Creation of the Spanish Empire

The Creation of the Spanish Empire:

An analysis behind the foundation of the Spanish New World…..

      During the time period of 1450 to 1600, the Spanish Empire emerged outside of Europe because of the discovery of the New World initiated by Christopher Columbus and with the creation of the Spanish kingdom, there were abrupt changes in the Americas that followed and involved the dramatic change in local state hierarchy of rulers and the emergence of new encomiendas and also the sudden rise in Spanish-native interactions with the environment through silver mining operations, but with these changes came long-lasting continuity in the role of women in society and more specifically their social impact left behind by individuals like Ines Suarez.pillar


Firstly, due to the profits of the Columbian exchange, the Spanish Empire emerged as a foremost European power in 1450-1600 CE that changed the organization of local governments with encomiendas, however these remnants of previous state administration remained throughout the years of Spanish control because the Spanish government asserted its control in only few major regions. When Hernando Cortes first arrived, he enslaved the Aztec King Moctezuma II. This sudden power exchange to a foreigner ignited the beginning of Spain’s dominance in the region. For example, before Hernando Cortes, native rulers managed their domain by reflecting ancestral legitimacy and emphasizing their godly, spiritual lineage. When these very “gods” were converted to puppets by Cortes in 1518, a major change in state organization ensued. Cortes contributed in the initiation of parceling lands to seasoned settlers or hence encomiendas. This system enabled Spain to easily control the Americas while receiving support from rewarded provincial governors. The presence of governors and their local staff was a change unforeseen in the Americas. The Incas, Aztecs and even the allies of the Spaniards, the Tlaxcalans, never developed a provincial system. Throughout the early 1300s to the 1400s CE, the American empires created highly centralized empires with one sole emperor reigning above the people. Tenochtitlan represents one such example of how Aztecs did not distribute land to be governed by officials. Surprisingly, the Spaniards allowed for ancient government practices to occur in the Americas. One such example of continuity in the region could be dated to when the majority of Spanish settlers arrived to present-day Mexico around 1560 CE. As noted by historians, major Spanish urban centers and port arises from the ruins of the Aztec empire. This practice continued most probably due to the geographic strength and convenience in trade that these cities were located in. For example, the textbook mentions that the Spaniards continued the government organization of Tenochtitlan alive, but they changed the name into Mexico City. Another example of continuity in the organization of Spanish-American colonies could be traced back towards the 1580s when Spain started to import mother lodes of silver. The government’s role in collecting tribute did not evidently change from the ancient Aztec practices. The Aztecs were notorious for invading local lands to exploit its resources and tributes. Here again, the Spanish adopted Incan and Aztec practices of requiring labor from subjugated villages. Moreover each year, the village elders with permission from the Spaniards helped decide the number of men to work for the state administration.

The exploration and discovery of the Americas by the Spanish Empire in between 1450-1600 CE created a change accounting the rise in human mining operations and exploitation of the American landscape, however these changes allowed a long-lasting continuity of American flora and fauna taking on a European appearance. First of all, the rise in human interaction with the American environment began with the Columbian exchange. The Columbian exchange importantly created the vision for future settlers that America was rich with precious resources and was to be exploited. In between 1560-1685 CE, the Spanish entered the business of mining directly, opening the Andean Potosi mines in 1545. In this time period, Spanish colonies sent over approximately 35,000 tons of silver to its home country. This economic growth did not occur without the changes involving the labor of local natives. Before the Spaniards arrived in the Americas, the natives hardly utilized its strength to collect silver. As noted by the primary source of the Columbian exchange, the natives only had trace amounts of gold and silver in jewelry. After the Spaniards, the South American landscape changed entirely along with the devastation of the Inca population from such strenuous mining efforts. As cities like Cusco sprouted in South America, other changes involving human labor came into effect. After the middle 1500s, the Spaniards started to employ harsh labor codes. They made Incans and locals exposed to toxic gases released when mining. these underground operations also taxed human limits to their capacity because of the sildon dust and created lesions. Such codes and preset quota were unprecedented before the Spanish arrival. Despite the Spanish empire’s exploitation and unintended decimation of the natives through disease, there were certain continuities seen throughout the 1450s to 1600s CE. First of all, the introduction of cattle and sheep created a continuity of European animal presence in regions of South America. Without natural predators, these animals reproduced quickly and thus allowed the natives to learn about these creatures and why there were so useful for the Europeans. In addition, the constant clearing practices by the Europeans for ranch space allowed the continuity of sugar plantations and a continuing evolution in the vegetation of the Americas.

