How We’ve Failed Puerto Rico

In the aftermath of a horrifying hurricane season, Puerto Rico remains in a state of devastation. The contrast between the situation in Puerto Rico and that of post-Irma Florida or post-Harvey Texas is shocking. If those affected in Puerto Rico are American citizens, why have they been treated as second-class outsiders? Many may treat them as such because public knowledge on the citizenship of Puerto Ricans is severely lacking. A study conducted by USA Today and Suffolk University reported that less than half of respondents believed that Puerto Ricans are American citizens by birth. Though people born in Puerto Rico are just as American as those in the states, U.S. has continually deprived Puerto Rico and its citizens of economic and political livelihood. The depth of the current devastation is just one symptom of a long history of abusing Puerto Rican human rights and economic wellbeing.  In this blog, we will investigate how these abuses came to be, why they still occur, and how we can change them.

The American flag, Puerto Rican flag, and Spanish flag are shown flying in front of a blue sky.
Spanish flag, PR flag, USA flag. Source: Oscar Rohena. Creative Commons.

“Is Puerto Rico Part Of Us?”

The title of this section is the first Google auto-completed search that pops up after typing, “is Puerto Rico?” When one considers the level of pride and patriotism that typically comes with being an American citizen, it seems shocking that so many are unaware of what comprises American citizenship. The answer to the question is yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Puerto Rico is not a state, it is a Commonwealth of the United States. Commonwealth status means that the island has local autonomy, though the ultimate source of governance is U.S. Congress. Puerto Rico has its own set of locally elected officials, including a bicameral legislature and a governor (the highest office available in Puerto Rico). The island also has its own constitution. Puerto Rico was not always American territory; the Spanish colonized the island for nearly four hundred years. The United States acquired Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. The territory was acquired with the intention of using Puerto Rico as a market for excess goods and as a naval base; to this end, military rule was instituted once the U.S. gained control but shortly abandoned in 1900.  In 1917, Puerto Rican rights began to expand as federal law gave U.S. citizenship to anyone born in Puerto Rico. Per the Jones Act of 1917, Puerto Ricans serve in the military, are free to travel the United States, and use U.S. postal service. However, they are not allowed to vote in U.S. elections. The U.S. Congress has the power to veto or amend legislation passed by the local government, even though Puerto Ricans have no input in congressional elections. This disenfranchisement is both political and economic; nearly half of all residents of Puerto Rico live in poverty. The unemployment rate is nearly double the United States’. In addition to the level of economic crisis for individuals, Puerto Rico has accumulated seventy billion dollars of debt. To pay for this, the local government has chosen to close schools, cut health care and transportation budgets, and increase sales taxes. These policy decisions make it even more difficult for Puerto Ricans to obtain proper education and healthcare — both of which are human rights. Spanish colonization is partially responsible for allowing islanders to suffer from mass poverty while continually using the island to extract goods for the benefit of Spain. However, America did not act in its full capacity to bring prosperity to Puerto Rico, and has continued to exploit the island and its people.

 

Puerto Rican protesters hold a sign protesting government corruption.
El Pueblo Reclama. Source: Oscar Rohena. Creative Commons.

How is America Responsible?

Decades of political and economic marginalization has taken its toll. Over the years, the United States has treated Puerto Rico as “little more than a military base and an economic enclave.” Over 70% of net domestic income generated in Puerto Rico ends up leaving the island due to the economic structure instituted by the U.S. to extract surplus (Committee for Human Rights in Puerto Rico). This makes it impossible for families to generate and accumulate wealth. Puerto Rico as a whole is forced to spend huge amounts of money on incredibly high transportation costs due to maritime law. The law states that all commercial transport must be executed using United States transport—the most expensive transport system in the world. These costs ensure that the cost of Puerto Rican exported goods are substantially higher than they would otherwise be, making their products much less competitive in the international market. Additionally, the United States government is responsible for health crises through years of bombing and/or military testing. Viques, one of the islands within the Puerto Rican territory, reports residents having “increased rates of cancers, asthma, diabetes, heart abnormalities, hypertension, skin conditions, and birth defects” (Collado). To make this issue even worse, the island suffers from widespread inaccessibility to healthcare. Even if residents had the money to afford medical care, there is an incredible shortage of medical professionals; doctors leave the island for a more prosperous future at a rate of one per day. Not only do these circumstances violate Puerto Rican citizens’ human right to an adequate standard of living (UDHR Article 25), but this also makes it much more difficult for affected citizens to participate economically, socially, and politically. All of these compounding factors – economic marginalization, environmental destruction, political disenfranchisement – have created a perfect storm that makes Puerto Rico more vulnerable than ever. Hurricane Maria was able to decimate the island because of the actions of the United States – the economic structure and historical exploitation made Puerto Rico unable to maintain basic infrastructure that would protect them from hurricane damage or allow them to rebuild. This is why the historical legacy of American actions towards Puerto Rico matter, and why our current administration’s dismissal of Puerto Rican suffering is such a critical issue. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria is not a one-time occurrence.  Puerto Rico has been repeatedly struck by natural and manmade disasters that have impeded its progress, and many of these are caused or exacerbated by the U.S. The United States has failed miserably in protecting the rights of American citizens of Puerto Rico. We, as fellow Americans, should be held responsible in upholding those rights.

 

Three people hold signs at a protest supporting Puerto Rico.
4N3A5376. Source: Working Families Party, Creative Commons.

What Can We Do?

As always, we first must investigate our own perceptions of Puerto Rico as well as our peers’. If nearly half of Americans do not know that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth, it is entirely possible that many people you know may believe similarly. Though human rights should be protected regardless of citizenship, America often influences the global standard of action. We, as Americans, have a duty to protect our fellow citizens from human rights abuses before we can take a wider lens in our international scope. To address current issues of disaster relief, the Unidos por Puerto Rico fund allows individuals to send money directly to relief efforts. In the long term, it is essential to start raising expectations for Puerto Rico as well as expectations of how America interacts with the island. Our current administration claims that Puerto Rico’s financial crisis and poor infrastructure are issues “largely of their own making.” This is flatly untrue. While from the outside it may seem that Puerto Rico has created its own dire situation, the most damaging factors would have never been in play without the role of the United States. To ensure proper education and healthcare are provided to the 3.4 million American citizens on the island, Puerto Rico no longer needs to be viewed as an outside entity responsible for solving its own problems. There are multiple ways to solve this. One may be addressing the issue of Puerto Rican statehood. The most recent referendum on Puerto Rican statehood found that 97% of voters wanted to obtain statehood. However, this has no significant impact on the decisions of Congress, because legislators have no direct accountability to Puerto Rico. Therefore, American citizens who have power over their legislators through their constituency must make their voices heard in order to protect our voiceless counterparts in Puerto Rico.

 

The Long-Term Risks of Depleted Uranium Outweigh Military Necessity for the Weaponry

 

30mm-DU-penetrator. source: wikemedia creative commons

The public knowledge about the U.S. military deployment of nearly 10,000 depleted uranium rounds (DU) in 2003 from jets and tanks remains virtually unknown. There is an estimation that the US fired 300,000 rounds during the first Gulf War conflict in 1991, without releasing knowledge or evidence of testing to inform of potential health hazards of new munitions. The only mistake deadlier than firing this overabundance of DU weaponry is the denial of it, and failing to acknowledge the hazards posed to civilians. American and British occupation forces have forbidden the release of statistics related to civilian casualties after the occupation of Iraq. Additionally, they refused to clean up contaminated areas, and deny international agencies and Iraqi researchers the right to conduct full DU related exploration programs.

Despite American and British disclosure that they used around 400 tonnes of DU munitions in Iraq in 1991 and 2003, the United Nations Environment Program believes that the total may be nearer 1000 tonnes. Persistent and consistent reports from medical staff across Iraq have associated this legacy from the conflict with increased rates of certain cancers and congenital birth defects. The extent to which DU may be associated with these health problems is still unclear as the conditions since 2003 have not been conducive to studying civilian exposure and health outcomes. When looking at some of the major battles that took place during the operations in Najaf, Basrah, Al Samawa, Karbala and Nasiriyah, involving platforms armed with DU, Dutch Peace Corps PAX has established with certainty that DU was used in populated areas and against armored and non-armored targets.

The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) campaign to eradicate DU stockpiles within countries who purchased DU munitions and DU capable weaponry, define and clarify DU and its potential risks to civilians and military personnel:

Depleted uranium (DU) is a toxic heavy metal and the main by-product of uranium enrichment. It is the substance left over when most of the highly radioactive isotopes of uranium are removed for use as nuclear fuel or for nuclear weapons. DU possesses the same chemical toxicity properties as uranium, although its radiological toxicity is less. Due to its high density, which is about twice that of lead, DU has been used in munitions designed to penetrate armor plate. It can also be used to reinforce military vehicles, such as tanks. Munitions containing DU explode upon impact and release uranium oxide dust.”

