‘Leaning tower of Herat’ worries Afghans and historians

‘Leaning tower of Herat’ worries Afghans and historians
The historic minarets, once a ‘shining example’ of Mughal architecture, in Afghanistan’s Herat province, need to be restored to their former glory. (Files/AFP)
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Updated 02 September 2020

‘Leaning tower of Herat’ worries Afghans and historians

‘Leaning tower of Herat’ worries Afghans and historians
  • Medieval minaret has bent nearly 60 degrees due to natural wear and tear

KABUL: It has survived 40 years of war, but an iconic tower in Afghanistan’s Herat province, one of the five known as the Musalla Minarets, could soon topple over due to natural wear and tear and lack of restoration efforts.

“The minaret has bent nearly 60 degrees because of natural changes such as floods, earthquakes and other disasters. It needs urgent attention,” Arya Rawoufyan, head of Herat’s Information and Culture Department, told Arab News.

Built in the 15th century by Timurid Queen Gawhar Shad Begum, the minaret measures 100 feet in height and nearly 3 meters in width. Cars were allowed to drive between the minarets until as recently as 2007.

“When it started to damage the structure, authorities placed a ban and built a blockade, but some cars still drive through,” Rahima Jami, a lawmaker from Herat, told Arab News. Historians credit Queen Gawhar’s keen interest in art and culture for the construction of the site’s original madrassa complex which, at its height, housed 20 minarets.

That was until 1885, when most were destroyed by British forces during the conflict with Russia.

Herat would later bear the brunt of the Soviet occupation of region and the subsequent wars that followed, until the Red Army’s departure in the 1980s.

Today, only five minarets remain from what was once a “shining example” of Mughal architecture.

“The minarets are part of what was once a brilliantly decorated complex of Islamic learning and devotion in the region, along the Silk Road in western Herat,” Rawoufyan said.  Considered a cradle of art and culture in Afghanistan, Herat is its second-largest city and borders Iran and Turkmenistan.

Famous for a wide variety of foods, such as grapes and saffron, and local handicrafts including exquisitely designed carpets, Herat has long been a hub for trade activities within the region and other parts of the world.

It gained prominence after Genghis Khan conquered several Afghan cities, including Kabul and Herat, and from there moved on to Iran in the 13th century. Once his army left Afghanistan, Herat remained under Mughal rule for years and eventually became home to prominent Persian poets, scholars and artists.

The minarets which once “stood out on the dry expanse of land in the area” are today punctuated by old and new houses and shops that have sprung up in recent years.

For years, authorities have tried to get the remnants listed as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations’ cultural agency, UNESCO, but have failed due to the deteriorating condition and a lack of resources to restore the minarets back to their former glory.

To facilitate the restoration efforts, former President Hamid Karzai had asked Germany, France, Italy and India, through UNESCO, to help prevent the minarets’ destruction.

“So far, none of the nations has come forward, but UNESCO paid more than $250,000 for the fortification of the five minarets’ foundations and for building a wall sealing a road that passes through the minarets complex, where traffic was once a major threat,” Rawoufyan said.

And while UNESCO rose to the occasion, and Kabul is willing to cover restoration expenses, authorities said they would be able to evaluate the total cost involved only after a “technical assessment” of the site.

“It is beyond the ability of Afghan engineers to rebuild it from a technical and resource point of view,” Rawoufyan said.

However, even if officials succeed in restoring the worst-affected minaret, Rawoufyan said Afghanistan might not be able to meet UNESCO’s criteria for the World Heritage List as “several boxes” remain.

“Unchecked developments, new high-rise buildings near the minarets, red tape and the municipality’s inability to stop their construction has changed the character of the area from being old and historical, which are key criteria,” Rawoufyan said.

Jami added that some vehicles still use the road that goes through the minarets and blamed Kabul for “not paying attention” to the destruction of a world treasure.

“This is our national asset and part of Islamic civilization and must be protected under any cost,” she told Arab News.

Haji Rafiq Shaheer, a historian and civil society activist, agreed, and questioned why “despite technological advances,” the government was unable to restore the structure.

“How come in the past, with limited resources, we managed to build over a dozen such minarets? But today, with so much advancement and progress in all fields we cannot? It’s a shame that we cannot protect this icon which depicts our history, authority and honor,” he told Arab News.

UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator

UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator
Updated 02 March 2021

UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator

UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator
  • Assaf Kaplan alleged to have worked for cyber branch of Israeli Defense Forces
  • Complaint brought by lawyers representing Palestinian Labour member

LONDON: Lawyers acting on behalf of a Palestinian activist and Labour member have complained to the opposition party over its recent hire of an alleged former Israeli intelligence operator in a social media strategy role.

The party hired Assaf Kaplan as a social listening and organizing manager, described as “a crucial new role at the heart of Labour’s new approach to digital campaigning.”

The complaint from Bindmans solicitors alleges that Kaplan worked for Unit 8200, the cyber branch of the Israel Defense Forces, from 2009 to 2013.

The lawyers outline the unit’s controversial surveillance practices against Palestinian civilians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In 2014, 43 veterans of Unit 8200 signed a public letter refusing to serve in operations that focused on the occupied Palestinian territories because of civilians being surveilled, which they feared could be used for blackmail.

It is unclear what Kaplan did within the unit or whether he had any knowledge of the monitoring of citizens.

The job description for his new role at the Labour Party says the worker “will help to move the social media listening framework of the party to be laser focused on those we need to win over to form the next government.”

Bindmans solicitors say the party’s stance on the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories should have ruled out Kaplan from the role. They have urged Labour to explain the decision.

Kaplan’s hiring has also drawn a complaint from former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Adnan Hmidan, who Bindmans are representing, was born to Palestinian parents who were forcibly removed to Jordan.

Bindmans’ letter states that Labour conferences under various leaderships have criticized Israeli annexation plans as breaching international law.

The lawyers say if Labour knew about Kaplan’s background, it has failed to consider the views of its Palestinian members, and if it did not know, it has failed to show due diligence.

Hmidan said he is concerned about the personal data of party members that Kaplan could access in his role.

UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts

UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts
Updated 02 March 2021

UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts

UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts
  • Reduction of spending in Yemen prompts questions in Parliament
  • There is enough opposition to suggest a vote could be defeated

LONDON: The UK government may cut the amount of money it spends on foreign aid without pushing a law through Parliament, so as to avoid MPs rejecting it.

The government announced last year that it planned to reduce overseas aid from 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to 0.5 percent due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it has faced criticism over the effect this could have in certain parts of the world.

In particular, a reduction in the UK’s spending in war-torn, famine-hit Yemen from £164 million ($233.36 million) to £87 million has met with stern opposition at home and abroad, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling it “a death sentence” for millions of people.

It has met hostility from opposition MPs and government backbenchers in large enough numbers to suggest that a vote on amending foreign aid could be defeated.

On Tuesday, Middle East and North Africa Minister James Cleverly was asked by Conservative MP Damian Green in the UK’s House of Commons whether he could “give a commitment today that further cuts won’t be made until that necessary legislation promised by ministers to this House to enact this policy has been put to a vote, so that this House can express a view?”

Cleverly failed to say if legislation would be brought to Parliament, saying he “envisaged that (the) 0.7 percent (spending) target may not be met,” and “the government is well able to listen to the mood of the House without legislation.”

Conservative MP Anthony Mangnall challenged this suggestion, saying: “If the government is so reassured by its position, then I suggest it brings a vote to the House on this issue, and they can truly gauge the strength of feeling.”

Whether the government would be able to legally cut the foreign aid budget, currently enshrined in UK law, without a vote in Parliament is unclear, and would likely be subject to judicial review if attempted.

There have also been suggestions that a vote could be attached to other votes over the upcoming UK budget, set to be announced on Wednesday, to reduce the likelihood of it being rejected. The UK is the only G7 country to have proposed reducing its foreign aid this year.

US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees

US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees
Updated 02 March 2021

US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees

US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees
  • 14,000 Syrians reportedly tortured and thousands forcibly disappeared, US ambassador to UN tells General Assembly

United Nations, United States, March 2, 2021 Agence France Presse: Syria has been demanded to make the status of detainees public and return any bodies of the dead to their families in an address by the US ambassador to the UN’s General Assembly.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said “at least 14,000 Syrians have been reportedly tortured and tens of thousands forcibly disappeared,” during the General Assembly debate on human rights
“We demand that the status of all those detained be made public and we demand that the bodies of the deceased be returned to their loved ones with the time, place and cause of death,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
The 193-member body heard testimony from several survivors who demanded that the international community hold Syrian perpetrators of abuse responsible.
Russia, Syria’s main ally, has repeatedly used its veto power to protect Damascus from any such measures, however.
Syrian President Bashar Assad “continues to imprison tens of thousands of innocent Syrians, women, children, the elderly, doctors, aid providers, journalists, human rights defenders,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
“These innocent civilians are denied fair trials, are subject to torture, sexual violence and inhuman conditions,” she added.
She also denounced the closure of humanitarian aid entry points along the Syrian border in 2020, which occurred after agreement with Damascus could not be reached.
Only one entry point, along the border with Turkey, remains open but Russia has hinted that it intends to close it in July when its UN authorization expires.
The closures “prevented vital humanitarian aid by the United Nations,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “And it is simply deplorable and it has unnecessarily deepened the suffering of millions of Syrians.”
“It is time for us to reach a real political solution,” she added. “This is the only way to bring sustainable peace, stability and security to the Syrian people.”
Syria’s war has killed more than 387,000 people, ravaged key infrastructure and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression on anti-government protests.

Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists

Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists
Updated 02 March 2021

Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists

Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists
  • ‘No doubt there is a danger’ from ‘puffing, panting’ runners: Oxford professor

LONDON: Joggers should wear face masks while exercising because running past people while breathing heavily could pose a coronavirus transmission risk, scientists have warned.

“There is no doubt the virus is in the air, there is no doubt that you can catch it if you inhale, and that someone else has exhaled,” Prof. Trish Greenhalgh of the University of Oxford told TV program “Good Morning Britain.”

She said: “The exercising jogger — the puffing and panting jogger — you can feel their breath come and you can sometimes actually feel yourself inhale it, so there’s no doubt that there is a danger there.”

She added: “About 40 percent of coronavirus cases happen by catching it from people who have no symptoms. So you’re jogging along, you think you’re fine, and then the next day you develop symptoms, but you’ve actually breathed that coronavirus onto someone.”

Devi Sridhar of the University of Edinburgh said: “This can spread through the air and so it is important that runners should think … I think we need some consideration for each other right now. We’re in a pandemic, so if you’re going to run or cycle in a busy area, wear a mask.”

Former UK politician Tom Watson said: “If you’re a runner you should know obviously you’re breathing more deeply, and you should try not to run into people or run near them.”

UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip

UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip
Updated 02 March 2021

UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip

UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip
  • Police brand pair ‘selfish’ for failing to quarantine upon return

LONDON: A British couple have been fined £10,000 ($13,945) each after they returned to the UK from a holiday in Dubai and failed to quarantine.

Police said the pair tried to avoid travel rules put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus by taking an indirect route back from Dubai, which is on the UK’s “red list” of restricted destinations.

Merseyside Police Chief Inspector Chris Barnes said the duo had been transported to a designated quarantine hotel on Feb. 26 following the fines.

“Strict rules around international travel have been put in place by the government for a reason, and to disregard them in this way is selfish, inconsiderate, and potentially dangerous,” he added.

“Currently, the regulations mean that if you are a British or Irish national, or you have residence rights in the UK and are returning from a country on the foreign travel ‘red list,’ you must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days,” he said.

“If you are required to quarantine at a hotel, you can only arrive in England at certain ports of entry. In this instance, the pair in question avoided a direct flight route back from Dubai to one of the specified airports in an attempt to evade this process.”