Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bangladesh: The government's failed efforts to protect its secular bloggers

In the past year, four secular bloggers have been hacked to death in broad daylight in Bangladesh, while many other writers including poets and journalists have received death threats. These violent killings highlight the serious threat to freedom of expression that persist within Bangladesh and needs to be addressed.
Bangladesh was established as a secular state in 1971, however 89.7% of the population are Muslim. There is ongoing tension between Bangladesh's secularists who want to maintain the country’s tradition of separating religion and state, and the Islamists who want to establish an Islamic state. While Bangladesh's authorities have arrested several suspects thought to be responsible for these attacks, none have been punished as of yet. The Bangladesh government doesn’t seem to be doing much to protect secular bloggers. Indeed, the Bangladesh government has even arrested and jailed a number of secular bloggers for “defaming Islam.”
Niloy Neel, formally known as Niloy Chatterjee, is the fourth and most recent blogger murdered. On August 6th, a group of men armed with machetes broke into his flat in the capital, Dhaka and hacked him to death. Neel was a critic of religious fundamentalism and extremism which put him on the target list of Islamist militants. Prior to his death, Neel had received many death threats from Islamist radicals. When he took the case to local authorities however, his complaint was never taken seriously. Ansarullah Bangla Team, an al-Qaeda inspired Islamic extremist group in Bangladesh later claimed responsibility for the killing and warned of more to come.
Two years ago, Islamist hardliners tried to get the government to adopt a blasphemy law that would jail those whom criticized Islam or God. The four men that were killed this year were part of a list of 84 “atheist bloggers,” drawn up by Islamic groups and widely circulated around the country. At first the aim of the list was to get the government to arrest the 84 bloggers and charge them with blasphemy. Ever since, death threats to secular bloggers have been on the rise and protection from government authorities remains non-existent.
Unlike other countries in the region such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, Bangladesh has never been a centre for terrorism. However Islamic militancy is on the rise in Bangladesh with both home-grown militant groups and international ones, including al-Qaeda. In the past Bangladeshi authorities had made it difficult for Islamist groups to establish themselves within the country. The rise in the number of attacks on secular public figures is proving that the government needs to implement more stringent counter terrorism strategies.
Three of four of these four murdered bloggers notified authorities that they were being followed or had been receiving threats and feared for their lives, however no action was ever taken to protect them. Hundreds of secular activists have protested and made calls for justice, and it is clear that the government needs to do more. The authorities have certainly made arrests, but there is a clear danger to secularists in Bangladesh, who are being identified, tracked and targeted. These murders attack free speech and ferment fear, and the Bangladesh government needs to make it clear that attacks on freedom of religion and expression will not be tolerated. The government must  counter violent extremism to ensure that these attacks do not become the norm in the country.

Monday, June 29, 2015

ISIS - A Statement

We feel that an inability to recognize that there can be life without war, an inability to acknowledge the supreme sanctity of human life, an inability to recognize our shared humanity, is an anathema.
ISIS claims the world is divided between their extremist version of Dar al Islam (the World of Peace) and Dar al Harb (The World of War). They justify their actions by claims that we are approaching the apocalypse.  Any claims to such knowledge of the end of times are indefensible claims to know the mind of God as our scriptures warn. Humanity may seem, at times, to be bent on its own destruction but Faith in a merciful God engenders hope not despair, love not hatred, compassion not indifference.
Under a merciful God, humanity must continually strive to overcome the historic polarizations that lead to bloody cycles of conflict and revenge. As believers in the one God, we are convinced that the polarizations between Sunni and Shia, between Islam and Judaism, and between Islam and Christianity are against the will of God and wars fought in the name of religion are an offence to God’s name.

ISIS must also be challenged theologically and spiritually. Bishop Angaelos, of the Coptic Orthodox Church, states that the brutal killings in France, Tunisia and Kuwait, “Show the vulnerability of our humanity, not only in those who died so needlessly and tragically, but also in those who were able to murder so brutally, mercilessly and intentionally.”

