The World Today for November 15, 2023

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Shattering Glass, Splintering Peace


Eighty-five years ago, the Jewish cemetery in Vienna was one of the main targets of Kristallnacht – a Nazi pogrom against Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues in Germany and Austria.

And so it was again, reported CNN.

On Nov. 1, an arson attack left parts of the building close to ruins, scripture in tatters, and swastikas emblazoned on the walls outside.

“This takes us back to the darkest times,” Chief Rabbi Jaron Engelmayer told CNN. “It’s unbelievable that 80 years after Nazi times, we go back to such times and have antisemitic acts here, in the center of Europe.”

The cemetery attack is just one of the latest incidents targeting Jews in Europe since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel, and Israel began its bombing campaign of Gaza. Those occurrences are multiplying at a frightening pace across the continent, European leaders say. For example, Austria, with a Jewish community of around 12,000 people, has seen 167 incidents over the past month.

Similarly, France, with the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe, has seen an enormous spike in such hate crimes: In the past month, there have been more than 800 antisemitic acts in the country, nearly twice as many as in all of 2022. It’s a similar story in the United Kingdom and Germany, where Jewish community centers and synagogues have long been protected by police.

In London, for example, the police reported a 1,353 percent rise in antisemitic offenses compared with 2022. (London police said there has been a 140 percent increase in Islamophobic incidents.)

This has left European Jews wondering again if they are safe in Europe. They face attacks from the far left, the far right, and from the Muslim communities that greatly outnumber them, the Wall Street Journal reported. Already, routines have changed, children are being kept home from school, and some have contemplated moving. “I have not left my home in days and my daughter is not going to school,” Mirna Funk, 42, of Berlin, told the Journal.

The rise in antisemitic attacks has prompted demonstrations such as one in France over the weekend, when tens of thousands of people marched in Paris against such hate.

Meanwhile, as European leaders increase patrols on streets, subways, and across Jewish areas of their cities, they have also moved to ban protests against Israel, or the war on Gaza.

France since Oct. 7 has tried to impose one of the broadest bans in Europe on protests in solidarity with Palestinians because, as Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin put it, “they are likely to generate public order disturbances.”

But activists and others in Europe say that is a violation of civil liberties.

“It is outrageous, it is shocking, it is unacceptable not being able to express yourself,” Walid Atallah, 61, president of an association of Palestinians in France, told the Washington Post. His group was barred from holding an Oct. 14 protest in Paris because of a risk of violence and also the group’s failure to condemn Hamas, according to police.

Still, across Europe, protesters have defied bans, with hundreds ending up detained. Police, meanwhile, have been accused of stepped-up brutality against European Muslims, while officials have tried to ban Palestinian flags, slogans and even the keffiyeh, a scarf worn in the Middle East.

Some analysts say these extreme measures to support Israel come out of a sense of debt that European countries – especially Germany, with its legacy of instigating the Holocaust – owe to Jews because of what happened during World War II when six million Jews were murdered.

Still, these measures have gotten pushback, also from Jewish communities.

“As Jews, we reject this pretext for racist violence and express full solidarity with our Arab, Muslim, and particularly our Palestinian neighbors,” wrote more than 100 German Jewish writers, scholars and artists in an open letter in Taz, a German newspaper.

“What frightens us is the prevailing atmosphere of racism and xenophobia in Germany, hand in hand with a constraining and paternalistic philo-Semitism,” it added. “We reject in particular the conflation of anti-Semitism and any criticism of the state of Israel.”

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A Little Soul Searching


Kazakhstan is planning to open its secret service archives containing the records of thousands of people convicted during the repressive regime of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, a move aimed at decolonizing the Soviet Union’s era in Central Asia, Radio Free Europe reported.

Kazakh officials will release 2.4 million KGB cards bearing the names of people killed between the mid-1920s and 1956 under the authoritarian rule of Stalinism. They said the move is also aimed at rehabilitating hundreds of thousands of people falsely convicted.

Kazakhstan is currently observing a month of remembrance for the victims of repression under Stalin’s dictatorship, including activists and elites accused of promoting Central-Asian nationalism. In 1937 and 1938 alone, 120,000 people were arrested in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, and 25,000 were executed.

Kazakhstan and a number of Central Asian countries, including Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, were part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in the early 1990s.

The USSR had carried out a divide-and-rule strategy to isolate client states in Central Asia, which shared a common cultural heritage. Russian imperialism in Kazakhstan and its neighboring countries lived on following the collapse of the Soviet Union through the influence of Russian media and interference by Moscow.

Historians and activists said that making KGB archives public is intended to support Kazakhstan’s efforts of decolonization and countering Soviet narratives, including the myth maintained by the KGB that Kazakhs “(told) on each other.”

Steering away from the Russian rhetoric will shed light on the historical background of issues tearing Central Asia apart and improve relations between the region’s countries, Kyrgyz journalist Mirjan Balybaev told RFE.

Other countries in the region have also moved to open their archives and rehabilitate victims. British-American author Robert Conquest estimated in his book “The Great Terror” that the number of Soviet citizens who died under repression during the Stalin era went beyond 12 million.

Russia, meanwhile, has criticized the recent efforts as “anti-Russian” and said it dishonored the Soviet Union’s legacy. The criticism comes as Russia itself has been moving in the opposite direction, erecting monuments glorifying Stalin and destroying the records.

In 2021, the Supreme Court ordered the dismantling of Memorial International, an organization that worked to rehabilitate Stalin’s victims.

Sweeping the Neighborhood


Australia will allow citizens of the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu to claim asylum from the impacts of climate change, a benefit that is part of a deal aimed at curbing growing Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region, Reuters reported.

The agreement, known as the Falepili Union Treaty, will grant up to 280 visas per year for Tuvaluans to live in Australia. It also mandates that Australia protect the nation from military aggression.

The pact, signed earlier this month, also includes a $10.7 million pledge by Australia for land reclamation in Tuvalu.

Tuvalu, meanwhile, pledges to refrain from entering defense agreements with other nations without Australia’s approval.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called the pact “the most significant agreement between Australia and a Pacific island nation ever.”

Tuvalu, a nine-atoll archipelago, is at risk of disappearing entirely because of rising sea levels caused by global warming. By 2050, half of its capital Funafuti is expected to be flooded by high tides, the Sydney Morning Herald explained.

The nation had announced a plan to create a digital version of itself in January.

Australia’s veto over Tuvalu’s defense agreements with third parties enshrined in the pact is aimed at China, which is building up influence in the region and has made security pacts with other island nations such as the Solomon Islands.

One outcome of these security pacts is a reversal of diplomatic recognition by some countries of Taiwan, which China views as a renegade province of its country.

Tuvalu continues to have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, one of the 13 countries in the world to do so.

In 2019, it had refused a deal with China to shore up its land in exchange for security guarantees, the BBC noted.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano said the pact with Australia is beneficial for his 11,200-inhabitant country, the Herald added, also because immigrants’ remittances will boost the economy.

See No Evil


Thousands marched in Mexico’s capital Mexico City Monday night demanding justice for Jesús Ociel Baena, an influential LGBTQ figure who was found dead at his home in the central city of Aguascalientes after receiving death threats, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Baena, the country’s first openly non-binary magistrate, had been found dead along with his romantic partner, Dorian Herrera, earlier that day.

The prosecutor’s office said the two bodies had injuries caused by a knife or some other sharp objects, but ruled out the “presence of a third person” being involved in the deaths.

Officials added that the judge had previously received death threats because of Baena’s gender identity, but have not determined whether the death was “a homicide or an accident,” the Associated Press noted.

The suggestion that suicide was one possibility in the deaths quickly sparked outrage and protests, with LGBTQ groups calling it another attempt by authorities to simply brush aside violence against their communities.

Even so, Alejandro Brito, director of the LGBTQ rights group Letra S, said that Baena’s visibility on social media made the judge a target and urged authorities to consider that context in their investigation.

Baena made history last year when he became a magistrate of Aguascalientes’ Electoral Tribunal, the first non-binary person to assume a judicial position in Mexico – and believed to be one of the first in Latin America.

In June, Baena and others became the first individuals to be issued Mexico’s first non-binary passports.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in all 32 states of Mexico, with Tamaulipas being the last state to vote in favor of such unions in 2022.

But despite achieving a certain level of marriage equality across Latin America, LGBTQ activists and gender minorities continue to face high levels of violence and discrimination.


No Body? No Problem!

Starfish don’t have brains. They digest their food externally. And they can regenerate parts of their bodies.

In other words, they are freaks of nature, Science Alert reported.

These creatures belong to a group of marine life known as echinoderms, which include sea urchins and the sea cucumber. These species are unique because their body symmetry is mostly fivefold, rather than the bilateral ‘left-right’ symmetry that exists in most creatures.

“In their bilateral relatives, the body is divided into a head, trunk, and tail,” explained study co-author Jeff Thompson. “But just looking at a starfish, it’s impossible to see how these sections relate to the bodies of bilateral animals.”

This strange symmetry has puzzled scientists for years. As a result, Thompson and his team sought to understand how echinoderms evolved and where they fit in the deuterostome superphylum – a large group of animals that includes both vertebrates and echinoderms.

In their paper, they localized the precise DNA and RNA sequences in a tissue sample taken from a species of starfish known as bat stars. They then created a three-dimensional map of gene expression in the body of the starfish as it grew.

Researchers investigated transcription factors involved in the front-to-back development in bilateral animals. They found genes for developing arms. However, those responsible for trunk development in other deuterostomes were missing.

The findings suggested that sea stars and other echinoderms don’t have a body. They are literally just heads crawling around the sea floor, according to researchers.

The study sheds some new details about the long evolution of echinoderms, with the authors theorizing that at some point they had a body – but dropped it somewhere along the way.

It worked out fine in the end.

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