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A World Beguiled by ‘Techno-Voodooism’

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The Technological Revolution in China and the USA: What About Europe and Eurasia?
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The Covid-19 pandemic, which since the beginning of last year has affected the entire planet with tragic effects and, due to inertial pressure, seems destined to continue for most of the current year, has not only had very severe effects in terms of general mortality (over 2.5 million deaths to date), but has also generated catastrophic economic and social consequences in many countries of the world, starting with Italy.

As soon as the pandemic crisis is finally over from the health viewpoint, the governments of all affected countries shall necessarily find the right instruments to set the economy again into motion by seeking new opportunities for development and recovery which, if properly seized and implemented, in the next decade could make us live in a better world than the one we left behind.

Last December a think tank of authoritative economists, co-chaired by Professor Mario Draghi, namely the “Group of Thirty”, published the results of a study entitled “Reviving and Restructuring the Corporate Sector Post-Covid: Designing Public Policy Interventions”.

The study starts from the observation that the epidemic has “dramatically changed business paradigms worldwide, triggering a solvency crisis for companies in many countries”.

This is now a structural crisis that requires politicians and governments to find financial support instruments for companies that can restart production and development.

The path indicated by the “Group of Thirty” is complex, but it starts from the need for politicians to immediately provide proactive support to the private sector companies which have already demonstrate actual resilience abilities, so that the “scarce public resources” are directed towards sectors that can recover quickly and drive the global economy’s relaunch.

In this regard, the “Group of Thirty” recommends that “policymakers should carefully consider the allocation of resources…which should not be wasted on subsidies to sectors doomed to failure”, but rather allocated to sectors that can recover from the crisis quickly and in a socially and economically acceptable manner.

The first sectors identified by the ‘Group of Thirty’ as deserving immediate support because of their potential to drive recovery are digitalisation and the “green” economy.

It is therefore no coincidence that in the programme of the Italian government now led by Professor Draghi, the “digital revolution and the green economy” are top priorities for the strategic interventions to be implemented with the European Recovery Plan funds.

If appropriately matched by public support for smart, intelligent and effective forms of mutual interaction, digitalisation and the green economy can be decisive not only in the post-pandemic ‘recovery’, but can also deliver to our children a better, more efficient and healthier world than the one in which we lived before the coronavirus devastated our lives.

The pandemic, however, has hit the whole world regardless of borders, political tensions, regional problems, wars or riots.

It has affected the West and the East, the North and the South, without discrimination between rich and poor. The end of the crisis could therefore provide to politicians the chance for a new start, also under the banner of new forms of solidarity and international cooperation which, besides the Covid-19, will wipe away old-fashioned and anti-cyclical barriers that could severely damage the ‘construction of a better world’.

In this regard, it is no coincidence that Pope Francis’ first international commitment for the year 2021 was to visit the unfortunate Iraq not only to bring solidarity to the Christians persecuted and exterminated by the Caliphate, but above all to build a bridge towards Shiite and Sunni Muslims in the name of their common descent from Abraham.

The Pope’s meeting with Ayatollah Al Sistani, the highest religious figure in the Shiite world, shows that the possibility of opening up channels of dialogue between political and religious entities separated by centuries of enmity is concrete and feasible, even in view of the post-pandemic renaissance.

Pope Francis’ message should hopefully also reach the new Catholic President of the United States who, a few weeks after taking office at the White House, showed- in his initial foreign policy moves – a superpower’s aggressive and revanchist spirit that probably the Americans (and not only them) had hoped would be left behind with the end of Donald Trump’s era.

The opening up to Iran matched by bombings of Iranian militias in Iraq, as well as chill in the relations with Saudi Arabia, and unmotivated aggressiveness towards China – which has indeed shown the world it has been the first to emerge from the pandemic and has taken on the health support of many African countries – are all moves that do not bode well for the search for realistic models of peaceful coexistence on the part of the world’s leading power, namely the United States.

If the world’s recovery from the pandemic is to be driven by science, as hoped by the ‘Group of Thirty’, it is precisely in this field that international collaboration should be closer and more effective (as has been the case in the research, production and distribution of vaccines).

A fundamental contribution to scientific progress will certainly come from progress in the field of Artificial Intelligence, a tool designed to support human intelligence, which will be able to accelerate and improve the processes of widespread digitalisation hoped for by many governments, starting with Italy’s, in the drive for productive recovery.

In the field of Artificial Intelligence, as in vaccine research, there should be no excessive room for the isolationist tendencies that have always damaged science and encouraged illegal espionage.

Electricity was discovered by Edison, but no one could keep it within the United States’ borders.

Industry has always outstripped politics in its ability to talk (and do business) across borders.

Yet, on March 1, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, established by President Trump two years ago, published its final report in which it essentially suggested that the President and Congress should use artificial intelligence research as a tool for “surrogate” warfare against China.

The National Security Commission’s report reads as follows: “We must engage in competition on artificial intelligence… Competition will foster innovation and we must work with our partners to foster progress in this field as in the vaccine sector …But we must win the Artificial Intelligence competition by intensifying the strategic confrontation with China. China’s plans, resources and progress should be of great concern to all Americans. China is second to none in Artificial Intelligence and is even a leader in some of its applications. We recommend that China’s ambition to overtake the United States in Artificial Intelligence research and become the leader in this field over the next decade be taken seriously.

Therefore, in the words and recommendations of these scientists, scientific progress should be instrumental to the competition for ranking first geostrategically.

Fortunately, serious scientists all over the world cooperate in common research much more than their governments might like, and the same holds true for the companies that are looking for work and growth opportunities even beyond the borders “liked” by politicians.

Let us take the case of research and development in renewable energy, a fundamental link in the “green economy” which, according to the suggestions of the “Group of Thirty” and the European and Italian Recovery projects, should receive public support and drive the economic recovery.

While the American dream of both Trump and Biden is to create a barbed wire fence around China, Europe and Italy have understood that they can and must cooperate with the Eastern giant, starting with the search for ‘clean’ energy from wind, sun and sea.

Also thanks to the personal commitment of the young Chinese Minister for Energy Resources, Lu Hao, who a few months ago, at the inauguration of the Chinese Expo for Maritime Economy in Shenzhen, stated that China intended to promote “the creation of a new development model that would make it possible to understand and manage the dialectic between the protection of the marine ecosystem and the use of the sea as an energy source”, in recent weeks the foundations have been laid for collaboration in marine energy research and production between the Italian Eldor Corporation, supported by the International World Group, and the National Ocean Technology Centre in Shenzhen, through the development of devices to obtain energy from wave motion and the hydrogen contained in seawater. If these projects are adequately supported by the governments of Italy, Europe and China, they will provide a fundamental contribution to getting the world out of the crisis quickly and effectively.

With all due respect to those across the Atlantic who have not yet realised that the pandemic crisis also calls for a smart redefinition of the economic frontiers of geopolitics.

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7 Trends Reshaping a USD 3.9 Trillion Global Halal Industry

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The Global Halal Market (GHM) is not just growing, it’s exploding. Driven by a surging Muslim population, rising disposable incomes, and shifting consumer preferences, this behemoth is projected to reach a staggering USD 3.9 trillion by 2027. But what’s driving this explosive growth? Buckle up, because 2024 promises a thrilling ride fueled by cutting-edge technology, ethical consumerism, and personalized convenience. Here’s your deep dive into the 7 hottest trends reshaping the global halal landscape:

Halal Tech Revolution: Where Silicon Valley Meets Mecca

Forget clunky processes and opaque sourcing. The halal industry is getting a tech makeover, and it’s about time. Blockchain is ensuring ethical sourcing and transparent supply chains, from farm to fork. Imagine halal meat traced back to its free-range roots, with every step documented on a tamper-proof digital ledger. Artificial intelligence is optimizing slaughterhouses, automating processes, and ensuring humane treatment of animals. Halal e-commerce platforms are booming, bringing convenience and halal-certified products to Muslim consumers worldwide. Think Amazon, but with prayer apps, virtual tours of halal farms, and even halal-compliant fintech solutions – the future of halal is digital and delicious!

Ethical Halal: Beyond Compliance, Embracing Values

Muslim consumers are no longer satisfied with just a halal label. They crave sustainability, animal welfare, and organic goodness. Expect a surge in plant-based halal options, from juicy burgers to creamy milkshakes made with innovative pea protein and lentil blends. Ethically sourced meat, raised on antibiotic-free feed and roaming in spacious pastures, will be the new gold standard. And get ready for a beauty revolution: cruelty-free cosmetics and hygiene products that adhere to Islamic principles will pamper consumers with peace of mind.

Convenience is King: Busy Lives, Halal Solutions

In today’s fast-paced world, convenience reigns supreme. The halal industry is taking note, with solutions tailor-made for busy Muslim lives. Subscription meal kits will deliver pre-portioned, halal-certified ingredients straight to doorsteps, complete with recipe cards for stress-free meal prep. Halal food delivery apps will take the guesswork out of dining out, connecting users with a curated selection of restaurants and cafes offering delicious and compliant meals. And for those special occasions, on-demand halal catering will ensure stress-free gatherings, leaving hosts free to enjoy the festivities.

Beyond Food: The Halal Universe Expands

The halal industry is shedding its “food-only” label and branching out into exciting new frontiers. Halal travel is booming, with destinations vying for Muslim tourists by offering halal amenities, prayer spaces, and culturally sensitive experiences. Imagine exploring Marrakech’s vibrant souks or unwinding on a pristine Maldives beach, all while knowing your needs are catered to. Halal cosmetics are gaining traction, with innovative brands formulating products free of alcohol, animal derivatives, and harsh chemicals. And even the pharmaceutical industry is taking notice, developing halal-compliant medications and healthcare products that align with Islamic principles.

Science & Innovation: Reimagining Halal with Cutting-Edge Tech

Research labs are not just churning out papers; they’re cooking up a futuristic halal feast. Lab-grown halal meat is no longer science fiction, with companies like Eat Just and Aleph Farms creating meat indistinguishable from its conventional counterpart, but without the ethical and environmental concerns. Plant-based alternatives are evolving beyond bland tofu, with innovative textures and flavors mimicking everything from juicy steaks to succulent lamb shanks. Get ready for halal food reimagined with cutting-edge technology, offering delicious and sustainable options for the future.

Health & Wellness: Halal Goes Holistic

Muslim consumers are prioritizing their well-being like never before. Enter functional halal foods infused with ingredients like probiotics, antioxidants, and adaptogens, designed to nourish the body and mind. Sports nutrition is another burgeoning market, with protein powders and energy bars formulated specifically for Muslim athletes seeking halal-compliant performance boosters. And for those managing chronic conditions, dietary supplements tailored to diabetes management, weight loss, or heart health will offer halal solutions for holistic well-being.

Storytelling & Branding: Building Trust, Shaping Perceptions

In a crowded marketplace, differentiating your brand is key. The halal industry is catching on, embracing compelling narratives and values-driven branding. Showcase your commitment to ethical sourcing, sustainability, and community engagement. Share inspiring stories of the farmers who raise your halal meat, the scientists developing innovative food technologies, or the communities you empower through your business practices. By building trust and aligning with consumer values, halal brands can stand out.

Embrace the Halal Revolution:2024 is not just a year on the calendar; it’s the dawn of a new era for the halal industry. By harnessing the power of technology, embracing ethical values, and catering to evolving consumer needs, halal businesses can tap into a USD 3.9 trillion market brimming with potential. So, whether you’re a food producer, travel blogger, or tech whiz, join the halal revolution. Optimize your offerings, tell your story, and connect with Muslim consumers worldwide. The future of halal is bright, and the time to act is now.


