GAY & LESBIAN COMMUNITY NOTES
FROM THE WEB
Net Briefs 03-09
ON SECOND STREET
Obama on Israel
SNATCH & GRAB
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The Refugee Crisis
An interview with Scott Harding
No matter where you stand on U.S. involvement in Iraq, it is difficult to deny the impact the war has had on Iraqi civilians. Current estimates figure that between four and five million people have been forced to flee their homes. Slightly more than half have fled the country, settling primarily in Jordan and Syria, while the rest make up what are known as "internally displaced persons" (IDPs). Finding a solution to the refugee crisis is not easy. The United States is loath to recognize the problem, as it would amount to recognizing the persistent misery generated by almost six years of war and occupation. Meanwhile, the response of European countries has also lagged far behind.
Scott Harding is an assistant professor of Community Organization and co-director of the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work at the University of Connecticut. As part of an ongoing research project, he and a colleague, Professor Kathryn Libal, spent two months in 2007 and 2008 conducting interviews about Iraqi refugee relief efforts with NGO and UN representatives in Turkey, Jordan, and Syria. I interviewed Harding by email last December.
KERSHNER: Who is leaving Iraq?
HARDING: The research done by the United Nations and other groups suggests that most segments of Arab Iraqi society have been displaced by the violence in Iraq. The refugee population has significant proportions of both Sunni and Shia Arabs, the middle class, as well as low-income families. We also know that key groups have been disproportionately impacted, especially Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq, who have been targeted for persecution. As important, there has been a "brain drain" of doctors, teachers, professors, engineers, and other well educated and trained professionals. This has compounded a problem that existed before the current exodus; the ongoing conflict has intensified this trend and threatens the future of Iraq and its ability to rebuild key institutions and infrastructure.
What are the main factors driving this migration?
Violence, persecution, and fear. The United Nations, as well as many of the NGOs we interviewed, have consistently noted that large numbers of refugees have directly experienced violence or death threats, had family members who were targeted or threatened, or had a reasonable fear of persecution if they stayed. So the overwhelming majority of people who have fled have done so in pursuit of safety.
A scholar from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recently wrote that the refugee crisis in effect supports a controversial study showing that there have been more than 600,000 war-related Iraqi deaths since 2003. That study has been disputed by government officials and largely ignored by the mainstream media. As someone who works with these issues, what can you add to the debate?
Unfortunately, there will not be consensus on this key issue. First, it's important to note that the Bush administration never tried to account for civilian casualties and deaths in Iraq, a deliberate effort to deflect attention from the human cost of the war while maintaining domestic support for military operations. The Iraqi government has also sought to avoid this question, largely by limiting access to data about violence and civilian deaths.
Second, a number of organizations and scholars have attempted to estimate Iraqi deaths using different methodologies. As could be expected in an active war zone, their estimates vary widely and each study has generated some disagreement, if not controversy. The Iraqi government claimed 150,000 civilians were killed between 2004 and 2006. The Iraq Body Count, an independent public database of violent civilian deaths derived from media reports in Iraq resulting from the 2003 U.S. military intervention, suggested a death toll (in early 2009) of approximately 90,000-100,000 Iraqis. In 2008 the World Health Organization estimated 151,000 violent deaths occurred from March 2003 through June 2006, more than triple the Iraq Body Count estimates for the same period.
A much higher casualty figure was produced by a preeminent British polling firm—Opinion Research Business—in January 2008. They estimated "that over 1,000,000 Iraqi citizens have died as a result of the conflict which started in 2003." If accurate, this meant that some 20 percent of Iraqis have experienced at least one death in their household due to the ongoing conflict.
Here's the bottom line: while the various figures show key differences, even the lowest estimates highlight the dramatic level of violence in Iraq since 2003. What's most troubling about this is the relative silence by the U.S. Congress and mainstream media about the loss of life in Iraq. Instead, we hear about the "success" of the surge. Similarly, little notice has been paid to the changing life expectancy rates for men and women in Iraq: the current life expectancy rate at birth is 57 years. Life expectancy in Iraq dramatically improved in the late 1970s and 1980s, and then declined significantly with the onset of economic sanctions in 1991. Factoring in gender reveals that life expectancy rates for Iraqi males at birth have plummeted to 48 years, reflecting their risk of dying prematurely from violent causes. So while the Bush administration convinced the media that Iraqi civilian deaths don't merit news coverage, life for the average Iraqi—in terms of life expectancy, malnutrition, infant mortality, access to clean water and health care, and economic opportunity—has actually regressed since 2003. It stretches belief to suggest that U.S. policy in Iraq has been a success.
By some accounts, Iraqis form the largest displaced population in the world today. Yet, in an article for Middle East Report, you cite United Nations data describing Iraq as "the 2nd least funded of the 15 most severe humanitarian crises in the world." What might explain this reluctance?
