Bethany Whitfield, Pulitzer Center
From finding the truth about military dictatorships like Burma to creating a solution for Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, the questions of our latest Global Issues/ Citizen Voices Project pressed for thought and analysis on some of today's most complex and difficult global issues. Here's what our four winners had to say on the topics and how their past experiences and research influenced their answers.
Winner Russell Smith worked for NGOs in Lebanon in the 1990s and during that time witnessed the stark contrast between Lebanon's lush and rich tourist destinations and the destitution of its Palestinian refugee camps. He was so moved by the stories and experiences of the refugees that after returning to Australia, he became active in international politics to try and forge change on the issue.
In his essay Smith contends there is a "win-win" situation for Lebanon and Palestinian refugees, but only with the help of the international community. He calls for a U.N. sponsored international migration program, "not a forced migration but a focused sponsored humanitarian campaign, emphasizing economic prosperity, equal opportunity, education and security."
His essay invokes the sentiments of the Clinton Plan for Palestinian refugees proposed in the 1990s. While an Australian native, Smith likes to focus on the role the U.S. plays in shaping international policy. "Because it's the hegemony, it's so important. In all my writing I want to express that."
Contest winner Adam Simpson (pen name: e-bartleby) chimed in on the question of U.S. environmental responsibility and took the opportunity to pursue his general interest in writing. Simpson once told his first grade teacher that he would someday be an author. Now a lawyer practicing in Memphis, Simpson says that he "somehow manages to squeeze time away from his legal career, his expanding garden, and his two young kids to write."
Simpson used his experience working in environmental litigation and with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to argue how U.S. companies should be held accountable for destructive practices abroad. Simpson presents the difficulties of ensuring global liability through the courts and holds that, with the rise of environmental consciousness and the "green" revolution, the answer to ensuring corporate responsibility might lie not with the legal system, but with increased public pressure and internal business regulation.
For Robin Finesmith, inspiration for her essay traveled to her hometown of Arlington Heights, Illinois, from Sudan in the form of a piece of shrapnel. The remnant was shot from a Sudanese helicopter amidst the ongoing conflict in Darfur and was shown to her by a neighbor who'd recently volunteered in the region. For Finesmith, the small piece of iron, weighing only a pound or two, encapsulated the conflict. "I was holding Darfur in my hands," she said.
Finesmith's essay criticizes the international community for failing to translate lofty policy initiatives into concrete humanitarian aid. She admits that the obstacles to international intervention have been great – Sudanese government obstruction and China's involvement are two key difficulties she analyzes in depth. But she points to a larger obstacle – an ambivalent international community – as the true hindrance to ending violence in Darfur. She implicates the UN's failure to fulfill its own peacekeeping mandates or provide essential funding and writes, "we can no longer make promises with our fingers crossed."
Danny Hosein, a Legislative Program Assistant at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, wrote on another region of the world where civilians are suffering oppression. Hosein did research on dissent in closed societies during his undergraduate years at Trinity University and drew upon that knowledge as he responded to the question of repression in Burma.
In his essay he describes the difficulties of finding truth in societies where both physical dangers and outside perceptions stand in the way of telling the real personal stories that lie within the country's closed borders. Hosein emphasizes the need for reporters to investigate these societies holistically, seeing through the eyes of both the government and NGOs while also providing "a megaphone for the voices of the marginalized."
Hosein has great respect for journalists working in areas as tough as Burma, stating "journalists do risk their lives to find truth in these societies." He remembers hearing the moving story of Amy Goodman, a reporter who was horribly beaten and whose cameraman was killed in Indonesia, when she spoke at Trinity a few years ago.
Thanks to all those who participated – Your thoughts have sparked some stimulating debate and given voice to issues that usually have so little. We encourage you to check out our Round Three questions below and keep the discussion going!
Round Three Contest Questions: