Former Vietnamese jailer says he respected Sen. McCain
By TRAN VAN MINH
Monday, August 27
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Sen. John McCain’s Vietnamese jailer said he respected his former inmate and felt sad about his death, as others in Vietnam paid their respects to the former U.S. Navy pilot who became a prisoner of war and later was instrumental in bringing the wartime foes together.
McCain’s Skyhawk dive bomber was shot down over Hanoi in 1967 and he was taken prisoner and held in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison for more than five years.
Former Col. Tran Trong Duyet, who ran the prison at the time, said he met with McCain many times while he was confined there.
“At that time I liked him personally for his toughness and strong stance,” he told the newspaper Vietnam News, published by the official Vietnam News Agency.
“Later on when he became a U.S. senator, he and Sen. John Kerry greatly contributed to promote Vietnam-U.S. relations so I was very fond of him,” Vietnam News quoted Duyet as saying Sunday.
“When I learnt about his death early this morning, I feel very sad. I would like to send condolences to his family. I think it’s the same feeling for all Vietnamese people as he has greatly contributed to the development of Vietnam-U.S. relations,” Duyet was quoted as saying.
Duyet could not be reached for comment on Monday. McCain died of brain cancer on Saturday at age 81 in his home state of Arizona.
Meanwhile, scores of people in Hanoi paid their respects to McCain at the U.S. Embassy and at a monument by Truc Bach lake, where he landed after parachuting from his damaged plane.
Speaking to reporters after writing in a book of condolences, U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink said McCain was “a great leader and real hero” who helped normalize relations between the former enemies.
“He was a warrior, he was also a peacemaker and of course he fought and suffered during the Vietnam War, but then later as a senator, he was one of the leaders who helped bring our countries back together and helped the United States and Vietnam normalize our relationship and now become partners and friends,” Kritenbrink said.
McCain and former Sen. Kerry played important roles in the normalization of bilateral relations in 1995.
The Vietnam News Agency said Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan sent messages of condolence to McCain’s family and U.S. Senate leaders, while Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh paid respects to McCain at the embassy.
Pham Gia Minh, a 62-year-old businessman who signed the condolence book at the embassy, said he witnessed Vietnamese civilians being killed by the U.S bombings of North Vietnam, including the Christmas bombing of Hanoi in 1972, but he admired McCain for overcoming the difficult past to build better ties between the two countries.
“War is losses and suffering,” he told the AP. “But the will of a brave nation is to go beyond that to look to the future. The Vietnamese people have that will and Mr. John McCain has that will. … We both have that will to overcome the painful past, overcome the misunderstanding to together build a brighter future.”
Hoang Thi Hang, a Hanoi resident who also signed the condolence book, said he had great respect for McCain’s compassion. “He had compassion for everyone, whether they were rich or poor, whatever their background. And that is important in life.”
The U.S. Embassy announced it will launch a McCain/Kerry Fellowship in which a young Vietnamese leader committed to public service will be chosen each year to travel to the U.S. on a study tour to deepen ties between the two peoples.
August 25, 2018
Attorney General DeWine Statement on the Death of U.S. Senator John McCain
(COLUMBUS, Ohio)—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today issued the following statement upon learning of the death of U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona:
“It is with heavy hearts and deep sadness that Fran and I send our condolences to Cindy, John’s mother Roberta, and all of the McCain family. Our friend, John, faced his last battle like he faced other challenges in his life, with the same resolve, strength, grace, and courage that has inspired generations.
“John and I both went to Washington in 1983, first serving in the House of Representatives together and eventually serving alongside each other once in the Senate. I have always valued his wise counsel.
“Whether working to fight genocide in Darfur, furthering the appointment of conservative federal judges, or helping to shape our military for the 21st century, working alongside John was an honor.
“At times solemn, at times witty, always determined, always sincere, John never stopped giving back to the country he loved so dearly. He never chose a path because it was easy; he chose a path because he believed it was right. Our nation is better off because of his service. The McCain family has lost their patriarch, Arizona has lost a long-time public servant, and America has lost a hero.”
Flags at White House back at full staff after McCain’s death
WASHINGTON (AP) — The flags at the White House, which were lowered over the weekend to mark the death of Sen. John McCain, are back at full-staff.
The flags at the U.S. Capitol, meanwhile, remained at half-staff on Monday to honor the Arizona Republican, who died Saturday of brain cancer.
President Donald Trump offered his condolences on Twitter to McCain’s family but hasn’t issued a presidential proclamation with an order lowering the flags. The two had a long-running feud.
U.S. Flag Code states that flags be lowered “on the day of death and the following day for a Member of Congress.”
After Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts died in 2009, President Barack Obama ordered flags at the White House be flown at half-staff for five days.
The White House didn’t immediately respond to questions Monday.
A Trump Administration casualty: Democracy and civil rights in the Middle East
August 24, 2018
Chair, Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst
David Mednicoff does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Massachusetts Amherst provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Donald Trump has shown little interest in encouraging democratic politics and human rights in other countries. This departure from decades of American foreign policy rhetoric has received comparatively little attention. However, in the Middle East, my area of expertise, I believe this Trump policy shift helps make countries less open and safe.
