West Papua: The torture mode of governance

April 18th, 2024


IMAGE/Benny Wenda (President ULMWP)

Budi Hernawan said it ten years ago: “torture in Papua … has become a mode of governance.” It hasn’t stopped. It’s got worse. It’s got worse precisely because it’s a mode of governance accepted and blessed by the international “community” whose neoliberal politics of extraction means extermination of anything and anyone getting in its way.

It’s got worse just now because Israel’s genocide, ecocide, starvation, and torture in Palestine isn’t only distracting attention from these practices in smaller and more remote places but also showing that it’s okay, it’s part of our system, you can do it with impunity because it’s all part of a bigger plan, and even the US presidential elections might have something to do with decisions being made to let Israel get on with its murderous work. It’s okay because 91-times-indicted US presidential candidate Trump is given his electoral stump and media loudspeakers to warn, Hitler-style, that his enemies are “vermin”, that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” and promising the largest ever deportation operation in U.S. history. Not that Europe is much better. Of course it’s not. It’s part of the same system. Just wearing different masks. One result is that, since 2014, some 29,000 people from empire-damaged parts of the world have died trying to migrate to Europe, and rejected by Europe. Many “could have been prevented by prompt and effective assistance to migrants in distress”. And it’s okay to have former Suharto son-in-law, mass murderer, war criminal Prabowo Subianto, former head of US-trained Kopassus “Special Forces” (special at torturing and kidnapping) as the new president of Indonesia. He’s our ally against China.

But what about torture itself? What about the human beings who are routinely called “moneys”, “dogs”, “pigs”, “rats” and “stone-age idiots” and thus harmed and mutilated by their fellow human beings? What about the place where it happens? Who allows it to happen? West Papua was handed to Indonesia (and international corporations) by the United Nations in a trumped-up referendum in 1969, but the brutality actually began in 1963 after Indonesia was given control of West Papua in the (Cold War) New York Agreement concocted by the United States, Holland, and Indonesia. What happened next? To start with, more than 500,000 people have been murdered. Institutionalised torture was part of that.

The latest example to come out of West Papua is from a highlands place called Yahukimo (named for the Yali, Hubla, Kimyal, and Momuna tribes in the area) with a population of about 362,000 (but more than half the population of Melanesian West Papua consists of Indonesian transmigrants—another slow but effective mechanism of genocide). Look at the videos, if you can stomach them. Look anyway, even if it makes you want to throw up, because this affects everyone who has something called humanity.

Here we see young Indonesians having fun as they joke about taking turns to thrash, stab, slash, and kick the “animal flesh” of a West Papuan man they have made to stand in a drum of freezing water. Seeing the suffering of the shivering, wounded man is unbearable. Seeing young men amused about what they’re doing to him is also unbearable. What world raised them to do this with their young lives? This is nothing new in Yahukimo. Last month two teenage boys were arrested and tortured by grinning Indonesian soldiers, who took trophy photos of their victims. Another five teenage boys were murdered by Indonesian soldiers in September 2023. Two women were raped and murdered last October. Some 40% of woman torture victims are raped. Illegal gold mining is killing people with mercury, precious metals, and in the name of security for the miners. Dozens of people have died in a recent famine in Yahukimo. That didn’t make world headlines either. Famine also happened in 2006, 2009, also unheadlined. It’s normal there. But who knows or cares about Yahukimo?

Unlike torture perpetrated in the infamous black sites, it isn’t secret in West Papua. Well, it isn’t and is, depending on the audience. On the one hand, it’s a show for Indonesian and Papuan audiences within West Papua and, on the other hand, in the international domain, it’s under wraps because Indonesia effectively seals the borders, and the international powers-that-be are happy with it for their own geopolitical reasons. It’s an international secret because Indonesia is “our” ally against China, not to mention easy legally untrammelled plunder of its natural resources.

Budi Hernawan describes ten aspects of torture in West Papua.

1) Most victims are village people, subsistence farmers, either accused of supporting the independence movement or “collateral” victims. The collateral crime doesn’t matter because, since West Papuans are described as animals and primitive, they’re innately members or sympathisers of “armed criminal groups” and, in their occupied land non-citizens, and therefore a threat by their very existence. So, they can all only be disciplined by the harshest of measures. Extreme Indonesian nationalist views dating back to Sukarno’s “Sabang to Merauke” (an Indonesia encompassing all the former Dutch East Indies) slogan, is an expression of sovereignty and a licence to kill the “animals” that get in the way of Indonesian settler colonial projects. Torture proves their subhuman nature.

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How AI reduces the world to stereotypes

April 18th, 2024


Rest of World analyzed 3,000 AI images to see how image generators visualize different countries and cultures.

In July, BuzzFeed posted a list of 195 images of Barbie dolls produced using Midjourney, the popular artificial intelligence image generator. Each doll was supposed to represent a different country: Afghanistan Barbie, Albania Barbie, Algeria Barbie, and so on. The depictions were clearly flawed: Several of the Asian Barbies were light-skinned; Thailand Barbie, Singapore Barbie, and the Philippines Barbie all had blonde hair. Lebanon Barbie posed standing on rubble; Germany Barbie wore military-style clothing. South Sudan Barbie carried a gun.

The article — to which BuzzFeed added a disclaimer before taking it down entirely — offered an unintentionally striking example of the biases and stereotypes that proliferate in images produced by the recent wave of generative AI text-to-image systems, such as Midjourney, Dall-E, and Stable Diffusion.

Bias occurs in many algorithms and AI systems — from sexist and racist search results to facial recognition systems that perform worse on Black faces. Generative AI systems are no different. In an analysis of more than 5,000 AI images, Bloomberg found that images associated with higher-paying job titles featured people with lighter skin tones, and that results for most professional roles were male-dominated.

A new Rest of World analysis shows that generative AI systems have tendencies toward bias, stereotypes, and reductionism when it comes to national identities, too. 

Using Midjourney, we chose five prompts, based on the generic concepts of “a person,” “a woman,” “a house,” “a street,” and “a plate of food.” We then adapted them for different countries: China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Nigeria. We also included the U.S. in the survey for comparison, given Midjourney (like most of the biggest generative AI companies) is based in the country. 

For each prompt and country combination (e.g., “an Indian person,” “a house in Mexico,” “a plate of Nigerian food”), we generated 100 images, resulting in a data set of 3,000 images.

“Essentially what this is doing is flattening descriptions of, say, ‘an Indian person’ or ‘a Nigerian house’ into particular stereotypes which could be viewed in a negative light,” Amba Kak, executive director of the AI Now Institute, a U.S.-based policy research organization, told Rest of World. Even stereotypes that are not inherently negative, she said, are still stereotypes: They reflect a particular value judgment, and a winnowing of diversity. Midjourney did not respond to multiple requests for an interview or comment for this story.

“It definitely doesn’t represent the complexity and the heterogeneity, the diversity of these cultures,” Sasha Luccioni, a researcher in ethical and sustainable AI at Hugging Face, told Rest of World.

Researchers told Rest of World this could cause real harm. Image generators are being used for diverse applications, including in the advertising and creative industries, and even in tools designed to make forensic sketches of crime suspects.

The accessibility and scale of AI tools mean they could have an outsized impact on how almost any community is represented. According to Valeria Piaggio, global head of diversity, equity, and inclusion at marketing consultancy Kantar, the marketing and advertising industries have in recent years made strides in how they represent different groups, though there is still much progress to be made. For instance, they now show greater diversity in terms of race and gender, and better represent people with disabilities, Piaggio told Rest of World. Used carelessly, generative AI could represent a step backwards. 

“My personal worry is that for a long time, we sought to diversify the voices — you know, who is telling the stories? And we tried to give agency to people from different parts of the world,“ she said. “Now we’re giving a voice to machines.”

Rest of World for more

Is ‘neoliberal feminist’ an oxymoron?

April 18th, 2024


IMF chief Christine Lagarde protested her innocence through tears on Friday IMAGE/Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty/Independent

Christine Lagarde is one of the strongest proponents of gender equality amongst the global elite. President of the European Central Bank, she is also a former International Monetary Fund Managing Director and French finance minister. The former lawyer was the first woman to chair global law firm Baker McKenzie, the first woman to serve as a finance minister from any G7 country and then the first to lead the IMF.

I have had the opportunity to attend meetings between Lagarde and the head of Oxfam a few times over the last 10 years or so. She is always very impressive. The first time was in her office in France’s ultra-modern Ministry of Economy and Finance in Paris, overlooking the Seine. The office was incredible; it had a red sofa and a zebra skin rug. It felt like we were in a Duran Duran video from 1985.  We were here to talk about French support for a Financial Transaction Tax.

As we filed in and took our seats opposite her at a long table, she took one look at us, smiled, and said: “are there no women in Oxfam then?” We were indeed two Frenchmen, an Englishman (me), and an Australian — very pale and male indeed.

I think there is no doubt that Lagarde would describe herself as a feminist, and a very strong advocate of gender equality. She is also without a doubt a big fan of the current neoliberal economic system. She thinks it is far from perfect and could be a lot fairer, but nevertheless very much thinks that this is broadly the best way to organize capitalism.

An interview we did with feminist and decolonial political economist Bhumika Muchhala on our EQUALS podcast this week about feminist economics made me reflect on whether it is in fact possible to be both these things — a champion of feminism and a champion of the current economic system. Or is a “neoliberal feminist” an oxymoron? A contradiction in terms?

The gale force neoliberal headwind

Lagarde in her speeches draws attention to the progress women have seen over the last 50 years, something others too have highlighted. She points out that there is no doubt that in terms of cultural norms, legislation, and participation in the workforce, the life of women in most countries is much improved compared to 50 years ago. That there is still a very long way to go, yes, but that genuine progress has been made.

Muchhala’s argument, by contrast, is that what little progress there has been for women globally is overwhelmingly counteracted by the deeply sexist nature of the global economic system, particularly its neoliberal version. By squeezing workers’ wages and rights, by squeezing the ability of governments to build universal welfare states through seemingly permanent austerity, and by allowing corporations and the richest to increase their wealth at astounding rates, the current system is like a gale force wind blowing in the face of any attempts to take steps in the direction of gender equality.

Particularly, Muchhala felt that women’s participation in the workforce should not be taken as a proxy for women’s empowerment — something that is definitely often done by Lagarde and others.

Young women fighting for their rights in Myanmar

I remember a few years back meeting young women working in the garment industry in Myanmar. They were working 12-hour days in unsafe factories, dismissed for the smallest infringements, or sacked as soon as they got pregnant.

Yet many of these young women felt they were more economically empowered, far freer than their mothers and grandmothers, far more in charge of their own destinies. Their situation was both terrible and better than the past. The point, it seemed to me, was whether this was the best we could — or should — expect. Was the only way to get more women in the workforce globally to accept this appalling level of exploitation, too? Those young garment workers certainly didn’t think so, which was why they were organizing their first trade union, at huge risk.

It seems to me there is little doubt that the main beneficiaries of greater participation of women in the workforce are the owners of wealth. I just look around me here in the UK, where two salaries are needed now to support a household, when one was once enough. Where the huge subsidy of unpaid care is still exactly that: a subsidy to the formal economy (to the tune of at least $10.8 trillion a year). But now women are expected to work and care, too.

In a different system, a fairer system, the huge increase in women’s participation in the workforce should have led to everyone having to work less. The huge boost to productivity and growth, instead of building billionaire bank balances, if fairly distributed could have eliminated poverty and enabled the universal provision of public services, including care services like childcare, eldercare, and healthcare. It could have built a care infrastructure that would further increase both gender and economic equality, as well as well-being.

I think there is a parallel with the broader discussion of poverty and the neoliberal period. It is a fact that extreme poverty has fallen dramatically in the last 40 years, with over a billion less people living on less than $2 a day. Equally, it is true that there has been progress in terms of women’s empowerment and equality. But progress on both has, I think, been a tiny fraction of what it could have been if the global economy was organized on different lines. Instead, the neoliberal economic air we breathe, the neoliberal sea we swim in, constantly and structurally undermines much greater progress. I would go further, in fact: I think it makes a permanent end to poverty and to gender-based discrimination impossible.

Nowhere is that truer than in terms of inequality. As long as 66 cents in every dollar of new wealth goes directly to the top 1%, and as long as the global economy is organized in such a way to ensure that continues happening, women’s oppression will continue. Indeed, as Muchhala points out, women’s oppression is absolutely fundamental to this unequal system continuing, as so much wealth is extracted from their unpaid care work and underpaid work.

Inequality for more

‘He just vanished’ — missing activists highlight Tajikistan’s disturbing use of enforced disappearances

April 17th, 2024


Nasimjon Sharipov has not been seen in public since late February 2023. IMAGE/Group 24

‘He just vanished’ ? missing activists highlight Tajikistan’s disturbing use of enforced disappearances

“He just vanished; left his apartment for a meeting and disappeared. We’ve checked all the police stations, jails, the hospital and migration centers. We don’t know what to do.”

These were the words Tajik opposition leader Suhrob Zafar uttered to me in late February 2023, days after Nasimjon Sharipov, his colleague in the political movement Group 24, went missing.

The two of them had lived for almost 10 years in Turkey, having fled Tajikistan in 2014 because of the government’s repression of opposition groups, including the banning of Group 24. Zafar told me that both men had recently received anonymous threats on their phones, warning that they would be kidnapped and sent back to Tajikistan, where the government routinely uses torture and lengthy jail sentences to suppress opposition.

Zafar and I stayed in touch until March 10, 2024, after which he stopped responding. I later learned that on that day Zafar too went missing. An unconfirmed report in independent Tajik media on March 20 suggested that both men had been seen in handcuffs exiting a plane at an airport in Tajikistan’s capital on March 15 – but to date, there has been no official word on the two activists’ whereabouts.

Alarm over the fate of both men is understandable. It tallies with research I recently conducted for the Washington, D.C.-based human rights group Crude Accountability documenting how Tajikistan has systematically engaged in the practice of enforced disappearances – deemed as one of the most pernicious crimes under international law.

Drawing on primary interviews and profiling 31 cases of incommunicado detention or enforced disappearances over a 20-year period, I traced how enforced disappearances have become a mainstay in Tajikistan’s playbook for suppressing dissent in this nation of over 10 million people.

A particular terror

Enforced disappearances occur when a government detains, captures, imprisons or kills while refusing to acknowledge a person’s whereabouts or their grave. In 2010, the U.N. General Assembly adopted The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which expressly states: “No one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance.” But Tajikistan has never been a signatory.

The practice unleashes a particular terror on both victims and their families: removing someone entirely from the access of their loved ones, while inflicting anguish and uncertainty that may continue for years, even decades.

“Disappearances” entered the popular lexicon after becoming the hallmark of brutal juntas that violently took power in Latin America 50 years ago, such as in Argentina and notably Chile, where at least 1,248 people were disappeared on the orders of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Half a century later, my research indicates that this pernicious practice is being committed with disturbing regularity by Tajikistan under the repressive rule of authoritarian President Emomali Rahmon.

Under Rahmon’s rule since 1992, Tajikistan has consistently been ranked among the “worst of the worst” when it comes to its political rights and civil liberties records.

The use of enforced disappearances by the Tajik authorities dates back to the 1992-97 civil war that ravaged the republic following the Soviet Union’s collapse, leaving anywhere from 20,000 to 150,000 dead.

Arriving at an accurate estimate of the number of Tajiks disappeared is extremely difficult.

Attempts by scholars and the United Nations working group on enforced disappearances, which visited the country in 2019, have been thwarted by Rahmon’s resistance to allow any critical examination of his troops’ potential abuses.

The U.N. team was unable to get official figures, noting an “unprecedented” indifference in shedding light on the matter in Tajikistan.

Nonetheless, they estimated that thousands of people were unaccounted for from the civil war period.

Exporting repression

The Conversation for more

UN Palestine Commission Partition recommendation – Statement from the Arab Higher Committee, 6 February 1948

April 17th, 2024

The statement on the UN Partition of Palestine by the Arab Higher Committee is a reminder of the sordid history of the U.S. in the expropriation of land and the attempted ethnic cleansing of the people of Palestine.

Ceasefires of unceasing fire. Resolutions without resolve. Not for the first time, the US actions in the United Nations (UN) have exposed the wretched ineffectiveness of that international entity when it comes to defending the lives and rights of the Palestinian people. Just over a week ago, the United States refused to support the UN Security Council’s (UNSC) otherwise-unanimous vote for a temporary halt to the genocide in Gaza. For the first time, the US abstained from the ceasefire vote, instead of vetoing it outright, but quickly called the UN’s resolution “non-binding” – and, effectively, pointless. The blood-soaked palm of Linda Thomas Greenfield, again, signified the imperial and impetuous American abstention; the US greenlighting of a new $2.5bn weapons package to the zionist entity in the days after the UNSC vote cynically demonstrated that their real commitment is to genocide.

For Palestine, this is nothing new. The US has repeatedly refused to use the UN stage to censure the actions of the zionist entity against Palestine. And in fact, almost since the formation of the UN in 1945, the organization has repeatedly betrayed the Palestinian people as the US has either bought or bullied UN member states into supporting the zionists. Indeed, the 1948 UN vote that endorsed the partition of Palestine was less an exercise in international democracy than a performance of corruption, coercion, and intimidation by the US superpower over smaller, weaker states.

This history of bullying and brow-beating is described in detail in a February, 6, 1948 statement sent by Isa Nakhleh, Representative of the Arab Higher Committee, to the UN Palestine Commission following the vote in favor of partition. In the statement, Nakhleh asserts that “The Arab Higher Committee maintains that the partition recommendation does not represent the sentiments of the United Nations.” He accuses the US of strong-arming other UN members into voting for partition, writing, “The pressure put by the United States Delegation and Government on certain nations, whether at Lake Success

[in Long Island, site of the original UN headquarters]

or in these nations’ capitals, is nothing short of political blackmail.”

Of the examples of this political blackmail that Nakleh documents, two are particularly painful for us: that of Liberia, and that of Haiti. Both countries followed the US lead when it came to voting for partition, making both countries complicit in the inevitable decades of slaughter emboldened and enabled by the UN decision. Naklheh asserts that Liberia was going to vote against partition. However, the Liberian delegate, Ellen Scarborough, changed her vote after she was threatened with physical violence, prompting her to ask for police protection.

As for Haiti, it is worth reading Nakhleh’s comments in full:

The delegate of Haiti on Wednesday made a very strong speech against partition, on instructions from his Government. On Saturday he circulated a note to Delegations explaining that he is voting for partition in accordance with fresh instructions from his Government. The Haitian Delegate did not find words to describe his shame and he was seen in tears in the lobby and Delegates’ lounge. Being a sincere and noble man, he could not hide the fact that his Government surrendered to pressure and was forced into changing its instructions to him.

At the time, Haiti’s president was the progressive Dumarsais Estimé. Haiti’s delegate to the United Nations was Ernest Chauvet, the mulatto editor, as Cedric Dover described him, of Le Nouvelliste, who had been jailed during the US occupation of Haiti for his criticisms of the occupation’s policies and puppet government. Unsurprisingly, Chauvet denied Nakhleh’s accusations , claiming that Haiti’s entire history was one of standing up against the Great Powers while asserting an identification with the plight of the Jewish people.

Black Agenda Report for more

6 Nurse AI Robots that are changing healthcare in 2024

April 17th, 2024


Healthcare’s future has arrived, and it is becoming increasingly linked with robotics. Robotics in healthcare is gaining popularity. 

According to a recent analysis by InsightAce Analytic, the worldwide robotic nurse industry is expected to grow 17.07% to reach an astonishing $2,777.61 million by 2031. 

This promising rise demonstrates robotics’ growing significance and potential in revolutionizing healthcare delivery. Here we delve into notable recent advancements in the field and the implications of robotics in healthcare for nurses and healthcare workers.

Meet Nurse Robots and Healthcare AI Tools

In Japan, human-like robots have been utilized for years as supplemental healthcare workers in elderly homes across the country. More recently, hospitals and healthcare facilities have started to introduce nurse robots and other healthcare AI tools. 

Larger robotic machines can be used to carry out laborious physical tasks like moving patients, and smaller interactive robots are being used to combat loneliness and inactivity in the elderly population. 

1. Moxi

Austin, Texas-based Diligent Healthcare was established in 2017 and has been working on Moxi ever since. Moxi is an advanced robot designed to assist healthcare teams.

The robotic assistant is outfitted with modern sensors, cameras, and artificial intelligence algorithms that allow it to autonomously roam healthcare facilities, engage with people, and complete non-patient-facing tasks such as delivering lab specimens and supplies or collecting soiled linens. 

Moxi also greets patients in hallways and poses for selfies. The robot’s social intelligence enables it to learn and adapt to its surroundings.

Medical City Dallas and Medical City Denton are two facilities already using Moxi, and the staff seems to love it. “I was unsure about Moxi at first, but now that I know how to use it, I really like it… it saves us a lot of time,” said an employee in the radiology department.

>> Click to See the Top Online MSN Programs

2. Robot Nurse Bear

Meet the robot nurse bear – Japanese robotics engineers at Riken and Sumitomo Riko Labs have created a robotic bear capable of helping care for elderly patients. This bear can lift a patient from a standing position or from the floor, transfer a patient to a wheelchair, carry a patient from point A to B, and turn patients in bed.

An increasing elderly population paired with an insufficient amount of healthcare workers able to care for it makes revolutionary inventions like nurse robots incredibly helpful.

Without sufficient staffing for elderly care, more Japanese citizens are forced to leave their jobs to take care of aging family members. And those who do work in nursing and healthcare, suffer from high stress and fatigue. So Japan is looking towards robotics for help. 

3. Robot Dinsow

Nurse for more

Are Israelis buying up Northern Cyprus?

April 16th, 2024


MAP/Medium/Duck Duck Go

Once celebrated as a prime sanctuary for foreign investments in the Mediterranean, Turkish Cyprus has come under fire for allowing Israeli entities to purchase large swathes of property on the strategically significant island.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 and subsequent US/EU sanctions imposed on Russian individuals, wealth, and commerce, a notable shift occurred in the financial dynamics of the island of Cyprus. 

Assets owned by Russian oligarchs began moving from banks in the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus (southern Cyprus) to those in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), a state recognized only by Turkiye and not subjected to the same sanctions.

This influx of Russian capital contributed significantly to a resurgence in Northern Cyprus’ construction industry. The sector’s expansion, particularly evident in the transformation of Yeni Iskele from a quaint village to a thriving urban center adorned with skyscrapers and luxury residences within five years, has been remarkable.

This boom has not been without controversy. The sale of newly constructed properties, some of which are on erstwhile agricultural lands, to Israeli nationals has sparked debate in both Turkiye and the TRNC.

Another ‘Israel’ 

Allegations have surfaced, claiming a significant proportion – if not most of these foreign investors – are of Jewish/Israeli origin.

The claims have gained momentum in the wake of Israel’s military actions in Gaza post-7 October, leading to speculation and concern about TRNC’s potential geopolitical shift, with some even questioning if it could become a “new Israel or a part of the existing one.”

In a bid to demonstrate its commitment to enforcing international sanctions and maintaining its reputation as a credible financial hub, the Republic of Cyprus has taken decisive action to prevent potential violations.

The Cypriot government has closed 120,000 suspicious bank accounts and more than 40,000 shell companies belonging to Russian nationals and entities while imposing additional sanctions on local individuals and organizations suspected of facilitating the circumvention of restrictions imposed on Russian oligarchs.

These measures have been met with both praise and criticism. Some argue that they are necessary to ensure compliance with international law, while others claim that they unfairly target the Russian community and harm the Cypriot economy.

