Exclusive: A Truly Inspiring Narrative with Historical Photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 1966 Visit to Iringa, Tanzania

“On November 4, 1966, as Mawlana Hazar Imam’s plane circled the Iringa airport, there was palpable excitement as the leaders of the Jamat anxiously awaited the arrival of our beloved Imam. Mawlana Hazar Imam had taken a break on his extended tour of East Africa to return to Europe to attend to some personal matter. Iringa was the second stop on his return visit from Europe. As the ebullient Imam emerged from his plane, without regard to his evident infirmary, with plastered foot and a walking cane, Jamati leaders’ ecstatic emotions turned to one of unexpected concern. But the Imam was quick to calm the leaders’ fears about his infirmed foot.” — PLEASE CLICK TO READ COMPLETE ARTICLE

His Highness the Aga Khan in Iringa Tanzania
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, with a plastered foot, lays the foundation stone of the Iringa Sports Complex during his extensive visit to East African countries in 1966. Please click on photo for an exceptional narrative of the visit as well as more photos.

Date posted: September 21, 2020.

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Former Daily Nation Chief Reporter Produces a Special Souvenir to Commemorate 60th Anniversary of Paper founded by His Highness the Aga Khan

Reviewed by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

(Special Edition Yesterday at the Nation by Cyprian Fernandes, published by Cyprian Fernandes, Pendle Hill NSW Australia, printed and produced by Australian Trade Printers, April 2020. 132 pp.)

The Daily Nation was my favourite newspaper in Dar es Salaam, along with the Tanganyika Standard (later the Standard and then the Daily News). The popular Kenyan newspaper founded by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, first rolled off at the press as a Sunday newspaper on March 20, 1960, and then as a daily on October 3 of the same year.

The paper would arrive in Dar es Salaam from Nairobi in an afternoon flight. At around 6 PM, our 2nd floor neighbour at Islamabad Flats on United Nations Road, (Late) Akbar Ladha, would knock on my door on his way up and hand me a copy of the paper. He and Sherali Bhai owned a prestigious camera shop on Dar es Salaam’s Independence Avenue, and received letters and packages from all over the world from their clients and suppliers. Akber Bhai knew I was an avid stamp collector, and he would pass all foreign envelopes to me.

On Saturday afternoon, I would cycle to downtown to get my own copy of the early editions of the Sunday Nation and the Sunday Post — without the English premier league results! I became conversant with many of the Nation’s columnists, writers and photographers as well as editors. Among them were Philip Ochieng (who would later join the Tanzania’s Daily News for a brief period), Kul Bhushan who reviewed Indian films, sports writer and editor Norman da Costa, chief reporter Cyprian Fernandes, Ismaili reporter Sultan Jessa and photographer Azhar Chaudary, among several others.

The Daily Nation 60th anniversary souvenir edition by Cyprian Fernandes
Front cover of special souvenir edition to mark the 60th anniversary of the Nation. The portraits are of Nation journalists, deceased as well as living. Photo: Cyprian Fernandes / Yesterday at the Nation.

Many years later, I had the fortune of meeting the Nation’s Bill Fairbain in Ottawa. Author of a number of books in recent years, he contributed a special piece for Simerg. Then, I connected with Sultan Jessa who invited me to his home in Montreal and handed me a collection of photos taken by Azhar Chaudary, which were reproduced in Barakah and Simerg. Sultan passed away in 2019. I prepared a tribute to him and linked it to a much longer piece I had written earlier in Simerg.

Cyprian Fernandes Daily Nation Chief Reporter Simerg
The many faces of Cyprian Fernandes through the years as they appear in his souvenir publication, “Yesterday at the Nation.” Photo: Cyprian Fernandes / Yesterday at the Nation.

Last December, I received a note from the Nation’s former chief reporter Cyprian Fernandes, who has made his home in New South Wales, Australia. He wanted to reproduce my article on Sultan Jessa in a special “not for sale” souvenir to mark the 60th birthday of the paper that he stated in his email to me was “my other mother, The Nation.” I was glad to oblige. When the publication was ready in April 2020, Cyprian mailed two copies to me by Australia’s Post Express — including one to give to Sultan Jessa’s widow, Rosila. I kept on tracking the package for weeks. Due to Covid-19, it never left Australia by air. Instead, I would learn several weeks later, that it was sent by surface. I received “Yesterday at the Nation” just last week!

The Daily Nation 60th anniversary souvenir edition by Cyprian Fernandes
“Once when they were young,” from left Nation’s Polycarp Fernandes, Fibi Munene, Norman da Coata, Alfred Araujo and Sultan Jessa. Photo: Cyprian Fernandes / Yesterday at the Nation.

Cyprian commences his souvenir book by producing the introductory note that appeared on the front page of the Nation on the first day of its publication, March 20, 1960. He then says that the souvenir “was made possible by the articles provided by former Nation colleagues and the writings and obituaries of colleagues who have gone before us.”

In his preface “Once Upon a Time” Cyprian notes the brilliant work that Gerry Loughran did chronicling the first 50 years in “Birth of a Nation, The Story of a Newspaper in Kenya” (available in paperback or kindle edition at Amazon).

But for this 60th anniversary souvenir produced completely independently, Cyprian wanted to go further and he therefore dug deep to find more stories about the paper and from the paper. One thing he has done most admirably is to recognize the surviving and deceased journalists who worked at the Nation as well as those whom he tried hard to locate but was unsuccessful to get in touch with. His focus is on the period 1960-1975, a little over the time he himself spent at the paper.

The Daily Nation 60th anniversary souvenir edition by Cyprian Fernandes
Back cover of a special souvenir edition to mark the 60th anniversary of the Nation. The portraits are of Nation journalists, deceased as well as living. Photo: Cyprian Fernandes / Yesterday at the Nation.

The 132 page souvenir contains previous articles by Michael Curtis (1920-2004) who Mawlana Hazar Imam first recruited as a speech writer and publicity organizer when he became Imam in 1957; experiences at the Nation by numerous editors such as Jack Beverley (Sunday Nation editor from 1962-64), Jon Bierman (Daily Nation, 1960-63), Joe Rodriques, Boaz Omori and Hilary Ng’weno among others. In reading their stories, one learns about the challenges the editors and journalists faced when they were bold in their opinions about heads of state or on local and international political issues. As we find out from Cyprian’s book many were fired or forced to resign or even ended up in jails. One, a news editor by the name of Mike Chester, was expelled from Kenya due to mistaken identity!

One particular event that was reported well, and has been reproduced in the Souvenir, is when Kenya successfully launched the San Marco’s satellite into equatorial orbit from Malindi. Adrian Grimwood’s column in the Sunday Nation of November 12, 1972 explains what would likely take place on the day of the launch. The launch itself was reported on the front page of the Daily Nation’s coast edition with the headline “Kenya in the Space Age.”

A tragic story that Cyprian includes in his souvenir is that of the extraordinary photographer and front line cameraman Mohamed “MO” Amin who was at the right place at the right time when Kenyan cabinet minister Tom Mboya was assassinated. Within a couple of minutes of being shot, Mo Amin was there to record on still and movie cameras, like the photo that is shown below. The souvenir also notes Mo Amin’s coverage of the 1984 Ethiopian famine in that it proved to be so compelling that it inspired a collective global conscience and became the catalyst for the greatest-ever act of giving. “Unquestionably,” the souvenir notes, “it also saved the lives of millions of men, women, and children.”

The Daily Nation 60th anniversary souvenir edition by Cyprian Fernandes Tom Mboya assassination
Within a couple of minute’s of the Kenyan Minister Tom Mboya being shot on Nairobi’s main street, Mo Amin was there to record on still and movie cameras, like the photo shown here. Photo via Cyprian Fernandes / Yesterday at the Nation.
The Daily Nation 60th anniversary souvenir edition by Cyprian Fernandes Mo Amin Photo
Mo Amin in Ethiopia at the height of drought crisis. Photo via Cyprian Fernandes / Yesterday at the Nation.

Mo Amin died in a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines plane that crash landed in November 1996 in the Comoros Islands. It is said that he died standing while still negotiating with the hijackers until the moment of the crash.

A great piece in the souvenir is about Joe Rodriques, who spent 18 years at the Nation, the final few as the paper’s Editor-in- Chief. During his tenure, The Daily Nation was accused by President Moi’s government of assuming the role of an opposition party and selecting news on a sectarian and tribally motivated basis. Rodriques had written an editorial against the Government when the long time Kenyan politician and opposition leader Oginga Odinga was banned from standing in a by-election. Rodriques was arrested and interrogated. The souvenir notes that “The Nation published an apology of sorts, assuring the government of its support, but actually without using the word apology. This was the beginning of the end of Joe Rodriques, as Editor-in-Chief and his own 18 year association with the paper.”

