Musings on ICDG

Chairing the Informed Citizens Discussion Group is a real treat, but moderating an engage group is honestly so much better. This semester, my co-discussion-moderator and I were lucky to have a core group of about 7-8 students who came back to our room in Cate once a week to talk pop culture and politics. We had a number of students from different home countries and it was fascinating to listen to them describe the news occurring in their own worlds. As the year progresses forward, it is going to find someone that can keep the program running in perpetuity… as I approach graduation, I want to make sure that ICDG is forever supported by the University and won’t die when I receive a diploma. It is vital that students find a way to actively engage with other students and respectfully argue with opinions that aren’t your own. I’d also love to see more representation from the international study body on both ICDG exec, the moderator team, and within the organization itself. ICDG can function as such an amazing vehicle of cultural exchange, and if I’m not doing enough to encourage that now, I certainly need to going forward. This semester specifically, I really enjoyed our conversations about the impact that the University President has on international students, which a student brought up when discussing what Boren had done for him as a student and expressing a hope that such support would continue.

An Important Forum

Over the course of this semester, a lot has changed in our country. With domestic and foreign policy changes, many people are unsure of the future state of the nation. One internationally focused event that I attended was a forum on DACA and how it impacts immigrant students in the US. With President Trump’s decision to pull the DACA program, the fate of many students who entered illegally into this country as children have an uncertain future. This forum was a way to hear from both experts in this field and from students affected by the decision.

At the end of the forum, a lot became clear. There were going to be many people, including thousands of students, whose lives would be affected by this decisions directly. However, almost all Americans would be affected indirectly in some way. Immigrants are a part of America. Cutting out that part of our identity can do nothing other than reshape the fabric of our nation. So, I asked what I could do, as an individual student, to try and help out. All of the members of the panel unanimously told me one thing: make your voice heard. So, I did that. I, for the first time, decided to speak to my representatives. I sent an email, not expecting much in return. Unfortunately, I was right. My representatives response was lack-luster, to be kind. However, I know I tried what I could. I have attended meetings and rallies and have tried to make my voice heard. That’s all I can do and all I will keep doing.

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International Music

I was recently thinking about how different cultures use different musical scales, yet the octave is always the same. An octave is basically when one note has a frequency that is double the frequency of the other note. So if a note has a frequency of 120 Hz, the octave up would have a frequency of 240 Hz. That definition is necessarily the same in every culture. But how you divide up the octave widely differs from culture to culture, and what “sounds good” with regard to combinations of notes also differs. For instance, Western and Middle Eastern music use two different scales (they divide the octave differently), and they also have two very different ideas about what intervals sound good. It is interesting how music can vary so much from culture to culture, but the octave will always mean the same thing. Some cultures might not consider the octave to sound good, but the octave is still always there. No matter what meaning people project onto the sounds, an octave will always exist. It is interesting how science is able to break the barriers of culture like that.

Jerusalem, Israel

Trump is a disaster on an international scale, and nowhere is there more apparent than in his international policy. Recently, the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel must have been the most asinine and idiotic thing to do. Countries around the world look to the United States as a potential peace-broker for Israel and Palestine and this executive decision effectively prevents the United States from acting in that capacity in any significant way for the forseeable future. This also likely means that Trump supports a one-state solution, which is not going to win the United States any pals in the Middle East when it comes time to fight small terrorist cells that are hiding in those countries. This was clearly a move meant to energize his pro-Israel and pro-Christian supporters and had absolutely nothing to do with potentially larger policy complications. This is a dangerous precedent to set, but I fear that it’ll be a predicament for the next few years. The question, of course, is will the President use America’s role as a n international leader to galvanize support within his own party instead of using America’s resources in the most effective and efficient way possible. His actions with North Korea indicate that Trump has no idea how to engage diplomatically with others, and indeed that he views the United States as intertwined with him. Any attack against him is one that Trump believes must be dealt with swiftly and vitriolically, and that doesn’t work in international diplomacy. I just hope we survive the next few years.

Diwali Night

OU’s own India Student Association (ISA) hosted a Dhamaka Night, also known as the annual Diwali Night on  November 3rd, 2017. The event was split into two places: the dances and performances were held in the Reylond Performing Arts Center on the North Oval and the dinner afterwards was located in Jim Thrope Multicultural Center.  The performances were amazing and I was shocked to see so many people attend this event, the auditorium was nearly full! It was so cool to see all these talented students perform various types of dances and performances as well as hear the various types of Indian music. The food was amazing. It was typical Indian food that I do believe was catered from a local Indian restaurant. I was able to try an Indian desert called gulab jamun, which is a ball made of sweet mild solids that is deep-fried. The outside of the desert is brown while the inside is a creamy white. Thankfully we got there early since as we were walking out of the building, the line for food stretched all the way outside of the building and around the parking garage. They definitely needed more space to sit people and probably more food. I hope that there was enough food for everyone especially those who had to stand in the freezing cold. Overall, it was a really fun night with friends and getting to get a taste of Indian culture and cuisine.