Northern Cyprus fights back 

To bolster its efforts and investigate potential breaches more effectively, the Cypriot government has sought assistance from Washington. In response, a team of 24 highly specialized FBI agents – experts in uncovering sanctions violations and money laundering schemes – has been dispatched to the island.

Hailing from the US Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), these agents will work closely with local authorities to analyze bank transactions, question lawyers and accountants suspected of aiding sanctioned individuals, and gather evidence of potential wrongdoing.

The loose regulations, low taxes, and the use of the devalued Turkish lira have made Northern Cyprus an attractive destination for Russians, Iranians, and other foreigners looking to invest their money. The population in the north has nearly doubled in the past decade, with Turkish Cypriots now comprising just a third of the population. This demographic shift has raised concerns among locals, who have come to feel like strangers in their own country.

The increase in the number of home sales and lands to foreigners, particularly those of Jewish origin, has become a cause for concern in Northern Cyprus. In response to a Turkish media campaign alleging that thousands of Israeli and Jewish people were buying properties in the region, the TRNC will restrict property sales to foreigners.

The campaign was fueled by a series of social media posts published by Sabahattin Ismail, a journalist and former adviser to the TRNC’s ex-president Rauf Denktas. Since the start of Israel’s attacks on Gaza six months ago, Ismail has shared sale records and company registries, claiming that thousands of Jewish people from Israel and European countries have purchased housing and land in TRNC under various nationalities.

The Cradle for more

Knowledge economy vs religion economy: Between Nigeria and the world

April 16th, 2024


IMAGE/Britannica/Duck Duck Go

In today’s world economy, the contradiction between the knowledge economy and the religion economy presents a compelling narrative that determines every nation’s development. While some countries’ development relies on their innovation, scientific advancement, and investment in education skills, Nigeria seems stuck in a cycle of dependency on religious favour, neglecting the human intellect and creativity they are blessed with.  Nations practising the knowledge economy are nations that have harnessed the power of human intellect, innovation and education to drive economic growth and prosperity. They are trained to ask questions, research, and proffer solutions regardless of the situation.

Japan, a true example, stands as a proof to the transformative potential of the Knowledge Economy. Even with its lack of substantial natural resources, Japan leveraged its skills in technology, research, and development to emerge as one of the world’s most prosperous nations, with zero tolerance for religious extremists. In contrast to Nigeria’s reliance on divine intervention, Japan’s success is based on critical thinking, problem-solving, scientific research, and continuous learning. Japanese society has always prioritized education, investing heavily in research institutions, and promoting a conducive environment for technological innovation and development. This has not only helped Japan sustain its economy but also influenced its global markets with its rapid advancements in automotive, electronics, and robotics industries.

On the opposite, the religion economy shows a cycle of dependency on divine intervention while neglecting the promising potential of human intellect and ingenuity. Nigeria, often cited as one of the world’s examples, grapples with systemic issues stemming from her over-reliance on religious faith to address socio-economic challenges. Coveting the development of other countries while asking “God When?” without taking any steps towards emulating the development process. Despite being blessed with abundant natural resources, over 60 years after independence, Nigeria lags in overall development, plagued by corruption, poverty, and infrastructural decay, and still categorised as a developing country. The continuous collapse of industries and the rise in the number of religious institutions in Nigeria proves the influence of the religion economy, where leaders and citizens await divine interventions for intellectual solutions. The reliance of Nigerians on faith-based solutions not only deters progress but also increases the socio-economic disparities, degrading Nigeria to the level of the “poverty capital of the world.” Using Israel and Saudi Arabia as case studies proves the notion that religious affiliation prevents economic prosperity. Despite their religious significance as the birthplaces of Christianity and Islam, respectively, both nations embraced the knowledge economy, leveraging innovation and strategic investments to bolster their economies.

Israel is renowned for its development of technology and defence, signifying the cordial relationship between knowledge and economic development. Through investments in research and development, Israel has emerged as a global leader in cybersecurity, agriculture, and medical technology, promoting economic growth and technological innovation. Similarly, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have made significant strides in diversifying their economies beyond oil dependence, they prioritize investments in education, infrastructure, and technological innovation. The UAE, in particular, is currently known as a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship, catalysing economic growth through initiatives such as Dubai’s Knowledge Village and Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City. In contradiction to the successes of Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, Nigeria’s adherence to the Religion Economy has enabled a cycle of underdevelopment and stagnation. Despite its vast potential, rather than development, Nigeria continues to grapple with several minor  issues ranging from corruption and unemployment to inadequate infrastructure and healthcare- all man-made issues that can be solved with human intellects and research if well funded, yet citizens await divine intervention for solutions.

Rather than provide funding for development, Nigerian leaders continue to allocate substantial resources for religious tourism and religious infrastructure. In 2022, A Nigerian state governor spent N24 Billion Naira on erecting a worship centre in the oil rich Niger/Delta region when the people have no access to pipe-borne water. Same year, another state governor subsidised Hajj pilgrimages for citizens to the tune of N20billion. These further buttressed the point of Nigerian leaders’ misplaced priorities. This money could have been invested in education, research, innovation, and sustainable development. Rather, Nigeria squanders resources on religious issues that offer fleeting solace but do little to address the root causes of poverty and underdevelopment. The comparison of the Knowledge Economy and the Religion Economy serves as a wake-up call for Nigeria to reassess their economic priorities and embrace knowledge and innovation, the path to development and growth. While religious faith and spirituality hold huge value for the citizens and should not be ignored, they must not overshadow investment in human capital, education, and technological advancement.

The Times for more

Israel-Palestine debate: Finkelstein, Destiny, M. Rabbani & Benny Morris | Lex Fridman Podcast #418

April 16th, 2024

VIDEO/Lex Fridman/Youtube

Rohingya pawns in Myanmar’s cynical conscription drive

April 15th, 2024


Rohingya refugees walk after crossing the Naf river from Myanmar into Bangladesh in Whaikhyang. IMAGE/Asia Times Files/AFP/Fred Dufour

Junta offering rice, salaries and ID cards to internally displaced Rohingya to join the military in failing regime’s latest sign of desperation

Faced with a decline in authority and mounting territorial losses, Myanmar’s beleaguered junta has resorted to a controversial new war-fighting strategy: conscripting Rohingya Muslims under the auspices of a new People’s Military Service Law.

Enacted on February 10, the legislation has elicited widespread discontent among eligible citizens, leading some to consider emigration or affiliation with armed anti-junta groups or ethnic armies.

The junta’s recent defeats against the Arakan Army in Rakhine state, including the loss of significant territories including Pauktaw, Minbya, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw, Myay Pon, and Taung Pyo townships, as well as Paletwa Township in Chin state, are driving the regime’s desperate bid to recruit new fighters – even among those the military has historically abused and oppressed.

The junta has announced that if Rohingya men serve in the military, then each will receive a sack of rice, a citizenship identity card and a monthly salary of 150,000 kyats (US$41).

In a particularly contentious action, the military has issued a directive under the People’s Military Service Law to recruit new soldiers directly from Rohingya internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in the Rakhine state capital of Sittwe.

The order instructs camp management committees to select individuals from each camp to bolster military ranks and operations against the insurgent Arakan Army, which recently ended a ceasefire with the military and has announced its intent to seize control of the entirety of Rakhine state.

The Rohingya community has condemned the junta’s conscription drive, which many view as a reprehensible bid to use Rohingya recruits as human shields. The regime’s cynicism is blatant in light of the military’s 2017 “area clearance operation” that drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into Bangladesh and sparked international outcries of genocide.  

The new law mandates the conscription of men aged 18 to 45 and women aged 18 to 35 into the armed forces for a two-year period, extendable to five years during national emergencies, which the nation now clearly faces.

The Ministry of Defense, meanwhile, is empowered to issue regulations, procedures, announcements, orders, notifications and instructions necessary for the law’s implementation. Failure to comply with conscription carries penalties of imprisonment ranging from three to five years and heavy fines.

The junta is extending a pseudo-olive branch to Rohingya confined to displacement camps in Rakhine state, a legacy of the recent brutal campaign against the group. This narrative revolves around offering them freedom of movement as inducement to enlist and fight ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army rebels.

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