Anderson Cooper

CNN journalist Anderson Cooper has always felt the need to be where the action is and where History unfolds. His personal style is both provocative and emotional, and is probably a result of a life full of unique experiences.

Anderson Cooper is an American journalist who has reported from almost every prominent war zone in the last 15 years, including Burma, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Rwanda. He has covered the tsunami damage in Sri Lanka; the Cedar Revolution in Beirut, the death of Pope John Paul II; the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles; the Egyptian Revolution from Tahrir Square, the bombings in London, the violence in Mexico.

 

He is the son of artist, designer, socialite and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, who was especially famous for her jeans collections in the 1970´s, and a descendant of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad and shipping 19th century tycoon. Born to a wealthy family, he had a priviledged upbringing. At age 10, Cooper was already modelling for the likes of Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein among others. However, as a journalist today he is a celebrity in his own right, with his trademark premature gray hair and his unique emotional, honest and provocative style of journalism.

Adventurous from an early age, at 17 he travelled around Africa where he contracted malaria and had to be hospitalized in Kenya. When he was 21, his older brother commited suicide jumping from the 14th-floor terrace of Vanderbilt’s New York City penthouse apartment, a dramatic event that marked him profoundly. He studied both Political Science and International Relations at Yale University and he also spent two summers as an intern at the CIA.

Despite being today the anchor of his own CNN show Anderson Cooper 360º, and having worked as a correspondent for 60 minutes, and for ABC news, he really has no formal journalistic education. His first correspondence work was in Myanmar, where he entered on his own with a forged press pass and started reporting on the student riots for Channel One, a small news agency where he worked at the time. In the early 1990’s Cooper lived in Vietnam for a year to study the language.

 

Cooper brings a very personal style to his reporting that has been frequently called emo-journalism. This was especially true during his coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Because of his credibility, humanity and authenticity he was once described as the anchorperson of the future.

Recently, while covering the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, a violent fight broke out outside a store and a boy was wounded in the head with a stone. Cooper, who was reporting from the scene, stopped, picked up the bleeding boy and pulled him away to safety before continuing his reporting. The video was seen around the world. It is this kind of actions that set Anderson Cooper apart from traditional war journalists.

 

Dispatches from the Edge”, Cooper’s memoirs about covering the South Asia tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and other news events, recently topped the New York Times Bestsellers List and other bestseller charts. He reportedly earns more than $4 million a year.

-To read my original article: Anderson Cooper

-Anderson Cooper talks to Journalism School

-Anderson Cooper carries boy in Haiti

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Islamic Banking

During the Islamic Golden Age, which spanned approximately 500 years, between the 8th and 13th centuries, some early forms of capitalism and freemarkets existed. The dinar brought together previously economically independent regions. Before Islam, the city of Mecca was already a center of trade in Arabia, a place where not only goods but also ideas were exchanged. Islamic civilization grew thanks to its merchant economy. It was commerce, not holy war, that expanded the Muslim faith to Asia.

Islamic banking is based on the teachings of Prophet Mohammed, himself a merchant. During its heyday, shariah was the world’s most vibrant body of commercial law, its contracts recognized from the Arabian peninsula to the Iberian peninsula. The shariah issued fatwas or opinions on which transactions were Islamically acceptable and which were forbidden. Shariah prohibits the payment or acceptance of interest fees for loans of money, a principle as old as money itself and basic to Western banking. However, charging high interest rates to lend money is repeatedly condemned in the Bible, Aristotle denounced it, the Romans limited it, and it was prohibited by the early Christian church.

Back in the days of Mohammed, the reasons for rejecting interest were pretty obvious: loan-sharking was common and not paying a loan could result in slavery. By outlawing interest, Islam encouraged an economy based on risk-sharing, fair dealing, and equity. The reason for prohibiting interest is to keep everybody spending according to his limit, so inevitably this system involves more prudent lending. Western consumerism society is the result of a banking system that encourages buying today and paying tomorrow. For advocates of Islamic banking, Western capitalism is synonymous with speculation, volatility, inequality, large corporations and usury. Not that they are entirely wrong.

