Saturday, October 31, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 10/31/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 10/31/2009Pakistan’s Christians are being increasingly targeted under the country’s blasphemy laws, which forbid any defamation of Islam or the Koran. Pakistani Christians — who form a small minority in the country — suspect that the authorities intend to eliminate Christianity entirely.

In other news, a Spanish company has discovered large oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico, and will develop them as part of a consortium with other companies.

Thanks to Amil Imani, C. Cantoni, Fjordman, Insubria, JD, JP, KGS, Paul Green, REP, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Market Cheers Over Ugly GDP Report
 
USA
Ethics Panel Scrutinizing Dozens of House Members
Investigate ‘Muslim Mafia, ‘ New Petition Tells Congress
Murdered Imam’s Followers Deny FBI Radical Claims
Republicans Warn: Rationing Medicine Has Already Begun
 
Europe and the EU
Agriculture: Portugal, Olive Oil Production Up 42%
Environment: EU, 6 Countries in Court for Industrial Permits
EU Leaders ‘Furious’ At David Cameron’s Bid to Scupper Lisbon Treaty
EU: Legal Steps Against Spain for Money Laundering Rules
France to Launch National Pride Campaign in Battle Against Islamic Fundamentalism
Halloween Dangerous Says Vatican
Islam: Paris Mosque, Late to Fight Against Full Veil
Italy: Magistrates Say “Courts Are Not Party Branches”
Merkel and Sarkozy Bury Blair EU President Idea
Poll Puts Geert Wilders Fourth in the Hague
Pope to Meet Anglican Chief
Spain: Ebro River, Cocaine Content Increases on Weekends
Spain: Barcelona Says Stop to Advertising Wars on Bus
UK: Cambridge University Allows Muslim Students to Wear Burkas Under Their Mortar Boards at Graduation
UK: Ed Husain Versus Melanie Phillips
UK: Gay Rights Campaigner James Rennie Jailed for Life Over Paedophile Ring
UK: Inside the Shadowy (And Very Lucrative) World of Blair Inc: How the Ex-PM Has Become a One-Man Multinational Money-Making Machine.
UK: Poppycock! Remembrance Day Collectors Banned From Shaking Tins to Avoid ‘Intimidating Shoppers’
UK: the Personal Jihad of Melanie Phillips
UK: Villagers Boycott Pub After Landlady Refuses to Sell Poppies
 
North Africa
Morocco: Jewish-Moroccan Music at Andalusias Festival
Morocco: Record Olive Production at 1.5 Mln Tonnes
Swiss Hostages Disappear in Libya
 
Israel and the Palestinians
Democarcy and Palestinian Statehood
 
Middle East
Gays in Lebanon: Discrimination at University
Iraq: Private Russian Security Guards Instead of the Foreign Armies
Italy-Syria: Minister Scajola Visit to Damascus From Tomorrow
Lebanon: New Sentence for Pro-Israeli General Lahad
Lebanon: Guards in Women’s Prisons Learn Human Rights
Lebanon: UNIFIL; Tensions Between Italy and Spain, El Pais
Lebanon: Scarce Interest on Issue of Command in Beirut, UNIFIL
Turkey-EU: Ankara Must Fulfil Commitments, Kyprianou Says
 
South Asia
15,000 Bibles in Malaysia Seized Over ‘Allah’ Reference
Afghanistan: Colonel Foresaw His Own Death: His Memo to Mod Warned Helicopter Shortage Would Cost Lives… Weeks Later He Was Dead
Pakistani Christians, From Freedom to Persecution
Pakistan: Blasphemy Law: A Long List of Injustices (An Overview)
Save Christians and Pakistan From the Blasphemy Law
What Can be Done to Abolish Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws
 
Far East
Hatoyama: Tokyo Will Review Alliance With the United States
 
Latin America
Chinese Goods Conquer Latin America
Oil: Repsol Announces 2 New Oil Fields in Mexican Gulf
 
Immigration
France: NGO Slams Conditions in Centres
Spain: Yes to Law Tightening Sanctions
Spain: 650,000 Immigrants Can Vote in 2011 Local Election
 
Culture Wars
Spain: Church to Basque Party, Don’t Back New Abortion Law
 
General
Amil Imani: Religion & the Marketplace
Swine Flu Vaccine Shots Eliminate Wrinkles, Bad Breath and Varicose Veins, Too

Financial Crisis

Market Cheers Over Ugly GDP Report

by Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Today the market is cheering over what is actually an ugly report.

A misguided Cash-for-Clunkers added a one-time contribution of 1.66 percentage points to GDP. Auto sales have since collapsed so all the program did is move some demand forward.

Government spending increased at 7.9 percent in the third quarter which is certainly nothing to cheer about.

Personal income decreased $15.5 billion (0.5 percent), while real disposable personal income decreased 3.4 percent, in contrast to an increase of 3.8 percent last quarter. Those are horrible numbers.

The savings rate is down, which no doubt has misguided economists cheering, but people spending more than they make is one of the things that got us into trouble.

The only bright spot I can find is exports. However, even there we must not get too excited as imports rose much more.

[…]

I am struggling to understand what is surprising other than how bad this all looks once you break down the numbers. The government sloshed trillions around and yet disposable income is down, jobs are horrendously weak, and the only reason GDP rose is wasteful government spending, cash-for-clunkers and extremely unaffordable housing tax credits whose effect is soon going to start diminishing even though the program was just extended.

I see plenty of chances for negative territory or at least extremely anemic growth starting in the second quarter of 2010, if indeed not the first quarter.

Let’s see what Christmas brings. I am expecting far weaker numbers than most. In the meantime, let’s party even if only for a day or two. Reality is likely to return soon.

           — Hat tip: REP[Return to headlines]

USA

Ethics Panel Scrutinizing Dozens of House Members

WASHINGTON — Dozens of lawmakers have drawn scrutiny from their ethics monitor this year for everything from financial dealings to travel and campaign donations, according to a leaked account showing an active House panel secretly at work.

Seven of the lawmakers — four not previously known — serve on a defense appropriations subcommittee that divvies up money for Pentagon contractors.

Most of the names and investigative subjects, mentioned in a summary of the ethics committee’s work last July, were known. But the summary — obtained by The Washington Post — shows the widespread scope of preliminary reviews and investigations the panel can have before it at any one time.

If anything, the document rebuts arguments of some watchdog groups that members of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — the ethics committee — do little to investigate their colleagues.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Investigate ‘Muslim Mafia, ‘ New Petition Tells Congress

‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,’ says longtime Arab television anchor

A former Arab news anchor-turned-national security advocate has created a petition demanding that the subjects of the new book “Muslim Mafia” be investigated.

“We call on the U.S. government to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in the interest of national security,” says the new petition by Brigitte Gabriel, who now runs the ACT! for America organization.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Murdered Imam’s Followers Deny FBI Radical Claims

DETROIT — A mosque on Friday dismissed as “utterly preposterous” the FBI’s allegations that its murdered leader was part of a radical Islamic group.

Luqman Ameen Abdullah, the imam or prayer leader of Masjid Al-Haqq in Detroit, was a “recognized and respected member of numerous mainstream Muslim organizations and leadership bodies,” the mosque said.

Abdullah, 53, was fatally shot Wednesday as FBI agents tried to arrest him on several charges, including conspiracy to sell stolen goods. The FBI says he resisted arrest inside a warehouse and fired a gun.

A criminal complaint filed by the government describes Abdullah as a leader of a national radical Sunni group that wants to create an Islamic state within the U.S. The FBI says he had extreme anti-government views and encouraged followers to commit violence.

No terrorism-related charges were brought against any of the 11 people charged in the complaint, including Abdullah.

“The slanderous allegations of his being a national leader of a radical Islamic sect is utterly preposterous. … These allegations are contrary to what we as a community stand for,” the mosque said.

The statement was read by an assistant prayer leader, Mikail Stewart Sandiq, as many members milled outside the mosque after Friday prayers. He declined to answer questions.

Abdullah’s son, Omar Regan, 34, of Los Angeles said he helped prepare the body for a funeral Saturday. He said his father was shot multiple times, and called the killing “barbaric.”

“What’s done is done,” Regan said, standing across the street from the mosque. “He knew he was wronged. If God calls you home, you can’t help but answer.”

As for the government’s allegations, Regan said “they can hold up a piece of paper but show me you have proof. Where is it?”

FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold declined to comment on how many times Abdullah was shot. She referred questions to police in Dearborn, the Detroit suburb where the shooting took place. A city spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an e-mailed message seeking comment, and the Wayne County medical examiner’s office did not immediately respond to phone messages.

Two of the 11 people named in the criminal complaint were still at large Friday. At least four men have been ordered held without bond; another is in a Michigan prison.

In Washington, a group called the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections called for an independent investigation of Abdullah’s death.

The group is an umbrella organization whose members include the American Muslim Alliance, American Muslims for Palestine and Council on American-Islamic Relations.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]


Republicans Warn: Rationing Medicine Has Already Begun

Obama extends health care act blamed for costing AIDS patients their lives

President Obama today extended a federal AIDS program that an unlikely pair of Republicans — one blasted for being “anti-gay” and the other chairman of an organization for homosexual conservatives — criticized earlier this month as a foreshadow of the rationing and waiting lists sure to come if the U.S. adopts even more government-run health care programs.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Agriculture: Portugal, Olive Oil Production Up 42%

(ANSAmed) — ROME, OCTOBER 29 — Olive oil production in Portugal registered a 42% increase in 2008-2009, according to data from the Casa do Azeite association, which unites 65 businesses that represent about 95% of all olive oil bottled in Portugal. An increase which, underlined a statement from the Italian Trade Commission (ICE) office in Lisbon, exceeded expectations in the sector. The increase is also the result of a plan to increase the areas dedicated to intensive olive production, like in the Alentejo area, which will lead to a sharp increase in olive oil production. Data from the Portuguese Statistics Institute demonstrates that olive oil production totalled 53.8 thousand tonnes in 2008. The trend, both at a national level and for the regions in general, is continually on the rise. As for exports, Portuguese olive oil made gains in terms of its market share with a 19% increase in 2008, totalling 30,000 tonnes (22 thousand of which were exported to Brazil, where Portugal has a 50% share in the market). The great change in Portugal in terms of olive oil production is due to new technology, with the availability of water for irrigation and with the introduction of new olive varieties. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Environment: EU, 6 Countries in Court for Industrial Permits

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, OCTOBER 29 — The European Commission has decided to refer six member states to the European Court of Justice for not issuing new permits or updating older ones regarding pollution emission regulations for over 1,500 industrial plants. The six countries are Greece, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Denmark, and Holland. Brussels also decided to send a second warning to France, Austria, and Sweden for another 1,700 businesses that are operating without permits. The infraction has to do with a directive on integrated pollution prevention control (IPPC), which aims to control industrial emissions of the air, water, and soil. “Two years have already passed,” said European Environmental Commissioner, Stavros Dimas, “since the deadline to assign these permits expired.” According to the commissioner, this is an “unacceptable” situation. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


EU Leaders ‘Furious’ At David Cameron’s Bid to Scupper Lisbon Treaty

David Cameron has been privately criticised by top European leaders for trying to sabotage the Lisbon Treaty, it emerged today.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish prime minister Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero were said to have been angered by the Tory leader’s positioning.

They expressed concerns during this week’s European Union summit in Brussels after Mr Cameron wrote to Czech president Vaclav Klaus, who has so far refused to sign the treaty, according to The Guardian,

The letter was sent earlier this month and outlined the Tories’ commitment to hold a referendum on the treaty unless it had been ratified by all 27 member states before they won power.

With the Czech Republic the last EU nation needed to sign the treaty, Mr Cameron’s initiative was seen as an attempt to embolden Mr Klaus to hold firm against ratification.

Mr Sarkozy was also allegedly overheard telling Gordon Brown he was incensed by the letter.

Mrs Merkel and Mr Zapataro apparently made similar remarks, also in private.

The Tories’ relations with the governments of France and Germany have already been strained by Mr Cameron’s decision to quit the mainstream, but federalist, centre-right grouping in the European Parliament.

Mr Brown said: “The Conservative Party are standing apart from the mainstream in Europe.

“They are part of a very small group of minorities — of 23 people apart from the Conservative Party. They are standing on the fringes of Europe. That is a huge mistake for British interests.”

A Tory spokeswoman said there had never been any secret about Mr Cameron’s letter to Mr Klaus.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]


EU: Legal Steps Against Spain for Money Laundering Rules

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, OCTOBER 29 — The European Commission has decided to refer Spain to the European Court of Justice for failing to implement EU regulations on money laundering and the funding of terrorism. According to European legislation, money transfers must be accompanied by information on the identify of the person who executes the transfer. If necessary, this information must be made available to the police. Spain has not implemented “effective, dissuasive and proportionate sanctions” against those who do not submit to these regulations. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


France to Launch National Pride Campaign in Battle Against Islamic Fundamentalism

France is to adopt a series of measures to ‘reaffirm pride’ in the country and combat Islamic fundamentalism.

They include everybody receiving lessons in the nation’s Christian history and children singing the national anthem.

Using words which infuriated ethnic minority groups and Socialist opponents, immigration minister Eric Besson also said he wanted ‘foreigners to speak better French’.

He called for all recent arrivals to be monitored by ‘Republican godfathers’, charged with helping immigrants to integrate better.

His proposed measures contrast sharply with the situation in Britain where ‘citizenship education’ centres on multicultural diversity.

M Besson, who was born in the former French protectorate of Morocco, suggested a debate on national identity’ entitled ‘What does it mean to be French?’

He also reignited the debate about face and body-covering Muslim veils, saying they should definitely be banned.

As well as providing civic lessons for adults — including classes about the country’s Christian history and liberal political institutions — the government will encourage school children to sing the national anthem at least once a year.

His proposed measures contrast sharply with the situation in Britain where ‘citizenship education’ centres on multicultural diversity and the European Union, while ‘God Save The Queen’ is not even taught in schools.

In an interview broadcast on national TV, Mr Besson said : ‘It’s necessary to reaffirm the values of national identity and the pride of being French.

‘I think, for example, that it would be good for all young French people to have the chance to sing The Marseillaise at least once a year.’

Making clear that radical Islam was a threat, Mr Besson said: ‘In France, the nation and the republic remain the strongest ramparts against …. fundamentalist tendencies. France is diversity, and France is unity.’

Mr Besson defended a decision to send illegal Afghan immigrants — all of them Muslim — back to Kabul on charter flights organised in conjunction with the British government last week, saying there would be many more.

More than 21,000 people have been deported from France this year — with 27,000 the ultimate target, said Mr Besson.

He also reignited the debate about face and body-covering Muslim veils, saying they should definitely be banned.

‘For me, there should be no burqas on the street,’ said Mr Besson. ‘The burqa is against national values — an affront to women’s rights and equality.’

Explaining the apparent shift to the extreme right by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, Mr Besson evoked the legacy of Jean Marie Le Pen’s anti-immigration National Front party, which is struggling massively with huge debts and low electoral support.

Mr Besson said: ‘We should never have abandoned to the National Front a number of values which are part of the Republic’s heritage. I think that the political death of the National Front would be the best news for all of us.’

But Mohammed Moussaoui, a prominent French Muslim leader, said debates like the one about the burqa were stigmatising the country’s entire Muslim community, which at some five million is the largest in western Europe.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Halloween Dangerous Says Vatican

‘Undercurrent of occultism’ in ‘anti-Christian’ fest

(ANSA) — Vatican City, October 29 — Halloween is anti-Christian and sends dangerous occult messages, the Vatican reiterated Thursday.

In an article entitled Halloween’s Dangerous Messages, Holy See newspaper l’Osservatore Romano quoted liturgical expert Joan Maria Canals as saying “Halloween has an undercurrent of occultism and is absolutely anti-Christian”.

Father Canals, a member of a Spanish commission on church rites, urged parents “to be aware of this and try to direct the meaning of the feast towards wholesomeness and beauty rather than terror, fear and death”.

L’Osservatore praised a Spanish community’s decision to hold a prayer vigil on Saturday night and the Paris archdiocese’s idea of having kids play a lucky dip dubbed ‘Holywins’ instead.

These and similar initiatives in South America “allow Catholic communities to have an alternative to the feast, to bear witness to their faith and Christian hope in the face of death”.

The Catholic Church in Italy has taken a dim view of Halloween’s growing popularity for years.

Last year, the bishops daily Avvenire appealed for a full-blown boycott, describing Halloween as a “dangerous celebration of horror and the macabre”.

Warning parents of the dangers of children coming into contact with strangers during trick or treating, Anti-Occult Sect Service head Aldo Bonaiuto said the event “promotes the culture of death” and could spur “pitiless (Satanic) sects without scruples”.

He also argued that the spooky festival sets a bad example for young children.

“Halloween pushes new generations towards a mentality of esoteric magic and it attacks sacred and spiritual values through a devious initiation to the art and images of the occult,” he said.

“At best, it gives a big helping hand to consumerism and materialism,” he added.

POPULARITY RISING.

Halloween is not a traditional date on the Italian calendar but has been growing in popularity in recent years, with trick-or-treating becoming more common.

More than a million pumpkins are sold over the holiday while fancy-dress shops whose traditional bonanza came at Carnival time in February now make a killing in masks, costumes and accessories.

However, there is a small town in the southeastern region of Puglia, Orsara di Puglia, which has been celebrating Halloween for the past 1,000 years.

According to local historians, the only real difference between the American tradition and the town’s version of Halloween is the date.

Halloween, a secular take on All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day, is traditionally celebrated on the night of October 31, but in Orsara di Puglia the pumpkins come out on the evening between November 1 (All Saints Day) and Nov 2 (All Souls Day).

Hollowed-out and candle-lit pumpkins are placed outside homes on the evening of All Saints Day to keep away evil spirits and witches.

Townsfolks also light huge bonfires in the streets so as to illuminate the path of souls on their way to Purgatory.

Historians have traced Orsara’s tradition back to a short-lived 8th-century incursion by a Germanic people, the Longobards, who in more northern parts supplanted older civilisations and reigned as the Lombards.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Islam: Paris Mosque, Late to Fight Against Full Veil

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, OCTOBER 29 — “It is too late to fight against the full veil in France because the problem of fundamentalism was underestimated for too long,” said the rector of Paris’ Grand Mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, speaking in Parliament where he was called by a commission dealing with the issue of the increased use of burqas and niqabs in France. A moderate representative of Islam, Boubakeur explained that the veil is not imposed by the Muslim religion, pointing out that on the contrary, the youngest wife of the prophet Mohammed, Aicha, did not cover her face to go to Mecca. “For a long time now there has been a need to be on guard against the growth of fundamentalism,” said Boubakeur, criticising a general apathy regarding the problem in France and other countries. For the rector of the Grand Mosque, it is necessary to understand the reasons for which women choose to wear a full veil and eventually deal with the problem case by case. And if a law is necessary, he said, it must be a public safety law associated in particular with the need to be identifiable. Something that is impossible if a women is covered from head to toe and if her eyes are also not visible, covered by a layer of fabric like for the Afghan burqa, or if they are wearing a niqab, which only leaves a thin slit open around the eyes. The issue of the full veil is controversial in a country like France that is particularly associated with secularism, where Muslim immigration is very high and the parliamentary commission was created in June to write up a report that will be handed to the government in January. In a speech in front of the national assembly in June, President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the burqa “is not welcome in France,” resulting in numerous protests in the Islamic world.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy: Magistrates Say “Courts Are Not Party Branches”

National Magistrates Association reacts to premier’s assertions on Ballarò: “Ridiculous words. No judicial office deserves them”

MILAN — “Every opportunity seems to be a good one to denigrate the judiciary and describe courts as political party branches, peopled by militant magistrates. No judicial office deserves these baseless, ridiculous definitions, least of all Milan”. The National Association of Magistrates (ANM) uses uncompromising language in a note issued in reply to the accusations levelled at Milan judges by the prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Although no official decision has been taken, it is likely that the new clash over justice will lead to a strike by magistrates.

BALLARÒ — In an across-the-board attack on magistrates during a phone call to Ballarò, the prime minister pointed the finger at “communist public prosecutors who are the real opposition in this country”. The magistrates’ union found the charge hard to digest. “From Milan, and from the whole country, the magistracy reiterates that will continue to wear only the gown and answer only to the law. And above all, to the constitution” says an ANM document on the protest assemblies that will be held on Thursday all over Italy. The council explains that the assemblies “come from the deep, sincere concern over persistent attempts to undermine and intimidate both the magistracy as a whole and individual magistrates in relation to specific trials or sentences pronounced. The very relationship of institutions and guarantee bodies has been called into discussion”. The note continues: “while tension and attention focus on an improper conflict in which the magistracy is the victim, nothing serious, concrete or lasting is proposed to restore efficiency to the judiciary and return trials to a reasonable duration”. On Thursday, “the magistracy will be united, both in its membership and in its spontaneous, massive adherence to appeals in favour of our colleague Mesiano”.

ROBLEDO — “If our togas are red, it is with the blood spilled by magistrates who have paid with their lives for the defence of legality and constitutional values, starting with Falcone and Borsellino”, said Milan-based assistant public prosecutor Alfredo Robledo, who in the past has conducted investigations in which Mr Berlusconi was implicated, in reply to the claims made by the prime minister in his phone call to Giovanni Floris. “To call colleagues working assiduously in public prosecutor’s offices communists is unacceptable”, the chief public prosecutor in Siracusa, Ugo Rossi, chimed in from Sicily.

REACTIONS — The premier’s charges also solicited reactions of a more strictly political nature. “Today’s note from the ANM is yet more confirmation that certain sections of the magistracy behave as if they were political actors”, said People of Freedom (PDL) spokesman, Daniele Capezzone. “Yet again yesterday on Ballarò, Silvio Berlusconi was verging on the ridiculous when he accused Milan magistrates of being communists. As some of the papers note, judge Lapertosa, who convicted David Mills on Tuesday, is the same communist judge who acquitted him on appeal in the SME trial”, pointed out Felice Belisario, leader of the Italy of Values (IDV) group in the Senate.

BERSANI — Equally swift reactions came from the Democratic Party (PD) to allegations that it has turned into a new Communist Party (PCI). “Us, a new PCI? But he was saying we were communists even before I became secretary. He said it about Veltroni, about Franceschini… The prime minister should supply us with the right secretary”, responded Pier Luigi Bersani, the newly elected secretary of the PD.

English translation by Giles Watson

www.watson.it

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Merkel and Sarkozy Bury Blair EU President Idea

France and Germany will join forces to choose a new-look European Union’s first big boss, President Nicolas Sarkozy said Friday, sweeping Tony Blair towards the Brussels exit.

The French head of state said he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had agreed to back “the same candidate,” adding that the pair shared the same “vision” for two new top jobs to be created under the Lisbon Treaty, and their favoured runners.

Confirmation that Berlin and Paris were collaborating on arguably the biggest appointment in the bloc’s history came in the wake of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown campaigning personally on behalf of Blair.

And relations with the UK were further dented by an open attempt by Britain’s potential new leader to get the Czech president to delay ratifying the Lisbon Treaty — something Vaclav Klaus has just been persuaded not to do.

David Cameron, leader of the British Conservative Party, and widely tipped to oust Brown at the next general election, wrote a letter to Klaus spelling out his party’s plan to hold a referendum on the treaty should they enter government.

The British The Guardian newspaper reported that Sarkozy was incensed by the intervention, while Merkel was concerned by behaviour she considered untrustworthy.

The letter also seems to have been poorly timed, as Klaus, having secured his country’s exemption from a rights charter, to sign the treaty.

“I do not plan to impose any extra conditions,” Klaus said in a statement.

This opens the way to presidential nominations.

Sarkozy, who said Lisbon could now enter force as early as December 1, would not reveal the identity of his and Merkel’s preferred choice, but said Europe’s George Washington, in reference to the founding US father, would need to be both “charismatic” and a “consensus-builder.”

Without naming Blair, Sarkozy hinted at longstanding problems with a mooted but never declared candidacy.

“The names in the first wave are not necessarily the winners in the end,” he said.

Ironically, Sarkozy had been the first to suggest Blair as a contender — although he backtracked a couple of weeks ago citing a “problem” over a lack of British engagement with core EU policies.

Ignoring Brown’s stated wish for Blair to take the president’s job, Europe’s socialists are instead targeting the foreign policy position.

And in an intriguing British twist, Brown’s Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, could become the most popular candidate.

While Miliband has ruled himself out running for the second job, recent remarks he made, suggesting Europe should play a bigger global role, have been interpreted as a sign that the position appeals to him.

Dutch leader Jan Peter Balkenende is not officially a candidate, but on Friday suggested that this could change.

Former Latvian head of state Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who would satisfy a lobby favouring a woman, and ex-Irish leader John Bruton are also declared runners, albeit with longer odds.

But the other name in the ring, Juncker, was said by one diplomat to have launched the political equivalent of a “suicide pact” by going up against Blair.

All eyes therefore, rest on Merkel.

Online:

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Poll Puts Geert Wilders Fourth in the Hague

Geert Wilder’s anti-Islam party PVV is trailing in fourth place in a TNS Nipo poll of local election voting intentions in the Hague, the Volkskrant reports on Friday.

The PVV said earlier it only plans to field candidates in the Hague and Almere because of a shortage of good candidates.

The PVV was the biggest party in the city at the European elections in June.

The TNS Nipo poll puts Labour in first place with 22%, followed by the two liberal parties D66 and VVD.

The local elections take place on March 3. All EU nationals, and non-EU nationals who have lived in the country for the past five years will also be able to vote.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Pope to Meet Anglican Chief

Williams to Vatican after conversion move

(ANSA) — Vatican City, October 30 — Pope Benedict XVI will receive the head of the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, on November 31, the Vatican confirmed Friday.

William was already scheduled to visit for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Catholic ecumenical pioneer Johannes Willebrands but his trip has assumed greater significance since an October 20 announcement that the Vatican was setting up a new section to help Anglicans who want to convert to Catholicism.

The new Apostolic Constitution will lay out the path for unmarried bishops, married and unmarried priests and other members of the Anglican Church to join the Catholic Church.

Many conservative Anglicans are unhappy with increasingly progressive moves like the ordination of woman bishops.

The new section, which would allow Anglicans to keep many of their traditions and practices, was set up in response to pleas from Anglicans, whose conversions were previously assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Some leading Anglicans have criticised the Vatican’s move.

Ex-archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey said the Anglican Church should not be treated as a “junior partner” and that the Vatican had only given Williams two weeks’ notice of its plan.

A conservative Anglican group called Forward With Faith has said many of its members are eager to convert because the Church of England was becoming “the church of political correctness”.

One of its leaders, Father Geoffrey Kirk, said they objected not only to the ordination of woman but also to “many attitudes on human sexuality” including divorce and homosexuality.

On the Vatican side of the question, meanwhile, some observers have speculated that the arrival of more married Anglicans might eventually open a chink in the Holy See’s ironclad insistence on celibacy for its own clergy.

The Church of England is regarded as the ‘mother’ of all the other churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion, which considers itself to be both a product of the Reformation and also Catholic.

With some 77 million members, the Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian communion in the world after the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

The English church was under papal authority for nearly a thousand years before splitting from Rome in 1534 when King Henry VIII was refused an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Spain: Ebro River, Cocaine Content Increases on Weekends

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, OCTOBER 28 — A river of cocaine, and not figuratively, the Ebro River carried more than 630 kilos of cocaine annually and 430 kilos of other drugs after consumption. This is not an estimate, but empirical data from a study by the Centre for Scientific Research undertaken for a EU project according to a report today in El Pais. Between October 2007 and July 2008 the researchers found samples in seven areas of the river where about 950,000 people reside and the results indicate that the urban areas with Zaragoza in the lead, are the areas where the most drugs are consumed. The samples also indicate that consumption of illegal drugs practically doubles on the weekends compared to work days. “These are not estimates, it’s real data”, said the study’s co-author Damià Berceloò. The methodology used for the samples is more advanced that that used for the UN 2007 report which put Miranda de Ebro, in the province of Burgo, as one of the cities with the highest use of cocaine in the world. The Csic study lowers the 134 daily doses per 1,000 inhabitants reported in the UN report to 21 daily doses. The sample collection stations are in the purification plants to measure the residue left by drugs in human urine and based on this calculates consumption of illegal substances. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Spain: Barcelona Says Stop to Advertising Wars on Bus

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, OCTOBER 28 — After the anti-abortion bus, buses in favour of atheism, the ones responding to the E-Cristians association, and the most recent ones against “the death toll”, Barcelona has decided to say enough to advertising campaigns containing ideological messages on buses. The new criteria imposed by Promedio Esclusiva de Publicidad S.L., the company that has been managing all of the advertising for the Metropolitan Transport Bus fleet in Barcelona, has been “immediately applied”, as announced in a statement from the company. Any message or advertisement on “individual beliefs” will be excluded, even if included in campaigns aiming to raise social debate and media diffusion promoted by any person, group, or identity. The group wants to “preserve the proper use and prestige” of the public transport service and remove uses as a vehicle of interests “with no commercial aspects” from the transport agency. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


UK: Cambridge University Allows Muslim Students to Wear Burkas Under Their Mortar Boards at Graduation

Cambridge University will allow female Muslim students to wear burkas at graduation ceremonies, it emerged yesterday.

By tradition, students are required to wear dark suits and white shirts under their graduation gowns.

Cambridge has clamped down on breaches of the rules after officials complained students were increasingly wearing casual clothes to ceremonies.

They warned the code ‘is strictly enforced at ceremonies, and if you do not observe it, you may not be permitted to graduate on a particular occasion’.

Yesterday it clarified that clothing linked to religious observance, such as burkas, would still be allowed.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: Ed Husain Versus Melanie Phillips

Former Islamist stands up to Islamist obsessive

She once described ex-Hizb ut-Tahrir activist and self-confessed, one-time “Islamist”, Ed Husain, as a “brave Muslim” who should be “applauded for his courage…intellectual honesty and guts”, before turning on him for opposing the Israeli war on Gaza and accusing him of adopting “the very narrative and rhetoric that are driving Muslims to mass murder.” But now Melanie Phillips had had a taste of her own bilious medicine in the form of a harsh, biting and brilliant takedown from Husain himself in a piece entitled “The personal jihad of Melanie Phillips”.

Husain slams the Daily Mail columnist and Spectator blogger for her “zealotry and ignorance…anger, venom and hatred” and “ludicrous, illogical lines of thought” before accusing her of travelling on a “journey into darkness and ignorance”. His central criticism of the swivel-eyed Phillips revolves around her obsession with Israel, and the “Israel First” test that she sees fit to impose on self-described Muslim “moderates”.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


UK: Gay Rights Campaigner James Rennie Jailed for Life Over Paedophile Ring

The mother of a six-year-old boy who was subjected to what a judge described as “truly appalling” abuse from a man she had regarded as a close friend said yesterday that her child had been “shaped and moulded” for life by the experience.

Welcoming the life sentences passed on James Rennie and Neil Strachan, the woman said that she had moved on from feelings of anger. “My focus is about my son, about how to support him and loving him for who he is. And who he is now has been shaped and moulded by what’s gone on.”

Rennie 38, the former chief executive of a gay youth organisation, was responsible for “a colossal breach of trust”, Lord Bannatyne said at the High Court in Edinburgh. He had abused the boy — identified as Child F — almost from birth to the age of four years. He distributed images and films of his attacks to a gang of seven other men.

Strachan, 41, the only one of the gang with previous convictions for offences against children, was shown in background reports to display evidence of a psychopathic personality. One image that showed him abusing a baby left in his care displayed all his basest instincts, the judge said. “By its very nature what is shown in that photograph is utterly appalling and would shock to the core any right-minded person who has had to see it.”

Strachan was ordered to spend a minimum of 16 years in prison, while Rennie was sentenced to a minimum of 13 years.

Nearly 125,000 indecent images were seized during an 18-month police investigation, codenamed Operation Algebra. Six men were jailed in June for their involvement in the gang. All were respected members of the community, as was Rennie, and they included a civil servant, a bank clerk and a church bell-ringer.

The nine-week trial in the spring invoked conspiracy laws for the first time in a sexual offences case in Scotland, a precedent that prosecutors hope will have a profound effect on curtailing the making and distribution of images of child abuse by paedophiles.

“These offences involve real children and many of the photographs involve children being sexually abused, often in the most appalling ways. There are real victims of these offences, namely the children who were photographed and abused,” Lord Bannatyne said.

The judge reserved special praise for Detective Inspector Stuart Hood and the squad of 13 detectives who uncovered the gang.

Their investigations required an international operation that stretched from Lothian and Borders police headquarters at Fettes in Edinburgh and drew on the skills of Scottish and American academics, FBI agents and Microsoft personnel in San Jose, California.

As a direct result of Operation Algebra more than 60 individuals have been arrested in Britain, and according to police hundreds of offenders are believed to have been identified in Britain and around the world. Significant operations are continuing in central Scotland, Sussex, the Netherlands and the United States.

Strachan, convicted of eight charges in total, was also found guilty of repeatedly touching a six-year-old boy indecently. The jury found Rennie guilty of 14 charges, including one of procuring his best friend’s child for other men, an offer that Strachan took up.

The men — along with Ross Webber, 27, from North Berwick, Craig Boath, 24 from Dundee and John Milligan, 40, from Glasgow — were also found guilty of conspiring to gain access to a child or children to commit abuse.

After sentencing the mother of an 18-month-old boy abused by Strachan said that she would never be able to forgive him. “The anguish I feel towards Mr Strachan is indescribable,” she said.

“I feel that no matter what punishment is given to Mr Strachan, it will never be able to compensate for the hurt, devastation and great deal of stress brought to me and my family.”

Webber, Boath, and Milligan, along with Neil Campbell, 46, and John Murphy, 44, both from Glasgow, were sentenced to a total of 43 years in jail in June for their involvement in the paedophile ring.

[Return to headlines]


UK: Inside the Shadowy (And Very Lucrative) World of Blair Inc: How the Ex-PM Has Become a One-Man Multinational Money-Making Machine.

And so far this year, he’s been to more than 20 countries.

All of this activity is masterminded by an astonishing 80 staff, all working from a splendid suite in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, conveniently located near to the American embassy.

This seems appropriate because it is Mr Blair’s close connection with America, stemming from his support for them in invading Iraq and Afghanistan, that underpins much of his earning ability, not only as a lucrative speechmaker in the U.S., but because he is known to have the ear of those who run the world’s most powerful nation.

At the heart of his web of overlapping and conflicting interests is Tony Blair Associates, a consultancy, modelled on a foundation set up by Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State, which has made Kissinger very wealthy.

A friend told a Sunday newspaper recently: ‘TBA has been set up to make money from foreign governments and companies. There’s a focus on the Middle East, because that is where the money is.’

[…]

In addition to his TBA work, he is an adviser to U.S. investment bank JP Morgan, and Zurich Financial Services, on annual fees reported to be £2.5million. Incidentally, Jonathan Powell works for rival investment bank Morgan Stanley. No doubt they can compare notes.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: Poppycock! Remembrance Day Collectors Banned From Shaking Tins to Avoid ‘Intimidating Shoppers’

Poppy sellers from the Royal British Legion have been banned from shaking their collection tins in case they are seen as a ‘public menace’.

Asking anyone if they want to buy one and even approaching people have also been declared illegal.

Instead volunteers have been told they must remain still and silent or face being removed from their stands or prosecuted.

This is despite it being within the law for ‘chuggers’ — charity workers who are often likened to muggers hassling people for money on high streets — to do the same. They ask people to donate from their bank accounts rather than giving cash directly.

The rules for poppy sellers, which have been drawn up by the Charity Commission but are enforced by local councils, state that it is illegal for collectors to ‘harass people’ or act in a way that could be seen as ‘aggressive’.

John Allen, member and former chairman of the Royal British Legion’s Berkhamsted branch, in Hertfordshire, said: ‘At this time we should be doing all we can to help our boys and their families at home who are fighting for our country in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

‘We only get a few weeks a year to raise money and we should be allowed to make as much noise as we can.’

The Royal British Legion head office has been hastily sending out newsletters and holding meetings to ensure members are fully aware of the rules.

Bill Copeland, chairman of the branch in Marlborough, Wiltshire, said: ‘The rules are very silly — but we have to be very careful we stick to them.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


UK: the Personal Jihad of Melanie Phillips

by Ed Husain

Melanie Philips’s zealotry and ignorance frighten me. How did we produce a public commentator filled with such anger, venom and hatred?

I first met Melanie two years ago at the Richard and Judy show. Unaware that she was a last-minute, unexpected guest, and aware of the prejudiced views that she has expressed about Muslims in the past, I was unwilling to appear beside her as a complementary contributor; I made my excuses to Richard and left the studio.

However, I believe in the human ability to change and, in that hope of helping Melanie see the the flaws in her analysis, I met with her several times in private and appealed to her to stop blaming Islam and Muslim scripture for (the decidedly un-Islamic phenomenon of) terrorism. Why would she and her acolyte Douglas Murray not cease attacks on Muslim scripture that were based on bin Laden’s understanding of Islam? And why would they not support Islam’s inherent pluralism and recognise that Islam per se is not the problem, but iconoclastic interpretations of it.

With Melanie and Douglas, I probably failed. Just as humans can travel to enlightenment, they can also journey into darkness and ignorance.

Melanie has gone from being a tree-hugger during her Guardian days to ranter about climate change “totalitarian”. And worse, seeing conspiracies and dangerous links where there are none. What else explains her suggestion in last October’s Spectator magazine that President Barack Obama “adopts the agenda of the Islamists” and is “firmly in the Islamists’ camp”?

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


UK: Villagers Boycott Pub After Landlady Refuses to Sell Poppies

Villagers are boycotting a pub after its landlady refused to allow a Poppy collection tray on her bar.

Landlady Bernice Walsh, of The Windmill, in Weald, Kent, told former RAF serviceman David Marchant that people could buy poppies ‘somewhere else’ when he asked her permission to leave a poppy tray in her pub.

Mr Marchant, who is a local parish councillor and school governor, said the whole village was shocked and upset at the decision.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Morocco: Jewish-Moroccan Music at Andalusias Festival

(ANSAmed) — RABAT, OCTOBER 29 — Jewish-Moroccan music will be the protagonist of the 6th Festival of the Atlantic Andalusias in Essaouira, which will start today and end on November 1. “This festival will be against historical amnesia and single-mindedness,” said André Azoulay, a Moroccan Jew, advisor to King Hassan and now to Mohammed VI. “We will sing and dance together with our poets, our musicians, and our Muslim and Jewish singers”. The Jewish-Moroccan art of ‘Matrouz’, a musical and linguistic fusion born in Morocco centuries ago will be performed by rabbi-singer Haim Louk, accompanied by Moroccan orchestra, Zyriab D’Oujda, Franco-Algerian pianist Maurice El Medioni, and singer Raymonde El Badaouia, both religiously Jewish. There will be a posthumous tribute to Zohria Fassia, a famous singer from the 50s, who always supported a pacific coexistence between Jews and Muslims in Morocco. “Jewish-Moroccan art is an important component of Moroccan culture and identity,” added Azoulay, originally from Essaouira,” and this is a response to politicians, an example to understand each other”. For centuries the Jewish community in Morocco was the most numerous in the Middle East and Northern Africa. According to official estimates in 1948, the year that Israel was created, the community was made up of 265,000 people, many of whom were descendents of Jewish families thrown out of Spain by Queen Isabella in 1492. Between 1948 and 1967, the year of the 6 Days War, many Moroccan Jews moved to Israel. There are currently only a few thousand in Morocco.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Morocco: Record Olive Production at 1.5 Mln Tonnes

(ANSAmed) — RABAT, OCTOBER 27 — Like the harvest for grains, vegetables, and fruit, olive production in 2009-2010 in Morocco is estimated at a record 1.5 million tonnes, up by 76% on 2008 and by 102% compared to the past 5 years. According to estimates by the Agriculture and Fishing Ministry, the harvest will result in 160,000 tonnes of olive oil, 40% more compared to last year. The production represents a total turnover that will range from 4.5 to 6 billion dirham (4-5.5 million euros), which will bring significant benefits to the 400,000 farmers in the sector. According to the ministry, the increase in production is due to abundant rainfall last spring and new olive groves planted in the past decade thanks to state support through an agricultural development fund. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Swiss Hostages Disappear in Libya

Typically, the humiliated Swiss are confused. Should they apply retaliatory sanctions? Those would anger Gaddafi. Whatever they do, the international community will not help them because Libya has oil money. Furthermore, no one wishes to irritate dictators unless they are directly involved. Who cares, unless he has to, about Lockerbie, the “nurses case” or bozo’s recent stand up comic show at the UNO? That being the case, a criminal regime is again “getting away with it.” That eggs on other similar systems to emulate the example. Just think of Iranian and North Korean promises and their ignored, consequence-free disregard that is followed by new demands and delays. The comportment jeopardizes everybody and signifies a crisis of the international order. The global order is being undermined by discrediting, through their misuse, the proven procedures that sustain it. The pattern that emerges promises to lead to more and more substantial violations. For those transgressions the now silent potential victim states and the “international community” (what a misnomer!) is responsible…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Democarcy and Palestinian Statehood

The claim that the Palestinian Arabs are entitled to independent statehood is based on the principles of contemporary or normless democracy. This claim, we shall see, can be refuted by those very principles. The same claim can be refuted by employing the principles of classical or normative democracy. What are the differences between these two types of democracy?

Although both normative and normless democracy emphasizes freedom and equality as basic principles, normative democracy derives these principles from the Genesis account of man’s creation in the image of God. As a consequence, freedom and equality in normative democracy have rational and moral constraints. This is not the case of normless democracy, where moral relativism flourishes and prevents those tainted by relativism from opposing a Palestinian nation-state on moral grounds.

Now, it should be obvious that Arab-Islamic culture is utterly opposed to the basic principles of democracy however the term “democracy” is understood. But if this is the case, then the Palestinian Arabs, in this period of history, have no right to an independent and sovereign state anywhere—certainly not on Israel’s doorstep. Indeed, the creation of such a state, at this time, would serve neither the good of these Muslims nor the good of Israel. Any claim to the contrary by Arabs is but a ploy to truncate Israel and thereby facilitate its destruction. If such a claim is made by Jewish democrats, it merely reflects abysmal ignorance if not intellectual dishonesty.

That Arab-Islamic culture rejects the basic principles of democracy is so obvious that I must apologize to the reader for enumerating the following well-known facts:

1- Whereas, freedom, including freedom of speech, is one of the two cardinal principles of democracy, Arab-Islamic culture is strictly authoritarian, which is why its media are state-controlled.

2- Unlike democracy, whose other cardinal principle is equality, Arab-Islamic culture is strictly hierarchical. Top-down leadership is a fundamental principle of Islamic theology. Authority runs down from Allah to Muhammad and from Muhammad to the imam, the ruler of the regime.

3- Democracy is based on the primacy of consent or persuasion. This adorns democratic societies with a certain easy-goingness and civility. Not only are past grievances readily swept aside, but political opponents can be friends despite their differences. Differences are resolved by mutual concessions, and agreements are usually lasting. In contrast, Arab-Islamic culture is based on the primacy of coercion. Agreements between rival factions do not really terminate animosities, which is why such agreements are so short-lived.

4- Because democracy is based on the primacy of consent, the pursuit of peace is the norm of democratic states. In contrast, because Arab-Islamic culture is based on the primacy of coercion, the foreign policy norm of Arab-Islamic states is intimidation and conquest. Jihad (holy war) is a basic Islamic principle, which is why Muslim violence will be found throughout the world.

[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Gays in Lebanon: Discrimination at University

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, OCTOBER 29 — In some university psychology textbooks homosexuality is described as a deviance, the Arab world’s first legally recognised association of gays and lesbians Helem denounced this morning. The issue was raised today during the presentation in Beirut of the book ‘Homosexuality and bisexuality: myth and reality’. Written by the Lebanese psychologist Mara Rabbath, the booklet deals with the issue from a scientific and clinical viewpoint. “We want to spread this book among students in particular,” executive director of Helem, Ghassan Makaram, told ANSA. He underlined the problems of homosexual students, who risk to be sent off from university with an excuse due to their sexual preference. Mira (21 years old), a student and Helem activist, says that she is not ashamed about her sexuality: “I’ve written on Facebook that I’m gay, for everybody to see!”. The young woman admits that there are problems in being this open in academic circles: “It costs a lot of money to go to university…. it’s not worth is to be sent off. So in the end I don’t talk about it”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Iraq: Private Russian Security Guards Instead of the Foreign Armies

Former Russian military troops guarantee the investment interests of the former Soviets in Baghdad. They boast of being “very diplomatic”, unlike the Americans. But carry more weapons into the country.

Moscow (AsiaNews) — As foreign troops engaged in Iraq gradually reduced their presence to make way for the Iraqi army and police, new contractor security companies are elbowing in. Proud of “not being like the Americans of Blackwater” — the U.S. private military company banned from Iraq for excessive use of force — the new security experts in Iraq are now the former Soviet Union.

According to reports from the TV channel Russia Today, a special group of former Russian commando in the employ of Oryol — one of the biggest security companies in the Federation — is undergoing intensive training in preparation for their deployment in torn Middle Eastern country.

“Oryol (“ Eagle “) — says the Russian broadcaster in, tied to the Kremlin — is composed of highly trained former military officers who are preparing to ensure the safety of Russian technical personnel, diplomats and commercial presence in Iraq”. Employees include former Russian secret service agents. “Despite the strong background of our military men — says the head of the Oryol training Centre, Sergey Epishkin — one of the particular strategies we have adopted is a form of diplomacy, which allows us to have good relations with Western forces, Iraqi forces and the population”.

But in a country like Iraq, where more than 150 deaths in the attack Sunday in Baghdad point out that the situation remains incandescent, diplomacy alone does not seem sufficient. So Oryol has asked the Kremlin for adequate legislative support for its operations abroad, or a regulation that gives its contractors more freedom of action.

Indeed, unlike the infamous Blackwater colleagues, from a legal standpoint, the men of Oryol are not considered a “private security force,” but mere advisers. “We have no status, no rights — said one of the Centre instructors, Oleg Pyrsin — and if someone asks us why we are armed, we can only respond that it is for self-defence.”

The need, explains Oryol, is for a legal framework that allows a softening of restrictions imposed on contractors on the use of weapons abroad. The Duma could consider the request soon, thus opening the door to other security companies.

Human rights activists, however, warn against the possibility that it may grant a summary “license to kill” not just terrorists but also innocent civilians. As was the case with Blackwater. Last year the Iraqi government declared the U.S. company “non grata” in the country, and did not renew its license for 2009, following the killing of 17 civilians in Baghdad in 2007 at the hands of its contractors.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Italy-Syria: Minister Scajola Visit to Damascus From Tomorrow

(ANSAmed) — ROME, OCTOBER 30 — For the occasion of the visit of the Minister of Economic Development, Claudio Scajola, which will begin tomorrow, the Italian Trade Commission (ICE) in Damascus has organised the first Italy-Syrian Economic Forum. The project, explains a note from ICE, aims at strengthening institutional bonds between the two countries and stimulating trade relations among business, offering meetings between Italian and Syrian mechanics firms. The ICE office in Damascus has organised 375 bilateral meetings between almost 30 Italian businessmen and local operators, potential clients and trade partners (an average of more than 21 meetings per company). In addition to that of Scajola, the presence of the Syrian Minister of Industry, Al Jouni, the president of ICE, Umberto Vattani, and that of the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce, Ghreiwati, has been announced. The forum also intends to launch a new technological training centre to be built in Damascus equipped with Italian machinery, financed by both countries through public and private funding. A series of meetings has been scheduled for Sunday between an Italian delegation and officials from the Syrian Ministry of Industry and the associations of Syrian entrepreneurs to define the organisational details. The forum will see the combined signing of a memorandum which will define the roles of the single actors in the project and lay out the competencies and commitments of those involved. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Lebanon: New Sentence for Pro-Israeli General Lahad

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, OCTOBER 30 — A military court in Beirut issued a sentence in absentia of 15 years in prison to Antoine Lahad, the former commander of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), the pro-Israeli militia dissolved 9 years ago, reported the press today in Beirut. The Maronite general who fled to Israel in 2000 after Israeli troops withdrew after 22 years of occupation, has been accused of “collaborating with the State of Israel,” because he possesses Israeli citizenship. The 82-year-old general, who was sentenced to death some time ago, took the place of Major Saad Hadded in 1984 as the commander of the Lebanese militia, financed and trained by Israel. A sentence that he escaped, taking refuge first in France where the government denied him asylum, then in Tel Aviv in 2004. He still resides there today and manages a Lebanese restaurant. In 1988, the general miraculously survived an attack carried out in Beirut by a young Lebanese communist, Soha Bishara, who is still looked upon as a heroine. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Lebanon: Guards in Women’s Prisons Learn Human Rights

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, OCTOBER 30 — Prison guards in women’s prisons are learning about “human rights”. The initiative has been taken by the Lebanese association of lawyers and the local charity organisation “The door to hope”, which has organised courses for prison guards on the rights and needs of inmates. “The main goal of detention must be the rehabilitation of the prisoner” said lawyer Elisabeth Siufi, quoted today by the Lebanese press. According to Siufi, it is important to know “the right balance between control and discipline on one hand, and respect for the inmates on the other”. Chief of Lebanese penitentiary police Gaby Khouri has pointed out that the main problems in the country’s prisons are overpopulation, a lack of medical and psychological support and the degradation of the buildings. Last week Lebanon’s interior minister Ziad Barud announced a prison reform, in response to the report of the chief of police, in which he denounced the dramatic conditions in which prisoners are living in the Rumie penal institution in Beirut. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Lebanon: UNIFIL; Tensions Between Italy and Spain, El Pais

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, OCTOBER 29 — The Spanish newspaper El Pais writes about tensions between Italy and Spain, regarding the command of UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. The daily writes that Italy would like to extend the mandate of General Claudio Graziano by six months after its expiration in February. A Spanish general is scheduled to succeed him. According to the socialist newspaper, a delay of the changing of the guard would be “a slap in the face of Spain”, especially because the “UNIFIL command is crucial to give expression to the role Zapatero wants to play during the Spanish EU presidency” in the first half of 2010. The Spanish contingent is the third-largest with 1100 men after Italy (2500) and France (1480). Spain has already presented the names of two high officials to the UN, with on top of the list, according to El Pais, General Alberto Asarta, former leader of the south-eastern brigade in Lebanon. But, according to the newspaper, “Italy has made a last-minute proposal to keep Graziano on for another six months”, explaining that “UNIFIL must go through an adjustment of its forces and this process should be managed by someone with experience”. According to El Pais, Spanish “military experts suspect that the move was made to make it possible for Graziano to end his career in Lebanon”. The newspaper specifies that Rome “hasn’t formally proposed the idea, only during informal consultations. The problem is, that Italy has told the UN about its plans to withdraw 1000 troops from Lebanon, but that the country is willing to wait until Graziano leaves his command”. “That is no blackmail, but it does look like it” El Pais concludes. Spain is willing to reinforce its contingent with 250 troops.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Lebanon: Scarce Interest on Issue of Command in Beirut, UNIFIL

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, OCTOBER 29 — Both Italy and Spain “are countries friendly to Lebanon and hold important contingencies” in the UN force deployed in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) and it is not up to Beirut to indicate preferences on the change in command of the mission. This is what was confirmed today by political sources close to the elected Lebanese premier, Saad Hariri. Lebanon to the moment has not expressed interest in entering the presumed controversy between Spain and Italy on the future leadership of UNIFIL. “It is not Lebanon that must decide on this, but the UN”, they affirmed to ANSA on the condition of anonymity. These are decisive hours for the formation of the new government in Beirut after weeks of expectation. For this reason in the interview with ANSA some of the ministers of the current executive branch preferred not to comment on the news coming out of Madrid and Jerusalem, according to which Israel has asked Italy to remain in charge of the mission for “a few more months”. The term of the top commander of UNIFIL, the Italian general Claudio Graziano, ends on January 28 but UN diplomatic sources quoted by the Lebanese press affirm that the organisation based in New York has yet to begin the evaluation of possible Graziano successors. Ibrahim Mussawi, spokesman for the anti-Israeli Shiite movement Hezbollah, said that he “doesn’t have enough information at the moment on the issue”, assuring that he “wants to follow the events closely”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Turkey-EU: Ankara Must Fulfil Commitments, Kyprianou Says

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, OCTOBER 29 — The Cyprus question cannot be postponed until some time after Turkey has joined the EU. This is one of the red lines to be observed during Ankara’s progress to integration in the European Union, says Markos Kyprianou, the Foreign Minister of Cyprus, explaining his country’s position to a conference held in Brussels by the European Policy Centre. “We must not wait for Turkey’s accession to the EU before we address the Cyprus issue” Kyprianou said. “In fact, Turkey cannot accede to the EU without a resolution to the Cyprus issue; and we don’t want accession to be turned into a condition for its resolution”. The present moment is the time both for talks on re-unifying the island, with the rapidly approaching elections of April 2010 in North Cyprus and their potential for changing the political balance, as well as for Turkey’s negotiations for its accession to the EU, with December 2009 the deadline set for the application of Ankara’s protocol with the EU. This includes conditions providing for the opening of Turkish sea-ports and airports to Greek Cypriots, a move that still appears far off. “These conditions are part of the accession process,” the Cypriot foreign minister said, “and their non-fulfilment will entail consequences, which have to come from a decision taken by the EU Council”. In Kyprianou’s view, “the myth has to be exploded of a Cypriot opposition to Turkey’s entry into the EU; but no accession candidate can set their own terms — it is up to the EU to do so. Ankara has to keep to all of the undertakings that have been laid down; it cannot make exceptions”. “Nonetheless, we want to see aN European Turkey,” the Cypriot minister continued, “not as a guest with limited rights, but as a member state, a democratic country that respects the rule of law — a partner to Cyprus bringing stability”. Meanwhile, on the front of the negotiations for re-unifying the island, “there has been some progress up to now,” Kyprianou stated, “especially on the constitutional issue, but there is still a long way to go: from the question of defence to the settlements, to the property belonging to Greek Cypriots abandoned in the north, to territorial questions, still open and to be discussed”. Therefore “we have to be realistic; there are still many matters to define, but we think that this window, between the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010, presents the best opportunity for finding a solution we have as yet never had”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

15,000 Bibles in Malaysia Seized Over ‘Allah’ Reference

Malaysian authorities have seized more than 15,000 Bibles that refer to God as “Allah” in recent months, said church officials Thursday.

About 10,000 Bibles from Indonesia were confiscated by authorities on Sept. 11, according to the Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, according to The Associated Press. The other 5,100 Bibles, also from Indonesia, were seized in March, according to an official from the Bible Society of Malaysia, who requested that AP not identify him to avoid angering the government.

In Malaysia, Christian publications cannot use the word Allah to refer to God. The government contends the word “Allah” is exclusively for Islam, but church officials argue that Allah is not exclusive to Islam because it is an Arabic word that existed before the religion.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Afghanistan: Colonel Foresaw His Own Death: His Memo to Mod Warned Helicopter Shortage Would Cost Lives… Weeks Later He Was Dead

The most senior soldier to be killed in Afghanistan foreshadowed his own death in a damning memo about the shortage of helicopters.

Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe told his superiors that British troops would die because they were being forced to make trips by road.

Less than a month later, he was blown up by a roadside bomb.

In his final despatches to commanders in London, classified ‘Nato Secret’, he had dismissed helicopter operations in Afghanistan as ‘not fit for purpose’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Pakistani Christians, From Freedom to Persecution

When Pakistan was created, its Founding Father Ali Jinnah endorsed the principles of religious freedom and equal rights for all, irrespective of caste or creed. The succession of constitutions that followed went counter to these ideals, and opened the door to persecution and violence against minorities. Beside blasphemy, Christians and members of other non-Muslim religions have to deal with the problem of forced conversions and marriages.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — Pakistan is a plural society with a number of religious, sectarian and ethno-linguistic groups. It is nation of about162 million people where Muslims represent more than 90 per cent of the total, divided doctrinal lines. As a religious minority Christians face religious, social, constitutional, economic and educational discrimination. In addition to Christians, non-Muslim Pakistanis include Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Kalasha, Parsees and Sikhs.

Pakistan’s Founding Fathers envisaged a progressive, democratic and tolerant society that retained its Muslim character whilst giving equal rights to its non-Muslim citizens.

In his address to the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11 August 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah said: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State. [. . ..] We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not so in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”

This speech sums up Jinnah’s views on the role of religion and the state; it is considered by many as the founding charter of Pakistan.

Islamisation of the country

However, in the subsequent decades, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, the Pakistani state, rather than guarantee equal rights and equal opportunities to all its Muslim and non-Muslim citizens, began instead to encourage extremist forces. This has allowed Islamist forces in Pakistan to rewrite South Asian history to suit their own religious biases. Consequently, today most Pakistani Muslims know nothing of the significant contributions made by minorities to the creation and the defence of Pakistan. What’s more, academics and journalists have largely failed to publicise this vital information.

Regrettably, the official history of Pakistan does not reflect the role Christians played in the establishment of the country. The historical facts regarding Christians and other minorities’ contribution are neither mentioned, nor highlighted.

The constitutions of Pakistan

In addition to the interim legislation of 1947 and the Objectives Resolution of 1949, Pakistan has had four Constitutions since its independence.

In 1973, then President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had the National Assembly adopt a new constitution that introduced a parliamentary form of government. To this day, this charter remains the only consensus-based constitution the country has ever known. However, after coming to power General Zia-ul-Haq made radical amendments to the constitution, affecting the civil rights of all Pakistanis, but especially non-Muslims.

Constitutional discrimination

The Constitution of Pakistan segregates its citizens on the basis of religion and provides preferential treatment to Muslims. For example, Article 2 of the Constitution declares Islam as “the State religion of Pakistan” and recognises the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah as “the supreme law and source of guidance for legislation to be administered through laws enacted by the Parliament and Provincial Assemblies, and for policy making by the Government”. Similarly, Article 41(2) says that only a Muslim can become president. Last but not least, Article 260 recognises two distinct categories of people, “Muslim” and “Non-Muslim,” thereby facilitating and encouraging discrimination on the basis of religion.

The constitution is so clearly one-sided in giving preferential treatment to majority Muslims that even a Hindu judge had to take the oath of office in the name of “Allah”. On 24 March 2007, Justice Rana Bhagwandas, as the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, was sworn in as Acting Chief Justice of Pakistan after the suspension of the incumbent Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. When Justice Bhagwandas was sworn in, he had to recite the Qur’anic prayer: “May Allah Almighty help and guide me, (A’meen)”.

The Pakistan Penal Code, in particular Section 295-A, Section 295-B, Section 295-C, Section 298-A and Section 298-B, imposes harsh punishment for alleged blasphemy. These blasphemy laws undermine other major provisions of the Constitution of Pakistan such as the fundamental right to “profess, practice and propagate” one’s religion (Article 20), the principle of equality before the law and the equal protection of the law to all citizens (Article 25), as well as the “legitimate rights and interests of minorities” (Article 36).

Blasphemy laws

Historically, the most far-reaching steps towards Islamisation were taken during President Zia-ul-Haq administration (1977 to 1988). Under his rule, a number of Islamic laws were introduced and a judicial body was set up to review all existing laws as to their agreement with Islamic principles. Laws and orders passed during the martial law years under President Zia-ul-Haq, including those governing religious offences, were placed outside the scope of judicial review by the Eighth Constitutional Amendment of 1985.

The blasphemy provisions of the Penal Code have been widely abused and misused to target minorities and sometimes settle personal scores among the Muslims. Even after acquittal by the courts, those who had to face blasphemy charges still live in fear.

Amendments of laws relating to religious offences in the Pakistan Penal Code brought about under President Zia differ significantly from earlier laws in at least four ways. They do not specifically mention malicious intent to hurt religious sensitivities as a condition for criminal offence and provide for significantly increased penalties. They make specific reference to Islam whilst earlier laws were intended to protect the religious sentiments of “any class of persons”. A distinct shift in emphasis is noticeable: the new sections of the Penal Code do not make it a criminal offence to injure the religious feelings of Muslims, but rather define the offence in terms of insult or affront to Islam itself. The offences consist in defiling or insulting the prophet of Islam, his companions and family members and desecrating the Koran.

Other forms of discrimination against Christians

The widespread economic, social, legal and cultural discrimination against Christians is the main issue that needs to be addressed in Pakistan.

Land and properties, including places of worship, owned by Christians have been forcibly seized. Minorities have been denied equal treatment and protection by law enforcement personnel.

Kidnapping, rape and forced marriage of Christian and Hindu girls is a common practice. Should a Muslim man be arrested for such a crime, all he has to do is produce a certificate issued by any Muslim seminary claiming that the kidnapped girls have voluntarily adopted Islam and married the accused. The courts generally do not consider the fact that most of the girls are under age and simply accept the validity of the certificate of conversion without making any additional inquiry.

In some areas of the North-West Frontier Province, various Taliban groups have started to apply the Jizya, a tax imposed only on non-Muslims. At the same time, members of the Sikh, Hindu and Christian communities have been kidnapped for hefty ransoms.

On 6 February 1997, a mob of about 30,000 Muslims attacked a Christian village called Shantinagar, near Khanewal City, in Punjab Province. They set on fire the whole village, including many Churches. The spark that caused the assault was a blasphemy case involving a Christian who was charged under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code.

On 12 November 2005, another angry mob of some 2,000 Muslims vandalised and set fire to three Churches, a nuns’ convent, two Catholic schools, the homes of a Protestant clergyman and a Catholic priest, a girls’ hostel and the homes of Christian residents in the village of Sangla Hill in Nankana District, in Punjab. The attack was sparked by an alleged case of blasphemy involving a local Christian, also under section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code.

On 8 May 200, many Christian families reportedly fled their homes after they received a threatening letter from Islamic militants at Charsada in the North-West Frontier Province. In it, they were summoned to convert to Islam within 10 days or face dire consequences. In June 2007, Christians in Shantinagar village, Khanewal District, in Punjab received similar threats. In such cases, police have often failed to provide adequate protection.

On 22 April 2009, a gang of armed extremists attacked a group of Christians in Tiasar Town, a Karachi suburb, setting six houses on fire and seriously injuring three Christians. One of them was Irfan Masih, whose injuries were serious from the beginning and who died five days later.

On 30 June 2009, angry Muslims attacked Christian homes in Bahmani wala village, Kasur District, in Punjab, after another Christian was accused of blaspheming against Islam’s prophet. They damaged about 100 houses and stole valuables (gold jewellery) and cash. The mob also smashed furniture and other household items.

On 1 July 2009, a Christian youth, Imran Masih, was tortured by a group of Muslims and then arrested by local police for allegedly burning pages of the Qur’an in Faisalabad’s Hajwary area.

On 30 July 2009, thousands of Muslim fundamentalists descended upon the village of Koriyan where they set 51 Christian homes on fire after another case of alleged blasphemy. Two days later, on 1 August, at least 3,000 extremists went after the Christian community in Gojra. Seven people were burnt to death (including two children and three women), and another 19 were injured. Dozens of houses were also set on fire.

These incidents illustrate the kind of abuse and the far-reaching consequences of the blasphemy laws; too many times, they have been used to justify violence against others.

These incidents tell us what can happen to particular sections of society. However, Muslims too have been victimised by these laws over the past 20 years. Therefore, the situation calls for a serious and long-term remedy.

According to data collected by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a human rights organisation of the Catholic Church of Pakistan, at least 964 persons have been accused on the basis of these laws between 1986 and August 2009. They include 479 Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis, 14 Hindus and 10 of unknown religion.

Angry mobs or individuals were responsible for 32 extrajudicial killings.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Pakistan: Blasphemy Law: A Long List of Injustices (An Overview)

Under Sections 295 B and 205-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, anyone who desecrates the Qur’an or defiles the name of the prophet Muhammad is punished with death or life imprisonment. Implemented in 1986 by then dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, to woo the country’s fundamentalist faction, the laws have become a tool to persecute religious minorities and even Muslims. Almost a thousand people have been charged so far under the law, and hundreds have become its victims.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are the country’s worst instruments for religious repression. According to data collected by the Catholic Church’s National Commission on Justice and Peace (NCJP), at least 964 people have been indicted for desecrating the Qur’an or defiling the name of the prophet Muhammad between 1986 and this year, including 479 Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis, 14 Hindus and 10 from other religions. Since its inception, the law has been used a pretext for attacks, personal vendettas and extra-judicial murders: 33 in all by individuals or enraged mobs.

Since 2001, at least 50 Christians have been killed after being accused of blasphemy, the NCJP said. The list of victims of Muslim extremists also includes members of other religious minorities as well as Muslims. The Ahmadi community—a Muslim group that does not view Muhammad as the final prophet and is thus deemed heretical by Sunnis and Shias—has lamented the loss of at least 12 of its members this year. Since 1984, 107 Ahmadis have been murdered and 719 arrested.

Blasphemy laws were introduced in 1986 by then dictator Zia-ul-Haq to protect Islam and its prophet, Muhammad, from insults and slander. However, over time it has become an instrument of discrimination and violence. The laws are actually sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which respectively sentence anyone who desecrates the Qur’an or defiles the name of the prophet Muhammad to life imprisonment or death.

Charges against alleged blasphemers are often trumpeted up or motivated by malicious interests, ending in scandals that drive enraged mobs to seek justice on their own. Even if someone is arrested because of a single witness, the unfortunate suspect could become victim of police torture and violence.

In many cases, under the pressure of mobs stirred by local mullahs, judges have inflicted death penalties without a shred of evidence against defendants.

Together with the Hudood ordinances—Qur’an-inspired rules that impose flogging and stoning on actions deemed incompatible with Islamic law like adultery, gambling, drinking—,blasphemy laws are an example of extreme sectarian and fundamentalist legislation. Over time, they have contributed to the radical Islamisation of the country.

Here are few examples of people killed because of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws:

In July 2009, Rao Zafar Iqbal, a Pakistani Hindu activist and human rights lawyer, received death threats for its action in defence of minorities. One threatening letter came from Jan Nisaran-e-Nabuwat and Aqeeda-e-Tahafuz-e-Kathme Nabuwat. The activist filed a complaint with police; however, the latter refused to heed his request. Soon after, he was shot to death. This was followed on 4 August, by an announcement in the Daily Pavel that justified the murder of Rao Zafar as “legitimate” because his death did “a service to Islam.”

A police agent killed Samuel Masih in 2004 in a Lahore hospital. Mr Masih had been indicted on 23 August 2003 on the basis of Article 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code, for an offence punishable with up to two years in prison. According to the prosecution, the dead mad had allegedly sullied the wall of a mosque. Masih, who had been suffering from tuberculosis, was admitted in hospital on 21 May 2004. The next day, Fara Ali, the police agent charged with his security, hit him on the head with a chisel. Samuel Masih died on 28 May 2008 at Lahore General Hospital.

Muhammad Yousaf Ali, a Muslim, was shot to death on 11 June 2002 in Kot Lakhpat Prison, in Lahore, by Tariq Mota, a fellow prisoner and a member of Anjaman-e-Sipahe Sahaba, a banned extremist group. Yousaf Ali, 55, had been sentenced to death for blasphemy on 5 August 2000. Tharik-I-Khatmi Nabuwat, a Lahore-based Islamic extremist group, had originally reported the victim to the authorities.

Manzoor Masih, 37, from Gujranwala, was murdered by armed militants on 5 April 1994 at the entrance of the High Court building in Lahore. Three Christians were on trial for blasphemy, including Salamat Masih, a 14-year old teenager. The evidence provided by the accusers led the court to believe that since Manzoor Masih and Rehmat Masih were near Salamat, they must have instigated him to write derogatory graffiti on the wall of a mosque.

Our overview of the fight against the blasphemy laws cannot leave out of one its prophetic figures, Mgr John Joseph. In his case, the campaign for justice and peace in Pakistan became an all-consuming passion. Appointed bishop of Faisalabad in 1984, the 65-year-old prelate took his own life on 6 May 1998 in front of a courthouse where a young Christian had been convicted for blasphemy.

In addition to single individuals, many communities and Christian churches have become the victim of the violence that often follows blasphemy accusations.

On 30 July of this year, a mob of 3,000 Muslims attacked the village of Koriyan, setting it on fire to exact punishment for another alleged case of blasphemy.

On 1 August, a group of Muslim extremists attacked the village of Gojra, where they killed seven people, including women and children, burnt alive.

The history of the last few decades in Pakistan has seen many churches and Christian villages attacked on false blasphemy charges: Kasur (June 2009), Tiasar (Karachi, April 2009), Sangla Hill (2005) and Shantinagar (1997).

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Save Christians and Pakistan From the Blasphemy Law

The blasphemy law — prison and death sentences for those who offend the Koran or Muhammad — is a tool to eliminate religious minorities. AsiaNews launches an awareness campaign for its repeal. Because of this law, since 2001 at least 50 Christians have been killed, families and entire villages destroyed. In the country Islamic and Christian voices appeal for its cancellation.

Rome (AsiaNews) — Robert Fanish Masih is the latest Christian victim of the blasphemy law in force in Pakistan since 1986. This law punishes with imprisonment or the death those who profane or desecrate the Koran or the prophet Muhammad. It’s enough to accuse a person of this to have him arrested and imprisoned. A aberrant law and harbinger of discrimination, which “legalizes” violence against religious minorities and whose perpetrators go unpunished in most cases, thanks to the connivance of police and government officials. 20 year old Robert from the village of Jaithikey, not far from the city of Samberial in the district of Sialkot (Punjab), was arrested on Sept. 12 on charges of blasphemy. The day before a crowd of Muslims had gathered around the local church first damaging the building, then setting it on fire. The extremists also looted two houses adjoining the church.

The youth was accused of having “provoked” a girl, of taking a Koran from her hands and “throwing it away”. The truth is that wrath of Islamic fundamentalists was provoked by the relationship between the Christian and the Muslim girl of twenty one, the witness who incriminated Fanish, in fact, is the young woman’s mother. Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church (NCJP), made it clear that fundamentalists “will not tolerate a Muslim girl falling in love with a Christian.” The night between 12 and 13 September Robert Fanish Masih died in prison, from violenceinflicted upon him. The body of the young man showed signs of deep wounds to the head, caused by an edged weapon. Shortly after the discovery of the corpse, Waqar Ahmad Chohan, an officer of the police district of Sialkot, reported that Fanish “committed suicide in his cell.” A theory that has been flatly rejected by many Christian leaders, some of whom saw the young man’s body before the funeral. Nadeem Anthony — a member of the National Commission for Human Rights (HRCP) — immediately filed a report of the case as “legalized homicide”, contradicting the police version of “hanging in jail.”

The activist then added that Robert “was tortured, after which he died. There are visible signs of beatings and wounds on his body, as is clear from the photographs. “ In the days following his death, AsiaNews has received photos of the corpse, confirming the torture inflicted, and that his death had nothing to do with signs of strangulation by hanging. Fanish Masih’s funeral, celebrated on 16 September, was marked by tear gas, many injuries and a series of arrests, the police charged the crowd of Christians gathered for the funeral, justifying the harsh attack, by saying that “they wanted to prevent further disorder “. The body was buried in a Catholic cemetery in Sialkot, the district of origin of the young man, where for several days an atmosphere charged with tension reigned.

The accusations of blasphemy often lead to decreeing the destruction of homes and Christian villages. On 30 July a crowd of 3 thousand Muslims attacked and burned the villages of Koriyan to punish an alleged case of blasphemy. On August 1 the fanatics attacked the village of Gojra, killing 7 people, including women and children, burning them alive. The history of recent decades in Pakistan is full of attacks on churches and Christian villages on the grounds of perfectly fabricated blasphemy scandals: Kasur (June 2009), Tias (Karachi, April 2009); Sangla Hill (2005); Shantinagar (1997). The Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights (JAC), a Pakistani non-governmental organization that campaigns for human rights in the country, expresses “great concern” about the increasing violence, while the Christian community through appeals — which have so far fallen on deaf ears — for justice to be done; promises of compensation remain unfulfilled

The list of incidence of violence against Christians by Muslim groups, citing a blasphemy, is long and concerns not only Christians but also other minorities, not just individuals but entire towns and villages. Faced with the growth of this gratuitous and petty violence, covered by the cloak of religion, opposing voices that are increasing in strength are beginning to emerge. On 6 October, the Lower House of Parliament Sherry Rehman, former Minister of Information, and Jameela Gilani, both Muslims, called for the repeal of the blasphemy law. The same day, the Christian MP Akram Masih Gill launched a provocation: “If there is life in prison — he says — for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran, why not introduce a similar punishment for those who shame the name of Christ and the Bible? !”. Confident of this interfaith support, on 25 October, the leaders of Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), which gathers all the Christian organizations in the country, organized a conference in Rawalpindi under the threat of Islamic fundamentalists. The aim was “the total abolition of the blasphemy laws.”

In turn, on December 12 and 13 next, the International Minorities Alliance (IMA), a Christian-based organization, launched an “International Conference on Minorities” in Lahore to discuss the future of Pakistan and minorities. Pakistan, which in fact originated as a secular state in defence of all ethnic and religious communities, has become an Islamic republic, which gradually kills minorities, even those most devoted to building the nation. The abolition of the blasphemy laws and all laws against minorities are also the way to true progress of the entire population of Pakistan.

With this special issue, AsiaNews , which has always been attentive to issues of religious freedom and respect for human rights, aims to offer some tools for understanding and also to show solidarity with Christians, Ahmadis and Sikhs against this shameful law.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


What Can be Done to Abolish Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

Christian activists and members of civil society groups call on Islamabad to repeal the relevant sections of the Pakistan Penal Code. The fundamental principles of an open and multi-confessional society must protect every individual. At the bottom, a list of Pakistani embassies and diplomatic representations is provided.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — Pakistani Christians and members of civil society groups call on the Pakistani government and the international community to adopt appropriate steps to guarantee religious freedom in the country and protect the rights of minorities. Here is an 11-point list of demands to achieve an open and multi-confessional society where every individual is protected irrespective of caste, sex or religious creed.

  • The speech made by Muhammad Ali Jinnah on 11 August 1947 to the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan should become an integral part of the constitution.
  • The constitution should define Pakistani society as multi-confessional.
  • The state should guarantee equal opportunities and equal rights to all its citizens, irrespective of faith, caste or religious creed.
  • Political parties should incorporate minorities and include members from religious groups in the various electoral colleges in accordance with their size.
  • The government should repeal Sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code because they are a source of constant fear and insecurity for religious minorities.
  • Laws based on the Sharia should not apply to non-Muslims.
  • Textbooks should be rewritten so that sections that fuel interfaith hatred are eliminated. Compulsory religious education should become optional in educational institutions.
  • Provision should be made so that students and prison inmates from religious minorities can obtain extra marks now available to Muslim students who memorise the Qur’an (hafiz-e-Qur’an) since it gives the latter extra credits useful for university entry or sentence reduction, at the expense of Christians. Alternatively, no concession should be made based on religion.
  • Minorities should be given equal space in media regarding religious programming and issues important to them.
  • Measures should be taken to rehabilitate bonded labourers working in the agricultural sector, small industry and brick kilns.
  • A new population census should be carried out with careful focus on finding the actual size of religious minorities in order to give them proportional representation in the country’s affairs.

We urge our readers to send these suggestions and requests via regular mail or e-mail to the Pakistan Embassy of their country.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Far East

Hatoyama: Tokyo Will Review Alliance With the United States

The opposition party asks him to for clarification ahead of Obama’s visit to Japan on 12 and 13 November. The Japanese would like to reduce the American military presence, which is estimated at 35 thousand units.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) — Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama reiterated today that his government “will review in full” the alliance between Japan and the United States, but will continue the relationship “on different levels”. Hatoyama said that he will review the alliance next year, 50 Years on from the revision of the bilateral treaty between Tokyo and Washington. Nevertheless, he reiterated before the parliament that “the Japan-US alliance is the cornerstone of our foreign policy.”

The Liberal Democratic Party, now in opposition, has accused the prime minister of having sent “wrong messages” to the United States and demand that Hatoyama clarify his plans before the U.S. president Barack Obama visits Japan on 12 and 13 November next.

The review of the relationship with the United States was one of the flagships of the Hatoyama campaign, and was also mentioned in his initial statements after his victory last August.

Among the issues the premier wants addressed is a review of U.S. forces on the Japanese soil. In 2007 there were 33,453 U.S. military in Japan, in addition to more than 5 thousand Ministry of Defence employees. Japan maintains this presence by paying about 32 billion dollars a year. Many Japanese citizens appreciate the presence of the U.S. for safety reasons (after the Second World War, Japan was ordered not to have a military attack force). But many others are critical and they want a reduction in numbers.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Chinese Goods Conquer Latin America

Trade between China and the continent soars from US$ 10 billion in 2001 to 140 now. In Latin America, Beijing is seeking raw materials, new markets and ways to diplomatically isolated Taiwan.

Rome (AsiaNews) — After 30 years as the favoured car of the Cuban nomenklatura, the Russian-built Lada is getting some competition from cars made in China. Ministers, communist officials and police are giving up their Ladas for the Geely CK, symbol of the new alliance between the Castroite regime and Beijing.

China is now Cuba’s second-largest trading partner behind Venezuela, and second after the United States in Latin America.

All but invisible in Latin America a decade ago, China now is building cars in Uruguay, donating a soccer stadium to Costa Rica, and lending US$10 billion to Brazil’s biggest oil company. In fact, this year, China has replaced the United States as main trading partner of the continent’s major economy, Brazil.

Silently but aggressively, Beijing has been filling the vacuum left by the United States, as Washington focused on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the global economic crisis sapped its economy. Beijing is beefing up its embassies throughout Latin America, opening Confucian centres to expand Chinese culture, and sending high-level trade delegations throughout the region.

Quest for raw materials

Cooperation between China and Latin America is based on trade. One side, Latin America, ships raw materials, essential for the mainland’s continued economic growth, and provides new markets for Chinese manufactured products.

Between 2000 and 2008, trade between Latin America and China soared from US$ 10 billion to US$ 140 billion. This year, the figure is expected to top 150 billion despite the worldwide economic and financial crisis.

China is buying zinc from Peru, copper from Chile, and iron ore from Brazil. It has signed deals with large mining companies and is pouring huge amounts of dollars into the region, especially in Chavez’s Venezuela and Lula’s Brazil.

A deal worth US$ 4 billion was signed with Venezuela’s national oil company, PDVSA, to supply China with 500,000 barrels a day this year, and triple that number by 2012.

Brazil’s oil shipments to China are smaller, about 50,000 barrels a day to the China National Petroleum Corporation and another 60-120,000 to Sinopec, China’s main oil company.

To develop Brazil’s newly discovered offshore reserves vast investments are need. China and Brazil’s Petrobras signed a deal worth US$ 10 billion for such purpose.

New markets

Unlike Africa, Latin America represents an important market for Chinese goods. The mainland ships electronic equipment to Brazil, buses to Cuba, clothes to Mexico and cars to Peru.

Whilst Latin American nations have increased their exports towards China, China has begun flooding their markets with its own manufactured goods, displacing local production.

This has led to protest in Mexico and Argentina over the past year. Local manufacturers have been hard hit by low-cost Chinese imports. In Brazil, the garment industry is up in arms against Chinese companies for taking their place as the biggest exporter of clothing and textiles to Argentina.

Chinese direct investments in the region have also come under criticism because Chinese companies tend to bring Chinese labour, creating very few jobs for local.

Containing Taiwan

In Latin America, China’s objectives are not only economic but also strategic, namely isolating Taiwan.

Out of 23 nations with diplomatic ties with Taipei, 12 are in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Taiwan’s foreign policy has focused on providing material incentives, financial aid and economic assistance, to these countries in exchange of official recognition.

Beijing’s expansionist approach to the region is instead designed to provide an alternative to its long-standing rival. (MarAl)

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Oil: Repsol Announces 2 New Oil Fields in Mexican Gulf

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, OCTOBER 30 — The Spanish oil company Repsol, which has formed a consortium with BHP Billiton and Hess Corporation, has announced the find of two new oil fields in the Shenzi field, in the deep waters of the Mexican Gulf, sources in the company quoted by press agencies announced. The oil was found in the Shenzi-G104 and Shenzi 8 wells. It confirms, the sources say, “the high potential of the mega-field, which easily surpasses the expected output”. In the first wells a column of 170 metres of hydrocarbon compounds was found, 30 metres in Shenzi 8. Repsol participates with 28% in the consortium that operates the field in the Mexican Gulf. Hess Corporation also controls 28 and BHP Billton the remaining 44%. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Immigration

France: NGO Slams Conditions in Centres

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, OCTOBER 29 — “Absurd” arrests, violence, ill people being expelled: strong condemnation of conditions for detainees in France’s centres for irregular immigranst has come from the La Cimade association, the only NGO allowed to enter the country’s centres for administrative detention (the CRAs). In 2008, a total of 32,284 immigrants from 163 different countries were sent to CRAs, among whom there were 118 families with 222 children, says la Cimade in a report published today. The association condemns the “politics of numbers” and the “bureuacratisation” hiding real harrowing human dramas. It also stresses that “tension is growing “ in the detention centres, with “collective revolts” occurring, especially in the Vincennes CRA near Paris, as well as in Bordeaux and Nantes. The NGO underlines how immigrants’ rights appear to have been “markedly reduced” on French overseas territories, and defines the conditions for detainees in Mayotte in the Indian Ocean as “unworthy”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Spain: Yes to Law Tightening Sanctions

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, OCTOBER 29 — In its plenary session, Spain’s Congress has today approved a legal reform on foreign residents which imposes tougher conditions on immigrants and increases the period that irregular immigrants can be detained in reception centres from 40 to 60 days limiting the right of families to reunite to immediate kin. The law recieved 185 votes in favour from the PSOE and from the Catalan, Basque and Canary nationalist parties, CiU, Pnv and CC; while the PP and the leftist IU-ICV and Erc parties voted against; four MPs of the mixed group abstained. During the debate on the reform, which now heads to the Senate, the PP announced that it would amend the law as soon as it is back in power. For his part, the country’s Secretary of State for Immigration, Consuelo Rumi, stated that the executive was already working on changing applicable regulations concering foreigners, which were approved in December 2004. The rights of irregular immigrants for family members to join them have also been cut back, limiting them to spouses and direct offspring or parents over 65 — with exceptions for humanitarian reasons. Some of those opposing the law asked what would happen when the mother of an immigrant was 62 and the father 68, a scenario the law doesn’t deal with. Sanctions against illegal immigration are also to be toughened along lines of proportionality, substituting a fine with expulsion from the country in cases of violation on the laws on overstaying. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Spain: 650,000 Immigrants Can Vote in 2011 Local Election

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, OCTOBER 29 — Around 650.000 foreign immigrants will have the right to vote in Spain’s local election in 2011. The Congress today unanimously approved the ten agreements signed by the government with several countries of origin, to favour the participation of immigrants in the election. Up to today, only citizens with the nationality of an EU country and Norway were allowed to vote in local elections in Spain. One year ago the socialist government negotiated mutual bilateral agreements with the countries of origin of migrants residing in Spain, including Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Iceland, Trinidad and Tobago, Ecuador, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chile, Paraguay, South Korea, New Zealand, Uruguay, Bolivia and Venezuela. No agreements were signed with some other countries, including Morocco, Brazil, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Spain: Church to Basque Party, Don’t Back New Abortion Law

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, OCTOBER 29 — The decision announced by the Basque National Party to back the reform of legislation on abortion, now being examinated in Congress, has enraged the Spanish Church, which has asked the party to come back on its decision. The announcement was made by the auxiliary bishop of Bilbao, Mario Iceta, in a statement on Euskadi Radio quoted today by the press. He underlined that the reform “was not part of the electoral plan” of the Basque Nationalist Party, and asked the party to reconsider. “Many people have difficulties with it”, including “some leaders” consulted by the bishop. But the decision of the party, which also supported the government on the 2010 financial act, was taken unanimously. The reform includes the decriminalisation of abortion until the 14th week pregnancy and until the 22th week in case of malformation of the foetus or danger to the mother’s health. It also allows women of 16 and 17 years of age to have an abortion carried out without the permission of their parents, but the socialist government, which has proposed the reform, has plans to modify this point in parliament. Bishop Iceta has criticised the support announced by the National Party, which claimed that “abortion is a socially accepted practice”, saying that “it clashes” with the ideology of the Christian-democratic party and “with the thoughts of many of its voters”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

General

Amil Imani: Religion & the Marketplace

Islam is on its march of death on many fronts. A very dangerous front has been recently re-opened at the United Nations (UN) by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the largest group of nations within the UN, by introducing a new resolution.

           — Hat tip: Amil Imani[Return to headlines]


Swine Flu Vaccine Shots Eliminate Wrinkles, Bad Breath and Varicose Veins, Too

(NaturalNews) The propaganda push for flu vaccines has reached a level of absurdity that’s just begging to be made fun of. Today, a flu vaccine story appearing in Reuters claimed that injecting pregnant women with flu shots would increase the birth weight of their babies by half a pound. That same story claimed flu shots are so healthy for pregnant women that they also prevent premature births.

It even quotes a team of experts who claim that injecting an expectant mother with a flu shot would reduce the hospitalization of her infants, explaining: “Flu vaccine given to women during pregnancy is 85 percent effective in preventing hospitalization in their infants under 6 months of age.”

This conclusion was derived from a study of pregnant women in Bangladesh, by the way, and it didn’t even use randomized, placebo-controlled study protocols, meaning the conclusions of the study are highly unreliable (more vaccine quackery).

Speaking of bizarre claims, another Reuters report appearing this week claims that statin drugs prevent flu deaths!

This story reports, “Patients taking statin drugs were almost 50 percent less likely to die from flu, researchers reported on Thursday in a study providing more evidence the cholesterol-lowering drugs help the body cope with infection.”

How was this “science” conducted? There wasn’t even a clinical trial at all. Researchers simply checked the medical records of people who died from seasonal flu infections and found that 3.2% of the patients who weren’t taking statin drugs died from flu complications while only 2.1% of the patients who were taking statin drugs died. Since 2.1% is roughly 50% less than 3.2%, they leaped to the conclusion that “statin drugs prevent flu deaths by 50 percent!”

[Return to headlines]

1 comments:

yokel said...

I cannot help but note that both Ed Husain's attack on Melanie Philips, and the report of it as "brilliant" were in Left leaning publications. The Left clearly thinks that there is continuing mileage in their use of the Muslim cause to further their own.