Books and Documents

World Press (07 Sep 2017 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Let's Open Our Hearts to The Suffering Rohingya New Age Islam’s Selection, 07-09-17

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

September 7, 2017

Trump is just a decoy for the Palestinians’ real enemies

By Ray Hanania

Amr Khaled and the stardom of preaching

By Mashari Althaydi

Peace with North Korea is still possible

By Richard Javad Heydarian

Britain can control immigration. What drives this debate is nasty politics

By Simon Jenkins

The downtrodden Arabs the world ignores

By Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor

Why Egypt’s soft power has dwindled away

By Mohammed Nosseir

The poor state of our higher education

By Namia Akhtar

Remembering Saleh Chowdhury: A journalist and freedom fighter

By Manzoor Ahmed

With Assad back in control, Syria is getting rid of Daesh

By Liz Sly

Sadiq Khan is right: only London can solve its own housing crisis

By Jonn Elledge

We must act fast to stop far-right groups targeting military personnel

By Jacob Davey

Bahrain is buying arms in London – and my family is paying the price

By Sayed Alwadaei

Immigrants Shouldn’t Have to Be ‘Talented’ to Be Welcome

By Masha Gessen

Guatemala’s Democratic Crisis Point

By Anita Isaacs

Technology industry is being politicized

By Ersu Ablak

Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Bureau

URL: http://newageislam.com/world-press/new-age-islam-edit-bureau/let-s-open-our-hearts-to-the-suffering-rohingya-new-age-islam’s-selection,-07-09-17/d/112453


Let's open our hearts to the suffering Rohingya

By Shaikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi

September 6, 2017

Myanmar should not just be a concern for human rights organisations but a priority for the world

Innumerable speeches have been given on the subject of humanitarianism and the need to care for refugees. These powerful addresses have underlined how the global population is one big family whose members share a common destiny, with humanity being unable to advance its culture and civilisation unless it truly believes in these values. However, few of these speeches are turned into practical actions that face down persecution, challenge oppression and alleviate the suffering of displaced peoples around the world.

Today, the plight of Rohingya Muslims is putting our humanitarian responsibilities to the test, despite these values having been shared by most of the world's countries and becoming enshrined as international conventions.

The persecution, deportation and displacement of Rohingya Muslims stems from the worst facets of human behaviour and are being stoked by hostility, intolerance and bigotry. For this minority community, the situation has resulted in abuse, torture and murder taking place on an unprecedented scale.

More than 120,000 Rohingya Muslims are currently being forced to leave their homes, fleeing to escape the ongoing injustice, oppression and genocide. They are in a position where they are having to choose between death and exile. Even when choosing to flee they face grave hardships and dangers, being required to leave dead relatives murdered at the borders of the countries where they are desperate to find sanctuary.

The screaming of the children, the wailing of the injured and the weeping of those who are running for their lives should be a clarion call for us all to act now. Our fundamental human values should compel us to do what we can to help refugee families and to provide them with as much financial and emotional support as possible. We must ensure that these most vulnerable of people are able to live a decent and dignified life until the conflict is settled and until we have reasserted the notion that a majority should never be allowed to persecute a minority.

What is happening in Myanmar should not just concern human rights organisations and humanitarian organisations, but go beyond them to the level of priority on the agenda of world leaders. History will preserve for posterity our position on the genocide of Rohingya Muslims, which is a humanitarian disaster and one with potentially serious consequences for Myanmar and its surrounding countries. If not addressed, there is a very real danger that this issue will have profound negative implications for the protection of minorities elsewhere.

To address possible solutions to what is happening we must first help and support these Rohingya Muslim refugees whose lives are under threat and distress. Following that, we must pressure the government of Myanmar to ensure the protection of Muslim minorities and to end the conflict through the enactment of laws that ensure the concept of coexistence and respect for others, irrespective of differences.

What the Rohingya Muslims are going through is an embodiment of the ugliest form of intolerance in the world. It is a true test to the role of organisations and individuals working in the field of international refugee protection. To prevent it escalating into a global issue, we must pull together as one family to fight the intolerance, hatred and abuse that is taking place. We must be faithful to our humanity and strive to promulgate the message of love, peace and respect through our actions.

As United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children, I call on all leaders to fulfil their humanitarian responsibilities towards the Rohingya Muslims. I ask that they advocate their cause as a minority group that suffers persecution and displacement and which is deserving of our fullest assistance to ensure that they are able to live their lives in safety, security and peace.

Shaikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi is Chairperson of the Big Heart Foundation and UNHCR Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children



Trump is just a decoy for the Palestinians’ real enemies

By Ray Hanania

6 September 2017

It is easy to have a negative view of US President Donald Trump. He Is not a politician, so he does not use rhetoric in the way that professional politicians do.

Trump says what he believes, which is both refreshing and sometimes shocking, especially when it is twisted by politicians and those sections of the media that dislike him.

In many cases, when you look at what Trump actually said, you realize that some of the media are distorting his words. They do that to others they dislike, such as Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians. Why would we believe that they would not do the same to Trump?

As a consequence, Muslims and Arabs have been dragged into a contentious political debate in America over Trump. The focus of Arab activists is on him, but that is not where it should be. The real threat comes from those people who are attacking Trump, and using him as a decoy to get us on their side, such as Senators Charles Schumer and John McCain.

While Schumer and McCain have been screaming about how much they love “Muslims,” they are quietly working behind the scenes with pro-Israel activists to target one group of Muslims: — “Arab Muslims” — with a barrage of repressive legislation.

Recently, Schumer introduced legislation to block funding for Palestinian institutions that he asserts support “extremism” and “anti-Semitism.” Understand how Schumer defines “extremism”: he claims criticism of Israel is a “reinvented form of anti-Semitism.”

For example, the Friends School in Ramallah receives about $1 million a year from USAID (US Agency for International Development) to help its students understand Palestinian culture and rights. It hosts a summer camp called “Go Palestine.” The Israelis do not like the Friends School, hosted by the Quakers, because its programs include critics and criticism of Israel. Schumer, and others, are demanding that USAID suspend funding to the Ramallah Friends School and other programs that “criticize” Israel.

On the other hand, Israel organizes summer camps for young people funded by numerous US government programs at which speakers constantly criticize Palestinians. That is acceptable. Criticism of Israel is not.

But this is not the only thing Schumer and his cohorts have been involved with that has received far less media coverage than their criticism of Trump. The New York senator sponsored another bill supported by 43 of his Senate colleagues that makes it a federal crime to “boycott” Israel.

What Schumer is arguing is that “boycotting” Israel is the same as committing an act of violent terrorism, or taking the lives of innocent American citizens.

If Arabs would take a minute from screaming about Trump and open their eyes and ears to their surroundings, they might find that the real threat to their existence is not the US president. It is Schumer and his cronies in the Democratic Party, in the anti-Trump Republican Party, and in much of the American news media. The anti-Trump movement is using Trump to distract Arabs. This movement may dislike Trump, but believe me, they dislike Arabs more.

When you closely examine the rhetoric, you see that American politicians like Schumer separate “Muslims” into two groups, Arab and non-Arab. Schumer and his like-minded friends do not dislike all Muslims. They dislike only Arab Muslims, who they think are more likely to criticize Israel, and that means they dislike Palestinians and Arab Christians, too.

Unlike the Arabs, the Israelis are smart. They see both good and bad in Trump. They do not like everything he says or does, but instead of focusing on the bad, they focus on the good and build from there. That is how Israel always gets what it wants.

Arabs, on the other hand, ignore what they like and over-react to what they do not like. That is the emotional thing to do. And it makes it easy for the pro-Israel lobby to undermine our efforts.

To be sure, Trump’s enemies are not our friends. Why do we believe what much of the mainstream news media says about Trump, but argue that the same media lies in its coverage of Palestine? The US president is a distraction from the fight for Arab and Palestinian rights.

Arab activists need to refocus their activism. Trump is not the priority. He is a side issue. His rhetoric is being twisted to make it worse than it actually is. He is no different from other politicians who pander to the pro-Israel lobby. But he is different in that his words have shown sympathy for Palestinian rights.

There are things the 45th US president says and does that we do not like. Do not think that the Israelis are not concerned about him too.

But instead of fighting the real battle against people such as Schumer and McCain, our conferences, speeches, articles and activism have all homed in on Trump. It is the ultimate pro-Israel propaganda. By yelling at Trump, we are missing the real fight.

Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian columnist and author. Email him at rghanania@gmail.com.



Amr Khaled and the stardom of preaching

By Mashari Althaydi

Egyptian preacher Amr Khaled – who is no stranger to polemics and controversies – stirred up news after he released video clips of himself from the Hajj pilgrimage.

These video clips included passages where he recorded himself in front of the Kabaa with the Ihram attire praying heartily with devotion. This led to criticism and ridicule from several parties.

Naturally, there were those who defended the star of Egyptian television preacher and called the attacks directed toward him unfair and unfounded.

He himself defended his recordings, which comprised several passages on spirituality and the days of Hajj. He stated that he was unjustly targeted and reiterated his love for all Muslims. He also insisted that his video clips cut off abruptly and were hence taken of context.

The issue is not the story itself but in the distorted reality reflected by this incident. Since the proliferation of satellite channels, and emergence of social media platforms, we are experiencing new trends in religious preaching. This new phenomenon stirs people’s spirituality and invokes religious passions.

However, this time, it does not target the elderly or those accustomed with the former methods of religious preaching and guidance. Indeed, this new kind of preaching seeks youth including young girls in their quest for a “modern” and trendy way of preaching or what is called “good presentation”.

Populist preaching

This new populist preaching is bold in both its presentation and content without particular regard to the strict standards of texts and their meaning. Religious scholars and erudite condemned these practices in the past and those who perpetuated them.

Just recently, before the age of satellite channels and Internet, the public came to know about a number of preachers, most of whom belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The latter preached with fervor and employed sermons in order to promote the Brotherhood’s values and agenda, and commonly resorted to the use of slang jokes on the pulpit.

Nowadays, a similar scenario is taking place even though preachers of the past have been replaced by the rising stars of satellite TV and social media platforms.

However, the new 21st century methods of preaching have become more sophisticated, and the new preacher has been transformed into a millionaire advertising star sought by government institutions and corporations alike.

Does the shortcomings we are witnessing today lie in the stars themselves or the audience that created and propelled these celebrities? Or does it reside somewhere else? What is certain is that during our times even the most sacred values have been made devoid of sanctity.


Saudi journalist Mashari Althaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Althaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists. He tweets under @MAlthaydy.



Peace with North Korea is still possible

By Richard Javad Heydarian

"This is the new abnormal," a key adviser of South Korean President Moon Jae-in told me amid North Korea's latest missile and nuclear tests. Yet, to my surprise, many experts I met in Seoul in recent weeks displayed an uncanny sense of optimism.

Many of them told me they still believe that reunification on the Korean Peninsula is a historical inevitability, though they admitted that no one knows how traumatic or successful it would turn out to be. For some, it could dwarf the absorption costs borne by West Germany after the disruptive reunification with its communist half. While for others it could ameliorate the demographic winter and rising labour costs in post-industrial South Korea.

As for ordinary South Koreans, they seem, on the whole, impeccably resilient and stoically unfazed by the spate of intimidation tactics deployed by their unruly neighbour.

If actual war were to break out, North Korean artillery shells would likely eviscerate Seoul, home to the bulk of the country's economic output and population. Not to mention, South Korea would have to cede command-and control of its armed forces to the United Nations and the United States.

The ultimate tragedy is that South Korea - the country that could suffer the most in the event of a conflict - is increasingly powerless in shaping its own destiny.

The Trump factor

During my visit to the War Memorial in Busan, the southern coastal city that served as the final refuge of retreating allied forces during the Korean War, I thought of the important role Americans played in the fate of the South Korean nation half a century ago.

Back then, the US deployed more than a million troops and suffered the bulk of casualties among the UN forces, who were also under US generals' command.

Today, however, South Korea's biggest headache is its former saviour.

This is largely because of the highly bellicose, incoherent, and petulant nature of President Donald Trump's approach to the Korean crisis. The US president regularly engages in verbal duels with the North Korean regime and its key ally, China. As a result, the world's superpower has ended up pouring gasoline on fire, making an impossibly explosive situation even more combustible.

North Korea has constantly called Trump's bluff, undermining his diplomatic capital by openly defying the US president's threats and taunts.

Sunshine Policy 2.0

In a direct rebuff of Trump's cavalier approach to the crisis, South Korea's President Moon Jae-in declared in mid-August, "Military action on the Korean Peninsula can only be decided by South Korea, and no one else can decide to take military action without the consent of South Korea".

This was nothing short of a desperate call for sanity and composure.

The two allies have had difficult conversations in recent weeks, with Trump openly mocking Moon's call for dialogue. The US president has even threatened to nullify the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement, the bedrock of their economic interface.

A human rights activist born to North Korean parents, President Moon Jae-in is the former protege of ultra-liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, who advocated dialogue and peace on the Peninsula.

In particular, Moon is interested in reviving the "Sunshine Policy" of former President Kim Dae-jung (1998-2003), a Nobel Prize laureate, who met the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and oversaw a surreal era of diplomatic engagement between the two neighbours.

Moon seeks a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Korean Peninsula by 2020. This would inevitably entail a final peace agreement and huge infusion of investments and aid into impoverished North Korea. In exchange, as one of Moon's advisers told me, Seoul will seek the transformation, albeit gradually, of its northern neighbour into a more stable and affable regime.

Cornered beast

Despite the global hysteria over Pyongyang's growing mastery of long-range missiles and, even possibly, thermonuclear weapons, the Moon administration sees North Korea's actions as largely defensive and rational. After all, the reclusive regime is surrounded by some of the world's most technologically advanced nations, some of whom are outright hostile.

Meanwhile, North Korea's traditional allies, Russia and China, are proving increasingly impatient and unreliable. Both powers have signed up to intrusive sanctions against Pyongyang, though strict implementation seems sorely lacking.

In Beijing's view, its erstwhile ally is proving more of a liability than an asset, but it dreads the prospect of regime change and large-scale refugee crises on its northeastern borders.

The underlying problem is that technically speaking, the Korean War (1950-1953) hasn't ended yet. All we have is the Korean Armistice Agreement, which is essentially a transient and fragile ceasefire.

Signing a final peace agreement seems the most logical step forward. But the devil is in the details: there will likely be a grand bargain for the terms of such an agreement. And developing inter-continental ballistic missiles and thermonuclear weapons, which can target the US, gives the Kim Jong-un regime a crucial bargaining chip down the road.

As American historian Bruce Cumings perceptively notes, "direct talks" is "the only method that has ever worked", since it managed to freeze North Korea's nuclear proliferation and slow down its missile programme for almost eight years (1994-2002). All other methods, from sanctions to regime change and threat of war, either failed or exacerbated the situation.

Richard Javad Heydarian is a specialist in Asian geopolitical/economic affairs and author of Asia's New Battlefield: The USA, China, and the Struggle for the Western Pacific.



A wise verdict from the European Court

Saudi Gazette

THE European Court of Justice has told Hungary and Slovakia that they have to accept the 160,000 refugees that Brussels allocated them from crowded centers in Greece and Italy where these unfortunate people are now being housed. It has thrown out a legal challenge by the Hungarian and Slovak governments, which had sought to reject the migrant quota system and indeed questioned why the EU should be offering any refuge.

Among the arguments made by both governments was that an infinite number of people wanting to come to Europe and the EU could not sustain such huge flows. It was also argued that the majority of those seeking asylum were not in fact genuine refugees fleeing for their lives, but economic migrants seeking to escape the poverty of their own countries.

The judges at the European Court of Justice were having none of it. Hungary and Slovakia were legally bound to accept the EU quota and would face economic and political sanctions if they now failed to honor their obligations. The verdict will come as a huge relief to Angela Merkel campaigning for her fourth term as German chancellor. Her visionary and humanitarian welcome for some million migrants shamed other EU member states. Her main opponent, Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz, whose party was in coalition with her Christian Democrats, has sought to criticize his former boss for the migrant policies, which he himself also signed off.

Had the European Court upheld the Hungarian and Slovak challenge, the door would have been opened to German racists, not least the openly Islamophobic Alternatif für Deutschland (AfD). As it is, rent-a-mobs have been booing Merkel and in one seemingly-staged confrontation, an old German pensioner “who had paid her taxes” compared her financial plight to what she complained was the generous state help given newly-arrived migrants.

The Slovak government has said that, while it still holds to its objections to the migrant quotas, it will abide by the court’s ruling. Less certain is the response from Budapest where Premier Viktor Orban’s chauvinistic and authoritarian government has been most outspoken about the EU’s refugee welcome. His Foreign Minister Peter Szijjártó described the court’s judgment as “outrageous and irresponsible”. Budapest may yet find itself in a bitter showdown with Brussels, as the EU applies various sanctions.

The danger is that the longer the EU’s wise and sensible migrant policies are resisted by one government, the greater the encouragement to other EU leaders, not least the Poles. Then there is the undercurrent of racist hatred that boils like molten magma. This threatens to break through to the surface in the hate-filled mouths of neo-fascist politicians such as Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, Geert Wilders Party for Freedom in Holland, the Swedish Democrats and Germany’s AfD.

It remains to be seen if the EU has the strength to see through its migrant quota scheme, given all the other challenges that currently beset the Union not least the increasingly bitter argument over the terms of the British departure. A renewed mandate for Angela Merkel on Sept. 24 would pave the way for a fresh and powerful partnership with France’s new president Emmanuel Macron. This will hopefully steady the EU’s determination to do the right thing by the migrants who have arrived seeking its protection.



Britain can control immigration. What drives this debate is nasty politics

By Simon Jenkins

6 September 2017

In politics, optics trump metrics. Tuesday’s leak of a Home Office draft on post-EU migration policy indicates the hardest face of Brexit. Its language is Home Office repressive. It reads like a prison governor’s report, less concerned with the inmates than with the height of the perimeter fence. What with the border computer fiasco, the detention violence scandal, and the erratic “go home” letters to foreigners, if the Home Office were a local council it would be in special measures. Whatever spin may be applied to the leak, the idea that Theresa May seeks an emollient and “frictionless” approach to Brexit is laughable.

