The Black Market Battleground   no comments

Posted at 4:47 am in the places I would like to go

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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MP to host Central India’s biggest travel mart   no comments

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

BHOPAL: Over 1,500 tour operators from across world are expected to participate in first edition of Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart (MPTM) to be held at hotel Palash in Bhopal from Friday. Three-day travel mart will showcase tourism attractions in state that would lead to an enhanced brand image as a destination on five ‘W’s – wildlife, water, worship, world heritage and wonders of nature.

‘Destination Madhya Pradesh’ will get together all stakeholders of tourism industry in state such as hoteliers, travel agents and tour operators, adventure tour operators, tourism districts, handicrafts and handlooms.

“With the advent of strong middle class, state is perceived as an excellent ‘value for money’ destination,” said Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation (MSTDC) managing director Raghvendra Singh.

“This is going to be the biggest event in Central India and undoubtedly a great platform for B2B networking. Domestic tour operators from all over India, with buyers from major markets such as Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Nagpur and emerging markets such as Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, etc have registered their participation,” he added.

“MPSTDC has started skill development courses in different districts across state to get trained staff,” says general manager planning, Mukesh Kapoor.

Delegates from different related sectors in Australia, South Africa, Malaysia, Scandinavia, Netherlands, Middle East, Eastern Europe and Latin American countries including Chile and Peru are likely to attend the travel mart, he said.

The event proposed to be held once every year will also showcase various destinations in India and abroad, thus providing an opportunity for people of ‘Madhya Pradesh’ to see what the tourism world has to offer in terms of sight – seeing and travel packages.

Highlights of mega event:

Biggest travel mart in Central India

Participation from over 115 buyers and media from 10 countries

Over 2,000 B2B appointments

Tour operators from USA, UK, Australia, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Hungary, Mexico, Poland, Singapore, Sri Lanka, India to participate

Biggest congregation of travel-trade related people from Madhya Pradesh

Participation from sectors of wildlife resorts camps, Buddhist destinations, adventure tourism and luxury hotels.

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Written by enfoquec on October 17th, 2014

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Piano recital opens Abu Dhabi Classics season   no comments

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

ABU DHABI – A stunning piano recital from French prodigy Lydie Solomon opened the revitalised Abu Dhabi Classics 2014/2015 concert season last night, with the soloist receiving a standing ovation after her debut appearance in Arabia.

Playing to a full house at the Manarat Al Saadiyat arts and culture centre on Saadiyat Island, the 32-year-old soloist led the audience through her concert dedicated to the travels of Polish composer Frdric Chopin.

The performance was part of this seasons Classics theme The Traveller – highlighting some of the best classical music from East and West.

Following a three-year break, Abu Dhabi Classics has been reintroduced by Abu Dhabi Tourism Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) and runs from October until May. Leading international musicians and orchestras will perform at numerous venues across Abu Dhabi city, Saadiyat Island and the emirates heritage heartland, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Al Ain.

Solomon, whose father is French and mother is South Korean, started playing the piano at the age of two by playing Beethovens Ode to Joy by ear. At 10 years old, she gave her first recital at Belgiums Printemps Musical de Silly and at 13 her first broadcast concert with the Orchestre de la Garde Rpublicaine for Radio France.

Speaking after last nights sold out concert she said: This was very emotional for me. The audience was part of the story and we were all on a journey together. It was a great pleasure for me to perform here in Abu Dhabi as I am always moved to discover new cultures, languages and people. This is my first time in an Arabic country and I have been very impressed and am already looking forward to returning.

I love Chopin and I feel really connected to him. Since my youngest days aged around ten or 11, Ive felt a connection with his extreme sensitivity and most of the pieces I play describe the way I feel. Chopin was a great traveller and I love taking the audience from one place to another and from one state of mind to another. A concert is me and the audience embarking on and finishing a journey together.

Dr Ronald Perlwitz, Head of Music Programming, Culture Sector, TCA Abu Dhabi, said the evening was an outstanding success and showed the level of talent that has been attracted to perform in the emirate during the Classics season.

Lydies performance was a stunning start to the Classics season. The audience was treated to a masterful display of her ability, and this curtain-opener bodes extremely well for a series which has been very well received on the classical music circuit, both regionally and internationally, said Dr Perlwitz.

The Abu Dhabi Classics season continues on October 27th with a free performance by some of the United Arab Emirates finest artistes at the Al Qattara Arts Centre in Al Ain, for a night of classical music and poetry starring Faisal Al Saari, Abdullah Al Heydah and Ali Mohammed Matar Helal Al Keebali.

The first month of the season ends with a performance by world-renowned violinist Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica chamber orchestra at Abu Dhabi Theatre on 28th October.

On November 20th, Spanish composer Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI will perform the highly anticipated world premiere of Ibn Battuta: Voyager of Islam at Emirates Palace.

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Written by enfoquec on October 17th, 2014

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On My Mind: Heritage protection   no comments

Posted at 4:22 am in the places I would like to go

Motivated by ideology and sometimes by simple greed, various groups use war to ravage cultural, historical and religious treasures.

While this tragic phenomenon has occurred throughout history, the current fighting in Syria and Iraq is providing opportunities for new depths of this depravity, whose goal is nothing less than destroying the vestiges of ancient civilizations.

“Antiquities officials in Iraq and Syria warn of a disaster as the region’s history is erased,” the Associated Press recently reported. Five of UNESCO’s six world heritage sites in Syria have been destroyed – only the one in Damascus has been spared. And that occurred even before ISIS expanded its murderous rampage across Iraq and Syria, willfully destroying churches, an Armenian shrine, Shia mosques–including one housing Jonah’s tomb–and many more, while also slaughtering thousands.

“What distinguishes Syria’s war on cultural heritage is the deliberate destruction of religious sites in order to stoke sectarian hatred,” wrote Christian Sahner in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “Whether it targets Sunnis, Shiites, Christians or other groups, the destruction seeks to erase entire peoples from this diverse land by denying them a connection to their past.”

This type of violence is not new to the Middle East.

In 2001, the Taliban destroyed two 1,400-year-old Buddha statues in Afghanistan. Just as world outrage could not prevent that atrocity, it seems unlikely to stop ISIS today. For this brutal terror organization, taxing those who loot and sell artifacts is an important source of revenue to acquire more weapons, a side benefit to overseeing the pillaging of sites ISIS has destroyed.

Jews perhaps know more than others about having their cultural possessions plundered. Two years ago, 1400 Jewish-owned paintings confiscated by the Nazis and hoarded by an art dealer were discovered in a Munich apartment.

Preserving the vestiges of virtually extinct Jewish communities is a particular challenge. Obliteration of the 400-year-old Eliyahu Hanabi Synagogue in Damascus in May wiped out a collection of thousands of Jewish artifacts in Syria, including century-old Torah scrolls, historical texts, and ancient Judaica.

In Iraq, like Syria, there are very few, if any, Jews. But after deposing Saddam Hussein in 2003, US forces discovered hundreds of Jewish artifacts in Baghdad.

The collection, assembled and hidden by Saddam’s regime, was so extraordinary that a US federal agency, the National Archives, brought it to Washington for restoration and preservation. Last year a selection of pieces were displayed at the National Archives, and later at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage.

The entire Iraqi Jewish Archive was slated to return to Baghdad in July. But some contended that it should stay in the US “These invaluable items, some personal, some communal, rightfully belong to the Jewish community,” argued my colleague, Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC’s Director of International Jewish Affairs. “Given the political and security situation in Iraq today, Jewish religious items may not be secure or accessible to those who are most interested in them.”

The US Senate unanimously called on the State Department to renegotiate the original agreement made with Iraq for taking the items out of the country.

In May, an agreement was reached to extend their stay in the US. That was before ISIS seized large areas in Iraq.

The National Archives has digitized the collection so it can be viewed online by anyone, anywhere in the world. Still, there is nothing like possessing the originals. And while there might be a dispute over provenance, Iraqi Jews in the US or the wider American Jewish community could legitimately claim to be custodians.

There is precedent. Murals painted by Jewish artist Bruno Schultz on the apartment walls of Nazi officers were smuggled out of Ukraine to Israel and displayed at Yad Vashem. After years of controversy, an agreement was reached recognizing that the murals belong to Ukraine but would remain in Israel on long-term loan.

A decades-long dispute between YIVO and the Lithuanian government was finally resolved last month.

At issue was the huge collection of prewar Jewish materials that survived the Nazis. While about half of the 10,000 publications and 1.5 million documents are held by YIVO in New York, the Lithuanian government balked at allowing YIVO to transfer the rest of the collection from Vilna. Over the next five to seven years, all materials in New York and Vilna will be digitized.

Unlike the situation in Lithuania, there is no one to negotiate with in Iraq. Unilateral action would be prudent, given the circumstances. Moreover, the US has a vested interest. “No one should be too unmindful that the US government put 3 million dollars into this project,” to restore and protect precious Iraqi Jewish heritage items, says Baker.

Indeed, why send them back to Iraq?

The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.

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Written by enfoquec on October 15th, 2014

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Madinah to host traditional festival   no comments

Posted at 4:22 am in the places I would like to go

Madinah will host a traditional forum here later this month that will include the ancient tradition of lighting fires to welcome guests, camel races and poetry readings.
“Narkom Haiyah” or “Your Fire is Alive,” is the second such event being held in the region. It will be held from Oct. 28 to 30 in Al-Swaydrah, under the aegis of Madinah Gov. Prince Faisal bin Salman.
Abdullah bin Marzouq Al-Suhaimi, head of Al-Swaydrah Center and the chairman of the forum’s supreme committee, thanked Prince Faisal on behalf of the region’s families for supporting the event.
He said the forum aims to preserve Saudi heritage by ensuring that young people understand and have a connection to the past.
One of the traditional events is a fire-lighting competition for 40 young men under the age of 20. The lighting of fires has in the past been a welcoming gesture for guests, symbolizing the generosity of Arabs. The young men also have to make and serve coffee. A committee of elders will evaluate the contestants.
Al-Suhaimi said there would also be a world-class camel-racing event. Camel races date back to pre-Islamic times and is considered a manifestation of wealth, power, heroism and a source of pride for tribes across the Arabian Peninsula, he said. There would be participants from Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Individuals would be able to go for camel rides, he said.
Other events include poetry evenings, traditional games and the auction of horses, camels and sheep. People would be able to rent tents with basic amenities.
Al-Suhaimi said tour operators would be organizing trips to and from Madinah for tourists, who will visit various ancient sites in the area. He praised the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities for its efforts to promote tourism in the region and the country.

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Written by enfoquec on October 15th, 2014

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