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In Africa

June 23, 2009

After a six hour flight from Boston to London, a ten hour flight from London to Johannesburg, South Africa and a two hour flight from South Africa to Blantyre, Malawi, we were picked up by a driver and taken one hour to Zomba, Malawi. While still severely jet-lagged (the clock says 10:25 a.m.; my body thinks it’s 4:25 a.m.), this is what I wrote in my journal about my initial impression of this new place in which I find myself: “The house is something of a villa with tiled floors and walls and porches in the front and rear with views of the tawny grasses and green trees that surround us on the hillsides. I’m sitting now in our bedroom, brilliant light flooding in at me, looking out toward the plateau above us and the almost cloudless sky above that. The clarity of the light is striking. So is the sheer, abundant and unadulterated Africa-ness of this place. I’ve never been in a new place that felt so old and familiar before. Is it from all the TV shows and news photos and novels and magazine articles that I’ve seen–all depicting a place very much like what I see outside this window? Or am I experiencing that somehow primeval recognition some travelers get on arriving here in this most ancient of places?” So, slightly melodramatic, I recognize. But it is 4:30 a.m. to me, and I’m in Africa.

On a practical note, I do have access to the Internet though it is slow and, I’m told, not always available. But I’ll keep posting as I can.

To Malawi

June 20, 2009

Editorial Note: I’m heading out to Malawi early tomorrow morning, arriving in Blantyre late Monday afternoon. My plan is to keep a journal of the trip, posting in real time as much as possible. I’m also planning to teach a short course on American Politics and Law at a college there and I’m sure there will be some discussion of that experience. One concession to travel is the schedule of the postings…I’m just not sure how often or at what time I’ll be able to get to the Preston Falls Review. Posts may not be quite as regular as they typically are. So, if you’re curious, check back often. I expect that there will be some interesting things going on.

A Closer Look at North Korea

June 18, 2009

On Tuesday, President Obama met with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to discuss North Korea’s nuclear threat. At NPR, an analysis of that threat, along with a more wide-ranging discussion of North Korea’s role in international conflict and plans for dealing with a collapsed North Korean state. Former ambassador Jack Pritchard talks about the “Hermit Kingdom”.

When President Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak met Tuesday in Washington, the “grave threat” posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program topped their agenda. The two leaders vowed to end the North’s cycle of acting aggressively, only to be rewarded with incentives for backing down.
Some experts believe that the United States and North Korea’s neighbors should be discussing what to do in the event of instability or even regime collapse in North Korea.
But concerns about antagonizing Pyongyang make it difficult to talk about such plans.

Women and Revolution in Iran

June 18, 2009

Dana Goldstein at The Daily Beast discusses an important piece of the Mousavi movement’s challenge to Ahmadinejad: the role women are playing, and have played, in Iranian political life. An excerpt:

But by almost every measure, the Ahmadinejad era has represented a leap backward for Iranian women, leading to a resurgence of feminist organizing. “I wouldn’t say the election was a turning point for women,” says Sanam Anderlini, a Washington-based consultant on international women’s issues. “But I would say women were the turning point for the election.”
Female voters provided key support for Mousavi, who campaigned on a platform of expanding women’s economic and legal rights, yet who was hardly known as a feminist champion during a term as prime minister from 1981 to 1989. The far more salient factor was Ahmadinejad’s dismal record on women’s rights. Working with a conservative parliament, his government spent millions on propaganda telling women their proper place is in the home. Universities capped the number of female students admitted. In 2005, the regime launched a “culture of modesty” campaign aimed at enforcing stricter veiling. It replaced the Center for Women’s Participation, founded under the liberal presidency of Mohammad Khatami, with the Center for Women and Family, whose exclusive goal is to promote “modesty.”

