Posts Tagged Syria
Year 2014 is coming to a close. As I see it, it has been a year to confront the reality and get things done. Affordable Care Act became law in January, increasing the accessibility of healthcare, in the US. TIME declared Ebola as the defining issue of the 20th century. It was no more in remote regions of Africa but in the capitals and it landed in the USA. The reality is that we are living in a global world.
And then President Obama reminded us that even though some of our neighbors entered the border illegally, they have made their home here, are working hard, supporting their families and they should have NOT amnesty, but an opportunity to make it right with the law, and live here temporarily, AND pay their share of the taxes, because people can’t live in the shadows, in a global world of visibility and accountability. Long overdue immigration reform will enable many people to come out of the shadows and add to the national treasury – a win-win – what’s not to like?
The same applies to our gay neighbors. They should not have to live in the shadows. Majority of the states this year, legalized same sex marriages and US supreme court refused to hear appeals from states seeking to keep same sex marriage ban in place. Many states also legalized marijuana. But what about our veterans living in the shadows? Department of Veterans Affairs got more resources (as house passed the bill, at the end of the year, averting shutdown), and it now has to get its act together and make it right with those who defend our freedom and values.
And what about skin color? We are confronting the reality that more than 50 years after Dr. King laid out his vision for color-fair society, people are still being judged on the basis of the color of their skin and paying with their lives. This does not just happen when young men turn 22 but prejudice hits in childhood http://bit.ly/15EInJ4 and it splinters society. We can heal and move ahead, but scars made by history, and distrust can only heal when there are no new wounds, when there is real dialog, when each side gets to even briefly experience the reality that the other lives with, and have compassion. We are confronting the reality and lot of dialog is happening. Much work remains to be done but the issue can’t be ignored any longer.
And then the lowest of the low, terrorists and those plotting terror. How do we deal with them? Report on CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the post-9/11 era reveals that “CIA detainees were tortured”. When we lose sight of our values, when the boundaries between moral and immoral gets blurry, then we lose, regardless of what we were seeking to gain. This is a true moment for national soul searching. (the fact some people may be only suspected of being terrorists is whole other story).
Globally, also we are confronting realities. World’s largest democracy, India, elected controversial Mr. Narendra Modi as Prime Minister. Mr. Modi has reached out to leaders across the world and declared campaigns to clean up India. My birthplace has so much to offer to the world and if it cleans up its act, under the helm of Mr. Modi, I couldn’t be happier. Our neighbors need to clean up their act too, even as they rightfully blame the US for its insatiable appetite for drugs. Capture of “El Chapo” Guzman in Mexico was a HUGE victory that got overshadowed later by disappearance and ruthless murder of 43 Mexican college students. “#YaMeCanse12”! Abduction of 270 high school girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria #BringBackOurGirls and scores of Yazidi women bought, sold, raped, and murdered, underscores the need to define rape during conflict as a war crime and not a woman’s issue. By some estimates, more than 7 million (50% are children) are displaced by war in Syria (200,000 are killed) and 100,000+ Yazidis are displaced by ISIS. Let us continue to keep theses issues in the spotlight.
The year is ending on a rather sad note of the children who lost their lives in #PeshawarSchoolAttack in Pakistan. Here is my short poem in their memory – http://bit.ly/1wfp47D . It was heart warming to see India support its neighbor in the hour of grief as #IndiawithPakistan was a popular hashtag on twitter. And also deeply heartwarming to see Pakistan echo the sentiments when #PakistanwithIndia and sepecially #PakistanwithIndiaNoToLakhviBail became trendy topics on twitter as overwhelmingly Pakistani people reacted negatively to their government’s decision to give bail to Mumbai terror mastermind Lakhvi. May the balanced sentiments always prevail over extremism, because the reality is that we live in a global world and terror can’t be nurtured and targeted because sooner or later it would hit home. Global world also demands secularism.
As a ray of light and hope, Malala Yousafzai, courageous young lady from Pakistan, spearheading girls’ right to education and Kailash Satyarthi from india, a brave and dedicated activist for children’s rights and against child labor, shared the Nobel Prize, sending strong messages that fight to honor children’s rights will continue.
Hard as it is to confront the reality that one’s parents may not be there forever, I was very happy to spend wonderful time with my mother and my aunty (her sister). I tried to focus on giving them a break from their routines and enable them to have some fun, some unusual experiences. Isn’t it amazing that when a mother gives, she gives with her heart and soul, but when she receives from her children, she receives with a feeling of enormous debt and gratitude! Both my children are focused on their careers; Neil is working with Cisco in IT and Neesha is finishing college this coming year. Both are my pride and joy :). It has also been fun hosting my daughter’s friend from UCSD, originally from Palestine, during the holidays, and alternately being “naughty” with the girls, and playing aunty-mom to two daughters :).
This year, I also visited Japan (we were hosted by many amazing friends and you can see all details in my travel blogs), an amazingly polite and most efficient culture, with world’s most interesting toilets http://bit.ly/1sYL5qs. This year I also started travel blogs and you can see my many blogs at www.darshanavnadkarni.wordpress.com.
And finally, here are links to some of the most amazing things that I blogged about, this year.
Best movie – “Last Days in Vietnam” http://bit.ly/1qFIL28
Best play – “Truce” http://bit.ly/1trGhEG and “Andhera Hone Tak” http://bit.ly/1Aij5Rz
Best book – “The Glass Castle” http://bit.ly/1fchcIo
Best biomedical technologies — so many exciting technologies in early to mid stages of development for — treatment of ALS http://bit.ly/1AP2Yd0, for technology for early detection of cervical cancer http://bit.ly/1jalqEz, technology that aims to deliver drugs via inhalation for AFib, point of care solution to minimize prescription filling errors http://bit.ly/1jdfmgr
Wishing my readers, family & friends, and my clients and colleagues, peace and joy in the year 2015. Best wishes to my many friends in fantastic groups that I am routinely affiliated with (each of them enhance life for many, personally and/or professionally) http://www.bio2devicegroup.org, http://www.eppicglobal.org, http://www.citylights.org, http://www.thestage.org, http://www.theatreworks.org, http://www.naatak.org, http://www.enacte.org, http://www.iwings.org .
China Tour was truly an amazing, inspiring, awesome experience. Majority of my travels take me to ruins and old civilizations. In China, even the ruins (the Great Wall, Terracotta Warriors) are not totally in ruins or are in various stages of restoration. That progress is everywhere. Skyscrappers doting the skylines in major cities point to architectural beauty and something fundamentally progressive. China has literally taken its billion people and housed them. Compared to India (I hate to say this but without acknowledging, how is India going to progress, where there are indeed huge pockets of progress), China has made huge progress in infrastructure and in improving the standard of living. In India, many of its billion people are sitting, squatting, living on the streets. Indeed in China, there are the “ghost cities” (fully constructed empty cities indicative of a housing bubble). But apart from that, people are in homes. You rarely see crowds or trash (with the exception of roads clogged with auto traffic). And with the exception of shoving (which seems to be culturally ingrained), people are disciplined and follow rules and put trash in trash cans. Compared to India, China is squeaky clean, and it is addressing the smog problem. What amazing progress!
Just to be fair, let me mention that India is perhaps the only country in the world that has maintained a lively, engaging democracy, throughout all the ups and downs, after the colonial powers left, in 1947. As one of the four SICK (Syria, Iran, China, N. Korea) countries, China on the other hand, blocks Facebook and curtails freedoms of social expression. I will discuss in another blog some thoughts on democracy, socialism, ability to vote versus having a roof over the head, what truly may define progress and give a nation competitive leverage. But for now, I am sharing below, a little about the incredible Great Wall of China.