In an Islamic mortgage transaction, instead of loaning the buyer money to purchase the item, a bank might buy the item itself from the seller, and re-sell it to the buyer at a profit, while allowing the buyer to pay the bank in installments. There are no additional penalties for late payment. To protect itself against default, the bank requires a strict collateral. Some transactions, look a lot like interest, but any late fees must be donated to charity, and the bank cannot penalize a borrower who is genuinely broke. Financiers share borrowers’ risks and depositors are treated more like shareholders, earning a portion of profits. Financing deals resemble lease-to-own arrangements, layaway plans, joint purchase and sale agreements, or partnerships.

Interest-free banking as a financial concept is pretty recent. The earliest references to the reorganisation of banking on the basis of profit sharing rather than interest are found in the 40’s. But it wasn’t until the oil boom of the 1970s that it became a movement. Nostalgia for the lost golden era of Muslim power, when Islamic economy covered half the world, has been a strong impetus for Islamic banking. The region’s millenium-long material decline has been blamed both on moral decay and on colonialism, which imposed Western-style banking, a cause for resentment still today. However, the only countries that have officially Islamicized their entire banking systems, are Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan.

After the collapse of Wall Street institutions and a global recession, Islamic banking is seriously being considered a possible alternative to conventional banking. The biggest support has surprisingly come from the Vatican itself, which has been very critical of the destructive excesses of the interest-based conventional financial system. Two authors of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper, have said that the ethical principles on which Islamic finance is based may bring banks closer to their clients and to the true spirit which should mark financial services. After all, the Bible denounces that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Islamic Banking experiences a healthy growth of 10-15% per year. According to The Economist there are over US$822 billion shariah-compliant assets worldwide. Most international big banks now (JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank)  have Islamic banking operations and they employ shariah scholars, expert in both scriptures and in financial theory. These scholars are so rare, many have to sit on several boards. Ancient texts don’t address specific matters like derivatives, bonds, futures, warrants, stock options or day trading, so a delicate and very sophisticated form of extrapolation ensures transactions comply with the spirit of the writings in holy books.

Islamic banking is restricted to Islamically acceptable transactions, which exclude those involving alcohol, pork, gambling, etc. If a company makes 2% of its money from selling pork rinds, an investor must give away 2% of his dividends to charity, a process known as “portfolio purification.” Buying and selling stock is fine, because it represents real assets, and they can be traded safely today using the Dow Jones Islamic Index.

Islamic banking is not entirely free of guilt or suspicion, of course. With 60% of Muslims living in poverty, Islamic banking is perceived by some to be of little benefit to the general population. It has had its share of scandals too, like one Malaysian bank who apparently invested the majority of its Islamic funds in the gaming industry, something totally unethical and prohibited under Islamic principles. Goldman Sachs’ $2 billion Islamic bond program came under scrutiny after it was discovered that the scholars who were supposed to approve the operations had not even seen the prospectus. Islamic banking has also been accused of serving as a channel for financing terrorists. However it does seem that Islamic banking has important ethical principles well worth imitating, and proponents of Islamic banking say any socially conscious investor can agree with most limits, standards and criteria of Islamic banking, whether they are Muslim or not. 

-Still want more? Here’s an article in Fortune magazine

-The photographs of the Al-Quran and the Astrolabe were taken from this blog

To read my article in its original PDF form, go to: Islamic Banking

Silk Thread Martyrs

Omar Joseph Nasser-Khoury is a young Palestinian and one of the most promising young designers to recently emerge from the Arab world. He was born in Al Quds (Jerusalem) and grew up in the Occupied Territories. His work draws its inspiration from a rich tradition of Palestinian embroidery. He combines the motifs and the refined cross-stitching, typical of his homeland, with bold tailoring, to create a unique and very personal interpretation of this traditional heritage. He wants to remind young people in the Palestinian territories of this heritage, and show how it can be relevant to modern life.

Nasser-Khoury’s in 2011 exhibited a collection titled “Silk Thread Martyrs,” at London’s Mosaic Room, coinciding with London’s Fashion Week.

Farmers, fighters, social workers, martyrs and refugees are all sources of inspiration for a collection in which Nasser-Khoury also questions issues regarding gender, duty or social restraints. The permanent presence of death and mourning in daily life and the almost unbearable reality of Israeli Occupation have greatly influenced his work and are also palpable in the collection.

Nasser-Khoury produced the collection working closely with Inaash, a Lebanese non-profit organization that teaches traditional Palestinian embroidery techniques to women living in refugee camps in Lebanon. Inaash’s embroidery project benefits 450 women, teaching them skills that will help them earn a living.

The garments were made with the minimum use of machinery. Most of the embroidery, the luxurious fabrics, the colouring and the dyeing was carried out entirely by hand.

(To read original article in PDF: Silk Thread Martyrs)

Prophets in the land of Prophets

In a TED conference some time ago, Wadah Khanfar, who was director general of the Al Jazeera network (today President of the Sharq Forum), recalled a call on his personal phone. He did not know who was calling, or how he managed to get his number, but the voice was from a person in Tahrir Square in Egypt. The voice implored him not to switch off the cameras. “You are protecting us by showing what is happening here. If you switch off the cameras tonight, there will be a genocide.”

Al Jazeera’s cameras did not go off. They amplified the voice of all those protesters and broadcast it to the world. A revolution so unexpected that no one knew well how to interpret. The world was in a state of shock and taken completely by surprise. Al Jazeera’s newsroom in Doha (Qatar) was soon flooded with pictures, with videos and news, most from people in the streets, who had become front-line reporters. The network was there to provide context, amplification and even protection for protesters seizing power from their oppressive regimes.

The world was watching: traffic to Al Jazeera’s online broadcasts skyrocketed 2,500 percent, during the 18 days of the Egyptian Revolution, and roughly half of that traffic was from the United States. Ordinary people fighting to overthrow Hosni Mubarak discovered that ordinary people a world away actually cared. And then, as we were all watching this drama unfold, the spark also ignited in Libya, and then in other countries.

Well aware he was representing the voice of millions of Arabs, Khanfar in his TED conference asked the world to support the young generation that was taking the Middle East into a new era. “The future that we were dreaming for in the Middle East has eventually arrived” he said. He urged the West not to interfere and impose its will and interests on the region in an effort to establish governments that would be friendly to the West’s economic and political interests. He asked that the West accept and support the choice of the Arab people.

Al Jazeera, is headquartered in Doha, Qatar. Over the years it has expanded to what it is today, a network with several outlets, including the Internet in multiple languages. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, provided a loan of QAR 500 million ($137 million) to sustain Al Jazeera through its first five years. The Emir had been contemplating a satellite channel even before he deposed his father. A free press complemented his vision of the emirate as a center of commercial development and progress.

The network was launched in 1996, and even though it was financed in part by the Emir, the network was never about pleasing anybody, it soon was was shocking audiences and governments alike. It presented, for example, the Israeli speaking Hebrew on Arab television for the first time, and some talk shows were a constant source of controversy regarding issues of morality and religion.

But Al Jazeera over the years seems to have finally earned the respect it deserved. It has endured and come a long way. With roughly 45 million viewers around the world today, the network once accused of having sympathy with extremist causes in the past is now invited to TED conferences.

But in what is perhaps the best compliment to date, and clear proof of how far Al Jazeera has come, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on 4 March 2011, saying: “Al Jazeera has been the leader, they are literally changing people’s minds and attitudes. And like it or hate it, it is really effective (…) in fact viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials.”

Wadah Khanfar has left and has been replaced by a member of the Qatar royal family. Will Al Jazeera lose its prestige, objectivity and credibility?

It is hard to be a prophet in your own land, but Al Jazeera’s credibility has been hard earned. It wasn’t out to be just another news channel, it never took the easy route, it struggled to remain loyal to the principles of true unbiased reporting. It has not been an easy ride, and mostly one it made alone, while being attacked from all sides. It was the lone voice that cried in the desert. After all, Al Jazeera does mean “the island” in Arabic.

(To read my original article, published in March 2011: Prophets in the Land of Prophets)