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New Delhi: Middle east region expert Vali Nasr compared the existing situation in the region to the situation of Indian sub continent before independence. He said this situation is because of sectarianism and legacies of colonialism.

“Colonialism not only decided maps of the modern Middle East, but also fostered sectarianism in the internal structures it set up the Alawites in Syria, the Christians in Lebanon under the French, and so on.

“Colonialism and sectarianism conflicted with secular nationalism… sectarianism in the Middle East was like communalism in India during its freedom struggle and can be understood the same way… the issue of majority and minority rights,” Nasr, the dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at US’ Johns Hopkins University, said in an interview during his India visit for the Jaipur Literature Festival.

“The violence in Iraq is similar to the violence seen during the Partition of India,” he said.

Nasr, a Foreign Policy advisor to the Barack Obama regime (2009-11) and a scholar on politics and Islamic activism in the Arab world, as well as Iran and Pakistan, and sectarian identity in Middle East politics, notes sectarianism, between Sunnis and Shias, was not on points of theology but on distribution of power.

This was especially relevant in countries like Iraq and Bahrain which had Shia majorities but without any power, he noted, adding the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and then the Arab Spring further opened the door to sectarianism.

“The Arab Spring began a demand for democracy but what after that? That is the key issue,” said Nasr, citing another parallel with the Indian subcontinent’s example where the struggle against British rule also saw a bitter contest between the Congress and the Muslim League on the shape and nature of the political dispensation to follow.

The author of “The Shia Revival How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future” (2006) when the community seemed to be on an upswing with huge political gains in Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, Nasr contends rise of groups like the Islamic State is among attempts by Sunni hardliners to reverse Shia Iran’s gains in Iraq. But this comes at a time when Iran, long seen by the western world as the source of instability in the Middle East, is now being needed to manage the same instability, he said.

This image of Iran stemmed from the historic Shia-Sunni conflict, which however took shape of a proxy war after the 1979 Iranian Revolution raised a Shia threat for Sunni powers, especially Saudi Arabia which has had a relationship with the US, predating the US-Israel alliance.

“This proxy war between Shias and Sunnis, or between Iran and Saudi Arabia, even extended to south Asia and is still going on in Pakistan,” said Nasr, who also spent some time in the sub-continent in the late 1970s and experienced the sectarian hostility as far away in Lucknow, considered a bastion of Shia culture and faith.

Nasr, who also wrote “Mawdudi and the Making of Islamic Revivalism” (1996), noted the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami and a proponent of propagating “true” Islam was not violent himself, but his “children have become more intolerant”.

On Iraq, he noted Shias and Sunnis look on its post-2003 politics differently the former see it as the first modern Shia Arab state, but the latter were disturbed at the loss of a country that contained the Shia “threat” and through the US, seen as their reliable ally against Khomeini’s Iran.

Matters were further complicated by the Arab Spring “which did to several Arab states what the US Army had done to Iraq broke down the state”, he said, noting the implosion in several authoritarian Sunni states, taken to its logical conclusion of democracy and elections would have disturbing consequences for Sunnis, especially in places like Bahrain given Iraq’s example.

“That is why the IS, which is trying to roll back Iranian gains in Iraq, and wrest Syria for the Sunnis, has struck a political resonance with its goal of a Sunni caliphate,” said Nasr.(IANS)(image: thesimmonsreview.com)

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Diesel Exhaust Converted Into Ink by Indian Innovators To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

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representational image. VOA

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest.

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye.

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up.

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using.

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.
An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems.

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink.

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon.

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.
Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says.

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere.

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms.

Also Read: Exposure to Traffic-Related Pollution Poses Threat of Asthma in Kids

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. (VOA)