Thursday, August 04, 2016

John Lennon to Jihadi John: ‘Imagine’ the ‘Beatles’ on a horrific beheading spree

In the summer of 1971 when John Lennon, the British singer and songwriter who co-founded the Beatles, created “Imagine”, it was just a call to let go of the institutions that keep us separate, a message for peace. A pure Utopian vision.

“Imagine” turned out to be Lennon’s best-selling single of his solo career, followed by myriad interpretation of the song. Apart from being branded a commie, many believed “Imagine” lyrics reveal a total disbelief in faith and God. A remark Lennon once made that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus supposedly added fuel to this interesting thought.

Some had a problem with the "imagine there are no possessions" line, calling Lennon hypocritical as he was a millionaire rock star living in a mansion, apart from branding him a communist.

Although Lennon had said that the lyrics “Imagine that there was no more religion, no more country, no more politics is virtually the communist manifesto,” he also added that "even though I am not particularly a communist and I do not belong to any movement."

In the book Lennon in America by Geoffrey Giuliano, Lennon was quoted as saying that “Imagine” was an "anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic [song], but because it's sugar-coated, it's accepted."

The British rock star was not alone in his anti-war activism of the late 60s and early 70s. There were fellow musicians like Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Jackson Browne and many others. Lennon was an outsider in the US but happened to be famous and influential as the others. The US government wanted him gone as he was a symbol of the peace movement and could hurt its Vietnam war efforts by rallying the public. The Woodstock Festival had already done enough damage in 1969.

After years of deportation hearings, Lennon finally received his “green card” and was granted permanent residency status in the US in 1976. However, the co-founder of the “Fab Four” was assassinated outside his apartment in New York in 1980 before he got his US citizenship.
Ironically, performing “Imagine” moments before the New Year's Times Square Ball drops in New York City has become a tradition since 2005.

"Imagine" is simply another in the many songs John Lennon wrote in his lifetime with a strong sugar-coated message to ‘Give Peace a Chance’. The lyrics being: “Imagine there’s no heaven, It’s easy if you try, No hell below us, Above us only sky, Imagine all the people, Living for today… Imagine there’s no countries, It isn’t hard to do, Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too…”

John Lennon would have never imagined that after more than four decades of encouraging the world to dream of a world at peace without the barriers of religion and nationality, a “fanatic four” from the terror group ISIS or Islamic State (whose goal is the foundation of a Sunni Islamic state) would disgrace the iconic “Beatles” tag.

Infamous for their taste for the macabre and said to be unimaginably ruthless than other Islamic State terrorists, these four members were dubbed “The Beatles” by their hostages because of their British accents. The members were nicknamed John, Paul, George, and Ringo, after the iconic Liverpool group by their hostages.

The Beatles were assigned responsibility to guard foreign hostages by Islamic State commanders. According to BuzzFeed, the four ISIS jailers beheaded seven American, British and Japanese hostages, as well as 18 members of the Syrian army. They also had a reputation for waterboarding, mock executions, crucifixions and were known for memorializing their horrific acts in a string of videotaped beheadings. Because of their excessive brutality, at one point they were removed from their guard duties by ISIS.

The jihadist known as "John", usually referred to as "Jihadi John", has beheaded or participated in maximum number of the beheadings. Identified as Mohammed Emwazi, he was killed in a drone strike year year.

Aine Davis nicknamed "Paul", a former London drug dealer, now in custody in Turkey, is also thought to have been a member of the infamous group. He was tried in Turkey in 2016 over allegations that he was plotting a terror attack there.

Another member of the Beatles cell Alexanda Kotey, a 'quiet and humble' Queens Park Rangers fan from west London, was exposed in February. The 32-year-old nicknamed "Ringo", was frequently seen by the hostages. His whereabouts are unknown.

El Shafee Elsheikh, 27, is believed by security forces to be the fourth member and final member of the all-British gang of ISIS fanatics led by Jihadi John. It's not clear whether the former fairground mechanic radicalised in west London is the guard known as "Ringo" or "George," whom the hostages considered the group's leader and the most vicious of the four.

However, former Beatle Ringo Starr expressed his disgust at the use of his former band's name as a nickname for the ISIS terror cell, saying: "It’s bullshit. What they are doing out there is against everything the Beatles stood for," adding that the band had stood for peace and opposed violence.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

The sordid tale of Burhan Wani: From school principal’s son to Hizbul commander

In what can be termed as a big breakthrough for security forces in the Kashmir Valley on Friday (July 8, 2016), Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen was killed in an operation. The 22-year-old ‘poster boy’ of the terror group was reportedly cornered in Bumdoora village of Kokernag by a joint team of police and Army.

