Author: Conor Devlin

Apocalypse myth captivates humanity

To some, the current state of the world is troubling. In a number of regions throughout the world there is widespread unemployment and poverty, the rise and spread of extremist terrorism and pervasive sickness. Often times, attempting to solve problems such as these can either exacerbate them or create new problems entirely. The apparent futility of this situation is naturally upsetting and leaves people looking for comfort. Therefore, it is not too hard to believe that people find a sort of solace in the legends of an apocalypse or the end of the world.

Some of us feel that our world is beyond help; the only way to really set everything on the right track is to have it completely destroyed and rebuilt from scratch. There are also the devoutly religious who desperately want to prove that their religion is correct. These individuals take the Judeo-Christian Bible at face value.

That is why a group of ultra-conservative Christian scholars argued that the recent lunar eclipse or “blood moon” is one of the signs of the impending apocalypse. This belief comes from a prediction made by John the Apostle in the Book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament.

I believe that all of the conspiracy theories surrounding the eclipse came about due to a desire for attention. As I mentioned previously, people often jump at apocalyptic predictions because they are displeased with the state of affairs in the world and want it all to end. An emotionally-charged religious figure presenting biblical evidence that the end is near is appealing to those people.

When many people believed that the world would end in 2012, I believed it as well, mostly because of the idea that a highly advanced ancient culture predicted it. I grew up learning that the Mayan culture possessed a great deal of knowledge about the world and celestial movements. They managed to draw up a calendar that predicted future celestial events very accurately. Therefore, I was much more inclined to believe that they were able to predict the world’s end.

This belief was further upheld by the fact that most of the world’s religions have an apocalypse myth incorporated into their theology. In fact, the reason why Catholics cannot be cremated is because of the idea that the soul will be reunited with the body at the end of time. Given this compounding evidence, many feel validated in ascribing to the belief that the end of the world is imminent.

Another reason that many people believe in an approaching apocalypse is simply because of the human ego and the thought that our generation is special enough to witness a truly earth-shatter- ing event. I always used to fantasize about what it would be like to witness the end of the world and, most importantly, survive it. All human beings have an ego of some sort, and the idea that we could be strong and resourceful enough to live through the end of days is an expression of that.

Ultimately, society’s fervent obsession with predicting an oncoming apocalypse is fueled by a myriad of factors: disappointment with the world’s current state and a desire to begin anew, the end- of-world legends and rhetoric present in many advanced ancient cultures and major religions and the ego driven desire to witness the unimaginable.

However, it appears that all the apocalyptic fervor may be for naught because, according to NASA, the world is not ending any time soon; NASA officials believe that the Earth will be around for another 5.6 billion years. Given this knowledge concerning the predicted prolonged fate of the planet, we can shift our focus to actually solving the problems and issues that incited the apocalypse obsession in the first place.

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Iranian woman receives death sentence for killing rapist

The rights of women in Middle Eastern countries have often posed concerns for Western critics. Those nations have male-dominated societies, where women are often treated like second-class citizens. This idea is expressed thoroughly in some interpretations of Sharia Law, a doctrine of law advocated by some Muslims. These rules and regulations have been the source of a number of atrocities against women, most recently the execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Her story started when a man made an attempt to rape her in Iran’s capital city of Tehran. She managed to defend herself by killing the rapist. Since then, she has been arrested by the Guardians of the Revolution and held in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Jabbari pled guilty to the murder, but asserted that it was an act of self-defense.

Since Iran is an Islamic Republic, all of the nation’s laws and practices are derived from Sharia Law. It has been this way since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. In this case, the law dictates that if a woman commits a murder, it results in capital punishment unless the woman in question manages to get a reprieve from the murder victim’s family within ten days of the sentence. The rapists’ family refused to issue the reprieve, and Jabbari was hanged at dawn on Oct. 25.

The whole case is extremely upsetting. A woman should not have to die as a consequence of trying to defend her honor, something that the Islamic tradition holds dear. But then again, we are never really going to know for sure what happened.

The prosecution said that Jabbari could have made up the rape attempt to try for a more lenient sentence. Her account of what happened could also be true, but because of the complicated politics at work here, we will likely never know for sure.

Either way, the fact that Jabbari received the death sentence does call into question the treatment of women in Iran. If a man were in this position, one could easily assume that he would probably have either been acquitted or sentenced to a short period of time in prison as punishment.

Sharia law provides countless examples of Iran’s sexism. If a man kills a woman in the presence of fifteen other women, the man would get acquitted because women are not allowed to testify in Iranian courts. And if a woman gets married, her right to a divorce is not guaranteed unless her husband gives it to her. Even then, the man automatically has custody of the children.

We can also observe misogyny at work in Iran by looking at the austere dress code that all women must follow. They must wear a headscarf that covers all of their hair as well as wide coats and pants that hide their body shape. Women are not allowed to wear any kind of jewelry or makeup. All of this shows that Iranian society legally oppresses its women in countless ways. We can attribute that to the strict interpretation of Islam that permeates the country.

