I’ve been thinking recently (as it usually happens before I write a post) about Battlestar Galactica. I love BSG. I also love my manfriend (as you all already know). I also love the earth. I also love studying human rights. I also have mixed feelings about the army. So I’ve been wondering: can a true hippie really love Battlestar Galactica? (beware: spoiler alerts after the jump.)
I can’t help but watch this video and say “I know where that is! I’ve been there! I walked down that street! I fucking walked there!” It’s unreal to me that this is happening.
After 20 years of Mubarak’s “presidency,” I have to admit I’m happy to see this. I don’t know when or how this government will improve, but finally the Egyptian people are uniting. (At least, I hope there are Copts out there protesting as well.) After the food riots and the riots after the swine flu, this will hopefully be the beginning of the end. Solidarity, my friends.
Alright, my past couple of posts have been out of pure anger or emotional euphoria. I need to post something a little more balanced. Here I go.
In today’s NY Times, Robert Bernstein, former chair of Human Rights Watch and current board member, wrote a piece for the Op-Ed section regarding HRW’s approach to “closed” versus “open” societies. He accuses HRW of focusing too heavily on Israel’s human rights issues and ignoring other Middle Eastern countries.
There seems to be an awful lot of opposition to HRW’s reports on Israel lately. Personally, I think they’re doing well. What surprised me most about Bernstein’s article was his statement that HRW “casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies.” This doesn’t make sense to me. Is he saying that reports on the US, Italy, and Brazil aren’t worth doing? Are their human rights violations less worse than those in the Middle East? Is HRW any less dedicated to other Middle Eastern countries as a result of their reports on Israel?
It just doesn’t make sense to me. True, HRW has published quite a few reports on Israel in the past few months. It has also had numerous reports on the U.S. and Russia in the past few months as well. Furthermore, while I don’t have a great or thorough understanding of how the reports are generated, I know that some countries are more difficult to enter than others. If a country will not allow HRW researchers to visit, then it becomes much more difficult for them to develop a report.
All in all, I’m glad that HRW and its critics can have this dialog and get it all out in the open. Look for HRW’s response tomorrow in the NY Times. I’m sure there will be one.
In case you aren’t aware, the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind comes out tomorrow. It’s about a young man in Malawi during the famine who pulls together scraps to make a windmill for his family as a way to harness energy. Chad Farris writes a bit more on the book and the subject. I finished reading Three Cups of Tea a couple months ago, which I enjoyed, but I’m much more excited about this book. I believe this one will be more about development and sustainability starting from within the community. And that’s a beautiful thing.
I need to get back to work, but I’m just so excited for this book that I needed to post something.
(Please note: I’ve been meaning to write this post since the end of August. Now that my senior year of undergrad has started, I don’t think I’ll be posting as often, but we’ll see…)
I don’t know if you’ve heard about the Doctors Without Borders most recent ad. Apparently it’s stirring up some dialogue in the NGO and health care development world. Our friends at Aid Watch talked about it, and our buddy at Transitionland wrote about it as well. I’ve decided to give my two cents, just for gits and shiggles.
The horror people feel is like what they see (or should see) in human rights and documentary photography. We are attracted to pain. This particular ad, however, plays on a different dirty desire. The image remains the same: a desolate land with a concrete building in the foreground. (Why Aid Watch takes it upon themselves to assume it’s Africa, I have no idea.) Then a soundtrack plays of a child wailing and crying. The text that appears on the screen tells the audience that militia raped his sisters and clubbed his parents to death, and then it says, in seemingly innocent white lettering “We Can’t Operate Without Your Help.”
I agree to some extent with Transitionland. This is what MSF does. If you’ve been gazing at pictures from Abu Ghraib, Vietnam, and Chernobyl, and you can watch movies like Hotel Rwanda, Inglorious Basterds, and Saving Private Ryan, and looking at goodness knows what other imagery is out there, then you can watch this ad. If the commercial makes your stomach twist, then it’s done its job, don’t you think? It sucks that making you feel that way is its job.
But it’s not the imagery that makes you a little sick – it’s the audio. And that’s what I find so amazing about this ad. Is it just as much of a violation of dignity if the audio is heard, rather than an image seen? If the image of the boy crying and having an operation played on your screen, would you be more outraged and disgusted? Or would you have accepted it as more NGO promotional imagery? And this is what I loved about Transitionland’s post. She included more ads that are clearly worse (in different ways) than the most recent MSF ad. I don’t know about the discussions surrounding those ads, but I imagine it could be similar to the ones revolving around this one.
So congratulations MSF for promoting further discussion about your work by means of a more dignifying way. I’m interested to see how NGO promotional media will progress.
A friend I met at AUC came to visit me, and we reminisced about our times in Zamalek, drank, ate, and smoked shisha. She showed me an article the Caravan, the school newspaper, had published about the Arab students’ sentiments about the U.S. and Israel. The majority opinion was that 1) Israel has no right to exist; and 2) the U.S. should stop shoving their noses into the Middle East’s business.
