The suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by roughly 28 percent between 1999 and 2010, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Friday, up from 13.7 to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people (the suicide rate is much higher for middle-aged men, at 27.3, than for women, at 8.1). The increase, the New York Times noted, is raising concerns that "a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers may be particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted harm."
The numbers are troubling, but how do they compare to rates in other parts of the world? Suicide data is notoriously hard to compile because it is believed to be vastly underreported -- and the level of reporting varies from country to country, which makes comparing rates across nations an inexact science. But a look at World Health Organization data indicates that the United States falls more or less in the middle of the pack for both male and female suicides, with 17.7 male deaths (38th-most among 105 countries) and 4.5 female deaths (40th) per 100,000 people (the transnational statistics are drawn from varying years).
Men commit suicide more often than women in nearly every nation listed by the WHO report. The only exceptions are China (14.8 women vs. 13.0 men) and the tiny island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, which reports that no men commit suicide there and that women commit suicide at a rate of only 1.8 per 100,000. That data, though, was is from 1987.
Lithuania, meanwhile, has the highest suicide rate among men, with 61.3 deaths for every 100,000 citizens, followed by Russia (53.9), and one of the largest gender gaps, with the rate for Lithuanian women at 10.3. South Korea has the highest rate for women at 22.1 and more parity between genders, with a rate of 39.9 for men.
In 2008, Reuters took an in-depth look at Lithuania's struggle with suicide, noting that high rates are a particularly painful social issue for the post-Soviet Baltic states despite their economic growth:
Pensioners struggle to survive, healthcare facilities are often poor and cases of tuberculosis, a disease often associated with poverty, are far above the EU average.
Tens of thousands of Latvians and Lithuanians have emigrated to seek higher wages and a better life: others seek a more final way out....
Suicide is particularly prevalent in rural communities where unemployment rose following the dissolution of Soviet era collective farms....
People lack the necessary education and professional skills, or are too old to adapt to new realities, and the state has put too little effort in helping them, experts say. In desperation, many turn to alcohol, fuelling their feelings of hopelessness.
It's a phenomenon that prompted one WikiLeaks cable to dub Lithuania the "suicide capital of Europe."
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The first plane carrying South Sudanese "returnees" out of Israel arrived in Juba, South Sudan, on June 19.
Amidst escalating tensions over African migration to Israel, Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai described the eventual "return to their homes and countries" of [migrants] as "inevitable." Of Israel's 60,000 African migrants, the majority come from Eritrea and the two Sudans.
Greeting the plane in Juba, Joseph Lual Achuil, South Sudan's minister of humanitarian affairs, claimed that the process of return was voluntary: "People are not being deported. We have agreed with the Israeli government for our people to be peacefully and voluntarily repatriated," he said. While ‘returnees' are being offered a stipend of $1300 per adult and $500 per child by the Israeli government, the degree to which repatriation is truly a matter of choice is debatable.
While those who left Israel on the first plane volunteered to do so, the crackdown, known under the code name "Operation Going Home," has rounded up and arrested hundreds of migrants so far. The usually bustling neighborhood of ‘Little Africa' in South Tel Aviv is reportedly deserted. New laws allowing migrants to be jailed for up to three years without trial or deportation came into effect on June 3. In addition, any Israeli citizen harboring or helping migrants can now face jail time of up to 15 years.
The current government campaign to stem the flow of African migrants has begun with newly independent South Sudan -- the only one of the top three source countries which maintains diplomatic relations with Israel.
Many South Sudanese fled to Israel to escape the ongoing violence at home, often crossing the Sinai desert from Egypt by foot to reach Israel. Last week, an Israeli court ruled that 1,500 South Sudanese are no longer at risk in their homeland and can be returned home, giving the government the legal right to deport them.
Recent months have seen protests and acts of vandalism targeting African communities in Israel, an atmosphere that many claim has been instigated by the comments of some politicians. The deportation drive is also creating immense discomfort amongst many Israeli citizens, who are acutely of aware of their own identity as an immigrant nation founded by Jews fleeing persecution in Europe after World War II.
The subtext beneath the deportation process is a racial argument that cuts to the core of competing views about what Israel's identity as a ‘Jewish state' should entail. For the current government, identity is clearly framed by ethno-religious demographics. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu argues:
"If we don't stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state. This phenomenon is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity."
Whether such a view can be justified as commensurate with Jewish values remains to be decided.
If you think running for office in the United States is rigorous, then you haven't met Hungary's far-right Jobbik party. After the April 2010 legislative elections that handed the extremist group 47 seats in the national assembly -- and before local elections that fall -- an unnamed Jobbik MP made a special effort to gain the upper hand by undergoing genetic testing "to ensure he did not have a Roma or Jewish ethnic background." The lab results were published by a Hungarian far-right website in May. According to the report from medical diagnostic company Nagy Gen, the MP, whose name was blacked out, has "No genetic trace of Jewish or Roma ancestors."
The company, which faces a criminal investigation for violating the country's Law on Genetics, "examined 18 positions in the MP's genome" for supposedly Jewish and Roma variants, but Joerg Schmidtke, president of the European Society of Human Genetics, criticized the company:
"This is a gross distortion of the values of genetic testing.... In addition, the test proves nothing; it is impossible to deduce someone's origins from testing so few places of the genome."
Jobbik is the third-largest party in Hungary's parliament, and is known for its anti-Semitic and anti-Roma platform. European Jewish Congress president Moshe Kantor found the racial purity test a cause for immediate concern:
"This test demonstrates a very troubling escalation by the Jobbik party ... into a genetic and racial ideology that appears to be a short step below a fully-fledged Nazi worldview."
The icing on the cake, though, is the fact that three-time Olympic water polo champion Tibor Benedek, a member of a prominent Jewish family, held a minority financial stake in the Nagy Gen, but he pulled out immediately after the report was published.
It's good to know that racial purity is making a comeback, but if the testing was truly unprofessional, it's entirely possible we may have another Vladimir Zhinirovsky on our hands.
FERENC ISZA/AFP/Getty Images
The latest candidate to jump into the 2012 French presidential race has quite a background - once a beauty queen and au pair, later a muckraking prosecutor, and now a member of the European Parliament for the Green-Europe Ecology party. But the most striking part about 67-year-old Eva Joly's past may be a citizenship record that would make Donald Trump's hair spin. From the Guardian:
Born in a working-class suburb in Norway, she came to Paris as a young au pair to finance her legal studies and ended up marrying the son of the bourgeois family she was posted to, despite their disapproval. She now holds joint Norwegian-French nationality and will be the first dual national to run for the French presidency.
This April, we explored how, in many countries worldwide, it's perfectly legal for individuals who were not native-born or who have dual citizenship to serve in the country's highest offices. For instance, Thailand's Oxford-educated Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is also a British citizen, which reportedly could put him in legal trouble for alleged human rights abuses from last year's Red Shirt protest movement. Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, forced out of office by a Hezbollah-backed uprising in January, has Lebanese and Saudi citizenship.
Joly's dual citizenship should create an interesting side story during election season in France, whose government was a key proponent of the changes in the Schengen agreement this summer targeted at restricting illegal immigration into Europe. She probably won't get elected, but, with a reputation for speaking her mind, she'll at least make for some fireworks.
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Just one week after the acquittal of fiery far-right politician Geert Wilders, the Dutch parliament struck another blow against multiculturalism in the Netherlands yesterday with the passage of a bill banning ritual animal slaughter. The bill requires that all animals be stunned before being slaughtered, a requirement that conflicts with halal and kosher stipulations that animals be fully conscious.
The bill was initially proposed by the Party of the Animals, which holds two seats in the 146-seat Dutch parliament and maintains that ritual methods of slaughter are inhumane. It gained support from centrists on similar grounds, but Wilders's Freedom Party has also been a longtime proponent. In fact, it was Wilders who first raised the issue in 2007 when he objected to halal meat being served at a public school in Amsterdam.
The ban has provoked a furious reaction from Jewish and Muslim leaders in the Netherlands and Europe. From Reuters:
"The very fact that there is a discussion about this is very painful for the Jewish community," Netherlands Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs told Reuters. "Those who survived the (second world) war remember the very first law made by the Germans in Holland was the banning of schechita or the Jewish way of slaughtering animals."
It should be noted that a last-minute amendment attached to the bill states that halal and kosher slaughterhouses will be able to apply for special permits if they can show that their methods do not cause more pain than non-ritual methods. But some are skeptical of the permit process's efficacy, and the European Jewish Congress is already considering challenging the law in court.
The bill awaits confirmation in the parliament's upper house, though it passed easily in the lower house and enjoys widespread public support. If passed, it will put the Netherlands in the company of a handful of countries that have outlawed ritual animal slaughter. Revisions to New Zealand's animal welfare code made kosher slaughter illegal as of this May, while bans in a number of Scandinavian and Baltic countries date back to anti-Semitic measures passed before World War II.
PHIL NIJHUIS/AFP/Getty Images
Are we surprised to learn, via WikiLeaks, that American diplomats in Colombo blame Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his top officials for the massacre of tens of thousands (by most estimates) of Tamil civilians during the final months of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war? The goods are in a Jan. 15 cable sent by U.S. Amb. Patricia A. Butenis on the eve of Sri Lanka's presidential elections (which Rajapaksa won handily). Butenis was assessing the country's ability to come to terms with the atrocities committed in the protracted conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers rebel group, which was defeated in May 2009 after nearly three decades of fighting.
In May, the Sri Lankan government announced plans to launch a "truth and reconciliation commission," modeled on South Africa's post-Apartheid investigation, to look into the brutal last phase of the war, in which large numbers of Tamil civilians were trapped between the government and rebel troops. Human rights groups aren't exactly holding their breath for the results of the ongoing inquiry, led as it is by the same government that was allegedly responsible for most of the carnage. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and International Crisis Group -- which released a sweeping and damning report on the war crimes in May -- all turned down invitations to participate. Butenis, it turns out, was similarly nonplussed, writing:
There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General [Sarath] Fonseka.
This last observation gets headline treatment from the Guardian, and it is notable for Butenis's willingness to name names. But the State Department has been fairly clear, albeit more diplomatic, about what it thinks happened in the spring of 2009, in a report released in March:
The government's respect for human rights declined as armed conflict reached its conclusion. Outside of the conflict zone, the overwhelming majority of victims of human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings and disappearances, were young male Tamils, while Tamils were estimated to be only 16 percent of the overall population. Credible reports cited unlawful killings by paramilitaries and others believed to be working with the awareness and assistance of the government, assassinations by unknown perpetrators, politically motivated killings, and disappearances.
An August report from State also (cautiously) expressed concern about the integrity of the government's commission. In short, Butenis's assessment is generally consistent with what humanitarian workers on the ground in Sri Lanka at the time of the conflict thought State's position was -- one that may not have been shared by American defense and intelligence personnel, who were believed to be less squeamish about the military campaign against the Tigers.
I asked Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka project director for ICG, about the cable. He says it contains few surprises:
It's certainly consistent with how the embassy and the State Department are looking at the situation. They knew bad things happened -- they're calling them "alleged" war crimes, but I think in a quiet moment they would say they were war crimes. They recognize that that happened. But they don't think there's the space internally for it to be addressed. So I don't think we're learning a whole lot new. What would tell us more, and what will be more interesting, and where the issues are a bit more gray, is what happened during the war -- what did the U.S. government know, and what did it do, or not do, to prevent the worst abuses and suffering?
Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images
Want to have a lighter complexion in your Facebook profile picture? Now, there's an app for that, too! Vaseline India has recently launched a new Facebook application which allows users to digitally lighten their "online" skin. Recent reports have stated that the app is only available in India -- but anyone with a Facebook account can use it! Score.
And, the Vaseline Men Facebook page also offers helpful advice like this:
"Style Tip: Don't shave for a day or two and let the stubble grow in rakishly. Combine this with sunglasses to look utterly mysterious, rakish and thoroughly attractive."
Jokes aside, skin-lightening -- an unfortunate vestige of colonialism -- is a worldwide trend. The industry for whitening creams and lotions is booming in Kenya, Nigeria, the Caribbean, and particularly in India where the market expands nearly 18 percent a year and the politics of skin color are especially troubling.
