Exercising the Divine Obligation

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, General Information, News, Uncategorized

At some point in our life we do tend to question humanity. In my lifetime I have questioned this virtue many times revolving around the basic ethics of altruism. Someone rightly said ignorance is bliss and knowing too much can only make you suffer. But how can we stay aloof in a world bombarded with news talking about the crimes committed on fellow beings just because they have a different color, race, religion, gender and so on.

We love to brag about peace, social cohesion, justice and it is true that there have been incidents where your faith in humanity is restored but then comes the reality check.

A few days ago I read about the brutal killing of a Christian couple in the suburb of  Lahore, Pakistan. Shahzad Masih, twenty eight years old and his five months pregnant wife Shama Masih, twenty four, were brutally tortured and later set ablaze by an enraged mob at a brick kiln.

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 The deceased Shama and Shahzad Masih

Photo Source: Dawn.com

According to a newspaper source:

 “The entire episode took place in the presence of policemen and on the orders of a local Panchayat comprising notables and clerics of the area,” said Javed Shahbaz, a close relative of the deceased couple.

On Tuesday, November 4th, the prayer leader at the mosque of Chak No 59 of  Kot Radha Kishan, a suburb of Lahore made a provocative announcement on the loudspeaker urging all the male members in the area to gather at the kiln where the couple worked.

 “O villagers, I have a sad news for you. A Christian woman has burned the holy Quran. Therefore, all reasonable men and even young male children (of this village) are requested to converge at the brick kiln as early as possible so that a decision could be made ” Sadiq, a 55-year-old man quoted the cleric making the announcement.

 Within an hour people poured in big numbers at the kiln. It is also reported that earlier that day the couple was locked up in a room to stop them from fleeing bonded labor by the owner of the kiln over monetary dispute. While the angry mob attacked the ‘blasphemers’ the police stood there helpless. The blasphemers have left three children under the age of six.

 This is not the first incident of blasphemy to be reported where before the matter is taken to the court the incited mob headed by a cleric heads out to attack the ‘blasphemers’. The state institutions always claim not being able to handle the situation leaving everything at the hands of the charged groups. The same state institution looked different when protests were being staged in the capital to oust the democratically elected government, that time they weren’t ‘helpless’ and could handle the situation.

 It is no secret anymore that many accusations of blasphemy are used to settle personal scores or to harass the religious minorities. Interestingly the Council of Islamic Ideology, that advises the parliament on Islamic aspects of laws, stated that no amendment to the blasphemy laws will be considered.The blasphemy cases have been stacking despite many assurances. According to the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies the blasphemy cases have been registered due to nonsensical reasons that a sane mind can’t decipher.

The hostile stories of blasphemy cases where people rather entire villages are set ablaze remind me of a troop of Savanna baboons in Kenya, the Keekorok troop.  Dr Robert Sapolsky studied the troop for 30 years identifying stress and hierarchy in baboons. These amazing yet Machiavellian creatures required a kind of baboon political shrewdness. The study showed that the most cunning and aggressive males gained top ranks in the hierarchy and all the perks like personal groomer, females for their choosing and all the food to eat.

In the troop every male knew where he stands in the society and whom he could torture. The tough and snarly baboons once fought with a neighboring baboon troop over a garbage dump containing meat tainted with bovine tuberculosis. The strong baboons did get to eat all the food but that led to selective killing of dictatorial and vilest males. A social and behavioral transformation occurred after that which was unique in the notoriously aggressive primate. The calamity had a profound effect on the Dr Sapolsky’s research. Every alpha male was gone and the Keekorok troop was transformed left with more females and socially affiliated males that altered the atmosphere of the Keekorok troop.

So what does this alteration teach an average person? Don’t treat somebody badly just because you are having a bad day and don’t just place on somebody in any sort of manner.  Social connection and harmony is a very powerful thing and this is what the baboons taught us. If they were able to transform sort of an engraved in stone social system we don’t have any excuse saying that human social systems have certain inevitability. We now have a haunting question from Dr Sapolsky’s life work that is are we brave enough to learn from a baboon? After the complete transformation the Keekorok troop not only survived rather thrived with a congenial atmosphere and without stress. Can we?

Is The Nobel Peace Prize Gamed?

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, India, News, News & Updates, Publications, Regions, Take Action

The manufacturer of armaments and an inventor of dynamite Alfred Nobel once said:

“I intend to leave after my death a large fund for the promotion of the peace idea, but I am skeptical as to its results.”

In a non-harmonious world the word peace has a central focus these days. It is often used and abused but most importantly it lacks an agreeable definition.  To me it is often unreal and utopian. Interestingly in the field of peace research there are terms like negative peace and positive peace, carrying a normative value of striving towards peace. Who would better understand the complexities that revolve around the word “peace” than the Norwegian Peace Prize Committee considering the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway has dedicated years researching on peace.  I don’t want to sound cynical as I do believe that another world is possible. But for that to happen we need to be aware of the realities that are often deliberately hidden from our sight.

The ways in which things work in this world are strange. It is true that many die in anonymity no matter how big their contribution or how many years they have dedicated to serve humanity. I don’t want to propose my own list of the worthy opponents nor have anything against the individuals who won this year’s prize. The India- Pakistan duo does sound lovely and reflect the ethnocentrism of the Western world.

In 1990s the chairman of Norwegian Nobel Committee Francis Sejersted once acknowledged,

“The prize … is not only for past achievement. … The committee also takes the possible positive effects of its choices into account [because] … Nobel wanted the prize to have political effects. Awarding a peace prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act.”

 As the high profile award ceremony takes place in one corner of the world many experiencing conflicts on daily basis are unaware what this peace prize is all about. How about asking a Syrian, a Palestinian, a Liberian, an Iraqi, an Afghan …. for a definition of peace? In 2009 this prestigious award was bestowed on Barack Obama. Was it for ramping up the drone program?  In 2012 European Union was given the award right after it bombed Libya. Is the prize just about Norway’s geopolitical tilt?

The makers of the war can’t fool people by bringing temporary peace.

In Pakistan Malala Yousafzai recently being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize stirred many debates and discussions in the media. I am proud of Malala and her stance on education for young girls but what I question is the credibility of the Nobel Committee. Just to put on record there are many girls in Pakistan voicing similar concerns not yet picked by the West to propagate white savior complex.  Malala is the voice of Pakistan but being a 17 years old girl she might still be unaware of the manipulation that comes with her situation.

The Nobel Committee based in one small West European nation, comprising of members of political establishment is not capable of assessing who has done the most for peace in the world. The decision made by such a committee is prone to some kind of ideological bias or ethnocentricity.

Managing to hyphenate India and Pakistan yet again by awarding the prize jointly to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai does sound and looks good yet to be taken with a grain of salt. No matter the pattern of funds or relationships with evangelical organizations Malala Yousafzai’s contemporary has dedicated many years of his life for a cause. This does make me say that Abdul Sattar Edhi might have been a choice for the committee too considering his work and service.

What would be the impact of this Nobel in Pakistan? The Taliban has promised more violence and we can assume they will carry out more attacks on women and schoolchildren which surely would boil the blood in the West. That might also lead to more Malalas suffering at the hands of the Talibans, who might not be given a safe haven abroad to continue to voice their concerns.

In the past we have seen how the hands of hardliners are strengthened be it Myanmar, Iran and China. The peace prize awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi, Shirin Ebadi and Dalai Lama brought no assistance to the awardees or the cause they stood for. 2000 Tibetans were executed, several imprisoned by the Chinese between November 1989 and April 1990. It was right after the Dalai Lama was awarded the prize in October 1989.

It is time to move away from the dangerous prize. The Nobel Peace Prize does not guarantee change in the world but celebrates and reaffirms liberal ideal for which it should be recognized. But the increasingly frequent cases in which the award is bestowed seeking democratic political change, the winners should beware.

Nature’s Fury is Inevitable

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, Publications, Take Action

Against the backdrop of the current political deadlock in Pakistan, many other important issues affecting thousands of people have been sidelined.

The media is all eyes and ears for the fiery speeches, debates and discussions in the power play, and the awareness definitely plays an important role in stabilising the situation.But what about the section of the populace greatly affected and displaced by the current war in north west Pakistan and the floods?PAKISTAN_-_0911_-_Alluvioni_e_Chiesa_(F)

Photo Source: www.asianews.it

At least 193 people have lost their lives and 164 injured across Pakistan during floods in the first week of September. The overflowing rivers are wreaking havoc on already frail infrastructure in many regions in Pakistan.

According to the National Disaster Management (NDMA) report, 28, 538 people have been affected in Punjab and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.The number of people displaced by floods at this moment is still unknown. Sadly, even catastrophes of this magnitude can’t bring our politicians together and prioritise these issues.

Just a glance at the record of floods from 2010 to 2014 shows how major a threat monsoon rains currently are. Surprisingly, in the 2010 floods, the number of individuals affected exceed the total of individuals affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, Kashmir earthquake in 2005 and the Haiti earthquake in 2010.And the loss of lives is not limited to the figures or numbers reported every time in the media.How many more red flags do we need to realise that climate change is an issue which affects all of us?

It is sad to know that globally, the people most affected by climate change are the ones who are least responsible for it.Perhaps that’s why we’re so resistant to the climate change alarm, which sits comfortably amidst us as we go about our agendas with the ‘business as usual’ approach.There is near-universal agreement among activists that efforts to limit carbon emissions have failed miserably, and that failure doesn’t come because the movement has embraced the oxymoron of “sustainable growth” or because it needs to work more closely with the business community. Rather, it’s because climate change activism is not challenging the key invisible narratives that drive our civilisation.

Being part of the Rio+20 UN Earth Summit held in Brazil, I can say that the willingness to acknowledge the threat and act accordingly is lacking.Now with another UN Summit on climate crisis in September, it is hoped that meaningful action will be taken. We have had enough talks sitting comfortably in the past behind closed doors.Earlier talks have ended mostly without reaching any important conclusion or an action plan. It should be more than just about choosing an exotic destination, inviting world leaders and activists to talk. We have had enough talks and it is no rocket science that we are destroying the biodiversity which allows nature systems to work efficiently.

It is time to take action if we want the seven billion people living on this planet to live with finite resources. No amount of funds can save us if we keep on destroying and polluting the soil, water and air which keep us alive.

The People’s Climate March to be held on September 21 aims at gathering hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Delhi, New York, London , Berlin, Rio de Janeiro and Jakarta; and pressure world leaders who will be gathered for the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit to take action on global warming.This is the largest mobilisation in the history of climate change and it wants to send a strong message to the world leaders — it is time to take action.

“People from across the planet will be making sure that leaders gathered in New York know the demand for action comes from every corner. This is the first truly global problem, and it has spawned the first truly global movement,” says Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org.

In Pakistan, the issue of climate change is often sidelined and replaced with more “important issues”, without the acknowledgement that the social, economic and political issues are all intertwined.The earthquakes, the floods, the energy crisis, the rising temperatures, the unavailability of clean drinking water — are these not ‘important’ enough problems? Or is it just that we choose to stay aloof?

 Recently, most Pakistanis rejected the hypothetical UN Study based on a conjectural 9.0 magnitude earthquake in the Makran Trench (a meeting point for Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates, off the coast of Pakistan). The study stated that Karachi, home to around 18 million people, could be wiped out by a tsunami if something like that happens.

Karachi experienced a tsunami in the past too. In 1945, around 4000 people lost their lives to it.Instead of being sceptic about it, it is time to take aggressive measures to counter climate change. We are already seeing and feeling its effects. Let’s not shut our eyes to it.

Republished from http://www.dawn.com/news/1132137/how-many-disasters-does-pakistan-need-to-focus-on-climate-change

Better to lead than to dictate

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action

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Imran Khan, Chairman Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf  addressing the crown in Islamabad.

Photo Source: Google

I grew up in a time when the debates regarding political correctness carried immense importance. The 21st century claims to be a century of development and prosperity. For whom, the selected few? I still don’t know. Again the definitions of these vague terms vary from person to person depending on their interests and agendas.

I am caught in bewilderment as I write now. Watching Imran Khan, Chairman Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaaf is a spectacle that puzzles me and at the same time makes me feel sad about where we are heading. As I said earlier I have to be politically correct but in times like these we can’t look at things in black and white. What is right and what is wrong I can’t tell much as I am not a political scientist who is aware of various forms of governments and what would or should be the “best” system according to which a country should be governed.

The demands made by Mr.Khan that drew attention of many and created unrest according to some are in no way wrong but it is the implementation that puzzles me. Here are the demands of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf headed by Imran Khan but above all he wants the Prime Minister to resign.

  1. We demand the present Election Commissioners resign immediately as they have lost the confidence of the nation. The system of the selection of Chairman and members of the ECP should be changed to ensure the ECP functions as a truly independent body as guaranteed in the Constitution.
  2. We demand an immediate verification of thumbprints in the four constituencies identified by PTI and the process should be concluded within 2 weeks.
  3.  We demand that all perpetrators found guilty of or complicit in rigging in the 2013 elections must be brought to justice – from the identified ROs and Presiding Officers to those identified as having cast multiple votes.
  4. We demand that for future elections all ROs must be legally accountable to the ECP, as stated in the Constitution, for their performance in conduct of elections.
  5. We demand that post-election appeals must be held in the time stipulated – 120 days – by law and those not complying must be held accountable.
  6. All future elections must be held under biometric system & EVMs must be introduced for the voting with a paper trail.
  7.  As a step towards genuine neutral Caretakers, they must not be permitted to hold any public office for 2 years after their serving as Caretakers.
  8.  That the SC decision of giving overseas Pakistanis the right to vote must immediately be implemented.
  9. We invite all parties who want electoral reforms to form a committee with PTI and come up with a comprehensive electoral reform package for Parliament to pass.

My entire life I have seen people marching against dictatorships, considering it a ruthless form of government. I remember how actively I participated in the discussions when we had to oust General Musharraf. Pakistan Peoples Party’ s slogan loudly said “democracy is the best revenge.” And so we entered a democratic system which had to be a government of the people by the people and for the people. That was my understanding of democracy too a while ago.

So the successful transition from one democratic system to another led to Pakistan Muslim League (N) turn after five years of Pakistan Peoples Party in power. It isn’t a government by the people as there was rigging, massive rigging. It isn’t a government of the people as nepotism led to a many important seats being taken by the relatives of PML (N) and yes it is not a government for the people as many don’t get justice let aside basic human rights. There is dissatisfaction between people over rising food prices, unbearable taxation, unemployment and the list goes on. We weren’t happy then and we aren’t happy now.

Imran Khan came on the forefront telling people to adopt civil disobedience as a way to overthrow the current democratically elected government as it is not delivering what it is meant to. Sadly no government ever delivered what it promised during the election campaigns. I am not hoping for a Utopian world but till how long this political game for more going to continue?

He gave many references of Egypt wanting to make Islamabad’s Red Zone area, Tahrir square. He has been giving examples of Egypt every now and then. I just want to ask him that are you aware how the people of Egypt feel at the present moment with President Abdel Fatah al Sisi? Just a different name that didn’t change anything much.  Are you aware of their struggle and what it led to? All these institutions, these empty buildings, empty of a conscience didn’t deliver what many gathered for, hoping to see a better future. As I write a face on Mohammad Mahmoud street’s graffiti looks into my eyes, face of Jalal Meghazi. He was born in 1992 and lost his life fighting to see Hosni Mobarak’s removal. Those passionate eyes tell me that I died for nothing. The slogans, people gathering in big numbers wanting justice, i can draw similarities.

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Jalal Meghazi from Mohammad Mahmood street in Cairo, Egypt 

Photo Source: Anam Gill

The power play with its strings elsewhere can only fool the ones gathering or hoping to see better days. Sometimes I feel that the general population is just used or misused for propagating the political interests of the unseen. It was never about justice. Someone rightly said that justice is what love looks like in public. We never want to lose the people we love as they carry an important place in our hearts.

