Moments after the final flight of US troops departed Afghanistan on Monday 30th August 2021, Taliban militants flooded the streets and began celebrating their victory by initiating gunfire.
The past few weeks have been an interesting run of events as the United States’ 20 year military run in Afghanistan came to an end. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said, “This victory belongs to us all.” Those who were unable to flee the country, especially minorities such as LGBTQ, religious minorities, women, religious minorities and journalists, now fear for their lives as the Taliban aims to govern the nation with their radical interpretation of Shariah Law.
The Taliban must now turn their attention to creating a working authoritative body that can govern the nation if they hope to maintain power, however unlike the isolated and war-torn Afghanistan that they briefly ruled for five years in the late 90’s, modern Afghanistan is well connected to the rest of the world and has a majority youth population with 60% of the demographic being aged below 25.
Benjamin Petrini from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said, “This is one of the most dramatic changes in government in the modern era…The West is pulling out not only ourselves but all the human resources that have worked with us for 20 years…Those will be replaced with what? That’s a question mark.”
The Taliban is already facing immense economic, political, and social pressure due to opposition from Western countries and domestic resistance from several groups including forces in the Panjshir province which has yet to be seized by the militant group.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Taliban, has stated that the group will be relying on Chinese funds to invest in and rebuild Afghanistan’s economy.
Gareth Price from Chatham House said, “I don’t see how (the Taliban) are going to sell out all of the people they’ve been fighting with for 20 years.”
With no concrete insight into what kind of government the Taliban will be running, the international community seems almost unphased by the Taliban’s recent move. The Taliban has constantly preached about creating an inclusive society, especially for women. However, many doubt this by comparing it to their regime 20 years ago.
Chlorine Gas Leak in Jordan Port City Kills Thirteen People
- A gas leak in Aqaba, Jordan killed at least thirteen people and injured more than 250. A storage container carrying between 25 and 30 tonnes of chlorine gas fell as it was being exported to Djibouti, releasing the gas.
- A video of the incident on state TV shows the container being dropped onto the deck of the ship and a yellow colored gas spreading through the air as people try to evacuate. The accident seems to be a result of the crane malfunctioning.
- If chlorine is inhaled at high levels, it can cause life-threatening damage. A nearby beach in Aqaba was evacuated as a safety precaution, and residents who live in the nearest residential area, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) away, were advised to stay inside and close windows.
- Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh traveled to Aqaba and visited some of the injured at the hospital. He also formed a team led by the interior minister to investigate the incident.
Ms. Marvel: Helping Muslim representation or just mere tokenism?
While relatable, Ms. Marvel’s Muslim identity is displayed as a hindrance to her teenage aspirations rather than as a way of empowering her. The writers seem out of touch with the growing faithfulness of Muslim teens.
Two episodes of Disney’s new series, “Ms. Marvel,” starring Iman Vellani, have graced our TV screens. The sassy teen superhero with a Pakistani-Muslim background has made headlines for many reasons, not the least of which is that, for the first time, Muslim teen Marvel fans have someone who can represent them; someone who looks like the person staring back at them in the mirror every day, and with whom they can identify in their daily struggles and way of life. Or do they?
Does tokenism reflect the obligation of Islamic Faith?
Tokenism has always been an easy way forward for multi-million dollar companies trying to appeal to a wider audience. In recent years, Disney hasn’t shied away from engaging in the practise to attract viewership. But the problem with tokenism is that it is something whereby the struggles of minorities – who are often marginalised by society – are trivialised and caricaturised for financial gain, while those who carry out such portrayals fail to compensate or help the minorities in question.
The very first scene in the first episode of Ms. Marvel is such a case in point. It begins with the teen protagonist, Kamala’s family, wishing her luck on her driving test in the morning. The audience gets a first glimpse of what a Pakistani Muslim family’s typical interaction looks like. According to Disney: Kamala’s brother, a tall man with a dark beard and glasses, attired in the traditional Pakistani dress of Shalwar-Kameez, is too preoccupied with his prayers, apparently having forgotten his surroundings and time, to which his father ironically suggests that he might “starve to death” should he keep on praying for longer. The son’s rather earnest – sounding response “May Allah forgive you one day,” conveys the sombre, traditionally religious Muslim, at odds with his bubblier, modern and westernised family. Thus, the very first scene seems to subtly impart the notion that to fit into society, and in fact, function as a normal human being, one must abandon seemingly cumbersome and outdated practises like ‘praying’ – and those like her brother, who are so ostentatiously Muslim, are the only ones who really follow such basic tenets of the Islamic faith.
