Test Will ‘Mine’ Hydrates for Natural Gas in Alaska

Test Will ‘Mine’ Hydrates for Natural Gas in Alaska

US team will pump waste carbon dioxide into natural-gas well to extract methane.

By Nicola Jones of Nature magazine


This month, scientists will test a new way to extract methane from beneath the frozen soil of Alaska: they will use waste carbon dioxide from conventional wells to force out the desired natural gas.


The pilot experiment will explore the possibility of `mining’ from gas hydrates: cages of water ice that hold molecules of methane. Such hydrates exist under the sea floor and in sandstone deep beneath the Arctic tundra, holding potentially vast reserves of natural gas. But getting the gas out is tricky and expensive.


The test is to be run by the US Department of Energy (DOE), in conjunction with ConocoPhillips, an oil company based in Houston, Texas, and the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation. The researchers will pump CO2 down a well in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, into a hydrate deposit. If all goes as planned, the CO2molecules will exchange with the methane in the hydrates, leaving the water crystals intact and freeing the methane to flow up the well.


Conventional wells in the Prudhoe Bay gas fields contain a very high concentration of carbon dioxide–about 12 percent of the gas. “You have to find something to do with it,” says Ray Boswell, technology manager for methane hydrates at the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown, West Virginia. One way to dispose of it is to bury the gas underground. Excess carbon dioxide is already pumped down some conventional wells to encourage extraction of the last bits of natural gas; using it to extract methane from hydrates might be a good idea too.


Fuel test

The test will use the Ignik Sikumi well, which was drilled on an ice platform in Prudhoe Bay last winter. Specialized equipment has been installed, including fibre-optic cables to measure the temperature down the well, and injection pipes for the CO2. “None of this is standard equipment; it had to be built to design,” says Boswell.


ConocoPhillips helped the team to get access to the site. “That’s one of the biggest hurdles–getting industry to let you do an experiment in their field,” says Boswell, who has been working to arrange such tests in Alaska since 2001. “There’s a lot of inertia to overcome. Prudhoe is where they make their money,” he adds.


During the test, the researchers will inject nitrogen gas into the hydrate deposit to try to push away any free water in the system, which would otherwise freeze into hydrates on exposure to CO2 and block up the well. The next phase is to pump in isotopically labeled CO2, and let it `soak’ for a week before seeing what comes back up. This will help to test whether the injected carbon is really swapping places with the carbon in the hydrates. Finally, the team will depressurize the well and attempt to suck up all the methane and carbon dioxide. This will also give them a chance to test extraction using depressurization–sucking liquids out of the hydrate deposits to reduce pressure in the well and coax the methane out of the water crystals. “We’ll continue to depressurize until we run out of time or money, and see how much methane we can get out that way,” says Boswell.


Field of dreams

This is not the first attempt to extract methane from hydrates. In 2002, experiments at the Mallik Field site in northern Canada pumped hot water underground to “melt” hydrates and release the methane. In 2008, further tests at the same site tried depressurization. That scheme seems most likely to be commercially viable, says Boswell. “The tests were very short and the modeling has so many moving parts, no one knows exactly what the production rate will be,” he says. “But the test well produced more than the models said it would.”


The CO2-methane exchange method to be tested at Prudhoe Bay removes the need to either add water or dispose of extracted fluids, and doesn’t risk destabilizing the ground by melting the hydrate. It also has the added bonus of getting rid of unwanted gas, which would offset the price of commercial operations. “It doesn’t have to produce methane at a great rate, because you’re also disposing of CO2,” says Boswell.


“The concept is very alluring,” says Scott Dallimore, a hydrate expert with the Geological Survey of Canada in Sidney, British Columbia. “Gas fields in this area have a relatively high CO2 concentration. If this CO2 can be re-injected while at the same time producing methane, it will be a terrific option.”


Commercialization is still a long way off. The U.S. has no urgent need to mine methane hydrates, says Boswell, because it will continue to have access to much cheaper natural-gas resources for some time to come. Japan is much closer to commercialization: the country plans to open a short-term production well in the offshore Nankai Trough in 2013, with the aim of running a longer production test in 2015. The country is “quite eager” to explore the potential of hydrates, says Boswell, because it has few other fossil-fuel resources.


“There’s a perception out there that this is a wild fantasy. That’s not true. I am convinced that the research community has already demonstrated the technical viability of gas-hydrate production,” says Dallimore. “When it comes to the question of commercial viability, things become more complex.”


This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article wasfirst published on January 13, 2012.

How Diversity Makes Us Smarter

How Diversity Makes Us Smarter

Being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working


Edel Rodriguez

In Brief

  • Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.
  • It seems obvious that a group of people with diverse individual expertise would be better than a homogeneous group at solving complex, nonroutine problems. It is less obvious that social diversity should work in the same way—yet the science shows that it does.
  • This is not only because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.

The first thing to acknowledge about diversity is that it can be difficult. In the U.S., where the dialogue of inclusion is relatively advanced, even the mention of the word “diversity” can lead to anxiety and conflict. Supreme Court justices disagree on the virtues of diversity and the means for achieving it. Corporations spend billions of dollars to attract and manage diversity both internally and externally, yet they still face discrimination lawsuits, and the leadership ranks of the business world remain predominantly white and male.

It is reasonable to ask what good diversity does us. Diversity of expertise confers benefits that are obvious—you would not think of building a new car without engineers, designers and quality-control experts—but what about social diversity? What good comes from diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation? Research has shown that social diversity in a group can cause discomfort, rougher interactions, a lack of trust, greater perceived interpersonal conflict, lower communication, less cohesion, more concern about disrespect, and other problems. So what is the upside?

The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving. Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think. This is not just wishful thinking: it is the conclusion I draw from decades of research from organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers.

Information and Innovation
The key to understanding the positive influence of diversity is the concept of informational diversity. When people are brought together to solve problems in groups, they bring different information, opinions and perspectives. This makes obvious sense when we talk about diversity of disciplinary backgrounds—think again of the interdisciplinary team building a car. The same logic applies to social diversity. People who are different from one another in race, gender and other dimensions bring unique information and experiences to bear on the task at hand. A male and a female engineer might have perspectives as different from one another as an engineer and a physicist—and that is a good thing.

Research on large, innovative organizations has shown repeatedly that this is the case. For example, business professors Cristian Deszö of the University of Maryland and David Ross of Columbia University studied the effect of gender diversity on the top firms in Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500 list, a group designed to reflect the overall U.S. equity market. First, they examined the size and gender composition of firms’ top management teams from 1992 through 2006. Then they looked at the financial performance of the firms. In their words, they found that, on average, “female representation in top management leads to an increase of $42 million in firm value.” They also measured the firms’ “innovation intensity” through the ratio of research and development expenses to assets. They found that companies that prioritized innovation saw greater financial gains when women were part of the top leadership ranks.

Racial diversity can deliver the same kinds of benefits. In a study conducted in 2003, Orlando Richard, a professor of management at the University of Texas at Dallas, and his colleagues surveyed executives at 177 national banks in the U.S., then put together a database comparing financial performance, racial diversity and the emphasis the bank presidents put on innovation. For innovation-focused banks, increases in racial diversity were clearly related to enhanced financial performance.

Evidence for the benefits of diversity can be found well beyond the U.S. In August 2012 a team of researchers at the Credit Suisse Research Institute issued a report in which they examined 2,360 companies globally from 2005 to 2011, looking for a relationship between gender diversity on corporate management boards and financial performance. Sure enough, the researchers found that companies with one or more women on the board delivered higher average returns on equity, lower gearing (that is, net debt to equity) and better average growth.

How Diversity Provokes Thought
Large data-set studies have an obvious limitation: they only show that diversity is correlated with better performance, not that it causes better performance. Research on racial diversity in small groups, however, makes it possible to draw some causal conclusions. Again, the findings are clear: for groups that value innovation and new ideas, diversity helps.

In 2006 Margaret Neale of Stanford University, Gregory Northcraft of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and I set out to examine the impact of racial diversity on small decision-making groups in an experiment where sharing information was a requirement for success. Our subjects were undergraduate students taking business courses at the University of Illinois. We put together three-person groups—some consisting of all white members, others with two whites and one nonwhite member—and had them perform a murder mystery exercise. We made sure that all group members shared a common set of information, but we also gave each member important clues that only he or she knew. To find out who committed the murder, the group members would have to share all the information they collectively possessed during discussion. The groups with racial diversity significantly outperformed the groups with no racial diversity. Being with similar others leads us to think we all hold the same information and share the same perspective. This perspective, which stopped the all-white groups from effectively processing the information, is what hinders creativity and innovation.

