Read, Debate: Engage.
Read, Debate: Engage.
map tooltip

Editors' Picks

The Pakistani suspect of Berlin Christmas market attack

Spread of hatred towards immigrants in Europe following the string of blatant terrorist attacks is quite natural. Words and actions in this regard however, need to be carefully used in a bid to ensure we all move towards making this closely linked world even better place than making it worst.

Events unfolding in the heart of Europe following the latest in three such brazen terrorist attacks this year so far are destined to shape the face of the world. In March this year the Belgian capital was rocked with brutal coordinated attacks that claimed more than 30 lives, this was followed by another horrific attack in Nice involving a cargo truck that killed another 86 civilians. And, now this ruthless attack on a peaceful Christmas market in Berlin that took the lives of at least 12 people.

Kudos to the European people in general and to the German nation in particular for their enlightened and tolerate demeanour so far.

Hours after the attack in Berlin, police nabbed a man of Pakistani origin on suspicion but was later released. The young man has been identified as Naveeb Baluch who came to Germany 17 months ago. Naveed is a classic example of a desperate man facing in search for a safe place on the face of earth to escape persecution in his home country. He hails from Pakistan’s poorest Baluchistan province where the law enforcement agencies are waging a strong campaign against separatists and their sympathizers.

He strongly believed in European and German values that is why he risked his life to reach here.

For those backing the rhetoric that why should Germany or Europe for that matter take ‘burden’ of the world, well, because this is the time to substantiate that amid all the hatred and stereotypes there are still people in

the world who would stand by humanity against violence and extremism.

Refugees the easy scapegoats in Berlin attack

ISIS “inspiring” a refugee to carry out a terrorist attack would be the ultimate way to polarise German society.

This is what German academic Peter Neumann warned in an interview with Monocle magazine last week, explaining that ISIS leaders “want to help extreme right-wing forces to come to power”.

He argued that doing so would fuel division between Germans proud of the Wilkommenskultur displayed as 1 million refugees arrived in Germany last year and those who wish to close borders and turn away migrants.

Although we are yet to find out who was responsible for Monday night’s horrific attack on the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market in Berlin, some German politicians are already giving ISIS exactly what it wants.

The Bavarian CSU party has used the tragic events to reignite support for its proposed tightening of immigration policy. Meanwhile the far-right Alternative für Deutschland has blamed Angela Merkel personally for the attack.

Today I write to you not only as an editor at fairplanet, but as a team member at Give Something Back to Berlin (GSBTB), a volunteer organisation working with migrants of all kinds in the German capital.

At GSBTB we run projects that aim to welcome and include our city’s newcomers. One of our weekly projects supports women and children living at the refugee shelter in the disused Tempelhof airport.

On Tuesday morning you may have woken up to the news that police had detained a Pakistani man, a possible refugee, suspected of carrying out the Christmas market attack.

But at GSBTB we woke up to the news that the vulnerable people who we work to support had had their home stormed by 250 armed police in the middle of the night, searching for evidence, accomplices, anything relating to the attack.

At Tempelhof airport hundreds of people sleep in each hangar. Or, more accurately, they try to sleep: the noise of so many people is often unbearable and some have taken to sleeping during the day when there are fewer comings and goings.

Having escaped trauma in their home countries, these people now face new kinds of distressing circumstances: the challenges of being housed en masse, with no timeframe for relocation and poor – some have said inhumane – living conditions.

On Monday night these residents had a violent storming of their new home added to the trauma of violence experienced in their home countries.

The next morning one of my teammates received a Whatasapp message from a child living at the camp. „Komm bitte heute. Ich bin nicht terrorist. Wir sind gut.“ (“Please come today. I’m not a terrorist. We are good”).

No child should have to feel the need to justify themselves this way.

The suspect said to have been living at the Tempelhof refugee shelter has since been released, and the authorities should be applauded for releasing him without delay. It would have been easy to hold him in an attempt to show a job well done when they have clearly failed, at least so far, to apprehend the perpetrators.

Unfortunately, though, in this post-truth era it’s often the news you read first that casts the longest shadow. This is especially true when the information fits an existing narrative, like the one anti-immigrant politicians have long been crafting against refugees.

The refugees living at Tempelhof airport – in fact refugees all over Germany and Europe – live with the tag of terrorist, whether they fit the description or not.

Refugees like the darling women and children who my teammates play with, do knitting with, cook delicious intercultural feasts with, and work to support. These people are so worthy of our compassion and trust.

While we wait to see who might be responsible for Monday’s attack, it’s easy to feel helpless knowing there’s someone out there who wants to see us hurting.

#prayforBerlin hashtags feel inadequate – and Berlin’s hipsters are much too cool for them, anyhow – but I know of something tangible you can do to show your support for Berlin and its most vulnerable residents in this time of uncertainty.

My request is an unorthodox one, but I hope you will see how this action can bring hope to people who struggle to find it in their current circumstances.

Weeks ago – long before this horrific attack became a tragic reality – Give Something Back to Berlin launched a Christmas crowdfunding campaign for the work we do with women and children at the Tempelhof shelter.

We’re currently halfway to our goal which would see us continue to bring hope, purposeful activity and trauma healing to the 100-150 women and children we support at Tempelhof every week.

You can read more about our project and donate on our Betterplace page.

As long as we choose not to give in to fear, there is still plenty to be hopeful for this Christmas.

The legitimation of the radical right wing

As the debate rages about immigration control and national identity across Europe, a recently published study by Ipsos Mori has shown that people in Europe overestimate the Muslim population living in their countries.

France is the state with the largest gap between the real and the perceived Muslim population: whilst 7.5% of the residents are Islam followers, French people believe it is 31%. The British treble in their estimations: only 5% of people living in the UK are Muslims, but on average they think it is 15%.

In part a consequence of endless and often sensationalist press coverage, such a distortion in the perception of immigration levels can help understanding the growth in immigration control demands within European countries. At the same time, this misconception is a result of the racist and islamophobic rhetoric that far right wing parties have been spreading across the continent with increasing success.

Connecting all Muslim people with radical fundamentalism, these parties have been instigating fear and hate towards a whole community. In times of economic crisis, they efficiently blamed the weakest link for the lack of employment, ending up demonising all immigrants.

Extremist right wing movements have already won elections (US) and referendums (UK), but they keep threatening to extend their power across Europe, where crucial elections are coming up next year. The risk is not only that these parties are increasingly considered as reliable government alternatives. When their opponents assume some of their radical positions —conservative French candidate François Fillon has accepted Marine Le Pen’s position of controlling immigration and Islam — they are also winning the ideological battle.  

The top 100 footballers of 2016

The other day, a friend and I were talking about the year, and about how the dominant media narrative of this year is how miserable it has been. We decided that this narrative is a little flimsy, and more to the point, somewhat self-indulgent, in the same way that the ‚first-world-problems‘ meme was: While purporting to show something negative, it actually displays the overwhelming positives to the object at-hand. When we say 2016 was a total shitter, what we’re saying is, upsetting election results and unusual political developments are not what we’re used to. We’re used to certainty; All this batshit-crazy stuff with Trump and Brexit and Le Pen and all that, man, that doesn’t belong in our culture – that belongs over there (wherever that may be). 

Quite. Being accustomed to a mainstream centrist political agenda, that aims to speak a neutral language (if not an inclusive one) and eschews conflict in favour of stability, is not in itself a bad thing. For sure, those centrist governments look 1000x more appealing than Donald Trump’s or whatever the hell is happening in the UK right now. But there is only so much moaning one can stomach – let’s be clear, we’ve had a good thing, and now that good thing is changing. The rest of the world doesn’t always have a good thing, indeed, the rest of the world often has a bad thing. So let’s stop pretending that the world is ending, and do something about the bad thing. 

However, even if the world isn’t about to come to an end, and even if there is an opportunity to renew our commitments to political action, the shift in our situation from good to bad thing sets off a series of shifts in our situation – everything that was trivial and silly before looks downright ridiculous now. 

My friend brought up the 100 top footballers list. These lists rate the performance of the world’s top footballers, from 1-100. Before 2016, he said, this list might have looked pretty normal, a bit silly, but pretty normal. Now it looks like a kind of crazy overindulgence – fiddling while Rome burns. 

I’m not so sure. I think a total shift from good thing to bad thing doesn’t mean that we have to abandon everything enjoyable and trivial in our lives; indeed, these might be the very things which indicate that the good thing is possible. Even if it is predictable enough that Ronaldo and Messi will be at 1 and 2, or 2 and 1, and one of Neymar, Suarez, Griezmann or Bale will be number 3, this may very well indicate that there are good things possible for our cultures. It’s becoming too trendy to despair, too easy to say how awful everything is, how corrupt and evil – well, I say try to keep things in proportion: Fight the bad thing, but don’t lose the good thing.

Afghanistan: Back to square one!

The UK authorities have paroled a notorious former Afghan warlord Sarwar Zardad Faryadi whose return has revived memories of the country’s bloody past and has sparked concerns about the future.

Zardad landed in Kabul on December 14 after serving 11 years of a 20-year prison sentence in the UK. The man was symbol of horror in the 1990s as his armed men would abduct, torture and even kill ordinary passengers, government officials and aid workers at various points between the capital Kabul and eastern city Jalal Abad city.

It is not clear yet if the recently inked peace deal between the Afghan government and the Hezb-e-Islami Party with which Zardad was affiliated, has played a role in this development. The Afghan government and the society, however should be very candid in this process of allowing convicted criminals a second chance.

The country’s past is littered with blood and marred with ethnic strife.

It is true that some of Zardad’s compatriots of those dark days got away with their crimes and were even glorified as ‘heroes’ but, the young generation of Afghans needs not to turn back the clock in search of leaders and ideals if they want to build a new nation.

The relative peace, thanks to the international community’s engagement, has given birth to so many new Afghan stars in every corner of the country that should be praised as national icons instead of those who have blood on their hands.

Afghans need not to forget people like Mohammad Jawaz Khan of Khost who hid the death of his daughter on the day of elections so that the villagers can go to vote instead of losing this important opportunity by mourning with him. Young Matiullah Wesa who has opened more than 30 schools in the restive Kandahar province. Lt. Niloofar Rhmani, Afghan Air Force (AAF)’s first woman pilot in more than 30 years. Saber Hussaini of Bamyan who has been on his bike for months, distributing volumes of children’s books in villages.

And, young men and women in the capital Kabul associated with the ‘Art Lords’ that is painting murals for social awakening, and changing the face of the Afghan capital.

*All photos courtesy of ‚Art Lords‘.

What you can do for Aleppo right now

Today our hearts are aching for Aleppo.

It feels like a new low, hearing of civilians being executed by their own government’s military, women committing suicide to avoid being raped, children being caught in the crossfire, and Syrians tweeting their final moments out to the world, begging to be saved.

While the notion of Aleppo’s siege may have ramped up in urgency, hurting for Syria is nothing new. I personally have been writing about Syria – the civil war, Assad, ISIS, Russia, refugees, – and aching for its people right here at Fairplanet for three years. Today I feel fatigued.

We can talk and write and march and protest, but what will actually help?

Our governments continue to avoid getting stuck in, the UN is chained to its own powerlessness, global citizens continue to post on Facebook, hoping to reach a new person with influence. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and turn away. But there is one very powerful thing that most of us can do that will make an immediate difference. And that’s donate.

There is no more urgent way to effect change in this crisis than a donation to White Helmets, the Syrian volunteers who have saved tens of thousands of lives in the civil war.Some argue that they have a political bias, advocating for regime change. But they are also the first responders, the ones on the ground making the ultimate sacrifice to save lives, and right now that’s what matters most.

You can donate on their website.

One international, non-partisan organisation still active on the ground in Aleppo is Doctors Without Borders. This medical relief organisation provides supplies, equipment and, where it is still possible, medical personnel. You can donate on their website.

Those are two places you can make a real, tangible difference in what has become a senseless crisis.

Why are deaths increasing in the Mediterranean?

Last week’s catastrophic capsizing of a rudimentary inflatable dinghy carrying over 40 migrants on a perilous journey close to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta pushed the number of people drowning this year in the Mediterranean Sea to 4,719.

Even as the column inches have withered away, these tragedies remain a burning and ever increasing issue, rising starkly from 3,567 fatalities last year. Despite the increase in migrants perishing in their attempts to reach Europe, arrivals have dramatically fallen from 883,000 in 2015 to 315,000 in 2016, according to the International Organisation of Migration.

One explanation for these surprising statistics can be accounted by the change of routes migrants have been forced to embark on, according to NGOs carrying out rescue operations. Often overlooked by Western leaders, the problem has been exacerbated by March’s agreement between the EU and Turkey. Designed to prevent Turkey from becoming a gateway to Europe, the agreement gives Greece the ability to return migrants back to Turkey, thus forcing them to undertake alternative, often longer and more dangerous routes, to achieve their ambition of reaching Europe.  

Desperate in their attempts to flee war, political persecution, hunger and a myriad of problems in their home countries, migrants have no option but paying extortionate sums of money to ruthless human traffickers. Enticed by the promise of safe arrival in Europe, they are often doomed to death from the onset, as their boats usually depart overloaded and underfuelled.

The Mediterranean is fast becoming a mass grave, where thousands of migrants lie at the bottom of the sea. Europe’s lack of action is shameful, as a more proactive response could substantially reduce such needless and shocking tragedies. However, as the wave of anti-immigration sentiment crashes across Europe, the likelihood of the problem worsening remains high.  

Source of happiness turns out to be something completely bloody obvious

Money. Naah. You knew it wasn’t money – I mean, you get it, and you’re happy, sometimes extremely so, for a brief time. And then you spiral into all kinds of horrible anxieties, about life, jobs, love, fun, and Goddamit, money. Whatever happiness is, a long-lasting experience of it will most likely occur when a person has: Solid mental health and close, meaningful relationships with others.

Those, according to the London School of Economics make people happier than even doubling their income. The study’s co-author used the results to form the basis for policy recommendations, claiming the state needs to be more supportive, and not less, thereby challenging years of austerity thinking. Prof Richard Layard described how incomes only make people significantly happy in a comparative sense: Being rich might make you happy, but only if you think about how poor others are. Plus it might only serve to make you depressed, when you consider how astronomically rich others are. Having a partner, and stable mental health (mental health not significantly affected by depression) however, had a much more beneficial effect on people’s wellbeing.

In a sense, this is completely obvious to us. We all know deep down how much happier we are when we have a solid set of relationships and a decent run of mental clarity; We all have an idea of what depression feels like (whether we know it or not), and we all see the ultimate hollowness of money (even if we don’t admit it to ourselves). Of course, this is not to diminish the point of money – we all need it – but to make it the point of our lives is, as we all know, pointless.

As well as a basis for new policy recommendations, perhaps this study can serve as a healthy reminder to us about the need to extend empathy to others. Over the course of the weekend, there were mass deaths in Turkey, Kenya, Egypt and in other places – yet those events (some atrocities, others simply deeply unfortunate), have vanished from our screens, and thereby, our consciousness. It’s all to easy to see the numbers of dead as meaningless – and to believe that when people die over there, it’s somehow OK and normal. Well, just remember that those people not only had happiness of their own, but they leave behind people who are now severely less happy than before. This is all very obvious, but it’s always useful to be reminded. Take care of yourself, your mental health and your loved ones.

Getty Images, as used by The Independent

Deep-rooted corruption mars prospects for change in Afghanistan

Without any doubt, the international community’s overstretched engagement in Afghanistan has given a hope to the war-ravaged nation for a positive change. But, the fact that the country has so far received more foreign aid [more than $ 110 billion] than the whole Marshall Plan [some $103 billion in today’s dollars provided by the U.S. to get 16 European back on feet after the World War II] signifies that something very serious is wrong with Afghanistan.

True, much of the attention and funds have been consumed by the ragging war here. But, a recent study by a reputed Afghan watchdog has revealed that an estimated $ 3 billion were paid as bribes in Afghanistan during the past one year only! This figure alone is much higher than the Kabul government’s annual revenue!

Now, this raises serious concerns about the deep-rooted corruption in this country heavily depending on aid for literally everything. Ordinary Afghans needs to critically evaluate this, which-besides the rebellion by the Taliban militants- is holding their country back despite the out pour of billions of dollars during the past many years.

According to a study by the Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA), up to 49% of respondents believed that the Afghan government has no sincere desire to fight corruption. Also this week, the Asia Foundation shared their annual “Survey of the Afghan People” that too pictured a bleak picture of the state of affairs in the militancy-riddled country.

The government and people of Afghanistan as well is its international backers needs to take on the fight against corruption as serious as they are taking the fight against terrorism if they really wants to improve the lives of so many people who have already suffered a lot.