Islam and the West: The reality and myth of a troubled relationship

The crisis in the relationship between western secularism and Islam has been fuelled by Islamic fundamentalism and the rise of islamophobic  populist right movements in Europe and America. Yet these movements are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of Islamic thought.

Christopher de Bellaigue is a writer and journalist who has lived in Iran and travelled extensively in the Islamic world. The author of books about Turkey and Iran, he has written for the Guardian and the New York Review of Books about western responses to Islamic fundamentalism and he is currently finishing a book on the Islamic Enlightenment which will be published in the spring of 2017.  He will look at the history of relations  between Islam and the west, the causes of the current crisis and how the relationship may develop in the future.

Our World’s disappearing forests – slashed for the profit of a few, whilst devastating the planet and billions of lives

Many of the world’s worst environmental and human rights abuses are driven by the exploitation of natural resources and corruption in the global political and economic system. Global Witness is campaigning to end this by carrying out hard-hitting investigations, exposing these abuses, and campaigning for change.  Global Witness is independent, not-for-profit, and works with partners around the world in its fight for justice.  See latest comments on Trump appointment.

Reiner is the Senior Forest Researcher and Campaigner at Global Witness, and is internationally regarded as one of the most experienced field managers of independent forest monitoring (IFM) projects. He has over 25 years experience in West, East and Central Africa, South East Asia, Melanesia and Central and South America. The focus of his work over the last decade is on securing rights and benefits of the rural poor in land use and building good governance in the forest sector.

As In-country Project Manager of the Independent Forest Monitoring (IFM) project in Cameroon, he guided the project beyond forest crime reporting and towards support for establishing efficient law enforcement procedures and has used this experience to set up schemes in Honduras, Nicaragua.and gained international recognition for a pioneering project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and with networks in Indonesia and Liberia.

Reiner has carried out investigations into the impact of industrial-scale logging upon forest ecosystems, local economies and the livelihoods of communities and indigenous people affected by logging operations in their ancestral forests, in Cameroon, the DRC, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and Sarawak (Malaysia).

Currently his work is focusing on the different forms of forest destruction in the DRC and state-sanctioned, illegal land grabbing for logging and forest conversion for agribusiness purposes in Papua New Guinea.

Reiner will show how the, often risky, work at Global Witness has exposed the scale of de-forestation and the multinational interests behind it and how his innovative project work with local communities is beginning to demonstrate long lasting solutions.

Link to Global Witness Report on the Central African Republic

Terrorism and Trafficking – an Alliance of Fear and Despair

A powerful and sophisticated underground business delivers thousands of refugees a day all along the Mediterranean coasts of Europe. Overall, the trafficking industry today is bigger than the illegal drug trade and worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually. The new breed of criminals that controls it has risen out of the political chaos of post-9/11 Western foreign policy and the fiasco of the Arab Spring and, more recently, the destabilization of Syria and Iraq coupled with the rise of ISIS.  New opportunities for crime have opened up in the Middle East, from selling Western hostages to jihadist groups, to trafficking millions of refugees. Loretta Napoleoni is a journalist, author and economist who has written and lectured widely on the financing of terrorism.  As chairman of the counter terrorism financing group for the Club de Madrid, she brought heads of state from around the world together to create a new strategy for combatting the financing of terror networks, and her latest book Merchants of Men: How Jihadists and ISIS Turned Kidnapping and Refugee Trafficking into a Multi-Billion Dollar Business was published in the UK in January 2017 by Atlantic Books.

The Russian intervention in Syria

The tragic civil war in Syria between the Alawite-led government of President Bashir Assad, and the numerous disunited rebel brigades (including ISIS) that battle for control of the country, has been marked by extreme violence on all sides. The conflict has already claimed over 250,000 lives, more than 4.5 million people have fled the country, a further 6.5 million are internally displaced, and the nation’s infrastructure is in ruins. Regional and international powers including the US have attempted to intervene, all with their own geopolitical agendas. However only the Russian intervention on Assad’s behalf, both military and diplomatic, has had any significant impact, and despite furious criticism by the West, Putin has persuaded the US to make its top priority the defeat of ISIS rather than the fall of Assad. The distinguished foreign correspondent Jonathan Steele will discuss the situation with us. Jonathan has spent many years in the Middle East and Russia, and was the Guardian’s Moscow bureau chief during the collapse of communism. He has won numerous awards including the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, and has twice been named International Reporter of the Year in the British Press Awards. He is the author of widely acclaimed books on international relations, including four on Russia, and is currently Chief Reporter of the website Middle East Eye.

23rd January 2017