Norms of one’s faith versus cultural ideals
As the episode advances, interactions with her parents where certain boundaries set by her religious upbringing become apparent. Kamala tries to convince her parents to let her go to the “AvengerCon” – a comic and cosplay convention dedicated to the heroes of the Marvel Universe. Her parents’ instant concerns about Kamala’s wearing a “skin-tight” suit for her cosplay, meeting “strange boys” and “going to a party” do partially translate to a predominantly Muslim household, where living by certain moral values and rules is of great importance, and while they are certainly relatable to everybody who is familiar with Islamic teachings, it was perplexing that it was portrayed as something that Kamala was obliged to do by her parents rather than something she herself felt as a Muslim. After all, what is the point of trying to tout a show as an example of Muslim representation when the main protagonist is shown to be hindered by that very identity?
Kamal ends up going to the convention after rejecting her parents’ cringeworthy suggestion that her father dress up as a ‘big’ hulk – which he does as a demonstration- and she as a ‘little hulk’ and they go together. As a hijab wearing Muslim woman, I can say that a comic convention is the last thing my parents would object to. Somehow, the writers seem to be confused with the balance between liberality and conservatism in those who practise the Muslim faith and not just those born into Pakistani-Muslim backgrounds.
That’s not to say that it’s all negative. In the second episode, more of Kamala’s Muslim identity is showcased positively as a conversation between her and her Hijab wearing best friend Nakia has a heart -to- heart conversation in the school’s bathroom when Kamala just expresses how out of place she feels with the rapid changes taking place in her life, saying she can “barely keep up.” This is where Nakia responds with “Are you kidding?” Between the hijab and the girlies my parents can barely make eye contact with me anymore,” she says, implying that her environment (including her family) is also challenging her identity and belief system by putting her in an insecure position. When Kamala, impressed by Nakia’s steadfastness, asks her how she makes things “look so easy” Nakia responds in an honest and heartfelt way and opens up a meaningful conversation, allowing the audience to dive deeper into the complexity and beauty of defending a Muslim identity in a western world:
“My whole life I’ve been either too white for some people or too ethnic for others. And it’s been this very uncomfortable, sucky in-between. So, when I first put this on, I was hoping to shut some people up (referring to hijab), but I kinda realized I don’t have to prove anything to anybody. Like, when I put this on, I feel like me. Like I have a purpose. It’s probably why I ran for the Mosque Board. And remember, you’re the one who convinced me to do it in the first place.”
That’s something that maybe the show did right; showing the struggle faced by those Muslim teens who are growing in their faith – a phenomenon that began its slow rise after 9/11 and the discrimination that so many Muslims face in the United States and West in general – without the faith of their parents being a factor.
Lack of Muslim Representation in its entirety?
Although it is a coming of age storyline, and many Muslim teens may indeed identify with the cultural struggles between East and West, between how their classmates expect them to conduct themselves versus their parents, there is some disparity in the portrayals of the Islamic faith and its positive influence on a teenager’s lifestyle. Many comedic moments take place that showcase the culture of Pakistani immigrants to the United States, and it seems that this is then passed off as religion rather than what it really is; a clash of cultures. What if Kamala wore the hijab like her best friend, and had chosen to wear it? Would that be too much for viewers to handle, too much religiousness in a character who is to become the hero of the story? Does it empower and normalise the hijab too much for Western audiences who have been conditioned to reject this part of the faith as medieval?
Having Kamala, a Muslim teenage girl, as Ms. Marvel is a crucial step in overcoming stereotypes and affirming the large demographic of Muslims in the United States and the Western world in general. However, one wonders how much of her Muslim identity can be seen as a representation for the majority of Muslim girls around the world and how much of it stems from clichés, seemingly included to make up for the inaccuracy of Muslim life in key parts of the story. However, there is still some way to go; this season is set to have six episodes in total.
So far, it’s been a nice try from Marvel, but, it seems that somehow, there is still an empty space for a female Muslim superhero whose religion, rather than culture, is embraced as the source of her empowerment, while at the same time her role as a well – rounded member of American society is realised.
