Tensions underlie Hajj 2016
Last year, a rush of people in Mina caused the greatest tragedy in the history of the Hajj. Tragically, 2,426 people were crushed to death beneath the stampede. Among those dead were 464 Iranian citizens who had traveled to take part in the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. In the wake of the disaster, some claim have led to a back and forth debate that affects this year’s Hajj. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, criticized the management of the event. Abdul al-Sheikh, a top Saudi Arabian cleric, caused outrage when he claimed that Iranians are “not Muslims.” Many in Iran then decided to boycott the event this year, encouraging fellow pilgrims to instead celebrate in Karbala, Iraq. Then last Saturday for the pinnacle of Hajj, al-Sheikh announced that he would not be performing the service himself as he has done for the past 35 years. Despite these events, however, many pilgrims are still attending, including over one million individuals from nations other than Saudi Arabia. Two young women from Mali interviewed by the BBC this week expressed that they “feel at ease and were totally benefitting from the pilgrimage.”
North Dakota Pipeline paused over Native American protests
Over the course of the past several weeks, thousands of Native Americans and fellow supporters of the local Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have set up camp in North Dakota to protest the construction of the oil pipeline that runs through what is considered to be native land. Despite this show of discontent, federal judge James Boasberg, approved continued construction on the project. It seemed that the protests had been for naught when the Department of Justice as well as the Department of the Interior and the Army decided to bring progress within 20 miles of the Sioux campsite to a halt. Given the pipeline’s proximity to the Missouri River, much of the protest has to do with pipeline safety given that any contamination of the water would affect the supplies that get pumped into the tribe’s homes and schools. Given their concern, the local and federal government have agreed to further investigate the safety of the pipeline as well as further discussions with the tribes and surrounding community.
United States and Russia reach Syria agreement
Following discussion in Geneva this past week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov of Russia, have reached an agreement to minimize violence in Syria. In addition to officially ending hostilities come Monday evening, where missions will be stopped entirely in some opposition-held areas, and humanitarian access permitted to hard-hit cities, Aleppo among them. Furthermore, a joint implementation center will be opened where Russia and the United States will attempt to work together to weaken the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and other extremist groups. Bassma Kodmani of the High Negotiations Committee hopes this ceasefire will stop the civilian exposure to violence. Most important among them is the blessing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. His consent could bring about the ceasefire, but a political resolution would remain unlikely. With that understood, Secretary Kerry explained, ‘the plan is more prescriptive and far-reaching than any proposal to date and, if implemented by all sides, could allow political negotiations to take pace on Syria’s future.”
South Korea responds to North Korean nuclear test
This past Friday, a 5.3 magnitude earthquake was registered at a nuclear test site in North Korea. Following the event, which might have been scheduled to celebrate the country’s National Day, Pyongyang announced to the world that North Korea had successfully completed its fifth nuclear test. Experts in the South Korean military have estimated that the blast had an explosive yield of roughly 10 kilotons. For reference, a 15 kiloton bomb was used by the United States in 1945 on its attack of Hiroshima. In response to the test and North Korea’s announcement, the South Korean military has declared that Pyongyang “will be completely destroyed by ballistic missiles and high-explosive shells,” should it give any indication of seriously considering nuclear attacks. This was reported via Yonhap News, which is a publicly funded reporting medium that works closely with the South Korean government. The report further claimed that the North Korean capital “will be reduced to ashes and removed from the map.” Other nations are yet to address Seoul’s comments, but both China and Japan have denounced the test, while the United States is now considering further sanctions.