Annexation and Media in Crimea

The following post is a first-hand account of her journey to Crimea written by guest author Anastasia Nevyakina. Here, Anastasia explores political realities and journalistic challenges that face the Crimean Peninsula.


Anastasia Nevyakina
Global and International Studies Major

As I stand by the empty baggage belt in Crimea’s Simferopol International Airport, I sigh with exasperation and a hint of relief. I made it! And, just like the last time when I visited four years ago, my baggage is probably still in limbo, circulating around Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Somehow this gives me some sense of comfort. Maybe political realities have changed, but these slight shortfalls remain consistent. After all, when coming home one has certain expectations. I could have never imagined that Crimea would be annexed by Russia when I left to the States with my mother at the age of 14. As I stand in line to complain about the missing baggage, I am suddenly thankful that I was in America, working on my Bachelors when the annexation took place. I am even more grateful that the rest of my family, who remained in Crimea, were not directly affected by the change in power. A nudge from a woman behind me returns me to reality; I file a report, and the attendant promises my baggage will be delivered straight to my door—a positive improvement—within the next few days. That is, if they find it, of course.

Driving home from the airport, I notice the first of many changes. Although Simferopol looks like it has been frozen in time, the roads have retrogressed. While roads have never been optimal in Crimea, what I witnessed on my way from Simferopol to Sevastopol was a drastic deterioration. Potholes now permeate the highway, one after another, without any warning signs to caution drivers. My father assures me the local authorities will eventually patch the potholes, although the most of them are already well-established and clearly no longer recent. I hold tighter to the car’s handle as we maneuver through traffic, sometimes plunging down and swerving to the opposite side of the road. His explanation is emblematic: “What can you do?” This is a transitionary period, you know.”

My father was only the first to utter this sentiment, one continuously repeated by friends and family. But they had questions for me, too. The first question: “Is it true that Americans dislike Russians,” was often followed by snide remarks about Americans’ cognitive abilities. In Crimea, these questions are often not questions at all. Nonplussed, I stumbled to answer people to whom I feel so close, because I could not believe the antagonism hinged upon their anti-American convictions. Family members, friends and neighbors would hurriedly try to put me at ease when this bitterness bled through political conversation: everyone wanted to join Russia, they reassure me, and everyone is better off. In fact, they continue, nothing has really changed. I pause; has much actually changed since my last visit? Can life go on as if a globally-reported annexation never happened? Yes, everyone now has a Russian passport and uses Russian rubles instead of Ukrainian hryvnia. The stores are still fully stocked with products—Russian, instead of Ukrainian, but no one really cares—and the city put up some Russian flags, but the landscape has not really changed, and everyone goes on with their lives as if nothing has happened. There are some trivial changes. I saw fewer people on the streets when I wandered around the city, for instance, but that is mostly because European and American tourists were discouraged by their governments and the media from visiting Crimea.  It almost feels like the designated term “annexation” is a contrived creation of the Western media.

Yet, somehow, I was not convinced of the idyllic stasis propagated by my friends and family. Suddenly the potholes on the roads all over Crimea became symbolic of my visit back home and symptomatic of a dysfunctional government; I started noticing that there were a lot of things that did not add up and I wanted to fill the missing pieces with information. Before my trip, I had called my family and friends to voice my concerns over annexation and their safety; in haste, they changed the topic or tried to hush me. Yet, when I arrived, my family suddenly claimed that they had greater freedom of speech under Putin than they had had when Crimea belonged to Ukraine. When I asked for an explanation from my childhood friend—a very well-educated and bright medical student—she responded: “Under the new Ukrainian government, people in Crimea would have lost the ability to freely voice their opinion and would be forced to speak Ukrainian.” I pressed her to clarify her opinion and asked whether she felt like her freedom of speech was threatened under Viktor Yanukovych, or any other Ukrainian president, she referred to nationalistic protests in Kiev in 2014, which in her opinion, were very antagonistic towards Russian sympathizers. Interestingly, despite her initial response, she was unable to furnish any specific examples that would indicate a threat to her freedom to speak freely while Crimea was still a part of Ukraine. While initially baffling, I later realized her lack of examples was further evidence that in the current environment the only criticisms acceptable were the ones targeting Ukraine and the West. In the past, I was engulfed in a stream of complaints about prices, the government, and other issues, both in person and online over Skype videochats and Facebook messages. But the situation has changed, and instead of strong opinionated voices, I now hear weak excuses for the shortcomings of the new government. The only insistent assertions reminiscent of past times are cliché expressions of nationalism.

I try not to be too quick to judge. I understand that having a meal on the table is a priority when personal safety is at stake. I am told multiple times by people from different backgrounds that they are better off, now that they don’t have to live paycheck-to-paycheck. But while some can articulate the price of this marginal comfort, many have surrendered to the new “realities” defined by the government-controlled TV channels. There is a substantial shortage of neutral reporting when it comes to Ukraine and the U.S., and everyone on the TV seems to have a rehearsed opinion. News channels, like Channel 1, appeal to anti-Ukrainian and anti-American stances. Even those who seek refuge from this one-sided and extremely biased point of view can find nostalgia for the old days (particularly the past glories of WWII) by turning on the movie channels. This sentimental longing for the victories of World War II is prevalent among the young and middle-aged people, especially those working in the police and in the military, it seems that they are extremely proud of winning a war in which they took no part.

I was curious to speak with independent journalists in Crimea and hear their thoughts on the annexation, but it was no easy task. Many of the contacts I had fled Crimea after they experienced considerable threats to their safety. Some had their equipment broken, others were confronted in person. Some left because they were fired or bullied, others knew what was coming and left before it was too late. Those who stayed feared phone conversations, assuming their phones were tapped. I finally got in contact with Sergei Mokrushin, who worked for the Center for Investigative Journalism in Crimea. At a young age of 27 he already had an extensive journalistic experience and was happy to answer my questions.

It was never easy to access information in Crimea, Sergei informed me. However, under the Ukrainian government, it was possible to legally fight for the publication of needed information. Under the new Russian government, little to no information is readily released. This, Sergei mentioned, is partially why he was forced to start working freelance: there was no more investigative work for him to safely undertake. Since the annexation, he told me, there have been over 100 registered attacks on journalists in Crimea. The attacks continued long after the annexation, but also Ukrainian channels were taken off the cable television and Ukrainian newspapers were removed from the stands. “There was a competition for radio station spots,” he adds with a hint of sarcasm, “but it was basically just weeding out the old radio stations, because by the new rules, old stations were no longer qualified to compete or did not have sufficient time to register. ” Only a selected group of radio stations was able to qualify for this competition, because the time frame for receiving needed documents for the application was longer than the application process itself. On April 1, 2015, Ukrainian licenses expired, and the stations had to cease broadcasting. The eradication of various independent and non-Russian aligned news sources carried on, albeit in new forms.

Sergei continued his story: in March 2014, journalists lost the access to the information about government officials. Soon after, a black list of journalists was created, many of whom were former employees of the Center for Investigative Journalism. People who participated in Maidan were also under suspicion. Those on the list had their apartments searched and their phones tapped. While Sergei was not on the blacklist, he had helped a number of journalists flee Crimea, and the new administration began to collect information on him. Sergei has since relocated to Kiev, and is now working safely there. I asked him if there was anything in particular he thought was important for me to understand. He said that there is a lot of propaganda being fed to people in Crimea, and then paused to add “This is a very tense moment in time right now. You need to understand that the splinter between Russia and the rest of the world is the situation in Crimea.” Sergei thinks that the return of Crimea is the only viable choice. After some thinking he adds “Crimeans will always be on the side of the ones with the power. It’s a Soviet mentality.” After speaking with Sergei, I was saddened to learn about the amount of administrative cleanup that has been done since the annexation.

During my trip to Crimea I was bothered by the lack of knowledge and awareness people exhibited. Their view of the world is skewed, polarized in black and white with very little gray area. Democracy means little for strongly nationalistic people, who feel isolated and antagonized by the rest of the world. This is why the media has been so successful in winning over the masses. During the Soviet regime, many citizens distrusted the government media, however, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the morale among the masses was low. Putin was able to unite the people under the idea of Russia’s superiority. Not only did Russia win the WWII and saved the rest of Europe, Russian morals were better and the new Russian president, a common man, was working to improve the lives of his people. Crimean residents were not only spoon fed all of that propaganda over the years, but were also alienated from the rest of the world through sanctions, which discouraged Europeans and Americans from traveling to Crimea and continuing business there. Suddenly, Crimean “liberation” was viewed as unlawful and condemned by the rest of the world. Many lost their remaining trust in Ukraine and the West.