Besides the slogans we are also brainwashed to believe that you don’t get freedom easily you have to give your life for it. This has always been central for gathering crowds and I don’t out rightly reject that but gathering after leaders who want to lead me into an abyss is not what I want,  these Pied Pipers with various names and agendas. However this doesn’t mean that I don’t acknowledge the efforts of all those freedom fighters who gave their lives struggling for justice and freedom.

Years after witnessing all the struggles in the past should make us more conscientious and aware of the fact that using force should not be an option.  We say we are civilized beings so we must act like one and talk things out. Dialogue is essential but it is also important to note that in dialogue both parties should be ready to listen to each other and try to resolve the matter keeping aside the ego and personal interests.  When governments are operated by foreign elements due to their strategic importance they should not be called sovereign states. We live in a globalized world and living in isolation should not be an option either. We are living in a time when we know what is right and what is wrong especially when it deals with the matters regarding justice and peace, the words highly exploited in today’s world.

Nobody anywhere in the world likes to be kicked into darkness. People everywhere in the world want to live in peace and if the forces that play an important role in creating wars and unrest think they can get away with it, they should know that the empty slogans of justice and peace don’t fool us anymore. Enough of these theories and intellectual content, act like you are pro peace and justice and that would be enough. Noam Chomsky said “The general population doesn’t know what is happening and it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know.” Yes when we don’t know anything we make ourselves available to people who can make use of us. So let us open our eyes and try to find the truth.

Truth is a relative term I know but we can try at least or the best we can do is to be righteous in our own capacity. Give our little contribution whenever possible propagating justice and peace in our own little circles and that might turn out to be a catalyst for change.

Sierra Leone: Diamonds Are Not Forever

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action

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Photo Source: Amnesty International

The recent Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa declared a global health emergency by World Health Organization made me recall the time I spent in Sierra Leone and Liberia few years back. At that time the two countries were in a rebuilding phase from the long civil war which ended in 2002.

A clear incident flashed before me when the catchy names of these countries were shown in the tickers while watching world news. Seeing the resilience of many people I met on my journey was not only inspirational but also unbelievable. Watching all those war amputees, both young and old, telling me that we are no more at war and we hope to see a better future was extraordinary.

I remember I had to buy a tooth brush and my host, Christy, took me to a shop that not only had Swiss cheese but also Belgian chocolates on sale. I was surprised to see a small shop in Sierra Leone having fancy stuff on sale while the rest of the country was in a dilapidated state. Later Christy took me to the place from where she used to buy things. It was an open space with tables and it was shocking to see all the chicken parts on sale and lentils sold in small (the tiniest I have ever seen) pouches. When asked about the shop where she took me earlier, she told me that it was for the UN peacekeepers in the country as people like us cannot afford to buy things from there.

I am always bothered to see the polar extremes in various places that I have been to and also the polar extremes in my country of birth, Pakistan. Yes polar extremes exist everywhere and yes they have become an accepted reality.  I can visualize how things can be in those countries with the deadly outbreak that resulted in approximately 930 deaths in West Africa.

The other day I was reading that a man in Saudi Arabia who contracted the disease during his business trip died in Jeddah. Moreover major airlines like British Airways and Emirates have halted flights to affected countries. Many expatriates are leaving the countries. Blockades have been established in many places, shutting down the affected communities. Also in the news, a Roman Catholic Priest repatriated with one of the nuns is now in a stable condition in Madrid where the sixth floor of the hospital was evacuated for their treatment.

So what about the ones who are left behind in a place where the virus is gnawing at them?  Lacking medical equipment and training to handle the disease many of the doctors have fled the affected areas. The outbreak must be costing the war scarred economy millions of dollars but above all it is killing people, it is costing their lives.  International aid organizations would be ready to help but with the imposition of ban on travel and trade whether many will be helped is still a question.

Stephen Morrison, the director of Global Health Policy Centre while talking to Newsweek said that the containment of the disease is becoming impossible for the governments to handle. The WHO health officials said that the threat is serious but can be controlled blaming the region’s poor public health infrastructure. What if it is not just West Africa? What if an unknown deadly virus erupts somewhere and cannot be controlled?  Many countries around the world have poor public health infrastructure because sadly health is not governments’ number one priority. In this case the developing world becomes an easy prey with little resources to fight. We can spend billions on defense fighting each other but when it comes to defending ourselves from the unknown ailments which are a result of our mal practices in general  for example cancer, we don’t know what to do.

Sierra Leone is apparently at peace today bearing deep scars. It is ranked 180 of 187 on the latest Human Development Index. With a low literacy rate where 20 percent of children die before their fifth birthday, to date thousands of survivors lack medical or psychological treatment. Almost two third of the population lives on less than one dollar a day. Relatively stable countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia yet again face another shock.

I cannot forget the beautiful beaches and hills of Sierra Leone. A country rich is natural resources is fighting yet another battle. If only the resources and wealth of a country are put to good use many of the ills plaguing the country can be dealt with effectively. Changing the game which has been played for years benefiting just a few is the need of the day.

Here I would like to talk a little about the famous blood diamonds.  According to World Diamond Council which represents the commercial diamond trade, blood or conflict diamonds are traded illegally to fund conflict in war-torn regions, particularly in West and Central Africa. Conflict diamonds are defined by United Nations as “…diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.”

diamond mine near Kenema, SL 2001 Getty images

Diamond mine near Kenema, Sierra Leone

Photo Source: Getty Images

It has been told by the experts that the illegal sale of blood diamonds has produced billions of dollars to fund conflicts and civil wars in various African nations including, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. In response to the greed and genocide, Kimberley Process Certification System was created in 2002 to regulate diamond trade and keep blood diamonds from entering the legitimate market. The Kimberley Process was put into practice by United Nations. Proponents of Kimberley Process claim 99 percent of world diamonds are now legitimate however the critics claim that this program does not prevent diamonds from being easily smuggled. It should be noted here that Africa supplies 60 percent of the world’s diamond supply.

