Category Archives: Irwan Shah Bin Abdullah

Will Qatar be able to supply enough Energy to the European Market?

The Russia-Ukraine conflict is escalating with no end in sight. The solution of the West has been to impose sanctions on the Russian Federation but now the European Union rely on new Energy trading partners from the Middle East.

But will Qatar be really a safe alternative to the Russian Federation?

In the past two weeks, a number of European politicians have admitted that their assessment of Russian President Vladimir Putin was wrong and by surprise the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz admitted that the German Energy strategy has finally backfired.

According to the former German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, which now runs the European Commission, she believes that Qatar could be an alternative to Russia in terms of gas supply.

Lets be clear, the same old mistake is done again by talking about business and overlooking the politics in the background. Obviously, the European have learned nothing from the Russian and Ukrainian conflict, so lets do more research about the Forum of Gas Producing Countries.

Last month, the Sixth Summit of the Forum of Gas Producing Countries was held in Doha, the capital of Qatar. The summit was overshadowed by the Russian / Ukrainian conflict and its motto was “Natural Gas – Shaping the Energy Future” with a Marketing Slogan to the energy crisis in Europe. The European Union get’s 40 percent of their gas needs from Russia, and gas prices have more than doubled during the last month.

An alternative energy Source for the European Union is not in sight and the German Nord Stream 2 pipeline is unlikely to go online after Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

Interestingly during the Sixth Summit of the Forum of Gas Exporting Countries, Viktor Zubkov, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Gazprom and the Special Representative to Russian President Vladimir Putin was awarded for his life-time contribution to the Forum of Gas Producing Countries. The award was received on behalf of Viktor Zubkov by Russian Energy Minister, Nikolay Shulginov and the European diplomats must have been stunned on how deeply the GECF is linked to the Russian Federation.

The Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) is leaning towards the Russian Federation (47,805 billion cubic Meters), Iran (33,721 billion cubic Meters), Qatar (24,072 billion cubic Meters), Saudi Arabia (9,200 billion cubic Meters), Turkmenistan (7,504 billion cubic Meters), United Arab Emirates (6,091 billion cubic Meters), Venezuela (5,740 billion cubic Meters), Nigeria (5,475 billion cubic Meters) and the People’s Republic of China (5,440 billion cubic Meters).

The forum of gas exporting countries has existed since 2001 and goes back to an Iranian initiative. After Russia’s accession in 2008, it gained in importance and unity as Russian President Vladmir Putin closely initiated an alliance with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran.  Today, 19 member countries control 71% of the world’s known gas reserves. GECF member countries produced 43% of the world’s gas and 58% of its liquefied gas in 2020. Only two major gas producers are not members of the forum which should not be a surprise as they come from the United States and Australia. Technically speaking the GECF is operated by governments that do not follow the Western style of democracies and the West is just seen as a Trading Partner.

The current crisis has shown the geopolitical dimension of gas and Russia uses it to put political pressure on Europe. The gas from Russia is considered climate-friendly and therefore an alternative to oil and coal and the demand for Russian gas is enormous, so it helps to take a look at the production numbers to meet potential new business partners for Ursula von der Leyen.

In 2020, the USA led the list of the ten largest gas producers with 960 billion cubic Meters, followed by Russia (705 billion cubic Meters), Iran (234 billion cubic Meters), China (195 billion cubic Meters), Canada (172 billion cubic Meters), Qatar (167 billion cubic Meters), Australia (154 billion cubic Meters), Norway (116 billion cubic Meters), Saudi Arabia (97 billion cubic Meters), Algeria (84 billion cubic Meters).

Together they hold more than half of all known Gas reserves today (205,000 billion cubic Meters) and the Russian Federation, Iran and Qatar will play an enormous geo-pollical role during the next century. Cancelling Russian gas or trying to bypass Russia will have huge consequences to the European Community.

Could Qatar be an alternative gas supplier to Russia?

It is not surprising that the European Union want to take advantage to focus on getting Qatar in its pockets but it will not happened. Russia and Iran have constantly tried to turn the GECF into a new OPEC, which will set the production and prices of gas in favor of the producers.

Qatar was a world market leader for years in the export of gas, but in 2021 it slipped to second place with 77.4 bcm and was even overtaken by Australia (87.6) in third place, like the USA (71.6). However, Qatar mainly supplies Asia, in which it has long-term supply contracts for the next 15 years and the Gas prices have been pre-negotiated at a fixed contract rates and for that reason in Western countries, Energy prices are adjusted on a daily basis, compared to the Asian markets which have a buffer zone of 6 to 10 weeks before the energy prices get adjusted.

Qatar’s LNG Exports by Destination (2020 in million tons)
Qatar’s LNG Exports by Destination (2020 in million tons)

One wonders why the Western companies didn’t do the same by negotiating longterm contract rates but energy experts explained that European companies were opposed to long term contracts, preferring short contracts to ensure price certainty by passing prices on to the Western consumers overnight but lets be certain, when prices skyrocket in Western countries, so do company profits.

The production of LPG Gas requires huge investments, so only long contracts to Asia can ensure price and supply stability and protect the interests of the producers, governments and consumers. Qatar also asked the Europeans to do the same and invited them to participate in its projects as Qatar wants to increase its liquefied gas production from 77 bcm now to 126 bcm in 2027 at a cost of $51 billion. During the next 12 to 18 months European companies might not be able to benefit but in 2024, Europe should be able to replace Russian gas with gas from Qatar and other Middle Eastern countries.

Iran, Qatar & Russia: Close Allies in the Middle East

In order to attract Qatar, the US has persuaded the Arab states of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to lift their blockade against Qatar, which has been in place since 2017. Then, last month, US President Joe Biden received the Emir of Qatar and promised to make his country the only strategic ally outside of NATO and these concessions appear to have worked, but have not changed Qatar’s stance.

