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BreakingNews 27/3/15 - Nigeria: Embracing Ancient Wisdoms, Vanquishing the Prophets of Un-Truth; An Analysis

BreakingNews 27/3/15 - Nigeria: Embracing Ancient Wisdoms, Vanquishing the Prophets of Un-Truth; An Analysis

[ Masterweb Reports: Interview by Philip Probity, Raima Khan & Babaji Halilu ] - Preamble: In our discussion with Dr Kusum Gopal, who has served as an UN Expert and is also a Technical Expert on governance and conflict had stressed on the extreme urgency-- for the Government of Nigeria at all levels to act with immediacy to implement inclusive measures towards providing citizenship, guaranteeing social security and civic facilities in all regions to redress the extreme poverty, built in-injustices and the recurring violence of vigilantism. She observed also that the military action by troops and air strikes without these curative measures have fuelled further carnage, alienating citizens and spreading into neighbouring regions involving armies and civilian populations for example, Niger and Chad. ISIL, Racism were also addressed: see below for some excerpts from our interview in Kathmandu.
 
Q: The massacres by the Boko Haram have increased tenfold, and now they are pledging obedience to the ISIL! What is the way forward?
 
Unless we understand the ‘why’ question, that is undertake a holistic analysis, evaluating lessons learned, persistent failures will continue to result. We are confronted by profound ethical dilemmas intensified in recent months by the appalling bestiality of ISIS, Prophets of Un-Truth, whom even influential leaders within Al Qaeda’s splintered factions have scathingly denounced, cautioning their brethren to distance themselves from its Pulpit. We cannot engage international blue prints or Road Maps, it has to be region specific.
 
Yes, their leader Mr Abubakr Sekhou has avowed allegiance to the leader of ISIS dazzled by the prospect of the Caliphate. But the Boko Haram and groups or individuals claiming to be operating under its banner, it must be emphasised are manifestations of wider culture, home-grown vigilantism specific to Nigeria. We know why the Boko Haram has been able to strike successfully—it is not so much fragility of the Nigerian state as it is in its hesitation to introduce reforms -- The true test of "good" governance is the degree to which it delivers on the promise of human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. The key question is: are the institutions of governance effectively guaranteeing the right to health, adequate housing, sufficient food, quality education, fair justice and personal security? Nigeria has the wealth and resources to help all Nigerians and thus vanquish the Boko Haram and other vigilante groups.
 
In sharp contrast, the western initiatives for regime change, extraneous help in the removal of powerful dictatorships, for example of Mr Saddam Hussein and Col Gaddafi has dismantled the administrative and military apparatuses which had sealed the borders, kept the populations united and controlled these regions for over half a century, naturally with calamitous consequences. Thus, ISIL has emerged in the wake of the occupation and regime change; it simply could not have happened or grown as it has otherwise. Alarming as it is to witness such bonds of allegiance proclaimed across vast swathes of territory by armies and militias that have no regard for the sanctity of human life, or humanity, its ties with the Boko Haram cannot but be tenuous.
 
Q; Could you explain how ISIS has come to be?
 
ISIL or ISIS as it is now called– ‘Islamic’State of the Levant came into existence in early 2003 -04, as Jamaat al Tawhid wa al-Jihad or IS after which Zarqawi the erstwhile leader pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda --its name changed to Tanzim-e-Qiadat al-Jihad fi Bilal al-Rafidayn. It was formed from the Iraqi Sunni groups Ansar al-Sunna and Iraqi Army fighting the Occupation under the leadership of Abu Masab al Zarqawi .Comprised in part of Saddam’s former soldiers with disparate groups of volunteers and mercenaries-- committed ‘soldiers of faith, well-armed with captured high- tech military equipment left behind by the US army for the Iraqi army. The military equipment captured by the ISIL fighters is reported to include AN/PVS-7 night vision goggles, MI6 rifles, M4 carbines, M203 grenade launchers, M60 and 240 machine guns, RPGs, surface to air stinger missiles, MI98 Howitzer artillery guns, Ack Ack guns, SP guns, scud missiles, T-55 and T-72 tanks, AMZ Dziks, MT-LB, Humvies, Helicopters, MII3 APCs, recovery vehicles. Indeed, substantial currency conservatively estimated to be in possession of over $2 billion was seized from Mosul, and their coffers are growing. Since 2010 Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi has been in-charge and declared himself the Caliph Ibrahim in an attempt to hark back to the times of the Caliphate.With oil fields under their control, the Peshmerga and other armies are being overcome. Many groups of committed fighters comprise ISIL such as Jaish al-Fateheen, Jund al-Sahaba, Katbiyan Ansarul Tauhid  wal Sunnah and Jaish al Taifa al-Mansoora regard themselves as mujahedeen reminiscent of the Afghan mujahedeen fighting to liberate their peoples and land of’ all infidels’ as they put it – however, they are in truth, alienating the vast majority of their own people.
 
