National Holidays and Settler Colonialism

I have fond memories of spending childhood Thanksgivings with my Slovak grandmother in Eastern Pennsylvania. Never a traditional meal, we ate city chicken and Serviettenknödel (a Bohemian dish not dissimilar to traditional dressing). The stories I heard around the dinner table were of the hardships of my immigrant family coming to the U.S. and, despite facing immense adversity, surviving and thriving due to honest hard work. Despite learning about the myths surrounding Thanksgiving and teaching my high school students about Indigenous genocides, it’s been only recently that I began to connect these stories to the larger narrative of U.S. settler colonialism. Maybe it’s because my holiday traditions seemed so rooted in my family’s immigrant past and stories of hardships and survival, which seemed so removed from the myths of Native and European encounters. Maybe it’s a reluctance to connect my happy childhood memories and traditions to ideas of genocide.

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CHGS Celebrates 20 Years

On October 24th, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) hosted a celebration honoring 20 years of serving its mission to promote awareness and encourage collaboration in the study of mass violence. The event brought together faculty, community members, advocates, as well as current student and alumni, to commemorate the legacy of Steven Feinstein, CHGS’s founding director, and to acknowledge the Center’s current initiatives. Guests toured a pop-up exhibition of artwork from the CHGS archives and enjoyed a musical program.

Speakers included Dean Coleman from the College of Liberal Arts, CHGS Director Alejandro Baer, graduate student Wahutu Siguru, Program Coordinator Jennifer Hammer, and Dr. Rebecca Feinstein, daughter of founding director Steven Feinstein. Many spoke of the interdisciplinary strength of CHGS, which works with faculty and students from a number of departments across campus. Others discussed the wide variety of CHGS initiatives, from outreach events to past symposiums, as well as future course offerings.

Guests left with a copy of the annual report, news on upcoming events, and pages from the first-ever CHGS newsletter 20 years ago. Overall, the event provided an opportunity to reflect upon 20 successful years of CHGS, as well as the chance to look ahead at what is to come.

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Dr. Rebecca Feinstein, daughter of founding director Steven Feinstein
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Musical program featuring Natalie Moiseeva (violin) Rena Kraut (clarinet) and Ivan Konev (piano)
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Artwork Exhibition from the CHGS Archives
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CHGS Team. From left to right: Alejandro Baer, Camille Grey, Wahutu Siguru, Tomas Romano, Brooke Chambers, Alexandra Tiger, Demetrios Vital, Dana Queen, Miray Philips (Missing: Jennifer Hammer)

Where is the wall-to-wall coverage? Where are the vigils? #JeSuisMogadisho

On October 14, 2017, one of the worst truck bombs ever experienced in Africa ripped the capital of Somalia, Mogadisho. On a global scale, this blast was only second to the 2016 attack in Iraq that killed 341 people in Karrada. This particular attack was so horrific that even a former Al-Shabaab leader was pictured donating much needed blood. As of October 16th, almost 276 people had been declared dead with 300 hundred injured. This number is likely to increase in the coming hours as the rubble is sifted through. Due to the intensity of the blast, there is a very real chance a large number of the dead will never be identified. One of the victims of the attack is Dr. Maryama Abdullahi who was to graduate from the medical school this week and whose parents’ joy and anticipation has now become unbearable grief. Another was Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow, a Minnesota man who prayed at the Dar-Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington. I’m not sure if you saw this in your regular news outlets or if it even crossed your social media platforms.

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Why Insurgents Commit Atrocities in Capital Cities

On March 19, 2015, two armed men entered a museum in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, and opened fire, killing 19 people. The assailants specifically targeted a popular tourist destination with the alleged goal of generating maximum impact on behalf of the Islamic State (IS). This example is hardly unique. Between mid-2015 and mid-2016, numerous large-scale attacks against civilians occurred in the capitals of France, Indonesia, Turkey, the UK, and Belgium, to name only a few. Why do insurgents choose to target capital cities? Are these attacks evidence of a global trend? Are there specific circumstances in which attacks on capital cities are more likely?

