Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100404

Financial Crisis
»USA: What Do the New Unemployment Numbers Mean?
»Constitution Denied
»Did You Feel That Hit in Your Wallet?
»Maxine Waters and Charley Rangel Trash the Tea Party
»Obama’s 17-Minute, 2,500-Word Response to Woman’s Claim of Being ‘Over-Taxed’
»Savage Caller: Hutaree Member Planned to Run for Office, Member of Campaign for Liberty
»Utah State Stands Up to the Federal Government
Europe and the EU
»“Here in Italy, People Have Accepted That Politics Has No Direction, No Ideas, No Concepts”
»Austria: Majority Says Pope Should Resign
»Belgium: “Child Abuse Was Too Low a Priority”
»Can the Pope be Forced to Step Down?
»Czech Republic: Banning Extremist Parties
»France: Disney Resort Hit by Staff Suicides
»Islam ‘More Empowering’ For Women Than Catholicism, Spanish Convert Says
»Italy: ‘Berlusconi’s Only Political Project is Himself’
»Italy’s Woman Rabbi Barbara Aiello: Still Jewish After All These Years
»Senegal ‘Takes Back French Bases’
»Sweden: Car Park Murder Suspect Denies Allegations
»Sweden: Suspect Arrested Over Car Park Murder
»Sweden: Anti-Violence Demos Planned in Landskrona
»Switzerland: Breastfeeding is a Renewed Attempt to Rid Women of Their Rights
»Switzerland: Mosque Opens Near Bern Minus a Spire
»UK: Revealed: US Firm Issues British Visas… And MPs Were Not Told
»UK: Teenage Afghan Asylum Seekers ‘In Pool Sex Attack on Girl of 13’
»Vatican: Cardinal Scola Speaks of Anti-Pope Campaign
»Croatia Expects More Russian Tourists This Summer
»Montenegrin Tourist Boats Barred From Croatian Sea Despite Agreement
Israel and the Palestinians
»Gaza Youth Returns Home Alive
»Palestinian PM Fayyad: Next Year We Will Celebrate in Church of Holy Sepulchre in Our Capital Jerusalem
»Why Do So Many Diaspora Jews Want to Join the IDF?
Middle East
»And the Fascism Award Goes To…
»Father Keeps Daughter in Saudi Arabia Against Her Will…
»Iran: Despite Obama’s Sanctions, Ahmadinejad Can Keep Smiling
»Iran: ‘2 New Nuclear Sites This Year’
»The Weatherman and the Wind
»Turkish Woman Transforms From Farm Laborer to Successful Businesswoman
South Asia
»Afghanistan: It’s War, Says Guttenberg
»German Troops Being Let Down, Former Army Chief Says
»Malaysian-Indian Teacher to File Contempt of Court Case Against Muslim Husband
Far East
»US Delays Report on China Ahead of Iran Sanctions Talks
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Firebrand Youth Leader of the ANC Receives a Hero’s Welcome in Zimbabwe
»Obama’s Amnesty Will Undermine American Workers
»Revealed: US Firm Issues British Visas… And MPs Were Not Told
Culture Wars
»House Plans to Resurrect Law Requiring ‘Gay’ Hires
»Memoir Sheds Light on the Life and Struggles of Arab Transsexual From Algeria
»Our Nice, Furry Archbishop… Lost in a Barbarous World
»Turkey’s Gays, Transsexuals Decry Homophobia

Financial Crisis

USA: What Do the New Unemployment Numbers Mean?

What do the new BLS numbers — 162,000 nonfarm jobs added in March — mean?

Barry Ritholtz provides a very useful summary:

Let’s break down the highlights into the good and bad:


  • Average Hourly Earnings of all employees NFP fell by 2 cents, or 0.1%.
  • Unemployment rate is unchanged at 9.7% (no improvement this month)
  • U6 Unemployment, the broadest measure, rose to 16.9% —that’s off of the December 2009 peak of 17.3, but higher than January (16.5%) and February (16.8%) of 2010.
  • Long-term unemployed (jobless for 27 weeks+) increased by 414,000 to 6.5 million. (bad)
  • 44.1 percent of unemployed persons were jobless for 27 weeks +. (Also very bad)
  • Involuntary part-time workers increased to 9.1 million in March. (This remains a stubborn problem area)


  • +162k is the best report since March, 2007.
  • Average workweek was up by 0.1 hour to 34.0 hours in March.
  • Temp help services added 40,000 jobs in March. That’s a cumulative add of 313k since September 2009.
  • Census added “only” 48,000 workers — far below the 100-150k consensus. This pushes their hiring out into the rest of the year.
  • Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate at 64.9% edged up in March
  • Manufacturing continued to trend up (+17,000); Mfr added 45,000 jobs in Q1.
  • Revisions: January 2010 data was revised upwards 40k (from-26k to +14k); February was revised up 22k (from -36k to -14k).

Stone-McCarthy points out that — if we subtract the temporary hiring of census workers, better weather and birth-death model adjustments — we’re left with a netloss of 67,000 jobs.

Indeed, Goldman Sachs attributes the job gain as “due mainly if not entirely to census hiring and weather rebound”, finds “little underlying improvement”, and says that “productivity gains have diminished sharply”.

Mish gives a detailed analysis on the jobs report, concluding:

The official unemployment rate is 9.7%. However, if you start counting all the people that want a job but gave up, all the people with part-time jobs that want a full-time job, all the people who dropped off the unemployment rolls because their unemployment benefits ran out, etc., you get a closer picture of what the unemployment rate is. That number is in the last row labeled U-6.

It reflects how unemployment feels to the average Joe on the street. U-6 is 16.9%.

[Return to headlines]


Constitution Denied

After submitting that article I came across an interview between Judge Napolitano and Congressman James Clyburn, the 3rd highest democrat in the House of Representatives, in which Congressman Clyburn when asked about the constitutionality of healthcare stated that most of what they do in Congress is not authorized by the Constitution and when pressed further he countered the question by asking where in the Constitution congress is prohibited to legislate healthcare.

It is interesting that once the idea that lawyers could get laws passed by using Justice Marshalls “not prohibited” they have decided that they are no long bound by the Constitution but only by their imaginations and the spin they can put on their agendas to make them palatable to the American public. After all they still want to get reelected so they have to make it sound like they are legally doing what they are doing so why not tie it to a Supreme Court case.

I find it amazing that a high ranking political official could make the bold statement that the majority of the work of Congress is not authorized by the Constitution and not one mention on main stream media; but let one unpopular vote on American Idol or Dancing with the Stars and it is splashed over very tabloid and television screen.

But it does answer one question that many may have had as to why Speaker Nancy Pelosi would laugh and croak “are you serious” when asked what part of the Constitution gave Congress the power to enact this legislation — and as Representative Clyburn revealed they don’t care about the Constitution because it is no longer relevant in their work.


The America of our forefathers, the ideals of liberty established in a republic protected by a constitution and government, does not exist today. The greatest danger we face to American freedom today is not terrorism, it is not Russia’s or China’s long-range nuclear missiles, or even the flood of illegal aliens across our borders; it is our own civic apathy and cowardice toward government domination. Much of this apathy has been brought about by conditioning in our youth due to the lack of proper instruction by parents, schools and community leaders. But the cost of this apathy is possibly the future existence of this nation, our freedom and way of life, and possibly the enslavement of the entire planet.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Did You Feel That Hit in Your Wallet?

Analysis says ‘Obamacare’ tab $2.5 trillion, not measly $940 billion in CBO guess

A new analysis of “Obamacare,” as President Obama’s plan effectively nationalizing health care has been dubbed, concludes the law will hit American households for more than $17 billion a year with just one of its “disasters,” and the real overall cost likely will be $2.5 trillion, nearly triple the $940 billion estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.

According to the Heritage Foundation, the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, a single $17 billion-plus hit on American’s wallets will come from a tax increase on anyone with investment income, the result of dollars being invested in creating new products, services and jobs.

Heritage Foundation analysts Karen Campbell and Guinevere Nell found the tax, at Obama’s proposed rate of 2.9 percent, would reduce household disposable income by $17.3 billion a year, the analysis said.

The rate included in the new law is 3.8 percent, so “the actual effects are likely to be even more dramatic,” the report warned.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Maxine Waters and Charley Rangel Trash the Tea Party

So, I am on the Tea Party Express bus traveling to our next rally in Omaha, NE when the faces of black democrats Maxine Waters and Charley Rangel appear on TV on the Fox News channel. Both were saying racism was at the core of the Tea Party protester’s disagreement with Obama. Please excuse my crudeness, but I wanted to puke.

These two race exploiters are calling the Tea Party protesters racist. Meanwhile, I am a black performer/activist traveling on my third national Tea Party Express tour. We just finished our rally in North Platte, NE. Two white families asked me to hold their new born babies and pose for pictures. Excited white grandparents who are fans of my articles and music asked me to pose for pictures with them and their grand kids. Numerous white patriots shook my hand with tears in their eyes thanked me for what I was doing for our country. A white woman who said she was 86 years old gave me a big hug in thanks for my efforts.

Polatik, our young Hispanic conservative rapper, got his usual huge positive response from the mostly older white crowd. These are the decent hard working great Americans, Waters, Rangel and the left continuously attempt to portray as racist.

Waters and Rangel are disgusting people willing to shamefully play the race card whenever it serves their purpose. And their purpose is to ram as much of Obama’s far left radical government take over of our lives down our throats as possible without opposition. These arrogant elitists believe they know what is best for our lives. They believe in “social justice” which means taking from achievers and redistributing to non achievers; totally un-American and an anathema to the nurturing of the humanspirit. Waters and Rangel are both poster kids for why we must vote out characterless politicians who freely exploit race, class envy or whatever to divide Americans and further their anti-America agenda.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama’s 17-Minute, 2,500-Word Response to Woman’s Claim of Being ‘Over-Taxed’

Toward the end of a question-and-answer session with workers at an advanced battery technology manufacturer, a woman named Doris stood to ask the president whether it was a “wise decision to add more taxes to us with the health care” package.

“We are over-taxed as it is,” Doris said bluntly.

Obama started out feisty. “Well, let’s talk about that, because this is an area where there’s been just a whole lot of misinformation, and I’m going to have to work hard over the next several months to clean up a lot of the misapprehensions that people have,” the president said.

He then spent the next 17 minutes and 12 seconds lulling the crowd into a daze. His discursive answer — more than 2,500 words long — wandered from topic to topic, including commentary on the deficit, pay-as-you-go rules passed by Congress, Congressional Budget Office reports on Medicare waste, COBRA coverage, the Recovery Act and Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (he referred to this last item by its inside-the-Beltway name, “F-Map”).

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Savage Caller: Hutaree Member Planned to Run for Office, Member of Campaign for Liberty

Caller to Michael Savage show claims to know Michael Meeks, one of the accused Hutaree group in Michigan. Meeks is not a terrorist, he insists, and planned to run for political office and was a member of Campaign for Liberty. If true, the revelation puts a different spin on the case than the one pushed by the FBI and corporate media. The whole case appears to be a government frame-up from top to bottom.

“A search of Hutaree militia member Michael Meeks’ residence turned up a cache of bullets and weapons, an extensive food supply and a a small plaque with barbed wire and the words ‘Remember Waco,’ prosecutors said in federal court” on April 1, according to

In other words, Meeks was a patriot who practiced his Second Amendment right and was upset over the government slaughter of innocents at Waco. Apparently, this sort of behavior is a criminal offense, according to the government.

[Return to headlines]

Utah State Stands Up to the Federal Government

I was elated to find Wednesdays news (03-31-2010) filled with revelations about Utah’s Governor signing a bill to use eminent domain as a tool to reclaim State lands inhabited unconstitutionally by the Federal Government.

Had it happened today, April fools day, I would have thought it was a joke.

My initial reaction was to throw up my hands and holler a few Amen’s.

But then I started researching the fuzzy logic used by the Governor of Utah and others to reason out the facts and I came away only 1/2 inspired.

While on the surface I am 100% in favor of States reclaiming Federal lands in the west. My motives are more pure that Governor Herbert’s are, or so it seems.

I am opposed to the Federal control of masses of western lands because the constitution clearly limits federal powers.

And in article 1 is very clear that the Feds can only own 10 miles square the District of Columbia and a few lands for “Forts” and Postal stations etc.

Nowhere is the Federal government granted the right to own any excess of land, certainly not the entire Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

I am even more bothered by the Governor of Utah’s further assessment that the lands should be sold or utilized for funding public schools.

I don’t know what planet the Governor lives on or more appropriately, hopes to rule one day, but I assure you the public schools aren’t lacking money.

The average classroom in America today costs the taxpayers over $350,000 per/classroom per/year. But, the bean counters can only legitimately account for a fraction of that money; about $80,000.00.

Nobody seems able to explain where the other $270,000.00 goes?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

“Here in Italy, People Have Accepted That Politics Has No Direction, No Ideas, No Concepts”

Le Monde 27.03.2010 (France)

After the regional elections in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi is celebrating some unexpected successes — in Southern Italy for example (more here). So was journalist Roberto Saviano right last week, when he called for international monitoring of the elections, particularly in Mafia-controlled areas. In Calabria alone, judicial inquiries have been set up against 35 of the 50 local politicians, some of whom already have criminal records. Saviano, who has been living under police protection since the publication of his book on the Camorra, issues a damning indictment of Italian politics: “Here in Italy, people have accepted that politics has no direction, no ideas, no concepts. Which is why the people expect and are demanding better. Politics no longer has any credibility. It is nothing but an empty shell, which can be filled with words and perhaps not even that. And so we have reached a point where it is no long possible even to use politics. If that is the case, then the Mafia has already won. Because now one can offer more security than the Mafia: the security of a job, an income, an apartment.”

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

Austria: Majority Says Pope Should Resign

A vast majority of Austrians think the Pope should step down were there a rule that enabled him to do so.

Vienna-based public opinion research agency Karmasin found that 57 per cent of Austrians are of the opinion Pope Benedict XVI should resign amid sex abuse incidents at Catholic institutions across Europe.

Only 34 per cent of the 750 Austrians the institute spoke to for its survey said the Pope should stay put given the chance to resign.

