Comment: Our children’s grandchildren’s world

Parents all over the world want to live in a way that ensures the best possible future for their children and grandchildren. This must also be the goal for the world’s leaders when we meet in Rio.

I am working for a more just world. At the same time, parents all over the world want their children to have a better life than they have had. This is why we must promote economic growth and create jobs and security for millions of people. We must encourage the use of more climate friendly technology and more sustainable development. And those who create most pollution must also do most to cut emissions.

The Maldives are by no means among these nations, yet the island state ranks high on the list of countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The low lying coral islands are susceptible to the threat of seasonal storms, high tides and long term sea level rise – factors which probably will be more intense and frequent in the future. Sustainable development in the Maldives is indeed linked to the effective local, national and global management of the environment and natural resources.

This year it is 20 years since sustainable development first hit the agendas of world leaders, when Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norwegian prime minister at that time, launched this new approach to development and environment at the World Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In June, world leaders will once again gather in Rio. This next UN summit – Rio+20 – will be a new opportunity to agree on how to achieve growth and welfare and at the same time protect the environment.

We need to find ways of making growth sustainable. We also need to distribute revenues more equitably as countries become richer. At the moment, every fifth person worldwide lacks access to electricity. Twice as many – three billion people – have to gather fuel to cook their food and heat their homes. The smoke from inefficient stoves is harmful and claims the lives of nearly two million people every year. This is unfair, it is a waste of resources, and is unsustainable. Instead, children should have time to go to school, and adults to take paid work.

In the rich part of the world, we waste electricity and use more than our fair share of the planet’s energy resources. The widespread use of energy from oil, gas and coal is causing dangerous climate change. In Norway, buildings account for 40 percent of all energy use. We can halve our electricity consumption use by 2040 by improving the energy efficiency of buildings – and at the same time live more comfortably and reduce our electricity bills. We are already beginning to feel the impacts of interference with the climate system. But the consequences for those who come after us will be far more serious.

In this dire situation, the Maldives are taking several vital steps; most important is probably the ground breaking plan to become the world’s first carbon neutral nation. The recent establishment of the Baa Atoll biosphere conservation office is another major achievement for the country, and represents an important national follow up of Baa Atoll being declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in July of last year.

I understand that The Maldives have prepared well for the summit in Rio. I look forward to meet Maldivian counterparts in Brazil.

Food is another key area. According to UN figures, about a third of all food is thrown away or destroyed. Every one of us in the rich part of the world throws away an average of 100 kg of food a year. In Norway alone, 500 000 tonnes of food goes into the bin. At the same time, more than a billion people are going hungry. Even in poor countries, a good deal of food is wasted, partly because of poor roads and inadequate storage facilities. If we are to feed all the children in the world properly, we must make some major changes.

These are some of the issues we will be discussing in Rio. Governments, NGOs, researchers and representatives of the business sector from all over the world will work together to identify opportunities. We all agree that the way we are living today is not sustainable. But it is much more difficult to find solutions that everyone can agree to because the key is more equitable distribution. Aid from rich countries to poor countries is one way of improving the situation. But aid is most effective when it stimulates private investment and enables a country to develop its own solutions. Poor countries now have better opportunities to choose environmentally friendly solutions than we had during our industrialisation.

But this is far from enough. The financial crisis, and the elections in a number of key countries, is deflecting the attention of politicians and the general public towards domestic problems and short-term prospects. Rio+20 reminds us that the most serious challenges require the ability to think along new lines. World leaders need to cooperate more closely. We must create the political will needed to ensure that Rio+20 is a milestone towards sustainable development. We must find solutions that make sustainable development profitable.

We cannot produce enough food for everyone simply by producing more food. We also need to look at the whole value chain from farm to fork. When food is lost during harvesting and storage, small farmers lose income and poor consumers must pay higher prices. We must therefore invest in better methods of food production, in infrastructure and in technology that will reduce food waste and bring more food to more people.

Norway is seeking to ensure that Rio+20 culminates in new goals for sustainable energy. We support UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s focus on energy for all. His aim is to double the use of renewable energy and the efficiency of existing energy use by 2030. To do this, we must all work together. The business sector is playing a decisive role in the implementation of the new technology that is needed to achieve these goals.

