The Aral Sea is located between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and has been cited several times in historical documents from the Silk Route era. The region was occupied by desert nomadic tribes and the Sea was often used as a source of fishing. How, then, did it change from local water basin to desert-like status?
The answer is simple: human intervention.
When newscasters talk about climate change, the usual suspects are rising oceans, changing weather patterns and the growing problem of smog in large industrial cities like Beijing. What is not as often focused on is the phenomenon of places like the Aral Sea. It was once the world’s fourth largest inland water body spanning around 68,000 square kilometres. Now it is nearly a tenth of its former size.
As early as the 1930’s through the 1960’s, the Soviet Union diverted water from two main regional rivers, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, so much so that the Aral Sea divided into smaller bodies of water. This was done in order to stimulate the production of cotton in Soviet satellite countries like Uzbekistan. The Soviet Union created canals and dams throughout the desert, in most cases, poorly - and not only diverted a large portion of water, but wasted many more tons of it.
Measuring this change amongst the sea not only comes from noting the difference in the Aral Sea’s surface area - which decreased 60 percent from 1960 to 1998 - but also from commentary on the ecosystem and livelihood for those who live there. There is no fishing industry that booms as it did in the early days of the Soviet Union. Due to weapons testing in the region and fertiliser run offs, the sea became so salty that even aquatic animals have difficulty surviving. Pollution also haunts the Aral Sea and has caused high rates of respiratory illnesses in the who live around the area.
Despite all this, the Aral Sea is making a revival. In 1994, regional powers Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan adopted the Aral Sea Basin Program to better understand and mitigate the effects of humans on the Aral Sea. Rehabilitation work continues through today with countries building the Dike Kokaral as recently as 2005 - which helps to balance the water levels in the North and South Aral Sea.
Satellite imagery photos taken by NASA show that all of these efforts have making an impact. The Aral Sea might be much smaller than it was in the 1960’s; however, there is evidence of growth in the eastern part of the South Aral Sea, whereas the it was completely dry in 2014. However, Philip Micklin, an expert from Western Michigan University cautioned against early optimism, “This year’s events do not signal a restoration of the eastern lobe as a permanent feature.”
In other words, even with the best human efforts to the contrary, long-term effects of bad climate policies can impact a country and its seas can and may never leave us. Still, there are signs of life in the Aral Sea region - from a higher diversity of fish and a burgeoning fishing population. One cannot say whether or not the Aral Sea region will regain a fraction of its former glory, but let’s hope it can make some strides towards fixing what happened in the past.
2017 can be seen as a dark year in our contemporary history. It was a year filled with environmental catastrophes, political change and the growing problem of the Islamic State. But we’ve had enough of bad news. It’s time to spread light on the good things that shaped this year. These positive events are often less talked about or even completely ignored. In this article we will try to review some of this past year’s positive events and promising initiatives.
JANUARY 01, 2017: Dutch electric trains to run exclusively on green energy.
In the beginning of January, a spokesman of the Dutch national railway company NS declared that 100% of their electric trains were powered by wind energy, coming from windmills. The goal of the company was to reach that percentage by January 2018, but they actually achieved it a year earlier! The ENECO and NS companies declared that their 600,000 daily passengers were the first in the world to travel thanks to wind energy. They also declared that one windmill working for one hour could provide a train with enough energy to run for 120 miles. They hope to even decrease that amount of necessary energy by 2020.
MARCH 08, 2017: Iceland becomes the first country to eradicate the gender pay gap.
Iceland has now made it mandatory for companies of more than 25 employees to prove they pay their staff the same amount, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity or nationality. Women should then enjoy the same salary as men for a same job. However, this move is part of a larger movement to completely eradicate the gender pay gap in Iceland over five years (so, by 2022). Although women were still being paid 14 to 18% less than men before this year, Iceland has long been engaged in giving equal rights to both genders and to fight inequality towards women. It has been ranked first country of the world in terms of performance on closing their overall gender gap for the ninth year in a row, by the World Economic Forum.
MAY 07, 2017: Emmanuel Macron wins the French presidential election.
This one is, of course, all relative. Not everybody wanted Macron to win, and many people are unhappy about his current domestic policies. But, the only alternative in this election was Marine Le Pen, who truly represents the most far-rights movements of Europe right now. We are aware and respect that many people voted for her and wanted her to win, however, many more people also saw her as a very dangerous threat for their country, and for Europe. Emmanuel Macron, regardless of his flaws, is a strong European-believer and is firmly engaged in the fight against climate change; Two things that Le Pen clearly opposed.
JUNE 30, 2017: Simone Veil dies at age 89.
Alright, this one is not good news, but we will try to use this moment to remember the battles and to salute the courage of this incredible woman. Simone Veil was a Holocaust survivor and one of France’s most influential states women. She survived Auschwitz concentration camp, and in 1974 became health minister of France. She fought for the legalisation of contraception and abortion. Her precursor work on the rights of women has marked the French political scene. Overcoming political and personal obstacles, she managed to pass abortion rights under the “Veil Law” name. In 1973, she gave a resounding speech on the right to voluntarily interrupt pregnancy before the French National Assembly, at the time, mostly constituted of men. Her speech is still often referred to and became one of those legendary speeches that marked their time. Simone Veil was a strong pioneering feminist and a firm pro-european believer. She served as health minister from 1974 to 1979 and again from 1993 to 1995. In 1979 she became the first president of the European Parliament and held that position until 1982.
JUNE 30: Germany legalises gay marriage. Finland and Australia as well.
After Angela Merkel dropped her long-standing opposition to same-sex marriage, the German Parliament passed the law, allowing everybody to unite under the same rights and to adopt children. Civil partnership has been legal in Germany since 2001, but full rights to get married were voted only this year. As the leader of the CDU (Christian Democrat Party), Angela Merkel has long been opposing gay rights, but she recently changed her mind, and allowed a snap vote.
Actually Finland passed the gay marriage legislation before Germany. On March 1st, the government of Finland legalized same sex marriage and the right to adopt. It was the last of the Nordic countries to legalize gay marriage. However, for now only civil marriage is allowed for all, as the traditional church wedding is still restricted to heterosexual couples.
On December 07, Australia also passed a historic bill legalizing same-sex marriage, prompting immediate celebrations in the parliament and throughout the country. After his speech on gay marriage, one MP proposed to his partner in the parliament.
JULY 06, 2017: France and the UK plan to ban petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040.
France’s new environment minister, Nicolas Hulot, declared that France would stop using vehicles that depended on petrol and diesel by 2040, as part of an environmental plan. This announcement is part of a five-year plan focused on clean energy, decided under the Paris Agreement. This also came after Volvo declared they would only produce electric cars from 2019 on. Poorer households should receive an allowance to exchange their polluting vehicle for a green alternative one. Moreover, the entire country also plans to stop using coal as a source of electricity by 2022. The British government also announced in July that it would ban all petrol and diesel-fuelled cars and vans by 2040, in order to tackle air pollution. Similarly, the Netherlands and Norway have also said that they wanted to ban all combustion-powered vehicles by 2025, and Germany and India aim to do it by 2030.
AUGUST 29, 2017: Successful test for the Ocean Cleanup project.
Back in 2013, young Boyan Slat came up with the idea of creating a new technology to clean the oceans. At first, his idea seemed to be unrealistic, but he received funding and started his non-profit organization. After several successful tests in the North Sea, the Ocean Cleanup project should be fully implemented in May 2018 in the North Pacific gyre. The technology is based on a passive drifting system that absorbs all plastics contained in the ocean, thanks to the natural currents. The organization has the respectable ambition to clean up half of the Great Pacific plastic pollution in a 5-years time.
SEPTEMBER 26, 2017: Saudi Arabia announces the end of the ban on women driving.
It was the last country in the world to forbid women to drive, and on September 26, King Salman released a decree that will end the law. The order should be implemented on June 24, 2018. This event prompted great celebrations amid feminists and women who have been fighting for their right to drive for decades. The ambassador confirmed that women would now have the right to drive wherever they liked and that they would not need a man’s permission to take driving lessons. Moreover, on December 11, Saudi Arabia also lifted the ban on cinemas after 35 years in effect, causing immediate joy amongst film lovers, directors and movie industry workers. The theaters should start showing films in March 2018.
OCTOBER 06, 2017: ICAN is awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.
The threat of a nuclear war weighs upon us all. Many countries are still in possession of nuclear weapons and, lately, North Korea and the United States have threatened to use their respective arsenals. Complete annihilation of nuclear weapons seems a long way away but organizations like ICAN still continue to fight for it. Last year, the Nobel Prize committee decided to award the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to the ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) organization for “its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons" ("The Nobel Peace Prize 2017". Nobelprize.org. 2 Jan 2018).
DECEMBER 09, 2017: Iraq declares victory over ISIS.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi declared in August that the armed forces have regained control over the ISIS occupied areas of Tal Afar and Nineveh. Although not the entire country has been liberated, most of it has been. This marks a real progress in the war against the Islamic States that has been ravaging Iraq for three years. This past year, the Iraqi military has reclaimed several cities and provinces from the terrorist group. On July 09, Mosul, the capital of the Nineveh province, was liberated. Following that, Raqqa was liberated on October 17, although completely destroyed.And, on December 09, the Prime Minister declared that the entire country had been liberated and that they had re-taken control of the Iraqi-Syrian border. Even though some terrorists are presumably still active in a small province of Iraq and that some others could still be hiding in the country, this declaration is a significant event.
DECEMBER 18, 2017: “The Silence Breakers” are TIME magazine’s person of the year.
The MeToo hashtag launched by Alyssa Milano on Twitter followed the Harvey Weinstein scandal. This year, more women than ever before started to speak out about sexual harassment. The American show business industry was the starting point of many accusations of sexual assaults. Then, millions of women shared their experiences on social media and reported their attacker. Sexual harassment is a deep problem rooted in our societies, and even if none of this is normal, it was often explained as “socially acceptable”. The MeToo campaign changed this perception. This year, the TIME magazine decided to honour all these courageous women who decided to follow the movement and to speak out.
DECEMBER 31, 2017: Ban on ivory trade in China enters into force.
China had declared earlier this year that it would progressively ban the ivory trade market throughout the country before the end of 2017. African ivory is widely pleaded in China, as it is seen as a status symbol. However, the illegal ivory trade has dramatic consequences in the African savanna. Thousands of wild elephants and rhinos are being poached each year causing severe issues in the local biodiversity. Activists see this move as a “gamechanger”, that could prevent the species from extinction. Nevertheless, now that the Chinese market is closed, Hong Kong could well become the traffickers’ new target to import illegal ivory on the legal ivory market.
SPECIAL MENTION to these people who restored our faith in humanity.
On April 11, Saffiyah Khan stepped in to defend a muslim woman who was being surrounded by EDL protesters (far-right movement) during a demonstration in Birmingham.
On November 10, Kate McClure created a GoFundMe account to help homeless man, Johnny Bobbitt, who selflessly gave her his last 20$ when she needed gas to go back home safely. She wanted to pay him back and created a funding campaign to help him get back on tracks. She has raised over 400,000$ so far!
In December 2017, a man saved a wild rabbit from the fire ravaging California.
2017 recently came to an end and we thought it was time to remember what happened in the past 12 months. It is hard to tell if 2017 was really worse than any other year, but it does seem like a lot of unfortunate events took place and that dark times repeated themselves. Marked by environmental crisis, political turmoil and terrorist attacks, this year was full of upheavals, so here is a summary of some of the most significant events of 2017.
January 01: A terrorist attack in a nightclub in Istanbul kills 39 people and wounds 70 others.
January 02: Three terrorist attacks kill 70 people in Baghdad, Iraq.
January 07: A car bombing in Azaz, Syria kills at least 48 people.
January 10: Three terrorist attacks in Afghanistan kill at least 57 people.
January 18: A terrorist attack in Gao, Mali, leaves 77 dead.
January 20: Inauguration of Donald Trump, as the 45th President of the United States.
January 21: Millions of people worldwide walked the streets and joined the Women’s March.
January 22: Chile is devastated by fires and declares a state of emergency.
January 27: Donald Trump bans travel to the US for seven mostly Muslim countries and suspends admission of refugees.
February 11: North Korea starts its ballistic missile testings and is internationally condemned.
February 26: The movie Moonlight receives the Best Picture Award at the 2017 Oscar Ceremony.
March 08: A terrorist attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, kills 49 people.
March 10: The UN warns that the world is facing one of the biggest humanitarian crisis in history with risks of large-scale starvation in Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and South Sudan.
March 11: A double terrorist attack in Damas, Syria kills at least 74 people.
March 22: A car drove into the crowd on a bridge in Westminster, London, killing 5 people.
March 29: The United Kingdom calls on the article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to start the leaving process from the European Union.
April 03: A suicide bomber activated his device in a subway station in Saint-Petersbourg, killing 14 people and injuring dozens.
April 04: Two terrorist attacks in Egypt kill at least 44 people.
April 13: The United States drops the MOAB (Mother of All Bombs) on an ISIL base in Afghanistan. The MOAB is the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the entire American arsenal.
April 20: Two people die in terrorist attack in Paris, two days before first turn of presidential election.
May 07: Emmanuel Macron wins the French presidential election against Marine Le Pen and becomes youngest president of France.
May 12: Computers in more than 150 countries are hit by a large-scale ransomware cyberattack.
May 22: Terrorist bombing attack kills 22 people and injures 500 at a concert in Manchester.
May 28: Floods and landslides kill at least 151 people in Sri Lanka.
May 31: A bombing truck kills 350 people and wounds 460 more in Kabul, Afghanistan.
June 01: The United States withdraws from the Paris Climate Agreement.
June 03: A terrorist attack in London’s Borough Market, kills at least 7 and wounds 48.
June 07: Two terrorist attacks are carried simultaneously in Tehran, Iran, killing 17 civilians and wounding 43.
June 10: The 2017 World Expo is opened in Astana, Kazakhstan. Its theme is “Future Energy”.
June 12: American student Otto Warmbier returns from North Korea in coma and dies a couple of days later, after spending 17 months in jail.
June 14: A large fire burns down the Grenfell tower in London, killing at least 30 people.
June 17: Large fires ravage Portugal, killing at least 64 people. More fires started again in October killing about forty people.
July 07: The G20 starts in Hamburg, and is followed by wide street demonstrations.
July 10: Mosul is officially liberated from ISIL.
July 24: Two terrorist attacks in Afghanistan kill at least 59 people.
August 05: The UN Security Council votes in favor of new sanctions against North Korean trade.
August 12: White supremacists march in the streets and are met with counter protesters in Charlottesville, amid rare violence that caused international outrage.
August 14: A terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, kills 18 people.
August 14: 320 people die under a mudflow in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
August 17: Two terrorist attacks in Barcelona, Spain, kill 16 people and leave 100 wounded.
August 25: Beginning of systematic massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, qualified as “ethnic cleansing” by the UNHCHR.
August 25-30: Hurricane Harvey strikes the United States and causes record-breaking floods, killing at least 90 people.
September 03: North Korea carries its sixth and most powerful nuclear test
September 06-10: Hurricane Irma strikes the Caribbean and the United States causing the death of 134 people. Saint Martin island is almost completely destroyed.
September 07: Mexico is hit by strongest earthquake in a century (8.2 magnitude) in Chiapas.
September 15: London is again targeted by terrorists. A terrorist attack happens in the underground station Parsons Green. The device partially exploded and wounded around 30 people.
September 19: Mexico is struck by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake, killing at least 350 people and leaving 6,000 injured (and many more homeless).
