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Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Shaping of Me: Elizabethtown Style.

If you know me well, you probably already know I don't really understand the concept of organized religion well. Most likely my distaste stems from my parent's experiences as well as my own, so you can imagine my dismay when I discovered I was placed into a course entitled "Jesus and Moral Life" during my first semester at Elizabethtown. My immediate thought was "Oh my GOD, where is the DROP button?!"... I pictured in my head lugging a huge King James Bible to class every day only to listen to the professor, a short, stubby, narrow-minded man, drone on about how we're all going to go to Hell for consuming alcohol, getting tattooed, and engaging in possibly risque behavior.

By the end of the term, though, I never wanted to leave the class. It was fascinating. Dr. Michael Long, the professor (to which none of the adjectives above describe), at 9:30 in the morning, managed to completely capture my sleep-deprived conscience to actually have the true desire to care about what he was teaching. God, he is a tremendous professor.

His class wasn't a cake walk, though. There was a fair amount of required reading, which was time consuming, but even now, I haven't resold any of my books because I find them interesting to flip through and read parts still (yes, I am a closet nerd). His assignments and midterms involved truly knowing the information. Below is a paper I wrote for his class on why Jesus was the man that he was. (It's lacking a works cited due to the fact the class all used the same sources.) All of this was written from memory, a requirement for his papers, which let me tell was a bitch to try to recall information at times. it is. It got me an A, although it could me much more organized. My apologies on the vagueness at parts.

Explain the social world of Jesus plus the Jewish World

When a child is born into the world, some parents do everything in their power to care and protect their child from any influences to which they might not want their child exposed as he grows. Try as one might, this battle is one impossible to win, unless a parent keeps his child in a ‘bubble’ of protection, or a shelter from the rest of the world. Parents, too, will play a large role in the shaping of their child. He will most likely go to school, only to be influenced by his classmates and his teachers. The cartoons the child turns on in the afternoon will impact him somehow. If the parents are religious, the child will most likely be exposed to their religion as well. All of these factors and many, many more added together make up what is known as the social world in which one lives.

Social worlds are not a recent discovery or creation in society: They have been around since the dawn of time. Try as one might not to conform to a social world, one still must recognize it. One must either chose to accept the social world in its entirety or parts, or reject all or some of it. No matter who a person is, the social world is always prevalent in one’s life; even for a very extraordinary man like Jesus. Jesus was the man he was, as well as his conveyed message and beliefs, because of how the social world of his time shaped him.

If one were to analyze the societies before Jesus’, it would evident that large cities had not grown yet. Because of the lack of metal, most people lived in small, nomadic groups. As years progressed, tribes started growing more food in settled places instead of seeking it out. These groups were early horticulturists, due to the fact they were harvesting produce but had not yet domesticated animals, nor had they started to expand into larger plots of horticulture, also known as agriculture. The third group of people did start to expand into early agriculturists. They had domestic animals, and were starting to settle into small towns. One may question after analyzing these facts that perhaps Jesus was born at the perfect time: If one considers Jesus being born in an early nomadic society, how would his message have been conveyed to as many people as in Nazareth and Galilee? Perhaps Jesus would not have been as well known. All three of these early societies described above helped to form the one in which Jesus lived. Jesus’ society consisted of two additives that formed his social world: The Roman Empire and the life of the Jewish people. According to Borg, these two parts formed what is known as the preindustrial, agricultural, imperial domination system. One will see that this social world butts heads on more than one occasion with another main part of Jesus’ life: The practice, the Torah, and the Temple of the Jewish people.

In the society in which Jesus grew up, played, and worked, there was a distinct difference between the classes. The largest class was the peasant class, a group consisting of up to roughly ninety percent of the population. This class performed much of the manual labor, especially activities that involved agriculture. Although the peasants worked very hard, many did not see the returns of their hard work. The wealthy class, which made up approximately the other ten percent of the population, gained control over peasant lands. The wealthy class, or urban elites, was also the ruling class, which ‘entitled’ them to take away peasant lands or indenture peasants if the workers went into debt. Life for the peasants was extremely hard, and they lived day to day, just getting by. These two classes helped to form the preindustrial, agricultural, imperial domination system.

By preindustrial, Borg means that this was a time before mass production of goods. One mainly relied on oneself, since specialization was not a part of society. There were no large industries making tools to sell to buyers, since everyone made most of their own tools that were necessary to their trade. Because the society was not industrialized, it resulted in agriculture becoming the main source of wealth.

Agriculture played a key part in the success of Jesus’ society. If one considers that most of the wealth came from agriculture, it would be absolutely devastating to lose crops to a drought. Many peasant families worked in agriculture, doing hard labor, and so they depended very much on the success of their harvest. A small farmer could not afford to lose crops because the ruling class would charge him with indebtedness. If he were in debt, the ruling class would have the ‘right’ to take his land and possibly enslave his entire family for not being able to pay his bill.

