Assignment seven: Smuggling in Libya

While researching our North Africa presentation for last Friday, I read a lot about the issue of smuggling in North Africa. My paper is on the narcotics trade in North Africa, but I didn’t know the full extent of smuggling in North Africa until I started to research Libya. I read this article in my research from the Carnegie Peace Endowment:

While thinking of illegal border activities and smuggling, I first thought of obvious narcotics or people smuggling operations. I never even considered that more normal goods were being smuggled. It never occurred that things like cigarettes, fuel, or other “consumer goods” would be smuggled so much across borders. Learning that around half of Libyan money is made from “informal” methods was a surprise to me, although maybe it shouldn’t have been. You always here about the situation in Libya on the news, but it is usually focused on things like terrorism. When doing further research and thinking about it more, it makes sense that a lot of business in Libya is conducted illegally. It is a failed state, where the west backed central government holds little territory and the rest of the country is being fought over by many different factions. The Libyan borders were already a hot spot for illegal smuggling before the civil war just because the borders are long stretches of desert with little people living there, making them hard to police. With the civil war, smuggling has become more encouraged. Different groups control different sections of the border and often make a profit from the illegal smuggling there because it makes more money than legal economic activities.

Here is a map of who controls what in Libya as of July 19, 2018. It really puts into perspective the instability of the country, and how control of the borders would help one group in power gain over another. You can see the long sections of the yellow or mixed/unclear control to see that much of the border is contested for obvious reasons. Those reasons being that the border is so important and constantly being fought over, or also because little people live there so it is unclear who controls the area.

Assignment Six: Israeli current events in Syria

After recently finishing our classes section on Israeli-Arab relations, seeing news on Israel is suddenly much more interesting. I always remember Israel being in the news and being a constant topic of discussion, but since I never knew too much about it or its issues I never paid close attention to it. But after doing the readings, it has become much easier to understand what news articles are talking about when it comes to Israel and having some historical context helps with that.

I found two short articles published recently about Israel’s activities in Syria:

The first one is about Israel and its opposition to Iran’s influence in Syria. Iran has been providing arms to some anti-Israel groups like the Hezbollah and trying to establish a presence in Syria partly because of Israel. Israel destroyed the Iranian Republican Guard HQ in retaliation for rockets being launched into Israel by who they suspect to be Iranians. The second article talks about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu accusing Iran of planning future attacks against Israel. Keeping a historical context in mind, it is interesting to wonder if these Iranian attacks are exaggerated to shore up domestic support within Israel, considering also that Netanyahu is being indicted on corruption charges. It reminds me of the more hawkish parties in Israel in the past using attacks against Israel as excuses to respond with a disproportionate amount of force. On the other hand, Israel is seriously threatened by many of it neighbors either through funding terrorist groups or by direct military action(in the past mostly). The attacks in the articles weren’t made up and the threat of Iran does certainly exist to Israel.

The second article is about Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking about Iranian threats to Israel. He goes on to say that Israel will counter or prevent any potential attack on Israel. This article supplements the previous one by putting the Iranian missile attacks in the broader context of the threat that Iran poses to Israel through Syria. Netanyahu also showcases his more hawkish foreign policy against threats to Israel, which are often well received by the people during times of violence. It will be interesting to see if he is able to stay in office despite being indicted on corruption charges.

The existence of the threats to Israel along along with the more hawkish conservative parties in Israel supporting seemingly increasingly disproportionate retaliations against the perpetrators make it hard to see a potential middle ground for peace, either with surrounding neighbors or with Palestine.

Assignment five: Israeli and Palestinian conflict resolution

The readings about the Arab-Israeli conflict over the past few weeks have shown the complex history of Israel and Palestine. I remember always hearing about Israel in the news growing up but I never really knew that much about the history. That being said, know that I know a little more I can see why this is a problem that has lasted so long and has been seemingly impossible to solve over the years. One pattern that I noticed while reading about the history of Israel and Palestine peace negotiations was that right after any kind of “forward progress” or step forward in the peace process was made, it was often met with intense and violent backlash. The backlash on the Palestinian side would be extremist terrorist groups firing rockets into Israel or blowing up buses or committing some other act of terror in protest of negotiations with who they saw as an existential threat which needed to be destroyed. On the Israeli side the backlash seems to be an overreaction to Palestinian attacks or threats with hawks in the government supporting “punishment” on Palestinian communities.

The book portrays the peace process as getting hampered or sabotaged by extremists on either side who will refuse to negotiate or view the other side as a group with any validity. With all of this being said, in the current state of Israel and Palestine, peace looks to be further in the distance. Israel has continued to elect nationalist leaning governments who have shown that they either can’t or won’t take peace as seriously through negotiations as some past Israeli presidents have. Meanwhile Palestine’s leadership is fractured and plagued with terrorist groups supported by larger powers that continue to undermine the peace process. Couple this with the current US government being clearly pro-Israel, making it hard to be a neutral arbitrator as well as the EU being focused on their own internal problems, and finally Russia is experiencing its own problems with Ukraine. So many external actors are distracted by other things and the leadership in Israel and Palestine doesn’t seem willing to engage in the peace process seriously enough to make any real progress, making it look unlikely that peace will happen soon barring a major shift in one of these factors.

Assignment Four: Water Diary

When I measured my water consumption, I wasn’t sure what to expect for the outcome. My consumption turned out to be around average for an American. The most surprising aspect to me was that the vast majority of my water consumption came through virtual water eating meat.

Countries in North Africa use a lot less water on average than Americans, which didn’t surprise me. Some, like Algeria or Egypt use much less while countries like Tunisia are a little closer to the US. One economic implication I can think of is that meat would be produced and consumed less, unless there was an extremely reliable country to import it in. Also there may be more money and interest to invest in things like dams and water desalination plants than in countries with plenty of water access.

A few social implications I thought of were: an overall difference in the national attitude towards water, diet consisting of foods that require little water to grow, and  water not being as readily available as in other countries. A different attitude towards water might be that people in water-poor countries take shorter showers or take them less often, they don’t use machines that waste a lot of water often (washing machine, dishwashers, etc.), and they probably think much more about their water usage than Americans do. Diets consisting of foods that require little water to grow seems like an obvious and straight forward social implication. As an American, its hard not to imagine a restaurant giving free water or many stores selling bottled water or water taps virtually everywhere, but in water-poor countries I imagine water would not be as easy to find and it would only be given as needed because it is so scarce.

The effects of limited water might induce some cultural shifts to adapt to the short water supply as well as cause some political tension. As for sustainability of life, humans need water, and if there is not enough to support the people in a country then people are going to move elsewhere if they can or die. If water becomes scarcer and scarcer, then it could cause political upheaval if governments are seen as not doing enough to solve the problem. In North Africa and other areas of the Middle East, political upheaval often leads to the rise of terrorist organizations and other threats. All in all, since water is so vital for human life, access to it will have a vital impact on the future.

Assignment Two: The “others” in our community

The first group of people that came to my mind when I thought of thinking of people as a group rather than as individuals were non-Americans. This is a pretty general group of people, but I think that culture plays a big role in the way people think about and view others. It is (relatively) easy for me to interact with Americans no matter where they’re from in the country, their religious or ethnic backgrounds, or political views because we share and understand the same culture. While interacting with someone who is not American, there tends to be more awkwardness and maybe more misunderstandings due to a difference of culture. But when you start actually interacting with individuals who belong to these groups, you begin to see them as individuals rather as a mysterious group.

If you don’t interact frequently with “outsider” groups, then you will not be able to understand their culture. This can lead to some animosity or perceptions of “weirdness” as people can see cultural differences as being rude or impolite. It also allows for people to see a group rather than a set of individuals because their defining characteristics to you may be their physical appearance or their different culture because you don’t know anything else about them. This may lead to a dehumanizing effect on that group of people if you treat them as a monolith.

The social practice of “othering” can lead to exclusion and misunderstandings between groups of people. This can lead to feelings of resentment in both the majority and minority groups as well as promoting a kind of social segregation between groups. It can also lead to the dismissal of people’s culture because it is not understood. Another effect might be poor decisions being made in relation to a group because they’re not properly understood. On a large scale, this can be seen in the American wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan where common complaints are/were that the local situation wasn’t properly understood before entering these areas, making the initial American goals in these areas very difficult to achieve.


Assignment one: Where I live; Where they live

I grew up in a suburban town in northern Virginia outside of Washington DC. Some environmental factors that are different between there and the Middle East would be the ethnic make-up of the population, majority religion, and the climate, among many others. Where I live grew up the majority of people are Caucasian, (of European descent) but also with large minority populations of Asian-Americans(mostly from east Asia) and Hispanics(mostly from central America).  In the Middle East there are probably a good amount of Caucasian people, but they would be in the minority, not the majority. It is doubtful that the Asian or Hispanic populations would be significant there. Another large difference is the majority religion. Where I grew up it is majority Christian, and the Middle East is majority Muslim. The climate in each place is very different, with the Middle East being hotter year round with little to no seasons and very arid, while in Virginia there are all four seasons and it is usually very humid. Another difference is that the buildings, cities, and settlements in the Middle East are much older than in the US. Also, the US is a democracy whereas many middle eastern countries are not. These are just a few of the many differences between these two places.

These differences would lead to a lot of differences in day to day life, and thus a lack of understanding between cultures. The huge differences in culture would reflect differences in the clothes people where, how people entertain themselves, what people eat, etc. The climate difference would also heavily impact these things. The worldviews of people in these two places would be different because of their different governmental systems, history, and culture.

Some resources to use to help increase understanding of the Middle East are the news (diversified sources, not just western), historical books about the Middle East and its culture, and meeting people who are from the Middle East (either visiting it physically or meeting people in the US who come from there).