Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Return of Stolen Antiquities

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed receives the 18th-century crown from the Dutch.

Antiquities are being returned to their place of origin more regularly than recognized. Many Western governments have pledged to return stolen artifacts that were taken during colonization.

In February 2020, The Dutch government returned a stolen 18th-century ceremonial crown to Ethiopia. The crown has great religious significance, and was kept safe for 21 years by Sirak Asfaw, a Dutch national of Ethiopian heritage.

Asfaw, who emigrated to the Netherlands in the late 1970s, said in a video recording that the crown "came into his hands" in 1998.

In November 2019, France returned a sword to Senegal as part of its commitment to return artifacts stolen during colonial times. The sword belonged to Omar Saidou Tall, a west African ruler and Islamic scholar who led an anti-colonial struggle against the French in the 1850s.

He eventually signed a peace treaty with France in 1860. According to French historian, Jean Suret-Canele, Omar Saidou Tall died from a gunpowder explosion in 1864. After his death, his sword and books from his library were seized by the French.

In October 2019, US authorities returned a stolen coffin to Egypt, two years after it was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for $4m (£3.2m) from a Parisian art dealer.

The 2,100-year-old coffin was that of a priest called Nedjemankh who served Horus as a Ram (Heryshef). The decorated surface includes scenes and prayers in gesso relief meant to protect and guide Nedjemankh on his journey to immortality.

The coffin was looted and smuggled out of Egypt in 2011 and was sold to the Met by a global art trafficking network, which used fraudulent documents.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Five Million March in Nigerian Protests

On 10 February, militant Islamists killed at least 30 people and abducted women and children in Auno town on a major highway in Borno State, north-eastern Nigeria.

M. Buhari’s government has repeatedly said that the militants have been defeated, but the attempted genocide against Nigerian Christians have continued for over a decade.

Meanwhile, on February 2, five million people took part in marches across Nigeria to protest the murder of Pastor Lawan Andimi by Boko Haram, and the failure of the Buhari government to halt the violent attacks against Christians by Islamist extremists.

Pastor Andimi was a local chairman of CAN in Adamawa State. He was kidnapped on 2 January and murdered by Boko Haram on 20 January.

On the same day as Pastor Andimi’s murder, the terrorist group released video footage of its murder of kidnapped student Ropvil Dalep. In Plateau State, at least 32 Christians were killed in January during attacks by Fulani extremists on two villages.

In 2019 the Islamic extremists expanded their terrorist attacks to Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burkina Faso.

In Burkina Faso a series of attacks began on 28 April in Silgadji, when gunman rounded up a pastor, his son and four of his congregation and demanded they deny their Christian faith and convert to Islam. After refusing they were executed one-by-one. Six were then killed at a church on 12 May and four at a Christian parade on 13 May. Four were then murdered at another church on 26 May. The fifth and sixth reported attacks took place on 9 and 10 June in which 29 were butchered by Islamist extremists.

Burkina Faso is part of a five-nation regional force against extremism, known as the G5 Sahel. Islamic extremist violence has increased in Burkina Faso's north and east near its Mali border. Hundreds have been killed in the attacks thousands have fled.

Islamic terrorists attacked the Christian village of Kalau in the North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo on 6 March 2019. They attempted to infiltrate the village under the guise of being security agents, but some village youth warned the villagers. The militants shot the village leader’s guard dogs and then opened fire, killing six Christians, including three women and a child.

The attack was launched by members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group that attempted the overthrow the Ugandan government in the 90’s, seeking to replace it with an Islamic regime. The group has ties to other terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda. They are responsible for thousands of deaths throughout Uganda and eastern DRC.

For a partial list of attacks by Boko Haram from 2011 to the present, see this post.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Organ Harvesting and Trafficking

Organ harvesting is a surgical procedure that removes organs or tissues for reuse, typically for organ transplantation. Organ procurement is heavily regulated in most countries to prevent unethical allocation of organs. However, it is a big business in China.

Human rights groups have known about forced organ harvesting in China for over a decade. Minorities and prisoners are especially vulnerable. They are killed and theirs organ removed. The victims are people who follow Falun Gong, Uyghur Muslims detained in the Xinjiang region, Tibetan Buddhists, and Christians.

