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Thinking Global: BYU Political Review January 2016

BYU Political Review, January 2016

BYU Political Review, January 2016

As we kick off a particularly tumultuous presidential election year, we feel a palpable shift toward domestic policy issues and away from international problems (unless they are related to terror or immigration). The recent passing of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will only amplify this trend, with President Obama’s political legacy and America’s sharp partisan divide hanging in the balance.

However, the first 2016 issue of BYU Political Review draws attention to many significant international events that are often glazed over in our 24-hour news cycle. From the editor and senior at BYU, Andrew Jensen, “We’ve dedicated this issue of the Political Review to exploring current events across the world. Our staff writers and student contributors have done an excellent job writing about some of the most essential global developments and events that are shaping humanity’s future.”

The review considers issues from Iranian politics to the implications of both exporting and importing democratic ideals. One student, Soren J. Schmidt, penned his opinion of the Syrian refugee crisis and subsequent potential American policies, while adding compelling statistics about the current refugee screening process.

“Since 9/11, the US has admitted 750,000 refugees from various war-torn regions. Of those, a total of two have ever been associated with terrorist activity, and even then only indirectly,” Schmidt writes. “By any measure, that is a remarkable rate of success—indicative, I think, of both the usually innocent intentions of those fleeing conflict and of the care already being taken to sort out the bad eggs.”

He continues framing the international matter in domestic terms, but broadens from policy discussion to general American ideology. Schmidt draws on what he believes are core American values to dispel the secondary partisan rhetoric of fear.

“This commitment to the protection of the innocent is critical to the core principles of this country, but I’m afraid that fear and the pressures of partisan polarization are causing many to marginalize it. Doing so might produce a short-term political gain, but it is ultimately a long-term loss of the values for which I believe we stand.”

By contrast, contributor Samantha Hawkins explores the Paris Climate Change Conference through a global lens. She acknowledges the significant role of the United States in agreements of this sort, but doesn’t stop at Congressional deadlock. Hawkins orients the reader with a history of both past policies and scientific conversations, and then moves forward with the terms of the agreement.

“Global climate change talks have been going on for decades, but nothing significant has ever come out of them, in part due to opposition from Congress, the lack of legally binding agreements, and the exclusion of developing countries such as India and China. At the Paris Climate Change Conference, the pledges were designed to emphasize participation rather than ambition, and to reflect actual scientific recommendations.”

Whether or not you agree with the contributors, the Review includes powerful assessments of global issues. According to the editor, all BYU students should embrace the university motto, becoming well versed in the events of the world.

“As students of the world we must become globally conscious and refuse to hold on to ignorant or myopic views,” Jensen said. “This world is full of billions of our brothers and sisters, and if we are to go forth and serve, we simply cannot afford to ignore them.”

BYU Political Review is the university’s only political op-ed publication. It began in 2006, and publishes the works of student contributors, staff writers, and even elected officials. If you would like to submit an article to be reviewed for publishing, visit here. To connect online, visit politicalreview.byu.edu.

Wheatley Conference: An experience in politics “outside the bubble”


BYU students at WIAC

BYU students participate in WIAC at Aspen Grove. Bryonna Bowen is on the first row, third from the left. Photo used with permission.


Bryonna Bowen, an international relations student at Brigham Young University, was one of the many students who took part in the Wheatley International Affairs Conference (WIAC) on the “Middle East: Power, Politics, & Prospects for Peace” in February 2015.

Q: Tell us in a nutshell what WIAC is.

Bryonna: BYU hosts an annual conference where students from several different colleges come here to BYU and have a week to discuss different topics related to an overall theme. This year’s conference theme was on the Middle East. A professor or academic mentor experienced on the topic leads the conversation, gives some background information, and then all the students bounce ideas off of each other to improve the situation based on what we’ve learned and already know. The end result is a policy proposal presented at the end of the week and we get some feedback from the round table chairs and advisers. The “round table” I was on this year was “Political Economy in the Middle East,” and we were able to pick one area we wanted to focus on and recommend a policy that could improve this issue. Some groups have really large scopes for their policy where they try to solve as much as the problem as possible and other groups just say that any progression is good and take small policy steps.

Q: Is there any preparation needed for this event?

Bryonna:  As a BYU student, we have prep class for it, a 2 credit class, where we do readings for each of the round tables. The students from other universities just do the readings for their specific round table, but there’s usually at least 5 to 10 readings, whether it’s from a chapter a book or an academic article or something else related. Doing the readings you get a basic knowledge of what we’re discussing so that you don’t come in blind sided. We’re all at least somewhat knowledgeable on the situation before we go in so we can just have a good educated discussion. It is a fair amount of preparation but it’s good because you prepare; you’re able to have that intellectual conversation, and you’re able to progress.

