Peace from Indonesia

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After having spent a week in Indonesia, visiting its largest city Jakarta, and one of its treasured islands Bali, I found that Indonesia is probably one of the most peaceful countries in the World.

Jakarta seemed to be the capital of everything and the future of Indonesia with its skyscrapers and massive malls. The city is populated by Muslims and Christians with churches, Mosques and Temples spread around the city, peacefully, alongside one another.

The Grand Istiqlal Mosque and the Cathedral, known as the Katedral, in central Jakarta are one of the many symbols in the city that are the first signs of acceptance, witnessed by those visiting the Indonesian capital. The mosque shares the same parking and is located across the Cathedral.

Both, the Church and the Mosque management teams work closely together when preparations are made for Eid prayers for the Muslims. The Mosque returns the favour and works closely with the Cathedral team by opening its gates during Christmas, Easter or any other big events at the church.

Bali held a special place in my heart, with its beautiful fresh green rice fields and its simple lifestyle. local men and women dressed in traditional, colourful attire on a daily basis embracing their identity, traditions and cultures.

In the early hours of the morning women were busy placing offerings in the streets known as Canning Sari, one of the daily offerings made by the Balinese Hindu women. Canning Sari represents peace and new beginnings, spotted in the temples around Bali, in small shrines, houses, restaurants and mainly on the ground alongside pavements. The offerings were laid out twice a day, in the morning and in the evenings before sunset.

Most of the men worked tirelessly in its rice fields while others waited patiently in the busy Bali traffic, on their motorbikes, to start the day off and do their daily routines like getting to work or attending temples for prayers.

In the Ubud area, there were several places to eat, with its restaurants offering heavenly scenes and outstanding performances that required much energy to represent stories of the Balinese Gods and kings with beautiful women and men dancing to Balinese music.

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My observation of Indonesia was that it unites religious groups, the basis is not one religion. The Indonesian people love Indonesia first they embrace other cultures and faiths but keep their own close to heart.

My time in Indonesia allowed me to witness that history still lives, influencing its societies way of living in a modern era.

Indonesia in Afghanistan

Jokowi Widodo, the current president of Indonesia, is the first Indonesian President since the year 1961 to visit Afghanistan.

He visited just two days before a hidden bomb exploded in an ambulance in Kabul. The explosion left an estimate of 103 people dead and more than 200 injured.

The incident did not stop President Jokowi from visiting Afghanistan. Indonesian Cabinet Secretary, Pramono Anung tweetet, “the president has no fear.”

President Jokowi lead a prayer while in Afghanistan during which the Afghan President, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and others stood behind him.

Before payers, Jokowi and Ghani exchanged hats. Jokowi handed Ghani his Peci (Indonesian hat) while Ghani gave Jokowi his lungee (Afghan hat).

Shortly after the visit, President Jokowi stated in a conference that Indonesia will work with Afghanistan to help bring peace to its people. He said, “We will cooperate in the area of bringing peace and we will also increase our cooperation in other sectors until Afghanistan has peace.”

President Ghani voiced his appreciation to the Indonesian president for visiting Afghanistan in a difficult time. Jokowi publicized that Indonesia, will build an Islamic centre in Kabul and as part of the cultural and educational cooperation between both countries, scholarships for Afghan students will also be considered.

Is Indonesia an Islamic state?

The cultures in Indonesia are as diverse as its geography. Islam is the most followed religion in Indonesia, 87.2% of Indonesian population, approximately 225 million people are Muslims. It is identified as the country with the largest number of Muslims in the world.

Although Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, it is decorated with ancient Hindu temples, with six officially recognised religions.

The country has not considered itself an Islamic state, despite having the largest Muslim population because of the ‘Pancasila’ principle which was formulated by Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia.

Why was the ‘Pancasila’ principle introduced?

In 1945, the Indonesian government introduced the Pancasila theory as a standard of an independent Indonesian state. President Sukarno’s aim with the theory was to help solve the conflicting urgencies among Christians, Muslims and nationalists.

The first Sila, or rule, of the Pancasila was, “believe in one God and obligation for Muslims to live with Sharia laws”. The non-Muslims, mainly based in eastern Indonesia disagreed with this. The vice-president of Indonesia, Mohammad Hatta who fought along with Sukarno for the independence of Indonesia from the Dutch, was informed that the people from East Indonesia, North Sumatra and Bali preferred to separate from Indonesia if the first Sila was not changed.

