Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Elephants, Rhinos, Lions & Tigers to be extinct within a generation

By the time today’s children are 30, there won't be no more elephants, rhinos, tigers or lions roaming in the wild, warns wildlife and conservation charity, Care for the Wild.  They will all have been hunted down by poachers to fuel illegal ivory trade – a direct result of  growing poverty, ethnic rivalry, terrorism and civil war.
Last year, an estimated 40,000 elephants were killed in Africa while the number of rhinos killed so far this year - around 700 - has already surpassed last year’s total.
Care for the Wild estimates that if poaching continues at its current rate and wildlife’ birth rates remain as predicted, some of the world’s most iconic animals - elephants, rhinos, lions and tigers - will no longer exist in their natural habitat as early as 2035.
“Drawing on our own on-the-ground experience and having studied reports from conservation experts around the world, we’ve concluded that at today’s best estimates, these four children’s picture book favourites  – among many others – will all be extinct in the wild by around 2035. That’s just 22 years. It’s devastating to think that by the time our children are in their thirties, they will have to turn to the television or internet to observe these animals in their natural habitat,” explained Philip Mansbridge, CEO of Care for the Wild.
At a recent illegal wildlife trade event in New York, Foreign Secretary William Hague attributed the problem to terrorism and widespread instability.  Care for the Wild agrees, warning that wildlife poaching in Africa, and in particular the poaching of elephants and rhinos to fuel the illegal ivory trade, is intrinsically linked to growing poverty, ethnic rivalry, terrorism and civil war in affected countries.
It is estimated that Al Shabaab - the group linked to the attack on civilians in Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi - funds 40% of activities through elephant poaching and ivory trade, while recent reports claimed that ‘warlord’ Joseph Kony had ordered the killing of elephants to fund his rebel army, the Lord's Resistance Army.
As the demand for ivory surges in the growing economies of China, Vietnam and across Asia, the prices it commands has reached an all time high. With a 10kg tusk worth almost £10,000, the profitability of such a lucrative trade is attracting some high profile terrorist groups in need of funds.  These groups kill the wild animals using cyanide and military grade weaponry.
Earlier this year, the United Nations recognised wildlife crime as ‘serious transnational organised crime’, in the same bracket as the drugs trade and gun smuggling, while the UNESCO General Secretariat stated: “Given the current rate of poaching, children from West or Central Africa will one day speak of elephants and rhinoceros as we speak of mammoths: as magnificent creatures belonging to the past.”
Care for the Wild has launched its Tooth Fairy campaign to raise awareness and  funds for its anti-poaching work in Africa. The campaign encourages children to become a Tooth Fairy Hero by pledging the money they would have received for wobbly teeth to the charity and learning about the threatened animals.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Press Freedom Worldwide in 2013 - a story of dashed hopes

This is a clear and sobering map of what freedom of the press looks like worlwide in 2013, after the Arab Spring: a story of dashed hopes and a map that looks pretty similar to that of previous year. The map produced by Reporters Without Borders shows that while regimes fall and change, repression of the press predures.  The organization, which fights for press freedom across the world, also produced a very useful  Press Freedom Index.

 "The ranking of most countries is no longer attributable to dramatic political developments. This year’s index is a better reflection of the attitudes and intentions of governments towards media freedom in the medium or long term," the report states.  The same three European countries that toped the press freedom index last year, came top again this year: Finland, followed by Norway and the Netherlands.  Many criteria are considered, ranging from legislation to violence against journalists, but democratic countries occupy the top of the index while dictatorial countries occupy the last three positions. Like last year, they are Turkemistan, North Korea and Eritrea.  Syria, Somalia and Iran are trailing near the bottom of the list too.   The United Kingdom is ranked 29, just before Ghana, Suriname and the US.

"The Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“In dictatorships, news providers and their families are exposed to ruthless reprisals, while in democracies news providers have to cope with the media’s economic crises and conflicts of interest. While their situation is not always comparable, we should pay tribute to all those who resist pressure whether it is aggressively focused or diffuse.”

Coinciding with the release of its 2013 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders is for the first time publishing an annual global “indicator” of worldwide media freedom. This new analytic tool measures the overall level of freedom of information in the world and the performance of the world’s governments in their entirety as regards this key freedom.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Converting to Islam - not for the faint-hearted

Converting to Islam: British women on prayer, peace and prejudice

Around 5,000 British people convert to Islam every year – and most of them are women. Six of them talk about prejudice, peace and praying in car parks
Ioni Sullivan: 'In my heart, I began to consider myself a Muslim.' Photograph: Felicity McCabe for the Guardian

On Saturday, Guardian Weekend magazine published “Converting to Islam: British women on prayer, peace and prejudice” – a series of interviews I did with six British women who have converted to Islam.

The piece seems to have hit a nerve: so far it got more than 2000 FB shares and 1289 comments – many far from positive!  I was surprised at the level of hostility and defensiveness of some of comments.  To many, converting to Islam is simply incomprehensible: these women must be stupid or foolish.  I thought the six women had explained quite well why they were attracted to Islam, and I had found their reasons intriguing.  Of course, much of their original interviews got cut out to fit the allocated space, so their views, feelings and experiences got rather compressed and simplified in the Guardian article. 

My article had been triggered by a comprehensive research by Cambridge University’s Center of Islamic Studies – a 129 page report based on the anonymous testimonies of 50 converts. The report called "Narratives of Conversions to Islam in Britain: Female Perspectives" gives a much more in-depth view of  the conversion experience - and I highly recommend it.  I had written an introduction to my article explaining the research, but it too got cut out. Here it is:

Each year, an estimated 5,000 British people convert to Islam – the majority of them women. Western women who convert to Islam perplex non-Muslims - or attract suspicion as in the case of the Boston bomber’s widow, so Cambridge University researchers have set out to try and find out why so many choose to embrace a religion that is widely seen as repressing them.

“We wanted to understand the conversion experience from the inside and dispel misapprehensions of female converts to Islam,” says Professor Yasir Suleiman, director of the university’s Centre ofIslamic Studies (CIS). With the New Muslim Project of Markfield in London, CIS brought together 50 British converts of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds for candid in-depth discussions over several days.  It was the first forum of its kind in the UK.

The resulting report offers a fascinating dissection of the conversion experience of contemporary British women, highlighting broad themes: for example, the tensions between converts and the “heritage Muslim” community; the poor quality of services offered to all women in mosques; the ubiquity of dress etiquette in framing the conversion experience.  It also addresses issues such as sexuality, marriage, domestic violence and divorce, and explores the reasons for women to convert to Islam and their role in countering the overwhelmingly negative portrayal of Muslims and Islam in the UK media.  All the women’s views and experiences in the report are presented anonymously.

“Our objective is to inform the debate on conversion to Islam rather than to advocate a particular position or to paint a rosy picture of the conversion journeys and the cultural norms that surround it,” says Professor Suleiman, the project leader.

One of the report’s key findings is the disproportionate attention, verging on obsession, given to white women converts by both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Their conversions are highly visible, so these women are often considered as “trophy” converts among “heritage Muslim” communities, but not as suitable marriage partners. Another unexpected finding is the lack of support available to female converts who live outside traditional networks. Women, especially single and divorced, talked about the challenge of finding a suitable husband, feeling lonely and unwelcome, dealing with abusive partners or obtaining a fair divorce. 
“Islam is seen to answer the spiritual needs of convert women, but some heritage Muslims may fall short of the ideals of Islam that are so attractive to convert women," Professor Suleiman says.    The report, which is addressed equally to Muslims (heritage and convert) and non-Muslims, includes recommendations to better support converts.

“The debate is just starting and we need to have more informed studies about conversion to Islam that directly address public interest and concern,” adds project manager Shahla Suleiman. The next phase of the research will focus on male converts.