Inter Press Service » Religion http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 05 Feb 2016 23:42:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 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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Pope? Yes, Dalai Lama? Nohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/pope-yes-dalai-lama-no/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pope-yes-dalai-lama-no http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/pope-yes-dalai-lama-no/#comments Mon, 21 Sep 2015 23:24:55 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142439 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 21 2015 (IPS)

When the United States established diplomatic relations with the Holy See back in January 1984, a televangelist asked rather sarcastically: when will Mecca send its own ambassador to Washington DC?

“It’s an odd fact of history,” ruminates Time magazine, “that the world’s youngest empire, the U.S., established diplomatic relations with the oldest, the Holy See, only a little over 30 years ago under (President) Ronald Reagan” who was long described as an advocate of church-state separation.

Over the last 70 years of the U.N.’s existence, successive Popes, representing more than one billion Catholics, have had the privilege of addressing the 193-member General Assembly.

Pope Benedict XVI addressing the General Assembly and staff of the United Nations in separate events at UN Headquarters in 2008.

Pope Benedict XVI addressing the General Assembly and staff of the United Nations in separate events at UN Headquarters in 2008.

Pope John Paul II addressed the United Nations in 1979 and 1995 and Pope Benedict XVI spoke to delegates in 2008. And Pope Francis, who is due to address the U.N.’s highest policy-making body Friday, will be the fourth to speak before the United Nations.

But other religious leaders, including Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, have never been offered that privilege – except participation in high-level forums.

Since Islam is not an institutionalized religion, it does not have the equivalent of either a Pope or a Vatican — although there are more than 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, perhaps far exceeding Catholics.

The Holy See is not a full-fledged U.N. member state but only holds the status of a “non-member observer state” — like Palestine.

Asked if there were any other religious leaders who were known to have addressed the world body, U.N. deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS: “It’s possible, if a religious leader were a head of state.”

But still, he admitted, it was “hard to say.”

In July 1974, Archbishop Makarios, first president of the Republic of Cyprus, addressed the U.N. Security Council after his ouster following the invasion of Cyprus by Greece.

However, what has been unequivocally re-affirmed over the last few decades is that the Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhists, continues to be barred from the United Nations and virtually declared persona non grata — primarily for political reasons.

Tibet is currently under Chinese rule but there are dissident groups, which want to breakaway from China seeking independence.

But China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council has taken a tough stand against Tibetan dissidents – and specifically the Dalai Lama, although he would accept Tibet as a genuine autonomous region within the People’s Republic of China.

With various U.N. member states trying to keep dissidents and separatists out of the world body, the battle has occasionally shifted to the United Nations.

When the Dalai Lama was invited to address a religious meeting in the late 1990s, the Chinese got wind of it – and the ambassador personally registered his protest at the 38th floor of the Secretary-General ensuring the Dalai Lama would not address any gathering inside the U.N. building.

A similar episode took place earlier when the Dalai Lama was barred from participating or addressing the U.N. Human Rights conference in June 1993 in the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Joe Lauria, U.N. correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, told IPS: “I recall very well when the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA) in May 1993 invited Chinese dissident Shen Tong to come to the U.N., and U.N. security, on orders from (then Secretary-General Boutros) Boutros-Ghali blocked him at the visitor’s entrance, where I stood to greet him on behalf of UNCA”.

“I brought him into the building eventually and all the way to UNCA’s door where security guards wouldn’t let him go further. So we took him back to the street where we held the press conference in front of the gate. I remember it got lots of coverage with CNN Headline News running it all day.”

But Lauria said he does not recall the Dalai Lama being blocked from entering the U.N. premises.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, another longstanding U.N. correspondent told IPS about the arrival of a delegation of “ordinary” Tibetans for a meeting at the U.N. many moons ago.

“They were Canadian citizens and came in wearing Western clothes. Once in, they changed into traditional dress. The Chinese were furious but there were no grounds to kick out Canadians,” he said.

Another ex-journalist and former U.N. Bureau Chief told IPS the Dalai Lama has never been allowed to address the U.N. — courtesy of China.

“I discovered this years ago when there was a conference of world religious leaders.”

He had to “cancel” an appearance even at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on the Upper West side of New York city.

“When I asked cathedral officials why they were allowing the extraterritorial jurisdiction by the U.N., they said lamely that the Dalai Lama had other engagements and couldn’t make it. I always doubted that, but Buddhists don’t come out shouting.”

Javier El-Hage, chief legal officer at the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), told IPS HRF believes that, in order to truly be the voice of the voiceless, Pope Francis should use the privilege of speaking at the United Nations to speak on behalf of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people, whose voices are routinely silenced by the powerful Chinese dictatorship.

“Unfortunately, there is little hope that the highest representative of Catholicism will do this, given that last year he declined to meet with the Dalai Lama in Rome precisely in order not to upset China’s rulers. ”

Pope Francis should consider that, as with any other valuable asset, a religious leader’s huge moral capital can go to waste when he fails to use the opportunity to truly stand with the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden, and instead chooses to take friendly pictures with and provide legitimacy to authoritarian leaders, he added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Costa Rica Finally Allows In Vitro Fertilisation after 15-Year Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/costa-rica-finally-allows-in-vitro-fertilisation-after-15-year-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=costa-rica-finally-allows-in-vitro-fertilisation-after-15-year-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/costa-rica-finally-allows-in-vitro-fertilisation-after-15-year-ban/#comments Tue, 15 Sep 2015 00:45:25 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142370 A hearing in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to follow up on compliance with its ruling that Costa Rica’s ban on in vitro fertilisation violates a number of rights. Credit: Inter-American Court of Human Rights

A hearing in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to follow up on compliance with its ruling that Costa Rica’s ban on in vitro fertilisation violates a number of rights. Credit: Inter-American Court of Human Rights

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Sep 15 2015 (IPS)

After banning in vitro fertilisation for 15 years and failing to comply with an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling for nearly three years, Costa Rica will finally once again allow the procedure for couples and women on their own.

On Sept. 10, centre-left President Luis Guillermo Solís issued a decree ordering compliance with the Inter-American Court’s 2012 verdict against the ban fomented by conservative sectors. The president ordered that measures be taken to overcome judicial and legislative barriers erected against compliance with the Court judgment.

“This was discriminatory,” lawyer Hubert May, the representative of several of the 12 couples who brought the legal action against the ban before the Court, told IPS. “The ban only affected those who couldn’t afford to carry out the procedure abroad, or those who weren’t willing to mortgage their homes or take out loans to fulfill their longing (for a child of their own).”

In November 2012, the Court ruled that the ban on in vitro fertilisation (IVF) violated the rights to privacy, liberty, personal integrity and sexual health, the right to form a family, the right to be free from discrimination, and the right to have access to technological progress. It gave Costa Rica six months to legalise the procedure.

But opposition from conservative sectors blocked compliance and hurt Costa Rica’s image in terms of international law.

Solís’s decree regulates IVF and puts the public health system in charge of the procedure, thus ensuring access for lower-income couples.

May said the decree “solves the problem of discrimination” by paving the way for the social security institute, the CCSS, to provide IVF as part of its regular health services.

IVF is a reproductive technology in which an egg is removed from a woman and joined with a sperm cell from a man in a test tube (in vitro). The resulting embryo is implanted in the woman’s uterus.

