Religious Targeting Takes A New Turn

By Dawning Welliver

In Bangladesh, Islamic militant groups launched a string of targeted attacks towards secularist writers and Internet bloggers. Though Bangladesh is officially a secular state, 90.4% of the population is Muslim. An internet “hit list”  statement, released in 2014, traced back Islamic militant group the Ansarullah Bangla Team, is threatening the lives of secular freelance bloggers, writers, and activists, accusing them of being “enemies of Islam.” It demands that “Bangladesh revoke the citizenship of these enemies of Islam” and continues to state that “If not, we will hunt them down in whatever part of God’s world we find them and kill them right there.”

Dangerous political and religious tension in 2009 created the tension between secularists and Islamic fundamentalists that would cause the attacks on these bloggers; 2009 was the year that the Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh was set up in order to investigate war crimes during the War of Independence from Pakistan in 1971.  It was headed by the secular Bangladesh Awami League, one of the two major Bangladeshi political parties. From the beginning of the tribunal, several prominent leaders of the country’s Islamic political party, or Jamaat-e-Islami party were indicted sentenced to life in prison.

Secularists were not satisfied however, and insisted that the party leaders be sentenced to death. As a result, secularists began to protest, calling for the Jamaat-e-Islami party to be banned altogether for its involvement in the 1971 war. These protests were met with counter-demonstrations by Islamic groups, and the situation quickly became violent. The Islamic leaders insisted that secular internet bloggers were atheist and accused them of blasphemy. Islamic extremist groups began targeting bloggers, since blog posts have enabled quick, effective and widespread dissemination of liberal ideas that have harmed Islamists’ religious goals and endeavors.

At least four bloggers on the aforementioned hit list have been gruesomely hacked to death in the past year. Avijit Roy was a Bangladesh-born American, and the author of an online blog entitled “Free Thinking.” In February, he and his wife were attacked on their way back from a book fair in Bangladesh. Roy was hit to death in the head with machetes and knives. In March, Washiqur Rahman, a low-profile writer who criticized “irrational religious beliefs,” was viciously killed right outside his house, by men with meat cleavers and knives. In May, Ananta Bijoy Das, an atheist blogger in support of free expression, was also killed on his way to work by four masked men bearing cleavers and machetes. In August, writer Niloy Neel was hacked to death by six men with machetes in his apartment.  Prior to this hit list and the resulting deaths this year, a different Islamic extremist group called Ansar al Islam Bangladesh published a hit list online. At least 9 of the 84 people mentioned in the hit list were subsequently killed, and many more were attacked.

Unfortunately for Bangladesh, ending the long-standing conflicts of interest between secularist and religious fundamentalists may be a near impossible feat for the moment. Regrettably, this means that free speech, especially secular free speech will continue to come under fire from Islamic extremists who seek to undermine threatening views, furthering the divide between the two groups in Bangladesh.

 

 

Celebrities and Philanthropy

By Soo Min Jeong

What is the similarity among the following people?—Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, and Sir Richard Branson. Not only are they world renowned celebrities, but they also actively utilize their popularity, talents, and media exposure to raise awareness of humanitarian issues. Some participate in philanthropic campaigns, volunteer activities, and directly donate money to non-governmental organizations. Recently, the number of celebrities who demonstrate interest in humanitarian issue has increased. As a result, the Time Magazine coined a new term describing these type of celebrities: “Celanthropist,” the combination of the words “Philanthropist” and “Celebrity.”

Charities seek relationships with celebrities because of their ability to raise public awareness and promote donations. While the most common way of celebrities participate in charity is directly donating money to foundations, celebrities can be spokespersons, board members, or even founders of charities. Angelina Jolie, an Oscar-winning actress, is the best example of celebrity who spends a great deal of time doing extensive humanitarian work. Jolie has not only supported over twenty charities but was also appointed as a UNHCR Goodwill ambassador and founded the Maddox Jolie-Pitt foundation in 2003.

As Jolie’s active role in the promotion of human right issues demonstrates, philanthropic activities of celebrities are prevalent. Even though these celanthropists are often praised for drawing individuals into donations and giving sense of local or global community, they are also harshly criticized by some scholars. Critics argue that celebrities turn charities into “Charitainment,” perverting philanthropy into acts of consumption and leisure. The commercialization of philanthropy separates problems from the real root causes, merely demonstrating the superficial aspect of philanthropy. Therefore, governments only feel the necessity of covering up problems, so they become irresponsible for resolving broader political, cultural, and social causes of human rights issues. Furthermore, some scholars claim that instead of condemning human rights violations by multinational corporations, celanthropy rather promotes the consumption of “good cause.” In short, celanthropy treats capitalism as an answer, not a cause for global problems.

Granted, indiscriminate use of celebrity in philanthropy may taint the true meaning and deceive the general public with oversimplified images of philanthropy. However, it does not mean that celebrities in charities are totally ineffective. According to a study conducted by Baxter and Ilicic, celanthropy indeed promotes positive images of celebrity, charity organization, and even donation intention; it encourages charitable donation. In addition, celebrities further take roles in international policy-making. For example, Midge Ure and Bob Gelof’s Live Aid and Live 8 raised not only millions of dollars for food aid but also caused the G8 to address debt relief, HIV/AIDS, and other humanitarian crises to the global audience. Another case of a celebrity bringing positive outcomes is Pu Cunxin, a Chinese actor, in light of HIV/AIDS awareness projects. Ever since HIV was detected in the mid-1980, the contagious virus has rapidly spread throughout China. However, local governments inadequately implemented policies that are greatly differed from one province to another. Furthermore, the general public was uninformed about transmission and cause of the disease. This vacuum of knowledge sparked panic and fear, and ignorance further led to violent discrimination against HIV positive Chinese. This hostility disappeared when Pu Cunxin started HIV/AIDS activism and advocacy. His activism promoted various awareness projects and made government to produce educational materials, such as pamphlets, articles, and comics. Furthermore, the government used to conduct confidential HIV tests, but his popularity and activism brought the socially concealed disease to light.

