Post 12: Modes of Muslim-European interaction

stock.jpg

Compare and contrast the following discussed patterns of Muslim-European interaction: assimilation, communitarianism, or newer modes or integration.

As we have learned throughout the semester, relations between Muslims and European nations have become intense and there are major misunderstandings on both ends. Different European countries have leaned towards various modes of dealing with the issues that have arisen in regards to this tense relationship. France is the country that is most well known for going the assimilation route, however other countries such as Germany have embraced assimilation in many ways as well. According to the Hunter, assimilationists believe that Muslims should accept the culture and political policies that their current country of residence holds. They must remain secular in public life, but can still practice their religion in private settings.

Another pattern of interaction we have seen between Muslims and European nations is called communitarianism. Individuals who believe in this mode of interaction prefer that Muslims form communities of their own and that these communities participate in dialogue with the larger society. Many Muslims prefer to stay within their own communities, practicing strict Islamic rules that could not be followed in a more secular state otherwise.

There are tons of buzzwords that have various meanings and that many people strongly agree or disagree with, so much so that the conversation begins to focus more on the words than the policies behind them. In my opinion, integration is the buzzword that I choose to associate with. Integration seems closely related to multiculturalism, which I will discuss in the next part of this post. Both of these terms celebrate other cultures without making them completely abandon their culture or religion. However, integration, from my understanding, requires slight modification of both cultures. This means there has to be a true understanding between two distinct cultures that are trying to merge. The issue is that there cannot be antagonistic feelings between the cultures, otherwise there will be no desire on either side to integrate. Respect is the only true way to integrate a society. In terms of Muslim-European relations, Europe needs to respect traditions associated with religion and Muslims entering European nations need to respect values that are embedded into that society and try and embrace them. If respect can be given and accepted, I think integration can be successfully achieved.

What is the diversity myth discussed by Malik? How does assimilation differ from multiculturalism? Give examples. What solutions does Malik propose to overcome the failure of multiculturalism?

The diversity myth that Malik refers to is based on the idea that European nations have a hard time embracing peoples of different nationalities. While the numbers of different nationalities make it seem like nations like the UK and Germany are diverse, in reality these communities are very separate from one another. True diversity represents inclusion of all persons either under the law or in social settings. Many seemed to believe that multicultural policies were created so that minorities would be recognized, but in truth they were created to stop the racism and discrimination against these groups and recognizing them under the law was the best way to go about this.

Multiculturalism is a term used to describe a society that is particularly diverse as a result of immigration and has policies necessary to manage such a society. Proponents of multiculturalism say that the problem has never been related to an influx in diversity, it is the racism associated with such societies that is the problem. Critics of multiculturalism see excessive immigration without demanding integration as an issue. Many believe that this has eroded social cohesion, undermined national identities and degraded public trust. Prior to World War II, immigrants represented mostly individuals that moved from one European nation to another, so it was easier to seamlessly fit into that society. Now, there seems to be a cultural clash, for instance between France and North African Muslim communities. People seem to be more concerned with defining the community they belong in than determining the society they want to live in and the environment they want to create in regards to immigration. This “othering” has created lesions in society.

Multiculturalism then is different from assimilation because instead of “embracing” differences, assimilation forces individuals to conform to the new society that they have chosen to become apart of. In France, the government wants all citizens to see themselves as French before any other identity. They see this as quite opposite from multiculturalism, which to them doesn’t promote a national identity. However, we have seen in France that they are just as divided, if not more, than any other European society. France, instead, lives false guise of assimilation, but they have failed to actually make their citizens feel welcome, even second generation French immigrants feel “othered.” They have largely ignored the discrimination and racism that many of their citizens face on a daily basis.

Malik proposes several solutions because it is clear that both multiculturalism and assimilation have both produced fractured societies. First, Europe should separate diversity, which is the actual lived experience of immigrants, from multiculturalism, which is a political process. Next, Europe should not be colorblind. This is referring to France’s policy of assimilation which essentially ignores discrimination and says that everyone is equal when this is not the lived reality for many people. Lastly, Europe should differentiate between people and values. This basically means that they should work to promote common values of a modern democracy without taking away an individual’s right to their own cultural and ideological beliefs.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Post 11- Youth in Islam

muslim-schoolgirls-recite-verses-quran-occasion-nuzul-al-quran.jpg

What struggles are unique to Muslim youth in Europe? In what forms does Muslim youth identity manifest itself in Europe? What role does discrimination play in the formation of Muslim youth identities?

The largest difference between Muslim elders in society and Muslim youth is that the internet and social media have made it possible to see the discrimination that they face on a daily basis. Their identity is constantly being questioned and challenged on a scale that older Muslims never experienced until now. Besides technology itself, which highlights all of these struggles, there are four main categories of struggle that the authors discuss in Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, which I will explain below.

Cultural adaption is one struggle for Muslim youth that immigrate to European nations. It is difficult to abandon your nation state which may have consisted of mostly Muslim men and women. The language is different, the people dress differently, and you are forced to try to assimilate. However, most Muslims take solace in a Muslim community that embraces them, which sounds comforting except for this further isolates them from their European neighbors who view them as outsiders. Another struggle is the balance of integration and tradition. Like most of us, we don’t agree completely with our parents beliefs. Sometimes they can be outdated and the pressure to conform to their ideas and beliefs can be overwhelming. Muslim youth experience this type of disconnect between wanting to assimilate in some ways to European life and keeping their roots in tact. Youth are always trying to push the boundaries, so it is the same situation with Muslim youth who do not want to experience Islam in the same archaic ways their parents and grandparents did. Boundary identification plays off of this need to break away from traditional Islam. Youth must decide the role that Islam will play in their lives. Will they choose to make their faith the defining factor about them? They want to be accepted, yet in European nations, Islam is a religion that is feared, not revered. This puts youth in a particularly difficult spot because they must decide how they want to be perceived. Lastly, discrimination and stereotyping make this decision about identity very difficult to mold. To bring the internet back into the conversation, everyday since 9/11, Muslims have seen their identity wrongly stereotyped across every possible media platform. They are blamed for things that are out of their control and tied to Islamic extremism, which then becomes generalized to account for all Muslims. With so much Islamophobia it is hard to balance as a Muslim youth because you have a stronger want to be part of your European community.

In what ways has the influence of Western experiences on Malaysian Muslims been contradictory? How can this be applied to Muslims worldwide?

After having the opportunity to study in Spain this past summer, I grew an appreciation for the Spanish lifestyle. The relaxed flow of the day and importance placed on social interaction were things that I took away and tried to implement into my own life. Many students who study abroad have a similar experience. However, when Malaysian Muslims studied in Europe, they were able to learn more about Islam than in their home country. They were able to reinterpret and read scholarly findings that their country didn’t necessarily allow for. They didn’t learn as much about the culture they were immersed in, like in my experience. They instead learned about their own religion and were able to understand what living in a non-Muslim state was like. For many, they returned to Malaysia with a more strict view of Islam and a more extreme platform. The free intellectual climate allowed for Muslims to think critically about questions involving identity and assimilation in a non-Muslim state.

The irony is that many of the Malaysian Muslims that studied in Western nations seemed to return with a greater dislike of Western values than when they arrived. They seemed to become more radicalized by studying in another country. This example can be generalized to Muslims worldwide because oftentimes, debates about Islam originate in the West and are then accessed and participated in by people overseas via the internet. This shows the impact that globalization has had on the world.

Post #10: Islam in the UK

brit_muslims-1.jpg

Who is Salman Rushdie? What is the significance of his novel, The Satanic Verses, with respect to Muslims in the U.K?

Salman Rushdie was born in British India and is a controversial novelist, who in 1988, wrote The Satanic Verses. His novel caused immediate controversy because of the way that Muhammad is depicted. While his novel was not non-fiction, it was still seen as very offensive to Muslims around the world. A year later, Rushdie published a newspaper column explaining that the novel was not meant to be offensive, but was supposed to show that Muhammad too was a human man. In Iran, a fatwa or legal opinion was offered by the leader of Iran that called for Rushdie’s execution. The UK protected Rushdie, but in turn was forced to break diplomatic relations with Iran over the controversy. This sparked other violent controversies around the world, where bookstores were firebombed.

What limitations to Muslim assimilation in the U.K. exist? Do all British Muslims want to assimilate?

A 2016 ICM survey interviewed 1081 Muslim adults for a British documentary and the results relate very much to the topic of assimilation. Here are some of the statistics that were found:

  • 31% of respondents said that Muslim British men should be able to have more than one wife
  • 52% believe homosexuality should be illegal
  • 23% support replacing British law in some areas with Shariah law
  • 7% support the support the establishment of an islamic state
  • 4% sympathize with the idea of committing terrorism “as a form of political protest.”

While 4% and 7% are small numbers, if these numbers were generalized, this could include 100,000 to 200,000 British Muslims. While the poll has been questioned for its choice of respondents from mostly poor neighborhoods who don’t necessarily speak for all of the British Muslims, it has definitely raised eyebrows for many British people who believe there may be a “state within a state” in the UK in regards to the Muslim population, which is very segregated. Making English learning a visa requirement is a consideration the UK may make because according to former PM David Cameron, it will allow 190,000  Muslim women who speak little English to participate more fully in British life.

From the above data, I think it is safe to say that we can clearly see the rifts in society. The article also mentioned that Muslim communities were trying to work towards creating public schools that were specifically for Muslim youth, which the government wouldn’t allow. It seems that there is definitely a portion of British Muslims that do not wish to assimilate into British culture and society. If the UK finds this threatening, which in many cases it seems like they do, then further measures will further be taken to try and bring more Muslims, especially Muslim women in British culture.

What is the musawah organization about? What does musawah mean? What are some of their key messages? What is your assessment of this association?

Musawah, which means equality in Arabic, began in 2009 in Malaysia as a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family.  This movement is lead by Muslim women and their goal is to work to advance women in Muslim contexts so that the family overall can move forward.

In order to do this, the movement is multifaceted and takes on numerous roles. First, there is a knowledge component, in which they conduct research and then share their results. Examples were research projects on the concepts of qiwamah (male authority over women) and wilayah (male guardianship of women and children) that includes four main components. They look at these traditional ideas through feminist and human rights lenses and are able to come up with more contemporary understandings. I think this is a really cool aspect of this organization. Often times, when you grow up in a religious household, no matter what the religion is, you are taught a specific way of looking at certain rules and practices. You aren’t taught to question this logic, so a research project that does just that seems really powerful. I think applying religion to contemporary times is the best way to be able to bridge a gap between older and newer generations and their connection to the same religion.

The organization works to give voices to Muslim women who are able to take courses and learn from other women who are in the same situation as them. Musaweh also works to promote international advocacy for women’s voices to be heard around the world. They have created a network of women are are constantly spreading their messages around to other women in order to create more visibility.

 

 

Post #9 – Clash of civilizations

a-tale-of-two-cultures.jpg

What is your assessment of the Foreign Affairs The Dispossessed article? Does the comic do justice to the refugee situation? Is it a good analysis of the crisis? Does Islam Play a role?

The comic feels almost like a stop motion video because you can read over each part slowly and then piece it all together. I read the entire comic before realizing that it was actually based on a real scenario that had taken place and that many of the words were paraphrased or direct quotes of scenarios that actually unfolded. This made it a lot more powerful because it made the experience seem real. There are so many emotions involved in the voyage that the refugees “decide” to take. I say decide in quotations because the decision to leave is definitely a choice, but it is really picking between the lesser of two evils because both situations are extremely dangerous. One seems to be more hopeful, which is why many decide to leave their home country.

Partway through the comic, after being stopped at the border, one of the men gets extremely angry and says that it would be better to die in Syria then be humiliated like this. I think regret is something that many refugees experience once they make the decision to leave. If it doesn’t work out, of course they are going to feel like they made the wrong decision. Throughout the comic, there is also this idea of deceit running through it. At the very end, one of the men doesn’t have the money that he promised for the trip, so he tells the other man he will be sure to get it to him as soon as possible, but he never does. The entire story is about survival by any means possible, even if this means going against your morals to save your family.

Islam does seem to play a role throughout this short narrative. Hungary’s PM said that they did not want a large number of Muslims in the country, which is why they decided to be strict on allowing refugees in. Part of the reason that the refugees in the comic has such a hard time arriving to their destination was because Hungary closed their borders. So, religion plays a role in the discrimination that these refugees faced along their journey. While their faith kept them going, it also inhibited where they were allowed to go in the Europe.

 Based on the article, Islam and the West: Narratives of Conflict and Conflict Transformation, discuss the story of intercultural confrontation and intercultural compatibility and how they affect conflict transformation.

Many times, the things that we believe we understand about another person’s identity are the things that we actually understand nothing about. Muslims and the West are pitted against each other like polar opposites with nothing in common and with repulsive images of one another that do not depict reality. For instance, Westerners view Muslims as backwards in their beliefs and see extremism as not only an authentic form of Islam, but the most widely practiced. Muslims view Westerners as we would see Hollywood starlets behave with loose morals and pretentious attitudes. While these images are stereotypical, they hold real meaning for each group. Muslims feel threatened by the arrogant and insensitive attitudes that they believe the West holds. These views are the ways in which the West view their economic, political and cultural success as models for the rest of the world. While Westerners may see a need for their presence in other parts of the world to promote these ideals, it can be seen as pretentious to believe that our model is the only one that works.

In addition, Westerns see Islamic revivalism as very backwards and scary, when in many ways it is just an attempt to “Islamize” modernity. It is not a rejection of the modern world as many Westerners believe, it is a way to “personalize” Muslims’ experiences on Earth to match their wants and needs. While terrorism is definitely a byproduct of disadvantaged Muslim countries, it is not a solution to the very real problems that many Muslim countries are facing. Most of the problems that exist between the West and Muslim nations have less to do with religion and culture and more to do with nationalism, gaps in development, and conflicts over territory and natural resources. According to the authors, these issues can be fixed through goodwill, dialogue that understands both sides, and practical problem solving. This may seem oversimplified, but that is only because we are used to hearing these exaggerated narratives regarding both sides that do nothing but reinforce distorted images we hold of one another.

Lastly, one of the most interesting things from this article was each side’s idea of what peace is. In the West, we understand peace as an absence of particular conditions – absence of war, terrorism and violations of human rights. Muslims believe that peace signifies a presence – presence of justice, self determination, and social equilibrium. Peace is the same, yet explained differently in both groups. After hearing the difference, I actually like the Muslim interpretation better, but if I had never heard it, I would have assumed that the West’s interpretation was more accurate based on the image that I hold about non peaceful Muslims in my head. Peace is a proactive situation, which means that in order to attain it, both sides have to be open to dialogue and understanding. The West and Muslims do have common values that include education, desire for peace and tolerance for all. We must stop viewing each other as homogenous groups because the “West” and “Muslims” are such broad categories that have so much diversity within them. We must ensure that we do not get trapped in our own narratives because this is when people begin to feel their own identity is being threatened and they begin to justify their fear and behavior towards the “other group.”

Post #8: Failure to integrate

islamaphobia.jpg

  1. How do Zemni and Parker explain the “failure of integration” of Muslims in Europe? Why is the way Europeans think about integration and multiculturalism problematic in the discourse surrounding Islam and Muslims in Europe? Explain and give examples.

Zemni and Parker explain this failure to integrate by first running through the history that surrounds Muslims in Europe. Migration was initially encouraged in the 1950s as laborers arrived in Europe with their families to fill low wage jobs. By the 1970s, migration was no longer seen as beneficial for Europeans in that people were fleeing their home countries because of conflict and war. They were seeking refuge. In this way, failure to integrate referred to a migrant’s inability to get ahead in Europe in economic terms. After the 1970s, migrants were no longer spoken of as guest workers from countries like Turkey or Morocco, they were perceived as Muslims. They weren’t unable to integrate because of low socioeconomic status like in the past. Europeans now saw Muslims as not able to fit into society because they were culturally different. So we see two shifts. The first is in the language used to describe these migrants who were once seen as scabs or laborers and were classified based on nationality and are now seen as Muslims. The other shift is in the reasoning behind this failure to integrate. What was once seen as a class distinction is now seen as a cultural disconnect.

This failure to celebrate diversity on the part of Europeans is dangerous for Muslims because it puts them in a position where they are forced to defend their ability to properly adopt the responsibilities of citizenship. This way of thinking often surfaces in lawmaking, which in turn legitimizes discrimination against Muslims. An example of this is of course France’s decision to ban the headscarf in schools because they saw it as a threat to French culture, which I will discuss further in the next question. Zemni and Parker also use the example of a Flemish migrant who is never questioned in terms of his or her ability to integrate into a different nation state. Individuals might view this as a form of multiculturalism that adds to the nation in some form, but somehow Muslims are still seen as other and their failure to integrate does not add to the nation, it is instead problematic. Other nations in Europe have passed laws that single out Muslim communities. For instance, in Austria, in 2015, the parliament passed a law that bans foreign funding for mosques and imams. While this was supposed to target radical Muslims, it affects all Muslims who oppose the ban because international support is still permitted for Christians and Jews.

  1. How is the Islamic gender system different from that of the French? Why does the Islamic headscarf pose a challenge to the French republic’s ideal of “abstract individualism” and “laïcité”? What are your own thoughts on this debate and controversy?

While the Islamic gender system and the French system are opposite in many ways, in both societies, women are deemed as inferior to men. While the French system celebrates sex and sexuality, the Islamic system sees sex as threatening to society and politics. Basically, according to the French politicians who agreed to this ban on the headscarf, Islam oppresses woman, while French republicanism liberates them. Because “equality” is seen as a main pillar of French republicanism, anyone who opposed this (i.e. those who wanted to wear headscarves) could never be seen as fully French. The French identity and the Muslim identity was not seen as sexually compatible before this ban was passed. Laïcité is a term that was difficult to fully grasp, but from what I found it is a form of secularism that is a main pillar of the French republic in which religion is kept private. The Islamic headscarf is a clear symbol of religion and does not go along with this private notion of religion set forth by laïcité. After the Charlie Hebdo killings in France, the government pushed for a more aggressive teaching of secularism that was aimed at mostly Muslim schools. Many saw this as discrimination as it was so pointedly aimed at the Muslim community.

This is a very tough subject to have an opinion on because I still feel like I will never be able to fully understand what it is like to be French or Muslim. In the New York Times article that I read, the head of a Muslim association said that he felt like soon enough the government was going to ban Muslim names like Muhammad because they were not secular enough. This definitely put into perspective what this type of discrimination would feel like if I were a Muslim living in France. The French identity is so strong and distinct, but I think that some of France’s legislation needs to “get with the times.” The laws surrounding laïcité were put into place in 1905, so I feel that they could be updated to reflect the current situation that is happening in France. 8% of the population identifies as Muslim, so this ban on headscarves didn’t affect just a few people throughout France; it was major.

Even in the United States, which is supposed to celebrate diversity, there is a lot of fear that comes from increased cultural influence. Soon, white people will no longer be the majority and this is definitely scary for a lot of people. When populations change though, I think the laws must also change to be more inclusive and responsive to the people. Democracy is supposed to be by the people for the people, so it if its not representative, then it’s not a true democracy. I didn’t know what my true feelings on this subject were, but the more that I read about this subject, the more I disagree with the laws that France and other European nations are passing. In my opinion, you don’t pass laws out of fear. You pass laws to enforce rights, not restrict them.

Post #7 – Islam Today

ihrc-french-ban-3744-11jan0.jpg

A) What are some of the myths about Muslims in Europe that Justin Vaisse discusses?

One of the myths that Vaisse touches on is the fact that the being Muslim is seen as an identity that is all encompassing. Religion becomes a person’s main characteristic despite their gender, race or nationality. In 2005, popular media outlets like The Washington Times described riots that broke out in France as “Muslim riots” when the conflict has nothing to do with the religion of Islam at all. They were simply using Muslim nomenclature as a way to describe this group of individuals who happen to share this part of their identity. You would not see the type of treatment among a group of Catholic individuals. Usually the group would be characterized on their nationality before their religion.

Another myth that Vaisse brought up was the idea that Muslims in Europe for a distinct, cohesive group. There is no Muslim community per se because there is profound variation throughout Islam. Either based on region or sect, Muslims cannot be grouped together because this is misleading and not representative of Islam in any way. In the United States and around the world, people often generalize Muslim extremism to mean all Muslims when this is far from the truth. This is often propagated by rhetoric we hear from politicians and from certain media sources that don’t understand Islam as a religion.