The radiological toxicity of DU is less than uranium so the concern for human exposure should be uranium oxide dust. Keith Baverstock explains what happens when DU oxides, “When uranium weapons explode, their massive blasts produce gray or black clouds of uranium oxide dust particles. These float for miles, people breathe them, and the dust lodges in their lungs.” In other words, the lung is most susceptible to DU and in the topographical context of Iraq, where much of the country is defined by flat desert, winds blowing DU particles along with the dust is particularly dangerous. Winds may blow particles from combat sites into civilian inhabited areas, contaminating water and people. Even if only a small demographic of civilians is contaminated in a particular area, the half-life of a DU particle lodged inside alveoli is 3.85 years; emitting radiation directly to the tissue.

DU debris left behind in destroyed tanks of buildings poses a threat towards peacekeepers, civilians, and military personnel years after the conflict has ended. Many abandoned vehicles still litter the Iraqi countryside as silent reminders of the invasions within towns, villages, and cities. These carcasses are fun locations for kids to play in; and civilians come close to these contaminated objects daily in order to get to work, retrieve water and many other simple daily activities. These tanks are sometimes towed away towards scrapping sites without proper decontamination procedures, leading to further potential hazards when the metal is stripped and used for the construction of manufacturing goods.

Pregnant women and their offspring are particularly susceptible to DU toxicity as an unborn within the embryo of a mother rapidly produces new cells, providing the perfect environment for genetic defects. As certain small uranium particles are soluble in the human lungs, they enter the bloodstream through the lungs, pass through the lymph nodes and other parts of the body before excreted in urine. Uranium accumulates in bones, irradiating the bone marrow, potentially inducing leukemia, while building up in organs causing the breakdown of certain biological faculties as well as developing cancers.

The U.S. military and WHO have conducted research in Iraq to determine how malignant DU is and what sort of dangers it poses to civilians. Their conclusions determined that the potential toxic hazard is far too low to warrant cleanup action. These claims come in direct confrontation with independent studies performed by PAX conducted thorough studies within laboratories and fieldwork in contaminated locations where DU was fired; their findings determined sites and recovered physical DU evidence that proved contrary to American studies.

A New Breed of Munitions

“It is a superior weapon, superior armor. It is a munition that we will continue to use if the need is there to attack armor.” Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, US Department of Defense.”

Conflict is often the mother of invention. Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaigns toward the Kurdish people of northern Iraq in 1991 lead to the largest coalition of nations. Both Gulf wars produced horrific weaponry on a scale not seen since WW2, capable of precipitating public health and human rights violations years after deployment. The US Department of Defense, in 2003, praised a new breed of munition first deployed in Iraq–the depleted uranium round. These weapons hailed for their tank and bunker busting abilities; 68% denser than lead and upon impact, known to spontaneously combust leaving charred remains of the unfortunate targets. Armor plating on tanks and other armored combat vehicles use DU.

The advantages of DU munitions are clear, and key countries including the United States, Great Britain, France, China, Russia, and Pakistan produce and stockpile them. Many more former Soviet satellite states currently possess tanks in their arsenal capable of utilizing DU; however, it is unknown whether DU is a component of their arsenal is unknown. Many governments, including the European Parliament and Latin American parliament, started passing legislation banning radioactive weaponry from purchase, production, or use. The Kingdom of the Netherland is a key player in bringing transparency on the issue of depleted uranium. Organizations and individuals such as the Dutch peace corps, PAX, and the committee’s chair, British MEP Struan Stevenson of the conservative ECR group stated that there was a “demonstrable case for a strong and robust resolution calling on member states like the United Kingdom and France to stop using DU”. Led by Stevenson, a group of MEPs from across both Europe and the political spectrum have also submitted questions to the EU’s foreign affairs chief Cathy Ashton to ask what the European Commission has been doing to encourage the development of a common position on DU within the EU. They also call on the EU to demonstrate leadership on the DU issue. The questions remained unanswered at the time of writing, although pressure to reach consensus is rising with the new reports of spiking cancer rates and birth defects around Iraq.

The Deformed Babies of Fallujah, Iraq

The U.S. military supported by British forces, set the city of Fallujah as the stage of incredibly intense urban warfare in 2004, with intentions of deposing opposition forces within the city. The second occurrence of military operations in November and December 2004 dubbed ‘Phantom Fury’: the most brutal operation since the official end of major combat operations in 2003. The aftermath left in Fallujah was astonishing with 60% of buildings destroyed or damaged, and the population of the city at 30%-50% of pre-war levels. The physical damage the city has sustained is not what is most disturbing.

Since 2009, credible media reports from Fallujah released reports of high rates of congenital birth defects in the city to the world’s attention. Iraqi medical personnel acknowledge the health risks of DU despite the lack of a direct link between DU and rising birth defects in Fallujah. Doctors have called for further follow up research on DU and cancer patients in Iraq. The U.S. has denied usage of DU rounds in Operation Phantom Fury while they maintained the claim that no records had been kept since 2004. However, in 2005, two DU-contaminated tanks found within Fallujah, possibly destroyed by A-10 thunderbolts according to an interview with an expert from the Ministry of Science and Technology in Baghdad. Two other DU capable platforms utilized during the combat of Phantom Fury–the Abrams tank and the Bradley armored fighting vehicle (AFV).

Moving to Secure a Healthier Future

PAX estimates that there are more than 300 sites in Iraq contaminated by DU, which will cost at least $30m to clean up. Iraqi authorities are hard pressed to mobilize an effective cleanup effort and the calls for contamination containment in Fallujah have not been properly answered by the Iraqi government. Sampled hair from women with malformed babies in Fallujah tested positive for enriched uranium. The damage inflicted upon genetic code is proving to develop tremendous strain on the population of Falluja both mentally and physically as generations to come may be thinned out by fatal birth defects.

Due their economic superiority and contribution of deploying DU, the US and Great Britain should step forward with the funds and equipment necessary to conduct long-term research and contamination containment alongside Iraqi medical personnel. The ethical issues of toxic weaponry are clear. Militaries should discontinue the usage of DU weaponry or stockpiling under the notion that the usefulness of these weapons outweigh the potential harm caused to civilians. Human rights, specifically that right to life and safe environment, should take precedence over military needs. Children dying after only a few weeks after birth due to a country’s military actions years ago is a blatant breach of UDHR Article 3: Right to life, liberty, and security of person.

The issue of DU is not confined to DU alone. It also resonates within a broader spectrum of illegal weapon usage like gasses, weapons of mass destruction etc. Awareness of the suffering of those in Iraq is necessary so we, as an international community, may mold the peaceful and just world we envision.

 

The Right to Menstrual Hygiene

a picture of three girls smiling
Jordanian School Girls. Source: David Stanley, Creative Commons

It probably goes without saying that periods are difficult to manage. They are painful, expensive, and often quite problematic for people who experience them.  We use resources such as pads, tampons, pain relievers, and bathrooms in an effort to manage menstruation. According to the WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring System, menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is when people with periods are able to use sanitary materials to absorb menstrual blood, change and dispose of these materials in privacy as needed, and have access to soap and water to keep clean.  For those of us who do have access to what we need to manage menstruation, it seems that we often take these things for granted. But what if someone doesn’t have these resources within reach? The bottom line is that a lack in opportunity to practice proper menstrual hygiene is a violation of human rights due to its negative impact on mental and physical health, access to education, and gender equality.

What Is the Problem?

The aspect of this issue that might be the easiest to recognize is the inaccessibility of products like sanitary pads and tampons. One study in Kaduna State, Nigeria reported that only 37% of women in their sample had all the products needed for proper menstruation management. In Uganda, 35% of women reported the same thing. This can partly be attributed to financial issues and the frequency at which the products must be purchased. Some products, such as menstrual cups or washable pads, can be washed and reused over an extended period of time, making them cheaper in the long run. However, they are initially far more expensive than the disposable options. They are simply outside of the budget for many people. Even when someone can afford to pay for the reusable materials, finding somewhere to purchase them may be a problem.

Issues of accessibility do not end with menstrual hygiene products. In many countries, schools lack proper sanitation facilities, like bathrooms, which are vital to being able to safely and comfortably replace and dispose of used menstrual products. This is seen in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where there is an average of 1.2 “toilets” per primary school. These “toilets” are actually pit latrines. They are not usually kept in good condition and rarely have sufficient waste disposal options. In situations like this, there is little to no access to a truly safe and private place to change menstrual materials.

a picture of a traditional pit latrine, which looks like a very small building with a tin roof and two tin doors
Traditional Pit Latrine. Source: SuSanA Secretariat, Creative Commons

Exacerbating this issue are the stigma and shame associated with menstruation. Around the world, girls are taught from a young age that having a period is something to hide and to be embarrassed of. In many countries, girls are even considered to be “dirty” when on their period. This can be seen in western Nepal, where there is a tradition called “chaupadi” which requires that girls and women stay outside throughout menstruation. If they enter a home, it is believed that all of the people and animals of the household will fall ill. This perspective puts both their mental and physical health at risk. Menstruation is frequently viewed as a taboo subject, so many girls are not taught anything about it before their first period. Even after they begin to experience menstruation, they do not have access to much knowledge of why it happens or what good menstrual hygiene management is.

