The seizure of Palmyra this week by ISIS could not be more emblematic of the new dark age descending on the Mideast. In the name of decontaminating Islam, the Wahhabi offshoot has pledged to demolish even the ruins of this ancient crossroads of the Roman Empire, India, China and Persia that represents the historical diversity of intermingling cultures. It is yet another sobering lesson in how the accomplishments of civilization can be rolled back by the mad pursuit of pure states of being - whether of ideal pasts, utopian futures, races or religions. As WorldPost correspondent Sophia Jones reports, Palmyra is also darkly remembered by many Syrians for its more recent history as a "death camp" of "torture and fear" in the 1980s and 1990s under Hafez al- Assad.
Facebook has become the world's publishing Leviathan with 1.4 billion users - a cyberpopulation the size of China. Never before have so many of like mind and sympathetic bent been able to connect with each other. Yet, by slotting what is shared through algorithm and personalization into silos of the similar, few boundaries beyond the familiar are being crossed. As identities fortify into tribes through this increasingly dominant medium, one wonders if the information age is becoming the age of non-communication. On this point, "technosociologist" Zeynep Tufekci contests a study recently released by Facebook that claims it is not creating echo chambers. Timothy Karr also worries that Mark Zuckerberg's plan to provide cyber access to the world's poor through Internet.org will "represent the entirety of the Internet for a significant proportion of the world's population."
MOSCOW -- Putin's goal was to convince average Russians to equate the nearly holy war against fascism with the regime's current escapade in Ukraine. Kremlin spin doctors have been reinforcing that association for months with a constant torrent of claims that Ukraine is besieged with "fascist sentiment," which is attempting to justify Hitler's atrocities.
Is a new Cold War brewing in the Pacific between China and the U.S. with Japan playing a front line role? Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Washington last week alarmingly pushed developments in that direction. In a blog he adapted from his well-received speech to the U.S. Congress, Abe proposes that the two democratic post-WWII allies join in a "seamless" strategic effort to "to spread and nurture our shared values" and "stick to the path" that "won the Cold War" -- and, in so many words not spoken, to contain China. By excluding China, the world's second largest economy, from the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership on trade while embracing the revision of Japan's pacifist constitution to allow military action beyond self-defense without an apology for colonialism and aggression acceptable to its Asian neighbors, the U.S. and Japan are laying the cornerstone of a new bloc system in the Pacific. As Minxin Pei writes, China's leaders will certainly see it that way and respond in kind. (continued)
This week, The WorldPost hosted a book party in Los Angeles for CNN's Fareed Zakaria as part of the launch of his new treatise, "In Defense of a Liberal Education." He is also a member of the Berggruen Institute's 21st Century Council. Attendees included, among many others, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, former Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, financiers Steve Schwarzman, David Bonderman and Mohamed el-Erian, California State Senator Bob Hertzberg, former California Governor Gray Davis and Hollywood producers Brian Grazer, Lawrence Bender and Mike Medavoy. Economist Nouriel Roubini, essayist Pico Iyer and Harvard historian Niall Ferguson also attended. Israeli-American media mogul Haim Saban sparred with Zakaria over the rights of Palestinians and the future of Israel as a democratic state. Jack Miles, editor of the "Norton Anthology of World Religions," writes in The WorldPost this week that America is losing in the Mideast because its foreign policy has been technology-focused (drones, etc.) instead of humanities-focused (history, religion, etc.). (continued)
"The wretched of the earth," in Frantz Fanon's famous phrase, are on the move as migrants. Mostly, they have headed north across scorching deserts and menacing seas to follow their dreams of escaping poverty and finding a better life. As the writer Carlos Monsivais once quipped, "Los Angeles is the heart of the Mexican Dream." Now, as we see at both the U.S. border and European shores, migrants are also fleeing north in the rusty holds of doomed ships from Libya or the "La Bestia" death train from Central America to evade the nightmares of civil war, brutal Salvadoran street gangs or merciless Mexican drug cartels. (continued)
Since Earth Day, which will be marked on April 22, was first commemorated 45 years ago, we have learned a lot about the planet's ecology. Above all, we have begun to understand the biological intelligence of nature itself that, for millennia, has managed to continually regenerate and stabilize that narrow band of a livable climate that has enabled our species and others to thrive. Working with nature, not against it, to combat climate change is the message of the Leo DiCaprio-narrated short video documentary, "Restoration," we publish this week. As senior Chinese diplomat Wu Jianmin writes from Beijing, we are also learning to work together as nations through geo-environmental cooperation, as exemplified by the recent U.S.-China agreement to jointly reduce carbon gases. (continued)
