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By Stephen Browne
Steve Browne is an award-winning reporter and columnist who entered journalism by accident while living and working in Eastern Europe from 1991 to 2004. He is the author of two books for English students: \x34Word Pictures: English as it is REALLY ...
Rants and Raves
Steve Browne is an award-winning reporter and columnist who entered journalism by accident while living and working in Eastern Europe from 1991 to 2004. He is the author of two books for English students: Word Pictures: English as it is REALLY Used, published in Belgrade, Yugoslavia and Novosibirsk, Russia, and English Linguistic Humor: Puns, Play on Words, Spoonerisms, and Shaggy Dog Stories. In 1997 he was elected an Honorary Member of the Yugoslav Movement for the Protection of Human Rights. He is currently living in his native Midwest, which he considers the most interesting foreign country I have ever lived in.
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By Stephen W. Browne
May 25, 2014 5:20 a.m.

I signed an online petition the other day for a good and worthy cause. Protesting the upcoming execution of a pregnant woman condemned to death for converting to Christianity and marrying a Christian.
Meriam Yhya Ibrahim Ishag, 27, was condemned by a Sudanese court for apostasy, a capital crime under Sharia law. In addition her marriage to a Christian was deemed invalid, which makes doing that thing married people do adultery, a twofer. She’s currently being held in prison with her 20-month-old son awaiting the birth of her second child.
When she has delivered her baby she’ll receive 100 lashes, and if that doesn’t kill her she’ll be hanged.
Signing that petition was easy. All I had to do was push a button and the website did the rest. They’re almost up to 90,000 on that site.
That’ll show ‘em!
Elsewhere Michelle Obama was photographed holding up a hashtag sign, # Bring our girls home.”
I had to look up hashtag.
According to the Twitter Help Center, “People use the hashtag symbol # before a relevant keyword or phrase (no spaces) in their Tweet to categorize those Tweets and help them show more easily in Twitter Search. Hashtagged words that become very popular are often Trending Topics.”
That particular Trending Topic is the kidnapping of 300 Christian schoolgirls in Nigeria by an unlovable Islamist group called Boko Haram.
Boko Haram announced they intend to sell the girls into slavery. They evidently didn’t get the message back in the 19th century that slavery was passé.
And speaking of the 19th century, on March 2, as Russia marched into Crimea Secretary of State John Kerry declared, ‘You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”
And if that wasn’t clear enough Obama said Putin’s actions violate “the Ukrainian constitution and international law.”
I’ll bet Putin never saw it that way. Now that it’s been pointed out to him he’s got some serious thinking to do.
I’m sorry, reading the news these days tends to make me feel bitter and cynical, which I express with sarcasm. Which is not likely to do any good either.
Let me be clear, I’m glad people are taking notice of the things that go on in appalling countries like Nigeria and Sudan. Not too long ago this wouldn’t have been on anyone’s radar.
And I’m glad the administration is saying at least something disapproving about Putin’s naked and unashamed aggression.
But does anybody seriously think Sudan, Boko Haram or Vladimir Putin cares one whit for the disapproval of anybody in the West anymore?
In that 19th century Obama and Kerry so disapprove of the British Empire used to practice something called, “Gunboat Diplomacy.” Meaning if you ignored Britain’s polite request to stop doing something uncivilized you could expect a visit from the Royal Navy.
It’s called gunboat and not “Battleship Diplomacy” because a gunboat could steam rather far inland on navigable rivers, and the Brits had a realistic notion of how far they could project power back then.
That’s considered reprehensible these days. The British Empire forced their ideas of civilized behavior on other people, often chose native rulers without consulting their subjects and redrew maps as they pleased.
What they didn’t do was make idle threats.
And though we all know imperialism is always and forever a Bad Thing, the empire did succeed in outlawing traditional Indian customs such as burning widows on their husband’s funeral pyre, and severely limiting slavery in Africa.
What I’m getting at is not a defense of imperialism.
It’s this.
Is Putin going to react to a public scolding with anything more than a good belly laugh? Is Boko Haram going to bring those girls home with a groveling apology? Is Sudan going to release that lovely young woman because the civilized world disapproves of that kind of thing?
As I formulate those questions it’s becoming clear what’s bothering me. We’ve always known the world was divided into relatively civilized and pretty uncivilized places.
We’ve always assumed civilization spreads because it offers things like security under law, infrastructure that makes life easier, modern medicine, etc.
We’ve always assumed civilization would continue to spread until it covered the whole world.
We’ve always assumed civilization always advances, never retreats.
Were we wrong?

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