As the old year draws to a close, there are many reasons for anxiety about the immediate future here in the nation we all like to believe has a knack for solving its problems, the United States.
These issues made headlines this week: The politically volatile fiscal crisis in Washington, reports the price of milk may soon double if Congress doesn’t act, the economic damage that could have been caused had labor issues shut down all the nation’s ports, and the newly revived but long-running debate over gun control.
As vexing and potentially harmful as each of these issues could be, they pale by comparison to what’s happening elsewhere. They’re worrisome, and they may cause harm, but Americans are confident any negative consequences will be relatively short-lived. We’ve been there before and somehow we’ve always managed to survive and thrive.
Now, for comparison purposes, consider the critical situations in Afghanistan, Mali, the Central African Republic and even India, to name just a few countries where truly awful things keep happening — things so bad they call into question the humanity of the perpetrators — and where there seems to be little collective will to take corrective action.
First, Afghanistan: In yesterday’s New York Times, it was reported that on Thursday, an Afghan policeman conspired with members of the Taliban “who helped him attack his sleeping colleagues with knives and guns, eventually killing four and wounding eight.” In another recent incident, a local police commander in a remote northern province killed five of his men in their beds and then fled to join the Taliban.
And then there was the teenager who drugged an Afghan border police commander and 10 other policemen to put them to sleep, and then shot them all. Eight died. Also, at last count, 62 American and NATO personnel had been killed by their Afghan “allies.” Meanwhile, the Taliban reportedly kidnapped 22 Pakistani policemen this week.
In the Central African Republic, one of Africa’s most fragile states, rebels are threatening to oust the elected government and thousands of civilians have fled their homes to seek sanctuary in a forest. The American embassy in the capital, Bangu, shut down yesterday, although the State Department emphasized that it was not suspending diplomatic relations with the deeply unstable country.
Elsewhere in Africa, there’s Mali, a nation divided by religion and where Islamist extremists, who dominate in the north and east, are imposing their particularly brutal form of punishment — they embrace Sharia law — on those deemed to have committed crimes.
“I myself cut off my brother’s hand,” an Islamist police chief declared. “We had no choice but to practice the justice of God.”
Often residents are required to watch amputations, presumably to learn a lesson. And when the United Nations Security Council authorized a military campaign to seize the region last week, the very next day unimpressed Islamists cut the hands off two more people accused of being thieves. The extremists warned reporters that eight others “will soon share the same fate.”
In India, a 17-year-old girl who was the victim of a gang rape committed suicide this week after police pressured her to drop the charges and marry one of her attackers. Earlier, widespread clashes between police and protesters erupted after a 23-year-old was gang raped on a bus and the authorities — as usual in rape cases — did nothing about it. In another case in India, a man committed suicide after celebrating rapists circulated a cellphone video of their attack on his 16-year-old daughter.
And perhaps worst of all is the situation in Syria.
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