These results — published in today’s (Fri) edition of political magazine profil — come just weeks after a poll revealed around one million of Austria’s 5.6 million Catholics were seriously considering leaving the Church.

The Integral study from last month also showed that 69 per cent thought the Church was lacking in credibility in its dealing with the increasing number of sexual and violent abuse revelations.

More than 53,000 people left the Catholic Church in Austria in 2009, and local figures for the first three months of this year hint that last year’s record number could be exceeded.

Austrian media reported earlier this week the Catholic Church was already negotiating ways on how to cut costs over the expected decreasing amount of membership fees.

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

Belgium: “Child Abuse Was Too Low a Priority”

Sun 04/04/2010 — 11:16 Speaking on the occasion of the Christian feast of Easter the controversial leader of Belgium’s Roman Catholics has said that the Church had repeatedly failed to respect the dignity of children. Mgr. André-Joseph Léonard was speaking after a string of revelations about the failure of the Roman Catholic clergy to act against child abuse across the world.

The archbishop told his congregation that if the unborn child had a right to life, there should also be respect for the dignity of children. He added: “The Church has repeatedly failed in this respect. By guiltily remaining silent the Church preferred to think of its reputation and the good name of some church leaders than to think of children who were being abused.”

André-Joseph Léonard also had a hopeful message: “The belief in eternity of which the Resurrection at Easter is a corner stone should lead to a change in mentality.”

The Belgian primate, who earlier likened homosexuality to a disease, called on the faithful to show understanding for the slow pace at which the church works.

It’s twenty years since Belgium became one of the last countries in Western Europe to legislate in favour of abortion. Last week the archbishop joined a demonstration against abortion. During his Easter address André-Joseph Léonard said: “Every year 50 million developing human beings are aborted in the womb.”

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

Can the Pope be Forced to Step Down?

A series of paedophilia scandals have left the Catholic Church reeling and prompted calls for the removal of Pope Benedict XVI. But do ecclesiastical rules even allow this? takes a closer look.


With the Catholic Church reeling from a series of paedophilia scandals, some protesters have called for the removal of Pope Benedict XVI. But do ecclesiastical rules even allow this?

What does Canon law say?

According to Canon law, the Pope “possesses, by virtue of his office, ordinary, supreme, total, immediate, and universal power that he can always exert freely” (Canon 333).

It is specified in Canon 1404 that “The first See is judged by no one”, and that if this rule is violated, “the acts and decisions are invalid”. Canon law therefore does not provide the possibility of unseating the pope.

It does not mention the possibility of the Pope stepping down, either. As religion historian Odon Vallet explains, “The Pope is elected by cardinals, in what is seen as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. So it is not appropriate for him to choose to step down”.

What happens if he is gravely ill?

If a serious illness prevents the Pope from carrying out his functions, it is expected that he can give up his duty. This option was, for example, considered shortly before the end of Jean Paul II’s pontificate, as he had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease since the 1990s.

Article 332 of Canon law says that “it is required for validity that the resignation be freely made and properly manifested”, in order to ensure that it is not the result of any type of pressure. In the past, European leaders often tried to wield such pressure; Emperor Napoleon I, for example, kept Pope Pius VII prisoner for two years in the Château de Fontainebleau.

Has a Pope ever stepped down?

In more than 2,000 years, only two popes have given up their functions. In 1294, Celestine V gave up his duty because he did not feel up to it. It was said that he had been influenced by his successor, Boniface VIII. Gregory XII renounced his claim to the papacy in 1415 to put an end to the Western Schism, at the Constance Council* that he himself called. His resignation was pronounced by a proxy.

And what about the dogma of papal infallibility?

The notion most commonly spread is that one cannot criticise the Pope, who is infallible. The First Vatican Council in 1870 adopted this dogma to better establish the Church’s authority and to guarantee the Church’s unity.

Papal infallibility also affirms the Holy Father’s superiority over the Council. However, infallibility only applies to the religious doctrines articulated by the Pope, and not to his opinions or the positions he takes on various issues. Since 1870, papal infallibility has only been applied once, in 1950, when Pope Pius XII adopted the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary.

What could happen if the people called for the Pope to step down?

“Given the Catholic Church’s conflict-ridden history, it seems that if a Council pushed the Pope to give up his position, he could be obliged to do so”, historian Odon Vallet said, referring to the case of Gregory XII cited above.

However, since any Council must be called by the pontiff and he must ratify all decisions made at the Council, there is not much room for that to happen.

On the other hand, given that the Pope is not obliged to justify his stepping down, he could choose to do so for reasons other than illness — for example if he feels that his authority or legitimacy are too contested for him to carry out the duties expected of the head of the Catholic Church.

*In the Roman Catholic Church, the word “council” designates a meeting of bishops called to Rome by the pope. The pope arranges a Council when a reform is necessary and especially when important decisions must be made. The First Vatican Council, for example, defined papal infallibility. The main change to emerge from the Second Vatican Council was the revision of the liturgy.

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

Czech Republic: Banning Extremist Parties

Czech Roma, as well as other democratically-oriented citizens, eagerly awaited the outcome of the Czech government’s effort to outlaw and dissolve the extremist Workers’ Party or Dìlnická strana (DS). The Party had tried to gain political power through parliamentary elections. It gained notoriety through violent marches and attacks in 2008 and 2009.

According to the long awaited verdict of the Supreme Administrative Court from the 17th of February this year, the Workers’ Party professed xenophobia, chauvinism, racism and national socialist ideology modeled on that of Adolf Hitler’s ideology. Workers’ Party thus used violence and wanted to knock over the present constitutional order of the country. The court agreed with the government that the party should be banned and dissolved.

This is the first ban of a political party’s activity because of its ideology in the modern Czech state.

The verdict brought a relief to the Roma people of in the Czech Republic. But not only to them as the Czech Republic is home to many foreigners of different nationalities and skin colours who experienced racist attacks.

However, a struggle for democracy in the Czech Republic has not yet ended. Voices have not quieted down even after the Workers’ Party was banned. The government hopes to win this battle despite the fact that the DS plans to file an appeal to the Constitutional Court. If the Constitutional Court does not come up with a final decision until the parliamentary elections (schedule for May this year), the DS will be able to continue its activity even though the Supreme Administrative Court’s verdict about banning the party already came into effect.

But the appeal brings risks to the DS as well. If the Constitutional Court manages to answer before the parliamentary elections, then to endorse or promote the party becomes a criminal offence. Yet, there still is a chance that the Constitutional Court’s reply will come late and in this case the Supreme Administrative Court’s verdict will be frozen. That would mean that the Worker’s Party could still become part of the election process and a threat to the democratic order of the state once again. Then many people would rightly fear to go out in the streets. They certainly did not expect this from EU accession. On the contrary, what they expected was protection and safety. Nevertheless, they believe that the Constitutional Court will proceed promptly to rule on this issue, taking into consideration how little time is left before elections.

In any case, this is the first great victory in a battle against extremism. As Josef Baxa, the chairman of the Supreme Administrative Court stated for the media, it is important to abolish activity of extremist groups but it is also necessary to solve causes of these problems. Otherwise these groups will spread through the society like a mould.

It is no secret that the DS will continue its activity through other organizations of similar nature. The DS proudly announced to the media that its membership opted for a mass transfer to Dìlnická strana sociální spravedlnosti or Workers’ Party of Social Justice and take part in upcoming elections under its lead. They announced this with a smile on their faces. Still, they have a right to gather as other citizens of the democratic society. This party could be banned too, but legally that could be a more difficult matter. Unfortunately, it looks like extremists are protected more by the law than a decent citizen.

I think we are not prepared to solve these kinds of issues yet, even though so many years have passed since the Second World War. Are we sleeping on the success of our predecessors? Should the democratic society handle extremists like a fragile glass? When will we stop tolerating their offences?

Still, the Supreme Administrative Court’s decision is a little light in the darkness for the Roma. They believe this is the beginning of an end to extremism in the Czech Republic. Will the Roma in Slovakia celebrate the same victory?

For more information, visit…

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

France: Disney Resort Hit by Staff Suicides

Staff at Disneyland Paris, the most popular tourist attraction in Europe, are considering industrial action to improve their working conditions after the suicides of three employees since the start of the year.

Guy-Bruno Mboe, leader of a Disneyland union, has blamed the latest two deaths on “brutal” working conditions. “It’s all about profit, profit, profit,” said Mboe. “The combination of fewer staff and demands for more productivity just pushed this poor man over the edge.”

The directors of the resort denied that the suicide of an employee in his home on March 26 had anything to do with his working conditions. They complained of a union attempt to exploit the tragedy.

Another Disneyland restaurant worker had thrown himself in front of a train five weeks earlier. At the beginning of February an employee had committed suicide for what the company called “personal reasons”. After being sacked, another worker recently threatened to kill himself in the theme park.

The company has said that it will investigate the “possible factors of stress or harassment”.

[Return to headlines]

Islam ‘More Empowering’ For Women Than Catholicism, Spanish Convert Says

Christianity restricts the rights of women, says a Spanish convert, who claims Islam is empowering women more. Laura Rodriguez, the President of Union of Muslim Women, focusses mostly on the rights of immigrant women in Spain.

Women have more rights in Islam than in Catholicism, a Spanish Muslim convert told a group of visiting Turkish journalists last week.

Born a Catholic and educated in Catholic schools, Laura Rodriguez converted to Islam and now represents Spanish Muslim women. She believes that Catholicism restricts women’s rights.

“Islam gave me the rights not given by Catholicism, like individual liberty, legal rights, the right to education, the right to employment and the right to sexuality,” said Rodriguez, the president of the Muslim Women’s Union in Spain.

“Women cannot communicate directly with God in the Catholic religion. They have no rights to sexuality. Their mission is to give birth to children,” she added. “[Catholic] women have no right to divorce. Birth control is forbidden by Catholicism.”

Until recently, Spanish women needed the official consent of their husbands to open a bank account, noted Yusuf Fernandez Ordonez, the secretary of the Muslim Federation of Spain, or FEME, of which Rodriguez’s organization is an affiliate.

When asked why women are more educated, more empowered and more present in public and private life in Christian countries compared to Muslim ones, Rodriguez said Europe cannot be evaluated from a Christian perspective since individual citizens may be Christian, but the church has lost its power to influence society.

Ordonez added that women acquired their rights after Christian European countries became secular following the French Revolution. “As for Islam, most of the countries are not reflecting the real Islam,” he said. “In Iran, for example, there are an equal number of men and women in universities.”

Though she says she has more rights as a Muslim, Rodriguez said there is still work to be done to improve conditions for Muslim women, especially migrants, in Spain. She has worked on migration issues for the past 17 years and says female migrants face more difficulties compared to their male counterparts.

Ordonez said he appreciates the approach Spain’s current government, led by Jose Luiz Zapatero of the Socialist Workers’ Party, has taken in regard to Muslims. “[Zapatero] is the first prime minister to officially receive representatives of the Muslim community,” he said. “He is also the first to provide financial support to Muslims.”

But Rodriguez expressed less optimism when it comes to the position of Muslim women.

“The government has not made any progress as far as improving the rights of Muslim women,” she said. “The laws on equality do not include religious issues. There are no female representatives in the Islamic Council who are in dialogue with the government.”

Rodriguez added that there are still mosques in Spain that do not allow women to enter, a problem she said has been ignored by the government.

Prejudice against Islam

In addition, Rodriguez said, the Spanish media not only talks about Islam with negative connotations, it also portrays a prejudicial image of Muslim men and women, showing males as violent and dominant and females as submissive and victimized.

“We organized a Muslim fair in Spain. The press has shown little attention. If we had said we were going to stone a woman in the middle of Madrid, all the press members would have shown up,” she said.

In Spain, Rodriguez added, Islam is identified not only with extremism and terrorism, but also with immigration. She said that it should be seen as part of the European identity instead.

“This is a problem of identity. We are born Europeans but are Muslims. Islam is also part of the European identity,” she said.

According to Ordonez, migrant Muslims in Spain are fairly well integrated into society, noting as an example of this that the majority of Muslims in Spain supports the monarchy.

Both Ordonez and Rodriguez emphasized the social dimension of the problems faced by Muslims in Spain, which they say are aggravated by prejudice. “We are a group that is secular and not extremist,” Rodriguez said. “Yet if I try to enter a political party, I will be refused due to my headscarf.”

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

Italy: ‘Berlusconi’s Only Political Project is Himself’

Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right coalition emerged victorious after regional elections in Italy this week. However, most German papers argue that this success has less to do with the prime minister himself than it does with the increasing strength of his ally, the anti-immigrant Northern League.

Many on the Italian left may have hoped that the economic crisis — coupled with the many distractions in Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi ‘s life, including sex scandals and an ugly public spat with his wife — would see them making significant gains in regional elections this week. If so, they were sorely disappointed.

Instead, Berlusconi’s center-right People of Freedom Party (PDL) and his coalition partner, the anti-immigrant Northern League, actually wrested control of four regions away from the opposition and held onto two other contested regions. Italy’s fragmented left now only controls seven regional governments and was largely driven out of the wealthy north.

Berlusconi’s decision to hit the campaign trail and mobilize his supporters seemed to pay off to some extent as 13 of Italy’s 20 regions went to the polls on Sunday and Monday. In particular, the prime minister will relish taking the Lazio region, which includes the capital, Rome. Nevertheless, the 73-year-old Berlusconi’s triumphalism may be premature. His party’s share of the vote was down almost 11 points, to 26.7 percent, compared to the 2008 national election. The coalition’s success was largely a result of low voter turnout, which saw 35 percent of Italians not voting for any party. Indeed, there was no major switch to the opposition Democratic Party, which has lacked a clear platform and been beset by infighting.

More significantly, perhaps, the coalition’s success was also the result of the Northern League’s emergence as an increasingly important political force. The party saw its share of the vote rise from 8.3 percent in the 2008 election to 12.7 percent. As expected, it won the northern region of Veneto, becoming the biggest party there, but it also edged ahead of the left in Piedmont and closed the gap with the PDL in the industrial region of Lombardy.

This success will undoubtedly give the Northern League and its leader, Umberto Bossi, a greater say in the national government. It is expected to push for a tougher line on immigration, which it links to crime, and more autonomy for the north.

On Wednesday, German papers look at the rising fortunes of the Northern League and the inability of the left to present a convincing alternative to the center-right.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“Silvio Berlusconi sees himself as the winner of Italy’s regional elections. He can claim to be strengthened as he enters into the last three years of this legislative period. … But, if you take a closer look, this is no great personal success. It will now be more difficult for him to claim he is backed by the majority of the population. That is due, first of all, to the historically low turnout of 63.6 percent and, secondly, to the fact that his party only saw an average vote of 27 percent in the 13 regions.”

“The true winner in these regional elections was the Northern League. The PDL’s junior coalition partner is getting increasingly stronger: It reached an average vote across the regions of almost 13 percent.”

“The league’s success marks another phenomenon in these elections. The big parties are stagnating or losing support. The PDL only attracted 27 percent of the vote, and the biggest opposition group, the Democratic Party, won just 26 percent. … The record abstention rate is not just the result of resignation, but also a protest against the big parties, which many regard as only being preoccupied with themselves. Italians feel they have been left alone to deal with their economic problems and are disgusted by the scandals of the elites.”

“The Northern League’s leader, Umberto Bossi, was able to profit from this…. Likewise, although the league has officially softened its tone … it is still anti-immigrant, still fixated on law and order, and still gives priority to the north above all else. However, they have given up on the idea of secession in favor of federalism. The party has become the mouthpiece for the small farmers and businesspeople in the north who make up Italy’s economic backbone. They are suffering in the current crisis. Most have no financial protection. They complain that they can’t get credit and that they pay too many taxes. They feel the pressure from lower-wage economies and see how foreign companies are taking away their profits. To many, Bossi seems to offer a more decisive set of policies.”

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

“Italy’s opposition may have hoped that results in the regional elections would have given Berlusconi a similar mauling to that which President Sarkozy recently experienced across the Alps. However, once again, it was the Italian left that was mauled.”

“The hope that Berlusconi’s slide in popularity, and all the scandals big and small, would automatically have sent voters into the arms of the opposition has once again been dashed.”

“The prime minister has lost a lot of his appeal in the eyes of his many followers. But they would never consider voting for the left. … Instead, they just stayed at home.”

“In the past 15 years, he has succeeded in polarizing voters to such an extent that it has become a huge exception to see voters switch from the opposing camps. Nevertheless, Berlusconi could easily have lost if the Democratic Party and other opposition groups had managed to mobilize their own forces.”

“That didn’t happen. Left-wing voters are as little impressed by their parties as those on the right are impressed by Berlusconi. There has been a lack of convincing ideas to oppose his right-wing populist policies … What left-wing voters want are politicians who are working for the interests of the ordinary people and policies that mark a clear alternative to those of the right-wing parties.”

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

“Berlusconi may act like the winner … but his triumph is just wishful thinking. Granted, his coalition did win, but he emerges from these elections … weakened.”

“The cry of triumph is supposed to distract from the fact that his PDL party saw a massive slump in votes. The voters are turning away from the established parties. There is growing disappointment with the political class. Abstention reached a record level. And the main culprit for this development is Berlusconi himself, who has consistently worked at freeing politics of all real content.”

“This draining of politics of any meaning continues to be Berlusconi’s recipe for success. Making light of things and denying problems are what helped him attract voters in the past.”

“But not this time. The country’s problems are too great, and its social and health systems need reform. There has been huge disappointment with the government’s work over the past two years, as Berlusconi has yet to launch any fundamentally new policies.”

“The right-wing camps with serious policies — and, above all, the Northern League — are the ones profiting from this. The party has clear political aims: an independent north, tough measures against illegal immigrants and more law and order. Moreover, unlike the PDL, it has a strong grassroots movement to back up these aims. In fact, it is the opposite of the presidential PDL, which changes its profile to match the moods of its leader.”

“The election result shows that the party will have to create a stronger profile if it is to be successful. And that means getting rid of Berlusconi, whose only political project is himself.”

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

“How could this happen? After all the scandals, the Italians have once again voted for the center-right coalition. And Berlusconi’s coalition was able to take power away from the left in Lazio and Piedmont, in particular, the regions where he campaigned in person.”

“The success of Berlusconi’s coalition is not due to his media empire; nor is it a result of the Italian’s low expectations when it comes to the morals of their politicians.”

“The problem is, in part, the weak impression the left made. In recent months, it has also been in the headlines for sex scandals and corruption. And the infighting amongst those on the left has cost it a lot of sympathizers.”

“Many Italians are not happy with Berlusconi but they don’t see any convincing alternatives.”

“What does the result mean for Italy? Although Berlusconi feels strengthened, he knows that he now will have to deal with a much stronger coalition partner. The Northern League … wants financial federalism, which, for them, means that taxes should be spent where they are collected.”

“Meanwhile, Berlusconi wants to reform the justice system, mainly to help himself … nd to introduce a directly-elected prime minister.”

“It is difficult to see what else Berlusconi wants to achieve. The latest campaign was almost devoid of content. The government program is mostly directed toward the needs of the prime minister … Italy has long lost its international importance. Luckily for it, the government has been prudent during the crisis, which has given it a good handle on the deficit. But less thanks for this is owed to Berlusconi than to his finance minister, Giulio Tremonti.”

Siobhán Dowling

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

Italy’s Woman Rabbi Barbara Aiello: Still Jewish After All These Years

U.S.-born Rabbi Barbara Aiello returns to her ancestral grounds, her family rooted in Italy’s long Jewish tradition.

By Ariela Bankier

One morning, while strolling in the tiny mountain village of Serrastretta in the Calabria region of southern Italy, Rabbi Barbara Aiello came across an obituary notice: Her neighbor’s mother had died. When she went to his home to pay a condolence call, she was stunned to see that all the chairs had been removed from the room, the mirrors were covered in black, and hard-boiled eggs had been placed on the table.

“I asked the neighbor what this was about and he told me: “These are our family traditions,” she relates. “I explained to him that they were Jewish traditions for the shiva, and he said: ‘Jewish’ I once heard something vague about it but it wasn’t really spoken of in our home. It’s just considered to be a family tradition, and that’s all.” It was a formative moment.

Aiello is an American of Italian extraction, the first female Reform rabbi in Italy. She comes from a family of anusim (descended from Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity in Inquisition times). For three years now, she has been working to revive the Jewish community of Calabria, one of Italy’s poorest provinces and home to a centuries-long Jewish tradition that has almost completely disappeared. Aiello recently opened the first synagogue in Calabria in about 500 years, Ner Tamid del Sud (Eternal Light of the South), as well as the Center for the Study of Jewry in Calabria and Sicily in an ancient house that has been in her family for 400 years. “Calabria is full of archaeological and cultural remnants of the Jewish communities that once lived here, and several studies indicate that almost 40 percent of Calabrians may be of Jewish origin,” says Aiello, explaining what prompted her to undertake this work. “Many Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity continued for hundreds of years to preserve their Judaism in secret.”

The search for her origins and the hope of resurrecting the past has occupied Aiello for more than two decades, ever since her first ‘roots’ trip to Italy. After she was ordained as a rabbi 11 years ago, she decided to increase her efforts, inspired in part by her father.

“His family secretly maintained a Jewish lifestyle in Calabria in the 1920s, before they immigrated to the United States,” she says. “My grandmother used to close all the shutters before she lit the Shabbat candles, so no one would see. When they came to America, my father told her that here she could light candles in the open, that nothing would happen, but she still hesitated. She said you never know.”

Her grandmother did not raise her daughters as Jews (so as not to hurt their chances of marrying, laughs Aiello), but she did send her two sons to learn Torah, in secret. “Every Monday and Thursday they would travel by horse-drawn wagon, with a full cargo of artichokes, to the house of a certain man, where they studied.”

Aiello says the opening of the synagogue and Jewish study center has introduced a revolutionary change for the dozens of locals who participate in the activities there. “Before, if you had any interest in being Jewish, if your family had certain traditions or distant memories that you wanted to explore or discover, there was no way for you to do it,” she says.

So far, more than 80 families have taken part in activities organized by Aiello, and that number is growing every year. “Here in the south there are still communities that are descended from the anusim,” says Angela Amato, a local resident who is involved in the synagogue activities. “One of their main traditions is to marry among the families, to stay together and preserve the Jewish names. Now we can have Kabbalat Shabbat [the Friday night religious service?] together.”

Unlike the Orthodox Jewish community, which does not recognize the Judaism of many who attend the synagogue, Aiello makes a point of welcoming as many people as possible to her center. “We’re trying to see Calabrian Jewry as a circle, and you can enter this circle at any point, by taking part in Kabbalat Shabbat, for example. I wanted to make it approachable for people and to enable them to experience this, especially here in Calabria, where the Catholic presence is very strong. In my family, for example, there are priests and nuns, and this is because of the family origin in the Marrano culture; many of them were forced to convert to Christianity. I have a cousin who once said to me: ‘You know, if I could only have gotten closer to the Jewish religion when I was young, if I could have studied it, I probably would have become a rabbi and not a priest, but Christianity is what I knew, so that’s what I did.”

Catholics with Jewish roots

Financial contributions to the activities in Calabria come both from Jews and Italian Catholics. This doesn’t surprise Aiello. “The most common type of intermarriage in America is between Jews and Catholics,” she points out. “People are always saying how many similarities there are between Italians and Jews: we’re both traditional and family-oriented — and I’ve always believed there was something more to it than that. If it is really true, as some claim, that 40 percent of the population of Calabria is Jewish or of Jewish origin, and you add to that the current statistics — that 80 percent of the 26 million Italian-Americans are descended from families that came to the United States from the poorest parts of Italy, from Calabria and Sicily — when you consider these two figures, what are the chances that an Italian-American has Jewish roots? Very high.

Aiello has been collecting and working on Inquisition documents for several years alongside other researchers at the center in Calabria, including Prof. Francesco Renda, Dr. Enrico Mascaro and Prof. Vincenzo Villella. “We are studying the records of families whose property was confiscated and the records of families who bribed the authorities or who fled, and later were symbolically burned as straw dolls,” Aiello explains. “Let’s say someone comes to us with the surname Vitali. I can locate his ancestors from the Vitali family who were rounded up in Sicily and burned at the stake.”

The Spanish expulsion decree of 1492 also affected the Jews of Sicily, then part of the Spanish kingdom of Aragon, and many of them fled to Calabria, which belonged to the kingdom of Naples. “After that point, we find the same surnames in Calabria,” says Aiello. In 1504, Calabria also fell to King Ferdinand of Aragon.

When Aiello began visiting the villages and towns of Calabria and asking people whether they had Jewish roots, most of them said no. “But then I discovered that I was just asking the wrong questions,” she says. “People would tell me, no, we’re just secular. It was only when I started asking about their family traditions, about superstitions, that the doors suddenly flew open. People started telling me: ‘You know, we never went to church,’ or: ‘When my grandmother was dying, she told us — Don’t call the priest, don’t place a rosary in my hand, wrap me in a sheet and bury me before sunset of the next day.’ One time, I went into a shop near my house and I saw a lot of low wooden stools there. I remarked to the old salesperson: ‘Oh, a family with a lot of kids must live here.’ And he said to me: ‘No, no, these are chairs for mourning. Every family in the area has chairs like these. You sit on them for a week after someone dies.”

“Southern Italy and Calabria in particular was once one of the wealthiest and liveliest areas for Italian Jewry,” says Vincenzo Villella, a local historian active at the Serrastretta Jewish center. His focus is the Jewish history of the region. “One of the oldest synagogues in the world was discovered here, in Calabria, in Bova Marina, and if I were to start to list for you all the towns and cities where evidence remains of a Jewish presence, the list would never end.”

Nonetheless, the Center for the Study of Jewry in Calabria and Sicily encountered stiff resistance from some local residents. “They viewed the claim that they might have Jewish ancestry as an embarrassing accusation,” says Villella. “When we wanted to open the Jewish center in a big city like Lamezia, we couldn’t get approval. We didn’t even get a response from the city. We put up beautiful signs in all kinds of places that said something like: ‘This quarter was home to a community of Jewish ironmongers during the years such and such’ and every time the sign was taken down or burned.”

When Aiello and Villella began studying the most common surnames in the south and putting together a list of the most typical Jewish surnames in the region, they received some threatening phone calls. “People thought it was an affront to their dignity to say that the source of their name was Jewish,” he explains. However, says Aiello, as soon as the center opened, dozens of people who were curious about its activity came and sought assistance in tracing their roots, and even the local priest came to her aid.

“People came to celebrate Hanukkah with us, and the local priest, Don Gigi Uliano, spoke with members of his church and said: ‘I know that many of us have Jewish roots.’ He also told them: ‘I plan to learn about my Jewish heritage with Rabbi Barbara, and you ought to come, too.’ And so he basically gave them permission to come. I never pressure anyone to renounce the Catholic religion, I just tell them that it’s good to know who you are and where you come from.”

Villella says the claim that 40 percent of Calabrians are of Jewish background is exaggerated, but insists that the figure is no lower than 15 percent. “Local tax records and records of a special tax called the mortafa that the Jews paid show that around the year 1276 there were 2,500-3,000 Jews living in Calabria and around 15,000 Jews in all of southern Italy. Toward the end of the 15th century — and we also know this from the tax records of the Jewish community — their number in Calabria exceeded 12,000, which means that about one in every 10 or 12 Calabrians was a Jew. On the other hand, we lack a lot of information, since some of the communities were not registered and so it?s hard to know the precise number of Jews. But we’ve been conducting genealogical, linguistic and etymological studies that have enabled a good number of families to discover their Jewish roots, and they are proud of this.”

Many of the descendants of anusim who contacted Aiello have begun to live a more Jewish lifestyle, and a few have even undergone a Reform conversion. One of these “new Jews” is American-born former priest Frank (Francesco) Tamborello, who after discovering his roots, gave up the priesthood, converted, studied for the rabbinate and was ordained as a Reform rabbi. Tamborello, who comes from a Catholic family of Calabrian and Sicilian origin, grew up around Jewish families but never had any inkling about his family’s Jewish background.

“My grandmother came from the town of Sambuca in western Sicily, an area where there were lots of Jews. On her side of the family there are doctors and lawyers, and we always used to joke that she must have been Jewish,” he says.

From a young age, Tamborello was drawn to the spiritual world; after graduating from university, he enrolled in a Greek Catholic seminary. He went on to serve as priest of the Ukrainian Catholic community in Long Island, where he was exposed to anti-Semitism. “It’s something I just couldn’t ignore,” he says. He describes the transition from the priesthood to the rabbinate as almost natural.

“When I was in college, I belonged to a fraternity that was mostly Jewish. I also have a lot of relatives who married Jews, and so I was familiar with the traditions. I became intrigued and started learning about Judaism, and at a certain point I just knew that I wanted to be called to the Torah.”

Last year, Tamborello attended an Italian Jewish Roots Conference Aiello organized in the United States. He was excited when he heard many of the other participants who had stories similar to his. “There were people there who for the first time in their lives were exposed to the possibility that they had a Jewish background,” he says. “People want to know where they come from, what their name means, and this leads to conversations along the lines of: ‘Wow, I always thought there was something Jewish about my grandmother,’ or: ‘That really fits in with the stories I’ve heard.’ And then it’s fine, because it’s a cultural thing, a matter of roots.”

Old fears

Aiello is not the only one behind a Jewish revival in southern Italy. Not long ago, physician and Orthodox rabbi Stefano Di Mauro, an American of Sicilian descent, returned to Sicily and opened a center for Jewish studies and conversion in Siracusa (Syracuse). Di Mauro says dozens of people attend his classes at the center and most believe they are descended from Jewish families who lived on the island. Like Aiello, Di Mauro has also had to overcome suspicions and hardships.

“In the south there is still fear, because of prejudices about Jews,” he says. “Most of the Jews who remained in Sicily, who converted to Christianity, secretly kept their Jewish aspects — they were Christians on the outside but Jews on the inside — but after so much time, without the presence of a rabbi, without involvement and learning, they’ve completely lost their Jewish aspects, although they are still deeply interested in Jewish culture.”

The biggest difficulty he has to deal with, says Di Mauro, in addition to combating ignorance and anti-Semitism, is the lack of involvement on the part of the leaders of Italian Jewry. “The void here was created in part because no one ever came here,” he says. “If only a few rabbis would have been sent here 50 years ago — the memory was much more alive then. There were people who, despite the passage of 400 years, were still living a Jewish reality. For example, there is a group of families here that gets together once a week on Shabbat. They see themselves as Jews, but don?t want anyone to know that, not even now.”

The fear of acknowledging one’s Jewishness doesn’t surprise Di Mauro. “I came from the United States. Just think of what I was used to there. Once time this fellow came to see me — he’s still not ready to say that he might be Jewish, but he comes to meetings, and he sees me walking around with a skullcap on my head. He was truly astounded and started shouting: ‘Are you out of your mind? They’ll kill you! Who goes around with a skullcap? When I do Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday night, I close all the windows.”

“Later on he explained to me that his father always warned him not to ever tell anyone that they were Jews, because if they did somebody would call the Sbirri [a Sicilian term for the police]. And then one day this man met someone who had the same surname as he did, and this guy was a policeman!” Di Mauro laughs. “The fellow was in shock! Right away he asked him: ‘With your surname, you work as a policeman? How did they let you? My father always used to say that the guy who’s protecting you today will be escorting you across the border tomorrow. You see? The old fears are still there.”

In addition to the religious activity provided by Di Mauro, there has recently been a cultural awakening on the island that includes attempts to expose the wider public to the Jewish history that was erased. Jewish festivals, exhibitions and archaeological sites have drawn a large number of visitors.

“Contrary to popular belief, Calabria, Sicily and Puglia have just a rich and glorious history as more famous communities like Rome and Venice,” says tour guide Maria Rosa Malesani, a scholar of Sicilian Jewish history. “In the 15th century, their number reached almost 40,000, but then the Inquisition wreaked tremendous destruction. In Siracusa, Jewish books and Torah scrolls were torn to pieces and used to bind Christian law books. Because of this, one of the ways we collect information is to check the inner bindings of law books. This sort of thing makes you understand how much animosity there was toward the Jewish community.”

There were massacres, too. “The prosperity of the Jewish community in Sicily, particularly in the period of Arab rule, angered a lot of people,” says Malesani. “There were more than a few massacres, especially after inflammatory sermons by monks. The Jews were the only ones who had permission to trade in slaves and other trades considered ‘dirty,’ from which Christians were barred, but of course this was a very convenient arrangement for everyone. So much so that we’ve found letters written after the expulsion decree was issued for Sicilian Jews in 1492 [in the late 15th century, Sicily was part of the Spanish kingdom] in which various officials ask the king to annul the expulsion decree, which led to an economic collapse in Siracusa and other areas in Sicily. But the Jews here were not only traders. There were also important Jewish physicians, astronomers and mathematicians whose writings are now on display in museums in Paris and London,” she adds.

In certain towns in Sicily, says Malesani, Jews made up as much as a third of the population, and the Jewish quarter of Siracusa was home at one time to a dozen thriving synagogues. To this day, the remnants of several synagogues can be found hidden behind churches — old stone buildings inscribed with Jewish symbols and signs marking the congregants’ seats. But the vast majority of Jewish buildings have been destroyed.

“Today, unfortunately, most people are totally unaware of the Jewish heritage that fills the island. One of the funniest instances happened about 15 years ago,” recalls Malesani. “The priest at one of the churches in the city of Agira in northern Sicily thought the altar in his church was an ordinary altar, until one day an expert on ancient languages came to the church and pointed out to him that it was actually a holy ark that once held a Torah scroll, and that all the inscriptions on it were in Hebrew.”

As in Calabria and Sicily, the Jewish residents of Trani, a small city in Puglia in southern Italy, are trying to revive their once thriving community and culture. But unlike Di Mauro and Aiello, the Jews of Trani, who observe an Orthodox lifestyle, are receiving budgetary and organizational support from the Union of Italian Jewish Communities.

?We wanted to bring a Jewish fire to Puglia, and Trani was suited to this idea of the rebirth of Judaism, as a city that once had a very strong Jewish spirit, a city that once had four synagogues and was home to many Jewish sages,? says pianist Francesco Lotoro, an organizer of Jewish activity in the city. ?We were given use of one of the four synagogues that remained here and today, thank God, we can celebrate all the holidays, even Tu Bishvat,? he says with unabashed pride. Lotoro says that about 40 families participate in Jewish activities on a regular basis, but that they are stricter here about verifying people?s Jewishness. ?A lot of people want to come, but we have to check the documents of some of them,? he explains.

Lotoro, who comes from a family of anusim, converted to Judaism when he was just 15, after he felt ?an ancient call,? as he puts it, to connect with his Jewish ancestors. ?Judaism in the south was never completely erased,? he asserts. ?We?re convinced that Judaism here didn?t disappear, but rather that it was frozen, that it went into hibernation. And hundreds of years later, all it took was a small thing and it all began anew. At the very first meeting in Trani, where the idea of reviving the Jewish community was discussed, 20 Jews showed up just on the basis of word of mouth. Whereas we thought that there were no Jews left in the area.?

He says there is nothing peculiar about the return to Judaism in Trani, smack in the middle of Puglia. ?The sages say: You didn?t become Jewish, you returned to being Jewish. Eighty percent of Trani residents were of Jewish origin,? he claims. ?The surnames in Trani are Jewish surnames — Graziadio, Moselli, Mosco, Benvenuto, Nunes, Lotoro. Just look at the local phone book and you?ll see that most of the names there are Jewish names. Let?s say that Trani, deep down, never forgot its Jewish roots. When we came back here and men with a skullcap or a long beard started showing up here, it didn?t look strange to people. They didn?t say: ?Welcome.? They said: ?Welcome back.??

No proof

While Lotoro, Aiello and Di Mauro all share a great enthusiasm for a Jewish revival in this part of the country, this isn?t the first time in history that southern Italians have tried to reconnect to their roots. One of the most famous cases occurred about 70 years ago, when the peasant Donato Manduzio from the Puglian village of San Nicandro claimed that God had appeared to him in a dream and commanded him to become a Jew. After protracted negotiations, Manduzio converted with the blessing of the chief rabbinate in Rome and, together with several dozen supporters who also converted, immigrated to Israel in the late 1940s.

Many women who remained in the village in Puglia, not far from Trani, still maintain a Jewish lifestyle and conduct a Kabbalat Shabbat service together at the local synagogue. Prof. Michele Luzzati of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Pisa says that Italy?s south is brimming with other spontaneous displays of Jewish activity.

“There was one case many years ago in Calabria where a group of people sought to be recognized as Jews by the rabbinate in Rome. Every Friday night, the men in this group would put on a clean shirt, don a hat and go together to a restaurant and drink wine. They didn?t know why they did this. They started looking into it and studying and they concluded that they had Jewish origins. The rabbinate in Rome was not completely convinced, so the group appealed to a rabbi in Belgium, who eventually agreed to convert them. The problem with such cases is that we can?t know today how original and authentic these memories really are, and to what degree they are affected by information received from television and the press.”

Luzzati believes the ongoing quest for Jewish cultural roots in southern Italy sometimes gives rise to confusion and exaggerations that lack a sound historical basis. “Calabria and Puglia were indeed to a certain extent major centers of Jewish culture. The Talmud is said to have passed through Bari and southern Italy to Rome and then on to Germany,” he notes.

“In Sicily there was a very strong Jewish presence, and even after the wave of conversions to Christianity started, Jewish culture was not completely wiped out, for one thing because people from the community continued to marry among themselves and the memory of Jewish life endured. Many of them fled from Sicily to Calabria. But it’s impossible to say, as a few people claim, that such a high percentage of the present population is definitely of Jewish origin. This is not something that is possible to prove. It is very difficult to construct a family tree according to the father?s name, and it is impossible to construct a family tree according to the mother?s name, and we cannot examine each and every case. I’d say that these are people who aspire to be Jews and who go to different rabbis who decide whether or not to accept them as such.”

Luzzati says that while it is possible that the statistics presented by the Center for the Study of Jewry in Calabria and Sicily are correct, they may only apply to certain towns or areas in Calabria where the same families are known to have lived for centuries. “Generally, you can’t say that the inhabitants of a certain place today are necessarily the descendants of the people who lived there 500 years ago. Social mobility, emigration — this has a tremendous impact. We don?t know how many Jews back then managed to flee, to get to Saloniki or to Istanbul. History gives us very few answers. I’m not saying that it?s wrong. It may well be true, but as of now it is not possible to assess on the basis of documented information.

“For now, this can primarily serve as folklore and a source of comfort. There are still a lot of open questions, and the void is being filled with various theories. It’s funny — it used to be that people in Italy tried to prove that they weren?t Jewish, and now people are coming to me all the time and asking me if they might be Jews. Why? Because a Jew has this pride of knowing where he came from, and these people don?t know where they belong, where they come from.”

Attorney Renzo Gattegna, chairman of the Association of Jewish Communities in Italy, takes a much firmer stance. ?South of Naples, there is no Jewish community,? he avers. ?There may be some people there, some families, some private activity, but not a community. There is no official relationship with them. Italian Jewry, officially, is Orthodox Jewry. These people, like Aiello, are organizing activities privately.

“According to Italian law, for a community to be recognized it must belong to the Association of Jewish Communities. And these are not communities that belong. They are not recognized. We have not had direct ties with Di Mauro, for example. Nor do they inform us about what activities they are organizing.”

Meanwhile, Aiello and other activists are quite confident that the quest to uncover the past has just begun. “We are continually visiting small villages and meeting more and more of these families, and I expect that in time the number will only increase,” she says. For her, the goal is not only to revive the Jewish past in southern Italy, but also, to a great extent, to save the Jewish people.

“If you read the statistics about the Jews in Israel and in the United States, the two largest Jewish communities in the world, you see that the numbers are continuously on the decline. I believe that if we Jews, and especially rabbis, the Jewish leadership, open the doors and welcome Jews who were lost and isolated, we will have a renewal of Judaism in Italy and the whole world. There are so many mixed families in Italy that could be Jewish if they were only given an alternative. If we obtain money to build synagogues and schools, there could be a vast influx of Jews.

In Aiello’s view, the wariness with which her actions are regarded by the leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community, the only one officially recognized by the Italian government, is irrelevant. “I was once asked: ?Why aren’t you registered in the community?s books?? According to their laws, I am considered a Jew; I could register. I told them: ?Thank you very much, but I don?t need your seal of approval to know that I am a Jew.”

“A lot of people come to us after being turned away from regular synagogues because they don?t have the documentation to prove they are Jewish. My cousin was born in 1941. The Christian midwife convinced my aunt to baptize the children and write in their birth certificates that they were Catholics, because those were dangerous times. And so you have a Jewish man, with Jewish roots going back hundreds of years, with a birth certificate that states he is of a pure Aryan race. And he goes to the synagogue in Rome, I don’t know which rabbi he spoke to, and said to him: ‘I want to be part of the life of the community,’ and the rabbi just laughed at him. The Jewish community in Italy has become more rigid in recent years, more closed. There has always been this rivalry between north and south. My family used to be called terroni [a derogatory term for southern Italians]. When you take into account this cultural rivalry, it?s not surprising to see why Jewish communities in the north don?t want to hear about how archaeological excavations done in Calabria of all places unearthed a synagogue even older than theirs.”

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

Senegal ‘Takes Back French Bases’

Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade says his country is taking back control of all military bases held by the former colonial power France.

He made the announcement in a televised address as Senegal marked 50 years of independence.

France and Senegal had reached agreement in February on the future of the bases.

Earlier, Senegal had inaugurated its controversial Monument of African Renaissance.

In his address, Mr Wade solemnly declared that Senegal was formally assuming sovereignty over military bases that since decolonisation in 1960 have continued to house French army and air force personnel.

The announcement appeared designed to boost national pride in a country that sees itself as shaking off the last vestiges of colonialism.

In fact, France and Senegal reached an amicable agreement last February under which most of the 1,200 French military personnel based in Senegal would leave this year.

For some years, France has been steadily reducing its presence in Africa, both militarily and economically.

