WTF Friday, 5/27/2016

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Angelina Jolie and William Hague at the 2014 Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. (Photo from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.)

My internets exploded this week over the news that famous actress-and-attractive-person Angelina Jolie will be joining the London School of Economics as a visiting professor at the Center for Women, Peace & Security. Reactions in my inbox ranged from “OMG WTF LSE” to “Is a blockbuster movie career now a prerequisite for a decent university teaching gig?” to “Do we really have to talk about this?”

The answers to the last two questions are, respectively, “let’s hope not” and “yes.” For help with the first, I reached out to Dr. Nimmi Gowrinathan, an actual expert on women, peace, and security. Nimmi directs the Politics of Sexual Violence Research Initiative at the City College of New York. She has a PhD in political science and works on women’s participation in, and experience of, violent conflict. (And she and I coauthored a report on the situation of Tamil women in post-war Sri Lanka last year.) Here’s a transcript of our email conversation, edited a bit for clarity:

KCF: Is this appointment as nutballs as the internet seems to think? Is Angelina Jolie an expert on women in war?

NG: Angelina Jolie has certainly spent the kind of devoted time listening to women affected by war that ‘experts’ often do not. However, [this appointment] reveals a disturbing trend in celebrity activism — where a combination of star power and good intentions combine to erect a powerful platform, elevating the actor above the activist. In recent years, the role played by early celebrity ambassadors has slowly transformed. From symbolic place-holders, public relations practicalities for ineffective UN agencies, to coveted positions of power. Positions as political actors representing the realities of a people, and a politics, that they have not researched, inserting their voices over lines that they have not rehearsed.

KCF: What do you make of her work with former UK Foreign Secretary William Hague on the issue of sexual violence during conflict?

NG: The partnership between Hague and Jolie is representative of the naively de-politicized engagement of celebrities in humanitarian work. And when the issue at hand is the victimization of women, the de-politicization is further entrenched. William Hague is a key member of a nation whose record on accepting asylum cases of women who were ‘only’ raped in conflict zones is  dismal, at best. Countries hand-selected by the initiative to showcase on sexual violence violations (Afghanistan, for example) re-inforce political agendas that justify the use of feminist imperialism to justify entrenched militarization. Those that don’t make their initial list, Sri Lanka for example, have little strategic value, or threaten to reveal a complicity of the UK in crimes committed. With one hand, the initiative partners with qualified and thoughtful individuals and institutions to develop protocols for documentation of crimes for legal prosecution, but with the other, they use their celebrity glow to beckon war criminals to the table who have stacked domestic courts to guarantee their impunity, for generations to come.

KCF: I know you attended their Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict two years ago. Did that feel like a positive use of celebrity to improve women’s lives?

NG: From the floor of the Hall to Expose violence against women, my critique captured the constant cognitive dissonance, a dream-like dedication to a staged activism — where Angelina Jolie made an occasional cameo. The scourge of sexual violence across the globe is offered a secure place in the lives of women by the strictures of repressive societies, violent states, and humanitarian interventions that fail to see the survivor behind the sewing machine. For the scholars and activists who are resigned to the small audiences that gather around complex political solutions to deeply entrenched problems, there is no envy of the attention celebrity attracts. The most effective critique they offer, is to temper overly-ambitious, purposely de-politicized, large scale acronymed programs with caution.

KCF: So fair to say that while her commitment to this issue is genuine, the effects of her engagement has been mixed?

NG: If we are to consider Jolie a true humanitarian, and a practicing one, then the interventions created by her, or in her image, must (at the very least) be held up to the first commandment in the humanitarian gospel — to do no harm. It remains to be seen whether the attention and agenda-driven approach to sexual violence will, in fact, shift the reality of marginalized women to provide them with a power similar to actors offered a platform, because they pretend.

KCF: Notwithstanding these very real concerns about impact, do you feel like Jolie’s history of involvement means she has something useful to offer to LSE students?

NG: While masters programs often, effectively, rely on Professors of Practice, the ‘practical’ element of Angelina Jolie’s engagement in critical issues remains an exceptional experience that students cannot, and should not, expect to mimic. In humanitarian crises, the secure nature of her travel and access to pre-selected sample sizes, rivals that of a Vatican visit. In her advocacy and activism, she is handed a microphone and captive audience of policymakers. Those that have lived to tell the tale of violence, spend lifetimes navigating apathy and checkpoints, hoping to be the background noise that doesn’t get drowned out of critical conversations. Her practice of celebrity activism may be more thoughtful than most, but the next generation of scholars and analysts should formulate new critiques from an understanding of the hard realities of the development sector, not the plushly carpeted pathways to power.