The leaders wanted to unite the people so the first Sila was changed to, “Believe in one God”. This united people around the country and was one of the most important times in Indonesian history.

Is Indonesia a peaceful country?

Sir Azyumardi Azra, prominent Indonesian Muslim scholar, who is known for his moderate views has claimed that Indonesian Islam is different from elsewhere, including the Middle East. Stating, “Indonesian Islam is different from other places, including the Middle East. The absolute majority is moderate, and has been used to living with adherents of other religions peacefully for centuries without any bloodshed . . .

Of course, there are isolated cases of Islamic communal conflicts, but that is usually related to politics.”

Like most places around the world, Indonesia has faced many political issues, chiefly, terrorism from Islamofascists, such as the Bali bombings of 2005, targeting foreign tourists which killed 108 people.

Non-Sunni Muslims and minority religions have also been a target.  But, compared to other countries in the Muslim world, Indonesia has had the least number of religious conflicts within the country.

In his speech for the 4th Indonesian Diaspora Congress in Jakarta last year, the former president of America, Barack Obama, who has spent four years of his childhood in Indonesia in the capital city of Jakarta stated that; Indonesia, with its unity in Diversity principles, could be an inspiration to Muslim countries in promoting patience and moderation.

He said, “values have to be cultivated and nurtured. Young people have to embrace them. We have to fight for those values against those who promote intolerance. And that is important part of Indonesia’s future. . .

“If people do not show respect and tolerance, eventually you have war and conflict because not everybody will agree on how to practice a religion”. Additionally, he said civilisation would not go far if people could not respect each other’s differences.

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The Economy in Afghanistan

Since 2002, Afghanistan has seen a significant change in its economy. This is due to the billions of dollars provided by international assistance and also investments, with help from Afghan expatriates. This significant increase came to light after the defeat of terrorist groups such as the Taliban.

The dramatic improvements in agriculture production and the end of the four-year drought also helped in the improvement of Afghanistan’s economy.

According to the government, Afghanistan contains up to $3 trillion in proven untapped mineral deposits. This means that Afghanistan is one of the richest mining regions on earth. But due to the conflicts in the country, Afghanistan is categorised as one of the least developed countries in the world and the poorest country in Eurasia, ranking 175th on the United Nations’ Human Development Index.

Afghanistan is a country that has much to improve. An estimated 35% of the population are unemployed, 36% are living below the national poverty and suffering from housing shortage, electricity and drinking water supplies.

According to the World Bank reports, despite the withdrawal of the international security forces since 2014 and the continuous uncertainties in the political field of Afghanistan which has resulted in the decrease in the economic growth, and security threats mounting, Afghanistan has successfully managed to maintain stability and has seen slow recovery of the economy.

In the April 2016 issue of the bi-annual, Afghanistan Development Update, The World Bank has reported that economic growth has reached an estimated 1.5 percent in 2015. This is a marginal increase from the figure of 1.3 Percent which was recorded in 2014.

The reports show that growth was mainly increased due to the growth in the industry and services sectors, offsetting the contraction in the agriculture sector. The number of new registered businesses has also increased over the year.

The video, An Unfinished Journey : Agriculture in Afghanistan was narrated by me for Afghanistan’s Agriculture minister.

It is a beautiful video based on the Agriculture in Afghanistan. It provides in-depth information on the increase in the economy and what is exported and how from the provinces in Afghanistan.

Please watch for further information and let me know what you think.

The Afghan Traditional Jewellery

Afghan jewellery plays an important role in the way in which Afghan women accessorize their traditional clothes. Without the stunning chunky Afghan jewellery , the traditional dress (Gandi Afghani) will look bare and incomplete like Romeo without Juliet.

The Afghan jewellery is not just popular among Afghans for its beauty; it also has a captivating history that dates back to thousands of years and shadows the ancient routes that interlaced through Afghanistan.

As I grew up in the West, I have developed a love for the culture, colour and life that sparks out of Gandi Afghani and its jewellery . I have always been intrigued by the designs and colours used to create the traditional clothes and the jewellery and I’ve always wanted to know the history behind these stunning designs, so I have decided to explore and find out.

