Sebastian Kurz’s audacious gamble to lead Austria pays off

The Guardian reports: By handing a convincing victory to the centre-right party of 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz on Sunday, Austria rewarded one of the most audacious political gambles in its recent history.

Until Kurz was announced as a candidate for chancellor in June, his Austrian People’s party (ÖVP) had been trailing by some distance in polls behind its senior partner in the governing coalition, the centre-left SPÖ, and behind the far-right Freedom party (FPÖ).

But on Sunday evening the man Austrian tabloids have affectionately dubbed wunderwuzzi or “wonderkid” could hardly make himself heard over deafening cheers as walked on to the stage at Vienna’s Kursalon, draped in the turquoise colours of his “movement”.

With the ÖVP winning more than 30% of the vote, Kurz is in a position to choose whether he wants to continue the “grand coalition” of the past decade under his leadership or enter an alliance with the nationalist FPÖ. [Continue reading…]

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As Austria heads to the polls, the far right eyes what may be this year’s biggest European success

The Washington Post reports: Austria could be set for a turn to the right, as voters there head to the polls on Sunday in an election that’s being closely watched across Europe.

One of the most likely results, according to polls, is a coalition between the right-wing populist Freedom party and the center-right ÖVP party. The Freedom party is expected to make significant gains, possibly paving the way for its best election result in over a decade.

What’s at stake?

When neighboring Germany held its election less than a month ago, the far-right Alternative for Germany made significant gains. The political center still held, however, putting Chancellor Angela Merkel on track for a fourth term. Her party’s losses were widely linked to her decision to allow more than one million refugees into the country within four years.

In Austria, the backlash against liberal policies has been much more pronounced. As a member of the European Union, Austria could resist efforts by Germany and France to reform the E.U. and to expand cooperation on issues such as immigration.

The center-right candidate considered most likely to win the chancellorship, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, has already rejected E.U. reform proposals by French President Emmanuel Macron. As foreign minister, Kurz also pursued policies designed to stop the influx of immigrants, even if some of those measures contradicted E.U. rules. Sunday’s elections could turn some of those measures into longer-term solutions embraced by the country’s political mainstream. [Continue reading…]

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A hero turned villain: Aung San Suu Kyi and the annihilation of Myanmar’s Rohingya

Neve Gordon writes: I recently met Penny Green to discuss the situation in Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi’s role in the perpetration of the horrific crimes carried out against the Rohingya.

A professor of law and globalization and the founding director of the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) at Queen Mary University of London, Green has been closely monitoring the treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar for the past five years. In a 2015 report based on 12 months of field work and over 200 interviews, ISCI found ample evidence that the Rohingya have been subjected to systematic and widespread human-rights violations, including killings, torture, and rape; denial of citizenship; destruction of villages; land confiscation; and forced labor. Citing Daniel Feierstein’s Genocide as Social Practice, which outlines six stages leading to genocide, ISCI claimed that the Myanmar regime had already perpetrated four: (1) stigmatization and dehumanization; (2) harassment, violence, and terror; (3) isolation and segregation; and (4) the systematic weakening of the target group. Now the Rohingya potentially face the final two stages of genocide—mass annihilation and erasure of the group from Myanmar’s history.

Neve Gordon: Can you provide some background about the Rohingya’s plight and the processes that have brought us to where we are today?

Penny Green: Burma, known today as Myanmar, received independence in 1948. The country had been part of a vast British colony, and not unlike India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Burma’s borders were determined partly according to religious lines, with the Bengal state being mostly Hindu, Bangladesh mostly Muslim and Burma mostly Buddhist. The Rohingya, who are Muslim, had been living for centuries mostly in what became Rakhine State in the newly established Burma. In 1950, they were issued citizenship identification cards and granted the right to vote under the first post-independence Prime Minister, U Nu. Until the late 1970s, the Rohingya held important government positions as civil servants, the official Burma Broadcasting Service relayed a Rohingya-language radio program three times a week, and the term “Rohingya” was used in school textbooks and official documents.

