Iran's Rising Fears Of 'Salafist' Terrorism At Home

Like others around the world, Iranians have watched the evening news' bloody scenes of civilians targeted by terrorists in places like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. But now, the BBC's Persian-language channel is reporting on growing concerns among Iranian officials about the threat of Al-Qaeda-type terrorism on their own territory.
Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani recently mentioned the threat of "Salafist infiltration," adding that Iran's security agencies had to focus on trying to prevent this from spreading, the BBC reported. The broadcaster notes that the statements come amidst Iran's current rivalry with Saudi Arabia and their bitter opposition over the fate of Syria.
Observers were divided on whether such terrorism could be "imported" as Ayatollah Larijani seemed to imply, or could emerge out of discontent from Iran's Sunni minority, which accounts for 4 to 8% of the population, and has often faced discrimination despite the state's official non-discriminatory policy towards religious and ethnic minorities.
The Government of President Hassan Rouhani has in any case sought to reach out to such minorities. His appointment of the former reformist intelligence minister Ali Yunesi as a vice-president for minority affairs was interpreted as a desire to reduce discrimination.
Separately, in a recent incident of terrorism outside its borders, Iran held funeral services for the diplomat recently shot in Yemen as he sought to resist a kidnapping. Iran's Intelligence Minister Mahmud Alavi compared the incident to the November 2013 bomb attack against the Iranian embassy in Beirut and observed that such attacks were expressions of "rage" against Iran's regional power, the reformist daily Arman reported.
One of Iran's senior clerics Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nuri-Hamedani was also cited as accusing the United States and Saudi Arabia of "giving financial backing and arms" to terrorist groups. He said "if the international community wants the Syrian problem to be solved, instead of holding conferences like the current Geneva 2, it would do better to prevent states backing terrorism from helping" them, Jomhuri-e Eslami reported.
–Ahmad Shayegan
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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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