In the last year funding for displaced Iraqis from the U.S. and other donor nations has improved, due in part to the advocacy of human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations. Yet funding is still below the global "appeals" made by various UN agencies working to serve displaced Iraqis. The Bush administration was slow to respond to this crisis, largely because they sought to minimize the extent of conflict and human displacement in Iraq as doing so would undermine their claims that U.S. policy was "working." Many of the countries most capable of providing significant funding to the UN were essentially waiting until the U.S. provided more aid before they stepped in.
The American effort to resettle refugees has been sluggish, to say the least. In 2006, Sodertalje, Sweden—a city of about 62,000—granted asylum to more Iraqi refugees than the entire United States. Has the balance shifted since then?
Yes, but only slightly. In fiscal year 2008 more than 12,000 Iraqis were resettled to the United States, which meant that the annual goal for Iraqi refugees was met. It is estimated that approximately 15,000 Iraqis will be resettled here each year for the next 3 years. So after an initial reluctance to take Iraqi refugees, there has been a notable shift in U.S. policy. Again, this occurred in large part because of the advocacy of key organizations working to influence public policy.
Last June, Amnesty International released a report, "Rhetoric and Reality: the Iraqi Refugee Crisis," in which they state that the U.S. has been promoting a "false picture of the security situation" in Iraq in order to encourage the return of refugees. What's your take on this?
There seems to be a clear causal chain of events that forced the Administration to begin to seriously address this crisis. Human rights groups and NGOs utilized field research to highlight the ongoing mass displacement and violence. They used their work to pressure the media to cover the refugee crisis in more depth starting in late 2006. These groups also worked with members of Congress and the State Department, beginning in 2007, to change U.S. policy by providing more assistance to UN agencies, as well as bilateral aid to states dealing with Iraqi refugees. They also forced the government to increase the number of Iraqi refugees admitted to the United States. Begrudgingly, the Bush administration was forced to support these initiatives, though it still claimed that its policies have brought stability to Iraq.
What are some solutions to the Iraqi refugee crisis that have been proposed by legislators and non-governmental organizations?
Most of the "solutions" only address partial aspects of this crisis. The idea of increasing humanitarian assistance for refugees in Jordan, Syria, and other states is important, even if these refugees are not fully integrated into these countries. It's also useful to continue to pressure the U.S. government and key European nations to accept Iraqi refugees, though the numbers admitted will be small compared to the overall population. But these are not "long-term" solutions. If we want to see stability in regional states like Jordan and Syria; if we want to avoid the long-term prospect of hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis stuck in limbo in countries where they don't have legal status and cannot work legally; if we care about the well-being of a people our government claimed it was liberating from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, then the U.S. government has to do much more to promote political reconciliation within Iraq. That's obviously a tall order, but until people feel that the security situation has improved dramatically, they won't feel it is safe to return to Iraq.
What can people do to get involved?
Aside from learning more about this issue—getting informed about Iraqi displacement and the human cost of the ongoing war—ordinary people do have the capacity to influence media coverage and help shape public policy. It's clear that most members of Congress are not well informed about Iraqi refugees and IDPs, but also about the general state of human development inside Iraq. Having meetings with these officials or holding public education events can help build public awareness and create momentum for key policy changes. There will be federal legislation this year addressing these issues and there is a clear need for additional support for such measures. Local communities should also be thinking about what role they can play to facilitate a smooth transition for any Iraqis who might be resettled.
Finally, people need to take ownership of U.S. foreign policy to ensure that we avoid another Iraq. Unfortunately, Barack Obama, like many Democrats, is intent on escalating U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. At the same time he wants to maintain a U.S. presence within Iraq. You can talk all you want about "fighting terrorism," and "protecting our way of life." But U.S. troops fighting in a foreign country are usually viewed as occupiers, not liberators, by the local population. There is little to suggest that current U.S. foreign policy—which Obama generally supports—makes the United States any safer. It instead contributes to instability which in turn facilitates human displacement. Until more people demand a radical change in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, we'll be faced with more humanitarian crises, unresolved foreign conflicts, and decreased resources at home to meet basic human needs.
You've been active in a variety of causes over the years—from the Central America solidarity movement to homelessness and housing issues. Talk a bit about your definition of social justice and how it guides your work.
The idea of social justice informs my teaching, scholarship, and much of the professional and volunteer work over the past 25 years. It's directly linked to the idea of solidarity—international and working class solidarity with those groups that experience oppression from a global system predicated on inequality. My teaching and academic research is oriented toward confronting injustice and oppression. I do that specifically because of my belief that "ordinary people" can make history, that social change has been the result of organizing, advocacy, and disruption from below, from the grassroots. In that sense, social justice is a personal belief or value, but it's also a principle grounded in the reality of human history.
Despite all the harmful things done by human beings toward one another—violence, war, slavery, various forms of discrimination—there has also been a historic trajectory of human progress. I'm simply trying to add my contribution to the inevitable.
Seth Kershner is a graduate student and freelance writer based in Western Massachusetts. His reviews have appeared in various journals, including Counterpoiseand Progressive Librarian.
Seth Kershner is a graduate student and freelance writer based in Western Massachusetts. His reviews have appeared in various journals, including Counterpoiseand Progressive Librarian.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.