The Daily Nation 60th anniversary souvenir edition by Cyprian Fernandes profile of Sultan Jessa
A page from Simerg’s 4 page piece on Sultan Jessa from “Yesterday at the Nation” by Cyprian Fernandes.

Writing for himself, Cyprian Fernandes observes, “I owe the Nation — everyone who worked in editorial, photographic, proofreading, the compositors, advertising, Karo and Kano the drivers — and everyone else at Nation House the greatest debt of my life. Thanks for giving me a journalistic life that has spanned nearly 60 years and like Johnny Walker still keeps on walking — for the moment at least.”

He ends his detailed narrative about his days at the Nation with the following anecdote:

“I was travelling with the then Vice President Daniel arap Moi and his wife to Botswana. All went well, except for two things: The VP’s security kept his spare bullets by a candle in his bedroom…there was a lot of bang bang. When I tried to phone my story in via Johannesburg, the operator at the other end let loose a torrent of racist abuse including telling me to ask my wife and taste the real thing….and lots more. Unfortunately for him, the President of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, was in the room and listened in. A few weeks later I received an official apology from the South African government and an invitation to visit South Africa as (an honorary white man).”

Cyprian’s love for “my other mother, The Nation” is deep and sincere. The souvenir edition has been prepared, printed and mailed out from his own personal resources. I was delighted to receive a personalized signed copy and thank him for a volume that I will cherish for the rest of my life. It is one of very few copies that has been produced, and I am indeed lucky to be among the recipients. I hope a demand for the souvenir will prompt Cyprian to come up with a larger printer run for interested readers to purchase. The Daily Nation’s 60th anniversary falls on October 3, 2020.

Date posted: August 27, 2020.

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click on Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Drape Pacchedi Simerg

The Drape, and an Invitation to Singers to Set up a Geet

By S. GIGA PATNEY
Special to Simerg  

A hundred years ago Katchhi and Kathiawadi Ismaili Khoja Muslims sailed to Africa and Zanzibar to make a living. Today, they have prospered in America, Canada and Europe. They wear western clothes, live in palatial homes and drive expensive cars but in the homes they still speak their rustic dialect and they remember the ‘pacchedi’ (Khoja Muslim head drape) their mothers wore.

The ‘Pacchedi Geet’ in a folk song form, is written in Gujarati, ‘transcreated’ in English, and transliterated in Roman script. The song is composed to remember and celebrate the pioneers who left India a century ago but kept memories of their homeland alive.

My thanks to Sultan Somjee for permission to use the bandhani image, and Zahir Dhalla for transcribing in Gujarati script.

I welcome singers to set up a geet with the lyrics that have been provided below. Recordings or questions regarding the geet may be sent directly to me at safder8@gmail.com or to the editor of Simerg at simerg@aol.com.

Drape Pacchedi Simerg

Drape
(Khoja Pacched̨̨i)

Kohl-grey silk
Studded with white stars
A border of a thousand flowers.
Mother, how many colours under your drape?

Milk, oudh and attar
Strands of jasmine hanging,
Underneath, I sleep in deep slumber.
Mother, these are the colours under your drape.

Ghee, molasses,
Apricots and raisins.
Mother, your bread tastes so sweet.
Mother, what colours under your drape?

Storms, thunder
And lightening!
Frightened, I hide under your drape.
Mother, colours like these under your drape.

Witches, warlocks
Ghosts and giants
Scare me not under the shade of your drape.
Mother, colours like these under your drape.

With tables and chairs
We built boats
And flew sails made out of your drape.
Mother, how many colours under your drape?

Leaving home
We crossed the seas.
We spread Giga Patney’s patola.
Mother, how can I break from the ties of your drape?

Your eyes closed,
Your soul departed.
We draped you in rosy pink.
Mother, colours like these under your drape.

_________________

પછેડી
(Gujarati)

Drape Pacchedi Simerg

સુરમય રેશમ
માથે ધોળા તારા
ચારે કોર હજાર ફૂલ ની પટ્ટી …..૧
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની પાછળ કેટલા રંગ ?

દૂધ ઊધ ને અંતર
માથે ટાંક્યા મોતિયા
છાયેં હું સુવું ઊંડી નીંદરે …..૨
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની પાછળ એવા રંગ!

ઘી ગોળ અને
સૂકો મેવો
મા, મને મીઠી લાગે તારી રોટલી …..૩
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની નીચે કેવા રંગ ?

વાયુ વીજળી
મેધા ઘરજે
હું ડરી સંતાઉ પછેડી ની નીચે …..૪
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની પાછળ એવા રંગ!

ડાકણ દઈંત
ભૂત રાક્ષસ
મને ન ડરાવે પછેડી ના છાયેં …..૫
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની પાછળ તેવા રંગ.

મેજ ખુરસી ના
વાણ બનાવયા
ઊપર ઊડાડીયા પછેડી ના સઢ …..૬
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની નીચે તેવા રંગ.

દેસ છોડી
દરિયા તરીયા
ગીગા પટણી ના પટોળા પાથરીયા …..૭
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની પછળ કેમ છોળું ?

આંખ મીચાણી
જીવ ઊડયાં
ઓઢાળી તને ગુલાબી પછેડી…..૮
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની નીચે એવા રંગ.

_________________

Pached̨i
(Gujarati transliteration)

Drape Pacchedi Simerg

Surmai resham
Mathé d̨̨hod̨a tara
Chąré kor hajjar ful ni putti
Maai tari pacched̨I ni pacchad̨ ketla rung

Dooth, oodh ne antar
Mathé tankya motia
Cchayeñ huñ suwuuñ oondi ninderé
Maai tari pacched̨i ni pacchad ewa rung

Ghee, ghor̨̨
Ané sooko mewo
Ma mané mith̨I lagé tari rotli
Maai tari pached̨i ni niché kewa rung

Wayuñ, wijad̨i
Megha gharajé
Huñ santauñ durri pacched̨I ni niché
Maai tari pached̨i ni niché kewa rung

Dakan̨, dayint
Bhoot, rakshas
Mané na darawé pachced̨I na cchayeñ
Maai tari pacched̨̨i ni pacchad̨ tewa rung

Mej khud̨si na
Waan̨ banawya
Ooper oodad̨̨iya pacched̨̨I na suddh
Maai tari pacched̨i ni niché kewa rung

Des cchod̨̨i
Dariya tariyañ
Giga Patney na patol̨a pathariyañ
Ma tari pacched̨i ni pucchud̨ kem cchod̨uñ?

Aankhyuñ michan̨̨i
Jeev oodiyañ
Odh̨ad̨̨i tunné gulabi pacched̨̨i
Ma tari pacched̨i ni niché ewa rung

Retroflex d̨, n̨ as in fud̨ (fruit) and pan̨i (water)
Nasal ñ as in French ‘pain’ and Portuguese ‘paű’ (bread)
Dental t as in tű (you) and d as in diwas (day)

_________________

Pached̨i
(Kachchhi transliteration)

Drape Pacchedi Simerg

Surmai resham
Muthé d̨̨hod̨a tara
Chąré kor hajjar ful ji putti
Maai toji pacched̨I ji pudthia kitra rung?

Dooth, oodh ne antar
Muthé tungya motia
Cchayeñ niche awuñ suwañ oondi ninder mé
Maai tojii pacched̨i ji pudthia heda rung

Ghee, ghor̨̨
né sooko mewo
Ma muké mith̨i lagé tojii mani
Maai tojii pached̨i ji niché heda rung

Wayuñ, wijad̨i
Megha gharajé
Awuñ dhirji santayañ pacched̨I ji niché
Maai toji pached̨i ji niché heda rung

Dakan̨, dayint
Bhoot, rakshas
Muké na dhirjai pachced̨I ja cchayeñ
Maai tojii pacched̨̨i ji pudthia heda rung

Mej khud̨si ja
Waan̨ banayasi
Ooper oodariasi pacched̨̨I ja suddh
Maai toji pacched̨i ji niché keda rung?

Des cchod̨̨i
Dariyo tariyasi
Giga Patney ja patol̨a pathariyañsi
Maai toii pacched̨i ji pucchud̨ kiñ cchod̨yañ?

Aankhyuñ michan̨̨i
Jeev oodiyañ
Odh̨ad̨̨i toké gulabi pacched̨̨i
Maai toji pacched̨i ji niché heda rung

Retroflex d̨, n̨ as in fud̨ (fruit) and pan̨i (water)
Nasal ñ as in French ‘pain’ and Portuguese ‘paű’ (bread)
Dental t as in tű (you) and d as in diwas (day)

Date posted: August 15, 2020.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

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This piece is also available as a PDF File, and may be downloaded by clicking on The Drape PDF.

