This week, on Tuesday, Last Men in Aleppo will be showing at the Middle East Film Festival in the Cinema la Compagnia on Via Cavour 50r at 8:45 pm tonight. The film is a documentary directed by Firas Fayyad (co-director and editor: Steen Johannessen) about the life of three “White Helmets,” members of a volunteer civil defense group working in Aleppo– Khaled, Mohammed and Subhi. The film follows the volunteers as they rush towards recently bombed buildings to search for survivors and recover the dead. However, as the situation in Aleppo edges towards a full siege, these three men must decide whether they will stay and continue helping those remaining in Aleppo, or whether they will flee before Bashar Al-Assad’s army closes in on the city. The film recently won the Grand Prize at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and both directors will be present at the screening. The film was released on March 16th, roughly four months after the city of Aleppo fell to Al-Assad’s army in mid-December of last year following a protracted battle and siege. The siege of Aleppo was the subject of much international criticism after the alleged war crimes perpetrated by Assad’s army that took place during the assault on the city garnered the attention of the mainstream media. However, following the end of the siege, it seems the spotlight has been taken off of the situation in Aleppo. Hopefully, this movie will help remind people of the ongoing challenges faced by those still living in Aleppo, now suffering under Assad’s rule.
Day 1: The Value of Compromise: A Visit to the Parlamentarium
Fresh-faced and eager—not exactly the best way to describe the EU working group students at 4:00 a.m. on the way to the airport, ready for our flight to Brussels. However, as the day progressed, that would soon change. After one transfer in Munich and, for those of us less comfortable flying, a somewhat hair-raising flight through heavy turbulence to Brussels, we arrived at our hotel at midday. We had a couple of hours to settle ourselves before a short walk to the EU Parlamentarium, where we participated in a role-playing game on the legislative process of the EU Parliament. Our group was divided into four parties across the political spectrum, ranging from environmentally conscious greens to more conservative traditionals, and tasked with coming up with legislation on distribution and access to water as well as on regulating microchip implants in people.
Anthony Appiah presented a calm, unassuming figure as he stood in front of those gathered at Villa La Pietra Monday to deliver his talk on identity. Appiah began by breaking down our idea of identity into three categories: Nationality, Race and Culture. Appiah examined the idea of nationality as a form of identity, looking at the concept of the nation and what it represents. Soon, it became clear that even our idea of what a nation should be is primarily a social construct, so fluid and arbitrary that a concrete definition of identity based on nationality is essentially impossible. Appiah looked at some important interpretations of what a state is through history: it has often been founded on the idea of a group of people with a shared sense of ancestry who care about that ancestry, people who share a genetic heritage. However, if we look at the sort of nation that that definition connotes, it is one known as a Romantic State, something along the lines of Benito Mussolini’s ideal Italy. A Romantic State would be one where people share a single consciousness and have no disagreements. To refute this idea, Appiah looked at many nations in Africa, such as Ghana, where despite not having a shared ancestry, (Ghana is composed of many different tribes), a national consciousness is forming nonetheless, as a product of the people of Ghana living together and working together to govern their nation–for evidence of the emergence of this national consciousness, Appiah cites the example of how people from Ghana have adopted kente cloth as the national cloth despite the fact that it is only truly native to one or two of the tribes that make up Ghana. Appiah ended his discussion on nationality by highlighting the importance of the Liberal State: a state where the people may not share the same ideas and same will, but do have a willingness to compromise with one another, to find a middle ground in an effort to move forward. Appiah pointed out that, because there is no definite national essence, a nation represents a medley of cultures and identities, meaning that we need a state where different people are capable of coming together and finding common ground. Read more
There’s an old interview with Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols—I don’t know where to find it, but I’m willing to believe it was Johnny Rotten—where he talks about his heroes, or rather, his lack of heroes. According to Rotten, all heroes are useless and, long story short, he doesn’t have any. It’s curious that this interview resonated in a markedly different way when Fabrizio Ruggiero, a Neapolitan contemporary artist, gave a talk here at NYU Florence three weeks ago. He discussed painting frescoes of activist icons for the United Nations in New York. A bystander said something that connected quite vividly to that old Johnny Rotten interview: “It’s easy to come up with a list of villains throughout history, but much harder to come up with a list of heroes.” Read more
Schemers in the Capitol
This past Thursday, February 23, Day 35 of the Trump administration, was less a day of legislation and political action, and more a day of Machiavellian scheming in smoke-filled backrooms. To begin with, the FBI refused to deny or publicly dismiss claims that Trump’s associates were in contact with Russian officials during the election. This followed accusations over the past few months of the Trump campaign’s collusion with the Russian government to influence the election in return for the easement of sanctions once the Trump campaign won the election. There were also reports that Paul Manafort, one of Trump’s campaign managers during his run for the presidency, was blackmailed by a Ukrainian parliamentarian during the campaign. Manafort was noted for his work as a political advisor to the Yanukovych administration from 2004 to 2010 in Ukraine and close ties to the current Russian politburo before coming to work for the Trump campaign, and his dismissal during the campaign came as a surprise to many observers. Read more
The anthem for the European Union has no words. It’s an empty, wordless, instrumental hymn, a blank canvas upon which each nation and each ethnicity can paint their own words in their own language. The actual tune is “Ode to Joy,” by Beethoven, a symbol of pan-Europeanism, but the anthem does not have any official lyrics, which means each country can add its own. To call the European Union a multi-colored patchwork of cultures would be to understate exactly how much of it is essentially a cultural Frankenstein’s monster. The EU has 24 official languages, 5 semi-official languages, 42 minority languages and another 8 main immigrant languages. It’s not exactly a single, unified entity, and yet it exists. There is a European Union, where representatives from 28 countries will come together to hammer out deals involving one of the largest common markets in the world, with 500 million people accessible in one go. Read more
Tonight, Mary Anne Trasciatti of Hofstra University will be giving a talk on working women and their role in the fight for equality in the United States. This talk comes exactly one month after women’s marches across the United States attracted an estimated 4 million protesters from Maine to Hawaii and even more overseas, according to Jeremy Pressman of University of Connecticut and Erica Chenoweth of University of Denver. The march was not only a symbolic protest against Donald Trump, but also a show of solidarity and unification among the many marginalized groups of the United States, from the Black Lives Matter movement to the LGBTQ community and even the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters. However, that is not to understate one of the core missions of the march, which was equal pay for women. On its website, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) stated its mission: “We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all. Read more
Following the town hall debate last week between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the spotlight from news sources around the world is back on the U.S. elections. From China to Brazil and the United Kingdom, we take a look at the views from abroad of the U.S. elections this past week.
U.S. press generally favoring Clinton over Trump by Kira Boden-Gologorsky
Unsurprisingly, the U.S. coverage of last week’s first presidential debate was ample. The analysis from ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ media was predictable.
The New York Times, a center-left news outlet, ran numerous articles on the debate, ranging from criticism of Donald Trump’s tactics, to how and why Hillary Clinton won the debate, to a general fact check of the candidates’ statements. CNN, a moderate news source, featured a lot of empirical data from the event, and generally favored Hillary over Trump. The Rush Limbaugh show, a conservative radio news source, favored Trump.
Brazilian press concerned about anti-free trade platforms of both candidates by Juliana Coelho
As Brazil has been facing a time of political and economic hardships, which include the recent impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and continuous money laundering investigations, the American presidential election isn’t considered a priority in the media. However, both candidates have faced criticism in Brazil: On one side, a Brazilian blog has gone viral for alleging that Trump called Brazilian immigrants “Latino pigs,” infuriating both Brazilians who live abroad and at home; on the other side, the impeachment of Dilma had a slightly negative effect on Hillary’s campaign, as in 2015 she used Brazil as an example of why the U.S. should also elect a female president. Also, considering more practical issues, Brazil’s commercial relations with the United States seem to worry Brazilians. Brazil was not mentioned in the debates. Both candidates are against future trade partnerships, which could potentially lead Brazil to greater economic disadvantage due to isolation and exclusion.
Sources: BBC Brazil, Globo (both neutral regarding foreign politics) and Plus55.com
Photo: Grey Area (Black Version) by Fred Wilson (1993) Reproductions of a bust of Nefertiti. Tate Modern.
Ann Morning is a sociologist at NYU. She is primarily interested in the issues of race, demography and the sociology of science, particularly with regards to the way censuses around the world classify ethnic groups as well as how individuals think about their own differences. She has written pieces on race as a social construct, refuting ideas, especially in the modern age, with its highly developed understanding of the human genome, of race as a purely biological separation. Not only that, but Ms. Morning has also studied and written on the way different parts of the world perceive ethnicity, specifically through the way the governments classify groups of people in their censuses. For example, ethnicity can be perceived as being more related to race, so in the U.S. citizens are asked whether they are “Caucasian, African American, etc.” which is code for “White, Black, etc.” This is because, in the U.S., the government sees ethnicity as essentially representing race. Alternatively, other countries will ask whether someone is “Polish, Pakistani, etc.” whereby the ethnicity is defined by nationality rather than race. Furthermore, in keeping in line with her interest in ethnic classifications in censuses, Ms. Morning is also interested in how multiracial individuals identify themselves and how they should be classified.
Join Ann Morning and Marcello Maneri from the University of Milan Bicocca for a discussion on Monday, October 10 about how young people in Italy and the U.S. think about differences between major groups in their respective societies. Event page here
“Race and Razza: Discussing Difference in the U.S. and Italy”, Villa Sassetti, October 10, 6pm. rsvp firstname.lastname@example.org
NYU Florence students gathered at the Palazzo Strozzi for a talk on the Chinese contemporary artist and activist Ai Weiwei. The exhibition was curated by Arturo Galansino, Director of the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, who joined Pato Hebert and Hentyle Yapp, both contemporary artists and professors of Art and Public Policy at NYU, for a discussion on Ai Weiwei’s work and the significance of bringing his work to Florence. After the talk students were given a private tour at Palazzo Strozzi of Ai Weiwei.Libero, the biggest exhibition of the artist’s work in Italy. Transformed from mundane to imaginative, various objects representative of different events in Weiwei’s life were displayed, including handcuffs and plastic coat-hangers from when he was detained by the Chinese government for 81 days with no charges. The exhibit dealt primarily with Weiwei’s life as a political activist for democracy in China, but students also got to see an exposition of Weiwei’s early work as a photographer in New York. But even here the shadow of Ai Weiwei’s activist life lingered. As the exhibit opened into a side-room, footage from a hidden camera during an informal police hearing about Weiwei’s detention was playing. The exhibit ended at 10:00 p.m.