The Islamic Culture As A Bias Point Of View

MADRID – Arabic translators, whose mother tongue is Spanish, are not plentiful at present. For this reason, I decided to make contact with one for granting me an interview about his work and the current problems related with the Middle East.

Rafael Mayor is a sworn translator, an interpreter and an expert in the Islamic culture. In addition, he translates texts and books about literary criticism and history. He decided to study sworn translation due to the fact that he previously had studied a degree in Law (which he has never finished), so he had knowledge about these affairs. He has been working as sworn translator since 2007 and he works with the Spanish Police at present.

Many years ago, when he started studying translation, he never thought he would become an Arabic translator, but his Arabic professor Milagros Nuin, who works in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs now, made him being interested in this language. He admitted that “learn Arabic is difficult and it takes a long time, but it is amazing”.  However, the main problem he has to face daily is the lack of specialized dictionaries, which would make his labour easier. When I asked him about his colleagues he points out that “anyone who knows Arabic and studies in Spain, is an Arabic translator, thus, it affects the quality of work done”. However, there are few of them who have the appropriate studies in order to be a sworn translator.

Regarding to his facet as islamologist, Rafael emphasised the importance of being an expert of Islam when you are a translator because “there are a lot of aspects of Arabian world that you cannot understand if you do not have knowledge about Islam due to the fact that the Islamic and Arabian world is constantly doing references to the Coran”. In his opinion, the Arabian world is misunderstood without the pertinent knowledge about the past and the present of this ancient culture.

This drove me to ask him about the causes of the radicalization of young men. “There are a lot of reasons”, he answered. Referring us to France, he argued that: “In France, for example, the problem is that these young men feel uprooted because they are not considered by the State as French persons, but as Moroccan persons, even they do not know how to speak Arabic”.

This identity problem added to a broken home is the equation whose result is to join Daesh and fight for a cause that they did not support before, but it makes them feel part of a community. For him, they are “radical young people who find a justification for doing something in a part of Islam”.

Moreover, for him, the “Islamic radicalism is a phenomenon which belongs to the Western world”. He supported his statement by saying that “Middle East is not exporting terrorists, otherwise it is importing them from Europe”.

Nevertheless, he thinks that the last terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels have not woken up the dormant racism in Europe. The responsibility of this belongs to “the French government, which adopted wrong solutions”. He alluded to the protocol taken in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo attack, whose purpose was to identify the Islamic radicalism at schools. “The protocol stated that if a child stops listening to music, it was a sign of radicalism and it is not true, it depends on other factors”, he said as an example. “To stop listening to music is a normal behaviour on Muslims, so the protocol categorized all Muslims as terrorists”.

If we talk about looking for a solution, he finds out that the main point is starting in the education field. He determined that “if these jihadist terrorists were taught about what is really Islam, they probably would have not committed those atrocities”. In the Western countries, the problem is the lack of institutions where people can study Islamic religion so “people turn to their families (who often do not have enough information), to mosques (which frequently are managed by not seasoned professionals) and to Internet (which has only information about Wahhabism)”.

Regarding to Spain, he told me that “in 1992, the government signed an agreement that allowed to teach Islam at school, but it has never been introduced.” The agreement that he mentioned is the “Acuerdo de Cooperación del Estado con la Comisión Islámica de España” included in the Law 26/1992.

Finally, to conclude, I asked him about a short-term resolution to the conflicts in the Middle East and Rafael answered that “these political conflicts will resolve within time period of five years”. I insisted on the end of the jihadist organization but “Daesh is not the problem, is only a sign”, he stated. “Daesh will be eradicated but the phenomenon will be repeated as far as they deal with the underlying problem”.

Rafael Mayor, interviewed by Macarena Dueñas.

An interesting conversation with the Tunisian Consul in Madrid

MADRID – Last June 8th I had the pleasure to meet and interview Omar Amine Abdallah, the Tunisian Consul here in Madrid. I have chosen to interview someone from Tunisia because it is one of the few countries, among the Middle East and Maghreb region, that I visited and because I like it.

Omar Abdallah is a Tunisian man. His family comes from Monastir, but he was born and grew up in the capital of Tunisia, Tunis. After the high school (the so-called baccalauréat), he attended the career of Communication and Press. Since he was a child, his dream has been to become a diplomat, so he successfully participated to a ministerial competitive exam and he could attend the two-year diplomatic school. In 2008, he began his first assignment as a diplomat and since 2013 he has been the Consul in Madrid.

IMG-20160608-WA0003The first question that I wanted to address Omar was how the relationship between Spain and Tunisia is and, if in some way, this relationship has been affected by the Arab Spring. Tunisia is a political and business partner for Spain, Omar answered. Between these two countries there is a diplomatic cooperation and a clear will to improve and increase these bilateral relationships. In addition to this, Omar highlighted that the Spanish Government has expressed its support and solidarity to the Tunisian Government and citizens during the post-revolutionary democratic transition. The evidence of this support are the multiple official visits between these two countries in the last few years. For instance, Omar mentioned the frequent visits to the other country of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the visit of the Tunisian Prime Minister, Habib Essid, to Spain in November 2015.

Another issue that Omar and I discussed was the presence of Tunisian people in Spain and the reasons why they decided to come to Spain, but also the role of the Embassy in their lives. Spain and Tunisia belong to the same Mediterranean region, affirmed Omar, and friendly relationships exist between the two countries, as stated before. These reasons push Tunisians to move to Spain in order to find a job or to study, in particular in scientific careers. There are about 4,000 Tunisians in Spain and they are workers or students. Thanks to the increasing teaching of Spanish in Tunisia as a foreign language, more and more Tunisians select Spain as a new destination besides France, Germany and Italy.
Regarding the Embassy’s role, Omar very well knows what the Embassy can do for its citizens, as he works within this sector. Tunisians often go to their Embassy to ask for certificates, in particular the renovation of the passport, civil registry’s documents, or just to ask for information.

I wanted to ask Omar if he would advise Spanish people to go to Tunisia on holiday, especially after the two terrorist attacks of 2015 – for who does not remember, Bardo Museum attack at Tunis and tourist resort attack at Sousse. Omar gave an answer that convinced me. He affirmed that there are several reasons that can push Spanish people and everybody to go to Tunisia in this moment. First, in the last few months, no region of the world is safety. For instance, France, Belgium and Turkey are the most attacked countries at the moment, but people have not stopped to go there. This is a good thing because if people stopped travelling, terrorists would win the battle. Secondly, despite Bardo Museum and Sousse attacks, Tunisia continue to promote its country to go on holiday because in just two-hour flight from Madrid Spanish people can discover a captivating country, one of the most developed countries in the Islamic world. In addition to this, Tunisia «offers different natural environment, from desert to oasis, along with a 1,300-km long coast. Hospitality and kindness of my community are other characteristics of Tunisia, besides the cultural heritage – result of the remnants that Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs leave in the Tunisian land. We can’t forget Tunisian cuisine, craftwork, … an endless list», Omar specified.

As last question, I chose to ask about the current situation in Tunisia. The Consul offered me to talk with the Deputy Head of Embassy. His name is Mounir Fourati and worked all around the world, along with Japan, Argentina, South Africa and now Spain. He gave me a very detailed panorama on the present situation in his country, from terrorism issue to economy and education. In particular, he wanted to highlight that they are not familiarized with terrorism and from 1956, the year Tunisia reached the independence from France, they have never faced this kind of situation. «We have to deal with, to understand and to work. It’s not a national problem; it’s an international problem», affirmed Mounir. This is what the Western countries have to understand.

In conclusion, as Mounir said to me, it is important to remember that some countries do not welcome this potentially contagious democratic wave and they see Tunisia own pacific democratic transition as a threat. It is thanks to the maturity and education of the Tunisian citizens that the democratic transition in Tunisia took place peacefully.

By Giulia Belometti

Europe, you are not doing it properly

In the last few months, people all over the world wonder if Europe is doing enough in order to overwhelm ISIS and its organization. Every week, some Heads of State meet and, in their agenda, there are always ISIS, the Syrian civil war, refugees and other hot topics. Although ISIS is one of the up-to-date issues about which leaders discuss, is European Union really doing its best to crush ISIS? Definitely not.

For the first months of ISIS’ existence, Europe has maintained a passive attitude towards the jihadist organization, just looking from far the place where millions of people were cruelly killed. European leaders reacted when threats started to be addressed against the society around them. In other words, their attitude changed when Paris became one of the main targets of the jihadist organization as in the attacks in January and November 2015.

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France vs ISIS. Cartoon by Latuff. PoliticalCartoons.

“An eye for an eye: you bomb us, we bomb you”. That is what we suppose the French President, François Hollande, thought when he commanded to launch a massive airstrike on ISIS stronghold of Raqqa after the Paris attacks in November. It is about a series of raids throughout months that has killed jihadists, of course, but innocent people too. In our point of view, trying to put an end to violence with more violence is not the solution. People may die but ideals will survive.

One of the most striking aspects of this issue is the fact that the European Union has only focused on the Middle East and not inside its own borders, where there is a real big problem. In fact, European leaders should delve into the causes that have led and still lead hundreds of young people who live in this continent to join the terrorist groups. Europe is doubtlessly ill-equipped to deal with the problem of young people travelling to Syria to join the Islamic State because not enough work has been done to comprehend why they leave. It is vital to understand why young people want to head off to jihad. We know that it is not easy. To be honest, it is something very complex to discover.

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Refugees. Cartoon by Petar Pismestrovic and Kleine Zeitrung. PoliticalCartoons.

Instead of that, Europe blames Syrian people with any reason and closes its borders. Europe is afraid, so it does not want to offer refugees a shelter because people think that among refugees there could be terrorists. Nevertheless, up to the present days ISIS followers who have attacked Europe, in particular Paris and Brussels, are European citizens with Muslim origins, and they have lived their entire lives here in Europe. To sum up, why do European countries deny a safer life to people who escape from ISIS? Europe and refugees are at the same side, both are victims of this war of terror.

In conclusion, we think that the current European strategy against terrorism is not enough to face what ISIS represents. Since it has been a new kind of terrorism, it requires extraordinary measures. ISIS is winning the battles, but Europe and Middle East countries will win the war if they start to work together.