The organ recipients are wealthy Chinese or transplant tourists who travel to China and pay a substantial sum to receive the transplant. The waiting times are short and at times vital organs are booked in advance.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Peter Singer on Harvesting Organs from the Living Dead

The controversial bioethicist Peter Singer has suggested that we abandon brain death altogether. He said:
“I think that the view most conducive to clear thinking about these issues is to stick with the traditional definition of death, in terms of the irreversible cessation of heartbeat and of the circulation of blood, and leave all the other issues – when one may turn off respirators, or remove the heart and other organs – as ethical questions, with the best answer not determined solely by whether the patient is alive or dead.”

In this paper Singer discusses where brain death should be thought of as an ethical matter or a matter of fact. Singer concludes that it is permissible to harvest organs from an individual who is living with brain death. That is to say, that "the irreversible loss of consciousness is a necessary and sufficient condition" for organs to be harvested.

His position is consistent with his atheist utilitarianism. As Singer has said: "Belonging to the human species is not what makes it morally wrong to kill a living being. Why should all members of the species homo sapiens have a right to life, whereas other species do not? This idea is merely a remnant of our religious legacy. For centuries, we have been told that man was created in the image of God, that God granted us dominion over the animals and that we have an immortal soul."

Peter Singer sees moral obligation in terms of the reciprocity of the Golden Rule. Before taking an action that affects another living being, one should ask if this action is something they would want done to themselves. He argues that it is ethical to euthanize the terminally ill, the handicapped and seriously sick babies as long as this can be done painlessly. This is to be a family decision and one decided on the basis of compassion. Singer stands squarely in the Positivist tradition. He rejects what he regards as metaphysical understandings of human beings. He finds “sanctity-of-life,” “human dignity,” and “created in the image of God” to be spurious notions without basis in fact.

Related reading: Peter Singer Disinvited Again; Ethics of the Post Modern Era; Is Peter Singer Joining the Transhumanism Movement?

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Let's Talk About Iran

Iranian women in Shiraz wearing the chador.

Alice C. Linsley

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was born in 1919, the son of Reza Shah, an army officer who came to rule Persia after forcing out the previous Qajar dynasty with the backing of the British. He re-named his nation "Iran" and ordered foreign diplomats to cease using the name Persia.

Iran’s strong trade ties with Germany, and Western fears of possible Nazi control of the Iranian oil fields led to a Russian-British invasion of the country in 1941. At the insistence of the occupying British forces, Reza Shah abdicated in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Reza Pahlavi was a very ambitious leader who attempted to drag Iran into the 20th century. Modern western styles were forced upon the Iranians under the Shah who did a great deal of window dressing to gain military and economic support from the West. Along with Western styles can public drinking, nudity in movies, and an influx of foreign nationals on such a large scale that housing and food costs became impossible for most Iranians. The Shah demanded that women not wear the chador. Older women refused to appear in public because for them this was an issue of modesty. The religious conservatives greatly resented the imposition of Western style and values. They also opposed the shah granting suffrage to women and his opening of private universities.

I lived in the city of Isfahan and felt the growing resentment. I left 1 year before the 1979 Islamic revolution and the capture of hostages in Tehran.

Nomadic peoples did not fare much better under the Shah. The Bahktiari were pressured to give up migration and the men were to wear western suit jackets. The Shah imprisoned and executed some of their leaders. The Shah's government was troubled by their semi-autonomy and their agreement with the British to protect the oil pipelines and share in the profits of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company. The Bakhtiaris were ordered to surrender their weapons and some were rounded up for conscription duties away from their territory. 

Qashqai women and children in Southern Iran

The Qashqai are another nomadic people who suffered under the Shah. The Qashgais revolted during 1962–1964 due to the land reforms of the White Revolution that endangered their herds. Most of their tribal leaders were exiled. After the 1979 Revolution their leader, Khosrow Khan Qashqai, returned to Iran from exile in the United States and Germany.

There has been growing interest in Iran since General Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran's Quds Force was killed on January 3 in Baghdad, Iraq. He was a responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations and suspected of proving aid to terrorists groups in Asia and Africa.

