30 April 2008

Silent Tsunami

I calculated that my flight from London to Italy for the Human Rights Film Festival resulted in 0.340 tonnes of CO2. The flight to Dubai was 1.259 tonnes, and then another 0.130 tonnes to get to Qatar for the Aljazeera Documentary Festival.

Was the benefits gained from these events worth it? Many human rights causes and other global issues that I had no knowledge of were highlighted, and if I spread that out in the world, urging people to act, then perhaps the benefits outweigh the costs..

And then my flight to Kuwait to attend the World Islamic Economic Forum added on 0.241 tonnes, leaving me with a total of 1.970 tonnes of CO2 for the past few weeks. And according to www.carbonfootprint.com that calculates your carbon footprint for you, carbon emissions are responsible for global warming. The effects of global warming caused by carbon emissions are also understood to play a major role in the current food crisis, dubbed the Silent Tsunami!

The World Bank has finally taken emergency measures to help countries cope with the rising food prices, and the crisis is also being blamed on the demand for biofuels in developed countries, and a myriad of other causes- 23 countries are said to be at risk of social unrest as the poor panic to survive! China, with a growing population and economy, is worried, but they are not alone.

North Korea- over a quarter of the population does not have enough food. Bangladesh- there is major turmoil and social unrest.
India- exports of rice have all but completely been halted, amid quotes from famous Indian economist, Amartya Sen that ‘famines do not happen in democracies.’
Cote d’Ivoire- two days of violence have delayed government elections and widespread riots have occurred.
Cameroon- at least 24 people have been killed in riots.
Egypt- army ordered to start baking bread.
Philippines- hoarding rice may be punishable by death.

In some places, between January and April, rice prices have gone up almost 150%, and some type of wheat went up 25% in a single day! Food markets are in turmoil, civil strife is growing, trade and free market aspects are being candidly challenged- hence globalisation itself may soon be challenged.

The World Islamic Economic Forum is being held in Kuwait from 28 April till 1 May, and while contributing further to carbon emissions by being chauffeured around in big flashy cars with police escorts, speeches by leaders of Muslim countries are being delivered under the ‘Islamic countries: Partners in The Global Development’ theme of this years forum.

Detailed reports of the proceedings to follow shortly, but for now let me leave you with a thought. Following the addresses by King Abdullah of Jordan, Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Dr. Silajdzic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, the Prime Minister of Kuwait was asked how the gap could be bridged between the richest countries and the poorest countries in the world- which both have Muslim majorities- his reply was translated from Arabic into English as, ‘…natural resources are the source of wealth and success in the world, and those countries that have this must share with countries that don’t…’

23 April 2008

Bloggers of the World, Unite for Charity

My name is Bilal and I am a blogger. Who is a blogger? A blogger is someone who keeps a blog. What is a blog? A blog is basically a journal that is available on the Web.

Whole blog communities have sprung up around topics that put people into contact with one another where they can learn, share ideas, make friends, and even do business with people having similar interests from around the world. Blogging is another modern-day platform that influences how the youth of today connect, interact, and engage with their peers.

But like every medium out there, the Internet can be used for good or bad. The online environment could sometimes be an obstacle, presenting many immoral features, which deter us from thinking, knowing, and practicing Islam daily. We need to contribute toward the spiritual, moral, and physical development of the youth and the community. An important aspect of our Islamic identity is the development and encouragement of social service and charity work.

(For those who give in charity, men and women, and loan to Allah a beautiful loan, it will be increased manifold, and they will have a noble reward.) (Al-Hadid 57:18)

Blogs are one of the effective tools that help in spreading and discussing charitable ideas and activities among youth.

But unfortunately, not many people are using their blogs for this purpose, in spite of the influential role it plays.

[Click here to continue reading this article..]

16 April 2008

Hijab Revolution

[Grand Mosque of Paris]

May 1968 was a month of revolution for France. It was a series of student protests and a general strike that caused the collapse of the De Gaulle government in France. The events were seen as an opportunity to shake up the "old society" and traditional morality, focusing especially on the education system and employment.

And 40 years later, the legacy of the 1968 clashes live on in the cafes and on the streets of Paris. This April students and teachers have taken to the streets to demonstrate against government cuts. Thousands of school students and teachers demonstrated on the streets of Paris against a proposed reform of the French education system- job cuts in secondary schools- the government plans to cut education jobs this year, including thousands of teaching posts.

Cafes are deeply associated with political and intellectual life in France, and with rebellion. Whether standing at the bar and drinking espresso, or sitting on the old, plush furniture and munching a delicious pastry- the settings seem to rarely change. It was from a cafe at the Palais Royal that the French Revolution started. And today, there is a new symbol present in the cafes- the hijab (headscarf worn by Muslim women).

