Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Common Ground News Service Original Articles on Iraq and cholera, Lebanon, Youth Views

Title: Bridging businesses, bridging worlds
Author: Hiam Nawas
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 27 November 2007 Word Count: 884

Title: Iraq in the time of cholera
Author: César Chelala
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 27 November 2007 Word Count: 801

Title: ~Youth Views~ Living in a bubble in Lebanon
Author: Raissa Batakji
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 27 November 2007 Word Count: 752

Each article is available in Arabic, French, English, Indonesian and Urdu; just ask and I'd be happy to send you any translation. Please feel free to republish the article(s) and, if possible, let me know by sending an email to: akessinger@sfcg.org.

With regards,
Andrew Kessinger
Common Ground News Service


Bridging businesses, bridging worlds
Hiam Nawas

Washington, DC - Business has often been a catalyst for cultural blending and has proven capable of having profound effects on culturally or religiously dissonant societies. Overall, interactions resulting from commercial contacts have yielded positive results in the long run, leading to better understanding and, at times, acceptance of foreign cultures, customs and traditions.

The success of joint ventures (JVs) in cementing US-West European relations during the 1950s and 1960s – such as KLM's partnership with Delta Air Lines – demonstrates their positive potential among like-minded nations. These types of JVs strengthened already existing ties between the United States and Western Europe, and also gave greater impetus to NATO, which contributed to the decline of domestic Communist threats in a number of Western European countries, including France and Italy. While NATO was primarily military and anti-Soviet, it has often been argued that it also reinforced shared values and cultural traditions between member countries as well as US ideological influence.

More recently and in a more antagonistic context, Chinese-American JVs have played a key role in moderating long-standing ideological differences between the two superpowers, promoting a renewed relationship based on common interests: free trade and the success of the global economy. For example, companies such as Wal-Mart have been at the forefront of this geopolitical trend, providing ready markets for Chinese goods while influencing China's trade posture. Not only has it helped China tap new overseas markets, but American consumers have benefited from lower-priced Chinese goods.

There is also an often-ignored impact of JVs – the influence they have had and continue to have on each other's societies. In essence, they are another vehicle for diplomacy and good relations. To be sure, JVs in and of themselves do not guarantee peace and stability, especially in situations where hostility runs high. They may, however, have the potential to humanise the "other" and contribute to bridging political differences when significant economic interests are at stake.

For example, while the underlying dynamics between countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the West (Western Europe and the US) have been very different from West European-US relations, JVs between Western and GCC countries have given them a stake in the welfare of US and European economies. This has mainly taken place through GCC direct and indirect investments in both economic powerhouses. Stability and economic prosperity in the West therefore equates with steady and healthy returns for GCC investments.

In more high-tech JVs, local capital is often combined with foreign technological know-how. One example of this is in the medical industry, where prominent centres such as the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and others have engaged in JVs with GCC countries and opened medical centres locally.

Another prime example of successful JVs rests in academia, where Jordanian and GCC universities have entered into exchange agreements with US and European institutions of higher education.

American universities have invested heavily in JVs in the Middle East, creating not only business channels but also a common educational experience for Western and Middle Eastern academic communities. The partnership between the Qatar Foundation and Virginia Commonwealth University's (VCU) School of the Arts is a good example of how such a JV is offering students in the Gulf a rare opportunity to study Western approaches to design and fashion without having to leave their own countries.

VCU's JV with the Qatar Foundation, and other similar ventures with language centres around the Middle East, are creating fields of specialisation that would have otherwise been unavailable to local students, particularly in fields that are heavily populated with women, such as fine arts, theatre decor, fashion design, and nursing. These opportunities are especially important with regard to women's empowerment and the growth of a progressive and vibrant civil society, undoubtedly a couple of the major factors influencing the establishment of the democratic process.

While this cause-and-effect relationship might not be apparent nor provide for short-term gains, the long-term strategic value of JVs benefits both partner countries. JVs alone do not resolve complex political and strategic differences, but they do help enhance cooperation where the political will already exists.

An example of this has been the policies followed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has worked hard to become an international financial hub while attempting to navigate a difficult regional environment. This focus on business and trade has paid dividends, evidenced by the Dubai phenomenon, and has resulted in an increase in foreign direct investment and the relocation of several Western companies and individuals to Dubai. These business relationships have created new links between the UAE and its Western partners, building good will and a forum for ongoing communication.

Even in the very troubled waters of US-Iranian relations, business ventures could have possibly provided a small window of opportunity – were it not for current US-imposed economic sanctions on Iran – by bridging political and ideological gaps and by engaging individuals from both countries. Business interactions provide an opportunity for human contact and economic collaboration, despite the current lack of political will to engage in a real dialogue between the two countries.

Although JVs are not a short-term fix or cure-all for complex political and social issues, they have been shown to open doors between cultures and create human partnerships that can have lasting, positive impacts on relations between countries, even those in conflict, over the long-term.


* Hiam Nawas, a Jordanian American, has lived and worked in various countries in the Middle East and specialises in Middle Eastern Affairs and Islamic law. This article is part of a series on joint Muslim-Western business ventures and is distributed by the Common Ground News Service.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 27 November 2007, www.commongroundnews.org Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


Iraq in the time of cholera
César Chelala

New York - It is the kind of news that everybody had been dreading. An outbreak of cholera in Iraq, which started in two Northern provinces, has already reached Baghdad and has become Iraq's biggest cholera outbreak in recent memory. "This frightening and dangerous situation," as stated by Bahktiyar Ahmed, a UNICEF emergency health facilitator, serves to underscore the unrelenting threat to people already affected by a devastated health care system.

Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that there have already been more than 3,300 cases of cholera in the country, and more than 33,000 cases of diarrhoea – which could be a milder form of the disease. The cholera epidemic aggravates what is, under any measure, a most serious humanitarian and public health emergency.

According to Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International, "The terrible violence in Iraq has masked the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Malnutrition amongst children has dramatically increased and basic services, ruined by years of wars and sanctions, cannot meet the needs of the Iraqi people. Millions of Iraqis have been forced to flee the violence, either to another part of Iraq or abroad. Many of those are living in dire poverty."

It is estimated that 28 percent of children are malnourished, compared with 19 percent before the 2003 invasion. In 2006, more than 11 percent of newborn babies were born underweight, compared with four percent in 2003. Malnutrition contributes to death from other conditions such as intestinal and respiratory infections, malaria and typhoid.

The lack of food is affecting not only children. It is estimated that four million Iraqis –15 percent of the total population – regularly cannot buy enough to eat, and are now dependent on food assistance.

Children's suffering doesn't end there. Last year, the Association of Psychologists of Iraq (API) released a report that states that the US-led invasion has greatly affected the psychological development of Iraqi children. The Association's spokesperson, Maruan Abdullah, stated, "It was incredible how strong the results were. The only things they [the children] have in their minds are guns, bullets, death and a fear of the US occupation." What can one say to those that are responsible for the destruction of children's lives and hopes?

Those unable to resist the situation any longer have fled in terror to other parts of the country or to neighbouring countries, which have seen their health and social services totally overwhelmed by the sudden influx of millions of refugees.

Presently, 70 percent of the population in Iraq is without adequate water supplies and 80 percent lacks adequate sanitation. Dr. Abdul-Rahman Adil Ali of the Baghdad Health Directorate has warned about the serious consequences of a defective sewage system. "In some of Baghdad's poor neighbourhoods," he said, "people drink water which is mixed with sewage."

Hospitals are unable to respond to people's needs. 90 percent of hospitals lack essential resources such as basic medical and surgical supplies. Most international aid agencies have left the country, a situation compounded by the emigration of qualified personnel, particularly medical personnel. Of the 34,000 doctors living in the country in 2003, 12,000 have emigrated and over 2,000 have been murdered.

The war is not only affecting Iraqis. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has issued a report to lawmakers stating that the war could ultimately cost the US government well over a trillion dollars – at least double what has already been spent. That will happen even under the best conditions – an immediate and substantial reduction of troops – and impact American taxpayers for at least the next ten years.

US soldiers have psychological wounds to last for a lifetime. A 2004 study of 1,300 Fort Bragg paratroopers who participated in the war showed that 17.4 percent had Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. In addition, many soldiers have suffered so many injuries that the term "polytrauma" is being increasingly used by military doctors.

To adequately respond to this emergency situation facing most of the country's population, it is crucial to improve the mechanism for distributing food and medicines, and to support the work of non-governmental agencies that continue to work in Iraq. The Association of Psychologists of Iraq has urged the international community to help establish centres specialised in child psychology and programs devoted to children's mental health, which is a most urgent need.

It is also imperative to lower the climate of hatred and distrust now reigning in Iraq. Improving Iraqis' health on all levels could indicate to them that they have not been forgotten and disregarded. Because of UNICEF and WHO's reputation for their devotion to improving people's health throughout the world, a task force should be constituted with both organisations' officials to address Iraqis' most pressing health needs and plan future actions. Improving people's health can be the key to breaking a vicious circle of negativity and distrust, thereby giving Iraqis a renewed sense of hope.


* César Chelala is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights. He is the foreign correspondent for Middle East Times International (Australia). This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 27 November 2007, www.commongroundnews.org Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


~Youth Views~ Living in a bubble in Lebanon Raissa Batakji

Beirut - Fadi is a 23-year-old medical student living in a bubble. He walks around in it, goes out with a girl living in a similar bubble, and socializes with friends from his bubble community. Fadi and other fellow bubblers make up a vast number of the Lebanese people.

But if these religious, ethnic or cultural bubbles were ever to pop, would Fadi and his friends be able to breathe the different air? Listen to different voices? Speak a different language?

The Lebanese government today officially identifies eighteen different religious sects distributed over an area of 10,452 square kilometers. That makes Lebanon a country with many beliefs, but very little space. Lebanon's democracy is "governed" by a confessional system whereby quotas divide the country's major political posts among the various sects. For example, Lebanese law dictates that the president should be a Christian Maronite, the Speaker of Parliament a Shi'a Muslim, and the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim. Furthermore, a recurrent historical observation clearly shows that major sectarian problems arose particularly when political tensions came to a climax, and vice versa. Thus, politics and sectarianism in Lebanon have always been intertwined, with the major political blocks each associated with a certain religious sect.

The problem with Lebanese diversity does not merely lie in the fact that it is not being celebrated, but in that it poses a threat. Most, if not every one, of the many sects or political groups feel threatened by others. Therefore, people who are religiously or politically affiliated in Lebanon often find refuge in their own communities, which most of the time provide them with social services, security, job opportunities, and sometimes even schooling for their children.

As a result, many people end up spending most of their lives safely hidden in their own bubbles. You can easily find people who have never communicated with people from a different sect or political affiliation, even if they are geographically very close.

The bubble problem is most important when it comes to Lebanon's youth, since they represent a fresh hope to old problems. Most of the time, they fall victim to the existing segregated system and end up joining the same political party, adopting the same ideas, attending the same religious schools and raising the same flags as their parents.

In the last six years, as political events climaxed once more following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Lebanon has witnessed a rise in NGO activism. These NGOs are working to bring people together for the overall welfare of the country. Many of these NGOs are calling for anti-sectarianism, secularism, and even the formation of a shadow youth government. Despite the success of some of these projects, in general, they face many problems, especially in their approach and the sustainability of results.

We cannot simply settle for the adoption of Western methods and expect them to work perfectly in Lebanese society. A typical example of a Western approach to solve this kind of socio-political problem would be to launch awareness campaigns on the subject and call for short, one-time seminars and conferences that bring young people together. Unlike in the United States where college students are somewhat removed from their parents' opinions and lifestyles, most Lebanese youth live with their parents during and after college, and so students return to the same home, the same bubble, at the end of their day, mitigating the impact of these short experiences.

Young Lebanese need to see, taste, touch, and listen to the things that they have in common, regardless of other general differences. Youth need to leave their day-to-day routines and live with each other, without any intervention from their parents, neighbours, or political affiliates. Sending young people to an interfaith work-study camp, where they would have to work together and leverage everyone's skills - such as leadership, teamwork and constructive debating - in order to achieve shared goals. In the process, they are exposed to challenges that are representative of problems they might face in the real world. A successful simulation of a bubble-free world would helps demonstrate that a real version of such a world is in fact possible.

Today, Lebanon is experiencing the worst political climax in the modern history of the country, where we are left – for the very first time – with no elected president, due to a lack of dialogue at the level of the country's leaders and so-called diplomats. More urgently than ever, the youth of this country must choose a different future, and begin to see their role as active ingredients change.


* Raissa Batakji is in her junior year in communication arts and journalism at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 27 November 2007, www.commongroundnews.org Copyright permission has been obtained for publication