Post #1

A brief overview of Belgium

Belgium is an interesting European country because it involves a multitude of cultures. Rather than being a country like France or Germany, which have very wholistic national identities, Belgium is made up of many different sects and parts that make it a diverse place to live. Belgium is home to around 11 million people. Almost all of the population of the country is considered urban. The country has also experienced a lot of immigration over the 2oth century from other countries in Europe as well as the Middle East.

Belgium was controlled by the Netherlands until gaining its independence in 1839. This former colonization and their proximity to France and Germany means that the Belgian people have three nationally recognized languages: Dutch, French and German. The two largest regions of Belgium are Flanders, a Dutch-speaking area in the north, and Wallonia, a French-speaking area in the south.

The government of Belgium is set up as a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy. Currently, King Philippe is the monarch and the Prime Minister is Charles Michel.  Its parliament is bicameral.

Below is a video of the Belgian national anthem,”La Brabançonne,” which showcases pride in the king and liberty.

What’s going on right now: top headlines

On January 30, Belgian police arrested four people who were trying to get from Belgium to Syria and Lybia on suspicion that these migrants were going to join terrorists groups. Since the bombings in November, the Belgian government has been on high alert regarding travelers coming in and going out of the country, according to AFP.

It was announced recently that the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, will make a visit to Belgium this year, according to Le Soir, a daily newspaper out of Brussels. He will arrive in the Belgian embassy on March 31, according to the article. A picture of Rouhani is shown below. The photo was taken by a Reuters photographer.

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In other news, Eric Van Rompuy, a member of the Flemish Parliament and member of the Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams, or CDV party, is worried that tensions between the only French-speaking political party in Belgium, the Reformist Movement, or MR party, and the Socialist Party, or PS party, are too high. According to De Standaard, a daily Belgian newspaper, Rompuy said that the government will not function well if the two parties decided to go to war with one another. The two parties were apparently initially fueled by disagreements over the tunnel systems of Brussels. The article can be found here.

Also, the 2016 Cyclo-Cross World Championship was held in Hesuden-Zolder, Belgium, on January 31. The overall winner was Wout Van Aert. This story was featured in Da Standaard. The sport of cyclo-cross is a type of bike racing where participants race primarily through off road courses. The races are measured by time and number of laps, not distance. After the first lap has been completed in a race, judges will determine the number of laps needed to win the race. The first person to accomplish those wins the race. Courses usually include barriers or “features” that make the course extremely hard to navigate for riders. Van Aert is pictured below.

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From my research around many Belgian news outlets, the people of Belgium seem to be interested in what happens in France, since their affairs are often intertwined. They also seem to be interested in American affairs, as well as affairs across the world.

For example, the main headline of Le Soir today, January 31, was that a woman named Jacqueline Wild, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing her abusive husband, was pardoned by the president of France, François Holland. You can find the article here.

In addition, Le Soir featured information about the presidential race in America, while De Standaard showcased an American pop culture story about Coldplay and Beyoncé.

 

 

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Post #1 – Aaron Pellish

This semester, I will be blogging about France, one of the most populous and politically important nations in Europe. As many people are aware, France is at the center of a global crisis. In 2015, Paris was the unfortunate victim of two major terrorist attacks. The perpetrators of those attacks have identified themselves as Islamic extremists, and in some cases were immigrants from other, more radicalized nations. Both attacks have instigated a large debate among Western nations on immigration, national security and civil liberty in a fully globalized society. With that in mind, I am excited to have the opportunity to explore these issues on this blog over the course of this semester.

And yet, while I am transfixed by the socio-religious tensions among French Muslims, French Jews and French Christians, I am also curious about the other elements of French life, French politics and French culture that are shaping and sculpting France. I want to learn about the under-reported forces affecting this nation that have made it what it is today and that will help shape what France will become. Hopefully, I will be able to discover something new about one of the most talked-about countries in the world.

One of the news sources of record in France is called Le Monde. It’s among the leading French-language newspapers in the world, and lists the New York Times, the Guardian and the Financial Times as its competitors for the most respected newspaper in the world. It was founded in 1944 after the Nazis were driven out of France and General Charles de Gaulle requested that a new, wholesomely French newspaper be created to help reunite the people.

As I am writing this, the lead story on Le Monde’s website is a story about the redistricting of Paris’ famous arrondissements. An “arrondissement” is a municipal neighborhood that allows cities like Paris, Lyon and Marseille to institute representative democracy on a local level. Each arrondissement has its own mayor, and the mayors of the 20 arrondissements vote for the mayor of Paris on behalf of their arrondissement. According to the article, Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, proposed a reform of the organization of Paris’ arrondissements to unify the four most centrally located arrondissements of Paris into one, large arrondissement, which would reduce the number of municipalities in Paris to 17. The reformation would also give more authority to borough mayors.

