Teaching Justice

There are certain types of reverence that we inherit from our family members.  Whether it be religion, family traditions, or certain other practices, when we grow up watching those we love respect certain parts of life, we mimic those behaviors.  For many of my friends Sunday mornings are their familial reverence.  Their families taught them to show awe and respect at the altar of God and his teachings.  For each group it is different, but we find ways to honor the things that we collectively care for and respect.

In my family we were taught to honor justice, as bizarre as that sounds.  We watched my father celebrate the life of Dr. King every year.  My mother passionately spoke about education and food inequality each time we forgot our own privilege. We watched my grandmother preach the plight of the Jews on Passover. Instead of learning our lessons from the Good Book, my brother and I were taught the parameters of morality from the pages of history.

My dad loves Martin Luther King Jr.  For him, MLK is the pinnacle of non-violent, strong willed, charismatic, and effective social change.  Back in the day, my dad was a community organizer in a majority black neighborhood in Boston.  He also ran for city council under the slogan “Jim Walsh in the Neighborhood.”  As a result of these two activities a MLK day tradition was born.  Long before I was alive, he would organize MLK day parties where him and his likeminded social justice friends would get together and celebrate the life and teachings of Dr. King.  The highlight of the day, was when my dad would take out his old record of Dr. King’s speeches and everyone would listened in rapt silence to crackling sounds and deep voice as they bellowed out of the turntable.

In the following years, as my brother and I came on the scene, these gatherings stopped, but the lessons did not.  My first memory of Dr. King, is not from school, but hearing his voice vibrate through our living room shouting “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead.  But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I have been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.”  I remember my parents telling me where they were when King was killed and how that felt.  And I remember that every year on MLK Day, my friends would have free time to run around and play.  Instead my brother and I would sit in the church of Dr King, gathered around that same turntable, listening to same speeches. Then we would discuss and dissect those messages with my father.

At the time my brother and I lamented the activity and complained.  Even though we were given most of the afternoon to play, we couldn’t understand why we had to pay homage to the altar of King and remember his work.  At the time it didn’t make sense.

Since then the lessons of King keep coming back to me.  I have a respect for this day that has been engrained in me since birth.  Its not just a national holiday, a day for supersales at department stores, or rehashing favorite quotes.  Today is a day of reflection and tradition, where I like to look at the world and look at what my family has taught me to value.  I reflect on how I am fulfilling and disappointing these expectations.  I remind myself how I can do better.

Perhaps the most important thing for me about Martin Luther King Day is how it is a catalyst for memories. I remember the story my mother used to tell me, from when she worked in the development office at a food bank, and how every month they would receive a $5 check from an elderly woman on welfare.  The large checks from families who could afford to be charitable, were also important, but this was different.  This woman, even though she could not afford it, knew she had more than others, so she kept giving.

I remember, although were not very religious, hearing my grandmother talk about the Jews fleeing Egypt.  Every year she holds my grandfathers hand with conviction as she tells us about the suffering and the pain of our people.  How we went forth to the promise land in search of safety and freedom.  As she discusses the Seder plate, each item has its own meaning.  When she speaks of the bitter herbs, which we dip in salt water to remind ourselves of our ancestors tears, she is not just talking about “our people.”  My grandmother uses her place as the matriarch of the family to propagate the importance of justice and equality for all groups- not just our own.

My family has a long list of our own sayings and growing up I used to hear two phrases on repeat.  1. People are people, and thats all that matters. 2. Help each other we can do it.  The doctrine of our family is to protect and support each other, to talk through problems peacefully, and to speak loudly when we see things that are wrong.  I am so grateful for Dr. King, his impact on society, and on my upbringing.  His words continue to echo in my conscience as I try to decide what to do with my life.  And today I am reminded of that unwavering voice coming through the speaker and saying “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

2015, a Year in Review

 

2015 began with violence that persisted through the year.  Issues hit close to home (like the murder of three students in Chapel Hill) and all around the world (like the refugee crisis).  I could list each atrocity one by one, but we would be here for a while.  Suffice to say, in 2015 the big issues were terrorism, hate speech, muslims, refugees, race in the US, Syria, clean energy, and gender.  It seemed that everyday there was an attack on on our freedom and our safety, each one more brutal than the last.  There were many times this year when I felt like that was it, all hope was lost.

When I saw the Hungarian reporter trip the young refugee boy, or the shootings in Copenhagen, or the shootings in Charleston I wondered if we as a people, were broken.  I wondered if we could recover from this kind of violence.  In my own life, I stood in the remains identification facility in Bosnia, surrounded by the remains of 3,000 unidentified persons from the Srebrenica genocide.  Then in Rwanda, I stood in Nyamata, where the tour guide described the brutal torture of civilians, saw the blood marks on the walls where babies skulls were cracked open, and looked at the unclaimed clothes of 50,000 people who were murdered in the church.  Hope is a tricky emotion, in the midst of such human suffering.  I had to keep reminding myself of all of the good that happened too.

