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Sensemaker: Taliban words and actions

Sensemaker: Taliban words and actions

What just happened

Long stories short

  • North Korea’s state media said the dictatorship tested a new long-range missile capable of striking much of Japan.
  • UK government health advisors backed Covid booster jabs for over-50s and Downing Street briefed they would be rolled out over the autumn. 
  • Britney Spears announced she is engaged to be married – something her conservatorship prohibits – to her long-term boyfriend Sam Asghari, an actor and fitness trainer.

Taliban words and actions

The Taliban reportedly killed at least 20 civilians in Panjshir Valley where it has been fighting with opposition forces. The militants have denied targeting civilians but, after earlier reports that they tortured and massacred members of the Hazara minority in Ghazni province and shot dead a pregnant policewoman in Ghor province, the reality of Taliban rule is becoming harder to ignore.

The refrain from Boris Johnson and Joe Biden is that the Taliban should be judged by their actions, not words. Here are some more of their actions:

  • Journalists are allowed to work, but the Taliban have called on them not to cover, for example, anti-Taliban protests. Journalists covering one such protest in Kabul were badly beaten. Many others have fled or are in hiding.
  • The Taliban said Afghanistan “will be a narcotics-free country”. For the time being it is the world’s leading opium producer, and the Taliban collects a 10 per cent cultivation tax from opium farmers.
  • They decreed that women may work, but only “in accordance with the principles of Islam”. No further details were given. Women may also study at university, but in classrooms that are segregated by sex and while wearing an abaya robe that covers the body and a niqab that covers most of the face. Women are not allowed to participate in sports.
  • No one is allowed to listen to or play music. But, generously, the Taliban said they would try and “persuade” people away from music “instead of pressuring them.”

In most cases, we don’t even need to look for a difference between the Taliban’s words and actions. They state quite plainly that half the people over whom they rule – women – do not have a full set of human rights and that is what they enforce. When rhetoric is used, it rings so hollow that even Johnson and Biden must be able to hear it. But, so far on Afghanistan, they’re all words and no action. That needs to change. There is no sitting on the fence about the gender apartheid the Taliban is imposing. Early evidence shows external pressure can make a difference. In Kandahar, after an Australian threat to call off a men’s international cricket match, the Taliban paused to rethink a ban on women’s cricket. Every little helps.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

QAnon in Vegas
Don Ahern, a Nevada businessman and major Donald Trump supporter, is reported to be hosting America’s biggest QAnon conference in Las Vegas. Ahern became known for his role in the Trump campaign after he cleared out one of his warehouses to hold an indoor election rally in defiance of lockdown restrictions. He also donated $1 million last month to Trump’s super-Pac, Make America Great Again. The QAnon conference is set to be held next month in Ahern’s eponymous hotel after the original hosts, Caesar’s, cancelled the booking. Although the conference doesn’t explicitly name QAnon, the top billed guests include father/son duo Ron and Jim Watkins, the owners of online forum 8kun – formerly 8chan – where the QAnon conspiracy theory that the world is being run by a cabal of satan worshipping paedophiles and that Donald Trump was recruited by top military officials to bring the cabal to justice took off. In an email to attendees the organisers of the event, John Sabal (also known as QAnon John) and his partner Amy called Ahern “an absolute patriot”. Sitting Arizona state representative Mark Finchem and senator Sonny Borrelli will also be speaking, as well as Trump’s former national security adviser General Michael Flynn. 

New things technology, science, engineering

Facebook’s XCheck Programme
Facebook, which has said its 3 billion users can speak as equals with celebrities, built a system that exempts high-profile users from its rules. The Wall Street Journal ($) reviewed documents that show the “cross check” or “XCheck” programme was meant to help make moderation decisions about controversial posts by celebrities but now shields them from the company’s enforcement processes. Some accounts are “whitelisted” – immune from enforcement – and others are set for employee reviews that never happened or happened too late. Neymar, the football star, was allowed to show nude photos of a woman who had accused him of rape to tens of millions of his fans before the content was eventually removed. An internal review found that “whitelisting” was “not publicly defensible”. Still, XCheck grew to include 5.8 million users by 2020. “We are not actually doing what we say we do publicly,” the review continued. “Unlike the rest of our community, these people can violate our standards without any consequences.”

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Galleri green light
Early stage cancer diagnosis typically means a five to ten-fold greater chance of survival than if the cancer is only discovered at stage four. That’s why the Galleri blood test could transform cancer treatment in the UK. It can detect about 50 types of cancer from stray pieces of DNA leaking from tumors into the bloodstream well before any other sort of test can spot them. It’s already in use in the US but is now the subject of the biggest clinical trial of its kind, being run by NHS England, which is recruiting 140,000 volunteers aged 50-77. Five-year survival rates for breast, thyroid, prostate and some skin cancers are already over 75 per cent in England, but for pancreatic, brain, liver, lung, throat and stomach cancers they’re much worse. The test could be “a game changer” for early detection, one of the trial’s investigators told the BBC, and early detection often means treatment can be much less invasive than otherwise.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Cow pee control
Young cows can be potty trained faster than young humans, German research suggests. A small cohort of young Holsteins in Dummerstorf, near Rostock, was given sweet molasses after urinating in a purpose-built indoor toilet and a squirt of cold water if they went outside. The finding is valuable because cows can produce 8 gallons of urine a day and, mixed with dung, it produces ammonia. Ammonia in air and water leads in turn to the production of nitrous oxide, which is up to 300 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. The Dummerstorf experiment did not address dung per se, but researchers reckon cows could be trained to dump that in eco-friendly places too. 

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

London arms fair
Europe’s biggest arms fair, Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), begins today in London’s Docklands. The four day event will see 830 exhibitors, including the world’s top arm’s dealers, showcasing their products alongside speakers from the UK government and armed forces. The Guardian reports that six of the countries invited to the fair by the Department for International Trade are on the Foreign Office’s human rights concerns list, including Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Egypt and Iraq. Protests calling for the event to be cancelled are expected outside of the venue for the duration of the event. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, also called for the event to be called off last month arguing that the capital was “home to many people who have fled conflict and suffered as a consequence” of weapons “like those exhibited at DSEI”. Khan also flagged the cost of policing the event due to the “significant opposition”. In 2019 that cost was £2.5 million and involved 5,609 police officers. 

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia

Giles Whittell

Phoebe Davis

Produced by Phoebe Davis and edited by Giles Whittell. 

Photographs Getty Images