Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100405

Financial Crisis
»Germany: Dividends Boom Despite Recession and Job Cuts
»Greece: Companies to be Privatized
»Greece Steps Up Privatisations, Plan After Easter
»A “Right” To Health Freedom, Not to Health Care
»Democrats’ Desperate Plan to Reclaim High Ground
»Medicated in the Cockpit: FAA Says Pilots on Psych Drugs Can Fly Commercial Airliners
»Muslim Students Want to Take Over Christian College
»Ohio Christian Convert Fights to Stay in US
»Sick Thinking From ‘Mainstream’ Leftists — by David Limbaugh
»Topless Women Protesters ‘Surprised, Upset’ As Men Show Up With Cameras
»U.S. Allies Find Obama a Frosty Friend — by Mark Steyn
Europe and the EU
»Cardinal Defends Embattled Pope Against ‘Idle Chatter’
»Danish Catholics to Probe Sexual Abuse
»European Countries Ponder Banning the Burqa
»France: Workers Threaten to Blow Up Factory Tank
»France: Almost 20 Million Broadband Subscribers
»German Jews Slam Catholic Anti-Semitism Remarks
»Germany: Islam Critic Necla Kelek
»Germany: Conservative Opposition to Taking on Gitmo Prisoners Grows
»Greece Blames Germany for “Racial Approach” On Aid
»How Eurocrats Want to Spend £1.1m Changing the English Channel’s Name to ‘Le Pond’
»Italy: Minister to Investigate Sex Abuse Prosecutor
»Italy: Taranto: Tunisian Abshu’s Unpublished Poetry Comes Out
»Italy: Sicilian-Arab Horse Born Thanks to Sultan’s Gift
»‘It’s a Good Time to be Jewish in Poland’
»New Delay in Merger Accord Between BA and Iberia
»Police Fear Third Wave of German Jihadists
»Spain: Merger Between Extremadura, Murcia and Cajasur Soon
»Spain: Galicia and Caixanova Funds About to Merge
»Spain: The Gran Via, Heart of Madrid’s Movida, Turns 100
»Stricter Rules to Become a Belgian
»Sweden: More Charges Brought in Car Park Murder Case
»Switzerland: Massive Bank Payout Rekindles Bonus Debate
»Switzerland: “Church Tried to Wash Dirty Laundry in Private”
»Tunisia Italy’s Second Olive Oil Supplier
»UK: An iPhone to Spy on Teacher: Pupils Told to Email Secret Verdicts on Staff During Lessons
»UK: Father of Schoolgirl Stabbed to Death on Her Way to Party Weeps as He Pays Tribute to ‘Pretty, Intelligent’ Daughter
»UK: How Richly Ironic That Teachers’ Ludicrous Obsession With ‘Pupil Power’ Is Now Putting Them Out of Work
»UK: Labour Throws £18bn at Doomed Crime Fight as Fewer Offenders Are Brought to Justice
»UK: When Gordon Brown Offered Me His Hand I Turned and Walked Awayby Tom Newton Dunn, Political Editor
»Serbia-Croatia: Adria Wings Planing Nis-Rijeka Flights
»Serbia: Deutsche Telekom Confirms Interest in Telekom Serbia
»Serbia: Average Household Monthly Income Eur476 in 2009
Mediterranean Union
»France-Egypt: Alexandria Celebrates Gift of 500,000 Books
North Africa
»Arabic Version of Mother Goose on the Loose
»Books: The Forgotten Story of Italians in Morocco
»Istanbul’s Historical Spice Bazaar to Go Under Restoration
Israel and the Palestinians
»Hamas Demands an End to Israeli Strikes
»Israel ‘Using Facebook to Recruit Gaza Collaborators’
»Under Construction: Utopian City for Palestinian Yuppies
»Via Crucis: Jerusalem; Many Pilgrims, Few Arabs
Middle East
»Ankara Criticizes France, Germany of Arming Greece
»Cigarette Sales Drop 15% in Turkey With Smoking Ban
»Frank Gaffney: “Who Lost Iraq?”
»Hurting U.S. Efforts to Win Minds, Taliban Disrupt Pay
»Husband Cuts Off Wife’s Nose in Turkish Village
»Mardin Anti-Terror Conference Sparks Debate Over Fatwas
»Suicide Attempt Highlights Problem of Child Brides in Turkey
»Turkey: Medieval Fatwa on Jihad Renounced
»Turkey: ‘Bribes’ To State Employees Legalised
»Turkey: Private Pension Funds Rise Up to Nearly USD 6.4 Bln
»UAE: Plane Crash, Body of President’s Brother Found
»Unmarried Air Stewardess Faces Jail in Dubai for Having Baby
South Asia
»German Jihad Colonies Sprout Up in Waziristan
Far East
»Bob Dylan Banned From Playing in China
Australia — Pacific
»War Veteran Calls Triple-0 From Own Hospital Bed
Latin America
»No Bishops Involved in Cases of Sex Abuse in Brazil, Vatican Spokesman Clarifies
»Sex Abuse in Brazil: Abuser Priest Provides Checklist for Selecting Victims.
»For You Were Aliens in the Land of Egypt
»Spain: Recession Hits Immigrants, 2009 Remittances -9.7%
»UK: Birmingham Man Who Had Sex With Sheep Jailed
Culture Wars
»Iranian Transgenders Reclassified
»How the Western Pursuit of Muslim Moderates Actually Promotes Extremism

Financial Crisis

Germany: Dividends Boom Despite Recession and Job Cuts

Despite the recession, falling profits and job layoffs, Germany’s biggest firms are set to pay out about €20 billion this year to their shareholders, a survey has found.

The survey of the 30 major companies making up the DAX index, published on Monday by news magazine Der Spiegel, found that the value of dividends have dropped only 12 percent despite a considerably greater plunge in profits.

Deutsche Telekom tops the list of dividend payouts, set to delight its shareholders with €3.4 billion, even though its 2009 profits had plunged to just €353 million, compared with €1.48 billion in 2008. Deutsche Telekom also axed about 4,000 jobs last year — or 3.2 percent of its workforce.

More dramatic still was the steel giant ThyssenKrupp, which reported a loss of €1.8 billion last year and cut 5 percent of its workforce. The firm nevertheless has paid out dividends worth €139 million.

Similarly, heavy vehicle manufacturer MAN lost €258 million and cut 7 percent of its workforce but nevertheless paid out €297 million in dividends.

Car maker Daimler, by contrast, cancelled dividends altogether after losing €2.6 billion and sacking 3 percent of its workers.

Of the 22 DAX companies that cut jobs in the past year, only nine reduced their dividends or paid out none at all, the survey found. And while more than half the firms reported reduced profits or outright losses, only 12 reduced their dividends.

Thirteen companies paid out the same or higher dividends despite cutting jobs. One of these was Deutsche Bank, which cut 2 percent of its workforce but nevertheless paid out 50 percent higher dividends than the previous year.

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

Greece: Companies to be Privatized

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, APRIL 2 — The list of companies the Greek State is going to privatize to bring in much needed cash is getting longer, with speculation in the press on Depa, the company managing natural gas distribution, for which a strategic investor is being sought. The same goes for Eyath, the handling society for Thessaloniki’s water system, which would maintain control of the water network, while private owners would get 49%. Another one of the to-be-privatized societies is the nickel producer Larko, whose major shareholders are Ethniki Trapeza (the National Bank) and the utility Dei (electricity). The previous government had already scheduled its privatization, and the present government seems set to carry t out due to the favourable economic situation. According to the Greek press, the Dutch group Cunico (of multinationals Imr and Bsg, operating mostly in diamond mining), Australia’s Western Mines and the Greek group Mitilinaios (operating in the mining field) have already expressed interest in Larko. Harbours are another sector the Greek government hopes to gain a considerable amount from, with the creation of a company in which it would hold shares being considered. Concerning the development of state-owned real estate property, the government is evaluating two possible solutions: the creation of a company for all property or the setting up of another structure to evaluate private participation on a case by case basis. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece Steps Up Privatisations, Plan After Easter

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS — Greece needs to “rustle up funds” in order to tackle its state of recession and this fact has led to a speeding up of the privatisation plans which, when completed, should bring in around two and a half billion euros for the state’s coffers. According to announcements made by those close to the country’s Finance Minister, Giorgios Constantinou, the privatisation plan is to be made official after the Easter break, but it is already clear that the first sector to come under the hammer will be rail transportation, swiftly followed by state-held real estate. The first business to be affected should be Trainose, the managing company of the state railways, which is due to undergo a personnel rationalisation scheme — this may even see staff numbers halved, some analysts say — in order to stem its continuing losses. As for real estate, the choice has yet to be made between setting up a company into which state-held property should flow, or one to assess stakes held by private companies on a case-by-case basis. Other state-held assets awaiting privatisation include Eyath (the utility managing the water-supply system for the Saloikki area); Larko (a nickel producer) and the electricity utility DEI. Another sector the Athens government hopes will yield a cash income is that of the ports. The idea here is to create a partly state-owned port management company. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


A “Right” To Health Freedom, Not to Health Care

A right to health freedom and a right to health care are not synonymous. In fact, they are contradictory. The former frees us from government; the latter ties us to government. The former leaves the individual sovereign over his or her own health care; the latter makes the state sovereign. America’s Founding Fathers favored the former, and President Obama favors the latter. Barack Obama James Madison you are not.

Many of those who support mandatory health insurance conceive of health care as a fundamental right, not a privilege. In their view fundamental rights are not defined as freedoms from government but as entitlements to government. Under this “affirmative” rights construct, so popular with socialist academics in the 60’s and 70’s, government must tax and redistribute wealth to guarantee politically preferred Americans goods and services deemed “essential:” health care, food, shelter, clothing, employment, and even day care. Adoption of this affirmative rights construct compels the creation of a massive national government and renders subject to political control previously private properties and choices. It deprives the individual of choice over the disposition of earned income, so the government may confiscate and redirect that income to grant the entitlement. When the entitlement is legally recognized as a “right,” it becomes mandatory and, so, the confiscation and redistribution likewise become obligatory and permanent.

The Founders of the American republic believed freedom from government indispensable to individual liberty. They understood political power to be a necessary evil that their Constitution aimed to limit strictly so as not to deprive individual liberty. They trusted in the American people to determine how best to expend their own earnings and to pursue their own industry and improvement. They sought not to replace commerce with government but to ensure the free flow of commerce unfettered by government.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Democrats’ Desperate Plan to Reclaim High Ground

Once again the American left is exhibiting its total detachment from reality. In the aftermath of the thoroughly corrupt political circus that was the “healthcare” vote, Democrat leaders and their media minions now seek to contrive a world in which the people of the nation are grateful for medical socialism and increasingly willing to embrace it.

Certain public opinion polls predictably exhibited a sudden increase in Barack Obama’s popularity, as viewing audiences are treated to incessant stories of average Americans panting with anticipation over the impending utopia of free and unrestricted nationalized “healthcare.” Everyone, we are told, is seeing the light and getting on board, with the exception of those nasty right wing extremists at their venom-filled “Tea Parties.”

In truth, the left is engaged in a major propaganda blitz, the purpose of which is twofold. First, those who spearheaded the effort to institute medical socialism, from Barack Obama down to Representative Bart Stupak (D.-MI) and his fellow congressional Democrat lapdogs, are fearful of the degree of voter backlash they might face as a result of their reprehensible actions.

Secondly, and much more significantly, recognizing their precarious position, they have embarked on a brazen strategy of vilifying their opposition in hopes that sympathy and public opinion might once again shift in their direction. So, in what was blatantly obvious as a pre-planned effort, immediately on the heels of the “passage” of Obamacare, Democrats began leveling wild accusations of “violence” and “hate speech” against the Republicans.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Medicated in the Cockpit: FAA Says Pilots on Psych Drugs Can Fly Commercial Airliners

NaturalNews) What would happen if the Columbine high school rampage shooters who were psyched out on mind-altering antidepressant drugs had been piloting a jet airliner instead? On Friday, the FAA issued a new rule that says pilots taking psychiatric medications are now allowed to pilot passenger airliners while medicated!

This “permission to fly while medicated” decision by the FAA covers pilots taking the antidepressant psychiatric drugs Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa and Lexapro. Not coincidentally, these are the same drugs that, in the minds of many industry observers, are linked to acts of aggression, suicide and mass murder. People on these drugs may simply lose touch with reality and feel like they’re playing out a video game rather than acting out in the real world.

It begs the question: Why is the FAA putting medicated pilots in control of jet airliners? What happens if a psych drug medicated pilot suddenly thinks he’s in a video game and aims his Boeing 767 at a civilian target “just for the fun of it?” Or what if he goes raving mad, strangles the copilot and then crashes the jet airliner nose-first into the ground?

While this kind of scenario may seem remote, you have to remember: It only takes one such event to cost the lives of hundreds of air passengers (and perhaps thousands of people on the ground).

Today, air travel is remarkably safe in terms of the number of fatalities per miles traveled. It’s far safer than traveling in your car, in fact, and a fair amount of the credit for that safety belongs with the FAA. So why is the FAA now making a decision that seems, on its surface, to endanger the lives of air passengers by allowing psychiatric patients to pilot airplanes?

According to the FAA, the answer is because modern psychiatric drugs have fewer side effects. That seems like a political statement, not a medical conclusion, because the side effects that are experienced by a very small number of psychiatric medication users can be so whacked out that they can pose a very real danger to the lives of those around them. The majority of U.S. school shootings that we’ve seen over the last 15 years have been carried out by shooters taking psychiatric medications.

Antidepressants work no better than placebo

The other part of this story that the FAA seems to be missing is that for all but the most extreme cases of depression, antidepressant drugs have been scientifically proven — through multiple clinical trials — to work no better than placebo. These pilots would do just as well taking capsules filled with olive oil as they do on patented, monopoly-priced SSRI drugs. Yet despite the scientific reality that antidepressants are no better than placebo for the vast majority of patients, doctors continue to prescribe them and now the FAA has allowed these drugs into the cockpit. Er, excuse me, the “Flight Deck.”

And this makes me wonder whether those pilot-narrated fly-over descriptions — “On the left you can see Mt. St. Helens” — will start to include hallucinogenic elements, too. “On the right, I see Santa Claus and his ten reindeer, about to pass under engine number four. Please fasten your seat belts while we take evasive action…”

Depression is a sign of another health problem

If a pilot suffers from depression, that’s an indication that there’s some other health problem they’re dealing with: Usually cardiovascular disease of some kind.

Depression can also be brought on by vitamin D deficiencies or a diet lacking in omega-3 oils. Depression isn’t simply an isolated “chemical imbalance in the brain,” as the drug companies would like you to believe: It’s a symptom of a much larger health challenge that almost always includes a cardiovascular component. So if a pilot suffers from depression, shouldn’t that mean they need to reform their own personal health from the inside out rather than relying on a chemical agent to mask their symptoms?

I actually know a senior pilot for a major U.S. airline; a guy who flies the largest and most technical Boeing aircraft around. He’s a member of the Life Extension Foundation and takes care of his health through exercise, fasting and daily nutritional supplementation. He’s the kind of pilot I want behind the yoke because I believe that pilots have a special responsibility to be healthy and alert. I would not want to be a passenger on any airplane being piloted by a psychiatric patient medicated on Big Pharma’s dangerous mind-altering drugs.

[Return to headlines]

Muslim Students Want to Take Over Christian College

In typical fashion; sneaky underhanded infiltration, then slow but steady rebellion against established authority, the always dangerous and always deceitful followers of Allah, are causing trouble once again in America, the country they love to hate.

In an American Vision article from posted by Gary DeMar on March 31, 2010 titled, “Muslim Students Want to Take Over Christian College, it was made known that these ever-complaining, never satisfied, ready to move in and try to take over where they’re not wanted; not welcomed because of their nasty habits and traits, these bad tempered malcontents were offended by seeing the words, “in the year of Our Lord” on their diplomas and they want them removed.

Ignorance and bad manners are surely at play here; well mannered guests do not make public displays or demands for changes in rock-bedded traditions that have years of standing. Trinity University has been in existence for close to a century and one half and is a secular school belying its name that suggests perhaps a connection with a holy Trinity.

In this case the Trinity comes from the merging of three educational facilities that were facing grave financial difficulties following our Civil War and in similar fashion to our own national motto, ‘E pluribus unum’ — “out of many, one”; Trinity chose ‘E tribus unum’ — “from three, one” established in 1869. Its secular status is the most probable attraction for the Muslims to come to the school. Its small size, approximately 2,500 student body may have been another incentive. Muslims prefer odds to be in their favor, as smaller campuses are easier to infiltrate and to practice ‘divide and conquer tactics.’ According to Gary DeMar, this rebellion against authority at Trinity began when a Muslim student, ironically not of Middle Eastern extraction, but from nearby Mexico and a convert to Muslim took exception after seeing the “our Lord” inscription while at the University bookstore.

As DeMar stated, “Muslims have been attacking Christianity since the inception of their religion. They’ve spotted a weakness in our system, the attempt to be diverse at any cost, even if it costs us the one thing that made this nation great—its Christian foundation.“ He goes on to explain, “Muslims understand this; many Christians don’t. Muslims call for diversity as a wedge to get in the door, open it wide enough for others follow behind, then once in pool their collective energies and force Christians out.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Ohio Christian Convert Fights to Stay in US

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A teenage girl who converted to Christianity and ran away from home is being blocked by her Muslim parents from fighting the possibility of deportation, her attorney told a judge Monday in an ongoing custody dispute.

Rifqa Bary, 17, who fled home last year and stayed with a Florida minister whom she met on Facebook, is an illegal immigrant and does not want to be returned to her native Sri Lanka because she fears being harmed or killed by Muslim extremists.

Her attorney, Angela Lloyd, asked a judge to sign an order stating that reunification with her parents is not possible by her 18th birthday in August.

The order would allow Bary, who is in foster care, to apply for special immigration status without her parents’ consent.

Omar Tarazi, an attorney for the parents, objected, telling the judge that he had been unaware of Bary’s separate maneuver to apply to an immigration court. He said the parents previously filed an immigration application for the whole family.

Franklin County Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Gill declined to issue the order without first holding a hearing next month. She also declined to remove a gag order that prevents attorneys from discussing the case publicly…

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Sick Thinking From ‘Mainstream’ Leftists — by David Limbaugh

The Obama left, realizing it has really stepped in it with the American people by cramming Obamacare down our throats, has decided to blunt the backlash against it by tarring, yet again, mainstream conservatives as racists, bigots, homophobes and violent. Its tactics are objectively despicable.

You know the drill. We conservatives, who happen to understand ourselves better than liberals do, know that we are largely a civil, respectable, peaceable bunch. Attendees to the Rush Limbaugh-inspired Dan’s Bake Sale years ago can attest to the mature, wholesome behavior of Rush fans. Ditto Sean Hannity’s Freedom Concert attendees and tea party protest attendees.

The leftists who actually believe the fraudulent bile they are spewing about conservatives as being violent are merely projecting. They know their own side often disrupts and shuts down debate and engages in hate speech and even anarchy. Witness the unruly leftist disruptions of Ann Coulter appearances or the sabotaging of Karl Rove’s appearance by Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans, one of Obama’s radical buddies. Look at the tea party violence from the SEIU left.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Topless Women Protesters ‘Surprised, Upset’ As Men Show Up With Cameras

DOZENS of women have walked topless through downtown Portland, in the US state of Maine, in order to bring attention to what they claim is a double standard when it comes to the public display of upper torsos.

Event organiser, Ty MacDowell, told she set up Saturday’s event — with a police escort — because she could.

Maine’s nudity laws only apply to exposed genitals.

Ms MacDowell said she was surprised by the number of men who showed up with cameras.

“I’m really upset by the men … all the men that are here, just like watching it like it’s a parade,” she said.

“We should be able to walk down the street and not have this many men taking pictures of us,” a participant shouted.

Some bystanders said they were upset at the spectacle on a sunny weekend in the historic city centre, saying children were present.

The walk went off without any problems and organisers said they expect to plan similar events in the future.

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

U.S. Allies Find Obama a Frosty Friend — by Mark Steyn

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, took U.S. criticisms in his stride. “Whether it comes to our role in Afghanistan, our sovereignty over our Arctic or, ultimately, our foreign aid priorities, it is Canada and Canadians who will make Canadian decisions,” he said. Judging from the chill in the room at his and the Secretary of State’s joint photo-op, the Canadian Arctic now extends pretty much to the U.S. border.

The Obama administration came into office promising to press the “reset” button with the rest of the world after eight years of the so-called arrogant, swaggering Texan cowboy blundering his way around the planet, offending peoples from many lands. Instead, Obama pressed the ejector-seat button: Brits, Czechs, Israelis, Indians found themselves given the brush. I gather the Queen was “amused” by the president’s thoughtful gift of an iPod preloaded with Obama speeches — and, fortunately for Her Majesty, the 160GB model only has storage capacity for two of them, or three if you include one of his shorter perorations. But Gordon Brown would like to be liked by Barack Obama, and can’t understand why he isn’t…

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Cardinal Defends Embattled Pope Against ‘Idle Chatter’

A senior cardinal (pictured left) on Sunday said the faithful would not be influenced by “idle chatter” in a reference to the avalanche of paedophile priest scandals engulfing the Roman Catholic Church.

AFP — Top Vatican prelates rallied around Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday as paedophile priest scandals have plunged the Roman Catholic Church into its worst crisis in decades.

Easter mass in a rain-drenched St Peter’s Square kicked off with an unusual greeting from the dean of the College of Cardinals, who told the pontiff: “The people of God are with you and do not allow themselves to be impressed by the idle chatter of the moment.”

Cardinal Angelo Sodano was reprising the same phrase the pope used a week ago when he urged Christians “not be intimidated by the idle chatter of prevailing opinions”.

In Paris, the archbishop of the city and head of the Catholic Church in France, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, said there was a “smear campaign aimed at the pope”.

It was Benedict, then known as Cardinal Ratzinger, who “as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, encouraged bishops to take action against paedophilia by systematically informing Rome of such cases,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.

However the top bishops in both Belgium and Germany issued forthright condemnations of the Church’s role in covering up for predator priests.

Belgium’s Andre Joseph Leonard, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, said in his Easter homily that the Church had mismanaged the crisis “with a guilty silence”.

Germany’s top archbishop, Robert Zollitsch, for his part, said: “Today particularly we must set out together and examine inconceivable events, awful crimes, the Church’s dark aspects as well as our shadowy sides.”

The scandals have cast a pall over Easter, the most joyous day in the Christian calendar, commemorating the day when Jesus Christ is believed to have been resurrected.

In his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message, the pope, wearing a gold mitre and white and gold vestments, said humankind needed “a spiritual and moral conversion… to emerge from a profound crisis, one which requires deep change, beginning with consciences.”

The crisis over predator priests took a new twist on Friday when the pope’s personal preacher evoked a parallel between attacks on the pontiff and anti-Semitism.

Jewish groups and those representing victims of abuse by Roman Catholic priests condemned Father Raniero Cantalamessa for quoting the comments, which he said were made in a letter from a Jewish friend, in his Good Friday sermon.

Cantalamessa issued an apology on Sunday, telling the Italian daily Corriere della Sera: “If I inadvertently hurt the feelings of Jews and paedophilia victims, I sincerely regret it and I apologise.”

Benedict has spoken out several times since the start of his papacy in 2005 on child sex abuse, calling it a “heinous crime” and a “grave sin.” But the scandals have been gaining momentum relentlessly, putting the Vatican on the defensive.

In the United States on Saturday, fresh allegations emerged in court documents that Cardinal William Levada — now the head of the Vatican department in charge of disciplining predator priests — had reassigned an alleged child molester in the 1990s without warning his parishioners.

The pope headed the same department — the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — from 1981 to 2005, and himself faces allegations that he helped to protect predator priests both in that role and when he was archbishop of Munich.

In Sunday’s Easter message, the pontiff also called for a “true exodus” from conflict in the Middle East, “the land sanctified by (Jesus’) death and resurrection,” urging “a true and definitive ‘exodus’ from war and violence to peace and concord” in the Middle East.

Condemning persecution and lamenting the “suffering” of Christian minorities, Benedict said: “May the Risen Lord sustain the Christians who suffer persecution and even death for their faith, as for example in Pakistan.”

He added: “To the Christian communities who are experiencing trials and sufferings, especially in Iraq… Peace be with you!”

Benedict also called for an end to conflicts in Africa, notably in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea and Nigeria, and condemned “a dangerous resurgence of crimes linked to drug trafficking” in Latin America and the Caribbean.

He also offered solace to the people of Haiti and Chile following the massive earthquakes in their countries.

As tradition dictates, the pontiff ended with greetings in 65 languages including Mongolian, Icelandic, and Aramaic, the language of Jesus still spoken in parts of the Middle East and Turkey, addressed to millions watching live broadcasts of the speech around the world.

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

Danish Catholics to Probe Sexual Abuse

Bishop reverses decision not to investigate former abuses.

Denmark’s Roman Catholic Bishop Czeslav Kozon has done an about face on a decision not to investigate former sexual abuses by priests, following heavy pressure from the Danish media and Catholics.

In a press release, Kozon, who is currently on a working visit to the Vatican, says he plans to set up a group of ‘competent people’ to look into allegations of sexual abuse by clergy. The Danish Roman Catholic church has been criticised by the media for not investigating allegations of sexual abuse over the past century.

According to Bishop Kozon’s statement, the group is to carry out a thorough investigation of cases that have been brought to its attention.

“Catholics, who can see that it is difficult to carry out an investigation into previous cases of the sexual abuse of children by the clergy given that there is only sporadic information, have at the same time advised that as many cards that exist, should be laid on the table — and I will follow that advice,” Bishop Kozon says.

Bishop Kozon has not been available for comment. He is currently in Rome with bishops from the other Nordic countries for their five-yearly visit to the Holy See.

Kozon is previously reported as saying that he knows of 4-5 cases in the 1980s or before of the abuse of children and young people but that the Church is neither obliged to investigate old cases of sexual abuse or report new cases to the police.

The bishop’s new decision appears to reverse that obligation and comes after Pope Benedict XVI wrote a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics apologising for “the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the Church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious”.

To bishops who failed to respond adequately to allegations, the Pope writes: “ must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness”.

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

European Countries Ponder Banning the Burqa

All over Europe, a debate is raging over prohibiting facial veils. Countries’ responses differ, but the arguments are the same everywhere.

By Marc Leijendekker

“The burqa symbolises the submission of women,” is the claim of one Austrian minister, a social democrat. No, outlawing burqas could lead women to shun the streets, warns Sweden’s prime minister, a liberal conservative. This week, a Belgian parliamentary committee has called for an all-out ban of burqas. Meanwhile, a French court has called such a restriction legally untenable.

The burqa, a garment completely covering the female body and face, is worn in some Islamic traditions. The question whether or not such clothing should be forbidden in public places has been the matter of debate in many European countries lately. In the continent’s major countries, a majority supports a ban, a survey by the Financial Times (FT) showed last month.

Only a few thousand burqas

The number of women who actually wear burqas is very small everywhere in Europe. In Denmark an estimated 150 to 200 do so. In Belgium, less than 300 female Muslims cover their faces. In France, 2,000 women go about in burqas. A number dwarfed by the total French Muslim population of 5 to 6 million souls.

Still, this has done little to stifle debate, most of which goes on at the domestic level. The arguments used hardly differ from country to country however. The fundamental problem is the same everywhere: how to deal with a manner of dress that many people see as a way of distancing oneself from fellow citizens and society in general, regardless of the religious connotation it may carry.

The right-wing governments of France and Denmark want to ban the burqa wherever possible. President Nicolas Sarkozy himself has said “the burqa is not welcome on the French Republic’s territory”. But a parliamentary committee of inquiry and the Council of State, the nation’s highest court in these matters, came to a different conclusion. They said an all-out burqa ban would be at odds with the French constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The French Council of State said a burqa ban in jewellery stores, courthouses, hospitals, school courtyards and the civil registries would be tenable if it was argued to be in the interest of security.

The French communist André Gerin, the chairman of the parliamentary committee that argued for a ban on burqas in January, sees the choice as a matter of principle. “Burqa, niqaab and other veils covering the entire face are only the tip of the iceberg called ‘fundamentalism’,” he said.

‘No place in Danish society’

In January, the Danish prime minister Lars Rasmussen said similar to those of Sarkozy. “There is no place in Danish society for the burqa or the niqaab. They symbolise an image of women and humanity that we oppose with all our heart,” he said. Rasmussen leads a right-wing minority government supported by the populist Danish People’s Party. He has also acknowledged, however, that a complete burqa ban would be legally untenable, but encouraged schools, government agencies and private enterprise to limit the use of the burqa “as much as possible”.

In Austria, minister for women, Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, said in an interview: “I consider the burqa a symbol of the submission of women. It is a serious impediment to women seeking jobs in the labour market. If more women in Austria start donning burqas, I will look into a possible ban and start fining women who wear them in public buildings.”

The same FT poll shows that support for a burqa ban is less widespread in Germany than it is in France, Spain, the United Kingdom or Italy. Germany did see some debate over banning burqas in school however.

In Italy, the Lega Nord, an ally of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi that won big in the regional elections last weekend, has proposed a bill that would outlaw it.

Their proposal specifically targets Muslims. Whoever “makes it impossible for him or herself to be identified for religious reasons,” could be fined up to 2,000 euros or sent to jail for two years under the proposed law. Italy’s minister for equal opportunities, Mara Carfagna, has said she is in favour of such a ban. “Let’s not forget that the burqa is not a religious symbol but an act of submission of woman to man […] banning the burqa is a way to save young female immigrants from the ghettos they are trying to force them into.”

No legal grounds for ban

But on what grounds? The French Council of State has found that neither the secular character of the state, nor protection of human dignity, nor the equality of the sexes offer sufficient legal grounds for a ban. According to the Council, the only possible legislative foundation would be security and the prevention of fraud.

Some supporters of this week’s Belgian bill, the Walloon liberals, have taken matters one step further. In the preamble of their proposal they write that “the argued ban not only takes into consideration matters of the public order, but also — at a more fundamental level — social considerations that are essential for living together in an emancipated society that ensures the rights of all.”

An open society means being able to look each other in the face, the preamble continues, because people need to be able to “recognise each other, to know one another”.

A number of municipalities in Belgium, including Antwerp and Gent, have already issued local burqa bans. Now that the parliamentary committee has approved such a ban unanimously at the national level, Belgium could become the first country in Europe to outlaw burqas.

For now, such a move remains unthinkable in Sweden, the United Kingdom or the Netherlands. These countries have a long tradition of allowing religious expression in the public realm. The conservative Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt vehemently opposes a burqa ban such as the one argued for by his French and Danish colleagues. The state should not try to force women into emancipation, he believes.

The British Labour prime minister Gordon Brown has expressed similarly feelings about the issue. “The UK government does not share France’s views on secularisation. In the UK we are comfortable with expressions of belief, be it the wearing of the turban, hijab, crucifix or kippa. This diversity is an important part of our national identity and one of our strengths. By contrast, France’s cultural and historical backgrounds have caused them to take a different view of secularisation and the wearing of religious symbols,” is how the British government responded to the French proposal.

Still, in the UK too some people have called for a ban. Malcom Pearson, leader of the extreme-right UKIP party, has said he feels the burqa is incompatible with British values.

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

France: Workers Threaten to Blow Up Factory Tank

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, APRIL 2 — Several workers of the French auto components factory Sodimatex, in Crepy-en-Valois, near Paris, have asked for improvements in the company’s reorganisation plan, and threatened last night to set fire to a gas tank. Around 40 employees spent the night at the factory. Today negotiations will reportedly be opened with the prefect, the management of the Treves group, owner of Sodimatex, and representatives of the workers’ committee. The workers have lit a bonfire in front of the factory which, according to the plan of the authorities, should be closed. The gas tank in question is surrounded by a group of protesters. The police are present on the spot. The factory makes carpeting for cars. At the moment the factory was occupied last night, followed by a demonstration, there were scuffles in which the police used tear gas. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France: Almost 20 Million Broadband Subscribers

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, APRIL 2 — The number of broadband subscribers in France reached 19.69 million at the end of 2009, a 10% increase on the previous year. The announcement was made by ARCEP, France’s telecommunications regulatory authority. Some 95% of subscribers have an ADSL connection, 4% use a cable and 1% have adopted fibre optics. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

German Jews Slam Catholic Anti-Semitism Remarks

Comparing criticism of the pope in the child sex scandals engulfing the Catholic Church to anti-Semitism is insulting and impertinent, the Central Council of Jews in Germany said Saturday.

“It is impertinent and an insult to the victims of sexual abuse as well as victims of the Holocaust,” the council’s secretary general, Stephan Kramer, said.

The parallel was made in a Good Friday service by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the pope’s personal preacher, who said he received a letter from a Jewish friend criticising the attacks against the pope and Catholic Church over the response to predator priests.

“The stereotyping, the transfer of personal responsibility and blame to a collective blame, reminds me of the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism,” the friend wrote, according to Cantalamessa.

The remarks have triggered a chorus of criticism from Jewish groups and those representing victims of abuse by Catholic priests.

The Vatican “is falling back upon the regular methods it has used over the decades to suppress and hide any affairs which compromise” the Catholic Church, said Kramer.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi later said the comments were from “a letter read by the preacher and not the official position of the Vatican.”

But Kramer said he finds it highly unlikely the pope’s preacher would make such a statement without Vatican approval.

“It was a step taken at a high level to relativise anti-Semitism and the Holocaust,” he said, adding that such remarks make religious dialogue between Jews and Catholics impossible.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany has also criticised a German bishop for comparing the criticism by the press of the Church over the predator priest scandal to Nazi methods.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Germany: Islam Critic Necla Kelek

An Enthusiastic Defender of Freedom

By Dirk Kurbjuweit

The Turkish-German writer Necla Kelek is a vehement defender of democracy. Her criticism of Islam has made many German intellectuals uneasy. But has she been unjustly vilified?

There are also problems among Germans, it’s not just the Turks, a young man points out. Necla Kelek is familiar with this objection — it’s one she hears again and again. She grimaces for a moment but then smiles gently and says in a confessional tone, “There are also a lot of things not right in Germany.”

The young man is satisfied, and Necla Kelek later admits that certainly not all Muslims pose a problem for democracy in Germany. In fact most of them certainly don’t — but there are still the few who do and they are the ones she has chosen to focus on. It’s the problems she is concerned with, she says.

Kelek, 52, a German woman with Turkish roots, is sitting in the cultural center in Achim, a town near Bremen in northern Germany. She has just finished a reading from her new book, “Himmelsreise” (“Journey to Heaven”).

The book casts a critical look at Islam and condemns the oppression and lack of freedom within Turkish communities and families in Germany.

Hate Monger and Holy Warrior?

Such views have made Kelek a controversial figure. The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung has labeled her a “hate monger,” while the center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung has called her a “holy warrior.” People often talk about Kelek in the same breath as Henryk M. Broder, a controversial polemic journalist who writes for SPIEGEL.

The interesting thing about Kelek is that she defends all of the terms that form the basis of German society: freedom, democracy, enlightenment, secular order, civil society. Yet in doing so, she draws harsh criticism from Germans. She’s a woman who makes people uneasy. But why?

One accusation is that Kelek has been unable to rid herself of the humiliation she suffered at the hands of her own family and that this is why she condemns Islam as a whole. Kelek has often recounted her life story. As a child, she came from Turkey to a small city in the German state of Lower Saxony, but never fully arrived in Germany. Breaks were the worst part of the school day because she stood around alone, not knowing what to do. Before and after school, Kelek lived in a completely Turkish world. Her father ran that world like a dictator, her mother obeyed, and the children had to humbly serve their father.

When Kelek disobeyed one of his orders and locked herself in her bedroom, her father forced his way in with an axe, seized his daughter by the throat, and swung her around. He disappeared shortly after, and Kelek never saw him again. He is now dead.

Kelek experienced what it was not to be free, a situation that applied in particular to women. The mothers had to obey the fathers, and many girls were married off to men from Turkish villages while they were still children. Kelek’s sister was among them. Kelek herself escaped this fate — “You’re too ugly,” her mother told her.

‘Our Society Is so Marvelous!’

Kelek studied technical drawing, and then was given the opportunity to study sociology through a grant from the Hans Böckler Stiftung, a foundation with close ties to labor unions. She calls the people from the foundation “my true parents.” After spending a period working as an academic, Kelek now makes her living mainly as an author.

She has since obtained German citizenship, but when Kelek talks about Europeans, she says “the Europeans,” not “we Europeans.” Questioned about this, she says she counts herself among their ranks, but has to smile, as if she’s been caught out. It’s a fairly big leap from a Turkish identity to a European one.

Kelek generally speaks in a calm, quiet voice. At the reading in Achim, again and again she invites the audience to criticize and debate. When she speaks of the freedoms denied to Turkish girls, her tone grows sharp, but she’s still a far cry from a “hate monger.”

Oddly enough one of the things that can make a conversation with Kelek somewhat disconcerting is the enthusiasm with which she praises freedom. It’s unfamiliar because Germans don’t talk this way anymore.

