The World Today for August 01, 2016


Being Different

When Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and others began flooding into Europe last year, some warned that terrorists might be among them.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel opted for an open-door policy for the beleaguered refugees – whose plight echoed that of the East Germans and others who also fled West during the days of the Iron Curtain.

“We’ll manage,” she said, a year ago.

But the stakes of that policy have been escalating ever since.

Germany suffered four separate terror attacks in July with more than a dozen dead.

At a memorial on Sunday in Munich in Bavaria, the southern state where three of the attacks took place, German President Joachim Gauck spoke in stereotypically frank German terms, saying governments can’t provide their citizens with absolute security.

“Nowhere on earth are there politicians who can make such a guarantee,” said Gauck. “What we can do, however, is something we need to work on again – that is the alliance of government bodies and an alert and active civil society. This is the best possible cover against the rise of the cynical calculus of violent attackers.”

Asylum seekers carried out two of the four attacks – a bombing in Ansbach and an ax attack on a train. The Islamic State has been implicated in those two attacks. In the other two, the terrorists appeared to be individuals troubled in other ways.

The terror incidents in Germany occurred alongside two gruesome attacks in France, in which a Tunisian immigrant mowed down scores of people with a truck in Nice on July 14 and two Islamic State-inspired 19-year-olds slit the throat of an 86-year-old priest at the altar as he was saying mass in Normandy on July 26.

But unlike Belgium and France, which had been hit by several such attacks in the past year, Germany hadn’t yet been touched by terror. Now, jihadists have targeted the country at the heart of Europe known for welcoming Muslims in need, rather than only the countries where Muslims comprise much of the underclass.

Undaunted by critics who say it’s time for Germany reverse its open-door policy, Merkel has doubled down on “We Can Manage This,” a theme she coined last year to inspire her fellow citizens to embrace the refugees.

Last year, when the xenophobic group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA, marched in the streets of Germany, Merkel and her open-minded supporters could withstand them. But, after the attacks in July, it’s not clear if Merkel will have the political capital she needs to see her policies through.

Bavarian State Premier Horst Seehofer, a Merkel ally, says he refuses to say, “We Can Do This.”

“With all the will in the world, I can’t use this sentence,” Seehofer told Deutsche Welle on Saturday. “The problem is too big for that.”

A recent YouGov poll found that 66 percent of Germans were sympathetic to Seehofer’s point of view.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union faces a federal election next year. It’s not clear if her party’s traditional allies, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, will support her or throw their weight behind a challenger. The party has been in an uproar over her policies since the fall.

If Merkel falls, then the Islamic State can take credit for unseating the most powerful leader in Europe – who also happens to have been working harder than anyone in politics to preserve the dignity of Muslims risking everything to escape the so-called caliphate.


Shattered Ceiling

Yuriko Koike, 64, is one tough cookie.

To become Tokyo’s first female governor, a post she won handily according to weekend exit polls, she first had to stick it to her own party – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.

Perhaps fearing the old guard wouldn’t back her, she announced her candidacy without waiting for their approval – raising hackles sufficiently enough to prompt the party to draft Hiroya Matsuda, 64, who once served as governor of a rural prefecture, to run against her, Reuters reported.

Her outsider status may have been the clincher, as two predecessors had been forced to step down due to scandals related to Tokyo’s preparations for the 2020 summer Olympic Games, which have seen delays in the construction of the main stadium and a plagiarism row over the original logo selected by the city.

Tunisian Crossroads

It’s been a little more than five years since the self-immolation of a disgruntled Tunisian produce vendor led to the ousting of the country’s longtime president and the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring. But even though Tunisia remains a lone bright spot among the Arab Spring revolutions – having sprouted thousands of civil society organizations and dozens of new political parties – the North African nation now faces a turning point.

On Saturday, the parliament passed a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Habib Essid, marking an escalation of instability. Talks will begin on Monday and Nidaa Tounes, the largest party in parliament, will push for a government of national unity led by one its members, Bloomberg reported.

But whosoever takes over will face the same difficulties as Essid in addressing high youth unemployment – especially after recent terror attacks have dealt a blow to the country’s tourism sector.

Benevolent Dictator

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a new decree Sunday to bring the country’s armed forces under civilian control, but not before he announced he was dropping hundreds of lawsuits against citizens charged with insulting him.

Sunday’s decree is the third such order issued under a three-month state of emergency, which Erdogan declared after an attempted coup on July 15. The edict gives the president and prime minister the authority to issue direct orders to the commanders of the army, air force and navy – solidifying the president’s control.

In that context, giving citizens a one-time free pass for insulting him looks like a move to show that he’s no dictator – crackdown or no crackdown. But for benevolence, it sounded a little threatening.

“For one time only, I will be forgiving and withdrawing all cases against the many disrespects and insults that have been leveled against me,” Erdogan said.


Modern Dolittles

Monkeys can talk.

Sort of.

British researchers taught an eight-year-old orangutan in the Indianapolis Zoo named Rocky to emulate human speech in a “conversational context,” the Independent reported.

Publishing their findings in the journal Scientific Reports, the scientists taught Rocky how to learn, mimic and employ sounds which were not related to typical monkey talk. An orangutan named Tilda in Amsterdam was able to do the same thing, suggesting Rocky is no fluke.

Previously, experts believed great apes made noises based on instinct –in other words, they grunted, shrieked and growled virtually involuntarily in arousal, fear and anger. But Rocky appeared able to control his voice like a person.

Rocky didn’t bust out poetry or ask for a banana cream pie. The significance of the findings isn’t related to what monkeys think.

Rather, the researchers said their discoveries opened up new avenues in research into the evolution of speech in humans as they evolved away from their primate cousins.

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