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…

April 2020, the month of coronavirus lockdown. My breathing exercises in spring views of East London, UK

I would like to start this blogpost acknowledging this has been one changeable mood kind of a month.

It begun in semi frustration and acceptance: this is what we need to do and we commit to it. Blindfolded into commitment, no questions asked. Then days, then weeks passed. The exhaustion of changing habits in and out of home. The disappointment of realising you can’t walk into this pub, or straight into the shop, they are either shut, or there is a queue. You can’t hug your friend or pat the back of your neighbour. And that cycle route you always thought as the best, is out of bounds, too many runners using the tow path and daddies training their little ones to cycle. So forced into rediscovering your vicinity in new conditions, you get to become the tourist again, and that is cool.

Then the important stuff happening unnoticed until you think there’s value in the time you have saved from travelling and all the social stuff you can no longer do. So talking to friends and neighbours you end up rocking up to a community space in a church build on the ruins of one that was built in the 1600s, thinking you’re not the religious type but there are enough Muslim kids and white working class families about to take the edge off.

Next thing you’re committed and talking to new people. That guy is familiar, of course he is in and out of my block, and we chat, I hear the news and off we go.

Those who are organising everything, early on in the outbreak, with little knowledge of the impact yet without hesitation, they set up shop quickly. They asked and got donations, listened unjudgmentally to the community’s input, and attracted people of all ethnicities and faiths to help. They reassigned resources quickly. The initial food was delivered to 40 odd people three times a week and now it has grown to double of that.

Today, the last day of April feels like a halfway point on a long holiday. It’s been thrilling, confusing, too long, too short, too busy, and now seems to be going too fast and to be true, I don’t want it to end yet, but I do want to be able to make plans for the future.

Somehow the reality is: I can’t, and none of us can.

As we will gradually re-enter a version of normality in the coming months, there will be plenty of vulnerable people who will still not be able to leave their home. This help will not stop with our needs being met, and not until they have their fully met. It has been challenging at times running up and down unfamiliar estates, motivating oneself to get out, cover up, do your deed, run home, take everything off, clean everything, shower. Yet it’s been worth it. The smiles, the chats, the waves, the odd requests, or the kind wishes and offers. It all makes it so special.

This month has also been one where I covered nearly 200km cycling. It’s not a lot, however in addition to my training, and the bursting energy of spring colours and smells, there was plenty of visual richness to record.

The blog and the photos are dedicated to the community leaders, and those who need their swift action. They are being both my inspiration and motivation throughout the past six weeks and the very out of the ordinary month of April 2020.

Canary Wharf

Even more so, this month I hope does not go by forgotten. Everyone has been affected by it and I purposely included the empty canary wharf development. No one is immune to this and I hope this chance for a level playing field is finally grasped like the breath of fresh air we so much need.

Squid, remodelling needs

In one of my last dissertation supervision sessions, my supervisor asked me which animal species are thriving at present?

I took a couple of guesses none of which were right.

I was trying to join the dots between his question and my dissertation topic, which was a comparative study between the political economy of the Sami and the Inuit. I just couldn’t see where he was leading onto.

Jonathan went on to say it is the squid. And the reason for it, is that whilst fishing has focused on other species, the squid had the opportunity to multiply in swarms.

He went on to explain that the obvious answers are not always the correct ones. I suppose he was trying to tell me by focusing on one thing we assume as the path to survival, there are emerging occurrences we leave unnoticed.

I since then took to noticing squid more often.

Walking down SE Division Street. Portland, OR, past Whiskey Soda Lounge with Tim, I took this.

In one way, the story is that of silver linings behind a cloudy day. We are seeing changes to our lives that we have not entertained in detail of how they will be affecting our emotional needs and resilience.

Making a smoothie cocktail with Craken is my resilience recipe for the odd night now we are spending a lot more time at home. And enjoying it over a long video chat to the wee hours of the day.

We know in times of uncertainty there are certain parameters we can measure against, and work towards, to meet those needs.

 

Our needs are not only our own. They are universal values our humanity exists by. When these are threatened, or placed in new unfamiliar conditions, there’s a couple of things we can do to refocus.

The top ten commandments of emotional needs are:

Connection

Attention

Privacy

Autonomy

Security

Wider community

Friendship

Competence

Achievement

Meaning & purpose

The overarching point I see across the list of emotional needs, is intimacy.

Intimacy in a non sexual way.

But the space where two people connect over a unique shared experience that rings emotions of belonging, and trust, for both of them.