At a moment, Crimean residents seem to be satisfied with the information that meets with their patriotic sentiment, but for how long? In 2015, out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index list, Russia ranked 152nd. It went down 4 points in comparison to 2014 due to new laws on website blocking and the added pressure on independent news outlets. How much longer can the government oppress its media and deprive its citizens of plurality of opinions and sources?

I remain hopeful. I found that people were open to learning about my opinion on the current political situation in the world, though it varied drastically from what is told on TV. Many conceded that they did not know some facts and arguments I have brought up during our discussions as they were not available through the general news sources. This kind of open mindedness gives hope that when the people governed by the Russian government get tired of being progressively limited in their ability to find and extract information, they will then stand up for their right to access diverse news sources and will be open to learning about various opinions all over the world. The freedom to seek information and the freedom to voice an opinion are crucial to a healthy democracy, without these freedoms the citizens are oftentimes unknowingly and passively supporting their own oppression.

The Suicide Bombers of Boko Haram

Religious Extremism Banner

The phrase “suicide bombing” has become part of normal parlance. It is most often associated with Islamist groups like Daesh (ISIS) or al-Qaeda, and was first used by a group affiliated with Hezbollah in early 1980s Beirut, Lebanon. However the act is not exclusive to Islamist or even religious ideologies: groups like the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka have used such attacks as part of their strategy to achieve political goals, and the “kamikaze” pilots of WWII Japan likewise seem to fit such a description.

With the attacks on Paris and Brussels earlier this year, the act of a man or woman strapping on a vest of explosives, walking to a populated area and detonating themselves as a bomb has again drawn worldwide attention.

But a lesser known and rarely discussed setting may serve to reorient how we think of suicide bombings. While ISIS is seen to pose the biggest threat to Europe and the Middle East, their efforts have been outmatched in the last year by the group known as Boko Haram, the terrorist group operating mostly in northern Nigeria. This group that operates in the peripheries of Western consciousness gained global infamy when its members kidnapped 276 young girls from the town of Chibok in 2014. The majority of those girls, taken two years ago this month, have yet to be rescued, though this week the U.S. government swore they had not been forgotten.

Some, tragically, have made their way to the battlefield. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported an interview with Rahila Amos, a Nigerian woman who had escaped Boko Haram’s clutches to Cameroon, a space of relative stability in an unstable sea, with her two children and one grandchild. The story she tells is one of almost unimaginable suffering: harsh confinement, routine sexual violence and intentional impregnation of captives.

During such ordeals, the terrorist group has apparently begun giving lessons to these women on how to effectively carry out suicide bombings, including how to carry the bomb, how to elude notice by authorities (who are less suspicious of women), and where to detonate for maximum effect.

According to The Long War Journal, over 100 women have served as suicide bombers for Boko Haram since the first was reported in June 2014.

It would seem self-evident that the label of “suicide bomber” should apply to the cases of Africa, Europe and the Middle East alike. They all see individuals who, as a consequence of killing others, kill themselves by the same means. Their suicides are part and parcel of their homicides.

However when members of groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda blow themselves up, they are driven by a fervent devotion to a twisted interpretation of Islam, and see their act as a means to regain some lost dignity, die a hero, and achieve paradise. They are seen as martyrs, dying for God and Islam.

Dying in such an attack against the enemy is seen as the highest devotion and sacrifice. The term they use for such attacks is not “suicide bombings” – since suicide is a forbidden act for Muslims – but rather “martyrdom operations.” It is not an act of despair that looks to alleviate one’s suffering in the world, but a privilege and duty performed against the agents of political and cultural oppression. It is a good death.

The women who were taken by Boko Haram have no such ideological recourse. Amos identifies as Christian, and though many in the area are Muslim it is decidedly not the Islam of Boko Haram.

Though possible, it seems unlikely that these women would have so deeply internalized the mentality of their captors and rapists. Their lives are not being given in a measure of devotion; their lives had been snatched from them long ago by men drunk on power and violence. Their act is not done as a means of gaining glory and renown. They are acts that end an existence which sees fear, starvation and despair morning noon and night. They have no hope, and after two years of little aid, fear that no one is coming to save them.

Women like Rahila who escaped such circumstances possess a strength I cannot comprehend. Persevering through a life of fear and desperation, feeling forgotten by the world. Waking daily to find themselves captives of the worst of humanity. When I try, when I imagine what it would be to live in conditions so dreadful that no words could adequately describe them, I can only think I might find solace in the escape such a bombing would offer. An end to rape and torture. An end to hopelessness and despair. An end to a life already lost.