September 19-20: Hurricane Maria strikes same areas as Irma, and causes at least 94 deaths.
September 25: Kurdistan votes in referendum in favor of independence from Iraq.
October 01: Crowd in Las Vegas is victim of the deadliest shooting in US history (perpetrated by a single gunman). Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd, killing 58 people and injuring 546.
October 08: Following several accusations of sexual harassment, Harvey Weinstein is sacked by his company. After this event, thousands of women started to speak against sexual harassment and to report their attackers. On October 15, Alyssa Milano launched the #MeToo movement by posting it on Twitter.
October 12: The United States decides to withdraw from UNESCO, Israel as well.
October 14: A truck bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia, kills at least 512 people, and injures 316.
October 17: Raqqa is declared liberated from ISIL.
October 27: Catalonia declares its independence from Spain, but is not recognized.
October 31: A truck drives into the crowd in Manhattan, New York, causing the death of 8 people.
November 03: Deir ez-Zor in Syria and Al-Qa’im in Iraq are both declared liberated from ISIL.
November 06: The COP23 is organized in Bonn, Germany.
November 12: Iraq is struck by a 7.3 earthquake, leaving more than 400 dead and 7,000 injured. This quake was the deadliest this year.
November 15: Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe is arrested and resigns after 37 years in power.
November 22: The International Court of Justice condemns Ratko Mladić to life imprisonment for committing the Srebrenica genocide during the Bosnian War.
November 24: A mosque is attacked in Sinai, Egypt, killing 305 people.
December 06: Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
December 06: California is struggling to contain the Thomas fire.
December 09: Iraq is declared fully liberated from ISIL.
December 12: The organization ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) receives the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.
December 14: The Walt Disney Company declares it will acquire 20th Century Fox film studios.
December 14: The US Federal Communications Commission votes to end net neutrality.
December 22: The UN Security Council votes in favor of additional sanctions on North Korea.
December 24: Guatemala, Honduras and Panama declare they will also move their Israeli embassies to Jerusalem.
December 27: A bomb explodes in a mall in Saint-Petersburg and injures several people.
This list is obviously a non-exhaustive one. Only a few of all terrorist attacks are mentioned here, as 2017 counts hundreds of them. More earthquakes and storms have happened around the globe and even more political issues rattled the international scene. 2017 made us the helpless witnesses of an ongoing nuclear cold war between the United States and North Korea. Environmental catastrophes kept flowing and the reign of terror kept striking everywhere. But fortunately, 2017 was not only about tragic stories. Even though negative events are often the only aspect of our life that is featured in media, some courageous souls are working towards making the world a better place. We’ll be posting an article in the next days, about all good things that happened this past year, watch out for it!
And you? What 2017 event marked you the most? Have you experienced one of them? Leave your comments and impressions and don’t hesitate to share.
Again and again, the world has witnessed leaders across its many communities work towards change. These leaders try out different techniques, strategies for growth and financial schemes to create positive and lasting change. As we’re celebrating women this month, Sub-Stances is highlighting some of the best positive women-led initiatives that are making strides from the past year.
Created in 2013, 68 Voces is a non-profit multimedia project led by Gabriela Badillo in Mexico to promote all of Mexico’s 68 native tongues. The project is now a series of animated indigenous stories all narrated in their original language. What does the project represent? The idea that “nobody can love what they do not know.” Badillo started the project in order to help build respect for the usage of all of these languages and the idea that all of them together represent the cultural wealth of Mexico. Right now, the project has completed 35 videos and is in the process of finding and creating another 33 to truly represent the cultural diversity of Mexico.
Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP)
Swayan Shikshan Prayog is an organization from Maharashtra, India that tries to empower women to farm sustainably by teaching and providing them better education, healthcare and financial support. They won the 2017 Equator Prize from the UN Development Program, a prize that celebrates organizations that protect, restore and sustainably manage nature locally. SSP is unique not only because it is women-led, but also because it uses an agroecological farming model. This model trained women to use low-impact sustainable farming, crop diversification and efficient water use. And in 2016, SSP helped over 20,000 women to act as farmers, entrepreneurs and leaders.
While the World Bank does not have a woman president, around 39 percent of supervisors at the World Bank are women. Of their technical professionals, 44 percent of them are female. The World Bank handles business and one of the biggest obstacles for women in business is funding. Only 30 percent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) around the world are owned by women. That’s a staggeringly low number. We-Fi is a Financial Intermediary Fund at the World Bank, and it aims to provide over 1 billion US dollars to women trying all across the world to start their own businesses. The World Bank’s work in attempting to promote a stronger place for women isn’t just about funding businesses. For example, in Nicaragua the World Bank helped around 230,000 women to acquire legal documents for their property (something that tradition was hindering in the past).
The Female Lead
Edwina Dunn launched the Female Lead as a non-profit to help young girls have older women role models to look up to. The organization tries to create spaces online and across diversified media in order to celebrate women making big changes throughout the world and to show younger girls what is possible for them to achieve. By showing young women what is possible, Dunn is trying to inspire them to reach for higher goals and to be successful in any field they choose. On Female Lead’s website, you can see a series of 20 top women in their 20's and women icons that are at the top of their industries.
Women Led Cities… to come
Although it’s not technically up and running yet, Women-Led Cities is an initiative started by Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman to work towards a greater level of equity in urban planning and design, to start conversations about developing feminist city policy towards greater equality for all people in cities. The city as we know it has been designed and shaped primarily by men, the Women Led Cities Initiatives is a project of THINK.urban and aims to make cities of the future women-led. We’re looking forward to seeing what they will achieve in 2017 in their pilot program in Philadelphia, PA.
Over the last few months, there has been a marked increase in aggressive rhetoric between the United States and North Korean governments. It suffices to say, that the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) has gained new prominence in the news. The DMZ is one of the longest existing walls that continues to divide the Korean Peninsula. It represents the lack of consensus and compromise as well as the remnants of the Cold War’s mentality.
What is the DMZ?
The DMZ is the border between the autocratic Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). It was established in 1953 by the Korean Armistice Agreement and marks where each country’s territory ends. In fact, the Korean War is not over, officially. The war continues to divide the two countries, and the armistice is simply an agreement to a stalemate. The DMZ measures around 250 kilometers (160 miles) long and is about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) wide.
Where did it come from?
The Korean War started on June 25, 1950 and lasted until the Armistice Agreement of July 27, 1953. Even though the war lasted for around three years, it claimed the lives of over three million people. This war is one of the many conflicts that existed as a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States. The DMZ now, is more than a simple wall. It is a distinct break between two different schools of thought - the first focusing around the idea that that governments should work for people and that democracy is the best way to ensure rule of law. The second ideology consists of the idea that governments can act autocratically and for their own interests and it acts in favour of communism.
Given that many countries today have chosen democratic systems of government over regime rule, how does North Korea continue to exist? The DMZ is physically a source of tension between the two Korean states, but legal and sanctions-based walls also continue to isolate North Korea from the rest of the world. The answer? Allies. Both the Chinese and Russian governments aid North Korea by assisting in their nuclear aspirations.China even repatriates North Korean refugees who have escaped through their shared border. With the North Korean government, China faces a dilemma. On one hand, China has more to gain with a North Korean regime that is dependent on China and their shared border - especially given the fact that there aren’t American-supported South Korean troops on their border. On the other hand, a nuclear-powered North Korea can immediately blackmail China into potentially anti-China actions..
The wall between North and South Korea consists of more than differing government approaches, and idealistic thought. Contact between the two countries has been non-existent, and sporadic at best. Family reunions happen rarely, and North Koreans do not have access to the Internet nor any other country. Mines and military troops man the DMZ, and so this wall continues to propagate the stalemate between these two countries.
Where are we going?
The future prospects for tearing down this wall, as Reagan called for in Berlin in 1987, are not the most promising. To be frank, they’re quite bleak. Tensions between the Korean nations is as high as it has ever been. Continued progress towards ICBM nuclear missiles means that every nation is on edge, particularly South Korea. The shared history of the two Koreas mean that for more than two generations, children and adults alike, have been taught to hate the other. How can you possibly bring together two nations that share and breed hatred of each other? However, s stalemates can only last for so long. Sixty-three years later, it seems like it still holds - but for how much longer?
Check out some photos that the Atlantic reporters have of the DMZ and read facts about the Korean wall with Business Insider.
Do you remember how high school history textbooks taught about World War Two? How do you think that very same content is taught in Russia? Or a question even closer to home for our American readers - how do you think certain extremist groups are taught about in Texas?
Two summers ago, there was a debate in Texas about particular textbooks not talking about the Jim Crow laws or lessening the impact of slavery upon America. The Civil War is a defining point in American history and the differences on how textbooks handle that issue are hugely important. For some textbooks, the cause of the war can be thought of in a purely federal vs. states’ rights context while for others, the main instigator was slavery and the rights of every person who lives in the states, not just white male landowners.
This is not, however, a purely American problem. In Russia, the government put forward a manual titled, “A Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006: A Manual for History Teachers.” What was the manual meant to do? Like textbooks in Texas, it is meant to create a different kind of history - one where Stalin’s actions against the Russian people are justified against American aggression. The Soviet Union is not a failure, but rather an example of a fair and equal society.
When we think about historical events, it might not be easy to imagine that in a sense, they are changeable. How we write down our pasts does change them. Consider that if no one had written about the Holocaust, we wouldn’t be mindful of threats to particular ethnic groups today. It may be a cliche, but history is doomed to repeat itself unless we are wary of what has happened before and how it may happen again. Textbooks aren’t the more obvious indicator of where things in the past can shift, but they play a huge role in what is taught and how it is remembered.
Texts that teach
Over the past month, the plight of the Rohingya has been publicized across the world, with even a top human rights official of the United Nations reporting it as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Since the end of the August 2017, around 507,000 Rohingya have fled their own country into Bangladesh. Where they will go is as much a question as to how Bangladesh will support this swell of IDPs (Internally Displaced People) in their borders. And unfortunately, it’s not just a question of shelter. The government and the international community have to think about access to food, clean water, proper sanitation and treatment for those attacked in their own country, The International Organization for Migration has trucked over 243,000 litres of water but is that enough? Can any one organization do enough?
Thankfully, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated another 12 million USD to help these refugees. This is the preceded by the CERF usage of 7 million USD to help humanitarian actions in Myanmar. There is little question that the money is needed. No state government can cope with the massive refugee population at the gates.
But why is this happening? Why are the Rohingya being attacked? Why are their villages being burnt down forcing them to be chased out of the country? Who even are the Rohingya? Of the questions, we can answer a few.
The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority that are not eligible to be citizens of Myanmar. They arrived in the Rakhine area of Myanmar (then Burma) in the 8th century as seafarers of the Middle East. Some were forced into servitude, others used for slave labor. When the British arrived in 1825, there was a mass immigration of Rohingya to Myanmar (then Burma) to find work. This caused mass resentment among the local population. So when the military junta renamed the country Myanmar and shook off the colonialist rule of the British, becoming a free state after World War II, the Rohingya were massively discriminated against.
In 2012, camps were set up throughout the Rakhine area for the Rohingya, where they were unable to access schools or healthcare. Two years later, their identity cards were taken, and with that - the loss of the ability to travel. Now, mass persecution and ethnic cleansing have followed. Myanmar claims that the persecution is due to a series of violent attacks against the Buddhist population of Myanmar and cites its actions are primarily due to terrorism.
One particularly appropriate behavioral comparison to the Rohingya is the way that the United States government has treated its indigenous population, the Native Americans. They are considered outsiders. Forced from their lands, they are called “illegal immigrants”. The military has even made it their quest to force all Rohingya to leave the country of Myanmar. Why the military and not its leader? Aung San Suu Kyi is Myanmar’s de-facto leader’s Nobel Peace Prize winner. She has faced widespread international criticism for her lack of action. However it may be the case that it is the military that still runs the country and she can do little about it.
