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Interview with Alfredo Maiolese- President of the European Muslims League

Here’s the link to full interview on Trans Asia News Service

Dr. Alfredo Maiolese is an Italian, who embraced Islam from Catholicism more than two decades ago. He is now the President of the European Muslim League which is a non-governmental entity registered with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and part of the European Parliament. He is also the Ambassador of the International Parliament for Safety & Peace and General Secretary of a new organisation called World Organisation of States, based in New York and Rome. In a candid interview with me for TANS, he calls, ISIS a Western prop.

Category: TOP NEWS Published: Saturday, 19 December 2015 10:42

BANGALORE: From being a devout Catholic, Dr Alfredo Maiolese, an Italian from Genoa, embraced Islam 22 years ago in 1993. But he doesn’t call himself a ‘convert’. For him, one religion is an extension of the other, because at the age 27, he discovered “Jesus Christ and Mary” in a book on ‘Knowing Islam’. “I was shocked. How is Jesus Christ a prophet of Islam”, he says. “I was very confused, because, I was Christian” at the time. That was during his maiden visit to Saudi Arabia on an invitation from Prince Abdullah, whom he had befriended in London earlier. “Then I found out that it is logical. Because Allah, (is) one God and (there are) lot of prophets who are relatives, cousins. With books, Revelations, it was logical for me”, he says thinking back. Within a week, which he describes as a period of spiritual churning, he says he received “suddenly from the sky, Hidayat, the guidance, the light. And I was crying of happiness. First time I cry of happiness. I said ‘Oh, he’s calling me’! He had prayed “please God, give me some sign” he says, and that is when he felt “something that I never felt in my life.” He returned to Genoa, and continued to practice Islam, shocking his mother one day, as she happened to enter his room while he was performing namaz on the floor. She thought he was looking for something under his bed. When the rest of his conservative family found out, there was shock and disbelief.

Today, Alfredo Maiolese is the President of the European Muslim League which is a non-governmental entity registered with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and part of the European Parliament. He is also the Ambassador of the International Parliament for Safety & Peace and General Secretary of a new organisation called World Organisation of States, based in New York and Rome. The functions of these organisations range from defence of Human Rights, protection of minorities, to the promotion of security and peace, building focus on the Middle East & environment and also the ongoing conflicts between religions in the world.

Mr Maiolese, who served as a minister in the Italian government earlier as well,  is in a unique position to offer a viewpoint on the discourse of a clash of civilisations in the context of the raging war in Syria and its spillover effect on terrorist incidents across the world, given the trajectory of his own journey between two world-views.

In an exclusive conversation with Elizabeth Jane for Trans Asia News Service, Alfredo Maiolese offers his candid views on the real nature of current conflicts, the behind the scenes players involved, the complex web of conflicting geopolitical and economic interests at play, its disastrous effects mostly on Muslim populations and the lack of political will to find simple and obvious solutions to end these conflicts. He was in Bangalore recently to participate in an international conference.

NO CLASH OF CIVILISATIONS

“It wasn’t  easy for me to change. Of course Christians say Jesus is ‘Son of God’, we say Prophet of God. It’s more what’s in common between Christians and Muslims than what is different. People today, they are fighting but we get to reach this point” says Alfredo Maiolese explaining his transition from conservative Catholicism to Islam.

This is why he says, when people talk about the “clash of civilisations… I think they want clash of religion. But this is only by name because people are not fighting. This is a problem of governments, that have some interests- political. Today they take the ideology and they ‘Islamicise’ that ideology of being terrorist. But in the gospel, the Bible they don’t say, in the name of God, you kill. So, this is a very affirmative instruction… So, some people they are very bad inside. No clean heart. No contact with God, Allah. Take innocent people and brainwash them. Who are they?”

According to Mr Maiolese, the violent manifestations of conflicts in West Asia really began with “people who wanted a revolution. Normal people.” But then he says, the situation turned vicious when “some clerics with very bad intentions, they used this opportunity for their interests and now, we have two wars- the government’s wars and the group’s wars.”