In its 2012 ruling, the Court stated that Costa Rica was the only country in the world to expressly outlaw IVF, a measure that directly affected local women and couples. In Latin America the procedure was first used in 1984, in Argentina.

One of the women affected by the ban was Gretel Artavia Murillo, who with her then husband ran up debt in an attempt to have a baby in the late 1990s.

Her now ex-husband, Miguel Mejías, declared before the Court that he had mortgaged his home and spent all his savings for the couple to undergo in vitro fertilisation in Costa Rica, but before they were able to do so, the practice was declared illegal.

IVF was first regulated in Costa Rica in 1995, but was banned in March 2000 by the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court.

Five of the seven magistrates on the constitutional chamber argued that the law violated the right to life, which began “at conception, when a person is already a person…a living being, with the right to be protected by the legal system.”

Artavia and Mejía, along with 11 other couples, brought the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2001, and a decade later it reached the Inter-American Court. The Commission and the Court are the Organisation of American States (OAS) autonomous human rights institutions.

On Sep. 10 Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís signed a decree making IVF legal after it was banned for 15 years. Credit: Casa Presidencial

On Sep. 10 Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís signed a decree making IVF legal after it was banned for 15 years. Credit: Casa Presidencial

A year later, the Court, which is based in the Costa Rican capital, San José, and whose rulings cannot be appealed and are theoretically binding, handed down its verdict.

“The constitutional chamber’s view was not shared by the Court, which considered that protection of life began with the implantation of a fertilised egg in the uterus,” said May.

May and other experts on the case said the position taken by Costa Rica’s highest court responded to the extremely conservative views of the leadership of the Catholic Church, and of other Christian faiths with growing influence in the country.

This Central American nation of 4.7 million people considers itself a standard-bearer of human rights in international forums. But the question of IVF tarnished that image when the conservative sectors took up opposition to it as a cause.

The debate in the legislature on a law to regulate IVF stalled for over two years, due to resistance by evangelical and conservative lawmakers.

In a Sep. 3 public hearing by the Court on compliance with the 2012 ruling, the executive branch said it planned to regulate the procedure by means of a decree, which civil society organisations saw as a reasonable solution to the stalemate over the new law.

“We know that in the legislature there is no way to forge ahead on key issues, such as practically anything to do with sexual and reproductive rights,” Larissa Arroyo, a lawyer who specialises in these rights, told IPS.

Arroyo pointed out that with regard to an issue like IVF, time is of the essence, given that a woman’s childbearing years are limited. She noted that “almost all of the victims lost their chance” to have children using the technique.

In the week between the public hearing and the signing of the presidential decree, the government consulted Costa Rica’s College of Physicians and the CCSS. While both backed the decree, the CCSS clarified that it preferred a law and warned that it would need additional funding, because each fertility treatment costs around 40,000 dollars.

The decree limits the number of fertilised eggs to be implanted to two.

In the same week, the legislative debate became further bogged down. While one group of legislators tried to expedite approval of the law to regulate IVF, another group continued to oppose the procedure as an attack on human life at its origin, likening it to the Jewish holocaust.

“The extermination camps of Nazi Germany are in the Costa Rica of today, the Costa Rica of the Solís administration,” evangelical legislator Gonzalo Ramírez, of the conservative Costa Rican Renewal Party, even said at one point.

Given that outlook and the impasse in the legislature, organisations like the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) celebrated the decree which offers “universal access” to IVF and “respect for the principle of equality.”

However, CEJIL programme director for Central America and Mexico Marcia Aguiluz recommended waiting until IVF is actually being implemented.

“The decree lives up to the requirements, but it is just a first step,” said Aguiluz, who is from Costa Rica. “Until the practice starts being carried out, we can’t say there has been compliance.”

Lawyers for the presidency said the decree is equipped to withstand legal challenges.

The 2012 ruling is the second handed down against Costa Rica in the history of the Court. The previous one was in 2004, when the Court found that the conviction of journalist Mauricio Herrera by a Costa Rican court on charges of defamation of a diplomat violated free speech, and ordered that the country enact new legislation on freedom of expression.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Faith Leaders Call for Debt Relief to Puerto Ricohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/faith-leaders-call-for-debt-relief-to-puerto-rico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=faith-leaders-call-for-debt-relief-to-puerto-rico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/faith-leaders-call-for-debt-relief-to-puerto-rico/#comments Mon, 31 Aug 2015 17:16:09 +0000 S. Chandra http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142199 By S. Chandra
WASHINGTON, Aug 31 2015 (IPS)

Puerto Rico’s religious leaders have called for debt relief of the Caribbean U.S. territory in the face of the 72 billion dollar liability that represents 20,000 dollars of debt for every man, woman and child.

In a statement issued Aug. 31, the clergy called on the U.S. Federal Reserve to intervene if Congress fails to pass bankruptcy protection to the financially-strapped island.

“This debt crisis threatens to push more of our people into poverty and put people out of work,” said San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves, leader of Puerto Rico’s mostly Catholic population.

“The religious community stands with vulnerable people and we call for the crisis to be resolved in a way that protects the poor and grows our economy,” he added.

At a press conference in San Juan, leaders of the major religious groups laid out six principles to resolve the crisis.

“Puerto Rico’s religious leaders are fighting for the lives of their people,” stated Eric LeCompte, executive director of the faith-based development coalition Jubilee USA Network.

Jubilee USA Network is an alliance of more than 75 U.S. organisations and 400 faith communities working with 50 Jubilee global partners. Jubilee’s mission is to build an economy that serves, protects and promotes the participation of the most vulnerable.

LeCompte visited Puerto Rico in mid-August to advise religious and political leaders on solutions to the crisis.  “We need to get Puerto Rico’s debt back to sustainable levels and ensure that the island has a path for economic growth,” he said

Some of the hedge funds, arguing for cuts in Puerto Rico’s economic growth, were or are currently involved in debt disputes in Greece, Argentina and Detroit, Michigan.

Two recent reports, one commissioned by a group of hedge funds which purchased the island’s distressed debt and the other authorised by Puerto Rico’s own government, suggest new austerity plans to pay off portions of the debt.

The reports note a range of “fiscal adjustments”, including reducing the minimum wage, education resources and healthcare costs. One of the principles promoted by the coalition of religious leaders is that any resolution to the financial crisis prevents further austerity plans.

The religious leaders raised concern over predatory hedge fund activity in their statement. Beyond the Catholic Church, other religious groups signing the statement include Methodists, Lutherans, Evangelicals, Pentecostals and the Disciples.

“As religious leaders, we see how desperate the situation is for Puerto Rico’s people,” said Reverend Heriberto Martínez Rivera, secretary-general of Puerto Rico’s Biblical Society and the leader of the religious coalition confronting the debt crisis.

“Too many of our people are already suffering from austerity policies and many brothers and sisters have left for the United States hungry for work and a better quality of life,” he added.

Beyond calling for debt relief and criticising austerity policies, the religious leaders’ statement asserts the need for greater Puerto Rican budget transparency and participation in future debt negotiations by people negatively affected by the crisis.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Opinion: How Will Wall Street Greet the Pope?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-how-will-wall-street-greet-the-pope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-will-wall-street-greet-the-pope http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-how-will-wall-street-greet-the-pope/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 09:14:17 +0000 Hazel Henderson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142152

Hazel Henderson, author of 'Mapping the Global Transition to the Solar Age' and other books, is President of Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil), Certified B Corporation

By Hazel Henderson
ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Millions in the New York City area are excited about Pope Francis’ visit on Sep. 25 to address the U.N. General Assembly as worldwide consensus grows on the need to shift global investments from fossil fuels to clean, efficient, renewable energy in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) scheduled to replace the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

Private investments worldwide in the clean energy transition now total 6.22 trillion dollars while successful U.S. students’ divestment networks have forced over 30 college endowments to divest.  Over 200 institutions have divested worldwide, including the U.S. cities of Minneapolis and Seattle, Oxford in the United Kingdom and Dunedin in New Zealand.

Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson

The Episcopal Church and the Church of England, in a faith-based consortium, are calling on Pope Francis to urge divestment for all religious and civic groups.  Islamic Climate Change Symposium leaders cited the Quran earlier this month in calling 1.6 billion Muslims to act in phasing out fossil fuels by 2050.

Backlash from traditional Wall Streeters has joined some U.S. Catholic organisations with millions still invested in fossil energy, fracking and oil sands.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has guidelines against investing in abortion, contraception, pornography, tobacco and war but is silent on energy stocks.

Reuters reports that Catholic dioceses in Boston, Baltimore, Toledo and much of Minnesota in the United States have millions of dollars in oil and gas stocks, making up between 5-10 percent of their holdings.  It has been reported that Chicago’s Archbishop Blasé Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis, will re-examine over 100 million dollars in fossil fuel investments.

Wall Street is also re-examining its positions on fossil fuels.  A survey of asset managers in Institutional Investor, July 2015, found that 77 percent expected the carbon-divestiture movement to continue and gain momentum.  Yet, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson has claimed that the models on climate change “aren’t that good” and has no plans to invest in renewable energy.

Recently, many large companies have been calling for and budgeting for carbon pricing – favoured by most economists.  Britain’s BG Group, BP, Italy’s ENI, Shell, Norway’s Statoil and France’s Total sent an open letter to world governments and the United Nations in June asking them to accelerate carbon pricing schemes.The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has guidelines against investing in abortion, contraception, pornography, tobacco and war but is silent on energy stocks

The ethical investing movement now accounts for one-sixth of all holdings on Wall Street and the U.N. Principles of Responsible Investing counts signatory institutions with 59 trillion dollars in assets under management.

Hybrid approaches include venture philanthropy and “impact” investing, while a recent CFA Institute survey found almost three quarters of investment professionals use environmental, social and governance information in their investment decisions.

Against this backdrop, Timothy Smith, pioneer founder of the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and now Senior Vice-President of Walden Asset Management, says that the “visit of the Pope in the wake of his prophetic Encyclical on climate is a clarion call – to ramp up our efforts to combat climate change with concrete actions,” adding that “it’s not the Pope’s job to present a specific game plan for Americans.  That is our job.”

Through ICCR, religious investors have worked for two decades on these issues.  Firms like Walden, Ceres and others have joined up to combat climate change, promoting efficiency and renewable resources.  All this new activity within the climate debate provides the greatest challenge yet to business-as-usual capitalism.

Many financiers in the global casino still see themselves as “masters of the universe” because they control capital flows, most investments, pension funds, influence monetary policies, capture politicians and regulators, while funding friendly academics and think tanks.

The recent jitters of stock markets have again revealed their fragility and the increasing turbulence and volatility caused by computerized algorithms accounting for over half of all activity.  High-frequency trading (HFT), “flash crashes”, are continuing with little regulation.  Foundations are crumbling from these many new challenges as small investors flee. 

Crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, local and cryptocurrencies, credit unions and cooperative enterprises are flowering along with hybrid start-ups in the “shareconomy” – AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, Task Rabbit and the growth of farmers markets, swap sites for tools, clothes and second-hand exchanges.

Many reformers of capitalism try to change its culture, of short term gain and speculative trading.  The U.N. Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System will release its report to the General Assembly on Sep. 25, with global research on current practices and potential reforms.

A promising new effort to mobilise U.S. public opinion is JUSTCapital, founded by luminaries Deepak Chopra, Arianna Huffington and hedge fund philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones.  CEO Martin Whittaker says: “We are addressing some of the core questions affecting capitalism and corporations in the 21st century.  We are applying policy, research and surveys to define ‘just business behaviour’ in the eye of the public, using this definition to evaluate and rank the performance of the largest publicly traded American companies.”

While such caring financiers are quietly exploring reforms, the biggest threat is the fragility of global market structures from automation, algorithms, HFT and artificial intelligence which financiers still believe they can control.

Yet these same computers can now run markets more efficiently than humans.  Matching and trading buy and sell orders in transparent computerised black boxes makes human traders redundant, as well as reducing insider trading, speculating, front-running, naked short-selling, fixing interest rates and today’s widespread greed and corruption.

Capitalism’s greatest challenge is its reliance on rollercoaster national money systems and currencies.  Central bankers and governments’ tools fail along with economic theories as social movements are now aware of money-printing and the politics of money creation and credit-allocation, revealed in all its favouritism and inequalities.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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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Winning Women a Greater Say in Somaliland’s Policy-Makinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 07:45:41 +0000 Katie Riordan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142144 Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Adrian Leversby/IPS

Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Adrian Leversby/IPS

By Katie Riordan
HARGEISA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Bar Seed is the only female member in Somaliland’s 82-person Parliament, but activists hope upcoming national elections may end her isolation.

Gender equality advocates in the self-declared nation are currently renewing a push for a quota for women in government that has been over a decade in the making.

“The public’s opinion is changing,” says Seed hopefully.

Somaliland, internationally recognised as a region of Somalia and not as an autonomous nation, nonetheless hosts its own elections and has its own president.  It is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process – to the detriment of the country’s development, activists argue – are women. [Somaliland] is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process are women

With only Seed in Parliament, no women in the House of Elders known as the Guurti, and two female ministers and two deputies, supporters argue that a political quota enshrined in law is necessary to correct this gender imbalance.

“Nobody is going to take a silver platter and present it to women. We aren’t being shy anymore, we are saying: you want my vote? Then earn it,” says Edna Adan, a former foreign minister in Somaliland and founder of the Edna Anan University Hospital, a facility dedicated to addressing gender issues such as female genital mutation (FGM).

Adan has witnessed the debate about women in government evolve over the years, playing out as a political game often filled with empty promises to appoint more women in positions of power.  A measure to enact a political quota has twice failed to pass Somaliland’s legislature, once shot down by Parliament and once stymied by the Guurti.

But Adan believes conditions have ripened for women to make a final push for a quota as they have become more organised and strategic in their lobbying efforts.

While some accuse advocates of “settling” for their current demand of a reserved 10 percent of seats – meaning women would only run against women for eight spots in Parliament – Adan counters that setting the bar higher at the moment is unrealistic.

In addition to pushing for this 10 percent clause in an election law that Parliament is slated to review and debate in the coming months, advocates are also lobbying political parties to have voluntary quotas for their list of parliamentary candidates for seats outside those exclusively reserved for women.

A disputed extension decision made in May that postponed Somaliland’s elections for president, parliament and local councils until at least the end of 2016 and as late as spring 2017 drew the ire of the international community and much of civil society including organisations backing a women’s political quota.  Critics say the extension calls into question Somaliland’s commitment to a democratic process.

But the extra time may prove to be a silver lining for quota lobbyists. It could give them leverage to force politicians to prove their adherence to building an inclusive government in order to appear favourable to their constituents and the international community by pushing for more women in government.

