The 10th International Media Awards

On the 28th of June, the 10th edition of the International Media Awards were held at Whitehall, London. With guests attending from all over the world, including Russia, Israel, Afghanistan and Libya, the ceremony was a great spectacle of diversity. The ceremony was indeed a microcosm of the greater Middle East, the disparate nationalities and ethnicities of all those who participated reflected the vast array of people that call the region home. In an increasingly exclusionary, protectionist modern political landscape, this evening serves as a sharp contrast, offering a glimmer of hope to all of us who have been saddened by the current state of middle-eastern affairs, and those of us who are discontent with recent geopolitical developments.

The evening was not short of entertainment either, throughout the dinner multiple awards were given to deserving journalists, ranging from those who have just embarked on a journalistic career to those more seasoned, with some boasting 25+ year careers. Correspondents, documentary producers, and broadcasters were all recognised during the night. It is imperative these professionals are recognised for the work they do. They consistently risk their lives for the sake of uncovering the truth on complex conflicts and help us make sense of an increasingly interconnected world. Through credible, honest storytelling the winners have drawn our attention towards humanitarian crises whether they be in Yemen or Syria, the plight of those living under IS rule in Iraq and also highlighted the injustices some Palestinians face in everyday life.

Among the winners was Lyse Doucet, an accomplished broadcaster and frontline journalist, and is currently the BBC’s Chief International Correspondent. She won the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting’ award, which rewards those who have had an illustrious career in the field of journalism. Throughout her career, Lyse has upheld the universal media virtues of integrity, honesty and impartiality. She is a figure of the industry and an idol to many young journalists looking to begin their careers.

There was also a moment of profound reflection. During the 4-year International Media Awards hiatus, there have been over 100 media related murders in the Middle-East. This number serves to indicate the deteriorating security conditions for media personnel in the region. But it simultaneously, allows us to appreciate the dangerous but vital work these journalists undertake. The sorry state of freedom of speech in the region is disheartening, but as the International Media Awards have indicated: The Middle-Eastern region has been ushered into a new era of information and wide-spread knowledge, there has been a huge influx of young journalists breaking through evinced by the young set of winners this year. Those who are brave, courageous, and those who will always stand in the face of adversity to retell the stories of the unfortunate to those of us who are much more fortunate. It is safe to say that the future of journalism is in good hands.

 

The 10th International Media Awards to be held in London later this month

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The International Media awards are, presented in London, to celebrate high standards of journalism across the world, but with particular emphasis on Middle-Eastern reporting.

The awards will be presented at a ceremony held by the International Council for Press and Broadcasting, a group now allied to the International Communications Forum, a body affiliated with the Next Century Foundation. The awards honour editors, journalists, bloggers and anyone else who played a role in fostering understanding between people, and demystifying complex wars.

The awards are divided into several categories:

  • The Peace through Media prizes are for senior journalists, who have contributed to better understanding throughout their careers, and comprise the symbolic gift of an olive tree.
  • The Cutting Edge prizes are for journalists recognised for their high standards of analysis and reporting, often in conflict situations.
  • The Breakaway prize is for young journalists, who have already begun to make an impact at the beginning of their careers.
  • The Lifetime Achievement prize.
  • The Photography & Visual Media prize
  • The Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting prize
  • The New Media prize

In this highly advanced technological age, in  which the seeds of war can be sown from  misunderstanding, The International Media Awards recognise the media’ s integral role in achieving peace, truth and rapprochement.

A New Hope for Libya

On the second of May, two of the most prominent Libyan political figures met in Abu-Dhabi for a meeting that lasted 2 hours long, mediated by both Arab and International actors. This was the first meeting of this type between the clashing leaders  since the UN sanctioned Libyan Political agreement was signed in January 2016, which instated the Government of National Accord.

Khalifa Haftar,  one of the two aforementioned leaders, has often been described by mainstream media outlets as a renegade military leader, with ambitions to institute military rule upon Libya. He has been exile in Virginia,  America for nearly 20 years after his failed attempt to overthrow Colonel Gaddaffi in a military coup, gaining U.S. citizenship. Currently, he is based in the east of the country and leads the self-named Libyan National Army or what is also known as Operation Dignity. Due to his unwavering stance towards Islamic extremism and his strongman demeanor, Khalifa Haftar has ascended to the forefront of Libyan politics, he now enjoys financial and military support from the Kremlin as well as the UAE, it has been noted that General Al-Sisi is also an ally of General Haftar. But we should be under no delusion, some Libyans (many of them non-Islamist) are opposed to any rule composed of General Haftar. They do not want what they perceive to be another military dictator, after paying in blood for their freedom.

In stark contrast Fayez Al-Sarraj the leader of the Government of National Accord and the head of the presidential council, has led a particularly uneventful life before his designation to the prime ministerial role. Mr Al-Sarraj hails from Tripoli and was born to a wealthy family, he trained as an architect and his father owned vast swathes of land. Much responsibility rests on his shoulders following his appointment, he cannot afford to alienate the General Khalifa Haftar because of the large foreign support he is provided with and the growing strength of his army. Conversely, it is the general consensus that the country needs to submit to civilian authority. President Al-Sarraj has been adamant in wanting a unified Libyan army under civil control, a stipulation which Haftar is against, although the General has never truly admitted so in public.

As is always the case in high level diplomatic negotiations, it seems that there is a disconnect between these ostensible leaders and the people governed.  General Haftar and Mr Al-Sarraj meeting in Abu-Dhabi was convened amidst a backdrop of a dire economic situation in Libya. Libya’s oil production output, the state’s most significant revenue generator, is a fraction of 2010 levels. Foreign capital investment has grounded to a halt, and the Libyan tourism industry has been devastated. This has all led to delayed and sometimes cancelled salary payments, substandard infrastructure even in Tripoli, virtually non-existent public services and inadequate healthcare, forcing people to travel to Tunisia and Egypt to obtain life-saving treatments. It is a sad fact that ordinary Libyan people are the ones  feeling this financial squeeze the most.

Robust, unified governance and rule of law is the hallmark of all developed and civilised countries. Through forging relationships, and crossing political divides this meeting  provides hope for the creation of such a government, all in the pursuit of a prosperous Libya. We wish the two leaders good luck, and remind them that they would do best by serving the populace rather than pursue policies of greed, and corruption which have bedevilled North Africa in the past.

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معاناة أهالي الحويجة

معاناة أهالي الحويجة

مازال الشعب مازال العراقي يعاني من تعذيب مجندي تنظيم الدولة الاسلامية للمدنيين رغم التقدم الذي أحرزته القوات العراقية المشتركة في تحرير بعض المناطق من سيطرة التنظيم في العملية التي قد بدأت قبل عدة أسابيع. يقوم مجندي التنظيم بالانتقام لخسارتهم المتعددة في عدة مدن بتعويض هذه الخسائر بسفك دماء المدنيين و خاصة في قضاء الحويجة في كركوك. حيث قام أعضاء التنظيم مؤخرا و تحديدا قبل يومين بإعدام 13 مدني رميا بالرصاص بعد محاولتهم الفرار من الحويجة إلى مدن قريبة للتخلص من الرعب الذي يسكنهم و الذي ينشره التنظيم في جيمع أنحاء القضاء حيث ان قام احدهم بالفرار من القضاء فالموت ينتظره و أما إن بقي في منزله فالجحيم يسكنه!

قام التتنظيم بالسيطرة على قضاء الحويجة و بعض المناطق المجاورة في كركوك في يوليو 2014 ، حيث أبلغ مجندي التنظيم أهالي الحويجه بعد إعلان السيطرة الكاملة على القضاء بأنه من سيحاول الفرار من جنوبي كركوك سواء كان رجل او امرأة او طفل سيكون عقابه و مصيره الموت، و قد قام التنظيم بالفعل بقطع يد من يرفض الانتماء له من أهالي الحويجة و إعدام 6 أشقاء بعد محاولتهم الفرار من الحويجة.

قام التنظيم بإحتجاز مايقارب 385 مدني من سكان الحويجه بعد محاولتهم الفرار نحو المناطق الخاضعة لسيطرة قوات البيشمركة جنوب غربي كركوك، و البعض حاول الفرار و الوصول إلى محافظة صلاح الدين. تم إعدام عدد قليل من المحتجزين فيما لا يزال مصير الآخرين مجهول. من بين المحتجزين رجال و نساء و أطفال حيث يتوقع البعض بأنه سيتم إعدام جميع الرجال و تجنيد الأطفال في صفوف التنظيم. فيما سيتم سبي النساء و استخدامهم فيما يعرف عند التنظيم “بجهاد النكاح”، و هنا نعود للإسلام الذي يدعي التنظيم أنه يمثله، حيث أنه من توجيهات رسولنا – عليه الصّلاة والسّلام – في الحرب أنْ لا تُقتل المرأة أو الشّيخ أو الطّفل، وإنّما يَحلُّ سبي النّساء في حالةٍ واحدةٍ فقط، وهي حالة القتال مع الأعداء، ودون ترويعٍ لها أو انتقاصٍ من كرامتها، و هذا ما لا يفعله التنظيم.

قصه واقعيه لرجل فر هاربا بعد أن احتجزه التنظيم بعد محاولته الهروب مع والده و زوجته و أولاده من الحويجه. بعد العديد من الترتيبات و التجهيزات جاء اليوم المنتظر الذي ظن فيه هذا الشخص بأن عذاب التنظيم و الخوف منهم سينتهي بعد الهرب من قضاء الحويجة إلى منطقة آمنة، و لكن سرعان ماتحول هذا الحلم إلى جحيم و عذاب مستمر بعد أن أمسك التنظيم به و بوالده بينما استطاعت زوجته الفرار برفقة أطفاله. قام التنظيم بممارسة جميع أنواع التعذيب من الضرب و الجلد و كل مايخطر على البال من أساليب معدومة الرحمة لمدة 5 أشهر على هذا الرجل بينما قاموا باحتجاز والده في مكان آخر و لم يستطع رؤيته. أعلن التنظيم عن أنه سيتم إعدام هذا الرجل و تم تحديد اليوم ولكن لحسن حظ هذا الرجل و لأنه لم يقطع أمله بالله نشب حريق في السجن الذي كان متواجد فيه حيث استطاع الهروب إلى الصحراء للوصول إلى منطقة آمنه في تكريت حيث استنجد بأهلها للوصول إلى كركوك لزوجته و أولاده، و لكن رغم هربه إلا أنه لايزال يجهل مصير والده و حاله و لا يعلم إن كان حيا أو قد تم قتله! وصف هذا الرجل التنظيم بأنه شديد الوحشيه و معدوم من الانسانيه و الرحمه حيث أن مجندوه يستمتعون بالقتل و رؤية عذاب الآخرين و يضحكون على من يموت و على من يعذب، و هنا أيضا نسأل أين الإسلام فيما يفعلونه؟ الإسلام يقول بأنه لايجوز على الميت إلا الرحمه و هؤلاء الوحوش يتراقصون فوق الجثث، الإسلام يأمر بالرحمه و الأخوه و لكن هؤلاء يقتلون أبناء وطنهم و آبائهم و إخوانهم و البعض منهم من يقتل أمه و يقتل العربي مثله و إن كان مسلم؟ فهو يقتل أخاه المسلم و هو شيء يمنعه الإسلام، فأين الإسلام فيما تفعلونه! نساء تترمل و أطفال يتيتمون و رجال عاجزون عن حماية عوائلهم.

مايقارب 28 شهرا مضت على دخول داعش للأراضي العراقية و السيطرة على مايقارب 40 % من الأراضي، و حتى الآن خسر جزء كبير من هذه الأراضي بفضل العمليات العسكرية التي تعمل على تحرير العراق من التنظيم، و لكن مازال التنظيم يعلن سيطرته على 7%من المدن التي يتواجد فيها عدد كبير من السكان. على مدى مايزيد عن العامين خسر التنظيم 30 ألف مقاتل من ضمن 45 ألف مقاتل دخلوا العراق و من بين ال30 ألف مقاتل 40 قياديا من الصف  الأول و مايقارب 500 قياديا من الصفوف الوسطى و الميدانية مما يوضح بدء انهيار التنظيم بشكل كبير. أيضا بعد أن كان التنظيم يقوم بتجنيد 500 مقاتلا شهريا و ضمهم لصفوفه ، بات يجند فقط 50 مقاتلا شهريا أو أقل. من ناحية أخرى، بعد أن كانت إرادات التنظيم تصل إلى مايقارب 80 مليون دولار شهريا في سوريا و العراق ، انخفضت الإرادات بشكل كبير بنسبة 62.5 %.

في العديد من المقالات نقرأ عن بعض أعضاء التنظيم يقتلون بعضهم البعض أو القيادات تأمر بقتل أحد أعضاء التنظيم ، كما تعلمنا عندما كنا صغار أن ماتفعله سيعود لك فيوم لك و يوم عليك ، بالأمس قتلت و اليوم أنت ستقتل ، بالأمس أمرت بقتل فلان أو إعدامه أما اليوم فسيتم الأمر بإعدامك. نحن لا نملك سوا الدعاء للأبرياء الذين يجبرون على معايشة الخوف في كل يوم و لحظه و ثانيه و الدعاء للمحتجزين لدى التنظيم بأن يفك الله أسرهم، و أن يعود العراق آمنا و شامخا و بهيبته كما كان سابقا و أن يعيش هذا الشعب الذي عانى الكثير و تغرب في جميع أنحاء العالم أن يعيش بسلام و آمان لأنه حان الوقت لأن ينتهي هذا العذاب.

European Civilians are Being Punished for Providing Aid to Refugees

In September 2016 the Danish high court upheld a verdict, which criminalised humanitarian assistance to refugees. A children’s rights activist was among the three hundred other Danes who were found guilty of breaching Danish law, and subsequently prosecuted for human trafficking.

Shockingly, there is no evidence of human smuggling in any of the cases presented in court. There was no exchange of money, nor were they clandestine in nature.  Benevolent Danes merely picked up refugees after a train from Germany was stopped in the Danish border town of Rødby. At the time, the government was quiet with no proper policy position in place for refugee migration.  This lack of clarity led to extreme confusion, particularly amongst the Police Force about the legality of helping migrants along their journeys. People simply did not know that helping another human in distress was illegal.

These prosecutions have resulted in large fines and prison sentences of up to two years being given. They have successfully deterred many European civilians from providing help to migrants crossing the continent. European civilians are now faced with a dilemma; either abandon their moral compass and remain on the right side of the law or risk breaching the law but maintain universal humanitarian values that connect us all. This is a unique situation in which the law is at odds with decency, empathy and liberty, virtues upon which the European project is predicated.

Unfortunately, there is also large confusion on the definition of migrant smuggling. The United Nations define the act as exclusively motivated by “financial or other material benefit”. This is in sharp contrast to the Council of the European Union definition which broadly stipulates that anyone who assists migrants to “enter or transit across” a country is in breach of national law and can be prosecuted. Discussing and debating the legality of civilian refugee aid becomes much more difficult when many contradictions are present. Uncertainty will continue to rise amongst the public and further indecision will continue from all parties responsible for tackling the migration crisis.

Whilst we must be wary when comparing recent events with the biggest genocide of the 20th century, punishing European civilians for aiding the persecuted is reminiscent of the punitive policies of Nazi Germany. The intent of this comparison is not to trivialise the Holocaust, indeed drastic measures such as death penalty have not been implemented, and over one million asylum seekers have been welcomed in 2015 alone. But it serves as a continual reminder that punishing civilian goodwill and outlawing instinctive humanitarian qualities will only compound mass humanitarian crises.
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Photo credits to TT

People often talk about the dangers of progressive dehumanisation of refugees, but perhaps we ourselves are subtly undergoing a form of dehumanisation led by these faulty laws? Perhaps we are becoming increasingly desensitised to the refugee crisis? It is at moments like these, when we must remember that history is never repeated unintentionally.

Majed Tw 31/01/2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom of Religion in America

The freedom to believe, practice and preach any religion is an unalienable fundamental right, imperative to the maintenance of social cohesion. In the USA this principle has been protected by both the secular and the religious through legal guarantees and religious edicts; but periods in which humanity has enjoyed this ostensible luxury are rare. And the revival of modern Islamic Jihadism, which arguably began during the US backed liberation of Afghanistan by the Mujahedeen, has allowed an unscrupulous American press to constantly frame the topic of religious tolerance (or lack thereof) solely in terms of Muslim influence. This press bias means that it is more necessary than ever that proponents of freedom of religious practice take a stand against counterproductive prejudice.

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Religious liberty has been a central tenet of modern western civilisation since the ratification of the first amendment of the United States Constitution, which states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

However, these legal provisions did not prevent religious intolerance from pervading American society in the past. One prominent example of injustice is the persecution of the members of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) which began in the nineteenth century and which has continued to this very day, albeit in subtler form. Mormons of the past have been subjected to abhorrent acts of violence including the Haun’s Mill massacre, which saw the death of 20 civilian men and children. The fact that this bloody event was sanctioned by the Governor of Missouri in the infamous Missouri Executive Order 44 is particularly sinister, and provides damning evidence of the poor history of civil liberties in America.

Furthermore institutionalized discrimination is also deeply-rooted  in the USA, with long-lasting ramifications for the religious rights of minorities. One example of egregious institutional intolerance is the ‘Americanization’ of Native Americans  which took place in the 1920s, the effects of which are felt to this present day. The effort included the forcible transfer of over 100,000 Native American children to Indian boarding schools.  Students at these schools were prohibited from speaking the native Indian language and had Christianity imposed upon them. Indeed, they were forced to renounce all aspects of their tribal culture and religion. These schools were integral to the government’s “civilizing” process, such that once a student left, the only characteristic that separated him and the white man was skin color.

Another aspect to the Americanization effort was the vilification and in certain cases outright ban on traditional religious practices, most notably the Sun Dance. Before repealing the law in the 1980s, this ceremony had to undergo various changes to appease Christians and to ultimately survive, becoming a hollow shell of its former sacrosanct self. A more recent example of the government infringing on Native American religious rights is the Dakota Access Pipeline Project.  The pipeline threatens to desecrate sacred sites as well as pollute the Missouri river which most tribes are dependent upon.  Dogs, mace and inhumane incarceration conditions are all used to crackdown severely on peaceful protesters, of which most are Native American. The project, in its entirety, is a perfect microcosm of the gross disregard of Native American concerns throughout history.

Since 9/11, however, Islamophobic hate speech constitutes the single greatest threat to freedom of religious practice. Individuals such as Pastor Terry Jones espouse false anti-Islamic rhetoric, and utilize national media platforms to spread their hateful ideology with little resistance from the US government. Events organized by Terry Jones such as the annual Qu’ran Burning congregation, have resulted in an increase in the harassment of Muslims in the US. These provocations also inadvertently strengthen Jihadi recruitment programs, deepening the schism between Islam and the West.

America, a country self-described as the leader of the democratic free world, is steeped in unappreciation for the pluralistic nature of religion in society. Its continued apathy when addressing the grievances of religious minorities is worrying and the recent election of Donald Trump would seem to indicate that this unfortunate state of affairs may endure.

The Refugee Crisis – a Long Journey for All

The recent conference on the pervasive refugee crisis, which was jointly organised by Initiatives of Change’s Sustainable Communities programme and ICEARAS*, provided an ideal platform for many to share harrowing yet inspiring stories from the front-line. All speakers featured were remarkable, with each contributing to the alleviation of the refugee disaster on either the individual or the broader institutional aspect. Some speakers such as the Rt Hon Lord Alfred Dubs, Sakira Suzia and Councillor Micheline Safi Ngongo were all former refugees to the United Kingdom. They are a testament to the humanitarian and economic development that inevitably transpires from the solidarity of man in the face of world-wide calamities. Other speakers such as Elizabeth Jones, member of UKIP’s National Executive Committee, provided a much-needed opposing perspective to the dominating opinion of lenient border controls for refugees.

Among the particularly distressing stories from the frontline was one voiced by Ms Suzia, a decorated Police Constable with the London Metropolitan police. Some of the most common occurrences she witnessed whilst volunteering in Lesbos was the lifelessness of the babies arriving via the precarious boats to the shores of Europe. The reasoning behind these disturbing scenes is equally alarming: Concerned parents are faced with a grave predicament, either medicate their babies unconscious to force their silence and thereby avoiding trafficker gunfire, or risk their babies’ lives by allowing them to travel unsedated. Leila Segal, a trained barrister and founder of the Voice of Freedom also provided a glimpse into rarely reported incidents of women trafficking. A particularly heart-wrenching story was one of a young Ethiopian woman named Desta Getaneh who at the innocent of age of 10 left home in search for a quality of life we (residents of developed countries) at times fail to appreciate. En route, she befriended a man who promised to aid her journey but instead sold her to a trafficker where the conspicuous exchange of money occurred right before her eyes. This anecdote perfectly underlines the influence the trafficking industry has on an indigent region. Traffickers are running rampant in countries with no enforceable regulation or security, it is therefore our duty as citizens of the world to propel these countries towards the road to liberation from this scourge.

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The event which gathered a crowd of over 70 people also provided a full opportunity for views from various political persuasions to be heard, most notably, Lord Alfred Dubs. The Rt Hon gave a particularly impassioned speech outlining the monumental amendment to the government’s immigration bill, which was rightly met with veneration from the attendees. The amendment compels the government to provide sanctuary for an undefined number of unaccompanied children through designation to local authorities. In a separate part of the speech he noted that although some momentum was lost due to hardening attitudes towards immigration, he recognised the ultimately compassionate nature of the British public , remarking that:

 

“without the enormous public support, this bill would have never passed”

 

Lord Dubs, once UK Refugee Council Director, slammed claims that accepting vulnerable children would create a pull-factor for countless other migrants, stating that there is little in the way of evidence supporting this theory. Many impressionable children residing in the camps, of which there are now 80,000 per Lord Dubs, would be led to a life of either crime or prostitution without systematic aid. Consequently, we should be unwavering in our belief that this amendment is right, just and undeniably moral.

The event also included constructive dialogue on the past and present state of political affairs. Elizabeth Jones, whom is an eloquent orator quite clearly revels in controversy as she managed to cause furore amongst the crowd whilst touting the advantages of trade diplomacy over military interventionism as a tool for conflict resolution. This was somewhat peculiar, as interventionism is incontestably the root cause of the predominantly Iraqi-Afghani-Syrian refugee crisis. On a similar note, Elizabeth also appropriately identified the ineffectual nature of foreign aid particularly to Syria, of which $1.12bn flowed to. Instead she cited Singapore’s independent success story that saw it rise from a predominantly agrarian economy to a financial powerhouse as a loose model to which Syrian development could be based upon. However, these intriguing points were unfortunately overlooked when she rather less forgivingly failed to distinguish between a refugee and an economic migrant and was met by cries of vehement objection from the attendees.

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Finally, the emotional outrage witnessed at the event which was incited by the mere presence of differing opinions certainly depicts the highly-polarised environment on the ground and the over-politicisation of the crisis. At times, politicians, government officials, immigration officers and indeed members of the public from both sides of the political spectrum need to be reminded that this is a humanitarian crisis, rather than a political one. Stripped to its bare essence a refugee is neither truly evil nor truly benevolent but rather a human in need. With this in mind politicians should forego career opportunism and instead work for what is moral. As for refugees themselves, they should take note from the past and realise that being a refugee is a not a badge of indignity and humiliation rather a badge of courage, bravery and resourcefulness of man, they should certainly wear it with pride.

 

*International Centre for Eritrean Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

 

Majed Twijiri 7/11/2016