Je suis Bruxelles: On Fear

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My students watched, numb and quiet, as they let the words from France 24 wash over them. After we watched the international reactions, one of my students said idly, ‘What next?’

I said, in as even a tone as possible, ‘When war or terrorism happens, people in general tend to become more “little-c” conservative [to distinguish from Conservative parties] and a little more insular.’ It was as much as I wanted to say. I talked about the 7 July bombings in London, how London reacted, and we talked about assimilation and culture in Europe. I don’t like using tragedy as teachable moments, but it was important for them to begin processing.

After school, chatting with a colleague, I let bitterness and pessimism take over as I said, “Donald Trump will be the next president, and Britain will leave the European Union.” I felt sick as I said it, as if it were a premonition. I feel sick as I think of it now. My even tone in class had fallen away, and I felt angry, as I never had before.

It is not the time to close borders, to hate and to fear. But we will. It has become the first response to this distress. But I choose to celebrate Brussels and the idea of the European Union which was attacked on the 22nd of March.

May there be no next time. – SDM

Photo by Ji-Sun Yoo

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What I’m reading this week: 19 February 2016

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The thing about politics is that it is everywhere. People have a horror of talking about it, but it invades our daily life. Politics affects me as dual citizen; it affects me as a woman; it affects me as a person of colour. It insinuates every part of my life, so I take an interest in it (some may say it is quite an unhealthy interest).

In huge political news, Justice Antonin Scalia passed away the 13th February 2016. You can read my thoughts on his passing here, but I was also interested in seeing how his death affects cases already on the docket. Ian Millhiser at Think Progress wrote an interesting article about how his death affects decisions already made and those upcoming ones. The ramifications of his death are still to be seen, especially with the Republican obstructionist streak we are seeing now.

Justice Scalia was a lover of opera, and a comment I spied in NPR’s obituary about him mentioned that his favourite was Der Rosenkavalier. The opera was performed at PROMS 2014, and I read an article from July 2014 by Simon Callow in The Guardian about the opera. I’m not a fan of opera in general, but I do like comic operas, so I may just have to check this out.

Continuing on with The Guardian. In the US version’s Comment is Free, George Soros writes that Putin’s aggressiveness and dishonesty makes him a bigger enemy for the European Union than Daesh and Al-Qaida. Putin is looking at the instability of the EU as a good sign–an unstable EU is a weaker enemy.

Some of that instability in the EU is from the refugee crisis; the EU is scrambling to find the best solution for the issue. I will write about this later, at great length, because it is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. Le Monde’s Frédéric Lemaître writes about the increasingly strained and divisive talks happening in München (Munich) right now.

And finally, an article from The New Yorker that is quite personal to me. I teach French, and I’ve been working as teacher for the past five years. In David Denby’s Cultural Comment, Stop Humiliating Teachers, he writes that Americans tend to denigrate the teaching profession as a whole, even as they recall their favourite ones. Teaching is a stressful and usually thankless job, so reading this had me nodding my head vigorously at every line.

So, until next time then. – SDM

Photo by le bateleur

What I’m reading this week: 29 January 2016

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I try to read articles from all around the world. Admittedly, I usually browse them between classes or at lunch. I get a lot of my news from National Public Radio; I try to avoid watching television for news. Yes, I read mostly left-wing publications. So without further ado, what I’m reading/perusing this week around. I hope to make this a weekly thing, if I can remember. Definitely fort-nightly, at least.

How Iowa Hijacked Our Democracy by Jeff Greenfield : I never knew why we picked Iowa of all places to kick off the grand democratic game of the US presidential election. I hadn’t realised that it’s a fairly young institution (1972). Iowa isn’t a great representative state, although it is an honest place, seemingly. There’s also an alarmingly low turnout rate, although there’s an alarmingly low turn out rate in the US elections, generally.

After reading such a negative look at Iowa, I thought, well what can we do, really? Thankfully, I found some ideas in a handy list form from Danielle Kurtzleben at NPR: No Way To Pick A President? Here Are 6 Other Ways To Do It. There were some really good ideas; my favourite was the rotating regional primary, wherein regions of states would vote together.

Continuing on my American politics read, I am a new subscriber to The New Yorker. When I lived in London, a friend would give me her old copies and I’d read them on the Tube during my commute. I was tired of getting that reminder that I had read half my monthly allotment so I just went in for an educator’s subscription. Hot tip: if you are a school teacher, just call The New Yorker direct at 1.800.825.2510 and you’ll get the discount!

I read two articles from The New Yorker, one about Bernie Sanders and one about Flint, Michigan. I really do like Bernie Sanders over Hilary Clinton, but it’s way too early for me to make that heavy of a decision! The article, Bernie Sanders and the Realists by John Cassidy was a very pithy look at Sanders’s actual chances, and how idealism works in such a cynical environment as the US political system.

And then I read The Contempt That Poisoned Flint’s Water by Amy Davidson and just got angry. How is this sort of blatant and utter corruption even still a thing in America? I should be less naive, I know, but it was disheartening nonetheless. Sometimes, I feel as though America is still a developing nation sometimes, no matter how sophisticated we pretend to be.

Onto world news, then. From Europe, I read Der Spiegel from Germany; The Guardian from the UK (along with the BBC and The Independent, though I don’t like the latter that much); Le MondeLe Figaro, and Le Libération from France and a few newspapers from Sweden and Spain when they pop up on my Twitter feed. I also read Al-Jazeera English when I remember I have the app!

In Der Spiegel, an article about the new refugee identity cards caught my eye; it was an article about how this new identity card would create a faster and more secure way of identifying asylum seekers and getting the help they need. [Article’s title: ‘Asylpolitik: Bundesrat billigt Flüchtlingsausweis’]

From The Guardian’s Simon Parkin, an article about Daesh and its mastery of pop culture: ‘ How Isis hijacked pop culture, from Hollywood to video games‘. It was a fascinating (and long!) read about how Daesh and many other organisations use pop culture in order to entice, indoctrinate and recruit new members.

Le Monde had an article about the proposed changes to Paris’s neighbourhoods, called arrondisements. Redistricting isn’t a super sexy thing, I know, but changing a century’s old system for voting purposes (seriously!) is something that is strikingly similar to American gerrymandering. Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, says that putting together the first four arrondisements would create a larger, more fair voting bloc. To what end, I have no idea, as I am not a Parisienne, but it will be interesting to watch. [The article: ‘Tout comprendre aux vingt arrondissements de Paris’]

And finally, from Le Libération, I read an article by Jean-Manuel Escarnot about two brothers from Toulouse, former Catholics, who have become rappers/singers for Daesh; it’s entitled Les frères Clain, rappeurs catholiques devenus voix de l’Etat islamique. Like The Guardian article above, it shows how sophisticated Daesh is in reaching its audience, using voices from around the world to carry its message to the most ears possible. There is also a fifteen minute documentary about the brothers at Arte Radio that you can listen to here (it is in French).

Until next time. – SDM

Picture by Angelo DeSantis from Berkeley, US