Inter Press Service » Religion http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 06 May 2016 21:28:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Religious Leaders Can End Harmful Cultural Practices & Advance Women’s Empowermenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/religious-leaders-can-end-harmful-cultural-practices-advance-womens-empowerment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=religious-leaders-can-end-harmful-cultural-practices-advance-womens-empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/religious-leaders-can-end-harmful-cultural-practices-advance-womens-empowerment/#comments Thu, 05 May 2016 15:51:44 +0000 Seth Berkley and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144992 Dr Seth Berkley, @Gaviseth is an epidemiologist and the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Siddharth Chatterjee, @sidchat1 is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Dr Seth Berkley, CEO GAVI. Photo Credit: Gavi/2012/Olivier Asselin

Dr Seth Berkley, CEO GAVI. Photo Credit: Gavi/2012/Olivier Asselin

By Dr Seth Berkley and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 5 2016 (IPS)

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

When Pope Francis recently endorsed the use of individual conscience in deciding whether to use contraceptives in view of the spread of the Zika virus, it was not just a landmark moment but it underscored the need for faith leaders to get involved more closely in contemporary health challenges.

In Northern Nigeria, a former global epicenter of polio transmission, Islamic clerics, who were once opposed to immunization, turned into advocates for vaccination. As a result Nigeria, one of the three remaining countries where polio is still considered endemic, has for the first time been polio-free for 18 months, a development that brings us significantly closer to eradicating this terrible disease.

A profound realization has lately emerged among health professionals about how well-equipped health systems alone cannot solve today’s public health challenges. Stemming from various highly complex causes, these problems can never be solved by a single approach, but by an array of stakeholders working at a number of long-term solutions.

Today’s health problems trigger a host of family, economic and social problems that ruin lives and weaken communities. More than ever before, there is a need for a knitting together of multiple partners, to choreograph what are often distrusting stakeholders to deliver cohesive responses to the challenges.

Religious leaders, so often driven by a profound and fundamental sense of mission, can and should be far more directly part of global and local responses to critical problems.

Nowhere is their passion for seeking the common good more needed than in the drive for empowerment of girls and women, the group that is invariably most affected by lack of access to health services, and whose wholesome health is so central to survival of entire families.

In Kenya, as in many African societies, access to health by women is largely determined by cultures and tradition, which in turn are closely tied to religious beliefs. Unfortunately, these traditions often tend to be driven by entrenched patriarchy, assigning the women an ancillary place and little say in their destiny.

Passion and compassion for those who suffer are key pillars of most faiths, and this is why leaders of religion are well-placed to accelerate the quest for gender equality and empowerment. Giving girls and women the wherewithal to play their full part in a country’s development is not just a moral imperative, but the only sustainable approach.

The first step is educating them and giving them the freedom to determine when to marry and how many children to have. A juxtaposition of culture and misplaced religious biases has for eons given men absolute control over women’s bodies. Female genital mutilation and early marriage are just two examples; evil manifestations of a society determined to control women.

The consequences do not just affect women, but entire nations. For instance, in much of sub-Saharan Africa, birth rates are too high for families to save or invest for the future.

In Kenya according to the latest Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), the average woman in Kenya bears 3.9 children, and in some regions, women such as North Eastern Kenya, total fertility rate is 7.5. National averages of such indicators often substantially mask the disparities between socio-demographic groups and regions within the country.

The high birth rates are invariably in areas where religious teachings take a key role in every day decisions. There is therefore the opportunity to underline faith values such as matching family size with economic resources.

It is in such hard-to-reach areas in Kenya that the Ministry of Health and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) along with its partners are working with religious leaders to bring positivity and hope into the lives of communities, to put them in good stead to play a full role in development.

The faith leaders are being engaged in dispelling misconceptions about the religious basis for harmful practices, and re-emphasizing messages about the dignity of women.

Another important area is cervical cancer, which currently claims the lives of 266,000 women every year, nearly as many as childbirth, with the vast majority in developing countries. Pre-adolescent girls can be protected for a lifetime from the main causes of this terrible disease through the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which Gavi is now helping to make available in some of the world’s poorest countries, often through vaccination activities in schools.

However, given that school attendance can sometimes be low for girls in many poor communities we need to find ways to reach these girls. Religious leaders can help, by raising awareness about the benefits of the HPV vaccine as well as the importance of educating girls.

All these messages will result in girls staying longer in school, in abandonment of FGM and early marriage, in fewer women being struck down by cancer and in uptake of healthy choices such as child spacing.

These are the messages that will enable all of Africa to harness the demographic dividend as decreases in fertility combine with socio economic policies that enable investments for the youth and ensure less dependent populations.

Religious organizations have not only been moral pillars in the community, but they have also led in providing access to education and health for the marginalized. Now is the time for them to lead the drive towards demolishing harmful, man-made traditions and cultures.

This article was published first by Reuters

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A Tale of Twin Stateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/a-tale-of-twin-states/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-tale-of-twin-states http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/a-tale-of-twin-states/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 16:54:10 +0000 I.A. Rehman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144885 By I.A. Rehman
Apr 28 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Pakistani visitors to India, usually beset with anxiety about their country`s future, are sometimes relieved to find a good number of Indians similarly worried about their country.

This is perhaps due to the fact that the twin states face many identical issues, and their people thus try to find solutions in the subcontinent`s shared culture.

For instance, last week in Delhi the discussion at gatherings of left-inclined intellectuals and social activists was dominated by queries as to what will happen to India if the saffron brigade continued to bring all matters under the stamp of Hindutva.

Sparks of resistance were not denied such as the resistance by writers and artists (in renouncing state awards) or the defiance of the Jawaharlal Nehru University student leaders. But generally, the conclusion was that these actions, highly morale-boosting though they were, did not generate the kind of movement for the rejection of humbug that was needed.

One also noticed a receding enthusiasm among optimists. Perhaps most people were more disappointed with the showing of the liberals (who should not be relied upon in any case) than was objectively necessary. But in the end, somebody or the other would cut the discussion short by claiming that India would never go down in the duel with fundamentalism because the traditions of tolerance in its society were so deep-rooted and strong.

One could not help drawing parallels with similar gatherings in Pakistan where those lamenting the uncertainty of civil society (along with the state authorities) see no silver lining on the horizon.

Does this mean that India and Pakistan both are condemned to suffer for a long time at the hands of people who are equipped with mantras that cannot be spurned without inviting the charge of sacrilege? That said, it is impossible not to find the judiciary challenging the executive or the legislature for transgressing its authority. Last time, it was a former Supreme Court judge taking parliament to task for amending the law so that an 18-year-oldcould be hanged.

This time it was Uttarakhand High Court in a fiery mood in the case of the dissolution of the state government by the president. The president can be an exalted person but he can also go terribly wrong, the court said.

The crisis arose when nine of the chief minister`s supporters joined the BJP opposition and the president accepted the establishment`s view that the government had broken down. Now the BJP was eagerly waiting for an invitation to form the state government. Whatever the final outcome, the BJP will be blamed for manipulating the fall of the state government.

For Pakistani students of politics, there is nothing surprising in this story. In the early years of independence, the ruling parties in both India and Pakistan were extremely unwilling to allow any opposition party to form a state-province government, but one thought the process had ended in India after an Andhra chief minister flew into the capital with all his supporters in the assembly and compelled the centre to take back the orders of his sacking. In Pakistan, the process continued somewhat longer and was overshadowed by frequent sacking of the National Assembly by all-powerful presidents.

With regard to judiciary-executive ties, it is not clear if India is now following Pakistan`s example or whether Pakistan was earlier copying an Indian pattern.

Although Pakistani chief justices in distress might have shed tears in private, there is no record of their breaking down before the political authority. But it must be said for Chief Justice T.S. Thakur that he was pleading the cause of justice and not seeking a personal favour.

One hopes, however, that his tearful plea does not embolden the sarkar to the extent of filling the courts with Modi loyalists. Justice Thakur could have a better bargain with the executive by holding firm as the head of his brother judges.

The Delhi state government`s decision to prohibit fee increases by private educational institutions should not fail to remind the people of Punjab of a similar step taken by their provincial government sometime ago.

The reasons advanced by the educational institutions on both sides are the same: mounting expenditures on teachers, rent and extracurricular facilities. The parents complain of their inability to pay fees they consider exorbitant but they are unlikely to win their case in either Delhi or Lahore.

Although the Indian government earned credit for forcing the private institutions to give relief to poor students, the patrons of private schools are likely to surrender to the argument that they cannot wish to have for their kids anything less than the best. The neo-liberal stalwarts are unlikely to cow before parents who admit to being less affluent.

It is not possible to be in Delhi and not be caught by surprise at the expansion of the metro train network or the odd-even scheme to restrict traffic that has increased the gains of operators of public transport.

The privileged car owners make no secret of their tactic to beat the system by having two cars for each user, one for odd number days and the other to be plied on even number days.

What makes Delhi a lively place despite the heat and shortage of water is the pace at which cultural activities continue.

It was good to see the tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-i -Khana, the son of Bairam Khan who had secured the throne for the child-king Al Journalists in the doghouse: Pakistan enjoys the dubious distinction of being among the most dangerous places for journalists. In Sri Lanka, before the change of government, journalists were commonly meted out unsavoury treatment. Now Bangladesh too has taken to targeting journalists rather indiscriminately.

But what has happened to the democratic government of Nepal that Kanak Mani Dixit has been jailed? He is not afraid of making enemies, if he is being punished for that, but he must be respected as a leading exponent of the South Asian identity.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Choose Humanity: Make the Impossible Choice Possible!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/choose-humanity-make-the-impossible-choice-possible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=choose-humanity-make-the-impossible-choice-possible http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/choose-humanity-make-the-impossible-choice-possible/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 15:03:47 +0000 Herve Verhoosel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144850 Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.]]>

Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.

By Herve Verhoosel
UN, New York, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

We have arrived at the point of no return. At this very moment the world is witnessing the highest level of humanitarian needs since World War Two. We are experiencing a human catastrophe on a titanic scale: 125 million in dire need of assistance, over 60 million people forcibly displaced, and 218 million people affected by disasters each year for the past two decades.

Herve Verhoosel

Herve Verhoosel

More than $20 billion is needed to aid the 37 countries currently affected by disasters and conflicts. Unless immediate action is taken, 62 percent of the global population– nearly two-thirds of all of us- could be living in what is classified as fragile situations by 2030. Time and time again we heard that our world is at a tipping point. Today these words are truer than ever before.

The situation has hit home. We are slowly understanding that none of us is immune to the ripple effects of armed conflicts and natural disasters. We’re coming face to face with refugees from war-torn nations and witnessing first-hand the consequences of global warming in our own backyards. We see it, we live it, and we can no longer deny it.

These are desperate times. With so much at stake, we have only one choice to make: humanity. Now is the time to stand together and reverse the rising trend of humanitarian needs. Now is the time to create clear, actionable goals for change to be implemented within the next three years that are grounded in our common humanity, the one value that unites us all.

This is why the United Nations Secretary-General is calling on world leaders to reinforce our collective responsibility to guard humanity by attending the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit.

From May 23rd to the 24th, our leaders are being asked to come together in Istanbul, Turkey, to agree on a core set of actions that will chart a course for real change. This foundation for change was not born overnight. It was a direct result of three years of consultations with more than 23,000 people in 153 countries.

On the basis of the consultation process, the United Nations Secretary-General launched his report for the World Humanitarian Summit titled “One Humanity, Shared responsibility. As a roadmap to guide the Summit, the report outlines a clear vision for global leadership to take swift and collective action toward strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and crisis relief.

Aptly referred to as an “Agenda for Humanity,” the report lays out ground-breaking changes to the humanitarian system that, once put into action, will promptly help to alleviate suffering, reduce risk and lessen vulnerability on a global scale.

The Agenda is also linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, which specifically maps out a timeline for the future and health of our world. Imagine the end of poverty, inequality and civil war by 2030. Is it possible? Undoubtedly so. Most importantly, the Secretary-General has called for measurable progress within the next three years following the Summit.

As such, the Summit is not an endpoint, but a kick-off towards making a real difference in the lives of millions of women, men and children. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for global leaders to mobilize the political will to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. So, how to take action?

The Agenda specifies five core responsibilities that the international community must shoulder if we expect to end our shared humanitarian crises. These core responsibilities offer a framework for unified and concentrated action to Summit attendees, leadership and the public at large. Once implemented, change will inevitably follow.

1. Prevent and End Conflict: Political leaders (including the UN Security Council) must resolve to not only manage crises, but also to prevent them. They must analyse conflict risks and utilize all political and economic means necessary to prevent conflict and find solutions, working with their communities – youth, women and faith-based groups – to find the ones that work.

The Summit presents a unique opportunity to gain political momentum and commitment from leaders to promote and invest in conflict prevention and mediation in order to reduce the impacts of conflicts, which generate 80 percent of humanitarian needs.

2. Respect Rules of War: Most states have signed and implemented international humanitarian and human rights laws, but, sadly, few are respected or monitored. Unless violators are held accountable each time they break these laws, civilians will continue to make up the vast majority of those killed in conflict – roughly 90 percent. Hospitals, schools and homes will continue to be obliterated and aid workers will continue to be barred access from injured parties.

The Summit allows a forum for which leadership can promote the protection of civilians and respect for basic human rights.

3. Leave No One Behind: Imagine being forcibly displaced from your home, being stateless or targeted because of your race, religion or nationality. Now, imagine that development programs are put in place for the world’s poorest; world leaders are working to diminish displacement; women and girls are empowered and protected; and all children – whether in conflict zones or not – are able to attend school. Imagine a world that refuses to leave you behind. This world could become our reality.

At the Summit, the Secretary-General will call on world leaders to commit to reducing internal displacement by 50 percent before 2030.

4. Working Differently to End Need: While sudden natural disasters often take us by surprise, many crises we respond to are predictable. It is time to commit to a better way of working hand-in-hand with local systems and development partners to meet the basic needs of at-risk communities and help them prepare for and become less vulnerable to disaster and catastrophe. Both better data collection on crisis risk and the call to act early are needed and required to reduce risk and vulnerability on a global scale.

The Summit will provide the necessary platform for commitment to new ways of working together toward a common goal – humanity.

5. Invest in Humanity:
If we really want to act on our responsibility toward vulnerable people, we need to invest in them politically and financially, by supporting collective goals rather than individual projects. This means increasing funding not only to responses, but also to crisis preparedness, peacebuilding and mediation efforts.

It also means being more creative about how we fund national non-governmental organizations – using loans, grants, bonds and insurance systems in addition to working with investment banks, credit card companies and Islamic social finance mechanisms.

It requires donors to be more flexible in the way they finance crises (i.e., longer-term funding) and aid agencies to be as efficient and transparent as possible about how they are spending money.

Our world is at a tipping point. The World Humanitarian Summit and its Agenda for Humanity are more necessary today than ever before. We, as global citizens, must urge our leaders to come together at the Summit and commit to the necessary action to reduce human suffering. Humanity must be the ultimate choice.

Join us at http://www.ImpossibleChoices.org and find more information on the Summit at https://www.worldhumanitariansummit.org.
@WHSummit
@herveverhoosel
#ShareHumanity

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Abortion Saga: Morality vs Choicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/abortion-saga-morality-vs-choice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=abortion-saga-morality-vs-choice http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/abortion-saga-morality-vs-choice/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 05:41:25 +0000 Charity Chimungu Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144838 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/abortion-saga-morality-vs-choice/feed/ 0 Any Ways to Combat Extremism?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/any-ways-to-combat-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=any-ways-to-combat-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/any-ways-to-combat-extremism/#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2016 13:45:16 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144817 Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 25 2016 (IPS)

“The objective of extremists is for us to turn on each other [and] our unity is the ultimate rebuke for that bankrupt strategy.”

This is what the UN chief Ban Ki-moon has recently said. “While it may be inevitable to draw on examples, such as Da’esh [also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL] or Boko Haram, “the phenomenon of violent extremism conducive to terrorism is not rooted or confined to any religion, region, nationality or ethnic group.”

“Let us also recognize that today, the vast majority of victims worldwide are Muslims,” Ban on April 8 stressed while addressing the Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism – The Way Forward.

There, Ban stressed, “violent extremism is clearly a transnational threat that requires urgent international cooperation.” Then he explained that his Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism puts forward a comprehensive and balanced approach for concerted action at the global, regional and national levels.

Such Plan was first submitted to the General Assembly on 15 January. Then, on 12 February, the 193-nation body adopted a resolution that welcome Ban’s initiative, pledging to give further consideration to the Plan, including in the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy review in June 2016, as well as in other relevant forums.

So far, so good.

Barely six days after the UN chief’s assertion that the vast majority of victims of extremism are Muslims, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—which was founded in 1969 being the second largest inter-governmental body after the UN, grouping 57 member states – held its 13th Islamic Summit in Istanbul on 14-15 April to discuss ways on how to combat the escalation of extremism and terrorism and the resulting growing Islamophobia.

How to do this? IPS posed this question in an interview to Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC.

OIC summit in Istanbul. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

OIC summit in Istanbul. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

“The OIC summit agreed on a set of measures to counter Islamophobia. And member states have been also be urged to establish stronger dialogue with the international community at the bilateral and multilateral levels and engage with the West in order to establish stronger cross-cultural and religious ties as a counterweight to polarising sentiment against religious minorities.”

Talebna explained that the Istanbul summit discussed “the need to reinforce the role of religious and social leaders in halting tendencies towards extremism, which sometimes fuel Islamophobia, by encouraging the principles of tolerance, moderation, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.”

Asked what are the key reasons behind on-going wave of Islamophobia in Western countries in general and in Europe in particular, Talebna said “despite the growing social ethics, the Economy in Europe has gone towards the opposite direction, hand-in-hand with populist rhetoric and a resurgence in far-right politics.”

“Negative Stereotypes Against all Muslims”

This coupled with the extremist acts of a few Muslims that have made it easier to generalise negative stereotypes and discrimination against all Muslims to take place, she said.

“Such circumstances inter-mingled with the rising intolerance against Islam and Muslims in western countries, which to a large extent was proliferated by widespread reporting, writings, articles, interviews, commentaries, and editorials in some western print and visual media, including social media and cinema that has resulted in negative stereotyping and racial discrimination and victimization directed against Muslims and distortion of the Islamic faith.”

According to the OIC senior official, “ironically, terrorist groups like DAESH and right-wing extremist groups in the west, and the negative media campaigns feed off each other. Here at the OIC, we are committed to oppose right wing extremists and to combat terrorist groups like DAESH.”

“We also encouraged all OIC Member States to work with the media to promote the understanding of responsible use of freedom of speech, to hold the media accountable for perpetuating hate speech and extremism, and to speed up the implementation of the OIC Media Strategy in Countering Islamophobia, adopted at the Ninth Islamic Conference of Information Ministers held in Libreville, Republic of Gabon, in 2012.”

This requires partnership and mutual trust with the West, and notably advancing cultural rapprochement something the OIC is committed to, Talebna added.

Asked about the role of religious and social leaders in halting tendencies towards extremism, Talebna said “We are setting up an anti-extremism messaging centre that uses leading Islamic clerics, through the International Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence) Academy, to create religiously sound counter-narratives against extremist propaganda.”

“We will also collaborate with various NGOs and institutions and community leaders advocating and promoting tolerance, moderation and mutual respect and countering extremist rhetoric.”

Empowering Women to Restrain Extremism

The OIC is also making efforts to restrain extremism by taking actions such as empowering women as well as building capacity among the youth in order to promote peace and development in the Muslim world. We expect that such an approach will help easing the problem of extremism in the long run, she said.

Asked how could she explain to lay people the reasons behind the growing trend of Muslim societies, especially in the Middle East, to seek refuge in religion, Talebna said, “If such a trend is indeed taking place, then this is not a trend confined to Muslim societies. Religion is generally on the rise across the developing world.”

She explained that countless surveys have shown that religious people are more law-abiding happier and generally not prone to extremism. “If it makes people happier then more religion and religious practice should be welcomed. Even many people believe that religion could bring about, not only happier, but also healthier life.“

“Religion can play a positive social, political, economic, cultural and spiritual role in society. After all, it has done so for centuries across the Islamic world and led the world in scientific discovery, education, governance and proven conducive to building strong multicultural societies. There is no reason any increased observance of religion in the Islamic world cannot, with the right institutions and intellectual leadership, lead to similarly positive results.”

The OIC Summit planned to adopt a set of “practical” measures “to counter mounting anti-Muslim sentiment, both in Western countries and other regions of the world. How?

“The official communiqué of the Islamic Summit calls on all Member States to increase the role of religious and community leaders to curb tendencies of extremism, and to diminish Islamophobia, which is in fact main factors of extremism,” Talebna said to IPS.

“The conference encouraged all Member States to promote inter-faith and inter-religious dialogues within the OIC Member States to raise awareness about religious interpretations and beliefs, and open space for further discussion about Islam and faith and to initiate relevant projects at the level of United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.”

The OIC also encouraged all Member States to make further efforts to effectively implement of the Action Plan contained in Res. 16/18 of the Human Rights Council that focuses on combatting anti-religious hatred without double standards

“In an attempt to address the root causes of factors giving rise to the resurgence of racism and xenophobia more generally, of which Islamophobia is a part, the OIC expressed support for efforts to galvanize the international community towards re-engaging with the on-going discourse on the negative historic legacies of trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism.”

According to the OIC high official, such a discourse would include the reference to the looting of cultural heritage and artifacts and the related issues of restitution, reparations and atonement for these wrongs, including the need for an agreement on strategies for achieving them.

In this regards, the Istanbul summit further mandated the OIC to support the convening of an international conference to comprehensively discuss the issue of the slave trade, slavery, colonialism, restitution and reparations.

(End)

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Gender Equality and Equity in Health Will Anchor Drive Towards a Sustainable National Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/gender-equality-and-equity-in-health-will-anchor-drive-towards-a-sustainable-national-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-equality-and-equity-in-health-will-anchor-drive-towards-a-sustainable-national-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/gender-equality-and-equity-in-health-will-anchor-drive-towards-a-sustainable-national-development/#comments Wed, 13 Apr 2016 15:37:56 +0000 Sicily Kariuki and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144598 Sicily K. Kariuki, (Mrs), CBS is the Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs in the Government of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Sicily K. Kariuki.  Photo Credit: @UNFPA

Sicily K. Kariuki. Photo Credit: @UNFPA

By Sicily K. Kariuki, CBS and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 13 2016 (IPS)

Last month, the Government of Kenya (GoK) in partnership with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) at the sidelines of the 60th Session of the UN Commission of Women in New York, launched the report on the ‘Assessment of the UNFPA Campaign to End Preventable Maternal and New-born Mortality in support of the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa’

The assessment report by Deloitte Consulting captures the important strides the country has made to significantly address disparities in advancing maternal and new-born health at all levels.

These findings manifests Government’s commitment and determination to address inequalities as envisioned by one of the key principles of Agenda 2030, by ensuring that no one is left behind.

The cornerstone of the Government’s commitment is to strengthen the partnerships between GoK, development partners, and other stakeholders nationally, regionally and globally.

This manifested in March 2015, His Excellency, President Uhuru Kenyatta opened a high-level meeting in Nairobi which engaged religious leaders as key partners in fighting against social and cultural drivers that inhibit women’s empowerment, many of which contribute to their poor sexual and reproductive health.

That advocacy drive by the Government of Kenya and UNFPA has culminated in an innovative project that is now being implemented in six of the forty seven counties with the highest maternal and child deaths.

The program in Kenya’s underserved counties by public and private partners together with UN agencies is a good benchmark in identifying the sub-populations that are not obtaining health care, the reasons for those barriers, and the actions that can be taken to remove them.

The project recognizes that to achieve health equity, gender equality, and fulfil the right to health as guaranteed in the Constitution, it is essential to identify the underlying causes of health inequalities. This calls for a need to look inwards, rather than global indicators. It is only by identifying the disadvantaged or excluded groups, that evidence-based policies, programs and practices can be designed and inequalities tackled effectively.

The focus on 15 counties that bear 98.7% of all maternal deaths in the country was preceded by a survey undertaken by one of Kenya’s premier institution of higher learning -University of Nairobi, which revealed the multiple challenges faced by these communities. These challenges include various historical and cultural reasons that disadvantage the most vulnerable, invariably female, poor, rural and thus voiceless and marginalized.

In short, while national averages are important for monitoring overall progress, it is time to realize that these national indicators do not provide the complete picture. One example should suffice: in 2014, the national female genital mutilation prevalence rate in Kenya dropped to 21% from 27% in 2009. However, in the principle of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)- no one can be left behind, focus should remain on the communities where prevalence rate still stands as high as 98%.

The SDGs now emphasize the need for active focus on equity, gender and human rights, specifically Goal 5 on gender equality and Goal 10 on reducing inequality within and among countries and the role of health services in securing national and global peace. There is general consensus that health can serve as a bridge for peace and can have collateral benefits, including nipping in the bud some of the drivers of violent extremism.

It is also apt because some of the counties with high maternal death burden are also prone to internal conflicts, feelings of exclusion and poverty that drive extremism.

Reproductive health complications represent a hideous feedback loop, as they are not only the result of poverty, but also contribute to poverty.

In addressing access to reproductive health matters and gender equality, there is no space for complacency. We are talking about sheer survival not just of the women but of the entire nation. Healthier women mean healthier children and that means thriving societies.

As the UNDP Administrator, Ms Helen Clark remarked, “Women are powerful agents of change – and empowering women benefits whole societies.” A good place to begin is empowering Kenya’s youth, especially girls. The multiplier effect of girls’ education on several aspects of development is now well documented. Education reduces high fertility rates, lowers infant and child mortality rates, lowers maternal mortality rates and increases labour force participation.

Empowering, educating and employing Kenya’s women and girls will launch our economy to new heights and ensure Kenya reaps a demographic dividend. His Excellency, President Uhuru Kenyatta, has stressed that “Progress for women is progress for all …….”

For development to be sustainable and resilient, it must be inclusive and equitable, given that half of humanity are women, their empowerment is a must and not an option.

(End)

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Heavenly Havenshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/heavenly-havens-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=heavenly-havens-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/heavenly-havens-2/#comments Thu, 07 Apr 2016 11:45:31 +0000 F.S. Aijazuddin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144514 By F. S. Aijazuddin
Apr 7 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Spring has not shed its bloom, yet its roses have turned the colour of congealed blood. The latest massacre of our innocents took place this time at Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park Lahore on March 27. Over 75 children, their parents and other holiday-goers died. More than 340 were injured. It was a cruelly premature Easter resurrection for the Christians amongst them, and a hellish holiday for their Muslim co-victims.

Surviving Lahoris did not need to proclaim: `Je suis Lahore.` Over centuries, that slogan has been repeated with less grief in the adage `Lahore Lahore hai` (Lahore is Lahore). L ahore did not need to illuminate its Minar-i-Pakistan in mourning colours. That eastern Eiffel tower stood shrouded already in white, which on our national flag symbolises our terrified minorities.

Who, it could be asked, amongst those who lost their lives on that Easter Sunday, secured martyrdom the suicide bomber or his hapless victims? A contemporary Oxford historian Peter Frankopan, speaking recently in Lahore, provided an answer. He differentiated between a martyr sacrificing his/her own life in the name of faith, and those who commit suicide as an act of faith, to gain martyrdom, but murder unwary martyrs around them.

Did that suicide bomber in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park believe that there are discrete heavens, as there are separate graveyards on earth, for Muslim and Christian martyrs? Surely, divinity does not contain discrimination in its DNA.

Whichever heaven those martyrs have gone to, it is certainly not in Panama. That heavenly haven was once thought secure and inviolate. Instead, e-leaks have disclosed reams of secret offshore transactions by luminaries such as Putin, the Bachchans, and the Sharifs. They all assumed that they would take their secrets (if not their money) with them to the grave. Instead, their financial fandango has been exposed. Their fiscal tomfoolery has become known to the public, and probably also to their spouses. The last thing these well-known names expected to see was their laundered money being washed again like dirty linen in public.

Money laundering is not a new phenomenon. Nations have been doing it for centuries.

Imperial Athens and Rome, Beijing and Moscow, London and Paris transferred regularly the portable riches of their colonies to swell their treasuries at home. Immoveable assets were kept abroad, in kind.

For example, in the 1880s, King Leopold II effectively owned the Congo Free State. That allowed him to exploit its enormous mineral resources and then divert the proceeds to his personal benefit. Victorian Britain became Great Britain riding astride the elephantine economies of its colonies. Even a minnowcountry like Holland expanded its lungs breathing in oxygen provided by the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

By contrast, the rulers of today prefer to denude their own nations and instead window-dress the economies of foreign ones. One single super-rich Russian oligarch, for example, can prop up London`s property market on his littlest finger, like Krishna did Mt Goverdhan. The post-Gorbachev perestroika of the 1980s made the island economy of Cyprus a sanctuary, to cool red-hot Russian money. Dubai`s property boom soared after Arab oil shifted from beneath the sand and transmuted into skyscrapers built above it.

Now that Panama has destroyed its reputation (who needs a tell-tale bank manager?) and damaged those of its trusting clients, one wonders how newer 21st-century Nadir Shahs will hide their troublesome wealth? Will they solidif y it into gold? Each would need a private Fort Knox to safeguard that. In property abroad? As Rockwood Estate once showed, there is always the danger of having to disclose beneficialownership. Through shell companies? Sea clams are more reticent than Panamanian lawyers. In overpriced jewellery? Not any longer. Even majesties dress like frugal republicans. The maladies of the overrich are peculiar to their own species. That is whythey invent their own antidotes.

Strange as it may seem but plausible in its perversity, perhaps the safest haven for our Muslim magicians is to make their money disappear into Israeli banks. Who would think of searching there? How could NABeven if it was so inclined retrieve assets that have been squirreled away in a country we do not even recognise? Only a myopic optimist or a naïve parliamentarian would believe that money that has been taken out of the country will ever find its way back. Black money has no such homing instincts. Similarly, there is little to be gained from moral finger-wagging and social tut-tutting. Neither will arouse the conscience of either democratically elected kings or of their courtiers. They donotcare.

As Nietzsche said: `He who cannot give anything away cannot feel anything either.

Money no longer matters to those slaughtered in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park and in Army Public School, Peshawar. They paid admission fees with their lives. Pakistanis pay every day to admit their filthy rich into Panama.

The writer is an author.
www.fsaijazuddin.pk

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Temple Tantrumshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/temple-tantrums/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=temple-tantrums http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/temple-tantrums/#comments Tue, 05 Apr 2016 06:10:27 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144473 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/temple-tantrums/feed/ 0 Violence at Homehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/violence-at-home/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-at-home http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/violence-at-home/#comments Mon, 04 Apr 2016 15:09:59 +0000 Asma Humayun http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144460 By Asma Humayun
Apr 4 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Amidst robust campaigning by liberal sections to activate the feminist lobby and strong criticism by clerics defending Islam’s endowment of women’s rights, there is a risk of overlooking the essence of what is a major human rights and public health issue — domestic violence.

violence-at-homeToday, domestic violence is recognised as a ‘global’ public health issue that is prevalent in high-, middle- and low-income countries. While the presentation of domestic violence may be culture-specific, it exists in all countries, cultures and religions. The reported rates vary; generally a third of all women suffer some form of domestic violence in their lives.

The aetiology of violence is best described by the model which proposes that violence is a result of factors operating at four levels: individual, relationship, community and societal. These feature low levels of education, poverty, witnessing or experiencing violence as a child, substance abuse, personality disorders, low socio-economic status of women; weak legal sanctions against domestic violence; and broad social acceptance of violence.

Research strongly suggests that domestic violence and mental illness go hand in hand. Domestic violence and depression are intertwined and part of a vicious cycle. In addition to depression, domestic violence is strongly linked with physical injuries, chronic poor health, homicide and suicide. Serious adverse effects have also been observed in children.

