Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Syrian Refugees In Greece 'Put Their Tent On Airbnb', Promising Scorpions, Dehydration And 'Broken Promises'...

A group of Syrians has advertised the tent they are living in on Airbnb, in an ironic dig against the miserable conditions they are experiencing in a camp in Greece.
In the advertisement, the Syrians say they have been living for three months in a tent in a refugee camp in Ritsona, north of Athens, and invite visitors to come and live with them, promising scorpions, dehydration and poor sanitation. 
“This is a real opportunity to experience life as a Syrian refugee,” the advertisement said. “While EU politicians talk about refugees, you can have an authentic refugee experience – tents, wood-fire cooking, 41 degree heat, marginal sanitary situation, friendly scorpions, broken promises, even dehydration.”
The post, which appears to be heavily ironic, promises that “long-term stays always receive a generous discount – please inquire!”
Prospective visitors are advised that they can access “free parking” as well as portable toilets, which are used by 600 refugees. 
“If you are lucky you might get one of the two hot showers. There is a large vacant lot where the toilets are, which the children use as a playground. Please join in the games.”
Schooling and medical help is available “rarely”, the post says, “but for a short-term stay you will be fine; just imagine if you had to stay here for the past four months.”
The refugee camp, an hour’s drive north of the Greek capital, is described as “the most unique neighbourhood in Greece”.
It was not clear who posted the ad, which was written in good English.  It was later removed from the home rental website.
In a statement, Airbnb said it had removed the listing because it was "not permitted under our terms of service".
The company said that it appreciated that the listing was an attempt to highlight "the heartbreaking refugee crisis" and said that it had raised "hundreds of thousands of dollars" for UNHCR in an attempt to deal with the situation.
The firm said that relief workers with organisations like the International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps were entitled to book free accommodation in the areas they are working.
More than 800,000 refugees and migrants, many of them Syrians and Iraqis, arrived in Greece last year after crossing in small boats and dinghies from the coast of Turkey.
The majority of them reached northern Europe after trekking along the so-called Balkan Route from Greece into Macedonia and through Serbia and Hungary to Austria and Germany. But the route was closed in March, stranding more than 50,000 refugees and migrants inside Greece. 
For months around 11,000 camped rough near a railway line at Idomeni in northern Greece, hoping to cross the Macedonian border.
Heavy rain turned the makeshift camp into a swamp, with small children wading through giant puddles and women breast-feeding babies amid camp fires and piles of rubbish.
In recent weeks the refugees were moved to registered camps set up by the Greek military and civilian authorities.
Aid groups and the UNHCR have criticised the camps as being unhygienic, poorly-equipped and inappropriate for a long stay. 
The EU came up with a plan to resettle 160,000 asylum seekers stuck in Greece and Italy but progress has been painfully slow and so far only 2,400 people have been relocated in other EU countries.
An EU-Ankara deal to return refugees and migrants to Turkey has also stalled, with migrants challenging their expulsions in the Greek courts and NGOs denouncing the plan as inhumane and illegal.  Since the deal came into force in March, only 460 people have been sent back to Turkey.
Earlier this month the medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres announced it would no longer accept funding from the EU in protest at its "shameful" migration policies, including the Turkey deal. 
Founded in 2008, Airbnb is based in San Francisco. Millions of people use the service to find shared accommodation around the world. 
“Whether an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more than 34,000 cities and 191 countries,” Airbnb says on its website.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Rohingya — The Palestinians Of Asia...

