Switzerland: Quo Vadis?

Minaret in Serrières, Switzerland
Minaret in Serrières, Switzerland

It was the first Sunday of Advent and a black day for everyone who cherishes the values of enlightenment. It was unexpected since everyone seemed to be against it: almost all political parties, the national churches, representatives of the economy and many other organizations.

But it happened still: The Swiss banned the construction of minarets in yesterday’s vote.

Reactions after the result were impressive. Within minutes I received text messages and Facebook group invitations from all sorts of people. One of the groups is “I am ashamed of the results of the Anti-Minaret initiative!.” When I wanted to invite more friends to join I realized that they were all already there – from the most conservative to the most liberal people I know.

Turkey: Freedom of speech 2.0

Turkish internet café - for men and women, photo: Marko Anastasov/flickr
Turkish internet café - for men and women, photo: Marko Anastasov/flickr

There are 2.6 million registered personal computers linked to the internet in Turkey today. For a country with 70 million inhabitants this does not appear to be an impressive figure. But in fact, internet use is more widely spread than it seems. Most of Turkey’s users access computers in their working places, internet cafés and in schools.

But who is active in the Turkish Civil Society 2.0?

Here are some insights from a GMF workshop held on June 5th.

Ertuğrul Kürkçü, journalist and coordinator of the BIANET project explains that the public use of the internet plays a very important role in the lives of Turkey’s young and old. Kürkçü’s website is based on this premise. It represents a unique project that approaches Turkish issues from the point of view of human rights, encompassing children’s rights, gender issues and minority issues. BIANET is not only available in Turkish: it also translates news from local media into English.


ISN Weekly Theme: The 20th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Protests

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China
Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China / photo: McKay Savage, flickr

On the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China, the ISN takes a closer look at the events and consequences of the pro-democracy protests.

  • In the ISN Podcast we interview Professor Arne Westad from the London School of Economics and address the causes and historical roots of the protests, as well as looking at the consequences and some of the deeper political contradictions that are rooted in those events.
  • Also, in our Policy Briefs, Under Foreign Pressure, Chinese Support Their Government argues that most Chinese accept the CCP’s social contract: continued one-party rule and an emphasis on social harmony, including limited political freedoms, provided the authorities continue to expand opportunities for economic prosperity.

One Thousand and One Nights Gone Wrong

Remember reading those fancy folk tales when you were little, commonly known as the “Arabian Nights,” about oriental princes, ghouls and magical wonder lamps? In The History of Gherib and His Brother Agib, things are getting a tad bit more gothic:

“So they seized the prince and binding his hands behind him, beat him till he lost his senses; after which the king imprisoned him in a chamber, where one might not know heaven from earth or length from breadth.”

Many Arabian nights later, in 2004, roles were reversed, as a very disturbing videotape recently smuggled out of the United Arab Emirates by Bassam Nabulsi and aired on ABC News suggests.

In this very sequel the prince is called Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

Sheikh Issa torturing an Afghan merchant.
Spoiler warning: This time not the prince is beaten till he loses his senses.

He is the son of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, late president of the UAE, and the brother of current UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who also rules Abu Dhabi, as well as of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy commander of UAE’s armed forces.

The video shows Sheikh Issa, assisted by an obedient uniformed police officer, sadistically torturing an Afghan merchant by the cynical name of Mohammed Shah Poor half to death. Sheikh Issa “is seen stuffing sand in the Afghan’s mouth. As the grain dealer pleads and whimpers, he is beaten with a nailed board, burned in the genitals with a cigarette lighter, shocked with a cattle prod, and led to believe he would be shot. Salt is poured on his wounds. In the end, the victim can muster up only weak moans as an SUV is repeatedly driven over him.”

“The incidents depicted in the video tapes were not part of a pattern of behavior,” UAE’s Ministry of the Interior, presided by yet another of Sheikh Issa’s brothers, declared, at the same time officially acknowledging the prince’s involvement. “All rules, policies and procedures were followed correctly by the Police Department”, the statement concluded. O rule of law, where art thou?

After reviewing the tape once more, this time with eyes open obviously, another official statement hit the public: “The HRO [Human Rights Office] of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department will conduct a comprehensive review of the matter immediately and make its findings public at the earliest opportunity.” In the meantime, the prince was set under house arrest, being the first senior member of the royal family ever to be publicly detained in Abu Dhabi.

It remains to be seen if the original tale might prove not-that-fictional, and the prince (who has lately been accused with at least 25 more cases of cinematic bestiality) will finally be imprisoned “in a chamber, where one might not know heaven from earth or length from breadth”. Insha’Allah.

Screenshot: ABC News