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As I brace myself for my final year at American University, graduate level classes, and a highly uncertain job market at the end of the tunnel, I’m (at least a little) comforted by my experiences at AIDemocracy this summer. This organization’s ability to connect the dots between global issues (socio-political stability, food security, local organic agriculture initiatives, US aid policy, and child mortality rates, for example), rather than viewing them in isolation, has always appealed to me. I find myself almost looking forward to writing my senior thesis and diving deeper into these systemic issues that impact global development, global health, and global peace and security.

Over the last few months, many of my micro-level experiences and personal relationships have come to fit into a bigger puzzle of US foreign assistance and trade policies. Researching and blogging about progressive alternatives in the development field has shown me that effective solutions are out there, that their supporters do exist in the public policy arena, and that I’ve actually seen many of these approaches in practice with my own two eyes. My experiences abroad have taken on new meaning and weight, and I’ve realized that young people like myself are, while not scholarly experts, some of the best equipped proponents of such policies.

We are an online generation, the first group of young people fully familiar with Google, Facebook, Youtube, Wikipedia, Twitter, Skype, and WordPress. Yes, this has made some of us lazy, overweight, and phenomenally uninteresting. I would counter that it has made far more of us open-minded and better attuned to global problems. All of that Facebook chatting with acquaintances around the world is worth much more than we generally admit—it’s time we started using it to shift the national policy dialogue about global development, global health, and global peace and security.

It’s been a comfort to share experiences with my fellow activists this summer, to learn we’ve traveled and worked in some of the same communities in the developing world, and to build relationships within the movements for global justice that we’ve chosen to be a part of. It’s been a pleasure getting to know so many of you this summer, and I hope you’ll stay in touch – you’ll always be able to find me through the AIDemocracy network. Meanwhile, I hope to share my continuing research on global development initiatives this fall!

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Previously this week, AID was invited to a discussion with Feministing.com blogger Ann Friedman, who provided some fundamental information on how to utilize blogging as a tool for advocacy. For anyone who is interested in guest posting on our blog, or starting your own social justice or advocacy blog, don’t be daunted! Though some of it may seem a bit self-evident, here are some basic ideas and tips Ann had for creating an interesting and relevant blog to engage supporters and advocates:

Read the rest of this entry »

              The United States has taken a big step in U.S.-Muslim relations… we hope.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed the very first State Department envoy to Muslim communities—Farah Pandith. [1]   This follows President Obama’s promising speech in Cairo, Egypt which was lauded by Muslims, Europeans, and many Americans. People continue to have high hopes in this administration’s dedication to reach out to the naitonal and worldwide Muslim communities. 

For what it’s worth, the following is my wish list for Ms. Pandith; I hope she does not let this awesome opportunity slip away.  She could do an outstanding job by doing this and more: Read the rest of this entry »

I briefly wanted to touch briefly on the subject of international communication, as I think it’s something that is going to be be coming more and more into focus everyday as we move farther into the twenty-first century.

In the past communication at the global level has been largely restrictive in a comparative sense to what we have today. There were days of phone lines, snail mail, and trans-Atlantic flights for meetings.

In today’s world we have virtually none of that. Sure there are still major cables under the sea and we rely on them to a certain extent, but in a growing wireless society more and more people across the earth are capable of talking to each other. Phrasing it like that may sound like this is an old concept, but the effects we are seeing today must be noticed and reflected upon. More importantly, we must as a society capitalize on this chance to expose our citizens to life outside of the United States.

It may seem like a pretty simple idea, but the fact of the matter is a young person in Africa talking to a young person in America happens everyday. Arab students in the Middle East exchanging ideas and cultural reflections with U.S. students on the West Coast is becoming a reality helping aid the understanding of different cultures and nations.