Despite all of this, we must not get ahead of ourselves and say that women are completely put down in Iran. In fact, compared to some of the other countries in the region, Iranian women enjoy quite a few rights. Women in Iran are allowed to join the workforce, attend university and even run for government positions. There are several elected positions in the government reserved especially for women. Actually, the first female Nobel Prize Laureate for the field of Mathematics was Iranian.

If we compare women’s rights in Iran to that of another Middle Eastern country, like Saudi Arabia, we can really see a difference. Saudi women are not allowed to walk outside of their homes without a male escort. Women also must be fully covered from head to toe, including their faces. They can’t work, go to school or travel on their own. Saudi women are even forbidden from driving their own cars.

Although Iran is somewhat more Westernized than its Arab counterparts, its treatment of women is still a huge problem that must be addressed. The death of Reyhaneh Jabbari surely illustrates this.

Conor Devlin ’17 devlin@stolaf.edu is from New York, N.Y. He majors in English.

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Disneys Frozen breaks the ice with progressive themes and characters

Walt Disney Pictures has been known to produce films that revolve around a very standard plotline. In the past, Disney’s movies mainly featured the stereotypical, white prince and princess who join together in the face of adversity and fall in love afterwards. Most of these movies are modeled after classic fairy tales, including “Sleeping Beauty,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Snow White,” “Cinderella” and “The Little Mermaid.” But in the past several years, Disney has begun to turn over a new leaf by creating films that break the stereotypical mold. Their latest picture, “Frozen,” is proof of that transition.

On the surface, “Frozen,” an adaptation of a fairy tale by the Danish author Hans Christian Anderson, does not seem to have a storyline or characters that are any different from past productions. It is about a queen named Elsa who rules over a mythical kingdom called Arendelle. She has the magical ability to form snow and ice. But when she loses control of her power and traps Arendelle in eternal winter, the queen and her sister, Anna, must find a way to bring back summer, assisted by Kristoff, an ice salesman, and a lovable snowman named Olaf.

Although “Frozen” does not seem to be an allegory for acceptance, there are numerous parts in the film that encourage inclusion. This is exemplified in Elsa’s signature song, “Let It Go.” She sings this number after she exposes her magic power to her kingdom, something she has avoided doing for her whole life.

Some consider the popular lyrics as representing Elsa’s sexuality. She sings, “Let it go/Turn away and slam the door/I don’t care what they’re going to say/Let the storm rage on,/The cold never bothered me anyway.” Critics have suggested that slamming the door could reference coming out of the closet, and the cold never bothering Elsa could mean that she no longer cares about the stigma of living her life as she wishes.

Indeed, Elsa never expresses an interest in finding a man to marry, even though she is the queen. In Disney movies of the past, finding a husband would be one of her main concerns. Instead, the focus of “Frozen” is more on discovering one’s individual identity than on meeting a knight in shining armor who can give one’s life meaning.

In addition to their unconventional take on romantic relationships, the filmmakers also emphasize the importance of family. In past Disney productions, it was the love that existed between the prince and the princess that solved the conflict. In “Frozen,” the familial love between Queen Elsa and her sister, Anna, ends the harsh winter and puts everything right in the kingdom once again. The film pokes fun at Disney movies of the past, in which the prince and princess meet, fall in love and get married without even knowing each other, by exposing the deception of Prince Hans. The plot reinforces the value that family bonds are as powerful, if not more so, than amorous relationships. It further exemplifies how Disney is now trying to break out of the hackneyed fairytale mold.

The makers of “Frozen” created the movie with undercurrents that celebrate pride in individual identity. They also glorify the bonds that exist within families. This film is an embodiment of Disney’s desire to be more progressive in their movies by encouraging people to look for the truly important things in life. The making of “Frozen” seems like the beginning of what could be a very meaningful shift from Disney’s old ways. See the film for yourself on Friday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m. in either Viking Theater or Tomson Hall 280.

Conor Devlin ’17 devlin@stolaf.edu is from New York City, N.Y. He majors in English.

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Heightened security at Sochi raises concerns

The 2014 Winter Olympics are being held in Sochi, a Russian resort city at the eastern end of the Black Sea. Along with the excitement and anticipation that the Olympics always bring, there is also controversy over the extensive security at the Games next year.

Sochi lies on the west side of the Caucasus region of southern Russia. This area, which includes Chechnya, is notorious for its large population of Islamic fundamentalist groups. These groups have been known to endorse terrorism, attack Russian officials and sponsor violent riots, and they allegedly inspired the Tsarnaev brothers, Tamerlan and Dzokhar, who bombed the Boston Marathon last April.

While the Russian government’s official explanation for increased security at the Olympic Games is to protect the spectators and athletes from an attack, many critics believe that it is really to keep anti-Putin protesters from launching a series of demonstrations that would embarrass the government in the Kremlin.

