Monday. 16/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Megan Gibson

Fall from grace

It was only a little more than a month ago that US president Joe Biden said in remarks from the White House that the prospect of “the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely”. Yet on Sunday Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled the country and now, as western nations scramble to evacuate their citizens, those remarks seem stunning in their naiveté.

As the US pushed ahead with the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban has seized the initiative and in a matter of days gained control of most of the nation. As we send this dispatch of The Monocle Minute the fall of Kabul is imminent.

Few expected the complete collapse of the Afghan army – which the US has invested 20 years and more than $88bn (€74.6bn) in training and equipping – to happen so quickly. But many had warned that Biden’s April decision to rapidly withdraw the relatively few remaining US troops (about 3,500) from the country by September 11 was motivated by symbolism rather than sense. Those warnings have proved prescient.

The fall of Afghanistan marks not only a stain on Biden’s presidency but also on US foreign policy; it’s a betrayal of the Afghan people as well as all of the soldiers – US and Nato allies alike – who have been killed over the course of successive tours in the country. The US might have ended its “forever war” but the fallout from its rapid withdrawal is only beginning.

Image: Getty Images

Media / Nicaragua

Stop press

Nicaragua is on its way to becoming a nation without newspapers. The country’s last remaining paper, La Prensa, has announced that it will no longer be issuing a print edition, claiming that president Daniel Ortega’s administration is interfering with paper supplies. La Prensa had already reduced the size of its newspaper, as well as its circulation, since the Nicaraguan customs authority first began to withhold newsprint in 2019. The government considers La Prensa to be a mouthpiece of the opposition. For several months its reporters have avoided adding bylines to their stories in fear of state reprisals. Last week, Ortega’s administration claimed that it was protecting the country against foreign meddling. Spain responded to the accusation by recalling its ambassador to the country. The pressure heaped on La Prensa is yet another sign of Ortega’s crackdown on press freedom and democratic opposition.

Image: Getty Images

Citizenship / Italy

Patria Games

Winning a record number of medals at the Tokyo Olympics – 40 in total – has buoyed spirits in Italy this summer but it has also reopened a thorny discussion around citizenship that has long remained unresolved in the country. Among the gold medallists was Eseosa Fostine Desalu, who ran as part of the Italian men’s 4x100m relay team (pictured). Born in Italy to Nigerian parents, Desalu wasn’t granted Italian citizenship until he turned 18 – the minimum age at which those who are born in Italy to foreign parents can be naturalised.

Some are now advocating for a sports-related exemption to the law, which would allow athletes to gain citizenship at a much younger age. But others argue that such an exemption wouldn’t go far enough and that children of immigrants born in Italy should be granted earlier citizenship regardless of their sporting achievements. Attempts to revise birthright regulations have been stagnating for two decades. Let’s hope that an overhaul will reach the finish line without the need for another Olympian to jog Italians’ memory.

Image: Shutterstock

Language / Switzerland

Lost in translation

Multilingualism is highly valued in Switzerland: three of the country’s 26 cantons have two official languages and another has three. But protecting minority languages can create significant political challenges. The canton of Valais, for example, is trying to revise its constitution to ensure that its German-speaking minority doesn’t feel eclipsed by the growing majority of French speakers. And so it is proposing a new mechanism that will ensure that German speakers won’t be ignored – but that could also leave them overrepresented in parliament. Because this is Switzerland, the contentious changes need to be put to a vote and it is far from certain that enough people will support them. If the plan is rejected, relations between the canton’s two populations could sour.

Image: Shutterstock

Retail / Bangkok

Walking cure

Si Lom Road (pictured), one of Bangkok’s busiest commercial streets, will soon be given a pedestrian-friendly upgrade. Guided by a masterplan drawn up by the landscape architecture firm Shma, business owners and transport authorities, the city will transform spaces along its length into plazas, parklets and widened footpaths. The hope is that by repurposing empty space for public use, the stretch of road will become a safer, more attractive place to spend time. Despite handing over land for the project, businesses in the area are ultimately expected to benefit from Si Lom’s transformation – making the road more desirable for pedestrians will encourage street life and drum up trade. In a city where traffic snarls are endemic and the heat can put off the most committed stroller, this human-scale project should deliver some much-needed change.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Eureka 257: Square Root

Robyn Simms is the co-founder of Square Root, a soft drinks brand she launched with her partner, Ed Taylor, in 2012. Using seasonal fruit, they make sodas and non-alcoholic cocktails at their factory in east London.

Monocle Films / New Zealand

Christchurch School: sunny modernism

We explore a New Zealand take on mid-century modern architecture that fused British brutalism with a Scandinavian aesthetic. The simple construction methods of the Christchurch School’s creative homes have endured changing tastes – and earthquakes too.

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