Going through the annual and arbitrary process of New Years reflection, I realized that 2015 was a banner year for me.  It began with my semester abroad in Denmark, where I visited ten new countries.  While living abroad I had the opportunity to take classes with members of the Danish Military, Refugee Council, and renowned genocide experts.  I gained a European perspective on my other wise American-centric education.  My professors challenged me to look at the actions of my nation and fellow citizens in a new light.  My time studying abroad, served the absolute purpose of education, to learn information and challenge the boundaries of ones known reality.

In each new country, I found new cultures and new experiences.  The Danes taught me about Jante Law, a societal rule of class equality. Hamburg and Bosnia brought me back to the reasons I study genocide in the first place. In Spain, an elder frenchman bought me a meal with only the expectation of conversation and in Portugal I met two men who argued my independence. Norway was the most beautiful place I had every seen.  In Prague I stayed up till three in the morning, discussing American Visa rules with people from five different countries.  In Budapest I met an Alaskan troubadour, making her way around Europe.  In Brussels I rediscovered an old friend that I hadn’t seen in years.

These new countries were nothing without the people I met: both travel companions and strangers on the road.  Some of my best nights in Denmark were spent sitting in my apartment over a meal and a lifetime of stories to exchange.  Then in May, I made my way back to Boston, for my father’s wedding.  I watched him marry the woman he loves and then headed out to the next adventure.

My next stop was Kigali Rwanda, where I was working on my thesis research.  I stayed in the “most well reviewed air bnb in Rwanda,” where I met an incredibly kind family who was more than happy to explain their culture.  I spent two weeks visiting genocide sites, archives, NGO offices, and finally seeing the Gorillas.  All the while accompanied by a quiet and empathetic cab driver who chose to look after me.  I then packed my bags and headed to Paris for the rest of the Summer, where I worked for a scholar who I have admired for years.

At Science Po, my approach to genocide studies was flipped on its head.  I found a mentor who was patient with my french and ready to teach me the ins and outs of the “trade.” I also reconquered Paris.  I met a group of fascinating students who showed me their city.  The days were filled with work I cared about and we spent the evenings along the Seine drinking wine and discussing every subject available.

The dream ended when I came back to the US for the fall semester of my senior year.  I have kept relatively quiet on the blog, but this semester my health and my condition went under a number of misguided changes.  A doctor changed my medication and routine, meant to take away my pain.  Instead he gave me brain fog, persistent exhaustion, and constant pain.  I was finally back at UNC, working on my thesis and preparing for the “real world,” but I was not my real self.  This semester, after nine months of adventure the year came to a trying end.

2015, like any year, was not perfect.  It was filled will challenges and successes, both my own and on the international stage.  As we enter the new year conflict looms.  South Sudan is unstable; Uganda is up for elections; the Burundian peace talks are deteriorating; police brutality continues; and many new cases of sexual assault emerged here in the US. We were not given a clean slate, instead this year inherited the struggles of the last.  And yesterday, January 2nd, the first refugee of 2016 died.  An unidentified toddler, was killed when his boat capsized against sharp rocks.  He is without a doubt the first of many.  He is a christening of violence that will echo through the year, and I wonder what we, as individuals can do, to combat this.

In the face of this ugliness, I try to find the joy and the hope for the new year.  2015 may have been crippled by violence, but people rarely report the positive.  The majority of our world is peaceful and it never makes it to headlines.  As I look back, I am convinced that we are moving forward, that we are making progress, and that the best we have is our relationships with one another.

A quote from the Rwandan genocide stuck with me in 2015, “If you knew me and you really knew yourself you would not have killed me.”  I think thats the point of it all, thats the point of my nine months of travel, of meeting new people, and seeing new cultures.  When you meet “the other” first hand, they are no longer foreign, no longer blindly hate-able, but instead they are human. It is so unreasonable to hate people because they are member of a group, because they’re gay, Muslim, black, Jewish, a police office, or an immigrant.  These are arbitrary categories. So there is my prolific and self-involved lesson from 2015.  In the face of violence the best thing we have collectively is kindness, patience, and empathy.

Heres to 2016! To the challenges and difficulties we will face as individuals and as a society.  My New Years resolution (as cliched as it may sound) is to be steadfast in the face of hatred, violence, and discrimination.  Neither you nor I can “save the world.” I gave up on a that a long time ago.  Instead I will do my best, failing at times, to get to know people and treat them with relentless kindness.

On to the next adventure!

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Rebuilding a Voice

About a month ago I transferred my blog to a new site, wrote an enthusiastic post, and swore I would stop posting political articles on Facebook.  But that never happened.  The stream of links on social media kept strong, while this blog was silent.  I tried writing a few times.  Posts went unpublished on veterans day, after the Republican debate, and in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.  I have spent week searching for words that sound like me and coming up with nothing.  I have been completely burnt out.

I am an advocate for reasonable honestly online.  I discuss my health condition, my fears, my aspirations, and the challenges in my work.  Through all of this I appear as a ceaselessly passionate person.  I like to assure myself that in the face of life’s problems I am driven my sense of purpose, my *unwavering* belief that I can have a positive impact on the world.  Rarely, but sometimes, this passion wears out and when it does I clam up.  I cannot write, because I do not sound like myself.  Without my drive I am different, but I think discussing this is important.

When I first decided I wanted to work in human rights everyone warned me about burn out, my family especially.  They worried that devoting myself to such an unforgiving cause at a young age would wear away my wonder in the world.  These concerns came from a place of love, since they didn’t want my work to ruin me.  I cavalierly thought that that could never happen to me and in some ways it hasn’t.

I have never burnt out completely, instead I am worn down.  It happens infrequently, less than once a year, and lasts for a thankfully short time.  I am left to reflect on who I am and what my work means if I am no longer passionate about it.  Then there is always something that comes and picks me back up.  A human interaction, a story, an experience that reinforces my belief in the goodness of people.  Then I am back in full force, a bit more hardened but ready for the next battle.

This past month when I was feeling worn out, I was having trouble articulating why.  Then I read a poem by Nayyirah Waheed  which read, “all the women in me. are tired.” In a few words she articulated the feelings I had been searching for.  I was exhausted.  I was tired of waking up every day and being a feminist, an activist, a liberal, a student, and so many other characters.  I was tired of these performances of self.  I wanted to spend a few days as a person and nothing more. Additionally all the women I represented were tired, all the women in my family who came before, all of the struggle for better, greater, more equal futures.  Those women were tired of this battle that at time seems stagnate.  Waheed’s words were painfully true.

I kept expecting to feel enlivened by the issues around me.  One of my favorite cities in the world was a victim of a brutal terror attack.  Violence, terrifyingly reminiscent of 1994 Rwanda, broke out in Burundi.  Donald Trump channeled Hitler and suggested that all Muslims bear badges.  Still the women in me were tired.

I tried writing an op-ed about for a local paper about the situation in Burundi and why it mattered.  My words sounded weak and passive.  I called my mother frustrated, brimming with emotion.  “I’m broken mom.” I was so disappointed in myself that I couldn’t articulate my message.  Normally 800 emotionally convincing words on a conflict would be easy for me.  “Are you not angry enough?” She asked, knowing that in the face of injustice my anger helps motivate me.  “No I am. Civilians are being murdered.  I’m angry enough.”  Neither of us knew what to say.

My drive came back to me last night in the strangest of places.  I was sitting in the library at 2 o’clock in the morning, working on a final paper for a class, when I got up to fill my water bottle.  I walked through the stacks, skimming the titles, walking through rows on history on the United States, Eastern Europe, Jews, Russian, and by the time I reached the water fountain, China.  I walked a different route back to my desk this time passing centuries more knowledge.  I sat in front of my computer for a few moments with an odd sense of happiness.

I was surrounded by all of this knowledge, that had been created by all of these individuals lives throughout human history.  Each of these authors contributed to human understanding through the tireless and noble pursuit of their subject.  I thought that perhaps each of them were as passionate about their topics, as I typically am about my field of study.  I was awed and reassured by the human pursuit of intelligence.

Leaving the library, I felt better.  All of the women in me had awoken to fight the next battle, to wake up as a feminist, an activist, a liberal, and a vocal member of society.  Each period of weariness teaches me something new.  This time I learned about that periodic fatigue is part of the process.  Pretending that I am a ceaselessly passionate and driven person serves no one.  To the public it encourages a false and enviable sense of perfection, and internally it makes me resent myself when I fail to meet my own standard.  Exhaustion is part of the human experience, but it is not permanent, and it will not deter me.

Temporary burn out is an emotional reminder to be kinder to ourselves, kinder to our failures, kinder to our faults, and kinder to others in their pursuit to contribute to the awesome body of human development.

Home

by Warsan Shire 

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

Single Issue Stories

I have spent a lot of late nights this week angrily reading through the news and contemplating my impending future. Three stories stuck with me: an Afghan refugee self-immolated, a Somali refugee was allegedly denied basic  rights after being raped and impregnated, and a six year old boy died from shrapnel wounds in Yemen.  These are the headlines that draw my attention from school and leave me yearning to graduate.

The first story broke Monday when an Afghani man in Australia self immolated when he feared deportation. The asylum seeker, Khodayar Amini, was video chatting with a local refugee non-profit, when he started speaking of killing himself.  One of the coordinators who had suicide prevention training tried to calm him down, while calling authorities, but Amini doused himself in gasoline and self immolated.  Australian authorities were looking to question Amini, who was set to be tried on November 10th on charges of stalking and threats (against whom it is unclear).  The case threatened his bridging visa and his status in Australia.  Amini’s family was killed by the Taliban and he felt that upon return to Afghanistan he too would be killed.  It is believed these events led to his suicide.  What the news has yet to mention, is that the threat of deportation could have violated the UNHCR Refugee policy.

The United Nations 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol on Refugees clearly dictates the principles of non-refoulement or the prohibition of expulsion.  Article 33 states that a refugee cannot be returned to a country if they have reasonable cause to believe that they will be killed or tortured upon their arrival.  Amini met this clause.  The second part of the article, however, states that a refugee may not claim non-refoulement if they pose “a danger to the security of the country,” where they have been convicted of a serious crime.  Stalking legislation in Australia is vague and it is unclear whether or not it would warrant a serious enough crime to merit deportation, since it is not a danger to national security.  Under Article 3 of the 1985 UN Convention on Torture the threat of refoulement constitutes a form of mental torture, when there is reasonable cause to believe the individual will be harmed upon their return to the country of origin.  I have been left wondering if the Australian government inadvertently mentally tortured Khodayar Amini, potentially contributing to his suicide.

Amini’s story reminded me of the detention facility I visited in Denmark last semester and the different refugee stories that I heard.  When someone has sacrificed everything to run from the mouth of death, I cannot imagine any more terrifying than the prospect of forced repatriation.

On Tuesday the video of a little Yemeni boy went viral. Fareed Shawky was in his family’s home when his body was racked by shrapnel from a Houthi missile. The boy was taken to a hospital where he was treated for internal bleeding and damage to the brain.  The video circulating the internet, shows him pleading with the doctors and his family to keep him alive.  In the rough english translation you can hear Fareed cry “Daddy, don’t let them bury me.”  (Warning the video is extremely graphic)

Four days later he died from his wounds.  Activists are calling him the Aylan (the young Syrian boy who washed ashore dead) of Yemen.  A UN report from this summer estimates that over 27,000 civilians have been killed or injured in the civil war in Yemen, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a civilian.  His family says they are glad that the world is listening to Fareed’s story, hoping that this will bring attention to the often overlooked civil war. Unlike Amini’s story, this is an issue of suffering within the borders of a conflict.

Fareed’s death brought back memories of the South Sudanese I met in Boston, who lost their families and traversed thousands of miles to escape the crossfire between rebels and the state.

Finally on Thursday, the rape and impregnation of Abyan, a Somali Asylum seeker in Australia brought the rule of law in Nauru and Manus into question.  These islands, have been called Australia’s Guantanamo. Instead of a military holding facility, these islands have some of the largest Australian refugee holding facilities.  There have been widespread complaints of rape and abuse.  Abyan, the Somali woman, requested transfer to Australia so she could have an abortion.  She was taken to Australia after weeks of petitioning, but flown out before the procedure could be completed.  The Australian government claims she changed her mind.  Her lawyers are saying they forced her return to prevent a court injunction allowing her to stay in Australia.  Her case points to the larger issue of sexual assault against female refugees. Once again there is the issue of the psychological, medical, and legal treatment of Asylum seekers.

Abyan reminded me of the women I met this summer in Rwanda who were survivors of rape and sexual assault.  Women’s bodies are too often used as extensions of battleground in conflict.  And the prospect of asylum in a “developed” country is supposed to assure security from this sort of assault.

Audre Lorde once said “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives.”  Media tends to oversimplify the complexities of civilians in conflict.  The story of Khodayar Amini is easily mis-told as a mentally unstable man who did not want to face the courts, Fareed Shawky as a casualty of war, and Abyan as an issue of refugee transfers between territories.  Instead these go beyond a basic black and white morality touching on issues of refugee rights, rule of law, sexual assault, abortion, mental health, Suicide, torture, international humanitarian law, United Nations jurisdiction, and the responsibility to protect doctrines.  These headlines may keep me up at night, but they are the issues that make me come alive and work that much harder.

The Difference Between Genocide and Diplomacy

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Mike Huckabee could not have picked a worse week to say that the Iran deal will “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”  I have spent the last three days, and will spend the rest of my time in Paris at the Mémorial de la Shoah looking at primary source documents from the Nazis.  It has been an emotionally intense couple of days and to wake up this morning to Huckabees comments are infuriating.  

First there is the issue of the Iran deal.  It is a sound deal that has taken us nearly a decade to reach.  It is preventing the Iranians from developing nuclear capacity.  Its a win.  I could go into detail, but since this is my fathers area and he can explain its merits much better I will refer you to one of his articles.

I on the other hand, can speak to the ludicrous and offensive comparison to the Holocaust.  For the past couple days I have spent eight hours a day staring at pages with the Nazi Eagle stamped on the bottom.  Yesterday, I was looking through documents from the French Office on the Jewish Question.  In that folder I found the document where the French authorized the deportation of all foreign Jews living in France, but demanded French Jews stay.  Over seventy years ago, this piece paper was signed and then sent to the German occupying forces.  This paper is what allowed French soldiers to carry out the roundups of Velodrome d’Hiver, where 13,000 foreign Jews (mostly women and children) where rounded up in Paris and deported to Drancy.  The majority of who were sent to Auschwitz where they died.  This piece of paper set off a chain reaction, resulting in the murder of tens of thousands of innocent people.