In many countries where there is internal unrest, the solution is often to find a scapegoat, a population to be targeted and ostracized in order to avoid an overt focus on other problems the country faces. While we cannot be sure this is the main reason for the atrocities being committed, it is one possibility. When we ask the question - why the Rohingya? - we’re asking the same question as with every other genocide. Why the Jews? Why the Armenians? Why the Aboriginal population of Australia? The reasons do matter, but what matters more is bringing attention to their plight - which is what we hope to do.
Advance your Knowledge, Spread Awareness
When thinking about the relationship between government and religion, I find it easiest to think of the matter in terms of an app that almost everyone knows about: Tinder. The infamous app simplifies the matter to a right swipe (approval) or left swipe (disapproval).
How you think about religion and government depends on where you come from. For those of us from the United States, the separation of church and state is something that is ingrained in us at birth. But try syncing that with the amount of religious dialogue that goes on in the House of Representatives or the Senate. How does a nation claim to be so separate from religion and yet be “one nation under god?” The jury is still out.
Think about India. The world’s largest democracy also claims to be a secular state, but 80 percent of their population practices Hinduism. Pakistan has Islam as its state religion, and 95-98% of the Pakistani people practice it. Why such high numbers? That has to do with the “two-state” theory, where it is believed that the partition of India was largely based on the split of religion. Can two such large prevailing religions exist in the same nation-state? Apparently not.
In perhaps the largest blanket statement ever uttered: religion varies vastly from country to country. People practice differently, governments restrict it differently and how it is perceived by the rest of the world depend on what part you are in. India, for example, bans cow slaughter as cows are sacred in the Hindu religion. Russia passed a law in 2015 banning extremism but especially targeted the actions of Islam. Both India and Russia are enormously large countries and while one has a majority of Hindu practitioners, the other is 75% Orthodox Christianity.
But let’s simplify the matter like Tinder.
According to the Pew Research Center, governments are pretty heavily swiping left. In Europe, there was a 53% rise in government harassment and force against religious groups in 2015. The Middle East-North Africa harassed Muslims at a rate of 75 percent. Those numbers seem unbelievably high, but think about the violent reaction of Europe towards the refugees of countries like Syria and Libya. Does it seem that surprising?
It is the prevailing belief that governments are here to support all members of our society, whether they be from the Islamic or Christian walks of life. Whether that thought comes from moralistic impulses or political theory depends on your own opinion, but it is out of the question: governments are not certainly not feeling down to netflix and chill with religion these days.
Seventy-two years ago today, the United States became the first and only country to use nuclear weapons during warfare. The bomb “Little Boy” was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6th, while the bomb “Fat Man” was used on the Japanese city of Nagasaki three days later. Between both bombings, an estimated total of 129,000 Japanese citizens were killed, an indeterminable number more poisoned with radiation that would continue to affect the rest of their lives and those of their descendents.
The rationale for using these weapons almost a century later is still under consideration. Many argue that nuclear weapons were necessary because many more thousands would have died if the Americans had invaded Japan. Others claim that surrender was under consideration by Japanese generals and that the Emperor of Japan wanted peace.
Regardless of what side of the debate you fall, there is no questioning that these weapons cause damage stretching over generations. There is no defense against a nuclear bomb. We have yet to fully understand the impact that such weapons cause to not only the victims of these bombings, but also the damage done to the environment. Looking back all these years later, the question remains: are nuclear weapons a reminder of scientific achievement? Or, are they cause for remembrance of its victims? Thus, further provoking deep thought on the nature of weaponry and the extent to which countries will go to claim victory on a world stage fraught with uncertainty.
As discussions about nuclear war infiltrate the news and media, it is more important now than ever to remember that the impact of the first use, is still being felt.
All content posted on this site belong to their respectable owners. Each author holds all copyrights, and all rights are reserved to the holder.