Commentary

From Child Slavery to Freedom

NEW DELHI – It is a blot on the face of humanity that we have yet to eradicate slavery – of children, no less. Not only does child slavery persist; the number of child slaves, 5.5 million, has remained constant in the last two decades. They are bought and sold like animals, sometimes for less than a pack of cigarettes. Add to their number the 168 million child laborers, 59 million out-of-school children, and 15 million girls under 15 who are forced to marry every year, and the situation is beyond unacceptable.

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Islam’s Path to Modernity

UPPSALA – Many in the Muslim community have long taken issue with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The declaration, these critics attest, was created by colonial powers with a long history of gross human-rights violations, and amounts to yet another attempt by a few Western players to impose their will upon Muslim countries. Islamic conservatives and fundamentalists go a step further, as they declare that no human invention can equal – much less supersede – sharia law, which amounts to the word of God.

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The Return of Public Investment

CAMBRIDGE – The idea that public investment in infrastructure – roads, dams, power plants, and so forth – is an indispensable driver of economic growth has always held powerful sway over the minds of policymakers in poor countries. It also lay behind early development assistance programs following World War II, when the World Bank and bilateral donors funneled resources to newly independent countries to finance large-scale projects. And it motivates the new China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which aims to fill the region’s supposed $8 trillion infrastructure gap.

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Getting Anxiety Right

NEW YORK – When researchers want to evaluate the efficacy of new anxiety treatments, the traditional approach is to study how rats or mice behave in uncomfortable or stressful situations. Rodents shun brightly lit, open spaces, where, in the wild, they would become easy prey. So their natural tendency in a test apparatus is to find areas that are poorly illuminated or close to walls. The longer a medicated animal spends in areas in which it is unprotected, the more effective the drug is judged to be in treating anxiety.

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Responding to Europe’s Political Polarization

PARIS – In Europe, 2015 began with the far-left Syriza party’s election victory in Greece. It ended with another three elections that attested to increasing political polarization. In Portugal, the Socialist Party formed an alliance with its former archenemy, the Communists. In Poland, the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party won enough support to govern on its own. And in Spain, the emergence of Podemos, another new left-wing party, has ended the traditional hegemony of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party on the center left and the Partido Popular on the center right. (In France, moreover, the far-right National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, showed its strength in the first round of December’s regional elections, though it eventually failed to win any).

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Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution

GENEVA – Of the myriad challenges the world faces today, perhaps the most overwhelming is how to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution that began at the turn of the century. New technologies and approaches are merging the physical, digital, and biological worlds in ways that will fundamentally transform humankind. The extent to which that transformation is positive will depend on how we navigate the risks and opportunities that arise along the way.

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The Middle East’s Cold War

PRINCETON – The breach in diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia is a dangerous watershed in an already unstable, war-torn region. The trigger was the execution by Saudi Arabia of Nimr al-Nimr, a firebrand Shia sheikh who had called for the end of the country’s monarchy. But the rupture has its roots in a strategic rivalry that stretches across the Middle East.

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Africa’s Growing War on Corruption

NAIROBI – To the chagrin of most Africans, the world has long viewed their continent through the prism of the three “Cs” – conflict, contagion, and corruption.

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The Public Sphere’s New Enemies

NEW YORK – Before November’s terrorist attacks in Paris, it was legal to stage a demonstration in a public square in that city. Now it isn’t. In Uganda, although citizens campaigning against corruption or in favor of gay rights often faced a hostile public, they didn’t face jail time for demonstrating. But under a frighteningly vague new statute, now they do. In Egypt, government authorities recently raided and shut down prominent cultural institutions – an art gallery, a theater, and a publishing house – where artists and activists once gathered.

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Piketty vs. Piketty

BERKELEY – In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the French economist Thomas Piketty highlights the striking contrasts in North America and Europe between the Gilded Age that preceded World War I and the decades following World War II. In the first period, economic growth was sluggish, wealth was predominantly inherited, the rich dominated politics, and economic (as well as race and gender) inequality was extreme.

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