Gideon Rachman on Cameron vs. Scotland, Fareed Zakaria on Narendra Modi, Paul Krugman on the economics of climate change, Rami G. Khouri on Hamas, and Afua Hirsch on the causes of Islamic extremism.

The Wire - Five Best Columns - Today's top opinions on the news

Five Best Columns
Today's Top Opinions on the News

Friday, September 19, 2014

Gideon Rachman in The Financial Times on why Scotland's decision to remain in the union will still hurt Prime Minister David Cameron. Despite the victory that keeps his country intact, Cameron must now follow through with the concessions he made to Scots during the campaign. "Many in his party believe he gambled recklessly with the future of the country – by agreeing to a referendum on terms that, in retrospect, look very favourable to the independence movement. The prime minister also stands accused of panicking in the last weeks of the campaign, when the Yes camp moved briefly ahead. In response, Mr Cameron and the other UK party leaders jointly promised to devolve much greater powers to the government of Scotland... In the process, they made pledges of far-reaching constitutional change whose implications have clearly not been thought through." Rachman also argues that the ability of the Scottish vote to garner such strong support will resonate with other independence movements. "The break-up of the UK would have been an international political earthquake, and that has been avoided. But the very spectacle of Scotland being allowed a peaceful vote on separation has profound implications... Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, faces a powerful separatist movement in Catalonia."

Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post on why Narendra Modi is reaching the end of his honeymoon period as India's Prime Minister. Zakaria writes that while Modi has been adept at political maneuvering, he has failed to bring about major reforms. "Where Modi has underperformed, surprisingly, has been in his core competence — economics. He has been slow to announce major reforms. His first budget was disappointing, and many of his Cabinet appointments have been lackluster. Those expecting major changes in subsidies, trade policy or labor market restrictions have been disappointed." Zakaria suggests that Modi may have missed a crucial opportunity to enact the bold reforms he promised during his campaign. "The pattern is clear. Leaders who make difficult reforms early get rewarded in later years. This is partly, one assumes, because they have the political capital to make painful changes in their first year. By the second year, in those countries where leaders have wasted their honeymoon and delayed reforms too long, markets retreat, giving back most of their early gains."

Paul Krugman in The New York Times on why tackling climate change doesn't have to hurt the economy. The paper's resident economist writes that two new studies from the International Monetary Fund and the New Climate Economy Project show further evidence why taking steps to slow climate change can have a positive effect on economies. "Where is the new optimism about climate change and growth coming from? It has long been clear that a well-thought-out strategy of emissions control, in particular one that puts a price on carbon via either an emissions tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, would cost much less than the usual suspects want you to think. But the economics of climate protection look even better now than they did a few years ago... if you think that an economy getting a lot of its power from wind farms and solar panels is a hippie fantasy, you’re the one out of touch with reality." Krugman argues that policies to limit carbon emissions won't necessarily slow economic growth. "The idea that economic growth and climate action are incompatible may sound hardheaded and realistic, but it’s actually a fuzzy-minded misconception.... It’s cheaper and easier than almost anyone imagines."

Rami G. Khouri in Bloomberg View on how Hamas would likely answer some of the charges brought against them. Khouri says that Hamas would reject claims that their military strategy against Israel has been a failure. "They insist the group’s inception, growth and actions can only be understood as a defensive response to belligerent Israeli policies since 1948. They demand to be judged according to three criteria: the legal rights of Palestinians as an occupied national community and also as refugees; the right to self-defense against what they insist are Israeli acts of aggression; and their performance in contrast with the lackluster policies of the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas." However, the situation in Gaza, made worse by Hamas' provocations, is clearly unsustainable. "According to the World Bank, the Gaza economy is on track to shrink 15 percent this year. Given restrictions on cement imports, it will take 18 years just to replace the housing stock destroyed in the war... Hamas will have to prove very soon whether it can do any better at achieving meaningful and permanent gains for Palestinians through political means that lead to statehood."

Afua Hirsch in The Guardian on how British Muslims are driven to extremism. Hirsch suggests that movement towards extremism typically starts when young Muslims feel alienated from mainstream society. "For a passionate teenager, watching the suffering in Syria and believing that they are barred from contributing because of double standards driven by Islamophobia can create extreme feelings of alienation. And for those who are converted to extremism, there are usually other factors: contact with a seductive and effective hate preacher, indifference towards or a desire for violence, a sense of purposelessness – in some cases the same factors that attract young people to criminal gangs." The key is alienation among an immigrant community that has not been welcomed openly. "Little discussed is that many of the young Muslims now suspected of moving towards extremism are the second- or third-generation descendants of migrants who came to this country from Pakistan, Bangladesh or Somalia in the 70s, 80s and 90s. And they feel more alienated in this country than their parents and grandparents... In this new reality, Muslims have something to cling on to. As Kash Choudhary, a rapper on the Asian grime scene, told me: 'For British Pakistanis like me there is a gap. I don’t feel British. When I go to Pakistan, I don’t feel Pakistani. But I do know that I’m a Muslim  –  Islam fills that gap.'"

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