Happy New Year everyone!
Political leaders in the U.S., particularly on the far right, have used the attacks in Paris to galvanize support for their anti-immigrant platforms. Based on evidence that one of the attackers may have posed as a refugee to gain access to Europe, the House recently passed a bill to halt settling any refugees in the U.S. that originated from Syria or Iraq. Over two dozen governors have also, without any legal authority, refused refugees. This behavior, while not without precedent, is both baseless and repugnant to the fundamental character of this country.
There are over 4.3 million U.N-registered refugees who have fled Syria. Lebanon, which had a population of 4.5 million, absorbed 1.2 million Syrian refugees. Turkey, with a population of 75 million, is housing 2 million refugees.
And it’s not just countries in the Middle East accepting refugees from Syria. Germany (80 million) has accepted 38,500 Syrian refugees. France (population: 66 million) announced, days after the attack in Paris, that it would accept 30,000 refugees. Canada, (population: 35 million), has taken in 36,300 Syrian refugees since 2013.
The U.S., a country of 319 million people, so far, has accepted 1,682 refugees – about half of which are children, according to the State Department. The process currently takes about 18-24 months, and includes interviews with officials from the Department of Homeland Security. Syrian refugees, in particular, have their documents placed under extra scrutiny. For all the panic, this doesn’t seem like a very convenient way for a would-be terrorist to gain access to the U.S.
In terms of moral responsibility, it should be noted that ISIS emerged largely as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and particularly the decision to disband the Iraqi army. Yet France and Germany, two countries which sternly opposed the Iraq war, and bearing much more of the burden of accepting families fleeing the region.
The Obama administration has pledged to take in 10,000 refugees from Syria. The U.S. can and should accept significantly more. There was also opposition to accepting refugees from Southeast Asia during the last decades of the 20th century – but the U.S. accepted more than a million without significant issue. Welcoming Syrian refugees is important for humanitarian reasons, and also for our character as a country. If some of the Republican candidates truly want to “make America great again,” they could start by returning America to a country that welcomes, rather than repels, immigrants and refugees yearning to breath free.
Will the Iran-U.S. nuclear deal be good for the region?
Most events are at once good news and bad news. Every action that takes place in such a complex environment invariably causes a chain reaction of mostly unpredictable consequences. The only choice that leaders have is to set in motion a plan that seems like it has the best chance at not becoming a total catastrophe.
The Iran-U.S. nuclear deal, if it goes through, will have far-reaching and ambiguous effects on the region. A well-executed deal could suspend Iran’s nuclear weapons program, deescalate a decades-old cold war between U.S. and Iran, and provide relief to millions of Iranians struggling with a crippled economy. A deal could also allow the Iranian government to double down on its support for the Assad regime in Syria, which is currently dropping barrel-bombs on its citizens. The deal could strain ties between the U.S. and its longtime allies in the Persian Gulf like Saudi Arabia. A deal could have effects on the price of oil, as well as Russia’s economy and its government’s behavior.
While the sum of the effects will be incalculable, engaging with Iran does create more opportunities to effectively deal with the very pressing problems that exist in the region — not to mention the ones that will inevitably come up. For now, it’s impossible to say if the framework for the U.S.-Iran deal is good news or bad news, but I’d risk that as a guess for moving forward, it’s as good as any.
Facebook is proving that it cares more about expanding internationally than protecting users’ rights to privacy and expression.
On Jan. 9, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a firm and emotional statement on the importance of free speech to Facebook, signing off with the ubiquitous hashtag, “Je Suis Charlie.”
A few weeks later, Facebook complied with an order from the Turkish government to remove images of the Prophet Mohammed, the latest in a series of moves from the social network that give into government influence. The decision reflects the lucrative market that Turkey represents for the American tech company.
In late December, Facebook acquiesced to the Russian government’s order to block access to a page calling for a protest in support of Alexei Navalny. Navalny is Russian President Vladamir Putin’s most vocal critic and is currently under house arrest in Moscow.
It’s also no secret that Zuckerberg has been actively seeking to have Facebook operate in the Chinese market, hosting the Chinese minister of Cyberspace Administration at Facebook’s headquarters, and sucking up to the Chinese President Xi Jinping. If Facebook did receive permission to operate in China, where it is currently blocked, it would certainly have to cooperate with censorship orders from the Chinese government.
Facebook argues that it is simply complying with local laws in the countries that it operates and touts reports it releases with aggregated government requests for data and censorship. Turkey’s government threatened to block access to the entire site if Facebook did not cooperate with its censorship orders.
Facebook is not a “public square.” It is a corporation, and it will do whatever it can to increase market share. However, if Facebook truly wanted to be the force for freedom of expression it claims to be, it could use its considerable influence and visibility to stand up against and refuse to be complicit in repressive government policies.
The greatest threat to the freedom of the press and expression doesn’t come from extremists — it comes from government itself.
Leaders and dignitaries from across the world convened in Paris on Sunday in a show of unity following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo. Unfortunately, many of the governments represented have atrocious records dealing with the press and freedom of expression in their own countries. To mention a few:
- Britain’s government did it’s best to hamper the Guardian’s ability to report on state surveillance revelations from the Edward Snowden documents.
- Turkey’s government just arrested the editor in chief of a leading newspaper and is constantly prosecuting cartoonists for drawing-related crimes.
- In a highly-flawed trial, Egypt’s government jailed 3 Al Jazeera journalists for aiding the Muslim Brotherhood.
- The U.S. government — and the Obama administration in particular — has aggressively pursued and jailed whistleblowers that speak to journalists. The only CIA employee to face jail time for the torture program at the agency was John Kiriakou, who tried to expose it.
The brutal deaths of the cartoonists, editors and journalists at Charlie Hebdo are a tragic loss.
As eloquently put by Joe Randazzo, a former Onion editor, “This is a loss for all of humanity. The victims, people who believed with passion and intellect that humankind can be better, were struck down in the birthplace of the Enlightenment, the movement from which the modern world emanates.”
At the heart of this story is the contrast between the peaceful freedom of expression and violence.
My focus fell on the bravery of continuing to work and maintain a sense of humor, while under the threat of imminent violence — even death.
The World Health Organization labeled Ebola “the most severe, acute health emergency seen in modern times.” This is in part because it affects the world’s most vulnerable populations. Ebola is not easily transmissible in countries with public health infrastructure – it doesn’t spread like the flu – meaning the U.S. is not at any significant risk for a large outbreak. However, the sensationalist tendencies of our media and the paralysis of lawmakers during the election year make it all the more difficult to mount an effective response where the Ebola virus is causing the most damage: In Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. The World Bank estimates that “90% of the economic losses during any outbreak arise from the uncoordinated and irrational efforts of the public to avoid infection.” That being said, the very least we should do as Americans is not allow our fear to act as a further detriment to the already troubled response to this emergency.