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I was recently forwarded this article by Peggy Noonan about how youth has outlived its usefulness in American politics.   I was absolutely stunned by her allegations that we are in need of wise old men to guide our futures.  I want to respond to her points thoroughly, so please forgive me if this is long.

First, Ms. Noonan asserts that there is something missing in Washington and that ‘we’ (whom she is including in this we is unconfirmed. Though I suspect it is older, upperclass, white persons…) want something else — and that something is wise old men in advisory positions.  She says:

“They miss old and august. They miss wise and weathered. They miss the presence of bruised and battered veterans of life who’ve absorbed its facts and lived to tell the tale. This is a nation—a world—badly in need of adult supervision”

That presence, she goes on to say, is a father figure, one not unlike the character of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. In these opening statements, Ms. Noonan has rejected feminism and all that feminism has done for her. Why is the ‘father figure’ the necessary metaphor? Does Ms. Noonan imagine this council of wise old men as being protectors, as someone to whisper comforting statements that reassert how much better the US is than other nations, how the US should continue unflinching down its path of racism, xenophobia, sexism etc? What about wise old women? Did they not also live through these experiences that Ms. Noonan claims are so useful in guiding politics today?  Or is her implication that their wisdom is restricted to the home, housework and raising children?  Lest she forget that she is a woman who has her job because women stood up and resisted the saturation of old white men in power.

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“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and human rights.” – UN Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

Thursday, International Human Rights Day, Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) hosted a special screening of The 800 Mile Wall.  The film highlights the impact of new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border on migrants trying to cross into the U.S. and the communities that receive them.

The Tohono O’odham Nation, for example, has seen an unprecedented number of bodies recovered on their tribal territory in Arizona.  The wall funnels migrants directly onto the reservation.  Tohono O’odham Tribal Members, Mike Wilson and David Garcia, have spent the past year filling water stations for those who crossing the desert.  Though Tohono O’odham tribal leaders have approved water trucks for horses and cows in the same area, they have prohibited Mike and David’s water stations.

In California’s Imperial Valley, hundreds drown in the current of the All American Canal.  Despite repeated appeals for improved safety features on the canal, the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors ignored the human coast and focused instead on relocating the canal’s carp and bass.

Then, there’s the mistreatment and human rights abuses committed by U.S. border patrol during apprehension, at processing centers, and during the repatriation process.

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This is a short segment from a paper I am working on about the Youth Movement in the International HIV/AIDS area. I met Stephanie this past August at the International AIDS conference in Mexico City, and interviewed her on her impression of the state of the youth movement and how young people are mobilizing around HIV and AIDS issues. What follows is an excerpt from the paper and a summary of the interview:

Stephanie is a 16-year-old HIV+ youth from Australia who was born HIV+. She is an incredible young woman and a fervent advocate for children born with HIV. Stephanie recounts that youth don’t get much say or much power in policy making, and much red tape affects a young person’s ability to even participate in events like the International AIDS Conference (she mentioned that it was difficult even for her to get to Mexico to the conference, as individuals under18 years old are not funded to go, because insurance companies don’t allow it). As a young person born with HIV, she has suffered much discrimination and stigma, and despite the many advances and accomplishments of her and her peers, growing up, it was still “very obvious [to her] that [she and other HIV+ youth] weren’t accepted in the community as an organization or as players in the HIV field.” Things have changed dramatically, she noted that even coming to a conference such as the International AIDS Conference surprised here: “people just sat and listened to what I had to say and it was really overwhelming and different.” Stephanie has made this her life goal, and is tirelessly working to make sure that prevention and education are key, and supporting HIV+ people and the discrimination and stigma that they face.

Stephanie believes that getting young HIV+ people involved is key. Her concern is that groups of more experienced and older activists and positive activists aren’t making any room for young people. She mentions that whenever she says anything to them, they think they are being disrespected because she is so young. While having enormous respect for them, starting all these organizations from scratch, she still believes these more experienced activists have an amazing opportunity to mentor and teach youth and they aren’t doing it to the best of their abilities; “would you rather mentor a youth and teach them what you know and know that they will do a good job because you’ve taught them what you know or a random middle-aged person coming into the job who doesn’t know anything.” Her point is well taken and elucidates the need for the peer education others also called for. She also called for a need to break the silence to talk about sex especially by public figures and especially in public forums and debate. She talked about how the US has so much power, and bemoaned how unfortunate it is that they aren’t using it to do as much good as they could be; “The US has a lot of influence, it creates this ‘we should be doing what they are doing because they have the money and the power’.”

