Nigerians Protest In Indonesia, Storms Embassy

Nigerians protesting in Indonesia storms embassy in Jakarta.

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Persecution of Muslims in China and India Reveals Important Facts About Religion and Geopolitics

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India, China and Myanmar are three Asian countries currently engrossed in carrying out physical and cultural genocides on their Muslim populations. While the plight of Rohingya Muslims and Uighur Muslims is well known, the recent introduction of a new law expressly aimed at dispossessing Muslims of Indian citizenship has alerted many to the reality that India’s ruling BJP government sees itself as Hindu first and foremost.

Questions such as “Why aren’t the rich Arab countries saying anything?” have come up, with the implicit inference that Muslim-dominated countries are supposed to stick up for Muslims everywhere in the world. Others have pointed out that despite suffering oppression in some parts of the world, Muslims are also responsible for brutal acts of oppression against other minority groups elsewhere, which allegedly negates the sufferings of the prior group.

In this article, I will pick through these questions and viewpoints with a goal of isolating some useful truths about how religion, geopolitics and human nature constantly interplay and produce much of the world around us.

Oppression is a Matter of Perspective

Which religion is the most oppressed? I like to troll my Christian friends with the image below whenever the topic comes up about some religion or the other allegedly imposing its will at their expense.

The truth is however, that this image could apply to just about every religion on earth. As a general rule of thumb, the only limiting factor on whether or not a religion functions as an oppressive tyranny in a particular jurisdiction is the proportion of the population that practises it there. Similarly, the only thing stopping any religion from being an oppressed and downtrodden identity is whether it is a small enough minority for that to be possible.

While Muslims in India, Myanmar and China are going through untold degrees of horror because of their religious identities, Muslims in places like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Malaysia and Northern Nigeria are simultaneously visiting very similar horrors on Bah’ai, Shia Muslims, Christians, Budhists and other minorities in those areas. It turns out that the mere fact of belonging to a religious identity does not in fact, confer unrestricted global victimhood.

This point is important because it disproves the notion held by every major religion that its adherents follow a single set of standards and do things in the manner of a global “brotherhood.” In reality, Islam according to a Rohingya Muslim hiding from the Burmese military, and the same religion according to an itinerant herder in Kogi State bear almost no similarity to each other save for the most basic tenets. Environmental factors in fact have a bigger influence on how religions are practised than their own holy books. 

The current antics of India’s ruling BJP and its Hindu fundamentalist support base provide an important case in point as to how this works. Looking at the evolution of Hinduism from a passive philosophy into an openly militant ideology gives an important insight into how religion is in fact, a thoroughly contrived and amorphous set of ideas that can be changed, adjusted, aligned and revised at a moment’s notice in justification of anything at all. 

Hinduism traditionally sees itself as a religion of thoughtful, considered spirituality as against the angry dogmas of its Abrahamic neighbours, but something interesting is happening. Some argue that it started in the days of Gandhi, and some ascribe it to current Prime Minister Nanendra Modi, but whoever started it is a side note. The key point to note is that based on political factors, i.e anticolonial senitment against the British and anti-Muslim sentiment fueled by India’s national rivalry with Pakistan, Hinduism has somehow been coopted into the narrative of a jingoistic, monotheistic, mono-ethnic state which is  historical nonsense.

India has always been a pointedly pluralistic society, and in fact the geographical area now known as “India” does not even cover the geographical area of the India of antiquity. That India was a place of Hindus, Budhists, Muslims, Zoroastrians and everything in between. Hinduism never saw a problem with pluralism because Hinduism itself is a very plural religion – it has at least 13 major deities. The conversion of the Hindu identity into a political identity movement is a recent and contrived phenomenon first exploited by Gandhi as a means of opposing British colonialism, and now by Modi to oppose the Pakistanis/Muslims – it is a historical falsity.

The creation of Hindu fundamentalist movements like the RSS (which PM Modi belongs to) is something done in response to environmental factors. Spectacles like the RSS march below are evidence of yet another religion undergoing constant and ongoing evolution into whatever suits its purposes.

