The World Today for March 15, 2017


The Dutchman

Add Geert Wilders to the list of anti-European Union, anti-Islamic, convention-demolishing far-right politicians at the height of their powers.

Wilders and his anti-immigration Party for Freedom have been leading in the polls for Dutch parliamentary elections Wednesday throughout much of the race –the most recent polls show him neck-and-neck contest or slightly falling behind current Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

With his shock of dyed, white-blond hair and Indonesian heritage, the tall Wilders strikes a dashing figure.

His message, meanwhile, is among the most blatantly xenophobic in Europe.

Late last year, he was convicted of inciting discrimination in comments about Moroccans he made in 2014. Recently he referred to folks from the North African country as “scum.”

“He has said worse things about Moroccans and Muslims,” Ebubekir Ozture, a Dutch advocate for Muslims in the Netherlands, told the Associated Press. “As crazy as it sounds, people are a bit used to it from him.”

Wilders is calling for ending immigration from majority Muslim countries, shuttering mosques, banning the Koran and taxing headscarves. He would also schedule a Brexit-style referendum to pull the Netherlands out of the EU.

The vote could be an omen for what’s to come in general elections later this year in France, Germany and potentially Italy, too.

“The Netherlands is kind of a bellwether, a lot of trends manifest themselves here first,” Dutch political strategist Hans Anker told the New York Times. “I wouldn’t rule out that Wilders could be prime minister. This one is fundamentally unpredictable.”

A member of parliament from Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberal Party told the BBC that the election was about the identity of the Netherlands, which many Dutch people feel as if they are losing.

“I think it is globalization, people travelling all around the world, people losing their jobs, so that’s why people need some security,” said lawmaker Anne Mulder. “People are looking for identity, our shared feelings, acting normal.”

It appears as if Wilders’ lead in the polls has diminished. But that’s only happened because other mainstream parties have veered right to compete for voters who agree with his agenda, NBC News wrote.

“A constitution is not something that is (set) in stone and can never be changed,” said Wilders in another Associated Press interview. “It’s alive as a society is alive and we are now being threatened by mass immigration and Islamic-ization.”

He also said he didn’t want to end the country’s long-held tradition of offering safe haven to the oppressed.

“I don’t want to get rid of the typical Dutch tolerance,” Wilders said. “But it’s cultural suicide that we, at the end of the day, keep on being tolerant to the intolerant. That should stop as soon as possible.”

Dutch voters might soon discover the limits of Wilders’ tolerance.


Unveiling Prejudice?

The European Union’s highest court upheld companies’ right to bar employees from wearing or displaying visible religious symbols, in a judgment that differs from the recent US Supreme Court decision in a similar case.

Considering the cases of a Muslim woman from France and a Muslim woman from Belgium who were fired by their employers for wearing headscarves, the court found that companies have the right to ban religious symbols, so long as the ban applies equally to all religions, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

Skeptics suggested the decision – which hinges on its application equally to other symbols such as Christian crosses and Jewish skullcaps – might prove difficult to follow in practice, however. The director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia program said the ruling “opened a backdoor” for prejudice under the guise of neutrality.

Notably, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Muslim woman who accused Abercrombie & Fitch of rejecting her job application because she wore a headscarf in 2015.

A Deep Rot

Mexican authorities have discovered more than 250 human skulls buried in a mass grave in the coastal state of Vera Cruz – long an epicenter of battles among the country’s drug cartels.

“For many years, the drug cartels disappeared people and the authorities were complacent,” the New York Times quoted Jorge Winckler, the state attorney general, as saying in a televised interview. He called the entire state of Vera Cruz a “giant grave.”

The authorities have been discovering such graves since August with the aid of a group called Colectivo Solecito, which comprises women whose children are missing. They’ve found as many as 125 clandestine graves over the past eight months, identifying the bodies of a former state prosecutor and his secretary, who were kidnapped by police officers working for a drug gang in 2013.

A spokeswoman for the collective said the graves are an indicator of official complicity in the drug trade. “What we have found is abominable and it reveals the state of corruption, violence and impunity that reigns not only in Veracruz, but in all of Mexico,” she said.

Open Arms

US President Donald Trump met with the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, with discussions likely laying the groundwork for more reversals of US policy toward selling certain weapons systems to the country.

Specifically, Trump is considering ending a ban on the sale of US-made precision-guidance munitions to the Saudis instituted by former President Barack Obama and approving the sale of guidance systems made by Raytheon Co., Reuters reported.

Obama had barred such sales in reaction to the high number of civilian casualties resulting from Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen – where the kingdom is supporting the internationally recognized government in its war against Houthi rebels backed by Iran.

Saudi Arabia hailed a “historical turning point” in US-Saudi relations after the meeting. But Reuters quoted a Gulf expert at Texas A&M University as saying the Trump administration’s policies – unlike his rhetoric – may not differ as radically as the Saudis expect from those of his predecessor.


Fake Reefs, Real Hope

Coral reefs are both exhilarating to behold and essential for marine ecosystems.

They’re also incredibly fragile and thus highly sensitive to climate change. Evidence suggests Australia’s Great Barrier Reef lost one-fourth of its coral in bleaching last year alone, for example. Things are unlikely to improve as ocean temperatures rise.

Fake coral reefs might be a different matter, however.

Scientists say such reefs might prove less vulnerable to climate change – and more durable to changes in the ocean’s chemistry – and they’re turning to 3D printing to find out.

The cutting-edge technology could create fake reefs that mimic the texture and structure of the real thing, meaning they could lure not only fish but also baby coral polyps that can eventually grow into real reefs.

Experimental 3D-printed reefs have already been installed in locations as diverse as the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf and Australia, to marine biologists’ delight.

“It is an interesting step forward, in terms of putting something back that is really reflective of what was there originally,” Ruth Gates, a University of Hawaii marine researcher, told National Geographic. “I think it’s great.”

Correction: An item Tuesday on projected cuts to US State Department funding for the United Nations incorrectly identified a quote as coming from an unnamed source. It was Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, who said, “You are basically talking about the breakdown of the international humanitarian system as we know it.”

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