Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100313

Financial Crisis
»Greece Debt: EU Agrees Bailout Deal
»Greece Bailout Ping-Pong
»Little Left to Laugh About in Impoverished Greece
»Illinois Lawmakers Get Eviction Notices
»Islamic ‘Lawfare’ Targets Rifqa Bary’s Friends
»N.J. Terror Suspect Sharif Mobley Tied to Radical Yemeni Cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki
»State Plan Fines Feds $2,000 Over Gun Rules
Europe and the EU
»Ireland: Three Released in Cartoonist Inquiry
»Italian Judges: ‘Berlusconi Danger to Democracy’
»Italy: Court Overturns Gag on Political Chat Shows
»Pope OKs German Abuse Moves
»Second U.S. Woman Probed in Cartoonist Plot
»South Asian ‘Slave Brides’ Causing Concern in UK
»UK: Growing Fears Over Muslim Prison ‘Gangs’
»Serbia-Israel: Cooperation in Agriculture Sector
North Africa
»Egypt: Crowd of 3 Thousand Muslims Attack a Coptic Christian Community, 25 Injured
»Muslim Mob Attacks Christians at Church in Egypt, 25 Injured
»Sexual Harassment in Egypt
Israel and the Palestinians
»EU: Moratinos: Firm Stance Needed Against Settlements
»Gaza: Israeli Raid After Rocket Launch
»Israel Seals Off West Bank as Precautionary Measure
Middle East
»Saudi Arabia: Death Sentence for Lebanese Magician Upheld
»Turkey: Ambassador to Sweden Recalled on Armenia Genocide Vote
»Turkey: A Threat, Yet Again
South Asia
»Afghanistan: Silver Star Winner Reprimanded for Afghan Battle
»Pakistan: Punjab: Christian Maid Burned Alive to Prevent Her From Reporting a Rape
Far East
»China: Lawmaker Proposes 15 Years in Prison for Petitioning
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Sacked South African Sex Worker Claims Unfair Dismissal
Latin America
»Colombia: Documentary Reveals Truth Behind FARC
»Malta Shifts Immigrant Rescue Policy as Spat With Italy Grows
»Turkey, Greece Join EU Project to Share Illegal Migration Burden
Culture Wars
»Banished! City Forbids Bible Studies in Homes
»New York Times Pays Execs Extra to Hire Minorities and Women Instead of White Guys
»Stupak: Dems Told Me They Want to Fund Abortions Because More Kids Mean Higher Health-Care Costs
»Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change
»The Problems of Neopaganism

Financial Crisis

Greece Debt: EU Agrees Bailout Deal

Exclusive: Germany plays pivotal role in potential eurozone rescue package for Greek debts

The eurozone has agreed a multibillion-euro bailout for Greece as part of a package to shore up the single currency after weeks of crisis, the Guardian has learnt.

Senior sources in Brussels said that Berlin had bowed to the bailout agreement despite huge resistance in Germany and that the finance ministers of the “eurozone” — the 16 member states including Greece who use the euro — are to finalise the rescue package on Monday. The single currency’s rulebook will also be rewritten to enforce greater fiscal discipline among members.

The member states have agreed on “co-ordinated bilateral contributions” in the form of loans or loan guarantees to Greece if Athens finds itself unable to refinance its soaring debt and requests help from the EU, a senior European commission official said.

Other sources said the aid could rise to €25bn (£22.6bn), although it is estimated in European capitals that Greece could need up to €55bn by the end of the year.

Germany, the EU’s traditional paymaster, but the most reluctant to come to the rescue of a fiscal delinquent in the current crisis, has played the pivotal role in organising the rescue package, the sources added.

“There have been quite intensive preparations under the eurogroup. We have the ways and means to do it,” said the senior official, asking not to be named because of the subject’s sensitivity.

“It will be a co-ordinated approach of bilateral contributions [between EU governments] … A bilateral contribution can be a loan or a loan guarantee. The guarantees will facilitate the kind of funds potentially needed in this context.”

The rules governing the operation of the single currency proscribe a bailout for a country on the brink of insolvency. Berlin, in particular, has been worried that any bailout of Greece could be challenged in its constitutional court.

The senior official said the agreement — which will not involve any contribution from the UK taxpayer — had been tailored to respect the bailout ban and avoid a supreme court challenge in Germany.

Alongside the financial relief package for Greece, the European commission is rushing through tougher rules for the eurozone, using powers conferred by the recently enacted Lisbon treaty to try to establish a system of rigorous “budgetary surveillance” of all 16 participating countries. The aim is a new regime of “reinforced economic policy co-ordination” in the EU.

“This is the essential lesson that has to be learned from the Greek case,” Olli Rehn of Finland, the new commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, told the Guardian (and four other European papers).

“The Greek case is a potential turning point for the eurozone,” said Rehn in the interview. “If Greece fails and we fail, this will do serious and maybe permanent damage to the credibility of the European Union. The euro is not only a monetary arrangement, but a core political project of the European Union … In that sense, we are at a crossroads.”

While ready to bail out the Greeks if only on terms of “rigorous conditionality”, European leaders are hoping that the rescue will not be needed, that the draconian package of austerity measures announced by Prime Minister George Papandreou will be enough to calm the markets and stabilise the euro.

EU leaders are to rule next week on whether Papandreou is doing enough to slash the 12.7% budget deficit by four percentage points this year, part of his ambition to cut the deficit by 10 points over three years.

Rehn said he would unveil new proposals next month, enshrining a new single currency regime of “rigorous surveillance of national budgets” and that Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency, would need to be given formidable new auditing powers over the books of eurozone member states, a demand that may be resisted by EU governments.

“That’s the hard core of our proposal. [The surveillance] should be automatic,” said Rehn. “We have an immediate corrective instrument for the Greek case, plus another framework to prevent new Greek crises.”

Inside the commission, officials are confident that Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, supports the tough new regime being plotted. Schäuble, who uses a wheelchair and is currently in hospital, and will not attend key meetings in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday.

Schäuble enjoys a longstanding reputation as a European integrationist and is said to have played a central role in shaping the Greek bailout plans despite widespread hostility to any such moves in Germany.

Over the past week, he has sparked a major debate by calling for a European Monetary Fund to underpin the currency, and yesterday stoked more controversy by proposing that serial sinners in the eurozone could be expelled from the single currency club.

The EMF concept is for the long-term and a new rule enabling expulsion from the euro club would require the Lisbon treaty to be re-opened, a nightmare for most after labouring over it for almost nine years.

While senior figures in Brussels believe that Chancellor Angela Merkel and Schäuble are intensely serious about establishing an EMF, they also suspect they are using the idea to assuage hostile public opinion in Germany and “prepare a short-term fire brigade operation for Greece”.

[Return to headlines]

Greece Bailout Ping-Pong

Vasia Veremi may be only 28, but as a hairdresser in Athens, she is keenly aware that, under a current law that treats her job as hazardous to her health, she has the right to retire with a full pension at age 50.

“I use a hundred different chemicals every day — dyes, ammonia, you name it,” she said. “You think there’s no risk in that?”

“People should be able to retire at a decent age,” Ms. Veremi added. “We are not made to live 150 years.”

Perhaps not, but it is still difficult to explain to outsiders why the Greek government has identified at least 580 job categories deemed to be hazardous enough to merit retiring early — at age 50 for women and 55 for men.

As a consequence of decades of bargains struck between strong unions and weak governments, Greece has promised early retirement to about 700,000 employees, or 14 percent of its work force, giving it an average retirement age of 61, one of the lowest in Europe.

The law includes dangerous jobs like coal mining and bomb disposal. But it also covers radio and television presenters, who are thought to be at risk from the bacteria on their microphones, and musicians playing wind instruments, who must contend with gastric reflux as they puff and blow.

The situation in the United States is different but also painful. The government will face its own fiscal reckoning, analysts say, as 78 million baby boomers begin drawing on Social Security and Medicare programs to support them in retirement. Without some combination of higher taxes, benefit reductions or an increase in the retirement age, both programs will run short of money to make their promised payments within the next few decades. And many American states are woefully behind on funding their pension obligations for public employees.

In Europe, the conflict has already erupted on the streets, with workers demanding that generous retirement policies be kept while governments press to pare pensions and raise retirement ages because taxpayers cannot bear any additional weight and creditors will no longer finance excessive borrowing.

According to research by Jagadeesh Gokhale, an economist at the Cato Institute in Washington, bringing Greece’s pension obligations onto its balance sheet would show that the government’s debt is in reality equal to 875 percent of its gross domestic product, which is the broadest measure of a nation’s economic output. That would be the highest debt level among the 16 nations that use the euro, and far above Greece’s official debt level of 113 percent.

Other countries have obscured their total obligations as well. In France, where the official debt level is 76 percent of economic output, total debt rises to 549 percent once all of its current pension promises are taken into account. And in Germany, the current debt level of 69 percent would soar to 418 percent.

There is much more in the article including a nice country by country table of current debt obligations and unfunded liabilities. Here is a partial list.

Greece 116% 875%
France 76% 549%
Germany 72% 418%
UK 63% 442%
Poland 50% 1550%
US 84% 500%

           — Hat tip: REP[Return to headlines]

Little Left to Laugh About in Impoverished Greece

Greek national pride is suffering, now that the nation has stooped to international panhandling.

By Marloes de Koning in Athens

Two subjects currently dominate the Greek news. The measures taken against the financial crisis, and a sex tape featuring local TV celebrity and model, Julia Alexandratou. The starlet claims the recording was intended for private use, but a few days ago it became available in newsstands and 200,000 copies were sold.

Comedian Lakis Lazopoulos put two and two together in his popular TV show. He made a clip with the covers of sex tapes marked with financial terms and crisis imagery. “Lost in the gaping budget hole,” one cover read. Prime minister George Papandreou could be seen hanging from chains in German chancellor Angela Merkel’s SM-themed torture chamber. Papandreou is often portrayed nowadays as a vagrant who goes around begging for money from other government leaders.

Blame the government

Little is left of Greek national pride, Lazopoulos lamented. His weekly TV-show, Al Tsantiri Niouz (‘News from the gypsy tent’), draws a bigger audience than Greek football teams’ matches in the pan-European Champions League. After some jokes about sex, he hit a more sombre note, predicting more social unrest to come. His description of how the Greeks are currently feeling was rewarded with roaring applause: “When Europe said ‘stop’, our politicians asked the people: ‘give back the money we stole from you’.”

Support for the Greek government’s far-reaching cutbacks is waning now that the citizens are starting to feel the effects. A month ago, 70 percent of the population still supported prime minister Papandreou’s reform measures, now only half still does. On Thursday, Greeks hit the streets to protest the cutbacks, which are supposed to reduce the budget deficit. Public transport was at a standstill, flights were cancelled and hospitals were only dealing with emergencies. The Greeks are afraid, Lazopoulos said in an interview conducted in his dressing room after the show. They feel they’ve been “taken hostage” by a system that leaves the political parties in control of everything. Those who have a politician to thank for their jobs are not inclined to let him or her fall soon.

Greek resentment is growing. Last week the leader of the country’s biggest trade union was beaten so badly by protestors he ended up in hospital. Many Greeks feel the unions are too close to the socialist government.

No money left

Next Monday, VAT will be raised to 21 percent. The price of a pack of cigarettes has already risen by a full euro in one week, and now stands at 4.20 euros. This month, civil servants will see their pay cheques reduced for the first time. Easter is approaching, but this major holiday in Orthodox Greece will have to be celebrated with bonuses that are 30 percent lower than last year. The Christmas and summer bonus, amounting to an effective thirteenth and fourteenth month in salary for civil servants, will be abandoned. Hotels have already reported that domestic tourism is on the decline. Easter bookings are 60 percent down from last year.

Some hotels will remain closed altogether. “No Easter for us this year,” the comedian Lazopoulos sang to the melody ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’. His pockets, turned inside out, dangled from the sides of his trousers.

Officials have started calling the Greek problem, ‘the Greek case study’. On their visits to Berlin, Paris and Washington last week, the prime minister and finance minister seemed to convince everyone that, while the Greeks have major issues with creative bookkeeping and a towering public debt, the current crisis really demonstrates the lack of a common European economic policy.

Unfair measures

Last weekend, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, proposed forming a European equivalent to the International Monetary Fund to help euro countries that are in trouble. While this might help in future crises, for the average Greek citizen, it will make no difference for years to come.

According to Savas Robolis, the head of a labour market research agency operated by Greece’s largest coalition of unions GSEE, Greeks with below average paycheques are taking a double hit. Both the pay cuts and the raised taxes place a disproportionate burden on people who didn’t have much to begin with, he said. “The measures are unfair,” he added.

Because households have less money to spend, consumption will drop, leaving Greece lingering in recession for longer. Robolis predicted it would last until 2015. “Future generations will be burdened with the higher interest rates Greece is now paying on treasury bonds,” he added. The higher tax burden would also lead people to find “new ways of tax evasion” he warned.

Social unrest

Rumour has it that Theodoros Pagalos, the second most powerful man in the governing socialist party, Pasok, has advised the minister of health to hold back on expanding the country’s smoking ban for the time being, because the Greeks “have enough on their hands as it is”.

“It is only a rumour,” grinned Alexandros Karamalikis, the manager of Black Duck, a bar/restaurant/gallery in Athens’ business district, “but it does illustrate the mood well. We have no money, but we do like to go out and have fun, so let us smoke our cigarette in peace.”

In Greece, there is little left to laugh about. When comedian Lazopoulos mentioned the high prices and low pensions, his audience fell silent. “We still laugh,” he later said in his dressing room. “But it sounds hollow. Like the forced laughter at your grandmother’s death bed, used to hide from her the fact she is dying. We do not laugh because we don’t know what’s ailing Greece. We laugh because we do.”

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


Illinois Lawmakers Get Eviction Notices

Budget crunch means state is slow to pay office rents

The state’s money problems are so bad that lawmakers are getting eviction notices and calls from collection agencies about their offices back home.

At least five state senators say they’ve piled up so much unpaid rent, sheepish landlords are asking them when the government plans to make good on its bills.

“He said, ‘Ira, I’m sorry,’“ said Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, recalling a visit from his landlord delivering an eviction notice. “And what am I going to do? I can’t argue with the man.”

While none of the lawmakers has actually gotten the boot yet, they are getting a taste of the frustratingly slow pace at which the state pays bills as it careens toward a $13 billion budget hole. It’s a pain that’s magnified exponentially for school districts, drug rehabilitation counselors and businesses awaiting tax refunds.

“It certainly puts us in a position of looking like deadbeats,” said Sen. Mike Jacobs, an East Moline Democrat who got an eviction notice last year from a longtime friend who has rented the same building for years to the senator and his father before him. Payment eventually arrived — nine months late — but Jacobs was prepared to pay if the state had failed to come through.

A notice threatening eviction startled freshman Sen. Dan Duffy, a Lake Barrington Republican. Unsure when the state will cough up the $10,000 it owes his landlord, Duffy is scrambling to see if he can take refuge in a nearby secretary of state driver’s license outlet or a local library should he eventually get evicted.

“When they can’t pay the rent of a Senate office, there’s no way they’re going to be able to pay the hundreds of millions of dollars in bills that they have back due,” Duffy said. “It just shows what a tragic crisis we’re in and how far out of hand this is.”

In the grand scope of what ails state government, the lawmakers all said they recognized late rent for Senate offices is far from the most pressing budget issue.

Each senator receives $83,063 a year as a district office allowance, and the bills end up at the comptroller’s office.

Every day, comptroller workers sift through bills for all of state government and prioritize what must be paid and what has to wait. Each month, $2 billion is set aside. The state must make payments to schools and repay short-term loans. It must pay hospitals, nursing homes and doctors caring for Medicaid patients within 30 days in order to get the best return from the federal government.

Languishing further back in line are the bills to pay rents for lawmaker district offices.

Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said he knew of no eviction notices going to House members, but has heard that some legislators “on the brink” have had to dip into their own pockets or campaign funds to pay landlords or keep phone service.

Getting utility bills paid in a timely fashion has been a problem for Sen. John Jones, R-Mount Vernon.

“I’ve heard from collection agencies every month on the power bill and the phone bill,” Jones said. The state once fell seven months behind on his district office’s $900-a-month rent, and he recalled the landlord saying, “I gotta pay my bills, and I need my money.”

Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, said the state may be as much as one year and $24,000 behind on his office’s lease payments and that he’s had to dip into campaign funds to make phone payments.

“Service was shut down,” Kotowski said. “I wasn’t able to communicate with my constituents, and constituents were not able to communicate with me, and I just decided to use other funds to pay for it.”

Silverstein said his landlord did get a payment after the senator received the eviction notice, at least temporarily defusing the situation.

But Silverstein’s landlord, Demetrios Spyrakos, said Friday he hasn’t received rent payments since October. He’s owed more than $12,000 from the state.

Spyrakos blames Gov. Pat Quinn, who’s tried but failed to get an income tax increase approved. The Jamestown Realty co-owner said he thinks Silverstein is a “good person, but I’ve been asking for the rent. He’s trying, but nobody listens to him or to me.”

Silverstein, whose office is in the West Rogers Park neighborhood, might have to find a new place to work out of soon.

“If I don’t get my money by next month, I have to ask him politely to leave and try to find another tenant,” Spyrakos said. “What else can you do? I can’t wait forever. Who’s going to pay my bills?”

It’s the first time Spyrakos has rented to a politician.

“And I think it’s going to be my last.”

           — Hat tip: REP[Return to headlines]

Islamic ‘Lawfare’ Targets Rifqa Bary’s Friends

Investigation seen as attempt by Muslims to intimidate

The chief of a law firm that has promised to defend a youth pastor reportedly investigated for driving a runaway Muslim-turned-Christian teen to a bus station says the probe is another “lawfare” case in which Islamists are trying to intimidate critics of the religion.

Ohio authorities are investigating youth pastor Brian Williams for his assistance of Rifqa Bary, 17, who claimed she fled her Muslim parents last year because her father threatened to kill her after learning she had become a Christian.

In a column on, anti-jihad blogger Pamela Geller called it a “perverse twist of reality” that law enforcement officers are investigating “Christians in Ohio who helped a teenage apostate escape the death threat (in line with sharia law) made by her family.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

N.J. Terror Suspect Sharif Mobley Tied to Radical Yemeni Cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki

A New Jersey nuclear plant laborer arrested in Yemen with 10 other suspected al Qaeda members was in contact with the same radical Yemeni-American cleric tied to Fort Hood shooting suspect Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, federal law enforcement officials told ABC News.

The New Jersey man, Sharif Mobley, was detained by Yemeni security forces earlier this month and taken to a hospital for medical treatment. He allegedly tried to escape from the hospital over the past weekend by grabbing a security guard’s gun and engaging in a gunfight that killed one of the guards.

Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for the Yemeni embassy in Washington, told ABC News that details of Mobley’s case “will be clearer in a couple of days.”

Asked about Mobley’s apparent connections with the cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, Albasha said he was not surprised because radicals and extremists in Yemen seek Awlaki out.

“He is a fixture in jihad 101,” Albasha said of Awlaki.

Before fleeing the United States, Awlaki taught at a Virginia mosque visited by 9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Hani Hanjour.

Since then, Awlaki has become a prominent influence with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and is believed to be in Yemen.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

State Plan Fines Feds $2,000 Over Gun Rules

2 years in jail also possible for agent enforcing U.S. regulations on firearm

Wyoming has joined a growing list of states with self-declared exemptions from federal gun regulation of weapons made, bought and used inside state borders — but lawmakers in the Cowboy State have taken the issue one step further, adopting significant penalties for federal agents attempting to enforce Washington’s rules.

According a law signed into effect yesterday by Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal, any agent of the U.S. who “enforces or attempts to enforce” federal gun rules on a “personal firearm” in Wyoming faces a felony conviction and a penalty of up to two years in prison and up to $2,000 in fines.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Ireland: Three Released in Cartoonist Inquiry

A man and woman arrested in connection with an international investigation into an alleged plot to murder Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks have been released from custody. The two, who were detained at Dungarvan Garda station, were released yesterday evening without charge. Another woman who had been detained in Tramore was also released yesterday. A file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Seven people were arrested in Waterford and Cork in relation to the alleged plot earlier this week.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Italian Judges: ‘Berlusconi Danger to Democracy’

Italian rule of law is under siege from its own prime minister, judges in the country say.

By Bas Mesters in Rome

Just some recent events in Italy.

Last Wednesday, Italian parliament approved a bill that offers prime minister Silvio Berlusconi immunity from prosecution for corruption, graft and tax evasion for a year and a half.

The four main TV newscasts aired by public broadcaster Rai have all been suspended until the regional elections of March 28 and 29. The government fears of too critical journalism.

Last weekend, the election bylaws were changed, very close to the regional elections. A local wing of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party had failed to register in time for the elections, and the law was changed to ‘repair’ this. A judge however, has refused to recognise the new legislation. This led to Berlusconi accusing the judge of plotting against him.

Democracy in danger

Responding to these and other recent events, Italian judges issued a cry for help on Wednesday. The highest judicial governing body, the Supreme Council of Magistrates, is working on a statement warning “Italian democracy is in danger”. Never before have judges voiced such harsh criticism of the effects Berlusconi’s actions have on Italian justice.

The council wants protect judges from the prime minister’s repeated attacks and hopes to restore respect for the judiciary.

But is the Italian rule of law really in danger? Is democracy under siege?

Formally, Italian checks and balances are still in place. The parliament keeps an eye on the government, the president ensures that any laws passed by parliament are in line with the country’s constitution and the constitutional court can be asked to do the same. A diverse written press offers comment and insight into these processes. In theory, Italy’s rule of law is in excellent order. In theory, Italy is also a functioning democracy. It holds elections where new representatives can be elected.

A reality different from theory

The problem is that all these institutions find themselves under constant pressure. Judges and journalists are constantly under fire from government parties. Parliament and government have been infiltrated by the mafia.

According to Massimo Gianni, an analyst who writes for opposition daily La Repubblica, Berlusconi is playing a game of “smoke and mirrors in which appearances have replaced reality”. “According to Berlusconi, the rule of law is a pointless obstacle. The reign of confusion is preferable,” Gianni said.

Checks and balances like the free press, the judiciary, the president or parliament that become too critical are ridiculed and stripped of their legitimacy. Whoever dares interfere with the leader’s business has a price to pay, Gianni said???.

Berlusconi has compared bothersome magistrates to “a subversive gang of Taliban members” who are “different from the rest of the human race, anthropologically speaking”.

The prime minister has called journalists “communists” and thinks the president of the republic, Giorgio Napolitano, is little more than a pesky obstacle. Members of parliamen are supposed to obey their leader, as far as Berlusconi is concerned.

Above the law?

Over past years, Berlusconi has interfered with justice by altering the statute of limitations, allowing him to avoid prosecution. When he lost his immunity in November, he threatened to cap the duration of trials, which would have allowed tens of thousands of suspects to escape their convictions Thanks to this audacious threat, he was able to escape prosecution this week through less far-reaching means.

Berlusconi has changed Italian media law, generating more income from advertising for his company Mediaset at the expense of the written press and public broadcasting. Whenever the public broadcasters air programmes that Berlusconi finds too critical, he threatens to overturn the TV license tax Rai depends on. He has called on companies to refrain from advertising in La Repubblica, a newspaper which has voiced criticism of him in the past.

Berlusconi has issued decrees whenever parliament threatened to block legislation. He has declared a state of emergency for construction projects that could have easily been completed in a normal fashion.

He also declared a state of emergency when Italy hosted the G8 summit and the swimming world championship. Excavations at Pompeii and the restoration of the Uffizi museum in Florence were given the same treatment, allowing the government to dole out contracts without putting them up for tenders.

Several government officials, politicians and businessmen involved in these ‘emergency projects’ are now suspected of corruption. But judges who are investigating these possible crimes “should be ashamed of themselves,” Berlusconi has said.

The Italian president Napolitano has personally experienced a lot of pressure at the hands of Berlusconi to pass laws that were not always in line with the constitution. Last weekend, the president bowed to pressure and approved the new election bylaws. The fact that a judge later refused to apply them shows just how controversial the new law is.

Little resistance to Berlusconi

With a refined sense of drama, opposition politician and former magistrate Antoni di Pietrio has since called for the impeachment of Napolitano.

The question remains why Italians haven’t rebelled against Berlusconi yet. They haven’t because the divided and bickering opposition has convinced them no viable alternative exists. The model set by Berlusconi, of a father figure surrounded by a clientelist clique is inspiring local copycats throughout the nation. Italians have had to endure corrupt politicians for years. The confusion raised by Berlusconi prevents them from seeing reality clearly. Civil protest exists, internet is abuzz with activism, and there is hope Berlusconi’s administration will soon end. But the prime minister’s power is so great, only his own coalition members will be able to bring it about.

Politicians elsewhere in Europe have shied away from getting involved in the Italian matters. No politician or diplomat would even think to meddle in the internal affairs of a friendly democracy, one of the founding members of the EU. The European People’s Party, the centre-right coalition that dominates European parliament needs Berlusconi’s party to maintain its superior position.

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

Italy: Court Overturns Gag on Political Chat Shows

Rome, 12 March (AKI) — An Italian administrative court Friday overturned a controversial one-month ban on commercial television and radio political chat shows ahead of the country’s regional elections late this month.

The Lazio region’s TAR court on sided with Sky and Telecom Italia Media in their appeal against Italian broadcasting regulator’s gag-rule that was contested by the opposition to prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative government.

The rule applied to three analog channels belonging to billionaire Berlusconi’s Mediaset broadcasting empire, as well as Rubert Murdoch’s Sky cable channel.

“The ruling re-establishes the principle of freedom if expression and safeguards the freemarket, both of which are protected by the Italian constitution,” Sky’s Italian unit said Friday in a statement.

Many of Italy’s most famous TV journalists were up in arms after the state broadcaster RAI in February announced it would suspend all its political talk shows ahead of the March 28-29 regional elections. The broadcasting regulator extended the ban to all private channels.

TV officials insist they are only complying with election law, but media unions say it is a bid to stifle criticism of Berlusconi’s coalition. Many of RAI’s chat shows are accused of political bias against Berlusconi, even though as prime minister he has indirect control of the three national channels.

According to the rules, shows would be permitted to be aired, but only if each one of Italians dozens of political parties were represented.

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

Pope OKs German Abuse Moves

Local Church authorised to tackle child sex scandal

(ANSA) — Vatican City, March 12 — Pope Benedict XVI has approved measures to tackle the child sex abuse scandal sweeping the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, the leader of the country’s bishops said after an audience with the pope Friday.

Msgr Robert Zollitsch told a press conference he had illustrated the moves to the German-born pope.

“He is favourable to our measures but we do not know whether they will be extended to other countries,” Zollitsch said.

That will depend on pending decisions by the Vatican’s watchdog, the Congregation (department) for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Congregation is drawing up a “decalogue,” the archbishop said, adding that the German Church did not need the Holy See’s help in handling the scandal.

He said Benedict had “recognised” the German bishops’ ability to tackle the cases on their own. While stressing that the German Church had “always collaborated with justice,” unless victims asked for the police not to be called in, Zollitsch said it would tighten its procedures “to bring the truth to light without false respect for anyone or anything, even things that happened a long time ago, because victims are entitled to this”.

Investigation norms would also be rethought across the country and more support provided to victims.

The archbishop defended the Church’s existing record in tackling abuse, saying “the procedures adopted by us have given excellent results in the last eight years”.

Some 19 of Germany’s 27 dioceses have now been affected by the scandal, which follows similar cases in Ireland, the Netherlands and Austria.

It has even come close to the pope’s brother, Father Georg Ratzinger, with at least one case reported at the famous Regensburg boys’ choir led by Ratzinger for 30 years.

The local Church said the cases occurred before Ratzinger was appointed choirmaster in 1964. The scandals have raised the issue of priestly celibacy but Benedict said Friday it was “a holy value”.

Celibacy, he told an international theological conference at a Vatican university in Rome, was “an expression of the gift of oneself to God and to others”.

“Our limits and weaknesses should prompt us to guard with profound faith” the priestly life, the pope added, making no direct reference to the German scandal. On Wednesday Vienna Archbishop Christoph Schoenborn called for an “unflinching” examination of the possible roots of the scandals, saying “it also includes the issue of priestly celibacy”.

But Vienna archdiocese spokesman Erich Leitenberger told Catholic news agency SIR Thursday that the cardinal “did not call into question celibacy in any way”.

In Germany, the Archbishop of Regensburg, Gerhard Mueller, described the notion of celibacy being “the cause” of child sex abuse as “nonsense”.

Germany has already launched a scheme, involving the Church, police and families, to prevent child sex abuse while Catholic authorities in the Netherlands on Wednesday opened a sweeping probe into how recent cases could have occurred.

Austria is expected to follow their lead.

Scandals have also swept the Church in Ireland and a number of Irish bishops have resigned.

In the United States, where abuse was first exposed on a major scale in the late 1990s, several dioceses have been bankrupted by settlements.

Benedict has promised a new strategy to make sure child sex abuse never happens again, citing the eradication of this “hateful crime” as one of the Church’s top priorities.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Second U.S. Woman Probed in Cartoonist Plot

‘I knew she was talking to these people online… they brainwashed her’

COLORADO — Authorities in Ireland are investigating whether a second American woman was involved in an international plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist for mocking the Prophet Muhammad, The Wall Street Journal reported.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

South Asian ‘Slave Brides’ Causing Concern in UK

Hundreds of women who came to the UK from South Asia to marry say they have been treated as domestic slaves by their in-laws, the BBC has learned.

More than 500 who applied for residence in 2008-09 after their marriages broke down were deported because they could not prove any abuse had taken place.

Police and charities are concerned the incidents are not reported because of family pressure and fear of reprisals.

The UK Border Agency said measures were in place to try to prevent such abuse.

‘Bloodied nose’

The women complaining of being treated as slaves by their families come from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

One woman in her 20s, says she was imprisoned by her mother-in-law for three years at their house in the north of England. She does not want to be named.

She has now started to come to terms with her ordeal, a year after her mother-in-law was prosecuted, but she says she still lives with the fear inside her.

“One day my mother-in-law beat me up really badly,” she says.

“There was a lot of blood coming out of my mouth and nose — I couldn’t tell anyone, call anyone or go anywhere.

“I used to get up at dawn and clean the whole house, scrub the floors, clean the windows, do the washing, cook. In between I’d have to sew.”

She tried to kill herself twice. Eventually she managed to escape after her mother-in-law left her bedroom door unlocked.