Something similar happened when medieval Europe turned into colonial Europe and European Christianity transitioned into a peaceful and pacifist ideology after centuries of being a bloodthirsty doctrine. The environmental factors that created the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, book burnings and witch hunts went away with the introduction of an industrial society, and thus the religion too transitioned.

In plain English, what all this means is that nobody actually practises a religion in the pure sense they imagine they do. Everyone who subscribes to a religion merely practises a version of it that is subject to the culture and circumstances of their environment and era. This is directly connected to the next major insight raised by these events.

Geopolitics is all About Self-Interest…Everyone Gets it Except Africa

While anti-Muslim violence has continued apace for years in China, Mynammar and India, the question has often been asked: “Why are the wealthy Arab nations not saying anything?” There is a perception that since the Arabian peninsula is the birthplace of Islam and Arabs – particularly Saudis – are viewed as the global gatekeepers of the faith, they must be at the forefront of promoting the interests of Muslims worldwide.

To many, the fabulous wealth and international influence that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE enjoy, in addition to the presence of two of Islam’s holiest cities – Mecca and Meddinah – in Saudi Arabia, means that they have a responsibility to speak for the global Muslim Ummah and stand up for them when they are unfairly targeted and mistreated. Unfortunately for such people, the wealthy nations of the Arab Gulf region tend to respond to such questions with little more than an irritated silence – and with good reason.

To begin with, these countries are not democracies led by the wishes of their almost uniformly Muslim populations. They are autocracies led by royal families who came to power in the colonially-influenced 20th century scramble for power and influence. Saudi Arabia, which houses Islam’s holiest sites, is named after the House of Saud, its royal family which came into power in its current form at the turn of the 19th century. The priority of the regimes in these countries first and foremost is self-preservation.

Self-preservation means that before throwing their significant diplomatic and economic weight behind any attempt to help out fellow Muslims, the first consideration is how doing so will benefit them. India for example, is a country that has close diplomatic ties with the UAE, and supplies most of their cheap labour for construction and low-skilled functions. India has even coordinated with UAE special forces to repatriate the dissident Princess Latika when she made an audacious escape attempt in 2018.

What does the UAE stand to gain if it napalms its diplomatic relationship with India by criticising Modi’s blatantly anti-Muslim policy direction? It might win a few brownie points with Islamic hardliners and possibly buy some goodwill among poor Muslims in South Asia, but how much is that worth? The regime and nation’s self-interest is best served by looking the other way, so that is exactly what they will do.

The Saudis make a similar calculation. At a time when they are investing heavily in military hardware to keep up with their eternal rivals Turkey and Iran, and simultaneously preparing for the end of oil by liberalising their society and economy, does it pay them to jump into an issue in India that does not particularly affect them? As the status of their diplomatic relationship with the U.S. remains unclear following the Jamal Khasshoggi incident, are they going to risk pissing off the Chinese because of Uighur Muslims?

In fact self-interest like that mentioned here is the basis of the considerations that underpin all international relations. Well I say “all,” but what I really meant to say was “all except African countries.” It is only African countries that take diplomatic decisions based on little more than flimsy emotions and feelings of religious affinity. Gambia for example, has dragged Myanmar before the UN and filed a genocide case against it on behalf of the Rohingya Muslims.

This would be commendable and great were it not that Gambia itself is hardly a human rights luminary, and generally has little business fighting an Asian battle when its own worse African battles lie unfought. The only thing Gambia stands to gain from fighting a diplomatic war that the rest of the world seems unwilling to touch is the temporary goodwill of a few Muslims in Asia and around the world – goodwill that cannot translate into something tangible for it.

To coin an aphorism from social media lingo, you could call it ”diplomatic clout chasing.’

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Reprieve on the way for 119 Nigerians on death row in Malaysia | P.M. News

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Malaysia execution for drug trafficking

The 119 Nigerians on death row in Malaysia may be saved from the executioner if the country’s legislature passed a bill to abolish the death penalty as being proposed by the country’s law minister Liew Vui Keong.

The minister plans to table the bill in the March 2020 sitting of Dewan Rakyat, Malaysia’s Lower House of Parliament.

