#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 6 July Update, Economist Normality Index

The latest charts, compiled 6 July as overall rates in Canada continue to decline along with increased vaccinations (still largely first dose, Canadians fully vaccinated 36.6 percent, comparable to or higher than most EU countries). Steep upward trend as per Globe chart below suggests gap between USA and UK fully-vaccinated will continue to narrow.

Vaccinations: All Canadian provinces ahead of USA, China now ahead of Germany and other EU countries.

Trendline charts

Infections: No significant change

Deaths: No significant change.

Vaccinations: Captured above.


Infections: No relative change.

Deaths per million: No significant change.

Interesting integration of various data sources to develop a normality index (Canada is 63.4, slightly below the number for all countries, ranking 35, just ahead of UK):

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 many have wondered when the world will return to “normal”. But whether things will ever go back to the way they were is unclear: remote working looks set to continue, for example, and going to the movies may never be as popular as it used to be. 

The Economist has devised a “normalcy index” to track how behaviour has changed, and continues to change, because of the pandemic. Our index comprises eight indicators, split into three domains. The first grouping is transport and travel: public transport in big cities; the amount of traffic congestion in those same cities; and the number of international and domestic flights. The second looks at recreation and entertainment: how much time is spent outside the home; cinema box-office revenues (a proxy measure for cinema attendance); and attendance at professional sports events. The third is retailing and work: footfall in shops; and occupancy of offices (measured by workplace footfall in big cities). 

Our index covers 50 of the world’s largest economies that together account for 90% of global GDP and 76% of the world’s population. Our aggregate measure is the population-weighted average of each country’s score. The pre-pandemic level of activity is set at 100 for ease of comparison. The tracker is updated with new data once a week. 

Overall activity

The global normalcy index plummeted in March 2020 as many countries imposed draconian restrictions on their citizens. It fell to just 35 in April 2020, before improving gradually over the following months. Today it stands at 66, suggesting that the world has travelled roughly half of the way back to pre-pandemic life. Some indicators, such as traffic congestion and time spent outside, have recovered faster than others, particularly sports attendance and flights. The global average masks a lot of variation across countries. Click on the drop-down box to explore how behaviour has changed in each one.


Demographic skews in training data create algorithmic errors

Of note:

Algorithmic bias is often described as a thorny technical problem. Machine-learning models can respond to almost any pattern—including ones that reflect discrimination. Their designers can explicitly prevent such tools from consuming certain types of information, such as race or sex. Nonetheless, the use of related variables, like someone’s address, can still cause models to perpetuate disadvantage.

Ironing out all traces of bias is a daunting task. Yet despite the growing attention paid to this problem, some of the lowest-hanging fruit remains unpicked.

Every good model relies on training data that reflect what it seeks to predict. This can sometimes be a full population, such as everyone convicted of a given crime. But modellers often have to settle for non-random samples. For uses like facial recognition, models need enough cases from each demographic group to learn how to identify members accurately. And when making forecasts, like trying to predict successful hires from recorded job interviews, the proportions of each group in training data should resemble those in the population.

Many businesses compile private training data. However, the two largest public image archives, Google Open Images and ImageNet—which together have 725,000 pictures labelled by sex, and 27,000 that also record skin colour—are far from representative. In these collections, drawn from search engines and image-hosting sites, just 30-40% of photos are of women. Only 5% of skin colours are listed as “dark”.

Sex and race also sharply affect how people are depicted. Men are unusually likely to appear as skilled workers, whereas images of women disproportionately contain swimwear or undergarments. Machine-learning models regurgitate such patterns. One study trained an image-generation algorithm on ImageNet, and found that it completed pictures of young women’s faces with low-cut tops or bikinis.


Similarly, images with light skin often displayed professionals, such as cardiologists. Those with dark skin had higher shares of rappers, lower-class jobs like “washerwoman” and even generic “strangers”. Thanks to the Obamas, “president” and “first lady” were also overrepresented.

ImageNet is developing a tool to rebalance the demography of its photos. And private firms may use less biased archives. However, commercial products do show signs of skewed data. One study of three programs that identify sex in photos found far more errors for dark-skinned women than for light-skinned men.

Making image or video data more representative would not fix imbalances that reflect real-world gaps, such as the high number of dark-skinned basketball players. But for people trying to clear passport control, avoid police stops based on security cameras or break into industries run by white men, correcting exaggerated demographic disparities would surely help.■

Source: https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2021/06/05/demographic-skews-in-training-data-create-algorithmic-errors?utm_campaign=data-newsletter&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_source=salesforce-marketing-cloud&utm_term=2021-06-08&utm_content=data-nl-article-link-1&etear=data_nl_1

Many Han Chinese don’t mind the gulag for their Uighur neighbours

Useful background and analysis:

The district of Erdaoqiao in Urumqi, the capital of the far western region of Xinjiang, looks very similar to many urban areas of China. Its streets are filled with luxury cars competing for space with frantic food-delivery scooters. Many buildings are new, built with steel, glass and cookie-cutter uniformity.

