Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Dordt Diamond Column: In Haiti, the Past is Prologue

For two weeks now, the world has been fixated on the devastation in Haiti. But even before the earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the western hemisphere. 80% of the population was impoverished and life expectancy was fifty-nine years.

If you ask Pat Robertson, Haiti is cursed because its inhabitants “swore a pact to the devil” in the late 18th century. Robertson has been endlessly derided in the media for that statement, and rightly so, but if Haiti isn’t suffering under a Faustian curse, then what’s the deal?

Part of the problem is internal. Haiti has suffered a long line of corrupt leaders who have squandered the country’s resources. By all accounts, the current democratically-elected president, Rene Preval, had been making moderate progress until the quake.

But a large share of the blame lies outside Haiti. The native peoples of Haiti were completely wiped out by the war, slavery and disease the first Spanish settlers brought with them. Eventually, Haiti became a French slave colony. A slave revolt brought independence in 1804, but the French forced Haiti to pay $21 billion in damages for property loss – property including the newly-free slaves! That debt lingers to this day. Haiti makes $58 million in debt payments annually.

The United States occupied Haiti for mostly economic reasons from 1915 to 1934. U.S. Marines killed nearly 3,000 Haitians during a revolt in 1919. Later, in the name of fighting communism, the U.S. supported Haiti’s two most infamous dictators, the Duvaliers. This father-son duo embezzled billions in aid and killed tens of thousands of Haitians. They are responsible for almost half of Haiti’s current debt. The people of Haiti are still paying for their crimes.

So what happens now? Or, more importantly, what happens when Haiti fades from the news and the donations dry up?

If you ask FOX News host Bill O’Reilly, “The USA will once again pour millions into that country...One year from today, Haiti will be just as bad as it is right now.”

As Christian citizens, we cannot accept that attitude. No nation is hopeless. We should give from our plenty to organizations working to rebuild Haiti. We should demand that our leaders enact programs for debt relief and continued development for Haiti. The United States owes Haiti its support, and the church owes Haiti its love. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.”

Friday, January 22, 2010

“Haiti,” by Arcade Fire

Haiti, mon pays
(Haiti, my country)
Wounded mother I'll never see
Ma famille set me free
Throw my ashes into the sea

Mes cousins jamais nes
(My cousins, never born)
Hantent les nuits de Duvalier
(Haunt the nights of Duvalier)
Rien n'arrete nos espirits
(Nothing stops our spirits)
Guns can't kill what soldiers can't see

In the forest we are hiding
Unmarked graves where flowers grow
Hear the soldiers angry yelling
In the river we will go

Tous les morts-nes forment une armee
(All the stillborns form an army)
Soon we will reclaim the earth
All the tears and all the bodies
Bring about our second birth

Haiti, never free
N'aie pas peur de sonner l'alarme
(Have no fear to sound the alarm)
Tes enfants sont partis
(Your children are leaving)
In those days their blood was still warm

Earthquake relief:
Christian Reformed World Relief Committee
International Red Cross
World Vision

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Occupation, tyranny and racism."

Somehow, as is wont to happen to an internet and politics monger like myself, I have ended up on the e-mailing list of a pro-Palestinian organization called the “Never Before Campaign.” Today, they sent me this e-mail:

Friends and colleagues,

A year after the war, the people in Gaza are the only people in the world still living under such a brutal siege, simply because they resist occupation, tyranny and racism. Is it acceptable in the 21st century for the world to be blind about the intolerable situation imposed by the Israeli regime on Gaza. Does anything justify denying 1.5 million people food and medicine?

Yet, those who think that the Palestinian people will be broken, are in for a disappointment. This is why:


for those who don't have access to youtube:

Please circulate.

Where to start? I could point out that, without downplaying the very real economic and human rights crisis in Gaza, if 1.5 million people were really being “denied food and medicine,” this sad story would have ended long ago. In reality, most foodstuffs and medicine are allowed to pass through the Israeli blockade. The real damage comes from the fact that almost all exports from Gaza are banned, which has crippled the local economy.

Or, I could point out that the claim that the people of Gaza are under siege “simply because they resist occupation, tyranny and racism” is, well, false. Israel withdrew all its settlements and soldiers from Gaza in 2005, thus ending the occupation. The blockade began two years later, after the terrorist group Hamas forcibly took over the Gaza strip in the Palestinian civil war.

But for me, the most striking part of this e-mail is the alternate URL “for those who don’t have access to youtube.”

Who, you might ask, doesn’t have access to YouTube? That’s a good question. The answer is: anybody living in Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan, China, Thailand or Armenia.

It’s pretty easy to get around a YouTube ban, of course. Students at religious schools with overprotective network censors (like myself) know what’s up. But isn’t it amazing how our friends at the Never Before Campaign, in the act of sending out a mass e-mail to alert us about Israel’s "tyranny," so blithely and willingly accommodate themselves to the reality that the Arab/Muslim world is home to some of the most oppressive dictatorships on the planet? Leon Festinger, eat your heart out.

Israel should not be excused for the way it has handled its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. I do not excuse it. But of the twenty-one Arab states (hopefully one day to be twenty-two), only Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen even come close to being electoral democracies. The one and a half million Arab citizens of Israel are the only Arabs in the Middle East who can hold political demonstrations without fear of being killed or imprisoned for it. The unemployment rate of young people in the Arab world is 30%, double that of the world at large. One out of ten persons in the Arab world is undernourished. (Source.)

None of that is Israel’s fault. And the fact that the three million Arabs who live under Israeli occupation draw so much more attention than the 336 million Arabs who live under the occupation of their own governments astounds and disturbs me.

Other notable events this week:

Israel begins building another wall
, this one along part of its border with Egypt, to keep rootless Africans from escaping from Egypt into the “tyranny and racism” of Israel:

Netanyahu said Israel would continue to accept refugees from conflict zones but “we cannot let tens of thousands of illegal workers infiltrate into Israel through the southern border and inundate our country with illegal aliens.”
Egypt is also building a wall: this one underground, to cut off Hamas smuggling tunnels from Egypt into Gaza. Now there’s industry!

Finally, a Palestinian student at Bethlehem University (where my friends and I visited in 2008), only one semester away from graduating, will not be allowed to return to Bethlehem to finish her studies. Last fall, she was stopped by an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint. When the soldier saw that her ID card said “Gaza City,” she was arrested and deported back to Gaza. Apparently, she came to Bethlehem before Hamas took over Gaza and Israel put new restrictions in place for Gazan students. Last week, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that she could not return. And the machinery of national politics claims another dream.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Higher Education Progress Update

At times, it’s very satisfying to take stock, to reassure oneself that, yes, something was accomplished during all that craziness. So here goes.

This past semester, I:

• Successfully completed 18 credits of classwork.
• Took the GRE and got a decent score.
• Learned the ropes of tutoring.
• Represented Dordt at the Iowa Student Congress.
• Made three trips to visit friends in Kansas City, Grand Rapids and Seattle.
• Helped to organize two events for human rights in North Korea.
• Ran in my first organized race, and did not suck at it.
• Successfully maintained this blog (against my own expectations).
• Finally finished that darn story I was working on all summer.
• Fell in love with Battlestar Galactica.
• Celebrated my roommate Neal’s engagement.
• Said goodbye to some of my best college friends: Piper, Jake and Jane, all of whom are moving on to bigger and better things.

Now comes the Last Semester. The Final Push. The Big Tamale. The Mother of All Battles. Here are some things I’m looking forward to:

• With all-afternoon classes, I can finally sleep in some (or wake up early to exercise and/or study. We’ll see which impulse becomes dominant.)
• Only 15 credits – a record amount of free time!
• Economic Development in the Third World with Professor Choi.
• History of Twentieth Century Europe with Professor Zwart.
• My one-credit piano course. We’ll see if the ol’ phalanges still have it.
• Forcing myself to keep studying Arabic.
• My first independent study - on the topic of regime change.
• More roadtrips (insha allah – there’s a start).
• Smoking hookah with my mates.
• More tutoring (a difficult job, but one that I learn a lot from).
• Reading through the prophets.
• Graduating and finding a fulfilling job (again, insha allah).

Last, but not least, the great Robert Minto has generously asked me to start contributing to his excellent blog, The Veil Away. Kenny Gradert, Jacob Kroeze, Tom Swiftbird, Dan Den Boer and Matt Gerrelts will also be joining the effort. So that's pretty exciting. I won't be abandoning Jefferson Aero Plane by any means, but I'd definitely recommend checking out The Veil Away.

One hundred and twenty-one days until the end. Here we go.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Nation’s At War!

In his most recent column, conservative godfather Charles Krauthammer criticizes Obama’s decision to treat Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man who tried to blow up a Northwest airliner in Detroit on Christmas day, as a criminal defendant, rather than an “enemy combatant.” (The latter term was invented by the Bush administration to classify al Qaeda terrorists. It acts as a legal nether-world between “criminal defendant” and “prisoner of war,” since al Qaeda members are waging a war against the United States, but do not deserve POW protections, since they fight “unlawfully” – out of uniform and against civilians.)

Krauthammer writes:

This is all quite mad even in Obama’s terms. He sends 30,000 troops to fight terror overseas, yet if any terrorists come to attack us here, they are magically transformed from enemy into defendant.

The logic is perverse. If we find Abdulmutallab in an al-Qaeda training camp in Yemen, where he is merely preparing for a terror attack, we snuff him out with a Predator — no judge, no jury, no qualms. But if we catch him in the United States in the very act of mass murder, he instantly acquires protection not just from execution by drone but even from interrogation.

So, according to Krauthammer, what’s good for a terrorist in Yemen should be good for a terrorist in Detroit.

Al Qaeda is not composed only of foreigners. Several American citizens have joined al Qaeda over the years, and at least one of them was killed by a Predator drone in Yemen in 2002. Since those American citizens are also waging war against America, Krauthammer presumably has no problem with that. (Neither do I, for the record.)

But if that’s true, then the implication of Krauthammer’s argument – that a terrorist is a terrorist, wherever he is captured, and should be treated accordingly – is that President Obama should assert the authority to unilaterally kill American citizens on American soil, without trial, judge or jury.

Would Krauthammer go that far?

I’m pretty sure the present circumstances do not justify that kind of power grab. The argument about whether we’re “at war” with terrorism or not is semantic, in my mind. One numbskull with a bomb in his pants does not a state of emergency create. This is not the Civil War. The president does not have the right to wage war on American soil. In this land, on our soil, we have the luxury of putting murderers like Abdulmutallab through due process. This is a system that protects us all, and we should not abandon it because of al Qaeda’s war. People who try to kill Americans in America should face the appropriate legal consequences, regardless of their delusions about restoring the Islamic Caliphate. I’m glad Obama recognizes that.

Krauthammer goes on:

... the president is constantly denying the nature of those who threaten our homeland. On Tuesday, he referred five times to Abdulmutallab (and his terrorist ilk) as “extremist(s).”

A man who shoots abortion doctors is an extremist. An eco-fanatic who torches logging sites is an extremist. Abdulmutallab is not one of these. He is a jihadist. And unlike the guys who shoot abortion doctors, jihadists have cells all over the world; they blow up trains in London, nightclubs in Bali, and airplanes over Detroit (if they can); and they are openly pledged to wage war on America.

...a government that refuses to admit that we are at war, indeed, refuses even to name the enemy — jihadist is a word banished from the Obama lexicon — turns laxity into a governing philosophy.

Why does Krauthammer insist on the word jihadist? Is terrorist not good enough? If so, why not? Because it doesn’t adequately convey the ideological leanings of the terrorists in question?

I hate to be “that guy” (the lecturer on multicultural values), but jihad does not mean terrorism or warfare. Jihad has been called the sixth pillar of Islam. It means “struggle,” and it takes two forms: greater and lesser. The greater jihad is the struggle to make oneself more Islamic. The lesser jihad is the struggle to make one’s society more Islamic. For al Qaeda, that means blowing up airplanes, but al Qaeda is not representative of all Muslims. All good Muslims practice jihad (just as all Christians try to both improve themselves and impact the world for the better). To make jihadist synonymous with terrorist in the Obama lexicon would be both incorrect and offensive.

On a personal note, two days before the Christmas bomber was foiled, I was on a Northwest flight coming through Minneapolis. Same airline, same week, same region – it’s a little eerie.

Nevertheless, I do not feel like I am on the front lines of any war. Terrorism is a scourge, but, thanks be to God, in the United States of America, it is a very minor scourge. The nation is at war, yes, but that war is being fought overseas, not here, and far more is at stake for the people of Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan than for us.

This is the 21st century. As long as anyone, anywhere, has reason to resent America’s power, there will be the occasional Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. That’s no reason to live in fear, or give the president unprecedented assassination powers, or demand that passengers stay seated for the final hour of the flight. (WTH is up with that regulation anyway?)

Americans have perhaps the most secure physical existence of any people in history. It’d be a pity if we forgot to enjoy it.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Marketing Research Fail

Has anybody seen the ads for the new "Quietus" pill, for "ear-ringing relief"? The first time I did, I was stunned. The brand name is not original.

If you haven't seen Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, drop what you're doing and go watch it. It's a masterpiece of 21st-century sci-fi. The film is based on P.D. James' equally-good novel of the same name. The premise of the story is this: in the year 2027, the human race is afflicted by mass infertility. No human beings have been born for eighteen years, and civilization begins to crumble as mankind slowly withers away. A fascist government takes over in England and, as one of several measures used to keep society from falling apart, freely distributes a suicide pill to its citizens. The brand name of the pill? "Quietus." ("Quietus" also appears in the novel, as a ceremony where the government locks old and sick people into canoes and then sinks them off the coast.)

And even if you haven't seen the movie or read the book, doesn't "Quietus" just have a sinister ring to it?