And, now with all these armies on the rampage we witness genocides in that ancient cultural terrain, the cradle of human civilisation despairing each day at the bestiality towards fellow human beings as we also witness the destruction of sacred archaeological sites. To cite a few: bombing of the holiest Shia shrine the tomb of Imam Hassan al-Askari in Samarra in 2006 and since then, destroying the holy shrine of Prophet Yunus, the Nabi Shees shrine in Mosul with dynamite, Nimrud . Such developments and the Occupation forced Shi’ia armies to be formed along with Sunni armies, and revered leaders such as Moqtada Al- Sadr have given a call to arms in self-defence. Further, on the ISIS list are Najaf and Karbala. It is extremely disturbing and, they must be stopped, sectarian conflicts have engulfed this region in flames.
 
It must be emphasised that these are new happenings. It is significant that the Levant experienced the benevolence of the Ottomans who governed successfully for over six hundred years, allowing freedoms of worship and conviviality: minorities of all descriptions lived together. Ottoman Sultans were Sunnis and built Shi’ia mosques, by and large permitting freedom of religious practice, allowed funds for churches and synagogues. Unbeknownst to most people is that until Islam had a well-defined Church and State (politics and religion) divide, much more so than Christianity. As theologians enlighten us, under the Ottomans, the Mughals, the Safavids as also other contemporary rulers– while the Badshah or the Caliph were seen to be imbued with divine writ for legitimacy, they did not legislate or control over religion and its practice, they did not give sermons on it either. Religion had no formal control over them and none of their subjects expected them to pontificate on spiritual matters. Islamic traditions during the medieval times, indeed until the Ottoman empire was desecrated, it maintained a palpable distinction between the civic/administration and religious matters—contributing to the success and enrichment of the Empire. The Caliphate commanded considerable support and respect, it also knitted together not just Sunni and Shi’ia but also minorities, Kurds, Druze, Coptics and so forth, employing special efforts to accommodate various, diverse cultures. In the Indian Subcontinent –an important pre-Partition agitation was the Khilafat movement supporting the Caliph in the 1920s; it was a people’s movement – all faiths. Islamic scholars and theologians also point out that the present fundamentalism is new and has garnered support because of the vacuum created by what they perceive to be the corruption and greed in their countries , which includes pre-revolutionary Iran. Arab cultures are extremely hospitable, egalitarian, democratic, indeed, tolerant since earliest times. While Jews were being persecuted in Europe for several hundred centuries in the Levant, they were treated as equals and occupied important posts: these cultures do not need to be taught democracy, it is embedded in their lifestyles. In sharp contrast, despite the immeasurably rich contributions, indeed assimilation by Jewish peoples to European civilisations and culture, they were deprecated and always made aware of their unequal status, their separateness. Not only the interpretations from religious texts including the New Testament condemned them, but nearly all European rulers passed Edicts and other laws to banish those of Jewish faith from their kingdoms or forced them to convert despite the immeasurably rich contributions they had made in various spheres of human endeavour. These discriminations has not ended as anti-Semitism is not subterranean in Europe despite the Holocaust! European nations indeed, the MENA region would benefit from learning from Ottoman wisdom: there is need to resuscitate these traditions of governance. It is only by embracing ancient wisdoms with inclusive forms of governance: these Prophets of un-truth can be vanquished.
 
To my mind, the Sykes-Picot lines destroyed the heimat in this terrain, trapping them into narrow ways of thinking by separating them from familiar taken-for granted habitats; it prevented natural, unconscious flowering of these cultures. Nation states were carved out without local involvement unlike as in Europe where various countries happened by naturally detaching themselves gradually over three hundred years. And, indeed, this is to my mind the roots of the angst, raison d’être of the present conflict. Brutal dictatorships which overthrew monarchies set up during the Mandates came into being such as that of Saddam Hussein who deemed the only way to govern was to annihilate all opposition. Further disquiet has been triggered by the punishing embargo which caused civilian populations to suffer, followed by the Gulf War and then, regime change: all this adding to the tensions simmering underneath for almost a century. These armies are being funded generously be they governments/ others: it is these funding interests who must reflect on the horrific slaughter of human lives and genocides to decide firmly on a peace plan. To solve these problems we need to weigh these tensions to establish forms of governance that would appeal to the people. Perhaps learned, religious representatives meet and decide with respected community representatives, and religious leaders, Sunni and Shi’ia leaders to come forth with a proposal to end this carnage.
 
Q: You say there needs to be greater reflection on the Sykes-Picot agreement. Can you elaborate on its connection with ISIL?
 
Although it happened almost a hundred years ago, these are moral fault lines, harbingers of human tragedies. The Sykes-Picot agreement sought to partition the Empire even before its demise, capriciously– the French and the British secretly drew lines: it was not done with the consultation of the peoples or their learned men. For example, the Mandates French in Lebanon and the British in Iraq carved out geographically were masks for colonialism—all the previous laws were declared null and void; the promulgated new utilitarian laws transplanted in this syncretised terrain became the source of divisiveness between Arabs, between Arabs and Turks, others. Indeed, separating peoples who were once united in conviviality and sociality; living in vilayats and sanjuqs had encouraged a freedom of expression and movement. For example, if one studies the Document, there appears to be no respect for the people nor any attempt to understand their heritage, habitats, their cultures. To illustrate: At a Downing Street meeting of 16 December 1915 Mark Sykes had declared "I should like to draw a line from the e in Acre to the last k in Kirkuk." Naturally only strong arm tactics and brutal regimes had to come into being –as traditional forms of governance were submerged. And, ill-advised events of the last century, indeed the present are a testimony to this ‘meddling’; it has now boiled over. The influence of ISIL cannot be underestimated - Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq have been overrun and the lines that divided these regions have been declared null and void. Unsurprisingly, In a video titled ‘End of the Sykes-Picot’ an ISIS spokesman noted: “This is not the first border we will break, we will break other borders"; Pointedly, their leader, Dr Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed in July 2014, "this blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes-Picot conspiracy. What is extremely worrying is their motto to remain and to expand-- Bāqiyah wa-rg –-they have disciplined armies, funds and administrative apparatus in place.
 
The ISIS proclamation of a new Caliphate under Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi is a dangerous one, justifying their brutal actions as harkening back to what they interpret to be the time of the Prophet. It has attracted support, all age groups, both idealistic and disaffected- the deep-rooted desire for the Caliphate that all disparate groups and individuals, some as young as 15 years to travel, to serve to obey, an allegiance that cannot be broken, as sacrifice and faith motivate these people. And, the Prophets of Un-truth preaching an interpretation of Islam that has no resemblance to the Holy Qur’an. However, the majority of religious leaders, Muslims and non-Muslims are unequivocal in recognising that their promulgations and actions bear very little resemblance in spirit or in thought to what is in the Holy Qur’an, if anything it is a travesty, in contempt of the basic tenets of Islamic teachings.
 
Q: Could you explain further?
 
I am not an expert of Islam or an authority on fiqh, jurisprudence, but it is generally known that taking a life is not sanctioned, indeed, innocent lives cannot be simply taken be they Muslim or non-Muslim,   And, as a scholar has noted, Anas bin Malik, Allah's Apostle stated:"O Abu Hamza! What makes the life and property of a person sacred?" He replied, "Whoever says, 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah', faces our Qibla during the prayers, prays like us and eats our slaughtered animal, then he is a Muslim, and has got the same rights and obligations as other Muslims have." ISIS cannot be understood in the context of Islam but rather as an appalling aberration, in part a consequence of the pernicious colonial legacies, replaced by violent regimes in these regions-- its peoples have been forced to persevere with since the last century. Driven by deep rage, the immeasurable cruelty and bestial behaviour in violation of the codes of war is being reported each day-be it the beheading of Kurds, Syrians by ISIS or the revenge torture of ISIS by these armies- they are using chemical weapons. The worst affected are the civilian populations-- women and children, and certainly, minorities in these regions: to the ISIS and, to the Boko Haram they remain expendable. We now have to contend with fragmented armies indeed, militias fighting each other amidst populations of displaced civilians – a significant proportion who cannot abide by the ISIS: among them are not just religious minorities, such as the Yazidis and Shi’ias but also Sunnis. For example, in Samarra, Sunni Ulemas and Sunni groups who refused to pledge allegiance to the Caliph were murdered brutally in July 2014 and, all opposing them continue to suffer the same fate.
 
Q: Western military Intervention has led to mixed reactions. Is it the only solution?
 
