Friday, August 31, 2007

The 10th anniversary of Princess Diana's death

Diana was very popular not in Britain but around the world. She was the symbol of the modern image of Britain. She was the focus wherever she went. She was a liberal and warm princess, reaching the hearts of common people who easily identified with her.

But she must have been an embarrassment to the British monarchy that was giving priority to traditional values. “The Queen” is a successful movie portraying the turbulent relations she ended having with the monarchy, especially with the queen and her husband. The fact that the queen yielded to popular pressure to commemorate her in a stately fashion is an indication of the power Diana had even after her death. Thanks to her, UK traditional monarchy found its feet again in unstoppably changing Britain, when it was on the verge of looking obsolete and out touch with people due to its stiff protocols. Her life and death stirred the monarchy to move with time.

She touched everyone by her royal nature although after her divorce she lost her title as a Royal. She will be remembered as the princess of people who lived triumphantly despite all the odds and died tragically. Her life was very short but very rich. Her anniversary is to celebrate her life and to wish her to rest in peace.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Suspension of armed activities in Iraq

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered a six-month suspension of activities by his Mahdi Army militia in order to reorganize the force. This doesn’t go far enough if the intent is to resume armed fighting leading to further casualties. What is needed is that all Iraqi factions should endeavour for durable national reconciliation.

Muqtada al-Sadr’s order must come after the threat of Bush to Iran supporting insurgents in Iraq with arms and training to attack US forces as well as after Iraqi Shia, Sunni and Kurdish leaders have signed a reconciliation deal.

Having less insurgence must be good news. The good news for Iraq is when Muqtada al-Sadr’s armed groups join the Iraqi forces to fight foreign militias who have become warlords threatening the stability and the security of the Iraqis and even dividing their loyalty.

Stars and drugs

Singer Amy Winehouse has pulled out of a string of concerts in the US and Canada next month to "address her health", her publicist has said.

The use of drugs by stars is outrageous. Stars are supposed to be role models for their fans. Many will be tempted to use it. Reggae music should have had a bad influence on many people in the past as listening to it is associated with drug consumption considered as a spiritual healing or part of a rituals.

There are countless stories of pop stars resorting to drugs like Whitney Huston who had to spend considerable time in rehab centres and even forced to sell some of her luxurious items like her dresses to face her financial difficulties.

As in sports, those caught using enhancing drugs are punished by suspension, disqualification or stripping of medals, the same should be applied to stars. Before giving a concert or recording an album, they should prove they’re drug free. Even after the publications of their album, when found drug users, their album should be withdrawn from sale.

Music is meant to lift the spirit and to have a good time. It shouldn’t turn into a destructive force. Stars are from time to time exposed to gossips related to their private lives like divorce, separation, financial troubles, accusations of misconduct etc. But they shouldn’t be seen as a crushed force falling from admiration to pity.

If stars, like Amy Whinehouse, with all their money and creativity can’t live without drugs, this means money can’t buy everything. It becomes a curse for those who can’t make the best of what they have instead of painfully seeking more what they can never get. As one drug therapist said a hug is better than a piece of drug. Do stars like Amy Whinehouse need a genuine hug for a definite cure?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Yahoo accused of helping human rights abuses in China

Internet giant Yahoo has asked a US court to dismiss a lawsuit accusing it of complicity in rights abuses and acts of torture in China.

Yahoo! is a business company in the first place. It seeks profit in markets that can provide the most. China is a huge market considering its population (1.3 billion), with its booming economy. Having a strong foot in it amount to having it in more than 100 small countries. In business, sometimes ethics are disregarded. What matters is survival in the face of competition. Rival Google admitted that it shared information about its users with the Chinese government.

There is one fact that stands out. Internet censorship is growing more and more. Not all countries have access to all sites. Many are banned. Not all BBC sites are available in some countries like Iran. They are blocked by the Iranian government.

The blame should be on the Chinese government for restricting access to information and jailing its citizens for expressing themselves freely. Yahoo! and Google are mere business companies. Like their American government, they turn a blind eye to excesses when there are interests.

The danger is when Yahoo! and Google become a worldwide network for all governments providing them with services which their intelligence services can’t do with expediency and precision, making any user under file.

9/11 attacks, conspiracy and facts

Accusations that the American Government was complicit in the 9/11 attacks are becoming increasingly bitter and widespread.

The conspiracy theory stands as a sensational approach to 9/11 attacks. It’s like making a movie or writing a book about the invasion of the Earth by aliens. The US could have fooled the public that the attack was carried by terrorists. But could it have fooled the governments who have highly expert intelligence services to check US government claims?

If there had been a conspiracy this should be with the aviation companies to register the loss of planes in the attacks. The passengers who died in the attacks should have been held by the government and killed not to contradict the US government version. The supposed terrorists were kidnapped before the attack and were later executed once the US government special planes ( without pilots) did their acts.

There is no government in its own right mind to purposely kill thousands of people just to attack terrorists threatening its stability. Some would argue the attack was done to overthrow the Taliban. But the US had enough power to do so without resorting to the carnage of its own people and other nationalities. It invaded Iraq despite opposition from France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council as well as other major countries like Germany.

If 9/11 attack was the work of the US government here is a possible scenario. The planes used in the attack were boarded by US secret agents who took control of the pilot cabin. They used one of their methods to make them unconscious. They diverted the plane to a desolate area. Once notified that other planes (without pilots) looking like the planes they were boarding hit the World Trade Centre, they jumped off the plane as in Mission Impossible II, then by remote control caused the plane to explode in the air. Other military aircrafts came to take the wreckage of the planes to avoid any evidence of their crush in the area?

Does this theory make sense?

If so, the aviation companies and the airport authorities should have been part of the conspiracy. The companies admitted the planes that had crushed were theirs. In the registration, they included the names of the Arab terrorists although they had never boarded the plane. They had been held by the US secret service that executed them later and produced fake CCTV recording of their presence in the airport and their boarding the hijacked planes. The Radar control made their reports that the planes followed their natural course.

Does this theory make sense? If so, 9/11 is a conspiracy meticulously carried out by a government who had all the threads at every level to make it successful.

It’s possible to say that the US government acted as agent provocateur to justify its war on terror or simply it was taken aback by the skill of the terrorists. But it’s hard to believe that the US government could have inflicted such a disaster as this should have needed a large network of people, civilian, military and secret service sworn to secrecy and betrayal to kill US citizens they’re sworn to protect.

It’s easy to distort facts relying on imagination to make a counterclaim. But 9/11 stands as a fact. It was the work of terrorists. Al Qaeda repeated its threat to do it again. The US produced a video showing Bin Laden in a private meeting thanking God for the devastating effect of the attack which was more than expected, destroying the Trade Centre and not just part of it. Some argued the video was fake. But Al Qaeda leaders defiantly claimed the attack was of their doing later on Al Jazeera news channel.

In short 9/11 conspiracy doesn’t make sense at all.

BBC WHYS, a show like no other

Ros’s comment #122, I agree with him that WHYS is unique in comparison with other news channels that set the agenda for its audience when he says, “Some news programmes (most news programmes) select the stories that they think are most important, we take the ones that are getting the biggest response around the world.”

There are news channels that have a section of their “Haveyoursay”. But the choices are limited. On Al Jazeera site there is only the possibility to comment on topics suggested/ imposed by the channel. It’s them who decide which comment to publish with no say for the contributors. Here is the site to make a comparison.

  • · BBC Haveyoursay offers a large choice for the contributors to interact with the news. Essentially the topics aren’t IMPOSED by the BBC. Contributors can send their suggestions through this link
  • · Sent comments are that is retroactively moderated or fully moderated.
  • · There is transparency in the number of comments sent. They’re categorised as published, rejected or unpublished.
  • · Registered contributors can retrieve their details and maker changes
  • · Registered contributors have their own archive of the comments they have sent. They can see them all (published and unpublished) while the visitors to their archives can see the published ones.
  • · Registered contributors can recommend or report the published comments.
  • · Extracts of some comments are published on BBC reports related to the topic as well as on the news front page, especially the Middle East section.
  • · Those whose comments are published can be contacted by BBC Haveyoursay or BBC world Haveyoursay to take part on televised or radio show.