In the early 1980s, we start to witness the beginning of the process that ultimately aims at erasing the Rohingya from Myanmar’s history and geography. In 1982, the Rohingya were removed from the list of Myanmar’s 135 officially recognized ethnic minorities and stripped of citizenship. A little more than a decade later, the government suddenly refused to issue birth certificates to Rohingya babies. It then began to completely erase the term “Rohingya” from the official texts and even to condemn anyone who uttered the word. After the 2012 government-sanctioned Rakhine violence, the Rohingya were restricted to secure zones, detention camps, ghettos, and prison villages, and were excluded from higher education, all professions, the military and the public service.

Finally, in 2014, the Rohingya were excluded from the census. This is crucial in my mind, even more so than the prohibition to participate in the November 2015 elections, since, as history teaches us, when the state stops counting people it means that the state no longer considers them subjects of management and control, and when people are no longer monitored and managed, it means that they are considered superfluous. [Continue reading…]

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White nationalism is destroying the West

Sasha Polakow-Suransky writes: In recent years, anti-immigration rhetoric and nativist policies have become the new normal in liberal democracies from Europe to the United States. Legitimate debates about immigration policy and preventing extremism have been eclipsed by an obsessive focus on Muslims that paints them as an immutable civilizational enemy that is fundamentally incompatible with Western democratic values.

Yet despite the breathless warnings of impending Islamic conquest sounded by alarmist writers and pandering politicians, the risk of Islamization of the West has been greatly exaggerated. Islamists are not on the verge of seizing power in any advanced Western democracy or even winning significant political influence at the polls.

The same cannot be said of white nationalists, who today are on the march from Charlottesville, Va., to Dresden, Germany. As an ideology, white nationalism poses a significantly greater threat to Western democracies; its proponents and sympathizers have proved, historically and recently, that they can win a sizable share of the vote — as they did this year in France, Germany and the Netherlands — and even win power, as they have in the United States. [Continue reading…]

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The far right is reeling in professionals, hipsters, and soccer moms

Quartz reports: Following the political earthquakes of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, commentators tried to get a better understanding of who was leading this seismic change in politics. A picture quickly emerged: angry, working class (“left behind”) men were the driving force of right-wing populism. But a year of bruising elections in Europe has highlighted an uncomfortable truth—support for the far right is far more widespread then angry, old, white working class men.

Last Sunday (Sept 24), German voters put a far-right party into parliament for the first time since the Second World War. Right-wing nationalists Alternative for Germany (AFD) won 13% of the vote, easily overcoming the 5% threshold needed to enter the German Bundestag. A previous study (link in German) showed that AFD supporters come from different social classes, including workers, families with above-average incomes, and even academics. The study concluded that what was common among AFD voters was their dislike for Angela Merkel’s so-called open-door policy to refugees.

A snapshot of where AFD voters came from highlighted the party’s ability to win over voters from a wide array of political affiliations. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (and its sister party the Christian Social Union) lost over one million voters to the AFD. But it wasn’t just right-wing voters who switched to the AFD; the center left Social Democrat lost over 500,000 (or 8.6%) of its 2013 voters to the AFD, the far left Left Party lost 420,000 (11%), and the Greens saw 50,000 defections (0.84%). Polling also showed that the AFD’s received the most votes among voters aged 33 to 44-year-old and that the party had done well with workers, and even managed to win over 10% of support from white-collar workers.

The AFD’s widespread support isn’t particularly surprising or unique. Far-right populism has always been dependent on a fragile coalition of voters—wealthy professionals, disaffected workers, and extremists—to break out of the margins and succeed. While white working class discontent is an important driving force for populism, so is anger from wealthy suburbanites and millennials. [Continue reading…]

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The muted GOP response to Roy Moore’s anti-Muslim prejudice

Peter Beinart writes: Historians will record that for about half a decade, between the presidential campaigns of 2012 and 2016, Republicans tussled over whether to welcome anti-Muslim bigotry into their party. The response to Roy Moore’s nomination on Tuesday as the GOP’s Senate candidate in Alabama shows—even more clearly than Donald Trump’s election—that the fight is over. In today’s GOP, claiming that American Muslims don’t deserve equal rights has become so normal that prominent Republicans no longer object. They barely even notice.

To chart this moral descent, it’s worth starting in March 2011, when a reporter for ThinkProgress asked Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain: “Would you be comfortable appointing a Muslim either in your Cabinet or as a federal judge?” Cain’s reply: “No, I will not. And here’s why. There is this creeping attempt, there’s this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.”

The response from GOP elites was scathing. “We recognize that people of all faiths are welcome in this country,” said presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney when asked about Cain’s comments. “Our nation was founded on a principle of religious tolerance.” When Cain showed up to a breakfast hosted by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, several participants chastised him. Soon, Cain was insisting he had been misconstrued. By the summer, he had publicly apologized. “I remain humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends,” he declared. “I am truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it.” For good measure, he visited a mosque.

In 2012, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann made her own foray into Islamophobia by signing a letter, along with four House Republican colleagues, demanding an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s Muslim aide Huma Abedin. John McCain responded by going to the Senate Floor to declare that the assault on Abedin “is not only wrong; it is contrary to everything we hold dear as Americans.” House GOP leader John Boehner called the attacks “dangerous.” Ed Rollins, Bachmann’s own former campaign chairman wrote an oped on foxnews.com that concluded, “Shame on you, Michele! You should stand on the floor of the House and apologize to Huma Abedin and to Secretary Clinton and to the millions of hard working, loyal, Muslim Americans for your wild and unsubstantiated charges.” That was only five years ago.

Then it was Ben Carson’s turn. In September 2015, the surgeon turned presidential hopeful said, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation” because Islam was not “consistent with the Constitution.” The media responded by asking Carson’s rivals for comment, and most of them—even social conservative hardliners like Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee—said they disagreed.

But then something interesting happened. Unlike Cain, Carson refused to apologize. Instead, he attacked the media and the left. Carson’s business manager, Armstrong Williams, declared on CNN’s morning show that his boss would continue “telling the truth, even if it makes CNN and others uncomfortable.” Carson’s campaign manager Barry Bennett crowed that, “While the left is huffing and puffing, the Republican primary voters are with us at least 80-20.” Donald Trump went even further. Asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd whether “putting a Muslim in the White House” is okay, Trump responded that, “some people have said it already happened.” [Continue reading…]

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Is Germany’s election result ‘the revenge of the East’?

The Guardian reports: Two days after a historic vote saw an overtly nationalist party enter the German parliament for the first time in more than five decades, a group of over-60s vent their grievances over lunchtime beers and cigarettes in the smoky back room of a dry petrol station on the border between the German state of Saxony and the Czech Republic.

The German government is throwing cash at refugees “while native pensioners can’t afford to buy a new pair of glasses”, they complain. Putin is Europe’s “only guarantor of peace”, they argue, and Germany is still “under occupation” by America.

A retired lorry driver with a handlebar moustache cites a joke he read in the tabloid Bild, which says that in the wake of Sunday’s federal elections, Angela Merkel should consider handing Saxony to the Czechs in exchange for some of their toxic waste. “Let’s have it,” he shouts. “We’ll become Sudeten Germans again.”

Oppach lies in the new heartland of Germany’s far-right upstarts, part of a cluster of five villages in the district of Görlitz where Alternative für Deutschland won more than 44% of the vote on Sunday.

With 12.6% of the national vote, the AfD will be the third-strongest force in the next Bundestag, but in Saxony the party is already top: 27% of voters cast their ballot for the party that wants to hold a referendum on leaving the eurozone, ban burqas and minarets, and have Merkel prosecuted for her decision to open Germany’s borders to refugees in 2015. [Continue reading…]

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How fake news turned a small town upside down

Caitlin Dickerson reports: On a Tuesday morning in June 2016, Nathan Brown, a reporter for The Times-News, the local paper in Twin Falls, Idaho, strolled into the office and cleared off a spot for his coffee cup amid the documents and notebooks piled on his desk. Brown, 32, started his career at a paper in upstate New York, where he grew up, and looks the part of a local reporter, clad in a fresh oxford and khakis that tend to become disheveled over the course of his long days. His first order of business was an article about a City Council meeting from the night before, which he hadn’t attended. Brown pulled up a recording of the proceedings and began punching out notes for his weekly article. Because most governing in Twin Falls is done by a city manager, these meetings tend to deal with trivial subjects like lawn-watering and potholes, but Brown could tell immediately that this one was different.

“We have been made aware of a situation,” said the first speaker, an older man with a scraggly white beard who had hobbled up to the lectern. “An alleged assault of a minor child and we can’t get any information on it. Apparently, it’s been indicated that the perpetrators were foreign Muslim youth that conducted this — I guess it was a rape.” Brown recognized the man as Terry Edwards. About a year earlier, after The Times-News reported that Syrian refugees would very likely be resettled in Twin Falls, Edwards joined a movement to shut the resettlement program down. The group circulated a petition to put the proposal before voters. They failed to get enough signatures to force a referendum, but Brown was struck by how much support around town the movement attracted. In bars after work, he began to overhear conversations about the dangers of Islam. One night, he heard a man joke about dousing the entrance to the local mosque with pig’s blood.

After he finished watching the video, Brown called the police chief, Craig Kingsbury, to get more information about the case. Kingsbury said that he couldn’t discuss it and that the police reports were sealed because minors were involved. Brown made a couple phone calls: to the mayor and to his colleague at the paper who covers crime. He pieced together that 12 days earlier, three children had been discovered partly clothed inside a shared laundry room at the apartment complex where they lived. There were two boys, a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old, and a 5-year-old girl. The 7-year-old boy was accused of attempting some kind of sex act with the 5-year-old, and the 10-year-old had used a cellphone borrowed from his older brother to record it. The girl was American and, like most people in Twin Falls, white. The boys were refugees; Brown wasn’t sure from where. In his article about the meeting, Brown seems to anticipate that the police chief’s inability to elaborate was not going to sit well with the people whose testimony he had just watched.

That weekend, Brown was on his way to see a movie when he received a Facebook message from Jim Dalos Jr., a 52-year-old known to Twin Falls journalists and police as Scanner Man. Dalos is disabled; he works six hours a week as a dishwasher at a pizzeria but spends most of his time in his apartment, sitting in a reclining chair and drinking Diet Pepsi out of a 52-ounce plastic mug, voraciously consuming news. He reads the local paper, old issues of which litter his living-room floor, and keeps the television blaring — usually Fox News. He got his nickname because he constantly monitors an old police scanner, a gift he received as a teenager from his father, and often calls in tips to the media based on what he hears. He also happens to live at the apartment complex, Fawnbrook, where the laundry-room incident occurred.

Dalos told Brown that he had seen the police around Fawnbrook and that the victim’s mother told him that the boys had been arrested. He also pointed Brown to a couple of Facebook groups that were created in response to the crime. Brown scrolled through them on his cellphone and saw links flying back and forth with articles that said that the little girl had been gang raped at knife point, that the perpetrators were Syrian refugees and that their fathers had celebrated with them afterward by giving them high fives. The stories also claimed that the City Council and the police department were conspiring to bury the crime.

Over the weekend, Brown plowed through his daily packs of cigarettes as he watched hundreds, then thousands, of people joining the groups. Their panic appeared to be piqued by a mass shooting, the deadliest in American history, that had just occurred at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The perpetrator had declared allegiance to ISIS. The commenters also posted stories that claimed refugees were responsible for a rash of rapes in Europe and that a similar phenomenon in the United States was imminent. “My girl is blond and blue-eyed,” one woman wrote. “I am extremely worried about her safety.”

The details of the Fawnbrook case, as it became known, were still unclear to Brown, but he was skeptical of what he was reading. For one thing, he knew from his own previous reporting that no Syrians had been resettled in Twin Falls after all. He woke up early on Monday to get a head start on clarifying things as much as possible in order to write a follow-up article. Before he got into the office, a friend texted him, telling him to check the Drudge Report. At the top, a headline screamed: “REPORT: Syrian ‘Refugees’ Rape Little Girl at Knifepoint in Idaho.” [Continue reading…]

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New order indefinitely bars almost all travel from seven countries

The New York Times reports: President Trump on Sunday issued a new order indefinitely banning almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the nations covered by his original travel ban, citing threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country.

The new order is more far-reaching than the president’s original travel ban, imposing permanent restrictions on travel, rather than the 90-day suspension that Mr. Trump authorized soon after taking office. But officials said his new action was the result of a deliberative, rigorous examination of security risks that was designed to avoid the chaotic rollout of his first ban. And the addition of non-Muslim countries could address the legal attacks on earlier travel restrictions as discrimination based on religion.

Starting next month, most citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea will be banned from entering the United States, Mr. Trump said in a proclamation released Sunday night. Citizens of Iraq and some groups of people in Venezuela who seek to visit the United States will face restrictions or heightened scrutiny.

Mr. Trump’s original travel ban caused turmoil at airports in January and set off a furious legal challenge to the president’s authority. It was followed in March by a revised ban, which expired on Sunday even as the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments about its constitutionality on Oct. 10. The new order — Chad, North Korea and Venezuela are new to the list of affected countries and Sudan has been dropped — will take effect Oct. 18. [Continue reading…]

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What the stunning success of AfD means for Germany and Europe

Cas Mudde writes: In 1991 Belgium had its (first) black Sunday, when the populist radical right Flemish Block gained 6.8% of the national vote. Since then many other western European countries have gone through a similar experience, from Denmark to Switzerland. And now, even the ever stable Germany has its own schwarzer Sonntag, and it’s blacker than most people had expected.

The populist radical-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party not only enters the Bundestag, the German parliament, but does so almost certainly as the third biggest party, with a stunning 13.3%, an increase of 8.8 percentage points according to the exit poll. Moreover, both the centre-right CDU/CSU and the centre-left SPD scored their worst electoral results in the postwar era, with 32.5% and 20% respectively. This means that AfD got two-thirds of the SPD vote, and 40% of the CDU/CSU vote.

Polls from German state TV, showed that AfD has its Hochburgen (strongholds) in the former communist east of the country. While it scored on average 11% in west Germany, it got 21.5% in east Germany, more than twice as much. This is in line with its results in the regional state elections, in which AfD also gained its largest support in the east.

AfD got more votes from past non-voters (1.2 million) than from the CDU/CSU (1 million) or SPD (500,000). In many ways this is an anti-Merkel vote, reflecting opposition to her controversial Willkommenspolitik towards refugees, which not only pushed some voters of mainstream parties to switch but also mobilised previous non-voters. The same poll also shows, for example, that 89% of AfD voters thought that Merkel’s immigration policies ignored the “concerns of the people” (ie German citizens); 85% want stronger national borders; and 82% think that 12 years of Merkel is enough. In other words, AfD has clearly profited from the fact that immigration was the number one issue in these elections. [Continue reading…]

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Germany faces first far-right party in parliament since World War Two

The Guardian reports: Germany is bracing itself for a watershed moment in its postwar history, with an overtly nationalist party is set to emphatically enter the country’s parliament for the first time in almost six decades.

Rightwing populist Alternative für Deutschland has strengthened its upward trajectory in the last week before the vote, with two polls published on Friday showing the party on third place.

Founded just four years ago as an anti-euro force, the AfD is polling on between 11% and 13%, with Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc and the Social Democrats dropping percentage points while the Left party slipped into fourth place.

According to polls by respected institutes INSA and Enmid on Friday, Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance was on between 34% to 36% and the SPD on between 21% and 22%. Die Linke was polling at between 10% and 11%, the pro-business Liberal Democrats on 9% and the Greens had crept up to 8%.

The results would pave the way for the continuation of a grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD or a so-called Jamaica Coalition between Merkel’s conservatives and the FDP and Greens, never before seen on the national stage.

AfD leaders have urged their members to act as election observers, keeping a close eye on the voting process amid mounting suspicions within the party that their results might be manipulated, citing the threat the party posed to the established parties.

The AfD, under their top candidates Alice Weidel, a 38-year-old management consultant – who has made much of her same-sex relationship in recent days – and Alexander Gauland, a 76-year-old German nationalist with strong anglophile leanings, have made considerable strides over the course of the campaign in spite of a rightward lurch in its rhetoric criticised even by the party’s leader.

Vowing in its manifesto to ban all mosques and minarets, prohibit Muslim calls to prayer and criminalise people wearing the veil, the AfD has also called for a change in attitude to Germany’s historic crimes in the second world war.

If polls are accurate, the AfD is expected to garner between 60 and 85 parliamentary seats, and would become the largest opposition group in parliament if Merkel’s conservative alliance and the SPD agreed to continue their coalition. [Continue reading…]

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How violence in Myanmar radicalized a new generation of Rohingya

The New York Times reports: Nazir Hossain, the imam of a village in far western Myanmar, gathered the faithful around him after evening prayers last month. In a few hours, more than a dozen Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army fighters from his village would strike a nearby police post with an assortment of handmade weapons.

The men needed their cleric’s blessing.

“As imam, I encouraged them never to step back from their mission,” Mr. Hossein recalled of his final words to the ethnic Rohingya militants. “I told them that if they did not fight to the death, the military would come and kill their families, their women and their children.”

They fought — joining an Aug. 25 assault by thousands of the group’s fighters against Myanmar’s security forces — and the retaliation came down anyway. Since then, Myanmar’s troops and vigilante mobs have unleashed a scorched-earth operation on Rohingya populations in northern Rakhine State in Myanmar, sending hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes in a campaign that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing.

From its start four years ago as a small-scale effort to organize a Rohingya resistance, ARSA — which is known locally as Harakah al-Yaqin, or the Faith Movement — has managed to stage two deadly attacks on Myanmar’s security forces: one last October and the other last month.

But in lashing out against the government, the militants have also made their own people a target. And they have handed Myanmar’s military an attempt at public justification by saying that it is fighting terrorism, even as it has burned down dozens of villages and killed fleeing women and children.

This radicalization of a new generation of Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a Buddhist-majority country, adds fuel to an already combustible situation in Rakhine, Myanmar’s poorest state.

Increasingly, there is also concern that both the relatively few Rohingya who have taken up arms and the broader population — hundreds of thousands of whom are crowded in camps in neighboring Bangladesh — will be exploited by international terrorism networks, bringing a localized struggle into the slipstream of global politics.

ARSA’s attempt at insurgency politics has been disastrous so far — a cease-fire that they declared this month was rejected by the military, and they are reported to have suffered lopsided casualties compared with the government’s. But the men caught up in the cause insist that resistance is worth the steep cost, even to their families. [Continue reading…]

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‘Blood flowed in the streets’: Refugees from one Rohingya village recount days of horror

The Washington Post reports: The soldiers arrived in the Burma village just after 8 a.m., the villagers said, ready to fight a war.

They fired shots in the air, and then, the villagers claim, turned their guns on fleeing residents, who fell dead and wounded in the monsoon-green rice paddy. The military’s retribution for a Rohingya militant attack on police posts earlier that day had begun.

Mohammed Roshid, a rice farmer, heard the gunfire and fled with his wife and children, but his 80-year-old father, who walks with a stick, wasn’t as nimble. Roshid said he saw a soldier grab Yusuf Ali and slit his throat with such ferocity the old man was nearly decapitated.

“I wanted to go back and save him, but some relatives stopped me because there was so many military,” Roshid, 55, said. “It’s the saddest thing in my life that I could not do anything for my father.”

The Burmese military’s “clearance operation” in the Maung Nu hamlet and dozens of other villages populated by Burma’s ethnic Rohingya minority triggered an exodus of an estimated 389,000 refugees into Bangladesh, an episode the United Nations human rights chief has called “ethnic cleansing.” The tide of refugees is expected to grow in the coming days. The newly arrived refugees — dazed, clutching their belongings, some barefoot in ankle-deep mud — have crowded out an existing camp and put up makeshift shelters. Others simply sit on the roadways, fighting crowds as large relief trucks fling down bags of rice or water. [Continue reading…]

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If Trump wants to unravel Obama’s legacy, he could start with Burma

Ishaan Tharoor writes: President Trump has made no secret of his desire to dismantle the achievements of President Barack Obama, be they domestic reforms on health care, an executive order governing the status of undocumented youth, a landmark international agreement on climate change or the deal inked between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program.

Many of Trump’s efforts to unravel Obama’s legacy, though, have stalled. More often than not, they have also proved widely unpopular among the public, according to a slate of opinion polls. But there’s one hot spot where Trump could probably walk back the effects of Obama’s foreign policy with little condemnation: Burma. [Continue reading…]

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‘Textbook example of ethnic cleansing’: 370,000 Rohingyas flood Bangladesh as crisis worsens

The Washington Post reports: The number of Rohingya refugees fleeing a military crackdown in Burma has now topped 370,000, a crisis the United Nations human rights chief called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Hundreds of thousands of the long-persecuted ethnic minority continued to stream via land and rickety boats into Bangladesh this week, arriving exhausted, dehydrated and recounting tales of nightmarish horrors at the hands of the Burmese military, including friends and neighbors shot dead and homes torched before their eyes.

“It seems they wanted us to leave the country,” said Nurjahan, an elderly Rohingya woman who escaped her burning village 10 days ago and ended up camped by the side of the road, unsure of where to go.

Speaking in Geneva on Tuesday, the International Organization for Migration put the number fleeing Burma at 370,000 but admitted it could rise sharply. [Continue reading…]

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Russia used Facebook events to organize anti-immigrant rallies on U.S. soil

The Daily Beast reports: Russian operatives hiding behind false identities used Facebook’s event management tool to remotely organize and promote political protests in the U.S., including an August 2016 anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho, The Daily Beast has learned.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to the Daily Beast that the social-media giant “shut down several promoted events as part of the takedown we described last week.” The company declined to elaborate, except to confirm that the events were promoted with paid ads. (This is the first time the social media giant has publicly acknowledged the existence of such events.)

The Facebook events—one of which echoed Islamophobic conspiracy theories pushed by pro-Trump media outlets—are the first indication that the Kremlin’s attempts to shape America’s political discourse moved beyond fake news and led unwitting Americans into specific real-life action.

“This is the next step,” Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and expert on Russia’s influence campaign, told The Daily Beast. “The objective of influence is to create behavior change. The simplest behavior is to have someone disseminate propaganda that Russia created and seeded. The second part of behavior influence is when you can get people to physically do something.” [Continue reading…]

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More than a quarter-million Rohingya have fled Burma in the past two weeks, UN says

The Washington Post reports: On Friday, the United Nations’ refugee agency significantly revised upward its estimate of how many Rohingya people had fled Burma to neighboring Bangladesh over the past two weeks, to 270,000 from just 125,000 earlier this week.

Renewed violence has engulfed Burma’s Rakhine state, where tension between the mostly Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority and the country’s Burmese and largely Buddhist majority have simmered and flared for decades. Some 300,000 and 500,000 Rohingya already lived in refugee camps in Bangladesh before this summer. An estimated 1.1 million remained in Burma. Since Aug. 25, nearly a quarter of that remaining population has reportedly fled.

Human rights groups and journalists have been reporting a statewide scorched-earth campaign by Burmese security forces to kill or otherwise expel Rohingya from the country. A BBC reporter who was on a government-chaperoned trip around Rakhine state said he spoke with Burmese men who admitted to burning a Rohingya village with the help of local police. The U.N.’s special rapporteur on Burma — also known as Myanmar — said Friday that more than 1,000 mostly Rohingya people may have been killed over the past two weeks. [Continue reading…]

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Massacre at Tula Toli: Rohingya recall horror of Myanmar army attack

The Guardian reports: It was the fast-flowing river that doomed the inhabitants of Tula Toli.

Snaking around the remote village on three sides, the treacherous waters allowed Burmese soldiers to corner and hold people on the river’s sandy banks. Some were shot on the spot. Others drowned in the current as they tried to escape.

Zahir Ahmed made a panicked dash for the opposite bank, where he hid in thick jungle and watched his family’s last moments.

“I was right next to the water,” he recalled in an interview a week later at a refugee camp in neighbouring Bangladesh, his eyes bloodshot and his shirt stained with sweat and dirt.

Ahmed said teenagers and adults were shot with rifles, while babies and toddlers, including his youngest daughter, six-month old Hasina, were thrown into the water.

He cried as he described seeing his wife and children die, meticulously naming and counting them on both hands until he ran out of fingers.

More than 160,000 of Myanmar’s 1.1 million ethnic Rohingya minority have fled to Bangladesh, bringing with them stories that they say describe ethnic cleansing.

During interviews with more than a dozen Rohingya from Tula Toli, the Guardian was told of what appeared to be devastating carnage as Myanmar’s armed forces swept through the village on 30 August and allegedly murdered scores of people. [Continue reading…]

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