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Sundry Reflections on the Politics of Religion

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] R [/yt_dropcap] ecently we have been witnessing in the media a veritable plethora of news- articles regarding the Orthodox branch of Christianity (comprising some 300 millions or one eight per cent of the global total number of Christians). Some pundits of religion have called it a veritable propaganda offensive to popularize Orthodoxy around the world. What is going on? Is it mere propaganda, or what? To begin to understand this phenomenon one needs to review, even if cursorily, the record on the relationship religion/politics as experienced first in Europe and later globally.

There is little doubt that religion has always represented, from primordial times, a powerful cultural force unifying diverse and disparate people. It seems to be a permanent feature of human nature of conceiving one’s identity. Jung, who had studied most of the major ones and researched them all over the world for psychological reasons, arriving at the concept of archetypes which they all seem to possess, is known to have observed that “throw religion out the door and it will come back through the back window as a pernicious cult of sort or an ideology.” It seems to be indispensable, even in practical political life, even in places where a powerful ideology controls every aspect of a people’s life. This is what terrorists have grasped while those who condemn anybody who practices a religion, or any religion for that matter, as an unenlightened retrograde obscurantist (Voltaire was one of those “enlightened” men) have failed to realize a very simple philosophical principle of Thomas Aquinas: the abuse does not obviate the use.

In effect, the ideology often enough sees itself in conflict with religion, which it considers just another misguided unenlightened rival ideology, and persecutes it or makes it illegal. We saw that phenomenon in the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1989); we continue to see it in China today where Communism is still holds the reigns of political power. Going back to ancient times, we saw that in the persecution of the Christians in Rome. They were persecuted for being perceived as competing ideologues subversive to the imperialistic interests of the Roman Empire, refusing to serve in the Roman army. All that changed once the Empire became Christian under Constantine. But we’ll return to that.

Besides Christianity, with which most people in the West are vaguely familiar, since by now good old paganism seems to be on its way back, one thinks of Islam which managed to unify the various wandering tribes of the Desert into one powerful civilization, in some ways superior, at the time at least, even to that of the West still struggling to emerge from the Dark Ages following the fall of the Roman Empire (the superiority residing in medicine and architecture, and, to some extent, philosophy). One thinks of Confucianism and Buddhism which did the same in the Far East, giving rise to the hegemony of Chinese and Japanese civilization in the area. One thinks of Hinduism unifying the whole Indian subcontinent. And the list goes on. With no religion, the tendency seems to be for centrifugal forces to take over and destroy any sign of unity and adherence to common values and traditions.

Historically, we know that beginning with the third century AD the Roman Empire, with the advent of semi-deranged emperors such as Caligula and Nero the Roman Empire, at least in its western part, appeared doomed to decline and eventual destruction, as in fact happened eventually. The political genius of a Constantine resides in the fact that he became increasingly aware that religion could be the force that would keep the centrifugal forces at work in the Empire, at bay for a while; a sort of cultural glue. So he embraces Christianity and basically requires that everybody in the Empire become a Christian. To refuse was equivalent to showing disrespect for the Emperor. People remembered too well the fate of those Christians who refused to throw incense at the statue of the Emperor.

In effect, you now have a Christian empire with the Emperor as the supreme ruler in temporal matters while the Pope is the supreme ruler in spiritual matters. It seemed to be a perfect arrangement and it did in fact keep the Empire going for a while longer. The problem was that the unity was so powerful and unshackled that the crucial distinction between spiritual matters and temporal matters began to disappear. In medieval times the power of the Church reached a culminating point when a bishop could be both a temporal ruler and a spiritual leader.

The Pope allegedly inherited one third of Italy, the very center of the peninsula, from Constantine, the so called “donation of Constantine,” in reality this was a fraudulent claim. Dante puts three Popes in hell for failing to distinguish the temporal from the spiritual. This state of affairs persists till the 16th century. In Italy it does not end till the 19th century when Italy becomes a unified country and the Pope is stripped of all temporal power, except for a symbolical vestige named Vatican City (see Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel Il Gattopardo), given to him, almost nobles oblige, by the dictator Benito Mussolini. Thus the principle of separation of temporal power and spiritual power was upheld in some form and everybody saved face.

In the eastern part of the Roman Empire, the so called Byzantine Empire, with its capital in Constantinople (present day Istanbul), things go on as usual for another thousand years or so, with the patriarch of Constantinople in charge of spiritual affairs and the eastern Emperor in charge of temporal affairs. In effect the one who called the shots, even in spiritual matters, was the one who held the temporal power and controlled the army: the Emperor. The patriarch, an equal with within the descendants of the apostles, which includes the bishop of Rome, the Pope, was merely the representative and the defender of the faith; a spiritual function. In more pragmatic Machiavellian terms, however, the real defender of the faith was the Byzantine Roman army which in the 4th crusade failed to defend the city from the invading Christians from the West on their way to free Jerusalem from the infedel Moslems. On passant, they did a little pillaging in Constantinople, a Christian city. So much for spiritual values and the brotherhood of all Christian, not to speak of that of all humans…Even the Pope at the time was horrified by this gross event and exclaimed about the Crusaders’ army: “no wonder the Greeks call them dogs.”

To continue the narration, Hagias Sophia’s, the largest and most beautiful Church in the world at the time, remained is a Christian Church till the end of the Byzantine Empire and the advent of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. It is now a museum surrounded by minarets. Obviously there are religious wars, and they spill over into cultural wars, better known as Crusades, and there are winners and there are losers, but religion (be it Christian or be it Moslem) remains a powerful cement to keep people’s allegiance, even patriotism, alive and well and to better camouflage one’s real political intentions.

Some have said that the problem with religion is that it produces too many fanatics; and such an opinion may express a valid point. But this can only be so in as much as religion too can be interpreted and presented as just another political ideology. When that happens, religions tend to vie with each other as ideologies have tended to do from time immemorial. Enter Marx with his “religion is the opium of the people” or Mao with his “religion is poison.” The Machiavellian stratagem of the more astute politicians among us is to manipulate them and pit one against the other. One uses them as ideological tools while remaining in control and pulling the political string at all times. One manages to promote one’s ideology, civilization, even nationalism through religion. One manages even to appear pious and holy.

For example at the recent meeting in Moscow to honor the 70th birthday of its Orthodox patriarch Cyril, a letter of invitation was sent out inviting all the Orthodox patriarchs together with the most important figures of the Orthodox Church. None of them failed to show up, albeit some came more enthusiastically and more entourage than others. This was hailed by some orthodox Christians as a great show of unity and cooperation within the Orthodox Church, even a good omen and a joyous prelude to eventual reunion with the Western Catholic Church. What seems to be forgotten is that the celebration took place in Moscow and the invitation had the blessing, so to speak, of a pious orthodox Christian who often goes on pilgrimages to Orthodox sacred places, while at the same time gobbling up Crimea, or parts of Ukraine or part of Georgia while eyeing the Baltic countries, former satellites of the Soviet Union with large Russian populations of which he has proclaimed himself the champion. It appears that none dared to disrespect the blessing of such a pious but powerful member of the Orthodox Church, or even impugn his real motives.

You get the point. We are talking here about the politics of religion. Like Constantine, one can use religion for one’s ideological and political agenda. Since Communism as it is, can no longer be revived in Russia, probably not even in Italy, one can still bring back the past glories of Russia as expressed via the Orthodox Church and showing the great respect for traditional values, all lost in those Epicurean hedonistic societies in the European Union and the United States of America. One may even be able to convince oneself, with all those yearly holy pilgrimages, that one is a genuine peace-loving Christian and not a mere astute ideologue. It worked quite well for Constantine; why should it not work for Mr. Putin? But Christ’s injunction remains: “By their fruits you shall know them.” So, keep your eyes and ears open.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Religion

How divine books guide and socialize an individual into society

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When an individual born it  interact with social group in which it is present. The term socialization refers to the process of interaction through which the growing individual learns the habits, attitudes, values and beliefs of the social group into which one has been born. … Socialization prepares people to participate in a social group by teaching them its norms and expectations. But why there is need of socialization ? The answer is we are born there is something in our DNA that make us feel there should be some one who we need to follow, that there is someone who make us, who is very superior to us.

