Ed: 40: September/2015
Thousands of migrants are crossing the Mediterranean to seek refuge in Europe. They are fleeing the war-torn and failed states of the Arab world and Africa - Syria, Iraq and the Maghreb, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria... the list goes on. Some, tragically, are drowning as the rickety boats provided by the people traffickers fail to make the crossing, but many more are washing ashore in Italy and Greece. From these points, they are able to move freely across non-existent borders as they head to the wealthier states of northern Europe.
Over the past several months, ISIS, the militant jihadist Islamic State, has made significant gains. It controls a huge expanse stretching in Iraq from Ramadi west of Baghdad across the Syrian border to the archeologically rich Tadmur (Palmyra). And, at the same time, it has been consolidating its hold on the entire northeastern region of the disintegrating Syrian state. The capture of Ramadi, a stone's throw from the Iraqi capital, and Tadmur, in the heart of Syria, creates a platform for even more significant future moves.
Voices arguing for and against the ALP National Conference passing a resolution calling for Australia to unilaterally recognise a Palestinian state - as urged by some in the party - enjoyed a good run in the media.
On July 18, a pointer in the Age newspaper directed readers to its website where Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou, co-Convener of the Australian Parliamentary Friends of Palestine, called Israel's occupation "the longest... in modern history." So China's occupation of Tibet, which started in 1959, is now internationally recognised?
Inverting history, Vamvakinou accused Israel of "a systemic culture of rejections at the negotiations" and claimed "since we voted for... partition... in 1947, Australia has consistently voted against Palestine in the UN." Actually, Australia votes every year in favour of a slew of UN resolutions that call for a Palestinian statehood as part of a peace deal!
The Iran nuclear deal is a ticking time bomb. Its key provisions sunset too quickly, and it grants Iran too much leverage to engage in nuclear blackmail. To defuse it, the US Congress needs to do what it has done dozens of times in the past including during the Cold War in requiring changes to key US-Soviet arms control agreements: Demand a better deal. And contrary to US President Barack Obama's threats, this doesn't have to lead to war.
Indonesia's historic reputation for religious tolerance took a beating for several years as an unholy coalition of Islamist politicians and self-styled enforcers like the Islamic Defenders Front harassed and sometimes violently attacked minorities, including Christians and Shi'ites, Sufi and Ahmadiyah Muslims.
But there are signs that positive change is at hand.
In April of last year, Brandeis University offered Ayaan Hirsi Ali an honorary degree for her tireless campaigning for women's rights in the Muslim world. But little more than a week after announcing that she would be honoured at the University's commencement ceremonies, Brandeis rescinded its offer owing to Hirsi Ali's record of bluntly criticising Islamic oppression. "We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University's core values," read the official withdrawal statement.
The sad irony of this cowardly betrayal is that Hirsi Ali would soon write a book arguing that Islam is not an irredeemable theology of hatred and violence and that the key to its integration into the modern world lies in the religion's vast majority of peaceable adherents.
Cathy Peters is an ABC producer and is also the former Greens councillor who spearheaded the campaign in 2010 for Marrickville Council to adopt an official policy of Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. She remains active in various pro-BDS groups today.
A new potential nightmare has apparently just opened up for the world, and hardly anyone seems to have noticed. According to credible media reports, US intelligence believes ISIS, the world's most dangerous terror organisation, began using chemical weapons against opposing Kurdish forces in early August. US intelligence agencies also believe ISIS probably got the mustard gas it employed against Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq from Syria's stockpiles - stocks that are supposed to have been removed from the country and destroyed under a 2013 Russian-brokered deal.
This should be big news.
On July 20, UK Prime Minister David Cameron made a major policy speech on countering extremism, which is likely to have a "tremendous impact" and inspire other countries, according to Professor Alan Johnson, an expert in de-radicalisation who was recently in Australia as a guest of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
In October 2014, after a campaign of nearly 10 years, New Zealand won its fourth two-year term on the esteemed UN Security Council. Prime Minister John Key pledged that New Zealand would be a "small country with a loud voice." Indeed, it put forth an ambitious agenda, one that included working with the five permanent members of the Council to remove their veto privilege and restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Murray McCully, New Zealand's Foreign Minister, said after visiting both Israel and the Palestinian territories earlier this year that his "overwhelming impression" is that the two sides are "not that far apart" and that "the UN Security Council's a pretty good place to start that conversation."