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Pulitzer Center Update January 19, 2016

This Week: The Lesser Evil


A young boy walks with a bicycle past Syrian army soldiers in the city of Harasta, 9 km north of Damascus. Photo courtesy of Freedom House flickr. Syria, 2012.
A young boy walks with a bicycle past Syrian army soldiers in the city of Harasta, 9 km north of Damascus. Photo courtesy of Freedom House flickr. Syria, 2012.


Among other barbarities, the Islamic State, ISIS, routinely executes gay men. The preferred method of execution, according to propaganda videos released by ISIS, is to push them, bound and blindfolded, from the roofs of tall buildings. If the victims do not die in the fall, they are stoned to death by mobs in the street.

The regime of Bashar al-Assad can hardly be considered gay-friendly, but as Pulitzer Center grantee James Harkin reports in the current issue of Harper's, it is the safer alternative for members of Syria's beleaguered gay community. Like most of the country's other minority groups, gays in Syria have generally thrown their support to Assad.

In this remarkable piece of reportage from inside Syria, James talks with members of the gay community, including one who is a soldier in Assad's army. "The Syrian regime is not bad for gays," one young man tells James in a gay-friendly Damascus bar. "It is not good, but it is not bad. We don't have rights, but at least we are alive."


Advances in medical science have made it harder to die. Which is not necessarily a good thing. "Most people want to die the same way — pain-free and at home, surrounded by family," writes Pulitzer Center grantee Ankita Rao. "But in reality, most people in high-income countries die in a hospital, while in many lower-income countries they suffer in pain without medicine or facilities."

In this story for The New York Times "Fixes" blog, Ankita looks at a different approach in India's Kerala state where 15,000 volunteers assist a network of physicians and nurses in extending palliative care to tens of thousands of people who are incurably ill, bedridden or nearing the end of their lives.

One volunteer tells Ankita that participating in this low-cost and highly effective program was not only a service to her community, but a way to overcome the loneliness she experienced after her husband died last year.

Ankita notes that "Kerala's achievement is especially significant at a time when richer Indian states and wealthy countries like the United States are struggling with the same challenge: How can health systems offer the possibility of a dignified death to everyone?"


Last week Taiwan elected a new president and sent a strong message to its powerful and potentially over-powering neighbor on the mainland: Taiwan is a democracy and China is not, and for the time being the mainland's "One China" policy is on hold.

Tsai Ing-wen, a wonkish technocrat with law degrees from Cornell and the London School of Economics, is Taiwan's first female president. Voters gave her Democratic Progressive Party control of Taiwan's legislature for the first time, a sharp rebuke to departing president, Ma Ying-jeou, and his efforts to forge closer ties with China.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Pulitzer Center grantee and veteran China observer Richard Bernstein says Tsai's election signals "a conviction that integration has gone too far, too fast; that Taiwan has gotten too close to the authoritarian, controlling, and often bullying giant across the strait; and that this closeness poses a danger to Taiwan's treasured sense of de facto independence."


Boston University student fellow Pankaj Khadka spent the summer of 2015 documenting the impacts of mass migration of Nepali youths from their villages to foreign nations, mostly Gulf countries, for employment opportunities. The project explores how the social, cultural and overall dynamics of Nepali villages are changing as its future generation leaves in search of financial security. Follow us on Instagram @pulitzercenter to see his work!

Until next week,

Tom Hundley
Senior Editor