B) Why is it important to make a distinction between the religious and political dimensions of Islam?

I think this is an interesting question and if I were to phrase it differently, I would ask if it is possible to make a distinction between religion and politics when it comes to Islam. Islamism or political Islam is the idea that Islamic law and values should play a central role in public life. In the past, there was virtually no distinction between religion and politics, thus no distinction had to be made, but in the modern area, Islamism has become a word that is very controversial, especially from a Western point of view.

For non-Muslim individuals, it can be difficult to understand why people like suicide bombers exist and why they would, in our eyes, do something so irrational just for the possibility of an afterlife. To me, this seems completely crazy because this is not something that I believe in. Even if I were religious, I don’t think that I would be able to trust completely in this idea of an afterlife so much so that I would give up my life in the hopes of reaching it. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a completely irrational way of thinking, it is just much different from my own. When religion is less prevalent in your life, it is hard to wrap your head around something that feels almost archaic.

We think of democracy as a remedy to political strife, but what if a majority of your country wants to pass legislation that separates the sexes and puts religion at the center of all education? As Westerners, we don’t have to accept that women are forced to wear traditional clothing and while can discuss the ethical issues, we cannot question whether these types of actions are democratic because in some cases they are.

Overall, I think in the West, it is important to draw a distinction between Islam as a religion and Islamism because this term often breeds hate and Islamophobia, but in Islamic states, I think there is virtually no way to separate religion and law. Again, the question was posed within a Western framework as it perpetuates this idea of a dichotomy between religion and politics. In Western nations like the United States, dichotomies exist among most social constructs including gender and race relations. We create these dichotomies in order to synthesize information in a more digestible manner. In the United States and other Western nations, a somewhat contentious dichotomy exists between religion and politics. Separation of church and state is a phrase that was engrained in us from the moment we began studying history in elementary school. So, the question of whether a dichotomy exists at all is something that is far more relevant to discuss because it calls into question Western values whereas the question of why it is important to create these distinctions assumes that such a distinction exists in the first place. In my opinion, we can never truly understand the form of Islam that is practiced in the Middle East if we look at it from this point of view.

C) What kind of challenges do education and social rifts in Europe bring to Muslim communities in Europe? What does Ramadan suggest Muslims should do in face of such challenges?

In 2004, France was the first to impose a ban on headscarves in state schools. Then in 2011, the niqab, which is a full face veil, was banned from all public places. Individuals who are not compliant with this ban can be fined up to 150 Euros. France believes that wearing this full veil is a violation of individual liberties. Now, the French PM Manuel Valls, has brought up a debate regarding headscarves in universities. Universities have long been seen as a place where adults go to learn and therefore has been left out of the state school ban because as adults, one should be able to make these decisions on one’s own. This suggested ban has been very controversial as many in France already see Islam as incompatible with life in France. Other countries around Europe have been facing similar questions when it comes to banning full veils in public.

This is an example of a social rift that Muslim communities have had to deal with in Europe. It isn’t difficult to understand how this could further isolate many Muslim communities. In France, most Muslims do feel like they are French citizens, but when part of your identity has to be subdued, it is difficult to fully embrace who you are. Ramadan is a month long period of fasting and prayer as well as introspection. During this time, they are supposed to avoid impure thoughts and bad behavior, such as drinking and sexual activity. Fasting helps to cleanse the soul and is a time where Muslims are supposed to have empathy for those that are less fortunate. Because Ramadan is all about turning over a new leaf, Muslims are supposed to be more devout during this holy month, which includes wearing a hijab. This obviously puts French Muslims in an awkward position because these are often banned in places like schools. However, Ramadan is a time where little conflict should be discussed. Fighting and use of false speech is something that is looked down upon. Ramadan teaches virtues of healing and acceptance, so while this directly conflicts with things like the headscarf ban, it is something that many Muslims have learned to deal with.

Post #6 – Which are you?

“Deep down, if we really accept that their lives – African lives – are equal to ours, we would all be doing more to put the fire out. Its an uncomfortable truth.” – Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty.

“When you are in a hole, the top priority is to stop digging.” – William Easterly, The White Man’s Burden

Chapter 10 talks about the debate on pros and cons of development aid with leading economists Jeffrey Sachs (Columbia University) and William Easterly (NYU) pitted against each other. Each side has valid points. After reading for a few weeks about the issue of ending poverty, what is your take on this debate. Which side do you take and why?

While Easterly and Sachs are positioned as quite opposite in their ideas regarding foreign aid, they are similar in that they are passionate about this topic and have focused much of their professional time on this area of study. Both have also struggled with the fundamental question of what it means to be poor in today’s world. From the quotes above we can begin to unpack the different views that these economists hold.

Jefferey Sachs, whom I have written about previously in terms of the MDGs is the economist known for throwing money at the problem. Sachs was originally praised for his strategies and the Millennium Villages were supposed to be his shining beacon of success. However, he has been criticized for his project’s lack of measurable success. As an economist and a researcher, Sachs must be able to produce data in order to gauge the progress of these villages. Sachs has been very influential in short term projects like helping curb the spread of Malaria in many African countries by providing mosquito nets. In terms of his long term projects like the Millennium Villages, however, he has been very defensive when it comes to admitting the project’s faults. Critics believe that if these villages were to be replicated, it would result in a money pit with no real showable success.