When 28 Coptic Christians were executed by ISIS in Libya, Bishop Angaelos began a twitter feed which attracted thousands of followers: #father forgive.  In this profound statement of forgiveness the potential cycle of anger and revenge was halted and the higher morality of righteousness affirmed. As the families of those murdered in Charleston church shooting asserted, compassion and forgiveness are far more potent and effective that hatred and revenge.  Forgiveness has an unconditional quality which transcends our vulnerability to judge.

That said, Al Azhar in Cairo, and senior clergy (ulama) in Iran and Iraq share the view expressed to this council by Ayatollah Safavi in Britain, that ISIS’s behaviour is contrary to Islamic law and therefore morally indefensible.

Military action against extremists, like ISIS, is fraught with danger. Indiscriminate bombing has caused considerable collateral damage which sometimes serves to attract sympathy to their cause.  ISIS must be isolated so it withers and destroys itself because its own deadly ethos will inevitably turn in on its self.

Action must be taken to prevent vulnerable young people being attracted to ISIS and travelling to ISIS controlled areas. Their financial backers must be brought to account and their theology exposed for what it is.

Human history is littered with the consequences of the actions of heavily armed fanatics. ISIS is the latest expression of such warlike fanaticism and is as in error as all others.  We would conclude by reminding believers that they need not be anxious, instead they should act. Anxiety is a sin because it means you do not trust God. The Lord God expects us to deal with ISIS, not to fear them.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

ISIS - a Statement

The Holy Koran states that in the last days the ‘mufsidin fi al-ard,’ (those who corrupt the earth), will appear.
Some of the learned ‘Ulama equate ISIS with the ‘mufsidin fi al-ard’ -- “those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption” as recorded in Chapter 5, verse 33 of the Holy Quran.
We are appalled at the savage atrocity committed in the act of execution of the Jordanian pilot Ra’id Moath al-Kassasbeh and, indeed, by the brutal beheadings of so many innocent aid workers and journalists, as well as by the martyrdom of the Coptic Christians (young men from the same village who died with the name of the Messiah on their lips as any who have watched the horrific video will be aware).
Some claim the kind of violence being exercised by ISIS is part of the past, of the ‘jahiliyah,’ the pre-Islamic era.
Some Muslim scholars go further and argue that, members of ISIS and their supporters are behaving in a way that is thoroughly un-Islamic. Some of these scholars suggest that they resemble the “false Muslims” referred to in Surah al-Munafiqun, the 33rd chapter of the Holy Koran and should be treated as such. Their approach of dividing the world into ‘Dar al-Islam’ (the House of Islam) and ‘Dar al-Harb’ (the House of War) is not valid. The same can be said about the fanatics and terrorists, who recently killed people in France and Denmark. They have to be unequivocally condemned, even if we believe that the freedom of expression is not the freedom to insult (see the message on this link published by the ICF on May 2, 2006). They are not Islam. They are a disgrace to Islam.
To quote Aristotle, “Anyone can be angry, but to be angry at the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose and in the right way is to be commended.”
Having said which, we caution against the use of indiscriminate force to destroy ISIS. There has been too much civilian collateral damage in the liberation of Kobani and in the bombing of Durna, and we must move with careful deliberation in acting against ISIS lest we increase sympathy for this renegade terrorist group.
Bernard Margueritte, ICF President; and William Morris, ICF Chairman, 
The International Communications Forum

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Kenji Goto san

The International Communications Forum wishes to express its sadness at the killing of Kenji Goto san and our grave concern at the continued kidnapping and execution of journalists and aid workers by the militant group Daish a.k.a. Isis. We were particularly saddened by the execution of the inspired and courageous aid worker Peter Kassig who was well known to friends of the NCF and now we are doubly saddened by the barbaric execution of the outstanding Japanese freelance journalist and film-maker Kenji Goto san whom we had hoped might be released unharmed as a consequence of the Herculean efforts of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to intervene.
Kenji Goto san is a writer of great stature. His work on aids, on blood diamonds, on Afghanistan and on exposing other key issues has been seminal. His work emphasises humanity with titles such as: "We want peace not diamonds" or "Born in an aids village" or "Prayers of Rwanda" or "If I could go to School". He is 47 years old and is survived by a wife and two children, one of whom is a babe in arms.
In a recent interview with a Japanese news site, Kenji Goto san is quoted by the BBC as having said he wanted to help people in conflict areas.
"The places I visit to report face unbearable hardship, but even there people live their daily lives," he said. "Those people always have something to say, a message they want conveyed. If I can help relay their message to the world, it might lead to a solution of some sort. If that happens, perhaps I can say my job was a 'success'."

