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By Richard Lim, Peace and Security Issue Analyst

“An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic.”
– Thomas Jefferson

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the
average voter.” – Winston Churchill

Every two years the American people are barraged ad nauseum with ads, fliers, mailers, phone calls, and bumper stickers reminding them to get out the vote. Vote because this election is the most important in history! Vote because your children depend on it!

Indeed, voting is an indispensible element of a republic. For those who have emigrated from nations where sham elections are the rule rather than the exception, voting means much more. It could mean a family member or a friend who went to prison because they demanded their basic rights. Too often we forget the blood, sweat, and tears that made our suffrage possible.
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The governments of Belgium, France and Denmark have now forbid (or are in the process of forbidding) Muslim women to wear the burqa in the public sphere. Brendan O’Neill, journalist with Spiked Online, writes that these bans are alienating Europe from the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment, the very ideas that have laid the foundation for tolerance in Europe. France has presented this ban as a continuation of the ideas of the Enlightenment, in a way to protect its own values instead of the old fashioned religious ones, when in reality, this ban will only hinder the human right to express one’s religious beliefs, which is contradictory to what the Enlightenment was all about.

The problem with this ban is that it is a ban against the symbol of oppression, not the oppression itself. The oppression lies within cultural differences that will not disappear with the banning of the veil. If the European governments want to integrate the very small number of women wearing the burqa or niqab, there are other more efficient ways to do so, rather than to risk that these women will never leave their house again. Proper education, training and suitable jobs are a way to go, but this will require strong political will amongst politicians to achieve, as well as an effort made by the different ethnic communities around Europe. In this case, it may seem easier to just ban the burqa.

A discussion has arisen about whether Europe has lost its tolerance. There is a fear that this ban might increase intolerance towards Muslims, and that the fact that these liberal democracies are legislating what persons can or cannot wear might be a sign that the open and free values of Europe are declining. You do not have to respect the burqa or what it symbolizes, but forbidding people to wear different clothes than you is a far step away from the values of the Age of Enlightenment, which secured the freedom to express oneself for all living in liberal democracies.

By Gary Lubrat
Gary is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Gary below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

Students of the 21st century possess a great deal of technological power to influence future events of geopolitical relationships around the world. The explosion of Twitter, Facebook, and various blogging sites have allowed communication to reach a whole new level. Aggressive authoritarian institutions may seek to silence those using these media innovations, as evidenced by the blackout of Twitter during the controversial Iranian election in 2009.

Young people are at a pivotal crossroads that has the ability to shape the course of human events for years to come. As the world flattens and shrinks due to the use of new internet technologies, it has become even more necessary for those who are on the cutting edge of technology to use it for worldly concerns. Those who use these social networking sites may use it purely for the conventional usage of time-wasting, but it is a great tool to advance progressive idealism infused with youthful optimism that can unite rather than divide people and inform rather than obscure the truth.

There is no mystery as to why every four years the pundits on news programs continuously reference the “Youth Vote.” MTV attempts to excite this demographic through its “Rock The Vote!” campaign. To positively impact the future, those who are most involved in its direction must choose to understand how the geopolitical Islamic situation affects American influence on the world stage. Religion has been a divisive issue at times, and a unifying point of moral resolve during other times.

However, the question is not “How should religion impact political events?” The question should be “Why is Islam, above all other world religions, such an extenuating factor on the world stage?”

My name is Gary. I am the Director of Operations and Development for a non-profit high school student exchange company in the United States. I currently attend Hofstra University pursuing an MBA with a concentration on IT. As an undergraduate I studied at Stony Brook University where I received a degree in English and History. A greater understanding of the duality between the United States and Islam is necessary to move forward in the 21st century to achieve a peaceful and meaningful coexistence.

By James Robertson
James is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about James below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

President Obama’s recent announcement of an end to combat operations in Iraq signals a turning point in American operations there. A war which contributed to American students’ perceptions of American foreign policy will now enter a new stage focused on fortifying the young Iraqi government’s ability to protect and oversee its own people. While the latest round of terrorist attacks cast doubt upon the country’s ability to furnish its citizens with an environment of security, the newly revised U.S. diplomatic mission seeks to provide Iraqi security forces with the guidance and training they need to address future defense concerns.

Much rests upon this important point in Iraq’s progress towards a functioning democratic state. The costs of failure cannot be understated, a position the current administration intends to address by more than doubling the number of private security units in Iraq. This is a commitment that will likely be reflected by private investing, aid, and advocacy groups. The President also noted that Iraq must take control of its future by addressing its own problems. Historically, young people and students in particular have always served as a driving force for development in developing nations, and Iraq is no different.

