Welcome to Thursday, where the world reacts to the beginning of the Biden-Harris era, Baghdad is hit by its worst terror attack in more than three years and Dublin cancels its St. Patrick's Day parade (again.) We also visit the Paris Opera for a taste of the grim global zeitgeist.
Behind Biden's message of unity, a shattered America
The first day of Joe Biden's presidency bore clear traces of some of the recent wounds inflicted on the United States. After being sworn in, Biden arrived at the White House protected by thousands of troops and barricades just two weeks since deadly violence engulfed the Capitol.
Thousands of flags stood in for the typical inauguration day crowds to prevent gatherings during the pandemic — and also the possibility of more violence. In his inaugural address, Biden appeared to compare the Trump presidency to a calamity, saying his country needs to "start afresh" and get together like it had after the Civil War, the Great Depression, World Wars, 9/11.
Headlines around the world echoed his words with optimism and relief. "Biden can heal what Trump broke," wrote a member of the New York Times"s editorial board. "Comeback for America," said Germany's biggest-selling tabloid Bild. "Democracy has prevailed," titled France's Le Monde.
But a different picture emerged on social media, where the silence of the flags standing in for cheering crowds were mirrored by other American silences. I have many friends in and around Pueblo, Colorado, where I spent much of my high school junior year. It's a part of America built on steel and coal that has struggled to flourish after the industries' decline. I was looking yesterday on my Facebook feed for the voices on this new presidency that might rise like a phoenix out of those ashes in southern Colorado.
I had grown used to checking the wide-ranging posts of a Baptist pastor to try to better understand Republican voters in rural America. But then he disappeared overnight. Furious that Twitter had temporarily suspended Trump's account, the pastor told his Facebook followers he was joining an alternative social media platform, Parler, and encouraged them to do the same. In the last few weeks, thousands of right-wing extremists have seen Parler as an opportunity to continue to organize and spread hate speech under the radar, escaping regulations and social media bans.
Most of my old friends' feeds remained silent for inauguration day, as they had for weeks. I'd seen years of bitter arguments play out in their comment sections — over Trump, over guns, over police killings of African-Americans. But, now, nothing. No jubilation, no talk of new beginnings, no skepticism or bitterness. Nothing.
This new silence makes for an eerie counterpart to Trump's last days as president — when he was banned from social media but promised he "will be back" amid rumors that he would launch a new party.
For all the talk of coming together with the dawning of a new democracy, the United States has been wrenched apart. It will take a lot more than the optimistic words of a new president to bring it back together again.
— Alessio Perrone
• Biden & Harris safely sworn in: Biden signs three decrees on his first day in office on mask-wearing, racial equality, and the Paris Climate Accord. Ten anarchists were arrested in Portland and Seattle after vandalizing a Democratic Party building as well as an Amazon Go store during protests for "police murders, imperialist wars, and fascist massacres."
• COVID-19 latest: Ireland cancels its St. Patrick's Day parade in Dublin for the second year in a row, while researchers warn that the South Africa variant, now present in 23 countries, "exhibits complete escape" of COVID antibodies.
• Suicide attack in Baghdad: Twin suicide bombs in a busy market street in Iraq's capital city killed 28 civilians and injured at least 73 others. This is the first of its kind in more than two years after military forces drove out ISIS in 2017.
• Russia targets TikTok: The Russian Federation has asked Tiktok to "immediately" stop the dissemination of content in support of government critic Alexei Navalny.
• Madrid explosion: The death toll is at four, including a priest, following yesterday's gas explosion in a church owned building.
• France incest case sparks Senate action: After celebrated political commentator Olivier Duhamel was accused of incest, France's Senate is revisit its laws against sex crimes in order to better protect minors under the age of 13.
• Mountain of trash: Nepal will be transforming litter collected on Mount Everest into an art display in an effort to urge climbers to stop using the famous landmark as a dumping site.
COVID, cancel culture and crisis at the Paris Opera
A pillar of French culture, the Paris Opera is struggling to survive both the pandemic and criticism of its lack of diversity. Will such an important institution be able to withstand the changes of time? asks Michel Guerrin in French daily Le Monde.
The two aspects – diversity and financial stability – are intertwined but also opposites in a subtle game. For years, the Paris Opera has opened its ballet repertoire to contemporary pieces, but it is structured around classic style and its dance school, which acts as its talent pool. Hence its reputation for excellence and conservatism, where hard work and a hierarchy of talent can make the army look like a playground.
The conundrum: In an uncertain and complex move, opera and ballet need to diversify their repertoires to diversify their performers and their public. But in doing so, they cannot dismantle their identity. Yet a diverse repertoire is not the main draw of their program or their dance schools. To make matters more complicated, there are still some families who aren't always thrilled that their son wants to become a dancer.
The question of a repertoire that includes pieces that are hurtful to minorities is a delicate one. Should they contextualize (give public warnings), take out blackface and the whitening of black bodies, or simply entirely remove these pieces? The Paris Opera is lucky, so to speak, that their non-white dancers and singers are simply asking for recognition and equity, and not to upend the table or censure any classic works.
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Japan's exports fell by 11% in 2020, the largest decrease in 11 years as overseas demand for industrial products such as cars was dampened by the coronavirus pandemic.
America is back.
— South Korean President Moon Jae-in congratulated Joe Biden on his inauguration. "Together with the Korean people, I stand by your journey toward "America United"," Moon added.