The Brussels connection: Turning the tide on radicalisation

 
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By Christian Nielsen

Belgium says it is working to combat radicalisation in Brussels. But is it doing enough to counter jihadist narratives and address exclusion?

A man stands in front of mural in inner-city Brussels. Photo: ©Simon Blackley

A man stands in front of mural in inner-city Brussels.
Photo: ©Simon Blackley

Tuesday 17 November 2015

I almost felt sorry for Jan Jambon, Belgium’s Interior Minister, as he tried not to stand out too much during a joint press conference on 16 November with his French counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, in the wake of the Paris terror attacks last week.

But even if he could shrink by 30cm, there would be no hiding from the evidence that Belgium’s intelligence community may have dropped the ball… or were perhaps never in the game.

Belgium stands accused of being a “hotbed” for terrorists, or more euphemistically, disenfranchised Muslim youth, mostly in and around the poorer inner suburbs of Brussels, and that this is apparently not news to anyone in the intelligence community.

Only a few days before the Paris attacks, on 9 November, the Belgian interior minister claimed during POLITICO’s What Works event that Belgium was making some headway, citing its actions to shut down a terror cell in Vervier last January, and its awareness-raising efforts or “counter-narratives” for would-be youth thinking of, for example, joining ISIS. He said a tailored, one-to-one approach is more successful than top-down narratives like ads and internet campaigns.

He spoke to POLITICO’s Matt Kominski about the challenges he and the Belgian authorities face in dealing with ISIS fighters returning from Syria. Many don’t come back more hardened and angry, but rather feel “disgusted” at what they experienced. This, he suggested, is a useful counter-narrative weapon.

But the audience wasn’t buying it, asking why Belgium hadn’t put these young people on television or in internet ads as powerful, personal testimonials, or tried more mainstream approaches to stopping the momentum towards radicalisation, such as investing more in rejuvenating poor neighbourhoods and helping to integrate immigrant families better.

By his own admission, Mr Jambon said: “People think that mosques are the places of recruitment, but I think that today, most of the recruitment is done by the internet… The mosques were too moderate and they find their ‘truth’ on the internet.”

Then, as the saying goes, shouldn’t you fight fire with fire?  If the internet is the medium of choice for young people – and it clearly is – then well-meaning teachers and social workers are only going to have so much impact. The problem is, governments (not just in Belgium) are playing catch-up as they grapple to deal with the growth in online propaganda and extremism.

“Modern terrorists have embraced social media and ‘weaponised the internet’ to achieve their goals,” Mark Wallace, former US ambassador to the UN, told journalists at the Brussels launch of the European arm to the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) in July this year.

Yet Mr Jambon argued targeted messaging like that might lack credibility or come across as government propaganda. Maybe this is true, but it would at least send ‘a’ message, rather than leaving everything in the hands of overworked social workers in Brussels communes like Molenbeek, which has been identified as something of a ground zero for several incidents, including the recent Paris attacks and possibly the Jewish Museum murders in 2014 and the Thalys attempt last August.

Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel said his government’s efforts until now have focused on prevention but that they now realise tougher measures are needed against jihadists returning from the battlefields in Syria and Iraq to Belgium.

But in Belgium sometimes it takes a shock event like the Paris attacks – and the extra heat Belgium is now getting from its neighbours who will no longer accept excuses – to galvanise its people and the authorities into action.

Mr Jambon acknowledged during the POLITICO event before the Paris attacks that Brussels was a hotspot for trouble (and it is reported at one point to have had more foreign fighters in Syria than any other European country per inhabitant). He said information-sharing between federal, regional and communal police forces is complicated, and that terrorism is a cross-border issue which only exacerbates matters. Indeed.

The Daily Beast confirms this fragmentation problem: “Security services in the city of Brussels have another significant issue: for a population of 1.3 million inhabitants, the local police force is divided up in six police corps spread over 19 boroughs. Sharing security information in that setting could only be complicated.”

In a piece about the role of the internet in dealing with terrorist extremism (‘Defusing the social media time bomb’), I wrote: “At some point, probably at the lowest ebb, enough people (digital natives presumably) will have had enough of their youthful innocence being stolen from them by radicals and extremists… murderers hiding behind a perverted cause. But have we reached the lowest ebb?”

That was back in July and I wrote that it already seemed like we had reached that point. But I was wrong. A new low water mark has been reached. Can we turn the tide before it gets any lower? I certainly hope so.

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Prisoners of love in Syria

 
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By Raya Al-Jadir

In Syria, Amer and Raghda found liberation from political prison in love. But as refugees in Europe, their love became hostage to politics and guilts.

ASLS

Tuesday 6 October 2015

London’s British Film Institute recently hosted the preview of ‘A Syrian Love Story’ a documentary by Sean McAllister who, over a period of five years, followed Amer and Raghda as their lives became intertwined when they both found themselves in a Syrian prison.

Their love story began 15 years ago behind bars when Amer, a Palestinian refugee in Syria and an active member of the leftwing of the PLO, met Raghda, a Syrian Alawite who opposed the regime. He first saw her bloodied face after being deposited in a neighbouring cell following a severe beating. They eventually started communicating through a tiny hole they had secretly made in the wall. They fell in love and, when released, got married and started a family together. But politics never allowed them to have a conventional married life. Raghda spent most of her time in prisons while Amer was left to care for their four sons.

In 2009, while McAllister was enjoying a night out at a local bar, he came across Amer who was on the phone talking about his imprisoned wife. Up until that point, McAllister had been, in his own words, living in the journalist bubble that the Assad regime wanted to confine them within, seeing and recording what the government approved. During that first encounter, Amer told McAllister: “If you want to report about the real Syria, follow me I will show you the hidden reality that the world won’t get to see.”

A few months before the wave of revolutions hit the Arab world, McAllister’s camera began to follow Amer and his four sons – at the time, Raghda was a political prisoner and Amer was left to care for the young children alone. Fadi, Shadi, Kaka and Bob had spent their whole lives watching either their father or mother go to prison for their political beliefs. During the filming the family had to move constantly out of fear, as Raghda was well known to the security services and her family were under constant surveillance. Bob, who was three years old when filming began, did not understand why his mother was not with them and the closest he got to her was a phone call. Kaka, the middle child, quiet, who is considerate and mature, vowed to follow his parents to prison for the sake of freedom, whereas Shadi, the eldest, seemed to be indifferent to his situation, and was even in love with a girl who is pro-Assad and against anyone who opposed his rule. The couple break up when Shadi’s girlfriend gets engaged to someone else. At the end of the documentary, we learn she died during the conflict when, soon after her wedding, a bomb struck her house.

This intimate family portrait helps the outsider to understand why people are literally dying for change in the Arab world. Once the revolution started, Amer saw it as an opportunity to free Raghda from prison and took part in the protests. But he had to change houses and moved to the Yarmouk camp in Damascus, which was besieged by the Assad regime, then brutally attacked by ISIS.

Under international pressure, the Syrian government released some political prisoners, including Raghda. However, Sean McAllister himself got arrested for filming and the political pressure on all activists intensified, especially Amer and Raghda, who were seen on the footage captured by McAllister and stored on his laptop and camera which were confiscated by Syrian intelligence.

Out of fear ,the family fled to Lebanon, where cracks in Amer and Raghda’s relationship began to surface and grow. Feeling torn and desperate to join the big change that was sweeping Syria, Raghda could no longer just stay and watch from afar and, so, she returned to Syria, leaving Amer and the children to struggle to eek out an existence. Amer informed the London audience during the Q&A session that there were days when he had to rely on local Lebanese churches for food. Being Palestinan meant that he could not get a job, his children were not accepted into local schools and, even when he applied to the UN for political asylum, he was told that without Raghda he stood no chance, as he was not Syrian.

After three months, Raghda returned and, finally, they were approved by the UN and were taken to France, where they received political asylum in the sleepy town of Albi, watching the revolution from afar, waiting for Assad to fall.

However, contrary to the idea that once you are out of the conflict zone you are somehow safe and happy, in exile, the family began to fall apart. Raghda’s mental heath suffered and she even attempted suicide. Amer started an affair after he failed to find the love that once existed in a prison cell. The irony of the documentary is that love was thriving in a prison cell but died in the country of love and freedom. The audience see their new life in France develop but the war is now between them. In finding the freedom they fought so hard for, their relationship begins to fall apart.

At the end of the 76 minutes documentary, the audience witnessed how the once pro-revolutionary Kaka question the benefit that the call for change brought to Syria, while Bob, who is eight now, declares he is ‘French’ and no longer remembers his previous life in Syria. In fact, when McAllister asedk Bob about his house in Tartous, Syria, he had no collection of a place they once loved and called home – he even confused it with Tripoli in Lebanon.