The most pressing issue for Stephanie was surprising: “it’s not the illness that’s bothering us, it’s the medication.” She explained that her most pressing issue was the side effects (both physical and psychological) she felt from the HIV medicines she was taking. I learned that pediatric medicines did not exist until Stephanie was about 6, and she so and her mother had to steal medicines that were not appropriate for children, therefore she and many other positive youth now experience symptoms of lipdistrophy (wasting) and lipoatrophy(gaining), where they either gain tremendous amounts of weight in concentrated areas, or they waste away and cannot gain any weight at all.

Stephanie was very clear in explaining that the peer education she and other fellow HIV+ are working to make available. She recalls that “it saved our lives basically because of all the social discrimination we faced… we just needed to be normal.” The biggest problem that is not working right now that Stephanie explained what happens when governments give funding then take it away. She believes that they should either give it or don’t; “it’s way too political for an illness; I don’t know any other illness that is so politically geared and so controversial, and no one wants to talk about it. It makes it really difficult.”

Despite all the hardships and difficulties she has been dealt, or maybe in part because of them Stephanie has become a committed and lifelong advocate for HIV+ youth rights. Her final words stuck with me throughout the conference and still stand out in my mind as so crucial “Nothing about us without us.” I think this is a perfect summary for how policies on youth should be created, and an example of the knowledge and understanding young people have of what they need.

Courtney Matson

Amnesty International has a devastating new documentary up about the segregation of Romani children in Slovak schools. As I work on Roma issues, this hit me hard. Slovakia has been a member of the European Union since 2004, yet it still practices blatant, state-sanctioned racial discrimination, and denies its Roma citizens (who account for about 1/10 of the total population) basic human rights. Shameful.

Here is another video that should give you a better idea of the appalling conditions of life Roma in Eastern Europe are subject to.

the short film is titled "Vuka Vrcevica," the name of a slum on the Belgrade municipal dump in Belgrade, where thousands of people live in abject poverty and squalor. (I’ve seen this slum myself, and it’s awful.)

On a more positive note, IntLawGrrls has a post about the case that is being called "Europe’s Brown v. The Board of Education," a case in which the ECtHR ruled against the Czech Republic for systematic discrimination against Romani students.

          Europe’s Brown v. Board of Education

It would be hard to exaggerate the level of racism experienced by Roma
(widely known as “gypsies,” a word many Roma abhor) in virtually every
facet of daily life. Hostility toward Roma runs so wide and deep that
it is peculiarly difficult to dismantle: Governments that have an
otherwise strong commitment to human rights all too often act on the
belief that Roma have earned the stereotypes that are enforced to their
Thus it is all the more noteworthy that discrimination
against Roma in the Czech Republic provided the occasion for this
week’s historic judgment by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
In the Case of D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic the Court’s Grand Chamber ruled on November 13, 2007, that Czech Roma have suffered unlawful discrimination in relation to education,
a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocol
No. 1. (Proud disclosure: My colleagues at the Open Society Justice
Initiative, James Goldston and Anthony Lester, were lead attorneys in the case.)
decision marked a watershed in anti-discrimination law in Europe. For
the first time, the ECHR found that a pattern of racial discrimination
in primary education, in this case resulting in an especially
pernicious form of segregation, violated the anti-discrimination
provision of the European Convention.


The United States may be the great melting pot, with our myriad of
ethnicities, but we are hardly the only country to worry about
immigration.  I’d even say that while we have a lot to work on, the US
does comparatively well on the Immigration Scorecard.  C+, B- maybe.

Europe, on the other hand, has a whole range of immigration policies
from a warm welcome to fire and pitchforks (figuratively of course… I
hope).  We should pay attention to Europe’s response to immigration
because their efforts and complaints mirror many of our own.  So today I
present to you two European countries, one that has a disappointing, xenophobic
policy, and one that I give a full two thumbs up; Switerland and Ireland.

For being in the heart of Europe, and clearly marked by a mix of several
cultures including German and French, the rampantly racist political messages
that are floating around the country shocked me at first.  Three white
sheep stand on one side of the border.  The other side of the border
stands a black sheep, clearly prohibited from crossing that line.  The
message is clear and is gaining ground with many Swiss.  "The message
of the party resonates loudly among voters who have seen this country of 7.5
million become a haven for foreigners, including political refugees from places
like Kosovo and Rwanda." Says the New York Times (10/08/2007).

There are many reasons why so many Swiss are in favor of absurd immigration controls,
such as a required 12 years of residency to even be considered for citizenship
and mandatory identification cards, Researching them gave me an eerie
reminder of my life as an ethnic and national minority in Japan. Much like Japan, the “official” reasons for
xenophobia in Switzerland are security. They claim that immigrants, especially from poorer Eastern Europe or
Africa, are more likely to engage in crime.

This argument both countries give to the world is weak however. Statistically speaking crime is higher in
this demographic, but so is poverty. It
is more difficult for immigrants to find the jobs they need to raise their
positions and become stable members of society, when employers look for
citizenship and exhibit racial preferences.

Looking at Ireland, we can observe how a welcoming society, while not free
of issues, can greatly change the people immigrants become for the better. Time Magazine detailed in their September 17th
issue, the life of Rotimi Adebari, a man straight out of Africa who settled in
Ireland, became a citizen, and recently won the mayoral election in his adopted
town. The full article can be read

While even Adebari admits that since his immigration, times have changed in
Ireland, we can see two paths in this debate; segregation and exclusion which
leads to immigrant vilification and increased instability, or we can see
cooptation, where countries make immigrants welcome residents in their own
right, and immigrants respond by adopting patriotism and passion for their new

The United States is stuck somewhere in-between these
two policies. Can we have the fortitude
to get beyond petty apprehensions and underlying ethnic tensions to embrace new
citizens, or will we never see an end to the regulations, the walls, the
attempt at isolation that limits us as a nation?

Fortunately, there are some bright spots at Cornell and students who are taking on the Cornell American for their intolerance (see my earlier post below). Here’s one bright spot — a great letter from Elisabeth Stern to Cornell’s President David Skorton:

Dear President Skorton and Ms. Ann K. Huntzinger,

I am writing to address a distressing article that was published recently in The Cornell American. I know that as a University dedicated to freedom, human rights, tolerance, and equality that you will surely agree that The Muslim Educational and Cultural Association’s annual Islam Awareness Week 2007 was an active and valuable contribution to the Cornell community.

Unfortunately, at least some of those at The Cornell American do not agree. I am aware that Cornell University supports and protects the right to freedom of speech. I agree that freedom of speech is crucial to the values that our community and nation stand on. However, the article on Islam Awareness Week, published in The Cornell American, contradicts those same values. The article not only mocks Muslim people and stereotypes all Muslim people as terrorists, but was an attempt to undermine others’ efforts to break such gross misconceptions. This article projects a frightening message of disrespect and discrimination. One can only hope that it is not a precursor to an even more overt act of intolerance. Even more terrifying, this is not the first time. The Cornell American has repeatedly exhibited support for active discrimination, inequality, and bigotry. The Cornell American is a source of budding intolerance on campus and a disgrace to the Cornell community at large.

Attached is an email that I received today from the president of Americans for Informed Democracy (AID), Mr. Seth Green. It was he who alerted me to this incorrigible article. I have worked with AID on multiple projects to address issues such as the genocide in Darfur, the global environment, and the malaria epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. I value their activism, support, and contributions to the attainment of global human rights. This article directly attacked the efforts of AID and similar organizations. I believe that in order to redeem the University as a whole, these issues must be publicly addressed.

I understand that the students responsible for this did not explicitly break a rule. I am not asking for the students involved to be punished. However, just as it is their right to compose and publish this article, it is your right to denounce it.

The article at hand, in itself, is not an act of persecution. However, it is a clear statement of support for discrimination against Muslim people. As I’m sure you are aware, most physical acts of discrimination (hate crimes) are preluded by words of generalized indifference or hate towards the group attacked. I urge you to take action now by reiterating your beliefs about the importance of tolerance to the Cornell community. Furthermore, I hope that you will re-evaluate ways in which to actively implement Cornell’s motto: Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds.

If you are interested in discussing this further, I would be more than glad to. Thank you for attentiveness to this threat to the Cornell community.


Elisabeth A. Stern

I am posting to let you know about a deeply disturbing article in “The Cornell American” that has recently come to our attention at the central office of Americans for Informed Democracy. As you know, our organization works very hard to build understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims because we believe that what we have in common is far greater than what separates us. And we have been amazed throughout most of our work at the tolerance and understanding of young people to see past some of the prejudices of our time.

