World

Refugee Reality Check

Israeli policy on asylum-seekers from Eritrea and Sudan is denial

(AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
(AP Photo/Oded Balilty) African refugees share breakfast at a shelter in Tel Aviv, Israel Thursday, February, 16, 2012. Some 50,000 Africans have entered Israel in recent years, fleeing conflict and poverty in search of safety and opportunity in the relatively prosperous Jewish state. A growing number of African migrants say they were captured, held hostage and tortured by Egyptian smugglers hired to sneak them into Israel. L evinsky Park is where you meet a friend if you're an African refugee living in South Tel Aviv. One recent afternoon, I found around 50 Sudanese and Eritreans sitting on the small stretch of lawn in groups of two or four or five. Nearly all were men in their twenties or thirties. Most were remarkably thin. They wore faded jeans and T-shirts or polo shirts, and talked softly amid the traffic roar. The park is across Levinsky Street from Tel Aviv's central bus station, the hulking gateway through which those who had to abandon their country entered the strange city...

Obama's Other War

What’s weighing President Obama down? In a brilliant essay, Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic (and a Prospect alumna) argues that the emotional toll of his job—particularly, of presiding over two wars and having to reckon with their casualties—has emotionally “shut down” the president. “Running a drone war that kills innocent civilians, ordering the death of militants, overseeing a policy that’s led to an increase in American casualties in Afghanistan, and delivering funereal remarks at a ceremony honoring the returning remains of a slain American diplomat,” she writes, have taken a toll on the “easy swagger and rambunctiously playful enthusiasm” that he displayed in his 2008 campaign. I think my friend Garance is on to something serious here, but I want to broaden the diagnosis. Every night, we know, Obama reads ten of the multitude of letters that Americans send him to let him know what their lives are like, to ask him for some kind of help. At a time when the American middle...

Foreign Policy Is Hard

"If this Romney is elected, we will obviously have to shut down the nuclear program. He is so strong and resolute!" (Aslan Media)
In today's Wall Street Journal , Mitt Romney takes to the op-ed page to offer his vision for a new American policy in the Middle East. Apparently, the tragic recent events in Benghazi have convinced Romney and his advisors that something is going on over there, and though they aren't sure exactly what, it's definitely something, and therefore Romney ought to come and say something about it, to show everyone how wrong Barack Obama is. If you thought Romney was being vague about his domestic policy, that's nothing compared to what he has to say about foreign policy. The first half of the piece is the standard criticism of the Obama administration (he's weak!), and here's the part where Romney lays out in specific detail exactly what he'd do differently: In this period of uncertainty, we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East—that is, both governments and individuals who share our values. This means restoring our credibility with Iran. When we say...

So Much For The End of Men

Do you know what I dislike about presidential election campaigns? Okay, a lot of things. But among my gripes is the way presidential campaigns overshadow all other news, at least in the U.S. media. For months, the candidates’ every cough shoves everything else off the front pages and top-of-the-hour news summaries. Major news gets downgraded to fewer inches and minutes; other news simply disappears. Remember Syria , where there’s a civil war going on that in which people are battling a dictator? Did anyone notice that a new study links BPA – a chemical used in plastic food packaging –to childhood obesity? Oh, never mind, Paul Ryan got an intelligence briefing. And his eyes are blue. Yes, I get grumpy about it. I’m just not enough of a junkie to want to parse polls all day; it’s too much like debating sports scores, which are boring. I care about the election, but only because I care about the underlying issues— which are what I want to hear about, please. What kind of underlying...

A Continental Divide

An inside look at the disparate lives of Greece and Germany

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Pain in Spain

(AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
The European authorities seem determined to drive the continent into a repeat of the Great Depression. The European Central Bank keeps playing a cute game designed more to impress the Germans than the financial markets or to provide real relief. Mario Draghi, ECB president, offers to buy unlimited amounts of the bonds of states that are being pummeled by speculators, but then undercuts his own offer by conditioning it on punishing austerity. In Spain, in the days after Draghi’s latest pronouncement, the rate on government bonds briefly fell, but is now rising again as markets realize that Draghi’s conditions make it impossible for any elected government to accept the offer. Meanwhile, unemployment is rising to record levels and Spain’s depression keeps feeding on itself. Draghi’s game reminds me of a battery-operated novelty toy I had when I was a kid. It was a mysterious box with a switch. When you turned on the switch, the lid opened, a mechanical hand came out of the box, and...

