Thursday, March 31, 2011

What is Islamic Finance?

What is Islamic finance?

Islamic finance refers to a financial system that is consistent with the principles of Sharia, the sacred law of Islam. It is different from regular banking in that it prohibits earning of interest (or riba) through the business of lending. It also prohibits direct or indirect association with businesses involving alcohol, pork products, firearms and tobacco. It also does not allow speculation, betting and gambling.

How does it work?

Islamic finance takes the form of Islamic banking and Islamic insurance, also known as Takaful.

Islamic banking is done in five ways:

1. Mudarabah, a profit-sharing agreement

2. Wadiah, a safe keeping arrangement

3. Musharakah, or a joint venture for a specific business

4. Murabahah, cost plus arrangement where goods are sold with a pre-determined margin of profit

5. Ijirah, a leasing arrangement

Takaful is a form of mutual insurance based on partnership and collective sharing of risk by a group of individuals.

How has Islamic banking progressed in recent years?

Islamic banking is most prevalent in Malaysia. It is spreading rapidly in West Asia, where the population is predominantly Muslim. New global financial centres such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Geneva, Zurich and London have made changes in regulations to accommodate the Islamic finance industry, which is nearly a trillon dollar in size now.

Indian regulations do not allow Islamic banking but the government is considering allowing it.

What restricts the growth of Islamic finance?

Most banks conducting Islamic operations have a panel of Muslim scholars called Sharia committee or Sharia board, which determines whether a product or practice complies with Islamic provisions. Also, the accounting is done differently for which there is an official standard-setting body known as the accounting and auditing organization for Islamic financial institutions. The strict code makes Islamic banking a very niche product. 

From Economic Times. More Here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Libya: War mongering is getting to be a habit for Obama

Obama casually inquiring about the dead bodies in Libya

It’s one thing to say that the U.S. is right to take action against Moammar Gadhafi. It’s quite another to insist that it’s not even a war. And it’s simply dishonest to do so while escalating the war.

But that’s the spin from the Obama White House. While the president travelled through Latin America, his aides told sympathetic audiences in Washington that Operation Odyssey Dawn “is a limited humanitarian intervention, not war,” in the words of White House Mideast troubleshooter Dennis Ross. A letter to Congress notifying lawmakers that Odyssey Dawn was in effect studiously avoided the word “war,” preferring the more anodyne “military efforts” — which are “discrete” and “limited in their nature, duration, and scope.”

Ross’ remarks are outright deceptive. And it fits a pattern with President Obama: escalating U.S. military commitments while portraying them as essentially finite and limited.

For one thing, the fight is intensifying, not dropping off. On Sunday, the U.S.-led coalition flew 60 sorties over Libya; Monday it flew nearly 80; on Wednesday it flew 175. At this moment, American pilots are bombing and shooting at Gadhafi’s armor and artillery units on the outskirts of Libyan cities. Off the shores of Libya, a bevy of Navy ships and subs have launched over 160 Tomahawk missiles.

And to be up front about calling it a war would risk unraveling Obama’s contention that the war should be limited. It’s reasonable to ask whether the explicit goal of the war, now that it’s underway, should be to overthrow Gadhafi; which might require arming the opposition; or even devoting ground troops — all steps Obama wants to avoid. But those are arguments for caution about starting a war with Libya, not for pretending that the one the White House has ordered doesn’t exist.

This is getting to be a habit for Obama. First he expanded the scope of the U.S. counterterrorism efforts to Pakistan and Yemen, places that at least arguably exceed the 2001 congressional mandate for military action. Then he rejected congressional offers to openly debate a reauthorization of the war. When Obama ordered a 30,000-troop surge into Afghanistan — atop his earlier increase of 21,000 troops — he vowed the escalation would end this July. But only minimal numbers of troops will come home this year, and his senior aides are talking about an indefinite stay by at least some U.S. forces after 2014. (Indeed, at a dinner on Tuesday night, White House “war czar” Doug Lute said that would serve as an “insurance policy” against Afghanistan going down the tubes.)

If Obama’s aim is to conduct limited wars, he’s not doing it very well. And he’s certainly not coming clean to the public about what he’s doing. Somewhere, George W. Bush is smirking with vindication.

Spencer Ackerman in  More Here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Libya: Bushy face of Obama is emerging to the horror of the world

Some critical polls online have even gone so far as to elicit the public opinions by asking "do you think Obama should return the Nobel Peace Prize?" "When I received that award, I specifically said there was an irony because I was already dealing with two wars," Obama told CNN. "So I am accustomed to this contradiction of being both a commander-in-chief but also someone who aspires to peace."

As imagined, the "Nobel" Obama weighs much more of the American interests and its geopolitical strategies in the Arab world than what the peace prize really means. Libyan turmoil is publicly propped up not only by the US-led Western diplomatic devices but also military intervention. The purpose is not as simple as the "regime change", which the U.S. denied, but focuses on isolating Iran, taking up the entire Arab market and further, spreading the political chaos to Russia and China in order to counterbalance the emerging strengths.

Gaddafi is fighting stubbornly, or putting up a desperate struggle. The coalition forces are intensifying their political and military pressures upon the Arab world, forcing the Arab countries to remain neutral while they are shelling Libya.

The Western military intervention finally lays bare their hidden intention of creating a false impression of the "Domino Effect" and "Butterfly Effect" in the concerned region, and also unmasks "Nobel" Obama's ulterior motives. 

Le Hongmei in People's Daily. More Here.

Should we address Sheikh Sudais as "His Excellency" "His holiness" ??? Never.

Imam Al Sudais's India visit to lecture at the Deoband seminary is sending some sections of the Muslim community into overdrive. I received a card from the India Islamic Cultural Centre (IICC) in Delhi to attend an address by 'His Holiness', Imam-e-Haram, Dr Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al Sudais, presently imam of the mosque in Mecca. The accompanying letter details the imam's achievements including his educational degrees in sharia law. In 2005, he received 'The Islamic Personality of the Year' award and stood nominated for the Dubai International Quran Award, which he accepted.  
The 'His Holiness' came as a jolt, for no such prefixes have ever been added to Prophet Muhammad's name or that of his companions, who rank the highest in Muslim piety.
As one devoted to Islam, i believe using the Quran to name an award belittles the sanctity of God's word and borders on blasphemy. Legitimising such an award by its acceptance seems a worse action. The early history of Islam contains no examples of spiritual or religious leaders accepting state or private awards. On the contrary, sharia and prophetic traditions frown upon those who seek or allow public adulation, for all righteous deeds are for God alone.

The Deoband leadership has requested that Al Sudais not be frisked during his visit to Parliament. Due respect must be accorded to the visiting imam, because he leads the prayers at the Kaabah. This reverence flows from 'where' the prayers are led and not because of 'who' the imam is. To quote Arshad Madani of the Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind, "Sheikh Al Sudais is the highest religious leader of the Muslims". This is misleading because Al Sudais merely represents the highest-ranking sacred space.

Sadia Dehlvi in Times of India. More Here and Here.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The secret of Hillary Clinton's sudden interest in Libya

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has emerged as the leading voice of the Barack Obama administration on Libya. She has been most vociferous about the support for 'democratic forces' (rebels) in Libya. She spearheaded the diplomatic campaign for UN resolution. She travelled to Cairo and Tunis to discuss Arab participation. She attended the summit in Paris last Monday to flesh out the coalition to implement Resolution 1973. She began interpreting the scope of R-1973. She is traveling back to London next week for the 'contact group' meeting on Libya.

And now, above all, she has announced that US is taking the next step in the war by transferring command and control to NATO. "We are taking the next step: We have agreed along with our NATO allies to transition command and control for the no-fly zone over Libya to NATO."

Furthermore, Clinton went one step ahead and anticipated that it is a matter of time before NATO is put in charge of the entire mission. "All 28 allies have also now authorized military authorities to develop an operations plan for NATO to take on the broader civilian protection mission." (Hey, where is Robert Gates?) Do UAE or Qatar have any problem operating under NATO? No. Because Clinton sorted it out with her Arab counterparts at the Paris meeting. Quite obviously, this isn't Obama Gates' war. Both have taken low-key roles while Clinton is leading and is in full cry.

What is there in Libya for Clinton? Significantly, Clinton is getting strong support principally from two unlikely camps: the interventionists and neocons in US. But what is not obvious in the ongoing discourses - or, more precisely, what is not being openly discussed - is that the Israeli Lobby has been in the vanguard of the campaign for the intervention in Libya. A large NATO presence in Libya is a huge security guarantee for Israel at a time when it faces the spectre of isolation in the Middle East.

Veteran diplomat M K Bhadrakumar in his blog. More Here.

Sheikh Sudais visits Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Headquarters

Shekh Sudais and his associates with Ameer-e-Jamaat Moulana Jalaluddin Umari, Moulana Iqbal Mullah and Janab H Abdur Raqeeb
The Foundation for Students’ Islamic Centre was laid by Dr. Shaykh Abdur Rehman Al Sudais, Imam, Masjid-e-Haram, Mecca, Saudi Arabia at the Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO)’s Headquarters.
Sheikh Sudais was greeted and welcomed an overwhelming gathering of intellectuals, scholars, Ulemas, students and other dignitaries from across the country that gathered to witness the historic event. 
Foundation stone is being unveiled
Addressing the audience after laying the Foundation Stone, Sheikh Sudais expressing gratitude and joy said that SIO’s role is indeed of great importance in service of the Indian society. He further expressed that the student community is a vital source of development and progress of the world. He appreciated the activities of SIO and congratulated for ensuring the service of student community in the form of Students Islamic Centre. 
Sheikh addressing the students at SIO
A grand reception for the Sheikh in Jamaat Markaz
Muhammad Azharuddin, President – SIO introduced the organisation and welcomed His Excellency to the student gathering. The foundation stone was laid in the presence of Mohd. Azharuddin, President – SIO; Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umari, Ameer, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH); Abdul Aziz Swaleh, Secretary – Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Prof. Siddique Hasan, Vice-President, JIH; Moulana Muhammad Jaffer, Vice-President, JIH; P.M. Salih, Secretary General – SIO; Shaukat Ali, Secretary – SIO, Sharique Ansar, Secretary – SIO; Shaikh Shoaib, Secretary – SIO and other invitees.
From a report in SIO website. More Here 

I am very happy with the work of SIO

The imam commended the Students Islamic Organization of India (SIO), which is building the center, for its efforts in spreading the message and culture of Islam among the student community. The SIO has branches in most Indian states as well as in GCC countries.

“I am very happy to learn that the SIO is playing an important role in the Indian society,” the imam said. “The student community is a vital source of development and progress for any country,” he said. He wished every success for the student center project.

Earlier, SIO President Muhammad Azharuddin welcomed the imam and introduced his organization. “We are greatly honored to have Your Excellency to launch this Islamic center project,” he said.

The SIO works for preparing students and youth for the reconstruction of society in the light of divine guidance, Azharuddin said. “The SIO believes that the real function of education should be to impart genuine knowledge about life, existence and future,” he added.

The ceremony at the SIO headquarters was attended by President of Indian Jamaat-e-Islami Syed Jalaluddin Umari, the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs’ Abdul Aziz Swaleh, Jamaat vice presidents Siddique Hassan and Muhammad Jaafar, SIO’s secretary-general P.M. Saleh and other dignitaries.

The imam emphasized the importance of inculcating the values professed by the sahaba (the Prophet’s companions) in the daily lives of Muslims. He urged parents to bring up their children on these values. “A special TV channel should be set up to ensure that people get to know about the noble lives of the sahaba and their values and messages,” the imam said.

A report in Arab News. More Here

Jalal or majesty and Jamal or beauty

Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) said: "Allah has 99 names and whoever patterns himself on them shall enter paradise." These names are referred to as Asma ul Husna — the most beautiful names. Says the Quran: "Allah has the most excellent names. So call on Him by His names and shun those who distort them. They shall soon be requited for their deeds". (7:180) The metaphysics of the Quran can be found in the 99 names that contain His essence. Some of these include: the Compassionate, the Beneficent,the All-merciful,the Sovereign, the Provider, the Restorer and the Just.

Islamic philosophers have broadly categorised these names into two groups, Jalal or majesty and Jamal or beauty. Majesty, the revelation of which ignites and consumes the worlds, is the rigorous, severe aspect of the Divine. Beauty, on the other hand, is the synthesis of mercy, generosity, compassion and all other beneficent qualities. These two work together to form the tapestry of the world, mysteriously connected with human beings.

Jalal and Jamal
Muslims use different formulae of repeating the names for spiritual solace. The names are repeated using a Ya before them like Ya Rahman or O, Merciful and Ya Rahim or O, Compassionate One'. Mercy represents God's fundamental attribute and is most commonly invoked.

An entire mystical theology has developed around these names ascribed to the Lord. It is these divine attributes that the Sufis attempt to realise within themselves. Sufi scholars explain that if you acquire traces of attributes such as severity and wrath without tempering them with justice, compassion and generosity, you might end up being harsh and arrogant. Only a perfect harmony of divine attributes can lead to the full blossoming of human nature.

Beyond gender
The Quran never refers to God as 'father'; It decries nature and idol worship, for it categorically states: "Naught in the universe is like Him". (42:11) Muslim theologians, therefore, aver that God has no gender, not even metaphorically. They attribute the use of a male pronoun for Allah in the Quran to the complexities of Arabic grammar, where pronouns are not gender-specific.

In the 13th century, two theological terms were developed to express the contrast between the perception of God's nearness and mercy and that of his distance and wrath. The term tanzih declares incomparability and tashbih, similarity. Both affirm that the world is nothing but a manifestation of the Divine.

Caring and merciful
Tashbih, literally means to declare something similar to something else. The gentle and merciful names of God are symbolic of His unity with Creation; of His concern for all life. They describe a God we can understand and love; who like a caring mother looks after the needs of those He has brought into this world.
The literal meaning of tanzih is to declare something pure and free of something else. This perspective affirms God's Oneness. It establishes that He alone is Real, and all created things unreal. The names associated with tanzih are King, Avenger, Praiseworthy, Slayer, and Independent. The King is majestic, awe-inspiring, inaccessible and all-powerful.

Prophet Muhammad reported that upon God's throne is inscribed: "My Mercy takes precedence over My wrath". Invoking Allah's Mercy is the central theme of Islamic thought. Divine Mercy is the bestowal of the good, the beautiful and the true. 

Sadia Dehlvi in The Times of India More Here

Friday, March 25, 2011

Najmuddin Erbakan, Moulana Moududi and Hasan al Banna Shaheed

The departure of Najmuddin Erbakan (Necmettin Erbakan) is a great tragedy of our times. Najmuddin Erbakan could be truly called as the modern icon of Islamic Movement. He was a epoch making personality and one of the architects of modern history. The way vast multitudes of people thronged in his last journey and the way young and old, known and unknown people showered their love and affection towards their departed leader speaks volumes about the stature of the leader. It epitomises the overwhelming sway he held over the Islam loving people throughout the world. It also illustrates the deep impact he made throughout the Muslim world with his untiring struggle for the cause of Islam.

One of the famous poems of Allama Iqbal is Tulu Islam (The Rise of Islam). In it Allama succinctly and beautifully depicts the rise and renaissance of Islam throughout the world once again. The words mellow you. The poet of the East has listed out various factors leading to the renaissance of Islam in the world. One of the factors highlighted by the Allama is as follows:

Ataa momin ko phir dargaah-e-haq sey honay walaa hai
Shikoh-e-turkmaani, zahan hindi, nataq aaraabi

The Muslim is to be endowed again from the God’s  Court with
Turkman’s grandeur, Indian’s wisdom, Arab’s eloquence

The prophecy of the Allama had blossomed into reality soon after his demise. Moulana Syed Abul A'ala Moududi personified Zahan hindi (Wisdom of Indian) in the 20th century. Undoubtedly Moulana's real and major contribution could be termed as idealogical and intellectual contribution. He stimulated the intellect and presented the Islamic thought in its glorious form. At those times the critics of Islam were hell-bent in attacking Islam in all possible ways. Moulana effectively silenced them with his thought provoking, down to the earth and intellectually stimulating rejoinders. Besides he gave shape to the Islamic Idealogy and with his endeavours Islam rose to greater heights as an Ideological power house.

During the same period the Arab world witnessed the rise of two towering personalities viz Hasan al Banna Shaheed and Syed Qutb Shaheed in Egypt. These legendery leaders known for their superb communicaion skills, eloquence and power of speech mesmerised the Islamic world. They were the primary architects of Islamic renaissance in the Arab world.

Twentieth century witnessed Islamic revival in larger scale throughout the world. Infact it could be easily termed as the century in which Zahan Hindi (Wisdom of Indian) and Nataq A'arabi (Eloquence of Arab)  flourished and had lasting impact. The mammoth contribution of Moulana Moududi in the intellectual arena pointed to the dream of Allama Iqbal's Zahan Hindi (Wisdom of Indian). Similarly the emotional appeal and action packed contribution of Hasan al Banna and the Ikhwan symbolised Allama Iqbal's Nataq A'arabi. The beautiful and forceful convergence of Intellect and emotion triggered a new wave of Islamic Renaissance throughout the Islamic world. This new wave of synergy influenced and altered the course of the century.
The outcome of that synergy of intellect and emotion could be seen everywhere. Some eighty years back, Muslims were wary of revealing their Muslim identiy. They were diffident and hesitant to proclaim themselves as Muslims. But, today one can see mind boggling confidence and exuberance among the Muslims throughout the world.
The rise of Islam as the biggest force in the intellectual and idealogical world is one of the fruitful culmination of thes two great men. Infact Islam has emerged as the Idealogical super power of our times.
In this way the dream of Zahan Hindi and Nataq A'arabi of Allama Iqbal were fulfilled. Shikoh Turkmani was the one which needed to be fulfilled. And it take long time. It got culminated in the fag end of the twentieth century with the rise of Marhoom Najmuddin Erbakan as the symbol of Shikoh Turkmani. He gave new vigour and power to Islam and created shock and awe among the Baatil.

The role of the Turks had been significant in the entire history of Islam. They were in the forefront in propagating and safeguarding Islam. They had plaved a major role in the history of Islam. Allama Iqbal had symbolised the grandeur, dignity and respect as Shikoh. Turks had increased the grandeur to manifold.

The return of the Turks to the Islamic camp, I feel, is the biggest event of the twenty first century. And Najmuddin Erbakan had played a vital role in this historic turnaround.

What is Shikoh-e-Turkmani?

If you want to feel the impact of Shikoh-e-Turkmani just go through the numerous write-ups, comments and observations published in American and western magazines. They scream with the provocative heading "The return of Ottomans" and depict the shock and awe that has engulfed the western psyche.

If you want to feel the Shikoh-e-Turkmani go to You Tube and just see the mesmerising speech of Tayyip Erdogon which he delivered in the Summit held at Davos. He lambasts the Israelie Prime Minister.

From a speech delivered by Sadatullah Husseini in a Taziyati Function held at Hyderabad. 
Translated by T Azeez Luthfullah

To be continued.....

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Libya: Obama's fall from Nobel winner to war monger

It probably wasn't what the Nobel committee had in mind when it awarded the Peace Prize to President Barack Obama two years ago.

Two months later he ramped up the war in Afghanistan, sending in 30,000 extra US troops.

Now he has ordered massive air strikes on Libya - with United Nations backing, but still with the United States in the lead.

Judged by his actions, this supposedly anti-war president looks almost as warlike as President George W Bush. If you include Mr Obama's increased use of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, he's got the US involved in more conflicts than his much-criticised predecessor.
Judged by Mr Obama's words though, he is in plenty of internal conflict over his decisions.
Far from beating the drums of war, he keeps highlighting the risks and promising US action on Libya will last "days not weeks". Take a glance at the opinion polls and you can see why. Less than a week since the first cruise missiles were launched, the clock is already ticking on how long Americans will back him.
Many Americans are bewildered that Mr Obama of all people has got them into another war - one they fear could turn into a costly Iraq-style quagmire at a time when they are being asked to tighten their belts.
When some Democratic senators held a telephone news conference to show support for the president, they were peppered with sceptical questions about how long it will last, how much will it cost and why? Does the action in Libya pass the "mother test", one reporter asked? In other words, can the Obama administration justify putting American lives on the line for a mission some in Congress are already saying is not clearly defined?

Leading that charge is the Republican House Speaker John Boehner, but rumblings of discontent are being heard from the Democratic side too.
The White House insists the mission is clear - that if it had not acted against Col Muammar Gaddafi, it would have meant a Rwanda-style genocide against the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and a humanitarian crisis destablising North Africa.
If the Libyan leader is toppled relatively quickly, Mr Obama will look good - and silence those critics who have accused him of lacking courage.
But such is the wary mood, it is unlikely Americans will stomach many US casualties - as they did with Iraq and Afghanistan.

So what does the Nobel peace prize committee think about its 2009 winner now? There has been no reply so far to an e-mail seeking comment.

Andrew North in BBC News Washington. More Here.

Obama does not want 'Change'

There’s nothing like a good war for politicians and businessmen. Wars help failed politicians reinvent and empower themselves as they turn their insecurities and delusions of grandeur into a national cause. And for those who make its instruments, nothing beats the war business. The world economy may be tanking and ordinary mortals like you and me may be driven up the wall by spiraling inflation. However, things that go “bang” and kill in ever new ways are on a roll.

No one really wants peace. Certainly not in the Middle East. Peace is the last thing the arms industry and their friends in high places want in the region, or anywhere else for that matter.

Indeed, the greater the unrest and instability, the better it is for people in the business.

This may be why while the rest of the world has moved on at a mind-boggling pace over the past five or six decades, particularly after World War II, time has stood still for much of the Middle East. The region is stuck in a time warp that is centuries old. The more things change in our part of the world, the more they have remained the same for the Arab world.

This is perhaps why most conflicts since World War II have taken place in the Middle East. Having drawn its lessons from the Two Great Wars, Europe has managed to avoid major military conflicts and keep the continent safe. However, war remains a big industry and vital source of revenue for the industry that deals in trillions of dollars.

Only it’s now staged elsewhere — away from the continent and in distant Arabia or Africa and Asia.

This is why the Arab-Israel conflict continues to fester even after seven decades. If the Middle East finds lasting peace, what will happen to all those fancy weapons the US and European war machine has been churning out year on year? Why would you want peace in the Middle East, or for that matter anywhere else on the planet, if you are Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman or even Dick Cheney’s Halliburton that has been making billions by building those military bases all across the Middle East and Central Asia?

And it’s not just the awesome arms and ammo that are an endless source of income for the merchants of death. Decades after its ostensible exit from the region, the empire continues to control all levers of power and economic interests in the Middle East. Using an ancient regime of licenses and monopoly, the US, UK, France and others in the West still call the shots by controlling virtually everything, from the oil industry to the supply of essentials like military uniforms and jackboots. No wonder for all their protestations and pretentions to champion freedom and democracy around the world, our colonial masters are cowering in their pants as the tsunami of change sinks one subservient satrap after another.

Change is the last thing the West wants now. Status quo is the name of the game. But who can stop an idea whose time has come? And beware. The current churning doesn’t merely target an old, corrupt order. It also seeks an end to the injustice, exploitation and open loot that the empire has presided over all these years.

Aijaz Zaka Syed in Arab News. More Here.

Ants and humanbeings

It is easy to imagine that the lives of the ants resemble our own. An ant might feel, as people sometimes do, lost in the crowd. If you look at a city from far away, you see a hive of activity: people going back and forth from home to job and collecting packages of food and things produced by other people, things to be stored in their chambers or turned into garbage taken away by other people. Each person is a tiny speck in the flow of a system that no one has much power to change.

Our fascination with ants has led to engaging stories about them, from the Iliad’s Myrmidons to Antz’s Z, as well as a growing body of research by biologists. Though the ant colonies of fable and film often are invested with the hierarchical organization characteristic of human societies, a real ant colony operates without direction or management. New research is showing us how ant colonies get things done without anyone being in charge. Ants, it turns out, have much to teach us about the decentralized networks that operate in many biological systems, in which local interactions produce global behavior, without the guidance of any central intelligence or authority.

Understanding how ant colonies actually function means that we have to abandon explanations based on central control. This takes us into difficult and unfamiliar terrain. We are deeply attached to the idea that any system of interacting agents must be organized through hierarchy. Our metaphors for describing the behavior of such systems are permeated with notions of a chain of command. For example, we explain what our bodies do by talking about genes as “blueprints,” unvarying instructions passed from an architect to a builder. But we know that instructions from genes constantly change, as genes turn off and on in response to local interactions among cells.

Ant colonies, like genes, work without blueprints or programming. No ant understands what needs to be done or what its actions mean for the welfare of the colony. An ant colony has no teams of workers dedicated to fighting or foraging. Although it is still commonly believed that each ant is assigned a task for life, ant biologists now know that ants move from one task to another. How does an ant decide which task to do and when to do it? We all know that where there is a picnic, there will be ants. So what determines which ants go to the picnic, and how many show up?

But though we humans can be in some ways ant-like, ants are not like us. It takes a work of fiction to give ants identity, feelings, and motives that we recognize as human. For ants, only the structure of the network matters. For us, the content is crucial. We care about what the emails say; the ants care only about how often they get them. As we move through the networks that shape our lives, we constantly produce a narrative about what is happening and why. We may be wrong about what we think is going on, but it is vitally important that we think we know.

Our stories about ants always have morals about how people ought to behave: soldiers should die for their country; we should conserve resources and plan for the future; a dutiful factory worker should cheerfully perform his or her appointed task. These morals come from stories about ants that are not true.
Real ants do not offer lessons in behavior. They do, however, provide insight about the dynamics of networks. Ants can show us how the rhythm of local interactions creates patterns in the behavior and development of large groups. There are no morals to be taken from the ants, but there is much to learn about systems without central control.

Deborah M Gordon in Boston Review. More Here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The speech by Asmaa Mahfouz which triggered the Egyptian Revolution

Asmaa Mahfouz is the one who started it all.
She recorded a vlog on January 18th and posted it in the net. It sparked everything. Tahrir Square became most known place in the entire world. She had shared it on her Facebook, and it had gone viral. It was so powerful and so popular, that it drove Egyptians by the thousands into Tahrir Square, and drove the Egyptian government to block Facebook . I’ll shut up now and let Asma talk. It is just four minutes.

