Islamic State is a cult that cannot be bombed out of existence   no comments

Posted at 5:00 am in the places I would like to go

US secretary of state John Kerry denies that the bombing campaign against Islamic State fighters in and around the small, dusty Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani near the Turkish border defines coalition strategy. He argues the primary focus of the US military is on Iraq, but his words are belied by targets currently under attack.

US aircraft have carried out dozens of strikes on Islamic State units at Kobani but no air action has been taken as fighters have skirmished with Iraqi forces around Ramadi, an hour’s drive from Baghdad.

Half held by Islamic State, Ramadi is the capital of strategic Anbar province, bordering on Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Ramadi is a far more important strategic objective than Kobani, but the US fears Kobani’s loss more because the battle is being played out on television screens across the world. Washington cannot suffer a propaganda defeat in Syria even though Islamic State forces advance in Iraq.

In one of his most oft-quoted maxims, Napoleon stated: “In war the spiritual is to the material as three to one.” The loss of Kobani would also be a major “spiritual” or moral defeat the US cannot afford in its faltering and one-dimensional bombing campaign against Islamic State.

More than military prowess, Islamic State relies on “spiritual” clout with adherents, admirers and, even, antagonists, for millions of Muslims living in failing states long for the purity and security of an “Islamic state”, even the version imposed by the brutal and narrow militia.

Islamic State is not just one of the host of insurgent groups fighting the Syrian and Iraqi governments. It is not a network, like al-Qaeda, not a movement, not an organisation. Islamic State is a cult which relies on the “spiritual” dimension to fire its fighters.

It is the world’s most well-organised and heavily armed cult, making it far more formidable than the entire range of militias involved in the struggle for Syria and Iraq.

Core Islamic State fighters are converts to the cause of establishing a utopian Islamic state ruled by Muslim canon law, Sharia. They are imbued with a powerful “purist” ideology based on the teachings of 18th-century ultra-conservative Saudi preacher Mohamed Ibn Abdel Wahhab.

Islamic State seeks to impose its uncompromising vision by force in areas that fall under its control. Its fighters are licensed to commit mass murder, carry out sectarian and ethnic cleansing, stage beheadings, kidnap civilians, use sex slaves, impress child soldiers, rob banks and destroy cultural heritage.

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Written by enfoquec on October 21st, 2014

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Cultural heartland of Al Ain hosts night of Emirati musical heritage   no comments

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ABU DHABI – Leading artists from the United Arab Emirates will perform an evening of traditional Arab music and poetry dedicated to the rich cultural heritage of the country as part of the newly reintroduced Abu Dhabi Classics annual concert season.

Titled The Song of Heritage, the evening will bring eminent Emirati musicians and poets on stage at the Al Qattara Arts Centre in Al Ain, the heritage heartland of the UAE, on 27thOctober for one evening only.

Acclaimed master of the traditional oud stringed instrument Faisal Al Saari will be joined by poet Abdullah Al Heydah and Ali Mohammed Matar Helal AlKeebali, and expert on the rebabah, another stringed instrument, for a night of musical recitals interspersed with Arabic poetry.

Reintroduced by Abu Dhabi Tourism Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) after a three-year break, the Abu Dhabi Classics season, from October until May, sees leading local and international musicians and orchestras perform at numerous venues across Abu Dhabi city, Saadiyat Island and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Al Ain, dedicated to the theme of The Traveller.

Al Saari taught himself to play the oud in 1986 and mastered the instrument at the Bait Al Oud musical academy in the oasis city of Al Ain, becoming one of the UAEs leading experts in his field.

I have always loved Abdullah Al Hedyahs poetry and I am really looking forward to see how his words and my music work together. We want to pay tribute to our country and to what makes up its real beauty – its heritage. I am also very proud to be part of this seasons Abu Dhabi Classics and represent Emirati musical accomplishment, Al Saari said.

Western classical music, especially Bach, is one of my most important sources of inspiration and I see it as part of my artistic goal to blend both Western and local musical traditions.

Up to 12 concerts are planned for the Abu Dhabi Classics season featuring some of the worlds leading classical musicians and orchestras from more than 20 countries.

As part of the season we want to show that classical music is a universal phenomenon with no boundaries, stretching from East to West. Thisheritage performance of music and poetry will highlight Emirati culture at its best, said Dr Ronald Perlwitz, Head of Music Programme, Culture Sector, TCA Abu Dhabi.

We hope the success of the evening will lead to the Emirati musical experience being taken abroad and performed to enthrall audiences in other countries. We are also hoping to see collaborations taking place between local artistes and visiting international composers and musicians.

Dr.Perlwitz said that Grammy award winner Spanish composer Jordi Savall, who is due to perform his unique concert Ibn Battuta: Voyager of Islam at the Emirates Palace Auditorium as part of the Classics season on November 20, has already expressed an interest in working with the Emirati ensemble on a pioneering musical project.

The programme will be conducted outdoors and entry is free.