These acts are unequivocally terrible, but their agents deserve pity. These killings are inexcusable, but complicate any easy determinations of innocence and guilt.

These are suicide bombings.



John Soboslai
Editor in Chief for the Global Societies Journal

Where is the Disconnect? A Critique of UN Policies in DR Congo

Eighteen years ago, Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) became the hub of a mass civil war due a smorgasbord of ethnic conflict within state borders, instability in Rwanda after a devastating genocide, and power-hungry neighbors determined to take control of DR Congo’s vast natural resources. The rise of various rebel groups backed by those same neighbors and the policies of a corrupt government have created a perfect storm of systematic killing, rape, enslavement, and recruitment of child soldiers. Despite years of international intervention, this conflict continues to threaten civilian lives and stability within the nation.

The persistent violence in DR Congo represents a failure of supranational institutions to prevent dangerous conflict and promote peace throughout the region. Though the United Nations (UN) has maintained a presence in DR Congo with the intent to protect civilian populations and restore state authority, rebel groups continue to create violent conflict and violate human rights. The UN peacekeeping efforts have proven effective in demobilizing rebel groups; however, the lack of well-rounded peacebuilding strategies has allowed new armies to perpetuate violence within DR Congo. Because the UN lacks community level rehabilitation, economic empowerment and conflict resolution, the violent rebel movements remain a persistent threat to international peace and security.

The United Nations intervened in 1999 with its peacekeeping mission MONUSCO about a year after the conflict first began, and suffered failures as recently as 2014 when ethnic violence claimed over 30 lives. Over the past 14 years, the UN has remained rigidly consistent in its intervention strategy; when violence ensues in a particular area of DR Congo, it sends its peacekeeping UN Armed Forces to areas determined as the greatest threat to civilian livelihood. The Armed Forces stay until the rebel group has been demobilized and then provide five-day reintegration courses for former rebel soldiers to assimilate back into their communities. Militarily speaking, the UN certainly provides an invaluable organizational body that has proved necessary for peacekeeping. Without the presence of a higher authority provided by UN Armed Forces, there would be too many different groups with varying agendas on both the national and rebel sides, which would ultimately exacerbate the conflict.

However, the lack of organization and rehabilitation within the community after the soldiers return from rebel armies creates an ideal situation for recidivism. The people fighting for rebel armies fight with a cause, whether they are displaced from their homes, stripped of their rights or marginalized by poverty within DR Congo. Without the proper institutions to foster economic development and peaceful conflict resolution, the UN creates a power vacuum that consequently produces a justifiable cause for the revival of rebel armies. The refusal of the UN to reform its peacebuilding policies could very well be what is stagnating peace promotion in DR Congo. Trends of violent, peace-threatening movements suggest that instability is linked to a sense of injustice due to economic and political exclusionInstead of increasing the military presence in conflict areas, a policy that has repeatedly proven to be futile in MONUSCO peacekeeping efforts, the UN should adopt the approaches of some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the DR Congo that implement programs to foster sustainable peace through nonviolent, economic empowerment.

One of these NGOs that is offering a new model for peacebuilding and conflict resolution is RESOLVE Network, a nonprofit organization founded by Executive Director Vijaya Thakur in 2012. This organization works within hundreds of communities in DR Congo to promote peace by providing microloans, financial literacy programming, and peaceful conflict resolution workshops. As Thakur stated in a presentation at UC Santa Barbara, the most common reason why former soldiers recidivate is because they feel excluded from the economic prosperity of DR Congo. Rebel soldiers leave their armies and undergo demobilization, but feel disadvantaged by the lack of agency within rural, poor villages. While the UN mitigates the immediate threat of rebel groups, its peacekeeping ultimately fails because it does not empower communities nor inspire hope for a more promising future. This NGO does just that by working at a grassroots level, engaging people across ethnic divides to create sustainable peace initiatives in their communities. Through economic empowerment and education regarding nonviolent conflict resolution strategies, RESOLVE Network gives agency to the people and provides them with the tools they need to cultivate and uphold peace in the DR Congo.

