Final Reflections

My favorite guest lecturer would have to be Soren Larsen. I appreciated the insights on the complexities of a global market. I drew a lot of similarities to the End of Poverty, when Jeffery Sachs made similar points about appreciating the rungs of the economic ladder that each nation progresses on rather than trying to boycott those production types. I especially enjoyed that he gave importance to self-sustainability rather than western governance when it came to production and efficiency within developing nations. Although, his lecture raised many questions in my mind about the sustainability of capitalism in a global environment, such as figuring out how possible it is to continue major trade agreements that promote tax evasion for transnational corporations and a cycle of (effectively) slave labor in developing nations. The current global economy will ultimately increase inequality so should current market techniques truly stay in place? If this were to happen however, I would argue that there is a need to make stricter laws about fair working conditions. It would have been very interesting to hear his insights on how to go about doing that since America’s consumer market relies so heavily on slavery. One final question I would have asked is what he thought would replace the capitalist global economy.

While researching Syria, I gained a respectable amount of knowledge on the history of the nation and its civil war. More importantly I was able to have a more informed opinion on a refugee crisis that is the worst it has been since World War II. Researching Syria made me more aware of the global power play that is going on and how that may affect the nations involved. It also brought to light the amount of hatred and fear that is in the air, particularly toward Muslim Syrian refugees, and how similar this is to the rejection of Jewish refugees in WWII. Moreover, research in the war has emphasized the horrors of a well-organized and powerful ISIS, which is now effectively a nation that runs on crime and terror. In this complex turmoil of events, I learned that nearly all research is biased; the best approach was to keep a nuanced, open look at the causes and effects. For example, all 1.6 billion people of the Islamic population cannot be held accountable for the tiny percentage of extremist Muslims. Furthermore, there needs to be an understanding that the war in Syria is not based on religion (although religion has been used as a political tool), so targeting the Islamic population is an ineffective and detrimental move.


The Banning of the Headscarf


Mossuz-Lavau argues that the law is not striving for the equality of men and women but rather that of Muslim women and French women. She notes it is similar to a colonizing tool as to bring Muslim women up to the standards of their western sisters. I would agree with this argument as there are different forms of oppression (in this case, gender based) in every culture, and Islamic culture is not the sole culprit. As it is pointed out, western cultures which encourage women to dress scantily for the gaze of men does the same sort but different category of damage than the ‘veil’. In the end, whether it is objectification through g-strings or suppression through a burqa, it is made by patriarchal system that allows for the control and sexual subjection of women- both can be seen as symbols of oppression and sexism.

To say that the burqa is a more drastic perpetrator as it dictates the importance of virginity or purity would be incorrect; while sexual liberation is something every person has a right to, it comes with an educated mind and not with stringent rules on way of life. This is to say that education is what has determined the liberal values of an individual not a piece of cloth. It has been proven that those who are more educated tend to lean towards progressiveness rather than conservative values. So by banning headscarves would do little in terms of lessening conservative or oppressive values among the islamic community.

Banning headscarves would be to rip a vital part of islamic culture from its roots. It would absolutely not succeed in integrating islamic women into French society and is a colonizing tool towards that community. Moreover, banning a piece of Islamic culture would promote xenophobia and create further rifts in French society- which in turn, would lead to more tension and violence.

Mossuz-Lavau’s argument about the burqa limiting sexual liberation seems a bit contradictory. The type of sexuality a person possesses is of course influenced by their culture, but in modern times it is dictated by education (as she stated earlier). Modern islam- particularly in western societies- promotes the headscarf as a choice by the girl or woman. That is to say, it is just as much a woman’s right to wear the headscarf as much as it is to not wear it (not to discount that it is used as a tool of oppression in conservative areas). So to force a woman to take off her burqa would be to take away her right to choose, and in the same sense, to assume that every person’s form of sexual liberation is the same is a narrow minded assumption. It is after all a woman’s choice as to how many or how few partners she has, and taking away one choice (the headscarf) will not suddenly make her want to be provocative or even ensure her she has a choice in any other aspect of her life.

Human Trafficking Within MENA

Is sex trafficking, sex slavery an issue in your country and region? The article (pdf) Born Free (see Bb-Readings-Women’s Rights from last week) talks about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which come into effect in 2016. Find out if human trafficking is addressed by one of the goals? What needs to be done to combat human trafficking?

As Syria is ravaged by the war, human traffickers have taken the opportunity to exploit the plight of the population. It is important to note however, that the phenomenon of human trafficking in Syria 0r the rest of the Middle East/North Africa is not a new one. For the past decade there have been many reports and investigations done into the increasing rates of forced prostitution, child marriage, rape, migrant labor trafficking, forced child begging, organ trafficking, etc.

