New Age Islam Edit Bureau
28 September 2015
The Marginalisation of Muslims Must End
The Newest Chapter in Syria’s War Could Be Its Bloodiest Yet
On Jerusalem, Jordan Cannot Remain Idle
The Pontiff Should Highlight Palestine
Is There A Theology To This New Atheism?
State Of The World: In Search Of Leadership
The Power Of An Information Society
Dr Fahmida Khatun
Six Ways Europe Can Turn Refugee Crisis into Opportunity
Ali Salem Defeated Them
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Setting Record Straight On Houthi Atrocities
By Bikram Vohra
War And Libya’s Fine Art Awakening
By Rim Taher
The Marginalisation Of Muslims Must End
The Newest Chapter In Syria’s War Could Be Its Bloodiest Yet
On Jerusalem, Jordan Cannot Remain Idle
The Pontiff Should Highlight Palestine
Is There A Theology To This New Atheism?
State Of The World: In Search Of Leadership
The Power Of An Information Society
Dr Fahmida Khatun
Six Ways Europe Can Turn Refugee Crisis Into Opportunity
Ali Salem Defeated Them
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Setting Record Straight On Houthi Atrocities
By Bikram Vohra
War And Libya’s Fine Art Awakening
By Rim Taher
The marginalisation of Muslims must end
26 September 2015
Being a Muslim in education must not be considered a crime, and the Western world should put an end to institutional marginalisation of Muslims in order to build tolerance.
After last week’s story of a teenager being arrested for building a clock that his teachers thought was a bomb, this week it emerged that a graduate student at Staffordshire University was investigated for months for reading a book on terrorism at the university Library.
More and more, Muslims continue making headlines not for doing something scary, but because an institution thought they may possibly be doing something scary
The marginalisation of Muslims in the Western world has been exacerbated over the past few years. More and more, Muslims continue making headlines not for doing something scary, but because an institution thought they may possibly be doing something scary. In most cases, the institutions were wrong.
This leads to a mistrust of Muslims in public society, as well as a feeling of alienation and isolation by the Muslim community. In the grand scheme of things, this unnecessary view goes so far as to affect refugees attempting to make it into Europe.
A series of incredibly racist webpages, magazines, and blog posts come up when the words “refugees, Europe, Muslim” are typed into a search engine. The irrational fear of Muslim refugees is so widespread that the Dalai Lama even issued a statement urging the public not to “reject refugees because they are Muslim.”
"Incubation ground for hate"
They didn’t even believe Mohamed Ahmed had a bomb – it was all for show.
The whole point of an educational institution, be it a school or a university, is to educate the public. Unfortunately, educational facilities across the Western world are failing at their core due to systematic racism.
There have been cases of true bomb scares at schools and educational facilities, even in the Middle East. I struggle to believe that the teachers of Mohamed Ahmed actually believed he had a bomb.
The school was not put on lock down, the classrooms were not evacuated, and a bomb squad wasn’t called. The procedure that a government institution should take if it was genuinely worried about a bomb threat wasn’t taken.
This questions the whole integrity of the supposed “threat,” and to me, it seems as though calling the police to arrest Mohamed Ahmed was a ploy to get Muslims in the media.
The negative semantics associated with the marginalisation of minorities in public media, meant that the negativity was also shared. A headline with ‘Muslim’ and ‘bomb’, regardless of the story, provides an incubation ground for hate.
Ultimately, being Muslim is not a significant reason for someone to be suspicious, especially if they work in a government-funded institution such as a university or a public school. While safety is paramount to the success of these organisations, just as the employees receive training on dealing with security threats, they must receive basic training in identifying threats.
Yara al-Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir
The newest chapter in Syria’s war could be its bloodiest yet
27 September 2015
In Syria’s five-year long conflict that has left 320,000 dead and triggered a stupefying refugee crisis, the worst for Syrians, cruelly, could be yet to come. Russia’s looming offensive against Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime, including the ISIS but likely not limited to, will prolong the conflict and further destabilize the region. And once again, Syrian citizens will bear the dire consequences of the newest chapter in the war that begins with President Vladmir Putin publicly confirming that he seeks to secure the future of Bashar al-Assad’s disgraced regime.
In a particularly candid statement, Putin confirmed during an interview with 60 Minutes that the assertion he is “trying to save the Assad administration because they've been losing ground and the war has not been going well for them,” is in fact accurate. To this assertion posed by Charlie Rose, Putin responded, “Well, you're right.”
Meanwhile, Hezbollah has fully embraced Russia’s increasing involvement in the war, with chief Hassan Nasrallah calling it a “great development.” It is worth noting that such inevitable support is what prompted a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Putin prior to Nasrallah’s speech. Reports indicated the leaders both agreed they would “coordinate military actions over Syria” with Netanyahu announcing they had "agreed on a mechanism to prevent…misunderstandings." Despite this, it is likely Hezbollah will continue attempting to reap the benefits of its long-term involvement in Syria and equally as likely Israel will continue maintaining its policy of thwarting the militant group’s attempts at transferring strategic weaponry to Lebanon. Such a quagmire could impact Russia-Israel relations though it is likely in the immediate term Moscow would not intervene in any Israeli operation targeting Hezbollah in Syria. That said, how Moscow responds to any potential Israeli attack directly targeting Assad regime positions will depend on just how far Russia is willing to go in Syria.
As the Russian military continues escalating its involvement in the war-town country, each new week brings additional evidence that the official U.S. Syrian rebel training program has failed disastrously. These failures will fuel the Russian narrative that Moscow is heroically stepping in to complete what the United States has failed to accomplish.
The worst development in the heavily pockmarked-with-failures U.S. policy on Syria would be seriously weighing cooperation with Russia
Meanwhile, with ISIS’s constant documentation of their own crimes and Assad’s constant burying of his, the barbarity of the Assad regime seems to have been forgotten by some. The utterly deluded notion, that Assad is any way less barbaric – or any less of a strategic threat – than ISIS, defies copious evidence of the contrary. President Putin was recently quoted stating that, “By the way, people are running away not from the regime of Bashar Assad, but from ISIS.” Such an illogical conclusion willfully ignores the reality that the Assad regime has killed far more Syrians than ISIS or any other nefarious actor operating in the country. When Russia begins executing airstrikes on behalf of the regime, the number of Syrian refugees fleeing will increase.
The worst development in the heavily pockmarked-with-failures U.S. policy on Syria would be seriously weighing cooperation with Russia that ultimately aids in propping up the regime. The Syrian war has to come to an end and ISIS has to be defeated but Russian involvement that ensures Assad’s future rule also ensures a future of more war.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad's continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.
On Jerusalem, Jordan cannot remain idle
27 September 2015
The question that always resurfaces when there is a new assault by Israeli extremists on Al-Aqsa compound is: What can Jordan, custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites, do to stop Jewish settlers’ frequent incursions into the third holiest site in Islam?
With the Jewish settler assaults on the Al Haram Al Sharif site (the "Noble Sanctuary", also known as Temple Mount) becoming a frequent act of provocation in recent weeks, Amman has toughened its position, stressing that it is ready for all options to prevent Tel Aviv’s plotting to change the status quo in Jerusalem. How the Amman-Tel Aviv relations would be affected is another question entirely.
On Jordan’s options to address Israeli provocations, I believe an all-out war is definitely absent. It is politically a costly option for both sides and is strategically linked with a set of factors in the region, including the Syrian conflict, Hezbollah’s involvement, the Iranian nuclear deal and Russia’s moves in the region. Even the hardline anti-Israel Jordanians – and there are many – have hardly ever called on their government to wage war against Israel, fully mindful of the region’s complicated politics.
The Israeli government, which day by day is unveiling its unreliability as a peace partner, has other ambitions
However, there are voices in Jordan calling for freezing the Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement, citing as evidence Tel Aviv’s alleged violations of the 1994 deal’s provisions, under which Israel is obliged to respect the Hashemite custodianship over Jerusalem’s holy sites.
A harsher stance?
These voices, even from within conservative political circles, are weary of merely recalling the kingdom’s ambassador to Tel Aviv, instead urging tougher procedures to oblige Israel to abide by the peace provisions. I was once told by a right-wing Jordanian politician, also highly conservative, that Israel is sure that a Jordanian response to its unilateral acts in Jerusalem will not exceed recalling Jordan’s ambassador to Tel Aviv or expelling the Israeli ambassador in Amman.
“They [Israelis] are certain of our [Jordanian] conventional response and have been thus acting unilaterally in Jerusalem,” he said. But the Wadi Araba Peace Treaty is not only apply to Jerusalem but includes other peace components such as land and water, which seem to not be a matter of dispute between the two signatories. Plus, I do not believe that Jordan is willing to go back to the state of war or state of 'no peace, no war' with Israel which freezing the peace deal would automatically entail. If peace with Israel has proved to be not that rewarding for Jordan, then how would it be if they were at war?
For the time being, diplomacy is Jordan's only tool to press for an end to the Israeli assaults on Al Haram Al Sharif. Jordan has succeeded in highlighting the Al-Aqsa Mosque issue at the U.N. Security Council which has issued a statement recently calling for full respect for the sanctity of Al Haram Al Sharif, noting the importance of Jordan’s special role, as engrained in the peace treaty. The council members also stressed that the status quo of Al Haram Al Sharif should be maintained and visitors should be without fear of violence or intimidation. The Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported that it was the first time the phrase “Al Haram Al Sharif” was used in 15 years by the Security Council - mostly due to Jordan’s intensive diplomatic efforts.
But will Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right coalition ever play a part in halting the Jewish settler assaults on the Al Aqsa Mosque compound? The answer is probably no. The Israeli government, which day by day is unveiling its unreliability as a peace partner, has other ambitions.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2
The pontiff should highlight Palestine
25 Sep 2015
Pope Francis' first visit to the United States is a momentous occasion. The leader of over 1.2 billion Roman Catholics is largely expected to focus on issues like inequality, climate change and religion. Yet the pope, who is only the fourth pope to visit the US while in office, arrives at a time of unique crisis in the Middle East. Wars plague both Syria and Yemen. I hope that he uses his four days to address another issue of significance: the urgency of solving the conflict in Palestine and Israel.
Catholic Church in US hopes for papal boost
Many of the pope's acts of kindness have been closely followed by Muslims across the world. Last year, we witnessed the symbolic power of the pontiff washing the feet of a 75-year-old disabled Muslim man from Libya in the pre-Easter ritual of Maundy Thursday. Muslims have witnessed the pope articulate "an expression of esteem and friendship for all Muslims".
There is no state entity that can single-handedly ameliorate the reality in Palestine.
The pope has not limited himself to theological speculation but has pursued Vatican reform and outreach work. He was instrumental in removing the Cold War embargo against Cuba. The pope has commented on inequality and the imbalances of capitalism. Many would like to see him extend the same spirit of reconciliation to the situation in Israel and Palestine, one of the most entrenched political conflicts of the last century.
There is no state entity that can single-handedly ameliorate the reality in Palestine. As the primary enabler of the conflict - in 2012, Israel received $3.1bn in aid - the US is a hypocritical peace-broker. Time and again, the US has also vetoed United Nations resolutions condemning Israeli assaults against Palestinians. Nor can we look to the UN to bring about a radical transformation. The UN's structure reflects more the victors of World War II than it does a global consensus.
The pope has already demonstrated his willingness to take on some of the more entrenched political and religious conflicts of our time. He has stood against exclusivist claims to religion, saying: "I believe in God, not in a Catholic God; there is no Catholic God, there is God." He has taken a stand against patriarchy, stating: "Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests." He has broken with Vatican hardliners and acknowledged the dignity of gays and lesbians: "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?" He has spoken out about the vicious legacy of European colonialism, citing that "many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God".
His worldview is consistent with the contemporary world. The pope has spoken that he sees the church as "a field hospital after battle". If he is looking for a wounded place in the world urgently in need of healing, that place is Palestine. The birthplace of Jesus is under occupation. The world's first indigenous Christian community is in danger of being eradicated within our own lifetime. The pope has already spoken about the suffering of the Christian minority population in the Middle East: "Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus." He should extend that call to the lives of all Palestinians, both Muslims and Christians, by pleading with the world to remove the occupation, allowing Palestinians to live in dignity, freedom, and peace with their Jewish neighbours.
Stagnant peace process
The pope has previously delivered sermons on both freedom and nationhood: "No actual or established power has the right to deprive peoples of the full exercise of their sovereignty." He can make a powerful case for peace and justice by specifying this concern for all Palestinians. He can make a call that Palestinians, alongside Jews, deserve to have full exercise of sovereignty without occupation, siege, military checkpoints, walls and settlements. He could revive a stagnant peace process which has been eclipsed by US interventions and more recent conflicts in the Middle East.
The Palestinians have for too long been dispossessed and disenfranchised. Half of all Palestinians remain exiled from their ancestral homes since 1948. Those who have remained have found themselves occupied and humiliated since 1967. A pope who has found influence in ecumenical gestures now has the opportunity to make a plea for bringing healing to one of the most protracted disputes of our time.
Omid Safi is the director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center.
Is there a Theology to this New Atheism?
27 Sep 2015
Why would a grown-up man, a respectable scientist, a self-professed warrior for the cause of reason and truth, pick a quarrel with a 14-year old boy who was the subject of a horrid act of bigotry by people who are supposed to protect and nourish his trust in the world, his confidence in becoming a self-respecting human being?
Dawkins on religion
By now, everyone knows the story of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year old boy who made a clock to impress his teachers and classmates and ended up being suspected of terrorism, arrested, handcuffed, and detained by the police on suspicion of having built a bomb. The story has had a very happy ending. They boy is cleared of all charges, and a global outcry of support for him includes an invitation by President Obama to visit the White House.
This New Atheism forms the most potent ideology informing US imperialism.
This should have been the end of the story - on to the next atrocity. But no: The self-proclaimed prophets of New Atheism - the loudest Islamophobic ideology of our time, competing with neo-Nazis for attention, would not let go.
We read in the news that one of the leading prophets of the cult, Richard Dawkins, has come out criticising the young boy that he had pretended to invent a clock and that he "wanted to be arrested".
New Atheism as a Fanatical Religion
As practised by Richard Dawkins and his ilk (the late Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, Sam Harris, et al), what is branded as "New Atheism" now amounts to a fanatical religion, degenerated into an offbeat cult, entirely contradictory to the delusion they are preaching that they are atheists.
As a moral, philosophical, or even metaphysical position, atheism is a perfectly legitimate position that perfectly honourable and moral people might have. But, by and large, atheists are pacifists denying any superior being manufacturing or managing of our universe, for that is what they think theism is. They may or may not be right in that assumption, but they are entirely entitled to refuse to believe in something others believe.
The manner, however, in which Dawkins and his coreligionists preach and practise their atheism is not much different than the manner in which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi preaches and practises his Islam, or John Hagee confesses his Christianity, or Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan his Judaism. They are all fanatical absolutists, dead certain in their hateful convictions, and without the slightest human doubt about their fanatical dogmas. They are all interdictions and punishments: no room for error, no time for introspection, no interior space for tolerance.
No collective human experiences that this particular brand of atheists designate, denounce, and dismiss as "religion" has ever been devoid of tolerance, doubt, humility. Judaism produced its Maimonides, Buber, and Levinas, Christianity its Schleiermacher and Kierkegaard, Islam its Rumi and Ibn Arabi, Hinduism its Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi, and Mirabai. But who have these profoundly fanatical atheists produced to teach them patience, humility, and forgiveness? Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris - an abiding love of humanity and our frailties? They are each more vindictive, arrogant, and spiteful than the other.
Dawkins accuses Ahmed of fraud: that he may have purchased a clock and taken it out to impress his teachers. Suppose he had. So what? Is this something that a grown-up man from half way around the globe picks up by way of intervening on this case?
The atheism that Dawkins and his ilk preach is an intolerant and dogmatic creed predicated on a theology of contempt for human follies and frivolities. They have become the picture perfect of that which they denounce. They have made a bogeyman whom they call "religion" (by which like Hitchens and Harris, they mean mostly Islam) and have made it so much the target of their hubris and hatred that they have metamorphosed themselves into it: intolerant, dogmatic, fanatical - the very model of medieval inquisition any human decency would denounce in any recalcitrant religion.
Can you imagine if these vindictive fanatics were to rule the world, legislate its laws, and execute its mandates? Anxiety-ridden, obsessive, and hypochondriac - they excel in the neurotic behaviour they then attribute to "religion".
It is as if from their brand of hateful atheism they have deduced backward a theology of contempt for human dignity - that by definition includes human folly, human frailty, human fragility. In denouncing such human traits, they are prophets of subhuman hatred and loathing, not just of people they scarcely know, but of the very texture of humanity, of who and what and whatever for it is we are.
Along with Christian Zionism and Neoconservative Neoliberalism, this New Atheism forms the most potent ideology informing US imperialism - now looking at itself in the mirror of murderous fanaticism of the Islamic State, and thus, foregrounding them all is Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilisation" thesis.
In a magnificent essay, "New Atheism, Old Empire", Luke Savage has already demonstrated in detail how this New Atheism is really a subterfuge to give "intellectual cover to Western imperialism". In an equally magnificent book, "Reason, Faith, and Revolution", Terry Eagleton has exposed the bizarre fanaticism of the same cult.
What needs to be added is the fact that this New Atheism comes together with the "Axis of Evil" and the "Evil Empire", one coined by President Bush and the other by President Reagan, to form a theology of imperial domination that reveals not just the banality of boorish chicanery they preach, but more importantly, the moral and intellectual vacuity of the unbridled neoliberalism they all promote.
Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.
State of the world: In search of leadership
27 Sep 2015
Here they go again. And here I am: once again in New York as world leaders pose for photographers and deliver lofty speeches at the UN's "new year" party gathering.
Judging from the attendance, the opening of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly promises to be no less of a tedious ritual than previous years.
And in the absence of the likes of Chavez, Gaddafi, and Ahmadinejad, it will even lack the political entertainment those populist leaders brought to the podium.
But dullness is nothing new and, considering our world's complex and urgent challenges, it's the least of its/our problems.
The problem as I see it as I look around: There are many world leaders, but no leadership.
Spiteful and pathetic
Instead of leading by example among the "Family of Nations", world leaders are acting like toxic in-laws. They come into town to preach that which they don’t practise, cause tensions, and create more problems than they solve.
The way I heard it, US President Barack Obama at first didn't want to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sideline of the UNGA session, but then a meeting was set up hastily as both sides distanced themselves from asking for it. (Meanwhile, Putin declined a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron but accepted to meet with the British singer Elton John, who had asked for a meeting following Putin's inflammatory statement about homosexuality).
Obama and Putin will talk about Syria and Ukraine, but I doubt they will listen.
Such is the poor state of affairs among the UN in-laws. Political and diplomatic expediency dictate their communication, just as narrow interests hamper their cooperation.
Greetings, toasting and playing national anthems are as - or perhaps more - important than dealing with dying Syrians, or persecuted Rohingya.
When they do meet, as in last week's US-China summit, much of the preparation is centred on protocol, which apparently prompts other important or meaningful issues. Greetings, toasting, and playing national anthems are as - or perhaps more - important than dealing with dying Syrians or persecuted Rohingya.
What does the G-2 stand for?
Presidents Obama and Xi seemed to have decided, out of domestic concerns, that they can't or won't do much for each other, and, therefore, ensured that their summit included all the trappings of success but without any concrete achievements.
The Washington Post reported that the White House state dinner featured lavish dresses, tech titans, and Hollywood heavyweights - but there was little or no progress to report on currency manipulation and cyber espionage, etc, let alone Asian security and world poverty. (The silver lining: Michelle Obama wore a dress by Chinese-American designer Vera Wang).
All of which dampens the hopes (wrongly) pinned on the new dynamics between G-2 powers - US and China - to responsibly manage the global economy, especially following the last international financial crisis.
Alas, they proved that they couldn't even act responsibly in Southeast Asia, where they're further complicating the security and economic landscape instead of improving it.
And while the US, Russia, and China fail the test of leadership, those in their shadows are incapable of coordinating among themselves or making the leap towards more meaningful roles.
US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama await the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping for a State Dinner at the White House [REUTERS]
Even Europe, which is presumably more capable than the rest to act globally, has been either terribly divided or playing catch-up with the US and Russia.
When was the last time you heard of Japan, India or the UK taking an international initiative of any sort? How effective is the group of G-20 when the leading G-2 fail to lead?
Brazil, India, and Germany might seek a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, but how will that lead to better world governance?
Ever since the world moved away from bipolarity of the Cold War, it's been torn between the unipolarity of US leadership, the new bipolarity of the US and China, and multipolarity of various world powers and groupings.
In other words: The old world order is no more, but there's no new world order either.
The confusion allows all to blame all, and in the process, everyone escapes accountability for their lack of international responsibility.
Lessons in leadership
For all practical purposes, world leaders have set themselves up to be lectured like amateurs on the rights and wrongs of leadership by an unlikely mentor.
Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, lectured his audience at the UN with clarity, boldness, and conviction that is lacking in great power politics.
Among other reprimands, the pope rebuked world leaders for failing to put an end to the many conflicts in the world, particularly in the Middle East, and for putting partisan interests above real human beings (notwithstanding, his neglect to talk about Palestine).
The pontiff even scolded the global financial institutions that subject countries to oppressive lending systems and subject people to mechanisms, which generate "greater poverty, exclusion, and dependence".
The secretary-general for Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, also accused the powerful leaders of hypocrisy as they lecture about peace while being the world's largest manufacturers of arms, and how they rail against corruption while allowing corporations to use financial and tax loopholes.
Tower of Babel?
None of these leadership failures or shortcomings diminishes the importance of the UN and its role in the global scene.
There is no escape from the verbal diarrhoea at the UN headquarters in the coming few days. But babble doesn't mean transforming the UN into the Tower of Babel.
The world is better off with a UN than without one. The UN remains an indispensable world forum to coordinate policies, voice grievances, and even take collective action.
But the effectiveness of the world body is determined only by the efficacy of the leaders of its member states, notably those permanent residents of the UN Security Council - the world's government.
One could only hope that beyond their wooden speeches, their formal or informal meetings on the sidelines of the assembly will produce more than just frowns and yawns.
Yes, the world is better off when leaders act in their nations' best interests. But civilisation is best served when leaders also act in the best interest of their region and that of the community of nations.
That requires leadership.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.
The power of an information society
Dr Fahmida Khatun
When the 'Digital India' initiative of the Indian Prime Minister receives the backing of none other than the Google CEO Sundar Pichai, one can't help but look at it with admiration. This CEO of Indian origin, and his compatriot Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, are among the talented products of India's world class tech institutes, Indian Institutions of Technology (IITs). Silicon Valley's strength depends on these IIT graduates.
The goal of becoming 'Digital Bangladesh' has been announced by our leadership at the highest level. We, however, are not fortunate enough to have such global support as we couldn't create a Pichai or Nadella. Even though our leaders have realised the importance of ICT, albeit a bit late, the preparations taken to become an information-based society are not as extensive as you'd expect. Just compare the number of IT institutions in Bangladesh. BUET, the only high quality engineering university of the country, has been there for decades. No government of the country has thought of investing in at least one more university like BUET, even though the number of students in the country, as well as the demand for IT solutions, has increased manifold. Students these days prefer to do BBA and MBA and pursue careers mostly in financial and commercial sectors. But they are not offered that many alternatives. Even if more students want to study science and technology, which institute will they attend? And then once they graduate, will they get to utilise their knowledge in the same field of their expertise?
Surely, even with limited talents, resources and opportunities, technology has brought a revolution in our lives over the past decade. For example, the use of mobile telecommunication has brought in spectacular results in remote villages and helped promote growth. Farmers are now able to receive market information through mobile services. Cell phones are used for collecting accurate data and quick dissemination of information. Services such as mobile money, healthcare, education and information, and helpline services are contributing to the welfare of the poor in several ways.
Mobile money is particularly useful for the remitters from abroad as it saves time and energy. As a large section of the population do not have access to banking services, mobile money has enabled them to send money to their families living in villages. In case of healthcare, mobile technology is being used by NGOs and the private sector to provide health services to the poor. Mobile phones are being used by doctors to fill out prescriptions and reduce maternal and child mortality in urban slums. Mobile education service is another new product of mobile technology that helps a large section of people who do not have the opportunity to access education from government-run education institutes.
Technology and information flow are also contributing towards empowerment of women. A large number of women enjoy online helpline services for information on rural livelihood, agriculture and legal rights of women. Women's education and access to information have been found to be a critical factor behind increased use of maternal health services and improved health outcomes, as well as reduced fertility and improved family nutrition.
However, the full potential of ICT in improving the livelihood of people, poverty alleviation and improving e-governance remains untapped in the country. Across the world, because of better and faster internet access and due to advanced fixed and mobile broadband technologies, there are new opportunities for innovative services and applications. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, our vision needs to be backed by proactive measures.
The first issue is that of affordability. Lower price has increased accessibility of technology. Having a mobile is no longer a luxury for farmers or housemaids, rickshaw pullers or day labourers. But further reduction in prices would expand the usability of many more services instead of using mobile technology only as a means of communication. The Broadband Commission for Digital Development has set a target to reduce broadband affordability for entry-level services to “less than 5 percent of average monthly income” by 2015. Lowering prices will also reduce the digital divide, a feature of technology which quite often manifests a “winner takes all” situation, whereby the educated and the wealthier tend to use mobile applications far more than the less educated and the poor. Therefore, in order to get more people digitally connected, low cost bandwidth and affordable phones are a must for establishing an information society.
The second obstacle in materialising the ambition of digital or information society is the lack of human resources. Bringing the whole country under digital coverage and connecting them through the internet would require massive capacity upgradation and skills development. Not only is there a need for more tech institutions, it is equally important to create awareness on the use of technology. Having access to technology is one thing, but using them for accessing various services is another issue. Apprehension and confusion regarding risks, and privacy and security concerns act as initial blocks for many of us when we first attempt to use technology.
In the coming days, the information society will not only provide improved services but also be essential for improving efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and accountability of governance. The faster we adopt ICT in all spheres of life, the better it is for overall development.
Dr Fahmida Khatun is Research Director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, currently a Visiting Scholar at the Centre for Study of Science, Technology & Policy, India.
Six ways Europe can turn refugee crisis into opportunity
September 28, 2015
A woman holds two children as they arrive with other refugees and migrants to the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey.
The EU needs a comprehensive plan to respond to the crisis, one that reasserts effective governance over the flows of asylum-seekers.
The European Union needs to accept responsibility for the lack of a common asylum policy, which has transformed this year's growing influx of refugees from a manageable problem into yet another political crisis. Each member state has selfishly focused on its own interests, often acting against the interests of others. This precipitated panic among asylum seekers, the general public, and the authorities responsible for law and order. Asylum seekers have been the main victims.
The EU needs a comprehensive plan to respond to the crisis, one that reasserts effective governance over the flows of asylum-seekers so that they take place in a safe, orderly way, and at a pace that reflects Europe's capacity to absorb them. To be comprehensive, the plan has to extend beyond the borders of Europe. It is less disruptive and much less expensive to maintain potential asylum-seekers in or close to their present location.
As the origin of the current crisis is Syria, the fate of the Syrian population has to be the first priority. But other asylum seekers and migrants must not be forgotten. Similarly, a European plan must be accompanied by a global response, under the authority of the United Nations and involving its member states. This would distribute the burden of the Syrian crisis over a larger number of states, while also establishing global standards for dealing with the problems of forced migration more generally.
Here are the six components of a comprehensive plan.
First, the EU has to accept at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future. And, to do that, it must share the burden fairly - a principle that a qualified majority finally established at last Wednesday's summit.
Adequate financing is critical. The EU should provide ?15,000 ($16,800) per asylum-seeker for each of the first two years to help cover housing, health care, and education costs - and to make accepting refugees more appealing to member states. It can raise these funds by issuing long-term bonds using its largely untapped AAA borrowing capacity, which will have the added benefit of providing a justified fiscal stimulus to the European economy.
It is equally important to allow both states and asylum-seekers to express their preferences, using the least possible coercion. Placing refugees where they want to go - and where they are wanted - is a sine qua non of success.
Second, the EU must lead the global effort to provide adequate funding to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey to support the four million refugees currently living in those countries.
Thus far, only a fraction of the funding needed for even basic care has been raised. If education, training, and other essential needs are included, the annual costs are at least ?5,000 per refugee, or ?20 billion. EU aid today to Turkey, though doubled last week, still amounts to just ?1 billion. In addition, the EU also should help create special economic zones with preferred trade status in the region, including in Tunisia and Morocco, to attract investment and generate jobs for both locals and refugees.
The EU would need to make an annual commitment to frontline countries of at least ?8-10 billion, with the balance coming from the United States and the rest of the world. This could be added to the amount of long-term bonds issued to support asylum-seekers in Europe.
Third, the EU must immediately start building a single EU Asylum and Migration Agency and eventually a single EU Border Guard. The current patchwork of 28 separate asylum systems does not work: it is expensive, inefficient, and produces wildly inconsistent results in determining who qualifies for asylum. The new agency would gradually streamline procedures; establish common rules for employment and entrepreneurship, as well as consistent benefits; and develop an effective, rights-respecting return policy for migrants who do not qualify for asylum.
Fourth, safe channels must be established for asylum-seekers, starting with getting them from Greece and Italy to their destination countries. This is very urgent in order to calm the panic.
The next logical step is to extend safe avenues to the frontline region, thereby reducing the number of migrants who make the dangerous Mediterranean crossing. If asylum-seekers have a reasonable chance of ultimately reaching Europe, they are far more likely to stay where they are. This will require negotiating with frontline countries, in cooperation with the UN Refugee Agency, to establish processing centers there - with Turkey as the priority.
The operational and financial arrangements developed by the EU should be used to establish global standards for the treatment of asylum-seekers and migrants. This is the fifth piece of the comprehensive plan.
Finally, to absorb and integrate more than a million asylum seekers and migrants a year, the EU needs to mobilise the private sector - NGOs, church groups, and businesses - to act as sponsors. This will require not only sufficient funding, but also the human and IT capacity to match migrants and sponsors.
The exodus from war-torn Syria should never have become a crisis. It was long in the making, easy to foresee, and eminently manageable by Europe and the international community. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has now also produced a six-point plan to address the crisis. But his plan, which subordinates the human rights of asylum-seekers and migrants to the security of borders, threatens to divide and destroy the EU. The EU must respond with a genuinely European asylum policy that will put an end to the panic and the unnecessary human suffering.
George Soros is Chairman of Soros Fund Management and of the Open Society Foundations
Ali Salem defeated them
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
28 September 2015
Some intellectuals only see the late Egyptian playwright, Ali Salem, as a symbol of normalization with Israel, and strip him of all he has offered to millions of Arabs and to the Arab culture through his works which have become immortal.
We do not want to withhold their right of criticism but it is not acceptable to terrorize intellectuals because of their political stands, to make them traitors, exclude and fight them. This becomes more than a right to expression and more than expressing an opposing opinion.
They overlook his history and productions, and try to defame him only because of their different political opinion. At the end, history is the only judge. It will remember him and forget them.
Ali Salem was an amazing person who brought added value to art, culture and even politics.
They didn’t succeed in shutting him up and make him reverse his position, as oppose to some artists and novelists who could not bear the attacks and decided to “repent.”
Some of those who waged campaigns against him in his life, and after his death, are hypocrites who belong to circles with solid political and mediatic relations with Israel, while others are Israeli Arabs who shifted toward populism attempting to appease a certain public.
What is left of them are Islamists belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood who, if they had lasted longer in governance, would be more like the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat who achieved war and peace more than anyone calling himself a nationalist and Islamist.
Salem held onto his unwavering belief, as an intellectual and a man of conviction, that a relationship with Israel did not mean at all to give up the rights of Palestinians and supporting them.
We have witnessed how Arab revolutionary forces used the Palestinian cause for other purposes that brought harm to the Palestinian rights for decades.
Some of those who criticize him are in the same ranks as the Assad regime and Hezbollah, next to the remnants of the left-wing and Iran’s Islamists like Hamas.
Their true face appeared during the revolutions of the Arab Spring as they were encouraging killing, displacement and injustice.
In all cases, Ali Salem was an Egyptian citizen who exercised his right according to signed agreements. Even President Muhammad Mursi didn’t dare to disapprove or change this fact and insisted on respecting the Camp David accords signed with Israel.
When these intellectuals damage the reputation of a famous person such as Ali Salem in the course of his life and after his death, they reveal their falseness and fail to respect the most elementary rights of an intellectual person: His freedom of expression and the right to exercise it.
The late playwright left works that will immortalize him, more than twenty theatrical works which are still dominant on the scene and, therefore, do not need the approval of his opponents.
I asked him once at lunch about his colleagues who reversed their open political opinions. He answered me: You know that the situation is difficult.
They found it easier to cope with the demagogic movement instead of facing it. He himself was talking about immigrating to Turkey despite his reservations about its political preferences. Egyptians remain nostalgic about the days when Turkey was the preferred destination of politicians and intellectuals.
Setting record straight on Houthi atrocities
By Bikram Vohra
28 September 2015
Records are maintained to mark the pages of history. The Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations by the Houthis has toiled hard for over a year to be able to document the incidents of violence, atrocity and heinous criminal activity that has prevailed in the country and spilled over its borders. These scholars have searched for the truth often putting their lives on the line and going right into the battlefield so they get their facts right.
With over 3,000 people victims of cold blooded murder, as high as 7,000 individuals wounded and maimed by indiscriminate shelling and nearly 6,000 people abducted without cause, the list of incursions against human dignity and the conventions of war continue to build. And it is not yet over.
But these figures speak eloquently to the world because each of them can be verified, not just in terms of names and places but with details of the cruelty involved. If the timings are not always available it is because of the risk factor in researchers making forays to the frontline or being turned into victims themselves by exposure. They are an international panel and have brought to bear on this prickly issue transparency, honesty and a new awareness of truly how bad things are and why the military coalition has to keep at it even though it would want to bring the war to an end and restore peace in Yemen.
Keeping in mind the final objective the report is an adequate indictment as it stands and has to be more than just required reading for the rest of the world. It must be the core of future concerted action to move against the perpetrators and compel them to disarm and end this bitter conflict. The moral compass is so against the Houthis after the presentation of these facts that even the most tolerant or neutral nation on the planet has to say, this is a massacre of human rights and must be stopped.
One cannot look upon these figures as mathematical statistics. They are men, women who have been torn from the roots, killed, maimed and displaced in the Houthi hunt for power.
New options, spurred by the knowledge that they have to be stopped, will be considered. And despite the several occasions on which the offer of a cease-fire on humanitarian grounds has been rejected it will still be on the table as a right thing to do and to signify the beginning of the end of the blight.
War and Libya’s fine art awakening
By Rim Taher
28 September 2015
Last update 28 September 2015 1:45 am
Four years after a joyous celebration of the end of censorship with the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Libyan artists have had to put their creativity back on hold.
“We have lost all source of inspiration,” said Marii Tillissi, an artist in his 50s known for his hyperrealist paintings. “The times are not conducive to creation.”
A militia coalition, Libya Dawn, seized control of Tripoli in summer 2014, sending the internationally recognized government into flight to the country’s far east.
The Daesh group has taken advantage of the turmoil to expand its foothold, and this month claimed two attacks in the capital. Today, the Mediterranean city of more than a million residents is left with only a single gallery: Dar Al-Founoun (Art House). Located off a main road in the city center, not far from the palace of the late King Idris, the gallery is easy to miss. It has turned into a refuge for artists to meet over coffee or tea — exhibitions and workshops have become a thing of the past.
“There are power cuts and water cuts, fuel shortages, and many artists have left with their families,” said the gallery’s Emad Bash-Agha.
“Everything has been slowed down, if not completely halted, for more than a year.” Khalifa Al-Mahdawi, a founder of Art House, was more blunt. “It’s much more than just a pause,” he said. Hopes had been riding high after Qaddafi’s ouster, following four decades of dictatorship in which Libyan art’s main purpose was to laud the ruler.
The regime’s inspectors, wearing fake snakeskin shoes and designer watches emblazoned with Qaddafi’s portrait, would appear before exhibition openings to check the content.
Authorities preferred realist over abstract art as less subversive. Many artists were forced into exile, while others had to resort to self-censorship. In the 1990s, Qaddafi’s forward-looking son Seif Al-Islam pushed his father to loosen the regime’s grip on the arts.
But true freedom of artistic expression did not come until after the dictator was toppled and killed in 2011.
“After the euphoria... Libya’s art scene was positively bubbling with creativity,” recalled Tillissi. “We’d never seen anything like it!”
Tripoli residents — artists and amateurs alike — took to the streets, splashing their city’s walls with graffiti to celebrate a new dawn for Libya.
Exhibitions and workshops abounded.
To harness the creativity, Najlaa Elageli, a Libyan based in London, set up Noon Arts to bring artists such as painter Najla Al-Fitouri and ceramist Hadia Gana onto the world stage. In 2013, Tripoli’s bustling arts scene found a home in Doshma.
The gallery is set in an avant-garde, silo-like, aluminium-roofed, arched and glass-fronted building with an orange shipping container built-in. Its inaugural exhibition featured the works of 12 emerging artists.
But last year, ironically during Tripoli’s tenure as the “Arab Capital of Culture”, courtesy of the Arab League, Doshma had to close its doors and creativity went back into hibernation as the country plunged into civil war. Diplomats and expatriates, along with a number of artists, fled the capital.
Najla al-Fitouri, a painter in her 30s, said foreigners were the top buyers of local art in a city which now no longer even hosts exhibitions. However, she and her husband, painter Youssef Ftis, remain optimistic and still work from the privacy of their basement at home.
And Noon Arts, which describes its mission as “to spot, encourage and nurture both new and established Libyan artists and to celebrate their work in all its myriad forms,” has tapped 140 artists from Libya for an online catalogue of works from around the world.