09 September 2014

MH 17 update 09 September 2014

The first official report about the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 came out today. Thirty-plus pages of maybes and more questions, thankfully some clarity too however not nearly as much of it as I'd hoped for.

The report seems to only confirm all the speculation going on in the days after the downing of the Malaysian Airlines passenger carrier. The aeroplane didn't suffer any kind of failure, the pilots and crew didn't screw up or do anything wrong. Something external, something outside and slightly in front of the aeroplane, exploded and impacted with MH17, causing it to break apart in mid-air.

The cockpit, as I understand it, pretty much went straight down, the rest of the plane, the part with engines and momentum, disintegrated and came down in pieces spread out over a larger area. Chilling reports from villagers on the ground confirm this, their stories of body parts landing in their gardens and on their streets are as horrifying as the loss of human life on such a massive scale due to something so inhumane as a weapon of mass destruction. The Guardian, in writing about the report released today, may shed some light on events, may possibly explain, partly, why MH17 was downed.

"The report shows how easily a different airliner could have met the fate of the doomed plane instead, had the crew of MH17 been able to comply with a controller's request to fly higher in the minutes before it was shot down. 
Air traffic controllers were attempting to clear traffic as three other commercial flights, unidentified in the report, were in the vicinity – two other Boeing 777s and one Airbus A330. 
At 12.53pm, Ukrainian air traffic controllers at Dnipropetrovsk asked MH17 to climb 2,000 feet to flight level 350 over eastern Ukraine, in accordance with the original flight plan, to clear a "potential separation conflict" with another Boeing 777. 
The crew said they were unable to comply, possibly due to weather. Instead, at least one other plane climbed higher. 
Just after 1pm the crew, running into bad weather, requested to climb to 34,000 feet – although air traffic control said the plane should keep at the same altitude. At 1.20pm, MH17 exploded in mid-air. 
The other plane was not identified by investigators but it is known that a large Singapore Airlines jet, many of which are 777s, was nearby."
Reading this makes me question once again if MH17 was actually the target of this attack. I remember Twitter / social media speculation soon after the crash which said Vladimir Putin may have been in the air at the same time, may have been the actual target instead of MH17. Whether those speculations are based on fact, rumour or fantasy I don't know as I'm not Putin's right hand person nor party to knowledge gathered by Russian intelligence. What I do know is this: There were at least three other aeroplanes flying relatively close to MH17, close enough for (minor?) course changes to be necessary. Was one of these aeroplanes the actual target instead of 298 innocent people?

As long as we're speculating, is there even the remotest chance that it was a meteor or a satellite or anything that came from space or from higher up in the atmosphere (?) that hit MH17? Any chance that it really was just a freak accident, that 298 people weren't shot down in cold blood by fellow human beings? Is it possible that MH17 was shot at by other aeroplanes? The closest were some 30-ish kilometres away from what I understand. Could one of those have shot at or fired a missile at MH17, as unlikely as it sounds?

Are there any other possibilities left, is there any way to make the facts (and the speculations...) fit another conclusion, other than the growing likelihood that it was a surface to air missile shot from rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine? Probably with a BUK system that was brought in across the border from Russia shortly before the downing of MH17 and left again, one missile short, soon after? Is anything else still possible?

While the report itself sticks to facts only and refuses to speculate as to what happened, the media of course are keen to speculate based on this new information. I am too, in all honesty. Because I want answers too. Without assigning blame (I will leave that for the courts and for God) or pointing fingers prematurely, I do want to know what happened. I want to understand what went on, want to understand why MH17 was shot down. I need this senseless tragedy to make some sort of sense, I need to understand the why and the how, if only for my own peace of mind.


Rapport van eerste bevindingen wijst op externe oorzaak crash MH17 (Onderzoeksraad.nl)

Eerste bevindingen MH17 openbaar (NOS.nl)

07 September 2014

Are Terrorism and Islam starting to mean the same thing to many?

ISIS, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, the Muslim Brotherhood, Boko Haram, the al-Nusra front... No doubt there are groups just as bloodthirsty that are not on this list because I can't think of them off the top of my head.

These are all names of organisations I wish I'd never heard of. Because these names belong to terrorist groups that seem to find it necessary to kill, hurt, harm and maim; to execute people, to enslave and rape women, to terrorise and kill and cause destruction in an effort to further their own cause. 

The cause they are attempting to further (to impose / to enforce) is Islam. Or rather - their own radical and violent interpretation of Islam with current actions seemingly geared entirely toward the spread of (their version of) Islam through any means.

While I am a student of the world's peoples and religions and consider myself someone who attempts to walk in another's shoes to understand them and learn what it's like to be them, there is a large element of fanaticism and bloodthirstiness in many of these groups that I simply don't understand and can't wrap my head around.

How does raping and selling women further the Islamic cause? How does calling for the destruction of Israel and the extermination of Jews worldwide further the Islamic cause? How does killing Christians in Iraq further the Islamic cause? How does blowing up and destroying cultural and religious history further the Islamic cause? How does attacking the Twin Towers and the Pentagon further the Islamic cause? How do suicide bombings the world over further the Islamic cause?

If world domination for Islam is what groups such as these want, then surely they could be and should be focusing on spreading Islam all over the world by showing people the goodness and kindness of Islam, instead of showing the world what horrible, inhumane and brutal killers they are?

Or is that just me being an optimist, thinking that all the world living at peace (and in freedom) is still possible?

Image source: Shutter Stock
I am a woman. In my 30-ish years on this earth I have been insulted, harassed, discriminated against, beaten into submission, threatened at knife point, attacked by an idiot wielding an electric saw, even raped by a man I thought I could trust. From the time I started developing breasts, males started taking an interest in me, harassing me on the street, trying to ask me out, chat me up, get 'into my pants', touch my body against my will. I quickly learnt (at age twelve!!!) not to smile at strangers any more, not to catch anyone's eye any more, to dress in boring and baggy clothes and keep my head down. Within the space of a few weeks, I changed from a chatty, bubbly and happy child (who smiled at everyone, who talked to everyone, who wanted to get to know everyone) into one always cautious, always prepared, always anticipating the next threat. I  wasn't even old enough to menstruate, yet I knew the horror of someone touching my itty-bitty breasts while holding a knife to my throat.

Why am I telling you this? To explain that inhumane, violent, vicious and cruel acts are not restricted to Muslims or to Arabs or to Islam. This is me making a point. Because you know what, apart from some of the harassment and the insults, none of these things were done by Muslims or Arabs or even people with Middle-Eastern roots. Horrible people exist the world over, murderers and sadists and those who use and abuse others for their own goals live in all countries the world over.

While in the media I hear many condemn terrorism and Islam in the same breath, I do not agree with most of the statements I hear around me. Do I condemn the inhuman treatment of others, murder, rape, human slavery? Yes, certainly. Do I condemn an entire religion and millions upon millions of its adherents? No, most certainly not.

It is not my intention to demonise Islam or Muslims, simply because I do not believe that Islam is all bad or that all Muslims are bad. It is people who act in the name of religion, it is people who use and abuse religion to further their own cause, it is people who rape and sell women, it is people who murder and call for genocide and people who claim religion 'made them do it'. It is not religion causing this, not a book causing this. Neither ideas nor books can walk or talk or hold knives or guns. It is people who CHOOSE to do this, who CHOOSE to follow (their interpretation of) what a book says, who CHOOSE to commit horrible acts.

By pretending that Islam is the Big Evil, we (in 'the West') are forgetting one very important thing: By condemning ALL Muslims because of the actions of a relatively small group, we would be sinking to the level of the terrorists who behead innocent civilians for the actions of their governments. James Foley and Steven Sotloff were killed by the so-called Islamic State for actions committed by the government of the country they were born in, for happenings far beyond their knowledge or control. They were murdered because they were American, not for who they were as people but for the larger group they happened to belong to.

While I am neither a Jew, a Christian or a Muslim, I do read Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy books and publications. I believe in God, I believe in working to become closer to God / the Divine through being a good person, reading God's scriptures, praying and doing good deeds. I try to find the common ground in the world's religions and work to connect people, to remind my readers that despite small differences, we are much more alike than different.

Religions the world over have many similar basic values: Love God, love your fellow human beings, pray, be a good person, give charity, be kind to orphans and widows and those in need, do not steal or murder or treat others cruelly. It is important to remember that Islam shares many of those same values, that most Muslims are just as human and humane as 'the rest of us'. Islam is not the enemy. Muslims are not the enemy. It is people who CHOOSE to act in the name of religion or ideology or for whatever reasons may move them to do things who ARE the enemy.

We are ALL human. We all love, we all have parents, we all have the same basic urges and needs. We all have eyes and ears and hair and skin and bones. We all think, even though we think different things. We all feel, we all love and laugh and cry. We all breathe the same air, we all need oxygen to live. We all have brains and hearts and lungs that keep us alive. We have so much in common with each other because we are the same species, we operate the same way.

Skin colour, hair colour, eye colour, size, shape, thoughts, opinions, beliefs, favourite foods, allergies, relationships, family bonds, languages, cultures - These things make us human and connect us all, yet they also define us as individuals, as people who look and sound and think differently, yet people one and all. The operative word there is PEOPLE (in case you missed it), because that is what we all are. Individual beings who share many similarities, members of the same human race, citizens of the same planet we all share.

We need to realise, to remember, to learn and understand that all of humanity is just one very large and diverse family. We need to remember that by killing, using, raping, hurting, maiming and selling members of our own extended family we are hurting our own people. I hope that the people of the world will realise that, before we do more damage than can be undone and manage to nuke the entire world to Kingdom Come and damage our planet so badly that it will no longer be able to sustain any life.

03 September 2014

The growing reach of Hamas: When boys become men

Source: The Growing Reach of Hamas'  Rockets | New York Times
I started writing this on the 8th of August 2014. I finished it on the 3rd September. Decided to finish this piece of writing and post it, even if parts read a little disjointed due to the gap between when I started and finished the article.

While many the world over call on Israel to be 'nicer' to the people in Gaza, Israel is more intent than ever to ensure safety for her citizens. While some may call the Israeli response to Palestinian / Gazan / Hamas / Islamic terror groups' terrorist attacks 'disproportionate,' or too much or unfair, I am left wondering what other options Israel has. I also fail to see the logic in Hamas' actions, they only seem to sabotage the Palestinian cause by their insistence on fighting instead of talking.

Let me be very, very frank. Is it right that innocents die? No. Is it right that innocents are scarred by events for the rest of their lives? No. Is it right that children live in fear and near-constant stress? No. Is it right that families lose loved ones? NO. No, NO, no, not at all right. None of it is right, especially because if things had gone differently, those same fighters might have been friends or neighbours. Jews and Muslims might have lived together in peace, if only things were different. Or is that just wishful thinking?

I vividly remember televised images from ten to fifteen (or so) years ago of Palestinian youths throwing stones at Israeli tanks, clashes between the two sides, youths with stones attacking the Israel Defense Forces. The IDF soldiers trained and protected, the youths angry and screaming, it was clear to see who the Bad Guys were, who the Good Guys were. Or so I thought.

Watching those images (and others like them) and being influenced by what people around me and even the television show hosts / news anchors said about the 'poor Palestinians' and the 'bad Israelis', I too felt sorry for the Palestinians and disliked the Israelis. It was that black and white for me. While I didn't know much more than what the propaganda machine told me, images of scared women and crying children won me over.

Today I am an adult. Those youths I saw on television back in 2000 or 2006 or whenever it may have been, I wondered about what happened to them not long ago. And then I realised. The youths who threw stones at tanks and soldiers ten or fifteen years ago are now old enough to be the adult men behind rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, old enough to be the masked Hamas gunmen we see operating in Gaza. While Israel acts in self-defence to protect itself from near-constant rocket attacks, threatened genocide and disruptions to daily life, the other side seems to want to lob rockets over the border, not caring where they land or hit, seems to just keep fighting and aggravating and sabotaging any effort at a true and lasting peace.

Did Hamas think they were strong enough to do real damage to Israel? Did they think that their friends over at the Islamic State would come to their aid? Did they think that their inhuman and evil ways would go unnoticed? Did they think the West would simply swallow their propaganda and lies?

Or was Hamas afraid that the world would forget them in the face of more and more groups like it gaining power and influence across the Middle East? Did Hamas leadership decide to force Israel to play the Bad Guy one last time before the world would see the true evil of radical Islam through the barbarous, cruel actions of groups like ISIS and those like it? As if everything that came before it (the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood etcetera) wasn't bad enough already?

My take on Hamas' thinking...
Man 01: "Wait, before the Islamic State executes people by the hundreds if not thousands, let's first ensure that the world will remember us"
Man 02: "But how will we do that?"
Man 01: "We step up attacks against Israel, fire at fellow Palestinians and try to aim our rockets at Jerusalem, the city we love so much. Then we put a bunch of innocents in the line of fire and hide far, far away from the fighting when the IDF comes calling."
Man 02: "But won't the world think we're just as bad as all the other radical Muslim groups out there?"
Man 01: "Oh, that won't matter. We are. But they'll all blame Israel for a problem only caused by our refusal to act like sensible adults. We just need to release enough images of dead children and weeping mothers for the world to see things the way we do."

25 August 2014

Ancient Egyptians mummified their dead much earlier than previously known

The Biblical Archaeology Society reported on the 15th August 2014 that new research has found that the ancient Egyptians began mummifying their dead much longer ago than previously thought. About fifteen hundred years earlier to be exact. Reading the article inspired me to learn some more about Egyptian mummies and the mummification process.

The British Museum's website explains that "the earliest ancient Egyptians buried their dead in small pits in the desert. The heat and dryness of the sand dehydrated the bodies quickly, creating lifelike and natural 'mummies'." (Mummification, Ancient Egypt | The British Museum)

The Ancient History Encyclopedia explains that although unintentional mummification happened as far back as prehistoric times, mummification as a purposeful and ritualistic process started around 2600 B.C.E. It was a long and expensive procedure which is why mummification was first reserved solely for Pharaohs whose mummies were placed in opulent tombs or pyramids. (Mummification in Ancient Egypt, Ancient History Encyclopedia)

Some further research led me to the 'other side of the pond' for further information from the Smithsonian.
The methods of embalming, or treating the dead body, that the ancient Egyptians used is called mummification. Using special processes, the Egyptians removed all moisture from the body, leaving only a dried form that would not easily decay. It was important in their religion to preserve the dead body in as life-like a manner as possible. So successful were they that today we can view the mummified body of an Egyptian and have a good idea of what he or she looked like in life, 3000 years ago.
Source: Egyptian Mummies, The Encyclopedia Smithsonian

The Biblical Archaeology article also explains that prehistoric Egyptians first preserved the bodies of their dead by leaving them out in the hot, dry desert. It further adds that "the use of resins and other embalming agents to preserve bodies after death was thought to have begun during the late Old Kingdom, circa 2200 B.C.E." As for how researchers found that mummification in ancient Egypt is much older than previously known, the article explains best:
An 11-year study conducted by researchers from the Universities of York, Macquari and Oxford used gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and thermal desorption/pyrolysis to examine linen wrappings in Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic (c. 4500–3350 B.C.E.) tombs in cemeteries at Mostagedda in Upper Egypt. 
Wrapped around the bodies of the entombed, the linens were found to contain some of the same embalming agents—in similar proportions—that were used over a millennia later in Pharaonic mummification in Middle Kingdom Egypt. 
Source: Ancient Egyptians Mummification, Biblical Archaeology Society

How amazing that modern science and technology have helped researchers learn that mummification was intentionally practised as far back as five thousand years ago and earlier, instead of 'only' from circa 2600 B.C.E. This breakthrough in what we know about the ancient Egyptians would not have been possible fifty or a hundred years ago as humanity's knowledge of science and technology simply wasn't advanced enough. Just imagine what we might learn ten, twenty or fifty years from now!

13 August 2014

ISIS... Islamic Terrorism at its worst

In October 2001, almost thirteen years ago, Robert Worth published an article in the New York Times entitled "The Deep Intellectual Roots of Islamic Terror." In the article, he quotes Princeton professor of Near Eastern Studies Michael Doran who talks about terrorist group Al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden. Remember, this article was published only a month after the horrible events of September 11, 2001.
''Many Americans seem to think that bin Laden is just a violent cult leader,'' said Michael Doran. ... ''But the truth is that he is tapping into a minority Islamic tradition with a wide following and a deep history.'' 
Although many Muslims are horrified at the notion that their faith is being used to justify terrorism, Mr. bin Laden's advocacy of jihad, or holy war, against the West is a natural extension of what some radical Islamists have been saying and doing since the 1930's. These radicals were jailed, tortured and often executed in their home countries... for their attacks on Western influences and their efforts to replace their own regime with an Islamic state." 
The Deep Intellectual Roots of Islamic Terror, New York Times

Extremism can occur in any religion, any group, in any ideology, in any cause that inspires people and draws them together. Today, the world is faced with Islamic extremism. It is not 'just' a violent cult leader proclaiming jihad. It is not 'just' Al-Qaeda and the events of September 11, 2001. It is not 'just' the Taliban and Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah and the Islamic Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad. It is not 'just' ISIS (aka ISIL aka the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant). It is all of those terrorist organisations together with their followers and supporters from all around the world.

Just before I started writing this, I watched a video of ISIS mass-murdering scores of men. Several friends shared it on Facebook, expressing their disgust at the horror it depicts. The video is extremely brutal, showing people being beaten, being shot, killed in cold blood. I don't understand nearly enough Arabic to know what is being said, however I do know what I see. Mass murder as evidenced by shocking and horrifying images.

The Right Scoop : ISIS Murders 1500 POWs

This is what is happening in the world today. This is what human beings are doing to each other. This is what a world religion with an amazing potential for peace and love and brotherhood is being misused for. And this is what will spread around the world unchecked if we -- global humanity -- do not stand up and say NO to Islamic extremism.

"It is shameful and disgraceful that these terrorists are doing this in the name of religion, killing the people whose killing Allah has forbidden, and mutilating their bodies and feeling proud in publishing this."  
~ King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, earlier this month

12 August 2014

Operation Gaza Dome... A Harsh Reality-Check

I am very glad that this video is only fictional. Way too many people dead in Gaza, among them many innocent non-combatants. Shortages of water, food, electricity and just about everything else. Rockets being launched from inside or next to mosques, schools, hospitals, houses. The threat of being forced into being a human shield; of being executed for disagreeing with the establishment, of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. All of that is very real

What is also very real is the threat that Hamas and groups like it pose. It is time that the world stops blaming Israel for a conflict that is being caused by radical fundamental Islam. The "Islamic State" in Iraq and Syria has crucified Christians, has killed fellow Muslims, are attempting to exterminate the Yazidi people. Remember the horrible events of 9/11? London subway bombings? Suicide bombings throughout Israel? Dutch documentary-maker Theo van Gogh killed in Amsterdam while riding his bike? Pro-Palestine / pro-Gaza demonstrations where ISIS flags are raised, where reporters and women are threatened and harassed? When will enough be enough already? When will we learn to stop hating each other, to stop trying to kill each other and stop trying to dominate, intimidate and terrorise each other?  

As for Operation Gaza Dome - Congratulations to whoever came up with the idea for this video. The beginning draws one in, "Operation Gaza Dome Is A Go" makes it sounds like it's time to dance and the countdown gives you time to 'recover' from the brief euphoria of a catchy tune and realise what it is you're watching... Definitely very well done, indeed. I hope it opens a lot of eyes and is seen by many.    

Source Gaza Dome, gevgevaComedy101  

08 August 2014

Saudi king condemns terrorism in Holy Land

The Times of Israel reports that Saudi Arabia's 90-year old King Abdullah spoke out against extremism and terrorism on Friday 01 August 2014 in a statement read out on Saudi Arabian television. The Custodian Of The Two Holy Mosques (located in Mecca and Medina) stressed that both Israel and Hamas were responsible for the violence in Gaza which, in the King's words had led to "various forms" of terrorism, whether from groups, organisations or states.
"In his remarks, the king pressed Muslim leaders to unite against extremism, saying terrorists are wrongfully carrying out deadly acts in the name of Islam and tarnishing the religion’s “purity and humanity.” 
His remarks appeared to be directed at groups like the Islamic State and its allies, which have taken over territory in Iraq and Syria and whose fighters view the Western-allied Saudi ruling family as enemies. 
“It is shameful and disgraceful that these terrorists are doing this in the name of religion, killing the people whose killing Allah has forbidden, and mutilating their bodies and feeling proud in publishing this,” the statement said. “They have distorted the image of Islam with its purity and humanity and smeared it with all sorts of bad qualities by their actions, injustice and crimes."
Source: Saudi king condemns Gaza war -- but not Israel | The Times of Israel