The heightened security has already begun with extensive passport and background checks on anyone buying tickets to the games. In addition to buying tickets, all guests are required to obtain “spectator passes” so officials can easily identify them.

The Kremlin also turned Sochi and the surrounding area into a 400-square-kilometer security zone where no vehicles can go in or out during the Olympics. Within the zone, most of the city’s facilities, schools, stores and offices will be put under intense special protection during the weeks leading up to the games. The Kremlin will be increasing surveillance on all telephone calls and Internet transmissions within Sochi, and there will be a ban on protests, rallies and other demonstrations within the Sochi security zone. Candid cameras have been installed throughout the city, and drones will also be deployed. The Russian military has employed Special Forces to patrol the mountains that back the city and speedboats to survey the coastline and has introduced an intense sonar monitoring system to watch for submarines.

The Sochi officials are also completing background checks on all of the city’s current residents. If a migrant worker, homosexual or someone who is just “unwelcome” is found, they will likely be asked to leave the city. This is another way to enforce Putin’s ban on gay athletes, which has outraged many people.

Many critics believe that these new security procedures are violations of privacy and human rights. Andrei Soldatov, an independent Moscow-based security analyst, told the Associated Press, “The system … is very intrusive, much more intrusive than in the West,” he said. He is right in the sense that these new security measures are invasive. But on the other hand, they will keep everyone safe, which is the highest priority.

The Islamic militant groups in the Caucasus area have become more active in the past few years. In 2011, three tourists were skiing on nearby Mount Elbrus. They were gunned down by violent Islamic fundamentalists. If a similar incident were to happen during the Winter Games, it would be an outrage and could morph into a political crisis. In that regard, the security plan for the Sochi Olympics is a double-edged sword. It makes the Russian government appear racist and homophobic, but it could also end up allowing for the safest Olympics in history.

devlin@stolaf.edu

Graphic Credit: DANIEL BYNUM/MANITOU MESSENGER

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PAC tackles torture

On Tuesday, Nov. 12, students trickled into the Black Ballroom for a dinner discussion on the controversial topic of torture. The Political Awareness Committee PAC invited Professor Kristina Thalhammer of the political science department and Bob Kohler from The Center for Victims of Torture CVT, a nonprofit organization that offers relief and healing for immigrants who have been tortured, to lead the discussion.

The session began with an activity called the “Ladder of Torture Puzzle,” a way for the students to express their feelings toward the issue of torture. There was a series of hypothetical situations that involved terrorists planting bombs in densely populated areas. Students then had to decide in which cases torture could be employed to discover where the bombs were. Many of the students said that they would not torture the culprits for any reason; others disagreed.

Thalhammer discussed the political aspects of torture: where it happens, how the U.S. does not publicly promote it and how it hurts the country engaging in the torture as well as the victim.

“The idea of social capitalism is undermined by torture,” she said. Thalhammer also said a few words about how torture canaffect a country’s reputation.

“It can damage credibility and prestige,” she said.

She also explained that torture does not normally result in reliable information. According to Thalhammer, victims are often in so much pain that they will say anything to make the torturers stop, regardless of whether or not what they say is true.

Thalhammer also brought up the federal law that the U.S. introduced in 1984 prohibiting any form of torture in U.S.-sponsored military campaigns. No one is exempt from this law. No army officer, soldier or general can instigate torture of suspected enemies for any reason. But, as Thalhammer pointed out, the U.S. government can be hypocritical in that department.

After the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government began its lengthy pursuit of those responsible for the attacks. Allegations have since come up that in its search for terrorists in the Middle East, the army tortured many people to find the leaders.

“We are part of an international community, but we live in an international anarchy,” Thalhammer said.

Next, Ben Kohler came up to the podium to discuss his work with the CVT. The organization was founded in 1985 as an outpatient counseling center in St. Paul, Minn. However, over the years it has expanded into a full-scale treatment organization with centers across the U.S., as well as two in Kenya, one in Jordan and one in Ethiopia.

The CVT now sends employees to the centers abroad to train local residents in the process of helping torture victims heal.

Kohler spoke about some of the ways the CVT helps victims. It offers counseling services, psychological evaluations, help for those seeking asylum in the U.S. and a safe place for immigrants who have been tortured.

Kohler turned on his computer and gave the audience a virtual tour of the main facility. It was an old mansion with a garden full of flowers, big windows in every hallway and room, warm overhead lighting and artwork scattered throughout the building. These details are meant to keep the center from resembling torture chambers in any way, thereby promoting an environment of consolation and healing.

Kohler continued his speech with a story about two people sitting on the bank of a river. Suddenly, they see a man floundering in the water. Once they pull him out and start tending to him, they see another person drowning, and then another. The two friends rescue the victims and try to help them. As they do that, one of the friends gets up and runs upstream to try and find out what happened to the victims.

Kohler connected that story to the duties of the CTV and the U.S. The CTV is to stay behind and help the victims recover from their ordeal, and the U.S. should go out and put an end to the torturing.

“As Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world,'” Kohler said.

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