A Syrian Love Story is a documentary that McAllister regards as “the most special film I have made to date.” One that he was not even sure it would ever see the light of day, as he wasn’t commissioned or supported to make the film until quite late in the process, McAllister had one objective for making the documentary: to allow people to understand the Syrian conflict without all the political jargon. “I wanted the average Hull factory worker to see the revolution without all the politics…just as a simple story of ordinary human beings,” McAllister informed the audience, who gave him and Amer’s family a standing ovation for a simple but thought-provoking tale of a family’s journey of hope, dreams and despair: for the revolution, their homeland and each other.

 

A SYRIAN LOVE STORY by Sean McAllister

Twitter: @SyrianLoveStory #ASyrianLoveStory

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ASyrianLoveStoryFilm

Website: www.asyrianlovestory.com

TECHNICAL DETAILS

Duration: 76 mins

Production country: United Kingdom

Languages: English, Arabic, French

Subtitles: English

Production year: 2015

HD, Colour

IN CINEMAS ACROSS THE UK  AND ON VOD FROM 18TH SEPTEMBER

 

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US intervention in Syria: Not kind, but cruel

 
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By Amira Mohsen Galal

 Punishing a dictator for killing his own people by killing yet more of them is not the answer. It didn’t work in Iraq, and it won’t work in Syria.

Friday 6 September 2013

As was the case in Iraq a decade ago, punishing a dictator for killing his own people by killing yet more of them is not the answer. Photo: US Air Force.

As was the case in Iraq a decade ago, punishing a dictator for killing his own people by killing yet more of them is not the answer. Photo: US Air Force.

As the drums of war beat once more for yet another strike on a Middle Eastern capital, one cannot help but be reminded of similar events exactly a decade ago that heralded the US invasion of Iraq. However, this time we have learnt from experience to ask the right questions and not to repeat the same mistakes… Haven’t we?

Some would argue that the general public has “over-learned” the lessons from Iraq and yet, just like back then, it doesn’t really matter. According to a recent poll, Just 19% of Americans support intervention in Syria and yet President Barack Obama seems determined to go ahead with his mission. The president set the wheels in motion by asking the US Congress for a mandate to strike the Syrian capital, Damascus, in retaliation for the alleged use of chemical weapons. The resolution was approved by Congress and is now with the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, the US media has gone into overdrive, promoting all the reasons why it is in the American people’s interest to intervene in Syria. The most important of which, apparently, is not concern for the suffering of the Syrian people but because failure to actwould undermine the credibility of the United States of America and of the president of the United States”, in the words of one-time presidential hopeful John McCain.

Obama had stated that the use of chemical weapons was a “red line” that should not be crossed and would force a tough US response. Fair enough. But why did the slaughter of over 100,000 people, through the use of conventional weapons, not elicit a tough response? Is Mr Obama saying that providing that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does not use the dreaded chemical weapons, he is free to do as he pleases? This echoes former President George W Bush’s warnings about the non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the “smoking gun”, that triggered the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Though previously Saddam Hussein was given even more leeway and allowed to use both conventional and chemical weapons on his people before any “red lines” were drawn, let alone crossed.

This indicates a certain inconsistency in American humanitarian policy and suggests that perhaps it is not the interests of the Syrian people that are at stake here but simply a desire to maintain the stalemate that has existed between the Syrian rebels and the regime since late 2011. Dramatic victories in Qussayr, Homs, as well as gains in the suburbs of Damascus, indicated a tipping of the balance in favour of the regime. It seems foolish, if not completely crazy, for the regime to halt that momentum by crossing the only line that the West had drawn.

Indeed, why would the regime launch a chemical attack, just days after UN inspectors arrived in Damascus and just 15km away from the hotel where they were staying, even if the experts were initially prevented from visiting the site? This is especially bewildering when you consider that those inspectors were in Damascus for the express purpose of investigating whether chemical weapons had been deployed? Surely, it would have been easier for the regime to allow the inspectors to do their work, send them on their way with no evidence and then resume their bloody assault without laying themselves open to the wrath of America?

Another point worth consideration is that no one is entirely sure exactly who is using chemical weapons in Syria. There have been allegations against both the regime and the rebels. The most notable accusation against the rebels was when Carla Del Ponte, a member of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, voiced her suspicions that rebel forces had made use of Sarin nerve gas. This is in addition to Turkey’s announcement that it had seized rebels on the Turkish-Syrian border carrying a 2kg cylinder of Sarin gas. Turkish newspapers also announced, back in May, that  another 2kg cylinder of Sarin had been confiscated from the homes of Syrian militants in Adana.

The regime has not denied possessing chemical weapons but has it used them? It is certainly not a possibility that we should rule out. However, intervention in Syria based on shaky evidence seems ill advised. The declassified report issued by the White House provides little explanation of how the Obama administration decided that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons. Another curious point is how the figure of 1,429 dead cited by the White House does not correspond with the 355 confirmed by Médecins Sans Frontières or the 502 that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimatesor indeed even America’s French Intelligence allies who were only able to confirm 281 casualties. It seems that numbers are being thrown around with little care for what actually happened or to who it happened to.

However, the most significant factor to take into consideration is that it was Syria and Russia who asked for the UN to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal and two other locations, which the Syrian government did not announce for fear of a repeat of the rebel attack on Khan al-Assal, allegedly to cover up evidence of chemical weapons use by the rebels. 

Most importantly, we must question what the outcome of any strike on Syria would be. One would think it would be enough to see the carnage that this kind of adventurism inflicted on Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. A succession of “wars on terror” and operations to “bring democracy” to Afghanistan has seen the country literally razed to the ground. Libya still remains in total chaos, whilst Iraq undoubtedly represents the greatest human tragedy of our time. Estimates put the death toll at between 100,000 and one million, with some as high as 2.7 million – again a bitter war of numbers that totally disregards the suffering inflicted upon the country. One would be remiss not to mention the effects that “humanitarian intervention” had on the city of Fallujah where the “toxic legacy of the US assault” – where there is, ironically, evidence that the US used chemical weapons – was considered, by international studies, to be “worse than Hiroshima.”

Of course, the pro-intervention crowd will argue that it will be different this time. But how can anyone guarantee that? Any military expert would agree that it is difficult to assess exactly how hard to strike and it’s also difficult to withdraw. And after all of that, will Assad actually fall? Well, if America manages to keep to “limited” strikes, then it is unlikely that Assad will be toppled. Already he pre-emptively relocated his personnel and artillery to civilian areas – a move which assures that America will either totally miss its targets, or civilians will be hit.

Finally, America’s strike on Syria would probably only serve to boost the morale of the regime, which is already receiving support from some segments of the Syrian population and other Arab countries for its perceived role as a champion fighting against another “imperialistic crusade”. Obvious parallels with the intervention in Iraq 10 years ago are already being drawn and the world is getting tired of America’s forays into the Middle East. Moreover, escalating matters can only be advantageous for Russia as it can now justify its backing of the Assad regime as support for a “legitimate authority under attack”. 

Military intervention is not the answer. Punishing a dictator for killing his own people by killing yet more of them is not the answer. Syria needs dialogue and carefully considered diplomacy – not more guns.

 ___

Follow Amira Mohsen Galal on Twitter

 

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Ugly discrimination in the face of beauty

 
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By Khaled Diab

The curious case of Arab men reportedly deported for being “too handsome” demonstrates that the beautiful can also be the victims of discrimination.

Friday 10 May 2013

Imagine a land where beautiful people are so stigmatised that they are banished simply for their looks. Does it sound like a sci-fi fantasy dystopia?

Well, this is exactly what reportedly happened to three Emirati men on a business trip in Saudi Arabia who were apparently deported for being “too handsome”.

The men were detected and ejected by Saudi’s notorious “morality police”, the mutaween, also known by their formal Orwellian-sounding title, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices, who “feared female visitors would fall for them”.

When I first read about this, I wondered how the mutaween had decided these men were too hot to handle. Did they do it scientifically, say with some high-tech gadget that monitors seismic activity caused by collective gasps of approval or a sort of Geiger counter that measures the fallout from radioactive beauty, counted in Cutie units? Or did they have a panel of judges, like some sort of warped beauty contest, who held up scorecards, with the winner receiving a one-way ticket home?

Since the hunks’ return to the neighbouring Emirates, no reports have emerged of any fallout from the radioactive presence of these killer men – though I should be careful using that description of Arabs in these suspicious times.

