The World Today for March 05, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

SWITZERLAND

Dress Codes

Anila Noor and Maria Khoshy are asylum seekers who came to Europe after fleeing their religiously oppressive home countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan. They describe themselves as feminists and women’s rights activists. And they are bitterly opposed to a March 7 constitutional referendum in Switzerland that would ban facial coverings such as burqas and niqabs that some traditional Muslim women wear.

“In our countries of origin, our governments mandated what we wore in an effort to restrict our basic human rights. We do not want the same to happen in Switzerland,” they wrote in an op-ed in Swiffinfo.ch, a state-owned news service “It is time that the government and people in power stop telling us how to dress.”

Writing in an op-ed in the Washington Post, British writer Rabina Khan similarly framed the ban as an insult to women. The populist, right-wing Swiss People’s Party supports the ban because it reflects their xenophobia and regressive views on women, she argued.

Mohamed Hamdaoui is a Muslim, a journalist and a local lawmaker. He views the proposed ban as a historic opportunity to reject orthodox Islam. “Burkas and niqabs are more than just clothes,” he argued in another Swissinfo.ch op-ed. “They are the symbol of a monstrous ideology.”

The Swiss government has sided with Noor and Khoshy. As Reuters explained, Swiss law states that any proposed constitutional amendment that receives more than 100,000 signatures must be put up for a vote. The same process was used in 2009 to ban the construction of new minarets. Swiss leaders have urged voters to reject the face-covering ban, saying it will hurt tourism (READ: rich Saudis) but won’t affect many Swiss citizens.

Swiss Catholics have voiced their opposition to the ban, saying it violates religious freedoms, reported Tablet, a British newsweekly devoted to Catholic issues.

But 63 percent of voters support the measure, according to a poll cited by Al Jazeera. Two Swiss cantons have issued local bans. France, Denmark and a handful of other nations also have forbidden facial coverings.

The proposed Swiss ban states that “no one shall cover their face in public, nor in areas accessible to the public or in areas where services are ordinarily accessible to all,” Agence France-Presse reported. In the Conversation, Religious Studies and Gender scholar Anna Piela pointed out the irony of forcing folks to take off their face-coverings while also encouraging mask-wearing to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Regardless of what happens on March 7, observers say this much is clear: Politics and consistency do not always go hand-in-hand.

WANT TO KNOW

NORTHERN IRELAND

Lines on Maps

Northern Irish loyalist paramilitary groups said they are temporarily withdrawing support from the 1998 Good Friday agreement due to concerns over the Brexit deal, a move that puts pressure on British, Irish and European leaders, Reuters reported Thursday.

The paramilitary groups – made up of Protestants who want the territory to stay part of the United Kingdom – blamed Britain, Ireland and the European Union for breaching their commitments to the peace agreement.

Specifically, they demanded an amendment to the Northern Irish Protocol – a part of the 2020 Brexit Treaty – which has made it problematic for Northern Ireland to import goods from Britain.

The loyalists argued that that protocol divides up the UK and warned that if Britain or the EU are not prepared to honor the peace deal, then they’ll be “responsible for the permanent destruction of the agreement.”

Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement ended three decades of violence between Catholic nationalists fighting for a united Ireland and Protestant unionists wanting to stay with the UK.

Preserving the delicate peace in the region without allowing Britain a back door into the EU’s markets through the 310-mile British-Irish land border was one of the most difficult issues of the Brexit divorce talks.

US President Joe Biden has warned Britain it needs to respect the peace agreement when it withdrew from the European Union or there would be no separate US-British trade deal.

CHINA

Olympic Leverage

Critics of China’s human rights record called for stripping Beijing of the 2022 Winter Olympics because of its repression of its Uighur Muslim minority in the northwestern Xinjiang province, Politico reported.

Lawmakers in the major Olympic countries, including the Netherlands and Canada have officially declared China’s actions in the region a “genocide,” noting that stories of forced sterilization and rape are reason enough the country should not host the Olympics.

Analysts noted that it’s unclear what effect this boycott toward Beijing will have but said that it is unlikely that it will pressure the Chinese government to change its treatment of the Uighurs.

Protests also erupted before the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008 over China’s policies in Tibet but those games were held regardless.

China has made it clear that it’s taking boycott threats very seriously and that it “opposes fabrication and dissemination of lies and fake news” regarding Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

The International Olympic Committee, meanwhile, has tried to remain neutral on global political issues but critics have accused the committee of “hypocrisy.” They add that the Olympic Charter highlights the importance of equality and anti-discrimination but the IOC “ignores its own Charter when it is convenient for them to do so.”

ITALY

Hoarders

Italy blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines destined for Australia on Thursday, marking the first intervention by a European Union nation to control the export of the shots outside the bloc, CNBC reported.

The pharmaceutical firm requested permission from the Italian government to ship around 250,000 vaccines but officials refused.

Since January, the EU has placed temporary controls on the exports of vaccines made inside the bloc following a spat with AstraZeneca over supply issues.

The controls will last until the end of March and allow nations in the bloc to reject authorizing exports if the vaccine makers do not honor contracts.

EU leaders have been under pressure over the slow rollout of vaccines: EU institutions have been accused of not securing enough of the vaccines and for taking too long to approve those that have received the green light elsewhere.

DISCOVERIES

Very Old Friends

Old age is not kind to wild lemurs: The primates become sluggish and stiff in their movements, which makes it hard for them to hold on to tree branches or escape predators.

Life in the wild is a short one for the mammals without someone to watch over them – as well as groom them.

But scientists at Duke University are trying to help geriatric lemurs in captivity to live longer lives while also helping them keep an active social life, the New York Times reported.

Researchers at the Duke Lemur Center are pairing different species of lemurs together to prevent them from spending their twilight years alone.

“Our goal is that no lemurs live alone,” said Britt Keith, the center’s head lemur keeper. “It’s totally unnatural and not good for their well-being.”

Lemurs are social creatures but they generally prefer to stick with lemurs of their own species. In the wild, interspecies pairings between the animal are not common. Still, that’s not the case at the lemur center.

One such example is the friendship between Cheyenne, a red-bellied lemur, and Chloris, a ring-tailed lemur: Both are 32 years old – very old in lemur years – and spend most of their days sleeping, cuddling and grooming each other.

The research team hopes that these pairings can unveil more about how these monkey-like animals form interspecies companionships.

Holiday Promo

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 28,827,140 (+0.23%)
  2. India: 11,173,761 (+0.15%)
  3. Brazil: 10,793,732 (+0.70%)
  4. Russia: 4,241,970 (+0.00%)**
  5. UK: 4,213,764 (+0.16%)
  6. France: 3,895,430 (+0.65%)
  7. Spain: 3,142,358 (+0.19%)
  8. Italy: 2,999,119 (+0.77%)
  9. Turkey: 2,746,158 (+0.41%)
  10. Germany: 2,484,306 (+0.39%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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