International Event #4 (Second Semester)

A final international event that I went to was the showing of Remand. This movie was about the Ugandan jail system. By Ugandan law, all people who were arrested, on any charge, were to be sent to jail. Unfortunately, the jail system could not hold this many people. One prison, built for 600 people, was housing over 3,000 inmates! Prisoners in remand were kept in the same prisons as murderers and people serving life sentences.

Children were also kept in remand. These concrete rooms were quite tiny, and would hold 20 children. The sleeping arrangement is pads on the floor.

Now, every year, Pepperdine law students go to Uganda where they intern, work on a prison project, visit an overcrowded prison, interview inmates, search for documents, (that continually get misplaced/lost) and work on establishing plea bargains for prisoners. Some prisoners admit to crimes that they did not commit in order to bypass the trial, because time on remand counts towards the sentence.

This is an interesting fact to think about. Cultural exchanges are not only from sharing different dress styles or music. In Uganda, our legal system is being shared. This is an ideal example of globalisation. Whether it will prove to be a positive example is up in air.

International Event #3 (Second Semester)

My third event was another event hosted by the Schusterman Center. They showed a movie called Denial. The movie is actually a documentary over the British court case of Irving v Penguin Books Ltd and Deborah Lipstadt. In this case, a man named, David Irving, sues Lipstadt and her publisher for accusing him of Holocaust denial. Lipstadt must prove that Irving did, in fact, deny the Holocaust. The Jewish community of Britain actually pleaded with Lipstadt to drop the case and settle out of court in order to avoid public eyes. This shows the unsettling nature that Jews must face. Even when they are the ones who appear to have the wrong done upon them, the Jewish community still needs to tread lightly. In court, Irving claims that there was no evidence of gas chambers in Auschwitz because of the lack of holes in the roof. (Leading to a famous soundbite… ‘No holes, no Holocaust’. This outrages the international community, and provides the legal team a way to attack. Irving is on the ropes, but the judge claims that if Irving honestly believes his claims, he cannot be lying. However, the judge eventually sides with Lipstadt, and Irving is made out as a deceitful Holocaust denier.

It is amazing to me that anyone can deny the Holocaust, especially those who have had extensive education. This film opened my eyes to that kind of antisemitism. With the bomb threats that have been called in on Jewish Community Centres lately, it is apparent that antisemitism is still alive. In every corner of the world.

International Event #2 (Semester 2)

Only a little after I attended the Africa panel, I went to a lecture that was hosted by the Schusterman Center for Judaic and Israel Studies. The lecturer discussed Sephardic Jewry in Germany. Sephardic Jews, specifically the ones that were grouped in the Spanish Jewry, were treated far better than Ashkenazi Jews. (Ashkenazi Jews are from Eastern Europe. This is predominately due to the fact that the countries of Western Europe are generally the more powerful/prestigious ones.) Sephardic Jews continued to move eastward from Spain… they were continually forced out of their original countries. Eventually they wound up in Germany, and went about creating the iconic architectural style that is still present today. Unfortunately, a lot of the works/buildings were destroyed by the Nazis during their reign. (Especially during Kristallnacht; Leipzig had its famous synagogue destroyed.) One major building remains, and that is the Oranienburg Synagogue in Berlin. It is still there, and is an impressive sight to see. I will add a picture that I took of it at the bottom of this post. 

International Event #1 (Second Semester)

Ok. I have had a sizable hiatus. I am back to tell about an international event that I went to a few months ago. I went to an IAS discussion over Africa. I went in part because I wanted to go with a friend, but in another part because I know so little about Africa.

The first part of the talk was about passport/green card-getting in Ghana. Apparently, there was a fake US embassy that was set up. It was actually giving out legitimate documents as well. That was really amusing to me. Secondly, I learned about a raffle of sorts for Africans to move to the US. Everything is paid for, but the likelihood of receiving this was remarkably low. I think there should be a better way to accept more of the African or any other nation’s people who want to be part of the US.

The second part of the lecture was over toilets. There are large toilet projects that have been set up in Africa. These projects have made the bathroom experience communal, humane, and hygienic. The people in charge of inventions like this deserve more recognition. (And funding for more projects like this)

This was a very interesting night, and I feel like I learned a sliver more about Africa. If not the people, then how the west is influencing the continent.