It is also important to recognize the relationship between menstrual hygiene management and the transgender community. Menstruation is typically referred to as a strictly feminine issue, but that is simply not the case. Many transgender men and non-binary individuals experience periods, and they should be included in the conversation about menstruation. By failing to recognize their connection to menstruation, we fail to recognize the validity of their experiences and identities. This failure is a problem within itself, but it can also have repercussions on the mental health of transgender and non-binary individuals and their ability to access sanitary materials and bathrooms for menstrual hygiene management. We need to actively work towards being more inclusive with the language we use when discussion periods and related topics. This involves choosing gender neutral terms over gendered terms, such as choosing to say “menstrual hygiene products” rather than “feminine hygiene products”.

Why Does It Matter?

According to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every individual has “a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being” of themselves. When you are told that one of the basic biological processes that you experience and cannot control is shameful, it has the potential to lower the value that you see in yourself. Combined with the common lack in understanding of menstruation, this can lead to significant amounts of fear and confusion and have a considerable negative impact on mental health. Article 26 dictates that everyone has a right to education. Without access to clean menstrual management products or places to change and dispose of used ones, many girls around the world miss school during menstruation to try to keep it hidden. Some girls do not even have the option to go to school during that time. This creates a disparity between the educational and career opportunities of men and women, violating Article 2 of the declaration, which says that everyone is entitled to their rights without discrimination based on distinctions like one’s sex. It is unacceptable to allow limitations to be placed on individuals’ access to their human rights based on something that is uncontrollable. In order for things to change, individuals must take action.

What Can We Do?

Part of the reason why access to menstrual management products is such a difficult issue to deal with is that the majority of people are not comfortable talking about it. Even in the United States, where we generally have access to education about the most basic aspects of menstruation and know that it is normal and healthy, there seems to be some sort of collective, irrational fear surrounding the topic. Periods have a direct impact on half of the world’s population and an indirect impact on all of the population. We cannot continue trying to pretend that the obstructions of human rights that are caused by poor menstrual hygiene management do not exist. Conversations about menstruation might be uncomfortable at first, but they are absolutely necessary. uncomfortable at first, but they are absolutely necessary.

Many organizations have begun working towards improving MHM worldwide. AFRIpads, for example, works to provide menstrual kits with reusable sanitary pads and storage bags to women and girls throughout Africa, while creating job opportunities within the organization for women in Uganda. They also collaborate with Lunapads in a program called One4Her. For each eligible product that is purchased from Lunapads, an AFRIpad is donated to a student in need. On UAB’s campus, we have access to a chapter of Period: The Menstrual Movement, an organization that is dedicated to improving access to menstrual hygiene products for homeless women in the United States. If you are interested in taking action, the group is currently hosting a donation drive for pads and tampons through October 31. You can find donation boxes by the elevators in any of the residence halls. They are also hosting a Period Packaging event at the Spencer’s Honors House from 6:30pm to 8:30pm on November 1, where people will come together and pack menstrual hygiene products in kits to be given to those in need. Additionally, the Blazer Kitchen is hosting a toiletry drive through October 30, to which you can donate menstrual hygiene products, as well as many other non-perishable items.

If you lack the resources to financially support the improvement of MHM, do not be afraid to speak up and get involved in the conversation. Be a part of spreading awareness and breaking the stigma surrounding periods.

 

The Kurdish Question

Kurdish soldiers salute the Kurdish flag.
Peshmerga | Kurdish Army. Source: Kurdishstruggle, Creative Commons

Many years ago, or so the story goes, a young, Kurdish man named Mem fell deeply in love with the Emir’s sister – a beautiful, young woman named Zin. This Emir, however, had in his service an ambitious young minister named Beko who coveted the affections of Zin for himself and, thus, set about conspiring to undermine his competition. Ultimately, his machinations proved to be successful, creating a tragic series of events that concluded in a similar vein to that of two far more famous, star-crossed lovers. Mem perished alone in the darkest corner of the Emir’s dungeon, and upon discovering this, Zin followed her lover into the afterlife.

At the funeral, the two lovers were buried side-by-side, but the grave was not yet full. Entranced by the beauty of Zin even in death, Beko leaned over her grave to stare, enraging the Emir:

[He] pulls out his sword and slices off Beko’s head. A drop of his blood falls between the two lovers, and a thornbush grows on the very spot, separating Mem and Zin just as Beko tried to separate them in life. It is said that every time the thornbush is cut down, it grows back. 

The mausoleum of the two lovers still stands today in the city of Cizre, the point at which the borders of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria meet. Yet this story possesses a significance far greater than simple literary achievement. It is the recurring tale of the Kurdish people and their struggle for self-determination.

In this explicitly nationalist story, Mem is a metaphor for the Kurds, while Zin represents the Kurdish homeland. As much as they long for each other, however, there is always a Beko, a meddling outsider, a Turk, a Persian, an Arab who seeks to divide them. The empires of these outsiders may fall, but each plants, in its death throes, the seeds for a new thornbush that will once again deny Kurds self-determination. Ultimately, the modern states of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey are merely the latest iteration of this thornbush.

Turkey and Iraq threaten Kurds over their independence referendum

Mountain Turks or Kurds?

In the Middle East, citizenship and nationhood strongly revolve around the concept of identity primordialism, involving, among many other factors, a common history, language, culture, and ethnicity. It is primarily on this basis that its enemies seek to deny the Kurdish people self-determination — their right to establish a nation of their own and exercise uninhibited control over their own affairs.

For centuries, states portrayed their Kurdish minorities as merely “ignorant and reactionary ‘Mountain Turks’ speaking a debased [combination] of mixed Turkish, Persian, and Arabic.” This is a sound strategy in the sense that it – if true – nullifies the linguistic and ethnic requirements needed to justify a primordial basis for self-determination. As can be expected, however, the Kurds believe otherwise. Masoud Barzani, the current Kurdish leader, succinctly rejected these claims, stating that “from World War One until now, [Kurds] are not part of Iraq. We have our geography, land, and culture. We have our own language. We refuse to be subordinates.”

Ultimately, this leads to the question of who to believe. Are the Kurds simply backwards, uneducated mountain people? Or do the Kurds constitute a distinct people who have been unfairly portrayed by their opponents?

The Linguistic Test

Despite his Marxist inclination to dismiss the nation as a purely “imaginary community,” Benedict Anderson nevertheless made a crucial observation, namely that language possesses “central ideological and political importance” as the “private property”  of a specific ethnic group. Ehmedê Xanî – the Kurdish author of Mem u-Zin – recognized this at an early date (1692 AD), exhorting the Kurds to become literate in their own language “so that people won’t say that […] all sorts of people have their books and only the Kurds are lacking.” Unfortunately, the Kurds ignored his warning, granting their enemies a powerful weapon in the fight to deny them self-determination on the claim that they lack a language of their own.

There are three criteria by which one can evaluate this claim: (1) mutual intelligibility, or the ability of two people speaking two different languages to understand each other; (2) uniqueness in terms of letters, sounds, and words; and (3) recognition.

In order for languages to be mutually intelligible, they must be descended from the same language tree. Although Kurdish is a member of the Indo-European language family, neither Turkish (Altaic) or Arabic (Afroasiatic) can claim the same, meaning that they are not mutually intelligible. Persian, on the other hand, is a member of the Indo-European language family, but it is not mutually intelligible with any Kurdish dialect either.

The origins of these differences are disputed. Some claim it is a result of the mountainous geography making communication difficult, while others claim Kurdish ultimately descended from a language that predates the arrival of Indo-European languages. However, it is known for certain these differences are significant. Aside from primarily using the Latin alphabet (as opposed to the Arabic one), Kurdish also possesses differences in sounds, grammar, and words. This is evidenced in Mem u-Zin where “out of 26,560 words, […] 19,601 (74%) of them are Kurdish, 6,015 (23%) are Arabic, 918 (3% are Farsi), and 26 (less than 1%) are Turkish.”

As in the case of nations, recognition by others represents an important signifier of linguistic legitimacy. Kurdish is recognized as an official language only in Iraq, but only under duress from the United States. Unofficially, both historic and contemporary bans on the use and teaching of Kurdish by the Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Turkish authorities represent de facto recognition of their distinctiveness. After all, is there a point in banning a language that is your own?

News coverage of Saddam Hussein’s chemical attack on the Kurds

A History of Suffering

Despite the fact that scholars disagree on much regarding nationalism, all can agree that a nation – whether civic, primordial, or imagined – requires “a historic continuity” for use “as a legitimator of action and cement of group cohesion.” Such cohesion becomes even stronger when marked by having “suffered together, […] for having suffered together unites more than joy.”

Although the Arabs, Persians, and Turks deny the Kurds their right to self-determination, the Kurds arguably possess a much stronger claim to the northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, eastern Turkey, and northwestern Iran than their current owners. The Kurds resided in these lands at least as early as 2000 BC when they were first mentioned by the Sumerians. Over one thousand years later, the Kurds remained. Ancient Greek historians, such as Herodotus and Xenophanes, described them, as did Strabo during the Roman Empire. Without fail, they always resided in these same lands, even establishing independent kingdoms that still existed at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Throughout this period, however, the majority of Kurds were conquered by one foreign empire after another. Some Kurds, such as Saladin – the Egyptian Sultan who recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders – rose to great heights, but the vast majority were not treated well, to say the least. This served as the impetus for Mem u-Zin, which was passed on orally until Ehmedê Xanî codified it in 1692 AD as one of the first explicitly nationalist pieces of literature to ever be written.

Following the First World War, the suffering experienced by the Kurds began in earnest. They were promised independence in President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, the Covenant of the League of Nations, and the Treaty of Sèvres. Ultimately, these promises came to naught as the Turks under Atatürk forced the allies to invalidate the treaty, which was replaced by the treaties of Lausanne and Ankara. These two treaties split the Kurdish populated regions among the newly created nations of Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, effectively ending Kurdish hopes for a negotiated independence at this point in history.

However, it did not end agitation for independence by the Kurds, who refused “to accept subordination to the Arabs who, like the Kurds themselves had until then been a subject race.” These feelings were magnified by the harsh treatment of the Kurds by the new nations, which colluded to help each other suppress the Kurds. The Turks executed and imprisoned tribal leaders, students, politicians, and intellectuals, while ethnically cleansing Kurds from some areas. Furthermore, Kurdish youths were forced into boarding schools through which they could be ‘Turkified.’

In Iran, a brief Kurdish state was founded, but it ended after several months following the Allied withdrawal. The leaders of the state were hanged, while other participants were rounded up and imprisoned. Today, even being suspected of being sympathetic to separatist groups can lead to torture, imprisonment, or execution. Meanwhile, the treatment of Kurds in Syria was no better. Members of political organizations were routinely arrested. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds were deprived of their citizenship and deported, their property given to Arab settlers in an attempt at Arabization of the region. In all three of these countries, the Kurdish language was banned.

However, the Kurds have been consistently treated the worst in Iraq, beginning from 1961 to 1963 when the government massively bombed Kurdish towns and cities from the air. Under Saddam Hussein, a systematic attempt to commit genocide against the Kurds occurred. Almost three hundred thousand Kurds were forcibly relocated to southern Iraq, and during the process eight thousand young men and teenagers are believed to have been executed en masse. According to Human Rights Watch, this was part of a “long-standing campaign that destroyed almost every Kurdish village in Iraq […] and displaced at least a million” Kurds. The campaign ultimately ended with the chemical weapons attack on the town of Halabja that killed several thousand men, women, and children.

All of these actions constitute gross violations of every human rights document ever written, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Kurdish President Masoud Barzani’s justification for the Kurdish independence referendum

The Last Thornbush?

Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, one would expect that things dramatically improve for the Kurds. While there was some improvement, namely that they were no longer being massacred in the hundreds of thousands, the Kurds have merely traded a Pan-Arabist government that despised them on account of their ethnicity for a Shia-dominated government that despises them on account of both their ethnicity and religion, Sunni Islam. The supposedly democratic government of Nouri al-Maliki regularly discriminated against Sunni Arabs and Kurds: delivering inadequate public services to non-Shia Iraqis, cutting power to non-Shia areas, purportedly arresting thousands of Sunnis and Kurds based on their ethnicity, and reneging on constitutional agreements with both as well.

Ultimately, this rampant discrimination pushed many Sunnis into the waiting arms of the Islamic States; however , the Kurds resisted such radicalization. Instead, they fought alongside the United States, as well the Iraqi central government that oppressed them, against the Islamic State. By all accounts, the Kurds suffered from the brunt of the fighting, retaking large portions of Iraq and capturing the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa in Syria.

It is in response to the previously mentioned discrimination, as well as their role in defeating the Islamic State, that Kurds decided that they are finally ready for an independent state of their own. The question now becomes, do they deserve it? The answer is an unequivocal yes for the following reasons:

1) The Kurds meet all of the criteria for nationhood and self-determination, including possessing their own distinct language and a common history.

2) The Kurds have been promised – through a variety of international agreements – independence for over a century. These promises should be honored in order to provide legitimacy to other international agreements on human rights, which also rely on their participants living up to their commitments.

3) The independence referendum occurred peacefully with both high turnout (72%) and overwhelming support (93% in favor).

4) The Kurds rejected radicalization in face of discrimination and persecution, and instead, fought alongside the United States against the Islamic State.

5) The Kurds have been treated harshly by every government that has ruled over them, even committing crimes against humanity against them.

6) The Kurds, unlike the Catalans, will actually be achieving sovereignty.

Throughout their history, the Kurds suffered greatly, but with uncommon resilience and strength, on behalf of their ethnicity. With each passing decade, however, it seems to grow worse. For that reason, it is high time that the world intervene on their behalf. This should be done not only to stop impending bloodshed in the aftermath of the fall of Kirkuk to Iraqi forces, but in order to assist the Kurds in permanently removing the thornbush that stands between them and their beloved, and long overdue, homeland of Kurdistan.

The Caged Voices of Azerbaijan

“Every gay and lesbian person who has been lucky enough to survive the turmoil of growing up is a survivor. Survivors always have an obligation to those who will face the same challenges.”

-Writer/actor Bob Paris

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), beginning in September, the Azerbaijani police force began a violent campaign against civilians presumed to be gay, bisexual, and transgender women.

The campaign began in mid-September when police in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, arrested members of the LGBTQ+ community when other citizens of Azerbaijan filed a complaint that “non-heterosexual people were engaging in prostitution.” However, according to human rights activists, detainees were not prostitutes, and the “accusations were used as a pretext for persecution.” In an interview with Samed Rahimli, a lawyer assisting detainees, “the police targeted homosexuals in general, not the prostitutes as they have claimed.”

Interviews conducted by HRW reveal those arrested were subject to beatings and electric shocks in an attempt to arrest other members of the LGBTQ+ community. Lawyers representing the detainees report 83 men and transgender women were confirmed to be arrested. However, the lawyers also said, “the overwhelming volume of arrests means there are many other cases they are unable to address or document,” and the media has reported up to 100 accounts of unconfirmed arrests.

protestors holding anti-hate signs
LGBT love is stronger than anti-gay hate. Source: Allsdare Hickson, Creative Commons

Most of the victims were publicly arrested at work, on the streets, or even at home, thereby exposing their sexuality to their co-workers, family members, and other community members. A majority were falsely charged with prostitution resulting in 30 days of detainment.

Azerbaijan decriminalized same-sex relations in 2000, but discrimination and violence against the community continue to be dire. Azerbaijan was also labeled as the worst European country to be gay in, according to a survey conducted by the Guardian. There are currently no active LGBTQ+-friendly organizations in all of Azerbaijan, and the government is known to manifest false charges to detain openly gay men. The Minority, an anonymous magazine in Azerbaijan that reports on gay and transgender issues, cited those who were arrested were forced to ‘out’ other gay men. Another method utilized by the police to track down members of the community is the tracking of gay-dating apps. The police would create profiles and lure gay men to meet with them, at which point the app-user would be arrested.

Members of the Azerbaijan government shifted their stance from attempting to control prostitution to cracking down on public health issues; this indicates the government knowingly switched tactics to target an already marginalized group. Ekhsan Zakhidov, of the Azer Interior Ministry, announced the arrests were justified. He claims 16 of the 80+ arrested were infected with AIDS, but only six have been found to be infected. He also claims the mass detainment was to protect children, as “anyone infected with AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases were a threat to children or people who come into contact with them.”

By making these claims, the government perpetuated two derogatory narratives surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. The first is: “all gay men have AIDS”. While proven to be statistically untrue, this is a stigma that has stood the test of time and facts. Gay men are still not allowed to give blood in America on the grounds of being “more susceptible” to HIV and AIDS. The second stigma is: homosexuality is rooted in pedophilia. Because AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease, by saying “it is for the safety of our children,” the Azerbaijan government is spreading the false rumor that gay men are child-rapists.

Protestors holding anti-hate signs
LGBTs and Muslims unite – oppose all hate. Source: Allsdare Hickson, Creative Commons

Unfortunately, the Azerbaijan government is not alone in the tracking of LGBTQ+ folk. Reports of the Egyptian police force also creating fake profiles on gay-dating apps and websites surfaced in 2016. At a concert earlier this month, a rainbow flag, which represents pride for the LGBTQ+ community, was flown. When photos of the flag spread across social media, the Egyptian government began tracking down those who were responsible to arrest them on charges of “promoting prostitution” and “immorality.” The Egyptian government designated waving the flag as an “incident,” and used gay-dating apps to track down those involved in said “incident.” Once arrested, anal examinations were reported to have followed, which is protocol in Egypt for such claims. Those arrested for waving the flag at the concert face trial on October 29th.

Like Azerbaijan, homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, but acts of marginalization and repression continue to happen. Both of these instances bear similarity to the mass incarceration of LGBTQ+ folk in Chechnya that took place earlier this year, which was compared to the concentration camps in the Holocaust. Violence against the LGBTQ+ community is a trend that is repeated throughout history, even to the present day. While it is not easy to pinpoint when it officially surfaced, homophobia is seen even in B.C. times. The West still has its share of homophobia, but we see the most concentrated and severe acts of homophobia in the Middle East. This is likely due to the fact religion has a more prominent role in Middle Eastern society and government.