UNESCO evaluates the destruction of Palmyra

UNESCO values the damages, caused by ISIS during the past ten months, to the World Heritage site of Palmyra after its liberation by the Syrian army last March.

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Temple of Bel captured on 31st March 2016 and a photography of 14th March 2014. AFP/Joseph Eid

A team which belongs to UNESCO has been displaced to Palmyra in order to see and value the deterioration that the city has suffered. The city of Palmyra is an oasis in the Syrian Desert north-east of Damascus which contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. Because of these monuments, Palmyra is considered one of the World Heritage sites by UNESCO since 1980.

It goes without saying that Syria has been going through a brutal civil war for five years and that nobody knows when it will be over. According to Al Jazeera, the Syrian civil war is the deadliest conflict the 21st century has witnessed thus far. Thousands of people have lost their lives from the beginning of the war, but not only people are hit by conflicts’ violence. In fact, every time there is a war going on, it also has a strong impact on culture. In this case, the word culture is referred to many historic buildings and artifacts. The city of Palmyra is not an exception and its historic monuments have also suffered war consequences, which are added to the damages caused by terrorists.

Traditionally, the target of terrorists was focused on innocent humans. However, terrorists have found this new way to attack society. The so-called Islamic State (ISIS) uses buildings’ destruction as part of a propaganda campaign in order to draw world’s attention by destroying cultural treasures. The city of Palmyra has been under Islamic State’s control for ten months and temples, shrines and monuments had been destroyed during that period.

After being released by Syrian army with the support of the Russian air last 27th March, UNESCO inspected both Palmyra’s museum and archaeological site, taking stock of “considerable damage to the museum”, UNESCO said in a press release 27th April.

“Palmyra is a pillar of Syrian identity, and a source of dignity for all Syrians”, said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. “UNESCO is determined to ensure the safeguarding of this and other sites with all partners as part of broader humanitarian and peacebuilding operations”, she added.

For this reason, UNESCO has announced that will adopt emergency safeguarding measures which include to document, evacuate, safeguard and restore whatever is possible, hence, the first works with statues have already begun.

From 2nd to 4th June, Berlin will host an international meeting of experts on the preservation of Syria’s heritage sites. In addition to this, on July a full official report on the site will be presented in occasion of the World Heritage Committee at its 40th session, in Istanbul.

It seems so unfair that a region full of testimonies of the first human civilizations is experiencing a cruel conflict. The violence of the war has destroyed some of history’s greatest monuments and peaceful people, as we are, have to deal with the cost of these invaluable losses.

The triumph of women: A mixed-gender prayer space at the Western Wall

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Members of activist group “Women of the Wall” speak to the media near Jerusalem’s Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City January31, 2016. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

JERUSALEM – Last 31st January, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, signed a historical agreement which will allow women and men to pray together at the Western Wall.

According to Al Jazeera, the government plan considers the building of a new plaza for mixed gender prayer at the Western Wall, adjacent to the Orthodox prayer plaza but separate from it. The construction of the new plaza will cost a total amount of $9 million. The measure is added to the one taken by a judge of the Jerusalem District Court in 2013, which declared that the police cannot arrest women for their activities at the holy site. After this sentence, a new prayer space reserved for women was created at the Western Wall.

Netanyahu had to tackle with the other members of the Israeli Government who did not have a propensity for the approval of this memorable agreement. Nevertheless, he succeeded in convince everybody on the necessity of this deal. “I know this is a sensitive topic, but I think it is an appropriate solution, a creative solution”, Netanyahu said at the start of Cabinet meeting.

This agreement is a huge step forward in the fight for gender equality in this country. In Israel, as in many Middle East countries, women do not have the same rights as men have. In religion events, gender inequality is even worse. In fact, women are not allowed to sing from the Torah or wear some specific clothes as the white prayer shawls or the black leather tefillin straps due to the fact that these religious acts are exclusive for Jewish men.

The recognition of these rights is the principal aim of Women of the Wall, an Israeli feminist organization which fosters a major presence of women in religious and social events. Founded in 1988, this organization has fought to attain the same right to pray and follow religion freely as Jewish men at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, for 27 years.

“It stands to open the floodgates of women’s rights in the public sphere in Israel […] and opens the floodgates for Jewish pluralism in Israel”, said Shira Pruce of Women of the Wall. “This is unprecedented change”, she added.

The project for the building of the third space at the Kotel, the Hebrew name of the Western Wall, seemed to progress. However, last March Netanyahu unexpectedly issued the following statement: “Since January decision, several difficulties have arisen. We are working to resolve them. I would like to reiterate my commitment to resolve the issue of prayer arrangements at the Western Wall in the aforesaid direction”. In other words, the issue has reached deadlock and it is impossible to know when the situation will improve, even if the Israeli Prime Minister promised to resolve it within 60 days.

In conclusion, we have to wait in order to know in what way Netanyahu and his Cabinet will deal with the situation and will decide how to put into effect January’s agreement. Meanwhile, Women of the Wall continue to fight for their rights hoping that one day gender equality will come true.