America’s Youngest Outcasts, a study released recently by the National Centre on Family Homelessness at American Institute for Research (NCFH), reported that 2.5 million America children were homeless at some point last year, a historic high. The authors of the report warn if these brutal social conditions persist or worsen it will result in the establishment of a “permanent Third World in America.”
More than six years after the height of the foreclosure crisis and fifty years after the declaration of the “War on Poverty,” homeless children account for one out of every thirty children in the country. The number of homeless children increased eight percent between 2012 and 2013 while the number of homeless children rose by nearly one million between 2010 and 2013.
No recovery at all
This devastating report about millions of homeless children comes in the sixth year of what President Barack Obama has repeatedly declared to be a great economic recovery. Indeed, while there has been a recovery for those at the very top, as illustrated by the astronomical rise of the stock market, for the great number of Americans, who have continued to experience a significant decline in their living standards, there has been no recovery at all.
In a particularly nauseating speech delivered at the United Nations in September, Obama insisted that “this is the best time in human history to be born.” The latest report by the NCFH quite decisively refutes this ludicrous claim. Rather than the best time to be born it is the worst of times for millions of children, as they and their families are forced out of their homes and into the streets.
“Child homelessness has reached epidemic proportions in America,” said Dr. Carmela DeCandia, director of the NCFH. “Living in shelters, neighbors’ basements, cars, campgrounds, and worse, homeless children are the most invisible and neglected individuals in our society. Without decisive action now, the federal goal of ending child homelessness by 2020 will soon be out of reach,” she concluded.
According to the NCFH report, between the end of the Great Depression and the early 1980s, child homelessness was not a widespread or persistent problem. Child homelessness emerged as a significant and persistent social problem in the middle of the 1980s amidst the social counterrevolution inaugurated by the administration of Ronald Reagan.
Based on the latest federal and state data on child homelessness, including the US Department of Education’s annual count of homeless students in public schools as well as 2013 US Census data, the report singles out six major factor contributing to high rates of child homelessness. They are: a high national poverty rate; the lack of affordable housing; the continuing impacts of the Great Recession; racial disparities; the challenges of single parenting; and the impact of traumatic experiences on families, in particular domestic violence.
19.9 per cent homeless in 2013
With a child poverty rate of 19.9 per cent in 2013, a significant number of American children are living at significant risk of being homeless. Families headed by a single mother are particularly at risk with more than one third of single mother households living in poverty. An estimated 45 million people lived at or below the federal poverty line in 2013.
Affordable housing is essentially nonexistent for the impoverished in the United States, putting the poorest of the poor at a constant risk of homelessness. Nationally there are only 30 units available for every 100 extremely low-income families seeking housing. Federal housing vouchers have been repeatedly slashed over the last decade, reducing the amount of assistance available for low-wage workers and the unemployed. Waiting lists for housing assistance average two years.
A 2013 study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that there was no state in the US where an individual working a 40-hour minimum-wage job could afford a two-bedroom apartment for his or her family.
Homelessness has been shown to damage the cognitive development of young children, further limiting their opportunities later in life. According to the NCFH report, the effects of trauma associated with homelessness may impair the development of a child’s brain structure, disrupting the ability to learn and blocking the development of social relationships, cognitive skills and emotional self-regulation. Approximately 25 percent of homeless preschool age children have serious mental health problems; this rises to 40 percent among homeless school age children.
The report utilized the broad McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness, which counts adults and children who are at any point in a given year without secure housing, in a temporary shelter, living out of a vehicle, squatting in abandoned buildings, residing in a motel, hotel or campground, doubling up with extended family members, or fleeing domestic violence.
The definition used by the report is much broader than the more limited Housing and Urban Development Point in Time study, which only measures the number of individuals sleeping outdoors or in homeless shelters on a single day at the beginning of a given year. The HUD count, which found 216,261 homeless family members at the beginning of 2013, left out hundreds of thousands of children and families in transitory shelter.
The report ranked states according to a composite of four criteria: extent of child homelessness; child wellbeing; risk for child homelessness; and state policy and planning efforts. While there is no part of the United States that is free from the scourge of child homelessness, the severity of the crisis varies by state and region. The states with the worst composite rating are located in the Southeast and Southwest, while those with the least onerous scores are concentrated in the Midwest and Northeast.
Minnesota had the “best” score with a population of 23,608 homeless children in 2013 and a child poverty rate of 14 per cent. Alabama had the worst with a population of 59,349 homeless children in 2013 and a child poverty rate of 27 percent. Last year in California a staggering 525,000 children experienced homelessness, while 190,000 did in Texas, and nearly 140,000 in Florida.
Despite rising to historic levels, the issue of child homelessness was not once addressed during the midterm elections by the Democrats or Republicans. No new tranche of funding or emergency social program was proposed that would aim to eliminate the social crime of child poverty and homelessness. The callous indifference of Democrats and Republicans alike to the plight of the most vulnerable members of American society is not surprising, as they not only serve the interests of the rich but are themselves of the rich. 2012 marked the first time that a majority of congressional members had an average net worth of $1 million or more.
Farhang Jahanpour in Oxford
When the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) suddenly emerged in Iraq, it declared as one of its first targets the Shiites and what it called the Safavids. The Safavid dynasty (1501-1736) was one of the most powerful Iranian dynasties after the Islamic conquest.
At its height, the Safavid dynasty ruled an area nearly twice the size of modern Iran, including large parts of modern Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, eastern parts of Turkey and Syria, and large areas of western Afghanistan and Baluchestan, North Caucasus, as well as parts of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
However, what most irks Sunni jihadists is the fact that the Safavids made the Twelver school of Shi’ism the official religion of Iran, something that has continued to the present day.
The interesting point is that the Safavid dynasty had its origin in a Sunni Sufi order, but at some point they converted to Shi’ism and then used their new zeal as a way of subduing most of Iran.
The zeal of the Safavids was partly due to the fact that they were fighting against the Sunni Ottoman Empire, and therefore their adherence to Shi’ism was mainly political in order to set them apart from the Ottomans who also carried the title of Sunni Caliphs. The Safavids made their capital Isfahan into one of the most beautiful cities in Iran and the Middle East as a whole.
The Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-11) laid the foundations of modern Iran, with a constitutional monarchy. The two Pahlavi kings (1925-1979), while ruling as absolute monarchs, were militantly secular and tried to modernise Iran and turn it into a Western-style country.
“One of the most important concepts set forth by the Sixth Shi’a Imam, Ja’far al Sadiq, was the separation of religion and politics. He conceded that the Caliphs possessed temporal power, but he argued that the Imams were spiritual teachers of society, and their inability to seize power should not be regarded as a sign of failure”
However, not only did the 1979 Islamic revolution end that period of secular reforms, but it also put an end to a 2,600 year-old Iranian monarchy, and replaced it with a clerical regime. What makes the Islamic revolution unique is that for the first time in the history of Iran, and indeed in the history of Islam, it brought clerics to power.
Although Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called his revolution of 1979 an Islamic revolution, in reality it was a Shi’a revolution and it derived its legitimacy from the Shi’a concept of the Imamate.
According to the Shiites, the true succession to Prophet Muhammad belonged not to the Orthodox Caliphs, but to the Shi’a Imams, starting from the first Imam, Ali Ibn Abi Talib, and ending with the 12th Imam who allegedly went into hiding and who would reappear in the End Times to establish the reign of justice in the world.
After Imam Ali, who was assassinated by a member of the fanatical breakaway group, the Khawarij, his oldest son Imam Hasan decided not to challenge Mu’awiyya I who had established the Umayyad Caliphate. However, after Hassan’s death in 669, his younger brother Hussein rebelled against Mu’awiyya’s son Yazid.
In a battle against Yazid’s forces in Karbala, Imam Hussein was martyred on Oct, 10, 680, an event that is still marked with great sadness and self-flagellation by Shiites throughout the world.
After Imam Hussein’s martyrdom, the rest of the Shi’a Imams led quietist lives, mainly acting as spiritual leaders of their followers, rather than challenging the Sunni rulers.
Separation of religion and politics
One of the most important concepts set forth by the Sixth Shi’a Imam, Ja’far al Sadiq, was the separation of religion and politics. He conceded that the Caliphs possessed temporal power, but he argued that the Imams were spiritual teachers of society, and their inability to seize power should not be regarded as a sign of failure.
This has been the interpretation of the role of the Imams – as opposed to the role of the Caliphs – by the vast majority of Shi’a scholars throughout the ages. However, not only did Ayatollah Khomeini reject monarchical rule, but he even replaced it with the rule of clerics.
Both Ayatollah Khomeini and the present Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei base their legitimacy on being the rightful representatives of the Hidden Imam until he returns. This is why the views of former President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad and his close friend Esfandiar Rahim Masha’i about the imminent return of the Hidden Imam caused such consternation among the leading clerics, because if the Hidden Imam were to return soon it would undercut the authority of the ruling clerics.
Thus started the birth of the Islamic Republic of Iran in February 1979, which continues to the present day. Initially, Ayatollah Khomeini declared that he wanted to export his revolution to the entire Muslim world, but being strongly Shi’a in nature and ideology the Iranian revolution was not very popular to the majority of Muslims who are Sunnis.