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Written by enfoquec on October 21st, 2014

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Israeli Settlers jeapordise the fate of UNESCO heritage site   no comments

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For three weeks, Palestinian Muslims have been denied access to one of the holiest sites in Islam. Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem has become the site of frequent assaults by occupation forces and efforts to breach the complex by Zionist extremists.

Clashes between unarmed protesters and Israeli forces armed with stun grenades, tear gas and rubber coated steel bullets have left dozens of Palestinians wounded, and has resulted in fires that threaten the stability of the 1300 year-old complex.

Intent on destroying the mosque and rebuilding the lost Temple of Solomon, more than a thousand Zionist settlers have entered the area in the past week under the protection of the occupation army, and have been given carte blanche to intimidate and harass Palestinians worshipping at the site.

But concern for this wonder of the ancient world is surprisingly absent. While the threat posed by IS to historical monuments and heritage sites in Iraq and Syria is frequently discussed, few have voiced alarm at the threat extremists pose to one of the Middle East’s most iconic structures, one that the international community is obligated to protect due to its UNESCO world heritage site status.

Also missing is concern regarding freedom of worship for the thousands of Palestinians denied access to one of their most revered houses of worship. No major media outlet has commented on the absurd irony of a Jewish extremist being allowed to worship at a mosque most Muslims are barred from entering. Nor has there been outrage at the violation by settlers of territory considered occupied by international law.

Palestinians have become accustomed to the unsympathetic coverage of most broadcasters and politicians, but it’s the silence of the Muslim world that has hit them hardest. There has been no statement condemning the violations from any of their Arab neighbours, in a region that specialises in statements that never follow through with effective action.

The latest assault on al-Aqsa underscores the lonely position in which the Palestinian people find themselves; left to fend off increasing aggression by themselves with no leadership or ally to call upon. The recent massacre in Gaza was cheered on by Gulf dictatorships and Egypt because it targeted their enemy, Hamas.

Frequent killings of youths in the West Bank barely registers disapproval, with information only getting out because of the efforts of Palestinian activists and their supporters on social media.

With the weight of opposition to the Palestinians and indifference to the fate of al-Aqsa among political leaders and the media is not an option. The last intifada against the occupation started after Israeli leader, Ariel Sharon entered al-Aqsa sanctuary, a deliberate provocation that led to the death of thousands of Palestinians.

The international community is obligated to protect al-Aqsa mosque, not only because of its heritage status, but to prevent the curtailment of religious freedoms for Muslims.

For 1400 years, with the exception of Crusader rule in Palestine, Muslims protected the rights of Christians and Jews in the city to worship freely. Almost five decades of Israeli occupation in the sacred city threatens to end that virtuous tradition.

Using mythical and unfounded claims about the location of the lost Temple of Solomon, successive Israeli governments have risked the integrity of the building by carrying out excavations under its foundations. A policy that would be balked at near other UNESCO sites is tolerated when it is the Israeli government responsible for putting at risk the Islamic world’s heritage.

Palestinians and Muslims across the globe will not tolerate any threat to their sacred sites. Damage to al-Aqsa mosque will further destabilise a region already going through a significant upheaval. If the international community acts now, it can stop another potential deadly act of violence.

Ismail Patel is chair of Friends of Al-Aqsa; his twitter handle is @ismailAdamPatel

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Muslims in Jerusalem perform the Eid al-Adha prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on October 4 (AA)

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Written by enfoquec on October 21st, 2014

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Worship and a way of life   no comments

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The design of a Hindu temple reflects many things, including the dharma, values and the Hindu way of life, writes Aneeta Sundararaj

ON Deepavali last year, when I visited the temple, something didn’t feel right. Yet, I couldn’t put my finger on why I wasn’t feeling at peace.

When I discussed this with J.R. Rajaji, a former member of the committee of the Hindu Endowment Board which oversees the Waterfall Temple (Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple) in Penang, he asked me if I had stepped into the temple the right way.

This puzzled me. Nonetheless, I recalled that, because of the crowd, I had entered via a side entrance.

Rajaji, 78, then mentioned “vashtu shastra” and I asked him to explain why that was important in matters of temple construction and worship.

He explained: “You see, the design of a Hindu temple is like the structure of a cosmic man who, in Hindu mythology, is called Purush.”

According to the story, Lord Brahma created Purush when he was creating the Universe. In the process, things got a little out of hand and Purush became too large to manage. At the behest of the other Gods, Lord Brahma contained Purush by pinning him down with his head towards north-east and legs to the south-west. Unable to bring Himself to destroy Purush, Lord Brahma decided to make him immortal. Henceforth, he was to be known as Vashtu-Purush and all mortals who built a structure on Earth needed to first worship him.


With this in place, ancient architects went on to create the basic metaphysical chart for all Hindu temples, which they still call a Vashtu-Purusha-Mandala.

They chose the square as the fundamental form to symbolise unity, inertia and permanence. From the square, they were able to derive all other shapes such as the triangle, hexagon, octagon and circle.

