On Coups And Croissants, Why The News Is All About Me

On Coups And Croissants, Why The News Is All About Me
Alidad Vassigh

What kind of a world do we live in, when Turkey can't even give us a proper coup anymore?

Unable to sleep for the summer heat in Valencia, I remember that twisted thought coming to me as the July 15 coup — or at least its broadcast version — was unfolding on the radio.

Typically with such stunning events, it takes a moment to grasp what is happening: watching the 9/11 attack on television, I initially thought it was a simulation of what a terror strike on New York could look like. But with the Spanish radio practically shouting the latest details from Ankara and Istanbul, this could have been a soccer match. Still, I understood immediately that a coup was underway in Turkey, and my heartbeat stepped up.

"Come on," I thought. This'll be the chance to be rid of him — Turkey's own Khomeini without a turban. But a voice inside warned me that it was too good to be true. Sure enough, the next morning, the elected despot was back in charge. Back to gnawing away at the secular Kemalist institutions in a dismal emulation of my own country, Iran, which replaced its Westernizing monarchy with a gang of "illiterate Bashibazuks," as Tintin"s Captain Haddock might say.

I have only an emotive response to news, as I believe most people do. I do not find politics or current affairs inherently interesting. The news is really about you and your aspirations, and in some cases, your savings. It raises your hopes one moment, and dashes them the next. As a Reuters tutor told our group of Middle East stringers in 1999, if you want to know what is newsworthy, look for fear and greed. It's personal, in other words.

I trust my middle-class instincts.

Some of my views have changed over the years, but broadly I remain a social and cultural conservative. I tend to trust my middle-class instincts, conditioned I admit by a 20th-century Western education. I feel (surely "we all" do?) there was something suspect about Tayyip Recep Erdogan right from the start, like Putin or Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega. It is not so much their left-wing populism or "national socialism" that disturbs as their dirty, treacherous, insidious methods. Dostoevsky must have based his Demons on similar individuals.

I remember spotting a New York Times item around the time of the Turkish coup, about how closely it was being followed in Egypt. The title suggested to me the Egyptians were hoping Erdogan would fall. What a fine item I thought (I didn't read it), imagining a nation's entire middle class, eager like me to see a Turkish version of General Sisi send the mullahs packing.

The rectification of history in Turkey, a country my family and I had become fond of in recent years, as an agreeable place to visit, geographically close and similar to Iran in many ways. I wondered about the Istanbul hotel owner who always received us like family: clean-shaven, fond of a drink, speaking excellent English, and now having to witness the triumphant mob.

Further back in 2001, I remember listening to the BBC World Service as it announced the brief overthrow of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. I felt elated, and a trifle guilty as one does. I went out to celebrate with a coffee and a chocolate croissant ("That's how you celebrate?" a Moroccan friend of mine asked. He'd probably opted for a gay orgy.)

The next day, I had another chocolate croissant, to dull the pain of the coup's failure.

More recently I was perturbed by an odd coincidence. It occurred to me one evening in Valencia, that with "our luck" in Iran, the next mullah to die off will be Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president many thought might moderate the regime at the top. Seconds later, I saw on my television the news-ticker announcing his death.

I had better distance myself from news, as it brings out the worst in me. I am living proof of the Indian thinker Krishnamurti's opinion that wars start in our minds. Perhaps news in its present form, is designed to generate just enough anger and stress to make us come back tomorrow, hoping for "better" news. Like gambling.

But if nothing else, reports of far-flung events may also provide you with valuable if not-always-flattering information about yourself.

*Alidad Vassigh was born in Tehran and educated in Britain and France.

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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