Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fort Hood: Why?

On Thursday November 5th, a man opened fire at a military base Fort Hood in Texas. The gunman killed 13 and left 30 wounded. The shootings were devised by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a mental health professional that worked at the base. Sources say that he was awaiting his deployment to Afganistan. This could be the trigger for his insanity—the fact that he was about to be sent to a very violent place. I remember watching the news while this story broke. I was very upset to hear that yet another mass shooting had occurred in the United States. What was his motive? Why did this happen? The American public has yet to find accurate answers to these questions. However, there is plenty of speculation to go around…

I was watching the local news and was surprised when I realized the reporter was reporting from an Islamic Center in Los Angeles. Why was she doing that? Then I heard the gunman’s name, Hasan. So they are turning this into a militant Islamic attack? Well he is a Muslim so he must be associated with terrorist organizations from Afghanistan. Then you get reports like this one that say that it is “possible” that Hasan had relationships with two of the 9/11 hijackers. Could these people have influenced him to side with radical Islamists whose aim is to destroy the United States? Well, maybe, but more investigation needs to happen into the dynamics of these relationships. I do not think that because “all were in the area at the same time” means that they were friends.

View more about his possible motive: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=5581022n&tag=api

One report states: “Questions still remain unanswered whether this was an act of terrorism or just a soldier’s stress mismanagement.” This sentence indirectly defines terrorism as an apparatus coming from the Middle East. The reporter is stating that a question still remains if Hasan had direct ties to al-Qaeda, because, if not, well it’s not classified as terrorism. I tend to think that a mass killing of 13 people can be easily defined as terrorism.

People just do not want to accept the fact that this could be a case of American home grown terrorism. What if he had no contact with terrorist abroad and that his anger and violent behavior were cultivated on our own soil? Well, maybe that is a little too simplified. You cannot deny the fact that he practices Islam and that could have very well defined the reasons he perpetuated this horrific act of violence. But is it responsible to immediately report that there are possible connections with the terrorist organization al-Qaeda?

Many of the reports I read attempted to connect him to al-Qaeda because his name was Hasan and because he practiced Islam. They want to create a good versus evil scenario where al-Qaeda inspired terrorism is the evil and U.S. soldiers are the good. I think in this case, it is more accurately classified as an army psychiatrist who did not want to be deployed as the bad and, well, there really is no good.

The best part of this entire story? He survived his own suicide mission. Hasan was actually able to recover from the four gun shot wounds that took him down during his rampage. This means that we will be able to find the answers that we are looking for—assuming he is not assassinated or commits suicide first. We can only hope that his motives will be revealed because I know I am not the only one that is curious. And all this speculation is killing me.

UPDATE: The radical imam Anwar Alawlaki, who was the imam at the mosque Hasan attended in Virginia, just posted an interesting commentary on his website entitled “Nidal Hassan Did the Right Thing.” The comments under the article are rather eerie. Let the anti-Muslim movement commence once again…

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Taking the Death Penalty to the Supreme Court

For the third time, the United States Supreme Court is considering a case about the death penalty for a Californian prisoner. Fernando Belmontes was sentenced to death in 1982, but has since gone through a rollercoaster of appeals and affirmations of his case. Over twenty seven years ago, Belmontes brutally murdered a 19-year old girl by beating her repeatedly with an iron dumbbell in order to steal her radio. His case is not going to the Supreme Court to discuss whether or not he is innocent. Rather, it is to discuss whether or not the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for the inmate.

There are several reasons why his case has gone through the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals three times. It is important to consider the perpetrator as a human being with extenuating circumstances rather than a static, cold blooded murderer. He grew up in an impoverished family, with an abusive, alcoholic father who beat both him and his mother. While these circumstances are in no way an excuse for his inexcusable behavior, they ought to be considered in the sentencing of a murderer. However, in Belmontes’ case, this evidence of his past was not brought to light during the sentencing period. Rather, his past violence and trouble with the law were discussed.

Another circumstance that should be analyzed when considering his case is the fact that the judge ordered jurors not to consider evidence suggesting that Belmontes had undergone a sort-of rehabilitation while in prison. His conversion to Christianity and his willingness to help others in his same situation were not considered during the sentencing period. One of the two California Authority chaplains described the man as “salvageable” and that he could be an asset to the prison as he could potentially be used as a counseling resource for other inmates.

