The World Today for December 30, 2021

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Much Ado About Something


School officials forced third-grade teacher Fatemeh Anvari out of her classroom at Chelsea Elementary School in Quebec because she wore a hijab. Anvari didn’t lose her job, per se. She was reassigned to an inclusion-and-diversity literacy program.

Her students were, nonetheless, confounded. The school’s motto is “Respect for all, by all,” wrote the Washington Post. They wear anti-bullying T-shirts that read, “We help. We tell. We include.” When they realized that a Quebecois law called Bill 21 prohibits public employees from wearing religious symbols – this includes turbans, yarmulke and Islamic head coverings like the hijab – the furor that was unleashed in online chat groups and email chains led to a campaign against the law.

“It was just awful, really upsetting,” said Kirsten Taylor-Bosman, whose child attends Anvari’s class, in an interview with the Radio Canada International. “These are not the values that we teach our children. So it’s really hard to explain this to our kids.”

Writing in the Hill Times, Rose LeMay, a member of Canada’s Tlingit First Nation, an indigenous community, noted that the law echoed early 20th Century rules that forbid them from wearing traditional dress because they were supposed to be “civilized” and dress like Europeans.

Bill 21 was among the first legislation passed when Quebec Premier François Legault took office. The legislation ostensibly was designed to promote secularism – the Catholic Church once wielded an outsized influence in the province – but critics like those at the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties argue it aims to discriminate against non-Christian racial and ethnic minorities.

A conservative who supports the independence of French-speaking Quebec from otherwise English-speaking Canada, he said the school made a mistake when they hired Anvari after the law was enacted in 2019, according to Global News. The school board agreed with the premier even if they disagreed with the law. They erred in hiring her without asking what she wore.

The matter could become a wedge issue between Quebec and the rest of the country. If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has repeatedly voiced his commitments to diversity but has yet to challenge Bill 21, or the federal courts invalidate the law, the Quebecois could view those moves as unwelcome meddling in their internal affairs, argued iPolitics, a Canadian news outlet.

Sixty-four percent of Quebecois are “perfectly content” to compel folks to choose between their religion and their profession, the Globe and Mail added.

Every community has the right to enforce its norms. In democracies, every person has the right to complain about it – and challenge them.


Creating Silence


Hong Kong authorities raided the offices of a pro-democracy news outlet and arrested seven people connected to it on Wednesday, a move seen as another government attempt to silence the territory’s once-outspoken independent press, the New York Times reported.

Police raided the offices of Stand News over allegations that the outlet published “inflammatory” content to incite hatred and violence against the government and judiciary. The seven individuals were detained on suspicion of planning to publish seditious material.

Stand News, founded in 2014 amid the Umbrella Movement protests, was one of the prominent pro-democracy outlets in the city and extensively covered the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Following the police operation, Stand News announced it was shutting down, and its website and social media pages would be deleted within a day.  All employees were dismissed.

Wednesday’s events underscore mainland China’s efforts to smash the semi-autonomous territory’s civil liberties: In June 2020, the Chinese government imposed a national security law in Hong Kong to prevent mass demonstrations, such as the year-long protests in 2019.

Since the passing of the law, Hong Kong officials have targeted critics across civil society, including journalists.

Earlier this year, another major news outlet, Apple Daily, was forced to close after multiple police raids and arrests of its senior staff, including founder Jimmy Lai.

Lai – one of Hong Kong’s most well-known opposition figures – has been accused of charges of sedition and has been sentenced to 20 months in prison for his support of the pro-democracy movement. He faces up to life in prison on other charges.

A Sermon Too Far


French officials shut down a mosque in the country’s northern region of Oise this week over allegations that the sermons held there promoted extremism and incited hatred and violence, the Hill reported.

Authorities said that the imam’s sermons at the Great Mosque of Beauvais “defended jihad” and referred to jihadist fighters as “heroes.” They added that the sermons also targeted Christians, the LGBTQ+ community and Jews.

A representative of the mosque said that the imam’s remarks were “taken out of context,” while confirming that the religious leader has been suspended from his duties.

The French government has been closely investigating Islamic places of worship with suspected links to extremism since last year. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said that mosques could be closed if it was determined they were encouraging “separatism.”

The crackdown follows two violent incidents in 2020 believed to have been perpetrated by Islamic extremists, including the gruesome murder of teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded after showing cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to his pupils, according to Agence France-Presse.

Darmanin said that around 100 mosques and prayer halls out of more than 2,620 in the country have been probed for extremist links in recent months.

Curtains Up


Mexico’s president is pushing for a referendum that would allow Mexicans to vote in the midterm period on whether the head of state should remain in office, a move that some analysts are calling a political football involving all three branches of government, the Associated Press reported.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced this week that his supporters had collected 10 million signatures in favor of the plebiscite – which is more than legally required.

The referendum comes at an odd period because the president’s term will end in 2024. Also, the constitution does not require it. López Obrador already enjoys positive ratings from about two-thirds of those polled and has a high chance of winning the vote to serve out the rest of his six-year term.

Even so, the National Electoral Institute said the plebiscite would cost about $200 million and the opposition called it “a very expensive and unconstitutional piece of political theater.”

But the Supreme Court ruled otherwise and ordered the electoral commission to hold the April 10 referendum. Meanwhile, lawmakers have filed a criminal complaint against electoral officials and accused them of blocking democracy.

The institute said the complaint was an act of “intimidation and an attack on our autonomy.”

Patricio Morelos of Monterrey Technological University said the referendum was one of López Obrador’s campaign promises, and it would serve to energize his political base before the 2022 gubernatorial polls and the 2024 presidential elections.


Genetic Predisposition

DNA can reveal almost everything about a person – even how they like their coffee, the Washington Post reported.

Scientists analyzed the genetic information collected from extensive diet reports from tens of thousands of participants, including how much coffee or tea they consumed and if – and how – they sweetened it.

The research team also studied self-reported preferences for bitter flavors, such as in beers and dark chocolate.

Their findings showed that people whose DNA had markers of fast caffeine metabolism preferred the taste and smell of black coffee and dark chocolate. Even so, these individuals did not always show to have genetic variations connected with a preference for bitter tastes.

Instead, the team theorized that it might be a matter of perception: Coffee metabolizers see the effects of caffeine disappear quickly and therefore go for a darker beverage because they prefer it to be as strong as possible.

“Our interpretation is these people equate caffeine’s natural bitterness with a psycho-stimulation effect,” said lead author Marilyn Cornelis. “They learn to associate bitterness with caffeine and the boost they feel. We are seeing a learned effect.”

Meanwhile, people with higher sensitivity to caffeine’s effects reported less liking for coffee, regardless of whether it was sweetened or not.

Cornelis said the study could help future research on the health benefits of coffee and dark chocolate.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 284,602,329

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,423,041

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,081,650,946

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

  1. US: 53,663,256 (+0.92%)
  2. India: 34,822,040 (+0.04%)
  3. Brazil: 22,269,031 (+0.04%)
  4. UK: 12,630,442 (+1.80%)
  5. Russia: 10,279,009 (+0.20%)
  6. France: 9,639,037 (+2.21%)
  7. Turkey: 9,404,053 (+0.39%)
  8. Germany: 7,129,353 (+0.61%)
  9. Iran: 6,190,762 (+0.03%)
  10. Spain: 6,133,057 (+1.67%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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