Monday, January 12, 2015

Disinformation and Xenophobia in Middle East Media: Talking Paris, Charlie and the Salafists

We at the International Communications Forum remain gravely concerned by recent events in Paris. We believe that the international press has a particular responsibility for both reducing incitement and increasing understanding. Some observations on this crucial issue follow on this link:

Disinformation and Xenophobia in Middle East Media: Talking Paris, Charlie and the Salafists

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hope for the Al Jazeera three

An appeal goes forward on Thursday 1st January for the three Al Jazeera journalists given gross prison sentences by Egypt's General Sissi.

They were imprisoned in a sham trial as a reprisal for Qatar based Al Jazeera satellite channel's unrestrained and enthusiastic support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's parliamentary elections.

The squabble between Qatar and Egypt's military runs deep and goes way back to the days when the former Emir of Qatar overthrew his father to take power and the old Emir attempted a counter coup with the support of Egypt - a counter coup that failed of course. But the present Emir is the grandson of the old Emir. And time heals many wounds. Thus it is that Qatar and Egypt, at the behest of Saudi Arabia, have come to some sort of rapprochement in the past few weeks that culminated in a visit to Cairo by the new young Emir.

As a consequence, Al Jazeera Arabic (Al Jazeera English remains hearteningly independent) have stopped calling Sissi just Sissi in their news reports and now call him "His Excellency the President".

Ah well, it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. What this means is that there is every chance that Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, imprisoned for merely interviewing Muslim Brotherhood leaders in the aftermath of the election of "His Excellency the President Sissi", may now be released. Not immediately you understand. Things take time because Egypt has to maintain the crude pretense that its justice system is fair. But there will be a retrial ordered by the Court of Appeal almost sure as eggs are eggs.

Having said which the Egyptian justice system remains a complete joke. By way of example, Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah was imprisoned last Summer for taking part in an unsanctioned anti-government protest. His trial took place in September and he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. As part of the case against him the judge allowed the prosecutors to show a video of his wife BELLY DANCING. What a perverted world it sometimes is.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Nina: Glossy Magazine For Arab Women Launched In London

This came in from Karen Dabrowski:

Nina, a glossy magazine for Arab women everywhere was launched at London’s Iraqi Cultural Centre by the Editor- in- chief Madeleine White and Deputy Editor and Arabic specialist Sana Bekki.

The first issue of the colour bi lingual magazine included an interview with internationally renowned Iraqi-born architect Dame Zaha Hadid who conveyed a message of inspiration to Iraqi women stressing the importance of education. She said :”I believe education is so important allowing all young people to explore the future possibilities and learn from history, especially now where we are on a global stage. I see women around the world as being smart, gifted and tough but a good education can open ideas and opportunities. Secondly never give up. I am extremely grateful for my success but architecture is a tough profession, so it has been a struggle. I think it is very important to have the commitment to persevere and to have a strong belief in yourself. As a woman, you need the confidence that you can carry on and take new steps every time. You can’t always get everything right every time – but you have to keep trying.”

There is also an interview with one of the sponsors Iraqi billionaire industrialist Faruk Mustafa Rasool who points out that in Iraq there are quotas that 25 percent of politicians should be made of women. However , often women in positions of political power are there because of connections. I believe this is wrong. There should be professionalism in all areas of life.”

Nouriya Shaya, the first female bank manager in Iraq who will turn 90 this year tells her story as does Asmahan Nasir a 30-year-old widow who returned to her work as a hairdresser.

Nina has an impressive, growing strategic partnerships network. An MOU was signed recently with the Iraqi Business Council in Jordan and there are also strategic partnerships with Asiacell, Afren, Chamber Trade Sweden and Microsoft.

Issue two, focusing on the environment, will be published in December.