Statistics show Muslims in France count between about 5 and 6 million, which is about 10 to 12% of the French population. That is the highest percentage of Muslims in any Western European country.
Muslim immigrants to France came mainly from Algeria until the early sixties, which was still a French colony at that time. As France traditionally had no coordinated labour immigration policy, many immigrants also arrived from other North African countries such as Morocco and Tunisia as well.

Today, most Muslims in France live in and around industrial centres such as Paris, Marseilles, Lyons and Lille. As many Muslims are part of the unskilled or semi-skilled work force in France, they tend to live in the suburbs (some would call them ghettos) where the living conditions are rather difficult and the crime rates high.

The concentration of Muslims and problems in these areas led to the denomination of these areas as "Suburbs of Islam." As more and younger Muslims not only realize the discrimination and disadvantage in the system (especially for education and employment) the protest movements increasingly base their critique on a renewed Muslim identity.

As one of its basic principles of state, France has the "Laicite" system (a total separation between state and religion). In 2004 a law was passed that forbids state school students from wearing "conspicuous" religious apparel. The hijab, Jewish skullcaps, Sikh turbans and large Christian crosses were banned. The prevention of Muslim students from wearing the hijab to school caused protest from Muslim youth groups as well as anti-discrimination groups in France.

Young Muslims took this as a chance to express growing frustration about cultural and religious marginalization and discrimination in French society. A growth of right wing movements in some parts of France are said to be xenophobic and discriminatory towards Muslims.

In the 1968 revolution, barricades where used in the streets and became the symbols of the revolution, so perhaps the hijab is a symbol of a current revolution. While the hijab is banned in schools, it is not banned in universities. Speaking to a group of young girls wearing the hijab at the Jussieu University, I was told that when a woman wears the hijab, many doors are closed for her- she perhaps can’t get a job in government and it will be very difficult to find employment elsewhere, unless she removes her hijab.

They said that many French are prejudiced and some think that the hijab is a veil on the mind as well. The girls, students of biology and maths, said that even though the future employment options look bleak, they still seek knowledge for personal satisfaction. They hope to show other young Muslims that a woman in hijab can fight the prejudice by excelling at university and expressing themselves in a good way. ‘One day we will have Muslim women in hijab that are doctors, lawyers and teachers’, says one girl.

So what can be done to speed up the positive change that these students are so confident about? ‘Muslims need to start communicating’, a student says, ‘there is not enough communication between Muslims and the rest of French society. For example, people don’t understand that Muslim women choose to wear the hijab.’ A student group, the EMF (√©tudiants musulmans de france), is working in this regard- trying to build bridges of understanding between Muslim students and others.

For the male Muslim students, life and opportunity is not that much different- they also face discrimination, especially those from immigrant backgrounds, together with immigrants of all other faiths.

‘A student from an immigrant background needs to work harder to succeed, as he may not have the same opportunities as others who are more settled and stable,’ says a student of history at the famous Sorbonne University. This student is of Tunisian and French parentage and has already completed a degree in nursing. ‘Many of my friends from immigrant backgrounds are becoming lawyers, doctors and teachers- they are proving to the youth out there that even though we come from the ghettos (suburbs), where things may not be that easy, with hard work, determination and the blessings of God, we can accomplish things and make change!’ This is the new spirit of revolution- to be confident, determined and still faithful to your beliefs.

So while students complained to me about the discrimination, the widely perceived lack of opportunities, and the difficulties associated with growing up in the suburbs, some French Muslim youth are driving change and continuing the French tradition of revolution- as the Hijab revolution!

‘So what do you think needs to be done to integrate into mainstream French society?’ I foolishly asked. The female student snapped a fierce retort, ‘We are French! We were born here and have lived here our entire lives. We are already integrated- others need to accept us for who we are- French Muslims!’ I remember reading a quote of a veteran of May 1968- “Barricades close the street but open up the way”- and I wonder just how similar is the hijab to the barricades- it covers the head but opens up the mind!

14 April 2008

Last King of Africa?

Anyone seen or heard anything about this:

A new documentary from director Michael Skolnik (On The Outs) about the last ruling monarchy in Africa, King Mswati the III of Swaziland. "Without the King"paints the picture of a distant figure living in opulence while his subjects suffer from crushing poverty and the world's highest HIV infection rate. The film offers an unprecedented insight with Princess Sikhanyiso, King Mswati himself, as well as many Swazi citizens who are plotting his downfall.
The film opens on April 25th at the Quad Cinemas in NYC. For more information visit the Myspace page

Here is the link to the film's trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o37iJhBo7VU

Share your thoughts...

07 April 2008

from Thought Leader- Bob Mugabe

...Mugabe, the liberator of Zimbabwe and one of the most promising leaders the African continent would ever witness, later won 1980’s election, becoming president.

Unfortunately, even though Mugabe allowed for Ian Smith to live on in Zimbabwe, untouched even while Smith waged numerous campaigns against him, the British never made good on what was a fundamental and crucial aspect of independence...

[Click here to read whole article..]