In order to look at this appeals situation holistically, one must understand the state of the death penalty in California, a state where death sentences are rarely carried out. With 695 prisoners currently on death row, we have the largest row in the nation. However, only 13 of these inmates have been executed since the death penalty was reestablished in ’77. This is in direct contrast to Texas, who has executed 441 prisoners in that same time period. The difference lies in the fact that in Texas, the conservative judges often uphold the death rulings and disallow for the years of litigation that we have in California. But which system is fairer?

I believe that we should get rid of the death penalty. Just consider the amount of resources the Belmontes case is taking advantage of. If we outlawed the death penalty in California, the years and years of resources that litigation consumes would again become available. The story of Fernando Belmontes is violent and tragic. We, as potential jurors, must remember that each and every individual convicted murderer has a story that should be taken into account when considering whether or not to end their life. Or in a Californian prisoner’s case, to be put on some list that means little besides a maximum security cell.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

D Day for Drug Users in California

Walking into a convenience store and buying a joint filled with home-grown marijuana, the fresh scent of rich bud in the air…it sounds like just another day in Amsterdam. However, with at least three legislation measures planned for the 2010 ballot and a steady support seeming to build, it could soon be just another day in California. Mom and pop greenhouses will be telling their slightly-stoned customers to “shop American” as they compete with their local Mexican or Columbian drug cartel.

Yes sir, the “War on Drugs” may be coming to a swift end in the Golden State. Grass smokers everywhere will storm the sunny beaches of California as they celebrate counter culture D-day. I studied social policy in Amsterdam for four months, where I was able to understand the logic and benefits of the city’s drug policies. The legalization of smoking marijuana allows the city to collect taxes from the sale of the harmless drug. Not only do the taxes bring in revenue, but the massive amounts of tourism accounts for the dollars acquired by the state.

This is exactly what California needs! Right now, the West Coast state is in dire need of extra revenue. We are struggling to keep unemployment down while the state is in a large amount of debt. Marijuana is already California’s biggest cash crop bringing in about $14 billion a year. The state needs to capitalize on this capitol; if we legalize marijuana it will bring in an estimated $1.3 billion in revenue. This taxation of marijuana provides a form of regulation of the drug trade that is not currently available while the drug is illegal.

Not only will the state benefit from the influx of tax revenue, but many local businesses and restaurants benefit from the influx of tourism brought to California because we would be the first to legalize marijuana. Counter culture lovers and pot heads alike would flock to California to smoke the potent weed that was grown on the side of the I-5 freeway. Imagine the possibilities. People would need to stay at hotels as their red eyes would need rest, and restaurants to eat at as they would all have the munchies.

Marijuana growing businesses would thrive and decrease the unemployment rate. Farms would be able to educate and hire workers to harvest the crop, provide business for crop transportation and increase the flow of customers to distant shops. Other small businesses, like providing bus tours of the local weed farms, would be able to create jobs while increasing awareness of the benefits of marijuana. Years from now, there would be museums as well as other forms of entertainment to promote tourism and increase revenue for California. Drug tourism works for Amsterdam and it can work for California, too!

Since 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled that prosecution of state-wide federal crackdown was permitted in states that had legalized medical marijuana, there have been over 200 of these raids. However, in a new development, last Monday Obama’s people sent a memorandum to the 14 states who currently allow the use of medical marijuana stating that it would no longer go after their dispensaries. The current administration believes that there is a better use of the already strained federal forces. This new policy of respecting states rights only promotes the vigor to get the drug legalized in 2010. Not only would it be awesome to legalize weed in California, but its necessary for our economy.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The story of run-a-way hot air balloon was filled with hot air

On Thursday morning, I was sitting at my sorority house enjoying some tomato soup for lunch when my friend, who was checking the news on her Blackberry, screamed “Oh my God!” She explained to the table the horrifying tale of a young boy caught in a weather balloon by himself. My reaction to the story was that I felt incredibly sad and scared for him—the poor boy must be so petrified, and how will he get down? The frenzy of media attention turned the story from a local to a national narrative.

Los Angeles Times reported that the Colorado Army National Guard was preparing helicopters for the child’s rescue and that flights in and out of Denver International airport were being rerouted because of concerns for the boy’s safety. Then, lo and behold, the boy was in the garage the entire time, safe and sound. I was so excited to hear the boy was safe with his family. The amount of constant media coverage of the case continued that night when Falcon and his family made an appearance on Larry King Live. This is when it gets a little awkward:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wI6UONWCq7A

When the dad puts his son on the spot, his son told CNN that his parents said that the story was for a show. I was dumbfounded. This was a publicity stunt? As other media outlets got wind of young Falcon’s quote, they began to publicly question the parents about whether or not the story was fabricated. Now, the New York Times reports that local authorities may very well be seeking felony charges for the parents.

