Much Ado About Something

Much Ado About Something
Yesterday was our nation’s birthday, another year to reflect on and celebrate the “grand experiment” of forging a Democratic Republic from a people’s ideals, rather than from a common history, geography or language. No one knew at the outset what the infant country would become; it remains a fascinating ongoing process and we learn as we go.
One source of national pride over our short history has sprung from our ethos of overarching inclusiveness; i.e., regardless of our background or where we have come from, we are all equal in our rights and freedoms. Intrinsic in this are our founding principles around each person having the freedom to worship (or not worship) according to his or her own conscience, treating one another equitably regardless of ethnicity, gender, faith or creed, and more than that, living together cooperatively & peaceably despite our differences in heritage, affiliation, financial means, etc. In keeping with these values, we have chosen to create legal protections to shield us from those who would discriminate against individuals or groups by denying them assistance, products, services, or employment due to the color of their skin, age, or disability, for example.
This makes the recent Hobby Lobby decision in which our Supreme Court Justices deemed it acceptable for a corporation to exclude one group, women in this instance, from specific insurance benefit provisions, all the more shocking. This is deeply troubling. Had Hobby Lobby said that they had the right to be excused from hiring Hispanics or granting Jews or Seventh Day Adventists, e.g. with coverage of some kind because of their beliefs, the outrage would have been swift and absolute forcing them to close their doors long before it reached our highest court.
We must ask ourselves just what it is that is supporting an environment where our national leadership is becoming increasingly skewed in their decision-making specific to women, and we must address it. If there is anyone to blame, it is those of us who have become lackadaisical about our role in “We the people.” It is our responsibility and obligation to pay attention to all elections, to participate in giving constructive feedback to our lawmakers and President, to make our expectations known to those new-comers running for office, and to vote those who do not represent the changing needs and intentions of their constituents, or have betrayed the public trust, out of office.
Most of us are worn out from partisan politics and the stagnation that results. We are tired of our financial and human resources going into unnecessary military involvement in foreign wars, instead of going toward helping our veterans and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure; and are fed up with the number and variety of criminal acts committed by those in State and national legislature entrusted with leaving the country better than they found it through dedication & commitment to the greater good (If this is news to you, look into members of Congress charged with/convicted of felonies…it is deplorable). But the people who hold these offices are no more culpable than those of us who have elected them. Why we have chosen to tolerate the destructive behavior & discriminatory policies coming out of Washington for as long as we have will be argued by pundits and sociologists for years to come. What matters now is that we put a stop to it.

Borderlands — In Consideration

 

Borderlands — In Consideration

 

There’s almost nothing that I like better on a chilly, blustery Saturday than watching moderately bad disaster movies. The predictable plots, overly dramatic characters and kitschy lines are so far from reality that they make me smile. A few months ago, I watched an especially wonderfully bad one that involved a global warming catastrophe. The warmer oceans interrupted the jet stream and the conveyor belt of offshore currents sending the planet into another Ice Age. It followed the usual storyline of the push-me-pull-you struggle between scientists and politicians, the military trying to restore order in chaos, and families fleeing for their lives from the encroaching “arctic apocalypse.” The most interesting part for me was what occurred when these families arrived at the US-Mexico border. The Mexican government, not surprisingly, was hesitant to fling open its gates to accommodate the tidal wave of desperate humanity from the north. It seems the shoe was on the other foot.

 

This scenario makes for not just an intriguing philosophical discussion, but one of strategic thinking as it relates to our borderlands and immigration policies in general. In the fictional scenario, the sudden and drastic temperature shifts plunged most of the United States into a climate more like that found in today’s Siberia; not terribly hospitable. Overnight, our transportation system began to fail as northern states were overwhelmed under growing mounds of permanent snow and ice, and Southern states saw their harbors clogged with ice and were caught in gridlock without enough equipment and supplies to keep roads clear. The catastrophic domino effect of the failing transportation system preventing needed fuel oil for heat from being delivered, food not able to reach supermarkets and electrical grids overcome and commerce ground down, forced the shutdown of small businesses and large industries alike; hyperinflation followed. People realized that the few areas where food might  be grown or animals graze would never come close to being able to produce enough to feed everyone. Our population found itself desperate for survival.

 

In real life, these circumstances would lead to justifiable panic, and most of us would do anything necessary to keep our loved ones and ourselves alive, and the best hope would be to migrate as far south as possible as quickly as we could. Now, just how would that pan out for us at the Mexican border? Most Americans* in that situation would find it inconceivable that Mexico would try to block their entry. After all, we would just be trying to feed our children, care for our parents and loved ones; we wouldn’t be asking for much, we would just be trying to stay alive. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for most of us to imagine that rather than let us cross their border, Mexico would instead choose to build a wall and staff it with armed border guards with a license to shoot and kill us if we should attempt to gain entry. And the few fortunate ones who would be able to buy their way across might discover that they could only find menial work — perhaps picking crops, cleaning houses, or working long hours on their feet in a factory for far less than what they used to call minimum wage.

