Sunday, April 3, 2016

Recent Editorials

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

Total solidarity with
Brussels victims

Tuesday turned out to be a dark day not only for Europe but the entire world that stands in total solidarity with the innocent victims of terror strikes in Belgium.
The barbaric attacks on Brussels airport and a rush-hour metro train in the Belgian capital highlight the need for the world to unite more vigorously against all types of terror.
The chaotic scenes recalled the days in the wake of the November Paris attacks, when Brussels was put on lockdown for five days as officials warned of an imminent threat.
Sadly, the city remained crippled with transport networks shut down, trams, buses and trains brought to a standstill and the European Union quarter completely sealed off by police.
While the recent high-profile capture of Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect in the Paris terror attacks, did bring in some relief, it is now obvious that the terror threat is far from over.
There is justified fear that more suspects could still be at large in the city that is home to both NATO and the European Union and that should be addressed more seriously.
What is worse is that the cowardly killings by terrorists in Belgium has given a chance to US Republican presidential frontrunner Donald to trump up more divisive agenda.
Terming Brussels a “disaster city" where assimilation has failed, Trump has used the tragic incident to reiterate his bigoted belief that the US should close its borders "until we figure out what's going on."
The killings had their impact on global stock markets too with all European markets opening lower. British pound dropped against fellow currencies probably due to fear that the Brussels explosions may hasten a likely British exit from the European Union.
Terrorism has now become the biggest common enemy of humanity.
The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Bin Mohammed Gargash, has rightly reiterated the UAE's determined stance and rejection of all forms of violence and terrorism, which targets all races and religions indiscriminately.
As Dr Gargash pointed out, there is a need for concerted efforts by the international community to work at eradicating all forms of terrorism.
Brussels itself is a shining example of a city that embraces multi-culturalism and openness.
Targeting such a liberal society tantamounts to terrorists throwing a challenge at all peace-loving people on earth.
The global expressions of support to the Brussels victims send one strong message to the perpetrators of such evil: “Terrorism will never win.” Period.

Heart bleeds for
Lahore victims

Cowards have struck again and this time at the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore, the cultural heart of Pakistan.
In just a matter of three weeks, terrorists have struck in Turkey, Belgium, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivore, and now Pakistan. This only goes to show that terrorism is a global challenge that requires a united global response.
The Sunday suicide bombing that claimed several lives, including those of many children playing in the park, has exposed the ugly face of terrorists, who have filled their hearts with nothing but venom and cowardice.
Hundreds were also injured when explosives packed with ball bearings ripped through the crowds near a children's play area.
It is Pakistan’s deadliest attack since the December 2014 massacre of 134 school children at a military-run academy in Peshawar that prompted a government crackdown on militancy.
The reprehensible bombing has been claimed by the Jamaat-ur-Ahrar group, which stated it specifically targeted the Christian community. However, most of those killed were Muslims, who had gathered in the park for the weekend holiday.
The country's powerful army has already announced it has carried out raids in Lahore as well as in Faisalabad and Multan. More have been planned, and rightly so. There is no place for terrorism in a sane society.
Prime Minister has vowed to defeat the "extremist mindset," while army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif has promised Pakistan "will never allow these savage non-humans to over run our life and liberty."
Nevertheless, one factor that still causes worry is that despite significant progress in military operations against the militants, the terrorists are still able to carry out major mindless attacks.
No amount of consolation will help heal the wounds of terror victims. “I tried to pump my son's chest and give him CPR but he was no more. He died right in front of me," cried the father of a child, while a mother wailed, “My son, my son, nobody should lose their sons."
The senseless killings highlight the need to intensify the fight against every form of extremism.
The UAE has taken a firm position of rejecting all forms and manifestations of terrorism regardless of motivation and justification, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever they are committed.
The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has rightly called for concerted efforts by the international community to work at eradicating all forms of terrorism.
The perpetrators of this horrendous terrorist act should be swiftly brought to justice.

