Skip to content

By kaandle

Germany has been in a debate about the ethics of male circumcision. This discussion began when a procedure in Cologne, Germany in 2012 experienced complications and the parents of the effected child sued the doctor and ignited a state-wide controversy. At first, the Cologne courts ruled all male circumcision illegal - regardless of religious importance. This was eventually overturned by the German Bundestag (legislative branch of the German government) which made male circumcision legal for religious purposes before the child ages six months.

Now I'm sure you're wondering why I just made you read an entire paragraph about the German politics of circumcision. I spent my Friday perusing an exhibit at the Jewish Museum Berlin, titled "Snip/it!: Stances on/Ritual/Circumcision", because few things align so perfectly with a course called Politics of Gender. It guides visitors through the Jewish, Christian and Islamic history and significance of the procedure, as well as demonstrates global trends and representation in media. Although this particular topic wouldn't normally draw me in, it was fascinating to start my experience with this class in the middle of an ongoing political controversy.

On the one hand, this topic is affecting the community around me as the restrictions most directly affect people of minority religious affiliation - Judaism and Islam. The outcry from these communities is what caused the initial restructuring of the law, but it still hinders their traditions. For example, in the Islamic tradition circumcision can occur as late as a male's early teen years. It is a sign of a boy becoming a man and in all religious affiliated traditions it is a sign of a connection to God. Especially with protests surrounding immigration (mostly aimed towards people from the Middle East) the idea of restricting religious practices is definitely a sensitive topic.

On a personal level, my experience abroad is being enhanced by the vocal discussion of this issue. I am learning about ongoing German politics, current affairs are being used as a discussion base and learning tool in class and I feel as though I am enhancing my connection to this country by knowing what is going on within it.

Tidbit for future tourists: Since the circumcision exhibit closes March 1, 2015 there's no need to go avoiding this amazing museum. The permanent exhibit masterfully utilizes the architecture of the building to create a unique and impactful commentary on German Jewish history. Definitely a must see.

By marisalgado94

Its past 5pm here in Brazil, meaning that voting for the 2014 national elections is officially closed. My first month in Brazil has also been the last month of campaigning and debates, meaning that from the second we touched down in Salvador, propaganda- political posters, music, banners, and fliers- was absolutely everywhere.

Elections and politics as a whole in Brazil are quite a bit different than they are in the US. In Brazil there are over 20 political parties whose candidates have the potential to fill open seats and positions, not just the typical Democrat/ Republican split that we have in the US. Eleven candidates are on the ballot for the presidential position, but the race has truly been between incumbent president Dilma Rousseff of the Worker’s Party, Marina Silva of the Brasilian Socialist Party, and Aécio Neves of the Party of Brasilian Social Democracy. Earlier in August, the Brasilian Socialist Party’s original candidate, Eduardo Campos, was killed in a tragic plane crash. Prior to the crash, he was extremely popular amongst Brazilians and in many people’s minds, had the potential to not only challenge but beat Dilma and become Brazil’s next president. At this point, it is anyone’s game and if no candidate receives over 50% of the vote, a run- off election will be held October 26th

Voting is compulsory for all Brazilians between the ages of 18 and 70 and optional for those 16-18 and over 70 years of age. From the moment that campaign season begins, people are bombarded with political messages. I can’t get through Imperio (a Brazilian soap opera), walk take the bus to school, or walk along the beach without watching at least half a dozen political commercials, hearing political music being blasted from stereos mounted on top of cars, or having multiple people shove pamphlets at me telling me who to vote for (one of the downsides of being tan and having dark hair... everyone thinks I’m Brazilian).

If it’s been overwhelming for me, it has definitely been overwhelming for Brazilians. Many are politically involved, but most, especially in the community that I live in, are tired of politics. Although it’s been almost three decades since the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship and it is classified as one of the largest democracies (presidential republics) in the world, things still have a ways to go. There are very few Afro Brazilian leaders at the level of the federal government, corruption has made politicians untrustworthy characters, and reforms in areas such as healthcare and education, while progressive in theory, are rarely enforced to the level they need to be in order to be making life better for Brazilians.

As the ballots are being counted, Brazilians waits anxiously to find out the course of their country for the next four years. Will it be another term of Dilma backed by Lula? Will Marina Silva’s quick but forceful campaign have what it takes to win the presidency and be Brazil’s second female president? Will right- winged Aécio Neves put a man back in power and conservative policies at the forefront of the political agenda? In a few hours, we will know. For now, signs are being taken down and painted over, fliers are being swept up, and political jingles have faded into the background. May the best candidate win and here’s to, hopefully, four years of growth, reform, and changes for the better in Brazil.


By makenadingwell

I never thought the Scottish and the Spanish had much in common. Maybe blood sausages and a fondness for sports, but even that was a stretch. Nevertheless, the past week has been filled with conversations about Scottish independence and the potential influence on the issue of Cataluña in Spain.

To be fair, they warned us before we met our homestay mothers, “There are three things you shouldn't talk about: religion, politics, or football.” However, after only two weeks, religion had already come up a few times. The second topic of politics arose naturally over paella on Thursday afternoon, the day of the referendum. Reports about the upcoming vote in Scotland, or Escocia, were continuously broadcast on the television or radio every night that week, but I tried to tread lightly in conversation. The Scottish referendum was watched and reported on in great detail in Spain due to the notable influence on the possibility for Catalonian independence, and it seemed like everyone had an opinion in Madrid.

As Pilar, my host mom, took her time ornately preparing the salad and paella, since lunch is a multi-course meal here, the radio played various interviews of opinionated individuals in Cataluña and their view of “Escothia,” as they said in their Spanish accents. After we sat down and I complimented her on her renowned paella, she asked my about my morning classes. I delicately referenced my Political Science class and the debate we had about Scottish Independence. My professor was an expert on the Cataluña case, but I didn't know which side she supported so I spent some time in class trying to gauge her reactions.

