Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Recent Editorials

Here are some editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records)

A symbol of despair
that shook the world

Distressing images of migrants in agonising situations, like travelling on perilous boats or fending off prickly fences, have been appearing in the media for quite some time.
However, the chilling image of a Syrian toddler whose body washed up on a Turkish beach has stirred the collective conscience of humanity like never before.
The hashtag "#KiyiyaVuranInsanlik" (Humanity washed ashore) made it to Twitter's top world trending topics after the image was widely shared.
The last few weeks have witnessed a dramatic spike in the number of migrants seeking to leave Turkey by sea for Greece in the hope of finding new lives in the European Union (EU).
The influx has stunned EU leaders who are visibly divided on how to handle the humanitarian crisis.
Germany has become the top EU destination for refugees and migrants fleeing war and misery. Fortunately, the country has taken a compassionate stance and taken in more migrants than any other EU country. It expects 800,000 new arrivals this year.
Chancellor Angela Merkel insists that her country is doing what is morally necessary.
The French presidency has also taken a supportive stand, issuing a statement: “The European Union must act in a decisive manner in line with its values.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who says he is "deeply moved" by the images of the toddler, has surprisingly not announced any new concrete measures for tackling the situation despite increasing pressure at home for his government to let more refugees into Britain.
Greece's caretaker government says its coast guard has been rescuing hundreds of migrants from the sea every day — sometimes over 1,000 in one day — despite a severe scarcity of resources.
The financially strapped country says it needs more than 1 billion euros to deal with the current migrant crisis.
Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban, has taken a consistently hard line on the issue, which he has dubbed “a German problem.”
Hungary has refused to accept a EU plan for compulsory quotas for asylum seekers and built a razor wire fence along the border with Serbia in a bid to halt the influx.
Europe needs to act quickly to address the crisis. Merkel is right when she says there's an obligation to give protection to those who deserve protection.
If the image of the little angel lying lifeless on Turkish shores does not change hearts and minds and prompt global action to help the hapless migrants, surely nothing else will.

Israel playing
with fire

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ warning about the risk of an Intifada is based on sound reasoning in the light of non-stop Israeli aggression, particularly the attacks against Al Aqsa mosque and worshippers and the Israeli scheme to divide the mosque temporally and spatially.
With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refusing to put an end to the chaos at the flashpoint holy site, what is happening at present is indeed very dangerous, as Abbas points out.
The fears of Muslims that rules governing the compound would be changed are not unfounded as there has been an alarming increase in visits by Jews to the site.
Adding to the chaos is the Israel’s adamant refusal to end settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and return to the negotiating table.
France had previously hoped to promote a Security Council resolution that would set negotiating parameters and establish a time frame, possibly 18 months, to complete the talks.
However, the idea had to be put on the back burner due to lack of support from the United States, Israel's closest ally.
The latest provocation was ignited on Aug.26 by Israel when it placed sweeping restrictions on entry into the Al Aqsa Mosque compound.
The aggression continues on a daily basis. Several Palestinians have been injured, and many more detained over the past week, as Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians protesting across the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem over entry restrictions at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound.
The Palestinians have waged two previous Intifadas against Israel - in the late 1980s and in 2000-2005. Interim peace deals were signed two decades ago, but follow-up negotiations have repeatedly failed due to Israeli intransigence.
The seriousness of the present developments can also be gauged by the fact that the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has received a request from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to hold an emergency meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the OIC member states to discuss the Israeli violations in the occupied city of Al Quds and ways to stop the Israeli aggression on Al Aqsa Mosque.
Israel’s actions not only violate the sanctity of the third holiest site in Islam, but are also in contravention of the principles of international law.
The bottom-line is if the international community continues to turn a blind eye to the continuing Israeli crimes, especially in Al Aqsa Mosque, it will only fuel violence and tension in the region and the entire world.

Extremists should not be
allowed to ruin history

The destruction of the famed Temple of Bel in Syria's Palmyra by Daesh terrorists is indeed an "intolerable crime against civilisation,” as Unesco chief Irina Bokova put it.
The international community needs to take firm steps against such continuing acts of terrorism and violation of international laws by Daesh, which is trying to erase thousands of years of history.
Palmyra was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world, which Unesco describes as the crossroads of several civilisations.
The “City of Palms,” is known in Syria as Tadmor, or City of Dates. Its main colonnaded street is 1 kilometre long and forms the monumental axis of the city.
Its name first appeared on a tablet in the 19th Century BC as a stopping point for caravans travelling on the Silk Road and between the Gulf and the Mediterranean.
What is worrying is that dozens of more relics remain at risk in Palmyra, which Daesh militants seized from regime forces in May.
The 2,000-year-old temple was the centrepiece of Palmyra’s famed ruins and one of the most important relics at the Unesco-listed heritage site.
Syrian antiquities director Maamoun Abdulkarim had stated that the Temple of Bel was the most beautiful symbol of all of Syria and the most beautiful place to visit.
It is highly unfortunate that the world has now lost the treasure forever.
Gruesome violence and the destruction of priceless artefacts have become Daesh hallmarks. The terrorists recently killed Professor Khaled Al Asaad, the renowned archaeologist who had looked after Palmyra's ruins for four decades, and also destroyed the ancient temple of Baalshamin, a World Heritage site.
The Baalshamin temple dates back to the Roman era. It was erected in the first century AD and further enlarged by Roman emperor Hadrian.
The Daesh group has been destroying heritage also with a view to loot items for the black market. This can be countered if the art market and experts join forces to curb the illicit traffic of cultural property.
In Iraq too, Daesh had carried out a campaign of cultural cleansing, razing part of ancient Mesopotamia's relics and looting others to sell valued artefacts on the black market.
Thousands of books and rare manuscripts were also burned in February in Mosul's library.
The wanton destruction of valuable ancient relics signifying cultural diversity is surely a war crime. The perpetrators should be held accountable for the barbaric action.

After poll gain, austerity
pain awaits Tsipras

Securing the second mandate to form a Greek government marks a personal triumph for left-wing Syriza party’s Alexis Tsipras, but there are huge challenges lined up for the charismatic leader.
A major rift within the Syriza party over a U-turn on tough tax hikes and pensions reforms had earlier forced Tsipras to call Sunday's election.
He will now have to drive through detested reforms under a rescue package worth up to 86 billion euros, the third European Union–International Monetary Fund deal in five years to bail out Greece.
The debt-wracked country also faces another major challenge in the form of migrants. Greece has registered 260,000 refugees and economic migrants this year alone.
European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker has already stressed on the urgent need to operationalise the management of the refugee crisis, in which Greece is on the frontlines.
It may be easy to say “no pain, no gain,” but the economic path has been laid with thorns for Greeks that may be hard to endure.
Just consider this: The new government will have to raise taxes and rework the economic policies in line with tough reforms demanded by the country's international creditors.
The new parliament will have to revise the 2015 budget, taking into account pension and income tax reforms, including taxes on farmers' income that are set to double from 13 per cent to 26 per cent by 2017.
Tax on income of less than 12,000 euros a year earned by Greeks is to rise progressively from 11 to 15 per cent, and from 33 to 35 per cent for annual income of more than 12,000 euros.
There will be new cuts on pensions, aimed at reaching savings of around 0.25 per cent of GDP in 2015 and around 1 per cent of GDP by 2016.
On the privatisation aspect, Greece has promised to sell off 6.4 billion euros of state assets by 2017 -- 1.4 billion this year, 3.7 billion in 2016 and 1.3 billion in 2017.
The reform process is not going to be painless. The question to be considered is: “Will it be easy to implement the bailout programme considering its unpopularity among Greek public?”
The high level of tax evasion in the country is also a matter of concern.
The new government in Athens has little time to lose. Tsipras has pledged to soften the edges of the bailout to help his country's poorest citizens weather the austerity storm. How well he does that will have to be seen.

Sharjah Waterfront
City makes a splash

With real estate developer Sharjah Oasis Real Estate Development declaring the official launch of Sharjah Waterfront City at the Cityscape Global 2015, the emirate enters a new dazzling phase as one of the top tourist destinations of the world, with plans to attract 10 million visitors by 2021.
There can be no doubt that the Dhs20-billion project, spread across 36 kilometres of coastline, will turn out to be the heartbeat of the city’s tourism 2021 vision.
The grandeur plans reflect the size and scope of the project. The Sharjah Waterfront City will consist of a series of ten islands interconnected by canals made by nature featuring villas, apartments, offices, hotels, water theme park, marine clubs, parks and much more.
The development will offer all comprehensive facilities required for luxurious, private and elite lifestyle.
In fact, the Sharjah Waterfront City is projected to be the largest commercial, residential and tourism development in the fast-developing Emirate.
The Sharjah Tourism Vision 2021 is focused on four main pillars – promoting Sharjah as an ideal family tourism destination, following an innovative tourism approach, developing world class tourism facilities and capabilities, and strengthening Sharjah’s position as an International Cultural Hub.
The Emirate has been scoring high marks on varied fronts at the international level and had the honour of being selected as the Capital of Arab Tourism for 2015 during the 15th session of The Arab Council of Tourism ministers in Cairo on Oct.18, 2012.
It should be noted that this title is only awarded to a destination after it demonstrates that it meets specific criteria set by the Arab Council of Tourism Ministers.
Going by the indications, the Sharjah Waterfront City project will increase demand for residential and commercial units as well as hotels, especially in prime locations that offer all modern facilities.
Sharjah also marvels in innovation and environmental protection. For example, the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) employs the latest technologies in energy saving and utilises recycled materials.
Three years ago, Shurooq, in cooperation with Bee’ah company, unveiled its eco-friendly running track at Al Majaz Waterfront in Sharjah. The 3,000 square metre project was completed using 6,000 recycled tyres.
The secret of success lies in the fact that Sharjah uses its strong cultural heritage as a platform through which to weave its modern tourism industry.
It’s no wonder that Sharjah’s unique tourism product has been growing highly in reputation at the local, regional and international level.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Journo rewrites lives of strays with compassion

