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.