Other researchers have found similar results. In 2004 Anthony Lising Antonio, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, collaborated with five colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles, and other institutions to examine the influence of racial and opinion composition in small group discussions. More than 350 students from three universities participated in the study. Group members were asked to discuss a prevailing social issue (either child labor practices or the death penalty) for 15 minutes. The researchers wrote dissenting opinions and had both black and white members deliver them to their groups. When a black person presented a dissenting perspective to a group of whites, the perspective was perceived as more novel and led to broader thinking and consideration of alternatives than when a white person introduced that same dissenting perspective. The lesson: when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us.

This effect is not limited to race. For example, last year professors of management Denise Lewin Loyd of the University of Illinois, Cynthia Wang of Oklahoma State University, Robert B. Lount, Jr., of Ohio State University and I asked 186 people whether they identified as a Democrat or a Republican, then had them read a murder mystery and decide who they thought committed the crime. Next, we asked the subjects to prepare for a meeting with another group member by writing an essay communicating their perspective. More important, in all cases, we told the participants that their partner disagreed with their opinion but that they would need to come to an agreement with the other person. Everyone was told to prepare to convince their meeting partner to come around to their side; half of the subjects, however, were told to prepare to make their case to a member of the opposing political party, and half were told to make their case to a member of their own party.

The result: Democrats who were told that a fellow Democrat disagreed with them prepared less well for the discussion than Democrats who were told that a Republican disagreed with them. Republicans showed the same pattern. When disagreement comes from a socially different person, we are prompted to work harder. Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not.

For this reason, diversity appears to lead to higher-quality scientific research. This year Richard Freeman, an economics professor at Harvard University and director of the Science and Engineering Workforce Project at the National Bureau of Economic Research, along with Wei Huang, a Harvard economics Ph.D. candidate, examined the ethnic identity of the authors of 1.5 million scientific papers written between 1985 and 2008 using Thomson Reuters’s Web of Science, a comprehensive database of published research. They found that papers written by diverse groups receive more citations and have higher impact factors than papers written by people from the same ethnic group. Moreover, they found that stronger papers were associated with a greater number of author addresses; geographical diversity, and a larger number of references, is a reflection of more intellectual diversity.

The Power of Anticipation
Diversity is not only about bringing different perspectives to the table. Simply adding social diversity to a group makes people believe that differences of perspective might exist among them and that belief makes people change their behavior.

Members of a homogeneous group rest somewhat assured that they will agree with one another; that they will understand one another’s perspectives and beliefs; that they will be able to easily come to a consensus. But when members of a group notice that they are socially different from one another, they change their expectations. They anticipate differences of opinion and perspective. They assume they will need to work harder to come to a consensus. This logic helps to explain both the upside and the downside of social diversity: people work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They might not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes.

In a 2006 study of jury decision making, social psychologist Samuel Sommers of Tufts University found that racially diverse groups exchanged a wider range of information during deliberation about a sexual assault case than all-white groups did. In collaboration with judges and jury administrators in a Michigan courtroom, Sommers conducted mock jury trials with a group of real selected jurors. Although the participants knew the mock jury was a court-sponsored experiment, they did not know that the true purpose of the research was to study the impact of racial diversity on jury decision making.

Sommers composed the six-person juries with either all white jurors or four white and two black jurors. As you might expect, the diverse juries were better at considering case facts, made fewer errors recalling relevant information and displayed a greater openness to discussing the role of race in the case. These improvements did not necessarily happen because the black jurors brought new information to the group—they happened because white jurors changed their behavior in the presence of the black jurors. In the presence of diversity, they were more diligent and open-minded.

Group Exercise
Consider the following scenario: You are writing up a section of a paper for presentation at an upcoming conference. You are anticipating some disagreement and potential difficulty communicating because your collaborator is American and you are Chinese. Because of one social distinction, you may focus on other differences between yourself and that person, such as her or his culture, upbringing and experiences—differences that you would not expect from another Chinese collaborator. How do you prepare for the meeting? In all likelihood, you will work harder on explaining your rationale and anticipating alternatives than you would have otherwise.

This is how diversity works: by promoting hard work and creativity; by encouraging the consideration of alternatives even before any interpersonal interaction takes place. The pain associated with diversity can be thought of as the pain of exercise. You have to push yourself to grow your muscles. The pain, as the old saw goes, produces the gain. In just the same way, we need diversity—in teams, organizations and society as a whole—if we are to change, grow and innovate.

This article was originally published with the title “How Diversity Works.”

99 Per Cent Of Sweden’s Garbage Is Now Recycled

99 Per Cent Of Sweden’s Garbage Is Now Recycled


There’s a “recycling revolution” happening in Sweden – one that has pushed the country closer to zero waste than ever before. In fact, less than one per cent of Sweden’s household garbage ends up in landfills today.

The Scandinavian country has become so good at managing waste, they have to import garbage from the UK, Italy, Norway and Ireland to feed the country’s 32 waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, a practice that has been in place for years.

“Waste today is a commodity in a different way than it has been. It’s not only waste, it’s a business,” explained Swedish Waste Management communications director Anna-Carin Gripwell in a statement.

Every year, the average Swede produces 461 kilograms of waste, a figure that’s slightly below the half-ton European average. But what makes Sweden different is its use of a somewhat controversial program incinerating over two million tons of trash per year.

It’s also a process responsible for converting half the country’s garbage into energy.

“When waste sits in landfills, leaking methane gas and other greenhouse gasses, it is obviously not good for the environment,” Gripwell said of traditional dump sites. So Sweden focused on developing alternatives to reduce the amount of toxins seeping into the ground.

Importing garbage for energy is good business for Sweden from Sweden on Vimeo.


At the core of Sweden’s program is its waste-management hierarchy designed to curb environmental harm: prevention (reduce), reuse, recycling, recycling alternatives (energy recovery via WTE plants), and lastly, disposal (landfill).

Before garbage can be trucked away to incinerator plants, trash is filtered by home and business owners; organic waste is separated, paper picked from recycling bins, and any objects that can be salvaged and reused pulled aside.

By Swedish law, producers are responsible for handling all costs related to collection and recycling or disposal of their products. If a beverage company sells bottles of pop at stores, the financial onus is on them to pay for bottle collection as well as related recycling or disposal costs.

Rules introduced in the 1990s incentivized companies to take a more proactive, eco-conscious role about what products they take to market. It was also a clever way to alleviate taxpayers of full waste management costs.

According to data collected from Swedish recycling company Returpack, Swedes collectively return 1.5 billion bottles and cans annually. What can’t be reused or recycled usually heads to WTE incineration plants.

Sweden’s waste management hierarchy: reduce, reuse, recycle, energy recovery, then landfill. (Flickr)

WTE plants work by loading furnaces with garbage, burning it to generate steam which is used to spin generator turbines used to produce electricity. That electricity is then transferred to transmission lines and a grid distributes it across the country.

In Helsingborg (population: 132,989), one plant produces enough power to satisfy 40 per cent of the city’s heating needs. Across Sweden, power produced via WTE provides approximately 950,000 homes with heating and 260,000 with electricity.

Recycling and incineration have evolved into efficient garbage-management processes to help the Scandinavian country dramatically cut down the amount of household waste that ends up in landfills. Their efforts are also helping to lower its dependency on fossil fuels.

Sweden’s Östergötland County produced this animation to explain the basics of the EU’s waste-to-energy programs.

“A good number to remember is that three tons of waste contains as much energy as one ton of fuel oil … so there is a lot of energy in waste,” said Göran Skoglund, spokesperson for Öresundskraft, one of the country’s leading energy companies.

So if Sweden burns approximately two million tons of waste annually, that produces roughly 670,000 tons worth of fuel oil energy. And the country needs that fuel to operate its well-developed district heating networks which heat homes in Sweden’s cold winters.

This is why the country has taken advantage of the fact a number of European nations don’t have the capacity to incinerate garbage themselves due to various taxes and bans across the EU that prevent landfill waste. There’s where Sweden comes in to buy garbage other countries can’t dispose of themselves at a reasonable cost.

Packaged garbage waiting for incineration at the Filborna WTE plant.

But trash burning isn’t without controversy. Some critics claim the process as anything but green because it sends more pollution and toxins into the air.

According to a study in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology, more than 40 per cent of the world’s trash is burned, mostly in open air. It’s a process markedly different from the regulated, low-emission processes Sweden has adopted.

Start-up costs for new incineration plants can get pricey and out of reach for some municipalities depending on the integration of processes used to filter ash and flue gas byproducts. Both contain dioxins, an environmental pollutant.

The incineration process isn’t perfect, but technological advancements and introduction of flue-gas cleaning have reduced airborne dioxins to “very small amounts,” according to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.