Allow me to make some clarifications: the accusation of this publicity stunt is still that—an accusation. They have not yet wholly proven that the story is not real, and the parents are still denying the allegations. However, I firmly believe this was a publicity stunt, and you know why? Because these days people will do anything for fame. Not only have the family appeared on the reality show WifeSwap (which is absolutely entertaining, by the way) but the dad is a lunatic! He gives me the creeps when I watch him in interviews, like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

With all this new media and reality TV, it is easy for a Joe Somebody to achieve stardom, even for only 15 minutes. It was just pathetic to me that the family used their children in their sick and twisted stunt. Even now, with possibly felony charges on the way, the family is still making the front page. The irony will be blatant when they actually do end up getting their own reality show, and I will shed a tear for the entertainment industry.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

An Undemocratic Form of Democray

Every year, Californians come out to vote for initiatives and propositions that are crammed into the ballot along with the candidate of their choice. Ballot initiatives are seen as a form of direct democracy, which is a direct vote for the will of the people. No where in the United States has it been applied with such fervor and popularity as in California. The initiative process was created in 1911 by progressives who believed that this form of direct democracy would serve as a “safety valve” when the legislature refused to act on a certain measure (Center for Governmental Studies [CGS], 2007). However, with a growing number of special interest groups and corporations who are using the initiative as a way to bypass the legislature has undermined the original intent of the initiative process. Because the current initiative process in California allows for vote buying caused by the massive amounts of money being spent and because of the fact that it permits the majority to take rights away from the minority, the entire process needs an overhaul of reforms.

The Center for Governmental Studies, a non-profit non-partisan organization founded to develop innovative ways to enable and encourage political participation, published a booklet that outlines many of the significant current problems that faces the California initiative process. The legislature does not play a large enough role in the process, and initiatives are too long and complex. Voters struggle to make informed decisions. It is too easy to get an initiative on the state ballot, and initiatives make it too easy to amend the state constitution. Media campaigns often spend far too much money and disseminate false information (CGS, 2007).

Many important and influential issues have been decided by the voting citizens of California, despite education levels or amount of research. “Insurance, education, income tax indexing, rail transportation, the environment, toxic chemicals, term limits, lottery, property tax relief, hand guns, reapportionment, rent control, crime prevention, cigarette taxes, wildlife protection, tribal gaming, children’s hospitals, mental health services, felony sentencing, stem cell research and campaign finance—all have been addressed by the electorate through the initiative process” (CGS, 2007). A question arises when we consider of a mass group of possibly uninformed voters should be deciding the fate of these important state issues.

It is often said that lobbyists are the third branch of the American government with their large role in policy making and passing legislation. If this is agreed to be true, then the initiative process is certainly the fourth house of the government in California. In a traditional role of passing legislation, it is enacted by the legislature, approved and signed by the governor and then, if necessary, reviewed by the courts CGS, 2007). However, with this initiative based government that California has instituted, bills circumvent the role of legislature and governor because they are passed into law directly by the people. While the courts still have the power to overturn initiative legislation, they are more reluctant to overturn the will of the people CGS, 2007).

The reason that the initiative process was created in California in the early 1900s is because at the time, the Southern Pacific Railroad ruled the state legislature, the courts and, often, even the press. The voters in California were sick and tired of this special interest ruling their electoral process (CGS, 2007). This is ironic because the initiative process later came to represent special interest as we will see through examples in this paper.

However, the irony became immediately evident as the Southern Pacific Railroad put their own initiative on the ballot: Prop 116, a measure that provided $2 billion to support the development of rapid rail transit (CGS, 2007). The railroad company used the initiative process to get funding legislation passes that would not have gotten through the legislature. This is a historical example of not only special interest groups and businesses using initiatives to get exactly what they want, but it also serves as an example of a somewhat uneducated mass public voting for something they did not really want.

Voters now exercise the power that is theoretically the job of the elected legislature. Some criticize the process by claiming that is disallows for the appropriate amount of checks and balances for the ill-conceived, unfair and poorly drafted schemes that the legislature would have to face if they were deciding on the measure (CGS, 2007). While many voters are educated on the propositions they vote for or against, it is not inconceivable to understand that the mass public would not comprehend the long term affects of the initiative as an elected official in the legislature would. A perfect example comes to us from Proposition 13 passed in 1978, which limited the amount of property tax to not exceed one percent of the cash value of the property (O’Leary, 2009). The bill was passed in order to spare long time owners, whose property value had sky rocketed, from being subjected to unfair tax (O’Leary, 2009).

While that purpose is noble, the bill de facto cut mass amounts of funding for the state, funding that went to public housing projects, transportation, libraries and public parks (“Some Key Players”, 1988 ). In 1988, ten years after the bill was passed, Harry Snyder, then executive director of the Consumers Union, was quoted as saying “"I voted against Proposition 13. I thought we were going from a vision of greatness to a vision of penny pinching. I think it's been an absolute disaster for this state. Our transportation system stopped growing. Our police and fire system deteriorated. We've thrown people out of mental hospitals. We've denied access to hospitals for the medically indigent. Street people are Proposition 13's gift to us. There's no public housing being developed. This is not a great state anymore” (“Some Key Players”, 1988).
At the time it was passed, Prop 13 did save property owners from being subjected to ridiculous taxing, which enabled them to remain in their place of residence. However, recently it has come to mean that people who purchase property today are paying way higher property taxes then their long standing neighbors because the one percent limit applies to the most recent appraisal of the property. On paper—or on ballot to be more precise—the bill made sense; it stopped taxing. But the citizen voters were unable to anticipate the long term economic drawbacks of the proposition. I believe this bill should not have gone directly to the voters, but, rather, been decided by the elected legislature.

Voters understand that they need to educate themselves about initiatives in order to make a valid vote for their opinion. However, a major issue arises as their main source of this information comes from the television ads and other media that are sponsored by the two sides of the debate. Special interest organizations and businesses use a massive amount of funding and air time in order to indirectly buy the vote from the public. “Adjusted for inflation, spending on initiative campaigns has also risen by 750% in the past 30 years—peaking in the 2006 general election, which saw $154 million spent for and against a single measure (Proposition 87, alternative energy) and $330 million spend on all the measures in the election” (CGS, p.2, 2007).

Proposition 8, which was passed in the November election of 2008, can be used as an example of a special interest organization putting massive amounts of funding into a bill. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is estimated to have given the “Yes on 8” campaign over $20 million in funding (Garrison and Lin, 2008). Followers were strongly urged by leaders of the church to donate money to the campaign in order to take away the rights of same-sex couples to get married (Garrison and Lin, 2008). Those opposing the proposition used this campaign finance data to attack the opposition, but to no avail. Proposition 8 was passed in 2008, and it amended the California Constitution so that marriage is only valid if it is between a man and a women. The campaign finance data also provoked people to protest the Mormon Church and discriminate against their followers.

While the Mormon Church absolutely had a right to gather activists and votes for their side, one cannot deny that the amount of money that went into the “Yes on 8” campaign was one of the most significant reasons that it succeeded. The initiative process allowed the special interest group with the big budget to amend the Constitution, which is very difficult to reverse.

While this case is a good example of how groups can buy votes, its reveals an even more devastating effect of the California initiative process: the ability of the majority to take basic rights away from the minority. Because anyone can get an initiative put on the ballot with enough signatures, the process allows for the majority to vote rights away from the minority. It is my personal conviction that if this bill went through the legislature, it would not have passed. This is the most embarrassing use of direct democracy California has produced in years.

Prop 8 is not the first piece of legislation where the majority stripped rights away from minority groups. Proposition 187 was passed on November 8, 1994. It was an anti-immigration form that restricted illegal immigrants from using basic public services, such as health care and primary education. The bill required civilian workers to report any suspect use of public services, and it effectively "turn teachers and nurses into agents of the INS” (Martinez, 1994). Despite the fact that even many Republicans publicly disagreed with the bill, it was passed, but later ruled unconstitutional. This bill allowed for a majority to vote for the taking away of rights from a specific minority, and it passed! This is a major flaw in the California initiative process that needs to be amended.

Another example from California’s most recent election is Proposition 4. This conservative initiative would change the state Constitution in order to require a waiting period for minors seeking an abortion. The doctor would be forced to wait to perform an abortion on an underage girl for 48 hours after that physician had notified a legal guardian (Hecht, 2008). This proposition was attempting to take rights from a minority group who cannot even vote to protect their own rights. Voters in California understood this and prop was defeated. Should voters really be allowed to change the state constitution so easily, being convinced one way or the other by a bombardment of bias media images?

While I believe that the California initiative process serves to get measures on the ballot that may otherwise be ignored, the entire process needs an overhaul of reforms. In the recent political environment, the initiative process has not been a hot topic of debate; many do not understand that this institution needs to be closely examined. The Public Policy Institute of California has completed many surveys about the initiative process. Seventy percent of Californians surveyed in 2000 agreed that the direct democracy offered by the initiative process is a “good thing” (Public Policy Institute of California [PPIC], 2002). Forty-two percent of voters surveyed in 1999 believed that the initiatives should have equal or more power than the legislature and governor (PPIC, 2002).

However, these surveys did address problems with the current process. Eighty percent of Californians do not like the large number of initiatives on the ballot and the confusing language—they would support a measure that increased the clarity of ballot language (PPIC, 2002). Eight percent of voters would also support a rule that required public disclosure of financial backers in the vote gathering process (PPIC, 2002). I think that both of these suggestions are a necessary step toward positive reform. I believe that a California state sponsored, nonpartisan website should be created to address not only the immediate effects of a certain proposition, but also the long term effects and, possibly, even the special interests behind the proposition. I also propose that an initiative should have to go through a strict approval process, possibly even by the Supreme Court of California, before it was passed to the voters as a proposition.

While the concept of direct democracy sounds great to the ear, in practice, it has been proven to be detrimental not only to the needs of California’s voters, but also to the rights of California’s minority. While it poses as the opposite, this process has proven to be undemocratic. However, let us not forget that while the initiative process needs reforms, you have to write an initiative to get them.



Works Cited

Center for Governmental Studies (2007). Democracy by Initiative: Shaping California’s
Fourth Branch of Government 2nd Edition. Retrieved from http://www.cgs.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=164:PUBLICATIONS&catid=39:all_pubs&Itemid=72
index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=164:PUBLICATIONS&catid=
39:all_pubs&Itemid=72

Martinez, Gebe (1994, Oct 20). “California Elections: Proposition 187 – Kemp Defends
Criticism Before Hostile Audience”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from:
http://articles.latimes.com/1994-10-20/local/me-52693_1_nixon-library

Garrison, J. & Lin, J. (2008). “Prop. 8 Protesters Target Mormon Temple in Westwood.”
Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-protest7-2008nov07,0,3827549.story
protest7-2008nov07,0,3827549.story

Hecht, P. (2008). “2008 Ballot Watch: Proposition 4: Abortion notification.” The
Sacramento Bee. Retrieved from: http://www.sacbee.com/capitolandcalifornia/story/1323800.html

O’Leary, K. (2009). “The Legacy of Prop. 13” Time. Retrieved from: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1904938,00.html
com /time/ nation/article/0,8599,1904938,00.html

Public Policy Institute of California (2002). The California Initiative Process: How
Democratic is it? Retrieved from http://www.ppic.org/main/publication.asp?i=144

Some Key Players Reflect on Impact of Proposition 13 :[Bulldog Edition].
(1988, January 17). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from: http://articles.latimes.com/1988-01-17/local/me-36544_1_property-tax

Friday, October 2, 2009

The forgotten war comes into the spotlight...

...and it ain't pretty. The United States invaded Afghanistan at the beginning of October 2001 in response to the attacks of 9/11. I was in the 8th grade when 9/11 happened and I remember how America changed so much. Everyone was so angry and hurt by the attacks that invading a country was something we had to do! Osama bin Laden was the prime suspect and Afghanistan’s Taliban was harboring him. It was a war worthy of going to, defending our country and having a clear plan of attack. We were to destroy Al Qaeda training camps and search for bin Laden. U.S. troops succeeded in toppling the Taliban regime.

Now, eight years later, we are still in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden still hasn’t been caught and they want to send more troops in to reinforce stability. I met a guy this weekend in ROTC at USC and he told me he was probably going to be sent to Afghanistan and I thought to myself “They’re still sending troops there?” Now, headlining many of the major newspapers this weekend is this question of whether or not Obama will succumb to expert request for more troops. It is going to be a huge issue to debate about in the upcoming weeks.

Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander of American forces in Afghanistan, has chosen to go public with his recommendation of 40,000 more troops. This weekend, insurgents attacked a pair of eastern military bases, killing 8 U.S. soldiers, the deadliest attack in over a year in the region. Gen. James L. Jones, national security advisor, said this weekend on CNN that he sees no evidence of instability in Afghanistan, seemingly attempting to indirectly oppose McChrystal’s stance. While in an interview with CNN, he said he doesn’t “foresee a return of the Taliban” and “al Qaeda presence is very diminished.” So do we need more troops or can we figure out a plan with the troops we already have?