Most criticism of Trump’s foreign policy has focused on two other major departures from decades of past American practice.
First, Trump has rejected the cornerstones of the post-WWII international order largely built by the U.S.: deep alliances among Western democracies and global free trade. Second, Trump has shown an affinity for authoritarian rulers, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, which has undermined American interests.
Yet, the Trump Administration’s abandonment of support for democracy and civil rights hurts the interests of both Middle Easterners and Americans.
Did the US walk the walk?
In the past, U.S. leaders and officials within the government have shown interest in political rights and government accountability in other countries. Such talk has nonetheless often taken a back seat to considerations of geopolitical power or resources.
Perhaps the lack of attention to current U.S. disregard for democracy and rights in the Middle East has to do with Washington’s inconsistency and perceived hypocrisy in the region.
Even before the U.S. became a superpower after World War II, Western countries like England and France trumpeted democratic values while engaging in colonial control of the Middle East. This left a legacy of local suspicion regarding the sincerity of Western leaders’ stated political values.
The U.S.’s own track record in the region of allying with repressive governments, mounting coups (as in Iran in 1953) and overthrowing leaders by force (as in Iraq in 2003) are among examples where the U.S. practiced a politics other than what it preached.
At best, the U.S. has embraced democratization and human rights as one of many goals in the Middle East. More cynically, democratic talk could be seen as a cover for more imperialistic policies in the region during and after the Cold War.
Yet these days even the pretense is gone that U.S. policy in the Middle East – or elsewhere – should advance political freedom.
When asked about why he refuses to criticize repressive rulers like Putin or Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Trump’s response is to question whether “our country’s so innocent.” Denying that the U.S. is distinguishable from countries that penalize dissent, the current American leader disavows the very project of advancing democratic values abroad.
Let me be clear that I am not suggesting that Middle Easterners should be, or are, dependent on foreign countries or activists for greater political rights. If so, why does an end to Washington’s inconsistent support for democratic politics and rights in the Middle East matter?
There are several reasons.
First, U.S. support for democratic values abroad – however variable – helps empower non-government organizations that consistently focus on rights in places like the Middle East.
That means Human Rights Watch, the World Justice Project and local movements these groups help can improve human rights and legal accountability in part because they have allies in Washington’s broader political culture.
Second, advocates for democratic rights exist within the U.S. government, and enjoy influence, even if their superiors are less constant in their support for democracy abroad.
So, groups within the State Department, and government organizations like USAID or the United States Institute for Peace, work to improve citizen capacity and rights in places like the Middle East. In more rights-oriented presidencies, such groups can affect broader government policy.
Even in administrations less focused on human rights, the rhetoric of support for democracy can be politically useful or persuasive. President George W. Bush partly justified American military overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 2003 with the argument that a more democratic Iraqi government might help transform the broader Middle East.
Third, the lack of U.S. predictability around political rights in the Middle East can actually deter governments dependent on good relations with Washington from repressing their citizens. That’s because they can’t be entirely sure about political consequences. Tacit approval by the US of human rights abuses could turn overnight into condemnation.
Donald Trump greets Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in 2017 in Saudi Arabia. Sisi has been accused of increasing repression in his country. The White House
For example, Egypt’s pre-2011 authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak was known for political oppression. But he could not undermine democratic and human rights activists in his country altogether. He knew that, in a U.S. that provided billions of foreign aid to Egypt, at least some policymakers scrutinized his coercive practices.
Lack of pretense matters
Is it actually significant that the White House ignores political rights and freedom?
In the Middle East, the difference is large and palpable.
For one thing, increased deference to authoritarian leaders in the Middle East by the world’s most powerful democracy has allowed for the pursuit of deadly warfare and attacks on civilians. This is apparent in the actions of Syrian leader Hafez el-Assad, who has not hesitated to use chemical and other extreme weapons on his population.
Meanwhile, the Saudi government uses U.S.-supplied weapons to wage war in Yemen. The White House has not responded to the devastating civilian casualties.
More broadly, the U.S.’s current lack of interest in political rights emboldens Middle Eastern governments to crack down on dissent, and to combat aggressively countries that critique such crackdowns.
Egypt under President Sisi is more repressive politically than it was prior to 2011 under Mubarak. Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia may be committed to increasing Saudi prestige and the selective enhancement of less puritanical social mores. Yet he also has shown little tolerance for political opposition.
When the Canadian foreign ministry tweeted critically about Saudi political arrests, the Saudis countered by expelling the Canadian ambassador and suspending trade, flights and Saudi student exchanges with Canada.
Such a strong reaction is hard to imagine in the days when at least pockets of the U.S. government showed concern about human rights in the Middle East. In this instance, the Trump Administration refused to support support Canada, its democratic neighbor.
The upshot is that Middle Easterners have grounds to believe that Washington cares little for their basic well-being, their hopes for more responsive political systems and, in Syria and Yemen, their very lives.
The volcano of popular resentment against authoritarianism that erupted most notably in 2011, known as the Arab Uprisings, may have been capped temporarily. It has not quieted.