BBC WHYS has distinguished itself by tirelessly choosing topics weekday from around the world on different issues. WHYS team, I guess, is the only gang in the jungle of media that has closer link with its audience. Those used to contributing or taking part in the show feel they’re contacting friends and not just journalists. Thanks to the team, many contributors have become known to the regulars like Lubna from Iraq. The depth and the casualty of the show plays a factors in making listeners interact with people of different kinds from politicians, journalists, authors, etc as well as with ordinary people like you and me. Interestingly, the show is always a success. Time with it flies quickly. The fact that is broadcast in the USA where there are hundreds of competing radio stations is an indication that is a mind and eye opening on the rest of the world. The fact that BBC on FM in some countries (recently in Pakistan and Russia) is banned is an indication that telling the truth or presenting the views from different perspectives isn’t to the liking of some politicians.

And finally, not all the topics are every one’s cup of tea. There are topics that can sound uninteresting or worth commenting upon. But there are other topics that cause heated debates and receive thousands of comments on Haveyoursay and hundreds on BBC WHYS. For Leilia who complained that the topic of the show was ridiculous tabloid "news", it isn’t bad to break from the routine and to discuss sensational news. The fact that tabloids sell well means they have their avid readers. So why don’t WHYS raise such topics for additional listeners? Everyone has the right to set the agenda and all views should be aired and not censored as it is the case in many official channels from which many listeners flee to live a direct and live broadcasting that has no political affiliation or government control.

Friday, August 24, 2007

London, the biggest cultural city in the world

To mark the end of "London Calling Week" on the BBC World Service, teamed up and simulcast LIVE with four radio stations in London, Toronto, Sydney and New York...and asking which of these is the most successful multicultural city.

Having listened to the whole show about which is the most multicultural city (London, Sydney, Toronto or New York), all these cities sound great. They all portrayed themselves as welcoming. But London stood out as the richest. It has a cultural history running for centuries from the Normans and beyond. Its architecture speaks for moments of glories and tragedies. The other cities just followed, many of which took their authentic shapes just at the beginning of the 20th century. In London, you can travel through different periods. There is Westminster, the birthplace of tolerant democracy. In that, the British were the first implicitly to combine Republicanism and Monarchy. They kept the hereditary system of kings and lords while they empowered their elected Parliament and the Prime Minister. British traditions and culture are a fascination for the comers; especially the Europeans whose countries abolished Monarchy and it remained just a part of their history or objects of museums.

London was welcoming to the new comers, especially from Asia and Africa. They thrived in it while sticking to their culture, especially the Asians. There are no distinctly racial areas as it is the case in New York. British culture is proudly enriched with the cultures of immigrants, especially Asia and the Caribbean Islands. The tolerance is visible as extreme right wing ideology has no popularity in London.

One advantage of London is that it is relatively near other multicultural cities in Europe like Paris and Rome. From it you can have a tour of the cities and come back to London the cradle of tolerant multiculturalism. For me, if I settle in London I will need just a 5 hour (cheap) flight to get to my city Marrakesh at any time as there are more than 100 weekly flights between the two cities.

Settling in London is an opportunity to be relatively in the centre of the world. Britain has been a reference to time around the world through GMT. Its clock is still ticking showing how multiculturalism and native cultures are going through time.

Listen to a part of the show.

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Listen to the shorter version of the show

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Vietnam, a Lesson for Iraq?

President George W Bush has warned a US withdrawal from Iraq could trigger the kind of upheaval seen in South East Asia after US forces quit Vietnam.

The Vietnam War was one of the black periods in modern US history. It cost it more than 50 thousands lives, not to mention the injured and those who were mentally affected by it, whether because they took part in it or as a result of the loss of the loved ones. The history/memory of this war was revived because of the ongoing situation in Iraq. On the BBC there is an interesting analysis by Paul Reynolds,
BBC World affairs correspondent.

The war that lasted 8 years achieved little in Vietnam as far as the US is concerned. It entered it with all its might to uproot communism in it and to make of it a liberal country. But it left it in the hands of those it had come to fight. The important gain the USA had is that it limited the spread of communism in Asia-Pacific that would have toppled non-communist governments in other countries like the Philippines. That could have been disastrous for the US as communism would have swept the most part, if not the whole, of Asia. In this case, US relations with Russia and China could have worsened, making international relations even more critical.

