Angelina Jolie on the rise of Nationalism

Angelina Jolie, UNHCR’s Special Envoy , gave an impassioned speech on the duty of nations and rights of refugees, at the  Annual Sergio Vieira de Mello Memorial Lecture

As a citizen, I find myself looking out on a global environment that seems more troubling and uncertain than at any time in my lifetime. I imagine many of you may feel the same.
We are grappling with a level of conflict and insecurity that seems to exceed our will and capabilities: with more refugees than ever before, and new wars erupting on top of existing conflicts, some already lasting decades.
We see a rising tide of nationalism, masquerading as patriotism, and the re-emergence of policies encouraging fear and hatred of others.
We see some politicians elected partly on the basis of dismissing international institutions and agreements, as if our countries have not benefited from cooperation, but actually been harmed by it.
We hear some leaders talking as if some of our proudest achievements are in fact our biggest liabilities – whether it is the tradition of successfully integrating refugees into our societies, or the institutions and treaties we have built rooted in laws and human rights.

Nicely said. Read the whole speech here.

The Refugee crisis is very real. People are fleeing from their homes, with their families.

With the crisis in the Middle East showing no sign of abating, the humanitarian crisis facing the region, and the world, is one of the worst that the world has seen. At the same time, legitimate concerns have been raised about the high probability of terrorists slipping in with the refugees. Also, there is a definite anti migration backlash in the west, and refugees become one more set of competitors in a tight job market. Unlike in earlier times, where populations, especially in the developed economies were more welcoming of refugees, now there is a growing lack of empathy for perpetual crisis, that leads to resources in relatively stable nations being stretched.

Given all this, and the brutality of certain regimes, the risk to the refugee is huge. Stay and perish, leave and decay in a refugee camp (if you are lucky). We have all seen pictures of refugees bodies being washed up the shore.

There is no easy solution to this. The rights of the refugee is important. So too are the voices of people, in host nations,  who ask “how are we going to afford to this this, and how will it impact my life and livelihood” . Like many other things in the world, this topic too has been hijacked by the polar opposites – those who say that all refugees should be let in with no checks, and the other extreme that says – ‘their life, their problem – not my problem’. But, most of the people are somewhere in between. Maybe asking people for an imaginative solution – that takes into account one fact the war will possibly continue – may help.

Angelina Jolie on the Refugee Crisis

source : here 

The New Odyssey : The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis

Among the body of literature that exists on this topic, it is worth mentioning The New Odyssey: The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis  by Patrick Kingsley. Kingsley follows the refugee trail from Niger in Africa, to  the final probable destination – criss crossing along with the refugees, across Africa, Arabia and Europe. An entire economy has come up around the disaster. The book is hearbreaking in it’s directness. there are no pretty words, or adjectives here to sugarcoat the problem. It is real, it kicks you in the guts, and makes you want to look at the sky and scream. I am fairly certain, if I were a refugee, by now I would be fairly convinced that there is no God, merciful or otherwise. or if s/he were there, they really don’t care.

Mr.Modi and Pakistan – what next?

Three months after the Pathankot terror attack forced postponement of Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan, Islamabad’s envoy Abdul Basit Thursday said the comprehensive bilateral dialogue process has been “suspended”. He also said “cooperation” is key to the investigation, and not “reciprocity” — putting in limbo the National Investigation Agency team’s visit to Pakistan. –

Today’s Indian Express.

The last Indian Prime Minister who understood Pakistan, and knew how to deal with their duplicitous Government, was Indira Gandhi. She was also the first Prime Minister who understood those. I am possibly going to get massively trolled for this statement, but her grasp of Pakistan, and its Government, came less from political acumen, and more from gender.

Women, know instinctively, about safety, and have an early warning alarm bell system, that possibly is an outcome of 50,000 years of evolutionary biology. The warning alarm bell screams – don’t trust, don’t let your guard down, get ready for (a) fight or flight. Most of us (women) face issues, when we chose to override our most primitive instincts, feel guilty about distrusting ‘such nice people’. As a professional, at a younger age, i used to over compensate for my warning bells, by being really nice to people, whom my instinct told me to avoid. I learnt my lessons the hard way. I have discussed this with multiple women, across socio economic groupings, and they have said that they have these almost physical responses to ‘danger’. It is a very personal response. And, it works the other way too – it tells you who you can trust.

Men look at war and peace very differently from women. The fight is a different fight. They fight for a greater ‘glory’. women fight so that they never have to fight again.

The problem with Indian foreign policy vis-a-vis Pakistan is not enough women call the shots.

This belief that Pakistan will do the right thing, and expending so much energy that we look like idiots every time, has to stop. How many times will India be stabbed in the back, before decision makers decide that we don’t have to be friends. We don’t even have to be friendly. There is nothing that they have that we need, except a whole bunch of criminals. And, they can keep those.

I used to believe that part of the Indian political system’s problem with Pakistan, was that there were too many people whose ancestors were from, what is today, Pakistan. I believed that having people outside the partitioned regions would make things better. Alas, that is not to be. There is still this romantic notion that our PM has, like PM’s before him, that shared history and culture, shared stories and food, will improve relations. It won’t.

I feel for the Pakistani people. They are stuck with a system that is hocked to the militants and the secret service. And, their only raison d’être seems to be lies, deceit, and making India bleed. And, they do it not just because some people like to see the world burn, but because it makes economic sense. The day there is peace (in the true sense of the word) between the two countries, the massive military  aid that flows into Pakistan from the USA, will dry up. That is a lot of money to lose.

Mr.Modi, has done more than what he should to bring about ‘normalcy’ with Pakistan. It is time he stopped, and focused attention elsewhere. It is less about him trying to trust, and more about them, who are not worthy of trust.

indo pak


Trump Trumps.

The FT, eviscerates Donald Trump

It would be a global disaster if Mr Trump were to become president. Even if he fails, he has rendered the unthinkable sayable.

Mr Trump is a promoter of paranoid fantasies, a xenophobe and an ignoramus. His business consists of the erection of ugly monuments to his own vanity. He has no experience of political office. Some compare him to Latin American populists. He might also be considered an American Silvio Berlusconi, albeit without the charm or business acumen. But Mr Berlusconi, unlike Mr Trump, never threatened to round up and expel millions of people. Mr Trump is grossly unqualified for the world’s most important political office.

But, cautions that it is less about Trump, than the Republican Party’s mutant chickens coming home to roost. Even if he doesnt’ win, he has made bigotry acceptable.
Here is John Oliver on Donald Trump


Explained: Who is Nigeria’s Boko Haram?

I write for the DNA, 13th of January

Amidst all the international attention on the Paris shootings, and Charlie Hebdo – much of the world missed out the increasingly violent conflict between Boko Haram, the Nigerian extreme Islamist group, and the Nigerian Government. Last week, the Nigerian town of Baga, that lies in the North of the country, saw an armed attack by the Boko Haram on civilians that led to an estimated 2000 plus people killed. It is currently difficult to be precise about the number of killings simply because Boko Haram is still in control of the town, and getting information about the atrocities committed is difficult.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald

Villagers from Baga, a network of 16 fishing communities on the southern shores of Lake Chad, have told of hundreds, and perhaps as many as 2000 locals, being gunned down by militias who arrived on trucks – from which they offloaded motorcycles, to give chase to those who fled on foot, most of whom were children, women and the elderly who were not capable of running.

More than 1000 of 20,000 who are estimated to have fled the villages are reportedly stuck on an island on Lake Chad – with no food and inadequate shelter.

However, the Nigerian Government has disputed the number, and has said this:

“From all available evidences, the number of people who lost their lives during that attack has so far not exceeded about 150 in the interim. This figure includes many of the terrorists who were bearing arms and got killed in the course of their attack and battle with troops.

“It should be noted that Baga and the neighbouring towns have been under a series of attacks and harassment by the terrorists. In the course of this, many residents have left, leaving the population in the town almost seriously depleted. Many were also able to escape while the terrorists’ battle with troops lasted.

“The figure given by sources who claim to be eyewitnesses must be an extremely exaggerated estimate. Unfortunately, this figure is now being bandied about in a section of the media as if it has been authenticated. It cannot be true,” he said

Whatever the figure maybe – the fact remains that Boko Haram is a threat that is taken seriously by both the Nigerian government and the world at large. Boko Haram is on theUnited States’ list of terror organisations

Who or What is Boko Haram?

Boko Haram, literally translated means ‘westernisation forbidden’, is one of the most extreme Islamist groups that operates in Africa, and has, as it’s stated mandate, the establishment of a ‘pure’ Islamic State that is governed by their interpretation of the Sharia. According to the BBC:

Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it “haram”, or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society. This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education. Boko Haram regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president.

Set up at the turn of the millennium by Mohammed Yusuf, the organisation has been spreading its tentacles slowly across Northern Nigeria. The group attracted followers

“….under its roof by offering welfare handouts, food, and shelter. Many of the people the group attracted were refugees from the wars over the border in Chad and jobless Nigerian youths. The source of the group’s money at this stage of its existence is not clear. Members of the Borno religious establishment say that Yusuf received funds from Salafist contacts in Saudi Arabia following two hajj trips that Yusuf made during this time”

Boko Haram Tactics

Boko Haram has been primarily terrorising other Muslims in the northern part of Nigeria. They believe that they, and they alone, have the right to decide what variant of Islam should be taught. They have been at the forefront of bombing mosques, attacking Friday prayers, killing preachers and murdering the devout. Their intention, one could say, was to become the sole voice of Muslims in the area, and they killed those (especially other Muslims) who stood in their way. Termed the Nigerian Taliban, the group came into the limelight when Mohammed Yunus got killed in a pitched gun battle between his supporters and the army.

According to the United States Institute of Peace, the Boko Haram has been escalatingviolence and terror in Nigeria in the last 4 years. And now it has spread its terror further to try and intimidate other communities in Nigeria.

Since August 2011 Boko Haram has planted bombs almost weekly in public or in churches in Nigeria’s northeast. The group has also broadened its targets to include setting fire to schools. In March 2012, some twelve public schools in Maiduguri were burned down during the night, and as many as 10,000 pupils were forced out of education.

It hit the international headlines once again in April 2014 when it kidnapped around 300 school girls, many of whom were converted to Islam and married off to Boko Haram fighters.

A video message from the leader of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau. 

Boko Haram and the Islamic State

As Boko Haram grows stronger in Nigeria, partly fuelled by its own success and partly because the Government has abandoned large swathes of Northern Nigeria to the terror groups, there is genuine concern that they may join hands with the other bunch of brutal, neo fascist Islamist groups such as Islamic State, to cut a swathe across the region.

ISIS, like Boko Haram seems to be interested in conquering territory rather than launching an al-Qaeda-style global jihad. Boko Haram is taking advantage of the lawlessness and lack of border control in the Nigerian borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger, like ISIS which uses the Syrian-Iraqi region as its safe ground. Nevertheless, there is an important difference. Boko Haram operates within Nigeria which faces state failure signs in its Northern region, ISIS on other hand operates in the absence of any state authority.

Both ISIS and Boko Haram have taken advantage of the political and strong state vacuum in the regions to establish their authority.

Going forward, restoring Government and the power of the State will be an important step in rebuilding legitimate political authority that will restore power back to the people. It is neither going to be easy nor is it going to be quick. It will be a long hard journey, and an already afflicted people are going to be beggared even more. For the sake of future generations in the region, it is imperative that a regional solution is found that checks the advance of these organisations and decimates their foundation. It will be a Herculean task, one filled with human right violations, dead people and shattered societies.

And, the question that everyone needs to ask and answer is this, how do you deal with a bunch of nihilists who think nothing of strapping a bomb to a 10-year-old and turning her into a suicide bomber. How do you deal with an organisation whose members think of death as the ultimate goal? How do you check their advance without becoming all those things yourself? And, finally, how do you rehabilitate a traumatised populace and bring them back to modernity. To win the war on terror, these are questions that need to be answered.

Lokmat Times – Edit Piece – 8th March – Women’s Rights : Still a Long Way to Go

My edit piece for Lokmat Times, on Women’s Day

8th March. International Women’s Day.

It is a tradition that dates back almost a century earlier, when women were fighting for basic rights. Until then, even in the West, women were considered to be property of the men in their lives – first their father, then their husband. They neither had the right to vote, nor the right to own property, nor the right to divorce. When women worked, they tended to work longer hours for lesser pay than a man doing the same work. In 1908, women finally came out to protest against centuries of being considered chattel. 15,000 women took to the streets in New York to demand equality at the workplace, at home and as citizens.

The first ever International women’s day was celebrated on the 19th of March, 1911 – in Germany, Austria and other parts of the Prussian Empire – it was to commemorate the day of broken promises. Almost 60 years earlier, during the 1848 revolution in German speaking regions, King Frederick William IV, promised women equal citizenship rights, especially the right to vote. But nothing was done about them. At its core the International Women’s day stood for just one thing – Equality – in the eyes of the State, the law, at home, and at the workplace.

A century later, political demands have been met. Most states in the world have guaranteed political rights for women. Less than a century ago, armed police in the western world attacked women who demanded the right to vote. Today, apart from the Vatican City and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – no other country discriminates against women vis-à-vis voting rights. Equal Representation of women in politics has increased, and women have become increasingly more important as voters who exercise electoral decisions independent of men in their families.

There is still a long way to go. Equality at the ballot box does not translate to equality or even equity in the job market, nor does it translate into a fair share of economic resources. The UN world survey on the Role of Women in Development published in 2009, casts a light on the dismal state of women in terms of access to land, housing, property and productive resources. They also tend to have a limited access to technologies and services that would ease their work load. It is this unequal access to resources, believes the United Nations that makes women more vulnerable. As the United Nations states “In some regions, women provide 70% of agricultural labour, produce more than 90% of the food, and yet are nowhere represented in budget deliberations”. It goes beyond access to resources; it also manifests itself in wage disparity. It is estimated that women earn almost 20% lower than men for the same work. Women also tend to work in the informal sector with no benefits.

It is estimated that if women are paid as much as men, ‘America’s GDP would be 9% higher; the euro-zone’s would be 13% higher, and Japan’s would be boosted by 16% (UNESCAP, 2007). So on the 102nd women’s day, maybe we all need to move beyond the lip service of advertisers, platitudes of politicians and challenge the status quo. One hopes it will not take 100 more years for real meaningful economic equality.