Thursday, May 12, 2016

Using Islamophobia for Electoral Gains: New Age Islam's Selection, 12 May 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau
12 May 2016
Using Islamophobia for Electoral Gains
By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
The Situation in Gaza Requires Immediate Action
By Sultan Barakat
Welcome Realism and Goodbye Comfort Zones
By Eyad Abu Shakra
Tunisia: Between Terrorism and Tourism
By Lina Khatib
Hunger and Conflicts Walk Hand In Hand
By José Graziano Da Silva
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Using Islamophobia for Electoral Gains
By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
12 May 2016
The election of Sadiq Khan as the mayor of London should serve as a lesson to those politicians who are under the wrong impression that they could make electoral gains by fanning anti-Muslim or anti-Islam sentiments.
Despite all dirty tricks from the opposing camp, Khan succeeded in emerging as the first Muslim mayor of one of the most important European capitals, which is famous for its cultural diversity. However, it was not the first time that certain elements launched an anti-Muslim campaign in an industrialized democratic country to make personal political gains.
The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada are known to be the most tolerant and liberal countries in the world and are famous for their democratic values. Generally, people running for any public office in these countries campaign about the importance of social equality and always try to woo voters from all segments of society.
In the past, hate speeches, racial or racist remarks were unheard of during election campaigns in those countries. But the situation has changed during the past year, as the candidates’ in these three countries now resort to all kinds of tricks to win election. Ironically, anti-Muslim campaigns proved to be the deciding factor in elections in two of those countries.
During last year’s election in Canada, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper simply ran on Islamophobia and stoked anti-Muslim sentiments thinking that he would win hearts and minds of the Canadians.
Canadians saw the charismatic young liberal politician, Justin Trudeau who used the exact opposite strategy. He embraced minorities and especially Canadian Muslims. As a matter of fact, former Prime Minister’s anti-Muslim rhetoric opened the eyes of the Muslims living in Canada and they started to realize the importance of taking part in the electoral process or in other words the power of ballot. Harper didn’t only lose, but he was humiliated. His injection of high doses of Islamophobia didn’t help him divert the Canadians’ attention from the importance of economy and economic issues. But, at the end of day, Canada wasn’t veering to the right and Harper lost because seeing their politicians’ exploitation of faith in the election campaign turned off even many non-Muslim Canadians.
In London there was another election but on a smaller scale. It was a run for office to be the new mayor of London. Usually the election to be the mayor of London is not covered by the international media but this time around it was different. One of the candidates was a British Muslim. It is true that Sadiq Aman Khan was born and raised in England but it is the first time that son of a working-class immigrant got elected to this office. Even though he was not new to British politics, his road to the office wasn’t easy. He was subjected to racist criticism from his opponents. His main opponent Zac Goldsmith used the same technique that Canada’s Harper used. He used anti-Muslim rhetoric. When it was time for the Londoners to make a decision, they chose Khan as their mayor and rejected Islamophobic rants of his opponents.
In addition to that Conservative leader of the Greater London assembly Andrew Boff criticized the way Goldsmith ran his campaign, which caused some damage to the party’s relation with the Muslim community.
Now, the world is waiting anxiously to see who is going to be the next American president. We all are aware of Donald Trump’s stance toward a host of issues particularly minorities. He went as far as proposing banning Muslims from entering the United States.
Trump has become notorious for using aggressive language and harsh tone during his election rallies. But saying something about another country, minorities or faith during election campaigns to win votes of the masses is one thing and dealing with it when in office is another issue. The US is a diverse and tolerant country with a population that comes from all corners of the universe. An American presidential candidate doesn’t need to use anti-Muslim language in his campaign or use any racial slurs.
Using Islamophobia to win election doesn’t work and it is losing momentum even among the right-wingers and conservatives. Anti-Muslim rhetoric in American presidential campaign is new and the American people know how to deal with it. They dealt with it in the case of Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and they will deal with Trump and his likes as well.