We are all interconnected. Even at times when we may feel that life becomes unfamiliar, rather than trying to regain a sense of control, our biggest strength may be in our capacity to reflect, learn and evolve.

I don’t know much, but situations like today’s offer a unique chance, that of a lifetime, to improve and rejoin community with renewed values of what we need and how to approach what we have and what presents itself before us.

 

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.

Post Graduate funding

Open Society Foundation’s Civil Society Leadership Awards for postgrad studies open for applications now via Check the list of eligible countries.

SEE FULL DESCRIPTION BELOW

The Civil Society Leadership Awards (CSLA) provide fully-funded scholarships for master’s degree study to individuals who clearly demonstrate academic and professional excellence and a deep commitment to leading positive social change in their communities.

Eligibility Criteria

Applicants must meet all of the following criteria:

  • be a citizen of an eligible country;
  • demonstrate maturity, flexibility, and civil society leadership potential
  • have an earned bachelor’s degree as of May 15, 2019 with an excellent academic record;
  • demonstrate professional experience related to your chosen field of study;
  • demonstrate proficiency in the language of instruction (English, German or French) at a level required for admission by host universities;
  • be able to participate in an intensive pre-academic summer school in July or August 2020 and start their degree program in August or September 2020;
  • be able to receive and maintain a visa or study permit as required by the host country; and
  • demonstrate a clear commitment to their home country or region to strengthen open society development.

The awards are available to citizens of the following countries:

  • Afghanistan
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Cambodia
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Egypt
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Laos
  • Libya
  • Myanmar/Burma
  • Republic of Congo
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan

Awards are available for study in the following areas:

  • Communications, Journalism & Media
  • Culture, History & Society
  • Development Studies
  • Economics
  • Education Management & Leadership
  • Environment & Natural Resource Management
  • Gender Studies
  • Human Rights
  • Law (including Human Rights law)
  • Politics & International Studies
  • Public Health Policy & Health Management
  • Public Administration
  • Public Policy
  • Social Policy
  • Social Work

The Open Society Foundations and Scholarship Programs are committed to equal opportunity, and exercise that policy in relation to all admissions processes. CSLA does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.

Purpose and Priorities

Competition for the Civil Society Leadership Awards is open and merit-based. Selection is based on an applicant’s fit with the program’s objectives as well as the graduate admissions criteria of the participating universities. Academic excellence, professional aptitude, leadership potential in the field of specialization, proven commitment to open society values, and appropriate language proficiency are all important factors in evaluation.

All eligible applicants will be reviewed by an international selection committee. The proposed field of study should be logical for the goals expressed, and the application itself should be well-organized and complete. Compelling candidates will be interviewed by a selection committee comprised of university representatives, CSLA staff, and partner organization representatives, such as the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

Guidelines

Selection and Notification Cycle

  • Applications must be submitted by midnight, May 15, 2019, Eastern Daylight Time.
  • Uncompetitive and/or ineligible applicants will be notified in late August.
  • Applicants who pass external review become semi-finalists and will be invited to an interview to be scheduled in late September or October.
  • Semi-finalists are required to secure two (2) letters of recommendation which must be submitted directly to CSLA by referees by October 1, 2019.
  • Semi-finalists will be required to take an official language test by the end of October 2019; all candidates invited to an interview are entitled to one (1) language test, arranged and paid for by CSLA.
  • Final selection will be held in November; results will be sent via email by January 2020.
  • Successful semi-finalists are now CSLA finalists, and CSLA staff will initiate their host university placement process.
  • The CSLA university placement process takes time; CSLA will strive to confirm placements for finalists by late April 2020.
  • Once placement is secured, CSLA finalists will be notified that they are now CSLA grantees, and will be asked to sign and return a formal grant document before any further actions can be taken.

Interested applicants must complete an online or paper CSLA application and submit along with supporting documentation to be considered for CSLA support.

Online Application

All candidates are strongly encouraged to apply online if possible using the Open Society Foundations grant portal, an online platform. To apply online, please register on the portal and then follow instructions.

Paper Application

Paper applications may be accessed in the Download Files section of this page. Please download the application form before completing or printing, and review the accompanying materials before submitting your application.

If you are applying in French, you must download and email or mail in an application form. Please consult How to Apply for further information.

If you have further questions, please consult the Frequently Asked Questions.

All application materials in French will be available on this page from March 21, 2019.

 

https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/grants/civil-society-leadership-award

Karma, and kindness, is a bitch

I’m one to preach loudly and stand for what I believe.