According to Amnesty’s latest report, Fatally Flawed: Why Malaysia must abolish the Death Penalty, 1,281 people are on death row as of February 2019.

Foreigners make up a significant 44 percent, 568 people, with Nigerians accounting for 119. They were sentenced to death for drug trafficking.

“Nationals from Nigeria made up 21 per cent of this group, with those from Indonesia (16%), Iran (15%), India (10%), Philippines (8%) and Thailand (6%) following suit”, Amnesty said.

Amnesty International latest report: Nigerians on death row may get some reprieve soon

“A significant 73 per cent of all those under sentence of death have been convicted of drug trafficking under Section 39(b) of the Dangerous of Drugs Act, 1952 — an extremely high figure for an offence that does not even meet the threshold of the ‘most serious crimes’ under international law and standards and for which the death penalty must not be imposed,” AI said in the report.

The Nigerians have not been executed because of a moratorium on executions in place since October 2018 as the government mulls law reform.

A special task force led by immediate past chief justice Richard Malanjum has also been set up to study alternative penalties for laws carrying mandatory capital punishment.

Amnesty report points at various flaws in the Malaysian legal system, including denial of complete legal aid to foreigners.

Amnesty also said that insufficient funding of legal aid also hinders Malaysians from accessing proper representation, especially those who live in rural areas and who are not able to afford a lawyer.

“It is further concerning that because of how legal aid is structured in the different schemes that provide no free legal representatives until the trial is due to start, many defendants are left awaiting trial without any legal assistance for significant periods that have extended from months to, in most cases, two to five years,” the report read.

For foreign nationals, the report noted delays of more than 24 hours to several days before their respective embassies were informed of their arrests. This is despite international law which states that prompt communication is necessary.

Amnesty, which campaigns to end to capital punishment worldwide, called for competent legal representation be made available to all defendants.

It also called upon the police to inform all detainees of their right to legal aid.

‘Secretive’ pardons, executions

Aside from the pre and post-trial stages, gaps in legal aid also affected the ability of inmates to acquire assistance when filing their pardon petitions, noted Amnesty.

When it was available, the report cited a lawyer’s testimony about how prison officials pre-selected inmates who would be able to receive legal aid, all of whom were Malaysians.

“The decision on who gets that support is not transparent and creates an additional degree of arbitrariness and discrimination in the death penalty system,” it said.

The NGO further urged the government to solve the delays and lack of transparency in clemency proceedings.

Pardons can only be granted by the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong and the state rulers after consulting the Pardons Board. However, clear procedures for them are not laid out in Malaysian law except for some guidelines in the Prison Regulations 2000.

In practice, the report noted that inmates are often informed of their right to clemency but not the criteria for pardon consideration.

Inmates and their families are often left without any news from the authorities for a long period after submitting their petition.

The report also noted instances of delays by prison authorities in communicating the result of a pardon petition to an inmate’s family.

In the case of rejected clemency petitions, Amnesty noted that families were not informed of the date and time of impending executions except that they would happen “soon”.

“Some of the letters handed over to the families were dated two weeks earlier, suggesting that the prison authorities had held on to this information until only days before the scheduled date of the hangings,” it said.

Amnesty urged Pardon Boards to disclose all relevant information to inmates to allow them to prepare adequately for the pardon petitions.

It also wanted the boards to promptly update inmates, their families and their lawyers on the progress of their applications.

Following objections to abolishing the death penalty in total, the Pakatan Harapan government is now looking at replacing the mandatory death penalty for 11 serious criminal offences to allow for judicial discretion.

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Mount Tambora Eruption Confirmed As The Cause Of The Year Without A Summer

In 1815, the volcano Mount Tambora exploded in what was probably the largest eruption of the last 1,500 years. The event has often been suspected of causing Europe’s so-called “year without a summer” as ash and sulfur-dioxide blocked out the sunlight. However, atmospheric scientists have not been certain how much the explosion contributed to the chilly, wet conditions the following year. Now, climate models have been used to show Tambora indeed caused the record-breaking cold and possibly the damp.

