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Western Civilization In Decline? Not So Fast

Editorial: Three events over the past week – a London wedding, a Vatican mass, and a death in Pakistan -- signal that popular sentiment within the West wants its leaders to defend core values.

Ground Zero, New York City, May 2, 2011 (woongjae)
Ground Zero, New York City, May 2, 2011 (woongjae)
Ivan Rioufol

PARIS -The West is in decline. It doesn't make it true the more you keep repeating it. And this week, three major news events in rapid succession -- the British royal wedding in London, the beatification of Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, and the elimination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan – combine to show a culture invigorated by popular zeal.

The crowds that turned out for each event are connected. In the United States, people spontaneously filled the streets to praise the free world as the victor against terrorism; in Rome, a million faithful stood firm behind the Church, thought to be moribund in Europe; and in London, two million subjects (and two billion television viewers) applauded timeless rituals. At each event, an affection toward the civilization, memory, and the passing on of tradition was unanimously celebrated.

Of all these events, the death of Bin Laden is obviously the most important. It bolstered the democratic impulses carrying the "Arab Spring" that for long had been demoralized by the 9/11 attacks, and fears of more to come. It was up to Barack Obama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, exhibiting until now an indecisive personality, to carry out this victory with guile and force. George W. Bush, his predecessor, who was loathed for his brutality, could not have done it better. The joy of Americans learning of the demise of the Devil was far less shocking than the way some in the Muslim world had welcomed the tragedy in Manhattan, and its 3,000 innocent victims.

As history would have it, the death of Bin Laden, who embodied a hatred for Jews and Christians instilled in him by his exclusivist reading of the Qur'an, would come on the day that John Paul II was beatified in front of a people enchanted by this holy figure who embodied love and the forgiveness of sins. Fanatical Islamists have twice lost their war of civilizations: both when Bin Laden died under American military fire and by the revolting image of a conquering Islam, both sexist and deadly, that they let loose. May the Muslim world, in search for a breath of fresh air, take advantage of its newfound liberation.

The West, in any case, can be blamed no more. That's the message these crowds are giving their leaders so often tempted by capitulation, relativism, and short memories. In view of the amnesia from which many elites in old Europe suffer, the starry-eyed infatuation with the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton was also that of Britons proud of their past and traditions. If these disparate elements are put side-by-side, they allow us to see a vitality that contradicts the despondent spirits calling for the West to stand aside and exit from history. The people once again defy the opinion of the elites.

Calling out Islamofascism

For all that, obscurantism did not die with Bin Laden. The Arab youth aspiring for more democracy remain at the mercy of a possible political hijacking. The Islamofascism incarnated in that Antichrist figure is the same totalitarian ideology that recently struck Marrakech, killing eight French citizens, including a 10-year-old girl. This depraved Islam, this Nazi-Islamism that proclaims that the Muslim is a superior being, just as the Aryan was for Hitler, must be called out for what it is. This is not, however, what one hears from the political figures in charge, including French President Nicholas Sarkozy: they all prefer to say that the war is against terrorism, scared to name Islam. But it is an insult to Muslims to believe them incapable of separating the worst from the best in what is found together in the Qur'an. This is not how an objective reading of the Qur'an will be promoted.

To not name the realities of the situation is cowardice. If Islamofascism has forever been shaped by al Qaeda, it still remains aggressive in its political ambitions, represented by Iran and its allies who fear liberty like the plague. Must we still close our eyes? Hamas, which is in control of the Gaza Strip, was one of the few groups to condemn the American raid against Bin Laden. Seeing them on Wednesday join forces with Fatah, which runs the West Bank, under the applause of Western leaders, revealed that recurring and perplexing naïveté of the West. The death of Bin Laden is not the end of history. President Obama has helped the West regain its pride, and its leaders must now be sure not to compromise with the reactionary Islamist forces who wish to squash the Arab spring.

photo - woongjae

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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