Transcripts of the speech :
Four Egyptians have set themselves on fire to protest humiliation and hunger and poverty and degradation they had to live with for 30 years. Four Egyptians have set themselves on fire thinking maybe we can have a revolution like Tunisia, maybe we can have freedom, justice, honor and human dignity. 

Today, one of these four has died, and I saw people commenting and saying, “May God forgive him. He committed a sin and killed himself for nothing.”
People, have some shame.
I posted that I, a girl, am going down to Tahrir Square, and I will stand alone. And I’ll hold up a banner. Perhaps people will show some honor. I even wrote my number so maybe people will come down with me. 

No one came except three guys—three guys and three armored cars of riot police. And tens of hired thugs and officers came to terrorize us. They shoved us roughly away from the people. But as soon as we were alone with them, they started to talk to us. They said, “Enough! These guys who burned themselves were psychopaths.” 

Of course, on all national media, whoever dies in protest is a psychopath. If they were psychopaths, why did they burn themselves at the parliament building?

I’m making this video to give you one simple message: we want to go down to Tahrir Square on January 25th. If we still have honor and want to live in dignity on this land, we have to go down on January 25th. We’ll go down and demand our rights, our fundamental human rights.

I won't even talk about my political rights. We just want our human rights and nothing else. 
This entire Government is corrupt - acorrupt President and a corrupt security force!

The self-immolators were not afraid of death. But they were afraid of the security forces!

Can you imagine that? Are you like that?  Are you going to kill yourselves too? Or are you completely clueless?

Iam going down on January 25th and from now till then, I am going to distribute fliers  in the streets.

I will not set myself on fire! If the security forces want to set me on fire let them come and do it!

If you think yourself a man, come with me on January 25th

Whoever says  women shouldn't go to protest because they will get beaten

Let him have some honor and manhood and come with me on January 25th

Whoever says it is not worth it because there will be only a handful of people, I want to tell him, you ar the reason behind this.

And you are a traitor, just like the President or any security cop who beats us in the streets

Your presence with us will make a difference, a BIG difference

Talk to your neighbours, your colleagues, friends and family and tell them to come

They don't have to come to Tahrir Square, just go down anywhere and say it, that we are free humanbeings

Sitting at home and just following us on news or Facebook leads to our humiliation

Leads to my own humiliation!

If you have honor and dignity as a man, come. Come and protect me and other girls in the protest.

If you stay at home, then you deserve all that is being done to you. And you will be guilty before the nation and your people. And you will be responsible for what happens to us on the street while you sit at home.

Go down to the street, sen SMS's, post it on the net, make people aware. You know your own social circle, your building, your family, your friends. Tell them to com with us.

Bring 5 people, or 10 people if each of us manages to bring 5 or 10 to Tahrir Square and talk to people and tell them, THIS IS ENOUGH!!

Instead of setting ourselves on fire, let us do something positive. It will make a difference, a BIG difference!

Never say there is no hope! Hope disappears only when you say there is no hope! So long you come down with us, there will be hope.

Don't be afraid of the Government, Fear none but God!

God says that He ''will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves" (Quran 13 : 11)

Don't think you can be safe anymore! None of us are!

Come down with us, and demand your rights, my rights, your family's rights

Iam going down on January 25th and I will say "NO" to corruption. "NO" to this regime!

For More Here and Here. and Here

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nuclear Power: Fiction, Fear and Facts

If you've been reading or watching the news, you've probably been hearing a whole lot of information about the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

And how the recent earthquake and tsunami have combined to turn the above scene into a potential disaster.

At present, however, contamination has been minimal, and the damage -- thus far -- has been practically zero.
What do I mean? Let's explain -- in the simplest terms possible -- how radioactivity works. In order to understand it, we need to go inside the building blocks of matter -- atoms -- to their very cores.

The nucleus of atoms contain over 99.9% of their mass, and are made up of neutrons and protons. The number of protons determines what type of atom you are; for example, hydrogen has one proton, and is the first atom. But you could have different numbers of neutrons and still be hydrogen! Hydrogen actually has three different known isotopes, depending on whether it has zero, one, or two neutrons.

And while hydrogen and deuterium are stable, tritium is not, which means it's radioactive! And radioactive materials emit radiation of three different types: alpha, beta (which is the case for tritium), and gamma radiation.
And these three types of radiation do damage when they penetrate living tissue. What can they each penetrate?
Well, alpha radiation is the least damaging; a single sheet of paper (or the top layer of dead skin cells on the human body) is enough to stop it. Normal (unenriched) uranium gives off alpha radiation, and basically the only way to harm yourself with alpha radiation is to eat it, which is famously how Alexander Litvinenko was murdered, and how this drastic change (below) happened over the course of about three weeks.

Beta radiation is a little worse, and requires about a centimeter of wood, plastic, or a thin sheet of aluminum to stop it, but by far the most dangerous type of radiation is the high-energy gamma radiation.
Believe it or not, the human body actually, naturally, contains trace amounts of radioactive elements such as uranium and thorium. That's why encountering another human being will actually expose you to a small amount of radiation!
(Image credit: Ellen McManis, an undergraduate across town from me at Reed College.)
The "unit" that we measure radiation in humans in is a Sievert (Sv), and it takes a dose, more-or-less, of about whole Sv over the course of a year (or less) in order to do some real damage to a human being. Note how even the largest dose in the chart above, for a professional radiation worker, is 50 milliSieverts, or just 5% of what it would take to damage you.
Well, Randall of XKCD has created a beautiful chart showing just how much radiation came from nuclear "disasters" throughout history, including the present one in Japan. Here are some screen captures.

So, each daily dose for an "average" person very close to Fukushima is just 3.5 microSieverts, or less than what the "average" person in the middle of nowhere receives on a daily basis.
And if you look up the maximum level of radioactivity from Fukushima so far -- at the two sites 50 km NW of the plant -- here's how that compares.

First off, note that Three-Mile Island, the previous record-holder for second-worst nuclear disaster in history, was less bad for the worst person experiencing it than getting a mammogram is. And the worst dose anyone near Fukushima received is just 0.0036 Sieverts, or an amount you'd have to receive every single day to have anything to worry about.
It would seriously take a Chernobyl-style disaster to cause people to die from radiation poisoning, which is a gruesome way to go.
So -- some of you have emailed me -- if radiation is so bad, what's the deal with Ann Coulter?

Radiation is awful for human beings. Awful, terrible, and destructive to life, the only reason we ever treat anyone for anything (like cancer) with radiation is because we hope the radiation kills it faster than it kills you.
You want improved health because of radiation? Your only hope is to go live in a comic book Universe.

We have lots of good reasons to be appropriately afraid of nuclear physics, radiation, and radioactivity. The problem with energy and the environment -- as I see it -- is that we aren't afraid enough of coal, oil, and natural gas, all of which are worse for the environment than nuclear. But nuclear energy still has its problems, and a big one is that, if that 9.0 earthquake actually had its epicenter on the Fukushima reactor, we just might be talking about another Chernobyl.
But if I were in charge, and I had my choice of how to power the world, what would I do?


(Image credit: Sun Power Corp.)
Rather than considering it a "pipe dream" like our beloved Homer Simpson, let's take a good look at what solar panels are actually out there. The best ones can get about 19% of the incident solar energy converted into electricity. At sea level, that means about 19% of 700 Watts for every square-meter of solar panels we have.

See the "A" on the map above? Make a solar array about that size -- 35 miles by 35 miles -- and you can power the entire United States. Period. Day or night, winter or summer, rain or shine. No emissions, no pollution, no risk of radiation, no dependence on oil, coal, gas, no damage to the environment.
And if we did it -- if we invested in it and made it happen -- I think it would fix a huge number of our domestic problems: the economic ones, the employment ones, the manufacturing ones, etc.

How to make it happen? I wish I knew. We live in a world where Ann Coulter is on television telling people that radiation is good for you, and the informed citizen with a Ph.D. in theoretical physics has a blog with a few thousand readers on the internet. All I can do is hope that someone with the power to make it happen reads this, listens, and acts. We can all hope.

Ethan Sieget in Scienceblogs. More Here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Do we remember our mistakes? Do we remember our failures?

Muslims are losing in another way yet they hardly pay notice to it. Wherever natural or man-made calamities strike a large number of Christian missionaries and other NGOs, especially from the West, would swoop down to take up relief and rehabilitation works. This happened even in tsunami-struck Indonesia and other South-East Asian countries. They would take thousands of orphans and keep them in orphanages run by them. Many parents would turn up to adopt them.Why will they bring up these children as Muslim? They have taken away orphans from war-torn Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq or many other countries.

Muslim community leaders would just adopt ostrich-like approach. But is not it the fact that US Presidential candidate for 2008 John McCain has an adopted daughter, who is originally from Bangladesh. She is 20 year old Bridget McCain. In fact McCain’s wife Cindy brought two ailing new born girls from a Bangladesh orphanage about two decades back and gave one to her friends.

After all the sparsely populated rich Arabian Sheikhdoms are not giving refuge to people in distress of the Muslim Ummah, not to speak of humanity in general. At most they would ‘help’ Islam by building palatial mosques, which is against the very spirit of Islam as the mosque built by Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in Madinah then was a very simple structure even by the standard of seventh century. There are several traditions (Ahadith) of Prophet which prohibit Muslims from adoring and decorating mosques.

A healthy nation learns from its mistakes; the sick one tends to hide them. The West may be on decline but the people there still have the urge to learn from the past. As a nation Muslims are not doing so, though at some places signs of change are visible. However, the need of the hour is to rein in windbags, who are innocently and ignorantly playing into the hands of someone else.

Soroor Ahmed in Indian Muslims. More Here.

The success story of

It’s a news website that runs on insufficient funds. It has no ads, no office and a handful of reporters, many of whom are not trained. It’s not a competitive news organisation, and shares content and ideas with other news organisations for free. Yet (TCN) attracts 10,000 unique visitors daily, and is read by politicians, policy planners, journalists of major newspapers and television channels, and, rumour has it, investigators too. For something located on as clamorous a place as the internet, TCN has managed to make its voice heard — in the most unlikely places.

In June last year, TCN’s news editor spotted a picture he had taken of Muslim students in Azamgarh, UP, which the BJP was attempting to pass off in an ad campaign as an image of progressive Muslims in Gujarat. He alerted the mainstream media, and the BJP was roundly panned. About a year ago, in response to the website’s comprehensive performance report of Muslim MPs, one of the MPs called the TCN office to inform them that they had missed two questions he had asked in the Parliament. 

When Kashif ul-Huda began from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, in 2007, he would have hardly expected it to make such an impact. For the 36-year-old biotechnologist from Muzaffarpur, Bihar, what ended up as a website that reports on news about Indian Muslims, from their perspective, began as just a feeling of “needing to do something” in 2002, when riots broke out in Gujarat.
As someone who’d witnessed riots as a child in Jamshedpur in 1979, and later in Lucknow in 1992, he thought he had left such traumas behind when he moved to the US in 2001. But he couldn’t sit silent as “uninformed and hateful comments about Muslims” spread across the internet, such as those which claimed “their population growth was so rapid that they’d take over India in 2050”.

To help put out “the real facts”, in 2005, Huda launched A near-comprehensive website on socio-economic data related to Muslims, it included information on riots, family planning, bank borrowings, which Huda collected over three years from books and reports.

The launch of coincided with the infamous Imrana rape case, in which a young girl was allegedly raped by her father-in-law in Muzaffarnagar, UP, after which the local elders declared her marriage null under Sharia law. Huda was appalled at “how Indian Muslims became a spectacle, a drama, a tamasha”. “I realised that Muslims could either not articulate their opinion or were not being given space by the mainstream media. It was important to get the Muslim perspective — not regulated by major media gatekeepers —out there as soon as possible,” he says. So, a year later, he started a news section on

In July 2006, a series of bomb blasts hit Mumbai trains, after which he says the website “got many statements from Muslim organisations and individuals, which we combined in one news story. It was read and shared by many”. None of these opinions were sought out, Huda says; they all came from Muslims who wished to speak for themselves. With this, came the realisation that there was a need and a market for Muslim news through a Muslim perspective. So, in 2007, the news section became a distinct domain,

Speaking for themselves helps put out Muslim realities more diverse and representative than those that make it to mainstream newspapers and TV channels, “which only talk of Muslims in the context of terrorism, communal riots, and some weird fatwa.” Huda seeks to redress the balance by producing stories “that are not in such negative context.” While they find nothing to inspire them in the “mainstream English-Hindi media”, neither do they take any cues from the Urdu press. Mumtaz Alam Falahi, TCN’s Patna-based news editor, says, “Urdu newspapers are only busy flattering leaders of the community. They give little or no space to news about the socio-economic condition of Muslims, or even information about the Union ministry of minority affairs. An Urdu paper in Patna recently carried a huge picture of Nitish Kumar at a mazaar. We ask, why don't they find out why the Bihar government hasn't released the Central Government's scholarship funds for pre-high school Muslim students in the state?”