On the other hand, Easterly is wary of foreign aid as it creates a culture of dependency. Easterly also argues that by providing aid to various countries with autocratic leaders, we entrust this autocrat to use foreign aid wisely when in fact it is used to keep poor people at the bottom as to keep them in power. Easterly also believes that there is a deep racism and prejudice against African nations which the West deem as helpless and therefore in need of Western aid. While Easterly’s critiques are valid, he is criticized for offering no legitimate solutions. I think this critique is valid as well because it is easy to offer criticism of the Millennium Villages, for instance, but then you also need to provide your own solutions. At least Sachs was brave enough to put his plan into motion in the first place.

I definitely agree with Easterly in that I think Western values are often seen as correct and have been normalized around the world. These values often represent white values and remind me of many of the issues I have with aid given to the poor even in the United States. Often mission trips and money are given to certain causes so that individuals can pat themselves on the back and prove that they have somehow made a difference when in fact no long-term goal was even created. Many mission trips have this same attitude. They go for a week and the next week a different group arrives and nothing ever gets truly finished because each group has slightly different ideas and goals. This idea can be generalized when we talk about foreign aid as well.

While I think both Sachs and Easterly are extraordinarily intelligent and both are qualified to give ideas and criticisms, I also believe that other people need to be involved in the conversation as well. As white men, these men carry around a large amount of privilege and I think this needs to be challenged. We need to have coalitions made up of African people in these villages. Even though they may not have degrees, they can still understand the basic premise of human rights and know what they need in order to survive. I think that sometimes this debate becomes too theoretical and loses its humanity and this becomes the biggest issue. Data and numbers are obviously very important when it comes to measuring success, but numbers also don’t matter if the individuals don’t feel happier or like their quality of life has improved.

Check out Laura Poitras new website https://fieldofvision.org/ – is her vision a tool to address global issues? How do you think people can be and should be reached about global issues?

567783956_1280x720Last year, I attended the premiere screening of Concerned Student 1950, so I was aware of the work that Field of Vision supported, but I had not seen any of the other documentaries on the website. After poking around the website, I decided to watch The Black Belt which raised the question of whether Alabama closed 31 DMVs as a way to disenfranchise black voters. I really enjoyed the way that the video was produced, especially the video portraits at the end, which I always find very powerful. I hadn’t heard of this issue before and the documentary was only 11 minutes, but it was an interesting way for me to learn about a topic in a short amount of time. I really like this platform, especially because it is free and provides perspectives that are often left out of news coverage or covered, but by white people who often have a different frame of reference.

I think this is a great platform that allows individuals to tell their own stories. In the future, I could see websites such as this one becoming very popular, especially for different niche groups. These stories do take longer to produce and obviously are more costly than traditional news, but the content is so much richer and more engaging.

 

Post #5: Micro-credit and its link to prosperity

1s2h3a4m5i6m7__coins

For this week, you are reading about micro-credit and its limit. What is the basic argument for and against micro-credits that Banjeree and Duflo make? Are micro-credits working in your country? Do you agree with its limits? What is happening in your country with micro-credits or any other way to handle money, savings, trade? Is digital technology making a difference?

Micro-credit is a financial trend that began in Bangladesh in the 1970s and has since grown in popularity, with up to 200 million borrowers globally, many of which are women. According to Banjaree and Duflo, the authors of Poor Economics, micro-credit is moneylending reinvented for a social purpose. Backers of micro-finance believe in this model because it has the ability to transform lives. The idea is that you lend a very small amount of money to impoverished individuals who do not have the credit score or employment history to qualify for a normal loan. This allows them to purchase machines or utensils so that they can support themselves and possibly open a small business. For many, this could lead to a future that they hadn’t been able to imagine before because they were never given the resources to enact goals for themselves. Many believed micro-credit could help achieve the Millennium Development Goals before they expired last year. Others were, and still are skeptical, asking for hard evidence and numbers to prove that these improvements are worthwhile and substantial.

While micro-credits can open a world of possibilities for impoverished people who are striving towards a better life, there are significant limits as well. Firstly, these types of loans are very rigid in structure and there are many rules, including weekly payments. This is a turn off to many poor people because they cannot make this type of commitment when they may run into unexpected costs, like caring for a sick child. Further, micro-credit has a zero-default policy meaning you had better know what you are getting into because collectors will be at your door each week. Under these conditions, it is difficult for entrepreneurs to flourish because there is always a certain amount of risk that comes with starting a new business, and micro-credit does not allow for failure. According to the authors, micro-credit is beneficial for poor individuals who have long-term goals and are willing to make short term sacrifices in order to see their plans through.

In Angola, a nonprofit called Development Workshop (DW) began a micro-finance program as a post-war economic strategy to help individuals create small businesses in order to pull themselves out of poverty in 1996. Using KixiCredito, a micro-credit institution, DW has been able to support over 13,000 clients, 60% which are women. KixiCredito gives loans of 50-150 USD to poor individuals who would otherwise have no access to bank loans. In Angola’s informal economy, this has allowed individuals to set up businesses selling fish, baked goods, and charcoal. Often these are group loans, which offer more stability for families and ensures there is no default on payments. As of 2015, KixiCredito has injected 400 million USD into Angola’s national economy.

Of course, much of this information was found on the DW website, so while I want to believe that micro-finance is having a profound impact on Angola’s economy, much of what I read in Poor Economics makes me question this. According to the book, no significant numbers were ever extrapolated to prove that lives had been significantly improved. Rises in income sometimes went from 5% to 7%, but this was not seen as a fantastical improvement. I agree with the authors who concluded that progress is relative. By American standards a 2% increase is not significant, but in other countries, this is the difference between true poverty and having a small disposable income. In my opinion, I think that micr0-credit works in an informal economy like in Angola because the businesses that many of these women are starting are ones they already know will be profitable. If they see other women selling fish, they know that if they can come up with the resources to obtain fish, they can sell it and be successful.

In terms of technology, Angola is limited, yet the outlook is promising. Science and technology will allow Angola to develop in other industries such as agriculture and energy, which are currently areas of struggle. Maximizing natural resources and minimizing environmental harm is on the forefront of this struggle. Innovation is something that many African countries are just starting to excel in. There are amazing individuals, like Celio Garcia, who won a continent-wide competition in Africa for app building on Android devices. His app allows people to send free SMS messages to anyone in the world. The key to prosperity in this field is education because it is the only way that more individuals like Celio can learn all of the necessary skills. Micro-credits are linked to technological advancement in that if a woman can receive a small loan, she may have enough money to educate her child and eventually send him or her to a university where he or she can have access to technology. From there, the possibilities are endless.

Post #4 – Angola: expression, democracy and education

Part 1:

a) Find a cheetah in your country (person or organization) and show his/her/its work that helps the country move towards protection of human rights, free speech, systems of accountability, reducing poverty, etc.

As an aspiring journalist myself, it is eye-opening to read about journalists in other countries who literally risk their lives in order to report injustice in their country. In Angola, a prominent journalist named Rafael Marques is an investigative journalist and human rights activist who embodies the true epitome of freedom of the press. In the United States, this is talked about quite often, but our scandals are much less revealing than the horrendous acts that Marques uncovered in Angola. In 2011, Marques published a book called Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola where he talks about the rape and torture that was committed by soldiers and security guards in the diamond fields in Angola. Marques, who has been fined and arrested for his works in the past, was again charged with defamation of the army generals that he blames for the crimes that were committed. In May of 2015, Marques was sentenced to a 2 year suspension, which means that all of his work until 2017 will be under severe scrutiny. If he publishes anything controversial, the government can decide to invoke his sentence and have him jailed. Marques plans to continue reporting for his foundation Maka Angola, which has a website that publishes articles about corruption in Angola. The website also has a section entitled Makaleaks in which individuals can anonymously report of injustices in Angola. Marques is truly a cheetah because he stands his ground and does worthwhile work despite the threat of prison looming over his head.

 “In Africa the good guys keep leaving so that the bad guys can rule as they wish. We have to make a strong stand.” – Rafael Marques

b) Ch. 3 of Radelet’s Emerging Africa talks extensively about democracy building as well as discusses how one defines democracy, what is elemental and how democracies are ranked and judged. How does your country rank?

When we think of a democracy, we usually think of a free election as the foundation for this type of government. However, according to Radelet there are numerous other components that must be present in order for a government to be defined as such. These requirements are as follows:

  • Protection of basic civil liberties and human rights
  • Establishment of public institutions that are held accountable by citizens and help limit the power of their leaders
  • Recognition of rights of freedom of expression, assembly and press.

In Angola, as we have clearly seen by the punishment placed on Marques, freedom of expression in terms of the press, is not allowed.

According to the Freedom House Freedom in the World 2016 research, Angola ranks in the Not Free area with a score of 24/100. This includes political rights, civil liberties and a freedom rating all of which Angola received a 6/10. In terms of political rights, in 2010 direct presidential elections were abolished in Angola. Currently, José Eduardo dos Santos is in power and has been for the last 36 years, making him on the longest servings heads of state in Africa. The state also owns the only daily newspaper in Angola, so it acts as a voice for the political party that Santos is part of. Censorship is very common throughout Angola. After Marques was sentenced to a 2 year suspension, his book was also ordered to be taken out of publication, furthering this sense of an expressionless society.

The Polity IV Index shows that Angola has been ranked as a -2 from around 2003 to 2015. This index shows the level of democracy that a country has attained. A score of -2 puts Angola in the anocratic category, which means that it has parts of a democracy and an autocracy within its government. While this may sound better than an autocracy, it is prone to instability and ineffectiveness. Overall, Angola does not score very high when it comes to democratic leadership.

Part 2:

building_with_bullet-holes_in_huambo_angola
Buildings all over Angola were destroyed during the civil war, including 1,500 schools.

c) Education is a challenge, what do you see that works or does not work in your country?

Angola was ravaged by civil war from 1975 to 2002, which had a very negative effect on education for children during this time. Between 1996 and 1999, 1,500 school buildings were destroyed. The majority of Angolan children did not attend school until 2002, when peace finally allowed for rebuilding to begin. In 2005, under the regional Schools for Africa (SFA) initiative, 1,500 schools were repaired or rebuilt in Angola with the support of Germany’s UNICEF group.

