The World Today for February 03, 2020

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Heart and Soul

An unstable man with right-wing tendencies took a gun to a student protest in India recently, eventually wounding one demonstrator.

A remarkable Reuters video shows a chaotic scene as crowds surround the man with the gun. In a Facebook post, the shooter wears a saffron T-shirt, the color of Hindu nationalists, the news agency added.

The incident occurred after weeks of protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act, a recently passed law that fast-tracks Indian citizenship for some religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Notably, the new rule exempts Muslims. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians are the beneficiaries, explained CNN.

Critics immediately said the law discriminates against Muslims and therefore flouts India’s secular constitution.

“By smoothing the path for all non-Muslim immigrants from adjoining countries to attain citizenship, the law paves the way for practitioners of Islam to be unfairly disadvantaged when seeking to immigrate to India,” wrote Soumya Shankar in the Intercept, who also reviewed how Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, has pursued other anti-Muslim policies.

Many Indians also feared the policy would be tied somehow to the controversial National Register of Citizens, another Modi plan. India Today described the register straightforwardly as a tally of legal residents. But many people believe the register will exclude people who have been living in India for years, particularly Muslims and other non-Hindus.

Protests erupted. After more than a month of civil unrest, dozens of people have died in clashes with the police – 30 in Uttar Pradesh state alone, the BBC reported.

But the activists aren’t going home because they believe they are fighting over the heart and soul of their country. The debate over the Citizenship Amendment Act is a debate over who gets to call themselves an Indian, wrote the Atlantic magazine. The question is powerful enough to have animated Indians globally, with demonstrations occurring as far away as London and Nashville, Tennessee.

The protests and questions about India’s future direction have caught Modi flat-footed, argued Foreign Policy magazine. Modi is a pro-business reformer who depended on the youth vote to win office. Now he’s cracking down on massive student protests. A ban on Muslims also looks undemocratic, fulfilling the expectations of those already skeptical of his so-called Hindu majoritarian project.

Writing in the Hindu, an Indian newspaper, Kathmandu-based journalist Kanak Mani Dixit said the Citizen Amendment Act was a “geopolitical act of folly.” It further isolated Pakistani leaders from their counterparts in New Delhi and insulted otherwise friendly Muslim governments in Afghanistan and Bangladesh, he argued.

Citizens or not, people will speak up.



Don’t Count Us In

Foreign Ministers of the Arab League unanimously rejected US President Donald Trump’s peace plan for Israel and Palestine on Saturday, arguing that the plan fails to “satisfy the minimum of the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people,” Axios reported.

The delegation said they won’t engage with the Trump administration in the implementation of the plan and warned Israel not to annex any part of the West Bank.

The lack of support for the plan could further hinder the Trump administration’s attempts to push the Palestinians to negotiate.

Following the League’s announcement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he cut ties with the United States and Israel, United Press International reported.

The plan was negotiated between the US and Israel, and excluded any input from the Palestinian side.

It proposed the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state and the Israeli annexation of large territories in the West Bank, including current illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Abbas said that he will propose a different peace plan in a speech at the UN Security Council meeting in the coming weeks.


Looking Ahead

Kosovo’s two biggest parties agreed Sunday to form a new government, nearly four months after the country held snap elections following the prime minister’s resignation, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported.

Leaders of the leftist-nationalist Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party and the center-right Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) reached a deal after months of stalled negotiations over government posts.

Under Kosovo’s constitution, the new coalition will also include groups representing Serbs, Turks and other ethnic minorities.

Under the agreement, the government will comprise of 15 ministries with LDK and Vetevendosje occupying six ministries each. The remaining three will be filled by representatives from different ethnic minorities.

The new government is expected to restart peace talks with its neighbor Serbia, which has not recognized its former province’s independence.

Diplomatic relations between the countries derailed in 2018, when Kosovo imposed 100 percent tariffs on Serbian products in response to Serbia blocking Kosovo from joining Interpol, the international police organization.

Since 2008, more than 110 nations have recognized Kosovo’s independence, but the young nation still faces continuous diplomatic hurdles because it hasn’t been recognized by Serbia, Russia, and a handful of European Union states.


Still No

Hundreds of anti-government protesters took to the streets of Iraq Sunday to protest the country’s new prime minister-designate, saying that they won’t accept any candidate who was chosen by Iraq’s political establishment, the Associated Press reported.

Iraqi President Barham Salih on Saturday appointed Mohammed Allawi to replace caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who resigned in November following large anti-government protests.

In a televised address, Allawi, a former communications minister, expressed support for the protests and vowed to fulfill demonstrators’ demands by fighting corruption and creating jobs, Al Jazeera reported.

He also promised to create a government free of sectarianism and factionalism, one of the key demands from the protesters.

His appointment was supported by influential Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who controls the largest bloc in parliament and many ministerial posts.

Allawi has a month to form a government, which must be approved by Iraq’s divided parliament.

One of the major issues he will face is the future of US troops in Iraq, after the Iraqi parliament voted to expel US military personnel amid recent tensions between the United States and Iran, according to NPR.


A Gut Feeling

Sometimes that feeling in the gut is more than just an intuition.

Two studies published last month found that microbes in human guts can tell a lot about a person’s health and how long they will live, according to Science Magazine.

In the first study, a research team reviewed 47 studies that analyzed the connections between the collective genomes of gut microbes and 13 common diseases, including schizophrenia and asthma.

The team then compared the studies with 24 genome-wide association studies, which correlate specific human genetic variants with diseases.

The results revealed that gut microbes were actually 20 percent better at telling apart healthy and ill individuals than a person’s own genes.

The second study, meanwhile, looked into the correlation between a person’s gut bacteria and their long-term mortality risk through analyzing data from a Finnish study that collected health information and stool samples from thousands of participants in 2002.

The authors of the second paper noted that people with an abundance of Enterobacteriaceae bacteria – a family of bacteria that includes E. coli and salmonella – were 15 percent more likely to die in the next 15 years.

Scientists are still unclear why gut bacteria are related to death and disease, but both studies hint that more attention should be given to residents in our intestines.

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