Celanthropy may be problematic at times, but it is clear that it  can also have positive outcomes. Because of its effectiveness, a number of non-profit organizations around the world implement philanthropic programs which feature celebrities. One example is “The Philanthropists,” a non-profit organization founded by Korean students. The organization aims to promote strategic and sustainable social development. Every year, the organization hosts “The Philanthropic Concert,” which consists of performances by artists who showcase their talent for free. Through the concert, “The Philanthropists” tries to implement celanthropy and further develop a charitable culture in Korea. All the profit goes to resolve humanitarian problems, and last summer, the organization raised approximately three thousand dollars to help Syrian refugees by providing water purifications tablets.

Celebrities are becoming more active in charities, and media is widely used to promote philanthropy. This mere commercialization of charity through media can taint the true meaning of charitable act. However, regardless of a few drawbacks, studies are showing that celanthropy indeed yields positive outcomes—it promotes donations and positive attitude toward charities. Therefore, celanthropy has been widely accepted by non-governmental organizations, and will likely remain a mainstay of international and domestic philanthropy for the foreseeable future.

 

Transforming a Desolate Marketplace through Art

By Jung-Min Shin

An “alternative exhibition space” is an unconventional venue that publicly displays artwork – it could be a warehouse, a store front, or in the case of the STONE&WATER exhibitions, a nearly abandoned marketplace. It represents a rebellion against the stereotype that art belongs to white cubicle-shaped galleries, transforming places which are typically unrelated to art into a platform for vibrant creativity and cultural engagement.

While “alternative spaces” have been popular in the United States since the 1970s, they have only gained attention in South Korea during the last decade or so. Initially, these venues were sought out by young South Korean artists who lacked the resources and reputation to display their work at well-established galleries. Recently, however, they have been used as a tool to breathe life back into bleak, deserted spaces, such as the Seoksu Marketplace in Anyang, South Korea.

Seoksu Market was established in 1979 as part of a government initiative to encourage development and economic activity in less populated parts of Anyang. It began as a wholesale produce market that consisted of 120 stores, but it downsized after failing to attract enough customers due to competition with corporate retailers and supermarkets. By 2000, only 30 stores remained in the market, and a strong odor of desolation pervaded the place.

Interestingly, however, things began to change at Seoksu Market with the entrance of a non-profit arts organization directed by Park Chan-eung in 2002. Park, an established South Korean artist who grew up in Anyang himself, recruited his colleagues and younger artists to join him in the transforming the abandoned commerce spot. Calling themselves “STONE&WATER,” the literal meaning of the market’s name, this motivated group of artists aimed to increase public access to art and discover creativity in the ordinary and mundane. To do so, STONE&WATER began by taking up several store spaces and changing them to showcase and work spaces. Its very first exhibition was the “Living Furniture & Public Furniture” show, in which the organization redesigned the interior of a store to a home-like setting that displayed a conglomeration of everyday objects made by artists, such as spoons, bookshelves, and clothes hangers. Since this initiative, STONE&WATER has hosted major public exhibitions on an annual basis, naming the series the “Seoksu Art Project (SAP).” Most recently, SAP focused on the theme of the “Black Market,” in which artists acted as vendors for their own works in a flea market setting.

Besides the SAP, STONE&WATER holds art workshops and educational programs for the local community and facilitates an international artist residency program on a routinely basis. It runs a year-round meeting and workshop space called “Babgeuleut” (rice bowl in Korean), the main avenue through which artists and locals interact with each other. Here, the arts organization invites experts in the arts and humanities fields to hold lectures, operates a mini radio station where locals can run their own broadcasts, and offers various conveniences to nearby merchants, such as electric massagers. As for the residency program, STONE&WATER hosts artists from all over the world to live in Anyang and utilize its exhibition and work spaces, offering them opportunities to partake in the SAP. Artists from various countries, such as Germany, Bangladesh, and New Zealand, as well as diverse fields, like performance art, photography, and craft, have participated in the program.

While initially skeptical of the successfulness and profitability of STONE&WATER’s projects, the Anyang local community is not only the biggest audience for the organization’s endeavors but also its firm supporters today. The activities of STONE&WATER over the last dozen-years have allowed the market to gather increasingly more visitors and media attention, reviving its sense of presence in the city. Slowly but steadily, Seoksu Market has become one of the most unique alternative art spaces in South Korea, and it offers great possibilities for creative developments in the future as well.

Notably, this genuine and powerful renewal of the Seoksu Market would not have been possible if not for STONE&WATER’s long-term dedication to the area. Unlike “guerilla artists,” who exhibit their work on a pop-up basis, moving from one space to the next, STONE&WATER has invested in a single community for over a decade to inspire true transformation. The organization presents art that befits and blends in with the place it inhabits, instead of constructing a temporary show that would soon be forgotten. Given its success so far in attracting both visitors and artists,

STONE&WATER’s more sustainable, long-term goal driven approach seems fruitful. Perhaps, then, more arts organizations should follow in its footsteps in exploring the artistic potential of the most unusual, neglected places, an approach that truly embodies the rebellion against the conventional definition of exhibition venues.

