Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100808

Financial Crisis
»Drivers Regret Cash for Clunkers Leases
»Greece: The Great Tax Fraud Hunt is Now on
»Greenspan: Repeal Bush Tax Cuts Completely
»It’s Official: Social Security System Now in the Red
»Politics, Derivatives and Corporate Raiders
»The Billionaire Boys: Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts
»9/11 Mosque Called Harbinger of Future Horror
»Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Opposition
»Activists Say Tea Party Imposters Infiltrating Elections
»Half-Baked Mosque
»Journalist Returns ADL Award in Protest
»When Will Turkish-Americans Run for Political Office in the US?
»Wiesenthal Center Opposes Ground Zero Mosque
Europe and the EU
»Berlusconi Counters With Confidence Vote on Four Key Issues
»Berlusconi’s Call to Get Ready for Elections
»France / Romania: Roms in the Firing Line
»Italy: Egyptian Billionaire ‘Interested in Buying as Roma’
»Italy: Disgraced Parmalat Founder Stripped of Title
»Lord Kinnock’s Son Embroiled in Tax Row That Might Cost His Wife the Danish Prime Minister’s Job
»Netherlands: VVD Chairman to Take Over Cabinet Talks, Immigration High on Agenda
»Netherlands: A Right-Wing Government is the Only Option, Says VVD Leader Rutte
»Netherlands: Mayor Wants Gay Education at Amsterdam Primary Schools
»Romania: Rich as a Rom
»Scotland: Cardinal Attacks US Over Lockerbie Bomber Reaction
»Spain: Melilla, North Africa’s European Dream
»Wave of New Anti-Semitism in France Hits Ww II Memorial
»Kosovo: Serb Monasteries ‘At Risk’ As NATO Exits
North Africa
»Algeria: Meat From India is ‘Pagan’
Middle East
»Iranian President Ahmadinejad Doesn’t Believe 3,000 People Died in 9/11 Attacks, Wants U.S. Proof
»Iraq: Aziz Urges Obama to Not ‘Leave the Country to Wolves’
»Saudi Columnist: ‘There is No Islam Without Jihad’
»The False Issue of “Race” In the Arab-Israeli Conflict
»Turkey: The Plight of Iranian Women and the AKP
»Turkey: Four Women, One Prime Minister’s Adviser
»Turkey: Govt’s Mavi Marmara Frustration Deepens
»Turkey: ‘Mavi Marmara’ Returns Home
»Russian Christian Religious Community Struggles to Survive in Rural Azerbaijan
South Asia
»Afghanistan: Friends of Slain Doctors Deny They Pushed Religion
»American Nurse, Dentist Identified as 2 More Victims of Afghan Taliban Attack on Medical Personnel
»Bangladesh: In Dhaka, Salesian Nun Saves Thousands of Women From Persecution and Physical/Mental Torture
»Bangladesh Bans Islamic Parties
»British Doctor Executed in Afghanistan ‘Was Not Preaching Christianity’: Grieving Family’s Fury at Taliban Claim
»Tajik Court Reopens Case Against Jehovah’s Witnesses
Latin America
»1 Million Fish Dead in Bolivian Ecological Disaster
»Across Texas, 60,000 Babies of Noncitizens Get U.S. Birthright
»Germany: 12:000 Roma to be Deported to Kosovo
Culture Wars
»Book Review: Hitler and Christianity
»Top Muslim Cleric Qaradawi Urges Western Muslims to ‘Liberalize’
»What Would Socialists Do to America?

Financial Crisis

Drivers Regret Cash for Clunkers Leases

‘I want something roomier, more luxurious. This contract is bad and I’m not in love’

Thousands of people who leased cars last year as part of the Cash for Clunkers program are having second thoughts and are trying to get out of their leases, reports

The program provided up to a $4,500 rebate if a person signed at least a five-year lease for their car.

A year later, that money has long been spent and people realize they are stuck with the car for four more years, says John Sternal, spokesman.

“I think it’s Cash for Clunkers remorse,” Sternal says, whose company helps hook up people who want to trade out of their leases with those looking for a lease.

Some drivers want out of the lease for financial reasons but for others it’s just not wanting the car.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Greece: The Great Tax Fraud Hunt is Now on

To refill the public coffers and fulfil its international obligations, George Papandreou’s government is pulling out all the stops — and cracking down on Greek tax evaders.

Daniel Steinvorth

When Nikolaos Logothetis (57), a tall Greek with a well-trimmed full beard and professorial spectacles, talks about numbers, it sounds like a love poem. “The science of statistics has a language all its own,” he says. “We need only listen closely if we want to grasp the cause of our country’s illness.” That’s a remarkable thing to say in the land of whitewashed figures. Logothetis, appointed deputy chief of the new and independent statistical office just a few hours ago, is sitting in a classy Athens restaurant expounding on his plans to shake up the whole department. “In future we will only report to parliament and we’ll finally be able to work as an independent scientific institution.”

“Greek statistics” is a new buzzword. It stands for political wheeling and dealing and creative accounting, for the whole sad Greek saga and the statistical castles in the air constructed by Logothetis’ predecessors — one of whom has since absconded abroad. On behalf of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB), the so-called troika (one Dane, one Belgian and one German) are back in the country to re-assess whether Papandreou’s government has made sufficient efforts to warrant another €9 billion tranche of transfers to Athens in September.

Helicopters over posh suburbs of Athens

And a second man has been called in to give Athens a new lease of life: Ioannis Kapeleris, head of the SDOE tax investigation agency set up in December. Kapeleris (50) is one of the busiest men in the government these days. Visibly sleep-deprived in his wide-open unbuttoned shirt, he receives visitors with a cigarette in one hand, a coffee cup in the other. “Check this out,” he says and whips out an Excel table. “Here you see how many cases of tax fraud in the Athens tourist industry the Greek state managed to prove in June 2009: 506. And you know how many we found in June 2010? 4340.”

His staff have become remarkably resourceful in tracking down tax evaders. They helicopter over the posh suburbs of Athens filming the estates of doctors, lawyers and businessmen. Using satellite images to locate country houses and properties, they have found out that the suburbanites own 16,974 swimming pools, a sight more than the 324 officially declared. “We make sure to net not just the small fish, but the big ones, too,” says Kapeleris. The SDOE is supposed to chase down at least €1.2 billion for 2010: in the first six months, the taxmen have already rustled up over €1.8 billion.

Is 700 and 1400 euros in pay privileged?

In an interim report, the IMF approvingly notes “appreciable headway” towards balancing the national budget — chiefly in the form of swingeing cuts in pay and pensions. But the comptrollers are likely to keep the pressure on premier Papandreou: Athens has absolutely got to curb the costs of the Greek health care system, liberalise its labour and energy markets and privatise its “lame ducks”, i.e. big-time loss-making state-owned companies.

And that is bound to kindle a conflagration. Last week tanker drivers protested against the EU’s moves to open up their occupational ranks. A marginal note? Well, the chaos at Greek petrol stations provided just a little foretaste of the wave of strikes due to inundate Greece over the next few weeks. Kostas Papantoniou, vice-president of the civil servants union, foresees much rougher waters yet ahead for the government. “They say Greek civil servants cost too much,” says Papantoniou, “but that’s hardly true. 80 per cent of us earn between 700 and 1400 euros in take-home pay. You call that privileged?”

The coming cutbacks

Many of them will be hard hit by the coming cutbacks. The public sector personnel retiring this year are liable to be among the angriest in officialdom. They are actually entitled to a lump-sum payment from the civil service coffers into which they’ve been paying for decades — on average, some €40,000. But to lighten the load on the national budget, the government has opted for a temporary stop to the payments: the IMF and EU ferrets are not supposed to find the public coffers empty. VAT refunds to businesses and employee compensation for the privatisation of their companies have seen the same fate.

In other words, the so miraculously minified budget deficit with which Papandreou’s government aims to impress the EU and IMF could involve another round of highly creative accounting. And a replay of those “Greek statistics”.

(Translation — Eric Rosencrantz)

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

Greenspan: Repeal Bush Tax Cuts Completely

‘The problem we now face is the most extraordinary financial crisis that I have ever seen’

It was not enough, it seems, for Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman and a self-described lifelong Republican libertarian, to call for stringent government regulation of giant banks, as he did a few months ago.

Now Mr. Greenspan is wading into the most fierce economic policy debate in Washington — what to do with the tax cuts adopted, in large part because of his implicit backing, under President George W. Bush — with a position not only contrary to Republican orthodoxy, but decidedly to the left of President Obama.

Rather than keeping tax rates steady for all but the wealthiest Americans, as the White House wants, Mr. Greenspan is calling for the complete repeal of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, brushing aside the arguments of Republicans and even a few Democrats that doing so could threaten the already shaky economic recovery.

“I’m in favor of tax cuts, but not with borrowed money,” Mr. Greenspan, 84, said Friday in a telephone interview. “Our choices right now are not between good and better; they’re between bad and worse. The problem we now face is the most extraordinary financial crisis that I have ever seen or read about.”


“Such a large tax increase in the middle of a period of sluggish economic growth would be a very bad idea,” said R. Glenn Hubbard, who as chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers from 2001 to 2003 was an architect of the tax cuts.

Mr. Hubbard, who teaches at Columbia Business School, said a debate over the proper size of government was needed, but would not occur until the 2010 or 2012 elections. “Calls for repealing the tax cuts are more about politics than economics,” he added.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

It’s Official: Social Security System Now in the Red

It was only a matter of time, but it’s finally happened: The nation’s Social Security system will pay out more than it takes in this year and next, as aging baby boomers begin entering retirement. The milestone marks the first time in nearly 30 years that the system is in the red, according to a report issued Thursday by federal officials overseeing the program.

The shortfall has been exacerbated by the recession and high employment, which have reduced payroll tax revenues. Long term, however, Social Security’s finances stand to improve slightly, the trustees report said. A new tax on pricey health plans, part of recently passed health-care overhaul legislation that goes into effect in 2019, will result in more revenues.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Politics, Derivatives and Corporate Raiders

Colorado is what they call a political “Bellwether State” this year. All of that makes our Congressional races more interesting than the norm. The Washington Post has called Colorado one of the most politically important 2010 primary states in the country.

Senator Michael Bennet is fighting for his political life in a Primary race with fellow Democrat Andrew Romanoff. Bennet, appointed by Democrat Governor Bill Ritter to fill Ken Salazar’s Senate term when he was appointed Secretary of the Interior, once worked for conservative billionaire Phil Anschutz. There is nothing conservative about Michael Bennet’s voting record.

And “corporate raider” isn’t the only name Bennet is being called. “Economically inept” is another not-so-lovingly applied nickname in Ski Country, USA.

Michael Bennet was Superintendent of the Denver Public Schools when appointed to the U.S. Senate by Governor Ritter. The school system needed to “plug a $400 million hole in its pension fund.” Guess what Senator Bennet invested in to plug that hole. If you said “derivatives,” go to the front of the class!

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

The Billionaire Boys: Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts

Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and the world’s richest men are giving half their fortunes to charity — but there is a downside, says William Langley.

By last week, Warren, having diligently worked his way through the annual Forbes magazine list of the richest Americans, had signed up at least 40 fellow plutocrats, with a combined worth of close to £150 billion. Portraying his work as “an easy sell”, the avuncular Buffett, long revered as the world’s greatest investor, predicted that many more would agree to chip in. Few of his primary targets, he said, had needed to be asked twice.

Yet a number of tough questions hang over the future of this colossal kitty. How will it be spent? Will it do any good? And might something other than pure-hearted philanthropy explain the apparent ease with which it was amassed?