As the world wide web took off early and gave a voice to people around the world, it opened opportunities for thousands of people to engage one another. No longer do teenagers just hang out with friends around the corner. Now they have friends around the corner of the Indian Ocean, across the English Channel, and in the middle of Africa. They have friends in South America, Europe, and all parts of Asia. Never before on Earth have young people had such opportunity to reach out and engage the entire world.

The ability to communicate is revolutionizing the way young people interact, and it is only a matter of time before cultural barriers and prejudices are broken down entirely.

It may be a while, but we’re getting there.

Empower Peace

As I’m sure you have heard by now, Osama bin Laden released a new videotape.

There are a number of theories in play at the moment as to his primary goal, some of which I will discuss below in addition to my own views on the matter.

The message serves a number of purposes. First and foremost, it confirms his continued existence for both his followers and adversaries. There has been speculation in various circles pertaining to his health and ability to elude those who are looking for him. The image he presents is younger and more vigorous then those in the past, bolstering the resolve of his organization and perhaps twisting the thorn in the side of the United States and its allies. That is the primary goal of this tape, and there are there other secondary objectives, which come into play but may not be readily apparent.

Why he is doing it at this point in time remains a key factor in current news cycle. The timed release of this tape has strategic importance for what he intends to accomplish and is critical to his secondary objectives. With General Petraeus and top military advisers ready to deliver their findings on the situation in Iraq this week, the conflict and the Middle East will remain in the spotlight. The continued voice of the mastermind behind 9/11 will never be far from discussion. It’s a key underlying factor that needs to be recognized: he is releasing this tape now to capitalize on the media coverage of Iraq and the Middle East.

Within the tape itself he mentions Iraq in addition to bringing up the pain and suffering of the 9/11 attacks. The inflammatory commentary is designed with two distinct possibilities in mind, which merits further discussion, and would serve to support his organizations long-term goals. These are what I feel best summarize his goals with the release of the video:

It is his hope and in the best interests of his organization for the United States to remain in Iraq and continue to pour its resources into the conflict to the point of destabilizing the nation at home. As much as Bin Laden may criticize the United States, capitalism, and the West; he is highly educated and has an in depth understanding of his adversary and how to strike at them. Think back to the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. In addition to tragedy and pain they caused the nation, they also represented the financial heart of country.

By the United States remaining in Iraq and the Middle East it would serve as a rallying point around his cause. If you take out the U.S. presence it would detract from his ability to point to the “Great White Satan” and their continued violation of The Holy Land. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the military and American presence in Iraq has actually served to increase his credibility and standing in the Islamic world as opposed to striking at the enemy that attacked the country.

If the videotape plays again and again over the course of the week and the media discusses Osama Bin Laden at great length, then his objectives would have been achieved. He would have manipulated the American media into carrying out his own agenda and spreading his message to organizational members and the world.

The height of ironies: Osama Bin Laden using freedom of speech within the United States of America.

If leadership in the United States really wants to focus on handcuffing Bin Laden as much as possible, they should publicly ignore the videotape and give it virtually no airtime. Do not discuss it in press briefings and implore the major media outlets to play it as little as possible or not at all.

The successful strategy to combating violent extremism in the world today is to isolate credibility. The information saturated media environment we exist in is determined by whom we see and hear. By giving Bin Laden an international stage and platform to use, it will only undermine the national security and stability of the United States.

In the long run, the way to combat extremism is by portraying reactionaries and violent individuals for where they are: outside credibility and outside the civilized world.

Hey guys,

Just thought I’d draw your attention to a new web-based radio station that has been getting quite a bit of press here in the UK. It’s called ‘Salaam Shalom’ and it describes itself as "an online radio station broadcasting a mixture of music and speech and focus on the many aspects of Jewish and Muslim life and allow two cultures which have been linked for thousands of years to talk together and share their experiences."

Salaam Shalom is run by young Jews and Muslims and claims to speak on behalf of the ‘moderate majority’, whose voices are rarely heard in a mainstream media.

Here’s the website if you want to check it out www.salaamshalom.org

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