“Women have threatened the parties that if they don’t support us, then we will not support them,” says Seed, who is a member of the Waddani Party, one of Somaliland’s two current opposition parties.

However, she explains that parties often publicly support ideas and mechanisms that push for gender parity but have a poor track record of following through with them. In many ways they have not been obliged to because, historically, women have not voted for other women in meaningful numbers.

“So they know it’s a bit of any empty threat but some are frightened [they could lose female votes],” Seed adds.

Also standing in the way of women is Somaliland’s deeply entrenched tribal and clan system that overshadows politics. In order to win elections, individuals need the support of clan leaders who sway the vote of members of their tribe, explains Seed. But since men are viewed as the stronger candidate, women rarely received clan endorsement.

A woman’s position is also unique in that she often has claims to two clans, the one she is born into and the one that she marries into, though this rarely works to her advantage.

“If a woman goes on to become a minister, both clans would claim her, but if she asks for help, they both tell her to go to the other clan,” said Nura Jamal Hussein, a women’s advocate who is contemplating running for political office.

The Nagaad Network, a local NGO dedicated to the political, economic and social empowerment of women, has been the buttress of the push for a quota. Its current director, Nafisa Mohamed, says that convincing women – who, according to some estimates, are about 60 percent of the voting bloc – to vote for women will be crucial to defying the status quo.

Given the cultural and religious barriers that women contend with, that status quo will be incredibly difficult to change, she says. Mohamed counts small victories like a change in hard-line religious preaching that denounced women’s presence in politics. She says approaching spiritual leaders on an individual basis to garner their support has proved fruitful and that they are generally warming to the idea of women in government.

But the power of religion in shaping public opinion is still palpable.

Mohamed Ali has served in Parliament since it was last elected in 2005. He backs legislation for a quota for women in government.  But asked if a woman could be president, he says it would be contrary to the teachings of the Quran, a view shared by many that IPS talked to.

While he hesitantly admits that he may one day change his views, he says others would accuse him of “not knowing one’s religion” if he advocated a woman for president.

Critics have brushed the quota off as an import from the West and an unnecessary measure that is pushing for change that a country may not be ready to undertake. Some also question if it will genuinely result in its desired effect that political empowerment for women will trickle down to other aspects of life.

Amina Farah Arshe, an entrepreneur, believes that if there was greater focus on economic empowerment for women, more political representation would naturally follow.

“I hate quotas. I want women to vote for themselves without it,” she says.  “But the current situation will not allow for that so we still need it.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Islamic Declaration Turns Up Heat Ahead of Paris Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/islamic-declaration-turns-up-heat-ahead-of-paris-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islamic-declaration-turns-up-heat-ahead-of-paris-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/islamic-declaration-turns-up-heat-ahead-of-paris-climate-talks/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 18:39:07 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142051 Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, was one of the signers of the Islamic Declaration on Climate. Credit: kateeb.org

Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, was one of the signers of the Islamic Declaration on Climate. Credit: kateeb.org

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 19 2015 (IPS)

Following in the footsteps of Pope Francis, who has taken a vocal stance on climate change, Muslim leaders and scholars from 20 countries issued a joint declaration Tuesday underlining the severity of the problem and urging governments to commit to 100 percent renewable energy or a zero emissions strategy.

Notably, it calls on oil-rich, wealthy Muslim countries to lead the charge in phasing out fossil fuels “no later than the middle of the century.”

The call to action, which draws on Islamic teachings, was adopted at an International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Istanbul.

“Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward (khalifah) on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger ending life as we know it on our planet,” the Islamic Declaration on Climate statement says.

“This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, and the earth’s fine equilibrium (mīzān) may soon be lost…We call on all groups to join us in collaboration, co-operation and friendly competition in this endeavor and we welcome the significant contributions taken by other faiths, as we can all be winners in this race.”

The symposium’s goal was to reach “broad unity and ownership from the Islamic community around the Declaration.”

Welcoming the declaration, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said, “A clean energy, sustainable future for everyone ultimately rests on a fundamental shift in the understanding of how we value the environment and each other.

“Islam’s teachings, which emphasize the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the teacher’s role as an appointed guide to correct behavior, provide guidance to take the right action on climate change.”

Supporters of the Islamic Declaration included the grand muftis of Uganda and Lebanon and government representatives from Turkey and Morocco.

The UNFCCC notes that religious leaders of all faiths have been stepping up the pressure on governments to drastically cut carbon dioxide emissions and help poorer countries adapt to the challenges of climate change, with a key international climate treaty set to be negotiated in Paris this December.

In June, Pope Francis released a papal encyclical letter, in which he called on the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to join the fight against climate change.

The Church of England’s General Synod recently urged world leaders to agree on a roadmap to a low carbon future, and is among a number of Christian groups promising to redirect their resources into clean energy.

Hindu leaders will release their own statement later this year, and the Buddhist community plans to step up engagement this year building on a Buddhist Declaration on climate change. Hundreds of rabbis released a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis.

The Dalai Lama has also frequently spoken of the need for action on climate change, linking it to the need for reforms to the global economic system.

Interfaith groups have been cooperating throughout the year. The Vatican convened a Religions for Peace conference in the Vatican in April, and initiatives such as our Our Voices network are building coalitions in the run-up to Paris.

Reacting to the Islamic Declaration, the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative Head of Low Carbon Frameworks, Tasneem Essop, said, “The message from the Islamic leaders and scholars boosts the moral aspects of the global climate debate and marks another significant display of climate leadership by faith-based groups.

“Climate change is no longer just a scientific issue; it is increasingly a moral and ethical one. It affects the lives, livelihoods and rights of everyone, especially the poor, marginalised and most vulnerable communities.”

Edited by Kanya D’ Almeida

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Opinion: The Writing on the Western Wallhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-the-writing-on-the-western-wall/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-writing-on-the-western-wall http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-the-writing-on-the-western-wall/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 17:40:57 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142045 Western wall in Jerusalem at night. Credit: Wayne McLean/cc by 2.0

Western wall in Jerusalem at night. Credit: Wayne McLean/cc by 2.0

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2015 (IPS)

The writing on the Western Wall is evident to most Israelis: “דמוגרפיה היא גורל” or “demography is destiny”. Those unwilling to acknowledge the prophetic message are either deceiving themselves or simply ignoring it in order to avoid facing the implications of demography for Israel’s future.

In order to be both a Jewish and democratic state, Israel has adhered to a clear demographic principle:  maintain an overwhelming Jewish majority. During the first few decades following its establishment in 1948, the proportions Jewish among the several million Israelis remained at record highs of nearly 90 percent (Figure 1).In the immediate aftermath of the two-state solution’s formal demise, Israel will try to avoid facing demographic realities and maintain an untenable status quo.

Since then, even with the large-scale Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, the Jewish proportion in Israel, while still a sizeable majority, has declined steadily. Today the proportion Jewish among the Israeli population of more than eight million is at an historic low of 75 percent.

Although the country’s Jewish majority will likely continue to decline slightly over the next 20 years, it is expected to remain over 70 percent according to official Israeli population projections. Those projections, however, assume that no significant numbers of non-Jews outside pre-1967 Israel are granted Israeli citizenship. If this assumption is relaxed, very different demographic futures emerge for Israel.

