lasta29, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
A fire broke out on Friday 17th December 2021, on the fourth floor of a clinic located in the shopping and entertainment district in Osaka, Japan. The fire is said to have caused at least 24 casualties and injured eight more.
Firefighters and rescue workers reached the eight-story building where the fire started very quickly, within 30 minutes. Although the cause for the fire is still unknown, police believe that it could be arson. If it is arson it will be one of the worst cases of arson in years. The regional governor Hirofumi Yoshimura stated on Twitter “the municipal fire department is investigating the cause of the fire. I have received a report that Osaka police is investigating the fire as a possible arson.” The reason this is being suspected as arson is because witnesses claimed to have seen a middle-aged man carrying a bag with unidentifiable fluid and then dumping it near the heater. In relation to this, the police, on Saturday searched the house of one of the suspects who was a patient there but found no evidence. However, a small fire broke out in the house of the suspect that the police searched before the main incident. The fire started half an hour ago before the fire at the hospital started and a patient registration card was also found in the house. The man was one of the three critically injured people from the incident so the police can’t interrogate him until he recovers.
It is said that at the time of the fire, the building was filled with people. The psychiatric hospital provided help for people suffering from depression in regards to their work, specifically going back to work. If this is arson, it will be the worst arson attack committed since 2019, when a man set fire to an animation studio killing 33 people. Osaka is Japan’s third-biggest city and second-greatest metropolis after Tokyo. Moreover, it is very rare for the country to have such cases. The Prime Minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida offered his condolences and said “we must get to the bottom of this horrible case. We must clarify the cause and how it happened. And we must take measures to prevent the same thing from happening again.”
This was a horrible and unexpected incident that will leave people and families terrified for a while. If this was arson, it is hoped that the culprit is found and charged accordingly. If it happened as an accident then proper measures should be taken to prevent this from happening again.
America stands with Taiwan: Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan amid tensions with China
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday, 2nd August despite the strained relationship between Taiwan and China. As a result, the tension between China and the US has also increased.
China considers Taiwan to be part of its territory but Taiwan asserts its independence as a self-governing island. Thus China/Taiwan and international relations are very delicate. If the island is visited by another nation like the US, it suggests a certain recognition of Taiwanese sovereignty. The US does not currently officially recognize Taiwan as an independent country but is still required to help the country defend itself if necessary.
Before Pelosi’s trip to Asia, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian already warned, “There will be serious consequences if she insists on making the visit [to Taiwan],” but he did not spell out any specific consequences. “The People’s Liberation Army [PLA] will never sit idly by. China will take strong and resolute measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added.
As soon as Pelosi visited the island, she tweeted, “Our visit reiterates that America stands with Taiwan: a robust, vibrant democracy and our important partner in the Indo-Pacific.”
In retaliation, Lijian stated, “This will definitely not have a good outcome … the exposure of America’s bullying face again shows it as the world’s biggest saboteur of peace.”
Shortly before her visit, Chinese Su-35 jets crossed the Taiwan Strait, a river bordering the Island with China, with no distinct purpose. Similarly, on the day that Pelosi landed, unidentified hackers cyberattacked the Taiwanese Presidential official website so it could not be accessed. Clearly rattled after her visit, China held its biggest-ever show of military force in the air and seas around Taiwan, which included the firing of ballistic missiles.
Ross Feingold, a Taipei-based political analyst, and lawyer told Al Jazeera that this kind of antagonistic behaviour by China after the visit could be a one-off event but it could also “become part of a sustained pattern of aggression.”
US Operations in Afghanistan and Beyond: A threat to locals
The assassination of Ayman Al- Zawahiri through a drone attack shows the US has still not given up on its operations in Afghanistan.
The assassination of Ayman Al- Zawahiri through a drone attack shows that US operation in Afghanistan have still not ended.
The Al- Qaeda leader, wanted for his role in various terrorist attacks around the world and in the US, has not only left an empty place for a future successor but has also opened a place for the Taliban to calculate their moves against the US and the groups within the country.
The Twitter feeds of Afghan journalists are filled with various videos of clashes between Taliban militants and the Islamic States sympathizers of Khorasan Province (ISKP). The clashes have resulted from the former group’s attack on Shia gatherings and busses that has caused numerous casualties. These videos containing several graphic scenes of blood and bodies are just an insight into the state of Afghanistan after a year of America abandoning it in the hands of the Afghan Taliban.
Since the United States removed its forces from Afghanistan after 2 decades of controlling the country’s borders and shifting the political and social dynamics of the region, the country has been struggling to regain its identity and strength. While the Taliban forces are trying to imitate governance with an Islamic rule in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, extremist groups from the inside of the country are becoming a challenge for them. ISKP has already claimed the lives of more than 300 people between January 2020 and July 2021. The casualties from the Kabul airport attack and the recent attacks on Shia groups in the Holy month of Muharram hike the number up to around 600.
The recent killing of Al- Qaeda’s leader Ayman al Zawahiri in a drone attack orchestrated by the US in Kabul has further fueled the unrest. Zawahiri, who was leading Al-Qaeda’s operations since the killing of Osama Bin Laden, had been on the United State’s wanted list for years. His involvement in the infamous 9/11 plans had put a bounty of 25 million dollars on his head. The attack through which according to the US “justice has been delivered,”, has been called a violation of the Doha pact signed between the Taliban and US officials in 2020. While Al-Qaeda is deciding on a new leader, the group is also being prompted to respond to this loss. Several statements from ISKP’s telegram have been made to frame the Taliban for assistance in the attack, mocking the apparent alliance between Al-Qaeda and The Taliban forces.
The situation in Afghanistan keeps getting worse but it appears that America is using the savior narrative, to explain the US operations in Afghanistan, for its people to distract from the bigger changes that are taking place in the dynamics of foreign affairs, seeming to be a threat to locals. The narrative that aided its involvement in Iraq, sanctions on Iran, and 20 years long control over Afghanistan have not bore any fruitful results, but rather have overturned the sociological and international stature of the region.
US President Biden, in his remarks on the attack, assured the people of America of their safety and security, “We will always remain vigilant, and we will act. And we will always do what is necessary to ensure the safety and security of Americans at home and around the globe.”
In the meantime, the US continues aid to Ukraine against Russia, and its visit to Taiwan amid growing tensions between China and Taiwan is signaling a threat that is potentially greater than Al-Qaeda.
As Biden pledges to “continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond”, it remains unclear how the US plans to address the impact of these operations on the lives of the people in Afghanistan and beyond where people are already living under a threat of a humanitarian crisis.
‘Don’t forget them’: millions of Afghans face hunger, economic crisis
International aid workers share stories of children and families struggling to make ends meet
“Winter is coming.”
That’s how Ammar Ammar, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan, describes the situation in Afghanistan. The current hunger crisis, the result of a collapsing economy and drought, will only get worse if the country doesn’t get help, he says, especially in the colder months when people also have to stay warm.
“It’s not Game of Thrones here, it’s reality.”
Almost a year after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the world has become silent about the plight of the country and its people, who are facing one of their worst humanitarian and economic crisis in decades.
After the fall of Kabul, the international community declined to recognize the Taliban regime. Countries paused foreign aid and imposed sanctions. The United States also froze billions in Afghan state assets.
A country that had become reliant on external aid was left on its own. In the process, millions of Afghans were abandoned, too.
On a recent lunch break in Kabul, Ammar saw two girls, one about six years old and the other about three. One of them was lying down on the sidewalk, while the other was squatting next to a big nylon bag. They’d been collecting pieces of scrap metal on the streets to make ends meet.
“You could see that they were exhausted,” Ammar said. “You are going for your break and at the same time you can see two kids on the street, where they have no break at this age. It strikes you.”
And there are thousands of children like them.
“We are doing a massive job,” Ammar says. “But the sad reality is we can’t help everyone at the end of the day.”
A woman in Qala-e-Naw, the capital of the Badghis province recently told the UN-run World Food Programme (WFP) in Kabul how she made ends meet after her husband died five years prior.
“In the past, she said, she had a fair life, just getting by cleaning and washing for other people. After the economy collapsed, families have no money anymore to pay her and her work dried up,” said WFP spokesperson Philippe Kropf in an email. As a result, she borrows money to buy food, going further into debt.
“She told me she has not been able to buy cooking oil for weeks. She eats bread with tea and sometimes rice,” he said.
A young man told Kropf that “his family went to sleep many evenings without anything to eat in the past months.”
“They borrowed food with neighbours, but increasingly the neighbours have nothing to share,” he added, noting the young man had only completed second grade and was trying to find labour jobs to make ends meet. “But these jobs are getting rarer and rarer because of the collapse of the economy, too.”
The man participated in a training program to gain skills such as tailoring or mobile phone repair to earn a livelihood. The program trains 200 men and women over six months, during which participants receive food assistance for their families.
“After the training, (the young man) hopes to either open his own little shop, sewing clothing for men and children or to find work in a tailor shop and work for a salary,” Kropf said.
Prospects of famine remain
With the country reeling from recent droughts, and facing high inflation, a difficult situation is becoming even worse.
“For the first time, urban residents are suffering from food insecurity at similar rates to rural communities, marking the shifting face of hunger in the country,” Kropf said, noting some people are seeking help from WFP for the first time in their lives.
“The scale of the crisis in Afghanistan is immense, and needs continue to outpace available funding,” he added. The WFP needs nearly US $1 billion by the end of 2022 to help 18 million people – nearly half the population of Afghanistan.
Of that, the group urgently needs US $172 million to secure 150,000 metric tonnes of food to support 2.2 million people in remote parts of Afghanistan, which can get cut off by ice and snow in winter.
“We need these even more urgently because of the long lead-times for food commodities that we need to buy internationally,” Kropf said, including vegetable oil and specialized nutritious foods. “We need to get them into (the) country and then drive them into the mountains.”
The lack of funds in state bank accounts means civil servants aren’t being paid regularly, companies are shutting down and ordinary civilians face restricted access to their own savings.
Prospects of famine remain, said Ammar, noting that the main indicator is farming, which most people depend on to make ends meet. Farmers say climate change is resulting in less food production, resulting in extended periods when people don’t have adequate access to food.
Need for international aid
At the end of June, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake hit southeast Afghanistan, killing over 1,000 people and causing damage the International Rescue Committee described as “catastrophic.”
“This earthquake is a catastrophe for the people affected, but the response to the wider crisis in Afghanistan remains a catastrophe of choice for the international community,” said David Miliband, the group’s CEO and president in a release at the time.
“While humanitarian aid has averted famine for now, policies of economic isolation, the halting of development funding, and the lack of support for Afghan civil servants are unraveling the two decades of development progress that western leaders vowed to protect.”
He noted that families across the country face unemployment, leading to lower demand among local businesses which in turn leads to further job losses. He called for the international community to urgently provide funding to the country as well as “the phased and closely monitored unfreezing of assets.”
The question of frozen assets
Advocates for Afghanistan have criticized U.S.’s decision to freeze a portion of the country’s assets and decried a proposal for the U.S. to use some of them to support families affected by 9/11.
Afghanistan’s assets rightfully belong to Afghanistan, said Zubair Iqbal, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
However, while unfreezing the funds would help bring immediate help to alleviate Afghanistan’s crisis, the country will need more support in the long-term, said Iqbal, who previously worked at the International Monetary Fund for more than 30 years.
The solution is to grant foreign aid to Afghanistan in a sustainable way to allow recovery, while managing its spending through an independent entity, he said.
