A rising number of young people, as reported by the New York Times, are leaving Europe and the United States before migrating to Syria to wage jihad against President Bashar al-Assad. Bashar al-Assad‘s dictatorial rule is currently being weighed against the threat that the rebellion, which the Western world seems to support, is creating a new generation of jihadists.

All across Europe, people ranging from teachers to intelligence officials are reporting an increased push by Islamist radicals to recruit young Europeans to fight throughout Syria.

A majority of the people being recruited are men, but even some young women have been drawn to the fight in Syria. The possibility exists that these radicals are fighting in hopes of establishing an Islamic state, according to German officials and experts monitoring the trend.

Both American and European intelligence officials estimate that 1,200 young people have left to join Syria’s rebel group, some even having ties to Al Qaeda. Moreover, French President François Hollande stated that French intelligence has counted 700 French citizens and foreigners who have gone to Syria from France while maintaining that he does not support these recruitments.

According to Al Monitor, Hollande explained that as long as al-Assad is in power, there will be no political solution in Syria. Hollande, in fact, believes al-Assad is using Islamists to pressure the moderate position.

Moreover, Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, ranked international terrorism as his No. 1 problem, stating that his main concern involves the return of migrant youth from the Syrian battlefield with knowledge and training in the use of weapons and explosives. He reports that 240 people left Germany for Syria last year, most of them being young men from immigrant families unsuccessful at school or in life in general.

In Germany, the state of Hesse, where Frankfurt is, has been one of the main sources of jihadist recruitment for Syria. The interior minister of Hesse, Boris Rhein, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper in November that jihadist religious extremism is “the greatest security policy challenge” of the 21st century.

This thought process may be behind the reason why $2.4 billion has been given in aid to Syrian Civilians. Despite this large amount of money, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, spoke at a donors conference, saying that $6.5 billion would be needed to provide the Syrian refugees and civilians all that they need for the year, according to the New York Times.

Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his point of view on the deterioration of Syria by explaining that the new aid will not be enough unless al-Assad stops “using starvation as a weapon of war” and allows the aid to reach those in need.

Another issue raising concern is that, historically, not all donor nations have followed through on their pledges. Therefore, despite the fact that $2.4 billion has been pledged it may not all come through. Throughout 2013 only 70% of the funding sought out by the United Nations for Syria was actually provided.

– Lindsey Lerner

Sources: New York Times: Flow of Westerners, New York Times: More is Needed, Al Monitor

u.s. foreign aid
The money the United States gives out in foreign aid is usually focused in areas of direct impact, such as food to famine-stricken countries or in disaster relief efforts. Some of the lesser-known impacts are in the field of education. In particular, scholarships in foreign aid have allowed students to attend universities throughout the United States which provide more opportunities than would schools in their home countries.

This form of foreign aid is, however, not unique in the Western world. In fact, just as the United States lags behind in the overall standings for foreign aid, it falls behind its Western allies in funding for foreign scholarships as well. France leads all nations in foreign scholarship aid with 18% ($1.36 billion) of its foreign aid going to education, with Germany ranking second, at 13% ($1.05 billion), according to University World News. The U.S., on the other hand, only gives about 3.5% ($805 million) of its own foreign aid to scholarships.

U.S. foreign aid is directed to a number of other areas, but the one area that outshines all others is foreign military assistance. As it stands, roughly 38% ($14 billion) of the U.S. foreign aid budget goes to foreign military assistance. Comparing this to the budget given to foreign scholarships shows where the aims of U.S. foreign policy lie, as they push their military agendas overseas.

The military agenda of the United States looks toward the promotion of friendly democracies in places that the United States does not currently have allies. This can be seen in the United States invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as support given to rebels in Syria and Libya.  In hopes of achieving these goals, the United States pumps dollars towards friendly foreign militaries in hopes that they will create functioning democracies, with informed and supportive citizens.

In a recent Seattle Times Article, columnist Thomas L. Friedman took aim at this disparity by comparing the figures of foreign military aid for Egypt ($1.3 billion) and foreign scholarships for Jordan ($13.5 million). Friedman wrote that, “merit-based college scholarship program promote(s) tolerance, gender and social equality and critical thinking.”

These qualities of ideal democratic citizens that the United States is hoping to instill in foreigners would be much better fostered through foreign education aid, according to the first-hand observer, Friedman. While Egypt remained in a state of flux during 2013, Jordan has dedicated itself to working towards a state of democracy.  The comparison put forward by Friedman is an informative one for a casual observer, as one can see the benefits that current education aid gives and the potential of what the United States could do.

– Eric Gustafsson

Sources: National Priorities Project, University World News, Seattle Times

Rather than considering himself an advocate for Israel, Neil Lazarus considers himself to be “fighting the de-legitimization of Israel.” Since Israel became a state in 1948, groups of people have made it their lives work to not acknowledge its existence, but according to the Times of Israel, Lazarus will not stand for it.

There are a myriad of questions that are extremely difficult to answer in regards to what it means to be pro-Israel, especially for Americans. Is it good or bad for it that more American Jews are questioning its policies? Should a person’s support for this country be limited by the needs of non-Israelis affected by the conflict? Both questions as well as many others are hardly even approached by scholars or professionals, thus making it rather difficult to determine advocacy for Israel.

The editor-in-chief of the Jewish Daily Forward, Jane Eisner, explained that, “It is hard not to view this lopsided scene as an incredibly sad commentary on the difficulty of engaging Jews with vastly different views on Israel in civil dialogue.” How does an American Jew balance the occasionally competing interests of Israel, the United States and Palestine?

Neil Lazarus has put it simply by saying, “If we could do for Israel what McDonald’s did for the hamburger, we’d be in a good place. They don’t do hasbara, but they do sell in the language of the people: In China the burger comes with rice; in Italy, pasta; in Germany, beer. But they’re all buying the burger.” Even there the McDonald’s is kosher.

The ability to advocate for this country lies in the ability to understand that when asking questions about it, issues of identity, politics and personal responsibility all come into play. Different perspectives and sets of facts are hurdles that need to be address to determine the impacts of advocacy on Israel.

Lindsey Lerner

Sources: The Times of Israel, The Washington Post
Photo: Vintage 3D

American sentiment global poverty
Though the United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, the country ranks poorly when it comes to aid and contributions to global poverty. In a ranked global list of 27 developed countries, the United States tied for 19. This gap in aid can be explained by the belief that Americans care more about helping people geographically near them than helping people who live further away.

A study conducted by the Center for Global Development established a “Commitment to Development” Index which measures the contributions of developed countries to less-developed nations around the world. The study also splits aid into 6 different sectors in order to account for every kind of assistance given by countries.

The security sector of the study, for example, deducts points from countries that give weapons to unstable or tyrannical governments. The study concluded that the United States does less than the average developed country to help underdeveloped nations, resulting from the lack of attention given to people residing in further countries.

Furthermore, a study conducted by a PhD student at Stanford found a clear correlation between citizens’ support for foreign aid and the amount of aid given by their country. In the United States, many people are very generous and give public and private donations at high levels; however, these donations are directed to fellow Americans. As it stands, a majority of Americans support donating to their fellow citizens and cutting aid in the form of food and money to foreigners.

Both studies go far in explaining the low levels of aid given by the United States of America to foreign nations. In order to increase the amount of aid given to foreign nations, the United States will have to change its attitude, thus allowing for a positive affect on the amount of aid donated overseas.

– Lienna Feleke-Eshete

Sources: Think Progress, Center for Global Development

Living in one of the wealthiest nations in the world ideally means full-access to core tenants of liberty – democracy and freedom. Indeed, American citizens exercise their freedom in a multitude of manners, quite notably exercising their freedom to consume.

Women, in particular, dole out about $370 per year, adding up to approximately $25,000 spent on footwear in a lifetime. Additionally, the average woman owns up to 469 pairs of shoes within a 67 year period, averaging about seven pairs per year.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $146 is an adequate budget in order to feed a family of four a healthy diet per week. Thus, the amount of money that a women, on average, spends a year on shoes is enough to feed a family of four for almost three weeks. Furthermore, the amount of money a woman invests in footwear over the course of her lifetime could have sustained a family of four for 171 weeks, or over three years.

The amount of money that Western women spend on shoes could also have been used to purchase a first-hand car or invested in higher-education. A study by Mintel indicates that men surprisingly spend more money on shoes than women do. Why is this? Although women may purchase more shoes, Colin Chapman of The Guardian decrees that “[…] men’s fashion items are often investments — a good suit, a great overcoat, and a decent pair of shoes have never been cheap to buy, but were built to last season upon season.” Therefore, this statistic does not imply that men buy more than women, but that perhaps men are more concerned with higher-priced durability as opposed to quantity.

Collectively, Americans annually spend about $100 billion on shoes, jewelry, and watches, while $99 billion is allocated towards obtaining a higher education. Furthermore, Westerners annually allocate $100 billion toward purchasing shoes, while the United States designates $50 billion for foreign aid – half of the amount that people spend on footwear yearly.

Perhaps Western spending tactics on footwear gives a glimpse into the massive global wealth inequality that is very much extant in modern times. While 50% of the world survives on less than $2.50 a day to garner food, shelter, clothing, and medical assistance, Westerners collectively spend billions of dollars on luxuries such as footwear and accessories.

Phoebe Pradham

Sources: World Bank, Huffington Post, Psychology Today, The Guardian, Glamour, USA Today, Sodahead, TIME
Photo: Web Stock Pro