The Situation In Gaza Requires Immediate Action
By Sultan Barakat
11 May 2016
As the two-year anniversary of the last round of conflict in Gaza approaches, the inhumane conditions to which 1.8 million Palestinians are being subjected threaten to reach boiling point by the summer months, when the lack of access to water and electricity - available for a maximum of eight hours a day - combined with the oppressive heat and the lack of a reconstruction progress, could exacerbate frustrations, culminating in a new cycle of violence.
Despite the relative calm since the August 26, 2014 ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, there have been more than 20 serious incidents that involved incursions, air raids, and missile exchanges with 23 Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip since December 2015.
As antagonistic verbal exchanges between Hamas and Israel continued over the past few months, scenes of rising violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem - seemingly outside the control of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) - started to further fuel people's frustration, thus adding to the volatility of the situation.
Reconstruction of Gaza
The Israeli/Palestinian question has become notorious for the international community's inaction.
Nevertheless, the reconstruction of Gaza is one area where action is not only possible but is also badly needed from both strategic and humanitarian perspectives.
The estimates for how much construction has been completed vary depending on the source, and range from about 17 percent (3,000) of the approximately 18,000 homes destroyed or severely damaged in July/August 2014 according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; to 9 percent by the World Bank, or to "nothing" by the average Gazan.
Regardless of the exact figure, the fact remains that more than 75,000 people remain displaced across Gaza as a direct result of the July/August 2014 war, a problem made worse by insufficient funding.
There are many factors to explain the slow progress. Chief among them is the continued Israeli blockade; the underlying cause of all the wars in Gaza since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in 2005.
Egypt's refusal to open the Rafah border crossing without the presence of the PA, along with the Palestinians' inability to activate a unity government, makes the situation even worse.
However, one controversial factor that has received little attention is the UN's Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM).
The GRM is a complicated system of surveillance intended to: "a. Enable the GoP to lead the reconstruction effort; b. Enable the Gazan private sector; c. Assure donors that their investments in construction work in Gaza will be implemented without delay; d. Address Israeli security concerns related to the use of construction and other 'dual use' material" (UN, October 2014).
By attempting to be both the humanitarian and the jailer at the same time, the UN has fast become the recognisable face of the blockade.
Moral Legitimacy
Two years into the reconstruction process, it is now clear that the GRM not only poses difficulties for the people of Gaza seeking to rebuild their homes - as it forces them to wait for a long time before they receive any construction materials - but also, more importantly, erodes the moral legitimacy of the role of the United Nations in Gaza.
By attempting to be both the humanitarian and the jailer at the same time, the UN has fast become the recognisable face of the blockade.
For more than 70 years, the UN in Gaza has been associated largely with the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
While the Palestinian people have come to accept that the UN cannot resolve their problems, they still expect that it should at least attempt to take an impartial position, and on occasions adhere to its own values by acting as a witness and speaking up against the atrocities that Palestinians face.
With the GRM, the role of the UN changed. The humanitarian imperative that the UN clings to as it delivers aid in the occupied Palestinian territory is no longer neutral.
In fact, in order to facilitate the flow of construction material under the GRM, the UN is increasingly seen as favouring the status quo and siding with the one with power - Israel.
Arguably, among the four main objectives behind the establishment of the GRM, the one related to Israel's security interest seems to take precedence all the time.
Under the current arrangements, a person seeking construction materials must first go to the GRM administrator to be placed on a list. Once their name reaches the top of the list, the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) must approve of the request before the distribution of any materials. The process between COGAT and the GRM can take weeks.
The sight of UN personnel in armoured vehicles accompanying sacks of cement (to ensure delivery and use as proposed) incenses the population of Gaza, as they view this practice as the UN placing a higher value on the protection of construction commodities than on human life.