Azerbaijan was once a part of the Soviet Union, just as Chechnya was. That colonial legacy of oppressing the LGBTQ+ community, the religion, and the government all play into the modern-day culture and how their respective societies view the LGBTQ+ folk. The topic of homosexuality is taboo in Azerbaijan’s society, and the unacceptance of the gay community is shown by the aggravated reports made by citizens that prompted the arrests by the police.

What makes oppression in Azerbaijan, Chechnya, and Egypt different from LGBTQ+ oppression in the world? Dignity. While oppressed in other regions, the LGBTQ+ community in Western cultures has freedom of expression. In the aforementioned countries, freedom of expression is a myth for LGBTQ+ folk. Based on available data, these three countries are the most dangerous places in the world to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. Based on anecdotal accounts, other countries, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, also present obstacles for LGBTQ+ persons. The voices we hear are not the only voices who matter.

“Life would be much easier if we were all just less horrible to each other.”

– Ellen Page, actor and activist

Rainbow heart with "love" spelled out in the middle
LGBT Rainbow Heart with Love Inscription. Source: b_earth_photos, Creative Commons

Article 3 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) declares that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person. When people are arrested for being the person that they are, this article is violated. Without the security of being able to express the person one is, flourishing is nearly impossible. How can one expect another to live their life to the fullest without being able to live comfortably? We all have a right to live our life as loud as we want; how we need and want to express is not up for dictation.

Article 5 of the UDHR sets forth that “no one shall be subjected to torture…” This has obviously been violated by the Azerbaijan government. When trying to get the names of other gay men, the police resulted to using electric shocks to coerce the victims to give them information. This is inhumane and is an unfounded violation of human rights.

Article 7 reads: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.” When the government allows discrimination against an individual or a community, this article is violated, as it has been in all cases mentioned in this post. The police have been allowed to arrest citizens based on their sexual orientation. No laws were violated, but human rights definitely were.

Without these laws being enforced by a governing legal entity, Azerbaijan, Egypt, and Chechnya show no sign of following the UDHR for the safety and security of their LGBTQ+ citizens. Organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign and Human Rights Watch have given a megaphone to the tortured voices of Azerbaijan. Now the job falls upon us as informed citizens to continue to spread awareness. It is also our job to make our companions feel comfortable in the world that we live in. We all want to be accepted, to prosper, and to love. Each of us is human; each of us deserves the same rights.

The Matter of Belonging

a picture of the Grand Canyon. It is a UNESCO site
Grand Canyon. Source: Alan Eng, Creative Commons

The United States formally withdrew from UNESCO last Thursday, followed shortly by Israel. The decision, called “a brave and moral decision” by Binyamin Netanyahu, hinders on what the Trump administration labels “anti-Israel bias”, a claim that seemingly stems from the recent designation of Hebron as a World Heritage Site. This is not the first time the US has withdrawn support from the organization. During the Reagan administration, the withdrawal occurred over “mismanagement and political implications”; the US rejoined in 2003 under Bush, but commenced withdrawing financial dues under Obama in 2011 when the organization included Palestine as a member. The Israel and US alliance began during the Truman presidency, around 1948. The purpose of this blog is not to delve into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict debate but to elucidate the power of collaborative relationship as an aspect of peace at the global level.

The purpose of UNESCO is to contribute to international peace and security through the cross-cultural collaboration of education, science, and culture, in accordance with the UN Chapter. The Constitution was signed into agreement in 1945, and came into force after twenty countries ratified it in 1946. UNESCO’s mandate lies in the removal of ignorance, mistrust, and suspicion from the minds of humanity, given that “wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” War, they assert, is propagated through ignorance, prejudice, and inequality; thus, denying democratic principles including “dignity, equality, and mutual respect” to all. Peace requires solidarity of humanity, both intellectually and morally.

Lines Drawn The ‘creation’ of the Green Line resulted in the 1949 Armistice and the lines of demarcation for Israel and her neighbors, specifically Jordan, and the designation of the West Bank. Following the Six Day War in 1967, Israel “annexed the eastern part of the city and its holy sites”; annexation did not include parts of Jerusalem, Bethlehem (the birthplace of Jesus), or Hebron (the burial place of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Judeo-Christian faith). Citizens of Israel and Palestine live on both sides of the Green Line. Palestine remains stateless, considering the requirements of Treaty of Westphalia, yet in 2011, the UN agency granted membership to the Palestinian Authority despite the full international recognition as a nation-state. Obama, in a May 2011 address, concluded a two state solution based upon the 1967 lines, presented the most viable option for peace in the region:

“What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows — a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace… We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.  The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”

Given that Obama’s speech took place in May and the withdrawal funds from UNESCO in November, it appears all signs point to a divided Obama administration. However, the legislation to withdraw American funds from any UN agency, admitting Palestine as a full member, has origins in the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton presidencies.

a picture of the Sydney Opera House. It is a UNESCO site
Sydney Opera House. Source: Steve Collis, Creative Commons

A physical symbol of the UNESCO mandate materializes in the classification of world cultural/heritage sites. The designation of cultural sites in Israel began in 2001 and Palestine in 2012. In 2016, two Jewish sites in Jerusalem, geographically located in the West Bank, proved contentious for Israel and UNESCO. As a diplomatic entity, UNESCO introduced and regarded the sites by exclusive Arabic names, drawing the ire of Israel, who ascertained the move as “attempts to deny our heritage, distort history, and disconnect Jewish people from our capital and homeland”. According to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, neither of the Temple Mount locations are on the established or tentative list. Thereby positing the question aimed at the accusation of bias – where is the evidence of bias when it comes to UNESCO and the establishment of heritage sites?

“Anti-Israel bias” Netanyahu, during his 2011 speech to the US joint Congress, declared Israel and the US “stand together to defend democracy… to advance peace…and to fight terrorism”. He continued with an acknowledgement of the right to protest, the demand for dignity, and the desire for liberty. If coupling this speech with the decision to withdraw, the US-Israel alliance takes on an ‘us vs them’ mentality when considering the collaborative nature of the UN family of agencies. Therefore, what is the value of peace, liberty, and justice for all when two nations position themselves against the rest of the world?

It is a matter of social control versus social solidarity, or a matter of isolation versus belonging. Irina Bokova stated regret over the decisions by acknowledging the withdrawals are a “loss for multilateralism”. Robarchek asserts the problem with social control lies in the emphasis on control rather than the social. He concludes, “…the willingness to give society’s interests precedence over one’s own wishes and impulses is largely rooted in individuals’ relationship to the community”. In terms of US-Israel relations with other nations, UNESCO, and other UN agencies: the US and Israel determined their parts are greater than the whole. US-Israel allowed their own interest to trump the superordinate interest of the community (the world, in this instance), thereby, discarding democracy and peace because of unresolved conflict. Fry suggests ‘us vs them’ contributes to intergroup hostility because of a failure to cultivate a common identity. He proposes peace has two essential variables: interdependence and cooperation. Interdependence and cooperation bring about peace through the development of values that inform behaviors.

Calhoun hypothesizes the practicality of belonging is problematic for some because “intense group commitments and claims to group rights can threaten individual liberties…” and an individualist democracy does not hold value in belonging and denies its importance. He implies belonging is imperative to the fulfillment of “multilayered, multilateral polities” so democracies flourish rather than become empires. Put another way, belonging keeps democracies from getting too big for their britches. The US and Israel, both possessing strengths and weakness, conflated financial investment as responsibility and a single alliance as partnership. They fail to recognize that “neglect[ing] social solidarity… neglecting social bases of their own efficacy, while others are all too aware of the limits of their individual capacity are clearly in need of collective support in relation to the challenges the world throws at them.” It is imperative for the US and Israel to recognize their fates are interconnected with other nations. The days of selfish thinking and isolationist behavior are gone as the world is uniting around a common identity with a common goal, and the US and Israel are the odd ones out.

Belonging matters.

Paying Homage: Dignity Despite Difference

A memorial plaque for Dr. Charles R. Drew
Dr. Charles Richard Drew. Source: David, Creative Commons.

Prentice Baptiste asserted in 1970 “Knowledge is socially distributed, what you know is what you have been allowed to know”. This holds true today.  The human right to an education, though purportedly universal, has been applied in a culturally-specific manner, and oftentimes to the detriment of marginalized populations such as African-Americans (United Nations, 1976).  Dr. Charles Drew is one of many whose profound contributions to the world could very well have been derailed if he were not afforded an opportunity to pursue advanced studies.  Some argue opportunity is the test of a person’s mettle.  I argue opportunity can be unfairly doled out to those in power.  Dr. Drew persevered however, despite a structural bias against black students and the willful omissions of black scientists in history books and academia-at-large, including the very institution he so greatly benefited: the American medical complex.

The contributions of black scientists have, historically, been glossed over or explained by grievously inaccurate idioms such as “right place, right time” (Baptiste & Boyer, 2000).  Researchers and advocates for human rights walk a fine line when memorializing contributions of all marginalized persons- including Dr. Charles R. Drew. On one hand, the challenges and struggles of these individuals must be contextualized (i.e. drawing upon the unique historical and sociocultural challenges resulting from their marginalizing status) to pay proper homage to both the brilliance of these individuals’ contributions and structural difficulties they faced. On the other hand, we must not indulge in “inspiration porn”, thereby overemphasizing marginalization status over these individuals’ work and benefit to society. With this conceptual framework in mind, this blog has two aims: 1) to provide a historical account of the life and work of Dr. Charles R. Drew and 2) contextualize the narrative of Dr. Drew through the lens of the ongoing struggle for equal human rights in America.

