The World Today for January 10, 2024

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Nourished By Violence


Late last year, during an interview in Qatar, Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya told the New York Times that his terrorist group attacked Israel on Oct. 7 in order to revive the flagging revolutionary avidity that once animated Palestinians toward establishing a new country independent from Israel.

The fervor had diminished, he said, because of years of Israeli control that led to a struggle for basic survival. Meanwhile, Hamas watched with dismay as the world moved on: For example, Arab countries such as the UAE and Bahrain were beginning to recognize Israel, a diplomatic move they had previously withheld because of the Palestinian issue.

“We succeeded in putting the Palestinian issue back on the table, and now no one in the region is experiencing calm,” he said.

The comments illustrated how, while Hamas is technically in control politically of the Gaza Strip, the group’s agenda has never reflected the dreams of many ordinary Palestinians in the region who crave to live peaceful, normal lives. Indeed, before the Oct. 7 attacks and Israel’s massive – some would say disproportionate – response, Hamas was deeply unpopular in Gaza, wrote Foreign Affairs.

As columnist David Ignatius detailed in the Washington Post, plenty of Gazans have shared their experiences with corrupt or incompetent Hamas officials. Hamas harasses businesses, muzzles journalists, and shuts down any attempts at civil society that might breed resistance or criticism of their regime.

Hamas, incidentally, won and began its takeover of Gaza after the 2005 elections, defeating the Fatah-backed Palestinian Authority that now governs the West Bank. Since then, Palestinians have not had a chance to vote again for their leaders.

In 2018, when 53 percent of Palestinians in Gaza lived in poverty and 25 percent of women in Gaza risked death during childbirth, many Palestinians in Gaza were dissatisfied with Hamas’ handling of the region’s economy, said Miami University professor of comparative religion Nathan French. Around half of Gaza’s residents wanted to leave the region.

Today, however, as Israeli bombs fall on the heads of Palestinians, there’s a very good chance that a majority of the public in Gaza supports Hamas.

A recent poll found that 57 percent of Gazans believed Hamas was correct in attacking Israel, the Associated Press reported. Forty-two percent of Gazans supported Hamas in December, an increase from 38 percent three months ago.

Support for Hamas was even greater in the West Bank, where 44 percent supported Hamas in December – in contrast to 12 percent in September. Almost 90 percent of West Bank residents also wanted Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s US and Israeli-backed president, to resign.

Perhaps Hamas launched the Oct. 7 attacks not only to draw international attention to the plight of the Palestinians, but also to elicit an Israeli response that would rally Palestinians to their side and boost its popularity.

The question, however, is what comes next if violence and discord are necessary to keep a Hamas government in power.


All Hands on Deck


Armed men stormed onto the set of a public television channel in Ecuador as it broadcast live on Tuesday, threatening people and shouting they had “bombs,” as others reported hearing gunshots, the Associated Press reported.

The men, with faces covered, entered the set of the TC Television network in the port city of Guayaquil. It was just one of several attacks including explosions and the abduction of police officers after the government imposed a state of emergency Monday in the wake of the apparent escape of a powerful gang leader from prison.

The incidents have heightened security concerns in the South American nation as authorities struggle to fight criminal gangs and drug traffickers, CNN reported.

On Sunday, José Adolfo Macías Villamar, leader of the feared Los Choneros drug cartel, escaped from jail in Guayaquil, prompting the government to deploy more than 3,000 officers to search for him.

The cartel leader – also known as Fito – was sentenced in 2011 to 34 years in prison on multiple charges, including murder and narco-trafficking.

President Daniel Noboa said the state of emergency would last for 60 days and includes a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. local time. Noboa did not mention Fito’s escape, but ordered authorities to take control of Ecuador’s restive prison system.

Fito’s escape marks one of the first challenges facing Noboa, the son of a banana tycoon who took office in November following a race marked by political assassinations. He has said his priority is to combat criminal gangs and the spiraling violence they have unleashed on the country over the past few years.

Ecuador was once known as an “island of peace,” despite being nestled between two of the world’s largest cocaine producers, Colombia and Peru. But in recent years, the country has become an important transit point for cocaine smuggling and a strategic spot for drug traffickers to launder money.

Analysts said that many Ecuadorian gangs, including Los Choneros, have partnered with foreign criminal networks, such as Mexican cartels and the Albanian mafia, further destabilizing the security situation in the country.

Authorities have struggled to confront gangs inside Ecuador’s overcrowded prisons, where inmates often take control of branches of the facilities and operate networks from behind bars.

The Tears of Relief


The Supreme Court of India decided on Monday that 11 men, found guilty of gang-raping a Muslim woman and killing her relatives during one of the country’s deadliest religious riots, and who were released two years ago by a state government, should report back to jail, CNN reported.

The top court said the western state of Gujarat lacked the competence to issue the decision that released the men because they had been tried and convicted in neighboring Maharashtra. It ordered them to return to prison within two weeks.