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Beyond Andalusia: Exploring Spain’s Islamic Heritage through Halal Tourism

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Spain’s evolving landscape of Muslim-friendly tourism is a testament to its rich Islamic history and its commitment to embracing diverse cultural needs. As we head into 2023, projections indicate a staggering 85 million international visitors to Spain, a 16.4% increase from the previous year, highlighting the country’s growing appeal as a global tourist destination. A significant portion of these tourists are from Muslim-majority countries, drawn to Spain’s Islamic heritage and the burgeoning availability of Halal services and tailored cultural experiences.

The Rise of Halal Tourism in Spain

Spain’s shift towards accommodating Muslim tourists is evident in the increasing number of Halal-certified establishments and services. The Spanish Halal Institute has reported a surge in businesses seeking Halal certification, a rise from 100 in 2010 to over 500 in recent years. This growth is not only a response to the rising Muslim visitor numbers but also a strategic move by Spanish businesses to tap into the lucrative Muslim market.

Muslim-friendly Services Across Spain

Beyond the traditionally popular Andalucía, other regions in Spain are adapting to the needs of Muslim tourists. Cities like Barcelona, Toledo, and Madrid now offer a range of Halal dining options, prayer facilities, and culturally sensitive services. For instance, the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona, a Halal-certified hotel, offers amenities tailored to Muslim guests, including prayer mats and Halal food options. Similarly, the Costa del Sol Hotel in Torremolinos has trained its staff in Muslim culture and traditions, enhancing the experience for its Muslim clientele.

Cultural and Historical Tourism

Spain’s Islamic history, particularly the legacy of Al-Andalus, is a major draw for Muslim visitors. Educational initiatives like walking tours in Toledo, led by Aicha Fernández, and Madrid’s Muslim and Arab heritage tours, organized by Rafael Martínez, provide insights into Spain’s rich Islamic past. These tours are not just tourist attractions but educational experiences, offering deep dives into the historical and cultural significance of Spain’s Islamic era.

Economic Impact and Market Potential

The economic potential of Muslim-friendly tourism in Spain is immense. According to a report by the State of the Islamic Economy (2022), the global Muslim population, a significant portion of which belongs to the rising middle class, is increasingly travel-savvy and demands tailored services. This presents a lucrative opportunity for Spanish businesses in the tourism sector.

Government Initiatives and Recognition

The Spanish government’s role in promoting Muslim-friendly tourism is pivotal. Efforts like the creation of Halal tourism guides by municipalities like Málaga, which won recognition at the Halal In Travel Global Summit in Singapore, underscore the national commitment to positioning Spain as a Muslim-friendly destination.

Challenges and Opportunities

Despite the progress, challenges remain. Celia Rodríguez, a Spanish revert, notes the scarcity of Halal options in some regions and the need for better-informed services for Muslim tourists. This gap presents an opportunity for businesses to further tailor their offerings and improve communication with Muslim clients.

Global Context and Future Prospects

Globally, the trend towards Muslim-friendly tourism is gaining momentum, with countries like South Korea and Japan also emerging as popular destinations. Spain’s strategic approach to embracing and catering to the needs of Muslim tourists not only enhances its competitive edge in the global tourism market but also promotes cultural understanding and inclusivity.


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TB Research Shows a Good Diet can cut Infections by Nearly 50%

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Tuberculosis is the single most deadly infectious killer of humankind. It claimed 1.6 million lives in 2021 alone. As the search for effective ways to fight the disease continues, the findings of new research offer hope: a good diet can cut infections by nearly 50%. Yogan Pillay and Madhukar Pai write that nutrition is a vaccine in all but name.

For centuries, we have known that tuberculosis is a social disease. It thrives on poverty and social factors such as malnutrition, poor housing, overcrowding, unsafe work environments and stigma. Globally in 2021 an estimated 2.2 million cases of TB were attributable to undernourishment, 0.86 million to HIV infection, 0.74 million to alcohol use disorders, 0.69 million to smoking and 0.37 million to diabetes.

But knowledge about social determinants alone does not always translate into tangible action and progress. A new trial in India, called RATIONS, aimed to determine the effect of nutritional supplementation on new cases of tuberculosis in households of adults with pulmonary TB. The research found that providing food baskets to people with TB and their households could go a long way to prevent and mitigate the disease.

No easy silver bullets

The TB community has typically looked for biomedical solutions, or “silver bullets”, for a social pathology, and we are struggling to make progress. Since the COVID pandemic, TB mortality and incidence have increased globally, putting TB back on top as the single most deadly infectious killer of humankind.  In 2021, 1.6 million people died of TB. In Africa, TB incidence is high (212 per 100,000 population) with a high case fatality rate because of the HIV epidemic.

Undernutrition is the most important cause of TB. This has been shown in studies in many countries, including South Africa, where researchers found poor levels of nutrition in patients admitted to a specialized TB hospital. Malnutrition refers to all forms of deficiencies in nutrition, including over-nutrition and obesity. Undernutrition refers more specifically to a deficiency of nutrients. While we know that many patients with TB have poor nutrition, the latest evidence is that undernutrition also plays a key role in TB within households.

The results of the Reducing Activation of Tuberculosis by Improvement of Nutritional Status (RATIONS) trial show that improved nutrition in family members of patients with lung TB reduced all forms of TB by nearly 40%, and infectious TB by nearly 50%.

This trial recruited 10,345 household members of 2,800 patients with lung TB.

  • All TB patients received a monthly 10kg food basket (rice, pulses, milk powder, oil) and multivitamins for six months.
  • In one group family members received 5kg rice and 1.5kg pulses per person per month, while the other group of family members did not get food baskets.

Food worked like a vaccine in this trial, cutting the risk of household members developing TB.  Nutrition could also protect against other conditions such as anaemia, diarrhoea and respiratory infections, but these were not not the main focus of the trial. An accompanying paper, based on the results of the RATIONS trial, showed that severe undernutrition was present in nearly half of all patients.

An early weight gain in the first two months was associated with 60% lower risk of TB mortality. The other benefits were higher treatment success and better weight gain. During the six-month follow-up period, a remarkable treatment success rate of 94% was achieved.

Getting food to patients

How expensive was the intervention? The cost of a food basket was US$13 per TB patient per month and US$4 per household member per month and could be delivered, even in rural areas, using field staff. Even before the RATIONS trial, the Indian government had recognised the need for nutrition support for people with TB, and in 2018 launched “Nikshay Poshan Yojana”, a direct benefit transfer scheme. Under this scheme, each TB patient receives a financial incentive of US$6 per month for the duration of the anti-TB treatment (typically, six months for people with drug-sensitive TB).

Emerging data suggests that while the scheme improves the treatment completion rates among patients with TB in India, they often receive their payments late. There is a need to improve the efficiency and provide timely payments.

The new RATIONS trial suggests that directly providing food baskets may be another effective strategy.

Many countries, including India, have other social security programmes, including public distribution systems  to provide food grains at subsidised prices. Using existing channels to provide extra food rations to people with TB, and expanding the menu to include proteins such as pulses and millets, is a strategy worth exploring. This could also have positive effects on other diseases such as diabetes.

Implications for South Africa

South Africa is one of the countries labelled by the World Health Organization as a “high TB burden country”.

What does this latest research mean for South Africa? Statistics South Africa reported that in 2021 2.6 million people had inadequate access to food and a further 1.1 million stated they had “severe” inadequate access to food. More than 683,000 children five years and younger experienced hunger.

This toxic mix requires prevention of TB by nutritional support, drugs to prevent TB infections and early diagnosis with molecular tests and treatment.

With high levels of food insecurity and undernutrition in South Africa, fuelled by the highest levels of inequality, it is critical that South Africa includes social benefits for people with TB and those in their households to reduce the prevalence of TB in the country and to meet the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

Regardless of how social benefits are distributed, action must be based on evidence. We need better tests, cures and vaccines for TB, but they alone cannot end the epidemic.  TB patients must be provided with the social benefits that they need and deserve, as a basic human right.

Courtesy: The Conversation


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