4.1 Miles

I watched 4.1 Miles a few weeks ago, courtesy of the College of International Studies. Although it has faded somewhat recently in favor of the French election and the decisions of President Trump, the Syrian refugee crisis still populates the headlines as the international community argues over responsibility and delegation. 4.1 Miles focuses on a Greek Coast Guard captain responsible for fishing refugees from the water when their boat collapses. Far too often, smugglers will pack boats to the bursting and travel in terrible conditions. Almost every day the Coast Guard gets called out to rescue soaked refugees from overcrowded lifeboats. The documentary was very well done, but difficult to watch. As the panel discussed after the showing, the documentary did an excellent job humanizing the refugees. When discussing where these thousands and thousands of people are going, it is important to remember that they are indeed people.

African Issues (That Aren’t Hunger)

When people think about Africa, they tend to squish the entire continent into the single stereotype of a backward, hunger-torn place full of suffering and poverty. It is important for people, especially college students, to be more in touch with reality and there I appreciate the fact that OU hosts panels and events informing people on events in Africa as well as other parts of the world. The REMAND showing I wrote about was a great example, showing the efforts of a hard-working, developing nation. Another event I attended, much earlier this semester, was a panel discussing African immigration to the United States and sanitary systems in Africa.

Many Africans try to move to the United States but the process is very difficult. The process is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. Furthermore, there are fake U.S. Embassies that issue fake green cards, some of which operate for years undetected. The second half of the discussion was incredibly informative. In certain countries in Africa, toilets are difficult to come by. As a result, private citizens have started building these large bathrooms and charging a small fee to use them. It is an interesting contrast to the free bathrooms all over the U.S. However, the fact that there is money to be made does motive individual to construct these facilities, and it is better to have them and charge than not to have them at all.

RISE IN POPULISM

Populism and populist leaders have been rising in popularity across the nation to the surprise of many people around the world. Those who have studied right-wing movements, such as guest lecturer Dr. Reinhard Heinisch, have come to understand that no country is immune to populism; no matter its development or its history, its susceptibility does not change. Populism calls into question the principles of liberal democracy and works to break rules in the mainstream. Associated with ideas of nationalism, and nativism, it champions “forgotten/ignored people” of a certain state. Different parties have different contexts that bring in different ideas that may include nativism, ethnocentrism, racism, antisemitism, religiocentrism, heterocentrism, islamophobia, anti-EU, and other forms of discrimination that inspire ideas focusing on a certain “right people” and blaming a scapegoat.

The lecture was eye opening to the news I have been hearing about elections in Europe. While I feel that I would have gotten more out of the lecture if I had more prior knowledge on current events, it was easy to relate the subject to our own domestic issues in the United States surrounded the controversial President Donald Trump. The rise of populism really capitalizes on the great divide that we see in world perspectives today. It is so easy to surround yourself with like-minded people and not understand those with different opinions. So many issues such as climate change, have become so bipartisan because of this. I believe that compromise is what we should strive for in the future. How this can be achieved and how quickly, I have no idea. I do not believe that populism is a movement that will quickly diminish. By what we have seen in the world, and the strength of these parties, I believe that this is something that needs to be checked, understood, and we desperately need to find a true compromise.

REMAND: A Legal Crisis

For one of my classes this semester I went down to the OU law building south of the dorms to attend a showing of REMAND, a documentary about the ongoing reform of the Ugandan legal system. Since the adoption of their new constitution, Ugandans have been trying to develop their government to be as efficient and productive as possible. In order to properly organize their legal system, the Ugandan government turned to U.S. lawyers and professors who offered to host Ugandan lawyers in the U.S. and show them first-hand how the U.S. legal system worked. After observing this system, the Ugandan lawyers were able to go back and implement parts of our system that worked for them. One idea that was suggested by U.S. students attending a legal conference in Uganda was the introduction of plea-bargaining into the Ugandan system. According to Ugandan law, after a criminal was arrested but before he was tried in court, he needed to be kept in prison. However, the court system was overwhelmed by its caseload and prisoners could wait six or seven years in prison for their trial. Even children who were accused of a charge could be imprisoned for years in terrible conditions. The backlog in the courts resulted in an overcrowded prison system. The documentary showed over three thousand men being kept in a facility designed for six hundred. I found it very interesting that in this specific case, U.S. lawyers were able to help implement certain aspects of the U.S. legal system, such as plea-bargaining, without coercing Uganda to imitate us entirely. I find too often that humanitarian efforts attempt to make others just like us, even if that’s not what’s best for them.

