7 Completely Wild News Stories That Would Have Dominated Any Other Year but 2020

TOPSHOT - Protesters hold pictures of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, during a demonstration outside the US consulate in Istanbul, on January 5, 2020, two days after top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani was killed by a US drone strike. - A US drone strike killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani at …
YASIN AKGUL/AFP via Getty Images

The Chinese coronavirus pandemic – which global health authorities first warned the world of in January, months after the virus first began circulating in China – will forever mark 2020 as a historic year.

The pandemic, the authoritarian policies spawned in reaction to it, and the herculean work of medical researchers to develop a vaccine against it have dominated the American consciousness – even in an election year. But 2020 was full of surprises, including news event with major historical significance now doomed to be footnotes in the currently concluding chapter of current events.

Below, seven game-changers that struggled to get significant ink in American media in 2020.

Trump Assassinated Iran’s Top Terrorist Mastermind

The fatal drone strike against Major General Qasem Soleimani – the head of the Quds Force, a global terrorism unit within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – was the biggest story of the year when it happened: in January, before the pandemic had impacted most of the United States. As head of the Quds Force, Soleimani was arguably the most important military mind in the Iranian armed forces, responsible for organizing terrorist attacks around the world and maintaining relations with rogue actors across the globe, from Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro.

Soleimani pioneered the use of roadside bombs to injure and kill American soldiers in Iraq, resulting in a high number of deaths and loss of limbs for U.S. troops there. According to Retired Gen. Joseph Dunford, Soleimani was directly responsible for the deaths of at least 500 troops. Those living with permanent disability as a result of Soleimani’s interventions in Iraq is believed to be much higher.

President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike against Soleimani while he was visiting Baghdad and meeting with the head of one of the deadliest PMF units, the Hezbollah Brigades. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis died alongside Soleimani, dealing an as-of-now irreparable blow to Iran’s operations in the region.

When the U.S. government confirmed the airstrike, Trump detractors dramatically claimed he had just begun World War III. In reality, without Soleimani, the Quds Force has become barely relevant to global terrorist operations. Crippled by its poor handling of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, loss of funding for terrorism thanks to American sanctions, and the lack of ability of Soleimani’s successor Esmail Qaani, Iran has been significantly less active in 2020 in geopolitical affairs than in previous years.

India and China Went to War – with Rocks and Sticks

Two of the world’s largest and most powerful armies came to blows in June – literally, as the two had agreed not to arm soldiers with firearms along the border.

Tensions between India and China along their mutual border, known as the “Line of Actual Control,” boiled over in June in an Indian region known as Ladakh, where Indian Army troops found People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers erecting tents on Indian territory. According to the Indian government, the Indian soldiers approached the PLA troops to inquire as to why they had established themselves on sovereign Indian land. In response, the Chinese attacked, reportedly with rocks, sticks wrapped in barbed wire, and other rudimentary weapons. Fist fights featuring dozens of soldiers erupted, resulting in some dying from hypothermia and falls down steep Himalayan cliffs.

The Chinese claimed they were within their sovereign territory and that the Indians attacked first. They also refused to publish the identifies of their fallen soldiers, refusing to confirm a single death. According to New Delhi, as many as twice the number of Chinese soldiers died as Indian troops; India confirmed at least 20 deaths.

The rare hand-to-hand combat led to the Indian government allowing soldiers to carry firearms – which, of course, resulted in the first shots across the border in 45 years, occurring in September.

High-level peace talks are currently ongoing. Following the Ladakh brawl, Indian troops captured a mountaintop on the Tibetan border that China claims is clearly Chinese sovereign territory, and at press time has failed to dislodge the Indians. The next year is highly likely to result in at least some scuffles along the border as China attempts to strategize the Indians’ removal.

Jihadists Beheaded a Schoolteacher over Cartoons – In a Paris Suburb

While mostly overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, the beheading of Samuel Paty, a French schoolteacher, captured enough international attention to result in thousands of people rioting – to protest French President Emmanuel Macron’s support of Paty, not the beheading.

Paty became the target of jihadists in October after showing cartoons depicting the Islamic figure Muhammad to his students in a class about freedom of expression. He had reportedly warned his students beforehand that he would show the photos and told Muslim students they could skip the class if they were offended. Parents of the students objected, resulting in a campaign at a local mosque to kill him.

Paty was beheaded on October 16 by a teen Chechen jihadist, Abdoullakh Anzorov. In response to his death, Macron led a memorial service, proclaiming, “we will never give up cartoons,” and awarded Paty the nation’s top civilian award, the Legion of Honor.

In response to the outpouring of support for Paty from his countrymen, Muslims around the world rioted. In Bangladesh, one protest attracted 40,000 people – despite pandemic precautions – who burned Macron in effigy. In Pakistan, a teacher beheaded an effigy of Macron in front of students. Pakistan also experienced thousands-strong protests organized by a cleric who later died with respiratory symptoms similar to those of the Chinese coronavirus.

Peru Ousted Two Presidents in Five Days

The constitution of Peru allows Congress to remove an elected president if they find that he is “morally” or physically unfit to serve. It does not require an impeachment trial or explanation why, so Congress tries to oust the president every time the opposition attains a majority there.

In November, Congress succeeded in ousting Martín Vizcarra on vague corruption charges that Vizcarra denies any evidence exists for. Vizcarra took power in 2018 after Congress ousted his predecessor Pedro Pablo Kuczynski for ties to Odebrecht, a Brazilian contractor responsible for one of the most successful and complex corruption schemes of all time. Congress also tried to oust Vizcarra in 2019 but failed.

This time, they succeeded, resulting in the elevation of the president of the Congress, Manuel Merino, to the position of head of state. Typically, Peruvian presidents are supposed to have two vice presidents to protect from a power vacuum. Vizcarra only had one because he, himself, was Kuczynski’s vice president, and never appointed a second. Mercedes Araóz, Vizcarra’s remaining vice president, was removed in 2019 after attempting to install herself as president during the 2019 attept to oust Vizcarra.

Merino lasted five days in office before resigning. Those days were marked by nationwide violent protests as citizens expressed outrage over the political controversy occurring during the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, when stable leadership was more important than ever. Merino resigned after two people died in protests and half his cabinet resigned.

After nearly a week with no president or vice president at all, Congress finally appointed Francisco Sagasti, a bland technocrat, to lead the country. Sagasti remains in that position today, but only has five months in the interim position to organize an election, meaning Peru will soon have its sixth president in less as many years.

The First Arab Nation in 26 Years Normalized Relations with Israel. Three More Followed.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) became the first Arab state since Jordan in 1994 to normalize relations with Israel this year, resulting in the acceptance of Israeli passports and the opening of full economic and diplomatic relations. The move would have already been a historic geopolitical success for the Trump administration without three more members of the Arab League – Sudan, Bahrain, and Morocco – also recognizing Israel as a state and signing a peace agreement shortly thereafter.

Prior to these deals, only Jordan and Egypt accepted the reality of Israel’s existence as a state in the community of Arab nations. Egypt recognized Israel in 1979, two years before the Egyptian president responsible for the deal, Anwar Sadat, was assassinated. This means it took another 15 years for one more state to normalize ties with Jerusalem. In addition to the clear historic significance of the deals – known as the Abraham Accords, and initially signed at the White House in September – the deals have resulted in immediate changes for citizens of the countries involved. These changes have been most significant with the UAE; as of last week, it has received over 50,000 Israeli visitors, whose passports were invalid there this summer.

China Is Developing Facial Recognition Technology that Knows What Ethnicity You Are

A late entry in extraordinary 2020 news, a report by IPVM, an independent investigative firm, revealed in December that it had evidence that at least two Chinese mega-corporations – telecommunications giant Huawei and online merchant Alibaba – had developed facial recognition technology that could tell a user if the face being analyzed belonged to a member of China’s ethnic Uyghur minority. The “Uyghur alert” system, according to the report, would notify the policy if surveillance cameras placed in any given neighborhood identified a Uyghur person walking within its field of view.

Huawei and Alibaba both claimed that the “Uyghur alert” technology was not in use or meant to be sold to interested parties, but instead an experiment to see what the technology could do.

The context of the report, however, suggests much more nefarious usage for such a system. China is currently believed to have trapped 2 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz people, and other Muslim ethnic minority individuals in concentration camps. Survivors of the camps say they are forced to endure communist indoctrination there and learn Mandarin – Uyghurs speak their own Turkic Uyghur language. Many say they witnessed forced abortions and sterilizations and endured torture, indications of a potential genocide campaign against China’s minorities.

Kim Jong-un Cries

North Korea claims to have not documented a single case of Chinese coronavirus within its borders, despite its proximity to China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan, all of which have endured significant local outbreaks. This story is tangentially a pandemic story – tangentially because Kim Jong-un has not directly admitted his failures have any relation to the pandemic – but a dramatic one nonetheless.

While delivering a speech in October, Kim Jong-un, one of the world’s most brutal dictators, cried and profusely apologized to the North Korean public for his failures.

“Our people have placed trust, as high as sky and as deep as sea, on me, but I have failed to always live up to it satisfactorily. I am really sorry for that,” Kim reported said while wiping away tears. “Although I am entrusted with the important responsibility to lead this country upholding the cause of the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il thanks to the trust of all the people, my efforts and sincerity have not been sufficient enough to rid our people of the difficulties in their life.”

Kim vowed that he would, from then on, “live up to the people’s trust without fail even if [his] body is torn and crushed to pieces on the way of defending their great trust.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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