10 Posts in 10 Days: 10 Stories that Deserved More Media Attention

The dawn of a new year is often cause to pause and reflect on various moments throughout the previous twelve months that have impacted us on some deeper level. This article, however, is likely not about those moments. What you will find below is a small selection of moments that you may have found yourself reflecting on now, had they received greater attention from major Western media outlets. From Africa and the Middle East to Asia and North America, these moments have taken place across the world and, whether you know it or not, each have the potential to impact the day-to-day lives of both you and those around you. On that cheery note, I, Nathan Stewart, am pleased to present to you ten news stories of 2014 that deserved more media attention. 1) When the Genie Leaves the Bottle On September 18, 2014, the Chinese internet retailer ‘The Alibaba Group’ went public on the New York Stock Exchange releasing a block of shares at $68/share. With institutional investors chomping at the bit, the company managed to raise an astonishing $21.8 billion in just a single day. As a result, the ‘Amazon of the East’ managed to snatch up the prestigious title of having launched ‘the single largest Initial Public Offering (IPO) in history’. Impressive as this was, it did not stop there. By September 19th, the share price had grown by 36.3% to a rate of $92.7/share, allowing Alibaba to raise an additional $3.2 billion by the end of the week, bringing the total figure to $25 billion. While to some this may appear as just another entrepreneurial success story to be found in the pages of Forbes or Business Insider, to me the tale of Alibaba tells of a much profound story. In this version of the story, Alibaba’s landmark IPO is simply a footnote in the much larger and more familiar story of the rising power of the People’s Republic of China. Casting the country’s growing military and political prowess to the side for the moment, the growth of the Chinese economy over the past three decades has been nothing less than astonishing. This is clearly represented by the fact that, prior to Alibaba’s 2014 IPO launch, the record had been held by both The Agricultural Bank of China (2010) and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (2008). With the IMF now projecting the size of China’s purchasing power parity adjusted economy to actually surpass that of the United States by the end of 2014, China has proven that it is ready and willing to carve itself out a role as a new power centre in what looks like the new bipolar international power structure of the 21st century. With companies like Alibaba leading the way in an increasingly globalized world, Chinese influence will undoubtedly continue to spread, and we in the West must keep this in mind as we progress into the decades to come. 2) Blood In the Water In July, 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a ‘reinterpretation’ of the Japanese constitution, specifically targeted at the famous ‘article 9’. In place since the end of WWII, article 9 was a prohibitive clause which prevented the country from deploying its troops on foreign soils. With this reinterpretation, Japan will now be permitted to deploy its ‘Self Defense Force’ into other nations in the defense of its allies. Coming on the heels of a five year boost in military spending, this reinterpretation is yet another major move by the country signalling its desire to counter the rising regional power of China. Primarily aimed at advancing Japan’s naval and amphibious military power, this spending increase and constitutional reinterpretation will allow Japan to better defend its heavily contested assets such as those in the South and East China Seas, both of which have been the cause of tension between China and Japan in recent years. With foreign military operations outlawed since the forging of the constitution in 1946, this represents possibly the single largest shift in Japanese foreign relations of the past 68 years. The political-economic consequences of war between two of the world’s largest economies is incomparable in today’s world system. The threat of massive casualties, infrastructural decimation, spill-over conflicts and economic atrophy each carry with them massive consequences which would be felt for years, if not decades to come. Additionally, in a world where solutions to global issues such as nuclear proliferation and climate change require international cooperation and coordination, the divisive impacts of war have the potential to cause devastating interruptions that could set the world back years. With that, were the militarization of Japan to take place in a political, geographic, and historical vacuum, there would be little sense in writing this, as these apparent consequences would be enough to deter any two states from going to war. However, with Japan’s hyper-belligerent and colonial past still fresh in the minds of many in both East and South East Asia, it is of  utmost importance that we begin to take this shift seriously. The threat of war is real, and steps must be taken now if it is to be avoided. With that in mind, let me be clear about one final point. When I say steps must be taken now, I mean steps must be taken by the parties involved. There is no room for a ‘white knight’ in this scenario, and the direct involvement of the West would only complicate things further. We must remain on the sidelines of this one, for if we don’t, we may well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. 3) Peninsular Panic In September of this year, Houthi rebels managed to occupy the Yemini capital of Sana’a after over a decade of protest and rebellion. With street protests and violence quickly breaking out across the capital, the government was eventually dissolved and a new unity government was installed in an attempt to quell the uprising. As much as this may seem like a new success story in the ongoing saga of the Arab Spring, a deeper look reveals the true, much more troubling nature of Yemen’s political shift. Prior to the Houthi occupation of Sana’a, the Yemeni government was battling rebellion on all fronts. From the aforementioned Houthi rebels in the North and West of the Country to the ubiquitous presence of tribal rebels and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni government has spent the past few years attempting to control a country on the brink of multiple civil wars. It now appears, however, that at the time when the government must be at its strongest, this new political hiccup may be just disruptive enough to allow the country to devolve into the pure chaos of failed statehood. It is surprising that Yemen’s political breakdown has not received much attention from Western media outlets in comparison to that of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. For years, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been touted by international news outlets and government agencies alike as amongst the most active and dangerous branches of the Al-Qaeda network. In fact, AQAP has posed such an international threat that Yemen has even made it onto the very exclusive list of countries within which the US admits to carrying out drone strikes in the interest of national security. For a bit of context, some other countries that currently find themselves on this list include Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Somalia. With a new government in place, Yemen is now more vulnerable than ever to succumbing to the disintegration that would be necessary for extremist factions to establish a territorial foothold in the country. This should be particularly concerning to Western governments considering the country’s proximity to the ‘terrorist breeding ground’ of Somalia as well as to one of the West’s most important regional allies, Saudi Arabia. And so one must ask themselves, why is it that Yemen seems to have stayed off the radar in an age where superpowers seem to have more to fear from the existence of failed states than the presence of other superpowers? 4) A Crisis of Faith In 2012, the Central African Republic saw an uprising led by a group of primarily Muslim rebels, known as the Seleka, that eventually ousted then-president Francois Bozize in favour of the group’s leader, Michael Djotodia. In the aftermath of the transition, however, a large number of Seleka refused to put down their weapons and began to instigate instances of communal violence across the country, with the majority of action centered in Bangui, the country’s capital. In response, by 2014 a number of primarily Christian ‘Anti-Balaka’ militias had risen up in an attempt to protect their communities from the violence of the Seleka. While the UN issued warnings that the situation in the CAR would soon explode into the next Rwandan genocide, the African Union, France, and the European Union deployed troops in an attempt to quell the violence and prevent the outbreak of mass killings. Since then, the violence in the CAR has continued in spats, a new president has been put into power, and the international community has sat on the sidelines patiently waiting to see the outcome. In December of 2014, the Anti-Balaka vowed to put down their weapons in the interest of pursuing their goals politically, and a tense calm has washed over the country. In the shadow of the Rwandan genocide, the international community has employed a strong discourse against communal violence and ethnic cleansing. The situation in the CAR, however, revealed that in the face of persistent warnings from the UN, the Western willingness to respond to such conflict remains largely the same as it was in 1994, with France playing the role of the former colonial power supplying highly trained, well-armed ‘peacekeepers’ to the country. There is, however, one major difference. This time around, the African Union has stepped up in an attempt to produce an African solution to an African problem. Though it would be difficult to claim any connection to the AU presence and the relatively peaceful state of the situation, what can be said is that the CAR mission, taken in concert with its mission in Somalia and Kenya, and can be seen as a new era of African governance led by Africans. While it is too early to tell, perhaps this will eventually be seen as a turning point for a continent that has seen more than its fair share of conflict and destruction since its independence. 5) Impérialisme From the Central African Republic to Mali and Chad, French military interventions in Africa have not been uncommon in the 20th and 21st centuries. In each instance, the French military was deployed with the aim of preventing the division of a warring state into new political entities. In 2014, the most prominent French incursion into African politics came in the form of the previous story, that is, the deployment of 2,000 French soldiers tasked with preventing the escalation of communal violence in the Central African Republic. France has always maintained close political relations with its former colonies and, to a degree, has taken great pride in its ability to do so. However, in the era of ‘post- decolonization’, should France’s incursions be seen as a truly altruistic expression of its loyalty to its former colonies, or rather, should they be viewed as neoimperialist forays into France’s sphere of influence? There has been no shortage of criticism from both the media and governments about current and past US foreign policy regarding the Middle East. From Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya, Syria, and Israel, the US has been accused of harbouring neoimperialist motives and actively working towards forcing the region into its own sphere of influence. However, with deployments in 11 countries across North, West, and East Africa, France constitutes a major military presence on the continent that has gone largely unnoted in major Western media outlets. As much as the US may have used the veil of the ‘War on Terror’ to execute its agenda in the Middle East, France has used various African political crises as an excuse to install a formidable military presence on the continent specifically tasked with maintaining international borders and preserving the status quo of political power. Being fully aware of this, can we legitimately demonise the United States for its actions while also allowing France to get away with such a blatant exercise of political privilege? Or should we finally stand up and say something? 6) China’s Northwest Passage While much news was made of various Muslim sects such as the Alawites and the Yazidi’s in 2014, little attention was paid to a small group of Chinese Muslims known as the Uighurs. Residing in the northwestern province of Xianjiang, the Uighur population is viewed by the Chinese government as a ‘separatist movement’ and has implemented harsh laws in the name of stifling ‘dissention’. With penalties for ‘dissention’ as stiff as death, the population is facing draconian laws restricting religious practice. As a rising power, China will have an important role to play in shaping the international discourse of the 21st century. I do not question that the institution of human rights will eventually become a point of contention in the international community as a result of this influence. In an effort to prepare for this, I believe more attention should be paid to these cases of persecution taking place in China. It is important that people understand the potential consequences of this contention. This is, of course, unless China begins to adopt a strong pro-human rights policy over the next few years. 7) Stateless in the New Democracy In 2011, the military junta ruling Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, formally handed power over to a civilian government for the first time in 42 years. While the international community applauded the release of political prisoners such as Aung San Suu Kyi, the government of Myanmar continued to do nothing to prevent the oppression of the stateless Rohingya Muslism in the state of Rakhine. The origin of the Rohingya is legally debated, but they are argued to be from both Rakhine State and modern Bangladesh to the northwest. On March 29, 2014, the Burmese government banned the word Rohingya and asked the population to register as Bengalis in the country’s census. Though some believe this is a gesture of goodwill, many believe that this is an attempt by the government to declare the Rohingya as illegal immigrants. In 2014, much attention has been paid to regions of the world where people are viciously fighting for sovereign territory like Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria. But much less attention is being paid to a region of the world that does not fit into the Orientalist image of the Muslim with an issue of the same ilk. The persecution of Muslims in Myanmar is a perfect example of an important story that was ignored by the media. While stories of Muslim extremism fermenting in the West dominated the media circuit, Ayman Al-Zwahiri, the leader of Al-Qaeda, announced the spread of Al-Qaeda to South Asia, yet the story has been left for dead since. This story was dwarfed by the coverage of the emergence of ISIL in Iraq and Syria. The same threats of globalized travel and infiltration exist in South Asia as they do in Iraq and Syria, and yet this issue has not received a fracture of the coverage that ISIL has. To me this is suspect, and I believe this is likely a result of the investment that has been sunk in the crafted image of the Islamist that has been projected by much of the media. 8) A New Place for Canada For decades Canada has been known as a peaceful nation. However, in 2014, three key  steps were taken that pushed Canada closer to becoming a belligerent presence in the 21st century. The first step regards the current deployment of Canadian soldiers in Iraq. In total, there are under 100 Canadian soldiers in Iraq, with the support of 9 combat and surveillance aircraft. Though the number may be small relative to deployments by countries such as the US or England, the Canadian government has confirmed that this is a deployment of Special Forces. While traditionally situations such as this would be handled by Canada’s premier special forces unit, Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2), it is likely that members of the deployment will be from the newly formed Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM); Canada’s answer to the US Joint Special Operations Command. Formed in 2006, the purpose of CANSOFCOM is to act as an elite military unit tasked with the protection of Canadian citizens and assets both domestically and internationally. With the creation of this unit, Canada took its first step towards accepting a more active role in the ‘War of Terror’. With that, Canada’s second step can be found in its aforementioned deployment to Iraq. But it is the third step which places this news item on my list. With little uproar or media attention, Canada passed bill C-44, an amendment to the Canadian Security Intelligence Services Act that provides CSIS with greater power to operate internationally as well as an improved ability to protect their human sources. It seems as though bill C- 44 is the government’s way of making good on Stephen Harper’s promise to strengthen Canada’s intelligence service made after the October 22 parliament building shooting. The importance of this reactionary policy has been highly understated, and as a result, Canadians are being kept uninformed about a crucial issue in their own country. 9) The Knight of Libya After the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya collapsed under the weight of the power vacuum left by the regime. In 2014, a former faction leader and general in the Libyan military named Khalifa Haftar took control of the military and began his mission to remove the corrupt from the Libyan government and battle their Islamist allies. On August 4th, 2014, while battling Islamists in the East, Haftar forced the dissolution of the General National Congress after they failed to abide by their term limit. While this allowed for elections to take place, the result was contested, and a civil war broke out. Since he began his offensive, General Hafter has affected massive damage to his Islamist rival, largely due to his massive air superiority. In his quest to defeat the Islamist allies of the government, Khalifa Haftar is presenting the world with an interesting case study of conflict resolution in the Middle East and North Africa. With numerous recent examples of militaries being employed to take power in the Middle East, the example of Khalifa Hafter provides a unique situation where a large number of actors dilute the power of the established military. As such, this conflict reads more like a battle between warlords than a government campaign against insurgents. With the recent tensions building in the region, it will be interesting to see how Egypt will fair keeping extremism from traveling through its borders in these increasingly more transnational conflicts. 10) The Old Kingdom to the East In an historic development, relations between the US and Iran have improved over the year. With talks on Iran’s nuclear program progressing well, the two counties have opened diplomatic relations for the first time since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. What’s more, with the fight against ISIL forging unlikely allies out of Hezbollah, the American military, Iraqi Kurdistan, and much of the Gulf Cooperation Council, it seems as though the US has finally managed to create a united front against Sunni extremism in the Middle East. This however, has the potential to produce deep reverberations in the US’ long-time ally in the region; Saudi Arabia. While Saudi Arabia has long been an ally to the US, the long history of Sunni fundamentalist loyalty has produced a nation frustrated with the actions of the superpower. With tensions at an all-time high, and projections of Saudi oil prospects on the decline, a strategic shift in US foreign policy could be on the horizon. If the US were to open trade with Iran, the supply of oil available to the market would be substantial, and the country would have a guaranteed regional ally in the fight against Sunni extremism. As the situations in Libya, Egypt, Somalia, and Yemen continue to worsen, dependence on the Wahhabist Kingdom becomes more and more risky, but abandoning Saudi Arabia could have devastating consequences for regional stability in the event that the government becomes hostile. This issue is threatening to come to a head in the next year, and yet major media outlet have not drawn attention to the issue. With international security focusing more and more on the Middle East each year, it is clear that developments in the region have the potential to affect large parts of our lives whether it be in the form of increased troop deployments, stricter laws, or even an attack on the country. It is shocking that more information has not been provided about this to the general public, and it is certainly a news story I hope to see covered more in 2015. And so that concludes my list of 10 new stories of 2014 that deserved more media attention. I hope you enjoyed my selection, and even more so, I hope you knew about some of these! Please feel free to offer any suggestions for stories that should have been included! Cheers and Happy New Year, Nathan Read More