Weekend Roundup: Seizure of Palmyra Signals New Dark Age in Mideast


Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine.

The seizure of Palmyra this week by ISIS could not be more emblematic of the new dark age descending on the Mideast. In the name of decontaminating Islam, the Wahhabi offshoot has pledged to demolish even the ruins of this ancient crossroads of the Roman Empire, India, China and Persia that represents the historical diversity of intermingling cultures.

It is yet another sobering lesson in how the accomplishments of civilization can be rolled back by the mad pursuit of pure states of being – whether of ideal pasts, utopian futures, races or religions.

As WorldPost correspondent Sophia Jones reports, Palmyra is also darkly remembered by many Syrians for its more recent history as a “death camp” of “torture and fear” in the 1980s and 1990s under Hafez al- Assad.

The one bright spot in the region, as Nazand Begikhani writes from Erbil, is in Kurdistan where efforts are underway at the University of Sulaimani to fight Islamist fundamentalism not only with weapons but with civic education that promotes the rights of women. As the European Union ramps up military efforts to stop migrant smugglers in the Mediterranean, Hans Lucht and Rasmus Alenius Boserup, writing from Copenhagen, warn of the dangers of intervening in Libya.

Writing from Amman, prominent Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab makes a plea amid the burgeoning carnage across the region not to forget the suffering of stateless Palestinians. World editor Charlotte Alfred reports on how Gaza literally rolled out the red carpet for a film festival this week amid the ruins.

Akbar Shahid Ahmed describes how solar panels can save lives in Gaza’s hospitals by providing a steady source of electricity in an economy in shambles after constant war. From Dar es Salam, Tanzania, former prime minister and peace negotiator Salim Salim lays out a plan to end the violence in Burundi.

As the UN climate summit approaches in Paris, Tim Profeta reports that 11 American states and provinces in other countries are stepping up to the plate under the leadership of California Governor Jerry Brown to reduce green house gases without waiting for action on the national and international level. In the last of our series on cities of the future, urbanist Michael Sorkin calls for a return of authentic diversity in metropolitan areas that are becoming too generic.

Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz warns that the new slew of proposed trade agreements with Asia and Europe threaten to impose “fundamental changes” in national legal, judicial and regulatory standards.

Writing from Beijing, Communist Party official Keping Yu says that China’s modernization cannot advance further unless “nobody is empowered to act beyond the limit of the Constitution and laws.” WorldPost correspondent Matt Sheehan reports from Hangzhou this week on the contrast between Silicon Valley and China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba, where 35 per cent of higher management are women. Jack Ma, the company’s founder and CEO, says “women are our special sauce” in his recipe for success.

Summarizing a study he conducted for the Belfer Center at Harvard, Jon Lindsay writes that “inflating the cybersecurity threat” escalates mistrust between the US and China. Harvard’s Joe Nye examines whether the nuclear arms control agreements of the Cold War can provide a template for cybersecurity. Writing from New Delhi, Brahma Chellaney asks warily what Chinese submarines are doing in the Indian Ocean – the furthest deployment of the Chinese navy in 600 years.

Dani Rodrik and Sharun Mukand explore how the mobilization of mass constituencies that have arisen with industrialization and urbanization in post-colonial nations has led to “illiberal democracy” which fails to protect minority rights. In an interview, Columbia University’s Chris Sabatini explains why Venezuela’s economy is such a disaster after years of populist politics and mismanagement.

In an interview, France’s literary enfant terrible, Frédéric Beigbeder, blames “Catcher in the Rye” author J.D. Salinger for his fear of old age and says “youth is a lost utopia.”

XPrize CEO and Founder Peter Diamandis explains why he is not afraid of Artificial Intelligence. Our Singularity University series this week shows how AI is primed to beat humans in the “Where’s Waldo” game. Fusion makes fun of Fox News for censoring the “cubic breasts” in Picasso’s “Women of Algiers” when reporting on the sale of the painting this week at an auction.

Finally, our photo essays this week look at the stunning extremes of the Argentine landscape and society and the last runs of China’s steam engine trains in a country that now has more high-speed rail than anywhere else.