Domestic violence and mental illness go hand in hand.

According to the 2016 bill proposed by the Punjab government, violence is, “any offence committed against a woman including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, emotional, psychological and verbal abuse, economic abuse, stalking or cybercrime”. Although the bill proposes to address a broad array of violent crimes against women, both within and outside the house, the text fundamentally focuses on domestic violence.

Quite clearly, this is a complex issue where it might be difficult to implement the law.

The definition of violence in the bill is blurred as the term ‘domestic violence’ already includes physical, emotional (psychological, verbal abuse included) and sexual forms of abuse and controlling behaviour, such as economic abuse. More importantly, the prevalent aspect of ‘sexual abuse’ is missing here.

The bill offers protection from relationships through ‘consanguinity and marriage’. Therefore, it goes beyond partner violence and includes abuse from other members of the family. The protection order directs the defendant to ‘stay away’ or ‘leave the house’. This is already difficult to apply in cases where the defendant is the husband; but what if the defendant is, for example, the mother-in-law?

Criminalising the behaviour of the ‘defendant’ might be a deterrent in the short term, but certainly a more comprehensive conflict-resolution approach will be needed to address the underlying causes.

Many cases of domestic violence lack tangible evidence and are hard to verify. It is easier to have a court of inquiry when violence results in physical injury. Similarly, it might be easier to evaluate a single incident of violence in isolation, but domestic violence is usually an ongoing process where it becomes incrementally more difficult, even clinically, to assess the role of each partner in perpetuating violence over a longer period.

Many abused women choose not to report or leave their partners. The reasons may include fear of retaliation; lack of economic support; concern for their children or fear of losing them; lack of support from family and friends; stigma of divorce; or hope that the partner will change. These conflicts make it difficult for outside agencies including the legal system to intervene.

Providing a toll-free number must be followed by effective response. Does our law-enforcement system have the capacity to respond to the huge number of calls that will inevitably come?

Then there is the big question of rehabilitating victims which is, rightly so, a part of the bill. Does the state have the capacity to support, train and employ them so that they can look after themselves and their children in the long run?

The bill proposes the appointment of women protection officers. If this materialises, it might turn out to be a large unwieldy taskforce considering how common the problem is. It might be more feasible if existing ‘public servants’ are trained in psychosocial interventions in order to handle the sensitive nature of these conflicts.

While the bill should be lauded for drawing attention to an important issue, it is equally essential to approach its implementation in a manner in which vulnerable groups find it easy to use it as an avenue of recourse. The initial phase of implementing this bill should focus on identifying families at risk and to provide early-intervention services, including legal advice; social and counselling services for marital discord and referrals for specialised interventions for serious mental disorders.

At the societal level, it is important to build coalitions of government, religious and civil society institutions focusing on behavioural principles and avoiding a confrontational approach that will polarise communities.

The writer is a consultant psychiatrist. Twitter: @Asma Humayun

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Challenges of Polio Vaccinationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/challenges-of-polio-vaccination/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=challenges-of-polio-vaccination http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/challenges-of-polio-vaccination/#comments Tue, 29 Mar 2016 04:41:42 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144398 Noted religious scholar Maulana Samiul Haq administers oral polio vaccine to children. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Noted religious scholar Maulana Samiul Haq administers oral polio vaccine to children. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Mar 29 2016 (IPS)

Pakistan and Afghanistan, the two remaining polio-endemic countries, have joined forces to eradicate poliomyelitis by vaccinating their children in synchronised campaigns.

The two neighbouring countries — sharing a 2,400 kms long and porous border — have been bracketed as the stumbling block in the way of the global polio eradication drive. These militancy-riddled countries have been tackling Taliban’s opposition to the administration of oral polio vaccine (OPV) to children.

Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), one of Pakistan’s four provinces along with the adjacent Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and the adjoining Nangarhar province of Afghanistan has been declared a polio-endemic geographical block by the World Health Organisation.

Since January 2016, “we have started synchronised immunisation campaigns in KP, Fata and Afghanistan with a view to ensure vaccination of all children on both sides of the border”, KP’s health minister Shahram Tarakai told IPS.

“There are about 100,000 children who refuse vaccination on both sides of the border. They pose a threat to the polio eradication campaign. Each child should get vaccinated,” he said.

The government has enlisted support of religious scholars to do away with refusals against OPV, KP’s top polio officer Dr Ayub Roz told IPS.

Taliban have been campaigning against OPV because they consider it a ploy by the US to render recipients impotent, infertile and reduce the population of Muslims.

Ayub Roz says that top religious scholars have been involved in the vaccination campaigns to dispel the impression being created that OPV was against Islam and that it affected the capacity of people to produce children.

Maulana Samiul Haq, chief of famous Darul Uloom Haqqani, who has been tasked to counter Taliban’s anti-vaccine campaign told IPS that the religious scholars have been engaged to accompany the health workers and urge the parents that OPV was important for their kids to safeguard them against disabilities.

“It is the responsibility of the parents to protect their children against diseases and provide them with safe and healthy environments. We have convinced 10,000 parents since January on vaccination of their children,” he said.

Muhammad Rizwan, a resident of Nowshera, one of the 26 districts of KP, says that he had not been vaccinating his children so far under the misconception that it wasn’t allowed in Islam. “As a result, my eldest son, aged four years was diagnosed positive for polio. Now, upon the persuasion of religious leaders, I have been vaccinating my two other sons to let them grow healthy,” Rizwan, a farmer, said.

According to him, Taliban have been warning the people against polio vaccination in the areas but the local clerics have started to woo parents on vaccination. “Parents are responding to religious leaders and are bringing their children for immunisation in droves,” he says.

KP police chief Nasir Khan Durrani says they have been deploying more than 10,000 policemen for the security of health workers.

“Militants have killed 70 health workers during polio campaign from 2012 to 2015 but there were no such incidents in 2016,” he says. Taliban militants want vaccinators to stay away from polio vaccination but we have given them foolproof security, Durrani says.

A new case reported from Afghanistan in February from Kunar province bordering Fata and KP Pakistan has triggered alarm bells, prompting both countries to speed up the immunisation drive in border areas.

More than 60 polio cases reported in 2015 belonged to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Peshawar, capital of KP, registered 10 polio cases of KP’s total 18 in 2015 mainly because of free and unchecked movements of children from Afghanistan as well as Fata where quality vaccination was needed. Two of these polio cases had proven linkages to the virus in Afghanistan.

Dr Ikhtiar Ali, Fata polio officer told IPS that synchronised campaigns stared in Pakistan and Afghanistan from January has paid off.

“The number cases in Pakistan were six and one in Afghanistan as of March 16 2016 because 14 vaccination points on the border has improved vaccination,” he says. Special focus is being laid on strengthening border vaccination.

The quality of vaccination at Torkham, the main border point crossed by hundreds of children per day, wasn’t up to the desired level last year due to which infected children transported the virus across the border, they said.

Ahmed Barakzai, a polio officer in Afghanistan’s Nangrahar province near the border, says the situation with regard to vaccination has shown signs of improvement due to the advocacy campaigns launched with support of community elders and religious leaders.

We have brought down refusals against OPV from 60,000 in 2015 to only 22,000 in 2016, he says. The only way to cope with the poliomyelitis is the quality vaccination of children, he says.

Like KP and Fata, we have also engaged police and religious scholars in the campaign. “In some areas, we have been facing security problems because the vaccinators were sacred of militants but we are using religious leaders to cope with the situation,” he says.

Saira Afzal Tarar says the synchronised campaigns have proved fruitful. “We are going to further strengthen vaccination in border areas,” she said.

Pakistan is home to at least 6 million Afghan refugees … In the past, Afghan children transported virus to Pakistan because of lack of vaccination back home, she says.

Now, every child is getting OPV at the border points due to which the chances of infection to local children have decreased, she says.

(End)

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Faith Leaders Join the Fight against Child Marriagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/faith-leaders-join-the-fight-against-child-marriage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=faith-leaders-join-the-fight-against-child-marriage http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/faith-leaders-join-the-fight-against-child-marriage/#comments Fri, 26 Feb 2016 07:36:48 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144007 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/faith-leaders-join-the-fight-against-child-marriage/feed/ 1 Latin America’s Indigenous Peoples Find an Ally in the Popehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope/#comments Mon, 15 Feb 2016 21:26:12 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143888 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/latin-americas-indigenous-peoples-find-an-ally-in-the-pope/feed/ 0 Cameron at large: Want Not to Become a Terrorist? Speak Fluent English!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 11:57:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143783 A plaque targeting Prime Minister David Cameron, as demonstrators protest in Oxford Street, London, 26 March 2011.  Credit: Mark Ramsay | Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neutronboy/5562337245/ | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

A plaque targeting Prime Minister David Cameron, as demonstrators protest in Oxford Street, London, 26 March 2011. Credit: Mark Ramsay | Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neutronboy/5562337245/ | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

By Baher Kamal
Cairo, Feb 4 2016 (IPS)

“Do you speak English fluently? No? Then you risk to become a terrorist!.” IPS posed this dilemma to some young Muslim women living in Cairo, while explaining that this appears to be UK prime minister David Cameron’s formula to judge the level of Muslim women’s risk to fall, passively, into the horrific trap of extremism.

Here you have some answers: “He must be kidding, I can’t believe that…,” says Egyptian university student Fatima S.M.

“This is just insulting! What does language have to do with such a risk?,” responds Fakhira H. from Pakistan who is married to an Egyptian engineer.

“This pure colonialism, Cameron still dreams of the British Empire,” reacts Nigerian Afunu K. who works at an export-import company in Cairo.

“Oh my God! We knew that Muslim women are victims of constant stigmatisation everywhere, in particular in Western countries… But I never expected it to be at this level,” said Tunisian translator Halima M.

Of course this is not at all about any scientific survey-just an indicative example of how Muslim women from different countries and backgrounds see Cameron’s recent surprising statement: Muslim women who fail to learn English to a high enough standard could face deportation from the UK, the prime minister said on 18 January.

Cameron suggested that poor English skills can leave people “more susceptible” to the messages of groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (DAESH).

“After two and a half years they should be improving their English and we will be testing them,” the UK prime minister stated. “We will bring this in October and it will apply to people who have come in on a spousal visa recently and they will be tested.”

Cameron’s comments came as his Conservative government launched a $28.5 million language fund for Muslim women in the United Kingdom as part of a drive to “build community integration.”

Current British immigration rules require that spouses be able to speak English before they arrive in the UK to live with their partners. “…They would face further tests after two and a half years in the UK, said Cameron, before threatening them: “You can’t guarantee you will be able to stay if you are not improving your language.”

The number of Muslim living in the UK is estimated to be around 2.7 million out of Britain’s total population of 64 million.

The British government estimates that around 190,000 Muslim women (about 22% of the total) living in the UK speak little or no English.

“… If you are not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find, therefore, you have challenges understanding what your identity is, and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message,” the UK prime minister affirmed.

Cameron further explained that a lack of language skills could make Muslims in the U.K. more vulnerable to the message of extremist groups. “I am not saying there is some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist, of course not,” he said.

Significantly, Cameron’s cabinet did not ratify last summer the so-called Istanbul Convention, a pan-European convention establishing minimum standards for governments to meet when tackling violence against women. The UK had signed up on this Convention three and a half years ago. The Convention entered into force eighteen months ago.

The UK prime ministers’ statements came under fire in his own country.

This is about a “dog-whistle politics at its best,” said the UK Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

Cameron’s idea is “lazy and misguided”… a “stereotyping of British Muslim communities,” reacted Sayeeda Warsi, former Conservative Party co-chair. “I think it is lazy and sloppy when we start making policies based on stereotypes which do badly stigmatise communities.”

Andy Burnham, the Home Affairs spokesman for the Labour Party shadow cabinet, accused Cameron of a “clumsy and simplistic approach” that is “unfairly stigmatising a whole community.”

“Disgraceful stereotyping,” said Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the UK-based Ramadhan Foundation.

These are only a few selected reactions of a number of figures who have the chance for their voices to be heard.

But imagine you are a Muslim woman and live in the United Kingdom. Like any other woman, you already face many daily hurdles in this world of flagrant gender inequality.

Then recall that these challenges are augmented by the fact that you are a foreigner. Your religion in this case puts additional heavy stigmatisation weight in your mind and on your shoulders.

What would you think?

(End)

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Turkey descends into civil war as conflict in southeast escalateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/turkey-descends-into-civil-war-as-conflict-in-southeast-escalates/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=turkey-descends-into-civil-war-as-conflict-in-southeast-escalates http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/turkey-descends-into-civil-war-as-conflict-in-southeast-escalates/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 05:57:17 +0000 Joris Leverink http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143780 The bullet-ridden Fatih Paşa Mosque in the heart of Diyarbakir's historical Sur district, which was heavily damaged in clashes between Turkish armed forces and local militant youths. Credit: Joris Leverink/IPS

The bullet-ridden Fatih Paşa Mosque in the heart of Diyarbakir's historical Sur district, which was heavily damaged in clashes between Turkish armed forces and local militant youths. Credit: Joris Leverink/IPS

By Joris Leverink
ISTANBUL, Turkey, Feb 4 2016 (IPS)

The latest footage to come out of Sur, the historical district in Diyarbakir that has been under total lock down by Turkish armed forces for the past sixty days, shows a level of devastation one would sooner expect in Syria. In more ways than one – empty streets lined with debris, bombed-out buildings, tanks and soldiers shooting at invisible assailants – the situation in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeastern regions resembles a war zone.

The Turkish government maintains that it is engaged in a fight against terror. However, the security operations are characterized by a disproportionate use of violence, whereby entire towns and neighborhoods are cut off from the outside world with civilians trapped inside their homes for weeks on end. This has led to calls by international human rights organizations to end the collective punishment of an entire population for the acts of a small minority.

At its second general congress in late January, the key political representative of the Kurdish population in Turkey, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, stressed its determination to seek a peaceful solution to the violent conflict. “If politics can play a role, weapons are not necessary. Where there’s no politics, there will be
weapons,” Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chair of the party summarized the situation.

From autonomy to conflict

In the spring of 2013 hopes were high for a political solution to the decades-old violent conflict between the Turkish state and its Kurdish minority, represented on the battlefield by the leftist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. After years of fighting and tens of thousands deaths, both parties appeared determined to bring the war to an end and engage in peace talks. For almost 2.5 years the fighting ceased. The precarious peace came to an end in the summer of 2015.

As a spillover from the war in Syria, tensions between the Kurds in Turkey and the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, reached a boiling point. In Syria, local Kurds had been fighting off a number of Turkey-backed jihadist and Syrian opposition groups – most prominently the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS. When Kurdish groups in Turkey became the target of two ISIS-linked suicide attacks – in Diyarbakir in June, and Suruç in July – it was the AKP that was held responsible for the onslaught.

The ceasefire broke down and violence escalated quickly. Turkey launched air raids against PKK targets in northern Iraq, in response to which security forces inside Turkey were attacked by Kurdish militants. Having lost their trust in the Turkish state to properly address Kurdish grievances concerning the right to speak and be educated in their mother tongue, to practice their own religion, to be represented politically and to protect the natural environment of their historical homelands, many Kurds instead turned to the ideology of “democratic confederalism”.

Developed by the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, democratic confederalism promotes the autonomy of local communities and a decentralization of the state.

When towns and neighborhoods across the Kurdish regions of Turkey started declaring their autonomy in the wake of the re-escalated conflict, the Turkish state under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded by sending in the army and declaring dozens of so-called curfews that in practice amount to military sieges. Besides hundreds of casualties among the army and Kurdish militants, around two hundred civilians are believed to have been killed in the past six months.

Bleak prospects for peace

After the HDP became the first party with roots in the Kurdish freedom movement to pass the exceedingly high electoral threshold of 10 per cent at the parliamentary elections in June – and again at the snap elections in November – it has come under severe pressure from the political establishment. President Erdogan personally suggested that the HDP representatives ought to be stripped from their immunity so that they could be prosecuted for supporting terrorism.

Nonetheless, the party refuses to succumb to the intimidation and has consistently called for a peaceful and democratic solution to the conflict. “Despite all the oppression, a new democratic model is emerging,” HDP co-chair Figen Yüksedağ said in her speech at the congress. “This model continues to gain support, even while under attack. The HDP has a historical responsibility to bring this project to a successful end.”

Her co-chair Demirtaş added the warning that “If we fail to produce a solution for the end of the violence, it is the end of politics in Turkey.” Unfortunately, prospects for a political solution are bleak. Mayors and political representatives of the towns and districts where the population has called for autonomy are prosecuted and jailed. At the same time President Erdogan warned that, “It should be known that we will bring the whole world down on those who seek to establish a state within a state under the name of autonomy and self-governance.”

Prime Minister Davutoğlu recently vowed to continue the military operations until “our mountains, plains and towns are cleansed of these killers.” This type of uncompromising discourse from the country’s two most powerful political leaders instills little hope that the government is prepared to return to the negotiation table any time soon. The Kurds, both at home and across the border in Syria, are seen as the biggest threat to the territorial integrity of Turkey, and to stop this perceived threat no price is too high.

In the same way that Turkey has refused to allow the Syrian Kurds a seat at the negotiation table in Geneva, it is refusing to enter into dialogue with the Kurds at home.

The multiple references to Syria in this article are no coincidence; if the Turkish government continues to ignore all but a military solution to the current unrest, there is a very real threat that part of the country will soon resemble its southern neighbor.

The HDP’s invitation is there. In the words of co-chair Demirtaş: “Dialogue and negotiation should be the method when the public is under threat. Strengthening democracy is the only way to save Turkey from disaster.”

(End)

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New Poll Highlights Need for Reform in the Middle Easthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/new-poll-highlights-need-for-reform-in-the-middle-east/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-poll-highlights-need-for-reform-in-the-middle-east http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/new-poll-highlights-need-for-reform-in-the-middle-east/#comments Mon, 14 Dec 2015 17:23:22 +0000 Derek Davison http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143335 Queuing up to vote in Cairo. Credit: Khaled Moussa al-Omrani/IPS.

Queuing up to vote in Cairo. Credit: Khaled Moussa al-Omrani/IPS.

By Derek Davison
WASHINGTON, Dec 14 2015 (IPS)

A new public opinion survey undertaken in six Arab countries, Iran, and Turkey finds that people are more likely to blame “corrupt, repressive, and unrepresentative governments” and “religious figures and groups promoting extremist ideas and/or incorrect religious interpretations” for the rise of violent groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State than they are to blame “anger at the United States.”

These findings are the result of a series of face-to-face polls conducted by Zogby Research Services on a commission from the Sir Bani Yas Forum in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and released at a Middle East Institute-sponsored event on Wednesday. In September, ZRS interviewed a total of 7,400 adults across eight countries—Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE—on a broad range of topics, including the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen; the Israel-Palestine situation; the Iranian nuclear deal; and the threat of religious extremism. Respondents in Iran and Iraq were also asked a separate series of questions about internal affairs in those countries.

the two most commonly cited factors in the development of religious extremism were “corrupt governments” and “extremist and/or incorrect religious ideas"
With respect to Israel-Palestine, the poll found that people in five of the six surveyed Arab nations are less likely to support a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal now than they were back in 2009, when Zogby International’s “Six-Nation Arab Opinion Poll” asked a similar question of respondents in those five countries. In Egypt, which has seen the sharpest decline in support for a peace deal, almost two-thirds of respondents said that they would oppose a peace deal “even if the Israelis agree to return all of the territories and agree to resolve the refugee issue,” compared with only 8% who answered similarly in the 2009 survey. This represents a potential risk for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has worked to improve Egyptian-Israeli relations despite the apparent feelings of most of the Egyptian public. Similar, albeit smaller, shifts were seen in Jordan (where 24% oppose a deal today, compared with 13% in 2009), Lebanon (30% vs. 18%), Saudi Arabia (36% vs. 18%), and the UAE (19% vs. 8%). Iraq was not part of the 2009 survey, but 59% of respondents in this survey said that they would also oppose a comprehensive peace deal with Israel.

On Iran and the P5+1 nuclear deal, the poll reveals several divergences in terms of the way Arabs and Iranians approach the deal’s terms. Majorities in Egypt (63%), Jordan (53%), Saudi Arabia (62%), and the UAE (91%) said that the deal would be “only good for Iran, but bad for the Arab states,” and that they were “not confident” that the deal will keep Iran from developing a “nuclear weapons program.” Large majorities in Egypt (90%) and Saudi Arabia (66%) predicted that any additional revenue that Iran sees as a result of sanctions relief would primarily go to “support its military and political interference in regional affairs.”

Inside Iran, on the other hand, 80% of respondents said that they “supported” the deal, but 68% agreed that it was a “bad idea” for the Iranian government to accept limits on its nuclear program—or, as ZRS managing director John Zogby put it at the poll’s roll-out event, “they’re for the deal, but they don’t like it.” On the question of whether Iran should have nuclear weapons, roughly 68% of Iranians said that it should, either because Iran “is a major nation” or because “as long as other countries have nuclear weapons, we need them also.” However, the percentage of Iranians saying that their country should have nuclear weapons “because it is a major nation” declined from 49% in 2014 to only 20% this year, and the percentage of Iranians who said that “nuclear weapons are always wrong and so no country, including my own, should have them” rose from 14% last year to 32% this year.

Meanwhile, in contrast with Arab fears about Iranian expansionism, Iranians themselves seem to be growing increasingly isolationist. Just 19% of Iranian respondents agreed with the statement “my country should be the dominant player in the Gulf region,” while a plurality, 44%, agreed with the statement “my country should not be involved in the Gulf region; it should focus on internal matters.” And whereas majorities of Iranians agreed that Iran should be involved in Syria (73%), Lebanon (72%), Iraq (64%), and Bahrain (57%), those numbers each declined sharply (by 10% or more) from last year, and a majority of Iranians (57%) now oppose Iran’s involvement in Yemen (which had 62% support last year). For Iranians, “the first priority is always economic, followed by greater political freedom,” the Atlantic Council’s Barbara Slavin pointed out, “there is not and has never been a huge enthusiasm for intervention in what Iranians call ‘Arab causes.’”

Still, it was in the area of extremism and its causes where the poll generated its most interesting findings. When asked to rate eight factors on a 1-5 scale (where 1 means “very important factor”) in terms of their importance as a driver of religious extremism, respondents in all eight countries gave “anger at the U.S.” the fewest number of ones and twos, although that factor was still rated as important by a majority of respondents in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Turkey. Zogby argued that this was a sign that Barack Obama’s attempt to leave a “softer U.S. footprint in the region pays off.” However, when asked whether the United States is playing a positive or negative role in combating extremist sectarian violence, large majorities in each country said that the U.S. was playing a negative role.

Instead, the two most commonly cited factors in the development of religious extremism were “corrupt governments” and “extremist and/or incorrect religious ideas.” Other commonly cited factors, like “lack of education,” “poverty,” and “youth alienation” also speak to a consistent sense that extremism is an internal problem stemming from poor governance. Majorities in each of the eight countries except Iran agreed that “countering the messages and ideas promoted by recruiters for extremist groups” and “changing the political and social realities that cause young people to be attracted to extremist ideals” were “most important” in terms of defeating violent extremist groups like the Islamic State. Within Iraq, majorities from all three of the country’s major ethno-religious groups (Sunni Arabs, Shi’a Arabs, and Kurds) agreed that “forming a more inclusive, representative government” is the best way to resolve the conflict there, but even larger majorities from each group said that they were “not confident” that such a government will be formed within the next five years.

As with any public opinion poll, these results must be considered with the caveat that respondents may have different ideas about the concepts in question. One respondent in one country may define “corrupt government” or “extreme religious ideas” much differently than another respondent in another country. Theoretical public support for a “Joint Arab Force,” which the poll showed was consistent across all six Arab countries surveyed, could break down very quickly if such a force were really to be formed and then deployed in an actual conflict zone. Middle East Institute scholar Hassan Mneimneh noted that “even when elements seem to align, we’re not necessarily in alignment.”

This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy Lobelog.com

 

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Middle East Part II – 99.5 Years of (Imposed) Solitudehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/middle-east-part-ii-99-5-years-of-imposed-solitude/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-east-part-ii-99-5-years-of-imposed-solitude http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/middle-east-part-ii-99-5-years-of-imposed-solitude/#comments Fri, 04 Dec 2015 07:47:51 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143218 In this Part II of a two-part series, Egyptian-born, Spanish-national, secular journalist Baher Kamal tries to “de-mythify” some of the most common stereotypes circulating around the Middle East region. Here he explains some of the roots of its drama. Part I focused on: The Eternally Over-Written, Under-Reported Middle East: Of Arabs and Muslims]]>

In this Part II of a two-part series, Egyptian-born, Spanish-national, secular journalist Baher Kamal tries to “de-mythify” some of the most common stereotypes circulating around the Middle East region. Here he explains some of the roots of its drama. Part I focused on: The Eternally Over-Written, Under-Reported Middle East: Of Arabs and Muslims

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Dec 4 2015 (IPS)

One hundred years ago, on 6 May 1916, two men, Briton Sir Mark Sykes and French diplomat François Georges-Picot, were entrusted by their respective governments with a rather exceptional task.

Baher Kamal

Baher Kamal

That task, which initially counted with the assent of the Tsarist Russia, was to divide among these powers the “inherence” of the still alive, though decadent Ottoman Empire. In short, to define Britain, France and Russia’s coming spheres of influence and control in their “new” Middle East, should this “Triple Entente” succeed in defeating the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

The deal was crowned with a brand new Middle East map that has divided the by then existing nations into artificial states.

In virtue of that agreement, Britain was allocated control of areas comprising the coastal strip between the Mediterranean Sea and River Jordan, Jordan, South of Iraq, and a tiny area including the ports of Haifa and Acre to allow access to the Mediterranean.

France was allocated control of Southeastern Turkey, Northern Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

An “international administration” was proposed for Palestine.

Supposedly, Russia was to mainly get Istanbul and the Turkish Straits.

The Ottoman Empire finally collapsed during the second decade of last century; a new, secular Turkey was born, and two self-proclaimed heirs of its territories and influences –Britain and France- implemented their Sykes-Picot agreement.

London and Paris rapidly managed to immediately “offialise” – not equivalent to “legitimise” – their unilateral plans. The League of Nations would, therefore, put new-born Syria and Lebanon under France’s mandate. Jordan, Iraq and Palestine would de allocated to Britain. And Egypt, among others, would be under British mandate.

What Happened Then?

In his “Four Key Reasons to Understand the Irresistible Attraction of Radical Islam,” IPS founder and Other News publisher, Roberto Savio has rightly managed to summarise the most dramatic consequences of the Sykes-Picot agreement.

“First of all, all the Arab countries are artificial. In May 1916, Monsieur Picot for France and Lord Sykes for Britain met and agreed on a secret treaty, with the support of the Russian Empire and the Italian Kingdom, on how to carve up the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.

“Thus the Arab countries of today were born as the result of a division by France and Britain with no consideration for ethnic and religious realities or for history. A few of those countries, like Egypt, had an historical identity, but countries like Iraq, Arabia Saudi, Jordan, or even the Emirates lacked even that.

“It is worth remembering that the Kurdish issue of 30 million people divided among four countries was created by European powers.

“The colonial powers installed kings and sheiks in the countries that they created. To run these artificial countries, strong hands were required. So, from the very beginning, there was a total lack of participation of the people, with a political system which was totally out of sync with the process of democracy that was happening in Europe.

“With a European blessing, these countries were frozen in feudal times.”

States vs Nations

Two key issues come out of this analysis:

1. The fact that Western powers usually confuse the concept of “Nation” with that of “State”. Such confusion, apart from wrongful, could be due to either a historic negligence of the impact on their colonies, or be made following the famous “Divide and Rule” doctrine.

A “Nation” is made of a homogeneous group of people sharing common ethnic roots, language, beliefs, traditions and ways of life. Nation is a human, social, ethnic concept. A “State”, instead, is usually a “geographical” artificial grouping of peoples of different roots.

In the case of the Middle East, Syria and Lebanon, for instance, appeared as “States” following the British-French colonial policies, which were implemented as a consequence of the Sykes-Picot agreement.

Since then, the Middle East “new States” would divide the Kurds mainly between Turkey, Iraq and Syria; would force parts of Shii and Sunni to live under one flag, and would group diverse ethnic groups within the limits of artificial borders.

A State like Lebanon, for instance, is made of up to 18 different major and minor communities. Can you image a European State with less than six million inhabitants belonging to such a high number of different communities?

Inter-community, externally-fed tensions would necessarily be unavoidable. And all parties in conflict would be duly armed with Western weapons, and some of them with Russian armaments.

All that while a good number of Arab regimes have been used to blindly hear and listen to the their (Western) Master’s Voice. If they did otherwise, they would immediately be kicked out.

No wonder then that there have been, are and will always be big internal tensions in the region. Not to mention the huge business of oil and weapons and the big power games.

2. The second reason, which has been mentioned by Savio in his analysis as a consequence of the first one, is also clear:

“The colonial powers installed kings and sheiks in the countries that they created. To run these artificial countries, strong hands were required.”

In the case of the North of Africa – specifically Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt as well as Sudan – these have been systematically ruled by military regimes that used oppression, suppression of freedoms, torture and corruption in the name of the recurrent argument of “national security.” Iraq and Syria suffered this very same fate.

As a consequence, the peoples of these countries would be irrationally impoverished and deprived from any kind of rights.

Such a situation has never been contested by Western powers. Yes, their leaders would from time to time, talk about the need to respect human rights, democracy, etc.

The fact is, however, is that none of the former colonial powers, nor their successor in the region – the United States has never lifted a finger to remove those regimes. Which by the way, have been labelled as “allies.”

Hosni Mubarak’s military regime in Egypt, for instance, would be considered as a “moderate” ally.

In the name of God

The systematic, lasting oppression of the peoples would be intensively exploited by political-religious movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

This would gain popular support among disparate populations, who would look at it as the “last hope” to save them from oppression and poverty – after all, their Imams would speak to them in the name of God. And God is fair, just, compassionate, exactly what they needed.

Who funds the terrorists?

In a rapid succession of events, a growing number of self-proclaimed “Islamic” groups would devote their “raison d’être’ to perpetrating brutal, inhumane, anything else but religious acts of terror. Some make highly lucrative business though illegally selling oil from occupied fields and refineries -mainly in Iraq and Libya – at half of market prices to big multinationals. See what former national security adviser, Mowaffak al Rubaie has just stated: ‘Oxygen for jihadists’: ISIS-smuggled oil flows through Turkey to intl markets – Iraqi MP).

On top of that, those extremist groups get cheap weapons mainly from dissolved former Iraqi army and from disintegrated Libya.

In fact, the first government “installed” in Libya after NATO intervened there following the 2011 popular uprising estimated that there would be up to 25 million weapons out of the central authorities’ control in this North African oil-rich country.

That’s not to mention the big money generated through their active involvement in migrants and refugees trafficking.

Last but not least: all the above mentioned facts are originated in Western sources!

(End)

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The Over-Written, Under-Reported Middle East – Part I: Of Arabs and Muslimshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/the-over-written-under-reported-middle-east-part-i-of-arabs-and-muslims/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-over-written-under-reported-middle-east-part-i-of-arabs-and-muslims http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/the-over-written-under-reported-middle-east-part-i-of-arabs-and-muslims/#comments Thu, 03 Dec 2015 08:18:42 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143200 In this two-part series, Egyptian-born, Spanish-national, secular journalist Baher Kamal tries to “de-mythify” some of the most common stereotypes circulating around the Middle East region. Part II tomorrow will focus on: Middle East, 99 Years and a Half of Solitude. ]]>

In this two-part series, Egyptian-born, Spanish-national, secular journalist Baher Kamal tries to “de-mythify” some of the most common stereotypes circulating around the Middle East region. Part II tomorrow will focus on: Middle East, 99 Years and a Half of Solitude.

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Dec 3 2015 (IPS)

Of all over-written, under-reported issues and regions, the Middle East is perhaps one of the oldest, outstanding ones.

Baher Kamal

Baher Kamal

To start with, it is a common belief – too often heralded by the mainstream media – that the Middle East is formed entirely of Arab countries, and that it is about the so-wrongly called Muslim, Arab World.

This is simply not accurate.

Firstly, because such an Arab World (or Arab Nation) does not actually exist as such. There is not much in common between a Mauritanian and an Omani; a Moroccan and a Yemeni; an Egyptian and a Bahraini, just to mention some examples. They all have different ethnic roots, history, original languages, traditions and religious beliefs.

Example: The Amazighs – also known as the Berbers – are an ethnic group indigenous to the North of Africa, living in lands stretching from the Atlantic cost to the Western Desert in Egypt. Historically, they spoke Berber languages.

There are around 25-30 million Berber speakers in North Africa. The total number of ethnic Berbers (including non-Berber speakers) is estimated to be far greater. They have been “Arabised” and “Islamised” since the Muslim conquest of North of Africa in the 7th century.

Secondly, because not all Muslims are Arabs, nor all Arabs are Muslims. Not to mention the very fact that not all Arabs are even Arabs. It would be more accurate to talk about “Arabised,” “Islamised” peoples or nations rather than an Arab World or Arab Nation.

Here are seven key facts about Muslims that large media, in particular the Western information tools, often neglect or ignore:

1. Not all Muslims are Arabs

In fact, according to the most acknowledged statistics, the number of Muslims around the world amounts to an estimated 1.56 billion people, compared to estimated 2.2 billion Christians and 1.4 million Jewish.

Of this total, Arab countries are home to around 380 million people, that is only about 24 per cent of all Muslims.

2. Not all Arabs are Muslims

While Islam is the religion of the majority of Arab population, not all Arabs are Muslims.

In fact, it is estimated that Christians represent between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of the Arab combined population. Therefore, Arab Muslims amount to just around one-fifth of all the world’s Muslims.

Arab Christians are concentrated mainly in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Egypt, where they represent up to 13 per cent of the total population amounting to 95 million inhabitants according to last year’s census.

It is also estimated that there are more Muslims in the United Kingdom than in Lebanon, and more Muslims in China than in Syria.

3. Major Muslim countries are in Asia

According to the U.S-based Pew Research Center, this would be the percentage of major religious groups in 2012: Christianity 31.5 per cent; Islam 23.2 per cent; Hinduism 15.0 per cent, and Buddhism 7.1 per cent of the world’s total population.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center estimated that in 2010 there were 49 Muslim-majority countries.

South and Southeast Asia would account for around 62 per cent of the world’s Muslims.

According to these estimates, the largest Muslim population in a single country lives in Indonesia, which is home to 12.7 per cent of all world’s Muslims.

Pakistan (with 11.0 per cent of all Muslims) is the second largest Muslim-majority nation, followed by India (10.9 per cent), and Bangladesh (9.2 per cent).

The Pew Research Center estimates that about 20 per cent of Muslims live in Arab countries, and that two non-Arab countries – Turkey and Iran – are the largest Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East.

In short, a large number of Muslim majority countries are not Arabs. This is the case of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey.

3. Largest Muslim groups

It is estimated that 75 to 90 per cent of Islam followers are Sunni, while Shii represent 10 to 20 per cent of the global Muslim population.

The sometimes armed, violent conflicts between these two groups are often due to political impositions. But this is not restricted to Arab or Muslim countries, as evidenced by the decades of armed conflict between Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland.

4. Muslims do not have their own God

In Arabic (the language in which the sacred book, the Koran, was written and diffused) the word “table” is said “tawla;” a “tree” is called “shajarah;” and a “book” is “ketab.” In Arabic “God” is “Allah”.

In addition, Islam does not at all deny the existence of Christianity or Christ. And it does fully recognise and pay due respect to the Talmud and the Bible.

The main difference is that Islam considers Christ as God’s closest and most beloved “prophet,” not his son.

5. Islamic “traditions”

Islam landed in the 7th century in the Gulf or Arab Peninsula deserts. There, both men and women used to cover their faces and heads to protect themselves from the strong heat and sand storms. It is not, therefore, about a purely Islam religious imposition.

Meanwhile, in the Arab deserts, populations used to have nomadic life, with men travelling in caravans, while women and the elderly would handle the daily life of their families. Islamic societies were therefore actually matriarchal.

Genital mutilations are common to Islam, Judaism (male) and many other religious beliefs, in particular in Africa.

Likewise other major monotheistic religions, a number of Muslim clerics have been using faith to increase their influence and power. This is fundamentally why so many “new traditions” have been gradually imposed on Muslims. This is the case, for example, of denying the right of women to education.

As with other major monotheistic religions, some Muslim clerics used their ever growing powers to promote inhuman, brutal actions. This is the case of “Jihad” fundamentalists.

This has not been an exclusive case of Muslims along the history of humankind. Just remember the Spanish-Portuguese invasion of Latin America, where indigenous populations were exterminated and Christianity imposed by the sword, for the sake of the glory of Kings, Emperors… and Popes.

6. The unfinished wars between the West and Islam (and vice-versa)

There is a growing belief among Arab and Muslim academicians that the ongoing violent conflicts between Muslims and the West (and vice-versa) are due to the “unfinished” war between the Christian West and the Islamic Ottoman Empire, in spite of the fact that the latter was dismantled in the early 1920s.

This would explain the successive wars in the Balkans and the Middle East, for instance.

7. The “religion” of oil

It has become too common, and thus too given for certain, that oil producers are predominantly Arabs and Muslims. This is not accurate.

To start with, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was founded in (the under British mandate) Baghdad, Iraq, in 1960 by five countries: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. These were later joined by Qatar (1961), Indonesia (1962), Libya (1962), the United Arab Emirates (1967), Algeria (1969), Nigeria (1971), Ecuador (1973), Gabon (1975) and Angola (2007).

And here you are: OPEC full membership includes: Ecuador, Venezuela, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola. None of these is either Arab or Muslim. They are all Christian states. As for Iran and Indonesia, these are Muslim countries, but not Arab.

Then you have other major oil and gas producers and exporters outside the OPEC ranks: the United States [which produces more oil (13,973,000 barrels per day) than Saudi Arabia (11,624,000)]; Russia (10,853,000); China (4,572,000); Canada (4,383,000, more than United Arab Emirates or Iran or Iraq); Norway (1,904,000, more than Algeria) and Mexico, among others.

Again, none of these oil producers is Arab or Muslim.

In short, not all Muslims are Arabs (these are less than 20 per cent of the total); not all Arabs are Muslims, and… not all Arabs are even Arabs!

(End)

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Women’s Alliance Plans to Counter Violent Extremismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/womens-alliance-plans-to-counter-violent-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-alliance-plans-to-counter-violent-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/womens-alliance-plans-to-counter-violent-extremism/#comments Tue, 06 Oct 2015 20:19:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142616 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 6 2015 (IPS)

When the Security Council recently hosted a meeting of world leaders to discuss the growing threats from violent extremism, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that any success in battling intolerance will be predicated on a “unified response.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

The most recent U.N. data, he told the summit meeting, shows a 70 per cent increase in foreign terrorist fighters from over 100 countries to regions in conflict. And they not only pose a direct threat to international security, he said, but also “mercilessly target women and girls”, and undermine universal values of peace, justice and human dignity.

Responding to the call for unity, a coalition of over 25 women’s groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has formed a new alliance to counter violent extremism (CVE) and promote peace, rights and pluralism.

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, co-founder and executive director of the Washington-based International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) and a member of the coalition, told IPS: “I think the CVE initiative and summit did open space for a broader conversation about the root causes of extremism.”

By having regional summits and reaching out to young people and civil society and women, she said, they raised awareness about the many positive forces that exist.

There are new initiatives for youth engagement, getting cities to learn from each other, and focus on research. The women’s alliance is among them, she noted.

The Secretary-General, meanwhile, has announced plans to form an advisory panel of religious leaders to promote interfaith dialogue, and at the same time, present a comprehensive plan of action on preventing violent extremism, to the current session of the General Assembly later this year.

He singled out five key priorities: the need to engage all of society; the need to make a special effort to reach young people; to build truly accountable institutions; respect for international law and human rights; and the importance of not being ruled by fear – or provoked by those who strive to exploit it.

Ban said most of those recruited by violent extremists were young men, although women were also falling under the influence.

Many were frustrated with the few avenues available to them to pursue productive lives and find their place in society. “We must show them another way, a better way. That includes working to end poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity”.

The alliance includes the Philippines Centre for Islam and Democracy, Association of War-Affected Women, Iraqi Al-Firdaws Society, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, the Carter Centre and Justice, Human Rights and Gender Civil Association.

The United States is working with its own coalition, which has grown to some 60 nations, including virtually all the Arab countries, plus three new countries: Nigeria, Tunisia and Malaysia.
Additionally, nearly two dozen nations are in some way contributing to the current military campaign against extremist groups, including Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Speaking at the summit, U.S. President Barack Obama said: “Our military and intelligence efforts are not going to succeed alone; they have to be matched by political and economic progress to address the conditions that ISIL has exploited in order to take root.”

ICAN’s Anderlini told IPS the alliance of women’s groups is still taking shape and “we welcome NGOs that uphold the same values and vision, and are active on the ground”.

“We definitely aim to have a strong political voice and presence in the policy arena for a number of reasons.”

First, there is no doubt that women are deliberate and central targets of such groups – and extremists understand the power and influence of women in society.

They are either trying to recruit them or killing those who speak out against them. They are also of course, using young women and girls as commodities.

“We have to have women at the center of decision making so that they are not doubly victimized or ignored by international actors as well,” she added.

Second, the alliance members are working at the frontlines of this struggle. Some are working directly with militias – others are doing broader community based prevention.

They have expertise and a lot to share about what works and what does not – and how to adapt and scale good practices.

Third, they have important perspectives on the root causes as well as the solutions needed from the international community.

“We can’t assume that small grants to local organizations will solve this huge problem. Those organizations can do a great deal but more importantly they can inform and guide what’s needed nationally and internationally in terms of economic, security policies.”

She said the bottom line is: “a lot of what has happened so far, is not working.”

“Our Syrian and Iraqi partners were warning about these issues in 2011 (and even earlier) – if we had heeded their warnings and followed their advice, things could be different now,” Anderlini declared.

Obama said it is necessary to address the political grievances that ISIL exploits.

“I’ve said this before – when human rights are denied and citizens have no opportunity to redress their grievances peacefully, it feeds terrorist propaganda that justifies violence.”

Likewise, when political opponents are treated like terrorists and thrown in jail, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So the real path to lasting stability and progress is not less democracy; it is more democracy in terms of free speech, and freedom of religion, rule of law, strong civil societies, he said.

“All that has to play a part in countering violent extremism,” he added.

“And finally, we recognize that our best partners in protecting vulnerable people from succumbing to violent extremist ideologies are the communities themselves – families, friends, neighbors, clerics, faith leaders who love and care for these young.”

The Secretary-General said more than 5 billion, out of the world’s total population of 7 billion, identify themselves as members of religious communities.

And religious leaders and educators can play an important role in teaching their followers the correct meaning of mutual understanding and respecting the other’s faith.

“We expect our religious leaders to be brave and to teach their followers when they see something morally wrong. I ask you, too, to do more to amplify the voice of the moderate majority so we may drown out those who preach violence and hatred,” Ban added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Pope’s Outspoken Views Rattle U.S. Conservatives but Not U.N.http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/popes-outspoken-views-rattle-u-s-conservatives-but-not-u-n/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=popes-outspoken-views-rattle-u-s-conservatives-but-not-u-n http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/popes-outspoken-views-rattle-u-s-conservatives-but-not-u-n/#comments Sat, 26 Sep 2015 20:49:57 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142501 Credit: Li Muzi/POOL

Credit: Li Muzi/POOL

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 26 2015 (IPS)

Pope Francis’ outspoken views on some of the politically-charged hot button issues – including refugees, migration, human rights, climate change, Iran’s nuclear deal, U.S.-Cuban relations and the global arms trade – have touched a raw nerve in the United States.

And most of these crucial and sensitive issues are currently on the agenda of the United Nations where he was given a rousing welcome last week.

But several right wing conservatives say the Pope’s “infallibility” relates only to theology – not to world politics or the degradation of the environment.

At least two of the Republican candidates seeking nomination for the U.S. presidency, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, both described as practicing Catholics, begged to differ with the Pope.

“I just think the Pope was wrong,” said Christie referring to the role played by the Pope in the resumption of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations.

“And so the fact is, that his infallibility is on religious matters, not on political ones.”

Rubio said, “the pope, as an individual, an important figure in the world, also has political opinions. And those, of course, we are free to disagree with.”

Still, Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA, an alliance of more than 75 U.S. organisations and 400 faith communities, told IPS Pope Francis has never made an “infallible” statement.

And it’s questionable whether or not Pope Benedict ever made one either.

“When infallible statements are made, they are done in a very specific way from St. Peter’s throne. Very few of these statements have ever been made in the entire history of the Catholic Church,” he explained.

The more important issue to understand is that all of Pope Francis’ statements are moral teaching for Catholics. When the Holy Father speaks on inequality, poverty, the environment, war and the economy, he is providing very clear moral guidance for us, said LeCompte, who also consults the Vatican and is a United Nations expert.

“His Holiness is applying specific Catholic and biblical teachings directly to the economic policies that impact millions of people. He’s calling for a global bankruptcy process to protect the vulnerable from financial crisis.”

He’s applying core Catholic teachings on poverty, compassion and mercy to the economic policies that cause poverty,” said LeCompte, in defence of the Pope’s public pronouncements.

The Holy Father also called for responsible lending and borrowing at the United Nations to address financial crisis.

He said: “It’s amazing to see Pope Francis talk about responsibility of creditors. He even referenced what was formally a sin in the Catholic Church: usury.”

After a historic address to a joint session of the United States Congress in Washington DC – and also speaking before hundreds of parishioners and lay people in New York – Pope Francis appeared Friday before the ultimate world stage: the United Nations.

Singling out two of the issues on the U.N. agenda, namely economic inequality and the global environment, the Pope told delegates the misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion.

In effect, he said, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged – either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise or are incapable of decisive political action.

He said economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment.

“The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded, and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing culture of waste”.

“The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions,” the Pope declared.

Going into political raptures over the Pope, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “You are at home not in palaces, but among the poor – not with the famous, but with the forgotten – not in official portraits, but in “selfies” with young people.”

Like the United Nations, he told the Pope, “you are driven by a passion to help others. Your views move millions. Your teachings bring action. Your example inspires us all.”

Meanwhile, most of the positive comments came from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Ben Phillips, director of Policy, Research, Advocacy and Campaigns at ActionAid, told IPS: “ActionAid strongly welcomes the Pope’s moral leadership on economic inequality and climate change: he is speaking up for the many millions of people around the world living with the effects. What is urgent action now is action by political leaders.”

Andrew Steer, President and chief executive officer of the World Resources Institute, said Pope Francis brings a voice of unwavering moral clarity on the need to protect the Earth.

“Simply put, caring for our planet and for the neediest among us is a responsibility we all share.”

This week, said Steer, the Pope has made it clear that climate change is an urgent challenge and must be addressed without delay. The good news is that we now know that many actions that will slow climate change are consistent with those that will deliver economic benefits to society.

Barbara Frost, Chief Executive, of WaterAid, said the Pope has shone a light on the plight of the poorest and most vulnerable, who are most affected by climate change and by the tremendous inequalities that exist in our world today.

“He has done much to reaffirm access to safe, drinkable water and sanitation as basic and universal rights essential to health and dignity. And he has asked us all to care for everyone on our planet.”

In our 30-year history of working to provide water and sanitation, WaterAid has been an advocate for some of the world’s poorest people and we welcome the Pope’s calls for action.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) welcomed Pope Francis’ call and said it believes that the moral and humanitarian arguments underpinning his speech should inspire governments to start negotiations of a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

“Nuclear weapons are immoral, unethical and unacceptable weapons”, said Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN, “governments should respond to the call of the Pope and start negotiating a new legal instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons”.

Barbara Blaine of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, struck a critical note when she said the Pope “speaks of some alleged “great sacrifice” made by bishops because of the abuse and cover up crisis.

“What sacrifice? What bishop takes fewer vacations, drives a smaller car, does his own laundry or has been passed over for promotion because he’s shielding predators and endangering kids?,” she asked.

None, she added.

Blaine also said: “If you’re a woman, you can’t be a priest, if you’re married, you can’t be a priest, but if you’ve raped children, you can still be a priest.”

Sydney Silva, a former Catholic priest based in the United States, told IPS infallibility is not the issue here.

Papal Infallibility is only applied in very rare situations when pope specifically makes official statements ex Cathedra (from the seat = official pronouncements ) solely on matters of faith and morals pertaining to the Catholic doctrine of the church.

The Church in the last century has been quietly moving away from this type of pronouncements.

“What Francis and other recent popes have done and said is more like renowned moral and pastoral leaders to address burning world problems and issues. They do have a unique place on the world stage”.

He said none of the recent popes including Pope Paul VI even when writing about Humane Vitae (on birth control) stayed the traditional course. All recent popes have taken a very progressive stand on matters of poverty, financial inequality, exploitation and even human degradation, he declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: The Pope, Partisanship and the Common Goodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-the-pope-partisanship-and-the-common-good/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-pope-partisanship-and-the-common-good http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-the-pope-partisanship-and-the-common-good/#comments Thu, 24 Sep 2015 22:44:10 +0000 Andrew Hanauer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142489 www.jubileeusa.org.]]> Credit: The United States House of Representatives

Credit: The United States House of Representatives

By Andrew Hanauer and Eric LeCompte
WASHINGTON, Sep 24 2015 (IPS)

Pope Francis delivered two very strong messages in his speech to Congress Thursday morning: let’s work together and let’s protect the vulnerable.

Those are fairly non-controversial comments. Both messages received standing ovations from both sides of the aisle, the type of ovations Presidents rarely receive during a State of the Union address.

The Pope promoted bridge-building eloquently:

“There is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within.”

This is an important statement in a city gripped with partisan gridlock and amidst a Presidential campaign not known for its civility.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis lamented that so many people live in “cycles of poverty” and noted that “the fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes.”

It’s tempting to divide those two messages – work together, help the needy – into separate items, two easy things to check off society’s to-do list. Be nice. Help others. But this Pope was saying so much more.

Francis’ message was that if we don’t work together, we can’t help the vulnerable. That each and every one of us must contribute to a world built on “hope and healing…peace and justice.” He said that “the challenges facing us today call for a renewal” of a spirit of cooperation. Getting along with each other isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s our moral duty because the most vulnerable are counting on us.

Francis is clear about the challenges we face. Poverty and inequality are at the top of the list. Since he became Pope, Francis has skillfully and specifically connected religious teachings on poverty and compassion to the actual debt, tax and trade policies that shape our global economy.

He criticized tax avoidance to dignitaries from known tax havens. He called for a global bankruptcy process for countries in response to the Greek debt crisis. He criticized austerity by name, labeling it bad for the poor. In his speech to Congress, Pope Francis talked about “unjust structures.” He didn’t label them, but anyone who listens to Pope Francis speak on a regular basis knows what he’s talking about.

It’s no mistake he’s talked about “an economy” of inclusion or exclusion. He recognizes that whether or not the most vulnerable have enough money to feed their families is the direct result of economic policies formed in capitals around the globe. We all have a role in shaping that economy. And when we work together, we can shape it for the better.

Our organization, Jubilee USA, was founded by religious leaders and Pope John Paul II to shift those very economic policies. We’ve won USD130 billion in debt relief for the world’s poorest countries – money that reduced child mortality rates, built schools and clinics, waived health fees for rural Africans and more. We won this relief because Republicans and Democrats worked together.

From George W. Bush to Barack Obama, from Pat Robertson to Jesse Jackson, we forge broad consensus. It wasn’t inevitable. World Bank President Jim Kim recently noted that when the Jubilee movement began in the late 1990’s,‎ nobody thought it would succeed. But because we worked together across political divides – now Kim attributes the debt relief work of Jubilee as a primary reason for economic growth on the continent.

We’ve got more big challenges to overcome. More than one billion people live in extreme poverty. Debt crises are spreading, from Greece to Puerto Rico to El Salvador. The developing world loses nearly one trillion dollars each year to crime, corruption and tax evasion, money that could be building schools and hospitals in the world’s poorest countries. Pope Francis noted in his speech that these very structures not only cause poverty, they fuel conflict and instability.

Congress has plenty it can do to help, but will be most effective if they can achieve bipartisanship. Take, for example, the fact that the US is one of the easiest countries in the world in which to create an anonymous shell company to move dirty money around the world. Criminals use anonymous shell companies to scam Americans, steal from developing countries and even fund terrorism. Legislation in Congress could change that – and it will only advance with support from both parties.

When Pope Francis encourages all of us to work together, both Democrats and Republicans should take note. Pope Francis did not deliver a liberal or conservative message. He delivered a message about putting people first – and putting the most vulnerable at the very center – of our political, moral and spiritual lives.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

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