Post 11 Week 13 ” We Are All One People”

Islam in Europe has so many complex dimensions, even varying by which particular country is being discussed. European-Muslim relations are different in Germany than in, say, France. In Italy, the Muslim community has very different qualities than those found across Europe, a different identity. Stefano Allievi, in Hunter’s Islam, Europe’s Second Religion, gives four distinguishing factors for this community. “(1) diversity of countries of origin, (2) rapid pace of entry and settlement, (3) higher number of irregular immigrants, and (4) higher level of geographic dispersion.” These add up to a drastically different Muslim community in Italy, where the immigrants are more effectively assimilated. These people have come from numerous different countries, meaning no one nationality has overwhelming numbers. Also, they are more spread out, creating less insular communities where their previous country’s traditions and customs are more likely to manifest. This is similar to the situation in the United States, where Muslim people have a greater sense of identity with the host country. In his article, Why the US Doesn’t Have a Muslim Problem, and Europe Does, Naveed Jamali discusses how the US came to its current state. Studies by the Pew Research Center have found that Muslim populations in America are largely average Americans, who live in harmony with their communities. The Pew Center found that 43% of US Muslims think Muslim immigrants should mostly adopt American practices and lifestyles, with just 26% wanting immigrants to remain distinct.

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However, Jamali may be working under a bias, as demonstrated by his origin story. He has family members in Europe, disenfranchised with their situation and national identity. he may see Europe as unwelcoming because his relatives feel no connection, but that may not be the case for everyone. However, since this article was published the national dialogue about Islam has changed drastically in America. With the rise of Donald Trump and American nationalism, foreigners are seen less favorably than in the near past. As fear of terrorism and foreign cultures has spread, we have seen rising rates of attacks on Muslim immigrants and families, a national attitude that these people should “go back to where they are from.” With the ban on immigration from certain Muslim countries, relations between these people have taken a sour turn. I personally don’t know how the American Muslim community is handling these issues, but I have seen certain things firsthand that give me hope.

 

maxresdefaultAfter the ban was announced, here in Columbia at the local mosque, citizens took the time to make sure these people felt welcome. Kind notes and flowers covered the steps of Columbia’s mosque, letting them know we support them and meant them no harm. That is the kind of city I want to live in, one that sticks together and supports people who need help. As long as Americans stand with each other like this, and let the government know that we are NOT afraid, there is still a chance for people to live together in peace. And i think countries like Italy are also paving the way for a more unified tomorrow, there’s no reason people cannot work together and live in the same countries, even with their diverse backgrounds.

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Post 9 Week 8 – “Integration in Europe”

Muslims in Europe have faced a myriad of obstacles in assimilating to their new nations. Ranging from social pressures, political restrictions, all the way to violence. These difficulties could be attributed to the nature of Islam as a religion and social force, but I think that the conditions in these host countries are having a profound effect as well. France in particular, having the largest Islamic population, has run into problems bringing in these immigrants in recent decades. Hunter gives three factors in why France has such a struggle, “(1)  The particular nature of the French notion of secularism, (laicité) which is more strict than in other European countries and even has antireligion dimensions; (2) The close and complex relationship between France and its colonies, especially Algeria…(3) Assimilationist tendencies in France, which have traditionally been very strong” France has a national identity, coming all the way from the French Revolution, that encourages religion to be kept a private matter, outside of the public eye, and this tradition can be stifling to some religious traditions that immigrants may want to practice. Since the 80’s, perceptions of Muslims in Europe have been changing and these have a way of framing relations going forward. There is a common perception that Muslims immigrating is a threat or a problem to be dealt with, rather than an opportunity for positive interaction between these communities. Seeing these people as an “other” divides the communities and hinders communication going forward. “The shift in this image is synchronic with the advent of Islamist movements in the Arab and Muslim world and the world political scene. Suddenly, Islam was something in movement, something in resurgence or revival. Migrants, whose ‘problems’ had been seen as a consequence of their low socioeconomic status during decades, were perceived as ‘culturally different’” Now that these people were seen as part of a larger cultural movement, rather than just new Europeans seeking a better life. These assumptions can become self-fulfilling and force people into their own preconceived notions, keeping everyone from actually learning together, so fighting these opinions is important. Issues like Burkini Bans in France are indicative of a larger social problem. By seeing these pieces of clothing as harmful to French society, they are only widening the gap between native French people and their new immigrant countrymen. The biggest force here is perception, if Europeans take the time to relate to the Muslim immigrants and learn about their culture, I think that more satisfactory conclusions can be reached and people an actually start to live and work together.

The Islamic headscarf is a “threat” to the French’s idea of “abstract individualism” because it is something new and foreign still, they see it as a restrictive garment. In the 21st century, at least in many developed parts of the world, such garments are seen as oppressive to women and their rights. They are seen as garments of religious nature, and as such should be kept in private as France is an officially secular country. Again, the burkini debate brings into conflict these two ideologies and forces people to talk about them. There are so many misconceptions around these garments, such as what exactly a burqa is. Many think that a burqa is the main clothing for all immigrants, but actually they are only worn in a select few countries and rarely in Europe. The more popular head covering for these women is a niqab, which covers the lower half of the face but keeps the eyes visible. These mistakes play into the larger debate and keep people from having rational, informed discussions. I, personally, think that these garments aren’t a huge problem. If these countries in Europe are so invested in “abstract individuality” then I think they should let these people express themselves, which extends to wearing what you would like. One of my rules of thumb is that I believe in the greatest amount of personal liberty to each person as possible. This liberty should be nearly infinite, right up until the moment it infringes on someone else’s right to exercise their freedoms. The instant my way of life interferes with someone else’s, that’s where a step must be taken back. If these Muslim women are not harming anyone or infringing, I see no reason to restrict them from wearing what they like.

Post 7, Week 8: Islam in Europe

In “Muslims in Europe: a short introduction” Justin Vaisse details different perceptions of Muslims throughout Europe, and how they can be drastically different from reality. The first myth Vaisse points out is “Being Muslim constitutes a fixed identity, sufficient to fully characterize a person.” Vaisse contends that with immigrants, people assume that religion “rather than nationality, gender, social class, etc” defines identity. Islam is religion, not a definition of who a person is, and that’s just one assumption to be overcome. Myth #2, “Muslims in Europe are, in one way or another, inherently foreign, the equivalent of visiting Middle-Easterners who are alien to the ‘native’ culture.” One argument Vaisse makes is that European cultures have always had Muslim influences, dating back to the 8th century. Most of these immigrants see themselves as Europeans, and hold that as a new national identity. Myth #3, “Muslims in Europe form a distinct, cohesive, and bitter group” Vaisse reminds us that these immigrant groups are anything but unified and cohesive. These sweeping generalizations of Muslim immigrants only serve to group them under one inaccurate label and delay assimilation. The areas of the world practicing Islam are global, representing thousands of different people groups and cultures. As Vaisse put it, “In other words, to speak of a ‘Muslim community’ is simply misleading.” Myth #4 “Muslims are demographically gaining on the ‘native’ population.” These communities aren’t an organized coalition of voters, they’re diverse politically as well as ethnically. “This assumption is contradicted by the significant rates of intermarriage and conversions (in both directions) and, more importantly, by the reality of integration in many countries, where Muslims are simply patriotic, law abiding citizens…” Obviously, these immigrants are facing numerous obstacles, not just economically, but in the perceptions of their countrymen. Without facing these myths head on, progress can’t be made toward a more diverse tomorrow.