For the people of Indonesia, the enormous eruption of April 10 meant a tsunami that killed between 40,000 and 60,000 individuals, depending on your source. However, with the history of the era primarily having been written in Europe and North America, attention has focused on a possible delayed effect in those places.

Average temperatures worldwide in 1816 were 0.4º-0.7ºC (0.7º-1.3ºF) cooler than preceding years. The rainy conditions have been credited for giving Mary Shelley the time to write Frankenstein, thus launching the entire Science Fiction genre.

Dr Andrew Schurer of the University of Edinburgh has modeled what the year 1816 would have been like without the volcano, using what we know of the conditions prior to the eruption and the solar input. He reports in Environmental Research Letters that eruption or no eruption, 1816 Europe might have experienced an unusually wet year, but it was the volcano that made it so cold.

“Including volcanic forcing in climate models can account for the cooling, and we estimate it increases the likelihood of the extremely cold temperatures by up to 100 times,” Schurer said in a statement. “Without volcanic forcing, it is less likely to have been as wet and highly unlikely to have been as cold.”

When the year without a summer was underway, people had no idea of the causes. The possibility a volcano on the other side of the world affecting the climate only first became discussed after the similar cooling caused by Krakatoa’s eruption of 1883. Tambora was first connected to the year without a summer in 1913, and over the century since the link has become widely accepted.

Nevertheless, it has also been noted that 1816 lay at the end of a period of unusually low solar activity, causing debate about whether Tambora represented the whole story. It’s only now, with advanced global climate models and the collection of proxies from around the world, that we can answer this in more detail.

Tambora occurred when food supplies were unusually vulnerable from a combination of the disruption of the Napoleonic wars and several summers cooled by smaller eruptions. Hundreds of thousands of people died in the subsequent famines.

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Indonesia’s capital city isn’t the only one sinking

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(CNN)Indonesia has said the country would be relocating its capital city, in part because it’s sinking into the Java Sea.

But it isn’t the only city in trouble. Here’s a look at some others that are also at risk.

Houston

    Sinking cities around the world - CNN
    Houston has been sinking for decades and, like Jakarta, the over-extraction of groundwater is partly to blame.
    The Houston Chronicle reported that parts of Harris County, which contains Houston, have sunk between 10 and 12 feet (about 3 meters), since the 1920s, according to data from the US Geological Survey. Areas have continued to fall as much as 2 inches per year, an amount that can quickly add up.
    Lawmakers have tried to address the issue, creating a special purpose district meant to regulate the withdrawal of groundwater in 1975. But the problem has persisted, with privately owned wells and water suppliers continuing to pull from aquifers.

    Lagos

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    The city of Lagos sits on the coast of Nigeria, constructed partly on the mainland, partly on some nearby islands. It’s also Africa’s most populous city.
    Its geography makes Lagos especially prone to flooding, and the coastline has already been eroding. As sea levels rise due to global warming, the city is increasingly at risk.
    One study from 2012 revealed that, because Nigeria’s coastline is so low, a sea level rise of just 3 to 9 feet (about 1 to 3 meters) “will have a catastrophic effect on the human activities in these regions.”
    A separate study this year found that global sea levels could rise more than 6 feet (2 meters) by the end of this century.

    New Orleans

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    As recently as the 1930s, just a third of New Orleans was below sea level. When Katrina hit in 2005, that number went up to half.
    The city is vulnerable to rising sea levels because it was built on loose soil and was positioned so close to on the coast. Combined with its sinking — scientists have found it to be falling at a rate of 0.39 inches (1 centimeter) a year.

    Beijing

    Sinking cities around the world - CNN
    A study from 2016 showed that Beijing is sinking by as much as 4 inches (10 centimeters) in some areas per year.
    Researchers said the cause of the sinking was depleting groundwater, similar to the situation in Jakarta and Houston.
    Beijing, which is not a coastal city, relies heavily on groundwater as its main source of water. The water has been accumulating over many years, but its extraction has dried up the soil and caused it to compact — leading to the sinking.