Sex slavery is the portion of human trafficking that the media focuses on, and it is a huge issue in MENA, but labor trafficking has had rising rates as well. In Syria particularly, there were high rates of sex slavery prior to 2011. The nation is considered a transit and destination country for traffickers; this means that the nation was either a passing point on the way to transporting victims or a place where victims ended up (in terms of international/regional trafficking). There were many reasons for this, but the foundation lies in the fact that the Syrian government had no consistent prosecution measures, making the business of sex trafficking very low risk and reaped obscene amounts of revenue. One of the main victims of the trade were Iraqi refugees entering the nation who were forced into sex slavery by Iraqi gangs. Other victims include women and children trafficked from Somalia and Eastern Europe via kidnapping or coercion, often exploiting the poor populations that may be traded by their families in some cases. There have been high numbers of Russian and Ukrainian women who are recruited into Syria as cabaret dancers and have their passports and documentation confiscated and are forced to work as prostitutes.

HT Syria


After 2011, when the civil war had begun, other parties became involved in the trade. Perhaps the biggest name is ISIS who makes a $2 Million a day profit from organ trafficking, sex slavery, labor slavery, and making armies of child soldiers. As the nation’s government and economy crumbles and those who can afford it try to leave, there is no enforcement of laws or human rights and the extreme poverty of the population puts them in a prime situation to be trafficked.

The most obvious way the Sustainable Development Goals address human trafficking is through “Goal 5: Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls”. Under this goal, there is a mission to end all violence against women and girls, including human trafficking- and particularly sex trafficking which they are more susceptible to.

To achieve this goal, there needs to be policy and action in place that makes the risk much higher and profits much lower. Right now, there are over 20 million people in slavery and human trafficking is the second most ‘successful’ enterprise in the world. This criminal activity thrives off the fact that governments won’t touch them, the liabilities are miniscule- small fines and short imprisonment; along with the fact that there is criminalization and disempowerment of the victims. First off, the punishment for trafficking needs to be dire, fees must be enormous and prison sentences must be MUCH longer. In Syria, there is a $2 fine for labor trafficking, and sex trafficking is overlooked entirely; in the US, migrant labor trafficking is supported by a loophole in the visa requirements. So this issue is not just in a war torn nation but it is global and affecting nations on every ladder of development. Secondly, there needs to be empowerment of the victims, in the form of safety, psychological and mental aftercare, education, work, etc. 80% of trafficking victims go back into the sex industry due to lack of prospects, this can be prevented by providing safe shelter, an education, and a skill set. Furthermore, empowered survivors means there would be more successful chances of prosecution. Thirdly, there needs to be regulation and audits of the sex industry and tracking of migrant labor- as visa loopholes are what allows employers to use slave labor. Migrant slave labor is a common form of human trafficking and checking in on migrants who may have had their documentation confiscated could help prevent slave labor.

ISIS: One of Many Contributors to Trafficking in Syria and Iraq

Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis

2 year old Syrian boy washed ashore in Turkey

Popular photo of 2 year old Syrian boy washed ashore in Turkey following migrant boat accident

Barrel Bomb erupts in Aleppo province

Barrel Bomb erupts in Aleppo province

great tragedy of the century

The war taking place in Syria is considered the greatest crisis of the 21st century. The impact domestically has been massively negative: due to President Assad’s refusal to take part in negotiations and rebel distrust of UN or government mandates, the end of the conflict is not in sight. There are many who have called for everything from peaceful negotiations or cease-fires to demanding international military intervention.

The economic and social deterioration within the nation has also called for the aid and support of the global community. The following are some examples and statistics of how the armed-conflict has had an impact both domestically and internationally.

Economic Impacts 

  • As of March 2015, four out of every five Syrians live in poverty, 30% in abject poverty.
  • There has been a loss of over $202.6 billion USD. Many trade policies and routes have been obstructed or destroyed, causing the biggest hits to GDP.
  • The capital (along with the market) has shifted into weaponry within the blackmarket as the conflict has increased
  • Over 2.9 million people lost their jobs, which will in turn also decrease the consumer base, further damaging the economy.
  • The dependency on foreign support has increased greatly as the economy fragmented and deteriorated.
  • Unemployment has reached over 57.7% as of 2014.
  • This damage of the economy makes the possibility of reconstruction extremely difficult.