Q: How and why did you start WIAC?

Bryonna: I started last year, and did WIAC 2014 and 2015. I just signed up for the prep course because it was something I was interested in. It’s a fabulous networking opportunity; a way to get involved on a  national level with different organizations. [The] Wheatley Institute does a really good job of bringing in very prestigious academics and other experts to work with us and I’m still getting emails from [them] from [their] organization. I have created good networks and strengthened ties with BYU professors that have gone to the conferences both years.

Q: How does participating in WIAC help you as an international relations student?

Bryonna: It opens my eyes to different opinions out there and gets me involved in the discussion outside of just the campus discussion, and that’s really refreshing for me at least. It … gave me a taste of political economy so it’s a great opportunity to help me become a mini expert for a week. And [it helps] to take the knowledge from the political science and economic classes that I have had and to apply it to something where it’s not necessarily real world, but it could be applied in the real world. So it’s a nice bridge between academia and real life, application, and policy recommendation. Some of [the recommendations] really could be implemented and really could make a difference. I think it’s really good to have that environment as a student before you get out there in the real world.

Q: How has taking political science classes helped you prepare for this event?

Bryonna: All of them build off of each other in political science. I haven’t studied a lot of American politics but I’ve taken many international politics courses. For example, I’ve taken a revolutions and civil conflict class and I’m in the Arab/Israeli conflict course now both of which actually had a round table specifically on their topics this year. The conference has very narrowed topics in some instances but very broad topics too. So no matter what your interests are, you can always find something at the conference that is related to what you’ve studied and hopefully are interested in.

Q: Final question. Why would you recommend WIAC to other students?

Bryonna: WIAC is a fabulous opportunity to really build off of what we learn from classes and we get the chance to work with others thereby broadening the possibility and perspective we hold on an issue. The conference is held up at Aspen Grove and we focus [during] 10-12 hour days with a small group of people on our specific topic. Conversations can sometimes get heated, sometimes be a ton of fun, but overall it’s just a great experience. It’s a great way to not just stick with the campus stuff, but to branch out and do something else. Political science and IR [international relations] are heavily represented, but we also had some psychology majors, and a couple of engineering [students] this year. Everyone interested is welcome and should really consider participating in WIAC.

After graduation this April, Bryonna would like to become an analyst focusing on issues in the Middle East.

Note: BYU students must enroll in the WIAC Prep Course (PLSC 379R Section 4) as an elective class to register for the conference. The course was taught by Professor Fred Axelgard, senior fellow in international affairs at the Wheatley Institution.

See more information about WIAC on their website here.

Lecture Spotlight: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: “What’s all the fighting about?”

BYU students hear from Professors Zeitzoff and Canetti about Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

BYU students hear from Professors Zeitzoff and Canetti about Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Today, Professor Thomas Zeitzoff from the School of Public Affairs at American University and Professor Daphna Canetti of the University of Haifa spoke to BYU students and faculty about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict with the theme of “What’s all the fighting about?”

Zeitzoff discussed what kinds of rationalizations fuel the violence. Some “rational” reasons for violence could include benefits outweighing costs, leaders wanting to stay in political power, and demonstrating a group’s ideology.  He also explained that violence can be simply driven by hatred, to spoil negotiations between parties or peoples, to show grievances for past hurt or violence, or using sacred cultural values as a reason for aggression.

The violence is not just a political issue, but also a psychological issue which stems from an intractable conflict between the Arabs and Israel, Zeitzoff explained. If a gain is made on one side, the other loses and vice versa. Zeitzoff proposed that their psychological views cannot be bought by negotiation and affects how they perceive the conflict itself.

However, because people care about issues other than resources or power, such as sacred values, Zeitzoff concluded that there is an opportunity to use those ideologies for peace.

Canetti, in describing the scene in the middle east, explained the violence as an “omnipresence,” resulting in negative psychological coping mechanisms. She noted that recently in Gaza, 65% of the people were diagnosed with depression or PTSD while in Sderot, 75% of children suffer from anxiety because of the violence.

“They’re getting used to [the violence],” Canetti said. “They’ll even open their bags in grocery stores and malls without even looking at the eyes of the person checking their bag.”

Checkpoints, like checking bags at universities and grocery stores, prompt people to support violence due to feelings of humiliation, leading to defensiveness and rage.

“Only by changing those coping mechanisms can we hope to create a psychological, societal infrastructure capable of sustaining formal political agreements in [those] regions of the world,” Canetti said.

Watch the entire lecture here: