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Life Under Islamic State Rule: Abu Yousef’s Story, who was Held Captive by the Terrorist Group

Abu Yousef is a former resident of a town near Mosul – a region which Islamic State fighters held for nearly two years

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Islamic State
(Representational Image) On the day Abu Yousef, his wife and their four children arrived at the Khazir camp, a sand storm hit, forcing the exhausted refugees to race into tents, Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov. 1, 2016. VOA

– by Heather Murdock

Khazir Camp, Iraqi Kurdistan, November 11, 2016: A week ago, Abu Yousef arrived at this camp during a dust storm, with his wife and four small children in tow. Relaxed and now without the scruffy beard he grew while living under Islamic State rule, he settled into the relative safety of a camp that has gone from empty to overflowing in just two weeks. A former resident of a town near Mosul – a region which IS fighters held for nearly two years – he told VOA his story, translated here from Arabic:

I was a police officer when Mosul fell to Islamic State militants. When they captured my town, Bashiqa, they made us – police and other government workers – go to Mosul to meet with IS officials and promise to be good Muslims.

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I was surprised, I had been a Muslim for all 30 years of my life. But they said, “You worked for the Iraqi government which is against Islam.” They cursed at us and demanded we give them our weapons.

Islamic State
Islamic State militants have left tunnels and buildings in rubble in all the villages and towns they have been pushed out of, near Khazir camp, Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov. 7, 2016. VOA

They told us to say “There is no God but the one God and Mohammad is his Prophet” as we often do as Muslims. We didn’t know why we needed to say it at that moment.

[bctt tweet=”But then the militants hugged us and said, “You just became a Muslim.” ” username=””]

How did I just become Muslim?

Arrested

Two months later IS militants came to my house. They said, “Are you Abu Yousef?” I said, “Yes.” They handcuffed me and forced me into a car. After about a 30-minute drive they put me in a cage about a square meter large and left me there for the night. In the morning they took me to a room and sat me in a chair. Sitting opposite to me was a bearded man wearing all white. They called him Sheik Abu Deema – The Father of Blood.

“Why are you an infidel?” the sheik asked me.

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“I’m not, I’ve been a Muslim my whole life, and lately I even renewed my faith with you all,” I said, and then lied to them. “I was with government police before because I needed a salary. It’s the only reason.”

“No, you are an infidel,” said Sheik Abu Deema, “We will cut off your head.”

For the next seven days I was kept in the cage, blindfolded. They took me outside for whippings and beatings and fed me only once a day, a bowl of soup and bread.

Islamic State
Outside Khazir camp, thousands of people wait in line to register in Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov. 5, 2016. More than 45,000 peoplea are said to have been displaced since the Mosul offensive began more than three weeks ago. VOA

‘Don’t lose this bullet’

At the end of the week, a soldier put a bullet in my pocket, and said, “Don’t lose this bullet. Tomorrow, we will kill you with it.”

The next day someone else approached my cage and demanded the bullet back. “No, take this bullet instead,” he said. “Tomorrow we will kill you with it.” This went on for three days, every day a new bullet. On the fourth day they said “This, yes this, is the day we will kill you.” I believed them.

They brought me back to Sheik Abu Deema and forced me on my knees. They blindfolded me and I heard the sheik bark, “Kill him.” I felt the gun on my head and heard them pull the trigger. But there was no bullet.

Islamic State
An Islamic State document certifies its holder (name blurred out) has pledged to be a true Muslim, according to IS standards. The document is not a pledge to join or work with the group. Khazir camp, Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov. 8, 2016. VOA

The sheik gave the order again. “Kill him,” he said. The barrel touched my head, and the soldier pulled the trigger. Again there was no bullet. He did this three times.

Then they removed my blindfold, helped me up and said, “Sorry, you are not an infidel. You are our brother.”

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They gave me 10,000 Iraqi dinars (about $9) and I left. But the psychological punishment stayed with me. (VOA)

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What is the Future of US-India Relations? Here’s the Answer

The US presidential elections and future of India-US relations

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India USA
Given the love fests of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Howdy Modi' event in Houston, Texas, in which Trump participated in September of 2019, and Trump's 'Namaste Trump' event hosted by Modi in India in February of this year, it might be assumed that the future for US-India relations is a splendid one. Wikimedia Commons

BY FRANK F. ISLAM

As the coronavirus pandemic dominates global news in the United States, progress toward the next presidential election scheduled to be held on November 3 moves slowly forward. President Donald Trump had no real opposition in the Republican party and is running for re-election. And it has now become apparent that former Vice President Joe Biden will be his opponent as the Democratic candidate for president.

What would a Trump victory bode for the future of US-India relations? What would a Biden victory bode? Let me answer each of those questions in turn.

Given the love fests of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, Texas, in which Trump participated in September of 2019, and Trump’s ‘Namaste Trump’ event hosted by Modi in India in February of this year, it might be assumed that the future for US-India relations is a splendid one. This would be an incorrect assumption.

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Both of these events were more symbolic than substantive. Trump’s participation in them undoubtedly helped to persuade some — perhaps many — Indian American Modi supporters who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to cast their ballots for Trump in 2020. Trump’s campaign team took steps to ensure this by holding an event at his Mar-a-Lago resort in which a group of prominent Indian Americans announced their plans to work for his re-election and to mobilize Indian Americans on his behalf.

India USA
It is essential that India and the US develop a strategic relationship that enables them to become those indispensable partners. Wikimedia Commons

To understand the future potential of India’s relations with the US. with Trump as president, however, it is necessary to look beyond these political moves and to examine the present state of those relations and Trump’s personal style.

In a word, the best way to characterize the current relations between the US and India is “functional”. The relationship was relatively good for the first two years of Trump’s presidency. In fact, near the end of 2018, Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, was quoted in the media s saying: “This has been a landmark year for US-India ties as we build out stronger relationships across the board.”

Then, in 2019, the relations went off the track in the first half of the year after the US and India got into a tit-for-tat tariff war after the US terminated India’s Generalized System of Preferences which allowed India to send certain goods to the US duty-free. There have been continuing efforts to structure a “modest” trade deal since then. It was thought there might be some type of deal done in September of 2019 while Modi was in the US by year’s end, and then during Trump’s India visit. But, as of today, there is still no deal.

This inability to get any meaningful trade agreement in place speaks volumes about India’s potential future relations with India with Trump as president. So, too does Trump’s style.

Trump’s campaign slogans this time around are “Keep America Great” and “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Trump is not a policy wonk and most of his effort will go toward “America First”. This involves making the US more isolated by withdrawing from international agreements, restructuring trade agreements, emphasizing building walls to stop immigrants at the border, using tariffs to block trade with countries who are taking away American jobs, and confronting businesses who are allegedlly stealing American trade secrets.

This perspective suggests what India can expect for its relations with the US if it has to deal with Trump for a second term as president. The relations will stay functional at best. As I have said before, that’s because the words partnership, cooperation and collaboration are not in Trump’s vocabulary. Nationalism, isolationism and protectionism are.

Joe Biden stands in stark contrast to President Trump both professionally and personally. Biden is a strategic thinker and doer with a solid eight-year track record of leadership experience as Vice-President in forging alliances that have made a difference around the world and he has also been a long-standing friend of India.

India USA
To understand the future potential of India’s relations with the US. with Trump as president, however, it is necessary to look beyond these political moves and to examine the present state of those relations and Trump’s personal style. Wikimedia Commons

He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading advocate for the Congressional passage of the Indo-US civic nuclear deal in 2005. At a dinner convened 10 years later in 2015 by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Vice President Biden discussed the tremendous joint progress that had been made by the two countries in the past and declared “We are on the cusp of a sea change decade.”

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Early in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in July of 2019, in laying out his foreign policy vision, Biden stated that the US had to reach out to India and other Asian partners to strengthen ties with them. The items on Biden’s foreign policy agenda for strengthening which are of importance for India include climate change, nuclear proliferation and cyberwarfare.

During his vice presidency, Biden worked side by side with President Barack Obama to do things that would contribute to achieving Obama’s vision stated in 2010 of India and America being “indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time.” In 2020, those challenges are even greater than they were a decade ago.

That is why it is so essential that India and the US develop a strategic relationship that enables them to become those indispensable partners. That can happen if Biden assumes the presidency on January 20, 2021. It cannot happen if Donald Trump remains as president for a second term.

Also Read- Apple to Display COVID-19 Testing Sites on Maps

The results of this upcoming election in the US matter greatly for the future of the United States. They matter greatly for the future of India-US relations as well. Time and the American electorate will tell what that future will be. (IANS)

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Social Distancing and Lockdown are The Strongest Vaccine: Health Minister Harsh Vardhan

Bennett University organized an International Conference on COVID-19: Fallout and Future

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Health conference
"We do not anticipate the worst kind of situation in India like other developed countries, but still we have prepared the whole country for the worst situation," said Vardhan. Wikimedia Commons

By Kanan Parmar

Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan emphasised on Social Distancing saying, “Social Distancing and lockdown are the strongest vaccine against COVID-19 at the moment,” during an International Conference on COVID-19: Fallout and Future.

Dr. Harsh Vardhan addressed the International Conference on COVID-19: Fallout and Future organized by Bennett University on April 9, 2020.

Dr. Vardhan spoke about how India has taken all the necessary steps to prevent coronavirus in India and also gives the latest updates on COVID-19 news.

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The minister said that more than a lakh people were trained and educated about the COVID-19 pandemic. These included aviation crew, airport staff, healthcare professionals, etc.  Over 2,500 Indians have been evacuated from various countries. There have been dedicated ICU beds and ventilators for COVID-19 patients.

The health minister highlighted that the even bigger challenge than containing COVID-19 is to stop the spread of misinformation. The minister said, “Anyone who wants authentic information about coronavirus should go through the website of Ministry of Health and Welfare to obtain information.”

health covid-19
The Health Minister advises that N95 masks are to be used only by healthcare professionals. Pixabay

He also thanked healthcare professionals saying, “I would like to thank all the COVID-19 warriors to fight this war against coronavirus.”

The health minister advises that N95 and surgical masks aren’t to be worn by all citizens but only medical staff due to the shortage. The basic necessity is to cover your mouth using any cloth or cotton mask which can also be homemade.

Talking about the positive aspects, Health Minster Dr. Harsh Vardhan said, “COVID-19 is a blessing in disguise. Most of the medical equipments used to be imported but now with the help of Ministry of Textiles, we have found manufactures in India.”

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“We are in constant touch with the World Health Organization and the WHO has appreciated the efforts taken by the Government of India and Ministry of Health to contain coronavirus,” said Dr. Vardhan.

Many other professionals were present in the conference. These include. Dr. David Nabarro, the special envoy for WHO, Mr. Arvind Virmani, an economic advisor, Mr. Subash Chandra Garg, the former finance secretary of India,Gurcharan Das, Prof. Wenjuan ZhangProf. Beatrice GallelliEoghan SweeneyIrene Jay Liu, a data journalist, Prof. Rasmus Nielsen, Prof. Ashish Kumar Jha and many more.

Other presenters talked about the economic, social and political impacts of the pandemic.

Health conference
Dr. David Nabarro is an international civil servant and diplomat.

Dr. David Nabarro, the special envoy for the World Health Organization said that all the information given by WHO is based on researches done by scientists and doctors.

Health conference
Mr. Gurcharan is an Indian author.

Gurcharan Das, an Indian author said, “Biggest failure of the government is not testing enough.” He also said that the Modi government is in a ‘Dharam sankat’ and faced a challenge on whether to lift the lockdown or not.

Health conference
Mr. Subhash Chandra Garg has served as the Economic Affairs Secretary and Finance Secretary of India.

Mr. Subhash Chandra Garg, the former finance secretary of India believes that there should be a partial lockdown in India.

Also Read- Prime Minister Narendra Modi Urges Citizens to Help Financially Poor People

Ms. Beatrice Gallelli tells us about what went wrong in Italy and also talks about the North-South equality in Italy which lead to the increase in coronavirus cases.

Eoghan Sweeney talks about the spread of misinformation during the times of an epidemic or pandemic.

 

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Find out How Coronavirus Pandemic Has Disrupted Global Food Supplies

Explainer: How Coronavirus Crisis Is Affecting Food Supply

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coronavirus
People wait in line to buy food amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in downtown Havana, Cuba. VOA

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted global food supplies and is causing labor shortages in agriculture worldwide. This is the latest health news.

Are there food shortages?

Panic buying by shoppers cleared supermarket shelves of staples such as pasta and flour as populations worldwide prepared for lockdowns.

Meat and dairy producers as well as fruit and vegetable farmers struggled to shift supplies from restaurants to grocery stores, creating the perception of shortages for consumers.

Retailers and authorities say there are no underlying shortages and supplies of most products have been or will be replenished. Bakery and pasta firms in Europe and North America have increased production.

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Food firms say panic purchasing is subsiding as households have stocked up and are adjusting to lockdown routines.

coronavirus
Agricultural workers clean carrot crops of weeds amid an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a farm near Arvin, California, U.S. VOA

The logistics to get food from the field to the plate, however, are being increasingly affected and point to longer-term problems.

In the short term, lack of air freight and trucker shortages are disrupting deliveries of fresh food.

In the long term, lack of labor is affecting planting and harvesting and could cause shortages and rising prices for staple crops in a throwback to the food crises that shook developing nations a decade ago.

What’s disrupting the food supply?

With many planes grounded and shipping containers hard to find after the initial coronavirus crisis in China, shipments of vegetables from Africa to Europe or fruit from South America to the United States are being disrupted.

A labor shortage could also cause crops to rot in the fields.

As spring starts in Europe, farms are rushing to find enough workers to pick strawberries and asparagus, after border closures prevented the usual flow of foreign laborers. France has called on its own citizens to help offset an estimated shortfall of 200,000 workers.

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More wide-scale crop losses are looming in India, where a lockdown has sent masses of workers home, leaving farms and markets short of hands as staple crops like wheat near harvest.

Is food going to cost more?

Wheat futures surged in March to two-month highs, partly because of the spike in demand for bakery and pasta goods, while corn (maize) sank to a 3½-year low as its extensive use in biofuel exposed it to an oil price collapse.

Benchmark Thai white rice prices have already hit their highest level in eight years.

Swings in commodity markets are not necessarily passed on in prices of grocery goods, as food firms typically buy raw materials in advance. A sustained rise in prices will, however, eventually be passed on to consumers.

coronavirus
A farmer feeds iceberg lettuce to his buffalo during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Bhuinj village in Satara district in the western state of Maharashtra, India. VOA

Some poorer countries subsidize food to keep prices stable.

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The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that a rush to buy by countries that rely on imports of staple foods could fuel global food inflation, despite ample reserves of staple crops.

Fresh produce such as fruit or fish or unprocessed grains such as rice reflect more immediately changes in supply and demand.

Will there be enough food if the crisis lasts?

Analysts say global supplies of the most widely consumed food crops are adequate. Wheat production is projected to be at record levels in the year ahead.

Also Read- Every Hospital in US May Treat COVID-19 Patients: Health Human Service Agency

However, the concentration of exportable supply of some food commodities in a small number of countries and export restrictions by big suppliers concerned about having enough supply at home can make world supply more fragile than headline figures suggest.

Another source of tension in global food supply could be China. There are signs the country is scooping up foreign agricultural supplies as it emerges from its coronavirus shutdown and rebuilds its massive pork industry after a devastating pig disease epidemic. (VOA)