Insurgent Attack in Tunisia, 2015 (PC: CNN)

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“A daily plebiscite:” On Remembering Kurdistan

On Sept. 25th, 2017, the electorate of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (henceforth called ‘Başûr,’ the Kurdish name for Iraqi, or Southern, Kurdistan) participated in a historic referendum for independent statehood. Kurds in Iraq carried the decision to an overwhelming 93% vote in favor of secession, with 72% of all eligible voters participating. Having had de facto autonomy in most of Başûr since 1991—which today includes its own sitting president, international diplomacy missions, a military wing (Peshmerga), and foreign trade negotiations independent from Baghdad—the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) now appears intent on honoring the results of the referendum and striving toward full independence.

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Kurds Gather at Pro-Independence Rally (PC: Ivor Prickett for The New York Times)

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“Der Kult mit der Schuld” – Collective Memory Following the 2017 German Federal Elections

For the first time since 1933, an extreme-right party has been voted into German parliament. Going by the name of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), this newcomer made substantial gains from the last federal election (+7.9%) while centrist parties were dealt (to use a German soccer colloquialism) a massive “Klatsche.” Now Germany must ponder its political future. But what does this mean about the country’s collective memory? Continue reading ““Der Kult mit der Schuld” – Collective Memory Following the 2017 German Federal Elections”

“The student groups were powerless, but together they accomplished a great deal”: Interview with Professor Riv-Ellen Prell on the ‘A Campus Divided’ Exhibit

Riv-Ellen Prell, Professor Emerita of American Studies and former director of the Center for Jewish Studies is the co-curator of the exhibit A Campus Divided: Progressives, Anti-Communists, Racism and Antisemitism at the University of Minnesota 1930-1942.” The exhibit is open to the public until November 30, Monday-Friday, at Andersen Library. The digital exhibit is live.

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Professor Riv-Ellen Prell

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An Icon of Democracy Complicit In Genocide? The Dangers of a Deceptive Democracy in Myanmar

What makes someone an effective leader? Arguably, one vital component is being a capable and willing protector of one’s people. Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counselor of Myanmar and also a Nobel Laureate, is currently failing in this role. She continually chooses to “protect” only the Buddhist majority of Myanmar by supporting the government of Myanmar’s stance that the Rohingya, long time inhabitants of the Rakhine region of Myanmar, are not citizens. Their lack of legal citizenship has been used as justification by the state to perpetrate atrocities against the Rohingya, who are denied civil rights. These atrocities escalated this August when Rohingya militants attacked Burmese security forces. In retaliation, the Burmese military launched a violent crackdown against the Rohingya, killing hundreds of people, and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee into Bangladesh. There is little doubt left that Myanmar has begun a state sanctioned ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, using the violence perpetrated by a few Rohingya militants to justify the mass slaughter of an ethnic population.

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Rohingya Protestors (PC: Hindustan Times)

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Making Mute Art Speak for the Victims. Reflections on the UMN Course “Holocaust Art: History and Commemoration”

My official title during my Spring 2017 teaching appointment at the Global Studies program – Visiting Professor – was in some ways misleading. The University of MN campus was not in any form new to me. I trod its paths as a graduate student back in the seventies, and later as a faculty member in the Classical and Near Eastern Department in the nineties. I was glad to be invited to revisit a familiar turf, not as a momentary visitor, but as a staff member. Embraced by Chair of CHGS, Professor Alejandro Baer, and ever-accommodating Program Coordinator, Jennifer Hammer, I plunged into the University’s old and new teaching routines with a little side splash. Challenges were encountered on unexpected fronts such as the likes of decoding the mechanics of discourse between computers whose compatibility was unnatural – a “Hebrew Speaking” PC and the campus’ Apple lingo. Or the ever-astonishing fact of a May 1st snow storm. Even as a veteran of a dozen winters I was caught by surprise. Perhaps the twenty warm years since I left the campus, and the Israeli scorching sun must have affected my brain’s memory cells. I was also surprised by the sign over the entrance door to Classroom 1-111 on the first floor of Hanson Hall, which read: The Dairy Queen Class. Quite ironic, I thought to myself, for a course on the history of the Holocaust. Evidently no prank, just one coincidence of what life is made of.

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Jennifer Hammer, Yehudit Shendar, and Alejandro Baer

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