The imperialistic society of Jesus plays a large part in the shaping of him. Being imperial deals with the ruling of a society, or otherwise, the governmental body in charge. In Jesus’ time period, the Roman Empire had taken control of the society in which he lived. Because of this, the Romans affected many ways of everyday life that would have a trickle-down effect onto the peasant class. Firstly, the Romans enacted a tributary system in which they allowed the native rulers, the urban elites of the nation, to stay in power. The only change made was that the native rulers must now pay a tribute to the ruling nation. Because the wealthy, ruling class did not make their wealth, but received it by taking it from the peasant class, this means that they had to take more to please the Romans. The already struggling lower class lived at even a lower level, with more peasants losing land due to this tributary system.

The second issue was Herod the Great. Although quite brilliant in his ruling, Herod the Great was also known to be cruel and spent very abundantly. This spending of money hurt the peasants because nothing benefited them directly. Also, Herod made a decision that would hurt the peasant class even more: the commercialization of agriculture. Instead of allowing the peasants to keep their land and farm it, Herod decided to take the plots and make them larger, allowing for more production. One might see this as a good idea, but inevitably, fewer peasants had sources of income because of it. As a result of their income, their crops, being taken away, the peasants were expected to use coins to buy them. Instead of being independent workers, Herod made them dependent on the coins to purchase crops back.

Once Herod died, his sons took control of his kingdom reign by dividing the ruling sectors into three. The son who took Herod’s place in Jerusalem, where Jesus lived, reigned for about a decade. After this, he was replaced by the Roman’s formulation of the High Priests. These men were somewhat corrupt, according to Borg, since the Torah directly said that they could not own land. The High Priests though, translated this as saying that no, they could own land; they could just not be the ones to sow and plow the fields. The point of appointing the High Priests by the Romans was to make sure there were people who could oversee the imperial ruling and to collect tributes to make sure they were paid.

The domination aspect of Jesus’ social world can be broken down into four parts: it was oppressive in nature, ruled by divine right, exploited the economically troubled, and involved many battles. Starting with the oppression of the peasants, many felt as if they had no say in shaping the society, which would be quite accurate if one analyzes the ways of ruling. Normally the ruling style was a monarchy, which means ruled by one. One may question, though, how did this ruler come to power if no one approved of him? This leads on into the second part, which is the right to rule by divinity.

In Jesus’ time, there was no such thing as a democracy. The rulers of a society claimed to have the right to rule based on the fact that God bestowed them with the power to rule. They claimed that this communion with God gave them permission to rule and oppress the poorer people of the society. The God that Jesus knew in later years was a different God entirely: Jesus experienced a God who did not love one person more than another, and would not want to oppress even the poorest of people. Through these experiences of God, Jesus chose to reject this aspect of his social world.

The third characteristic of the domination sector was that the peasants were economically exploited. If one considers that the peasants grew one hundred percent of the agriculture, and did much of the manual labor, one might think that they would receive most of the profits for their hard work. In Jesus’ society, since the rulers were the most wealthy and used divine right as a reason, they took most of the wealth that the peasants would have gained not only for their use, but also to pay the tribute to the Romans.

Lastly, one must notice that it would only be logical to have some formation of an army to protect the amount of wealth that was being built up in this society. It would only make sense to protect what was one’s property. Borg states, however, that the main purpose or goal of the battles that were fought during this time was not because of greedy peoples outside of the city looking in but the greedy rulers from the inside of the city expanding their gaze to more land. Many of the wars that were fought during this time were for the benefit of gaining more land, which ultimately meant gaining more wealth. One can perhaps see why Jesus now in his teachings thought that material wealth was not of importance, and mostly should be frowned upon. In his time of living, the wealthy were the greedy, which Jesus did not respect for their ways.

In recap thus far, the Roman sector of the social world was much about dominating the poor with oppressive ways, such as taking land and throwing the indebted into servitude. The wealth that flowed to the ruling class was not brought about by their own doing but by taking the money from peasants. The other factor that leads into the shaping of Jesus by his social world is the world of Judaism, which involved the practice of Judaism, the book of Judaism, and the Jewish temple.

In religion, today some people go to church on Sundays, and that is the only time they really think about God in the workings of the world. For Jesus growing up, it was not like that. Being Jewish meant living with God in a world intertwined together. Because of his experiences with God, Jesus held God with him through every day and knew that God was interconnected with the world, as Borg believes. The place of worship, or temple, for Jesus was not the only place to feel God and experience God, obviously, since Jesus knew had experienced him in the solitude of nature. The practice of being a Jew in Jesus’ time was to not only go to the synagogue, but to live every day with God.

The book of Judaism, or the Old Testament, plus the Torah, provided guidance for the Jewish people. Many lower class people, the peasants, did not read the Torah or the Old Testament since many were illiterate. Borg says that they would have received the knowledge and wisdom from these by listening to them. It is interesting for one to analyze the correlations between the social world of Jesus and the text of the Torah. A key component to the Torah is that is a daily part of life, like the practice of the religion. It provided guidance on how to deal with societal issues, such as impurities, remarriage, etc.