“Staying inside all the time, not being allowed to watch TV or go out… I thought I’d rather be dead than live like this.”

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

UK: Growing Fears Over Muslim Prison ‘Gangs’

The Muslim prison population in England and Wales has sharply increased in recent years. The BBC’s Ushma Mistry hears from former inmates and prison officers who claim gangs of Muslim prisoners are an increasingly powerful force.

“Muslims run it. Muslims run the prisons and there’s nothing the screws can do about it. For a Muslim you’d say it’s good but for a non-Muslim, it’s very, very bad,” a former inmate called Jay says.

It is a claim which is backed by former prison officers and other inmates.

Jay, 24, is a Muslim and has been in and out of prison for most of his life. He openly admits to helping to convert non-Muslim inmates to Islam and has meted out violence against anyone who dares to “disrespect” his religion.

He first went to prison when he was 15 and said there were hardly any Muslims inmates back then.

“At the beginning not many knew about Islam. There weren’t many converts. The mosque was empty, but nowadays jails are run mostly by the Muslims,” he said.

“There are certain brothers that convert purely on the basis that they read Islam and they want to believe in something that does good for them. Then other people because they want to be looked after.

“I’ve been in jail five times and on my last occasion, I’ve seen jails being run by Muslim inmates.

“Muslim prayers on a Friday are very, very busy. In some prisons there’s no space. In one jail I was in, they do the prayers in two sessions because there’s no space.”


Muslims represent 12% (9,795) of the prison population in England and Wales, according to the latest available figures from 2008. This has risen by 50% over five years.

In some high security prisons, the figures are well above average.

In 2008, Muslim prisoners accounted for a third (34%) of prisoners in HMP Whitemoor, in March, Cambridgeshire, and about a quarter (24%) of inmates in HMP Long Lartin, in Evesham, Worcestershire.

Speaking anonymously, a former prison officer, who worked at HMP Long Lartin, told the Donal MacIntyre programme about cases where non-Muslim prisoners were seriously assaulted and intimidated for refusing to abide by unofficial rules imposed by Muslim gangs, about eating pork or listening to Western music.

“Muslim gangs was something I was very concerned about — the situation changed where underworld gangsters who used to keep discipline and order were no longer in charge in the prison,” she said.

“The younger guys, who were being forced to convert, were doing it more for protection from a Muslim gang rather than follow the faith — most of them weren’t interested in the faith.

“I knew one lad quite well who was approached by the radical Muslims, and he changed. He just seemed very frightened all the time.

“He used to be forced to pray at certain times and I know for a fact they would be woken in the middle of the night to pray.

“He even grew a long beard even though he didn’t want to. I asked him why he grew the beard and he said ‘It’s survival miss, survival’“.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]


Serbia-Israel: Cooperation in Agriculture Sector

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, MARCH 12 — Israel has expressed interest in cooperation with Serbia in the agriculture sector, Israeli Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Shalom Simhon told Serbian Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management Sasa Dragin, reports Tanjug news agency. Dragin and Simhon conferred during a visit of a Serbian delegation to Israel fro March 8 to 10, the Ministry of Agriculture said today. The delegation comprised also Vojvodina Premier Bojan Pajtic and directors of many companies and institutes in the agriculture and foord processing sectors. The talks focused on the implementation of the inter-state agreement on bilateral cooperation in the agriculture sector, the release says. Dragin also conferred with Israeli Minister of Trade, Industry and Employment Benjamin Ben Eliezer on the economic situation in the two countries.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt: Crowd of 3 Thousand Muslims Attack a Coptic Christian Community, 25 Injured

Faithful were gathered in prayer when attack occurred. There were four priests, one deacon and 400 parishioners in the building, women and children also targeted. Fundamentalists fury, egged on by the imam, unleashed by the rumour that the Christians are building a new church. In reality it is a hospice.

Cairo (AsiaNews / Agencies) — The toll from an attack on the Coptic Christian community that took place yesterday in the north-western province of Mersa Matrouh, Egypt is 25 wounded, including women and children. A crowd of around 3 thousand Muslims attacked the faithful gathered in prayer in a building adjoining the local church. The fundamentalists fury, encouraged by the imam, was sparked by the rumour that the Christians have begun to build a new place of worship.

Around 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon, the Muslims — a group of Bedouins and Salafi fanatics — started throwing stones at a construction site, which they believe in reality will be a new church. Local witnesses reported that security forces present were not sufficient to contain the attack. The police fired tear gas and arrested a dozen people, including Muslims and Christians. Only this morning, reinforcements arrived from Alexandria, thanks to which the Coptic faithful trapped inside the building could return to their homes.

At the moment of the attack the Christian prayer house contained four priests, one deacon and about 400 parishioners. Christians say that the building under construction, in fact, is a nursing home and said they were “terrified” by the latest attack. The local imam Shaikh Khamees intervention during Friday prayers has helped to foment the anger of Muslims. He emphasized the duty to fight against the “enemies” of Islam and stressed that “we do not tolerate the Christian presence in our area.”

Reverend Matta Zakarya confirms that this morning there was a summit between the leaders of the local church, state security forces and even some Muslims. “The Coptic are scared — he stresses — especially women and children who were inside the building and witnessed the assault.”

In Egypt, the Coptic Christian community is about 10% of the population in a country with an overwhelming Muslim majority, which discriminates against the Christian community. It is the victim of violence, caused by a sharp rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Sometimes the basis of many attacks there are disputes over land ownership and disputes for women, but they soon become sectarian clashes.

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

Muslim Mob Attacks Christians at Church in Egypt, 25 Injured

by Mary Abdelmassih

Egypt (AINA) — At 17:00 hours on Friday a Muslim mob attacked a Christian congregation during prayers in the church attached to the services building of the Coptic Church in the Rifeyah area of the Mediterranean seaport of Mersa Matrouh. The mob, estimated to be between 2000-3000 of Bedouins and fanatical Muslim Salafis, hurled stones at the building. Four priests, the deacons and 400 parishioners were trapped inside the building.

Rev. Matta Zakarya told activist Wagih Yacoub of Katiba-Tibeyah, an advocacy group, that after the mob hurled stones at the building, they went inside and assaulted the people, mostly families. Neither the security forces nor the fire brigades were sufficient. Only two fire brigades were available. Witnesses said the number of security forces was not enough to contain the Muslims, and tear gas was used against them.

The attack in casualties among the Copts and security forces, mostly head injuries caused by hurled bricks. The injured were treated at Matrouh Hospital. According to Rev. Matta, twenty-five persons were seriously wounded, including women and children. Eighteen houses, twenty-two shops and sixteen cars were destroyed and burnt down. “Twenty-eight people have no homes and had to seek refuge in the services building,” said Rev. Matta.

Security forces enforcement from Alexandria arrived in the early hours of Saturday, and escorted the 400 Copts held in the services building to their homes.

The pretext used by the Muslims for this attack was the erection, without permission, of a wall surrounding the plot of land acquired by the Church adjacent to the services building. “The violence started after the Muslim evening prayer,” said Rev. Matta Zakaria to Coptic News Bulletin, “when the Mosque’s Imam, Shaikh Khamees, talked of the need to fight the ‘enemies’, and said ‘we don’t want Christians to live among us.’“

The mob moved on to other areas not protected by security, vandalizing and torching Coptic homes, shops, businesses and cars in the streets surrounding the services building. “They were chanting religious and Jihadi slogans, during which they vandalized and burnt houses and shops, amid the cries of the terrorized Copts,” reported Nader Shukry of Freecopts.

Copts whose relatives were held inside the services building, gathered in front of the State Security in Matrouh to protest the attacks on them and the delay in the arrival of the security forces to protect them.

Rev. Matta said that a meeting is to be held in the morning of March 13, between the Church, the State Security and the Muslim elders in the area, “Because the Copts are frightened, especially the women and children who were indoors as the Muslims torched their homes and who are now extremely traumatized. Everyone needs re-assurance that such an attack will never happen again.”

The services building, called Archangel Michael Charity, which serves 300 Coptic families, was demolished (AINA 4-30-2009) by security forces on April 26, 2009, under the pretext of questioning the ownership of land, but the matter was later clarified and a license for the construction of a replacement services building was obtained from the Governor of Matrouh.

[Return to headlines]

Sexual Harassment in Egypt

Confronting a Pressing Social Problem

According to a study, 98 percent of the foreign women and 83 percent of the Egyptian women have at some point been subject to sexual harassment in Egypt. Often the blame is placed squarely on the shoulders of the victims. Mohammed Ali Atassi reports

| Bild:

“Increasingly male chauvinist culture”: victims of sexual harassment in Egypt include women from all social and religious classes, veiled and unveiled |

Sexual harassment of women in Egypt is one of many social problems that politicians and the media have tended to treat as an instance of individual, abnormal behaviour. Because they treat it as an isolated aberration from proper social norms — falling outside the path, principles and traditions of a sanctioned way of life — Egyptian society as a whole does not need to confront it.

It took the courage of a few Egyptian women who exposed their own suffering to reveal the treatment many women routinely experience on the streets of Cairo. Simultaneously, a few civil society organizations, aided by alternative media outlets (blogs foremost among them), launched awareness campaigns aimed at transforming both the understanding and method of dealing with the issue, so that Egyptians would cease to view future incidents as isolated acts of perversion, and instead see them as components of a pressing social problem.

Educational and judicial measures

As such, perceptions of sexual harassment have changed to now frame it as an important issue — one that demands political, educational and judicial measures, though many of these have yet to be implemented.

The problem of sexual harassment in Egypt comes to sharp focus in the case of the young film director Nouha Rushdi Saleh, who won a legal case against a truck driver who harassed her in a Cairo street. The court handed down a three-year jail sentence to the perpetrator — and the case blew the cover off the issue in Egypt, where official silence has reigned for years.

Most tourist guidebooks on Egypt, particularly those published abroad, warn foreign women regarding sexual harassment in the street and offer advice on how they should act and react. This could easily suggest that this phenomenon is on the rise. The aggression is hardly confined to foreign women; its victims include Egyptian women from all social and religious classes, veiled and unveiled.

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“God will forgive the sins of veiled women”: In Egypt, various campaigns implied that the spread of sexual harassment is linked to the absence of the veil |

Still, most public authorities and influential social forces ignored the issue until the outbreak of the 2006 riots. During the downtown celebrations of the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, a crowd of hundreds of sexually frenzied young men participated in violent attacks on dozens of women, surrounding them in the streets, groping and even trying to undress them. As police stood by and watched the scene ambivalently, no one, not mothers nor veiled women, were safe from the mob.

Implicit assumptions

Supported by the state media, mainly newspapers, some political figures tried to minimize the impact of the incident by accusing the opposition of exploiting the social and political dimensions of the riot for their own benefit. But if the state authority was ready for a cover-up, the Egyptian blogosphere was ready for a fight. Bloggers published testimonies and played video clips of the scenes in Talat Harb square and the surrounding streets where women were assaulted.

And while Egyptian authorities took action and installed security cameras in the center of the city — the site of the 2006 riot — to alleviate the phenomenon, the effort did nothing to prevent similar attacks from being perpetrated in other parts of the city. Incidents spread and in fact intensified in other areas, including Al Haram Street and Al Mohandesseen district, where many girls were assaulted on Eid al-Fitr. This time, however, police successfully arrested many of the attackers.

Unfortunately, many dominant beliefs still place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the victims of sexual harassment. Society makes an implicit assumption that women dress provocatively, or otherwise behave suspiciously to excite men into violently attacking them — or blame women simply because they are unveiled or don’t conform to conservative Islamic dress codes.

Awareness campaigns

If there was one positive result of the 2006 attacks — which claimed many veiled victims — it opened the door for public debate about the phenomenon of sexual harassment in Egypt. Civil society organizations and women’s groups touched on the fresh social wound, launching a legion of awareness campaigns while the issue was still on citizens’ minds.

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God ordered the veil: ‘Either you wear the headscarf as a protecting veil — or you will be devoured by the lecherous looks of men’, the phrase reads literally |

These campaigns sought to educate women about their own rights and warn both men and women about the severity of these practices and the pressing need to face the problem as a society. Presenting it as a social issue that affects everyone, the campaigns linked the phenomenon of sexual harassment to youth unemployment and marginalization, as well as to the fact that a growing number of young people are marrying at an older age. They also cited the upsurge in sexual repression amidst an increasingly male chauvinist culture, in addition to the breakdown of the family and moral codes, as factors.

The magazine Kalimatina (“Our Word”) published the campaign “Respect Yourself,” and the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights presented “Safe Streets for Everyone”. In cooperation with various media outlets, both print and visual, websites and blogs, these campaigns worked to enlighten Egyptian youth on the danger of such practices and demand the development of laws that deter them. Campaigns also prepared police stations and trained officers for handling sexual harassment incidents.

In the wake of this multi-faceted campaign, a sociological study named “Clouds in the Sky of Egypt: Sexual Harassment — From Verbal Advances to Rape” examined the situation. The study took a sample of 2,500 Egyptian women and 2,020 other individuals (equally divided between men and women), as well as a survey of 109 foreign women. The results were shocking: 98 percent of the foreign women and 83 percent of the Egyptian women had been subject to sexual harassment — and nearly two-thirds of the men confessed to committing sexual harassment against women.


On the other hand, conservative political and religious groups attempted to exploit the worsened incidents of sexual harassment to serve their own special interests. In a manner clearly demeaning to women, these factions attacked women’s dignity by pegging the blame for the assaults on the victims. The counter-campaigns even went so far as to collude with those who committed the crimes in an obvious attempt to justify their deeds. Rather than defending the victims or protecting women’s rights, these campaigns took the opposite approach.

Two striking examples of this came in the form of posters that the groups hung in some streets and published on many Islamic blogs and websites. The first contains two juxtaposed images. The picture on the right has a green hue and features a woman wearing a veil plastered with mosque-minaret pictures. At the bottom of the picture is a piece of candy carefully wrapped in green, and under it the statement that God will forgive the sins of veiled women. The image on the left, tinted in bright red, depicts an unveiled woman and a man. The bottom shows a red candy in torn paper, with a religious injunction beneath that warns women of moral failure.

The second poster continues the theme of objectifying women, likening her to a piece of candy ready to be eaten, by portraying her as a lollipop that cannot be protected from flies (which means men in the language of these campaigns), save with the wrapper, which translates to the veil. Under the images of two lollipops, one wrapped and the second naked with flies hovering over it, a religious statement professes that an unveiled woman will not be able to protect herself — for God, the creator, knows what is in her best interest, and thus ordered the veil.

These messages reveal a disturbing mentality and ideology that view women as objects of pleasure and entertainment, who must cater to men’s physical needs and fantasies for religion’s sake. While enjoining women to cover themselves in public to prevent being sexually harassed by strangers, this belief system seems to limit women’s choice when it comes to their own sexuality. These messages imply that the spread of sexual harassment is linked to the absence of the veil, and thus the unveiled woman holds the responsibility for the sexual harassment she encounters.

Interference of justice

The public discussion over sexual harassment could have been confined to the media, the campaigns and the counter campaigns were it not for the courage of the young Egyptian director, Noha Rushdi Saleh. A driver sexually assaulted her while she returned from the airport, even though she was accompanied by a friend.

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“A safe road for everyone”: Ever since the 2006 attacks several campaigns sought to educate women about their rights |

The assault took place in one of the streets close to her home in the Al Karba district when the driver began swerving his car towards her, extending his hand from the window and violently pulling her towards him. He touched her breasts until she fell on the ground, then he quickly drove away, looking back mockingly at her through his window.

According to Saleh, this glance back was an important factor in her decision to turn to the court and demand her rights. Yelling and feeling great anger that cannot be expressed in words, she followed the driver and was able, thanks to the heavy traffic, to grab the front of his car, all the while shouting and calling for help. Saleh gave an account of her shock at other pedestrians’ reaction:

“I couldn’t believe that some were willing to help and assist the driver to run away in the car, while others told me, ‘We will let him apologize to you.’ I asked them why I would want an apology. Had he stepped over my feet? With my refusal, they asked, ‘What do you need?’ I told them I would report him to the police station. Another bystander said, ‘I don’t understand why you stand here in the midst of men.’ There were people on their balconies looking down and watching me as if I were in a film. One woman was saying to me, ‘Enough my daughter, forgive him,’ but I refused and maintained my position.”

Noha’s legal background empowered her to insist on her rights, and she succeeded in making a police report and taking the defendant to the criminal court. With the support of her father, she was determined to have the court session be public as a means of shaking the Egyptian populace and judicial system into confronting sexual harassment. Northern Cairo’s criminal court, presided over by Judge Shawqi al-Shalqani, issued a judgment on October 21, 2008, which sentenced the defendant Sharif Jouma Jebril to three years in jail and a payment of 5,001 Egyptian pounds as a penalty.

A nail in the coffin of sexual harassment

Noha faced the news cameras and said that the judgment had restored her self-esteem. The judicial system had done her justice, paving the way for all Egypt’s daughters to pursue the legal road to claim their rights and render the first nail into the coffin of sexual harassment.

However, the judgment did not prevent Noha Rushdi Saleh from being the subject of a vicious campaign that impugned her credibility. Her critics accused her of distorting Egypt’s reputation and of carrying Israeli citizenship, as her grandfather was among the Palestinian refugees who came to Egypt.

But her courage has left a significant mark on Egyptian society, because she insisted on seeing her judicial proceeding to the end, as well as ultimately extracting a judgment in her favour from the Egyptian court. She will be remembered for helping to spearhead the long and difficult battle towards creating a civil society that holds the dignity and rights of women as inseparable from its overall goals and aspirations.

Mohammed Ali Atassi

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

Israel and the Palestinians

EU: Moratinos: Firm Stance Needed Against Settlements

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 12 — Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos stated that the European Union, of which Madrid currently holds the rotating presidency, must be more firm in its opposition to Jewish settlements in the Palestinian Territories. “It is necessary to be very demanding on this point”, said Moratinos yesterday speaking before a Parliamentary commission. Moratinos also said that he had had a telephone conversation with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman and that he had expressed the EU’s disapproval of the Israeli government’s go-ahead to the building of 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem. According to Moratinos, who in the past was EU Envoy to the Middle East, the decision may jeopardise the peace process. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Gaza: Israeli Raid After Rocket Launch

(ANSAmed) — GAZA, MARCH 12 — During the night, Israeli aeroplanes attacked targets in the south of the Gaza Strip in response to the alleged launch of a rocket against Israeli territory. According to several witnesses, the attack caused the injury of several Palestinians. Israeli military sources have said that a metallurgy workshop in the city of Khan Younes was destroyed, whilst near Rafah, on the border with Egypt, a tunnel used for smuggling was hit. The same sources specified that the decision to carry out the raid was taken after the launch of a rocket that hit an empty barn on a kibbutz in the south of Israel without however causing any deaths or injuries. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel Seals Off West Bank as Precautionary Measure

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MARCH 12 — The Israeli Defence Ministry has sealed off the West Bank from today until tomorrow evening as a precautionary measure to limit the risk of clashes by Palestinian demonstrators on the fringes of Friday’s Islamic prayers. The news was reported by a military spokesman. The measure, which is not unusual on the part of the Israelis in the presence of situations of tension or on the occasion of religious festivities or demonstrations, is linked in particular to tensions about East Jerusalem (the majority Arab area of the city), which last week saw incidents that then spread to other areas of the West Bank. Yesterday the Israeli authorities ordered a restriction on access today to the Temple Mount of Jerusalem, the permanent tinderbox of passions and the epicentre last week of the start of the scuffles. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Saudi Arabia: Death Sentence for Lebanese Magician Upheld

(ANSAmed) — JEDDAH, MARCH 12 — Judges of the General Court of Medina in Saudi Arabia confirmed a death sentence against Lebanese magician Ali Hussein Subat, accused of witchcraft and on trial for about two years. The forty-seven year old Subat was caught in the act of committing the crime in a Medina hotel room, covered with papers with magical symbols, while he was using herbs and amulets for one of his rituals. On December 8, pointed out Arab News’ website, the Saudi Arabian Court of Appeals rejected the judges’ sentence of first instance from the Medina court. The effects of the sentence were suspended, to give the man — a well-known magician on satellite TV programmes who performed with the name “Scheherazade Magician” — to “show repentance” and to verify the authenticity of the accusations against him. During the two years of the trial, Subat, who was also accused of fraud, admitted to practicing black magic rituals and contributing to the break-up of marriages. According to prosecutors of the general court, Subat allegedly practiced black magic publically on television in front of millions of spectators for years and did not show any remorse. According to the General Court, the death penalty sentence must serve “as a warning and deterrent so that others — foreigners in particular — do not perform sorcery in Saudi Arabia”. Now the case will be heard by the Mecca Court of Appeals. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Ambassador to Sweden Recalled on Armenia Genocide Vote

Stockholm, 12 March(AKI) — Turkey has withdrawn its ambassador to Sweden after the parliament voted to describe as genocide the killing of Armenians in World War I.

The Turkish government condemned the resolution on Wednesday, saying it was “based upon major errors and without foundation”.

The Swedish government opposed the opposition resolution but it passed by one vote after some MPs voted against party lines.

The move comes only a week after Ankara called home its ambassador to the United States because a US congressional committee approved a similar resolution.

European Union member Sweden has been one of the strongest supporters of Ankara’s bid to join the bloc, while the United States is generally considered a strong western ally of the NATO-member Turkey.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (photo) cancelled a visit to Stockholm scheduled next week and issued a statement criticising the vote.

“Our people and our government reject this decision based upon major errors and without foundation,” said the statement.

Many historians and the Armenian people accuse Turkey of committing genocide after Ottoman Turks in 1915 and 1916 killed hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians.

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

Turkey: A Threat, Yet Again

By Srdja Trifkovic

Inside the Beltway, the fact that Turkey is no longer a U.S. “ally” in any meaningful sense is still strenuously denied. But as I note on Alternativeright we were reminded of the true score on March 9, when Saudi King Abdullah presented Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the Wahhabist kingdom’s most prestigious prize for his “services to Islam..” Erdogan earned the King Faisal Prize for having “rendered outstanding service to Islam by defending the causes of the Islamic nation.”

Services to the Ummah — Turkey under Erdogan’s neo-Islamist AKP has rendered a host of other services to “the Islamic nation.” In August 2008 Ankara welcomed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a formal state visit, and last year it announced that it would not join any sanctions aimed at preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. In the same spirit the AKP government repeatedly played host to Sudan’s President Omer Hassan al-Bashir — a nasty piece of jihadist work if there ever was one — who stands accused of genocide against non-Muslims. Erdogan has barred Israel from annual military exercises on Turkey’s soil, but his government signed a military pact with Syria last October and has been conducting joint military exercises with the regime of Bashir al-Assad. Turkey’s strident apologia of Hamas is more vehement than anything coming out of Cairo or Amman. (Talking of terrorists, Erdogan has stated, repeatedly, “I do not want to see the word ‘Islam’ or ‘Islamist’ in connection with the word ‘terrorism’!”) imultaneous pressure to conform to Islam at home has gathered pace over the past seven years, and is now relentless. Turkish businessmen will tell you privately that sipping a glass of raki in public may hurt their chances of landing government contracts; but it helps if their wives and daughters wear the hijab.

Ankara’s continuing bid to join the European Union is running parallel with its openly neo-Ottoman policy of re-establishing an autonomous sphere of influence in the Balkans and in the former Soviet Central Asian republics. Turkey’s EU candidacy is still on the agenda, but the character of the issue has evolved since Erdogan’s AKP came to power in 2002.

When the government in Ankara started the process by signing an Association agreement with the EEC (as it was then) in 1963, its goal was to make Turkey more “European.” This had been the objective of subsequent attempts at Euro-integration by other neo-Kemalist governments prior to Erdogan’s election victory eight years ago, notably those of Turgut Ozal and Tansu Ciller in the 1990s. The secularists hoped to present Turkey’s “European vocation” as an attractive domestic alternative to the growing influence of political Islam, and at the same time to use the threat of Islamism as a means of obtaining political and economic concessions and specific timetables from Brussels. Erdogan and his personal friend and political ally Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s president, still want the membership, but their motives are vastly different. Far from seeking to make Turkey more European, they want to make Europe more Turkish — many German cities are well on the way — and more Islamic, thus reversing the setback of 1683 without firing a shot.

The neo-Ottoman strategy was clearly indicated by the appointment of Ahmet Davutoglu as foreign minister almost a year ago. As Erdogan’s long-term foreign policy advisor, he advocated diversifying Turkey’s geopolitical options by creating exclusively Turkish zones of influence in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East… including links with Khaled al-Mashal of Hamas. On the day of his appointment in May Davutoglu asserted that Turkey’s influence in “its region” will continue to grow: Turkey had an “order-instituting role” in the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus, he declared, quite apart from its links with the West. In his words, Turkish foreign policy has evolved from being “crisis-oriented” to being based on “vision”: “Turkey is no longer a country which only reacts to crises, but notices the crises before their emergence and intervenes in the crises effectively, and gives shape to the order of its surrounding region.” He openly asserted that Turkey had a “responsibility to help stability towards the countries and peoples of the regions which once had links with Turkey” — thus explicitly referring to the Ottoman era, in a manner unimaginable only a decade ago: “Beyond representing the 70 million people of Turkey, we have a historic debt to those lands where there are Turks or which was related to our land in the past. We have to repay this debt in the best way.”

This strategy is based on the assumption that growing Turkish clout in the old Ottoman lands — a region in which the EU has vital energy and political interests — may prompt President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel to drop their objections to Turkey’s EU membership. If on the other hand the EU insists on Turkey’s fulfillment of all 35 chapters of the acquis communautaire — which Turkey cannot and does not want to complete — then its huge autonomous sphere of influence in the old Ottoman domain can be developed into a major and potentially hostile counter-bloc to Brussels. Obama approved this strategy when he visited Ankara in April of last year, shortly after that notorious address to the Muslim world in Cairo.

Erdogan is no longer eager to minimize or deny his Islamic roots, but his old assurances to the contrary — long belied by his actions — are still being recycled in Washington, and treated as reality. This reflects the propensity of this ddministration, just like its predecessors, to cherish illusions about the nature and ambitions of our regional “allies,” such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The implicit assumption in Washington — that Turkey would remain “secular” and “pro-Western,” come what may — should have been reassessed already after the Army intervened to remove the previous pro-Islamic government in 1997. Since then the Army has been neutered, confirming the top brass old warning that “democratization” would mean Islamization. Dozens of generals and other senior ranks — traditionally the guardians of Ataturk’s legacy — are being called one by one for questioning in a government-instigated political trial. To the dismay of its small Westernized secular elite, Turkey has reasserted its Asian and Muslim character with a vengeance.

Neo-Ottomanism — Washington’s stubborn denial of Turkey’s political, cultural and social reality goes hand in hand with an ongoing Western attempt to rehabilitate the Ottoman Empire, and to present it as almost a precursor of Europe’s contemporary multiethnic, multicultural tolerance, diversity, etc, etc. In reality, four salient features of the Ottoman state were institutionalized discrimination against non-Muslims, total personal insecurity of all its subjects, an unfriendly coexistence of its many races and creeds, and the absence of unifying state ideology…

           — Hat tip: Srdja Trifkovic[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan: Silver Star Winner Reprimanded for Afghan Battle

Among Those Reprimanded Is Captain Who Won Silver Star for Repelling the Attack

Three Army officers have received letters of reprimand for failing to prepare adequate defenses for a combat outpost in Wanat, Afghanistan, where a mass Taliban attack in July 2008 resulted in the deaths of nine soldiers and 27 wounded, Defense Department officials confirmed to ABC News.

“These are essentially career-enders,” said a military official of the letters of reprimand.

Two Defense Department officials said the actions are not yet final because the review that led to the letters of reprimand is still ongoing and the three officers have a period of time to respond and request reconsideration of the disciplinary action.

Among the three officers receiving the letters of reprimand is Capt. Matthew Myer, the company commander of the unit attacked at Wanat, who was awarded the Silver Star for his brave actions in repelling the attack. The Silver Star is the military’s third highest award for bravery under fire.

However, the actions of Myer and two of his superior officers prior to the attack are what prompted the disciplinary action, namely not preparing adequate defenses for the newly built outpost that left it vulnerable to attack.

[Comments from JD: Comments to the article are interesting.]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Punjab: Christian Maid Burned Alive to Prevent Her From Reporting a Rape

Kiran George had burns on 80% of her body and died after two days of slow agony. The girl was raped by the son of her Muslim master. When she threatened a lawsuit, the young man killed her. In a second incident a Muslim mob burnt a Christian home and copies of the Bible.

Lahore (AsiaNews) — A Christian girl was raped and burnt alive by the son of a Muslim master, for whom she worked as a maid. The girl died in hospital yesterday after two days of agony, for the burns on 80% of her body. The incident occurred in a small town in Punjab and has similar details to the sad story of Shazia Bashir, the 12 year old Christian raped and murdered by a powerful lawyer in Lahore, a crime still for which he is still unpunished.

Kiran George worked for a Muslim family in Sheikhupura, a Punjab town. The girl died yesterday at the Mayo Hospital in Lahore, where she was hospitalized on 9 March in critical condition. To unleash the murderous madness of the son of the employer the threat of a complaint of sexual assault.

Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church of Pakistan (NCJP), told AsiaNews that “the house of a Christian family was set on fire” as revenge because “a young man is accused of killing a Muslim.” The Catholic activist explains that the suspect, Yasir Abid, is “subject to pre-trial detention. The victim is the son of a Muslim landowner in the village of Kirtu Pandora, in the Narang Mandi”.

Mohammad Raza Ahmda raped the Christian girl who, at first, confided only with her friends for fear of losing her jobs. Her family’s conditions of extreme poverty had led the young girl to remain silent. When Kiran George threatened her tormentor of telling her story to the police, the young man blocked her escape and closing the door, he poured gasoline all over her with the help of his sister, setting her on fire.

The Muslim master, instead of bringing the girl to the hospital, called her parents telling them that her clothes caught fire while cleaning the kitchen. Kiran George was subjected to two days of slow agony, however, before dying, she told the whole story to the police who opened an investigation file on the young man.

Also in Punjab a crowd of Muslims robbed and burned the house of a Christian family. The assault happened on 10 March in Narang Mandi, a town in the district of Sheikhupura. The extremist’s anger was triggered by the alleged involvement of a Christian in the killing of the son of a local landowner. The mob also burnt some copies of the Bible.

Christian families denounced the “deliberate burning” of some copies of the Bible kept inside the home. Police started to investigate and evaluate whether to open a file of investigation for the crime of blasphemy. In this case, says Peter Jacob, the judiciary “will not act under section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code, which provides for punishment up to life imprisonment for those who desecrate the Koran, but does not provide for the holy books of other religions”.

“We are against the blasphemy laws — concludes activist NCJP — and this applies regardless of the sacred text or who is guilty of the crime.” However, he hopes for “thorough investigations” and the punishment of those who “burned the house of the Christian family.”

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

Far East

China: Lawmaker Proposes 15 Years in Prison for Petitioning

Liu Qingning, deputy director of the Legal Affairs Committee of the Guangxi Regional People’s Congress, wants the National People’s Congress to punish petitioners with stiff sentences. Wen Jiabao instead called for better petition procedures. In the meantime, social unrest grows in the country.

Beijing (AsiaNews) — Chinese citizens who petition the government to complain about abuses by local officials, a right recognised under China’s constitution, could get up to 15 years in jail if Liu Qingning had his way. Mr Liu, who is a member of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and a deputy director of the Legal Affairs Committee of the Guangxi Regional People’s Congress, wants to put away people who “seriously disrupt the normal life and work order of local government leaders”.

If his proposal were accepted, it would turn a long-standing policy on its head. Indeed, China’s central government and President Hu Jintao have repeatedly urged ordinary citizens to blow the whistle on corrupt officials by petitioning higher authorities. A special agency has even been set up to handle such cases to avoid burdening the regular administration.

Even Premier Wen Jiabao in his opening address to the NPC said that the authorities should value petitions as a useful tool to prevent social conflict because it would allow the right authorities to act. “We will improve the handling of public complaints lodged via letters and visits,” Wen said in his report.

In his view, actions allowed under current petition rules, like demanding compensation from local government, should be criminalised if they were repeated and caused “serious consequences”. These actions include chanting slogans, unfurling banners, distributing printed or written material, staging sit-ins, blocking exits of buildings, occupying or overstaying in petition offices, suicide attempts and self-harm. A jail sentence of up to three years would be given to petitioners when they are involved in one such action, rising to seven to 15 years for “particularly serious cases”.

The proposal by Liu Qingning was slammed by internet users, lawyers and petitioners. Many wondered whether he was a representative of the people or of “corrupt officials”. Others suggested that he had the mindset of a feudal lord.

One well-known Chinese blogger, Wu Yonglin, made a counterproposal, suggesting that China’s criminal code be amended to make it a criminal offence when officials fail to do their best in handling complaints and petitions from the public.

In the meantime, social unrest and protests against local government continue across China. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences released its 2010 Rule of Law Blue Book at the end of February. In it, it said that the number of criminal and civil cases in China increased substantially in the first ten months of 2009, reaching 5.3 million and 9.9 million respectively, with the former rising by over 10 per cent and the latter by about 20 per cent.

It found that the rising crime rate and growing social unrest are directly related to the financial crisis and the vagaries of China’s economy. This year, things could get worse. In fact, the country has not yet completely recovered from the slump in spite of rising industrial output. What is more, it still has major social problems to solve, starting with the millions of unemployed migrant workers who are still out of work.

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sacked South African Sex Worker Claims Unfair Dismissal

A South African sex worker has gone to court, saying she was unfairly sacked by a Cape Town massage parlour.

Known as Kylie, she was dismissed for choosing her clients and spending time with her boyfriend who did not pay for her services, local media report.

The judge said he was not sure how a person engaged in an illegal activity could challenge her dismissal in court.

But Kylie’s lawyer said her case was about unfair dismissal, not whether selling sex should be legalised.

Several previous courts have refused to hear the case, on the basis that sex work is illegal, reports the South African Press Association.

Three judges at the Labour Appeals Court are now considering whether they can intervene.

“When dismissed you are made to stop with something criminal… but then you say: ‘Please protect me from someone who is stopping me from doing something criminal’ — it doesn’t makes sense to me,” said Judge President Raymond Zondo, Sapa reports.

Kylie has spent seven years trying to seek redress after being sacked in 2003.

She is reported to have since left the profession.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Colombia: Documentary Reveals Truth Behind FARC

Roma, 12 March (AKI) — A powerful new documentary has revealed the violent face of Colombia’s outlawed armed group FARC. Peruvian woman director Judith Velez’s 64-minute film, called ‘Liberenlos ya!’ charts FARC’s evolution from its creation in the 1960s as a Marxist guerrilla group through to its involvement in drug trafficking and kidnappings.

The documentary on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia was made together with Peruvian journalist Pablo O’Brien does not have a narrator and consist of a series of interviews with witnesses and experts.

“I wanted to achieve maxiumum objectivity, without interjections and commentaries from outsiders,” Velez told Adnkronos International (AKI).

The film has a didactic approach and pays “great attention to the topic of human rights” in delivering a two-fold message, Velez said.

“First, revolutionary armed struggle, despite its seductive appeal, especially to the desperately poor, cannot provide a solution to Latin America’s problems.”

“Second, in Europe, there’s too much romanticism surrounding revolutionary groups like the FARC, which has found support in Europe simply owing to a lack of information about the group.”

The film draws on previously unpublished documents and images, such as that of the very youthful Pedro Antonio Marin, FARC’s historic leader later known by his battle names of Manuel Marulanda or Tirofijo (sureshot) who died in 2008.

“To make this documentary, we carried out a real investigation, during which we uncovered sensational things, like the killing in Equador in March, 2008 of FARC leader Rafael Reyes,” she said.

“Apart from the historic and documentary aspect, I wanted to give ample space to FARC’s human aspect, to show the great suffering that can be caused by an ideology which disregards the social impact of its actions to achieve its political aims.”

The film contains excerpts from the pathbreaking radio programme ‘Voices of the Kidnapped’ presented by journalist Herbin Hoyos, who was himself held by FARC guerrillas for 17 days in 1994.

The film captures the anguish and heartbreak of kidnap victims’ families in footage of tearful fathers who appear on the radio programme, urging FARC to allow their children hear their voices over the airwaves.

“It took the case of Ingrid Betancourt’s kidnap to raise awareness outside Latin America of a reality that affects many people in the continent,” said Velez in a reference to Colombia’s highest profile hostage and former politican whom FARC freed in July 2008, after 6 years in captivity.

“Betancourt’s release forced us to completely alter the film,” said Velez.

She decribed how travelling to the border between Ecuador and Colombia made the film’s crew sense the nightmare that the region lives under and how they felt like foreigners at the mercy of armed groups and drugs barons in a place where anything could happen.

“The lost influence and prestige of the FARC today is due to its bloodly drift, which shows that violent political change cannot work”, added Velez, with reference to the years of Sendero Luminoso’s terrorism in her country.

‘Liberenlos ya!’ aims to show how revolutionary movements grow up and inevitably become violent.

“These movements become strong because of the enormous gap between the rich and the poor. The weakest in society are attracted to armed groups when they don’t see any other way out,” said Velez.

“If the gap between rich and poor is not reduced in the future, there is a risk that armed movements will continue to to be formed.”

Velez is already known in Italy for her film ‘Schermi d’Amore’ which won first prize at Italy’s Verona Film festival and her earlier film ‘La Prueba.

However, “Prueba” won 20 thousands euros for its distribution, but the Italian firm went bankrupt and the film was never distributed.

‘Liberenlos ya!’ has not yet won any Italian awards, and Velez was unable to present it at the Bombay film festival because she was ill.

“But I hope to have a more luck in future. We are already entering festivals in Europe or Italy.”

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


Malta Shifts Immigrant Rescue Policy as Spat With Italy Grows

Valletta, Malta — Malta will be provide would-be illegal immigrants at sea with the necessary assistance to continue on their journey to Italy from now on, the Maltese government said.

The decision signifies a marked shift in policy towards immigrants as the diplomatic row between Italy and Malta deepens, after Italian authorities turned back boat-loads of migrants to Malta on May 1.

In a strongly worded statement after a cabinet meeting Monday night, the government said the assistance it would give immigrants at sea would vary according to the nature of the case.

The government would continue taking those immigrants who were forced to abandon their boat to the nearest port, or it would assist them to continue on their way safely. Previously, there was no policy to intervene in this way, and several of theimmigrants were taken in to Malta.

The decision was prompted after Rome turned back a Maltese patrol boat with 66 rescued immigrants just 24 miles off Lampedusa last week. The would-be illegal immigrants were picked up from a dinghy by the Maltese, after the Italians said they had no rescue vessels to mount a rescue. But when the Maltese patrol boat arrived just off Italian territorial waters, it was intercepted by two Italian vessels and told not to proceed further. The immigrants were taken to Malta.

The Maltese government’s decision is expected to incense the Italian government which has itself shifted its policy on immigrants in recent weeks. Italy said that rescued immigrants cannot be taken to the islet of Lampedusa from now on because it is not considered a safe port.

Both countries say they cannot cope with the heavy influx of people fleeing Africa and have called on the EU to intervene. (dpa)

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Turkey, Greece Join EU Project to Share Illegal Migration Burden

As Turkey and Greece blame each for thousands of migrants who illegally cross into Western countries via Turkish territory every year, an EU-funded project is bringing the two neighbors together to tackle the common problem. UK official Richard Bradley says: ‘This project is a good example of how Greece can be involved in fruitful cooperation with Turkey’

While Turkish and Greek relations are in tatters over the issue of illegal immigrants seeking to reach prosperous Western countries via Turkey, a European Union-funded project is bringing the neighbors together to combat the common problem.

“The whole problem of illegal immigration is a shared problem. It is an international problem, not a question of blaming one country,” Richard Bradley, deputy director of EU strategy from the U.K. Border Agency, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview.

The U.K., a strong advocate of Turkish membership in the EU, is leading the project aimed at supporting Turkey’s capacity to combat illegal migration and establish removal centers for illegal migrants.

Bradley attended the launch of the project, which also includes the Netherlands and Greece, in Ankara last week.

Tens of thousands of migrants illegally cross into Greece from Turkey every year, with Greece accounting for almost half of the number of illegal aliens recorded in the EU in 2008.

Acting upon pressure from Greece, a 2009 EU summit declaration held Turkey responsible for the problem, which drew ire from the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The ministry said Turkey was not an outsider county, but a negotiating country and that the burden must be shared.

“We encourage Greece and Turkey to cooperate on these matters. This project is a good example of how Greece can be involved in fruitful cooperation with Turkey on this shared problem,” said Bradley, adding that Turkey is located in a strategic position surrounded by eight countries and, as such, is a favored route for migrants trying to reach EU territory.

“It is not a question of blaming Turkey [but rather] a question of supporting Turkey in its efforts to combat this problem, which is not only a problem of the EU but also problem for Turkey itself,” said Bradley, adding that Turkey was not only a transit country but also increasingly a destination country for immigrants, like the U.K.

“Therefore, Turkey can also be a part of the solution because the more effective the efforts made by Turkey to intercept and return illegal immigrants, the less illegal immigrants will choose to travel via Turkey. It has a deterring effect,” he said.

Turkey is involved in 27 projects with the EU, more than half of which concern immigration. The U.K.-led project, which costs roughly 1.2 million euros, will help Turkey access EU expertise to effectively handle the problem. With the project, two new removal centers will be established to house 750 illegal immigrants each in accordance with the EU standards.

The U.K. currently operates 11 removal centers that can hold over 3,000 detainees at any one time. Although some are run by private companies, the centers are subject to rules and operating standards set by the government, including requirements to implement strategies to protect detainees from anti-social behavior, bullying, self-harm and drugs.

Turkey urged to abolish barrier

Meanwhile, another EU-funded project headed by the UK and the Netherlands that was recently launched in Ankara will target asylum-seekers and refugees.

Turkey is under EU pressure to abolish a geographical limitation law that restricts non-European refugees to only applying for a temporary status as asylum-seekers.

“We encourage Turkey to change the law concerning geographical limitation. Of course, I cannot answer the question when it will change but we know that it will be made before Turkey joins the EU because it is part of the conditions of the EU to remove this geographical limitation,” said Bradley.

Under the project, reception centers will be set up for refugees in six cities, including Gaziantep, Erzurum, Van, Istanbul, Ä°zmir and Ankara. It will provide training and advise Turkey on how to process asylum claims in accordance with EU standards.

“The question is whether they [asylum-seekers] are making a well-founded claim or not. Even if Turkey has a geographical limitation, it can still decide whether the claim is well-founded,” said Bradley.

In the U.K. model, asylum-seekers and their dependants are supported by the government. The country welcomes genuine asylum-seekers and operates a fast and fair process. By modernizing its system and improving the speed of decision-making, the U.K. has reduced the number of asylum claims during recent years, Bradley said.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Banished! City Forbids Bible Studies in Homes

‘This letter will serve as a 10-day written notice to quit such use’

The city of Gilbert, Ariz., has ordered a group of seven adults to stop gathering for Bible studies in a private home because such meetings are forbidden by the city’s zoning codes.

The issue was brought to a head when city officials wrote a letter to a pastor and his wife informing them they had 10 days to quit having the meetings in their private home.

The ban, however, prompted a response from the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed an appeal with the city as the first step in its campaign to overturn a provision it describes as illegal.

“The interpretation and enforcement of the town’s code is clearly unconstitutional, “ said Daniel Blomberg, a member of the litigation team for ADF. “It bans 200,000 Gilbert residents from meeting in their private homes for organized religious purposes — an activity encouraged in the Bible, practiced for thousands of years, and protected by the First Amendment.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

New York Times Pays Execs Extra to Hire Minorities and Women Instead of White Guys

Another fun fact from the New York Times’s proxy: Senior executives can get an extra bonus for hiring minorities and women instead of white guys.

Don’t believe it?

Let’s go to the text:

The [Compensation] Committee also retained the discretion to increase or decrease the individual component of the total bonus paid to each executive by up to 10% based on the continuing development of a diverse work force, including the inclusion of diverse candidates in hiring processes and the demonstration of personal commitment to diversity through participation in diversity-related activities, such as mentoring and sponsorship of affinity groups.

And how did NYTCO’s senior management do on this category of potential bonus for this year?

  • Chairman Arthur Sulzberger didn’t get any extra
  • Neither did CEO Janet Robinson
  • But Michael Golden, CEO of NYTCo’s “regional media group” got an extra 5%.

So, what did Michael do for this money, exactly?

(By the way, is this really legal?)

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Stupak: Dems Told Me They Want to Fund Abortions Because More Kids Mean Higher Health-Care Costs

I don’t quite believe it, although that’s partly because I don’t want to believe it. It’s the abortion equivalent of death panels, essentially. It’s so sinister, and so perfectly matches the most ogrish caricatures of the pro-choice left, that it’s almost too bad to check. It’d be like Ron Paul claiming that pro-war Republicans told him to vote for Iraq because they were dying to get their hands on all that oil. They simply can’t be this cold-blooded.

Well, actually … sure they can. But would they cop to it?

Sitting in an airport, on his way home to Michigan, Rep. Bart Stupak, a pro-life Democrat, is chagrined. “They’re ignoring me,” he says, in a phone interview with National Review Online. “That’s their strategy now. The House Democratic leaders think they have the votes to pass the Senate’s health-care bill without us. At this point, there is no doubt that they’ve been able to peel off one or two of my twelve. And even if they don’t have the votes, it’s been made clear to us that they won’t insert our language on the abortion issue.”…

What are Democratic leaders saying? “If you pass the Stupak amendment, more children will be born, and therefore it will cost us millions more. That’s one of the arguments I’ve been hearing,” Stupak says. “Money is their hang-up. Is this how we now value life in America? If money is the issue — come on, we can find room in the budget. This is life we’re talking about.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change

AUSTIN, Tex. — After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.

The vote was 10 to 5 along party lines, with all the Republicans on the board voting for it.

The board, whose members are elected, has influence beyond Texas because the state is one of the largest buyers of textbooks. In the digital age, however, that influence has diminished as technological advances have made it possible for publishers to tailor books to individual states.

In recent years, board members have been locked in an ideological battle between a bloc of conservatives who question Darwin’s theory of evolution and believe the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles, and a handful of Democrats and moderate Republicans who have fought to preserve the teaching of Darwinism and the separation of church and state.

Since January, Republicans on the board have passed more than 100 amendments to the 120-page curriculum standards affecting history, sociology and economics courses from elementary to high school. The standards were proposed by a panel of teachers.

“We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]


The Problems of Neopaganism

Alternative Right—being the magazine of “radical traditionalism” that it is—carries with it tendencies that are inherently reactionary and backward-looking. And with good reason! The modern world has been marked primarily by cultural decay, uprootedness, and the elevation of the worst aspects of humanity. The answers to most of man’s problems may indeed be found in the classical reactionary and anti-revolutionary works of the West.

So if we adopt the term “reactionary” without fear, as Evola recommends, we need to have some sort of idea what we are looking back towards. And because many answers are to be found in pre and post Christian Europe, it seems tempting to extend this impulse to pre and post Christian spirituality, represented most prominently by Neopaganism.

Neopaganism is a hard term to define properly, mainly because it has come to include so many different belief systems. Often associated with ethnocentric and neotribal movements, neopagan faiths include Wicca, Germanic and Slavic Paganism, Norse mythological practices, and modern interpretations of Druidism. And even further beyond that, many of Nietzsche’s modern disciples with a passion for German antiquity count themselves in the ranks of the neopagans.

The first and most important problem with Neopaganism is that, to put it simply, it is wrong. Whatever may be said about the dangers of egalitarian and universalist Christianity, that the Church was built as a repository of truth with the distinct purpose of spreading that truth and, through that truth, saving men’s souls, is beyond question. Neopaganism is built around an impulse that runs contrary to the truth… and this impulse is recognized by a vast majority of neopagans. Men that concern themselves with philosophy and ascetics in public find themselves slaughtering goats in the name of Thor in private when they know that the practice is utter nonsense. It is all well and good to desire a connection with your barbaric ancestors; it is quite another thing to bring your silly hobby into the realm of philosophy and politics.

Which brings me to my second point: nearly every aspect of the western world worth saving is a product of Christianity, not Paganism. Even the distinctly non-Christian things are Christian in origin. While Christianity absorbed most of the worthwhile aspects of pagan society and made them its own, Christianity has left its fingerprints on every aspect of the West. A rejection of Christianity in favor of a false pagan faith would be antithetical to the defense of the West. As G.K. Chesterton wrote:

“The French Revolution is of Christian origin. The newspaper is of Christian origin. The anarchists are of Christian origin. Physical science is of Christian origin. The attack on Christianity is of Christian origin. There is one thing, and one thing only, in existence at the present day which can in any sense accurately be said to be of pagan origin, and that is Christianity.”

Neopaganism also presupposes that the West can be saved without the Church. This is impossible, mainly because throughout history the West was the Church. It was Christianity’s hammer, Charles Martel, that beat back the invading Muslims and saved the West, not Thor’s hammer. It was Richard I, not Fenrir, who beat back Saladin and was steps from retaking Jerusalem. It was the Catholic Inquisition, not Idunn, that expelled the Muslims from Sicily and Spain.

Some readers may wonder why it is even necessary to address this small and seemingly-irrelevant strain of pre-modern faith. For one, it is a major undercurrent on the far-right and has yet to have been adequately refuted, either by myself in this piece or by others in an appropriately lengthy format. It also deals with issues of great importance. Spirituality and mysticism edify politics and philosophy. It informs the believer of the many truths unreachable by the faulty logic of the individual. It is an essential element of the human condition.

The impulse that has led many otherwise-intelligent writers to embrace neopagan ritual is also leading many young Catholics to the medieval origins of their faith. The Latin Mass movement, led by righteous anti-Vatican II crusaders, is growing rapidly, and coupled with the growing right-wing ethnic and cultural movements in Europe it could mean an end of the social destruction of Europe.

Requisite reading for any discussion of Germanic paganism and medieval Christianity is James C. Russell’s The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity. Russell describes how Medieval Christendom adopted many of the admirable traits of the German barbarians and grew to the height of its power in part because of these traits. Christianity’s early troubles, described by Sam Francis as “world-rejecting” are similar to those plaguing modern Christianity: mass-egalitarianism, universalism, and advocacy of the destruction of much of the social and cultural fabric of the West. The traits of medieval Christendom are the traits that will save the West: social hierarchy, loyalty to blood and soil, and the elevation of nobility and heroism.

But imagining the 21st century battle for the West led by neopagans rather than the Church is like imagining the delightful hierarchical authoritarianism of de Maistre as inspired by the Wiccan Moon Goddess instead of the glorification of God’s providence. It is impossible, unthinkable.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]