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Showing posts with label Taliban. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Taliban. Show all posts

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Case Western-Red Cross program to consider international law, teachings of 'Star Trek'

Star Trek's Gates McFadden greets a soldier at a USO event
in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1996.
(Defense Department public domain image VIRIN 960303-A-6435A-009.)
A long time ago, at a law school far, far away (admitted metaphor malaprop), I wrote a symposium research piece on Star Trek's Prime Directive, as relative to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to dethrone the Taliban after September 11.

I concluded back in those halcyon days that the most valuable lesson of the Prime Directive is that its violation is inevitable.  The rule of non-interference in pre-warp cultures in the 23rd century speaks importantly to the virtues of cultural relativism.  But there come times when a moral society must choose between its sacred writ to respect independent social evolution and its commitment to the natural rights of sentient life.

I don't know what the chaos in Afghanistan today says about my conclusion then.  Maybe I was right, that we were justified in invading Afghanistan with our higher calling (bellum justum), but we royally screwed up the implementation (snafu ineptus).  Maybe balancing western rights and regional relativism was always fated to fail, an impossible integration of irreconcilable norms.  Maybe I was wrong, and we should have built a wall around Afghanistan, as some then advocated only partly apocryphally, and waited for an interstellar society to emerge.

A wise Ferengi once said, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."  It's 2021.  Afghanistan is in chaos.  The Taliban are in charge.  And a next, next generation of the Star Trek franchise is trying to help us make sense of our world.

On September 8, Case Western Reserve University Law School and the American Red Cross will feature Case Co-Dean Michael P. Scharf to discuss, in present context, his 1994 law review article, The Interstellar Relations of the Federation: International Law and Star Trek the Next Generation.  Here is the event description:

On May 4, 2020 (“Star Wars Day”), the American Red Cross hosted a widely attended webinar on “Learning the Law through Film: Star Wars and International Humanitarian Law.” Inspired by the huge success of this event, the Red Cross decided to celebrate Star Trek Day on Wednesday, Sept. 8, by asking the Case Western Reserve University School of Law Co-Dean Michael Scharf to host a multi-visual online presentation of his  law review article “The Interstellar Relations of the Federation: International Law and Star Trek the Next Generation.”

With four new Star Trek series currently streaming, and a new film in production, the franchise is as popular as ever. On the 55th anniversary of the broadcast of the first Star Trek episode, you are invited to join an exciting hour-long trek through international law to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before!

In this lunch-hour presentation, Co-Dean Scharf will discuss current controversial issues in international law by comparing them to the interstellar law encountered by Captain Picard and the intrepid crew of the Enterprise in seven years of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The presentation covers everything from the law governing the use of force to human rights law, the law of the sea to international environmental law, and treaty interpretation to international arbitration.

The event will include an introduction by Christian Jorgensen, legal advisor of the American Red Cross’s national headquarters, and an interactive Q&A via chat.

Naturally, I cited Scharf in my 2003 article.  And we both cited the imaginative and exemplary work of Nova Southeastern Professors Paul Joseph and Sharon Carton.  This vein of research and pedagogy rendered me fortunate to meet Joseph before he passed away much too early, in 2003, and also to meet Professor Christine Corcos, a treasured colleague, collaborator, and expert in teaching law with popular culture.

Incidentally, "Star Trek Day" on September 8 marks, as the CWRU event description says, the first franchise broadcast in 1966.  But the more important date of consequence in the lore of the Prime Directive is April 5, First Contact Day.

While we're on the subject, check out this paean to Trek from WNYC's Brooke Gladstone. This is a reprise of a 2006 piece, honoring Gene Roddenbery's birthday, August 19, 1921, a century ago.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Observers grasp at hopes for Afghan women

If you're like me, you're watching events in Afghanistan unfold with heartbroken anxiety.  (And there's Haiti, but let's take one tragedy at a time.)  I'm not usually a sucker for the broadcast news kicker (though once upon a time, I loved to write them), but David Muir punched the breath out of me with this one.

After talking to our daughter, 22, my wife shared the realization that today's young adults don't have contemporary recollection of the brutality of Taliban rule in pre-9/11 Afghanistan, especially the implications for women's freedom and education.

Afghan women in literacy class in 2008
(U.N. photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Those of us in adult life on September 11 became acquainted with a flood of unpleasant subject matter in the 20-aughts.  I taught a couple of communications courses back then with Ahmed Rashid's Taliban (1st ed. 2000), for example.  Maybe ten years ago I gave my copy of the book to Goodwill, thinking it of only historical interest.  Now here we are.

That prompted me to wonder whether this Taliban is the same as that Taliban.  Is there any hope?  I noticed Taliban leaders on TV giving interviews to female reporters.  I wasn't the only one who noticed.  My academic colleague James Dorsey, my favorite commentator on MENA and author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, has published a commentary on point, in print and podcast.

Spoiler alert, Dorsey does not reach the conclusion that this is somehow a kinder and gentler Taliban.  But at this point, we have to salvage any hope we can.

[UPDATE, Aug. 18.] A friend pointed me to this fundraising site, which is genuine: Support Afghan Guides and Fixers.  One of its organizers is Lupine Travel, a partner of mine and a solid UK-based enterprise.  

[UPDATE, Aug. 22.]  Check out this fascinating interview (Aug. 19) at PRI's The World with the exiled captain of Afghan women's soccer.