No visible evidence remains of the riots here in July 2009, the country’s bloodiest ethnic clashes in decades. They involved battles between Uighurs, the Turkic-speaking, predominantly Muslim group indigenous to Xinjiang, and ethnic-Han Chinese who make up more than 90% of China’s population. The spark was a protest by Uighurs against the killing of two Uighur factory-workers by a mob in southern China. Of more than 200 people who were killed on the first day of the violence in Erdaoqiao and other areas of Urumqi, many were Han. Later, Han crowds gathered in the streets, hungry for revenge. The city stewed for days in a miasma of anger and fear.

Urumqi today is calm, but its ethnic contours remain distinct. Erdaoqiao is still known as a Uighur area. Its Uighur-run shops sell steaming bowls of noodles and stewed lamb, circular flatbreads, colourful bolts of fabric and religious articles. In other parts of the city, the residents are mainly Han people, who make up three-quarters of Urumqi’s population and dominate its economy. The city’s tallest building is a 229-metre office tower that belongs to a state bank based 2,000km to the east, in Beijing—a city that seems a world away from Xinjiang’s Uighur culture.

Urumqi is a Han bastion, but in Xinjiang as a whole there are about 10m Uighurs and around 9m Han people. They are divided not only by culture but also by geography. Han people mainly live in the north where Urumqi is located. Uighurs are concentrated in the much poorer south, in ancient oasis towns such as Kashgar and Hotan. Between north and south is the vast Taklimakan desert (see map).

To understand why officials in Xinjiang began building a gulag in 2016 in which they have incarcerated an estimated 1m people, mostly Uighurs, it is important to understand the nature of this ethnic divide. The riots in 2009 made Han people more suspicious of Uighurs. The government’s draconian reaction has made Uighurs more resentful. The prison camps, euphemistically known as vocational training centres, are evidence that this divide has become even more institutionalised. That suggests that the Uighurs’ suffering will last a very long time.

Uighurs are put in camps for such things as being overtly pious Muslims or too fond of their Uighur traditions. The authorities say this has helped curb terrorism. They say there were thousands of terrorist attacks in Xinjiang in the 15 years before the facilities were built, and none since. But the mass internment of Uighurs is certain to have increased their bitterness towards Xinjiang’s Han rulers.

The Economist: Why American Muslims lean leftwards for 2020

Not surprising:

BEFORE THE presidential election in 2000, George W. Bush was urged by an adviser to go after a category of voters who would love a business-friendly, socially-conservative message: Muslims. Mr Bush took the tip and it worked. In 2001, a survey of American Muslims (including those who cast no ballot or gave no clear answer) found that 42% reported voting for Mr Bush against 31% for his Democratic rival Al Gore. Among upwardly mobile Muslim immigrants, many of them professionals or entrepreneurs, the proportion voting Republican was much higher.

Now, however, with anti-Muslim sentiment ablaze among supporters of Donald Trump, and the president hardly discouraging it, that love-in is a distant memory. American Muslims are gaining political visibility, but only on the far left of the spectrum. Symptomatic of this shift is the election to the House of Representatives of two Muslim women (Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar) who along with two female colleagues, also left-wing Democrats, have been taunted by Mr Trump and his supporters.

A huge change in Muslim sentiment was clear in the 2004 presidential race and confirmed by the 2008 contest won by Barack Obama. By 2007 some 63% of American Muslims at least “leaned towards” the Democrats, against only 11% for the Republicans. These figures have not changed very much since, according to Pew Research, a pollster. Among Muslims who voted in the 2016 presidential race, only 8% said they opted for Mr Trump (who had declared that “Islam hates us”) and 78% for Hillary Clinton.

Campaigners for Muslim political engagement reckoned that more than 1m were registered to vote in 2016, and that last year’s congressional elections saw an uptick in Muslims going to the polls. Pew estimates that about 3.5m Muslims live in America. At around 1% of the country’s population as of 2015, they were more numerous than Hindus (0.7%) or Buddhists (0.7%) though well outnumbered by Jews (1.8%). But that picture is projected to change fast with the Muslim share doubling by mid-century.

The main reasons for the transformation in Muslim attitudes have been much analysed. After the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, there was a spate of hate crimes against followers of Islam and open antipathy towards Muslims emerged in a growing segment of the electorate. That put Muslim voters into a defensive frame of mind, and Democrats, with their embrace of cultural diversity, offered the safest haven. Another factor, though its importance is disputed, is that younger American Muslims have grown more liberal over cultural questions like gay rights, so they are less amenable to Republican-style “family values” arguments. As for African-American Muslims, they (like black Christians) have always been well to the left in their voting choices.