The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo depicts a fundamental disconnect between peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts of the United Nations. While this supranational organization sends in military assistance to protect civilians and monitor political elections, its policies drastically overlook the most basic reasons why these rebel groups exist in the first place. Without acknowledging the economic needs of the communities served and understanding the driving forces of the conflict in question, the United Nations will continue to merely ameliorate the immediate threat of violence to keep peace rather than empower communities to actually build peace. Until this disconnect is properly rectified, violent clashes will continue to plague global communities, both in the DR Congo and in other conflict zones around the world.


Lindsay Apperson, Content Editor

The TPP: A Benefit or a Cost?

What is the TPP, and whom is it actually benefiting? The TPP is a free trade agreement created by the Obama administration. Many different arguments point to both the U.S. benefiting as a whole, and to only big multinational corporations benefiting from the trade agreement. According to pro-TPP advocates, the ultimate goal of TPP is to “level the playing field” for American workers and corporations. This means that TPP works to create more higher paying jobs for American citizens, attempt to boost our crumbling economy, and increase the amount of exports of American made products. Another one of TPP’s primary objectives is to ensure that smaller traders and merchants, like farmers, are able to sell their products abroad in a simpler way. They plan to achieve this by reducing 18,000 taxes that the other countries enforce on the U.S. for foreign trade. Could this really work, or does it sound too good to be true?

To many people, the TPP seems like a great plan to fix our nation’s economy, and strengthen the United States’ presence in other countries, particularly around Asia. However, not everyone believes that there aren’t more costs than benefits to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Will there be a bigger price to pay for the TPP agreement? Anti-TPP advocates argue that as the trade deal goes through, more harm could be done to the environment, and will obstruct the progress of our climate change efforts. In addition, the TPP opposition contends that large fossil fuel companies will have the ability to sue countries like the United States for getting in the way of the company’s profits as a result of climate action. Furthermore, they argue that TPP could weaken the middle class, lower employee wages, and force the United States to compete for jobs with countries like Vietnam, where the minimum wage is only $2.75 per day.

After what seems like way too long, the “secret” text of the TPP agreement has finally been revealed. Click here to read it in its entirety. Now that we have been given the text, we can try to understand what the TPP is really about. Some of the attractive qualities about the TPP include restrictions on child and forced labor, and enforcing laws regarding human rights. However, what worries people even more is that the United States supposedly benefits less than all of the other countries involved. For example, TPP’s mission to lower tariffs will result in a greater amount of outsourcing. Also, the TPP agreement undermines the automotive industry’s protectionism, which is ultimately a loss for the United States. How can we trust that TPP is a solution when it seems like there will be so many more consequences to the agreement? The President has given congress a 90-day notice to sign the agreement. How soon can we really expect to hear the voting results? The President has made it evident that he hopes to begin the vote as early as this coming January. Hopefully, the right decision for our country will be made.


Corine Toren, Content Editor

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Spanish Students and the Continuing Effects of “La Crisis”

When the global economy crashed in 2008, it caused a world-wide financial crisis. In Spain, this led to the “Great Recession”, commonly referred to as “La Crisis”, which has now dragged on for almost seven years. Much like the economic crash in the United States, a main cause of the recession was the bursting of the housing bubble and the lack of transparency within financial institutions. By 2012, Spain had seen no economic improvement, and was unable to bailout it’s financial sector. Granted a 100 billion euro rescue package by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), an institute which provides access to financial assistance programs for member states of the European Union (EU), Spaniards hoped for an end to “La Crisis”. Yet three years later, despite their financial bailout and the slow but eventual recovery of the global economy, Spain remains stuck with high unemployment rates, strict budget cuts, and civil unrest, in part because of government corruption, mismanagement of funds, and austerity cuts that Spanish citizens feel only benefit the wealthy and powerful.

The unique thing about Spain’s recession is that it predominantly affects students. For those under the age of 25, unemployment is at 50%. When looking at the overall Spanish population, unemployment drops to 22%, almost as high as unemployment in the United States (U.S.) during the Great Depression, and significantly higher than in the U.S. during the worst of the “Great Recession” in 2009, where unemployment rates peaked at 10%. The current generation of Spanish students is the most educated in the country’s history, yet many are having difficulty getting hired. For those trying to pay their way through school, simultaneously working and attending class has become an almost impossible task. The allure of jobs in more stable EU countries is strong, and a survey done a few years ago showed that 68% of Spanish students were willing to leave the country to search for a job. But the mass exodus of students searching for employment has older generations concerned about losing important parts of Spanish culture, and creating a “Lost Generation” like the one in Japan, where young people are unemployed for so long that they are locked out of good jobs when the economy picks up. It also has re-located students feeling homesick for Spain’s unique, welcoming sense of community, and the high value the country places on time spent with family and friends. Germany, a popular destination for students seeking employment, has a rigid work structure and very different culture norms, which can leave young Spaniards feeling ostracized and stressed.