The Iran Deal’s Implication For Israel and Netanyahu’s Response

By Derek Brody

On July 14th, President Obama, along with a number of other countries, reached a historic settlement regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities. This complex and intricate agreement has been met with considerable backlash in the United States, especially from the Republican members of Congress. It was able to pass on September 10th, without the need for President Obama to use his veto power on any limitations put forth by Congressional opponents of the deal.

One staunch opponent of the deal, however, is neither American nor a member of the Republican Party: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu has labeled this deal a “historic mistake.” The Prime Minister went on to say that the deal will grant Iran, and the terrorist regime in Teheran that runs it, hundreds of billions of dollars to “fuel Iran’s terrorism worldwide,” its aggression in the region, and increase “Iran’s efforts to destroy Israel, which are ongoing.”

It is a somewhat understandable viewpoint, since few countries face the constant, complex security threats that Israel faces. Almost from the date of its inception, Israel has been under siege from enemies in the countries immediately surrounding it, and this fear caused by uninterrupted danger is inherent in Netanyahu’s remarks. Many Middle Eastern countries also have systematic and institutionalized opposition to Israel’s very existence Moreover, Israel faces an uphill climb in the United Nations, where states with far more perverse human rights violations continue to challenge Israel’s human rights records..  With these points in mind, it is still pertinent to assess Netanyahu’s condemnation of the deal as not only reckless, but also uninformed.

While Netanyahu’s address to Congress did no more than to label it “a bad deal, a very bad deal” and to say that the only way to rectify the situation is with a “better deal.” Instead of providing any concrete examples, the Israeli Prime Minister has railed against this peace accord aimlessly, challenging the United States, Israel’s biggest and strongest ally, to do better. President Obama was right in his response to Netanyahu’s speech, pointing out there was “nothing new” said by the Prime Minister.  Netanyahu spoke out of anger and fear, rather than rational thought, demanding a solution without offering any concrete help. His comments reflect that, as he did little to actually rectify the situation, choosing instead to recklessly criticize President Obama’s actions in his meeting with the joint session of Congress without any possible ways to resolve the conflict.

Despite Netanyahu’s stance, the Iran deal in its entirety is neither good or bad for Israel. The deal is a substantial diplomatic achievement in its own right, potentially limiting the nuclear power of an unstable state for the next 15 years; the mere fact that this was solved by diplomacy, rather than by force, is an accomplishment in and of itself. There are also negatives to this agreement: the possibility that Iran will renege on the accord, the problems that may arise with inspections of facilities, and the difficulties that may come with reinstating sanctions. But Israel, and Mr. Netanyahu specifically, must put trust in the United States to be able to combat an Iranian breach of contract swiftly and effectively. If not, they risk losing their most powerful ally, leaving them in imminent danger in the Middle East.

Instead, the Israeli Prime Minister is jumping on domestic fear in order to castigate the Obama administration, an administration that has had a complex, yet overall positive, relationship with the state of Israel. This illustrates the larger issue in these negotiations: the frosty and unhealthy relationship between these two world leaders. Both have legitimate gripes, to be sure. Mr. Netanyahu has said that President Obama has not acted with Israel’s best interests in mind with many of the United States’ actions in the Middle East, especially when the President went to Cairo in June 2009 and spoke out in support of a “Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.” The American President has countered with the fact that the United States has provided extensive military aid to Israel, as well as blocking Palestinian efforts to be recognized by the United Nations. Ultimately, however, it is Bibi, as the President likes to call him, who has truly ignited the flame of this incendiary relationship. On numerous occasions, Netanyahu has spoken out against the President’s actions, preferring to loudly voice his concerns rather than find the common ground.

        When Mr. Obama refused to follow through on his threat of airstrikes on Syria after the use of chemical weapons, Mr. Netanyahu responded with outrage, fearing for Israel’s safety and security. Susan E. Rice, the President’s National Security Advisor, reported that Mr. Netanyahu did everything but “use the n-word” to describe Mr. Obama. What Mr. Netanyahu failed to realize, however, was that the President was striking a deal to remove those weapons entirely, as well as a deal to remove Iran’s ability to create a nuclear weapon. Instead of providing concrete assistance toward peace in the Middle East, the Israeli Prime Minister has instead acted out of anger and frustration, choosing to personally attack the President, rather than providing real and helpful assistance.

        Despite major differences of opinion between these two men and their respective countries, it would be in the best interest of both parties to find common ground, to rekindle the strong relationship that the United States and Israel have had in the past. If they do so, America can continue to act with Israel’s interests when negotiating for peace with other countries in the Middle East. This will only be possible if Mr. Netanyahu begins to think before he speaks, rather than hastily criticizing the actions of John Kerry and the Obama administration.

How to wipe the tears from the attacks of Daesh (ISIS)

By Adithya Sivakumar

The Sinai.

Beirut.

Paris.