The document is economically illiterate. This may be because a report on Brexit’s costs by home secretary Amber Rudd’s migration advisory committee will not appear until next year. The proposed bureaucracy, the burrowing down into the records of every employer and every landlord, is gargantuan. It recalls the regulatory chaos of state incomes control in the 1970s. It would need an inspector in every building.

The labour costs the policy would impose on one of Britain’s largest industries, leisure and tourism, on the health and welfare state and on the construction industry are incalculable. The stifling of foreign access to the labour market is old-fashioned syndicalism. It mocks the leavers’ claim that blocking borders somehow raises Britain’s role in a booming global economy.

To be generous, departments are entitled to prepare private options for ministers to consider – though it would be reassuring if they embraced alternatives. The proposals do not alter safeguards for EU nationals currently working in Britain. They suggest a continuance of visa-free access for a transitional period, with possible residency afterwards. This is similar to worker regulations in other EU countries.

The proposals also reflect existing controls on non-EU citizens, though these are starkly ineffective. Non-EU migrants actually outnumber EU migrants by some 250,000 a year. In a London cafe you are as likely to be served by a Canadian, a Colombian or an Eritrean as by a Pole or a Portuguese. It is therefore unlikely that “taking back control”, in the manner proposed, would make much difference. May must know this. She glaringly failed to curb non-EU migration when at the Home Office.

Indeed Britain’s border controls are so permeable as to be more a nudge than a curb. Migrant labour flows have long reflected not public policy but economic growth and exchange rates. That is why net EU migration slowed dramatically after the 2008 collapse and again with the slump in the pound after the Brexit vote. London’s Battersea power station development, one of Britain’s largest, has already complained of losing workers, and one housebuilder was reported to have lost 4,000 EU workers, or 20% of its workforce, over Christmas. Is this really what the Brexiters want? It would probably be just an open invitation to labour agents and gangmasters to game the system.

If the metrics are mad, what about the optics? Here we go carefully. The deafness of the British establishment to the cries of non-metropolitan England over immigration is what got us to the present pass. This is best shown in the agonies of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party since Brexit. On Wednesday in parliament, Corbyn was reluctant to raise the immigration document at all, while his home affairs shadow, Diane Abbott, and the chair of the home affairs committee, Yvette Cooper, were equally equivocal in their responses. Suddenly, the pleas of the business community are so much blowing in the wind, while the silence of the provinces speaks volumes.

Hovering over Brexit are the two crunch issues: the divorce bill and immigration. To the “hard” leavers both are intolerable; to everyone else they seem inevitable. Yes, the referendum result was for leave, but the subsequent polling consensus is that a majority want soft Brexit rather than hard. That applies even to immigration. Take back control, but then decide what control really means.

Europe’s diplomats must surely be able to agree some sort of arbitration on the divorce bill. There must be experts who can find a sum on which compromise is possible, away from the grandstanding. I say £50bn over 10 years. Nor should it be beyond diplomatic wit to negotiate the details of work permits and residence rights for workers, to keep them if not within “one union” at least within “one economic space”. Being in control implies the freedom not to control, the freedom to welcome and to employ.

There is a crude chauvinist appeal in “British jobs for British workers”, as there is in the plea to avoid “community swamping”. But the regions voting most strongly for Brexit were those with least immigrants. Britain’s prosperous southern cities seem able to absorb large numbers of new arrivals – domestic and foreign – without soaring unemployment. Have Whitehall economists not noticed that joblessness is far higher in low-immigrant areas, such as the north-east?

The most serious damage to British community identity, other than in small pockets, comes not from immigration but from social deterioration. Brexit was a cry not of xenophobia but of neglect. If May really wanted to respond to the anti-migrant sentiment of the referendum, she would do everything to encourage economic growth away from the south-east and towards the Midlands and the north.

She would move government departments and universities out of the capital. She would answer the concerns of the left-behinds, the emptying neighbourhoods and vulnerable communities in those parts of the British Isles not luxuriating in the benefits of cheap foreign labour. She would put her border guards on the M1, and give a £10,000 bonus to anyone migrating north. She would declare the Don Valley an enterprise zone and the Farne Islands a tax haven. As it is, her immigration measures will just mean London sucking ever more skilled labour from the provinces and widening the geographical wealth gap.

The approach to freedom of movement should not be a throwback to the “hostile environment” May aimed to create as home secretary – clearly the subtext of the Home Office document. An “emergency brake” on immigrants is already allowed under EU single market regulations. That should cover any immigration crisis that may erupt in the future. The rest is just politics, nasty politics.

 Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist



America's soul as a nation of immigrants is in peril

By Moustafa Bayoumi

6 September 2017

The Trump administration appears determined to kill off the idea of the United States as a land of promise, opportunity and equality for all. With a stroke of his pen, the president has potentially exiled hundreds of thousands of young people in the United States to a life in the shadows. Their crime? Coming to America as children.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program – which Trump ended on Tuesday – offered temporary reprieve from deportation to nearly 800,000 unauthorized immigrants who entered this country before the age of 16. By repealing it, Trump and his administration sent a signal that they are dead set on deporting not only Daca recipients but the American Dream itself. I would be infuriated if I weren’t so sad.

For those currently benefiting from the program, this decision will mean the inability to open a bank account, the fear of riding public transportation lest they be stopped by the authorities, the difficulty of renting an apartment without showing their tax returns, the impossibility of holding a legal job. Daca recipients can do all of those things now. Soon, they will be living lives of deliberate social and economic marginalization.

While it’s true that Trump has punted his decision to Congress, which now has six months to decide the fate of these young people, it’s just as true that Congress, that graveyard of commonsense reform, has already proven itself unable to solve this quandary. It was because of Congress’s failure, after all, that Obama crafted the program to begin with.

By repealing this protection when no alternative is in place, the Trump administration seems resolved to harden the hearts of Americans, pitting us needlessly against one another while jackhammering at the cement that desperately holds our nation together. Trump’s policies depress me to no end, but what bothers me most is not these efforts. What distresses me most is when they succeed in tearing us apart.

Because Donald Trump often looks and acts like a buffoon, we treat his administration as if it’s a farce. But it’s a tragedy. And it’s a tragedy of our own making. In his often-incoherent grabs for power, Trump may be hastening the demise of the liberal order in the United States, but the signs have long been there for all to see, even before Trump.

From its inception under Obama, Daca has left undocumented minors far too vulnerable. The so-called ‘war on terror” produces so much blanket suspicion on all things Muslim that earlier this year we were actually arguing about whether we should let Muslim grandmothers into the country. Think about that for a moment.

The United States also has a confused sense of how receptive it is to refugees. While the US was the top country for refugee resettlement in 2016, the US public has for the last 60 years generally opposed welcoming refugees, regardless of whether they’re from Hungary, Cuba or Syria.

And perhaps most relevant of all, too many Americans believe the myth that their ancestors entered “legally” while so many of today’s immigrants enter “illegally.” Well, the truth is not so simple.

Until the 1920s, Europeans who came to the United States could just show up, without a visa, and were generally admitted. After the 1920s, there were also relatively easy avenues available to people to adjust their status while remaining in the country, even if they had entered without authorization. Those possibilities basically ended in 1965, and the consequence of this change has directly fed our current immigration challenges.

I, too, am an immigrant to this country. I have been fingerprinted, questioned, and held at its borders. I’ve been through its byzantine immigration process, and I have survived it all to find a mostly welcoming nation on the other side.

In my capacity as a writer, I’ve had the good fortune to travel all over this country, and I’ve always been impressed with the authentic generosity and warm hospitality of Americans when you meet them in person. Yet, I’ve also been struck by the seemingly endless need in the American character to punish abstract others, both foreign and domestic. Ending Daca is one of these cases.

We have choices as to the type of nation we want to be. Are we a welcoming people who prize compassion and enable opportunity, or are we a country that sees threats everywhere and is constantly poised to respond with damnable cruelty?

The Trump administration continues to pull us toward the crueler aspects of our character. I suspect they see this as a way of shoring up their diminishing support. But we, the people, can’t succumb to such disgraceful entreaties.

They’re trying not to lose their base. We, on the other hand, must do everything we can not to lose the soul of this proud immigrant nation.

Moustafa Bayoumi is the author of How Does It Feel To Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America



The downtrodden Arabs the world ignores

By Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor

6 September 2017

If you are unaware that millions of Arabs subsist in miserable conditions in Iran, you can be forgiven. The shameful fact is that their plight goes under the Arab world’s radar, and is rarely highlighted by either the Western or Arab media.

These are the forgotten Ahwazis of Arabistan, a region that was once under the dominion of the Ummayid and Abbasid caliphs. In 1925, it was annexed by the oil-hungry Reza Shah Pahlavi, who had its Arab ruler Sheikh Khaz’al of Muhammerah placed under arrest until his death.