Earlier, Senegal unveiled the African Renaissance monument — a bronze monument bigger than the Statue of Liberty.

Some of the 19 African leaders who attended the ceremony praised its scope, but thousands of protesters complained at its cost of $27m.

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

Sweden: Car Park Murder Suspect Denies Allegations

The 23-year-old main suspect in the assault that led to the death of a 78-year-old woman in Landskrona in southern Sweden has denied the allegations. The man is facing charges of murder and aggravated assault.

He was taken in for questioning yesterday and has denied the charges during new police interviews.

Defence lawyer Urban Jansson told TT news agency that he is unable to assess the evidence against his client.

“I haven’t seen the evidence, there has only been a preliminary interview. They haven’t shown me anything (decisive) so I don’t have any idea about it,” he said.

“He doesn’t understand why he is a suspect, and I don’t either,” Jansson said.

The 78-year-old woman lost consciousness after she was punched in the face while trying to intervene on behalf of her 71-year-old partner who was being attacked by a man in a parking dispute on Monday. She died at the hospital in Lund on Wednesday.

The attacker fled the scene in a red Mazda. Police have impounded a similar vehicle that is owned by the 23-year-old man’s brother. The charge of aggravated assault is for the attack on the woman’s 71-year-old partner.

“We need more information or testimony from Landskrona residents, above all regarding the car and the driver of the red Mazsa,” Tommy Lindén of the Skåne police told TT.

Yesterday police took the 23-year-old in for questioning. They also searched his home in Landskrona.

The man has no history of major crimes, only a minor traffic offence. Police have interviewed four other individuals who are family members or close friends of the 23-year-old. None of them are suspected in the crime.

The prosecutor has until Monday morning to determine whether or not the 23-year-old should be remanded into custody.

           — Hat tip: Freedom Fighter[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Suspect Arrested Over Car Park Murder

A 23-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the brutal parking lot assault that led to the death of a 78-year-old woman in Landskrona in southern Sweden.

The suspect was interrogated on Friday afternoon and the prosecutor is expected to determine whether or not there are sufficient grounds to arraign him.

“We are unsure of how the prosecutor will weigh the evidence,” detective Tommy Lindén told TT news agency.

The 23-year-old man is the fifth suspect who has been brought in for questioning involuntarily.

Lindén said that the other suspects are the man’s friends and relatives.

The 23-year-old was identified based on witness testimony.

“We were able to encourage people to come forward and testify,” Lindén said.

The original charges include aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter after the woman died. Police have since upgraded the crime to murder. “But that can change again,” Lindén said.

Earlier on Friday he described the investigation as extremely difficult.

“There has to be someone in Landskrona who will come forward and tell us what they know. It all depends on someone telling the truth. We know that someone has lied,” he told TT.

On Thursday, police impounded a car found in Landskrona.

“It might be the car used by the attacker. But we don’t know that for sure, it may have been another vehicle,” Lindén said.

Police questioned the owner of the car on Thursday. The man in question is in his thirties. Police declined to comment on what information he might have revealed.

The car, a red Mazda 323, is now impounded in a police garage in Helsingborg for forensic processing, which Lindén says may take “two or three days.”

A 36-year-old and a 27-year-old were also questioned about the crime on Thursday. Both are local residents and provided useful information. Neither are suspects in the case, Lindén said.

He did not provide details on what the men said, but both are believed to have been in the parking lot when the elderly woman was assaulted.

Helsingborg prosecutor Göran Olsson will be reviewing the case, according to police.

The Skåne police department hopes to resolve the case over the Easter weekend.

“It’s going to be all-nighters for us. We have brought in extra staff over the weekend and are firing on all cylinders to solve this,” Lindén said.

The 78-year-old woman lost consciousness after she was punched in the face while trying to intervene on behalf of her 71-year-old partner who was being attacked by a man in a parking dispute.

After surgery at a neurological surgery unit in nearby Lund, her condition improved slightly before worsening again on Tuesday afternoon. She died in her hospital bed at around 4pm on Wednesday with relatives consenting to end her treatment after doctors said they were powerless to restore her to health.

A group of Landskrona businesses offered a reward of 40 000 kronor ($5,500) for tips leading to the arrest of the attacker. A demonstration against violence is planned in Landskrona on Monday.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Anti-Violence Demos Planned in Landskrona

Two demonstrations against violence and in memory of a 78 year old woman killed in a supermarket car park in the southern Swedish town of Landskrona are planned for Easter Monday.

A 23 year old suspect is still being held by police, but denies all involvement in the death.

The 78 year old woman was punched in the face after coming to the aid of her 71 year old partner, who’d come under attack for blaring his horn at the car in the car park.

The victim, who fell to the ground, died in hospital on Wednesday.

Feelings are running high in the town, and especially on the internet, where rumours that the suspect had his roots in the Middle East have brought community tensions to the fore, and there are fears some may try to use the death for political purposes, according to the broadsheet Dagens Nyheter.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Breastfeeding is a Renewed Attempt to Rid Women of Their Rights

Das Magazin 29.03.2010 (Switzerland)

The French philosopher Elisabeth Badinter has just published a heavily controversial book about women and mothers. It is a riposte against the growing tendency that is taking hold — even in France — to sanctify motherly love. To understand the situation today, she tells Daniel Binswanger, it helps to look at the transformation of the concept of the mother in the 18th century. “In the sixth decade of the 18th century something happened which has strong parallels with the situation today,’ Badinter says. ‘Within a few decades breastfeeding babies went from being a taboo to a moral duty. At the end of this development stood the middle-class marriage of the 19th century, an institution which brought women the opposite of liberation. We should ask ourselves whether today’s aggressive propaganda for breastfeeding is not a renewed attempt to rid women of their rights.”

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

Switzerland: Mosque Opens Near Bern Minus a Spire

A new Turkish-Islamic centre and mosque officially opened in a former wine shop outside the Swiss capital, Bern, on Saturday. Workers plan to build no minaret.

About 300 people attended the opening ceremonies for the centre in Ostermundigen, a village of about 15,000 people east of the city. Local religious leaders were there, including Gabi Bachmann, head of the Guthirt Catholic parish rectory.

“After the vote on minarets, it was important that we draw closer to one another,” Bachmann said in a speech, referring to a controversial nationwide vote that banned the construction of new minarets.

“This is a very important day for us,” echoed Hasan Irmak, head of the Turkish-Islamic Association of Bern. He added the centre’s doors are open to everyone. “We wish for a good relationship with our neighbours.”

Irmak said it “would have been nice” but not necessary to have a minaret on the building, particularly to give the mosque a characteristic look.

From the outside the building looks nothing like a place of worship. Only the interior was renovated to include two large rooms, including one for women. The rooms are for praying and religious instruction.

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

UK: Revealed: US Firm Issues British Visas… And MPs Were Not Told

Millions of visas allowing foreigners to enter Britain are being issued by an American company and a High Street travel agent rather than British diplomats.

The system — never officially announced to Parliament — means that instead of filling in a form at a British embassy and facing an interview by diplomatic staff, visa applicants are directed to commercially run ‘official’ offices around the world.

And hundreds of thousands of applicants simply fill in a form on a website run by the US company.

The two private firms are responsible for dealing with about 80 per cent of the 2.75 million visa applications every year, two million of which are successful.

A Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed that the new system — quietly introduced over the past two years — has been beset by problems, including one company’s staff selling visas. Critics fear it is fuelling the numbers of people who come to Britain and overstay after their visas expire, adding to the estimated one million illegal immigrants already in the country.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Teenage Afghan Asylum Seekers ‘In Pool Sex Attack on Girl of 13’

The youths, aged 14 to 17, are alleged to have attacked the girl while they were on a supervised visit to a leisure centre.

It is not known whether their ‘carer’ was in the water at the time.

After the victim complained to police, officers studied CCTV footage from the leisure centre and arranged for the youths to attend a police station for questioning.

There they were arrested and released on police bail. All four deny any wrongdoing.

The alleged attack happened at the Larkfield Leisure Centre in Aylesford, Kent.

The Afghans, who arrived in the UK as ‘unaccompanied minors’ and speak little English, live 15 miles away in a residential unit for young asylum seekers in the countryside near Staplehurst.

It is in a particularly remote area and few people know its exact whereabouts. Locals claim many of the ‘boys’ in the unit, which houses up to 20 young asylum seekers, are much older than they claim to be.

Many young refugees are suspected of lying about their ages because unaccompanied minors are given better treatment and support than adult asylum seekers.

Almost 3,000 unaccompanied children apply for asylum in the UK each year, from countries including Afghanistan and Iran, but more than 2,500 other applications end up in disputes over age.

Some social workers have been criticised for relying ‘too heavily on physical appearance or socially constructed ideas of appropriate behaviour to determine age’.

Three years ago the Government unveiled plans to make young asylum seekers undergo x-rays of their teeth and wrist bones to try to assess their age. But they were condemned as ‘unethical and ineffective’ by medical specialists and children’s campaigners.

The residential centre where the four sex attack suspects live is not marked on the map or signposted from the road and is more than ten minutes’ drive from the nearest village. Even the sign identifying the unit cannot be seen from the road.

One neighbour, who lives opposite the centre, said he doubted any of the asylum seekers were genuinely under 18.

He said: ‘They turn up in England with no passports and claiming to be teenagers.

‘Then they get put in these centres and disappear. It’s a nice little way to get into the country.’

The 54-year-old surveyor said the unit, built some years ago, was housed in a row of converted pig sties. He claimed no local residents were told about it in advance.

‘The first we heard of it was when they put a sign on the gate about the plans for the building,’ he said.

‘But by that point they’d already spent £2million converting it and the asylum seekers had moved in.

‘If any of us wanted to build anything, we’d have to apply for planning permission and inform all our neighbours. But the council obviously plays by different rules.’

The man said none of the neighbours were happy about having the centre on their doorstep. ‘We live in the middle of nowhere and they are just across the road,’ he said.

‘The nearest policeman is half an hour away. It does make you feel vulnerable.

‘You don’t know who’s over there and what the potential risk is. There could be young girls camping in those fields, unaware of the danger they are in.’

He said the allegation that the asylum seekers had attacked a schoolgirl was worrying.

‘It puts a new slant on the matter. It’s very disconcerting,’ he added.

Kent Police confirmed that officers were investigating a report of a sexual assault on a 13-year-old girl at Larkfield Leisure Centre on March 25, between 5 and 6.30pm.

A spokesman added: ‘Four teenage boys, aged between 14 and 17, have been arrested in connection with this incident. They are currently on police bail while further inquiries are made.’

Police sources confirmed that all are Afghans.

The sources said the allegations were being taken ‘very seriously’ by police. A police doctor has examined the alleged victim, who has also been interviewed by specially-trained officers.

           — Hat tip: JB[Return to headlines]

Vatican: Cardinal Scola Speaks of Anti-Pope Campaign

(AGI) — Vatican City, 4 Apr. — The current campaign against Benedict XVI “is a specious media campaign” according to the Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Angelo Scola. In an interview with Lucia Annunziata broadcast by RAI Tre, the Cardinal however excluded that these attacks against the Pope are the result of Protestant or Jewish hostility against Catholics.

Answering a direct question on this subject the Cardinal answered “I would not go down that path, it is not my style to search for hidden agendas at all costs”. According to Cardinal Scola, Pope Ratzinger “has done more than anyone else to remove obscenity from the Church and has exposed himself personally, using very harsh words such as ‘consternation, betrayal and remorse’. He has said that everyone is accountable to God and to the courts of justice for these crimes.”

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


Croatia Expects More Russian Tourists This Summer

Croatia can expect more Russian tourists this summer than in 2009, says San-Sat Zagreb tourist company head Nadezda Baranovski.

She is also the editor of “Adriatic News” tourist magazine in Russian.

Last year, Croatia was visited by 133,000 Russians, who accounted for 1.06 million overnights.

Baranovski belives Croatia may have the same number this year as in summer 2008, when 176,000 Russian tourists accounted for 1.44 million overnights.

Website has reported that Baranovski bases her optimism on the good presentation of Croatian tourisms at the recent tourist fair in Moscow.

The Croatian government has lifted visa requirements for Russians from 1 April to 31 October 2010.

Baranovski claims Russian tourists need more information about Croatian tourism offers and Croatian advertising needs to be more intensive.

According to Baranovski, what makes Russian tourists different from others is that they stay on holiday longer and spend more money.

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

Montenegrin Tourist Boats Barred From Croatian Sea Despite Agreement

A row over safety standards on boats has broken out between old enemies Montenegro and Croatia.

In a 2007 agreement, Montenegrin tourist boats were given permission to sail in the Croatian sea, carrying 100 passengers on daily trips and 36 overnight.

But now the Montenegrin boats have been barred from nearing the Croatian port of Dubrovnik and the rest of Dalmatia by the Association of Ship owners and Shipbuilders of Dubrovnik-Neretva County who argue that these boats do not fulfill the prescribed safety standards.

Montenegrin tour operators say they are losing a lot of money because of this and say it is unfair since their Croatian counterparts are often in the well-known Montenegrin tourist hotspot of Kotor.

Montenegro’s Assistant Minister of Maritime Affairs, Srdjan Vukcevic, says that the country’s fleets meet the standards of safety and that the agreement with Croatia could not have been signed otherwise.

He added that he hoped the issue would be resolved by the beginning of the tourist season.

Croatia has suggested expanding the 2007 agreement to include metal-construction boats, which Montenegro will accept, the Croatian business portal Poslovni reporteded.

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

Israel and the Palestinians

Gaza Youth Returns Home Alive

Muhammad Farmawi, a 15-year-old said to have been shot dead by the IDF during Land Day riots in Gaza on Tuesday, was reported on Saturday to be alive and well.

The Palestinian Ma’an news agency said Farmawi’s mother was surprised to find her son alive four days after he was allegedly killed. His death had been confirmed by medical professionals in the Gaza Strip.

The IDF, however, firmly denied allegations that Palestinians had been killed during demonstrations on Land Day, which marks the 34th anniversary of the killing of six Galilee Arabs during protests against land confiscations.

According to the Ma’an report, Farmawi arrived in Gazan Rafah on Friday alive and well. He was discovered to be part of a group of 17 Palestinian youths who were arrested after trying to infiltrate Egypt via smuggling tunnels. Gaza police facilitated the boys’ return to their homes.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Palestinian PM Fayyad: Next Year We Will Celebrate in Church of Holy Sepulchre in Our Capital Jerusalem

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is venerated by many Christians as Golgotha, (the Hill of Calvary), where the New Testament says that Jesus was crucified, and is said to also contain the place where Jesus was buried (the sepulchre). The church has been an important pilgrimage destination since at least the 4th century, as the purported site of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Palestinian Prime Minister sent out this greeting today, “Next year we will celebrate the Holy Fire vigil in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.”

[Return to headlines]

Why Do So Many Diaspora Jews Want to Join the IDF?

By Anshel Pfeffer

“I can’t say that I came here for Zionist or even Jewish reasons,” said the paratrooper sitting next to me on Seder night last Monday. “I got into so much trouble back home, all I wanted to do was party. Running away from the police was what made me fit enough for combat service. I thought that coming here and doing army would help me get my shit together.”

The others sitting around the table nodded, they wore berets and insignia of combat units, their accents gave away their origins from all corners of the English-speaking world. The paratrooper from San Francisco, a Bostonian serving in the Kfir Brigade who gave up a baseball scholarship to get away from a traumatic breakup with his girlfriend and join up, the Asian-looking Aussie who after five years of living on the streets of Sydney followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and joined an elite unit of the Border Police.

We were sitting at a central Seder organized by the Israel Defense Forces for 400 “lone soldiers,” serving here without any family to go home to for Passover.

With the main part of the Haggadah and the four-course meal almost over, they coalesced into language-based groups. English was the second most dominant, after Russian.

Better soldiers, better citizens

Despite being naturalized Israeli citizens, few of them are really certain they will continue living in the country after they are discharged. For most of them, the army is the main attraction Israel has to offer. Some of them are the children of Israelis who emigrated decades ago, often before they were born, and their decision to return to the land of their heritage was motivated by their reaching conscription age.

Others have no family connection whatsoever; The decision to leave home and enlist was made almost on the spur of the moment. Some considered whether to join the Marines, weighing deployment to Afghanistan against Gaza.

Jews from around the world have always come to Israel to serve in the IDF. The Mahal volunteers of 1948, many of them World War II veterans, supplied much needed combat expertise to the fledgling army. Thousands of new immigrants who arrived in leaky boats during the first months of independence, mostly Holocaust survivors, were sent into battle with scarcely any training or equipment. Hundreds were killed and some lie to this day in unmarked graves.

In the following decades, there were always some who entertained a romantic idea of heroism in the desert. But the IDF had become a better organized and staffed army and besides unique cases of veterans of foreign conflicts, such as an American combat pilot who had flown in Vietnam or Russian snipers who had fought in Chechnya, it was harder to quantify the contribution of these soldiers in relation to the considerable resources needed to support them.

Many of them arrived with high hopes and motivation, only to be worn down by the brutal and illogical realities of military life. But still they continue to arrive, in recent years in larger numbers.

Over 3,000 lone immigrant soldiers are currently serving in the IDF. About half of them came from the former Soviet Union and are planning to live here in the long run, the army being a necessary part of their integration.

But a growing number are from the West, young Jewish challenge-seekers, over 500 soldiers from the United States and hundreds more from other Jewish communities around the globe. This number may still seem relatively small but has been growing exponentially over the last few years. Officers in the IDF’s Personnel Directorate are already talking openly of tapping into the global Jewish potential as a possible solution for the shortfall in enlistment due to lower birthrates and the growing proportion in the population of Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox, who do not serve in the army.

Is the IDF becoming the Diaspora’s foreign legion? Has toting an M-16 and patrolling the back roads of the West Bank become more popular for Jewish teenagers than taking a year off before college to go and pick oranges on a kibbutz?

One of the unique societal roles the IDF plays is helping integrate young immigrants into society. “I know that if I can prepare an Ethiopian boy well for the army, he will be a better citizen afterwards,” said Lt. Col. Itai Krin, commander of the Michve Alon base of the Education Corps, where the IDF runs its army preparation courses for immigrants.

He has a point, army service has always been a major socializing factor, not only for immigrants but also for young men and women in disadvantaged parts of Israeli society. For the children of families that have already decided to live in Israel, a positive military experience is usually a bonus.

More than the IDF

But what does it say about Israel when a growing number of young Jews abroad identify it today solely with the IDF. For them it seems that immigrating isn’t about joining a society, with all its benefits and duties, but simply wearing a uniform and learning how to kill.

Programs like Birthright have tried to capitalize on this identification. Every busload of birthrighters is joined by a group of soldiers who accompany them throughout their visit. It adds sex-appeal to the program and gives the IDF an opportunity to boost its credentials as the defenders of the entire Jewish nation.

The army’s generals are simply jumping on a good opportunity from their point of view, but this is still a worrisome trend. In an age when over 90 percent of the Diaspora is concentrated in the West, the fact that the most potent image Israel can market to young Jews is its army is a sign of failure for Israeli society in general.

It means that despite success in the fields of academia, technology and business, the country is still seen as Spartan, insular and parochial, and therefore appealing only to adventure seekers and roughnecks. It means that a growing proportion of young Jews who find it difficult to identify with a Jewish army which is acting in ways that to them are anathema to their universal ideals and even to their Jewish notions of tikkun olam, repairing the world, will find themselves even further estranged from Zion.

Bolstering Israel-Diaspora military ties at the expense of other types of bonds will add soldiers and ultimately Israeli citizens but will turn away other significant swaths of the Jewish people.

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

Middle East

And the Fascism Award Goes To…

Well, of course, there is no literal “fascism award” in Turkey. But the one recently given to one of the country’s top judges well deserves to be described as such.

I am speaking about the “Mahmut Esat Bozkurt Award” that the Istanbul Bar Association gave last week to Kadri Özbek, the deputy chairman of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). Both the Bar Association and the HSYK are die-hard Kemalist institutions; therefore it was perfectly normal that one flattered the other. But the persona after which this award was named, Mahmut Esat Bozkurt, was a little odd.

Non-Turks as slaves

The late Mr. Bozkurt was the long-time justice minister of the early Turkish Republic. But he was also a leading ideologue of the Kemalist “single party regime.” Actually he coined the very term “Kemalism” in 1932, and articulated some of its core ideas. In one instance, in a public speech in 1930, he was particularly articulate:

“It is my firm opinion… that the lords of this country are the Turks. Those who are not real Turks have only one right in the Turkish fatherland, and that is the right to be servants and slaves.”

Ugh… Pretty heavy stuff, right?

But let’s not just judge the man with a single quote. This might perhaps be “out of context,” as the Istanbul Bar Association argued in the face of criticisms. So, let’s get a larger picture.

Hans-Lukas Kieser, a professor of history from the University of Zurich, presents one in an academic book about Turkish nationalism. In his chapter about Bozkurt, Kieser describes him as “an ethno-nationalist rightist revolutionary” who believed in “a nation defined ethnically, and in the necessity of using violence to achieve modernity.”

Bozkurt had theorized some of these views in his 1940 book titled “Atatürk Ihtilali” (Atatürk Revolution). Kieser summarizes one of the book’s striking parts as follows:

“For Bozkurt, Atatürk completely personified the Turkish Revolution and the Turkish nation. Thus if Atatürk reigned, the nation reigned, that there was perfect ‘authoritarian democracy,’ the chief taking his authority from the nation/people. In his book, Bozkurt [also] asserts that German National Socialism and Italian Fascism are nothing other than versions of Atatürk’s regime. For Bozkurt, National Socialism was the German liberation movement, analogous to that of the Turks after the First World War … He proudly cited Hitler’s explicit affirmation of this position in a speech in the Reichstag.”

Bozkurt’s sympathies for Hitler was possibly supplemented with his take on the Jewish people. “For me, a Turk has more value than all the Jews of this world, not to say the whole world,” he once said.

With all such mind-boggling views, and his passionate devotion to “total Turkism,” Bozkurt was clearly a racist with fascist tendencies. And, as such, he represented the more radical wing within the Kemalist CHP, the Republican People’s Party. (Another like-minded party elite was Recep Peker, the secretary-general of the CHP, who visited Nazi Germany in 1935 and came back with full admiration and a plan to implement: the creation of a total party-state, which was realized in 1937.)

To be fair, there were also more moderate figures among the Kemalists, such as Celal Bayar, who favored liberalism, at least in the economy, and who preferred Great Britain to Nazi Germany. And Atatürk, to his credit, tilted toward this line in his later years.

But the fascist component within Kemalism was never really abandoned, let alone questioned. In fact, it has been quite definitive. After all, Recep Peker’s Six Arrows, which excludes both democracy and liberty, still dominates the CHP’s flag and the education system. And the official history is still based Bozkurt’s narrative, which Kieser defines as: “a cult of Turkishness… fused with the cult, equally quasi-religious, of the leader-savior Atatürk.”

This is the HSYK

Now, one can say that we should not be unfair to Bozkurt and his ilk, for theirs was the era of fascism, and they were simply influenced by the zeitgeist. And I would agree.

But I can’t agree with the contemporary Kemalists who still cling to these terrible ideas, and wish to impose them on the whole nation.

Actually, one would expect from them to be a little smarter. When they decide to give awards to their comrades, for example, they can name it after less controversial figures than Bozkurt, whose non-Turks-can-only-be-slaves statement is notoriously famous.

Well, it is their call. I just have a reminder: The Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), whose deputy chairman must be enjoying his Mahmut Esat Bozkurt Award these days, is currently at the heart of the constitutional reform package.

This is the very board, in other words, that many of my colleagues are telling you that should be left alone and preserved as it is. This is the way, they say, to preserve an “independent” judiciary.

I rather worry that it would only help preserving a fascist-minded one.

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

Father Keeps Daughter in Saudi Arabia Against Her Will…

Visiting Mecca can be dangerous….

Nazia Quazi has a Canadian passport and an Indian passport. But for the past three years she’s been stuck in Saudi Arabia with neither piece of identification. Her passports and other travel documents have been confiscated by a most unlikely authority: Her father.

He refuses to give them back and even if he did, the 24-year-old woman would still be at his mercy in her bid to leave the Muslim country which has a law that says it is the father who is responsible for the actions of unmarried daughters.

Quazi’s story begins in Ottawa, where she and her mother and brothers were living while she studied computer science at the University of Ottawa. It was here that she met her boyfriend, Bjorn Singhal, who was studying to become a pilot, and here that her conservative parents first expressed their disapproval when the relationship became serious.

In 2001, Quazi, her mother Shaheen Unnisa, and her two brothers left Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to emigrate to Canada in pursuit of Western educations for her and her siblings.

Her father’s immigration forms, she says, were not in order so he never became a Canadian citizen and continues to work in Saudi Arabia.

The family is originally from India, but her father has worked in Riyadh for 25 years.

Quazi returned to Riyadh three years ago after a trip to India. Her father, Quazi Malik Abdul Gaffar, had convinced her to visit him for the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca known as Umrah. “He decided I was supposed to come to Saudi for Umrah, and be here for a week, and then go back.”

She’s been trying to get out of the country ever since.

“Once I got here, my dad took all of the documentation. Now I require his permission to leave the country and he’s not ready to give it,” she said.

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

Iran: Despite Obama’s Sanctions, Ahmadinejad Can Keep Smiling

The President said that a nuclear Iran is not only bad for America’s national security, but also for the entire world. An impelling proclamation, but not what is going to stop the Iranians.

The President went on to say that in time Iran’s economy will be influenced by their actions. “We’re going to ratchet up the pressure and examine how they respond but we’re going to do so with a unified international community,” Obama said.

The trouble is that time is exactly what is lacking in the equation. According to analysts across the globe, Iran will be able to manufacture nuclear warheads by the end of this year. Perhaps Tehran is not in any particular rush to produce nuclear weapons so as to avoid provocation. Yet while the Americans debate what to do with Iran after the expected failure of the current sanctions, the centrifuges will continue to enrich uranium in either the Natanz or Qom nuclear plants.

Furthermore, it must be noted that China, for its part, is in no hurry to accept Obama’s flattery, and is maintaining an ambiguous standpoint. The spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry in Beijing has reiterated his country’s traditional stance, saying that they still prefer a diplomatic solution, which they will continue to stride to achieve. What does this mean? It is unclear. Perhaps Beijing does not accept even the draft of light sanctions.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can continue to smile.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Iran: ‘2 New Nuclear Sites This Year’

New nuclear facilities will be construction in Iran by the first half of the new year, Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi told ILNA on Saturday.

Salehi told the news agency that the construction of “one or two nuclear facilities … in different parts of the country” was contingent on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s approval.

“Planning for nuclear facility construction is among the policies of the government to promote nuclear science in the country,” Salehi was quoted as saying.

Earlier on Saturday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said new international sanctions over his country’s nuclear program would only strengthen the country by helping make it more self-sufficient.


“Don’t imagine that you can stop Iran’s progress,” Ahmadinejad said in remarks broadcast live on state television. “The more you reveal your animosity, the more it will increase our people’s motivation to double efforts for construction and progress of Iran.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

The Weatherman and the Wind

by Jonathan Spyer

Bob Dylan wrote that “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” With great respect to Dylan, however, if you are truly looking to ascertain the direction of the winds in a particular place and time, it doesn’t do any harm to listen to what the most experienced local weatherman is saying and to watch what he’s doing.

The small and dispersed Druse sect has over time developed the most sensitive instruments in these parts for knowing in which direction the winds of political power are blowing. This ability derives from necessity. The Druse strategy for survival has been to spot which trend, leader, country or movement is on the way up, and to ally with it in good time. This explains, for example, the long alliance between the Druse of the Galilee and the Zionist Jews.

It also explains one of the most curious political turnabouts in the last half decade: namely, the transformation of Lebanese Druse leader Walid Jumblatt from a stalwart of the pro-democracy, pro-Western March 14 movement into a supplicant of Damascus…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Turkish Woman Transforms From Farm Laborer to Successful Businesswoman

Married at 15 and a farm laborer for many years, Ayse Filiz has conquered the odds by becoming a successful businesswoman.

