The Prime Minister and Extremism

Throughout the Prime Minister’s speech, he outlines the distinction between Islamic extremism and Islam itself. I think it is very important that he worked to alienate extremism and demonstrated how thinking otherwise fosters Islamophobia. However, in speeches like this, there always seems to be undertones of internal issues that have yet to be addressed. For example, Cameron mentioned that the “real hostility towards Western democracy and liberal values” was an indication of partial Islamic extremism (Cameron, web). Even so, near the beginning of his speech, Cameron states that the United Kingdom would continue its support of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. This circles back to the idea that certain foreign countries are predisposed to dislike Western countries that insert themselves, and as we know now, the continued presence in Afghanistan has decimated the economy and civilian life. This is where the speech falls short for me, as Cameron fails to acknowledge that British intervention may foster this “hostility” towards Western values and that it is not, in fact, related to extremism as he had commented. Do you believe that the West has a corrupt interpretation of extremism? Would you say that the West is predisposed to stereotype and combat countries that do not share the same opinions or political ideology? Also, do you think that Cameron’s comment that I previously mentioned has undertones of suppressed Islamophobia, or simply ignorance created by a Western perspective?

The Yugoslav States

When reading about this difficult topic, I think it is important to weigh both the political and humanitarian aspects of the breakup of Yugoslavia. In particular, the background section that described the formation of a second Yugoslav state stood out to me. Naimark states that this entity was formed to “resolve the ethnic tensions between the various nations of Yugoslavia” (Naimark, 140). This made me think, in a more general sense, the effectiveness of further separating different ethnic groups and the deep divides that it can cause. In this situation, I think it was extremely necessary due to the severe ethnic cleansing that took place, but, I feel that a separation can have adverse effects in the future. I think that this method works against itself to foster discrimination through increased racism and xenophobia. Do you think (in general) that the answer is to further divide ethnic groups, and in turn, does this marginalize these groups? Can you see how something like this may cause future issues among ethnic groups and contribute to further xenophobia and ethnic hatred?

Economics and Communism

Throughout the 20th century in Europe, we have seen many examples of people adhering to communism even after they are presented with its harsh reality. In chapter 11 of Dark Continent, Mazower touches on how the economic benefits of Stalinism stuck around much longer than the political ideology itself. Mazower asserts that the downfall of Stalinism began when “a centralized party and state apparatus ” using mass industrialization and control of “trade, agriculture and consumer goods” sowed unrest (Mazower, 362). To combat this, the Eastern European plan shifted slightly when “the balance of investment” was adjusted “in favour of light industry and improved living standards” (Mazower, 362). This idea made me think about how some people are willing to “turn a blind eye” or “cherry-pick” certain aspects of ideologies or systems when they offer some form of benefit. Do you think the communist model stuck around for so long because of the economic benefits that a minority received even though a majority of people still lived in poverty? Are people more willing to accept an oppressive government that promises economic prosperity at the expense of individual freedoms?

Religious Oppresion

After reading “Taking the Veil” and viewing the blog “I, Too, am Oxford”, I noticed recurring themes of religious oppression. In “Taking the Veil”, Kramer discusses Djamila Benrehab and her experience with being veiled in France. In particular, the quote “‘made my choice. . . to announce my identity,'” stood out to me because it accentuates that Benrehab chose to wear a veil in accordance with her Islamic faith (Benrehab, 59). Similarly, the second to last photo on the “I, Too, am Oxford” blog caught my attention because in the picture, a Muslim woman is stating “I’m not oppressed,” and “hijab is my choice” (“I, Too, am Oxford”, 2014). This led me to think about ideas of religious oppression in countries that claim to support the right to religious freedom. In France’s case, “unveiling” women was the idea of a majorly Christian society to seemingly “undo” the oppression of women and promote feminism. However, it seems that they did not take into consideration the women themselves that they were unveiling. The same can be said in Oxford’s case, as the woman in the second to last picture reveals that people’s preconceived notions about oppression and the veil do not line up with her personal beliefs. All in all, is it more oppressive to force someone to remove a religious article or symbol and to disregard the meaning behind it? In countries that claim to have religious freedom, why are some religions valued over others? For example, why is wearing a hijab or other covering considered oppressive, while wearing a cross necklace is not? I think these questions are important to ask ourselves to unpack years of religious discrimination. Also, it is important to remember that even if we are not followers of a certain religion, under a political policy that supports religious freedom, we must treat everyone with consideration and respect regardless of their faith or lack thereof.

Stalin’s Methods

In the speech “The Cult of the Individual”, Nikita Krushchev discusses Stalin’s shortcomings and his creation of a cult-like following by discouraging individualism and promoting his supremacy. Krushchev mentioned that Stalin “used extreme methods and mass repressions” to solidify the Union’s socialist state (Krushchev). For the midterm assignment, I researched Stalin’s mannerisms to understand how the Soviet system functioned under his rule. Although I agree that Stalin committed horrible atrocities in the way of human rights and individual liberties, some Soviet citizens seemed to benefit under his policies. Do you think that Stalin’s extreme methods were necessary to jump-start the economy and further industrialize the Soviet Union? Objectively speaking, was limiting individuality necessary to create a socialist state?

Disillusionment With Democracy

While reading chapter 6 of Dark Continent, I was interested in inter-war Europe’s “disillusionment with democracy” (Roth, 184). Roth goes on to discuss France’s and England’s wishes to redefine democracy to make it a feasible, prosperous system for the European people. I feel that the idea of a corrupt and poorly functioning democratic system is as relevant today as it was during the time of World War II. To elaborate, it seems that Europeans at the time lost faith in their democratic systems because of the interference of the state and a strong “bourgeois” presence. I feel that there has been recent unrest in the United States due to some of these same issues (among others). Do you believe that this translates into the state of our country today? Do you think it is necessary to “redefine” democracy and ensure that we are adhering to a true democratic system? Would this improve the political and social atmosphere across the country?

Humanity: Survival in Auschwitz

While reading Levi’s account of facing death and arriving at Auschwitz, I was presented with complex emotions and deeply troubling scenarios. The last paragraph on page 21 stood out to me for this reason. Levi describes a situation where the German guard in his lorry “courteously” asked each prisoner if they had anything of value to offer him. Levi continued to explain that it was not a requirement, but “a small private initiative of [their] Charon” (Levi, 21). The last sentence reads, “The matter stirs us to anger and laughter and brings relief” (Levi, 21). I found this particularly interesting because it points towards the idea of what little humanity people had left in this situation. I wanted to point out that the guard acted of his own accord to request money and valuables from the prisoners, which was not necessarily a part of his explicit orders. I feel that this brought the prisoners relief because they became fully aware of their situation as they were being robbed of their humanity and treated as “pieces”, just as the guard exercised his humanity to ask for “donations”.

(This is not necessarily a question, rather a conversation-starter on the topic of humanity in Survival in Auschwitz)

Indifference to Politics

In the section “Election Campaign in Berlin”, Roth presents interesting ideas about the people of Germany and their near indifference to politics. Though he mentions that their ignoring of political campaigns and propaganda may be based in their own “political convictions”, I don’t believe that’s the case (Roth 189). Later in the section, Roth touches on the everyday distractions of work and pleasure that undermine political campaigns by filling the German people’s time and thoughts with less important ventures. Do you think that this lifestyle ultimately led to Hitler’s rise to power? Is this indicative of the German people’s wishes to have an autocrat take over the government?

It is also important to note that Roth mentions the increasing political extremism in the younger generation on page 192. Does this rise in extremist ideals correlate with the previous questions? Also- does the younger post-war generation have more political standing because of the changing social climate?

The Effect of Propaganda on Youth

After reading the troubling first-hand accounts of Nazism in “Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior”, it is clear that fascist propaganda played a large role in widespread antisemitic ideology. One story that stuck out to me was “Changes in School” where Ellen Switzer documented the habits of her classmate Ruth, who was a dedicated Nazi. In my understanding of the text, Ruth seems to be a relatively young girl who is deeply involved in Nazi behaviors and issues, but she seems to lack a general understanding of what she is truly supporting. She even tells her friends that the antisemitic propaganda that she distributes is not targeted towards them, but other Jewish people instead. When the time came that “Aryan” Germans could no longer associate with Jewish people by law, Ruth states, “The whole thing may be a misunderstanding. . . But meanwhile, Hitler must know what he is doing, and I’ll follow orders,” (175).

Similarly, in the section titled “No Time to Think” under the subheading “Too Late”, a father discusses how the debilitating effects of Nazism overwhelmed him all at once when he noticed his young son mirror antisemitic behavior.

These two examples led me to the question: what effect does propaganda have on children and how does it benefit the party in power? In both cases I have mentioned, impressionable children are pushed to accept immoral, horrible ideology which leads them to perpetuate the issue and deepen the preexisting problem through future generations.

The Bust of the Emperor- Count Morstin’s Activism

While reading “The Bust of the Emperor”, I was pleasantly surprised by the description of Count Morstin and his rejection of traditional nationality, which in turn highlighted his status as a “true aristocrat”. What surprised me more was his patronage to the people in the area despite not identifying with nationalities of those around him. In particular, I found it interesting that the Count was socially active and helped to obtain “tax reductions”, “forward petitions for clemency”, “obtain reduced sentences for innocent or too harshly punished prisoners”, among other things with his high authority (Roth, 230). These acts of social and political justice reflect well on the Count and provide great aid to struggling people of a lower socio-economic standing. I felt that this message related to the current political atmosphere of the United States and how the social activism of some is paving the way for a better future for others, but even so, significant change has yet to be made. This raises the question: Does the social and political activism of just one person have the power to institute change throughout society?