North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Egypt's conflict highlights Western dogma and Islamist challenge

First, let's agree that the recent spate of bloodshed in Egypt is troubling, to be condemned, bad, and truly a growing challenge that will have to be reconciled in that country's political future. The latest count is now over 800 fatalities from protests and street fighting. The majority of the casualties are supporters of the ousted President Morsi, mainly within the ranks of members of the Muslim Brotherhood or its conservative Salafist ally. However there also losses among anti-Morsi supporters (most notably Coptic Christians) as well as the police and military.

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Photos of the clashes are everywhere in the world's media, so here's another unfortunately familiar dreary picture to get us oriented, from

The US has apparently retreated, once again, to diplomatic bromides and half measures - for example highlighting the cancellation of a planned joint military exercise with Egypt's authorities, yet quietly continuing its foreign aid to the military rulers. The European Union is "urgently" scheduling a review of its aid to Egypt, and the reasoning given is where the heart of this blogpost begins. An EU spokesperson describes the Western premise as this, "In cooperation with its international and regional partners, the EU will remain firmly engaged in efforts to promote an end to violence, resumption of political dialogue and return to a democratic process..."

Let's look at those three points: an end to violence, resumption of political dialogue, return to a democratic process. Does this fit Egypt? Peace is not merely the absence of violence, but a holistic concept where justice and tolerance are embedded. Political dialogue takes place where all parties submit to the concept of give and take. A democratic process is more than technical elections every so often, a procedure that plenty of authoritarian rulers have become experts at, without the heart of the governing concept.

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from the German news magazine der speigel, "So far, calls by US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns (left, shown in discussion with acting president Adly Mansour) for an agreement between current leaders and Morsi supporters have gone unheeded."

A basic question

Teatree wonders whether Islamists by definition can truly be democratic. If their end goal is the rule of Sharia law, is there opportunity to step back, give and take? Or will they use the tools of the democratic process as mere stepping stones to imposing their brand of theocracy.

If one remembers correctly, the Muslim Brotherhood has given the world al-Qaeda, while the "purer" versions of Islam have given not only the West, but fellow Muslims, a string of statements: embassy bombings, 9-11, bus bombings, suicide bombings, the Taliban and its early act of shelling and destroying old Hindu shrines, and the latest in Mali, the tearing apart of old Muslim shrines. With Islamic extremists, is there realistically an opportunity for dialog, an end to violence, or a commitment to a democratic process?

Another familiar angry picture of Islamists riled up by their religious teachers. This image is from Newsweek's coverage of the non-existent video narrative that was cooked up for unknown purposes by the US government to cover for lax security at its Libyan and Egyptian embassies in 2012.

Some new twists emerge

Yet, while the secular, modern West wrings its hands over the Egyptian violence, support for Egypt's military rulers is coming unexpectedly from one moderate Muslim kingdom - Jordan. Equally surprising, Palestinian President Abbas has also signaled his support for the Egyptian military. Several other Arab countries have voiced support for Egypt's military but these two leaders' positions are worth taking notice.

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Palestinian President Abbas sides with Egypt's ruler against the Muslim Brotherhood

Could these leaders be the harbinger of moderate Muslim voices finally rising up to say enough? Is it similar to the more violent 2006 uprising in Iraq where Sunni tribes (with much to resent regarding the new Shiite led Iraqi government), finally said enough to the ultra violent Al-qaeda.

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Mohammed Al-Zawahiri, the brother of Al-Qaeda Chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri, has reportedly been arrested in Egypt. Photo from

Ethnic cleansing occurring quietly in Egypt? Or just "acts" of ethnic cleansing.

Amid heavy coverage and soul searching regarding the Egyptian military response, there has nevertheless been a string of reporting regarding the Muslim Brotherhood turning its anger against Coptic Christians in Egypt. The Christian minority in that country (10% of the nation's total population of around 85 million) has experienced a wave of arson attacks against churches (approximately 50 have been burned or looted in the past several weeks) as well as highly publicized killings of priests and Christian leaders. One Catholic article rather breathtakingly described the situation as an early posture of ethnic cleansing.

St. Mary Church in Fayoum attacked, looted. Caption and photo from

But on a more hopeful note. There are also reports that neighborhood watches are forming, resisting the mobs of the Muslim brotherhood. And of moderate Muslims taking the risky stand to protect neighbors and churches in their locale - at least this is the story floating around on the internet accompanying the photo below. (Teatree is becoming a bit suspicious of this photo as no authoritative source can be found.)

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An unfamiliar, yet hopeful, necessary, sign. (Unfortunately, the timeline of this photo is a little vague, as well as the specific church. One report says it was St Georges in Sohag - if so, then this picture was taken a while ago, because according to the Washington Post, that church was indeed attacked and burned in just the past few days.)

The confrontation between responsible moderate Muslims and the extremists is probably the battle that must first be enjoined before moving on to the next step of building political democracy and the three "pillars" described earlier by the EU. What is the heart of Islam? Is it jihad against the infidel, or a more moderate set of beliefs that can live in the larger world. Perhaps in Egypt, the most populous Arab nation that has always exercised leadership, there can emerge a home-grown, internal religious stance against extremists, showing tolerance and acceptance of others.

And perhaps it is best the West is "left out" of the forefront of this revolution as its presence morphs the tensions and violence into a geopolitical framework. As with the tense situation in Pakistan, and the disaster in Syria, these confrontations are overwhelmingly Muslim vs Muslim - with Shiite-Sunni reverberations yes - and ultimately a conflict where extremism will take over this world religion if not challenged.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

India's new state of Telegana

Recently, India's Parliament established a new entity, the state of Telegana. For American's it would be like California turning the northern 1/3 of the state into the "state of Jefferson." Teatree suspects there are many examples of stable countries who have a legacy of jurisdictions that don't really make sense, but change is hard.

But back to India, Telegana is birthed with a full 40 million residents, and a dominant language of Telegu. It was created with a lot of mixed motives by the Parliament, according to a July 30 BBC article - some sincere, others more of short term electoral calculations. But the region has had a long history (50 years) of struggle to be recognized as distinct, and how decisions are often made, enough factors came together at the same fleeting time to reach a tipping point. Some scholars note that this newest distinction also follows India's long trajectory of attempting to decentralize governance, and that the government has moved consistently towards more homogenous language groupings in its 28 states (now 29).

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A big picture map, Teatree didn't run across an internet map that shows the new state yet ... India has a population of nearly 1.3 billion. Graphic from

There are 22 "official" languages recognized in India, and hundreds of dialects. The term "official" does not denote privilege or status, as much as convenience and practicality for governance, documents, etc. In fact India does not have a recognized or preferred national language though Hindi and English are used for formal documents. Teatree thinks of Canada with its bilingual approach with French and English that causes tensions, and the US history of language that still riles people in terms of goals of assimilating and creating a unity of identity. The US does not have an official language either, though as with India, its documentation is in English (though not the proper British version ...). Kenya is another example where English and Swahili are the recognized national languages, but most citizens there know those two plus their tribal language at a minimum.

Starting with major language groups, here's what India looks like ...Apparently India's national language of Hindi is represented by the lime green color. (graphic from wikipedia)

Here's India with its modern states, and the predominant language group within each state. graphic from

So here's the newest boundary.

The state of Telegana was hived off the previously large state of Andhra Pradesh (graphic from a BBC article)

What is also interesting is that Hyderabad, the capital of the previous large state is to be the combined capital of both states, at least for a period of time. From another BBC article, "Congress party spokesman Ajay Maken said that Hyderabad would remain the common capital for the two states for a period of at least 10 years until Andhra Pradesh develops its own capital." Hyderabad is one of India's major cities, modern in many ways (tied to internet development and servicing for other countries)and the home of Facebook in India. Telegana itself is a rural, agrarian-oriented landscape, so a more familiar urban/rural disconnect is apparent here.

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Hyderabad, India with a population of nearly 7 million. Photo from wikipedia

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Looks like an old photo of the city, judging from the cars ... but maybe not. photo from

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Nice shot of a newly dubbed Teleganese family on the move. photo from

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Facebook in India, located in Hyderabad, reminds us of the younger generation of this second most populous country in the world living a life far from their grandparents' lives.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Canada's newest national park - Torngat Mountains

Canada's newest national park was actually created in July 2008 - pretty new regardless, and it happened to catch Teatree's attention from an article about a hiker who was mauled a week ago by a polar bear.

So, let's just give a bit of context - Canada has 42 national parks, and this one in Northern Labrador was established as Torngat Mountains National Park when the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement came into legal effect on July 10, 2008. If readers remember the May 16 2013 blog post, the Nunavik Territory's MP is the head of the Arctic Council.

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Torngat Mountains National Park in Northeast Canada.

The hiker (from Maine and on a Sierra Club trek) was pulled from his tent by the bear, but was rescued by his fellow hikers who lit flares to drive the bear off. The man was airlifted to a Montreal hospital initially in critical condition but is expected to recover. One article notes that "Visitors are urged to hire armed Inuit guards against polar bears, but Dyer's group didn't have one, CBC reports."

Teatree becomes aware of the Torngat Mountain National Park after reading story of polar bear attack. The graphic shows the park, and Montreal where the individual was taken to to recover ... from Kennebec Journal, Maine (PS - the reference to Newfoundland is a mystery)

Okay, besides the bear incident, the real discovery is the beauty of this park. Teatree admits that in his mind, northern Canada mainly consists of flat ground (crushed by glaciers in the past) which is boggy in the summer with clouds of bugs, followed by snow and ice in the winter. This park highlights his ignorance ...

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Is this retouched or photoshopped? from

“ At the northern extremity of the Labrador coast, a range of high barren mountains with sharp precipices extending inland from the sea was known to traditional Inuit as the abode of the master spirit in their mythology. Their name for the region, Torngait meaning a place of spirits, derived from the presence of Torngarsoak who was believed to control the life of sea animals and took the form of a huge polar bear .” (This quote is from GSC Memoir 91: The Labrador Eskimo by Ernest W. Hawkes, an anthropologist who visited Labrador in 1914 with the Geological Survey of Canada.)

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Photo from

Apparently all polar bears are not on ice flows ... photo from

Teatree stereotype of Canada's vast north .... Sure, this landscape is out there, but not the full picture. photo from