        The world watched in horror this past week as these places, usually abuzz with tourist activity, went into a state of shock and horror due to terror attacks. On October 31st, a Russian passenger plane exploded mid-air, killing all 224 on board, with intelligence strongly suggesting the responsible party is the Islamic State of the Levant (Daesh or ISIL), or one of its affiliates in the Sinai Peninsula. This Thursday, at least forty-three people were killed and more than 200 were injured in suicide bombing attacks, also claimed by Daesh, in Southern Beirut. A day after the events in Beirut, initial reports suggest that more than 100 people were killed and 350 were injured in a coordinated attack on various targets in Paris, and yet again, Daesh declared it was responsible. Many now question why these attacks were perpetrated, and how affected nations and their allies should respond.

        Although the crash in the Sinai Peninsula has not been confirmed as a definite terrorist attack, Daesh’s affiliate in the Sinai has claimed responsibility, and various intelligence sources seem to confirm that claim. There certainly could be a linkage between the air disaster and Russian involvement in the Syrian Civil War. Russian airstrikes against Daesh only started a month ago, and they have certainly made Russia a prime target for attacks, demonstrated by a recent Daesh propaganda film directly references Russia in plans for a future attack. Essentially, the reasons for the attack on the Russian jet would be to hurt Russian morale and prove that Daesh’s reach extends far beyond Iraq and Syria.  

        The bombing in Beirut came in an area where violence, unfortunately, has happened before, as al-Qaeda conducted several attacks there in 2014. This area of Southern Beirut has a predominantly Shia Muslim population; it is also a stronghold of Hezbollah, an organization with significant power in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a primary player in the Syrian Civil War, being a solid supporter of the Assad regime, and Daesh is one of the groups fighting against Hezbollah (and Assad).  Additionally, Daesh is a group with a clear sectarian goal in mind, as it wants to establish a Sunni Islamic State. In the past, Daesh has exploited the Sunni-Shia divide in many ways, especially in Iraq. Therefore, the attack in Beirut on Thursday could be an attempt to inflame sectarian tensions in a country where the Muslim population is nearly evenly split on Sunni-Shia lines. It could also be a warning to Hezbollah on not to fight Daesh in the Syrian Civil War, as further involvement would bring further attacks by Daesh and thus weaken Hezbollah’s morale. Most likely, it’s both.

        For Paris, the attacks on Friday come just nine months after another period of terror in the city. In January, twenty people were killed in a series of attacks carried out by members of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula, as revenge for cartoons published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for its depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. Details on Friday’s attacks are scarce, especially as the situation is still unfolding and rather chaotic.  Two facts, however, are quite clear: the death toll is above 120, and the attacks are the deadliest in France’s history since World War II. This time, Daesh has claimed responsibility, but the main question for the world is why France? Why again? The message from Daesh that claimed responsibility points to France’s involvement in the U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition in Iraq and Syria. This indicates that the group attacked for very similar reasons as in Beirut and the Sinai: to weaken French morale and demonstrate their far reach into the global sphere.

        As these nations reel from these attacks, many wonder as to what is the next step in fighting Daesh. Even as airstrikes and offensives against the group are heightened, the organization always seems to strike terror into each nation it attacks, provoking more fear and chaos. French President Francois Hollande said in response to the attacks that his nation will go after the perpetrators with full vigor, while other world leaders, including those from the United States, Germany, Iran, and the United Kingdom, expressed solidarity with the French people and condemned the attacks. Similar responses from these countries were given in terms of the attacks on Beirut and the Sinai. With this high degree of solidarity, it is highly likely that all anti-Daesh coalitions will be ramping up airstrikes and other attacks on the organization.

        One of the most important responses may be to not fall for Daesh’s efforts to create fear and divide populations. Just after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in January, far-right parties, such as The National Front in France, assailed Islam and its supposed incompatibility with democracy, demagoguery that came in conjunction with attacks on mosques and other institutions in France. If xenophobia, Islamophobia, and/or sectarianism take hold in these nations, there is a prime possibility that populations may be divided even more, causing Daesh to once again exploit the resulting splits for its own benefit, as it did in Iraq by tapping into oppressed Sunni populations.  An effective response would be stop associating Daesh’s actions, as well as any extremist group’s actions, with the tenets of Islam, any kind of Islam, and its followers. These groups do not represent the ideals of the religion, but rather serve to heighten tensions between people and exploit power. To begin the process of disassociation, it is imperative to not refer to the supposed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as ISIS or ISIL, but rather Daesh, an acronym that roughly means “bigots who impose their views on others.” Denying the group legitimacy in terms of adherence to Islam not only weakens their authority, but also serves as a step in minimizing xenophobic sentiments and allowing nations to harness their populations to exterminating these extremist threats. As the affected nations mourn their fallen, the world must band together and remember the atrocities in the Sinai, Beirut, and Paris, not only to mourn, but also to take action, making a cohesive effort to defeat the menace that is Daesh.

Why Westerners Join ISIS

By Daria Berstell

        As the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) remains in the press for their barbaric and violent methods, Westerners continue to leave their lives behind in favor of joining the jihadist group. The US State Department estimates that over 12,000 foreigners have traveled to Syria to join ISIS, including about 100 Americans. ISIS has attracted more Westerners than any other similar type of militant group due to their effective recruitment strategies. The vast majority do not have any prior military or fighting experience; ISIS is their first foray into military or jihadist life.

        ISIS uses the internet and social media to prey on young people, usually between the ages of 18 and 29. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, or Whatsapp are used by current ISIS militants to reach out to individuals who show interest in their cause by writing blog (or other social media) posts. These platforms make it possible for recruiters and their targets to communicate informally and quickly, even in real time with instant messaging. This method of reaching out to those who might join their cause is effective because it is a very personal approach.

        Additionally, social media is useful in helping recruit people to ISIS, due to its efficiency in disseminating the propaganda the group creates. They use slick movie-style trailers to interest people with high quality depictions of “fun violence,” much like in action movies or video games. However, some extreme cases have turned potential members off. It is clear that those making the propaganda pay attention to its reception, since videos often stop short of showing the end result. For example, execution videos often end before showing the moment of death.

Additional effective adaptations include the rapid development of videos. Social media’s efficient circulation of them means these images remain in the news feeds of people who have liked relevant pages or are friends with supporters or members. These people are more likely to be influenced by this media as they have already expressed interest in ISIS and related organizations.

        The journey from average western teenager or young adult to ISIS member is a slow one for recruits; understandably so, since it involves radicalizing them to the point where they wish to move across the world to become militants. For some, the journey to ISIS begins with conversion to Islam. Others, however, come from Muslim homes. Despite growing up Muslim, most of these Muslim westerners were members of moderate households. Parents and other family members were appalled at their relative’s choice to join ISIS. In interviews about their children joining ISIS, many parents commented on their child’s drastic change in personality and hobbies before leaving home. As a result of embracing conservative Islamic teachings, many of these new jihadists also rejected music and pop culture, as well as old friends.

        In addition to catering to their newfound values and beliefs, for many of the young people sucked into jihad, ISIS seems like an adventure. ISIS promises excitement, and for its recruits the opportunity to do something meaningful. For those who have turned to conservative Islam, ISIS provides a way to embrace and practice their religion in a “utopian” environment, for ISIS is in many ways is like a utopian political project. For these conservative foreigners, living in Syria and fighting alongside ISIS is portrayed as the ultimate way to practice their faith. The promise of martyrdom, or favor in the afterlife also tempts radicalized young Muslims.

        Furthermore, ISIS promises its recruits some more tangible perks, such as houses with running water and electricity, that are free of rent because of their service to ISIS. Additionally, ISIS implies that they will provide a community filled with like minded individuals.  For many of the young people who feel like outsiders in their homes in the West, promises of fulfilling their religious obligations, finding a path to a better afterlife, and being a part of a community are very strong motivators.

        New recruits not only increases ISIS’ numbers, but helps future recruitment, as those who have left western countries for ISIS are in a good position to recruit others from home. They speak the language of those they will recruit, and they have intimate knowledge of the culture. In addition, they can target specific people. Friends from home, or friends of friends who they know to be sympathetic or easy to sway, provide even more fodder for recruitment. As a result of the wide-array of people involved, ISIS recruitment is very decentralized. The use of social media and the ever expanding number of recruiters leads to a very large web of people that are very good at providing personal attention to those that express interest in ISIS. The lack of centralization makes it much harder for those trying to combat ISIS’ recruitment, like the U.S. government. The many middlemen involved in the process make it self-sustaining and quite capable of surviving many attacks.

        As a result of these effective measures, the United States struggles to prevent U.S. citizens from joining ISIS. A six-month review by the House Homeland Security Committee has shown that the U.S. does not have the infrastructure in place to prevent citizens from joining jihadist groups due to the lack of strategy for dealing with the threat of social media. In addition, the lack of strong security measures overseas makes it very easy for people to travel to join ISIS; this also increases the overall threat and possibility of extremists travelling or returning to the U.S. and committing acts of terrorism. Unfortunately, ISIS has proven formidable in its capacity to bring in young adults from a variety of western countries and as of yet there seems to be very little capable of stemming the tide.

Britain and the Future of Human Rights

By Issie Sagraves

In 1215, a group of revolutionary English barons met to create a document that would transform the nature of civil liberties. The Magna Carta limited the power of the monarchy in order to advance the rights of the individual, which it accomplished through a series of regulations. Exactly eight centuries later, it seems as if this same issue of individual rights is up for debate. In a sort of birthday present to the Magna Carta, the Conservative U.K. government has announced plans to scrap the Human Rights Act in favor of a British Bill of Rights. By abandoning the Human Rights Act, however, the British government takes a risky gamble, endangering both the integrity of the United Kingdom’s own human rights policy and the operation of the European Human Rights Court as a whole.

The Human Rights Act, signed in 1998, aims to incorporate the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights into the U.K. legal system. The Act has two major elements: it states that British public bodies (such as the courts, police, and NHS) need to abide by the basic human rights set out in the convention, and requires that the judiciary branch take into consideration the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. The Court, based in Strasbourg, hears cases in which a state has breached one or more of the human rights set out in the convention. Through the Human Rights Act, human rights cases presented under the European Convention of Human Rights can be heard in British courts, but the British courts must listen to the rulings of the Strasbourg Court. In essence, the Human Rights Act maintains the authority of this European court throughout the British justice system.

British PM David Cameron has put forward plans to abolish the Human Rights Act in favor of a new British Bill of Rights. David Cameron’s most outspoken objection to the Human Rights Act is the very presence of an international voice in Britain’s justice system: he is opposed to the Strasbourg Court’s power to enforce rulings over the British Supreme Court. Additionally, abolishing the Human Rights Act plays a role as part of Cameron’s greater political plan to make the UK more independent from the European Union and other European political entities (like the European Convention on Human Rights). Other reasons for creating the British Bill of Rights involve Conservative objections to certain demands of the Strasbourg Court, such as prisoners having the right to vote, and deportation cases such as Abu Qatada, who used the provisions under Strasbourg to delay his deportation to Jordan on terrorism charges.

The idea has come under mass criticism from a variety of opponents. Tim Hancock, the director of Amnesty UK, has pointed out the danger of altering the Human Rights Act because it allows politicians the opportunity to change said rights. Hancock asserts, “It’s exasperating to hear the prime minister vow to tear up the Human Rights Act again – so he can draft ‘his own’. Human rights are not in the gift of politicians to give. They must not be made a political plaything to be bestowed or scrapped on a whim.” It is also unclear exactly which rights (if any) would be specifically changed by the proposed British Bill. If no rights are changed, the Bill would be irrelevant. If some human rights are changed, however, this puts in jeopardy the current human rights standard upheld in the U.K., and officials like Hancock are concerned that the standard will deteriorate as rights are removed or altered as decided by the government.

In addition to awarding the government the power to potentially draft a new set of human rights standards, the action would break the formal link between the Strasbourg Court and the British courts. Cameron has two options if he does manage to pass his plans: either he can abolish the HRA – thus decreasing the authority of the Strasbourg Court – and still maintain membership in the European Convention of Human Rights, or he can pull out of the convention altogether. If membership is maintained, people who wanted to bring up human rights cases under the European Convention of Human Rights would have to go to Strasbourg to do so instead of presenting in front of a delegation in Britain, which would be a much more inconvenient and time-consuming process.

If the UK pulled out of the European Convention altogether, scrapping the Human Rights Act could also have serious international repercussions. Dominic Grieve, a Conservative MP and former attorney general, suggests, “Our [Conservative party] intent, if pursued, threatens to make the [European Convention on human rights] inoperable. In order for [the convention] to work, it is dependent on peer group pressure. If the UK will not observe and promote its terms, why should other member states?” The United Kingdom is a world leader, and so its example matters. If it were to get rid of the Human Rights Act, and put in place its own Bill of Rights, other countries with less stable governments (and less of a universal perception of which human rights are necessary) might do the same, with catastrophic consequences for the international upholding of human rights.

It seems clear that abolishing the Human Rights Act presents more problems than it would solve. Human rights are promised to all British citizens and residents without question, something that makes their democratic country so special. Europe is in chaos already, with the refugee crisis and economic problems. It is not the time for a human rights overhaul that would have continental repercussions. Why mess with a system that is, for the most part, working? It’s important to remember that it is not 1215, it is 2015 – and Britain already has a means of balancing governmental power with the rights of the individual without signing a new charter.

Syria – Russia’s Next Power Grab?

By Adithya Sivakumar

In the fall of 2013, the United States faced the possibility of initiating military action in yet another Middle-Eastern country. This time? Syria, specifically against Bashar al-Assad, whose regime reportedly employed chemical weapons to attack opposition strongholds in the Syrian Civil War, killing thousands.[1] However, the Syrian government accepted a deal that prevented direct US involvement at the time, as this deal stipulated that the Syrian government would agree to destroy its chemical weapon stockpile.[2]. The lull in official foreign involvement in Syria changed due to the rise of the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL); led by the United States, a coalition began to conduct airstrikes in Syria in the September of 2014. For a time, this appeared to be the only official international effort against ISIL. Then, on September 30, 2015, another world power decided to get involved in Syria, launching coordinated airstrikes against not only the infamous ISIL, but also other groups opposed to the Syrian government.[3]

That world power? Russia, the U.S.’s perennial competitor.

        The timing of the attacks seems quite convenient. According to The Economist, the Russia’s decision to attack occurred when the overall non-ISIL Syrian opposition was in its best shape since the war began in 2011. And indeed, rebel groups traditionally backed by Western donors have taken notice of this timing, asking for more aid to fight what they deem as a second occupation by the Russians (the first being from Al-Assad’s other ally, Iran). This occupation, however, has many observers puzzled.  Russia’s last direct military involvement in the Middle East occurred in Afghanistan, when the Soviet Union still existed. Its result was a massive defeat that likely factored into the demise of the once dominant super power.

        Some experts point to the relationship Russia has with the Syrian government. It is a relationship that stretches back to 1967, when the Soviet Union assisted Syria in its war against Israel; in return, the Soviet Union gained a port access to the Mediterranean, and ever since Syria has remained sympathetic to Russia. Additionally, Russia has firmly backed the Assad regime, even in the face of chemical weapons allegations, and despite numerous global calls for its end. In effect, by forming this implicit military alliance with Iran, a country that has officially backed  the Syrian government, and now even Iraq, with its Joint Military Operations Command stating its intention to share intelligence with both Russia and the Al-Assad’s government,  Russia is not necessarily focused on fighting ISIL, but rather strengthening Al-Assad’s regime, a tactic that appears to be working in light of an apparent ground assault in the works. [4]

        Another motivation for the Russian government’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War could be its thirst for international credibility, especially due to heightened tensions with its number one competitor, the United States. Due international uproar over Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis (supplying military aid to separatists that may have brought down a passenger airline, as well as taking over the Crimean peninsula), Russia has certainly built a negative image globally. This has made the nation more keen to involve itself in matters of global stability, such as the Iran nuclear deal, that increase its global influence and perhaps builds a more positive image.

Furthermore, it appears that the United States is losing its global influence, especially in terms of the Syrian conflict. The CIA’s program to train and equip moderate rebels failed miserably.  In exasperation, members of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL have started to give military equipment to their proxies in Syria, without giving much thought to American objections, indicating the lack of adherence to American leadership. Additionally, the coalition-led airstrikes have not been particularly helpful for coalition-backed Syrian rebel groups either, as the attacks are aimed to attack  ISIL, not the Assad regime, giving the government time to regroup and strengthen itself as its other major enemy is under fire. These weaknesses caused by the Americans are easy for the Russians to exploit, allowing for Putin’s government to have a greater say in what group stays in power at the end of the Syrian conflict.

         No matter what Russia’s logic is, global attention will be on Russia’s next move in the conflict, which includes the possibility of ground troops and continued clashes with American interests. Run-ins already have been reported between Russian and American planes, and tensions continue to grow between the two countries.[5] In essence, Syria appears to be becoming a proxy battleground between two rival countries. As Mouaffaq Nyrabia, the Syria National Coalition’s (the organization recognized as the legitimate government in Syria by a variety of nations)  representative to the Benelux and European Union, describes to the Huffington Post, an ISIL-only approach by the U.S.-led coalition has emboldened the Al-Assad regime, causing many deaths due to civilian targeting, a factor that drives more people from Syria into the arms of ISIL. This situation is further exacerbated with Russian involvement, as these airstrikes are specifically aimed to help the Assad regime.[6] With competing interests between the United States and Russia, the likelihood of a comprehensive solution to end the conflict seems slim, despite meetings between Russian and American diplomats. Until such a solution can be created, however, Syria will continue to be a land where complex alliances, interests, and violence resides.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/31/syrian-air-strikes-obama-congress

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/10/syria-chemical-weapons-convention_n_3901417.html

[3] http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21672031-what-russian-intervention-means-opposition-down-not-yet-out

[4] http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/27/world/russia-syria-involvement/

[5] http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/07/politics/u-s-diverts-aircraft-to-avoid-russian-fighter/

[6] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mouaffaq-nyrabia/isis-no-fly-zone_b_8015784.html

The Battle of Bacteria: Antibiotic Resistance and its Consequences

By Telyse Masaoay

Global attention seems centered on subjects like the conflicts in the Middle East, the politics behind the Iran nuclear deal, the economic threats of China’s financial stability, and even the 2016 United States’ presidential election. As a result, other critical topics appear to be sidelined, such as antibiotic resistance, an issue that “is now a major threat to public health” according to the World Health Organization.  No longer an impending concern, antibiotic resistance is an important problem communities are currently facing.

        Antibiotics were first introduced quite primitively through the practice of using molds of microorganisms to fight microbial infections in ancient societies in India, China, Greece, and Egypt. In 1928, Alexander Fleming, a Scottish biologist, discovered penicillin through his work with the fungus Penicillium notatum. Mass production of penicillin in 1945 and the discovery of a host of other antibacterial drugs led to a revolution in medicine in the 20th century. The Allied Forces in World War II used penicillin to treat soldiers with gangrene, which reduced the likelihood of limb amputation, fought off infections, and increased the probability of survival for many injured combatants. Following the war, antibiotics flooded the medical market and as the National Center for Biotechnology Information explained, “A surge of discovery of several such antibacterial and antifungal antibiotics accompanied with a new generation of semi-synthetic drugs initially led to euphoria that any infectious disease could be successfully controlled using antibiotics.”

        Today, antibiotics are prescribed and used at unprecedented levels around the world; many countries even provide over-the-counter access to some treatments.  Additionally, using antibiotics to supplement livestock feeding is a common practice globally.  This leads overuse of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture, which becomes problematic when considering the dangerous effects of antibiotic resistance, or, the ability of microbes to grow in the presence of a chemical (drug) that would normally kill them or limit their growth. The explanation of antibiotic resistance at the biological level is complex, but the sum of it all is that at their simplest level, bacteria are able to mutate and adapt to antibiotics. Over time experts have shown that increased consumption of antibacterial drugs has a positive correlation with increased resistance.

This phenomenon was most recently outlined in the first global report of antibiotic resistance. Conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), it gathered data from 114 countries. Experts have warned for years that increased dependency on antibiotics would have disastrous effects on the ability of entire populations to combat infections that we have not viewed as major threats for decades; these predictions are coming to fruition with a few examples outlined by the WHO’s study. For example, in countries such as the U.K., Canada, Australia, France, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Slovenia and Sweden, Gonorrhea is being treated primarily with antibiotics that were once considered last-resorts. Simultaneously, these last-resort antibacterial methods have been increasingly linked to the appearance of aggressive, drug-resistant strains of the sexually-transmitted disease, which make the aforementioned antibacterial approaches less effective. The WHO’s report also mentions that similar issues have been recorded with influenza, HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis treatments on a global scale.

Even developing countries, which are not using antibiotics at the same level as developed nations, are still being touched by the drug-resistance. As Susan Brink  of NPR notes “MRSA, a dangerous staph infection often contracted in hospitals that does not respond to many antibiotics, is found at high rates in the United States, Romania, Portugal, Vietnam and India — rich, middle-income and poor countries alike.”

Due to its clear global presence, it is important to examine the extent to which antibiotic resistance can and will cause problems. Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security, explains why antibiotic resistance is so consequential, “Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.” We are entering a time period in which modern medicine could be setback, ironically, because of the use of modern medicine. Those who have contracted infections are now at risk of being sick for longer interludes with an increased risk of death because of the developed drug-resistance of microbes. This issue has the potential to increase hospital stays and medicinal costs—putting the ill out of work for longer periods and affecting the health of whole groups exposed to these evolving strains.

Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken by individuals, healthcare providers, and public officials to address antibiotic resistance. At the most basic level of deterrence, people can avoid using antibiotics unless they are prescribed them, refuse to share medicine with others, and follow all prescription instructions laid out by their doctors.  The solution with respect to healthcare providers and policymakers lies in the regulation of antibiotic prescription and dosage.  It is essential to decrease the use of antibacterial drugs for simple infections and invest in new methods for disease control and prevention. Dr. Ramanan Laxminarayan, director for the Center for Disease Dynamics reminds the public “In the absence of antibiotics, resistant bacteria more easily die out… In many cases, if we stop overusing antibiotics, resistance will go substantially down.” It is time to alter the mindset that antibiotics are miracle medicines; if not used appropriately they can be as harmful to global health as they are helpful.

The United State’s Responsibility to Fight Climate Change

By Dustin Cai

Amidst the more visible problems currently going on in the world, the relative invisibility of climate change is no excuse to ignore the ever-looming problem. In fact, the world has already seen its effects: The UN’s former secretary general Kofi Annan released the world’s first comprehensive study on global warming and found that 300,000 people die each year as a result of climate change with an extra 300 million people negatively impacted.[1] Even small increases in global mean temperature of 2°C can negatively influence the market sector in developing countries, increase the frequency of heat waves, increase the transmission of infectious diseases like malaria and dengue fever, and destroy agricultural production and increase the amount of malnourished people in the world by 10%.[2] Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive and a world leader in technology development recently gave a speech in Berlin citing the world’s climate change as the direct cause of the mass refugee problem that we will see in the future that will dwarf the Syrian crisis we see today.[3] Musk explains that climate change will only exacerbate the current problems of water shortages,[4] food insecurity,[5] and the displacement of people due to rising sea levels.[6]

In the face of such crisis, it becomes a moral imperative for the most developed countries, namely the United States and others in Europe, to mitigate these effects in an attempt to prevent the greatest crisis of the century. If, in a relay race, I were to run a terrible segment, the blame of our team’s atrocious time would certainly not be on the guy I passed the baton onto; similarly, the blame of the world’s climate problem should not be put on the countries currently in the develop cycle. Rather, countries that have historically owned the largest shares greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – to the tune of 75% from 1705-2005[7] – should carry this weight.

Thus, in terms of a moral responsibility, it falls upon the rich and developed nations to ensure a stable future for global development. Because these developed nations in the industrial North created the majority of the problem in GHG emissions and climate change, they therefore bear the same proportional responsibility in cleaning up after themselves.[8] It would be a great injustice to those who are most affected by climate change in the Global South to also bear the responsibility of mitigating its effects. It is already a moral imperative to act on climate change in the face of its devastating effects with the responsibility falling on the shoulders of the industrial North. Now, the question deals with feasibility and timing.

Some people like Nicholas Stern argue that countries like China and India are the ones that need to step up to the plate as a result of their current state of GHG emissions, which now are responsible for the bulk of global emissions.[9] However, developing countries, most notably China, have already taken pacts to act on climate change, but their promises are only in the future. China has pledged to reduce their carbon emissions by 65% in 2030.[10]

With all this in mind, what can the US do to ensure the globe acts now? Lead by example. A cap and trade policy, which sets limit on carbon emissions for companies while also allowing companies to trade their unused portions of their limits to other companies, has shown promising effects: The EPA reports that a Clean Air Interstate Rule, a cap and trade system in 27 American states, has reduced GHG emissions by 70% in seven years.[11] The Center for Environmental Journalism analyzes the effects of a cap and trade policy like this one if implemented by the entire United States and finds that it translates into the entire world avoiding 1.75°C of warming by 2100.[12]

But change from one country alone won’t offset or stabilize the current condition of global climate change. While developing countries have pledged to take action in the future, it comes upon the Global North to take action now. Ethically, the industrialized nations can no longer afford to remain ignorant to the problem of climate change that we face now and potentially will face in the future; rather, it becomes a moral obligation to stabilize Earth’s condition while developing nations are given their equal right to develop in the same ways that developed nations did decades ago.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/may/29/1

[2] http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg2/pdf/wg2tarchap19.pdf

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/elon-musk-in-berlin_560484dee4b08820d91c5f5f

[4] http://water.worldbank.org/topics/water-resources-management/water-and-climate-change

[5] http://www.fao.org/forestry/15538-079b31d45081fe9c3dbc6ff34de4807e4.pdf

[6] http://www.climate.org/topics/sea-level/

[7] http://paristext2015.com/2015/08/should-emerging-economies-be-expected-to-bear-the-burden-of-climate-change-equally-with-western-developed-countries/

[8] http://spot.colorado.edu/~vanders/pubs/JPR_responsibility.pdf

[9]http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/dec/04/lord-stern-developing-countries-deeper-emissions-cuts

[10] http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/07/11/china-climate-change-greenhouse-united-states-policy/

[11] http://www3.epa.gov/ttncatc1/dir1/fnoxdoc.pdf

[12] http://www.cejournal.net/?p=1880