The US succeeded over the years to establish itself in Asia-Pacific through its military bases in allied countries, mainly South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. Its withdrawal from Vietnam didn’t bring peace to the region as tension remained in countries like Cambodia and wars erupted between China and Vietnam. The Americans were left to assess their war while the regions remained plunged in human catastrophes through boat people, genocides in Cambodia, not to mention the abject poverty of the people whose countries were taken by revolutionaries who had only speeches full of ideology and promises to give, but little means to bring prosperity.

The lesson for the USA is that Iraq and the whole region can fall in a disastrous situation if the Iraqis are left to fight each other without the presence of a coalition force that can at least protect an allied government while the Iraqis are exposed to the daily risks of suicide bombing or car bombs. The USA has relatively few losses compared to those sustained in Vietnam. Losing just more than 3,000 soldiers in Iraq in four years looks small compared to the loss of 58,000 soldiers in Vietnam in eight years. By keeping the insecure situation in Iraq, it is securing the stability of allied countries in the regions, especially the oil rich Gulf States and by this securing the interests of US oil companies and the other companies that have huge investment there. So in a sense any dollar spent on the war is returned by hundreds. Just a simple example, the Gulf States have signed the purchase of hundreds of Boeing planes. This purchase can be cancelled in case of grave instability costing the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

Iraq may be the New Vietnam of the 21st century. For the US, with Bush Administration or the next one, the political calculations make staying in Iraq a bit longer less risky than losing influence and interests in the region for ever due a hasty withdrawal.

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A journey of discovery in Brick Lane, London

Salaam Brick Lane is a fascinating book. It's a depiction of Brick Lane as a social fabric of different facets. The tensions that occur in it are played down by comic situations or comic reactions to them.

Tarquin Hall, although he was the centre of the experiences in Brick Lane through his direct involvement with its inhabitants, remains somehow detached when it comes to the evaluations of the values of the different ethnic groups. His involvement was mainly through the Asian community through Ali, the Bengali landlord and the Indian aunties he came to know through his engagement to Anu who is of Indian origins. It was through them that he depicted the traditions of the Muslim and Indian communities in East London.

Tarquin entered Brick Lane as a full stranger as he had never lived in it before. While seeking the original cockneys in East London, he discovered that the inhabitants of England are of different origins from different lands. The current settlers, especially from Asia, are just an addition to the population fabric. He left Brick Lane,-after settling in it for a year- with the sensation that, as he said at the end of the book, " Perhaps I would always remain something of an outsider."

The book makes a good reading, especially for those seeking to know a part of London vibrant with racial and cultural interactions, featuring the riches and the predicaments of each.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Supressing protests in Burma

Supporters of Burma's military junta have broken up protests against the doubling of fuel prices.

Burma, like North Korea, looks one of the most awkward countries in Asia Pacific. Its military leaders have no regard for democratic process as they have turned the country to a military base where all the citizens are to obey orders and not to discuss them. This is the drawback of the military being exclusively in power as the civilian power looks a threat to their prestige. The top high ranking military leaders must find it beneath them to keep to their barracks while democratically elected institutions are running the country.

International sanctions, apart from isolating Burma, have done little to put pressure on the military for whom that was a driving cause to keep their grip on power. It seems they are the only ones benefiting from Burma’s income – legal or illegal. Their monopoly of the trade of the country's good goods like eak, pulses and beans, prawns, fish, rice, opiates and bad goods like heroin is making them richer, allowing them to build a new capital Nay Pyi Taw despite economic hardship.

The suffering of the Burmese is also the responsibility of the countries, like India, supporting Burma military by selling them weapons . These are going mainly to be used to suppress any civilian uprising in demand for improved living and respect of human rights.

The Burmese military have little to fear from being toppled by a foreign force. They have no nuclear weapons. They don’t support terrorism. As such they have problem just with their people, not with the international community. It doesn’t mind if the Burmese are a nation of slaves to their military masters and Burma's most prominent dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is kept in a cage.

Monday, August 20, 2007

BBC plan to launch an Arabic service new satellite TV station in the Middle East

I listened to a BBC show Over to You

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which was principally about the plan to launch an Arabic service new satellite TV station in the Middle East and the broadcast of WHYS. WHYS has already made its video compiled by Paul Coletti called World Have Your Say Behind the Scenes .