Many students have begun to wonder when “La Crisis” will improve, and rightly so. Each year, the government cuts further and further into the budget for higher education, reducing staff salaries and increasing class sizes. Since “La Crisis”, students have frequently used protests to draw attention to the dire state of education in Spain. February 26th, 2015 saw some of the biggest student protests in recent history, with thousands of students taking to the streets in Madrid, Santander, and Barcelona to protest austerity cuts and a new education plan that will reduce undergraduate studies from four to three years, and increase masters programs from one to two years. Students feel that the plan makes it more expensive to pursue graduate degrees, and simultaneously devalues undergraduate degrees, exclusively benefitting the small percentage of wealthy citizens who can afford to get both. There have also been clashes between rival student protestors, who disagree on whether or not protests should aim to be nonviolent.

Spanish culture is central to the identity of many Spanish students, and it is this fierce sense of pride and devotion to their country that offers the only bright spot in the ongoing recession. While many countries in the EU have written off Spain as being unable to fix their economic and education system without significant outside help, the Spanish students aren’t willing to give up quite so easily. While the frequent protests are a sign of student’s unhappiness with the current system, they also are a sign of a passionate generation that all share the same eventual goal – turn Spain into a country that has an educational system that is affordable and accessible, and a stable workforce with jobs for younger generations of Spaniards, one protest at a time.


Margaret Gallagher, Content Editor

Regarding Extremism

With recent developments in the Middle East the growing temptation for increased military intervention is palpable. Despite increased coalition airstrikes against them, the group known as ISIL continues to maintain a threatening presence in Syria and Iraq, emphasizing to some the potential need for increased military commitment on the part of the United States or other western countries.

Over a decade later, the global dialogue regarding this issue of violent religious extremism—especially in the Middle East—remains significantly shackled to the views immediately following events of September 11th.  Increased military commitment on behalf of the United States, without proper regard for Middle Eastern socio-cultural and socio-political consequences, would serve only to repeat past folly.

Referencing the legislation that defined post-9/11 foreign policy, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) seems to not only have failed to eliminate the threat of violent religious extremism, but failed to even prevent its growth. While conceived initially to combat al Qaeda and its affiliates, the AUMF is now used to address newer groups (such as ISIL or Boko Haram) which span territories within and without the Middle East.

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Fueled by the notion of clashing civilizations, the AUMF and resulting foreign policy objectives have effectively established a context of religious war. This struggle between Islam and the West has then been used by religious extremist groups to legitimize and recruit people to their “global crusade.”

Within the past decade, however, the understanding of violent religious extremism has evolved and grown to include the understanding of extremism’s social and cultural roots. The context of the religious war has slowly been chipped away, and jihadists have been and must continue to be reduced to individual actors, simply “people who have perverted Islam.”

What is key to this issue of religious extremism is understanding that it is at its core ideological. Military action and the perpetuation of violence can only minimally stem the geographical influence of religious extremism. It cannot, however, defeat it altogether.

So while the temptation for increased military intervention grows, focus should be concentrated on efforts to delegitimize extremist narratives. This is the nature of today’s conflict.

Steps have been taken to change the approach in combating religious extremism. From the White House’s summit on anti-extremism in February, to global ventures seeking to fund de-legitimizing efforts in the Middle East, as well as the rehabilitation of western jihadists, the attitude towards religious terrorism and extremism is slowly becoming increasingly holistic and socially conscious.

Unfortunately, this path to social reform in order to combat religious extremism is neither easy nor instantaneous. It requires, among many other things, the toleration of individuals and the maintenance of individual liberties.


Jared Leeong, Content Editor

The Dark Horse in the World Race: Cuba

Eighty years ago, Cuba was known to many Americans as a dazzlingly stylish tourist destination because of both its appealing proximity to the United States, and the overwhelming romance of the spectacular beaches and culturally rich Havana. Today, the American perspective on Cuba has changed dramatically, and the two most prominent features that characterize Cuba are the current embargo that the United States has placed on it, and the authoritarian government. The effect of Cuban culture within the United States, on the other hand, has been limited primarily to music, food, dance, and other cultural features gleaned from social interaction and integration.

