Sunday, March 17, 2019

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent Editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Need to address Islamophobia globally
In the wake of the gruesome terrorist massacre in New Zealand, which has triggered extreme grief across the world, there is a dire need for the international community to initiate more serious measures to counter Islamophobia and eliminate intolerance and violent extremism in all its forms.
The dastardly shooting of innocent people as they prayed peacefully in mosques has shaken the conscience of humanity. The remarkable solidarity shown by the rest of the world for the victims and their families does offer solace, but there’s much more that needs to be done by the global community so as to avert such horrific crimes in future.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that, once stated Martin Luther King, Jr. Unfortunately, that righteous message seems to have lost its way in the Internet era.
The Christchurch massacre has bared the link between Islamophobia and terrorism in a way that none can argue otherwise. To think that a man could fill himself with such venomous hatred for fellow human beings he live-streams himself via a head-mounted camera online while firing at peaceful worshippers indicates that things are heading in a wrong direction. Somewhere the cherished values of peace, compassion and love for fellow beings advocated by every religion are being lost.
The rights to equality and non-discrimination are cornerstones of human rights law. Yet blatant racism and religious hatred continue to remain the bane of certain societies. It should never be forgotten that discrimination against individuals affects the society as a whole.
Countries need to have zero tolerance towards hate crime. Trust in the police will be eroded if hate crime cases are not handled with the seriousness they deserve.
The world is increasingly a global village and the fact should be acknowledged. Building bridges is anytime better than separation walls. The dead from Friday's barbaric massacre span generations, aged between three and 77, according to a sombre list circulated among relatives. Some victims came from the neighbourhood, others from as far as Egypt or Fiji. At least two of the dead were from the same family— a father and son. India has stated that five of its nationals were killed, while Pakistan said nine of its citizens were among the dead.
The mosque attacks have shaken peaceful New Zealand, a country that prides itself on welcoming refugees fleeing violence or persecution. At a time of growing hostility towards diversity and the latest killings, the outpouring of compassion from authorities and people of New Zealand is truly laudable.
The highly respected Al Azhar University in Egypt has called the attack a dangerous indicator of the dire consequences of escalating hate speech, xenophobia and the spread of Islamophobia.
It’s undoubtedly time for global introspection and corrective action.
As Dr Anwar Bin Mohammed Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, wisely pointed out in his Twitter messages: “The New Zealand terrorist massacre highlights the necessity to address Islamophobia globally. While it is a time for grieving and reflection surely the link between Islamophobia and terrorism is firmly established. Reconsidering other terror attacks around the globe, surely the way forward is greater acceptance, diversity & inclusion. This should be our approach in defeating extremism.”
Global warming a burning issue, indeed
Student protests seeking action on climate change have been snowballing into a vigorous global movement and world leaders better take a serious note of the burning issue. Blind denial of global warming won’t hold water any longer.
Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who protests weekly outside Sweden's parliament, has successfully ignited a heated debate on the subject that cannot be doused with empty words.
Classrooms in capitals from Bangkok to Berlin, Lagos to London emptied last Friday as organisers of the student strike tried to stage 1,000 demonstrations in as many as 120 countries.
Just on Wednesday, a major report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, cautioned that human activity is damaging the planet so badly, exacerbated by climate change, that it will increasingly put our health at risk.
Unless environmental protections are drastically scaled up, there could be millions of premature deaths by the middle of this century, with pollutants in freshwater systems becoming a major cause of death by 2050. In addition, more chemicals, known as endocrine disruptors, will have an adverse effect on male and female fertility, as well as the neurological development of children.
Leaders should heed scientists’ caution that fossil fuel use releases greenhouse gases, which trap heat and lift global temperatures, bringing more floods, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels.
While nations meeting at the UN environment assembly did announce that they had agreed to "significantly reduce" single-use plastics over the next decade, it is disappointing that the pledge — which only referred to man-made global warming and made no mention of the fossil fuels driving it — fell far short of the steps needed to tackle earth's burgeoning pollution crisis.
The 2015 Paris climate conference pledge to keep the increase in global average temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius (35 F) above pre-industrial levels requires a radical cutback in use of coal and fossil fuels.
Data released recently by the United Nations World Meteorological Organization made it abundantly clear that the past four years were officially the four warmest on record.
The analysis showed that the global average surface temperature in 2018 was approximately 1° Celsius above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) baseline — a huge cause for concern.
The pattern indicates trouble. The year 2019 has picked up where 2018 left off, with Australia experiencing its warmest January on record. Intense heat waves are becoming more frequent as a result of climate change.
Sea ice cover in the Arctic and Antarctic both marked the second lowest ever observed. There were 14 weather-related disasters costing one billion dollars or more.
Devastating forest fires, droughts, floods and hurricanes are now the norm rather than the exception. Such climatic catastrophes make it imperative on world nations to intensify efforts to cut down carbon emissions and expedite climate adaptation measures.
The agony of Maldives is a glaring example. The low-lying Maldives is among countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as rising sea levels and coral reef deterioration.
The planet is heating up and a cool attitude could prove disastrous. Time is definitely running out to limit global warming to 1.5˚C. Climate change adaptation needs to be a high priority for the global community.
Disturbing signals from North Korea
Reports that North Korea has restored part of a rocket test site it began to dismantle after pledging to do so in a first summit with US President Donald Trump last year sound disturbing.
It is perturbing especially because North Korea had carried out six nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017. In the wake of diplomatic efforts led by the US and South Korea to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula, and the lull in rocket launches, there was optimism in the air.
In 2017, Pyongyang claimed it had become a nuclear state, capable of fitting a viable nuclear weapon on an ICBM that could reach as far as the United States' eastern seaboard. In response, the UN Security Council had to ban North Korea's main exports — coal and other mineral resources, fisheries and textile products — to cut off its access to hard currency.
Just last week, the second meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, which was supposed to build on their historic first summit in Singapore, ended in a deadlock and no joint statement could be signed. By abruptly cutting short their meeting, the two leaders scuttled hopes for an agreement with tangible progress towards ending the North's nuclear programme that could have raised confidence across the region.
While the failure of the summit came as a shock, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency and two US think tanks have reported that work was underway at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station at Tongchang-ri even as Trump met Kim Jong Un at the second summit.
Washington and the rest of the world want North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme and everything associated with it. Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, has come up with tough words for Pyongyang. "If they're not willing to do it, President Trump has been very clear — they're not going to get relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them and we'll look at ramping those sanctions up in fact," Bolton has warned.
Separately, two US senators have also sought to pile up pressure on North Korea by reintroducing a bill to impose sanctions on any bank that does business with its government.
One has to wait and see how Pyongyang responds to the tough approach from Washington. Collapse of the peace process could lead not only the Korean region, but also the entire world on a risky path.