Islam - UK show explores the many facets of spying

It was the BBC that first built Brand’s brand


23-09-18 19:13

The BBC is currently investigating its past relationship with Russell Brand, following revelations about the actions of the presenter and his colleague, Jonathan Ross, in 2008. The pair left explicit messages on the answering machine of actor Andrew Sachs, claiming that Brand had slept with Sachs’s granddaughter. The BBC has been criticised for facilitating the “culture” in which Brand was able to exploit young women, and for helping to build his career. The revelations come at a time when the broadcaster is already under scrutiny over its handling of sexual harassment allegations.
Church seeks exemption for religion in misinformation bill

The Sydney Morning Herald

23-09-18 19:00

Catholics and Muslims in Australia have expressed concerns about a proposed law that aims to combat misinformation and disinformation online. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference is worried that the legislation could be used to restrict the teaching of religious doctrine on issues such as euthanasia. The Communications Legislation Amendment (Combating Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill has been criticised by politicians, human rights groups, and legal experts for its vague definitions of harmful information. The law would give authorities the power to fine social media platforms for sharing harmful content.
Beloved ice dancer Alexandra Paul competed at 2014 Olympics and later pursued a law career

The Globe and Mail

23-09-18 22:00

Canadian Olympian figure skater Alexandra Paul has died in a car accident at the age of 31. She was travelling with her 10-month-old child to meet her in-laws for dinner when a transport truck collided with a line of seven cars stopped at a construction site. Paul’s child, Charlie, survived the accident. Paul and her partner, Mitchell Islam, qualified for the 2014 Winter Olympics and finished in 18th place. They subsequently finished 10th at the World Championships, but were hampered by injuries in 2016. After retiring from competitive skating, Paul became a lawyer. A GoFundMe page set up to support Charlie has reached $294,857.
One in seven councils adopts Islamophobia definition rejected over free speech fears


23-09-18 21:35

One in seven councils in England have adopted a definition of Islamophobia which was rejected by the UK government due to concerns over free speech, according to a report by think tank Civitas. The definition, which describes Islamophobia as a form of racism targeting “expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”, has been passed by 52 local authorities. The report warned that accepting the definition, which has been adopted by the Labour Party and the Mayor of London, risked restricting freedom of speech.
US sees big gains if Mideast mega-deal sealed - but at what price?


23-09-19 05:05

The Biden administration is making an effort to broker a deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The aim is to normalize relations between the two countries, but there are significant obstacles to overcome. The deal would involve discussions of US security guarantees and civilian nuclear help for Saudi Arabia, as well as Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. The administration believes that such a deal has the potential to remove a flashpoint in the Arab-Israeli conflict, strengthen the regional bulwark against Iran, counter China's inroads in the Gulf, and score a foreign policy win for Biden.
What’s be­hind In­dia-Cana­da ten­sions over killing of Sikh sep­a­ratist leader?

Al Jazeera

23-09-19 10:16

India and Canada have expelled diplomats in a tit-for-tat move as tensions escalate between the two countries over the killing of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar earlier this year. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India of being connected to Nijjar's assassination and called it an "unacceptable violation of our sovereignty." India dismissed the allegations as "absurd" and called on Canada to crack down on anti-India groups operating on its territory. The row centres around the Sikh independence movement, with India accusing Canada of sheltering Khalistani activists.

Nijjar was shot dead in June outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb with a large Sikh population. India had designated him as a “terrorist” three years prior. Nijjar supported the demand for a Sikh homeland in India’s northern state of Punjab and was reportedly organising an unofficial referendum for an independent Sikh nation at the time of his death. Trudeau raised the issue with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 Summit and urged India to cooperate with Canada in the investigation.

India has dismissed the allegations of its involvement in Nijjar’s killing and accused Canada of sheltering Khalistani terrorists and extremists. The Indian government has been cracking down on Sikh separatists and has been urging countries like Canada, Australia, and the UK to take legal action against Sikh activists. The Khalistan movement has been non-existent in India for decades, but it still has supporters in the Sikh diaspora overseas. The Indian government has hyped up the Khalistani threat for domestic reasons, according to experts.

Tarek Megerisi: Libya's Crises


23-09-19 21:05

Available Downloads Download the Transcript 245kb

Jon Alterman: Tarek Megerisi is a senior policy fellow with the Middle East and North Africa team at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Tarek, welcome to Babel. Tarek Megerisi: Thank you very much for having me. Jon Alterman: Libya slid into civil war more than a decade ago, and it’s had competing national authorities for all that time. Why has that continued for so long? Why has political leadership still not consolidated in the country? Tarek Megerisi: I’ll start with an anecdote. After the most recent war in Tripoli, I was speaking with a military man, and he was reflecting to me that Libya is the only conflict he’s ever seen where none of the participants have national aspirations. All of the military officers are incredibly local in their perception of things. They want to be the ruler of their neighborhood or, at most, their city. A lot of the political and elite class don’t have much of a political ideology. They don’t have a vision for what they would like Libya to look like or how they would like to lead or govern it. This class really cares about access to Libya’s oil wealth and the massive amounts of corruption. It’s more of an administrative game of how they can access different avenues of the state and dominate and take control over different budgets of the state. The ultimate goal is to maximize, firstly their personal wealth and then secondly, the number of people that they can put on a payroll and who, therefore, will be loyal to them. Despite all the civil wars, despite all the strife, despite a revolution in the country, there has yet to be a political vision or a political movement. It’s all just different forms of corruption. Jon Alterman: If you look at other oil states, a country like Iraq, for example, it is the centralization of the oil wealth that allows you to have political centralization. Iraq under Saddam Hussein was hyper centralized because somebody got control of the oil wealth. It seems that in Libya, after more than decade, no one has complete control of the oil wealth. It’s puzzling to me why this situation hasn’t consolidated more. Does that tell you more about Libya? Or does it tell you more about the outside powers who themselves have interests in Libya? Tarek Megerisi: I think it’s a split story there. The common theme between them is a balance of power, where nobody is quite as good as they think they are. Libya under Gaddafi was to Iraq under Saddam. Everything was completely centralized in Tripoli. Gaddafi constructed a weird balance of power, but he sat at the top of the hierarchy. Still to today, Gaddafi’s administration survives in the sense of the political set-up which he had. All of Libya’s oil wealth goes to one central point, and what everybody is fighting over is the Central Bank of Libya and Tripoli, to a lesser extent. The difference is, firstly, in Libya no one really has a monopoly on violence because it’s hard to rule through violence alone. No one is politically savvy. The other side of this is that they all have powerful foreign backers. The most successful militarily of these have been the Turks, as decided in the last war but, the Russians, the French, the Italians, the Emiratis, the Qataris, and the Turks are all involved . . . Jon Alterman: And the Egyptians. Tarek Megerisi: And the Egyptians. They all tend to balance each other out to a certain extent, where nobody becomes quite capable of taking it all for themselves. Jon Alterman: The principal split is between the east and west, a historic split in Libya. Do you think that there might be some wisdom in trying to stabilize that split? Is it important, in your mind, that Libya be unified again? Tarek Megerisi: Yes, it is. I mean, this concept of formalizing the separation of the country pops up in policy circles every couple of years or so. But, to me, it doesn’t actually solve any problems. Instead, you would simply move from a paradigm of a civil war to a paradigm of two nation states fighting with each other. There weren’t many things that Gaddafi did right during his time in charge, but one thing he did is that he united the country through infrastructure: oil infrastructure, water infrastructure, electricity infrastructure. These span the three regions, the west, the east and the south. Firstly if you were to formalize the division, it becomes difficult to draw the border because each side would want to take as much of the oil as possible for themselves. Secondly, it would be hard to separate that infrastructure. It would take a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of acrimony. And you wouldn’t really achieve anything, so it seems like a red herring to me. Jon Alterman: The United Nations (UN) has long focused on trying to get a national electoral process underway. To your mind, what will elections do? What will elections be unable to do? Tarek Megerisi: People like to look at elections like a silver bullet, like you will just have a vote and then everything will be fine afterward. I think that if we want to be more sanguine and apply the lessons of the last 12 years, elections are important for two things. Firstly, it allows Libya to move beyond the current political infrastructure that exists. Libya’s political system consists of two parliaments, like it’s two governments. It’s essentially a hodge-podge of agreements that have been formed and semi-constitutional documents that have been created over the past 10 years. This has created an environment of corruption and stagnation. What Libyans are desperate to do, and what really needs to be done for any kind of political progress to happen, is to just do a clean sweep. To create a new political system, a more functional political system. That brings us to the second point of what elections might hopefully achieve, which is to create a road map for the country. In former elections, it’s been noticeable that no candidate really had a manifesto. There were no real policy plans. The last time there was any sense of political direction for the country was with the Constitutional Declaration of 2012. A new election would offer the opportunity to create a mandate for a future government that is elected. This allows some clarity, in a sense of, “Okay, what would we like a government to achieve?” Given that Libya is still in transition, you have a few key jobs, like unifying the country, finalizing a constitution, holding a next round of elections. From there, you can work backwards from there to create the political set-up you need. Jon Alterman: Some people told me that Libya needs a whole new political class, but I’m not sure how we get to having a new political class. I’m not sure how we get to having politicians who are different from the existing politicians, might I say warlords, in Libya. Do you see any way toward changing the mix of people who are involved in politics? For example, taking power away from warlords and giving it to people who are interested in ideology, and platforms, and policy, and things like that? Tarek Megerisi: I mean, it has to be a gradual process. All these guys are right, Libya desperately needs a new political class. The events of the past week have shown that more clearly than ever before, but it’s a bit hopeful or naïve to believe that you can just get there in one hop. Which is why I speak of the importance of a government mandate and some kind of sense of direction. Not only to guide Libya’s political process, but to constrain whoever wins that election. It’s highly likely that the MPs or whoever wins the next election will be somewhat worse than the MPs who won the previous election. They will be individuals who have become either more successful at corruption or more successful at violence. We see a lot of militiamen starting to prepare for a political campaign. The only way we can really hope to keep improving and not slide backwards instead is to have a clear mandate for this government, a clear set of goals for them to create an atmosphere of public pressure and international support, which will ensure that those goals are being hit and being worked toward. Then gradually, you can have baby steps toward improvement. Jon Alterman: Let me ask you about the international piece. The UN has been involved in Libya for many years, increasingly under criticism and considered ineffectual and ineffective. You’ve written before about the possibility that other parties might come in. Can you talk a little bit about the role of international institutions and international players coming into Libya. How acceptable are they to the different parties? What should they be doing? How can they move things in a positive direction? Tarek Megerisi: Ironically, much like how the Libyan political system is messy, the international system that’s meant to constrain, to control, to guide the Libyan system is equally messy. Nominally speaking, at least, everything is supposed to be channeled through the UN support mission in Libya and the UN special representative. In reality, the UN support mission has been tremendously hampered over the years by one of two problems that it seems to bounce between. Either you have a great SRSG (special representative of the secretary-general), who’s got a vision, that wants to achieve something, but none of the countries that are supposed to be supporting the representative are doing so. Rather, they are only representative in word. Because of this, they are continuously undermined until their plan fails and they are driven out or, in the case of poor Dr. Ghassan Salame, his health deteriorated to such an extent that he needs to leave for his own sanity and livelihood. The other side is that one needs to have a modicum of international cohesion, a lack of fatigue with Libya’s instability, and a willingness to change something. I think we saw that most recently in 2022. Then you get an SRSG who is almost like the UN version of a company man. Abdoulaye Bathily, the guy who’s there now, he’s there to do a job, he’s there to tick boxes. He talks about the need to talk, to convene, to have a dialogue, to have a political process, but you don’t see much activity or action on the ground until the international community either gets bored and re-focuses on a different country, or they just try their own policies instead. We end up in a scenario whereby individual states drive the situation on the ground, usually toward their own ends. In the last ten years, at least, it’s never been in a positive direction for Libya. Jon Alterman: I want to ask two related questions. First, who do you think the principal international actors in Libya should be? And secondly, how should they be organized? Tarek Megerisi: I mean, frankly speaking, in mid-2022, so this time last year or maybe just before this time last year, I was really happy because we didn’t have a special representative in place. This means that for the first time in maybe 10 years, all of the main countries involved had to own up to their own Libya policy. They didn’t have any UN to hide behind and to just come out and say, “Well, we support the UN process.” It was a lot easier to work with them, and it was a lot easier to push toward some kind of a new coherent, cohesive policy. They had their own mechanism, and they called it the P3+2+2, which in typical diplomatic terms is not the catchiest name, but it essentially meant the three permanent members of the Security Council involved who are the United States, the UK and France, and then two additional European nations, the Italians and the Germans, who had hosted the Berlin process previously. After that, two of the most prominent regional actors involved were Turkey and Egypt. This process actually made sense to a certain extent because if you could get an agreement between them, even a majority decision between them on a way forward, they had enough gravity and push in the country to actually implement that policy. When you either start to grow the group from there or shrink it into one or two countries, then interests start to get involved. Either the group becomes too unwieldy, like the UN support mission, or the group becomes driven by the national interests of only one capital, which is also problematic. Jon Alterman: There are other actors. Russia is an important actor in Libya or has been. The UAE, as you mentioned, is an important actor. Can you help us understand what both Russian and Turkish national interests are to the extent to which they overlap in Libya, the extent to which they’re different? For example, the UAE’s interest in Libya. I was in the UAE earlier this week and people said, “Well, it’s just about supporting Egypt,” but my understanding is that it’s a little nuanced and it’s not just about supporting Egypt in the minds of many. These are countries that I think a lot of people would say, “I don’t understand why they care about Libya except they do care about Libya, and they are consequential in Libya.” Tarek Megerisi: All of these countries have a kind of layer to their policies and to their interests in the country. Abu Dhabi seems as good a place as any to start. The UAE were one of the initial interventionists in Libya. From as far back as 2011, the days of the revolution, NATO intervened from the skies and there were Emirate and Qatari special forces on the ground to help the revolutionary actors become coherent fighting units. The Emirates have a host of different ideological, economic, and regional political interests in Libya. I think if we start with the ideological, they have largely satisfied that at this point. They greatly feared the Arab Spring, and Libya was the worst representation of that because, from their point of view, you had a country with a huge oil wealth and a small population who suddenly pushed to become a democracy but also started asking questions of their rulers saying, “What right do our rulers have to decide on our behalf how our oil money is spent?” Jon Alterman: And there’s a strong strain of political Islam in Libya that has become quite sensitive for the Emirates. Tarek Megerisi: Yes. I believe that the specter of political Islam and fighting Islam was always a useful dummy or bogeyman for the Emirates and the Egyptians to put out in front to distract from what essentially is a war on democracy in the region. The language of fighting Islamism is a lot more palatable to the Western world, and it’s a lot smoother of an excuse to use as to why you would intervene, even intervene militarily in countries, and to say, “Well, I don’t actually like the idea of democracy over there.” Because in many of these countries, especially in Libya, the political Islamic opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, is not the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt. They are not as coherent, as powerful, as big, and as organized of an organization. But they were the only political opposition there. With enough time, they would have been voted out of office, or they would have been watered down, as we saw in Tunisia. I really think it was more about stopping that conceptualization of democracy. I think for the Emirates, after the last 10 years in Libya, they’ve gotten a bit tired. I mean, the dream of democracy is clearly dead. Their initial sponsor of Khalifa Haftar is clearly not as competent as they would have liked him to have been or as effective either at governing or at being able to control the country as a whole. With the last round of UN government picking, for want of a better term, with the process that they hosted in 2021 to organize a new unity government, I think they found in Abdul Hamid al-Dbeibeh, the prime minister who came out of it, somebody with whom they could work; somebody through which they could satisfy their economic interests in the country, whilst realizing that the political situation is beyond their control and probably beyond anybody else’s control for now. We’ve seen the Emirates be a lot more active in trying to make unity governments between Dbeibeh and the Haftar family or his children and investing in economic opportunities. Again, you see this interest from the Emirates in ports and in the logistical space that connects the UAE as a middle ground between China on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. You see that economic vision from them. On the ground, the Emirates have had to surrender a lot of control of military activity to the Russians. That began during Haftar’s war in Tripoli in 2019–2020. The Emirates threw everything in support of Haftar. There were tens of billions of dirhams of support, and he was incapable of making progress until the Wagner Group arrived on the front lines. I think that there was a realization by the Emirates that this is what the Wagner Group are good at doing, so they could pull back and save a lot of money and let the Russians lead on that front. The Russians took it and ran. I don’t think they were loyal allies to Haftar, in that sense. Once the Turks intervened, I think they realized that game was up, and they moved to secure their own interest in the country, which is to maintain control over Libya’s assets, in particular its oil assets. You could see in the weeks leading up to the end of the war, when Haftar’s army was going to collapse, Wagner forces started to leave the front lines, and they moved toward Libya’s oil fields and Libya’s oil installations to be able to dig in and secure them. The other side of this is to maintain Libya’s division, to create a sense of chaos and also a lack of unity that allows for having two different sides, which allows Russia to play sides off of one another, maintaining an environment of a lack of control, which they happily exploit to facilitate a lot of their shadow economic activities, mainly smuggling and figuring out ways to support Bashar al-Assad, connecting those two shadow economies in eastern Libya and in Syria. Jon Alterman: And the Turks? Tarek Megerisi: There is this balance now between Turkey and Russia, and it’s based on this economic geopolitical balance. When the Russians abandoned Haftar, they drew the new front lines or the new division of the country in the city of Sirte, which is in central Libya. As much as people say that there was a cease-fire negotiated between the Libyans, in reality, there was a cease-fire negotiated between presidents Putin and Erdogan. That is what made the peace in Sirte. It’s certainly what has kept the peace in Libya since. Libya has become another kind of piece on the chessboard between them, especially if we include Syria, Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and now Ukraine, as well. The Turks, like the Russians, have their own economic interests in the country. I think they also have geopolitical interests, like the Russians and a few other states, actually. Libya, given its geographical position, is a useful launchpad for other African policies. We see the Russians use Libya as the African logistics hub of the Wagner Group. Initially, Turkey had similar plans to use Libya as a launchpad into the Sahel and also into East Africa. The more unique driver for Turkey’s intervention was the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean. In terms of its own national security, Turkey has this vision of challenging Greece’s claims to the waters around Greek islands and also, to the vast oil and gas fields that are underneath. Libya became a useful partner to kind of legally challenge that claim. Turkey created their own maritime boundaries with Libya. They found an ally to back up its claim that there are different ways to draw these maritime boundaries. They found a new energy partner. I think the way the Turks envision their future partnership with Libya is that Libya will provide them the rights to start drilling for oil, and then they will start drilling for gas and try to help Turkish energy independence in that way. As you can see, it’s a huge overlapping of geopolitical, economic, and ideological interests from all involved, as well as just simply playing to the moment and being an opportunist. Jon Alterman: And it feels a little bit like these countries, which are not part of the P5 (permanent members of the security council) in the UN, seem to have greater ambitions for Libya than larger countries in the world. Tarek Megerisi: Yes, in terms of some of the members of the P5 who happily piggybacked on the activities of the Emirates or the Turks. In the modern day where Western states don’t like to get their hands dirty in public, I think the interventions of a lot of these other non-P5 states are useful partners for them. Those who are willing to get their hands dirty, to create facts on the ground that they once hoped that they could take advantage of. But I think now, if they look back on the last 10 years, all they will see is that it fomented more chaos and it took all of them further away from their interests. Jon Alterman: Let me go from the international to the national. Libya had about $22 billion in oil revenues last year. And while the revenues are handled by the government in the West, 75 percent of the oil is pumped from areas controlled by the government in the East. Do you think there are ways to handle oil revenues differently that will help Libya get to a political settlement? Tarek Megerisi: Absolutely. We spoke earlier about how the Central Bank of Libya in Tripoli is a prize for everybody to fight over. I think that’s largely because of how the oil money is collected and then distributed. It makes that a prize for everybody to fight over. Libyans believe that they have a right to the oil wealth and that the oil wealth is their right, but how they conceptualize that right or access that right is through government jobs through being able to access government tenders. That creates a system of corruption and of power in the country, whereby he who can hand out government jobs becomes powerful. It structurally creates the dysfunctional state that we have today, and there have been teams of Libyans in more peaceful times who worked on new ways for Libyans to conceptualize their right to the oil wealth and their ability to access it. There’s the idea of a sovereign wealth fund, much like in other oil rich states, or the idea of a universal basic income. If you can find a platform like that, which suddenly equalizes Libyans as citizens and gives them rights as citizens rather than by where they come from in the country, then I think you can undercut a lot of the insecurities that drive conflict and that allow greedy people sitting in the elite to keep fermenting conflict. Jon Alterman: I want to turn to the most internal issue, which is the floods that have devastated Derna in the last week. Why have they been so destructive? When we were talking earlier, you said as much as half of the city may have been washed away. Tarek Megerisi: Yes, this is the real legacy of decades of negligence toward maintaining infrastructure because those who are responsible for maintaining that infrastructure would rather simply make money through corrupt government tenders instead of performing the job. What happened in Derna, just to explain, firstly is that there were two dams higher up the mountain that kind of regulated water flow into the valley that led to the sea. Derna sits at the bottom of the valley. Because of Hurricane Daniel, the dams filled up, causing the dams to break and a huge force of water just rushed down. I think some local scientists have calculated the force that it created as being greater than that of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki. Jon Alterman: And they talked about a wall of water that was more than 20 feet high. Tarek Megerisi: Absolutely. It washed entire districts of the city straight into the sea. There were warnings last year by a Libyan hydrologist that the dams required urgent maintenance or that in any case of flooding, there could be disastrous results. The warnings were ignored. In the build-up to the storm, the authorities knew it was coming but the gates of the dams weren’t opened, and they knew that it could create problems. Civilians and senior civilians in the city were calling for an evacuation, but the military administration, because Derna has been under a military administration since 2019, refused them that right of evacuation because the military wanted to stay in control of the situation. You can see these kinds of failures in decision making. I mean, even up to an hour before the dams burst, the local ministry of water resources was issuing statements on its Facebook page saying that the dams were fine and that anybody worrying about them was just spreading fake news, essentially. All these poor people were told to stay at home, to lock themselves in to what eventually became their graves, and it’s a natural disaster, but it’s a manmade catastrophe because there were real instances of political negligence, of corruption over doing their jobs, and of contempt for the people that created this scenario. Jon Alterman: What kind of opportunities does this disaster create? And what kinds of enduring challenges does it create as we look toward Libya’s future? Tarek Megerisi: Libya has been a failing state for a long time in the sense that infrastructure is not maintained, government services are not provided, and things are steadily degrading. What’s happened now in eastern Libya is that it’s no longer a steady degradation, but that overnight or over two nights, the quality of the road network, the electricity network, the water network, has gone down significantly. There are extremely valid doubts and concerns that the current authorities will care, let alone do anything to bring that back up to scratch. This reduces the society of Libya, it reduces the functionality of Libya as a state, and I think that those challenges will endure. The opportunity or the hope that I think comes from this for many people is that it might be the drive for political change. There is shock, there is grief, but also, there is real rage amongst Libyans from all over the country that this was allowed to happen. The clumsiness and the callousness of Libya’s politicians and elite class is only stoking that rage higher. Libya’s parliament, which in times of a crisis is supposed to remain in continuous session, did not even meet until yesterday. And when they met, the speaker of the parliament spent quite a while telling off the Libyan people, saying that they shouldn’t be blaming them for what happened. They say that the people were being unfair to them, and that this was an act of God. Their one move was not to create a crisis committee or show any kind of leadership or organization for the relief effort, their one decision was to create a new fund of 10 billion Dinars for Derna’s reconstruction to be managed by the speaker of the parliament. People are furious, because they see the same callousness and the same corruption just being thrown back into their faces, whilst they are still burying their dead. On a daily basis, people are still washing up on the shore, morgues are still overflowing, the relief work has barely started, let alone finished. And they are already planning their corruption. At the same time, the military of Haftar, which is to blame for so much of this is, is trying to dominate the scene. There are reports coming in that aid convoys from western Libya, from southern Libya, are being stopped, and that Haftar’s military are having the aid taken off them because the military has to be seen as the ones who are distributing the aid. There are people now who are still starving in Derna and in other cities, and the aid is being stolen. There is a lot of anger, there is a lot of resentment and frustration, and the question is, whether this can generate enough of a popular outrage that these people feel like they have to resign. What is being called for is that everybody should resign, from the president down to the mayor. Whether the people will succeed in that or whether, these politicians do what they do best and they ride out the storm whilst the military in eastern Libya and the security services in western Libya start arresting the dissenters and rounding them up and preventing any protests from forming, and so on. Time will tell on that one. There is a real hope that this can finally create the push for change that Libyans have wanted for a long time. Jon Alterman: Well, we will have to have you back to see how that all evolves. Tarek Megerisi, thank you very much for joining us on Babel. Tarek Megerisi: Thank you for having me on the program. (END)

Jeanette Winterson: I didn’t believe in ghosts… until I started living with them


23-09-21 18:00

Writer Jeanette Winterson has written about her experiences with ghosts in her small Georgian house in London. The house, which was built in the 1780s, was once home to a fruit and veg market and had a walled-up vault in the basement. Winterson believes that the vault was used for either a cesspit or to bury infected bodies. Despite being sceptical about ghosts, Winterson has felt the presence of spirits in her house for many years. She has had experiences such as hearing footsteps and seeing a woman in a grey dress. Winterson now greets the ghosts when she enters or leaves the house, but asks that they stay out of her way.
The U.S. wants Saudi-Israel normalization. Others aren’t so sure.

Washington Post

23-09-21 17:31

The Biden administration is working with Israel and Saudi Arabia on a package of agreements and concessions that could pave the way for formal diplomatic relations between the Jewish state and the Arab kingdom, according to Ishaan Tharoor of The Washington Post. Such a move would be an historic achievement for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and could prompt other Arab and Muslim-majority nations to abandon their long-standing rejection of Israel. The potential deal includes US security guarantees to Saudi Arabia and Israeli support in the development of a uranium-enrichment programme for the kingdom’s fledgling nuclear industry. However, critics are concerned that the Abraham Accords agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates has done little to advance the plight of the Palestinians. “The Middle East does not represent a theater of core US interests, and the expanding footprints of Russia and China in the region do not constitute a threat to American security or prosperity,” wrote Jon Hoffman of the Cato Institute.
TikTok Star Sentenced to Prison After Eating Pork on Camera

NY Times

23-09-21 16:58

An Indonesian influencer has been sentenced to two years in prison and fined the equivalent of $16,269 for blasphemy after eating pork on a TikTok video. The video contravened Indonesia’s blasphemy laws, which date back to Dutch colonial rule, and forbid the deviation from the six official religions. The laws have been used with increasing frequency since the early 2000s, and have previously seen a Christian governor imprisoned for insulting the Quran and a Buddhist woman jailed for complaining about the volume of a mosque loudspeaker.
His dad wanted him to be a doctor – but now Osamah’s on a different mission

The Sydney Morning Herald

23-09-22 01:45

Osamah Sami, an Iraqi-Australian writer and director, has co-written a new six-part series called "House of Gods" set among the Shi'ite community in western Sydney. The series explores the complexities and conflicts within the community, focusing on the fictional mosque, The Prophet. The show is based on Sami's own experiences growing up in the Shi'ite community in Australia and observing his father, a cleric at the Fawkner mosque. The series delves into the murky politics and moral complexities of religious leaders and the pressures they face to serve both God and man. Sami's father was a progressive cleric who welcomed people from all backgrounds and wrote and performed plays at the mosque. The mosque was later attacked and burnt down by extremists who accused Sami and his family of arson. The parallels between Sami's life and the show are clear, as both explore the tensions and challenges faced by religious leaders and their families.
At­tack kills at least two peo­ple in Mali’s be­sieged city of Tim­buk­tu

Al Jazeera

23-09-22 09:02

Artillery fire has hit the northern Malian city of Timbuktu, killing at least two people and injuring five. Attacks in northern Mali have more than doubled since United Nations peacekeepers completed the first phase of their withdrawal last month, resulting in over 150 deaths. The al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM) declared “war in the Timbuktu region” in August, leading to a blockade of the city. Tens of thousands of inhabitants have been left cut off from the world and are struggling to survive. The UN has warned of a growing humanitarian crisis in Timbuktu if the situation continues.
Israel on cusp of region-reshaping peace with Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu says


23-09-22 14:30

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that Israel is on the verge of achieving peace with Saudi Arabia, which could be facilitated by U.S. President Joe Biden. However, Netanyahu stated that the Palestinians should not have the power to veto the regional dealmaking. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also expressed optimism about a potential deal with Israel. Netanyahu compared the potential peace agreement with Saudi Arabia to the 2020 Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. He hopes that President Biden's administration will be able to secure this agreement, but broad support among U.S. lawmakers would be necessary, which may be difficult to achieve with a presidential election in 2024. Netanyahu acknowledged the need for some accommodation with the Palestinians, but he emphasized that they should not have veto power over peace treaties with Arab states. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the possibility of peace in the Middle East without the full realization of Palestinian rights. Netanyahu also warned that Iran would attempt to sabotage a deal with Saudi Arabia. However, he highlighted existing signs of normalization, such as the air corridor for Israeli carriers over Saudi territory and Biden's plan to include both countries in a rail and shipping network from India to the Mediterranean Sea.
Kashmir’s Chief Cleric, Detained in Crackdown, Is Free After 4 Years

NY Times

23-09-22 17:36

Kashmir's chief cleric, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, has been released from house arrest after four years, a move that may signal New Delhi's efforts to restore normalcy to the region. In 2019, India revoked Kashmir's semi-autonomous status, detained thousands of Kashmiri Muslims including Farooq, and imposed a communications blackout. Officials in Kashmir said Farooq was released by court order. Farooq, a top separatist leader and vocal critic of the Indian government, spoke at the central mosque in Srinagar, Kashmir's largest city, before Friday prayers and was welcomed by thousands of his supporters.
Meloni’s party seeks to oust ‘anti-Italian’ director of Egyptian museum


23-09-22 17:33

The director of Italy's Egyptian museum, Christian Greco, is facing calls to step down from political leaders who accuse him of turning the museum into a "Left-wing" institution that is "racist to Italians." Greco came under criticism in 2018 for offering two-for-one tickets to Arabic-speaking visitors, which was intended as a gesture of inclusion towards Italy's Arabic-speaking immigrant population. The director's job is now up for renewal, and opposition politicians have come to his defense. The Egyptian museum in Turin houses some of the world's finest treasures from ancient Egypt.
Netanyahu says Israel is getting closer to ‘quantum leap’ normalization deal with Saudi Arabia


23-09-22 23:11

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that it is "likely" Israel will reach a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia. The potential pact would mark a seismic foreign policy shift for both countries and would be mediated by the US. Netanyahu called the agreement a "quantum leap" that would "change the Middle East forever" by creating a corridor of energy pipelines, rail lines, and fiber optic cables between Asia through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates. The deal has the potential to enhance Israel's acceptance in the Muslim world, particularly considering Saudi Arabia's role as the custodian of Islam's holiest sites. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said a normalization pact with Israel would be "the biggest historical deal since the Cold War."
China jails top Uyghur scholar for life after secret trial


23-09-23 14:35

Rahile Dawut, a renowned Uyghur scholar, has been sentenced to life in prison in China's crackdown on the ethnic Muslim minority. Dawut, who specialised in Uyghur folklore and cultural traditions, was arrested in 2017 and received a life sentence for endangering state security. She appealed the conviction, but it was recently upheld. The scholar is one of over 400 prominent academics, writers, performers and artists detained in Xinjiang, according to advocacy groups. Critics say the government has targeted intellectuals to dilute, or erase, Uyghur culture, language and identity.
In Iran, anti-regime resolve persists as security forces intensify bid to crush movement


23-09-23 13:00

One year after the Women, Life, Freedom uprising in Iran, there has been a shift in public sentiment among Iranians. The dominant idea of reform has been replaced by a desire for regime change. Prominent thought-leader Majid Tavakoli, who has been jailed for his criticism of the regime, believes that Iranians have come to the conclusion that the current state of affairs is incapable of reform. The regime has escalated its assault on dissent, with activists, journalists, and cultural icons being jailed. Despite this, a cultural and political shift has occurred within Iran, with a collective hunger for complete regime change. This shift is also reflected in protest slogans, which have changed from "Where is my vote?" to "We don't want the Islamic Republic." Extensive polling shows that the motivations driving the anti-regime protest movement in Iran are primarily a desire for secularism. However, the West is not ready for regime change in Iran, and Western governments continue to believe in the possibility of reform. The diaspora opposition has also had a negative performance over the past year, failing to articulate a vision that all Iranians could relate to. Despite these challenges, Iran is in transition, and the struggle to form a united opposition is part of a protracted process.
India confiscates property of top Sikh separatist, ally of gunned down Niijar

South China Morning Post

23-09-23 12:32

India's top investigation agency, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), has confiscated the properties of Sikh separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a close ally of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Nijjar's killing earlier this year has led to a diplomatic row between India and Canada. Pannun, a lawyer believed to be based in Canada, is wanted on charges of terrorism and sedition and is the founder of Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), a group advocating for an independent Sikh homeland called Khalistan. Pannun blamed India for Nijjar's killing and issued a video telling Canadian Hindus to "go back to India." The Indian government has accused Pannun of exhorting gangsters and youth to fight for Khalistan, challenging the country's sovereignty and security. The Khalistan movement, which advocates for a separate Sikh homeland, is considered a terrorist organization by India.
'It's a way of life': These Muslim women share their perspectives on wearing the hijab


23-09-23 20:11

Muslim women who wear the hijab, or headscarf, have shared their experiences of wearing and removing the hijab. Manal Rostom, an Egyptian marathoner and mountaineer, struggled with wearing the hijab due to concerns about sports federations banning the garment. She decided to keep the hijab on and founded the Facebook group "Surviving Hijab" as a supportive community for women who wear the garment. Rostom sees the hijab as a way of life and encourages people to educate themselves about it. Mariam Veiszadeh, CEO of Media Diversity Australia, wore the hijab for 15 years before taking it off due to increased Islamophobia and a desire for anonymity. Veiszadeh criticizes the policing of women's bodies by some men in the Muslim community and believes that nuanced conversations about these issues are difficult to have in public. Aisha Nancy Novakovich, a lawyer and founder of Modest Fashion Australia, wore the niqab, a face covering, for eight years before being forced to unveil by an abusive ex-partner. She now wears the hijab and advocates for women's empowerment in Islamic dress choices. Novakovich challenges the stereotype that only meek and mild women wear the hijab or niqab.