Beyond these stereotypes, Cuba has had incredible progress in many areas, unknown to most people in the world. Obama’s December 2014 announcement to lift restrictions on travel to Cuba was fairly surprising to many Americans, and Cuba’s recent demands of the U.S. (such as removal from the list of terror states) have elicited much interest in this island country, and has brought up the question: What is Cuba?

Beyond the nostalgia of the “old” Cuba, the Cuba of today has demonstrated that progress has been made in several significant areas. Perhaps these developments do not place a focus on where most people would prefer it to be, but progress has nonetheless advanced the country in ways that we haven’t anticipated. The case in point: Cuba’s Healthcare System.

Defying expectations by a storm, Cuba has emerged as a world leader in healthcare despite its rather low economic level of growth. Combined with its surprisingly high ranking on the Human Development Index, Cuba’s achievements are even more admirable due to the fact that 40% of the nation’s budget is dedicated to social development, such as providing universal social services for every citizen of Cuba.

Even more impressive is Cuba’s astoundingly low infant mortality rate. Statistically, an infant born in Cuba has a greater chance of survival than an infant born in the United States. While the mortality rate for infants (per 1000 born) is approximately 5 for both countries, Cuba does edge out the United States with a consistently lower number across nearly every measure of health statistics that has been published in recent years.

Another thing in which Cuba trumps the U.S.? Literacy rate. According to the CIA handbook, while Americans over the age of 15 have a remarkable 99% literacy rate, Cuba has an absolutely unbelievable high literacy rate of 99.8% – one of the highest in the world. This, unlike many other movements in Cuba to improve livelihood, is not new by any means. In 1961, within just 12 months under Ché Guevara’s command, the literacy rate of Cuba rose from approximately 60-70% to 96%. It has steadily increased since then, encouraged by a widely accessible education system.

While many still maintain that Cuba is a “terror state” that remains a threat to not only the United States, but to the entire world, there is ample evidence that suggests that Cuba will eventually break free of the (mostly) negative view that the media has presented of it. Its advancements, while largely unknown, are making differences for Cuban citizens that many of us cannot fathom.

The hope we have for Cuba? That it will one day regain its reputation as a beautiful, hospitable country – but one that that will have much more than just beautiful beaches to entice visitors. With Cuba currently negotiating changes with the U.S. as of January 2015, this change might not be too far off after all.


Irene Yoon, Content Editor

Social Aspects of Ideological Crises

In the weeks after the horrific attack on political satire publication Charlie Hebdo, much of global attention has been turned onto the tensions between free speech within a pluralistic society. While world leaders rallied under notions of unity and solidarity, minority communities that exist along the outskirts remain excluded from the touted integration system of French society.

“…the nation’s preoccupation with last week’s attacks at the hands of Islamic extremists presents a mere distraction from a fundamental social crisis that has plagued France’s immigrant neighborhoods for decades.” 

The attacks, portrayed through mainstream media as motivated by an ideological objection to free speech, possess another dimension that relates directly to individual disenfranchisement caused by economic and social isolation. These push factors, that are felt throughout minority populations, play as central a role in these recent attacks as the oft mentioned ideological radicalism.

Speaking concretely, the poorest banlieues hold an unemployment rate that almost doubles the nations. Furthermore, more than half the inhabitants of these banlieues are from foreign countries including Algeria, Morocco, and areas in sub-Saharan Africa. Public institutions fail and residents of these areas are caught in a cycle of reinforcing poverty that alienates its residents along racial and cultural lines.

The sense of isolation in a place like Sevran is social as much as physical. Too many teenagers grow up with little connection to the world of work…”

This sense of isolation is felt strongly by minority youths in these areas as well. Limited in available educational opportunities, their social and economic agency is severely limited. This frustration is further compounded by instances of prejudice within the menial jobs that are available. France, whose society prides itself upon the ideals of secularism has yet to address these social and economic issues that happen to exist within ethnic boundaries and spaces. Its failure to do so can then lead to recurring instances of those similar to Said and Cherif Kouachi, the attackers in the Charlie Hebdo incident.

Unfortunately, such an emphasis on the social and economic imbalance is absent from mainstream media coverage. While these issues of disenfranchisement felt among minorities may not be the sole cause of youth attraction to radicalism, it is an important aspect that should be considered when weighing appropriate responses.


Jared Leeong, Content Editor