The Roman rule begins to conflict with the Jewish life as one analyzes the roles of the Torah. The Torah also provided support to the peasants of Jerusalem, along with the judicial guidance mentioned above. It contained stories of oppression, but liberation, of slavery, and then freedom. The Jewish peasants could find belief and hope in these passages. Also, the Torah forms discrepancies with the Roman rule when one analyzes the usurping of land and who has the rights to do so. According to the ruling class in Jesus’ social world, if a peasant were to go into debt and have no way of paying, the land could be taken. However, according to the Torah, God is the supreme owner or ruler of the land. Land may not be bought and sold for ownership since it all will return to God in the end. These two points are key in understanding why Jesus thought the way he did. He had experienced God in such a way that he knew the real God, and that land ownership was petty in comparison to Him.

The Temple in Jerusalem also played a key role in shaping Jesus. The High Priests that resided within believed that the only place to perform certain sacrifices or cleansings of the body for impurities could be performed within the temple. Jesus did not believe this because he knew God was omnipresent according to Borg. Also, Jesus did not agree with the corruption of the temple that was caused by the High Priests. Because they were part of the domination system, they had turned a place of worship to God into a temple only suitable for the upper class.

When one adds all of these facts together, the character of Jesus becomes more simple to analyze. This was a man who had experienced God in a great way in the peace and solitude of nature. Because Jesus was born into a peasant class family, of course he would feel resentment towards the rulers who made it difficult on his fellowmen. Jesus also disagreed with the corruption of the overseers of the Temple. A place of worship should not be defiled by men who had their hands in dirty work such as the High Priests, but also, Jesus believed that one did not need the temple. God was not only present there, but right outside the doors of the temple, or out in wilderness. One did not need a structure to worship God. All factors combined helped to shape Jesus into becoming the man he was in his social world : a man with a message about the God of his experience, and perhaps not of his social world.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

acrylic and sushi: a match made in Heaven.

I can't decide whether I like sunsets or sunrises more. They're both poetic and beautiful in their own way. Honestly, my lazy, teenage self hasn't witnessed too many sunrises, seeing as I'd have to be awake at an 'ungodly' hour (it is an ungodly hour if you go to bed only 3 hours before that...oh, college life, how I miss you.). The only sunrises I have really seen have been the ones out on Lake Raystown while waiting for Moby Dick to take my bait. Other than that, I've only purposefully risen with the sun on one occasion, which of course with my luck, dictated that the sun be modest, hiding his nakedness behind a robe of clouds.
Of course some people pick favorites. Mother for example prefers sunrises because she likes to get up, have her coffee, and see the dawn. My neighbor, never up before 9 AM on a weekend, obviously enjoys sunsets, especially with the patio he has; it's angled perfectly to take on a view of the sun slipping below the Pigeon Hills. So, my blog, my opinion...
I like them both equally. No, this does not mean I am being indecisive or skirting the issue of choosing, thank you very much. I just like them both. Both are necessary in life, behind the apparent idea that if the sun didn't rise we wouldn't have day or if it didn't set, we'd always be in complete light. Metaphorically, sunrises and sunsets both play their part in making sure when we humans wake up the next morning, we can put left in front of right, no matter how poor our day was prior.
When I watch a sunrise, I get bubbly. If you know me, I love bubbles even at this age, so you can imagine how excited I get when I start to feel bubbly. There is something about knowing you have your whole day ahead of you that is like being fed Inspiration Pills. I don't find this when I just wake up in the morning. It only comes when I sit with my necessary cup of fuel and watch the world come more into focus second by second. Perhaps it's an adjustment thing; sleep to cognitively embracing the day with a sunrise. Sunrises are so pure and innocent. If a sunrise had a smell, I'm convinced it would smell like a newborn's skin, full with the possibilities of life. Everything lies ahead of you, with the only thing in the present being the sound of birds, perhaps a slight breeze, and the dawning of the day dancing in one's hair. It's exhilarating.
Sunsets, on the other hand, I find to be my wind down, as most people do. We have a patio at my house, which gets all of the evening light. I love sitting out in our wicker chairs, the chiminea's embers slowly losing their glow, cup of coffee in hand (yes, I am an addict.). I try not to look at sunsets and think, "Today is over...Thank GOD." Yes, shitty days happen. No two ways about that. But really, what optimist wants to finish up his or her day like that? Instead, I just think, "Today happened...Thank God." Of course good days make it easier for those words to be said, but bad days deserve some recognition, too, which is a whole other blog entry. To me, sunsets are the ginger in your day, the fresh ginger you have while eating sushi: You eat a piece of sushi, savor the taste, then before you try another, you take a piece of ginger. Ginger root is a palate cleanser, allowing you to taste the next piece without having flavors mix. Sunsets are palate cleansers. They don't wipe away the memories made from the current day, dwindling in its last moments; That palate cleanser can help wash away a bad day, or it can be proof that a good day happened.
A goal of mine is to buy an easel (found one at good, ole Target for $25. I do cheap. It's a college student thing, you wouldn't understand). I'm going to take this easel into my yard or out on the Dell up at school, set that sucker up, and paint away while watching a sunrise. Hey, if inspiration is birthed in me from that beautiful ball of fire coming into view, what better time to paint, right?
And at the end of the day, I'll order sushi, park my butt on my wicker chair, and enjoy each piece, including the ginger.
I welcome company for either.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


An extended definition about what is passion. In the drafting process.

Passionate Obsession or Obsessional Passion?

He is running towards the closed door ahead, hands outstretched, determinated in reach his goal. All he has ever wanted lies behind that door: his true passion. His fingers graze the handle, and he finds himself lying in bed, breathing hard after his dream’s excursion. His entire body feels alive. Passion is that dream-like state in which nothing can pull a person astray from his/her goal. When his eyes see the world, the only thing in focus is his object of affection. Being passionate is having every fiber of one’s being focused on that one meaningful, particular moment.

Passion walks the very fine line between dedication and obsession. Many people find difficulty in deciphering the difference between extreme devotion and compulsion. Passion, as defined by, is “a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything” ( Many people are passionate about their work. For instance, a man who needs to make a presentation to a large company might work overtime for a few weeks to prepare. An artist in a fit of inspiration might seek seclusion in his/her studio for hours a day until the masterpiece is finished.

The line between passion and obsession becomes fuzzy when determining how much effort is too much. Obsession is defined as “the domination of one's thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc” ( Like a bad habit, this strong devotion can consume a person’s corporeal entity; all he/she ever does or thinks will revolve around that one cause. It can become an addiction that has no cure. According to DJ de Florida, passion is being devoted to a cause or activity, but obsession occurs when you let a dedication get out of control (Florida).

The thin line between passion and obsession is the line of amount and time spent on an interest. In Florida’s essay, he says that a person should think about how much time he/she dedicates to a pleasurable activity. His article is geared towards how women react to men that are dedicated to a cause but not obsessed with it. Having a mission in life is important, but when a man spends twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week attempting to reach his goal, there will not be any time left to balance life with his significant other or family (Florida).

This theory of obsession wrecking relationships, whereas passion is seen as building them is reiterated in John Hagel’s blog about the differences between the two. Being dedicated to an idea on one’s own volition is the concept of passion. If one were to talk to an entrepreneur who has developed a business he/she loves, the devotion he/she has to the business will shine through in his/her sentences, facial expressions, and demeanor. If a person is passionate about a cause, he/she will more than likely openly discuss his/her dedication to anyone willing to listen and appreciative of his/her viewpoints and work. The line between enough devotion and too much is crossed when a person no longer has control of how much time is spent on the object of enthusiasm or cannot stop working towards the end goal. Obsession is birthed from simple dedication when a person becomes secretive and secluded in his/her work towards greatness (Hagel, John). This is the point where a passion turns into a neurotic tendency, which in turn, powers a wrecking ball into relationships and other important life goals.

In the analysis of deciphering the difference between dedication and neurosis, there is the idea of a responsible, positive passion versus a destructive, negative passion, in fewer words, obsession. Passion, regardless of positive or negative, will always push a person to work harder. In the process, a person will most likely feel “excited and exhilarated” (Detchevery, Brad.) If a devoted person has a responsible grasp on his/her work, he/she will prioritize healthily, meaning he/she will put the essentials first, such as family, friends, and work. The responsible part of the term kicks in when a person knows when to call it quits. When a person loses sight of this responsibility is when obsession is formed. A person will have an unhealthy attraction to completing the task, and nothing will hinder his/her goal. As Paul Carvel stated it, although in different wording, “Passion is a positive obsession. Obsession is a negative passion.”

In the shadow of responsible versus unhealthy passion is the idea of positive dedication being helpful, whereas negative dedication is a hindrance. When passion is harnessed, it becomes a tool with which to build one’s future. Dedication and hard work can make successful actors and musicians, but can also birth burnouts and drifters when taken too far. Attempting to reach personal goals is what one looks forward to after a hard day at work; an outlet that provides the guilty pleasure feeling without the infamous, shameful hangover that normally follows. Passion is an ultimate high that has no crash; it fuels a person with determination just as gasoline fuels a fire.

As the German poet Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel wrote, “Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.” It should be noted that this quote does not say that nothing can be accomplished without passion; it states that nothing great will come if passion does not play a part in its making. For example, a man could go to work at the same company for twenty years and perform the minimal amount of work necessary to scrape by without getting fired. Most likely, this man will never climb even one rung of the corporate ladder. His goal begins at earning money to sustain his lifestyle and ends there. On the other hand, if the man is dedicated to his job, has a passion for his work, he will put in the extra effort to complete tasks.

Instead of watching the clock every five or ten minutes, he will wish he had more time to complete his tasks, perhaps even ask to stay overtime occasionally to finish. If one adds passion to the work side of the equation, the sum will not only equal money. His passion will feed his drive to be not just an employee, but a superb one. His superiors will acknowledge his drive, and he will gain confidence, self-satisfaction, and possibly a monetary gain. Passion is not necessary to complete the equation, but if added, it will yield a more appealing outcome than just that of monetary compensation. One must be careful not to slip into a compulsive habit of overworking, though. Becoming too involved in completing job tasks will force the positive dedication into the negative because of neglect of priorities such as family.