Afghan traditional clothes and jewellery are originated from the Kuchis in Afghanistan.  Kochis or Kuchis (from the Persian word: کوچ koch; meaning “migration”) are Afghan Pashtun nomads, primarily from the Ghilji tribal confederacy.

They used to migrate or wander on borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Pakistan they used to move towards Indus Valley and in the west they used to move towards Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Some of the most distinguished Ghilji Kochi tribes include the Kharoti, Andar and Ahmadzai. Authentic Tribal jewellery takes not only a culturally idealized outward appearance, but also reflects a way of life that is steeped in socio-cultural tradition.

In the 21st century, the Afghan Kuchi jewellery is frequently referred to as nomadic jewellery. Research reveals that countless challenges were faced by the Afghan traditional clothes and jewellery in its history. During the Soviet occupation period and the time of the Mujahedin and the Taliban, many personally owned pieces were sold.

The Afghan Kuchi jewellery is distinguished on the basis of whether the pieces are made of costly materials, imported pieces, or made of beads. The more expensive pieces of jewellery are generally created using precious and semiprecious stones worked in the metal and inlay settings by metal craftsmen in public workshops.

The more expensive the jewellery, then it has most likely derived from the Afghan environment, it will have precious stones carved in which would be found in mountainous or riverine areas. Those types are generally worn on special occasions, while the less costly ornaments made from imported materials are worn on an everyday occasion.

The most distinguished Kuchi jewellery pieces are those that are worn by young women for special occasions like their Nikka (Muslim wedding or engagement celebration), because jewellery made of precious and semiprecious material are generally worn on those days.

More simpler jewellery that is worn by Afghan women every day in Afghanistan are made from cotton-stung Mora (beads) and coins also natural products such as cloves, nuts, and clay that are easily found locally in Afghanistan.

Not only is the Afghan jewellery available in Afghanistan, they are now also sold worldwide, of course, for a much higher price than that in Afghanistan. I always wondered why that was.

I believe for Afghans to import Afghan jewellery from Afghanistan and sell it in the West or other parts of the world would be for business reasons. But why are non-Afghans so keen to purchase these products at such a high price?

Well, a look at the images below answers this question. Of course, it is because of the beautiful work done to these pieces, full of detail, colour and culture. But is it also because of what’s trending in the West?

As a young person living in the West, I have come to realise that in fact it is because Afghan jewelry  is now trending. I see people from all corners of the World in London, walking past me every morning and each day I do not fail to see a female wearing such jewellery that is, if not exactly the same, then similar to Afghan jewellery.

People are developing a love for the Afghan style. I see the Afghan clothes worn by top ranked models on catwalk shows. I sometimes get the feeling that the Afghan culture has really taken over the West by a storm.

Some people claim that it is not just the Afghan culture that those pieces, fashion shows, artists represent. But I genuinely believe it is from the routes of our very own Afghanistan.

Migration in the UK

Today, the world is facing a major crisis. Migration. It has hit us as one of the most problematic world crisis’ in history. Europe is faced with an influx of migrants coming from such countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Somalia.

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More than 80% of the migrants coming into Europe have escaped from conflicts, abuse and poverty. Germany, Sweden and the UK are among the three most appealing countries from refugees fleeing their war-torn homes.

Some European countries have closed borders and some such as Saudi Arabia haven’t even taken a single refugee due to the great movement of migrants, which has resulted in thousands of people stuck in Greece; this has increased fears of the humanitarian crisis.

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Angela Merkel has announced that Germany will be taking 800,000 refugees this year and it is likely to increase to 1 million due to the constant flow of refugees. According to the UN, almost 1.8 million migrants have gone to Turkey as well as 600,000 to Jordan with Lebanon, a country with a population of 4 million, has taken in 1 million migrants.

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David Cameron has announced that priority will be given to Syrians. Only 20,000 Syrians will be taken in by 2020 in the UK. Whether this is a fair amount or not that is individual opinion but could Britain do more?

If Lebanon, with a population of just 4 million can take on 25% of its population in refugees, why is Britain taking such a small amount ?

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Migrants leaving their homes face many difficulties on their journeys to Europe. Thousands of people take the sea route which is the most dangerous of all. It has been estimated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) that more than 1,011,700 migrants arrived to Europe by sea in 2015, while only 34,900 by land.