To Bill’s original billions are now being added — in substantial yearly tranches — Buffett’s own $40 billion-plus fortune. Even more is likely to come from the likes of media mogul Ted Turner, industrialist T Boone Pickens, chat show queen Oprah Winfrey and Hollywood director George Lucas, who have all signed a “giving pledge” to donate half of their wealth to good causes. Within 10 years, the Gates Foundation is projected to have a GDP bigger than 70 per cent of the world’s nations.

The impact of its size and rigorously business-inspired approach is still being assessed, but while there is no doubt that Gates’s work is saving lives, there are serious doubts about its long-term effectiveness. A common complaint is that the foundation’s fund-raising arm — operating independently of the charitable side — invests its assets in companies that allegedly pollute the environment, exploit poor workers and distort the global financial system. Another is that its wealth and starry image lures health workers and medical resources away from less glamorous areas of need.

In other words, as a long critique in the American magazine Foreign Affairs puts it, the foundation gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


9/11 Mosque Called Harbinger of Future Horror

Author who exposed Nazi influence on Islam issues warning

In the rising shadow of a city-approved mosque at Ground Zero, Americans especially need to know about radical Islam’s relationship with Nazi ideology, says Morse.

“Even after the horrors of Sept. 11, too many American have yet to understand the true nature of the enemy that this country and the Western democracies must face,” he says. “America is tolerant. It is the Islamo-Fascist enemy that needs to display tolerance, not America.

“At first glance,” Morse continues, “it should be conceded that it is the right of an American religious organization to build a mosque wherever it chooses, but what if that organization has ties to a group that is on the State Department terrorist watch list?

“Would it be all right to build a Shinto shrine at Pearl Harbor or would opposition to such a shrine be anti-Japanese? Is it OK for Americans to oppose a group that incites anti-Semitism, violence against their opponents, the subjugation of women, the beheading of homosexuals and other illegal practices?”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Opposition

While a high-profile battle rages over a mosque near ground zero in Manhattan, heated confrontations have also broken out in communities across the country where mosques are proposed for far less hallowed locations.


At one time, neighbors who did not want mosques in their backyards said their concerns were over traffic, parking and noise — the same reasons they might object to a church or a synagogue. But now the gloves are off.

In all of the recent conflicts, opponents have said their problem is Islam itself. They quote passages from the Koran and argue that even the most Americanized Muslim secretly wants to replace the Constitution with Islamic Shariah law.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Activists Say Tea Party Imposters Infiltrating Elections

In New Jersey, a “Tea Party” candidate surfaces but local activists haven’t heard of him. In Michigan, a Democratic operative appears closely tied to a slate of candidates running under the Tea Party banner. In Florida, conservative activists are locked in court over the right to use the Tea Party name.

The list of peculiar Tea Party happenings goes on and on.

As the midterm election nears, allegations are surfacing across the country that Democrats are exploiting conservatives’ faith in the Tea Party name by putting up bogus candidates in November — the claim is that those “Tea Party” candidates will split the GOP vote and clear the way for Democratic victories.

The theories may prove to be more than just conspiracy talk. Some of the allegations are coming directly from local Tea Party activists who are trying to flag the media and election officials as soon as they smell something fishy on the ballot. And they say they’ve got proof.

“It’s obvious it’s a Democratic play,” said Jason Gillman, a Tea Party activist from Traverse City, Mich.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Half-Baked Mosque

Developer owns only part of site

The developers of the controversial mosque proposed near Ground Zero own only half the site where they want to construct the $100 million building, The Post has learned.

One of the two buildings on Park Place is owned by Con Edison, even though Soho Properties told officials and the public that it owns the entire parcel. And any potential sale by Con Ed faces a review by the state Public Service Commission.

“We never heard anything about Con Ed whatsoever,” said a stunned Julie Menin, the chairwoman of Community Board 1, which passed a May resolution supporting the mosque.

Daisy Khan, one of the mosque’s organizers, told The Post last week that both buildings on Park Place are needed to house the worship and cultural center. But she claimed ignorance about the Con Ed ownership of 49-51 Park Place and referred questions to Soho Properties, which bought the building at 45-47 Park Place in 2009.

Rep. Peter King, who opposes the mosque, said the developers seemed to be “operating under false pretenses.”

“I wonder what else they are hiding,” said King (R-LI). “If we can’t have the full truth on this, what can we believe?”

Sharif El-Gamal, the head of Soho Properties, first came forward in 2006 seeking to buy the empty building at 45-47 Park Place, said Melvin Pomerantz, whose family owned the property.

Pomerantz said El-Gamal eventually raised $4.8 million cash for 45-47 Park Place. El- Gamal paid an extra $700,000 to take over the lease with Con Ed for the building next door. The lease expires in 2071.

The two buildings were connected years ago — common walls were taken down — and housed a Burlington Coat Factory store.

Con Ed said El-Gamal told the utility in February that he wanted to exercise the purchase option in his $33,000- a-year lease for the former substation.

The utility is now doing an appraisal to determine the property value, and it would be up to El-Gamal to decide whether to accept the price, the utility said. The price is estimated at $10 million to $20 million.

“We are following our legal obligations under the lease. We will not allow other considerations to enter into this transaction,” Con Ed said.

The sale proposal will go to the Public Service Commission, where it could possibly face a vote by a five-member board controlled by Gov. Paterson.

El-Gamal told The Post his long-term lease was equivalent to ownership and that it even allowed him to demolish the building. Still, he said, he was determined to buy the property. “The cost is not an issue,” he said.

The building at 45-45 Park Place had been on the market for years with a sale price that at one point was $18 million. It was owned by Stephen Pomerantz, who died in 2006. His widow, Kukiko Mitani, said she was in debt and desperate to unload the property even at a bargain price of $4.8 million to El- Gamal.

She said she thought El-Gamal wanted to build condos, not a mosque — but he should build whatever he wants.

The Web site for the mosque and community-center project, now called Park 51, says it will be financed “with a mix of equity, financing and contributions.”

But just $200 in donations has come in so far, according to Ameena Meer, head of Muslims for Peace, the nonprofit accepting the contributions.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]

Journalist Returns ADL Award in Protest

Influential journalist Fareed Zakaria on Friday returned an award given to him by the Anti-Defamation League in protest of its opposition to the building of a mosque near the former World Trade Center in New York. In a letter published on the Website of Newsweek Zakaria wrote that he decided to give back the accolade because he believed the Jewish organization’s stand went against its purpose of fighting discrimination and bigotry.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

When Will Turkish-Americans Run for Political Office in the US?

‘Determination is the fuel to keep going ahead in spite of all obstacles or discouragement’

I feel within me a void which cannot be filled easily; there isn’t any Turkish-American individual in the United States Congress. What does it feel like to be a minority in a large, crowded political arena in the States? As you can imagine, this is a sensitive subject. How could we awaken the Turkish-American spirit? First of all, we should have an innovative leadership team; I mean a strategist, a good communicator, and friendly media contacts. I consider innovation as an important trait of leadership; effective leaders make motivational speeches and inspire others to action. Always aim for a long-term networking. This team has to educate, register, and mobilize voters. Citizen participation must be stimulated in policy formulation. A project of this scope requires considerable team planning, effort and recruitment of volunteers. Increased attention and visits to U.S. Congress staff and Presidential offices will help to improve its connection with the local community. The Turkish-American Associations, with a reflection of the spirit of the Turkish-Americans and their intellectual vibrancy, has organizational features of Turkish society and social activities. Dear Turkish-American friends, please do not keep out of federal, state or local politics! You can make a stronger connection with today’s diverse voters and audiences. Press members could be urged to give careful consideration not only to the qualifications of each candidate but to their diverse backgrounds as well. You could be great negotiators and problem solvers if you are given a chance to get elected to the U.S. Congress. You can work hard to prevent the anti-Americanism which is growing in the last decade in the Middle East and develop sound projects to prevent xenophobia in Europe. As we are concerned with the Middle East, this is of vital importance. We see many Europeans of Turkish origin as members of Parliaments, especially in the German Parliament, in the European Continent.

Article1. section2. of the Constitution of the U.S. states that no person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the age of thirty years, and been nine years a citizen of the U.S., and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen. The candidate has to be twenty five years old, and has to have been a citizen for seven years for selection to the Congress.

Can Turkish-Americans have more voice in U.S. politics? Who will serve as a pioneer? When will they pick up a new historical seat and open the doors for others with diverse backgrounds? Will we see a candidate who will surprise election campaign experts in the next elections? I remember many volunteers were recruited; phones were dialed for election campaigns in the past. Among these candidates, we can list Osman Bengür, Rifat Sivisoglu, Tarkan Öcal, and Jak Karako. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Osman Bengür, Tarkan Öcal, and Rifat Sivisoglu in the U.S. on several occasions at various Turkish-American Conventions. R. Sivisoglu was an official 2008 Democratic candidate for County Board of Du Page, Illinois in 2007. Sivisoglu, as an Adjunct Professor of Business at the Center for Business and Economics, Elmhurst College, worked 25 years in the industry in positions of increasing authority; the last 12 in high-tech for such firms as Alcatel in Paris. He has sat on corporate-group level Mergers & Acquisition and Marketing Strategy boards. He used political technology and combined his technical capacities with politics and used democracy online. He defined his policy access for disadvantaged American people. He said he has sat on corporate boards. He was on a non-profit board, and he teaches how to run boards. He is running office to safe-guard taxpayer monies for a change. But, no one should forget the importance of person-to-person appeals. O. “Öz” Bengür has been active in politics. He was one of the first to run for a seat in the U.S. Congress in 2006. He also served as treasurer of the Maryland Democratic Party and worked as a special assistant to the Governor of Maine. He was born in Washington, D.C. to Turkish parents. He has thirty years of experience as a public and corporate finance investment banker and entrepreneur. Tarkan Öcal was a candidate for the Florida State Senate from the 29th District during the September Primary Elections as a Democrat. He was born in Ankara. According to the press reports, he was employed as a mechanical engineer in Florida. He worked on the To Go Campaign and transported many handicapped voters to the voting stations during the 2000 elections. This suggests that there is a common denominator among these Turkish-American candidates; their party affiliation: Democrats; their education: Engineering, business finance, and management. I do not want to sound either optimistic or pessimistic, but the problems are there. It’s time to have your strong voices heard. Go to your Congressmen and Congresswomen to talk about foreign policy issues concerning Turkey. Special attention has to be paid to the Federation of Turkish-Americans, or TADF, which has great energy to channel and organize Turkish-American people. The leaders at TADF work very well, and TADF President Kaya Boztepe with his team has been developing Turkish-American relations in a positive way. In meetings, and in his writings, he provides a well-informed critical analysis of the recent developments for Turkish-Americans in the States.

Turkish-Americans should have a stronger voice in the U.S. democratic tradition. Society has to attribute more power to the Turkish community in the States.

*Heyecan Veziroglu is a member of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and the Society of Professional Journalists. She writes as a columnist for and She has also been an international contributing editor for Turkey since 2008 for Her articles have been published by the American Journalism Center and Accuracy In Media briefings in Washington. Working as a freelance journalist, she has also appeared on TRT, ABC News, Tory Johnson’s Good Morning America program in the U.S., Turkish-American TV, as well as other TV channels.

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

Wiesenthal Center Opposes Ground Zero Mosque

The latest Jewish organization to weigh in on the Ground Zero mosque controversy is opposed to the project, siding with the Anti-Defamation League in what had been a lonely stand against the proposed $100 million Cordoba House on Park Place.

The executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Manhattan, Rabbi Meyer May said on Thursday it was insensitive to build the center near the site of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. “Religious freedom does not mean being insensitive…or an idiot,” May told Crain’s New York Business, which reported the organization’s position on Friday. “Religion is supposed to be beautiful. Why create pain in the name of religion?”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Berlusconi Counters With Confidence Vote on Four Key Issues

September clash on justice, taxes, federalism and southern Italy

ROME — The day of reckoning will come in September, when parliament reconvenes, and it will dawn with a vote of confidence over a very detailed four-point government programme on justice, taxation, federalism and southern Italy. Silvio Berlusconi will ask his allies to approve or reject the programme to find out whether “it is their intention to genuinely honour the pledge with the electorate, in which case it will be possible to carry on governing, or if they just want to rock the boat, and in that case we will go straight to the polls”.

A day of disappointment and anger was followed by one of reflection and decision as Silvio Berlusconi gathered the faithful and chose the way forward, although in practice two are still open. According to sources close to the premier, clearing the air and starting afresh are “not to be ruled out entirely” while the second option is an election. For the prime minister, the moment has come to see whether a majority still exists. His idea is to put in writing at the council of ministers, where Gianfranco Fini’s supporters are still represented, the fundamental issues that the government intends to act upon: the economy, justice in all its shapes and forms, the south and federalism. This is the agenda on which the government is set to seek a vote of confidence and which Mr Berlusconi will present to the two chambers of parliament for a definitive yes or no.

If, as People of Freedom (PDL) leaders think, Mr Fini’s supporters vote with the government, or themselves “split because no more than 15 or so deputies would toe Fini’s hard line”, the government will remain in the saddle and perhaps expand the majority to sections of the opposition. The Christian Democrat UDC, or more probably the Alliance for Italy (API), could be enticed by moral issues or justice and in fact PDL senator Gaetano Quagliarello has already organised a conference on legality and civil rights for September at which all the PDL foundations will be represented. The only alternative is an election, with all the imponderables elections entail.

What looks like a step back from the brink after the tub-thumping over the Caliendo vote has in fact been prompted by hard-nosed realism. It is true that Silvio Berlusconi has no doubts about the Northern League’s desire for an early election. PDL strategists reckon that “knowing the Northern League would rake in the votes, Bossi is pushing for a vote harder than the PDL”. It is also true, as Giulio Tremonti pointed out at the meeting, that Italy could withstand a political crisis because economic recovery is tangible, although “obviously in a situation like that, a smoothly functioning government” would be the best motor for the economy. Nonetheless, the numbers that are likely to emerge from the polls would leave the PDL-Northern League secure in the Chamber of Deputies but, with three alliances taking the field, could leave Italy with an ungovernable Senate. Silvio Berlusconi’s fear is that in such a scenario, he might not be an automatic choice as premier and the Northern League could switch to someone else.

But whatever happens, loins must be girt for an election, and the PDL is duly girding them. The manifesto has virtually written itself in the programme that Silvio Berlusconi will take to parliament but the party needs to be reorganised into a disciplined war machine, active at grass roots level in every constituency (yesterday, there was a hurriedly organised meeting with Brambilla, Valducci, Mantovani and Napoli). The PDL’s three coordinators will stay in place. Silvio Berlusconi’s attempt to ring the changes, prompted by the surveys that show loss of consensus over the issue, was firmly rejected by the coordinators. Now, however, they will be flanked by Angelino Alfano, Mariastella Gelmini and Giorgia Meloni, whom the premier sees as having strong appeal and who will be tasked with buffing up the party’s television image. In the meantime, all that remains is to wait and see what the future holds, for Gianfranco Fini among others. On the Montecarlo front, the premier is expecting “big things” that will pose serious problems for those like Mr Fini who “take up arms over legality”. And this goes beyond the affairs of Mr Fini’s partner who, as those present at the meeting concur, should not be dragged into the dispute because “it is he, not she, who must answer to the country and it will not be easy for him”.

Paola Di Caro

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Berlusconi’s Call to Get Ready for Elections

After abstentions on Caliendo vote, PM says: “A black page for Fini’s supporters. We go to the country at the first incident”

ROME — Calling the abstention by Gianfranco Fini’s group over the motion of no confidence in junior minister Giacomo Caliendo “a black page” was only the first blast in a prime ministerial vent-fest that took on epic proportions. Speaking to People of Freedom (PDL) deputies on Wednesday evening at dinner in Villa Miani in Rome, Silvio Berlusconi, who had earlier met the British premier David Cameron, made it obvious that he was unimpressed by the vote of the 33 Future and Freedom (FL) parliamentarians. He said abstaining was “unacceptable” (“you can abstain from voting a measure but not over principles and values”) before again raising the spectre of an early election. “Let’s take a break this summer, recharge our batteries and get ready for an election. It could be in three years, or it could be much sooner”, he said.

CLOSING RANKS — Mr Berlusconi made no attempt to hide his disappointment at how things had gone with the PDL co-founder, or at the repercussions of Mr Fini’s moves. “We had a fantastic majority, a cohesive government and a team of young ministers motivated by outstanding idealism, an executive that responded to emergencies with remarkable efficiency”, said the prime minister, bewailing the state of uncertainty that has followed his break-up with the leader of the Chamber of Deputies. “There was no possible way that such an electorally broad-based mandate could have been challenged. But what happened happened and we’ll be reading in the international press about how unreliable Italy is again”, said the premier. Mr Berlusconi may still nurture the “hope that the majority will close ranks” but he also sent out a warning signal to the parliamentarians forgathered at Villa Miani. If ranks are not closed, “we will have to ask Italians to go to the polls again at the first serious incident”. If there is an election, Mr Berlusconi pledges, he will include on the lists those who have done well in the past two years.

FINI’S PERSONAL MOTIVES — On the subject of the 33 deputies (now 34 with Chiara Moroni) who have opted to form an independent group, Mr Berlusconi said that “some people got themselves thrown out”. “We did not ask any member of the People of Freedom to leave but we did demand that the leading boat-rockers should explain themselves before the disciplinary committee”. The premier was less than well-disposed towards the Fini-Casini-Rutelli threesome: “They are the new ones? Gianfranco is an old hand and in any case, where do they think they’re going?” Mr Berlusconi explained the split with Mr Fini to PDL deputies in these terms: “None of us thought it would go this far. The motives are purely personal”. Without naming names, he then made a reference to the National Alliance (AN) party’s house in Montecarlo. “Some people rest their hopes in a leader who is at the centre of shady news stories that he ought to explain”.

ATTACK ON PRESS — Mr Berlusconi has no intention of allowing himself to be ground down any further, as he explained to deputies after the vote. He is utterly convinced that he has done his duty. “If anyone thinks differently”, he promised his audience, “we will all react by turning ourselves into mouthpieces to explain to people what the government has done, and our principles. Finally, the PM attacked the press and mentioned possible changes to the “par condicio” law on equal media access (according to sources present at the Villa Miani dinner). “The behaviour of the leading papers, which have shown they are against us, is a scandal within the scandal”.

English translation by Giles Watson

05 agosto 2010

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

France / Romania: Roms in the Firing Line

In the wake of a spate of violent incidents, the French president has announced his intention to attack “the problem of the behaviour of certain elements in the Rom and itinerant community,” recommending that foreign troublemakers be deported to their country of origin — a controversial policy in both France and Romania, which highlights the European dimension of this issue.

François Ernenwein

It is always a tricky thing to build sustainable policy in the heat of the moment after dramatic incidents. In the wake of the violence in Saint-Aignan [prompted by the death of a young gypsy who was shot by police on the night of 16-17 July when the car in which he was a passenger forced its way through a checkpoint], is it appropriate to convene a meeting at the Elysée to discuss “itinerant groups and Roms” and “the problem posed by the behaviour of some elements” in those communities?

Some pause for thought?

There has been no shortage of criticism of Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision, but how would we have responded if the trouble in Saint-Aignan had simply been ignored by the head of state and his government? Now that a meeting has been scheduled, the only important issue is the impact it will have on future policy. And to form an opinion on that question we will have to wait for the conclusions of today’s debate.

Would some pause for thought between an announcement made in the heat of the moment and the taking of long-term decisions have served to clarify the agenda for this meeting? Would it have helped distinguish between facts and prejudices about the Rom community? In the interest of accuracy, should more efforts have been made to define what is at issue and who will be concerned by today’s decisions? The Travellers, an administrative category that is preferred to the ethnic label of Roms of French origin, or the Roms who for the most part have recently arrived in France from Eastern Europe?

A policy of dialogue

The questions posed by these two communities which are characterised by different aspirations are not the same. And a blanket response will almost certainly prove to be inadequate. Policies that force non-French Roms, who were sedentary in their countries’ of origin, to move from one shanty town to the next, and which impose increasingly strict urban regulations that prevent French Roms from travelling in search of seasonal employment, are unlikely to yield positive results.

The long history of anti-Rom stigmatisation and discrimination in Europe can only be addressed by a policy of dialogue. And this policy should be established with preconditions on both sides: the Rom community must respect the law, and the state must ensure that the law — and in particular the Besson law on halting sites — is correctly applied. In such a context, we may be finally establish satisfactory answers to a question which has been a divisive issue in Europe for more than eight centuries. After 800 years of wandering policy, which has often resulted in tragedy, we should seize this opportunity to make definite progress.

From Bucharest

Romania will also have to make an effort

On 27 July, France officially requested a European initiative to address the problem of the Rom community, which it insisted may present an obstacle to Romania’s inclusion in the Schengen Zone, scheduled for 2011. “Could we stand to benefit from the exasperation in Paris?” wonders România Libera. The daily notes that in its bid to call Romania to order, France, unlike Italy, “plans to deploy a powerful European instrument in the shape of a possible veto of Bucharest’s application to join Schengen.”

In this regard, “Romania must accept the burden of blame for the current situation and its consequences.” Instead of resolving the problem “in its own backyard,” over the last 20 years, it has consistently opted for “the simplest and most cynical of solution all, which is to export it.” The Bucharest daily reminds its readers that NGOs have not respected their pledge to provide support for the emergence of a Rom intellectual elite, and that the Romanian National Agency for the Roma has offered little more than a “parade ground” for different political interests, that the leaders of mafia networks operating in Western Europe “are beyond the reach of the law in Romania, where they benefit from millions of euros generated by criminal activity in France, the UK, Spain and Italy.”

On this basis, the newspaper argues that “the wake-up call from Paris could do us some good.” However, if this does not happen “and the French threat become a reality, we will have successive governments in Bucharest to thank for the ultimate isolation of Romania!”

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

Italy: Egyptian Billionaire ‘Interested in Buying as Roma’

Rome, 6 Aug. (AKI) — Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris is interested in acquiring AS Roma, the Rome football club owned by Italy’s largest bank, UniCredit, according to a banking source who declined to be named.

The telecommunications tycoon -worth 2.5 billion dollars according to Forbes Magazine — is eyeing the team that has been put on the block after UniCredit last month took it off the hands of the Sensi family to settle a debt, the source told Adnkronos.

Sawiris’ Italian telephone company Wind is a Roma sponsor with the company’s logo appearing on the teams jersey.

A new company, Newco Roma, was been formed by Sensi family investment vehicle Italpetroli and UniCredit to oversee the sale of the club, to which Rothschild will be an advisor.

According to a Friday report by Italian financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore, Sawiris is willing to pay 130 million euros for AS Rome. The same article said Rothschild was contacted by China’s Embassy in Rome on behalf of a Chinese billionaire interested in buying the club.

Last season, Roma came in second in Italy’s top Serie A league.

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

Italy: Disgraced Parmalat Founder Stripped of Title

Parma, 5 Aug. (AKI) — Calisto Tanzi, the founder of Parmalat who cooked the books of the dairy company causing it to collapse in 2003 in Italy’s largest bankruptcy, was stripped of the highest title bestowed on Italian citizens when the country’s president revoked the honour.

Tanzi is no longer a Knight of the Order of Labour Merit of the Italian Republic after Italian president Giorgio Napolitano revoked the title given to the founder of the Parma, Italy-based company in 2000.

News of the 18 June revocation emerged on Wednesday when a Parma daily reported that the move done through presidential decree which was included last week in an official publication listing all new government laws and decrees.

Tanzi was convicted of market manipulation in connection with the company’s bankruptcy that saddled the dairy company with 14 billion euros in debt, some eight times the amount reported on Parmalat’s public books.

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

Lord Kinnock’s Son Embroiled in Tax Row That Might Cost His Wife the Danish Prime Minister’s Job

An investigation into a tax scandal involving Neil Kinnock’s son Stephen threatens to destroy his glamorous wife’s hopes of becoming Prime Minister of Denmark.

The curse of the Kinnocks has struck again after it emerged that Mr Kinnock junior pays taxes in Switzerland — which has the lowest taxes in Europe — and not in Denmark, where his family home is situated but which has the highest tax rates in the world.

It has saved Mr Kinnock and his wife Helle Thorning-Schmidt, leader of Denmark’s Social Democrats, an estimated £40,000 a year.

But it has caused uproar in Denmark, not least because Mr Kinnock’s wife’s party has called for Denmark’s tax rates to be raised higher to cope with the recession.

The affair comes 18 years after Lord Kinnock’s dream of winning the 1992 Election was dashed at the last minute when he made a series of gaffes.

He went on to make a fortune as a European Commissioner while his wife Glenys became a Euro MP. They have been criticised for their combined £150,000-a-year Euro pension.

Lord Kinnock’s son and daughter-in-law deny any wrongdoing. But Ms Thorning-Schmidt, 43, admits she made a ‘big and sloppy error’ by giving incorrect information to the Danish authorities about how much time her husband spent in Denmark.

‘We have had no benefits from the arrangement and from the error — if I really wanted to fiddle I would have done it much more elegantly,’ she added.

Stephen Kinnock, 40, earns £110,000 a year as a World Economic Forum executive in Geneva, where he spends Monday to Friday, returning to the Copenhagen home he shares with his wife and their two daughters at weekends.

With a tax rate of just 15 per cent, Mr Kinnock pays an estimated £12,000 a year in taxes to the Swiss authorities.

If he paid taxes in Denmark, where everyone earning more than £45,000 pays 63 per cent, his tax bill would be in the region of £50,000, nearly £40,000 more.

Until the scandal, Ms Thorning-Schmidt was ahead in the polls and on course to win Denmark’s forthcoming general election.

Now she is fighting to save her political career as Right-wing enemies claim she is unfit to run the country.

She was forced to cut short the family’s summer holiday to respond to claims that she misled the Danish authorities by providing two different versions of her husband’s living arrangements.

She told the Justice Ministry her husband spent every weekend in Denmark, allowing him to be listed as a co-owner of their £400,000 home in the Danish capital.

But she told tax officials that Mr Kinnock did not spend more than 33 weekends in Denmark, thereby allowing him to avoid the country’s tax rates.

Ms Thorning-Schmidt agreed to have the family finances scrutinised by Denmark’s tax inspectors in an attempt to clear their name.

Police ordered an inquiry after claims that she and her husband were guilty of a criminal offence.

Mr Kinnock has agreed to pay taxes in Denmark for last year — even though he is not obliged to do so — in an attempt to kill off the row.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: VVD Chairman to Take Over Cabinet Talks, Immigration High on Agenda

VVD chairman and former Rotterdam mayor Ivo Opstelten has been recommended as the man to lead the next stage of the coalition talks — the formation of a minority CDA VVD government which will have PVV support in parliament.

Current negotiator Ruud Lubbers made the recommendation to queen Beatrix while briefing her on the latest developments on Tuesday afternoon.

Opstelten will be charged with helping the three parties identify spending cuts totalling €18bn to bring the budget deficit back under control.

If and how

He must also find out ‘if and how’ agreement can be reached on guaranteeing parliamentary support from the anti-Islam PVV. This will require deals on immigration, integration, asylum seekers, public safety and care of the elderly, Lubbers said in his report to the queen.

PVV leader Geert Wilders has said agreement must be reached on these subjects in return for his party’s support in parliament for spending cuts.

In his report, Lubbers made a number of recommendations of where support from the PVV can be won. These include new rules governing family reunification and compulsory languge tests, tighter eligibility criteria for social security benefits, fast-track court procedures and more efforts to tackle the problem of under-12s who cause a public nuisance.

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

Netherlands: A Right-Wing Government is the Only Option, Says VVD Leader Rutte

Liberal VVD leader Mark Rutte is only willing to enter talks on forming a right-wing government with the CDA, he said in an interview with the Telegraaf on Monday.

‘I am no longer available for any other variants,’ Rutte said, effectively slamming the door on anything but a minority VVD CDA government with PVV support in parliament.

Rutte said it is incomprehensible that Labour leader Job Cohen is now crying ‘crocodile tears’ about the decision to hold formal talks on a right-wing government. ‘He blocked the idea of a Labour, Liberal CDA cabinet and did not want the purple plus variant either,’ Rutte was quoted as saying.


Left-wing parties have demanded parliament be recalled from its summer break to debate the decision to look at a minority cabinet with the queen’s negotiator Ruud Lubbers. That debate will take place this week.

They want Lubbers to come parliament and explain why he deviated from his commission and sanctioned talks on forming a minority government.

Lubbers was charged by queen Beatrix with investigating ‘realistic options’ for forming a majority cabinet but has now cleared the way for a minority cabinet made up of the CDA and VVD with PVV support.


Meanwhile there is growing unrest among senior CDA politicians about being involved in a cabinet supported by Geert Wilders.

Wilders is ‘far too slippery’ to support a minority cabinet made up of the CDA and VVD, Arie Oostlander, head of the CDA’s academic institute, said in the Financieele Dagblad.

‘The PVV is party which aims to hike up opposition rather than bridge tensions,’ said former social affairs minister Bert de Vries in the Volkskrant. ‘My party is the last one that should want to join in with that.’

In Saturday’s NRC, a number of leading academics said Wilders’ influence on a minority cabinet will be too great.

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

Netherlands: Mayor Wants Gay Education at Amsterdam Primary Schools

AMSTERDAM, 06/08/10 — Mayor Eberhard van der Laan of Amsterdam is urging education about homosexuality at primary schools. He thinks this will enable the decline in toleration of gays to be reversed.

“You must teach children: It is normal in the Netherlands for two men to walk arm-in-arm on the street. I want to involve education in this, and I am actually fanatic about this,” said the Labour (PvdA) mayor yesterday in Spits newspaper.

“Sexual information is currently just something for the secondary school, the time when youngsters are discovering their sexuality,” said Van der Laan. “Why do we not also do it in primary education? Then children are at the ideal age to imbue with certain standards and values.”

In the interview, Van der Laan says he is concerned that violence against gays regularly occurs in Amsterdam. “I am 55, and come from the period when homo-emancipation grew from something new to something uncontested. It appeared to be progress that could not be reversed, but in the past five, 10 years you see that it may after all be a matter of a drawer that can close again. This must never happen.”

The mayor also urges tough tackling of perpetrators of violence. He sees no benefit in mediation between perpetrators and victims, as a police officer recently proposed. “That makes me angry. I am very much in favour of mediation, but not in a victim-perpetrator relationship.”

The mayor acknowledges that Moroccan-Dutch boys are often the perpetrators. According to Van der Laan, this is because of their inadequate participation in society. “Children of four of parents that speak no Dutch enter primary school two years behind. This is the real problem. As a result, they play truant, hang around and run a big risk of coming up against the law. Boys with these frustrations cause a substantial portion of the problems.

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

Romania: Rich as a Rom

According to Adevarul, begging is big business: the daily devotes its front page to “the Begging Academy of Tandarei,” a town in south-eastern Romania where large numbers of luxurious villas worth several million euros sprang up in the Romani quarter between 2006 and 2009. “The owners, who are all members of three Rom clans, have now been arrested,” reports the newspaper: a total of “17 are charged with coordinating begging networks in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Belgium,” with assistance from Romanian police, who provided them with the necessary papers to leave the country.

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

Scotland: Cardinal Attacks US Over Lockerbie Bomber Reaction

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland has attacked the US over the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien said the Scottish government was right to free Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi last year on compassionate grounds.

US lawmakers want Scots politicians to explain their decision to a committee, but the cardinal said ministers should not go “crawling like lapdogs”.

He said Scotland had a culture of care, while the US was fixed on vengeance.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill released Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, after being told that three months was a “reasonable estimate” of his life expectancy.

‘Invidious company’

However, he is still alive after almost a year and the decision continues to provoke anger in the United States, which was home to 189 of the 270 people killed on board Pan Am flight 103 in 1988.

In an interview with BBC Scotland, Cardinal O’Brien said Americans were too focused on retribution.

“In many states — more than half — they kill the perpetrators of horrible crimes, by lethal injection or even firing squad — I say that is a culture of vengeance,” he said.

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth — that is not our culture in Scotland and I would like to think that the US government, and these states that do still have capital punishment, would learn something from us.”

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was released last August The cardinal said Americans should “direct their gaze inwards” rather than scrutinise how the Scottish justice system worked.

He said the use of the death penalty meant the US kept “invidious company” with countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“In some states it’s month by month now that they are killing people who have a right to live, whatever they’ve done wrong,” he said.

He also backed the Scottish government’s decision not to give evidence to American senators investigating Megrahi’s release.

“The Scottish government has made the decision and the Scottish government is answerable to the Scottish people — not the US government or US citizens.

“Everyone acted according to Scots law in releasing Megrahi on compassionate grounds, having taken medical advice.

“I still think they did the right thing, although the man is still alive.

“We shouldn’t be crawling out to America, or having them come here and questioning us on our own territory.”

Reacting to the cardinal’s comments, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC that the Scottish government’s position remained that it had nothing to hide.

She said: “Al-Megrahi’s release was a release on compassionate grounds, Kenny MacAskill has already made that clear and we’ve made that clear to the United States Senate.”

           — Hat tip: 4symbols[Return to headlines]

Spain: Melilla, North Africa’s European Dream

Rabat sees the Spanish enclave of Melilla as an occupied territory. But the Moroccans who live and work there have become attached to its unique character and don’t want it to change.

Greta Riemersma

A marriage is in full swing at the Café Del Real. Three of the guests, Mina, Aziza and Karim, have spent anywhere from half to their entire lives in Melilla. They are of Moroccan origin, but their attitude is clearly Spanish. “If Morocco takes over here, then I will jump across to the other side”, remarks Karim, alluding to continental Spain. But on one point, they are clearly Moroccan: they do not want their family names published. Their feelings about Melilla do not follow the Moroccan party line, and they wish to avoid problems for family members who remain in Morocco.

The issue of Melilla, a 12 square kilometre parcel of land surrounded by barbed wire with a population of 80,000, is a very sensitive one for Morocco. For Rabat, it is an occupied territory, a viewpoint recently seconded by Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi during a telephone conference with the Spanish government on “the occupation” of Melilla and Ceuta, the other Spanish enclave in northern Morocco. Spain maintains that there is no question as to the “sovereignty and Spanish character” of Ceuta and Melilla.

For Morocco, Melilla is a last vestige of colonialism

Mina, Aziza and Karim enjoy quality education, affordable health care and other benefits of Spanish-style democracy here. Salaries are also higher than on the other side of the barbed wire. “Many products are more expensive in Morocco. A litre of milk that costs half a euro in Melilla costs 80 cents in Morocco”, explains Aziza. There is no compelling argument for Moroccan residents of Melilla to put an end to this beautiful existence.

The wedding party at the Café Del Real is mixed: Rabiaa, the bride, is Moroccan, and her husband Juan Miguel is Spanish. According to Antonio Portillo Gómez, a cafe habitué, “the entire population of Melilla is multicultural”. “Numerous civilisations have existed here, and Melilla has a history that goes back long before the Moroccans came to power. So why does Morocco consider Ceuta and Melilla to be Moroccan territory?” In 1497 Melilla was already Spanish, and Ceuta eventually followed suit in 1578. Over the last century, the influence of the Spanish realm was felt throughout northern Morocco, but when the country won its independence in 1956, Spain gave up this territory, with the exception of Ceuta, Melilla and three minuscule islands off the Moroccan coast that have existed for centuries as Spanish possessions.

From the Spanish point of view, the current situation is fair, given its long history. But Morocco definitely sees things differently. When Spanish king Juan Carlos visited Ceuta and Melilla for the first time in November, 2007, he provoked a diplomatic crisis. Morocco recalled its ambassador to Spain, and Prime Minister El Fassi declared that the age of colonialism had “irrevocably” passed.

Morocco sees this as a last vestige of the colonial era, and this is why they are so adamant about taking over these two enclaves. The port of Tanger Med was constructed just next to Ceuta, and a similar port complex is being built next to Melilla. The underlying idea is to contain the economic activity of the enclaves in order to eventually make them too expensive for Spain to maintain.

Every day 12,000 Moroccans come into Melilla

In any case, these two small territories are already quite costly for Spain, as the government foots the bill to lure mainland citizens there with tax breaks and elevated salaries for civil servants willing to migrate. For the time being, the financial situation of the enclaves remains positive, thanks largely to the Moroccans. Those who live near the enclaves can enter without a visa, and about 12,000 visitors a day come to Melilla, where they buy inexpensive products like milk, shampoo and blankets to sell at a small profit back on the Moroccan side. In April, French television station M6 broadcast a documentary on the “women-mules” who transport 60 to 80 kilos of merchandise on their backs, even if they are very old or pregnant. At times, these women are even herded like cattle by billy-club toting police near the border. The Moroccan paper Akhbar Alyoum called the film “shocking”.

Do the Spanish residents of Melilla discriminate against the Moroccans there? “No, not at all”, Karim replies. This is what the inhabitants like to believe: that Melilla is a model multicultural state. But they are also aware that the Spanish of the Iberian Peninsula look down on them because they live in Africa, while residents tout the benefits of their multi-ethnic orientation. And enclave inhabitants like to cultivate the image of living in a cultural oasis in the midst of a barbarous desert: “In Morocco, women don’t have the right to speak, but that’s not the case here”, brags a Spanish woman from Melilla.

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

Wave of New Anti-Semitism in France Hits Ww II Memorial

A new wave of anti-Semitism in France spread to the city of Marmande, where vandals desecrated a memorial to Jews deported by Nazis. The attack follows two recent attacks on attacks on kosher stores and Jewish graves.

As the rampage continues, French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux expressed “horror and sadness” after the latest desecration. The mayor of Marmande pointed the finger at Holocaust deniers who smeared the words “lies,” “Zionism”, “interests” and the dollar sign “$” in red paint on the monument that bears the names of Nazi concentration camps.

Hortefeux said that the anti-Semites “clearly targeted the memory of the deportees and the Jewish community of France. I am more than ever determined to fight against all racism and all forms [of] extremism.”…

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]


Kosovo: Serb Monasteries ‘At Risk’ As NATO Exits

Belgrade, 6 Aug. (AKI) — Serbian government and police officials on Friday voiced concern over Kosovo police taking over the protection of medieval monasteries from NATO soldiers in Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia two years ago.

Serbian monasteries in Kosovo, some of which are listed by UNESCO as world cultural heritage, have been under the protection NATO contingent (KFOR) since 2004, when many were burned or damaged by ethnic Albanian demonstrators.

As NATO has been cutting its 10,000-strong presence in Kosovo, it started turning over the protection of monasteries to Kosovo police (KPS) on Thursday. Serbian minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, said the decision would not help the security situation in the area.

“It will breed more uncertainty and mistrust among Kosovo Serbs,” Bogdanovic was quoted as saying by Belgrade media. The move will only encourage Pristina “to keep making unilateral moves” in an attempt to present the situation in Kosovo in a better light before the world, he added.

About 100,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo, among some 1.7 million ethnic Albanians. More than 200,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo after NATO bombing pushed Serbian forces out of the province, which was put under United Nations control in 1999.

Belgrade and Kosovo Serbs oppose independence and Serbia is fighting a diplomatic battle to keep the region under its control.

Serbian Orthodox Church Kosovo bishop Teodosije told media the removal of KFOR soldiers from monasteries “will put in danger both the holy sites and the clergy”. He regretted that the decision was made without the consent of the Church.

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

North Africa

Algeria: Meat From India is ‘Pagan’

Algiers, 5 Aug. (AKI) — A controversial Algerian sheik has published a religious prohibition of the consumption of meat imported from India on the grounds that the animal was slaughtered by pagans, rather than by methods prescribed by Islam.

In Shamseddin Bouroubi’s fatwa announced on Wednesday warning Algerians that eating Indian meat is strictly forbidden since the animals were most likely not slaughtered using Islamic ritual slaughter known as halal, Arab-language news channel Al-Arabiya reported on its site on Thursday.

“The consumption of meat whose method of slaughter is not known is prohibited,” the fatwa said.

Eating Indian meat would be prohibited even if halal is respected because it was probably carried out by non-Muslims, Bouroubi said in his fatwa published by newspaper al-Fadjr.

“The meat comes from pagan people who worship things other than God like cows or birds or rats,” Bouroubi wrote in his fatwa. “They are not monotheists or people of the book. That is why their meet is prohibited even if slaughtered according to the Islamic way.”

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

Middle East

Iranian President Ahmadinejad Doesn’t Believe 3,000 People Died in 9/11 Attacks, Wants U.S. Proof

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took another swipe at America on Saturday, claiming the U.S. greatly exaggerated the death toll in the September 11th attacks.

“They announced that 3,000 people were killed in this incident, but there were no reports that reveal their names,” Ahmadinejad told Iranian reporters at a conference in Tehran. “Maybe you saw that, but I did not.”

2,995 people were killed in the 2001 attacks according to official U.S. records, Reuters reports. Those numbers include victims at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, passengers and crew on four commandeered airplanes, and the 19 hijackers.

Every year, the names of the victims are read aloud on the anniversary of 9/11. The official list will also be inscribed in a memorial at Ground Zero.

On Saturday, Ahmadinejad accused the U.S. government of inflating the casualty numbers as an excuse to wage war in the Middle East.

“What was the story of September 11? During five to six days, and with the aid of the media, they created and prepared public opinion so that everyone considered an attack on Afghanistan and Iraq as (their) right,” he said.

The Iranian president also believes that “Zionists” escaped the attacks because they were warned in advance, and said, “One day earlier they were told not go to their workplace.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Iraq: Aziz Urges Obama to Not ‘Leave the Country to Wolves’

Baghdad, 6 Aug. (AKI) — Tariq Aziz urged the United States to not withdraw its troops from Iraq because doing so would signify “leaving Iraq to the wolves.”

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper from his prison cell, Saddam Hussein’s former loyal deputy expressed his disappointment with American president.

“I thought he was going to correct some of the mistakes of Bush,” the paper quoted Aziz as saying from his jail cell in north Baghdad. “But Obama is a hypocrite. He is leaving Iraq to the wolves.”

“We are all victims of America and Britain,” Aziz told the British daily, in his first interview since being captured following the fall of Baghdad around seven years ago. “They killed our country in many ways. When you make a mistake you need to correct a mistake, not leave Iraq to its death.”

Aziz said he kept the world guessing about the possible existence of an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction more to appear strong to Iraq’s regional rival Iran than to taunt the US and Britain.

“Partially it was about Iran,” Aziz was quoted as saying. “They had waged war on us for eight years, so we Iraqis had a right to deter them. Saddam was a proud man. He had to defend the dignity of Iraq. He had to show that he was neither wrong nor weak.

“Now Iran is building a weapons program. Everybody knows it and nobody is doing anything. Why?”

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

Saudi Columnist: ‘There is No Islam Without Jihad’

Anas Zahed, a columnist for the Saudi government daily Al-Madina, criticized Arab and Muslim intellectuals who limit the term jihad to a personal, spiritual struggle and reject its interpretation as waging war against occupation, which he said is its principle meaning.

Following are excerpts:

“Islam without jihad is the product of colonialism and is in no way connected to the Islam of Muhammad. Without question, the greatest jihad is personal jihad, and therein lies the proof that the term jihad in Islam is not limited [solely] to waging war… [But] this does not mean that the term jihad does not include many other aspects, among them those which relate to the individual’s responsibilities to society, and the relations of the [Muslim] society and ummah with societies and countries that declare war on a Muslim state.

“[However,] ever since the American [declaration of] war against what is called terrorism, there has emerged a group of Arab and Muslim authors and academics who try to limit jihad to one dimension, namely to personal jihad. This is exactly what happened in India during the period of British colonialism, when the Qadian sect, also known as Ahmadiyya, emerged and rejected the principle of fighting the colonialists. [They] abolished the duty of jihad in the sense of waging war, and were content with preaching merely personal jihad.

“What is striking is that these preachings, which were intended to rescind the duty of jihad from Islam, existed then, and still exist now, alongside the most brutal type of imperialism and occupation ever known to the Islamic world, and specifically to the Arab world. This fact sheds doubt on the intent of the philosophers, authors, and members of the media who took it upon themselves to disseminate a ‘friendly’ Islam that obligates its followers to live with occupation, [population] transfer, the resettlement of land, and the expulsion of its inhabitants by force of arms…

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

The False Issue of “Race” In the Arab-Israeli Conflict

by Barry Rubin

As the waitress whose family had come from Ethiopia put the pizza on the table at the Tel Aviv restaurant, I contemplated the ridiculous misuse of “race” as a factor in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Regardless of skin color, we belong not only to the same country by way of citizenship but also to the same nation and people in a very profound way that isn’t true for countries that are merely geographical entities.

Among the scores of ridiculous things said, thought, and written about the Arab-Israeli conflict, the pretense that it has something to do with “race” ranks high among them. This has been interjected for two reasons. First, this is a blatant attempt to demonize and delegitimize Israel.

Second, as part of that point but also due to trends in Western intellectual discussions, there is a conflation of nationality and race. Often, there is an attempt nowadays to portray any form of nationalism in the West as racist, though this is never applied to Third World nationalists situations. Neither the internal conflicts in Iraq (among Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds) nor in Lebanon (among numerous groups) are about race but rather arise from national, ethnic, and religious (sometimes all rolled up into one) conflicts.

One of the most basic lessons in looking at foreign or international affairs is to understand that countries just don’t think alike about issues. America, and in a different way Europe, has been obsessed with race. That doesn’t mean everyone else is racially oriented. Israelis don’t think about skin color as such and are well aware that Jews, while having a common ancestry, have been affected by many cultures and societies.

With intermarriage rates between Jews whose ancestors came from Europe and those who came from the Middle East approaching half in Israel today, there is no way to classify people. In fact, Israelis are far less interested than other countries about people’s ancestral travels.

Moreover, what does one say about such “darker-skinned” Israelis as my Hungarian-Yemenite colleague or my Syrian-origin pianist neighbor (whose wife is from Poland by way of Argentina? There is absolutely no issue involved here. And many Israelis of European origin are not exactly “white” in their appearance.

Indeed, Israel has more “blacks” among its Jews (from Ethiopia) than do the Palestinians by far…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Turkey: The Plight of Iranian Women and the AKP

Daily Hürriyet has recently been running a series on lifestyles in Iran, with the female dimension of the series catching the attention of two columnists: Tufan Türenç from the same paper, and Türker Alkan from daily Radikal. Both talk about the resistance women show to the rigid Islamic regime in Iran.

In a way, it is no surprise the strongest resistance comes from women, since physically they suffer the most from the regime’s interpretation of Islam. “It is mandatory for women to cover themselves in Iran. But if you look at the way they cover themselves, you see they are more comfortable and freer than Turkish women who are ordered to cover by the religious sects in the country,” wrote Türenç. “Iranian women wear their headscarves leaving almost half their forehead showing. Parts of their hair are not covered. They also wear make up,” he wrote. Emphasizing the contradiction in comparing the women of the two countries, he added: “While headscarves spread in Turkey, Iranian women are putting up a serious fight against the mandatory headscarf. What a contradiction.”

Alkan approached the issue from another perspective. Basing his comments on the series published in the daily, Alkan wrote: “Mullahs have taken control of everything in society, except women. Women are resisting.”

“Wearing makeup is banned. But Iran ranks among countries spending the most amount of money on cosmetics. Spending, $2.1 billion, Iran ranks 7th in the world,” Türker quotes the series in his article. Talking about the importance of human rights as a measure of civilization, Alkan said women’s rights are important not only from the perspective of democracy but of civilization as well.

That Iranian women’s resistance to the Iranian regime’s false conviction that you become better Muslims by covering up, avoiding makeup and listening to music can, from my and from many other people’s perspectives, be applauded.

But at the end of the day, the Iranian state’s interpretation of Islam remains an internal matter and not much can be done about it from outside, especially as far as bilateral relations are concerned. Not only the ruling Justice and Development Party, which probably harbors some sympathizers of the Iranian regime, but previous governments which were more sensitive to secular values, could not do anything about the consequences of the Islamic nature of the regime in the daily lives of Iranians.

Yet the government can and should do something on the plight of Sakine Muhammmed Ashtiani, who was sentenced to death by stoning following a conviction on the charge of adultery. Ashtiani’s case prompted international outrage when she was initially sentenced to death by stoning. Although that threat was apparently lifted last month, she may still face execution by hanging.

Unfortunately Turkey’s initial reaction has been quiet weak. Stoning is a “medieval punishment which has no role in the modern world,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, standing next to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, when he was asked about the case of Ashtiani at a press conference held after the two held talks in London recently.

One would have hoped to hear the same message from a minister who is known to be a pious Muslim. That would have limited the already terrible damage inflicted on the idea of Islam by Iran’s regime.

As Davutoglu is known worldwide as an academic with ample knowledge of Islam and Islamic thinking, his words would carry a greater weight and thus be more credible and convincing.

But Davutoglu missed the opportunity to show to the world that Islam is not an uncivilized, violent religion that some believe it to be. He simply restricted himself to saying that Turkey would raise the issue with Iran. He might have spent every effort behind the scenes to save her and limited himself to vague statements in order not to hamper his influence over Iranians, however, one would trust his ability to be critical of stoning and the death penalty (by at least saying that Turkey does not approve of it and has banned the death penalty) while at the same time, with utmost care, to avoid offending Iran directly.

Now Turkey is facing a new challenge. Ashtiani’s lawyer has applied for refugee status in Turkey. Known for leading an international campaign against the death penalty for minors, Muhammed Mustafa has claimed his office and house were raided and his wife and siblings were taken into custody. The government should approve his application as soon as possible.

Maybe this is to expect too much from a government that tried to penalize adultery at one stage and is headed by a prime minister who has an advisor that has three wives.

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

Turkey: Four Women, One Prime Minister’s Adviser

Türker Alkan

Let’s say you are a prime minister and will appoint an adviser. Do you prefer one with a different worldview? Does a communist appoint a capitalist, a religious man a laic or an atheist a pious one? No, he does not!

Then how should we read the appointment of Ali Yüksel as an adviser by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan?

Yüksel is the chairman of the European National View Organization and a “sheikh al-Islam.”

You may say, “So, what’s wrong with that? Did Erdogan enter politics as pro-’National View’?” But did Erdogan, together with President Abdullah Gül, say, “We don’t take the Quran as a reference” when they formed the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP?

I don’t know how a man can be a sheikh al-Islam, but I honestly find very odd the appointment of a person who claims to be one as the Prime Ministry adviser.

That’s not all. It seems the newly appointed adviser has three wives. Determined to use all his rights under Islam, Mr. Yüksel says he will have a fourth. And in order to show how he is right, the new adviser says, “I am trying to treat them equally,” as his wives confirm.

“Did you have permission from your wife to get married with another one?”

“No,” he says. “They would not let me. And I don’t have to ask their permission.”

Apparently, the only thing needed to legitimize having more than one wife is to treat them “equally.”

Since I don’t want to be involved in anyone’s private life, I will not talk further about this particular subject.

But I should touch upon a few things I’m curious about. The first is: what will Mr. Prime Minister consult with Yüksel about? Second, is there a possibility Erdogan might also tend to support polygamy since he is being advised by a man with three wives?

Third, polygamy is a crime according to Turkish law. Is it right for Erdogan to appoint a man who is already committing a crime?

Fourth, what if Mr. Yüksel believes he really is a sheikh al-Islam?

Fifth, where will we find so many women to marry?

And last, does Erdogan still side with the “National View”?

I mean, what if he is just pulling our legs?

* Türker Alkan is a columnist for daily Radikal, in which this piece appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

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

Turkey: Govt’s Mavi Marmara Frustration Deepens

Prime Minister Erdogan’s government finds itself in an increasingly frustrating position vis-à-vis the Mavi Marmara incident, for which it is demanding an apology and compensation from Israel for killing eight Turkish and one Turkish — American pro-Palestinian activist.

Israel announced earlier this week that it would be cooperating with a panel established by the United Nations Secretary General, to be headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, which will investigate the whole incident and prepare a report on it.

This came a week after the Israeli government said it would not cooperate with an investigation commission established by the U.N. Human Rights Council, and was therefore termed by the Turkish media “a major victory for Turkey.”

The Turkish foreign ministry for its part expressed pleasure over the establishment of the panel, terming it “a step in the right direction.” Embedded in the ministry’s statement, however, were remarks that explained what Turkey understood the job of this panel to be.

“We hope that the results of the inquiry will contribute significantly not only to the much needed peace and tranquility in the region, but also help entrench the culture of respect for international law and prevent the recurrence of similar violations,” the ministry’s statement said.

Ankara has been insisting from the start that the commando raid by Israel against the Mavi Marmara took place in international waters, and was therefore a violation of the “Mare Liberum” principle of international law. It was clear from the wording of the ministry’s statement that Ankara wants the panel to establish this violation. No doubt it also desires this decision to form the basis of any punitive decision against Israel.

Washington however was prompt to jump in, after the foreign ministry statement, to establish what it considered the panel’s function to be, and it was clear from what was said that this did not tally with the Turkish interpretation. Welcoming the establishment of the panel like Turkey, the United States’ Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice nevertheless went on to say that it was “not a substitute” for the investigations under way by Israel and Turkey.

“The Panel, which has the support of both Israel and Turkey, will receive and review the reports of each government’s national investigation into the incident and make recommendations as to how to avoid such incidents in the future,” Rice said in a written statement.

This statement angered the government in Ankara so much that the U.S. deputy chief of mission was immediately called in to be reprimanded. “The United States is viewing the commission from a narrow perspective. [Rice’s] statement was one that seemed to give the impression the U.S. was determining the commission’s work,” a Turkish diplomat was quoted by AFP as saying in remarks clarifying Ankara’s annoyance.

The Turkish government was also annoyed over words in Rice’s remarks that suggested the panel’s main aim was to try and bring about a rapprochement between Turkey and Israel.

“The raid is an issue between the international community and Israel, and not between Turkey and Israel. There were people from 30 different countries on those ships,” the diplomat said. The diplomat added that the panel’s task “was to investigate the incident,” and “not to absolve Israel or improve Turkish-Israeli ties.”

While the government maintains the line that “people from 30 different countries were involved” in the flotilla heading for Gaza, it has been a source of deep annoyance for it that none of the countries that these citizens come from are pursuing the Mavi Marmara incident the way Turkey wants.

Put another way, Turkey has thus far failed to “internationalize” the issue with any meaningful participation from the West. Prime Minister Erdogan has even suggested — a fact that reportedly left senior American diplomats in Ankara livid with anger — that the reason why Washington was not pursuing the rights of the Turkish-American activist killed by Israel, even though he was a U.S. citizen, was because he was a Turk.

What is clear, however, and more or less corroborated by Ambassador Rice’s remarks, is that Israel would never have accepted cooperating with the panel set up by Ban ki-Moon had it not gotten some solid reassurance of support from Washington. Put another way, it was always apparent that if Israel was to accept any international probe under the mantle of the U.N. the U.S. would ensure this did not single it out for blame.

To put the matter in lay terms, the Obama administration is saying in effect that Turkey and Israel should arrive at some kind of a friendly settlement regarding this whole incident and look forward to improving their once good ties by utilizing this panel to that effect.

The pro-Islamic and visibly “Hamas-friendly” Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government in Turkey, on the other hand, is saying, “I don’t want to make up with Israel. I want it to be punished so that it will first apologize, and then pay compensation for its illegal act.”

Given this overall situation the panel set up by Ban ki-Moon could easily end up being yet another battle ground for the two countries to lash out at each other, thus contributing to a further deterioration of their ties. The problem on both sides is that the two governments’ constituents have been radicalized over this issue. Therefore neither side can afford an image of caving in to the other.

The Israeli government only accepted to cooperate with this panel because it can tell its supporters that it will not only have a degree of control over its proceedings, but that Washington will also be there to ensure things don’t go awry from Israel’s point of view.

The Turkish government, on the other hand, is faced with a highly charged political environment at home and can not afford to give any impression to the public that it accepted anything short of an international inquiry that will ultimately find Israel guilty.

Prime Minister Erdogan’s government has spoken so clearly on the issue, and feels that it is completely in the right as far as international law is concerned, that any compromise will appear as having surrendered its position.

The problem for Ankara, however, is that international law is the last thing to come into play when such highly charged and politicized international issues are at stake, and all one has to do is look at what is happening in the world today to understand this.

The Erdogan government’s added dilemma, however, is that this whole affair is eroding Turkish-American ties at a time when the two countries are facing challenges that require that they maintain a level of good relations.

It seems therefore that unless a friendly settlement is reached over this incident between Turkey and Israel, a settlement, that is, which enables both sides to save face, matters will continue to get worse, which will hardly contribute to stability in the region.

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

Turkey: ‘Mavi Marmara’ Returns Home

IHH: We will go again and again until Gaza blockade is lifted.

The Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara, seized by Israel in a raid as it carried aid to the Gaza Strip in May, returned to Turkey on Saturday. A pro-Palestinian activist said it would send more aid ships unless Israel lifts its Gaza blockade.

Turkish television showed the Mavi Marmara arriving at the Mediterranean port of Iskenderun after leaving the Israeli port of Haifa on Thursday. Two other Turkish vessels released by Israel also arrived.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Russian Christian Religious Community Struggles to Survive in Rural Azerbaijan

A Russian Christian religious community in Azerbaijan is struggling for survival as the numbers of the faithful have slowly diminished as a consequence of war and the demise of the Soviet-style collective farming system.

When Ivan Varonin passed away in late June at the age of 81, he was the oldest member of the Russian-speaking Christian community of Molokans left in the tiny Azerbaijani mountain village of Karinovka, some 125 kilometers west of Baku, reported Transitions Online, or TOL, on its website. The night before Varonin’s burial, it was unclear if there were even enough men available to dig his grave.

Molokans — known as “milk [moloko] drinkers” for their refusal to honor Russian Orthodox Church fasts — settled in Azerbaijan sometime in the mid-19th century, after being expelled from Russia for refusing to wear the cross and to practice any ritual, such as fasting or venerating icons, not explicitly stated in the Bible.

Like Karinovka, the Molokan settlements of Qizmeydan, Chukhuyurd, Khil’milli and many others in this area of Azerbaijan now face the same question: How to preserve a 400-year-old way of life when the community that nurtures it starts to dissolve?

Newly built luxury dachas now ring Karinovka’s hilltops. Azeris have come to make up the majority of the population. Only 15 or so Molokan families remain in the settlement that 20 years ago was almost exclusively populated by Molokan believers.

A few of those Azeri neighbors helped prepare the tombstone and casket for Varonin’s funeral. Four men were eventually found to dig his grave. When the final prayers began, the songs of mourning were sung by only a dozen elderly Molokan women; not out of custom, but because these women were the only ones left who knew the songs.

Villagers say most Molokan communities in Azerbaijan have been hit hard by emigration. In Karinovka, the departures began in 1988, amid the initial rumblings of the Soviet Union’s demise.

Mikhail Kastrulin, who became the local presbyter after his predecessor emigrated to Russia, said that the trickle of departing families grew to a flood in the early 1990s, fueled in part by the deterioration of the local Molokan community’s rural communal farming system. By the middle of the decade, the village’s kolkhoz, or collective farm, had finally collapsed, with the equipment and resources dismantled and reportedly sold off at bargain prices. With the machinery and livestock gone, the villagers had to scramble to make a living, with many resorting to subsistence farming.

With their economic and social support system crumbling, people left in search of a more stable environment, villagers say. “It was panic,” said Ukleyn Ivanovich, a 63-year-old Molokan from the village of Qizmeydan, “But it didn’t happen overnight, either.”

The 1988-1994 war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh hastened the trend. These days, there are only several thousand Molokan families left in Azerbaijan, with about half in Baku, according to Andrei Conovaloff, who runs the reference site “To know how many were here before, you can pretty much multiply that number by 10,” Conovaloff added.

Every Sunday, some 12 to 24 local Molokans meet for a sobraniye, or gathering, during which they perform their traditional prayer, kneeling and standing nine times while reciting sections from the Bible. The spartan prayer room — ornate churches do not exist — contains only benches, a rug for an altar, and a Bible on the table.

Before the wave of emigration in the late 1980s and 1990s, these meetings were packed and doubled as a time for community planning. “People would try to arrive early to get a good spot,” Kastrulin remembered.

Sense of community

That sense of community is part and parcel of the Molokans’ identity. Displays of individual wealth are discouraged; testimonies to communal physical labor are valued. As an example, Kastrulin pointed to his own house: “I had no money, but we communally built this house.”

Many other elders voiced memories of building their own homes. To this day, most of the families maintain individual garden plots for subsistence farming, especially as jobs are scarce. “Life is hard now, there’s no opportunity,” said 25-year-old Kolya, one of the few young Molokans left in Karinovka. “They’ve broken everything we had. Maybe it’s our own fault for leaving, who knows?” he told the TOL.

A few hours away, in the Molokan settlement of Ivanovka, the exception proves the rule. Former Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev decreed that the Ivanovka kolkhoz could continue; the town is now widely known throughout the country for its produce and perceived prosperity.

But back in Karinovka, Kolya’s brother, Oleg, has a different perspective on the value of material success, one that was common among the village’s remaining Molokans. “I stayed because of the outdoors,” said Oleg, referring to the forests and lakes within walking distance of his home. “I was born here. I fish here. I hunt here. This is my homeland. No one can make me leave it,” he said.

“We were distracted from our traditions by the material world,” commented presbyter Kastrulin describing the emigration of the 1990s. “Who cares if there is milk and honey flowing there?” he said in reference to the departed Molokans’ newfound homes abroad. “If we lose our faith, but eat well, we are nothing before God and have no spiritual life.”

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

South Asia

Afghanistan: Friends of Slain Doctors Deny They Pushed Religion

[It’s just Muslims doing what they do best … KILLING Z]

Members of a medical team gunned down in Afghanistan brought some of the first toothbrushes and eyeglasses villagers had ever seen and spent no time talking about religion as they provided medical care, friends and aid organizations said Sunday.

Dr. Thomas Grams, 51, quit his dental practice in Durango, Colo., four years ago to work full-time giving impoverished children free dental care in Nepal and Afghanistan, said Katy Shaw of Global Dental Relief, a Denver-based group that sends teams of dentists around the globe. He was killed Thursday, Shaw said, along with five other Americans, two Afghans, one German and a Briton.

“The kids had never seen toothbrushes, and Tom brought thousands of them,” said Khris Nedam, head of the Kids 4 Afghan Kids in Livonia, Mich., which builds schools and wells in Afghanistan. “He trained them how to brush their teeth, and you should’ve seen the way they smiled after they learned to brush their teeth.”

The team was attacked after a two-week mission in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan province, about 160 miles (260 kilometers) north of Kabul. Their bullet-riddled bodies were found Friday, and were returned to Kabul Sunday aboard helicopters.

The families of the six Americans were formally notified of their deaths after U.S. officials confirmed their identities, said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the embassy.

British doctor Karen Woo, photographed recently at the French Medical Institute for Children in Kabul, was reportedly shot and killed by militants.

The Taliban has claimed credit for the attack, saying the workers were trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. The gunmen spared an Afghan driver who told police he recited verses from the Islamic holy book the Quran as he begged for his life.

But Grams’ twin brother, Tim, said his brother wasn’t trying to spread religious views.

“He was there to help the people of Afghanistan,” said Tim Grams, holding back tears in a telephone call from Anchorage, Alaska on Sunday, after the U.S. State Department confirmed his brother’s death.

“He knew the laws, he knew the religion. He respected them. He was not trying to convert anybody,” Tim Grams said. “His goal was to provide dental care and help people. He knows it’s a capital offense to try to convert folks.”

Tim Grams said his brother started traveling with relief organizations and other groups to Afghanistan, Nepal, Guatemala and India in the early part of the decade. After he sold his practice, he started going for several months at a time.

The members of the group were working with the International Assistance Mission, or IAM, one of the longest serving non-governmental organizations operating in Afghanistan. The group is registered a nonprofit Christian organization but does not proselytize, said its director, Dirk Frans.

The 32-year-old daughter of a Knoxville, Tenn., pastor was among the dead, her family said. Cheryl Beckett spent six years in Afghanistan and specialized in nutritional gardening and mother-child health. She was valedictorian of her Cincinnati-area high school and earned a biology degree from Indiana Wesleyan University.

“Cheryl loved and respected the Afghan people. She denied herself many freedoms in order to abide by Afghan law and custom,” her family said in a statement. “… Those who committed this act of terror should feel the utter shame and disgust that humanity feels for them.”

The family of Glen Lapp, 40, of Lancaster, Pa., learned of his death Sunday, according to the Mennonite Central Committee, a relief group based in Akron, Pa. Lapp went to Afghanistan in 2008 and was to remain until October, the group said. Although trained as a nurse, he was not working as a medic but served as executive assistant for IAM and manager of its provincial ophthalmic care program, said Cheryl Zehr Walker, a spokeswoman for the Mennonite group, which partners with IAM.

“Where I was, the main thing that ex-pats can do is to be a presence in the country,” Lapp wrote in a recent report to the Mennonite group. “Treating people with respect and with love and trying to be a little bit of Christ in this part of the world.”

Lapp was a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and had a nursing degree from Johns Hopkins University, the group said. He had volunteered with relief efforts for hurricanes Katrina and Rita and worked as a nurse in Lancaster, New York City and Supai, Ariz. His mother, Mary, said Sunday the family was referring calls to the Mennonite group.

Officials have said the victims also included team leader Tom Little, an optometrist from Delmar, New York, who had lived in Afghanistan for about 30 years, and Dr. Karen Woo, who gave up a job in a private clinic in London to do humanitarian work in Afghanistan.

Little had been making such trips to Afghan villages for decades, offering vision care and surgical services in regions where medical services of any type are scarce.

“They raised their three girls there. He was part and parcel of that culture,” said David Evans of the Loudonville Community Church, New York, who accompanied Little on a 5,231-mile road (8,419-kilometer) trip to deliver the medical team’s Land Rover vehicles from England to Kabul in 2004.

Nedam, who knew both Grams and Little, said the team was “serving the least for all the right reasons.”

“Their mission was humanitarian, and they went there to help people,” Nedam said.

[But the Taliban killed them anyway. After all, it’s not really about religion but actually all about killing anyone who is different or presents the least threat to your stone-age mentality. — Z]

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]

American Nurse, Dentist Identified as 2 More Victims of Afghan Taliban Attack on Medical Personnel

Two more American medical personnel were identified Sunday from the group of 10 unarmed workers slain in a remote part of Afghanistan.

Glen Lapp, 40, a nurse from Lancaster, Pa., and Dr. Thomas Grams, 50, a dentist from Durango, Colo. were among those killed Friday by Taliban thugs who claimed the aid workers were proselytizing.

Eight of those killed were foreigners working for the International Assistance Mission (IAM), a Christian aid group that has long operated in Afghanistan.

Lapp, a Mennonite, had worked in Afghanistan for two years as manager of IAM’s provincial eye-care program.


The head of IAM staunchly denied the group was proselytizing.

“The accusation is completely baseless, they were not carrying any bibles except maybe their personal bibles,” said executive director Dirk Frans. “As an organization we are not involved in proselytizing at all.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Bangladesh: In Dhaka, Salesian Nun Saves Thousands of Women From Persecution and Physical/Mental Torture

Sister Zita belongs to the Order of Salesian Sisters of Mary Immaculate. She has helped thousands of Catholics from the Garo tribe who have moved to Dhaka in search of jobs, often ending in the clutches of unscrupulous Muslim employers who persecute and torture them. Together with Caritas Bangladesh and the Church, she has founded the Garo Community Centre, where tribal Garo can learn new trades and find help searching jobs.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) — Catholics from the Garo tribe have moved to Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, in search of jobs and a better life. Thousands are women who, instead of finding as better life, end up in the hands of unscrupulous Muslim employers who torture and persecute them. For years, Sister Zita (pictured), a member of the Salesian Sister of Mary Immaculate (SSMI), has been helping these women, saving many from the dangers they face.

“In the past ten years, I have seen 7,000 Garo women come to Dhaka in search of a job forced to face a variety of problems,” Sister Zita said. “They work primarily as house maids and in beauty parlours. Many become victims of mental and physical torture at the hands of their employer. They feel constantly in danger”. For this reason, “we began to work for justice and peace.”

Sr Zita, who joined her order in 1990, is the first nun from her village. Between 1991 and 1994, she preached in various villages in the Diocese of Mymensingh to ensure that children were raised in the Catholic faith. After some years of training, she worked as a teacher in the Saint Leo Primary School from 1997 to 2005. Here, she took care of children from all religious backgrounds.