It cannot be a solution. Top army generals and commanders have stated unequivocally that continued military assaults cannot guarantee success. And, more recently, Mr Prescott, the former British Deputy PM has accused Mr Blair for the radicalisation of British Muslims by waging what he described as “bloody crusades”. He is not completely wrong as there is so much anger within Europe’s minorities who grow up feeling discriminated and bullied: racism at home needs to be addressed more effectively, more inclusively.
 
There also exists at another level, a phenomenal mendacity, indeed, irresponsibility: an enduring unwillingness to reflect on the past hundred years of meddling. One such consequence was the destruction of the Ottoman polity- there is a German word, totschweigen, wilful denial, by an ignoring silence. We must resuscitate traditions that remain submerged specific to this region they have symbolic power and emotional appeal whereby diverse communities lived together in relative harmony: no local community exercised sovereignty over any other. Euro-American governments are able to acknowledge why but policies need to be put into place: only then we can defeat these groups be they armies or militias with ease! There needs to be more research on the politics of oil and its impact on developments since the 1920’s, as also translations need of important texts need to be re-evaluated by scholars; begin inter-faith discussions.

 
 
Q: Finally, shall we discuss race and racism?
 
In India there is so much discrimination also and attacks on Africans, white Europeans are not attacked! What can be done?
 
Racism needs to be acknowledged as a pandemic—these erroneous beliefs which wound the human spirit and humanity. In the Indian Subcontinent, we need to educate people about race. Indeed, even in Africa there is racial discrimination and there appears to be a gauge about various shades of blackness! Indeed, in India there is a very powerful misconception in India about race – indeed, these erroneous theories about Aryan invasion and about south Indians being Dravidians. The term Dravidian was conjured by Henry Caldwell a rather incompetent administrator and crept into official and thenceforth academic discourse—without being questioned! Race and colour theories emerged with European colonisers specifically German Max Mueller and British governance informed by HH Risley. A scale was drawn and anthropometric measurements undertaken to grade populations—those that were lighter skinned were deemed to be of a different race to those darker—Indeed as Frawley has demonstrated, "For example, Arya was a term of respect and not about ethnicity: it was invented as a race. There was no Aryan invasion of India and there is no divide between the north and the south—people interacted, migrations and intermarriages was extensive. We still rely on colonial translations . Translators require not just grammatical understandings but deep knowledge of the culture and metaphors- so much of colonial and post colonial published texts fall short of these requirements. Whether they are inadequate translations of Sanskrit, Arabic or indeed, Persian texts, they remain suspect. Fresh scholarship is required to reclaim history and current comprehensions re-examined.

 
 
Unconsciously people at large remain deeply ignorant and are informed by colonial ways of thinking; they measure themselves and others that way-- it is deep rooted ignorance and only education from the earliest levels can eliminate such prejudices fostered by racial profiling. The rather revolting advertisements on TV must end and actors endorsing such products need to be chastised!
 
We must reiterate that race constructions or tribe constructions did not originate from the existence of 'races' or tribes. It was created through European colonialism which institutionalised processes of social division into arbitrary categories fixing racial profiles independent of people’s somatic, cultural, religious belief systems. Applying the Stammbäume (charting family trees) model (not as used by Darwin) to grade levels, how superior to inferior races were governed by selection, regardless of historical evidence, reciprocal influences between scientific thought and species discusses how orders and levels came to represent an ascending staircase of social-cultural evolution, all non Europeans natives occupying the lowest rungs graded by skin colour. Certainly this ludicrous evolutionary scheme has been discarded since ---the entire race grading of people is indeed, unscientific and fallacious. We have to reject outright colonial anthropometry ---the cephalic index, the bigonial diameter, the bizygomatic diameter as indeed, all the rest. At any rate, there has always been so much interbreeding between human populations that it would be meaningless to talk of fixed boundaries between races in most parts of the world. Also, the distribution of hereditary physical traits does not follow clear boundaries. In other words, there is often greater variation within a region or groups than there is systematic variation between two geographically apart regions. Institutionalising such thinking has led to the hardening of inward-looking attitudes which formed the basis of classifications leading to continuous wrangling, and prejudice.
 
Whatever our colour, religion, language, status, indeed gender, the Indian Constitution states we are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. Indeed, we know these rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible. And, in India given the ancient wisdom which fostered our diversity—we have eight hundred and sixty or so languages (including dialects), accompanied by different cuisines and attire, it should be possible to correct colonial ways of thinking. Indeed there is no such thing as race just to celebrate the human race by being humanitarian in our actions.
 
Thank you very much Dr Gopal.
 
Above interview of Dr. Kusum Gopal by Philip Probity, Raima Khan & Babaji Halilu.
 
*Photo Caption - As seen.