Trafficking Class Reflection

This semester, I took Dr. Cruise’ Illicit Trafficking class and learned an incredible amount about the international forces at work around us. There a few things that struck me as particularly poignant, which I’ll outline below:

1. We, the consumers, are responsible for a good amount of money that’s pumped into the trafficking industry. By constantly embracing the cheapest option when it comes to consumption, we encourage companies to cut corners, often illegally, in order to reduce costs and increase their own market share.

2. The Cold War and the lifting of the Iron Curtain actually encouraged trafficking in those former Soviet Bloc nations and they became major transit and production states for sex trafficking. The bi-polarization of the world that resulted from the Cold War also gave rise to a good number of non-state conflicts, which drastically increased the amount of weapons trafficking. Basically, Cold War = Good for Traffickers

3. Olive oil is actually one of the more trafficked commodities. The majority of the olive oil we buy in the states fails to meet basic standards imposed by the Italian or United States governments. Also on the list of “weird things to get trafficked” are butterflies and holy water.

The Ebola Crisis in West Africa

I attended a lecture by Dr. Paul Richards called “Ebola in Sierra Leone: a Humanitarian Crisis in Historical Perspective.” I had actually read his book Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, so I already had pretty good idea of what he was talking about. He basically just discussed how the history of region had impacted the way the crisis was handled. The people from the inner part of the country did not tend to trust the government, so they were more inclined to try to contain the problem on their own and refuse outside help. There were also revolts at hospitals because people thought the disease was just a conspiracy to try to kill more people. He also talked about how people from central Africa already knew how to handle Ebola because they had already dealt with it on a large scale before, so once people started talking to African experts from that region, they were able to better treat the patients, and the death tolls declined significantly.

International Fall Festival (Again)

Like last year, I went to the international fall festival, and it was pretty much the same thing again. It was ridiculously cold and windy out, so I didn’t stay long. Plus there wasn’t much to do anyway. About the only thing really international-y about it is that a bunch of international people show up and the mini petting zoo is fairly exotic. I did get to pet a baby kangaroo, so that was pretty cool. Other than that there wasn’t much to do except drink lukewarm hot chocolate and stand around being cold… Unless I felt like getting my face painted, which I didn’t. I think it’s really geared more towards the children of the international people living in Kraettli than towards the college-age international students.

King Leopold’s Legacy in the DRC

Slavery is deeply entrenched in our worlds history, and has taken many different forms throughout time – some more overt than others. One of the most audacious, and unknown, instances of slavery is that of the Congolese people under King Leopold II. Under the guise of philanthropic and progressive action, King Leopold II laid claim to the Congo in 1885 and proceeded to enslave many of its indigenous tribes – forcing them to provide free labor to Belgium for his own personal gain. King Leopold misconstrued the African continent (and more specifically the Congo) as an area plagued by violence and savagery; he utilized the ever-popular “white-savior complex” to convince the international community that if Belgium colonized the Congo, the indigenous tribes would benefit from the introduction of European systems of health, education, etc. and the Christian faith. The colonization of the Congo by Belgium, and the remainder of Africa by various other European nations, severely impeded Africa’s ability to progress independently due to the creation of colonies (and eventually countries) that did not take into account the natural borders created by the indigenous tribes of the continent. While the European nations developed rapidly during and after the Industrial Revolution, African countries lacked the necessary freedom to benefit from the revolution. For this reason, we still see an extensive amount of slavery in Africa today – much of which shares commonalities with the slavery practiced by King Leopold II.

With the increasingly industrial nature of Europe during the 1800’s, many European leaders began looking to expand their nations through colonization – among them was King Leopold II of Belgium. However, at the end of the 17th century, there was only a limited amount of land left – primarily in Africa. King Leopold focused his colonization efforts on what would come to be known as the Democratic Republic of Congo and, while Leopold promoted the colonization as both scientific exploration and philanthropy, it was truly a brutal system of slavery. After coming to the realization that the DRC was host to a plethora of ivory – a highly sought after (and thereby expensive) commodity of the time – Leopold recognized the potential profits that the resource could bring Belgium, and so demanded that massive quantities of ivory be harvested – often times with the infamous brutality of the Force Publique.

In order to do this, King Leopold required the legal rights to the land and game of the Congo, and so tricked the tribal chiefs into signing away their ownership in return for nearly-worthless trinkets and gems. Furthermore, Leopold then continued to enslave the indigenous tribal groups of the area – using them as a labor force that enabled him to exploit the entirety of the colony (nearly four times as large as Texas). Ironically, Leopold managed to gain international support for Belgian colonization of the Congo under the pretense of “stopping the slave trade,” leading the United States and many of world leaders to recognize the legitimacy of Belgium’s claim on the Congo. In its entirety, King Leopold’s ploy was simply a hugely-successful campaign of misinformation that increased his wealth exponentially.

Unfortunately, there are many parallels between King Leopold’s system of slavery in the Congo, and the modern forms of slavery that we see around the world today. Much like during colonization, globalization has led to the expansion of Western corporations into developing nations in order to reduce the cost of production by taking advantage of laxer labor restriction. However, what many people are unaware of is that many of these corporations pay their workers nothing at all – opting instead to enact a system of forced servitude. In the words of Kevin Bales, in his book Disposable People, “consumers do look for bargains, and they don’t usually stop to ask why a product is so cheap” (Bales). Unbeknownst to the majority of people, many of the commodities that we use in our day-to-day lives – sugar, cotton, jewelry, glass, cellphones – are the products of slavery. However, while we are quick to denounce the slavery in our history books, many people would prefer to remain indifferent to the flourishing systems of slavery that are thriving around the world today – we are all too eager to look the other way so long as we can continue our lives unaffected.

Much like the indigenous tribes of the Congo, victims of modern-day slavery are often initially deceived into slavery – lured in with false promises of paying jobs, and better lives for themselves and their families. In addition, many young children are merely abducted from their families and trafficked into slavery while they are still young. Once enslaved, victims are treated with similar forms of brutality employed by King Leopold during his reign in the Congo. Slaves are required to work under intolerable conditions for exceedingly-extended hours in order to meet nearly-unachievable quotas. These men, women, and children are abused both mentally and physically. The enslaved Congolese people were forced to meet rubber quotas, some even resorting “to digging up roots in order to find enough rubber to meet their quotas” in order to avoid the chicotte. modern slaves are also held to unreasonably high standards of production that force them to risk their health to meet (Hochschild). Furthermore, modern-day slaves are forced to work inhumane hours in dangerous conditions without the adequate protections necessary to preserve their health.

In both the case of King Leopold’s Congolese slavery and modern-day slavery around the world, political and economic interests were (and continue to be) merged into a complex that allows slavery to continue unchecked by the government. King Leopold exercised total political control in Belgium, and used his power to facilitate the economic gain of both his country and himself. For this reason, slavery in the Congo continue (and expanded) for many years under the pretense of Christian philanthropy and technological progress – the system benefitted both the political and economic interests of Belgium. Of course, the corporations that implement slavery in the modern world do not often have direct control over the government; however, they do have access to a level of indirect control by providing financial resources to political leaders in return for government approval to continue using slave labor to produce their commodities. Obviously, this political-economic complex invites an extensive amount of corruption into the government; the results of which are perhaps best explained by Dr. Kevin Bales: “When the police become criminals, slavery can take root” (Bales).

Perhaps the most notable similarity between the slavery enforced by King Leopold in the Congo and modern forms of slavery is that each masquerades as technological and societal progress. Under King Leopold, the Congolese were forced to build an extensive railway system throughout the colony – the likes of which the world had not yet seen – and collect huge amounts of ivory and rubber – some of the most highly coveted commodities of the time. To the outside world, each of these things seemed to be significant advances for Belgium. However, what the world did not know until much later was that, although King Leopold presented a front of progress, it was simply a façade to cover what would soon come to be known as “a crime against humanity” (Hochschild). In both cases, the outside world is easily deluded due to its extreme focus on the end result – a railroad, ivory, a chocolate bar, a cell phone, etc. – and its near-total disregard for the process by which it is produced. As Kevin Bales explains in his book Disposable People, while the commodities produced by slaves have incredible value in our society, the slaves themselves are disregarded – their value stolen away from them – their identities stripped, and their voices smothered until they are practically invisible.

Fortunately, there are many people who have fought, and continue to fight, for the rights of those enslaved both in the past and the present. Take Edmund Morel, a Liverpool Shipping Line employee who noticed that many of the goods being transported to Belgium from the Congo were the result of slave labor and had a “flash of moral recognition” that motivated him to take preventative action that eventually lead to the formation of the first-ever international human rights movement of the time (Hochschild). Even Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost, himself had a flash of moral recognition while reading a quote from Mark Twain that motivated him to research the odious crimes committed by King Leopold in the Congo, and become heavily involved as a journalist in the human rights movement. Many others also continue to join the fight to shine a light on modern-day slavery and eradicate the “crime against humanity” that has been allowed to go on for so long.

 

Works Cited

Bales, Kevin. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Berkeley, CA: U of       California, 1999. Print.

Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial   Africa. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Print.

Refugee Crisis in Germany

Another international event that I went to this semester was a series of posters run by the German embassy. The event was about the refugee crisis in Germany. The coolest thing I learned at the event was that in Berlin, they are constructing a place a worship that would be composed of a church, a mosque, and a synagogue that is scheduled to open in 2019. The goal is to increase interfaith dialogue and promote fellowship within the communities. Each place of worship will have its own space in the building, with a central community room for all three. You can find out more at https://house-of-one.org/en. In 2015, Germany declared an open-door policy towards refugees. Since then, hundreds of thousands of refugees have entered Germany (and there have been over a million asylum requests), costing Germany approximately 20 billion euros. This has caused major backlash in Germany and has caused populist alt-right groups to gain popularity. I would love to see the House-of-One idea gain popularity and be brought to major cities outside of Germany. I also think the idea could be expanded to non-Abrahamic religions.