Those making their way from Greece take the sea route via Turkey which is usually in weak rubber dinghies or small wooden boats.

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Thousands of migrants lose their lives or of lost ones as they try to cross the Mediterranean Sea. IOM has reported than more than 3,770 migrants were reported to have died in the year 2015.

In this Radio documentary, we hear stories from real migrants that have taken the dangerous journey from Syria and Afghanistan to seek a better life in the UK.

Sabir Zazai, a former refugee with years of experience in the refugee resettlement, now a Centre Director at Coventry Refugee and Migration Centre, speaks to us about his experiences. He tells us about his views on the UK’s decision to only take 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.

A representative from Migration Watch UK discusses the UK Government policy on housing, health and education for the resettled migrants who are currently in the UK and how the rise of migrants in the UK may affect jobs, health care and housing.

We take to the streets of central London to hear the views of the public on the decision made by Prime Minister David Cameron.

London climate change march

The climate march took place in London on 29th November 2015, a day before the UN climate talks began in Paris. More than 50,000 people marched in different parts of Britain including development organisations, faith groups, climate movements, trade unions and many more.

Hundreds and thousands of people in 150 countries marched the streets calling for a change to 100% clean energy. But the march in London was the biggest climate march in British history.

Famous people also joined the march such as actress Emma Thompson. She told The Guardian: “Unless we’re carbon-free by 2030 the World is buggered.”

High-ranking officials were seen to take part in the demonstrations around the world such as UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who joined the protest in New York City. US secretary of state John Kerry also spoke about the dangers of climate change. He said we face a long list of issues but the greatest issue and threat of all is climate change.

COP21 climate change agreement

The Conference of the Parties, 21st session, grouped more than 190 countries in Paris where they discussed new possible agreements on climate change with all countries expected to pitch in. The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, gave the final draft. It was the world’s first universal climate agreement, 31 pages long.

The aim of the agreement is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which will help prevent dangerous warming.

Key points of the agreement:

  • Limit of temperature rise below 2 C
  • First universal climate agreement
  • Helping poorer nations (nations to give $100 billion annually to developing countries by 2020)
  • Countries publishing greenhouse gas reduction targets
  • Goal to have a carbon-neutral world

 

 

Afghan Female Artist

Afghanistan sees its first female artist, Shamsia Hassani’s, work in the streets of Kabul with just a spray can and hope to see a peaceful future. As well as representing art in Afghanistan, Shamsia Hassani is also a representative and a spokesperson for women’s rights in Kabul. She sees her art work in the city of Kabul as a way to ‘spray over the memories of War.’

The artist, Shamsia Hassani, was born in Iran to her Afghan parents. She is a street and digital artist who works in the country’s multifaceted and conflicted capital. She returned to Afghanistan in the year 2005 in order to pursue her education in Fine Art at Kabul University. She works to start yearly graffiti workshops through the country and to change the way society views women who refuse to stay silent and those who come out of their veils to stand up for their opinions.

The history of Afghanistan has seen many invasions that carried many cultures and beliefs, occupations and empires that so often emaciated the country. Upon the invasion of the Taliban in the year 1996-2001 most practices of art and cultural expression were banned. The War on art was inspired by the Quran as it prohibits the depiction of living things. Drawing or sculpting living things was believed to be an insult to God.

Paintings, books containing art work, TV sets and music were all destroyed by the Taliban and were amongst the primary actions of elimination.  At the beginning of the Taliban rule and rise of power, in the year 1996, the Afghan National Museum was burned down and destroyed and used to keep the insurgents warm.

As well as the ban of art, social and traditional expressions such as kite flying and owning pet birds were also prohibited. Women were banned from make-up and high heels. A new dress code was introduced for women, to cover as much as possible, from head to toe. If any of the rules were disobeyed, women were beaten in public to scare others from doing the same.

The future of art in Afghanistan is not certain as the shadow of War is still lurking in the streets of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, there have been many developments to reinstitute art studios and traditional clay sculpting schools in order to reopen the doors that were once closed to the people of Afghanistan and grow upon its lost, gone and bottled-up traditional teachings and cultural legacy.

Shamsia Hassani talks about art 

ISIS heads towards Afghanistan

As ISIS enters Afghanistan, the people and its government face new challenges and threats to an already frail situation.