While the Middle East is consumed by an orgy of destruction that has devastated ancient cities like Aleppo and Tikrit, Asia, led by China, is building out the infrastructure of the future. While past wounds drive the tribal and religious rivalries in the Middle East, in Asia the contest -- and the cooperation -- is about shaping the future. The most recent scuffle in the contest over the future has been the slew of American allies -- Great Britain, Italy, France, Australia and others -- who have defied U.S. admonitions not to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which it sees as a rival to the World Bank and IMF system. In the "cooperation" column, Zbigniew Brzezinski observes in a WorldPost interview that China signed on as a guarantor of the Lausanne agreement on Iran's nuclear program. This, along with the fact it has also joined with the U.S. to curb North Korean nuclear proliferation and fight climate change, shows China is stepping up to the plate as a responsible global power. Former MI6 agent Alastair Crooke writes from Beirut that the U.S. has been "immobilized" in the Sunni-Shia proxy wars and must settle for "an equilibrium of antagonisms." (continued)
If reading the next sentence about the bewildering tangle of so many bloody crossed swords in the Middle East makes your head hurt, just be thankful you live somewhere else where decapitation is not a regular occurrence. The intensifying Saudi-led Sunni coalition assault on Iranian-linked Shiite tribes in Yemen this week -- at the very moment when Shiite militia allied with the U.S.-backed Iraqi government were ousting Saudi Wahhabist-inspired Islamic State jihadis from Tikrit -- signaled the onset of a generalized sectarian religious war across the region. And if the current bright spot of the interim agreement with Western powers that curbs Iran's capacity to weaponize its uranium enrichment program should unravel over the coming months, the entire conflict threatens to go nuclear. Graham Fuller, former vice-chair of the CIA's National Intelligence Council and a former station chief in several Mideast countries, deciphers the perplexing labyrinth of the Yemeni conflict, where "the enemy of my enemy is also my enemy." (continued)
This week, Singapore's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, died at 91. Though the last remaining of the great figures of post-WWII decolonization, Lee was also the first global statesman. As he himself put it, "when we were pushed out of Malaysia we had no hinterland. So we had to do or die, and the globalization of the world helped us. So we made the world our hinterland." By thinking global, but acting local, Lee was able to vault his small city-state from the Third World to the First World. The WorldPost remembers Lee through his own words from interviews I have done with him over the years. Writing from Singapore, Pranay Gupte focuses on Lee's unique accomplishment of "clean governance." Writing from Beijing, philosopher Daniel A. Bell emphasizes Singapore's meritocratic government as the core of its success with lessons for China. (continued)
Whether in Russia, Venezuela or Israel, the ugly politics of polarization may work in winning elections -- but it always ends badly. Netanyahu's scaremongering against Arab voters and dashing of a two-state solution (his bad faith post-election backtrack notwithstanding) dispels two long-held illusions at once: that Israeli democracy would be inclusive or that Palestinians would have their own state. If there is no room for Palestinians anywhere, then what? In an exclusive interview with the Huffington Post, (full interview to be released Saturday), U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the Israeli election, Iran and other issues. Writing from Amman, prominent Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab draws the logical conclusion from Israel's election results that Palestinians must now pursue their own unilateral path and that the world community should no longer feel bound to defend Israel in international institutions. (continued)
TOKYO -- Looking out onto Tokyo's towering neon cityscape, it is difficult to imagine the utter devastation of Japan's capital 70 years ago this week in one of the world's greatest overlooked atrocities -- the unsparing American firebombing that incinerated more people than either of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima or Nagasaki. In this respect, Japan is a long way from its past. But a visit to Tokyo this week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- during which she noted how her country had accepted culpability for its WWII fascist aggression in a way that Japan has not -- also highlights how the past still shadows the present -- and the future -- in Asia. (In Europe also the past has returned from another angle as Greece is demanding reparations from Germany). (continued)
MADRID -- The struggle for influence in Ukraine is a game that Putin cannot afford to lose. He gained the upper hand early in the crisis with the annexation of Crimea. Now, in eastern Ukraine's Donbas region, he is shrewdly forcing a divided and risk-averse West to choose between war and accommodation.
This week, The WorldPost conference on "The Future of Work" took place at Lancaster House in London. Discussion around the theme "prepare to be disrupted" ranged from how the emergent sharing economy, along with 3D desktop manufacturing, would take work back into the home to worries that automation could eliminate as much as 47 percent of current jobs in the United States.
Israel and Russia may not share much in common (indeed, since its founding Israel has welcomed waves of Soviet/Russian Jews desperate to leave that country), and trying to isolate Iran is not the same thing as invading another nation, but both draw a certain kind of moral legitimacy from the memory of World War II.