She smiled and explained the complexity of the topic, particularly because it seems like everyone has a connection to Cataluña. She also avowed that everyone in Spain had an opinion because the Spanish are equally passionate and stubborn. She assured that we would all learn the next weekend especially on our program excursion to Barcelona. I nodded in response and referenced the lack of similar independence movements within the United States and she agreed. She looked up from her paella, smirked, and said in Spanish, “Seems like your country is better in both politics and football, hmm?”

By mcbitter

In French courses over the years, I’ve learned a lot about France - its language, culture, and government, to name a few topics. (GW’s French department is, in my opinion, intent on creating a well-rounded understanding of France and the Francophone community within its students - something for which I’m grateful now, as I'm traveling to Paris in exactly one week!)

One thing that I learned about in classes is French politics, and how much it contrasts with that of the United States. Perhaps the most obvious difference is the multi-party system. Instead of having two main political parties like the Democrats and Republicans from which nearly all officials come, the French have what seems like a plethora of parties. (The number of parties was actually a little overwhelming the first time I encountered it.) Two of the most well-known are the Parti Socialiste (the Socialist Party) on the left, from which current president François Hollande was elected, and l’Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, or l’UMP (the Union for a Popular Movement), the right party of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Other parties, without naming them all, include:

  • Le Front National (the National Front; far right)
  • Le Nouveau Centre (the New Center; right)
  • Le Mouvement Démocratique (the Democratic Movement; middle)
  • Europe Ecologie Les Verts (the Green Party; left)

France also has a different set of rules to govern the actions of these and other political parties, especially around campaign season. Each verified candidate in an election must receive the same amount of time on radio and television broadcast programs. Additionally, the government regulates the amount of money that candidates can spend campaigning and that individual donors can contribute. According to a TIME article (link below), companies, unions, and special interest groups are not allowed to provide political funding at all! To top it all off, France recognizes an official campaign period that only lasts two weeks before voting. (And here we are, watching political advertisements for what seems like months on end.)

While I won't encounter a presidential election during my name in France (the next is schedule for the spring of 2017), I certainly enjoy learning about their political customs, especially when they differ so greatly than ours. I wonder what our political landscape would look like if we adopted some of their policies?

Learn more about French politics and campaigns with this TIME article:


By msotomayor12

For some reason, I’ve found myself in the middle of political discussions this week. As a Political Communications major, I don’t hate it. My political science class has become a continuous discussion of “What would the US be like if it was a parliamentary system” and vice versa. I’ve found myself comparing laws, ways of life, and political movements with many professors. And as an aspiring reporter, I’ve keeping myself busy following the news.

Learning about political movements in Spain has been a refreshing experience. Since I am just learning about Spanish politics, I don’t have any preconceived notions that could spur an immediate opinion or cloud my judgment when I hear about an issue. In this sense, I feel like a kid whose totally absorbed by their favorite book: I want to keep learning more, I feel excited doing it, and I can build my own understanding of what it all means. There are so many differences in Spanish politics and media that I hope to explain many of my insights in a sequence of future blog posts.

To understand Spanish politics, it is important to know the role that regional culture plays in it. Spain is split up into Andalusia, Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, the Canary Islands, Asturias, and the mainland. Citizens of these regions are so prideful, that they are likely to identify themselves based on their cultural region before identifying themselves as Spaniards. The division between the country’s identity is astounding, especially in the eye’s of an American.

Some regional interests are so strong that it threatens the unity of Spain. Basque Country and Catalonia have both been trying to gain autonomy. Most recently, Catalonia, which has its own parliamentary system, proposed another referendum seeking its independence. These areas are interested in providing for themselves economically and politically. However, they will be unable to thrive since the U.N. has already announced it would not recognize any region that separates itself from Spain.

These clashes between interests are what many believe is making Spanish parliament inefficient, among other issues of course. While American politicians do try and represent their own districts, it would be more difficult for Congress to function if politicians bonded together by region. It would affect political party structure and ultimately, the public opinion. So as messy as American politics could get, there’s at least something to be thankful for.

By ecirrincione

There were protests planned for Jordan. Now nothing dramatic or horrifying had happened here, such as in next-door Egypt or Libya, but there was a nervous feeling in the air as Friday approached. Emails were sent to our parents, the State Department gave us a debriefing, and we all waited to see what would come out of it. Some students claimed they wouldn’t tell people they were American, others planned to stay out of the downtown area; each had their own plan to deal with the seemingly impending chaos.

Friday came and went, and some small protests materialized in front of the American Embassy, mosques and a gym. The police had come out in full force to quell any potential riots, but those riots never appeared.

I am an American, but I do not visibly look like one. Because I am a Muslim, I wear Islamic dress which has give me a “pass” to blend in with the local Jordanian culture. This has its pros and its cons. It’s great to have people automatically speak to you in Arabic and give you the local price for things, but it can be a little confusing trying to explain to them why you have no idea what they just said.  As a Muslim American, I have two identities, which are often in conflict with one another. In America, Muslims are the “other”. We are not welcomed in politics or mainstream society. Ours mosques are targeted and infiltrated; some do not even consider us American. I have walked in the streets of DC to have people tell me “Go back to your own country”, even though I am in it. On the other hand, Muslims view America as the big bad monster in the room. Due to American foreign policy abroad, America is often seen as an antithesis to Islam and our Prophet. The recent film uploaded on YouTube did nothing to help that reputation.

...continue reading "Lessons from Amman: How to Love One Another"