World View


These two news items caught my eye over the last 2 days. They defy all parameters of common sense,religious convention and human rights and yet such things are increasing in many impoverished and lawless countries.Extreme ideologies seem to thrive best amidst poverty,illetracy and religion often gets hijacked by fringe lunatics seeking space in the centre.As usual women seem to be the primary sufferers

 

Somali women flogged for wearing bras

Reuters

  • Published: 00:00 October 17, 2009
     

Mogadishu () Somalia’s hardline militant group Al Shabab has publicly whipped women for wearing bras they say violate Islam by constituting a deception, north Mogadishu residents said on Friday.

The insurgent group amputated a foot and a hand each from two young men accused of robbery earlier this month. They have also banned movies, musical ringtones, dancing at wedding ceremonies and playing or watching soccer.

Residents said gunmen had been rounding up any woman seen with a firm bust and then had them publicly whipped by masked men. The women were then told to remove their bras and shake their breasts.

“Al Shabab forced us to wear their type of veil and now they order us to shake our breasts,” a resident, Halima, said.

“They first banned the former veil and introduced a hard fabric which stands stiffly on women’s chests. They are now saying that breasts should be firm naturally, or just flat.”

Officials of Al Shabab declined to comment.

Abdullah Hussain, a student in north Mogadishu, said his elder brother was thrown behind bars when he fought back a militant who humiliated their sister by asking her to remove her bra.

Men were not spared the ‘moral cleansing’. Any man caught without a beard has been publicly whipped.

“I was beaten and my hair was cut off with a pair of scissors in the street,” Hussain said.

 

AK 47 for contest winner

Kismayu:GDN 18th October

The 17 year old winner of a Quran recital and general knowledge competition organised by Al Shabaab rebels in Southern Somalia got an AK-47 gun,two hand grenades,a computer and an anti-tank mine as prizes.The runner up in the month long competition aimed at 10-25 year olds, a 22 year old, received an AK-47 and ammunition at the ceremony,where the rebels urged the parents to allow the children to learn how to handle weapons and fight. Somalia’s 18 year conflict pits Al Shabaab and Hizbul rebels against the UN-backed government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.

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Whenever there is a war, an insurgency, a civil war or of any other disruptive event in any country we see and hear about it in the media. We shake our heads at the brutality of it all and sometimes turn our faces away from the pictures of suffering. We are momentarily disturbed but then get on with our lives.

Over the last decade or so,since America started its war on terrorism, new words have entered the war vocabulary……..collateral damage, IDP’s (internally displaced people). This too has played a part in desensitising us to the full horror of what happens to ordinary people and their lives during a war or a conflict situation. Atleast the word ‘refugee‘ painted a mental pictue of a person in need of shelter, food and security but the new one (IDP) dehumanises the whole thing by reducing a whole population in turmoil to these three alphabets I,D,P……

What used to be casualty figures (meaning the number of people who had lost life and limb in a war) are now clubbed under the fanciful term ‘collateral damage’. Almost sounds like some loss made in a financial market or in a trade…….

Over the last month seeing the pictures of fleeing humanity in Sri Lanka and in Pakistan’s Swat region I have wondered  at the stories of these people.They flash past our screens and our attentions for brief seconds but what is the full extent of the sufferings of these people ? I wonder more about the women amongst dispalced people. How do they manage? How do they protect and care for their children under brutal circumstances? What happens to their simple and impoverished lives when even their bread winners are snatched from them?

Then yesterday I happened to read one account of some of these ‘ IDP’s’ on a Pakistani blogzine.I am cross posting it below.

This is an account of the suffering of the women of Swat in their own words.These are women from a very backward and conservative area and their already precarious existence has been further jeopardised by the happenings in that region.

Click on the link below for the full story:

pakteahouse.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/the-women-of-swat-and-%e2%80%98mullah-radio/ 

All pictures are from the internet.

Disclaimer: Whatever I write below is not meant to condone the attacks on Indian students.The effort is to present the whole picture and not the narrow breast beating of our national channels.

It is the season for bashing it seems.While some hoodlums are up to targeted bashing of Indian students in Australia (mainly Melbourne) we in India are up in arms as a nation to bash an entire nation and its population as racist. Our media, that has trouble finding reporters to send to some not-so-remote parts of the country to report on the problems of these regions, seem to have no trouble sending shrill voiced,excited and half-baked young reporters to far away Australia to prowl the streets and send back reports that confirm our ‘worst fears’ : Australia is a racist country.

