The World Today for April 29, 2016

April 29, 2016


Bangladesh: Trolls and Heroes

Take a look at your Facebook page. Maybe you made a snarky comment about welfare moms, tax-dodging politicians, or the National Rifle Association. Maybe you just promoted an incendiary meme.

Now imagine that small cry in the wilderness can get you killed – not in a random fit of rage by somebody you know, but by an organized group of fanatics who target you and track you down and hack you to death with machetes.

Say hello to life in Bangladesh – where the killings of so-called “atheist bloggers” and various others beggars the imagination.

In the latest incident, the victims were gay rights activists, so the focus has shifted briefly to the threat faced by the country’s gay community — which occupies a precarious position not only because of conservative Islam’s scorn for homosexuals but also because gay sex is punishable with life imprisonment.

But the ongoing slaughter is not about killing homosexuals or atheists.

“The range of targets is much wider [than atheists or gay rights activists], and this style of killing with machetes did not originate in 2013,” said a prominent Bangladeshi writer who asked not to be named. (He recently hired armed guards).

The most frequently cited tally begins with the killing of “militant atheist” Asif Mohiuddin in January 2013. Since his murder, six or so bloggers and a half-dozen others have been attacked.

But the murder of intellectuals in Bangladesh is as old as the country itself. The knife attacks themselves date back as far as 2004. And the targets have included not just “militant” or provocative atheists – but also at least three dozen teachers, secularists, non-Muslims and moderate Islamic clerics.

If the killing accelerated in 2013, some local observers say, it was not because of successful indoctrination by Al Qaeda or IS. Rather, it’s a kind of reverse Arab Spring.

Skeptical of the “foreign hand” narrative, they trace the spike in murders to the 2013 Shahbag movement – which saw a handful of online activists and bloggers grow to the country’s largest mass protest in 20 years. Its goal was to finally hold members of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party – which opposed the split from Pakistan — to account for war crimes committed during the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence. And virtually all the “atheists” murdered since have been supporters of the cause.

So when IS takes retrospective credit for killings that took place more than a year before the terror group announced its presence in Bangladesh in September 2014, they’re not convinced. Rather, they’re inclined to echo sentiments expressed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after this week’s killing of the gay rights activist: “Everybody knows who are behind these killings,” Hasina said Monday night, before Al Qaeda claimed credit on Tuesday. “The BNP-Jamaat clique has been involved in such secret and heinous murders to destabilize the country.”

The opposition has denied ties to the killings, saying Hasina is simply trying to deflect attention from her government failures. However, the only people so far convicted in the blogger murders – eight young men charged with the 2013 killing of Ahmed Rajib Haider, who had campaigned for banning the Jamaat-e-Islami party – were affiliated with a banned local group police say is associated with the party’s student wing.

Guilty or innocent or something in between, Hasina’s political opponents are certainly right about one thing: Her response to the problem has been anemic. Apart from failing to bring the perpetrators to justice in all but one case, the government has dangerously blamed the victims for testing the patience of fanatics – like Charlie Hebdo or Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.

Before anything else can happen, that has to stop.


China Clamps Down On Non-Profits

China doesn’t need your help.

That was essentially the message Chinese President Xi Jinping sent to foreign non-profits like Greenpeace and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the passage of a new law on Thursday that makes some 7,000 non-governmental organizations subject to police supervision.

It sounds like another throwback to the ruling style of Mao Zedong. But the move is actually part of a broader trend toward reining in foreign NGOs in countries ranging from Hungary and Russia (expected) to India (surprising). Outfits that want to do good in China will now have to find a local sponsor and register with the police – failing which they’ll be forced to cease operations. Groups fighting for causes like workers’ rights, religious freedom or ethnic equality are expected to face difficulties.

No Criminal Charges for US Hospital Airstrike

On the day after Syrian forces raised an international outcry with the shelling of a hospital in Aleppo, the Pentagon is expected to announce on Friday that there will be no criminal charges for US military personnel responsible for an airstrike on a hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders in Afghanistan last October.

It is illegal to bomb hospitals under internationally agreed rules of war.

The US military will punish 16 soldiers, including a two-star general, for the botched airstrike. But the penalties will reportedly be mild – ranging from letters of reprimand to mandatory counseling.

Doctors Without Borders is not likely to be satisfied with the verdict. Calling the bombing a war crime in 2015, the aid organization has repeatedly called for greater transparency from the probe into the incident.

The bombing killed 42 people and injured seven others in October 2015, when the crew of an AC-130 gunship launched without a full intelligence brief of the battlefield eyeballed the target rather than using the grid coordinates they had been supplied.

The punishment is likely to be a career-ending one only for the two-star general involved.

Austria May Turn Away Migrants

The election victory for Austria’s far right Freedom Party earlier this week was a surprise. The law that followed was not.

On WednesdayAustria passed stringent new asylum laws that will allow the authorities to declare a state of emergency and reject virtually all migrants at the border.

The fence is already coming up.

According to Amnesty International, the measures represent a breach of international laws that require countries to protect refugees.

However, observers credit the Freedom Party’s best showing in 60 years of national elections on Monday to presidential candidate Norbert Hofer’s opposition to immigration and free trade, and comes amid the trial of an Iraqi asylum seeker for the alleged rape of a ten-year-old boy at a swimming pool in December – so the law, and the proposed fences, are likely to be popular


One-Minute Abs

Got five minutes? If you’re currently slogging away with that tedious Six-Minute Abs workout, you do.

Researchers now say you can get the same benefits from one minute of extremely intense exercise – like the 400 meter dash, if you’re fast – as you can from 45 minutes of the regular kind.

Here’s the scoop. Scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, recruited 25 out of shape young men and divided them into three groups (Okay, there was a remainder of one. That’s a mystery).

One group was asked to maintain their present routine – couch to refrigerator to couch. A second had to ride a stationary bike for 45 minutes per day at the lab. And a third warmed up for two or three minutes on the bike, then pedaled as hard as possible for 20 seconds, slowed down again for two minutes, sprinted again for 20 seconds, slowed down again and sprinted again. (That’s one minute of sprinting.)

After 12 weeks of three sessions per week, the endurance group had ridden for 27 hours while the interval group had ridden for six hours total – 36 minutes of which were strenuous. Both showed almost the same results.

The guys who did nothing? Well, they didn’t gain or lose. But they probably enjoyed the study more.

Fri, 04/29/2016 – 06:16

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