The Republicans' Foreign Policy Problem

textsfromhillaryclinton.tumbler.com
Pop quiz: if you had to describe the Obama foreign policy in one sentence, what would you say? Not easy, is it? Back in 2008, it was pretty simple: "Not Bush." Now back then, there was something called the "Bush doctrine," which may have had a subtle meaning to those working in the administration, but as far as the public was concerned mostly meant "invading lots of countries and making everyone in the world hate us." So it was easy to imagine Obama as a breath of foreign policy fresh air. He'd use a less-bumbling combination of diplomacy, "soft power," and carefully restrained force. He'd get us out of Iraq. Things would change for the better. But now that Obama has been president for four years, "Not Bush" has lost its relevance. Obama's actual foreign policy is too complicated to sum up easily, and probably therefore too complicated for most voters to understand. We did get out of Iraq, but things don't seem to be going too well in Afghanistan; Obama has dramatically increased the...

Free at Last?

(U.S. Archives)
150 years ago yesterday, President Abraham Lincoln released his draft Emancipation Proclamation , declaring that on January 1, 1863, “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." NPR has a brief exploration of some little-known history here , including this: … Lincoln didn't create this moment all by himself. Throughout the war, he was hearing from generals in the field about slaves who ran away by the thousands, hoping to join the Union army. They were telling the generals, "We are here to demand our freedom. And we know you are here for other reasons, but you can't ignore us. We won't be ignored." Lincoln's handwritten manuscript didn't stay in his possession for long. It was auctioned off in 1864, before the Civil War was even over, to raise money for relief efforts. The first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation was sold? Who...

Free Speech, Lost in Translation

Why the West can't yet expect to see its democratic reflection in the Middle East

(Flickr/rogiro)
On Saturday, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, Pakistan’s railways minister, held a press conference and declared that he would pay $100,000 of his own money to anyone who could capture the maker of a now-infamous YouTube movie trailer that depicts the Prophet Muhammad killing innocent men and juggling underage girls in his desert tent. The clip has careened around the Internet, inspiring violent protests and attacks in some Muslim-majority countries and cities. But it has also inspired bewilderment in the West—how could a trailer so farcically bad be construed by millions of Muslims as representative of the feelings of the majority of Americans toward Islam? Don’t they understand that the video doesn’t speak for the U.S. government? Can’t they lighten up? Don’t they understand freedom of speech? The short answer is, no, not in the same way that we in the West do. North American democracy is built upon the ideas of Enlightenment Europe; the sanctity of secularism in government and the free flow of...

MEK Still Isn't OK

The group is set to be taken off the foreign terrorist organization list, but it remains an unwelcome bedfellow on the Iran issue.

(AP Images)
This past Friday, the State Department announced that it will remove the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK)—a fringe Iranian dissident group that has been criticized for its cultish practices—from its list of terrorist groups. The State Department may have satisfied a court-imposed deadline and could help the group’s members escape their current stateless limbo, but the decision will enable the MEK to put more effort into pushing the United States toward war with Iran in its campaign to become the new government in Tehran. The court’s deadline comes from a lawsuit brought by the MEK arguing that its designation as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO)—which it has held since 1997—is no longer appropriate because it claims to have abandoned violence in 2002; in 2003, when its members in Iraq were disarmed by the U.S. military, the group signed documents promising to use only peaceful means of protest to advocate for its goals. In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit gave...

What Makes An Activist?