Still, to say that American Muslims have lurched from one end of the ideological spectrum to another would be an over-simplification. According to Youssef Chouhoud, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University, Muslims are not so much confirmed leftists as nomads, in search of anyone who will listen to them, and the only respectful attention they are getting is on the left. Even in that quarter, they have been feeling a bit unloved recently. At the convention on August 31st of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which calls itself the country’s biggest Muslim organisation, only two candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination accepted invitations to speak: Senator Bernie Sanders and Julián Castro, a former housing secretary. Mr Sanders is also probably the most robust supporter of Palestinian rights in the primary field. As Mr Chouhoud puts it, this leaves Muslims “looking for a place they can feel wanted. Any politician who even talks to them will be appreciated.”

In this climate, Muslim Republicans are an endangered, though not extinct, species. One veteran of that cause is an Arizona-based doctor, Zuhdi Jasser. He has served as vice-chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan watchdog, as a Republican nominee. Although Mr Trump was not his preferred candidate, Dr Jasser declares himself “pleasantly surprised” by many of the Trump administration’s policies, and insists that “Muslim ban” is not an accurate way to describe the president’s drive to bar entry from five countries where Islam predominates.

Dr Jasser feels the “Muslim-equals-left” stereotype is partly the fault of his community’s self-appointed representatives, not so much the young firebrands as the community’s elderly godfathers. In his view, these veteran leaders have one big failing. They have never really distanced themselves from the global cause of Islamism, the notion that the only ideal form of governance is a Muslim one. (They are not, of course, proposing such a regime for America, but many have a record of endorsing political Islam elsewhere.) That soft spot for Islamism makes them particularly toxic in the eyes of mainstream American conservatives, leaving Muslims nowhere to go but left.

As he tours America addressing conservative groups, Dr Jasser finds them open to persuasion that the political doctrine of Islamism, which in his view can and must be separated from the spiritual teaching of Islam, is their real foe. He lays out the case that Islam as a set of metaphysical beliefs and ethical norms can flourish, in America and elswhere, under the principle of church-state separation which was dear to the Founding Fathers. Once that argument is made, his listeners are open to persuasion that decent American Muslims are allies against Islamism.

Whether or not they deserve to be dismissed as old-timers, America’s Muslim thought leaders, be they spiritual or political, are certainly divided. In ways that leave ordinary Muslim voters a bit baffled, they squabble among themselves, usually over events in distant lands. Arguments rage over the coup in Egypt in 2013, the failed coup in Turkey in 2016 and the civil war in Syria. At the core of many such disputes is a difference in attitudes to the global Muslim Brotherhood, as a standard-bearer of Islamism. In the words of H.A. Hellyer, an analyst for the Carnegie Endowment, “one of the fault-lines in the American Muslim intelligentsia is between those who see Islamism as the proper, basic norm of Muslim political life, and those who are philosophically opposed to it.”

Rank-and-file American Muslims may not have much time for philosophy but many will have felt some bewilderment in recent weeks as one of their most revered spiritual figures became embroiled in a row which has a domestic political dimension. Hamza Yusuf, a California-based greybeard, is often described as America’s most eminent scholar of Islam. In July he took a job, of sorts, with the Trump administration by joining a panel set up by the State Department to ponder the definition of human rights. Some said he was selling out to a Muslim-bashing administration; others that his warm relations with the United Arab Emirates, whose regime he calls tolerant, made him unqualified to pronounce on human rights. (The UAE is a declared foe of the Brotherhood, so views on that country are sensitive.) Mr Yusuf was already unpopular with left-wing co-religionists for saying after Mr Trump’s election that Muslims should accept his authority.

In recent days he has been much criticised for having spoken mockingly of the Syrian uprising that started in 2011. In a three-year-old video clip that suddenly went viral, he said the revolt had led to untold humiliation for Muslims. In a fresh video he apologised if his words had offended people who suffered under Syria’s regime.

Still, some advocates of a Muslim-Democratic coalition feel they can do fine without such prominent Muslims as Mr Yusuf. Despite the lack of interest shown by other Democrats, they took heart from Mr Sanders’s appearance at the ISNA convention and especially over one of his comments. He delighted Pakistani-Americans by saying he was “deeply concerned” about India’s “unacceptable” actions in Kashmir. That gave a hint of one foreign-policy issue which might loom rather large for south Asian voters in the 2020 race. Some Indian-Americans are impressed by Mr Trump’s friendship with Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister; many Pakistani-Americans hope a Democratic runner will take the other side.

Shadi Hamid, a fellow of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, says the deepening partnership between Muslims and Democrats was built not on foreign-policy questions but more on adversity: the alarm created by the white-nativist spirit which they see stalking the country. Certain tensions do exist, he says, between the social conservatism of some Muslims and the ever more secular ethos of the Democrats. But for now, such tensions are kept under control by a common feeling of being endangered. If the Trump era passes, the Democratic coalition’s internal strains might come to the fore, but until that happens, a sense of being under siege will keep it together. Generally, Muslim voters are saying: “however secular the Democrats might be, it is the Democrats who have our backs.”

Source: Why American Muslims lean leftwards for 2020

Unlikely new residents are reviving Australian country towns

A reminder of the contribution some lower skilled immigrants can make to rural communities and a caution regarding the limits of encouraging more high skilled immigrants to settle there:

First came the Burmese, then the Afghans and the Africans. Since 2016, 400-odd Yazidis have washed up in Wagga Wagga, a regional centre south-west of Sydney. Its primary school has had to hire interpreters to communicate with families (fully a fifth of its students are refugees). The local college teems with parents learning English and new trades. Doctors have had to brush up on illnesses rarely found in the area. Few locals seem fussed about the changes. And to those fresh out of war zones, “Wagga” is an idyll. “My children are safe,” says Ismail Darwesh, a Yazidi who fled Islamic State’s attempt to wipe out his people, a religious minority in Iraq and Syria. “Everything you want you can get here.”

The refugees have been sent to Wagga Wagga under a scheme which brings beneficiaries from foreign camps to rural Australia (most settle in urban areas). The hope is that they can offset the population decline that threatens many outback settlements with extinction, as birth rates fall and youngsters head for cities. Wagga Wagga’s Multicultural Council says the population is only growing thanks to the new arrivals. Immigrants are helping to stem shrinkage in another 150 localities.

The scheme helps big cities, too, by easing the pressure on roads, schools and hospitals there. Thousands of Iraqis and Syrians descended on Sydney’s western suburbs after extra visas were dished out to them in 2016 and 2017. Many have struggled to find work, and conservatives grumble about ghettoisation. A recent report from the Centre for Policy Development, a think-tank, found that just 17% of “humanitarian entrants” have jobs after 18 months in Australia. Yet remote towns are crying out for people to fill vacancies on farms, in abattoirs and to look after the elderly. The cost of living is lower than in Sydney or Melbourne and, for farmers like Mr Darwesh, a quiet life is appealing anyway.

To stay afloat, some outback towns have taken to recruiting migrants for themselves. A piggery in Pyramid Hill, in northern Victoria, started sponsoring workers from the Philippines a decade ago. They now make up a fifth of its 500-odd population, keeping not just the business afloat, but also the local school. Another town in the same state, Nhill, lured 160 Burmese refugees from Melbourne with jobs at a food company, adding perhaps A$40m ($28m) to its economy. A group of residents in Walla Walla, a dot in New South Wales, is now scouting for refugees from Sydney. “We have jobs, we have housing and we have education,” says Andrew Kotzur, who runs the local steelworks. “We just need more people to sustain them.”

Asylum-seekers and farm labourers make up a tiny portion of the immigrants pouring into Australia. The conservative coalition government is keen to rusticate others, too. Scott Morrison, the prime minister, has suggested that some of Australia’s 500,000 foreign students could be sent to regional universities. The population minister, Alan Tudge, added that visa restrictions and incentives could be used to push skilled migrants out of Melbourne and Sydney. Almost all the best-qualified arrivals settle in those two cities, but luring them out will not be easy. It is partly owing to migration that Sydney and Melbourne are thriving. Foreign accountants and it geeks choose them for well-paid work and swanky suburbs. Rob them of both, and far fewer would come to Oz at all.

Source: Unlikely new residents are reviving Australian country towns

How to understand Salafism in America: The Economist

Expect similar differences in Canada:

THE word “Salafism” is often used loosely, especially in continental Europe. When the relationship between Islam and jihadist violence is discussed in, say, France or Germany, the assumption is often made that the problem begins and ends with the Salafis—who put overwhelming emphasis on the first three generations of Muslims and who are thought to have professed the faith at its purest. This Franco-German sloppiness can be bewildering to Islam-watchers in Britain where Salafis have at times been encouraged to play a part in countering terrorism.

In fact, as anyone who studies the Salafi phenomenon quickly realises, things are far from simple. Scholars generally distinguish three strands of Salafism. First, there is the apolitical, quietist sort which favours intense conservatism in dress and personal life and eschews most kinds of involvement with the modern world. Then there are more activist Salafis who share the impatience of the Muslim Brotherhood to see the replacement of relatively secular governments in Islam’s heartland by religiously inspired regimes. They are not quite as energetic, or as pragmatic, as the Brotherhood’s members but they are influenced by Brotherhood thinking. And thirdly, there are jihadist Salafis who think the only appropriate response to the decadence of the modern era, and to a lack of zeal in the historically Muslim world, is violence. All three strains share a suspicion of democratic institutions that confer on fallible human beings an authority that, as they see things, should belong only to God.

In a new report, published under the Programme on Extremism at America’s George Washington University, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens shows that all three forms of Salafism have flourished, albeit with considerable ebbs and flows in their fortunes, on American soil in recent decades. He agrees that the distinction between the three forms of Salafism should be maintained, but also stresses they are not hermetically sealed categories, and that important individuals have moved between them.

Confusingly, the author notes, Salafist thinking (whose hallmarks include deep suspicion of the modern, secular world) has been disseminated by some people who do not themselves accept the label of Salafi. One such person is Muhammad Syed Adly, an influential imam based in South Carolina who urges Muslims to focus on Islamic education and avoid secular education and worldly politics. He has encouraged American Muslims to consider alternatives to regular public schools where their children might pick up liberal ideas about gender and sexuality.