(My article in The Gulf Today, Sept.18, 2015)
SHARJAH: It was the sight of a blind dog desperately searching for food in a Cairo suburb that opened the eyes of Ayman Higazy to the plight of shelterless and handicapped animals.
A school-going child at that time, Ayman decided to help the animal and started feeding food, such as bones or chicken skin, every day.
“The blind dog could smell and feel me around even at a range of 200 metres. He used to sit in front of me and wag his tail...He never ate before ever doing that,” Ayman says.
The friendship extended for more than a year after which the dog suddenly disappeared.
“I was told that the municipal authorities had taken the dog away. The news choked me and I cried for a long time. My family advised me to accept the inevitable and move on.”
Now working as a journalist in the UAE, Ayman continues his mission to help cats and dogs that do not have shelter.
On his office campus, his colleagues often see him feeding a multitude of cats and fondly call him the “Cat Man.”
Interestingly, he gets unstinted support from his wife, who keeps aside fresh food for the animals daily, despite her preoccupation with work as a doctor. “Every day when I return home, she invariably asks whether the food was enough for the pets.”
Ayman sees the shelterless animals as more intelligent than home pets. Perhaps suffering has a lot to do with intellect. “They have more experiences, often painful, than those pampered by their masters at home. Also, they have health immunity because of the food variety and environment changes,” he says.
In Cairo, not all his neighbours took kindly to his animal welfare deeds. Many had expressed disdain at his being surrounded by cats and dogs. However, what Ayman finds amusing is the fact that they all agreed with him that animals “were loyal.”
On a recent visit home, Ayman had an interesting incident when he went to buy clothes from a crowded area. “A huge dog rushed towards me from under a parked car. She came running through crowds of people, jumped over me by almost putting her front legs on my chest. Some bystanders got worried that it was trying to attack me, but I realised that she was one of the dogs that I had offered food earlier. It wagged its tail and the affection was visible.”
Living in the UAE for nearly 18 years, Ayman has helped several hapless animals by sending them to shelters, which offer them for adoption.
Sometimes, he hosts a dog if there is not enough space in the shelters. Interestingly, he gets the support of many local veterinary doctors who are touched by his enthusiasm to help the animals and even offer free treatment.
“I recently met a veterinary doctor whom I had requested to adopt a wonderful dog, Jimmy, three years ago. When I asked about the pet, she started crying, saying Jimmy had passed away,” says Ayman.
The doctor refused to adopt any more animals saying ‘she missed Jimmy too deeply’.”
Ayman suggests that animals should be treated more kindly. “I recently saw a man whacking a cat near his shop for no reason. I went up to him and requested not to repeat such action. But he just did not care.”
The journalist says he will continue with his mission to help hapless animals. “Just a look at a cat’s eye is enough to feel great satisfaction. The animals rejoice and grieve the same way as we humans and, in fact, they are mo
re faithful than some people,” he smiles.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Roach chase

On a recent visit to my hometown, Chennai, I entered my kitchen only to dash out at rapid speed when I came under what looked like a drone attack.
Well, it wasn’t a drone spewing bullets, but apparently a huge flying cockroach.
Most cockroaches in Chennai are huge in size and many also have the dreaded wings.
My immediate instinct was to go for my shoes, but the pest had landed on my shoulder.
Hearing the commotion, my startled daughter called out from the other room, “What’s up?”
Before I could complete my sentence, she had already escaped to our neighbour’s room.
With my brave wife away, I had to take on the flying monster all by myself.
I put on the light, opened the windows and door. Nothing worked. I tried trapping the pest with a towel, but only things fell all around.
It was then that the watchman arrived, passed a sarcastic smile at me, caught the pest with bare hands and walked out like a lion clutching a baby deer.
I remembered reading a quote on social media, “We are all brave until we realise that the cockroach has wings.”