The World Today for February 08, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

MALAYSIA

‘Islam Sells’

Muslims occupy a majority in Malaysian society, comprising some 61.3 percent of the population, according to official statistics, and have long lived in relative harmony with a diverse population of Buddhists, Christians and Hindus.

While it’s the nation’s official religion, Islam has largely held a ceremonial role in society, the Diplomat writes. Malaysia’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, even declared shortly after the nation’s independence from the British in 1957 that Malaysia “is not an Islamic state as it is generally understood.”

But nowadays, Malaysia is experiencing a bout of “creeping Islamization,” the Australian recently reported.

Citizens report being singled out by religious police for attending atheist or homosexual community groups or dressing immodestly. Meanwhile, hardline Muslim political groups have shut down beer festivals and concerts by American pop stars known for their scandalous outfits and lyrics.

The government has even backed a bill in parliament that would give the nation’s Sharia courts, which rule on matters of religion and family law for Muslims, a wider criminal jurisdiction in certain states, Al Jazeera reported.

“There is no room for civil discourse when it concerns religion here,” one Malaysian told the Australian. “We are lucky to have secular laws and people defending them still. But I’m not sure how long that will last.”

The growing tide of non-secularism in recent years can be traced to the nation’s cozy relationship to the Saudi Kingdom, known for its strict interpretation of Sunni Islam, Reuters reported.

For years, Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in hardline mosques and schools in Malaysia, and often acts as a benefactor for Malaysian students seeking to study in Saudi Arabia.

But indoctrination has taken on a distressing tenor as of late, said Farouk Musa of the moderate think-tank Islamic Renaissance Front.

“We have never heard of Islamic scholars forbidding Muslims from wishing ‘Merry Christmas’ before, for example. Now, this is a common phenomenon,” he said.

Now, a corruption scandal threatens to oust Malaysia’s governing United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has governed the country since independence. As a result, the normally secular party, led by Prime Minister Najib Razak – who stands accused of embezzling hundreds of millions from the state development fund – has sought to save his reputation by emboldening the Muslim Malay base, the New York Times reported.

With elections scheduled for 2018, religion is becoming a battleground for the UMNO and Prime Minister Razak, and the wave of Islamization shows no signs of breaking.

“We are seeing this gravitation toward fundamentalism and a conservative idea of Islam because the current government doesn’t want to be seen as secular anymore,” said Musa. “Islam sells.”

WANT TO KNOW

SYRIA

Provoked and Unprovoked

US aircraft hit forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after they attacked a stronghold of the US-backed rebels in Deir al-Zor province on Wednesday.

No US troops embedded with the local fighters at the rebel headquarters were believed to have been wounded or killed in the attack, Reuters cited US officials as saying.

The rare retaliation against the regime’s troops – which are bolstered by Iran-sponsored militias and Russian soldiers – comes as the US is inching toward a dangerous confrontation with Turkey in northern Syria.

Two senior American generals visited the front lines near the Syrian city of Manbij on Wednesday in a symbolic response to Turkey’s threat to attack if the US did not withdraw its soldiers from the city – which Ankara called a bastion of terrorists.

The New York Times quoted US coalition commander Lt. Gen. Paul Funk as saying, “You hit us, we will respond aggressively. We will defend ourselves.”

GERMANY

The Cost of Stability

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc finally reached a coalition deal with the Social Democrat Party (SPD) Wednesday, after marathon, 24-hour, do-or-die negotiation. But the SPD rank and file could still reject the pact.

Merkel was forced to accept a surprisingly large number of left-wing policies and surrender an unusually high number of cabinet posts to secure the deal, reported the BBC, calling the pact a “least bad option” that comprises “a laundry list of tax giveaways and spending pledges.”

However, the New York Times noted that what might well signal Merkel’s decline could be good for Europe, not only because it will result in hoped-for stability, but also because it will likely speed Germany’s move away from austerity policies that France’s Emmanuel Macron and others believe have stymied growth.

“A slightly weakened Germany could be one of the things that helps create a sense of a more balanced Europe,” the paper quoted Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, as saying.

INDIA

A Devastating Plague

A moribund health system and failed regulations are a more devastating plague than HIV/AIDS and scores of other deadly diseases in India, new and grisly allegations from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh suggest.

In the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unveiling of a bold plan to rejuvenate the healthcare system to work toward universal coverage, authorities are investigating claims that a fake doctor infected as many as 33 people with HIV in the poverty-stricken state, the BBC reported.

Locals allege that the unqualified practitioner used the same syringe over and over to treat colds and the flu, charging patients about 15 cents for each injection.

Around 45% of those providing so-called medical care have no formal training, according to the Indian Medical Association.

In the budget unveiled this month, India proposed a revamp of the health system billed as “Modicare” that promises to cover annual hospitalization costs for 100 million families or 500 million people, the Economic Times reported. But critics say it has underestimated the costs and challenges of implementation – partly due to a shortage of doctors and hospitals.

DISCOVERIES

Family Reunion

Forty years after its discovery in the Swiss city of Basel, the mummified body of a woman has been identified as Anna Catharina Bischoff – an ancestor of British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Using DNA testing, scientists matched the 18th-century mummy – which was remarkably well preserved, due in part to high levels of mercury in the body – with Johnson’s family, the Guardian reported.

Mercury was a common treatment for syphilis at the time of Bischoff’s death in 1787.

Scientists speculated that the very toxin that preserved her body for centuries was also probably the cause of her death during treatment for syphilis.

“Very excited to hear about my late great grand ‘mummy’ – a pioneer in sexual health care,” Johnson later wrote on Twitter. “Very proud.”

Johnson told reporters in 2014 during a genealogy special on the BBC that he was “the product of many countries” and described his ancestors as having likely been “posh” toffs.

It seems the former mayor of London and vehement Brexiteer was right. Bischoff was likely a woman of high class, due to her burial in front of the altar of Basel’s Barfüsser Church, archaeologists posit.

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