Robert Mugabe: As Divisive in Death as he was in Life

Robert Mugabe during his swearing-in ceremony in Harare, 2008. The former Zimbabwean president has died aged 95. EPA-EFE

Robert Mugabe during his swearing-in ceremony in Harare, 2008. The former Zimbabwean president has died aged 95. EPA-EFE

Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe, has died. Mugabe was 95, and had been struggling with ill health for some time. The country’s current President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced Mugabe’s death on Twitter on September 6:

The responses to Mnangagwa’s announcement were immediate and widely varied. Some hailed Mugabe as a liberation hero. Others dismissed him as a “monster”. This suggests that Mugabe will be as divisive a figure in death as he was in life.

The official mantra of the Zimbabwe government and its Zimbabwe African National Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) will emphasise his leadership of the struggle to overthrow Ian Smith’s racist settler regime in what was then Rhodesia. It will also extol his subsequent championing of the seizure of white-owned farms and the return of land into African hands.

In contrast, critics will highlight how – after initially preaching racial reconciliation after the liberation war in December 1979  – Mugabe threw away the promise of the early independence years. He did this in several ways, among them a brutal clampdown on political opposition in Matabeleland in the 1980s, and Zanu-PF’s systematic rigging of elections to keep he and his cronies in power.

They’ll also mention the massive corruption over which he presided, and the economy’s disastrous downward plunge during his presidency.

Inevitably, the focus will primarily be on his domestic record. Yet many of those who will sing his praises as a hero of African nationalism will be from elsewhere on the continent. So where should we place Mugabe among the pantheon of African nationalists who led their countries to independence?

Slide into despotism

Most African countries have been independent of colonial rule for half a century or more.

The early African nationalist leaders were often regarded as gods at independence. Yet they very quickly came to be perceived as having feet of very heavy clay.

Nationalist leaders symbolised African freedom and liberation. But few were to prove genuinely tolerant of democracy and diversity. One party rule, nominally in the name of “the people”, became widespread. In some cases, it was linked to interesting experiments in one-party democracy, as seen in Tanzania under Julius Nyerere and Zambia under Kenneth Kaunda.

Even in these cases, intolerance and authoritarianism eventually encroached. Often, party rule was succeeded by military coups.

In Zimbabwe’s case, Mugabe proved unable to shift the country, as he had wished, to one-partyism. However, this did not prevent Zanu-PF becoming increasingly intolerant over the years in response to both economic crisis and rising opposition. Successive elections were shamelessly perverted.

When, despite this, Zanu-PF lost control of parliament in 2008, it responded by rigging the presidential election in a campaign of unforgivable brutality. Under Mugabe, the potential for democracy was snuffed out by a brutal despotism.

A wasted inheritance

Whether the economic policies they pursued were ostensibly capitalist or socialist, the early African nationalist leaders presided over rapid economic decline, following an initial period of relative prosperity after independence.

In retrospect, it’s widely recognised that the challenges they faced were immense. Most post-colonial economies were underdeveloped and depended upon the export of a small number of agricultural or mineral commodities. From the 1970s, growth was crowded out by the International Monetary Fund demanding that mounting debts be surmounted through the pursuit of structural adjustment programmes. This hindered spending on infrastructure as well as social services and education and swelled political discontent.

In contrast, Mugabe inherited a viable, relatively broad-based economy that included substantial industrial and prosperous commercial agricultural sectors. Even though these were largely white controlled, there was far greater potential for development than in most other post-colonial African countries.

But, through massive corruption and mismanagement, his government threw that potential away. He also presided over a disastrous downward spiral of the economy, which saw both industry and commercial agriculture collapse. The economy has never recovered and remains in a state of acute and persistent crisis today.

Read more: Zimbabwe's economy is collapsing: why Mnangagwa doesn't have the answers


On the political front, the rule of some leaders – like Milton Obote in Uganda and Siad Barre in Somalia – created so much conflict that coups and crises drove their countries into civil war. Zimbabwe under Mugabe was spared this fate – but perhaps only because the political opposition in Matabeleland in the 1980s was so brutalised after up to 30 000 people were killed, that they shrank from more conflict. Peace, then, was merely the absence of outright war.

Some leaders, notably Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, are still revered for their commitments to national independence and African unity. This is despite the fact that, domestically, their records were marked by failure. By 1966, when Nkrumah was displaced by a military coup, his one-party rule had become politically corrupt and repressive.

Despite this, Nyerere always retained his reputation for personal integrity and commitment to African development. Both Nkrumah’s and Nyerere’s ideas continue to inspire younger generations of political activists, while other post-independence leaders’ names are largely forgotten.

Will Mugabe be similarly feted by later generations? Will the enormous flaws of his rule be forgotten amid celebrations of his unique role in the liberation of southern Africa as a whole?

A Greek tragedy

The problem for pan-Africanist historians who rush to praise Mugabe is that they will need to repudiate the contrary view of the millions of Zimbabweans who have suffered under his rule or have fled the country to escape it. He contributed no political ideas that have lasted. He inherited the benefits as well as the costs of settler rule but reduced his country to penury. He destroyed the best of its institutional inheritance, notably an efficient civil service, which could have been put to good use for all.

The cynics would say that the reputation of Patrice Lumumba, as an African revolutionary and fighter for Congolese unity has lasted because he was assassinated in 1961. In other words, he had the historical good fortune to die young, without the burden of having made major and grievous mistakes.

In contrast, there are many who would say that Mugabe simply lived too long, and his life was one of Greek tragedy: his early promise and virtue marked him out as popular hero, but he died a monster whom history will condemn.

ROGER SOUTHALL is a Professor of Sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand.


The Lungs of the Earth are Burning

 The Amazon Rainforest is currently burning and has been for weeks, while little to no coverage has been given to the immediate and dire situation. 

Fire. Cullan Smith. Unsplash.

Fire. Cullan Smith. Unsplash.

The Amazon is on fire and has been for a little over a month. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “40,000 different types of plants” are estimated to have been affected by the fires raging in the Amazon. The Amazon fires have been burning for a while now, but coverage on the fires has been little to none. Now, though, through the outcry on social media, attention has been brought and countries across the globe are pitching in, trying to do their part in reversing and stopping the fires. 

According to a NY Times article, “Hours after leaders of some of the world’s wealthiest countries pledged more than $22 million to help combat fires in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s government angrily rejected the offer, in effect telling the other nations to mind their own business — only to later lay out potential terms for the aid’s acceptance and then, on Tuesday evening, accepting some aid from Britain.”

Denying the aid could prove detrimental to the people and animals living in the Amazon forest. According to a CNN video, Daniel Aristizabel, a member of the Amazon Conservation team, states that the fires are affecting tons of the wildlife in the Amazon, stating “if you lose one species, you cause a chain reaction”. This “chain reaction” can cause a major shift in our ecosystem and possibly put many animals on the endangered species list. 

Being far-removed from the fires makes it difficult to understand the scope and how big of areas the fires are covering. In an ABC video, Andres Ruzo from National Geographic Explorer and Conservationist and also the Director of the Boiling River Project states that “we could be losing, in certain areas, as much as 3 soccer fields of jungle every single minute”. The rate at which the Amazon is burning is huge and will have an impact on ourselves. To put the size in perspective, CNN reporter also adds that the amount of land burning is equivalent to “two thirds the size of the contenential United States”. The Amazon Rainforest has often been called the lungs of the Earth but now they are clogged with smoke. 

Senior VP of Forests, WWF, Kerry Cesareo, states “we have seen a dramatic increase in deforestation in the Amazon, recently, and it is driven by humans and this is happening in part due to demand for food and other resources from the forests and exacerbated by the decline and enforcement of laws”. The apparent need for land for farming is the reason behind the fires. A great need for profit and resources are killing the Earth’s lungs.

If you would like to contribute to the efforts of saving the Amazon rainforest, you can donate to Protect and Acre Fund at which “has distributed more than one million dollars in grants to more than 150 frontline communities, indigenous-led organizations, and allies, helping their efforts to secure protection for millions of acres of traditional territory in forests around the world.” You can also reduce your wood, paper, and beef consumption as those are the top reasons deforestation is currently happening to the Amazon. 

OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form. 

Syria Safe Zones: What is Driving the Unexpected Rapprochement Between the US and Turkey?

Life on the border: Kurdish men in Kobani, Syria. Ahmed Mardnli/EPA

Life on the border: Kurdish men in Kobani, Syria. Ahmed Mardnli/EPA

After years of rising tensions between Turkey and the US over the situation in northern Syria, an unexpected rapprochement has pulled the two countries back from possible conflict.

