Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Revellers usher in Eid with joy

(My article in The Gulf Today, posted for my records) 

SHARJAH: The UAE woke up to a joyful mood on Wednesday as “Eid Mubarak” greetings filled the air right from Tuesday night.
The hot, humid weather failed to deter the spirits of the enthusiastic residents who thronged the streets and hugged each other.
Many had decked up their homes and could be seen queuing outside sweet shops to buy delicacies for family and visitors.
Sharjah resident Toqeer Usman said one should not forget the underprivileged during the great occasion and refrain from indulging in extravagance. “It should be a spiritual celebration, spreading love and tolerance among all people.
“I am expecting a large number of guests at home. I wanted to pick up the sweets before it runs out. Eid for me is a perfect time to be with family and near ones,” said Zoya Mehmood, a Sharjah resident, who was spotted at a popular sweet joint in Rolla.
Incredibly, people held on to the strength of traditions by exchanging greetings and gifts, even while embracing digital technology in a way that the spiritual connection was not lost.
The social media was abuzz with Eid greetings, cutting across all nationalities and religions and ringing in a spirit of love and brotherhood, which is the prime message of Islam.
Several colourful events have been lined up across the Emirates on the Eid days.
While the prime attraction is likely to be fireworks displays, shopping deals, stage shows and a variety of buffets are also on the menu.
Years of tradition will continue with the faithful thronging mosques to listen to the Eid sermon and prayers.
Eid Al Fitr, also called the festival of fast-breaking, marks the end of the holiest month in the Islamic calendar and the beginning of the lunar month Shawwal.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records)
When will peace
return to Iraq?
What can be more agonising than the merciless killing of several innocent people during the Holy Month of Ramadan by mindless and ruthless terrorists!
Just a week after the Iraqi security forces recaptured Fallujah from the dreaded Daesh, a number of people have been killed or wounded in the deadliest single terrorist attack this year in Baghdad. Many of those killed were children.
The heartless militants chose a time when the streets were crowded at night at the end of a day's fasting.
Iraq has been forced to endure endless misery for a long time, ever since a war was imposed on it by Washington based on lies that it possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Shockingly, there has been a long list of deadly attacks in Iraq this year.
On June 9, two suicide bomb attacks near the entrance of a military base in Taji killed 18 people. On May 17, a series of attacks, including suicide bombings, claimed over 48 people in Baghdad.
On May 12, 16 people were killed when gunmen attacked a cafe with gunfire and grenades in Baghdad and then detonated suicide belts against security forces in pursuit. Daesh claimed the attack on the cafe in Balad town that is popular with fans of Real Madrid football club.
The list extends with such grim statistics.
The situation is also worst for children. One out of every five Iraqi children are said to be at serious risk of death, injury, sexual violence, abduction and recruitment into armed groups, according to a new United Nations report.
In “A Heavy Price for Children: Violence destroys childhoods in Iraq,” Unicef has stated that some 3.6 million children are in danger – an increase of 1.3 million in 18 months.
The report also states that 4.7 million children are in need of humanitarian aid, which amounts to one-third of all Iraqi children, as military operations in Fallujah and around Mosul lead to deteriorating living conditions.
At a time when the world hoped for a period of calm during the month of peace and compassion, it is highly unfortunate that violence continues to take its toll on civilians in Iraq.
As UN officials point out, terrorists did not spare an occasion to strike at markets, mosques and areas where people gathered in order to exact maximum casualties among civilians.
The international community needs to unite more strongly to fight and defeat the monstrous forces of extremism.

Heinous, cowardly
attacks in Turkey
The terrorist attacks that targeted Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport and resulted in several deaths and injuries are heinous and despicable acts that targeted innocent people.
Terrorism is a common enemy of all human beings. Terrorists are responsible for innumerable abuses against people from all faiths, ethnicities and nationalities, and without regard to any basic value of humanity.
Sadly, the year 2016 has seen a slew of such mass killings in Turkey.
Until June, almost 200 people have been killed and thousands wounded in bombings in Istanbul and Ankara.
A bombing in Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet Square in January claimed the lives of 11 German tourists. Car bombings in Ankara in February and March killed more than 60 people.
For a destination that hosts historic sites like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia church at Sultanahmet, the explosions have proved economically devastating.
The senseless attack in Ataturk is also the latest to target airports and the aviation industry, coming three months after suicide bombers struck Brussels airport.
Data published on the morning of the attacks already signalled a grim outlook.
Tourist arrivals not only fell in May for a record tenth month, but as hotels and resorts enter peak season, the slump is said to have deepened.
Basaran Ulusoy, the president of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies, has been quoted as saying that the industry is headed for a 35-40 per cent drop in income in 2016.
Figures released at the end of May by the Turkish tourism ministry showed that the month had seen the worst drop-off in visits in 22 years, down 35 per cent on 2015's figure.
April's figure had already been 30 per cent down on the previous year.
While visitor figures from countries like Germany and Britain, have been particularly weak, almost 90 per cent of Russian tourists have stayed away as Ankara and Moscow entered a war of words after Turkish forces downed a Russian warplane.
That's bleak news for an industry that normally brings in close to $33.2 billion in foreign currency each year.
The UAE has rightly called on the international community to stand united and uproot the bane of terrorism.
As stated by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the heinous act contradicts all religions, human values and principles.
There is a dire need to intensify global efforts to combat violent extremism by promoting tolerance, understanding and peaceful dialogue.

Cracks in the
Any parting is painful. The majority of British voters, though, have opted for “freedom” over the pain that comes with parting.
The implication of the Brexit verdict is that a 28-member commission in Brussels cannot anymore steer the laws and choices of the British people.
The London-Brussels divorce, after four decades of often-troubled relationship, has not only triggered a seismic blow to the European Union (EU) bloc, but has also left a trail of socio-economic tremors across the globe.
With events unfolding through the day, Friday marked a turning point in the history of Britain. The verdict prompted Prime Minister David Cameron to resign and sent the world financial markets into a freefall.
The vote result threatens to lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom itself after Scotland raised the prospect of another independence vote.
Top anti-EU campaigner Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, says that June 23 will "go down in our history as our independence day," while Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has declared that a second independence vote is now highly likely after a 2014 referendum backed staying in the UK.
Amid the turmoil, the man who led the “Leave” campaign to a convincing win, Conservative MP Boris Johnson, insists that Britain is not becoming isolationist. On the contrary, he argues that the country will head for a prosperous future by taking back control of laws and policies.
Incidentally, Brexit has also reawakened fears of a domino-effect ripple of exit votes in Eurosceptic member states that could imperil the integrity of the bloc.
Dutch far-right MP Geert Wilders and French National Front leader Marine Le Pen have already called for referendums on EU membership in their own countries.
Almost a quarter of EU citizens view the bloc "very negatively,” according to the most recent Euro barometer public opinion poll conducted by the EU Commission in November 2015.
There can be no doubt that Brexit is now the biggest blow to globalisation, challenging the world’s cuddling of freer movement of goods, services and people.
The economic impact was harsh on Friday. Sterling, global stocks and oil prices plummeted with the US stocks tumbling the most since February.
What looks certain, at least in the short term, is uncertainty. With Brexit, one can expect a lot of volatility in the coming days. What is essential is a calm and consensual approach to implementing the Brexit process. In this, global unity will serve better. After all, divided we fall.

Endless plight of
the Rohingya
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, is absolutely right in asking the Myanmar government to take concrete steps to end the systemic discrimination and human rights violations against minority communities, particularly the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.
A report requested by the UN Human Rights Council in July 2015 has documented a wide range of rights violations, including arbitrary deprivation of nationality, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, threats to life and security, denial of rights to health and education, forced labour, sexual violence and limitations to political rights.
It also notes that for those formally charged, fair trial guarantees are often not respected.
The report has clearly highlighted the possibility that the pattern of violations against the Rohingya may amount to crimes against humanity.
Some 120,000 Rohingya remain displaced in squalid camps since fighting erupted in Rakhine State between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012. Thousands have fled persecution and poverty.
Rakhine has one of the lowest literacy rates in the country, and non-citizens, including Rohingya, are excluded from studying certain professions including medicine, economics and engineering.
Some 30,000 Muslim children in camps depend on temporary learning spaces supported by humanitarian organisations.
Incidentally, Myanmar leaders have told UN officials that the government will avoid using the term "Rohingya" to describe the persecuted Muslim minority.
The country’s representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Thet Thinzar Tun, criticised the use of "certain nomenclature" by a UN representative as "adding fuel to fire" and "only making things worse."
"For the sake of harmony and mutual trust between two communities, it is advisable for everyone to use the term 'the Muslim community in Rakhine State'," she is reported to have said.
The country’s popular leader Aung San Suu Kyi has disappointed rights groups by avoiding direct discussion of the issue and asking for "space" while she seeks to build trust.
Adding to the problem, there has been an alarming increase in incitement to hatred by ultra-nationalist Buddhist organisations.
It is true that the government has taken some initial steps like creating a Ministry of Ethnic Affairs and establishing the Central Committee on the Implementation of Peace, Stability and Development of Rakhine State.
But there is still a long way to go. Entrenched discrimination should end. As UN officials point out, it must be a top priority for the government to immediately halt violations and prevent further ones taking place against ethnic and religious minorities.

Israel’s ‘don’t
care’ arrogance
Less than a week after the United Nations and its diplomatic partners in the Middle East peace process released a report urging Israel to stop its settlements policy, Israel has snubbed the international community again by approving hundreds of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank.
Under the approval granted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, planning for 560 new homes in the large Maale Adumim settlement east of occupied Jerusalem will be allowed to move forward.
Incidentally, the settlement already includes a population of more than 37,000.
Netanyahu has also given approval for the planning of 240 new settler homes in occupied east Jerusalem settlement neighbourhoods.
Most countries consider Israeli settlements on occupied land illegal.
The diplomatic Quartet’s recommendations clearly mention that Israel should cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, designating land for exclusive Israeli use, and denying Palestinian development.
The report has urged Israel to implement positive and significant policy shifts, including transferring powers and responsibilities in Area C, consistent with the transition to greater Palestinian civil authority contemplated by prior agreements.
While many European countries have recognised the Statehood of Palestine, several European parliaments have also recommended that their governments follow suit.
Also, during a recent visit to the Palestinian territories, UN chief Ban Ki-moon had asked Israel to address key underlying causes of violence. They include growing Palestinian anger, the paralysis of the peace process and endless occupation.
However, arrogant Israel just would not bother to heed any suggestion aimed at bringing peace to the region.
Peace talks have been at a complete standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.
Permanent Representative of the UAE to the UN and other International Organisations in Geneva, Obaid Salem Al Zaabi, rightly criticised last week the continuing violations against the rights of Palestinians by Israel and its dangerous policies, including incitement of hate, arresting and killing of Palestinians and seizure of Palestinian properties.
The international community should ensure that a comprehensive, permanent and just settlement is reached to end the Israeli occupation within a set timeframe.
Israel should be forced to withdraw from all lands it continues to occupy since 1967, including East Jerusalem, so as to create an opportunity for a fully independent and viable Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
Protecting the rights of the Palestinian people, who have endured hardship under ruthless occupation for decades, is a duty of all peace-loving people and countries.