“You will notice that this chart is divided into 81 parts (9×9),” said Rajaji. “The number 9 is very important and is derived from the human body. We have nine ‘holes’ – two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, one mouth, two orifices for waste.”

Like any other art form, there are regional variations in the style and construction of a temple, such as those from Orissa, Gujarat, Kashmir and South India. However, this basic metaphysical chart is still used to create the final form (inclusive of the vertical and horizontal dimensions) of the temple.

Once the plan is drawn up on paper, the next step is to “draw” it at the actual building site.

“There is a sanctification ceremony called the Bhoomiparipalana puja. A priest from India will conduct all the necessary ceremonies before actual work begins,” said Rajaji.

Then, I succeeded in drawing his ire by asking why it was necessary for a priest to come all the way from India to work on a temple plan. Surely, our local architects and engineers are able to create and construct a temple as well.

He paused before replying: “Yes, with modern technology, you can even build a temple in the middle of the ocean. But is it practical? You need a place where God can be powerful enough to bless the world. I mean, if you had a president and gave him a weak chair to sit on, what’s the point? This is something that only those who are well-versed in temple structure, astrology and construction can do.”

Having set the record straight, Rajaji continued: “When you look at a temple, imagine you’re looking at a man who is lying down with his head in the north-east and his legs in the south-west. The entrance to the temple, the gopuram, is the man’s feet.”

This means paying obeisance at the entrance of a temple is the first step of Hindu worship. Once inside the temple grounds, devotees remove their shoes and then rinse their feet, mouth and hands in the place provided.


Why a flagpole? “In olden times,” said Rajaji, “men used to go around town to pass messages. Some messages were good, some were bad. When they saw a flagpole, such as at a wedding, they would avoid coming in to deliver bad news. So, the flagpole tells everyone that this is a good place. From this point on, you must leave all your negative thoughts and keep only pure thoughts in your head.”


It is customary to worship Lord Ganesh before entering the main hall of the temple. By honouring Him first, the dynamic blessings of the temple will be opened to the devotee. The next step is to pay obeisance to the vehicle of the presiding deity of the temple.

Ranjiji said: “In a Shiva temple, there will be a Nandi or sacred bull in front of the temple. For an Amman temple, you’ll see a lion, Simmhavahanam, because that is her vehicle.

“Step inside the mahamandap (main hall) using your right foot. Don’t step on the threshold. Step over it instead.

“Once you’re inside the temple hall, imagine you’re standing on the stomach of Vashtu-Purush.”

It is said that in the middle of the temple floor, you will find a black dot.

“This black dot is symbolic of the umbilicus of Vashtu-Purush,” explained Rajaji. “It is also the exact centre of the Vashtu-Purusha-Mandala and Brahmasthanam (the station of Lord Brahma). Think of it this way: When you make pickles, you put all the good things into the jar and seal it. This black dot is like the 10th hole and seals all the good things in the temple.”

Thereafter, devotees will present their offerings (usually a tray of flowers) to the priest to be placed before the presiding deity of the temple in the place called the karpagraham or moolasthanam. “This is where the head of Vashtu-Purush lies and is always in the north-east. The sun’s rays must reach the presiding deity of the temple in this inner sanctum. This is why, even in your own house, you should never sleep with your head in the south-west,” said Rajaji.


After this, the priest recites the necessary mantras and lights the flame (deepum).

“At the moment when he holds the deepum in front of the deity, that’s the single moment when you are in communion with the deity,” he said.

The priest then brings the deepum in front of you and you are invited to draw the blessings of the presiding deity by passing your hands over the flame and lightly touching your eyes.

Rajaji added: “The vibuthi (ash) given to you after this is to remind you that whatever you do in this lifetime, there will come a time when you will return to dust. The chandana (sandalwood paste) and kumkum you apply to your forehead represents the third eye of the spiritual seeing. The kumkum also symbolises that all humans are equal for all our blood is red.”

Food cooked and blessed may then be distributed to the devotees. It is customary to leave a monetary offering in a donation box. One of the final acts of worship in a Hindu temple is to undertake the pradakshina (walk around the sanctum in clockwise fashion). Having come to the end of his explanations, Rajaji smiled at me and said: “Always leave a temple in peace.”

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Written by enfoquec on October 19th, 2014

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The Black Market Battleground   no comments

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When Islamic State fighters capture an archaeological site, they’re faced with a series of choices. Do they destroy it or sell its artifacts? If they decide it’s idolatrous, do they extort protection money for it from the Shiite, Sufi, Yazidi, or other religious minority group that values it? Or do they demolish it right away and feature the demolition in their propaganda? If they loot it, do they ransack the place themselves or do they hire others to do it? Or do they tax the opportunistic looters who show up?

Actually, all of the above is going on. How the self-proclaimed Islamic State militant group approaches each site depends on a range of factors, including the area’s land ownership system and the payoff of plundering the site, says Michael Danti, one of the archaeologists leading a U.S. government-funded effort to document the destruction and looting of the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria.

