Jonathan Fryer

Archive for December, 2014

2014 in review

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th December, 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 21,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Egypt: Please Release the AJ3 NOW!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th December, 2014

imageIt’s now one year since three Al Jazeera journalists have been in prison in Egypt, for the simple “crime” of doing their job. One of them is a former colleague of mine at the BBC, Peter Greste, from Australia, from where his family and friends have organised a formidable lobbying campaign for his release. The other two — equally worthy of sympathy and support — are Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy. President Sisi’s government disapproved strlngly of the way that the Doha-based Al Jazeera covered the coup against ousted President Mohammed Morsi, as well as the grotesque human rights abuses that have taken place against Muslim Brotherhood supporters and pro-democracy activists. The farcical trial and subsequent imprisonment of the Al Jazeera 3 is one of the most egregious attempts to stifle press freedom anywhere in the Middle East — a region that is not short of bad examples. Sadly, Western governments, including in Washington and London, have been fairly muted in their criticism of Sisi and his henchmen. While this may be partly an attempt to woo Cairo into releasing the AJ3, I fear it is more a case of Realpolitik, in which the major Western powers see Egypt as an important ally, as well as a friend to Israel. In my view, this is extremely short-sighted, and further undermines the West’s claim to moral authority. It is important that people around the world, as well as governments and media organisations, stand up and protest about human rights abuses and the suppression of the media. And for my part, on this sad first anniversary of the AJ3’s incarceration, I ask General Sisi and his colleagues politely, both for the sake of the three individuals concerned and for the sake of Egypt’s dignity and reputation abroad, please release Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baker Mohamed immediately!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

UK General Election Wide Open

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 27th December, 2014

imageThe “long campaign” period for the UK’s May 2015 general election has already started, though with the intervention of Christmas people could be forgiven for not noticing. What I find fascinating is that unless there is a massive sea change in British politics over the next few months, the result — in terms of what sort of government will come into power — is wide open. Normally one would have expected the main Opposition party, Labour, to have been enjoying substantial opinion poll leads while the Coalition government was implementing some unpopular austerity measures (along with some far more palatable ones). But that hasn’t happened. Instead, for quite some time now, the Conservatives and Labour have been boxing and coxing for first place in the polls and both have been struggling to attract the support of one third of the electorate. Of course, the surge on UKIP’s support during 2014 has been an important factor in this change, though UKIP seems unlikely to win more than a token number of seats. The Scottish nationalists (SNP), on the other hand, could do spectacularly well, at the expense of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. All this means that no single party is likely to be able to command a majority in the House of Commons after 7 May, which means another Coalition is the most likely outcome. But a Coalition between whom? That is anyone’s guess. Which is why the UK’s 2015 general election will be the most exciting in a generation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Little Christmas Joy in the Middle East

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd December, 2014

imageAs hundreds of millions of people around the world prepare to celebrate Christmas, spare more than a thought for the Christians of the Middle East, for many of whom 2014 has been a dire year. Two of the most vibrant Christian communities, in Iraq and Syria, have been traumatised by violent conflict, dispossession and displacement. And in Israel/Palestine, the fount of the faith, Christians are feeling under ever greater pressure to leave. The brutal Israeli onslaught on Gaza may be over, but its effects are still there, and in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem Christians and Muslims alike continue to suffer from the excesses of the occupying forces and the more extreme fringe of Israeli “settlers”. The symbolic confrontation between Palestinians dressed as Santa Claus and IDF soldiers has become almost ritualistic, but there is nothing joyful in the real gulf that still separates the people in the Holy Land. The rise of ISIS has undoubtedly made things worse across the Middle East and North Africa as a whole, but no one actor in the region’s turmoil is to blame alone. If Christians are to have a future in the Middle East, as they should, along with the other two Abrahamic faiths, then there needs to be a massive change of heart among political and religious leaders, as well as ordinary people, and an acknowledgement that what unites us all should be much stronger than that which divides.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

May Mistaken on International Students

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st December, 2014

imageTheresa May has the unenviable task of trying to make irreconcilables add up when it comes to implementing the Conservatives’ rash promise to reduce net immigration to the UK to “tens of thousands”. But her latest idea of making international students leave the country after they graduate is wrong on do many levels. International students make a huge contribution to the UK economy, both with their fees and living costs, and those who then use their enhanced skills to stay on and work give added value. As far as I can see, May’s plan to force them to leave and then apply for a new visa back home is yet another short-sighted Tory attempt to appeal to UKIP voters. The problem is that it risks killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Britain has become a less welcoming place to foreign talent, including students, with the Conservatives in power, despite the strong efforts by LibDems such as Vince Cable to state the opposite case. Education is a global market and if international students decide the UK is now a less attractive option, they will go elsewhere and we in Britain will be all the poorer for it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cayenne

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 19th December, 2014

imageFrench Guiana was long notorious as a penal colony, among whose renowned detainees were Dreyfus and Papillon. Thousands of less famous prisoners died in the territory’s camps, both on the mainland and on Devil’s Island. But in recent times, La Guyane (to give it it’s French name) has been better known as the launching pad for the European space programme. Yesterday afternoon, when I looked up from the book I was reading by the side of the sea in the capital, Cayenne, I saw a rocket shoot up into the sky from the base at Kourou. Cayenne itself is steamingly charming, compact and filled with attractive wooden houses painted in pastel shades. More than half of the small but youthful population are immigrants, from Brazil, Surinam, Haiti and China, among others. There’s still a French military presence — not least to try to curb illegal gold prospecting — but the overall atmosphere is pretty sleepy even in Cayenne. There are some hotels and restaurants, but unlike the nearby Caribbean Islands, French Guiana has not been highly developed for tourism, wherein lies much of its appeal. And although it is hot and humid, a strong sea breeze along the coast means that there are plenty of spots to sit and read or write or just think, far from the madding crowd.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

US-Cuba Thaw

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th December, 2014

imageLike many people I was caught unawares by the announcement today that the United States and Cuba are planning to normalise relations after half a century of the grotesque US trade and travel embargo. Apparently Pope Francis has been key to this rapprochement and several series of secret bilateral talks have been held, courtesy of the Vatican. These developments, providing they lead to fruition, should stimulate a rise in the standard of living of many Cubans, as well as giving a boost to tourism and trade. I hope this doesn’t lead to Cuba becoming just like Southern Florida; there is so much of value in Cuban society and culture, even if the Communist system has curtailed the development of free enterprise and civil liberties. I went to Cuba seven times in the 1990s, culminating in making a radio documentary for the BBC World Srrvice, to mark the 40th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. So I saw it at the very worst period when subsidised oil from the former Soviet Union dried up and people were on a subsistence diet through to the blossoming of tourism from Europe and Canada. Most of the friends I met on the island were desperate to leave, but I hope that the US-Cuba diplomatic thaw will lead to liberalisation in Cuba and the prospect of a future in which young Cubans can see themselves wanting to stay.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

