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Amidst a Campaign of Ethnic Cleansing in Myanmar, a Deafening Silence from Aung San Suu Kyi

On August 25th, an insurgent Rohingya group in the Rakhine state of Myanmar attacked a police outpost, prompting a military operation that has caused over 410,000 members of Rohingya Muslim minority — about half of them children — to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.  At least 210 villages have been burned to the ground, and over a thousand people have been killed in what a top United Nations human rights official has called “a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.”

Though independent journalists have been barred from entering Myanmar, disturbing reports of villages and crops being burned to the ground have been trickling in from Bangladesh: “'We saw rivers of blood,' Abdur Sabur, said. 'There are many people dead, bodies in the roads.'"

Aid agencies in Bangladesh are warning that the large influx of refugees has led to a potentially lethal shortage of water, food, and shelter.

However, despite international outcry, the long-celebrated democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi — and currently the de facto democratic leader of Myanmar — failed to speak out or condemn the military operation until Tuesday, when she broke her silence to offer a lukewarm defense of her country, stating that Myanmar did not fear international scrutiny and was committed to a sustainable solution to the conflict. 

But the statement is unlikely to placate the fury and sense of betrayal expressed by leaders around the world, including Justin Trudeau, who in a letter to Suu Kyi — an honorary Canadian citizen — wrote: "It is with profound surprise, disappointment and dismay that your fellow Canadians have witnessed your continuing silence in the face of the brutal oppression of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim people." Among the other world leaders that have plead for Suu Kyi’s public condemnation of the violence are fellow Nobel winners including the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Malala Yousafzai.  

Does Suu Kyi’s failure to condemn the violence in Rakhine signal her tacit approval of these atrocities? Or are her hands tied?

Writing in the New Yorker, Gavin Jacobson paints a rather complex picture of Suu Kyi suggesting a combination of political impotence and thinly veiled bigotry. The constitutional arrangements in Myanmar, he explains, deprive Suu Kyi of any real power, which remains in the hands of the military. “The irony, then, is that if Aung San Suu Kyi once represented the power of the powerless, she is now powerless in power, taking the flak for the Army’s unrelenting inhumanity in its fight against ethnic rebels on the borderlands, and the Rohingya,” he writes.

This is not to excuse her silence — Jacobson also details Myanmar’s long history of xenophobia and bigotry against the Muslim minority, and outlines the myriad ways in which her government has contributed to the systemic oppression of Rohingya:

"While Aung San Suu Kyi has remained silent, the offices and ministries under her charge have not, describing the Rohingya as Bengalis and publicly advocating the use of force in certain situations. 'If they are going to harm you, you can shoot them,' Aung San Suu Kyi’s spokesman, U Zaw Htay, said. The most egregious case of the recklessness of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government came last month, when it accused international aid workers of supporting terrorists, prompting fears for the safety of thousands of people in Myanmar employed by charities and N.G.O.s. There have been demands that the U.S. government stop using the name “Rohingya”, and when a Rohingya woman gave details of an alleged gang rape, Aung San Suu Kyi’s office dismissed it as 'fake rape.'"

Amidst the growing outrage, Jacobson’s piece shifts the emphasis from Suu Kyi to the often-overlooked fact of anti-Muslim sentiment that pervades Myanmar:

Aung San Suu Kyi’s powerlessness hardly matters on this issue, anyway: hatred of the Rohingya is one thing that unites Myanmar. Despite their political differences, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, and the military are in lockstep when it comes to the problem of northern Rakhine. Years of xenophobic, anti-Rohingya propaganda, pushed from the late nineteen-seventies by the military government, endures in the nation’s collective memory, and is stoked by the hate sermons of Buddhist monks like Ashin Wirathu. By speaking up for the Rohingya, Aung San Suu Kyi imperils her standing in the eyes of her fellow-citizens.

Of course, this fails to do any good for the nearly half a million refugees now desperate for basic needs in Bangladesh. We can only hope that increased pressure from the international community can quash Myanmar’s atrocious ‘clearance operation’, and open a dialogue between the country’s warring religious factions.

More reading:

- From the Globe: "Who are the Rohingya and why are they fleeing Myanmar?"
- From the Times: "Aung San Suu Kyi, a Much-Changed Icon, Evades Rohingya Accusations."

Colin Kaepernick: Civil Rights Icon

A few weeks back, we shared the story of an 8 year old Indigenous girl who refused to wear the jersey of her community hockey team because it depicted an Indigenous person in its logo. The team refused to change the logo and the Indigenous girl was subsequently benched for the entire season, unable to play for another hockey team due to the geographic catchment she fell in.