He admits that there is a sectarian aspect involved. “There’s a war between Sunni, Shias. It’s a shame for us that we are fighting Muslims against Muslims. There’s no human rights. They’re raping the women and killing children. It’s really a disaster. Its not humanity. These are not human beings,” he says.

THE SYRIAN QUAGMIRE

Alfredo Maiolese compares the present situation in Syria to an Italian minestrone soup. “Minestrone is a mix of combination. Some enemies now they are friends. First, there is a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. A proxy war, through Yemen and through Syria. It is a Shia-Sunni conflict on one side. But the beginning was not that. Because the beginning, we forget, the people after Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, they were saying, we want elections. We want freedom. And what did Bashar al-Assad do? Boom, he killed. The army was on the streets for two years, many people died. In the beginning, it was not religion. People, they wanted to have democracy. And then sectarian element came then Iran, Russia..”

ROLE OF SAUDI ARABIA

Alfredo Maiolese does not save his barbs about the role of Saudi monarchy in Syria either. “Saudi Arabia is making war against Iran, obviously. They want leadership. America has supported KSA for many years. Now, it has changed policy. The dynamic of relations between US, KSA and Iran is, KSA and Iran want to be the leader in the Middle East. But Iran, it says we have history of 1000 years, how these people of the last 100 years, they came from the desert, they want to be the leader? So, they are fighting. They cannot fight directly because they’ll create the third world war, so they’re using people, they give support, there is Hezbollah and Mossad and they are fighting. And it’s a war. There are no three or four kinds of different wars. There’s a war between KSA and Iran, through their allies, then there is a war with Russia and Syria against these people who have support from some other countries. It’s a very big mess. In the beginning it might have been a genuine revolution. Now, its only interests. But who’s losing? Populations. Then there’s another problem- Turkey and Russia. This is a very complicated issue, but at the end, we are the losers”, he said regretfully.
EUROPEAN JIHADISTS

As outside parties piled on the build-up in Syria, they drew young fighters in from regions unconnected to the conflict. Throughout Europe, jihadism is a fringe phenomenon, much debated but affecting only a few isolated individuals within largely peaceful Muslim communities. A study on Home-Grown Jihadism in Italy, by Lorenzo Vidino, mentions an important case study, he calls the Delnevo case. Genovese convert Ibrahim Giuliano Delnevo, was killed in Syria while fighting with a jihadist militia. He was the first Italian known to have died in Syria in June 2013. In the summer of 2012, Delnevo attempted to fulfil his desires to fight in jihad by travelling to Turkey, and from there seeking to cross into Syria. His attempt failed and he returned to Italy. Alfredo Maiolese, one of the leaders of Genoa’s Muslim community, spoke with Delnevo shortly thereafter. “He had been in two refugee camps, but he could not find the right contact, he could not get in”, recounted Maiolese. He describes Delnevo as “a really nice person.” However, “his ideology was White and Black.” He was drawn to the Syrian conflict out of concern to help those in need. “He said, why are they killing our Muslim bother. So he went there to defend the oppression of the regime of Syria. And he was really innocent at the beginning. But afterwards they make politics, many groups, they are receiving money from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, America, Israel, Russia… Its a big mess. You want to talk about the protection of a human being, but, in the name of Allah, they are fighting, Muslim against Muslim. Don’t forget, who are the first dying? Muslim”, he said.

MOTIVE FOR CONFLICT

Asked why the battle in Syria that started in March 2011 is still ongoing, adding newer twists and turns, whether this has to do with geopolitical priorities or mineral and oil supplies, Mr Maiolese says, “The situation of Syria is very complicated. It’s the position (strategic location) not petrol. I mean it doesn’t have much fuel, not like Saudi Arabia, or Iraq. This ‘Crocevia’ in Italian, or Crossroads, this land, there’s too much interest in this land. It’s position (placement). Israel’s position, Syria has interests, Russia has interests, Hezbollah is fighting for religion. Al Qaeda is  fighting for religion- Sunni sect, but it is small level. Sometimes, the countries, they’re fighting together and they use these people.”
DAESH NOT MUSLIM

Mr Maiolese does not consider members of the so called Islamic State group or Daesh as Muslims. “Technically, when you say, I witness, ‘there is no God than God’, he is a Muslim, but he should have purity in his intention and link with God, but I’m not God to judge. So he could be Muslim, but he is using Islam. Some of them are not Muslim because what they’re doing, its not acting as Muslim. Because our prophet did not say you have to kill people, apart from to protect family, to protect something else. Protection is something else, but to kill people in the name of Allah. In Europe they say Holy War. What holy? there is horrible, there’s no holy at all,” he says.

Talking about the extraordinary display of barbarism by the Islamic State group, he points out that “in the Quran, it says, if you are in war, take your prisoner and first you feed them, even you don’t have food. But respect the women, children, respect the environment. What kind of Islam they are doing? This is not Islam. This is nothing. This is only bad action. Its used in the name of Islam but in reality its  brutality, its genocide. Everybody (is to blame) when the West gives the army, use their planes, everybody is responsible. Not only the people who start but the people who are supporting them.”

According to Mr Maiolese, the ISIS group is essentially a Western prop. An invention, created to serve an ulterior motive. “This is the ex-secret service of Saddam Hussain. What is the IS? The Caliph is a person who has been chosen from the population to be the ruler because of their behaviour, because of their good Islam. So, this is a creation. Even Hillary Clinton said, a few months ago, it’s a creation of America, but now it has escaped from our hands! Hillary Clinton said it. I can’t believe that. Of course, this IS, the head, is only doing it for money. They are doing it for want of interests. They are like mafia. You enter, you can walk out”, he said without mincing words.

RADICALISATION

Most experts tend to agree that radicalisation is a highly complex and individualised process, often shaped by a poorly understood interaction of structural and personal factors. Several theories have been formulated to specifically explain the radicalisation of European Muslims, ranging from a search for identity to anger over discrimination and relative economic deprivation. In 2008 the European Commission’s Expert Group on Violent Radicalisation argued that radicalisation takes place “at the intersection of an enabling environment and a personal trajectory.” Alfredo Maiolese said, the Conference- Peace for Economy, was an attempt to explore ways and means to identify and reverse the process of radicalisation. “we have to have a link in the world, because it is high level. Ambassadors, institutions, society, members of government. If we shut up, we cannot do anything. But, because there are member of govt that we report, of course we think, what we can do to get a solution. This is the starting. Of course when we have a boat, we need a captain but we also need a rope. So this is a beginning to take the boat in the right direction and to say, there’s a wave now, we have to report it. This is important but not only words but action. Not just to give interviews but to build pressure”, he said.

Asked about the much publicised view that murders secure a place in paradise for suicide attackers apart from earning them the prize of 72 virgins in heaven, Mr Maiolese denied this entirely. “No. In the Quran it doesn’t say that you have to kill yourself or someone else to go to paradise. What is paradise? According to Christianity and Islam, you have to work hard to enter paradise. Its only in the hands of God. Not that if you kill more people you get in. In the war between the Zionist and the Palestinians, because the balance of the army was stones against helicopters and weapons, the fighters said, ok, there’s nothing left. They started to blow up, some 20 years ago… the people they think, I kill myself I go to paradise! What paradise?” he wondered.

REFUGEE CRISIS AND XENOPHOBIA

Asked about the incredible refugee crisis involving millions of displaced Syrians including children left to fend for themselves and find places to hide, Mr Maiolese said, “first of all they have to remind themselves that they are Muslim. They have to ask Allah, why this test? Is there an explanation.” Describing the help extended by the European Muslims League (EML), he said “of course, we’re giving monetary support and education. We are sending containers, all these material things. But they need more support, spiritual support. That’s what we are doing. Because if you are a Muslim, according to our religion, Allah has created us to worship him, with Iman and Yakeen. So if you have to have Iman, or faith, you have to have Yakeen. We are teaching them that even though they are in this bad situation, they don’t have to lose their faith. Most of the people are waiting to go back to their country. They don’t want to stay in Germany, Italy or Switzerland, Sweden or Spain. They want to go back to Syria. But there is a problem with Syria. That problem is the government. Like there is a problem between Pakistan and India for Kashmir- that’s not a problem between Muslims or Hindus. It’s not religion. The problem is that the country has its own interests. So of course the European Muslim League, we are like an NGO. We’re not a government organisation. We’re registered with the UNSC, we are in the European Parliament. Our role is to defend them. When a person arrives at a refugee station, Subhan Allah, we all gather- even the Christian Italians, when they see all the Syrians at the stations, they go shopping and they get food for them. Each one has a responsibility. Each human being has love, pain.”

Lampedusa, the southernmost part of Italy is a prime transit point for illegal immigrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia wanting to enter Europe. Here, Mr Maiolese says “Italian marines send a lot of boats to rescue these people coming by sea. Some people they say, what we can do? We don’t even have work (employment) for ourselves. But this is not about work. It is part of humanity to help people when they are dying in the sea. So, what they have to do. But what they understand is, they found out, different types of migration. All the migration from Libya, from the Sahara- they are not educated. But these Syrians, they have high level of education. The people who welcome them say, they have good mobile phones, speak English, they are doctors and engineers. They come because they want to improve their way of life. They are forced. I know because I know many Syrians. I’ve been there many times. One of my friends, he has a villa with a swimming pool and the government took his villa. He has nowhere to live.”

But the recent attacks in Paris and California by outsiders claiming inspiration from outfits like the IS have added extra hurdles to the problem of migration. Now there’s fear and xenophobia to deal with. Mr Maiolese says, “now they confuse migration, terrorism and Islam. Actually Italy is not a destination. It is a transit route. They come, but they don’t want to stay in Italy. They want to move on to places like Sweden or Holland or in the North, Norway, or in Germany. These are the main countries. But now, the politicians a small percentage of them, they hold on to this ‘We’re Christian, you’re Muslim (rhetoric)’ It makes no sense,” he says. “They are forced to live in Europe because Europe sends their army to drop bombs and bombards them. What solution do they have? he asks.

“There is a persecution, Islamophobia all over the world. When you kill a person in Iraq or Syria, you kill them physically. But you are killing us when they consider us Daesh or whatever else. When a person does a terrorist act, you don’t judge me by my intention but by my action. So what do you do? We start with events like this conference”, he said about the think tank meeting he was attending.

SOLUTIONS FOR SYRIA

Bombing is no way to end the Syrian conflict, Mr Maiolese believes. “If you kill three terrorists, they’ll kill 1 million Syrians. That’s no solution. War against war, is not a solution”, he insists. According to him, there is a clear lack of political will to end the fighting because each player is pursuing their own end. “We can say that the interest of the government is different from interests of the population. We can speak about love and peace continuously, but this is not at our level. The level is at the top. Russia’s interest is to have a base in Syria. It doesn’t care about Syrian people. I spoke to one Colonel of Rome in NATO, I asked what do you think about 100,000 people dying in Syria? “Nothing”, he said. I was shocked. America is the first country for human rights. But if the country has different interests, if France wants to attack Libya, it’s not for or against Gaddafi. The country has interests. And the interests of countries are above human rights. That’s the defect.” Using a regional analogy, he said, “We have to realise, if India has a problem with Pakistan, for Kashmir, it’s not religion. It’s a fight for land, or for petrol for example or power, or something that is national interest.”

The solution to the seemingly intractable Syrian crisis is democracy, Mr Maiolese says. “The solution is that the government has to say we’ll renounce, to give some opportunity to respect the civilian population. Bring them back, because I think most of the people, they want to go back to Syria. But now, its how many years? Even if they go back, it takes them 10 yrs to rebuild. Its really not easy. If they say, tomorrow there’s peace. You take 12 million people to where? Where’s their house? Where’s their university? Where’s their work? Nothing.

So, until now, its a disaster. We lost. Everybody we lost. We lost humanity, we lost the peace, we lost the government, we lost the Sunni, the Shia, everybody.”

If they really want to, world powers can solve the Syrian crisis “in one minute” says Alfredo Maiolese. “We can solve this problem. Don’t give the army. Don’t bombard with Russian weapons…and make a political solution. What we have to do, is have elections. This Bashar al-Assad has to go, because he’s a state terrorist. Putin is accusing of what? Putin has interests, and other countries have interests. But logically, we have to help the population, so they are not killed. So if you want  to speak about democracy, we have to arrange for fresh elections and elect a new parliament and new President who is not an Alawite, not a Sunni, Ikhwani or whatever. The population of Syria, Christian, Muslim or whatever, they have to, elect their own representative and not to split into two and tree part like Libya”, he says.

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An Interview with the Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the Syrian conflict and its fallout

I spoke to Mr Sabit Subasic, Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to India for Trans Asia News Service

Here’s the link to the interview published by TANS

As always, I’d welcome your feedback here.

Category: TOP NEWS

Published: Saturday, 12 December 2015 11:02

An Interview with the Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina 

TRANS ASIA NEWS

BANGALORE: Of the many crises the world is facing today, one of the worst is in West Asia, centred in Syria. The fallout of the so-called Arab Spring which caused an upheaval across the energy rich region and unseated many a dictatorships, outside meddling and convergence of geo-political interests of many regional players in the Arab world’s ancient and most secular country has created the Syrian quagmire. 

Over the years the battle has acquired sectarian overtones, and turned into a global platform for political and military one-upmanship. As regional and global powers slug it out, amidst a complex array of terror outfits adding their agendas to the mix, Syria burns, forcing millions of its citizens to flee, seeking refuge far and wide. And as innumerable incidents of terror apparently motivated by Islamist extremism break out worldwide, it has started to set off a culture of suspicion, fear and xenophobia against entire Muslim populations, including refugees escaping chaos at home. On the sidelines of the “Peace For Economy” conference held in Bangalore, on 6 December, Sabit Subasic, the Ambassador of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) expressed optimism in the “progressive powers”, which he said would ultimately “prevail, definitely.” 

Speaking exclusively to Elizabeth Jane for Trans Asia News Service, the dignitary said, he does not see the Syrian conflict as a Sunni-Shia sectarian problem. He admits that “There is that regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The rivalry between Shia and Sunni in the region.” But he says, “that’s one aspect of the regional crisis, but only one aspect. It’s not just about that.” He also takes the view that highlighting this particular aspect could just be a smokescreen. “See, it’s very sensitive, you know, Shia-Sunni differences, every time they can be used for promotion of some other goals.” 

A POWDER KEG

Many believe that the Middle East has been conditioned by outside forces into a powder keg that is ready to explode with the right trigger. As the Syrian war escalates, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that by the end of 2015, half of the population of Syria will be in need of aid. This includes an anticipated 3.45 million Syrian refugees and 6.8 million Syrians inside the country, many of whom will be displaced from their homes. 

The crisis in Syria has escalated manifold since Russia landed heavy weaponry and boots on the ground apparently to fill the vacuum created by the Western dithering in taking on an enemy like Islamic State group, head on.

Reflecting on the history of the Bosnian war, the Ambassador of Bosnia-Herzegovina, while talking about the conflict brewing in Syria said, “Syria is a wonderful example of competition between different regional and global powers for their dominance, their spheres of interest. I mean Syria is a nice, beautiful country. It used to be very beautiful, with huge history, huge culture. But, at the moment, at the crossroads of different regional and global interests of some important powers. And people are competing. Powers are competing… Unfortunately many things in the world are a matter of national interest… and everything is messed up. That human aspect of the world is getting defeated nowadays. There’s a problem in Syria, in Iraq, in Libya and many other countries. People are mostly under the umbrella of fighting for some high level goals, very often its a matter of national interest.”

CLASH OF CIVILISATIONS?

Asked about whether he sees the unfolding chaos as representing a ‘clash of civilisations’ that even the Dalai Lama spoke about, a battle of Islam Vs. other religions, Ambassador Subasic said, “It was a long time ago, Samuel Huntington wrote that famous book called ‘The Clash of Civilisations’. The famous writer predicted the clash of civilisations. At that time it was neglected but I strongly believe… I’m academically a political scientist. And I’m a realist in international relations. What I want to say is, everything is a matter of national or international interest. Sometimes you see an action that looks like a high-level human action, but behind it, it is often something else. Some countries try to use so-called soft-power to dominate other countries. Everything is a matter of economic interests of countries. Some country is stronger, it tries to impose on other countries, that’s the logic of international relations, international markets, and the international system. Although there are some institutions in the world that are trying to harmonise, to give some spirit of humanity to the process, but it’s not enough.”

ISIS MYSTERY

Asked about the ISIS and its ideology, the recent trend of radicalisation of the youth, the diplomat said, “Frankly speaking, I have many questions about that and I simply don’t know. I don’t know who is actually financially behind ISIS, who’s paying the money? Financially they’re doing very well. Who’s behind that? who’s paying for it? What’s the purpose of that? 

Mr Subasic expressed shock and disbelief about the way individuals, apparently unconnected to the formal structure or operations of terror groups like the ISIS, are acting on their own to unleash terror. Talking about the recent shootings in San Bernardino, California, he said, “now look at the lady bomber in California. She was not formally part of any group. Some kind of social network they say, and they go. That’s something very deep and very dangerous.” 

Mr Subasic expressed concern about the growing Islamophobia in the West. “People say, these people are coming from Muslim countries. You see what’s happening in Paris and sometimes what’s happening somewhere else… sometimes they don’t say, but they think that…Sometimes those kind of feelings prevail in public opinion, which is also very dangerous. I don’t know what’s the end. We should be optimistic, but, nowadays we have a very very dangerous situation,” he said.  

But he expressed optimism that although the sporadic attacks attributed to religiously motivated violence has the tendency to polarise non-Muslims to the opposite extreme, “many people are not like that, so that’s the characteristic of democracy of the West.” 

SYRIAN TRAGEDY

What does he think of the massive humanitarian crisis in Syria. The millions of people displaced, especially children made homeless and left at everyone’s mercy? The Ambassador says, “It’s a tragedy. And you have some other aspect of the crisis in Europe. You have those terrorist incidents that are happening in the West, combined with the Refugee crisis, it brings some unbelievable feeling in the European countries and I don’t know what’s the end of that.” 

Mr Subasic believes a military response, of the kind we see today is the need of the hour in Syria. However, asked if a war isn’t actually in the interests of the participants, given that most of them are big arms manufacturers and suppliers, feeding the conflict, the diplomat admitted the irony of the situation. “That’s again the reality and we need much more time to discuss this. You’re right about that. But at this stage it’s very important to have that coalition of countries, to you know, bomb,” he said. 

The Ambassador of BiH maintains that a joint military exercise is necessary in Syria. “It’s important that key players come together to fight. They recognise the problem. Recently there were few big gatherings of important international players. They all accept the fact that we are in danger. We have to do something… As a result, many countries have decided to come together to fight. That’s the only solution,” he says.

Syria could well be setting the stage for the possible emergence of a new world order in this chaotic landscape, Mr Subasic says. “You know that Russia is getting stronger. It’s different, not the same as some years ago. And Russia is a serious military power. And it has military bases traditionally in Syria, and it wants to protect it. It can protect it with Assad in power. It’s the only place where they have a military/ naval base outside the former Soviet Union region- the Tartus. So, from that point of view, they’ll try to fight, use all the necessary means to protect their interests, although their interests are opposite to those of other countries. So, it’s really from that point of view a very chaotic situation.”

PROJECT NEW MIDDLE-EAST

In 2006, a process was reportedly set in motion called a project for a “New Middle East”. It was an Anglo-American sponsored Israeli siege of Lebanon, of which, the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice had informed the international media. It reportedly involved plans to create an arc of instability, chaos, and violence extending from Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria to Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Iran, and the borders of NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan. This “constructive chaos” was apparently supposed to generate conditions of violence and warfare throughout the region, which would in turn be used so that the United States, Britain, and Israel could redraw the map of the Middle East in accordance with their geo-strategic needs and objectives. 

The Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to India believes the emergence of Iran from the shadow of US sanctions, “is something good to happen recently. It’s a very positive thing. Imagine the situation now in the world, with Iran totally on the opposite side. Iran is an important regional power”, he said, which “also has their national interest in the region (Syria).” He described Iran as “a state you can count on, for the fight on terrorism.” Mr Subasic does not believe the violence in Syria has necessarily worsened since the US and other world powers struck a nuclear deal with Iran and lifted sanctions. 

But what about Saudi Arabia’s deep grievance with the US, regarding a nuclear capability? Is that not a factor fuelling the tensions? Mr Subasic says, Saudi Arabia remains “a strong US ally even now… It is not the only country in the region without nuclear power. Turkey is also a regional power without nuclear capability.” He believes there are lots of forces at play in Syria at the moment. “The position of Turkey is very interesting in the region. Turkey is also a serious regional power. And they have interests in the region also, because a part of the population that lives outside Turkey in Syria, or in Iraq, Iran, or because of the Kurdish population. And Israel is also a power. They have their own interests there. I read in the newspaper that Israel is also bombing some targets in Syria. I didn’t know that. But I read they are doing that. To protect their interests. So everybody is bombing Syria now. Beautiful, nice country, now everybody is coming and bombing. The Ambassador of Syria is a friend of mine, and sometimes I talk to him and the Deputy Ambassador, I feel really very pity in such a situation. I used to go to Syria. It was very beautiful. This Assad regime was autocratic. Not democratic. But what you have now, is the total destruction. Nobody is benefitting. At least no one from Syria.”  

OPTIMISM

Asked if he thought events like the ‘Peace for Economy Conference’, could actually contribute positively for change, Mr Subasic said, “Actually I don’t know in this turbulent world, what can work at all. I mean it’s getting dangerous. We shouldn’t be over-ambitious with this conference, because the situation in the world is very complicated. Lot of things are happening at the moment. But… it is a good intention. Probably, we can project some signs to change the situation.”

Despite the gloom, Ambassador Sabit Subasic is positive about the future and the possibility of peace. He said, “I’m optimistic. I think there are powers in the world. There are progressive powers. They will prevail, definitely. In the West and also in some other countries. I mean the capacities of progressive powers is much stronger than those of regressive powers in the long run. In the short run we are in a big crisis internationally, but, in the long run, any crisis produces something positive.”


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Turd-green remains my valley!

An open invitation to not just Carmelites to get a ringside view of turd-valley…

I spent five of my formative years at Mount Carmel College (MCC) in Bangalore. Right after school, MCC became my alma mater, growing up. That was 25 years back. Rahul Gandhi, the Vice President of the Congress Party who is only a few years older than me, was likely entering his 20’s at the time, and was hardly headline news material. But yesterday, as he spoke at the MCC auditorium, addressing an all-girl audience, the man once considered a sought-after bachelor with his dimpled cheeks, seemed to make quite another impression. If most media reports are to be believed, his supposed outreach to Bangalore’s youth, was not only a non-starter, they called it quite a disaster. In videos widely circulated, he is heard entering a direct Q and A with his audience, with the purpose of hitting out at the ruling Modi government. Targeting the BJP’s flagship Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign, he asks if the girls think, the project is working. Although what one hears is a mixed response, with voices saying both “Yes” and “No” simultaneously, the headline that aired was that “Rahul was stumped”. Caught somewhat unaware by the response, RaGa seems a bit slow with a comeback, posing a counter question, “You think Make in India is good”? Again the response is quite mixed. But given RaGa’s own awkwardness, and inability to think on his feet to turn things around, the story that went out was that he was out of tune with the “people’s pulse”; that the Modi government’s programs were successful, and appreciated and it was RaGa, who seemed to not know. The story had barely broken when those on either side of the camp began to post their versions on social media. For all those who cracked “Pappu” jokes about RaGa, there were spirited defences from the opposite side that called the reporting biased.