In 2011, Soleimani's men recruited a drug dealer named Manssor Arbabsiar to attempt to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, DC because Al-Jubeir had publicly decried Soleimani's terror ties.

After the attack on the US embassy in Baghdad and Soleimani's assassination, some fear that the Iranians and Iraqis will join forces against the United States, seeking retaliation. That may be so, but historically, the Iranians and the Iraqis are not natural allies. They are culturally and ethnically very different and do not share the same religious beliefs. Iranians are Indo-Europeans and Iraqis are Arabs. Iranians adhere to Shia Islam and Iraqis to Sunni Islam. The two groups hate each other.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor

A Short Story by John Cheever
December 1949

Christmas is a sad season. The phrase came to Charlie an instant after the alarm clock had waked him, and named for him an amorphous depression that had troubled him all the previous evening. The sky outside his window was black. He sat up in bed and pulled the light chain that hung in front of his nose. Christmas is a very sad day of the year, he thought. Of all the millions of people in New York, I am practically the only one who has to get up in the cold black of 6 a.m. on Christmas Day in the morning; I am practically the only one.

He dressed, and when he went downstairs from the top floor of the rooming house in which he lived, the only sounds he heard were the coarse sounds of sleep; the only lights burning were lights that had been forgotten. Charlie ate some breakfast in an all-night lunchwagon and took an Elevated train uptown. From Third Avenue, he walked over to Park. Park Avenue was dark. House after house put into the shine of the street lights a wall of black windows. Millions and millions were sleeping, and this general loss of consciousness generated an impression of abandonment, as if this were the fall of the city, the end of time. He opened the iron-and-glass doors of the apartment building where he had been working for six months as an elevator operator, and went through the elegant lobby to a locker room at the back. He put on a striped vest with brass buttons, a false ascot, a pair of pants with a light-blue stripe on the seam, and a coat. The night elevator man was dozing on the little bench in the car. Charlie woke him. The night elevator man told him thickly that the day doorman had been taken sick and wouldn’t be in that day. With the doorman sick, Charlie wouldn’t have any relief for lunch, and a lot of people would expect him to whistle for cabs.

Read it all here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Anxiety About New Poverty Guidelines

Steve Liss's photo reveals the abject poverty of the most vulnerable Americans. 

Though difficult to measure, poverty debilitates and robs people of a sense of value. How will the poor fare under new policies that are coming?

The Trump administration has been exploring alternative inflation measures to deal with the problem of poverty. Under a better measure of inflation, the poverty level would grow slightly less each year.

Writing here, Senator. Bob Casey and Indivar Dutta-Gupta point out:

The National Center on Children in Poverty created the Family Resource Simulator to illustrate the impact of work supports, including income tax credits and child care assistance, offering a more complete picture of how family resources change as earnings increase. NCCP suggests families typically need nearly twice as much as the official poverty level to make ends meet thanks to factors like rent and utilities, child care, health insurance premiums, out-of-pocket medical expenses, transportation, debt and payroll taxes. The Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budgets, MIT’s Living Wage Calculator and the University of Washington’s Self-Sufficiency Standards all came to similar conclusions.
Simply put, the common, necessary expense categories not fully accounted for in the official poverty measure means the costs we all face are substantially higher than what it implies.

The US Census Bureau dropped its annual load of statistics on American poverty and the data shows Americans were no better off in 2018 than they were in 2017. 2.3 million more people snagged full-time jobs and the official poverty rate fell half a percentage point. However, fewer people have health insurance, there is still not parity between men and women's earnings, and middle-class incomes hardly budged.

During President Donald Trump’s second year in office, income from safety net programs such as food stamps and housing subsidies kept 47.7 million people out of poverty. That’s 2.8 million more people compared to 2017.

Whatever policy and guideline changes come, poverty will continue to haunt many Americans, especially the most vulnerable. Relying on the government does not dispel anxiety. More service organizations, churches, synagogues and mosques should consider should identify the poor in their communities and befriend them in a way that restores dignity. As Mother Teresa advised, "Do not wait for leaders; Do it alone, person to person."

Related reading: Paid Parental Leave for Federal Workers; A Cynical Way To Make People Poor; A Cynical Way to Make People Disappear; US Government 2019 Poverty Guidelines