Over the past decade, she has helped more than 5,000 young Catholic women and girls. Since 2006, she has worked for the Episcopal Commission for Youth. This has brought her directly in contact with the tragic experiences of many women.

“One Catholic girl, whose name shall remain anonymous, was tricked by a Muslim man and raped,” she said. “This almost drove her to madness. However, we were able to help her and she is now leading a normal life.”

“In another case, a young woman was brutally tortured and kelp sequestered in her employer’s home. They did not even allow her to go to Mass on Sunday. We saved her, and got her back home to her parents, where she now studies and is doing well.”

In cooperation with Caritas Bangladesh and the local Catholic Church, Sr Zita set up the Garo Community Centre in Dhaka. It is a place where tribal people can turn to if they have any problems; a place of refuge, where they are helped to find a job. The Centre teaches new trades and skills based on needs. Mass is offered every day according to a special schedule for the more than 11,000 women who cannot attend Sunday Mass.

Sr Zita has also approached employers who let their Garo employees participate in Mass officiated just for them.

“The reason I do all this is to serve Christ through people who suffer,” She said, “by loving and helping them.”

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

Bangladesh Bans Islamic Parties

The Supreme Court outlaws the constitutional amendments made during the military regimes from 1970 to 1990, which allowed the rise of Islamic parties in parliament. The measure was presented for the first time in January, but has been blocked for six months because of the appeal demanded by Muslim leaders. Justice Minister: “Secularism is once again the cornerstone of our constitution.”

Dhaka (AsiaNews / Agencies) — The Supreme Court of Bangladesh has reinstated the measure banning Islamic parties. In a document of 184 pages presented July 26 last, the Court has demolished the Fifth Amendment of the 1979Constitution, including provisions that allowed the rise of Islamic parties in parliament during military regimes (1975 — 1979, 1982 — 1990). The measure, introduced for the first time in January, has been blocked for six months because of an appeal process demanded by Islamic leaders.

After independence from Pakistan in 1971, the first constitution of Bangladesh has made secularism one of its key pillars. In 1979 the then military government of Zia Rahman (1975-1979) amended the constitution, with “faith in Allah” as the only guiding principle of the constitution, transforming Bangladesh into an Islamic state. In 1988, a new military government, this time led by Hussain Muhammad Ershad (1982-1990), declared Islam the state religion and “consecrated” the constitution to the Muslim faith, to which several verses from the Koran was added. Since 1990, there ahs been a gradual return to democracy, allowing the High Court in 2005 to develop a first measure to outlaw the constitutional changes made during the military regimes, including the Fifth Amendment. But the action of the Court, supported by the secular parties, was blocked by Islamic extremists allied to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), in government at the time. In 2008 the debate on the Fifth Amendment returned to the fore after the election victory of the secular party Awami League (AL), but only in 2010, did the Court succeed in formalising the decision.

Shafiq Ahmed, Minister of Justice, said the measure will be a blow to the extremist parties that can no longer use religion to political ends.

“Secularism — said the minister — will again be the cornerstone of the constitution.” For the moment the court ruling does not provide for the cancellation of the Islamic inspiration of the constitution, but according Shafiq “thanks to the demolition of the Fifth Amendment, the modifications made during the military regimes can now be challenged in court.” Moreover, the measure outlaws all those who supported the regimes from 1975 to 1990. “In theory — adds the minister — all citizens of Bangladesh may now bring a lawsuit against the former military dictator. The repeal of the amendment would also limit the possibility of future coups. “

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

British Doctor Executed in Afghanistan ‘Was Not Preaching Christianity’: Grieving Family’s Fury at Taliban Claim

The family of Dr Karen Woo, who was killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, today refuted claims that she was preaching Christianity to Muslims and called her a ‘true hero’.

Dr Woo, 36, was among eight foreign aid workers executed by gunmen in an ambush in Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan province.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killings. A spokesman said they were killed because they were ‘spying for the Americans’ and ‘preaching Christianity’.

But in a statement, Dr Woo’s family said: ‘Her motivation was purely humanitarian. She was a Humanist and had no religious or political agenda.’

They continued: ‘She wanted the world to know there was more than a war going on in Afghanistan, that people were not getting their basic needs met.

‘She wanted the ordinary people of Afghanistan, especially the women and children, to be be able to receive healthcare.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Tajik Court Reopens Case Against Jehovah’s Witnesses

A Tajik justice official said a criminal case has been reopened against 17 Jehovah’s Witnesses for fomenting religious hatred.

Jamhur Jiyanov, an aide to the prosecutor in the northern Sughd Province, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service last week that investigators from the State Security Committee had launched a preliminary investigation under Article 189 of the Criminal Code on “promoting religious or ethnic hatred.”

If found guilty, the suspects could face prison terms of between five and 12 years.

The 17 were detained last year during a gathering at the home of a Jehovah’s Witness and they were subsequently accused of illegal activities.

Jehovah’s Witnesses were legally registered in Tajikistan in 1994.

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

Latin America

1 Million Fish Dead in Bolivian Ecological Disaster

(3 Aug. 2010 — Update: The number of dead fish and other water-dependent wildlife has increased to about 6 million.)


Over 1 million fish and thousands of alligators, turtles, dolphins and other river wildlife are floating dead in numerous Bolivian rivers in the three eastern/southern departments of Santa Cruz, Beni and Tarija. The extreme cold front that hit Bolivia in mid-July caused water temperatures to dip below the minimum temperatures river life can tolerate. As a consequence, rivers, lakes, lagoons and fisheries are brimming with decomposing fish and other creatures.

Unprecedented: Nothing like this has ever been seen in this magnitude in Bolivia. Inhabitants of riverside communities report the smell is nauseating and can be detected as far as a kilometer away from river banks. River communities, whose livelihoods depend on fishing, fear they’ll run out of food and will have nothing to sell. Authorities are concerned there will be a shortage of fish in markets and are more concerned by possible threats to public health, especially in communities that also use river water for bathing and drinking, but also fear contaminated or decaying fish may end up in market stalls. They’ve begun a campaign to ensure market vendors and the public know how to tell the difference between fresh and unhealthy fish.

In university fish ponds and commercial fisheries the losses are also catastrophic.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]


Across Texas, 60,000 Babies of Noncitizens Get U.S. Birthright

As Republican members of Congress press for changes to the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, preventing automatic citizenship for babies born to illegal immigrants, opponents insist the debate is not really about babies.

Instead, they say it is about politics and votes — not fixing the immigration system.

Still, the debate could resonate in Texas, where not only 1.5 million illegal immigrants are estimated to reside but at least 60,000 babies are added to their households annually.

Parkland Memorial Hospital delivers more of those babies than any other hospital in the state. Last year at Parkland, 11,071 babies were born to women who were noncitizens, about 74 percent of total deliveries. Most of these women are believed to be in the country illegally.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, accused Republicans of using the births to generate an explosive election issue.

“They’re pulling the pin on the immigration grenade,” he said. “It’s all about the November elections and continuing to use the immigration issue as a wedge to win votes this fall.”

But to Republicans, the emerging national debate is long overdue, considering that millions of immigrants have been living illegally in this country for years.

“They’re violating our law, and we’re giving their children the benefit of U.S. citizenship,” said state Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, whose 2009 bill in the Legislature would have challenged the birthright of immigrant children.

That bill died in committee, although Berman has vowed to file another version next year that would prohibit the state from issuing birth certificates to the children of “illegal aliens.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Germany: 12:000 Roma to be Deported to Kosovo

“At home in Germany”, headlines Der Freitag, with a photo of one of the 12,000 Roma and Ashkali that Berlin intends to deport to Kosovo in the coming years. The Berlin weekly concludes that the deal, which “Kosovo accepted under pressure” last April, constitutes “a catastrophe for the families”, who for the most part arrived in Germany in the early 90’s. The paper declares that it is a “disgrace for Germany” to pursue an agreement that qualifies Kosovo, a country shaken by ethnic tensions and incapable of protecting those who return, as “safe”. The majority of the nearly 6,000 children and adolescents affected have grown up in Germany, speak neither Serbian nor Albanian and will probably be unable to continue their studies.

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

Culture Wars

Book Review: Hitler and Christianity

A Scriptural Analysis of Anti-Semitism, National Socialism, and the Churches in Nazi Germany.

Informed Christians have noticed that atheists, skeptics, and liberals have been trying to link Christians to Hitler in the culture wars. The goal: Demonize Christians as a menace to American democracy.


In this book, the widely misunderstood question of what a Christian is is clarified according to scripture, and hatred and cruelty of any sort are shown to be contrary to the message of Christ.

It studies the failure of German Christians — with rare exceptions — to stand for Christ, and shows that blind obedience to Hitler was contrary to biblical Christianity.

Keysor goes beyond answering the charge that Hitler was a Christian — which is self-evidently absurd and easily shown. He lays bare the real roots of Hitler’s thinking. The ideology of Hitler and the Nazis was drenched in German philosophy, secular racial anti-Semitism, and German interpretations of Darwinism. The Gospel according to Hitler was written by Nietzsche, Wagner, Haeckel, and Chamberlain. It was human wisdom, not the Bible, that opened the door to Hitler.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Top Muslim Cleric Qaradawi Urges Western Muslims to ‘Liberalize’

Outwardly, Anyway

by Raymond Ibrahim

A recent episode of the popular Arabic show al-Sharia wa al-Haya (Law and Life), which airs weekly on Al Jazeera and features renowned Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, addressed the important yet little known Muslim concept of taysir (pronounced “tey-seer”).

Qaradawi, who is touted by the likes of John Esposito and CAIR as a “moderate” — even as he legitimizes suicide attacks against Israel (including by women) and death for apostates — explained that, according to fiqh al-taysir (the “jurisprudence of ease”), Islam (not unlike Catholicism) offers Muslims dispensations, whenever needed: “For Allah desires ease for you, not hardship” (Koran 2:185; see also 5:6, 4:26-28, 2:286). For instance, Muslims traveling during the month of Ramadan or engaged in jihad need not observe the obligatory fast.

Qaradawi stressed that no one advocated taking the “easy way” as much as Muhammad himself. He offered several examples, including how Muhammad would be angry with prayer leaders who tired the people with long prayers. (Other less flattering though applicable anecdotes concerning Muhammad’s “leniency” come to mind, such as when his followers thought they had to practice coitus interruptus while raping their captive women so as not to impregnate them, only to be told by the prophet that “There is no harm if you do not practice it, for it [the birth of the child] is something ordained [by Allah]”).

Lest it be abused, Qaradawi warned that taysir should only be used as needed, based on the vicissitudes of time and chance. In other words, Muslims should not actively seek the easy way, but rather, when uncontrollable circumstances create hardships, Muslims are free to opt for the easy way — as long as they recognize that the “hard way” (i.e., total implementation of Sharia) is the ideal way.

Qaradawi proudly contrasted taysir with the practices of Jews and Christians who “took things to the extreme, and thus were treated extremely.”

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

What Would Socialists Do to America?

Having seen their socialist dreams collapse in the Soviet Union, China, Europe and Latin America, members of the left wing have one last chance to test their utopian vision of society — here in the United States.

This is only possible because our country is so wealthy and prosperous from decades of capitalist-led growth and progress that they can promote many of these socialist policies without an immediate economic collapse.

With all of our resources and productive capacity and the reserve-currency status of the dollar, socialists could bleed this country to death slowly for decades before leaving an empty shell for the unlucky next generation of Americans. What would this country look like in 20 years if they succeed? Here are a few possibilities that might become reality by 2030 if we’re not able to stop socialism from infecting every corner of our economy.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]