Some people all over the world love to wear diamonds, a stone that has been made valuable at the cost of somebody’s life. We don’t know where these diamonds come from. We don’t want to think about it as long as we get a dazzling stone around our necks or fingers.  Today we have been blinded by our need for more. Today development depends on more production and more consumption. If only we realize how this need for more is causing harm to this planet. We are at war with ourselves and should not blame anyone else for the mess which we face all over the world, a mess that has various shapes and sizes. Our focus is entirely on faster, newer and cheaper that we have actually lost ground on things like safer, healthier and fair. We are motivated to find solutions but those solutions aren’t the most need solving. We are playing the game with one goal and that is the need for more.  In this game of more we need to change our goal and that would be towards betterment, better health, better jobs and a better chance to survive on this planet. The laws and rules that define development need to be redefined.

Flashing the stones, glamorizing material goods and manufacturing things which we don’t need at all in this game of more make us forget the worsening health indicators, the growing income inequality and the melting of polar icecaps to name a few. Today water is on sale and maybe in the years to come we will have air for sale too, if we don’t change the game. We have become individuals with insatiable appetites accumulating more and more. 40 percent of Earth’s resources are owned by 1 percent of the population. The combined wealth of three richest individuals in the world exceeds the GDP of the 47 poorest countries. The world contains only 497 multi billionaires while half of its population survives on less than 2 dollars per day. It is time we start thinking of the connected self where we all are inter dependent.

Mass Mutilation Sieera Leone

Mass mutilation Sierra Leone

Photo Source: Google

These glittering diamonds which people like to flaunt are extracted by thousands of men, women and children who are used as slaves in countries like Sierra Leone.  In Sierra Leone a group known as the Revolutionary United Front threatened, killed and mutilated people living and working in diamond villages until they were able to take control of the mines. About 20,000 innocent lives suffered bodily mutilation, 75,000 killed and 2 million fled Sierra Leone according to PBS Online NewsHour. These conflicts combined have displaced millions and resulted in more than 4 million deaths according to National Geographic News.

Now when I think of it, we can survive without diamonds. No?  It can be seen that the lack of political will among member states has made the Kimberley Process ineffective.  According to Amy Barry of Global Witness while talking to CNN, Zimbabwe is a test case for Kimberley Process. She alleged that Robert Mugabe’s regime benefited from the sale of blood diamonds despite it being a member of Kimberley Process. However the conflict trade costing the lives of millions of people is not limited to diamonds. Rebel fighters and army units from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have hijacked the trade in mineral ores used in mobile phones and computer production according to Global Witness. This has subjected the local population to extortion, rape, massacres and forced labor. Later on the conflict minerals are laundered into global supply chain by export houses before it is being transformed into refined metals by large international smelting firms.

Being part of this rouge trade just for the sake of profits or to be more apt money is nothing but inhumane. We should realize the fact that we are not immortals who will be on this planet forever. It is important to realize that we are all connected and a suffering in any part of the world is the suffering of humankind.  Right now we might get away by thinking that it is the people of Palestine who are at stake or child soldiers in Democratic Republic of Congo or polar bears in the Arctic but it will not be too late when we will be in the same boat. It is important to change the game which gives us a false economic model based on the need for more. We need to think with reason and say no to things which we don’t need instead of blindly accumulating stuff at the cost of others. The economic model which we need to follow should be sustainable keeping in mind better survival on this planet instead of making more or having more.

It is not an easy task for sure but neither is this impossible. By thinking and adopting a collective and selfless approach we can surely come out of the many self created problems. Let’s change the game by adopting less is better and prevent the downfall of humanity.

 

   

Apartheid Did Not Die

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action, Weekly news

A lot has been written and said about the Israel- Palestine conflict since ages. The current air strikes by Israeli forces on Gaza have dominated the headlines recently in media and it did get people’s attention especially after the World Cup fever was over. It is true that we are filtering realities on daily basis in our lives. Some realities go viral and Israel- Palestine conflict is one of them especially after Germany’s astounding victory in the World Cup. Just to mention the conflict started late 1940s in that part of the world is ongoing even as we breathe at this very moment.

In some places there are one sided stories highlighted in the media where the link between the victim and perpetrator has been blurred. In other places the hatred against one ethnic group over another strikingly stands out, from debates like to whom this land belongs to or who has been entitled this land by God. Undoubtedly the heart of the conflict here is a struggle for land, for the precious water, for the fertile soil and the valleys and hills of Palestine. This struggle overshadows the ordinary lives and how these lives have become a maze of control, checkpoints and road blocks. This bizarre struggle is like a cancer that is eating the lives of poor people.

It was sad to see on social media how some people started glorifying what Hitler did in Germany. Moreover when a debate was raised on humanitarian grounds many hushed the debate by saying that it is a religious issue and Muslims or for that matter Jews will take control of the land one day as it inherently belongs to them. These debates boggle my mind. This hatred deliberately induced by the propaganda machines of the powerful has blinded the people to see the real picture.