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Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo

The justification for this change, as cited in the article, is that the redistricting will create a “more democratic representation” of Parisians. Theoretically, this will occur by limiting the voting power of the wealthiest Parisians who probably live on the Right Bank within the four arrondissements in question. By assigning the 103,000 residents of those four neighborhoods as one municipality instead of four, it will decrease the representation of those 103,000 residents by pooling their voting power. This decision aligns with the beliefs of Mayor Hidalgo’s Socialist party. This reform would also make it harder to distribute an inordinate share of city resources to the same 103,000 residents when compared to, for example, arrondissement 15, which has 203,000 residents but would receive a quarter of the resources that the 103,000 residents of districts 1,2,3 and 4.  In the article, Hidalgo is quoted as saying that of the four arrondissements, two are Socialist, one is ran by the French green party and one is ran by the Republicans. This quote suggests that the redistricting is an apolitical decision. But I suspect that, is it is with nearly all nations, a decision made by a politician almost certainly has some political agenda behind it, and I believe that this one will have no exception.

In other news, several French residents are protesting the state of emergency that Paris has been operating under since the November 13th attacks. In the article, the journalist cites a young woman who says that she believes the Constitution is being disobeyed. The protestors also criticized the recently announced policy to revoke the citizenship of any French citizen who is charged and convicted of terrorist activities. This policy led to the resignation of Christiane Taubira, who was the Minister of Justice until this past Wednesday when she resigned, seemingly in protest of the new policy on terrorism convictions.  There seems to be a lot of tension regarding the policies and protocols surrounding the fear of terrorism and Islamophobia in France. It will be interesting to continue monitoring these tensions throughout the next few months.

 

 

Post #1

Turkey, former home to one of the longest running empires of the world, seems poised at this particular moment between East and West and between forward movement and backward. But even saying that feels inaccurate. The issues in Turkey are not that neat or black and white. It’s not possible to divide them on clean lines of what is right and what is wrong.

My goal with this blog is to explore the complexities within modern Turkish societies, drawing on its rich history and examining the implications for the broader world. I am interested to watch over this semester how Turkey continues to take a larger role on the global stage.

Here’s a little background on the country before I get into some of the specific issues of the day:

  • Population: 72.9 million
  • Predominant religion: Muslim (Sunni)
  • It has a literacy rate higher than the US.
  • Today’s Zaman is the leading English-only newspaper in Turkey. I will primarily use this as a source for independent news.
  • Politics: The current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is the first democratically-elected president of Turkey. He spent the eleven years before the historic 2014 election serving as the Prime Minister of Turkey, leading many to conclude that the election was perhaps more of a power grab than a decision made by the people.

Media freedom in Turkey

Turkey has been seen as a safe spot in a dangerous neighborhood. Syria to its east where many journalists have been captured and killed brutally has been one of the deadliest countries for journalists, but a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists is pointing out that Turkey is not as safe as once thought. Journalists working in Turkey have become increasingly more fearful as ISIS’s reach has grown further across the border. Since October of last year, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the murders of several journalists in Turkey.

With 70 percent of the media owned by a few groups which have connections with the power structures in Turkey, another pressing issue is the lack of independent news sources. Journalists routinely self-censor in fear of the dangerous repercussions of reporting stories that are critical of the government or military. I can’t blame them either because many of their colleagues have been jailed or their newsrooms raided for doing just that.

Women’s rights

Domestic violence remains a large issue in Turkey, despite having some progressive laws in the books. Reports about violence against women have mobilized a strong movement fighting for cultural change. Some take the easy but inaccurate route in pointing to the country’s Islamic heritage as the source of the misogyny in its culture. That response is fairly typical of Western minds, and I think it comes from a lack of real knowledge about Islam. The religion and women right’s are not incompatible. Several really interesting Islamic scholars, like Amina Wadud in the US, have looked at and reinterpreted passages in the Quran in a feminist worldview. I hope to be able to keep blogging about Islamic feminism, which I think many Western women especially fail to recognize and give credit to, as the semester goes on.


Immigration and European Union Bid

As the refugee crisis continues on, Turkey remains in the global spotlight as one of the first points of entry for those fleeing Syria. Currently, 2.5 million refugees are residing in the country, and the EU has promised to financially support the burden of the crisis Turkey is carrying. Turkish and EU leaders met in Brussels at the end of November to discuss the refugee crisis. The negotiations touched on Turkey’s longstanding application for EU membership and ultimately led to an agreement that the EU would give Turkey $3.2 billion in aid as well as a promise to reconsider adding Turkey to the EU.

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Turkey was one of the first countries to apply to be a member of the European Union, but many Western Europeans have resisted adding it to their union. Some of the reasons include the argument that Turkey does not qualify because its democracy is not of the same standard as that of other European nations. Others argue against saying that Turkey geographically is more Asian than European, and with that, some take the more racist and Islamophobic view that Turkey could never be a part of the EU because its people look different and practice a different religion than the dominant group in Europe. Furthermore, the EU has strict economic standards for incoming nations that some argue Turkey has yet to meet. As Turkey inches closer to EU membership, it will be fascinating (and depressing) to watch some Europeans continue to resist its inclusion.