Monthly Archives: February 2015

Secular Politics in Bangladesh

Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American blogger, was hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants in Dhakar yesterday. Roy was a prominent critic of the Bangladeshi government and the growing role of Islam in Bangladeshi politics. His blog, Mukto-Mona, provided a community for atheists, skeptics and humanists of Bengali and South Asian descent.

In 2013, another atheist blogger in Bangladesh, Ahmed Rajib Haider, was hacked to death in a similar attack. That attack, perpetrated by an Islamic militant group, sparked widespread protests, with thousands of Haider supporters taking to the streets to demand justice while thousands of counter protesters called for strengthening anti-blasphemy laws.

Is Netanyahu’s Visit “Destructive”?

US National Security Advisor Susan Rice yesterday described an upcoming visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “destructive.” Rice asserted that both the decision by Speaker of the House John Boehner to extend an invitation to Netanyahu, and Netanyahu’s decision to visit the United States less than two weeks ahead of his own reelection, as injected a degree of partisanship into the question that complicates ongoing negotiations between the United States and Iran and is “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between the United States and Israel.

What do you think? Will Netanyahu’s visit undermine US-Israeli relations? Will it affect ongoing negotiations between Iran and the United States? Why?

The Face of Gender Equality in Turkey

Thousands of Turkish women took to the streets of Istanbul last week to draw attention to the murder of a woman in a minibus taxi in Turkey. Women’s rights organizations note that violence against women in the country is on the rise, and several organizations are calling for equal rights for women in society. The groups accuse the Turkish government of an “insufficient response” in addressing gender-based violence, and in particular for normalizing the rape of non-conservative women in Turkey.

Ozgecan Aslan, a 20-year-old psychology student, was killed by three attackers while resisting a rape attempt on her way home from university. Her burned and dismembered body was discovered on last week, sparking massive protests across the country. Aslan’s case has become the rallying point for the protests and the symbol of the struggle for gender equality in Turkey.

What do you think? Has the Turkish government done enough to address the status of women in the country? What additional steps, if any, do you think the government should undertake?

Migration and Social Mobility in China

A new photography exhibit seeks to highlight to challenges faced by China’s migrants. Millions of China’s citizens have migrated from rural homesteads to urban centers over the past two decades as China had rapidly developed. Indeed, according to one estimate, up to one-third of Beijing’s twenty million citizens are migrants.

Under China’s hukou system, citizens of China are classified as either rural or urban residents. The system historically defined a wide range of asocial benefits. In more recent years, the hukou system has been reformed, but it still limits the ability of rural citizens to purchase property in urban areas. This system, according to its critics, has limited the upward social mobility of millions of Chinese.

What do you think? What are the advantages and disadvantage of China’s hukou system? Would you suggest reforming the system? Why? How?

Claiming Universal Jurisdiction in Senegal

Hissène Habré, the former president of Chad, yesterday was detained and ordered to stand trial on charges that he engaged in war crimes, torture, and crimes against humanity that resulted in more than 40,000 deaths during his eight year presidency in Chad.The order marks the culmination of a 22-year struggle by former dissidents and victims of the Habré regime to bring the former president to justice.

The case is noteworthy for a number of reasons. But perhaps most notable is that fact that it represents the first use of universal jurisdiction by a member state of the African Union. Universal jurisdiction permits one state to prosecute crimes committed outside their normal legal jurisdiction—for example, in another state—under particular conditions. If successful, the exercise of universal jurisdiction by Senegal in this case may clear the way for similar cases to be launched in other African Union member states and by victims of other oppressive regimes.

What do you think? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using universal jurisdiction to bring former oppressive leaders to justice?

Oil and Economic Development in Venezuela

Like many oil exporters, Venezuela’s economy has been rocked by the recent collapse in global oil prices. According to the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Venezuela is a member, oil accounts for approximately 95 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings and about a quarter of the gross domestic product. The steep decline in global oil prices have thus left a major hole in government coffers and a sharp economic downturn in the country’s economy.

To cope with the ongoing crisis, Venezuela’s government is undertaking a policy to devalue its currency, the bolivar. But the response of global currency markets suggest that the move is too-little, too-late, and that move will have little effect on the value of the bolivar, and that the government’s strategy may be an effort to retain foreign exchange in order to make upcoming loan payments to international creditors.

What do you think? Is Venezuela in danger of defaulting on its international debt? What effect would such a default have on Venezuela’s economy? And what effect might a default have on the country’s domestic politics?

Should the US Deploy Ground Forces Against ISIS? Will It?

The Jordanian government has intensified airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces in Syria, less than a week after ISIS burned a captured Jordanian pilot alive. ISIS has already claimed that Kayla Mueller, an American aid worker in Syria who was captured by ISIS in 2013,  was killed in a Jordian airstrike. The Jordanian government has rejected that assertion, maintaining that there is no evidence that ISIS’s claims are true.

Meanwhile, international observers have repeatedly noted that airstrikes alone are unlikely to weaken or dislodge ISIS from its stronghold.

What do you think? Will ground forces ultimately be deployed to combat ISIS in Syria? Will the United States send ground forces to fight against ISIS? Why? Should it? Why?

The Next US Secretary of Defense

Secretary of Defense nominee Ashton Carter.

Secretary of Defense nominee Ashton Carter.

President Obama has formally nominated Ashton Carter to succeed Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense. While Carter still faces questioning and ultimately a confirmation vote by the Republican-controlled Senate, his nomination is widely seen as non-controversial. Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain has already issued a statement declaring that Carter’s nomination hearing “will provide a valuable opportunity to fully ventilate all issues around this Administration’s feckless foreign policy, and its grave consequences for the safety and security of our nation,” the same statement said that Carter “is not controversial.” Senator McCain had previously described Carter as “an honest, hard-working and committed public servant.”

Carter has already testified before Congress that the United States faces “very real dangers,” particularly from “malignant and savage terrorism” as well as security threats in Afghanistan, parts of Europe and Asia, and in cyberspace. He boasts an extensive record of civil service, including a stint as deputy defense secretary from 2011 to 2013, and as assistant secretary of defense for international security policy under the Clinton Administration. And while he is seen as an effective manager, Carter lacks military service experience. If confirmed, we would be the first Secretary of Defense not to have served in the military or Congress since 1981.

What do you think? Will Ashton Carter make an effective Secretary of Defense? Should the Secretary of Defense have military experience? Why? Do you think that Carter will be more effective in addressing ISIS and the other security threats faced by the United States than Hegel was? Why?