Geopolitics

Karzai/Taliban Secret Meetings, France Backpedals, World Cancer Day

Monday's winter storm brought 9 inches of snow to Philadelphia and up to 8 inches to NYC.
Monday's winter storm brought 9 inches of snow to Philadelphia and up to 8 inches to NYC.
Worldcrunch

KARZAI HAD SECRET MEETINGS WITH THE TALIBAN
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has held covert negotiations with Taliban officials, aimed at forging a peace agreement without the participation of Western allies, The New York Times reports. The discovery of these meetings seems to explain Karzai’s recent combative behavior toward the U.S., the Times reports, citing his refusal to sign a security agreement that he himself had negotiated with Washington, his releasing Taliban members from prison, and his claims that the United States is guilty of war crimes.

HOLLANDE RETREATS ON FAMILY LAW REFORM
After some 100,000 protesters took to the streets of Paris and Lyon over the weekend, French government officials are saying they won’t, as previously planned, present legislation this year calling for family law reform to reflect “diversity” such as gay marriage, which is now legal in France. Many protesters wrongly believed the reform would mean that gay couples would be eligible for state-financed fertility services. President Francois Hollande, the most unpopular French president in modern history, is believed to be backtracking for the moment to mitigate further animosity toward his administration. Read more from France 24.

UKRAINE PARLIAMENT SEEKS TO LIMIT PRESIDENTIAL POWERS
As the Ukrainian parliament begins a new term today, opposition members are calling for scrapping the current constitution and resurrecting an earlier one that gives the legislative body more power over the formation of government — and therefore the ability to call for new elections. President Viktor Yanukovych’s authority has grown increasingly weak, as his prime minister and entire cabinet have already resigned amid protests against him that have continued since November. Read more from the BBC.
Here is a recent Die Welt/Worldcrunch piece: Tortured In Kiev: A Maidan Activist's Brutal Account.

FOOD AID HEADS TO NORTHEAST SYRIA
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today that it is airlifting enough food to feed close to 30,000 displaced people for a month from Iraq to Qamishli in northeast Syria.

NORTH KOREA’S HARSH WORDS FOR JAPAN’S ABE
An editorial by North Korea’s official news agency characterizes Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as an "Asian Hitler.”

U.S. SNOW STORM
A winter storm across the East Coast on Monday brought 9 inches of snow to parts of Philadelphia and 8 inches to New York, causing school closings, flight cancellations and power outages. The National Weather Service expects the East Coast to receive even more snow today and Wednesday and is also predicting that a similar blast is headed to the Midwest today, with accumulations expected to be heaviest in Kansas and Missouri.

IS SOCHI READY?
The New York Times delivers a pretty devastating story today about the construction projects in Sochi related to the Olympic Winter Games, some of which seem far from ready ahead of Thursday’s opening competitions. The good news is that the sports stadiums are primed, but some hotels and other developments appear a long way from complete.

JOAN MONDALE DIES
Joan Mondale, the wife of former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale and a lifelong patron of the arts, has died at age 83.

A DRAMATIC RISE IN CANCER CASES
World Cancer Day today brings despairing news. The UN’s World Health Organization has issued a report projecting that new cases of cancer will rise by half by 2030, to 21.6 million per year compared to 14 million in 2012.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD


CROCODILE ON THE LOOSE IN THE UK
Police are searching for a crocodile who was spotted under a bridge in Bristol, UK, Monday. The Independent reports that the elusive reptile has amassed significant interest, and even has its own Twitter page — Chris the Croc, with handle @TheBristolCroc, which has already amassed more than 1,000 followers.
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Society

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.

Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA

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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