I’m the one that I will point to injustice.

I am the one that tonight also feel bad for pointing the finger at someone who I have contrary views to while they put themselves in the public eye to defend those views even though they are ‘out there’.

I don’t like confrontation but learning to present what I believe in more confidently.

Yet that’s only possible when the other party stretches out so they can hear clearer.

Because without that, nothing would ever be possible.

The post is devoted to my day today at the School of Oriental and African Studies, yet it is written with an individual in mind, unrelated to my day at the university, yet being a member of the uni.

They surprised me beyond all expectations.

I suppose, that’s the true Soasian style.

A walk in the port of Piraeus

Westward from the ferry port for destinations to the Cyclades and Crete, the port of Pireaus has a few hidden surprises.

Boats get larger and the space wider, abandoned warehouses as a backdrop, grafitti and murals galore.

The Chinese Road and Belt initiative will be redeveloping this area and on a beautifully sunny autumnal Sunday morning, I could not find an excuse to not document the blue of the sea with the yellows and blues of the ferries and the brownish grey concrete warehouses overshadowing the port streets.

I can’t predict what the port will look like in the future development, however I know for sure, the colourful ferries will still be floating on the beautiful coloured sea all the same.

Camden, for the soul

On the first chilly day of autumn, I walked out of the house for work to find my brain clicking into Camden cravings.

I’m not talking about the food options, the bashing vibes, the shopping or drinking ports.

That would be too much detail.

I’m talking about the warming feeling I get when I’m here.

In Camden Town, at sunset, on a crisp day. It feels like belonging, it feels like home.

I could climb under the cobble stones and sleep there for the night.

And wake up to crawl back up from beneath them, to see Camden in sunrise.

Bath and Wiltshire

So I decided to pull this guide together after having visited Bath and the wider Wiltshire a number of times over the last two years, visiting friends who moved there from London, for a change of lifestyle.

Wiltshire is a true representation of rolling English countryside, opening up to create the setting for the landscape of fields further afield in Devon and Cornwall, and to the end of the land of the British Isle. Scenic drives, quaint old cotsworld like villages dot the landscape, however note these are increasingly interrupted by new housing developments.

The area is knows for its afluent resident demographics. Housing is as expensive as it is in London, and Bath is a catwalk of contemporary design options, found in inoffensive gorgeously lit boutique shops. There are a lot of options to choose from, and an equal amount of cafes and foodie options to satisfy the pickiest of the souls out there.

Some of my favourite moments are both in Bath and the surrounding Somersetian countryside. When I get there, on a Friday, we head for the Star, the only – I believe – authentic pub, a mix of old and new, music or not, regulars and all embraced in a coffin shaped building. The walk there is equally cool, strolling past residential windows of yellow brick roman dwellings, sitting on the rustic raised walkway above the passing traffic passing below.

On days out, more recently I discovered Corsham. The walk through the tiny village, or the walk of the green space outside the stately home, are true to form of cutiness. The home itself and the gardens are architectural highlights so pick based on the season, trusting both will be a very rewarding experience.

Castle Combe is another little wonder to check out. I loved the walk from the car park to the village itself, hanging branches of tall trees canopying over the road. Prettily decorated door fronts, stone buildings, stone brick bridges, and water streams would have you thinking you are visiting Smurf land. It is not too far off that, hoping no offense caused by this description.

My earlier experience of Wiltshire was visiting Avebury stone circle. If you haven’t, this is a piece of british ancient history that equals Stonehedge. Avebury stone circle is the largest, with a village in the middle of it, supported by numerous super natural stories. I think my dream home is also in that village. Walk around the circle, but also do go for a walk through the village. I am sure you will get lost.

Box is known for the train tunnell and Thomas the tank. There is an underground town down there built out of sight to evacuate local residents on occassion of need.

Devizes has an eerie story of its own. The Black Swan is known to harbour ghosts of past times, and I did stay in room no 4 where numerous signtings and disturbances are known to take place. I must say I did not enjoy neither slept much and things happenned that I can not explain. The landlord soon sold the pub and moved on, like many others. However can’t fault the pub food and the atmosphere – warm, cozy and lively.

Devizes is also known for another trouble – that of its locks. If you own a riverboat, you will know the ladder of locks one has to wait through to get one side to another. A friend that did it told me that it took them around 9 hours to do Caen Hill. Not a feat for the lighthearted boat dwellers.

There is a lot more to see in this wonderful area however I will leave you with these pointers to begin with. I am sure you will be soon returning for more.