Following the news of the death of the "local hero", who was also Kashmir Valley's most wanted militant commandant, protests in several places with call for complete shutdown in Jammu & Kashmir on Saturday by separatist leaders against Burhan’s killing have been reported.

For quite some time now, the flagging militancy in the Kashmir Valley had been witnessing a dangerous trend – young, educated Kashmiris getting sucked into the resurging vortex of the terror storm that has bloodied the flowers of the Himalayan meadows.

And the face that represented the new breed of Kashmiri militancy in the Valley was a young man from a well-to-do family in Tral in south Kashmir. Burhan Muzaffar Wani had emerged as the force behind the resurging militancy among Kashmiri youth in south Kashmir, which is said to be the traditional hot-bed of militancy in the Valley.

The good-looking son of a government school principal had risen to become the commander of the deadly terror group Hizbul Muzahideen in south Kashmir, which he joined after his older brother, Khalid Muzaffar Wani, was allegedly assaulted by security forces in 2010.  Burhan had reportedly vowed to take revenge for the assault.

Khalid, however, was allegedly killed in an encounter by the Army when he went to meet Burhan in the thick Tral forests on April 13 last year. According to J&K Police, Khalid, 25, was “involved in overground (militant) activities” and had led a group of three potential recruits to meet Burhan. When the Army closed in on the hideout, the militants fled and Khalid was killed.

Tech-savvy and a good motivator, Burhan is said to have effectively utilised the social media sphere to spread Islamist propaganda to attract and recruit young Kashmiri men into the militancy fold. For quite some time, Burhan’s presence on social media had been relatively high with videos, photographs and messages. He had also become the star of a video that was circulated on Facebook and WhatsApp in an attempt to recruit young Kashimiri men. The video, which had gone viral, showed him embracing an armed militant.

Last year, a group photo (above) of local Kashmiri boys, mostly new militant recruits of the Hizbul Mujahideen, went viral on social media, sending security agencies into a tizzy. In a daring attitude, the 11 young Kashmiri militants donning army fatigues and holding firearms posted their photograph on Facebook. Those in the photograph included Burhan Wani and ex-constable of Jammu & Kashmir Police Naseer, who ran away with two AK-47 rifles while on guard duty with Altaf Bukhari, a minister in the Mufti Sayeed-headed PDP-BJP government.

The location where the picture was shot seemed to be somewhere in orchards of Shopian or Pulwama in South Kashmir, which has of late become a fertile ground for recruitment of youths into various militant outfits.

The Intelligence Bureau had estimated that there are now lesser number of militants in the Valley compared to the grim scenario over a decade ago. But on the flip side, a majority of these militants are now homegrown. Wani, who had dropped out just 10 days before his Class 10 board exams, seldom actively took part in militant strikes, but was said to be the brain behind many.

What really matters now is whether the educated youth, who were motivated by Wani, will give some thought to the sordid role of fatalistic religious dogmas and violence that turned a paradise into a blood-laden valley. And also, whether the authorities would take a logical and humanitarian approach to cleanse this extremely dangerous flow of hatred.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Could virtual reality be the next step in parenting?

This app can possibly turn out to be many city-dwelling working parents’ favourite tool with work-life balance hanging unhealthily in a relationship that requires lots of love and interaction before time silently weakens the natural bonding process.

Raising children is today's fast-paced world is a difficult challenge. From frequent work-related travels to working late hours, many parents are unable to dedicate much time to their little ones and it can be tough on those who've grown habituated to the soothing ritual of the goodnight hug or bedtime story.

Technology has already gifted these parents the option to move on from the bedtime phone call to the bedtime video chat. But now, an app developed by Samsung lets parents and children reunite for bedtime stories in virtual reality.

The Bedtime VR Stories app, which is still in the prototype stage, combines elements of the traditional bedtime story— words appear on screen and parents, can read them aloud—with games and animation. Using Gear VR and Google Cardboard headsets – with funny faces, children can hear their parents reciting the story remotely and interact with them as if they are in the same room.

The Verge reports that the Bedtime VR Stories app lets parents and children go on a virtual journey together and the little ones do only listen to their parent read a story but are asked to interact with their environment in different ways as they travel together through an animated world of animals, dinosaurs, and robots.

“With both sat on a magical bed, they go on a journey that takes them from the bedroom to three magical places. First stop is the Arctic, in the company of Jen the Penguin. Next, Dan the Dinosaur takes them to meet the rest of his family in a pre-historic world. Finally, they fly into outer space with Robot Jo, for a musical finale," Samsung said in a press release.

The Verge in its report says that the app looked like it only worked with the Galaxy S7 Edge and Gear VR headset. It also notes that the app it is currently being tested with select families in the UK, and Samsung has not yet announced an official release date.