However, conversations between the team and Chief Lee Crowchild of the Tsuut'ina Nation have led the team to reconsider its decision, and phase out use of the logo over a three year period. The team has also committed towards fostering an ongoing relationship with the Tsuut’ina in light of the responses it received from the public over the situation.

The courage of the 8-year-old who led the efforts to change the logo is remarkable. First, to recognize the serious problem of having a team logo that depicts an ethnicity or cultural group, and then to be brave enough to engage in civil disobedience to bring about change. Her actions are inspirational, and led the team and her Indigenous community to engage in a genuine attempt at reconciliation.

I can’t help but draw the parallels between this 8-year-old girl and Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem ceremonies before games last season to protest the killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, and other African Americans by police officers in the United States. These deaths appear to be clear examples of police officers using excessive force — even engaging in homicide — and part of a larger, well-documented trend of police agencies stopping, arresting, injuring, and killing African Americans more often than other racialized groups. Police officers who end up being charged in seemingly blatant cases of criminal conduct are seldomly indicted or convicted.

By kneeling during the anthem, Kaepernick was signalling his opposition to the way African American communities are policed and lack of trust in the criminal justice system to deliver justice to the families of African Americans killed by police officers:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

The NFL is a notoriously conservative organization, led by an ownership that is rich, white, and Republican. Unsurprisingly, Kaepernick is subject to a blacklist; he became a free agent on March 1, 2017, and has been unable to sign with any teams, even though he is better than many of the quarterbacks signed to the league’s 32 teams.

Kaepernick has emerged as a civil rights icon, joining his name to the long list of American athletes who have used their position to speak out against the treatment of minorities in the United States. Kaepernick’s kneeling has been likened to the actions of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympic Games. After winning the Gold and Bronze medals respectively, Smith and Carlos raised their fists in defiance during the playing of the American national anthem. The image of Smith and Carlos raising their fists is one of the defining images of the civil rights and Black nationalist era of the 1960s.

Both Bleacher Report and New York Times have chronicled Kaepernick’s journey from athlete to civil rights icon this month. Rembert Browne’s “Colin Kaepernick Has a Job” and John Brown’s “The Awakening of Colin Kaepernick” trace Kaepernick’s journey from his adoption as a baby to his deep interest in African American studies while he was a star athlete and student at the University of Nevada, Reno to his career in the NFL. The articles makes clear that Kaepernick’s emergence as a civil rights icon was not an accident: this is a man steeped in theories of critical race and the history of black oppression in the United States.

See also:

Love, Hate, and the Triplet Flow

In the first half of the newest episode of Earworm, Vox breaks down the story of how the wildly popular/often-hated-on triplet flow — AKA the “Versace flow” or the “Migos flow” — along with a distinctly midwestern/southern style of production, came to dominate mainstream hip hop. (Editor’s note: though Migos might have made the triplet flow go viral, it was Young Thug who perfected its current form with “Danny Glover.”) The video effectively argues that the triplet flow is not simply a trendy novelty, but a complex, myriad, and increasingly influential style of rapping with a long and storied history. So go on hating Future and Migos if you want, but without them, would we have the coda in Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA”?

Though the second half of the video, which dives into the details that inform the sounds of trap music, is far less interesting (Editor’s note: I’ve always felt that the technical analysis of popular music sort of strips it of its magic), it just might win over a few contemporary hip-hop skeptics. If not, then might we recommend the new album from The Cool Kids, Special Edition Grandmaster Deluxe, which dropped last week? For fans of ‘old-school’ hip hop, The Cool Kids’ first album in 6 years will feel like a breath of fresh air. Indeed, according to one early review (/top-rated Youtube comment), “The Cool Kids about to have one of the greatest comesbacks (sic) in hip hop ever.”

Trump’s Expanded Mexico City Policy Impacts World’s Poorest

In response to a couple of perceived flip flops from President Trump — first a reversal of his position on DACA, followed by some softer language about the Paris Climate Accord*, not to mention the obstacles he’s faced when it comes to health care and border security — some of his supporters decided it was time to set their MAGA hats on fire.

While it’s easy to find satisfaction in Trump’s incompetence and his inability to push through some of the more radical components of his domestic policy, it’s even easier to overlook some of the tangible damage that some of his early executive orders have already wrought overseas.

Back in January, surrounded by a group of wealthy white men, Donald Trump signed an executive order to reinstate the so-called Mexico City Policy, also known as the global gag rule, which states that U.S. funds can be directed only to groups that “neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning.” It goes without saying that this policy, which extensive studies have demonstrated does not lower abortion rates, and in fact may increase them, will have pernicious effects on women around the world (the World Health Organization estimates that 830 women die each day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, nearly all of them occurring in developing countries).