In the relationship sense, passion and obsession are not directly related. They are linked through steps that transform one into the other. For true, responsible dedication to become an ugly consumption of a person’s thoughts, a person must lose his/her self-control of input time on a cause and lose the ability to rank priorities, along with an inability to stop pursuing the goal. Passion pulls a person to the edge of achievement whereas obsession pushes him/her there (Hagel, John). A rightly dedicated pursuit will keep a responsible person suspended on the edge of the precipice, where devotion is pushed to the maximum range possible without sacrificing necessary priorities in life. Obsession will shove a person unwillingly to the edge and drop him/her sheer off the face of the cliff without warning when a person burns out.

When one becomes frustrated from failures, passion leads him to persevere through hardships and continue his endeavors. He may find himself straying from his path, thinking he is beaten and spurned, but passion resurrects his true calling. Like a fire that never ceases to burn, passion sits in one’s soul with steadfast resolve, never wavering during the strongest gale or storm.

Works Cited

Carvel, Paul. “Passion is a positive obsession. Obsession is a negative passion.”

Florida, DJ de. "Obsession versus Passion." So Suave. Allen Thompson & Global Marketing, 2009. Web. 11 Mar 2010. .

Hagel, John. “Passion Versus Obsession”. Edge Perspectives. March 2nd, 2010.

<> March 5th, 2010.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. “Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.”

"Obsession." Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 16 Mar. 2010. .

"On Passion." Ourmedia. Web. 16 Mar 2010. .

"Passion." Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 16 Mar. 2010. .

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Breathing Life.

I watch people. I'm not talking about sitting on Facebook and flipping through people's pages I barely know, getting acquainted with who is pregnant, married, or writing annoying boyfriend/girlfriend messages on each other's walls (which if you do this, honestly, it makes me want to throw up). Frankly, I don't give a damn about half of the people I'm friends with on Facebook; If I have to 'creep' on you to know if you're still alive, obviously, our relationship has had its falling out.
But really, I watch people. I, for some reason unbeknown to myself, can sit (and have) and watch people for hours. Sometimes, I end up having to leave due to how disgusted I am by people. This normally happens when I see parents, and yes, unfortunately and normally, parents no older than I am, with no idea in how to discipline their children. I'm not saying I know how to discipline a child either, but this is why I don't have one...and, cross my fingers and do a lucky Irish-jig, I won't for a long, long, longggg time.
Other times, though, I see something that makes my day. Today, for instance: I was out at Walmart (I've dubbed this place Satan's Asshole...If you've ever been to Hanover's, you know why.) Today, I actually witnessed something so simple and yet adorable: A mother with children, the youngest, a girl, in the cart, no older than 2; the oldest, a boy no older than seven. He pushed the cart, all the while making his baby sister laugh and giggle. I probably am more attached to this sentimental moment because I have an older brother who once did this with me (before he got older and tried to take the shopping cart on two wheels while I was in it). The sibling bonding during that intimate moment touched me.
What got me even more was what the boy said to his mother while walking past me: "Mommy..." Andddd I didn't catch the rest. For some reason, 'mommy' got me. God, call it womanly hormones or what you will, but this melted my heart. I can only pray that if and when I have kids (lucky Irish-jig inserted here), I am blessed to hear that word several thousand times before my little boy grows up.
The simple things like 'mommy', babies smiling, and numerous other things have really struck me recently as being some of the most pleasing experiences in my life. A cup of coffee while talking with my mother means so much to me now. The simple good morning kiss from my dog still makes me giggle. And finding a good book means the world to me. In a nutshell, I wish everyone had as comfortable of a life as I have so they could enjoy life. Yes, my outlook at times is relative to my experiences, and of course there are days where I think I have it 'rough'. But when I think that there are people out there who cannot bask in the sound of rain over their head, not because they're so busy with life and have become ignorant to the simplicity of life, but because there is no roof above them... it's heart-wrenching to me.
Then there are the people so wrapped up in work, constantly on their Blackberry, checking email, traveling, that they forget or just don't care about the simple things anymore. I find this saddening, too...
I want to breathe in life. I will wake my lazy, teenage self up one weekend, and I will watch the sunrise with my cup of coffee and the birds singing to the world. I find myself enjoying rainstorms more every time they blow in. At the beach, I avoided lying and tanning, but walked for miles along the shore, watching people, letting the surf kiss my feet. During the night, I perk my ears for the sound of the train off in the distance, sounding it's whistle. And although I'm not much for organized religion and haven't been to church in months, the synchronized turning of the semi-translucent pages of the Bible are comforting, the reason unknown to myself. My list of simple things I enjoy starts with the coffeepot I keep up at school; it takes a long time to brew, but the aroma and sound of the water heating is such a pleasant thing to wake to find. The list ends with my walks in cemeteries; not that I find peace in the morbidness of death, but at how much life there is embodied there! Think about all of the people that lived, what they did with the proverbial 'dash' in between their birth and death dates... if only tombstones were full biographies. And the dash in between said coffeepot and cemetery walks; filled to the brim with laughter, sunshine, and good conversation.
As the Mark DeRose Band puts it in "Breathing Life": "I wanna take the time to breathe in this life...".
I'll drink to that.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Darfur: The First Paper