S. Giga Patney, Simerg The Drape Pacchedi
S. Giga Patney

S. Giga Patney has taught English as a Foreign Language in Japan, Portugal and England; and English as a Second Language in England and Canada. He won the Teacher Fellowship at the University of London Institute of Education when he was a teacher with the Inner London Education Authority. He was Head of Language Service In Berkshire, UK and Principal Lecturer in the Department of Teaching Studies at The University of North London. He joined the Department of Language Education at the University of British Columbia, Canada to teach on their post-graduate program. He has now retired and lives in the interior of British Columbia where he does his creative writing.

Books by the author:

Literary Fiction:
The Shiv-Shivani Trilogy:
Book 1: Shiva – Lord of Dance – A Novel in Raga Bhairava
Book 2: Shivani’s Story – A Novel in Raga Bhairavi
Book 3: Shivani’s Dance of Destruction – A Novel in Four Movements.

Fact-fiction:
Ties of Bandhana- The Story of Alladin Bapu

Facetiae:
The Alchemist Quartet
Book 1: The Alchemist and the Prince – A Story of the Prince With a Nut in His Navel
Book 2: The Alchemist’s Manuscript – Of the Travels of the Merchant of Yemen & His servant in the Erythrean Sea as Related to the Alchemist of Gozo, the Younger
Book 3: The Alchemist and the Empire of Evil
Book 4 (Forthcoming): The Alchemist and the Indian Boy

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Brief notes on 3 books by Ismaili poet Ayaz Pirani, inspired by the oral tradition of Ginans

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor Simerg (2009), Simergphotos (2012) and Barakah (2017)

When Ayaz Pirani is in your neighbourhood doing a reading from one of his books, please attend the event. You will become utterly relaxed listening to his beautiful poetry reading in a calm, gentle and soothing voice. He was in Toronto last year and I attended his reading at Knife Fork Books on 244 Augusta Avenue in the vibrant Kensington Market Area. I couldn’t locate the place easily, and even the NU Bügel staff did not know there was beautiful poetry being served upstairs on a regular basis. After a few more inquiries, I climbed a few set of stairs, excused myself for arriving a little bit late and sat to listen to Ayaz! The small crowd, mainly a gathering of Ismaili youth and professionals, kept urging Ayaz to continue with his reading, and he graciously complied. Meeting him later, I came away even more convinced of the nobility of his heart and soul. I acquired Kabir’s Jacket Has a Thousand Pockets but had to put it away in storage with my other books, as I was preparing to leave for Vancouver to be with my mum. I never got to reading the book nor interviewing this highly gifted literary personality in the Ismaili community. Recently, I asked him to present a short overview of his titles. I am delighted to present his piece below. Links to some on-line stores selling Ayaz’s books are provided at the end of the piece. I look forward to interviewing this literary jewel in the coming months, once my nomadic life style comes to an end!

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“My love of ginans is various and unending. They have the charms and rhetorical force of written language as well as the emotional and nourishing elements of oral tradition” — Ayaz Pirani

Ayaz Pirani author of Happy you are here and Kabir has a thousand Pockets
Ayaz Pirani reading from “Happy You Are Here” at Old Capitol Books in Monterey, California. Photo: Ayaz Pirani.

By AYAZ PIRANI

With my first book, Happy You Are Here, I began to wrestle with geography and humanness in my poems. Canadian poet Suzanne Buffam called Happy You Are Here “tender and intimate” and Heather Birrell said “Ayaz Pirani positions himself as a kind of plainspoken anti-prophet, bringing human nosiness and gratitude to a number of subjects—displacement and immigration, the oak woods of the Arroyo Seco, a mother’s love, a pub in Toronto…—as well as the more mysterious geographies of the soul.”

My second book, Kabir’s Jacket Has a Thousand Pockets, was described as “wisdom poetry” that was “surprising and sly” by New England poet David Rivard. All of my work, including my new chapbook, Bachelor of Art, is informed by my affection for Ginans. Perhaps for this reason Rivard felt they were tinged with perennial truths.

My love of Ginans is various and unending. They have the charms and rhetorical force of written language as well as the emotional and nourishing elements of oral tradition. When a Ginan is experienced in situ, that is, in a Jamatkhana, there is further the resonances that come from a living heritage.

Happy You Are Here was reviewed in The Dalhousie Review and Qwerty Magazine and my individual poems have recently appeared in The Malahat Review, ARC Poetry Magazine, and The Antigonish Review.

Bachelor of Art by Ayaz Pirani
Cover of Bachelor of Art features a calligram of Hazrat Ali as the Tiger of God

My new work, Bachelor of Art, is a chapbook of poems. Individual poems include “Ali’s Tiger,” “Nutshells,” and “Sat Panth.” It’s a bit hard to talk about my own work without sounding pretentious, especially when it’s a genre like poetry which has so many romantic associations. In my work I’m trying to describe a particular diaspora experience by finding resources in various treasuries: ginans, divans (of Kabir, Ghalib, et al.), and English literature. I suppose I’m conscious of trying to situate my poems as a Canadian experience as well. I’m drawn to subjects like loneliness, immigration, faith, human awkwardness, love.

~~~~~~~

Ayaz Pirani’s books are available in local bookstores and online at Amazon and Chapters-Indigo. His new book, Bachelor of Art, is currently available from Anstruther Press for $10. The cover features a calligram of Hazrat Ali as the tiger of God.

Date posted: June 30, 2020.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

____________________

We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

Photograph shows James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. LOC photo reproduced in Simerg

A lesson in Black history in a classroom in Jinja, Uganda: The case of Mississippi’s African-American James Meredith

Editor’s note: The following special piece for Simerg by UK’s Shiraz Pradhan is the second in Simerg’s series of articles on the subject of race, inequality, cultural diversity and pluralism. The first article in the series was President Kennedy’s address on June 13, 1963 to the Americans on the subject of Civil Rights. Shiraz’s piece has been adapted from a chapter in his latest novel “Michelangelo in Jinja” and contains illustrations that do not form part of his novel. Following the article, we have a video of a fascinating talk delivered at the US Library of Congress by Henry T. Gallagher that details the events, including the riot, that took place during the admission of the first black American student, James Meredith, to the University of Mississippi. Mr. Gallagher was among the 20,000 troops that were dispatched by President Kennedy to restore law and order in Mississippi during the riot. He was also personally responsible for looking after the safety of Mr. Meredith.

Stranglehold on Neck of Black People

A frontispiece illustration in "The Child's Anti-Slavery Book…, New York, [1860], showing an African-American slave father leaving his family as he is sold away from his family. Photo: US Library of Congress. Reproduced in Simerg.
A frontispiece illustration in “The Child’s Anti-Slavery Book…, New York, [1860], showing an African-American slave father leaving his family as he is sold away from his family. Photo: US Library of Congress.

By SHIRAZ PRADHAN

When James Meredith was being admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi as its first African-American student, the Uganda Argus carried a cryptic headline “Segregation Defeated”. This simple headline, in the months and years that followed, would change the history of Uganda and rest of Africa.

This event caused great joy in our part of the world and fueled the Ugandan ambition for independence. But in the next several weeks the story turned ugly as many white people of Mississippi and other southern states of the USA reacted violently to black encroachment on the white domain of university education and other civil privileges, forcing President John F. Kennedy to send troops in order to restore law and order.

Yes, it was that stark – blatant denial of black rights! The Meredith saga acted as a catalyst for the re-emergence of the Civil Rights Movement in the US originally started by Martin Luther King in 1954.

Photograph shows James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. LOC photo reproduced in Simerg
Photograph shows James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. Photo: Marion S. Trikosko / US Library of Congress via U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection.

Mr Batra, our history teacher. seized on the Meredith story to shift his focus from Western and Eastern philosophies to philosophy of action and human rights. He said that philosophy, search for God and reaching nirvana were only words if they did not improve human condition. “As important as God is,” he said, “concern for human condition is no less. We have a duty to our fellow beings. God would wish for that. Today, I will talk about people whose philosophies were based on actions to improve the conditions of their people. More importantly, I will speak about the struggles of black people of America.”

Our teacher electrified the class. Jinja Secondary School in those days was called Indian Secondary School. William Wilberforce and Joseph Bufumbiro where the first native Ugandans who had joined our class. We had become aware of black aspirations. Africa in the 1960s was a smoldering tinder, ready to burst into flames at the slightest wind. The apartheid in South Africa was a stranglehold on the neck of Black People of South Africa. The Sharpeville massacre of innocent blacks in South Africa was fresh in our minds. Ian Smith of South Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) was ready to crush the hopes of black people for an equitable independence with one-man-one-vote and was conniving with the British to declare a minority White Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), which he did in 1965.

The Mau Mau Insurgency for independence that lasted from 1952-1960 in our neighboring Kenya and the subsequent killings of the innocent Kikuyu people by the British was a pink-elephant in the room that no one wanted to mention.

Rolling a chalk-stick in his hand, Mr. Batra sensed our mood and continued. “We will shift our attention to that part of American history that was saddening. In the 1900s, the freed African-American slaves, still called by the derogatory term ‘negroes’, were struggling to gain equality.

Booker T Washington, Library of Congress Photo, reproduced in Simerg
Booker T. Washington, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing front; created / published between 1880 and 1890. Photograph possibly by Harry Shepherd. Photo: Booker T. Washington Collection, US Library of Congress.

Booker T. Washington was the first freed slave who had gained high prominence in politics in Washington, DC in the early 1900s. He was an advocate for building African-American economic strength, which he argued would give them the desired freedoms and equality. At this date, although freed, the African-American had no voting rights and no protection under the law. The lynching of black people for petty crimes or in some cases no crimes had accelerated. The whites made sure that black enterprises failed.

Booker T. Washington revolted against this white tyranny and sought to protect the senseless lynching of black people. The constitution drawn-up by the founding fathers of US recognized equal rights but in reality the rights of the black people were ignored. With no legal avenues at his disposal Booker T. Washington agreed to the only compromise solution to protect the rights of black people and save them from murder and lynching. This solution came to be known as the Atlanta Convention.

Agreed in 1905, this illegal convention was never written down. In it, the white establishment demanded that black people forego voting rights, agree only to basic education with no right to university education and no equality in law. The last dehumanizing demand of white people was for a forced segregation of black people in return for limited safety in law and basic freedom.

A poster in the collection of US Library of Congress condemning the South African apartheid policies, reproduced in Simerg
A poster designed and created in 1976 by Wilfred Owen Brigade condemning the South African apartheid regime, and showing support of the international boycott. Photo: US Library of Congress.

The white people of South Africa learned apartheid from this page of US history. Although not fully satisfactory, the Atlanta Convention stopped the senseless lynching and persecution of the black people. This was the singular achievement of Booker T. Washington.

As an afterthought, Mr Batra added, “The importance of James Meredith story that you read in Uganda Argus is that it has taken fifty years for one black student to challenge the unwritten, unlawful Atlanta Convention. The reaction of the white people of the south US demonstrates that white attitude towards the black people has not changed since the abolition of slavery.”

In his characteristic fashion, Mr Batra had not finished jarring our senses with impactful and unjust events from history. He had saved the most powerful of these for the last. He concluded his lesson by saying, “You will study the life of Abraham Lincoln in your literature class next year. He was the 35th president of the US. He abolished slavery in the US and restored human dignity. You would think that this would be a joyful achievement for the US and for Mr Lincoln. Unfortunately, he was silenced like Mahatma Gandhi by an assassin’s bullet soon after proclamation of the abolition of slavery.”

Caption in this illustration by Udo J. Keppler reads: "President Roosevelt: Lincoln emancipated you, the people gave you citizenship and I'll protect your rights."
Caption in this illustration by Udo J. Keppler reads: “President Roosevelt: Lincoln emancipated you, the people gave you citizenship and I’ll protect your rights.” The illustration shows President Theodore Roosevelt, standing with right hand on the left shoulder of an African American man, standing to the left, and his left hand on a paper labeled “15th Amendment”; behind them is a statue labeled “Lincoln – With Malice Toward None With Charity Toward all” showing Abraham Lincoln standing at the top with freed African American slaves. Section 1 of the 15th Amendment of the American Constitution reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Section 2 then goes on to declare, “The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” Photo: US Library of Congress.

I asked. “Sir, why does every great life end in a tragedy?” Mr Batra thought for a while, before he answered: “Historically the human was a hunter-gatherer. His survival depended on defending his territory and maintaining superiority over others by dehumanizing and enslaving the enemy. The ancient humans hunted in bands. Anyone not belonging to the band was an enemy. This is the human instinct. In this sense a band can be any group with common interest and common characteristics such as race, color or religion. Anyone that challenges this convention is an enemy who needs to be dealt with.”

African-Americans with wagon pointing guns at slave-catchers, Library of Congress photo reproduced in Simerg
An illustration entitled ‘A bold stroke for freedom in “William Still, The Underground Railroad” 1872, p. 125, depicting African-Americans with wagon pointing guns at slave-catchers. Photo: US Library of Congress.

In the coming years the situation in Africa became grim as the apartheid grip on South Africa became stronger, Southern Rhodesia sunk in to a quagmire and Algeria began a war for independence from its French master. It was this one lesson with Mr Batra that gave us the motivation to pick up banners to end tyranny in Africa and to fight for justice for Nelson Mandela when the illegal South African regime tried him for treason.

Watch an important webcast presented by the US Library of Congress

SUMMARY: In September 1962, James Meredith became the first African American admitted to the University of Mississippi. A milestone in the civil rights movement, his admission triggered a riot spurred by a mob of 3,000 whites from across the South and all-but-officially stoked by the state’s segregationist authorities. The escalating conflict prompted President John F. Kennedy to send in 20,000 regular Army troops, in addition to federalized Mississippi National Guard soldiers, to restore law and order. “James Meredith and the Ole Miss Riot” is the memoir of one of the participants, a young Army second lieutenant named Henry T. Gallagher, born and raised in Minnesota.

VIDEO: James Meredith & the Ole Miss Riot

Date posted: June 12, 2020.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