Nevertheless, if the mutaween had hoped to keep a lid on the affair and spare women the undoubted agony and suffering prolonged exposure would almost certainly cause, they failed desperately. Not only has the story gone super-viral around the world, a crowd-sourced manhunt has already uncovered the probable identity of one of the Arabian thoroughbreds.

In a world where Arab men are seen mainly in the negative – not so much as fun but rather as fundamentalist, never fans but always fanatics – I, who never read gossip or glossies, was mildly pleased that the much-maligned male from my part of the world was getting, so to speak, a media facelift.

Of course, some of the attention in the West was somewhat condescending, of the “look-what-those-weird-Arabs-are-doing-now” variety, rather like the mirthful reactions to news reports of camel beauty pageants.

But is it really so hard to believe that some people’s beauty can cause them trouble or even that attractive people can be discriminated against? These men may have been sent home, but boy did the experience raise their street cred and made of them minor celebrities, even if the identities of two of them are still shrouded in mystery.

Others have not been so fortunate. Take Melissa Nelson, a dental assistant who lost her livelihood for no other reason than her boss found her too attractive.

Naturally, this goes against the overwhelming stereotype of beauty, and how it serves its owner. And as endless studies have regularly shown, good looks can help people get ahead in life, from getting laid to getting a job or promotion – and even, rather dubiously, make them happier than their more mortal peers.

In fact, for some careers, such as the glamorous mainstream of acting and the media, good looks are more often than not an essential, if unofficial, qualification. There is even, I have learned, a term to describe this sort of positive discrimination in favour of the beautiful people: “lookism”.

In contrast, bad looks are a well-known source of discrimination, a social handicap for their bearers. Not only are people endowed with fewer physical assets often disadvantaged in life and love, the very semantics of language subliminally slaps them in the face – and the title of this article is no exception. When we disapprove of something or wish to say it was really horrendous or terrible, we regularly employ this alienated and lonely adjective: an ugly situation, the ugly face of warfare, the ugly underbelly of poverty, etc.

Although I won’t for a moment suggest that there is equivalence, beautiful people don’t always have it their way and can be the victims of discrimination. This can be seen in the age-old bias that beauty and brains can rarely be united in the same body. This leads to stereotypes that attractive people, particularly women, are likely to be shallow – consider all those dumb blonde jokes or the idea that hunky men who take care of their appearance are hollow airheads.

This can be a real problem for good-looking people. For instance, though looks serve them in “feminine jobs”, attractive women trying to get ahead in professions that require intelligence or authority or toughness do face discrimination.

For example, I have met young female professionals, including scientists, who complain that male colleagues, especially older ones, don’t always take them seriously. One attractive but tough-as-nails woman I know who works in the construction industry says, perhaps counter-intuitively, that she has no trouble with her subordinates, but her peers exhibit hostility and disrespect towards her.

In addition, there is the issue of harassment. Though unwanted amorous or sexual attention is not the exclusive domain of attractive people, it is more likely to occur if the target happens to be beautiful – and, again, a woman. In public, what is taken as aloofness, can sometimes simply be a defensive mechanism against unsolicited interest. Even flattering gestures such as holding doors open for attractive women or providing them with more favourable treatment or greater attention can cause distress to those of them who wish to be treated as equals and ordinary.

Moreover, extreme beauty can be alienating. Incredibly attractive – gorgeous, I believe, is the technical term – people may well draw many advantages from their physical assets, but their looks can also act like a chasm separating them from their peers, making natural, casual interactions difficult, with many members of their own gender viewing them with suspicion and those of the opposite sex typically acting flustered or nervous in their company.

This hostile reaction to beauty can be seen in the traditional view that being too beautiful was somehow immoral. It can also be discerned in music and song, in which the gorgeous are often attributed with negative characteristics like cruelty and vanity. Take Alice Cooper telling us that his lover’s blood is “like ice” and her lips are like “venomous poison”.

Though we may try to curb it, we will never end discrimination based on looks. And it would seem that nature and evolution have disposed us with a natural bias towards beauty, however subjective and frivolous that concept can be. Nevertheless, while the beautiful set may seem to have the world at their feet, we must remember that not all that glitters is gold and beauty has its unattractive underbelly too.

___

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post on 2 May 2013.

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Embodying the mind

 
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By Khaled Diab

In philosophy and religion, the body is merely a hollow shell for our mind and soul. But what if our bodies not only confine but also define us?

9 April 2010

For centuries, our poor, fragile, vulnerable bodies have received something of a bad press. Occupying the temporal, physical plane, as they do, they are what make us weak and fallible; they succumb to temptation and are immersed in ‘sin’.

Though, at one level, they may be our temples, they are also regarded as our flesh pots. The devout try to release themselves of the body’s mortal bonds through physically demanding – even harmful – devotions, such as fasting and self-flagellation.

In contrast, our souls and minds, are objects of disembodied, otherworldly beauty – they are pure, essential manifestations of who we are, uncontaminated by the whims and wiles of our carnal body, occupying the paradise of the metaphysical plane. Most religions regard the body as the prison of the soul, while the dualist view of philosophy sees the mind as somehow existing apart from and independently of the body.

Thought experiments seemed to back this up. René Descartes embarked upon a quest in which he called all his previous beliefs into doubt. Though he could doubt whether he had a body, the only thing he could be certain of was that he had a mind, because of his ability to think.

But tempting as it is to subscribe to Descartes famous adage, “I think, therefore, I am”, and all it says about the apparent power and independence of our higher faculties, evidence is mounting that out bodies are far more than mere vessels for our minds but actually intimately shape our every thought, including abstract ones.

A recent feature in New Scientist explored how science is gradually uncovering the mystery of how our bodies do the thinking. For example, one study showed that eye movement and abstract thought are linked.

Another experiment suggests that the physical and emotional are closely intertwined. It would appear that our tendency to describe good things as facing upwards – ‘high’, ‘elated’ and ‘upright’ – and bad things as pointing downward – ‘down in the dumps’, ‘downside’ or even ‘lowlife’ – is no simple metaphor and physical movement does affect the way we look at things. For instance, in one experiment, the direction in which people were moving marbles – up or down – often affected the way they answered neutral questions, such as “tell me what happened yesterday”.

More sinisterly, in a manner of speaking, our physical attributes, such as our handedness, seem to hold a certain amount of sway on our judgement. One experiment which asked 286 students to judge the personal characteristics of cartoon characters standing to the left and to the right found that 210 of them showed a clear rightward or leftward preference. Amazingly, of these, 65% of the left-handed students described the characters on the left more positively, while 54% of the right-handed students regarded the characters on the right more positively.

Since most of us are right-handed, this might explain why we say someone who is good is ‘righteous’, why we don’t speak of ‘human lefts’ and why someone who used their left hand was considered ‘sinister’ (meaning ‘left’ in Latin) in the Middle Ages and ran the risk of being accused of witchcraft. Of course, we have overcome this prejudice in our enlightened age and many of us happily describe ourselves as leftists, though many rightists do still view us as the devil’s spawn!

So, given the growing evidence that our ‘minds’ are simply another, if more sophisticated, of our bodily functions, why have we regarded our intellects as being separate from our brains and bodies for so long. This could partly be caused by the confusion aroused by the fact that our thoughts can apparently defy the laws of physics and be in many places at once, and our minds can travel in time and space without our bodies, and switch between reality and fantasy in the blink of an eye.

In addition, this dichotomy is borne of our ancient frustration at the physical and time limitations our bodies impose upon us – the tragedy of our brains is that the consciences they grant us have led us to grow too big for our biodegradable physical boots, prompting the wish to outsmart them, through the invention of the mind, and outlive them, through the creation of the soul.

So, what implications does this emerging line of research have, beyond delivering humanity with another dent to its collective ego? Well, for starters, we’d have to rephrase Descartes famous adage. I suggest: “I stink, therefore, I think.”

Moreover, just as modern science has marked not only the death of God but also the death of the human soul, it now looks like the death knell has sounded for the metaphysical “mind”, too.

In a future of ‘ambient intelligence’, we’ll need to dedicate some effort to studying whether creating artificial intelligence that is similar to our own, will require us to create robots with bodies like ours or whether computer models simulating intelligence are enough? In addition, if intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe developed in radically different physical bodies would that mean they have developed radically different forms of abstract thought or is there a common element to abstract thought, regardless of the creature developing it?

How about future humanity itself? What if we radically re-engineer our bodies using genetic engineering techniques and nano-technology, would our cognition and perceptions vary dramatically, too? What kind of people will we become if we, one day, get rid of our bodies all together and upload our minds into ‘the cloud’ once our bodies expire? Maybe this is the heaven we’ve obsessed over for so long about.

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