Informed Citizens Discussion Group

One amazing student group that I joined this semester was the Informed Citizens Discussion Group. While I didn’t initially think it would be an IAS-related group, our discussions turned out to be mostly about international politics. ICDG is a program that lets a small group (≈ 10) students get together weekly to discuss a wide variety of topics. These are mostly political discussions, but other news-worthy events are discussed as well. Our specific group spent quite a bit of time talking about U.S. relations with Russian Federation, the Israel-Palestine Conflicts, and domestic social issues/policy, which are three of my favorite things to talk (rant) about. My favorite part of the group was our diversity; our group had people of different races/ethinicities, religions, cultures, sexualities, and genders. One member was getting her LLM at OU Law School, as her first law degree was earned in Pakistan. The Informed Citizens Discussion Group is an amazing program, and I’d recommend it to any OU student even remotely interested in politics.

Honors Reading Group – Fall 2016

Human Cargo & The Crossing

This semester, I participated in an honors reading group about the refugee crisis. In order to get a multifaceted view of the extremely complex and nuanced problem, we read two books: Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees and The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria.

(Caroline Moorehead) Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees:

“Traveling for nearly two years and across four continents, Caroline Moorehead takes readers on a journey to understand why millions of people are forced to abandon their homes, possessions, and families in order to find a place where they may, quite literally, be allowed to live. Moorehead’s experience living and working with refugees puts a human face on the news, providing unforgettable portraits of the refugees she meets in Cairo, Guinea, Sicily, Lebanon, England, Australia, Finland, and at the U.S.-Mexico border. Human Cargo changes our understanding of what it means to have and lose a place in the world, and reveals how the refugee “problem” is on a par with global crises such as terrorism and world hunger.”

“Human smuggling is now said to have an annual turnover of over $7 billion — more than revenue from smuggling drugs. Caroline Moorehead’s important new book looks at ‘human cargo’ from Afghanistan, Liberia, Palestine and many other places. She has visited war zones, camps, prisons — and the black Dinka families from the Sudan who were re-settled north of the Arctic Circle in Finland.

She follows the fate of 57 young member of the Mandingo tribe, who fled ethnic cleansing and ended up happily in America via Egypt. She is shown the graves in Sicily of drowned boat people, and examines the fence that has been built across Texas and into the sea to keep migrants out of America. She has interviewed emigration officials in Australia and members of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Geneva. Is there a valid distinction between ‘good’ asylum seekers and ‘bad’ economic migrants?

What happens to those whose applications are turned down? The difficult questions are asked, the horrible issues faced. But, above all, Human Cargo celebrates the courage, cheerfulness and will to survive of ordinary human beings.”

This book was very well-written, and gave a depressingly candid (but necessary) view into the lives of refugees. One would have to be heartless to not be touched by their stories. The prologue was particularly poignant and tried to give the reader a fragment of an idea about the pain and suffering, both physical and mental, that so, so many refugees have to go through. It also gave an insightful look into the UN refugee policies.

(Samar Yazbek) The Crossing: My Journey to the Sacred Heart of Syria:

“Samar Yazbek was well-known in her native Syria as a writer and a journalist but, in 2011, she fell foul of the Assad regime and was forced to flee. Since then, determined to bear witness to the suffering of her people, she revisited her homeland by squeezing through a hole in the fence on the Turkish border. Here she testifies to the appalling reality that is Syria today. From the first innocent demonstrations for democracy, through the beginnings of the Free Syrian Army, to the arrival of ISIS, she offers remarkable snapshots of soldiers, children, ordinary men and women simply trying to stay alive. Some of these stories are of hardship and brutality that is hard to bear, but she also gives testimony to touches of humanity along the way: how people live under the gaze of a sniper, how principled young men try to resist orders from their military superiors, how children cope in bunkers. Yazbek’s portraits of life in Syria are very real, and her prose, luminous. The Crossing is undoubtedly both an important historical document and a work of literature.”

“The Crossing is a powerful testament to the reality of Syria today. From the first innocent demonstrations for democracy, through the beginnings of the Free Syrian Army, to the arrival of ISIS, here are the daily lives of soldiers, children, ordinary men and women struggling to survive. In heartfelt, luminous prose, Yazbek shares their stories of unbearable brutality, and the humanity that can flower even in the most terrible of circumstances.”

The Crossing: My Journey to the Sacred Heart of Syria was written as a series of “crossings” into Syria. This book gives stunning insight into the daily lives of Syrians. Like Human Cargo, The Crossing is a heartbreaking but worth-while read. While Human Cargo looked at the lives of refugees away from their country of origin, The Crossing is written by a refugee about the country she left. As the description shows, the book details many of the reasons that Syrians have left/are leaving their homes. In a very different way than Human Cargo, The Crossing accomplishes the same thing: giving the reader a new perspective on the refugee crisis and (hopefully) urging the reader to educate themselves further and fight for refugee rights in their countries.