Eclipsed by Spanish explorations and determine to be irrelevant by many modern-day historians, the gender structures involving the role of women in Spanish-American society fundamentally remained the same over the years of emerging Spanish control in the 1450-1600 CE and beyond that time period because of specific individuals like Ines Suarez, but besides the positive continuity, there were a couple of changes encompassing the interactions between American women and Spanish men. First off, the arrival of the Spaniards into the Incan empire led by Pizarro in 1532 CE, did not change the outlook on women. Due to the absence of women, the Conquistadors consorted with local women. Pizarro himself wedded an Inca princess and as a result of these intermarriages, the mestizos population continued to grow. This increase of women favoritism led to the social rise in women during the early colonial days. For example, female individuals like Ines Suarez who joined an expedition to conquer Chile as Pedro de Valdivia’s servant continued to show the importance and impact of women in Spanish-American society. Not only was she a nurse, caretaker, advisor and guard to Valdivia, but she helped rule Chile later as the wife of Rodrigo de Quiroga. Ines who came into the picture in the 1540s represented the augmented treatment of women, something uncommon in other parts of the world. Towards the end of the 16th century, the role of women and their value decreased because of the immigration of European women and the establishment of settlements ruled by new, conservative governors. It became very typical for women to forage for food and tend wounds of soldiers. The role of women in government positions decreased as well over time, however these changes did not erase the legacies left behind by women of the early days of Spanish exploration and colonization.

As one may begin to notice, the world left behind the Spanish Empire certainly impacts us still to this very day. We notice that the role of women and the exploration of conquistadors paved way for future generations of European settlement and dominance. In many ways were these changes geographical catalysts as now two separate continents were connected.

Editor. Andrew Song. Published 1/22/16. Geography for Tomorrow.

The U.S State of California

Also referred to as The Land of Milk and Honey, The El Dorado State, The Grape State and, of course, The Golden State, the U.S state of California has long been known as the state that holds everything. After becoming a state in September 9th, 1850, California has expanded the definition of America as we know it. For example, 1 out of 8 Americans are from California and furthermore its desert city of Los Angeles is ranked the fourth largest economy compared to other states alone. California geographically awes any nature-lover as the state holds records and attractions ranging from the lowest to highest elevation in the American landmass not including Alaska. In addition, California has six national parks with the most visited being Yosemite National Park. Besides national parks, the state of California as of 2011 contains the largest minority population in America. In fact, many of its citizens are Asian immigrants who find work from the multiple corporations and technology innovative companies located in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is the leading hub for startups and venture capitalists seeking connections and interest from larger entities in the dotcom and tech sectors. As one may notice the U.S State of California continues to showcase its beauty and achievements to this very day and there is no sign of it ending. 

(Image used for educational purposes)

Editor: Andrew Song. Geography for Tomorrow. Published 1/18/16 

Shruti Sridhar’s GFT Volunteer Experience

About Me:

My name is Shruti Sridhar and I am currently an 8th grader at Challenger School. I am the Vice President of Media and Outreach for GFT. In addition to GFT, I have been involved in other charitable nonprofits such as Home of Hope, an organization serving underprivileged children in India. In 2013, I performed a Bharatanatyam (Indian classical dance) fundraiser for Home of Hope and raised $15K that was used to build computer labs for schools in Bangalore, India. My other passions besides classical dance include martial arts and speech and debate.

My Experience with GFT:

In March 2015, I started volunteering at Sunday Friends, a charitable organization in San Jose, where I became involved with computer classes and Spanish letter translation. When my older brother decided to expand GFT into Sunday Friends, I was motivated to join him, since geography is my passion as well. During the summer of 2015, I took over the GFT chapter at Sunday Friends, working with 1st to 5th graders almost every Sunday. I was truly surprised by their understanding of political affairs, history, and government, as we studied continents, states and highways, major cities, plate tectonics, and many more topics. Soon, Arvind put me in charge of social media accounts for GFT, and I started volunteering at the GFT chapter at the Santa Clara Library.

What I Have Learned:

Volunteering with GFT definitely impacted my view of the value of education. By working with the kids at Sunday Friends, I saw firsthand how the kids, after spending some time at the GFT session, would earn tokens with which their families would buy basic necessities such as laundry detergent. As bright as these kids are, they grow up without the educational opportunities that they desire and deserve. I believe that GFT is an innovative way to empower children with geo-literacy, a beneficial skill that can help them build political, economic, and geographic knowledge. I look forward to continuing my work with GFT over the next year.

Niko Kern’s GFT Volunteer Experience

Niko Kern at Sunday Friends

About Me

Hi, my name is Niko Kern, and I am the Vice President of Teacher Training and Session/Activity Coordination at GFT. I’m currently a junior at Bellarmine, and I started working with GFT over the past year. Since the beginning of my freshman year, I have been volunteering on Mondays at my elementary school as a youth leader in an after-school catholic education program. I play tennis several times a week, dabble in miniature model making (WH40K), and enjoy cooking good food. I was the Vice President of the Top Gear Club over the course of my sophomore year, and this year plan to lead the Table Top Gaming Club.

Why did I join GFT?

I first heard of Geography for Tomorrow during my sophomore year, where Arvind presented his organization as a way of passing on his knowledge and experience on to the next generation. At the time I was impressed by both his confidence to run a volunteering organization by himself and his initiative to approach multiple schools in San Jose. He had found a way to transform his passion of geography into a viable way to benefit the community, and while I praised his work so far, I did not truly consider joining until later in the year. When the teacher passed out a GFT sign-up sheet several days later, I signed on with some measure of confidence due to my past experience of volunteering.

How was my experience with GFT?

Sure enough, I received an email from Arvind inviting me to sit in on several sessions during the last weeks of school. I was able to get a feel of what I would be expected to do during these sessions, and was eager to get started when Arvind asked me if I would like to do some volunteering over the summer. My first day was particularly daunting, as Arvind’s other volunteers who would normally be there to both supervise and help out were unable to come in that day. Luckily the staff at Sunday Friends (the weekend program we work and coordinate with) was able to help me set up and guide me through the day. The kids I worked with were much younger than I had expected, as they were 1st graders while I had worked with kids from 6th to 8th, but the lesson plans were easily adapted to the different age group. We examined the continents and countries of the world for a time and then moved on to riveting games of geographically themed hangman. This trend of learning followed by engaging activities continued to serve me well throughout the summer, and by the end of it Arvind had offered me the opportunity to become more involved in the organization by helping other volunteers become leaders. Over the course of the next year, I look forward to working more with GFT.

ISIS is Losing Ground

The horror and devastation that the self-proclaimed Islamic State and its fighters have wrought on Iraq and Syria has been complete. Thousands of people have been displaced from their homes, fearful for their lives and the lives of their loved ones as ISIS tore through their cities and towns. Just last week, ISIS fighters stormed the ancient city of Palmyra and drove back opposition forces; many in the international community fear that ISIS will destroy the priceless artifacts.

ISIS Fighters Take Palmyra
ISIS fighters take Palmyra

In the wake of such atrocities, unprecedented expansion, and jaw-dropping support for ISIS, the logical question to ask would be whether ISIS will last. Is there whole state built on faulty foundations, reliant on scaring the populace and asserting control by filling power voids? In many ways, ISIS can be compared to the fearless Mongol fighters of the early 12th century CE. The Mongols were fierce warriors who tore through villages, burning and looting everything in their paths. They relied on fear tactics to subdue their subjects; for example, they paraded the heads of dissidents on sticks through towns and villages. However, in all their power and brutality, the Mongols only lasted for several decades. Better as conquerors than as rulers, the Mongols slowly ceded power to local authorities and blended into the cultures of their conquered subjects.

ISIS has lost over a quarter of its territory in recent months
ISIS has lost over a quarter of its territory in recent months

A similar phenomenon is occurring with ISIS, as CNN reports. Though ISIS has secured unprecedented gains in land, resources, and support over the past year, it now seems to be losing ground as its fear tactics and ferocious tenacity falter. Make no mistake, ISIS will still be a name people talk about for years to come. However, over the past few months, it has lost nearly a quarter of its territory in Iraq. A coalition of Kurdish fighters, Iraqi troops, and American air squads have relentlessly fought ISIS, pushing it back from key cities like Kobani. Even though Kobani’s victory came at a huge cost for the coalition forces, victories like Kobani seem to be slowly pushing back the monster that is ISIS. Furthermore, U.S. airstrikes have successfully destroyed crucial oil drilling stations in the territory of ISIS. This is crucial for the battle, because ISIS used to make an approximated $2 million every day from those oil fields and refineries. With the airstrikes, the oil exports and profits collected by ISIS have decreased by a whopping 90% in some areas, and by 70% on the whole.

