Saturday, 29 January 2011

A message to WH Smith

Tried to buy a sketch pad from WH Smith today for Number 2 son today, but could not find one that used paper from a sustainable source (as opposed to an unsustainable source such as a chopped down rainforest, or ancient Finnish woodland). The upshot of this was the email to WH Smith shown below.  

"Dear WH Smith
Many years ago, when the world was still young, and there were only three TV channels, my father bought me a sketch pad from WH Smith. I filled it up with carefully drawn pictures, a pastime which I fondly remember even now. I still have the sketchbook, in a box in the attic.

The world has changed since then, of course. These days many people, myself included, try to ensure that any paper they purchase is from a sustainable source, such as being FSC certified or recycled.

As it is wont to do, life has come full circle, and my own son asked me to buy him a sketchbook. I was delighted at this request, and knew immediately where to purchase such a thing. But, to my dismay, none of the many sketch books at WH Smith used paper from a sustainable source - which left me feeling that this was not an important issue for you.

I hope you are able to adopt a more sustainable sourcing policy for your sketch pads in the future. But failing that, I have noticed that Sainsburys stock a sketch pad made from FSC certified paper, so in this particular instance I've bought one of those.

Building for the Future likes to dole out a bit of praise along with any complaints, so it seemed only fair to also send the following, somewhat less poetic, message to Sainsburys:

"My son asked me to but him a sketch pad. Initially I went to WH Smith but they did not have any that were made from sustainably sourced paper (FSC certifiied or recycled). By chance, I noticed later that you do sell such a product (bar code 0141 5858) so I have bought one of those. Thank you for using FSC paper for this product."

You can find out more about the effects of deforestation and how you can ensure that any paper products you buy are not contributing to this, at the links below :

Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Science at Kaust

You may have heard of KAUST - the new Saudi Science and Technology University - but you are unlikely to have read about the kind of research that goes on there. Happily, an article that provides exactly this information has been written by Sarah Houlton in “Chemistry World” magazine (August 2010 issue)

The article points out that the University has sprung up in an incredibly short time - with its official opening just two years after the foundation stone was laid.

It is a research university (so it’s students are all studying for PhD’s or are on masters courses) that is organised as a series of interdisciplinary research centres focused on specific projects such as Water Desalination, Clean Combustion or Plant Stress Genomics. This is in contrast to most Universities that are organised on a departmental basis (engineering dept, chemistry dept, biology dept etc).

Jean Fréchet, Vice President of Research at the University was previously at the University of California at Berkeley. He comments that “Here, we are starting with (this) multidisciplinary approach to look at specific problems. For example. . .one research centre focuses on water desalination and reuse. This will take chemists, biologists and engineers, and the structure brings all of these together into one entity”

The University will take perhaps 5 years to reach its full capacity of some 250 faculty members and up to 2,000 students. Fréchet comments that, “We want to operate carefully, bringing in maybe 35-40 people a year”. As the number of staff and students increases, the number of research areas will also increase, from the current nine to around 20.

Commercialisation of the fruits of research is something that all universities are keen to ensure. At Kaust this is facilitated by the availability of seed funding and by the presence of an industrial park that is currently being set up. Companies such as Dow Chemical are also building a presence there, although Fréchet comments that, “we’re not looking for production facilities, we are only interested in R&D”

To give a flavour for the kind of staff who are being recruited, the article gives the example of Suzana Nunes and Timothy Ravasi.

Suzana was previously head of the membranes for energy department at the GKSS Research Centre in Germany. At Kaust she is working in a project to develop new polymers and nanocomposites for fuel cells and water treatment. She comments of Kaust that, “The academic freedom is important. . .and the facilities here are excellent”.

Timothy came to Kaust from the University of San Diego and is a systems biologist looking at the marine environment in the Red Sea. Interestingly, he points out that ,”It’s much easier to get a grant in the US on a hot topic like cancer than to study coral reefs”. He adds that, “I couldn’t have done this [research] in the US as I wouldn’t have had the money. Here I can”. (you need to be a member to view most articles)

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Azzam Alwash and the Iraqi Marshes

Saw a fascinating programme on BBC2 earlier this week - "Nature World Special - Miracle in the Marshes of Iraq".

Back in the 1980's, the marshes in the south of Iraq covered a huge area and were filled with a maze of lakes and reed banked channels. The marshes were home to large populations of fish and birds - as well as the marsh Arabs who were expert at living in this beautiful environment. 

In the early 1990's, the marsh Arabs rebelled against Saddam Hussein. In response, Saddam built embankments along the Euphrates as well as drainage canals. Together these two measures soon turned some 90% of the marshes to desert.

Azzam Alwash grew up in Iraq, and his father used to take him on boat trips in the marsh area. Azzam later left Iraq to complete his studies and start a successful engineering company. He returned to Iraq in 2003 and was shocked to see what had happened to his beloved marshes.  

Having set up a charity "Nature Iraq" with his wife, Suzie Alwash, he helped to restore the marshes, which are now returning. There are still problems - a long term drought and dams in the upper reaches of the Euphrates are preventing the annual floods from ocurring - but possible solutions to these are being developed. 

A film crew recently followed his progress, which has resulted in this programme, which was beautifully shot and explained all the issues very clearly and concisely. Azzam is clearly a very charismatic and enthusiastic individual - someone you would want on your team!