The Israeli population, for example, could be combined with the Palestinian populations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to form a single state with universal suffrage, in other words the one-state solution. While the expanded nation would continue to be democratic in principle, it would no longer be a Jewish state because the majority of the enlarged Israeli population would no longer be Jewish.

Source: Israel Central Bureaus of Statistics and United Nations Population Division

Source: Israel Central Bureaus of Statistics and United Nations Population Division

A more likely possibility perhaps would be for the Palestinians in the West Bank to be granted Israeli citizenship. At least during the first couple of decades of such a scenario, Jewish Israelis would retain their majority, being slightly above half of the total population.

However, after several decades, Jewish Israelis would likely turn out to be the minority due to higher rates of demographic growth among their non-Jewish compatriots. Here again, an expanded Israel enfranchising large numbers of non-Jews would continue to be a democracy but would eventually cease to be a predominantly Jewish state.

The current Israeli government does not envisage the establishment of a Palestinian state any time in the foreseeable future. Although some Israeli politicians have called for the creation of a separate Palestinian state in the occupied territories, key Israeli government officials and their pivotal supporters believe that it would be collective suicide for Israel to permit the establishment of a Palestinian state. They prefer to annex West Bank land, or Judea and Samaria using their terminology, which some contend is already the de facto case.

In addition, a majority of the Israeli public view reaching a peace agreement with a two-state solution as a pipedream and many are opposed to a two-state solution. Any support voiced by Israelis for a two-state solution invariably evaporates when the details of a possible peace agreement are spelled out, such as the sharing of Jerusalem, removing Israeli settlements or returning to some pre-1967 borders.

Also, more than 120 government-approved Israeli settlements and 100 unofficial ones have been established in the West Bank. The growing Israeli settler population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is estimated at approximately 750,000. In the West Bank alone, the number of settlers has more than doubled since 1995 to about 400,000.

It appears highly unlikely that Israel will be able to withdraw its Jewish settlers from the occupied land as it did in 2005 when it withdrew with some difficulty about 9,000 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Despite the government’s opposition, public resistance and the ever-expanding demographic facts on the occupied ground, the two-state solution continues to be kept on life support largely through the sponsorship, funds and hopes of the international community, in particular the United States and its Western allies.

The ostensible reason for keeping this all-but-dead diplomatic path alive is to avoid confronting the inevitable alternatives to the failed attempts to establish a separate Palestinian state.

Soon, however, the two-state solution will be given its formal funeral, especially as peace talks have collapsed and the Israeli occupation is approaching its 50th anniversary. When this happens, the options remaining for the Israelis will be limited and difficult with the one-state solution with its eventual Palestinian majority loudly knocking at Israel’s front doorstep.

In the immediate aftermath of the two-state solution’s formal demise, Israel will try to avoid facing demographic realities and maintain an untenable status quo. The Israeli government will likely continue to enforce its costly and troubling occupation and control over millions of Palestinians, expand and increase Jewish settlements and consolidate its presence and authority throughout Jerusalem. However, those and related acts will in all likelihood only exacerbate an already vexing and volatile situation.

Attempts to preserve the status quo will lead to the numerous Jewish settlements becoming increasingly entrenched and entangled in the West Bank. The living conditions and disposition of the Palestinians in the occupied territories will worsen and their human rights concerns can be expected to rise to the top of the international community’s political agenda.

Israeli administrative decisions, Knesset bills and judicial pronouncements can neither dismiss nor repeal the laws of demography. No doubt some will choose to challenge the numbers and their significance, contending that under any foreseeable demographic circumstances Israel will remain a democratic and Jewish nation.

Inevitably, however, and likely sooner rather than later the Israeli government will be obliged to acknowledge the writing on the Western Wall and address demography’s decisive implications for the future of Israel.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. to Unleash “Power of Education” to Fight Intolerance, Racismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-to-unleash-power-of-education-to-fight-intolerance-racism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-to-unleash-power-of-education-to-fight-intolerance-racism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-to-unleash-power-of-education-to-fight-intolerance-racism/#comments Wed, 12 Aug 2015 13:41:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141961 The Pakistani Taliban destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

The Pakistani Taliban destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 12 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is planning to launch a global campaign against the spread of intolerance, extremism, racism and xenophobia — largely by harnessing the talents of the younger generation.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointedly says education is the key. “If you want to understand the power of education, just look at how the extremists fight education.”“What they fear most are girls and young people with textbooks.” -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

They wanted to kill the Pakistani teenage activist, Malala Yousafzai and her friends because they were girls who wanted to go to school, he said.

Violent extremists kidnapped more than 200 girls in Chibook, Nigeria, and scores of students were murdered in Garissa, Kenya and in Peshawar, Pakistan.

“What they fear most are girls and young people with textbooks,” said Ban, who will soon announce “a comprehensive Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism,” along with the creation of an advisory panel of religious leaders to promote interfaith dialogue.

The proposed plan is expected to be presented to the 70th session of the General Assembly which begins the third week of September.

As part of the campaign against intolerance and extremism, the U.N.’s Department of Public Information (DPI) recently picked 10 projects from young people from around the world, in what was billed as a “Diversity Contest,” singling out creative approaches to help address a wide range of discrimination, prejudice and extremism.

The projects, selected from over 100 entries from 31 countries, include challenging homophobia in India and Mexico; resolving conflicts to access water to decrease ethnic conflict in Burundi; promoting interfaith harmony in Pakistan; encouraging greater acceptance of migrant populations in South Africa and promoting greater employment opportunities to Muslim women in Germany.

Lara-Zuzan Golesorkhi, a PhD student and instructor at the New School in New York who submitted one of the prize-winning projects, told IPS she seeks to address one of the most discussed political issues in contemporary Germany: integration of Muslim immigrants.

At the centre of these discussions, Golesorkhi said, lies the so-called ‘veil debate’, which was brought about by the Ludin case in 1998.

That year, Fereshta Ludin (the daughter of Afghan immigrants) was rejected from a teaching position in the state’s public school system on the alleged basis of “lack of personal aptitude” that made her “unsuitable and unable to perform the duties of a public servant in accordance with German Basic Law.”

The endless dispute between Ludin and the German judicial system led to the inauguration of institutionalised state-based unveiling policies for public school teachers across Germany.

These policies have been in effect in eight states and have just recently been called into question on the federal level with a court decision that demands respective states to revise the inherently discriminatory policies, said Golesorkhi.

The DPI says Golesorkhi will return to Germany to challenge the perceived discrimination against Muslim women.

She will ask potential employers to symbolically pledge to hire Muslim women. She will also produce a list of those employers so that women can feel safe and empowered to apply to those work places.

The end result is to help decrease discrimination and increase the employment of Muslim women in Germany.

The New York Times, quoting the Religious Studies Media and Information Service in Germany, reported last month that Muslims make up around 5.0 percent of the population of 81 million, compared with 49 million Christians.

The newspaper focused on the growing controversy related to the renovation of an abandoned church in the working class district of Horn in Hamburg – where the “derelict building was being converted into a mosque.”

“The church stood empty for 10 years, and no one cared,” Daniel Abdin, the director of the Islamic Centre Al Nour in Hamburg told the Times, “But when Muslims bought it, suddenly it became a topic of interest.”

Golesorkhi told IPS her ‘With or Without’ (WoW) non-profit organisation, in its most abstract form, is aimed at addressing the intersection of two crucial aspects in the German polity: immigration and religion.