The mother of three is now an independent distributor for a weight loss firm where she started working in 2004 as a saleswoman.

Originally weighing 118 kilos, Filiz, lost 36 kilos, took off her headscarf and baggy pants, began wearing skirts and make-up after she entered the business world.

She and her husband, Mustafa Berber, originally lived in his hometown of Ortakara, a small village in the Central Anatolian province of Konya, when the couple married in 1993. Now, however, she lives with her daughters in Istanbul.

While she helped her husband in the fields, she participated in a seminar in Konya in 2004 where she became involved with the firm and began selling weight loss products.

“I first started to work as a saleswoman. Then I opened a shop with the support of my husband.”

After entering the business world, I became more careful about my diet and went from 118 to 82 kilos in one year,” she said.

Filiz, who only graduated from elementary school, said she started reading books and taking computer courses. She divorced her husband a year and a half ago and now lives with her three daughters.

“I have 50 sales personnel working under my supervision. I am planning to write a book about my life,” she said.

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

South Asia

Afghanistan: It’s War, Says Guttenberg

The Good Friday bloodshed in Afghanistan prompted German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg to break a long-standing political taboo on Sunday and call the conflict a “war.”

His comments came as it emerged that Germany’s embassy in the Iraqi capital Baghdad had been hit by a bomb attack, though it appeared not to have been the primary target.

After three Bundeswehr soldiers were killed in a fierce Taliban ambush and German soldiers killed six Afghan allies in a “friendly fire” incident, Guttenberg said it was time to stop playing with language.

Such “empty words” as “non-international armed conflict” and similar expressions diminished the seriousness of the situation, he said.

“You can, in the face of … what’s happening in Afghanistan, definitely talk colloquially — I stress colloquially — of war,” he said.

German politicians, notably Guttenberg’s predecessor Franz Josef Jung, have long been at pains to avoid the W-word to describe Germany’s involvement in Afghanistan, which remains broadly unpopular at home.

Guttenberg was spurred to make his remarks by the bloodshed of Good Friday, when three German soldiers were killed after their minesweeping convoy was ambushed by at least 100 Taliban insurgents.

Just hours later, a German armoured patrol opened fire on two vehicles carrying allied Afghan soldiers after the vehicles failed to stop, killing six of them.

Guttenberg’s comments to journalists in Bonn came as it emerged a bomb attack in Baghdad had killed one Iraqi security guard and injured three others at the German embassy, though the primary targets appeared to have been the nearby Syrian and Egyptian embassies.

Also on Sunday, a former army chief accused the government of failing its troops in Afghanistan.

Harald Kujat, who was the Bundeswehr’s Chief of Staff from 2000 to 2002, blasted the government for having learnt nothing from the Kunduz air strike about reconnaissance and communication systems.

There was a “lack of understanding about conditions on the ground and ignorance about the needs of the combat forces,” he told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

“Our soldiers are in this situation only because they — as so often — were not equipped with the necessary modern reconnaissance systems,” he said of the accidental killing of the six Afghans in Friday’s “friendly fire” incident.

“The Taliban know the terrain; they have the advantage. You have to somehow compensate for that.”

In the friendly fire incident, there has since been dispute about whether the vehicles were marked as military or civilian. ISAF commander, US General Stanley McChrystal, visited the German Kunduz base on Saturday in a clear demonstration that he took the friendly fire incident very seriously. Afghan authorities has criticised the German military, and a full investigation has been promised.

To better understand the methods of the enemy, the Bundeswehr needed a more effective information and command system for combat, Kujat said. The essential components of this were already available — “only the ministerial bureaucracy is doing nothing,” he said.

He also branded the recent troop boost passed by the Bundestag as a “coalition compromise” that did not meet the strategic needs of the mission.

He predicted further bloodshed for the German army in northern Afghanistan, saying the air strike of last September had sapped their strength but they were now poised for a renewed assault.

“After that, they needed a certain time to set the scene. And now they’re doing just that.”

The dead Bundeswehr soldiers, aged between 25 and 35, were from a paratrooper regiment from Lower Saxony.

“We all hoped that we would never have to experience these days,” said the ISAF commander for northern Afghanistan, Brigadier Frank Leidenberger at a memorial service on Saturday. “The hope was suddenly shattered on April 2.”

Leidenberger also offered sympathy for the deaths of the Afghan soldiers and confirmed for the first time that it was six soldiers killed, not five as the Bundeswehr had initially stated.

Developoment Minister Dirk Niebel, who extended his trip in Afghanistan to visit the troops in Kunduz, called for Germany as a whole to show greater support to its soldiers. After talking with the troops on Saturday, he told Bild am Sonntag newspaper Friday’s gun battle showed how deadly the situation was for German troops.

“They want more understanding that they sometimes, even preventatively, have to defend themselves. And they don’t understand it when they have to justify themselves for this to the German public or even be pursued for prosecution.”

The soldiers at the Kunduz base were due on Sunday to farewell the bodies of their comrades killed on Friday in the fiercest gun battle yet seen between Germans and Taliban insurgents. The three soldiers’ remains were to flown back to Germany on the Airbus that Niebel had been using to visit civil reconstruction projects in the area.

The four seriously wounded German soldiers were flown to Germany on Saturday. They landed at the Cologne-Bonn airport and were transferred immediately to a military hospital at Koblenz.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

German Troops Being Let Down, Former Army Chief Says

A former army chief accused the government on Sunday of failing its troops in Afghanistan as the political fallout continued from the bloody Good Friday that saw the killing of both German and their allied Afghan soldiers.

Harald Kujat, who was the Bundeswehr’s Chief of Staff from 2000 to 2002, blasted the government for having learnt nothing from the Kunduz air strike about reconnaissance and communication systems, and said the “friendly fire” killing of six Afghan soldiers could have been avoided.

There was a “lack of understanding about conditions on the ground and ignorance about the needs of the combat forces,” he told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

He said the government had failed to learn the necessary lessons from the deadly Kunduz air strike last September, in which an attack ordered by a German commander killed dozens of civilians.

“Our soldiers are in this situation only because they — as so often — were not equipped with the necessary modern reconnaissance systems,” he said of the accidental killing of the six Afghans.

“The Taliban know the terrain; they have the advantage. You have to somehow compensate for that.”

On Good Friday, three German soldiers were killed when their minesweeping convoy was ambushed by at least 100 Taliban insurgents. Just hours later, a German armoured patrol opened fire on two vehicles carrying allied Afghan soldiers after the vehicles failed to stop.

There has since been dispute about whether the vehicles were marked as military or civilian. ISAF commander, US General Stanley McChrystal, visited the German Kunduz base on Saturday in a clear demonstration that he took the friendly fire incident very seriously. Afghan authorities has criticised the German military, and a full investigation has been promised.

To better understand the methods of the enemy, the Bundewehr needed a more effective information and command system for combat, Kujat said. The essential components of this were already available — “only the ministerial bureaucracy is doing nothing,” he said.

He also branded the recent troop boost passed by the Bundestag as a “coalition compromise” that did not meet the strategic needs of the mission.

He predicted further bloodshed for the German army in northern Afghanistan, saying the air strike of last September had sapped their strength but they were now poised for a renewed assault.

“After that, they needed a certain time to set the scene. And now they’re doing just that.”

The dead Bundewehr soldiers, aged between 25 and 35, were from a paratrooper regiment from Lower Saxony.

“We all hoped that we would never have to experience these days,” said the ISAF commander for northern Afghanistan, Brigadier Frank Leidenberger at a memorial service on Saturday. “The hope was suddenly shattered on April 2.”

Leidenberger also offered sympathy for the deaths of the Afghan soldiers and confirmed for the first time that it was six soldiers killed, not five as the Bundewehr had initially stated.

Developoment Minister Dirk Niebel, who extended his trip in Afghanistan to visit the troops in Kunduz, called for Germany as a whole to show greater support to its soldiers. After talking with the troops on Saturday, he told Bild am Sonntag newspaper Friday’s gun battle showed how deadly the situation was for German troops.

“They want more understanding that they sometimes, even preventatively, have to defend themselves. And they don’t understand it when they have to justify themselves for this to the German public or even be pursued for prosecution.”

The soldiers at the Kunduz base were due on Sunday to farewell the bodies of their comrades killed on Friday in the fiercest gun battle yet seen between Germans and Taliban insurgents. The three soldiers’ remains were to flown back to Germany on the Airbus that Niebel had been using to visit civil reconstruction projects in the area.

The four seriously wounded German soldiers were flown to Germany on Saturday. They landed at the Cologne-Bonn airport and were transferred immediately to a military hospital at Koblenz.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Malaysian-Indian Teacher to File Contempt of Court Case Against Muslim Husband

Kindergarten Malaysian Indian teacher M. Indira Gandhi, who is embroiled in a bitter custody battle with her Muslim convert husband, has said that she won’t play nice anymore, and would do whatever it takes to get her youngest child back.

Last month, a Malaysian High Court had ruled that it was in the children’s best interest to stay with their mother, especially since the youngest child was below seven and the older ones were under 21.

But Indira has not been able to reach her husband K. Pathmanathan, who took away their 22-month-old daughter Prasana Diksa last month.

“It does not look as if he intends to return my baby to me. I will try to fight him for contempt of court. I have waited too long to be nice,” The Star Online quoted Indira Gandhi, as saying.

Pathmanathan, whose Muslim name is Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah, was earlier granted custody of the three children by the Syariah High Court.

However, his stay petition was rejected by the civil court saying that the Syariah verdict didn’t imply on his wife as she had not converted to Islam.

However, the High Court has postponed its decision on her application for leave for a judicial review to quash the conversion of her three children to Islam.

The verdict is expected on April 30. (ANI)

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

Far East

US Delays Report on China Ahead of Iran Sanctions Talks

After Beijing announces President Hu will attend nuclear security summit meeting in Washington, Treasury Secretary Geithner says delaying report on whether China manipulates its currency. Analysts: Report would have been ‘slap in the face’ to China.

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on Saturday he was delaying an April 15 report on whether China manipulates its currency but pledged to press for a more flexible Chinese currency policy.

The decision follows Thursday’s announcement in Beijing that Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend a nuclear security summit meeting in Washington April 12-13 and seemed to be a tactic to keep tensions over currency in check.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Firebrand Youth Leader of the ANC Receives a Hero’s Welcome in Zimbabwe

Meanwhile… the firebrand youth leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) landed in Harare, Zimbabwe today where he received a hero’s welcome.

The crowds chanted “Shoot the Boer” as the black African National Congress youth leader arrived in the former bread basket of Africa.

The Telegraph reported, via Free Republic:

Julius Malema, the firebrand South African youth leader who has been accused of inciting violence against white farmers, has received a hero’s welcome in Zimbabwe.

Mr Malema, head of the youth wing of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), touched down in Harare to be met with a loud chorus of “Shoot the Boer” — a refrain from an apartheid-era song which is now outlawed in South Africa.

The 29-year-old, who has been accused of inciting violence against South Africa’s white population with his repeated renditions of the song Ayesaba Amagwala (The Cowards are Scared), will meet President Robert Mugabe on Monday as lavish celebrations begin to mark 30 years since he came to power.

Flanked by his own entourage and hordes of officials and activists loyal to Mr Mugabe, Mr Malema beamed with delight, sang and clapped along with the chanting crowds before being driven to his five-star hotel in a 30-vehicle convoy.

The controversial leader’s arrival in Harare came only 12 hours after a civil rights group won an urgent application to restrain him from publicly uttering any words “which can reasonably be understood or construed as being capable of instigating violence, discord and/or hatred” between black and white people.

The ANC vowed to challenge the ruling and an earlier court judgment which declared the lyric as unconstitutional and unlawful.

South Africa’s Freedom Front Plus party has described Malema as “an accessory to the wiping out of farmers in South Africa”.

Some 861 white farmers have been killed since 2001, according to police, and 120 died in 2009 alone.

…After his trip to Zimbabwe, Mr Malema and his entourage will continue their research with visits to China, Chile, Venezuela, Brasil and Cuba.

Mr. Malema does not sound like a very good fellow.

It is telling that his itinerary includes stops in Zimbabwe, Venezuela and Cuba, three of the most anti-American regimes in the world.

I suspect we will hear much more from Mr. Mulema in the future.

[Return to headlines]


Obama’s Amnesty Will Undermine American Workers

As President Obama and the congressional leadership revive efforts to grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens living in the U.S., a new report from the Federation for American Immigration Reform concludes that such policies would severely undermine the interests of American workers. Amnesty and the American Worker also finds that record levels of immigration during the 2000s — both illegal and government mandated — have added new workers to our labor force faster than our economy has been able to create new jobs.

At a time when some 25 million Americans are either unemployed or involuntarily working part-time, amnesty legislation would legally entitle the estimated 7.5 million illegal aliens in our workforce to keep their current jobs, and compete with distressed American workers for any new jobs that are created. Proposed legislation, billed as “comprehensive immigration reform,” would also increase the flow of legal immigrants who would compete for jobs in the U.S., while offering no concrete initiative for stemming the tide of new illegal immigration.

Among the key findings of Amnesty and the American Worker:

— Driven by record levels of immigration, the U.S. economy would need to create 100,000 new jobs a month just to maintain current unemployment levels. The Obama administration optimistically expects its own policies to create only 95,000 new jobs each month. — The U.S. economy has lost about 8.4 million jobs since the onset of the recession. At current immigration levels, the economy would need to create 400,000 new jobs each month between now and 2013 to return to pre-recession unemployment levels. — Illegal immigration has been a primary factor in the growing income gap in the U.S. and has undermined the economic standing of many of America’s working-class families. — Amnesty for illegal aliens would disproportionately harm America’s poor and less-skilled workers.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Revealed: US Firm Issues British Visas… And MPs Were Not Told

Millions of visas allowing foreigners to enter Britain are being issued by an American company and a High Street travel agent rather than British diplomats.

The system — never officially announced to Parliament — means that instead of filling in a form at a British embassy and facing an interview by diplomatic staff, visa applicants are directed to commercially run ‘official’ offices around the world.

And hundreds of thousands of applicants simply fill in a form on a website run by the US company.

The two private firms are responsible for dealing with about 80 per cent of the 2.75 million visa applications every year, two million of which are successful.

A Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed that the new system — quietly introduced over the past two years — has been beset by problems, including one company’s staff selling visas. Critics fear it is fuelling the numbers of people who come to Britain and overstay after their visas expire, adding to the estimated one million illegal immigrants already in the country.

And tonight Opposition politicians called for a return of face-to-face interviews with British diplomats to help secure the UK’s borders against bogus applicants and potential terrorists.

The revelations will add to the discomfort felt by Gordon Brown last week when he faced criticism for making misleading statements about immigration figures.

The Mail on Sunday can reveal that business people, foreign government representatives, students and tourists in 109 countries all have to apply for visas through the two firms rather than through the embassies.

The American outsourcing firm, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), also runs an advice hotline charging large fees payable by credit card in dollars to help applicants complete visa forms, but which is described as ‘completely useless’ in a Government report.

Details of its five-year deal, or the cost to the taxpayer, have never been officially announced by the Government. But last week the firm announced a similar ten-year contract with the US State Department, worth £1.8 billion.

Virginia-based CSC has opened visa application centres in 14 countries and is running websites and call centres covering 87 others. Its so-called WorldBridge Service uses no diplomats or other British Government staff.

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

Culture Wars

House Plans to Resurrect Law Requiring ‘Gay’ Hires

Fresh off health-care victory, Dems target Christian employers

Now that the health-care fight has proven House Democrats can muscle through legislation without a drop of bipartisan support, plans are underway to resurrect a bill that would make employers susceptible to lawsuits for refusing to hire “gay” or transsexual employees.

H.R. 3017, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009, or ENDA, makes it unlawful for government agencies or businesses with more than 15 employees to refuse hire or promotion of anyone based on “gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.”

The bill does make exceptions for the U.S. military, religious organizations and some businesses with non-profit 501(c) designations, but makes no provisions for business owners’ consciences. A small construction company that wanted to maintain a Christian reputation, for example, could be sued if it refused to hire transvestites.

Openly homosexual members of the House, enthused by the health-care victory, are now looking to return from the congressional recess to begin work on ENDA.

“I am now confident that we will be getting a vote on ENDA,” bill sponsor Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., told Boston’s Edge, “The fact is, there was no chance of getting [Pelosi] to focus on this until health care was done. Health care is now done.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Memoir Sheds Light on the Life and Struggles of Arab Transsexual From Algeria

The threatening letters and phone calls at night trickled in at a steady pace. They had become a part of everyday life for Randa, an Algerian transsexual and one of the pioneers in the Arab world’s gay and transsexual activist movement.

One letter dropped in Randa’s mailbox said, “We will kill you.” Another one read, “You are a threat to all Muslims in Algeria.” In mosques around the country, Randa’s name was being circulated. Still, she refused to be intimidated and shrugged off the threats.

But one day, a friend showed up at her house in Algiers, the Algerian capital, with a worried look on his face. He had bad news.

“One my friends took me for a ride in his car and told me, ‘You have 10 days to leave the country,’“ Randa, the author of a new book about her experiences, said in an interview with Babylon & Beyond. “Influential people had come to talk to him.”

She knew she had to move quickly, but she had no idea where she’d go. Getting a visa to Europe would certainly take longer than 10 days. No, they’d get her before that, Randa figured. A visa to Lebanon, however, would only take a few days. And she had friends in Beirut.

So, Lebanon it was.

A year later, Randa, wearing a long black dress, high heels and sporting new black hair extensions, is greeting crowds of guests and reporters with a smile on her face at a signing for her memoir in the garden of a Beirut art studio.

The biography, “Memoirs of Randa the Trans,” co-written with Lebanese journalist Hazem Saghyieh, was recently published in Arabic by the Dar-Al Saqi publishing house and recounts Randa’s life story and struggles as a transsexual in Algeria and Beirut.

It is most likely the first book of its kind to be published in Arabic, but Randa doubts it will make it to Algerian bookstores considering the sensitive subject.

The publishing of her biography, says Randa, fulfills her goal of humanizing the transsexual to the public.

“A transsexual is also a human being, someone who thinks and who interacts in society just like other people,” she said. “Otherwise, we are seen as ‘things’ or simply as sexual objects.”

Growing up as a transsexual in conservative Algeria was a hellish experience for Randa. From an early age, she felt entrapped in her male body and kept insisting to her mom that she was a girl.

“She said ‘no, you’re a boy’ and started to correct me,” said Randa.

Things got worse at school, where Randa was constantly harassed by classmates for her feminine looks and behavior. Even the teachers were on her case, she says. In a particular humiliating incident, Randa remembered her teacher calling her “little girl” in front of the entire class.

“It was horrible at school,” she said. “The verbal and physical aggression just got worse and worse. … My parents made me change school five or six times. I remember them cutting my hair really short to make sure I’d look like a boy.”

It got to the point that Randa’s parents, fearing for her safety, prohibited her from going home from school unaccompanied.

But the despite the hardships and humiliation, Randa says she excelled in school and always got the best grades. She received a diploma in nursing and started working at a clinic.

Bigger problems rose in 2006 when Randa started one of the first support groups for gays and transsexuals in Algeria. They set up a website, and the group started reaching out to Algerian gays, lesbians and transsexuals and lobbying for their rights, to the deep disapproval of the Algerian authorities, Randa said.

At one point, Randa was scheduled to travel to Egypt to discuss transsexual issues on a TV show. Her friends repeatedly advised her against the interview, saying she was crossing the line by going on an Arab TV channel. But Randa said she didn’t care about the risks, believing that someone had to get out in the open

“I don’t care about risks when I have a goal. I just do it,” she laughed.

When she got to the airport in Algiers, she was told that her ticket had been canceled. When she finally managed to get someone from the TV program on the phone, she was told that the show had been canceled at the last minute and that the interview would be rescheduled.

They never called back.

Around that time, Randa had also began her physical transformation from male to female. She began taking medication that was shipped secretly to her from a doctor in Europe. The Algerian doctors she approached resisted, fearing they’d lose their licenses if they helped her.

Her visibility and activism intensified the threats and intimidation, and soon it became time to leave Algeria.

Though Randa doesn’t feel completely secure in Lebanon, she says tolerance for transsexuals is much higher in cosmopolitan Beirut than in other Arab cities.

However, she said that she believes that sooner or later she will also have to leave the Middle East and settle in a Western country if she wants to lead a relatively normal life.

Simply finding a job as a transsexual in the Middle East is a daunting task, she said.

When she applied for a nursing job at a hospital in Beirut, the employer hailed her resume and experience but told Randa it was against the hospital’s policy to hire transsexuals.

The only jobs she was offered sounded pretty sleazy: exotic dancer or entertainer at nightclubs. Once, someone suggested she should try prostitution — a common solution for transsexuals who are outcasts in this region, according to Randa.

Finally, after being on the job hunt for nearly a year, Randa said she recently found work with a Beirut-based gay-rights group.

Randa says it will take long a time before people change their perceptions about transsexuals.

“It’s a much bigger problem … and has to do with the patriarchal society here, in which the man has absolute authority,” she said. “For them, the transsexuals were men and abandoned the authority and all the privileges they held as men to become what in their eyes is less than a woman. They wonder what’s wrong with this man who wants to become lower than woman.”

But Randa remains defiant in her struggle.

“I don’t want to become a queen or change the world order,” she said. “I’m just a human being who wants to live in dignity.”

— Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

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

Our Nice, Furry Archbishop… Lost in a Barbarous World

Do we have to wait until the hate-filled mobs storm into Canterbury Cathedral and drag him from the pulpit before the Archbishop of Canterbury grasps that Christianity is in danger in this country? Nice, furry, mild and useless, Dr Rowan Williams chose this Easter week not to protect his Church, but to rebuke several bishops who had rightly warned of the swelling rage against the Church.

No doubt he is right to point out that Christians elsewhere suffer more. I would like to hear more protests from ‘human rights’ campaigners against the nasty treatment of Christians in the Muslim world, not least under the rule of the Palestinian Authority which many leftist Christians idiotically admire.

But so what? In those rough neighbourhoods, under the grudging scowl of Muslim so-called ‘tolerance’, this has been the case for centuries. Here, things are and ought to be different. Dr Williams is the head of the Established Church in England. The laws of this country, the shape of its cities and countryside, its language, morals, literature, architecture, family structure and politics are all based upon Christianity.

Take it away and it will be like removing the mortar from a great building, leaving its bricks and stones loose and trembling in the storm to come. And yet there are many people who want to do this. In this Century of Selfishness, Christianity is an annoying obstacle, with its infuriating insistence on active unselfishness and its unalterable rules which say that there are some things you just cannot do, like for instance murder unborn babies and walk out on your marriage.

Last week, there was yet another case of someone being in trouble for being a Christian, in an officially Christian country. I collect these incidents: preachers arrested and fined; nurses disciplined for offering to pray for patients; registrars disciplined for declining to officiate at homosexual civil partnerships; adoption societies forced to close because they will not place children with same-sex couples. Just 30 years ago, they would have been unthinkable. Another few decades and Christianity will be against the law.

I expect that before long there will be cases of teachers being fired for resisting compulsory sex education in primary schools. Last week’s example was that of a nurse, Shirley Chaplin, badgered by superiors for wearing a crucifix on a chain.

Does anyone really believe that she would have been pestered by authority if she had worn a Muslim symbol on a chain round her neck? Does anyone believe that a Muslim preacher would have been put in the cells, and fined ï¿1/21,000 — as happened to Shawn Holes in Glasgow — for callinghomosexuality a sin in a public place? Each of these cases lets others know that they had better be careful, and makes many faithful Christians fear that they may have to choose between their faith and their livelihood.

Does Dr Williams even know about the oppressive new codes of practice in the professions and the public sector, which compel employees to adopt the new secular faith of ‘Equality and Diversity’? Now the Archbishop has strangely chosen this weekend to attack his fellow Christians in the Roman Catholic church. They must be beginning to wonder how long they have got before they are arrested. Yet nobody seems to ask, in all the justified fury against Roman Catholic priests who have disgraced themselves and wounded others, an interesting question. Here it is. This Easter weekend, a film was released into British cinemas called ‘Kick-Ass’, which features an 11-year-old girl, Chloe Moretz, who speaks in filthy language and wears outfits obviously designed to sexualise her.

I find this repellent, disgusting and immoral. Yet this film, which members of Britain’s exciting post-Christian elite helped to make, is receiving generous praise in the liberal media. Why? If this isn’t the corruption of the young, then what is? Yet I have no doubt that those who defend this sewage are in the ranks of those howling at the Pope for supposedly condoning priestly child abuse (which he doesn’t).

Phooey. What they hate is not the abuse, which happens in liberal state institutions just as it does in the Roman church. What they hate is the Christian church. And at the moment they are winning the argument partly because the Church won’t fight back with any spirit. Dr Williams seems actually to be on the side of the anti-God battalions.

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

Turkey’s Gays, Transsexuals Decry Homophobia

Activists say homosexuals, transgender people face discrimination despite relaxed Turkish laws.

ISTANBUL — When Turkey’s family affairs minister recently described homosexuality as a curable disease, she was roundly criticized for discrimination and flouting human rights.

But for activists her remarks only underscore what they say is increasing prejudice, discrimination and violence — even from police — against homosexuals and transgender people.

A total of 45 gays and transgender people were killed over three years in “hate murders”, said Demet Demir, a transsexual and leading activist from Istanbul-LGBTT, a civic body promoting homosexual rights.

“In February alone, five people were killed. In Antalya (southern Turkey), a transsexual friend was brutally murdered; her throat was slit.

“In Istanbul, another was stabbed to death. Three young men… killed her for money, but she only had 70 liras (46 dollars, 34 euros) and a gold chain,” Demir said, adding that three gay men had also been killed in Anatolia.

Same-sex relationships have never been criminalised in Turkey. Prostitution and sex change operations are legal.

Several gay and transgender bars have flourished in major cities such as Istanbul, while a transsexual singer and homosexuals figure among the country’s top celebrities.

There are also several associations fighting for gay and transgender rights that organize regular conferences, parades and demonstrations.

But at the same time, traditional values hold sway over large sections of this macho society, which frowns upon displays of femininity.

Discrimination is rife: transgender people are forced to work in the sex sector as nobody will employ them while homosexuals feel they have to hide their sexual identity so as not to risk losing their jobs.

Last year, for example, a football referee came out on television, only to see his refereeing licence revoked.

The Turkish army classifies homosexuality as a “disease” while police are notoriously harsh against transsexuals.

“Just yesterday, police raided the flat where we meet our clients, breaking down the door,” Ece, a 43-year-old transsexual, said.

“They arrested everyone and beat one of the girls with a truncheon. She had to have three stitches to her head,” she added.

Although the government has enacted a series of rights reforms to boost the country’s EU bid since it came to power in 2002, it has turned a blind eye to homosexual rights.

In March, Family Affairs and Women’s Minister Selma Aliye Kavaf declared in a newspaper interview that she believed homosexuality was a “biological disorder, a disease.”

“I think it should be treated,” she said.

According to Demir, “Assailants think that nobody will ask questions and that they won’t risk heavy penalties if they kill a transsexual.”

Ece, who has been working in the sex sector for 22 years, said she felt compelled to take precautions to minimize risks to her life: making sure she is not alone when meeting clients and never seeking work along motorways.

“In the flats where the girls work, there are always housekeepers and cleaning ladies… We are never really alone with the client,” she explained.

“If there is ever any aggression against one of us, we all intervene. If there is a fight, we all join it.”

In a letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in February, several non-governmental organizations called for the government to ensure security for gay and transgender people.

They pointed out that eight transsexuals had been killed between November 2008 and February this year.

Ece said the authorities share responsibility in those crimes.

“When a minister makes such declarations, when the police break down your door and beat you up with a truncheon… there will always be people who think that we are evil creatures,” she said.

“They will think they have a right to eliminate you, make you disappear.”

Firat Soyle, a lawyer for Lambda Istanbul, a gay rights group, said the government needed to ban discrimination on sexual orientation.

“In the Turkish legal system, there is no reference to homosexuality, neither penalisation nor positive discrimination. But this legal vacuum is always used against homosexuals,” he said.

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