Concerns around a proposal in the U.S. to use some of the Afghan assets to support families affected by 9/11 prompted a group of Afghan women to write an open letter to U.S. President Joe Biden in February.
“Taking funds from the Afghan people is the unkindest and most inappropriate response for a country that is going through the worst humanitarian crisis in its history,” the letter reads. “It is the squeezing of a wounded hand.”
Freezing the assets from the Taliban was the right decision, said one of the signatories in an interview, but they belong to the Afghan people and must be released to address the humanitarian crisis.
“My expectation from the international community is to put serious attention on Afghanistan,” said Roshan Mashal, former deputy director of Afghan Women’s Network, who left Afghanistan after the takeover and is now a fellow at the University of Texas at Arlington.
She called for coordination on how countries engage with the Taliban and to support the country’s people, as millions of Afghans face hunger and economic crisis.
“Don’t forget them,” she said.
The Horrifying Abuse of Uyghur Muslims in China
The horrifying abuse of Uyghur Muslims in China
On a recent visit to the Xinjiang region, China’s President Xi Jinping said, ‘Islam in China must be Chinese in orientation.’ There he spoke to officials and said religions should adapt to ‘the socialist society.’
With the tightened grip on society that the President has, his government has been repeatedly accused of oppressing Muslims and detaining them in “re-education camps.” Ever since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) implemented its five-year plan to “sinicize” Islam, there have been countless Mosques across China that have been deconstructed or repressed. However, it does not stop there, an estimated ‘three million Uyghur Muslims have been unjustly detained in Chinese concentration camps.’ China has proclaimed that these facilities are so called ‘re-education camps’ however survivors have confirmed it to be ‘worse than prisons.’
The Human Rights Watch has said that Uyghurs – the largest minority ethnic group in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang – are subjected to intense surveillance and forced to provide DNA and biometric samples. Anyone who has relatives residing in at least twenty-six “sensitive” countries have been reportedly rounded up and swept into detainments. From there, they are made to learn Mandarin Chinese, and to criticise or renounce their faith.
Approximately nearly half a million Muslim children have been torn and separated from their families and placed in boarding schools. The detainees have been subjected to forced labour, medicine is forcibly administered to women to stop their menstrual period and several women survivors – even during their teenage years – have reported being gang-raped by guards at their facilities.
A recent article was released by the BBC revealing all the human lives that had been torn apart by China’s Uyghur concentration camps. These leaked secret CCP documents known as Xinjiang Police Files were obtained by unidentified hackers and exposed the prison-like nature of the concentration camps that officials insisted to be “Vocational Training Centres.”
Amongst files upon files of rules and regulations, there were police manuals describing shoot-to-kill policies on any Uyghurs attempting to escape and the document also provided a solid amount of evidence towards a policy which was targeted to any expression of Uyghur identity, culture, or the Islamic faith – with a chain of command that ran all the way up to the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping.
Many have been detained just for ordinary, apparent signs of their Islamic faith or for visiting countries with majority Muslim populations. Offences such as “growing a beard under the influence of religious extremism” have led people to become interments for more than sixteen years and the Chinese state have then determined their expression of Uyghur identity to be illegal.
This ongoing rights issue has led to questions of consent and whether it has been applied to this situation. In Tumxuk, Chinese scientists are trying to find a way to create an image of a person’s face using a DNA sample. This facial recognition technology is advancing and being used to sort people by ethnicity and the usage of DNA is to tell if an individual is Uyghur.
Ethics of science have been pushed beyond the barriers of privacy, China has been accused of creating “technologies used for hunting people.”
Religious indoctrination is being forced upon Muslim Uyghurs; they are made to chant “Communist Party Akbar” instead of the traditional “Allah Akbar” (God is Great) that Muslims say to praise and glorify God.
These “re-education camps” have led to slow, painful deaths for many Uyghurs. Physical and mental torture, beatings, crowded cells, no toilets, and forced medication.
What lies ahead after Pope Francis’ visit to Canada?
Here are the highlights of the pontiff’s visit and what comes next after Pope Francis toured Canada
Pope Francis may have returned to Rome after a six-day tour of Canada, but the work of reconciliation with Indigenous communities will continue in his wake.
The visit was the fulfilment of the pontiff’s promise to visit Canada and deliver an in-person apology for Christians’ role in residential schools which saw thousands of Indigenous children ripped from their families, horrifically abused and often killed.
Dubbed “Walking Together,” the tour continued despite the cancellation of the Pope’s tour of Africa earlier in July, owing to health concerns.
The Pope began the visit in the Western province of Alberta, with his much-anticipated apology. He later held mass and performed other rites before travelling to Quebec to hold a prayer service in which he acknowledged victims of sexual abuse. His last stop was to the northern territory of Nunavut, where he met with residential school survivors in the capital of Iqaluit.
Here are the highlights of Pope Francis’ visit and what lies ahead:
Pope Francis’ apology
The pontiff’s first formal event was his apology at Maskwacis, a community in central Alberta which is home to four Indigenous nations.
“When the European colonists first arrived here, there was a great opportunity to bring about a fruitful encounter between cultures, traditions and forms of spirituality. Yet for the most part that did not happen,” he told those gathered, recalling stories from survivors of “how the policies of assimilation ended up systematically marginalizing the indigenous peoples.”
Through the residential school system, their “languages and cultures were denigrated and suppressed,” the Pope noted. He also reflected on “how children suffered physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse; how they were taken away from their homes at a young age, and how that indelibly affected relationships between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren”.
“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” he said.
The Pope noted that the apology “is only the first step” and “an important part of this process will be to conduct a serious search into the facts of what took place in the past and to assist the survivors of the residential schools to experience healing from the traumas they suffered.”
When an Indigenous delegation from Canada visited The Vatican earlier in the year, they gave Pope Francis two pairs of children’s moccasins which he described “as a sign of the suffering endured by Indigenous children, particularly those who, unfortunately, never came back from the residential schools.” He was asked to return the moccasins on his visit to Canada, which he did after his apology.
“I would like to reflect on this symbol, which over the past few months has kept alive my sense of sorrow, indignation and shame,” the pontiff said. “The memory of those children is indeed painful; it urges us to work to ensure that every child is treated with love, honour and respect. At the same time, those moccasins also speak to us of a path to follow, a journey that we desire to make together. We want to walk together, to pray together and to work together, so that the sufferings of the past can lead to a future of justice, healing and reconciliation.”
Pope Francis’ words were met with a range of responses, from anger or retraumatisation for some, to closure and healing for others.
“I see Pope Francis’s apology today as only the first step in the Church making amends with our People,” said George Arcand Jr., Chief of Alexander First Nation and Treaty Six Grand Chief, in a press release. “There’s a lot of work to be done. … I am hopeful — Pope Francis has shown grace. He can lead the change for his people and we are prepared to walk alongside them on their reconciliation journey. I thank him for honouring our requests to deliver this apology in person. It is a gift for many.”
“The church and the government, they need to step up. You can’t just say I’m sorry and walk away. There has to be effort, there has to be work and more meaningful action behind it,” said Desmond Bull, Chief of Louis Bull Tribe.
“This apology — we could take it. Accept it. And move forward the best we know how. Or we can be stuck,” added Chief Greg Desjarlais of Frog Lake First Nation. “I want to encourage the Survivors to move forward in a good way. Because we are the products of these Survivors. Some call them thrivers. They’re the drivers as well that are going to help change the landscape for our children and grandchildren.”
“There was no mention in his apology of releasing the documents that we desperately need across Canada,” said Evelyn Korkmaz, a residential school survivor and advocate. “These documents have our history. These documents hold where these lost souls were buried. These documents hold the identification of these children, it would give their families, loved ones, closure. Everybody needs closure in order to heal and move on.”