 

Those of us able to get in would accept the work & live where we could (remember our money lost nearly all of its value), very likely in what we would now think of as run-down neighborhoods with little or no future for our children. We would face discrimination and stereotyping and be especially vulnerable to predatory landlords, abusive employers, acts of street violence, cons and trafficking under the eye of law enforcement indifferent to our plight. And, if we had smuggled ourselves across the border and were so unfortunate as to be treated the way we currently treat illegal aliens, we would be hunted down and forcibly deported. If we eluded capture, we would still long for absent friends and family members, but very quickly forget about the relative ease and luxury that our past had afforded us, because necessity would force a preoccupation with getting through each day — having access to clean water, enough to eat, a roof over our heads and avoiding immigration officers. What would we then think of our Mexican neighbors?

 

If the climate shift in the scenario now provided much of Mexico with the bountiful land that the US had once enjoyed and the surplus of herds, flocks and food crops allowed Mexico to be awash in cash and trade goods from other parts of the newly-needy world, if they now found themselves living in plenty, having expendable income, able to live in the level of comfort that we now do, would we not find their behavior toward us when we found ourselves in need to be appalling? To be cruel? To be inhumane? The answers are so obvious that they make the questions rhetorical. Why, then, does the United States choose to behave in such a callous way toward our neighbors to the south, many of whom do live in desperation without consistent access to the very basics needed to exist just above the line of destitution. How do we excuse our behavior?

 

While growing up, I never would have believed that my nation would build walls — political, legal and physical – to intentionally keep our food, water, medical care, schools, human rights and liberties out of reach of those in great need. Our conduct is in direct contradiction to our national narrative and our ideals as a people. I am perfectly aware of the “economic burden” that most Americans think of when discussions around immigration come up. I’m also confident that most of this thinking is entirely erroneous. Unless you are a Native American, and depending upon when your ancestors arrived on our shores, it is more likely than not that the population of Americans already here looked at your antecedents with distrust and even hostility. Especially, the Irish, Jewish, Eastern Europeans, and Southern Italians were viewed with disgust by many already entrenched formerly British and Western Europeans. They, and over time the Chinese, African Americans, and growing number of Hispanics, and others were often denied certain types of employment, could only reside in particular areas, were not given equal protection under the law, and in fact, in some cases could not even be buried in the same cemetery with their “betters.” And after each new influx of peoples, the sky did not fall, our nation was not corrupted, and with these infusions of fresh insight, outlook and ingenuity, our human & fiscal economy grew and our country has thrived.

 

We are almost entirely a nation of immigrants, but are demonstrating extreme lack of hindsight. We are acting like greedy children who have more toys than we can play with, but don’t want to share.  I believe we are long overdue to engage in a more mature, humane and practical discussion about immigration policy, not only because it is the right thing to do for others, but because the contributions that outsiders bring are beneficial to our nation as a whole.

 

* I recognize that everyone in N. America is an American, but have chosen to use it here as referring to US citizens, as is common in casual conversation.

 

Dianna Wuagneux, Ph.D.

 

 

 

 

 

Ethno-Religious Conflicts in South Sudan, the CAR, the DRC and Nigeria:

ICERM Radio Logo

Friends & colleagues, I invite you to join me as I host a panel of experts to discuss the good news emerging from amid some of Africa’s most violent conflicts on this week’s ICERM Radio Broadcast:

Ethno-Religious Conflicts in South Sudan, the CAR, the DRC and Nigeria:
Encouraging Aspects within the Chaos

Date: Thursday, January 16, 2014 at 7:30 P.M. in EST, New York.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/icermradio

Every community, whether village or nation, is an expression of the consciousness of that community in that place and time. This consciousness affects the communities’ identity, perspectives, and so their interaction with each other and the outside world.

This week, we are honored to have an exceptional panel of experts whose knowledge and expertise can help bring a deeper understanding of the individual and collective consciousness at work breeding & feeding conflict in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Nigeria.

Within the chaos, even in the direst situations, there are adaptive strategies at play. There is an emergent thinking that is working; there are individuals and budding paradigms that hold promise.

In the next hour, we hope to gain new insights into that which offers us hope & inspires optimism for Africa.