If I was doing research in France back then, instead of today, that piece of paper would have essentially ordered my death.  Since I study genocide people often ask me if this is somehow tied to my Jewish heritage.  I say no.  For every genocide I study and every mass grave I visit I feel the same deep visceral and human emotions.  I did not feel more at the concentration camps, because I am Jewish.  My heart hurt in Poland, in Bosnia, in Germany, and in Rwanda because I am human.  I will admit, however, there is an added degree of emotion, when you know without a doubt, that in this conflict you would have been killed.  

The Holocaust was one of the most brutal events of the 20th century.  The killings so violent and systematic, that Raphael Lemkin felt a need to invent a word for what had transpired.  In those six years, millions of people, not just Jews, were marched to the gas chambers and annihilated for inalienable aspects of their identity.  I, like Huckabee, have been to these camps.  I have visited Majdanek, Treblinka, Auschwitz, Birkenau, Sobibor, Plashow, Belzec, and Neuengamme.  I have stood in the gas chambers, and seen fingernail scratches in the cement, the walls stained blue from human skin reacting with Zyklon B.  I have seen ashes of 80,000 people piled high in a mausoleum.  Huckabee seems to think that because he’s visited Auschwitz, he can make these comments.  Bearing witness to history, does give him the right to manipulate it for his own political goals.

Not only did Mike Huckabee compare the systematic extermination of eleven million people to the potential outcome of the Iran deal, he also used the two dirtiest words of genocide studies, “Never Again.”  People started with this mantra after WWII and ever since it has been the broken soundtrack of politicians in post-conflict settings.  We said never again to the Holocaust.  We said never again to Cambodia, to Rwanda, to Bosnia.  A few decades ago, this phrase lost its meaning.  Politicians shout “never again” loud enough so their constituents can hear them, but not so loud that they actually have to do anything.  

Genocide is a complex issues and although Iran is the only state that officially denies the Holocaust, they’re not about to start another one.  His statement also implies that Israel is incapable of defending itself.  Huckabee’s comments are insulting to a myriad of people.  They’re offensive to Jews, to anyone who’s worked on the Iran deal, to the state of Istael or really anyone who has studied genocide.

I write this post from the Mémorial de la Shoah, in the old Jewish neighborhood in Paris.  In a building with steel doors, an x-ray machine, armed police, and members of the military guarding it.  Anti-Semitism is alive and well, I don’t deny that.  There are places in this world where it is unsafe to be a Jew.  The signing of the Iran deal has not condemned the Jewish people to anything. The deal is an act of diplomacy.  Theres a big difference between diplomacy and genocide.  I suggest that Huckabee hits the books and learns that before he considers continuing with his presidential campaign.

Going to War

I have never enjoyed math. Its not something that fits well with my logic processes, and for this reason I was one of the few students in school who really enjoyed word problems.  When lines of numbers were translated into hypothetical situations, I could visualize it.  When I see something I can understand it.  I also have a tendency to rationalize things.  I can spend hours working and reworking things in my mind until they can fit into a reasonable logic.

Because of these two traits, I recently arrived on a strange comparison between what I study and my pain. I keep a pain log, where I track the patterns of my condition and how the acute and chronic pain flares.

This week has been particularly challenging.  On top of the standard pain levels, I have had acute pain in my trapezius for the past three weeks, which will not
subside.  Then on Monday my right arm felt a little strange, I went to work anyway. It wasn’t until I left that office that I realized by whole arm had
seized.  I couldn’t (still cant) raise my arm above my head, fully extend my elbow, or rotate my wrist without shooting and debilitating pain.  These are the
sorts of flares that keep me in bed or literally make me dizzy and dry heaving from the pain.  It is unpleasant to say the least.  The pain in my right side has
persisted, with slightly lessened intensity, through the week.  It makes working and even functioning challenging.

So I turned to my logs, to try to rationalize this change.  Hoping that I was somehow responsible and I would see a change in behavior that would explain my
increased pain.  There was no point of origin. It seems there is no pattern, which for someone like me is immensely frustrating.  My next thought is that I am essentially in an intractable conflict with my body, where my condition is the aggressor, but what are the parameters of the conflict?  I supposed if my genetic condition were a war it would be indiscriminate non-state violence of subjugation.

I know this sounds insane, but it actually helped me think through what was going on in my body, so bear with me.  This condition is genetic and appears either hereditarily or in a gene mutation.  The people affected by EDS are an indiscriminate population, its not based on gender or race.  Under the current
medical understanding, it is pretty randomized in the way it presents.  Also this “violence” or pain in my body is not reactionary.  There are certain aggressors, like if I went for a run I would be in a great deal of pain, but on the whole my pain is not dictated by behavior. EDS is committing indiscriminate violence against my body.

In international law, if two states are at war there is a certain body of laws that must be abided by.This is called International Humanitarian Law (IHL), like the rules of war.  Modern states have signed a number of treaties (think Geneva Convention) saying what is acceptable in times of war. If they do not abide by them they are (hypothetically) held accountable by the UN and the international community. One of the problems with contemporary conflict is that more and more often countries are fighting wars against non-state actors like militias, rebels, or terrorist groups.  These groups have no reason to abide by international treaties.  The states must still play by the rules, but these groups get to rewrite the way the game is played.

EDS is like a non-state actor.  I have all these rules, assigned by society and the medical community – expected methods of how a disease can and should be approached.  EDS does not really care about our rules and is going to do its own thing.  I am sticking to the “IHL” of treatment: massage, physical therapy, stretching, tens units, exercise, rest, and medication.  The classic “lines of defense” are not built to fight against a condition that most medical professionals do not consider a serious threat or one that follows the normal rules of pain.

The last category is subjugation.  Typically mass violence can be categorized in many different ways, but the classification of violence to subjugate and violence to eradicate are usually mentioned. Violence of eradication is when the perpetrator is trying to kill a population.  In contrast, subjugation is when a perpetrator is trying to commit sufficient violence to incite fear in a population and make them submissive.  EDS is not an issue of eradication.  It is not fatal.  It is not going to kill me, but it is trying to control me.  It is trying to make me afraid to live at my fullest capacity and dictate my behavior.

My thought process only got weirder from here.  If I was studying my condition and its effects on my life the same way I study a conflict, what would be policy recommendations be?  My first idea was diplomatic negotiations, but as much as I personify my condition, I can’t really ask it to come to the table and talk to me.
The next option was strategic military intervention and peacekeeping forces, but in some ways that’s what I’ve been doing.   The lifestyle changes are like peacekeeping forces and the pain meds are like military intervention, but they’ve done little to maintain a stable peace in my body. The only remaining intervention is my personal favorite, non-violent civilian resistance.  So I was faced with
the task, how do I create non-violent resistance against my pain?  If this was in fact indiscriminate non-state violence of subjugation, I would have to be creative in my approach.

I decided that I would refuse to subjugate.  I would try to avoid doing things that I knew would further exacerbate my pain, but there is no way in hell I am going to lie down and let it take control.  Monday night I gave it a go.  My pain was at its worst and my vision literally blurred. All I wanted to do was lie in bed and give in, but instead I tossed my book in my purse and headed out.  I took myself to dinner at Le Comptoir, a restaurant I’ve been meaning to try since I arrived in Paris.  The metro ride over to the restaurant was brutal.  Each lurch of the train felt like a personal assault.  When I got to the restaurant I felt like I was going to faint and I was seriously questioning my decision making process. But then I had a fantastic dinner and really interesting conversation with the folks around me.  For a few hours, it didn’t hurt so bad and I could focus on something else.  My non-violent resistance was to try and create something positive when my pain was at its worst.  I realized my pain is not going to back down, but then again neither am I.

Waiting for Change

There were a couple big anniversaries this week in the world of conflict resolution.  The first was July 9th, which marked South Sudan’s fourth year of independence.  The second is today, July 11th, which is 20 years since the genocide at Srebrenica. Both of these days have professional personal significance for me.  They should be days to remember those who died, but also celebrate the respective progress of the nations.  They are not.  I find myself, in both cases, mourning lost opportunities.

I first got involved with the South Sudanese community in Boston when I was in 5th grade.  I met some of the lost boys and started volunteering/hanging out at the South Sudanese community center in Cambridge.  Throughout the rest of middle school and high school I spent large portions of my free time at the center.  The South Sudanese in Boston welcomed me as an extension of their community.  Their history was the first human rights cause I ever learned about and for that reason it holds a very significant place in my heart.  I spent years with watching the progress of South Sudan with nervous anticipation. I passionately discussed succession politics in the years leading up to the referendum. I waited for the decision, in an AME church in Dorchester, surrounded by the South Sudanese community, praying for separation.  July 9th 2011 was a day filled with hope and it felt like a massive victory.  It meant that the dictator Omar al-Bashir, who’s militia had tormented the population of the South was now separated by an international border.  Many of the South Sudanese I knew repatriated.  There was great hope for the presidency of democratically elected Salva Kiir.  There was a suspended moment of naivety where I believed that peace had finally arrived for South Sudan, but that hope quickly disappeared.

The following years of crisis in were disappointing, but not at all surprising.  It was a familiar story of struggle, corruption, and failure in a developing country.  I and many South Sudanese in the diaspora, believed that the international community would be heavily involved in creating a new government for South Sudan.  The U.S. and the international community played a crucial role in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, which ended the Second Sudanese Civil War, and monitoring the following six years of peace.  So there was reason to believe, even precedent that the international community would have a hand in creating democracy in the worlds newest country.  Some might say this would have been seen as neo-colonial, but the South Sudanese were asking for help.  The new nation was fragile and they wanted helped building infrastructure. They didn’t get it.

Today South Sudan is once again ensnared in conflict. Now they have moved up to the number one ranking in the fragile state index.  In the past four years there has been brutal fighting in Abyei and Kafia Kingi, two parts of the border which were not demarcated in the succession agreement. There has been an attempted coup by the Vice President, violence in the capital (Juba), and immense corruption.  There has been outcry from the international community about how disappointing the current state of the country is and how they expected more. They fail, however to recognize their own culpability.  This is a classic problem in human rights cases, instead of early intervention, the international community waits until things have reached a point of extreme crisis, so there is greater political support, and then they come in on their white horse.  But their white horse is more of a donkey and is doing little to save the day.  It’s been four years and there is no peace in Sudan.  Many reports talk of indiscriminate violence against civilians.  Four years later and there is no resolution, just a different kind of conflict.

The story is different, but equally heartbreaking in Bosnia.  It is a country that I have always studied from a far, due to my interest in genocide, but this April I visited Bosnia with one of my courses on study abroad. In this case, my academic knowledge proceeded my emotional connection, but after I visited the mass graves at Srebrenica I felt undeniably connected to the events there.

I have written about this in an earlier post, but the crimes at Srebrenica, the international failings, and the current ethnic tensions seem to be forgotten by history.  Bosnia is a country where there are three presidents, one for each of the ethnic groups.  Schools are ethnically segregated and do not teach the conflict. The history textbooks go until 1992 (the start of the war) and the next chapter is 1995 (the Dayton peace agreement).  Some Bosnians have told me that the ethnic tensions are worse today between the three groups than they were before the war. Roughly fifty percent of youth in the country are unemployed and about seventy percent want to leave to country.  Bosnia refuses to address the violence from the war and they cannot agree upon a single version of the truth, but the silence is poisoning their country.

During the genocide, the United Nations forces fled and over the course of a few days 8,372 Bosniaks, primarily men, were murdered by Mladic’s forces.  Systematic rape of Bosniak women was also a common tactic during the conflict. The U.S. and NATO forces were heavily involved in monitoring the peace in 1995, but this had trauma of its own.  There was widespread rape, a large portion of whom were minors, by NATO forces.  The failures of the international community was two fold in this case.  The first was their failure to get involved or prevent the genocide. The second was their own human rights abuses when they were in the country.  Today Bosnia is struggling, living in an unstable peace that is held together by ethnic segregation, that only breeds more prejudice.

There is little to no acknowledgement by the government of the genocide in Srebrenica and many of the citizens deny its existence.  Today as the international community convenes in Bosnia together to mourn the 20th anniversary of the genocide, I find myself also mourning the current state of things in Bosnia.  There is no national recognition, justice, or memorial of the war.

Like in South Sudan, Bosnia was filled with possibilities.  Both countries were racked by ethnic violence and ignored by the international community. Both had to promise to be success stories, but have fallen incredibly short.  The countries themselves, the UN, and international actors are at fault for this.  Today the UN and the corrupt governments are not suffering, the civilians are.

Around the world on July 9th and July 11th many people were celebrating, but I was not one of them.  For all the resources and energy poured into these countries, fragile peace is insufficient. In South Sudan civilians are getting murdered by their government and militias for power and access to resources.  Many of these people are poor, rural, agricultural families, with no one to advocate for them or tell the world when they die.  In Bosnia ethnic tensions are worsening, the country is financially corrupt, and the international actors that are still present are becoming exasperated.  These are not days for celebration, but for reflection on how little these situations have changed and how more work we have to do. 

Sorry, You’re Just So Lucky

It seems as though many of my conversations in the past week have been built around feminism. With friends from the states, people here in paris, my family, and even at work. This seemingly perpetual conversation is centered around the the roles of women in society and the associated discourse. Now I am the first to admit that my life is riddled with privilege. Im white, american, financially comfortable, and I have social access, but at the end of the day I am still a woman which means I still feel the side effects of living in a patriarchy. 

Its a question of performance in someways. The way both men and women choose to portray gender. This comes across in the language I use to describe myself and the language used towards me. Oftentimes being a women involves a series of calculated decisions this is evident in a Business Insider article that gained a lot of popularity this week. In which, the author added the growing list of words that women must strike from their vocabulary so as not to inadvertently subjugate themselves. She explained that women use the word “just” at a considerably higher frequency than men. “I just wanted to ask a question” “I just need a minute of your time” and in doing this we give power to the other. We declare that they can decide whether what we have to say is important. Another prime example of this is women’s excessive use of the word “sorry.” I find that women are constantly apologizing for their presence or existence by saying sorry. It’s very similar to the use of just, when someone bumps into us or inconveniences us, we apologize. Oddly enough this was pointed out by a Pantene video a little while back. Ever since then I have been trying to strike those words from my vocabulary. It’s strange to think that women must have an affected vocabulary to further our own equality.