Sotomayor and the Belizean Grove

June 18, 2009

With each new revelation about Judge Sonia Sotomayor, we are getting a fuller picture of President Obama’s choice to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court. We are also getting a fuller discussion of some of the socio-cultural issues that the Court is expected to face during the tenure of the nominee. A recent criticism of Judge Sotomayor, that she belongs to an elite group of powerful and influential women who meet each year in Belize, has once again raised the issue of discrimination. The group, called the Belizean Grove to echo an all-men’s group that meets in Northern California and calls itself Bohemian Grove, is women-only. Michael Kinsley in the Washington Post nicely encapsulates the difficulty we have discussing discrimination and affirmative action and how to square those concepts with a legal system and culture that adheres to the principle of equal protection of the laws.

The true answer is that we tolerate discrimination in favor of traditionally oppressed groups more than we tolerate discrimination against them. It’s not symmetrical. And, if you believe in affirmative action — as Sotomayor proudly does, as I do — it can’t be. An all-women’s club is okay even though an all-men’s club is not. A corporation’s minority recruitment program or a university’s minority scholarships are considered admirable, while similar programs reserved for white people would be regarded as horrific.

Who Is Mousavi?

June 18, 2009

An unlikely figure to lead a revolt against the theocratic system that grew out of the 1979 revolution that he helped to foment, Mir Hossein Mousavi is now being compared to Ghandi and is being heralded as the man to remake Iran. From a profile at the New York Times,

Although he is deeply religious, Mr. Moussavi (the name is also often rendered in English as Mir Hossein Mousavi) appears to hold relatively liberal social views. His wife is a well-known professor of political science who has campaigned alongside him, often giving speeches and news conferences independently. When they were younger, he was sometimes introduced as “the husband of Zahra Rahnavard.” His wife promised that if he was elected, he would advance women’s rights and appoint “at least two or three women” to the cabinet.
His oldest daughter is a nuclear physicist. The youngest prefers not to wear the Islamic chador, and her parents do not mind, the relative said. “There has never been any compulsion in the family,” the relative added.
In recent years, Mr. Moussavi was deeply dismayed by the excesses of the morality police and by the government’s decisions to shut down newspapers, his relative said.
He decided to run for president earlier this year to save Iran from what he said were Mr. Ahmadinejad’s “destructive” policies. But it was not until a few weeks ago that a popular movement began to build behind him. As the campaign drew to a close, Mr. Moussavi began answering the president’s rhetorical broadsides with some strong language of his own.
“When the president lies, nobody confronts him,” Mr. Moussavi said during his final debate appearance. “I’m a revolutionary and I’m speaking out against the situation he has created. He has filled the country with lies and hypocrisy. I’m not frightened to speak out. Remember that.”

Freedom and Historical Coincidence

June 16, 2009

Twenty years ago today, Hungary re-buried Imre Nagy and its other heroes from the 1956 Hungarian Revolution against the Soviet Union, a ceremonial event that galvanized public opposition to Communism and led to the fall of the Hungarian Socialist Worker’s Party, and the Soviet puppet government that controlled the country, a few short months later, in October. The Berlin wall fell next, in November of 1989. And then the rest of the repressive and dessicated Soviet Empire.

Who was Imre Nagy? From Foreign Policy:

One such chapter, now legend, is the story of Imre Nagy, hero of the infamous 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Much like Czechoslovakia’s Alexander Dubcek in 1968, he had sought to give socialism a human face, only 12 years earlier. As the world watched in horror, Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest to put down the dangerous experiment in democracy. Hungarians rose up and barricaded the streets, battling the invading forces in fierce fighting over three weeks in the late autumn of 1956. More than 2,000 Hungarians died; 200,000 fled into exile. Lured from their haven in the Yugoslav Embassy with a promise of safe passage, Nagy and other leaders of the uprising were abducted by the Russian secret police, interrogated, tortured and, after a mockery of a show trial, hanged as “counterrevolutionaries.”

Today, the demonstrations in Iran continue and the Supreme Leader is permitting at least a partial recount of the flawed election result. Mousavi, while asking his followers not to protest out of fear for their safety, wants more than a recount. He wants to re-run the election. And so do his supporters, who have risked their safety and ignored their candidate’s caution, by taking to the streets in the hundreds of thousands to call for an end to religious control of secular government and life.

The scene in Iran, while still in its infancy, looks not unlike the scenes in Budapest and Prague and Berlin we saw twenty years ago.