Immigration and religion have played a significant role in the nation building process of Germany, specifically in terms of the country’s laws and diverse social composition, as well as the development of anti-Muslim sentiments (Islamophobia) and discriminatory acts against Muslims (particularly since 9/11).

She said the population of Muslims in Germany has increased from about 2.5 million in 1990 to 4.1 million in 2010 and is expected to grow to nearly 5.5 million Muslims in 2030.

The top three countries of origin for Muslim immigrants are Turkey, the former Yugoslavia, and Morocco.

This significant and continuously growing presence of Muslims has led to varied responses by state and society, she noted.

Though the large majority (72 percent) of those interviewed in a 2008 study claimed that “people from minority groups enrich cultural life of this country”, Muslims are the least desirable neighbours, as data from the same year shows.

Further, 23 percent of German interviewees, she said, associated Muslims with terror, while 16 percent viewed the hijab, the Muslim head scarf, as a threat to European culture.

In the latest study on anti-Muslim sentiments conducted by the Bertelsman Stiftung in late 2014, 57 percent of non-Muslim interviewees reported they perceive Islam as very threatening.

The study also disclosed that 24 percent of the interviewees would like to prohibit Muslim immigration to Germany and an overwhelming 61 percent said they think Islam does not belong to the ‘Western’ world.

Particularly alarming, in the very recent context of anti-Muslim sentiments, she noted, is the continuously growing PEGIDA (Patriotrische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes), which rejects the alleged “Islamisation” of Europe and demands an overhaul of immigration policy.

Golesorkhi’s project includes a ‘Job Ready’ seminar and workshop series to prepare Muslim women for the German job market; “I Pledge Campaign”, an online and offline campaign (Twitter and photo series) to encourage employers to symbolically pledge to hire Muslim women; and an online and offline campaign (Twitter and photo series) to raise public awareness of difficulties faced by Muslim women in the German employment sector.

While the pledge does not guarantee employment, it allows WoW to produce a database of employers that would hire Muslim women.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Pope Francis Joins Battle Against Transgenic Cropshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/pope-francis-joins-battle-against-transgenic-crops/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pope-francis-joins-battle-against-transgenic-crops http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/pope-francis-joins-battle-against-transgenic-crops/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 06:51:30 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141938 There is no papal bull on transgenic crops in Laudato Si, the second encyclical of Pope Francis, “on the care of our common home” – planet earth. Credit: Norberto Miguel/IPS

There is no papal bull on transgenic crops in Laudato Si, the second encyclical of Pope Francis, “on the care of our common home” – planet earth. Credit: Norberto Miguel/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

A few centuries ago, the biotechnology industry would have been able to buy a papal bull to expiate its sins and grant it redemption. But in his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si”, Pope Francis condemns genetically modified organisms (GMOs) without leaving room for a pardon.

In his second encyclical since he became pope on Mar. 13, 2013 – but the first that is entirely his work – Jorge Mario Bergoglio criticises the social, economic and agricultural impacts of GMOs and calls for a broad scientific debate.

Laudato Si – “Praise be to you, my Lord” in medieval Italian – takes its title from Saint Francis of Assisi’s 13th-century Canticle of the Sun, one of whose verses is: “Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”

It is the first encyclical in history dedicated to the environment and reflecting on “our common home” – planet earth.“In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to ‘the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production’.” – Laudato Si

The encyclical, which was published Jun. 18, acknowledges that “no conclusive proof exists that GM cereals may be harmful to human beings.” But it stresses that “there remain a number of significant difficulties which should not be underestimated.”

“In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to ‘the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production’,” it adds.

As a result, says the first Latin American pope, farmers are driven to become temporary labourers, many rural workers end up in urban slums, ecosystems are destroyed, and “oligopolies” expand in the production of cereals and inputs needed for their cultivation.

Francis calls for “A broad, responsible scientific and social debate…one capable of considering all the available information and of calling things by their name” because “It sometimes happens that complete information is not put on the table; a selection is made on the basis of particular interests, be they politico-economic or ideological.”

Such a debate on GMOs is missing, and the biotech industry has refused to open up its databases to verify whether or not transgenic crops are innocuous.

According to the encyclical, “Discussions are needed in which all those directly or indirectly affected (farmers, consumers, civil authorities, scientists, seed producers, people living near fumigated fields, and others) can make known their problems and concerns, and have access to adequate and reliable information in order to make decisions for the common good, present and future.”

Miguel Concha, a Catholic priest who heads the Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Centre in Mexico, said this country “is already a reference point in the fight for the right to a healthy environment, due to the determined efforts of social organisations. This encyclical reinforces our collective demand,” he told Tierramérica.

The priest said the encyclical warns of the social, economic, legal and ethical implications of transgenic crops, just as environmentalists in Mexico have done for years.

In a local market in Mexico, María Solís shows the different colours of native maize that she grows. Native crops are threatened by attempts to introduce large-scale commercial planting of GM maize in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In a local market in Mexico, María Solís shows the different colours of native maize that she grows. Native crops are threatened by attempts to introduce large-scale commercial planting of GM maize in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The document holds special importance for nations like Mexico, which have been the scene of intense battles over transgenic crops – in this country mainly maize, which has special cultural significance here, besides being the basis of the local diet.

That is also true for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which together with southern Mexico form Mesoamérica, the seat of the ancient Maya civilisation.

The pope is familiar with the impact of transgenic crops, because according to experts his home country, Argentina, is the Latin American nation where GMOs have done the most to alter traditional agriculture.

Soy – 98 percent of which is transgenic – is Argentina’s leading crop, covering 31 million hectares, up from just 4.8 million hectares in 1990, according to the soy industry association, ACSOJA.

The monoculture crop has displaced local producers, fuelled the concentration of land, and created “a vicious circle that is highly dangerous for the sustainability of our production systems,” Argentine agronomist Carlos Toledo told Tierramérica.

Just 10 countries account for nearly all production of GMOs: the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, India, China, Paraguay, South Africa, Pakistan and Uruguay, in that order. Most of the production goes to the animal feed industry, but Mexico wants GM maize to be used for human consumption.

In July 2013, 53 individuals and 20 civil society organisations mounted a collective legal challenge against applications to commercially plant transgenic maize, and in September of that year a federal judge granted a precautionary ban on such authorisations.

Since March 2014, organisations of beekeepers and indigenous communities have won two further provisional protection orders against commercial transgenic soybean crops in the southeastern states of Campeche and Yucatán.

On Apr. 30, 2014, eight scientists from six countries sent an open letter to Pope Francis about the negative environmental, economic, agricultural, cultural and social impacts of GM seeds, especially in Mexico.

In their letter, the experts stated: “…we believe that it would be of momentous importance and great value to all if Your Holiness were to express yourself critically on GM crops and in support of peasant farming. This support would go a long way toward saving peoples and the planet from the threat posed by the control of life wielded by companies that monopolise seeds, which are the key to the entire food web…”

Laudato Si indicates that the pope did listen to their plea.

“The encyclical is very encouraging, because it has expressed an ecological position,” Argelia Arriaga, a professor at the University Centre for Disaster Prevention of the Autonomous University of Puebla, told Tierramérica. “It touches sensitive fibers; the situation is terrible and merits papal intervention. This gives us moral support to continue the struggle.”

But legal action has failed to curb the biotech industry’s ambitions in Mexico.

In 2014, the National Service for Agri-Food Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA) received four applications from the biotech industry and public research centres for experimental planting of maize on nearly 10 hectares of land.

In addition, there were 30 requests for pilot projects involving experimental and commercial planting of GM cotton on a total of 1.18 million hectares – as well as one application for beans, five for wheat, three for lemons and one for soy – all experimental.

SENASICA is also processing five biotech industry requests for planting more than 200,000 hectares of GM cotton and alfalfa for commercial and experimental purposes.

“This is an economic and development model that ignores food production,” said Concha, the priest who heads the Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Centre.

The participants in the collective lawsuit against GMOs, having successfully gotten federal courts to throw out 22 stays brought by the government and companies against the legal decision to temporarily suspend permits for planting, are now getting ready for a trial that will decide the future of transgenic crops in the country.

Arriaga noted that the focus of the encyclical goes beyond GM crops, and extends to other environmental struggles. “For people in local communities, the pope’s message is important, because it tells them they have to take care of nature and natural resources. It helps raise awareness,” the professor said.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Pakistan One of the World’s First Safe Havens for Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/pakistan-one-of-the-worlds-first-safe-havens-for-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-one-of-the-worlds-first-safe-havens-for-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/pakistan-one-of-the-worlds-first-safe-havens-for-refugees/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 16:28:14 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141861 A group of refugee women and their children await the arrival of Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the Shamshatoo camp in December 2001. The camp, at a frontier province in north-west Pakistan, served as temporary home to some 70,000 Afghan refugees fleeing fighting between the United Front and the Taliban. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

A group of refugee women and their children await the arrival of Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the Shamshatoo camp in December 2001. The camp, at a frontier province in north-west Pakistan, served as temporary home to some 70,000 Afghan refugees fleeing fighting between the United Front and the Taliban. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 4 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations has declared that 2015 is already “the deadliest year” for millions of migrants and asylum seekers fleeing war and persecution in their countries.

“Worldwide, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum,” says the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)."Even as the current challenges are unprecedented in scope and nature, they call for responses that are anchored in the values of compassion and empathy and living up to our collective humanitarian responsibility.” -- Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi

But one of the least publicised facts is that Pakistan was one of the world’s first countries to provide safe haven for millions of refugees fleeing a military conflict in a neighbouring country: Afghanistan.

According to UNHCR, Pakistan has been hosting over 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees — the largest protracted refugee population globally—since the 1980s Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Currently, Turkey ranks at number one, hosting more than 1.7 million registered refugees, mostly from war-devastated Syria, with Pakistan at number two and Jordan ranking third with over 800,000 refugees.

Developing countries now host over 86 percent of the world’s refugees, compared to 70 percent about 10 years ago.

Asked how her country coped with that crisis in the 1980s, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi told IPS Pakistan actually hosted well over 3.0 million refugees when the numbers fleeing conflict peaked in 1990.

A 2005 census confirmed that figure, of which 1.5 million are registered while the rest are undocumented.

“The United Nations and the international community have played an important role in support of Pakistan’s efforts to look after our Afghan brothers and sisters,” she said.

“But a great deal of this effort has been met from our own modest resources because we see this to be our humanitarian responsibility,” said Dr Lodhi, a former journalist with a doctorate from the London School of Economics and who has had a distinguished career as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK and Ambassador to the United States.

“It is the people of Pakistan who have shown exemplary generosity and compassion in embracing the Afghan refugees and extending help and support to them, and that too for over three decades,” she added.

As the UNHCR report notes, she said, Pakistan remains the world’s second largest refugee-hosting country. “I would add that in terms of the protracted presence of refugees, it is still the world’s top refugee-hosting country.”

At a U.N. panel discussion on “the plight of refugees and migrants” last week, she said: “We never tried to turn any back, nor did we erect barriers or walls but embraced them as part of our humanitarian duty.”

As hundreds and thousands of refugees continue to flee to Europe, some of the European countries have tried either to limit the number or bar them completely.

Peter Sutherland, a U.N. special representative for international migration, is quoted as saying the attempt to bar migrants and refugees, mostly from Syria, Libya, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan, is “a xenophobic response to the issue of free movement.”

The humanitarian crisis has spilled over into Europe, mostly Germany, with about 175,000 claims by asylum seekers, compared with 25,000 claims in the UK last year.

According to the United Nations, the 28-member European Union (EU) received 570,800 claims from asylum seekers in 2014, an increase of nearly 44 percent over 2013.

The crisis point, according to the New York Times, is one of Britain’s main traffic-clogged highways where migrants make their way through the Channel Tunnel from the French port city of Calais.

“The British are blaming the French, the French are blaming the British, and both are blaming the European Union for an incoherent policy toward the thousands of people, many of them fleeing political horrors at home, who are trying to find jobs and a better future for themselves and their families in Europe,” the Times said.

As his country vowed emergency steps to resolve the refugee crisis on the home front, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said last week shelter for refugees was a human right the country was legally and morally obligated to provide.

Austria, with a population of about 8.5 million, has received over 28,000 asylum claims in the first half of this year, slightly more than the total for 2014.

In 2014, up to 3,072 migrants are believed to have died in the Mediterranean, compared with an estimate of 700 in 2013, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Globally, IOM estimates that at least 4,077 migrants died in 2014, and at least 40,000 since the year 2000.

“The true number of fatalities is likely to be higher, as many deaths occur in remote regions of the world and are never recorded. Some experts have suggested that for every dead body discovered, there are at least two others that are never recovered,” said IOM.

Asked about lessons learnt, Ambassador Lodhi told IPS “even as the current challenges are unprecedented in scope and nature, they call for responses that are anchored in the values of compassion and empathy and living up to our collective humanitarian responsibility.”

She said these challenges also require a spirit of generosity and to never turn away from the needs of those who are so tragically displaced by circumstances of war, poverty or persecution.

“This spirit should shape our policies, inform our strategies, as well as empower the institutions of global governance and create conditions that can address the drivers and underlying reasons for such displacements,” she added.

At the panel discussion, Ambassador Lodhi pointed out that more than half of the world’s refugees today are children, a number that has risen steadily, up from 41 per cent in 2009, and the highest figure in over a decade.

This only magnifies the scale of the tragedy at hand, she added.

The recent and ongoing surge of forced displacement has been accompanied by the tragic loss of lives. Thousands of men, women and children have drowned in the Mediterranean.

And in East Asia, she said, thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been reported dead or missing as they made their journeys of escape from persecution, confinement and waves of deadly violence directed at them.

“How has the international community responded to all of this?” she said. “By, frankly, not doing enough and not acting decisively in the face of this humanitarian emergency. The international community – to its shame – has ignored massive human suffering in the past. We are reminded of Rwanda and Srebrenica, among other crises.”

And the current crisis of refugees could mark a new flag of shame, she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Churches Seek to Amplify Echo of Hiroshima and Nagasakihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/churches-seek-to-amplify-echo-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=churches-seek-to-amplify-echo-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/churches-seek-to-amplify-echo-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki/#comments Mon, 03 Aug 2015 18:56:27 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141855 The Atomic Bomb Dome serves as a memorial to the people who died in the Aug. 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. The building was the only structure left standing near the bomb’s hypocentre. Credit: Courtesy of Barbara Dunlap-Berg, UMNS

The Atomic Bomb Dome serves as a memorial to the people who died in the Aug. 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. The building was the only structure left standing near the bomb’s hypocentre. Credit: Courtesy of Barbara Dunlap-Berg, UMNS

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Aug 3 2015 (IPS)

The accounts of survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki will serve as inspiration for leaders of Christian churches grouped in the World Council of Churches (WCC), which advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons.

A delegation of members of churches from Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, South Korea and the United States are making a pilgrimage to the two Japanese cities annihilated by atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945.

“The generation of survivors of the atomic bombings are in their eighties, those that survived. And this generation is passing,” said Peter Prove, director of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the Geneva-based WCC, the largest and most international ecumenical body.

“But these are the real witnesses, those who could give testimony about the human impact of atomic weapons. And I think that we need to capture that moment and to amplify it,” he told IPS.

Bishop Mary-Ann Swenson of the United Methodist Church of the United States said “We will be in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to remember the horror of the atomic bomb.”

“As we gather in places devastated by the deadliest of weapons 70 years ago, we are aware that 40 governments still rely on nuclear weapons,” said Swenson, who is heading the pilgrimage.

“Nine states possess nuclear arsenals and 31 other states are willing to have the United States use nuclear weapons on their behalf,” she added.

Prove explained that the members of the delegation were carefully selected.

“The members of this delegation for this programmed visit are very strategically chosen. They come from countries that are nuclear powers, either historic ones from the War World Two period (1939-1945), like the USA, or more recent ones, like Pakistan, from outside the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) framework,” he said.

The rest of the delegations come from the group of 31 countries mentioned by Swenson: “…so-called ‘nuclear umbrella states’. States that are not nuclear armed themselves but who rely upon protection, if I can use that term, from other nuclear powers, in this case the U.S. especially,” Prove added.

The aim of the pilgrimage is for senior leaders of churches from the seven countries to experience the 70th anniversary of the bombings and to meet the Hibakushas, as the survivors are known.

On their return, “they will convey that message of human impact back to their own governments, back to their own communities, in the interest of trying to make the case for a legal ban on nuclear weapons,” Prove said.

The delegates will have to “point out that there is a legal gap, that all other major categories of weapons of mass destruction have a legal ban….which isn’t the case for nuclear weapons.”

“Churches are good networks for doing that, in their own communities and vis-à-vis their own governments in many countries,” said Prove.

The WCC delegation will meet with Hibakushas and with religious and social figures from Japan during the activities and ceremonies to mark the 70th anniversary, whose central events will be held Aug. 6 in Hiroshima and Aug. 9 in Nagasaki.

The U.S. atomic attack left around 66,000 dead and 69,000 injured in Hiroshima – a total of 135,000 victims. In Nagasaki there were 64,000 victims: 39,000 killed and 25,000 injured.

With respect to the second phase of the church mission to Japan – advocating a ban on nuclear weapons in the rest of the world – Prove said the WCC’s strength is primarily its network of member churches around the world, much more than the Secretariat in Geneva.

“We do represent one quarter of global Christianity, 500 million people in 120 countries. So the real activity will be the extent to which those church leaders and their churches follow up with their own governments,” he said.

“And that would vary from country to country. Obviously a Norwegian church leader potentially has much greater access to influence their government than let’s say, a Pakistani church leader might do relative to their government.

“The World Council of Churches is itself a product of the post War World II period. It’s precisely because of the shock of the atrocities of the destruction of War World II that the WCC really ultimately came into existence,” Prove said.

“So, it’s a reaction to the genocide, to the Holocaust, it’s a reaction to the atomic bombings, it’s a reaction to global war and conflict in general.”

“The WCC has had a long-term commitment to working with civil society partners for nuclear disarmament, for the elimination of nuclear weapons,” he said.

“The lack of success in that project is really a function of the dysfunctionality of the international architecture for those processes,” he maintained.

As an example, he pointed to the collapse of the NPT review conference – the main nuclear disarmament negotiations – held Apr. 27-May 22 at United Nations headquarters in New York.

“The mechanisms for controlling and eliminating nuclear weapons do not function because they are in the hands of those states with an interest in maintaining nuclear weapons,” said Prove.

The WCC supports the global majority of states – 113 – that have signed the humanitarian pledge calling for a legal ban on nuclear weapons.

“So we have achieved a majority of states in support of this ban and we want to encourage a negotiation process for a legal ban on nuclear weapons. And we are hoping that this majority of states will exert their majority in that process,” he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.N. Panel Spotlights Plight of Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-panel-spotlights-plight-of-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-panel-spotlights-plight-of-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-panel-spotlights-plight-of-refugees/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 22:03:15 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141826 Ramatou Wallet Madouya (r) and her sister Fatma (l) in Goudebo camp, Burkina Faso on Feb. 14, 2013. They are two of many Malians who fled the fighting in their country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Ramatou Wallet Madouya (r) and her sister Fatma (l) in Goudebo camp, Burkina Faso on Feb. 14, 2013. They are two of many Malians who fled the fighting in their country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

“Let us remember that behind every story, every figure, every number, there is a person – a girl, a boy, a parent, a family,” Anne Christine Eriksson, Acting Director of the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said at a panel discussion at the U.N. on Thursday.

Amidst the rising numbers of people forced to flee their homes, the event, titled on “The Plight of Refugees and Migrants: Assessing Global Trends and Humanitarian Responses,” aimed at raising awareness of the current global refugee crisis and discussing the most important challenges linked to it as well as ideas on how to tackle it.

As emphasised throughout the discussion, worldwide displacement is at the highest level ever recorded due to new and ongoing conflicts, persecution and poverty. According to UNHCR’s recently released annual “Global Trends Report: World at War”, the number of people forcibly displaced reached a record high of 59.5 million by the end of 2014. This number was 51.2 million one year earlier and only 37.5 million a decade ago.

Apart from that, 2015 has also proven to be the deadliest year for migrants and asylum seekers. Over 900 migrants died in just a single incident in April 2015. One month later, thousands of fleeing Rohingya muslims were facing death from starvation in East Asia.

The international response to such crises has been inadequate, Maleeha Lodhi, Permanent Representative of Pakistan, said in her opening remarks.

“The international community to its shame has ignored massive human suffering in the past and the U.N. is not without blame in this regard. We are reminded of Rwanda and Srebrenica among other crises. And the current crisis of refugees could mark a new flag of shame.”

Speaking about challenges in addressing the global refugee crisis, participants and panelists highlighted in particular the strains on refugee-hosting countries in terms of infrastructure and education. Fears were also expressed that the mass movements would lead to spill-over effects and threaten the security of the whole region.

In this respect, lacking international solidarity in terms of burden-sharing was declared a major concern. Further problems expressed were donor fatigue and rising hostilities towards migrants on top of their human suffering.

Peter Wilson, Deputy Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the U.N., named three examples that might represent upcoming opportunities to resolve the crisis. First, Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), building peaceful and inclusive societies, which can be used “to tackle the causes of these problems and not just the symptoms”, second, the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul which brings together both the humanitarian and the development community and third, new innovative concepts such as providing migrants with direct cash.

Other ideas expressed during the discussion involve cooperating with all stakeholders concerned, including host governments, authorities on regional, local and national levels, the U.N. system as well as development organisations and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the donor community.

Moreover, reframing the refugee crisis as security issue might help to convince voters and parliamentarians to spend more money on solving the crisis as an investment in security and thus allow for additional funding.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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