Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20101224

Financial Crisis
»Italy: Family Savings Steering Clear of State Bonds
»Skype Technologies Says it Will Offer Refunds to Customers After Outages
»Unlike Intel Chief, Congress Knew About Britain Terror Plot, Rep. Peter King Says
»Al Qaeda Threatens 100 Egyptian-Canadian Copts Over Conversions to Christianity
Europe and the EU
»Christmas: Italian-Made Exports Booming
»EU Challenges Sweden’s Wolf Hunt Policy
»Germany: Bribery Scandal Hits Foreign Ministry
»Italian Restaurants Keep Three-Star Michelin Rating
»Naked Aphrodite on Cyprus Passport Causes Stir
»Switzerland: Mounting Pressure on the Italian Mafia is Driving Illegal Business Into Switzerland, Where Police Say the Battle Against Crime Rings Has Become a Priority.
»The Souring of Turkey’s European Dream
North Africa
»Tunisia-USA: Limited Trade, Algeria Main Partner in Maghreb
Israel and the Palestinians
»Shoah: Yad Vashem, Two Third of Victims Identified So Far
Middle East
»Caroline Glick: Slouching Towards Teheran
»Saudi Police Shoot Dead Al Qaeda Suspect Disguised as Woman After He Opened Fire on Troops at Checkpoint
South Asia
»Christmas in Pakistan: Christian’s Demonstrations Postponed for Fear of Clashes
»Indonesia: Christmas Decorations Are ‘Excessive’ And ‘Hurt Muslims’ Feelings’
»Pakistani Outposts Struck by Large Taliban Assault
»Ratzinger’s Best Pupils Are in Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan
Culture Wars
»Catholic Church Strips US Hospital of Affiliation Over Abortion
»Italy Calls on EU to Withdraw Schoools Diary That Leaves Out Christmas
»Motor Vehicles Denies License to Muslim Woman
»UK: Religion: Respecting the Minority
»Holocaust Hegemony

Financial Crisis

Italy: Family Savings Steering Clear of State Bonds

(ANSAmed) — ROME, DECEMBER 20 — Italian households continued to avoid government bonds in 2009, most likely due to low interest rates. According to a report by Italy’s central bank, in 2009 households focused on current account deposits and postal savings accounts. The report stated that savings went towards foreign bonds (with more than a percentage-point increase) to the detriment of Italian bonds (-1.8%).(

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Skype Technologies Says it Will Offer Refunds to Customers After Outages

Skype Technologies SA, the largest provider of international calls, will offer refunds to paying customers who haven’t been able to use its service because of an outage that lasted more than 30 hours.

About 20 million users, representing 90 percent of the traffic the company would normally expect, are now able to make calls, Chief Executive Officer Tony Bates said today in a blog posting, after an outage yesterday rendered the service unavailable to almost all global users.

Year-end holidays are Skype’s heaviest traffic period, Bates said in an interview this week. The disruption adds to challenges facing Skype as it tries to persuade companies to pay for calling and establish premium services, such as group video conversations, in the run-up to an initial public offering.

“We now know what caused a number of clients to actually crash,” Bates said in a video on the company’s blog. “We’ve been able to mitigate that crash risk and isolate that.”

He didn’t say what caused the crash and said the company had ruled out a malicious attack.

Skype will give pre-pay and pay-as-you-go users 30 minutes of free calling, and active subscribers will get a week’s extra subscription, the company said.

Skype has more than 560 million users. Of those, only 1.4 percent pay for the service, according to a regulatory filing. The Luxembourg-based company started as a way for consumers to chat for free.

What’s Working

Audio and video calls as well as instant-messaging capabilities are now working, the company said. Some features, such as group video calling, are still unavailable.

Rival service OoVoo LLC said it received 100,000 new registrations yesterday, double its previous record for peak usage. The New York-based company attributed the peak to defecting Skype users, Matt Houser, a spokesman for the company, said in an e-mail.

Skype said it will do a full post-mortem of the cause of the outage. It is using servers that normally support offline instant messaging and multiparty video calls to get its main products online, Bates said.

The company accounts for about 12 percent of international calling, according to the Washington-based research firm Telegeography.

EBay Inc., which bought Skype in 2005, sold most of its stake last year for about $2 billion to a group led by Menlo Park, California-based private-equity firm Silver Lake.

[Return to headlines]

Unlike Intel Chief, Congress Knew About Britain Terror Plot, Rep. Peter King Says

New York Rep. Peter King said Thursday that Congress knew for weeks about a police investigation into an al Qaeda-inspired plot in London even though the nation’s top intelligence official was unaware of the arrests this week.

“We’ve been aware of London for weeks,” King told Fox News Radio’s “Kilmeade and Friends.” “We knew that there was a plot in London and we knew that it was being monitored.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was caught flat-footed in an interview this week with ABC News about the arrest of 12 men allegedly involved in the plot to attack targets in Britain.

Clapper, who was interviewed alongside other top national security officials in the administration, was painfully silent for a several seconds after Diane Sawyer asked him directly about the takedown in Britain that day during the course of a discussion about what the U.S. is doing to prevent another attempted terror attack.

Clapper then quietly turned his head and said, “London?” White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan stepped in to explain that the British had informed U.S. officials about the plot that morning.

“Oh,” Clapper said.

In the Fox News interview, King noted that London was among the cities in Europe that U.S. and Western intelligence officials had publicly identified in September as potential targets for al Qaeda and its allies.

“That’s why I was really surprised he said that,” he said. “There are major plots against Europe right now and for 12 people to be arrested in London is a big deal. It’s not like 12 guys going through stop signs.”

           — Hat tip: SF[Return to headlines]


Al Qaeda Threatens 100 Egyptian-Canadian Copts Over Conversions to Christianity

Two episodes of the very “Christianophobia” described by Benedict XVI in his address to the Curia. A website close to Al Qaeda publishes a list of “dogs in diaspora” responsible for conversions. In Somalia, the Islamists destroy and burn down an “underground” Christian library.

Vancouver (AsiaNews / Agencies) — Canadian newspapers report that more than 100 Arab-Canadian Christians have been put on a list published by website close to Al Qaeda, apparently charged with encouraging conversions from Islam. The website Shumukh-al-Islam, often seen as an Al Qaeda propaganda tool, has created a list with photos, addresses and phone numbers of Coptic Christians, most with dual Egyptian and Canadian nationality, who spoke openly against Islam.

Three web pages, in classical Arabic, entitled “Complete information on Copts” are meant to “identify and call by name all the Copts in the world who hope to defame Islam” and refers to them as “dogs in diaspora”.

In the website forum a member, who goes by the name “Son of a sharp sword,” writes: “We will return to Islam and all the mujahideen will cut off their heads.” One of the people included on the list told reporters: “This is a direct threat to our lives. They are trying to inform one another in the hope that someone can carry out this threat. It could be here, or in Egypt. “ Some of the people only found out they were on the list when the Canadian security services contacted them. The existence of such sites is often criticized even by the defenders of freedom of expression, but some security experts say that in reality they are a great resource for those fighting terrorism.

This episode, and what we report now, testify to the very concrete reality Benedict XVI’s warning contained in his speech to the Roman Curia on December 20 on the growing scale of Christianaphobia in the world, and are linked to Al Qaeda threats launched against Christians in Iraq as “legitimate targets”. Here is the example of an episode that occurred in Somalia. On December 16 militants of Al-Shabaab, the militant Islamic group, destroyed a Christian library in the district of Luuq. After vandalizing the premises, the militants took all of the shop’s material, books, Bibles, audio and video material, to the town centre and set flames to it after midday prayer.

The District Commissioner of Al-Shabaab in Luuq, Sheikh Farhaan Abdi Elmoghe, said the discovery of the library was “a blow to misguided Somali Christians”. The library was hidden in an abandoned farm on the River Juba. It seems that it is normal for persecuted Somali Christians to bury books and religious material, because of intense persecution by Muslims. One of the leaders of the “underground Church” said that the library served as an “underground” school and was one of the largest and best supplied the south of the country. Al-Shabaab has openly said it wants to erase Christianity from Somalia, where last year at least six Christians were killed.

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

Europe and the EU

Christmas: Italian-Made Exports Booming

(ANSAmed) — ROME, DECEMBER 13 — Made in Italy food has seen a 10% increase in this Christmas period, and will be seen on Christmas tables the world over. The most popular items include wines, sparkling wines, grappa and liquors, panettoni (spiced brioche with sultanas), cheeses, salami and cold pork meat, and pasta, headed abroad to the tune of 2.2 billion euros this Christmas.

This is the figure by Coldiretti (Italian national farmers federation), which says that leading the rankings is sparkling wine, which abroad has seen a record increase of 21% in exports.

Among the newest customers of Made in Italy sparkling wine are Russia and Japan. Overall it has been estimated that about 150 million bottles of sparkling wine will be consumed abroad in 2010 out of an overall production of about 340 million.

As concerns the entire wine sector, there was a 9% increase which might even reach 3.5 billion euros at the end of the year as concerns overall 2010 turnover for foreign markets, on which it is the main national agro-food export. Also in high demand are national bread, pastry and biscuit products, starting from the traditional panettone. Excellent results were also seen for Italian cheeses, as well as Italian pasta.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU Challenges Sweden’s Wolf Hunt Policy

The European Commission has issued a new challenge to Sweden’s wolf hunt policy, with the EU environment commissioner warning the government against letting the hunt begin before it receives answers to its questions.

Swedish authorities announced on Friday that hunters will be allowed to cull 20 wolves in 2011. Wolf hunting in Sweden resumed this year following a 46-year ban.

The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency said that from January 15th to February 15th, 2011, licensed hunters will be permitted to shoot 20 wolves, down from the quota of 27 animals this year.

The Swedish parliament decided last year to limit the wolf population to 210 animals spread out in 20 packs, with 20 new pups per year, for a period of five years by issuing hunting permits in regions where wolves have recently reproduced.

EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik wrote a letter to Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren, saying, “Several aspects of the Swedish wolf policy raise serious questions.”

Both the licensed hunting of wolves and the set limit of the number of wolves in the country, as well as plans for the transfer of wolves from other countries, include elements that seem incompatible with EU rules for the conservation of predatory animals, Potocnik stressed.

Potocnik questioned the motive for the licensed hunt, namely that it would increase the local population’s acceptance for the wolf population, but Carlgren reiterated the reason in his response to Potocnik without commenting on the alternative methods available that Potocnik stated in his letter.

Carlgren referred instead to the assessment that European predatory animal experts had previously done on the Swedish hunt. They observed that Sweden has very good control over the number of predatory animals and the hunt for them and that licensed hunting in January this year was justifiable.

If the hunt proceeds, Potocnik said that he would propose the commission formally complain to the government for failing to comply with EU environmental legislation.

The European Commission asked the Swedish government for a response in the summer to a number of questions about the scientific basis for the controversial licensed hunting of wolves. Several environmental groups have complained to the commission about the hunt.

The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (Naturskyddsföreningen, SSNC) believes that the government should stop the licensed hunt next month, especially in light of the EU Commission’s serious criticisms.

“We consider the hunt incompatible with EU law partly because it hampers the preservation of a vigourous wolf population. They are so seriously inbred and vulnerable, every wolf is important for the animal’s long-term survival,” Chairman Mikael Karlsson told news agency TT.

“Now that the commission is so clear, it would behoove the government to follow suit and not proceed further. The questions raised by the commission in August were serious. There is no scientific support for the limit of 210 wolves. Sweden should not get involved with this hunt,” said Karlsson.

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

Germany: Bribery Scandal Hits Foreign Ministry

German embassy workers in Africa, South America and the former Soviet Union have been “systemically” selling visas to human trafficking rings, according to a report in news weekly Der Spiegel.

The Foreign Ministry and the police are reportedly investigating eight cases on suspicion of trafficking and accepting bribes. Those accused are natives of the respective countries, and are thought to have systematically handed out visas ordered by the traffickers.

The embassy workers allegedly received several hundred euros in cash to overlook false information in the visa applications.

Suspects have been questioned in the embassies by German police and released. The police believe the smuggling rings are being orchestrated from within Germany.

According to Der Spiegel, some of the women brought into Germany by this route were subsequently made to work in Hamburg brothels.

Spokesman for the German state prosecutors Martin Steltner confirmed that an investigation was under way, but would not comment on any details.

A similar scandal broke in 2004 when it was revealed that several thousand illegal visas were granted by the German embassy in Kiev, Ukraine.

At the time, the so-called “Volmer Order” of March 2000 came under particular criticism for its stipulation to embassies: “When in doubt, grant freedom to travel.”

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

Italian Restaurants Keep Three-Star Michelin Rating

Lombardy remains region with highest number of ‘star’ eateries

(ANSA) — Milan, November 24 — Six Italian restaurants have retained their top three-star ratings in the 2011 edition of the Michelin Guide Italy, a ‘bible’ for international gourmets.

The six are the Sorriso di Soriso near Novara; Le Calandre at Sarmeola di Rubano near Padua; Dal Pescatore at Canneto sull’Oglio near Mantua; Florence’s Enoteca Pinchiorri; Da Vittorio, in Brusaporto, near Bergamo; and Heinz Beck’s La Pergola at the Rome Hilton.

The number of Italian restaurants awarded a two-star rating also remained the same, at 37, although this included two exits and two new entries.

The new entries in were Jasmin in Chiusa, near Bolzano; and Bracali, in the seaside Tuscan town of Massa Marittima, in the Grosetto area; while dropping to a one-star rating were L’Olivo in Capri and Arquade in San Pietro in Cariano, near Verona.

The number of eateries with a one-star rating rose from 229 in the 2010 guide to 233, with 32 new entries.

Lombardy was the the region with the greatest number of restaurants boasting Michelin stars, 52, followed by Piedmont which had 37, although it had the highest number of new entries, six.

Bolzano and Cuneo were the provinces with the highest number of establishments with stars, 15, followed by Naples with 14.

The 56th edition of the Italian version of the Michelin Guide was presented here on Wednesday.

Aside from quality restaurants, the ‘red’ guide reviewed hotels, holiday farms and bed & breakfast places, and there was also a rating based on price.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Naked Aphrodite on Cyprus Passport Causes Stir

NICOSIA (AFP) — A picture depicting a naked Aphrodite on the new biometric passports being issued by Cyprus has caused a stir, with diplomats raising concern that it could offend some Islamic nations.

According to Phileleftheros newspaper, diplomats were outraged upon seeing the image, claiming the interior ministry should first have consulted with the foreign ministry to iron out any issues regarding foreign policy.

The ancient goddess is widely accepted as the symbol of the eastern Mediterranean holiday island and is used by its tourism organisation on its “Love Cyprus” advertising campaign abroad.

Interior Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis, whose office is tasked with issuing the passports, dismissed suggestions the new passports would prove offensive abroad.

“There isn’t a problem with the passports. They have already been issued and are already in use by the public,” he told reporters.

According to local legend, Aphrodite rose from the sea off the island’s coast and a naked statue of her can be seen on display at the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia.

The interior ministry’s permanent secretary, Lazaros Savvides, said the passports issued since December 13 have not so far created any problems but pledged to look into the issue after the Christmas holidays.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Mounting Pressure on the Italian Mafia is Driving Illegal Business Into Switzerland, Where Police Say the Battle Against Crime Rings Has Become a Priority.

The latest annual report by the Federal Police Office (Fedpol) was made public on Sunday and stated that action had to be taken before organised crime from Italy could gather a comfortable base.

“The N’Drangheta (Calabrian mafia) is a clear priority in Fedpol work this year,” spokesman Stefan Kunfermann said.

Fedpol reviewed a report last summer that found the N’Dragheta — one of the more violent of the Italian crime gangs — had gone beyond money laundering. Police believe the crime ring has also established interests in construction, property and catering in Switzerland. Kunfermann said the group also uses the country for large-scale drug trafficking and as a hideout for wanted members.

Stephanie Oesch, a Zurich University researcher and author of a book looking at organised crime and the Swiss financial sector, said the groups activities have increased “greatly”.

Oesch estimates the crime ring has filtered between SFr20 billion and SFr30 billion ($21-$31 billion) during the past five years through Swiss investments in catering, real estate, art and luxury goods.

A Swiss-Italian task force was set up between the two countries in 2009 to find ways of working together in the fight. That group will have its first meeting within the next year.

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

The Souring of Turkey’s European Dream

In the first of My Europe, a series in which writers look beyond the financial crisis, Orhan Pamuk laments a growing callousness to migrants and minorities

In the schoolbooks I read as a child in the 1950s and 1960s, Europe was a rosy land of legend. While forging his new republic from the ruins of the Ottoman empire, which had been crushed and fragmented in the first world war, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk did fight against the Greek army, but with the support of his own army he later introduced a slew of social and cultural modernisation reforms that were not anti- but pro-western. It was to legitimise these reforms, which helped to strengthen the new Turkish state’s new elites (and were the subject of continuous debate in Turkey over the next 80 years), that we were called upon to embrace and even imitate a rosy-pink — occidentalist — European dream.