As an example of quietist Salafism, Mr Meleagrou-Hitchens cites the Quran and Sunnah Society (QSS) which flourished across the United States both before and immediately after its formal incorporation in Ohio in 1995. Its back-to-basics message, driven home with tapes from Saudi clerics, appealed both to Arab students in America and to African-Americans who had embraced Islam in a spirit of black power and wanted to hew close to the faith’s fundamentals. As the author points out, Salafism’s utter rejection of secular institutions appealed to some African-Americans who felt the American system had nothing to offer them. Although the QSS eventually went into terminal decline, its legacies apparently include a contingent of American Muslims who are fiercely protective of Saudi Arabia and its clerics.

To show how jihadist Salafism can be generated on American soil, the report looks at some notorious individuals such as Ali al-Timimi (pictured), who was born in Washington, DC, spent part of his teens in Saudi Arabia and later returned to the United States where he gained a doctorate in computational biology. In 2005 he was jailed on ten charges including enlisting people to wage war against America and helping the Taliban. His case, according to the new report, “is a fascinating case study due to his steady progression across the wider American Salafi milieu: from student of the traditional quietist Saudi sheikhs…to an open promoter of Salafi jihadism.”

But of course, quietist Salafism doesn’t always lead in an extremist direction, as the author also stresses. As an example of that point, he cites a school of “post-Salafis” who “have contributed to the development of Americanised version of Salafism” that combines conservative theology with a constructive engagement with national and international issues.

In other words, American Salafism (for all its professed emphasis on simplicity) is irreducibly prolix. Given how many lives could depend on getting things right, it is worthwhile engaging with that complexity.

Source: How to understand Salafism in America

The many meanings of freedom: A new set of essays offers a sobering look at Islam and human-rights discourse

Interesting discussion piece on the interface and compatibility of Muslims with liberal democracy and human rights. Some of the same concerns he raises, of course, can be applied to more traditional or fundamentalist strains of all religions.

Try substituting the names of other religions for Islam and Muslims to see some common threads:

MOHAMMAD FADEL, an associate law professor at the University of Toronto, is one of North America’s most thoughtful commentators on the interface between Islam, liberal democracy and Western understandings of the rule of law. He has made an elaborate case for the possibility of Muslims, including theologically conservative ones, finding a comfortable place in a diverse, noisy liberal democracy where many value systems co-exist. He draws on the ideas of John Rawls, perhaps the greatest American political philosopher of the late 20th century, to show that “public reason” can serve as a kind of common denominator between citizens with utterly different world views.

So it is sobering to find that in a newly published set of essays on Islam and the Western understanding of human rights, Mr Fadel puts more emphasis on difference than compatibility. His contribution is the sharpest of the essays, published by the Atlantic Council, an influential think-tank based in Washington, DC, under the title “The Islamic Tradition and the Human Rights Discourse”.

Mr Fadel artfully uses a Western source to show that basic concepts like freedom and happiness have one meaning for a liberal humanist and another for a theist idealist who sees the purpose of human life as devotion to God. For somebody in the latter camp, an addicted gambler is anything but free; but to the secular liberal, that way of life could simply be one way of exercising formal freedom.

Islamic thought about the family, as Mr Fadel adds, is oriented not only to the short-term happiness of individuals, and also to other perceived desirables such as “a reasonably stable household that produces a new generation of Muslims.” So Muslim thinkers could not be expected to see religiously mixed marriages in the same light as a secular libertarian would. He concludes that:

It is impossible to expect a complete convergence between human rights norms and Islamic norms: human rights norms are almost entirely concerned with securing the autonomy of individuals to make choices for themselves, while Islam is about influencing individuals’ choices about how to live their lives.

Asked if he had become more downbeat about Muslim communities finding a place in Western societies, Mr Fadel told Erasmus that he believed more passionately than ever in the need for such co-existence. But it was an observable fact that in Western societies, that effort was growing harder. Arguments, for example over female attire and the raising of children, suggest that in many Western countries, “liberals don’t trust Muslims, and therefore want to regulate their lives more closely, and Muslims don’t trust liberal society, which means they are less likely to have confidence in a neutral, rules-based political system and more likely to focus on their own communal life,” he says.

All the contributors to the new volume are themselves Muslim, and they bring to the subject of human rights concepts and assumptions that would be unfamiliar to most non-Muslims. Perhaps the most upbeat note is struck by the volume’s editor, H.A. Hellyer, who argues that Islam must rediscover the virtue of “rejuvenation”—new thinking about old texts and concepts—which, contrary to what many people say, is “deeply held within the Islamic tradition”. The oft-repeated proposition that in Islam, the gates of ijtihad (theological reasoning) were slammed shut a millennium ago is simply false, in Mr Hellyer’s view.

Another contributor is Mustafa Ceric, the grand mufti emeritus of Sarajevo, who  makes a pointed rejoinder to Western critics of Islam. It takes the form of a riff on the word “dhimmitude”. Among contemporary Islamo-sceptics, that term has been used in two senses. It refers to the second-class but still protected status which traditional Muslim empires offered to non-Muslim, especially Christian and Jewish, subjects. Today’s sceptics also use the word to denounce Westerners who seem excessively deferential to Islam.

As Mr Ceric notes, the “dhimmi” status in Ottoman times did at least allow religious minorities to remain alive, as long as they were loyal and law-abiding. His co-religionists who suffered genocide in Bosnia did not benefit from any such concession. That is a fair point. But if we are to judge any religion (Islam, Christianity, even Buddhism) or secular creed (Marxism, nationalism, fascism) by the respect shown by its adherents for the right to life over the last couple of centuries, then none fares too well.

Source: The many meanings of freedomA new set of essays offers a sobering look at Islam and human-rights discourse

The New Yorker, The Economist and Steve Bannon’s squad of useful idiots: Balkissoon

Find it hard to disagree with her fundamental points (although I have respect for David Frum):

Steve Bannon is going on tour, and venerable institutions are lining up to host him.

This week, the 93-year-old New Yorker and the 175-year-old Economist announced plans to have their editors-in-chief interview Mr. Bannon at separate live events this month. Organizers of the Munk Debates revealed that their first decade will be celebrated by having him debate “the rise of populism” with David Frum at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall in November.

Mr. Bannon is on the “pro” side: He’s a flashpoint figure in the populist wave washing over the globe. His past occupations include investment banker, vice-president of Cambridge Analytica, Donald Trump’s chief strategist and co-founder of Breitbart News, a web publication that he personally called “the platform for the alt-right” in 2016.

His White House appointment brought criticisms of anti-Semitism from the Southern Poverty Law Center. His time there included constructing the “travel ban” restricting movement into the United States from seven countries, most of them with majority Muslim populations. Just before his departure, the NAACP labelled him a “well-known white supremacist.”

To observers both inside and outside of the two publications, giving Mr. Bannon a platform was a bad idea.

Notable figures dropped off of both magazine agendas: At press time, The New Yorker had rescinded its invite, The Economist hadn’t and the backlash against Munk was just beginning. Tech entrepreneur Anil Dash said on Twitter that he’d still talk at the Economist event but would ditch his original topic to focus on “the consistent, immoral attacks Bannon has directed against the South Asian American community.”

Mr. Dash also said The Economist’s executives “are either foolishly getting exploited by providing a platform without any accountability, or are complicit in an awful agenda.” Let’s stick with the first idea today: that despite the big brains inside these institutions, they’ve become, in this instance, useful idiots.

The term refers to someone whose hubris prevents them from seeing they’re being used to spread the message of a nefarious actor. That’s always been Mr. Bannon’s goal – in February, he told Bloomberg News that he was never fighting the Democrats in the 2016 election. “The real opposition is the media,” he’s quoted as saying. “And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

It’s a dark plan, and it’s worked. Supposedly savvy outlets across the globe have been beaten at their own game by far-right propagandists time and again.

Richard Spencer got the left-leaning publication Mother Jones to call him “dapper.” Swedish YouTuber PewDiePie started out with gaming videos, got a Disney contract and evolved into a virulent racist: Although Disney dropped him, he hasn’t lost his popularity. Multipronged attacks by multiple extremists have made it so that journalists – including me – often seem to have no choice between ignoring them until something terrible happens, or helping to introduce their message to a new audience.

I’m not the first to say that the far-right onslaught is shaking the very foundations of journalism. This past May, the New York-based Data Society, which studies how new technologies affect culture, released “The Oxygen of Amplification: Better Practices for Reporting on Extremists, Antagonists and Manipulators.” It’s a detailed, 125-page outline of how pillars including open debate, free speech and balance have been twisted to sneak hate into the mainstream.

Take the belief that a debate of reasonable ideas helps get us out of our echo chambers. No insular bubbles are being popped at these events: Mr. Bannon, Mr. Frum, New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick and his Economist counterpart Zanny Minton Beddoes are all Ivy League graduates. New Yorker tickets start at US$17, but The Economist is charging US$49, and Munk seats go up to $100. If populism is about the working class, it would be good to have them in attendance.

More to the point, racism and xenophobia are not reasonable. They aren’t ideas, but harmful actions, happening now. Ask the Latin American migrants still separated from their children, or the people in Puerto Rico mourning their 3,000 dead while living without basic services almost a year after Hurricane Maria.

A woman was killed at last year’s white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va., and it was after repeated consultations with Mr. Bannon that Mr. Trump responded. The President eventually blamed “both sides” for the violence – a false equivalency that equates resisting violence with starting it, and manipulates the journalistic tenet of balance.

The world has “debated” hateful ideologies time and again – choose your genocide, and the “never again” declaration that came afterward – and letting them be revisited is, quite frankly, stupid. It’s not an opportunity for intellectual discourse. It’s allowing violence to go unchecked, to sweep up vulnerable people, and to grow.