Complex Politics of Occupation
The inability of the GRM to engage the local population has alleviated tensions over the past two years. During the conception of the GRM, the civil society of Gaza did not participate in the formation of policies governing the distribution of reconstruction materials.
Among the four main objectives behind the establishment of the GRM, the one related to Israel's security interest seems to take precedence all the time.
Only the United Nations, the Israeli government, and the PA devised the plan to rebuild Gaza. Due to their pre-determined position to deny Hamas any opportunity of engagement, the process effectively resulted in excluding citizens and civil society organisations, which was a big mistake.
Nickolay Mladenov and other senior UN officials understand well that the GRM has fallen victim to the complex politics of occupation and resistance.
It is being used every day to punish or "incentivise" Hamas and/or to frustrate any possibility of reaching an understanding between Gaza and the West Bank.
It has also provided a fig leaf to the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi which allowed him to close his borders while pursuing a doomed-to-fail securitisation agenda in Sinai.
Its lack of effectiveness has also provided many donors with the excuse to not honour their pledges, thus compounding the suffering.
In short, the situation in Gaza requires immediate action. Regardless of whose fault it is that the GRM has not been able to alleviate the suffering of the people of Gaza, it seems appropriate for the United Nations to admit to the failure of the mechanism and even to withdraw its services.
In fact, a walkout by the UN from administering the crossing and use of construction material is not only the right thing to do morally, but might also force constructive action from Israel, EU governments, the Gulf states, and the US as well as Hamas and the PA.
Given the security concerns in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and elsewhere, the international community would not stand by and allow for a complete meltdown in Gaza.
The alternative is to continue to deny the reality of the mechanism and to watch the grievances of Palestinians in Gaza reaching an unresolvable level that explodes into another violent round of conflict, worse than the last.
Welcome Realism and Goodbye Comfort Zones
By Eyad Abu Shakra
12 May 2016
Few Americans and Europeans, I reckon, have heard of Wa’el Al-Halqi; and not many Arabs have either. For those interested, Dr Al-Halqi is the Syrian regime’s Prime Minister, who announced to the media a couple of weeks ago that ‘the countdown for the liberation of Aleppo’ had started.
In a cult, family-based and security agencies-run regime the prime minister’s political and military influence is all but non-existent. Thus, what Al-Halqi “uncovered” with regards to occupying Aleppo comes according to the popular Middle Eastern maxim “know their secrets from their little ones.” However, why was the revelation left to Al-Halqi rather than those who truly run Syria is a serious matter!
Be it as it may, what is happening in Aleppo – Syria’s second largest and the world’s second oldest city – is looking increasingly like a significant part of the strategic conspiracy targeting Syria and the Arab world as a whole; otherwise, why was Aleppo intentionally excluded from the Russo-American agreement on a ceasefire that would only accelerate the implementation of the political part of the said conspiracy.
Noteworthy here is that the ceasefire agreed by Moscow and Washington included greater Damascus and Latakia province, which are two areas whose guaranteed security is crucial to the Assad regime’s survival.
Aleppo’s Fate
In international calculations Aleppo’s fate is totally different, for various considerations relative to all major players in the Syrian arena, the two most important being:
1- It is Syria’s closest metropolis to Turkey, where more than 4 million people inhabited the city and its environs. Sunni Arab, Turkmen and Kurds make up the vast majority of that region. Thus, in order to ‘create’ the much-trumpeted “Useful Syria” and separate Turkey from the Sunni Arab geographic depth – as Iran and Russia desire – a high percentage of Sunni Arabs and Turkmen needs to uprooted and driven away.
2- Complementing, the above, geographically and demographically, a Kurdish strip that geographically separates Turkey from northern Syria, would insure in the future a Mediterranean seaport for the so far landlocked “Greater Kurdistan” if and when Washington decides to continue Barack Obama’s policy of investing in the Kurds, hand in hand, with making Iran America’s strategic “partner” in the Middle East.
