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Muslim clerics approve new transgender rights

Credit: K.M. Chaudary via APWhen Pakistan's Muslim clerics make the news, it's generally for their conservative stance on issues like women's rights and blasphemy. However, as the Washington Post's Pamela Constable writes, a group of fifty such clerics in the eastern city of Lahore recently passed a fatwa, or religious edict, affirming the rights of transgender people to marry and denouncing any mistreatment of them. As the group's leader, Zia-ul-Haq Naqshbandi, said of the decision: "We need to accept them as God's creation, too . . . Whoever treats them badly—society, the government, their own parents—are sinners."

As a result of the fatwa, transgender people can now marry, inherit land, and receive Muslim funeral ceremonies. Moreover, the clerics charged the Pakistani government with ensuring these rights and protecting the transgender in their country. While much of the language used by the clerics, particularly regarding the right to marriage, is vague at best, it does appear to signal a shift in the way Pakistani Muslims are to approach what remains a small, yet often persecuted, minority.

In a land where homosexuality remains a banned practice and those who engage in that lifestyle are still forbidden to marry, many hope that the new rulings are simply the start of a larger progression. Such hopes, however, are perhaps misguided. You see, while transgender rights are often part of a larger social movement in the West, Pakistan has long viewed them as an inherently different subject than homosexuality. As Constable notes, the country "has a long South Asian tradition of accepting transsexuals and people of non-traditional genders as part of society." She goes on to write that "some eunuchs and others have been viewed as having mystical powers" and that there is a tradition of awarding rights to transgender individuals, such as job quotas and ID cards as a recognized minority, that homosexuals and others are routinely denied.

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Brexit and Globalization

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen speaks during a press conference at the National Front party headquarters in Nanterre, outside Paris, Friday, June 24, 2016. Le Pen says pro-independence movements in the European Parliament will meet soon to plan their next move after the British vote to leave the European Union. Poster behind reads: Brexit. And now, France.The Brexit vote is just as much a referendum on the idea of globalization as it is anything else. Manfried Steger defines the term as referring to the "expansion and intensification of social relations and consciousness across world-time and world-space." The people that are most frustrated by Brexit are those who have been immersed in a relentless education that posits that globalization is not only inherently a good thing, but is a march toward what is best for everyone. A closer read of the phenomena of globalization, though, reveals that it is more a mixed bag than inherently good or evil.

Steger's work, which I referred to above, is entitled Globalization: A Short Introduction, and he frames his discussion of the concept using three particular dimensions: economic, political, and cultural. My central argument is that whereas globalization posits a universal way of looking at these three phenomena, there is actually quite a bit of disagreement on the best economic, political, and cultural principles. Globalization assumes that the collapsing of space-time boundaries and the intensification of these relationships lead to a new world that is better for everyone. This truth claim needs to be re-examined. Here are just a few examples:

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London Mayor Bans Beach Body Ready Ads

In this file photo dated Saturday, May 7, 2016, Sadiq Khan, speaks on the podium at City Hall in London, Saturday, May 7, 2016. London’s mayor, Khan on Sunday June 12, 2016, pledged to fight until the moment the polls close to persuade Britons to vote to remain inside the European Union bloc, in the upcoming June 23 referendum.(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, FILE)London Mayor Sadiq Khan won the praise of many by announcing a ban on "body-shaming" ads. The Protein World weight-loss ad featured a bikini-clad model with a caption that read, "Are you beach body ready?" The Muslim mayor and a father of two warned that the ads could "demean" women and encourage them towards unhealthy practices and ideals.

Seen by many as objectifying women and promoting an "ideal" body image, the advertisement caused an uproar when it appeared around London's transport network. Transport for London Commercial Development Director Graeme Craig said: "Our customers cannot simply switch off or turn a page if an advertisement offends or upsets them and we have a duty to ensure the copy we carry reflects that unique environment."

Protein World spent 250,000 pounds on the ad campaign. Over a four-day stretch, they made one million pounds while protests ensued and petitions circulated.

The Mayor is not without his share of critics though. Some speculated that he used his role as a father to justify his religious beliefs. But the mayor insists he wanted to send a "clear message" to the advertising industry, saying the new guidelines seek to guard against body-confidence issues.

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Refugees' asylum status determined by 'Bible trivia'

Credit: Kate Ausburn via Flickr

Without looking anything up, can you name all of the Ten Commandments? How about how many books there are in the Bible or when Pentecost took place? If the answer is no, then add one more entry to the list of reasons you should be glad that you don't have to seek asylum from religious persecution. As a report published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPG) recently described, those seeking asylum in the UK because their Christian beliefs put their lives at risk in their home countries are frequently asked a series of "Bible trivia" questions like these to determine the authenticity of their faith.

While the report admits that the "assessment of religion based on asylum applications is complex and challenging due to the inherently internal and personal nature of religion and belief," the group found that the current approach is fraught with problems. Even beyond the, at times, inane nature of the questions asked, those responsible for knowing the answers are often woefully unprepared to do so. Many of the government interviewers, for example, found the answers by which they determined whether or not an individual would have to return home to face persecution by simply looking them up on the internet. While Wikipedia and other such sites are great for many things, perhaps they shouldn't be relied on in such weighty circumstances.

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Nearly 46 Million Trapped in Modern Day Slavery

Credit: Rafael Ben-Ari via Fotolia

Nearly 46 million people worldwide are living in modern slavery, according to the Walk Free Foundation. This is an increase of twenty-eight percent from the group's last survey back in 2014, which concluded that the number was 35.8 million.

Slavery was defined as "situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power, or deception." Examples include forced labor in farming, fishing, and manufacturing, commercial sex work and forced marriage.

The survey was based on 42,000 interviews conducted in twenty-five countries. It found that Asian countries were home to nearly sixty percent of the world's modern slaves. It identified India as having the highest number, 18.3 million, while North Korea had the highest proportion, with 4.3 percent of the population thought to be enslaved. North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, India, and Qatar had the highest proportion of their population enslaved.

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