Child labour in Gaza
a disturbing trend

Palestinian woes never seem to end. It is appalling to note that child labour has risen sharply in Gaza, where youngsters toiling in garages and on construction sites have become breadwinners for families feeling the brunt of the Palestinian enclave’s 43 per cent unemployment rate.
Figures revealed by the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics highlight the gravity of the situation.
In the past five years, the number of working children between the ages of 10 and 17 has doubled to 9,700 in the territory.
Disturbingly, 2,900 of those children are below the legal employment age of 15. Economists in the coastal strip, home to 1.9 million Palestinians, estimate the real number of underage workers could be twice as high.
The situation in Gaza contrasts with the global trends. The International Labour Organisation has indicated that the worldwide number of children in labour has fallen by a third since 2000, from 246 million to 168 million, with more than a fifth in sub-Saharan Africa.
At a time when they are supposed to be studying in school or merrily playing with their classmates, Gaza children are forced to work.
There are children who work nine hours a day. While some manage to earn $13 a week, there are other kids who just manage to take home half of that.
Israeli atrocities continue in other forms too. For example, Israel's state-run electricity company has reduced the power supply to a third of its capacity in the Jericho governorate over a debt issue.
Palestinians see it as a collective punishment against the people, which would disrupt daily lives and stop factories from operating in the area.
The Palestinian economy has faltered primarily due to Israeli restrictions in much of the West Bank.
The World Bank has also stated that the Palestinian mobile phone sector lost more than $1 billion in potential earnings over the last three years, largely due to Israeli restrictions.
Israeli curbs prevent the import of telecom equipment for Palestinian companies.
In January 2015, Israel cut power to Palestinian cities for a number of hours every day over a similar debt issue.
Illegal settlements, blockade on Gaza, violation of international humanitarian law, scant regard for UN resolutions and rejection of all peace initiatives – Israeli atrocities persist in multifarious ways.
And the international community is yet to initiate concrete action that could put an end to Israeli atrocities once and for all.

Pope is right: Don’t slam
door on those in distress

Love inspires compassion, while hate instigates the poison of violence.
Pope Francis deserves all praise for speaking out against the rejection of refugees by many European countries even as the European migrant crisis saw its latest desperate scenes on the Greek border with Macedonia.
Countries along Europe's Balkan route have toughened their stance on hapless migrants in recent weeks, closing their borders to those seeking to transit in search of a better life in the continent's wealthier northern states.
The shutdown has already led to a bottleneck at the Greece-Macedonia frontier, where the Greek authorities have been trying to evacuate thousands of people stranded at the squalid Idomeni camp.
The pope has rightly decried Europe's indifferent and anaesthetised conscience over migrants.
Pope Francis has long called for the global community to open its doors to refugees and fight xenophobia.
The European Union and Turkey have agreed to stop the migrant flow to Europe in return for political and financial concessions for Ankara, in a bid to seal off the main route by which people have poured across the Aegean islands.
Under the EU-Turkey deal, hundreds of new arrivals have been detained since March 20, while refugees or migrants whose applications fail will be sent back to Turkey.
Interestingly, the deal appears to have dramatically slowed the tide of refugees crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek islands.
Before the deal, thousands of migrants were landing every day on the islands. This week, this number fell to 600 on Tuesday, 260 on Wednesday and zero on Thursday.
The Greek authorities have used the relative calm to put in place logistics to send people back to Turkey, including the deployment of 4,000 security personnel and asylum experts.
The plight of the migrants can be gauged from the fact that a 24-year-old Syrian woman had to give birth to a girl child at the Greek migrant encampment in Idomeni.
The birth, in a tent lying on the railway tracks, was assisted by volunteers from the aid group Doctors of the World.
Syria's five-year conflict has killed more than 270,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes, with neighbouring countries bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis.
The message is clear. People should offer “welcome and assistance" to those fleeing war and poverty, as Pope Francis suggests. Slamming the door on those in distress does not reflect well on humanity.

Palmyra crimes should
not go unpunished

While the liberation of the Palmyra archaeological site, a martyr city inscribed on Unesco's World Heritage list, comes as pleasing news, revelations of the vast destruction wreaked by Daesh extremists, who destroyed priceless statues and smashed or looted artefacts in the city's museum are a matter of deep distress.
The city known to Syrians as the "Bride of the Desert" is famous for its 2,000-year-old ruins that once drew tens of thousands of visitors before Daesh went on its destruction spree.
The world came to know through satellite images and Daesh videos that the militants destroyed the Temple of Bel, which dated back to AD 32, the Temple of Baalshamin, which was several stories high and fronted by six towering columns, and the Arch of Triumph, which was built under the Roman emperor Septimius Severus between AD 193 and AD 211.
Not everyone knew the extent of the damage inside the museum until a Syrian TV reporter entered and found the floor littered with shattered statues.
A sculpture of the Greek goddess Athena was decapitated, and the museum's basement appeared to have been dynamited or hit with a shell.
Annie Sartre-Fauriat, who belongs to a group of experts on Syrian heritage set up by Unesco in 2013, has already expressed serious doubts on whether the destruction caused to Palmyra’s ancient monuments during its occupation by the Daesh could be repaired.
“When I hear that we are going to reconstruct the temple of Bel, that seems illusory. We are not going to rebuild something that has been reduced to dust. Rebuild what? A new temple? I think there are probably other priorities in Syria before rebuilding ruins,” she has pointed out.
According to her, funeral plaques, a special feature of Palmyra, have been ripped savagely from the walls, probably to be sold by Daesh.
Yes, the deliberate destruction of heritage is a war crime and Unesco should do everything in its power to document the damage so that these crimes do not go unpunished.
As UN officials point out, Palmyra carries the memory of the Syrian people and the values of cultural diversity, tolerance and openness that have made this region a cradle of civilisation.
While experts need time to assess the full extent of damage in Palmyra, there is no doubt that the destruction of temples of Baal Shamin and Bel, the funeral towers and the Triumphal Arch are a huge loss for the Syrian people as well as the entire world.

Unending plight
of Syrian civilians

There seems to be no end to the plight of Syrian civilians, who have already gone through indescribable suffering.
As if destruction of schools and hospitals, rising costs, shortage of basic items and the devaluation of the currency are not enough, some civilians have been forced to endure continued air strikes despite a month-long "cessation of hostilities" between government forces and their opponents, excluding Daesh and the Al Nusra Front.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the White Helmet civil defence group, Syrian aircraft carried out air strikes on Thursday on the Deir Al Asafir district killing many, mostly women and children.
The US has condemned the attack saying it is “appalled” by the  strikes directed at civilians, while France has accused the Syrian regime of violating the fragile ceasefire.
UN officials say that while there are signs of humanitarian progress in Syria with more aid reaching those in urgent need, conditions remain “dire” throughout the country with only 30 per cent of people in besieged areas reached and even fewer in hard-to-reach areas.
Some 13.5 million people remain in need of humanitarian aid, with some 4.6 million in besieged and hard-to-reach areas.
Dr. Maytha Bint Salem Al Shamsi, UAE’s Minister of State, has made the country’s stance clear in her speech at a high-level meeting of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva: “The UAE supports the voluntary, safe, and dignified return of Syrians to their homeland, once the foundations for peace has been laid in Syria. But until that day comes, the UAE will continue to stress the importance of meeting the needs of refugees as well as the needs of host communities through providing assistance."
The UAE has provided humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt, and displaced persons inside Syria, providing more than $600 million in last five years, and pledging to provide another $137 million in the future.
In addition to direct support for Syrian refugees in host Arab countries and within Syria, the UAE government has welcomed more than 100,000 Syrian citizens, and provided them with residence permits, bringing the total number of Syrian residents in the country to 250,000, including 17,000 Syrian children who were enrolled in UAE schools since the outbreak of the war.
As Dr Al Shamsi rightly points out, the UAE government has demonstrated great sympathy for those affected by the crisis by allowing thousands of Syrians with expired visas and passports to renew their documents to enable them to remain as residents in the country following the usual legitimate channels.