Unless manufacturers stop making products with materials that can’t be reused or tossed into incinerators, a 100 per cent recycling rate is unlikely to be achieved in our lifetime. Goods that are or contain tile, porcelain, insulation, asbestos, and miscellaneous construction and demolition debris can’t be burned safely; they have to be dumped in landfills.

“The world needs to produce less waste,” explained Skoglund.

Sweden’s success handling garbage didn’t come overnight — the latest results are the fruits of a cultural shift decades in the making.

“Starting in the ‘70s, Sweden adopted fairly strict rules and regulations when it comes to handling our waste, both for households and more municipalities and companies,” Gripwell told HuffPost Canada, referring to the country’s “waste hierarchy” now ingrained in Swedish society.

“People rarely question the ‘work’ they have to do,” she said.


Mind-Blowing Recycled Buildings
1 of 7 


Abbey Road Farm

Moeen abuse shows cricket’s dark side

Moeen abuse shows cricket’s dark side

The booing of Moeen Ali at Edgbaston revealed the ugly side of sporting rivalry and suggested intolerance remains in the UK. It should not be ignored

George Dobell at Edgbaston

September 7, 2014

Text size: A | A
Dobell: Moeen boos detract from spectacle

It should have been the perfect end to an absorbing summer of international cricket. We had beautiful weather. We had a sell-out crowd. We had a run-soaked T20 that contained outrageous skills and an exciting finish.

We should have gone home talking about MS Dhoni’s decision to turn down singles in the final over. His self-confidence and his preparedness to take responsibility for the team. Or, perhaps, his lack of confidence in his team-mates.

We should have gone home talking about Virat Kohli’s only half-century of the tour in international cricket – the same number as James Anderson – or Eoin Morgan’s brilliant innings. The England captain, so short of runs in international cricket this summer, helped England thrash 81 from the final five overs of their innings and scored 56 in the 15 balls before his dismissal. We might even have witnessed the birth of a new-look England side for both forms of the limited-overs game.

Either way, this should have been a brilliant advert for cricket. But instead there was a sour end to the summer. An unsettling end. An end that suggested, for all the progress we think we have made in creating a multicultural society in the UK, we have a long way to go.


  Moeen Ali picked up a wicket in his opening over, England v India, only T20, Edgbaston, September 7, 2014

Moeen Ali’s contributions were not universally appreciated at Edgbaston, the ground where he began his career © AFP 



Because, in the middle of Birmingham on a bright afternoon in 2014, we saw at least one player subjected to abuse from a far from insubstantial section of the crowd on the basis of either his religion or his national or ethnic origin.

Moeen Ali was booed when he came out to bat. He was booed when he came on to bowl. He was booed most times he touched the ball. And he was booed either because he is a player of Asian origin playing for England – Ravi Bopara also attracted some boos, though far fewer – because he is Muslim or, perhaps most pertinently, because he is of Pakistani origin and the vast majority of the crowd were India supporters.

On the back of every ticket and inside every match programme it states: “Spectators shall not engage in any conduct, act towards or speak to any player, umpire, referee or other official or other spectators in a manner which offends, insults, humiliates, intimidates, threatens, disparages or vilifies that other person on the basis of that other person’s race, religion, colour, national or ethnic origin.”

By such a definition, it is impossible to justify these boos. It is inappropriate to dismiss them as “banter” – an invidious description used to excuse sexism, homophobia, bullying and racism in many walks of life – and it is inappropriate to dismiss them as a symptom of any rivalry that exists between Pakistan and India.

Nor should we link this with the booing experienced by Stuart Broad in Australia and James Anderson and Ravi Jadeja this summer. Those jeers, unappealing though they were, do not stem from a dislike of origin or religion. They reflected specific issues.

Nor should we fool ourselves that these are pantomime boos. Just as the monkey chants that used to shame football grounds in the UK were unacceptable, so it must be unacceptable to hear a player derided for their religion or origin. It is not funny.

And let us not mistake this issue with any pretence that this is simply a manifestation of support for India. Spectators are free to support whichever side they like and the passion for cricket from spectators of Asian origin in the UK is of huge benefit to the game. But there is a chasm between supporting one side and denigrating the players of the opposition. It would be irresponsible to link the two.

What, it might be asked, would be the reaction if an all-white crowd booed a player of Asian origin? What would be the implications if a black player was booed each time he touched the ball? If such behaviours are deemed unacceptable – and, thankfully, in this day and age, they are – why should the booing of a man on the basis of his religion or origin be any different?

Moeen was born in Birmingham and he graduated through Warwickshire’s youth system. He has a mixed-heritage family with a white grandmother from the Birmingham area. His religion or ethnicity should not be issues and he has previously said that such behaviour does not affect him.

But there is an irony that Moeen has spoken of being a role model. He has spoken of showing that it is possible to be British, Muslim and proud of both. He has spoken of encouraging other Asian cricketers into mainstream league and club cricket in the UK. He has, despite his relative youth and inexperience, spoken only of inclusivity and unity. He makes an unlikely villain.

The episode proved difficult for the ground authorities to handle. Had the stewards started to eject those involved, the situation could have deteriorated. Had Morgan, who denied any knowledge of the booing, led his team from the pitch, the situation could have deteriorated.

But just because a situation is difficult, it does not mean it should be avoided. This sort of episode should not happen. It must not happen. And if we find it unacceptable – and we really should – we must not ignore it. Whatever the many mistakes of the past, 21st century Britain cannot be accepting of intolerance based around race, religion, colour, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation or any other such issue.

Cricket can unite. In Afghanistan and the Caribbean and LA and Ireland, it has been shown to bring people from differing backgrounds together. It does it in league teams around the country every week. Here it provided a peek behind the façade of multicultural Britain. It was an ugly, depressing sight. And it should not be ignored.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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Europe Needs to Embrace Islam

Europe Needs to Embrace Islam

Jocelyne Cesari

Jocelyne Cesari is senior research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, and director of the Islam in the West Program at Harvard University. She is the author of “Why the West Fears Islam: An Exploration of Muslims in Liberal Democracies” and “The Awakening of Muslim Democracy: Religion, Modernity, and the State.”

UPDATED AUGUST 29, 2014, 2:08 PM

Counter to the common interpretation, the appeal of radical anti-Western groups like ISIS among European Muslims is not driven primarily by socioeconomic deprivation. In fact, three interrelated factors play a more significant role.

Political efforts are needed to put an end to the ‘ghettoization’ of Islam, which is often depicted as alien and incompatible with Western core liberal values.

The first is the powerful presence of the Salafi version of Islam in the religious market of ideas. This is problematic because even as most Muslims in the West are not Salafis and the majority of Salafis are not jihadists, it happens that groups like Al Qaiada and ISIS have a Salafi background. It means that their theological view comes from a particular interpretation of Islam rooted in Wahhabism, an eighteenth century doctrine adopted by the Saudi kingdom. In the West, Salafis incite people to withdraw from mainstream society, depicted as impure, in order to live by strict rules. These reactionary interpretations do contain similarities with jihadist discourse.

The second factor in the radicalization of Muslim youth is the increase of discriminatory policies vis-à-vis Islamic practices in Europe, including the use of the hijab and regulation of mosque minarets, circumcision and halal food. All contribute to a growing sense among Muslims that they are not accepted as full members of European society. Anti-immigration and anti-Islamic discourse translates into discriminatory practices in employment, housing and political activities. It can be a factor in strengthening a defensive identification within Islam and therefore gives more leverage to any ideology that pits the West against Muslims.

Third, the collapse of all major ideologies in Europe — nationalism, Communism, and liberalism — has left room for new radical options. For some young Europeans, adherence to radical Islam provides a viable alternative ideology, comparable to that of radical leftist groups in the 1970s.

These factors reveal a lack of true integration of Muslims as European policies have prioritized socioeconomic measures. In other words, political efforts are needed to put an end to the ‘ghettoization’ of Islam, which is often depicted as alien and incompatible with Western core liberal values. It means that geopolitical issues like the “war on terror” should be disconnected as much as possible from Islam and its adherents and their practices. Europe, and to a certain extent the U.S., face a major political challenge, which is the inclusion of Islam within their respective national narratives. It is a huge symbolic task, equivalent to the undertaking that led to the integration of the African-American past and legacy into the dominant American narrative.


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Topics: ISISIslamTerrorismsecurity

With Gaza war, movement to boycott Israel gains momentum in Europe

With Gaza war, movement to boycott Israel gains momentum in Europe

LONDON: A branch of Sainsbury’s grocery store removed kosher products from its shelves, it said, to prevent anti-Israel demonstrations. The Tricycle Theater in north London, after hosting a Jewish film festival for eight years, demanded to vet the content of any film made with arts funding from the Israeli government. George Galloway, a member of Parliament known for his vehement criticism of Israel, declared Bradford, England, an “Israel-free zone.” 

Galloway, in comments being investigated by the police, said, “We don’t want any Israeli goods; we don’t want any Israeli services; we don’t want any Israeli academics coming to the university or college; we don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford.” 

The war in Gaza and its aftermath have inflamed opinion in Europe and, experts and analysts say, are likely to increase support for the movement to boycott, disinvest from and sanction Israel, known as BDS.

READ ALSO: Gaza truce open-ended, but puts off tough issues 

“We entered this war in Gaza with the perception that the Israeli government is not interested in reaching peace with the Palestinians,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli analyst at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a private university. “Now, after the casualties and the destruction, I’m very worried about the impact this could have on Israel. It could make it very easy for the BDS campaign to isolate Israel and call for more boycotts.” 

Gilead Sher and Einav Yogev, in a paper for the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, warn that Gaza means Israel pays “a much heavier price in public opinion and in erosion of support for its positions in negotiations with the Palestinians.”

Protesters hold a banner reading ‘Solidarity with Palestinian people: Boycott Israel’ during a demonstration against Israeli offensive on Gaza, in Madrid. (AFP photo) Along with reports of “familiar anti-Semitic attacks on Jews,” they said, “the movement to boycott Israel is expanding politically and among the public.” 

Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations points to the debate over halting arms exports to Israel, which has been given new momentum in Britain and Spain by the asymmetry of the Gaza war. 

“You’re beginning to see the translation of public sympathy into something politically meaningful,” he said. He noted two tracks — the governmental one, which distinguishes between Israel and the occupied territories, and the social one of academic, commercial and artistic boycotts. 

But for all the new attention around the BDS movement, the economic impact has been small, experts say. The European Union, which has been looked to for leadership on the issue, does not support the idea.

READ ALSO: Hamas claims ‘victory’ as Gaza truce agreed with Israel 

Instead, the Europeans are drawing a legal distinction between Israel within its 1967 boundaries and Israeli towns and settlements that are beyond them in occupied land. Brussels regards all Israelis living beyond the 1967 lines, including those in East Jerusalem, as settlers living in illegal communities whose status can be regulated only through a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians. 

In matters such as scientific cooperation, funding for research, import duties and labeling requirements, Brussels has sought a strong relationship with pre-1967 Israel, while demanding a different status for institutions and products from beyond the Green Line, the armistice lines that ended the 1967 fighting but did not fix borders or create a Palestinian state. 

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said before the Gaza conflict that “there is no boycott” of Israel by the European Union, citing trade and scientific cooperation. “The European Union defends the right of existence of Israel with all its means,” he said. “The view that the Europeans are against Israel, I repeat it, is wrong.” 

Some members of the 28-nation European Union are closer to Israel than others, but the bloc is united on Israel within its 1967 boundaries. 

“Our relationship with Israel is close and one of the best we have in the region, but only with Israel in its 1967 lines unless there is a peace agreement,” said a senior European Union official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with diplomatic protocol. “We are clear, however, that what came under Israeli control in 1967 is not a part of Israel, so the settlements are illegal under international law and not helpful in the peace process.” 

To that end, the European Union has demanded that all products produced by Israelis beyond the 1967 lines be labeled differently, and they are excluded from the duty-free trade agreement the bloc has with Israel proper. Goods from settlements are imported, but under different labels and tariffs. “There is no question of a boycott,” the European official said. 

In an agreement last December on scientific exchanges and funding, known as Horizon 2020, Brussels insisted, despite fierce opposition from the Israeli government, on keeping Israeli institutions in the West Bank, like Ariel University, out of the deal. Since European funding is so important to Israeli academic institutions, the Israeli government gave in, attaching a legally meaningless appendix opposing the distinctions. 

While some Israeli companies label goods produced in the West Bank as Israeli, the Europeans have tried to crack down, insisting that permits have a physical address attached and not simply an Israeli post office box. Goods can be labeled “West Bank” or as coming from a particular place, but cannot say “Made in Israel.” 

The European Union has gone considerably further than the United States, declaring that Israeli settlements over the Green Line are “illegal” under international law; the United States simply calls them “illegitimate” and “obstacles to peace.” 

Israel says its settlement activity is consistent with international law, although it accepts that some settlements are built illegally on privately owned Palestinian land and says that all will be resolved as part of a final deal with the Palestinians. 

The United States also has no regulations requiring separate labeling of products from Israeli-occupied land. 

The recent fuss over SodaStream and one of its spokeswomen, the actress Scarlett Johansson, was indicative of the passions raised. Oxfam insisted she quit SodaStream, which has a factory in the large West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, or quit her work with Oxfam; Ms. Johansson chose to quit Oxfam. SodaStream defended itself by citing the number of jobs it was providing for Palestinians, who were being paid the same wages as Israeli workers. 

The debate was indicative of shifting attitudes. During the period around the Oslo Accords, in the early 1990s, when peace seemed close and economic cooperation between Israel and the new, interim Palestinian Authority was considered an important part of a future relationship built on mutual dependency and confidence, factories in occupied territory were praised. 

With the failure of Oslo to produce a Palestinian state, the tone has changed, and companies once seen by many as in the forefront of economic cooperation are now being seen by some as colonial occupiers undermining a future Palestinian state. 

But the interconnection of Israel with the settlements is difficult to untie — every major Israeli bank has a branch in the settlements. 

Some countries, like Britain, have gone further. Britain issued voluntary labeling guidelines in December 2009 “to enable consumers to make a more fully informed decision concerning the products they buy,” according to the UK Trade and Investment agency, because “we understand the concerns of people who do not wish to purchase goods exported from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” 

More troubling to Israel, in December the agency warned companies and citizens to be “aware of the potential reputational implications” of investments in settlement areas. “We do not encourage or offer support to such activities,” it said. 

But even these concerns should be distinguished from the organized BDS campaign against the state of Israel itself. Begun in 2005, the campaign is supposed to last, the Palestinian BDS National Committee says, until Israel “complies with international law and Palestinian rights.” 

Its three goals are “the end of Israeli occupation and colonization of Arab land and dismantling the Wall,” “full equality” for “Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel,” and respect for the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Israelis see the first two as compatible with two states, but the third as the end of the Jewish state. 

Then there is the associated effort at an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, which has attracted well-known figures like Stephen Hawking and Sinead O’Connor. Others defend artistic freedom or the unifying nature of culture, or believe, as the writer Ian McEwan said, “If I only went to countries I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed.”

READ ALSO: Israel targets Gaza highrises as sides weigh truce deal 

Fascism Grips Israel

Fascism Grips Israel


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Zeev Sternhell is an Israeli historian, political scientist and outspoken critic of emerging Israeli fascism.

Signs reached a peak during Operation Protective Edge, he says. Democracy granting equality to everyone is nonexistent.

Sternhell deplores Israel’s settlement project. He supports Palestinian self-determination. He believes establishing a Palestinian state is essential.

What passes for Israeli democracy “reached a new nadir in the current war,” he stresses. Fascist “indicators…definitely exist here.”

He’s greatly concerned about “absolute conformism” among Israeli intellectuals. “They just followed the herd,” he says.

“By intellectuals I mean professors and journalists. The intellectual bankruptcy of the mass media in this war is total.”

“It’s not easy to go against the herd. You can easily be trampled. But the role of the intellectual and the journalist is not to applaud the government.”

“Democracy crumbles when the intellectuals, the educated classes, toe the line of the thugs or look at them with a smile.”

“People here say, ‘(i)t’s not so terrible. It’s nothing like fascism. We have free elections and parties and a parliament.’ ”

“Yet, we reached a crisis in this war, in which, without anyone asking them to do so, all kinds of university bodies are suddenly demanding that the entire academic community roll back its criticism.”

Bar-Ilan University’s law school dean threatened sanctions against a colleague. He did so for expressing sorrow over lost lives on both sides.

He called grieving for enemy losses a treasonous subversive act. According to Sternhell:

“We are arriving at a situation of purely formal democracy, which keeps sinking to ever lower levels.”

In Israel, “one sees the gradual erosion of enlightenment values.”

Consider Netanyahu’s “demand that (Palestinians) recognize Israel as the Jewish state.”

Doing so forces them “to acknowledge that they are historically inferior…The Arabs are citizens, but it’s not their country.”

“(A) distinction is made between nationhood and citizenship. Anyone can be a citizen, but we are the masters.”

The potential for annulling citizenship always exists. Arabs have no power to demand rights everyone deserves.

Democracy isn’t about voting every few years, says Sternhell. It’s tested daily “in terms of human rights.”

Everything else is secondary because “dictatorial regimes” can be established through the ballot box.

Democracy in occupied Palestine never existed. “Palestinians have no human rights.”