A spokesman for Vaseline in India claimed the app is a "culturally relevant and engaging way for Indian men to interact with this product." Ethics, anyone?
As foreign moles in suburban America, the "Murphy's" of Montclair -- two of the recently exposed Russian "illegals" (read: spies with boring long-term assignments) -- were charged with the difficult task of acting less Russian. Meanwhile, back in Moscow, migrant workers have been forced to take on precisely the opposite challenge: acting more Russian.
Ire toward foreign arrivals in Moscow is nothing new (double-digit murders of foreigners are standard each year in the capital city), but the recent proposal of a "Muscovite Code," a set of measures designed to encourage cultural assimilation, highlights just how intense the pressure to conform truly is. The rules, to be developed by city officials with input from local residents, would outline the "dos and don'ts" of traditional Russian culture; everything from speaking Russian-only in public (a do) to turnstile-hopping "like goats" (a don't). Supporters of the new measure note that these rules would not be mandatory, but would instead serve as a helpful resource for foreigners unfamiliar with the city's unspoken code of conduct. As Mikhail Solomentsev, head of the Moscow city government's Department for Inter-Regional Communications and Regional Policies explained:
"At the moment, there are unwritten rules that residents of our city have to adhere to... For instance, people shouldn't slaughter sheep in a courtyard, make shashlyk on their balcony or walk around the city in their national dress - and they should speak Russian."
Many, however, don't consider the proposal quite so benign. The new rules, they say, are simply one more way to reinforce Moscow's already entrenched culture of xenophobia. Of course, after Monday's revelations, Moscow officials might be wise to consider another (unintended) use of the Code: a how-to guide for "illegals" doing their best to blend in...
DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images
As survivors and the descendants march at Auschwitz today for Holocaust Remembrance Day, election results yesterday in nearby Hungary, where the far-right Jobbik party earned 16.7 percent of the vote, evoked memories of that time in a very different way:
Jobbik’s leader, Gabor Vona, 32, is a former history teacher who tapped into a growing nationalism fanned by economic hardship. He is a founding member of the Magyar Garda, an association whose uniforms are reminiscent of those worn by the Arrow Cross, Hungary’s wartime Nazi party. The group, which was outlawed last year but has not disbanded, has revived dark memories of World War II, when Jews and Roma were deported to concentration camps.
Analysts said Jobbik’s growing popularity illustrates how the economic crisis was helping to fuel a regional backlash against minorities, as people look for someone to blame. In Hungary, at least five Roma have been killed in the past two years and Roma leaders have counted about 30 firebomb attacks against their people’s homes.
Hungary’s Jewish population of nearly 100,000 has also been one of its targets, with Jobbik claiming that “foreign speculators,” including Israel, want to control the country. A recent edition of the party magazine showed a statue of St. Gellert — an 11th-century martyred bishop — holding a menorah instead of a cross. “Is this what you want?” it asked.
Pope Benedict's personal preacher Father Raniero Cantalamessa also had the Holocaust on the mind last week when he compared attacks on the church over the ongoing sex abuse scandal to the "collective violence" inflicted on Jews by the Nazis. A retired Italian bishop also reportedly blamed the scandal on "Zionists," though he has denied making the comments.
While it's certainly not fair to say sentiments like these are widespread, these incidents provide a disturbing contemporary backdrop to a day of historical commemoration.
JACEK BEDNARCZYK/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. political junkes are well aware of the "Bradley effect," a scenario in which embarassed white voters tell pollsters they're planning on voting for a minority candidate, then vote for a white one when they get in the booth, producing misleading results.
The Bradley effect turned out to be a non-factor in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, but Le Monde suggests [French] it may have appeared in a somewhat mutated form in France's regional elections this week, where Jean-Marie Le Pen's anti-immigrant National Front performed much better than pollsters expected, taking third place with 11.7 of the vote and likely contributing to an embarassing first-round defeat for Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling conservatives. French pollsters now suggest that a portion of the FN's electorate may have been embarassed to admit to supporting Le Pen's radical views.
Logically, a Bradley effect would only be an issue in countries where racial prejudice is widespread enough in influence the result of an election, but taboo enough that citizens are embarassed to admit to it, even in an anonymous poll. It would be interesting to find out how many countries this applies to.
Do readers know of any other countries which have had Bradley-type election results?
(Hat tip: The Monkey Cage)
ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reflects on Russia's preparations for the Vancouver Games:
"Maybe the money was spent not on what was needed but instead on what someone wanted to spend it on," Putin told top sports officials that he summoned for a grilling Friday about Russia's worst-ever performance at the Winter Games.
Putin, chairing a meeting to analyze the reasons behind the Olympic flop, said the government had spent about 3.5 billion rubles ($117 million) in three years to prepare for the Vancouver Games — a sum that he claimed was comparable with those spent by the nations that won the most medals.
"I have got an impression that the more money we spend, the more modest the results are," he said, adding that the sum was five times the amount that Russia had spent on preparations for the 2006 Winter Games in Torino.
For a clue as to why the money was misspent, Putin might want to check out Miriam Elder's recent dispatch for FP:
[T]hose who oversee athletics in Russia often have few sports credentials other than close ties to Putin (who is, after all, a judo master). Mutko, who was appointed sports minister last year, was deputy mayor of the St. Petersburg mayor's administration where Putin got his start in politics in the 1990s.
Sergei Naryshkin, another St. Petersburg ally and Kremlin chief of staff, heads the swimming federation. Vladimir Lisin, a Kremlin-friendly metals tycoon recently named Russia's richest man, heads the shooting federation, while Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia's second-richest man and future owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team, heads the biathlon union.
Russian athletics are currently governed by an odd system in which political cronies are running sports federations and athletes like speedskating gold-medalist Svetlana Zhurova serve in parliament. Seems like it might work better the other way around.
In what will probably qualify as the year's least exciting civil rights victory, the far-right British National Party has agreed to admit nonwhite members nearly three decades after its founding:
A government-backed rights body took it to court, claiming the party's constitution is discriminatory.
At a court hearing, a lawyer for the party said leader Nick Griffin would ask members next month to change the constitution so it did not discriminate on the grounds of race or religion.
In an order issued at the Central London County Court, the BNP agreed to use "all reasonable endeavors" to revise its constitution to comply with the Equality Bill, which bans discrimination on the grounds of race, gender or religious belief.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which brought the case, said it would be watching to see whether the BNP complied.
Somehow I don't think minorities are going to be beating down the door to join.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
A Canadian immigration court has granted refugee status to South African citizen Brandon Huntley, saying that he faces persecution as a white man in his home country:
Huntley, 31, "would stand out like a 'sore thumb' due to his colour in any part of the country", the board's panel chair, William Davis, said in his decision.
Huntley, who grew up in Mowbray, said he had been attacked seven times and stabbed four times "by African South Africans" between 1991 and 2003.
Davis found he "was a victim because of his race rather than a victim of criminality".
The South African goverment is peeved that it wasn't even allowed to testify in the case, particularly since none of the attacks on Huntley were ever reported to the police. "Canada's reasoning for granting Huntley a refugee status can only serve to perpetuate racism," said an African National Congress statement.
The "sore thumb" remark is particularly ripe for mockery, as evidence by this Onion-esque piece reporting the tribunal's shock that Hartley "wasn't the last white in South Africa" and warning Canada to "expect a deluge of young, unemployable, white South Africans."
Hartley's case, argued by a South African immigrant who had been looking for a test-case for years, does seem a little dodgy. And all the more so since the country's "white flight" and its high crime rate are real issues that deserve more serious discussion.
Two days ago, the Chinese government expressed "strong dissatisfaction" with the visit of exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer to Japan. The Japanese government (whose record on Chinese human rights issues is not particulary strong) chose to let the visit go ahead anyways, despite China's assertions that Kadeer helped spark the riots in Urumqi earlier this month (an accusation Kadeer has denied).
What China probably feared most has happened: Kadeer said today in Tokyo that "The nearly 10,000 (Uighur) people who were at the protest, they disappeared from Urumqi in one night." Kadeer called for an internation investigation to uncover more about the riots. China claims that 197 people died in the riots, with a further 1,000 detained.
While China's attempts to pressure other countries (and a movie festival in Australia) over the Uighurs have been pathetic, one point should be made in its favor: the Western media response has been rather curious - numerous publications are carrying the quotes, but none that I've seen mention any further proof, even from Kadeer herself, whereas the AP account before her visit to Japan noted that "China has not provided evidence" of Kadeer's alleged role in the riots. This is not to question Kadeer's account (China's reputation for forging the facts when advantageous is well-established), but to ask: why merely repeat her words? 10,000 people in one night is a serious accusation by any country's standards, and similar claims about other countries would not (and do not) get the same benefit of the doubt.
TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images
Joachim Crima -- a 37-year-old immigrant from Guinea-Bissau is trying to become Russia's first black elected official, running in district elections in the Volgograd region. Naturally, Crima, who has lived in Russia for 12 years, has been dubbed "Volgograd Obama," though as RIA-Novosti reports, his campaign rhetoric isn't exactly "Yes we can."
I want to make the lives of people who I consider my compatriots better. I am ready to work from morning until evening to resolve their problems. In other words, I am ready to toil like a negro," he said
I must admit, when I saw that quote in RIA-Novosti's story, and the fact that Crima apparently sells watermelons for a living, I wondered if the whole thing wasn't a very nasty hoax. But AFP's Anna Smolchenko called up Crima, who says he doesn't mind using racial stereotypes to his advantage:
If Russians are accustomed to calling dark-skinned people 'negroes' then so be it. I am not in the least bit offended because you have to be proud of who you are."
If he says so. Something still feels very off about this whole thing. Crima seems to not have a chance in hell at beating the local United Russia candidate, and despite the credulous media reports, it seems like no one is really taking him seriously:
There is an impression that he is laughing at himself, saying 'I am a Russian Obama'," Viktor Sapozhnikov, chief of the district election commission, said.
If he goes through with his plan to run for office, said Sapozhnikov, voters would cast ballots for him either "for the sake of a joke" or as an act of protest against Russia's moribund political life.
Sean's Russia blog also has a round-up of some of the uglier racist reactions from Russian Web commenters. Rather than being a sign of social progress, the fact that the very idea of a black man running for office is being treated as a joke seems like a sign of just how entrenched racist attitudes are.
None of the articles I've read so far have looked into who's backing Volgograd Obama's run, but I think it's fair to wonder if they really have his interests -- or those of Russia's black population -- in mind.
Last November, Sudhir Venkatesh over at the Freakonomics blog predicted that France was due for more youth riots. Somebody give him a prize:
French riot police firing teargas and plastic bullets have struggled to contain three nights of rioting and arson by youths on suburban estates in the Loire, amid protests over the death of a 21-year-old in police custody.
High-rises in Firminy, a small town bordering countryside on the outskirts of Saint-Étienne, saw running battles between police and youths in the early hours of this morning after Mohamed Benmouna, a local supermarket cashier, was taken from his police cell in a coma and died in hospital.
Benmouna, who had been arrested on extortion charges, died on Wednesday. Police said he attempted to hang himself in his cell and fell into a coma. His Algerian family, sceptical of the official story, have filed a lawsuit to establish the circumstances of his death and whether police violence was covered up[...]
For three nights, youths have taken to the streets of Firminy to riot over the death, burning local shops, torching dozens of cars and stoning police, despite repeated pleas for calm from the family. Last night the family and 200 locals staged a peaceful sit-down protest outside their block of flats. But later groups of youths began torching buildings and cars and stoning police. The local bakers, chemist, tobacconist and hairdressing salon were razed. Two hundred riot police were brought in to control rioters with teargas and plastic bullets. Six arrests were made.
As The Guardian says in the article, the riots are merely the latest clash in a long-running fight between urban minorities and the French police. Numerous reports in the last year have shown the police force using ethnic profiling and human rights violations against minorities, and racial problems are not just limited to law enforcement, either. As NPR noted in January,
Today, the French political, academic and media establishments are lily-white. In France, it is illegal to gather data according to race and ethnicity, so it's impossible to measure the minority population's exact size. It is estimated at between 10 percent and 15 percent of the total 63 million.
There are black parliamentarians from overseas territories, but only one from continental France and hardly any blacks or people of Arab origin among 36,000 mayors.
There are no minorities among the military brass, in the foreign service or judiciary."
It's a long walk backwards from when France was a haven for African-Americans.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
The Times of India reports a total of 81 confirmed attacks on Indian citizens, mainly students, in Australia since May 23. The New South Wales state government and police admit a reluctance among Indian populations to report crimes against them, alluding to what is potentially a much larger figure. The attacks are believed to be both "recessionist" and racist in nature. The violence has prompted a patrol of Indian men along Melbourne's suburban train system to protect other Indians from attack.
The attacks were condemned by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last month, who insisted that efforts to make international students feel safer would be undertaken at both the state and national levels. Australia currently plays host to over 93,000 Indian students and its education institutions fear a significant drop in attendees from the sub-continent if the current climate of 'curry-bashing' is not effectively dealt with. Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland released figures showing 1,447 reported cases of robbery and assault against Indians in 2008-2009, up from 1,083 the year before.
WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images
During the ongoing political crisis in Iran, another less noticed "revolution" has been going on in Peru with relatively little international attention, but potentially with lasting consequences for both the country and its role in the global economy.
Over the past two weeks, indigenous protesters have successfully forced the Peruvian protesters have successfully forced the government to reverse planned land reforms that would have opened their traditional land to investment and exploration by international energy companies.
The demonstrations against the reform turned violent earlier this month in a confrontation that left 50 dead, including 23 police officers. Peru's prime minister offered to resign over the controversy after the government caved to the Indians demands. The leader of the protest movement has fled into exile in Nicaragua after being charged with inciting the violence.
President Alan Garcia has come under fire for his insensitivity to the violence and for comparing the protesters to "garden watchdogs" protecting their food. Garcia had framed the new development as both an economic opportunity for the region, a way of clamping down on illegal logging, and a way to combat drug trafficking by increasing government presence.
Granted, the news has been dominated by Iran this month for good reason, but protests leading to the killing of 23 police officers, the reversal of a major government decisions affecting multinational corporations, and the resignation of a head of government, seems like a pretty big deal. I think it's safe to say that if this had happened in Asia or the Middle East it would have been front page news in the United States.
Consider how intertwined it is with U.S. foreign policy, it's always surprising how little discussion Latin American affairs (unless Hugo or Fidel are talking) merits in the United States. Peru's largely ignored situation is a perect example. Since when are race, money, violence, and drugs not interesting topics?
Back in 2007, I wrote a post noting a video of Mohammed Khatami shaking hands with female supporters that had gotten the former Iranian president in some hot water. The post was titled "Mohammed Khatami's macaca moment," but Khatami's latest viral video sensation is actually more like George Allen's infamous racial slur.
In the video, which is making the round of the Iranian blogosphere, Khatami tells an insulting joke about Azeris. (I'm fairly sure it's the video above but Farsi speakers should correct me if I'm wrong.) This had lead to public protests in several cities by Iran's sizeable Azeri community. It's quite possible that the video was leaked in order to discredit Khatami's reformist ally Mir Hossein Musavi in the upcoming presidential election.
RFE/RL's Iran Election Diary Blog provides a translation, though I think it probably loses something from the original:
“There was a preacher from Ardabil whose expertise was telling the story of how Fatemeh Zahra [the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad] got married," he says. "[The preacher] said that the night she became a bride, she was being taken to the house [of the groom] and the Prophet was walking in front of her, while Imam Hassan and Imam Hossein [both the sons of Fatemeh Zahra] were walking with her.”
This is way over my head but the implication, apparently, is that Azeris are slow. In any case, Iran's reformists may want to keep cellphone cameras away from Khatami for the next three weeks.
The same blog also has a collection of (funnier) Iranian election jokes, such as the best reason to vote for Musavi over Ahmadinejad:
"He's made anti-Israeli and anti- American comments at international venues but nobody walked out."
Update: Some further explanation from commenter Nemesida below.
An official Iranian text of Ahmadinejad's address to the conference on Monday referred to "the ambiguous and dubious question of the Holocaust". However, when the president delivered the speech he omitted the phrase, referring more vaguely to "abuse of the Holocaust". He also dropped a segment about Zionist "penetration" of western society.
At the controversial U.N. anti-racism conference in Geneva today, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad quite predictably began railing about how the Holocaust had been used as a pretext for establishing a "totally racist state" -- Israel -- in the Middle East. Dozens of delegates promptly stormed out of the conference hall:
Earlier in the speech, a heckler put a new spin on the "shoe-ing" trend by "clown-nosing" Ahmadinejad:
Israel is still fuming about the conference, even recalling their ambassador from Switzerland in protest. But in a lot of ways, Ahmadinejad's speech and the delegates' reaction to it was the best PR Israel could ever have hoped for.
The financial crisis seems to be boosting extreme nationalist sentiment in Ukraine:
On March 15, voters in the Ternopil region of western Ukraine elected a new regional assembly. This was an Orange Revolution bastion, a region that has long sought to embrace the West and shun Russia.
But it is also has Ukraine's highest unemployment. In a crowded field, the previously little-known Freedom Party won 50 of the regional assembly's 120 seats as voters embraced its hard Right leader, Oleg Tyagnibok, who has urged the expulsion of all Jews and Russians from Ukraine.
"The problem is less the popularity of the nationalists than the universal disappointment with mainstream parties," said Viktor Chumak, a political scientist in Ukraine's capital, Kiev. "Voters are sympathising with radicals more and more as a result of the crisis."
I'm actually surprised we haven't seen more of this around the world yet.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva says white people are to blame for the financial crisis, specifically blue-eyed ones:
“This crisis was caused by the irrational behaviour of white people with blue eyes, who before the crisis appeared to know everything and now demonstrate that they know nothing.”
“I do not know any black or indigenous bankers so I can only say [it is wrong] that this part of mankind which is victimised more than any other should pay for the crisis.”
Did MSNBC's Chris Matthews really just say that the struggling Republicans needed to "outsource" their response to Indian-American Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal?
Seems like an unfortunate choice of words.
Update: Mediabistro has the full quote and also video of (apparently) Matthews whispering "oh God" as Jindal walks out.
An 8-year-old boy stirred up an unorthodox civil rights debate in Sweden last week after passing out invitations to his birthday party in class. Noticing that he'd failed to invite two students, the boy's teacher confiscated all the invitations, citing the school's duty to fight "discrimination." The case went from the classroom to the school board when the boy's father lodged a complaint with a parliamentary ombudsmen, saying, "No one has the right to confiscate someone's property in this way."
Sweden, despite its reputation as a Scandinavian bastion of tolerance, still has a problem with homophobic and xenophobic crimes, particularly against Muslims and the Roma people. Not that any of this had anything to do with the birthday party in question. Apparently one of the noninvited classmates had bullied the boy, while the other hadn't invited him to his own birthday bash.
In its misguided efforts to promote tolerance, the school has ended up hurting the feelings of one student -- the birthday boy. Says his father,
My son has taken it pretty hard."
Hopefully some cake and ice cream will cheer him up.
Last week, I noted that the apparent dilemma facing German citizens of Turkish origin for the match between Germany and Turkey in the European championship was not much of a dilemma at all -- most were supporting their roots, Turkey, over their current home.
But some in Europe still see soccer as a source of unity. In an article on the eve of Sunday's final match between Germany and Spain, Spanish PM José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero wrote: "We have all identified with the
red shirt... with the ball at their feet, we've seen an understanding
between Andalucians, Basques, Catalans and Valencians." Since the end of the Franco regime, ethnic and regional identities have dominated Spanish politics, and few Spaniards consider themselves solely Spanish.
But one trophy does not a unified nation make, and Mr Zapatero was perhaps overstating the point. Basque and Catalan nationalists are not suddenly going to abandon their political principles on the strength of a goal by Fernando Torres.
Perhaps. But while not much has changed since Iraq's victory in the Asian Cup last year either, national pride is still a small step on the road to reconciliation. It's a start.
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