Questioning the establishmentarian stance towards Muslims is at the heart of most TCN stories, including those on people accused in terror-related cases. For instance, TCN had interviewed Rayeesuddin, a 2007 Mecca Masjid blast suspect in Hyderabad, who was later acquitted, and who recounted the torture inflicted on him, and the social ostracism and police harassment he continues to face. They had also brought attention to the case of Muhammad Haneef, a Noida tailor who was detained and allegedly tortured by police in 2005 for being a suspected ISI agent. TCN reporters sometimes feel that their boldly contrarian stance might risk leaving them vulnerable to threats or scrutiny. “Whenever you go against the mainstream, you are isolated and watched,” agrees Falahi.

Yet that’s the direction which TCN wants to soldier on in, because, Huda says, the “major media is either afraid of covering Muslim issues or doesn’t know how to do it properly”. Describing a meeting with the editor of a national Hindi daily, he says, “I asked him what sort of Muslim stories he did. He said, ‘We’re scared to go beyond Ramzan and Eid.’ I was shocked that we’re 15 per cent of the population, and have been living in India for a thousand years, and yet people have no idea what Muslims are.” So TCN, he says, aims to “help journalists report on a complex socio-religious community that is as diverse as India itself”.

They also try to lead by example, in representing diversity; focussing not just on Muslim Victims, but Muslim Achievers. On the site, there is a series of articles on three young Muslim techie entrepreneurs, and stories on Muslim candidates who cleared the civil service exams. The TCN also, on occasion, questions the credentials of Muslim institutions, such as their series of reports which exposed corruption within the Maharashtra Wakf Board in its land deals with builders, or a story detailing AMU’s high-handed treatment of students protesting against the dissolution of the students’ union. Or a comprehensive performance report of Muslim MPs in both Houses across three sessions.

TCN isn’t an Islamic website; it has no section which discusses religion. Huda says that the site has deliberately kept away from religious discourse “so that it is accessible to all Indians — Muslims or not-Muslims.” Neither is it based on a profit-driven model, says Huda, whose only source of income is his day job as a biotechnologist. The Indian American Muslim community funds the website — a challenge, says Huda, “because Muslims easily donate for a masjid or a madarsa but not for a website”. The only ads the website gets are those by Google.

Currently, there are 15 staffers across India — full-time, part-time and freelancing — and have varied backgrounds. Muhammad Ali, who wrote the Haneef story, has an MA in English Literature and worked with an English-language television news channel before he “quit to do more meaningful stories for a lesser salary”, and Falahi is a madrasa graduate, who “never applied to a mainstream media organisation because he would not have been able to adjust to their working environment”.

The one thing all his staffers do have in common, says Huda, is a “dedication and passion related to Muslim issues”, not to justify or assert, but help non-Muslims “see beyond the stereotype”. “We only want to invite you over to hear our side of the story,” says Huda. 

Irena Akbar in Indian Express. More Here.

Procrastination : Facts, myths and remedies

Some years ago, the economist George Akerlof found himself faced with a simple task: mailing a box of clothes from India, where he was living, to the United States. The clothes belonged to his friend and colleague Joseph Stiglitz, who had left them behind when visiting, so Akerlof was eager to send the box off. But there was a problem. The combination of Indian bureaucracy and what Akerlof called “my own ineptitude in such matters” meant that doing so was going to be a hassle—indeed, he estimated that it would take an entire workday. So he put off dealing with it, week after week. This went on for more than eight months, and it was only shortly before Akerlof himself returned home that he managed to solve his problem: another friend happened to be sending some things back to the U.S., and Akerlof was able to add Stiglitz’s clothes to the shipment. Given the vagaries of intercontinental mail, it’s possible that Akerlof made it back to the States before Stiglitz’s shirts did.

There’s something comforting about this story: even Nobel-winning economists procrastinate! Many of us go through life with an array of undone tasks, large and small, nibbling at our conscience. But Akerlof saw the experience, for all its familiarity, as mysterious. He genuinely intended to send the box to his friend, yet, as he wrote, in a paper called “Procrastination and Obedience” (1991), “each morning for over eight months I woke up and decided that the next morning would be the day to send the Stiglitz box.” He was always about to send the box, but the moment to act never arrived. Akerlof, who became one of the central figures in behavioral economics, came to the realization that procrastination might be more than just a bad habit. He argued that it revealed something important about the limits of rational thinking and that it could teach useful lessons about phenomena as diverse as substance abuse and savings habits. Since his essay was published, the study of procrastination has become a significant field in academia, with philosophers, psychologists, and economists all weighing in.

Academics, who work for long periods in a self-directed fashion, may be especially prone to putting things off: surveys suggest that the vast majority of college students procrastinate, and articles in the literature of procrastination often allude to the author’s own problems with finishing the piece. (This article will be no exception.) But the academic buzz around the subject isn’t just a case of eggheads rationalizing their slothfulness. As various scholars argue in “The Thief of Time,” edited by Chrisoula Andreou and Mark D. White (Oxford; $65)—a collection of essays on procrastination, ranging from the resolutely theoretical to the surprisingly practical—the tendency raises fundamental philosophical and psychological issues. Indeed, one essay, by the economist George Ainslie, a central figure in the study of procrastination, argues that dragging our heels is “as fundamental as the shape of time and could well be called the basic impulse.”

James Surowiecki in the New Yorker. More Here

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Do we need nuclear power in India? At what cost?

The nuclear power emergency in Japan has raised two major questions regarding nuclear power.

First, can a disaster comparable to the one in Japan happen here? The answer, of course, is yes — whether caused by an earthquake or some other event or series of events. Nature is unpredictable and human beings are fallible. It could happen.

So the second question is whether it makes sense to follow through on plans to increase our reliance on nuclear power, thus heightening the risk of a terrible problem occurring here. Is that a risk worth taking?

There has been a persistent tendency to ignore the toughest questions posed by nuclear power: What should be done with the waste? What are the consequences of a catastrophic accident in a populated area? How safe are the plants, really? Why would taxpayers have to shoulder so much of the financial risk of expanding the nation’s nuclear power capacity, an effort that would be wildly expensive?

A big part of the problem at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power station are the highly radioactive spent fuel rods kept in storage pools at the plant. What to do, ultimately, with such dangerous waste material is the nuclear power question without an answer. Nuclear advocates and public officials don’t talk about it much. Denial is the default position when it comes to nuclear waste.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said again this week that the 40-year-old Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County, 35 miles north of New York City, should be closed. Try to imagine the difficulty, in the event of an emergency, of evacuating such an area with its millions of residents. “This plant in this proximity to New York City was never a good risk,” said the governor.

There are, blessedly, very few catastrophic accidents at nuclear power plants. And there have not been many deaths associated with them. The rarity of such accidents provides a comfort zone. We can look at the low probabilities and declare, “It can’t happen here.”

But what if it did happen here? What would the consequences be?
If Indian Point blew, how wide an area and how many people would be affected, and what would the cleanup costs be? 
Rigorously answering such questions is the only way to determine whether the potential risk to life and property is worthwhile.

The 104 commercial nuclear plants in the U.S. are getting old, and many have had serious problems over the years. There have been dozens of instances since 1979, the year of the Three Mile Island accident, in which nuclear reactors have had to be shut down for more than a year for safety reasons.

Building new plants can be breathtakingly expensive and requires government loan guarantees. Banks are not lining up to lend money on their own for construction of the newest generation of Indian Points.

In addition to the inherent risks with regard to safety and security, the nuclear industry has long been notorious for sky-high construction costs, feverish cost-overruns and projects that eventually are abandoned.

Nuclear power is hardly the pristine, economical, unambiguous answer to the nation’s energy needs and global warming concerns. It offers benefits and big-time shortcomings. Ultimately, the price may be much too high.

Bob Herbert in The New York Times. More Here.

Say NO to nuclear power. It is simply dangerous.

Let’s get this straight. The Fukushima crisis is the world’s worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986. The earlier (partial, largely contained) meltdown at Three Mile Island (1979) pales beside it. The Fukushima reactors have spewed large amounts of radioactivity into the air. The vessel containing the core of Reactor 2, which fully lost water cover for hours, has been damaged. The fire in Reactor 4 released yet more radiotoxins. At the time of writing, only a miracle can prevent further radiation release.

The Fukushima disaster is the world’s first multi-reactor crisis; controlling it is more difficult. It also poses three special problems. Large quantities of spent fuel, containing extremely radioactive nuclear wastes, are stored in pools in the reactor building, following General Electric’s design. These are no longer being cooled. A spent fuel leak, spreading due to the flooding, could have unspeakably lethal effects.

Second, Fukushima reactors’ primary containment—similar to India’s Tarapur reactors, also GE-designed—has been found by a US laboratory to be vulnerable to molten fuel burning through the reactor vessel, eventually breaking out. Third, Reactor 3 burns a mix of uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX). Researchers say mox generally increases the consequences of severe accidents with large radioactivity releases, resulting in a five-fold increase in latent cancer fatalities.

Even if the Fukushima crisis doesn’t worsen further, it highlights the inherent hazards of nuclear power, in which small individual mishaps can precipitate a runaway crisis. The reactors were shut down by the earthquake; and their still-hot cores were no longer cooled. The diesel back-up came on, but went out in an hour. The loss of coolant led to the explosions and radioactivity releases.
That this happened in industrially advanced Japan, with high nuclear safety standards, underscores the gravity of the generic problem with nuclear reactors. They are all vulnerable to a catastrophic accident irrespective of safety measures. Nuclear power generation is also bound up with radiation exposure, harmful in all doses, and radioactive waste streams, which remain hazardous for thousands of years.
India’s nucleocrats have been in denial of these problems and suppressed their abysmal safety record. The list of failures is long: a serious fire at Narora, which moved from the turbine to the reactor room amidst panic-driven abandonment of fire-fighting procedures; collapse of a containment-dome safety system at Kaiga; frequent radiation exposure of workers and lay public to doses above the permissible; and the spiking of drinking water with deadly tritium in Kaiga. India has the distinction of running two of the world’s most contaminated reactors.

This necessitates a radical reform of the DAE, the government’s worst-performing department, which has never completed a project on time and within budget. We must have an independent, credible nuclear safety audit, with outside experts and civil society representatives. We must review our nuclear power policy for appropriateness, safety, costs, and public acceptance, based on a holistic view of the best ways of meeting our energy needs. If nuclear power emerges as the least desirable option, we should discard it. The environment ministry must also revoke all conditional clearances granted to nuclear projects, including Jaitapur.

Nuclear power has subjugated our energy policy and budgets to an unaccountable, self-perpetuating, pampered technocracy, imposed unacceptable hazards upon unwilling populations, and degraded our democracy. The juggernaut must be halted.

Praful Bidwai in Outlook. More Here. 

Fukushima's failure, India's nuclear policy and some lessons

To be trite, words are inadequate to describe the trio of disastrous events which have hit Japan recently - from earthquake, to tsunami, to potential nuclear meltdown. While the first two disasters are acts of nature, the third revives the historic trauma of the original detonations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at a time when the idea of a nuclear energy renaissance had been gaining international popularity. Japan occupies a crucial role in these plans as a manufacturer, investor, and even moral arbitrator related to nuclear technology.

Domestically, nuclear power makes up 13.6 per cent of Japan’s total energy supply and a substantial portion of its electricity production.  Globally, the destruction of the nuclear plants in Fukushima will have international consequences for future nuclear power installations. Europe, India and the United States have all been in the process of shifting more of their future energy needs to nuclear power. How might Fukushima alter that shift? What will be the short-term energy ramifications of such a shift? What might be the more long-term geopolitical consequences?

There was a 1999 critical nuclear accident at a small experimental reactor in Tokaimura, Japan.  Breaches in existing safety standards caused the accident, damage (resulting in two fatalities) was limited, and it did not grab the imagination of the international public. In contrast to Tokaimura, the present extensive nuclear accident in Japan is dramatic and symbolic; already other countries that use nuclear power are looking into the safety of their own reactors. But change is reactor construction and safety may well not be the most dramatic shift in nuclear energy politics. There will be ripple effects.

Even Europe is rethinking its reliance on nuclear power.  In Germany, nuclear energy has been a contentious issue for decades - nearly 70 per cent of Germans opposed nuclear power even before Fukushima. Henrik Paultiz, of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, believes that “the accident in Japan could lead to a major rethink in Europe. And not before its time. Governments have not been transparent enough about the safety levels of the nuclear power sector.”

If some European countries who have been relying for some of their energy needs on nuclear power for decades are reconsidering nuclear energy in response to Fukushima, the US is in an even more politically charged position. Following the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979, nuclear energy became deeply unpopular. Yet support for nuclear energy has experienced resurgence and is one of the few issues which has support from both Democrats and Republicans. However, Fukushima is causing all to pause in their enthusiasm. Senator Joseph Lieberman captured the new ambivalence around nuclear energy: “I think it calls on us here in the U.S., not to stop building nuclear power plants but to put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what’s happened in Japan.”  

In India, the reaction to Fukushima has focused more on safety of domestic facilities rather than doubts about the safety of nuclear energy itself. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ordered the Nuclear Power Corporation of India to review its safety systems and security designs. The Government of India is also considering additional environmental safeguards to ensure safety of future nuclear reactors. Even before Fukushima, there have been growing protests of the “not in my backyard” variety related to the construction of Jaitapur reactor in Maharastra. Fukushima could well intensify these protests to the point of halting construction.

In the short-term, Fukushima will make nuclear power plant construction at the very least a much more difficult proposition in many places in the world.

Lydia Walker in More Here


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