A meaningful gift
After the apology, Chief Wilton Littlechild of the Ermineskin Cree Nation outfitted Pope Francis with a traditional headdress made of eagle feathers. It was a significant gesture rich in meaning.
In an interview with journalist Brandi Morin (who is Cree, Iroquois and French), the chief revealed the headdress belonged to his late grandfather.
“One of the things I learned … being raised by my grandparents, is you don’t criticize other culture’s traditions,” said the chief. “In our traditional way, you would welcome … dignitaries, and many other tribes have given headdresses to a lot of other people like ministers and senators and business people.
“We decided at home, as a community, to welcome him with a gift because he came into our territory. And we were actually flabbergasted that he chose us … All across the country, and we were picked. We didn’t lobby for it. We were just chosen to be the one where he would give his apology.”
What comes next?
At the end of the visit, the Bishops of Canada acknowledged the duties tasked to them by the pontiff, including helping survivors and families heal from their traumas.
“We have heard this call,” the group said in a press release, committing to reviewing an updated action plan in the fall. Among the demands received from Indigenous communities were calls for more transparency for residential school records; help to address systemic injustices Indigenous people continue to face, and working to promote healing and reconciliation.
“It is our hope that the relationships forged in this planning process, particularly with Indigenous partners at both the national and local levels, will grow well beyond this visit and serve as the foundation for the work that lies ahead.”
“Sociocultural attitudes” does not cause high Muslim unemployment, study finds
Muslim men and women are consistently among the groups of people who are at a higher risk of being unemployed. Previous research has explained the trend due to “sociocultural attitudes” within the Muslim community. However, recent research has rejected this rather, it is anti-Muslim discrimination within the British labour market which drives high unemployment rates within Muslims.
The paper published in the Ethnic and Racial Studies Journal used data from the first ten years of the UK Households Longitudinal Survey (UKHLS), an annual survey which collects data mostly from face-to-face interviews of participants socio-economic situation.
Previous research has found that ethnic differences have impacted “labour market outcomes” in the UK, this could mean significant pay gaps between different ethnic groups, the time of unemployment being significantly longer for those who come from ethnic minority backgrounds and the probability of unemployment increasing when you are an ethnic minority. This is what has been described as an “ethnic penalty.”
The ethnic groups more worse off are, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Black Africans, and Caribbean’s. Indians are less penalised compared to any other minority ethnic group. There is also a “Muslim Penalty.” Research has found that Muslims are the most disadvantaged out of any other types of religions within the labour market. Thus, showing that people’s labour market outcomes can be affected by religion and ethnicity.
Some researchers have found that these penalties have existed due to the discrimination Muslims and ethnic minorities face. However, some research has also found that these penalties have existed within the British Labour Market due to ‘sociocultural variables’ and these variables disproportionately effect women more than men.
The Muslim penalty in particular, is believed to have existed due to commitment to ‘traditional gender norms’ which is assumed to have stemmed from religion. Thus, Muslim women’s poor outcomes within the labour market are due to traditional gender norms of women having to prioritise childrearing and household work leading to less time to find employment.
However, recent research conducted by the Samir Sweida-Metwally, a doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol has found that although a Muslim penalty is acknowledged to exist, this is not due to ‘sociocultural variables’ that has previously been found to be the factor of the existence of a Muslim penalty.
Instead, the study finds that ‘sociocultural variables’ is “not a convincing source of the unexplained ethno-religious differences in labour market participation and unemployment among Muslim men and women.” Rather, the paper finds that the Muslim penalty is due to “anti-Muslim discrimination” which creates a “significant barrier” to the labour market.
The study goes further and states that the there is a ‘country of origin penalty’ too. White British Muslims were not more likely to be unemployed than White British Christians. However, Arabs with no religion experienced the highest likelihood of unemployment.
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