Chess player banned by Iran gets a new start in US

Dorsa Derakhshani (right) competing at an international chess tournament in Oslo. Norway, in 2016. (Courtesy: Tarjei J. Svensen‏ via Twitter)
Updated 06 October 2017
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Chess player banned by Iran gets a new start in US

ST. LOUIS, US: A 19-year-old Iranian woman banned from competing in the name of her county after attending an international competition without an Islamic headscarf has taken her game to St. Louis University.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Dorsa Derakhshani is now at a freshman at the Missouri school, which has a new but highly ranked chess team of top international players. The biology major decided to accept a full scholarship to play for the university this spring, in the wake of the controversy.
Issues arose when Derakhshani wore a simple headband during a February competition in Gibraltar. She was competing under the oversight of the Iranian Chess Federation, an affiliation that allowed her to enter several championship-cycle tournaments. Iranian law requires women to wear head scarves in public, but she didn’t think it would be a problem.
“I don’t know why some people have enough free time to worry about what I wear,” Derakhshani said.
She was 18 when she moved to Barcelona, Spain, and recruited by a chess club. She declined to be on Iran’s national team sponsored by the government because she didn’t want to be controlled by the rules of the team, including wearing a head scarf even while outside Iran.
But days after the Gibraltar tournament, the head of the Iranian Chess Federation said Derakhshani and her 14-year-old brother could no longer play in the country or under Iran’s name. He cited Derakhshani’s refusal to wear a head scarf and said her brother had played against an Israeli player. Iran doesn’t recognize Israel and has a policy of not competing against Israeli athletes.
Derakhshani said her brother was paired by a computer and didn’t know the player’s nationality before the match.
“It was just cruel,” she said. “He was just a kid. He didn’t know what to do.”
Her arrival in St. Louis comes as the city becomes a major player in the chess community. The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, founded by Republican millionaire activist Rex Sinquefield, hosts several national competitions.
Derakhshani said she wants to become a grandmaster, the top designation for a chess player.


‘Blast fishing’ thrives in Libya’s chaos

A Libyan man buys fish from a fishmonger at the Fish market in Tripoli on August 4, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2018
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‘Blast fishing’ thrives in Libya’s chaos

  • There is still hope as long as some good fishermen respect the trade and go out at night with nets
  • The practice has its critics, including marine biologists, fishermen, and even religious leaders

TRIPOLI: Residents of Tripoli’s seafront wake up most weekends to loud blasts: fishermen using dynamite to maximize their catch, regardless of the damage they are causing to marine life.
Dynamite fishing, or “blast fishing,” has flourished — with impunity — since Libya’s 2011 uprising that left the country awash with weapons and explosives.
The Mediterranean country has since descended into chaos and violence, with two rival administrations struggling to impose the law and a myriad of militias vying for control of its oil wealth.
As a result, protecting fish stock and the environment are not a priority for the authorities, experts and officials say.
Haytham Ali, a newly-married teacher, lives less than 50 meters (yards) from the beach in the capital’s residential suburb of Hay Al-Andalous.
“My wife and I enjoy the peace and quiet of Friday mornings in our garden by the sea, but the explosions... as early as 7 am remind us of all that is wrong in this country,” he said.
Mariam, a 64-year-old widow, said the blasts frighten her grandchildren when they come to visit her home near the water.
“My whole house and my old windows shake with every blast... and I have to reassure my grandchildren that it’s only people fishing, not NATO bombs all over again,” she said, referring to the uprising that was backed by the Western alliance.
Dynamite fishing and the use of explosives without a permit are both officially against the law, but dynamite fishermen appear to be immune.
They even post anonymous videos online of sea water being propelled high into the sky and dozens of dazed or dead fish left behind on the surface.
“We hear (the blasts) but no one can do anything about it,” said Bannour Abu Kahal, head of the fisheries department in Garaboulli, east of Tripoli.

Some marine biologists, fishermen and fishmongers, and even religious leaders have tried to speak out against blast fishing but to no avail.
Using dynamite to catch fish “depletes the fish stock in the sea,” said Mokhtar, a fishmonger in central Tripoli, who declined to give his surname.
“This practice is not correct or healthy for the consumer” because it stuns the fish and shreds its skin, he said.
The explosives, known as “gelatine” in Libya, “kills the fish, the fish roe, larvae and sea plants,” said Fathi Al-Zaytuni, a fishmonger who uses nets for his catch.
The explosive devices used in Libya are mostly home-made and have caused dozens of deaths and injuries, according to media reports.
Lana news agency reported in March that three men from the same family died in a blast in the eastern city of Sirte as they were preparing bombs for blast fishing.

Sheikh Sadek Al-Ghariani, the country’s disputed top religious figure, has also waded into the controversy.
“If this type of fishing is banned by laws that regulate fishing, or if it is prejudicial to man and the environment, then it should not be practiced,” he said in a fatwa, religious edict, issued in 2013.
Abu Kahal, the fishing director in Garaboulli, urged “concerned authorities, especially the coast guard, to do their job and put an end to this kind of fishing.”
On a warm and humid August evening, retired fisherman Abdelrazag Al-Bahri, 72, sat at Tripoli port counting the few fishing boats heading out to sea to catch sardines.
“There is still hope as long as some good fishermen respect the trade” and go out at night to haul a catch the traditional way with nets, he said.
He said traditional fishing in Libya had mostly been the work of Egyptians and Tunisians but they had fled the country, with few Libyans now willing to replace them.