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About the author: Shiraz Pradhan is a professional engineer, writer and philosopher. He grew up in Uganda and attended universities in Kenya and Pennsylvania, USA, and graduated with advanced degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics. As part of his involvement in several mega-project across the world, he has lived and worked in several countries in North and South America, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Europe. This has given him a globalist world-view which flavours his writings. His first novel Dancing with Shadows was published in 2015. Michelangelo in Jinja is his second book. Summing his writing, Pacific Book Review said: “Pradhan’s work is the first one I’m aware that is actively Globalist.” Shiraz has a keen interest in Judaeo-Christian History, Islamic Studies, Sufism and philosophies of the Vedas and Upanishads. With his interest and familiarity with several languages and dialects, Shiraz has specialized in the study of ancient and medieval devotional traditions of South Asia including the Nizari Ismail Ginans. He has published several essays and articles on these subjects, many of which have been published on this website. He is currently completing a book titles Amarapuri, the Abode of Eternity for publication in late 2020.  He is the Chairman of the Association of the Study of Ginans which specializes in the preservation, study and research of the ancient Ginans. Shiraz currently lives in the UK with his family.

Ismailis on social media: You need to take care and STOP indiscriminate likes, follows and forwards!

Aniza Meghani, Simerg
Social media portrait of Aniza Meghani, author of this post.

[A TRULY SHOCKING FORWARD: On Monday May 5, 2020, Simerg received numerous WhatsApp and email messages that stated “MHI has donated 250 million Euros towards the vaccine for COVID-19.” That misleading note was based on the wrong reading of a headline in the Portuguese newspaper noticiasaominuto  which said, “Imamat Ismaili dá 250 mil euros para o combate à Covid-19, and spread like fire around the world. Without even considering to do a (FREE!) google translate, the person(s) forwarding the note assumed that 250 mil euros in the headline represented 250 million euros! Utilizing Google translate would have informed the first sender(s) of the message that the amount is actually 250 thousand and not 250 million — mil denotes a thousand in Portuguese. Aniza Meghani in the following piece asks us to verify facts properly before rushing to accept and like everything that appears to look good on social media. The same care should be exercised with messaging applications. It becomes the duty of the recipient to conduct preliminary fact checking, through translations if necessary, before forwarding messages to their friends and group members. Once forwarded, the rippling effects are enormous, and almost impossible to reverse in a timely manner! A lot of time of precious time was lost in responding to individuals who sent out that error filled message. — Ed.]

By ANIZA MEGHANI

Social media is the most powerful tool in the world, one that can make you or break you! Gone are the days of hearing genuine news by physically buying the newspaper or researching material by visiting the good old fashion library. No more writing a letter and posting it before you patiently wait for a reply. THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER AT A TOUCH OF A BUTTON. That is the most dangerous part of it all. We simply access, copy, paste and distort leaving a trail of one’s data history. Data that others can still access. That is more worrying because if you are not careful, it will come back and haunt you when you least expect it. This is critical for students of today when applying for university places or jobs.

Be warned, in certain places as soon as you enter a building, your mobile will give them your history without you even knowing. Now that’s scary! So today, we have within our community, weblinks that allow us to access our Jamati activity and keep us informed. However, with so much misleading information and sites, let us protect ourselves and safeguard our community. To do so, I thought why not show examples of misleading sites that are harmful and painful.

Almost all Ismailis today, traversing through all age groups, from old to young, from those who are fully conversant in the English language to those who do not understand even basic words of English, everybody is on or wants to be on social media.

As Ismailis we are particularly drawn to those pages or sites which display beautiful photographs of our beloved Imam and members of his family, whom we respectfully refer as the Noorani family. Many of us immediately post a ‘like’ or reply with “Yam” wherever we see a photograph of Hazar Imam or his name.

Many of us even join these groups or sites or pages just because the name of Hazar Imam and his photograph are in the title.

I am writing this article because having just concluded reading the recently released Farman book containing the Jamati work Farmans from 2011-2013, it struck me as a matter of curiosity that Mawlana Hazar Imam, in these Farmans — as well as in the Lisbon Diamond Jubilee Darbar Farman — repeatedly stresses to us, his beloved children, to learn and understand English. My cocooned world is all about English, so it felt strange reading about the imperativeness of learning the global language of English.

It wasn’t until recently that I came across the danger of not knowing English well. Or perhaps even the dangers of not reading properly.

Social media is greatly to blame for this growing culture of posting likes to images and skimming through texts. Not really reading, not really absorbing the context of a post, just hitting the like or follow button on whatever pops up on the screen that catches your fancy, in this case, a photograph of Hazar Imam or his name.

It’s sad really. But something still needs to be done. Hence the purpose of this post.

There is a group, or maybe several groups, on social media that tend to post lovely photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam and the Noorani family. It’s heartening, I am sure, to see the glittering countenances of our Imam and the Noorani family, is it not? So, we click the like button and we follow that page or join that group – however, we are absolutely, intolerably clueless about the actual purpose of it. And then, bam! Out of the blue, the very same page posts a sacrilegious article about Hazar Imam, albeit coupled with a beatific photo of him.

Now, if you are a reader by nature, you would be highly scandalized. But if you’re a skimmer, or if you don’t understand English, or if you don’t bother to read the text and are just mesmerized by Mawla’s resplendent smile (I don’t blame you, but I do), you are treading on dangerous ground because you may inadvertently be joining a group that is anti-Imam, anti-Noorani family and anti-Ismaili.

My advice: whenever you see a photograph or name of Hazar Imam, refrain from putting a like or leaving a YAM reply or joining the group blindly. READ all the posts on that page –present and past — as well as read the website where the social media link takes you. And join or reply or like only if the page is in legitimate praise of Hazar Imam. Do the same for each quote, message and link that you receive, and don’t blindly re-forward a message that has been forwarded to you simply because it has come from a trustworthy or reliable source.

Because, as a murid of Hazar Imam, how can you — how can you approve of anything that mocks him, that belittles him, that spreads falsities and terrible lies about him and our faith? How can you be a part of that?

And do not forget that the administrators of these sites are very clever — they will post three very beautiful articles or photographs in praise of Hazar Imam, but then will slip in an article of hate speech against the Imam, the Noorani family and/or the Ismaili Community.

STOP THE ZOMBIE-LIKING BECAUSE IT HELPS SPUR THESE NEFARIOUS PEOPLE ON AND SUCH PAGES AND SITES TO FLOURISH! And please explain this to all of your friends and relatives who are on social media but who do not understand English. You have a duty to do this.

Date posted: May 4, 2020.
Last updated: May 5, 2020.

© Aniza Meghani / Simerg.

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Aniza Meghani
Aniza Meghani

Originally from Uganda, Aniza Meghani lives in London, England, and is an entrepreneur of textiles and couture fabrics.

We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

The Funeral of Missionary Amirali Gillani in the Midst of Covid-19 Restrictions

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un
“Surely we belong to God and to Him we return” — Holy Qur’an, 2:156

Ismaili Missionary Amirali Gillani Simerg tribute
Missionary Amirali Gillani passed away on April 8, 2020, and was buried in Toronto on April 14. Photo: Family Collection.

A Safe and Dignified Funeral

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos)

On Tuesday April 14, 2020, Missionary Amirali Gillani’s shrouded body rested inside a grey coloured coffin in the funeral hall of the Scarborough Jamatkhana. He had passed away from cancer on April 8 at the age of 75.

Only the missionary’s peaceful face was in view. The rest of his body which was covered in the white shroud, was under the coffin cover. The coffin did not rest on the floor. It had been placed on a strong roll away frame. Volunteers recited the Salwat in unison continuously, and gave comfort to the small size of mourners, a limit imposed by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario.

There were a total of 16 mourners in attendance for the funeral’s two separate viewing opportunities and the funeral rites. One viewing, including the funeral rites, was for immediate family members, and the second viewing was for other family members and friends. In both the viewings the mourners sat in groups of 4 in two rows in front of the body, keeping the required physical distance. At a normal funeral, there would have been several hundred in attendance. A dilsoji — a condolence gathering a day or two ahead of the funeral — would have attracted a large Ismaili crowd from across Toronto.

Missionary Gillani’s funeral became the first funeral to be made available for online viewing via a dedicated Youtube channel. The viewing was offered, following a trial period, to very close family members who could not physically be at the funeral due to provincial restrictions limiting gatherings to 5 or 10.

Wearing a face mask and gloves on their hands, each of the persons who had come to missionary Gillani’s funeral presented himself or herself beside the coffin, a meter or two away. In solitude, the mourner would spend between 60 to 80 seconds in contemplation, before giving way to the next person. Other Jamati funerals taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic have similar rules and restrictions in place.

Once the viewing and giving of last respects had ended, and the funeral rites were completed, the Muslim funeral procession prayer La Ilaha Illallah Muhammadur Rasulullah commenced. In a normal funeral, men line up in the large foyer of the Jamatkhana to touch or momentarily hold the coffin on their shoulders, uttering prayers for the soul of the deceased before it is transferred to a hearse. However, here there was no one in the foyer of the Jamatkhana. It was empty. The body was wheeled by the Mukhi, volunteers and male mourners into the hearse parked outside, for its 22 km journey to its final resting place — the picturesque Elgin Mills Cemetery.

A view of Elgin Mills Cemetery. Photo: Mount Plesant Group

At the gate of the cemetery, a guard verified each arriving guest against the list of names that he had been given by the Ismaili funeral committee. He guided the arriving mourners to Section 16 of the cemetery. At the site, there were only a few scattered cars, no more than eight. The hearse carrying the body then arrived. This time, instead of wheeling the coffin, as the ground gradient and conditions presented challenges, the volunteers carefully carried it to the grave. Mourners followed and gathered around the coffin, keeping a safe physical distance between one another. The Mukhisaheb of Scarborough Jamatkhana and a family member then each took a heap of soil in a spade, and spread it across the coffin. The Surah Ikhlas was recited (Ch. 112; Translation: “In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful. Say: He is God, the One. God, the Absolute. He begets not, nor was He begotten. And there is nothing comparable to Him”).

Normally the crowd would wait to see the body lowered into the grave, while continuing to recite Salwats and other prayers. Two volunteers would then descend into the grave to ensure its proper placement, stability and also conduct some last rites.

Physical distancing prevented that from occurring and the mourners returned to their cars. Using the same soil that had been been dug up to create the 6 foot deep grave, a tractor arrived to fill it. Once the on-site staff had completed their task of filling the grave and removing wooden planks and other objects around it, we were each handed incense sticks as we walked back to the burial site. Water was then poured on top of the freshly replaced soil by a family member and the Mukhisaheb of Scarborough Jamatkhana. We then honoured and paid respect to the missionary by placing the lit incense sticks we had been given over the top of the missionary’s final resting place.

All ten of us stepped back about 40 metres, and a Fateha for the deceased was then recited. We were standing in rows and kept our safe 2 metre distance from one another. During the recitation of the Fateha, my attention was suddenly drawn to two doves that landed 25 metres to my left. Their sounds in the midst of the Fateha being recited were beautiful and joyous to hear. Only Allah understands the language of birds, animals and insects, as well as everything that has life on this earth. A second Fateha was then recited for all of the deceased members of the Jamat. By then, the birds had flown away.

Mukhisaheb then gave everyone special blessings for attending the burial, and also prayed for the soul of the deceased. As much as we would have loved to, we left the site without shaking hands of the family and embracing them. We consoled them by placing our hands on our hearts, befitting the Islamic ethics of gratitude, humility and affection.

It was a different kind of a funeral to attend. However the dignity of the entire funeral ceremony was preserved. The Jamat has to thank the burial committee for the professionalism with which they are carrying out this extraordinary and noble service to bring comfort and peace to the mourning families and their friends, amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Their communication in every respect was outstanding, and emails and telephone calls received prompt attention.

As I headed back home, I thought of the two birds that had landed nearby as the Fateha for Missionary Gillani was being recited. They conveyed to me a profound message: Missionary Amirali Gillani had been ushered into the abode of peace.

Date posted: April 15, 2020.
Last updated: April 15, 2020 (10 AM ET: additional material added; factual corrections; typos).

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We received several tributes to Amirali Gillani when we first announced his death. They may be read by clicking HERE. Further tributes as well as your reactions with regard to recent passings during the Covid-19 pandemic, and how you and your family members dealt with the situation amid the challenges you faced, may be submitted by completing the feedback form below. If the form does not show, please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

Amid several Jamatkhana closures around the world due to Covid-19 let us all pray at home individually or as a family and seek to give hope, happiness and inspiration to vulnerable members of the Jamat

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Simerg and Muslim Harji
A Muslim offering prayers under the “Rock” where Abraham brought his son Ishmael for sacrifice. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ. Copyright.

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos)

When you have not missed a day in Jamatkhana attendance over the past several years, how do you cope with sudden and unforeseen closures of your favourite Jamatkhana? We live in difficult circumstances. Covid-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — has infected tens of thousands around the world and has been declared a pandemic, causing anxiety and worry. I left a pharmacy on Friday March 13 with a customer expressing, “it feels like death can approach anyone of us, and I just feel at the moment that I might die.” When I next visited a supermarket at around noon time, people were filling their shopping carts to the brim with supplies for their families. Ismaili institutions in Canada on the same day announced the closure of Jamatkhanas in several provinces around the country to protect the elderly and everyone who is vulnerable due to compromised immune systems. A similar decision was made by the USA Aga Khan Council for cities across many states on Saturday, March 14. Of course, these are also containment measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. These measures have also been necessary as a result of bans that have been imposed by state or provincial or even Federal authorities on large gatherings.

In 1979, I was left with a difficult situation of being the only Ismaili in Salt Lake City, Utah, for several months, until a family arrived just before I left the following summer. The nearest Jamatkhanas were in Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix, hundreds of miles away. I disciplined myself to pray regularly and the happiness and strength I achieved was comparable to my earlier praying days at 5 Palace Gate in London, England. In London, I had become a regular only in 1976, and before that attended Jamatkhanas only on Fridays at Central Hall when I was a student at the Polytechnic of North London. In Salt Lake City, I set aside a corner in my room for the purpose of praying. It was a tiny 12-15 sq ft space beside my bed. The night table contained my rosary (tasbih), with the drawers containing Farman and Ginan books along with a copy of the Holy Qur’an as well as some literary magazines and books. I performed my prayers in an identical fashion to what takes place in Jamatkhana — reciting the Du’a, Farmans and Ginans loudly as well as standing up for the tasbih. My heart and soul enjoyed the spiritual nourishment that I experienced even from praying alone. Chandraat (New Moon day or first day of the Islamic month) was a joyful day for me as I saw the new moon above the Wasatch Mountains that surround the Mormon capital. On my drive home in my roommate’s car, I looked forward to the special Chandraat prayers that I would recite.

A few years ago in Ottawa, I met and interviewed the eldest member of the Ismaily family, who was probably the first Ismaili to settle in Canada in the early 1950’s. He had met our beloved 48th Imam Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957), just before his lone settlement in a new country. He told me the late Imam asked him to set aside a small portion of his room and conduct his prayers in that space just as he would in a Jamatkhana. The Imam also asked him to keep away from bad and evil social habits, and to work hard. Mr. Ismaily abided, and said that the practice that he adopted of praying regularly in a designated space gave him immense strength, comfort and spiritual happiness.

So here are my recommendations to families where Jamatkhanas have been temporarily closed — and we don’t yet know for how long! Try as a family to pray together. Visit your parents or grandparents at their home, if you are not staying with them, and say to them that you would like to join them for prayers. When visiting them, if you are healthy, take precautions such as hand washing and other important recommended hygienic steps like the ones posted by the Government of Singapore.

Remember they have all of a sudden been deprived of the most valuable moments in their lives — being in Jamatkhanas. Tell them you will recite the Du’a out loud. Keep in mind that many elderly people rely on listening to the prayers recited by another person. Many do not have the capacity to recite the Du’a. Play or recite a ginan or qasida, and join together in tasbihs to help ease our difficulties that we are facing at the present time. Say Ya Allah, Ya Muhammad or Ya Ali. Recite Salwats. Recite the tasbihs of Allahu Akhbar (God is Great), Subhanallah (Glory be to God) and Alhamdulillah (All praise is due to Allah) suggested by the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S) to his beloved daughter Bibi Fatimah (A.S.). Say the tasbih of Ya Ali Tu Rahem Kar (O Ali be Merciful) Ya Mawla Tu Fazal Kar (O Lord [Ali] be gracious) that we recite during Jamati Satada (7 consecutive days of special prayers for the easing of difficulties). Remember, Mawlana Hazar Imam is our strength, so say Ya Shah Karim Ya Mawlana anta Quwati from the 5th part (O Shah Karim, You are my strength/support).

This is a perfect time to come together at home as families, with no live sporting distractions to take occupy our times! It is an opportunity to be together, to help each other out, to motivate each other, to connect more with our parents and children and to build family unity. It is also an opportunity to develop a balanced life, for those who are immersed with worldly issues, and engage more with our faith. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s blessings are with us constantly, and it is an opportune time to read his Farmans from the two-set Farman books that has just been published under his directive. Read them aloud to your children, siblings, parents and grandparents when you are around them.

These are my humble suggestions to ease through the anxious times that we face which is unprecedented in recent history.

May we continue to fulfill our spiritual responsibilities well during this difficult and anxious time in our lives to avail ourselves of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s constant blessings for our well-being, strength and mushkil asan (protection from difficulty).

Finally, as a subscriber to the National Geographic (NG) magazine, I would recommend this superb link containing educational and informative articles on the Coronavirus from the magazine’s fine writers and photographers. NG is making this information available without a paid subscription.

Date posted: March 13, 2020.
Last updated: March 21, 2020.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

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The Lost Archive by Marina Rustow: Splendid new book on the Fatimids looks at the caliphate’s robust culture of documentation; + 2 videos

The Lost Archive by Marina Rustow
The Lost Archive by Marina Rustow, published on January 14, 2020 by the Princeton University Press; Pages: 624; Size: 7 x 10 in. Illus: 83 color + 17 b/w illus. 4 maps. 4c throughout. To purchase hardcover, Kindle or Kobo versions see links at bottom of this page.

Very recently this website reproduced An interview with authors of Lost Maps of the Caliphs: A meticulous book about an extraordinary Fatimid manuscript illustrating the heavens and the earth as was known in 11th century Cairo.

Grabbing our attention now is a splendid new book on the Fatimids that looks at the caliphate’s robust culture of documentation. In an editorial review of the book, Konrad Hirschler of the Freie Universität Berlin describes Marina Rustow’s work “as a veritable magnum opus that will remain a point of reference for decades to come.” He also notes that “there are few books like this one that take the reader on such a long-distance journey across centuries and writing systems.”

The Lost Archive: Traces of a Caliphate in a Cairo Synagogue is Marina Rustow’s second work on the Fatimids. Her first one was entitled Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate. She is the Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East and professor of Near Eastern studies and history at Princeton University. She is director of the Princeton Geniza Lab and a MacArthur fellow. Her latest work is also praised by Geoffrey Khan, University of Cambridge, who states that “with great historiographical skill, Rustow brings new insights into the history of the medieval Middle East through a holistic analysis of the surviving state documents of the Fatimid dynasty. This is a splendid book.”

Marina Rustow has made very interesting and informative presentations of her research and work at the American Philosophical Society and the University of New Mexico. Links to both the videos are provided at the end of this piece.

The lost archive of the Fatimid caliphate survived in an unexpected place: the storage room, or geniza, of a synagogue in Cairo, recycled as scrap paper and deposited there by medieval Jews. In the book Marina Rustow tells the story of this extraordinary find, inviting readers to reconsider the longstanding but mistaken consensus that before 1500 the dynasties of the Islamic Middle East produced few documents, and preserved even fewer.

Beginning with government documents before the Fatimids and paper’s westward spread across Asia, Rustow reveals a millennial tradition of state record keeping whose very continuities suggest the strength of Middle Eastern institutions, not their weakness. Tracing the complex routes by which Arabic documents made their way from Fatimid palace officials to Jewish scribes, the book provides a rare window onto a robust culture of documentation and archiving not only comparable to that of medieval Europe, but, in many cases, surpassing it. Above all, Rustow argues that the problem of archives in the medieval Middle East lies not with the region’s administrative culture, but with our failure to understand preindustrial documentary ecology.

Illustrated with stunning examples from the Cairo Geniza, this compelling book advances our understanding of documents as physical artifacts, showing how the records of the Fatimid caliphate, once recovered, deciphered, and studied, can help change our thinking about the medieval Islamicate world and about premodern polities more broadly.

The hard copy or electronic Kindle version of “The Lost Archive” may be purchased at the following websites:
Princeton
Amazon & Amazon Canada
Indigo

Date posted: March 8, 2020.

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American Philosophical Society presentation by Marina Rustow (34 minutes)

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University of New Mexico presentation by Marina Rustow (1 hour 35 minutes)

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Aly Verjee’s Oslo Forum Peacewriter Prize Essay on Ceasefire Monitoring

Awarded by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, the Oslo Forum Peacewriter Prize is an essay competition seeking bold and innovative responses to today’s peacemaking challenges. The following paper by Aly Verjee is the second winner of the Peacewriter Prize.

Ceasefie monitoring in Western Sahara
Antonio Achille, working with the Military Liaison Office of the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, looks through binoculars during a cease-fire monitoring patrol in Oum Dreyga, Western Sahara. (United Nations Photo).

Monitoring Ceasefires is Getting Harder: Greater Innovation is Required

By ALY VERJEE

Far from helping resolve conflict, flawed ceasefires and ceasefire monitoring may well contribute to significantly increased mistrust between the parties to that conflict. The consequences may be even more damaging; as ceasefires are often one of the first objectives a mediator attempts to achieve, in the eyes of the combatants, early failure may more broadly damage the viability, or the perception of viability, of external action to effectively resolve the conflict.

This may reinforce the thinking of some belligerents that the only solution is military. Still, as I saw firsthand during my involvement in the peace process in South Sudan, the mediator may spend much time, energy and political capital in attempting to achieve an operable ceasefire with little promise of return.

Rather than a milestone on the road to conflict resolution, in complex conflicts that seem apparently irresolvable through peaceful means (e.g. Syria, Yemen, Ukraine), ceasefires and ceasefire monitoring often appear to be, at best, a form of conflict management. As Oliver Richmond notes, such efforts may “not even aim at a [durable] ceasefire but instead mediate . . . the continuation of violence in order to avoid further escalation.” [1]

Several recent such attempts at ceasefires have either collapsed quickly (Syria) or had a very limited geographic and political scope (Yemen), or may likely ‘freeze’ the conflict for years to come (Ukraine).

As the nature of conflict evolves and is increasingly fragmented, incrementally tinkering with conventional ceasefire monitoring may be insufficiently transformative to address its current limitations. While, for example, working to better specify the parameters of a ceasefire agreement, improving the training of international monitors prior to deployment, and improving their performance once deployed may still help in some cases, in many contemporary conflicts, peacemakers may need to consider more unorthodox and radical solutions.

At the outset, mediators who design ceasefire monitoring mechanisms should question the three core normative assumptions of conventional ceasefire monitoring. The first of these is that viable information about truce violations can be reported both accurately and in a timely manner. Second, such information can be used to deter violations and/or to incentivise agreement compliance. Third, the potential political and reputational cost of non-compliance is higher than any benefits of continuing the conflict. In a fragmented conflict, such normative logic may not fully apply, calling for other solutions to be considered.

The fragmentation of conflict has been accompanied by other discernible trends in ceasefire monitoring practice. For example, while UN peacekeeping itself began with the monitoring of ceasefire arrangements, today a regional organisation (such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Ukraine or the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in South Sudan) is as likely as the UN to be overseeing an agreement. There are obvious, possibly negative implications of near-neighbours being involved in monitoring conflicts on their immediate borders.

Further, the cautionary story of Norway’s experience in Sri Lanka has largely gone unheeded: today’s mediators are also often ceasefire monitors, or vice versa. Recall that in 2002, Norway agreed to oversee the ceasefire reached between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers, despite “reservations about becoming both the mediator and the implementer of the ceasefire.” [2] As a result, ceasefire violators were not ‘named and shamed’, in order to avoid the risk of undermining Norway’s role as a mediator. [3]

Today, almost two decades later, there are numerous examples of the mediator also serving as monitor. In Yemen, the UN is both mediating between the government and the Houthis and monitoring the ceasefire arrangements in the vicinity of Hodeidah. In Ukraine, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission is mandated “to observe and report in an impartial and objective way on the situation in Ukraine . . . and to facilitate dialogue among all parties to the crisis.” [4] In South Sudan, the regionally led Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (CTSAMVM) is controlled and led by the same regional body that leads the peace process, IGAD. Repeated interruptions to the disclosure of ceasefire monitoring data have resulted when IGAD leaders deemed disclosure to be inopportune.

In such multi-party, fragmented conflicts, conflating the roles of mediator and monitor may make attempts to address such conflicts even more difficult. Trying to encourage the coalescing of rival forces that may be fighting each other as well as the government may affect the mediator’s ability and enthusiasm to report on ceasefire violations, particularly in an asymmetric conflict.

Historically, the idealised, neutral third-party monitor was theoretically conceived of as a desirable aide to the exchange of credible information between former combatants, and whose monitoring presence would help reduce uncertainty. The monitor was also traditionally intended to serve as a trusted intermediary between mistrustful parties. [5]

But in many of today’s civil-war conflicts, the belligerent parties may well hold more information about the intentions and capacities of their adversaries (with whom they may have once been aligned) than any third parties. Syrian, Yemeni or South Sudanese fighters understand the topography and geography of their countries better than any external actors could ever hope to do, despite the advantage international monitors may now derive from access to satellite imagery or other technologies.

While these trends underline the sometimes problematic investing of agency in outsiders to the conflict, such as the drafters, monitors and enforcers of ceasefire arrangements, is the lower ambition of documenting, and perhaps occasionally deterring, the worst of the violence, the best to which a ceasefire process in an apparently intractable conflict can aspire? My answer is that, while there are no easy solutions, conflict mediators can do better by learning from past experience. And while no single novel approach will overcome all of the problems inherent in ceasefire arrangements, and, more particularly, in the monitoring of such arrangements, monitors can do more to innovate and adapt their practice, so that ceasefire monitoring is fit for purpose in this new era of conflict.

This essay proposes three practical possibilities, relevant to consider at both design and negotiation phases of a peace process, and during its implementation, to reshape, complement and strengthen, existing practice. These are:

  • to apply lessons from the evolution of election observation to ceasefire monitoring;
  • to widen the focus of ceasefire monitoring to other forms of violations; and,
  • to better specify options for corrective or remedial action within a ceasefire framework.

Learn from the evolution of election observation

Much like ceasefire monitoring, election observation began as a largely internationally led, externally directed process. Increasingly, however, the most effective election observers today are found in domestic networks (e.g. the Church-based coalitions formed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Kenya, or the alliances fostered by secular groups in Nigeria, Afghanistan or Mexico). Domestic observer networks have the scale, personnel and motivation to report comprehensively and deeply on electoral processes, well before and beyond election day. Aided by crowd-sourcing, geolocation technology, quantitative rigour and greater consistency in methodology, domestic election observers cover more ground, and offer findings more statistically authoritative than those of international counterparts, whose sample is comparatively limited.

While there are some examples of broad-based, citizen-led ceasefire monitoring over the years (a recent report cites, as examples, Guatemala and Sierra Leone in 1996 and the Philippines in 2001), the paucity of recent examples suggests the practice has been largely piecemeal, and far from widespread and systematically practised. [6] Except in the most geographically modest of contexts, scale matters: more than a few plucky, courageous observers or forward-thinking local NGOs are needed for a domestic ceasefire monitoring effort to be transformative. Nor has domestic ceasefire monitoring to date usually attained sufficient sophistication, nor applied consistently robust methods (areas in which election observers have developed their methodology considerably) to make a sizeable difference in most conflicts. Often, domestic monitoring efforts have been subsumed into the more generic monitoring of peace agreement accords, as civil society actors attempt to balance multiple priorities and objectives. While the latter may seem a complementary task, the thematic areas are substantially different, and the particularities of security arrangements may necessitate more tailored methodologies.

Certainly, domestic observation of ceasefires is no panacea. The concept presents its own risks and limitations of observer credibility, consistency and investigative methodology. But, as with election observation, a domestic approach boasts the potential for greater reach, both within complex geographies, across conflict lines, and between combatants and non-combatants. The possibility of a response that may be more timely than international monitors can ever hope to achieve is also alluring. Perhaps of equal importance, at scale, there is the possibility for greater innovation in monitoring, which also offers the potential for mobilising a coalition for peace from below.