Questioning Creates Discourse

Kelek says words like “freedom,” “democracy,” “civil society,” and “enlightenment” in a tone others reserve for the describing amazing soccer goals. “Our society is so marvelous!” she exclaims. It pains Kelek that she rarely meets Germans capable of mentioning the word “freedom” without immediately alluding to the downsides, whether it be obsessive consumption or pornography. Perhaps it’s necessary to have experienced a lack of freedom in order to have such enthusiasm for it. And once the unease subsides, it’s actually gratifying to experience Kelek’s enthusiasm for the foundations of Western society.

Kelek is so taken by Germans, she can even find something positive in their endless contrition. “I’ve come to see that these self-doubts advance them,” she explains. Endless questioning creates discourse, she says, and discourse is the basis of all democracy. In the course of two long conversations, never once does a negative word about her critics pass her lips. She defends herself, but welcomes debate.

Her heroes are people like the German writers Ludwig Börne and Heinrich Heine, both intellectual fighters for freedom in the early 19th century. “I would have loved to have lived during that period,” Kelek says.

The second source of unease when talking to Necla Kelek is the fact that in her unapologetic criticism of the circumstances in some Turkish families or communities, she fails to constantly add that there are many Turks in Germany who are in favor of freedom, democracy, and enlightenment, and she also lacks the usual discomfort that suggests criticizing other ways of life can sometimes border on racism.

‘Religion Is Part of Freedom’

There are two reasons, it seems, why Germans often make lousy defenders of their own values — their detachment and their fear of being accused of intolerance. But a free society needs enthusiasts like Kelek. Otherwise, it risks becoming cynical.

Kelek finds herself in a dilemma familiar to all those who defend freedom and tolerance — namely, that freedom can never be complete freedom, and tolerance never complete tolerance. This means that a rational person who fights for freedom and tolerance is necessarily also always fighting for intolerance and a lack of freedom. In other words, those who fight for tolerance must also be intolerant of those who are intolerant.

Thus the accusation against Kelek turns out to be an empty one. It is during a debate such as the current one that a democratic society determines where it draws the line between what it will tolerate and what it won’t.

Headscarves cannot be tolerated as long as they remain an expression of the oppression of women, Kelek says. Sharia law cannot apply in Germany, and forced marriages of young girls are shameful. What happens in mosques and Koran schools, she adds, should be transparent and founded on Germany’s democratic constitutional order. “Religion,” she declares, “is part of freedom. It does not stand above it.”

It’s only natural that “Himmelsreise” is a one-sided book, singling out the aspects that, from a Western perspective, argue against allowing an unlimited Islam in Germany. The book is, after all, a contribution to a debate — an important contribution. Others can take up the role of responding to her views, but Kelek doesn’t deserve to be vilified.

Fighting For Every Immigrant Child

An event in early March demonstrated the importance of Kelek’s position. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) invited 1,500 Turks living abroad to a conversation in Istanbul. Ali Ertan Toprak, deputy chairman of Germany’s Alevi community, said afterward, “They wanted us to integrate in Europe, but with the single goal of representing Turkish interests.”

In addition, the Islam Conference — a dialogue series initiated by the German Interior Ministry — failed to reach an agreement with representatives from Turkish organizations on common core values. Kelek participated in the conference and considers it to have “successfully failed.” It became clear, she says, that these representatives didn’t place importance on common core values.

For Kelek, the central point is that Muslims should be able to become European citizens, with an appreciation for democracy, freedom, and secular society. Particularly in light of the growing proportion of Muslims in the population, society needs to fight for every single child of immigrants. It’s not enough to count on every oppressed person emerging with a disposition toward freedom and democracy, as Kelek did. Democracy requires a critical mass of democrats — otherwise, it collapses. The multicultural approach has given too little consideration to this aspect.

Kelek is fighting for nothing less than an Islamic enlightenment in Germany. As a devout Muslim, she has every right to do so. Her goal is to have many religions, but a single understanding of government and society.

This consensus leaves enough room for individual cultural differences. Kelek, for example, the enlightened Turkish-German woman, has done something that isn’t easy for a European to comprehend. She visited her father’s grave in Turkey and found it neglected. So she paid to have the grave fixed up again, and did it in such a manner that she and her siblings will be able to have their final resting place next to the man who oppressed and abused them. She wouldn’t want to be buried anywhere else.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

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

Germany: Conservative Opposition to Taking on Gitmo Prisoners Grows

The government is facing growing resistance within its own ranks to a plan to accept prisoners from Guantanamo Bay as the United States moves to phase out the controversial prison in Cuba.

Under the approval of Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, Germany has all but agreed with the US to accept what is expected to be a handful of prisoners who were arrested on suspicion of terrorism but are no longer deemed a threat.

But Hans-Peter Uhl, the interior affairs spokesman for the conservative Christian Democrats and Christian Social Union parliamentary group, said it was impossible to guarantee the prisoners posed no risk.

“Therefore I assume that admission to Germany won’t happen,” he told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

Saxony Premier Stanislaw Tillich, from the CDU, told the Berliner Zeitung: “We will accept no former prisoners.”

In justifying his stance, he added: “We don’t see it as our duty. After all, we didn’t capture them.”

The opposition parties, on the other hand, have expressed their strong support for the plan. The Greens’ spokesman for human rights policy, Volker Beck, dismissed Tillich’s argument as hollow.

“The disingenuous claim that we weren’t responsible for the capture of the prisoners ignores the implicit division of labour in the alliance,” he said.

Greens parliamentary leader Renate Künast told Welt am Sonntag: “We Germans must be prepared, based on thorough assessment of individual cases, to take in former prisoners.”

The centre-left Social Democrats’ party vice chairman Olaf Scholz said it was a matter of credibility, explaining that Germany could not demand the closure of Guantanamo Bay yet refuse to help with the relocation of its inmates.

The controversial prison was set up by the previous US government under President George Bush in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Critically, it was a jurisdictional “no-man’s land,” meaning prisoners were held for years without charge — a legal grey area about which many of the US’s allies expressed deep discomfort.

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

Greece Blames Germany for “Racial Approach” On Aid

By Andrei Khalip

LISBON, April 5 (Reuters) — Germany’s hard line on aid for Greece has been based on a “moral, racial approach” and the prejudice that Greeks don’t work enough, Greek Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos told a Portuguese newspaper.

Pangalos, who accused Germany earlier this year of not properly compensating Greece for World War Two occupation, also told the paper that German leaders were too focused on catering to domestic voters at a time when the European Union required solidarity.

Polls show Germans are overwhelmingly against a financial bailout for Greece and Chancellor Angela Merkel ensured at a summit in Brussels last month that tough conditions were attached to any such aid.

“Some countries like Germany have taken a moral approach to our problem,” Pangalos told Jornal de Negocios in an interview conducted last week.

“The Greeks have problems. Why do they have problems? Because they don’t work enough. And why is that? Because they have a good climate, music and drink and they are not as serious as the Germans,” he added.

Pangalos said this approach was “ridiculous” and failed to take into account strong productivity gains in Greek industry and agriculture.

“This is a moral, racial approach that does not correspond to reality,” he said.

The German government declined to comment on the report.

It previously dismissed Pangalos’s remarks about war compensation saying it had paid that as well as billions of euros in aid. The outspoken Greek politician has also accused Germany of withholding aid because its banks and exporters were profiting from Greece’s crisis, remarks also rejected by Berlin.

Pangalos described the financial safety net deal for Greece agreed by EU leaders on March 25 [ID:nLDE62N2R1] as a “good step forward”, but said it should have been more straightforward.

Aid as Last Resort

Under the deal, aid would only provided to Greece if it was unable to access credit markets.

Merkel also insisted that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) play a role in any rescue, angering some EU partners who would have preferred the bloc to handle the problem on its own but winning praise from the media in Germany.

“This is politics and politics has always been about what the people voting want to hear,” Pangalos told the paper.

“But we should try to limit, as much as we can, our natural tendency to satisfy our citizens and concentrate on the economic reality. And what this economic reality tells us is that the EU needs solidarity and a correction mechanism,” he said.

Referring to an opinion poll in February that showed a majority of Germans wanted Greece expelled from the euro zone, Pangalos said that although it was not a scenario his country wanted, “Greece will always exist, as we have existed for 8,000 years, out of the euro and EU”.

He said the sort of debt problems seen in Greece were likely to spread further in the euro zone and Portugal could be the next victim.

“You are the next victims … I hope it doesn’t happen and the solidarity prevails and we find an exit from this escalation (of borrowing costs). But if this does not happen, the next probable victim will be Portugal,” he said.

“What happened to us (Greece) now is because we are in a worse situation, but it could also happen in Spain and Portugal,” he said.

Because of its weak growth, a lack of competitiveness and a budget deficit that surged to 9.4 percent of GDP last year, Portugal is seen as one of the euro zone’s most vulnerable economies should Greece’s debt crisis spread to other members of the currency area.

But the premium it costs Portugal to borrow is still roughly three times lower than that of Greece, and its projected debt-to-GDP ratio for this year of 86 percent is much lower than Greece’s ratio of roughly 120 percent.

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

How Eurocrats Want to Spend £1.1m Changing the English Channel’s Name to ‘Le Pond’

Without it there would be no British Isles, no White Cliffs of Dover and Captain Matthew Webb would never have found fame as a nifty swimmer.

Yet the mighty English Channel’s status could be reduced to that of a mere creek if Brussels has its way.

Officials want to rename it ‘the Anglo-French Pond’ as part of a plan to bolster the notion of an EU superstate.

More than £1million, much of it coming from the British taxpayer, is being spent drawing up a new map to be distributed to schools and bureaucrats.

It defies centuries of history by wiping out current national borders to foster ‘cultural identification’ between regions and encourage greater integration.

Under the plans, Southern England, from Cornwall to Kent, is joined with northern France and becomes known as the TransManche zone.

Its capital is Paris and it has its own socialist president, Alain Le Vern.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Italy: Minister to Investigate Sex Abuse Prosecutor

Rome, 2 April (AKI) — Italian justice minister Angelino Alfano has asked his office to investigate potentially defamatory comments by Pietro Forno, the prosecutor who heads Milan’s sex crimes investigative squad. Forno allegedly accused bishops of covering up instances of child sexual abuse carried out by Catholic priests.

“Considering the potential defamatory nature of [Forno’s] comments, the minister told his office to determine if Forno violated the need of correctness, balance and reserve that need to be observed particularly in sensitive matters such as paedophile crimes…while avoiding dangerous generalisations,” the justice ministry said in a statement.

As justice minister, Alfano’s responsibilities include overseeing Italy’s prosecutors and investigators. He said ministry officials will be sent to Milan to investigate Forno’s comments.

In an interview with the Italian daily, Il Giornale published on Thursday, Forno said that Milan’s bishops had never filed a report regarding sexual child abuse committed by priests.

He added that priests have consciously abused the trust of their parishes to advance their criminal intent.

“The list of those under investigation is long but the bishops have never reported anyone,” he told the newspaper. “It seems that some chose the priesthood with the aim of being close to children.”

“Not only are the guilty not being kicked out [of the priesthood], but they are often only moved to another diocese. And there they can act again,” Forno said in the interview.

While no sex abuse allegations have surfaced in Milan, last week the Vatican ordered the diocese in the northern city of Verona to interview 67 deaf men and women who have claimed two dozen Catholic priests raped and molested them for years at an institute for deaf children.

The investigation was announced as the sex scandal deepened on both sides of the Atlantic amid claims that Pope Benedict XVI knew of child abuse in his previous positions before he became pope.

Cases of alleged abuse have emerged in Benedict’s native Germany, the United States, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands and more recently Italy.

The scandal intensified after The New York Times reported that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, ignored warnings about child molestation when he served as an archbishop in Germany and later as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.

Church officials and Italian political leaders have rallied in to defend the pope.

Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini on Thursday denounced as “scandalous and shameful” the allegations that the German-born pontiff might have failed to protect parishioners on his watch.

On Holy Thursday, cardinals across Europe used their sermons to defend the pope, while on Wednesday a Vatican offical singled out The New York Times for criticism.

Meanwhile, the head of Germany’s Catholic bishops Robert Zollitsch issued a statement on Good Friday denouncing past failures and mistakes in the church’s handling of abuse cases.

News about sexual and physical abuse of children by priests and other employees leaves the church with “sadness, horror and shame,” the dean of the German bishops’ conference said.

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

Italy: Taranto: Tunisian Abshu’s Unpublished Poetry Comes Out

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 31 — As part of Holy Week celebrations, the Francesco Grisi Research and Studies Centre has published thirteen previously unpublished poems by the Tunisian poet Nazhim Kalim Dakota Abshu written in Italian on the subject of the cross. The volume, entitled ‘The Cross’ and curated by Grisi Centre Director Pierfranco Bruni, will be presented today in Taranto. An author from the early twentieth century, Abshu converted from Islam to Christianity and lived parts of his life in Tunisia, France and Italy. ‘Abshu’, said the curator, who for years has been studying the North African poet, “knew Italian well, as the ‘long poem’ on the subject of the cross bears witness to.” Bruni went on to say that the poem’s unifying theme was the devotion of a poet who drew close to Christianity with a great deal of humility. “His dialogue with Christ on the cross,” commented the curator, “is a slow contemplation interwoven with unceasingly lyricism and a moderate use of punctuation, structured as a sort of coming together of language, sound and rhythm.” Dying in Nice in 1955 without ever going back to Tunisia, in his works Abshu interspersed a cultural model from a Muslim school with strong roots in the Sufi and Whirling Dervishes tradition. Among those he was inspired by the Spanish poet Pedro Calderon de la Barca, who in 1636 published ‘The Devotion to the Cross’, and Gustavo Adolfo Becquer (1836 — 1870), as well as Rumi and his mystical poems, Omar Khayyam and Kahlil Gibran. “Abshu did not only write poems on the cross, but also ones on love, both erotic and sensual, and also turned his hand to poems on landscape themes,” concluded Bruni, saying that “we will be presenting the volume in Rome in May and then in Tunisia in October as part of the Italian Language in the World Week.” With the work on Abshu, Pierfranco Bruni is continuing his studies into poetic cultures in the Mediterranean area, drawing up paths and meetings in a vision in which the Mediterranean is a place to come together and interact even for poets and poetic traditions, for ethnic models and anthropological comparisons. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Sicilian-Arab Horse Born Thanks to Sultan’s Gift

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO, MARCH 31 — A filly was born in the Institute for experimental zoology of Sicily, a crossbreed between a mare of a typical Sicilian race and an Arab stallion. The stallion is a gift of the Sultan of Omar. In December 2008 he donated the horse, via ambassador to Italy Said Nasser Al-Harthy, to the president of the Region, Raffaele Lombardo. Saaken is a 5-year old stallion of a pure Arab horse, son of Barabas and Zeenah. The splendid animal has a certificate of origin of the Sultan of Omar. Two of its offspring have won the first stage of the regional endurance championship held in Trapani early in March. The Institute’s stables in Palermo already had stallions of various races: San Fratellano, Sella Francese, Trottatore, Quarter Horse, France Montaigne, Anglo-Arabo, Tintoretto and, last but not least, the stallion donkey from Ragusa. But the real star is the Arab horse. When the stallion arrived, the ISZ collected his semen, to be used by breeders who want to improve the gene pool of Sicilian horses. The Sultan of Oman has also given two mares to the Region, also from the royal stables. The three animals were delivered to Governor Raffaele Lombardo by ambassador to Italy Said Nasser Al-Harthy. “We are grateful to the Sultan” said Lombardo, “because these gifts are an expression of the important relation that has been formed. We think we will expand it to other sectors as well”. On that occasion, the Region gave three Sicilian goats in return, “to start a similar crossbreeding project in Oman”, in Lombardo’s words. “This seems to be an interesting way to continue exchanging gifts that can lead to more important results than the usual gifts”, the president of the Region concluded. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

‘It’s a Good Time to be Jewish in Poland’

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Poland is not a cemetery and Polish Jews are not all dead, the head of the cultural institution of Polish Jewry said Monday, on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Artur Hofman urged Israel to send its youths “to see the community as well not only death camps.”

“Israel’s Ministry of Education annually sends thousands of students to Poland, but they’re never taken to see our community,” Hofman said at the office of his organization, the Social-Cultural Association of Jews in Poland, which boasts about 2,000 members.

Dozens of non-Jewish Poles come to the Jewish theater and culture compound. They come to see plays in Polish but also in Yiddish, with simultaneous translation to Polish through headsets.

Hofman an actor, director and editor-in-chief of the Jewish community’s monthly, the Jewish Word says Israelis visiting Poland would better understand the relationship between Polish Jews and non-Jews if they visited the community’s center.

“Yes, there are isolated incidents of anti-Semitism in Poland, but in fact this is a good time to be Jewish in Poland,’ he says. “Jews are often considered sexier and more appealing than non-Jews.”

According to Hofman, this shift in attitude is the reason for a heightened interest in Jewish matters in urban populations in Poland.

The number of Jews living in Poland is subject to dispute. Hofman puts the number at a few thousand. But others, including Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, put the number at at least 20,000.

Regardless, the community is beginning to feel more comfortable about displaying Jewish symbols on holidays like Hannukah and Purim.

“Just a few years ago, being Jewish was not something one would want to advertise,” says Hofman.

Hofman also urged the Polish government to divert more funds to support present-day Jewish life, in addition to preserving the memory of the Holocaust. Last June, Poland and other Eastern European countries declared for the first time that heirless Jewish property in their territories which belongs to Jews murdered in the Holocaust should go toward the needs of Holocaust survivors. Heirless Jewish property in Poland alone is estimated at billions of dollars.

Hofman said that this money should be not be handled by “external organizations,” because the money given to such organizations “won’t reach the people in need in time.” He noted that “Israel doesn’t take care of its survivors very well either, but some sort of new arrangement needs to be reached.

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

New Delay in Merger Accord Between BA and Iberia

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 1 — Iberia and British Airways have again put back their merger agreement. Media reports have quoted sources within the British company, who announced that the delay was for unspecified “technical reasons”. This comes after Iberia’s board of directors also delayed the move on March 25. A spokesman for the Spanish company said that the delay does not endanger the merger between the two airlines. “Techinical reasons” could include the problems faced by BA during the seven-day strike staged by technical and cabin crew in two sessions, which will end on Tuesday. The airlines announced the merger plan in July 2008 and an official agreement in November 2009. The latter recorded that British Airways would control 55% of the future group with the other 45% owned by Iberia. The fusion will generate synergies worth 400 million euros per year, beginning in the fifth year, cutting spending on telecommunications logistics, aircraft maintenance and office staff. The new company will have 419 aircraft serving 205 destinations. The agreement also contains a 20 million euros penalty for either side walking out on the merger plan.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Police Fear Third Wave of German Jihadists

Anti-terrorism authorities are increasingly worried about a “third generation” of German Jihadists travelling — often as whole families — to the lawless tribal region on the Afghan-Pakistan border, according to a Monday media report.

