Environmental Refugees

In my IAS 2003 class, we’ve spent the last week discussing a really interesting topic: namely, as global warming continues to impact the ecological and environmental health of the Earth, should those affected and displaced by things like rising sea levels be able to claim refugee status? This kind of climate change is called “anthropogenic climate change”, used to indicate that the shifts in the environment are a direct result of actions undertaken by humans. In this case, it usually indicates the actions of countries with large manufacturing and personal transport industries that contribute to fossil fuel usage are negatively impacting the lives of individuals in countries with higher rates of poverty (usually those found on the coast).

According to the UN, a refugee means “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” I would argue that the concept of the environmental refugee can function  within this definition. Granted, the persecution these individuals face might not be direct, but the impact on their lives is present nonetheless. Due to their position as poverty-stricken individuals living on the coasts, many individuals can have their homes swept away due to the actions of other nations. Indeed, if one country attacked another with weapons designed to change the landscape and decimate places of residence, those who were forced out of their homes would generally be considered refugees. Anthropogenic climate change is no different. The actions of one country, or its subsidiaries, directly influences the geographic landscape of another part of the world, leading to a worsening of conditions that were not brought about, or enjoyed, by the inhabitants.

I will agree that the practical implication of labeling environmental refugees as actual refugees is certainly complex. However, that does not mitigate the obligation that nations like the United States have to mitigate their disproportionate pollution and usage of the Earth’s atmosphere.


The Syrian Crisis: A Talk With Professor Landis

On October 6th, I went to Professor Landis’ discussion on “ISIS, Ethnic Cleansing, and Radicalism in the Middle East”, hosted by the Honors Student Association. I mean… discussions of Middle Eastern politics AND free pizza? How could I NOT have gone?

Landis’ views on these issues are particularly unique and well-informed. He is married to a member of the Druze tribe (a marginalized religious population in Syria), and spent a good portion of his life living in the region that he studies. He is often interviewed by CNN or other major media outlets in conjunction with Syrian issues and is widely considered to be an expert.

His discussion focused mainly on the various geopolitical sects within Syria, which he claimed were split into four main regions. Firstly, located mainly near the Northern border, were the Kurds who were resisting encroachment both from ISIS and from Turkey. Secondly, along the Western border were the remnants of the original state, led by Bashar Al-Assad. The remainder of the country was split between daesh-controlled lands and lands controlled by rebel factions. According to Landis, much of the US’s impact in the region so far has been to arm this rebel groups in order to help them resist any kind of daesh movement or attempts to expand. This has been accomplished to varying degrees of success. He attributed this to some Sunni Arabs choosing, voluntarily, to live in a daesh-controlled state as a far superior alternative to living under Al-Assad. This perceived choice, between a life under the formal state and a life under daesh, grants some form of legitimacy to the religious sect.

He also discussed how those regions under daesh control are finding themselves devoid of any kind of minority, especially religious minorities. Specifically, Landis discussed how daesh has attempted to exterminate the Druze, who they do not consider to be “people of the book”. Under the Islamic law practiced by daesh, those following traditional Judeo-Christian religions are to be afforded slightly more respect than any other individuals when they are captured. However, by classifying these various sects of Islam as not an actual part of Islam, daesh has succeeded in rationalizing the extermination of their own potential recruits.

All in all, Professor Landis proved himself to be a rather intriguing and engaging speaker that was able to concisely and punctually present a wide berth of information to his audience. I hope I’m able to take a class from him in the future.

Singing in Arabic

A month or two ago, my Arabic professor asked me if I wanted to perform a song, in Arabic, at the Arabic talent show that she was putting on for the Department. With the show a month away, and the promise of extra credit weighing heavily upon my worried soul, I decided to say yes; the resulting adventure was certainly a whirlwind.

I was paired up with two native Arabic speakers (Aicha and Kamel), and we met once a week for the next month or so as they tried to teach me the lyrics and melodies to the songs El Helwa Di and Foghna Hael (sad attempts at transliteration, I know). Working with these two was honestly one of the best experiences I had in my Arabic class. Getting to mesh learning with music/singing (one of my passions) was a great, but very challenging, experience. Kamel, a fantastic oud player, constantly amazed me with his ability to play music without notes (he watched a video once or twice, then was able to perfectly recreate the song), and Aicha’s patience in going over words with me was certainly Herculean.

Finally, the night of the show was upon us. My Arabic class performed immediately before us (it was a good effort for a class of 15 beginners), and then we were up. Months of hard work and practice went into the two-minute performance, and I have to say, we didn’t sound half bad. Granted, no one was expecting much from me… an Arab 1115 student taking on an entire song in a language that I hardly knew isn’t going to be held accountable for much. That being said, I was rather proud of the little group that I was a part of. I got a chance to work with a diverse group on a project that was close to my heart. I’d love to do it again.

A Speech About Speech

On October 23rd, I attended a lecture by Naima Boussofara, a Professor of Arabic Studies at the University of Kansas, regarding “political speeches as the locus for the loss of a president’s voice”. Her lecture examined how Ben Ali, the former President of Tunisia, unsuccessfully attempted to use Tunisian Arabic in an attempt to recapture some degree of legitimacy among his people during one of his last formal speeches to the public. As a student of Arabic, I found this lecture to be particularly interesting as it explored the concept of dialectal differences within the Arab world, which is a concept that we brush on occassionally.

What I found most fascinating was how the use of a certain dialect was expected to grant some form of power or recognition to a leader. For an English speaker, this concept is kind of foreign. Apart from Ebonics, there really aren’t too many different dialects of English within the United States that would elicit such a strong reaction from the population if used by a leader in a public speech. What was even more intriguing is that Ali failed in his goal to use exclusively Tunisian Arabic, often slipping back into the formal “FusHa” or Modern Standard Arabic. In fact, when there was an unexpected disturbance ( a phone ringing in his office), Ali began talking in FusHa, showing that his default dialect is not Tunisian, but the Modern Standard variant. In fact, as Boussofara argued, his attempt and failure to speak in Tunisian only made it more aparent to his consituents that he was not “one of them”.

All in all, it was great to hear from an Arabic professor that was widely regarded by OU’s Arabic department. Professor Boussofara was clearly very knowledgable and well-researched on her specific topic, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to hear what she had to say.

A French Point of View

This last semester, I’ve had the delight of spending an hour a week with a group of diverse students discussing domestic and international political issues with my “Informed Citizens Discussion Group”. We used articles from The Economist as a springboard for our talks, and covered everything from GOP hopefuls to the relationship between current oil prices in the US and the ups and downs of the oil industry in the Middle East.

There were many specific conversations among American students that were of note, but the ones that I found the most interesting occurred when one of the groups members brought their significant other from France. It’s really easy to talk about how certain governments and international actors might react to events abroad from an American perspective, but getting an authentic, international viewpoint was really interesting. For example, when discussing the Democratic nominees,  he said that, by French standards, Bernie Sanders was an incredibly moderate politician. He also told us that, much like in America, there’s a really stark difference between the older and younger populations in terms of political thought. The elderly in France tend to possess a fierce French national identity while the younger demographic usually identify themselves as members of the European Union/a larger, European state. This distinction becomes especially relevant in discussions of refugees, Greece, and various other issues facing contemporary European states. It was really interesting to draw comparisons between ideologies in France and America, especially in demographic philosophies. In France, as in American, the elderly are generally more conservative and nationalistic, while the younger population is more concerned with social activism. Granted, in France, the scale is shifted quite significantly to the political left… as this member’s boyfriend indicated, Bernie would likely not be socialistic enough for the majority of French voters.