The Decline of ISIS

Near the end of the semester, I attended a talk called “Jihadi Salafism and the Decline of ISIS: What’s Next?” by Cole Bunel, who is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Islamic Law and Civilzation at Yale Law School. Especially since this talk occurred a few days after the incident in New Zealand, it was interesting to hear Dr. Bunel’s opinions the relationship between the mosque attack and ISIS’s need to retaliate with an attack in Sri Lanka. Even though ISIS has lost major cities, they are still organized and Dr. Bunel believes that they will most likely retreat and keep fighting. At the end of the lecture, there was an open question and answer session. During it, a debate broke out between two adults. One adult, a Muslim, hijab-wearing woman brought up a point that when researchers present to the public, they need to be careful about using Arabic words since the media can twist it. For example, the word “jihad” means struggle in Arabic, and the Arabic woman said that back in her home country she would use that term multiple times a day, but now media has twisted the meaning of the word so that when people hear it, they associate it with terrorism. She says that she is fearful of speaking Arabic in public because of other people’s assumptions. Another man, an ex-Muslim from Turkey, interrupted and counter-argued that we should create another language for researchers just because the public is misinformed, but rather we need to use it more often to educate people. While this man has a valid point, he presented his argument very rudely. I think that both people have valid points. Non-Arab speakers often associate foreign words in the context, and most Americans usually only hear Arabic words from the media about terrorism. We need to educate people to understand that words are part of a language to communicate and just because a terror group uses a language, it doesn’t mean that all people who speak that language or that language is bad.   

Ethiopia with Dr. Mains

As part of being on the ICDG Exec Board, each member is supposed to host discussion with a professor event each semester. After some coordinating, I was able to host a discussion with Dr. Mains, who is an Anthropology professor and a Fulbright Fellow in the Honors College. His research focuses on the youth and infrastructure development in Ethiopia. Dr. Mains was kind enough to forward a few articles on the topic before the discussion. On the night of the discussion, we actually had a much higher attendance than expected and many people asked well-thought questions. It was interesting to learn about the conflict between Ethiopia and Egypt regarding hydroelectric dams. Ethiopia is upstream along the Nile River compared to Egypt. Due to their want to increase their economic development and meet their need for more electrical power, Ethiopia is planning on building one of the biggest dams. This creates concern for Egypt, who is downstream of the dam, and heavily depends on the flooding of the Nile River to support their agriculture and survival. Only time will tell how these two countries will resolve the conflict. Dr. Mains drew an interesting parallel how a few decades ago, the United States outsourced their manufacturing to other countries such as Mexico and China. Now, China is considered a powerful player and is outsourcing their manufacturing to Ethiopia. Despite the parallel, Dr. Mains doesn’t believe that Ethiopia will become a powerhouse any time soon. I had a fantastic time discussing with other students and Dr. Mains about Ethiopia’s development.

Benefits from International Students

Happy Global Engagement Day! Every year the Global Engagement fellows are expected to attend at least one panel during global engagement day (I went to one about surviving and succeeding as a freshman – I’ll write about it in a different post) and I decided to go to an additional panel that discussed the impact and benefits of an international education. I think everyone always focuses on how an international education benefits international students, but it also has a huge positive impact on the communities that they visit. Beyond the obvious exposure to other cultures, there’s a significant economic impact in the form of jobs created and revenue generated. I mean, think about it. If OU (for example) didn’t have an international student presence, we wouldn’t need International Student Services at all. We also wouldn’t need the OU Cousins program or the NISO program. I don’t know how many jobs those create, but I bet that it’s a fair few. Then, of course, there is the fact that these students are living in the United States, buying good and services here and contributing to the American economy.

I think it was definitely interesting to reframe this issue within the context of “how does this benefit us.” I wouldn’t normally advise that, because I personally feel that it is equally important, if not more so, to consider benefits to other people. But sometimes it’s important to remind people that this isn’t charity; it’s an opportunity that we can and should extend as often as possible to anyone who is interested.

Turkey on the World Stage

As I mentioned in a previous post, I wanted to expand my discussion of the Department of International and Area Studies’ annual symposium into two posts. This post will address the other lecture I attended, one on the role of Turkey in Middle Eastern and international politics, with a particular emphasis on the idea of “Neo-Ottomanism.”

This lecture began with a discussion on the history of Turkish foreign relations following World War II. In general, Turkish foreign policy seemed  to revolve around allying with the West for various security reasons, especially during the Cold War. To the West, Turkey seemed to represent what they wanted the Middle East to be like: secular, democratic, capitalistic, and willing to work with the West. This so-called “Turkish Model” was supposed to be the ideal, spread across the Middle East. It also did not hurt that Turkey was on relatively good terms with all of its neighbors.

However, following the end of the Cold War, the interests of the West and Turkey began to diverge, and the AKP was elected to power in Turkey. This political party sought to invest in a more economically-driven foreign policy, specifically looking to invest in countries that were once part of the Ottoman Empire, hence “Neo-Ottomanism.” This party also defined Turkey’s stance in Syria, which led to the relatively more rocky relationship between Turkey and the United States that we see today.

The Failure of Al-Qaeda in the Fertile Crescent

The University of Oklahoma’s Department of International and Area Studies hosts an annual symposium to discuss Middle Eastern politics. This past week, I was lucky enough to attend two of the talks. This post will be dedicated to the first one, and I will soon upload a second post addressing the other lecture, as they were both detailed enough for their own reflection!

The first lecture centered on a discussion of why al-Qaeda failed in the fertile crescent (principally Syria and Iraq). The speaker, Cole Bunzel of Yale University, began with a detailed account of the historical interactions between Syrian rebel groups and al-Qaeda, particularly focusing on Jabat al-Nusra. He then broke down what we know of the individuals involved and their roles, not an easy feat considering how secretive most of these groups are, especially with their leadership positions. He detailed the communications between the various groups, highlighting the disagreements and eventual breakdown of the relationships.

Primarily, Bunzel found that al-Qaeda’s failure in the fertile crescent region was a result of organizational and structural flaws, especially within al-Qaeda’s ranks. However, he noted that stark internal ideological disagreements (particularly about how to handle the Syrian Civil War) and the primacy of local concerns drove a wedge between al-Qaeda and the various groups in both Syria and Iraq. Bunzel ended the talk with a powerful and important contention: that al-Qaeda is not necessarily a movement like it claims it is, but rather it is simply another organization.

The Role of Kalighat

At the beginning of the semester, I was able to attend a talk by Dr. Moodie of the Religious Studies Department on the role and transformation of Hindu temples in India. Her presentation focused on a specific temple, the Kalighat Kali Temple in West Bengal. Throughout the presentation, Dr. Moodie emphasized the historical, social, and religious contexts of the temple, and highlighted its current role in not only religious and political discussions, but also economic ones. The temple provided a livelihood for many individuals; however, current renovation plans would serve to further divide the wealth gap in the region, appropriating the temple as a tourist attraction meant for the middle class and the wealthy, as opposed to a site of employment for lower income individuals.

Consequently, the majority of Dr. Moodie’s research focused on how these diverse and disparate groups viewed and used the temple. While I originally attended the talk to learn more about the  specific practices at the temple, I came away with a greater knowledge and appreciation of the local society. The presentation provided a good opportunity to learn more details about life in India on an individual level, and how traditional structures and institutions interact with globalization and more modern concepts, like tourism. It was a wonderful snapshot and explanation of a particular community at a particular time.

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The Rohingya and Uighur Crisis

I am regretful to admit that before I attended the Muslim Student Association’s meeting regarding the Rohingya and Uighur Crisis, I was completely oblivious to what was going on. Now considering that I am not an expert on the topic, and have only gone to a meeting and done some research on my own, I am just going to give a very general, and broad overview of what is happening.

The Rohingya are the muslim people in Myanmar and they are being forced to leave the Rakhine State, in an effort to save themselves from ethnic cleansing. As a result, many Rohingya are fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh who lacks the capabilities to support them, so like many refugees, they are left to fend for themselves in inhumane conditions without substantial food, clothing, or shelter. The Rohingya are being hunted like prey by the military, and because they lack protection they are highly susceptible to violent attacks and abuses without a legal protection. As one of the world’s largest stateless groups, thanks to long racial and religious discrimination, and their citizenship being denied during the 1982 Citizenship Law, the Rohingya people have been chased out of their homes.

Similarly to the Rohingya, the Uighur are muslims, living in China’s wester Xianjiang Province are being persecuted for following Islam. Many sources have pointed that more than one million Uighur are being held in Chinese concentration camps, as a means to cleanse them of their faith, however many end up not being released and their families are unable to visit them. Like me, many people are unaware of what is going on, for some countries they are hesitant to condemn China, all due to the fear of losing the business and trade relations of the country who is dominating a high percentage of  global economy, and holds profound influence.

For your own research:

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Day of the Dead

On October 25, I went to go see the one-act play Day of the Dead by my freshman mentor Robert Con Davis-Undiano. When R.C. told me OU would be producing his work, I knew I had to go.

The play was meant to explain the cultural history behind the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. It also aimed to portray the significance of the holiday to modern-day Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.

To accomplish these goals, the play focused on three women, all played by Norma Lilia Ruiz Cruz. The first, Coatlicue, the Aztec goddess of life and death, connected Day of the Dead to its Aztec roots. The second, Catrina, a traditional Day of the Dead figure, brought us to Mexico in the not-so-distant past. Finally, Elena, a Chicana doctor on the U.S.-Mexico border, confronted present-day immigration and border patrol issues while arranging her Day of the Dead altar.

I liked the focus on women and thought the choice to use one actress was brilliant. The play was definitely direct about its intent to teach but enjoyable none the less. Check out a full review by The Norman Transcript here.