Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100701

Financial Crisis
»Blockbuster Trading Halted as Debt Payment Looms
»Fed Made Taxpayers Unwitting Junk-Bond Buyers
»US Auto Sales, In Weak Recovery, Drop in June
»Weak Economic Data Suggest Recovery is Fizzling
»Afghan Military Deserters in the U.S. — Their Photos
»Brothers in Harm: Petraeus=McChrystal on the Roes
»Bullets Hitting Border Town City Hall in Texas
»Russian Spies: Mission Accomplished
»Stakelbeck Sits Down With Congressman Peter Hoekstra
Europe and the EU
»‘5,000 Belgians Abused by Priests’
»Are Women’s Rights Really the Issue?
»Bulgarian Mufti Demands Veiling Muslim Women for ID Photos
»Finland Makes Broadband a ‘Legal Right’
»Germany: Holy Division and Cynicism
»Is Brussels in the Clutches of Lobbies?
»Italy to Get New Amphibious Ships
»Norwegian Muslim Praises Afghan Killings
»UK: Banning the Burqa and Introducing Daylight Saving Time Are Among the Measures Proposed in Tory MPs’ Private Member’s Bills
»UK: British Taxpayers Spent £1.2bn on the Swine Flu Pandemic That Never Was
»UK: Diane Abbot and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
»UK: Dad Charged Over Threat to Kill Harry Potter Star
»UK: MP Wants Law to Ban Burka-Wearing
»UK: Muslims Slam MP’s Bid to Ban the Burka by Law
»UK: Parliament: Face Coverings (Regulations)
»UK: Phillip Hollobone Explains Why He Wants to Ban the Burqa
»UK: Police Bogged Down by ‘Snow Storm’ of Paperwork — Including a Guide to Escorting Drunks Home
»UK: Tory MP Phillip Hollobone Launches First Legal Bid to Ban Burkha in Britain
»UK: Tory MP Bids to Ban the Veil
»UK: Thinly Veiled Threat
»UK: Why it Would be Wrong to Ban the Burqa
»Vatican: Holy See Backs Cardinal Named in Graft Probe
»Vatican: Pope Meets Disgraced German Bishop
»Italian Shoemakers Eye Serbian Production
North Africa
»Algeria: Police Officers Killed by ‘Islamic Militants’
Israel and the Palestinians
»Israel Signals Compensation for Mavi Marmara Victims
Middle East
»Baha’i Houses Demolished in Iran
»Turkey: Rize Mayor Apologizes for His Remarks About Polygamy
»Turkish Constitutional Court to Take Up Smoking Ban
South Asia
»Afghanistan: US Lawmakers Block $4 Bln in Aid
»Afghanistan: Taliban Rule Out Talks With NATO: ‘Why Should We When We’re Winning?’
»Bangladesh: Dhaka, Islamic Leaders Accused of Blasphemy: Protests and More Than 100 Arrests
»Frank Gaffney in Newsmax: Is CENTCOM Going Native?
»Indonesian Civil Society Turns Against Islamic Defender Front for Fomenting Hatred
»Pakistan Censors Google, Youtube and Yahoo for Their Anti-Islam Content
»Sex and the Muslim Woman: New Asian Mag Pushes Limits
»Sri Lanka: School Texts in Sri Lanka Defame Christians, The Church and the Pope
»Thailand: Student Killed in Restive South
Far East
»India and China Vying for Energy
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Somalia: Al-Shabab Close to ‘Controlling Entire South’
»Lebanon: Immigration Law Would Give ‘Refugees’ Rights
»Video: Obama: American Citizenship “Not a Matter of Blood or Birth”
»Islam and the Left — Two Sides of the Same Coin

Financial Crisis

Blockbuster Trading Halted as Debt Payment Looms

Trading of Blockbuster Inc. shares were halted Thursday morning as the Dallas-based company faces a difficult debt payment.

In addition to the $42 million debt payment due Thursday, the movie rental company also disclosed in a regulatory filing that two proposals it represented as having preliminarily won shareholder approval actually didn’t pass. It’s highly unusual for preliminary results to be different from final tallies.

At last week’s annual meeting, CEO Jim Keyes, whose three-year contract expires this week, told shareholders that they had approved proposals to collapse the company’s Class A and B shares into one issue of common stock, and giving the company authority to commence a reverse stock split.

Voting delayed the meeting by 45 minutes.

Both proposals could be moot if Blockbuster is forced to file bankruptcy if it can’t renegotiate its almost $1 billion in debt.

The debt payment due today represents almost half the cash Blockbuster had on hand as of April 4.

The proposals were part of an overall plan to keep its shares trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Before the annual meeting, the company said it reached an agreement with the NYSE that allows its shares to continue trading on the Big Board for another year.

Shares have been trading below $1 since October.

           — Hat tip: Lurker from Tulsa[Return to headlines]

Fed Made Taxpayers Unwitting Junk-Bond Buyers

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and then-New York Fed President Timothy Geithner told senators on April 3, 2008, that the tens of billions of dollars in “assets” the government agreed to purchase in the rescue of Bear Stearns Cos. were “investment-grade.” They didn’t share everything the Fed knew about the money.

The so-called assets included collateralized debt obligations and mortgage-backed bonds with names like HG-Coll Ltd. 2007-1A that were so distressed, more than $40 million already had been reduced to less than investment-grade by the time the central bankers testified. The government also became the owner of $16 billion of credit-default swaps, and taxpayers wound up guaranteeing high-yield, high-risk junk bonds.

By using its balance sheet to protect an investment bank against failure, the Fed took on the most credit risk in its 96- year history and increased the chance that Americans would be on the hook for billions of dollars as the central bank began insuring Wall Street firms against collapse. The Fed’s secrecy spurred legislation that will require government audits of the Fed bailouts and force the central bank to reveal recipients of emergency credit.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

US Auto Sales, In Weak Recovery, Drop in June

DETROIT (AP) — Automakers saw their U.S. sales drop from May to June, a sign that this year’s slow recovery in the industry may be stalling.

Sales of General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group cars and trucks fell between 12 and 13 percent from May. Subaru’s sales were also down.

Consumers are delaying big-ticket purchases because they’re worried about their jobs in an environment of high unemployment. Analysts predict overall sales for the industry will drop 10 percent or more from May.

“Consumers are clearly hunkering down in light of the current environment, waiting for signs of a renewed recovery,” said Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting at J.D. Power.

Along with job worries, deals from Memorial Day and earlier in the year may have pulled customers out of the market for a new vehicle in June.

But automakers are still predicting a gradual recovery in the last half of the year, and said they weren’t too concerned about the slowdown.

“We don’t see a significant change in economic conditions. Recent economic news continues to point to a slow recovery with some volatility in it,” said Steve Carlisle, GM’s head of global product planning.

He said declines in sales to government and rental fleets were a major reason for the sales slowdown from May to June. GM sold 25,000 fewer vehicles to fleets in June, as heavier than usual fleet demand in the first half of the year subsided.

           — Hat tip: Lurker from Tulsa[Return to headlines]

Weak Economic Data Suggest Recovery is Fizzling

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fears that the economic recovery is fizzling grew Thursday after the government and private sector issued weak reports on a number of fronts.

Unemployment claims are up, home sales are plunging without government incentives and manufacturing growth is slowing.

Meanwhile, 1.3 million people are without federal jobless benefits now that Congress adjourned for a weeklong Independence Day recess without passing an extension. That number could grow to 3.3 million by the end of the month if lawmakers can’t resolve the issue when they return.

All of this worries economists. As jobless claims grow and benefits shrink, Americans have less money to spend and the economy can’t grow fast enough to create new jobs. Some are revising their forecasts for growth in the third quarter. Others are afraid the country is on the verge of falling back into a recession.

“We find the level and direction in jobless claims somewhat troubling and the increase is likely to feed double-dip fears,” said John Ryding, an economist at RDQ Economics in a note to clients.

New claims for benefits jumped by 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 472,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, which smooths fluctuations, rose to 466,500, its highest level since March.

Claims have remained stuck above 450,000 since the beginning of the year. Requests for unemployment benefits dropped steadily last year after reaching a peak of 651,000 in March 2009. Economists say they will feel more confident about sustained job growth when initial claims fall below 425,000

Adding to that is the growing number of people who stand to lose government support while they search for work.

For the third time in as many weeks, Senate Republicans blocked a bill Wednesday night that would have continued unemployment checks to people who have been laid off for long stretches. The House is slated to vote on a similar measure Thursday, though the Senate’s action renders the vote a futile gesture as Congress prepares to depart Washington for its holiday recess.

During the recession, Congress added up to 73 weeks of extra benefits on top of the 26 weeks typically provided by states. Democrats in the House and Senate want them extended through November. Republicans want the $34 billion cost of the bill to be paid for with money remaining from last year’s stimulus package. Democrats argue that it is emergency spending and should be added to the deficit.

Some economists say they may revise their forecasts for growth in the third quarter if the benefits are not extended.

“People whose benefits are going to run out will simply not have the spending power necessary to help drive growth,” said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak.

The housing market is also weighing on the economy. The number of buyers who signed contracts to purchase homes tumbled 30 percent in May, the National Association of Realtors said. And construction spending declined 0.2 percent in May as residential building fell, the Commerce Department said.

Both were affected by the expiration of government incentives to buy homes. Buyers had until April 30 to sign sales contracts and qualify for tax credits.

The tax credit’s impact also showed up in the jobless claims report. Greater layoffs by construction firms fueled the increase, a Labor Department analyst said.

Separately, the Institute for Supply Management, an industry trade group, said its manufacturing index slipped in June. But it is still at a level that suggests growth in the industrial sector, which has helped drive the economic recovery.

Surveys released Thursday in China showed a slowdown in factories’ growth as exports faltered and analysts worry that cutbacks in government lending will cool the economy’s rapid rise. Reports from Markit Economics also indicated that manufacturing sector growth in India, South Korea, Australia and Taiwan was slowing.

The industrial sector’s growth also cooled slightly in the 16 countries using the euro and the United Kingdom.

The troubling information on the economy comes a day before the Labor Department is scheduled to release the June jobs report. That is expected to show a modest rebound in private-sector hiring. Overall, employers are expected to cut a net total of 110,000 positions, but that includes the loss of about 240,000 temporary census jobs. Private employers are projected to add 112,000 jobs, according to a survey of economists by Thomson Reuters.

That would be an improvement from May, when businesses added only 41,000 workers. But the economy needs to generate at least 100,000 net new jobs per month to keep up with population growth, and probably twice that number to bring down the jobless rate.

The unemployment rate is expected to edge up to 9.8 percent from 9.7 percent in May.

Layoffs are rising in the public sector, as states and local governments struggle to close persistent budget gaps. New York City approved a budget Tuesday that cuts about $1 billion in spending and would eliminate 5,300 jobs from the city’s 300,000-person work force.

           — Hat tip: Lurker from Tulsa[Return to headlines]


Afghan Military Deserters in the U.S. — Their Photos

Earlier this month, it was revealed that 17 Afghan soldiers under training at the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base deserted over the past few years and are missing in the U.S. A nationwide alert was issued by NCIS in Dallas, Texas on 9 June 2010, providing the names and photographs of each of the foreign nationals who had “gone missing.”

Since the issuance of that bulletin and despite the reports that seven of the missing men have been found, the names and photographs of all 17 continue to be distributed in law enforcement venues.

The media initially reported on this breach of security, however, has since downplayed the dangers posed by these men. Absent of additional information by the military and absent of their photographs, the major media seems to have quietly moved on. It is important to note that each of these men have been issued “CAC” cards that give them the ability to enter DOD installations.

The Northeast Intelligence Network and Canada Free Press secured the photographs of all 17 men without regard to the allegations that several have been captured. If any of these men are sighted or encountered, you are urged to report the incident to your local law enforcement immediately.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Brothers in Harm: Petraeus=McChrystal on the Roes

by Andrew Bostom

General Petraeus’ depressing testimony yesterday confirmed (while, expectedly, it did not prevent the Gen. from becoming confirmed) yet again that the era of real US warrior leaders—like Curtis LeMay—is over. LeMay, so unlike his post-modernist “successors,” such as Petraeus and McChrystal, actually possessed both the moral rectitude and abiding faith in American exceptionalism to value his own troops above all else, certainly any inhabitant of the enemy domain, military or civilian. LeMay’s military, and simultaneous moral calculus, was that crushing the enemy and therefore his abiding, motivating ideology, saved the lives first and foremost, of his own troops, his fellow citizens, allied citizens, and even those of the enemy…

           — Hat tip: Andy Bostom[Return to headlines]

Bullets Hitting Border Town City Hall in Texas

A news article appeared in today’s edition of the El Paso Times that should be of great concern to all Americans.

The news report deals with seven bullets that were apparently fired across the border that is supposed to separate the United States from Mexico. The bullets struck City Hall.

You may have heard about that border- it is the very same border that California Congressman Pete Stark told his supposed constituents was secure. You will notice that I said Stark’s supposed constituents because I have no idea who he really represents. Supposedly a political representative does his job by representing the best interests of his constituents. In the Case of Mr. Stark, it is doubtful that he gives a damn about the citizens of the United States who live in his Congressional District or any other citizens of our country, for that matter, unless they advocate for the elimination of our nation’s borders and the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws that were, in fact, promulgated to protect our nation and our citizens.


When Felipe Calderon addressed members of the United States Congress, many of the members of Congress gave Mr. Calderon a standing ovation for demanding that his citizens be given lawful status in our country even though they had violated our nation’s borders and laws! He demanded that the federal government take action against the State of Arizona for passing laws that would require local and state law enforcement officials in Arizona to take an individual’s immigration status into account when such individuals are encountered during the normal course of law enforcement duties.

Stop and give this insanity a bit of thought.

Mr. Calderon looks at the majority of his citizens and sees money the same way he might look at an oil field or acres of crops swaying in the breeze! For Mr. Calderon, his citizens are his nation’s number one or number two most lucrative export! By exporting his citizens they work under exploitive conditions in the United States and send money back to Mexico to enhance the Mexican economy to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.

By exporting his citizens he exports the potential for insurrection- most of those who work in the United States are young and able-bodied men, the same individuals who might well storm the gates in Mexico if they had no prospect for employment in the United States and were confined to his country.

Calderon has convinced his citizens that they have the right to enter the United States, at great personal risk, to distract them from the fundamental truth- Mexico has one of the most vibrant economies of all of Latin America but only a very small percentage of the Mexican population benefits from that economy.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Russian Spies: Mission Accomplished

Those who are even paying attention to the case of the arrested Russian spies are either all a twitter over the attractive Anna Chapman or snickering about the ineptness of the spy ring for their failure to get any real information of use to the SVR, scion of the KGB.


Such dismissals reflect a profound ignorance, either willful or the product of too many years of a government run school system.


Putin’s spies among us don’t have to blow up a nuclear reactor—that’s the job of the jihadis anyway—to do immense harm to the United States. The Soviet Union relied far more on the process of subversion than on actual espionage. Soviet defector Yuri Bezmenov describes the process in four phases:

The first stage is demoralization, a process which requires fifteen to twenty years to accomplish; the amount of time necessary to educate one generation of students to the doctrine of your enemy. Ayers-based education has clearly hit its target.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Stakelbeck Sits Down With Congressman Peter Hoekstra

I recently sat down with Michigan Congressman Peter Hoekstra, who has long been a leading voice on Capitol Hill on national security and intelligence issues.

He pulled no punches during our interview when it came to the Obama administration’s national security strategy, telling me the White House is “weakening our national security and making us more vulnerable.”

He added that, “The President has been undercutting the leadership in Israel on a regular basis” and “emboldening radical jihadists: Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinians.”

To see more, watch my new report at the link above.

[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

‘5,000 Belgians Abused by Priests’

Wed 30/06/2010 — 14:36 According to a former member of the church commission that was set up to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by priests, as many as 5,000 Belgian have been molested by clergymen. Karlijn Demasure (photo) told VRT television news that although the commission, that resigned last week after the judicial authorities confiscated its case files, received 475 reports of child sex abuse by priests, the true number of cases could be as much as ten times greater.

Karlijn Demasure is a professor at Leuven University and has carried out research into cases of child sex abuse for many years.

“We can assume that there are around ten times as many victims as those that have reported the reported abuse to the commission.”

Professor Demasure adds that when you talk to victims and perpetrators it soon becomes clear that many more children are abused than ever gets reported.

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

Are Women’s Rights Really the Issue?

On Wednesday, Spain became the latest European country to advance legislation to ban burqas and other such face veils. Many of those in favor of such laws cite women’s rights, but does criminalizing their clothing help?

When it comes to burqas, everyone, it would seem, is a feminist. In 2006, Dutch right-wing populist Geert Wilders argued that the burqa — the full-body robes with just a mesh screen to look through — is “a medieval symbol, a symbol against women.” Last year, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called it “a sign of subservience.” And on Wednesday, the Spanish Senate gave its approval to an anti-burqa motion supporting the outlawing of “any usage, custom or discriminatory practice that limits the freedom of women.”

Spain, in fact, became the latest to join the European movement to ban the burqa and the niqab — similar to a burqa but with a slit for the eyes instead of mesh. It joins France, Italy and Belgium with Holland, Austria and Switzerland also considering laws to get rid of the garment.

But can the rush to uncover Europe’s most pious Muslims be explained solely by a newfound desire to protect the rights of women? The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which advises the council on human rights questions, certainly doesn’t think so.

On Wednesday, the Parliamentary Assembly, known as PACE, passed a resolution urging European Union member states not to issue a ban on burqas “or other religious or special clothing.” Rather, the resolution read, EU countries should focus their energies on protecting women’s “free choice to wear religious or special clothing.” In other words, PACE seemed to be saying, religious freedoms and human rights are at the crux of the burqa debate. And preventing them from wearing what they want is anti-feminist.

‘Don’t Have the Right to Be Human’

It is not an uncontroversial claim. Leading German feminist Alice Schwarzer said late last year that she thinks a burqa ban is “self evident.” Women’s rights activist Necla Kelek, likewise of Germany, says that burqas “have nothing to do with religion and religious freedoms.” She says that the garment comes out of an ideology whereby “women in public don’t have the right to be human.”

As the debate has moved mainstream, it has become easier to ignore the fact that much of the momentum for bans of the burqa and the niqab come from right-wing populist parties. Wilders has been followed by the Belgian far-right party Vlaams Belang and the anti-Muslim German party Pro-NRW in calling for a ban. All of those groups would also like to see minarets disappear from European cityscapes and have attracted attention primarily due to their radically anti-Muslim rhetoric.

In its Wednesday resolution, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe made that connection as well. It preceded its recommendations by emphasizing the priority of “working towards ensuring freedom of thought, conscience and religion while combating religious intolerance and discrimination.” The document then went on to urge Switzerland to revoke its ban on minarets, passed in a nationwide referendum last November.

‘Emergency Legislation’

As more and more countries in Europe begin exploring a burqa ban, however, the idea is becoming disassociated from right-wing rhetoric. Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, from the center-left Social Democratic Party of Switzerland, would like to see a ban. In France, Communist parliamentarian André Gerin has been leading the charge. In Britain, then cabinet minister Jack Straw, of the Labour Party, outed himself as being opposed to the wearing of the full veil in 2006. And in Germany, politicians from across the political spectrum have voiced their support for a burqa ban.

Lost in the debate, perhaps predictably, are the women who wear burqas and niqabs. According to a recent article in the New Statesmen, there aren’t many. In France, security services estimate that just one-tenth of 1 percent of Muslim women in the country wear the burqa — a number that seems to make a mockery of the effort to pass what has been called “emergency legislation” against the garment prior to parliament’s summer recess. Sarkozy’s cabinet approved a draft law last month. The number of women who wear the full veils in Belgium could be as low as 30.

On a continent where the integration of its ever-increasing Muslim population has caused politicians fits for years, though, it is perhaps not surprising that the burqa debate has grown steadily this year. Europeans are concerned about radical Islam and many associate a burqa ban with combatting extremism.

‘Criminalizing Women to Free Them’

The opposite may be true. Last summer, the North African wing of al-Qaida threatened to “take revenge” on France as a result of the swelling debate there over banning the burqa. “We will not tolerate such provocations and injustices, and we will take our revenge from France,” said the group’s statement.

Human rights workers, for their part, worry that burqa bans may send the wrong message to Muslim women. “Treating pious Muslim women like criminals won’t help integrate them,” said Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch in April. Speaking of the Belgium ban, British writer Myriam Francois-Cerrah, a Muslim, said simply: “The Belgians have a funny idea of liberation, criminalizing women in order to free them.”

For all the burqa ban’s current popularity in Europe, it seems unlikely that German politicians will be forced to confront such legislation any time soon. According to an analysis carried out by the German parliament last month, a ban on the burqa would very likely find itself in violation of the German constitution. And Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (of the center-right Christian Democrats) has voiced his opposition to such legislation in Germany. A burqa debate in Germany, he said, “is unnecessary.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Bulgarian Mufti Demands Veiling Muslim Women for ID Photos

The Mufti Office from the Bulgarian city of Smolyan has demanded that the regional police department allow Muslim women to take their new passport pictures with headscarves on.

The Regional Mufti Nedzhmi Dabov has announced that the requirements for the pictures with biometric data are in conflict with the Islamic canon that the Muslim woman should not display other parts of her body except her face and her hands up to her wrists.

The director of the police department in Smolyan, Kiril Hadzhihristev, said that the demands of the Muslim spiritual leaders cannot be fulfilled because, according to the rules for issuing identity documents, the picture should display the face, ears, and at least 1 cm of the hair of the person.

Hadzhihristev explained that when photographic veiled women, the headscarves need to be pulled a little so that the required parts are visible.

The Regional Mufti Office in Smolyan said that Muslim women from the regional call the office every day to ask whether they break the religious law when taking pictures for the biometric data,

Representatives of the Mufti Office said they will approach the Parliament with a demand for changing the regulations.

“This is not in conflict with the Bulgarian law and it could be solved. A compromise could be done,” the Smolyan Mufti Nedzhmi Dabov said.

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

Finland Makes Broadband a ‘Legal Right’

From 1 July every Finn will have the right to access to a 1Mbps (megabit per second) broadband connection.

Finland has vowed to connect everyone to a 100Mbps connection by 2015.

In the UK the government has promised a minimum connection of at least 2Mbps to all homes by 2012 but has stopped short of enshrining this as a right in law.

The Finnish deal means that from 1 July all telecommunications companies will be obliged to provide all residents with broadband lines that can run at a minimum 1Mbps speed.

Broadband commitment

Speaking to the BBC, Finland’s communication minister Suvi Linden explained the thinking behind the legislation: “We considered the role of the internet in Finns everyday life. Internet services are no longer just for entertainment.

“Finland has worked hard to develop an information society and a couple of years ago we realised not everyone had access,” she said.

It is believed up to 96% of the population are already online and that only about 4,000 homes still need connecting to comply with the law.

In the UK internet penetration stands at 73%.

The British government has agreed to provide everyone with a minimum 2Mbps broadband connection by 2012 but it is a commitment rather than a legally binding ruling.

“The UK has a universal service obligation which means virtually all communities will have broadband,” said a spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Making broadband a legal right could have implications for countries that plan tough action on illegal file-sharing.

Both the UK and France have said they may cut off or limit the internet connections of people who persistently download music or films for free.

The Finnish government has adopted a more gentle approach.

“We will have a policy where operators will send letters to illegal file-sharers but we are not planning on cutting off access,” said Ms Linden.

A poll conducted for the BBC World Service earlier this year found that almost four in five people around the world believed that access to the internet is a fundamental right.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Germany: Holy Division and Cynicism

What is going on in the Catholic Church in Germany? Wracked by sexual abuse scandals, it has now decided to get into an ugly row with disgraced Bishop Walter Mixa. Paul Kreiner of Der Tagesspiegel doubts the pope can usher in a new era of reform.

It’s the perfect storm at exactly the wrong time for the Catholic Church: the personal tragedy of a man who was clearly not suited to be a bishop has smashed head-on into the stone cold attitude of his fellow clerics.

How devastating is it when the Archbishop of Munich decides to keep secret serious accusations against Walter Mixa “in his own interest,” but allows his own spokesman to mutter the former bishop of Augsburg’s stay in a psychiatric clinic is a first step to recovery? Spiritual leaders should know that someone who has been admitted to a psychiatric clinic does not need cynicism. He needs help.

In keeping with its tradition, the Church maintained its silence about Mixa for too long. This explains the force with which the affair has now erupted. But such vehemence is new. When Father Walter Mixa of the small Bavarian town of Schrobenhausen was appointed bishop of Eichstätt in 1996, the people of Schrobenhausen raised their eyebrows at first. But they did not speak up, because in a good Catholic area one does not dispute the local priest.

Similarly, when Mixa’s transfer to Augsburg was imminent in 2005, rumours of unseemly sexual behaviour emanated from the seminary of Eichstätt, but they did not trickle through to the key Church officials because the wisdom of the Vatican was not to be questioned.

It may also be true that objections were not heeded — or were not allowed to be heeded — in the higher rungs of the clergy hierarchy, because in the last few decades the Vatican has systematically barricaded itself from all protests affecting bishop appointments. When conflicts arose, as in the case of Joachim Meisner in Cologne, the Vatican has often preferred to force through its own candidates rather than bow to the wishes of a “rebellious” Church congregation.

The balance of power within the Church also protected Mixa, since he belonged to the conservative wing of the Bishops’ Conference, which was not willing or able to accept the weakening of its position. Such reflexes have made everything much worse. They have not only damaged the reputation of a single faction, but of the entire Church.

The massive scope of child abuse scandal at Catholic institutions has force Church officials to end the era of leaden silence. Under John Paul II, it would have been unthinkable to see bishops question one of their own in public, destroying the “unity of the episcopate.” But Pope Benedict XVI has allowed this to happen. He does not defend the indefensible; he prescribes a course of self-purification for his Church.

But the pontiff has not offered any actual suggestions for what institutional reforms could result from this self-purification — neither for bishop appointments, dialogue with the church laity, nor priest celibacy. Benedict XVI is certainly closing one epoch, but as yet he is failing to open a new one.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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

Is Brussels in the Clutches of Lobbies?

Today lobby groups wield more power in Brussels than they do in Washington. And in the absence of stricter regulations, they will continue to enjoy unlimited freedom to influence European legislation.

Marta Kucharska

Daniel Gueguen may well be a veteran Brussels lobbyist and formidable adversary for transparency campaigners, but to the beneficiaries of his services he is simply a professional with a special gift for persuasion. Gueguen has even founded a sort of lobbying academy: the European Training Institute (ETI). And as he readily admits, Brussels is a paradise for ETI graduates, whom he likes to describe as “people working for business in the European Union.”

Brussels has now overtaken Washington to become the world capital of lobbying. Over the last 25 years, the city, which is home to a population of just one million people, many of whom work for Europe’s most powerful institutions, has become a gold mine for the professionals who are employed to influence eurocrats. According to the authors of Bursting the Brussels Bubble, which has recently been published by ALTER-EU (the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation), the number of lobbyists in the city has grown from a reported 654 in 1985 to an estimated 15,000 today.

Lobby register unreliable

By way of comparison, there were only 14,000 lobbyists working in Washington in 2009. And the designers of European legislation benefit from a much more comfortable situation than their American counterparts, because the rule book that should regulate their activity has yet to be written.

In June 2008, within the framework of the European Transparency Initiative, the Commission created the Register of interest representatives. However, enrolment on the register remains voluntary, and the data submitted by the 2,771 organisations that have responded to the initiative is sketchy and unreliable. Registrants are only required to input basic information, and as William Dinan of the University of Glasgow points out they are under no obligation to indicate which directive or legislative project they intend to influence.

Advisory groups in pay of big business

And that is not all. According to Paul de Clerk, one of the authors of Bursting the Brussels Bubble, interest groups that do register are only asked for a general estimate of the monthly cost of lobbying on behalf of a customer, in a range that extends from 1,000 to one million euros. As a result, it is virtually impossible to determine how much is being spent on the promotion of a particular interest group, or view of legislation in preparation.

On occasion, the impact of EU lobbying verges on the ridiculous: MEPs with no understanding of energy policy suddenly deliver speeches that appear to be scripted by major European energy companies after a few meetings with consultants. To compensate for gaps in its knowledge, the Commission relies heavily on advisory groups, which are supposed to be staffed with independent experts. Officially, these experts are supposed to work for free, but according to the authors of Bursting the Brussels Bubble, they are almost always in the pay of big business.

REACH directive

“For example, if you look at the members of the advisory group for banking and finance, it is easy to identify the experts that have links to Barclays, or Paribas,” explains Paul de Clerk. He adds that one of the most successful lobbying initiatives of recent years was the infiltration of the bio-fuels advisory group. And even that pales in comparison to the manoeuvres that influenced work on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) directive.

In 1998, the European Environment Ministers’ Council decided to regulate the industrial use of approximately 100,000 chemical substances that could be produced, imported, and sold even though little was known about the effects of their use on human health and the environment. The plan was for government institutions to verify the potential danger of these substances and where necessary outlaw their use.

Heeding Bayer and BASF

In 2001, the European Commission proposed a monitoring programme for the chemicals industry, which would oblige manufacturers and importers to provide information about the properties of the substances used, and to replace dangerous chemical products with less harmful alternatives — a decision that did much to influence the current development of European lobbying.

The lobbyists, many of whom represented the two main forces opposing the Commission — the Bayer and BASF chemicals companies — immediately complained that the Commission’s proposals would undermine the European chemicals industry and inevitably lead to higher unemployment. In 2003, the German chemicals trade association contributed close to a quarter of million euros to political parties: 150,000 to the conservative CDU-CSU, 50,000 to the liberal FDP, and 40,000 to the social-democratic SPD.

Lobbyists continue to enjoy unlimited freedom

The outcome of this lobbying operation, had a considerable impact on the version of the law which was finally adopted. The chemicals industry was still obliged to provide basic information on all chemicals products traded in quantities of more than one tonne. But the provisions of REACH, would now only apply to 30,000 products instead of the 100,000 originally planned.

According to experts, this result played a key role in establishing a new role for lobbying in Brussels. And lobbyists will continue to enjoy unlimited freedom in their attempts to influence the European legislative process until such time as they are clearly shown to have acted illegally. We will have to see a major scandal before there is any hope for proper regulation of the men and women “working for European business.”

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

Italy to Get New Amphibious Ships

The Italian navy has received the go-ahead to procure two 20,000-ton amphibious assault ships (LHDs), with the possibility of a third ship, configured with extensive aviation facilities (LHA).

The preliminary LHD project is funded and will take 12 months for completion. It will be followed by a project definition phase requiring eight months and leading to a contract. Delivery of the first ship comes within 30 months after that. If everything goes to plan, the first LHD arrives in late 2014.

LHDs will replace two 8,000-ton San Giorgio-class LPDs, commissioned in 1987 and 1988. The LHA will eventually replace the carrier Garibaldi, which is being dedicated to amphibious and helicopter roles now that the Cavour carrier is in service.

The new LHDs will be 190 meters (623 ft.) long, feature a well dock that holds four LCACs (landing craft air cushions), and have a hangar with dedicated maintenance area where six medium-heavy helicopters can be recovered. The flight deck will provide six landing spots and be served by two elevators, one at the stern, the other forward of the island. It will thus be possible to launch air-assault operations, lifting a reinforced rifle company with each wave and rapidly moving personnel and equipment to the deck. Helicopter capacity will be 12-15, depending on mix.

Capabilities also include four smaller LCVP (landing craft, vehicle, personnel) vessels and two motorboats, all in dedicated spaces with cranes under the port flight deck.

The LHD can accommodate 760 troops, including an aviation detachment and staff personnel, in addition to a ships crew of only 200, a result of shipboard automation. The vessel will normally carry a reinforced marine battalion and aviation personnel, and be able to add an amphibious task force and landing force command, which will rely on extensive C4I spaces and systems. The basic space earmarked for the command staff is 500 sq. meters (5,380 sq. ft.).

The ship has a large garage deck with a capacity of 360 tons. The vehicles reach the garage from the well dock or through a large starboard door. The garage floor and ramps can support a 60-ton tank. The roll-on/roll-off concept permits rapid loading and unloading of cargo and vehicles, which can also be parked on the flight deck.

The navy has not yet selected a propulsion system. The general specification calls for a top speed of 20 kt. and range of 7,000 nm. at 16 kt., which translates to 45 days endurance. Basic proposals are built around a combined diesel and diesel scheme, with four diesels, each 6,000 kw., driving a shaft and variable-pitch propeller. Engine power will be 20-24 megawatts. There will also be powerful bow thrusters. A diesel-electric or pod configuration is being considered. The pod is popular, but would limit the size of the well deck.

The LHDs will have a large electricity generating capability, with four diesel generators in the 2.5-megawatt class.

A peculiarity of the design is that the ships, at least the first, will have civil protection as the primary operational role. The requirement is taken seriously and dictates many capabilities for instance, large electricity generation and water purification capacity, including deployment of flexible hoses for ship-to-dock or ship-to-ship water transfer.

The LHD will have a hospital that treats 54, with 1,000 sq. meters of dedicated space. The hospital can expand by using space dedicated to the marines mess and loading medical containers in part of the hangar. The C4 spaces can be used as a command center for civil protection authorities.

The navy has not entered into discussions about the sensor suite and combat system. The LHD will have an extensive combat management and command system, multirole search and navigation radar, and electronic warfare protection system including decoy launchers.

The ship will have several 25-mm. gun mounts and machine guns, and possibly one or more Oto Melara 76/62-mm. SR guns in the Strales configuration for missile defense.

To minimize costs, the LHDs will be built to commercial standards, modified somewhat to improve survivability, but without full military specifications. Tradeoffs between cost and survivability are being assessed. According to one estimate, the ship can be built for 300 million ($369 million), excluding combat systems.

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

Norwegian Muslim Praises Afghan Killings

Mohyeldeen Mohammed, the outspoken Muslim, is in the news again. Reports from VG indicate he’s praised Allah in an open statement on his Facebook page for Sunday’s roadside bomb that killed four Norwegian soldiers.

At war

The controversial 24-year-old from Iraq has previously advocated stoning homosexuals to death, and has warned of terrorist reprisals on Norwegian soil at a demonstration in Oslo in the wake of Dagbladet’s publishing of a Prophet Mohammed cartoon.

“These monsters aren’t soldiers, as Western Freemasonic media portrays them. Therefore, I wish death and misery upon ever single Norwegian, or other Western terrorist assailants, who travel to our countries and partake in an illegal occupation of and aggression against one of the world’s poorest countries,” writes Mohammed.

Arfan Qadir Bhatti agrees. Bhatti has recently been acquitted of charges of planning a paramilitary attack on the US and Israeli Embassies in Norway.

“Norwegian soldiers are terrorists and must expect to be assassinated. They’re at war and have probably killed civilians,” he says.


Several organisations and other Muslims have distanced themselves from Mohammed’s contentious remarks, calling them “tasteless”, and “sad”.

“It’s one thing disagreeing with Norwegian soldiers’ engagement in Afghanistan, but it’s quite different when you celebrate another person’s death,” says Norwegian convert Yousef Assidiq, who initiated February’s demonstration.

Tina Kornmo of the pro-integration network LIM (Likestilling, Integrering, Mangfold) says Mohammed is a lone wolf, and fears his comments could increase desegregation.

“I believe most Norwegian Muslims grieve for the loss of four of their countrymen. It will be very sad if his comments fuel an increased view by ethnic Norwegians that we’re bigoted and not part of society,” she says.

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

UK: Banning the Burqa and Introducing Daylight Saving Time Are Among the Measures Proposed in Tory MPs’ Private Member’s Bills

Thirteen Conservative MPs — including nine of the new intake — were successful in the Private Member’s Bill ballot earlier in the month. Today sees them formally presenting their Bills for the first time (there won’t be any debate at this stage), which are summarised as follows on the parliamentary website:


FACE COVERINGS (REGULATION) BILL — Philip Hollobone MP (Kettering)

“Bill to regulate the wearing of certain face coverings.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: British Taxpayers Spent £1.2bn on the Swine Flu Pandemic That Never Was

More than £1.2billion of taxpayers’ money was spent on the swine flu pandemic that never materialised, a report has found.

The Government was forced to squander vast sums on vaccines based on dire predictions that never came true.

But ministers were committed to the spending because drugs giants refused to back out of their contracts.

The official review into the Government’s response to swine flu said that, overall, it was ‘proportionate and effective’.

But the review noted that there was a lack of ‘flexibility’ in the contracts signed by drugs firms which left the Health Service with millions of needless doses of the vaccine.

Even when it became clear that the threat posed by the outbreak had been overestimated, Glaxosmithkline, one of two firms manufacturing the jab, would not renegotiate the terms.

One critic described ministers’ reaction to the so-called pandemic as a ‘hugely expensive farce’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Diane Abbot and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Well, I guess Richard Spencer and I had very different friends — and heard very different jokes — at school. In response to my nomination of Diane Abbott as possibly the “stupidest woman in Britain”, Richard writes:

It may be, of course, a coincidence that the candidates, Diane Abbott MP and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a newspaper columnist, are both from ethnic minorities, and that Murray had gone through the white contenders and assigned them to third, fourth and fifth places without telling us.

Is it a coincidence? Did I single out these two women because of the colour of their skin? Very obviously not, I would have thought. I don’t think I have to rehearse here the reasons why an obsession with skin pigmentation is not my bag, even if it might be Richard Spencer’s.

But I should first like to register that there is something infinitely wearying as well as predictable about these criticisms and insinuations. It seems to me exactly what is wrong with our politics and political discourse in Britain. We have for some time now been in a period in which, as I’ve often explained, people appear to believe that their “identity” is more important than their ideas.

It is the reason why so many people find it impossible to pose any question from an audience without starting: “As a woman of Indian background”, or “As a gay man”, and so on. It is very, very tedious. Particularly if you believe people are defined not by their skin colour or sexuality but by the thoughts in their head and the way in which they live their lives.

To go around once again — among the people I’ve been pretty robust about in recent years are, I discover on looking over it, an alarmingly large amount of public-school and Oxbridge-educated white males: George Osborne, Nick Clegg and David Cameron among others. Among journalists, I notice that Johann Hari of the Independent and Timothy Garton-Ash of the Guardian have come in for it a fair amount. I also notice that among those I have been harshest about, on expenses among other things, are the well-known gays Alan Duncan and Simon Hughes. Is it a coincidence that I have singled them out for attack? Perhaps not. Perhaps it is all part of a secret agenda to force anyone who is gay or white or black or of Asian extraction or a man or a woman out of public life.

I don’t expect to be accused of hatred of whites, men, women, gays, or Liberal Democrats (well, alright, I’ll give you that one) when I attack them. But the moment I attack two people who certainly form part of a black and Asian elite, out comes a race card. And, God, how predictable it is.

