What converting Hagia Sophia into a functioning mosque really means

10th July 2020, a Turkish Court order approved Hagia Sophia’s convertion from a museum to an operational mosque.

For many Christians around the world, aborting a historical monument that represented the centuries of Byzantine Eastern Orthodox with Ottoman faith-inspired culture in the region, to having it reclaimed as a faith space for Islam, is a vilifying act of disrespect. The region has been affected by territorial tensions for millenia and many in the Balkan and Western Asia Minor, have experienced relocations, marginalisation, faith based extradition, torture and incarceration.

It is a non surprise western Turkey struggles with their record on human rights abuses, and corruption has been developmental to the Greek economy even in modern times.

Looking past the historicity of the region, and the unsettled air Erdoğan’s latest move has created, I can attest to the following:

– Erdoğan has three years left before the next election.

– The Hagia Sofia move was his check mate to Europe beyond the Greco-Turkish spats.

– Erdoğan doesn’t want to join EU (and all the monitoring and regulations), the EU will not have Turkey as it is today, but to make sure they don’t interfere, he needed to growl over his territory.

– Putin will turn a blind eye, despite Russia’s Orthodox Church affinity. Faith is only useful when it serves one’s interests by masking transparency. Christian links to the European church history are problematic for Putin’s and Erdoğan’s dark and underhanded populist and divisionary operations.

– Unmonitored, anyone challenging Erdoğan like the Kemalists, will end up in jail or dissappear.

– Turks in Turkey, Germany and the UK love Erdoğan. He took power and water to the favelas. He is making profits from the Syrian refugees that have no labour rights but plenty of will to do whatever yet not get paid or paid scraps of peanuts when they do (a 10th of the Turkish labour rates according to reports).

Noone wants drama on their doorstep. Turning adversity to positive stories is a way for populist governments to get away with the uttermost abuse of human rights.

Minorities and culture are the capital nasty regimes use for political coercion.

Coercion to domestic opposition, and coercion in international relations contexts.

Threatening securities makes vulnerable populations anxious and puts actor resources at high risk and alert. This costs actors money and make populations more predatory between them. Double win.

Hagia Sophia is the starting line of an incredibly narcissistic performance we will expect to see from Erdoğan in the next three years.

I can only hope there will be limited loss and blood lost in the process, but not set on having any hopes at this point.

In the middle of a pandemic, reclaiming a museum to a faith institution is a bold move.

To be continued…

Pandemics know no gender, but people still discriminate through a gender lens

I was reading yesterday the public outcry and condemnation of the actions of the Chief Medical officer of Scotland; she was caught traveling to her second residence and also walking her dog with her family. Yes, it was after she advised us to stay in. And after she estimated the number of cases in Scotland could be as high as 65,000 and not the reported ones. To be honest, I do not think we will ever know the real figures…who is tested, how it is reported, how numbers are collected and validated are way more challenging than we would ever know. It is evident that people are even struggling with putting the figures in a chart as it happened with the one publicised from Fox news where the y-axis had no constant measure but equal distance between the units.

Leaving statistics aside, what impressed me was the response of this (admittedly) naughty action by the female Chief Medical Officer. I do not condone the actions but let’s back track for a while: the lockdown rules state stay at home. No explicit explanations were made for which home to account for the case of lucky ones that have multiple residences (I know, the tyranny of merit…). So, the standards and operating procedures were wide open to interpretation due to their lack of adequate information (I am a quality engineer and it shows). It can be argued that this is a cheeky approach or a loophole but it does not make it go away: there was not enough definition. Not for the only one mind you…can we go for a walk for 500 miles, how can we stay 2 meters apart from the till operators (another set of heroes) in the shops – who has such long arms?

What is interesting now, is that Dr Calderwood is not the first one that did that but the first one who was shamed for that. Prince Charles travelled during the UK lockdown from his main residence in Clarence House, London while reportedly showing mild symptoms, to his Balmoral Estate. Which is obviously more than 1 hr drive – the duration between Dr Calderwood’s residencies. The duration is more than 1 hr flight, even with the private jet actually. I did not see any front line pages condemning the Prince of Wales’ move. I did not see any social media hashtags trending asking for explanations or more. Coincidence, you say?

If we look a bit closer we will find more examples of how gender does matter when it comes to how the public judges political figures. How the unconscious bias (hmm, perhaps conscious) even report on events and crimes during this time through a biased gender lens. The Secretary of Health and Social Care was reportedly showing signs of COVID-19 but he did not self-isolate for 14 days as he instructed us to do. Which, I think is much worse on impact than escaping to the countryside. He was also seen outside the Nightingale hospital with people behind him not exactly social distancing.

Then it is the wonderful press with the sometimes dramatic headlines: “man struggles with lockdown and kills his wife..”, “frustrated man, unemployed during the lockdown knifes his partner..”. Words used to alleviate the responsibility from the actions and the gender. But then you have the other side “humiliated Nicola Sturgeon”; “she defended her choice”, words that make a strong woman look less than that. This is not a political statement. This is a call to stop the witch hunting…funny that it was not branded as wizard hunting.

Oh, and stay safe…in your main residence. We are lucky to have one.

Evi Viza, CQI, MIET.

Sensational layouts; a short story of photojournalism in tabloits

Restricted images hide a story. Retelling the story by slicing away the margins is how tabloits make headlines. The most extreme, the better. It may not make sense, but the readers’ shock deters them from revisiting and unpacking the reality.

This introduction of new journalism made it into our every day lives. It trimmed the stories to polarising and accusatory as the norm.

For example, see this image in its entirety.

What information does this image contain that is useful to you? The path, the river, the people in the distance, the dog, the season. Is the dog seeking your attention by waiting on you?

Now, what story does the image below tell?

Consider your first thoughts looking at this image. Is the dog angry, about to react, or playful, is the ground cold and wet?

The second story has dramatised the narrative by removing useful information that would have told the story in all its complexity. It automatically polarised understanding by simplification. The narrative is cut short and the story is left for the viewer to interpret.

Now imagine the text defining the already minimised story.
Dog stares before it runs away, or attacks.
Greying dog lost in the winter.

By doing so we have already disassociated the image from the reality.

Next time you see a close up in the news, ask yourself, what is the purpose of such trimming and what are you missing out in terms of information.

Photography is a gift of storytelling. Butchering details, however insignificant they may appear, is a political decision made by editorial professionals serving singular story telling.

You don’t have to consume what is given and to enrich your understanding ask the questions that can better inform you.

Masters degree as a mature student, a review

I’m writing this blog to help you understand what to expect from studying a masters degree later in life. Did I find it useful? I met some really interesting people that I hope to keep in my life in the future. Would I recommend it? Only if you’re super bored with your life and work but expect no easy ride. If you want a break from life, you’ll be better off spending that money travelling and taking up surfing lessons.

I have to admit I was super excited to have secured a place in one of the top universities in the world. As a senior management professional, I knew others that had tried but didn’t get in. The only thing I hadn’t realised was the amount of work it required.

On a weekly basis, I’d have four to five classes to attend in lectures, read 100 plus pages for each to discuss in small group tutorials as well as hold in-class presentations twice per term and write 2,000 – 3,000 word assignments per module/class twice a term.

Another thing I was not prepared for was academic writing. The way arguments are framed, in perspective of other arguments and how limited your own poetic license is. This is predominantly a British education system approach to teaching which hints to post colonial education, drawing out what has been laid out before.

At the university I went to, I also realised each module had its own parameters for good framing and presentation, largely set out by the lead tutor. Irrespective of how many additional classes I took for example on how to write a book review, how to write a critique etc the central student learning and development was misaligned to the individual module requirements. That left me frustrated and as a paying student, annoyed at the power game academia has over the students, and leaving its huge weaknesses unacknowledged.

This last point was a point of discussion throughout my studies. Academics thinking they got it all worked out whilst they lack real-life experience in the field of their expertise. More dangerously, they advise and often participate in political life based on what they read by someone who written something fifty years ago. Academia is a dangerous ground to walk on when seeing right through its weaknesses yet having to abide by its rules.

That transcribed to loving some classes, those mainly taught by open-minded people who not only loved their craft but they loved teaching and interacting with their student debates too. In too many cases, the majority of the academics failed to do that. They focused too much on point scoring, coming across like some sort of activists despite being solely research based, and pushing arrogance in their game.

Lastly but not least, consider and ask what practical skills a masters will provide you with. I got stuck into a situation where the theory was central to most discussions but excluded current affairs unless it was Trump or neoliberalism bashing or glorifying Marxism.

This is how anachronistic academia can be, and yet it is expected we build a future through it.

In all truth, it’s not more than another subscription service, that will get you more views and remove the ads.

It’s good for visibility, but it can also make you feel invisible at the same time.

The history presented, a narrative of Oregonian development

Just visited the Oregon Historical Society, where the disappointment turned into contempt and anger.

A state with around 200 years of history.

The first thing that I noticed is how everything was presented as a story of ‘doing’ instead of a series of histories emerging in equal importance on the narrative of what is new America.

The natives, the African Americans, the Asians presented as sharing the same space in an assumptive scenario that puts them in the otherness of America’s existence.

No narrative of their histories, just the acknowledgment they exist.

The pioneers who made this land in the forefront. The dislocations of indigenous people to securitize vast areas of land. The securitization agenda in its earliest form.

Securitise from what? This word serves the interests of those who are pursuing the agenda without equitable considerations for those marginalized in the process.

A history of half-hearted stories, incomplete narratives, equalization said but not existing in any form or story in real life.

The marketization of ideas, becoming ideas in themselves and accepted as currency fueling development, without any fundamental structure for emerging cooperation.

Forcibly changing a world that doesn’t want to change and presenting it as de facto.

I can dig a thousand words to describe the disappointment in American history. Mostly, because whoever took the lead in making this the common reality, had not thought through all they lost in the process of focusing on the small detail of the multiplicity the size of land has offered them.

Agrarian change for who, and to feed who?

The land of the amble, producing less for less.

The establishment of fake stories as a level of understanding of what might have been better imaginable.

 

 

 

Climate change and security

 

This presentation was produced by Athina Fokidou for the MSc Security class (combined) at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 2018.

The Case study is the destruction of the Dawlish seafront railway in the South West coast of the United Kingdom by climatic events and the consequent political battlefield of unmet promises.

The objective of the presentation is to raise awareness of the players in responses to climate, their intentions and unknown coercive strategies in the nexus of the state and individual contractual exchange.

 

Poverty, extremism and art. Where do we go from here?

Many days in the past two years I have woken up with the feeling we are living in parallel universes. Politicians continue to offend sensibility on a daily basis, polirising public opinion, whilst we stand aside watching on, the theatre of the insane. Our reality has become not too different from the Hunger Games, or many apocalypse-in-process themed movies.

Since Brexit, Trump being voted in, Putin and Erdogan, the troubles in Venezuela, Congo and Honduras to name a few, it is apparent that politicians aim to hold onto power, often to further their personal financial interests, on a wage funded by tax payer’s money.

Having gained power with dubious populist campaign sentiments, these politicians have also grabbed power with well versed catch-phrase marketing, tricking electorates with empty promises, whilst reducing their rights, and further pushing them into poverty.

However we have also seen the popularity and rise of progressive movements through the mist of this adversity. These have sown the seeds of change, pushing back on the dark principles of those autocrats. #metoo, #timesup, #FBPE and reports from non governmental organisations such us Doctors of the World, Human Rights Watch and Global Witness among other, have exposed witnesses in the political system, corruption, and promote accountability.

In London, knife crime amongst the young has escalated to uncontrollable levels, with police cuts, closure of youth services and social care, leading many with the inability to escape and furthermore to extremes and desperation.

Would any of the people affected be likely to join these movements or is their anger at a point where they are more likely to be pushed to extremes?

And how many times does this need to repeat to feel real in order of recognizing violence is not a resolution tactic, sometimes even when it is in defense.

Is activism and progressive thinking a middle-class will?

Artists and creatives around the world will surely emerge with an engaging and metaphorical message. That is the traffic light defining we live in intolerable political times.

Tracey Emin made her stand with the neon writing at St Pancras station. And that is all good willed and valuable. Many others follow.

However I can’t help but wonder how the most marginalised will gain a voice again. And who will care enough to listen, and for what reason.

Italian Elections

So it’s election day here and I am disappointed to see how Conservative and right wing the party options are. The five stars is yet the most dangerous with an apparent popular new wave of rebels, not different to UKIP voters. Uncoincidentally UKIP and Five Star leaders are best buddies. Dangerous times indeed. The Pope has become the only remaining sound of reason in this troubled society.