Focal Points Blog

Ebola: A Symptom of Economic Inequality

The Ebola River, similar to the one pictured, gave its name to the virus. (Photo: Nick Hobgood / Flickr Commons)

The Ebola River, similar to the one pictured, gave its name to the virus. (Photo: Nick Hobgood / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Of the many strands that, woven together, make up one of the world’s greatest rivers, the Congo, there is one which enters the river’s main waters as the great river arches to its most northern latitude. Starting from the southeast regions of what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it first stretches almost due north, its main artery referred to as the Lualaba. A ways beyond Kisangani and Bumba, the main branch, fed by hundreds of tributaries, lurches almost due west, making a gentle west-north-west arch until, past the rapids just after Kinshasa, it tumbles dramatically to the ocean past Goma.
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Branding Turkey’s Dealings With the Islamic State With the “A” Word

At the same time as it’s being hammered by U.S. airstrikes, Kobani is a battlefield between the Islamic State and the Kurds. (Photo: Syrian Revolution Memory / Flickr Commons)

At the same time as it’s being hammered by U.S. airstrikes, Kobani is a battlefield between the Islamic State and the Kurds. (Photo: Syrian Revolution Memory / Flickr Commons)

Yesterday I posted about Turkey’s reluctance to commit military resources to halting the spread of the Islamic State. In the New York Times, Kirk Semple and Tim Arango neatly summed up the reason.

Turkey’s reluctance stems in part from its desire not to do anything that might strengthen the Kurdish populist movement in the region. The defense of Kobani is being led by the People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., an affiliate of the P.K.K., which is officially listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. In addition, Syrian Kurds have been trying to establish an autonomous region on the border, which Turkey wants to prevent.

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In What World Are the Kurds as Dangerous as the Islamic State?

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to be trying to use the Islamic State to defeat the Kurds. (Photo: Government of Chile / Wikimedia Commons)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to be trying to use the Islamic State to defeat the Kurds. (Photo: Government of Chile / Wikimedia Commons)

Turkey, writes Sam Greenhill for the Daily Mail (first-person reporting, not one of the rewrites it’s prone to) is now “the springboard to a terrorist state.” He elaborates.

A Turkey whose army – with tanks parked idly on a nearby hill – stands accused of turning a blind eye to the atrocity on its doorstep.

Turkey’s failure to protect the Syrian Kurds in Kobane has triggered violent riots among the country’s own population of 15million Kurds. … Given the sickening stories being told by Kobane’s refugees, it is easy to understand why everyone fears the unrest in Turkey will escalate to unprecedented levels if the town is allowed to fall.

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Islamic State Offers Beheading as a Perk to Recruits

Does this look like the work of a violent religion? (Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / Flickr Commons)

Does this look like the work of a violent religion? (Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / Flickr Commons)

If you’re anything like me, you wonder whatever became of the good old days when just cutting someone’s throat was enough? Westerners, who prefer their violence at arms length via drone and airstrikes, are outraged ― not to mention puzzled ― by the up-close-and-personal nature of some of the violence committed the Islamic State.
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All (Muslim) Apologies

Muslims are repeatedly called upon to answer for the violent actions of a microfraction of its populace. (Photo: Edward Musiak / Flickr Commons)

Muslims are repeatedly called upon to answer for the violent actions of a microfraction of its populace. (Photo: Edward Musiak / Flickr Commons)

I want to wish you a blessed and happy belated (we’re never on time, I know) Eid-al-Adha. Given the news about Islam in the media the last few weeks, including some harsh exchanges on CNN with Reza Aslan and an HBO shouting match between Bill Maher and Sam Harris against Ben Affleck, Michael Steele, and Nicholas Kristof (this really happened. I’m as surprised as you are), I also wanted to give you a few tips about how to proceed with Eid celebrations and, in general, how to conduct yourselves (see non-Muslims, I’m doing my part!), even though I am not really representative of 1.5 billion people. No, from what I have gathered from the media, only members of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other fanatical groups get to be that.
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Conflict Resolution and German Reunification

Jamie Walker, a specialist in mediation and conflict resolution, became involved in inter-German conflict resolution.

Jamie Walker, a specialist in mediation and conflict resolution, became involved in inter-German conflict resolution.

If any country were in need of a national program of conflict resolution at every level of society, it would have been Germany after it reunified in 1990. East and West Germany were like a couple that had rushed into marriage with very little understanding of what it would be like to live together, merge finances, come to joint decisions, and make all the little adjustments that are necessary when two people with very different backgrounds are suddenly thrown together. Marriage counselors can help a new couple sort through all these challenges.

But Germany didn’t have a national agency of marriage counselors to mediate the conflicts that arose after reunification. It took a rather traditional approach. West Germany acted in many ways like the husband in a patriarchal family. West Germany was the primary breadwinner, the one that brought the lion’s share of the wealth to the union. And so West Germany made most of the decisions.
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Nuking an Asteroid May Sound Like a Good Idea, But…

An asteroid approaching the earth needs to be dealt with, but nuclear weapons are not the answer. (Photo: NASA)

An asteroid approaching the earth needs to be dealt with, but nuclear weapons are not the answer. (Photo: NASA)

Though designated as in excess of national defense needs by the National Nuclear Security Administration, parts of certain nuclear warheads containing uranium have been granted a reprieve from disassembly “pending a senior-level government evaluation of their use in planetary defense against earthbound asteroids.” In Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Lewis elaborates.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Russia’s State Atomic Energy Organization (ROSATOM) signed an agreement that provides for cooperation in a number of areas, including safeguards against nuclear proliferation, nuclear reactors, and defense from asteroids. … It’s not entirely clear to me what there is to talk about with ROSATOM beyond how we absolutely, positively cannot do any of the things they are discussing.

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Iraq Awash in Carnage Long Before the U.S. Invasion

Mesopotamian empires ruled by the sword. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Mesopotamian empires ruled by the sword. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Iraq once composed much of Mesopotamia, through which the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flowed. Often viewed as the cradle of civilization in the West, Mesopotamia included the Sumer, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian empires. But even then it was dripping in blood. 
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For Airstrikes on the Islamic State, U.S. Relaxing Drone Strikes’ Burden of Proof

Women and children have already been killed Tomahawk missiles in Syria. (Photo: Department of Defense)

Women and children have already been killed Tomahawk missiles in Syria. (Photo: Department of Defense)

If you’re appalled at civilian deaths due to U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, prepare to be aghast at civilian deaths due to U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. Michael Isikoff for the Associated Press wrote:

The White House has acknowledged for the first time that strict standards President Obama imposed last year to prevent civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes will not apply to U.S. military operations in Syria and Iraq.

A White House statement to Yahoo News confirming the looser policy came in response to questions about reports that as many as a dozen civilians, including women and young children, were killed when a Tomahawk missile struck the village of Kafr Daryan in Syria’s Idlib province on the morning of Sept. 23.

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Tunisia and the Upcoming Elections, Part One: Waste Deep in IMF Structural Adjustment

Tunisia is being spun by the West as the Arab Spring’s only success story. (Photo: Dennis Jarvis / Flickr, The Commons)

Tunisia is being spun by the West as the Arab Spring’s only success story. (Photo: Dennis Jarvis / Flickr, The Commons)

1.

Upcoming elections in Tunisia will be the focus of both national and international attention in the coming period. Parliamentary elections on October 26 will be followed by a presidential election on November 23. The election campaign is in full swing at the moment. With these elections, hopefully a period of rocky political transition is coming to a close, but this is far from certain. Unlike the rosy analyses coming out of Washington suggesting that Tunisia is an island in a sea of instability, the actual picture in the North African country remains essentially fragile at best and could, despite the rosy prognoses, collapse. Still, Syria and Iraq might be in shambles, Egypt in the hands of a military dictatorship, Yemen in full political crisis, Libya for all practical purposes essentially (or nearly) in a state of collapse, here in the United States, Tunisia is being showcased as the Arab Spring’s only success story, a somewhat exaggerated situation.
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