Why not ‘why’ and why ‘when’? Qatar crisis.

  

On Monday 5th of June several Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain) followed by Egypt and the Yemen cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, gave its’ citizens two weeks to leave and only 48 hours its’ diplomats to quit. Additionally Gulf countries closed land, sea and air borders isolating tiny peninsula. 
  The reasons for those actions were quite loudly vocalised with Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism, close ties with Iran among many others. But the truth is that Qatar had to face those allegations and was on the edge of severe conflict with Gulf countries for years. Therefore the question is why now and not any earlier or any later the temperature between Doha and other Arab capitals reached boiling temperature. 
  Hardly anything in politics happens by accident, everything is thoroughly thought through by one or the other. Few important things had happened before the crisis erupted. One of which was the USA new administration state visit to Saudi Arabia. Like many journalists and publications pointed out before good relations with the US are essential for every Gulf government. Oddly enough and fortunately for the Saudi King, president Trupm for his first state visit decided to choose not Mexico or Canada, one of the country’s neighbour and big trade partner but Arabian Kingdom. No wonder the presidents’ choice flattered Saudi Monarch, who decided to take his chance and win the battle for Mr Trumps’ heart. And so it happened, the visit went magnificent, with the president touching ‘glowing orb’, taking part in traditional sword dance and talking to Arabs. Whatever they talked about, after the crisis had happened US president expressed his full support for the Saudis.
Only three days after the visit, on 24th of May Qatar claimed as if hackers attacked its’ state run news agency and published fake story quoting ruling emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani making controversial statements about Iran, Israel, Hamas. Alleged comments were shown on a scrolling ticker at the bottom of the screen. Shortly after Saudi Arabia and UAE had blocked Qatari media. 
Money. Since 2014 when due to oversupply of oil, prices of the crude dropped dramatically and never came back to the previous level, Saudis must think how to maintain their expensive budget without sacrificing royal luxurious life. Also in the meantime Saudi led coalition against Houthis in the Yemen is not showing signs to end any time soon. Given all that, long lasting crisis with one of the Gulf countries and member of GCC will definitely upset very sensitive market and the oil prices are highly probable to go up again. If only house of Saud control it wisely, without letting the situation to escalate into confrontation or military conflict the country and royal treasury could actually benefit. But if they won’t be able to do so, Qatar left with no better option will do exactly what King Salman is the most afraid of and get even closer to Iran. 

My face is my identity

 Burka. With or against
 People recognise one another not by looking at each other hands or backs but by looking at each other faces. There is something deeply disturbing and inhuman in forcing somebody to cover it and live behind the veil.
 Nevertheless, given the opportunity I would not vote to ban burka. Mainly because the consequences of doing so could be quite opposite to desired ones. If somebody is able to force their wife, sisters or daughters to completely cover their bodies, is probably also capable of not letting them leave their houses at all if not behind the veil or with their company, and already isolated women would be even more secluded from society. Moreover all the opponents of burka tend to point their finger at Muslim men accusing them for all the evil which happens to their women, at the same time forgetting that also many Muslim women are conservative themselves and share the same views about women’s modesty and their role in society. Therefore are they really forced to wear veils? Definitely not, by any law in the world. Even Iran and Saudi Arabia, the only two countries following sharia law do not require women to do so. Both oblige them to wear head scarfs, not the veils. Although in Saudi Arabia, where vast majority of women wear burkas some cases of women being arrested after they uncovered their faces were reported. And as long as it is accepted and preferred by the respective societies there is nothing we can or even should try to do about. It seems that they are not quite ready yet for such an enormous change. Also even if we ban it the question is how the new law would be implemented? Would police officers be instructed to rip the veils off women’s faces? Or maybe those disobedient would not be allowed in public places? It’s really easy to change the law, but not so much to change customs and social norms of people from different cultural background. It requires education and takes generations.
 

 Women’s rights activists think that they know better than the women themselves what is good for poor and oppressed Muslim girls. Myself, I would rather advice us all to stop telling people what should they wear and how should they live. It’s time to listen instead.
 

Land of Canaan. Part II Six Day War

Not even one week. This is how long it took Israel to almost paralyse three armies and tripled its size. Up to now the country has been involved in four wars, thirteen military conflicts or violent events with its neighbours and is in the constant state of emergency due to Palestinian insurgency in the occupied territories. But one of those four wars played especially significant role in shaping the region the way we can see it today. It has changed the borders, forced thousands of people to seek refuge in the neighbouring countries, from one hand strengthened the country inside out but from the other made it more ignitable place to live in. As well as partly caused civil war in Lebanon. All of it started 50 years ago on 5th of June 1967. 

 

After the war of independence had finished and all the fights had finally ceased by July 1949 some of the Arab countries hostile to the Jewish state became more preoccupied with their own problems and local disputes over the power rather than focusing on erasing Israel from the world’s map. Nevertheless the issue came back in the mid 60’. In 1964 on the initiative of the Arab League Palestinian Liberation Organization was created to support their effort in fighting the occupant. Moreover in 1967 Egyptians persuaded the UN to withdraw from the Sinai and shortly after began a blockade of Sharm al-Sheikh and therefore made impossible Israeli export from Gulf of Aqaba to the Red Sea. New war started on 5th of June.

 

On the very first day only Israel almost destroyed Egyptian air force before the planes even took off, did the same to Syria, Jordan and Iraq gaining therefore air supremacy, its ground forces entered Sinai to fight Egyptian army. West Jerusalem alongside the other cities were shelled by Jordanian forces. Heavy fights in the West Bank continued on the second day of the conflict, during which on the 7th of June Israel captured Old City of Jerusalem. Following day Jewish army reached Suez Canal and took over Sinai Peninsula from Egypt on the south front and the West Bank on the east . On the two last days Golan Heights were captured and after ceasefire declaration war was over.

 

 Who has started the conflict is a matter of dispute between two sides, with Jewish accusing Egypt of attacking them so they were forced to fight back and the Egyptians claiming that strong Arab military presence in Sinai made Israel launch massive air strike which completely destroyed Egyptian air force. It seems that whoever says the truth no longer matters, given all the Arab actions and their unabated hostility war was hanging by a thread anyway.

 

 As for the consequences, nations of the Middle East still have to deal with them in everyday life. Israel gained territory and what they wanted the most, control over the city of Jerusalem. Even though international community didn’t accept it and in Resolution 242 UN asked Israel to come back to the pre-1967 borders, it didn’t happen. Spectacular victory helped the Jews to strengthen their position in the region and in the long term even made some of their neighbours to accept their presence. But it also made as much as 300 thousands Palestinians to leave their homeland and live as refugees elsewhere in the Middle East or Europe and 80 thousands Syrians to give up on everything they had and move from Golan Heights. In Lebanon big number of newcomers contributed to sectarian tensions and as a result to civil war. Also Israel had to pay the price for its great victory and getting control over the land they wanted. Palestinians who did not leave occupied territories still fight for independence, organise intifadas and attacks on Jewish people, what cost hundreds of lives on both sides, majority of them on their own. Growing hostility and lack of trust makes it impossible to reach any agreement, so the two nations live in constant fear and uncertainty about their future. 

 

Meir Shalev, one of the Israeli soldiers fighting in Six Day War after capturing West Bank said “We took a bite we will suffocate on”

50 years later his words sound like a prophecy. 

Refugee diary

WH Auden Refugee Blues 

Say this city has ten million souls,

Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:

Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.
Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:

We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.
In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,

Every spring it blossoms anew:

Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that.
The consul banged the table and said,

“If you’ve got no passport you’re officially dead”:

But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.
Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;

Asked me politely to return next year:

But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?
Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;

“If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread”:

He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.
Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;

It was Hitler over Europe, saying, “They must die”:

O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.
Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,

Saw a door opened and a cat let in:

But they weren’t German Jews, my dear, but they weren’t German Jews.
Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,

Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:

Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.
Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;

They had no politicians and sang at their ease:

They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.
Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,

A thousand windows and a thousand doors:

Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.
Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;

Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:

Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me. 

 

I watched it one week ago, under the same title, short documentary by Stephan Bookas and Tristan Daws’. As beautiful and sad as the poem. 

 

 

Almost half a year ago, on 24th October 2016 French authorities started to dismantle the Jungle – Calais Migrant Camp. But like report some papers still interested in the tragic fate of its’ inhabitants people started to come back to the neighborhood of the town. After accommodation centers they were transported to started to close many of migrants decided to return to the port town, around 15 a day according to The Telegraph. Moreover the latest report by The Independent estimates that about 400 refugees live on the streets of Calais, many minors. 200 more new migrants are coming every week to French capital from Italy after crossing Mediterranean, many of which will probably attempt to reach UK via Calais. Situations is not any better in nearby city of Dunkirk, where the number of refugees doubled from about 700 since the Jungle was closed. The camps is overcrowded, living conditions very poor, it doesn’t meet international humanitarian standards. No wonder some young migrants clash with police and become violent even towards one another. Authorities response only add fuel to the fire. Many charities and social workers admit that refugees face brutality of police officers, sometimes unexplained one like kicking and beating up sleeping people so the move elsewhere, like being refugee is a crime. 

Land of Canaan

On 14th of May 1948 after 2,000 years of absence David Ben-Gurion officially established State of Israel. Country which from the very first day of its existence is at the state of war or constant conflict with its neighbours.
Nevertheless modern history of Israel goes back few decades earlier – to the end of 19th century and the birth of Zionism – a movement created in the Russian Empire by the persecuted Jews, calling for the return to their homeland in Palestine and establishing sovereign country. Yet real progress towards their goal came together with Theodor Herzl and his devotion for the case. Thanks to his engagement during first Zionist Congress in Switzerland in 1897 World Zionist Organisation was created. With the growing anti – Semitism inside Europe and Russia the movement quickly became popular between the Jewish Diaspora and Herzl was slowly able to persuade wealthy and influential nationals to support the movement.
The second chapter of the way to sovereign country is written by the then superpowers with many more nations and conflicts of interest involved. In 1917 Britain issued the Balfour Declaration, in which announced its support for creating Jewish state in Palestine. Only one year later, in 1918 with the end of World War I and collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Britain got the mandate over Palestine and Jewish people could immigrate to Holy Land. Despite Arab state protests the declaration was included in the British mandate and therefore authorized by the League of Nations in 1922. 1920s and ‘30s were times of uncertainty for both – newcomers to Israel and those still living in Europe. Due to disapproval of Arab population influx of immigrants was restricted while their fate in the Old Continent was about to be decided by Nazi Germany and upcoming war. Even USA and Switzerland were putting obstacles for big numbers of those wishing to escape genocide. Regarding the Jews already living in Palestine, they were not welcomed at all by their neighbours. British rule had to be in place until proclamation of independence.
The very next day on May 15th 1948 forces from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq invaded.
Historians are divided who to blame for the tragedy of the Jewish people and all the aftermaths of the First World War including nowadays terrorism. Pointing finger at Nazi Germany is an easy way to explain the core of the problem. It ignores the rest of the aspects of this complicated issue. Other European nations were also anti-Semitic. After World War I victorious superpowers failed to bring the order to the nations left behind collapsed Ottoman Empire and divided the land the way, which rather contributed to divisions between forming Arab nations than to helping them build their countries. The feeling of betrayal was common between Arabs, who fought alongside British troops, did not want to share their land with the Jews and were not told about European plan regarding Palestine. As a consequence newborn states in the Middle East refused to accept UN two state solution as it was envisaged in 1947. Furthermore none of them wanted another state to get Palestine territory after planned military intervention and supposed retaking it. Long lasting desire of Arab states to recapture Holy Land left Palestinians living with the refugee status quo for generations. From the other hand also the Jews, who from ages used to live all over the Middle East and those from north Africa were forced to leave their homes and emigrate to Israel. And nowadays it seems that Palestinians paid and still pay the price for the new order. Another nation which did not show desire to create their country for 2,000 years started to claim the rights to the land which was home for people of different faith and origin for all this time. The question is also what were supposed to do the Jews after persecutions and genocide they had been through in Europe?
After almost 100 years since the defeat of the Ottoman Empire we still have more questions than answers.

8th of March 2017 Afghanistan 

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. For some just an occasion to meet-up and celebrate, but also good opportunity to talk about difficult issues and being heard, for the others.
Talking about women’s rights in Middle East is not an easy task. It’s hard to be not biased, take into account all the reasons why in some cases women are treated like second class citizens and give a justice to the respective societies. It’s like being torn between those who are trying to explain that we are all the same, children of the same god and those who are much more realistic and know that simple answers are not always the best ones, that cultural differences are not at all easy to accept, that lack of education push people to make wrong decisions, that we speak the same language but we still need translator. My heart is with the first ones, my mind with the second. There is a lot of controversy about how Muslim men treat woman, their brutality and desire to control them . Controversies based on stereotypes and prejudices, which are always wrong but are not based on nothing. Violence has no nation, some wrongdoing and wrong-thinking happens all over the world, but there is something really disturbing when the victim has nowhere to ask for help, no family member or even public institution, where cutting off noses, limbs or picking out eyes is not maybe common but it happens. The kind of cruelty which make us sick to think of. Sadly those are the way of punishment some men use against their wives or other female relatives. And what is even more shocking young girls sometimes do not find any support from other women. Extremely conservative society has awry idea of women’s role in a marriage her modesty and obedience.  
 
Even though situation of Afghan women is not to be envied, thousand miles away we can see some positive changes. The first one, which probably everybody has heard of was people’s reaction to Farkhunda Malikzada death. 27 years old woman was wrongly accused of burning Quran by local mullah and as a consequence beaten to death by furious mob. As it turned out later she was innocent and her only “crime” was to criticise the mullah. During the funeral only girls carried her coffin (in Afghanistan solely men do that) and large crowd paid their tribute to Farkhunde’s courage and her lost life, protesting against cruelty and injustice. The same year, in 2015 just before International Woman’s Day young female artist Kubra Khademi marched on the streets of Kabul wearing armour suit emphasising her body parts in a protest against sexual harassment. Few days after Kubra’s walk a group of 20 men from Afghan Peace Volunteers put on blue burqas and took to the streets of the city carrying poster saying We say “no” to any form of violence – a beautiful act of solidarity and support for women’s rights. Sadly none of it had an influence big enough to save Farkhunda’s life.  
 
Unfortunately it’s not easy to be a women in Afghanistan. But is it’s society going to change? I hope, yes. Better access to education for both girls and boys, changing and enforcing law which would protect victims of violence and not stigmatising them, lessening influence of still very influential and radical clergymen, who use lack of education and play on people’s fears to tell them how to live and treat the others. And above all improvements in mental health care system and psychological support for victims and perpetrators alike. It’s hard to imagine that anybody of unsound mind would be able to cut someone else without getting sick themselves and carry on living like nothing happened.  
Yesterday was International Women’s Day, celebrated also in Afghanistan and marked by annual discussion panels and events to once again bring to our attention all the problems they have to face. But this soaring problem didn’t make the front pages. It was another terrorist attack which took life of more than 30 people. 
Afghanistan is a country struggling with many problems. It’s government doesn’t have full control over its’ people and land. Adding to all that omnipotent corruption, really high unemployment rate, obscurantism in almost every sector of public service, starting from infrastructure and finishing at healthcare system. Life is tough in Afghanistan for everybody, not only woman.

Who is Hussain? – an interview

Exactly 2 weeks ago me, Kinga Plata – author of this blog met with an inspiring person. She’s a spokesperson for Who is Hussain? – non-governmental organization, which does really good job not only here in London but around the globe. We talked about their various actions, current events in the world…

And here is our conversation.
WiH: Kinga? Hi!

KP: Yes! Hello! Thank you for coming.
WiH: Thank you for coming to White Chapel.
KP: I asked you for this meeting to talk about Who is Hussain? organization you are part of. Of course your website is full of information but there are some questions I could not find answers for and also I would like to broader discuss what your activity is all about.
So, how did it all started? Who’s idea was to start the organization? And why?
WiH: It was just over 5 years ago here in London that the idea for this organisation was developed. It was a group of friends who were reflecting on the current state of the world, and were moved to use the inspiration of Hussain to stand for social justice. The organisation grew organically, bringing people together, uniting them and providing a vehicle through which they could do small positive actions in their local communities that would benefit others.. We wanted to unite people under a revolutionary role model who they can easily recognize and associate with like Martin Luter King or Hussain ibn Ali. They were individuals who stood for justice, dignity, respect and equality – and these are the values which we try to exemplify through our work. Hussain’s legacy continues to inspire many around the world.


KP: You say on your website that you are apolitical, areligious organization. Who are your members and volunteers? Do you ask them about their believes at all? Let’s say for your own record?

WiH: Our volunteers are individuals from a range of background – Christians, Muslims, Jews as well as those of no faith. Whilst many of our global representatives are Muslim, we work with a diverse group of people and encourage everyone to get involved. 

 

KP: Let’s get to the core, which is your activity and campaigns. Which was the first one? Blood donations? Giving food to the homeless or something entirely different?
WiH: It was a combination. Around the world, Who is Hussain carries out a number of great charitable initiatives, with many being focussed around donating blood, helping the homeless and providing food and water to those in need. From practical side actions like that are quite easy to organize and find partners who are happy to cooperate, like NHS for example. Also we believe that it is important that representatives respond to local needs, as per their local community and so our activities are not restricted and our outcomes are far-reaching.

Where possible, we try to collaborate with charities and other organisations doing similar work, so we can support and strengthen each other, rather than duplicating services. 

 KP: You did also set up awareness campaign. I guess that this year is #ItStartsWithYou. What is it exactly about?
WiH: Each year we run a different campaign focussed on encouraging people around the world to get involved and give back. The 2016 Campaign we launched was #ItStartsWithYou – communicating the message that we can all effect change, no matter how big or small our action may be. Once again, using the example of Hussain who gave his life in a stand against tyranny and oppression, we hope individuals are inspired to undertake social action that promotes justice and equality. 

KP: Well, talking about those issues in here is quite safe, but there are some countries where being too vocal can cost life…

WiH: We are very conscious of this, and we do not encourage anybody to do anything that would endanger themselves or others.. All we ask from our supporters is to do whatever they can that is both locally appropriate and culturally sensitive. The safety of our volunteers is paramount.

 KP: Tell me something about your past campaigns. For me the hair cut for homeless was really original and an amazing idea.

WiH: Yes, this was particularly effective. For many, a haircut is a luxury and so for us this was about restoring dignity. Not only does this provide an opportunity for us to better engage with those we are working with, but it improved self-confidence and made people happier. Another action the London team did was a CV workshop to help individuals with finding employment.

Other campaigns include #HussainInspires, which raised greater awareness of who Hussain ibn Ali is and what impact he has had on the world. #TeamGiveBack from a few years ago again encourage people to be part of a larger movement promoting positive action. Projects have included raising money to pay for live saving surgeries for children in Iraq as well as working with Room to Read to educate impoverished children.

Local actions include the 40 Acts of Kindness, where for 40 consecutive days individuals would undertake to do something small that would help others. Some went to elderly homes to spend time with the residents, others organised a food drive or donated blood.

 KP: Coming back to the homeless and helping them to find an employment. Do you possibly know if any of them managed to change their lives?
WiH: It is difficult to give specific statistics as we do not have a record of those we have engaged with over the years. But anecdotally, we know of some who have since been successful – others we see regularly and so are aware of developments. It is always nice to hear good news or success stories. 
KP: To make it all happen you cooperate with different organizations across the globe. Who are they?
WiH: Our partners and activities varies depending on the country we are working in. At the height of public consciousness on the refugee crisis we were helping Save the Children to raise the funds for refugee children. Since then our team in Toronto (and other areas) have been involved in welcome and resettlement actions. India and Pakistan have led projects focussed on aid and disaster relief work, the UK team have worked with St Mungo’s and there are numerous other examples. One notable achievement was the Lebanon team breaking their country’s world record on blood donation towards the end of last year. 

 KP: And how it all works from the financial side? I mean, how do you distribute money you get from your donors? How much goes for those in need and how much to run the organization? Is it anyhow regulated by the law?

WiH: We are a not-for-profit organisation. Whilst we do accept donations, our main focus has been to encourage people to donate their time rather than money. Our donors are mostly individuals and small businesses, which allows us to focus our energies on mobilising people. We follow standard good practise when it comes to accounting, and are transparent with our donors.

 
KP: Apart from your activity what also brought me here was Ashura procession I saw on the streets of London on 12 of October and thanks to which I found out about your organization. Do you know how many people attended?
WiH: This wasn’t organized by Who is Hussain, but many Shia Muslims attend this annually as part of the traditional processions marking the death anniversary of Hussain. Using his stand against tyranny and oppression as inspiration, this year there was an effort to make this into a a demonstration against ISIS and other perpetrators of terror acts. It is of course important to note that the vast majority of Muslims are peace loving individuals who contribute and give back to society, and that part of the message those in the procession were communicating. I’d recommend you contacting the organisers for more details.

KP: Do you think that your actions help some to avoid radicalization? 

WiH: The organisation is focussed on meeting local needs and helping where we can. The target audience is quite broad, and not focused on any specific faith, race or any other grouping. 

KP: Some time ago next to the article about battle to retake Mosul from ISIS I found this picture of a tank with a flag on it. It was the same one which I saw on Ashura procession in London. Is there anybody form your organization fighting in Iraq? Or does Who is Hussain? supports Shia militia?

WiH: Hussain is a very prominent personality for many Shia Muslims, and his shrine is located in Iraq. Many people around the world carry flags with his name on it, particularly those in Iraq. There is no specific correlation with our organisation or any other, and so it would be incorrect to assume any affiliation with Shia militia or any other group. Most Shia also see Ayatullah Ali Al-Sistani as the leading authority. He issued guidance discouraging Muslims around the world from leaving their homes in order to join forces in Iraq attempting to oppose ISIS, which is adhered to. There are different rulings for those living in Iraq. 

KP: What do you think personally? Is it going to be worse? 

WiH: Terrorism is a scourge on society and as there are always those who will peddle messages of hate and division. As long as there is disparity and inequality there are opportunities to broaden these divides.

KP: What do you think is a remedy for all this mess?

WiH: I am a strong advocate that dialogue can help overcome ignorance and develop tolerance. There needs to be a multi-pronged approach to targeting xenophobia, intolerance and hate. There is a shared responsibility for us all. Yes, world leaders and the media can influence with their rhetoric, but we also have a role to play in speaking out against injustice and assisting where we can. We have far more that unites us than that which divides us, and this is what needs to be developed. 

KP: Since I moved here, London’s multi-cultural society is what I like the most about this city. We can all live next to each other.

WiH: Definitely, in London we celebrate diversity.. Unfortunately, at times just because someone looks different, or believes a different faith they are seen as the other. We often find that negativity and intolerance are fuelled by people’s fear of the other, and this can be overcome by seeing each other as humans, who have the same concerns, hopes and aspirations. It is also important to note that those preaching messages of hate are a very small but vocal minority. The vast majority are those who respect difference and are willing to stand in solidarity with different communities. 

KP: It seems that they will keep us busy for the next few years… Thank you for your time and this conversation. 

 
For more information about Who is Hussain? visit:
https://whoishussain.org

And highly recommended article about one of WiH actions:
https://www.buzzfeed.com/aishagani/muslim-and-jewish-barbers-cutting-hair?utm_term=.vsYJpVaeY#.aby1LxpAz