If I may switch back to BFTF mode for a moment, one thread of this blog is to promote engagement with the media - both when they get it wrong and when they get it right. This is clearly as example of the latter so I have sent some feedback back to the BBC. Somewhat annoyingly, I forgot to keep a copy of the webform, but I think it went something like this:

"I just wanted to say thank you to the BBC for the 'Natural World Special' on the southern marshes of Iraq (Tuesday 18th Jan 8pm, BBC2).
The story of Azzam Alwash was truly inspirational, The love that he and his team have for the marshes was very heartening to see. If only we could all direct as much energy as they have towards such a worthwhile cause.
Thank you also for desribing the security precautions that the team took so that I could appreciate this aspect of working in Iraq at this time.
Most imporantly, thank you telling the story of the southern marshes so clearly and comprehensively, without needing to recourse to flashy graphics or silly camera angles."

I'm sure that you have seen something good somewhere in the media recently. Why not compliment the organisation concerned - you will be encouraing them to do more stuff like that!

Find more information here: 

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Mosque Open Day Plan

The following is taken from a workshop on "How to hold a Mosque Open Day" that was held last year.

REMEMBER : An Open Day will not happen by talking about. It will only happen if a person takes REPONSIBILITY for MAKING IT HAPPEN.

To give people an opportunity to show what activites happen at a mosque
To share common values
To offer a chance for dialogue
To show what happens in a masjid

You will require:
An Imam,
Food and Drink,
Some people to generally help out

Leaflets to deliver to locality for publicity

Prepare your publicity leaflets at least three weeks before the event.
Make sure you SEND THE LEAFLETS OUT – People are not telepathic.

Ask the visitors for their opinion, what do they want? How can you help them? Perhaps homework clubs? Litter picking?
Remember - people will judge you by your actions not by your words
Imam - Make sure the Imam is available to answer questions
Prayer Hall - Allow people to sit in the prayer hall and appreciate its peacefulness
Food - Make sure this is available and well presented
Get feedback from visitors

Start planning the next open day. One event is not enough - you have a lot of catching up to do!

Salmaan Taseer

There were some disturbing reactions to the assassination of the Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in Pakistan on 4th Jan 2013. The governor had campaigned against the abuse of the country's Blasphemy Laws which are often abused to settle scores and persecute minorities.(see also here, and here)

Taseer had been campaigning for the release of Asia Bibi who had been accused of blasphemy after an argument with a group of women while harvesting berries.

The BBC, in an article entitled "Salman Taseer: Thousands mourn Pakistan governor" commented that Taseer's funeral was attended by the Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and "thousands of supporters of the PPP". The article also commented that:

"One small religious party, the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Pakistan, warned that..."No Muslim should attend the funeral or even try to pray for Salman Taseer or even express any kind of regret or sympathy over the incident"...

...It said anyone who expressed sympathy over the death of a blasphemer was also committing blasphemy....

...The Pakistani Taliban - Tehreek Taliban - also said anyone offering prayers for Mr Taseer would be guilty of blasphemy...

...Pakistan's high commissioner to London [told the BBC] that Pakistan would not allow itself to "be held hostage by a minority of [radical] religious people"."

Meanwhile, the Guardian, in an article entitled "Mainstream Pakistan religious organisations applaud killing of Salmaan Taseer" states that:

"All the big mainstream political parties strongly condemned the murder, and thousands attended funeral prayers for Taseer. However, both the large religious political parties declared that he had deserved to be killed for his views..."Salmaan Taseer was himself responsible for his killing," Munawar Hasan, the head of Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the two big religious political parties, said. "Any Muslim worth the name could not tolerate blasphemy of the Prophet, as had been proved by this incident...

The religious scholars warned that others could meet the same fate."The supporter is as equally guilty as one who committed blasphemy," the Jamaate Ahle Sunnat Pakistan statement said."

BFTF was concerned to see the support of Islamic parties for the killing and so emailed three local Imams who were part of Nottingham Jammat Ahle Sunnat asking :
"My question to you is to ask whether [the views of Jamaate Ahle Sunnat Pakistan] these are also the views of Jamaat Ahle Sunnat Nottingham?"
Update Jan 2014
Post tided up and extra background and links added.
None of the Imams answered the question, by the way.

Tips to improve your English

An old school friend (and one of the cleverest people I know - he is a senior medical doctor) popped by recently. Whilst chatting, I asked him if he had any advice on how to help Number One Son improve his English skills, as I could see (and as I constantly remind NumberOneSon) that a good command of the English language is key to doing well in many subjects and to being successfull in getting a good job.

I was surprised to learn that my friend had struggled with English at school. He was kind enough to share a number of techniques that he had used to improve his English skills and I thought his advice might be useful to others as well.

Firstly, he said NumberOneSon needed to read lots of books. This was really important. Preferably a wide selection of books (fiction, popular science, historical etc).

Then he said that NumberOneSon should note down any interesting phrases that he reads and think about why the author has used those particular words instead of any others.

Eventually, NumberOneSon should have a 'toolbox' of useful words and phrases that he can use to express himself - and should have become familiar with a number of different literary styles.

This all made a lot of sense to me, and so NumberOneSon has been noting down the words he does not understand and the interesting phrases in the book he is currently reading ('Notes from a Small Island' by Bill Bryson) and we shall see if this approach works for him. . .  

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The First Post

This is the first post on the 'Building for the Future' blog, which is the on-line presence of the Community Radio Show of the same name. In this blog, we will, God willing, be looking at issues related to civil society, to media bias and to proactive engagement with local leaders of the Muslim community.