Friday, May 29, 2009

"Milos" by Anis Mojgani

If everyone could hold tight onto feelings like these, all those yucky things that blot the world - war, greed, you know the rest - would be gone.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Breaking Through Poverty: Chicken a la Carte

Originally published on WireTap.

A little girl digging in a trashcan for spaghetti.

I couldn’t erase that image from my mind after a friend recently showed me a film on the poverty and hunger caused by globalization. Directed by Ferdinand Dimadura, the film Chicken a la Carte is a six-minute tour of the world of an impoverished Filipino community that lives in stark contrast to its country’s urban elite. Whereas well-off teens dine at the biggest international food-chains, this community lives off of the scraps left behind in trashcans after closing time.

This isn’t just happening in the Philippines, the film reminds the viewer in the end. Scenes like this can be found all over the globe, from the streets of Los Angeles to the slums of Bangladesh. Around the world, we have 25,000 people dying of hunger every single day. 25,000 people. What’s more scary is that this statistic is probably outdated, since Dimadura made the film back in 2005. With a global economic crisis on our hands, how much further will this number climb?

The whole economic crisis facing us today came about because of one very old human problem: greed. People in key decision-making positions wanted just another car, or just another house, or just the pleasure of knowing they have an extra million or so set aside. So they let things spiral out of control.

And let’s face it, this crisis is partly our fault as well. Those of us who live in a culture of consumption that doesn’t separate want from need, that throws aside the barely bought for the just released, and expects nothing less than free refills with our supersized meals while people are living off of a piece of bread a day. We are not innocent.

But it’s not because we’re evil. We all care about our kids, our neighbors and our friends. Heck, we even care about those people in far-off parts of the world that news broadcasts and films like Dimadura’s thrust in our faces every once in a while. We feel sorry, wish we could do something, and then drown back into our own lives until we are reminded of them again. A vicious cycle.

But one we can break. Although this global economic crisis is making things more difficult for a lot of us around the world, it also gives us an opportunity to reevaluate the culture of consumption we’ve awoken to find ourselves in. This is a culture that provides relative luxury for a minority at the expense of an impoverished majority. It is also a culture with a built-in time-bomb: things can only go so well for so long before the system implodes on itself. And when that happens, the circle of privilege shrinks even further, throwing many of us out to join those already in the fields of global poverty.

As we work towards a solution for our current crisis, we have the chance to recreate the culture we have found ourselves in.

But will we take that chance?

If we do, we have the power to transform films like Dimadura’s from stark portrayals of our current reality into fading images of a distant memory.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Religion Rising

"People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive."
These are the words of Joseph Campbell, one of America's most famous mythologists. A quick glance at the daily headlines or a look around your classroom or office reflects the truth written in the lines above. People, no matter where they are or what they are doing in the world, want to feel that their life has worth. That it is happening.

In our world of scientific discovery, we have emphasized science and reason at the expense of the aspects of ourselves that give us a sense of wholeness, meaning and "happening." Unlike civilizations before us that made matters of the material and spiritual realms compliment one another in a way that made us whole, we have pushed ourselves to the edge of where reason can take us while keeping us sane.

Maybe that's why there seems to be a rise in the number of people "defecting to faith," as reported in a New York Times article a few weeks back. Such people, in choosing to turn to God and religion, affirm their belief that "[w]e are more than cells, synapses and sex drives. We are amazing, mysterious creatures forever in search of something greater than ourselves."

An increased emphasis on the mythical and the spiritual will no doubt change society. But it will only be a change for the better if we free ourselves from our traditional ways of viewing religion, God, and our relationships with one another. Otherwise, we may well have a crisis on our hands.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

This is America

Mos Def's New York-inspired intro, followed by Beau Sia's "Asian Invasion," followed by Jason Carney's "Southern Heritage."


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bahrain Working for Workers?

Bahrain is the first Gulf country to finally bring an end to its sponsorship system. Under this system, foreign workers who come into the Gulf states are almost completely under the control of their employers. Workers can't enter or leave the country, or even switch jobs, without the employer's consent. This has led to lots of abuses over the years, and to countless cases of exploitation. It's good to finally hear that the Gulf states are making a move on this issue.

Interested in reading more? Here are some links:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Falling Back in Love With America

(This is a delayed article, originally posted on WireTap.)

"Why do they hate us?"

These are no longer the words that come to most Americans' minds when talking about the world beyond the borders of the United States. After President Obama's first trip overseas, Americans can breathe easy when their leader goes to represent them in the cities of Europe or the Muslim world. Because instead of getting a pair of shoes thrown at him, this American president had endless cheers and seas of admirers following his every move.

President Obama has indeed charmed his way around the world. From Strasbourg to Istanbul, huge crowds came out to greet him, waving flags and hoping to shake his hand. In Prague alone, over 30,000 people waited for hours just to catch of glimpse of him and the First Lady before he gave a speech on nuclear proliferation. The president delighted European youth with a taste of home-grown American politics when he held town hall-style meetings in which he gave them - and not the ever-inquisitive journalists - the chance to ask questions about everything from American-European relations to the economic crisis. The Obama couple even (quite literally), “touched” the British royalty, with the President presenting an iPod to Queen Elizabeth, and the First Lady embracing her – an act that could have been a major breach of protocol. But instead, for the first time in her public career, the British monarch returned the embrace.

President Obama can’t seem to go wrong.

But despite his popular reception by most Europeans, there are many at home and abroad who are critical of the President’s first trip overseas. "I think there was relatively little coverage of policy, partly because no one wanted to shatter the dream," says Adam Boulton, the political editor of UK-based Sky News. Just like in America, critics are saying, people around the world are projecting their hopes onto President Obama – often at the expense of seeing the real man and his very real policies before them.

While such criticism isn’t unfounded, and is even necessary to keep the new American administration on its toes, it doesn’t acknowledge President Obama’s major achievement: this one man has managed to infuse people around the world with a renewed belief in … themselves. And that’s why the President is so popular outside the U.S. He doesn’t just signify a shift in the foreign policy of the world’s major superpower. He embodies the potential that all countries’ leaders and citizens have to steer their countries towards change and improvement.

The world has entered into a love affair with the new American president. Some are warning that it could end in heartbreak if his administration doesn’t deliver on his promises. But from what we’ve seen, the benefits from this relationship are worth the risk.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Breaking Homes and Hearts in Jerusalem

(This article is also available on Minority Dreams.)

If home is where the heart is, then the hearts of countless Palestinians are being shattered as Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes in Jerusalem.

Last Friday, the United Nations released a report on Israel's demolition plans for another 1,500 homes in East Jerusalem, based on Tel Aviv's claim that the homes were built without permits from Israel's Jerusalem municipality.

There are lots of issues with Israel's claims about what it calls a "planning crisis" in East Jerusalem. First of all, Israel's control of East Jerusalem itself is not recognized by the international community, as it illegally annexed the city after the 1967 war. But although Israel's control of East Jerusalem is unlawful, Palestinians have to deal with the facts that it created on the ground, applying for permits to build their homes on land that has belonged to their families for generations.

This brings us to the second issue: the Israeli authorities have only set aside 13 percent of East Jerusalem for Palestinian residents. Much of that area is already crowded, and with the Palestinian population jumping from 66,000 in 1967 to 250,000 today, Palestinians have been forced to build their homes "illegally," according to the Israeli government. And finally the third issue comes along, namely that few Palestinians who apply for permits within the designated Palestinian area of East Jerusalem are actually able to obtain them.

If the Israeli government goes ahead with its plans for solving its "planning crisis," at least 28 percent of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem are at risk of demolition. That's at least 60,000 Palestinians at risk of becoming homeless. Recognizing the situation that could arise from these plans, United Nations has called on Israel to immediately halt its demolitions, and provide real solutions for the housing crisis in the Holy City.

The international community must put pressure on Israel to end this inhumane eviction of Palestinians from their traditional home. It is both illegal and a serious obstacle to any progress on the peace process. Arab newspapers like the secular, pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi are calling Israel's actions in East Jerusalem "ethnic cleansing," indicating the level of anger felt on the Arab street. Similarly, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the demolitions "unhelpful," and EU diplomats have described them as illegal and said they "fuel bitterness and extremism."

The Palestinians have fought, and continue to fight, for their rights under the state apparatus of Israel. But this is one fight that they cannot win on their own. All those who claim to support human rights and international law must rally together to bring an end to Israel's unlawful demolition of Palestinian homes. That way, the Palestinian people can focus their energies not on picking up the pieces of their shattered hearts, but on working towards the peace that both they and their counterparts in Israel so desperately need.