Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today (Posted for my records):
Guns not meant
Several precious lives have been lost in the deadly school shooting in Florida and the key question that remains to be answered is how the heavily-armed killer managed to hoodwink security and mingle with students before pulling the trigger.
The fact that the shooting was the 18th in a US school this year, as per gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, implies that status quo cannot remain an option on the security front.
The massacre was the deadliest ever at an American high school, surpassing the 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado, where two teenagers killed 12 students and a teacher and then themselves.
It was also the second deadliest at a US public school, after the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
Since Sandy Hook, US schools upgraded the security arrangements and installed electronically-controlled doors.
As per media reports, a law enforcement officer is assigned to every school in the district. Schools have a single point of entry.
Distressingly, despite such precautionary measures, the heartless killer managed to strike.
The Valentine's Day bloodshed also raises questions about ways to tackle unbridled gun violence that has become a regular occurrence at US schools and college campuses.
By indicating that the suspect may have been "mentally disturbed," President Donald Trump is trying to deviate from questions about gun control. He had cited mental health as a cause for mass shootings earlier too.
In a tweet, Trump noted, "So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbours and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!"
But the debate on gun control cannot and should not be wished away. Pope Francis, for example, has frequently lashed out at gun manufacturers, calling them "merchants of death." During his 2015 speech to the US Congress, he called for an end to the arms trade, which he said was fueled by a quest for "money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood."
Reality television star Kim Kardashian is among a host of celebrities calling for tighter gun controls. “We owe it to our children and our teachers to keep them safe while at school. Prayers won't do this: action will. Congress, please do your job and protect Americans from senseless gun violence,” she tweeted.
Such arguments do make sense and deserve serious consideration.
Protect civilians in
Syria’s East Ghouta
Nothing can justify the merciless killing of innocent civilians anywhere. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what is happening in Syria's Eastern Ghouta.
Air strikes hit the area for a third straight day on Tuesday, bringing the civilian death toll to nearly 200 and the situation is undoubtedly spiralling out of control.
To add to the agony, 57 children were among those killed, as per the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Hundreds of civilians have lost their lives or been injured in airstrikes and shelling since November.
There have been daily reports about civilians being killed and others being severely wounded, in addition to markets, hospitals and schools being damaged or destroyed. There have also been several allegations of chlorine attacks.
Media images of the situation on the ground are too disturbing to watch as most children being rushed for medical aid are seen covered in mud and blood. Doctors have been battling to save precious lives under precarious conditions.
Videos have surfaced showing paramedics pulling out the injured from under the rubble while others are seen frantically digging through the debris in the dark, in search for survivors.
The mindless bloodshed has even prompted the UN children's agency, Unicef, to issue a largely blank statement to express its anger.
"We no longer have the words to describe children's suffering and our outrage," the agency said in a brief postscript beneath the empty space on the page. "Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts?"
The International Committee of the Red Cross too issued a statement saying that "this cannot go on."
As UN officials point out, the recent escalation of violence compounds an already precarious humanitarian situation for the 393,000 residents of East Ghouta, many of them internally displaced, and which account for 94 per cent of all Syrians living under besiegement.
The lack of access to besieged areas has led to severe food shortages and a sharp rise in food prices. Malnutrition rates have reached unprecedented levels and the number of people requiring medical evacuations continues to surge.
The months-long isolation has already left the local population totally exhausted.
Aid agencies should be given unrestricted access to close to 3 million people in besieged and hard-to-reach locations across Syria, including East Ghouta.
All parties involved in the conflict should strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians from any harm.
brunt of conflicts
Children hold a special place in any society. They are to be protected. All children have the right to live free from violence, which harms their physical and mental growth.
Unfortunately, more children than ever before—at least 357 million globally—are now living in areas affected by conflict, and are at risk of death and violence, as per the global charity, Save The Children.
A report by the group, entitled “The War on Children: Time to End Violations Against Children in Armed Conflict” shows this number has increased by as much as 75 per cent since the early 1990s, with one in six children globally now living in impacted areas.
Alarmingly, nearly half of these children are in areas affected by high-intensity conflict where they could be vulnerable to the UN’s six grave violations—killing and maiming, recruitment and use of children, sexual violence, abduction, attacks on schools and hospitals, and denial of humanitarian assistance.
Among the major reasons for the worsening situation are the increasing urbanisation of war, the growing use of explosive weapons in populated areas, as well as the protracted and more complex nature of modern conflict that has put children and civilians on the front lines.
Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia have turned out to be the worst countries for young people.
Since 2010, the number of UN-verified cases of children being killed and maimed has gone up by almost 300 per cent. But the true figure is likely to be far higher given the difficulties of verifying accounts in conflict zones.
What adds to the shock is that children are being targeted with more brutal tactics, such as the deployment of youth as suicide bombers and the widespread use of weapons such as barrel bombs.
Problems come in varied forms for children. For example, this year 4.7 million children are at risk of dropping out of school across South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya — displaced from homes and schools because of the dual drivers of hunger: drought and conflict.
That’s 12,000 children a day leaving school before gaining their qualifications — the consequences of which could be grave.
What should never be forgotten is that every child deserves a future.
The global community should act unitedly to prevent all forms of violence and exploitation against all children.
Excuses just won’t work. Any lapse on the part of the present generation to offer children the best protection and care would prove to be a blot on entire humanity.
UAE shows effective way
in pursuit of happiness
The UAE is known as a land of opportunities, enterprise and wisdom, where the happiness of the people tops the list of priorities for the leadership.
The launch of "The Global Happiness Coalition," comprising ministers of six countries including UAE, Portugal, Costa Rica, Mexico, Kazakhstan and Slovenia, by Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum is a splendid step that reflects the UAE’s noble aim to spread cheer across the globe.
The UAE envisions the importance of happiness as the ultimate goal for any government.
The world definitely needs new form of coalitions that works for the wellbeing and happiness of people.
As Sheikh Mohammed outlined, "The Global Happiness Coalition reflects message where the UAE aspirations meet with ambitions of different nations around the world, towards creating a better future for everyone. It is time to join efforts as governments to come up with new approaches and mechanisms to achieve people’s happiness and improve their quality of life."
Promoting happiness and positivity in the community is also at the heart of all the Dubai government’s plans and strategies, as Dr Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr, Director-General of the Smart Dubai Office, points out.
This perfectly aligns with the vision of Sheikh Mohammed, which seeks to build a fully-fledged smart city that prioritises people’s happiness and offers the world a unique success story.
Besides, it’s not all mere aspiration sans effort. Dubai is actually leading from the front. The second Global Dialogue for Happiness in Dubai reviewed on Saturday the 170 best international experiences in happiness and wellbeing in the presence of international organisations and institutions, and more than 500 government officials, leading scientists, experts, and entrepreneurs from around the world.
The dialogue included 24 specialised sessions focusing on six main themes: global experiences, policies, technology, education, human values, the latest trends in happiness science, inspiring stories from the world and stories of hope.
Dubai Now, which offers smart services via a single, fast, seamless and paperless platform, where users can complete their transactions through their smartphones without having to visit service centres is one magnificent example of how the Emirate strives to promote happiness among the community.
Sheikh Mohammed once well stated, "Countries can only be built with happy and satisfied people. Happiness of individuals is only the start for a stable, productive and safe society.”