I Am Malala

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 16th December, 2014

imageWhen the Pakistani teenager Malala Housafzai became the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate recently her story resonated around the world as a testimony of hope and determination by a very brave girl wise beyond her years. Of course, not everyone is happy with the renown that has been granted her since being shot by a supporter of Pakistan’s Taliban for daring to speak out in favour of education for both girls and boys worldwide. Now based in Birmingham, England, where she had major reconstructive surgery, Malala received thousands of letters and cards after her recovery, from the powerful and famous to ordinary men, women, girls and boys. But the most striking was a letter from a Taliban commander telling her that if she returned to Pakistan, stopped her campaigning, wore a burka and entered a madrasah (Koranic school), he would forgive her! This gem comes right near the end of her compelling autobiography, I Am Malala, (Phoenix, £7.99), written in conjunction with foreign correspondent Christina Lamb. Lamb is to be congratulated for really letting Malala’s authentic voice come through, whether it is piously seeking God’s help in her mission, or fighting with one of her younger brothers, or indulging her girly passion for pink. The attack on Malala, when she was shot in a school bus, was the culmination of a period of increasing conflict with the forces of darkness that took over the Swat valley where she grew up, as well as the indifference and sometimes obstruction of government officials and high military or intelligence officers, some of who were clearly in cahoots with the Taliban. The first part of the book is an excellent first-hand account of what it was like to live in the shadow of fear of the Taliban and as such is an invaluable modern historic resource. But the book is also a song of love for Malala’s father, who from the day of her birth gave her all the devotion and nurturing that many Pashtun fathers would reserve only for sons. There are passages in the book that drive one to tears of despair at the inhuman cruelty of some religious fanatics who justify the most heinous crimes by their warped interpretation of the Koran and a traditional culture of male supremacy. But above all, the book is a triumphant declaration of faith that good and justice can be victorious if people are brave enough to stand up for themselves and for the rights of others, including children.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Stand up for Press Freedom!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th December, 2014

imageEarlier this week, I was asked by the Turkish newspaper Daily Zaman for a comment on credible rumours that a host of media professionals in Turkey were about to be arrested. Alas, this prediction has proved to be true and several high-profile journalists and broadcasters have been taken into custody, notably people connected with media linked to the Gulen Movement. This is a disturbing development and gives Turkey the dubious distinction of once more being the country with the most journalists in jail. It is sad (to say the least) that President Erdoğan and the AKP government think it is worthwhile joining the company of Egypt and other repressive regimes in trying to stifle dissent. They just don’t seem to understand that a free media is part and parcel of a healthy democracy and that free expression is a fundamental human right — even if they have signed up to the UN Declaration of Human Rights. So standing up for press freedom is standing up for our own freedom as human beings. Accordingly, just as I have been campaigning for the release of Peter Greste and other Al Jazeera journalists imprisoned on trumped-up charges in Egypt so I shall campaign for the release of those media figures being held in Turkey. I have long considered myself a friend of Turkey and it saddens me beyond words that it is moving backwards on press freedom and in several other ways.

Posted in AKP, Al Jazeera, Daily Zaman, Egypt, Gulen Movement, Peter Greste, press freedom, Turkey | Leave a Comment »

Turkey: Drifting away from Europe?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th December, 2014

imageSince the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the country has tended to look westwards to Europe. That was certainly the intention of Kemal Ataturk, who believed that Ottoman traditions and Islamic religiosity were impediments to progress. So it was no surprising that Turkey applied to join the European Union; in principle there should not have been any problem, when one considers how far into South Eastern Abd Eastern Europe the Ottomans stretched. Besides, Turkey was an early and valued member of NATO. But the passage to EU membership has not been as smooth. Some current EU member states were worried about Turkey’s relative poverty and large population. The former has been changing fast; the latter continues to increase. But then it became clear that some EU states were reluctant in principle, Germany largely for reasons of labour migration, Austria, more controversially, because Vienna sees the EU as an essentially Christian club. But Turkey continued to adjust its nature to meet EU demands, not just on economic and trade matters but also relating to multi-party democracy, abolition of the death penalty, respect for human rights, etc. So far, so good. But over the past decade, Turks have understandably got fed up of being on the EU’s waiting room and wonder whether it’s all worthwhile. Technically, the government in Ankara still thinks so. But at the same time, under Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly paternalistic rule, Turkey has started to drift away from a European destiny, apparently feeling more comfortable in a Middle Eastern context. Worryingly, the government has been cracking down on expressions of political dissent and press freedom — both essential elements of the European matrix. As a regular visitor to Turkey, I am aware how the atmosphere is changing, and not necessarily for the better. President Erdoğan is increasingly establishing himself as the moral arbiter of the country, and when I was in Istanbul earlier this week I met several people who are nervous about expressing their views. I cannot escape the impression that Turkey is drifting away not just from the EU, but also from European, liberal and secular values. I find that very sad, but only Turks can realistically do anything about it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »