FaithWorld

from John Lloyd:

After the U.S. fades, whither human rights?

The shrinking of U.S. power, now pretty much taken for granted and in some quarters relished, may hurt news coverage of human rights and the uncovering of abuses to them. But not necessarily. Journalism is showing itself to be resilient in adversity, and its core tasks – to illuminate the workings of power and to be diverse in its opinions – could prove to be more than “Western” impositions.

When the British Empire withdrew from its global reach after the World War Two, the space was occupied, rapidly and at times eagerly, by the resurgent United States, at the very peak of its relative wealth and influence in the immediate postwar years. What it brought with it was a culture of journalism that was increasingly self-confident in its global mission: not just to describe the world, but to improve it. Some European journalism had that ambition too, but these were nations exhausted by war. The Americans, at the peak of their influence in the postwar years, had the power, wealth, standing and cocksureness to project their vision of what the world should be.

Now, American power too will shrink, and the end of U.S. hegemony (it was never an empire in the classic sense) will mean that there will be a jostling for power, influence, and above all resources by getting-rich-quick mega-states like China, India and Brazil. They will project their view of what the world should be -- they have already begun, some (China) more confidently than others (India, Brazil).

Whether this will mean that the illumination of the workings of power around the globe will be better or worse will be one of the large themes for journalism of the next decades. In his The World America Made, Robert Kagan thinks, by implication, that it could be worse, because he believes the U.S. did most for human freedom round the world and a loss of American power means a threat to the protection it offered to democratic change. He writes that “perhaps democracy has spread over a hundred nations since 1950 not simply because people yearn for democracy, but because the most powerful nation in the world since 1950 has been a democracy.” I think he’s right in this, and that his “perhaps” is pretty definite. And if he is right, it means that the impulse to probe and expose will be weaker.

The U.S., however imperfectly, often hypocritically, and at times mendaciously, nevertheless possesses a default mode in favor of freedom and human rights. So do the European states. But though the European Union is more populous and has a higher GDP than the U.S., it’s disunited and likely to stay that way. So the decline of the U.S., even if it remains only relative rather than absolute (as Kagan believes), is the important issue. It could mean that the narratives of human rights, told by Western governments, by NGOs and above all by journalism, will become fainter.

Russia’s Muslim Chechnya to ban energy drinks

Russia’s Muslim Chechnya region is planning to ban the sale of non-alcoholic energy drinks such as Red Bull to under 18s, saying they are un-Islamic and dangerous, health officials said.

The ban would be the latest restriction from authorities in Chechnya, where shops can only sell alcohol during a small morning time frame, eateries are shut during the Ramadan fasting month and women must wear headscarves in state buildings.

“Energy drinks are comparable to beer,” the deputy minister of health in Chechnya, Rukman Bartiyev, told Reuters, adding that they were harmful to health.

Russia’s Muslim elite vows to tackle Islamist extremism

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(Russia's chief Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin in Moscow February 10, 2011/Sergei Karpukhin)

Russia’s Muslims on Thursday set up a council of experts to devise ways to tackle extremism, two weeks after a suicide bomb attack on the country’s busiest airport killed 36.  Earlier this week Islamist leader Doku Umarov said he had ordered the devastating attack on Moscow’s Domodedovo airport.

“People need to be protected from extremism and terrorism, and educated away from this,” said Ravil Gaynutdin, the chief Mufti of Russia, which is home to some 20 million Muslims, or a seventh of the population. “These experts will play a very important role towards making things better… for Muslims to be more involved in Russian society,” Gaynutdin, clad in a flowing black robe and crowned by a silk white hat, told Reuters in an interview before chairing the council’s first meeting.

Battle for alcohol in Muslim Russia is deadly business

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(Men drink vodka in a car in Ingushetia's largest town Nazran, January 30, 2011/Diana Markosian)

A masked guard clad in camouflage pokes his AK-47 rifle into the shoulder of a vodka-guzzling client in a hotel bar in Russia’s Muslim Ingushetia region, and orders him to leave immediately. The state-employed security guard then leads the man and his coterie of quiet revelers out of the dimly lit bar.

“We heard reports rebels are on the prowl again and we want to prevent any damage,” said the guard, who wished to remain anonymous.

Russia’s Islamist rebels mull language switch to Arabic or Turkish

grozny (Photo: Workers clean blood from the sidewalk outside the parliament building in Grozny October 19, 2010 following a suicide attack there that killed four people/Kazbek Basayev)

Militants waging an Islamist insurgency in Russia’s mainly Muslim North Caucasus region have proposed using either Arabic or a Turkic language as a lingua franca for their affairs. The insurgents now communicate with each other largely in Russian, also the main language of the dozen or so Islamist web sites they are affiliated with, and of their video addresses.

The insurgency leader, Chechen rebel Doku Umarov, suggested earlier this month that a “state” language be formed for the self-styled Caucasus Emirate, a grouping of Muslim republics including Chechnya and Dagestan that want to quit Russia.

Arabic was proposed due to its status as “the language of Islam,” while a Turkic group language was suggested due to the historical and linguistic links of dozens of languages spoken in the North Caucasus. Last week a member of the Caucasus Emirate, Abu Zaid, posted a long appeal on kavkazcenter.com in favor of Arabic as a state language for the Caucasus Emirate, calling it “the international language of jihad.”

Sharia law threatens Moscow control in Muslim Chechnya

grozny mosqueAspects of sharia law imposed in Muslim Chechnya in recent months are inching the republic closer to autonomy and posing a renewed threat to Kremlin control, analysts say. The Kremlin relies on its hardline Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, to maintain order in the violent region in the North Caucasus, where separatists were driven from power a decade ago after two wars.

Analysts say Kadyrov’s methods to tame the region include a crackdown on opponents and imposing his radical vision of Islam, which could push Chechnya again towards separatism. (Photo: The main mosque in Grozny, May 17, 2008/Said Tsarnayev)

Kadyrov, who fought Russian forces during the first Chechen separatist war in the early 1990s but switched to Moscow’s side when the conflict reignited in 1999, says the claims are an attempt to blacken his name.

Chechnya’s leader hails paintball attacks on women without headscarves

kadyrovThe Kremlin-backed head of Russia’s Muslim Chechnya region has praised assailants who targeted women with paintball pellets for going bareheaded, prompting outrage from rights activists.  Eyewitnesses have said men in camouflage, often worn by police and security forces in the volatile region, fired paintball guns from cars about a dozen times last month at women who were not wearing headscarves. (Photo: Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, dressed in the national costume,  in Grozny on April 25, 2010/Denis Balibouse)

“I don’t know (who they are), but when I find them I shall announce my gratitude,” Ramzan Kadyrov said in a weekend interview on the state-run regional television channel Grozny.  He called the victims of the paintball attacks “naked women” who had most likely been forewarned.  “Even if they were carried out with my permission, I wouldn’t be ashamed of it,” he said of the paint-pellet attacks.

The attacks highlighted tension over Kadyrov’s efforts to enforce Muslim-inspired rules that in some cases violate Russia’s constitution.  The Russian rights group Memorial, which has blamed the attacks on law enforcement officers, said in a statement on Thursday: “Kadyrov’s interview clearly demonstrates the restriction on women’s rights in Chechnya — he openly defends unlawful acts.”

Chechen women say police paintball them for not covering hair

chechenWomen in Russia’s volatile Muslim Chechnya region say that police have targeted them with paintball pellets for not wearing headscarves, outraging rights activists.  The attacks highlight tension over efforts by Chechnya’s firebrand Moscow-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, to enforce Muslim-inspired rules that in some cases violate Russia’s constitution. (Photo: Chechen women voting near Grozny, November 27, 2005/Eduard Kornienko)

“A car carrying men in military uniform slowed down to approach us, one started filming on his mobile phone, and when they sped away we noticed paint all over our clothes,” a woman in the Chechen capital Grozny said on Friday  on condition of anonymity.

Several witnesses told Reuters that men in camouflage, which is worn by many Chechen police and security officers, had fired paintball guns at women from cars with tinted windows in multiple incidents this month. Critics say that in return for keeping relative calm in Chechnya, site of two separatist wars with Moscow since the mid-1990s, the Kremlin allows Kadyrov to run it like a personal fiefdom and lets him impose his vision of Islam.

Muslim revival brings polygamy, camels to Chechnya

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Main mosque in Grozny, capital of Chechnya, 17 May 2008/Said Tsarnayev

Adam, 52, keeps his three wives in different towns to stop them squabbling, but the white-bearded Chechen adds he might soon take a fourth.  “Chechnya is Muslim, so this is our right as men. They (the wives) spend time together, but do not always see eye to eye,” said the soft-spoken pensioner, who only gave his first name.

Though polygamy is illegal in Russia, the southern Muslim region of Chechnya encourages the practice, arguing it is allowed by sharia law and the Koran, Islam’s holiest book.

Hardline Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov is vying with insurgents for authority in a land ravaged by two secessionist wars with Moscow. Each side is claiming Islam as its flag of legitimacy, each reviles the other as criminal and blasphemous.