though most of the words weren’t understood.

Love is listening and patiently striving to understand. Love is respecting the surrounding culture, and giving up rights and freedoms in order to build bridges instead of walls. Love is seeking to know another person and everything that makes up who she is – her family, her interests, her quirks, her beliefs, her view of the world.

In America, I take my privileges for granted. And to effectively learn about and live in another culture, I need to lay down my privileges, expectations and rights.

I like having a personal space bubble with a two- or three foot radius. I like it when everybody obeys traffic rules and abides by the law. I like being familiar with currency, food, public transportation, toilets. I like knowing exactly what kind of meat I’m eating when I stop at a food stand or a diner.

I like to make appointments with my friends and have them arrive and leave on time. I like being able to speak the language of my country and understand what passers-by around me are saying.(Unrelated tangent: I learned on this trip how helpful knowing another language can be when traveling, even if it’s not the national language. I encountered several people in Central Asia who did not speak English, but did speak German, so I got to put my German speaking abilities to the test! I’m barely functional in German, but those encounters gave me the motivation to keep improving it.)

I like having the freedom to criticize the president, or the legislature, or politicians, or the law, when I feel they are unjust or unscrupulous. I like to read news uncensored by the government. I like  that if ever accused of a crime, I’ll be innocent until proven guilty. I like going where I want, when I want, and not having my motives scrutinized.

I like life to be predictable, controllable and safe. I like to run around my neighborhood and know the only things I’ll have to avoid in my route are construction zones, not political rallies. I like not having to worry whether my friends and family were in the wrong place, at the wrong time when I hear there’s been a bombing in a large public area and dozens were injured and killed.

I harbor expectations for life that differ from those around the world. In the United States, all of these things that I like are seen not as privileges, but as expectations, as standards of normalcy. But in Central Asia, life didn’t always work exactly as I wanted it to.

If I had entered the country expecting things to be exactly as I like them, I would have been shocked. Much of the culture shock I experienced was caused by differences that are neither good nor bad, just different. I learned to take the word “weird” out of my vocabulary. “Different” does not mean “weird” or “abnormal.” If my friends from Central Asia visited Oklahoma, there would certainly be elements of American culture to which I’m accustomed that they would find different, too.

The political turmoil I described affected the people I encountered in day-to-day life even more deeply than they did me. The residents of the city I called home for a mere six weeks were caught up in a conflict that they, too, had no control over, conflict in the city they call home permanently, the city that many have called home for their entire lives and have no desire to leave. Now that I am home, I can mentally process all the things I experienced, but my friends must go about their normal lives.

Yes, all of the above list were things that I had to let go of this summer. But for the sake of cross-cultural understanding and growth and my new friends, who have become very dear to me, laying down all of these things has been more than worthwhile.

 

More than a month later, I’m still thinking through all of the things that happened this summer and the implications of what I’ve learned. Some of those thoughts will likely end up here in the near future. Until next time,

Elizabeth

Plans

A wise man once said that a person can plan their ways but the Lord directs their steps. The direction I actually end up going may be completely different, but these are my plans for the next year.

OU Cousins
I’m finally applying for the Cousins program this year! I’ll be matched to an international “cousin” at a matching party, based on mutual interests. I’ll meet with my cousin at events sponsored by OU Cousins and outside of those events – I want to be able to do regular life things with my cousin, like eating lunch and going to Target, and also do fun things and show them my favorite places in Norman. In Central Asia this summer, I had several good friends take me under their wings and show me around their city, and I’d like to be able to return the hospitality.

Critical Language Scholarship
The Critical Language Scholarship allows students to travel abroad for eight weeks in order to learn a language of high interest to the US in an immersive environment. The eight weeks of language immersion are equivalent to about one year of study in the language, and no previous knowledge of the language is necessary. The program is highly competitive, and I don’t think I have a very good chance of being accepted, but I’m telling you, readers, for the sake of accountability, so I can’t easily back out of it because I didn’t tell anyone of my plans. The application deadline is in November.
I’m going to apply for the 2017 program to Baku, Azerbaijan in order to learn Turkish. My heart for the region of Central Asia really grew this summer, and I can envision myself teaching English there in five or ten years.

University of Paderborn
I’d like to study in Paderborn, Germany for a semester or a year next year during junior. OU has several exchange programs in Germany, but I chose Paderborn because there are fewer English speakers there than in other German towns with large universities, and I want the experience to be as immersive as possible. I’m also interested in Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.