Relations between the two countries had deteriorated over Turkish opposition to the US alliance with Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, and Turkey’s recent purchase of a Russian air defence missile system. In response, the US kicked Turkey out of its F-35 fighter programme in July.

But in August, Turkey and US announced they would collaborate to establish safe zones along the Syrian-Turkish border, managed by a joint operations centre in Turkey.

Turkey has long demanded these buffer zones across its northern border with Syria to protect against possible assaults from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which leads the Syrian Democratic Forces. The safe zone will effectively serve as a buffer between the YPG-controlled area and the Turkish border, and also combat the ongoing threat of Islamic State (IS) in the region.

The Turks and Americans are yet to agree on the size of the buffer zone – with Turkey pushing for it to be larger than the US wants – and it remains unclear who will police it. But in late August, YPG leaders agreed to withdraw their troops from towns near the Turkish border in what the Pentagon said was a sign of “good faith”.

But why has the US begun to condone Turkish action in northern Syria, and why now?

Deteriorating relations

Although Turkey and the US both sought to displace the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, their priorities in the region changed over time. When the US launched its coalition against IS in 2014, Turkey joined reluctantly amid fears that the fight would harm the Syrian rebels fighting against the Assad regime.

But while Turkey remained suspicious over the presence of the YPG in northern Syria, the US allied with these very forces to defeat IS and to balance Iranian influence in the region.

When US President Donald Trump declared IS had been defeated in December 2018 and that American troops would withdraw from Syria, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hurried to announce Turkish troops could replace the Americans in the region. Erdoğan has repeatedly stressed that Turkey will not harm Syrian Kurdish civilians, but rather target militant groups in the region, including the YPG which it sees as linked to the Kurdish separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

Similar styles. Ahmed Mardnli/EPA

Similar styles. Ahmed Mardnli/EPA

After the reaction in Washington to the decision to withdraw from Syria – which caused resignations and criticism from senior politicians – Trump reversed his decision. In early January the US government said it would not withdraw until the Turkish government guaranteed it would not to attack Syrian Kurds who had been part of the alliance fighting against IS. Turkey has not given this guarantee.

Mistrust has festered over alleged links with each of the allies’ foes, namely Turkey with IS fighters and the US with the YPG. Amid the tensions, the US embassy in Ankara remained vacant.

Pulling back from conflict

There are three reasons for the current rapprochement. The first is a growing desire from both sides to avoid conflict between their military personnel in the region. In 2018, Erdoğan threatened that any US soldiers who stood in the way of the Turkish invasion of Afrin, a Syrian enclave in northern Syria, with an “Ottoman slap”.

Ankara now seems more willing to collaborate with Washington. The welcome extended to the new American ambassador to Turkey, David Satterfield, at the presidential palace on August 28, signalled the allies are looking to build bridges.

The second is that Assad’s forces are encroaching into the last remaining opposition stronghold in Idlib with their Russian allies. Turkey is likely to face another stream of Syrian refugees across to its borders. The search for an agreement over safe zones in northern Syria comes to the fore as Erdoğan feels the brunt of his pro-refugee politics at home.

Since its invasion of Afrin, Turkey has sought to settle Syrian refugees in safe zones in the province. The newly proposed safe zones are likely to see a push for further refugee returns. Similar goals of returning refugees are also pushing other peace efforts in the region – notably between the US and Taliban in Afghanistan.

The third reason is more personal. Erdoğan says Trump has a feel for him. Both leaders are celebrity politicians, with their families at the foreground of their politics. They share anti-establishment mentalities, and use religious references and nationalist discourses to appeal to their supporters.

The Russian factor

Hanging over this rapprochement, however, is the issue of the Russian missiles. So far the Trump administration has not imposed economic sanctions on Turkey over the issue, despite criticisms from Congress over the risks it poses to NATO security. Turkey said it would not activate the missiles until April 2020, allowing negotiation channels with the US over northern Syria to remain open.

Turkey has been a proactive voice against military assaults by the Assad regime in northern Syria, yet it has remained quiet on the Russian-Syrian alliance in the region. Since the failed coup attempt in 2016, the Erdoğan regime has been increasingly pro-Putin, signalling it is turning its back on its traditional Western allies.

That’s why it’s so significant that Turkey and the US are searching for collaboration in the region despite their policy differences. In the Turkish case, this could be a way to enhance its buffer as Assad forces regain the northern provinces from the rebels. In the American case, it could be to expand its alliances to offset Russian and Iranian influence in the future Assad-ruled Syria.

TARIK BASBUGOGLU is a PhD Candidate at Glasgow Caledonian University.

UMUT KORKUT is a Chair professor at Glasgow Caledonian University.


Ukraine: How a Controversial New Language Law Could Help Protect Minorities and Unite the Country

‘The language matters!’: Activists demonstrate in Kiev, April 2019 to demand the passage of a new language law. EPA-EFE/Sergey Dolzhenko

‘The language matters!’: Activists demonstrate in Kiev, April 2019 to demand the passage of a new language law. EPA-EFE/Sergey Dolzhenko

Ukraine is celebrating 28 years of independence – but since 1991 the country has struggled to find the right policies and practices to protect and promote Ukrainian, the state language. It has also tried to prioritise policies of inclusion for ethnic and linguistic minorities while supporting the languages and cultures of Ukraine’s indigenous peoples. A new law passed in July 2019, if successfully implemented, may finally help strike the balance.

Ukrainian is currently is the eighth most spoken language in Europe with more than 33m speakers. Along with Belarusian and Russian, with which it shares Cyrillic script, it is an East Slavic language. Despite having some similarities with Russian, it is a separate language. Russian is widely spoken in Ukraine with small concentrations of Romanian and Hungarian speakers in the west. Ukraine’s indigenous languages (Crimean Tatar, Karaim and Krimchak) are recognised by UNESCO as endangered languages.

Over the past three decades, Ukrainian politicians have too often, in my opinion, exploited the issue of language policy – especially the question of giving Russian official status in the country – as a way of mobilising their respective bases, at the expense of national solidarity and cohesion.

This is despite the fact that Ukrainians routinely rank the issue of language very low on a list of the country’s problems. In 2018, only 2.4% of Ukrainians viewed the status of the Russian language as the most important problem in the country. Despite this, the former Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, made the support of the Ukrainian language a key element of his re-election campaign. But it didn’t give his campaign any discernible lift and he was ousted at the April 2019 election by comedian Volodymyr Zelensky.

Russian gets weaponised

In 2014, the Kremlin used the issue to justify its military aggression against Ukraine. Vladimir Putin repeatedly claimed that Ukraine’s post-Maidan government was targeting Russian-speakers in the country. Given that the government was led by native Russian-speakers, such as Oleksandr Turchynov and Petro Poroshenko, this was an absurd argument. But nonetheless, some western observers appeared to accept it.

The law, On the Provision of the Functioning of Ukrainian as the State Language, passed in April and took force on July 16. Unsurprisingly, it was met with a fierce reaction from the Kremlin, which called for the United Nations Security Council to debate the issue.

Russian influence: Vladimir Putin with members of the pro-Kremlin biker gang Night Wolves in Sevastopol, Crimea, August 2019. EPA-EFE/Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin

Russian influence: Vladimir Putin with members of the pro-Kremlin biker gang Night Wolves in Sevastopol, Crimea, August 2019. EPA-EFE/Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin

But beyond the political bluster, what are the actual features of this law and does it have the potential to allow effective functioning of Ukrainian and other languages and, at the same time, bring the country together?

Securing official status

The law affirms Ukrainian as the main language of inter-ethnic communication – a role most recently played by Russian and by German and Polish in earlier historical periods. It also ensures that information and services are available in Ukrainian – something that was not previously the case in the majority of cities in eastern and southern Ukraine, where Russian dominates in all spheres of public life. But the law also allows official interactions in languages that are “acceptable to both sides”, and it doesn’t completely rule out the use of Russian.

Drafts of the law in development were criticised for forcing media (including academic publications) to publish equal numbers in Ukrainian and other languages. It was argued that this makes the existence of such newspapers like the Kyiv Post – the most famous Ukrainian newspaper in English – very problematic. As a response to this criticism, the law was changed to allow publication in English and “other official languages of the European Union”. So, while supporting multilingualism, the law clearly rules out Russian as the language of inter-ethnic communication.

But the law’s requirements to ensure that all theatrical performances and 90% of films are in Ukrainian, with an undefined exception for “artistic necessity”, seem both unproductive and excessive.

Supporting language minorities

If successful, the law will go a long way towards protecting Ukraine’s indigenous languages. Media outlets are obliged to produce a certain percentage of their content in the indigenous language, while all higher educational institutions must have the capacity to teach indigenous languages to all students who express a desire for it.