The Life of Dr. Charles R. Drew

Imagine for a moment being a teenager again.  Some of us were pimply and awkward.  Some were voted prom king or queen.  Some teenagers hated school, while some earned straight A’s.  What did you want to be when you were a teenager?  A writer?  An athlete?  Charles Drew of Foggy Bottom, Washington DC, in his final year of high school, meekly wrote in his senior yearbook: “I want to be an electrical engineer”.  Just as the future Dr. Charles R. Drew was no ordinary doctor, his extraordinary achievements began even in high school (US National Library of Medicine, 2017). After high school, Charles Drew attended Amherst University on an athletic scholarship, where he was an average student but an exceptional football player. At Amherst, he (not originally interested in the sciences) experienced two major losses: a severe hospitalization following a football injury and the death of his sister from tuberculosis prompting an interest in biology and medicine- an interest that compelled him to apply to medical school (US National Library of Medicine, 2017).

The majority of Black Americans were rarely afforded the opportunity to attend prestigious training programs in higher education during the 1920s and 1930s, although some schools did allow a handful of ‘colored’ students every year (US Library of Medicine, 2017).  When Drew graduated from university, he was accepted to Harvard Medical School with the stipulation he defer his admission by one year.  Drew refused.  He attended McGill University in Montreal, Quebec Canada, beginning a path that would land his name and accomplishments in medical history books internationally (US Library of Medicine, 2017).  At McGill and throughout his residency at Montreal General Hospital, he began research on fluid replacement in the human body.  He then went on to study transfusion at Columbia University, one of the best medical institutions in the United States, and in 1940, Dr. Drew became the first African-American to earn a doctoral degree in medical science from Columbia (US Library of Medicine, 2017).  Without reference to the sociocultural and historical experiences of Black Americans in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Dr. Drew’s attempts to enroll and successfully complete medical programs appear to reflect the struggle of any student wishing to break into higher education. Applying the conceptual framework of his marginalizing status (of African descent) plus the inherent and structural bias against black students and professionals, his accomplishments gain more depth. Drew not only overachieved scholastically (a difficult feat for anyone embarking on higher education), but he also successfully moved through a structure bent on forcing him out of the academy in the first place- the ingrained racism festering in all most aspects of American culture.

A mobile blood bank.
Publicity2. Source: Shuyun, Creative Commons.

His Medical Legacy

Dr. Drew perfected the science of collecting, storing, and mobilizing blood donations (US National Library of Medicine, 2017).  In 1940, he and his collaborators standardized these procedures, and this method soon became a critically necessary tool for the Red Cross during America’s involvement in World War II (US National Library of Medicine, 2017).  As a leading expert in blood banking, he created “bloodmobiles” (mobile blood donation stations) and significantly helped America and its allies in the world war treat wounded soldiers and civilians on the battlefront (Gugliemo, 2010).  Of tragic irony, Dr. Drew himself was unable to donate blood due to the fact he was of African descent.  It is a testament to his character, both as a scientist and as a man, that Drew funneled his intellect and humanitarian spirit into a system that still viewed him as a second-class citizen.

Dr. Drew understood this injustice and the similar injustices of other race-based medical policies in the United States during the Jim Crow era.  During the war, Drew practiced what some may consider nonviolent resistance of these policies. Historians of Drew and other medical professionals suspect these professionals would at times mislabel blood collection samples, thereby ensuring blood donated by black Americans reached the Red Cross and the injured people in need. Blood donations at this time (1940s) were required to be segregated along racial lines; ‘white’ blood could suit any medical needs while ‘colored’ blood was only allowed in ‘lesser’ facilities (local hospitals and the like; Guglielmo, 2010).  While giving a speech to workers’ union in 1944, he proclaimed “the source of plasma was disregarded by physical and medical corpsmen on the front lines”, meaning ‘colored’ blood was being used in the exact same capacity to save lives as white blood (Guglielmo, 2010).  These segregation plans imposed by the US were selectively followed, and others Drew worked with asserted “… these segregation plans were [not] carried through in in detail from beginning to end” (Guglielmo, 2010).

His Greatest Achievement

Drew’s accomplishments as a medical researcher, yes, are profound. However, a more interesting and little-known part of his story may outweigh his hematological inventions.  As previously stated, when Drew attempted to begin his medical training, he faced institutional discrimination from the American higher education academy. Throughout his time as a researcher, he was not able to donate blood due to racist and discriminatory laws. His career, at every turn, was affected and slowed by systematic racism permeating throughout both the American academy and American medical industrial complex. However, these inequalities did not stop Dr. Drew and likely compelled him to use his stature in the medical profession to train and empower young African-American men and women hoping to study medicine.  Until his untimely death in 1950, Dr. Charles R. Drew served as a mentor to young African-American doctors during his tenure as Chair of Department of Surgery at Howard University School of Medicine (Cornely, 1950). While the annals of history and medicine will likely remember him as the father of the bloodbank, the young black doctors he meticulously trained very well owe their intellectual lineage to Dr. Drew’s ferocity in achieving his dreams and a stark unwillingness to allow the same plight to slow those who came after him.  It was not enough that Dr. Drew created a life-saving medical procedure for which the world will forever be indebted, but he also took it upon himself to train future black doctors.  If we examine the ripples created from the life and work of Dr. Drew, we find academic prowess and personal resilience throughout his life. He is academically and medically renowned for his revolutionary paradigm of blood collection and storage- the first ripple. His students, mentees, and contemporaries revere him for his personal investment in the professional accomplishments of his students at Howard University- the second ripple. Finally, Drew is one of many marginalized individuals who successfully navigated a system attempting at every turn to inconvenience or diminish his work. Marginalized persons, of any marginalization status, possess the faculties to dismantle and undermine the antagonistic systems around them, such as the American academic and medical field was to Dr. Drew. Our goal as human rights advocates must be the empowerment of these persons, without indulging in ‘inspiration porn’ or glorifying marginalization status at the expense of losing sight of the actual person. The person, in this case Dr. Drew, must remain the central focus of historical accounts such as these. To overemphasize minority or marginalization statuses is to do a disservice to both the individual and to the very philosophy of human rights: dignity despite difference.

References

Baptiste, H. P. (1970). A black educator’s view: The pseudo-sacrosanct role of intelligence in education.  Notre Dame Journal of Education, 1(2).

Baptiste, H. P. & Boyer, J. B. (2000). African American males and the scientific endeavor. Journal of African American Men, 4(4), 49-61.

Cornely, P. B. (1950). Charles R. Drew (1904-1950): An appreciation. Phylon, 11(2), 176-177.

Guglielmo, T. A. (2010). “Red Cross, double cross”: Race and America’s World War II-era blood donor service. The Journal of American History, 97(1), 63-90.

Haber, L. (1970). The Afro-American scientist- Why don’t we know him. The Science Teacher, 37(5), 46-48.

Janken, K. R. (1996). A legendary death, a legendary divide. Reviews in American History, 24(4), 657-662.

United Nations (1976).  International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx

US National Library of Medicine (2017). The Charles R. Drew Papers. Online. https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/retrieve/Narrative/BG/p-nid/336

A Culture of Sexual Assault

a sign that reads don't rape
Don’t rape. Source: Richard Potts, Creative Commons.

**As support for and sign of solidarity with the survivors of sexual assault, we repost this blog as a reminder that we hear, see, and fight with you #metoo. 

April has been designated sexual assault awareness month. This blog is to inform about the culture of sexual assault, particularly rape. The term and language of “victim” in our culture, is utilized to reinforce victimization, rather than survivorship. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) categorizes violent crime as murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery. A Gallup poll collected in 2016 showed that Americans are now more worried about crime than they have been in years. Some crimes are faced head-on. These crimes are more easily categorized and motivations for committing such crimes are often more clearly defined; punishments for these crimes are more cut-and-dry and are much more strictly enforced. Other crimes, however, do not exhibit these same traits. Some crimes are very difficult to understand and motivations for committing such crimes are often skewed and unclearly defined; punishments for the crimes are wayward and loosely enforced. We find rape in this latter classification of violent crime.

It should be noted that it was not until 2013 that the word “forcible” was removed from the category of rape. This modification came in response to the also recent 2012 update to the United States Department of Justice (USDJ) definition of rape. From 1927 to 2012, The USDJ defined rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will 1.” In 2012, the department updated this definition to “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim 2.” These recent trends have solicited an encouraging response from various state legislatures. Just last week, Senate Bill 0217 was passed in Maryland, updating the state’s dated legal definition of rape. The new definition clarifies that victims are not required to fight their attacker in order to establish that a crime has been committed 3. These legislative changes are extremely important as we move to fully understand and effectively address the issue of sexual assault. These not only reflect that it is not the presence of physical resistance that defines a rape, but rather the lack of consent. Also addressed is the reality that survivors of rape increase their chances of being maimed or killed if trying to physically resist the rape. These updates additionally highlight the reality that women are not the only ones who are vulnerable to being  victims of sexual assault. While these small victories should be celebrated, the necessity for continued breakthrough action is still very apparent.

