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

The challenges to a female journalist in the Middle East

Silje R. Kampsæter is a journalist working for the Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten. She is the newspaper’s correspondent in the Middle East region, and reports from all the different events happening there.

Ms. Kampsæter graduated as a journalist in 2014 and started her carrier working independently, but quite different than most journalist in their early carrier. She moved to the Middle East. She spent eight months living in Bethlehem, then one month in Iraq. After this, she settled in Turkey while covering the elections that happen there. This was also at the time she got offered the correspondent job at Aftenposten.

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Photo: Espen Egil Hansen, Source: Aftenposten

Ms. Kampsæter started working for Aftenposten last summer, located in Istanbul, but her application for a permanent press accreditation was rejected. That implied that a residence permit would also be impossible to receive. She said that it was a surreal situation, even though she had a bad feeling for a long time up until she received the final decision via a phone call.
The situation in Turkey for journalist in general are very bad, and Ms. Kampsæter expressed that her Turkish colleagues are in much worse situation than she ever was. They are being fired, arrested and being attacked personally by the president.

“Even though I was only rejected a press accreditation, the events that have happen after my case shows very clearly which direction Turkey is moving towards.”

Nowadays Ms. Kampsæter is living in Amman, Jordan. The city is a lot quieter and safer than Turkey was. She even admits that she likes Amman better than Istanbul, not only because of the events that happened in Turkey, but also because she’s located in the middle of the Arab world. The infrastructure and flight connections are better here than other places in this region. Ms. Kampsæter is reporting from all over the Middle East, and she consider it as important to experience and live in the culture and the daily life of Arabs.

The thing I was most curious about, was how it is for a female journalist working and reporting from the Middle East. Mainly because I might one day consider working there myself, but also because of the stereotypes and overgeneralization we learn about the gender inequality in this region.
Ms. Kampsæter responded that there are both advantages and disadvantages. She feels that there are more advantages for the female journalists.
Female journalists have a larger selection of sources, because they can be alone in the same room as the women living there. At the same time female journalists can be less threatening to authoritative men that do not like to get challenged on their own position of power.

“My experience is that female journalists in the Middle East in some cases can become kind of gender neutral. We can sit with the dinner table listening to the men gossiping, and then afterwards get the perspective from the women while washing dishes.”

Ms. Kampsæter stressed that there are a lot of challenges as a female as well. Women in general are more vulnerable to harassment than to their male colleagues. As a woman she always has to think about how she’s perceived by male sources, as well as interpreters, drivers and more. She said that she always has to consider when it’s safe to travel and not. Further on she stressed that it was not necessarily because of common threats one often associate with the Middle east, but more because she will not set herself in a situation where she can risk being raped.
“The safety assessment that are made at the daily life level are numerous and constant, although much of it eventually becomes a habit.”

It’s interesting to see how even though there are many daily threats, the advantages are seen as better because that’s something Ms. Kampsæter can imply in her research, cases and articles. And that’s when I asked her about which article she was most satisfied with herself.
According to her, every case is rewarding in different ways. Once she worked on an article about Saudi Arabia that was very exiting because of the amount of research that had to be done, the opportunity to get in touch with a lot of experts on that topic and being able to make an enlightening article.

Ms. Kampsæter admits that fieldwork is the place she thrives in the most, when she’s able to interact with people, hear their stories, perspectives, opinions and analysis.

One case was very special for her earlier this year. She went back to South-East Turkey in Cizre, right after the curfew was lifted. There was a lot of challenges regarding safety for everyone in her team, especially since this was her second time in Turkey since her rejection of the press accreditation. To cover a conflict that’s ongoing and very irritated is very challenging because you want to cover as many perspectives of it as possible, but Ms. Kampsæter expressed that it was a good exercise to be rational and effective.

– Follow Silje R. Kampsæter on Facebook to see more of her daily life and work.

By Julie Nordmo

The Palestinian workers reality in Lebanon

MAURIZIO BUSSI

(http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/features/WCMS_385592/lang–es/index.htm)

Maurizio Bussi is the current Italian director of ILO mission in Bangkok. During his career he spent several years in Beirut, capital of Lebanon.

ILO stays for International Labour Organization, it is a U.N. agency which aim is “to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programs promoting decent work for all women and men.” It has several missions set all over the world. One of the missions set in the most dangerous areas of the world is the one in Beirut, capital of Lebanon and it is considered one of the most productive ones.

Maurizio, you are part of the organization since the 2002. You have been sent to several missions and during your career you have been involved in different types of projects. What was, specifically, your task in Lebanon?

The organization’s aim is to carry dignity in the most disastrous laboral situation in order to guarantee a full respect of Human Rights. Specifically, in our missions, we focus on four goals: creating jobs, extending social protection, increasing social dialogue and guaranteeing rights for workers.

Personally, from 2010 t0 2013, I have been assigned a project regarding the improvement of access to employment and social security for Palestinian refugees. The Palestinian labour force gives a great contribution to the Lebanese production system: they represent the 10% of the consumption and a great percentage of the labour force. Their contribution to the economy dates back to 1948, year of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, when the first migration waves began. The task the project required was to guarantee protect Palestinian workers, as the majority of them are forced to work in the informal economy and in inhuman conditions. The goals were to  apply legislative and policy changes regarding the access to employment, social protection, and decent work, and to provide the basic information about workers rights among the Palestinian population.

Was your work in Beirut a practical or a coordinative work?

Actually, it was both. When working in an organization that deals with conflictive situations it is impossible to restrict the work remaining behind a desk: we had a lot of practical work which implied facing directly with situations.

What do you mean with “facing directly situations”? Can you mention an example?

For example we had to interview some Palestinian workers about their work conditions in order to show some real datas during the 105th International Labour Conference. We had to complete the information with reports about the conditions and we had to investigate in some of the factories.

Which are the condition that you found?

Most of the Palestinian workers are excluded from the health care coverage, only 5% of employed Palestinians benefit from this right. That is a consequence of the Labour Law, which stipulates that such benefits are only given to foreign citizens whose countries afford the same rights to the Lebanese: in the case of Palestinians this reciprocity cannot be applied.

From a contracts point of view, depending on the sector of working, we found out that just a 20% of Palestinian workers benefit from a written contract, while the remaining 80% have an employment based on oral agreements which usually leads to abuses by the employers.

Which are the sectors that present the highest percentage of violations?

Usually employed males are exploited in construction sites while women are more likely to be employed in enterprises, health and education. These two last sectors are the ones which the most respect working rights providing them written contracts and fair payment while enterprises usually abuse giving a low payment and making women work for more than 65 hours a per week when the Lebanese Labour Law limits the work week to 48 hours.

How do you think it would be possible to stop this type of abuse?

The first step is the awareness: once Palestinian people have information know which are their working rights they are more likely to recognize and, consequently, avoid the abuses. The ILO did it greatly: we started doing campaigns for Palestinian workers where we taught the fundamental rights collaborating with local NGOs, such as  Association Najdeh. We noticed that if we provide information to little communities this information spreads by itself leading Palestinian people to refuse inhuman employments. Starting from education we can change things: I had the possibility to confirm this theory thanks to my job.
This kind of situation is spread all over the world and not only in conflictive or poor territories: we find abuses everywhere, from Asia to Latin America and we all have to take part in the fight against this phenomenon. My advice is to start to have awareness of what is happening in the world and to avoid a superficial attitude. When we buy something, for example, we usually do not think about what there is behind a product, what it implies. We do not wonder about the situation of workers who made the product because it seems a far reality: we see the product and its material value, if the price is reasonable we simply buy it. We have the duty to stop and think deeper.

Costanza Scatigna

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.

The World Humanitarian Aid by the UN isn’t good enough

Turkey is as many other countries directly involved in the refugee crisis, which is at the top of the list of problems the World Humanitarian Summit hopes to resolve this week. Turkey needs the help of the United Nations and European Union to end this crisis. However, these international organizations are not helping with enough humanitarian aid and supplies for the people that are suffering.

The United Nations’ main goals are to maintain international peace and security, also to promote the respect of human rights, in which they’re not doing a really good job currently. In countries neighbouring Syria, UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) supports host communities to cope with the influx of refugees by improving infrastructure, and improving local economic and employment opportunities focusing especially on vulnerable groups engaging the local population in its projects.

Speaking in Geneva the UN emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien said that the Syrian government had in fact disregarded ‘countless’ efforts for aid to be allowed in, residents of the town last received aid in November 2012. Although the UN conducted a needs assessment which they came to the conclusion that resources which are in urgent need include medicine, food along with shortages in drinking water due to supplies being destroyed. While the UN’s announcements have been helpful in condemning Assad’s regime actions, it has not taken enough action to help those who need their assistance most.

Lack of aid might be the issue in the besieged areas in Syria, but that’s not the biggest problem. The quality of the humanitarian aid in the world today is not developed to where it should be, and it can be improved to a much higher level than it is. David Millband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, stated in a speech he held a month ago at Georgetown University, that the world humanitarian aid need to be reformed. Further on he expressed, “the scale and complexity of current humanitarian needs are increasingly out of step with the resources, policies and practices available to meet them.”

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Source:  The World Humanitarian Summit

 

The organisation that directs the World Humanitarian Summit is the United Nations. Examples the media covers every single week shows that this organisation is not the most efficient when it comes to humanitarian aid. Actually, one of the biggest and high-profiled international NGOs was absent. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) had withdrawn from the event with the statement; “We no longer have any hope that the WHS will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations.”

This week the World Humanitarian summit took place in Istanbul to revise and improve the structure of humanitarian aid. It only lasted two days, and as expected it was not enough time to improve the humanitarian aid in any way. The gathered world leaders did establish a core document with commitments, but it’s non-binding and therefore it becomes another declaration of intent, rather than action.

“It is shameful that rich countries are moaning, complaining, sending refugees back, cutting deals behind their backs… We want to see rich countries step up to the plate, absorb refugees and give them opportunities in their countries,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of the aid group Oxfam International, told Al Jazeera after the summit closing.

Humanitarian action not only saves lives, it prepares communities to respond to disasters, protects hard-won development gains, and helps people get back on their feet after a crisis strikes. It is important that there soon will be taken some action rather than several conferences and summits that gather publicity for world leaders and organizations.
The United Nations is to bureaucratic and inefficient to handle the different crisis that are ongoing right now. The institutions should involve other NGOs to get action when it’s needed.

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.