I remember once I got an opportunity to listen to a Christian Palestinian friend, Mike Haymour, who was from Bethlehem and he spoke about the plight of Palestinian people as any Muslim Palestinian would do. I still remember the anger and passion in his eyes. There was also one incidence in which during a UN meeting in Malta, an Israeli Jewish friend started to talk about her solidarity movement and she was not well received by the Arab world participants who discouraged her by saying that she should not be too bothered about the Palestinians as she herself is a Jew. That broke my heart and I still feel that we need to shake away this thought that glorifies divisions. Because I am a Muslim hence only I can feel for the other Muslims or I am a Christian hence only I can feel for the other Christians. Similarly there are a number of other religious and ethnic groups and if we start thinking like that we deliberately create divisions and mental borders.

We have been victims of these borders and boundaries all our lives. The divides what do they give us? Have these divides ever done any good in our lives? These walls which we have built have only stopped us from getting to know the other; the possibility of peaceful coexistence has been minimized by these mental barriers. We all want the occupation to end be it Muslims, Christians or Jews. Our ignorance should not stop us from distinguishing between the ordinary people and the games being played by the powers for more control.

So today I would like to share with you what my friend Sara Benninga has been doing in East Jerusalem. She inspires me and there are many like her around the world fighting for a cause not bothered about the distinctions and marching for just peace. Sara Benninga is one of the founders and main organizers of Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement. She can be seen every week walking back and forth with a bull horn in her hand and a determined look in her eyes, surrounded by Israelis and Palestinians of all stripes demanding justice for the Palestinians whose lives are constantly squeezed by Israeli settlement policies. Sara Benninga exhorts the marchers leading them in chants in Hebrew and Arabic, keeping everyone moving forward their eyes on the prize that is a shared future for all Israelis and Palestinians. Occasionally they go to other neighborhoods, other towns, other fronts and battles for genuine peace and true coexistence.

I have watched the ebb and flow of emotions surrounding Israel and the Jewish community over the years and today the only best way to support Israel is to encourage her governments and people to find a path to peace, trying to be a force for good in conflict. These are words however that are easy to say and presumably aren’t sometimes well received by even like minds like the example I gave earlier of a UN meeting. If Israeli and the Palestinian people are to ever achieve peace and security it will require action. Action that truly shakes up what’s gone before, action that tells the truth more powerfully that even our words can’t.

Sara Benninga and her fellow activists are continuing the legacy of Israeli activism that was pioneered by certain groups in the history and Rabbis for human rights. They have told the truth. Sheikh Jarrah movement is also telling the truth with their feet. They are telling the truth that Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians or Muslims need not fear or hate each other on the contrary they can march, work and build together towards a future in which everyone finds hope. Sara Benninga and many other activists are facing arrests and trials on the charge of illegal assembly and a libel suit for chanting slogans but they are not afraid by the vulgar threats of the forceful.

This is what Sara has to say:

coteret.comPhoto Source: coteret.com

“If you would have met me a few years ago and asked me what I think about the occupation, the most you would have gotten out of me would have probably been a few vague utterances, expressing a bit of shame and a bit of distress but mostly confusion and unawareness. There can be many reasons for this but one of the main ones is that the occupation had not touched upon me personally, at least not directly. It was so easy growing up in West Jerusalem without knowing of the injustice taking place a few hundred yards away in the Eastern part of the city.

A curtain of ignorance was and still is part of the methods of concealment in which I as a Jewish Israeli woman grew up. Like many of the young people who protest weekly in Sheikh Jarrah I was raised on democratic and egalitarian values. High school civics classes taught us that while Israel does not have a constitution, its declaration of independence is our bill of rights. We learned that the founders of Israel vowed that the Jewish state and I quote ‘ will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants, that it would be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel. That it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex. That it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture. Safeguard the holy places of all religions and will be faithful to the principles of the charter of United Nations.’

I ask you how would you react if your government treated the constitution as empty words? I have chosen to fight. I have chosen to fight against injustice in Sheikh Jarrah, to fight for the Israel that could have been, to fight for the Israel that still can be.

Witnessing the ways in which my country disposes individuals of one ethnic affiliation and privileges those of another, seeing the blatant injustice and discrimination perpetrated by my own government opened my eyes to a reality I did not know and generated in me and many others a determination to create a different future. Difficult as it has been my Sheikh Jarrah experience is not one of despair or resentment. Alongside injustice I found new hope and purpose, the commitment of thousands of fellow Israelis to justice and equality and the renewed ability to bridge over ideological and national divides in favor of a shared vision restored my faith in the possibility of change. Since those days in 2009 these initial impressions have not faded but rather have been reinforced. In every town and village where our movement is active, whether it is Lod, Tayibe and Beit She yan or Silwan we encounter alongside dispossession and discrimination, willingness and enthusiasm and meaningful partnerships. In a small compound in Sheikh Jarrah 30 families face the threat of eviction. A disturbing alliance between Israeli custodian of absentees’ properties, a state agency and the American millionaire Irving Moskwitz allows Jews to reclaim properties they owned prior to 1948. We know that Jewish families who left the compound during the war received abandoned Palestinian properties in West Jerusalem as compensation for their loss. And yet they return today to claim back the land. The Palestinians living in the compound used to own property inside the green line but Israeli law doesn’t allow them to reclaim their houses or request compensation.

 Thus a young generation of Palestinians learns that the law is just a reflection of national and racial prejudices. They learn that the first time refugees can easily become refugees a second time and now it is all done under the auspices of Israeli law. While it is clear that this inequality before the law is morally and politically intolerable, we believe that mere condemnation is not enough. Together with a growing number of young Jewish Israelis I have come to the understanding that these times call for Jewish Palestinian cooperation and it is both our duty and our interest to work together with Palestinians.  We have chosen a path of non violent resistance to the occupation. This is the only way to build a tolerable future for all of us in Israel and Palestine, a future that recognizes the dignity of every human being but we discovered that Israel treats our peaceful Jewish Arab solidarity as a serious threat.   

We are committed to direct engagement, when and where injustice occurs. Solidarity believes in the transformative potential of Jewish Arab cooperation. We know for a fact that the artificial barriers between Arabs and Jews are surmountable. We uphold the moral permissibility of non violent civil disobedience in the proud tradition of the American Civil Rights movement. We believe that privilege corrupts and that systematic discrimination is incompatible with democracy. Our critics portray us as enemies of Jewish state but it is ironic that a country claiming to be a victim of a campaign of delegitimization shamelessly delegitimizes sections of its own citizenry. We reject the false dichotomy between security and democracy. We refuse to settle for anything less than a true end of occupation that is necessary but not a sufficient condition for realizing our goal of substantive equality and genuine democracy in Israel.

There is much work ahead of us and I am sure that together we can make it happen.

Listening to her makes me wonder where does that positivity and hope come from. In the backdrop of dead bodies piled up and bombs being dropped to kill terrorists in fact killing innocent civilians she still manages to keep her optimism intact not ready to give up yet.

As Sara mentioned the American civil disobedience movement carrying with it the moral permissibility of non violent civil disobedience, I also believe that the best strategy to end the bloody occupation is to target Israel with some kind of a global movement that did put an end to apartheid in South Africa.

The noted civil rights leader and a Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the apartheid regime that discriminated against blacks in South Africa. Tutu criticized the policies of Israelis towards Palestinians as humiliating.  To him the humiliation looks familiar to the black South Africans who were corralled and harassed by the security forces of the apartheid government. Tutu believes that in achieving democracy in South Africa people around the world have helped by using non violent means and similarly the international community needs to come together in trying to end Israel’s decades long occupation.  Tutu says, “It doesn’t matter where we worship or live. We are members of one family, the human family, God’s family.” The words uttered by Desmond Tutu explain the principles of Ubuntu which we need to learn today. A belief we need to adopt to the core that talks about the universal bond of sharing that unites the human kind.

It is not difficult to adopt the belief of humanity and love and compassion for the fellow beings. I remember once being told the story of Binti, the gorilla. The story was about how Binti saved a three years old boy who fell in her enclosure in the zoo. Binti not only held the boy in her arms but also protected him from the male gorilla from causing any harm to the boy.  Binti did go against her instincts and so can we.

 Here is a short introduction to the Israel-Palestine conflict from jewishvoices.org.        

Dutch Citizens Holding the Government Accountable

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action

With the soaring temperatures and power outages in many places, the developing world in particular is dreading the future. It is not a very positive sight and is a call to take right actions.The Chairman of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Rajendra Pachauri states that the kind of action should be taken on global scale and sooner than later.

 Natural disasters due to climate change won’t keep in mind the global South or North before causing havoc even in the past the developed and the developing world was treated alike by the calamities sent by nature. Climate science and the 195 signatory states to the UN Climate Convention affirm that every emission of anthropogenic greenhouse gases contribute to the change in climate. They also acknowledge that a two degree Celsius rise in Earth’s average temperature should be considered a threat to mankind and world’s ecosystems. Then why are we blinded and not able to see the true picture? Why can’t we have a telescopic view enabling us to understand that we are setting the world on fire and there is a dire need of policy reforms when it comes to curtailing carbon emissions and reducing the factors that contribute to climate change?

 A new United Nations report warned that to control the effects of climate change the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources. Two reports have been released by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that deal with the certainty and impacts of climate change and how to come to terms with it. The reports released by IPCC and other bodies have time and again stressed that the greenhouse gases must be cut by 40 to 70 percent to avoid the severe and shocking weather conditions in a warmer world. To keep the climate safe a handful of things like renewable energy, reducing deforestation, planting more trees, energy efficiency and moving from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources could help the world to get back on track. Nathaniel Koehane who leads international efforts to address climate change at Environmental Defense Fund says that the solutions are within reach. He added that there is gap that needs to be bridged, a wide chasm to be filled to make a switch from fossil fuel to cleaner energy. This chasm exists between the international efforts and what needs to be done.

 These various reports coming from the governmental and non-governmental sectors have stressed similar concerns in the past. Each time the reports have made it clear that the longer the delay in controlling emissions the greater the cost to environment and public health. Nathaniel Koehane said that voters must tell their governments that climate change does matter. The governments have also added a separate sheet for sustainable development in its manifestos but the challenge remains the same and that is to translate the paper work into reality that can be seen and experienced by the public to be believed.

foreignpolicyPhoto Source: www.foreignpolicy.com

 This provides a window of opportunity to the world community to act. We can only remain optimistic if we get to see a political will going in the right direction. It is about everybody coming together and acting on it. We all know that the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to curb global carbon emissions, has expired in 2012. UN negotiators are working on a new international agreement and it is hoped that it will soon be in place and effective to the cause of climate justice.

The temperatures in the south are rising far above average and in other places falling far below giving a hard time to the climate change skeptics. Adding to that the recent hurricanes in the Philippines and US, energy crisis and water shortage in the developing world it is evident that the weather is becoming increasingly fickle.