Social Impacts

  • Over twelve million people are in need of humanitarian aid within the nation as the health infrastructure is either destroyed (destruction of hospitals, pharmacies, etc) or access to treatment is no longer a possibility (barricades, medical professionals available, access to facilities themselves)
  • The civil war has now become a proxy war. It is no longer a war between rebel, pro-democratic parties and the Alawite government- which had already entangled the lives of civilians- but it has grown to include the Islamic State (extremist organization that has considerable control over the region). Moreover, nations have chosen allies: The United States had initial armed intervention then limited its involvement with Sunni rebel forces, but the UK, France, Turkey, and Arab states have been showing support of Sunni forces. Russia, Lebanon and Iran have been backing the Alawite government.
  • The war has led to the largest exodus of refugees in recent history, an estimated four million people (according to BBC) and over eleven million who are internally displaced. The largest number of refugees have fled to neighbouring nations of Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, along with nations throughout Europe and the northern middle-east.
  • The war has led to greater than 250,000 people presumed dead- although the United Nations has stated that the death toll could be much higher.
  • Lack of access to water
  • Human rights violations for civilians by barricading towns or communities to prevent the arrival of food and water
  • War crimes such as murder, rape, torture by the government, rebel groups, and terrorist activity by the Islamic State- in the form of public executions and amputations.
  • Life expectancy went from 75.9 years in 2010 to 55.7 years in 2014.

Effective Aid

linda polman

What are the principal concerns Linda Polman raises in her book?

Linda Polman argues that people humanitarian aid has become a business of trade with elites that are most responsible for the war. She states that those who are most vulnerable do not get any benefit from the aid but rather that they are damaged by it; as a matter of fact, she points out that aid is often indirectly fueling violence, war, and poverty by getting in the hands of rebel, political or economic elites rather than used efficiently distributed to victims. Her key example is the Rwandan genocide, where aid supposedly flowed into the hands of Hutu militia and not to any Tutsi (although this is not to say it was the two groups of people responsible but rather the leaders of each of them).

Why does she say “Aid organizations are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa” (p. 177)?

She points out that the impact does not line up with intentions. Aid organizations along with donors and foreign parties often make huge promises- and they truly do want to improve things- just in a very narrow minded way. This results in the impact of prolonging suffering. I agree with Polman, often times western aid organization are more interested in gratification and a sense of fulfillment in themselves than they truly are in stopping violence or providing care. The fact of the matter is that the aid organizations have made it a norm to align themselves with or be dependent on the people causing the wars. The people in control have the most power, so yes- it is quite difficult to surpass them to provide any form of aid; however, it is not impossible to ensure that the organization is truly independent. At least with that method, people are not going to be worse off. This is not to say that we leave the fate of the suffering in their own hands; we must change the existing system of unsustainable (or damaging) NGO/foreign aid. Polman states a good start being with demanding answers and being critical as citizens, donors, or journalists.

What do journalists, the public, governments have to do to make humanitarian aid successful?

All involved parties (which in some way, either directly or indirectly, is everyone) must be critical and intelligent in how aid is settled. To put it harshly, intentions do not matter, the impact does; sustainable execution of the distribution of the aid is key. A more practical approach must be taken: humanitarians must be held accountable for failing to act independently and thus worsening the situation for the indigenous populations; action and aid distribution must be tailored to each individual location, the western ideal of aid is not sustainable and often not effective to most in need; keep all options open- being apolitical or doing something to temporarily ‘save’ an individual is an often damaging plan. The example that she used was the Red Cross’s knowledge of concentration camps in Nazi Germany and their silence on it; all in the name of neutrality. Neutrality is not a possibility; if there is silence when there are people suffering then you are just as responsible for the suffering of the people.

Sustainability in MENA

climate change

We absolutely have a moral obligation to take action to prevent further climate change and limit the damage that it has caused. It is very important to remember that climate change is an issue that affects all realms on a global scale: economically, politically, and as a violation of human rights. In each of these realms there is a power disparity, there is an oppressor and the oppressed, it (does not have to be but) is very exploitative. The most damage and the most consumption of the environment is done by those in power, specifically- the United States. The US may be one of the closest examples to Capitalism that there is, capitalism depends on growth and consumption, at what ever cost. And so, for various reasons (most commonly convenience), the US is both the highest consumers of the world’s resources and also the least sustainable with them. We as westerners, and more specifically as Americans, have not only a moral responsibility but a debt to pay the rest of the world and the environment. People are suffering not only as we consume but because we consume in excess. Our conveniences and blissful ignorance comes at the cost of livelihoods and ecosystems being destroyed (as illustrated in the Ground-Watt-Cloutier essay). Action must be taken in each of the realms listed above: we must have a cultural shift where sustainability (by recycling, smaller portions, saving water, alternative transportation) must be prioritized, policy change that requires energy efficient alternatives (and makes them readily available) while penalizing unsustainable activity (through garbage weight limits, taxes on non-renewable energy sources) is required, and we must be made more aware of the cultures and lives that are being destroyed because of this rapid and unnecessary consumption.

Women collecting water from a public faucet in Palestine

Women collecting water from a public faucet in Palestine

While MENA is one of the most water scarce regions in the world, it is not a place where works. Regardless, there are a number of organizations that work to address the issue and try to balance the growing population, tumultuous political activity, and water scarcity present in the region. One of these organizations is EcoMENA. This organization attempts to address the intersectionality of lack of sustainability with politics. Freshwater is a rapidly depleting resource as it is being used incredibly inefficiently (for example, the inefficiencies with irrigation tactics); where it is available, it is difficult for one nation to acquire it due to transnational sources of the water. In some cases, the water source for one nations population lies under the control of the opposing nation- for example, Palestines water is controlled by Isreal.

Water Scarcity in MENA

The World Bank recognizes the main environmental issue of MENA to be water scarcity and highlights some of the main concerns that rise due to this:

“Degradation of arable land continues.  Unsustainable agriculture and pasture practices due to weak property rights coupled with population growth threaten the more marginal lands with lower productivity and desertification. 

Pollution-related health problems, particularly in urban and industrial centers, are another challenge.  The causes include open municipal waste dumps; the use of leaded gasoline in an aging and poorly maintained vehicle fleet; the inefficient use of fossil fuels for power generation; and particulate and sulfur-oxide emissions from industry. Hazardous waste and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), such as those from obsolete pesticides, continue to pose a challenge in the region.

Marine resources, including fisheries, are an important generator of income.  But the fishery is being overexploited by competing fleets in the face of weak enforcement and regulation.  Degradation of critical habitats by pollution and other kinds of stress compound the problems and put in jeopardy the wellbeing of vulnerable coastal communities.

Coastal zones continue to deteriorate.  Concentration of populations along coastal zones from migration and urbanization coupled with unregulated development adds to sources of untreated pollution and damage the scarce natural habitats that remain.

Climate change will compound those effects.  Water run off in MENA is projected to drop by 20% to 30% in most of MENA by 2050.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report estimates an increase in temperature of up to two degrees in the next 15-20 years and of over four degrees by the end of the century (the increase is higher for faster emission scenarios).”,,contentMDK:20525954~pagePK:146736~piPK:226340~theSitePK:256299,00.html

Climate Change & Human Rights

Climate change has obvious affects on the environment, with one of the biggest effects being on extreme weather. The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report on climate change’s effects noted, “The report identified the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and natural disasters, rising sea-levels, floods, heat waves, droughts, desertification, water shortages, and the spread of tropical and vector-borne diseases as some of the adverse impacts of climate change”. This report also noted that the primary cause of climate change were human produced greenhouse gases. This is an important factor as greenhouse gases from humans are more specifically made by humans in developed nations; human rights are once again (indirectly) being exploited by those in higher power, and thus it is the responsibility of those in power to amend the situation- not only for the environment but also for the people that they are affecting. Furthermore, the rights being violated are numerous. Agrarian nations such as India suffer as their seasonal growth is limited or eliminated entirely, destroying the livelihood and nutrition for countless farmers and villages. The effects in this context are disastrous, with suicide rates on the rise, local economies sinking, and malnutrition increasing among women and children.

An Indian farmer shows a dry, cracked paddy field in Ranbir Singh Pura

An Indian farmer shows a dry, cracked paddy field in Ranbir Singh Pura

Climate change is making world weather hotter and weirder

A more violent effect of climate change is the example in Syria. Syria has been ravaged by a civil war that has been driving out its inhabitants since 2011; this along with climate change causing extreme weather has led to a series of violent outbreaks in search of basic necessities. Water related violence has been on the rise as droughts ravage the nation and the infrastructure breaks down. The incredible absence of water has been directly linked to the economic deterioration of the nation.

Noor speaks of the obstacles presented by the West’s superiority complex. He brings up a few points on how the West does this. Most notably, the west truly believes that their dominance over the global economy and broad influence of western products equates to their ideals being above those of the rest of the world. He brings up the examples of Malaysia on how understanding past history of a  culture’s ability to reach a position of progressiveness and equality and how it can not always be claimed that it is the West who caused that progress. He traces back the true roots of the progress and how the West became involved in it. Moreover, he uses those factors along with the example of Islam’s influence on Malaysia to debunk the myths that Asian elites exploit their populations beliefs for political and economic benefits and that Western ideas of human rights need to be exported globally. While he argues the western ideal of superiority, he is not arguing human rights themselves. He is simply stating that the rights as an individual object exist while each culture or nation has different perceptions and thus various methods of achieving these rights. He insists that westerners stop forcing their methods of enforcing human rights on the rest of the globe as this form of moral superiority will cause more harm than good. 

Islam in Malaysia

Islam in Malaysia

Islam in Malaysia