In my first year of college, I had to pick a controversial topic to discuss for my English class. Everyone else chose same-sex marriage, abortion, or something along those lines. From the time I first heard the word "Darfur", I always wanted to learn more about what was going on there. I guess I just needed an excuse. I'm posting the first paper I wrote, an argumentative piece. I'll follow up with my causal analysis of why Darfur occurred/is occurring at a later date. Criticism, questions, and comments, are all, of course, welcomed :)

The Unspoken Genocide: Darfur

For only being eighteen days later, Cornelia Yekpalile is recovering well after having her lips slashed off and one ear removed (Faul). The mother of four was attacked while searching for food, her face now mutilated. One might wonder if her children have difficulty recognizing their mother with all of her stitches and wounds. Zakaria Arbab recounts the night his village, Jebel Si, was invaded: “They killed many people — my father, two of my aunts, my sister and all her little children. They killed 200 in a few hours, including many children. Then they raped the girls who were left. They threw some bodies on the fire, others into the well” (Graeme). Cecelia Nendu, a woman who belonged to a village that was looted and destroyed tells Mia Farrow about how she watched her sons be led away from her, their appendages bound. Nendu says, “I think they are dead” (Farrow “Omer”).
These stories are only a few that can be heard from the people of Darfur, the western region of Sudan. It is estimated that four-hundred thousand members of African tribes have been slaughtered in the massacres occurring in Darfur since 2003 (Docherty). Growing up in the United States, such acts of violence feel remote, if not fake as they occur in third world countries, far from having the impact directly influence any Americans. Africa has always been entwined with government uprisings and tribal disputes, mainly due to the corruption of the authoritative position.
A chilling moment in history that struck the hearts of many took place in Africa only over a decade ago: The Genocide of Rwanda. For numerous years, the two distinct groups in Rwanda, the Hutus and the Tutsis, were in constant ethnic clashes. According to the BBC News, this tension stemmed from the Belgian colonists who considered the Tutsi group more superior than that of the Hutus. Always oppressed, the Hutus grew increasingly infuriated by not being given the same opportunities as Tutsis, such as higher employment and standard of living (BBC). Contributing to the Rwandan tension between the two groups was that of the severe economic crisis in Rwanda. President Habyarimana’s death, a Hutu, caused by an unknown group who shot down his plane, was the match that started an untamable fire, resulting in full blown war between the two groups in 1994 (Jones 238).
Enraged by the murder of their president, numerous Hutus banded together to serve what they considered a long overdue payback for the pain and oppression the Tutsis had caused for decades. According to Adam Jones, author of Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, “army and militia forces went street to street, block by block, and house to house, in Kigail…Tutsis were dragged out of homes and hiding places and murdered, often after torture and rape (238). The killers were indiscriminate in their targets; men, women, and children were all slaughtered in the carnage of Rwanda. The killings lasted for approximately one hundred days, during which over 950,000 victims were accounted for, resulting in the actual death toll residing above one million people (Jones 245).
During this time, the United Nations and the United States, as well as other advanced countries, sat idle, contemplating whether genocide was occurring in Rwanda. Although the public had little information supplied to them through the media, mainly because the news focused on the upcoming elections in South Africa, the governments of countries and groups like the United Nations were well informed of the carnage (Jones 238). And Carnage it was: Adam Jones states that witnesses of the genocide came forward after the violence quieted to attest that the killers would slice their victim’s Achilles’ tendons, which would immobilize them. Leaving their victims to writhe in excruciating pain, the militia would leave, perhaps get drunk, only later to return to kill the victims if they had not already bled to death. Also, it is documented that the killing methods were so barbaric that if a Tutsi were captured, he or she would attempt to bribe or pay off the perpetrator to kill them with guns rather than hack him or her to death in an agonizing fashion (238).
There is no question that groups such as the United Nations and UNAMIR knew that mass killings were taking place in Rwanda. By April 6th, the day President Habyarimana died, reports were already coming into the United Nations informing them of the uprising of violence (Jones 239). Even so, genocidal killing continued: On April 20th, 1994 alone, “between thirty-five and forty-three thousand people died in less than six hours (Melvern 182). Many of the Tutsis being hunted thought that the United Nations, United States, or someone, anyone, would come for them and help them. Unfortunately, the death toll rose by the thousands every day while no one came to aid the helpless Rwandans.
After the massacres in Rwanda occurred, the United States President at the time, William Clinton, spoke of his deep remorse for never having done anything to stop the acts committed in Rwanda (Corn). His “Never Again” rallying point, which stuck in the minds of thousands, told the global community as a whole that never would such destruction and devastation be committed against any member of the human race while knowing powers did nothing to stop it (Corn). But when present events in Darfur are analyzed, is the statement “Never Again” actually being upheld by the international community? For the three people at the beginning of this paper who recounted their stories of horror, one would certainly think that “Never Again” has fallen short of its mark.
Just as in Rwanda’s case, Darfur had symptoms of being a time bomb contemplating its moment of detonation. In 2003 the United Nations Security Council received numerous reports documenting small uprisings of civilians who were displeased with the government corruption (Docherty). What most people fail to realize is that, according to Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, the conflict does not stem from simple tribal confrontation, but from the government corruption; politicians and leaders in Darfur use their position to purchase scarce resources which increase personal wealth but not national. This results in politicians becoming richer, while the poor of Darfur cannot sustain themselves (Maathai). Mukesh Kapila, former United Nations council member, wrote several of these reports that called for action in Darfur. Becoming increasingly aggravated with the fact that the United States was blocking him from speaking to the media, he decided to go to the British Broadcasting Corporation, well-known as the BBC, to help inform the public of the genocide in Darfur (Docherty). During his interview, he openly criticized the United Nations for not stepping in to do the job that they promised to do when they signed the “Responsibility to Protect” act (Jones 394).
Under the “Resolution 260”, also known as the “Responsibility to Protect”, the United Nations defined what the term ‘genocide’ actually constitutes, thus drawing a line of when aid is necessary or not. Resolution 260 states that:
“Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
• (a) Killing members of the group;
• (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
• (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
• (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
• (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
According to John Heidenrich, “by signing the UN Charter, every member has obligated itself to adhere to the most basic norms of civilized conduct, which means that only through outright hypocrisy can a government commit a crime as grievous as genocide” (61). When a country joins the United Nations, it is sending a signal to the international community that it will uphold the ideals of the committee. According to Heidenrich, the United Nations is “the only international body with the global legal right to compel countries to adhere to international humanitarian treaties and customs, by force if necessary”, which is why the United Nations has the Security Council (61). By being the only international group that has authority over countries in human rights, the United Nations has an even larger obligation to step up and take action when necessary.
As is evident, though, as the United Nations skirted around avoiding labeling Darfur as genocide, hundreds of thousands of African tribes were being slaughtered. Most of the violence in Darfur stems from the greed of the governmental powers who are attempting to hoard all of the scarce resources for themselves. Also, there have always been clashes between the Arab groups and African tribes of the Sudan region. With most ruling linked to the Arab culture, a superior view of Arabs has been imposed, resulting in the oppression of many African tribes (Docherty). Tensions increased with the surmounting drought, which led to Arabs in the north to invade the central part of Sudan (Jones 253). Just like Rwanda, Darfur’s breaking point was reached in 2003. Enraged by the unwelcomed intrusion, the African people formed the Sudan Liberation Army to help protect their homelands (Jones 253).
Along with the tension on the civilian level, there was and still is governmental corruption taking place, mostly instigated by the President Omer Al-Bashir, a general who overthrew the reigning president in 1989 (Jones 253). In his crusade to cleanse Sudan of non-Arabs, Al-Bashir allied many men of Arab descent into a militia known as the Janjaweed, which translates to “devil on horseback”. According to Adam Jones, the Janjaweed attacked males first, normally slaughtering them in large massacres. Then the Janjaweed would attack and rape women, but would not kill them normally; the militia wanted the women to live so they could bear children of Arab lineage (254). The corruptness of the government is evident in this quote made by President Al-Bashir on his opinion of the rape of women protected under his government: “When a Ja’ali [ Al-Bashirs tribe-which is the dominant Arab tribe] man humps her, is this an honor or rape?” (Farrow, “Honor or Rape”).
Fran├žois-Marie Arouet, better recognized by his pen name, Voltaire, is credited with saying, “History never repeats itself; man always does” (Voltaire). In the case of the United Nations inability to properly label genocide when it is occurring, Arouet’s words are most accurate. Genocide did occur in Darfur. Numerous reports bore the calling card of genocide. Political leaders around the world and members of the United Nations even stated that the acts occurring in Darfur were of genocidal nature. Mukesh Kapila filed numerous reports in effort to inform the committee, and yet he was ignored. According to Docherty, producer of On Our Watch, Kapila addressed several to the Under-Secretary General of Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, but when questioned by the media, Prendergast claimed he had never seen such memos. Upon more inquiry, he did not reply (Docherty). Prendergast was also the one who was quoted as saying that “the evidence of all of these crimes (committed in Darfur) will be washed away in the sand of the Sahara (Sharma). The blissful ignorance of having evidence just disappear is a selfish outlook on events that have ripped families apart. If it is not known if genocide is happening or not happening, investigation should be done to prove or disprove it. Sitting idle while it is known that thousands of people are dying is the selfish approach with an out of sight, out of mind mentality.
Along with Kapila’s view, the Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin, while addressing the Madam Deputy of the United Nations, stated the following: “Too often, permanent members have used the veto, real or threatened, to prevent effective action. Too often we have debated the finer points of language while innocent people continued to die. Darfur is only the latest example” (Docherty). Even the United States Secretary of State at the time, Colin Powell, came forward about the genocide occurring in Darfur. In a press conference, he stated, “We concluded- I concluded- that genocide has been committed in Darfur, and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility” (Jones 254). Even the Bush Administration called the situation in Darfur genocide (Docherty).
Even with all of this evidence, the United Nations still states that the happenings in Darfur did not comply with the definition of genocide in Resolution 260. Previously stated, the “Responsibility to Protect” act requires the United Nations to intervene if the intent to harm or eliminate a group or part of a group is evident (Resolution 260). According to Thu Thi Quach, the Arab militia powered by the government had every intention of wiping out the African tribes. The Janjaweed, when attacking villages could be heard shouting, “Kill all the blacks!” (Quach 1). Over four hundred thousand Darfuris have been killed and over 2.5 million displaced by the violence in their villages (Docherty). Certainly when most review the facts and listen to governmental figures who have been briefed more so than the public on the issue, it is evident that genocidal intent was occurring in Darfur. Through all of these killings, rapes, and torture, why was nothing done to stop it?
Docherty states in his documentary On Our Watch that the United Nations main reason for not intervening was China and the United States. China was extremely reluctant to vote for deploying peace-keeping troops in Sudan due to the economic benefits it reaped made with the government. Sudan has oil, although not in extremely large amounts, enough to export. China has a deal with Darfur that keeps oil prices low. Also, China negotiated a large firearms deal with the government of Sudan, which increases China’s revenue. The Sudanese government is obviously satisfied with this deal since they need arms and ammunition to keep the government-run militia afloat. With the moral compass of China in shambles, the Sudanese government increased its wealth while keeping the Janjaweed active. Had China voted to send forces to Darfur, they would have lost a profit from the government of Sudan. China was not the only country who was morally wrong in this situation; the United States, with most of its imports stemming from China, was very hesitant to vote to send peace-keeping forces into Sudan. With an already large national debt, the United States forwent the morally right obligation to keep its gross domestic product up (Docherty).
Countries apart from Africa were not the only ones with ulterior motives of the genocide; Sudan itself supported the genocide for several reasons. Firstly, Omer Al-Bashir, the current president, is descended from the Arab elites. Because of this, Al-Bashir considers Arabs superior to the African tribes, which is one reason why he supports the ethnic cleansing occurring in Darfur. The Aegis Trust in Britain even admitted that the militia formed by Al-Bashir, the Janjaweed, was systematically and intentionally killing the people of Darfur (Jones 253). The Sudan government also had economic reasons to continue the genocide in Darfur. According to Gregory Mankiw, in the following equation, Y is total economic output (gross domestic product), C is consumption of country as a whole, I is investment of the country as a whole, and G is spending by government:
Y = C + I + G
In this case gross domestic product is a factor of all three contributing variables. Due to the fact much of the population is very poor, government spends much of its money on the welfare of select groups of people in Sudan. The government can afford to do so due to the large gross domestic product created by trading negotiations with China and its resource of oil. One could argue that if government did not have to spend so much on the welfare of its poor, it could allocate its money towards industries that yield higher profits, such as mining and oil in Darfur. Theoretically, the Sudanese government could run a surplus and the depreciation of physical capital would decrease because of the diminishing population, a result of the genocide. With the lower population, there is lower pressure on the inflation of the currency, therefore better monetary control can be achieved. This results in more imports of foreign capital and goods, resulting in a higher standard of living for the country (Mankiw 194). In more simple terminology, if the government was not required to aid the poor of Sudan, it would have a greater wealth, which is the goal of Al-Bashir. Even though the driving reason of the genocide is to cleanse the African tribes from Darfur, the government benefits from less population.
And so the crisis in Darfur continues to be allowed to continue. Men are slaughtered day in and day out, women raped in front of their children, their young sons killed and led away, bound in rope, never to be seen again. The United Nations turns its eye away from the atrocities, pretending that if it acts as if no violence is occurring, the massacres will subside. Genocide is happening in Darfur in the worst way. As Eric Reeves puts it in the documentary On Our Watch, Rwanda happened and nothing was done about it. With only one hundred days of massacre, perhaps the United Nations did not have enough time to plan its aid. Reeves states, “it's as though the gods of history looked down on us and said, "Your failure was so appalling, so appalling, we're going to give you another chance, and this time so there are no excuses…and we’ll call it Darfur” (Docherty).
With the genocide progressing even into 2010, the United Nations still has yet to address this looming cloud that will persist if not stopped. The people of Darfur thought that hope was on the horizon when Barack Obama was elected as president, considering he called Darfur “a stain on our souls” (Farrow, “Sudan’s Sham”). After a year, Mia Farrow states that with the upcoming elections in Darfur, the United States is supporting the rigged elections that will ultimately result in Omer Al-Bashir maintaining his dictatorship over Darfur (“Sudan’s Sham”). And so the world will continue questioning: when will it stop?

Works Cited
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