Today, free elementary school is provided for Angolan children starting at age six until age 11, but there is a severe shortage of teachers and materials. There is also a large gap between male and female attendance as well as literacy rates. Female literacy for ages 15-24 peaks at 66% while males in the same age range are 80% literate. Children in rural areas often struggle with access to local schools, which accounts for the large percentage of children, mostly female who still do not attend school (about 26%).

Although Angola’s education system is far from perfect, it is important to take into account the toll that the civil war took on education. As we have seen in almost every reading in class so far, education is the key for individuals when it comes to breaking the cycle of poverty, so access to education, especially for young people is particularly important.

 

 

 

Post #3 – Moving Forward

cheetahs

Part 1:

Explain the meaning of a “Cheetah” and a “Big Man” also called the cheetah generation and the hippo generation? Explain how these terms refer to a different way of looking at democracy and civil society?

The Cheetah generation is Africa’s new generation of thinkers and leaders that are ready to lead Africa into the future. They want to do this by embracing democracy, stimulating the private sector as well as making connections with other nations around the world. The Cheetah generation is a break from the Hippo generation, which represents the older generation of Africans who are “stuck in the past.” Leaders that the Hippo generation lived through consolidated power into the hands of a few, so transparency and accountability were lost in the process, isolating the people from their leader. Many members of the cheetah generation are using new technology along with specialized business skills to open up businesses like internet cafes and restaurants while others are reaching high positions in companies in the private sector as well as moving into governmental positions in order to impact policy. The Cheetah generation is looking at the future of Africa in a much different way than their hippo counterparts by inducing real change into the economy and government. In terms of governing, they have access to better technologies, which provides greater transparency. They post information quickly and provide information on budgets and policies as to not confuse citizens. Overall, the Cheetah generation represents the hope that Africa possesses,

Part 2:

  1. How is nutrition a problem for the poor? Why do we need to rethink food policy?
  2. Why are witch hunts still occurring?

In Poor Economics,  Banjeree & Duflo argue that there is this inbred connection that has always associated food and poverty. People often define poverty as not having enough to eat and thus the solution to poverty is to “feed the world.” Food aid, while seemingly beneficial, is a very inefficient process. The authors estimate that in India, more than one-half of the wheat and over one-third of the rice gets lost along the way or eaten by rats. The reading also talks about food-based poverty traps. This theory states that the poor cannot seem to climb out of poverty because they do not have enough sustenance to make them employable, productive members of society. This is disproven by showing that poor people don’t necessarily spend all of their money on food alone, but on other expenses as well such as clothes, tobacco, etc. If they were near starvation, then surely they would spend every last dollar on food. In terms of food supply, there is currently enough food in production to feed every citizen of the world, yet starvation still exists because of the way this food is shared among us. Because of this, it seems that instead of focusing on how to feed the world and produce a greater quantity of food, we should focus on how to disperse food locally. Although food aid has not proved successful, there are tremendous benefits to giving supplements and nutrient rich food to pregnant women and children, who benefit from receiving these nutrients that they otherwise lack.

Even though the authors talk about how food scarcity is not necessarily the main component of poverty, it does still exist in some form. Witch hunts as described in the past are still occurring today, but at specific times, like during a drought. In Tanzania, when resources are scarce, if there is an older woman living with a family, they will claim that she is witch, so that she gets chased away or killed, so that there is more food for everyone else. This proves that surely there are families experiencing food scarcity.

Part 3: Angola

591570
Capital city of Luanda in Angola

Angola is a country in the southern part of Africa, with a population of 24.3 million people, 59% of which live in urban areas. While Angola has a wide range of natural resources including gold and oil, it remains one of the poorest countries in Africa with a GDP of $4,100 per capita. The Gini coefficient is used to measure inequality in a nation by analyzing income distribution. A coefficient of 0 represents total equality, while 1 represents rampant inequality. In Angola, the Gini coefficient is 42.7, which means there is still a long way to go in terms of lessening the income gap.

Jose Eduardo dos Santos has been in power since 1979 and is a polarizing figure, with his proponents crediting him with pulling the country out of civil war in 2002 and rebuilding Angola’s economy with oil production. His opponents believe that he has been in power too long and that the success from the oil boom was not well distributed. In terms of freedom, the state controls all forms of media and has recently been cracking down on social media to weed out political dissenters and prevent activism.

In terms of the SDGs set forth by the United Nations, Angola has pledged full participation and in June of 2016, Angola participated in an SDG training workshop in Johannesburg with other African nations. In addition, an expert met with Angola’s Ministry of Planning in order to properly budget the SDGs and put them into the national plan.

While Angola has giant strides to make if it wants to meet the 17 goals set by the UN, the nation is making progress. One of the projects that has been set forth is called the Smallholder Agriculture Development and Commercialization Project for Angola. This project, according to the World Bank, is set to increase smallholder agriculture productivity, production and marketing for selected crops in the project areas. This 95 million dollar project will hopefully benefit 150,000 small farmers. This project aligns with number of SDG goals, including SDG 8, decent work and economic growth, as well as SDG 12, responsible production and consumption. Because this project was approved in July of 2016, there are no results as of yet.  There are many environmental concerns that Angola is currently facing, including deforestation, soil erosion and loss of biodiversity, so hopefully similar projects that address these issues will allow Angola to move forward as a nation.