However, when looking at this issue, it is important to understand that ISIS is not like anything the international community has dealt with before. ISIS calls itself a caliphate, so legitimacy is as important to it as land and resources. Because the coalition forces have begun to take back land, ISIS’s legitimacy has been badly hurt. As CNN reports, because of this, ISIS fighters have striven to take control of and destroy various archeological ruins, like those in Palmyra and Nimrud. They want to direct the attention away from their losses and re-emphasize their ferocity, which plays directly into their legitimacy. This is why they filmed themselves killing refugees at Yarmouk and Ramadi. They are trying desperately to reinforce their legitimacy, but as Afzal Ashraf, a counter-insurgency specialist from the Royal United Services Institute, puts it, “Where it counts they [ISIS] are not standing and fighting.”

The Pacific Ring of Fire

The Pacific Ring of Fire

The United States borders the Pacific Rim of Fire, the most geologically active region on earth, and the past few months have provided us reminders of the dangers that exist. Starting on November 12th, Pavlov Volcano, the most active volcano in Alaska, began erupting, pushing lava out from a vent near its summit. The ash cloud from this eruption is likely to cause disruption for air travel, as the National Weather Service warned airplanes to avoid airspace near the area. Pavlov is located along the Aleutian Range, 625 miles southwest of Anchorage, and lies along a popular international air route connecting Europe, North America and Asia. The volcano has 40 recorded eruptions, which are known to last for weeks and even months.

Meanwhile, residents of Pahoa, a small town of 1,000 people in Big Island of Hawaii, have had their own encounter with volcanic lava since June of this year. The Kilauea volcano, the most active on earth and located on Hawaii’s Big Island, has been erupting continuously for more than 31 years. One such lava flow from a June 2014 eruption has been advancing slowly and edging closer to the town. Although, the leading edge of the flow stalled about 170 yards above the Pahoe Village road by the end of October, the oozing stream of lava burned down the first structure in early November, an abandoned house and barn that is estimated to be worth $200,000. Officials are closely watching the flow as it poses a threat to a vital road, Highway 130, the lifeline to the Puna district of the Big Island.

Lava Flow from the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii
Lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii

These two incidents are stark reminders of how our world is constantly moving and churning around the 25,000 mile horseshoe shaped arc that is referred to as the Pacific Rim of Fire. This region has 452 volcanoes and is home to over 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes. The Ring of Fire is a direct result of plate tectonics, the movement and collision of the various plates of the earth in this region. The eastern section of the ring is the result of the Nazca Plate and the Cocos Plate being subducted beneath the westward moving South American Plate. The Cocos Plate is being subducted beneath the Caribbean Plate, in Central America. A portion of the Pacific Plate is moving beneath the North American Plate. Along the northern portion, the northwestward-moving Pacific plate is being subducted beneath the Aleutian Islands arc. Farther west, the Pacific plate is being subducted along the Kamchatka Peninsula arcs on south past Japan. The southern portion is more complex, with a number of smaller tectonic plates in collision with the Pacific plate.

The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State was the most significant volcanic incident to occur in the contiguous 48 U.S. states in recorded history, exceeding the destructive power and volume of material released by the 1915 eruption of California’s Lassen Peak. The eruption was preceded by a two-month series of earthquakes and steam-venting episodes caused by an injection of magma at shallow depth below the mountain, creating a huge bulge and a fracture system on Mount St. Helens’ north slope. An earthquake at 8:32 a.m. on May 18, 1980 caused the entire weakened north face to slide away, suddenly exposing the partly molten, gas- and steam-rich rock in the volcano to lower pressure. The rock responded by exploding into a very hot mix of pulverized lava and older rock that sped toward Spirit Lake so fast that it quickly passed the avalanching north face.

The eruption of Mt. St. Helens
The eruption of Mt. St. Helens

About 90% of the world’s earthquakes and 80% of the world’s largest earthquakes occur along this arc. This region has also registered all of the catastrophic magnitude 9.0 or larger earthquakes recorded on earth, including the largest recorded earthquake of magnitude 9.5 in southern Chile in 1960.

Major earthquakes along this belt have also caused massive tsunamis. The 2011 magnitude 9.0 in Japan unleashed a destructive tsunami that wreaked havoc, including causing the meltdown of a nuclear reactor in Fukushima. Almost 10 hours after the quake, the tsunami reached the Northern California coast and caused extensive damage at the Santa Cruz harbor.