Exclusive: John Pilger claims Julian Assange extradition is bad news for “truth-tellers”
We spoke to veteran investigative journalist and documentarian John Pilger about what he thought Assange’s looming extradition meant for the state of the press in the UK, and the fate investigative journalists like him
Julian Assange – the investigative journalist and whistleblower spent the last ten years fighting for freedom after having leaked secret documents regarding US human rights abuses. Most of those years were spent holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain where he was granted asylum by the President of Ecuador Rafael Correa in 2012.
That asylum ended seven years later when Correa’s replacement, Lenin Moreno handed him over to the British authorities. On the morning of April 11th, 2019, Assange was dragged out of the embassy by British police in a brutal show of force, and taken to be locked up in Belmarsh prison, the detention centre known as the British Guantanamo Bay. He has remained there since.
Last week, Assange’s decade long battle was dealt a blow. British Home Secretary Priti Patel signed Assange’s extradition order to the United States, where he faces 18 federal counts of espionage for publishing secret state documents handed to him by the former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning; documents which exposed the atrocities, human rights abuses and war crimes committed by The United States, its allies, and their forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Besides this, the documents showed the systematic human rights abuses and torture of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, the controversial U.S Prison located in Cuba that held more than 150 prisoners, who were innocent without charge for years. And most of all, they confirmed that the pretext for the U.S led invasion of Iraq was a farce.
But in a country that lauds itself on its free press, especially when holding up its democratic values against its autocratic Middle-Eastern counterparts, what happens when a journalist exercises his right within the free press and is castigated the way Assange has been and for as long as he has?
“There is no free press as we might imagine or mythologise it. A powerful, almost unconscious self-censorship routinely dominates the media, much of it run or influenced by an augmented extremism called Murdochism. Added to this are draconian laws that constrain our right to know and which allow the ‘intelligence services’ (known in the US as the ‘deep state’) to manipulate the press. Little of this is discussed publicly.”
According to Pilger, it was Julian Assange who “broke down this wall of censorship, on the public’s behalf.” It is no surprise then, that the whistleblower, Manning was pardoned by the US after seven years in prison, while the publisher could face confinement for the rest of his life. Currently, Assange faces up to ten years in prison for each federal count against him. But Assange is an Australian national, and just recently the former foreign minister of Australia, Bobb Carr, wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald that he believed that the Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese, should request the Biden administration for Assange’s freedom.
Pilger affirms that the Australian government should support their citizen, but that “rights and reality live in two different worlds. We should unite them!”
Despite Carr’s suggestion, Australian Prime Minister publicly affirmed he stood by his previous remarks that Assange had “paid a big price for the publication of the information already” and that “I do not see what purpose is served by the ongoing pursuit of Mr Assange,” but that he would not publicly ask Biden for a pardon for Assange. Speaking to the broadcaster Sky News, he said “We’re not going to conduct diplomacy by megaphone.”
But what is it that makes such prominent world leaders so reluctant to directly support the plight of Assange? For some it is the fact that he published secret state documents through his whistleblower site, Wikileaks. Was this really a violation of the official secret act, as has been alleged, or does the right of the public to know what governments are doing abroad with taxpayers money negate this? Is the country not put at risk when state secrets are made public?
“Wikileaks revealed grave state crimes,” he says, “The law should apply to governments as well as to individuals. Nazi leaders and officials were prosecuted and punished at the end of World War Two because they committed state crimes. The principle is the same.”
If Julian Assange’s team fails in its attempts to appeal and he is sent to the US, what will that entail for him? And what implications will it have on future whistleblowers and investigative journalists?
John Pilger is blunt. “For Julian it will be the end of his life. For truth-tellers, it will mean even greater risk than at present. The shadows of state control will spread until we call, ‘’stop.’
In fact, the veteran journalist is no stranger to censorship of his own work either. In 2014 his regular column for the oft-touted ‘independent’ paper the Guardian was axed, according to Pilger, “Without explanation.”
“I wrote a fortnightly piece for the Guardian which was axed in 2014 with the specious explanation that the paper ‘needed greater variety’: some such nonsense. There were (and are) warring political factions on the Guardian and under a new editor a virulent right-wing took control. At that time, I was writing about the Western-sponsored coup in Ukraine, which had just happened, and the war it beckoned.”