“You rule them by force, and after three (Jewish) boys are murdered, you can” collectively punish an entire population.

It’s always been this way, “and it corrupts,” says Sternhell. “Democracies don’t collapse suddenly. They encounter a serious crisis.”

“We could find ourselves in (one) in which the whole shebang (goes) up in smoke.”

A Knesset majority can legislate “segregation between Jews and non-Jews, impos(e) censorship, intimidat(e) dissidents, (as well as) the media and universities…”

“(I)t’s happening now, but it could reach a boiling point. The water is already very hot…It’s on the brink of boiling over.”

Sternhall calls Operation Protective Edge “a war of complete choice…” There’s no justification for blaming an entire population for killing three Jews.

Israel must change its relationship with Palestinians and with Arabs “as a whole.”

“The first thing is to stop deepening the Jewish presence in the territories.” Then support a two-state solution, lift Gaza’s siege, “let the population breathe,” and treat Palestinians “as human beings on an equal footing with us.”

Sternhall calls settlements “a cancer. If Israel can’t muster sufficient strength, political power and mental fortitude to remove some of the settlements, that will signal that the Israeli story is finished…”

Israel is the last remaining colonial country. It can’t continue this way much longer.

If not for the myth of unique Jewish suffering and fear of being called anti-Semitic, “Europe would have long (ago) boycotted the settlements.”

European business and industry are already beginning to do it.

Sternhall calls Naftali Bennett, Uri Ariel, Avigdor Lieberman and other Israeli right-wing extremists “truly dangerous people.”

They deplore democracy and human rights. They deeply hate Arabs. They don’t tolerate coexistence.

Asked if he’s afraid to criticize Israel in today’s charged atmosphere, Sternhell replied:

“If I need to be afraid to (speak freely), and to say it publicly to people’s faces, then our story here is over.”

Israel was never a democracy. For sure it’s not one now.

Its “story” reflects decades of institutionalized racism, apartheid worse than South Africa’s, militarized occupation, control over virtually all aspects of Palestinian lives, ruthless repression, contempt for rule of law principles, and belligerence in lieu of peace and stability.

Operation Protective Edge is the latest example. Netanyahu vows to continue mass slaughter and destruction until his goals are reached.

Perhaps he means exterminating an entire population one war at a time and by other means.

Operation Protective Edge has been ongoing for 49 days. The death and injury toll is horrific.

Palestinian casualties mount daily. The vast majority are non-combatant men, women and children.

Israel willfully targets them. Its aggression has nothing to do with Hamas rockets.

It has everything to do with preventing Palestinian self-determination, continuing its settlement project, stealing Palestinian land and resources, scuttling Fatah/Hamas unity, maintaining occupation harshness, and prioritizing belligerence over peace and security.

It’s unclear what happens next. Ceasefires come and go. They don’t hold. Israel obstructed Cairo talks.

It did so by making outrageous demands. It offered little or nothing in return.

Its agreements aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Violations occur straightaway. Peace is fantasy. Conflict persists.

Here we go again. On August 25, Israeli and Palestinian news organizations said Egyptian mediators proposed a new ceasefire.

It includes opening border crossings, letting in construction materials and other aid, extending Gazan fishing from three to six miles and later 12. Tough issues will be discussed a month from now.

Both sides were contacted. According to the Israeli news web portal Wallal!, Israel is ready to accept an open-ended ceasefire. A PA official responded positively.

Hamas wants any agreement to end Israel’s eight year blockade unconditionally. Israel wants Gaza demilitarized.

It wants Gazans left defenseless. It wants the right to wage future aggressive wars for any reason or none at all unchallenged.

Another ceasefire is no more likely to succeed than previous ones. Israel doesn’t negotiate in good faith.

Gazans are tired of being treated like subhumans. They know Israel can’t be trusted. It doesn’t negotiate in good faith.

It takes a giant leap of faith to believe this time may be different. It never was before. It won’t be now.

Business as usual continues. It’s official Israeli policy. Nothing suggests positive change.

Not when Netanyahu lies saying “Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas.”

“They simply work in the same way. They are branches of the same poisonous tree.”

Not when other Israeli hardliners want Hamas entirely destroyed. Not when former Israeli US ambassador Moshe Arens wants the same thing.

“You have to defeat (Hamas) and disarm” it, he says. A ceasefire won’t work.

Not when Israel bears full responsibility for breaking them. Not when it prioritizes conflict over peace and stability.

Not when it spurns rule of law principles. Not when it maintains militarized occupation.

Not when it holds 1.7 million Gazans hostage under suffocating siege. Not when it attacks them for any reason or none at all.

Not when it terrorizes Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem communities multiple times daily.

Not when it denies all Palestinians fundamental rights everyone deserves. Not when it spurns positive change.

Not when Washington backs and encourages its killing machine. Not when Western leaders support its genocide.

Not while Palestinians are isolated on their own. Not while their liberating struggle remains unfulfilled.

Not when on Monday, Israel murdered seven more Palestinians, wounded 92 others, and destroyed 15 residential houses, a shopping center and a mosque.

Not when creeping fascism threatens Jews and non-Jews alike. So does the scourge of Zionism.

It made Israel a killing machine. Palestinians bear the brunt of its barbarism.

Nothing suggests positive change. It bears repeating. Business as usual continues.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net

His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”


Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs.


Are UK banks targeting Muslim charities?

Are UK banks targeting Muslim charities?


Muslim charities claim discrimination after major UK banks began closing their accounts.

Last updated: 05 Aug 2014 13:04
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Muslim charities and individuals are angry after big banks closed their accounts [Getty Images]

London, United Kingdom - Some Islamic charities in the UK have considered moving their financial affairs abroad amid concerns that they could be frozen out of the British banking system after several Muslim organisations and individuals linked to them had their accounts closed without explanation.

HSBC, the UK’s largest bank, faced accusations of prejudice against Muslims after sending letters last week to a London mosque, a Gaza-focused aid charity, and the leader of a prominent Islamic think tank notifying them that they were outside the bank’s “risk appetite” and giving them two months to withdraw their money.

Those who received the letters included Anas Altikriti, the head of the Cordoba Foundation think tank and a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, who said that HSBC had also written to members of his family, including his 14- and 12-year-old sons.

In a statement, the Cordoba Foundation said that those affected had been “confronted with a wall of silence” when they had sought further clarification from the bank and called on HSBC to issue an unequivocal apology.

The banks may have the financial power but when it comes to weighing them on the scales of morality, I wouldn’t say they had one percent left now after what they have done.

- Muhammad Ahmad, Ummah Welfare Trust spokesman

Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque, a mosque once associated with radical preachers that reopened under entirely new management in 2005, also received the letter and said it might take legal action and called for a customer boycott of the bank.

“Our legal advisor has said that while the bank has acted within its terms and conditions, if they have specifically targeted Muslim organisations then this decision can be challenged under discrimination laws,” said Kozbar.

Another organisation, the Muslim Association of Britain, said it had opened an account with HSBC earlier this year, only for the bank to close it three days later, stating that it “did not meet the criteria to hold a bank account”.

The dreaded ‘T-word’

A spokesman for another charity, Helping Households Under Great Stress (HHUGS), which supports the families of Muslim prisoners accused of terrorism offences, told Al Jazeera that its account had been frozen with immediate effect in the past month by another bank, Barclays.

“The impact is devastating. Your reputation takes a hit obviously and the only thing I can see is the fact that we deal with the families of people who are suspected of being involved in terrorism,” Fahad Ansari, a lawyer speaking on behalf of HHUGS, told Al Jazeera.

“That T-word is obviously a risk factor for them, but for us, we are dealing with women and children, mothers and wives, and there is no reason why they should be criminalised. There are scores of prisoner support groups in this country and they have never had any problems with bank accounts. Muslims are second-class citizens and there is no other explanation for it.”

CAGE, a civil liberties group that campaigns against counter-terrorism policies, said that its accounts with both Barclays and the Co-operative Bank had been shut down earlier in the year after its director, Moazzam Begg, was arrested and charged with terrorism offences.

Begg has pleaded not guilty to the charges, while CAGE has published a letter from the UK Treasuryconfirming that it is not subject to any financial restrictions.

“I think there has been some sort of pressure placed on [the banks], but we just don’t know. A problem with the lack of regulation in the banking sector is that it is almost impossible to challenge these things,” Asim Qureshi, CAGE’s research director, told Al Jazeera.

“There appear to be forces at play that are seeking to cripple organisations at the heart of Muslim community; it smacks of religious discrimination and Islamophobia.”

Number of banks involved growing

Abdurahman Sharif, operations manager at the Muslim Charities Forum, said he knew of other charities that had so far not identified themselves publicly that had also had financial services withdrawn.

“It’s not one bank, it’s a number of banks and it is growing actually,” Sharif told Al Jazeera. “The problem is that once one bank does this it sets a precedent that other banks follow. That is a serious matter because in a couple of months you could see no Islamic charities having a bank account in this country.”

People assume that anything with the name ‘Islamic’ on it is suspicious.

- Abdurahman Sharif, Muslim Charities Forum

Muslim aid charities have been under increased scrutiny this year because of concerns that Britons intent on fighting in Syria have been using humanitarian convoys as cover to travel to the war zone and fears that donations raised in the UK could be reaching armed extremist groups.

William Shawcross, the head of the Charity Commission, said in April that Islamic extremism was “potentially the most deadly” problem that the regulator faced.

But Sharif said greater scrutiny of charities’ finances prompted by international money laundering concerns and tougher UK counter-terrorism laws had disproportionately affected Muslim charities.

“The issue is one of perception. People assume that anything with the name ‘Islamic’ on it is suspicious and that is the biggest challenge we are facing at the moment, and that is why we are seeing accounts closed down.”

Last month, David Anderson, the UK’s reviewer of terrorism legislation, said that the withdrawal of banking services to charities because of more stringent counter-terrorism legislation risked impeding “positive and worthwhile NGO activity” and called for dialogue between policy makers and NGOs to resolve the issue.

But representatives of some affected charities believe other factors may explain the banks’ withdrawal of services.

Linked to Gaza?

Muhammad Ahmad, a spokesman for the Ummah Welfare Trust, an aid charity given notice by HSBC, said he believed the closure of the group’s account was linked to its work in Gaza, where it maintains a field office. The charity’s account also was shut down by Barclays in 2008 during a previous Israeli assault on the besieged Palestinian territory.

“People are dying on the ground. People don’t know where to turn because they have lost everything and all we are trying to do is give them some kind of relief. The banks may have the financial power but when it comes to weighing them on the scales of morality, I wouldn’t say they had one percent left now after what they have done,” Ahmad told Al Jazeera.

Others criticised banks for taking action at a time which affected charities’ ability to raise money during Ramadan, their most important fundraising opportunity of the year.

Ansari said that HHUGS had come close to closing its doors after discovering its account had been frozen just days before Ramadan when donors reported that standing orders were being rejected. The charity has previously had accounts closed by two other banks, HSBC and Lloyds-TSB.

“We had literature that was published for Ramadan with the bank details and all of that had to be thrown in the bin and republished. We had no access to funds, we had salaries to pay, rent and bills to pay, and apart from that we had our beneficiaries who are reliant on us. Ultimately, thank God, we survived but each time our income has diminished rapidly and it is harder to get back on our feet.”

Ansari said the charity was now considering moving its financial affairs abroad.

“We are exploring all options at the moment. An overseas account is far from ideal because it looks suspicious and we incur charges, but we need to have something in place so that we can carry on with minimum disruption because what is happening now is an absolute nightmare.”

A Charity Commission spokesperson told Al Jazeera none of the charities named in this story were currently the subject of investigations but said that business relationships between charities and their banks were not a matter for the regulator to become involved in.

“We know that this has put the charities in great difficulty. We haven’t heard from the banks as to what might have motivated this and the charities haven’t been told either,” the spokesperson said.

“Our position is clear; charities need a bank account to operate safely and effectively.  We would have serious concerns if a charity were not able to operate because of a lack of banking services.”

Bank denies discrimination

HSBC told Al Jazeera that it had comprehensive rules in place to ensure race and religion were never factors in banking decisions and said discrimination against customers was “immoral, unacceptable and illegal”.

It said it had exited relationships with customers in 70 countries as part of a global review of its businesses after being fined $1.9bn by US authorities in 2012 over poor money laundering controls exploited by Latin American drug cartels to move hundreds of millions of dollars through HSBC accounts.

The bank last year appointed Jonathan Evans, the former chief of the UK’s MI5 intelligence agency and an expert on Islamic extremism, to head a committee tasked with reducing its vulnerability to financial crime.

Barclays and the Co-operative Bank said they could not comment on specific customers’ affairs.

In an Eid message last week, David Cameron, the British prime minister, paid tribute to the “inspiring amount of charity” participated in and funded by British Muslims.

But charity officials say that access to banking facilities is vital for transparency and good governance and fear that fundraising and aid work in Muslim communities could otherwise be driven underground.

“The government has to understand that it is in their interest that genuine charities are able to operate freely without being hindered or abused in this way,” said Ahmad.

“Otherwise you are going to force Muslims who may have faith in some charities because of their Islamic principles to take charity into their own hands, and then the government will not know who the money is reaching.”

Al Jazeera

FarmBot: An Open Source 3D Farming Printer

FarmBot: An Open Source 3D Farming Printer That Aims to Create Food For Everyone


When most of us think of 3D printers, we typically imagine the desktop machines that are used for creating small plastic objects, or the larger scale industrial level machines used for prototyping, and in some cases the printing of production ready parts. Then there are the extremely large 3D printers that have been created for the printing of concrete structured buildings and other large objects. Perhaps the printers which have the most intriguing uses are those which can print food. These printers, which are still only in the early stages of development, allow those with minimal food preparation experience to print out meals using specially designed software. All of these 3D printers have the potential to bring resources to countries and people who typically don’t have access to traditional means of manufacturing.  Yet, none of them ensure massive food production that could help feed the world’s hungry.


The FarmBot Foundation, may have come up with a solution.  They plan to take this technology to an entirely new level by creating a 3D Printer that is capable of, you guessed it, farming. The Farmbot is a CNC/3D printer-like machine that can be used for farming and gardening. Their goal is a lofty one. They hope to create an open source hardware, software and data solution that allows anyone, anywhere to build and operate their 3D farming printer, the FarmBot.

“The world’s population is growing and with that growth we must produce more food,” wrote Rory Landon Aronson, project organizer at FarmBot. “Due to the industrial and petrochemical revolutions, the agriculture industry has kept up in food production, but only by compromising the soil, the environment, our health, and the food production system itself. The increased production has largely come from incremental changes in technology and economies of scale, but that trend is reaching a plateau. Conventional agriculture methods are unsustainable and a paradigm shift is needed.”

The FarmBot employs a similar system to that of typical Cartesian (xyz) based 3D printers, and as you can tell by the photos, it looks very similar to most FDM 3D printers. Instead of printing in your typical PLA or ABS plastics, this machine has the ability to do most of the typical farm jobs that would normally require hard labor and/or individual machines. It can be equipped with different tools, in a similar way as a CNC machine is. Some of those tools include seed injectors, plows, burners, robotic arms (for harvesting), cutters, shredders, tillers, discers, watering nozzles, sensors and more. The hardware used is completely open source and totally scalable for use on any sized farm/garden plots.


“The vision of this project is to create an open and accessible technology aiding everyone to grow food and to grow food for everyone,” explained Aronson. “The mission is to grow a community that produces free and open source hardware plans, software, data, and documentation enabling everyone to build and operate a farming machine.”

Some of the advantages that the FarmBot provides are:

  • The ability to plant in a more efficient manner.
  • The ability to optimize typical farming objectives such as spraying of pesticides, fertilizers and water. Each plant can be programmed for specific water/fertilizer needs.
  • The ability to eliminate soil compaction that is oftentimes seen with traditional tractor equipment.
  • Ensuring perfect seed spacing and most efficient planting layouts.
  • Running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Allowing for an unlimited amount of farm designs.
  • Allowing for ‘Smart Farming’ by using specialized open source software and data.
  • Being Completely scalable, whether you want to use it for backyard gardening, or large scale farming.
  • Allowing for the decentralization and democratization of food production.
  • Accessibility for virtually anyone, anywhere in the world.
  • Allowing for farmers/gardeners to keep track of exact locations of seed plantings, waterings, etc.
  • Allowing for advanced weed removable without damaging plants, due to precise selective burning, spraying and tilling.

This project actually began back in 2011, when Aronson was in his Junior year of college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, studying Mechanical Engineering. He decided to take a class in Organic Agriculture, and it generated a strong interest and desire to create a system that is better than what we currently have today. When you come to think about it, much of the technology used in farming today dates back hundreds of years, and in many cases hasn’t changed with the times. While other businesses innovate through the use of sophisticated robotics, computer software, and 3D printers, farming has been stuck in a bit of a rut.

The tremendous potential that FarmBot creates, allows for many new methods of farming, including the ability to create “polycrops” which mix and match different crops, unlike methods seen on typical farms. This creates an advantage by providing “superior biological efficiency”. The diversity within the ecosystem allows for the growing of vegetation in conditions as close to nature as possible. Plants are allowed to work together, like nature had originally intended. Traditionally this has been impossible, as each different plant species requires different care techniques. For example, some crops require more water than others, while some crops require water at their stalk, rather than at their base. Some plants require more or different types of fertilizers than others. FarmBot’s software makes this process extremely simple, as each plant can virtually be programmed for their individual needs.


With the use of sensors, the FarmBot can gauge mosture levels, temperatures, rain amounts, humidity, wind speed/direction, pH levels of soil, and much more. The machine can be equipped with virtually any sensor desired, including computer aided vision, and hyperspectral imaging. This data can then be sent to a computer where necessary changes to the programming can be made.

The software used by FarmBot is, and will continue to be developed, to be extremely in-depth and sophisticated. Calculations of total expenditure can be made, in order for farms to maximize crop output while minimizing costs. It can be programmed with certain zones that require different types of care, as well as different harvesting schedules.  Farmers and gardeners can share data and techniques through an open source database, so that everyone, everywhere can have access to the best farming programs for their FarmBots.


All-in-all the FarmBot appears to be a perfect solution for providing food to the world, while also maximizing efficiency on today’s establish farms. Since the technology is all open source, the costs to create a FarmBot will be minimal. FarmBot plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign sometime in the first quarter of 2015.

“If the technology and the model prove viable, and we think it already is, then we may be uncovering a part of a solution to one of humanity’s most contemporary challenges,” explained Aronson.

What do you think? Is the FarmBot the 3D printer of the future? Will it revolutionize farming, and provide food for those most in need? Discuss in the FarmBot Forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out Rory Aronson’s TEDx talk on the FarmBot below:




Gruesome Tales Surface of Israeli Massacres Against Families in Gaza Neighborhood

Gruesome Tales Surface of Israeli Massacres Against Families in Gaza Neighborhood

Visiting what remains of Shujaiya yields evidence of massacres and stories of impossible courage.

As the five-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas took hold on August 15, residents of Shujaiya returned to the shattered remains of their homes. They pitched tents and erected signs asserting their claim to their property, sorting determinedly through the ruins of their lives. 

Those who managed to survive the Israeli bombardment have come home to bedrooms obliterated by tank shells, kitchens pierced by Hellfire missiles, and boudoirs looted by soldiers who used their homes as bases of operations before embarking on a series of massacres. Once a solidly middle-class suburb of Gaza City comprised of multi-family apartments and stately homes, the neighborhood of Shujaiya was transformed into a gigantic crime scene.

The attack on Shujaiya began at 11pm on July 19, with a combined Israeli bombardment from F-16s, tanks and mortar launchers. It was a night of hell which more than 100 did not survive and that none have recovered from. Inside the ruins of what used to be homes, returning locals related stories of survival and selflessness, detailing a harrowing night of death and destruction.

Outside a barely intact four-level, multi-family home that was hardly distinguishable from the other mangled structures lining the dusty roads of Shujaiya, I met members of the Atash family reclining on mats beside a makeshift stove. Khalil Atash, the 63-year-old patriarch of the family, motioned to his son heating a teapot above a few logs and muttered, “They’ve set us back a hundred years. Look at us, we’re now burning wood to survive.”


Click to enlarge.

Bombed-out remnants of Shujaiya after Israeli bombing. Photo by Max Blumenthal.

Khalil Atash led me inside the home to see the damage. The walls of the second floor that was to have been home to two of his newly married children had been blown off by tank shells. All that was left of the bathroom were the hot and cold knobs on the shower. On the next floor, four small children scampered barefoot across shattered glass and jagged shards of concrete. A bunk bed and crib were badly singed in the attack. But the damage could have been far worse.


Khalil Atash with his grandson in the ruins of his home in Shujaiya. Photo credit: Dan Cohen
Click to enlarge.

Khalil Atash with his grandson in the ruins of his home in Shujaiya. Photo by Dan Cohen.

As the attack on Shujaiya began, the Israeli army attempted to evacuate the Atash family, according to Khalil Atash, phoning them and ordering them out in Arabic. But the family was sure the call was a prank. When the army called again, a soldier exclaimed, “You think this is a joke? You have five minutes.” Three minutes later, an F-16 sent a missile through the roof. In an incredible stroke of luck, the missile did not explode. It remained lodged in the ceiling until a day prior to my visit, when a bomb detonation crew dismantled it. 

I asked why the family remained in ruins when the army could attack again at any time.

“We have nowhere else to go now,” Khalil Atash explained. “You only die once and we’re not afraid after what we’ve been through. So we just decided to live in our house.”

The Atash family was among only a small handful willing to brave the nights in an area that was comprehensively flattened. Shujaiya stood within the long swath of Gaza Strip towns and cities that had been rendered uninhabitable by Israeli bombardment. All of these areas had one thing in common: They abutted the vast buffer zone the Israeli military had established between its border and the Gaza Strip. By pounding neighborhoods like Shujiaya and cities like Beit Hanoun until nearly all of their residents were forced to flee west for shelter, Israel was tightening the cage on the entire population.

Sprint for Survival

Khalil Atash’s son, 30-year-old Tamer, related his story of survival.

“The missiles started getting closer and began to hit everywhere so randomly,” he recalled, detailing how the strikes on Shujaiya gradually intensified after the first hour. “So I just lost it. I was watching my neighbors die and I was so close to them, I felt like I was dead too. I had two choices: Either I die doing nothing at that house or do something about it. So I chose to do something.” 

Tamer called an ambulance crew and begged the driver to help transport his family out of the attack. “All I can do is pray for you,” the driver told him. But other first responders rushed headlong into the maelstrom, risking their lives to save as many of the fleeing residents as they could. By this time, the neighborhood was engulfed in flames and shrouded in darkness — Israeli forces had bombed all of its electricity towers. He and his family decided to make a run for it in the street. Neighbors followed closely behind them, embarking on a desperate sprint for survival as homes went up in flames around them.

Relying on cellphone flashlights to illuminate their path, the fleeing residents rushed ahead under withering shelling. Tens of people fell every few hundred meters, Tamer told me. But they continued anyway, sprinting for a full kilometer until they reached safety close to Gaza City. 

As soon as he reached sanctuary, Tamer said he was overcome with guilt. Friends and neighbors were stuck in the neighborhood with no one to evacuate them. He decided to return to help anyone he could. “I’m from Shujaiyia, I have no other place to go, and we don’t own land,” he explained. “This is our only place here. So of course I came back.”

It was well past midnight, Shujaiya was in flames, and the Qassam Brigades — Hamas’ armed wing — was beginning to mobilize for a counterattack. “The situation outside was literally hell,” Tamer said. 

In previous assaults on Gaza, Israeli forces met only light resistance. During Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, when the army attacked Gaza’s civilian population with indiscriminate firepower, most Israeli casualties were the result of fratricide. But this time was different. With little more than light weapons at their disposal, uniformed Qassam fighters engaged the Israelis at close distances, sometimes just a few meters away, exposing a glaring weakness of the Middle East’s most heavily equipped, technologically advanced armies. During the battle, Qassam fighters scored a hit on an Israeli armored personnel carrier, killing five soldiers inside, then momentarily captured the fatally wounded Lt. Shaul Oron. 

The loss of soldiers and the possible capture of Oron — a situation that raised the specter of a politically devastating prisoner swap — sent Israeli forces into a vengeful frenzy. “The F-16s were no longer up in the sky bombing us, they were flying just above the houses,” Tamer recalled. “It felt like an atomic bomb with four F-16s coming one way and another four from the opposite direction, weaving between the houses. At this point, we realized we were not surviving. We said our last prayers, and that was it. Because we know that when the Israelis lose one of their soldiers they become lunatics. We just knew they had suffered something, we could sense it.”

Tamer watched some of his neighbors jump from fourth-floor windows as their homes burst into flames. Others rushed out in their night clothes, nearly nude, prompting him and other men to hand over their shirts and even their trousers to women scurrying half exposed through the darkened streets. After giving the shirt off his back to one woman, he gave his sandals to another who had sliced her feet open on rubble. 

“Sure, I was crazy and stupid, but I just wanted for them to survive,” he said. “If I had to die, then fine, but someone had to make a sacrifice.” 

By dawn, waves of survivors poured from Shujaiya into Gaza City. Sons had carried their fathers on their backs; mothers had hoisted children into lorries and ambulances; others searched frantically for missing family when they arrived, only to learn that they had fallen under the shelling. For many, it was another Nakba, a hellish reincarnation of the fateful days of 1948 when Zionist militias forcibly expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their land. This time, however, there was almost nowhere for the refugees to flee. 

Evidence of Chilling Plans

Back in Shujaiya, the shelling momentarily subsided for a one-hour ceasefire. But the International Committee of the Red Cross proved unable to evacuate those trapped in the area, possibly because of the Israeli army’s refusal to coordinate with its first responders or because the army had targeted its ambulances in airstrikes. Thus the stragglers and wounded were at the mercy of Israel’s Golani Brigade special forces troops, which had taken up positions at the edge of Shujaiya, occupying homes just east of the area’s main mosque.