At a time when the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, and other groups are killing, enslaving, and displacing thousands of people across Syria and Iraq, what happens to ancient artifacts may seem like a sideshow. But according to Danti, who is also a professor at Boston University, ISIS’s profits from looting are second only to the revenue the group derives from illicit oil sales. So understanding the Islamic State’s approach to the fate of ancient artifacts actually could be key to stopping its advance.

“What we have from the satellite imagery is that there is industrial-scale looting all over Syria,” said Danti, a leader of an American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) project that in August received U.S. State Department funding to document cultural heritage threats in Syria. During the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September, Secretary of State John Kerry personally thanked Danti in a speech at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the project expanded into Iraq.

It’s often difficult to definitively determine who is responsible for an instance of looting. Both the Syrian government and rebel groups have taken part, as have locals in both Syria and Iraq whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the conflict. Satellite images and informants on the ground often can’t keep up with the pace of looting and of the exchange of territory between various groups.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that the scale of the Islamic State’s destruction, looting, and profits from antiquities trafficking is “unprecedented,” Danti said.

ASOR’s Syrian Heritage Initiative uses satellite images such as these, taken at a site in Syria on January 2012 and March 2014, to understand where and on what scale looting is taking place. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

Amr Al-Azm, an archaeologist at Shawnee State University in Ohio who is also leading efforts to document looting in the region, agreed. At first, the Islamic State simply asked anyone who chose to loot areas it controlled for khums, a tax on the spoils of war paid in Islamic tradition to the government. But by this summer, Al-Azm said, ISIS started taking a more deliberate approach, actively employing contractors to do the excavation. These contractors take some of the profits, and the rest goes to the Islamic State. “It’s part of a growing escalation,” he said.

It’s essentially impossible to estimate the total profits the group is making off of antiquities. Looting appears, though, to be not only the second-most profitable source of ISIS income, but also the second-most common form of employment the group offers in the war-torn areas it controls, Danti said, citing local sources whose identities he couldn’t reveal because he fears for their safety.

“The most recent reports I’m getting is that ISIS is actually engaging itself: They’re hiring their own people, they’re using a lot of earth-moving equipment — bulldozers, et cetera,” Al-Azm said. “So what I can tell you is they’re making enough to make it worth their while.” Although Al-Azm and Danti were very hesitant to give any estimates, others have reported that the group’s earnings from antiquities are surely worth millions, helping make the Islamic State the world’s richest terror group. One lion sculpture from the region eventually sold for more than $50 million in New York in 2007. Most items looted by ISIS haven’t yet appeared on public, international markets, but they could also eventually be worth huge sums.

At the same time, ISIS is apparently plundering strategically, Danti said. In this, it has probably learned from al Qaeda’s experience in Iraq’s Anbar province around 2006, when local Sunni tribal leaders became fed up with al Qaeda’s rapaciousness and turned against the group, he said. Islamic State leaders “don’t want to be seen as disenfranchising or upsetting powerful Sunni tribal leaders who are frequently the large landowners,” and they try to base their division of the spoils on Islamic law.

When it comes to non-Sunni artifacts, Danti recently heard that there is disagreement within the Islamic State’s sharia courts as to how much they should destroy and how much they should sell and profit from. The group is more likely to destroy Shiite, Yazidi, and Sufi artifacts and sell pre-Islamic ones, but overall, “They’re probably selling most of it,” he said.

The looting itself usually happens in a matter of days. Much of the digging is probably done by local people who are “just trying to feed their families,” Danti said. The Islamic State profits nearly immediately, selling the goods to middlemen who then smuggle them into neighboring countries such as Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.

But fencing the antiquities takes much longer, and that means that once they leave Syria and Iraq it becomes more difficult to determine their fate. Some middlemen belong to organized crime syndicates that smuggle a range of things — electronics, people, antiquities — and have done so since long before the rise of the Islamic State. That traffic, along with the illegal arms flowing in the opposite direction, is a large part of why control of border locales such as Kobani is so strategically important, Danti said.

In some ways, it’s easier for the international community to intervene once artifacts leave ISIS-controlled areas. Concerned observers can try to raise awareness and exert moral pressure on collectors not to buy likely trafficked items. Those efforts can help bring down the market value of trafficked artifacts, eventually making them less attractive to loot in the first place.

A U.N. resolution in 2003 banning trade in Iraqi antiquities somewhat dampened looting during the Iraq War, and cultural heritage experts and activists are now urging the U.N. to pass a similar measure banning trade in antiquities from Syria. James Sadri of the Syria Campaign, one of the groups involved in the effort, told Foreign Policy that nearly 18,000 people had signed the petition, which will be delivered to U.N. missions in New York this week.

“With well over 200 of the world’s foremost experts in the field calling on the U.N. to ban this trade, it’s getting increasingly difficult for politicians to ignore the campaign,” Sadri stated. “It’s not just about protecting world heritage, it’s also about protecting life — we know that the sale of these antiquities is funding weapons that are fueling the violence in Syria.”

International lawyer and Georgetown professor Mark Vlasic, meanwhile, is calling for not just governments but also private collectors, auction houses, and others involved in the antiquities trade to meet and agree to practices to impede further looting.

But the murkiness around what happens to artifacts once they leave Syria or Iraq makes these international agreements harder to implement. In the short term, they may cause middlemen to hold onto the artifacts until the furor has died down — which generally takes several years. Most of what was plundered from Iraq between 2003 and 2005 is only now appearing in aboveground international markets, the main exception being when a particular collector has a request out for a specific kind of artifact, according to Danti.

“The material is gradually, incrementally laundered in the world-antiquities market, and it becomes very difficult to establish when, where, who, what, why at that point in time,” Danti said. “So we’ve got to chronicle everything we can now so we can try to determine what was stolen by whom and even try to get the slightest inclination as to where they’re going.”

According to cultural heritage attorney Rick St. Hilaire, however, it looks like at least some recently looted items are making their way to the United States. “American imports of art, collections, and collectors’ pieces, and antiques from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey increased sharply between 2011 and 2013, prompting questions about whether trafficked heritage has piggybacked onto the mainstream marketplace,” St. Hilaire wrote last week.

St. Hilaire found that the aggregate value of art, collections, and collectors’ pieces imported from those countries rose 86 percent from 2011 to 2013, with a nearly 500 percent increase in the value of imports from Iraq between 2012 and 2013. Of those imports, 93 percent “were declared to be antiques over 100 years old, begging the question of whether nearly $18 million worth of great grandmothers’ rocking chairs and similar items were shipped to America or whether the imports may have been ancient archaeological artifacts misclassified as ‘antiques,’” St. Hilaire wrote. “Commodities declared by importers to be antiques from Iraq and Syria rocketed skyward by 672 percent and 133 percent, respectively, from 2012 to 2013.”

As during the earlier Iraq conflict, many of these apparently looted items are fakes — but some are probably real. Traffickers have been known to slip antiquities imports under the radar of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the past, St. Hilaire notes, “surreptitiously labeling Hindu idols as ‘handicrafts,’ or “affixing ‘Made in Thailand’ stickers on ancient Ban Chiang pots to make them appear modern.”

Brandon Montgomery, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an email that ICE’s investigatory arm is “aware that Syrian and Iraqi cultural heritage treasures may surface, but ICE will not confirm or deny any possible ongoing investigation.” The U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Others in the U.S. government are concerned that current efforts aren’t enough. Rep. William Keating, a Massachusetts Democrat and the ranking member on the Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called evidence of Syrian and Iraqi antiquities increasingly showing up in the United States a “disconcerting development” and said it “implies not only an uptick in the illicit trade of these items, but links the destruction, plundering, and looting of cultural heritage sites to potential buyers in the United States who may be funding terrorist activities in the Middle East.” Keating is working on proposals to strengthen cooperation between government bodies to combat antiquities trafficking.

As international efforts move slowly forward, leaders of the government-backed ASOR project are trying to make it easier and safer for people within Syria and Iraq to report looting. Andy Vaughn, ASOR’s executive director, said the project is developing a web app through which people can file incident reports. But before the app goes live, it needs more work to ensure that it can’t be hacked, endangering the people notifying authorities.

It’s likely that for a long time, obtaining and sharing this information will continue to be a very risky business. “The real heroes of the story are those people on the ground,” Al-Azm said.

ASOR’s Syrian Heritage Initiative/Directorate-General of Antiquities Museums, Syria

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Written by enfoquec on October 19th, 2014

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Pates: Conflict and hunger increase each other   no comments

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This is the prepared text of the keynote address Richard E. Pates, the bishop of the Des Moines Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, delivered Tuesday at the Iowa Hunger Summit.

I welcome all of you from across Iowa and the country to our beautiful city of Des Moines. The opportunity to address you is one of the wonderful perks of being the Bishop of Des Moines.

I often remind people that Iowa is in the heartland of our great nation. We are not the heartland simply because we are part of our country’s breadbasket, but also because we give witness to a heartfelt solidarity with those who live in poverty and hunger, both here in the United States and abroad. Dr. Norman Borlaug, our favorite son, gave witness to this with his life’s work.

For me as a Catholic bishop, food security and the relationship between food and peace are moral issues. In our Christian tradition we believe that lifting people out of poverty and feeding the hungry are serving Jesus in disguise. “For I was hungry and you gave me to eat.” (Matthew 25)

Recently, I stood on the Mount of Beatitudes and celebrated Mass with 17 of my brother bishops on a Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land. In the Beatitudes, we read: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5: 6, 9)

These two Beatitudes connect the righteous pursuit of justice and the building of peace. People whose basic necessities of life are satisfied are less likely to engage in conflict. Peace is the fruit of justice.