This third wave follows predecessors the September 11 terrorists and the Sauerland group and are believed to be travelling to terror training camps in the Waziristan region, the report in news magazine Der Spiegel said.

Nearly 100 names are on the list of suspects held by the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). They are distinct from their forerunners in that they are generally younger and are moving as families, rather than fitting the more traditional profile of angry, single men.

The report comes as Germany faces one of its most testing periods since it joined the war against the Islamist Taliban in Afghanistan nearly eight years ago. Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was forced to apologise and promise a full inquiry on Sunday after German soldiers killed six Afghan allies in a “friendly fire” incident.

The accident followed the deaths earlier on Friday of three Bundeswehr soldiers in a fierce gun battle with Taliban insurgents.

Spiegel cited several cases in which young husbands and wives had moved together to the Waziristan region, even with babies and small children in tow.

Authorities are also concerned by the sheer speed with which this third generation are radicalised and their abrupt readiness to disappear and start a new life in a terror training camp, the Spiegel report said.

One couple, named as Jan and Alexandra, were just 20 and 17 respectively when they disappeared. Alexandra was six months pregnant. They travelled from Berlin with another couple who authorities suspect were also headed for a new life as Jihadists.

Jan’s mother noticed in May 2008 that he had stopped eating pork. Within six months he had tried to covert his father to Islam and, on September 27, 2009 — the date of Germany’s federal election — Jan and his new wife Alexandra were gone.

“It’s shocking how quickly one of your own children can slip out of your control,” his mother said.

She added that she was seeking other families who were experiencing the same thing. “Hardly anyone else can understand our situation,” she said.

Investigators suspect Jan has appeared in a video for a new Jjihadist group, the German Taliban Mujahideen, which has caught the attention of anti-terror authorities for its vociferous threats to bring the war to German cities. Their videos have been illustrated with pictures of the Brandenburg Gate and Hamburg’s central train station.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Spain: Merger Between Extremadura, Murcia and Cajasur Soon

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 1 — The merger process concerning Spain’s savings banks and mooted by Spain’s central bank is gathering speed. Media reports have quoted the chief executive of Caja Extremadura, Victor Bravo, who has announced that merger negotiations with Cajasur and Caja Murcia will begin after Easter. Yesterday the board of directors of the Extremadura savings bank gave the go-ahead for the merger with the other two financial gbodies, through an Institutional Protection System (SIP), which will allow each bank to maintain its own brand, with as little impact as possible on personnel at the three banks. The agreement involves the integration of between 2,500 and 3,000 cash machines throughout Spain, with assets of over 125 billion euros, 6-8 billion of its own funds and profit close to 600 million. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Galicia and Caixanova Funds About to Merge

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 30 — Public development funds Caixa Galicia and Caixanova officialised the intention to merge together according to an announcement made by the president of Galicia’s Council, Alberto Nuen Feijoo. During a press conference that followed a meeting with the leaders of the two credit institutes and union, business and Bank of Spain representatives, Feijoo confirmed that the two public development funds are negotiating a merger following a “letter of intent” that indicated their will to merge. The commitment will be examined by the leaders of Caixa Galicia and Caixanova during their board of directors meetings respectively scheduled for April 5 and 6. The merger will give them access to the Ordinary Banking Reorganisation Fund (Frob), financed by the Spanish government with 50 billion euros. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: The Gran Via, Heart of Madrid’s Movida, Turns 100

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 2 — The Gran Via of Madrid is 100 years old, but still alive with the memory of the mythical ‘50s, when stars like Sofia Loren, Ava Gardner or Grace Kelly drank their cocktails in Madrid’s famous Chicote bar together with Spain’s intellectual elite. The street, one kilometre and 316 metres long, crosses the capital from east to west, a symbol comparable with Oxford Street or Fifth Avenue. Gran Via now celebrates its 100th anniversary with a series of events that will be opened on Monday by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. On April 4 1910 Alfonso XIII started a construction project. The project’s history reflects the development of a metropolis and a country, a catalogue of architecture, a paradise of consumerism and an example of the enthusiasm of the ‘30s with the opening of cinemas and theatres, up to the famous Movida of the ‘80s. The Gran Via has seen the birth of the II Republic, has been bombed in the Civil War and has seen architecture grow from modernism to Francoist aesthetics, during the dictatorship. Goal of the project, which included 14 streets, 50 blocks and 331 buildings and took 21 years to be completed, was to connect the districts of Salamanca and Arguelles, to relieve traffic congestion around Plaza del Sol and to eliminate the centre’s unhealthy alleys. The evolution of this urban project, carried out in three stages, is today described in the guided tour ‘Gran via, 100 years of history’ (, organised by the Municipality to mark the road’s 100th anniversary. Construction of the first stretch, 24 metres from Calle Alcalà to Red de San Luis, brought the modernism of the Belle Epoque to the capital in the first decade of the previous century. The second, which led in the ‘20s to the demolition of 300 houses, traced the current skyline with the construction of emblematic building like the Telefonica building, which today hosts the foundation of the group chaired by Cesar Alierta. The ‘30s brought Hollywood to Gran Via, with many film theatres, most of which now replaced by stores. Construction of the third stretch between Callao and Espaa square, started before the Civil War (1936-1939). It was blocked by bombing and was concluded in October 1948. On Monday, accompanied by Mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardon, King Juan Carlos, nephew of Alfonso XIII, will officially open the events to commemorate the 100-year-old. He will open a monument in Plaza del Callao. Later, the King, together with his wife Sofia, will visit Casa del Libro, one of the street’s typical commercial stores. He will visit the studio used by philosopher Ortega y Gasset when he was in charge of the prestigious Revista de Occidente. The King will also visit the exhibition of historic images of Gran Via, from 1910 to today, from the archives of newspaper ABC. After that, more than 40 activities have been organised in the city to celebrate the street’s birthday, including the expo ‘Oh, cielos’ at the Circulo de Bellas Artes, with photos of Madrid’s skyline made in the past 50 years. The long ‘avenida’ shows Madrid’s shift from the Francoist dictatorship to democracy, La Movida Madrilea, and has been the protagonist of the creative explosion in the ‘80s, thanks to artists like Alaska or director Pedro Almodovar. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Stricter Rules to Become a Belgian

Fri 02/04/2010 — 17:13 It will become harder to adopt the Belgian nationality. The federal government has a bill ready which will next go to parliament. Last year, key ministers had already announced that the conditions to be met would become more stringent.

People applying to become a Belgian citizen, should be familiar with at least one of the three official languages in Belgium — Dutch, French and German.

They should also live at least five years in Belgium, instead of three years, and should be well integrated in society. They also have to come up with a proper reason why they want to stay in Belgium.

The government will also have more possibilities to strip people from their Belgian passport, e.g. in the case of heavy crime or when the applicant staged a false wedding.

The new law will replace the present so-called “snel-Belgwet” which was considered by some as too loose.

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

Sweden: More Charges Brought in Car Park Murder Case

A man has been charged with aiding and abetting the 23-year-old suspected of murdering a 78-year-old woman in the Landskrona car park murder case, while two anti-violence demonstrations will be held in the town on Monday.

Interviews on Easter Sunday backed up the allegations against the 23-year-old man who is being held in connection with the attack.

Head prosecutor Göran Olsson has also charged another individual with aiding and abetting the 23-year-old suspect.

“The man in question is in the (suspect’s) circle of friends and relatives,” Tommy Lindén, detective with the Skåne police department, told TT news agency.

The prosecutor has until noon on Monday to decided whether or not the 23-year-old should be remanded into custody on murder and aggravated assault charges.

The 23-year-old’s lawyer Urban Jansson doesn’t agree that the police interview confirmed the allegations against his client.

“They haven’t introduced anything that is conclusive,” he said.

The 23-year-old also denies the charges against him.

The 78-year-old woman 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 last Monday. She died at the hospital in Lund on Wednesday.

The event has rocked the Landskrona community. An anti-violence demonstration is planned at Sofia Albertina on Monday at the initiative of the Church of Sweden (Svenska Kyrkan).

“The idea is to move past the powerlessness you feel when something like this happens,” Bengt Karlgren, pastor of the congregation in Landskrona, told TT.

Other religious groups are also participating in the demonstration.

A silent, non-political and non-relgious demonstration with flowers will also be held at Rådhustorget (City Hall Square).

“People are upset and sad and don’t understand how someone can do something like this. It’s horrible,” said Kurdi Kara, a writer and one of the organizers of the event.

Torkild Strandberg, chairman of the municipal executive committee, will be participating.

“There is a feeling of incomprehension, combined with rage, that the outcome of an oddly parked car is that a 78-year-old woman dies after such a long life,” he said.

The community has been outraged, with threats even being made online. The man’s lawyer, Urban Jansson, is concerned about what has been published about the man and his family.

“There has been a build-up of threats that began before he was arrested. The situation is serious and can affect the investigation.”

The police have appealed to witnesses to come forward. Thus far around 60 individuals have provided information.

“We have had some response, but we are dependent upon more,” Lindén said.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Massive Bank Payout Rekindles Bonus Debate

Banks are under renewed pressure over bonuses after Credit Suisse paid out SFr3 billion ($2.85 billion) to top managers from a share-based incentive scheme.

The scheme, dating back to 2005, saw managers receive an average of SFr7.7 million worth of shares with chief executive Brady Dougan pocketing SFr71 million. Critics point to another example of greed at top banks.

On Wednesday, Credit Suisse revealed details of how much the 400 investment bankers walked away with from its performance incentive plan (PIP). The figures were based on the value of the awarded shares when the scheme matured this year.

The bank pointed out that PIP was introduced before the financial crisis when it was reorganising its investment banking business and just after Dougan was made CEO of the division. Credit Suisse also said the scheme was pegged to long-term targets.

But these arguments failed to convince Thomas Minder, the Swiss businessman behind a people’s initiative to curb excessive pay and bonuses for executives. “This program [PIP] will result in even more support for my initiative than previously thought,” he told the Tages Anzeiger newspaper.

Observers have also pointed out that the Credit Suisse PIP scheme boosted the value of shares with a multiplier linked to the relative performance of other banks. In short, the shares were inflated as much by the poor record of rivals as the relatively good performance of Credit Suisse’s investment bankers.

Huge payouts

Other big winners from the PIP scheme are: Paul Calello, now head of investment banking, who made SFr37 million and Walter Berchtold, head of private banking, who received SFr34 million. Brady Dougan was already Europe’s best paid bank CEO in 2009 with SFr19 million in total compensation.

The crisis of 2008-9 sparked fierce criticism in Switzerland, as in other countries, about the size of bankers’ pay and bonuses. Only one Swiss bank, UBS, needed a state bail-out (SFr6 billion that was paid back last year), but that has failed to dilute the sense of public outrage at perceived greed in the banking sector.

Both Credit Suisse and UBS introduced new remuneration policies before they were obliged to do so by the Swiss financial regulator. Changes include a larger slice of bonuses being deferred, performance being linked to longer-term targets and the possibility of clawing back some, or all, of bonus payments if they are not met.

In addition, both big banks have joined a growing list of large Swiss companies to grant shareholders a consultative vote on compensation. However, Credit Suisse shareholders will not get an opportunity to vote on PIP as it was introduced five years ago.

Shareholder power

Credit Suisse is not the only Swiss bank that is likely to feel the wrath of shareholders at its annual general meeting.

UBS, which substantially increased its bonus pool to SFr2.9 billion last year despite still recording losses, could potentially find shareholders voting against its compensation report on April 14.

Sustainable investment firm Ethos, which advises many pension funds, has already indicated it will register a “no” vote, and the Swiss media has speculated that other large shareholders could also follow suit.

Ethos has also stated that it will oppose the discharge of senior bankers, including former UBS chairman Marcel Ospel, from their responsibilities of leading the bank from 2007 to 2009.

Unlike in Switzerland, some governments around the world do not appear satisfied to leave control of bank leadership to shareholders and regulators. France and Germany are among countries that have proposed a legal restriction of bonuses.

Politicians “stay away”

However, Nuno Fernandes, a professor at the IMD business school in Lausanne, has written that this would be a big mistake. He argued earlier this year that nationally binding regulations could distort competition and lead to less transparency as banks sought ways to get around them.

“Some compensation practices of the past were undoubtedly wrong,” he wrote in January. “[But] there is no evidence that option [share-based] compensation or bonuses had a negative impact on bank performance during the crisis.”

Fernandes said political interference would “not be desirable”, and that shareholders should be given the opportunity to rein in bad compensation practices. “In the future, publicly traded companies [should] give shareholders the opportunity to vote on the compensation of CEOs…as well as on some exit packages, known as golden parachutes,” he wrote.

Some Swiss companies have voluntarily agreed to a non-binding vote on compensation policies. Thomas Minder’s initiative, that will go to a nationwide vote, is calling for a further vote on board members’ pay and a ban on golden hellos and parachutes.

Matthew Allen,

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

Switzerland: “Church Tried to Wash Dirty Laundry in Private”

The Swiss Bishops Conference (SBC) may have held its hands up over the handling of paedophilia cases, but a Christian Democrat says leaders must take a harsher stance.

Jacques Neirynck, a parliamentarian with the centre-right party, argues religious perpetrators of such crimes should be reported to the civil justice authorities and expelled from the Church.

The Catholic Church’s paedophilia problem has taken on new dimensions in recent days as revelations of abuse have multiplied, forcing church authorities all the way up to Pope Benedict XVI to respond.

In Switzerland, the cases have generated much publicity, with the latest episode unfolding on Wednesday, when the SBC admitted it had “underestimated” the situation and urged victims to step forward and lodge legal complaints.

Neirynck, a writer and practising Catholic, tells that the Church, faced with such a situation, must now take serious steps to right its wrongs.

J. N.: The focus remains a bit too much on forgiveness and grief. I would have preferred the SBC to be clearer and announce more concrete measures.

The culprits should be excluded from the clergy and bishops should be required to report cases to the civil justice. But there is no mention of these two measures in this statement.

J.N.: It won’t pass. A few years ago several hundred cases were uncovered in the US and now the scourge is worldwide. It is a general phenomenon.

Now, we must know where the problem lies. The problem is not whether there are paedophile priests: there are, just as there are doctors and gym teachers who are paedophiles. The real scandal is the cover-up of these cases by the bishops.

J. N.: On Palm Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI issued a letter in which he regretted the matter and asked for forgiveness. But that’s not what people are waiting for. They want the facts, action and especially a policy within the Church so that this does not happen again.

Such a policy, in my opinion, has three parts. First, all cases must be disclosed to the civil justice system. Once a perpetrator is actually found, the second step should be his expulsion from the clergy. The third is that a bishop cannot in any way conceal these facts from the police. If he does — or did — he must resign.

J. N.: No, because it is a reminder of the days when there was a civil and ecclesiastical justice. But that is over. Ecclesiastical justice has no way of forcing witnesses to testify.

But if the Church tried to wash its dirty laundry in private, it was for reasons other than to cover up cases of paedophilia. It was to conceal a general attitude within the Catholic Church in regard to sexuality and women. That is problematic.

J. N.: There is no proven relationship between clerical celibacy and paedophilia. We have no statistics. What we simply note is that there are apparently many fewer cases among rabbis, pastors and imams.

We also know that the vast majority of child abuse cases occur within families. So there is no relationship between the two, at least proven. However, reading articles on the subject, public opinion ends up forming the equation that all priests are paedophiles and all paedophiles are priests. But these two propositions are completely false.

J. N: There was an extremely serious accusation that relates to his role as well as archbishop of Munich. It seems there were very serious cases in his diocese that he did not report to civil authorities. This is an extremely serious mistake.

There is also a much broader rebuke. As prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he received the denunciations of the entire world. He could have acted at that time. Obviously he did not. In any case, he did not give the bishops orders, namely a handover to civil justice and the systematic expulsion of the guilty priests.

J. N.: The Swiss Church is nothing special. It is organised like the others. But there is no archbishop in Switzerland. The presidency of the Swiss Bishops Conference rotates between several bishops. It is therefore a church that is deeply steeped in democracy, politics and everyday life.

J. N: The Abbot of Einsiedeln defends the idea of the list, since he admitted that seven of his monks have committed such acts. He did not say whether they were expelled or not. Once you start keeping people who have committed serious mistakes, it is obvious that you need a list of their names somewhere so that they be kept out of functions where they encounter children.

On the other hand, the chairman of the Swiss Bishops Council believes that this will not help. But I think the idea is already accepted among most Swiss bishops that every priest who has committed this crime should be expelled automatically. Therefore, it is useless to make a list of people who are no longer priests.

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

Tunisia Italy’s Second Olive Oil Supplier

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, APRIL 2 — Tunisia is Italy’s second supplier of virgin and extra-virgin olive oil. According to official figures, on a total of 400,000 tonnes of annual imports, 20% comes from Tunisia. Italy’s main supplier, with 52%, is Spain, Greece ranks third with 19%. According to Tunisian exports of the sector, olive oil production in Italy in 2009/2010 suffered from bad weather conditions, causing a 15% decline compared with the previous year. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: An iPhone to Spy on Teacher: Pupils Told to Email Secret Verdicts on Staff During Lessons

Children as young as 11 have been issued with iPhones to give instant ratings on their teachers.

They are encouraged to email ‘spy’ messages to senior staff during lessons.

The move is part of a Government ‘pupil power’ drive which is being blamed for fuelling a ‘crisis of adult authority’.

It is just one in a disturbing catalogue of examples produced at the weekend of teachers’ authority being undermined.

Classroom unions say a growing Government ‘obsession’ with consulting pupils on all aspects of schooling is making the lives of their members increasingly difficult.

Youngsters are being given a say in everything from the content of lessons and behaviour policies to hiring and firing staff.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Father of Schoolgirl Stabbed to Death on Her Way to Party Weeps as He Pays Tribute to ‘Pretty, Intelligent’ Daughter

The father of Aliza Mirza, who was stabbed to death on the way to a party, wept today as he paid tribute to his ‘pretty, intelligent diamond’ of a daughter.

Miss Mirza, 18, a media studies student who dreamt of a being a journalist, was murdered on Saturday after leaving her home for a party in Ilford, East London.

The A-level student left her home early on Saturday evening and met friends before heading to the get-together.

Her body was found by a passer-by two hours later in a side street in Manor Park.

A 17-year-old boy, thought to be her ex-boyfriend, has been arrested, along with members of his family including his father, mother and sister.

