November 21, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

WORLD

Whack-a-Mole

The Islamic State was thought to be at a low.

The death last month of the extremist group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in northwestern Syria was a turning point for the militant group, many said.

“Their recovery has been very slow, their organization is fragile and the killing of Baghdadi is bad timing for them,” said Hassan Hassan, an analyst at the Center for Global Policy, in an interview in the Washington Post.

Following its rise in Iraq as an offshoot of al Qaeda, the Islamic State expanded to Syria and beyond, positing a vision of a “caliphate” that was already antiquated but nonetheless inspiring to some pious, nostalgic Muslims, wrote journalist Ken Chitwood in the Conversation.

But the Islamic State lost its territory in Iraq as the central government in Baghdad fought back with the help of American, Kurdish and Iranian allies. Then, with Russian and Iranian aid as well as the US and Kurds, Syrian President Bashar al Assad prevailed in his civil war, exerting control over more land at the expense of both rebels and jihadist rivals.

Yet the Islamic State still scored wins in the psychological war. For even in defeat, the terrorists have proved they can still spread fear and sow discord.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently expelled an Islamic State militant from his country, dumping the alleged fighter in a no man’s land between Turkey and Greece. The move followed European criticism of the Turkish army’s invasion of northern Syria.

“You should revise your stance toward Turkey, which at the moment holds so many (Islamic State) members in prison and at the same time controls those in Syria,” said Erdogan in the Guardian. “These gates will open and these (Islamic State) members who have started to be sent to you will continue to be sent. Then you can take care of your own problem.”

Greece refused to accept the man, so he slept in the border zone for three days. Breaking the deadlock, the United States on Nov. 14 agreed to take him. Mohammad Darwis B., 39, was an American citizen of Jordanian background, CBS explained.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on European countries to accept their citizens who were members of the Islamic State, Reuters reported. That was the best way to make sure they faced justice, he added. Germany is already taking some, the Local noted. But few voters want their politicians to bring terrorists back home.

Terrorists spur distaste even as they are disposed of.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State quickly appointed a new leader. After all, no one expected Baghdadi’s death to destroy the organization, said Javed Ali, a former White House counterterrorism director.

“In the annals of modern counterterrorism so far, what history has shown is these types of strikes do not lead to the strategic collapse or organizational defeat of a terrorism organization,” he said, according to the Washington Post.

Even so, it will shake the jihadists up, and likely chip away at their support worldwide, and internally.

And that’s no small thing.

WANT TO KNOW

ISRAEL

Here We Go Again!

Israel is likely heading for a third general election within 12 months after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief rival failed to form a new government by Wednesday’s deadline, the Associated Press reported.

Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, told President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday that he was unable to form a coalition government, further prolonging the political paralysis that has gripped the nation for the past year.

Rivlin ordered Gantz to form a government after Netanyahu failed to create one last month following the inconclusive Sept. 17 elections, where both Gantz’s party and Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud failed to achieve a 61-seat majority in parliament.

Both leaders couldn’t agree on the terms of a power-sharing agreement, and political kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman refused to form a coalition with either of them, CNN reported.

Under Israeli law, the parliament now enters a 21-day period where any lawmaker can attempt to form a 61-seat majority and become prime minister.

If that fails, the country will hold another election in March with recent polls showing that results will likely be similar to those of September’s elections.

INDIA

By the Numbers

India’s Home Minister Amit Shah announced Wednesday that the Hindu nationalist government will implement a nationwide count of citizens, sparking concerns that it will be used to target the country’s Muslim minority, Al Jazeera reported.

His announcement came a few months after the creation of the so-called National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the northeastern state of Assam which excluded nearly two million people of Bengali-origin.

Shah said that the new nationwide list will also include Assam and said that “no one from any religion should be worried.”

Critics, however, say the NRC will exclude Muslims and “have disastrous impact on the social harmony of India.”

Muslims comprise 15 percent of India’s population but have been increasingly marginalized since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has dismissed the concerns, but his government has stripped Muslim-majority Kashmir of its autonomy and imposed a lockdown there.

COLOMBIA

The Angry Street

Colombia’s government announced earlier this week that it was closing its nation’s borders as part of a series of measures to stamp out protests planned for later this week amid increasing unrest in the country, the Guardian reported.

Tens of thousands of protesters are expected to take to the streets Thursday against the right-wing government of President Ivan Duque, whose popularity has dropped since he took office in 2018.

The rallies will focus on several issues, including Duque’s proposed austerity measures and his slow peace deal with leftist rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or FARC) among others.

“The government is worried because the people and organizations who have come out in support of the protest are more heterogeneous than they are used to,” said Sergio Guzman, the director of Colombia Risk Analysis. “It’s not only the labor unions, or the students, or indigenous people – it’s all of them.”

DISCOVERIES

Two Birds

A South African company has figured out a way to tackle both potholes and plastic pollution, CNN reported.

Shisalanga Construction has developed a method to repave roads using recycled plastic milk bottles that it says produces less toxic emissions and is more durable and water resistant than conventional asphalt.

The company combines high-density polyethylene found in plastic milk bottles with other additives to produce an asphalt compound that can withstand extreme temperatures and make roads last longer than the average 20 years.

In August, the company successfully paved more than 1,300 feet of road in KwaZulu-Natal Province on the east coast, and officials have been impressed by results.

“It’s working so well,” said Kit Ducasse of the province’s Department of Transport. “Time will tell, but what I’ve seen is great news.”

The company is now waiting for approval to lay 200 tons of plastic tarmac on the country’s main highway between Durban and Johannesburg, but scientists remain cautious at the prospect of plastic streets.

They argue that potential carcinogenic gases during production and the release of microplastics – tiny plastic particles – as the roads wear might make matters worse.

Shisalanga stressed that its method minimizes the risk of microplastics and is helping the environment.

“We’re leading the global curves,” said general manager Deane Koekemoer.