The World Today for September 26, 2016


Learning Peace

Week-long celebrations concluded Friday in the Yari Plains of the southern Colombian savannah as fighters from the Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, came to a unanimous decision about the future of their movement.

Starting Monday, they will become citizens instead of soldiers.

That’s when FARC revolutionaries are slated to sign a historic peace accord with the Colombian government officially ending a civil war that has spanned 52 years, claimed around 220,000 lives and displaced roughly 7 million people.

The peace treaty – the result of almost four years of negotiations in Cuba – rings in hope for a return to normalcy in a country that has tried to quell violence for more than half a century.

“Today marks the beginning of the end of the suffering, the pain and the tragedy of war,” said Colombia’s president and biggest proponent of peace, Juan Manuel Santos, after announcing the deal on Aug. 24.

Making a deal took its time. Learning peace will take longer.

Citizens of Colombia, especially in the jungle enclaves serving as FARC epicenters, have dealt with extreme violence, land grabbing, surprise attacks and countless kidnappings for decades.

Even so, this landscape of fear is now slowly changing in the wake of the newest peace accords.

Already, children in Colombia’s rural villages no longer sprint straight home from school in fear of becoming collateral damage. Both sides in the conflict are working toward dismantling roadblocks leading to FARC pop-up camps deep in the jungle.

FARC soldiers themselves, many of whom took up arms in defense of communism when they were teens, now have the opportunity to lay down their weapons, shed their fatigues, and reintegrate into society, whether that means going back to school or becoming a parent.

“It’s only now we’re thinking of it as possible,” said one FARC soldier, Yefferson, 36, in an interview with the New York Times. “We want a family where we can educate our children, where they can be professionals. We don’t want them to live through what we have lived through.”

Strong wills should lend themselves toward easing what’s likely to be a difficult transition: Government figures estimate costs for reintegration and redevelopment to be as high as $31 billion, and FARC remains highly unpopular among citizens still living in areas scarred by the bloody conflict.

A plebiscite, slated for Oct. 2, is needed for the treaty to take effect. Some details of the deal still remain controversial, such as a clause that minimizes punishment for those FARC militants accused of war crimes. Despite this, supporters of the agreement are ahead in the polls, the Associated Press reported.

Friday’s jungle tribunal showed a calmer, gentler FARC, one ready to flip the script and become a force of political progress rather than of militant violence.

“Everything until now we’ve done has been illegal,” Marisela Paez, a 32-year-old guerrilla, told the Wall Street Journal. “Now we are here legally. Now we’re participating.”


Another Cartoon Killing

A “blasphemous” cartoon has claimed another life, this time in Jordan.

Nahed Hattar, 56, was preparing to enter an Amman courthouse Sunday to face charges related to a cartoon he posted on his Facebook page when he was shot and killed, Al Jazeera reported.

The caricature depicted a bearded man in bed with two women in heaven as he instructs God to serve him wine and food. Hattar, a member of Jordan’s Christian minority, claimed that “it mocks terrorists and their concept of God and heaven. It does not infringe God’s divinity in any way.”

Though Hattar, a renowned writer, had previously been detained for insulting the king, the government was quick to condemn his shooting. The murder underscores that even Jordan – where Islamic State has yet to gain a strong foothold, and which recently held democratic elections – is not immune to radicalism and sectarian strife.

“I am very worried we are seeing the end of an era here,” said one observer.

Talking the Talk

A week after an attack on an army post killed 18 Indian soldiers in Kashmir, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still feeling around for a response that will be strong enough to satisfy his nationalist supporters without leading to a shooting war with Pakistan.

“Let the terrorists make no mistake, India will never forget … We will leave no stone unturned to isolate Pakistan in the world,” the Financial Times quoted Modi as saying this weekend in a nod to his hardline base.

But he also signaled an unwillingness to launch airstrikes against terrorist camps across the border or violate the Indus Water Treaty to cut off Pakistan’s supply – a measure that he’s slated to discuss with his advisors Monday. Instead, he proposed another sort of escalation: “Let us see who eliminates poverty first, which nation eliminates unemployment first … India or Pakistan.”

Based on a long history of such incidents, India believes it goes without saying that the “infiltrators” – who it claims belonged to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist group – received Pakistan’s support. Pakistan has denied any involvement.

Swiss Spies

Renowned for its refusal to join the world’s conventional wars, not even Switzerland can remain neutral in the war on terror – even if it means sacrificing some freedoms.

Swiss voters appeared to back a measure to allow the country’s spy agency to monitor internet traffic, deploy drones and hack foreign computer systems, according to early returns from a referendum held Sunday.

The law cleared parliament a year ago but privacy advocates succeeded in garnering the 50,000 signatures required to trigger a national vote on the issue.

By backing it, the Swiss illustrated a marked difference between themselves and the rest of Europe – where the US National Security Agency is the object of fear and loathing. Experts said the recent attacks in France and Germany may have pushed voters toward sacrificing personal privacy – a parallel to the gradual dismantling of the secrecy of Swiss banks.

Now, said University of St. Gallen professor Patrick Emmenegger, the Swiss are aware “that newer, better tools” are needed to protect against war – however tall the country’s mountains.


Knock, Knock – Don’t Answer

Stephen Hawking’s latest musing would make a thought-provoking dystopian sci-fi flick.

When the aliens arrive, they don’t wipe us out. They try their best to educate us in their superior ways. They provide us with technology so advanced that at first it seems like magic. And we all wind up living in slum housing or reservations – plagued by rampant alcoholism, poverty and domestic violence.

That’s right: If humanity’s first encounter with a more technologically advanced civilization is going to be anything like the incidents of so-called first contact here on Earth, we should stop looking for extraterrestrials and start hiding from them, the renowned physicist believes.

In a newly released 25-minute online film called “Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places,” Hawking discusses the thousands of planets that scientists have discovered in recent years, USA Today reports.

However, if we ever get a message from a planet like Gliese 832c, perhaps the closest thing to a habitable world that scientists have discovered so far, we should think hard before we answer it, he warns.

“Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus — that didn’t turn out so well.”

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