Mr. Bannon knows it, so why don’t experienced journalists? The answer is ego: the desire to go head-to-head with infamy, the belief that their personal smarts can’t be outsmarted and the inability to admit when one is being used. Pride comes before a fall, and it’s revealing supposedly intelligent people as idiots.

ICYMI: How best to help women caught between different kinds of family law – Islam, marriage and the law

Good overview (and good that Ontario rejected Sharia family law courts and along with the family tribunals of other religions:

AS IS reported by The Economist in this week’s print edition, almost everybody can agree that there are acute difficulties at the interface between Islamic family law and the liberal West. Especially for married Muslim women, living in a kind of limbo between the Islamic world and the secular world can be exceptionally tough. So far, so much consensus. What people don’t agree on, however, is how to improve this situation.

Start with England, which presents an extreme case of the pathologies facing Muslim minorities in the West. In no other country have so many “sharia councils” sprung up to adjudicate the affairs of Muslim people, especially women who are trapped in unhappy marriages and want a religious divorce. (Some say these councils should be regulated, others want them abolished.) And in no other country is it so common for young Muslim couples to have religious-only marriages or nikahs which are never registered with the state, so that in the event of a breakdown the financially vulnerable partner, usually female, has few entitlements.

Aina Khan, a London-based lawyer who specialises in family law, is prime mover of a campaign called “Register Our Marriage”, which aspires both to change the law and to make Muslims, especially women, more conscious of the dire consequences of a religious-only rite.

The campaign wants to close the gap between faith-based and civil wedding ceremonies by making it easy, virtually automatic and indeed compulsory for religious nuptials to be registered in the eyes of the state. In other words, all faiths would acquire the status (and the corresponding obligations) long enjoyed by the Anglicans, Jews and Quakers.

As the website puts it:

This Petition is to reform outdated English marriage law, which is no longer “fit for purpose.” We need to reform the Marriage Act 1949 as it is 70 years out of date. Make it compulsory for every faith to register marriages, not just three faiths….100,000s have no legal rights in an unregistered religious marriage and this figure is rising yearly.

A different view is taken by Sadikur Rahman, a London solicitor who is also a supporter of the National Secular Society. He agrees that there is an anomaly in treating Anglicans, Jews and Quakers differently from other faiths. But he wrote in a recent article that according civil status to all Muslim marriages would be “highly problematic” for several reasons. As he argues:

The question of “what is a Muslim marriage” is a vexed one. Muslim marriage encompasses a range of unions which would not be acceptable on the basis that they may be discriminatory or open to abuse. For example polygamous marriages, temporary marriages amongst Shia Muslims and nowadays young Muslims of all sects…[and] marriages between adults and children.

On the other hand, Mr Rahman adds:

If we start debating what is and is not a Muslim marriage and go down the route of…siding with Islamic reformers in not accepting the above types as Muslim marriages at all, then the state would be entering into a religious theological debate which is no position for a secular state to be in. It is not for the state to start defining what is and is not a Muslim marriage.

The best approach, in Mr Rahman’s view, is for the state to be blind to all forms of marriage except the civil sort. That would involve stripping the Anglican, Jewish and Quaker faiths of their current privileged status and insisting that adherents of those faiths must register their nuptials with the state as a separate act if they want any legal status for their union.

Mr Rahman’s view highlights one of the paradoxes of rigorous secularism. If secularism is understood to mean that the state does not interfere in theological matters, then this can leave a large social space in which religions and sub-cultures can act according to their own traditions, which may be pretty conservative.

The Netherlands has, on the face of the things, an approach that is quite secularist but also addresses the problems identified by Ms Khan that occur when civil and religious nuptials drift apart. Dutch law says that a religious wedding cannot take place unless a civil union has also been contracted. But the country still has the problem of “marital captivity”—in other words, the dire situation of women whose husbands will not give them a religious divorce.

Kathalijna Buitenweg, a prominent Green member of the Dutch parliament, is lobbying the government for a change in civil law that would make it easier and more routine for judges to compel reluctant husbands to release their wives from the religious bonds of a dead marriage.

Thanks to the efforts of Shirin Musa, a campaigner, keeping a woman in such “marital captivity” is notionally a criminal offence under Dutch law. But that provision is so draconian that it will hardly be used in practice. A few civil-law cases, including Ms Musa’s own personal case, have been pursued successfully against reluctant husbands. But if Ms Buitenweg gets her way, civil-law cases will become much easier.

But here is a paradox. By the lights of strict secularism, using civil law to bring about religious divorce is problematic. Since religious marriages do not exist in the eyes of a rigorously secular state, it makes no difference to the state whether or not they are terminated. But by the lights of common decency, some would say, a woman caught inside a traditionalist sub-culture who wants to restart her life does needs help and should get it.

via How best to help women caught between different kinds of family law – Islam, marriage and the law

Which passport offers the best perks? [#citizenship] | The Economist

Which passport offers the best perks?

