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The dead are gone to nowness

Earlier, on September 30th we reported on „Fatal Journeys: Tracking Lives Lost During Migration“ – a comprehensive research compiled by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM): it indicates that Europe is the world’s most dangerous destination for “irregular” migration. 

According to IOM more than 22,000 migrants died while trying to cross European borders since the year 2000. IOM Director General William Lacy Swing called this walling-off an „epidemic crime and victimisation“ and demanded: “It is time to do more than count the number of victims. It is time to engage the world to stop this violence against desperate migrants.”

In the run-up of the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall the art group „Zentrum für politische Schönheit“ (Centre for Political Beauty) initiated a performance that is replacing sheer remembrance through nowness, and thoughtlessness through active solidarity with the next potential victims of another wall – a much bigger one, surrounding Europe like a dystopian fortress. 

In this dystopian present 14 white crosses – once marking the lost lives while trying to cross from Berlin’s east to west – have fled from Berlin’s government district. According to the Centre for Political Beauty the dead victims of the Berlin Wall „fled to their brothers and sisters across the European borders to stand by them in an act of solidarity.“

The performance is accompanied by a civil action campaign whereby people can go by busses to Mediterranean borders and “tear down the European wall”. The campaign’s crowdfunding page contains instructions on how to dismantle a wire fence with tools like a bolt-cutter.

While donations are welcome to fund this campaign – each bus carrying 55 people will cost 5,900 € – Berlin will have its own performance sonorously called „Lichtgrenze“ (Border of Light): according to Der Spiegel thousands of light bowls for the cost of more than one million Euro to provide its citizens the experience how it was to be surrounded by a wall. The bowls will be filled with helium and shall be released up to the sky. 

Will migrants on the other side of the European wall see them?

Photo: Patryk Witt, Courtesy: Centre for Political Beauty


On the mercy of others

A provincial assembly in Pakistan introduced one of a kind law against forceful religious conversions last week.

The bill recommended a five year punishment for perpetrators and facilitators of forceful religious conversions in the southern Sindh province that homes majority of Hindu minority in the country who has long been complaining of forceful conversions.

The bill dubbed as ‘The Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill 2015” was lying on the speakers table for over a year before taken-up for debate and ultimate approval on the November 24.

Days after this landmark bill was passed by the legislators, leaders of the far-right religious parties not only denounced it publicly but called for the complete dismissal of the elected assembly for this ‘un-Islamic’ law. “The Sindh government is converting the province into ‘Kafiristan’ [land of the infidels] with such un-Islamic decisions,” Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, one of the top religious leaders in the country said.

In defiance of the rhetoric presented by the far-right, representatives of the Hindu community slammed those opposing the new law, and came with a counter narrative of their own. Ramesh Kumar, Patron-in-Chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council demanded the law against forced conversions to be introduced across the country.

No doubt, the issue at hand here has the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens associated with it. But, the fact that even the existing laws of the land and the basic human rights of the citizens are not respected the fundamental forces are seizing opportunities to further infringe upon the lives of individuals with self-styled interpretation of the religion.

In this case, both the Muslim and Hindu leaders are sort of imposing their perceived versions of ‘right life style’ upon many young men and women who should rather have the liberty to choose for them whatever they feel suitable.

According to representatives of the Hindu community, more than 250 cases of conversion, mostly involving Hindu girls, had taken place in the province last year alone. Similarly, a number of incidents, no exact figures available, of conversions from Islam to other religious have also taken place. And there have been quite a few incidents when converts with consent from one religion to another have faced persecution of a grim nature. 

So, if the choices imposed upon the individuals by fundamental forces outweigh the basic rights of the individuals than things could get only worst for minorities as well the majority.  

Saudi prince says ban on women driving is '"unjust"

Billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal supports an end to the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia.

“Preventing a woman from driving a car is today an issue of rights similar to the one that forbade her from receiving an education or having an independent identity,” Alwaleed said in a statement. “They are all unjust acts by a traditional society, far more restrictive than what is lawfully allowed by the precepts of religion.”

But rather than sticking to the simple principle of equality, he also pointed to the economic benefits of allowing women to drive.

He reasoned that allowing women to drive themselves around would cut the cost of having to pay drivers, and increase productivity as husbands wouldn’t have to dip out of work to transport their wives.

“Having women drive has become an urgent social demand predicated upon current economic circumstances.“

Theses current circumstances were caused by a 50% drop in oil prices last year, cutting government spending and pushing up prices for everyday services in Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this year the kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced its Vision 2030 plan which included increased employment, including for women.

The rest of the royals are yet to be convinced that women should be able to drive in Saudi Arabia.

But maybe if the the economic benefits can be proven… As the saying goes, the future is female.

Fuel poverty - still a killer in Western Europe

You might not expect Western Europe to be crippled by fuel poverty in the 21st century, but it is. And year on year it remains an important cause of death among the most vulnerable in society.

Recently, outrage throughout Spain was sparked by the death of an 81-year old woman caused by fuel poverty. Rosa was living in Reus, Catalonia, when her electricity was cut off because of failed payment. As a result, she had been lighting her house with candles, which led to her death in a catastrophic fire. This tragic episode ignited demonstrations in Madrid and in other Spanish cities, raising awareness of the issue. “Fuel poverty kills. Nobody without electricity”, they chanted.

However, she is not the only victim of this kind of poverty in Europe. In Spain alone, 7000 deaths could be avoided each year if the population had access to appropriate fuel supplies, according to a report published by Environmental Sciences Association (ACA in its Spanish acronym). Besides from the threat of fires, illnesses aggravated by low temperatures such as pneumonia, circulatory system diseases or even mental health problems are associated with premature deaths.

The Mediterranean countries, hugely weakened by the financial crisis that began in 2007, suffer a greater impact of fuel poverty, affecting 17% of the population in Spain, 22% in Portugal and 26% in Greece. But the phenomenon extends across Europe, affecting around 125 million people, according to the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

It is no coincidence that these countries bear the highest prices set by energy companies, taking into account the average income of the population. Such firms have come under heavy criticism and were urged to stop cutting off basic supplies to vulnerable people. Their prices are especially shocking in the backdrop of excessive executive bonuses and large dividends paid out to stockholders.

The absolute best of 2016

I’ve seen my first end-of-year list: The best books of 2016. This is probably the most innocuous list of this kind – an array of products lined up for the Christmas shopping season (that’s a really weird phrase, by the way) for sure, but decent products at least. However, one of my colleagues tells me also one of the reasons journalists spend most of December listing the previous year, and most of January listing the forthcoming year, is because basically they’re busy – not just shills that’ve long since sold out to corporations long ago.

So in the spirit of that, here is my brief list of ways 2016 has actually been a transformational year for us all.

1. The collapse of Western certainty: For sure we’ve all heard too much about Trump and Brexit already, as well as the potential for France and Italy to similarly give in to a wave of populism – all in all, the Western world has gone from being certain, defined, publicly robust and socially liberal, to uncertain, reactionary and socially regressive. This isn’t to say these forces haven’t always been present in the Western world, it’s just that now, in 2016, these are some of the most concretely powerful forces there are.

2. Climate change is a sure-thing: Nothing new there then. But 2016 is the year that those with most power will have turned their backs on the responsibility to act. While smaller nations like Morocco and Bangladesh recently committed to meet their climate change targets, Trump has publicly committed to only having ‚an open mind‘ about what he has previously described as ‚bullshit‘. Climate change will always have gone ahead, but now, without American commitment to action on climate change, the environment will spin out of control, and we can look forward to a series of man-made catastrophes ahead.

3. Fundamentalism became the norm: This is the year that all kinds of raging emotions and irrationality became the political norm, with any kind of moderation and reasoned discussion dismissed as ‚career politics‘ or worse, ‚centrist nonsense‘. Populism has been on the rise for at least a decade, but it never was a global norm: Now, traditional right-wing parties and politicians (like Francois Fillon) look totally moderate by comparison.

4. Social media made its mark: A few years ago, people were celebrating the rise of people-power through social media – the Arab Spring came to represent a new political ideal, where people directly impacted the democracies in which they lived through increased connectivity. That may have been a cause worthy of celebration, but the Arab Spring was an anomaly that quickly subsided into reactionary politics. Instead we have seen the impact that social media truly has. By offering personalized (and often fake) news, people have become more divided, and more easily radicalized online. Well done Zuckerberg.

5. Lists have gotten out of control: OK so nothing happened to our desire to list and bullet-point every global going on this year, but it’s true – complexity is disappearing, and lists are partly to blame. I’m sorry I wrote this. Have a great rest of the month, and turn your laptop off, read a book and don’t waste any resources. We’ve got a bad year ahead of us.

Yet another blood-stained chapter

This week wrote yet another blood-stained chapter in the history of Afghanistan’s persecuted ethnic Shia-Haraza minority who has long been complaining of discrimination on the basis of their religious belief.

A suicide bomber, allegedly associated with the so-called Islamic State (IS), ripped through Hazara men praying inside a mosque in the heart of the Afghan capital Kabul on Monday November 21. The attack claimed 27 lives, including children, and left more than 30 wounded. This was the third targeted attack on this minority in Kabul city in less than a year!

Over 80 Hazara community members died when two suicide bombers detonated their explosives in the middle of a protests rally in July. This was followed by an armed assault on a mosque belonging to the Hazara community in downtown Kabul that claimed eight lives. Apart from these armed assaults, the Hazara community members are frequently abducted while travelling on the country’s deadly highways from one province to another.

Afghanistan has been witnessing large scale armed conflict for the past four decades now but sectarian strife was never as pronounced as it has become in the past two years. These appalling attacks have once again highlighted the bloody, expanding footprint of the militant Islamic State group in Afghanistan that has shaken the fabric of national unity in the war-torn nation.

The Hazara community represents around 10 percent of Afghanistan’s population yet it represents a relatively higher percentage of the country’s educated populace; particularly educated and professional girls and women. But, despite their services to the community, they remain an easy target due to their distinct facial features for fanatic organizations like the IS and Lashkar-i-Jhangavi.

It is worth noticing that most of the IS fighters hail from the Orakzai tribal agency across the Durand Line in Pakistan.

Unlike many of its neighbours, Afghanistan has surprisingly remained immune to the sectarian rift between the majority Sunni and minority Shia communities. This rift has devastated countries like Iraq, Syria and Pakistan but, if no measures are put in place to stop the persecution of this religious minority, the Afghans might well find themselves caught in yet another deadly circle that would shatter the society from within.

As Afghanistan passes through the so-called decade of transition (2014-2024) following the end of NATO’s 15-year old combat mission, the Kabul government needs to make sure it does not turn a blind eye to segment of the society that has long been persecuted. 

Trump brings big trouble to NASA

There are lots of speculations of the future policies by the new elected US president Donald Trump. But his candidates for the White House crew don’t give lots of hopes neither.

The ink on the Marrakesh’s climate summit resolution is not even dry yet, as Bob Walker, a senior Trump campaign adviser, hits the Nasa’s Earth science division with „good news“.  According to the Guardian Trump wants to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”.

“We see Nasa in an exploration role, in deep space research,” Walker told the Guardian. “Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission.

Once again, Trump – who describes climate change as a “hoax” and has already vowed to “cancel” last year’s Paris climate agreement – gives a glimpse on how policy in Washington will change under his administration.

It does not need no rocket science nor even “politicized science” to understand that the United States are the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas polluter, after China. Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University, said to the Guardian: “Without the support of Nasa, not only the US but the entire world would be taking a hard hit when it comes to understanding the behavior of our climate and the threats posed by human-caused climate change.”


Aleppo's hospitals ravaged by Russian bombs: what can you do?

Russian bombs targeting hospitals in Aleppo is disturbing, shocking, and yet sharing another Facebook status isn’t going to do anything about it.

As recent world events have shown, frustration is rife. It’s time to ask, what can we DO?

The Syrian Peace Action Centre has created a five-point plan for workable action to stop the bombing.

The good news: it’s all doable from home. But it’s far more effective than a grumpy Facebook status.

Here are the steps:

FIRST – Send a letter to your MP:
Call and write to your representatives in the parliament and ask them to stop the bombs on Aleppo in whichever way they can. Ask them to #StopPutinsBombs and denounce Russia’s grave human rights violations because #NeverAgainIsNow. Use and adapt the text available here:

SECOND – Facebook check-in:
Check in on Russian embassy’s Facebook page in your country and post a picture from Aleppo. Find the Facebook page of the Russian embassy in your country and pictures to use here:

THIRD – Contact the Russian Embassy:
Call and write to the Russian embassy in your country and ask them to stop the bombing. Find the phone number and email of the Russian embassy in your country here:

FOURTH – Tweet to politicians:
Tweet to politicians around the world. All you need to do is click on „TWEET NOW“ next to the politician’s name on this page:

FINALLY: share this call for action with your friends and family, invite everyone you know to this event:

Using the political instruments to which we have access – local politicians, ambassadors – is a sure-fire way to draw attention to the cause.

And contacting ambassadors can initiate dialogue: last week Russia’s ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko explained that Russia’s bombing was meants to prevent Isis from entering the area from Mosul, Iraq.

The UK’s special representative for Syria, Gareth Bayley, responded: “How is that geographically sensible … that’s 400km from the border with Iraq?”

Getting politicans in dialogue is better than badmouthing Putin, talking vaguely about situations on which we have plenty of detailed information (Trump on Putin: “We have to end that craziness that’s going on in Syria,”) or ‚liking‘ updates and then getting back to our Netflix binges.

This is the time for action. Join the movement.

Black Out Friday

In the last few years we have bared witnessed to shocking incidents of manic and out of control behaviour from the onslaught of stampeding shoppers as the shutters are pulled up in the early morning of Black Friday. Imported from the US and now a time-honoured tradition across Europe, thousands go to the extremes by queuing overnight or even for days sheltering roadside in tents determined to be the first through the doors to grab the deals and discounts on offer.

Black Friday encapsulates modern rush for profit, but these darker scenes reveal the damaging behaviour by the dominant firms. As well as forcing out smaller independent competitors, the major maker players have been criticised for their questionable record on working conditions, contributing to climate change and giving fuel to the global fire of inequality.      

So, if you are also shocked with this phenomenon, there’s something you can do; take part in Buy Nothing Day. Born in Canada 23 years ago from a movement fighting the growth of consumerism, it has now spread to over 60 countries worldwide. Rather than hurrying to the closest shopping centre, participants of the movement keep their wallets firmly in their pockets on Black Friday, in protest against mass consumerism, waste and debt.

Buy Nothing Day grows each year raising our awareness of ethical shopping, through initiatives that guarantee fair prices to the producers and adequate working conditions for the manufacturers, as well as projects that encourage buying locally-sourced products. And don’t forget: that goes for the rest of the 364 days of the year!