Before I begin, I just want to acknowledge that I have very little and limited understanding of any and all Middle Eastern conflicts. (Then again, who doesn’t?) With that said, I think that such statements regarding Israel’s existence are wildly inappropriate. If this is how Arab students in an Arab country feel, shouldn’t they pressure their governments to support the Palestinians, whom they claim are innocent victims of Zionist policies? Last time I checked, almost none of the Arab nations have done anything to help the Palestinians. They recite anti-Israel propaganda, but do little to compromise, or to take in Palestinian refugees.
In terms of Egypt, couldn’t one argue that the Arabs have no right to be there either? I believe the Coptic Christians are the closest relatives of the oldest (and true?) Egyptians. Same for the U.S. It’s been noted many times that the country technically belongs to the Native Americans/Indians. And I don’t think we can easily get started on all of South America. So if you want to argue about who has rights to land, it’s a lost cause.
My other gripe about these arguments is the assumption that Palestinians hate Israel as much as everyone else. When some friends and I visited Hebron and Ram Allah, we asked some people we met how they felt about Israel. While the few people we talked to may not represent all of Palestine, they said that they just want peace. They have no problem with Israel existing, so long as they can visit their families and not be treated as cattle. This seems reasonable, doesn’t it? For someone to ask for peaceful and humane co-existence?
Asking for basic human rights is not a problem. Demanding that an entire country disintegrates is.
In Cairo, I met this wonderful man named Gamal. A few friends and I became good friends with him. I continue to write him letters, but I don’t know if he receives them. I don’t know if he can afford to write me back. I also can’t call him because I don’t have his phone number. But I tell everyone about him, and if I ever return to Egypt, it will be to see Gamal.
First things first: check out my new blog, Cooking with Class while in Class. I finally started a blog about cooking well on a college budget. I know it’s not unique, but I thought I’d give it a try.
In other news, I started reading Three Cups of Tea. I had read about it on other blogs about international development, and my brother and mother read it, so I thought I’d give it a try. And to be honest, I’m having trouble getting into it (I’m at the 8th chapter). The mountain climbing stuff is cool, but after around 20 pages of it, I wondered if the book was really about building schools. I understand that it’s for character and setting development, but it just seems to take too long. As the book continues, it seems to focus on Mortenson’s personal struggles, but I still don’t feel a connection with him. Mortenson’s character development, his struggles, his thoughts, and his ideas are not illustrated enough for me to care either way.
The community, however, intrigues me. Relin’s description of Korphe – while geographically different – reminds me of my time in Moqattam. The people are marginalized. I doubt the Zabbaleen have a decent education system. I definitely want to read to learn more about the people in Korphe, rather than read about Mortenson’s struggles and past. I’d like to think that someday, someone will be motivated enough to build a school for the Zabbaleen communities.
Perhaps I’m too jaded by my own experiences and reading development blogs to appreciate his story. I already know the general story and his obstacles, but maybe the way his story is told doesn’t grab me. Kudos to him for doing all this work to build schools in rural, ignored regions of Pakistan. But is his story worthy or interesting enough of a whole book?
I read this post on the TakePart blog about Iranian films. (I would say the first list is much better than the second list, but I’m responding to the second.) I’ve had this discussion with multiple parties regarding film and cultural relevance. Foreign films that make it into Sundance or Cannes or any major cinema usually address political and social issues from within the country of origin. For example, Persepolis is based on a graphic novel released in the States and eventually became a feature film. While I haven’t seen it – and I’m sure it’s a great film – it isn’t the only thing Iranians have to talk about. I’ve always been hyper-aware of these issues (aka the “guilty liberal” complex), and I feel this is a great space for me to vent my concerns.
Take the film Taste of Cherry. It’s a beautiful film by Abbas Kiarostami about a man who believes his life isn’t worth living, and the people he meets the day before he decides to kill himself. And while this film’s underlying message may be about the oppressive Iranian government, it is, above all, about human connections and our love of life. Yes, you may argue that this is what most films are about (human connections, love, commonalities, pain…), Taste of Cherry seems to be the reverse of the films Goldstein lists: Kiarostami puts these commonalities above political messages.
Another example is The House is Black, which is regarded as one of the greatest Iranian films, if not the greatest influence on Iranian New Wave. Forough Farrokhzad, a well-known Iranian poet, produced a black-and-white short film about a leper colony in Iran. There are two great things about this film: 1) the only narration is her recitation of poems; and 2) all the footage is from less than two weeks in the colony (I don’t remember the exact time frame, but it was definitely filmed in under a month). This film is about the universal issue of leprosy and how we, as an international community, treat lepers. Yes, there are definitely underlying religious and political comments, but the main messages of the film are about the miraculous decay and beauty that is human life.
And if you get the chance, hit up the Iranian Film Festival. It looks like there will be some incredible films playing, and I’m disappointed it won’t be in New York. In fact, you should take every chance you can to watch foreign films that aren’t critically acclaimed by Ebert and Roeper or Sundance. If you really want to know what people have to say from oppressive countries or whatever, look at their comedies and dramas that don’t have clear political messages. Usually they’re the most effective as saying what needs to be said.
I still can’t get over all of these disaster and poverty tourism posts and discussions. It’s a conversation I’ve wanted to have, but I can’t seem to articulate. But Saundra Schimmelpfennig wrote this great post about volunteering overseas. And I agree with her point: good volunteer projects require a significant commitment of time. So here I go: Read the rest of this entry »