These two considerations, i.e. changing Aleppo’s identity and redrawing the map of northern Syria, seem to be the reason why the regime has launched its onslaught on the city and its inhabitants aided and abetted by Russia and Iran, with an American political cover. Such a situation is fraught with huge challenges that are neither expected to weaken nor disappear, not only to the Syrian people but also to all Arabs from the Atlantic to the Arabian Gulf.
What is happening in Aleppo is looking increasingly like a significant part of the strategic conspiracy targeting Syria and the Arab world as a whole
Indeed, these challenges today spread from Morocco, where figures close to the White House have re-visited the issue of the country’s Western Sahara, intentionally embarrassing, provoking and blackmailing one of America’s oldest African allies; to the Gulf Region and Yemen where Iran is interfering and fomenting sectarian tensions, while virtually ‘occupying’ most of the ‘Fertile Crescent’ (Iraq, Syria and Lebanon) with international blessings. Hence, more than ever, realistic approaches are needed towards the global political, economic and security realities.
One early landmark along this route has been the Vision 2030 announced in Saudi Arabia. It, perhaps, constitutes the most important and comprehensive futuristic plans that prepare for all possible positive and negative eventualities, underpinned on realism away from the costly ‘comfort zone’ mentality that plagued many Arab countries during the last half century.
Logically countries do not choose their natural resources or their neighbors, but can and must decide the economic, developmental, political and security priorities in the light of their perceptions of what they have and what they owe, who is the friend and who is the enemy, and which neighbour can be neutralized, befriended or warned against.
A lot has been said during the last few years in attempting to interpret the Obama administration’s policies towards the Arabs and the middle East, notably, Washington’s opening up to Iran. Then came its positions towards the Syrian Uprising, the Sunni-Shi’ite friction fuelled and exploited by Iran since 1979, and ‘co-existence’ with Russia’s ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Among the interpretations provided the dwindling importance of the Middle Eastern oil as a result of the discoveries of alternative sources of energy, the increasing economic and security importance of East Asia led by China, and the changing mood of the American public which has grown sceptical of military adventurism abroad.
All these interpretations are true, so the question must be how to deal with them wisely? For a start, a wise approach should include; a- openness and frankness, and b- self-reliance. This is exactly what took place recently when President Obama attended the GCC summit in the Saudi capital Riyadh, which has been playing pivotal roles in tackling the two hot issues of Yemen and Syria.
Obviously the positive tone of the official statement about Obama’s meeting with the GCC leader was expected, however, both the GCC and American sides realize fully that any kind of friendship; or alliance requires maintenance from time to time.
What has emerged from Washington during the last two years, culminating in what we know today as the Obama Doctrine, was neither accidental nor ephemeral, but rather a reflection of President Obama’s deep intellectual convictions that has contributed to a comprehensive ‘value system’ transcending polite diplomatic talk.
On the other hand, it would be naïve for Washington to imagine that the Arabs, including those in the GCC and their leaders, are unable to read and comprehend the changing realities. In fact, the Arabs, especially the Gulf Arabs living just across the Gulf waters from Iran, possess very strong political memories and instincts, bettered only by decorum and patience.
Thus, until next November when a new American president is elected, there is no alternative to realism and self-reliance; and as far as comfort zones are concerned, they now do more harm than good.
Tunisia: Between Terrorism and Tourism
By Lina Khatib
12 May 2016
While many Arab Spring countries struggle with conflicts and democratic regression, Tunisia remains a trailblazer on the path to democratization. The country has seen successful parliamentary and presidential elections, possesses an active civil society, and has embraced the most progressive constitution in the Arab world.
However, Tunisia still faces serious socioeconomic challenges that, if not addressed, could pose a serious threat to its democratic future. Perhaps nowhere are those challenges seen more vividly than in its border regions.
I recently visited the south-eastern governorate of Medenine, Tunisia’s gateway to Libya that came to attention two months ago when militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacked one of its towns, Ben Gardane. The attack was thwarted by the Tunisian army and National Guard, but unfortunately heightened concerns about security in the country among many who would have otherwise considered Tunisia a potential tourist destination.
However, this line of thinking is the opposite of how it should be viewed. It is the lack of tourism, and of other means of economic recovery, that are contributing to hurting Tunisia’s security and threatening its democratic future.
Medenine possesses some of the most dramatic geography in the country. The coastal areas enjoy sandy Mediterranean beaches, while the inland areas offer expansive, often otherworldly deserts where four “Star Wars” films were shot. However, apart from the tourism industry - which capitalizes on the area’s natural beauty - there is little else in the governorate that can create employment opportunities.
Until Tunisia is able to develop its border regions, helping with the recovery of the tourism industry is one of the most immediate measures that can be taken to support its economy
The ousted regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali did not offer the south development initiatives. The current government is still trying to address Tunisia’s economic challenges at large, and does not appear to have the capacity to address regional development comprehensively yet.
The uncertainty that accompanied the revolution five years ago, and the series of terrorist attacks that plagued Tunisia since, have meant that tourism in the area has been reduced to a shadow of its former self, leaving thousands unemployed. In some places in the south, the unemployment rate is around 50 percent.
During my visit to Medenine, I saw a snapshot of what this situation means in concrete terms. Spring is normally high season for desert tourism, yet the inland areas were mostly empty, apart from the odd bus of Tunisian tourists. Most shops and restaurants were closed. In the coastal towns, hotels were shutting down after years of bad seasons.
People were desperate for any employment. One NGO officer told me they advertised a position for a driver and received more than 100 applications, 90 percent of them from people who used to be employed in the tourism industry, most of them overqualified.
The stories that people told about their lives weaved a sad tale of despair. One man worked as a driver because he could not find other employment, although his eyesight meant he could not see properly in the dark. An elderly woman worked as a cleaner partly to support her daughter, who graduated from university two years ago and still could not find a job.
A man took a boat heading to Europe to try his luck as an illegal migrant, not once but three times. Each time he was caught and forced to go back to Tunisia. On one of those trips, the boat got lost in the sea for two weeks, and he had to resort to eating his leather belt to survive. Another man had his employment terminated, and told the employer he would chain himself outside the office until they rehired him.
The only business that is thriving in the area is smuggling. The smuggling of goods and petrol from and into Libya existed in southern Tunisia well before the revolution, but today, for many it is the only means of making a living.
The attack on Ben Gardane was an attempt by ISIS to capitalize on people’s grievances, as it aimed to take over the town and use it as a platform to expand in southern Tunisia. However, despite the presence of local ISIS members in Ben Gardane who facilitated the attack, the residents at large rejected the organization. For an area reliant on tourism, becoming part of the so-called caliphate was surely not the way to restore people’s livelihoods.
However, even if most people reject ISIS, Tunisia continues to supply high numbers of jihadists who are joining this terrorist organization. With ISIS present in Libya, it is easier for those jihadists to fight there than in Syria. While some are joining ISIS due to ideological conviction, many are joining out of economic destitution.
The cooperation of the residents of Ben Gardane with the army to overcome the ISIS attack is reassuring, and shows that Tunisia is not a hotbed for the group. As for terrorist attacks, Tunisia is ultimately no more vulnerable than France or Belgium, since ISIS today seeks to act whenever and wherever it can around the world. However, one cannot help but wonder how long neglected areas in southern Tunisia can hold out without the implementation of regional development.
It is not just terrorist groups that are the potential problem resulting from continuing lack of development. It is also the pervasive lawlessness that comes with relying on the informal economy.
If lawlessness becomes the norm, the social contract between the citizen and the state changes, making people less interested in democratization. Tunisia is already vulnerable because many in the south and elsewhere see their current economic woes as being directly related to the aftermath of the revolution.