But unfortunately, the editors at the Cornell American do not share our value of tolerance and instead they seem quite set on promoting a clash of civilizations. A recent article they published is below. It is absolutely unconscionable. To stereotype all Muslims as terrorists is insensitive, inaccurate and most of all dangerous. We are living in a time where relations are already tense. The last thing we need is irresponsible journalists who seek to play on this tension with demeaning and empty rhetoric.
I am posting their piece here so you do not need to visit their website. The last thing we want to do is draw more traffic to their site. If you are as angered by this article as we are, let them know by e-mailing: You may also want to e-mail Cornell University’s President to ask him

Thanks for taking this matter seriously.


Islam Awareness Week 2007!

This past week, The Muslim Educational and Cultural Association held its annual Islam Awareness Week 2007. As if Islam wasn’t made painfully aware to Americans already, we at The Cornell American decided to co-sponsor some events of our own. The following schedule of events this past week were both enlightening and entertaining…

Monday, 4/9

4:30 — Book signing with Moqtada al-Sadr at the Cornell Store
Come with your copies of “The American, the Infidel, and Jew” to be signed by
Iraq’s biggest militia personality.

7:00 — Cornell Cinema Presents: The Bin Laden Tapes
With commentary and Q & A session with Cornell’s resident expert on Middle Eastern affairs, Laura Taylor. At Willard Straight Hall.

Tuesday, 4/10

3:30 — Campus-wide militant riot. Meet at CJL. B.Y.O. AK-47.

5:00 — Flag-burning on Ho Plaza
Denounce the imperialist agressors.

8:00 — Sunni-Shia Hockey Showdown at Lynah Rink
Losers beheaded according to the will of Allah.

Wednesday, 4/11

4:30 — IED Construction Dos and Don’ts with the Chemistry Department
(Baker 101 E) What has some bang? What fizzles? Don’t embarrass yourself—come to this instructional seminar!

7:30 — Make your own kidnapping video with the Film Department
(Schwartz SB23) Ropes, victims, masks, and large blades provided.

10:00 — CUTV presents Jimmy Carter’s self-detonation for Palestinian rights
Broadcast live from

Thursday, 4/12

10:00 — Okenshields “Oil for Food”
Instead of meal plan, Okenshields will trade full-day passes to the dining hall for a pint of crude.

1:30 — Taliban fighter recruitment with John Walker Lindh
(Barton Hall) Want to make a statement? Get involved with the “American Taliban!”

8:30 — Burqa Beauty Pageant @ Schwartz Auditorium in Rockefeller Hall
Grand Prize: Be stoned to death for being a shameless harlot. Runner-up gets a goat.

Friday, 4/13

Noon — Jihad on Day Hall
Occupy Day Hall until the Campus Code of Conduct is changed to reflect sharia law!

9:30 — Public Execution of Eric Shive
Round out your Islam Awareness Week by helping dispose of this campus’s biggest infidel!

* Camel Parking provided.

** Security at all events provided by CUPD and Hezbollah.

First, thank you all for your comments regarding my last posting.  Usually, I don’t like to be a downer, but discrimination is a major problem in Hungary.  I’d like to hit home this idea though: it’s not just an Eastern European thing.  Acts of discrimination has happened to be all over Europe.  In November 2003, I was assaulted in Belfast over how I looked.  In December 2004, I managed to get some taunts in 4 different countries for my appearance: France (where I was even spit on), Spain, Portugal, and Italy.  In Romania, I was refused a taxi four times, each citing that ‘they wouldn’t take Chinese people’.  In Copenhagen, I had problems 6 times in 6 months.  Of course nothing beats my personal record: 2 weeks, 5 experiences in Holland.

What I’m trying to drive home is that it happens in places where one would not think (e.g. liberal democracies), but it does.  Many of these governments stress tolerance.  When I think of tolerance, I think of ‘I’ll put up with your existence, despite my overwhelming disdain for your kind’.  What these governments and many others should be shooting for is acceptance, a concept surprisingly very tough to foster.

I’ll give you an example:

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a course on Constitutionalism and Democracy.  Basically, we discuss various aspects of constituion-making in societies around the world, especially ones in democratic transition.  We had a discussion on minority rights and protection.  Things were fine at first, but then the topic of the ‘gypsies’ – the Roma – came up.

Then thoughts that many of my progressive colleagues had went from egalitarian openness to closed-minded bias.  I heard comments like, ‘they don’t want to integrate because they’re different people.  They are criminals anyways’.  What they did not know was that one of our colleagues in the room is Roma, secretly because of fear of discrimination and judgement.  I find it really sad that he has to conceal his background because of reprisals and that he cannot feel pride of his culture, instead of shame.  ‘Doesn’t that hurt?’  That’s what I always ask him.

