Ramblings: Nicholas D. Kristof, Sudan and Intervention

 Every so often I get up on my soapbox and talk about certain things in this world that really, really bother me. I suppose “every so often” is really a euphemism, seeing as I rant about things to anyone who will listen, and also to anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis. I try to read about everything that is going on and then get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of atrocities that are happening in this world that we live in on a continuous basis. I often feel like a fraud, because all I am doing is reading and writing and talking about all these things, and that’s not enough. I want to go to these places, DO something. Talking about it just isn’t enough, because I can talk and talk about it, but in the end what is it going to do? Maybe a few people will listen and agree with me, maybe a few others will listen and disagree, but in the end it will all fall amidst the deep well of other stories and articles that are forgotten, while, in the meantime, whatever I am talking about continues to happen on a daily basis.

This is exactly why I admire people like Nicholas D. Kristof. He goes to places that are the furthest away from paradise and reports back to us on what is going on there. He takes photos and videos and uses his power as a celebrated journalist to show us the realities of what is going on in places like Sudan and Uganda and China and Haiti, as well as right here at home in the US. The man covers topics such as sex trafficking, bullying, starvation, civil war, bombings, death, massacres, hope, love and revolution in any place that he can find it. He doesn’t seem to be phased by obstacles that are thrown in his path – just recently he snuck through the Sudanese border to report on the fate of the Sudanese people hiding in the Nuba mountain region from their own government’s regular bombing campaigns on them. On top of dodging the bombs that are trying to wipe them out, these people are literally starving, living off leaves and insects. Many of them do not have the energy to make the long (and dangerous) trek to the refugee camp that is across the border in South Sudan, so they are stuck in the mountains, hoping that something will change before they all starve. Click HERE to see Kristof’s most recent article on the plight of these people who are stuck watching their children starve away. 

For those who thought that the problems in Sudan ended last year when the territory was divided into two separate countries were wrong. It was a good step towards a better life for those living in the South, but nothing has really changed for those living in the South Kordofan region, the only region in North Sudan where oil can be found. When a country is divided into two there will always be a part of the population who suddenly finds themselves in the wrong country, and this is a prime example of this happening. South Kordofan is the home of many pro-south communities who now find themselves being governed (and terrorized) by the Northern government. Foreign aid has been restricted to the area and humanitarian groups have been expelled, leaving the population to fend for itself, with next to nothing to eat. So what can be done? Kristof calls upon Obama to step in and do something, but what exactly can he, or we, do? There has been conflict in Sudan for so many years now, conflict that nobody really cared about until it had been going on for years (see The Devil Came on Horseback, a terrifying documentary of one man’s mission to show the world what was going on in Darfur). When it comes to a country that doesn’t really have much to offer the western world it is easy to turn a blind eye and figure that they will just sort it all out themselves. I agree that some kind of intervention needs to happen, but not the type of intervention that involves sending US troops yet again into another country. Intervention should happen in the manner of world leaders getting together and putting enough pressure on the North Sudanese government in order to stop the bombings, and to let aid groups back into the affected region and feed the starving people. How can this be done? It’s not like Sudan is the only place in the world where the government is killing people (Syria for example) or where famine is taking its toll on an entire population. It’s not the only place where people are leaving their homes with nothing but the clothes they are wearing and trekking across borders to refugee camps, not knowing if they will ever make it back home again (DRC). There are still countries in this world where conditions are so dire that many people don’t make it past the age of 40 (Mozambique, Swaziland for example – taken from the UN World Populations Prospect, 2006 revision), and that’s if they even make it through childhood. So what makes it more important for us to intervene in one country and not another? Should we intervene? 

From a global view I can’t answer that question without asking a bunch of other questions. From a personal view I think we should intervene, in the most pacifistic of manners. We don’t need to go stomping into another country, guns ablaze, to settle a conflict that is not our own, or that really doesn’t have anything to do with us. But we do need to HELP people who are being murdered for no other reason than because someone said they should be killed. We don’t need to find political reasoning for this type of intervention, or even financial gain, we should just do it for humanitarian reasons. It’s as simple as that – no one needs, or wants, another Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq, where one country goes into another country under the flag of “democracy” with the aim of installing a law that may or may not be wanted. But other countries DO need the help of those whose lives are better off. This is the reason why the UN exists – exactly to avoid the types of atrocities that happened during WW2. Since then we have seen acts of genocide in many countries that have been allowed to go on before anyone tried to intervene (Rwanda, Yugoslavia, the Congo, Sierra Leone, Darfur). We all have our own opinions of what is right or wrong, and they will all differ from person to person, but there is nothing to justify the murder of children, or the use of children as soldiers. Right? If anyone disagrees with that I invite you to explain why. 

Kristof asks Obama to put pressure on Khartoum, and I agree with this. But the only way that one can put pressure on one government to put pressure on another is by constantly bringing it up. I admire Kristof for not only his reporting, but also for his constant reminders to the world that the situation in Sudan still exists and that people are going to continue to die until someone on the outside does something about it. I may have really bad credit and work 7 days a week, but I live in a place where I am relatively safe, and do not need to worry about where my next meal or glass of clean water is going to come from. The least I can do is talk about people who don’t have these things that we take for granted. The very least.
Kristof writes columns that appear twice a week in the New York Times and you can find them online HERE. He has an ongoing competition that is open to students and people over the age of 60 to join him on a journalistic adventure to another country. I wish I were part of one of those groups because it has been a dream of mine for a while to go to Sudan or the Congo or even Syria and to report back on what I see happening with my own eyes, words and images. 

More information:
For a very in-depth study on Sudan you can read Mahmood Mamdani’s book entitled Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror
It’s not an easy read, and you may not agree with everything he brings up, but it provides a lot of insight into the country and the issues that have been ongoing for years.

For a very moving true story from three Lost Boys of Sudan you can read They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky by Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng and Benjamin Ajak (my review can be read HERE)

For Nicholas D. Kristof’s columns you can go to the NYT website HERE

Articles: Some interesting articles from today's paper

 Work is quiet so I just spent the last hour reading through today's paper, looking for something to write about... I started off with one article and ended up with 5, so instead of writing multiple posts about each one, I thought it would make more sense to make one post and provide my own comments/opinions. Most articles come from the New York Times, but I've added other similar articles from other sources in some places. It's quite Middle East-heavy, but, then again, why wouldn't it be?

Afghan rape case is brought before the authorities (NYT article can be found HERE)
I've followed the plight of women in Afghanistan for many years now, long before 9/11 and the US invasion of the country. In the late 90's (I think) Marie Claire published an article about the treatment of women by the ruling Taliban power, something that most news outlets never bothered with, forcing the world to acknowledge there was a real problem in the country. Remember the recording of public execution that was released to world, taken via stealth, the camera concealed beneath a burqa by RAWA in 1999? That was some amazing investigative journalism - because if the reporter had been captured, he/she would probably have been executed in the same fashion. The video was sent to different press outlets at the time, none of which wanted to publish it because of it's ability to shock the world. However, when foreign forces invaded Afghanistan, all of a sudden it was all over the news. Yes, we went in to save these women that a year before we were turning a blind eye to. Nothing more than the usual hypocrisy of the world, another country's plight only becomes important to us when we actually have something to gain in said country. Anyway, this article is interesting because it portrays a few different points; one being that in certain places the laws haven't really changed, even if the Taliban has lost most of its stronghold. Another being that instead of following the unwritten law of the ages, the victim's family have decided to bring it to the public and gain their daughter's honour back by seeking justice via trial.
What we all tend to forget is that Afghanistan is a very unique country, where different ethnic groups/tribes live together, all with different rules of living, many unwritten. In many places, especially remote, rural areas, the honour of the family remains of most utter importance. To destroy or tarnish that honour means certain death, as death is the only way to rectify the balance, and restore the lost honour. To us this may sound backwards and horrific, but this is the way it works, and has worked for generations. I find it admirable that Lal Bibi is looking for her kidnappers and rapists to be brought to justice WITH the support of her family. I hope that they succeed, because if they don't, she will die, either at the hands of her family, or by her own hands (as seen in the article). What a brave, brave woman.

Mubarak is sentenced to life in prison (NYT article can be found HERE)
Life in prison for the deaths of the unarmed protesters last year, however, all charges of corruption were dropped. I'm honestly not really surprised at either ruling, although I think that it is interesting that the police commanders who gave the orders to shoot at the crowds were acquitted. Surely there were more than two people who were responsible for all of the deaths? In any case, I suppose at least some sort of justice has been done, even if the country is still without a democratically elected government (when will those promised elections ever take place?!), although how real this justice is will be seen if the ruling doesn't fall down on appeal. With all other charges having been revoked, if Mubarak wins on appeal he could walk away a free man.
What I found the most interesting about this article is the comment section. They go from right to left, zig-zagging through different opinions, some highly well thought-out and others just plain stupid and actually laughable. Yes, Mubarak was a US ally, but that doesn't make him a saint, does it? Let's all think back to the lovely Shah of Iran people and look at what the good that did to the world. Mubarak wasn't all evil, but he outstayed his welcome for more than a few presidential terms, and stole way too much money from the people he was supposed to be protecting to not be punished for it.
For those commenting on how the world is letting fundamentalists take the power in Egypt by the removal of Mubarak: if this happens, then it is what happens. The Egyptian people fought for change, and will probably stand up and fight again if they feel the government they elect is not acting in their best interest. In the end, we don't have a say what should happen in Egypt - it's up to the Egyptian people to decide what to do. The median age in Egypt is 24 years old, meaning that the population is young and will not stand for any further domination. I'm interested to see how it all plays out in this country. Read all those comments - it's highly entertaining to say the least.
BBC News articles on the same subject HERE.

Russia refuses intervention in Syria (NYT article can be found HERE)
Quelle surprise! Although I am completely against any type of outside military intervention in Syria, I do feel that more pressure should be put on Assad to stop the massacres that seem to be happening on a regular basis in Syria these days. Then again, I understand the plight: if he listens to the UN and withdraws his troops from the areas of uprising it will most definitely lead to civil war. I mean, he could stand down, and be replaced by a democratically elected president, haha, but we all know that is not going to happen. If he continues to let his troops massacre men, women and children in villages it will just create a louder uproar around the world. It appears that the bloodshed is not going to end too soon, and we may just have to sit back and watch it happen. Although, I have no doubt that the West is already smuggling weapons and agents into Syria, and helping the rebels.
Another article on the subject, BBC this time, can be found HERE.

Oh, by the way, there is renewed fighting in the North Kivu area of the DRC, strongly reminiscent of what happened in 2008, see the Al Jazeera article HERE. As always, no one really cares about what is happening in this country, even after years and years of civil war and millions of deaths. It breaks my heart that it is still happening.

Last, but not least, American nuns fight back against the Vatican criticism they face (NYT article can be found HERE).
Interesting how the Vatican plays down all of the child abuse allegations and insists on covering them up, while at the same time accuses a large group of American nuns of challenging "church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” So it's OK for priests to sexually abuse children, but it's not OK to promote free healthcare for all?! Because, oh no, this may promote the usage of birth control, and even worse, abortion! In essence this criticism goes completely against all of the real teachings of Christianity. My own thoughts on religion aside (having had a mix of Anglican, Catholic and free spirit education in my youth I decided to go with the latter, without scorning any of the former), I think this is highly despicable. Nuns dedicate their lives to educating and helping others, while giving up everything to live with their faith. The Vatican condemning them for promoting homosexuality and feminism is just plain old gender bigotry. It's time for the Vatican to get with the times and stop acting like they have the right to twist religion in a way that suits them best. Religious freedom means that we have the right to choose our religion and to live by it in the way we see fit. There is no place in this world anymore, or at least in the world I imagine, for men to dictate how women should live their lives. If these nuns are promoting radical feminism, then I really wonder what my views would be called! More radical than radical? I'm SO happy these nuns are taking a stand and continuing to promote what they believe in.

Rant: Boom in human trafficking/prostitution in Spain

I was reading THIS article on the New York Times website yesterday during a performance at work, which talks about the boom in human trafficking and prostitution in Spain. I know I always get really worked up about a multitude of different disgusting things that humans do to other humans in this world, and I know I like to rant about injustice and despicable actions on here, but what better forum to go on and on about these type of issues than here? Assuming that at least one person reads this and passes this on to another person and so on and so forth, then at least one extra person in this world is talking about this.

The article reads just as any other article would read, gives you the details, the facts and the story. But there was one sentence that really got me thinking, and raging in my head: "On a recent evening, one young man from Paris stood in the parking lot of Club Paradise, bragging about his sexual exploits while his friends looked on. The women, he said, did not talk about whether they were being forced to have sex.
“Maybe,” he said. “But I think they are having a good time.” "


OK, let's take a step back. I'm all for having the right to choose what I want to do with my life. If a woman wants to be a prostitute, a porn star, a courtesan, a stripper, then it is her choice to make it into her career and I fully respect that. I am sure there are many women who are happy with this choice, as I am also sure there are many who aren't (as with any types of profession). However, I am also sure that for many women it is a last resort, or, even worse, they have been forced into it and are technically slaves to the industry. We hear about these stories all the time, women and children who are sold into the sex industry, forced to prostitute themselves, never actually seeing any of the money themselves as they are also forced to give it all up. It's a widespread issue, in every country. SO how does one differentiate from the women who are actually selling themselves willingly, and those who have been forced into sexual slavery? How does one regulate this?

In Spain, for example, like in The Netherlands, prostitution is legal. Pimping is illegal, so the traffickers handle the women by threatening them with their lives and/or their family's lives. Women are smuggled into countries under the impression that they will be able to find a job and a better life, money to send back home, but when they find out the truth it is already too late to turn back. The police in Spain cannot arrest prostitutes, so if a prostitute is seeking a way out she needs to actively go to the police for help. This is where the circle never ends, the police don't have enough resources to help the women, and even if they did, the women live in constant fear of their lives.

The only reason why this industry exists to this extent is because of the demand for it. The supply follows the demand, and, according to the article above, the demand is getting higher and higher. I suppose the most simple of solutions would be to cut off the demand, that way the endless money brought in by prostitution would dwindle and effectively cut off the monetary benefits that the traffickers currently enjoy. Outlawing prostitution would probably not be as effective as it would drive it underground, making it even more difficult to help enslaved women. At least while they are outside in the open there is a way to at least monitor what is going on. So I think what my main question is... Is why on earth the demand is so high? Do most men looking to pay for sex really assume that the woman with the foreign accent selling herself on the street corner is doing this because she actually enjoys it? Do people get a thrill out of paying for something that I am sure they wouldn't have any trouble getting for free in a nightclub or a bar (although I suppose they would have to at least try to seduce a woman in a bar, making it more of an effort...). I just don't get it. It's common knowledge that there are so many women who have been forced into sexual slavery all over the world, so doesn't anyone stop to think that they are actually participating in this? Do they just not care?

Prostitution has always existed, and will most probably continue to always exist, but the fact that sexual slavery exists, in such an open and widespread fashion, in this day and age, makes me so angry, and helpless at the same time. Oh, and it also exists here in the US. It's just not as visible.

For more information on human trafficking and what you can do to help:
ECPAT International
On The Ground - Nicholas Kristof's NYT Blog

Ramblings: Charles Snelling and the question of Euthanasia

I was perusing the New York Times online today (thanks to my lovely friend Meg I now have a subscription!) and came across THIS article about a man named Charles D. Snelling, who, after 61 years of marriage to his wife Adrienne, killed her and then himself. He had previously written a Life Report for David Brook’s column (read it HERE), in which he explains how his wife taught him unconditional love and nurtured him during their life together, and how, it was his turn to look after this wife as her struggle with Alzheimer’s got tougher and tougher. For anyone who has either cared for, or been close to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the decline of the sufferer is terrible and heartbreaking. To me, this was a wonderful story of love, one that lasted over many decades. That Charles chose to kill his wife and then himself was a choice he made, and I can’t really condemn him for it, not based on facts portrayed in both his essay and in the article linked above.

Then I read the reader comments and was quite surprised at how many people were completely outraged by his act, which got me thinking about all sorts of different points and arguments. Technically, Charles committed murder and then suicide, and we have no idea if his wife had any say in the matter, or if it was a common wish that they die together when it got too tough. To me it sounds like it was an act of love, and based on the portrayal of their life together, they had probably discussed and agreed to something like this. But I suppose there will always be a lingering doubt, did she really want this? How far gone was she when this happened? Was there no one who could have helped them both? If a husband of 35 killed his wife of 34 and then himself I think I would be disgusted and would consider it some type of crime of passion, but for Charles and Adrienne I just feel compassion. Such blurry lines…

I think this is really a question of personal opinion and everyone is entitled to theirs. If one day I am sick with a degenerative disease then I will consider euthanasia as an option of escape. Not because I don’t want to live my life, but because I don’t want to be a burden on my family. But I also wouldn’t want anyone to go to prison for helping me to die in as much a humane way as possible, and in most countries euthanasia is still illegal and will probably never be legalised. For good cause really, because there are so many fine lines that can be crossed, and so many different opinions to watch out for and to listen to. What kind of criteria do you use to determine when you want to die and how? I’m assuming that all sorts of documentation will need to be put together while you are still conscious and able. What if you change your mind at the last minute and can’t communicate this to whoever is helping you to die? If I decided to end my life today it would be considered suicide, but if I asked someone to assist me in dying because I was physically incapable of doing it alone that would be considered murder. I’m not religious, but I believe in choice, as long as my choices don’t hurt another human being.

For those who believe in religion, I assume that the idea of killing another, be it because it was requested (euthanasia), an act of love (see above), or because of more despicable means (hatred, envy etc), is always going to be condemned. The fifth Commandment in the Bible states that “Thy shalt not kill”, meaning murder is murder, whatever the reason behind it. Every single question I ask myself in this regards is followed by another question and another question and yet another one. I don’t think there is a real answer as to what is right or wrong on this subject; it’s just a case of opinion based on a separate case at a time.

In any case, in my opinion, Charles Snelling showed love and courage in his final act, and I would like to imagine the couple together somewhere, holding hands and looking down on their children and grandchildren, wherever they may be. I feel like I am going to be thinking about this for the rest of the weekend and I am not going to be able to come to any conclusion about it being right or wrong, good or bad, black or white. I actually don't think there are any real answers or conclusions to this entire topic to be honest. Everyone is going to be right because everyone has the right to their own opinion...

Information on Euthanasia

Jack Kevorkian information (famous for helping many of his patients die in peace, and convicted for this).

Obama to set higher tax rates for the rich?

This will never pass, but I wonder how far this will go... I mean taxing the rich? What a fantastic idea! I wonder why no one had ever though of doing this before?!

Breaking News Alert
The New York Times
Saturday, September 17, 2011 -- 6:00 PM EDT

President Obama to Seek Higher Tax Rate on Millionaires

President Obama on Monday will call for a new minimum tax rate for individuals making more than $1 million a year to ensure that they pay at least the same percentage of their earnings as middle-income taxpayers, administration officials said.

With a special joint Congressional committee starting work to reach a bipartisan budget deal, the proposal adds a populist feature to Mr. Obama’s effort to raise the political pressure on Republicans to agree to higher revenues from the wealthy in return for Democrats’ support of future savings from Medicare and Medicaid.

Mr. Obama, in a bit of political salesmanship, will call his proposal the Buffett Rule, in a reference to Warren E. Buffett, the billionaire investor who has complained that the richest Americans generally pay a smaller share of their income in federal taxes than do middle-income workers, because investment gains are taxed at a lower rate.

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