Protesters demonstrate against the disappearance of Crimean Tatar activists. Tatars are one of Ukraine’s oppressed minority groups, October 2016. EPA/Roman Pilipey

Protesters demonstrate against the disappearance of Crimean Tatar activists. Tatars are one of Ukraine’s oppressed minority groups, October 2016. EPA/Roman Pilipey

The law also stipulates that language courses must be available in the languages of Ukraine’s ethnic minorities and, for the first time in Ukraine’s history, Ukrainian sign language is given protection and support. This empowerment has been somewhat overlooked in the recent comments on the law that mostly focused on the rights of Russian-speakers.

But Ukraine’s parliament has still to pass additional legislation on the rights of the indigenous people and minorities of Ukraine, which is required under the terms of the language law. This should provide additional mechanisms to protect the rights of Russian-speakers and other minorities. The newly-created party, Servant of the People, recently won power and has declared that it will “deal with this issue”.

As we’ve heard, despite the outside world’s obsession with language as one of the critical issues in Ukraine, only a small minority of people see it as a high-priority problem. The 2018 survey referred to above also showed people are far more worried about the ongoing military conflict and the effect it is having on living standards and the economy.

What’s clear, though, is that these problems won’t be solved without national cohesion. So, whether or not Ukrainians themselves think it important, the right formula for establishing Ukrainian as the official state language, as well as supporting and protecting indigenous and minority languages, will be key to helping the embattled country pull together.

IVAB KOZACHENKO is a Postdoctoral research associate, University of Cambridge.


It’s Not Just Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest That’s Ablaze – Bolivian Fires are Threatening People and Wildlife

Firefighters and volunteers have been working around the clock to tackle the flames. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

Firefighters and volunteers have been working around the clock to tackle the flames. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

Up to 800,000 hectares of the unique Chiquitano forest were burned to the ground in Bolivia between August 18 and August 23. That’s more forest than is usually destroyed across the country in two years. Experts say that it will take at least two centuries to repair the ecological damage done by the fires, while at least 500 species are said to be at risk from the flames.

The Chiquitano dry forest in Bolivia was the largest healthy tropical dry forest in the world. It’s now unclear whether it will retain that status. The forest is home to Indigenous peoples as well as iconic wildlife such as jaguars, giant armadillos, and tapirs. Some species in the Chiquitano are found nowhere else on Earth. Distressing photographs and videos from the area show many animals have burned to death in the recent fires.

The burnt region also encompasses farmland and towns, with thousands of people evacuated and many more affected by the smoke. Food and water are being sent to the region, while children are being kept home from school in many districts where the air pollution is double what is considered extreme. Many families are still without drinking water. While the media has focused on Brazil, Bolivians are asking the world to notice their unfolding tragedy – and to send help in combating the flames.

Dry forests of the Chiquitanos before the fires. Alfredo Romero-Muñoz, Author provided

Dry forests of the Chiquitanos before the fires. Alfredo Romero-Muñoz, Author provided

It’s thought that the fires were started deliberately to clear the land for farming, but quickly got out of control. The perpetrators aren’t known, but Bolivian President Evo Morales has justified people starting fires, saying: “If small families don’t set fires, what are they going to live on?”

The disaster comes just a month after Morales announced a new “supreme decree” aimed at increasing beef production for export. Twenty-one civil society organisations are calling for the repeal of this decree, arguing that it has helped cause the fires and violates Bolivia’s environmental laws. Government officials say that fire setting is a normal activity at this time of year and isn’t linked to the decree.

Fires burn across Santa Cruz state. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

Fires burn across Santa Cruz state. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

Morales has repeatedly said that international help isn’t needed, despite having sent just three helicopters to tackle the raging fires. He argued that the fires are dying out in some areas – although they continue to burn in others and have now reached Bolivia’s largest city, Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Many say that the fires could have been contained far sooner with international help, as videos show volunteers trying to beat back the fires with branches.

As the fires worsened, people gathered to protest in Santa Cruz state. Chanting “we want your help”, they complained that the smoke was so bad they were struggling to breathe. They want Morales to request international aid to fight the fires. While firefighters and volunteers struggle to tackle the blaze in 55℃ heat, Bolivians have set up a fundraiser to tackle the fires themselves.

The extreme heat has made fighting the fires intolerable for those involved. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

The extreme heat has made fighting the fires intolerable for those involved. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

A fortnight after the fires began, a supertanker aeroplane of water arrived, hired from the US. But if the reactions to the president’s announcement on Twitter are anything to go by, many Bolivians think this is too little, too late. Morales is fighting a general election and has faced criticism for staying on the campaign trail while the fires spread.

Some Indigenous leaders are asking for a trial to determine responsibility for the fires, and the response to them. Alex Villca, an Indigenous leader and spokesperson, said:

It is President Evo Morales who should be held accountable. What are these accountabilities going to be? A trial of responsibilities for this number of events that are occurring in the country, this number of violations of Indigenous peoples and also the rights of Mother Nature.

The dry forest understorey ignites while firefighters deploy fire breaks. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

The dry forest understorey ignites while firefighters deploy fire breaks. Ipa Ibañez, Author provided

President Morales came to power in Bolivia in 2006, on a platform of socialism, Indigenous rights, and environmental protection. He passed the famous “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth” in 2010, which placed the intrinsic value of nature alongside that of humans. His environmental rhetoric has been strong but his policies have been contradictory. Morales has approved widespread deforestation, as well as roads and gas exploration in national parks.

While the fires in the Chiquitano have dominated the media within the country, hundreds more rage across Bolivia, assisted by the recent drought. It’s unclear whether the response to these fires will affect the October election outcome, but sentiments are running high in the country, where more than 70% of people prioritise environmental protection over economic growth.

Bolsonaro and Brazil might grab the headlines, but Bolivia too is now host to a desperately serious humanitarian and environmental situation.

CLAIRE F.R. WORDLEY is a Research Associate, Conservation Evidence, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge.


The Netherland’s New Burqa Ban is a Sign of Hostility Towards the Dutch Muslim Community

The discriminatory law violates both religious freedom and freedom of movement.

Photo of Library Hall in the Rijksmuseum by  Will van Wingerden  on  Unsplash . This is one of many buildings now off limits to people wearing burqas or niqabs.

Photo of Library Hall in the Rijksmuseum by Will van Wingerden on Unsplash. This is one of many buildings now off limits to people wearing burqas or niqabs.

Last June, the Upper House of Parliament passed a ban on face-covering garmates such as burqas and niqabs by 35 to 40 votes. The law came into effect early this month, banning those wearing such garmates from entering public places including government buildings, public transport, hospitals, and schools.

Amnesty International has released a statement calling the ban an infringement on women's rights to dress as they choose. The ban follows similar laws throughout Europe and will make the Netherlands the 6th country in the EU to ban burqas and niqabs in public buildings. The law does not apply to streets and other outdoor public spaces.

While the exact number of women impacted by the law is unclear, the Guardian writes that according to a 2009 study by University of Amsterdam professor Annelies Moors, an estimated 100 women routinely wear a face veil and less than 400 sometimes wear a veil. Moors, a critic of the bill, states that it has the power to interfere with women's daily lives. It restricts their access to hospitals, police stations, and schools, preventing them from accessing education, reporting crimes, and other necessary abilities.

While the Dutch government has stated that the law is a non-discriminatory effort to ensure public safety, the far-right has been quick to cite the ban as a party victory. "Finally, 13 years after a majority in the Dutch Parliament voted in favor of my motion to ban the burqa, it became law yesterday!" Geert Wilders of the far-right Freedom Party tweeted last June including the telling hashtags #stopislam #deislamize.

Al Jazeera writes that Wilders hopes to go even further with the ban."I believe we should now try to take it to the next step," he told the Associated Press. "The next step to make it sure that the headscarf could be banned in the Netherlands as well."

Under the new law, someone wearing a banned clothing item must either remove it, or face a fine from 150 to 415 euro. Police and transport officials, however, have expressed a reluctance to comply with the ban. 

After a statement from the police saying that enforcing the law is not a priority for them, transportation authorities announced that they would not be enforcing the law as police assistance would not be readily available. 

“The police have told us the ban is not a priority and that therefore they will not be able to respond inside the usual 30 minutes, if at all,” Pedro Peters, a spokesman for the Netherlands transport network told the Guardian. “This means that if a person wearing a burqa or a niqab is challenged trying to use a service, our staff will have no police backup to adjudicate on what they should do. It is not up to transport workers to impose the law and hand out fines.”

Hospitals also stated that they would continue to treat patients regardless of clothing.

The Muslim community has rallied to support those affected by the law. The Nida (Rotterdam’s islamic party) has stated that it will pay all fines imposed on those wearing niqabs. The party even created a community account where people can donate money to be used for fines. Algerian activist Rachid Nekkaz also offered to cover fines.

Despite the lack of enforcement surrounding the ban, its existence alone is a sign of hostility towards the Dutch Muslim community. According to Al Jazeera, Nourdin el-Ouali, who leads the Nida Party, called the ban a “serious violation” of religious freedom and freedom of movement, and warned that it will have far-reaching consequences.

EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. While not writing she explores the nearest museums, reads poetry, and takes classes at her local dance studio. She is passionate about sustainable travel and can't wait to see where life will take her. 

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What’s Behind the Protests in Kashmir?

Kashmiri Muslims shout slogans during a protest after Eid prayers in Srinagar.  AP Photo/ Dar Yasin

Kashmiri Muslims shout slogans during a protest after Eid prayers in Srinagar. AP Photo/ Dar Yasin

India recently enacted a law which will end a special autonomous status given to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, known in the West as simply “Kashmir.”

Amit Shah, India’s minister for home affairs, announced in Parliamentthat the Bharatiya Janata Party government was revoking Article 370 of the Indian Constitution in the name of bringing prosperity to the region.

Since 1954, this article has governed federal relations between India and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state.

I’m a scholar of South Asian politics and have written extensively on the evolution of the India-Pakistan conflict in Kashmir.

Article 370 is woven into that history.

History of Kashmir’s autonomy

Article 370 originated in the particular circumstances under which the former prince and last ruler of Kashmir acceded to India shortly after the partition of the British Indian Empire into the independent states of India and Pakistan in 1947.

The prince, or maharaja, agreed to have Kashmir become part of India under duress. His rule was threatened by an insurrection supported by Pakistan.

Article 370 was designed to guarantee the autonomy of the Muslim majority state, the only one in predominantly Hindu India. The clause effectively limited the powers of the Indian government to the realms of defense, foreign affairs and communications. It also permitted the Kashmiri state to have its own flag and constitution.

More controversially, Article 370 prohibited non-Kashmiris from purchasing property in the state and stated that women who married non-Kashmiris would lose their inheritance rights.

Changes over time

But the independence of the Kashmiri state has been declining for decades. Beginning in the early 1950s, a series of presidential ordinances, which had swift effect much like American executive orders, diluted the terms of the article.

For example, in 1954, a presidential order extended Indian citizenship to the “permanent residents” of the state. Prior to this decision the native inhabitants of the state had been considered to be “state subjects.”

Other constitutional changes followed. The jurisdiction of the Indian Supreme Court was expanded to the state in 1954. In addition, the Indian government was granted the authority to declare a national emergency if Kashmir were attacked.

Many other administrative actions reduced the state’s autonomy over time. These have ranged from enabling Kashmiris to participate in national administrative positions to expanding the jurisdiction of anti-corruption bodies, such as the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central Goods and Services Act of 2017, into the state.

What it means for India and the world

What has happened as a result of the move to revoke Article 370?

Kashmiris living in New Delhi gather for a function to observe Eid al-Adha away from their homes in New Delhi.  AP Photo/Manish Swarup

Kashmiris living in New Delhi gather for a function to observe Eid al-Adha away from their homes in New Delhi. AP Photo/Manish Swarup

Kashmiris living in New Delhi gather for a function to observe Eid al-Adha away from their homes in New Delhi. AP Photo/Manish Swarup

The decision has been met with considerable unhappiness and resentment in the Kashmir Valley, which has a Muslim population close to 97% – versus 68% of the population of the state as a whole. The government of Jammu and Kashmir, meanwhile, does not have the legal power to challenge the move.

China and Pakistan have expressed displeasure.

Pakistan has long maintained that it should have inherited the state based upon its geographic contiguity and its demography.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir. While I don’t believe Pakistan will initiate another war with India over this issue at this time, I doubt it will quietly resign itself to the changed circumstances. At the very least, it will seek to draw in members of the international community to oppose India’s action, as it has sought to do in the past.

China, which considers Pakistan to be its “all-weather ally,” has stated that the decision was “not acceptable and won’t be binding.”

SUMIT GANGULY is a Distinguished Professor of Political and the Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University.


Senior Welfare Benefits Universal Across Uganda

Uganda recently raised the age for welfare benefits to 80. At the same time, the government expanded the program to be universal across the country, thus both increasing and cutting the number of people who will receive benefits used for necessities.

Uganda’s Senior Citizens grant gives 25,500 Ugandan shillings each month to those who are part of the program, which launched in 2010. Vjkombajn. CC0.

Uganda’s Senior Citizens grant gives 25,500 Ugandan shillings each month to those who are part of the program, which launched in 2010. Vjkombajn. CC0.

It is estimated that 8 million Ugandans (out of 37.7 million people) live below the poverty line. With a faltering tradition of family support, people are forced to continue working past the point when they should. Generally, they continue with trade or small-scale farming. Those who are ill or otherwise unable to work doubly suffer. 

In 2010, Uganda, together with the UK Department for International Development, Irish Aid and the United Nations Children’s Fund, began to create social pensions that assist those who have such precarious incomes. 

As of July, Uganda’s welfare Senior Citizens grant, part of their Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) program, has raised their age of entry to 80, which cuts people out between the ages of 65 and 79 who had previously been eligible. These people will have no access to monthly benefits as of the upcoming year. However, at the same time, they expanded the grant so it is universal in Uganda. For the first 100,000 people who joined, the age for eligibility was 65, which was lowered to 60 in Karamoja due to the lower life expectancy there. After that number was reached, the government rolled out the pension to another 40 districts. However, with those districts, it was available only to the 100 oldest in a village. Now, the pension is universal, though the entry age is 80. As of June, according to HelpAge, more than 160,000 people have been enrolled in the program. Due to making everyone eligible, roughly 365,000 Ugandans now have the opportunity to receive a pension. The exact number is unclear.

There is also the problem of earlier deaths, possibly increased by the enlarged population of those living below the poverty line. Julius Mukunda, co-ordinator of the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group, believes that the government’s failure to care for the elderly is because of their prioritization of political projects, according to The East African. Inflation pressures have also lowered power levels for SAGE benefits.

The non-contributory pension gives each person 25,000 Ugandan shillings, which converts to $7 US, each month. People use it for food, school supplies, and other necessities. "[The pension] has been instrumental in my life. When I get the money, I become happy. I have used it to buy a goat for my family to rear. I use it to pay school fees and buy books for my children," said Longora, an older man in Napak, Uganda, according to HelpAge.

Households that receive the grants have had their poverty reduced by 19 percent while spending has gone up 33 percent. Households also use the pension to further increase their income, for example by buying livestock. Children who are part of these households have been found to have better education and are less likely to be involved in child labor.

Several other countries in Africa, such as Mauritius, Kenya and Zanzibar, have implemented a social welfare pension, while Mozambique is planning to create a social protection program. However, issues persist, such as mobility issues in getting to the pay point, missing records, and financial abuse.

If the people receiving these pensions continue to speak out about how they have helped themselves and their families, they can hold their governments to account for how services are used. This assertion helps to reduce long-term problems such as financial abuse and other errors. It is each government’s responsibility to make sure citizens are aware of social protection programs and that those services are accessible, inclusive, and efficient.

NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.


This Is the Only Shelter for Refugees in NYC

Edafe Okporo is the director of the only shelter in New York City that provides housing for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. He knows what it’s like to arrive in the U.S. with nowhere to go. Okporo left Nigeria seeking asylum after he was attacked by a mob because of his sexual orientation. With the hope of a better life, he came to the U.S., but soon realized he faced another battle. Refugees can undergo harsh treatment, having to navigate complex asylum law and face time in detention centers. Still, he persevered, and built a life for himself. Now, Okporo is helping others do the same.

There’s a Dark Political History to Language That Strips People of Their Dignity

Residents of Baltimore, Maryland, seen here, were the object of dehumanizing language from President Trump.  REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Residents of Baltimore, Maryland, seen here, were the object of dehumanizing language from President Trump. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Dehumanizing language often precedes genocide.

One tragic example: Extreme dehumanizing language was a strong contributor to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. As I have written, the Hutu majority used a popular radio station to continually refer to Tutsi tribal members, a minority in Rwanda, as “cockroaches.”

As support for this characterization grew among Hutus, it essentially stripped away any moral obligation to see Tutsis as fellow humans. They were just vermin that needed to be eradicated.

Students of 20th century history will also recognize this pattern of dehumanizing language in the lead-up to the genocide committed by the Turks against Armenians, where Armenians were “dangerous microbes.” During the the Holocaust, Germans described Jews as “Untermenschen,” or subhumans.

On July 27, President Trump tweeted that Baltimore was a “"disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and “No human being would want to live there.”

The Baltimore Sun charged back with an editorial headlined “Better to have a few rats than to be one.”

I’m a scholar of conflict management. This back-and-forth got me reflecting on how extreme, dehumanizing exchanges like this can escalate into destructive outcomes.

President Donald Trump.  AP/Carolyn Kaster

President Donald Trump. AP/Carolyn Kaster

Insults and conflict

The goal of my research in hostage negotiation and divorce mediation is to help police negotiators and court mediators shift out of a charged situation into problem solving.

Generally, when people respect one another they have a fairly easy time problem solving. But when one person challenges the other’s identity with personal insults, both parties forget about the problem-solving task and focus only on what I call “identity restoration,” which means trying to save face and restore personal dignity.

This shift pushes them into a charged conflict that can quickly escalate.

After all, many studies over the last several decades have reinforced the finding that a human being’s group identity is their most prized possession. People craft their identities to fit into a core group – as a member of a family, a profession or a tribe, for example – that is vital to our social standing. In some cases, such as adopting the identity of a U.S. Marine, for example, group belonging may be necessary to personal survival.

Most of the time identity challenges are fairly minor and easily ignored so that problem solving doesn’t get off track too quickly. A boss might say at a meeting, “Weren’t you supposed to have that report ready today?” A quick defense of one’s identity as a competent professional for that company and the matter is dropped and we’re back to work.

Screen Shot 2019-08-10 at 6.26.04 PM.png

Conflict and Escalation

When the challenges are more severe, the identity defense becomes fiercer. Voices get raised, emotions swell and people become locked in a spiraling conflict, which is characterized by a sustained attack-and-defend cycle.

Hostage negotiators and divorce mediators are trained to shift dialogue away from identity threats and into problem solving by isolating divisive issues and coming up with specific proposals to address them.

Unfortunately, if there are no controls over language escalation, and parties start making references that can be interpreted in extreme, dehumanizing terms, they may come to believe that the only way to restore their identities is by physical domination.

Words no longer work. When parties cross over this very thin line, they fall into an identity trap with little hope of escape until the violence ends.

While I don’t expect the conflict between the president and Baltimore to escalate into actual violence, these kinds of exchanges can make it more acceptable for followers to use this kind of language.

When the President encourages crowds to chant, “Lock her up,” and “Send her back” at rallies, or describes a city as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being” would want to live, it sets a climate in which using lethal, dehumanizing language seems normal. That is simply dangerous.

WILLIAM A. DONOHUE is a distinguished Professor of Communication at Michigan State University.


Puerto Ricans Unite Against Rosselló – And More Than a Decade of Cultural Trauma

People wave Puerto Rican flags as they attend a rally to celebrate the resignation of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 25.  REUTERS/Marco Bello

People wave Puerto Rican flags as they attend a rally to celebrate the resignation of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 25. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Puerto Ricans wrote a new chapter in their history on July 24.

Governor Ricardo Rosselló finally resigned after 12 days of massive protests in Puerto Rico, as well as protests abroad, that demanded his resignation; all the protests used the hashtag #RickyRenuncia.

The beginning of the protests can be traced to the release by Centro de Periodismo Investigativo of 889 pages of a Telegram chat transcript that exposed offensive and unethical comments made by the governor and his inner circle.

But the chat was only the latest blow. A series of natural and human-made disasters have caused turmoil and trauma in Puerto Ricans’ lives, including the more than decade-long recession that started in 2006; the financial crisis and subsequent enactment of the PROMESA law in 2016that reinforced Puerto Rico’s colonial status; and the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

Rosselló’s corruption further compromised the post-disaster recovery of Puerto Ricans, many of whom continue to suffer personal and cultural trauma.

Whereas personal trauma “involves a wound and the experience of great emotional anguish by an individual,” by cultural trauma, we mean what sociologist Jeffrey Alexander says “occurs when members of a collectivity feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness, marking their memories forever and changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways.”

The chat’s transcript served as a catalyst for Puerto Ricans to come together in indignation.

Personal and cultural trauma

Together, we have been studying Puerto Rican activism, the diaspora’s political ideologies and migration, particularly in Central Florida, for many years.

After Hurricanes Irma and Maria, approximately 159,000 to 176,000 Puerto Ricans moved to the continental U.S. This major movement is expected to continue, with an anticipated 14% of the island population leaving over the next two years.

We wanted to understand the conditions under which post-disaster Puerto Rican migrants successfully integrated into continental U.S. society, and the challenges they face. We will soon begin a two-year study on how those leaving the island after the hurricanes have fared in Central Florida.

Data we have collected already suggest that post-disaster migrants continue to experience personal trauma and stress long after the immediate disasters passed.

Some Puerto Ricans not only lost family members or everything they owned, but, even a year after impact, many in Puerto Rico still lacked access to basic necessities such as potable water, warm food, shelter, medicines, and electricity.

Of the 19 Puerto Ricans we have interviewed so far, as well as over 100 surveyed, many were deeply impacted by Hurricane Maria and its aftermath. For those in our sample who lived on the island during the hurricane but have since moved to Florida, many felt traumatic loss in leaving their homes and families behind to survive the slow recovery.

Many told us that they lost their jobs, suffered health problems and, upon migration, faced racism and downward occupational mobility in the continental U.S.

Members of the diaspora also experienced personal trauma during the days and weeks after the hurricanes, not knowing about the status of their loved ones in Puerto Rico.

One of the Puerto Ricans we interviewed, John, explained the agony he felt in the aftermath of the storm waiting to hear from his father in Puerto Rico: “I talked to my dad the night before it was supposed to hit and he said he’ll call me as soon as he can. And then I didn’t hear from him for a couple days, so it was definitely stressful,” he said.

His father finally called; John said, “That was one of the most important phone calls I ever received… I cried because I was just excited to hear from him.”

In recent years, the totality of personal traumas Puerto Ricans have faced, including the recent chat scandal, amount to an arc of cultural trauma.

A man walks past a sign that reads ‘You are finally leaving. Ricky resign. Thanks Puerto Rico for resisting’ on the street that leads to La Fortaleza, the official residence of the governor of Puerto Rico. REUTERS/Marco Bello

A man walks past a sign that reads ‘You are finally leaving. Ricky resign. Thanks Puerto Rico for resisting’ on the street that leads to La Fortaleza, the official residence of the governor of Puerto Rico. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Resiliency and resistance

Puerto Ricans told us that they have used a range of coping mechanisms to contend with their challenges. Some of the main coping strategies to deal with personal trauma were connecting with family and friends for support; finding solace in their faith; trying to adapt to new daily routines; and trying to secure a job to provide for their families.

All of these resilient acts bring meaning to their sacrifices and losses. Our interviewees are actively recreating their homes, whether in Puerto Rico or elsewhere.

We see the current collective protests as acts of resistance to their cultural trauma. The protests have brought about a sense of group solidarity that has strengthened cohesion among the people of Puerto Rico, regardless of where they are geographically. These protests also signal that Puerto Ricans are actively reconstructing a more democratic society.

That is why journalists and participants have compared these recent protests to the “Todo Puerto Rico con Vieques” (All of Puerto Rico with Vieques) movement that aimed to remove the U.S. Navy from using the island of Vieques – part of Puerto Rico – for military exercises, particularly, the “Paz para Vieques” march on February 21, 2000. Back then, these collective actions aimed to hold the U.S. government accountable for the damages caused by the bombings in Vieques and the poor health of its residents. The protests were successful in removing the navy, although Vieques residents are still battling in court for reparations and clean-up.

Research shows that these types of group political actions can help to foster a process of collective healing, notably when the objectives are achieved.

While the Telegram chat was the latest shock in an arc of cultural trauma afflicting Puerto Ricans, we think that Puerto Ricans have demonstrated powerful acts of resilience in rebuilding a hopeful future for Puerto Rico. A simple hashtag – #RickyRenuncia – represents resistance against more than a decade of struggles, yet it is only the beginning of what is to come.

ELIZABETH ARANDA is a Professor of Sociology at the University of South Florida.

ALESSANDRA ROSA is a Postdoctoral Scholar in Anthropology and Sociology at the University of South Florida.


In Romania, 500 Days of Silence Mark Movement Against Corruption

For citizens of tiny Sibiu, Romania, “watchful eyes” nestled in the city’s roofs have become a symbol of ongoing protest.

