August 29, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

A Dishonorable Practice

Drugged and murdered by her brother for behavior her killer claimed was dishonoring the family and un-Islamic, 26-year-old Qandeel Baloch was yet one more victim of a so-called “honor killing” in Pakistan – the brutal practice in which a woman is murdered in a belief that she has brought shame and dishonor to the family or the community.

Hundreds of women are murdered each year in Pakistan by members by family or community members in this practice, a chilling tradition that exists across the Muslim world, and that in Pakistan has been on the rise, according to the country’s independent Human Rights Commission.

And while Baloch’s death is not uncommon in a traditional, patriarchal society that espouses a rigid definition of women’s roles, as Pakistan’s most famous internet celebrity – one who drew comparisons to the US’ Kim Kardashian for flaunting her sexuality online – Baloch’s murder attracted national and international attention.

As a result, the Pakistani government is moving to take action: A new bill to address the practice is expected to be introduced in parliament this fall.

Honor killings are already considered murder under Pakistani law. But the new legislation would remove a legal loophole that allows the family of the victim to pardon the murderer(s).

Common sense, right? Well a previous version of the bill failed to gain the necessary support in Pakistan’s parliament to become law.

Still, the outrage stirred by Baloch’s murder and additional pressure from Maryam Sharif, the increasingly influential daughter of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, might ensure a different outcome this time.

Maryam Sharif has said the government unanimously supports the law, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities have already demonstrated unusual resolve to address the pardon loophole in the wake of Baloch’s murder: Police charged her brother, Waseem Baloch, with crimes against the state.

That’s a rare response by local police to such a murder – and the charges in this case disqualify Waseem Baloch from being pardoned by his parents for murdering his sister.

Still, Pakistan must do more than close this one loophole if they want to tackle the deeply entrenched practice. Instead, activists working to stamp out the killings say it is necessary to tackle ingrained attitudes against women in society: Waseem Baloch remains unrepentant for the killing, and some Pakistanis believe his sister brought it on herself.

“I really feel that no woman is safe in this country, until we start making examples of people, until we start sending men who kill women to jail, unless we literally say there will be no more killing and those who dare will spend the rest of their lives behind bars,” said filmmaker and activist, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, whose documentary on the practice, “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” won an Oscar this year. “There is not a single day where you don’t pick up a paper and see a woman (has) been killed… this is an epidemic.”

In the weeks since Qandeel’s murder, at least another 20 women have died in honor killings in the country. And these are only the ones we know of.

WANT TO KNOW

The Final Showdown

Suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is set to testify in her own defense in front of a hostile Senate Monday, just before the Brazilian upper house of parliament is expected to vote for Rousseff to be permanently removed from office.

Rousseff will also face questioning from her opponents in interim president Michel Temer’s governing coalition during the last face-to-face encounter in an impeachment process that has worsened a recession in Brazil and heightened political turmoil in the country.

Supporters of impeachment say that ousting Rousseff – if the required two-thirds majority of 81 senators vote in favor – will give Temer the ability to put Brazil on a new course. Opponents say it is a plot to derail the long-running anti-corruption investigation known as Car Wash, a move that overturns the democratic process.

Temer has already said he hopes to retain his hold on the presidency until the next election in 2018 but Rousseff has promised to fight on until the bitter end.

“The only thing that kills anti-democratic parasites is the oxygen of debate,” she told supporters last week.

Desert Turmoil

Tensions are increasing between the Turkish military and Syrian Kurdish rebels as Turkey makes greater headway into Syrian territory, putting US forces in the region and joint operations against Islamic State (IS) at risk.

A Turkish soldier was killed and three other wounded over the weekend when their tank unit was attacked by Kurdish rebels, the YPG.

In response, the Turkish military carried out airstrikes and artillery attacks deeper into Syria that resulted in numerous fatalities. Syrian monitoring groups say at least 70 civilians were killed in the offensive, while Turkish officials say they killed 25 “terrorists” in the assault.

It is unclear whether the US-led coalition against IS played a role in these operations, writes the Wall Street Journal.

The clashes between Turkish and Kurdish forces highlight the complexity of the US’s position and the coalition’s campaign against IS: American forces are embedded with the YPG, yet they also rely on Turkey for supply lines, say observers.

Turkey for its part maintains that Kurdish forces have reneged on a promise to withdraw from areas liberated from IS and are consistently pushing further westward toward the Turkish border.

Primary Issue

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in an interview published Sunday that a proposed law to ban the full-body “burkini” swimsuit – women’s beachwear worn by some Muslim women – would be both unconstitutional and ineffective in protecting security, reports Reuters.

Instead, a ban would only serve to further strain relations with France’s Muslim community and heighten tensions in France, Cazeneuve added.

Cazeneuve’s statement comes shortly after France’s highest administrative court overturned a ban on the burkini by the mayor of Villeneuve-Loubet in southern France.

That ruling might serve as a precedent for the dozens of other French towns, including glitzy Riviera resort towns like Cannes and Nice, which have banned the Islamic swimwear from their beaches in the aftermath of the terror attack on Nice in July, say observers.

The burkini has become a politically charged issue as France’s political parties gear up for next year’s presidential elections.

Leading right-wing and far-right politicians have called for burkini bans, including former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is currently staging a comeback as the leading candidate for the conservative Les Republicains in the primaries.

But a law banishing the swimsuit from the public sphere is unlikely under the current socialist government, said Cazaneuve.

DISCOVERIES

Just Say No

It’s been well established that our environment, and in particular our water sources, are impacted by what we consume.

Now, a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that the drug amphetamine – the potent stimulant found in drugs to treat ADHD and also in illicit substances – can impact bacteria, algae and insects, too.

In the study, researchers added amphetamine to four artificial stream environments – at a concentration of 1 microgram per liter of water – to compare against four control streams.

After three weeks, scientists found that microorganisms in the amphetamine-treated streams were producing less chlorophyll – essential for photosynthesis to occur – and were also producing and using less energy overall. Aquatic insects also left the streams more frequently in the amphetamine-treated ones.

Because microorganisms get most of their energy through photosynthesis and serve as a primary food source for larger animals – making them a vital link in the food chain – these traces of amphetamine could ripple through entire ecosystems, said researchers.

The upshot? Just saying no to drugs whenever possible is also good for the environment.