    Washington

    travel
    Washington is one of the most important cities in the US — and it’s also sinking.
    Research from 2015 showed that our country’s capital will drop more than 6 inches (15 centimeters) in the next 100 years.
    But unlike Jakarta, Washington’s sinking has nothing to do with aquifers or rising sea levels — it’s actually because of an ice sheet from the last ice age.
      A mile-high ice sheet pushed land beneath the Chesapeake Bay upward. When the ice sheet melted, thousands of years ago, the land settled back down. The researchers now believe that the area is gradually sinking, a process that could last thousands of years.
      But sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay are rising too, which could cause additional problems.

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      Africa’s favorite smartphone maker wants in on China’s hot new tech market

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      Hong Kong (CNN Business)Chinese budget smartphone maker Transsion is already dominating Africa with its Tecno brand. Now it’s ready to raise its profile even more by joining China’s splashy new market for tech stocks.

      An IPOcould push Transsion’s valuation above $4 billion. It would also take the company public on a market that got off to a stunningly positive start this week.
      Analysts say it’s an early win for the Star Market, whichwants local investors to support Chinese tech companies, rather than lose those businesses to markets in Hong Kong or the United States.
        “China wants a rejuvenation of the nation through technology and innovation,” said Mark Huang, an analyst at Bright Smart Securities. “That’s why they launched the board.”
        He added that Star Market “surely hopes there could be a snowball effect” — but that it’s not yet certain whether bigger tech companies will jump on the bandwagon.
        “After all, the board is still in baby size and some rules are still at a trial stage,” Huang said.
        Transsion’s office in Shenzhen did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNN Business.
        Transsion, which was founded by Chinese entrepreneur Zhu Zhaojiang in 2006, wants to raise at least 30 billion yuan ($436 million) to build smartphonefactoriesand research and development centers in Chongqing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, according to its prospectus.
        It plans to issue at least 80 million shares, though it hasn’t set exact terms yet. That would give the company a valuation of at least 30 billion yuan ($4.4 billion).
        tech
        Transsion —which also makes, Itel and Infinix phones — doesn’t do business in China, despite being based there. In Africa, it describes itself as an African company.
        Itcontrols nearly half of the African market, according to IDC figures — putting it way ahead of rivals Samsung, Huawei and Apple (AAPL). Transsion also has nearly a 7% share of India’s market, making it the fourth-largest cellphone vendor there.
        In 2018, it sold 124 million cell phones worldwide, generating 22.65 billion yuan ($3.3 billion) in revenue.
        Public documents also spell out why Transsion says it has done so well in Africa. The company said in its prospectus that it has features that “highly suit our target market” — including phones that use nighttime photography settings that are designed for darker skin tones.
        Transsion Tecno: Africa's top smartphone brand could IPO on China's Star Market - CNN
        Transsion’s technology also includes heat protection for electronics and cellphones that have a large battery capacity. In Nigeria, South Africa and Ethiopia, for example, the government frequently shuts off electricity to conserve power, leaving people unable to charge their phones for hours. 
        Price is another advantage. Transsion sells phones without smart features foras little as $9. It sold nearly 60 million Itel phones at that price last year. It also sold more than 30 million Tecno phones at about $11 each.
        The company’s smartphones are more expensive, but still cheaper than its rivals. In 2018, Transsion sold 34 million phones for between $45 and $91.
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        There are challenges, though. The company admittedin its prospectus that other smartphone vendors, including India’s Lyf,are also sellinglow-priced devices.
        Rivals like Huawei, Xiaomi and Samsung are also pushing harder into Africa and India.
        Huawei, for example, has launched an e-commerce platform in South Africa through which it sells phones and other products. And Xiaomi has partnered with African e-commerce website Jumia to sell phones.
          “We face risks of losing our customers and market shares if we can’t maintain innovation … and increase investments in technological research and development, brand management, marketing, after-sale service and supply-chain management,” Transsion wrote in its prospectus.
          The company is responding to competition by pushing into new territories, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia and Vietnam. It also started sellingdigital accessories and home appliances. And it is relying more on mobile internet services as a source of revenue.

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