Monday. 23/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Welcome change

So much has gone wrong in Afghanistan in the past week. However, if there has been one (faint) silver lining in the debate here in the US, it’s the bipartisan nature of calls for Afghans who aided American forces over the past 20 years to be resettled there. Even in Texas, conservative Republican senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have backed resettlement efforts, recognising that tens of thousands of Afghans risk death if they are not evacuated from a country that is now in Taliban hands.

In an era of “America first” and antipathy towards immigration, it’s worth taking a moment to highlight this. According to resettlement groups, volunteers across the nation have turned out in unprecedented numbers, offering to accommodate Afghans once they have been brought to the US. Yes, there is some opposition and there are calls for screening those who arrive but the general mood is one of recognition that America bears some responsibility for their plight. While the US might no longer be willing to fight Afghanistan’s war – about six in 10 Americans support withdrawal despite its chaotic nature – there’s an understanding that Afghans who backed American troops need help. And there’s anger at the Biden administration for not acting more quickly to get them out of Afghanistan.

The mood reminds me of my time in Germany circa 2015. Refugees from Syria were initially welcomed with open arms; crowds of Germans showed up at train stations to greet the new arrivals (pictured). That mood shifted the following year amid the challenges of integration, a lesson that the US should heed from Europe’s refugee crisis. The looming influx of Afghans must be carefully managed and the refugees properly aided and helped to integrate into society if we want Americans to welcome their new neighbours.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Malaysia

By royal appointment

If Malaysia’s King al-Sultan Abdullah hopes that a new prime minister will end the country’s political turmoil, he might be disappointed. On Friday he appointed former deputy prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob (pictured) as Malaysia’s new leader after former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin lost his parliamentary majority and resigned. Ismail’s rise marks the return of the United Malays National Organisation to power, the dominant party in a coalition that has ruled the country for more than 60 years. More than 340,000 people have signed a petition protesting Ismail’s candidacy. For months, Malaysia has grappled with widespread instability, driven by questions over Muhyiddin’s legitimacy and the government’s poor pandemic response. Although Ismail’s appointment is billed as a fresh start, many remain sceptical about whether a cabinet full of familiar faces can set the country on a new course.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Ukraine

Gathering strength

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky is set to welcome a contingent of foreign leaders, ministers and diplomats to Kiev today to take part in the inaugural Crimean Platform Summit. The diplomatic event, to be attended by representatives from dozens of nations, is aimed at putting Russia’s annexation of Crimea back on the international agenda – and ramping up pressure on Vladimir Putin.

Since becoming president in 2019, Zelensky has fought to return Crimea to the spotlight and, knowing that this could be his best chance, he’s brought out the big guns (so to speak). Today’s summit in Kiev will be followed by tomorrow’s Ukrainian independence day military parade, which has been on hiatus for the past two years. Tuesday’s spectacle will mark the 30th anniversary of the country’s secession from the Soviet Union and, as the summit shows, the relationship remains complex to this day.

Image: Getty Images

Retail / Sweden

Bright Ikea

Swedish furniture giant Ikea will soon begin selling renewable energy as part of its drive to be “climate positive” by 2030. But don’t worry, you won’t have to assemble a flat-pack turbine. Customers will be able to reap the benefits of solar and wind power through the company’s new Strömma service. Ikea has partnered with Svea Solar, which already produces solar panels for its shops. Svea will buy electricity on the Nordic power exchange (Nord Pool), then resell it to Ikea customers without a surcharge. Subscribers will be able to track their energy use with an app and return any surplus power for a refund. “By only selling electricity from plants that are less than five years old, we are putting pressure on the market to expand electricity production from solar and wind power,” Jonas Carlehed, Ikea Sweden’s head of sustainability, tells The Monocle Minute. “At the same time, we make it as easy as possible for our customers to make a choice that is good for both the climate and their own wallets.” While Strömma will only be available in Sweden initially, Ikea has hinted that it plans to expand the service to other markets.

Image: Alamy

Health / Australia

Home rules

Sydney’s coronavirus lockdown has been extended until the end of September, as authorities scramble to contain an outbreak of the Delta variant. The city’s 5.4 million people have already been under strict stay-at-home orders since late June and several curfews now exist in at-risk areas of Sydney, despite New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian calling their effectiveness into question. The rest of the state’s citizens have been warned to expect greater enforcement, including increased fines for those breaking rules that include wearing a mask outdoors at all times, except when exercising. More than half of Australia’s population is now under lockdown. Meanwhile, across the Tasman Sea, Jacinda Ardern has extended New Zealand’s own restrictions until midnight tomorrow. Both countries are pursuing a “zero Covid” policy and outbreaks in each are becoming harder to contain; Antipodeans will worry that these latest extensions might not be the last.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Pegasus Imagery

Cole Rosentreter is the founder and CEO of Pegasus Imagery, an Alberta-based start-up making drones to fight forest fires. With their 4-metre wingspan, these can collect data and manoeuvre more easily than helicopters.

Monocle Films / Turin

The new urban rowers

We wake up bright and early to meet creative director Luca Ballarini at the Circolo Canottieri Caprera, a rowing club on the banks of the river Po in Turin. We follow his slender boat and glide along the river beside charming palazzi, castles and bridges, while the rest of the city comes to life.

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