The Pacific Rim of Fire also includes the famous and active San Andreas Fault zone of California, a transform fault which offsets a portion of the East Pacific Rise under southwestern United States and Mexico. This fault lies below some of the most populated metro areas in the US, including San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The northern segment of the fault runs through the Santa Cruz Mountains, epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, then on up the San Francisco Peninsula. The fault runs offshore at Daly City south of San Francisco, and is the approximate location of the epicenter of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

An aerial view of the transform boundary that characterizes the San Andreas fault
An aerial view of the transform boundary that characterizes the San Andreas fault

For millions of inhabitants of the Pacific coast of North, Central and South America, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, New Zealand, and other islands nations, home is a rather dangerous cauldron, with a possibility of volcanoes, earthquakes or tsunamis. However, so far, the human endurance and resilience has conquered these adversaries as we continue to thrive in the Pacific Rim of Fire.

Ebola and Bioterrorism

The year was 1346. The citizens of Caffa, a small town on the Black Sea in modern-day Crimea, waited with baited breath as the fearless and bloodthirsty Mongols battered down their wall and destroyed their small trading city. But before the Mongols could succeed, they first had to kill the population slowly from the inside. And the answer was the black death. For years, the Mongols had come into contact with the black death, a combination of the bubonic and pneumonic plague bacteria carried by rats and fleas. The Mongols brutally took the bodies of the dead and catapulted them over the wall and into the city. The result: widespread death and famine, allowing the Mongols to succeed in their conquest. The Mongols had just executed a very primitive form of biological warfare, one that would spread far and wide and eventually kill over a third of the European population.

Ever since World War 1, the use of infectious biological agents as weapons of mass destruction has become more viable and accessible throughout the world. Anthrax, typhoid, smallpox, you name it: all of these have been, at some point, considered for weapons of biological warfare and, in some cases, of biological terrorism. Now that all of these infections are curable using conventional medical techniques, we might think we have nothing to worry about. However, a new age of biological terrorism is on the rise, one with microbes that are even more deadly, potent, and infectious. And at the face of this new scare is a virus so destructive that it has killed over 80% of its victims and remains incurable. This new candidate for bioterrorism is none other than the Ebola virus.

Originating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Ebola virus has, since March 2014, experienced an explosion in Western Africa. This worst outbreak of Ebola, centered in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Senegal, and Nigeria, has led to over 9000 different cases and over 4500 deaths. As medical experts and soldiers go to the region to contain the disease and prevent it from spreading, governments around the world try to put up measures to combat its spread beyond Africa. Because of its highly contagious nature and deadly consequence, one question that is worth pondering is what might happen if the Ebola virus got into the wrong hands. It is alleged that the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo tried to harvest Ebola samples from Zaire in 1992 as part of their grand plan to wreak havoc in Japan. Although this group did not succeed with this plan, they masterminded a deadly Sarin gas attack that killed 13 people and injured 50 on a Tokyo subway in 1995.

The aftermath of the Aum Shinrikyo Sarin gas incident, which killed 13 in Tokyo, Japan
The aftermath of the Aum Shinrikyo Sarin gas incident, which killed 13 in Tokyo, Japan

The world today appears extremely fragile. Unrest spreads far and wide. Typically hot spots such as North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and the Middle East continue to smolder. Adding to this cauldron is the crisis in Ukraine, the unrest in Egypt, and the economic and political disenchantment in Brazil. Even the perennially peaceful Canada got a rude wakeup call due to two terrorist attacks within days, one of them on the nation’s Parliament House. Turning Ebola into a weapon of mass destruction similar to nerve agents allegedly used by the Syrian government is highly unlikely due to the sophisticated lab work required and its lack of airborne capabilities. However, it is very viable as a weapon of mass destruction if spread by a live carrier. Imagine the mayhem that some organized terror outfit such as ISIS or Al-Qaeda suicide bomber could cause by willfully becoming a carrier and unleashing the terror in any of the major metro area in the Far East, Asia, Middle East, Europe, or the Americas. With a virus incubation period of 2-21 days, it would be nearly impossible to contain such a diabolic plot.

Governments in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia need to do more right away to help the African countries fight this deadly disease and help contain and stop the spread as soon as possible. Travel bans and quarantines are controversial with neither the WHO nor the CDC recommending it. However, citizens around the world are demanding that their governments have credible plans to deal with the unintentional carriers of the virus. Even in the US, the Federal government and the states of New York and New Jersey have conflicting containment policies causing confusion and distrust in the administrators. And no-one is talking about the wilful carrier yet. Panic and fear alone on the possibility of such an event could plunge us back into a deep economic crisis. It would be highly prudent for all governments to acknowledge this threat, have contingency plans to tackle such a situation if it is ever unleashed while having robust deterrents in place. Ebola can and will be used by bioterrorists to threaten developed nations, specifically America, and unless we take steps to counteract this action, our country is vulnerable.

ISIS and the Canadian Parliament Shooting

During the morning on Wednesday, October 22, 2014, 24 year old Army Corporal Nathan Cirillo assumed his position as the ceremonial guard of the National War Memorial in Ottawa Canada. Beginning his watch, he felt just as he had any other day on the job. Cirillo was part of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, an infantry regiment of the army, and was assigned this job of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier just a short walk away from the parliament building. However, on that fateful day, his life changed, when a gunman called Michael Zehaf-Bibeau came up suddenly and fatally shot him using a rifle. Entering a car behind the memorial, Michael sped to the Canadian parliament building, which he entered with rifle in hand and began shooting at the assembled legislators and visitors. As the attack unfolded, it became the most significant act of violence on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill since 1966. Though Michael was killed at the parliament house, officers initiated a complete lockdown of the downtown district and began looking for a second gunman, just to be sure that they were not still in danger. As a result, business stagnated, profits were lost, and the city of Ottawa came to a halt. When the officers cleared the city that evening, the Canadian Prime Minister came out and proclaimed this major assault as an act of terrorism.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s original name was Michael Joseph Hall, a born Canadian citizen. Earlier this year, he embarked on a trip to Iraq in order to convert to Islam. Michael had been hooked by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, common called ISIS, and he consequently left his country and became a recruit for the terrorist state. Moreover, Michael’s attack was not an isolated case; just two days earlier similar jihadists wreaked havoc at a strip mall in Montreal. Since its declaration of sovereignty in July 2014, the ISIS state has recruited thousands of such westerners as Michael, primarily using social media and the Internet, to take part in its jihadist movement. Using their Twitter accounts and carefully orchestrated videos, ISIS is able to hook more and more recruits from Britain, Australia, Germany, Canada, the United States, and others. As more come in, ISIS drafts them and trains them in elaborate fields, preparing them for guerrilla warfare and terrorism.

The ISIS state, a Sunni Islam extremist nation, aims to spread its influence and declare a caliphate. A caliphate is an Islamic nation that is dedicated to both spreading the faith through conquest as well as solidifying the faith among subjects. Islam has not seen a proper caliphate since the glorious Abbasid Dynasty in the ninth to thirteenth centuries, centered in Baghdad and spreading its influence all the way to Spain. ISIS aims to develop its own caliphate by conquering Syria and Iraq, two countries that have historically contained both Shiites and Sunni Muslims. By ruthlessly attacking and conquering sections of these countries, ISIS aims to bring the region under Sunni control. However, its extremist policies have been chastised by even Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia. In fact, according to BBC news, the extremist terrorist group Al-Qaeda itself, responsible for heinous crimes such as the 9/11 attacks on the United States, disapproves of ISIS’s radical philosophies and distances itself from the jihadist band. ISIS conquers its territory brutally, using shelling and guerrilla warfare. In addition, ISIS conducts brutal public executions in order to instill fear in local populations and force them to unquestionably accept ISIS supremacy. One of the groups that ISIS has hit brutally are the Kurds of northern Iraq and Syria. These Christian inhabitants have been ruthlessly massacred by ISIS fighters due to their religious beliefs.

An ISIS fighter executing a man in Iraq
An ISIS fighter executing a man in Iraq

Ever since the U.S. announced that it would begin airstrikes against ISIS in September 2014, Canada has been one of its staunchest supporters. According to CNN, Canada has been helping with the airstrikes and intelligence gathering efforts to help target ISIS trucks and strongholds in the Middle East. However, as more Canadians, enticed by ISIS’s message and diversity, convert to Islam and are drafted for terrorist warfare, Canada becomes more prone to a terrorist attack. This is because though the ISIS recruits who leave Canada to convert to Islam and train on ISIS’s fields, they are still Canadian citizens and, by law, can lawfully pass back into the country whenever they want. The Canadian government, in other words, has no legislative authority to restrict ISIS fighters who are Canadian citizens from coming back into the country. Therefore, as more now-terrorists are able to gain easy access to their countries of origin, they are able to easily engage in terrorist activities. This is shown in Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s story, an ISIS recruit who was able to easily return to Canada, buy a rifle, and cause terror in downtown Ottawa. And the incident just two days earlier, with ISIS terrorists killing a man in Montreal, shows how Michael’ is not an isolated case but the beginning of a movement.

With this new threat, everyone is in danger. The common citizens have no idea when or where ISIS terrorists will strike next, because the jihadists are Canadian citizens who cannot be properly identified as ISIS fighters. With this legal gray area, countries like the United States are beginning to take legal steps to close this loophole. As many as 300 U.S. citizens are being trained by ISIS, raising worries of possible terrorists attacks and prompting the U.S. to take these measures. However, Representative Frank Wolf’s bill might also restrict free travel between American and Syria for honest men and women trying to visit their families. Therefore, the age old conflict once again comes into play: should America do what is in its best interest to curb ISIS’s threat to the American populace at the expense of the freedom of some of its citizens? The answer, undoubtedly, will become clear in the weeks to come, as America continues to take heightened precautions against the ISIS threat.

Hong Kong’s Democratic Movement

In 1912, the dynastic cycle in China, an awe-inspiring system of imperial rule maintained for nearly three thousand years since the age of Confucius, finally gave way to a nationalistic government. The dynastic cycle, a system where ruling dynasties of China established their own imperial hereditary monarchies over several centuries, terminated with the mighty Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and the Xinhai Revolution. The nationalistic government that ensued established a democracy in China, with a parliamentary legislative assembly and a president. However, in 1949, the Communist Party under Mao Zedong, after relentless guerrilla attacks and campaigns to gather supporters, overthrew the nationalists, weak due to the Japanese World War 2 invasion and disliked among the Chinese commoners. Driving the nationalists to Taiwan, the communists established their government based on Marx’s manifesto, leading to the formation of the People’s Republic of China. As leaders such as Deng Xiaoping reformed the government to make it more business-friendly, they enabled China to become an economic and industrial powerhouse. As Chinese industry boomed, Hong Kong, situated strategically on the South China Sea, became one of the busiest ports of China and, today, has emerged as one of the most important cities for global finance, transportation, and economics.

Port of Hong Kong
The port of Hong Kong, one of China’s busiest ports.

Held by Britain as a protectorate during the 19th and 20th centuries, Hong Kong, the heart of Cantonese China, is a true cosmopolitan city and has a large English speaking population. In 1997, it finally came into the power of communist China. However, the citizens of Hong Kong, used to the democracy under Britain, never did feel the same under communist influence. When the doctrines outlining Hong Kong’s reincorporation into China were written, the city agreed to Chinese governmental authority on the promise that it would receive democracy in the future. However, the Chinese government has gone back on this promise several times, the latest of which occurred just over a month ago. On August 31, 2014, Beijing issued a restrictive order stating that the Chinese government would choose the candidates who were to run in Hong Kong’s next executive election, in 2017. This, as the New York Times puts it, still gives the citizens a “choice” in their vote but allows them to pick from just a few pre-selected candidates. According to Cheung Man-kwong, a veteran politician of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, “By endorsing this framework, China has in truth and in substance reneged on her promise to give Hong Kong universal suffrage.” The result: large scale protests by pro-democracy groups in the city, hindering business, economics, and industry and therefore harming the Chinese economy.

China for long has resentfully eyed Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, such as a judicial body that includes foreign judges and a law granting the freedom of press. Hong Kong’s process for electing an executive leader has also been lax compared to China’s approach, requiring just 150 council supporters of a candidate for him or her to run. This has allowed democratic contenders to legitimately oppose Beijing’s proxies and has forced these proxies to be held accountable for crimes such as bribery and fraud. However, China has a history of maintaining a firm stance on its philosophies and political affairs, and its dislike of Hong Kong’s politics undoubtedly fuels its proposal to the city. Moreover, the citizens of Hong Kong, when met with the proposal from Beijing to regulate the executive election, knew that they had no other choice. Beijing holds a firm grasp on Hong Kong, and the latest proposal, according to Hong Kong citizens, is just a way to show them how they really do not have a choice. In essence, the Chinese government is presenting those in Hong Kong with an ultimatum, and if Hong Kong agrees, the government will take complete control over Hong Kong’s politics and eradicate democracy in the city.

In this pro-democracy movement, the police have often engaged in violent confrontations with protesters. In one case, a pro-democracy demonstrator was taken by the police into a corner, kicked, and beaten. The Hong Kong Information Services Department says, “Police express concern over the video clip showing several plainclothes officers who are suspected of using excessive force.” Unfortunately, police brutality in this demonstration is far too common. Though the police has been removed, there will most likely be more clashes between the law enforcement and the pro-democracy demonstrators, due to the stark difference in their viewpoints.

Protesters Subdued
Police subduing a protester. Used because no free alternative existed.

The Chinese government hopes to do away with true democracy and election competition in favor of an election with candidates pre-selected by an undemocratic body. This is the basis of Hong Kong’s drive to remain democratic and protest Beijing’s new proposal. There is currently almost unanimous consent among Hong Kong officials to reject the proposal. In this tricky situation, the end result is unclear, but one can be sure that the citizens of Hong Kong will do what they think is best to preserve their democracy and prosperity as one of China’s biggest port cities.

The Ebola Virus Has Come to America

The Ebola virus is one of the most deadly viruses known to human kind, with studies showing how only about 10% of those who contract the disease in the worst outbreaks escaping alive. Ebola originated in Africa, with the first outbreak occurring in 1976 in the Sudan, a country in the northeast of the continent. Here, a strain of ebola known as Ebola-Sudan developed, infecting 284 but only killing about 53% of those infected. However, soon after, a second strain called EBOZ developed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, infecting 318 people and killing over 88% of them. It was here that Ebola received its name, after the Ebola river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, there have been numerous outbreaks of the disease, but never infecting more than 500 people. Some outbreaks were more deadly than others. Also, the outbreaks usually were contained in Africa, though some originated in the Philippines.

Since March 2014, however, the largest outbreak of Ebola has unfolded in Western Africa, centered around countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Senegal, and Nigeria, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC). Currently, over 3900 patients have tested positive for the disease in the region, and over 2000 have died due to the disease. As medical experts and soldiers from across the world go to the region to contain the disease and prevent it from spreading, governments around the world try to put up measures to combat its spread beyond Africa. This worst case of Ebola ever recorded is compounded by the fact that many people in the region of infection are culturally inclined to hug, kiss, and prepare Ebola patients’ bodies for burial. In addition, due to the lack of proper infrastructure and hygiene regulations in the region, more quickly become infected, and the disease becomes harder to contain.

Map of Ebola in West Africa
The extent of the Ebola virus in West Africa. Image courtesy of the U.S. CDC

What makes Ebola so deadly? Ebola is not a disease that has airborne transmission capabilities, reducing its infectiousness; this is because the virus dries out when outside of the body and is not able to survive suspended in the air. Also, since the virus does not target the respiratory system but rather the liver, it would make no sense evolutionarily for the virus to evolve abilities to become airborne. This is because if the virus becomes airborne, the most likely form of uptake would be inhalation, pointless considering Ebola does not target the lungs. Therefore, Ebola is transmitted only through bodily fluids and touched surfaces. In the current outbreak, people are warned against touching the bodies of the deceased and attending funerals of those who died from Ebola, because both can led to the transmission of the virus. Once someone gets Ebola, the virus incubates for 2-21 days and then functions like any other virus. It invades human cells, releases its RNA into the cell, has the cell multiply and transcribe its genome, and has the cell release more viruses. The virus attacks all the organs and tissue in the body, especially the connective tissue made of collagen that holds the organs in place. In addition, blood clots form that prevent the flow of blood; this causes massive hemorrhagic shock, spontaneous bleeding, and death. Symptoms include intense fever, headaches, joint and muscle pain, and bleeding.

So far, the global community, particularly President Obama and the CDC, have said that Ebola is unlikely to evolve into a global pandemic, and that the so-called “first world” nations have the technology and infrastructure to contain the disease and treat patients. However, as shown by a recent incident involving an ebola victim in Dallas, it is relatively easy to book a flight from Liberia, the heart of the outbreak, to Washington, D.C. Thomas Eric Duncan, who travelled from Liberia to Dallas via plane with his wife to meet family, showed signs of Ebola after coming to the U.S. He was immediately taken to the hospital and is now being treated in an isolation ward, with his family relocated and under quarantine. As many as 9 people in contact with Duncan have been exposed to the virus. Though the President still says that there is nothing to worry about, the CDC has advised Americans to take caution and immediately report anyone exhibiting symptoms.

Work is underway currently in the CDC to develop a drug for the disease. This experimental drug has already been slightly successful with Ebola patient Kent Brantly, an American aid worker in Sierra Leone diagnosed in August and taken to the U.S. for treatment. This drug is called ZMapp and, Brantly was the first patient to receive it. Hopefully, the drug will soon enter clinical trials and later be approved for widespread use in West Africa.