Global Democracy and freedom are under attack. Freedom House, a nonprofit organization which monitors freedom and advocates for democracy and human rights just released the 2015 “Freedom in the World” report. The results are not good. In his introduction, Arch Puddington, vice president for research says that “the condition of global political rights and civil liberties, showed an overall decline. Indeed, acceptance of democracy as the world’s dominant form of government—and of an international system built on democratic ideals—is under greater threat than at any point in the last 25 years.” The report offers several examples of how citizen’s freedoms are being trampled. (more…)
The mass killings of minority groups, which have occurred time and time again throughout history, are often beyond comprehension. How can humans be capable of such evil?
But even more inexplicable and troubling is the fact that many of these atrocities have gone largely unnoticed. They have not received due recognition and response either from heads of states or the public at large.
Fortunately, these tragic historical events have not eluded all. The new documentary, Watchers of the Sky, scheduled for release on DVD this year, details the story of Raphael Lemkin, the largely unknown Polish-Jewish lawyer who coined the word “genocide” and almost single-handedly lobbied the United Nations to adopt a convention in 1948, making it a crime under international law.
What’s going on in Nigeria?
During an attack that started January 3 and continued through this past weekend, the African Islamic militant group Boko Haram opened fire on 16 northern Nigerian villages. The death toll estimates range from 200 to as many 2,000 people.
Another 10,000 people who managed to escape have fled to neighboring Chad. Many Nigerians drowned in an attempt to cross Lake Chad to escape what is now described as the “deadliest massacre” in the history of Boko Haram.
Over the past six months, Boko Haram has taken control of more than two dozen towns in northeast Nigeria, most of them in Borno State, and launched attacks into Chad and Cameroon. As Alexis Okeowo notes, their territory now nearly equals the Islamic State’s in Iraq and Syria.
What happened this weekend?
A girl believed to have been no more than 10 years old detonated a bomb concealed under her veil at a crowded northern Nigeria market on Saturday, killing as many as 20 people and wounding many more.
The explosion is believed to be a new tactic in the Islamists’ campaign with Boko Haram’s decision to use perhaps their youngest-ever suicide bomber.
What was the recent criticism by the Catholic archbishop?
It is currently 3 degrees where I am. That is without the wind chill. (If you do not know what “wind chill” is, consider yourself blessed.) It is literally too cold to be outside for any length of time without danger of frostbite.
And yet, I’m not complaining. Syrian refugees in the Middle East have it much worse. Some three million Syrians are trying to cope with life in Lebanon refugee camps: tents with no heat, no wood to burn, little or no food, all in the midst of cold and snow. They have fled civil war in Syria, which began with the Arab Spring of 2011 and continues with military sieges and rebellion. (more…)
2014 was a terrible year for persecution of Christians. In Syria, North Korea and Somalia, Christians are routinely imprisoned and killed. In Iraq, 2014 saw the passage of a law requiring Christians to convert or pay an exorbitant tax. The other choice for Iraqi Christians is to flee.
Open Doors has been tracking persecution of Christians around the world for 60 years. They have just released their latest report, and it makes a grim prediction: 2015 may very well be the worst year for Christians since Open Doors began its work. David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors, explains:
Even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination and violence. The 2015 World Watch List reveals that a staggering number of Christians are becoming victims of intolerance and violence because of their faith. They are being forced to be more secretive about their faith.
What just happened in Paris?
Today at 11:30 a.m. local time in Paris (5:30 a.m. ET), two gunmen wearing black hoods and carrying Kalashnikovs killed twelve people, including two police officers, and seriously wounded four others in an apparent terrorist attack on the offices of a French satirical news magazine that had published cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.
The gunmen escaped and are currently on the loose and being hunted by French police. (The police say they are looking for three men.)
Why is it assumed to be a terrorist attacks by Muslims?
In an eyewitness video of the attack, the gunmen are heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) while the shootings took place.
According to a video shot from a nearby building and broadcast on French TV, one of the men shouted in French, “Hey! We avenged the Prophet Muhammad! We killed Charlie Hebdo.”
The attack is believed to be in response to a recent tweet by the publication of a cartoon of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, with the caption (in French): “Best wishes, by the way.”
France has raised its terror threat level following the shooting.
What is Charlie Hebdo?
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recently released a report on intentional homicide (see this post for more on that report). Around the world, there were about 475,000 homicide deaths in 2012 and about six million since 2000, making homicide, the report notes, “a more frequent cause of death than all wars combined in this period.”
While the rate of homicides, particularly in the Americas, remains disturbingly high, the fact that they exceed deaths due to war is should be an indirect source of encouragement.
Consider, for instance, that in the twentieth century, there were at least eight wars whose average deaths per year exceeded the current homicide rate:
As many as 15 million children are caught up in violent conflicts around the globe, reports UNICEF. Globally, an estimated 230 million children currently live in countries and areas affected by armed conflicts.
“This has been a devastating year for millions of children,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “Children have been killed while studying in the classroom and while sleeping in their beds; they have been orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, recruited, raped and even sold as slaves. Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality.”
According to UNICEF, the sheer number of crises in 2014 meant that many were quickly forgotten or captured little attention. Protracted crises in countries like Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, continued to claim even more young lives and futures. This year has also posed significant new threats to children’s health and well-being, most notably the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, which has left thousands of children orphaned and an estimated 5 million out of school.
This past summer, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) reportedly stole uranium compounds from Mosul University in Iraq. Writing to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on July 8, Iraqi UN Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim said that 88 pounds of uranium used for scientific research at Mosul University had been looted. Now, some militants associated with the group are claiming they have built a “dirty bomb” and are targeting London. Is this cause for serious concern?
Not really. Here’s why.
Since the advent of the Atomic Age in the 1940s, catastrophic nuclear events— Hiroshima, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl—have caused the general public to develop a deep-rooted fear of radiation. The new threats brought about by the specter of terrorism, particularly the concept of the radiological dispersion bomb (aka “dirty bomb”), have only increased this “radiophobia.”
Such terror threats are indeed real and we must constantly take precautions to prevent such attacks as we would any bombing. But we also have a moral and civic duty to prepare ourselves, both physically and—even more importantly—psychologically, should such an attack take place on our homeland.
When it comes to dirty bombs, the true power of such a device lies not in its ability to spread radiation but in its ability to spread panic and fear. As we’ve seen in the ear can lead to citizens and their governments to restrict freedoms in a ways that far exceed the threats imposed by actual terrorist attacks.
In order to defuse this anxiety we therefore need to develop an awareness of the myths and realities about radiation exposure:
What just happened in Jerusalem?
Two Palestinian men armed with axes, meat cleavers, and a pistol, entered a synagogue complex in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of West Jerusalem on Tuesday morning and killed four rabbis, one from the UK and three from United States (all had dual-citizenship in Israel). Israeli police killed the assailants in a gun battle that critically wounded one officer.
According to the New York Times, relatives identified the attackers as two cousins, Odai Abed Abu Jamal, 22, and Ghassan Muhammad Abu Jamal, 32.
What was the motive for the attack?
According to the relatives of the killers, they were motivated by what they saw as threats to the revered plateau that contains al-Haram al-Sharif (known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism) and the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
Orthodox Jewish campaigners in Israel have increasingly been challenging the long-standing ban on Jews praying at the Temple Mount. Since the Crusades, the Muslim community of Jerusalem has managed the site.