The Great Wall
Climbing the Great Wall of China is a great experience :). The Great Wall built from east to west across the northern border of China was meant to protect the Chinese empire against intrusions by hostile military or nomadic groups or to keep track on transportation of goods and for collection of taxes for goods traveling along the Silk Road, and to keep track of immigration and emigration. Several walls were built and later joined together and made bigger and stronger. Most famous one was built between 220-206 BC by the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang who united China. Most of existing wall was reconstructed during the Ming Dynasty. According to one estimate, the entire wall measures up to 21,196 km or 13,171 miles.
The day we toured this site, it was incredibly cold. I climbed half way past post 9 (it goes to no. 13). The climb is arduous, steep and when there are steps, they are high. Besides being so cold, the wind was so ferocious, you almost fear that it will pick you up from the climb and throw you down into the valley. I decided (very wisely) to not push it and to turn around at that point. At the base there are curio shops, coffee shops, and a little museum like place, or one can walk to the other side of the wall, where there is Lop lake. The Great Wall was a major highlight of the tour. It is enormous, gigantic, well maintained, and beautiful vistas all around are breathtaking.
Syria has presented an interesting conundrum for the US. For over 2 years, charming Syrian dictator who is also a ruthless murderer, Bashar al Assad has laid siege upon his own people and has systematically massacred over 100,000 civilians, and millions have become refuges. World watches helplessly. What is a US president to do? Welcome to the 21st century, where American mindset will prove lacking, unless we embrace complexity and uncertainty.
We in the US, like clear problems that have clear solutions. We do not like shades of gray. We like our leaders to be decisive, not reflective. And we just do not understand the complexities that exist in many parts of the world, except in a perfunctory manner. For instance, we can rattle off statistics about how many languages are spoken in certain parts of the world; we can talk about gender differences in parts of the world; we can speak about class dynamics. What we do not understand are the underlying reasons that make it so; the stakeholders who want to preserve the status quo and why; those who clamor for change and how they are in no way different from any of us in the US, in terms of their tech savvyness, their English speaking skills, and who may be more savvy in terms of their cultural insights.
President Obama has been criticized for the “zig-zag” nature of his policy, in response to Syria. I will however, go out on a limb, and say that this is exactly what we need from our leader in the new, global, multicultural world fraught with enormous complexities and serious challenges; a world that does not present clear problems and one that is much less ready for clear, decisive solutions. This is not a world where one sentence rhetoric that says, let us capture Bin Laden “dead or alive” will work.
In fact just to make my point with clarity that the Americans so love, I am going to quote some Bushisms below.
“Removing Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency, it is the right decision now, and it will be the right decision ever.” –George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., March 12, 2008
“Wait a minute. What did you just say? You’re predicting $4-a-gallon gas? … That’s interesting. I hadn’t heard that.” –George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Feb. 28, 2008
“Let’s make sure that there is certainty during uncertain times in our economy.” — George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., June 2, 2008
“Oftentimes people ask me, ‘Why is it that you’re so focused on helping the hungry and diseased in strange parts of the world?'” –George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., April 18, 2008
The thing is that world is not so strange to a lot of people who not only have stepped out of their homes and their comfort zones and traveled places and mingled with people vastly different from them. Additionally, with technology people can make little google guy on street view walk and go places for them and people do research on wikipedia and they use skype, telepresene, go to meeting, webex and other technologies to bring the world closer and there are no far-away, “strange” places. The thing is that removing any dictator or an abuser of human rights is neither a fully right decision and nor is it a completely wrong one.
Consider the competing priorities that the President of the US must manage. In this new world, the US cannot act as a cop and neither can the US remain a helpless bystander. The US President, commander-in-chief of the armed forces cannot simply ignore Assad’s blatant refusal to follow the rules previously agreed upon by 190 odd countries, regarding the ban of chemical weapons. But neither can the President of the US ignore the fact that Americans are tired with war and they do not want their leader calling them to make sacrifices, especially in the face of so much uncertainty. The US cannot ignore the moral imperative to intervene; if the US does not escort the moderates now than it is less likely we will find them later. Nor can the US ignore the national interest argument of Assad gone mad and his people pouring into the neighboring regions; more countries and groups may stockpile such weapons and use them and someday they could be used against the US.
President Obama’s considered response – actually responses, his willingness to come forth and present the argument to the American people, his reluctance to jump into war, his willingness to get support from the Congress, his flexibility to change the course of military action, all this is precisely what we need in a leader who must weigh the competing complexities, not just once, but on a daily and hourly basis. And despite this, the President is neither waffling, nor has run out of options.
President Obama has warned the Syrian dictator, over and over that the world is watching and keeping track of his human rights abuses. Assad was warned regarding the use of chemical weapons. The president has gone and discussed with the world leaders; though the countries do not want to intervene, there is tremendous tacit support in the world, and huge disapproval of Assad’s actions. The president has gotten solid evidence of use of chemical weapons by Assad, has sought approval from the Congress for military strike, and the president has explained to American people and ensured us that there will be no boots on the ground, that we will not be called upon to make significant sacrifices, when we have our own priorities and challenges to deal with. And now, another dictator, Vladimir Putin has come forth, to help the process of negotiation and Mr. Obama has also entertained that. At this point Mr. Obama has built the most solid case that if he uses military might, it will only be after he has tried every other option and the objective will be to strike strategically Assad’s control and command posts, with an objective to weaken him, without putting boots on the ground.
Now let us also answer those who say that military strike to weaken Assad is an action that is too little, too late. Middle East is a complex region. There are many voices, many stakeholders; there are many who suffer deeply and there are many who bestow deep suffering onto others. Going into that region with an idea to fix something, to take a dictator out, to support a friend, to hurt a foe, to broker a peace, will never have intended consequence because every action from outside, generates equal and opposite reaction from inside. However, what we can do is to give a blow to anyone flaunting violating an agreed upon treaty, a few precise air strikes that send a strong message that you can get away with only so much before the world will take notice of your actions and send a punishing message. This action, while conveying a message to Assad, also would convey a message to the rebels that if they stay focused and disciplined than the world will not completely forget them and they have friends outside who are committed to seeing the atrocities stopped. It is nice to have moderate friends in that region. It would give a psychological boost to the rebels and we would hope that some of them are moderate. Strategically, it would keep the situation from spiraling completely out of balance, a situation where Assad’s side could get so powerful that they may completely wipe out the other side from every raising its head.
We know what happens in situations that spiral out of balance. The examples are many and they are heartbreaking – Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks, after World War I; rape of Nanking, China, by the Japanese in 1937; atrocities against the Jews in Nazi Germany, before the end of world war II; civil war that wiped out its entire educated population, in Cambodia, in 1970s by Pol Pot led Khmer Rouge; Muslim genocide in Kosovo in 1990s, under the leadership of all too powerful Slobodan Milosevic; genocide and slaughter of the Tutsis by the powerful Hutus in Rawanda, in mid-1990s. Atrocities committed by Assad regime are nearing that kind of epic proportions. And he has one chance now to deliver and destroy his chemical weapons.
Vladimir Putin has also made a mockery of human rights in Russia. And now he has an opportunity to emerge as a politician of some stature, not just by sending in an op-ed piece, obviously written by someone else; but by bringing value to the table in getting Syria to hand over its chemical weapons stockpiles over to the international community. Syria, better pay heed, that the country that cherishes democracy, seeks to stop human rights abuses, embraces the weak, and the children, is not soft at its core; it has mettle and is committed to its principles and it will not sit idly watching this ruthless man massacre innocent children. And as for us, to operate more effectively in the complex, smaller, new world, we better learn to become comfortable with lack of certainty, fuzziness and shades of gray; we’d better learn some flexibility and adaptability; and we’d better understand that we live in a global community. If TB and Bird Flu can travel across countries with great speed, so can chemical and biological weapons, and there is a reason that most of the world has made a pact to banish such weapons of mass destruction.