Speaking at the family home in Ilford, her grief stricken father Munir, 50, said he didn’t even know she had a boyfriend.

Mr Mirza said: ‘She was a diamond. She was pretty, intelligent, she had very bright future.

‘She was very interested in the media. She wanted to be a journalist.

‘She was a brilliant girl and she had all the qualities that a daughter should have.’

He said that the last time he had seen her was when she asked to borrow some money to buy her friend a present ahead of the party.

He said: ‘She left here to go to the party at 5pm. The next thing we heard, the police contacted us to say she was in hospital.

‘She was going to the party and she asked for some money so I gave her some money to buy her friend a present.’

Mr Mirza said he had no idea about reports that she had a boyfriend.

He said: ‘We never heard anything about that.’ He went on: ‘I loved my daughter. She was everything to me, to her uncles, aunts, the whole family. Everyone loved her so much.’

Asked how his wife Nasreen was coping, he said: ‘She is devastated. She hasn’t stopped crying since it happened.’

Mr Mirza said that the family had tried to get to the hospital to see their daughter but she died before they arrived.

‘We have such good memories of her and we cherish those memories. I don’t know who committed this crime.

‘Whoever did this should get punishment from the courts. Whoever did it did a terrible crime.’ he said.

Aliza’s uncle, Waqar Ahmed, 43, said: ‘She left home to go to a party and a couple of hours later we were told that she was injured.

‘Five minutes later we found out she was dead. I just can’t imagine why anyone would want to kill her. She’s not someone who could harm anyone, she was very petite, very small.

‘She was really fun-loving. She got on with young people and older people. She had two young sisters and they were very close. She really really got on well with them.

‘She had lots of friends and she was very popular.

‘She hoped to go into journalism and she was interested in the media. If anyone saw anything please go to the police.’

A second uncle, Ahmed Mirza, 52, added: ‘Every day you hear of these new knifings and stabbings. It has to come to an end.’

A middle-aged Asian man, who lives near the murder scene, said: ‘I went out to buy some milk when I saw the victim lying on the ground.

‘There was a lot of blood. She was lying face down on the pavement and her hair was covering her face.

‘There was so much blood I didn’t think she was still alive. There were two men standing near her.

‘Then suddenly the police arrived and ambulances came. The area was quickly cordoned off.’

The man, who did not wish to be named, said he was so shocked he had not slept all night.

Miss Mirza was studying for A-levels at Canon Palmer High School and planned to pursue a career in the media.

Yesterday police were searching for evidence in a park beside the street where her body was found.

The five suspects were being questioned at police stations in East London.

At the scene of the killing friends paid their respects to Miss Mirza. One said: ‘Aliza was such a nice girl. She was so friendly, even to people she had just met.’

Last night almost 1,000 friends and relatives had joined a Facebook group in tribute to her.

One — Nabzye — wrote: ‘Love to you little sis. Can’t get my head round this. I can’t believe there’s even a group for this.

‘It still don’t seem real that you’re gone. No more telling you to tidy your room, no more anything.

‘No one should have the right to take you from us in that way. Makes me sick. Will always keep you in my prayers.’ Amy Allanna Daramadas wrote: ‘It ain’t gonna be the same without you.

‘You made lessons worthwhile and made me laugh so much… can’t believe you’re gone, but I’ll always keep the memories alive.

‘Missing you, love you always.’ Nisha Shah wrote: ‘I can’t believe this! Why does it have to be you? Why did you have to leave us?

‘This going to be really hard. Rest in peace Princess.’

Priya Kaur wrote: ‘Heaven gained the most gorgeous angel there ever was. Love you Aliza.’

A Scotland Yard spokesman said today’s post-mortem examination gave the cause of Ms Mirza’s death as a stab wound to the neck.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: How Richly Ironic That Teachers’ Ludicrous Obsession With ‘Pupil Power’ Is Now Putting Them Out of Work

The latest threatened public sector strike is even more juvenile than all the others. Literally.

Teachers of the NASUWT union voted unanimously at the weekend for a ballot over industrial action — over the behaviour of the children they teach.

They say a government scheme called Student Voice, which allows pupils a say over the way they are taught, is being abused by pupils.

One aspect of the scheme is that children help select prospective teachers and provide feedback on teachers’ performance.

The all-too predictable outcome has been that such immature opinions have often been genuinely infantile — and yet have had to be taken seriously.

As a result, one teacher failed to be appointed after being labelled ‘Humpty Dumpty’ by a child.

Another was humiliated by being told to sing her favourite song; she refused and didn’t get the job. A third was asked by children on the interview panel how this candidate might impress the judges of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent.

The union also says pupils are ‘informing’ on their teachers and manipulating questionnaires so they can unfairly criticise staff.

For children to be put in this position at all is ludicrous. Is there anything more inappropriate than children taking upon themselves the role of adults in this way?

Well, actually, yes there is: when adults themselves have bestowed upon the children in their care a wholly inappropriate authority — and then turn round and complain about how they use it.

Contrary to what the union says, the Student Voice scheme is not being abused. It is itself an abuse of education by drastically confusing the respective roles of teacher and pupil.

Student Voice is based on the premise that children are entitled to a role in the management and delivery of their own education. But that is the role of the teachers, who are in loco parentis.

The idea is as absurd as saying that children are entitled to arbitrate on their own parenting.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Labour Throws £18bn at Doomed Crime Fight as Fewer Offenders Are Brought to Justice

A leaked dossier has revealed that a justice system which swallows unprecedented sums of money is failing to catch or properly punish millions of criminals.

The Government audit shows that Labour’s criminal justice spending is the highest in Europe at £18.2billion a year.

Some £1billion of that is lavished on ‘overheads’ alone.

But the dossier, compiled jointly by the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Attorney General’s Office, reveals that here were 4.7million crimes last year but only 1,376,994 offenders were ‘brought to justice’.

It says the number of crimes being solved is falling and fewer than 40 per cent of the public think the system is working.

The report, marked ‘restricted’, confirms for the first time a link between the rise of a generation of ‘Neets’ under Labour and recorded crime.

Almost one in five school-leavers aged 16 to 24 are classed as ‘Neet’ — not in education, employment or training — with many living on benefits. The number has now passed a million for the first time.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: When Gordon Brown Offered Me His Hand I Turned and Walked Awayby Tom Newton Dunn, Political Editor

BRITAIN’S highest decorated serving soldier REFUSED to shake Gordon Brown’s hand in a protest at a state ceremony.

Brave Victoria Cross winner Johnson Beharry turned and walked off — incensed by what he sees as shabby treatment of the military by the PM.

The Iraq hero told The Sun last night: “I wanted to knock him out.”

Lance Corporal Beharry, 30, said Mr Brown — who reacted by writing a personal letter to him last night — had repeatedly disrespected him, his uniform and the Armed Forces.

‘Disrespect’ … Gordon BrownIt is the latest in a series of embarrassing public fall-outs between the PM and the Forces.

And it could not come at a worse time for Mr Brown, who is expected to call a General Election tomorrow.

But L/Cpl Beharry — who was badly wounded while winning the top gallantry medal — insists his anger is NOT political. He recalled:

It began at a reception in Downing Street in November 2008. I was in a line with other servicemen and he didn’t look any of us in the eye when he shook our hands.

He was totally disinterested in us. It made me really angry but I just tried to forget it and moved on.

Then I saw him again in Westminster Abbey during the Remembrance Day service last November.

I was one of two soldiers laying the wreath to the Unknown Soldier.

Afterwards we all stood to attention during the two minute silence.

I picked a point to stare at so I could remain completely still and it happened to be him. Throughout the silence, he kept on fidgeting and moving. He couldn’t even stand still for two minutes.

I’ve got head and back injuries that put me back in hospital in a lot of pain quite regularly, so if I could do it there’s no reason he couldn’t. It was very rude.

I was absolutely furious with him. All that was going through my head was to knock him out.

So on the official line-up that time, I decided I’d get his attention and let him know how I felt.

When he offered his hand to me I just turned around and walked away. I wanted him to think about his actions and it worked.

The NCO from the 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment said his Westminster Abbey snub was spotted by the Premier’s wife Sarah Brown.

Veterans … Johnson, third right, with Gordon BrownThe Grenada-born soldier heard she planned to ask him to No10 for tea to patch things up. But no invitation turned up.

[Return to headlines]


Serbia-Croatia: Adria Wings Planing Nis-Rijeka Flights

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, MARCH 31 — Croatian company Adria Wings should start flying from Nis to Rijeka in the beginning of May, CEO of Rijeka airport Mladen Pasaric said, reports VIP Daily News Report. Adria Wings flights from Nis to Rijeka have been planned three times a week, Pasaric said during his visit to Nis. So far, Italian Wind Jet has flights to Bologna and Montenegrin company Montenegro Airlines to Podgorica from Nis.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Deutsche Telekom Confirms Interest in Telekom Serbia

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, MARCH 31 — Telecommunications Company Deutsche Telekom is interested in buying a share in Telekom Serbia, German tabloid Bild writes. Telekom Serbia fits into the DT’s takeover strategy, the company’s spokesperson told Bild, reports VIP Daily News Report. The government announced last week it would sell half of 80% of its shares in this company in the aumn. The owner of the remaining 20% is Greek telephone company OTE, in which Deutsche Telekom has 30% of shares. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Average Household Monthly Income Eur476 in 2009

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, APRIL 1 — The mean monthly income of Serbian households added up to RSD47,639 (around EUR476) in 2009, while personal consumption were worth RDS42,548 (around EUR425), the Statistics Office said, reports BETA news agency. Urban households earned RSD50,326 (around EUR503) on average, and while rural ones took in RSD43,785 (around EUR437). According to statistical data, 94.6% of available income was cash, while the remainder was goods. In urban households, cash accounted for 99%, compared with 87.3% in rural areas. The main sources of income were salaries, accounting for 48.4%, and pensions, contributing 32.8%. Overall, 42% of household spending was on food and beverages.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

France-Egypt: Alexandria Celebrates Gift of 500,000 Books

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, APRIL 2 — The literary event being held in Alexandria on April 10 and 11 bears the title: ‘Writing the Mediterranean’. It is to celebrate the arrival of the first containers of books bound for the Alexandria Library from France’s Bibliotheque National. The consignment is the first of a total of half a million books donated by Paris to the historic Egyptian institution. This historic gift, which will make the city’s library one of the largest Francophone collections in the world, is being sponsored by a partnership between the Mediterranean Union’s Cultural Council and the French Embassy in Egypt. The two literary days will see the participation of several Mediterranean countries, each with its reflections on the sense of belong to a shared Mediterranean culture. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Arabic Version of Mother Goose on the Loose

(ANSAmed) — ALEXANDRIA, APRIL 2 — Bibliotheca Alexandrina will launch in April the Arabic version of Mother Goose on the Loose educational program, head of libraries department of Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) Soheir Wastawi said today. Mother Goose on the Loose is an award-winning early-literacy program for children from birth to age three with their parents or caregivers. It is an early literacy program that uses rhymes and songs to help pre-reading children get ready for reading. It incorporates music, movement, ritual, repetition, positive reinforcement, developmental tips, nursery rhymes, illustrations, puppets, musical instruments, colored scarves, and book reading into a fun-filled thirty minute session for children with their parent or caregiver. It can be used as an infant/toddler program in a public library, as a circle time in a preschool, or as an after-school activity for a kindergarten class. Although the typical Mother Goose on the Loose session is geared for children from 3 months to 2 years old, children as young as one week old and children as old as eight have participated joyfully in the sessions. Mother Goose on the Loose programs are easily adaptable and there is also an inclusive version for children with special needs. Mother Goose on the Loose is a research-based program that is easy to learn, easy to plan, fun for everyone and rich with school-readiness activities. It is built around activities that help children develop their brains by learning a whole set of skills while having fun in a safe environment. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Books: The Forgotten Story of Italians in Morocco

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 2 — Italian immigrant communities in the Americas and in Europe have been talked about at great length. A national museum in Rome was recently dedicated to them. However, very little, if anything, is known about the Italians who left their country to settle in Morocco. It is with the untold stories of these men and women in mind that Roberta Yasmine Catalano decided to write her first book, ‘Schegge di memoria — gli italiani in Marocco’, which is published by Senso Unico. Born to a mother from Calabria and an Italian-Lebanese father, Roberta Catalano lived in Morocco for 14 years. ‘Schegge di Memoria is the result of six years of work’, the author told ANSAmed, and despite the difficulties in accessing documents and meeting the last “elders” of the Italian community, she has withstood the assorted contretemps and managed to realize her project. Who were the Italians who, from the very early 20th century, began to leave for Morocco? “Mostly chemists, mechanics, carpenters, conveyors but also builders and architects,” says Catalano, who is also an editor and translator of North African authors. In “Schegge”, photos, unseen documents and dozens of interviews revisit the lives of men that are intertwined with stories of the Alaouite kingdom. The book features characters like Enrico Mattei, whose hard work was an essential contribution to the economic and industrial development of Morocco. There are also stories of Italians who were unknown in their own country, but who became institutions in North Africa. “Like Domenico Basciano, a 99-year old architect responsible for cinemas, schools, hotels, factories, palaces and villas in Casablanca and a number of other cities.” Then there are the travel tales of writers such as Samuele Romanelli and Edmondo De Amicis, who in 1876 was the first special correspondent for the magazine “L’Illustrazione italiana”. The community was strongly developed during Fascism, when in Casablanca alone there were 50,000 Italians. At the beginning of the Second World War, emigration became increasingly elite, says Catalano. “Businessmen, hoteliers, engineers, architects, doctors, teachers and journalists begin to appear”. The Italian community crumbles first under Moroccan independence from France in 1956, and then under the “Moroccanisation” of the economy beginning in 1973. The real heroines of Catalano’s tales, however, are the women. “They were always able to rebuild themselves, even when they lost the support of everything and everyone”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Istanbul’s Historical Spice Bazaar to Go Under Restoration

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 2 — The historical ‘Spice Bazaar’ (Misir Carsisi) in Istanbul, which is a popular tourist attraction that offers a wide range of products such as herbs, spices and plants, will go under a restoration process. As Anatolia news agency reports, the restoration of the 350-year-old marketplace will start once the survey and restitution projects are approved by the relevant cultural protection council, officials said on Friday. Within the scope of the restoration process, the existing window frames of the bazaar will be changed with wooden frames, display windows of the shops will be re-arranged, facade of the building will be cleaned, original iron doors will be repaired and floors will be covered with stones. The “Spice Bazaar” had two big fires in history, one in 1691 and the other in 1940, and almost burnt down totally in the great fire of January 1691. After the second disaster in 1940, the historical marketplace was under restoration for 3 years. Located just behind the Yeni Mosque in Eminonu, the “Spice Bazaar” was built in 1660 by architect Kazim Aga at the behest of Sultan Turhan. It gains its Turkish name, “Misir Carsisi” (Egyptian Bazaar), from the fact that it once received income from taxes levied on Egypt. The English name hails from the days when the Bazaar specialized in the sale of herbs and spices, medicinal plants, and drugs. While the color and aroma pervading the covered hallway may since have faded to some extent, a small number of shops do still stock the traditional products. In addition, one can find sacks and shelves groaning with dried fruits and nuts, teas and infusions, oils and essences, sweetmeats, honeycombs and aphrodisiacs. The “Spice Bazaar” is open daily, except Sundays and public holidays. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Hamas Demands an End to Israeli Strikes

Gaza City, 2 April (AKI) — Hamas’ prime minister Ismail Haniyeh on Friday called for international action to stop fresh Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip. Haniyeh comments came hours after Israel launched up to 13 airstrikes on targets in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks on Israeli territory.

“My government is in talks with the Palestinian organisations to maintain a united stance with regards to the struggle against Israel,” he told reporters.

He urged the international community to “intervene to put an end to the Israeli escalation.”

Israel warned that it could launch a fresh military assault on the Gaza Strip if Hamas does not stop rocket and mortar attacks from its territory.

The Israeli military claimed that almost 20 rockets have been fired into Israel in the past month, including one that killed a Thai farm worker.

On its official website the Israel Defence Forces confirmed a number of attacks on “weapons manufacturing sites” and “weapons storage facilities” in the Gaza Strip and issued a warning.

“The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm the citizens of the state of Israel and will continue to operate firmly against anyone who uses terror against it,” it said.

“The IDF holds Hamas as solely responsible for maintaining peace and quiet in the Gaza Strip.”

Israeli aircraft have carried out 13 air strikes on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources told the BBC.

“If this rocket fire against Israel does not stop, it seems we will have to raise the level of our activity and step up our actions against Hamas,” Silvan Shalom, Israel’s deputy prime minister, told public radio on Friday.

“We won’t allow frightened children to again be raised in bomb shelters and so, in the end, it will force us to launch another military operation.”

Four of the Israeli strikes took place near the town of Khan Younis, where two Israeli soldiers were killed in clashes with Palestinian fighters last week.

Israeli sources said the operation targeted four weapons factories. Reports said three children were injured.

The latest violence is the most serious since the end of Israel’s assault on Gaza in January 2009.

Palestinians and rights groups say more than 1,400 Palestinians died in the conflict, while Israel puts the figure at 1,166. Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, were killed.

Hamas said that it was making an effort to stop rocket attacks on Israel.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, citing the Israeli Defence Forces, said the latest strikes were Israeli’s initial response to an operation in Khan Younis that killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded two others.

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

Israel ‘Using Facebook to Recruit Gaza Collaborators’

In a busy internet cafe in the centre of Gaza City, lots of people, mostly young, are typing and clicking away.

Some of them are engrossed in the world of Facebook. “I use it 10 hours a day,” says Mohammed who owns the shop. “I have over 200 Facebook friends.”

But Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip, believes the population’s love of social networking websites is making it easier for Israel to recruit spies.

Israel has long maintained networks of informers in the West Bank and Gaza in its effort to derail the activities of militant groups.

Historically, collaborators have often been killed if discovered, and this week Hamas announced it would execute anyone caught acting as an agent for Israel.

Personal problems

Facebook “is a big, big thing that the Israelis use”, says Ehab al-Hussein, a spokesman for the Hamas-run interior ministry.

“Many people don’t have security sense. They go on the internet and talk about all their personal problems such as with their wives or girlfriends,” he says.

Israel’s intelligence services can then contact people by telephone, e-mail or using existing Israeli agents in Gaza, and use the information to pressure people to become spies.

The internet “allows them to make people feel Israel knows everything about them”, says Mr Hussein.

Ronen Bergman, an Israeli expert on intelligence and author of Israel’s Secret War with Iran, says monitoring social networking sites is the very minimum you would expect from his country’s intelligence services.

“Israel is using the personal information that is put in massive amounts on the internet to identify the people who can maybe help Israel,” he says.

“If in 50 years they open up the secret files of the Israeli secret service, the Shin Bet, and military intelligence, the sophistication of electronics that is being used by Israel now in the Gaza Strip would put even the legendary Q from the James Bond movies to shame.”

But Mr Bergman says that the intelligence community’s current thinking is that using personal information gleaned from the internet to pressure or even blackmail potential informants is not considered effective in recruiting long-term informants.

He says such threats are not often enough to get people to commit such a serious offence as collaborating.

But online detail, he says, can help intelligence services identify people who might be useful — such as those with good access to Hamas or to criminal networks.

When asked to comment, the Israeli government said it was not its practice to talk about its security services’ modes of operation.

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

Under Construction: Utopian City for Palestinian Yuppies

A Palestinian businessman wants to build a new city on the West Bank. But will Israel allow him to construct a lifeline connecting it to the outside world?

By Guus Valk in Rawabi

The brochure showed scenes typically used to sell real estate: shiny white apartments, shaded terraces and green parks. Children were pictured in streets devoid of cars, besides residents chatting in the generous shade provided by flowering trees. The backdrop of rolling hills made for an almost Tuscan landscape. The brochure’s tone was jubilant: “Rawabi. The place to live, to work, to grow,” a slogan read.

Bashar Masri laughed affectionately as he leaved through the booklet that contained a fleeting impression of his yet-to-be constructed dream. Rawabi is to be the first Palestinian city built in modern history, right in the middle of the West Bank. Last month, construction began on the new city that should one day be home to 40,000 Palestinians.

“Here,” he said, pointing out a street, “you will see young couples, well-employed families and small children. They will all live in spacious houses on clean streets, amid mountain air, and have showers that will never fail to give warm water.”

Masri’s office is located in a luxurious building in a suburb of Ramallah. He came up with the idea for this utopian place three years ago, he said. “I wanted to build a city to meet the needs of young, well-educated Palestinians. Why should they live in old cities where their children can’t even go out onto the streets?”

Time has stood still in the Palestinian Territories. The villages and cities dotting the West Bank, under Israeli occupation since 1967, and the Gaza strip, where Hamas now holds sway, have all been there for centuries. Logistically speaking, cities like Ramallah, Gaza and Hebron are a nightmare. The only new ‘cities’ that are being build in the territories are Jewish settlements. A situation Masri wants to change. “This new city will be a message to the world and to Israel in particular. We Palestinians will be building a city in our own country,” he said.

Palestinian boomtown

But before he does, Masri has a host of problems to overcome. Lack of demand however, is not one of them. “There are plenty of Palestinians here willing to pay 400 to 700 dollars a month for a house in Rawabi,” Masri said proudly.

Ramallah, just 10 kilometres north of Jerusalem, is bursting at the seams. The West Bank’s economy has been on the upswing for more than a year. In Ramallah an elite of engineers, economists and civil servants has emerged. There are jobs: dozens of western NGOs and government representatives operate facilities on the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority’s bureaucracy is growing. The refugee camps surrounding Ramallah, on the other hand, remain as squalid as ever.

According to Masri, construction runs in the Palestinian blood. “Thousands of engineers graduate from universities here every year,” he said. “But we export all our expertise to other countries. Everybody leaves for the Gulf states or the West.” Masri said he hoped creating employment opportunities on the West Bank would put an end to this brain drain.

In the next two years, hundreds of engineers will be building Rawabi from scratch. The future site of the city is now only home to trees, hills and a couple of construction trailers. Two excavators could be seen levelling the top of a hill.

Trouble ahead

But even though the promotional leaflet painted a utopian picture of his project, Masri was quick to admit it was well behind schedule. “Stuff happens,” he said. The first problem he ran into was determining property rights. Who owned the land he wanted to build on anyway? “Palestinian families have had the same plots of land for centuries,” Masri said. “But the wars in the past century have left Palestinians adrift.”

Many of Masri’s compatriots have fled to neighbouring Arab states or even further abroad. “It was almost impossible to determine who owned what olive tree. It cost us more than a year to find out. Inadvertently, we brought the tragic story of the Palestinian diaspora back to life.”

Not far from Rawabi lies the Jewish settlement of Ateret. According to international law, Ateret and other Israeli-constructed settlements on the West Bank are illegal. This hasn’t stopped Ateret’s residents and their neighbours from the nearby town of Tzuf from protesting the construction of Rawabi. The colonists claim that 40,000 Palestinians living on their doorstep pose a grave security risk.

Construction on the West Bank always leads to political upheaval. Since the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, Israel has come to control almost two thirds of the West Bank. Formally, the accords are no longer valid, but because the definitive peace treaty that was supposed to replace them has failed to materialise, they remain in effect.

A contested road

Under the Byzantine logic of the Oslo Accords, the hills surrounding Rawabi are part of “Area A”. In theory, Palestinians are in charge here. The road connecting the future city to the outside world, however, runs through Area C, where Israel calls the shots.

“Rawabi is completely surrounded by land ruled by Israel,” Masri said. “If the city’s future residents are to get in and out, Israel will have to grant permission for the construction of an access road. A road they will then control.” The businessman was still waiting on Israeli permission to start building a new thoroughfare. Even though the Israeli government has officially stated it does not want to interfere with the Palestinian entrepreneur’s plans, its tardiness is an ominous sign of trouble ahead.

Rawabi’s current access road is only a small winding trail that skirts past villages and canyons. Access to it is tightly controlled by an Israeli army checkpoint. “This road cannot accommodate tens of thousands of people,” Masri said. “We need a new road. Without a road, we won’t have a city. If we don’t get permission to build it, we might as well can our plans.”

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

Via Crucis: Jerusalem; Many Pilgrims, Few Arabs

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, APRIL 2 — The rhythmic steps of thousands of the faithful and the echoes of prayers and invocations pronounced in a myriad of languages have been reverberating today through Jerusalem’s alleys, crowded as they are every year for the re-enactment of Christ’s Passion along the path of the Via Crucis. A Good Friday commemorated in a religious atmosphere, albeit slightly marred, but without serious incidents, by a massive police presence which supervised a throng containing more foreign pilgrims than Palestinian Christians due to the restrictions Israeli security services have imposed. The long procession wound its way into the heart of the Old City, thickening at the narrow bends of the ‘Via Dolorosa’, the ‘Sorrowful Road’, along which tradition has it that Christ made his way to Calvary and Crucifixion, up to the church of the Holy Sepulchre. There were not a few Italian voices distinguishable among the groups in the crowds of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant faithful attending. But they were easily outnumbered by the Russians, who are fast becoming regulars among pilgrims to the Holy Land, with the Iron Curtain down. The Arab-Christian presence was, however, paltry: a minority within a minority in Israel and weighed down by the limitations imposed for reasons of security. Having been stopped at a checkpoint barring entry to the Holy Sepulchre area, the loud prostest of dozens of Palestinians could be heard:”Wéll sacrifice ourselves with our blood and soul, Jerusalem!”. Sources inside the local church hierarchy, quoted by the Maan press agency, deplore the restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities as extreme and punitive, from the closure of all passes into the West Bank until and including Monday 5. This comes after tensions and troubles caused in the last month by the Palestinian protest against the new expansion project of Hebrew settlements in Eastern Jerusalem. Decisions that not even the 10,500 passes allowed for the occasion and promised to the West Bank and Gaza Strip Christians for the Easter festivities appear to assuage: in the labyrinth of bureaucracy between Army, police and border guards that, according to the sources, in fact transform “each patrol leader into a judge of the right of free movement and religious freedom” of the ‘authorized’ faithful. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Ankara Criticizes France, Germany of Arming Greece

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 30 — Turkey’s State Minister & chief negotiator for EU talks Egemen Bagis criticized Germany, along with France, for seeking to sell military equipment to Greece while pressing the government in Athens to make drastic public spending cuts as a result of its dire financial crisis. “To help Greece escape its ‘economic disaster’ and reduce regional tensions, Ankara would reciprocate if the Greeks froze or cut defense procurement,” Bagis told an exclusive interview with the International Herald Tribune. “One of the reasons for the economic crisis in Greece is because of their attempt to compete with Turkey in terms of defense expenditures,” Bagis said. “Even those countries that are trying to help Greece at this time of difficulty are offering to sell them new military equipment,” Bagis said. Bagis said, “Greece doesn’t need new tanks or missiles or submarines or fighter planes, neither does Turkey. It’s time to cut military expenditure throughout the world, but especially between Turkey and Greece. Neither Greece nor Turkey needs neither German nor French submarines.” According to NATO, in 2008, Greece spent 2.8% of G.D.P. on its military, or about euro 6.9 billion. Turkey spent 1.8% of G.D.P. on its military, or the equivalent of about euro 11.5 billion, in the same year. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Cigarette Sales Drop 15% in Turkey With Smoking Ban

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 30 — Turkish officials announced on Monday that 97% of businesses in the country are in compliance with a smoking ban that was instituted on July 19 of last year and which has led to a 15% drop in cigarette sales since its implementation. Speaking at a press conference yesterday, National Cigarette and Health Committee (SSUK) President Elif Dagli said most complaints in Istanbul came from the districts of Besiktas, Sisli, Kadiky and Beyoglu. Dagli added that businesses in Sancaktepe, Beykoz and Avcilar were the most compliant with the ban, as Today’s Zaman reports. Since the ban went into effect, 800 inspectors have fined 1,780 businesses out of more than the 52,000 businesses they inspected. In excess of 1,000 people who did not comply with the ban were also fined. Also speaking at the press conference, Istanbul Deputy Governor Ahmet Aydin and Istanbul Health Authority Assistant Manager Macit Alemdar said inspectors would provide businesses with information on the harmful effects of smoking. Turkey has close to 22 million smokers and around 50 million non-smokers, 10 million of whom suffer from lung and cardiovascular disease. Dagli said $50 billion a year was spent to combat illnesses contracted from smoke. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Frank Gaffney: “Who Lost Iraq?”

Back in February, Vice President Joseph Biden declared: “I am very optimistic about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration.” Even for a politician much given to strategic ineptitude compounded by foot-in-mouth disease, that was a doozy.

As has been pointed out innumerable times since, if Iraq turns out to be a truly “great achievement” in any ordinary sense of the word, Mr. Biden and Barack Obama — two of the most insistent opponents of George W. Bush’s efforts to consolidate Iraq’s liberation — are among the last people in Washington who should take such credit.

Worse yet, unfortunately for the Iraqi people and others who love freedom, it looks increasingly as though the Obama administration will have the loss of Iraq as one of its most signal accomplishments.

Three murderous suicide bombings in Baghdad over the weekend are but the latest indication of the renewed reality there: Those determined to use violence to destabilize the country, foment sectarian strife and shape Iraq’s destiny can do so with impunity.

The fact that the Iranian embassy was one of the targets suggests Sunni extremist groups — perhaps including the once-defeated al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) — are responsible for this round of attacks. Elsewhere in the country though, Shiite death squads that may or may not have ties to the pro-Iranian factions currently running the country are ruthlessly liquidating prominent tribal leaders and others associated with the movement in Anbar Province known as The Awakening. The latter were instrumental to the success of the U.S. surge and to the opportunity thus created for an Iraqi future vastly superior to its despotic and chaotic past…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

Hurting U.S. Efforts to Win Minds, Taliban Disrupt Pay

MARJA, Afghanistan — Since their offensive here in February, the Marines have flooded Marja with hundreds of thousands of dollars a week. The tactic aims to win over wary locals by paying them compensation for property damage or putting to work men who would otherwise look to the Taliban for support.

The approach helped turn the tide of insurgency in Iraq. But in Marja, where the Taliban seem to know everything — and most of the time it is impossible to even tell who they are — they have already found ways to thwart the strategy in many places, including killing or beating some who take the Marines’ money, or pocketing it themselves.

Just a few weeks since the start of the operation here, the Taliban have “reseized control and the momentum in a lot of ways” in northern Marja, Maj. James Coffman, civil affairs leader for the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, said in an interview in late March. “We have to change tactics to get the locals back on our side.”

Col. Ghulam Sakhi, an Afghan National Police commander here, says his informants have told him that at least 30 Taliban have come to one Marine outpost here to take money from the Marines as compensation for property damage or family members killed during the operation in February.

“You shake hands with them, but you don’t know they are Taliban,” Colonel Sakhi said. “They have the same clothes, and the same style. And they are using the money against the Marines. They are buying I.E.D.’s and buying ammunition, everything.”

One tribal elder from northern Marja, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being killed, said in an interview on Saturday that the killing and intimidation continued to worsen. “Every day we are hearing that they kill people, and we are finding their dead bodies,” he said. “The Taliban are everywhere.”

The local problem points to the larger challenges ahead as American forces expand operations in the predominantly Pashtun south, where the Taliban draw most of their support and the government is deeply unpopular.

In Marja, the Taliban are hardly a distinct militant group, and the Marines have collided with a Taliban identity so dominant that the movement appears more akin to the only political organization in a one-party town, with an influence that touches everyone. Even the Marines admit to being somewhat flummoxed.

“We’ve got to re-evaluate our definition of the word ‘enemy,’ “ said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marine expeditionary brigade in Helmand Province. “Most people here identify themselves as Taliban.”

“We have to readjust our thinking so we’re not trying to chase the Taliban out of Marja, we’re trying to chase the enemy out,” he said. “We have to deal with these people.”


“My greatest fear right now is not knowing if I have put money into the pockets of the Taliban,” Major Coffman said.

Despite those reservations, the Marine strategy depends on sowing this community with buckets of cash. The money is a bridge to a day when, in theory, the new Marja district government will have more credibility than the Taliban.

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

Husband Cuts Off Wife’s Nose in Turkish Village

Yosma A., 40, mother of six and Kars resident, was mutilated by her husband and brother-in-law on Sunday.

The woman whose nose was cut off took shelter in her father’s home and filed a complaint against the abusers. A similar incident occurred in May 2009 in Agri, when a 23-year-old woman was stabbed in the stomach, her nose and ears cut off and was left for dead in a desolated area, following the decision of a “family council.”

Yosma A. and her husband Mirsevdi A., 43, who is also her relative, live in the Çigirgan village. The couple had an argument at noon on Sunday and Mirsevdi’s elder brother Recep A., 45, got involved in the fight. It was reported that the two brothers beat the woman and cut off her nose. Yosma ran away from the house and took shelter in her father’s house. Then, she went to the gendarmerie in the Kümbetli village where she filed a complaint against her abusers.

A gendarmerie officer took the woman to the Kars State Hospital where she received medical attention at the ER. In the hospital, Yosma A. reportedly said that she was also abused by the gendarmerie officer during the drive to the hospital. According to her claims, the gendarmerie officer hit her with his fist and threatened her to not file a complaint about her husband and brother-in-law.

“I was beaten by my husband and my brother-in-law. Just to make things worse I also was beaten by the gendarmerie officer as he threatened me. I filed a complaint against all of them. There is not safety for my life in this village,” she said.

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

Mardin Anti-Terror Conference Sparks Debate Over Fatwas

Days after drawing to a close, a conference to discuss the interpretation of a 14th century Islamic legal verdict continued to be the focus of discussion over ancient and modern Islamic opinion.

The “Mardin: Abode of Peace” conference held at Mardin’s Artuklu University last weekend featured the participation of renowned Muslim scholars from around the world — including places like Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Indonesia — and considered the topic of a fatwa, or legal verdict, given by famous Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyyah. The 14th century legal opinion, known as the “Mardin fatwa,” addresses the question of whether the city of Mardin fell into the classical categorization of either dar al-harb (abode of war) or dar al-Islam (abode of Islam). The answer to this question was of critical importance when it came to the issue of jihad as warfare, including the determination of legitimate versus prohibited targets. The two-day conference culminated with the issuance of a declaration condemning violence in Muslim and non-Muslim societies and declaring that Ibn Taymiyyah’s fatwa could not be interpreted as granting permission to kill Muslims or non-Muslims.

But top Turkish religious leaders were notably absent from the gathering. Members of local Mardin press outlets speaking with Sunday’s Zaman on the sidelines of the conference noted that many locals viewed the conference with suspicion before it even began. “People are worried that the conference sponsors are connected to the British government and that the whole thing is part of some sort of effort to use Muslims’ own religious texts and resources to tie their hands when it comes to issues of jihad as defense. They’re worried that the conclusion of the conference will be that jihad is no longer valid in our day and age — and that this will rule out resistance even under situations of oppression such as that in Palestine today,” one journalist said, speculating that the absence of some scholars could be due to their unwillingness to be associated with an event that might prove to be locally unpopular.

In fact the conference, organized by UK-based Muslim educational NGOs Canopus Consulting and the Global Centre for Renewal and Guidance (GCRG), was of a markedly academic and almost anti-political nature, focusing not on current conflicts but issues such as the abuse of the Mardin fatwa to “justify” the killing of innocents in general and the excommunication of Muslims. However, some of the pre-conference rumors seem to have stuck, with much Turkish press coverage of the conference erroneously claiming the conference effectively “cancelled jihad” with a new version of Ibn Taymiyyah’s fatwa.

In addition, the absence of prominent Turkish clerics at the weekend summit did not prevent them from weighing in on the proceedings after the fact. On Thursday, Ali Bardakoglu, president of the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, dismissed the conference effort as without value, saying, “It’s incredibly meaningless for a group of people to gather after centuries have passed to try and invalidate a religious view given centuries ago.” Similarly, Hayrettin Karaman, a popular Turkish scholar whose Islamic legal advice is often sought by members of the public on a wide variety of issues, titled his Thursday column for the Yeni Safak daily “Fatwas cannot be abrogated.” In the column, Karaman asserts that no scholar or group of scholars can come together to abrogate a fatwa, that opposition to a fatwa can only be expressed through another fatwa on the same topic that comes to a different conclusion — leaving Muslims to decide which scholar they trust.

The reality, and consensus

The comments by Bardakoglu, Karaman and others emphasized that Islam does not condone terrorism and that Islamic legal edicts can be bounded by the age and conditions under which they were issued. At the same time, the reality stands that the Mardin summit resulted in a declaration, not a fatwa — and the content of that document, like the content of the conference that Bardakoglu and Karaman did not attend, decries misinterpretation and misapplication of the Mardin fatwa rather than representing an attempt to prove the fatwa invalid. And not all Turkish scholars were absent at the conference, with Dr. Ahmet Özel of the Istanbul-based Islamic Research Center (ISAM) among the speakers.

Meanwhile, the Mardin conference and declaration have continued to attract the attention of the international press, making newspaper and television headlines in Turkey, the US, the UK, Canada, India, China, Indonesia and more. The New Mardin Declaration’s condemnation of “all forms of violent attempts to change or violent protest, within, or outside, Muslim societies” has thus been carried to prominence along with the voices of those disagreeing with the conference’s organization.

[Return to headlines]

Suicide Attempt Highlights Problem of Child Brides in Turkey

The attempted suicide by a girl who is 54 years younger than her husband lights up once again the long-running controversy surrounding early marriages in Turkey, many of which are pursued for financial reasons according to one women’s rights organization. ‘I love my husband, but I did this because I was under pressure,’ says the 17-year-old girl

The contentious issue of juvenile brides in Turkey returned powerfully to the national spotlight Monday after reports of a 17-year-old’s attempt at suicide less than a year after her family allowed her marriage to a wealthy businessmen 54 years her senior.

Women’s and children’s groups have frequently decried the practice of child brides who ostensibly have their families’ blessings to marry before 18 but often face pressures to marry for an exit from familial financial problems. Similar suspicions immediately followed the news that 17-year-old N.T., who married 71-year-old Halis Toprak in July 2009, took an overdose of sleeping bills, blaming “internal family problems.”

N.T. and Toprak were married after she worked at his hotel in the eastern province of Kars for consecutive summers. Because she was under the age of 18, she had to obtain permission from her parents for the wedding. Their marriage was broadly criticized in the Turkish media due to the huge age difference between the couple.

On Saturday, N.T. was taken to hospital and then sent home after four hours of treatment, daily Hürriyet reported Monday. She told police officers that she had family issues. “I love my husband, but I did this because I was under pressure,” Hürriyet quoted her as saying Monday.

“This is a marriage for economic reasons, which is the general norm in many child marriages,” said Selen Dogan, general coordinator of Uçan Süpürge, or Flying Broom, a women’s research organization that has been leading projects to stop child marriages for several years.

Dogan’s belief is shared by many since N.T.’s family was receiving help from the local administration when the teenager went to work at the hotel, promising to “take care of the family,” according to Hürriyet.

“This suicide attempt should have been expected, as she was a 17-year-old girl under pressure,” Dogan told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

Professor Nilüfer Narli, dean of the sociology department at Istanbul’s Bahçesehir University, told the Daily News that the issue of early marriage had been discussed at a recent United Nations meeting.

“Early or child marriages are an obstacle to a woman realizing her potential,” said Narli. “Making a girl marry someone before she completes her mental and physical development — along with the subsequent early pregnancies — can cause many physical and mental problems.”

Campaign to raise awareness

Women’s rights activists, meanwhile, are planning to bring the issue to the nation’s attention through a new project. Aiming to end the practice of “child brides,” Flying Broom is embarking on a cross-country campaign to better inform the public by reaching 20,000 women in 54 provinces to help them fight against the practice of forced early marriages.

Dogan recently told the Daily News that Flying Broom would screen two short movies on the issue in each of the 54 provinces. She also said the group recently published a magazine article on the issue.

Under the project, which will continue for 18 months and is funded by the Sabanci Foundation, the association aims to collect 54,000 signatures from around the country for a petition demanding that lawmakers increase the legal age of marriage from 17 to 18.

According to the current law, 16-year-old individuals can also marry, but only under “extraordinary circumstances” and with approval from a judge.

“There is not enough data in Turkey to highlight this area and there is no comprehensive academic work or up-to-date figures,” Dogan said. The project further aims to close the information gap and send a report to relevant institutions.

The early marriage rate in Turkey is 37 percent on average, yet this figure increases to 68 percent in Southeast Anatolia, according to the association’s data.

Meanwhile, Parliament’s equal opportunity commission released a report about early marriages in Turkey, Anatolia news agency reported on March 23.

The total number of primary education students who drop out due to early marriage or engagements was 693 as of March 2009, according to the Education Ministry’s Primary Education General Directorate. Only 18 of the students were boys, the report said. The eastern province of Agri led the way with 116 students dropping out due to early marriages. In Turkey, primary and secondary school are merged and together are known as primary education for students until they are 15 years old.

The report said compulsory education should be increased from 11 years to 13 and that there should be deterrent laws against families who insist on not sending their children to school.

Illiterate women should also be educated and given support to start their own businesses, the report suggested.

Furthermore, soldiers performing their mandatory military service should be informed about the problems of early marriages while imams should emphasize the disadvantages of early marriages when delivering mosque sermons, the report said.

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

Turkey: Medieval Fatwa on Jihad Renounced

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 31 — A famous “fatwa”, or religious opinion, decreed seven centuries ago by a high-ranking Islamic religious figure in the Turkish city of Mardin on jihad (holy war against the infidels) has been renounced by a conference of Muslim scholars claiming that the document, which radical Islamic groups often cite to justify terrorism, cannot be used in a globalised world respecting different religions and civil rights. At the end of the conference held over the weekend in Mardin — in which over 20 well-known Islamic figures from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and other Muslim countries took part — the scholars said that the fatwa decreed seven centuries ago by the scholar Ibn Taymiyyah (often cited by Osama bin Laden in his messages) excludes militant violence, and that the division of the world during the Middle Ages into the “House of Islam” and the “House of the Infidels” is no longer applicable today. The history behind the “Mardin fatwa” dates back to the XIII century, when most of the Muslim Middle East was occupied by the Mongols who had destroyed numerous cities and wiped out entire populations in the area. The Mongols followed their own system of laws (called “Yasa”) and not the legal system (“Shariah”) of Muslims, leading to Ibn Taymiyyah’s calling of the Mongols “hypocrites” since they were nor true Muslims. This in turn soon led to the argument being raised that there was the religious obligation for every “true Muslim” to fight a holy war against “apostates”. Today, radical Islamic groups such as the Egyptian Takfir wal-Hijra (Excommunication and Exodus) or terrorists like Al Qaeda cite the fatwa to justify their actions. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: ‘Bribes’ To State Employees Legalised

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 2 — The vice of offering a ‘bribe’ to state employees in order to accelerate bureaucratic practices is so widespread in Turkey that the government, unable to repress the trend, has instead decided to legalise it. The report comes from daily newspaper Aksham, which said that the government’s ethical commission had decided that it would be legal from now on for state employees to accept a backhander of up to 20 Turkish lira (about 10 euros) as a “sign of gratitude”. However, a sum in excess of 20 lira or other payments in kind are forbidden. Under the headline “State employees, watch out for this list”, the paper publishes a whole series of scenarios outlined in a booklet distributed to those employed by the State. Among them, a nurse cannot accept “a cake” from a patient being treated in hospital, just as other employees cannot accept “melons” or “turkeys before the New Year”. The practice of bribing state officials has always been extremely common in the country, not least on account of low wages of around 1,500 lira (750 euros) a month. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Private Pension Funds Rise Up to Nearly USD 6.4 Bln

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 2 — Private pension funds in Turkey totaled 9.7 billion Turkish liras (nearly $6.4 billion) as of March 26, the country’s private pension funds watchdog said on Friday. The total number of participants in the system increased to nearly 2,053 thousand with over 2,190 of them are now eligible for retirement, as Anatolia news agency reported. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UAE: Plane Crash, Body of President’s Brother Found

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MARCH 30 — The body of Sheikh Ahmed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, the brother of the president of the United Arab Emirates, was found this morning in Morocco near a lake where several days ago the aircraft he was flying on was swallowed up. This was reported by pan-Arab TV station al Arabiya with an overprint announcing that starting tomorrow the United Arab Emirates will be in national mourning for the next three days. Sheikh Ahmed bin Zayed al-Nahayan was declared missing following the incident which occurred near Rabat, and after the pilot who was with him was found the same day in good condition. The 42-year-old Sheikh Ahmed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, the managing director of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), was named by U.S. magazine Forbes as the 27th most powerful man in the world in 2009 for his role in the ADIA, which, founded in 1976, is believed to have between 500 and 700 billion dollars in resources, which makes it the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. Although he was a member of the UAE royal family, he was not directly in line for succession to the throne. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Unmarried Air Stewardess Faces Jail in Dubai for Having Baby

Liz can’t go home as she’s an unmarried mum

An air stewardess fears she can’t return to Dubai where she lives because she has had a baby out of wedlock.

Ex-pat Liz Curry, 30, didn’t even know she was pregnant when Alexandra was born during a 24-hour stopover in South Africa.

Dubai’s strict Muslim laws mean Liz could now be sent to prison if she goes back to the country where she has lived for eight years.

The penalty for having sex outside marriage is at least three months in prison followed by deportation.

Liz said: “I’m on unpaid leave at the moment but I can’t go back to work in Dubai — not just because I’m a new mother but also because of the law.

“I’m unmarried so if I’d had the baby in Dubai I would have been arrested and I can’t take that risk.”

Liz, from Ireland, said female cabin crew often have unusual menstrual cycles — she thought her stomach pains were ulcers so began taking tablets.

Doctors in Dubai ran urine and blood tests and told her to stay on the medication.

She only found out the truth in her Johannesburg hotel room in January.

Liz, who works for Emirates, said: “The cramps were horrendous and within a few minutes there was a baby.

I was in complete shock.”

Alexandra, who was just over 2lb, spent two months in an intensive care unit.

The pair are still in South Africa but the baby’s Australian dad, who lives in Dubai and who has been with Liz for two years, has not been able to see them.

Do’s and don’ts for all tourists

The Foreign Office has a code of conduct for anyone who visits Dubai or moves there.

Aside from the laws on sex outside marriage and kissing in public, there are other strict rules to be wary of in the popular tourist destination.

Possession of an illegal drug can lead to a minimum of four years in jail and some over-thecounter medications, such as codeine, are banned. Alcohol is only served in licensed hotels and clubs and it is illegal to drink or to be drunk in public.

Criminal charges can also be brought for using bad language or making rude gestures.

Adoption and abortion are illegal and newborn babies are frequently abandoned — with three being dumped in February.

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

South Asia

German Jihad Colonies Sprout Up in Waziristan

A wave of Germans traveling to training camps for militant jihadists has alarmed security officials back in Europe. The recruits are quickly becoming radicalized and, in some cases, entire families are departing to hotbeds for terrorism. It is even believed that colonies catering to German Islamists have taken shape in the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It was a Sunday in September when they lost their son Jan*. He gave his parents a particularly tight hug, his father recalls, a long and intense embrace. The father says that he could sense that this was no normal goodbye, and that it was about more than the supposed vacation trip to celebrate the couple’s first wedding anniversary — which was the story that Jan, 24, and his wife Alexandra* had cooked up for him.

It was the day of the German parliamentary elections in 2009, and the autumn sun was shining in Berlin, but Jan and Alexandra weren’t interested in who would govern the country. They were going to leave Germany. They had rejected this society and this state. Jan and Alexandra packed their things into a rental car, picked up another couple, and the four friends headed off into exile. One of their traveling companions was 17 years old and six months pregnant — her husband had just turned 20. Their child would not be born in Germany.

The two married couples headed to Budapest, where they boarded a plane for Istanbul. Jan placed one last call to his parents from a hotel.

Since then there have been only sporadic e-mails. These have been loving messages to his father and mother. But he also writes things that frighten his parents. He is living among brothers and doesn’t need much money, Jan writes. No, they can’t visit him — it would be too dangerous, he says. And no, he can no longer imagine returning to Berlin, to a life among the kuffar, the infidels.

Then, in December, he wrote that he didn’t know if he would live to see the next summer. Since then his parents have been looking in their mailbox every morning — and every morning it’s the same: nothing. They can hardly bear the uncertainty.

Extremist Expats

German intelligence agencies presume that Jan and Alexandra are now living in the Afghan-Pakistani border region. It is a world in which al-Qaida and the Taliban are strong and the state is weak, where conflicts are resolved according to the rules of the sharia and local chieftains. This is also allegedly the last refuge, at least for the time being, of Osama bin Laden.

In this remote mountain region, a colony of Germans has sprung up — expats who have severed all roots and found a new homeland in the Hindu Kush. Germany’s Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) maintains a list of suspects who have taken off to Afghanistan or Pakistan — or at least tried to leave — over the past few years. The list has nearly 100 names. It’s a directory of the third generation of Islamist terrorists after the 9/11 suicide pilots and Germany’s so-called “Sauerland Cell”. Like their predecessors, they are eager to fight the holy war and die a martyr’s death. Intelligence agencies are now wondering who among this generation will become the next Mohammed Atta or the next Fritz Gelowicz, the ring leader of the Sauerland Cell — or who will emulate former Bosch employee Cüneyt Ciftci, who hailed from the quiet southern German town of Ansbach and carried out a suicide bombing in Afghanistan in March 2008, blowing himself to pieces and killing four people.

The list includes Jan and Alexandra from Berlin, Michael W. from Hamburg — who tried to slip away last spring but was arrested in Pakistan and sent back — and the 19-year-old Berliner Omar H., who disappeared with his girlfriend last January. They are driven by the dream of a life that they see as a pure reflection of the teachings of Islam. They want to exchange the Western world for an archaic life in barren huts, where they only occasionally have electricity and where the Koran stands above everything.

The first two generations consisted of angry young men who yearned to go into battle, and opted to leave their women behind. The third generation is different, though. They are younger and highly ethnically mixed, often men and women who leave Germany together — or even shortly before the birth of their children — on their way from the Berlin district of Wedding to Waziristan, the porous border region the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Part 2: ‘It’s Shocking How Quickly Your Own Child Can Slip Away from You’

Agencies such as the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, and the BKA are particularly worried about the speed at which these young men and women are prepared to leave their lives in Germany, usually burning their bridges behind them. Occasionally, as in the case of Jan and his wife, it takes only a few months before they become unreachable — first in terms of their willingness to listen to opposing points of view, then in a very literal sense.

Jan’s parents, who came to Berlin from Eastern Europe 20 years ago, noticed the first change in May 2008, when their only son suddenly refused to eat pork. He told his mother earlier that he had purchased a copy of the Koran.

His parents weren’t concerned because Jan had completed high school and planned to become a career soldier. He also had his girlfriend Alexandra, who was two years younger than him. The two young people wanted to get married. It looked like the makings of a picture-book life: peaceful, happy and unspectacular.

The wedding was in September 2008 — a beautiful ceremony, held in the middle of the religious fasting month of Ramadan. They didn’t eat until after sunset, but there was music and the bride was dressed entirely in white, just as she had wanted. In November, the couple married again — this time in a Muslim ceremony — and after that everything went very quickly. By March 2009, the parents only saw their daughter-in-law wearing a full veil. And the number of conflicts started increasing.

Jan tried to convert his father to Islam. His father accompanied him to the mosque to see who his son was meeting with. Jan even tried to convert his elderly grandmother, who is a fervently pious Catholic.

He decided to drop his original career plan of becoming a professional soldier, preferably stationed abroad. Jan told his parents that he otherwise might be forced to fight against his fellow believers. He also dropped out of vocational school.

By early 2009 the young couple mentioned for the first time that they would rather practice their faith undisturbed by distractions, in a country where this was still possible — in Yemen, for example, Somalia or Pakistan, far away from the big cities. Last autumn, Jan and Alexandra started to secretly auction off their possessions on eBay. The process of radicalization had taken little over a year. “It’s shocking how quickly your own child can slip away from you,” says Jan’s mother, who is now seeking contact with other families who have had similar experiences. “Hardly anyone else can understand our situation,” she says.

The Recruiter

German officials believe that Jan can be seen in a video made by a relatively new group that calls itself the “German Taliban Mujahedeen”. Up until now, they have drawn attention to themselves with noisy propaganda — in a video released last fall that threatened to take the war to German cities, for example. This message was illustrated with images of the Brandenburg Gate and the main railway station in Hamburg. The man who appears to be responsible for the propaganda is Ahmet M., 32, who has apparently become something of a media services provider for a segment of the German colony.

Ahmet goes by the name of “Saladin” on the Internet, and every few weeks his “Elif Medya” label issues a new propaganda film aimed at luring new volunteers to Afghanistan. The muddled messages of German Islamist Eric Breininger from the milieu of the Sauerland Cell carry this same trademark, as do the communique’s of the “German Taliban.”

Saladin’s specialization with recruits from Germany can be explained by his personal history. He was born in the northern town of Salzgitter and his last German place of residence was in the state of Saarland. He ran afoul of the law in Germany at an early age and was caught stealing for the first time at 15. Later, he was convicted of dealing hash and cocaine, sentenced to three years in prison and deported to Turkey in April 2000.

German investigators believe that Ahmet M. alias Saladin is a key recruiter on the German-speaking scene. Only a few weeks ago, he personally tried to direct a willing recruit all the way from Germany to the Hindu Kush, but the German police intercepted the Berliner en route.

Ahmet M. boasts that he has served as the spokesman for the Islamic Jihad Union over the past few years, but he says “now I work for the Taliban.” The German-Turk is thought to act as a link between the young new recruits and the front. During the month of Ramadan, he collected donations on German online forums to purchase “basic foodstuffs for the widows and orphans” and the wounded on the jihad battlefields of Afghanistan.

Part 3: From Pothead to Mujahedeen

The videos from the combat zone may seem bizarre, but they are effective. They lure men like Michael W. from Hamburg, an ethnic German born in Kazakhstan, who headed off in March 2009. Traveling with a friend, he flew with Qatar Airways from Vienna to Doha. When the two men checked in that morning in Vienna, Austrian officials asked them questions such as where they intended to travel and what they planned to do in Pakistan.

Take a vacation, said one.

Do business with carpets, said the other.

Police discovered that Michael W. was carrying two notes that smacked of neither vacationing nor the carpet trade.

One of them bore the headline “Rules of Conduct for the Jihad” and focused on highly practical issues. “Remain calm during battle. Do not scream,” was one of the guidelines. “Do not punish with fire” and “no mutilating corpses,” were two other bits of advice. The second piece of paper was a letter of recommendation from someone called “Ibrahim, the Lebanese from Hamburg,” apparently to grant the holder access to a training camp. In addition, both men had laptops and mobile phones in their original packaging. The Austrians allowed them to pass, and they traveled via Doha to Karachi in Pakistan. There they were arrested because they were apparently traveling under false pretenses. Later, they were deported to Germany.

Michael W. is now 24 years old. He usually wears long, light-colored garments, has a big flowing beard and smiles a great deal. The police have identified him as a “dangerous element” and federal prosecutors are investigating his activities. He is seen as one of the new enemies of the state. It is likely that he was introduced to the scene by a fellow high school student in his graduating class of 2006.

In Hamburg there is a group of young believers who have been meeting since the summer of 2008, and it reportedly includes Michael W. The leader of the group has slipped past the border controls and is now in Waziristan — a former pothead who has become a mujahedeen. Those who have been left behind meet every Friday in the former Quds Mosque on Hamburg’s Steindamm street — the very same house of worship once frequented by Mohammed Atta, and now called the Taiba Mosque. During religious services, Michael W. sits extremely close to the low wooden pedestal where the prayer leader stands.

Isolation, Deprivation and Suffering

It’s possible that Michael W. should be thankful to the Pakistani border authorities. They may have saved his life. Reports currently arriving from the Hindu Kush in Hamburg, Berlin and elsewhere sound like a far cry from paradise — and more like war and death. They paint a picture of life in isolation, full of deprivation and suffering.

Ever since the Pakistani army launched an offensive last fall and advanced on Waziristan, the Islamist groups have had to fear for their existence. “The kuffar are attacking us with all their might,” one report from the combat zone states. There are also Germans among the heavily wounded. Relatives back home in Germany are now afraid that their children will be killed by the bullets of the Pakistani army — or by a US drone attack.

Ever since he left Germany, Jan’s parents have been asking themselves if their son is actually capable of fighting. On the one hand, his father says, Jan has never been violent. The father says he once asked him directly about it, and his son replied: “I’m not crazy.” On the other hand, he recalls that they once went to see the combat-filled film “300,” and Jan said how great it must be to have something worth fighting for.

And then there’s that last will and testament. It was written by Omar H., one of Jan’s acquaintances from Berlin. He slipped off the radar in late January together with his 16-year-old girlfriend Stefanie, who now calls herself “Amina”. They are probably on their way to the German colony — to the others from Berlin.

“I want to be buried in a Muslim cemetery. Care should be taken to ensure that no non-believer (including Jews and Christians) is buried near my grave,” Omar decreed in his testament with his rounded, flawless schoolboy handwriting. “When I die, I would like to be washed according to Islamic rites by my wife Amina along with the helpers of her choice, then wrapped and buried. This is my wish unless Allah, in his mercy, honors me with a martyr’s death.”

* Editor’s note: Name has been changed by the editors.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Far East

Bob Dylan Banned From Playing in China

The Chinese government has banned Bob Dylan from playing the Chinese leg of his 2010 tour.

Dates in Beijing and Shanghai, part of Dylan’s tour of east Asia, have been canceled due to the government’s concern about the renowned folk singer’s long-ago reputation as an “icon of the counterculture movement,” according to the Guardian, citing Taiwan-based promoter Jeffrey Wu.

Dylan, who puts on about 100 shows a year as part of his Never Ending Tour and has just finished up a Japanese leg, has also canceled dates in Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong.

“With Beijing and China ruled out, it was not possible for him just to play concerts in Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan,” said Wu of Brokers Brothers Promoters in an interview with the South China Morning Post. “The chance to play in China was the main attraction for him. When that fell through everything else was called off.”

The Chinese government is said to have increased its strictness after a 2008 Björk concert where the Icelandic singer chanted “Tibet! Tibet!” following a performance of her song ‘Declare Independence.’

Oasis was also deemed “unsuitable” to play in China in 2009, according to the Guardian, allegedly because of Noel Gallagher’s involvement in a pro-independence concert for Tibet more than a decade ago.

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

War Veteran Calls Triple-0 From Own Hospital Bed

AN 87-year-old war veteran had to use his own mobile phone to call triple-0 from his hospital bed because he couldn’t get help from nursing staff.

Asbestosis sufferer Kevin Park was left languishing in Lismore Base Hospital earlier this month after waking in, in the middle of the night, soaked in sweat.

Patients on the ward were forced to use archaic brass bells to get attention after the paging system failed. A nurse initially tended to Mr Park but no one bothered to help him change out of his soaked hospital gown, so he tried ringing his bell again to get someone back.

Scared, confused and alone, Mr Park was at his wit’s end after 45 minutes of ringing when he finally decided to call triple-0 on his mobile.

“I didn’t know what was going on. It hadn’t happened to me before and I wasn’t even sure whether it was blood or sweat,” he said from his hospital bed yesterday. “Desperate people do desperate things. In the end I rang the emergency telephone number to ask them to get me out of here and somewhere where I would get some attention.”

Only after his telephone call of desperation went through to an operator did a nurse finally appear, but Mr Park’s ordeal did not end there.

The nurse took his phone, returning it later that night with its SIM card and battery removed.

“Taking my phone was, to me, the biggest offence,” Mr Park said.

“To me it’s thieving. You can’t ring out on the phones they have here so that mobile phone was my only access to the outside world.”

A North Coast Area Health Service spokeswoman said staff took Mr Park’s phone to prevent other patients being disturbed in the middle of the night. “NCAHS has apologised for any distress that may have been caused to Mr Park and his family,” she said.

“The nurse call system on Ward C8 was identified as faulty (but) the emergency part of the system is still operative.”

The spokeswoman said a replacement system would be installed later this month.

Mr Park, who served with the RAAF in World War II, was admitted to hospital last month suffering a lung condition.

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

Latin America

No Bishops Involved in Cases of Sex Abuse in Brazil, Vatican Spokesman Clarifies

Rome, Italy, Mar 18, 2010 / 08:35 pm (CNA).- As cases of sexual abuse by clergy and religious within the European Church have manifested themselves in five different countries, news of more abuses has come to light in South America. Three priests have been suspended for their involvement in alleged homosexual activities in a diocese of eastern Brazil.

Investigations were acknowledged on Tuesday when Holy See spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, released a statement through Vatican Radio affirming concretely that no bishops were involved in the cases.

Reports from Brazil had mistakenly tied the activities to bishops, as they also carry the title of “monsignor” there.

The situation was made public in the Latin American nation this week when a video was run on Brazil’s SBT Television Station that allegedly shows 82-year old Monsignor Luiz Marques Barbosa involved in sexual relations with a 19-year old man.

According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, after the show was aired, he and two other priests from the Diocese of Penedo, Msgr. Raimundo Gomes and Fr. Edilson Duarte, were suspended by Bishop Valerio Breda for possible homosexual acts.

The AP reported Fr. Lombardi as having said that two of the priests had been suspended and the third has been removed from his parish and is facing civil charges.

Italy’s La Stampa newspaper cited Church and police sources explaining that the three had been under investigation by the local police for having abused children in a choir over the course of many years. In an article on Thursday, they reported that the video was taken by a 21-year old who claims that he was abused by Msgr. Marques Barbosa when he was 12.

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

Sex Abuse in Brazil: Abuser Priest Provides Checklist for Selecting Victims.

A Brazilian newsmagazine has reported that two priests recently convicted for sexual abuse of minor boys kept diaries of their experiences, often featuring graphic sexual details, as well as in one instance a set of “rules” for selecting victims—such as that the target should be a young male from a poor family and preferably without a father.

The magazine also names two other Brazilian priests recently arrested for abuse of minors, including one caught in early November in a hotel room in northeastern Brazil with four young boys. In that case, the priest has denied charges of abuse.

The Brazilian newsmagazine Istoe, a nationally circulated newsweekly, published these findings Nov. 16, suggesting that they represent a broad pattern of sexual misconduct among Brazilian clergy. The Istoe report was given prominent treatment Nov. 21 in Corriere della Sera, the leading Italian daily newspaper.

The magazine reports that in at least two instances, priests eventually convicted of sexual abuse of minors had previously been transferred from one assignment to another by church officials after initial complaints had surfaced.

Corriere della Sera’s coverage suggested that sexual abuse of minors by priests is no longer a phenomenon associated largely with the United States, pointing to scandals in England, France, Croatia and Ireland, in addition to Brazil.

The original Corriere della Sera report claimed that 10 Brazilian priests are currently behind bars for abuse of minors, with another 40 missing.

According to that report, a 48-year-old Brazilian priest named Tarcisio Tadeu Spricigo. Spricigo was moved repeatedly due to allegations of child molestation finally winding up in a parish in the very impoverished and tiny community of , convicted in 2003 of the sexual abuse of a 9-year-old boy, kept a diary in which he listed 10 guidelines for identifying potential victims and acting with impunity. They included:

* “Age: 7, 8, 9 or 10”

* “Sex: Male”

* “Social condition: poor”

* “Family condition: preferably a boy without a father, living with a single mother or a sister”

* “Where to find him: in the streets, in schools or in families”

* “How to lure him: guitar lessons, or service as an altar boy or girl”

* “Very important to keep the family at a distance”

* “Possibilities: an affectionate young man, calm, without inhibitions, missing a father, without moralisms”

* “Find out what pleases the young man and, departing from that premise, lead him to give everything to me”

* “How to present yourself: always certain, serious, dominating, like a father, never ask questions, always have certainties”

The diary, according to the Corriere della Sera report, came to light after Spricigo accidentally gave it to a religious sister, who turned it over to the police.

Likewise, according to Corriere della Sera, a Brazilian priest named Alfieri Edoardo Bompani, 45, also kept a diary of his sexual encounters with young men. Bompani was convicted of abuse in 2004 and sentenced to 93 years in jail, considered a symbolic gesture since the maximum sentence under Brazilian law is 30 years.

Quotes from his diary provided in the Corriere della Sera account include lurid, and sometimes repugnant sexual details.

The magazine also quotes from a written complaint filed in the Vatican by Brazilian priest Fr. Alberto Mendes, against emeritus Bishop AntSnio Sarto, 79, who resigned from the Barra do Garcas diocese in 2001. The magazine reproduced a May 20, 2003, letter from the Roman Rota, the main Vatican appeals court, to Mendes indicating that his complaint had arrived.

In the complaint, which dates back almost 20 years, Mendes details—once again in graphic detail—sexual advances Sarto allegedly made toward him. Mendes told Corriere della Sera that he tried for 14 years to lodge a canonical complaint against Sarto in a Brazilian ecclesiastical court, without success.

The most recent case to arise is that of the priest apprehended in early November in a hotel room with four boys, Fr. Felix Barbosa Carreiro. In that instance, the vice president of the Brazilian bishops’ conference, Bishop Antonio Celso Queiroz of Catanduva, told a news conference in Brazil Nov. 10 that Carreiro should be subject to both civil and ecclesiastical prosecution.

Corriere della Sera reported that Pope Benedict XVI sent a commission in early September to investigate the reports of sexual abuse of minors by clergy in Brazil. The magazine quoted from what it identified as that commission’s conclusions.

However, NCR could not independently confirm that such a commission existed.

The logical Vatican agency to have impaneled the commission would be the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which has responsibility for cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests under a February 2001 ruling from Pope John Paul II. A Vatican source told NCR, however, that the congregation was not aware of any commission sent to Brazil, or anywhere else.

A spokesperson for the Brazilian bishops’ conference told NCR Nov. 21 that the conference was not aware of any such commission.

Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to attend the meeting of the Latin American bishops’ conference, CELAM , to be held at the Marian shrine of Aparecida, Brazil, in May 2007.



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


For You Were Aliens in the Land of Egypt

Faith Communities Unite Behind Immigration Reform

This week Jewish faith communities are celebrating Passover, one of the religion’s most sacred holidays that commemorates the Hebrew people’s escape from enslavement in Egypt to freedom in a new land. In the book of Exodus, God directs the emancipated people of biblical Israel to treat all people in their midst justly and with respect, whether they are native born and citizens of the land or not. According to Exodus, God tells the Israelites, “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).

By the middle of next week, Passover observations will be finished, but an important issue—comprehensive immigration reform—remains unfinished in our nation. As we turn our attention to immigration we should recognize the strong parallels between Passover and the life experiences of those who wish to immigrate to this country and become hard-working members of the American community. America’s tradition as the “Mother of Exiles” came about precisely because it has welcomed millions of immigrants since 1886. And though they no longer arrive in Ellis Island, Lady Liberty’s torch continues to inspire thousands of immigrants to move from hunger, insecurity, and oppression to achieving the American Dream for themselves and their children—just as the Hebrews sought a better life for themselves.

The Exodus story and its lesson of welcoming the “other” is a story repeated in other faith traditions—and it’s a major reason why many faith groups are pushing for comprehensive immigration reform. In an era of partisan polarization immigration reform is one of the few issues that transcends political divides largely due to the unwavering support from America’s faith communities. Evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and mainline churches alike have all been actively fighting for comprehensive reform.

Some of the reasons for their support are practical—priests, rabbis, and imams see the fallout of having no legal path to citizenship among their parishioners, who live in constant fear of their family being torn apart because an undocumented mother or father could be deported. But one of the main reasons is that most religions believe that showing kindness and hospitality to the stranger is a central tenet of their faith.

Last September, the Center for American Progress published a report that documented the increasing momentum within faith groups for comprehensive immigration reform. For years, many people of faith have worked tirelessly in the shadows of media attention to care for their immigrant neighbors. But in the past six months their grassroots efforts have strengthened and spread as immigration advocates are calling for passage of comprehensive immigration reform this year.

And while grassroots activism spreads, national faith advocacy groups are renewing their efforts to persuade policymakers to reform the broken immigration system once and for all. On March 21, a broad coalition of religious organizations from across the faith spectrum played a key role in delivering an estimated 200,000 immigrants and their supporters to the National Mall for the Change Takes Courage and Faith march and the interfaith service that took place before it. The day after the March, people of faith took their calls for comprehensive immigration reform directly to the offices of 238 members of Congress from 41 states in conjunction with the Ecumenical Advocacy Days, a movement comprised of Christian social justice activists. On that same day a prominent group of faith leaders met with senior White House officials to press their case for immigration reform.

A recent survey further confirms widespread support for comprehensive immigration reform among faith communities. The Public Religion Research Institute’s March 2010 survey found that religious voters are more likely to “strongly favor” reform than voters not ascribing to religious faiths. In fact, a majority of Catholics, white Evangelicals, and white mainline Protestants “strongly support” an earned path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. This support is fundamentally rooted in their faith traditions as is shown by the religious respondents’ belief in the dignity of every person, as made in God’s own image.

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

Spain: Recession Hits Immigrants, 2009 Remittances -9.7%

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 31 — The recession has had a negative impact on the financial situation of immigrants. In 2009, immigrants remitted a total of 7,131 million euros to their countries of origin, 9.7% less than in 2008. According to figures issued today by the Bank of Spain, remittances started to drop during the second quarter of 2008 and continued to fall until the last months of 2009. Between October and December 2009, remittances climbed by 1.8% compared with the same period in the previous year. In 2009 296,800 immigrants lost their job, a 38.2% increase compared with the previous year, according to a survey into the active population. In 2009, immigrants represented 29.7% of the working population, 8 percentage points more than in the previous year. Between 2002 and 2007, the sum of money sent home by immigrants increased continuously, until the record of 8.445 billion recorded in 2007; but the decline started in 2008: -7.1%, followed by the -9.7% recorded in 2009. The total amount of money sent by Spaniards living abroad also decreased last year, by 9.8%, to 4.820 billion. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: Birmingham Man Who Had Sex With Sheep Jailed

A MIDLAND asylum seeker, once jailed for having sex with a sheep, has been sent back to prison for breaching the Sex Offenders’ Register.

Hidyat Amin, 34, of Alum Rock, Birmingham. Birmingham, was placed on the register for seven years in 2006 after being found guilty of romping with the animal in a farm shed.

The Kurd was jailed for six months for that offence which took place at a farm in East Yorkshire.

Amin reportedly had feared he would be deported upon his release. However, he was allowed to stay in the UK and after being freed he moved to Birmingham.

He appeared at Birmingham Crown Court on Thursday, accused of one count of common assault and another of being in possession of an offensive weapon.

The charges related to an alleged incident said to have taken place outside his former partner’s house in Birmingham. He was cleared of both those offences after the prosecution offered no evidence.

But Amin was convicted of a separate offence of failing to comply with the conditions of the Sex Offences’ Register. Thursday’s hearing was told the Kurd had failed to notify police in advance that he planned to visit Southampton in October 2009. The strict conditions of his registration mean he must notify police of wherever he is staying.

A judge at Birmingham Crown Court jailed Amin for eight weeks for the breach.

The sex offender was jailed for having sex with an animal after being trapped by DNA evidence — after his underpants and socks were found at the scene.

His trial at Hull Crown Court heard that a man had been seen acting suspiciously under a full moon and had been spotted several times previously lurking in Frank Davidson’s farmyard in Preston, East Yorkshire.

On one occasion the man casually smoked a cigarette before driving off, the court heard.

The sheep and a ram had been isolated as part of treatment for foot rot. The farmer said he had found pants and socks on three occasions as well as bread crumbs used to entice the animals.

Prosecutor Caroline Wigin said DNA swabs suggested a billion to one chance the sex attacker was not Amin.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Iranian Transgenders Reclassified

Iran’s military will no longer classify transgender people as “mentally disturbed,” said Hasan Mousavi Chelk, who heads the Socially Vulnerable Groups section of the State Agency for National Well-Being.

Chelk said Jan. 6 that putting such a determination on transgender people’s military discharge papers creates problems for them.

From now on, transgender people being separated from the military will be labeled as “diabetics” or “people with a hormonal imbalance,” he said.

In reality, Chelk said, Iran’s 4,000 self-identified transgender people have a “sexual identity disorder.” They are citizens, he said, and the government views them “favorably.”

Source: Bay Windows — New England’s Largest LGBT Newspaper

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


How the Western Pursuit of Muslim Moderates Actually Promotes Extremism

The term Moderate Muslim is a misnomer, because it is the equivalent of describing him as a Secular Catholic or a Liberal Conservative. Muslims who pride themselves on sticking to the Koran view extremism as a virtue, not a fault. Islam’s reform movements that succeeded were not movements that made Islam more liberal, but that made it stricter, harsher and more unfeeling.

Aside from the original Sunni-Shiite schism, which has its basis more in power politics than in theology, the spectrum within Islam itself always runs to the more extreme. A new alternative mosque that succeeds is likely to be a place more conservative and more hostile to the outside world. A new Islamic movement is usually one that calls for more blood and guts, and a lot less women walking around on the street. A movement that fails to do that rarely survives or essentially is forced outside of Islam if it does.

And so what the West’s pursuit of moderate Muslims really does is push them toward more extreme views. A Muslim ruler who develops closer ties with the West is forced to compensate for it by moving further to the extreme in order to avoid being vulnerable to domestic charges that he is a bad Muslim. It is no surprise then that Saudi Arabia, America’s closest ally in the Muslim world, is also the most extremist Muslim country on the planet, that is behind the growing push to the extreme around the world.


The Western pursuit of moderate Muslims alone helps create more enthusiasm for pushing Islam further to the extreme. Once Western leaders define a Muslim group as moderate, new more extreme groups are quickly spawned in order to set a new bar for “True Islam”, as opposed to the compromise variety that the infidels praise. For example when Israel and the US announced that they had successfully made a deal with Arafat, the rise of Hamas was all but assured. When the UK or the US tries to treat Islamists as mainstream, not only do the Islamists become more extreme, but they develop new and more extreme rival groups.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]