The young and the old

A lot of things have changed since dawn first rose to greet humanity; once, we divided ourselves into tribes and settlements. Eventually, being creatures prone to the irresistible whims of pride and ambition, we pushed ourselves further and further until we built the world we live in today. Despite this timeline of constant change (fuelled by humanity’s general hunger for knowledge), there is one common thread that manages to establish the recurring nature of one, fundamental human conundrum – the eternal, undying struggle between the older generation’s need for tradition, familiarity and power and the younger generation’s craving for recognition, change and innovation.

For untold millennia, this conflict of interests has essentially been the compass which dictated the definitive direction of society’s evolutionary process. Without the fresh input of the young, society would decay and eventually crumble – similarly, without the guidance and experience of our elders, we would lack the stage upon which we would build our future. Therefore, this train of thought raises the question that has vexed countless minds of both the past and the present; who’s to blame for the inter-generational problems we just can’t seem to solve?

I will not be presumptuous enough to say that this is an answer to that question – I am merely just another human being, and this is only my opinion. From my perspective, the biggest problem we have is the way we have distorted our list of priorities. Money has become the absolute symbol of one’s importance, and a lack of it entails a very difficult life. As a result of this, both generations are wrapped up in an unending, king-of-the-hill style war whose casualties are our values, love, communication and understanding, and peace. Instead of focusing on our future as a singular, collective population of human beings, we have self-segregated in factions and groups, desperately trying to put as much distance as possible between ourselves and any possible competition for the spoils of our planet.

If you would like additional evidence that underlines what I’m saying here, simply look at the way we handle crises and any problems that concern our society’s wellbeing. Homelessness? Some cold, calculating bastard came up with the idea of anti-homeless spikes in public spaces. Several highly dubious terrorist acts, including 9/11 and anything that came after it? Let’s bomb the living daylights out of pre-selected, Middle Eastern countries and further fuel the cycle of devastation, anger, bigotry and hatred.

Our leaders and so-called “representatives” have convincingly pulled the wool in front of our eyes, and they are fully in control of what we see, what we read, what we learn, what we eat and anything else in between. We wordlessly and obediently regurgitate the opinions of “experts” and “delegates”, fully believing that what they decide and what they want aligns with what we need. Instead of answers and transparency, we get refusals for comment and shadiness. It is for this reason that I believe that myself and anyone else who was born in my generation needs to stand up for what is right, and not blindly follow in everyone else’s footsteps. Whoever is in power always wants it to stay that way, and therefore it’s up to us to divert our terrible, downward spiral into a luxurious paradise for the rich and a hell-hole for the poor.

The Bigger They Are, The More They Bleed – China’s Economic Meltdown

According to various reports by alternative, non-corporate owned media and leading senior economists across the globe, it is very possible that soon China’s economy “could be heading towards the biggest financial disaster since the 1929 Wall Street crash”. Shares on China’s stock markets plummeted by 30% in less than a month, and more than $3.2 trillion has been lost in around 3 weeks. If one were to illustrate just how bad this is, the amount of money lost in China’s stock markets is 10 times the size of the entire Greek economy.

According to Andrew Kenningham, a Senior Global Economist at Capital Economics (one of the leading, independent economy research companies in the world – based in London), this sudden financial meltdown was mostly caused by a huge bubble in the market in the middle of last year – in layman’s terms, the Chinese government was encouraging people to buy up (in this case, one too many) stocks in order to flex its economical and political muscle against competitor economies. To elaborate on this analogy, China ‘flexed its muscle’ too much and basically tore it and caused it to bleed internally.

Mr Kenningham also went further, stating that “every individual investor has to take responsibility for their own actions and a lot of people perhaps got their fingers burnt who would have otherwise been wiser to not get involved”. In the interest of credibility in this article, let us also mention that Al-Jazeera English (the station on which Mr Kenningham was speaking about China’s economy  – link here) is not the only news station to mention China’s weakening economy. According to Times of Malta, “China grew at its slowest pace in six years at the start of 2015 and weakness in key sectors suggested the world’s second-largest economy was still losing momentum, intensifying Beijing’s struggle to find the right policy mix to shore up activity.”

To the Maltese people reading this article and wondering why they should care about this, please – allow me to explain. Right now, our country is cutting all sorts of deals with the Chinese; MOUs (Memorandum of Understanding) on intellectual property, a possible partnership between Air Malta and the Chinese government and not to mention the situation concerning Shanghai Electric and our terribly mismanaged energy sector. Most of us believe that the hundreds of millions of Euros that China is pumping into our country are all unquestionably brilliant investments brought to us by our infallible government, but in reality it’s closer to a naïve bunch of amateurs selling off bits and pieces of the country to the professionals in the hopes of joining “the big leagues” of the global economy.