Bilkis Bano, the victim in the case, welcomed the ruling with “tears of relief” after a 22-year-long struggle for justice.

In February 2002, centuries-old divisions in Gujarat culminated in violent clashes between its Hindu majority and Muslim minority, killing more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.

Bano was 21 years old and pregnant at the time. Amid the riots, a Hindu mob attacked her family, armed with swords, sticks, and sickles. They killed 14 of her relatives, including her 3-year-old daughter, while three members of the group raped her.

The rapists were arrested two years later and were sentenced to life in prison by a court in Maharashtra in 2008.

Nonetheless, in 2022, the Gujarat government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), released the men based on a provision enabling a state government to grant parole to prisoners having served at least 14 years.

Bano was dismayed by the decision, which sparked outrage and protests across India. Critics said it highlighted the misogynist and discriminatory culture in the country, where it is estimated a woman is raped every 17 minutes.

Critics have also alleged that Modi, then head of the Gujarat administration, facilitated the violence, although an official inquiry into the matter rejected the claim.

Bano’s supporters described the Supreme Court’s judgment as “phenomenal.” However, since it quashed Gujarat’s move based on the state’s constitutional powers, it does not prevent the government of Maharashtra, also led by the BJP, from issuing a similar decision, Al Jazeera explained.

Legislating Tolerance


Australia’s parliament passed a law this week that would ban the display of Nazi salutes and hate symbols in public, a move aimed at addressing a spike of antisemitism in the country amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, CBS News reported.

The new legislation will criminalize the performance of the Nazi salute in public and outlaw symbols associated with National Socialism ideology, such as the Nazi swastika. The bill also makes the act of glorifying or praising acts of terrorism a criminal offense.

Individuals violating the new rules could face up to 12 months in prison.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the legislation – the first of its kind in the country – sent “a clear message: There is no place in Australia for acts and symbols that glorify the horrors of the Holocaust and terrorist acts.”

Analysts said that the law’s passing came as the country is experiencing a rise in antisemitic incidents in the wake of the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in southern Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian fighters.

The assault saw the deaths of around 1,200 people and the kidnapping of around 240 others. Israel responded by launching airstrikes and a ground assault in Gaza that have killed nearly 23,000 people, according to health officials in the Hamas-run enclave.

Data from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry found a total of 662 antisemitic incidents between October and November.

In October, an unverified video circulated online, depicting a small group of individuals allegedly chanting antisemitic slogans during a pro-Palestinian demonstration outside the Sydney Opera House.

The video showed protesters launching flares and chanting phrases, such as “Gas the Jews.”

Other countries, mainly those in Europe, already have laws outlawing Nazi gestures and denying the Holocaust. More recently, some Europeans have created measures to strengthen protections against antisemitism such as bans in France on protests at the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

One state in Germany, Saxony-Anhalt, recently moved to require those applying for German citizenship to affirm in writing that they back the Jewish state’s “right to exist and condemn any efforts directed against” its existence, the Times of Israel wrote. Saxony-Anhalt is also asking its naturalization examiners to be vigilant for antisemitic and anti-democratic attitudes among applicants.

Other states are considering adopting such a measure.

As antisemitic incidents have risen sharply in the West, anti-Muslim incidents have also seen a corresponding spike, Human Rights Watch wrote.

The organization said that while 12 out of the 27 EU member states have adopted national strategies to combat antisemitism, there has been little attempt to combat hate against other minorities, particularly Muslims. Instead, it added, European leaders have asked “Muslims to distance themselves publicly from antisemitism – as if antisemitism in Europe could be attributed solely to an entire ethnic or religious minority,” calling that stance stigmatizing.


A Giant Call To Arms

Visitors passing through England’s southwest might have stumbled across the Cerne Abbas Giant, a nearly 200-foot-tall figure cut into the chalky hillside of Dorset county.

Naked and sporting a huge club over its head, the giant has puzzled scholars who have wondered about its origins and purpose. Some theories suggest it was a Celtic god or a fertility symbol.

But now, researchers believe the figure is a representation of Hercules, the ancient Greco-Roman god, and served as a muster station for medieval West Saxon armies preparing to fight Viking marauders, the Guardian reported.

In 2021, a study led by the British-based National Trust charity had already found that the Cerne Abbas giant was created sometime around the 10th century – dispelling previous theories that it was prehistoric.

More recently, University of Oxford scholars began studying the history and location of the area during that period to determine the figure’s creation.

They explained that the West Saxon royal family that ruled the area owned a lot of land there and the hill where the giant was cut into had strategic value: It has impressive views over Dorset and was close to major medieval thoroughfares.

Because of this, the team noted that it served as a special meeting place for large groups, including “mustering an army, usually under the leadership of the local ealdorman (leader).”

The medieval inhabitants also marked the area by creating the giant, which the authors suggest is the mighty Hercules because of his “longstanding characterization … as a model of masculinity, especially among warriors and his currency in the 9th and 10th centuries.”

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