As for the show outside the office, it was an occasion to break the routine. The shows from Chinatown and Green Street gave them a flavour, especially when the pictures were shown on flickr later. When someone is speaking on a bad line you stop them. But when the show was from Heathrow airport landing and flying planes must have made listening difficult on short waves. But you let the planes keep moving. You should have grounded them till the end of the show, the way you cut lines when they are bad!

The plan to launch an Arabic service new satellite TV station in the Middle East is a good step by the BBC to address an audience whose region is extensively daily in the news. Although the launch seems a bit late, but it’s better late than never. The region is now swarming with different news “homemade” Arabic channels, but each is with a political agenda. Although they appear to be neutral or reflecting both sides, they remain tied to the political directions of the countries that sponsor them. Al Jazeera is known for broadcasting programmes like “Opposite Directions” in which debates get hot to the point of uncivilised shouting and interruption, but it never dared broadcast a programme about Qatar showing the problems facing the country. Al Arabiya can never broadcast programmes showing the social or political problems in Saudi Arabia. Such channels are free to broadcast programmes critical of other countries, except the countries that sponsor them.

The BBC will be an occasion for those seeking facts without being bombarded with set political views that reflect only the official lines to watch the news and to make their mind about it. Those who visit BBC Arabic website, listen to Arabic service will quickly fit in BBC Arabic television service. Those used to biased news will find the BBC biased because it isn’t leaning to the side they are used to adhering to.

BBC will surely represent a serious rival to the established Arabic news channels if it starts to broadcast 24/7 and if the audience learns that the new approach to the news isn’t to be dictated how to view events, but to have views on them. BBC English service has succeeded in making its users, website visitors, viewers and listeners become interactive. The BBC leaves them to comment and as it has no political agenda amounting to propaganda, contrary to the other Arabic channels who invite “experts” to tell the viewers what is right and wrong.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Should God be called Allah by all?

A Catholic bishop in the Netherlands has suggested Christians should use the name of Allah, instead of God, as a means of relieving tensions with Muslims. Tiny Muskens says people shouldn't be worried what "God" is called, as long as people believe in a higher being. So, does God's name matter? It's certainly got people talking,

Many Islamic words have become familiar in many languages. In non-Muslim countries like UK many words are now familiar to people because Islam has become in the news. There is “imam”, “masjid”, “jihad”, “medrassa”, “hijab”, “sharia”, “fatwa” etc. The word mecca, no longer refers just to Mecca city, but also has these meanings according to the dictionary.


a. A place that is regarded as the centre of an activity or interest.

b. A goal to which adherents of a religious faith or practice fervently aspire.

2. A place visited by many people: a mecca for tourists.

Allah in Arabic has 99 other names called “al asma al husna “or “the most beautiful names”. Muslims name their sons like Abdullah, which means the servant of Allah.

For the use of Allah by Christians to refer to the creator of the world, this has to do with the convictions of the believers. Gods have names in different religions and these names refer to them. So when a Christian is using Allah is he following the teaching of the Bible or the Koran or both?

If Christians are free to use the word Allah, there can be controversies later as it will be associated with notions that won’t be to the liking of Muslims.

On Arabic channels like mbc2, the movies are subtitled. When in the dialogue there is an angry reference to God, the dialogue is paraphrased. For example when the speaker says “What god is this that inflicted on me all these pains?” in the subtitle God is referred to as fate.

In UK, there was a controversy about a pub whose owner called Mecca; the name was displayed in green colour. Some British Muslim clerics had to sue the owner to change the name arguing that Mecca is a sacred place while the pub is prohibited in Islam. For them that was an insult. Finally they lost the case. Maybe the owner used a dictionary definition of mecca and not the real Mecca!

On a wider scale, will it be possible for Muslims to exchange their worshipping places. If a Christian is allowed to use Allah instead of God, will he be allowed to pray in a mosque according to his Christian beliefs? Will it be possible to have a common prayer place where Muslims and Christians can pray together or at least in alternation?

Using a word instead of another is easier. What matters is how Christians and Muslims view one another.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir, how realistic is it?

Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir has held a major international conference in Indonesia. But what are its views and why do some people view it with suspicion?