Are the Myanmarese generals learning the art of collective oppression from the Israelis? This is hardly a far-fetched question, considering that Israel had quite an eventful history of cooperating with past South American military dictatorships, while working closely with South Africa’s past apartheid government.
It is no surprise that Palestinians find numerous similarities between South Africa’s apartheid regime and Israel’s unmistakable apartheid practices. But the Myanmarese-Israeli connection is rarely discussed. In Tablet magazine, Joe Freeman, wrote the article: ‘In Israel’s earliest days, the place its leaders felt compelled to visit was Burma.’
High-profile Israeli visitors, who began making their pilgrimage to Myanmar decades ago, included Shimon Peres, Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. At the time, the Myanmarese government was convinced that “Israel was the quintessential example of the egalitarian social and economic order that he wished to establish”.
The truth, however, lies in how both countries treated, and continue to treat, their minorities. Following the ethnic cleansing of the original inhabitants of Palestine, Israel immediately went on to fashion an alternative and particularly biased narrative about how it was established, and to deny Palestinians any historical link to their homeland. The Myanmarese did just that too.
Both countries became independent in 1948. Resistance in Palestine was mostly confined around border areas. “While the Israelis fought the Palestinians,” wrote Freeman, “[Myanmar’s] leaders faced ethnic insurgencies that immediately sprang up all over the country, while fighting in China spilled over the border.”
The myth that the 1962 military coup in Myanmar (when Ne Win took the reins of power from Israel’s best friend in Asia, U Nu) ended the cooperation between both countries, was just that — a myth. While the new dictator had less interest in Israel than his predecessor, military and intelligence cooperation never truly ceased. Instead, it merely took on a more sinister, secretive form. Even Ben-Gurion himself acknowledged that the new Myanmarese regime had “more loyalty and sympathy to Israel” than any other in the whole of Asia.
This is a truly sordid and secretive history, which is really not too different from Israel’s shady relations with the vilest of dictatorships anywhere. This is why Israel has historically served as a conduit between the West and the least reputable regimes. But what is truly interesting is how these links evolved, over the course of decades, beyond political, military and economic interests, into other fields of ‘cooperation’.
While Myanmar is being congratulated for its latest ‘democratic’ elections, much of that sinful history and equally dismal reality is being swept under the rug. But, the country’s supposed democratic triumph should not blind us to the dark forces that are still at work in Myanmar, nor to why its sham democracy is being rebranded to appear real and sincere.
As well-wishers continued to praise Myanmar’s elections in early November as fair and transparent, Myanmarese authorities arrested five men and declared that “a sixth is still on the run” for simply printing a calendar that referred to the Rohingya minority by their actual name — the Rohingya. This oppressed minority has been savagely persecuted by Myanmar’s majority for many years. In 1982, a citizenship law stripped them of their title and rights altogether and declared them ‘Bengalis’ instead.
The opening up of Myanmarese politics in recent years spelled the doom for the Rohingya, because the burgeoning ‘freedom of speech’ within the region empowered Buddhist nationalist factions that promoted genocide against the defenceless Rohingya. This incitement resulted in the killing of hundreds, the burning of entire villages and the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Rohingya Muslims in jungles and refugee camps. Hundreds perished at sea as they tried to seek salvation in countries that had no sympathy for poor, stateless people.
The calendar episode, although minor in the greater scheme of things, serves to highlight the insincerity and farcical nature of Myanmarese democracy. A 2014 Printing and Publishing Law was established specifically to silence dissent and to criminalise any recognition of the Rohingya, thus abolishing their collective rights altogether.
All arrested men were charged with “fear or alarm to the public”, encouraging offences against the state and endangering national security.
“We’ve been unable to arrest him yet and he remains on the run,” said a government spokesperson in reference to the publisher of the calendar, 700 copies of which were printed. The ‘criminal phrase’ was featured in Myanmarese, Arabic and English and read: “Rohingya is an ethnic group.”
Those familiar with the onslaught of the Israeli government on Palestinian memory, can fully understand the despicable similarities between the Myanmarese attempts at copying existing Israeli policies. In Israel, not only are peaceful resistance to Israel’s military occupation and discrimination against Palestinians outlawed, but also the mere act of commemorating the Nakba of 1947-48 — the year in which Palestinians were ethnically cleansed. This is just one of numerous laws that were ratified in the past and even recently, including the changing of many street names from Arabic to Hebrew, or the removing of Arabic references to street names altogether.
Few are paying much heed to the Israeli-Myanmarese connection, which was sustained even during the time that the Myanmarese junta was deservingly shunned for crippling democracy and crushing the opposition. But the fact is that the new democratic elections were merely designed to validate the generals — for it fully reserved their power — while presenting an illusion of democracy to enable the economic exploitation of Myanmar for its many natural treasures.
The sweeping, although predictable victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD), under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, is unlikely to change the scenario much as far as the dominance of the military goes. Even if the revered democracy icon has, in fact, some serious influence over the country’s affairs, she has proven spineless in defending the rights of the Rohingya and other persecuted minorities, including Christians. Her deafening silence has prompted the Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, more than once to urge her to take a stance in defence of the Rohingya. Yet, she has failed to do so.
But this is not simply a matter of intellectual exercise. The consequences of this silence are truly dire. Writing in the Ecologist, Nafeez Ahmad cited alarming new findings. A study conducted last October by the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) at Queen Mary University in London “found that the Rohingya face ‘the final stages of a genocidal process’”. “Leaked government documents show that plans to inflict ‘mass annihilation’ have been prepared at the highest levels,” he wrote.
Not only did the elections disempower and further alienate the Rohingya, but it has also empowered political groups that have openly sought the ‘mass annihilation’ of the defenceless minority community. They include the Arakan National Party (ANP), which has incited and enacted violent pogroms against the Rohingya for years.
The question is then, why is there all this excitement about Myanmarese democracy? The answer is rather simple: The rivalry between China and the United States, and their respective allies, has reached a point where the massive amount of untapped wealth of oil and natural gas in Myanmar can no longer be ignored.
The US, United Kingdom and other countries are salivating at the limitless potential of economic opportunities in that country, estimated at “3.2 billion barrels of oil and 18 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves”. According to a UK government report under the theme, a ‘hotspot for exploration,” Myanmar’s “unproven resources may be vastly greater”.
With Myanmar climbing among the world’s top five countries in terms of proven oil-and-gas reserves, terms such as genocide, military junta and human rights violations are deliberately and largely omitted from the new discourse.
Indeed, Myanmar is setting the stage to be another Israel, in its ability to label itself democratic, despite every proof to the contrary; in its continued oppression of its minorities and in attempting to whitewash its history — and rebrand its grim reality.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Right Way to Observe Ramadan...

ISTANBUL — THE Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins today and with it the long hours of fasting by hundreds of millions of Muslims. The daylong fast during the lunar month in which we Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a way for Muslims to show their devotion to God, and, some say, to understand the suffering of those who have no choice but to go without food.
The Ramadan fast is not easy. From sunrise to sunset, Muslims are not supposed to eat, drink or smoke, and abstain from sex. For hours, they dream about a sip of water or a bite of bread. Then comes the iftar, which means “breakfast,” but which is often a heavy dinner with family and friends. Then come a few hours of freedom from deprivation, until the sunrise, when the next day’s fast begins.
Muslims around the world observe this 1,400-year-old practice, from the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, where it originated, to Scandinavia, where the latitude has forced some scholars to issue fatwas to accommodate the Quran’s prescription to fast from dawn until dusk.
But no matter where they are, Muslims should be able to fast according to the dictates of their conscience. Unfortunately, some authoritarian governments violate this fundamental freedom. Some ban the Ramadan fast, while others impose it.
The former problem is acute in China, especially in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, which is heavily populated by Uighurs, a Muslim people of Turkic origin. In the past few years, the Communist government there has forbidden civil servants, students and teachers to fast. The government has said it institutes the ban for health reasons and says that it faces threats from Muslim extremists. But the ban only makes Uighurs feel persecuted and alienated from their government, helping, if anything, the small strain of extremists among them who call for armed resistance.
On the other side of the authoritarian coin, various Muslim governments, from Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf states to Iran and Pakistan, impose the Ramadan fast by law. Under these rules, eating or drinking in public during the holy month may mean deportation, a fine or even jail. In many other countries, even if fasting is not enforced by law it is compelled by social pressure. So people — both religious minorities and Muslims who choose not to fast — must appear as if they are fasting, even if they are not.
This religious authoritarianism is senseless and self-defeating. Fasting during Ramadan is an act of worship intended for God. It is meaningful only when it is driven by a genuine will to obey God’s commandments — not the laws of the state or the vigilantism of society. The latter does not nurture true piety, it only nurtures fakeness and hypocrisy. That is why the Quran says there should be “no compulsion in religion” — and no compulsion in fasting, either.
Moreover, according to Islamic jurisprudence, not everybody is supposed to fast. Non-Muslims are not obliged at all. Even among Muslims, the Quran exempts those “who are ill, or on a journey.” It even exempts those “who can fast only with extreme difficulty,” and tells them to feed a needy person instead. “God wants ease for you, not hardship,” the scripture says.
Yet many Muslims choose hardship. During Ramadan last year, more than a thousand people died in Pakistan from dehydration under extreme heat, despite calls from some more flexible clerics to cease fasting. Even those who did decide to give up the fast because they were in danger still could drink water only in private because of the social pressure they faced — a big problem for people who lived on the street.
Even the most rigid Muslim clerics accept that not everybody is obliged to fast during Ramadan. Yet many still support laws that ban public eating and drinking in order to respect the holy month and people who observe it. They should reconsider, though, whether they are really bringing any respect to Islam by imposing its practices. Would we Muslims feel respected if others imposed their proscriptions on us? Should Muslims in India be required to stop eating beef because it offends the sensibilities of Hindus, as a senior member of the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party argued last year? Should the Uighurs respect the Chinese Communist Party’s distaste for “superstition,” and stop practicing their faith?
Respect is an admirable trait, but it cannot be imposed by law. It also should not be the basis for dictating the norms of a majority on minorities or individuals.
What is the ideal Muslim approach to Ramadan? My city, Istanbul, offers a good model. Here, we have no laws governing Ramadan. Many people decide to fast, many people decide not to fast. The latter can enjoy restaurants and cafes during the day, and some perhaps even enjoy bars at night, even though Islamic law prohibits alcohol. The pious, meanwhile, fast for the right reason: They are not forced to stay thirsty and hungry by the government. They freely decide to do so out of their sincere faith in God.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


“this is the 21st century and we need to redefine r/evolution. this planet needs a people’s r/evolution. a humanist r/evolution. r/evolution is not about bloodshed or about going to the mountains and fighting. we will fight if we are forced to but the fundamental goal of r/evolution must be peace.

we need a r/evolution of the mind. we need a r/evolution of the heart. we need a r/evolution of the spirit. the power of the people is stronger than any weapon. a people’s r/evolution can’t be stopped. we need to be weapons of mass construction. weapons of mass love. it’s not enough just to change the system. we need to change ourselves. we have got to make this world user friendly. user friendly.

are you ready to sacrifice to end world hunger. to sacrifice to end colonialism. to end neo-colonialism. to end racism. to end sexism.

r/evolution means the end of exploitation. r/evolution means respecting people from other cultures. r/evolution is creative.

r/evolution means treating your mate as a friend and an equal. r/evolution is sexy.

r/evolution means respecting and learning from your children. r/evolution is beautiful.

r/evolution means protecting the people. the plants. the animals. the air. the water. r/evolution means saving this planet.

r/evolution is love.” 

Assata Shakur

Monday, May 16, 2016

Goldman Prize Winner: 'I Will Never Be Defeated By The Mining Companies' !

Environmental activism may not have been what Maxima Acuña de Chaupe had in mind when in 2011 she refused to sell her 60-acre plot of land to the biggest gold-mining project in South America.
She did not belong to any movement or organisation but she doggedly held on to her land in spite of her claims of beatings, death threats, intimidation and court proceedings, becoming a symbol of resistance in her native Peru and above all its northern region of Cajamarca which rejected the $4.8bn Conga gold mine after five demonstrators were killed in clashes with the police in 2012.
In 2011, the Peruvian government granted a 7,400-acre mining concession for the Conga Mine to US-firm Newmont Mining, the majority shareholder, and Peruvian mining company Buenaventura. The plan was to mine two freshwater lakes for gold and copper while draining two more to use as dumps for toxic mining tailings.
But Maxima Acuña - and the farm where she grows potatoes and rears guinea pigs - stood in the way.
The Goldman prize – the world’s most prestigious environmental award - is in recognition of the courage she has shown in so far preventing the mine from destroying the two highland lagoons, her farm, and the supply of fresh water for thousands more people.
“In Cajamarca, we know what mines can do. In no time it would have poisoned the trout and the livestock. If we don’t have water we don’t have a life or a future,” she told the Guardian. Since refusing to sell her home she claims she has been constantly spied on by Peruvian police working as security contractors for the mine; she and her daughter have twice been beaten unconscious and her home twice demolished.
She recalls the first time: “I was grabbed my six police men, three on each arm grabbed me from behind and they beat with their batons, they threw me to the ground then beat my son, who was taking photos, on the arms and chest and took away his cell phone.
“The special forces police hit my daughter in the head with the butt of the machine gun. Four of them cornered my youngest son and pointed their machine guns at him, warning him not to shout, not to call out, not to try and run,” she said.
In a bid to evict her, Newmont took Acuña to court in 2012 accusing her of illegally squatting on the land which it claims to have bought. The local court ruled in Newmont’s favour, giving Acuña and her family a suspended prison sentence of almost three years and a fine of nearly $2,000 - a large sum for a subsistence farmer in Peru.
Acuña appealed the decision in 2014, arguing that they had owned the land since 1994. A higher court lifted the criminal charges against Acuña and Newmont was ordered to stop its eviction proceedings.
But, the issue of land ownership was not settled and Acuña continues to be summoned to a local court accused of illegally squatting on the mine’s land, says her lawyer Mirtha Vasquez, of local NGO Grufides. Mine security personnel intimidate bus drivers not to allow her or any of her family onto their buses, forcing them to walk for up to eight hours to nearest town, she claimed.
As recently as February this year she says thugs raided her home, destroying her crops and slitting her dog’s throat. It survived after emergency veterinary treatment. She says that after living with intimidation and harassment for more than five years she says she feel “energised and encouraged to know there are people standing beside me”.
“I never had the chance to go the school, I never had to chance to learn even a letter but I know how to resist, to fight and that’s why I will never be defeated by the mining companies,” she said.
A spokesperson for Newmont said that it no longer anticipates developing the mine in the foreseeable future, and that several of the allegations made against it are “just factually incorrect and unsubstantiated.”
In a series of documents, it said that the dog appeared to have been injured by barbed wire and not by company personnel, the company had removed potatoes from its property but not the family’s land, and it says it has acted lawfully, in the presence of Peruvian police, removing illegal structures from its land.
It said it was not monitoring the family with a video camera it had installed as it was not facing their building, but it was monitoring company property following a number of incidents of vandalism and theft. Newmont said that it had acted in good faith showing respect to neighbouring communities and there is no evidence of violence having been used against the Chaupe family.
“Regretfully, despite repeated direct and indirect attempts, we have not succeeded in securing agreement from the Chaupe family or civil society organisations to establish a dialogue to reach a resolution. However, we will continue to seek ways to establish good-faith dialogue,” the company says in the documents.
At least 61 activists have been killed in Peru over the last decade, with almost 80% of deaths related to mining, according to human rights NGO Global Witness, making the country the fifth most dangerous place to be an environmental activist.
Peru recently weakened its environmental laws in order to boost mining investment. It also made it easier for the police and army to get away with killings by reducing their criminal responsibility if they cause injury or death on duty.
“The miners are taking the gold from Cajamarca but that gold is bathed in blood, so many tears have been shed by poor people here, people have been killed for defending the water and the land. The miners don’t assume their responsibility for that,” Acuña said.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Stunning Images Of A Bulgarian Muslim Bride Reviving Old Traditions...