As we moved through the end of 2016 and into the beginning of 2017, headlines involving sexual assault have been consistently present, and public responses has been as troubling as the crimes themselves. In early September 2016, the controversial sentence of former Stanford University swimmer, Brock Turner, was cut short at just three months after he was convicted for sexually assaulting a woman. Turner, at his trial stated, “My intentions were not to rape a girl without her consent … I was just trying to hook up with a girl 4.” During his trial, the victim also read a letter to Turner regarding her assault in which she wrote, “You have been convicted of violating me, intentionally, forcibly, sexually, with malicious intent, and all you can admit to is consuming alcohol,” she wrote. “Do not talk about the sad way your life was upturned because alcohol made you do bad things. Figure out how to take responsibility for your own conduct 5.” Unfortunately for many who empathized with this young woman, the Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge, Aaron Persky, sided with letters from family members and supporters that Turner’s future would suffer if given the harshest penalties. Turner was sentenced to a mere six months in jail and was released after only serving three 6.  In October of 2016, remarks made by President Trump were released during last year’s election in which he states “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything 7.” This comment was in reference to sexual advances made towards women by our now president. He goes on to make an iconic claim that was upsetting to many female, as well as male voters. While many were sure these highly un-presidential and unsettlingly sexually violent comments would bring an end to President Trump’s campaign success, they ultimately had very little impact and fell by the wayside as Trump proceeded to victory in the 2016 Election. Most recently, a Utah Judge has faced criticism as he tearfully sentenced former Mormon bishop, Keith Robert Vallejo, to up to life in prison for sexual assault this April 8.  Judge Thomas Lowe  stated that “The court has no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinary, good man…But great men sometimes do bad things,” and in that same breath, sentenced Vallejo to five years to life in prison for object rape, and to consecutive sentences of one to five years in prison for 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse9. It is in these examples that we can see how little focus is placed on victims as we evaluate cases of sexual assault.

a picture of a sign that reads "clothes don't cause rape"
Clothes don’t cause rape. Source: Richard Potts, Creative Commons

This void in focus on protecting victims and survivors become even more apparent when we look at the incredible volume of rapes that occur in the United States. In 2015 alone, the FBI reported that an estimated 90,185 rapes (rapes defined by the USDJ’s 1927 definition) reported to law enforcement10. In the United States one in five women and one in seventy-one men will be raped at some point in their lives 11. It should be noted that these numbers are only a rough representation of the actual number of sexual assaults that occur as rape is one of the most underreported crime in the United States with around 63% of cases going unreported yearly 12.  Victims are blamed for placing themselves in high-risk situation or for engaging in high-risk behaviors. Claims by victims are often dismissed with the lack of physical force present in their accounts. Victims are additionally afforded little justice in the sentencing of their attackers as sentences are often short compared to other violent crimes and are rarely served in full.

In our negligence to consider victims we offer them very little room to become survivors. We deny victims the right we afford so many perpetrators of sexual assault – the right to move on with their lives. In refusing to acknowledge what so many have been through, we force them to face their experiences alone.

We make excuses to insulate sexual assailants from their crimes by citing their future and their cost to taxpayers in their incarceration. We often slough off sexually violent behavior as the norm without also evaluating the very real consequences of permitting such behavior. In reality, rape costs the United States more than any other crime, including homicide, at about $127 billion annually 13. Additionally, 81% of women and 35% of men report significant short-term or long-term impacts such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following their attack 14. These are very quantifiable effects that result from sexual assault and yet we still tend to sympathize with perpetrators. We speculate over rape accusations as we cite the almost negligible percentage of false rape reports. Why is this the case?

Multiple sources cite that many individuals fail to allow themselves to accept their very real vulnerability to such crimes. We often find it comforting to think that victims can control whether or not they were raped, meaning that we can also control whether or not we are raped. We tell ourselves, “I would never wear a skirt that revealing, so I would never get raped,” or “I would never walk alone on that side of town, so I’m not at risk of being sexually assaulted.” Statements such as these are completely false, but when people say or think them, they create a distinction between those who get raped and those who don’t, when in fact there are no significant qualifying features of those who are raped. It’s somewhat of a  mass-scale coping mechanism that allows us to inhibit empathy for victims as their reality is too brutal for us to identify with. What this coping-mechanism leaves us with is unnecessarily perpetuated, oversimplified, unfair, and ineffective methods for addressing sexual violence. Once again, it is the victims of sexual assault who suffer. Individuals weigh the costs of coming forward with reports of rape, leaving many cases unreported. Others face scrutiny and often harassment for claims made regarding sexual assault. In too many cases, those seeking justice and relief are backhandedly served with speculation and hopelessness as they fight a justice system that favors their attacker’s past and future rather than evaluating a crime that has been committed and the damage that has been done.

As improvements are made to various legislatures, we must continue to urge lawmakers and enforcers to rely on facts rather than traditional perceptions and feelings towards the issue. There is room for so much growth in our methods for understanding and addressing sexual assault and this growth can only be achieved as awareness increases and education is made more available. While there are plenty of cases that may leave us discouraged, we must not give up hope for progress in fighting not just against perpetrators of sexual violence, but for survivors of sexual violence. Offering support to victims has an incredible impact on their ability to become the inspiring survivors they have every right to be. If you find yourself sympathizing with a sexual assailant’s ability to move on with his or her life after a conviction and be rehabilitated, I urge you to consider also the ability of their victim to move on with his or her life and be rehabilitated. I understand that good people sometimes do bad things, but should this cliché cloud our judgment to the point that we do not hold individuals accountable for doing these bad things? Should we yield to traditional views surrounding this social issue? Or should we consider the facts and yield to our own uncertain vulnerabilities to such crimes? We could all be victims, and we should all actively work to foster a culture that takes this into consideration and has compassion for victims as we address each individual case.

 

 

Works Cited

1“An Updated Definition of Rape.” An Updated Definition of Rape. US Department of       Justice, 2012. Web.

2 “An Updated Definition of Rape.” Web.

3 Jeltsen, Melissa. “Victims In Maryland No Longer Have To Prove They ‘Fought Back’   For Their Rapes To Be Crimes.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 19 Apr. 2017. Web.

4 Schwartz, Gadi. “Brock Turner, Convicted Sexual Assault Offender, Released From      Jail After 3 Months.” NBC News. N.p., 2 Sept. 2016. Web.

5 Schwartz, Web.

6 Schwartz, Web.

7 The New York Times. “Transcript: Donald Trump’s Taped Comments About Women.” The New York Times. N.p., 8 Oct. 2016. Web.

Weiss, Debra Cassens. “Judge Is Criticized for Calling Ex-clergyman a ‘good Man’       before Sentencing Him for Sexual Assault.” ABA Journal. N.p., 17 Apr. 2017.        Web.

9  Weiss, Web.

10 “Rape.” FBI. FBI, 16 Aug. 2016. Web.

11 Statistics about Sexual Violence. N.p.: National Sexual Violence Resource Center,      2015. PDF.

12 Statistics about Sexual Violence. PDF.

13 Statistics about Sexual Violence. PDF.

14 Statistics about Sexual Violence. PDF.

 

Protecting the Dishonored: The Jailing of Honor Crime Victims in Jordan

The silhouettes of a man and a hijabi woman face each other with a sunset behind them
We will stay forever. Source: Kamal Zharif Kamaludin, Creative Commons

“And the Oscar goes to, Mad Max! No.” The audience laughs as they await the announcement from host Louis C.K. for the winner of the 2016 Best Documentary Short. He pauses, then reads “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy!” Applause erupts as Obaid-Chinoy makes her way to the stage, and during her brief acceptance speech she reveals that “Last week, the Pakistani Prime Minister has said that he will change the law on honor killing after watching this film. That is the power of film.” Another round of applause sweeps across the theater as the crowd cheers the progress made to end this extreme case of violence against women.

Obaid-Chinoy’s film focuses on eighteen-year-old Saba, a Pakistani girl who was the victim of an attempted honor killing, defined by the BBC as “the murder of a person accused of ‘bringing shame’ upon their family. Victims have been killed for refusing to enter a marriage, committing adultery or being in a relationship that displeased their relatives. In many instances, the crimes are committed by family members against a female relative.” Saba survived the encounter, and the resulting documentary chronicling her experience caught the attention of human rights activists around the world. Pressure from these groups was put on the Pakistani government to change the law allowing the perpetrators of honor crimes to avoid charges should the victim or relatives of the victim forgive them, and as of October 2016 the law was changed so that there are now mandatory prison sentences for those who commit an honor killing. However, this is not the case for every country, as other loopholes exist to protect the perpetrator while simultaneously punishing the victim.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy smiles and poses with her newly won oscar.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Source: Disney, Creative Commons

During my stay in Jordan, a second film on honor crimes caught my attention. Shown to the local community at the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation in downtown Amman, I sat with 50 other people as we watched If You Meant to Kill Me, a 2014 feature length documentary by Jordanian filmmaker Widad Shafakoj. Her film spotlights Jordanian women who are survivors of honor crimes but were detained in prison by the state “for their own protection” due to the lack of shelters serving victims in the community. These women would spend years inside their cell, released only after a family member signs a paper stating they would not harm her or until the guards arbitrarily decide to let her go. Once released, the women often have no money, no community connections, and no support to help them start again.

Jordanians who commit honor crimes face the threat of arrest in theory, but traditions and stigmas going back generations have created informal barriers to prevent the perpetrators from conviction. An honor crime is not committed by a single individual but instead multiple individuals, ranging from immediate family members to a group within the community. This poses a difficulty for police to convict participants because they must identify an entire social network. To counter this difficulty, they have adopted a second approach that only involves a single person: the female target/survivor. By putting the target/survivor in jail, it relieves the justice system of the stress of convicting an entire family or worrying about another crime being committed. The system also faces little backlash for this decision as the families of the women imprisoned accomplishes two tasks. Without advocates to help their case, the female target/survivor resorts to her families for a signature for release; thus, exposing herself to a future risk of violence.

Jordan is publicizing its work on improving other women’s issues inside of its borders, with some measured success. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979, and ratified by Jordan in 1992 with the intention of allowing women to have equal rights under the law. However, Jordan still maintains two reservations to the document:

The first reservation is against Article 9, which states that women and men should be granted equal rights in transferring their nationality to their children. Currently, a child of a Jordanian man and a foreign woman can take Jordanian citizenship, but a child of a Jordanian woman and a foreign man cannot take Jordanian citizenship without a special identification card. The second reservation is against Article 16, which states “Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations.” Here is where the difficulty lies, for within a marriage the woman has far less legal power and is therefore tied to the relationship formally and informally, even when violence is introduced.

Freedom House, in 2010, reported that while “domestic abuse is a valid reason for initiating such a divorce, it is often very difficult for a woman to prove her case, because Shari‘a courts require the testimony of two male witnesses.” This poses a significant deterrent for victims to come forward as their own testimony will not be adequate in a court of law. They also risk forced imprisonment for their safety should they come forward, making the risk even less of an option. Besides acting to protect their own safety, the women also shoulder the burden of staying to protect their children. Freedom House reports that the father is the de facto guardian of his children, and while the mother may be able to leave with the children initially, should she remarry she would lose custody. This forces the mother into a position of staying in an abusive situation, where there is a threat of death, or leaving without the security of a second income source to support herself and her children.

A group of hijabi women cut a ribbon to open the new shelter.
Women for Afghan Women open a shelter in Badakhshan province. Source: State Dept, Creative Commons

With the outcry growing louder to find a better solution for these women instead of placing them in protective imprisonment, a small number of departments and shelters developments give an attempt at a solution. The Jordanian government created the Family Protection Department within the Public Security Directorate in 1997 to work specifically on cases of domestic violence and sexual assault; however, their focus is children in the family, instead of the women. In 1999, the Jordanian Women’s Union opened a shelter capable of housing 20 women. The Family Reconciliation Centre opened its first house for 50 women in 2007 and a second in 2009 for 80 women. A

Between the three current shelters, a maximum of 150 women can be protected in a non-prison environment, but with a population of 9.5 million as of 2016, the number of shelters are incredibly too small to adequately serve the women of Jordan. Even if women are gaining more rights to interact equally in the public sphere, the lack of safety for some women in the private sphere blocks them from participating in this progress.

The dedication of more resources is necessary to ensure the women in danger are properly cared for in a safe environment. Additionally, attention to convicting perpetrators is imperative; allowing the women to reenter society knowing they are not at risk for future harm. Freedom House does note that Jordan is taking steps to enact more punishments that are forceful: “stricter sentences are now issued for honour killings and a new specialized tribunal was set up by the Ministry of Justice in 2009 to hear such cases.” The arrests of those committing the acts must occur immediately to hasten the release of the victimized women presently held indefinitely within the Jordanian prison system.

 

Recap of Using Digital Storytelling to Promote Human Rights: The Experience of Disability Advocates

co-authored Tyler Goodwin and Nicholas Sherwood

a picture of Dr. Trevisan presenting
Photo by Tyler Goodwin

On Wednesday, October 11, 2017, the UAB Institute for Human Rights sponsored an event titled: “Using Digital Story Telling to Promote Disability Rights.” This event featured Dr. Filippo Trevisan, Assistant Professor of Communications at American University in Washington, D.C. Dr. Trevisan is a disability rights advocate whose research features the use of technology to enhance accessibility for persons with disabilities. He is the Deputy Director of the Institute on Disability and Public Policy at American University, and an accomplished author, who released his book, Disability Rights Advocacy Online, last year. Dr. Trevisan’s presentation attempts to answer the question of how advocacy effectively inspires policy change for marginalized populations- most notably, for the disabled community.

Disability Rights

When the United Nations codified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, disability rights were first established at the international level of governance. This Convention is notable for its inclusion of actual persons with disabilities in the creation of this legal document, and for good reason. Persons with disabilities have long had to self-advocate for their rights, and the potency of grassroots efforts for disability rights distinguish this rights movement from other human rights movements. Dr. Trevisan, through the lens of information and communication technology, aimed to understand how formalized rights were impacted by the grassroots efforts of persons with disabilities.

Dr. Trevisan spoke of how Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have significantly impacted the world of disability rights. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) says that ICTs have allowed persons with disabilities to “enhance their social, cultural, political and economic integration in communities by enlarging the scope of activities available to them.” ICTs have promoted self-advocacy by allowing persons with disabilities to directly participate in any number of activities by directly getting their voice heard- middlemen are no longer required for persons with disabilities to get their issues out into the world. By surpassing several links in the communication process, the voices and narratives of persons with disabilities are more authentically communicated to policy makers and all levels of governance: local, regional, national, and international.

By skipping these ‘middlemen’, the effectiveness of a message (such as advocacy for disability rights) is more prominent, and the intended effect (policy change) is more directly linked to the advocate. According to Trevisan, two main communication styles are used by disability rights advocates to persuade policy-makers.

Emotional Appeal Versus Rational Arguments

Breaking down the rhetoric used by disability rights advocates, Trevisan elucidated on two primary forms of persuasive messages: messages appealing to emotion and messages appealing to reason. Emotional appeals typically feature personal narratives, eliciting feelings of empathy and sympathy by the receiver of the message. By contrast, rational arguments (i.e. appealing to reason) offer evidence-based arguments in support of policy change. A challenge of human rights advocates (in this case, disability rights advocates) is deciding which, or in what combination, of these persuasive tactics is most likely to achieve the desired outcome.

Historically, policy-makers have favored (or been more susceptible to) appeals to reason, as evidence-based arguments offer a more sound and predictable argument for policy change (or lack thereof). However, upon analyzing cases in the United Kingdom and United States, Trevisan documented a noticeable modal shift in successful argument tactics. Instead of favoring rational appeals, policy-makers are starting to respond and succumb to emotional appeals; this change is most clearly documented in policies related to persons with disabilities. This has huge implications for advocacy efforts and policy-makers alike. Bygone are the days where statistics and figures hold greater weight than personal narratives and stories. Perhaps we do indeed live in a “post-fact world” (though hopefully not). The question now becomes: why are emotional appeals more effective than rational arguments? And how can we marry these two approaches to achieve both: 1) successful persuasion of policy-makers to codify human rights and 2) create the emotional appeal from a sound and practical argument?

a picture of social media icons as flowers indicating the growth of social media
Growing Social Media. Source: mkhmarketing, Creative Commons

The Power of Stories

The answer to the first question lies in the power of story; Trevisan argues the impact of personal story-sharing in disability rights advocacy cannot be overstated. The importance of persons with disabilities telling their personal stories has proven to be very effective when it comes to advocating for their rights, and Dr. Trevisan mentioned two critical components to story telling: 1) the voice of the person telling the story, and 2) the storyteller feeling his or her voice is heard. Dr. Trevisan states his research led him to find “individuals [with disabilities] are now able to participate in crowd-sourced campaigns, and they want to.” He goes on to say persons with disabilities generally feel authentic in their narrative-sharing and the significant strides in disability rights implementation (for example, the CRPD) shows their voices are being hear.

Persons with disabilities have been particularly effective in their use of crowdsourcing- the virtual participation in efforts such as rights-advocacy. While crowd-sourcing has been a great way to get stories out into the world, the particular mixture of rational vs. emotional components is up for debate. How narrow should the stories be? If someone has to edit these stories, who should it be and what gives them the right to do so? Should there be no editing of the stories? If not, what if the stories do not pertain to the cause? Is it right to cut out someone’s story that they want to tell? How can we (consumers of information) be sure we are receiving an authentic and genuine message from a credible source (especially in a “post-fact world”)?

Dr. Trevisan’s cunning research of story-telling in disability-rights advocacy suggests the paradigm of successful policy change is shifting: from rational appeal to emotional connection, from the presentation of hard facts to the telling of personal stories. Moving forward with this new knowledge, human rights researchers and advocates must find a way to marry objective reality with the subjective story of humanity.

 

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