It all has a sense of deja vu……remember when Bhajji and Symonds had that monkey/maa -ki spat and we rose as one to beat our collective breast and shout RACIST……we got that mercurial sardar off the hook by some fancy testimonies of ‘senior’ players and flexing the BCCI financial muscles only to have him slapping Sreesanth a few months later. Now these ‘seasonal’ birds are at it again….walking the streets of Australia sending back lop sided reports without any regard for the long term effect they will have on the Indo-Aussie ties.

 Like migratory birds they are there for the short haul and once their channels and newspapers have something new and equally sensational to report on they will pack up their microphones and depart the Aussie shores. But what about the people of Indian origin who have lived there for decades, who will continue to live there after this storm has passed and who for the most parts like the lives they have made for themselves in Australian cities?

And what about the thousands of Indian students (at last count about 90,000) who will be continuing to stay back in Australia to complete their degrees? 

 And what about the injustice done to million of Australians who are not racist but have been painted as such?

The media is making a grave mistake and doing a disservice to everyone by whipping up this ‘racism’ hysteria. 

In all my years of living in Australia I never felt that the nation was racist. What it probably has are some people who are without a doubt racist. 

And those who are blatantly racist are racist probably because of :

1) their own narrow and xenophobic tendencies and 
2) because they know very little about India and Indians
3) what they do know about Indians comes from the Indians who are there (so maybe the Indians there are not being very good ambassadors for the country).

The vast majority of Australian population is warm,welcoming and accepting of the huge deluge of immigrants that has been arriving on its shores for almost 2 decades now.They are keen to put behind them the days of ‘whites only’ policies and move in tune with the changing global trends and attitudes.

Aussies are the biggest champions of the underdog and the under privileged.They hate the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ (some being more advantaged and prominent than the others) and go to great lengths to be the ordinary ‘bloke’ next door, the ‘mate’ who will chugg a stubbie with you and be there for you when needed.

In my initial days in the country I was over whelmed by the number of Aussies who helped me in ways big and small.(If they sometimes seemed patronising it was because they did not know the difference between a well-off, well educated migrant and those seeking asylum from disadvantaged, war torn countries.) 

They explained things at work, helped me find books at the local library, explained to me the labrynthine Australian tax system and helped me find my first job. When I turned up at the interview looking very tense and stressed( I had lost way while driving to it and had was late) the interviewer held my hand, smiled warmly and told me to relax as, according to her, my CV was enough of an interview. She did not have to do that but she did.

During this same period I met a large number of fellow Indians who have made huge economic strides in their new country and who by and large live peacefully and happily in Australia. But I also met a large number of those who remain caught in their ‘us Vs. them’ mindset. In their large, double storied houses (dubbed Mc Mansions by the media) they gather routinely for chai and samosas and for ‘Indian dinners’ wherefor  the entire evening they try and outdo one another in detailing how Australia is not all that great, how Aussies do not accept them, how they are discriminated against, how the ‘white‘ culture pollutes and alienates their children  and how ‘great’ their motherland India is. In their curry aided weepy, sentimentality they forget to mention the eagerness with which they had sought migration to Australia, the haste with which they had discarded Indian nationality for the Aussie one and how when they go to India for vacations they can hardly find anything good or right about the country.Ghettos are dangerous things but mental ghettos are even worse.

If Aussies are upset (as New Zealanders earlier were) about the rapid demographic changes in their country it is also because of the arrivals failing to integrate fully with the locals.And this applies to all immigrants.In the suburb where I worked the large number of Afghan and other Muslim immigrants had forced the local KFC to turn Halal and keep no pork products, the nativity scene celebrations could no longer be held in schools during Christmas season lest they offend the Muslim sensibilties.Mince pies, those most iconic of Aussie treats, were not to be served during school fairs etc (pork/non-halal issues. Electoral considerations make the local politicians  also bow to these demands (in some case the demand is assumed and not actually made).

In the local play grounds the Aussie boys play Footy on the weekends and the people from the sub continent play cricket to loud music from Bollywood films. The Indians ( and others ) also by and large fail to embrace the concept of volunteering in the community. Voluntary work in the community is the virtual backbone of the Aussie way of life and by focussing only on what they can get from Australia the  sub -continent immigrants fail to address the issue of what they can do for the communities they arrive into. This often leads to white Aussies leaving suburbs to move to newer or suburbs further away and the old suburbs gradually turn into ‘Asians only’ areas. This happens with the Chinese/Vietnamese/ Indian and various other communities.

Then there is the vast student population from India.Where are these large numbers coming from? In areas like Chandigarh there are virtual assembly line businesses specialising in sending the Punjabi youth to Australia. None of these students have any intention of coming back.Most intend to settle Down Under. Australia is the new ‘Kanaada’ for the Punjabi.With the Canadian immigration now taking close to 5 years to get through they have set their sights on Australia as the country to migrate to.Australian migration rules are more stringent then the Canadian ones and hence the use of the education route to achieve the immigration dream.

They enrol in small TAFE (tertiray educaion system) courses in hair dressing, nursing care and similar with an eye on filling the vacancies in these areas and making Australia their new home. Nothing objectionable in all this except that they arrive in Aussie cities from small towns and cities of India with little or no idea about the culture and value systems of the new country. For them all ‘goras’ are the same and they carry the baggage of these stereotypes with them. I have personally heard  some of these students talking in English (and Indian languages) about how ‘loose’  white women  are, how little the ‘white’ parents care for their children, how easy it is to trick the benefit system of Australia to claim more dollars………………..

Why am I writing all this in an article supposed to discuss the attacks on Indian students? I am sharing this so that people understand how bizarre and one sided is the picture being painted by our jingoistic media. I am sharing all this so that we pause to look inwards towards our own idiosyncracies and inflexibilties while clamouring for action against the perpetrators of the current attacks. Those guys need to be caught and punished but we too need to soul search a bit about how we treat the ‘other.’

Australia on its part  needs to crack down on the violence agaisnt overseas students and it also needs to take a long hard look at its immigration policy and its mega efforts to sell Aussie education all over the globe. It spins money ofcourse but by ignoring the concerns of the Australian population and without making a good case for its policies they are going to invite further problems on their head. Australia maybe a large continent but it has a small population of just 21 million and although they need the immigrants to keep their economy chugging along they also need to look far into the future and anticipate how their society may have to change with the arrival of more and more immigrants. Easy education dollars,  earned now by roping in students via education fairs held world wide, may be attractive and tempting but may prove too expensive in the long run.

The time to act is now.For both countries. Both countries need to sensitise their young people about the other’s cultures and way of life. The media could still redeem itself by focussing on this rather than calling a whole country racist and beaming interviews of students who say they want to leave Australia. Take my word for it.Most won’t

It never ceases to amaze me how as a nation we are so ready  to hang our jingoistic nationalism on to the peg of one arrogant and ill mannered cricketeer but show no desire whatsoever to actually change in ways that would do India proud.

Jug Suraiya on the issue:
blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/jugglebandhi/entry/we-re-even-more-racist

It is time to hit the road again……….in this case the King’s Highway.Now I know that Jordan is a monarchy but this particular road has nothing to do with the present day King or his predecessors from the Hashemite dynasty. We used this road from the time we were heading for Mount Nebo till Petra. This highway is the world’s oldest continuously used communication route (as per the tourism brochure that I have)! Abraham, a common patriarch of Jews, Christians and the Muslims who passed through northern,central and southern Jordan would certainly have used this route on hs journey from Mesopotamia to Canaan.

   In the Bible ,The King’s Highway is first mentioned by name in Genesis 20:17, when Moses led the Exodus through southern Jordan.He asked the King of Edom if his people could “go along the King’s Highway” during their journey to Canaan but his request was denied.Infact there is another earlier mention of this ancient road in Genesis 14;5-8 in relation to the four kings from the north who attacked Soddom and Gomorrah and took Lot’s(Abraham’s nephew) wife hostage (but were chased away by Abraham). Today this road is a smooth, tarred road but travelling it one can still imagine in the mind how it must have been in the times of Abraham and Moses.

1) A lone black mountain in a land of brown makes for a spectacular sight.

2) The sight of water in such dry and brown landscape feels almost like a mirage.

3) The sign for Petra comes into sight.

 

 

4) But before we head that way Abid takes a short detour to show us another Crusader Castle.It is not as popular on the tourist trail as Kerak but is no less magnificient a sight. This is the 12th century Shobak Castle
 

 

 

We arrive at our hotel to find that here too there is a slice of history.There is a spring here where Moses is said to have struck a rock to get water for his people.This is a slightly contested piece of history as that spring is supposed to be in Sinai. The way I look at it, Moses led his people through such harsh terrain for such a long time that he must havehad to perform the miracle many times during the journey.This must be one of those  many springs known as Ain Musa in Arabic.

 

While one member of the family tried taking a sip of the blessed spring……. 

I preferred to have the “blessed chai” .The local tea stall wala routinely fills his kettle from here!! 
Musa wali chai 
The spring flows out of this little room and goes past the local shops and homes. I love this shot.Where else will you get to see waters of an ancient spring, associated with Moses, right next to Cola and Fanta  and mineral water bottles?  

This is it for now folks but tomorrow is going to be a very long day at the Nebatean city of Petra.See you there.

 

If Mount Nebo was a spiritual place, a place of pilgrimage from antiquity, Kerak Castle and its surrounding areas take us to the ‘battle zone’. These were important areas in the Crusader route since Jerusalem is not that far from here. The Crusades in simplistic terms are defined as the action by Christians (travelling from far away Europe) to liberate the Holy Lands (specifically Jerusalem) from the Muslims who controlled it at that point in time. The Arabs/Muslims also identify defense of their lands and their faith as the motives behind these conflicts.

In real terms the Crusades were more complex but the above can still serve as a broad framework for the conflicts that took place from about  1095A.D to 1272 A.D.The Christian cities fell to Muslims one after the other and that brought to an end the Christian rule in the Levant. The Catholics have their version of the Crusades and why they were carried out and the Arabs and Muslims another. The truth as usual, I suspect, lies somewhere between these two perspectives. It is obvious though that the reasons were a mix of social,political and religious agendas and land grab a key theme of these bloody and brutal wars fought such a long time ago.

The castle looms large over the landscape and Kerak town nestles almost within its folds. Even to this day Kerak is a largely Christian town and its inhabitants trace their roots to early Byzantine empires. We get to dine first in a resturant which actually is in the castle.You finish your meal and exit the restuarant and are on to the castle territory. There it is:the restuarnt at the top and the castle with guns and all !

When you get to the castle you have the same panoramic view that the Crusaders beheld when they were here(ofcourse they were probably on the look out for Saladin and his forces and not admiring the view).
 

 Kerak castle was the place from where the Crusaders were able to repulse the sieges by Saladin and his forces in 1183 and 1184 before finally capitulating in the siege of 1189. This castle will not win any prizes for beauty but it is an awesome example of the miltary architecture of the Crusaders.It survived many ‘owners’ but was extensively damaged/destroyed by Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt in 1840. Have a look at the pictures below to get an idea of its scale and detailed planning that helped it withstand so many sieges.

The, long hallways, the bakery with smoke blackened ceiling, The catapult stone, the grinding stones (chakki), the kitchen sink, and the kitchen make one feel that time has stood still inside the castle and that its old inhabitants have just left in the middle of everyday routines.

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Some more views of the castle and we were( reluctantly) ready to take the King’s Highway again to move onwards towards our next destination, the Rose city of Petra.

 

 

Signing off for now. Join me again on the King’s Highway.

 

Leaving the spiritual ambience of Mount Nebo we head towards the small town of Madaba some ten minutes away. This small town and its surrounding areas are repeatedly mentioned in Old Testament as Medeba.It features in the narratives related to Moses and the exodus,David’s war against the Moabites,Isiah’s oracle against the Moab and the rebellion of the King of Moab (Mesha) against Israel.Phew, endless history here!

We stop first at a workshop showcasing the art of mosaic making.Most of the artists/craftspersons here are disbaled (hard of hearing or mute). The large shop attached to the workshop is a virtual treasure trove.

We are spellbound by the exquisite detailing,especially in the portraits.The stone used is all from around Jordan and the shades in the mosaic work are exactly the same as those in the ancient mosaics (like the one I showed in the earlier post). I have so many pictures from around the place that it is hard to choose just one(but if I don’t you will still be getting Postcards from Jordan till the end of the year!) But the one below is my favorite for its sheer chutzpah and I have to share it . A modern use for a very ancient art.

We reluctantly leave the place empty handed( expensive stuff) and head towards the Orthodox Church of St. George in Madaba that houses the most famous ancient mosaic.This little church is mesmerising in its explosion of colors,its artworks and the devotion of those praying inside.The mosaic here is actually a map of the Christian Holy Lands from the 6th century A.D

The 6th century A.D Mosaic map of Christian Holy Lands

 

Soon its time to leave the church and head for the famous Crusader castle of Kerak. We simply do not have enough time to go see the Madaba Archeological park that houses some of the finest pieces of early Christian art,especially mosaics. 

As we wind our way towards the famous castle (shooting of the film ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’ was done around here) we pass Biblical pastoral scenes again. Sheep grazing on this hills, bedouin tent camps along the hillsides…..scenes straight out of the past. We come then to the spectacular Wadi Mujib (Valley Mujib) and spend a good 15 minutes soaking in the sheer rugged beauty of these hills,the valley and the dam below.


 
It is hard to tear ourselves away from the scene but we have some more distance to go before we arrive at the Crusader castle. I juggle between using my binoculars and taking pictures. There is just so much to take in.Ancient ruins from Roman (or even earlier) eras come into view quite often as we pass through small villages. Finally our car curves around a bend and there in its full glory is Kerak Catle.It is a huge one and the present day town is nestled within it.You see the castle walls punctuated by new houses and then the old walls continue.The people live within the ramparts of the castle just as they do in Jaisalmer fort,I believe.

I was planning to write about Kerak Castle in this post itself but I think it is too interesting a place and I have too many spectacular photos for me to share here.So, the next postcard shall come your way from Kerak Castle.Brush up on  the Crusader-Muslim conflicts in the meantime.

We got up the next morning and I could just feel it in my bones that this would be a wonderful holiday.The sky was blue and I looked out of the room window at a city that is a quaint mix of many styles.Though much of Amman consists of apartments,here there is a touch of the Mediterranean style in the red tiled roofs and the olive trees that people plant everywhere,even on the roadside. Throw in an odd Roman style column, a Corianthian pillar or a Hellenistic portico and you have Jordan’s entire history and culture on view in the city’s architecture.

Abid arrives dot on time and we join him as soon we have had a go at the breakfast buffet.I buy a map of Amman and a book about Jordan’s ancient sites from the hotel lobby and we set off for a long day of sightseeing.The moment we are in the car,Abid presents us an excellent map of Jordan and a booklet giving historical details of the sights we are about to visit.

The clouds begin to close in as we drive out of the city towards the first destination, Mount Nebo. Mount Nebo, Abid tells us, was the last station in Moses’ historic flight from Egypt to the Holy Land. He and his people are thought to have camped  in a lush valley northeast of Mount Nebo.Forgive me if I get some of my Biblical information and facts askew but such is the magic of this ancient place that you believe everything that you are told.Most of is true anyway.

“And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo,to the top of Pisgah (Arabic name Syagah) which is opposite of Jericho”. (Deuteronomy 34:1)

Before going up Mount Nebo, a brief history of Jordan would be in place though.This is an ancient land with many layers of history. Along with the period of the Old Testament, the Greeks,the Romans and many others have been here.  Christianity arrived here early followed by Islam. The present day country is an Arab country that is nearly 90% Muslim and is named The Hashemite Kingdon of Jordan.The following paragraph from Wikipedia gives the these details of who has been here before the Arabs:

“During its history, Jordan has seen numerous civilizations, including such ancient eastern civilizations as the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Mesopotamian, and Persian empires. Jordan was for a time part of Pharaonic Egypt, and spawned the native Nabatean civilization who left rich archaeological remains at Petra. Cultures from the west also left their mark, such as the Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Turkish empires. Since the seventh century the area has been under Muslim and Arab cultures, with the exception of a brief period under British rule.”

This picture is from the internet.I did not have a helicopter to be able to take such a fine shot !! The road on the side leads straight down to Dead Sea.

We drive through breathtaking country side and wind our way up to Mount Nebo.It is drier now and the hills are brown as far as the eye can see.We come to this memorial that was erected to commemorate Pope John Paul II’s millenium visit to this site in 2000 A.D.

We climb upto the promontory and from here we can see the Dead Sea, the Jordan River Valley, Jericho, and the distant hills of Jerusalem. It is from here that Moses viewed the Holy Land of Canaan that he would never enter.He died somewhere in this region and the site of his burial has never been located but this place was a place of pilgrimage for early Christians from Jerusalem and a church was built here in the 4th century A.D. to commemorate the end of Moses’ life.

I am not a Christian but I get goose pimples when I stand at the place where Pope John Paul had stood in 2000 A.D. to survey the same scene that Moses saw more than 3000 years ago. The houses that I can see on the horizon are Israeli settlements.Other than those this landscape is still much the same as it was in Moses’ time.
The present day church was closed for renovation work but we toured the rest of the surrounding area, taking in the views and visiting the small museum.

                                        Remnants of times gone by are all around the hillside.

                                                Some historical details about this ancient site.

                            A portion of one of the many beautiful mosaics preserved here on Mount Nebo.

                                                      The area closed off for excavation and restoration work.

Those interested in learning more about this lovely site and in seeing pictures of the church interiors can click on the link below.
www.atlastours.net/jordan/mountnebo.html

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