People in the Trump Administration purport to care a great deal about potential violence from Middle Easterners. This is why it is puzzling that they side strongly with unelected leaders willing to use intimidation and violence to quell dissent.
It is tempting to argue that the inconsistency of U.S. efforts to further democratic values means that these efforts don’t matter.
At least in the Middle East, racked by ongoing war and increasing influence of autocrats, I fear that the Trump Administration’s abandonment of such efforts will in fact fuel more misery and anti-Americanism.
Explaining ‘Rakshabandan’ – a Hindu festival that celebrates the brother-sister bond
Associate Professor of Religion, College of the Holy Cross
Mathew Schmalz has received funding during his career from the American Institute of Indian Studies and the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Program for research in India.
College of the Holy Cross provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
This year, Sunday, August 26 marks one of the most important celebrations for Hindus throughout the world: Rakshabandhan, a ceremony honoring the bond between sisters and brothers. The date of Rakshabandan varies from year to year since Hindus follow a lunar calendar for religious celebrations.
During Rakshabandhan sisters tie a protective thread around the right wrist of their brothers. Brothers give gifts and promise protection to their sisters. The word “rakshabandhan” means “tie of protection.”
The festival affirms the crucial importance of family in the Hindu tradition. But many of my Hindu friends also are quick to add that the festival is also about Hinduism’s openness. For example, one of the most popular legends surrounding Rakshabandhan concerns the connection between a Hindu queen and a Muslim king.
Sisters not only tie their brothers as defined by blood relationship, but also those with whom they have a very close family-like relationship. In fact, as an American Catholic and a scholar of comparative religions, I myself have been “tied the thread” during Rakshabandhan.
Stories of the Rakhi
The “rakhi,” a thread or amulet, is an ancient means of protection in Hindu culture. One of the sacred Hindu books, the Bhavishya Purana, tells the story of Indra, who was fighting a losing battle against demons. When his wife, Indrani, tied a special thread to his wrist, he returned to battle and triumphed.
Today in North India, the most widely repeated legend related to Rakshbandhan concerns Rani Karnavati, a 16th-century queen of the city of Chittorgarh in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, and the Muslim Mughal Emperor Humayun.
The legend goes that Chittorgarh was threatened by a neighboring sultan and Rani Karnavati knew that her troops could not prevail. And so, she sent a rakhi to the even more powerful Mughal emperor. Humayun and Karnavati became brother and sister and he sent troops to defend her.
The historical veracity of this story remains a matter of debate among scholars. But it is still part of popular culture in India, despite the fact that Humayun’s troops did not arrive in time to prevent Karnavati and the rest of Chittorgarh’s female inhabitants from ritually burning themselves alive to avoid capture.
Nonetheless, the festival of Rakshabandhan has been presented as an expression of solidarity between Hindus and Muslims who have a long and tortured history on the subcontinent. For example, India’s Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore advocated that Hindus and Muslims tie a thread on each other during the festival. He also used the image of the rakhi in his poems, such as one where he describes the “shadows and lights” of the Earth as lying like “a rakhi-band on future’s hand.”
The ritual of Rakshabandhan
One of the crucial aspects of the celebration of Rakshabandhan is that it is not limited to the immediate family or to those who have a similar religious identity. Even an American Catholic like me can be honored in the festival.
When I first went to India 30 years ago, I lived with a Hindu family in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi. Very quickly, I became accepted as a real member of the family with attendant responsibilities. I was a brother to the three sons, Ajay, Sanjay, and Amit; and also to the two sisters, Hema and Suchita.
Our family relationship has endured over 30 years. And when I am in India during Rakshabandhan, I am “tied” a rakhi by Hema and Suchita as I was all those years ago.
The ceremony would begin with both Suchita and Hema tying a rakhi to my right wrist. Both threads were quite colorful and inset with rhinestones. As they tied the rakhi, they repeated words and phrases in Sanskrit meant to protect me from harm and to reaffirm the brother/sister relationship.
First a red dot, called a “tilak,” was made on my forehead with a powder called “kumkum” and uncooked grains of rice. While the tilak has a number of meanings, Hema and Suchita told me it would “open” the hidden third eye of wisdom in my forehead.
Then I was honored by the clockwise rotation of an oil lamp. This rite of welcoming and honor is called “arati.”
The fire is considered a witness to the sacredness of the bond between brother and sister. I then presented my sisters gifts.
This basic pattern is also found in many forms of Hindu temple worship, called puja, which are, in part, hospitality rites that honor the presence of the deity.
Scholars often consider Rakshabandhan in studies of what it means to establish a relationship with someone. For example, they note that brothers are the “givers” in Rakshabandhan. This reverses the dynamic in traditional Indian society, where the woman herself is symbolically “gifted” to her husband during the wedding ceremony. From this anthropological perspective, relationships are established and maintained through establishing clear roles of “giver” and “receiver” as well as “protector” and “protected.”
But what Rakshabandhan also shows is that not all forms of “kinship” are based upon blood descent. And it is here that understandings of Rakshabandhan mirror the famous Hindu phrase: “The cosmos is a family.”