Emilia Pechinkova, a 24-year-old Bulgarian Pomak bride poses for a photograph following a face painting ceremony in the village of Draginovo, southeast of the capital Sofia on April 22, 2016.
Love is one of the most common human emotions. But it’s celebrated in extraordinarily different ways around the world.
In the remote village of Draginovo, Bulgaria, Muslim brides are returning to the old tradition of gelina, or face painting, to mark their transition into married life. 
Emilia Pechinkova is one of those young Muslim brides. The 24-year-old is a Slavic Muslim, part of a group often referred to as Pomaks. The elaborate wedding rituals of the Pomaks were suppressed while the country was under communist rule. 
In an effort to recapture their forefathers’ customs, Pechinkova and her fianceTsanko Perchinkov celebrated their love during a traditional three-day wedding ceremony, according to Getty. The festivities were captured by photographer Nikolay Doychinov on April 22 and 23. 
During the gelina, Pomak brides are painted over with a thick cosmetic creme mask called belilo. An expert make-up artist spends up to two hours applying the mask and embellishing it with sequins arranged in floral patterns. Then, the artistapplies lipstick and darkens the bride’s eyebrows. According to CNN, the face painting process is a symbol of the bride’s purity.
The gelina face painting ritual can take up to two hours.
In order to keep the mask intact for the next several hours, the bride usually keeps her face very still. After an imam says a blessing, she is escorted by her family members out of her childhood home and to her groom’s house, where her husband will take off her makeup.
Although these rituals have been part of Pomak culture for years, they were suppressed during the time that Bulgaria was a satellite state of the Soviet Union. According to Reuters, the regime at that time tried to force Muslims to adapt the traditions of the country’s majority Christian Orthodox population. The traditional Pomak wedding ceremony was reportedly banned and was onlyresumed after the end of the communist era.  
Today, Muslims are the largest minority religion in Bulgaria, making up about 8 percent of the population. 
Scroll down to see images of this fascinating wedding ritual.
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • A Bulgarian Pomak bride, 24-year-old Emilia Pechinkova, poses in the village of Draginovo, Bulgaria. 
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • Friends and family gather for Emilia’s wedding to fiance Tsanko Perchinkov in the village of Draginovo, about 60 miles southeast of the capital city Sofia on April 23, 2016.
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • Dressed in traditional clothing, Emilia is escorted by relatives and friends during her ceremony.
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • Emilia dances with her father, Mili Perchikov.
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • The bride’s family publicly displays her dowry on April 22, 2016.
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • Female guests and family members help Emilia get ready. 
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • Emilia’s face is painted in preparation for her wedding ceremony. This ritual painting is called ‘gelina.”
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • The last touches are put on Emilia’s bridal dress by female guests and family members.
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • The gelina can take up to two hours. 
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • The bride completes her look with a veil of silver tinsel.
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • Emilia poses with her fiance Tsanko Perchinkov following the ‘gelina’ or face painting ceremony.