What  if we ought to broaden our understanding of greenhouse gas emissions? What if we are aware of how replenishing the earth’s resources will affect our lives? What if we hold governments accountable for doing injustice to the environment and us? What if the people could sue the governments for not taking the right actions? All these fancy questions posed here are patently leading us to one thing and that is a change in situations. Change in the current difficult situations experienced by the people be it food crunch, credit crunch and environmental degradation. Yes we voted for the governments to come into power and yes we have the right to hold the governments accountable for not doing their job properly. In an attempt to get politicians to do something about carbon emission levels associated with climate change, the Urgenda action committee turned to The Hague District Court last November.

When it comes to sustainable development the educated and economically prosperous population of the Netherlands was at one time among the most progressive in European Union. Now the country has the highest carbon emissions per capita in the world. Because of its geography the Netherlands will reap what it sows more quickly unlike other developed countries. 90 percent of the country is built on reclaimed land and its major cities lie at or below sea level.

The European leaders supported the 2007 findings of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which stated that climate change can be avoided if greenhouse gas emissions are controlled. Apparently the Dutch government had taken a back seat. According to Urgenda, a Dutch action organization for sustainability, not a single candidate brought up the threat of climate change during the recent election campaign. Urgenda filed a lawsuit against the Dutch state seeing the diminutive efforts on climate change issue by the Dutch government especially radical reduction of carbon emissions.

Urgenda stated that during a climate change conference in 1992 the Netherlands along with other 190 countries ratified a treaty to avoid dangerous anthropogenic influences on the climate. According to Urgenda the Netherlands ratified the treaty but did not act according to it making the Dutch climate policies de facto negligent and hence unlawful. The Climate Case was initiated in November 2012 when a letter was sent to the Dutch government by Urgenda asking for action and a call in which Dutch citizens could support the cause and join as co-plaintiff known as crowd pleading. The Dutch government acknowledged in a letter to Urgenda that it is not making adequate efforts and its actions are insufficient when it comes to dealing with the issue of climate change. After a year in November 2013 Urgenda and more than 800 co-plaintiffs filed the cased against the Dutch Government.

Urgenda concludes that the Netherlands is deliberately exposing its citizens to dangerous situations. This is a wrongful and an illegal act of the State in legal language. The Dutch government can be held accountable legally for not taking sufficient action to prevent harm declares the Dutch Supreme Court. The Urgenda Foundation and its co-plaintiffs believe that preventing climate change is not just morally right thing to do but also a legal obligation binding on the state that cannot be ignored. The hearing of the Climate Case is expected to be in April 2015 before the District Court in Hague. For more information regarding the legal summaries and letters the official website of Urgenda can be visited, www.urgenda.nl.

The case is the only one of its kind in the world so far considering the size and nature. It will be interesting to see the decision of the court regarding this unique case. Seeing the progressive climate policies enforced through court would be a step forward making it legally binding on the governments to take necessary steps. It is early to say what the decision of the court will be but it is hoped and believed that it will be effective as the scientific evidence gathered by 2500 scientists in 150 countries by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is indisputable.

Urgenda Foundation like some other like minded organizations around the globe aims for a sustainable society with a circular economy. The step taken by Urgenda, holding the government accountable for failing to meet the Europeans Commission’s climate goals is a step forward. Other nations can learn from it. Protecting the earth making it safe for the future generations and viewing climate change as one of the biggest challenges of our times is not a selfish objective. However big corporations favoring profits without caring for the planet is a indeed selfish. It is not very difficult to distinguish between selfish and selfless, isn’t it?

The Co-founder of Urgenda, Marjan Minnesma stated that part of the case is about demonstrating the economic incentive. She stated that to protect the inhabitants and infrastructure against the inevitable flooding the government has to invest billions more. Waiting will only endanger the entire population and the country’s economy she added. The Netherlands has more in common with Maldives than with its European neighbors in climate terms. So it is wise to prevent that instead of spending billions more to try to overcome it.

It is interesting to note that Urgenda based its case on a legal standard the “cellar hatch criteria” known in Dutch legal circles. A man who fell down an open cellar sued the Coca-Cola Co and the Coca-Cola delivery man for leaving the hatch open. The Dutch Supreme Court gave a ruling in his favor. In United States and the English common law systems this standard is known as prudent man. It is obligatory for a person, business or government to protect others from harm. Urgenda’s attorney Roger H.J. Cox wanted this applied to climate change. Cox stated that by not acting on the fact presented by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the governments endanger their citizens and violate human rights.

Roger Cox wrote in a comment piece for the Guardian said that seeing the inaction by governments justifies the pursuit of legal route. Preventing dangerous climate change has become all but inevitable that puts the western countries at serious risk of human rights violations on a scale nobody can comprehend; it will be nothing less than seeing world war two. This leaves the judiciary with the task to step in and avert the catastrophe. In a democracy issues tend to be more than just being political when they start giving rise to human rights violations and endangerment.

This unique Climate Case is not only a source of inspiration rather it is an example set by Urgenda for other countries to act accordingly.The likely outcome of Urgenda’s case against the Dutch government is to be speculated. The important point is that the governments are held accountable. There needs to be a big transition in public thinking. The public most of the times is diverted from the big issues that hold the governments accountable. It should be about not letting the governments off the hooks and creating an obligation.  As stated by Marjan Minessma it is a lawsuit out of love and desperation.

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 Photo Source: Zpilavdzia