For me, a big theme this year has been water. Hurricane Sandy once again reminded us of the destructive power of water. Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, (http://bit.ly/XizQZL) a challenging water movie, depicting life sustained in and by water, was a treat for the senses at every level. And to borrow a water metaphor, if our eminent leaders (in the so called free world), do not quickly resolve the fiscal cliff, then there is a chance we will all fall of the cliff, and drown in high taxes. I loved reunion with my college buddies, near the ocean in Orlando, and yearly visit with my mother, in India, despite the monsoons.
For me, the highlight of the year was visiting the floating village in Cambodia, on the shores of Lake Tonle Sap (http://bit.ly/TPGLE2), near Siem Riep. The visit generated many conflicting emotions. Gawking at the people, as they went about their daily lives, seemed voyeuristic and clearly an invasion of their privacy. While the abject poverty of the people living on the water and living off of whatever the water provides, was heart-wrenching, it seemed strange to buy junk food from mothers at highly inflated prices and donate it to their kids. Neesha (my sweet child and my loveliest travel companion) and I were glad to visit an orphanage where children were happy and smiling, and make donation there. Visit to Khmer Rouge’s Killing Fields (seeing rows upon rows of skulls neatly lined up) and Toul Sleng Genocide Museum with cells, interrogation paraphernalia etc., was a gut wrenching, soul searching, thought provoking, tear streaked, heart rending experience. Why do people do horrible things to people; brother to sister; child to mother? Out of about 7M population at the time, Cambodia lost close to 4M people; due to war, rebellion, man-made famine, genocide, and politicide, including over 2M in mass murder by Khmer Rouge. Every family perhaps had someone who was killed and someone who was responsible in some way, for the killings.
And speaking of the horrors, people in Syria have been suffering at the hands of the brutal dictator, for too long, now. By now, almost 50K are presumed killed and close to 30K, reported missing, and over a million Syrians are displaced, as the world watches, helplessly. It was a year of loss as well as a small victory in the UN, for the people of Palestine. Many Israeli and Palestinian people are rooting for peace in the region and we hope these voices will prevail. Jeremy Lin and Ganganam style dance were overnight sensations as twitter went abuzz with them. Big Bird, Bunch of malarcky, and Binders full of women were the big buzz words of fiercely fought, US 2012 elections. UK was a grand host and young Olympians, including Gabby Douglas, Katie-Ledecky, Missy Franklin and many other amazing athletes made the games, memorable and interesting. As we get ready to celebrate X’mas, the Sandy Hook gun violence makes me and my children, infinitely sad. In loving memory of the slained, precious children, I am sharing two of my poems, http://bit.ly/QZOh2a & http://bit.ly/TlaQN2 . Taliban were not able to silence or separate the brave young girl #Malala from her books, by shooting at her. #DelhiVictim #Nirbhaya after being brutally gang raped & sodomized and after loosing all of her intestines, is fiercely fighting to survive and here is my poem honoring her fierce spirit http://bit.ly/WyY4zf .
Life continues to offer me many blessings, with my children being the hugest, best blessings. My mother is becoming increasingly frail, but every night she ends my call with “Best of Luck”, – her way of bestowing blessings on her daughter, living in a foreign land. I love my work, both recruitment for medical device and biotech companies http://bit.ly/VT2TNP and training in diversity and inclusion http://bit.ly/W33tZ2, both here in the US, and in India. My blog www.darshanavnadkarni.wordpress.com , is increasingly being read, worldwide :). The stats indicate, 18,991 total views, with 1040 people following my blog. My reviews e.g. http://bit.ly/MWhMPl helped Shady Shakespeare Theater Company win a spot on the @greatnonprofits 2012 Top-Rated List! So life’s been fun, exciting, sometimes sad, and always full of blessings.
Wishing you health and happiness, peace and prosperity in 2013.