It is a grim state of affairs to which the future of journalism seems to be hurtling towards, painted darker by recent events. What hope does that leave to budding journalists who would wish to pursue a career like that of Pilger’s and other investigative journalists and whistleblowers, like Assange, who in their fearlessness can speak truth and expose the crimes and excesses of those in power? How can the fear of reprisal by the authorities be abated?“Keep going. Be resolute and follow your star. The times are difficult, but there are more independent outlets,online, than when I began. Try and stay away from the mis-named ‘mainstream’ which used to have space for independent minded journalists, but no more. Journalism is a wonderful craft: how it is practised and honoured is up to you.”
World Food Programme suspends food assistance to 1.7 million in South Sudan
Conflict combined with poor weather in South Sudan has led to 7.74 million people facing a hunger crisis.
Despite the country facing food insecurity, the World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended food assistance to 1.7 million people in South Sudan. They require $426 million to be able to feed 6 million people in South Sudan throughout 2022. At the start of 2022, the WFP projected that it would be able to assist 6.2 million people in the country but has failed at achieving this target. This suspension of funding comes at one of the worst times for South Sudan, a newly independent country which not only has been facing internal conflicts for many years but also faced three years of flooding, a localised drought and like the rest of the world, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring global food prices. Therefore, not only is food not available in the country, but it also comes at a much higher price making the country food insecure. This cut also comes at a time where South Sudan is facing lean season, which is the season between planting crops and harvesting them. During this season, food is already scarce.
The suspension of aid by the WFP is due to a funding shortage of $426 million. It is important to note that the primary source of WFP’s funding comes from governments around the world. This funding is entirely voluntary, meaning that the countries have the freedom to cut anytime they wish.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a human rights group recently ruled that the world’s 10 most neglected crises are all in Africa with South Sudan being the 4th most neglected crisis. The Secretary General of the NRC, Jan Egeland said “The war in Ukraine has demonstrated the immense gap between what is possible when the international community rallies behind a crisis, and the daily reality for millions of people suffering in silence within these crises on the African continent that the world has chosen to ignore,”
The hunger crisis the people of South Sudan face is not new, rather food insecurity has been a challenge for years now. In 2017, South Sudan faced a famine and now another famine is predicted by the WFP this year if funding is not organised. Furthermore, South Sudan has recently been facing unrest which has only intensified the issue, leading to brutal violence upon civilians, including targeted attacks, gender-based violence, kidnappings and murders. This has led to nearly 2.3 million people fleeing to neighbouring countries whilst 1.87 million people remain internally displaced. Displacement continues to exacerbate the hunger crisis in South Sudan as many rely on food from their own land, something which is not possible during displacement. Internal conflict has thus meant that people have had to rely heavily on food assistance.
There have been many attempts for a peace agreement in the country, but so far, all these attempts have failed.
Is Rwanda a dumping ground for the UK?
The UK is planning to send its illegal immigrants to Rwanda. In return, the country is paying the Government £120 million in the form of an economic development program. This controversial decision was made to deter any future illegal immigrants from entering the country via dangerous routes.
The East African country suffered genocide and civil war in 1994 and has been trying to recover since. The effort made by the country, however, was halted due to the pandemic.
Only recently, authorities in Rwanda prosecuted opposition members, commentators, and journalists for voicing their opinion. Anyone who doesn’t agree with the government is thrown in jail and threatened, and people have even mysteriously disappeared.
However President Kagame defended his country’s human rights track record: “As far as values are concerned, we don’t need any lessons from BBC or from anyone” adding that no one has better values than Rwanda. He went on to say: “There is nobody in Rwanda who is in prison that should not be there, because we have a justice system that is actually functional, and fair.”
Rwanda is also one of the smallest countries in the world and the rate of population growth is already more than the country can handle. With 10,000 square miles and a population density of more than 1,000 per square mile, starvation and malnutrition is prevalent because the country struggles to feed its growing population. Accusations abound that the government has burned farmers’ fields that could not produce an adequate amount of crops. The country is obsessed with modernising whilst ignoring its internal issues.
Poverty is a huge concern. Its true extent is unknown as the government has been accused of misinterpreting the actual data. Similarly, the education level of children is low with a high drop-out rate.
Rwanda is struggling with its own domestic problems, and now the UK is seen to be turning the country into a dumping ground for illegal immigrants which could possibly set the economy back. The plan has been accused of being unethical and cruel.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Siobhán Mullally talked about the dangers of increased human trafficking when large numbers of people are transferred from one country to another and how easy it is for traffickers to pick vulnerable victims in this situation when they have no control over where they are going. “People seeking international protection, fleeing conflict, and persecution, have the right to seek and enjoy asylum – a fundamental tenet of international human rights and refugee law,” she said. Even Prince Charles, heir to the British throne criticised the decision made by the government calling it “appalling”.
There have also been accusations that the UK is not playing its part in its handling of its refugee problem. Chief Executive of Refugee Action, Tim Naor Hilton said that the government was “offshoring its responsibilities onto Europe’s former colonies instead of doing our fair share to help some of the most vulnerable people on the planet”.
Meanwhile, UK-based non-profits run by Congolese nationals in the Diaspora sent a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in which they expressed their fear that the money sent by the UK government could be used to propagate the war in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo instead of improving Rwanda.
According to Phil Clark, Professor of International Politics at SOAS University of London, the government of Rwanda could use this deal as leverage. So whenever the government is accused of human rights violations they can threaten to pull out of the deal. Already once, the country has “threatened to pull its peacekeepers out of Darfur when foreign donors were threatening to pull foreign aid out of Rwanda.”
Whilst the focus is on Rwanda violating human rights, the country is known however, for looking after its refugees well enough. The problem is that the UK is using the country to shed itself of its own responsibility while Rwanda is not equipped to deal with a large number of refugees.
Numerous British celebrities, such as, Olivia Coleman, David Harewood, Robert Rinder, Emma Thompson, Sophie Okonedo, Lemn Sissay and Benjamin Zephaniah have taken a definitive stance with an open letter sent from Together with Refugees, which states: “The prospect of being transported to Rwanda, and African countries like it, is enough to put off even the most desperate people fleeing war and persecution from coming to the UK.
“This tells us much about the British government’s colonial and insulting view of Africa, as a place that is no better than a dumping ground for things – in this case people – it considers a problem.”
The irony of the situation cannot be lost to global observers as one commentator wrote: “Only a couple of hundred years ago, the situation was reversed. Ships full of Africans were being forcefully deported from their homeland to Britain, Europe, and the Americas. Now, the descendants of slave traders are paying the descendants of their would-be slaves to take a burden off their hands.”
The world is ageing at a rapid pace and there will be consequences
There are more old people in the world than there are young people. Both developed and developing countries have to be ready to take the huge burden of the rising population of older people.
According to 2019 data from the UN, the proportion of people aged 60 and over will be 1 in 6 by the year 2050. However, a more recent observation by the WHO shows that the world might reach these statistics much sooner; that is, by 2030. And by 2050, the population of over 60 will double to almost 2.1 billion people.
This demographic change has already occurred in some developed countries. In Japan, the median age is 48 years old, and this makes Japan’s population the oldest in the world. By 2060, there will be one elderly person for each person of working age.
Similarly, there are already more people aged 60 and over in Europe and North America than young people under the age of 15. Germany is another example. It is predicted that by 2050 the population of the income-generating population will fall from 55 million to less than 40 million.
The change is greatest in developed countries because of low mortality rates as well as low fertility rates. This means new children are not being born while the healthcare of the country is improving, so people and children live longer.
The data for the population of the world in 2020 already shows that the population aged 65 and older is 727 million, whereas the population under 5 is 677 million.
There are many consequences of this change. The biggest is the increase in the dependent population, which will affect the economy of the country. Most people over the age of 60 are retired, so they depend on pensions while the younger income-generating population is responsible for providing the money through taxes. The taxes will need to increase to meet the demands of the older generation. Not only that, the government has to spend more money on the older generation who don’t earn on their own rather than invest in developing the country.
There will also be a rise in chronic illnesses which will affect the allocation of healthcare facilities as right now there is more focus on infectious diseases. Since there will be an increase in the older generation, there will be even less informal care from the remaining younger family members. Elderly abuse is already an issue, but there will be a rise in this form of abuse as well.
Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said, “There will be very few children and lots of people over the age of 65, and that makes it very difficult to sustain global society.”
Adding, “Think of all the profound social and economic consequences for a society with more grandparents than grandchildren.”
For many reasons, in America, most women are staying child-free or having children later in life. The biggest reason is the expense required to raise children. Since 2007, the birth rate for women in their 20s has fallen by 28%, shows data.
Similarly, in England and Wales, the percentage of women in their 30s without children rose from 18% in 1975 to 50% in 2020.
Unless more work is done to replace the population and prevent population shrinkage by encouraging people to have more children, the economies of many countries need to prepare for a boost from the older population.
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