Today, I want to speak to you based on my ministry as the chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Through my work with the members and staff of the committee and extensive travel around the world, I’ve encountered people in many developing countries struggling to overcome the effects of poverty, hunger and conflict.

I’ve also seen the inspiring and humbling work of the church to support those in need through acts of solidarity, charity and empowerment. I have witnessed the mission of Catholic Relief Services that partners with the church in the developing world to alleviate hunger and poverty and build peace. CRS serves all on the basis of need, not creed.

I have learned a lifetime of lessons in these past three years as chair of the International Committee. Drawing from my solidarity trips, I hope to describe what hunger in the developing world looks like and to explore three root causes of hunger: conflict, climate change and the harmful expropriation of land from poor farmers, so-called “land-grabbing”.

What does hunger in our world look like? The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 805 million people live with hunger: one in nine people on the planet. The vast majority of the hungry lives in the developing world. Hunger rates are highest in Africa where more than 25 percent are chronically hungry.

In response to this unacceptable level of hunger in a world of abundance, Pope Francis said: It is a scandal that there is still hunger and malnutrition in the world! It is not just a question of responding to immediate emergencies, but of addressing altogether, at all levels, a problem that challenges our personal and social conscience, in order to achieve a just and lasting solution.

Hunger strikes hardest at the most vulnerable people. In 2013, over 6 million children under the age of 5 died, 45 percent of them from the effects of severe hunger or malnutrition that weakens their bodies and makes them helpless to fight many curable diseases. That is more children than died from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. One in three children in the developing world is stunted and will suffer the physical, cognitive and psychological effects throughout their entire lives, crippling their ability to thrive as God’s children.

In a visit to Kabgayi in Rwanda last year, along with my host Bishop Smaragde Mbonyintege, president of the Rwanda Bishops Conference, I witnessed a young man otherwise well-built dragging a leg as he crossed the school yard. Explaining his condition, the bishop said: “Like so many youth, he gets plenty to eat, but the food lacks nutritional value to develop fully.”

Despite unacceptable statistics, we have reason to hope. In the last decade, the number of hungry people in our world has dropped by 100 million. Our biggest challenge is in Africa where today one in four African men, women and children face food insecurity. (FAO State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014.)

I traveled to Africa four times during my tenure on the committee. We visited countries that are in the throes of conflict or are struggling to emerge from conflict. In South Sudan and the Central African Republic, I’ve met men and women and their families living in camps after being driven from their homes because of civil war. Many of these families have lost everything, their homes, clothing and even kitchen equipment and farming tools.

I’ve carried, hugged and played with their children who suffer the most. Education is halted and curable diseases go untreated while other illnesses, like cholera, appear because clean water and proper sanitation in the camps are difficult to provide. Agricultural production drops in conflict zones and, as a result, food markets cease to operate and food is barely available for purchase. Organizations like Catholic Relief Services are working in South Sudan and the Central African Republic to fill the gap and save lives created by the fighting.

Violent conflict is development in reverse. It destroys all the hard-won progress in human development and sets people back decades. I have been in South Sudan twice. It won its independence in 2011 after 40 years of horrible civil war that killed about 2 million people. For three years, the country had an opportunity to educate its children, provide basic health care and assist rural farmers to increase their food production. The country’s leaders had the enormous bounty of oil wealth to pay for all these services.

It is tragic that instead of serving the common good and providing social services, political and military leaders turned to corruption and divisive political battles. In December last year, the political infighting turned violent and exploded into civil war that has killed some 10,000 people and displaced 1.3 million. An estimated 4 million people don’t have enough food to feed their families. Famine could strike hundreds of thousands. Although the international community and U.N. agencies are seeking to respond to the crisis, there is no sign that the political and military leaders are willing to halt the fighting.

I made a solidarity visit to the Central African Republic in July. It has experienced similar conflict to South Sudan where corrupt and misguided political leaders fight over access to political power and natural resource riches. This struggle provoked by political factors and the fight for control of the rich natural resources was insidiously instigated eventually between religious communities who had lived in peace for decades. What started as a fight over power and wealth led to religious conflict. In the face of this, Muslim and Christian religious leaders are now working heroically to restore trust and peace.

Our committee continues to work with CRS to urge the U.S. government to intensify its efforts to stop the conflict in these countries, to provide humanitarian assistance, and to help rebuild both the governments and civil societies in order to ensure future peace and prosperity.

Conflict is also a concern in many parts of Latin America. I recently visited El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where the legacy of civil war and armed insurrection still weigh heavily on the shoulders of small farmers and agricultural workers. During a visit to Colombia last year, I heard first-hand accounts of the terrible conditions faced by farmers and their families at the hands of FARC guerillas and other paramilitaries. Often farmers were forced to grow illicit crops, such as coca.

It can only be hoped that the current peace negotiations to settle the conflict in Colombia, which are being energetically supported by the Catholic Church in that country, will bear rich fruit.

Land-grabbing is a new threat that can cause hunger, particularly in Africa. Land-grabbing is the purchasing or leasing of large tracts of land by international investors that often violate the civil and land rights of the poor farmers who own or work the land.

Long before the corruption and greed among South Sudan’s elite led to the outbreak of civil war in December 2013, the country’s politicians had begun to sell or lease their most fertile land to outside investors without the knowledge of the poor landholders who struggle to eke out a living for their families. In the four years preceding independence in 2011, South Sudan leaders signed land deals that handed over 12.7 million acres of land to outside investors. That amounts to over 8% of the South Sudan’s total land mass, an area twice the size of Vermont.

An extensive report by the Oakland Institute shows that none of the farmers was consulted during these transactions. People lost their land rights and often were not compensated. The report concluded: As currently conceived, these land deals threaten to undermine the land rights of rural communities, increase food insecurity, entrench poverty, and skew development patterns in South Sudan.”

The phenomenon of land-grabbing is occurring across Africa where foreign companies, investment firms and governmental sovereign wealth funds take advantage of countries where corruption is rampant and where land tenure laws are underdeveloped and disfavor poor landholders. In 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued voluntary guidelines and acceptable practices on the responsible governance of land tenure issues. If African countries, international private companies and donor nations implemented these guidelines, the land tenure abuses or land grabbing would cease.

In a speech to the FAO, Pope Francis said, “We are all aware that one of the first effects of grave food crises … is the uprooting of individuals, families and communities. The separation is a painful one; it is not limited to their lands, but extends to their entire existential and spiritual environment, threatening and at times shattering their few certainties in life.”

Our Committee on International Justice and Peace has studied the phenomenon of land-grabbing and hopes to work with the church in Africa to address the negative impacts of outside investment in agriculture and find ways to ensure that resource-poor farmers in Africa can benefit from the proper infusion of outside private investment in food production.

In both Africa and Latin America, land has become a battleground in the efforts to develop and exploit natural resources, such as oil, gold, silver, iron and other metals. The role that conflict minerals have played in funding rebel militia activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is well known. In Latin America, extractives have been a source of division among local populations torn between the desire to protect their native heritage, while wishing to participate in the economic gains that proper exploitation of natural resources can promise.

In Peru, I met indigenous peoples facing eviction from their communities at the hands of large corporate investors seeking to exploit the mineral wealth of their territories. I am convinced that natural resources will only truly be blessings if there is a fair, efficient and effective regulatory structure in place that will ensure compliance with adequate safety, environmental and labor standards, and the consent and participation of local populations.

Perhaps the most threatening long-term challenge to food security is the impact of climate change. Pope Francis tells us that “Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.” He also warns that we must “Safeguard Creation. Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!”

It is tragic that his prophecy is coming true in far too many places.

The International Food Policy and Research Institute reports that Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Most farmers in Africa depend on the rains. Large areas of Africa have seen their rains decrease dramatically, especially in the Sahel and in East and Southern Africa. Some countries may see up to a 50 percent reduction in crop yields by 2020. As many of you know better than I do, that would be disastrous for rural African families who produce 80 percent of Africa’s food.

Climate change has also fueled human conflict. In 2003 violent conflict in Darfur, Sudan, broke out. It was triggered by drastic drought conditions that started in 1983. The drought destroyed pasture lands that herders depended on to feed their animals. When herders were forced to drive their flocks deeper into farmers’ lands, the animals destroyed many family crops. Farmers attacked the animals and the herders retaliated against the farmers.

The Sudan regime fueled the conflict with new arms and large scale conflict broke out in 2003. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, and about 2 million people displaced.

Our committee has been working to identify and address the injustices that occur when we destroy creation and, as a result, destroy the lives of the most vulnerable people. We are a founding member of the Catholic Climate Covenant that strives to raise awareness of looming climate changes and the effects it will have on our lives. The covenant offers us ways to lighten our carbon footprint and mitigate the ill effects climate change will have on humanity.

Environmental and climate issues are also of critical importance in Latin America, especially in the nations of Central America that I visited this past summer. Given the size of the countries in question, and the river and water distribution systems that they share, pollution and environmental damage in one country will have dramatic and dangerous consquences for all the other sovereign states in the region.

The Catholic Church supports effective international and cross-border standards for environmental protection that will safeguard one country from suffering at the hands of illegal and imprudent practices in another.

In opening, I spoke of the relationship of justice to peace. People who can feed and support their families in dignity are less likely to be engaged in conflict. To build a more stable and prosperous world, we need to adopt policies that get at the underlying causes of conflict and hunger. Conflict increases hunger, and hunger increases conflict.

It is my hope that you will join me in urging the U.S. government to ensure that poverty-focused international assistance provides adequate funds to support others in building peace and prosperity in our world. In my travels to Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East I have seen the effects of conflict on hunger and of hunger on conflict.

