Ghosts of Rwanda

In POLI 1140, we have read an excerpt from Rwanda section of Samantha Power’s prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, in which Power assesses the reasons for the lack of response by the Clinton administration in the spring of 1994 to the developing genocide in Rwanda. Power makes many points but one of the most trenchant is that despite the apparently early decision by Clinton that he would not send US troops to Rwanda (fearful that another Somalia could ensue), many other actions–short of sending troops-could have been taken by the US government and military. Something as simple as sending planes with the capability to jam radio frequencies may have slowed down the killing and saved countless lives.

Here is a compelling and very informative documentary by PBS’ Frontline series on the events surrounding the Rwandan genocide, paying special attention to the lack of action on the part of the United Nations and the United States. Many of the ideas in Power’s book are addressed here.

Catholicism and the Social Dimension of Sin

Father James Martin takes the London Times to task for their framing of the story of the Catholic Church’s developing views on the nature of sin. (Click here for my blog post on the Times story.)

Father Martin writes in the America Magazine–the national Catholic weekly–that the Times’ story has confused the issue “unnecessarily.” He writes:

pd_hell_070706_ms.jpgMy guess is that some in the media bobbled this story for two reasons, neither of them malicious. First, a general unfamiliarity with the contemporary Catholic tradition of social sin, even though under Pope John Paul II something like “anti-Semitism” was often referred to in those terms. And, second, the fact that a headline that reads “Seven New Deadly Sins” is undeniably sexier than a headline saying, “Vatican Official Deepens Church’s Reflection on Longstanding Tradition of Social Sin.”

The Vatican’s intent seemed to be less about adding to the traditional “deadly” sins (lust, anger, sloth, pride, avarice, gluttony, envy) than reminding the world that sin has a social dimension, and that participation in institutions that themselves sin is an important point upon which believers needed to reflect.

In other words, if you work for a company that pollutes the environment, you have something more important to consider for Lent than whether or not to give up chocolate.

Globalization, the Catholic Church, and Classroom Pedagogy

A while back I had the opportunity to allow a job candidate to come in and use my intro to IR class to give a her candidate classroom lecture. Following the 40-minute lecture–after the candidate and the rest of the faculty had left the room–I asked my students to anonymously write down their impressions of the teaching style of the job candidate. One of the responses was particularly illuminated and the latest news about the Catholic Church’s efforts to reform the concept of sin reminded me of that student’s response. The student’s response was (and I’m paraphrasing here):

“I didn’t like that she went around the room and made everyone answer her introductory question. I pay $40,000 in tuition annually and I have the right to sit in the classroom and be bored and do nothing if that’s what I want to do.”

I felt sorry for this student, because s/he has forgotten a couple of important rules about life, let alone post-secondary education: first, you only get out of something what you put in. Second, and more important, the whole classroom experience is a social experience, and the outcome of the educational process is not only a function of what the student him/herself is doing, and what the instructor is doing, but what others in the classroom are doing as well.

Apropos of the preceding, here is news from the London Times online, which demonstrates the Catholic Church’s approach to the concept of sin:

seven_poster.jpg…[Bishop Gianfranco Girotti] said that priests must take account of “new sins which have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of globalisation”. Whereas sin in the past was thought of as being an invididual matter, it now had “social resonance”.

“You offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbour’s wife, but also by ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments, or allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos,” he said.

Bishop Girotti said that mortal sins also included taking or dealing in drugs, and social injustice which caused poverty or “the excessive accumulation of wealth by a few”.

He said that two mortal sins which continued to preoccupy the Vatican were abortion, which offended “the dignity and rights of women”, and paedophilia, which had even infected the clergy itself and so had exposed the “human and institutional fragility of the Church”.

Maybe it’s time for Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman to do a sequel to Seven. 🙂

A Good Resource for Information on “Eurasia”

eurasianet.jpg has a very informative website that offers news from Eurasia. Here is a snippet from their about page (when you find a source online always read their “about” or “description” page to get an idea of what the organization is, if they have any political biases, etc.):

EurasiaNet provides information and analysis about political, economic, environmental and social developments in the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, as well as in Russia, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia. The web site also offers additional features, including newsmaker interviews and book reviews.

Based in New York, EurasiaNet advocates open and informed discussion of issues that concern countries in the region. The web site presents a variety of perspectives on contemporary developments, utilizing a network of correspondents based both in the West and in the region. The aim of EurasiaNet is to promote informed decision making among policy makers, as well as broadening interest in the region among the general public.

EurasiaNet is operated by the Central Eurasia Project of the Open Society Institute.

Today, they report on contested presidential elections in Armenia, where opposition supporters claim fraud has taken place while supporters of current Prime Minister (and declared winner) Serzh Sarkisian believe that their candidate has won with more than 50% of the vote, obviating the need for a run-off election (in many electoral systems, for a candidate to be declared the official winner, s/he must have received a majority (i.e., 50%) of votes cast. If no candidate passes that threshold, a run-off election is held where the two leaders go head-to-head.) You can read the Washington Post’s report here, with a snippet below:

armenia_elections.jpgYEREVAN, Armenia — Thousands of opposition supporters marched through Armenia’s capital Wednesday after an election official said complete results showed that the prime minister had won the presidential election.

Allegations of fraud and threats of mass protests have raised concerns about the stability of the volatile, strategic country, located at the juncture of the energy-rich Caspian Sea region and southern Europe and bordering Iran.

An initial count of the ballots showed Prime Minister Serge Sarkisian had nearly 53 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election, Central Election Commission chief Garegin Azarian said _ enough to win outright and avoid a runoff. Top opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian had 21.5 percent, Azarian said.

Ter-Petrosian’s backers have alleged widespread fraud, and a crowd gathered in central Yerevan to protest the results, swelling to some 20,000 as riot police with truncheons guarded the election commission building a five-minute walk away.

The protesters then marched to the government headquarters in a broad central square, many shouting “Levon!” and raising a clenched fist _ Ter-Petrosian’s campaign symbol. Helmeted police blocked the building, and the protesters moved on, marching toward the election commission building.

I have no doubt that the authorities have falsified the election and I will protest with all those who also feel cheated,” Simon Grigorian, a 38-year-old engineer, said at the protest.

CNN’s Startling use of its “Arab Affairs Editor”

A couple of students in my PLSC250 class have posted a clip of part of CNN’s reaction to news of the death of Al Qaeda’s Number 3 in command. (I thought that I’d never see the day when there was a more dangerous gig than being Spinal Tap’s drummer, but being Al Qaeda’s number 3 must be it.)*

Anyway, the anchor relays the news to viewers and turns to get expert advice from CNN’s “Senior Arab Affairs Editor.” What!?! An Arab affairs editor to give us insight into the area of the Pakistani/Afghan border where there are large numbers of Pashtuns, Tajiks, and Hazara, but no Arabs?

Go and watch the clip for yourself.

*I never thought that I’d be able to fit Al Qaeda and Spinal Tap into the same post.

A bio of Spinal Tap’s first drummer:

pepys.jpgPepys, John “Stumpy” (1943-1969): David and Nigel met the tall, blond geek in 1964 while touring as members of the Johnny Goodshow Revue. At a Southampton pub then known as the Bucket (now the Bucket and Pail), the boys jammed with the bespectacled drummer, nicknamed “the peeper” and then a member of the Leslie Cheswick Soul Explosion (now Les and Mary Cheswick). The three men would go on to form the Thamesmen and later, with Ronnie Pudding and Denny Upham, Spinal Tap, which played its first gig in December 1966. Pepys would die in a bizarre gardening accident shortly after the release of the band’s third album, “Silent But Deadly.” (IST) Nigel: “It was really one of those things the authorities said, ‘Well, best leave it unsolved.’ “

Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Here is some information about an interesting new NGO dedicated to reporting on the world’s crisis spots. The World Security Institute’s Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting was established in 2006.   Be sure to also have a look at their “untold stories” blog page.  Here is a description of their mission, in their own words:

The World Security Institute’s Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, established in 2006, intends to be a leader in sponsoring the independent reporting that media organizations are increasingly less willing to undertake on their own. The Center’s goal is to raise the standard of coverage of global affairs, and to do so in a way that engages both the broad public and government policy-makers.

The Pulitzer Center is a bold initiative, in keeping with its sponsorship by a family whose name for more than a century has been a watchword for journalistic integrity and courage. From Teapot Dome through the civil rights struggle, Vietnam and the run-up to Iraq, the Pulitzers have stood for a “drastically independent” journalism that would “never be satisfied with merely printing news.”

When the third Joseph Pulitzer became editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a half century ago, he paid tribute to that legacy. “Not only will we report the day’s news,” he said, “but we will illuminate dark places and, with a deep sense of responsibility, interpret these troubled times.” The Pulitzer Center is driven by that same mission and deep sense of responsibility, in times just as troubled.

The Pulitzer Center functions as an independent division of the World Security Institute, itself a leader in the sponsorship of independent journalism and scholarship. The Center will partner with the Institute’s other divisions, especially in television production and Internet publications, both to identify potential reporting topics and to insure global distribution of the projects that result.

The Center welcomes proposals for enterprising reporting projects throughout the world, with an emphasis on issues that have gone unreported, under-reported or mis-reported in the mainstream American media. The Center’s director is Jon Sawyer.

European Politics Source

One of the best sources for European politics in the English language is certainly the Financial Times, published in London. Don’t let the name of the newspaper fool you, the Financial Times writes about much more than financial and economic news. It’s coverage of domestic European politics is first-rate.