Until Tunisia is able to develop its border regions, helping with the recovery of the tourism industry is one of the most immediate measures that can be taken to support its economy. The story of Medenine is but one concrete example of the socioeconomic challenges that Tunisia is facing. Those challenges cannot be resolved through mere micro-level measures, as they require an internationally sanctioned, comprehensive economic recovery plan for Tunisia.
However, we as individuals can still help to a degree. As many of us are looking forward to the summer holidays, let us consider Tunisia as a destination, and in doing so contribute to supporting its democratic process even in a limited way.
Hunger and Conflicts Walk Hand In Hand
By José Graziano Da Silva
11 May 2016
This week, the Food and Agriculture Organization FAO of the United Nations is convening, in Rome, the Regional Conference for the Near East and North Africa, a forum where 30 countries from Mauritania to Iran, and from Turkey to Somalia, meet every two years to review the achievements, challenges and priorities in food security and sustainable agriculture development.
These are turbulent times for the region, where conflicts and protracted crises have almost become endemic and are inflicting immense suffering on the populations of the region.
Despite the progress made by individual countries in reaching the Millennium Development Goals, the number of undernourished has doubled between 1990 and 2015, and the prevalence of undernourishment has increased by 30 percent.
In fact, conflicts and hunger are strongly connected.
Evidence shows that countries with the highest levels of food insecurity are also those most affected by conflicts. And violence and hunger are often locked in vicious cycles in which one feeds on the other.
In Syria alone, 6.5 million people have been internally displaced, while more than 4.8 million have fled to the neighboring countries as refugees, with increasing numbers fleeing to Europe. Half of the population that has remained in the country is in need of food assistance.
The damage to the capital stock in Syria has been estimated at 70 billion dollars. The effect of the conflict has been devastating as the country has lost half of its livestock and the agriculture production now barely reaches 40 percent of its pre-crisis level.
The Syrian crisis is also creating huge costs for its neighboring countries.
For Lebanon alone, this has reached 1.5 percent of its GDP per year, due to loss in trade and the adverse effects on tourism and infrastructure. Jordan is generously sharing its natural resources with about one million Syrian refugees, in addition to those who fled from Iraq and Gaza in earlier times.
Food insecurity, natural resources scarcity, unemployment and migration, as well as the impoverishment of rural areas, will continue to destabilize peace and stability if sustainable solutions are not implemented urgently
This is all happening in a region that is considered the most arid in the world, which is facing an unprecedented escalation in water scarcity. The average availability of fresh water per capita stands at just 10 percent of the world average and is set to decline further as a result of increasing needs as well as the impacts of climate change.
Food insecurity, natural resources scarcity, unemployment and migration, as well as the impoverishment of rural areas, will continue to destabilize peace and stability if sustainable solutions are not implemented urgently.
This defines FAO’s engagement with its Member Countries in the region. Together, we have launched regional initiatives to address water scarcity and food security challenges, to build resilience in crisis contexts, and to tackle the root causes of rural poverty and unemployment among women and youth.
Defining Priorities
It is high time give priority to investing in the resilience of farmers and rural communities.
We need to invest massively in infrastructure, human capital and social protection in rural areas, create the conditions to diversify the source of economic growth, bridge the spatial inequality gap and stop the migration dynamics.
We need to put in place comprehensive rural poverty alleviation strategies to support family farmers, enhance their productivity of small holders and link them to markets, and improve the professionalization of producer organizations.
We need to reverse the escalation of water scarcity by enhancing governance of the water sector, strengthening the role of farmers and communities in water management, and scaling up technologies and best agriculture practices that improve agriculture water productivity and conserve the quality of water.
The Near East and North Africa Region has the capacity to emerge stronger from the current series of conflicts and crises. Other countries and regions have succeeded in the past, sometimes against the odds. This requires decisive collective action to restore confidence and build a shared vision among the region’s member countries. It will also need the support of all its partners and friends, and FAO is committed to do its part in this endeavour.
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