With my Facebook timeline already riven over the Aamir Khan episode, the misreporting, and selective reporting involved, this was the next one to evoke sharp responses. There was euphoria from RaGa’s haters and sympathy from those willing to give him the benefit of doubt. Meanwhile, I, sitting at home, watching the drama unfold was wondering what I’d have said and done, had I been right there in my college auditorium. MCC is quite well known in the city. In the past, it was more famous for the boys that hung around outside the high walls of the campus, just waiting to get lucky with the pretty girls inside. Mount Carmel was where the ‘hot’ crowd was supposed to be. If there was a wannabe beauty queen or one in the making, you’d be sure to find her on campus. But it wasn’t a beauty vs. brains thing. I, for instance was the typical plain Jane. I was there to study, get good grades, become someone. If you came from my kind of background, you’d be like that too. I came from the most regular family and had nobody to look out for me. So I was hardworking, driven and determined to be someone. I cycled to college, 8km one-way daily, for the lack of better options and never missed a single class. I couldn’t care less about the boys outside the gates. I worked so hard, to gain entry into the coveted Journalism/ Psychology/ English Literature course, that I became an overachiever by dint of necessity. I shocked myself by landing the third rank in the state of Karnataka. That was the first time that my mug shot appeared in the local newspapers! So, my guess is, had I been in that auditorium yesterday, I’d have been quite vocal and honest about the whole affair.

Now, here’s the thing. My blog post from five months ago about the problem of open defecation in my neighbourhood, still stands. You see, the crappers, have been making a beeline all along. I’ll admit, I just don’t have it in me to go embarrass them myself. Nobody else has done anything about it either, so they just keep coming, and going and doing their business. And yes, some of them are still fancy enough to drive-in, in their car, park it, take a walk to take a dump, and walk back as if everything was hunky dory, checking their smart phones as they return, newspapers tucked under their arms. This just happens to be the reality. So, all those young ladies at MCC, who think Swachh Bharat is a roaring success, here’s an open invitation to visit turd valley. Come, see, then opine. Here’s the other thing. They’re running a poster-making contest for children at my son’s school, for all grades, asking them to come up with innovative slogans and art work for the Swachh Bharat campaign. Those who participate, get short-listed and finally win the contest are promised commendation certificates and credits from the  Central Board of Secondary Education. This happens to be a programme coordinated by the Union Human Resource Ministry all over India. Trouble is, I don’t get the point of an exercise that names people like me as it’s target audience. Without me trying to make this about “Us and them”, the problem is already that. I’m not the one walking around ‘lota’ in hand. The program is targeting the wrong demographic.

Turns out, more than one crore toilets have been built in a year under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Then why is the government’s well intentioned scheme, despite massive infrastructural investments still a pipe dream? Why is this clean revolution still outside our grasp? The Economic Times reports, an all-India survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) found that “Not even half the toilets built under the cleanliness mission are being used…While just 46% of 95 lakh toilets built in rural India are being used, the figure is barely 50% even in urban areas”, as per the survey.

So, what’s with the people? Why won’t they just use the new toilets? According to the ET report, “surveyors found households using toilets for storing grains or as general storage space and still going to the fields early in the morning to relieve themselves.” Why is this happening? Because most toilets are apparently dysfunctional. Adequate and proper supply of water might’ve provided an incentive, but, the toilets as of now are only brick and mortar structures.

And here’s the gem- The report says, “The ministry of statistics and programme implementation, the nodal ministry for NSSO, had planned to release the report on October 2, the anniversary of the launch of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. However, the ministry withheld the report after a review by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The PMO thought the survey report would be used by the Opposition to slam Prime Minister Modi’s cleanliness initiative”.

ET published this on 23 Nov, just a couple of days before RaGa landed at MCC. Could he have used this info as ammunition in his speech? Yes, perhaps. But we all now know he didn’t. Hope his team does better research next time.   

So, is the Swachh Bharat program working, then? Quick reality check for the ‘Yes club’ at MCC, not really.

I’m happy to extend an open invitation to fellow Carmelites to come explore that facts on the ground in my neighbourhood. The sights and smells should take care of things. And while we’re at it, we can also check out the frothing Bellandur lake, just a hop and skip from my place. The news of this toxic lake has made headlines world over, but we manage to remain blissful in our ignorance!

It would’ve been great to quiz RaGa on the pathetic state of civic amenities in Karnataka while he was here, especially since his party is in power in the State. The potholes, the apathy, the garbage and stench, not all of it is a by-product of the Centre’s cleanliness drive, after all. Meanwhile, I don’t know what draws the car-borne crappers to the open greens. Do they have unusable toilets too, or haven’t they bothered with it at all? Whichever it is, it is indeed sick and if driving up to empty one’s bowels is an indication of things to come in India’s silicon valley, then I dread to think what else might be in store…