Millennial Letters

A Young Argentine on Pope Francis

By Jessica Weiss

As she made tea for a Catholic youth group in Buenos Aires five years ago, 21-year-old Agustina Blanco little suspected her lowly mate would grace the lips of a future pope.

On March 13th, when Habemus Papum (“We have a pope”) sounded on TV screens around the world, revealing Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 266th pope of the Catholic Church, the young Catholic youth leader was shocked.

She ran out of her house toward the city’s cathedral, downtown, where she had heard Bergoglio speak many times. Though one of the first to arrive, she watched the crowd in the plaza swell throughout the late-summer evening. Many who celebrated alongside her were also youth.

“My reaction was of total joy for all that this would signify for Argentina and for Latin America,” she says. “Since March 13th, the pope is a figure who is close to us, who speaks our language, who rides the bus and who walks our streets. That totally demolishes the idea that the church is remote and far.”

Waiting for Gates in Ghana

With Bill Gates visiting Ghana this week as part of his philanthropic work, technology is in the spotlight.

Social media consultant Mac-Jordan Degadjor, a young Ghanaian blogger who recently briefed the United Nations’ rights council on government freedom and the Internet, told World Affairs that Twitter is becoming a hotbed of activity on the subject.

Here’s a glimpse of current discussion among leading Ghanaians active on the popular microblogging website:


Photo Credit: SandisterTei

Ghana's Wireless Revolution

Youth in Ghana are pressing for political reform from their cell phones, according to 27-year-old Mac-Jordan Degadjor. He says the rapid rise of a mobile phone culture has been revolutionary for Ghana—so much so that Internet cafes have become downright passé.

Speaking to World Affairs from the Ghanaian capital of Accra on Wednesday, Degadjor explained:

We have a youth culture of mobile Internet users. Also, the youth is actually accessing information on their phone. They no longer need to go to [an] Internet café to check their e-mail or check their news because … they are able to, like, check Internet on their phones. That is why we are using social media to reach out to the youth more, because if you look at the demographics, a lot of the youth have access to mobile phones or the Internet and they are able to access all of this information on Twitter, and on Facebook, and on blogs, on everything, right from their homes. They don’t need to go to an Internet café anymore.

Young Women Speak Out on International Women's Day

On International Women’s Day, there’s often a lot of talk about women’s rights, glass ceilings, female politicians, feminist literature, patriarchy, and so on. Less often do you hear from the demographic watching all this perhaps most closely: teen girls.

I know this because I have an eagle-eyed 14-year-old sister. She watches me like a hawk. Who are girls like her around the world watching? What inspires them? How do they see their future? I decided to sound out young women from various countries. Here’s what they said: 

Syria: Bana, 18

Q: What do you want to do with your life?

A: I’d like to do something [I] am potentially good at … something I have the talent for … but in my country, there’s no such thing as embracing and taking care of [one’s] talents or creativity and that’s why I don’t even know what I might actually excel at.

Q: What are the biggest obstacles to achieving that?

Mapping North Korea’s Brutal Labor Camps

By Courtney Brooks
Guest Blogger

North Korean refugee Dong-hyuk Shin was born a prisoner. He lived in the notoriously brutal gulag Camp 14 for more than 20 years, and is the only known escapee of what’s known as one of the regime’s “total control zones.” He told the United Nations’ Geneva Summit For Human Rights and Democracy on Tuesday that he was so brainwashed he even informed authorities of his family members’ escape plans, leading to their death—and then was forced to watch their executions.

Read full article here.

Debating Atheism in the Heart of Cairo

Like many men in predominantly Muslim Egypt, Mohamed Abdelfattah was named after Islam’s most famous prophet. But he thinks the faith represented by his namesake is being challenged like never before in modern Egyptian society. While the world warily watches the country’s new Muslim Brotherhood president, also named Mohamed, this young journalist thinks everyone’s missing the real story: Egypt’s seismic search for meaning.

Abdelfattah makes his case by way of a recent debate headlined “Atheism and how atheists think” that was held—of all places—at an old Cairo mosque.

During the event, one 18-year-old Egyptian high school student proclaimed: “As an atheist, I believe that faith is against our very humanity and the source of warfare and bloodshed.” That’s a bold statement in Egypt, and certainly a bold thing to say to a mostly Muslim audience. Indeed, Abdelfattah said it was the first time he’d seen a public meeting on the subject of atheism, which had been considered, he said, “sensitive and taboo” before the opening up of society heralded by the ousting of longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak two years ago.

Watching 'Les Misérables' in Cairo

What happens when a revolutionary film opens in a revolutionary nation? I decided to sound out some politically active young Egyptians to find out. Here’s what they said after seeing Les Misérables, which opened in Cairo a few weeks ago amid ongoing political protests. The film was set to show at the opera house in the capital last night, hours after hundreds of people took to the streets in central Cairo calling for an end to sexual harassment.

Women on the Front Lines in the Middle East

With all the to-do over the US military’s decision to allow women in combat, it’s worth noting that women of other nations are already on the front lines in the Middle East and elsewhere—even if they’re not in uniform.

No, this is not where I defer to sexy media photos of young female protesters courageously defying government tanks in recent Arab unrest, despite the bravery on display.

This is about a far more undercover conflict: the fight over female identity in Arab and Muslim societies. What does that mean? That means family dinner conversations about mom’s participation in political protests, for example; it means little girls starting to tell little boys it’s not okay to hit them; it means young ladies asking why they’re still making their brothers’ beds for them.

Twentysomethings and Their Global Impact

I’ve got a few questions for the New Yorker’s “overcaffeinated earth child,” as writer Nathan Heller describes himself on Twitter. In the magazine’s January 14th edition, Heller makes a rather uncomprehending case that “twentysomethings are all right,” as part of a critical review of several books on America’s young generation, in which he basically says they aren’t that special. Meaning, they aren’t contributing anything particularly monumental to society—which doesn’t sound all right at all. It sounds kind of lame, actually. He says the generation’s touted differences—extended years of child-free adult independence, for example—are changes best credited to the older generations that really fought for them.

Fighting Sexism in India

The ghost of a 23-year-old female Indian gang-rape victim who died December 28th still haunts Sindhu, a young Indian woman.*

For her, the phantom lurking behind the tragedy contains the uneasy contours of her own culture. Changing social norms, demographic differences, and technological advances have changed the face of India—for better or for worse. Sindhu believes rapid modernization created such a sense of moral confusion in India that sexual repression has been allowed to fester—with disastrous consequences, as seen by the recent gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi, a horrific event that prompted a national conversation about sexual abuse in India.

But the 19-year-old’s immediate response to the incident was terror. “It scares the hell out of everyone to think what she might have gone through,” she wrote to Millennial Letters from Bangalore, adding:

Millennial New Year’s Resolutions

Millennials had a pretty productive 2012 and are still going strong. The world’s rising generation of 18- to 29-year-olds stands at the forefront of seismic changes in the Middle East and beyond—the latest instance being India, where a 23-year-old rape victim’s death triggered national soul-searching on sexual violence.

The Dark Side of Syria's Rebels

What do Syrian rebels have against Anhar Kochneva?

A lot. Syria’s Free Syria Army (FSA), the main military wing in the fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is threatening to execute blogger and critic Anhar Kochneva unless they’re paid a staggering $50 million.

The group said they would kill her last week if they didn’t get the money. No one knows if she’s dead or alive, but the case reveals a strange and suspect side of Syria’s shadow power. 

Russia Today’s Maria Finoshina, who met Kochneva several times in Syria, told me by e-mail that Kochneva was known as a vocal critic of the FSA on Russian television as well as social media platforms at the time of her kidnapping in Homs in October.

Kochneva was “what we call very ‘pro’-regime,” Finoshina said. “And never made secret of it.”

Syria's Nonviolent Resistance Ignored by Media

Much has been said about the level of violence in Syria, where bloodshed continues between armed rebel factions and President Bashar-al Assad’s possibly chemical-weapons-equipped regime.

What with bomb attacks in Damascus and reports of rebels leading offensives with surrogate PlayStation-controlled tanks, nonviolent protest activity may not seem like headline-grabbing material. 

But Syrian author and activist Mohja Kahf says nonviolent protest there not only started the whole uprising, but continues to feed unrest. The prominent Damascus-born poet and writer, author of The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, has been a vocal supporter of nonviolent campaigns in her homeland.

“Where is Syria’s nonviolent resistance?” Well, she says, they “started the uprising, and nonviolent resistance aimed at bringing down the brutal regime has never stopped.”

New Media & the Israel-Gaza Information War

Confused about what happened in Gaza last week? There’s a reason for that—and it’s not necessarily the fault of warring Twitter feeds. 

At the time, only one thing seemed to be clear: the threat of war. You could blame the Palestinians for that. Or you could say it’s Israel’s fault. It all depends on what (and where) you were reading. 

The fact is, journalism on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tends to be more charged than that of other territorial divisions (heady Nagorno-Karabakh coverage, anyone?). This is partly because problems there go beyond mere border disputes, but more importantly, it is because political interests have long encouraged stark divisions among the reading public. The press falls prey too—at this point, many reporters have covered this story for years and understand all too well which facts play better than others. 

A Closer Look at Bahrain's Opposition

If Bahrain’s public relations efforts deserved closer examination (see “Bahrain’s PR firm”), so too does its opposition movement. However, Foreign Policy beat me to it—see their November 7th interview with Maryam al-Khawaja, who runs the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Further investigation into the prominent rights organization is somewhat limited, however, given that the names of their board members have been pulled from their website over safety concerns. But perhaps a better corollary to Qorvis is Bahrain Watch, a group that’s also very interested in PR—so interested, in fact, that they tallied up the total amount spent by Bahrain’s monarchy on PR worldwide since protests began almost a year ago.