As it happens, it may not be a complete coincidence that Abbott and Alibhai-Brown share many of the traits I would single out as most tedious. They come from a similar generation of people who have been flattered and been encouraged to use the victim card because of their ethnic background. Attack them, and the whisper will go around that you’re actually attacking them because of their skin colour. Who would put up with such low insinuation and blackmail? A lot of people, it turns out.

For myself, I think this is contemptible. I have debated both Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Diane Abbott on a number of occasions. I think quite enough people will back me up on this if I say that the debating manner of both women — aside from a startling sanctimoniousness — contains a never very subtly concealed threat that if you say something they don’t like or attack them personally they may, at any given moment, start spraying out accusations of “racism”.

I think Diane Abbott has got away with a lot of things in her career because of the colour of her skin. And yes, it has made her increasingly stupid.. Her attitude of outrage when questioned by Andrew Neil the other day is a good example. She looked like she was being assaulted rather than asked perfectly legitimate questions about some of her political and moral attitudes. It obviously hasn’t happened often and it was also clear — as her stonewalling showed — that she thinks it outrageous that such questioning should happen at all.

Like Alibhai-Brown, she speaks as though from a position of quite extraordinary moral virtue. Because she is meant to be a victim, an outsider. And this is a deeply stupefying trait, especially in journalists and Members of Parliament posing as outsiders on six-figure salaries at the heart of the establishment. Both behave as though an assault on any of their opinions is an assault on their ethnicity. Which means that they get a fabulously easy ride from white males, in particular, who tremble pre-emptively at what might be uttered if any criticism were even implied.

Enough. Just to make it clear one last time: obviously I don’t think people should be criticised because of the colour of their skin, but neither do I believe people should be absolved from criticism simply because they happen to be black. This may, in the end, be a generational difference. Richard evidently grew up in a period and an environment in which people of darker coloured skin than him were noteworthy and the unfortunate subjects of bigotry and racist “humour”. I grew up in a very different period and environment in which there was no thought for ethnic difference because it happened to be so multifarious that we took it for granted. As a result I happen to be, and expect other people to be, genuinely colour-blind. (I wonder if Richard has any reflections on why I keep singling out Ayaan Hirsi Ali for praise, as I did here earlier this month. Am I subconsiously trying to elevate black women in politics now?)

All of which means that sometimes people with white-coloured skin will get criticised and ridiculed and sometimes it will happen to people with black-coloured skin. The idea that pigmentation has anything to do with these criticisms — or can be used to fend them off — is, paradoxically, a manifestation of the last vestiges of racism.

[JP note: I would have no hesitation in affirming the right of Abbott and Alibhai-Brown to wear burqas for the rest of their miserable lives if they so chose.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Dad Charged Over Threat to Kill Harry Potter Star

The father and brother of an actress who starred in the Harry Potter films have been charged with threatening to kill her.

Afshan Azad, 22, has appeared in four of the movies as Padma Patil, a classmate of the young wizard.

She was allegedly attacked at her home in Longsight, Manchester, on May 21 this year.

Now her father Abdul Azad, 54, and brother, Ashraf Azad, 28, both of Beresford Road, Longsight, have appeared in court.

Abdul is accused of threatening to kill his daughter and Ashraf of threatening to kill and assault occasioning actual bodily harm against his sister.

Both men appeared at Manchester magistrates court and the case was adjourned until later this month for committal proceedings to crown court.

Afshan was studying for her AS levels at the Xaverian College in Rusholme when she was first cast in the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

She has since appeared in three more of the wizard movies and is in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, due for release next year.

Her character was a witch who was in the same year as Harry at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and is the identical twin sister of Parvati Patil, played by actress Shefila Chowdhury.

Afshan’s character has also dated Harry himself — played in the films by Daniel Radcliffe.

Before being picked to play the part Afshan had never done any acting.

She has admitted she only went to the audition at her former school — Whalley Range High School for Girls — for a laugh with her school friends.

She appeared in the films while continuing her studies and once had ambitions to be a journalist.

After landing her first part in The Goblet of Fire she told us ‘it was ‘the best experience of my life’ adding ‘The first day we had to do a cast read through, where we go through the whole script. I was a bit star struck. I was a big Harry Potter fan.”

           — Hat tip: Takuan Seiyo[Return to headlines]

UK: MP Wants Law to Ban Burka-Wearing

A Conservative MP is attempting to pass a law which would ban people from wearing burkas and balaclavas. Philip Hollobone has put forward parliamentary legislation to regulate the use of “certain facial coverings” in public. The Kettering MP said this “would obviously have a big impact for those who wear full-face Islamic veils”. He has previously described the burka as “against the British way of life”. The backbench MP was one of 20 drawn in a ballot for the chance to get a Private Members’ Bill on the statute book.


His Face Coverings (Regulation) Bill had its first reading in the Commons, a formality which allows the legislation to be printed.

But, because Mr Hollobone was only drawn 17th in the ballot, it stands little chance of progress. Explaining the bill, Mr Hollobone said: “I think it’s inappropriate to cover your face in public, whether it’s a burka, a balaclava or anything else. We are never going to get along with having a fully integrated society if a substantial minority insist on concealing their identity from everyone else.”

Mr Hollobone has previously described the burka, which covers the entire head, as “offensive” and “against the British way of life”, saying that wearing one was the religious equivalent of “going round with a paper bag over your head”.

His comments have attracted criticism but also a “great deal of support”, he said. In 2006, cabinet minister Jack Straw angered Muslim groups after he said face veils were a “visible statement of separation and of difference” and suggested they could make community relations harder.

The UK Independence Party has, like Mr Hollobone, called for a ban. But opponents of such a move say it is not up to right to prohibit in law the wearing of any type of garment. In France, the government is pushing for a ban of the wearing in public of full-face veils, including the niqab, which can leave the area around the eyes visible. It argues that Muslim women who fully cover their heads and faces are mounting an “unacceptable” challenge to the country’s values. The lower house of Belgium’s parliament has passed a bill to ban clothing that hides a person’s identity in public places, but this still needs approval in the Senate.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Muslims Slam MP’s Bid to Ban the Burka by Law

A TORY MP has proposed a law banning the burka yesterday. Philip Hollobone put forward a Commons Bill. But the Kettering MP enraged Muslims who claim would it breach their human rights. Mr Hollobone said: “I think it’s inappropriate to cover your face in public, whether it’s a burka, a balaclava or anything else. We are never going to get along with having a fully integrated society if a substantial minority insist on concealing their identity from everyone else.” He said the British public like to smile and greet one another in the street but “you simply can’t have that degree of interaction with people if you can’t see their face”.

But Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council for Britain, hit back. He said: “The overwhelming majority of women who wear the burka do so out of a sense of religious duty. It is their interpretation of their religion. No-one has the right to overrule that.”

Belgium became the first European country to impose a full ban on wearing the burka.Women now face jail for hiding their face in public places. France is also preparing to vote on a ban on the burka and niqab later this month. Women would be fined up to £700 for hiding their faces, and be “unveiled” at police stations so they could be identified. Mr Hollobone’s Face Coverings Bill is one of 20 Private Members’ Bills which could make it into law during this Parliament.

The MP, who has previously said the burka is “against the British way of life”, added: “This is the only way I can get new legislation on to the books.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Parliament: Face Coverings (Regulations)

House of Commons — Order of Business Wednesday 30 June 2010


Formal first reading: no debate or decision.


Mr Philip Hollobone

Bill to regulate the wearing of certain face coverings; and for connected purposes.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Phillip Hollobone Explains Why He Wants to Ban the Burqa

Earlier I noted the thirteen Bills being proposed by the Conservative MPs who have been successful in the Private Member’s Bill ballot, and explained that I am giving them all the opportunity in the coming days to explain what motivated their choice of bill.

In replying to my offer, Phillip Hollobone — who will introduce the Face Coverings (Regulation) Bill — has pointed me to the speech he gave during the debate on International Women’s Day in the chamber on March 11th this year, previously unreported by us:

On this occasion of international women’s day, I want to raise the difficult subject of Islamic full-face veils-specifically, the niqab and the burqa. I am sure we can all agree with the Leader of the House’s remarks-we all want to empower women in being equal. In my view and that of my constituents, the niqab and the burqa are oppressive dress codes that are regressive as regards the advancement of women in our society. I want to make it clear that I am talking about the niqab and the burqa, not the hijab, the khimar or the chador.

I have been concerned for some time about the niqab and the burqa, but it was not until I took my children to the play area in my local park recently and saw a woman wearing a full burqa that it came home to me how inappropriate and, frankly, offensive it is for people to wear that apparel in the 21st century and especially in Britain. In my view and that of my constituents, the burqa is not an acceptable form of dress and banning it should be seriously considered.

As I was sitting on the bench in the playground watching my children play on the slides, I thought to myself, “Here I am, in the middle of Kettering in the middle of England — a country that has been involved for centuries with spreading freedom and democracy throughout the world-and here’s a woman who, through her dress, is effectively saying that she does not want to have any normal human dialogue or interaction with anyone else. By covering her entire face, she is effectively saying that our society is so objectionable, even in the friendly, happy environment of a children’s playground, that we are not even allowed to cast a glance on her.” I find that offensive and I think it is time that the country did something about it.

We will never have a country in which we can all rub along together and in which people of different backgrounds, different ethnicities and different religions all get along nicely if one section of our society refuses even to be looked on by anyone else. As I thought more about it, it struck me that the issue is not the clothes that someone wears but the fact that the face is covered. Lots of people wear what others might feel is inappropriate clothing. That is, of course, everyone’s choice. The issue with the niqab and the burqa, however, is not that they are just another piece of clothing but that they involve covering the face either in its entirety or with just the eyes showing.

The simple truth is that when a woman wears the burqa, she is unable to engage in normal, everyday visual interaction with everyone else. That is indeed the point of it. It is deliberately designed to prevent others from gazing on that person’s face. The problem with that is that it goes against the British way of life. Part of the joy of living in our country is that we pass people every day in the street, exchange a friendly greeting, wave, smile and say hello. Whether we recognise someone as a person we know or whether we are talking to someone for the first time, we can all see who the other person is and we interact both verbally and through those little visual facial signals that are all part of interacting with each other as human beings.

If we all went round wearing burqas, our country would be a sad place indeed. Indeed, if we were all to be wearing burqas in this Chamber, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how would you know who to call? I also feel very sorry for women who wear the burqa, as it cannot be very nice to go around all day with only a limited view of the outside world. Of course, many of these women are forced to wear the burqa by their husband or their family. The resulting lack of interaction with everyone else means that many are unable to speak or learn English and so will never have any chance of becoming integrated into the British way of life.

The other issue with the burqa is security. Of course, that problem arises with some other forms of face covering and I do not see why those wearing the burqa should be treated any differently. Bikers wear crash helmets for their own safety, but they are required to take them off in banks and shops. If one were to travel on the tube wearing a balaclava, a police officer would ask one to take it off.

Many of my constituents have contacted me to say that when they visit Muslim countries they respect the dress codes in those countries and wear appropriate headgear. The phrase that has been given to me time and again is, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” This is Britain; we are not a Muslim country. Covering one’s face in public is strange, and to many people it is intimidating and offensive. I seriously think that a ban on wearing the niqab or the burqa in public should be considered.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Police Bogged Down by ‘Snow Storm’ of Paperwork — Including a Guide to Escorting Drunks Home

Police officers are escorting drunks home just in case they hurt themselves if left alone — under one of the rules imposed by a ‘snowstorm’ of ludicrous official diktats.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Sir Denis O’Connor said a vast burden of police bureaucracy was undermining officers’ discretion.

Instead of using their common sense, front line bobbies are stuck following an array of official rules and regulations designed to avoid every kind of risk.

Last year, Government, police quangos and forces produced more than 2615 extra pages of guidance on top of more than 6,000 pages of existing rules.

Manuals, some the size of telephone directories, have been drawn up to explain such simple tasks such as how to use handcuffs and CS spray.

It means officers end up taking drunks home because they fear taking the rap if they hurt themselves by falling down.

Officers have also been given extensive guidance on the how they should handle ‘public sex environments’ such as gay cottaging sites.

Earlier this year the Association of Chief Police Officers published guidance on, ‘Public order and firearms duties for Turban wearing Sikh Police Officers’.

Other documents drawn up last year covered policing of ‘high risk’ cricket matches and a strategy for ‘Safer Superbikes’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Tory MP Phillip Hollobone Launches First Legal Bid to Ban Burkha in Britain

A Tory MP has launched a legal bid to ban Muslim women from wearing burkas in public places. Philip Hollobone has tabled a private members’ bill which would make it illegal for anyone to cover their face in public. Mr Hollobone has previously likened full face veils to ‘going round with a paper bag over your head.’ His Face Coverings (Regulation) Bill is the first of its kind in Britain, and is one of only 20 private members’ bills drawn in a ballot for the chance to make it into the statute books.

The bill, which had its first reading yesterday, stands little chance of becoming law due to limited Parliamentary time and a lack of support from the main political parties. But it is set to reignite the fierce debate about the banning of the Islamic garments at a time when a number of European countries are trying to outlaw them. Mr Hollobone said it was ‘not the British way’ for Muslim women to cover their faces in public.

Insisting that his bill has widespread public support, the Kettering MP added: ‘People feel that something should be done about burkas, but so many are afraid to speak out for fear of being labelled a racist. ‘Part of the British way of life is walking down the street, smiling at people and saying hello, whether you know them or not. You cannot have this everyday human interaction if you cover your face. These people are saying that they don’t want to be part of our way of society.’

But Shaista Gohir, of the Muslim Women’s Network UK, said: ‘I agree that wearing a face veil has a negative affect on community cohesion and the majority of Muslims do not believe it is a religious obligation. But a ban would be a completely disproportionate response. There are a million Muslim women in the UK and only a few thousand are estimated to wear a veil. Banning the veil will not help those few women to integrate. But it will play into the hands of extremist parties.’

Heather Harvey, Amnesty International UK Stop Violence Against Women campaign manager, said: ‘For those women who are being coerced into wearing full face veils, a ban would only make matters worse. Either they’re criminalised if they go out in public or, more likely, they are confined to their homes.’

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Tory MP Bids to Ban the Veil

One Conservative MP, Philip Hollobone, is hoping that Britain will follow Belgium by introducing a repressive ban on the niqab and the burqa. He will present his Private Member’s Face Coverings (Regulation) Bill in the House of Commons today. The parliament website describes it as:

“A Bill to regulate the wearing of certain face coverings; and for connected purposes.”

The bill would introduce a ban on people wearing burqas (and balaclavas) in public. Hollobone has previously made his support for a full ban clear. During a Commons debate on International Women’s Day he said:

“The phrase that has been given to me time and again is, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” This is Britain; we are not a Muslim country. Covering one’s face in public is strange, and to many people it is intimidating and offensive. I seriously think that a ban on wearing the niqab or the burqa in public should be considered.”

Like other supporters of an illiberal ban, Hollobone has yet to provide a convincing answer to the point that those who complain that Islamist men tell women how to dress are doing precisely the same thing by calling for a ban. On matters of sexual equality, Muslim women would be better served by the enforcement of existing laws against domestic violence than by the enactment of new laws restricting their dress.

For a detailed discussion of Europe’s war on the veil, see my colleague Mehdi Hasan’s recent New Statesman cover story [below] on the subject.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Thinly Veiled Threat

A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of the niqab and the burqa. Why have the Continent’s political leaders, confronted by economic and social malaise, declared war on a piece of cloth?

It has been condemned as sinister, frightening, misogynistic and oppressive. Indeed, nothing seems to provoke more suspicion of Europe’s 15 million Muslims than the face veil worn by a tiny minority of women. Even many followers of Islam are keen to disown and denounce it. In heated discussions with my own father over the past few weeks, I discovered that he is one of those who take a sterner line, describing the face veil as “un-Islamic and unnecessary”. “If not for anything else,” he told me, “it should be banned for security reasons.” I am no fan of the face veil, but I disagree with Dad. Moves to ban it will surely backfire.

In recent months, several European governments have begun to legislate restrictions on both the niqab, a face veil that leaves the area around the eyes clear and is usually combined with a full body covering, and the burqa, which covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through. On 29 April, Belgium became the first European country to impose a nationwide ban on wearing a full face veil in public. Just three days earlier, the five-month-old government of the Belgian prime minister Yves Leterme had collapsed amid bitter feuding between the political parties, but legislators in the House of Representatives found time to push through the bill with almost unanimous support. Hostility towards the veil has united a divided nation.

Anyone found flouting the new law, which will come into force after Belgium’s general election on 13 June, will face a fine of up to €25 (£21) and possibly seven days in jail. For Fouad Lahssaini, a Green MP in Belgium who emigrated there from Morocco as a youth, passing a ban on the face veil is like “taking out a bazooka to kill a fly”.

About 215 women “at most” in Belgium wear the veil, according to Edouard Delruelle, co-director of the Belgian Institute for Equal Opportunities. Others put the number as low as 30, out of an estimated Muslim population of just over 600,000 and a total Belgian population of 10.8 million. Most Belgians will never meet a niqab-clad woman.

It’s a similar story in other European countries, but the anti-burqa cause is spreading. France, Italy and the Netherlands are also considering nationwide bans. The French security services estimate that 2,000 of the roughly two million adult Muslim women in France — 0.1 per cent — wear the full face veil, and a third of them are thought to be converts to Islam. Yet the French are planning “emergency legislation” to ban the burqa and niqab before the country’s legislators go on their summer holiday in August. The National Assembly has passed a non-binding resolution condemning the face veil as “an affront to the nation’s values of dignity and equality”, and the French cabinet has approved a bill making it illegal to wear clothing designed to cover the face in public.

The penalties in France will be much higher than in Belgium. The fine for a first offence will be €150 (£130). And a man who is found to have forced a woman to wear a full-length veil by “violence or threats” will be punished with a fine of €15,000 and face imprisonment. The crackdown on the veil has come from the very top of the political establishment, with President Nicolas Sarkozy declaring that the burqa is “not welcome” in France and denouncing it as a symbol of female “subservience and debasement”.

Such has been the hysteria that French politicians and pundits have whipped up over the veil that the country has been hit by “burqa rage”. On 15 May, a Muslim woman leaving a shoe shop in Trignac, near Saint-Nazaire on the west coast of France, is said to have overheard a 60-year-old woman lawyer making “snide remarks about her black burqa”. The 26-year-old Muslim convert later described to reporters how “things got nasty. The older woman grabbed my veil to the point of ripping it off.” The two women allegedly traded blows before being separated by shop assistants and were then arrested by the police.

An officer close to the case said: “The lawyer said she was not happy seeing a fellow shopper wearing a veil and wanted the ban introduced as soon as possible.” She is also said to have likened the Muslim woman to Belphegor, a mythical demon who frequently covers up his hideous features using a mask. So much for a secular state protecting religious freedom. Yet the proposed ban may, in fact, be unconstitutional. The Council of State, France’s highest legal and administrative authority, warned in March that “a general and absolute ban on the full veil as such can have no incontestable judicial basis”, and that it could be rejected by the courts for violating both national law and the European Convention on Human Rights. As the Moroccan-American academic Laila Lalami, who has written extensively on the politics of the veil, pointed out to me: “The societies that already have coercive laws — Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example, which force women to wear headscarves, Turkey and Tunisia, which forbid women to wear face veils — are not known for their respect of human rights.”

So, why pursue it? Polls suggest that a ban is popular, and Sarkozy’s personal poll rating is at an all-time low. For François Hollande, the former head of the French Socialist Party, “the tactic is clear. It’s about getting back a hold of a part of the electorate which has in part retreated into abstention or voting for the far right.”

Yet support for a ban cuts across the left-right divide. In Belgium, the idea was first proposed by the Flemish far right; in France, it was pushed by a communist mayor. On the right, the veil is seen as a threat to European and in particular Christian culture; a symbol of a foreign, belligerent faith community, the “other” — even though few Muslim women wear it. On the left, it is seen as a repressive garment that subjugates women and violates their rights. Yet not every Muslim woman is forced, under threat of violence, to wear the veil by a husband, father or brother; some wear the niqab or burqa as a matter of choice.

Despite the ban being sold by both left and right as a measure to liberate oppressed Muslim women, it is opposed by leading human rights groups. “At a time when Muslims in Europe feel more vulnerable than ever, the last thing needed is a ban like this,” said Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch on 21 April. “Treating pious Muslim women like criminals won’t help integrate them.” The irony of using the threat of prison to free women from the so-called prison of the burqa is not lost on Muslim commentators, either. “The Belgians have a funny idea of liberation,” says the British Muslim writer and activist Myriam François-Cerrah: “criminalising women in order to free them.”

Amnesty International has condemned the Belgian move as “an attack on religious freedom”, and Sunderland has said that “restrictions on women wearing the veil in public life are as much a violation of the rights of women as is forcing them to wear a veil”. The award-winning Iranian graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, an outspoken critic of the veil, agrees. “It is surely a basic human right that someone can choose what she wears without interference from the state,” she wrote in 2003.

But what else do we expect from the likes of Sarkozy in France or Silvio Berlusconi in Italy? Their co-opting of feminist rhetoric and the language of human rights cannot hide their abysmal form on gender issues — from Sarkozy’s ex-wife Cécilia branding him a “stingy philanderer” to Berlusconi’s string of alleged affairs with very young women. In the UK, Nick Griffin and Malcolm Pearson, leaders of the BNP and Ukip respectively — the only political parties advocating an outright ban on the veil in this country — have similarly questionable attitudes to the advancement of women’s rights.

Western male politicians have a long history of hypocrisy in this area. In her iconoclastic book Women and Gender in Islam, the Egyptian American feminist Leila Ahmed reminds readers of Evelyn Baring, the Earl of Cromer, who served as Britain’s first consul general of Egypt between 1883 and 1907. Cromer believed Islam degraded women and that it was essential that Egyptians “be persuaded or forced” into abandoning the veil, which he described as a “fatal obstacle” to the Egyptians’ “mental and moral development”.

Back in Britain, Ahmed notes, “this champion of the unveiling of Egyptian women” was the “founding member and some-time president of the Men’s League for Opposing Woman Suffrage”. She concludes: “Feminism on the home front and feminism directed against white men was to be resisted and suppressed; but taken abroad and directed against the cultures of colonised peoples, it could be promoted in ways that admirably served and furthered the project of the dominance of the white man.”

I am not defending the face veil. I agree with the 100 or so imams and Muslim religious advisers from 40 different countries at a recent conference in Vienna organised by the Islamic Religious Authority in Austria, who concluded that Islam does not make it a requirement for women to wear face veils. After all, the face veil is mentioned nowhere in the Quran, nor is there a Quranic injunction to cover the face.

Even in the traditions, or hadith, of the Prophet Muhammad, there is no explicit command for Muslim women to cover their faces — only their hair.. In fact, Muslim women are forbidden from offering the five daily prayers and from going on the Hajj — the religious pilgrimage to Mecca — if their faces are covered.

Mohammad Marmaduke Pickthall, the renowned English convert to Islam and translater of the Quran, observed in his 1925 lecture “The Relation of the Sexes” that the veiling of the face by women was “not originally an Islamic custom. It was prevalent in many cities of the East before the coming of Islam, but not in the cities of Arabia.” Muslim leaders adopted the face veil for their women, he said, “when they entered the cities of Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia and Egypt. It was once a concession to the prevailing custom and was a protection to their women from misunderstanding by peoples accustomed to associate unveiled faces with loose character . . . It has nothing to do with the religion of Islam, and, for practical reasons, it has never been adopted by the great majority of Muslim women.”

My own Muslim wife, of Indian origin but born and brought up in the United States, wears a headscarf (but not a face veil). She made the decision to wear the hijab at the age of 25, and it was a spiritual, not a political or cultural choice. I accept that, for many Muslim women, covering their face is not a choice, but is a ban the best response? There are many reasons to believe it is self-defeating.

For a start, state-imposed bans will poison relations between Muslims and non-Muslims even further. Bans often encourage defiance. In the words of the atheist writer Shikha Dalmia, of the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation, “this law can’t help but inflame French Muslims, not encourage them to assimilate. Besieged minorities after all tighten — not loosen — their grip on their ways.”

During Britain’s own row over the veil in 2006, which was prompted by the then cabinet minister Jack Straw’s revelation that he had insisted Muslim women remove their face veils at his constituency surgeries in Blackburn, Islamic clothing stores across the north-west of England reported a rise in sales of niqabs, burqas and other veils. One Muslim teenager I later met told me it had been Straw’s remarks that prompted her to switch from wearing the hijab to the niqab.

Then there is the matter of enforcement. How will a ban work in practice? Will wealthy tourists from Gulf states also be prevented from wearing the niqab or the burqa as they shop along the Champs-Élysées? Or should the ban be limited to public buildings? If so, why the need for new legislation when a law already exists banning conspicuous religious symbols from public places such as hospitals and schools? Even Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Islamophobic National Front has questioned the need for new legislation, saying “it should simply be a police regulation”.

Most damningly, there is early evidence that a ban on the face veil could serve further to isolate and seclude the marginalised Muslim women whom it is supposed to help liberate. In Italy, at the end of April, Tunisian-born Amel Marmouri became the first woman to be fined for wearing a face veil when she was stopped outside a post office in the city of Novara. Marmouri was fined €500 — and her husband has said he will now ensure she stays at home so that she never again has to venture out without her veil.

Is support for a ban among Europe’s political leaders, and the alarmist and vitriolic rhetoric that so often goes with it, really an expression of concern for Muslim women? And why, when confronted with a multitude of social and economic problems, including a debt crisis that could destroy its common currency, are they so obsessed with a small piece of cloth that so few women wear over their face? It is difficult to understand why so much political capital across the continent is being spent passing legislation to ban it, despite its minuscule impact on European societies.

In truth, the moves towards a ban seem primarily driven by a fear of Islam, the fastest-growing faith on the continent, and an inability on the part of Muslims and non-Muslims alike to discuss the future of Islam in Europe calmly. As the hijab-wearing British Muslim writer Fareena Alam pointed out in 2006, the controversy over the veil “has more to do with Europe’s own identity crisis than with the presence of some ‘dangerous other’. At a time when post-communist, secular, democratic Europe was supposed to have been ascendant, playing its decisive role at the end of history, Islam came and spoiled the party.”

Or, as Isabel Soumaya, a convert to Islam and vice-president of the Association of Belgian Muslims, put it in an interview with the Washington Post on 15 May, Europe’s politicians are “preying on voters’ fears”. The veil ban, she said, “is racism and a form of Islamophobia”.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Why it Would be Wrong to Ban the Burqa

by Paul Goodman

A girls’ school in my former constituency of Wycombe barred a Muslim pupil for wearing a veil. Her father attempted to overturn the school’s decision by taking it to court — using legal aid in the process. I supported the school strongly, believing that head teachers and governors should be able to set their own uniforms policy. If they think, for example, that veils in the classroom hinder teaching or learning, or that veils in the corridors harm safety and security, they should be free to implement a ban. I’m glad to report that the school won the case.

Other bodies for which the state’s responsible, such as airports and hospitals, should also be at liberty to act in the same way, if they think that security warrants a ban — as should private premises, such as shops. Obviously, the veil or niqab, like the burqa, oppresses women if worn unwillingly. Both are barriers to integration into British norms. Nor can it convincingly be argued that either is an Islamic requirement. Most British Muslim women don’t wear burqas or niqabs: to see either on the streets of Wycombe, where the Muslim population is sizeable, is rare.

So there it is: for better or worse, I don’t like veils. But there’s a difference between allowing institutions discretion to bar them — which in some cases they already have — and slapping down a fully-fledged legal ban, as Phillip Hollobone’s Face Coverings (Regulation) Bill, which had its First Reading in the Commons today, seeks to do. I like Hollobone, who’s a plain-speaking and hard-working MP, and he knows the difference between a niqab and a hijab. But why he thinks a law should be passed to ban people from wearing what they want in the street beats me.

Hollobone’s explained previously in the Commons that he considers the veil “frankly, offensive”. But there are a lot of things that a lot of people think are offensive in modern Britain. This isn’t a good reason to ban them: being offended is part of the price paid for living in a free society. I’m not a free speech absolutist — for example, hate preachers who incite violence and hatred should be barred from Britain — but there should be a strong presumption in law that people are at liberty to do as they please. Furthermore, it can’t simply be assumed that all women who wear the burqa or niqab have been compelled to do so — or that integration can or should be enforced by bans on bits of clothing (rather than by, say, stopping taxpayer funding for translating documents).

During the last election, UKIP suddenly leapt on Belgium’s burqa ban, and proposed taking the same course here. The move had a nasty whiff of anti-Muslim opportunism about it. A legal ban may pass muster in Belgium, but it shouldn’t do here. Sorry, Phillip, but it simply wouldn’t be British.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Vatican: Holy See Backs Cardinal Named in Graft Probe

Vatican City, 30 June (AKI) — The Vatican has expressed its “respect and solidarity” with a cardinal who has been named in an Italian public works corruption probe. Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, led the Vatican’s office which funds missionary work abroad and has been linked to several shady property deals involving a former government minister.

Italian media reported earlier this month that Sepe (photo) was due to be questioned by investigators over the alleged deals, made while he was head of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.

“We reiterate ‘respect and solidarity’, in the certainty that his correct conduct may lead to a complete and rapid clarification of the judicial proceedings,” the Vatican said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

From 2001 to 2006 Sepe led the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, which uses proceeds from a property empire including 2,000 Rome apartments to bankroll its missionary efforts.

Sepe allegedly supervised the sale in 2004 of a building in Rome to the then transport minister, Pietro Lunardi, for the suspiciously low price of 4.16 million euros, Italian newspapers reported.

The newspapers said that magistrates wanted to know why Lunardi then freed up 2.5 million euros in state funding the following year for the congregation to create a museum in its headquarters, and why that museum never opened.

Sepe has said he will waive his immunity as a Vatican diplomatic passport holder and co-operate with the investigation.

The corruption probe focuses on a number of senior officials in Rome and has shaken prime minister’s Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government.

The Vatican on Wednesday issued a ‘clarification’ concerning a statement it made on Monday acknowledging “possible errors of judgement” in the valuation of property managed by Propaganda Fide, the church agency that runs the church’s property empire.

“It (the statement) is to be considered as a general observation, and not as referring to any particular administration,” said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.

Sepe headed Propaganda Fide,which is reportedly in charge of assets worth 9 billion euros.

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

Vatican: Pope Meets Disgraced German Bishop

Vatican City, 1 July (AKI) — Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday met a German bishop who resigned in May after being accused of striking children. After the meeting the pope urged Catholic bishops to give Bishop Walter Mixa moral support after he “recognised that he had made mistakes and committed errors,” the Vatican said.

A Vatican statement said Mixa will still be allowed to carry out “pastoral duties”.

“Bishop Mixa will retire for a time of silence, meditation and prayer and, following a period of cure and reconciliation will, like other bishops emeritus, be available for pastoral duties, with the agreement of his successor,” the statement said.

“Above all, the pontiff asks his confreres in the episcopal ministry to offer Bishop Mixa, more than in the past, their friendship and closeness, their understanding, and their help to find the right path.”

Mixa was the first bishop to resign in Benedict’s native Germany over the clerical abuse scandal that has shaken the Catholic church around the world from the US to several other countries including Ireland, Switzerland and Germany.

The pontiff accepted Mixa’s resignation in early May, the Vatican’s statement said.

During his audience with Benedict, Mixa asked for forgiveness and stressed he had tried to do a good job as bishop, the Vatican statement said.

“Bishop Mixa highlighted how he had always sought to carry out his episcopal ministry willingly and conscientiously but, with all sincerity, he also recognised that he had made mistakes and committed errors which led to a loss of trust and made his resignation inevitable,” the statement added.

Mixa at first denied hitting children at an orphanage in the 1970s and 1980s, but he later apologised. He has not been accused of sexual abuse.

In accepting Mixa’s resignation, the Vatican in May cited canon law that allows a member of the clergy to resign “because of illness or some other grave reason” or if he has “become unsuited for the fulfilment of his office.”

The Catholic Church has also set up an investigation into alleged financial irregularities at a children’s home which was under Mixa’s responsibility, amid reports that large sums of money had been spent on antique paintings and wine.

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


Italian Shoemakers Eye Serbian Production

Belgrade, 30 June (AKI) — Italian shoe producers are planning to move their entire production to Serbia, taking advantage of low labour costs, a highly skilled workforce and Serbia’s access to potentially lucrative Russian and east European markets, officials said on Wednesday.

“Serbia has a highly skilled work force and competitive labour prices, unlike other countries in the region,” said Italian company FERAX International representative Giancarlo Campana, quoted by Serbia’s Tanjug news agency.

“We want to start with Serbia as a strategic country, because of its excellent relations with Russia,” he added.

Serbia has a duty-free agreement with Russia, which would open a huge Russian and east European market to Italian shoemakers, Campana said.

He was speaking after a meeting at the Serbian Chamber of Commerce in Belgrade, where he met several Serbian successful shoe producers who are interested in working with Italian shoemakers.

FERAX International is representing several Italian shoe producers which want to break into the east European market, Campana said.

Serbia offered numerous opportunities and advantages to Italian shoemakers, he said.

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

North Africa

Algeria: Police Officers Killed by ‘Islamic Militants’

Algiers, 1 July (AKI) — Eleven Algerian paramilitary police were killed by suspected Islamic militants in an ambush in the Sahara desert near Algeria’s southern border with Mali.The assault occurred on Wednesday during a military patrol in the town of Tinzaouatine, near the border with Mali, Algerian newspaper El Watan reported.

It was this year’s deadliest assault in Algeria.

Armed Islamic groups in Algeria have linked themselves to Al-Qaeda to carry out bombings and other attacks.

The Sahara region has in recent years seen a sharp rise in operations of militants linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a group that has claimed several attacks against foreigners.

Algeria was wracked by a bloody violence after an Islamic party won the 1992 general election which was later annulled.

More than 150,000 people perished, but an amnesty in 1999 led many rebels to lay down their arms.

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

Israel and the Palestinians

Israel Signals Compensation for Mavi Marmara Victims

Israel has signaled it may compensate and apologize to families of some of the victims of its aid-flotilla raid in comments during a covert meeting between Turkish and Israeli officials, the first high-level contact since the deadly attack.

“There will be a second meeting if the Israeli side takes a step toward [meeting] our demands,” a Turkish diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Thursday. “We do not categorically dismiss meeting with Israeli officials at this level.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoðlu and Israeli Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who is known to have good relations with Turkey, met secretly in Brussels on Wednesday. The meeting was later disclosed by the Israeli media and the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a strong statement criticizing Ben-Eliezer’s move.

Diplomatic sources said the meeting could provide a way out of the current situation, as ties between the two countries have been badly damaged by the May 31 raid, in which Israeli commandos killed eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent in a deadly attack on a Gaza-bound flotilla.

“Davutoðlu reminded Ben-Eliezer of Turkey’s demands from Israel, including an apology, payment of compensation to families of those killed and wounded, an international inquiry and an end to the blockade of Gaza,” Burak Özügergin, a spokesman for the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters Thursday.

Diplomatic sources said no move to meet these demands would be made until after the Israeli commission tasked with investigating the incident issues its report to the Israeli government.

According to Özügergin, the two ministers discussed the current state of Turkish-Israeli relations and the future of the relationship, adding that Ben-Eliezer assured Davutoðlu that Turkey’s demands would be conveyed to the Israeli government.

“The point our ties have reached is not one we are happy with. The meeting provided an opportunity to convey in person the steps we expect [to see taken] so that relations can be repaired. The reason why they requested this meeting might be to determine our expectations,” the spokesman said.

Turkish officials have said Israel initiated the talks, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Wednesday that Turkey had requested the meeting.

The Israeli newspaper daily Haaretz reported that the White House prompted and coordinated the Brussels talks after U.S. President Barack Obama met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan and urged him to repair relations with Israel.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon had earlier said Washington was working to heal the Turkish-Israeli rift amid fears that Turkey, the sole primarily Muslim member of NATO, was moving away from the West.

In the aftermath of the May 31 attack, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel and blocked some Israeli military flights in Turkish airspace.

Meeting sparks high-level row in Israel

The secret talks between Israel and Turkey provoked a major row between the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the office of the Israeli prime minister.

News of the meeting, reported Wednesday evening by Israel’s Channel 2 TV, infuriated Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose office issued a sharply worded statement saying the move caused “serious harm” to his relations with Netanyahu.

“The foreign minister views as extremely serious the fact that this was done without notifying the foreign ministry. This goes against all norms of government and does serious harm to the trust between the foreign minister and the prime minister,” Lieberman’s office said in its statement.

Netanyahu’s office released a statement confirming the meeting but explaining it was initiated by the Turks and was “unofficial.” According to the statement, Ben-Eliezer had told Netanyahu that a senior Turkish official had asked him for an unofficial meeting.

“The prime minister saw no reason not to have the meeting,” the statement said. “In recent weeks there have been various initiatives for contacts with Turkey, which the foreign ministry knew about. The failure to update the ministry was due merely to a technical reason. The prime minister is fully cooperating with the foreign minister.”

Ben-Eliezer was the first Israeli minister to visit Ankara last year after Israel’s war on Gaza triggered severe Turkish criticism. Since the flotilla raid, he has been calling for immediate steps to stop the deterioration in bilateral relations.

Sources close to Ben-Eliezer told daily Yediot Aharonot that keeping the talks secret from Lieberman was the right thing to do as the foreign minister had played “a significant part in intensifying the crisis with Turkey.”

Diplomatic sources said the Israeli side preferred to keep the Brussels meeting covert because of internal sensitivities. The talks were reportedly also kept secret from Turkey’s chief EU negotiator, Egemen Baðýþ, and Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker, who were both in Brussels with Davutoðlu.

           — Hat tip: Reinhard[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Baha’i Houses Demolished in Iran

Some 50 houses owned by members of Iran’s Baha’i religious minority have been demolished in a village northeast of Tehran, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Radio Farda reported.

The incident took place last weekend in Ivel, in Mazandaran Province.

Radio Farda spoke to Baha’i Natoly Derakhshan, who witnessed the destruction of the homes. He told the station that the houses were first set on fire and later demolished by four bulldozers.

“We informed the governor’s office that they were destroying our houses, but they did nothing to prevent it,” Derakhshan said.

The incident is not the first time that homes of Baha’is have been demolished in Iran. Baha’i cemeteries have also been razed, most recently in a May 29 incident in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

The Baha’i faith began in Iran in the 19th century, and currently has an estimated 5 million followers worldwide.

While Baha’is regard their faith as within the tradition of Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad, Iran’s Shi’ite government regards Baha’ism as Islamic heresy.

There are some 300,000 followers of the Baha’i faith living in Iran, a community that human rights groups say has faced serious repression under the Islamic republic.

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

Turkey: Rize Mayor Apologizes for His Remarks About Polygamy

The mayor of the Black Sea province of Rize apologized late Wednesday for his remarks suggesting polygamous marriages with Kurdish women from eastern Anatolia as a way to “solve” the Kurdish issue without resorting to military means.

Creating family bonds through marriage would eliminate enmity, Mayor Halil Bakirci, who was elected from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, had said in a statement Tuesday evening. Bakirci later said the media cut and recombined his words in a skewed way, causing misunderstanding.

“By increasing marriages and kinship from this region, and with the encouragement of the state, I believe problems will be minimized and solved within the next 30 years,” Bakirci had said Tuesday.

Rize is also the hometown of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“From time to time, [men take] second wives. This is in our culture. Our laws do not allow this, but unfortunately, this situation exists in Turkey. I do not want to say it, but it is a reality in Turkey. We should accept it. People complete their need for marriage with mistresses or in similar ways,” the mayor said Tuesday, adding that single men should first seek wives from eastern Anatolia, where he said the practice of polygamy is “widespread.”

“In the past, Black Sea people were accepting this as well, but today they do not,” Bakirci said, adding that marriages were often arranged in the past to prevent blood feuds. “This is in our culture and in the eastern culture. By encouraging more of these matches, the problems will be solved easily.”

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

Turkish Constitutional Court to Take Up Smoking Ban

The Constitutional Court has said it will examine the constitutionality of the smoking ban and consider repealing an article applying to traditional teahouses, a change that could return indoor smoking to other venues as well.

The court announced its decision Thursday in response to a request from the Council of State, the country’s top administrative court.

The Constitutional Court has not yet said when it will take up the matter.

The Council of State ruled June 20 that the ban on smoking in teahouses is unconstitutional, saying that it limits personal freedoms as well as the freedom of labor. It recommended establishing separate smoking and non-smoking areas in place of the blanket ban on smoking indoors.

The Council of State case started with a filing by the Chamber of Izmir Teahouse Owners against the first article of the memorandum on Prime Ministry Law No. 4207, which defines the smoking ban. If the Constitutional Court decides to repeal this article, indoor smoking may return not only to traditional teahouses, but also to all cafes, bars and restaurants because the law covers “restaurants owned by private individuals alongside establishments where entertainment services are offered, such as teahouses, cafeterias and pubs.”

In its decision, the Council of State mentioned the public health and environmental problems caused by the consumption of tobacco products and said both the Constitution and the World Health Organization’s Tobacco Control Treaty require taking precautions to limit such harms. It added, however, that such “bans and limitations … should not make it excessively difficult for commercial establishments to continue their existence, and the operators’ use of free labor should not be subjected to difficult circumstances.”

The administrative court also said in its decision that it is a legal necessity to consider that tobacco consumption is, in the end, the “personal choice of the consumer.” The Council of State said it is possible for the government to separate smoking and non-smoking areas inside establishments, apply the ban according to the size of the business or create a different kind of limit on smoking that does not contradict the principles of personal or labor freedoms.

The legislation took full effect July 19, 2009, and outlawed smoking in all enclosed public places, including bars, cafes, restaurants, taxis, trains and outdoor stadiums. The ban includes premises that serve nargile, or hookah, and excludes private residences. Businesses are additionally required to make arrangements to protect non-smokers if smoking is permitted in open-air sections of the premises.

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

South Asia

Afghanistan: US Lawmakers Block $4 Bln in Aid

Washington, 1 July (AKI) — Lawmakers in Washington voted to block about 4 billion dollars (3.27 billion euros) in aid to the Afghan government amid accusations that corrupt politicians are stealing the funds, smuggling the money abroad.

The aid cut comes following a news report that billions of dollars in cash have allegdly been flown out of the Kabul airport in recent years.

“We will not commit billions more in taxpayer money for Afghanistan until there are assurances that such funds will be used for their intended purposes and that the government of Afghanistan is willing and able to root out corruption within its ranks,” said Nita Lowrey, who heads the House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid.

In response to the accusations, Afghanistan’s finance minister Omar Zakhilwal called for a joint international investigation into the country’s hawala network, an informal banking system he says is moving billions of dollars out of the country siphoned off from international aid.

More than 3 billion dollars in cash has been flown out of Kabul in the past three years, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday. US officials say some of the cash is skimmed from Western aid given to contractors to rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure and provide security and transportation. They also say they believe some of it represents proceeds from the opium trade, and money earned by the Taliban from extortion and drug trafficking.

American lawmakers are due to vote as early as Thursday on US president Barack Obama’s request for 33 billion dollars in military aid to support a surge of 30,000 troops.

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

Afghanistan: Taliban Rule Out Talks With NATO: ‘Why Should We When We’re Winning?’

The Taliban in Afghanistan have declared there is no question of them entering into negotiations with Nato forces.

The news came in a defiant statement, which added that they believe they are winning the war.

The statement, released to the BBC’s John Simpson, said: ‘We do not want to talk to anyone — not to [President Hamid] Karzai, nor to any foreigners — till the foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Bangladesh: Dhaka, Islamic Leaders Accused of Blasphemy: Protests and More Than 100 Arrests

The events triggered by the arrest of the three leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami party, accused of offenses against Muhammad. According to the deputy secretary-general it is “a political conspiracy against Islam and Muslims.” Islam abused for political purposes.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) — More than a hundred activists of Jamaat-e-Islami (Jel) were arrested yesterday during demonstrations which took place across the country, following accusations of blasphemy directed at leaders of their party.

Jel is a fundamentalist Islamic opposition party that aims to conform “human activity” to the teachings of Allah revealed to Muhammad. Yet three of their leaders — Matiur Rahman Nizami (pictured), Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed and Nayebe Ameer Delwa Sayeed Hossain — have been accused of blasphemy and arrested on June 29.

The allegations date back to March 17 when at a public meeting Matiur Rahman Nizami compared his political sufferings to those the Prophet Muhammad. The Jel leader claims to be persecuted by the Awami league, the ruling party since 2009. The accusation of blasphemy against him came from Mohammed Syed Rezaul Haque Chandpur, Secretary General of the Bangladesh Tariqat Federation, which is part of the government alliance. Observers note that both sides are waving the banner of Islam, but their intentions seem to be more political than religious.

Matiur Rahman Nizami, together with the other two Jel exponents, have repeatedly refused to appear before the Dhaka metropolitan court and we were arrested. Mohammed Qamaruzzaman, deputy secretary general of the party, spoke of “conspiracy against Islam and Muslims:” This is a political game, a false case fabricated to remove Islam from the country. “

The three arrested leaders will remain in jail for 16 days to answer investigators questions .

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

Frank Gaffney in Newsmax: Is CENTCOM Going Native?

It was bad enough when, two months ago, word got around that U.S. Central Command’s commanding general, David Petraeus, had embraced the meme that Americans were being killed in his theater of operations because Israel had refused to make peace with its Palestinian enemies.

Now comes word that elements within his command — including many of its “senior officers” and “intelligence personnel” — believe the United States should abandon its longstanding policy of “isolating and marginalizing” Hamas and Hezbollah…

[Return to headlines]

Indonesian Civil Society Turns Against Islamic Defender Front for Fomenting Hatred

Some 92 laws and by-laws have been adopted across the country. Secular Indonesians turn against fundamentalists for trying to destroy “Pancasila, the secular principles that underlie the nation”.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — Indonesian society and its civil expressions—parliamentary forums, NGOs and human rights groups—have come out against the Islamic Defender Front (Front Pembela Islam or FPI). The only organisation willing to defend the hard-line Islamist group is the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), which does not believe that it should be banned.

In an interview, Agus Purnowo, a senior PKS leader, said, “The Front’s excessive violence stems from the state’s tolerance for practices like prostitution and pornography. If the law did its job, there would be no need for the Front”.

However, many Indonesians view the PKS itself an extremist party because one of its objectives is to introduce Sharia into the country. One of its top leaders is the current Minister for Information and Communication, Tifatul Sembiring.

The PKS is not alone in having this goal. In addition to the FPI, the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI) and Jamaah Anshoruit Tauhid (JAT), both set up by controversial cleric Abu Bakar Baasyir, want the same thing.

Public opinion in Indonesia began turning against the FPI after some of its members were involved in a wave of violence in Banyuwangi Regency in East Java. Recently, three lawmakers from the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) were thrown out of a public meeting. FPI extremists claimed that the meeting had been organised by the Indonesian Communist Party, which was dissolved in 1965.

PDI-P Member of Parliament Eva Kusuma Sudari spoke in the house about what happened. “What concerns us the most is the use of violence by FPI members,” she said. “Police should take this into account because only this way we would be able to dissolve a violent and unlawful organisation,” whose actions “are contrary to Pancasila, the five principles of tolerance that are the basis of our nation.”

In her view, Sharia-inspired legislation oppresses religious minorities. “The government must act before it is too late. Violence [by the FPI] should be used to bring radical Islam before the courts.”

According to government sources, there are at least 92 Sharia-inspired laws and bylaws. For example, in Tangerang District, about 25 kilometres west of Jakarta, a bylaw bans women from going out after hours without their husbands or fathers. In Aceh and Sumatra, the Islamic dress code is now compulsory.

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

Pakistan Censors Google, Youtube and Yahoo for Their Anti-Islam Content

Authorities blame online content providers for material that is offensive to Muslims and the Muslim religion. Anti-Islam links are blocked without blocking portals. Eight smaller websites are also attacked. “Google and YouTube are platforms for free expression, and we try to allow as much . .. . content as possible on our services and still ensure that we enforce our policies,” Google spokesperson says.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Pakistan has started to monitor the web for its blasphemous content. Internet giants like Google, Yahoo!, Amazon, Bing, Msnm and Hotmail have come under the scrutiny of Pakistani authorities for allowing online material that is offensive to Muslims and the Muslim religion.

Khurram Mehran, a spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, said that under instructions from the Ministry of Information Technology, the Authority began monitoring and barring various sites as of 26 June, following a ruling by a judge in the city of Bahawalpur against YouTube and eight smaller websites deemed anti-Islam.

“If any particular link with offensive content appears on these websites, the (link) shall be blocked immediately without disturbing the main website,” Mehran said.

Pakistan claims that it is monitoring the world wide web for national security reasons and that no major search engine will be censored.

Google spokesman Scott Rubin said the company intends to monitor how Pakistan’s new policies affect access to its services, which include the world’s most popular search engine and the most widely watched video site, YouTube.

“Google and YouTube are platforms for free expression, and we try to allow as much . . . content as possible on our services and still ensure that we enforce our policies,’ Mr Rubin said.

Yahoo! also responded to Pakistan’s actions, calling them disappointing. The company is “founded on the principle that access to information can improve people’s lives,” a Yahoo! spokeswoman said.

So far, 17 sites deemed anti-Islam and blasphemous have been blocked, including, a blog created through Google’s own Blogger service. The site features postings with headlines such as ‘Islam: The Ultimate Hypocrisy’ and links to anti-Islam online petitions.

Back in May, a top court put a ban on Facebook amid anger over a webpage that encouraged users to post images of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. However, many young Muslim users of the social networking site reacted negatively to the ban, which was lifted after two weeks.

The government and the courts of Pakistan base their decisions on the country’s so-called ‘Blasphemy law’, introduced 25 years ago by then strongman Zia-ul-Haq. The ‘law’ imposes respect for the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an.

The Catholic Church has fought against the law for many years because it victimises Muslims as well as members of religious minorities.

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

Sex and the Muslim Woman: New Asian Mag Pushes Limits

Flip through the pages of Aquila Asia magazine and it soon becomes apparent that the publication is different from other glossy women’s magazines sold across the region.

Side by side with ads for expensive handbags and luxury cars are fashion spreads featuring professional models in Muslim headscarves, and articles on topics like virginity and hymen reconstruction.

To be “modest and fabulous” is the motto of the bi-monthly magazine, whose name means “intelligence” in Arabic, said its vivacious founder and publisher Liana Rosnita, a Singaporean Muslim married to a Swiss man.

Aimed at “cosmopolitan Muslim women” in Southeast Asia, the magazine has corporate offices in Singapore and editorial operations in Jakarta, capital of the world’s largest Muslim nation, Indonesia.

“We don’t work for the traditional school of thought,” Jakarta-based Liana said in a recent interview.

“If people think that Muslims today are backward or traditional or don’t have a sex life, or we’re not interested in having a great career, then they are very wrong, because that’s really not the case,” she said.

Between Cosmopolitan and Tatler

Describing Aquila Asia as something of a hybrid between U.S. magazine Cosmopolitan and high-society publication Tatler, Liana said other Muslim magazines in Asia focus more on religion rather than its readers’ lifestyles.

“For example in Indonesia, we have four different magazines catering for the Muslim market. But all four are very religiously-skewed. You don’t see any models,” said Brad Harris, Aquila Asia’s branding director.

“They’re still very old-school, they’re very institutional,” he said.

Aquila Asia’s frank coverage of controversial topics like hymen reconstruction and the state of virginity among Muslim women helps empower readers around the region, said writer Laila Achmad.

“I do believe that our magazine empowers Muslim women through our articles, because many Muslim women all over the world experience common issues,” said Laila, who is herself a Muslim like most of the magazine staff.