The Economist’s buyers guide – note Quebec on list:

Matthew Valencia exploreshow globalisation has turned citizenship into a commodity. Here, he weighs up the pros and cons of different passports.

OPTION 1: Invest $400,000 in real estate, which must be held for five years.
OPTION 2: Pay $250,000 into the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation.
FEES: $57,500 for main applicant, $25,000 for each dependant.
BENEFIT: Citizenship; visa-free access to 132 countries; no residency requirement.
DISADVANTAGE: Seen as shady by some countries; bad publicity led Canada to withdraw visa-free access.

OPTION 1: Invest $100,000 in Economic Diversification Fund, plus additional $75,000 for spouse, $25,000 for up to two children.
OPTION 2: Invest $200,000 in real estate. Property can be sold after three years if the intended buyer is a citizenship-by-investment applicant. Applicant must turn up for interview. Fees: $50,000 for main applicant, $25,000 for spouse.
BENEFITS: Citizenship; visa-free access to 91 countries; quick processing (3-6 months); no residency requirement; no mandatory interview; no physical residence requirement.
DISADVANTAGES: Poor reputation, though it claims to have tightened up vetting process; applicant must swear oath of allegiance.

OPTION 1: $400,000 invested in an approved real-estate project.
OPTION 2: $250,000 in National Development Fund.
OPTION 3: $1.5m invested in a business.
FEES: $50,000 each for main applicant, spouse and any dependant over 18; $25,000 for dependants under 18.
BENEFIT: Citizenship; visa-free access to 132 countries.
DISADVANTAGE: Weather risks for property buyers.

OPTION 1: Invest $200,000 in the Saint Lucia National Economic Fund.
OPTION 2: $500,000 in government bonds. Investment must be held for at least five years.
OPTION 3: $300,000 in an approved real estate. Must be held for at least five years.
OPTION 4: $3.5m in a new business that creates at least three jobs. Applicants must have a net worth of $300,000.
BENEFIT: Citizenship; visa-free access to more than 100 countries

EB-5 VISA: $1m investment in a business, or $500,000 in a high-unemployment or rural area. Company must create or preserve at least ten full-time jobs.
BENEFITS: Residency; access to US citizenship after five years.
DISADVANTAGES: Residency in the US required, especially during first two years; citizenship brings tax headaches, risk of being targeted by terrorists.

OPTION 1: C$2m in a risky investment for 15 years. Applicants must be worth C$10m.
OPTION 2: C$800,000 in a passive investment for five years. Applicants must be worth C$1.6m.
BENEFIT: Access to citizenship after four years.
DISADVANTAGE: Must speak English or French.

OPTION 1: Invest A$1.5m in a designated investment.
OPTION 2: For retirees aged 55-plus with A$750,000 of assets, an income of A$65,000 a year and no dependants (other than a partner). Must make a designated investment of A$750,000.
BENEFIT: Access to citizenship after four years
DISADVANTAGE: Other Australians will expect you to understand the rules of cricket.

CITIZENSHIP: Invest €350,000 in property, €150,000 in government-approved financial instruments and donate €650,000 to the National Development and Social Fund.
RESIDENCE OPTION 1: Invest €320,000 in property and €250,000 in government bonds. Fee of €30,000.
RESIDENCE OPTION 2: Invest €275,000 in property and pay €15,000 annually. Annual income of €100,000 or possession of capital of €500,000 required.
BENEFIT: Citizenship; visa-free access to 168 countries.
DISADVANTAGE: Successful applicants must show maintain a “genuine connection” to the country (though policing of this is not stringent).

CITIZENSHIP: Investment of €2m during the three years preceding the date of the application; must retain the said investments for at least three years from date of the naturalisation.
RESIDENCE: Purchase property of at least €300,000 with evidence of a secured annual income of at least €30,000 deriving from abroad.
BENEFITS: Citizenship; visa-free access to 159 countries; dual citizenship allowed.
DISADVANTAGES: Must visit Cyprus at least once every two years.

OPTION 1: Invest £2m to live in Britain for a maximum of three years. £5m gets you citizenship after three years, £10m after two years.
BENEFITS: Access to citizenship
DISADVANTAGES: Must spend at least 50% of their time in the country.

OPTION 1: Invest €500,000 in property, or €350,000 in research, or €250,000 in the arts, or €500,000 in venture capital, or create a minimum of ten jobs.
BENEFITS: Residency with a stay of only seven days in the first year; access to citizenship after five years; the right to free entry to the 26 Schengen countries; includes immediate family members

OPTION 1: Start a business in Russia and once profits exceed 10m roubles.
OPTION 2: Invest 10m roubles in a business worth 100m roubles, and pay taxes of at least 6m roubles a year for three years.
BENEFITS: Citizenship
DISADVANTAGES: Two-to-four-week stay in Russia during processing required.

Sources: Investment Migration Council, The Economist

Source: Which passport offers the best perks? | 1843