In the West, the Islamic religion is assumed to be concurrent with political beliefs. It is widely believed that the political and religious dimensions of Muslim people are one and the same, when in fact they are distinctly different. Hunter says, “By making such a statement, one gives the impression that it is not possible for a Muslim to integrate into a secular society, which is a completely wrong view.” (Hunter, 209) In fact, Islam has specific guidelines for behavior in both sacred and secular contexts. In worship, specific texts must be followed and each step is outlined strictly. However, in social and secular contexts, a text is required to forbid someone from doing it. This means that politics and religion are not inextricably tied together, and that these peoples do have political agency.

“A community, a nation of responsible beings, can be assessed through its readiness to invest in the education and training of tomorrow’s adults.” (Hunter, 216) Hunter argues that in a diverse, multicultural society requires adequate education to combat bigotry between different peoples. “The role of school education, today even more than in the past, is to train individuals who are capable of questioning meaning, of discussing values, and do not remain confined to a mere selective management of technical abilities and performances.” These issues are important to all Europeans, not just for immigrants. Traditional worldviews and ways of understanding have to be reworked for the 21st century, with changing social and political landscapes. These “social rifts” just serve to divide people and inspire xenophobia, they don’t promote progress as a unified nation. Efforts need to be taken to understand different cultures, not just live next to them but with them. “Muslims in Europe, instead of relying only on the principles of their religion in its Asian or North African versions, should come back to these fundamentals of their faith and play their part within industrialized societies. Together with the members of other religious communities and with all men and women of good will, they must participate in the necessary debate about the place of faith, spirituality and values in the modern and postmodern societies.” Through education and a mutual desire for working together, I think that European countries can be welcoming to these immigrants and the immigrants can find new homes as European citizens.

Post 5 – Microfinance in Swaziland and Abroad

One area of growth that we are seeing right now in developing nations, is in microfinance! Poorer areas have trouble kickstarting growth because they lack the capital to finance their growth. With institutions willing to loan to lower income households, these people can afford to actually take a step and move beyond subsistence. Microcredit creates opportunities for small businesses to emerge, and thrive, in their own communities. In “Social Transformation – Role of Microfinance” by Kavita Kulkarni, Kavita goes through the basics of microcredit and how it can be utilized, but also the shortcomings. Microfinance does provide access to finance to portion of the population that previously wouldn’t have had it, but these households are not traditional clients and lack stable cash flows. These loans are best utilized when the recipients have a project ready to go, so there is no time for the money to be lost. The importance of starting these businesses is that they need to be sustainable and scalable, to create manageable growth. Banerjee and Duflo have to say, “Microcredit and other ways to help tiny businesses still have an important role to play in the lives of the poor, because these tiny businesses will remain, perhaps for the foreseeable future, the only way many of the poor can manage to survive. But we are kidding ourselves if we think that they can pave the way for a mass exit from poverty.”

In Swaziland, the banking system is under very strict control of the government. The CGAP Microfinance Gateway profile on Swaziland does mention non-bank financial services. “Microlenders” Unregulated industry with little avaiolable information on the size and nature of operations.” Other organizations such as Imbita and Lulote work to provide financing and educate the people about their loans. It also goes on to give several reasons for stagnant financing, attributing problems to three causes. “Low economic growth is hampering the development of formal financial sector; Large rural population is involved in subsistence farming which restricts the development of farming operations; Banks are unwilling to serve the lower income market.” I do agree that microfinancing has its limits, but it is a good tool in developing countries that can at least assist the people without giving too much pure aid. In Swaziland, the Swaziland Stock Exhange is “still struggling to build up sufficient market capitalization, and is highly illiquid.” So as far as alternative banking solutions, alternative solutions are not very widespread. Banerjee and Duflo talked about the use of ROSCAs, rotating savings clubs, and I would like to see if such methods could be successful in Swaziland as well.

 

As far as digital technology, it is definitely making a difference. Cell phones and mobile technology are allowing people to forward funds to each other and make their money more liquid. Technology also has a greater effect economically when the people can afford to implement it, so I would argue that after procuring some funds these tech advances would serve the people’s interests more efficiently. But to be sure, services like Kickstarter and GoFundMe here in the states have had success, would they be viable oversees? I think these are important questions, can crowdsourcing work in lower income, developing countries? It may take longer with smaller donations, but I think there could still be success there, as long as people have internet access.

Every plan and method has pros and cons, but with where some of these nations are, any opportunity for growth can’t be passed up. I think that alternative saving plans and ways to conglomerate are going to help these people succeed, and break that poverty trap. It’s just a matter of implementing resources efficiently, and encouraging some discipline and responsibility towards borrowed money. This is definitely one way that sustainable growth can be created!

Post 4: Swaziland, Cheetahs, and Democracy

In Africa, in these developing nations, there is a new movement forming. A new kind of leader is rising, young and inspired Africans who have the vision to change the world. These are called “cheetahs”, a new generation of professionals and leaders who are poised to help lift African nations out of their current situation. Inside South Africa we find Swaziland, a country with a whole heap of issues and very little growth. Much of this is caused by the government, the King of which is the last absolute monarch in Africa. The King allows no criticism of his regime, and employs police and secret service to keep his people in line. There is a congressional body and a prime minister, but they are both under heavy influence of the king and the elections themselves have been determined as unfair and biased by outside observers. One young man in Swaziland, Maxwell Diamini, is taking direct action to fight for freedoms in Swaziland. Any attempts or even discussion of democracy in Swaziland are considered terrorism, so Maxwell has spent much of his life in prison. As former President of the Swaziland National Union of Students, and current Secretary General of the Swaziland Youth Congress, Maxwell has been tirelessly fighting for free speech and for democracy in his country, but has faced much persecution. He has been held in jail for multiple charges of terrorism of criticism of the King’s regime, and also on explosives charges which were later dropped for being false (he was forced to sign a confession.) Many young people in Swaziland are adopting social media as a way to find fresh new perspectives, and to see how people feel about current events. I have actually found Maxwell’s Facebook profile, and he has some really interesting things to say!

“For the first time since 2009, I spent a full year out of prison. My court issues are not yet over pending the state appeal of our constitutional challenge of the STA. Major achievement for me, but I still deeply about Zonkhe Dlamini, Thantaza Silolo, and Amos Mbedzi who are still languishing in Jail. My heart feels for our brothers and sisters who are in exile. Far away from home and their love ones for our freedom. Their sacrifices are not in vain for our people shall be free and they shall come back to the land of their birth. May we reorganize ourselves in 2017 and wage a relentless and heroic struggle for our total liberation” (Diamini, December 31, 2016)

 

Obviously, Maxwell cares deeply about his country and his people, and is not done fighting for the youth in Swaziland, even after government intervention. Cheetahs like Maxwell with fresh perspective and tenacious drive are what give Africa hope, a new kind of leader with humanitarian goals and ambitious ideas. Swazilan ranks very poorly in metrics based on good governance and human rights, with the monarchy failing to do much to help its people. The Freedom House Think Tank gives Swaziland an 18/100 aggregate score on freedoms and civil liberties. 29% of adults age 15-49 are living with HIV infection, which can’t help economic growth or fighting for personal freedoms. Physical health is often the first step to getting work done and achieving goals, without it not much can get done because people aren’t able to reach their full potential. As a monarchy with little political agency for the common people, Swaziland ranks very low in democracy. In general, politically, Swazi citizens have almost no say in decisions for their country, and attempts to organize are usually crushed with violence and arrests. Swaziland does have hope, but that hope does not lie with its current government. The future and freedom of Swaziland is in the hands of its young people, like Maxwell. With sustained efforts, I do believe progress can still be made there.

In Poor Economics chapter 3, “Low Hanging Fruit for Better (Global) Health?” Banerjee and Duflo go into how problems of health impact low-income countries. Sachs’ “Health Trap” talks about this as well, and how poverty is compounded by poor health. People in these impoverished areas usually end up spending the same money on health care, but on less effective solutions. They tend to spend money on expensive cures like antibiotics or last-minute surgery, rather than inexpensive prevention measures. Investments like clean water and sanitation, malaria nets, and immunizations are cheaper and provide long-lasting solutions. Doctors in these areas often tend to underdiagnose and overmedicate, making antibiotics less functional in the future. But if health care providers have better education, these solutions can be implemented and people can actually be helped. By investing in cheaper hygiene systems, money can be saved and waste minimized. When the people are healthy, productivity and quality of life increase dramatically. By creating affordable healthcare and sanitary conditions, these impoverished countries will have the tools to succeed and develop as nations in the 21st century. The path forward is not clear or simple, but steps can be taken to ensure proper health care across the globe, with tangible results.

Post 2 “Good News/Bad News. A Little of Both”

Radelet focuses his book on 17 emerging countries, nations that have been making legitimate progress in Africa. However, first he does take some time to talk about the usual “bad news” coming from African nations. “Newspapers report endless civil wars, repeated coups, gross misrule, famine, disease, and poverty across the continent. Academics, pundits, and Western politicians decry the failures and misdeeds of private investors, foreign aid agencies, or African leaders and paint a picture of a continent in perpetual crisis…But the image of an entire continent mired in failure and hopelessness is increasingly out of date.” A main point Radelet focuses on going forward is that all of Africa cannot be put in the same category, it’s a vast and diverse continent. Radelet divides African nations into 3 groups: the 17 emerging countries, oil producers, and the rest. “It is demoralizing for the emerging countries, some of which work so hard in the face of so many challenges to achieve even small and fragile gains, when they are lumped together and dismissed as part of a disastrous whole.” These 17 nations have showed positive patterns of growth and stability, and improved nearly across the board. The “good news” for these countries can be seen through five fundamental changes. More democratic and accountable governments, along with more sensible economic policies, provide the base upon which the other 3 changes can occur. The change in the nature of the debt crisis, along with new technologies have allowed these countries to improve economically and in quality of life. Finally, a new generation of political, social, and economic leaders are beginning to rise, educated and motivated to help their nations progress.

But how can we measure this growth, and how can we keep it sustainable? First of all, we have many metrics to see how these nations have improved their situations. Economies have grown an average of 3.2% per capita since 2006. Trade and investment have more than doubled, with a noticeable return on those investments. With education, school enrollment, completion, and literacy rates have all increased. Overall, replacing dictatorships with democracies has raised accountability and lowered corruption. But is this growth sustainable? If we look back to my previous post, sustainable growth is all about getting communities involved and keeping costs low. If a system can be infinitely expandable and increase efficiency, rapid growth can be maintained, to a point. MDG’s have helped to organize these small communities and create tangible improvements.

Millenium Villages are a series of 14 communities in 10 different countries, aimed at assisting the villages with sustainable growth. “The Millennium village financing model is built on the premise that, with modest support, rural economies can transition from subsistence farming to self-sustaining commercial activity.” The key is to get the entire community involved and invested, including women and vulnerable groups, so they can all make progress together. The village of Mayange, located in Rwanda, is one of these communities chosen to be a part of the program. The terrain around Mayange is less suitable for crops, being flat and dry. Usually these areas are used for pastoral uses and livestock. Over time with these Millennium Village projects created real growth, but in quality of life and in the economy. New businesses like a cassava flour plant, honey production, pig and chicken farming, and basket weaving/knitting businesses for women. Libraries and computer facilities have been set up to help with literacy and technology skills. The list goes on with more successful small businesses, enabling the members of the community to help themselves out of poverty and invest in the future. The program “Be-Girl Pads” also has taken an interest in the community, choosing fifty girls to participate. In Africa many girls miss fifty or more days of school because of menstrual cycles, making them fall behind and often drop out. These programs supply the girls with hygiene products like pads and help to educate the girls about their cycles. Initiatives like these help people to educate themselves and create a brighter future. If these first free systems seem to be successful, they will be looking into manufacturing these pads locally, creating local small business and jobs. These Millennium Villages have had some success, but questions of the real impact have been raised. If these communities become dependent on foreign efforts, in the future they can have problems becoming self-sustaining. That being said, the progress in Mayange is sustainable, with its small businesses and production of goods they can sell. These Millennium Villages are not the perfect solution to the problem of development, but they have created real tangible growth for the people in these communities.

Post 1: Creating Sustainable Growth in Developing Countries

Jacqueline Novogratz, in her TED Talk “Invest in Africa’s Own Solutions”, goes into the perceptions of poverty and how they are skewed for most people. She points out that often people think of the poor as anyone living below four dollars a day. However, she says it’s important to realize that it’s much more of a complex issue than just income. Poverty is linked with fear, ethnic strife, bad living conditions, all of these are factors. People living below four dollars, when you aggregate it, make up the 3rd largest economy in the world. Her main message is that for aid in impoverished countries, the key is to build small, make it infinitely expandable and affordable to the poor. “The only way to end poverty, to make it history, is to build viable systems, on the ground, that deliver critical and affordable goods and services to the poor, in ways that are financially sustainable and scalable” By doing this, and encouraging the local communities to invest in themselves, these countries CAN be helped out of poverty. Sustainable Development Goals, an extension of the Millennium Development Goals, were set in order to foster an international system of aid for impoverished peoples. These goals, such as lowering the deaths of children or getting more of them into primary school, were intended as a guide by which developed countries could take initiative and focus on helping developing nations. SDG’s call for socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable growth, to help developing countries to become more self-sufficient. Peaking in the later 90’s, neoliberalism has had profound effects on foreign aid, especially from countries like the US. In 1997, The US’s total foreign aid hit .09% of the gross national income, an all time low. The World Bank and IMF put conditions on aid to foreign governments, if they wanted to receive aid. The ensuing cuts in social programs led to a stagnation in these countries, with rising poverty and child mortality, along with a fall in life expectancy. In Own The Goals, John McArthur details how the developed countries of the world, like the US, implemented the SDG’s and how they held back. In the 2000’s, the Bush administration voiced their support of the Millennium Declaration, but not of the MDG’s. They claimed that the MDG’s were ‘UN dictated aid quotas”. Eventually, the US embraced the MDG’s, but not before missing an opportunity to enhance relations with developing countries. By rejecting the concept, not the content, of the MDG’s, the Bush administration held itself back internationally for several years. “The MDG’s have helped mobilize and guide development efforts by emphasizing outcomes…They have shown how much can be achieved when ambitious and specific targets are matched with rigorous thinking, serious resources, and a collaborative global spirit” He criticizes countries like the US and organizations like the World Bank, who drug their feet on actual aid commitments. The World Bank championed MDG efforts at the top level, but failed to get such efforts moving on the ground. In “How to Help Poor Countries”, questions about the efficacy of foreign aid are raised. How can the greatest effect be reached, and does this aid directly influence quality of life? In practice, it is not just the amount of aid but the way that it is implemented that’s important. “Greater opportunities for poor and less skilled workers to move across borders would, more than anything else, increase both the efficiency of resource allocation in the world economy and the incomes of the citizens of poor countries” In order for aid to work, it needs to be effectively implemented to help the correct sections of people. In instances of poor governing bodies, aid funds are mismanaged and often stolen, leading to incredible waste and worsening conditions. The goal is to create sustainable development, to help these developing countries to grow in a healthy way that will continue for many years. McArthur says, “sustainable progress is in the hands of the poor countries themselves” but also, “developed countries should not abandon the poor to their plight”. One consistent point made by several of these speakers/authors, is that incentive is key. In order to encourage these countries to climb out of poverty, the incentive has to be visible and beneficial to the people. Capitalism is a system that relies on profit as a motivator, the end-all-be-all for economic stimulus. By building profitable relationships with these developing countries, the US and other nations like it can help to raise the living standards and well being of everyone.