Effectively widen the focus of ceasefire monitoring to other forms of violations

Increasingly, ceasefire monitoring mandates have moved beyond mere determinations of who fired at whom, with what weapons, to broader concerns about international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians, and sexual and gender-based violence. But the core of monitoring work remains concerned with what are perceived as first-order violations. Even when other issues are explicitly outlined in a ceasefire agreement, they are often felt to be the purview of human rights investigators, not ceasefire monitors.

While some see dedicating more time, personnel and resources to other ceasefire monitoring priorities as a distraction, such monitoring may not necessarily require more money, equipment and personnel but, more specifically, monitors with more diverse backgrounds, experiences and skills. This is more than a play to political correctness; it could help unlock new paths to conflict resolution. This is because, in some contexts, there may be an opportunity to use a broader understanding of the violation environment to improve relations with the belligerents in a conflict. Conducting an investigation, or building rapport with communities, may not require a sophisticated appreciation of the different forms of arms and ammunition, as important as that knowledge may be. But these are skills that might strengthen the credibility of the mission more broadly.

The point is not to overburden ceasefire monitors with an over-ambitious mandate. Instead, it is to see these additional aspects of the monitoring mandate as both opportunities for confidence-building between the parties and as an additional means to bolster the authority and credibility of monitoring efforts.

Both the parties to an agreement and its monitors must conceptualise that the spectrum of violations is broad. It does not consist only of extremes: at one end, inconsequential technical violations (e.g. 31 rounds of ammunition held by a party instead of the prescribed 30), and, at the other, the most egregious violence and mass atrocities imaginable. In between, there is much space for manoeuvre (in all senses of that word), and therefore opportunity. While it may be impossible for the drafter of an agreement to consider every possible violation at the outset, further elaborating other forms of prohibitive behaviour might reduce the space for future ambiguity.

Beyond punitive measures, better specify options for corrective or remedial action within a ceasefire framework

The international community’s options for coercive action in support of a ceasefire agreement are limited. While both unilateral and multilateral sanctions and arms embargoes remain commonly contemplated measures, the likelihood, efficacy and effect of such measures is debatable. In some cases, such measures may be merely symbolic, even when political consensus exists amongst the great powers to impose them. At the same time, most ceasefire agreements leave the messy tasks of corrective and/or disciplinary actions to the parties to the agreement, without much specificity.

Instead, ceasefire brokers could use their formulation and facilitation functions to improve the spectrum of self-enforcement and internal disciplinary mechanisms within the framework of a ceasefire agreement itself. Further, such agreements could better link the activities of monitoring mechanisms with the power to offer appropriate recommendations.

For example, a ceasefire agreement could provide monitors with the power to recommend that identified offenders, whether as units or individuals, be rotated or removed from the theatre of operations, or from command responsibility. Or, that they be restricted to non-combat duties, or be required to perform public works (e.g. road-building or repairs) as reparation for violations. [7]

Such measures would not supersede the conventionally classical punitive measures of trials, courtsmartial and/or dismissal or suspension from the armed party that remain within the internal purview of most armed groups. But they might give a wider menu of more proportionate options to ceasefire supporters and enforcers, to bridge the extremes of total inaction and comprehensive sanctions. Such measures may also help in fragmented conflicts, where outright condemnation or the imposition of heavily punitive measures may well risk further fragmentation of the conflict. [8]

Further, in an environment where participation in a ceasefire agreement is itself a demonstration of signalling a desire to cooperate, creative specificity could identify a window for further positive signalling. A recommendation that suggests Unit A should be redeployed from Province B is a more tangible area for focus than the more conventional refrain of monitors that “it is recommended that the appropriate action be taken”. In such boilerplate formulations, the who, how, when and why of the recommended action is often left unsaid, with predictable consequences for follow-up.

Widening the spectrum of possible measures might help in fostering parties’ compliance. From the point of view of the parties, implementing a specific recommendation emanating from a neutral body may be more politically palatable, if the optics of the burden of the political costs can be partially shifted to the monitoring institution. Given their internal dynamics, the parties may be unable or unwilling to enforce consequences against their own forces on their own initiative.

However, if the parties are more willing to act at ceasefire monitors’ behest, the disadvantages of monitors being painted as the bad guys may be less consequential, even if some monitors might fear being too prescriptive would risk their neutrality, or see such innovation as moving their mandate from ‘technical’ to ‘political’. Providing the party in non-compliance with the political cover to take corrective action it might not otherwise imagine or devise itself could help in future efforts to resolve the underlying conflict.

Conclusion

The suggestions offered here are not exhaustive. They are intended to demonstrate that, even though the templates of ceasefires and ceasefire monitoring remain at the mercy of a given conflict’s internal and external political realities, creative additions to the mediator’s arsenal can be made, and could be developed further. Central to these ideas is to look to the citizens beyond the signatories to an agreement to shift the paradigm of conflict. For this to be effective, citizen-led efforts will need support beyond the conventional models. Perhaps paradoxically, the lack of active examples in the practice of many of these ideas suggests there is much latitude for innovation and creative application. Fundamentally, such strategies should be seen as more than just desirable additions to classical practice; the increasingly complicated nature of conflict demands equally meaningful innovation in response.

Date posted: August 26, 2019.

Last updated: August 28, 2019.

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We are indebted to the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue for giving us the permission to reproduce Aly Verjee’s essay on this website. The original PDF version may be read by clicking on Monitoring ceasefires is getting harder.

Verjee’s profile with photo, below, is taken from the website of the United States Institute of Peace ( https://www.usip.org ). 

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Aly Verjee is a researcher specializing in the politics of eastern Africa. He is a visiting expert at the U.S Institute of Peace and a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute. From 2015-2016, he was deputy and then acting chief of staff of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, overseeing the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement in South Sudan. From 2014-2015, he was senior advisor to the chief mediator of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-led peace process for South Sudan.

He lived and worked in Sudan from 2005-2010, and returned in 2011 as chief political analyst for the European Union (EU) observation of the South Sudan independence referendum. He was chief political analyst for the EU election observation missions to Zambia (2016) and Tanzania (2015); directed Free Press Unlimited’s media development initiatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan (2011-12); directed Democracy International’s election observation mission to Djibouti (2011); was deputy director of the Carter Center’s political and electoral observation mission to Sudan (2008-10); helped manage the first-ever election observer network established in the DR Congo (2006), comprising some 7,000 Congolese observers, and managed international election observation missions in Somaliland (2005, 2010 and 2012).  

Mr. Verjee has provided expert testimony before the High Court of Justice of England and Wales, the British Parliament and the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is the author of The Economics of Elections in Somaliland (2015); New North, Old North: The Republic of Sudan after the split (chapter) in Sudan after Separation: New Approaches to a New Region (2012); Disputed Votes, Deficient Observation: the May 2011 Election in South Kordofan, Sudan (2011) and Race Against Time: Countdown to the Referenda in Southern Sudan and Abyei (2010). 

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EXCERPT FROM STATEMENT ISSUED ON ALY VERJEE BY U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE

The U.S. Institute of Peace congratulates our Aly Verjee on being awarded the 2019 Oslo Forum Peacewriter Prize, which recognizes “bold and innovative responses to today’s peacemaking challenges,” for his essay on addressing the increasing challenges of cease-fire monitoring.

“USIP is delighted to see Aly Verjee receive well-deserved recognition for his innovative ideas and approaches to conflict de-escalation,” said Mike Yaffe, the Institute’s vice president for the Middle East and Africa. “Aly is tireless in applying his ample knowledge of peace mediation together with incisive analysis about the situation on the ground to come up with creative and thoughtful solutions to some of the toughest conflicts in Africa.”

“So much effort is put into reaching an agreement to end violence. But then the hard work begins to ensure that those who are fighting will keep their commitments,” said USIP Director for Africa Programs Susan Stigant. “Aly draws on his rich experience in peace mediation and on elections to offer some new ways to make sure that guns remain silent and citizens remain safe. Most importantly, he challenges all of us to bring evidence, creativity and our best minds to finding solutions.”

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Endnotes

[1] Oliver Richmond, “A genealogy of mediation in international relations: from ‘analogue’ to ‘digital’ forms of global justice or managed war?”, Cooperation and Conflict, January 2018, p.13.

[2] Luc Chounet-Cambas, “Negotiating ceasefires: dilemmas & options for mediators”, Mediation Practice Series 3, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, March 2011, p.10.

[3] Ibid., p.10.

[4] ‘Special monitoring mission to Ukraine’, OSCE, available at: https://www.osce.org/special-monitoring-mission-to-ukraine.

[5] Virginia Page Fortna, “Peacetime: ceasefire agreements and the durability of peace”, Princeton University Press, March 2004.

[6] Nick Ross, “Civil society’s role in monitoring and verifying peace agreements: seven lessons from international experiences”, Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative, January 2017, pp.11–12.

[7] Aly Verjee, “South Sudan: four steps to a truce that works”, USIP, January 2018, available at: https://www.usip.org/ blog/2018/01/south-sudan-four-steps-truce-works.

[8] Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham, “Understanding fragmentation in conflict and its impacts on prospects for peace”, Oslo Forum Background Paper, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, June 2016, pp.9–10.