Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

The 212 Defend Islam Action Alumni — One year ago this week, hardline Muslim groups that want to transform Indonesia into an Islamic state governed by Sharia law succeeded in defeating the ethnic Chinese and Christian former Jakarta governor and having him thrown in jail. Those same groups commemorated their achievement this week with a large rallyattended by the governor they supported as his replacement. Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, remains popular and a defender of secular and inclusive government, but we’ll keep watching to see if these groups challenge him more directly in 2018 ahead of national elections in 2019.


Yemen — The killing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh will provoke more violence and create more misery in a country that’s already home to an enormous humanitarian crisis. The war in Yemen has killed about 14,000 people and forced 3 million from their homes. More than 1 million are afflicted with cholera. The UN estimates that more than 20 million Yemenis need humanitarian help.

The HJK Helsinki football club — Two events were booked at the same time in the Tukkutori market in Helsinki. The first was a torchlight march of far-right Finnish nationalists to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Finland’s independence. The second was a children’s group that wanted to mark the same occasion with rabbits and alpacas. Local officials ruled that the guys with torches applied for the permit first. The HJK Helsinki football club then offered the kids, bunnies, and alpacas the use of its stadium. #Suomi100

What We're Ignoring

Early ANC voting — Cyril Ramaphosa has reportedly opened a lead in the battle to decide who will lead the ruling African National Congress into South Africa’s next election in 2019. We’re ignoring preliminary results. We’ll be watching closely (and writing about) the actual outcome of the vote later this month. Its significance is historic, but much can change between now and then.

The color yellow — Here’s another story you can ignore until later in the month. Spain’s electoral authority has ordered officials in Barcelona to remove yellow lights from public fountains around the city because they fear the color yellow, associated with Catalan identity, will encourage separatist sentiment. Catalans will vote in regional elections on December 21. Even if separatist parties win there will be no sudden moves toward independence, but demand may again begin to grow. That won’t be because of yellow lights in public fountains.

The Yulin City Zoo — Dear Finnish kids, please do not send your bunnies and alpacas to the zoo in Yulin, China, where the featured attractions are inflatable penguins, some roosters, and a “longevity turtle.” This is not China’s first zoo scandal. According to The Straits Times, “In 2013, an ‘African lion’ in a zoo in Henan was revealed to be a Tibetan mastiff when it barked.”

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

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The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

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Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.

3: The US has recruited Australia to join its nascent mission of protecting ships in the critical Strait of Hormuz. Along with Britain and Bahrain, Australia is now the third country to join the US-led maritime mission, as high seas brinksmanship with the Iranians continues.

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