Salsa Ball

I first heard about the Latin Dance Club soon after I arrived at OU, and being both a dancer and a Spanish language learner, I was naturally curious. Unfortunately, however, my schedule hasn’t permitted me to attend any of their regular meetings so far, but several weeks ago they hosted a Salsa Ball in the Union. They had a quick dance lesson right before the ball where they taught us the basic step and a right turn. The ball was a lot of fun. I haven’t been able to dance as much this semester, so I was really happy to be moving again.

After the ball, I found out that during the month of April Latin Dance Club would have four weeks of introductory classes on a different day of the week than their regular meeting, which I was able to attend. At the classes, they thought us the basics of both Salsa and Bachata. In high school my Spanish teacher, Mrs. Sustaita, taught me a little bit of Salsa in class, but I’ve always wanted to learn more. I’ve learned in several dance styles in the past, and I think there is something to be gained from each of them. For me, the biggest takeaway from these classes was an introduction to social dancing. In ballet and modern dance (the styles that I am most familiar with) there may be a few improvisation exercises, but the vast majority of what is done in class and on the stage is a memorized combination or piece of choreography. Additionally, these are dances which are meant to be performed, not done spontaneously or in a social situation. These are things that I really enjoy about ballet and modern; I love practicing a sequence of steps again and again, performing on a stage, and choreographing. But I have a lot of trouble improvising. I’ve long been awed by people who could just…get up and dance, and I’m amazing by latin and ballroom dancers who somehow execute steps in sync without memorizing the routine beforehand. In these latin dance classes, we did learn some choreographed combinations, but we were also taught about leading and following. I know that if my partner moves his hands this way, I should do this, and when he moves his hands that way, I should do that. I’m still a salsa beginner, but I feel like even if I were dancing with a stranger (and they stuck to some simpler steps) I could follow along, and dance the whole way through a song without ever having choreographing a step, which is a new experience for me. Dancing this way really forces you to be present in the moment and react to what your partner is doing, which I think is a valuable skill that could help me in my other forms of dance as well. I’ve also starting going to Dancing in DLB, a swing dancing club on campus, which isn’t an international organization, but it is another form of social dancing, so I thought I’d mention it here. I hope I can continue to be involved with both of these groups next semester.

Latin Americanist Lunch

In this post I will be talking about an international event I attended, but first an announcement: I officially declared a Spanish minor. As a Spanish minor, I started receiving emails from the department about different events relating to Spanish going on around campus, and I quickly RSVPed for April’s Latin Americanist Lunch. The Latin Americanist Lunches—hosted by the Center for the Americas in the College of International Studies—are monthly lunches, open to the public, where an expert lectures on a topic relating to Latin America.

On the day of the event, I showed up in Farzaneh hall having completely forgotten the topic of the lunch, or perhaps having never looked it up in the first place. So I was fairly surprised to look up from my plate of food and find the words “Erotic Mysticism” projected on the wall. After I endured a brief moment of panic that I had ended up at a radically different lecture than had I intended to, the presentation began.

The lecture was given by Dr. Nancy LaGreca, the Associate Dean of the Graduate College and an Associate Professor of Latin American Literature. She recently published a book titled Erotic Mysticism: Subversion and Transcendence in Latin American Modernismo. The book is about the use of mysticism, with an emphasis on the erotic, in Latin American prose during the Modernismo literary movement. Modernismo literature is highly stylized and mystical; much emphasis is placed on the poetry produced from this movement, but Dr. LaGreca chose to study the less examined prose and the social themes contained there. The Modernismo authors were very critical of two prominent death-evading philosophies of the day: Catholicism and scientific positivism. Catholicism allowed people to ease existential anxiety though the concept of an afterlife with well-defined, exclusive rules on how to achieve it. Alternatively, recent leaps in medical technology and an adherence to populism caused others to hope for an antidote to death through science. The Modernismo authors opposed both of those views and used mysticism as an alternative, proposing that people “live on” through art, love, or a connection with nature. They placed an emphasis on “oneness” with nature and fellow man that was emotionally driven, inclusive, and open to interpretation. In prose, they would describe this sense of oneness as a spiritual experience not accessible by normal senses which often contained an erotic component. They purposefully rejected logic and rigidity in favor of passion, and used the descriptions of passion to create a different sort of death evading philosophy than was common at the time.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this lecture. I certainly had no idea what to expect from the talk and had little to no background knowledge in this area, but I really enjoyed learning about an aspect of philosophy and Latin American literature that I had not known about before.

Music From Syria and Beyond

One of the international events I attended this semester was a concert by Kenan Adnawi and Tareq Rantisi called “Music from Syria and Beyond.” Adnawi played the Oud and Rantisi played percussion. The extent of my exposure to middle eastern music prior to this performance was pretty much limited to a few Lebanese pop songs, so listening to traditional Syrian music was definitely a new experience for me. I was absolutely blown away by the beauty of the music that I heard in that performance. As a dancer, it can be hard for me to sit still when I hear music that I love, and my legs were shaking from excitement by the end of the show. My friends and I gushed about the concert the entire walk back to our dorms, and I could continue to gush here but I will limit myself to one moment in particular that I would like mention. Near the end of the performance, the musicians announced that they would be playing a medley of traditional songs and anyone who knew the words could sing along. As they started playing, many members of the audience jumped up, clapping in rhythm with the song and singing along. For me, the songs and the entire musical style were new and unfamiliar, but for others, these were songs they’d heard many times before and knew by heart. I really want to listen to more middle eastern music now, and learn more about the history and art in those countries.

The Yemeni Conundrum

Tuesday, February 28 at 4pm I attended the lecture with Mustafa Bahran titled “The Yemeni Conundrum”. Bahran is a visiting professor from the University of Sana’a in Yemen. He began by presenting a general overview of the country, citing facts about Yemen’s physical size, population statistics, and religious composition. He showed photos from various regions of Yemen such as Hadramut, Aden, and Sana’a in order to display the diversity of flora, fauna, architecture, and customs that exists in Yemen. The first twenty minutes of the lecture could be described as aggressively nostalgic.

After the introduction to Yemen, Bahran described the political history of the country. He talked about the unification in 1990, the civil war between the north and south in 1994, and the southern movement of 2007. I enjoyed the way he presented the conflict in Yemen because he refrained from making overly positive or derogatory comments about any of the actors currently involved. He explained how former president Saleh introduced democratization efforts, how the Houthis had legitimate concerns, and how Hadi had been the last democratically elected president and therefore had a serious claim to power.

I appreciated the unique perspective he offered having served as the Minister of Electricity and Energy and as a cabinet member. He analyzed the various actors involved in the conflict as being at fault in some way. The most interesting part for me was when he discussed how local warlords and low-level criminals are fighting for both Hadi’s side and the Houthis’ side and are focused only on making money at the detriment of the Yemeni people.

Imperfect Strangers

On Monday, March 20 I attended the lecture entitled “Imperfect Strangers: Americans, Arabs, and U.S.-Middle East Relations in the 1970s” presented by Dr. Salim Yaqub, a guest lecturer from University of California at Santa Barbara. The lecture focused on the diplomatic strategies and challenges that shaped the 1970s in terms of US-Arab relations. Yaqub’s book, Imperfect Strangers, argues that the 1970s are the most important years to consider when analyzing the politics of the Middle East in terms of American involvement.

This lecture provided insight into how American diplomatic strategies influenced the outcomes of Middle Eastern regional conflicts. He provided examples of American policy-makers and state department officials and how their communication styles affected their ability to form personal relationships with world leaders. He spent a lot of time developing a clear picture of Henry Kissinger and his two-faced diplomacy as revealed by the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict where he was able to help neutralize Egypt, thus preventing a more serious conflict on a pan-Arab scale.

This class aims to explore cultural encounters between the United States and Arab countries. Perhaps the most relatable part of Yaqub’s lecture was his explanation of the significance of physical contact between males in the Middle East as a way to show closeness and sincerity. This, Yaqub argued, allowed Kissinger to develop better relations with Egyptian, Jordanian, and Saudi leaders. This was an interesting way to understand international relations on a micro scale through the lens of cultural mores. In the United States it is abnormal for men to show such affection; however, Kissinger leveraged his understanding of this cultural difference and he influenced the outcomes of major international conflicts because of this.

Forum on Democracy

On Thursday, February 23 I attended the event Forum on Democracy hosted in the Meacham Auditorium of the Oklahoma Memorial Union. I missed the presentations for Panel 1; however, I was present for the question and answer period of Panel 1, as well as the presentations of two speakers on Panel 2. The second presentation I listened to entitled “Identities Under Surveillance” was given by Mirelsi Velasquez, a graduate student at OU.

She began by displaying images of Japanese children accompanied by letters written by Japanese-American elementary school students who were forced into internment camps in California in 1942. She also discussed the issue of Mexican repatriation in the 1930s. Her intent was to show the way that minority communities in the United States have historically lived in fear as a way to show that we cannot hope to live democratically while we continue to oppress religious and ethnic minorities. These examples of past oppression were paralleled by examples of fear imposed on minorities happening today such as legal residents of the US being detained at airports, Mexican-American families ripped apart by deportation, and anti-Muslim rhetoric permeating the political atmosphere.

This lecture relates to a course i’m taking called US-Arab cultural encounters because the speaker discussed cultural encounters between the United States and minority/immigrant communities and the oppressive nature of these interactions. While the speaker did not explicitly discuss US interactions with Arab countries, she shed light on the hypocrisy of US democracy promotion while it simultaneously engages in the systematic oppression of religious and ethnic minority communities.