As if life under the Pahlavi dynasty was not hard enough for the children of Arabistan, Iran tramples on every facet of their human rights, forces them to live in abject poverty and tries to obliterate their Arab identity. Many are in crisis mode, unable to care for their families. Some 81 percent of youths are unemployed because relocated Persians are given priority. They are beginning to lose all hope.

Last month alone, a young Ahwazi husband and father was seen on YouTube setting himself alight before dying in hospital. At least four other family men chose to hang themselves to escape Iran’s persecution and ethno-religious discrimination.

Moreover, their environment is being ruined by the bad practices of oil and chemical companies, resulting in desertification of farmland, polluted rivers, dead birds and fish, and a heightened prevalence of breathing difficulties. Whenever they come together to vent their legitimate frustrations, the regime cracks down even harder, arresting and often torturing demonstrators.

Despite all odds, these virtual prisoners on the soil that bore their ancestors are genuine Arab patriots — barring a small, disruptive minority of communists and those with allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood — who view their communities as the first line of defense against Iranian expansion, and as a buffer between Tehran and Gulf Arab states. No banning of their language, traditional clothing or names has succeeded in casting a shadow over their Arab minds and souls.

There was little differential made between Arab Sunnis and Shiites before the 1979 revolution, when Ayatollah Khomeini constructed a Shiite underclass mirage to serve his own ends. Iranians have been conned into believing that Sunnis and Arabs are their natural enemies, and that the ruling mullahs are the defenders of Shiism.

Iran only stands up for Shiites when it suits its economic interests or core agendas: Disseminating its medieval ideology and converting Arab countries into puppet states, with the ultimate goal of controlling Islam’s holiest sites.

A recent example of Tehran’s perfidiousness was during the conflict that erupted in April 2016 between overwhelmingly Shiite Azerbaijan and predominately Christian Armenia. Iran, which has long objected to Western oil giants operating on the Caspian shelf, adopted a pro-Armenia position.

Iran’s support of the Palestinian cause is another facade designed to win over gullible Arab nationalists. Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is quoted as saying: “We have benefited from this process in presenting the Palestinian issue, which was forgotten, and we were able, through this process, to find new relations with the outside world and develop them.”

It is an inescapable irony that despite the high horse with respect to Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine, Iran’s behavior toward its own Arab citizens mirrors that of the country it terms “The Little Satan.”

The Ahwazis have brave hearts and strong voices that are not being heard because they lack support, not only from the international community but also from the Arab world. Just like the Palestinians they seek an independent state, but they know that cannot be realized overnight.

In the meantime, they long for moral and diplomatic support from their Arab brethren, which until today has not been forthcoming. Specifically, they seek recognition by the Arab League in the form of a seat on the basis of associate or observer-state status.

I have been pushing hard for that for some time, but it seems there are two objecting states. No prize for guessing which. They are the two that have been enchained and stripped of their national dignity by Iranian surrogate leaderships.

Put simply, the Arab League is being indirectly led by a long and obstructive Persian nose. That sorry state of affairs should be acknowledged and rectified with a rule change allowing for, say, an 80 percent majority to carry resolutions.

Ahwazis have been let down time and time again, and were stabbed in the back by the political-militant organization Mujahedin-e Khalq, which purported to be their ally against Tehran. Their situation has been discussed in Britain’s House of Commons, attended by representatives of the UK Foreign Office, the US Embassy, human rights groups and parliamentarians, but no action has been taken.

Ahwazis are firmly with us. Young Ahwazi poet Ahmed Sabhan wrote heartfelt lines to Saudi King Salman glorifying his leadership in liberating Yemen from “Houthis of darkness,” before he and his wife were arrested and tortured.

In light of a disinterested community of nations and a shackled Arab League, I address my appeal to two compassionate Arab lions: King Salman and UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

Let us prove to these long-suffering people that they are not alone. Let us take up their banner and work for their cause. Let it ring loudly through the UN and be projected via Arab media. Let us shout from the rooftops that we are all proud members of one Arab nation that refuses to forget the loyal Ahwazis of Arabistan.

• Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs, his philanthropic activity and his efforts to promote peace. He has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad.



Why Egypt’s soft power has dwindled away

By Mohammed Nosseir

6 September 2017

An American politician, when asked why Egypt had not been invited to a regional meeting on Syria, replied: “What do you bring to the table?”

We Egyptians believe that we are entitled to play a leading role in every conflict in our region — but we do not think about what we can bring to the table as much as we do about securing a permanent seat at every table. Sadly, the Egyptian state has not yet realized that its political leverage in the region has almost disappeared.

The recent meeting in Paris hosted by the French President Emmanuel Macron for leaders of the conflicting political parties in Libya, to which Egypt was not invited, was a clear sign of our declining political role in the region, a role already weakened with the appointment a few weeks earlier of a former Lebanese minister as UN envoy to Libya.

I, and probably many Egyptians, belong to an old-fashioned and unrealistic school; we believe that, using its soft power, Egypt should take the lead in resolving all conflicts in our region. Unfortunately, the Egyptian state often dampens our aspirations by insisting on applying its outdated political thinking pattern.

If the Egyptian state today were to apply the proverb, “first deserve, then desire,” it would immediately become aware of its shrinking influence. Presuming to still possess the same degree of valid leverage, we overemphasize our political desires, neglecting to accurately assess our capabilities or to consider whether the solutions we bring to the table are even remotely acceptable to the conflicting parties. Our insistence on advocating from our perspective instead of playing a mediating role has shrunk Egypt’s political standing in the region; once recognized as a strong regional power, we are viewed today as a clearly biased party.

Our political activities in the region are shaped by our internal political dynamic and our bias toward our own viewpoints, causing us to perceive regional conflicts in the form of “Us v Them.”

With good reason, the Egyptian state does not want the Muslim Brotherhood or its affiliates to assume power in any of the region’s countries, period. Nevertheless, political Islamists have managed to gain a solid footing in many nations, which they would not give up easily, and some countries have integrated versions of political Islam into their governing mechanisms.

Our internal political dynamic has negatively affected our soft power capacity. By appointing exceptional state executives to undertake these tasks, Egypt used to be able to formulate constructive resolutions to political struggles and to persuade the conflicting parties to accept them. Most importantly, all parties were fully confident that Egypt had studied the conflict thoroughly and conceived the most suitable proposition for resolving it.

The functionality of our “soft power pillars” substantially buttressed former President Hosni Mubarak’s regional and international weight; he was able to play a constructive mediating role in the region, receiving the blessings of most Arab nations and of key western countries with vested interests and strong leverage in the Middle East. Sadly, this effort has almost vanished. The strings we used to manipulate have become quite fragile, and we are steadily becoming marginalized in the region that we used to lead.

By default, any nation’s power and leverage go through periods of ups and downs. Our present shortcomings, which have caused us to hit political rock bottom, lie in our misperception of current regional dynamics, of why conflicts have emerged and how they can be settled. Framing ourselves in an “Us v Them” situation has diminished our status; they are working to strengthen their position and we are being weakened because we listen only to ourselves.

Strength is better expressed inside out. Egypt can easily regain its political leverage in the region, starting by adopting a new domestic stance geared toward easing existing internal political tensions, re-establishing lost political pillars and relying on true experts rather than on sycophants. We must comprehend that, for better or worse, we cannot impose the political structure that we have applied in Egypt on other nations. We need instead to offer regional propositions that meet the needs of the current political dynamics of other nations — even if they contradict our desires.

Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNosseir



The poor state of our higher education

By Namia Akhtar

September 07, 2017

The protest on September 9, 2015 against the imposition of 7.5 percent VAT on private university tuition fees has to be understood as a mild response of the body to a chronic illness. When a patient suffering from a chronic disease faints, the patient is taken to the hospital and given medication that provides temporary relief to the body. Unless the patient receives continuous medical treatment, the disease remains uncured and the body continues to suffer internally even though external symptoms are occasionally visible.

The student protest was similar to the body's response to the chronic illness—that is, the country's deplorable state of higher education. The body has not been cured entirely; the disease remains!

I studied at the development studies programme of a private university for a year, but did not finish my degree out of extreme academic frustration. While we had the privilege of having excellent professors as our teachers, the facilities were absolutely deplorable, and academic standards were kept intentionally low to make the degree saleable. The library was not shelved with the latest available scholarly literature nor was there any common reading room. I know some professors who resigned in protest against these practices.

Despite charging exorbitant tuition fees, private universities often fail to provide adequate facilities, which speak of their exploitative nature. Students are merely economic objects to these universities. Most of them function as corporate entities seducing students with the lure of a “golden future” that awaits them once they finish their degrees, a prospect that rarely becomes a reality.

In Bangladesh, universities in general—private or public—lack an environment for free thinking. There are mainly two types of barriers to free speech in classroom: one is an institutional restriction imposed on the academic, and the other imposed by the academic on the student. Most academics cannot speak or interact as they want because of constraints imposed by institutional guidelines.

According to Foucault, the purpose of institutions is to manufacture homogeneous minds that support a particular discourse, or rebel within limitations to challenge the status quo. The second category of restriction on free speech—imposed by the academic on the student—does not necessarily arise due to institutional restrictions on free thinking; it largely takes place due to the existence of a profound belief in the academia that students must subscribe to the views of their instructors. So instead of being trained to challenge and question the status quo, our students are being trained in a manner that promotes a particular ideology. This is a passive process of indoctrination, one that most students do not understand.

In his theory about the three faces of power, Steven Lukes argues that the manifestation of power is internalised, ingrained within individuals. As a consequence of the internalisation of a particular belief system—which, in this regard, is the intellectual correctness of the teacher as well as the intellectual inferiority of the students—the students do not protest or raise objections to such an authoritarian academic environment. On the contrary, in the Western universities, professors treat students as intellectual peers.

Liberal arts and humanities are the backbone of any civilisation as these produce thinkers who shape or create a society. Thus, the curricula of our universities need to be intellectually challenging to produce great thinkers and scholars. However, instead of grounding students in solid theoretical knowledge for better understanding and critical analysis, our liberal arts and social sciences education is centred exclusively on factual scholarly literature which does not provide nourishment for the intellect. Education at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels is still based on traditional lectures, rather than seminar sessions.

Moreover, even at the more accepted public universities, with the exception of a few departments, writing term papers are not mandatory for the students. Term papers or essays help develop critical and analytical skills as well as writing skills that are essential in the workplace. On occasions where writing papers are mandatory, students can secure respectable grades through one form of plagiarism or another.

New research suggests that there is a mismatch between skills sought by the employers and skills possessed by the graduates. As a consequence, our education system is creating a class of “educated unemployeds.” This is happening because Bangladesh does not have a culture of hiring Student Assistants who will be engaged in research or other administrative tasks of the universities. They are almost non-existent, with the exception of a few job openings at the libraries, as universities do not invest sufficient funds in research. More research funds need to be allocated to create an intellectual society that would not only create an efficient workforce, but also a more tolerant society.

I think the government can enact a law making it compulsory for the universities—both public and private—to produce quality research that are of national significance. Poor-quality research is the reason Bangladeshi universities are yet to catch up with their Indian or even Pakistani counterparts.

The students might have been successful in removing VAT, but they are yet to acquire a high quality education. One of the crucial steps to attain that reform would be to make the financial information of all universities public in order to ensure the efficient utilisation of funds. In addition, academic institutions must nurture an environment of academic freedom that encourages free thinking both among the academics and the students. In addition, academics must also encourage students to think independently rather than indoctrinating them with their own ideology.

Namia Akhtar is a Masters student of South Asian Studies at Universität Heidelberg, Germany.



Remembering Saleh Chowdhury: A journalist and freedom fighter

By Manzoor Ahmed

September 07, 2017

Saleh Chowdhury, veteran journalist, freedom fighter, and president of the Bangladesh chapter of Commonwealth Journalists Association, passed away on September 1, at age 82.

Journalism was his vocation and avocation; but in April 1971, he left behind his wife and a young son, journeyed to his home in Sunamganj bordering the Indian state of Meghalaya, and took up arms to fight the Pakistani predators. No matter that he had absolutely no military training or experience, and he was the gentlest human being. But when the call of conscience came, he had no hesitation about what to do.

Saleh was a fighter for freedom in all its dimensions—a fighter against human indignity and bigotry in all forms, and a true protagonist of a generosity of spirit that embraced all who came into his circle.

We first met in 1955 as first-year college students in Murari Chand College in Sylhet. Senior in age by a few years, he came up to me and struck an acquaintance that was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. He had many ideas—interesting, esoteric, and not often practical—but some struck a chord, and we became co-adventurers in many initiatives.

Deeply interested in writing and literature, Saleh recruited his friends including myself to start a literary journal called Ishara, which did not last long. Co-curricular activities at the college were another area that attracted us. We participated in the activities of college students' unions, cultural events and even occasionally embarked on protests against certain political moves of the government or some inane administrative steps of the college authorities.

I had gone off with a scholarship to the American University of Beirut just before General Ayub's military coup and martial law in October 1958. Saleh completed his BA and moved to Dhaka in search of a job, preferably in a newspaper—not easy to come by if one aspired to get a living wage. A chance encounter with the Dean of the Department of Social Work of the Punjab University impressed the dean enough that led to an offer of a scholarship to Saleh for a master's level study at the Punjab University.

For Saleh, the Punjab University days brought into sharp relief the fault lines in the religion-based nation-state premise. At the same time, true to his generous and humanistic credos, Saleh developed an appreciation of the life and culture of the common people in Punjab, and formed some personal lifelong friendships.

On return from Lahore, with a few interesting detours, as a teacher in the newly established University Laboratory School of Dhaka University, and short journalistic forays into several newspapers, Saleh landed in the then Dainik Pakistan, later Dainik Bangla, where he continued till he retired as a Senior Editor.

On return from the battlefront in December 1971, with the declaration of victory, Saleh rejoined Dainik Bangla in his old position as the Assistant Editor. Characteristically, and ignoring advice from well-wishers, he never tried to parlay his freedom fighter's credential to claim a higher position or any other advantage. Many years later, in 2014, someone noticed that Saleh had never been paid the freedom fighter's allowance that was his entitlement. When the accumulated amount was finally paid, he donated it to build memorials for his fallen comrades in Sunamganj.

Saleh Chowdhury was a person of many talents. He dabbled in painting and drawing, sculpture, poetry and literary writing, and writing for children. In any of these fields he could have excelled, if he concentrated hard enough. Restless and impatient, chronicling and commenting on the contemporary scene as a journalist seemed to suit him most. But he maintained a lively interest and engagement in all the other fields.

Saleh had a particularly close personal relationship with two of the giants of Bangla literature—poet Shamsur Rahman and novelist Humayun Ahmed. He compiled and edited several volumes of the collected works of Humayun, who called him Nanaji. As a colleague of Shamsur Rahman, who was for a time the editor of Dainik Bangla, a government-owned newspaper, Saleh was a counsel and confidante in navigating the often politically treacherous waters for a poet with sensitivity and integrity.

Saleh's creative works, such as a brief volume on his memoir and one on his interaction with Humayun Ahmed, were in a light and journalistic vein, in which his generous spirit, old-school aristocracy, and forgiving nature shone. He expressed the wish to write more on his experience as a journalist and the contemporary times, and his take on the creative talent and popularity of Humayun. This is not to be any more.

Manzoor Ahmed is professor emeritus at BRAC University.



With Assad back in control, Syria is getting rid of Daesh

By Liz Sly

September 6, 2017

The relief of the garrison was announced in a Syrian army statement and coincided with a renewed focus by Assad's government on Daesh-controlled areas of eastern Syria.

The Syrian army broke a three-year siege by Daesh on an enclave of the eastern Syrian city of Deir Al Zour, offering a fresh boost to the fortunes of President Bashar Assad and his once-flagging army.

After weeks of fierce fighting, Syrian soldiers trundled into the besieged garrison of soldiers at a base known as Brigade 137 and moved on to a cluster of nearby neighbourhoods, where they were greeted by wildly cheering residents.

On a day when the Syrian soccer team kept alive the country's hopes of competing for the first time in the World Cup, a mood of national celebration swept government-controlled areas of Syria. State television broadcast scenes of ecstatic crowds dancing in the streets and waving Syrian flags in what turned into the biggest national celebration the country has seen since the war erupted six years ago.

The victory also set the stage for a global race to control the rest of the desert province, also named Deir Al Zour, which the U S has also been preparing to liberate from Daesh fighters still entrenched there.

The relief of the garrison was announced in a Syrian army statement and coincided with a renewed focus by Assad's government on Daesh-controlled areas of eastern Syria. It bolsters the argument made by Assad that his forces, and not the US-backed fighters farther north, should take responsibility for liberating the remaining areas of Syria controlled by Daesh.

"This is a strategic turning point in the war on terror," said the statement, which was read by a general live on Syrian state television. The push by Assad's forces to relieve Deir Al Zour, in an offensive that began this year, was spurred in part by Syrian concerns about statements from the Trump administration that the US military would soon turn its attention to areas of Deir Al-Zour province, analysts say. US officials have said that after securing the city of Raqqa - in the province of Raqqa - where an offensive by US-backed Kurdish and Arab forces is entering its fourth month, they will prepare forces to advance south into Deir Al Zour, in part to prevent further expansion by the Iranian-backed militias fighting alongside the Syrian army in the strategically vital area adjoining Iraq.

The biggest question now is where Syrian government forces will head next, and whether they plan to press on into the rest of the city of Deir Al Zour or turn their attention farther east and south, to the other parts of the province for which the United States is preparing forces.

They are most likely to choose to preempt any further US-backed advances by continuing to head east toward the Iraqi border, and to focus on securing main roads in and out of the country to assert Syria's sovereignty over its borders, said Kamal Alam, an analyst with the London-based Royal United Services Institute.

The army was aided in the fight, as in most of its previous battles, by Iranian-backed militias, as well as by Russian advisers and Russian airstrikes. Russia's Defense Ministry has said that one of its warships in the eastern Mediterranean had fired cruise missiles into the area in support of the Syrian army.