Hizb-ut-Tahrir's call for return to the Caliphate is unrealistic. The Catholics, for example, have a single leader. But the Pope is the head of the Catholics and not all the Christians. He has no authority over the Protestants. Another point the Catholic Church is coexisting with secular values, especially in Europe. The Catholic Church has a stance on moral issues, not political ones. It is taken for granted that religion is a personal matter and has little to do with politics. Political leaders are elected on the basis of their political programs and not religion. In France, for example, in the government of Sarkozy, there are Jews, Christians and Muslims, at least of origins like Rachida Dati, the Justice Minister.

For Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a caliph, understandably, should reign and rule. This caliph would be a super Imam ruling over more than 1.3 billion Muslims. This will be unprecedented in Muslim history since even for the last Turkish caliph, his direct rule didn’t extend beyond the Middle East and parts of Europe. Morocco, which is in North Africa, was never ruled by any Turk caliphs or has been part of any of the caliphates, except for the first years of the arrivals of the Arabs to convert its inhabitants who were animists, Jews or Christians .The previous caliphs had power just in name as in the absence of modern communication, the state of their realm wasn’t reported to them on daily basis. For the suggested Imam by Hizb-ut-Tahrir , he will be a kind of big brother using modern media to give orders just at the click of his PC, if he happened to know how to use it in the first place.

In practice a super Imam is impossible. If he happened to exist, understandably, Mecca should be his capital since it is the holiest place for the Muslims. This means the Saudi royal family should relinquish power and become under his authority. There was an attempt by late Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian revolution who suggested that Mecca and Medina should be under the custody of the whole Muslim world through a council. In response, Saudi King Fahd assumes the title of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. Ayatollah Khomeini’s suggestion looks mild in contrast to the radical call by Hizb-ut-Tahrir for a Caliphate.

The current history and geography of the Muslim world won’t allow such a theory. Muslims have their notions of Islam based on the right to choose. Under this supposed Caliph, those who want to be in authority should be confirmed by him. It will be similar to what is taking place in Iran when candidates for the presidency or whatever high office should be confirmed by the Guardian Council. So Muslims wanting to be in power under his leadership should wait for confirmation from Mecca.

As this group is radical – although it pretends to be moderate, it will be bad news for non-Muslims living in country where Muslims are a majority like Egypt. Non-Muslims will be forced to abandon their religion. So the prospect is that we will have the current troubles in Iraq and Darfur repeated all over the Muslim world. It will be daily news to hear of at least the segregation of non-Muslims forced to live in a ghetto or to leave as it was the case with Jews who used to live in ghetto in many Muslim countries.

As a conclusion Hizb-ut-Tahrir is likely to be opposed by the current rulers in the Muslim world as well as by the populations seeking freedom to practice their religion as they see it fit and not by a religious oligarchy seeking to impose a dogmatic view of Islam. If it is possible for them to convert Shiaas and Sunnis to one type of Islam, then they can have a chance, at least to spread their views. Muslims need unity. There is nothing wrong with this. They don’t need to be under the grip of a super caliph running a Muslim empire who sees himself as the representative of God on Earth and should not be disobeyed on any account. Anyone thinking otherwise will be accused of heresy and deserves death by stoning or beheading. FULL STOP.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Housing and stock markets crash

Stock markets around the world have been falling sharply on fears of a credit crunch that could affect the financial sector.

I have little understanding of the economics. I have just figures which I pick up from business reports but I can’t deal with them as economists do. But the things I can share with them is that there is little that can be done by the bright economists or the economy illiterate like me when things go disastrously wrong. What settles the matters is the flow of cash from the consumers and investors. Without this the economists have just to make plans which can’t work.

One of the drawbacks of the economy or banking systems is speculations and interdependency. So if a major sector sneezes, the other sectors linked to it catch cold. The prospect of (big) profits is based on investments which can turn wrong. The core of the problem in the financial market is the fall of house sale which made it difficult for banks to retrieve their money by selling the houses on mortgage at higher prices in case the borrowers fail to pay their instalments. This has caused a chain of events affecting the operations of other banks as well as shareholders.

In Morocco, there is a system to help people with modest revenue to acquire a home. It’s called FOGARIM (which means in French Fonds de garantie pour les revenus irréguliers et modestes) or guarantee fund for modest and irregular revenues. This scheme has just started. It’s unlikely to cause any problem in the foreseeable future as there is a big demand for housing in Morocco, which is to the pleasure of investors and to the displeasures of the consumers is rising annually at a rate of at least 15% per year. Even foreign investors are flocking to major cities like Marrakesh where they are setting up different housing projects. They are cheap for the Europeans but very expensive for the locals. An apartment in Marrakesh city centre is valued at around £750 per square metres. So you can get a 1,076.39 ft² or a 100 m² apartment at £ 75,000, which is far cheaper compared to the prices in other major cities like London or Paris.

So while house sale is a major cause of financial difficulties in many Western banks, banks in Morocco are reaping the benefits of lending money to would-be house owners. The risk is when foreign investors in Morocco are also hit by the current crisis, this can put a halt to their investment in Morocco. As there is a great shortage of houses in Morocco, this can lead to even more rise in the prices of houses, which are in big demand by the locals as well as the foreigners who seek to settle in Morocco or simply like to have where to stay when on frequent visits.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Chinese products, a risk for the consumers and businesses

A senior US senator has called for all toys being imported into the country from China to be inspected after a massive recall by toymaker Mattel.

China has become an economic giant producing items cheap both in price and quality in most cases. I am one of the consumers of these products. Each year I have to change my China-made keyboard – which I buy for MDH 40 or £2. Some of the letters on the keys are erased or sometimes keys become dysfunctional. So typing becomes frustrating. Two years ago, ten people in different parts of Morocco died out of suffocation in their bathrooms because of gas leak from China-made water gas heaters – that had been bought at half the price of German ones.

Chinese products managed to conquer the world because they are cheap. Rich countries accept them because if they have to make them, that would be more costly, sometimes necessitating workers from abroad. It is a way of reducing dependence on foreign workers. Poor countries have no means to produce Chinese products like dolls as economically this will need building factories whose cost will be above the benefits of sale. It is a kind of shortcut to have products easily without bothering to produce them. Some countries, if trying to produce small products like pens or notebooks will produce something even worse. So Chinese products remain preferable at least to reduce loss.

But sometimes publicity against Chinese products can have other objectives behind it. Its aim is to limit Chinese competition, now threatening the economy of the West. Western products are of high quality but of a high price. Poor people or those with a middle income prefer Chinese products although their lifespan can be short. As China has trade agreements with the EU and the USA, these can’t prevent it from exporting to them. But for Western companies, the best way to limit this competition is to publicise the shortcomings of Chinese products, especially when it comes to health scare. If they succeed inn dissuading people from buying small products like toothpaste and dolls, no one in his right mind will venture to buy ,say, a Chinese car which can prove environmentally dangerous and accidentally uncontrollable during driving.

Perhaps, the Chinese need to be more rigorous in producing and inspecting what they produce before they put it on international market. It’s better to accept loss at home by destroying defective products (or cynically selling them to poor countries who have no means to mount an international campaign) than putting them in countries like the USA which have the power of the media to expose their defects. Economic ambitions shouldn’t blind Chinese businesses to international standard. They should know that to kill a business is to expose it as a health risk. Chinese businesses should regain their health by prescribing for themselves the standards and the ethics of carrying out business.

On a final note, some would argue that the current losses are just the curse of sweatshops where the workers are treated as slaves, working more and getting less. The Chinese workers and their conditions compared to the recommendations of International labour Organisation is another topic. China needs not only to improve the quality of its products but also the conditions of its labour force.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

India and Pakistan 60th independence anniversary

The split of the Indian subcontinent after independence into India and Pakistan with the violence and animosity following it must have come as a shock to those who had been holding the ideal of a united great India. In the movie "Ghandi" there is a scene in which Mahatma Ghandi offered that the Indian government should be made of Pakistani ministers to avoid division. But even this wasn’t enough as Pakistanis were set on separation and the Indians couldn’t let the Pakistanis be at the top of each ministry.

Perhaps, immediately after independence the Indians and the Pakistanis had never been so ruthless towards one another after centuries of cohabitation as before colonialism they didn’t have the notion of modern state. They were kept together as long as they could practice their traditions. It was only when the notion of power in the form of government and self-rule that made the two communities turn against each other. Before independence, they had colonialism as their main enemy. After independence, their religious and cultural practices became the source of violence and enmity.

It is ironic that both Indian and Pakistani cultures preach peace. The religion of each has been embraced and admired by many who came to know it. And yet they couldn’t forge permanent peace. Even with the aspects of stable relations between the countries, there lie suspicions. What have kept them at peace are the nuclear weapons they have, which makes one side fears the other.

But the Indian subcontinent needs to be like Green Street in London as described by Anu on the BBC blog. Pakistanis, Bengali and Indians should mix in their respective countries and not just on foreign soils like UK. They should have a common market where goods from one country are sold into the other as a sign of mutual acceptance. The horrible descriptions of what people suffered from after partition should be a moment for the new generations to repent for what took place and to serve as a lesson. They shouldn’t be used as an excuse by fanatics on both sides to justify their violent acts that still take place now and then between the Hindus and the Muslims, especially in India.

Monday, August 13, 2007

UK reputation in the Middle East

The UK's reputation was damaged when the government hesitated in calling for an immediate end to the Lebanon war last year, MPs have said.

UK is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It is a major diplomatic and economic player in the Middle East. Historically, it was behind its current map. Under its occupation the majority of the Middle East states came to exist, including Israel.

The UK should have more positive involvement in this region. It still has a moral duty to participate in resolving the current tensions, especially between Israel and its opponents like Hamas and Hezbullah. Israel has the right to exist, but it shouldn’t exaggerate its actions against its opponents like Hamas to the point of starving them because it is assured of the support of countries like UK who mainly fall short of condemning its military actions and rarely come to express regret.

Siding with one party and ignoring or acting against the others will just perpetuate the tensions even longer. Ignoring the reality of the region will just make things worse for all sides, friends and foes.

Should Airport expansion be halted?

Up to 2,000 people are due at the Camp for Climate Action, with 250 already at the week-long protest against Heathrow expansion plans and aviation generally. Should airport expansions be held responsible for the danger of climate change?

One of the reasons of an increase in air travel is an unprecedented increase in tourism. it is a vital sector. Less air travel will simply cause a chain of events: less hotel booking, less use of other tourist facilities like buses, travel agencies, restaurants, new tourist projects, more redundancies in unprofitable sectors etc?

Is there any country ready to throw the fruit of tourism by stopping the expansion of airport facilities? Neither UK nor any other country will prevent its people from travelling to other parts of the world comfortably.

Air travel isn't only a pleasure activity, it is also one of the important activities that keep the economy going.

Air travel relatively plays a small part in climate change. Even curbing on air travel won’t stop the damage done to earth. There are constantly more factories and power stations all over the world. Economic boom leads to car consumption with their increasing carbon emission. If it is possible to stop the expansion of airports for environmental reasons, there can be no stop to factories expansion. There is no country ready to curtail its economic activities with its social and political risks. You can persuade people to sacrifice their time by taking land transportation like trains, but you can’t ask them to remain in abject economic conditions because there is the danger of climate change.

What is needed is innovation at all industrial level to make efficient machines working the most possible minimum of energy that can the biggest minimum damage to the climate.

Dreamliner is a good step towards making the air cleaner. The question is whether all the existing fleet of planes can be replaced with this new model. This will surely take decades in view of the cost and time constraint even for the company itself. The world still has to cohabit with these apparently old models which can be comfortable for journeys but they continue to make environmentalists uncomfortable or rather hot under the collar because of the advancing threat of global warming.

Ironically planes are still considered as a pride for individuals and countries. The more planes states have and the more planes people take, that is a sign of prosperity. The international shows are just an opportunity to attract more companies to buy while advertising make people eager to travel by air. (As according to the environmentalists, travelling by air is a health risk for the planet, should there be no advertisement for air travel or on plane tickets should there be warning on how many tons of carbons are emitted on each journey?

It seems the environmentalists are trying to scare people off air travel by using sound arguments to keep the Earth safe from global warming. The companies are concerned just about the safety of their planes and customers as well as the benefits. While financial interests and environmental concerns clash irreconcilably, the whole matter remains in the hands of the customers who in most cases choose the easiest means regardless of the long term consequences, especially when they are faced with contradictory arguments dumped with assurances that now we haven’t reached the critical stage yet and that technological researches can yield astounding solutions.