ISIS

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) took over the al-Qaeda organisation, founded by Osama Bin Laden. Abu Bakr al-Baghdad who is also known as Abu Dua is the ISIS leader and has become the World’s most powerful jihadi leader.

ISIS seized control of Mosul, which is Iraq’s second-largest city. Their power base is in Raqqa which is in eastern Syria. According to energy expert Luay al-Khateeb, who spoke to CNN, ISIS are in control of more than half of Syria’s oil assets as well as a number of oil fields in Iraq.  Al-Khateeb also explained that the oil is finding its way to the black market and could be making ISIS up to $3 million each day. The group has established to be more ruthless and more active at controlling the land it has held.

ISIS is under tight directions by top leaders to kill Shia Muslims and Christians whenever possible. The exact size of ISIS is unclear, people have travelled from around the World to join ISIS and fight in Syria and Iraq. Officials suggest that more than 11,000 people have joined and some have returned home. Research shows that, countries with bigger Muslim populations send the largest number of fighters.

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ISIS in Afghanistan

It has been 15 years of the US invasion, which lead to the ousting of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but Afghanistan is still in a fragile state. It remains afflicted by Taliban attacks, long-lasting levels of corruption, political instability, and the economic uncertainty.

ISIS is spreading drastically from its main location to other countries. Recently the group found its way into the cities of Afghanistan. This could lead to a new wave of political and religious violence.

Afghanistan has a history of political violence in the name of Islam and a large number of religious extremist groups. In its decade-and-a-half long revolution, the Taliban failed to capture and keep major cities and district centres. In promising to work with ISIS, the Taliban aimed to get more supporters help, earn a bigger name and receive more funds.  The rise of ISIS has encouraged extremists in Afghanistan to review and transmit their strategies in the direction of an imposing display of force.

But according to recent reports, the Taliban and ISIS have declared jihad against one another due to the fact that ISIS refused to work under the same flag.  The Taliban’s deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor addressed a letter to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdad, and said, “Jihad (Holy war) against the Americans and their allies must be conducted under one leadership.”

According to The Daily Beast, there are discussions between the Taliban and Iran on how to deal with the extremist group ISIS, as they are known.

Mullah Khan Muhammad Noorzai, an ex-Taliban spoke to The Daily Beast and said that the ISIS camp was attacked by the Taliban which lead to the death of innocent followers. In a phone interview, he said, “Most of those killed were our friends and colleagues.” Despite an agreement that the Taliban and ISIS would not attack each other, Taliban broke the agreement and attacked ISIS.

Noorzai said, “A Muslim won’t break a commitment, the Taliban are not true Muslims, and not mujahedeen (holy warriors) either. Now our jihad against the ignorant so-called Taliban will go on forever.”

According to Noorzai, the Taliban are fighting in the name of Islam but are funded by Iranians and United States. He said, “The Taliban shadow governor for Farah, through the mediation of Mullah Baz Muhammad, a local elder, swore an oath by Allah and the Quran that they would not attack ISIS, but they did.” He added that Iran played a key role in this.

ISIS attacks on Afghanistan

The Taliban and ISIS announced War on one another in April after the Taliban labelled ISIS self-declared caliphate and unlawful.

The first major ISIS attack was a suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed at least 35 people dead and 100 people were wounded. The bombing happened outside of a bank branch in the Jalalabad city which is Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province.

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A spokesperson for a provincial governor, Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, described the attack and claimed that a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated a vest rigged with explosives in front of the state-run New Kabul Bank. Borhan Osman, who is an analyst with Afghanistan Analysts Network, tracked the emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan, “[Isis] has not built a solid, actual political presence in Afghanistan so far,” Osman said, “but if the Taliban quasi-monopoly is broken, that will help [it] to build networks and their brand.”

The president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani said, “Who claimed responsibility for the horrific attack in Nangrahar today? The Taliban did not claim responsibility for the attack.” during his visit to northeastern province of Badakhshan

There have been several attacks since ISIS have entered Afghanistan. Most recently, at least 10 Taliban members were beheaded by ISIS. The attack happened in the eastern province of Nangrahar after ISIS jihadis stopped Taliban fighters from fleeing a gun battle with the government troops.

Ashraf Ghani talking about ISIS