The Yemeni Conundrum

Despite having taken multiple classes dealing with the Middle East, none of them have covered Yemen. I have been to a lecture or two on Yemen before, so I know some general things about the country and its civil war, but nothing in-depth. Professor Bahran, however, provided an easy to follow, concise look into the conflict. I appreciated how he started with Yemen’s history and tied its regionalism into the current war. As an outsider, I assumed the civil war was largely sectarian, since the Houthis have a religious bend. This lecture, though, introduced me to the regional divisions in the country. The North has traditionally held power while the South was relatively subjugated. When the previous Vice President Hadi was elected to the Presidency and the Houthis staged their coup, the country split between the North (relatively tribal groups who back the Houthis) and the South (more urban societies who support Hadi). However, the thing that I really took away from Professor Bahran’s lecture was the hopelessness of the situation. He continuously emphasized that the victims were the Yemeni people in general and, from what I have heard of the subject, it seems like everyone in Yemen has been affected in some way. He did a good job of explaining why the conflict was hopeless, though—both sides have substantial levels of corruption and, in some cases, there is overlap between them; warlords have tried to prolong the conflict to get richer; and the international community has no real stake in the country. Unfortunately, I have to agree with Professor Bahran’s analysis of the situation that the conflict will not end any time soon. From his lecture and the ones I have been to previously, it seems as though the world has forgotten about Yemen and is content to let it suffer on its own.

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International Event #2

German Opportunities Forum.

I stated that German Poetry Night really made me want to step even further into the German culture/language. So, when my professor told our class about this event, I marked it on my calendar and was eagerly awaiting the day.

I met up with my friend Kelsey (again) and Daniel. Together, we walked into a little piece of Germany. Professors and students had set up little tables with different opportunities that were available to German students.

In total, I went to four different tables. First, I went to the graduate student desk. Although I won’t be able to take advantage of the opportunities for a while, there were a lot of them. We proceed to the next table, and learned about Fulbright’s in Germany. I was told to speak to a Jaci Gandenberger if I had any pressing questions about Fulbright. It’s a real pity I have no idea who that is, or where to find her… that’s a joke by the way.

The last two tables that we went to were more applicable to my current situation. The third table was about study abroad opportunities in Germany. There are a ton, including the summer in Leipzig. That sounds like an amazing adventure. I could really master the language, and explore Germany at the same time. But, as I am taking my sophomore year abroad in Heidelberg, I reckon that I shouldn’t overload on German immediately. Perhaps Heidelberg would be a great summer trip for my senior year. Polish my German, and have a fun (possibly) final collegiate trip. Also, at the study abroad table I was able to talk about the Heidelberg year a little more. If I wanted to, I could come back to OU after a semester. I don’t see that happening, but one never knows.

The final booth was the internship desk. As an International Security Studies major, I couldn’t think of anything more appealing than an internship at a governmental office in Germany. There were two students, and both had done different internships in the German government. The hardest part about the internships, (this is what they said) is getting clearance. I would believe that. The United States is very strict when it comes to international affairs. Honestly, I will continue to look into these specific internships. The would be amazing. I would get valuable career experience, I would be living in Germany, and I would be able to master my language.

It is a particularly great time to be a German student.

International Event #1

German Poetry Night. Immediately after hearing about this event, I knew that I had to attend. I was definitely not disappointed.

I went with my friend Kelsey, and ran into Maria as well. (Maria is a fellow GEF) We all sat down, and watched the spectacle begin. I quickly noticed that the ‘poetry night’ did not entail that that poetry was the only art that could be done. There are a few moments that have really stuck with me.

First, a friend of mine named Morgan sang. The song was called ‘Rosenrot’ and was by the band Rammstein. (A German metal band) I had never heard the song before, and expected to hear her screaming for the next 3-5 minutes. Instead, I heard a song of heartbreak and emotion. — Without screaming– The song literally means Rose-red. A woman asks her lover to retrieve the flower for her, and in climbing a mountain to retrieve it, falls to his death.

Second, near the end of the night, we all sang 99 Luftballons together. The song was very popular in the 1980’s and has remained a classic German song ever since. The song is a protest against violence and blind hate. (In the English version, the song is changed a little and instead of just having a wasteland of destruction, the song speaks of nuclear war.) Hearing everyone singing together was beautiful. Even though most people in the room rarely sang, myself included, it sounded amazing.

Through nights like this, I want to become further engulfed in the German culture/language. I can only hope that in Heidelberg I will get to sing karaoke with some friends.

An International Group

I find myself in a lot of strange situations. I may bring the majority of these situations upon myself, but, not always. I spent the initial few weeks of my college life trying to find groups to become involved in. I already had the Global Engagement Fellows, but I needed more. I was perturbed to see everyone had already found some groups to be involved in… while I was floundering about on the list of organisations OU had to offer. Eventually I found a few organisations and clubs that I am very happy to be a member of.