The devastating eight-year Iran-Iraq war waged by Saddam Hussein, which was massively supported by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, killed and wounded nearly a million Iranians and Iraqis. The bitter memories of that war still linger in the minds of the people in both countries.
Since 2003, when the U.S.-led coalition deposed Saddam Hussein and replaced him with a government led by the Shiites who form a majority of the Iraqi population, Saddam’s supporters in Iraq and the Persian Gulf littoral states have not forgiven the loss of power by the Sunnis. Saudi Arabia has refused to recognise the new Iraqi governments or to send an ambassador to Baghdad.
The glory of Iranian Islam was reflected in the Sufi literature written in Persian by great mystics such as Attar, Rumi, Hafiz and Sa’di who produced the most tolerant, the most profound and the most humane form of mysticism.
However, the Islamic Republic has been known for its narrow interpretation of Islam, a large number of executions, stoning women to death, lashings and other inhumane practices. Its dogmatic adherence to Shi’a Islam has not helped either Iran or the cause of Islam in the world.
The present ISIS uprising, with the assistance of tens of thousands of former Ba’thist officers and soldiers in Saddam’s army that Paul Bremer, the U.S. Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, fired because they were Baathists, is a kind of violent revenge against the Iraqi Shiites and ultimately against Iran for what is regarded as the loss of Sunni rule and Iran’s growing influence in Iraq.
[Farhang Jahanpour – former professor and Dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan, has taught for 28 years in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford.]
—-IPS Columnist Service
Will relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan become as good as they are between France and Germany? Enquired an op-ed analyst who writes for an English newspaper. He remembered that Hitler’s wheremacht overran Germany during WWII but the two enjoy friendly togetherness as members of the European Union.
The writer asked the question because Afghanistan is also a member of the SAARC, but former Afghan President Mr. Hamid Karzai who made 20 official trips here, was fond of hurling accusations against Pakistan each time he returned home. Karzai was quite in close in entente with India. In Afghanistan India has made a lot of investment. This time round, the new elected President Mr. Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Pakistan can be seen in a different light.
During Mr. Ghani’s current visit Pakistan and Afghanistan kept focus on ending the mutual distrust and hostile relationship between the two countries.
Instead the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif paved the way towards cobbling a peaceful and stable Afghanistan which is necessary to maintain peace and stability within Pakistan.
Mr. Ghani seems to realize that he could not envision peace, security, stability in his country without active cooperation of Pakistan. Hence there was quite a show of bonhomie between two leaders. Instead of Pakistan-bashing as was Karzai’s wont, Mr. Ghani emphasized that the two countries are so close together that they must have good relations and an approach of reconciliation would usher in peace and ensure economic development which would be impossible without building friendly relationship. The two leaders were in agreement to implement multi-billion dollars Turkmenistan-Affghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline as well as to bury the past as well as maintain relations based on mutual respect of each other’s sovereignty.
However, cricket played a vital role in establishing friendliness between the two leaders. During his visit here, Mr. Ghani and Mr. Nawaz Sharif together witnessed a friendly match played at Shalimar ground at Islamabad between Afghanistan and Pakistan cricket teams. Much to his pleasure the Afghan team thrashed Pakistan by 54 runs.
Who says ties between nations cannot be built through sports.
Consider this: Sport could also be a good vehicle for building good relationship with Bangladesh that Pakistan regards as a brotherly country. Recently, Bangladesh women football team was here at Islamabad. The BD team reached semi-final of the third SAFF tournament by defeating Maldives by three goals. The BD team will play Nepal in the semi-finals on Wednesday.
Jehan Perera in Colombo
Last week there was an unexpected focus on events that took place 25 years ago and which had appeared to have fallen out of public memory. This was the Sinhalese militancy led by the JVP in a three year period of terror that gripped most of the country and excluded only the predominantly Tamil-speaking North and East. The general belief is that about 60,000 people perished in the period 1988-90. But there is no certainty about the figure. The numbers killed by the JVP were counted by the government at that time which gave precise numbers. These included 487 public servants, 80 of who were bus drivers, 30 Buddhist monks, 2 Catholic priests, 52 school principals, four medical doctors, 18 estate superintendents, 27 trade unionists, 342 policemen, 209 security forces personnel and family members of 93 policemen and 69 service personnel. But the numbers killed by the government side were not counted or shared.
The overwhelming present local and international focus has been on the final phase of the war against the LTTE and this has taken the country’s attention away from those terrible events. But suddenly the tragic past was brought back to life. The media ran several stories on what happened those days. In particular there was a vivid description of the last hours of the JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera when he was held in captivity by the government forces.
It showed how he was interviewed by the political and military leaders of that time who had been at the receiving end of JVP violence. It showed how he was subjected to their violence. It showed how people can act when they hold absolute power of life and death over those who have been their enemies, and why the laws cannot be silent even in a time of war, or when the war has just been won.
The re-emergence of accounts of the killings and massacres of the JVP insurrection in the public eye, 25 years later, is a reminder that the past can never be ignored and can spring up at any time. Just as the country is heading for a decisive presidential election, there is reason for the past to be revived due to political reasons. The main protagonists 25 years ago were the UNP which formed the government at that time and the JVP, which today are trying to get together in an opposition alliance against the present government. The publicity being given to the events of the past have put these two parties in an unfavourable light. However, another important message that comes as a by-product is that the tragedies of the past do not go away by themselves. The wounds of the past need to be consciously cleansed of untruth and healed through justice, development and reconciliation.
After the JVP insurrection of 1988-89 there was no action taken against those who were accused of human rights violations. Instead all was put aside and buried along with the past. The same practice appears to be the desired one after the end of the LTTE war also. But as the continuing international agitation on the issue of war crimes in Sri Lanka continues to increase, with no sign of getting less, there is a need to think newly about how best to deal with the situation. Instead of which the government is getting into an escalated conflict with the UN system where it cannot possibly prevail. The government’s position has been that the UN investigation in to war crimes is intrusive, biased and against the national sovereignty of the country and while the government will cooperate with the UN system in general, it will not do so with regard to the war crimes investigation.
However, the Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner is one of the many UN institutions that have been set up to further the overall goal of world peace and stability for which the UN was set up in the aftermath of the Second World War, which led to the loss of millions of lives and the destruction of a significant section of the world’s heritage. The UN system cannot permit one of its key institutions to be weakened or undermined due to the actions of one of its 193 member countries. When the Sri Lankan government rejects the UN High Commissioner’s statement using strong language which may meet the expectations of the electorate and of the majority of Sri Lankan people, it is challenging an important component of the UN system.
Previously it was believed by many in Sri Lanka, including by those in the government, that Sri Lanka’s problem at the UN was being caused if not made worse by the actions of the previous Human Rights Commissioner, Navanethem Pillay. It was believed that although her citizenship was South African, her Tamil ethnicity had made her biased against Sri Lanka. Therefore she too became a part of the global anti-Sri Lanka Diaspora in Sri Lankan eyes and her departure from office was expected to change the UN’s attitude to the issue of accountability for war time problems of human rights. But this has not happened. The new Human Rights Commissioner is even stronger in his position that Sri Lanka must address the issue of accountability. But it is not only to the international community or to the UN that the government needs to give answers.
In the past week I took part in discussions and seminars in the North and East on the issues of post-war healing and reconciliation amongst communities. In the meetings I attended I saw at first hand the powerful sentiments of people who have lost their loved ones and have found no answers forthcoming from the government. There was a mother who said that she had surrendered her son to the military at the end of the war. She wanted to know what had happened to him. She still had hope he was alive. She said other young persons who had been surrendered like her son had returned, but she said that they did not say what had happened to her son, and would not talk about the past. She said she had even been to the army camps in the East to look for him, although she was from the North and her son was surrendered in the North. She had also been to the Fourth Floor of Police Headquarters in Colombo. She would go anywhere to find her son. She had not found him, but she still had hope.
At none of these events was there interference by the military or government officials. However, some of those who participated said they noted the presence of unidentified persons who took photographs and went away. Some of them also said that when they tried to organize similar events, the security forces in those areas wished to know what was happening and why. This may not be done with the intention of disrupting the activity, but rather to know what is going on. But the psychological climate is such that even this information gathering can create unease in a population that continues to live in the memory of the war that had so cruelly shattered their lives.
It is not only to the UN investigators that the government needs to give its answers, and it is not only about the LTTE war. The Sri Lankan state itself needs to give answers to its own people too for events that go back in time 25 years ago. A new electoral mandate will not negate the need to provide answers. The issue of human rights and war crimes that include the JVP period, as much as the last phase of the LTTE war, needs to gone into, the truth ascertained and reconciliation be achieved, as it was in South Africa. It is better that these issues are addressed sooner rather than later for they will not go away, even as the killings of the JVP period have not gone away. Obtaining the support of friendly countries like India, Japan, Korea and South Africa, as the government appeared to be doing for a while, and persuading the opposition to join in this, to achieve a balance between the imperatives of Truth, Justice, Development and Reconciliation that span the longer period is the best possible thing to do in the circumstances. It can even justify postponing the envisaged snap Presidential election for two years, as constitutionally permitted, to find an awareness creation, reconciliation and healing process, and agree on a new political system that will ensure that the violent tragedies of the past where impunity and lawlessness rode high are never repeated.