Students will undoubtedly play an important role in Iraq’s transition to a democratic state. This presents an exciting opportunity for American students to engage and assist a foreign people in their work towards a self-governing society. American students will soon be presented with the chance to affect change in their world by assisting their counterparts in Iraq with the understanding and application of democratic ideals. The result of such an exchange of cultural and educational and values could contribute greatly to the establishment of a democratic peace in Iraq.

My name is James Robertson. I am currently studying Political Science and English at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. The current American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan dominates foreign affairs and will undoubtedly shape American foreign policy for years to come. Accordingly, today’s students will play an important role in determining how relations with these two countries and the Middle East will proceed. Each of us has a voice and I believe it is our duty to stand up and speak out for democracy in these changing times.

On September 18th, Afghanistan will hold its parliamentary election for the lower house, Wolesi Jirga. 2,577 candiates, 405 of them women, have filed to run for the 249 seats. The election was originally set to be held in May, but was postponed due to “lack of security and logistics.” Different factions within the Taliban have threatened to kill those participating in the election, and as last year, they have proclaimed a boycott.  At worst, 15 % of the polling places won’t be open on election day, due to the threats, election officials in Kabul say.

The presidential election of 2009 was a catastrophe.  There were large-scale frauds, low voter turnout, threats from a variety of groups and a general lack of security. The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan collected evidence of election fraud, and Afghans working for the BBC found out there was voting cards being sold on the black market on a massive scale. Hundreds of polling stations in areas where governmental influence is low were shut down the day before the election, allegedly because of the fear of insurgent attacks. There is also evidence that bribes were being offered in order to buy significant amount of votes, to influence the outcome of the election. Voting irregularities occurred as well, especially in the southern province of Helmand, where the numbers of voters in one poll suddenly tripled even though the guards at the poll station had seen very little activity that day.

Western officials have been very clear on the fact that there had been election corruption and that people did not show up because of the lack of security and a sense of apathy towards the government. The Parliamentary election in just a few days faces the same issues the presidential election experienced one year ago. This is a massive test for the security forces in Afghanistan, and for the government officials. If they manage to keep corruption, fraud and violence to a minimum we might see a change of atmosphere in the country, and a new attitude toward the decision makers. However, increased violence and heavy fighting the past year does not leave hopes that high, at least not mine.

-Hakon Kristinsen Moe, Global Peace and Security Program Intern

We are living history. The youth generation of today has witnessed some of the nation’s most momentous events, all of which will undoubtedly be discussed in history classes for years to come. However, not only have we witnessed many, we have participated in and caused for one in particular. In 2008, young voters turned out in record-breaking numbers to the polls to elect President Barack Obama, giving him the win with the largest youth vote for a single candidate ever in history. This election was also the third highest in voter turnout among young people since the voting age was lowered to 18.

In 2008, 51% of voters between 18-29 years old came out to vote—a jump of 11 points since 2000 when 40% voted—constituting the largest spike of any age group. Total turnout of the voting-age population has consistently been on the rise in presidential elections since 1996, when national turnout was 49.1% while in 2008 it was 56.8%. However, while presidential election turnout has been climbing upwards, midterm election turnout has consistently been around 37% since 1978.

Lowered news coverage and overall less “hype” surrounding midterm elections in comparison to presidential races can partially be faulted for minimal turnout during off-years; however, ultimately voters’ mindsets are the heart of the problem. Congressional elections arguably have as much influence over the government’s actions and the overall political scene for the nation as presidential ones. The president’s desires and platform largely, if not entirely, depend on the rulings of Congress to be progressed or denied–making every person’s vote and opinion valuable whether they support the president of the time or not.

This November, the 2010 off-year election ballots will be cast to determine who will sit in 37 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate for many years to come. With such momentous feats amid our freshly blazed trail, we as youth cannot let up now. As the 2010 elections quickly approach, we must keep in mind that our votes are needed as much as ever and that youth hold immense power in politics. Remember, regardless which candidate your vote is cast for, every vote counts in contributing to the workings of democracy upon which our nation was founded. While we as youth are hailed for breaking records in 2008, we can continue to break records with the Senatorial elections of 2010.

Sources:
http://www.civicyouth.org/?page_id=241#3
http://elections.gmu.edu/Turnout_2008G.html
http://www.civicyouth.org/PopUps/FactSheets/FS_youth_Voting_2008_updated_6.22.pdf

“We envision empowered communities everywhere working together democratically to advance a food system that ensures health, justice and dignity for all”

– National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC)

GMO’s, mass produced and overpriced food. Sounds delicious…right?