Overarching questions: Where & how do these healthy strategies emerge? What can we do to foster these ideas? Support these individuals? Nurture these adaptive paradigms?

Host: Dr. Dianna Wuagneux
Experts / Panelists
Dr. Mwangi S. Kimenyi
Mr. Modem Lawson-Betum
Prof. John Mukum Mbaku
Ambassador Shola J. Omoregie
Mr. Agiri Chris JN Esq
Prof. René Lemarchand

To listen to the show, please stay on this page http://www.blogtalkradio.com/icermradio
To ask questions dial +1-(347) 989-8294.

In Consideration: Choosing To Do Better

I love my country and thank my lucky stars to have been born in a time of peace to a country of wealth, both in opportunities and resources. Sadly, there has not been much peace since then, and because my chosen field includes the how’s and why’s of people/nations in conflict, I have spent plenty of time looking at and learning about how my own people behave as a way to better understand others.

My fellow Americans, (especially politicians & Statesmen) commonly refer to our country as the “guiding light” of nations — that which offers the world an example of something to which to aspire. Not surprisingly, I grew up with the idea that our nation and its “great experiment” as a democratic republic was a civic and social success; and for that reason, the U.S. held the apogee making it the height from which to measure any social progress in nations less fortunate. Of course, I knew that no country was perfect (whatever that is) but the premise seemed a solid place to start. So while working and continuing my education, I began to observe and consider changes in fragile & emerging nations in contrast with my own, in context, overtime.

And, I have never stopped. Early on, I found much to admire in the US including her domestic and foreign policy. However, as time has passed, there have been some rude awakenings. Granted, when I began I was quite young and naïve, in the sort of way that I now find charming in the graduate students that I occasionally mentor, so it’s not at all surprising that there was much that I found unsettling once the blinders came off. But even then, I could not have expected that I would still be making deeply uncomfortable discoveries about the land of my birth all these years later.

Why this matters to you, and how it is integral to the purpose I laid out the first week as this blog’s purpose, is that much of what I have come to learn about the US and her conduct on the world stage does not do justice to, or accurately represent, who we are as a people. We cannot hope to be the good global neighbor, or friend to/caring member of the human family that we imagine ourselves to be, or the honorable ally that we pose as, without asking some hard questions about our recent behavior & taking a good, long look in the mirror. As I taught our children (and use as a part of my own internal compass), when it comes to making a choice that will affect others, before acting, ask yourself “What are my intentions?” “What are my motivations?” And if the honest answer to either question makes you uneasy, the premise of the action needs reevaluating. Anyone believing this to be an honorable practice worthy of a principled people who reviews US international policies and her demeanor towards other nations over these past few decades will be given pause.

For the most part, I believe that our population has much to be proud of, has admirably weathered some difficult storms, and has even shown some improved social maturity during this period. Certainly, there is room for improvement, still we are more accepting of one another’s differences be it lifestyle, ancestry, gender or faith. And, with the assistance of social media, America has become less of an island enjoying more personal contact and interaction with the rest of the world than ever before. Unfortunately, the sociopolitical intentions and motivations of our “movers & shakers” on Wall Street and in Washington have changed, as well; but, not in a way good for us as a people or a nation, and even worse for our neighbors. For instance, although the US Agency for International Development always had “democracy building” as a part of its mission, over time, our unique version of governance and democracy has become the first and foremost driver of their funding & programming. This decision has reduced the amount and type of aid made available to any people/nation unwilling or unable to jump through very specific hoops, unnecessarily leaving many more to suffer, increasing resentment and weakening valuable relationships. By dangling assistance to those in dire straits just out of reach, we ensure that many more people in need are less honest with us and more likely to the go through the motions to gain our approval without revealing the true machinations that exist behind the scenes.

The majority of American power-brokers see our country as above the rest and play by their own set of rules. As a result, we are often absent or contrary in a way that exposes our selfish self-interest when world leaders propose changes that would serve the larger common good. For example, recently, to the obvious frustration of our allies, our Senate approved an amendment that would prohibit the U.S. from signing the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, which was created to help keep weapons out of the hands of drug dealers and organized crime. The only other nations voting against it along with us were North Korea, Iran, and Syria. Similarly, our government commonly ignores offers to participate in environmental protection/improvement efforts alongside international colleagues, such as the Kyoto Protocol, which was flawed, but rather than offer something in the way of constructive participation the US chose to opt out. We keep hefty tariffs on products exported by poor nations that could greatly benefit if the duties were more reasonable. We refuse to give the advantages of “preferred nations” status to some countries supposedly because of their human rights record, while accepting other nations with worse human rights records without explanation.