“Here in Aquila Asia, we bring up those issues through our articles, so in a way we are voicing out those Muslim women’s concerns,” said Laila, who, unlike publisher Liana, wears a headscarf.

The magazine was launched in March and claims a circulation of 30,000 in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, where it made its first appearance this month.

It is in talks to expand into conservative Brunei, one of the world’s last absolute monarchies.

Besides the magazine, Aquila Asia also has a website carrying the latest news stories and photographs on Muslims worldwide, together with video clips made by the global Muslim community and ads from luxury brands.

The website also conducts online polls on subjects ranging from the serious such as whether its readers would buy products not produced ethically, to the cheeky such as whether they are fans of sexy underwear.

Facebook and Twitter fans

The magazine also has a page on popular social networking site Facebook with more than 1,700 fans so far from all over the world, and operates an account on micro-blogging site Twitter.

The latest May/June issue of Aquila Asia features a commentary on polygamy in the Muslim faith as well as an article on an online shop selling halal sexual wellness products such as moisturiser gels and aphrodisiac capsules.

Halal is a concept within the Islamic faith which designates what is permissible to eat or do.

But even as Aquila Asia pushes boundaries in its coverage, it takes care to conform to basic Muslim values, said creative director Sandy Tjahja.

“We have to appeal to [the readers’] standards, but then we need to be careful with the level of their tolerance as well,” he said.

Models wear clothes that are fashionable yet respect Muslim values, and sensitive issues are covered in a fair, just and tasteful manner, said Liana.

“We don’t make a judgment call saying that this is what you should do, or this is what you shouldn’t do… we tell things as how they are,” said Liana.

“Our readers actually make their own decisions,” she said.

New Singaporean university graduate Junaini Johari, 23, said the magazine offered a refreshing take on issues affecting Muslim women.

“This is definitely very, very modern.” Juanini said. “It’s taking a right step forward, because if those things are being talked about in other Muslim magazines, the tone is very different. The tone will be very male-oriented.”

However, Junaini said the magazine should be more detailed when covering sensitive topics. “Its not in-depth enough… the stuff that they talk about here is not something that I do not know.”

But Liana emphasized that Aquila Asia is, at its core, a women’s magazine.

“Women of other faiths in the world… strive to improve themselves in many aspects of their lives. Aquila Asia addresses these same things, so whether we’re Muslim or not, its actually secondary,” she said.

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

Sri Lanka: School Texts in Sri Lanka Defame Christians, The Church and the Pope

The new textbooks offered by the Ministry equate Christianity and Western culture, accused of trying to destroy the Sinhalese culture. Archbishop of Colombo: “This is an attempt to bring disharmony between religious communities and to inculcate a defamatory image in the minds of students.”

Colombo (AsiaNews) — “The history and geography programs used in schools and published by the Ministry contain conclusions that defame the Catholic Church, the Holy Father and Catholics”, denounces Mgr. Malcolm Ranjit, Archbishop of Colombo, who these days has met Bandula Gunawerdena, Minister of Education, to discuss the problem.

The new textbooks proposed by the Ministry equate Christianity and Western culture, accused of trying to destroy Sinhalese culture. According to these books, the message of goodness that Jesus brought and is no longer lived within the Church. Under the “religious renewal” section, Christianity is introduced as an obstacle to other religions and Catholic education institutes are seen as a way to propagate the Roman Catholic faith. Repeated complaints from Catholic principals and teachers in history and geography attracted the Archbishop’s attention to this issue.

“This is an attempt to bring disharmony between religious communities and instil a defamatory concept in the minds of students,” said Mgr. Ranjit, during his meeting with the minister. The archbishop urged the minister to review the publication of the texts, suggesting a review by an interfaith committee. He also confirmed his readiness to cooperate with the government in building society.

To date Gunawerdena has assured an immediate review of books and correction of errors.

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

Thailand: Student Killed in Restive South

Narathiwat, 1 July (AKI/Antara) — An Indonesian religious student was stabbed to death at a mosque in southern Thailand on Thursday, police said. The 18-year-old victim was knifed seven times while he slept in the mosque in Sungai Kolok, a border town in the volatile southern province of Narathiwat.

Six other students were sleeping nearby but nobody else was harmed in the attack, police said.

Initial inquiries suggested the attack was linked to a personal dispute, rather than the insurgency that has gripped the Muslim-majority southernmost provinces of Thailand for the past six years.

More than 4,100 people have died during a separatist campaign largely conducted by Islamist militants across three southern provinces.

Militias and security forces in the region have been accused of widespread abuses by rights groups since the campaign escalated in 2004.

The region was an autonomous Malay Muslim sultanate until it was annexed in 1902 by mainly Buddhist Thailand.

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

Far East

India and China Vying for Energy

For years, Beijing has used diplomacy to secure energy supplies, opening the way for its state-owned companies. Now New Delhi wants to do the game.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) — India, the third largest emerging economy in the world, is developing a new energy strategy against Chinese competition. This comes after it lost out to China for at least US$ 12.5 billion in contracts in the past year.

Indian Oil Minister Murli Deora travelled to Nigeria, Angola, Uganda, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela this year, leading a record number of delegations to get oil for India’s 1.2 billion people.

India’s energy use is expected to more than double by 2030 to the equivalent of 833 million metric tonnes of oil from 2007, whilst China’s demand may rise 87 per cent to 2.4 billion tonnes, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said.

India so far has faced an uneven contest to close the gap with China, which can dip into US$ 2.4 trillion of foreign currency reserves to buy stakes in oil and natural gas fields from Iraq to Uganda, compared with India’s US$ 250 billion in foreign exchange reserves.

State-owned Chinese companies spent a record US$ 32 billion last year alone acquiring energy and resources assets overseas.

Beijing’s 19 June decision to allow the yuan to appreciate will further strengthen the hand of Chinese companies buying overseas.

Against this, India’s oil import bill has climbed six-fold in the past decade to US$ 85.47 billion for the year ending in March.

Economists note that New Delhi has lost out to its main rival because it has treated the matter as essentially economic, leaving the job to its oil companies. Yet, oil is highly political.

China has virtually taken over Africa through promises of aid, investment and loans in exchange for energy supplies, in a continent that produces one eighth of the world’s crude oil.

State-owned China National Petroleum Corp beat India on major lucrative contracts coming after but with a bigger offer. In August 2005, it agreed to pay US$ 4.18 billion for PetroKazakhstan Inc., then China’s biggest overseas oil deal. A month later China National Petroleum again outbid India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) in buying assets of EnCana Corp in Ecuador for US$ 1.42 billion.

However, New Delhi is learning. ONGC agreed in 2005 to spend as much as US$ 6 billion on roads, ports, railway lines and power plants in Nigeria in exchange for 600,000 barrels a day of oil for 25 years.

Last February, Indian Oil Minister Deora persuaded Saudi Arabia to double crude shipments to India, to about 800,000 barrels a day.

ONGC and other state-controlled Indian oil companies were part of a group in March that agreed to develop reserves in Venezuela’s Carabobo blocks during a visit by Deora.

“One of the advantages the big Chinese oil companies have is government support,” Gideon Lo, a Hong Kong-based energy analyst, told Bloomberg. “It’s an open secret” that the “government establishes high-level contacts with oil-producing countries. Once this is done, the oil companies can come in and negotiate.”

PetroChina Co., which vies with Exxon Mobil Corp. as the world’s biggest company by market value, wants 50 per cent of its oil to come from overseas by 2020, Chairman Jiang Jiemin said in March. Less than 10 per cent comes from abroad now.

“The financial firepower that the Chinese companies have is a factor,” Tom Deegan, Hong Kong-based head of energy and infrastructure at lawyers Simmons & Simmons, said. “They have access to capital and finance through Chinese banks which have the liquidity, which perhaps Indian companies don’t.” Chinese state-owned companies can indeed afford losses because of government support.

Sinopec bought Addax Petroleum Corp last year for US$ 7.9 billion, gaining licenses in Nigeria, Gabon and Cameroon.

For now, India’s pockets do not appear to be as deep as China’s but it is well gearing up to use its political influence to get what it wants.

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Somalia: Al-Shabab Close to ‘Controlling Entire South’

Mogadishu, 30 June (AKI) -Al-Shabab, the Somalia Al-Qaeda affiliated militant group, says it is close to the presidential palace in capital Mogadishu which will allow it to control the southern part of the country.

In a 10-minute video obtained exclusively by Adnkronos International labelled “The African Crusaders” (, Al-Shabab refers to troops from the African Union, primarily in Mogadishu to defend the airport, as “crusaders.”

A voice speaking English with an American accent describes the video’s images of destroyed tanks and other military vehicles, praising Al-Shabab’s successes.

Somali government troops and hardline rebels have for months been locked in conflict in strategic locations in and around the Somali capital.

A government security official this week admitted to retreating following a fresh Al-Shabab offensive but denied that the militants had made any significant gains.

Using the video as propaganda to demonstrate the perceived weakness of transitional president Ahmad Shari, the insurgents show images of destroyed buildings and gun battles that happened in the lastest offensive.

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


Lebanon: Immigration Law Would Give ‘Refugees’ Rights

New conflict virtually assured if proposal moves forward

In a move sure to cause controversy, the Lebanese parliament is considering legislation on civil rights for Palestinian refugees that could lead to naturalization and their permanent settlement in Lebanon, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

The new legislative proposals call for amendments to labor, social security and foreign property ownership laws that guarantee equal rights for the Lebanese and Palestinian refugees.

The move, which would dramatically increase the influence of the nation’s Sunni Muslim population, could hit hard on the nation’s Christian community, with a sudden influx of new competitors for jobs.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Video: Obama: American Citizenship “Not a Matter of Blood or Birth”

We know what Obama meant in this passage — a similarity to those who have expressed the notion that they were Americans before ever setting foot in the US, thanks to their love of liberty. However, the people expressing that concept came to the US through legal immigration, and didn’t presume to break our laws in order to express their desire to live in freedom. They understood that the aspirational concept of being American and the legal status of American citizenship (or even residency) are two completely different things.

Besides, if being an American is a matter of faith, then the religion in question is devotion to the rule of law. We have created the laws by which we live through representative democracy within a framework set by our Constitution. Breaking the law to get into the country isn’t an expression of faith; using Obama’s construct, it’s actually heresy.

Obama and his open-borders allies attempt to blur the difference between illegal and legal immigration. Almost no one of consequence opposes the latter. Everyone of the “faith” of Americanism should insist on enforcing the laws against the former. Unfortunately, this President — and many of those who have come before him — have proven rather faithless in this task.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Islam and the Left — Two Sides of the Same Coin

The Islamists and the Leftists have the same goal. Absolute power. Islam like Communism is a means to that end

On the surface of it they seem to have very little in common. The left claims to be progressive, embraces gay bars, abortions, feminism, worker’s rights civil rights, multiculturalism and obscene slogans. The Islamists throw acid in women’s faces, hang gays on every streetcorner and repress minorities and freedom of expression. This seeming contrast baffles many who demand to know how for example the left can champion Islamic regimes which mandate the death penalty for homosexuality. The answer is very simple. The people asking the question have mistaken the facade for the reality.

The left is socially progressive only in its revolutionary phase. The Soviet Union, Castro’s Cuba and Communist China all had much the same view of gay people—that Iran does today. While gay writers in America campaigned for the USSR or Cuba, both those regimes imprisoned gay writers. Homosexuality was a criminal offense in the USSR until its actual fall. None of this bothered liberals in the West, who were happy to trek to Moscow, meet with Soviet leaders and blame the US for the Cold War. And then come home and talk about how intolerant the United States is.

The USSR was happy to discuss the civil rights of African-Americans in the US. Liberals however did not care that most of the African-Americans who came to Russia early after the revolution wound up in Gulags or dead. This has been documented in books such as Black on Red: My 44 Years Inside the Soviet Union by Robert Robinson, an African-American engineer who came to find a job but was unable to leave for over four decades, while remaining constantly in fear for his life in a racist society.

Then there’s Castro’s Cuba, which practices unofficial racial segregation. Yes, not a fact you’re likely to see in a Michael Moore documentary.


The social progressivism of the left has never been anything but a fraud. A tool used to recruit bohemian activists to fight on their side, while purging them once the revolution was successful. The left tries to overturn the values of a target society as part of a comprehensive revolutionary assault. That doesn’t mean that its actual values are different. Once the left gains absolute power, it seeks to create a static and unchanging system. The perfect Utopian society with immovable laws administered by an endless political bureaucracy. In the real world this translates into a repressive search for stability. Which means banning exactly the same things that the left had been fighting for. And the first thing to be banned is always the right to dissent. A right that the left insists on for itself when it is out of power, but does not permit to others when it is.


Do you know what the worst possible way to survive a Communist takeover is? It’s being a member of a right wing organization. Do you know what the second worst way is? Being a member of a left wing organization. Do you know what the third worst way is? Being a member of the Communist party before the takeover. Yes, the third worst thing to be when the Communists take over, is to be one of them. Because you’ll only get to live long enough to help wipe out the members of right wing organizations and the members of left wing non-Communist groups, before your own turn comes.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]