Houses with eyes in Sibiu. lucianf. CC BY 2.0

Houses with eyes in Sibiu. lucianf. CC BY 2.0

Each day at noon, in the picturesque little city of Sibiu, the red-shingled roofs and the protestors silently assembled in the streets send the same message to the corrupt government of Romania: We are watching you.

Visitors to Sibiu take note of the standard Central European attributes: the quaint, historic architecture, punctuated by the Gothic Lutheran cathedral, whose steeple looms high into the sky; the houses clinging to the bank of the river Cibin, which winds lazily down from the main waterway of Olt. But they are likely to do a double-take upon noticing the ever-watchful Sibiu eyes—narrow windows rising up from the city’s roofs, giving the impression of a perpetual half-lidded gaze. Originally designed to ventilate attics where meat, cheese, and grain were stored while keeping the harsh sunlight out, the eyes have become a potent symbol of Romania’s anti-corruption movement—specifically, a grassroots organization called V Vedem din Sibiu, or “we are watching you from Sibiu.”

V Vedem din Sibiu came about in December 2017, when the government moved to shift judiciary statutes in a way that was widely regarded as tightening state control over judges and undermining the National Anticorruption Directorate. The attempt further inflamed tensions ignited at the beginning of the year, when the ruling Social Democrat party (PSD) decriminalized a range of corruption offenses, triggering Romania’s most sizable street protest since the fall of communism in 1989. The emergency ordinance—which, among other stipulations, dropped charges of official misconduct in cases where the financial damage did not exceed 200,000 lei ($47,000)—passed at 10 p.m. local time; by midnight, more than 10,000 infuriated citizens had taken to the streets in the capital of Bucharest, and around 10,000 in other cities across Romania.

Anti-corruption protesters in Bucharest. Paul Arne Wagner. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Anti-corruption protesters in Bucharest. Paul Arne Wagner. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Corruption is considered a serious problem in Romania, and the country’s fragile political state is exacerbated by its status as one of the European Union’s newest and poorest members, leaving citizens concerned for their rights and constantly at the ready to mount a protest. In the years and months since the events of 2017, Romania has seen ongoing organizing against corruption and in support of judicial independence, and the government has endured criticism from the European Commission, the U.S. state department, and the centrist president and National Liberal Party leader, Klaus Iohannis, who has made strong calls for governmental transparency. In January 2018, approximately 50,000 Romanians marched towards parliament in Bucharest, waving flags, contending with riot police, and raising raucous chants of “Thieves!” And in August of that year, up to 100,000 members of the Romanian diaspora descended on Bucharest to protest the PSD—an event that took a violent turn when police deterred marchers with tear gas and water cannons.

Anti-corruption protesters in Bucharest. Paul Arne Wagner. CC BY 2.0

Anti-corruption protesters in Bucharest. Paul Arne Wagner. CC BY 2.0

Relative to the chaotic, overwhelming tableau of the ongoing demonstrations in Bucharest, the soundless walkouts occurring daily in Sibiu present a stark contrast. This July, the Sibiu protesters commemorated their 500th day gathering in the city center, sacrificing their lunch breaks or school recesses to stand in silence outside the headquarters of the PSD. “Those 15 minutes every day, it is like a flame that never goes out,” said Ciprian Ciocan, one of the founders of V Vedem din Sibiu, in an interview with The Guardian. “Somebody knows that there are still people in Sibiu, no matter whether it rains or snows or whatever.”

Ciocan posts live videos of the protests on V Vedem din Sibiu’s Facebook page, where they reach more than 20,000 followers. During the events of December 2017, allies from around the world sent in more than 68 versions of the Sibiu eyes—scrawled on walls and scraps of paper, carved into sand at the seashore, inscribed with branches laid on fresh snow, from Berlin to Chicago to Kuala Lumpur. Though the initial tide of eyes has slowed, the page continues to share media coverage of the protests along with its regularly scheduled live videos. The “about” section defines the sit-in as a form of protest, stating, “We are protecting the values and principles in which we strongly believe, the state of law and the independence of Justice.”

Sibiu. Camelia TWU. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sibiu. Camelia TWU. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In May of this year, under pressure from the EU and overwhelming dissent from Romanian voters, the PSD abandoned some of its most controversial measures. Even more devastating for the party was their loss of seats in European Parliament elections and the departure of the PSD leader, Liviu Dragnea, who was jailed on May 27 and is expected to serve a three-and-a-half-year sentence for corruption.

Despite small steps in the right direction, however, citizens remain on high alert. “There are many other dangers,” Bianca Toma of the Romanian Centre for European Policies told The Guardian. “There are still things to be undone and it’s a matter of fact, not just [making] statements.” And in Sibiu, the ongoing protests have had little impact on the PSD, whose workers drew the blinds when sit-ins began and issued a statement accusing the activists of “aggressive” behavior. Still, like clockwork, citizens will keep turning out in the streets, and the watchful eyes will keep gazing from Sibiu’s rooftops, waiting for a day when Romanians at home and abroad can live without fear of corruption.

TALYA PHELPS hails from the wilds of upstate New York, but dreams of exploring the globe. As former editor-in-chief at the student newspaper of her alma mater, Vassar College, and the daughter of a journalist, she hopes to follow her passion for writing and editing for many years to come. Contact her if you're looking for a spirited debate on the merits of the em dash vs. the hyphen.

In Turkey, Academia Reckons with Ongoing Effects of Brain Drain

Following a post-coup crackdown by President Erdoğan, the Turkish intelligentsia is under continuous siege.

Faculty of Political Sciences, Ankara University. Fæ via Wikimedia Commons; originally by SALT Research via Flickr.

Faculty of Political Sciences, Ankara University. Fæ via Wikimedia Commons; originally by SALT Research via Flickr.

For some professors, the change occurred overnight, and with no warning: One day, they reported to work as usual, taught their classes, and returned home safe and secure. The next, they were met outside the gates of their university by swathes of security guards threatening them with tear gas, who informed them that their careers had been terminated, effective immediately. Such sudden and shocking occurrences reflected the overall timbre of 2017 for Turkish academics—hundreds of whom found themselves purged from their jobs in what they described as an officially sanctioned “intellectual massacre.”

The purge was precipitated by the failed coup of July 2016, which resulted in more than 260 fatalities and spurred President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to declare a three-month state of emergency. During that state of emergency and in the ensuing months, hundreds of academics from more than 20 universities lost their jobs without notice—the result of drastic action by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which chose to detain, arrest, and fire thousands of public-sector workers in various different fields rather than pressing charges on those responsible for the coup attempt.

According to Erdoğan, the responsible party was Fethullah Gulen, an exiled cleric and former ally who the authorities claim infiltrated supporters into professions all over Turkey as part of a large-scale takeover scheme. Gulen denies having any part in the plan, and many purged academics said they had nothing to do with Gulen’s movement and were unsure how they ended up on the official hit list. Turkey’s Official Gazette describes the banned academics as having “suspected links to terrorist organizations and structures presenting a threat to national security,” but those accused hold a contrasting view: “It is a project to silence all dissident voices within the academy,” Murat Sevinc, who was fired from Ankara University’s Political Science faculty, told Reuters. “The government has seen you can silence 100 academics by firing only one.”

One commonality among many of the academics was their membership in a movement called Academics for Peace, or “Barış için Akademi syenler.” Of the 330 fired in October 2017, 115 had signed an Academics for Peace petition titled “We shall not be a party of crime,” which took a stand against violence in the mainly Kurdish provinces of Turkey. The signatories immediately faced demonization in the pro-government media and condemnation by Erdoğan.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. U.S. Department of State.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. U.S. Department of State.

As of March 2017, the total count of purged academics was above 7,300. Those affected were not only deprived of their jobs but also banned from taking other jobs in any public or private institutions, robbed of retirement rights, and even suspended from traveling. Certain universities and departments were particularly hard-hit—for example, the Faculty of Political Sciences at Ankara University, Turkey’s oldest collegiate institution and one comparable in prestige and rigor to France’s Sciences Po. The departments of journalism at Ankara and at Istanbul’s University of Marmara were also decimated. Emre Tansu Keten, a casualty of the purge at Marmara, told Vocal Europe, “I am simply proud to be in the same list along with my senior colleagues who are thrown out because of the opinion they expressed.” Students, though not the primary victims of the situation, were nevertheless left reeling with the realization that their universities were mere shadows of the places at which they had enrolled.

The purges of 2017 were hardly the first shockwave to ripple through Turkey’s academic sector in recent years. In the past few decades, Turkish academic life has frequently been tumultuous, with intellectuals embroiled in military takeovers, secular/religious tensions, and leftist/nationalist battles. Following the start of European Union accession talks in 2004, however, fresh influxes of funding allowed Turkish institutions to construct modern research labs, encouraging students to study in Turkey rather than in the United States or elsewhere in Europe.