In the worst case, Rio+20 will be too much talk and not enough action. The pessimists are already pointing out that the UN has been unable to resolve major global problems on several occasions. But the UN is the only arena where all the countries of the world come together to address these issues

We must all make use of Rio+20 as an opportunity to improve the UN’s ability to take action and stake out a pathway of equitable green growth. We are working towards an agreement on new goals for sustainable development. This will require both rich and poor countries to take appropriate steps at home. We must ensure that the world we leave to our children’s grandchildren is a place where everyone can afford to take part. That will require bold decisions at Rio+20 and in the coming years.

Heikki Holmås is the Norwegian Minister of International Development. Photo: Berit Roald, Scanpix

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: The price of right-wing politics

Major news networks came under fire recently for jumping to conclusions about the involvement of Islamist groups in the July 22 terror attacks in Norway.

Mainstream media resorted to premature “analyses”, conjecture, and even ‘citations’ from unverified Internet forum lurkers – all of which are highly irresponsible and were rightfully condemned.

A lot of Muslims and anti-racists heaved a sigh of relief on hearing that this latest outrage was, for a change, not inflicted by a Muslim group. For seemingly the first time in recent history, a reasonable argument could now be made that not all terrorists are necessarily Muslim or brown-skinned; an opportunity has risen to delve deeper into the ideologies that underpin these horrifying outbursts of mindless violence.

However, over a week after the quiet Friday afternoon peace was shattered by the worst massacre on Norwegian soil since the second world war, the media appears to have chosen to focus instead on the sensationalist ‘Christian crusader’ angle and the killer’s 1500 page “manifesto”; a lot of commentary has dwelt on whether this is the work of a single crazed man – or whether he represents the vanguard of a new movement.

What is beyond doubt, however, is that the man was clearly led by his politics – and within this lies one of the most important stories of this decade that the media should not fail to address.

The rising hatred

Norwegian security agencies have long reported that right-wing radicalism was on the rise in the country – with Scandinavia, incidentally, producing the largest amount of xenophobic, White Power music and literature.

As it happens, right-wing politics is being revived in several parts of the world – from the United States and Europe, to Pakistan and the Maldives.

Factors such as economic decline in the West, rising unemployment, and the increased globalisation that threatens the very concept of nation states, have seen a corresponding increase in anti-immigration, race-baiting, far-right ultra-nationalist groups.

Ideas that would have been dismissed as the lunatic fringe just a few years ago have captured the curiosity of the mainstream public in many societies.

This brand of politics – characterised by amplified slogans, demonisation of minorities, and central charismatic figures with a penchant for whipping up emotions, have reaped rich political dividends for many in recent years.

With deceptive names alluding to noble concepts of ‘Justice’ and ‘Freedom’, these groups thrive entirely on charged emotional rhetoric steeped in conspiracy theories and artificial feelings of victimisation and insecurity.

The anti-Islamic, race-baiting ‘Party of Freedom’ run by Geert Wilders recently emerged as the third largest party in the Netherlands. The BNP, that remains a pariah in mainstream UK politics, has also been making steady electoral gains over the past decade – with two of its members already in the European Parliament, including Nick Griffin, the much-reviled leader of the organization.

Cheap provocations, such as attempts of a much-criticized pastor to organize mass burnings of the Koran in the US, have increasingly found the easy media attention that they so desperately crave.

Mainstream media attention was also lavished upon the ‘Ground-Zero Mosque’ controversy in New York city – that was successfully used by conservative, right-wing politicians in the US to whip up anti-Islamic sentiments, despite revolving around a building that was neither at Ground-Zero and wasn’t even a mosque.


Far-right politicians, willing to let society burn in order to enjoy their moment in the spotlight, employ words and rhetoric that threaten the peace and harmony of society – with the full knowledge that they can always refuse to accept responsibility later.

Indeed, Geert Wilders was quick to distance himself from the Oslo killer – who had named him as one of his inspirations – but it is hard to accept that the man who spent years fanning flames of anti-Islamic hatred can suddenly absolve himself of all responsibility for the ideology that directly led to the massacre in Utoya.

While the West grapples with trying to deal with hate figures like Geert Wilders, controversial characters like Zakir Naik and Bilal Philips have inexplicably been invited by the Maldivian government to preach to the public – despite several other countries denying them entry citing serious allegations ranging from terror links to hate speech.

Local political parties and NGOs that have conferred upon themselves the onerous burden of representing Islam in the Maldives adamantly deny that they have any role to play in the increasingly radicalised Dhivehi society – and the rising numbers of Maldivian jihadists being discovered in militant madrassas or war zones of tribal Pakistan.

This denial comes despite their openly stoking flames of anti-semitism and anti-feminism, despite their emotionally charged diatribes on public podiums and radio talk shows, and despite the rapidly mushrooming “Islamic” book shops in Male’ that openly sell Jihadist literature with fiery titles and apocalyptic chapters glorifying war.

At least one English Defence League activist, currently hiding abroad, has admitted that his opinions could have directly influenced the destructive Islamophobia in Breivik.

And yet, the EDL– a toxic, occasionally violent British group accused of racism, have also denied the ties with the mass-murderer in Norway, despite the killer himself claiming close association with them.

Just as their right wing brethren in the Maldives, they too “reject all forms of extremism”, and vow to fight against it.

Hyperbole at home

The Maldivian society’s decided swing to the right in the aftermath of democracy is startling – the political dialogue is marked with hyperbole, and dishonest, wild rhetoric.

Reasonable concerns about establishing diplomatic ties with the state of Israel ended up getting blown up into a full-fledged conspiracy involving evil Zionist doctors plotting to steal body organs from unsuspecting Maldivians.

A proposed change in curriculum was vocally derided as a sinister Israeli plot to undermine national sovereignty.

Disagreements over a regulation that would have permitted the tightly restricted sale of alcohol to foreigners at a business hotel, ended up being painted as a death blow to the very religious foundations of the Maldives – thanks to a shrill campaign started by the Adhaalath (Justice) party and aligned opposition groups that was marked with emotive language, and rhetoric carefully calculated to whip up fear, paranoia and hatred.

Adhaalath party leader Shaheem Ali Saeed would later boast at a recent party congress that it was their tiny party that “organised the largest mass-protests in the country”.

Yes, but at what price?

Birds of Feather

Emotive politics of the far-right contribute to, and depend on, a climate of fear and insecurity.

It is within this shelter of blind hateful ignorance that killers like Anders Breivik emerge, casting themselves in self-aggrandizing roles of ‘warriors’, ‘crusaders’ and ‘mujahideen’ to protect their religion and country from the evil, scheming subversive forces that only exist in their heads.

“If Muhammad was alive today,” he wrote, “Usama Bin Laden would have been his second in command.” The Norwegian killer spent over nine years working on his “manifesto” – but in reality, he could have just taken any random Islamist propaganda leaflet and substituted “Christendom” for “Caliphate” , the “Crusades” for “Jihad” and “Knights Templar” for “Mujahideen”.

Not surprisingly, despite being an avowed Islamophobe, he found ideological similarities with the al-Qaeda – and repeatedly makes references to al-Qaeda’s training manual.

Breivik also found that his ideology seamlessly fit with the Hindu fundamentalist groups in India as well. His “manifesto” quotes from several Hindutva propaganda websites, and applauds Hindutva advocates who ‘do not tolerate the injustice and often riot and attack Muslims when things get out of control”.

Decades of sowing animosity towards Indian Muslims brought Hindu fundamentalists led by AB Vajpayee from fringe obscurity to national power.

But within their one term, the emotionally charged politics of the day resulted ultimately in the deaths of thousands of Muslims and Hindus in the Gujarat communal riots. The same forces would later unleash violence against Christians in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

The battle of Badr used by Jihadist leaders to stoke fire in their soldier’s hearts, finds its equivalent in the Crusades for Breivik – whose online “manifesto” honours such medieval figures such as Vlad the Impaler and Charles the Hammer.

One can thus easily see that there really isn’t any difference at all between these seemingly competing intolerant forces that are both the victims and perpetrators of the same far-right wing ideologies obsessed with their apocalyptic visions of global domination.

A suitable response

A quarter of a million people took to the streets of Oslo on Monday, to remember the dead.

Unlike nations like Pakistan that have swung so far to the right over decades of ideological poisoning, that thousands actually came out to garland the man who assassinated Salman Taseer, a liberal politician who spoke up for minority rights, Norway’s response to the horrors of July 22 reflects its vastly more mature, and strongly liberal social ideals.

“We will punish him, not by killing him or torturing him, but by defying his every wish”, said a teenager, whose friend was among those killed in the Utoya massacre.

Hundreds of supporters gathered outside a tiny Church where a Christian pastor and a Muslim Imam performed a joint memorial service for Bano Rashid, an 18 year old Muslim girl whose promising life was prematurely snuffed out by the fanatic violence.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg greeted the audience at another memorial service in Oslo with the Arabic greeting “Salaam Alaikum”, drawing a cheerful applause – and pushing a stake through the heart of the dark forces that had sought to strike a wedge between the Norwegian people.

The King and Queen of Norway, who openly wept in a Church service for victims, had a similar response of defiance; in his address, the King said that freedom is more important than fear.

Across the board, Norwegian politicians have vowed to respond to terrorism with “more democracy”, “more diversity”, “more peace” and “more tolerance”.

The time has come for media and citizens around the world – including in the Maldives – to stop viewing the theatre of violence through the narrow lens of religion and nationality. The only solution to division, hatred and violence is to confront the language, thoughts and tactics of short-sighted, opportunistic politicians whose only political gimmick is to create a climate of fear and hatred towards foreigners, Jews, Muslims, Christians.

While the scourge of ultra-right wing extremism is the enemy of all societies and peoples, there is a strong message sent out when resistance emerges from the very people that these bigots claim to represent – when whites fight against Aryan supremacists, and Jews protest against Israeli military aggression, and Muslims fight against Islamist violence and hate-mongering.

The Norwegians have shown the way with a dignified, determined response of hope, and peaceful idealism that characterise their society.

It is now up to the rest of the world to follow in their footsteps and extinguish the climate of fear and hatred that allow these abhorrent acts to take place.

In Jens Stoltenbergs’ words: “No one will bomb us to silence. No one will shoot us to silence. We must never stop standing up for values… our answer to violence is even more democracy, more humanity”

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Maldives President expresses sympathy after Norway terror attack kills 92

President Mohamed Nasheed has sent a message of sympathy to His Majesty King Harald V of Norway, after a bomb attack in Oslo and a shooting rampage on Utoeya Island killed 92 people on Friday.

Norwegian police have since arrested 32 year-old right-wing anti-Islam fanatic Anders Behring Breivik, as the country comes to terms with its worst attack since World War II and the single worst attack by a lone gunman.

85 of the casualties were young people attending the annual summer camp for the youth wing of Norway’s ruling Labour party.

One of the survivors told news agency Reuters that the gunman was dressed as a policeman and “would tell people to come over: ‘It’s OK, you’re safe, we’re coming to help you.’ And then I saw about 20 people come toward him and he shot them at close range.”

Another survivor told media that Breivik “seemed very focused. He took his time and picked victims out one by one. People lay on the ground, and he went over them and shot them in the back. He shot them all twice to make sure they were dead.”

Breivik had undergone compulsory military training as part of Norway’s national service and held licenses for several firearms, including automatic weapons. He surrendered to armed police who arrived at the Utoeya Island camp 40 minutes after being called by panicked attendees.

Police are investigating whether the car bomb, which exploded outside government offices in Oslo, was linked to Brevik’s purchase of six tons of fertiliser for a farm he bought 10 weeks ago.

Al-jazeera reported that under Norwegian law, Breivik faces a maximum sentence of 21 years extendable indefinitely in five year increments.

Norway has meanwhile entered a period of national mourning.

“This is beyond comprehension. It’s a nightmare,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told press in Oslo.

In his letter to the Norwegian King, President Nasheed said he was “deeply shocked and saddened to hear about the bomb attack on government buildings in Oslo and the subsequent shooting on Utoeya Island. The Government and the people of the Maldives and I condemn this wanton act of terror in the strongest terms. At this time of distress I extend my profound sympathy and support to Your Majesty, the Government and the people of Norway.”