I think it would be a shame to send more troops into the region. Afghanistan needs stabilization, a stronger state police force, economic growth and a developed infrastructure. Let’s put American dollars into achieving these goals rather than sending in more military. At least one thing is for certain: all of the sudden, Afghanistan in making the headlines again, and reminding American citizens that there was once a war where invasion was warranted and intentions were honorable.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

From Classroom to Hostile situation...

Something happened in class on Thursday that I have never experienced—an ethnic conflict of vast proportions was brought to real life for me. I take a class about politics in the Middle East and we were covering an especially sensitive topic: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A freshman in the class raised his hand and asked (I paraphrase throughout the narrative) “If Palestine isn’t even a real country, why are they so nationalistic?” At the time he asked the question, I felt bad for him. He had certainly never covered this all-too-current conflict and was perhaps a bit naive about the events and political situation in the Middle East. Some of the other students in the class began laughing at his stupidity (I write this with obvious opinion-orientated language), but, sadly, one of the Palestinian students in the class was not so happy about the way he phrased his question or the tone of it.

He mouthed off at the other student saying “You have no right to ask that f---ing question. F--- you.” Then the other student responded with more foul language and it became a situation in which the teacher was screaming at them to both “stop-it” and “calm down!” Other students got involved, not taking sides, with “you guys, stop!” These altercations went on for what seemed like a very long 20 seconds. Many of the other students in the class, including myself, looked down at their feet. What right do I have to bud in or say one party was right or wrong? I did feel incredibly bad for the teacher.

Before I continue this narrative, I actually have another of the same theme. Sophomore year I took a class about communication and culture and we had a set of speakers talking about immigration and how both immigrants and the United States use very specific communication mediums. A female student, probably of the upper middle-class conservative upbringing, said so thoughtfully, “I think the only reason that illegal immigrants don’t get citizenship is because they don’t want to pay taxes.” Well, even the Latino guest, a professor in Annenberg, was blatantly offended by her comment, not to mention many of the Latinos in the class. To be honest, I was even tempted to contribute to the ensued ruckus because I am from San Diego (20 minutes from Tijuana), and I sympathize with many of the illegal immigrants in my own neighborhood. She deserved her freedom of speech, but so did all the other students that began verbally attacking her, some personally attacking her—I definitely heard “Where did you grow up, Newport?”

So I state that everyone is entitled to free speech, especially in America. But while I was abroad, it was often very difficult to stick to my conviction in a class where we had a discussion about 9/11. It was a class with many international students—England, USA, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, Australia and Poland were all represented. Well the teacher, who is of German descent, points the class discussion along the lines of comparing Osama Bin Laden to George Bush. Immediately the Americans in the class—there were six of us—were alienated from the conversation. An Australian student who had earlier made her opinions about not only America but every single American citizen very clear, stated (and this is actually a direct quote), “Well, I’m sorry to say, but you guys deserved it.” She said this grotesque statement and looked at the six of us. One of the Americans in the class was from New York and knew many people who died in the 9/11 attack. He began to get teary-eyed as he attempted to defend centuries of poor policy decisions made by the American government. What could we say?

However, a clear line needs to be drawn here. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but the young man from my Middle East class who asked the question was not directly stating an opinion. At the time he asked the question, I believe, however naive, that he was just trying to learn. He may be from an upbringing where the do not talk about world politics at the dinner table. I consider myself so na├»ve about many international situations. (What is going on in Venezuela?) I want to ask the Palestinian supporter whether or not he is from the Middle East because he does have a slight accent, but I am terrified of getting a hostile response. The anger he showed in class crushed any opportunity for many of the students to learn or to explore a controversial topic. Although thrilling for a Thursday late-afternoon class, I was sad the violent altercation happened. How great would it have been to here the Palestinian student’s response to the question? I for one would have been glued to every word, which disappoints me. There is so much violence, ethnic and international tension that even at a place of higher learning, opportunities to be educated become diluted.

Update: This weekend I encountered someone from my Middle East class who told me that the freshman who asked the question was a very outspoken Israeli supporter and activist. He supposedly meant the question to be hostile and serve as an attack of Palestinian interest. I can’t confirm this or decide if it changes my opinion.