eyes on the U.S.

Obama's Paradox: A Good Man, A Bad World, A Bitter End

Obama outside the White House.
Obama outside the White House.
Massimo Gramellini

TURIN — The destiny of soon-to-be former President Barack Obama reminds me of history's great love stories. Desire then regret, always longing for something that is never quite fulfilled.

When the 44th President of the United States appeared on the scene he was charismatic, athletic and affable, making history as the first African-American nominee from a major party. It was love at first sight, and the world was so enamored that it wound up giving him the Nobel Peace Prize just for showing up.

Barack Obama was supposed to change the world; instead the world kept changing on its own accord, as if he didn't even exist. Our fascination with Obama and his widely popular First Lady, Michelle, captured our imaginations but failed to defuse racial tensions in the United States. As the American middle class continues its decline, Russia is asserting its military authority and China its economic might.

It would be unfair to say that Obama has been a bad President, though he hasn't proven to be a political mastermind either. Still, he has shown tenacity and extraordinary vision in diplomacy. Despite rising from obscurity to the presidency in four years, Obama struggled to challenge the dominant power of multinational corporations and the financial industry. His failure to keep his campaign promises isn't solely his fault; the blame also lies within America's political system and its failure to govern effectively and redistribute income fairly.

And now, after all the messages of hope and change eight years ago, Barack Obama will leave a peculiar legacy. He leaves behind a Western world that is weaker and poorer than the one he inherited â€" and will be succeeded by a man the world is certain will make things worse. Barack Obama, the world will miss you.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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