We allowed sensible banking/lending regulations to expire or be dismantled causing economic hardship within our borders that hit smaller, more vulnerable economies much harder. While many of us lost our jobs or our retirement, overseas our negligence led to the economic crippling of governments in already fragile nations reducing their ability to provide even the most basic of services -people went hungry. We have ignored genocide in places such as Rwanda, and stood/stand by during the decimation of innocents by despots like President Ceaușescu of Romania & President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. While in other places/at other times, and with no better reason, we have occupied sovereign nations disregarding established international mandates, then exert pressure on our allies if/when they object.

It surprises most Americans to learn that US Ambassadors’ (our most senior diplomats abroad) central responsibility is to advance the interests of the United States, not act as a facilitator, a builder of bridges, a link between peoples. This is a long way from the heart and soul of what diplomacy was/is meant to be, and this self-centered, self-important shift has dramatically limited our ability to forge and maintain healthy relationships with other industrialized countries or the “emerging world.” We have ceased being partners and in all too many instances, have moved squarely into being geopolitical bullies. This unconscionable conduct, especially when in contact with acutely patriarchic cultures, such as those found in former Soviet States, Central Asia and the Middle East, feels emasculating and induces shame and rage… these emotional responses are dangerous, and are known ingredients of radicalization & extremism. This is not something we wish to continue to provoke.

Over time, we have allowed our treatment of others on the global landscape slip far from the straight and narrow, largely due to the greed and ambitions of a few small groups. We have let go of the reins, fallen asleep at the switch. We are better than this. We can do better. With the advent of technology, we have unprecedented access to what decision-makers are up to, and the ease with which we can communicate with them & each other, allows us the chance to ensure that our government and the large corporations representing us, act in ways that are consistent with our values when it comes to the treatment of others, our environment, and our relationships with the rest of the world’s people.

Most of us believe that the rest of the world has every reason to love us. It pains me to admit that this is not so; and there is no excuse for our less than kosher behavior on the world stage. This is not a dictatorship where we have no say in how we are governed, nor have any control over our nation’s conduct at home & abroad. Rather, we have sanctioned our leaders by voting them into power. Democracy is a participatory form of government; if we wish the world to see us as intelligent, willing to be involved, and embracing of progressive ideas regarding the health and well-being of our little world, we must accept that the reality that the opposite message is playing loudly & we need to step up and take policy-makers to task. This can be fixed. The alternative is to accept greater animosity, more debt, and more war. This generation is the first in the US to be worse off than their parents in living memory. And, it is the first time in history that our nation has slipped so dramatically from its principled and respected image. The people responsible for these regrettable changes can be found in the mirror. Our nation could use some friends right now; it is time to rebuild these partnerships & help those leaders who we have entrusted with our future to change course.

Boston Bombing

Before seeing any official reports about the tragic bombing in Boston, I knew that something big, and probably quite terrible, had happened. As a rule, unless working on an assignment that requires 24/7 diligence, I give myself the luxury of keeping my ringer off while working. By the time I picked up my phone late Monday, I found 4 missed calls and over 50 related text and e-mail requests for comment/input both civilian and military, already pending. Fear is a powerful catalyst.

As a nation, we are horrified by the vicious and callous acts of the bomber (s); we grieve for the victims and their families; and we are afraid.

It is too soon to know whether or not the Tsarnaev brothers will ultimately be found to be responsible for the bombing, but it is not too soon for us to begin individually and collectively to come to grips with what has happened. The fact is, we are not, and never will be, completely safe from those who choose to commit seemingly random acts of violence that kill and maim. Those intent on causing harm as a way to gain notoriety or vent rage born of political, ethnic, religious or extremism, mental illness (or some more general form of social pathology) live among us. What we can and must do, is to resist any attempts by the media, members of our government, or armchair analysts, to convince us that attacks like these can be neatly categorized and squarely blamed on a particular group or practice.

Humans naturally fear chaos. Violence and instability leave us feeling frightened and overwhelmed, and in our struggle to understand what is happening, we are vulnerable to those who provide simplified answers that allow us to feel as though we are back in control. Once we have a person/group to blame, fear turns to anger. The response is understandable as a coping mechanism for the short term; but, it’s useless in helping us to heal, or to prevent similar heinous events in the future.

So, what can we do? First, offer assistance and comfort to the bombing victims and their loved ones. Second, come to accept that those who are responsible are deeply damaged people. It is true that terrorists are not born, they are made. And as Desmond Tutu memorably pointed out, there are no examples of terrorists that have not themselves been terrorized by others. I do not and would not excuse their behavior, but what must be understood is that there are not enough, and never will be enough, police, military or home security personnel to prevent these kinds of incidents altogether. Our only hope is to help create a world where people do not feel the need, or the right, to massacre others. We can only do this through openness and inclusion; by isolating, bullying, blaming and shaming those people or groups that are seen as outside the mainstream by nature of their appearance, ancestry, belief system, or social/political association, etc. we risk fostering and nurturing hate, radicalization, and extremism

In my work, I have met with individuals and small groups who identified themselves as warlords, arms dealers, insurgents and terrorists. They are people. (Except perhaps some of the arms dealers.) While it may never become clear to us why, one thing that they all have in common is the idea that they are being forced into what they are doing; they truly believe that they do not have a choice. In their minds, it is external forces and an environment created by others that has put them into their current, inescapable situation. Those of us who have not walked a mile in their shoes see things quite differently. But history has demonstrated that neither ideas nor mental derangement can be defeated by force.

Whatever disturbed reasoning was behind the recent tragedy in Boston, we would do well to resolve not to opt into the easy way out of blaming an “ism,” political militancy, ethnicity, etc. By doing so, we make ourselves out to be victims; we feed the flames of bigotry, and support a dangerous “us” vs. “them” mentality.

Except for the members of our First Nations tribes, we are a country of refugees. Unlike any other country in the world, once you arrive in the United States and are embraced as a citizen, you are an American. (If that doesn’t seem remarkable to you, just try doing that in France — for example – where even after citizenship and residency of 20 years, you would never be considered “French.”) We have a history of opening our arms to members of the human family from everywhere in the world and we stand proud of the fact that we are a nation of many cultures, faiths, and peoples. But like many countries before us, we have become increasingly suspicious of those who we envision to be the least like our imagined idea of the American “norm.” We have tightened our borders, and become much less welcoming, and at times, outright hostile, towards those who arrive hoping to build a better life, just as most of our ancestors did.
If we are to heal, if we are to make our nation safer for our children and our children’s children, we must do a better job of learning about one another within our borders, improving our international relations outside our borders, and electing leadership more representative of our population, including ethnicity, faith & gender. We must teach our children to appreciate our differences, while focusing on the overwhelming similarities and ideals that most human populations share.

And finally, we would do well to remember these lines made famous in South Pacific:
You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught, from year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

We must take these words to heart.
We know better; I trust that we can & will do better.

In Consideration

In Consideration… April 12, 2013

For those who don’t already know me, my name is Dianna Wuagneux and my background is in Cultural Anthropology & International Relations with a specialty in stabilization and conflict mitigation in Fragile States and Nations in Transition. I am American & currently live in the States although my work often takes me overseas.
Working with people in war-torn environments: farmers and hackers, teachers and politicians, “terrorists” and healthcare workers, arms dealers and humanitarian aid organizations, religious leaders, diplomats, the US and allied militaries, and the men women and children caught in the crossfire, has helped me to understand more deeply what I care about most, and how I want to spend my personal and professional energy. That is to:
 Discover new and expanded ways to be of more meaningful service to those in need; including clients, colleagues, insurgents, and those in harm’s way.
 Keep an active and open dialogue with experts in related fields in order to learn and share information in an effort to improve both policy and practice.
 Openly exchange information that may be useful to those who are interested in, or involved with, peace building, such as may be found in: related articles/white papers/conference materials, books, online interviews, grassroots endeavors, the doings of noteworthy organizations, and bits of relevant news.
 Create a forum through which to share experiences and insights that will help those in my own country, and others, gain a better, more realistic and comprehensive understanding of conflict in the world, and how as Nations we might be of assistance in better ways than we have historically, and equally, educate and inform others how we sometimes inadvertently (and sometimes intentionally) exacerbate conflict and contribute to destabilization, loss of life and property (theirs and ours).
And finally –
 Help people come to recognize how similar we are across borders and in doing so, facilitate a greater sense of kinship with one another. Many people in the world feel disillusioned when it comes to their future and that of their children. They feel misunderstood and powerless, taken advantage of by the power brokers in their society. Few feel an affinity for the individuals and groups that have chosen to bring them into a state of economic vulnerability, insurgency, or war. This is as true in my own country as it is in more disadvantaged states.
Across the globe regardless of politics, language, ethnicity, or faith, most people are moderate in their views as well as their behavior. Their main concerns are the same — putting food on the table, the protection and well-being of their parents, children and loved ones. They want peace. We are neighbors on this pretty little blue rock, and life will improve for all of us once we decide to collectively and consistently act like it. That’s all for today :-)
I will write when able and when moved to do so. I invite thoughts and comments that are in the spirit of this philosophy and those that may be of worth and inspiration to the like-minded.