FYI, there are many groups in Budapest that do work regarding anti-discrimination.  The European Roma Rights Centre does some great work.  Check them out.

One last point:

Most of the time, problems I face are happen completely out of the blue like on the metro.  Most of the time, I am not speaking.  So when they see me, they make the judgment.  Depending on their alcohol consumption, they approach me with their buddies.  Depending on the age, they give lewd swears, etc. 

Now, when I do open my mouth, they realize that I have an American accent.  Then I get another problem.   There’s this wave of anti-Americanism that’s been around for some time.  And looking the way I do and speaking the way I do seems to be a double whammy.  Despite the fact that many people separate the policies of the United States from the citizens of the United States, some people do not.  And sometimes it’s the same people who hate me for how I look.

If you’ve ever experiences any sort of discrimination for how you look AND where you come from, please drop a line.  Your comments are always welcome.

What we should be striving for…

First, let me apologize for the prolonged absence.  The busyness at uni got crazy and the university presidency took a life of its own.  Now I’m back despite the burnout and the zombie-like status of my sleep regime.  Despite all these recent (chronic) hurdles, I actually got some inspiration to write today.

Why?  The reason is this:

Today, I took my normal routine to the university – take the Yellow Metro line from Opera (the center of town) to Deak Ferenc Ter (the connection of all transport in Budapest).  It was a normal day, but it didn’t turn out to be that.  A Hungarian women in her mid-40s started speaking to me in a not-so-friendly tone.  I usually just ignore it or smile, but the reaction of the gentleman’s face next to me made me realize that it was probably a bit serious.

I asked him what she was saying.  He deciphered, "You are the reason for the problems in my country.  Go back to China to the rice fields where you came from."  At first I laughed and then proceeded to tell her (through the Hungarian man) that she should go back to the 15th century where she came from.  And that I wasn’t Chinese actually.  I’m American, albeit from Vietnam.

You may think this is some rarity in Europe.  I have news for all of you reading this.  This is not the first time this has happened to me.  In fact, this is the 6th time since September.  And it’s from all ages, big and small, men and women, rich and poor.  It really broke my heart because this is Europe.  One would think that this line of ridiculous thinking didn’t occur here, but it does. 

What is the huge puzzle is that it only happens to be IN EUROPE!  It’s never happened to me in North America, Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, or Sub-Saharan Africa.  NEVER.  And I can’t seem to understand why.  Thinking it was just me, I asked my other non-white colleagues.  They have all experienced the same thing in Budapest.  This is the EU.  This is Europe.

But after backpedaling, I realized that it’s also happened to me in other countries – East, West, North and South (and some of it led to altercations and spiting, all those nasty things associated with blind hatred).

The fact is that identity, ethnicity and nationalism is still raw here.  Sadly, this is not simply a one generational thing.  It’s going to take much more work – much more than simple tolerance, but rather, the political and social will to truly bring people into the community – whether by forums, public discussions or at least saying hello at the minimum.

Have you experienced racism or acts of discrimination abroad?

I was recently asked to answer this question: What is the most problematic and damaging piece of conventional wisdom in American foreign policy today, and why?

Here’s my answer in a nutshell: Islamofascism. 

Islamofascism represents an attempt to link the fight against terrorism today with past fights against Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.  Its proponents seek to cast their opponents to that fight as today’s appeasers.  Although the comparison between twentieth century totalitarian states and twenty-first century terrorist networks may sound like a stretch, it has gained widespread acceptance among the policymaking elite, including President Bush.  Indeed, among both Democrats and Republicans, it has become all too common to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the security threats that the United States faces today by uniting Islamism with fascism. 

There are many reasons to think that this piece of conventional wisdom is faulty, not to mention dangerous, but the main one is that Islamofascism encourages us to conflate extremely different groups together under its banner, whereas we should distinguish their beliefs and goals and then plan our policies accordingly.

Now that we are in the fifth year of the war on terrorism, many answers to the key questions for American national security strategy remain unclear.  How have we defined the threat?  How have we defined success?  Is clear victory possible?  The concept of Islamofascism only takes us further away from answering those questions and thus enacting an effective foreign policy.  As John Lewis Gaddis has keenly pointed out, the policy of containment, too, was characterized by debates over whether or not to conflate different types of communism around the world.  In order for the United States to develop a national security policy that will be as ultimately successful as Kennan’s containment, there must serious rethinking inside of the Beltway about the true nature of the threats that the United States faces today.

Anyhow, that’s the short version of my answer.  What do you think the worst conventional wisdom is?


August 2020

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