That progress, some academics suggest, is now in jeopardy. Following the coup attempt and subsequent crackdown, the trend of intellectuals returning in Turkey took a sharp U-turn, with liberals, secularists, and the intelligentsia fleeing the encroachment of religious nationalism. Between the signing of the Academics for Peace petition in 2016 and the end of 2017, nearly 700 Turkish academics applied to the New York–based organization Scholars at Risk to be relocated to a safer position. Historically, many such applications have been successful: In the five years preceding 2017, approximately 17,000 Turkish nationals came to Britain, 7,000 to Germany, and 5,000 to France.

For academics remaining in Turkey, opportunities for rebuilding their careers are slim, and rewards for their work few and far between. In 2018, the more than 2,000 individuals who make up Academics for Peace finally received recognition in the form of the Courage to Think Defender Award from Scholars at Risk, which applauded the group for their “extraordinary efforts in building academic solidarity and in promoting the principles of academic freedom, freedom of inquiry, and the peaceful exchange of ideas.” Scholars at Risk went on to acknowledge the tenuous state of academic affairs in Turkey, writing, “The nomination is a specific recognition of Academics for Peace’s solidarity work, and at the same time a general recognition of the current pressures on all scholars, students and higher education institutions in and from Turkey.”

Haydarpaşa campus of Marmara University. Fikricoban. CC BY-SA 3.0

Haydarpaşa campus of Marmara University. Fikricoban. CC BY-SA 3.0

On the ground, academics across the country continue to participate in protests, boycotts, and sit-ins at various universities, while a donation fund supports victims of the purge. As of early 2017, Ankara’s “Street Academy” hosted public lectures on Sundays, extending a special invitation to workers and oppressed communities. Funda Şenol Cantek, one of the throngs of fired academics, expressed her defiance to The Advocate: “the government should worry more now that they expand academia to the streets.” Similarly, Sevilay Celenk said of the occasional lectures she holds in public parks, “We took these dismissals as an opportunity to push the limits and bring university together with the streets.”

In June 2019, the body politic of Turkey elected an opposition candidate as mayor of Istanbul, interrupting two decades of control by the AKP. Nevertheless, reported the New York Times, “something about this era under Erdogan has still felt different, more lasting, as if the continuing existence of the A.K.P.’s repressive policies will permanently impair otherwise resilient, historic institutions.” That feeling doubtless stems in part from the uncertain futures facing vast swathes of Turkey’s once-resilient academic sector: As of spring 2019, the legal proceedings concerning 501 members of Academics for Peace remain ongoing. And at the universities, absence is keenly felt. Inside Ankara’s Faculty of Political Science—known as the Mulkiye—walls once plastered with leftist posters are now smattered with a sparse assortment of Turkish flags, the Times described. Certain subjects, such as Foucault and queer theory, have been wiped from the schedule. Master’s and doctoral courses have been canceled, and at the once-lively film society, the showing of films has been banned altogether. Thus, the effects of the purge linger on: in the hallowed halls of universities, in the leafy parks and city streets, and in the hearts and minds of Turkish learners and teachers around the world.

TALYA PHELPS hails from the wilds of upstate New York, but dreams of exploring the globe. As former editor-in-chief at the student newspaper of her alma mater, Vassar College, and the daughter of a journalist, she hopes to follow her passion for writing and editing for many years to come. Contact her if you're looking for a spirited debate on the merits of the em dash vs. the hyphen.


The Possibility of a International Environmental Court

Science professors and organizations are making the case for an international green court, which would fill in gaps in the existing environmental legal order.

Climate change is an existing problem. Scientists are coming up with solutions for keeping Earth habitable, including a possible international environmental court. Gerd Altmann. CCO.

Climate change is an existing problem. Scientists are coming up with solutions for keeping Earth habitable, including a possible international environmental court. Gerd Altmann. CCO.

It’s time to face scientific facts: the world is getting warmer. The five hottest years on record have all been within the last decade. Europe went through a massive heat wave this summer. Temperature changes increase the possibility of extreme heat, drought, floods, and subsequent poverty for thousands of millions of people. Climate change is a legitimate issue, seen especially by extremes in weather patterns, and scientists are pondering possible solutions beyond what is already being done.

Using previously created organizations as inspiration, one idea two scientists have suggested is a climate-based version of the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to the Huffington Post. The main problem is that the current environmental protections (which vary by country) are not enforced by any international agency, and they are failing to cope with the sheer scale of the global problem.

The 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day is less than a year away, and though the idea of getting the court up and running by then probably isn’t possible, soon afterwards would be, if initiative was taken. In 1972, the UN Environmental Programme was created, which coordinates environmental activities and assists countries with creating policies. Subsequent concerns and opinions about the environment from all corners of the world were necessary to bring attention to the problem at the time, but didn’t protect the planet on their own. Countries are now directed to measure their activities, but there isn’t any international organization in place to monitor the loopholes globally when looking at every country’s policies and activities. 

According to the Huffington Post, the International Bar Association and the Coalition for an Environmental Court have also suggested a international environmental court. The World People’s Conference recommended a similar idea, a International Climate Justice Tribunal.

One question the court would need to sort out, if organized, is which charges would be in the scope of the court. Other challenges include different priorities for developed and developing countries, discerned unenforceability of international law, and global cooperation, according to the Inter Press Service. Keeping an open mind when organizing the international green court should help solve problems before they arise. An open forum setting with understood standards should be ideal, as opposed to a criminal court setting. In a similar sense, both the state and non-state clients should be allowed to raise cases for the court. Considering the complexity of the issues likely to come up, the judge or judges assigned should be specialized and capable. Clients should, of course, be found accountable for the decisions of the court. Clear language is necessary as well. If holding states completely accountable seems too positive, then adding sufficient stakes should make it work on a international scale. 

An international green court should be able to harmonize with existing environmental regulations, provide justice to a broad range of people, create workable solutions for maintaining international standards, and build trust among the global community. Therefore, the forum should be able to start overcoming climate inaction, and enforce that progress for the international group through agreed-upon standards.

NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.

The LGBTQ Migrant Caravan that Sought Asylum in the US

Asylum Seekers in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. Daniel Arauz. CC 2.0

Asylum Seekers in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. Daniel Arauz. CC 2.0

LGBTQ migrants from Central America seeking asylum in the US faced hardship and discrimination not only from gangs that prey on migrants as they travel, but also from their fellow travelers. They were a part of a “caravan” of 3,600 asylum seekers, that started to journey from San Pedro Sula, Honduras in October 2018, traveled through Mexico, and reached the Northern Mexican city Tijuana, bordering the US, in November 2018. The members of the caravan were escaping all kinds of violence in their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

The LGBTQ group of the caravan traveled together, in a group of around 80, to provide safety in numbers. They were subject to verbal abuse from all ends, and were even denied food and access to showers by other members of the caravan and other local groups. They weren’t about to receive a warm welcome from the US either, as President Trump frequently targeted the group of migrants during the 2018 Midterm Elections.

Migrant caravans from Central America travel through Mexico in the hopes of passing through the US-Mexico border in search for freedom. Many don’t make it in, and those who do are held at the border.

The migrants were fleeing discrimination and persecution of LGBTQ people in their own countries. They were threatened to be killed or tortured because of their sexuality. They embarked on a journey to the US in the hopes of obtaining a new life, with new opportunities to make a living in a more accepting community.

The LGBTQ group of the caravan stuck together and looked out for each other, for fear of being assaulted. They slept in abandoned, dilapidated hotels rather than outside, where they are subject to more violence. To prevent attacks, human rights workers have sent two people in green vests to travel with the caravan. These groups found the migrants through strong media coverage and decided to help.

They trekked over 1,000 miles in a month. Most of the traveling is done by foot when they are unable to hitch a ride on buses, trucks, or tractor-trailers.

When they finally reached Tijuana, they were subject to anger from the local residents, who were angry that they were staying in a house in their neighborhood.

They waited at detention centers in Texas for a very long time after crossing the border. These detention centers had no experience in housing transgender women. However, recently, it was announced that ten transgender women have won their asylum cases, and were allowed to leave the detention center. The immigrant rights group RAICES helped to provide legal support for the migrants to win their cases.

ELIANA DOFT loves to write, travel, and volunteer. She is especially excited by opportunities to combine these three passions through writing about social action travel experiences. She is an avid reader, a licensed scuba diver, and a self-proclaimed cold brew connoisseur. 

Lebanon’s LGBTI Activists: Constantly Fighting Back

Lebanon’s LGBTI activists fight every day against hostility. Slowly, gains have been made. Nancy Dowd. CC0.

Lebanon’s LGBTI activists fight every day against hostility. Slowly, gains have been made. Nancy Dowd. CC0.

Lebanon’s first LGBTI organization, Helem, was registered by the government in September 2004. In the years since, LGBTI activists have fought for their rights, as well as those of others, in an increasingly oppressive environment.

Most visibly in the past two years, the Lebanese government has begun increasing crackdowns against activists, particularly on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOTB). Obviously, on that day, organizations plan activities that bring LGBTI people and activists together, while also confirming and celebrating their rights. The government has generally taken the side of extreme religious groups that threaten the activities, and therefore completely shut down the events. Last year, activists were banned from even entering Lebanon. In the past 15 years, activists have said that hardly a day passes without a raid, arrest, or limitation of their right to privacy.

Helem was created as the result of local activism. In the early 2000s, the main concern was Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which criminalized sexual activity against the laws of nature. Homosexuality was widely antagonized against, for religious, socio-cultural, or moral reasons. For example, films portraying a LGBTI person in a positive manner were forbidden and public screenings and were censored.

Activists came out of the woodwork, both working with LGBTI organizations and the media by allying with and sharing their stories with journalists. Generally, LGBTI activist individuals carved out spaces for themselves in the broader civil society as the years passed. In addition to fighting for their own rights, they also fought for the rights of women, migrant workers, and for the right to freedom of expression.

Judges have passed brave rulings that don’t criminalize the right to privacy, but overall few of those judgements have been made. However, Article 534 has been rendered inapplicable, due to research with international medical references.

On the other hand, police officers still arbitrarily arrest people on the street for walking with a member of the same sex on suspicion of same-sex activity, and engineer “confessions” based on false promises or intimidation. Last September, Lebanese General Security officers attempted to shut down a LGBT conference. The officers questioned the director, Georges Azzi, and took the details of those attending from the hotel registry. Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said, according to HRW: “General Security’s latest efforts to shut down an LGBT conference in Lebanon is an attack on freedom of assembly rights and an attempt to silence the voices of courageous activists.” Though the exact reasons for attempting to shut down the conference were unclear, the previous reason the government stopped events was in order to preserve public morality. This past February, HRW also submitted a complaint to the UN regarding the police’s shutdown of LGBTI activism events.
Now, LGBTI individuals and activists are somewhere in the middle. They are not actively persecuted for their way of existence, but they are also not free to live as they wish. Unfortunately, the harassment and hostility continues, but everything has gotten better as time has passed. Last week, on May 17, which is also International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, the activists of Beirut, Lebanon agreed to fly pride flags, starting by Raouche Rock. Pride parades had been cancelled before they could take place the two years previous. An activist who wished to remain anonymous said, according to GayStarNews: “It’s saying we are here even despite the transgressions on our community.”

NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.


In India, Grassroots Initiatives Work to Undo the Period Taboo

For many Indians, lack of access to menstrual products is compounded by entrenched societal stigma. Across the country, women are beginning to make a change.

A sign in Bali, Indonesia, demonstrates stigmatization of menstruation in the Global South. dominique bergeron. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A sign in Bali, Indonesia, demonstrates stigmatization of menstruation in the Global South. dominique bergeron. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

For most people with periods in the Western world, menstruation is something of an afterthought—annoying and sometimes painful, but easily dealt with, and far from debilitating. In parts of the Global South, however, “that time of the month” is not only a serious health concern and financial impediment but also a source of profound social and cultural tension. Over the past two years, grassroots activists have brought increased attention to the plight of menstruating women in India, and begun to envision a future in which well-being and participation in society is not dictated by one’s reproductive cycle.

Shameful attitudes toward menstruation in India are deeply ingrained, and, especially in rural areas, can be actively harmful to women of all ages. Indian women experiencing their periods can be banned from entering the kitchen and preparing food, separated from family members, and removed from religious ceremonies, sometimes on the grounds of theistic tradition: In 2018, many Indian men were outraged at a ruling by the country’s Supreme Court allowing women of menstruating age to visit Sabarimala, a Hindu temple in Kerala dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, who is seen in traditional mythology to be disgusted by the concept of female fertility. Indignation at the ruling reached a peak in January 2019, when one person died and dozens were injured in protests against the judgment.

Equally dangerous, and highly imbricated with traditional views of menstruation, is the pervasive lack of access to sanitary products, which are crucial to keeping women clean and safe during their periods. An estimated 70 percent of Indian women are unable to afford such products, with 300 million resorting to unhygienic options such as newspapers, dry leaves, and unwashed rags. Menstruation is also a key driver of school dropouts among girls, 23 percent of whom leave their schooling behind upon reaching puberty.

Cost barriers can prevent Indian women from acquiring menstrual products. Marco Verch. CC BY 2.0

Cost barriers can prevent Indian women from acquiring menstrual products. Marco Verch. CC BY 2.0

In a sociocultural landscape where natural bodily functions are affecting the human dignity of people with periods, education, outreach, and access are crucial. In February 2018, Indian news outlet Daijiworld reported on one person working toward these goals: the so-called “Pad Woman” of Manguluru, who has been leading a group of young students in her southwestern port to create awareness of menstrual hygiene. The Pad Woman, Prameela Rao, is the founder of non-profit Kalpa Trust, which offers students at the Kavoor government First Grade College materials to manufacture sanitary pads for women in rural areas. The completed pads are distributed free of charge to the colonies of Gurupur, Malali, Bajpe, and Shakthinagar, obviating the need for women to purchase prohibitively expensive mainstream menstrual products. The pads are made from donated cotton clothing, which the students wash, iron, cut, and stitch to create the final product.

In the western state of Gujarat, an organization known as the Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP) is directly targeting period taboos among rural communities. Activists Manjula and Sudha told the Indian magazine The New Leam that, for the girls they have educated in the villages of Karamdi Chingaryia and Jariyavada, confusion and fear regarding menstruation have given way to confidence and clarity. For the AKSRP, which emphasizes gender equality and the societal participation of women, offering rural villagers the ability to make informed choices about their own menstrual health is key. As of The New Leam’s report in April 2019, the non-profit had reached about 60 Indian villages, providing information about sanitary pads of various designs, longevities, and price points.

While pads are a far more hygienic choice than rags or newspaper, they are not the only option: Back in Manguluru, two German volunteers have initiated a menstrual cup project known as “a period without shame.” In their pilot run, Nanett Bahler and Paulina Falky distributed about 70 menstrual cups free of charge to Indian women, as well as leading workshops on effective use for recipients. The cups, which are made of silicone and emptied around twice per day during one’s period, can be used for up to 10 years, making them a hygienic, eco-friendly, and potentially more affordable option for people of all ages.

Manguluru, where Indian and German activists are working to provide menstrual products. Aleksandr Zykov. CC BY-SA 2.0

Manguluru, where Indian and German activists are working to provide menstrual products. Aleksandr Zykov. CC BY-SA 2.0

Such grassroots efforts have been instrumental in chipping away at stigma among Indians in certain cities and villages, but broader change is unlikely without widespread publicity. One potential avenue for increased awareness is the newly released documentary Period. End of Sentence., which follows rural Indian women in their battle against period stigma. To create the film, Iranian-American director Rayka Zehtabchi visited small villages outside of Delhi to inquire after women’s menstrual health, and shot extensive footage of women who have learned to create their own sanitary products. The diligent pad-makers, many of whom are housewives who have never before held a full-time job, sell their creations to locals in their area, educating women on proper use and convincing shop owners to stock the products. By the end of the time span covered by the documentary, the women had set up a factory and manufactured 18,000 pads, earning economic self-sufficiency for themselves and an Academy Award nomination for Zehtabchi.

The work of these Delhi entrepreneurs, along with that of the AKSRP and Pad Woman Prameela, has made a positive difference for countless people—but, according to Mumbai-based journalist and author Puja Changoiwala, education and access must rise above the grassroots level and reach the legislative in order to create enduring change in attitudes toward menstruation. In a piece for Self, Changoiwala suggests that the Indian government should distribute free pads and launch an “aggressive nation-wide awareness program,” engaging celebrities and the press to address the dire consequences of long-held stigma. For anyone in India with a period, such a moment cannot come soon enough.

TALYA PHELPS hails from the wilds of upstate New York, but dreams of exploring the globe. As former editor-in-chief at the student newspaper of her alma mater, Vassar College, and the daughter of a journalist, she hopes to follow her passion for writing and editing for many years to come. Contact her if you're looking for a spirited debate on the merits of the em dash vs. the hyphen.