Very interesting question. what a religion actually is. As per the Oxford dictionary, “religion” is:   “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.”

That is what religion is very simply put .strictly speaking, all “religions” in the world revolve around this same concept: a belief in a superhuman controlling power. They all build on this central concept, assigning various different attributes and holy books to this superhuman controlling power.

In Hinduism, this “power” is called Brahman and has many forms, manifesting itself in every sentient being, In Islam it is called “Allah” and so on so forth. But the bottom line of all these religions is: There is a god.

There is God who have sent us and give us the way to live the life. Through the learning process one give  priority to the religion it follow. The religion guide us through holy book. Divine books are four in numbers revealed to different Prophets i.e.

Tawrat to  Prophet Musa

Zabur to Prophet Dawud

Injil to Prophet Isa

Quran revealed to Prophet Muhammad SAW

but Muslim believes that they all carry a same message or guidance for humanity. Divine books provide set of rules to live a life. They can also act as a source of history and motivation for the followers. Quran is last Divine book but it contains some  references of all other Divine Books.

Divine books act as source of religion provider. Beliefs, values and practices related to spiritual concerns are described by religion. It is also known as crucial roadway of socialization for many people. In many religious institutions like temples, churches and mosques individual of many religious communities assemble to glorify and to grasp knowledge. Many ceremonies related to structure of family like marriage and birth are also related to religious celebrations. Shared set of socialized value which passes through society are foster by organized religion. Each social theorist define religion according to their own perspective

The purpose of sending divine books to the followers of certain religion was to give them the principles of religion. The teachings of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity are very similar to each other. The conflict occurs in their ideology and oneness of God. Reforms in individual life and society’s life like harmony and unity are brought by these books. They act as a balance between life of both the individual and society by safeguarding rights, assigning individual responsibilities which are guided by Divine books. Divine books deals with the demand of society and behave as building block of thinking and behavioural processes and lay stress on Faith  , through this human hearts and minds are completely transformed and remodelling  of our thinking and behavioural pattern occur  which as a result changes the whole society.

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Pakistan On Its Way to Promote Interfaith Harmony

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People from various cultural, racial, and religious backgrounds live in Pakistan.  96.28 percent of the country consists of a Muslim population. Minority groups make up 4% of the population, with Christians at 1.59%, Hindus at 1.60%, and Ismaili and Qadianis make 0.22 %. Unluckily this diversity is now being mistreated. Whether it is the ongoing violence against non-Muslims or the sectarian violence among Muslims across the nation, these misperceptions about other religions are a major contributor to violence among religious communities. Unfortunately, Pakistan has fallen prey to these social ills.

The government of Pakistan has contributed significantly by carrying out numerous initiatives and plans to guarantee all of Pakistani society with various religious and ethnic backgrounds the opportunity to socialize with one another.  The 1973 Constitution of Pakistan specifically mentioned the rights of minorities to preserve interreligious harmony.  To represent religious minorities’ voices Article 51 (2A) of the Constitution grants ten additional public services to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Parsi religious communities in the national assembly. The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan mandated the establishment of a National Council for Minorities. The prime objective of the Council is to oversee, the effective application and protection of rights guaranteed to minorities by the Pakistani Constitution. The Council also demands from the Federal and Provincial Governments to structure the policy proposals to uphold and defend the rights of minorities as per the 2014 Jurisdiction of SC.

