KELAFO: Mohammed Hassan Gureh has made up his mind: He’s going to sell the last of his goats and leave his village to find a new life.
Like many herders in the east of Ethiopia, he has been forced to give up his nomadic existence after seeing his livestock decimated by drought.
The 32-year-old says he can no longer bear seeing his animals die. Out of a herd of 250 goats, only 35 are left.
And in his village of El Gel, in a corner of the Somali region of Ethiopia not far from the border with Somalia, two-thirds of the animals have been wiped out.
Gureh, like other nomadic herders across the Horn of Africa, has been waiting desperately for more than two years for rains that have not come.
The last five rainy seasons since the end of 2020 have failed, triggering the worst drought in four decades in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. And the next rainy season, from March to May, is also expected to be below average.
According to the UN, drought has plunged 12 million people into “acute food insecurity” in Ethiopia alone, where a deadly conflict has also ravaged the north of the country.
More than 4.5 million livestock have died since 2021 and another 30 million “weakened and emaciated” animals are at risk, the UN’s humanitarian agency OCHA said in a January 18 report.
Gureh waited and prayed, but he has had to face the grim reality. “There is no sign of improvement. I think the drought will continue and get worse over time.” So he has decided to sell his goats before it is too late.
With the small amount of money he’ll make from a sale, he plans to leave El Gel and head to the nearby town of K’elafo, hoping he will finally be able to support his wife, his four children, his blind father and his crippled mother.
His plans are vague: He will probably try to eke out a living as a small-time trader selling charcoal, firewood or incense.
“I also want to start adult education and develop my skills in order to find employment opportunities,” he says.
“It’s a very difficult decision to move from a life as a goatherd to a new way of life that I don’t know ... But I have no other option.”
How Arab-Islamic migration, language and culture shaped modern Latin America
Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula left many influences, later taken to the continent by colonists
Some researchers believe 700-1,000 Portuguese words and about 4,000 in Spanish come from Arabic
Updated 11 sec ago
Eduardo Campos Lima
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL: In recent years, a new generation of researchers has been examining the ancient Islamic roots of Latin American societies.
In the age of social media, such content is being disseminated among larger audiences, and many people in Latin America seem to be avidly interested.
“I began to read about the Moors when I was studying Arabic in Egypt,” said Mansour Peixoto, a Muslim convert from the Brazilian city of Recife who in 2014 founded the website Historia Islamica (Islamic History).
“I’d already learnt at that time about the Islamic influence on Portugal, but then I became interested in its direct and indirect impacts on Brazilian culture,” he told Arab News.
Between 711 and 1492, Arab-Berber rulers dominated parts of present-day Portugal, Spain and France, naming the region Al-Andalus.
An almost-800-year presence in the Iberian Peninsula left many influences that were brought to colonial Latin America.
After the Christian re-conquest, Islam was forbidden in Spain and Portugal. From then on, especially at the beginning of the 17th century, many Muslims — including people of European ancestry — were forced to move to North Africa, but many accepted to convert to Catholicism, some of whom remained secretly Muslim.
“Those people, especially the poor, were numerous among the Portuguese who came to colonize Brazil since the 16th century,” said Peixoto.
Between 711-1492, Arab-Berber rulers dominated parts of Portugal, Spain and France, naming the region Al-Andalus.
After the Christian re-conquest of Al-Andalus, Islam was forbidden in Spain and Portugal.
Some researchers believe that 700-1,000 Portuguese words come from Arabic.
Although his website deals with several Islamic themes, the history of Muslim Portuguese settlers — known as Mouriscos, or Moors — and their influence on Brazil is a frequent topic. “Many people don’t realize that we have customs in Brazil that come from the Islamic world,” said Peixoto.
Historia Islamica’s publications about the influence of Arabic on the Portuguese language are among the most shared by the website’s followers.
Some researchers believe that 700-1,000 Portuguese words come from Arabic, but recent studies suggest that the number of Arabisms could be much higher.
Several everyday words in Brazil have Arabic origins, such as alface (lettuce), almofada (cushion), acougue (butcher shop) and garrafa (bottle).
“Not to mention architectural terms that we still use today, like alicerce (foundation) and andaime (scaffolding),” said Peixoto.
“Iberian building methods were mostly Arab in the 16th century, and they were brought to the Americas.”
Islamic architectural influence in Latin America is one of the most noticeable cultural traits of Al-Andalus in the region, according to Hernan Taboada, an expert on the subject and a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
“That can be seen in the architectural style in New Spain, the viceroyalty that extended from the south of the present-day US to Central America,” he told Arab News.
Along with the Viceroyalty of Peru, in South America, that region probably concentrated most of the Moorish settlers in colonial Latin America, Taboada said.
Colonial-era churches in Mexico, from Veracruz on the Atlantic coast to Oaxaca in the south, exhibit evident Moorish artistic traits.
“They’re especially visible in the elements of decoration in those churches,” Taboada said. “Many temples in Mexico undoubtedly have Moorish style, which doesn’t mean they were necessarily built by Moors. In general, such elements were assimilated in Spain and transposed to Latin America.”
The presence of Muslims in New Spain and elsewhere in the region is not easy to verify, given that it was a clandestine presence.
This may be why the subject was ignored in academia for so long, although classical works of Latin American history mentioned it in the 19th and 20th centuries.
“The study of the Moorish presence was mostly resumed by Muslims and people of Arab origin. Those works showed that they weren’t as few in Latin America as was once supposed,” Taboada said.
Although Islam was forbidden, the Moors — like the Jews — largely enjoyed tolerance in the New World, though the Inquisition did act against them at times, he added.
Historian Ricardo Elia, cultural director of the Islamic Center of the Republic of Argentina, has since the 1980s been one of the pioneers in the study of the Moorish presence in the region of La Plata River.
“I discovered that the gauchos (the term used in Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil for legendary horsemen) are nothing less than Moors,” he told Arab News.
There is an ancient controversy regarding the etymological origin of that term in Argentina. Some scholars say it comes from a Quechuan word, but Elia and other researchers say it comes from chauch, a term with Arabic origins that means something like indomitable.
“In Valencia, Spain, the word chaucho was used to designate horsemen and pastors,” Elia said, adding that most of the crews of the Spanish ships that explored the Americas since the 15th century were composed of Moors, and that the first person to catch sight of the Americas was Rodrigo de Triana, a Moor.
“They needed to leave Spain so they came to the Americas. And they were good sailors.”
Over the centuries, Moors intermarried with other ethnic groups such as the Guarani indigenous people, but their cultural impact in the region is felt to this day.
Elia said empanadas, Argentina’s most typical pastry, have Andalusian origins, as does dulce de leche (caramelized milk).
The linguistic influence on the Spanish language is unquestionable. Elia estimates that there are about 4,000 Arabisms, most of them adopted in Spain.
“But in Argentina and Uruguay, the Moors also impacted our way of pronouncing the words,” he said.
Over the years, Elia has taught classes in universities in Argentina and Chile about the Moorish presence in South America.
“Unfortunately, the community of Lebanese and Syrian descent in Argentina has never shown much interest in such themes. Non-Arab Argentinians have always been the most curious about that,” said Elia, who comes from a Lebanese family.
He added that more and more people now want to learn about the first Muslim settlers in Latin America.
“In Morocco, an academic conference dealing especially with that topic was organized in 2021,” he said.
Peixoto said many people are “willing to discover more about their ancestry and the many questions not answered about it,” which is why a new generation of scholars has been researching the Moors of Latin America.
He plans to conduct an academic study about the Moors in Brazil, publish books on that topic and offer online classes.
“Our elite (in Brazil) likes to see itself as European, but we’re a combination of indigenous peoples, Africans, Europeans, and also Moors,” he said.
Peixoto thinks Muslims and Arabs made a decisive contribution to the formation of the Brazilian people, not only with the settlers from Al-Andalus, but also with the Africans brought as slaves, and the huge wave of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants who came to Brazil since the end of the 19th century.
“They transformed our way of being on many levels,” he said.
Taboada agreed, saying: “Eurocentric views are dominant among the Latin American elite. We have to emphasize that we have a multicultural origin.”
Malaysia moves to abolish mandatory death penalties
New bill to also replace life sentences with 30 to 40-year prison terms
Activists hail reforms as timely and progressive
Updated 27 March 2023
Nor Arlene Tan
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s government has taken its first step to abolish the mandatory death penalty for 11 offenses including drug trafficking, illegal firearms possession and kidnap.
Its parliamentary bill, introduced on Monday, will also replace life sentences with prison terms between 30 and 40 years and whipping of more than 12 lashes.
“The abolition of the mandatory death penalty aims to value and respect the life of every individual … The policies proposed through this bill are a middle ground to ensure justice is preserved for all,” Law Minister Azalina Othman S, who tabled the bill, said in a statement.
“I am very grateful that the unity government has taken concrete steps in abolishing the mandatory death penalty.”
The move championed by the unity government of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who took office in November, is expected to affect hundreds of prisoners who have yet to complete their appeals in court. Those cases will instead be reviewed by the Federal Court.
While the new bill does not completely remove capital punishment, it allows judges the discretion to pass alternatives.
“The effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent is questionable at best,” Dobby Chew, executive director of the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, said in a statement.
“There are significant indicators that demonstrate that the death penalty is counterproductive in that it supports or enables crime syndicates, especially for drug offenses,” he said.
He called Malaysia’s move “a progressive step towards significant reform of the criminal justice system.”
A moratorium on the death penalty has been in effect since 2018 in Malaysia, where more than 1,300 prisoners are on death row, representing a disproportionately high number compared to other countries in the region.
“It is timely and I am pleased with the decision by the government,” Malaysian politician and anti-death penalty activist Kasthuri Patto told Arab News.
“Let’s not forget that the death penalty is a colonial law but even colonial masters have removed them from their country, take for example the UK,” Patto said.
“This alternative is worth exploring now. I hope with this announcement, the government will seriously look into prison reforms as well.”
Philippines arrests suspected Sikh separatists in first Khalistan detection
In the 1980s, the violent separatist movement called for an independent Sikh state
Though banned in India, Khalistan has support from some in Sikh diaspora community
Updated 27 March 2023
ELLIE ABEN & SANJAY KUMAR
MANILA/NEW DELHI: Philippine authorities have arrested suspected members of a Sikh separatist group banned in India, a government agency announced on Monday, as demands for an independent Sikh homeland are rising abroad.
Officers from the Philippine Bureau of Immigration, the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center and the Military Intelligence Group arrested three suspected members of the Khalistan Tiger Force in the central Philippine city of Iloilo on March 7, the CICC said in a statement issued Monday.
“It is out of the ordinary, their presence here,” CICC Executive Director Alexander K. Ramos told Arab News.
The three suspects are all Indian nationals in their 20s, who were named in a red notice issued by the global police agency Interpol, Ramos said. They are currently in the custody of the Philippine military.
“It appears they are a group. In fact, there may be more that we are still trying to track down. This is the first time that the Khalistanis were detected here,” he added.
Their group KTF supports a movement banned in India known as Khalistan, which calls for an independent Sikh homeland and was known as a violent separatist movement in the 1980s and early 1990s, then prompting a controversial military operation by the Indian government that killed thousands of people.
The Philippine development follows Indian police launching on March 21 a manhunt in Punjab province for Sikh preacher Amritpal Singh, who has captured national attention and revived talks of Khalistan.
The crackdown has triggered fresh demands abroad for an independent Sikh state, including protesters gathering in front of Indian missions in Canada and the UK this month, which has sparked concerns from Indian authorities.
Though recent developments are stoking fears of a return to the violence that occurred decades ago, the Khalistan movement does not have much support within India, said Delhi-based counterterrorism expert Ajai Sahni.
Sahni said Khalistan supporters are most active in Canada and the UK, but they also have a presence in the US, across Europe, and even in Malaysia and the Philippines.
“At present, the overwhelming support is from outside, from Sikh extremist diaspora communities,” Sahni told Arab News. “The movement is not securing very much traction on the ground in India.”
Asylum seekers in UK face being moved into camps and ferries, reports say
Temporary structures on old military bases and disused ferries to be used for new arrivals, sources tell media
Updated 27 March 2023
LONDON: Asylum seekers in the UK face being held in camps on abandoned military bases and on disused ferries under government plans, reports say.
Sources told the BBC that former bases in Lincolnshire and Essex are to be confirmed next week and the first people will be moved in within weeks. An announcement on old ferries is also due in the same time frame, the sources said.
The plans come as the government pushes the “Illegal Migration Bill” through parliament, which will ban people arriving in small boats from across the Channel from ever applying for asylum, and confirm plans to send some of them to Rwanda with no chance of return. The law has been condemned by rights groups and international bodies alike.
According to reports, the planned camps on military bases would house between 1,500 to 2,000 migrants. They would be used initially for new arrivals rather than relocating the nearly 51,000 asylum seekers being housed in hundreds of hotels at a reported cost of £6.8 million a day.
The proposals, first reported by the Daily Telegraph, have not been denied by government sources.
A Home Office spokesperson told the BBC that the government had been “upfront about the unprecedented pressure being placed on our asylum system, brought about by a significant increase in dangerous and illegal journeys into the country.”
In 2018, 300 people reached Britain via the channel. The number rose to 45,000 last year.
The spokesperson added: “We continue to work across government and with local authorities to identify a range of accommodation options.”
Hotels housing asylum seekers have been targeted for protests by far-right groups, including in Knowsley, Merseyside, where a crowd fought police and set fire to a police van last month.
Last week residents near the former RAF Scampton base in Lincolnshire, heard that the site could house about 1,500 people, including in temporary cabins on the former runway.
Meanwhile, Europe’s top human rights body wrote to British MPs on Monday urging them to prevent the passing of the “Illegal Migration Bill”, saying it was “incompatible with the UK’s international obligations.”
The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, said in the letter that the bill created a “clear and direct tension with well-established and fundamental human rights standards.”
Female shooter kills 3 children, 3 adults in Nashville school attack
Deadly mass shootings have become commonplace in the United States, but a female attacker is highly unusual
There have been 89 school shootings — defined as anytime a gun is discharged on school property — in the US so far in 2023
Updated 27 March 2023
At least three children and three adults were killed in a shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, on Monday before police shot dead the shooter, who appeared to be a teenage girl.
Police began receiving calls of a shooter at The Covenant School at 10:13 a.m.. Officers could hear gunfire coming from the school’s second floor, Don Aaron, a spokesperson for Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, told reporters.
The shooter had at least two semi-automatic rifles and a handgun, Aaron said. Two officers from a five-member team shot at her in what Aaron described as a lobby area and she was dead by 10:27 a.m..
“We do not know who she is at this juncture,” Aaron said.
Deadly mass shootings have become commonplace in the United States, but a female attacker is highly unusual. Only four of the 191 mass shootings since 1966 catalogued by The Violence Project, a nonprofit research center, were carried out by a female attacker.
There have been 89 school shootings — defined as anytime a gun is discharged on school property — in the US so far in 2023, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database, a website founded by researcher David Riedman. Last year saw 303 such incidents, the highest of any year in the database, which goes back to 1970.
Three students were pronounced dead after arriving at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt with gunshot wounds, John Howser, a hospital spokesperson, said in a statement. Three adult staff members were killed by the shooter, police said.
Besides the deceased, no one else was shot, Aaron said.
Students’ parents were told to gather at a nearby church.
The Covenant School, founded in 2001, is a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville with about 200 students, according to the school’s website. The school serves preschool through 6th graders and held an active shooter training program in 2022, WTVF-TV reported.