by Derek Langhorn
On Feb. 20, as a part of International Week at Whatcom Community College, a group of international students held a discussion panel focusing on major problems in their countries and youth activism, in the Syre Auditorium. They shed light on issues that some who came may not have known about, and helped to put perspective on what it is like to be an international student living in the United States.
Seven countries were represented by Whatcom students: Colombia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia.
Political activism was a main talking point, as well as the political atmosphere of each student’s respective country and the role of young people in politics. The members of the panel also spoke of major issues facing their countries.
Colombian Giovany Gonzales said that the biggest problems facing citizens of Colombia is the manipulation of the media by the government, and corruption in politics. “Most people don’t know the truth,” he said.
Kunti Rawat, representing India, said that the biggest issue in India is the safety of women. She said that females in India are rarely safe alone and that “[women] can’t walk at midnight on the street.” She said that although women have equal rights in Indian law, the laws are not always enforced, and women are not treated as equals.
Rawat cited the recent gang rape of a woman on a New Delhi bus, which has spawned major protests, as a possible catalyst for change. She said that she hopes the incident will spark activism among women in India, and perhaps lead the Indian people towards equality for all.
Rawat said that India is moving towards the future and that, “we [the Indian people] are improving… we are getting better.” She also spoke about the corruption in Indian politics, and said she believes that many Indian politicians are corrupt.
Pakistani student Ahmed Raza said the biggest issue facing his country is the transfer of power from a dictatorial president to a prime minister. “[Americans] must know about dictatorship and military rule,” he said. “They must discourage military rule in my country.”
Political instability is another major issue facing the Pakistani people, and “military rule is interfering with democracy,” Raza said.
South African representative Johannes Malebana said that the future is bright for South African politics and youth activism. He still believes education in his country is an issue, because the youth in South Africa are not receiving proper schooling. He said that more-developed countries are “taking advantage of us,” and that people in South Africa are not given fair wages. Malebana said that in order to fix this problem, “children need to be educated.”
Malebana said he believes the average American doesn’t think about other countries and said “since I have been here, very little people have knowledge of what is going on in the world.” Western media misleads people by only showing the bad sides of Africa, he said.
Indonesian representative Mursidin Amiruddin said corrupt politicians are the biggest issue in Indonesia, and many have been arrested for corruption. “The youth are not involved because of the problems that exist, like corruption,” he said.
In order to fix corruption in Indonesia, Amiruddin said, “we need to know where the money comes from [to fund the politicians] and we need debates.”
Amiruddin said that narcotics flow through Indonesia from Afghanistan, and ship through his country to other areas of the world, and that this is another difficulty his country is facing today. He said that Indonesia still enforces a strict death penalty for drug dealing and that offenders usually wait in jail for about four years before being put in front of a firing squad.
Gonzalez said that although many people may think of Colombia as a drug hotspot, his country is going to great lengths to change this by “putting tons of money to fight the cartels.”
Egyptian Islam Shoman said that his country is currently in a rebuilding period and that “we are moving towards democracy, and rebuilding the economy.” He spoke about the recent revolution in Egypt and about his country starting fresh and moving towards freedom.
The members of the panel also discussed American politics and how U.S. foreign policy affects their respective countries.
Gonzalez said he is very interested in the political system in the U.S., since American policies affect the rest of the world. “Developing countries have to defer to the countries that do well,” he said.
“The U.S. is seen as the trendsetter,” Malebana said. “Whatever decision that is made [in the U.S.] will affect the rest of us.” Because of this, he said, the rest of the world is very interested in the political environment of the United States.
Amiruddin said that Indonesians are very interested in U.S. politics and foreign policy as well. “We were happy Obama won. The Bush Administration had war everywhere,” he said. Amiruddin, a Muslim, said “all Muslims are brothers, we hope [Obama] will withdraw the troops [from Muslim countries].”
Amiruddin spoke about his country’s political process and said, “in Indonesia, they do not have an Electoral College… every vote counts, one man, one vote.” Although he said that he respects the way the American political system works, he still thinks that it could be improved by making changes to the U.S. political process. He said that getting rid of the Electoral College, and making every vote count may be beneficial.
Raza said he hopes that everyone will start to think internationally. “It will help to think about the major problems and solve those global problems,” he said. “The policy of the United States affects the whole world.”
The panelists also spoke about youth activism and youth political involvement in their countries, and Gonzalez said, “in Colombia, youth doesn’t think about politics, they think about fashion, clothing, things like that.” He said the media has been “cheating us for many years,” and that young people are wary of new politicians, and rarely vote. He said that some eligible voters even sell their votes to the highest bidder.
“Brazilian youth complain [about politics] but they don’t get active,” Barbara Custodio from Brazil said. The voting age in Brazil is 16, but voting becomes mandatory at age 18. If an eligible voter does not vote, they can be forced to pay fines, or do community service, she said.
Custodio said Brazil’s system of government is convoluted in that they have 51 parties, however, she believes the electronic voting system in Brazil is effective. “Electronic elections are easy and reliable,” she said.
In South Africa, Malebana said, every political party has a youth league. In these leagues, “the youth engage in debates around issues.” He said this leads to the youth getting involved in politics and decision-making, and hopes that other countries will adopt this policy.
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