The battle nonetheless showcased the recent improvements in the capabilities of the army, which had been worn down by defeats and defections earlier in the war and had to be rescued by a Russian military intervention in 2015.

Whereas Iranian assistance to Assad has focused on building up militias drawn mostly from Iraq, Russia has focused on rebuilding the army, Alam said. "The goal of the Russians was to bring the army back to prewar capacity," he said. "Every month, its capability has been improving, and as they freed up territory, they freed up more people to fight."

The victory added to a string of military and political successes in recent months for Assad, who is seeking to consolidate his hold in Damascus.

The relative success of a Russian cease-fire initiative creating de-escalation zones around rebel-controlled areas has  helped free up government forces to focus on the Daesh-held areas in the country's east.

Loyalist forces have made brisk progress through Daesh lines across the near-empty desert terrain stretching east from the central city of Palmyra toward Deir Al Zour.

As the advancing forces drove through the vast base, a few dozen of the liberated soldiers ran through the desert and embraced them to cries of "God is great" and "God, Syria, Bashar," according to a live broadcast by state television.

When the relieving Syrian troops reached the adjoining neighbourhoods, they were greeted by wildly cheering crowds waving Syrian flags and photographs of Assad. Deir Al Zour is a majority-Sunni city, and the areas that were freed have remained loyal to Assad throughout the six-year war.

The army's success there will also give a boost to the Syrian government's intensive efforts in recent months to recruit the support of tribes in the area, reinforcing its bid to wrest back the remainder of the province, Schneider said. -The Washington Post

Liz Sly is the Post's Beirut bureau chief. She has spent more than 15 years covering the Middle East, including the Iraq war



Sadiq Khan is right: only London can solve its own housing crisis

By Jonn Elledge

6 September 2017

Sadiq Khan has a plan. The mayor of London may not have made great strides to solve the capital’s housing crisis so far – but it is, he likes to remind people, a marathon not a sprint, and slowly his plan is coming into view. A draft of his long-awaited housing strategy, published today, outlines plans to spend £250m buying and preparing land for new affordable housing.

Fixing this problem, though, is going to be an expensive business – so earlier this week, Khan also outlined a nifty way of doubling his £3.5bn affordable housing fund at a stroke. The main tax that has grown fat off the capital’s increasingly silly house prices, after all, is the stamp duty paid when they change hands. Revenues from stamp duty stood at £1bn in 2008; by last year, they’d soared to £3.4bn.

Since there’s a correlation between the size of those revenues and the size of London’s housing crisis, it makes sense to use the former to tackle the latter. All the mayor needs to do is persuade the Treasury to hand control of that money to City Hall, and – oh dear, I think I’ve just spotted the flaw in this plan.

Devolving stamp duty receipts isn’t quite as radical a step as it may appear. Khan’s predecessor Boris Johnson proposed something similar, and although there has been some grumbling from Tories in the London assembly, the idea has cross-party support. The real political faultline on this issue is between London politicians, who want more money devolved, and the Treasury, which – regardless of who is in Downing Street or how the economy is doing – has consistently treated fiscal devolution with a mixture of scorn and fear.

Despite the lack of support from the chancellor, Philip Hammond, the problem with Khan’s idea is not that it’s unreasonable: if anything, it’s that it’s not radical enough. Housing, after all, is both London’s biggest crisis and its biggest cash cow. It doesn’t feel like it should be beyond the wit of man to balance the two.

But London is a British city – and British cities have none of the financial freedoms required to do much of anything. Cash-strapped councils are empowered to flog their land to developers to plug the yawning gaps in their budgets, which is great, unless you’re a tenant or a taxpayer. But levy their own taxes, issue their own bonds, make their own investments? Not a hope.

It wasn’t always thus. A century ago, government was largely a local affair, meaning that councils were left to solve their own problems and build the things their citizens needed. We’re still familiar with the idea of council housing and local authority schools, even if both have been on their way out for some time, but in its heyday municipal government did far more than that: running its own tram and trolleybus networks, dealing with its own water supplies, even producing its own power.

In the 70 years since the war, however, money and power has gradually drained away to Whitehall. Explanations abound as to why: the need to nationalise to avoid postcode lotteries; corruption and mismanagement in local government; the tendency by ministers of one party to see councils run by another as nothing more than the enemy within.

Whatever the reasons, though, the result is that Britain has become one of the most centralised countries in the developed world, a place where national government sees councils as little more than its branch offices. All that’s left of the glory days is palatial Victorian town halls, full of empty rooms where important decisions were once taken.

How we can solve this is not immediately clear. George Osborne promised to devolve control over business rates with one hand, while snatching away government grants with the other. All this was supposed to encourage councils to attract more businesses in search of the money they’d bring with them, but in a country as divided as ours the inevitable result was that councils in rich areas got richer while those in poor ones fell off a cliff. Simply removing the subsidy from the system means that services will inevitably start to fail.

The same problem would apply to Khan’s stamp duty proposals, were they to be rolled out nationally. But that, really, is the point: the challenges faced, and solutions required, by different cities are too different for any one policy to fit all. In London, the problem is housing. In other cities, it’s often transport, facilities or skills.

There’s no easy fix for the funding gap – but the fact that transport investments in Bradford still have to win attention and approval from mandarins in Whitehall is self-evidently ridiculous. Sadiq Khan’s proposals to tackle London’s housing crisis may or may not work. But he was right about one thing: the Treasury needs to give up control.

• Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman’s cities site, CityMetric



We must act fast to stop far-right groups targeting military personnel

By Jacob Davey

6 September 2017

The arrests of five current servicemen who were allegedly members of the banned neo-Nazi group National Action is the latest event in a year in which extreme-right activism and violence have risen significantly around the world.

We’re not sure what the evidence is against these individuals - and, of course, they must be treated as innocent until proved guilty – but we do know that recently we have seen one extreme right- inspired terrorist attack in the UK, another in the US, neo-Nazis and white nationalists taking to the streets in a number of US cities, and a boat of alt-right activists take to the Mediterranean with the intention of disrupting the migrant flow to Europe.

It is important not to blame the military here; they were instrumental in these recent arrests. However, globally we have seen a number of instances of extreme-right violence and terror plots tied to the armed forces.

The German Military Counterespionage Service is currently investigating 275 cases of suspected far-right extremism. Earlier this year two soldiers from the German army were arrested for allegedly plotting to carry out a shooting attack on leftwing politicians. In the US two of the white supremacist groups active at the recent Charlottesville march – Vanguard America and Identity Evropa – were founded by former US Marines.

More broadly a comprehensive study examining lone-actor terrorism, which the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) undertook with three other thinktanks, found that 13 out of 120 perpetrators had national military experience, and 10 of these were motivated by extreme-right wing ideology.

n a UK setting the Islamophobic street protest movement the English Defence League (EDL), has an “armed forces division” Facebook page with more than 14,000 likes. Analysis of this page suggests a number of supporters appear to be from current or former servicemen, while Britain First has hijacked Remembrance Day for both publicity stunts and fund-raising opportunities. Indeed, extreme-right groups often post in support of the British Armed Forces and actively fundraise for charities connected to the armed forces. In many cases activism by far-right groups mutually reinforces efforts by Islamist extremists, as illustrated by the 2010 clashes in Wootton Bassett between Islam4UK and the EDL.

Recruitment among current and former members of the armed forces is something we must be aware of and devise a strategy to prevent. Previous research has shown that attacks undertaken by those with military experience can be more lethal. Access to and knowledge of explosives and weapons ensures that current and ex-servicemen represent a high-risk group and a valuable prize for terrorist recruiters.

This is evidenced by the recent trial of Ciaran Maxwell, a former Royal Marine who amassed a large arsenal of bomb-making materials for dissident Irish republicans; the 2012 case of Fraser Rae, a veteran who served in Iraq and threatened to blow up Glasgow central mosque; and the 2010 case of former soldier Terrance Gavan, a BNP member who built an arsenal of improvised explosive devices.

In addition to this, servicemen and women are vulnerable to a range of social harms after discharge from the military. Homelessness is a large problem facing veterans, and a large number find it difficult to adjust to civilian life, suffering from mental health issues. Research suggests a link between social isolation and mental-health disorders in far-right terrorist plotters. The ability to leverage such vulnerabilities is an important tool for extremist recruiters across the spectrum, with a disconnect from society being an important factor in recruiting individuals to Islamic State.

However, these vulnerability factors would not necessarily apply to serving soldiers. National Action’s recruitment approach actively targets young people through the dissemination of propaganda materials both on and offline, a large amount of which is still readily available on open social media channels.

This matches patterns which we can see in the US context, where alienated young white men are actively targeted by extreme-right recruiters, with American neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin calling for the weaponisation of internet culture to target young people. Furthermore, the current ideology of the extreme right plays heavily on tropes of masculinity, and encourages preparedness for violence through involvement in martial arts.

There must be an increase in support structures for current and former members of the armed forces, including the provision of mental healthcare and awareness among the military of how these vulnerabilities can be leveraged by extremist groups. Greater investment must be made in strategies to disrupt extreme-right messaging and recruitment on the internet.