Though it’s worth pointing out that this policy has been reinstated by every Republican president since Ronald Reagan, Trump has dramatically expanded its scope. According to the CBC: In the past, the policy applied only to family planning funding, which this year would have been about $600 million in assistance, according to USAID. The new policy now affects all aid for international health programs — about $9 billion in funding — under what is now called Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance.

Already, women in some of the poorest countries in the world are feeling the policy’s effects, as organizations like Marie Stopes International (MSI) are forced to scale back or close their operations. MSI has estimated that estimated the loss in funding could lead to 1.6 million unintended pregnancies globally, 530,000 abortions (505,000 of them unsafe), and 5,265 maternal deaths each year between 2017 and 2020.

These numbers are staggering. And as Michael Specter points out, the gag rule will affect more than just pregnant women: “In regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, health-care centers are too rare to provide specific services; they must cater to all of their patients’ medical needs. So, even if a local clinic primarily treats people for malaria, H.I.V., or other infectious diseases, its U.S. funding will be eliminated if it also offers access to abortion counselling.”

Led by the Netherlands, other countries have stepped up to fill the void left by the United States — including Canada, who donated an additional $20 million — though these efforts will pale in comparison to the $9 billion dollar gap created by Trump.

One thing I’ve learned working in the international development sector, is that organizations working in lower-middle countries (the so-called Global South) depend on stable and long-term funding to be effective. Not only is Trump’s expanded version of the global gag rule putting millions of (mostly impoverished) women at risk, but it’s also undermining decades of work and hard-fought progress by some of the world’s finest NGOs.

(Here’s a good overview of the global impact of the Mexico City Policy from MSI.)

*He’s since reaffirmed his intention withdraw.
Lido Pimienta Takes Home Polaris Prize for Best Canadian Album of 2016
“Not in English, not in French. But we’re here." — Lido Pimienta, last night’s winner of the 2017 Polariz Music Prize for best Canadian album of the year based on artistic merit without regard to genre, sales history, or label affiliation. Pimienta’s album La Pepessa is in Spanish, and explores themes such as patriarchy, racism, Indigeneity, and resilience.

Last September, Pimienta spoke with Aliya Pabani of The IMPOSTER about her experience in the Canadian music scene, which touched on themes that were evident in her Polaris Prize acceptance speech. Check out her single from La Papessa here:

The Emmys Recognize a Great Year in TV

Just five years ago, television was dominated, for the most part, anyway, by moody dramas about anti-heroes like Mad Men, Dexter, and Breaking Bad, and by relatively safe sitcoms like Modern Family, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Two and a Half Men. Some of these shows were brilliant, and some of them were garbage — but almost all of them were written, directed, and acted by mostly white men and women.

Fast forward to 2017, a year dominated by game-changing shows like Atlanta, Insecure, Master of None, and The Night Of — shows that tackled complex issues of race, politics, and identity in new, subversive, and highly entertaining ways. Indeed, a cursory comparison of the list of Emmys winners from just five years ago with the list of winners from this year reveals how far television has come, at least in terms of diversity and representation.

On Sunday, Donald Glover became the first African-American to win an Emmy for directing a comedy (Atlanta), while Lena Waithe became the first black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing (Master of None). Meanwhile Riz Ahmed (The Night Of) became the first Asian man to win an Emmy for acting, and Sterling K. Brown became the first black actor in nearly 20 years to win best actor in a drama (This Is Us).

Our take: Television right now is more diverse, more representative, and much better than television just 5 years ago.

The proof:  Here are the big winners from the 2012 vs 2017 Emmys:

Image result for 2012 emmy winners

Half-Light in Autumn

Lately, my fellow editors have been dragging on me for a failure to appreciate The War on Drugs or for my deep love of the new National album. I hardly ever click on the youtube links they share because it’s almost always some R&B-type stuff that I try to appreciate but just can’t...  basically I’m starting to think I’ve hit that age where I no longer like new music. Or new-sounding music anyways. So while I’ve been looking forward to Rostam’s new solo album, Half-Light, for months now, I’m pretty sure this is because I have loved Vampire Weekend (of which Rostam was a member) for at least a decade, and most of the new songs could have been b-sides for any of their albums.

This is a softer, more indirect album to be sure. It’s perfect for fall — optimistic and lilting, but with a strong sense of nostalgia. On the opening track Rostam sings “And soon it will all feel so long ago/On the street I felt the daylight again,” over a sample of an old English folk song “Sumer Is Icumen In.” I listened to it while wandering through the orchards and fields of Kent, the cidery scent of sun-warmed, fallen apples filling the air. It was perfect.

Pumpkin-Spiced Playlist: Autumn 2017 Playlist 

Guest Contribution by Josh Fanaeian

Click here for Josh's Autumn 2017 playlist on Spotify. If you missed Josh’s summer playlist, you can still check it out here. 

I find autumn to be an odd time. First I notice the shadows lengthen, the morning/evening chill becomes undeniable, and the sunset getting criminally early. It’s usually around now I develop a little bit of melancholy and a LOT of denial. I find myself kicking and screaming for summer not to go. I tell summer that it didn’t stay as long as it promised, and I refuse to look autumn in the eye. 

Then I remember that autumn isn’t so bad. Friends typically reconnect around this time, the autumn harvest is truly amazing, the chill is refreshing, I remember that I actually do like sweaters, and I sure as hell better enjoy this time of year before you-know-what rears its head. 

I tried to let this playlist capture this odd complex of emotions. You’ll find my usual mix of new and old. The BPM is a bit lower, the mood is a bit more mellow, but I’d still qualify it as optimistic. It’ll still serve you well on your last road trip, or while lying on your couch in a sweater as you make your way through theread’s long reads. Or you can just zone out. 

Artists include Rostam, Stevie Nicks, The War on Drugs, Beth Ditto, Ryan Adams, Gil Scott-Heron

This Week's Links

A mother navigates her identity and the future of her 10 year old son over a hot slice of pizza.

The NDP's toxic choice: Accept a Muslim-bashing law — or lose Quebec.

The story of the time French philosopher Michel Foucault wore a white turtleneck and dropped acid in California’s Death Valley, apparently altering his philosophical trajectory: “I thought, if I give Foucault clinical LSD, I’m sure he will realize that he is premature in obliterating our humanity and the mind as we know it now, because he’ll see that there are forms of knowledge other than science, and because of the theme of death in his thinking up to that point. The tremendous emphasis of finitude, finitude, finitude reduces our hope.”

This American Life 282:DIY: After four lawyers fail to get an innocent man out of prison, his friend takes on the case himself. He becomes a do-it-yourself investigator. He learns to read court records, he tracks down hard-to-find witnesses, he gets the real murderer to come forward with his story. In the end, he's able to accomplish all sorts of things the police and the professionals can't.

Wanghong refers to a social media influencer, and has emerged as a major social and economic phenomenon in China with celebrities and average individuals making tens of millions of dollars each year. Li Tianyou is a 23-year-old rapper, social commentator, and one of China’s most famous wanghongs. His profile in the New York Times sheds light on an industry that is likely to make inroads in North America.

George Packer responds to Ta-Nehisi Coates: “At the heart of American politics there is racism. But it’s not alone—there’s also greed, and broken communities, and partisan hatred, and ignorance.”

Dissenting doctors write open letter in support of federal tax reforms.

Insecure has the best soundtrack on television, by a long shot — I mean, what other show today could commission original tracks from the likes of SZA and Miguel? Check out the soundtrack from season 2 on Apple Music or Spotify, and read this interview with the shows music supervisor Kier Lehman.

This Pitchfork review of the newest Foo Fighters album — or the “World’s Most Okay Rock Band” — is an absolute classic: “Rock music has had few ambassadors as affable and tireless as Grohl, and over twenty years on, it remains impossible to dislike the Foo Fighters. Enjoying them, is a spottier proposition, and loving them seems to be out of the question. There are boring Foo Fighters albums and pretty good ones; C&G is a pretty good one, and in two years there will probably be another. Grohl has spent his entire career arguing for rock music’s ability to transcend and change lives, but his own music sends a different, sadder message: Rock doesn’t have to be transcendent or life-changing at all, and all your fantasies can be rendered just as dull and workaday as the rest of your life.”

BRAC1 is a gene that is linked to breast and ovarian cancer, and is considered a major breakthrough in the detection of these cancers. Mary-Claire King discovered the BRAC1 in 1990 while conducting research at Berkeley. The research was funded by the National Institute of Health. The week King received the grant to conduct her research happened to also be the same week that her husband left her and her house was burgled. Years later, King recounts what happened, and I guarantee that her story — full of twists, turns, and surprise appearances — will be the best thing that you’ll read this week.

Writing in Current Affairs, Brianna Rennix shits on your favorite postmodern novels and does a pretty good job convincing you to only read 19th century classics: “I think there is a certain prevailing notion that everything has already been written, which—in a society that often places a premium on originality over quality—drives ambitious authors to write books with ironic footnotes and eccentric formatting, in the hopes of drawing some critic’s attention. But these postmodern gimmicks are not at all innovative, really: one has only to read Don Quixote (1605) or Tristram Shandy (1759) to see that self-referential surrealism and experimental plot-framing structures—albeit with much better jokes—have been around since the dawn of what we call the novel. In reality, the postmodern novel, with all its elaborate metafictional conceits, is simply doing consciously what epistolary and comic novelists of earlier times did unpretentiously as a matter of course. Postmodernism is nothing new, except in its prickly joylessness.”
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