WTF Friday, 5/20/2016

Today in things that are not okay:

Syrian refugees are selling their organs to survive.

The EU plans to pay Omar Bashir (you know, that guy wanted for genocide) to keep African refugees on lock down in Sudan, and out of Europe.

Our man Duterte got elected president of the Philippines and promptly promised “to introduce executions by hanging and to order military snipers to kill suspected criminals as part of a law-and-order crackdown”.

And bakeries continue to be the most embattled front in America’s culture wars.

WTF Friday, 5/6/2016

Welp, in the greatest WTF of all time, that “bellowing, marmalade-toned demagogue” who shall not be named is going to be the Republican nominee for president. I feel like I should retire this entire feature.

But also this week:

Australia may have unlawfully shipped a bunch of asylum-seekers back to Sri Lanka under cover of night.

The Kenyan government is fighting to maintain its right to conduct forced anal examinations of suspected homosexuals, a practice that has absolutely no diagnostic validity and qualifies as torture.

And the fancy new software system that the UN paid more than $400 million for is actually slowing down the (already glacial) pace of operations of the global organization.

So good times all around.

WTF Friday, 4/22/2016

Another week, another crop of politicians being absolute dicks. Specifically:

Our old pal, and candidate for president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte is at it again. This time, announcing his regret at missing the opportunity to rape Jacqueline Hamill, an Australian lay minister who was sexually assaulted and murdered during a prison riot in Davao City during Duterte’s tenure as mayor. He later doubled down on his remarks, insisting: “This is how men talk.” Again, this man is running for president of a whole entire country.

In Brazil, where President Dilma Rousseff is facing ejection from office, another contender for Actual Worst Man Alive dedicated his impeachment vote to the army colonel responsible for torturing her in the 1970s. You may remember the slimeball in question, Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, from that time he celebrated Human Rights Day by informing Brazil’s Human Rights Secretary that she was “not worth raping”.

And lest you think American politicians took the week off from indefensible asshattery, the U.S.’s Most Inexplicable Governor, Paul LePage of Maine, is back in the news. This time, he has vetoed a bill that would allow pharmacists to dispense Naloxone without a prescription. Naloxone, more commonly known by the brandname Narcan, is a life-saving medication that blocks the effects of opioids. It works nearly instantaneously and can reverse acute overdoses. It’s even on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. And Maine, a.k.a. that state LePage is the governor of, is in the grips of a terrible heroin epidemic. But rather than helping his constituents suffering from opiate addiction, Governor LePage would apparently prefer that they just die. Because he’s the worst.

WTF Friday, 4/15/2016

Happy Tax Day, fellow Americans. In honor of the occasion, let’s talk about one of the other certainties in life. Nope, not death. Overt, inveterate misogyny.

Item the first: At a town hall meeting today, a young woman asked Republican presidential candidate John Kasich what he would do to fight the campus rape epidemic if elected. After some mumbling about rape kits that focused entirely on response rather than prevention, he concluded with some advice for America’s “co-eds” (!). To wit: “Don’t go to parties where there’s a lot of alcohol.” Thanks, dude who wants to be in charge of us, I definitely feel like you take my safety seriously.

Here’s the video:

Item the second: Harvard’s secretive Porcellian Club made a rare public statement on Tuesday, objecting to the university administration’s call for finals clubs to admit female members. Harvard’s sexual assault task force identified the male-only clubs as hotspots for “sexual entitlement” and “gender inequality” on campus. The Porcellian’s response: “Forcing single gender organizations to accept members of the opposite sex could potentially increase, not decrease the potential for sexual misconduct.”

Because, obviously, ladies can’t be raped in locations they’re not allowed into.

The statement’s author, Harvard alum Charles Storey, later apologized for his “poor choice of words”, but seriously, WHY are so many men so willing to embrace a view of their sex as incapable of not raping any women who happen to be near them?

Item the third: Pro-life legislators in Missouri have decided to make a list of all the state’s women who’ve had abortions. They swear they’re not going to do anything creepy with it, but Planned Parenthood of St. Louis’s president, Mary Kogut, isn’t so sure. She’s currently facing a contempt of court charge for refusing to turn over patients’ confidential, HIPAA-protected medical information to this gang of crusading lunatics. Stay strong, Mary.

So that’s this week’s dose of Lady Bummers. Let’s close on some better news from the Animal Kingdom, where an awesome octopus escaped from a New Zealand aquarium and headed out to sea, and sometimes lions are gay.

WTF Friday, 4/8/2016

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Yesterday was the 22nd anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan Genocide. In honor of the occasion, a very special atrocity denial-themed WTF Friday:

A billboard challenging the occurrence of the Armenian genocide appeared in Boston recently (screenshot from the Boston Globe coverage above). After protests from the local Armenian community, it is being taken down.

In France, former National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen is once again in trouble for minimizing the Holocaust. This time he’ll be paying a 30K euro fine for his suggestion that the gas chambers really weren’t that big of a deal.

And everyone’s favorite Australian former prime minister, Tony Abbott, is publicly congratulating himself for looking the other way during the brutal end to Sri Lanka’s civil war. The Sri Lankan military is alleged to have intentionally shelled civilians, causing an estimated 40,000 deaths, and tortured, disappeared, and sexually abused countless others—war crimes that Abbott describes as “probably unavoidable”.

WTF Friday, 4/1/2016

This April Fool’s, let’s imagine an upside down world in which:

Violent sexual assaults perpetrated in the middle of Europe aren’t criminal because they were committed in public.

A prominent American celebrity suggests that a Trump presidency (you know, that guy who’ll make America great again by getting rid of all the women, immigrants, and Muslims) would be better for liberals than electing Hillary Clinton.

UN peacekeepers charged with protecting vulnerable civilians force children to have sex with animals.

Jokes on us, guys. All of these things happened this week.

WTF Friday, 3/25/2016

At this point, it feels like cheating to include anything related to the U.S. presidential election. In the last few days alone, the two frontrunners for the Republican nomination got in a fight over whose wife is hotter, and one of them (or possibly both) called for police to “patrol and secure” Muslim neighborhoods in the U.S. in the wake of the Brussels attacks.

In other American political nonsense, North Carolina just basically made it illegal to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the European Union has decided that a good way to deal with the refugee crisis would be to ship all “irregular migrants” arriving in Greece back to Turkey. Human rights advocates say that this measure amounts to unlawful mass expulsion, and MSF is suspending its activities at the refugees’ arrival point in Greece in protest.

So everything is pretty much the worst. And if you thought you were going to console yourself with Easter candy this weekend, think again. All of our chocolate turns out to be poison.

WTF Friday, 3/11/2016

This week’s WTFs come in three flavors: WTF Islamophobia, WTF Eagles, and WTF Cambodia. Check it out:

In a victory for crabby 6 year olds everywhere, “she was LOOKING AT ME” has finally been recognized as a legitimate cause for retaliation. Specifically, two women were kicked off of a JetBlue flight for having their eyes open while also being Muslim. Ugh.

An Egyptian student who posted on Facebook that he “wouldn’t mind serving a life sentence” for killing Donald Trump has had his visa revoked and will have to leave the US by July 5. Most of my Facebook feed should be breathing a sigh of relief that they have American citizenship and can’t be deported.

The rise of Trump is not the only harbinger of doom for America: 13 dead bald eagles were found in Maryland. Authorities suspect that they did not die of natural causes.

Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, two men who filmed themselves torturing and killing an endangered eagle have been arrested.

In Cambodia, three of the five refugees resettled pursuant to a lucrative, much-criticized deal with Australia have left the country, apparently preferring to risk persecution back in Iran and Burma.

And finally, Cambodia’s apparent-Prime-Minister-for-life, Hun Sen, decided to celebrate International Women’s Day on Tuesday by advocating the creation of a men’s rights association.

On the bright side, at least we live in a world where this happened:

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WTF Friday, 3/4/2016

Did you guys see the GOP debate last night? Donald Trump repeatedly referred to Rubio as “Little Marco”, bragged about the size of his penis, and insinuated that our nation’s military would be perfectly happy to commit war crimes at his say-so.

Combined with a lady showing up to the Oscars in pants and the virtually-unprecedented occurrence of Clarence Thomas asking a question from the bench, it all adds up to a pretty clear sign that the end times are upon us.

On the bright side, here is a rhino who thinks he’s a lamb (h/t: Ami Shah).