F aced with being despised and threatened, the normal human instinct is to hide. You keep your head down. You pass, if you can. If you can’t, you try not to draw attention to whatever it is about you that your government and your neighbors believe is evil. Throughout history, those who’ve tried to pass have had mixed success. Think about the maranos and conversos, the Portuguese and Spanish Jews who, facing the Inquisition, publicly converted to Christianity but privately still observed Jewish law. Or the light-skinned African-Americans who, during the long horror that was Jim Crow, left behind their darker relatives and became white . Or those East Germans or Czechs or Russians who hated the Soviet system but kept their heads down and their mouths shut, and tried to get by. But there’s always a troublemaker who can’t keep her mouth shut. Faced with hatred, she defies the government by agitating on behalf of the despised identity, working to change not herself but society. That’s the...

The Freedom Tour

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at Amnesty International on her first visit to the United States after 19 years of house arrest.

(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
The hour before Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrival at a human rights town hall hosted by Amnesty International Thursday wasn’t quiet. The audience chanted (“What do we want? Human rights!”). A biographic video was played. Magazines with Suu Kyi’s face on the cover were distributed. Like pre-match hype, the build up was big. Myanmar's pro-democracy leader is not—the slight 65 year-old, with pink flowers pinned in her hair, finally appeared shortly before noon. At times, it was a strain to hear her speak, and the microphone twice switched off. But Aung San Suu Kyi is the giant of the Burmese struggle for human rights. She’s in the United States, her first visit since being released from 19 years of house arrest in 2010, for a 17-day tour. The goal of the event was to help inspire the “next generation” of human rights activists. Suu Kyi’s message was loud and clear, even if her voice was not. She urged the audience to turn its attention to the plights of political prisoners internationally who,...

Is That a Boy or a Girl?

Photo courtesy of Andy Kopsa
Is that a boy or a girl? I’ve never felt comfortable with laws against hate crimes or with designations of particular groups as “hate groups,” which seem to me to come way too close to banning thoughts. After all, any assault is a hate crime. If a man beats someone nearly to death, what does it matter if he did it because she’s his girlfriend and he’s enraged that she spoke to another man, or because he spotted some stranger on the street kissing another girl? Whether he yells, “you cheating bitch” or “you fucking dyke,” aren’t his rage and his fists equally dangerous? And I believe so profoundly in individual liberty to believe and say anything, no matter how disgusting or repulsive someone else might believe it to be, that designating a group a “hate group” has troubled me profoundly. Call those groups liars, sure. Educate with the facts. But I’ve been queasy about the harsh categorization. But as I’ve learned about Mich’s beating in Kampala, which I wrote about here yesterday, I’ve...

What We Talk About When We Talk About Abortion

A British case is wrongly roped in the reproductive rights debate

(AP Photo/Adrian Dennis)
M onday, a court in England sentenced 35-year-old Sarah Catt to eight years in prison after she pleaded guilty to administering a poison with intent to procure a miscarriage. She was 39 weeks pregnant—a point, by anyone’s measure, at which healthy fetuses are viable—when she induced labor and disposed of what she claims was a stillborn. She has yet to reveal the location of the body, which throws suspicion on her statement that the baby was born dead. Either way, the story is another example of the sad but thankfully rare occurrence of a woman giving birth in private and committing infanticide, abandoning a baby, or improperly disposing of a stillborn—though it does happen. In 1997, a New Jersey teenager gave birth at her prom and tried to cover it up by killing the baby, and in 2011 a 25-year-old woman smothered her two newborns rather than let her parents know she had given birth. The problem is that what Catt did doesn’t have much relationship to the cluster of medical procedures...

Mitt Versus the Middle East

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) A Palestinian woman walks past a section of Israel's separation barrier to cross a checkpoint on their way to pray for the holy fasting month of Ramadan at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Friday, Sept. 19, 2008. T ake a breath and think carefully. Was Mitt Romney's candid-camera comment on how he'd handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict really as awful as it sounds at first? Actually, yes. In fact, it's even worse, especially if you are listening to it in Israel, or the Palestinian territories, or anywhere else in the Middle East. The man who would be president of the United States has said that he would throw the entire region under the bus. "The pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish," Romney says in the now-famous video of his May 17 campaign event, uncovered by Mother Jones . Put aside the candidate's struggle with English diction, and forget the ignorance of geography that allows him to...

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