Since the last decade Pakistan has been working on the issues of protection of religious minority’s rights however, the process speeded up in 2018.  The Ministry of Human Rights created the Action Plan against Religious Persecution in 2016. The election campaign of the political Party “Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf” introduced, in their manifesto to establish a “legally empowered, well-resourced, independent National Commission on Minorities, followed by provincial Commissions/Departments”.The strategy outlines a strenuous effort to be undertaken with numerous stakeholders to protect and advance religious minorities so that they are better able to contribute to the peace and development of the nation and become a part of Pakistan’s mainstream social fabric fearlessly. It constitutes a task force at the federal level for developing a strategy for promoting religious tolerance. Curb hate speech in social media. The creation of an endowment fund for student scholarships, development of a complaint/redress mechanism, review/proposal of amendments for discriminatory laws, and protection of places of worship are just a few of the initiatives mentioned in the Action Plan. Others include raising awareness and providing training on interfaith harmony, reviewing and revising education curricula at all levels to foster a peaceful and inclusive society, and raising funds for student scholarships.

Subsequently, it is pertinent to mention here that religious harmony is crucial for maintaining interreligious relations. For this purpose, On January 16, 2018, a National Narrative (Paigham e Pakistan) for Peaceful and Moderate Pakistani Society based on Islamic Principles was presented under the watchful eye of government officials. In January 2019, the Paigham-e-Pakistan Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies released a fatwa (verdict) signed by over 1800 Pakistani religious scholars denouncing suicide bombings, armed uprisings, and other acts of terrorism committed in the name of Sharia.

One of the main issues facing minorities, which is being echoed around the world, is the forced conversion of young girls. The Hindu Marriage Act of 2017 was passed by the National Assembly in response to this challenge, covering all of Pakistan except Sindh. To make it easier for the Hindu community to get married under the Sindh Hindu marriage Rules, 2019, the Sindh government passed the Sindh Hindu Marriage Act 2016 (amended in 2018). Additionally, to resolve the issue and dispel any negative perceptions about forced conversion, the Pakistan Hindu Council and Ulema confined an agreement. According to this agreement, the law approved by the Parliament will be adopted regarding conversion. Any Hindu who approaches ulema for conversion will be reported to the local Hindu community leader, to meet with their parents (in absence of Ulema), until the law is approved. Still, if he/she wishes to convert will be allowed to do so.

The Pakistani religious and political elite have used religious segregation by emphasizing “divide and rule” and discouraging the idea of “unity in diversity to effectively consolidate their power. Segregation based on religion has become a major tool for encouraging violence against non-Muslims. This encourages extremism by instilling the desire in jihadist groups to commit acts of religious terrorism against members of other faiths. It is therefore essential to oppose any misuse of religion. Likewise, we must guard against religious fanaticism and extremism to promote interfaith harmony. Under the guise of religion, encourage hatred or even terrorist acts are destructive and poses a serious threat to the peace and prosperity of Pakistan.

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Betting on the wrong horse: The battle to define moderate Islam

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Proponents of a moderate Islam that embraces tolerance, diversity, and pluralism may be betting on the wrong horse by supporting Muslim scholars on autocrats’ payroll.

Polling in the Middle East seems to confirm that state-sponsored clerics lack credibility.

Recent research suggesting that non-violent protest has increasingly become less effective magnifies problems posed by the clerics’ legitimacy deficit.

The combination of lagging credibility and reduced effectiveness enhances the risk of politically inspired violence.

Add to that that young Muslims gravitate towards militancy in a world of perceived persecution of the faithful.

Tam Hussein, an award-winning investigative journalist and novelist, who has spent time with jihadists in various settings, noted in a recent blog and an interview that a segment of Muslim youth, who see Western militaries operating across the Muslim world, often embrace the jihadist argument that Muslims would not be victims if they had a genuinely Muslim state with an armed force and religious laws that would garner God’s favour.

Achieving a state, the jihadists say, has to be ‘through blood (because) the rose isn’t got except by putting one’s hand on the thorns.’

Mr. Hussein cautioned that “this sentiment of young Muslims…cannot be combated with platitudes, ill thought out deradicalisation programmes, and naff websites set up to combat social media.”

Mr. Hussein’s insight goes to the crux of a rivalry for religious soft power in the Muslim world that, at its core, involves a struggle to define concepts of moderate Islam.

In essence, Mr. Hussein argues that a credible response to religiously inspired militancy will have to come from independent Islamic scholars rather than clerics who do Muslim autocrats’ bidding.

The journalist’s assertion is undergirded by some three-quarters of Arab youth polled annually by Dubai-based public relations firm ASDA’A BCW who have consistently asserted in recent years that religious institutions need to be reformed.

Commenting on the agency’s 2020 survey, Gulf scholar Eman Alhussein said that Arab youth had taken note of religious figures endorsing government-introduced reforms they had rejected in the past.

“This not only feeds into Arab youth’s scepticism towards religious institutions but also further highlights the inconsistency of the religious discourse and its inability to provide timely explanations or justifications to the changing reality of today,” Ms. Alhussein wrote.

Mr. Hussein warned that “what many…well-intentioned leaders and Imams don’t realise, and I have seen this with my own eyes, is that radical preachers…have a constituency. They hit a nerve and are watched” as opposed to “those they deem to be ‘scholars for dollars’… There is a dissonance between the young and the imams. …

When the no doubt erudite Azhari sheikhs such as Ali Gomaa seemingly support Sisi’s killing of innocents followed up by Habib Ali Jifri’s support for his teacher, one cannot help but understand their predicament and anger,” Mr. Hussein said, referring to scholars of Al Azhar, a citadel of Islamic learning in Cairo.

Mr. Hussein was pointing to Ali Gomaa, who, as the grand mufti of Egypt, defended the killing of some 800 non-violent protesters on a Cairo square in the wake of the 2013 military coup led by general-turned president Abdul Fatah al-Sisi. The coup toppled Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brother and Egypt’s only democratically elected president.

A Yemeni-born UAE-backed cleric, Mr. Al-Jifri, a disciple of Mr. Goma, is part of a group of Islamic scholars who help project the Emirates as a beacon of an autocratic form of moderate Islam that embraces social reforms and religious diversity, rejects political pluralism, and demands absolute obedience of the ruler.

The group includes the former Egyptian mufti, Abdullah Bin Bayyah, a respected Mauritanian theologian, and his disciple, Hamza Yusuf, one of America’s foremost Muslim figures.

Mr. Hussein could have included Mohammed al-Issa, the secretary general of the Muslim World League, the primary vehicle employed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to garner religious soft power and propagate his autocratic version of Islam.

Autocratic reformers such as UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed and Mr. Bin Salman offer an upgraded 21st-century version of a social contract that kept undemocratic Arab regimes in office for much of the post-World War Two era.

The contract entailed the population’s surrender of political rights in exchange for a cradle-to-grave welfare state in the oil-rich Gulf or adequate delivery of public services and goods in less wealthy Arab states.

That bargain broke down with the 2011 and 2019/2020 popular Arab revolts that did not spare Gulf countries like Bahrain and Oman.

The breakdown was sparked not only by governments’ failure to deliver but also by governments, at times, opening political space to Islamists so that they could counter left-wing forces.

Scholar Hesham Allam summarised the policy as “more identity, less class.” In effect, Middle Eastern government were hopping onto a bandwagon that  globally was empowering religious and nationalist forces.

Using Egypt as a case study in his just publisjed book, Classless Politics: Islamist Movements, the Left, and Authoritarian Legacies in Egypt. Mr. Sallam argued that” in the long run, this policy led to the fragmentation of opponents of economic reform, the increased salience of cultural conflicts within the left, and the restructuring of political life around questions of national and religious identity.”

To revive the core of the social contract, Messrs. Bin Zayed and Bin Salman have thrown into the mix degrees of social liberalization and greater women’s rights needed to diversify their economies and increase jobs as well as professional, entertainment, and leisure opportunities.

At the same time, they have cracked down on dissent at home and sought to impede, if not at times brutally, reverse political change elsewhere in the region.

Even so, researcher Nora Derbal describes in her recently published book, Charity in Saudi Arabia: Civil Society under Authoritarianism, discrepancies between interpretations of Islamic guidance as provided by government officials and state-sponsored clerics and charity and civil society groups that have their own understanding.

In one instance, Ms. Derbal noted that the government sought to restrict charity recipients to holders of Saudi national id card. She quoted a representative of one group as saying that “Islamically speaking, any person, Muslim or not Muslim, deserves aid if in need.”

Nevertheless, the notion of an autocratic moderate Islam appears to work for the UAE and holds out promise for Saudi Arabia but is on shaky ground elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

Recent polling by ASDA’A BCW showed that of the 3,400 young Arabs in 17 Arab countries aged 18 to 24 surveyed, fifty-seven per cent identified the UAE as the country where they would like to live. Thirty-seven per cent wanted their home country to emulate the UAE.

The survey’s results starkly contrast Mr. Hussein’s perceptions of discontented, radicalized Muslims and jihadists he encountered in Syria and elsewhere.

The diverging pictures may be two sides of the same coin rather than mutually exclusive. The survey and other polls and Mr. Hussein likely tap into different segments of Muslim youth.

Nobel Literature Prize laureate Orhan Pamuk described the men and women that Mr. Hussein discussed as having a “sense of being second or third-class citizens, of feeling invisible, unrepresented, unimportant, like one counts for nothing—which can drive people toward extremism.”

Some of those responding to polls may be empathetic but probably wouldn’t pull up their stakes because they are at a point where they have too much to lose.

Even so, recent surveys by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy showed that 59 per cent of those polled in the UAE, 58 percent in Saudi Arabia, and 74 per cent in Egypt, disagreed with the notion that “we should listen to those among us who are trying to interpret Islam in a more moderate, tolerant, and modern way.”

Given that in the milieu that Mr. Hussein depicts, the UAE is “seen by many as actively subverting the aspirations of millions of Arabs and Muslims for their own political ends, one can see why these (angry) young men will continue to fight,” the journalist said.

“When scholars don’t act as their flock’s lightning rod, or do not convey their sentiments to power, or are not sufficiently independent enough, the matter becomes hopeless and young men being young men, look for other avenues,” Mr. Hussein added.

Pakistan is one place where Mr. Hussein’s scenario and Mr. Pamuk’s analysis play out. In July, a United Nations Security Council report said that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, boasted the largest number of foreign militants operating from Afghan soil.

The report suggested that many of TTP’s 3,000 to 4,000 fighters were freed from Afghan jails shortly after last year’s fall of Kabul.

Recent academic research suggesting that non-violent dissent is seeing its lowest success rate in more than a century even though the number of protests has not diminished magnifies the resulting threat of militancy.

One study concluded that the number of protest movements worldwide had tripled between 2006 and 2020, including the dramatic 2011 popular Arab uprisings. Yet, compared to the early 2000s when two out of three protest movements demanding systemic change succeeded, today it is one in six, meaning that protests are more likely to fail than at any time since the 1930s, according to Harvard political scientist Erica Chenoweth. Ms. Chenoweth suggested that the sharp decline was starkest in the past two years.

By comparison, armed rebellion has seen its effectiveness decline more slowly than non-violent protest, making the two strategies nearly tied in their odds of succeeding. “For the first time since the 1940s, a decade dominated by state-backed partisan rebellions against Nazi occupations, non-violent resistance does not have a statistically significant advantage over armed insurrection,” Ms. Chenoweth said.

Ms. Chenoweth and others attribute the evening out of success rates of violent and non-violent agitation to deep-seated polarization, militant nationalism, media echo chambers, increased restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression that cut off avenues to release pent-up anger and frustration, and an enhanced authoritarian toolkit. The toolkit includes divide and rule strategies, digital repression, propaganda and misinformation, and the declaration of emergency powers under pretexts such as the recent public health crisis.

Said Ms. Chenoweth: “As authoritarian movements gain ground, democratic movements worldwide are struggling to expand their constituencies among those who have grown frustrated with the systems of inequality and injustice that continue to plague…countries worldwide.”

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