In contrast there are certain words that when coming from men remind us of our inferior place in society. Sometimes this subjugation is accidental and well intentioned, such as times when I have been told “you really shouldn’t be traveling alone as a woman.” This typically comes from a place of concern for my physical safety. Which is in sentiment kind, but in reality putting limitations on my actions because of my gender. Perhaps men (and obviously not all men) should stop doing things that compromise my well being if I’m alone. 

Other times, these comments are both sexist and ill intentioned. This presents a secondary challenge, since if someone is sexist in their worldview, getting mad at them, giving them a lecture on feminism, or trying to explain your point of view usually backfires. In these cases, men will usually tell me that I am essentially proving their point by being overly emotional, sensitive, or dramatic. My words are met with much mockery, but then again I’m not going to sit there and let someone tell Hillary cannot be president since she is a woman or that men and women cannot be friends. This usually results in me getting heated and flustered which does nothing for the situation. 

Recently at work, I realized a whole new form of verbal oppression that I had never noticed before. I was telling someone about my plans work this summer, my time in Rwanda, and my research in general. They proceeded to say “you’re so lucky!” I was slightly taken aback and the more I thought about it, this is something that would never be said to my male counterpart. When men are successful in their careers and professional life, they are anything but lucky, they are hardworking, diligent, and perseverant. 

There are many reasons why I am lucky, I was born into a race, nationality, class, and certain about of wealth that has afforded me a number of societal privileges. I have also had the continued support of friends and family as I go off on these odd adventures. To get this job, the necessary grants, and accomplish my research however, I have worked my ass off. I have made a number of sacrifices, spent many hours, and worked with a relentless attitude to get where I am. I am not lucky. I am dedicated. 

The more I notice these patterns of language, in men and women, the harder it becomes to ignore it. I know plenty of good men. My father was the first feminist I ever met. But it still shocks me when I am faced with these micro forms of sexism. Some might say this subversive oppression is irrelevant, but they’d be wrong. Today, in the U.S. at least, social oppression has changed. In many ways minorities are equal. According to the law I should make the same salary as men with equal positions, but the reality is that I will probably make 0.77 cents on the dollar. In the eyes of the laws, blacks and whites are equal, but black are less likely to be hired for a job, and way more likely to be arrested by the police. The same goes for the LGBT community, who are in theory equal, but so far 10 black transgender women have been murdered in 2015. The complicated thing is that we have moved from a period of overt institutionalized identity oppression, when discrimination was legal, to a period of covert cultural oppression. It’s no longer about changing laws, it’s about changing mind sets, perspectives, and vocabularies, but I’m not sure how we’re going to do that.

On the Job

So I am about a month into my job here and Paris and I haven’t explained what exactly it is that I am doing.  I am here for a two month internship for an incredibly talented professor of comparative genocide studies.  During my time here I am working on some projects with him, as well as getting his advice about my own research.  So far it has been a wonderfully rewarding experience. 

I spend my days from 9 to 6 working on different projects relating to genocide.  This entails doing lit reviews, writing comparisons about different works, researching primary sources, fact checking, etc.  So far my readings have focused on Rwanda and Cambodia.  At work I have had two pretty important realizations so far.  First, this is exactly what I want to be doing with my life.  Second, it cannot be all that I do with my life.

I mean that in a few different ways.  I love the research, but for me it would not be enough.  I need to be out in the field, on the ground, and working with non-profits so I feel like I am actually contributing the the current state of things.  I may be too much of a people person to be an academic.  The other meaning is that full time genocide work is exhausting.  During the course of the day I read and write about some of the darkest periods in the last century of history.  Times when people were murdered for inalienable aspects of self.  If I want to keep doing this work, I need to have other things going on.

Lucky for me, when I am not in the office I off exploring somewhere in Paris.  Its a worn out cliche, but theres not quite like this city in the summer.  I absolutely love it.  Theres beautiful architecture, an endless amount of pastries, and plenty of interesting people to meet.  This summer, unlike my last time in Paris, I have managed to make quite a few friends, most of whom are also interested in history/political science/conflict.  This means many of my post work conversations actually fall on the subject of conflict.  

This lead me yet another thought.  Its not necessarily that I need a break from discussing what I am passionate about, what I need is a little face-to-face time with humanity. In the solitude of academia it is easy to forget the good.  When I am around people, even discussing these sorts of things, I am reminded that people are kind.  These nightly conversations over wine are the sort of break I need.  Its not the polarization of studying genocide and then going to rave (which would be a little jarring).  Instead my distractions are a little more human and little more subtle.  

On my way home from the office I can either walk or take the metro, depending on the weather.  If I walk, I cut through Luxembourg Gardens, which is my favorite park in Paris.   I’ll usually stop and get an ice cream for the walk.  On the trip home I often find myself thinking how incredibly lucky I am.  This work is hard, this work is challenging, and it is often devastating, but I am in one of my favorite cities in the world where I am relentlessly pursuing what I care about.