October 06, 2021

Listen to Today's Edition
Voiced by Amazon Polly

NEED TO KNOW

Me, too!

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar recently told Western leaders that he and his forces will treat women with dignity in the wake of his group taking control of Afghanistan after the recent exit of US forces.

“Women will be given rights in accordance with Sharia,” Baradar told NBC News.

What Baradar means by women’s rights is vastly different from internationally recognized senses of the term, however. One of the first acts by the Taliban’s recently appointed chancellor at Kabul University, for example, was to ban women from studying there.

“I give you my word as chancellor of Kabul University,” Mohammad Ashraf Ghairat tweeted, according to the New York Times. “As long as a real Islamic environment is not provided for all, women will not be allowed to come to universities or work. Islam first.”

Women have been told they can study but only in traditional garb and only with other females, the BBC added. Similarly, the Taliban have told women they can have jobs and work as professionals but for now they have to stay at home due to security concerns. Some women have resisted the moves, reported NDTV, an Indian media outlet. But they face grim odds.

When the Taliban controlled the Central Asian country between 1996 and 2001 – the US invaded soon after the September 11 terror attacks that were planned in Afghanistan under their watch – they enforced an ultra-orthodox version of Sunni Islam on the people. Women could not attend school, hold jobs or appear in public without male chaperones and a face-covering.

Many women see a similar regime coming now, the Washington Post wrote, even though these days, women walk and shop on the streets of Kabul without covering their faces, which once would have risked a beating by Taliban morals police. And while sixth-grade girls can still go to school, older female students are banned. That is breaking the heart of the mothers of daughters who enjoyed participating in school under the previous US-backed government. The mothers are watching the Taliban ruin yet another generation’s chance at an education.

They are also watching as the Taliban closes down shelters that for the past 20 years have provided safe havens for women seeking to escape forced marriages, sexual assault and domestic abuse, Radio Free Europe reported. Many of the women who lived in these shelters now must return to the abusive husbands and families they had fled, Human Rights Watch noted.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has brought back the moral police – the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – and housed it in the recently shut Ministry of Women’s Affairs. It will resume amputations and executions as punishments.

That move alone shows that the Taliban’s rule is likely to grow harsher, observers say.

The Taliban went too far when they allied with Al Qaeda, the terrorist group that orchestrated the September 11 attacks, and were kicked out of power. Now they are back in control in the capital of Kabul. If they can manage to keep from repeating their mistakes internationally, little stands in their way domestically.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Boogeymen

SINGAPORE

The Singaporean parliament approved a bill this week that will give authorities broad powers to tackle foreign interference even as critics and civil rights advocates express concern about the legislation’s expansive reach and limits on judicial review, Reuters reported.

Known as the Foreign Interference Countermeasures Act (FICA), the bill would allow the country’s home affairs minister to force internet and social media service providers to provide user data, block content and remove applications.

Individuals designated as “politically significant persons” will also be ordered to comply with the strict rules relating to donations and declare any links to foreign entities.

The contentious legislation also sets up an independent tribunal chaired by a judge that will hear appeals against the minister’s decision. The tribunal’s decisions will be final, the BBC noted.

The government says the new rules will not affect Singaporeans expressing their opinions or engaging in activism, or foreigners or publications “reporting or commenting on Singapore politics in an open, transparent and attributable way.”

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said the bill was the “best balance … between dealing with the risks and providing checks against abuse.”

Critics, however, warned that the text’s broad language risks capturing legitimate activities and could be used to target independent media outlets.

The bill comes two years after Singapore passed another far-reaching law that targets fake news.

The small city-state became the latest country to pass foreign interference laws, following Russia and Australia.

Faith, Splintered and Broken

FRANCE

A new report released Tuesday estimated that more than 200,000 minors were abused by Catholic clergy in France over the past 70 years, a figure that underscores how pervasive and systematic the problem had been following a series of high-profile scandals, the New York Times reported.

France’s Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church detailed in its 2,500-page report how the church hierarchy failed to discipline clergy members and repeatedly silenced victims of abuse.

The findings focused on the period between 1950 and 2020 and are considered the most extensive account to date of the scope of sexual abuse by clergy in the country. The commission determined that about 216,000 minors were abused by the clergy – a figure that rises to more than 300,000 after including laypeople who either worked for the church or were affiliated with it such as Boy Scout organizers or Catholic school staff.

It also suspects that there had been at least 2,900 perpetrators of sexual abuse among clergy members over the past seven decades. Commission President Jean-Marc Sauvé accused the church of showing “deep, total and even cruel indifference toward victims.”

The commission was formed in 2018 after France’s Catholic Church requested an investigation amid growing criticism of its handling of such scandals. The inquiry is reminiscent of other investigations into allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Australia, Germany, Ireland, Poland and the United States.

Victims’ advocates welcomed the findings but said it remains unclear whether the church would act on the commission’s recommendations.

Even so, Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, the archbishop of Reims and the president of the Bishop’s Conference of France, called the findings alarming and said he would seek remedies.

The Price of Infamy

SRI LANKA

Sri Lankan prosecutors have indicted 25 people for taking part in the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombings, considered the island’s single worst terror attack, Agence France-Presse reported.

Authorities this week brought more than 20,000 charges against the suspects, including the alleged mastermind of the attack, Mohamed Naufar, who is accused of being a member of the Islamic State affiliate in Sri Lanka, according to the United States Department of Justice.

Court proceedings will begin on Nov. 23.

Separately, authorities are also prosecuting a former police chief and a top defense official for failing to act despite repeated intelligence warnings of a possible Islamic State attack. An inquiry set up by former President Maithripala Sirisena also demanded his prosecution after finding him responsible for failing to prevent the attacks.

Nearly 300 people, including foreign nationals, died in the April 21 bombings on three churches and three hotels. The attack also targeted the country’s Christian community.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, head of Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church, has criticized the government about the probe’s slow progress. In August, Sri Lanka’s Christian community lifted black flags at churches and homes to protests the slow pace of the investigation, the Associated Press reported.

DISCOVERIES

Beating Nature

Monitoring air quality will become more precise and easier thanks to a nifty device developed by scientists at Northwestern University in Illinois, Endgadget reported.

A research team created a winged microchip around the size of a grain of sand – considered to be the smallest flying device ever made. The “microflier” was inspired by the spinning seeds from cottonwood and other trees, which fall slowly to the ground and are spread by the wind.

The new device can also be carried by the wind but is better than nature’s delivery, the team reported in their study.

“We think we’ve beaten biology… we’ve been able to build structures that fall in a more stable trajectory at slower terminal velocities than equivalent seeds,” lead author John A. Rogers told VICE.

The team explained that the microflier can carry electronics, sensors and power sources. They also tested other versions that can carry antennas that can wirelessly communicate with a smartphone.

Rogers and his team hope that the microfliers can be used to track air pollution, airborne disease, as well as solar radiation.

The device is still in its concept phase but researchers hope to create biodegradable flying microchips in the future to avoid pollution.

“You monitor for a month and then the devices die out, dissolve and disappear…,” said Rogers.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 235,856,159

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,817,613

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 6,348,570,230

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 43,950,455 (+0.22%)
  2. India: 33,871,881 (+0.06%)
  3. Brazil: 21,499,074 (+0.10%)
  4. UK: 8,005,496 (+0.42%)
  5. Russia: 7,524,465 (+0.33%)
  6. Turkey: 7,296,849 (+0.41%)
  7. France: 7,127,454 (+0.08%)
  8. Iran: 5,651,961 (+0.23%)
  9. Argentina: 5,261,935 (+0.02%)
  10. Spain: 4,967,200 (+0.04%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours