Germans, Jews, and Palestinians–A Dialogue

The question before our panel was whether the trauma of the Holocaust and the ever-present Palestinian-Israel conflict make dialogue between Jews and Germans, and between Jews and Palestinians extremely difficult, if not impossible to bridge the impossible?

Julia Chaitin, Senior Lecturer from the Sapir Academic College, Hof Ashkelon, Israel, examined the barriers that often make conversations across the divide difficult.  Particularly, the focus of her discussion was on navigating the opposing narratives of the past and present in the context of “perpetrators” and “victims” through techniques of reflective storytelling and listening to open up dialogue within the setting of conflict. The lecture and the accompanying discussion provoked an interesting discussion on the possibility of dialogue among conflictual parties and the difficulty of such dialogue.

Can the parents of a Palestinian suicide bombers dialogue with the Israeli parents who have lost their son/daughter to that suicide bombing?  Could they look each other in the eye and potentially have a meaningful conversation? Can the sons and daughters of a Holocaust survivor visit the death camps in Germany and Poland and dialogue with the descendants of the camp guards? Can a Palestinian family talk to the Israeli family, which has occupied its Palestinian family’s former home?  These are eternally difficult questions to answers, rife with unfathomable ethical, moral, and emotional issues.

We Do Not Torture–Do I Need to Say More

Genocide and Complex Humanitarian Emergency

The UN brokered peace deal, which would bring in 27,000 UN peacekeepers into the conflict-riven country of Sudan, especially to its western province of Darfur can’t come any sooner. Since the conflict began in the early part of this decade at a minimum 200,000 people have died and at least 2 million have been displaced and according Jan Egeland of the United Nations, a monumental humanitarian problem is growing that is affecting more than 4 million people in the middle of resource-rich North-Central Africa. 

Recently, African Union troops who were maintaining a very fragile peace came under fire and 10 African Union troops were killed by none other than Darfurian rebel forces. In a sustained attack the AU camp was completely overrun and the weapons cache was looted by the rebel forces. The AU troops are there to protect the Darfurian people (or the ethnic Fur group), but with the attacks the AU troops have vacated their base camp. This does not augur well for refugees and other unarmed civilians; they are likely to bear the brunt of the violence and catastrophic human rights violations. With the Darfurian rebel groups, the Sudanese military, the Sudanese government backed Janjaweed militia, and the African Union troops, the situation on the ground is extremely volatile.  Many states may now develop cold feet and fear sending their troops into harms way.

If this tells us anything, it tells us that humanitarian interventions are complex and costly. But, more importantly, it indicates that more than 50 years after independence, Sub-Saharan African states are struggling to construct a viable and functional nation-state that can offer a modicum of basic security that would allow the people to go about their daily business without being killed or maimed. If the UN is to successfully implement its ambitious Millennium Development Goals, it has to definitely start with the very basic, but extraordinarily complex task of building peace from the bottom up. In this case, the presence of UN troops is a short-term solution, in the long-run the African states have to figure out how to divide their wealth, compromise and live peacefully, instead of playing out their ethnic hatreds. However, this is easier said than done.

I Got a Bad Grade; My Civil Rights were Violated…ahhhh!

We all complain about grades, but listen to this…

Brian Marquis, a 51-year-old paralegal seeking bachelor’s degrees in legal studies and sociology, filed a 15-count lawsuit in US District Court in Springfield in January after a teaching assistant graded a political philosophy class on a curve and turned Marquis’s A-minus into a C. Marquis contends that the university violated his civil rights and contractual rights and intentionally inflicted “emotional distress.”

But, thankfully, the District Court threw out the case, but Mr. Marquis plans to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals. He was particularly concerned that a C grade might make it difficult for him to get into law school.

Mr. Marquis apparently totaled up 92.5 points, but on the curve his grade was reduced to 84, which produced a final grade of C. The UMASS grading scale indeed seems to be bit different. 

Well folks, here is the good news Clarkies. I do not grade on a curve! You get to keep what you get. Besides, I don’ tinker with a point here or a point there. My grading philosophy is that each student should be assessed on his or her overall performance throughout the semester.  So, see you all at the mid-terms.

Human Rights Conference Report

Okay, here is my conference report. It was great to be a part of an intellectually invigorating and thought provoking Human Rights Conference at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. The weather was beautiful and the campus was neat, big and open, and the university seemed to be resource endowed. But, I spent most of my time in conference rooms slamming cups of coffee. Listed below are the panels that I attended. Would you like to guess what panel I presented in?

  • Human Rights and Restorative Justice
  • Gender and Human Rights
  • Rights of Immigrants
  • Media and Human Rights
  • Health and Human Rights
  • War on Terror and Human Rights
  • Human Rights and Economics
  • What are Human Rights?
  • UN and Human Rights
  • Human Rights and Religion

By the way looking at this list of panels should give you some ideas for paper topics. Anyway, the highlight of the conference, especially in the context of our First Year Seminar, is my brief meeting with Samantha Power, the author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. We are going to be reading her book in our class in a couple of weeks. Look forward to some good discussions in our class tomorrow.

Also, don’t forget tomorrow evening after our Model UN class at 7:30 pm Anne Fadiman–The author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down— is scheduled to give a talk at the Atwood Hall auditorium. Be sure to attend. I am positive this talk will bring perspective to the various discussions we had on Faidiman’s book during the orientation week.