The same efforts that have been made to remove terrorist content related to Islamist extremist groups from mainstream platforms must now be applied to the propaganda of proscribed extreme-right groups such as National Action. The extreme right represents a real threat in the near future that must be taken seriously.

Jacob Davey is a project coordinator at the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue. He researches strategies for countering the extreme right



Bahrain is buying arms in London – and my family is paying the price

By Sayed Alwadaei

6 September 2017

Next week the giant Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair returns to the Excel centre in east London. The protests have already started. As a Bahraini living in exile in Britain, I’ve previously joined them. I’m far from happy that Bahraini officials can pop over to London to do their weapons shopping when security forces are shooting peaceful protesters back in Bahrain.

Yet, as things stand I’m not sure how safe it will be for me or my family if I go to Docklands and hold up a protest placard. That’s because I’m one of a number of Bahrainis in the UK who are suffering reprisals whenever we put our heads above the parapet.

When the Bahraini king Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa visited the UK last October, I took part in a small street protest as his motorcade cruised into Downing Street. For this I was briefly arrested and released without charge. The next day, on 27 October, I got a 5am telephone call from my mother-in-law in Bahrain. She was sobbing down the line. “They’ve taken Duaa. They arrested her, and they took Yousif away too.” This was my wife and my 18-month-old son. About to board a plane back to Britain after a family visit, they’d been pulled aside at the departure lounge in Bahrain International airport. Security proceeded to intimidate my wife in a seven-hour interrogation. I was referred to as an “animal”, my wife was assaulted and it was made clear to her that she wouldn’t be leaving the country and might face criminal charges.

This seemed to me a clear reprisal after my protest on British soil just hours earlier. On this occasion, the Bahraini authorities backed down. My son is an American citizen and US diplomatic pressure combined with media coverage led to the authorities letting them out of the country a few days later.

But my family is still far from safe. In March, my wife’s mother, brother and cousin were all arrested. Again, the interrogation revolved around my activities in the UK. They were tortured into “confessing” their involvement in “planting fake bombs”. It’s a complete fabrication – I’m the real target. Unable to arrest me, they’ve targeted my extended family. I have relatives still in prison.

One would think this kind of behaviour would ring alarm bells in Britain. Shouldn’t the government be asking serious questions about all this? Isn’t intimidating a resident of Britain an outrage that flies in the face of British values of free speech and democracy? Apparently not if it means ruffling feathers in the Gulf.

A few weeks after my wife’s arrest, Theresa May’s visit to Bahrain focused solely on security and trade. Human rights were ignored. Similarly, the Foreign Office’s recent human rights report referred to a “mixed picture” in Bahrain, enormously downplayed the seriousness of the human rights crackdown still prevailing in the country, and generally did its utmost to accentuate supposed positives.

My family and I are not alone in feeling betrayed by the UK’s silences and doubletalk. When Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was sentenced to two years in prison for giving media interviews, we watched as international condemnation of the silencing of a brave critic came in. The USA, Germany, Norway, the EU, the UN – all deplored the sentence and called for his release. But the UK stayed quiet. Weeks later, in response to a parliamentary question, a British minister merely said the UK had “noted” Rajab’s sentence.

Giving Bahrain a free pass on abuses has consequences. The country’s National Security Agency was granted law enforcement powers in January. Activist Ebtisam Al-Sayegh was arrested and charged under anti-terrorism laws for reporting the rape and torture of another activist by its agents. Meanwhile, military courts have been empowered to prosecute civilians, torture victims have been executed, and five protesters were killed in a single day in May. The last major opposition party has also been dissolved and Bahrain’s only independent newspaper was forced to close in June.

Amnesty International has recorded “disastrous decline” in human rights in the country over the past year. But no matter – the UK is invested in a story of a “reformist” Bahrain. Since 2012, the UK has spent more than £5m on public order training for Bahrain’s security forces and on advice over supposed accountability institutions. The results are tragically perverse: Bahrain’s abusers have been emboldened while the government-to-government contact has been presented by Manama’s well-oiled PR machine as evidence of “reform”.

The UK’s unethical position on Bahrain is part and parcel of a wider, post-Brexit UK policy on the wealthy Gulf dictatorships. Why else would it also cosy up to rich but repressive Saudi Arabia, selling billions’ worth of arms despite the carnage this is creating in Yemen?

Five years ago, I fled Bahrain after being arrested, tortured and prosecuted for speaking to journalists during the Arab spring. My campaigning work on human rights and democracy are anathema to the Bahraini authorities and I’ve been stripped of my citizenship and rendered stateless. I expected smears and reprisals against myself, but not my family.

I’m still thinking of joining fellow protesters outside the DSEI arms fair. After all, the UK is a democracy and this right to peacefully protest is one of the things I most cherish about my new home. But isn’t it time the UK government stopped looking the other way when so-called friends in the Gulf target people for peacefully protesting in the heart of our own capital city?

Sayed Alwadaei is the director of advocacy at Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy in London



Immigrants Shouldn’t Have to Be ‘Talented’ to Be Welcome

By Masha Gessen

SEPT. 6, 2017

The terms of the debate over President Trump’s decision to revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are familiar, as are the terms of the larger conversation about immigration in this country: On one side are hardworking immigrants; on the other are politicians who wrongly claim that these immigrants harm the economic interests of native-born Americans.

As protests broke out across the United States in response to Mr. Trump’s move, reporters and immigrant advocates stressed that the administration’s actions will hurt achievers — people who have graduated from college, people who have bought houses, people who work for high-tech companies.

There is nothing wrong with this story. It’s one that most, if not all, immigrants like to tell about themselves — even if their actual story doesn’t neatly fit the narrative. In fact, as Hannah Arendt pointed out in her essay “We Refugees,” written in 1943 at the height of the 20th century’s refugee crisis, people whose stories fit the narrative least well — the most desperate and the worst-wounded of the immigrants — are especially invested in thinking of themselves as destined for success and, of course, as future loyal citizens.

But something goes awry when this becomes the dominant story told about immigrants in America. This has been happening for a number of years: The good people of America talk about immigrants as hard workers who conscientiously contribute to the economy. (I myself have made it onto a few lists of exemplary immigrant success stories.) In fact, DACA was designed to reward achievement: to qualify for the program, an applicant had to be in school or hold a high school diploma or equivalent, or have been honorably discharged from the armed forces. Those who hadn’t been able or lucky to meet those requirements were apparently deemed unworthy of staying in the country where they had lived since they were children.

When Mr. Trump issued an executive order banning entry by citizens of predominantly Muslim countries, American technology companies responded with a lawsuit in which they stressed that immigrants have founded and run many large tech companies. The revocation of DACA has brought forth similar — and much-quoted — responses from Silicon Valley. When the president threw his support behind a reform plan that would drastically reduce immigration to this country, editorial writers argued against it by pointing out that immigrants benefit the economy.

These arguments usually begin by stating that America is a “land of immigrants.” This not only is an insult to Native Americans and the descendants of those who were brought to this country against their will but also constitutes a sort of sleight of hand. It turns the stories of individual immigrants into the “story of America.” It’s one thing for individuals to base their sense of self-worth on their contribution to the American economy. It’s quite another to claim that America values immigrants because of this contribution: This paves the way to thinking that America should make decisions about immigrants based on whether they benefit the economy. It can even reframe giving safe haven to the persecuted as giving jobs to the well qualified.

This is neither new nor specific to Republicans. Hillary Clinton’s campaign promised comprehensive immigration reform that would “bring millions of hardworking people into the formal economy.” Bernie Sanders’s platform promised to build an immigration system that would “match our labor market needs.” Responding to DACA’s repeal, the Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer mentioned “hardworking” people whose “contributions are vital to our economy.”

But what’s wrong with the decision to discontinue DACA is that people — not workers — will be deported. Lives — not careers — will be shattered. The problem is that it’s inhumane. As long as politicians consider it necessary to qualify the victims as “hardworking” or “talented,” they fail to stand up to the administration’s fundamentally hateful immigration agenda.

The reform package backed by Mr. Trump last month also claims to pursue economic aims. Neither Democrats nor Republicans — nor critics in the news media — have taken issue with this underlying premise: They have largely argued that the package proposes the wrong means for reaching economic ends. The plan would limit immigration to the young, highly educated and highly qualified. It would effectively stop immigrants from being able to bring family members to the United States. If an immigrant is but a cog in the economic machine, then what do parents, children and siblings matter? The logic is dehumanizing but hardly new or unique to the Republican Party. Mr. Sanders’s campaign plank argued for preserving family-based visas in the following terms: “Family is integral to a worker’s pursuit of happiness and economic productivity.”

Mr. Sanders’s platform made the barest mention of refugees. Mrs. Clinton’s published program made none. Mr. Trump, of course, wanted to drastically reduce the already small number of refugees that the United States accepts.

Refugees don’t fall into the economic logic of immigration. The argument for accepting refugees is not that they are good — for the economy, or for the country’s ability to meet its international obligations, or even because they are good people — but that America is good. This is where the sleight of hand of turning stories of immigrant success into the story of America becomes dangerous. It’s not immigrants’ economic contribution that makes America proud; it’s its adherence to the words inscribed inside the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor/your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” — from the Emma Lazarus poem that the White House adviser Stephen Miller waved away last month during a news conference on immigration reform.