I deeply enjoyed this reading group, as both the moderators and members of the group were fantastic. It has most definitely made me want to continue to join honors reading groups in the future. In fact, I’m even moderating one this coming semester!

Thanks for reading!

Informed Citizen Discussion Group

When deciding on my international group to be apart of,  I had some difficulty. I have always wanted to be involved in basically everything I can get my hands on. College has been a learning process in that I realize I can not be involved in everything. In fact, there are many things I want to be a part of that I have had to say no to simply because there’s no way I could fit it in. Alas, I ended up settling on Informed Citizens Discussion Group, aka ICDG.

From the first time I arrived, I knew it was going to challenge me. You see, I am a fairly conservative millennial with Republican political preferences. I was the only person in the group who leaned this way which didn’t come as a surprise because the majority of the campus tends to lean much farther left. Within five minutes of being there, without knowing anyone’s views, a girl made a joke about hoping ICDG could reform any and all Republicans on campus.

I think the discussions were a learning environment for everyone. I was able to show that there are some of us who hang out in the middle neither on one extreme or the other. I was also able to break a few stereotypes people in my group held. In turn, I was pushed to look carefully at why I believe what I believe. We all learned that people can be on complete opposite sides of an issue and that each one is fully justified in why they came to hold the opinion they hold. We dabbled in learning the grey area where many issues didn’t have people in the right or the wrong side- just different sides.

All together this was an interesting semester to be involved with a discussion group. Getting intelligent people with different opinions together to discuss everything from Brexit to the presidential election was stimulating and enlightening.

You are Good with a Capital G

I’ve been writing a lot of music lately. I’ve been writing a lot of music and it’s all been sounding like nothing. I’ve been writing a lot of music about mountains and God and girls who don’t eat and nothing I lay beneath my fingers or behind my lungs seems to hold enough talent or depth or whatever you want to call it to be something worth listening to.

 

That’s been my problem for most of my life; being something worth listening to. Even today as I talk to my new friends and message my old friends, I find that my stories are led with a question and followed with an apology, I find that my mouth falls shut more than it falls open, I find that I lose a lot of words inside my head than out in the open air. And even then, there are very few people I trust enough to sit in silence with, without feeling the need to put something, anything, no matter how pointless into the air between us. There is just air between us.

 

This time it’s not a language barrier thing; it’s a people barrier thing. It’s my music sounding the same day after day and all the words I write sounding too much like 14 year olds listening to Panic! At The Disco. Is it wrong of me to want to write like a 27 year old listening to Grieg or a 65 year old listening to Radiohead? Don’t get me wrong, P!ATD got us all through a lot of our years, but I’m tired of being blonde and black at the same time and I’m tired of people mistaking my angst for youthfulness. I’m tired of keeping my mouth shut. But when I do open it to scream, I find that most of the time nothing comes out in time for anyone to stay long enough and if something does, it sounds a little too much like Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” to make anyone believe I am serious.

 

If I come home to find someone has shut my window while I was at school, I am afraid that the good spirits have already left after getting tired of knocking on the glass pane all afternoon long.

 

Maybe the music thing is that I am living too much here to have time to process what it has meant to be alive, maybe the music thing is my ears are too busy hearing a new continent to want to hear myself, maybe the music thing is I am much more empty than I thought. Or maybe I am enjoying being full for the first time in my life.

 

All I know is that I’ve heard a lot of laughter here that I want to remain belonging to the atmosphere instead of trying to trap it inside my piano strings. I’ve got notebooks full of scribbles and Word documents full of lines that rhyme, but nothing inside my mind seems fine enough to line up in front of you saying “Listen, this is mine.”

 

I wonder what it felt like to be David writing the Psalms, I wonder if “Divine Inspiration” leaves room for creative liberty and expression, or if the pen God held to David’s head felt more full of lead than ink. I’d like to think that God wasn’t exactly expecting the profound amount of anguish and sorrow that David put into the Psalms, but when He read them He found favor upon His creation because he saw that David’s sadness was good.

If you’re reading this, I hope you’re sadness is good, too. I hope you understand why the word “death” is feminine in Spanish and I hope that you have periods of time when whatever art you make stops coming to you and you have to take the energy to figure out why. Please don’t become complacent in your goodness, because things change and people change and you will sometimes have to rock yourself to sleep at night. You are good, with a capital G and even zeroes for O’s if you want, G00D. You are good and you deserve to eat ice cream at 10 in the morning and you deserve to know that even though God gave him the pen, David got to choose whether or not he put it to paper and started writing. Please choose to start writing, even if its just scribbles in a notebook or lines on a word document, please choose to start writing. You are something worth reading.

 

-HA