In these journeys, I have also witnessed the effectiveness of the United Nations in peace-keeping and providing disaster relief under challenging circumstances. We can be proud of agencies such as Catholic Relief Services, Bread for the World and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation representatives who are on the ground and with dauntless courage confront root causes of hunger and conflict.

Most recently, I was in Israel and learned first hand from the legendary Israeli statesman, Shimon Peres, of the projects of the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. President Peres and his associates operate from a platform of world vision. The center is developing materials that prevent conflict and provide for healthy sustenance of our brothers and sisters in the human family. The Peace Center is working on the desalinization of water, preservation of the 33 percent of food that is wasted worldwide and the development of medicines from vegetables and fruits, thus making them more universally available.

And of course, we are at the epicenter of provision of food for the future as the World Food Prize, under the flag of Dr. Norman Borlaug, develops in union with dedicated partners strategies to nutritionally feed the world’s billion inhabitants in 2050.

In my tenure as chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel to 23 countries to show solidarity and support on behalf of the U.S. Catholic Bishops in a very direct and human way. Even if you cannot do the same, you are here in Des Moines attending a summit on world hunger. You could be pursuing any number of other activities, yet you are here. I commend you for your commitment to be in solidarity with people living in hunger and poverty here in our nation and across the world.

As we fill the hungry with nutritious food, we significantly reduce the possibility of deadening conflict. And as we rally to reduce conflict through peace making, millions of the starving can be fed and put on the road to achieving their inherent dignity.

May God bless your summit work and bring you success and may God bless you and your families. Thank you.

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Written by enfoquec on October 19th, 2014

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Wild Geese: Nicholas McDonagh, Partner, RLM Finsbury   no comments

Posted at 4:38 am in the places I would like to go

When Nicholas McDonagh left Ireland in 1996, he didn’t expect to spend the next 18 years working abroad. The Dublin native moved to London after graduating from Trinity College with a degree in business and economics and landed a position in the graduate trainee programme at Deutsche Bank.

It was the first of a series of job opportunities that were to propel him across the globe.

“I’ve always been driven to try new things. But if you said to me when I first left Dublin that I would spend years in Australia and Dubai, I would have never believed it,” he said.

He worked in the acquisitions and strategic planning group at Deutsche Bank. It was a small group in London with a global remit, and McDonagh often travelled to the United States, Asia and Europe.

The London lifestyle was fantastic but, in 2001, an opportunity arose that he could not pass up. He took a job with the private equity division of Deutsche Bank in Sydney. It was good timing. The Australian economy took off after the 2000 Olympic Games.

“It was a great time to be investing because the markets all rose,” said McDonagh.

The plan was to be in Australia for a year, but one quickly turned into eight. He became an Australian citizen and thought he might stay there for the rest of his life.

In 2006, he and a partner bought part of the private equity business from Deutsche Bank in Australia and ran it as a new business.

McDonagh sold his stake in the business in June 2008, the peak of the bubble before the economic downturn. He is modest enough to credit that decision to luck, not planning.

Ready for a change, he wanted to go to an emerging market for awhile. McDonagh considered moving to China, India or the Middle East before opting to take a job with a private equity firm in Dubai.

Then, after working in private equity and investment banking for 15 years, McDonagh changed careers entirely in 2011. He now heads the Middle East division of global communications and advisory firm RLM Finsbury, providing advice and troubleshooting for some of the region’s most successful companies.

“I wanted to do something new but wanted my background and experience to bring something into it.”

The new job was “a bit of a sea change” in the way he thinks. In his previous work, he was the client and took his time analysing companies and deciding whether to invest in them. Now he has clients who dictate what he needs to do. He switched from being the client to serving the client. He also transitioned from being part of a team to managing one.

“We’re hiring a lot of people at the moment. As the team grows in size, it’s a challenge to manage more and more people, train them, delegate and keep an eye on what’s going on. It’s like any business where you have to manage people: it’s harder than it looks. It’s a different skill set that I’ve had to learn. When you’re the boss, you can’t always be Mr Popular.”

His team is a diverse mixture of nationalities, but “if you have smart people, they’re the same everywhere in the world. It doesn’t make a difference where they’re from.”

The job has taken him all over the Middle East. One thing he really likes about the region is the people. Arab culture, particularly Persian Gulf Arab culture, is about hospitality and welcoming people.

“I have a lot of time and respect for the people here. Once you get to know them, they have a great sense of humour, a dry wit. Arabs and Irish people actually have a lot of similarities.”

McDonagh likes living in the region.

“It’s an emerging market that’s growing extremely fast. It’s a dynamic and interesting place to live, and it has a rich cultural heritage… You have to take cultural considerations and sensitivities into account when living here. That’s part and parcel of working in the Middle East.”

But he would not rule out eventually returning to Ireland.

“You can plan everything in life, but invariably stuff happens and opportunities arise. You have to take a risk. You never know what’s around the corner. Anything can happen.”

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Written by enfoquec on October 17th, 2014

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