The controversy following Mr. Miller’s comments focused on the poem. But the argument for refugees is less poetic than it is pragmatic. As Arendt wrote in that essay, “the outlawing of the Jewish people in Europe has been followed closely by the outlawing of most European nations.” This was just a first step, Arendt wrote: “The comity of European peoples went to pieces when, and because, it allowed its weakest member to be excluded and persecuted.”

If immigration is debated only in terms of whether it benefits the economy, politicians begin to divide people into two categories: “valuable” and “illegal.” When countries make people illegal, the world comes apart. When we agree to talk about people as cogs, we lose our humanity.

Masha Gessen (@mashagessen) is a contributing opinion writer and the author of the forthcoming “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia.”



Guatemala’s Democratic Crisis Point

By Anita Isaacs

SEPT. 6, 2017

HAVERFORD, PA. — Guatemala is facing a moment of political reckoning. Last Sunday, the country woke to the news that President Jimmy Morales had expelled Iván Velásquez, the commissioner heading the United Nations panel charged with eradicating the country’s organized-crime networks. Within hours Guatemala’s Constitutional Court provisionally blocked Mr. Morales’s decree. Whether the president follows the court’s ruling will determine the future of Guatemala’s already fragile democracy.

The timing of Mr. Morales’s move is not accidental. At a news conference held hours earlier, Mr. Velásquez and Attorney General Thelma Aldana had asked Guatemala’s courts to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president for failing to report $825,000 in illicit contributions to his 2015 electoral campaign. And within the coming weeks his brother and son are to be tried on corruption charges.

Mr. Morales’s actions represent more than a personal vendetta against the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, known by its initials in Spanish as Cicig, and its commissioner. There is little daylight between the president and a group of shadowy former military officers, responsible for heinous war crimes and organized crime. In 2015, after the previous president and vice president resigned under corruption allegations, they handpicked Mr. Morales, a political outsider and popular comedian, who ran a campaign under the slogan “No more corruption, no more thieves.”

The Cicig and the attorney general took Mr. Morales at his word. Assuming his support, they widened the scope of their corruption investigations, uncovering webs of organized crime permeating the electoral process, and implicating the business community and politicians, including members of Mr. Morales’s political party. Bankers, politicians and army officers increasingly crowd Guatemala’s jails.

One would think that an anti-corruption campaign would have broad support. But Mr. Morales has a coterie of allies. With a fifth of Congress currently facing impeachment proceedings and scores likely to follow suit, the nation’s political class has mostly lined up behind him. Its most powerful business organization issued a tepid response to Mr. Velásquez’s expulsion. The popular media, monopolized by a corrupt Mexican oligarch, is spreading fake news, whipping up popular frenzy and confusing a population that has scant access to the internet and alternative sources of information.

The army, itself immersed in organized crime, has likewise hedged its bets. It remains in the barracks for now, simultaneously endorsing the constitutional order and supporting its commander in chief.

That’s not to say that Mr. Velásquez and the commission lack support. Much of the same rainbow coalition of students, activists and indigenous communities that mobilized two years ago to demand the resignation of the president and vice president have taken to the streets in favor of the embattled commissioner. They have also filed court injunctions charging Mr. Morales with abusing his authority. A few business leaders have added their voices to the chorus. Key civil servants have taken a strong stand, and a cabinet member and several advisers have quit while others are fighting from within to contain Mr. Morales and preserve the constitutional order.

The international community has also been vocal in supporting Mr. Velásquez and the commission. Foreign ambassadors huddled in the commission compound in a display of solidarity with Mr. Velásquez. In an unusual show of bipartisanship from Washington, Republicans and Democrats issued unequivocal messages of support — after all, a Guatemala in chaos is fertile terrain for even more aggressive organized crime, potentially destabilizing a fragile region and driving more people north.

What comes next is anyone’s guess. If Mr. Morales wins, he and his allies in the government and organized crime would be emboldened to go further, emptying the jails and putting an end to reform efforts. But he’s not a fool; faced with enough backlash, he might beat a tactical retreat and forge a rapprochement with Mr. Velásquez that allows reform to go ahead.

While the standoff remains, neither Guatemala nor the international community can stand still. They need to act to protect the commissioner, the commission and the rule of law. Ms. Aldana and the ministry of justice should double down, taking current trials forward, continuing to root out corrupt practices and agitating for more judicial reforms. She has been pushing to remove Mr. Morales’s immunity from prosecution, and on Monday, Guatemala’s Supreme Court ruled that the matter should be decided by the country’s Congress.

Civil society needs to play a lieutenant’s role. Two years ago after the Justice Now movement ousted a corrupt president and vice president, it went into hibernation. Reawakened today, it needs to remain ever alert and pugnacious in pursuit of the justice it seeks, despite threats of repression.

The international community can play a critically important supporting role. The United Nations and others need to fight mightily for Mr. Velásquez, a fierce champion of justice who exemplifies everything the United Nations stands for, and for a commission that is one of their biggest success stories. It is hard to imagine how to replace Mr. Velásquez. There are few such fierce, principled and resolved champions of justice, and even fewer who would be interested in stepping in to lead a debilitated commission, under sustained attack and with just 19 months left in its mandate.

The American government has an opportunity to match its supportive rhetoric with concrete action. It can use its leverage to keep the army in the barracks and to lean heavily on recalcitrant elites. Military assistance can be cut. Wealthy Guatemalans and politicians who choose graft over justice can be denied the visas that permit their children to study in the United States, and they themselves to visit their second homes. If the commission’s hands are tied, even temporarily, the United States can intensify its investigations of fishy financial transactions made by the same elites in the American banking system.

The United States also has an opportunity to make good use of $270 million earmarked for development and security assistance in Central America as part of the region’s Plan for Prosperity.

No one element of the anti-corruption coalition can succeed alone. Playing on one another’s strengths and capacities, they can collectively strengthen Guatemalan institutions to ensure that the violence and poverty that fuel crime and migration are mitigated, and that Guatemalan democracy pulls back from the brink.

Anita Isaacs is a professor of political science at Haverford College.



Technology industry is being politicized

By Ersu Ablak


By default, the technology industry has always supported freedom of speech and progressive policies, because in order to be innovative you need to be more open to the world. We are living in difficult times, the old status quo is being shaken and there is a big shift in the world. The world is being divided into two different types of people. The ones who want more freedom, liberty, progress, a new type of society and the ones that like to stick to old fashion societal models. I am very much an outsider to American politics, but I feel that Trump represents the people who want to keep things as they are or better, to go back a hundred years ago to when people were treated based on their color, beliefs and their parents’ place in society.

The best-selling author of Homo Deus; A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Hariri underlines that the dichotomy will be very severe. He says that people will not be divided according to their genetics or family ties, but whether they can acquire the skills necessary for future centuries or not. He says there will be strong clashes in between the people who have no skills, and those who are skillful in the division of spoils of future technologies.

I think that the clash between the technology industry in the U.S. and Trump is just the beginning of the clashes that Hariri speaks about.

The technology industry is one of the most tolerant industries of all. Because if a person can write a decent code, his/her gender, skin color, family connections, etc. do not matter at all. If a person can design, her surname does not matter at all. All that matters is the work that a person can present to be successful in the technology industry.

However, the same cannot be said for the politics industry. The lawmakers and the leaders of political parties do not usually come from rich families with strong networks and famous surnames. They are more often than not, people who were born with silver spoons in their mouths.

Therefore, the self-made technologists and politicians usually disagree on many things. These disagreements are slowly turning into influence wars and public relations battles.

That’s why The Guardian writes that “While the big banks and pharma giants have flexed their economic muscle in the country’s capital for decades, there’s one relative newcomer that has leapfrogged them all:

Silicon Valley. Over the last 10 years, America’s five largest tech firms have flooded Washington with lobbying money to the point where they now outspend Wall Street two to one. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon spent $49m on Washington lobbying last year, and there is a well-oiled revolving door of Silicon Valley executives to and from senior government positions.”

The latest incidence made the divide between the tech industry and legislators very visible.

According to CNBC, Microsoft responded strongly to the Trump administration’s decision on Tuesday to move toward rescinding or replacing DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) within six months.

“There is nothing that we will be pushing on more strongly for congress to act on,” Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith said in an interview with NPR. “We put a stake in the ground. We care about a tax reform bill,” Smith said, noting that the entire business community cares about one but that this needs to be settled first.

Smith added that it won’t be easy for the government to deport Microsoft employees who are DREAMers: “[The government’s] going to have to go through us to get that person,” Smith said.

This is not a very soft statement and it is probably not the last one we will hear from technology firms about legislators in the future.

The technology industry will become more and more politicized, as the clash between people who are skilled and out to change the world and people who are dependent upon heritage alone and don’t want to change, has started.


URL: http://newageislam.com/world-press/new-age-islam-edit-bureau/let-s-open-our-hearts-to-the-suffering-rohingya-new-age-islam’s-selection,-07-09-17/d/112453


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