Iran and Qatar share the world’s largest gas field in the Gulf with reserves of 51,000 bcm of which Iran owns 38 percent and Qatar 62 percent. Gas production began in 1989, and three years later Qatar signed 30-year contracts with western oil companies. They regulated the exploitation of the field and, above all, the liquefaction of the Natural gas, which requires highly developed technology. Iran was left out after Western Sanctions for supporting terrorism and had no access to the global Gas market. After a decade, Qatar has become the world market leader in the production of liquid gas.

In 2019 Qatar Petroleum didn’t renewed it’s 25 years contract with ExxonMobil and Total, giving QP full control of the Qatargas 1 fields.

As a result, Qatar also became the richest country in the world due to its large gas reserves and the ruling family began to pursue their own goals. So far, as a member of the Cooperation Council of the Gulf Arab States, Qatar had supported a pro-Western stance but in 2006, Qatar broke from that consensus and voted in the UN Security Council against imposing new sanctions on Iran over its recently discovered nuclear program and there are concrete indications of how the sanctions against Iran are being circumvented by exporting more gas than Qatar actually can produce.

Qatar maintains close contacts to both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban’s

With the onset of the Arab Spring in 2011, like Iran, Qatar supported the Shiites in Bahrain against the ruling Sunnis. Despite an agreement with Saudi Arabia to support the Syrian opposition as a whole, the Qataris in Syria only aided the Islamists and jihadists, particularly al Qaeda’s offshoot Al Nasra Front. They have been providing political and financial supports to Islamists in Libya, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Qatari rulers had always maintained good relations with the Taliban, letting them set up a liaison office in Doha and overseeing their secret negotiations with the Americans. Qatar also helped the Americans flee Afghanistan and, after they left, took over management of the Kabul airport to allow remaining civilians to leave the country, and now, in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Qatar is mediating in the background.

Because of its commitment to backing the Iranians, Qatar came into conflict with the Gulf States and Egypt after 2013, which put the Muslim Brotherhood on their terrorist lists. In 2017, the conflict escalated and these states imposed a blockade on Qatar as well as a sea and air space ban. With the help of Iran and Turkey, the blockade was undermined and the Iranians supplied Qatar with food and other goods and made their airspace and national waters available.

Both Qatar and Iran moved closer together and by the end of the blockade, Qatar no longer had any economic links with its Arab neighbors.

Since Obama, Americans have wanted to leave the Middle East

Qatar has been maneuvering between the United States and the camp of Russia, Iran and China and economically, it is definitely keeps closer economical relations between GECF member countries. Politically, it wants to appear neutral but in practice, it officially announced that it will not renew the gas and oil contracts with Western companies that are due to expire this year.

After thirty years, Qatar has sufficient know-how and has become more independent. The new contracts will be negotiated accordingly and Qatar also wants to increase its stake in the companies. At the same time, Qatar has ordered four LNG tankers from China.

Since Obama  the Americans have wanted to leave the Middle East in order to stop China’s policy of expansion in the Asia Pacific region and a void has emerged in the Gulf that has been filled not only by Iran and Russia, but also by China.

Last year, China and Iran signed a 25-year cooperation agreement in which China would get cheap Iranian oil. In return, China will invest $400 billion in Iran.

It is unrealistic that the US embrace of Qatar will induce the emirate to divert a significant portion of it’s Energy exports for Europe that is currently allocated for the Chinese market and Qatar would never inflict such a blow on the Russians and Chinese.

Biden is continuing Obama’s policy in the hope of signing a nuclear deal with Iran after all. He has made no effort to win back his old friends; that is why no Arab country has condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and everyone was neutral and appealed for peace. Whether Qatar can solve Europe’s problems is doubtful and a solution can only be a new European energy solution. You can’t rely on the political instincts of the Europeans, but you can rely on their science, they will have to invent something new. Until then, the Germans are well advised not to shut down the three remaining nuclear reactors and as well activate their coal powered plants this year and they need to keep their Fingers crossed that Russia is not shutting down it’s Energy supplies to Europe. If Russia does cut the energy supply to Europe it would be an economical disaster for all countries in the E.U. with a long lasting recession.

Irwan Shah is the Founder of eHalal Group

Ukraine Crisis – Muslim Population & Islamic Communities in Ukraine

In the beginning of the twentieth century, Muslims constituted a third of the population of Crimea, and a large number of Muslims inhabited most of the major cities in the Crimea. However, during World War II, the Soviet leadership accused the Crimean Muslims of collaborating with Nazi Germany and thus were subjected to mass deportations in 1944.

Total population: 44 million
Muslim population ( 2019): 500, 000

Islam in Ukraine
Islam in Ukraine

More than 200,000 Crimean Tatars were deported to Central Asia, particularly to the land that would later become Uzbekistan.

The Crimean Tatars were only able to return to Crimea after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Ukraine’s independence. Russia annexed the Crimea region.

Estimates of the Ukrainian Muslim population vary. According to the State Statistics Service of Ukraine, the total population of the peninsula is 2,353,000.

There are no independent recent statistics that provide data on the religious affiliations of the population, despite the presence of approximately 300, 000 Crimean Tatars, who make up 13 percent of the population and are mostly Muslims.

Muslims Worried about Halal Status of Covid-19 Vaccines

JAKARTA, INDONESIA – In October, Indonesian diplomats and Muslim clerics stepped off a plane in China. While the diplomats were there to finalize deals to ensure millions of doses reached Indonesian citizens, the clerics had a much different concern: Whether the COVID-19 vaccine was permissible for use under Islamic law.

As companies race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and countries scramble to secure doses, questions about the use of pork products — banned by some religious groups — has raised concerns about the possibility of disrupted immunization campaigns.

Pork-derived gelatin has been widely used as a stabilizer to ensure vaccines remain safe and effective during storage and transport. Some companies have worked for years to develop pork-free vaccin Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis has produced a pork-free meningitis vaccine, while Saudi- and Malaysia-based AJ Pharma is currently working on one of their own.

But demand, existing supply chains, cost and the shorter shelf life of vaccines not containing porcine gelatin means the ingredient is likely to continue to be used in a majority of vaccines for years, said Dr. Salman Waqar, general secretary of the British Islamic Medical Association.

Spokespeople for Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have said that pork products are not part of their COVID-19 vaccines. But limited supply and preexisting deals worth millions of dollars with other companies means that some countries with large Muslim populations, such as Indonesia, will receive vaccines that have not yet been certified to be gelatin-free.

This presents a dilemma for religious communities, where the consumption of pork products is deemed religiously unclean, and how the ban is applied to medicine, he said.

“There’s a difference of opinion amongst Islamic scholars as to whether you take something like pork gelatin and make it undergo a rigorous chemical transformation,” Waqar said. “Is that still considered to be religiously impure for you to take?”

‘Greater harm’

The majority consensus from past debates over pork gelatin use in vaccines is that it is permissible under Islamic law, as “greater harm” would occur if the vaccines weren’t used, said Dr. Harunor Rashid, an associate professor at the University of Sydney.

Yet there have been dissenting opinions on the issue — some with serious health consequences for Indonesia, which has the worl s largest Muslim population, some 225 million of the worl s nearly 2 billion Muslims.

In 2018, the Indonesian Ulema Council, the Muslim clerical body that issues certifications that a product is halal, or permissible under Islamic law, decreed that the measles and rubella vaccines were “haram,” or unlawful, because of the gelatin. Religious and community leaders began to urge parents to not allow their children to be vaccinated.

“Measles cases subsequently spiked, giving Indonesia the third-highest rate of measles in the world,” said Rachel Howard, director of the health care market research group Research Partnership.

A decree was later issued by the Muslim clerical body saying it was permissible to receive the vaccine, but cultural taboos still led to continued low vaccination rates, Howard said.

“Our studies have found that some Muslims in Indonesia feel uncomfortable with accepting vaccinations containing these ingredients,” even when the Muslim authority issues guidelines saying they are permitted, she said.

Vaccine hesitancy on the rise

Governments have taken steps to address the issue. In Malaysia, where the halal status of vaccines has been identified as the biggest issue among Muslim parents, stricter laws have been enacted so that parents must vaccinate their children or face fines and jail time. In Pakistan, where there has been waning vaccine confidence for religious and political reasons, parents have been jailed for refusing to vaccinate their children against polio.

But with rising vaccine hesitancy and misinformation spreading around the globe, including in religious communities, Rashid said community engagement is “absolutely necessary.”

“It could be disastrous,” if there is not strong community engagement from governments and health care workers, he said.

In Indonesia, the government has already said it will include the Muslim clerical body in the COVID-19 vaccine procurement and certification process.

“Public communication regarding the halal status, price, quality and distribution must be well-prepared,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said in October.

While they were in China in the fall, the Indonesian clerics inspected China’s Sinovac Biotech facilities, and clinical trials involving some 1,620 volunteers are also underway in Indonesia for the company’s vaccine. The government has announced several COVID-19 vaccine procurement deals with the company totaling millions of doses.

Sinovac Biotech, as well as Chinese companies Sinopharm and CanSino Biologics — which all have COVID-19 vaccines in late-stage clinical trials and deals selling millions of doses around the world — did not respond to Associated Press requests for ingredient information.

In China, none of the COVID-19 vaccines has been granted final market approval, but more than 1 million health care workers and others who have been deemed at high risk of infection have received vaccines under emergency use permission. The companies have yet to disclose how effective the vaccines are or possible side effects.

Pakistan is late-stage clinical trials of the CanSino Biologics vaccine. Bangladesh previously had an agreement with Sinovac Biotech to conduct clinical trials in the country, but the trials have been delayed due to a funding dispute. Both countries have some of the largest Muslim populations in the world.

While health care workers on the ground in Indonesia are still largely engaged in efforts to contain the virus as numbers continue to surge, Waqar said government efforts to reassure Indonesians will be key to a successful immunization campaign as COVID-19 vaccines are approved for use.

But, he said, companies producing the vaccines must also be part of such community outreach.

“The more they are transparent, the more they are open and honest about their product, the more likely it is that there are communities that have confidence in the product and will be able to have informed discussions about what it is they want to do,” he said.

“Because, ultimately, it is the choice of individuals.” to introduce ERP/SCM solutions on the African continent

eHalal today announced the expansion of its ERP/SCM software solutions to the African continent, with focus on member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and The Standards and Metrology Institute for the Islamic Countries (SMIIC).

The Software as a Service (SaaS) will be available in Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia and Uganda.

“Africa is the home of more than 550 million Muslims, and the continent would benefit greatly from the introduction of an efficient Halal supply chain management and compliance system. seeks to offer a globally Halal Standardized Certification System and the establishment of a uniform regulatory framework.” said Irwan Shah @ Wolfgang Holzem, the Chief Technology Officer & Founder of

The localization of eHalal ERP/SCM has been completed in English, Arabic, French, Portuguese and will be launched in the ECOWAS region with the focus on teaming up with local partners in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte Ivoire, Gambia, Mali, Niger and Senegal.

The launch of eHalal Network in West Africa, will also open training and career opportunities to African’s in the Information Technology and Blockchain sector throughout the African Halal supply chain.

Media Contact

Contact Person: Irwan Shah Bin Abdullah
Phone: +65.3158.0963
Address: 16 Purvis Street, #02-01
Country: Singapore

Human Rights Groups See No improvement in Thailand’s Restive South Two Years After Massacre at Mosque

Thai soldiers remove remnants of a deadly clash at the Kreu Se mosque in Pattani province, near the border of Malaysia , April 29, 2004

In Thailand, security has been tightened in several southern provinces on the eve of the anniversary of a clash between security forces and Muslim separatists in which more than 100 people were killed. Two years after the clashes, human rights groups say the situation has not improved, though the Thai government says progress has been made in stabilizing the region.

The representative of the Human Rights Watch group in Thailand, Sunai Phasuk, sees no improvement in southernmost Thailand, where more than 1,000 people have been killed in the past two years in clashes between government troops and Muslim separatists.

“The militants attack on a daily basis,” he said. “The government seems to be unable to prevent these militant attacks or arrest anyone or prosecute anyone. So that has eroded confidence of Muslims in the government.”

He made the remark on the eve of the second anniversary Friday of clashes in three southernmost provinces in which more than 100 people died.

Suspected Muslim militants seeking to separate the region from predominantly Buddhist Thailand attacked police installations and killed several policemen. Thirty-two men who took refuge in an ancient mosque in Pattani province were killed when security forces attacked.

Six months later, security forces rounded up 1,300 men during a protest in the province of Narathiwat and crammed them into trucks. Eighty-five of them died – mostly from suffocation.

The head of the Lawyers Council of Thailand, Somchai Chomlaor, says charges that government troops used excessive force were investigated, but no action was taken.

“The recommendations made by the independent committee set up by the government, it’s never been implemented,” he said. “No government officer is disciplined or even prosecuted.”

The Thai government says it is making progress in quelling the violence in the south. It says it has detained many separatist leaders and is addressing the deep-seated grievances the population has against the central government.

However, Sunai of Human Rights Watch says the violence continues and a major reason is the high level of impunity in the south.

“Either (whether) militant violence or government-sponsored violence, none (neither) of them have been properly addressed through the Thai legal system. So it is not surprising that rogue officials or militants are still willing to commit violence on a daily basis,” he said.

He notes that security officials have taken measures to avoid major incidents that anger the local population. But he says an emergency law imposed last year, which allows authorities to detain people without charge and protects security forces from legal charges, has added to a climate of fear and alienation.

Banned from India, Defunct French Warship Returns Home

After a two-month voyage bound for India’s shipwrecking yards, France’s defunct aircraft carrier Clemenceau is returning home after experts concluded it carries far more asbestos than French authorities originally claimed. The saga of the Clemenceau was an embarrassment for the French government.

Once the pride of France, the decommissioned warship is now the country’s shame. After weeks of uncertainty over the Clemenceau’s fate, French President Jacques Chirac ordered late Wednesday that the ship return home. Mr. Chirac’s decision comes on the eve of a visit to India, where opposition has been growing against the ships planned dismantlement in the Alang shipwrecking yards.

Ever since the Clemenceau steamed out of the port of Toulon on December 31, it has been the object of a growing international dispute. Greenpeace and several environmental groups argue it carries far more asbestos on board than the 45 or so tons French officials first claimed. Egyptian authorities originally blocked the Clemenceau from entering the Suez Canal en route for India, for fears of its toxic cargo.

When Egypt finally gave the green light, the Clemenceau received another setback: India’s supreme court barred the ship from entering Indian waters pending a determination whether the ship was too hazardous to be dismantled. That decision was expected Monday. But the court said it would tap a new committee of experts, and make a final ruling scheduled for Friday.

Greenpeace hails Mr. Chirac’s announcement as a victory.

Yannick Jadot, head of Greenpeace’s campaign in France, told French radio that he hoped Paris will assume a leadership role to ensure other toxic European ships are dismantled safely. He said safeguards were needed so poisonous materials could be removed from such vessels without harming the environment or workers’ health.

But Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie still argues the government’s choice of sending the Clemenceau to India had been a responsible one.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, she insisted it was better to send the Clemenceau to India rather than letting it languish in a French port. She said the Alang shipyard would have followed international standards to ensure that health and environmental concerns were met.

The Clemenceau is now returning to France. For the time being, its unclear just where it will finally be dismantled.

Shingapore Shenanigans

In one of the greatest shock surprises in Thai history, the Shingapore government controlled Temasek Holdings company paid 73.3 billion baht for the company formerly known after its founder as Shinawatra Corp – the No 1 yuppiephone company Advanced Info Service, Shin Satellite, iTV, Capital OK, SC Matchbox advert agency and Internet provider CS Loxinfo – the whole kit and kaboodle including the right to start calling it Shingapore; no one at Shin Corp knew anything about the sale, and the prime minister himself swore he never discussed the deal during his Christmas trip to Shingapore with his fabulously wealthy family; the whole sale, which put Thailand’s biggest telecoms conglomerate in Shingapore hands, was a total surprise to everyone except the public, or, as a columnist for a down-market daily newspaper called it, “An outright lie.”

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced that the sale of Shin Corp was not subject to taxation; thousands kvetched, but who could argue?

The constant, wide-eyed Shin Corp declarations of innocence over the sale – described as “a tall story” in one of the kinder columns – assures a long, bitter and probably political fight over the sale; by denying knowledge of a deal that was on the front pages for weeks, Shin Corp principals including Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra did not only make themselves look phoney in many eyes, but raised cynicism in corporate and public governance to a new level; headhunters were on the phone to dispirited Shin Corp executives, and a firestorm of criticism began on front pages and in Internet chat rooms over the fact the public will get no taxes from the deal no matter what the law says; Mr Thaksin said his kids handled the whole deal, and some claimed to believe him.

Boonklee Plangsiri announced he would remain as CEO of Shingapore Corp; Yingluck Shinawatra resigned as president of Advanced Info Service, and Mr Boonklee promised to promote a company employee to replace her; Shingapore Corp appointed Pong Sarasin as chairman, replacing Bhannapot Damapong, who requires a long stretch of uninterrupted quiet to count his money.

The sudden realisation that control of the most vital and important telecoms firm in Thailand was under Shingaporean control added to the shock and frustration over how Shin Corp treated the public over the sale; many called it a threat to Thai security, far surpassing concern over the sale last year of No 2 yuppiephone firm DTAC to Telenor of Norway; the Shingapore takeover of Shin Corp, with its dozens of telecoms tentacles even including space satellites, also mocked the claim by the Magnificent Seven and Free Trade Agreement negotiators that Thailand was too fragile and under-developed to open its telecoms markets and companies to foreign investment and competition.

The (admittedly potential) Sight of the Year will be Shingapore-owned Shin Corp whining that foreigners are trying to horn in on the Thai telecommunications market. The most telling statement so far was when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the day after the sale that he would wash his hands of business – from now on.

The political fallout of the Shingapore Corp sale was intense; Sen Chirmsak Pinthong, chairman of the Senate committee against corruption, said he would track the money from the sale and urge the Anti-Money Laundering Office, the National Counter Corruption Commission and the Bank of Thailand to do the same; Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva called for a minimum of governance standards, and the Democrat Party set up a special committee to look into the sale.

Little Teensy Weensy Story of the Week: A magnificent “source” from the National Telecommunications Commission seemed to have assured Shingapore Corp it will receive a third-generation yuppiephone operating licence in quick time, not that a national commission ever would get involved in a huge private business deal just to please the prime minister’s family, you suspicious person, you.

Europe should accept its Muslims

Amidst the turbulence of war and violence marking today’s world, culture has turned into the great mask behind which hides a racist agenda at home and an expansionist policy abroad.

In the name of culture, Bush’s wars turn into a noble mission to bring democracy to the culturally hostile Middle East, while Blair’s draconian crackdown on civil liberties becomes a necessary defence of “our British values” against cultural and religious aggression.

The same dichotomy has dominated Western political discourse since the Enlightenment era, fuelled by the climate of European military and economic expansion.

The dichotomy between ‘we’ and ‘they’, ‘we’ the Europeans, or Westerners, who are imbued with the light of reason and spirit of progress, and ‘they’ who still dwell in the darkness of superstition and cultural stagnation.

This colonialist rightwing discourse is on the ascendancy once more in Europe, such that the Chirac government could unashamedly recast the bleak decades of French colonisation of Africa and the Arab Maghreb as a ‘civilising mission’ in the history syllabus taught in French schools.

Instead of driving European governments to forge more open relations with their socially deprived and institutionally marginalised religious and ethnic minorities and to review their policies of illegitimate military expansionism, September 11 has turned into a pretext for clinging to a right wing aggressive agenda at home and an arrogant foreign interventionism.

In this climate, multiculturalism has been painted as Europe’s scourge and the root of its ills. As one writer put it, “the time for sophistry is over…. our country must assert its values”.

Europe’s minorities are in other words the cause of all its social, political and economic deficiencies. The remedy lies in suffocating them through stringent legislations and ruthless practicesfrom stop- and- search and surveillance, to control orders and shoot- and- kill police tactics.

The intensely rich and complex Islamic culture, which had fostered some of the most cosmopolitan and open societies in history, in Baghdad, Damascus, Cordoba, or Istanbul, has found itself reduced to a narrow set of vulgar stereotypes.

They and their faith have been reduced to a security problem to be dealt with exclusively by the intelligence services. However much Europe’s Muslims attempt to prove their allegiance to the nation-state, they remain in the eyes of its strategists a fifth column and a threat to homeland security.

Critics of multiculturalism should bear the following point in mind. Whether we like it or not, Europe is a multicultural continent. To turn the clock back and return to a closed notion of national identity based on uniformity is simply not an option.

Countries like France, still struggling to reverse this powerful trend in the name of ‘laicitĕ’ and ‘les valeurs of la Rěpublique’, find themselves in a deeper crisis than any other European country.

Suddenly, these critics seem to have stumbled on the magic cure for our troubles in the form of the French principle of integration, in reality a euphemism for cultural and social assimilation. But a look at Paris’s banlieux, with their ghettos, rising levels of social deprivation, unemployment and crime would be enough to condemn this model of integration, rather than recommend it for emulation. To this fact testify the recent riots across France’s suburbs.

That Europe incorporates in its midst a multitude of cultures is undeniable. But cultural pluralism does not simply refer to the phenomenon of cultural diversity.

It points to the existence of many which are equal in the public arena. The presence of a multitude of communities in itself is not enough. The important thing is whether they are treated as equals by the state.

This is plainly not the case in Europe where ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poor housing, some of which unfit for human habitation, to suffer health problems, lag behind in education and experience unemployment than their White counterparts.

In many European countries such as France, Muslims, the largest of the continent’s religious minorities, remain unrepresented in any political institution, forced to exist outside the public sphere altogether. Culture and ethnicity are now the basis of stratification. Religious and ethnic minorities are Europe’s new underclass.

September 11 has turned into a pretext for clinging to a right wing aggressive agenda at home and an arrogant foreign interventionism.

The issue of the Muslim minority’s integration has recently been the subject of a public debate characterised with much tension and reductionism. It would be difficult to find fault with the notion of integration if it meant greater openness on the part of the Muslim minority to its cultural environment, or the need to acquire the necessary linguistic tools to make such communication possible.

But the openness of cultures and Ways of life is a mutual, not a one sided affair. It places a greater responsibility on the majority culture, being more dominant in terms of power and its structures, to reach out to its surrounding cultural minorities.

Last year, a You GovPoll for the Commission of Racial Equality in Britain revealed that 83% of White Britons have no friends who are practising Muslims and that 94% say that they do not have any friends from outside their White communities.

The vast presence of grossly inaccurate stereotypes of Muslims is further proof that the majority is living in isolation from other minority groups and needs to integrate better within today’s racially and culturally diverse European society.

Denouncing multiculturalism has become a gate to reviving the tradition of cultural essentialism, with its belief in the superiority of European culture and myths of the White man’s burden and his civilising mission.

In many European countries such as France, Muslims, the largest of the continent’s religious minorities, remain unrepresented in any political institution, forced to exist outside the public sphere altogether.

In this context, the intensely rich and complex Islamic culture, which had fostered some of the most cosmopolitan and open societies in history, in Baghdad, Damascus, Cordoba, or Istanbul, has found itself reduced to a narrow set of vulgar stereotypes.

These range from the subordination of women and arranged marriage to fanaticism and religious despotism. Such arguments bespeak much ignorance and prejudice.

Above all, they overlook the fact that all cultures are subject to different modes of interpretation, and that no culture is homogenous or absolute. To reduce the Islamic culture to these phenomena is akin to identifying ‘Britishness’ with Victorian military expansion and the British massacres of Natives in Kenya, Sudan, and Malawi, or seeing Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and the burning of the corpses of so- called enemy combatants as representative of American culture.

Some liberals are particularly fond of the following question: How, they ask, is it possible to be tolerant with the intolerant? But with the recent assaults on civil liberties and the drive to police the public sphere and encroach into the private realm of the citizen in Europe and the US, this inherently flawed question has been reversed.

What we need to be asking is: to what extent are those who preach liberalism really liberal? How far are those who purport to be tolerant really tolerant? Can we still claim to live in an open society?

My Lai War Hero Hugh Thompson Dies

An American soldier honored for protecting Vietnamese civilians from U.S. troops in the infamous My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war has died.

Hugh Thompson was 62. He succumbed to cancer Friday.

As an Army helicopter pilot in 1968, Mr. Thompson saw the bodies of women and children lying outside the village of My Lai. When he realized that US troops were shooting civilians, he landed his helicopter in the line of fire and ordered his two crew members to train their guns on the Americans.

Mr. Thompson threatened to shoot the U.S. troops if they did not stop, helping end one of the worst atrocities of the war.

His role in what became known as the My Lai massacre of hundreds of civilians was not widely known until years later. In 1998, Mr. Thompson and his crew were awarded the Soldier’s Medal for their bravery.

Former Thai PM urges political approach to ending Southern violence

Former Thai Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh on Monday urged the government to opt for a political rather than a military approach in resolving violence in the Muslim-majority region, saying only such an approach could win the hearts and mind of local people.

“The operation to end continuing violence still lacks guidance and clear direction as there are overlapping agencies working without direct command from one authoritative Source,” Gen. Chavalit pointed out.

Credited with developing a peaceful strategy to end Thailand’s decades-long Communist insurgency more than 20 years ago, Gen. Chavalit recently proposed a three-pronged formula aimed at stemming the worsening violence in the border region.

Among them, the creation of a strong community-based “Nakorn Pattani” set up with a special administrative status similar to that of the capital Bangkok, and the northern city of Chiang Mai.

He singled out the lack of understanding of local people as the main problem in the troubled region, not poverty—as was generally perceived.

The former prime minister also warned the government that there would be no end to the violence in the South if it insisted on responding only with force, arguing that the number of insurgents are now increasing to 1.5 million.

He said the insurgency movement had been campaigning to set up an independent Pattani state, and that the entity existed long before the emergence of Siam, now known as Thailand.

The general suggested that a possible counter to the escalating violence could be for the Culture Ministry to revise the office historical record –strongly-influenced by a Thai Buddhist view of history to acknowledge the local Malay Muslim view of history — in order to increase public understanding of the troubled region’s long history of struggle.

Gen. Chavalit said he was confident that his proposed strategy would eventually bring an end to the southern insurgency within 60 days if the ideas were to be translated into practice.

The Rise of East Asia?

At the recent 11th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur , Australia formally acceded to ASEAN’s non-aggression pact called the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. Almost overlooked, this event actually marked one of the decisive steps in the redefinition of East Asia.

Australia’s accession to the TAC means that the Howard government accepts the territorial integrity of its neighbours. This is significant in view of Prime Minister John Howard’s post-September 11 comments that Canberra could launch pre-emptive strikes against terrorist bases in other countries. Utusan Malaysia , the outspoken Malay-language newspaper, carried a commentary which said that signing the TAC must have been painful for Canberra because it was “like licking back its own spit”. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has however insisted that Australia was happy to sign the TAC, and why not?

In return, Australia got what it wanted for a long time — membership in a grouping that would underscore its claim to be part of East Asia. In a highly symbolic gesture, Prime Minister Howard was accorded a seat to the right of the ASEAN host at the signing ceremony to mark the first-ever East Asia Summit (EAS) on December 14.

Indeed, Malaysia n Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi declared in no uncertain terms that the EAS was a clear success in laying the groundwork for a future East Asian community. Taking a political rather than a geographical definition, the ASEAN leaders had launched the EAS by bringing the ASEAN 10 together with the three Northeast Asian countries (China, Japan and South Korea) as well as Australia, New Zealand and India. Even Russia is knocking hard on the door to join.

But the birth of this new grouping has not been without controversy. The formation of the EAS should have made Abdullah’s predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, happy. After all, it brought to fruition Mahathir’s idea of an East Asian Economic Grouping (EAEG) 15 years after he first floated it in the late 1980s. But far from it, the now retired but still vocal Mahathir shot down the EAS as a “useless” club. The inclusion of Australia and New Zealand, which he described as neither East nor Asian, would water down East Asia’s voice. Interestingly, however, Mahathir’s broadside was softened by Abdullah who said the EAS demonstrated ASEAN’s capacity to “eschew dogmatism and orthodoxy”.

But Abdullah also made a crucial point that should put to rest the dispute over who would drive this new East Asian entity. What will happen now to the ‘ASEAN + 3’, the annual consultations with China, Japan and South Korea initiated in the 1990s which preceded the EAS? The ASEAN + 3 and the EAS will exist in parallel, he said. But the ASEAN+ 3 would be in the driver’s seat to build an East Asian community. “The EAS would neither replace nor be an alternative to the ASEAN + 3”, Abdullah told the press.

The phrase, ‘in the driver’s seat’, captured the fundamental debate that has divided the region into two schools of thought. The first school, led by Malaysia and China, wanted the ASEAN + 3 to be the main vehicle for the future East Asian community. The second group, led by Indonesia and Japan, wanted the EAS to be the main vehicle. When it became clear that the US would be excluded from the EAS, Indonesia and Japan pushed for the inclusion of Australia and New Zealand, and subsequently India. The idea was to counter-balance the possible dominance of China in the evolving architecture.

Whichever the vehicle, it is clear that at the core would be ASEAN. Indeed, in the Kuala Lum Declaration on the East Asia Summit issued on December 14, the “driving force” was neither the EAS nor the ASEAN+3 but ASEAN itself. In other words, it is ASEAN that will define how East Asia would shape up in the coming years. This is a crucial point in the new balancing game in the region.

A new phase may have begun in the changing landscape of East Asia. But will the EAS live up to its mission as a force for peace, stability and prosperity in East Asia? Or will it end up as the new theatre for old quarrels, as manifested by the ongoing tensions between Japan and China, which was apparent for all to see at the KL summit? The road to the East Asian Community is still a long and rocky one.

by Yang Razali Kassim

Yang Razali Kassim is a Senior Fellow with the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

Russia Begins Cutting Off Natural Gas to Ukraine

Russia’s state-run Natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, says it has begun reducing pressure in the pipelines that supply Ukraine after Kiev rejected a proposed price increase.

Gazprom officials said Saturday they would halt the sale of Natural gas to Ukraine at 10 a.m. local time (0700 UTC) Sunday if Kiev refused to agree to a contract quadrupling the price it currently pays.

On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Ukraine could pay the current subsidized lower price until the end of March if Kiev agreed to pay the higher market price beginning in April. Gazprom officials say Ukraine rejected the offer.

Gazprom says supplies of Natural gas to the rest of Europe are not affected.

Tsunami whistle-blower says Thailand’s beach hotels not ready for another killer wave

A leading meteorologist, who warned a tsunami could strike Thailand seven years before one hit, said Tuesday that coastal hotels and resorts are still unprepared for another killer wave.

“At the moment, they (hotels) do not even have a map or instructions to tell the guests what do” in a tsunami, Smith Thammasaroj said Tuesday, a day after thousands of Thais and foreigners gathered on beaches to mourn the dead from the tragedy last Dec. 26.

He said tourist facilities along the Thai coast, where the tsunami killed nearly 5,400, have not yet hooked into the well-functioning National Disaster Warning Center — which would give them quick notice of an approaching tsunami or other disaster.

Thailand’s lack of preparedness for the tsunami has raised the possibility of lawsuits by some foreign victims, but no major legal action has yet been launched. Smith has said that Thai officials knew of the oncoming tsunami but hesitated in sounding an alarm.

Smith, the center’s deputy director, headed Thailand’s meteorological department when he was accused of scare-mongering after he warned in 1998 that the country’s southwest coast could face a deadly tsunami.

Criticized then for causing panic and jeopardizing the critical tourist industry around the tropical resort island of Phuket, Smith retired under a shadow. He was rapidly returned to government service when his prediction proved accurate.

“Hotels are investing billions of baht (Thailand’s currency) to rebuild, but they don’t want to spend some 500,000 baht (US$12,200) more to buy a small warning system and link into the government system to warn their guests,” Smith said, adding that there was no legal requirement for them to do so.

However, some hotels said they have made preparations.

“We’ve done rehearsals. We’ve practiced. We have fliers. We have signage and information in each hotel room to inform the guests,” said Asnee Kankaew, resident manager of the Holiday Inn Resort Phuket. The tsunami destroyed the first floor of the hotel on Phuket’s popular Patong Beach, and some guests died.

At Patong’s Baan Boa Resort, employee Amaraporn Krataijan, 39, said nobody had come around for a lesson on how to react or help tourists if a tsunami hits.

“I won’t know what to do,” she said. “Well, if I see people run, I’ll just run and follow them.”

A co-worker, Ladda Khonkayan, 30, said she’d heard televised public advice about what to do if she hears the warning sirens on the beach.

“I’m ready,” she said confidently. “I have to be ready. I have no choice. I’ll just run.”

Some foreign tourists on nearby Phi Phi said in mid-December that they’d heard a siren but had no idea what it was or what to do, since they’d received no instructions. An early warning system, which is directed from the national center and has been installed on some beaches, had gone off accidentally.

“The government installing a system is a waste if the public still does not have knowledge about the system, and there is no party assigned to educate people on how the system works,” Smith said.

“Several hotel guests have complained to me that they have seen no map, no signs, not even a brochure on what to do if a tsunami occurs. People who sleep in the rooms will not hear the warning from sirens if the hotel has not installed a warning system in their rooms,” Smith said.

Smith has also been critical of his country’s meteorologists. At the time of the tsunami, he said that staff at the meteorological department working on Dec. 26 knew what was coming but failed to act because they were ignored earlier.

“They knew exactly what was going to happen, but they … were afraid to make a decision, because they believed if they made a wrong forecast they would get blamed,” Smith said.

The department has said it knew about the earthquake and the possibility that it could trigger a tsunami about an hour before waves began slamming ashore.

But they said they had no Way to determine the size of the waves — and therefore the threat they posed — and were reluctant to issue a warning without such information because it could harm the tourism industry and anger the government.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ordered an investigation in January but the results have never been made public.

Abandon UN chief race, Bangkok told

Thailand should withdraw Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai’s candidacy for the post of United Nations (UN) secretary-general, the Thai embassy in Washington recently advised the Foreign Ministry.

The embassy suggested the longer Thailand waited to exit the campaign, the greater the political damage it faced.

In a telex obtained by The Nation Dec 21, the Foreign Ministry was advised that Surakiart’s bid to replace outgoing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was in doubt, because the US did not support it.

The telex said the current and previous US secretaries of state appeared “unresponsive” to Thailand’s fielding of Surakiart and that it was “not too late” to withdraw his candidacy.

The telex said it would not be “embarrassing” to withdraw Surakiart’s candidacy at this time, but suggested a tactical withdrawal sooner rather than later.

The telex, dated Sept 30, 2005, and signed by then Thai ambassador to Washington Kasit Piromya, said US President George W Bush had implied Surakiart was not “a brand name” and “unmarketable” in the areas of human rights, democracy and leadership.

Support by the US is important for any candidate, since Washington, as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, has the right to veto.

Surakiart claims to have the support of China and Russia, two of the five permanent members.

The telex said neither Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or her predecessor Colin Powell had ever paid much attention to Surakiart’s candidacy.

In fact, they had been “unresponsive” and “unexcited” about Thailand’s bid to have its deputy prime minister replace Annan, the telex said.

The government was urged to assess Surakiart’s candidacy honestly, without bias or personal ambition, because the country had more important things to do with its money than spend it on Surakiart’s campaign.

It appears the Thai Embassy in Washington based its assessment on a series of dialogues between Thaksin and US President George W Bush, and Surakiart and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as well as lower-level discussions between Thai officials and their American counterparts.

The telex also pointed out that Rumsfeld did not appear satisfied with Surakiart’s answer when asked what kind of platform the Thai candidate was running on. Instead of explaining what he had in mind for UN reforms, Surakiart spoke of the importance of the US role in the world body, the telex said.

Former ambassador Kasit made headlines earlier this year when he turned down a proposal to hire a lobbying firm with ties to US Vice President Dick Cheney, reportedly at a price of Bt1.5 million (US$36,670) a month, to help win US support for Surakiart.

Kasit, who recently retired from the foreign service, reportedly suggested Thailand use Clark Consultants to campaign for Surakiart, a firm then working on the Thai-US Free Trade Agreement.

A senior official at the Foreign Ministry said it remained government policy to mobilise all national resources necessary to help Surakiart snare the UN’s top job.

The ASEAN Charter

It is hard to imagine that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has managed to survive for 38 years without a charter or binding rules of any kind.

Originally a group of five neighbor countries (Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia , Indonesia, and Philippines), ASEAN chose to be quiet and low-key and was often marked off as a talking shop, yet has managed to survive as a respected regional bloc. Its success, especially within the United Nations was, to “speak with one voice” in international affairs, thus commanding attention and respect which none of the members could have achieved alone.

Deliberately avoiding rules that often constrict and even cause the demise of other organizations, ASEAN, which was originally an economic union of neighboring non-communist countries, took pride in its non-interference in one another’s affairs, which worked well until the group’s expansion to 10 members included Myanmar, run by a military junta which has promise all along to work toward democratic reforms but embarrassingly failed to do so.

Myanmar has not modified its military government since it joined ASEAN, with the result that other members, pressured by Europeans and Americans who threatened to boycott meetings chaired by Myanmar, took the unusual position of leaning on it to give up its turn in the rotating chairmanship, in 2006 in favor of the Philippines, which it did last August.. Now Myanmar has accepted the decision of the Philippines to support the United States request for its leader to brief the United Nations Security Council, which President Arroyo presented at the recent summit of ASEAN leaders in Kuala Lumpur .

The ASEAN leaders gathered in Kuala Lum agreed the time has come when they must have a charter. President Arroyo expressed the hope that a charter can be drawn up by next December when the Philippines hosts the annual ASEAN summit in Cebu. A panel of Eminent Persons will be set up to make recommendations for ASEAN’s first constitution. Former President Fidel Ramos whose father, Narciso Ramos signed the original ASEAN declaration in 1967 first constitution will be the Philippines representatives.

Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo sees the charter as “crucial to the future of the Asian countries as they move toward greater community and Asian issues become more complex as interrelations are inevitably more complicated.” While not spelled out in those terms at the summit meeting, the charter is expected to promote democracy and human rights and good governance.

Myanmar assured the group that it is making progress on democratic reforms, but its refusal to release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, resulted in the appointment of the ASEAN’s current chairman, the foreign minister of Malaysia , Syed Hamid Albar, to travel to Myanmar and see at first hand whether any progress has been made toward democratic reforms. Despite its frustrations with Myanmar, ASEAN has not as yet considered expelling it from membership. “We believe in the policy of engagement, no matter how difficult it is” the Thai foreign minister told the press. He also expressed the hope that the foreign minister of Malaysia ’s visit could be a step toward the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Once a charter is adopted, the specter of expelling a nation for non-compliance of its terms will become a possibility. ASEAN’s days of non-interference in one another’s affairs are definitely over.