I visited almost a dozen homes occupied by Israeli soldiers in eastern Shujaiya, wading through rubble and piles of shattered furniture in search of clues into the Israeli plans of operation. I found floors littered with bullet casings, sandbags used as foundations for heavy machine guns, sniper holes punched into walls just inches above floors, and piles of empty Israeli snack food containers. 

In the stairwell at the entrance to one home I visited, soldiers had engraved a Star of David. In another, soldiers used markers to scrawl in mangled Arabic, “We did not want to enter Gaza but terrorist Hamas made us enter. Damn terrorist Hamas and their supporters.”

I found a wall in another home vandalized with the symbol of Beitar Jerusalem, the Jerusalem-based football club popular among the hardcore cadres of Israel’s right-wing. Below the Beitar logo was the slogan, “Price Tag,” referring to the vigilante terror attacks carried out by Jewish settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.


Click to enlarge.

Graffiti by Israeli soldiers in a home in Shujaiya reads, “Price Tag.” Photo by Max Blumenthal.

In each home the soldiers occupied, I found walls etched with crude maps of the immediate vicinity. Each house was assigned a number, possibly to enable commanders to call in air and artillery strikes ahead of their forward positions. Names of soldiers, including those wounded or missing, were listed on several walls, but they were concealed with spray paint upon the troops’ departure.

In the ruins of a second-floor bedroom, in an empty ammo box under a tattered bed, a colleague discovered two laminated maps of Shujaiya. They were photographed by satellite at 10:32am on July 17, just days before the neighborhood was flattened. The date in the upper-right-hand corner of one map was written American-style, with the month before the day, raising the question of whether a US or Israeli satellite had captured the image. Outlined in orange was a row of homes numbered between 16 and 29; the homes immediately to their west were labeled with arrows indicating forward troop movements.


Click to enlarge.

 A map of Israeli army operations discovered in a destroyed home in Shujaiya. Photo by Max Blumenthal.

A local man who had accompanied us into the house pointed at the homes on the map outlined in orange, then motioned out the window to where they once stood. Every single house in that row had been obliterated by airstrikes. I looked back at the map and noticed that the dusty field we faced was labeled in Hebrew, “Soccer Field.” Two areas just west of the field were marked, “T.A. South” and “T.A. North,” perhaps a cryptic reference to Tel Aviv. Devised at least two days before the assault, the map sectioned Shujaiya into various areas of operation, with color-coded delineations that were impossible to decipher but suggested disturbing intentions.

Eran Efrati, a former Israeli combat soldier turned anti-occupation activist, interviewed several soldiers who participated in the assault on Shujaiya. “I can report that the official command that was handed down to the soldiers in Shujaiya was to capture Palestinian homes as outposts,” Efrati wrote. “From these posts, the soldiers drew an imaginary red line, and amongst themselves decided to shoot to death anyone who crosses it. Anyone crossing the line was defined as a threat to their outposts, and was thus deemed a legitimate target. This was the official reasoning inside the units.” 

In the area occupied by Israeli soldiers, the killing that had previously taken place by air and distant artillery assaults took on a gruesomely intimate quality. It was there, in the ruins of their homes, that returning locals told me of the cold-blooded execution of their family members. 

Massacres in Broad Daylight

At the eastern edge of the “Soccer Field” now occupied by tents and surrounded by demolished five-story apartment complexes, I met Mohammed Fathi Al Areer. A middle-aged man wearing an eyepatch, he led me through the first floor of his home, which was now a virtual cave furnished with a single sofa, then into what used to be his backyard, where the interior of his bedroom had been exposed by a tank shell. It was here, Al Areer told me, that four of his brothers were executed in cold blood. One of them, Hassan Al Areer, was mentally disabled and had little idea he was about to be killed. Mohammed Al Areer said he found bullet casings next to their heads when he discovered their decomposing bodies.

Just next door was the Shamaly family, one of the hardest hit in Shujaiya. Hesham Naser Shamaly, 25, described to me what happened when five members of his family decided to stay in their home to guard the thousands of dollars of clothing stocks they planned to sell through their family business. When soldiers approached the home with weapons drawn, Shamaly said his father emerged from the home with his hands up and attempted to address them in Hebrew. 

“He couldn’t even finish the sentence before they shot him,” Shamaly told me. “He was only injured and fainted, but they thought he was dead so they left him there and moved on to the others. They shot the rest — my uncle, my uncle’s wife, and my two cousins — they shot them dead.” 

Miraculously, Shamaly’s father managed to revive himself after laying bleeding for almost three days. He walked on his own strength toward Gaza City and found medical help. “Someone called me to tell me he was alive,” Shamaly said, “and I thought it was a joke.”

Hesham Shamaly’s 22-year-old cousin, Salem, was also executed by the Israeli soldiers who had taken up positions in the neighborhood. When Salem Shamaly returned to his neighborhood during the temporary ceasefire at 3:30pm on July 20 to search for missing family members alongside members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), he apparently crossed the imaginary red line drawn by the soldiers. When he waded into a pile of rubble, a single shot rang out from a nearby sniper, sending his body crumpling to the ground. As he attempted to get up, another shot struck him in the chest. A third shot left his body limp.

The incident was captured on camera by a local activist named Muhammad Abedullah, then disseminated across the world by the ISM. Israeli military spokespeople were strangely silent. Back in Gaza City, where survivors of the Shamaly family had taken shelter in a relative’s apartment, Salem Shamaly’s sister and cousin received an emailed link to the video.

Over the next three minutes, they watched Salem die. They knew it was him because they recognized the sound of his voice as he cried out for help. 

Despair and Resistance 

In an apartment on Remad Street in Gaza City, I met the parents, siblings and cousins of Salem Shamaly. They had been forced to relocate here after their home was completely obliterated by Israeli tank shells and drone strikes in Shujaiya. The apartment was crowded but impeccably clean. It was a more desirable arrangement than one of the UN schools where most of their neighbors lodged in squalid conditions with little to no privacy, though no less an indignity.

Salem Shamaly’s father, 62-year-old Khalil, said the family evacuated Shujaiya at 8am. As soon as they reached safety, they realized Salem was missing. “It’s impossible to put into words how difficult it was,” Khalil Shamaly said. “We waited for two or three days not knowing and when we found out, it was too difficult to handle. I have had to call on God and he helped me.”

The attacks on Shujaiya continued for days, making it impossible for the Shamaly family to retrieve Salem’s body. They beseeched the ICRC for help but after so many attacks on their vehicles from the Israeli army, which had declared all of Shujaiya a “closed military zone,” they were unwilling to approach the area. Salem’s father, Khalil, still believes his son might have been saved if he was evacuated right away. 

When Salem’s family finally retrieved his body, they found it badly burned, almost unrecognizable, and tossed dozens of meters from the location where he had been killed by subsequent bombardments. The death toll had reached such unbearable levels he could not be buried in Shujaiya, where the cemetery was overfull. When Shamaly’s finally found a place to bury him, they had to open a pre-existing grave because that cemetery was also full. This was just one of many stories I heard this week of a rushed burial, a family thrown into chaos, and a young life truncated and denied dignity in death.

Salem’s cousin, Hind Al Qattawi, whipped out a laptop and played for me a clip of a report on the killing by NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin. Al Qattawi had wanted to demonstrate for me the international impact the incident made, but instead, she summoned barely submerged emotions back to the surface. As soon as the video of Salem’s murder began to play, his mother, Amina, sobbed openly.

“The real problem is not just losing your home in the bombardment,” Muhammad Al Qattawi, the brother of Hind, told me. “The problem is you have lost your future, you lose your hope, and you can even lose your mind. Two million people here are on the verge of losing their minds.”

He handed me a packet of pills that had been prescribed to various family members. Deprived of justice, they had been given antidepressants to numb their despair.

Among those suffering most was Salem’s younger brother. The slightly built 14-year-old recalled his brother as a bright accounting student who paid for his education by working in his father’s corner store. He was one of his best friends. 

“We used to go out with him whenever we were bored and he used to take us places,” Waseem said, fighting back tears. “Now, he’s gone, and there’s no one else to fill his place.” 

When Waseem recovered, I asked him what he wanted to be when he came of age. He replied without pause that he planned to join the resistance. A look of intentness had replaced his sorrow. He said he had not considered becoming a fighter until the war came down on Shujaiya. 

Max Blumenthal is a senior writer for AlterNet, and the author of Goliath and Republican Gomorrah (Basic/Nation Books, 2009). Find him on Twitter at @MaxBlumenthal..