Thursday, March 31, 2016

Egypt's Abuses, Crackdown On Critics Draw World Attention

MARCH 31, 2016

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi listens during an interview with The Associated Press at the presidential palace in Cairo. Nearly three years into a heavy crackdown overseen by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, allegations of human rights abuses including killings, torture and secret detentions are starting to bring an international backlash from the Egyptian leader’s allies.

CAIRO, EGYPT (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Nearly three years into a heavy crackdown overseen by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, allegations of human rights abuses including killings, torture and secret detentions are starting to bring an international backlash from the Egyptian leader's allies.

In the past month, Egypt was rebuked over its human rights record by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the European Union's foreign affairs arm, the European Parliament, the U.N. Council for Human Rights as well as several Western European nations, including key trade partner and EU heavyweight Germany.

The case of an Italian student kidnapped and tortured to death in Cairo has poisoned Egypt's long close ties with Italy, amid suspicions that it was carried out by members of the security agencies. Egypt denies police were involved and last week announced that a criminal gang was behind the killing of Giulio Regeni — a claim that was derided in Italy.

Also raising alarm was Egypt's reopening earlier this month of a criminal investigation into a number of non-governmental organizations — including rights groups — on suspicion of illegally taking foreign funds and aiming to "harm national security." The two cases came under heavy criticism at a session of the U.N. Human Rights council last week, along with reports of torture and forced disappearances.

"This looks like a clampdown on sections of Egyptian civil society and it must stop," the U.N. Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Raad Al-Hassan said of the NGO case. Kerry raised concern over "deterioration" in Egypt's rights situation and "a wider backdrop of arrests and intimidation of political opposition, journalists, civil society activists and cultural figures."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, replied that Cairo rejects international "tutelage" on human rights. He said Egypt is "keen to implement and put into action the constitution, which stipulates respect for and commitment to human rights." Shoukry and Kerry met Wednesday in Washington on the sidelines of a nuclear security conference in talks that focused on the conflicts on Syria and Yemen — though the State Department said Kerry underlined the need for Egypt to allow rights NGOs to operate freely.

Egypt often counters that it is fighting against Islamic militancy in the form of an insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula that has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers the past three years. Since coming to office in 2014, el-Sissi has presented himself as at the forefront of the battle against Islamic militants, calling for reforms to encourage moderate Islam. He has become a close ally of European states in fighting the Islamic State group, particularly in Libya.

So far there's no sign that Egypt's Western allies will take any action beyond criticism. But some leading commentators in Egypt warn that the worsening rights reputation is damaging to a country that receives considerable international development aid and is struggling to repair a tourism sector vital to its economy.

"In the final analysis, we need the world more than the world needs us," wrote Abdel-Monem Said, a respected analyst who for years led Egypt's leading state-owned think tank, the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. He said the government can't keep shrugging off criticism.

"Improving our reputation is not only the smart thing to do, but it is also possible." Veteran rights campaigner Hesham Qassim warned in a column in the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper that governments and development agencies might eventually scale down their dealings with Egypt, "which will gradually become ... a pariah state."

Government supporters in the media have constantly depicted the U.S. and Europeans as trying to restore the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood or undermine Egypt. After an Egyptian man hijacked an EgyptAir flight to Cyprus this week, two prominent TV personalities argued that the hijacking was a plot — presumably by foreign powers — to pressure authorities to drop the NGO case.

Since he led the military's July 2013 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, el-Sissi has overseen the jailing of thousands of Islamists. Hundreds more were killed in clashes with police, mostly in 2013 and 2014. The crackdown has also targeted secular, pro-democracy activists.

Most of Egypt's Western backers were initially sharply critical of el-Sissi for his ouster of Morsi, the country's first freely elected leader. The United States even suspended part of the more than $1 billion in annual aid it gives Egypt, almost all of which goes to the military.

But the Egyptian leader heavily invested time, effort and travel to persuade allies that Morsi's removal was the wish of the millions who joined protests against his divisive rule and the domination of the Muslim Brotherhood. The U.S. and Europe largely turned to el-Sissi's side eventually, in part due to Egypt's role in the fight against militant groups.

Now with criticism on the rise again, Abdullah el-Sennawy, a prominent columnist close to el-Sissi's government, said international punitive actions are unlikely but the possibility "cannot be dismissed altogether." He wrote in a column in the Al-Shorouq newspaper that rights concerns must be addressed.

"The most important challenge facing a nation in crisis longing for some hope in the future is to improve its human rights record, restore public freedoms and declare a break with the past."

US Joins With South Korea, Japan In Bid To Deter North Korea


President Barack Obama meets with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, Thursday, March 31, 2016.

WASHINGTON (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — The United States pledged Thursday to deepen cooperation with allies South Korea and Japan on deterring the North Korean nuclear threat, working to ramp up pressure following worrying provocations. Leaders of the three countries urged the world community to vigilantly enforce new U.N. sanctions.

President Barack Obama didn't disclose what further steps the countries might take as he met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit. But he said the countries had directed their teams to work together to help bring about a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

"We are united in our efforts to deter and defend against North Korean provocations," Obama said. "We recognize that our security is linked." Park, whose country has been repeatedly threatened by Pyongyang, warned that North Korea would face even stiffer sanctions and more isolation if it engaged in any further provocative acts. Speaking through a translator, she said the mere fact the three leaders were huddling to discuss North Korea carried "huge significance."

As a nuclear security summit opened in Washington, the U.S. said a strengthened nuclear security agreement among nations was finally set to take force, including new criminal penalties for smuggling nuclear material.

The stricter rules for protecting materials and nuclear facilities worldwide were intended to reduce the likelihood of terrorists getting their hands on ingredients for a bomb. Recent ratification by a critical mass of countries cleared the way for the changes to take effect in about a month.

Though nuclear terrorism and the Islamic State group top this year's agenda, concerns about North Korea's nuclear weapons program are also commanding focus as the two-day summit gets under way. Those long-simmering concerns have escalated of late following the North's recent nuclear test and rocket launch.

China's influence over North Korea will be front and center later in the day when Obama sits down with President Xi Jinping. The White House said that meeting was also an opportunity for Obama to press U.S. concerns about human rights and China's assertive territorial claims in waters far off its coast.

Though frictions with China remain high, the U.S. was encouraged by China's role in passing stringent new U.N. sanctions on North Korea, its traditional ally. Now the U.S. is pressing Beijing to implement those sanctions dutifully.

Hanging over the meeting were ongoing discussions about the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, although the U.S. said it didn't specifically come up. The U.S. and South Korea are weighing deploying the U.S. missile defense system in South Korea to counter the threat from the North. China has resisted that step out of concern it would also give the U.S. radar coverage over Chinese territory, and Russia opposes it as well.

In North Korea, meanwhile, the government has been churning out regular propaganda pieces condemning the U.S. and South Korea, while warning it could launch a pre-emptive strike against South Korea or even the U.S. mainland at any time.

For Obama, the summit's offers a last major chance to focus global attention on disparate nuclear security threats before the president's term ends early next year. For years, pressing security crises in the Middle East have overshadowed Obama's goal of expanding U.S. influence and engagement in Asia, with the North Korean threat another unwanted distraction. Though the U.S. and China have struck sweeping agreements on climate change, they've remained at odds on many economic issues. Obama has also been unable to get Congress to ratify the Asia-Pacific free trade deal his administration painstakingly negotiated.

Obama also planned to meet Thursday with French President Francois Hollande, amid steep concerns about terrorism in Europe following Islamic State-linked attacks in Paris and Brussels. The summit continues on Friday with a special session focused on preventing IS and other extremists from obtaining nuclear materials and attacking urban areas.

Some of the 2,000 metric tons of highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium being used in civilian or military programs worldwide could be turned into a nuclear bomb if stolen or diverted, the White House warned. Fewer than half of the countries participating in the summit have even agreed to secure sources of radiological material that could be used for a dirty bomb, though more countries are expected to announce commitments during the summit to tighten controls.

Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington contributed to this report.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Giant Rats That Can Sniff Out Tuberculosis To Be Introduced In African Prisons

'Training an animal with a strong and reliable sense of smell to help detect disease in a vast country like Tanzania could potentially offer a valuable solution'


A rat being trained to detect tuberculosis Briana Marie

Giant trained rats will be used to detect tuberculosis (TB) among inmates in crowded prisons in Tanzania and Mozambique.

Prisons are “considered incubators of tuberculosis due to their high populations and confined conditions”, according to Apopo, a Belgian non-governmental organisation which has been training African Giant Pouched Rats to carry out the mass screenings.

With funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the rats will be trained to distinguish the difference between positive and negative sputum samples through their strong sense of smell.

It is hoped the new method will improve the accuracy, speed and cost-efficiency of testing for TB, leading to far fewer cases going undiagnosed.

A trained rat can screen 100 samples in 20 minutes while a laboratory technician may take four days to detect TB. So far, Apopo’s programmes have screened more than 340,000 TB samples and prevented more than 36,000 further infections.

“We believe our unique TB Detection Rat technology will prove itself as an effective mass-screening tool,” said Charlie Richter, the US director of Apopo.

“We then aim to expand the programme to all prisons, shantytowns, factories and other settings in Tanzania, Mozambique and other high TB-burden countries, as well as in high-risk groups such as those individuals living with HIV/AIDS.”

Mr Richter added: “This will improve and save lives all over the globe at a low cost.”

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rates of TB in prisons in countries such as Tanzania can be up to 10 times higher than in the general population.

“Training an animal with a strong and reliable sense of smell to help detect disease in a vast country like Tanzania could potentially offer a valuable solution to help detecting the disease,” said Khadija Abraham, an expert at Tanzania’s National Tuberculosis programme.

So far, there are nine accredited TB rats working in Maputo, Mozambique, and 50 others have been trained in Morogoro, Tanzania.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Obama's Nuclear Security Summit In Timkes Of Terror -- Analyses


President Barack Obama speaks to reporters at the Pentagon, Dec. 14, 2015, after a meeting with the National Security Council about the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. DoD photo by Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz

An assertion that could confidently be made about the Obama presidency is this: he would not order his strategic bombers to circle a hostile power as President Richard Nixon did nor would he wage a war impetuously like President George Bush Jr. did. Obama is simply too obsessed with his legacy to rush into wars. He may have messed up countries by his vacillation, sanctions and covert operations. But he has hesitated putting American boots on hostile ground because spilt American blood has blotted many presidential records. Obama is just too smart to add his name to that list.
In fact, Obama considers himself the smartest man in the world. And, conversely, his opinion of other leaders varies from assessing them as passable to ordinary. There are exceptions of course. He reveres the Pope, respects the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and is indulgent towards two of the younger lot of leaders – British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whom he also gives occasional advice.
With many other leaders, he is patient at best. Obama has another nine months to treat the world as he wishes. Then the world will sit in judgment on his achievements as the President of USA, or the lack of them. When that assessment is made, the outside world will not focus on his domestic record. That is for Americans to do. Foreign observers will tick-off the pluses and minuses on his slate based on the state of the world in January 2017.
That assessment might consider critically Obama’s major decisions and their impact on the world. And it will factor in aspects like his long pauses for reflection before every critical decision. It is true that leaders do, and should, introspect when considering issues that impact millions. But there is a thin line that divides the pause for reflection from indecision. Some allege that Obama’s pauses have stymied action. They add that his hesitations have ended up ceding crucial space to others; China has done so in the South China Sea, Pakistan in Afghanistan and Russia in Crimea and Syria. Still, there are areas where he deserves credit. On the plus side he should qualify for credit for some bold initiatives, thawing of relations with Cuba and Iran.
But public memory is short and Obama’s initiatives on Iran and Cuba, important though they are, may only be minor markers in a journey that had aimed to be far more ambitious. Obama had set lofty goals when he began his first term. As a matter of fact peoples’ expectations from him were pitched unrealistically high; some anointed him a messiah even before he had moved in to the White House. And he didn’t discourage this deification either; he liked being compared to American icons George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and John F Kennedy. In line with that heady feeling he declared that he would end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he announced a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.
The world knows what has become of his promise regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. As far as the nuclear issue is concerned the world has never been more unsafe nor has the nuclear material been more vulnerable to bodies like the ISIS. Yet, the world was besotted with Obama in 2009. And an admiring world gave him the Nobel Peace Prize, in anticipation.
But to be fair to him, Obama did try. The Nuclear Security Summit was his initiative. After the first in Washington in 2010, two other summits were held – Seoul (2012) followed by Hague (2014). The fourth and the final summit are being held in Washington on March 31- April 1, 2016. India has been an enthusiastic participant at these summits; Dr Manmohan Singh attended two of them and gave 1 million dollars to its fund. Some progress has been made towards setting up institutions to promote awareness about the issue and a few more facilities have come under safeguards. But these are mini steps really, and it is not the kind of progress that the presidential pledge had promised in 2009. If anything, the situation today is more worrisome; the world is more nuclear unsafe now. Some of it may be due to less than fool-proof institutional mechanism, but the really dangerous dimension of the issue is threats from non-state actors. ISIS may be just one grab away from nuclear material.
Some reports suggest that ISIS has already used the chemical Sulphur mustard against Kurdish forces and a rival rebel group. If ISIS were to acquire unconventional weapons would it hesitate to use them?
The question then is how hard would it be for the ISIS to obtain nuclear material? It would be difficult but by no means impossible. ISIS is wealthier than any other terrorist group. It has more people, more territory, and a larger global network than al-Qaida ever had, and money talks in the black market for illicit goods. Tons of nuclear explosive material is scattered around the world in less-than-secure installations. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) maintains a database that shows more than 2,000 reports of illicit trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials between 1993 and 2014.
Many are unaware that there was an incident many years ago at another plant where an insider brought explosives into a nuclear power plant that had not yet gone online, put the explosives on top of the steel pressure head, and detonated them. Fortunately, the plant had not been loaded with radioactive fuel at that stage. But it was a grim warning.
Take also the example of Belgium, the subject of recent terror attacks by ISIS. In August 2014 it found that someone had improperly opened a spigot to drain a turbine lubricant at its Doel Nuclear Reactor. The reactor seized and stalled, costing millions of dollars in damages and missed revenues.
In our neighbourhood, Pakistan combines having the world’s fastest growing nuclear stockpile with some of the world’s most capable terrorists – a nerve-jangling combination. To add to that it has developed a large number of tactical nuclear weapons. How secure are all these and how safe would India be from them is a question that time and destiny will dictate. Till then it might be prudent to keep our fingers crossed.
Scattered also in the world are large stockpiles of plutonium. Today there is more civilian plutonium separated from spent fuel in a form that could be used for nuclear weapons than in all the world’s nuclear weapons stockpile put together. In fact more than 100 metric tons have been produced since 1998, enough to build 20,000 nuclear weapons It is an amazing statistic. So far very little is being done either to reduce those stockpiles or limit the spread of places where plutonium is being used and handled.
So that is the background against which the leaders would be gathering in Washington. Obama had set a high bar in 2009 when he said nuclear armed terrorism was “the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.” He had promised then that he would lead an effort to lock down all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.
But close to the end of his second term, over seven years later, nuclear terrorism is a much greater threat and mountains of nuclear material continue to grow.
*Amb. Rajiv Dogra is the author of the book “Where Borders Bleed”. He can be contacted

Apple Remains In Dark On How FBI Hacked iPhone Without Help


An Apple iPhone 6s Plus smartphone is displayed at the Apple store at The Grove in Los Angeles. The FBI said Monday, March 28, 2016, it successfully used a mysterious technique without Apple Inc.'s help to hack into the iPhone used by a gunman in a mass shooting in California, effectively ending a pitched court battle between the Obama administration and one of the world's leading technology companies.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI's announcement that it mysteriously hacked into an iPhone is a public setback for Apple Inc., as consumers suddenly discover they can't keep their most personal information safe. Meanwhile, Apple remains in the dark about how to restore the security of its flagship product.

The government said it was able to break into an iPhone used by a gunman in a mass shooting in California, but it didn't say how. That puzzled Apple software engineers — and outside experts — about how the FBI broke the digital locks on the phone without Apple's help. It also complicated Apple's job repairing flaws that jeopardize its software.

The Justice Department's announcement that it was dropping a legal fight to compel Apple to help it access the phone also took away any obvious legal avenues Apple might have used to learn how the FBI did it.

Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym vacated her Feb. 16 order, which compelled Apple to help the FBI hack their phone, on Tuesday. The Justice Department declined through a spokeswoman to comment Tuesday. A few clues have emerged. A senior law enforcement official told The Associated Press that the FBI managed to defeat an Apple security feature that threatened to delete the phone's contents if the FBI failed to enter the correct passcode combination after 10 tries. That allowed the government to repeatedly and continuously test passcodes in what's known as a brute-force attack until the right code is entered and the phone is unlocked.

It wasn't clear how the FBI dealt with a related Apple security feature that introduces increasing time delays between guesses. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to discuss the technique publicly.

FBI Director James Comey has said with those features removed, the FBI could break into the phone in 26 minutes. The FBI hacked into the iPhone used by gunman Syed Farook, who died with his wife in a gun battle with police after they killed 14 people in December in San Bernardino. The iPhone, issued to Farook by his employer, the county health department, was found in a vehicle the day after the shooting.

The FBI is reviewing information from the iPhone, and it is unclear whether anything useful can be found. Apple said in a statement Monday that the legal case to force its cooperation "should never have been brought," and it promised to increase the security of its products. CEO Tim Cook has said the Cupertino-based company is constantly trying to improve security for its users.

The FBI's announcement — even without revealing precise details — that it had hacked the iPhone was at odds with the government's firm recommendations for nearly two decades that security researchers always work cooperatively and confidentially with software manufacturers before revealing that a product might be susceptible to hackers.

The aim is to ensure that American consumers stay as safe online as possible and prevent premature disclosures that might damage a U.S. company or the economy. As far back as 2002, the Homeland Security Department ran a working group that included leading industry technology industry executives to advise the president on how to keep confidential discoveries by independent researchers that a company's software could be hacked until it was already fixed. Even now, the Commerce Department has been trying to fine-tune those rules. The next meeting of a conference on the subject is April 8 in Chicago and it's unclear how the FBI's behavior in the current case might influence the government's fragile relationship with technology companies or researchers.

The industry's rules are not legally binding, but the government's top intelligence agency said in 2014 that such vulnerabilities should be reported to companies. "When federal agencies discover a new vulnerability in commercial and open source software — a so-called 'zero day' vulnerability because the developers of the vulnerable software have had zero days to fix it — it is in the national interest to responsibly disclose the vulnerability rather than to hold it for an investigative or intelligence purpose," the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement in April 2014.

The statement recommended generally divulging such flaws to manufacturers "unless there is a clear national security or law enforcement need." Last week a team from Johns Hopkins University said they had found a security bug in Apple's iMessage service that would allow hackers under certain circumstances to decrypt some text messages. The team reported its findings to Apple in November and published an academic paper after Apple fixed it.

"That's the way the research community handles the situation. And that's appropriate," said Susan Landau, professor of cybersecurity policy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. She said it was acceptable for the government to find a way to unlock the phone but said it should reveal its method to Apple.

Mobile phones are frequently used to improve cybersecurity, for example, as a place to send a backup code to access a website or authenticate a user. The chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, Joseph Lorenzo Hall, said keeping details secret about a flaw affecting millions of iPhone users "is exactly opposite the disclosure practices of the security research community. The FBI and Apple have a common goal here: to keep people safe and secure. This is the FBI prioritizing an investigation over the interests of hundreds of millions of people worldwide."

Follow Tami Abdollah on Twitter at

Monday, March 28, 2016

Fidel Castro To Obama: We Don't Need Your 'Presents'

MONDAY, MARCH 28, 2016

Cuba's leader Fidel Castro meets Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, left, in Havana, Cuba. In a text published on Monday, March 28, 2016, Castro said that "We do not need for the empire to give us anything," in reference to the recent visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Cuba.

HAVANA, CUBA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Fidel Castro responded Monday to President Barack Obama's historic trip to Cuba with a long, bristling letter recounting the history of U.S. aggression against Cuba, writing that "we don't need the empire to give us any presents."

The 1,500-word letter in state media titled "Brother Obama" was Castro's first response to the president's three-day visit last week, in which the American president said he had come to bury the two countries' history of Cold War hostility. Obama did not meet with the 89-year-old Fidel Castro on the trip but met several times with his 84-year-old brother Raul Castro, the current Cuban president.

Obama's visit was intended to build irreversible momentum behind his opening with Cuba and to convince the Cuban people and the Cuban government that a half-century of U.S. attempts to overthrow the Communist government had ended, allowing Cuban to reform its economy and political system without the threat of U.S. interference.

Fidel Castro writes of Obama: "My modest suggestion is that he reflects and doesn't try to develop theories about Cuban politics." Castro, who led Cuba for decades before handing power to his brother in 2008, was legendary for his hours-long, all-encompassing speeches. His letter reflects that style, presenting a sharp contrast with Obama's tightly focused speech in Havana. Castro's letter opens with descriptions of environmental abuse under the Spaniards and reviews the historical roles of Cuban independence heroes Jose Marti, Antonio Maceo and Maximo Gomez.

Castro then goes over crucial sections of Obama's speech line by line, engaging in an ex-post-facto dialogue with the American president with pointed critiques of perceived slights and insults, including Obama's failure to give credit to indigenous Cubans and Castro's prohibition of racial segregation after coming to power in 1959.

Quoting Obama's declaration that "it is time, now, for us to leave the past behind," the man who shaped Cuba during the second half of the 20th century writes that "I imagine that any one of us ran the risk of having a heart attack on hearing these words from the President of the United States."

Castro then returns to a review of a half-century of U.S. aggression against Cuba. Those events include the decades-long U.S. trade embargo against the island; the 1961 Bay of Pigs attack and the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner backed by exiles who took refuge in the U.S.

He ends with a dig at the Obama administration's drive to increase business ties with Cuba. The Obama administration says re-establishing economic ties with the U.S. will be a boon for Cuba, whose centrally planned economy has struggled to escape from over-dependence on imports and a chronic shortage of hard currency.

The focus on U.S-Cuba business ties appears to have particularly rankled Castro, who nationalized U.S. companies after coming to power in 1959 and establishing the communist system into which his brother is now introducing gradual market-based reforms.

"No one should pretend that the people of this noble and selfless country will renounce its glory and its rights," Fidel Castro wrote. "We are capable of producing the food and material wealth that we need with work and intelligence of our people."

Michael Weissenstein on Twitter:

Retaking Syria's Palmyra Reveals More Shattered Antiquities

MONDAY, MARCH 28, 2016

Destroyed statues at the damaged Palmyra Museum, in Palmyra city, central Syria. The amount of destruction found inside the archaeological area in the historic Syrian town of Palmyra was similar to what experts have expected but the shock came Monday, March 28, 2016 from inside the local museum where the extremists have caused wide damage demolishing invaluable statues that were torn to pieces. (SANA via AP)

DAMASCUS, SYRIA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — The recapture of Syria's ancient city of Palmyra from the Islamic State group has brought new revelations of the destruction wreaked by the extremists, who decapitated priceless statues and smashed or looted artifacts in the city's museum.

Experts say they need time to assess the full extent of damage in Palmyra, a UNESCO world heritage site boasting 2,000-year-old Roman-era colonnades and other ruins, which once attracted tens of thousands of tourists every year. Syrian troops drove IS out on Sunday, some 10 months after the militants seized the town.

The world knew through satellite images and IS videos that the militants destroyed the Temple of Bel, which dated back to A.D. 32, the Temple of Baalshamin, which was several stories high and fronted by six towering columns, and the Arch of Triumph, which was built under the Roman emperor Septimius Severus between A.D. 193 and A.D. 211.

But no one knew the extent of the damage inside the museum until a Syrian TV reporter entered on Sunday and found the floor littered with shattered statues. A sculpture of the Greek goddess Athena was decapitated, and the museum's basement appeared to have been dynamited or hit with a shell.

Some of the damage may have been caused by shelling, which would have knocked the statues from their stands. In the Syrian TV footage from inside the museum, a hole can be seen in the ceiling, most likely from an artillery shell.

Unlike in the Iraqi city of Mosul, where IS militants filmed themselves with sledgehammers proudly destroying ancient artifacts, no militant video was released from Palmyra's museum. Before Palmyra fell to IS, authorities were able to relocate more than 400 statues and hundreds of artifacts to safe areas, but larger statues couldn't be moved, according to the head of antiquities and museums, Maamoun Abdul-Karim. He told the AP that about 20 statues were defaced and others had their heads chopped off. State media had earlier reported that a 2nd century lion statue, previously thought to have been destroyed by IS, was damaged but could be restored.

Abdul-Karim said he was relieved that many of the statues had only been disfigured and not demolished. "It's like having a person whose face was burnt. He is not as good looking as he used to be but he is still alive," he said.

He said officials have a list of all the statues that were left behind in Palmyra when IS captured the town, which will help in documenting the damage. Amr al-Azm, a former Syrian antiquities official who is now a professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio, is less sanguine.

"The level of destruction and vandalism inside the museum is much more significant than we had realized," he said. Smashing up statues' faces "means that there is nothing left," he added. The Sunni extremist group, which has imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law across the territory it controls in Syria and Iraq, claims ancient relics promote idolatry. But it is also believed to have profited from looted antiquities.

That may explain why the militants killed the archaeological site's 81-year-old director, Khaled al-Asaad, who was beheaded last August after he reportedly refused to say where authorities had hidden some of the town's treasures.

Al-Asaad, who was among scores of people killed by the extremists after they seized the town, had devoted his life to studying Palmyra, and could have played an invaluable role in documenting the damage and restoring its antiquities.

It will take time to assess the extent of the losses and determine if IS carried out excavations or smuggled artifacts out. But the initial findings suggest at least some of the damage is permanent. Martin Makinson, an archaeologist who lived and worked in Syria until 2011, said the Temple of Baalshamin "was pretty much obliterated," along with three ancient tombs. He said the inner sanctum of the Temple of Bel was also destroyed.

"Unfortunately the damage that ISIS has caused to the site is pretty irreparable and it would be a sort of reconstruction in some sectors," Makinson said, using another acronym for IS. Al-Azm said highly specialized teams will have to go into the hardest-hit areas "to start to document and record each and every stone to try and see what can be restored." He said IS had specifically targeted the most important monuments.

Asked how bad the damage is, Al-Azm replied: "On the scale of one to 10 it is 10. The only other thing that causes that much damage to a city is probably some earthquake that struck at some time. It was pretty devastating."

This story has been corrected to show that the first name of the antiquities official killed by militants is Khaled, not Riad.

Should We Ignore The Terrorists


Illustration of terrorists training. Image: AP

Charli Carpenter reflects on media and social media coverage of the spate of recent attacks by the Islamic State and argues:

1). We should treat attacks that happen in the West no differently than we do those in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere the same;

2). We should react to both “sparingly,” because over-hyping the comparative low likelihood of being killed in such an attack not only skews the public’s perception of danger but thereby furthers the terrorists’ agenda

She makes these arguments despite herself feeling especially at risk, as the mother of a teenage son who routinely travels internationally to play soccer and is therefore more likely to be a victim than the average American.

This is not a novel argument and, indeed, one that I’ve frequently discussed with my students. Statistically, as Carpenter rightly notes, Americans are far more likely to be killed doing all manner of mundane things—or by deranged Americans with easily-acquired firearms—than they are by Islamist terrorists. And, if our sole aim is to save lives, there are far, far more efficient ways to spend our tax dollars than hunting down IS.

But this all ignores basic human psychology.

While victims in Pakistan and Ivory Coast are, of course, just as worthy of grief as those in Paris or Brussels, Americans are quite naturally going to be more shocked by the latter. While we’re much more diverse a society than we were even in my youth, we still feel much more kinship with Western Europe than South Asia or West Africa. And, while I’m somewhat bemused that we consider the Brussels attacks slightly more tragic now that we know at least two Americans were among the victims, it’s a perfectly human reaction.

Similarly, while it’s essential to keep the relative risk of terrorism in perspective, human beings quite naturally treat the risk of being hit by lightning, dying in an automobile crash, or being murdered by terrorists quite differently. One is a freak act of nature that’s largely unpredictable. One is an increasingly necessary risk that can be mitigated in a variety of ways. One is a barbaric act of human agency.

We quite naturally want to do something about terrorism. First, because it’s a variable risk. Hardening targets and going after perpetrators can both actually make people safer, even if overreaching can make us less free and less safe. Second, because our sense of justice demands that we take action against evil.

Recognizing those human realities–and the calculus that they impose on the humans we elect to make public policy—doesn’t, of course, require that we act stupidly. Carpenter is certainly right about the effects of overreaction:

That’s what DAESH wants. It makes them feel big, scary, significant. It earns them recruits. It increases fear of Muslims by Westerners, which fuels policies foreclosing escape routes from DAESH-controlled areas, thus raising DAESH’s tax revenue. And that’s what people do when they make a spectacle of DAESH’s terror events to the exclusion of all else, slap “State Department Travel Warnings” on entire regions based on super-low-risk anomalies, declare all-out war on Muslims like some would-be politicians to whose remarks I refuse to link. All this makes my son less safe by increasing the reach and power of DAESH by spreading fear of what they do.

Nor do I disagree with her ultimate conclusion:

What limits DAESH’s power and makes my child – and your children – safer? Doing what I do (and and what Juan Cole recommends): recognizing that we and most Muslims are in the anti-DAESH fight together, speaking in solidarity with DAESH victims everywhere, and generally pointing out that these attacks demonstrate DAESH’s weakness, not its strength.

Despite the horrible rhetoric coming from some on the campaign trail this cycle, that’s largely what we have done. Despite some epic mistakes in the handling of the Global War on Terror, President George W. Bush took great pains—and substantial political risk—to repeatedly emphasize that the United States was not at war with Islam and that, indeed, we were in solidarity with the vast number of Muslims. President Barack Obama has continued that theme, even while prosecuting the GWOT while eschewing the name. Judging by campaigns and polling both here and in Europe, that message is not resonating particularly well. The terrorists are indeed winning in that regard.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Bridging Gaps In Implementing The SDGs In Africa: The Environment Lens – Analyses


Boys do homework at a UNHCR's camp for Syrian refugees in south Lebanon on April 14, 2015. More than 12 million children in the Middle East are not being educated, despite advances in efforts to expand schooling, the UN children's agency UNICEF said. The figure does not include children forced from school by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, who would bring the total not receiving an education to 15 million, the agency said in a new report. AFP PHOTO / MAHMOUD ZAYYAT

September 2015 saw Africa’s Heads of States and Governments join their counterparts from across the globe to unanimously adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the 70th UN General Assembly.

This signaled a common global intent to transition into economic, social and environmental progress in the next 15 years: a united, mutually collective front against hunger, malnutrition, poverty, unemployment, disease, climate change, low agricultural productivity, degraded ecosystems and social inequity, among the notable challenges facing Africa.

The SDGs dovetailed into the Africa Agenda 2063. Achieving the SDGs in a fast, efficient, impactful and lasting way is not predestined and will require innovative action from all fronts. This imperative is most critical on the financing front. There is consensus that financing the SDGs and Agenda 2030 will require trillions of dollars – at least $1.5 trillion extra annually over the MDGs, and public international financing alone is inadequate.

Astronomical investments needed to achieve the SDGs in Africa

For instance, Africa’s energy sector needs investment of $55 billion annually until 2030 to achieve universal access to electricity. Cumulatively, it is projected that the region will require investment of up to $490 billion by 2040 for new electricity generation capacity alone, and 31% more for an aggressive focus on renewables. On climate change, Africa needs to invest between $50-100 billion annually by 2050. On infrastructure, the region needs nearly $500 billion, translating toover $93 billion annually until 2020 for infrastructure development.

Education and healthcare is equally costly. UNESCO estimates that Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) will need to invest up to $26 billion annually to achieve universal education by 2020. In healthcare, Africa, which lags behind the rest of the world in all the indicators of health and where few African countries are able to spend the WHO recommended $35 per capita for minimum healthcare, needs to invest a minimum of USD 31.5 billion annually..

Declining official development assistance (ODA)

ODA to Africa is declining. In 2013, aid to the African continent had fallen by 5.6%. In 2012, aid to Africa had fallen by 9.9%, relative to 2011. Indications are that this downward trend may persist as traditional partner governments tighten budgets. Earlier pledges from the G8 have also not materialized, and where they come through Africa gets only a fraction of the money. For instance, a 2005 pledge by the G-8 to increase aid by $50 billion by 2010 (half of which was destined for Africa) did not materialize. Instead, aid increased by $30 billion and only USD 11 billion went to Africa.

Going forward, it will be more strategic for Africa not to rely on external development financing alone. Relying on international public finance alone to finance development is a risky strategy and Africa needs to look for alternative sources, drawing domestically. Africa, already facing financing challenges, has recognized this and acknowledged in a number of regional blueprints principally the AU Agenda 2063, the AMCEN Cairo Declaration, and the second Africa Adaptation Gap report(AAGR2). Global processes including the 3rd Financing for Development Outcome (FfD3) concur and buttress this critical perspective.

Africa’s natural capital financial worth

According to the African Development Bank, about 30% of the world’s mineral reserves are in Africa. The continent has 8% of world’s natural gas reserves, 12% of the world’s oil reserves, 40% of its gold, and 80 – 90% of its chromium and platinum. Africa’s natural capital has underpinned the continent’s economy and continues to represent a significant development opportunity for her people. In 2012, natural capital accounted for 77% of total exports and 42% of government revenues. Over 70% of the SSA population depends on forests and woodlands for livelihood. Land in Africa is an economic development asset as well as a socio-cultural resource. Going forward, achieving long term sustainable development and poverty alleviation in Africa relies on the sustainable and optimal management of its natural capital.

Africa’s natural capital losses

Even with this significant contribution, a substantial share of this natural capital is lost. The High Level Panel report on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa documents that Africa has lost amounts significantly exceeding $50 billion annually through IFFs. Cumulatively, this report observes that over the past 50 years, Africa has lost amounts estimated to exceed $1 trillion, a sum roughly equivalent to all of the official development assistance received by the continent during the same timeframe.

The 2014 Africa progress report gives further credence to these colossal figures. It notes that Africa’s natural capital is also at the heart of illicit global trade that is costing the continent in excess of $50 billion annually or a colossal 5.7% of its annual GDP. On ecosystems and food security, the fact that 180 million people are relying on depleted soil to grow their food is a key reason why sub-Saharan Africa lags behind other developing regions in meeting its food security goals. The economic loss associated with land degradation in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at$68 billion per year.

Rwanda’s plans to light the country with solar energy plans, is just one of the initiative that supporters admire. Implementing the SDGs and Agenda 2030 in Africa

Africa should prioritize reversing natural capital losses and appropriately prioritizing what is currently earned to catalyze implementing the SDGs. For example, reversing land degradation will not only enhance food production, but could potentially inject $68 billion annually into the economy for re-investment in healthcare and education.

On current earnings, a portion of the 42% average revenue that African governments earn directly from natural capital through export of timber, fisheries, minerals etc., could through policy actions be re-invested to boost productivity of highly potent and inclusive sectors.

For example, investing in Ecosystem Based Driven-Agriculture and its linkage to commercial value chains, especially clean energy to catalyze rural agro-processing, affordable financing, and accessible markets, can enhance not only food security, but enhance farmer incomes while creating up to 17 million jobs. EBA Driven-Agriculture can potentially combat climate change, while also enhancing the health of ecosystems.

Policy imperatives

An example of a policy imperative could be ensuring a percentage of natural capital export earnings is dedicated to programmes that enhance agro-productivity through access to affordable financing of agro-value chains, targeted rural infrastructure development especially clean off-grid & mini-grid solutions to catalyze rural agro-industry, among others.

It is documented that enhancing productivity of the agro-sector in Africa could potentially catalyze achievement of all the SDGs. Leveraging natural capital in the above ways will require cross-cutting partnerships forged between government, the private sector and the non-governmental sector.

It will require governments to create an enabling policy environment, the private sector to inject sustainable commercialization and capital, researchers and academia to inform government of optimal policies, and development partners to facilitate capacity building and technology transfer.

• Dr. Richard Munang is Africa Climate Change & Development Policy Expert., while Robert Mgendi is the Adaptation Policy Expert

Friday, March 25, 2016

Rescuing Girls In Africa: An Interview With Dr. Josephine Kulea

Delegates from more than a dozen countries attended this year's Global Gala, an event hosted by the Northern Nevada International Center Dr. Josephine Kulea was this year's keynote speaker. She is the 2013 UN Kenya Person of the Year, a 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow and the Founder of the Samburu Girls Foundation, an organization that rescues girls from abusive practices in her home country of Kenya. She sat down with Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick to talk about her work.

Image: Noah Glick

NG: What is your organization and what kind of work are you doing?

JK: "The Samburu Girls Foundation is basically a child rights organization where we protect the rights of girls from harmful cultural practices. And these are child marriages; we have female genital mutilation. So we rescue all these girls and we take them to schools."

What's the process like once you find out about these girls who need help?

"We get reports from the mothers mostly. It's a whole process to get these girls, because we have to find out where they are located and get together a vehicle to reach them out. We have to go before the day of the wedding, because what happens is the girls are cut, the female genital mutilation is done on the day of their wedding. So when you rescue them from the marriage, you rescue them from both the marriage and from the cut.

"It's even risky for us to go on the day of the wedding, so we always prefer to go before, so we avoid the back and forth with families. They are usually angry and they have all these illegal guns and sometimes they try to shoot at us."

Do you experience a lot of violent situations?

"It starts with a community not understanding that this is illegal, and because it's our culture, they don't feel like it's illegal. So yeah, I get cursed; they do the traditional cursing at me. Of course, they've threatened me. So it's tough, but we have to do it for the sake of these children. I really try to disguise myself, because most of them know my name but they don't know my face."

What about the Kenyan government? Have they been supportive?

"I think the government did a good job of passing the laws, but that's not enough. But what is lacking is the implementation of the same laws. So you find there's a big gap and I've been to a police station to report a case of a child and they say, 'Oh Madame that is your culture! What is unique about this kid?' So it takes a lot of patience to push them."

You mentioned sending these girls to schools. How do you get funding to do these sorts of things?

"When I began this work, I was rescuing these girls and paying them with my own salaries. And then it became expensive, so now we have well-wishers who sometimes will sponsor a girl individually. Very few [girls] actually have sponsors, and we'd really like to have more people sponsor a girl to go to school."

You actually have a UNR connection. You were here in 2013 for the International Visitor Leadership Program. What was your experience like and what were you able to take with you?

"It was amazing, because first of all it was bringing all these leaders from across the globe together, and just coming to America and learning your culture. Also the culture of volunteering is really amazing, because you find so many people volunteering for so many programs here. And I think that's one of the things I learned and went back with it and used it in my project. And it's working. We're now actually opening up for international volunteers. It's really becoming a global village, and that is the meaning of global living: just interact, share and spread the good things, so that it will help us all live together in peace."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

When Will ‘Servants Of God’ Stop Preying On Women And Children?

THE NEWS, MARCH 24, 2016


On Friday, February 26th, the Supreme Court of Nigeria gave a ruling in the case of the ‘Reverend’ Kingsley Ezeugo, Founder and General Overseer of the Christian Praying Assembly. The Supreme Court upheld the rulings of the lower courts and found the ‘Man of God’ guilty of the murder of Ms Ann Uzoh. He is to die by hanging.

On 2nd August 2006, Mr Kingsley Ezeugo poured petrol over Ms Uzoh, a live-in adherent of his church, and she died a horrible death. It is gratifying to note that after ten long years, justice has finally been done, and the family of Ann Uzoh can now have some closure, even though it will not bring back all they have lost. My concern is that there are far too many ‘Reverend’ Kings out there, with many Annes in their clutches. What are we all prepared to do to save these Annes from a similar fate? The issues I am about to raise here apply to all the major religious faiths. However, since the King case happened in his own version of a Christian church, I am restricting my discussion to the practice of Christianity by certain religious leaders today.

Five Lessons From The ‘Reverend’ Kingsley Ezeugo Saga:

1.Our religious leaders should prioritise the need to address violence perpetrated against people in their congregation. The majority of cases we get to hear about concern women and children, though we have also heard cases of men used as slaves in the business empires of their leaders and sometimes estranged from their families who get taken over by leaders of the church. ‘Pastor defiles 13 year Old’, ‘How my Pastor raped me’, ‘ How my Pastor had sex with me to drive evil spirits from me’, ‘“It is the work of the devil”, says Pastor who raped 5 year old’, the headlines now seem to be endless. It is not enough for our religious leaders to say ‘This can never happen in my church’.

When they adopt that kind of attitude, what happens is that when such a case is indeed reported in their church, they do all they can to cover it up. When confronted with a case of sexual abuse in his church, a famous church proprietor allegedly said,’ What happened to you happened in the house of God, which means God is aware. If it had happened out in the world, it would be very bad, but because it happened in the house of God, it is ok’. Perhaps this particular church leader reads some versions of the Holy Bible not available to the rest of us. 2 Samuel 22:3 reads ‘My God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my saviour. You save me from violence, and I am saved from my enemies’.

People go to church to seek refuge in God’s grace and love. They ask for God’s protection from the travails of life, and to be strengthened in the spirit to be able to face all their challenges. When the men and women who God has entrusted with the responsibility of caring for his flock become the abusers, then we have a serious crisis. It would be helpful if religious bodies could develop self-regulation policies to address questions such as ‘How do people become Pastors’? ‘What modalities are in place to deal with complaints from the congregation’? ‘What happens when the leader is the alleged perpetrator?’ ‘We have many progressive, dynamic male and female Christian leaders. They need to break the culture of silence around these issues and speak up more.

2. Religious leaders should stop preying on vulnerable women and children

A lot has been written about how many of our ‘big’ churches have become serious business conglomerates. One of the key strategies here is a simple ‘bums on seats’ one. The more the flock, the greater the profits. However, competition for flock is fierce. Like business enterprises who thrive ‘in the world’, branding, innovation, entertainment and ‘shock and awe’ feature regularly. So we set the scene for a grand revival/deliverance event, an average ‘Angela’ starts to convulse in front of the Man of God, and as if on cue, gasps out certain details of what she has done and who she has done it to. She is a witch! The confession takes place, she is ‘delivered’ of her demons and the audience is convinced not only of evidence of her witchcraft, but that they have made the right decision to worship there.

Everyone is reminded of all the witches in their family, village and workplace who are holding back their progress. Maybe if they pray hard enough, those witches too will pitch up here and confess. More prayers are needed. Followed by more donations. This exploitation of vulnerable, gullible women plays out around the world. In Kenya, a deranged ‘Pastor’ sucks the breasts of his female followers to ‘take away all their troubles’. In South Africa, another demon in a cassock feeds his followers live snakes. On a beach somewhere, another ‘Pastor’ is pictured kissing the naked backsides of spinsters in his church searching for husbands!

A few weeks ago, there was a report about Anja Loven, a kind Danish woman based in Akwa Ibom State, who saved a little boy from certain death. She runs a charity to save children rejected by their families for being witches and wizards. Apparently, scores of children roam the streets there, having been pointed out as demons, usually with the help of a ‘Pastor’ somewhere.

Which reminds me of the self-styled female ‘witch hunter’, preacher, cum movie producer from Cross River State. She needs to be under the watch of the State Security Services. Freedom of religion and expression should not include endangering the lives of women and children. Her so-called movies and preaching galvanized a superstitious populace and the result was dozens of children tortured and abused to extract confessions of witchcraft from them. Many of them ended up as street children, with all the dangers that entails. This woman obviously has bibles which omit Jesus’s position, ‘Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for theirs is the Kingdom of God’. Perhaps she did not read beyond ‘Suffer little children’. Thanks in part to the legacy of this notorious female preacher, as well as others like her, we have now been reduced to seeing images of our starving, half-dead children being saved by a white woman who has taken it upon herself to care for them. This is 2016. Didn’t Mary Slessor die 101 years ago?

3. We need to address our capacity to manage mental health issues in this country. Our healthcare systems are always overstretched. For many years now, there has been occasional reference to the dearth of qualified personnel and institutions to provide a range of services to ensure mental health needs are addressed. What we have now is a system that classifies people into two categories – the ‘mad’ people (the ones roaming the streets or those in designated mental health institutions) and the ‘normal’ people, which is everyone else! Experts in mental health issues have told us consistently that these classifications are very dangerous and unhelpful, but we do not seem to be listening. For those who do not understand (or are in denial) about mental health issues, or those who simply cannot afford any other kind of care, they turn to religious institutions for ‘deliverance’. This only tends to further stigmatise and traumatize victims. Of course faith has a key role to play in healing, but it should not be at the expense of orthodox medical advice.

When we consider the levels of poverty, desperation, predisposition to superstitious beliefs, levels of education and the inability of our governments at local, state and Federal level to maintain their own end of the social contract with the people, we should not be surprised when people create alternative avenues for succour. We should also understand how the faithful in some churches often get confused about who God really is – the one in heaven or the one here on earth who they can see?

4. People need to be more careful in their quest for salvation. I do not want to blame those who turn out to be the victims, but we need to be more vigilant in our choice of how and where to worship. Many a charismatic leader has led their congregation straight to hell – the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana of 908 church members led by Jim Jones and the 2000 ‘mass suicides’ led by Joseph Kibwetere and Credonia Mwerinde of the Movement for the Restoration of the Commandments of God (MRTC) in Uganda are just two examples. The challenges of religious indoctrination and brainwashing are of course universal as seen from the examples above.

In our own communities here, when we consider the levels of poverty, desperation, predisposition to superstitious beliefs, levels of education and the inability of our governments at local, state and Federal level to maintain their own end of the social contract with the people, we should not be surprised when people create alternative avenues for succour. We should also understand how the faithful in some churches often get confused about who God really is – the one in heaven or the one here on earth who they can see? In their religious institutions and leaders, some of them find the employment, healthcare, education, counselling and support that they need. And sometimes it comes at a very high price. I am aware that discussing these issues with friends and family members can be problematic, but we should try and use whatever platforms we can to warn people of the dangers of blind faith in man and not God.

5. Our law enforcement officers, and the judiciary, have a key role to play in protecting citizens. They first of all need to be congratulated for seeing the ‘Reverend’ King case through, arriving at a verdict that is just. It took ten long years, and it is a miracle that the case did not ‘disappear’ like so many allegations of homicide have at one stage or the other. We however know that there is a tendency for our law enforcement officers to baulk at the thought of bringing a ‘servant of God’ to justice. For all you know, the officer concerned might be a member of the congregation, or his wife, his brother and so on. There are those who will remember the famous ‘Jesus of Oyingbo’, who was untouchable for many years, in spite of many allegations brought against him by members of his commune, hidden away in plain sight in the heart of Lagos. I hope that the King case will strengthen these systems so that we can truly believe that no one is above the law.

There is a sad truth that has emerged in the ways in which we worship God in contemporary Nigeria and to a large extent, the rest of the world. Today, our places of worship as Christians have become deeply polarized, with class, poverty, ethnicity, desperation, levels of education, and greed playing a key role. A religion that was built on values such as humility, simplicity, honesty, love and compassion has now spurned places where impunity reigns and the vulnerable are manipulated, abused, raped, beaten, ridiculed and even burnt to death. Let us all remember the day of judgement. We will be judged by a God who created all things in his image and not in the image of man.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of, an online community for women. She can be reached at

Effort In 3 US Cities To Combat Extremism Off To Slow Start

MARCH 24, 2016

Muslim, Christian, minority and government leaders fix their eyes on a laptop screen showing a video as part of a federal pilot program called Countering Violent Extremism, at Roxbury Community College in Boston. Seated at center right is Carmen Ortiz, U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. More than a year and a half after it was first announced, the federal effort in Boston, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis to combat extremist recruitment has been slow to start. Few local programs have been directly created by the Countering Violent Extremism" pilot initiative, with officials in those cities just starting to distribute more than $500,000 in Department of Justice grant money to jumpstart new local efforts.

BOSTON (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — A federally funded effort in Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis to combat extremist recruitment has been slow to start since it was announced a year and a half ago. Few local programs have been directly created by the "Countering Violent Extremism" pilot initiative, with officials in those cities just starting to distribute more than $500,000 in Department of Justice grant money to jumpstart new local efforts.

The furthest along appears to be Minneapolis, where officials point to at least one newly created but still not operational effort: a privately financed mentorship program working with youth in the city's sizeable Somali community, which has produced extremist recruits over the years.

Six other organizations there also recently received $300,000 in federal and private money to develop programs addressing mental health, employment and parenting issues among the Somali community and other refugee populations.

Boston and Los Angeles, in contrast, appear to be months away from distributing their share of the money — if at all. "It's a little frustrating," says Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Michael Downing, whose department had been looking forward to federal support to enhance longstanding efforts that include outreach to help prevent radicalization. "We haven't seen a dime. We're clearly at the point where we want to put our money where our mouth is."

Recent attacks — including in Paris in November, San Bernardino, California, in December and Brussels on Tuesday — make the local programs all the more critical, said Robert Trestan, who has been involved with the Boston pilot as regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism.

"It's been disappointingly slow, but we have to give it a chance before it's too late," he said. Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for Eileen Decker, the U.S. attorney for central California, whose office is administering the Los Angeles grant money, said this week he couldn't provide an update on when the money might be distributed.

Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said the agency is generally "encouraged" by what it sees from the pilot efforts, including "community-driven efforts to address youth prevention and intervention, mental and behavioral health, and radicalization in prisons, among other areas."

He would not provide specifics or comment on the whether the department had expected local programs to be running by now. But he noted the funds — $216,000 each to Boston and Minneapolis and $100,000 to Los Angeles — were obligated in September 2015 and are good through this coming September, with limited extensions possible beyond then.

The pilot effort in Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis — with wider rollout possible based on its success — was announced in September 2014 and spotlighted during a three-day summit on global extremism convened the following February by President Barack Obama.

But observers say it has been underfunded and hobbled by a vague mission that has sown confusion and fueled strong opposition from civil rights and community groups that fear the programs will amount to government spying on law-abiding Muslims.

The pilot program in the three cities is just one piece of the administration's broader "Countering Violent Extremism" agenda. Top White House officials met in recent months with Silicon Valley tech giants in an effort to block or limit social-media distribution of extremist propaganda from the Islamic State and other groups. Secretary of State John Kerry has also met with Hollywood executives to enlist their help in social media campaigns.

The FBI recently rolled out an online classroom resource on extremism called "Don't Be a Puppet" and provided a guide to school administrators that addresses "concerning behavior" and how to intervene.

The Department of Justice started seeking applicants this month for some $3.5 million in grant money to develop, replicate or evaluate programs to reduce violent extremism. And researchers at UCLA, Harvard and the University of Illinois at Chicago have a total of $1 million in Department of Homeland Security money to help enhance efforts to counter extremism in Boston and Los Angeles, specifically.

Supporters in Boston, where bombs killed three people and injured hundreds at the 2013 Boston Marathon, said they still hope the effort will bear fruit. "I wouldn't call this a failure," said Brandy Donini-Melanson, a coordinator in the office of Boston U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, which had initially led the effort there. "Let us get to a point where we have some funded programs and where there is some level of measurement to determine whether these efforts are successful or not."

The Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services, now leading the pilot effort there, is taking steps to distribute its $216,000 in federal money. But the soonest any local organization could expect to see the money under the current timeline is the fall.

Meanwhile, families trying to prevent loved ones from becoming radicalized must navigate challenges largely on their own, said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University's Program on Extremism.

"We're stuck in this weird limbo," he said. "There should be a way to address this that's in keeping with civil rights and civil liberties concerns but also recognizes you have families struggling that are getting no support."

Critics said they'll continue to watch the pilot efforts closely. "These programs operate under the assumption that Muslims are a national security threat," said Haroon Manjlai, a spokesman for the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "They're highly objectionable."

Associated Press reporter Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report. Follow Philip Marcelo at His work can be found at

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

American Muslims Decry Cruz Community Surveillance Comment

MARCH 23, 2016

Nas Juma, 22, left, and Omar Ghanim, 23, enjoy Lebanese pizza at Forn Al Hara restaurant in Orange County's Little Arabia in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, March 22, 2016. They discussed remarks made by GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz about Muslim Americans in the wake of terrorist attacks in Belgium. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said Tuesday that surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods in the U.S. must be intensified following the deadly bombings at Brussels, while rival Donald Trump suggested torturing a suspect in last year's Paris attacks would have prevented the carnage.

DEARBORN, MICH.. (AP) — Some American Muslims feel they are once again on the defensive following presidential candidate Ted Cruz's suggestion that Muslim-dominated neighborhoods should be subject to increased surveillance in the wake of the deadly attacks in Brussels.

"We're targeted even if it's not our fault," said Omar Ghanim, 23, eating Lebanese pizza Tuesday at a suburban strip mall in Orange County's Little Arabia neighborhood, just miles from Disneyland in California.

Ghanim said Islamic State doesn't represent his faith. "They don't follow the Islamic rules or anything Islam," he said. "We're a peaceful people. We're not violent." Cruz said Tuesday that law enforcement should be empowered to "patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized." Echoing earlier statements from rival Donald Trump, Cruz also said the U.S. should stop the flow of refugees from countries where the Islamic State militant group has a significant presence. IS claimed responsibility for the attacks at the Brussels airport and a subway station that killed dozens Tuesday and wounded many more.

Muslims across the country and groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Anti-Defamation League condemned Cruz's statements. Many said the remarks were part of a disturbing trend: For months, the Islamic extremist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and the intensifying rhetoric of the presidential campaign, have ratcheted up animosity against American Muslims.

"We have the same ideology as mainstream Americans," said Osman Ahmed, who lives in a Somali neighborhood in Minneapolis. Surveillance of a Muslim community neighborhood "will send a message that Muslim-Americans are not a part of American society ... and that's the message that terrorism groups are willing to hear."

Trump, who has proposed a temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the U.S., praised Cruz's plan as a "good idea" that he supports "100 percent" in an interview with CNN. The Republican front-runner also intensified his past calls for the U.S. to engage in harsher interrogation techniques, arguing that Belgium could have prevented the bombings had it tortured a suspect in last year's Paris attacks who was arrested last week.

Speaking Tuesday in New York, Cruz praised the city police department's former program of conducting surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods. He called for its reinstatement and said it could be a model for police departments nationwide.

"New Yorkers want a safe and secure America," Cruz said. "New Yorkers saw firsthand the tragic consequences of radical Islamic terrorism." After the 9/11 attacks, the New York Police Department used its intelligence division to cultivate informants in Muslim communities. In a series of articles, The Associated Press revealed that authorities had infiltrated dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups and investigated hundreds of them.

The program was disbanded amid complaints of religious and racial profiling. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, said the call for surveillance sends "an alarming message to American Muslims who increasingly fear for their future in this nation."

The Anti-Defamation League, a U.S. group that battles anti-Semitism worldwide, said Cruz's plan harkens back to the relocation of Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War II. Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, said she fears for armed groups "who are emboldened by the commentary from people like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump."

"What's scaring me more is the kind of potential fueling of these vigilantes and people who might want to take up arms and go patrol Muslim neighborhoods," she said. The Detroit suburb of Dearborn is widely known as the hometown of Henry Ford, who hired Arabs and Muslims in the early days of the Ford Motor Co. and helped create what is now one of the nation's largest and most concentrated communities of residents who trace their roots to the Middle East.

Kebba Kah, a 46-year-old Ford employee who was entering a mosque in Dearborn for evening prayers Tuesday, said the bombings in Brussels were "a very terrible thing," and insisted that such attacks are roundly rejected by all Muslims save for "a few radical groups."

Associated Press writers Gillian Flaccus in Anaheim, California; Vivian Salama, Jill Colvin, Steve Peoples, Ken Thomas, Lisa Lerer and Alan Fram in Washington; Jonathan Lemire and Deepti Hajela in New York; and Steve Karnowski and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

Follow Jeff Karoub on Twitter at . His work can be found at .

Akosua Busia Re-Emerges In The Spotlight In 'Eclipsed'


Akosua Busia attends the opening night celebration of "Eclipsed" at The Public Theater in New York. Busia, an actress and novelist, is the daughter of a Ghanaian prime minister and mother of a daughter with her ex-husband, "Boyz N the Hood" director John Singleton. (Photo by Greg Allen/Invision/AP, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Step into Akosua Busia's tiny dressing room on Broadway and you walk into a little corner of happy calm. There's a small palm tree and some potted plants. The heater is blasting. A pair of white sculptured wings hangs on a wall. There's a huge poster of a tranquil beach and rolling waves.

The Ghanaian actress decorated it with items from Amazon and a budget of $300. She usually gets this reaction: "Everyone's like, 'Akosua, you're homesick.'" Maybe, but she's on a mission: After leaving show business for 18 years to raise her daughter, Busia is back, starring in "Eclipsed," Danai Gurira's searing, important play about enslaved women in Liberia's 12-year civil war.

That Busia is part of such a groundbreaking show isn't unusual for this royal-born daughter of a Ghanaian prime minister. She's a novelist, actress, activist and mother to her daughter with ex-husband, John Singleton, director of "Boyz N the Hood."

Before giving birth, Busia penned the novel "The Seasons of Beento Blackbird," co-wrote the film adaptation of Toni Morrison's novel "Beloved" and played Nettie in Steven Spielberg's film "The Color Purple." In an odd twist, she finds that the "Eclipsed" theater is next to the one showing a revival of "The Color Purple" musical (she gives it two thumbs up).

In "Eclipsed," Busia plays a visiting peace activist who tries to help women in one compound escape the war zone. Three captives have endured multiple rapes, and one has picked up a gun and become a ruthless fighter.

It's a wrenching play, and the cast, which includes Lupita Nyong'o, Pascale Armand, Zainab Jah and Saycon Sengbloh, gathers to huddle in a circle five minutes before every show and again backstage afterward to breathe and hum.

"It's not a show where you can call it in," she said. "When we're tired or one of us doesn't feel good, we say, 'Wow. We only have to live this for 2½ hours. People lived this for 12 years.'" Director Liesl Tommy said the show's creators were having a hard time casting Busia's role when someone happened to throw out her name. Busia was the Nyong'o of her day, "someone who had this light, this undeniable luminosity." Busia was retired and living in Ghana. Then they got good news: She was in visiting her sister in New Jersey.

Busia was persuaded to audition for the show. She found herself in a play in which her character has lost her daughter and been dragged away by soldiers to an awful fate. "It's unthinkable to me. It's literally unimaginable to me," she said.

Busia recalls a terrifying moment in Ghana, when her not-yet-1-year-old child started convulsing with malaria. Busia stripped down and pulled her into a cold shower to try to bring down her temperature.

In the confusion, a maid then rushed the girl to a clinic but Busia didn't know which one. "I can't even begin to describe the sheer panic," she said. She jumped on a taxi's hood, hysterical and half-naked, and hurried to three clinics before finding the right one. But the doctor wouldn't treat the shivering girl until after she was bathed.

"I found myself on a doctor with my hands on his throat," Busia said. He saw her fear and backed off. They later became friends but the terror never left. She pours that fear of losing a child into her Broadway role: "Searching for days and weeks on end? Oh my God, I cannot imagine. I don't know how people ever stop."

The show marks the first time on Broadway that a cast, director and playwright have been made up entirely of female artists, something Busia calls "astounding." She said she's been in similar situations, breaking barriers by having a mixed-race romance on network TV opposite Anthony Andrews in the 1985 miniseries "A.D." and being the first black leading lady in a West End play in London in "Gloo Joo" in 1978.

"Every time I go, 'It cannot be true. That's not the world I live in. Surely you people jest,'" she said. "Either the entertainment world is so far behind what is really happening or we are so blind to what the reality is — and I'm beginning to be scared that it's the second one."


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