This is the norm of what food has become for our generation. The mass production of agriculture has led to the commodification of our food, making it over priced in the grocery store as well as hurting local farmers. Not only do these expensive veggies hurt our wallets, but could also have a negative affect on our health.

GMO’s, or genetically modified organisms, are chemically altered and could possibly have a negative impact on our bodies in the future. The scary part is we don’t know if, when or how this could occur.

While negative impacts could hurt physically, local farmers and communities face a large blow. With little disregard to human health, local growers and their choice in what to grow, agribusiness has grabbed community growers choice and freedom in farming.

According to the NFFC, the answer to modified and pricey foods is food sovereignty, or making sure that food is available, healthy and at reasonable prices. This involves de-commodifying food and putting the power back in the hands of local farmers, letting them choose what and how they grow, and which seeds they use.

The NFFC gives some tips in how to reform our food policy towards a more locally sovereign food system:

  1. Be a part of the reformation of the U.S. farm bill
  2. Grow your own garden
  3. Support farm to cafeteria projects
  4. Buy local
  5. Support local farmers in trade debates and Each One Teach One (a model for peer education)

The National Family Farm Coalition is also part of La Via Campesina, an international movement of peasants, small- and medium-sized producers, landless, rural women, indigenous people, rural youth and agricultural workers who are unified in defense of people’s food sovereignty, decentralized food production, and family-farms.  Click here to find out more!

The election of Porfirio Lobo on November 29 represents a giant leap backwards for Honduras and Latin America as a whole. After months of protracted negotiations, the U.S. government suddenly threw its weight behind the illegitimate coup government of Roberto Micheletti and supported elections under its authority. The shameful episode damages Obama’s credibility in Latin America and sets a dangerous precedent in a region with a chequered past.

Last June, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted from power at gunpoint by armed soldiers, and the speaker of Congress Roberto Micheletti was installed as interim leader. Zelaya’s “crime” was to plan a public consultation on moves to change the constitution. The coup was roundly condemned by world leaders, with President Obama calling the coup “illegal”. Yet five months later, the U.S. government has changed tack, backing coup-sponsored elections and grossly damaging the democratic process in Latin America.

The role of the U.S. in the Honduras crisis has been pivotal since day one. Obama’s initial condemnation of the coup was welcomed by many pundits, especially since the U.S. has a history of backing right-wing coups in Latin America. The Obama administration’s early strategy focused on returning President Zelaya to power and restoring democracy, while the coup government’s strategy was to hold onto power until it held elections for a new president. The U.S. responded by cutting aid to Honduras and threatened the military-backed regime with continued international isolation until it negotiated a plan that would enable Zelaya to return to the presidency.

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Post by Kristen Hewitt, Intern for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project and student at The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

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Credit: Kathleen Rafiq

Art can be a powerful activist tool. As a poet and aspiring documentarian, I‘ve come to see that a single voice telling the story of a life changing, emotional experience can be enough to spark of compassion—to move people to act.

The Afghan Women’s Writing Project was created to give women in Afghanistan a direct voice in the world, unfiltered by male relatives or the media. Volunteer writing teachers from the US hold classes online, and help the women to develop their voices by writing stories and poetry in English. The women then upload their work, parts of which are published on a blog.  These women document their hopes, fears, struggles, and victories, opening a window for readers on what women’s lives were like growing up under the Taliban, and what they feel about conditions in their country now.

The project is about fostering good will and understanding between the Afghan women and their readers. It is both an opportunity to empower these women, and for readers to gain perspective on Afghanistan, thus forging a link between America and Afghanistan.

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Original post by Carol Hansen, Intern, USLEAP

Honduran unions are helping lead popular resistance to the June 28, 2009 coup when democratically-Hondurascoup2 elected Honduran President Zelaya was dragged out of bed, abducted, and forced to fly to Costa Rica. The union movement immediately called a national strike, joined by, among others, Chiquita banana worker union members who gave up a day’s pay and more to participate. Teachers unions, the largest in the country, continue on strike, shutting down the education system while thousands of workers have joined peaceful protests that have been met with teargas. Also, members of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) have refused to load or unload Honduran cargo ships in resistance to the coup.

While mediation by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias has so far yielded little progress, the situation in Honduras continues to worsen with reports of hundreds of human rights violations and four political assassinations, including one trade unionist.  The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF) stated in a July 14 press release: “since the coup there has been growing concern at the threat to trade union and popular leaders, and it appears there is a list of leaders who are threatened with detention and whose personal safety is at risk.”

Take Action!

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