The World Today for September 19, 2016


Business As Usual

After the attacks in the US over the weekend, the American presidential election is likely to become more contentious as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump jockey over the threat of terrorism.

In Russia, the debates are more one-sided.

“The Kremlin is feeling quite calm,” Nikolai Petrov, a professor at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, told Bloomberg.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party retained control of parliament on Sunday, according to early results.

The New York Times said the ballot meant “business-as-usual,” but then drily noted that business-as-usual was standing by as Putin “curbed civil liberties and sent the military on new foreign adventures.”

The Washington Post didn’t mince words, reporting that the vote signified parliament would remain in the “Kremlin’s stranglehold.”

On Sunday, Putin went to United Russia’s party headquarters and admitted the victory was incongruous. “The results are good,” Putin said. “We know that people are having a difficult time, there are many problems, many unresolved issues, and nonetheless we have this result.”

The problems are legion in Russia.

The energy-dependent economy of the world’s geographically largest country is now declining with the low price of oil. That has delayed government salaries and curbed the annual increases of pension payments that are crucial for Russia’s rapidly aging population. Sixteen percent of its people live in poverty.

Civil society is also under assault. At the behest of Putin, the State Duma has banned demonstrations and increased surveillance of Russian citizens.

As a result, Russians don’t appear enthusiastic about going to the polls. Nationwide, the turnout was 40 percent, election officials said. “It’s clear that Russians have stopped believing that elections can change anything,” said opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov, speaking to Interfax.

During previous parliamentary elections of 2011, street demonstrations broke out amid allegations of voter fraud. The protests took their toll on Putin’s party. This year’s results secured United Russia’s majority in parliament, but turnout was still lower than the previous election.

Putin can probably credit his annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 for saving his majority. Though roundly criticized internationally, the episode vaulted the president’s popularity to record highs on a “surge of patriotism,” as Bloomberg described.

The few who chose to vote were among that surge.

The Washington Post interviewed retired nurse Nadezhda Osetinskaya, a 67-year-old Muscovite. Her pension was $250 a month. Her medical care was bad but expensive, and local roads were also abysmal, she said.

A Clinton or Trump supporter would be furious, animated, motivated.

Not Osetinskaya.

“The president’s party, who else would I vote for?” she said.


Ceasefire Misfire

The fragile truce in Syria just got more fraught.

On Saturday, US airstrikes accidentally targeted Syrian government troops, killing around 60 soldiers and prompting immediate criticism from Russia. Then on Sunday an unidentified force bombed rebel strongholds in eastern Aleppo in another, possibly purposeful, violation of the ceasefire agreement, CNN reported.

The truce, now in its sixth day, is supposed to stop all bombings except that targeting fighters from the Islamic State and other jihadist groups. Though the US was quick to say its forces thought they were hitting IS troops, the accidental bombing of Syrian forces on Saturday prompted “a furious row” between the US and Russian ambassadors to the United Nations outside an emergency Security Council meeting – raising fears it could be the end of the fragile ceasefire.

Sunday’s return fire only deepens that impression.

The Kashmir Kettle

Following weeks of bloody protests by Indian citizens in and around Srinagar, militants launched the deadliest attack in a decade on the Indian army in Kashmir over the weekend, killing at least 17 soldiers and wounding dozens more.

Indian officials blamed the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed for the attack, saying it had recovered weapons from the assailants that carried Pakistani markings, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Pakistan denied any involvement in the attack, and there’s been plenty of strife between Indian Kashmiris and the security forces since the killing of a prominent Indian militant leader in July. But it could also be a case of striking while the iron is hot.

According to India’s home minister, Indian forces detected some 90 alleged infiltration attempts by Pakistan-based militants as of June 30 this year, compared with only 29 over the same period of 2015.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed the attack would not go unpunished. However, past experience suggests more of the same is likely, since the bitter rivals are wary of nuclear confrontation.

The People No One Wants

The United Nations is stepping in to find a solution to the global refugee crisis. But as public resistance mounts across Europe, it won’t be easy to find homes for the people nobody wants.

Today’s 65.3 million refugees represent a larger total than anytime since World War II, the New York Times reported. So the UN aims to approve a more coordinated approach to the problem among its 193 member states on Monday.

The document is not legally binding, even if a version can be passed. Meanwhile, an earlier draft that called on all member states to accept 10 percent of the refugee population each year was rejected by the US and various other countries.

The US rejected to a clause that said children should never be detained. The draft expected to pass Monday says they should “seldom” be detained. But critics say the draft doesn’t establish any commitments, it only calls for separate global compacts for refugees and migrants to be adopted within two years.


The Veil and the Catwalk

New York’s catwalks have frequently played hosts to models so scantily clad their clothing literally revealed more than it concealed. But last week, it was covering up that made waves – as the first models wearing the headscarf worn by some Muslim women (the hijab) graced the runway at New York Fashion Week.

The beautiful, flowing garments, in muted pastel colors rather than basic black, were conceived by Muslim designer Anniesa Hasibuan, who was also one of the first Indonesian designers to have a collection featured in the show, according to the BBC.

The designs made their debut amid growing controversy over the way Muslim women dress, especially in Europe, where some countries have banned the headscarf in work places and public institutions and are now taking on other female Muslim garb such as the burka and the burkini.

That’s because many non-Muslims and some Muslims argue that certain types of clothing – in particular the veil – are mandated by men to enforce a secondary status for women. Yet others say adopting the veil or any other garment can also be a personal choice or a voluntary expression of one’s cultural or religious identity.

Making these garments beautiful is one way to “normalize” the hijab and “break down stereotypes” about Muslim oppression of women, said Melanie Elturk, chief executive of Haute Hijab – a US brand selling hijabs and modest fashion.

See the dazzling designs here.

At the same event, another woman set out to challenge long-held notions of beauty: Indian acid attack survivor Reshma Qureshi made her catwalk debut last week, telling Reuters she wants victims of acid attacks to be viewed in the same light as anyone else. In India, it is estimated that up to 1,000 acid attacks take place each year. Watch her moving debut here.

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