One particular group that I am very happy to be a part of is OU Cousins. A group that pairs international students with their American counterparts is bound to lead to fun. The fun began on ‘matching night’. I was deemed an international student, which came as a moderate shock, but was taken with as much grace as I could muster. (In hindsight, I think it is pretty amusing) Anyhow, I had to find an American cousin. Luckily, I had a friend who needed a foreign partner, so matching was not difficult.

Joey comes from Texas, and understands customs in this region of the US far better than me. I am lucky to have a cousin like him. Even though I have lived in the United States for a substantial amount of time, there are still plenty of things, (specifically regarding the region that includes OK, and TX.) I had never carved a pumpkin until this year! And I am really looking forward to the end of year BBQ. I can honestly say that I have never, (nor ever wanted to) go to a ranch. But, my cousin, and a hundred other members of our family, I am looking forward to it.

OU Cousins has definitely helped me understand this region of the United States better. And, I know that it will continue to enlighten me.

Unity and Politics

Last week, OU hosted its first Unity Symposium. It was an event put on by various student groups that sought to promote renewed understanding and acceptance of peoples with different backgrounds and beliefs. I’m going to be honest, I am currently writing this about a week removed from the event and just a few days after the 2016 Presidential Election. From my vantage point right now, it seems that Unity Symposiums are needed now more than ever, and I’m sad that not a lot of people were able to attend. The symposium consisted of talks from people of differing backgrounds—Muslims, veterans, conservatives, African Americans, undocumented immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community, just to name a few. It was a chance to come together and hear their side, and then ask them questions about their experiences or anything you did not understand about them. It humanized “The Other,” something that I think our country sorely needs in this moment. After the horrifying rhetoric of this election, the people of this country are more divided and aware of their differences than ever. Some people seem to think that Trump’s win gives them the right to demean others and hold themselves above anyone who thinks differently than them, and that is just not right. America is a country built on diversity, and it should accept and celebrate that diversity. Do the words on the Statue of Liberty not say “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”? Does it not ask other countries to “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me”? Once, our nation called out to those who were hopeless and hurt, but now it seems we have locked our doors and forgotten what it truly means to be an American. To be an American is to stand up for our neighbor, for those who are different than us, for those who are hurt and afraid. We should be the safe haven of the world, a place to seek refuge and acceptance. We should not be ruled by fear and irrationality. We are stronger than that. We are better than that. In light of the current political events, we need to be more accepting and understanding than ever. We need more events like the Unity Symposium, because we are stronger together—and no one should tell you differently.

Image result for give me your weak statue of liberty

(Picture taken from First Friday Book Synopsis on WordPress)

The Conflict in Syria

OU recently hosted a talk by Dr. Joshua Landis on Syria, its future, and our involvement there. It was an OU Presidential event, with an introduction by the university’s president, David Boren. Since my area of interest is the Middle East, I of course had to go! Dr. Landis’ talk focused on the causes of the conflict in Syria, a murky subject that very few can wade through or even begin to understand. Luckily, Dr. Landis is one of the foremost experts on Syria and regularly consults various world governments on the subject. In his opinion, one of the main causes of the conflict is demographics. When the European powers drew their arbitrary boundaries after World War I, they put several groups of disparate peoples into one country. To make matters more complicated, they then gave power to the weaker, smaller groups, increasing the animosity felt in the newly created protectorates. Dr. Landis cited this conflict as the starting point of Syria’s troubles. The majority of Syrians follow Sunni Islam, but a fringe sect, the Alawites, controlled the government. This led to growing resentments that eventually culminated in the Syrian Civil War.

He likened the events in Syria to post-WWII Europe, with their “Great Sorting Out.” Essentially, after WWII several groups of people migrated (intentionally or forcefully) to countries where they constituted the majority. These movements turned Europe into the collection of nation-states that it is today. According to Dr. Landis, the Middle East might be witnessing its own “Sorting Out” today. Thanks to the civil war and various other conflicts in the region, there has been an unprecedented movement of peoples and changes in government. In Iraq, for example, the minority Sunni government under Saddam Hussein’s Baath party was replaced with Shi’ite members (the majority) after the United States invaded. With Bashar al-Assad’s refusal to step down from power and cede the government to the majority, Syria’s “Sorting Out” has taken a violent turn. In Dr. Landis’ view, it will be a long time before we hear much good news from Syria.