By no means do I consider myself an expert on economics (at most I went to a couple of lectures at University when I felt like it but that’s about it), but it is quite clear that our government’s taking a very big risk by doing business with an unstable, emerging superpower with a household debt of $28 trillion (282% of China’s GDP). After all, China’s history of being against political freedom, censorship of information, harsh taxes on the poor as well as their atrocious human rights record (violations include detentions without trials, forced abortions and confessions and torture) do not bode well. If all that has been said in this article has not somehow set off a few alarm bells in your brain, I don’t know what will.

The Islamic State: All You Need to Know

Who are ISIS?

Known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and now simply as the Islamic State (IS), IS is a radical Islamist caliphate (a single, theocratic government declared to be a ‘worldwide caliphate’ by the leader of the organisation, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) that controls a large swathe of land ranging from Aleppo (Eastern Syria)  to Diyala (Northern Iraq).

A map that illustrates ISIS territory (grey area). Image courtesy of Wikimedia

What is their mission?

The Islamic State employs a doctrine of total war without limits or constraints. They believe that there is no such thing as arbitration or settling disputes, and do not pay mind to using theology to justify their actions. In fact, IS stresses violence over anything else as a solution to dealing with society outside of their caliphate; in short, the Islamic State is a killing machine powered by blood and iron rather than anything else. As a result of this, mainstream Muslim groups have condemned IS and refuse to acknowledge their claims; the only reason why social decay has not stopped IS and they manage to keep on growing despite their hollow ideological stance is because so far they have promised a Muslim utopia to their disillusioned men and have delivered it by winning.

IS is a powerful, wealthy terrorist organisation. How did it get started and where does all their money come from?

The Islamic State owes its origins mostly to its parent organisation, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and under the leadership of the self-declared caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, it has achieved an alarmingly sophisticated network. Funding originated mostly from wealthy private donors in the Middle East that were keen to oust Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. Now, IS funds itself and its terrorist activities mainly through the following sources of income:

  • Oil fields in Syria and Iraq – it is estimated that IS makes between €743,780 and €1,446,500 a day via the smuggling of crude oil and refined products to Turkey and Iran and selling to the Syrian government.
  • Kidnapping – according to the US Treasury, IS has made over $20 million from ransoms alone.
  • Extortion – IS makes several million dollars a month through the extortion of the 8,000,000+ populace under its full / partial control.
  • Taxation – religious minorities have been forced to pay a special tax, convert to Islam or leave.
  • Bank-robbing, looting, selling antiquities and theft / control of livestock and crops.
  • Human trafficking – it is common practice within IS to sell abducted girls / women as sex slaves.

How many deaths is the Islamic State responsible for?

Syria – as surprising as this maybe, the Islamic State’s kill count in Syria is dwarfed by the atrocities committed in the Syrian Civil War which has left more than 200,000 dead. However, lower fatalities do not equate to a lesser degree of brutality, as IS militants are estimated to have executed over 1500+ Syrians between June and November of 2014 alone (according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights).

Iraq – A UN Report stated that 24,000+ Iraqi citizens were injured or killed by direct military action by the Islamic State in the first 8 months of 2014.

It is important to note that the numbers are likely to be much larger for several reasons, mainly because i) in a civil war, practically every vying faction is guilty of innocent bloodshed, ii) the number of casualties is often biased and iii) the number of civilians who have died from secondary effects of violence (lack of access to food, water, medicine and basic necessities) cannot be estimated in an environment as turbulent as this one.

How does IS operate so efficiently and how has it expanded so fast? And, more importantly, can they be stopped?

Upon taking control of a town, IS secure the main vital establishments (sites where resources such as water, flour and oil are kept), centralise distribution of said establishments and then they proceed to make the locals dependent on them for survival. IS is therefore self-financing and cannot be isolated and cut off from the world because it digs its roots far too deep in the regions it controls. The Islamic State’s aptitude for psychological warfare has been unmatched by other terrorist organisations operating in the area, and their brutality and savagery are their most widely-used tools in this aspect. However, as has been previously pointed out in this article, the Islamic State has no true ideology and no true belief system, and beliefs crumble unless fed by constant, rewarding success. In fact, their lightning-fast advancement has been stalled by constant bombing raids and their military capabilities and human resources have been diminished significantly. Whether the Islamic State can be truly eradicated, however, remains to be seen.