As much as the schoolbooks of my childhood were texts designed to teach us why a line was to be drawn between the state and religion, why it had been necessary to shut down the dervish lodges, or why we’d had to abandon the Arab alphabet for the Latin, they were also overflowing with questions that aimed to unlock the secret of Europe’s great power and success. “Describe the aims and outcomes of the Renaissance,” the middle school history teacher would ask in his exam. “If it turned out we were sitting on as much oil as the Arabs, would we then be as rich and modern as Europeans?” my more naive classmates at lycee would say. In my first year at university, whenever my classmates came across such questions in class, they would fret over why “we never had an enlightenment”.

The 14th century Arab thinker Ibn Khaldun said that declining civilisations kept going by imitating their victors. Because there has never been a time when the Turks were colonised by a world power, “worshipping Europe” or “imitating the west” has never carried the damning, humiliating overtones described by Franz Fanon, VS Naipaul, or Edward Said; to look to Europe has been seen as a historical imperative or even a technical question of adaptation.

But this dream of a rosy-pink Europe, once so powerful that even our most anti-western thinkers and politicians secretly believed in it, has now faded. This may be because Turkey is no longer as poor as it once was. Or it could be because it is no longer a peasant society ruled by its army, but a dynamic nation with a strong civil society. And in recent years there has of course been the slowing down of talks between Turkey and the European Union, with no resolution in sight. Neither in Europe nor in Turkey is there a realistic hope that Turkey will join Europe in the near future. To admit to having lost this hope would be as crushing as to see relations with Europe breaking down entirely, so no one has the heart even to utter the words.

That Turkey and other non-western countries are disenchanted with Europe is something I know from my own travels and conversations. A major cause of the strain in relations between Turkey and the EU was most certainly the alliance forged by a sector of the Turkish army and leading media groups with nationalist political parties, and their successful campaign to sabotage negotiations. The same initiative triggered the prosecutions launched against me and many writers, the shooting of others, and the killing of missionaries and Christian clerics. There are also the emotional responses whose greater significance can best be explained by taking France as an example: over the past century, successive generations of the Turkish elite have faithfully taken France as their model, drawing on its understanding of secularism and following its lead on education, literature and art … so to have France emerge over the past five years as the country most vehemently opposed to the idea of Turkey in Europe has been hugely heartbreaking and disillusioning. It is, however, Europe’s involvement in the war in Iraq that has caused the keenest disappointment in non-western countries and, in Turkey, real anger. The world watched Europe being tricked by Bush into joining this illegitimate and cruel war, while showing immense readiness to be tricked.

When looking at the landscape of Europe from Istanbul or beyond, the first thing one sees is that Europe (like the European Union) is confused about its internal problems. It is clear that the peoples of Europe have a lot less experience than the Americans when it comes to living with those whose religion, skin colour, or cultural identity are different from their own, and that they do not warm to the prospect: this resistance makes Europe’s internal problems all the more intractable. The recent discussions in Germany on integration and multiculturalism are a case in point.

As the economic crisis deepens and spreads, Europe may, by turning in on itself, postpone its struggle to preserve the “bourgeois”, in Flaubert’s sense of the word, but that will not solve the problem. When I look at Istanbul, which becomes a little more complex and cosmopolitan with every passing year, and which now attracts immigrants from all over Asia and Africa, I have no trouble reaching this conclusion: the poor, unemployed and undefended of Asia and Africa who are looking for new places to live and work cannot be kept out of Europe indefinitely. Higher walls, tougher visa restrictions and ships patrolling borders in increasing numbers will only postpone the day of reckoning. Worst of all, anti-immigration politics and prejudices are already destroying the core values that made Europe what it was.

In the Turkish schoolbooks of my childhood there was no discussion of democracy or women’s rights, but on the packets of Gauloises that French intellectuals and artists smoked (or so we thought) were printed the words “liberté, égalité, fraternité” and these were much in circulation. “Fraternité” came to stand for the spirit of solidarity and resistance promoted by movements of the left. But being callous about the sufferings of immigrants and minorities, and castigating the Asians, Africans and Muslims now leading difficult lives in the peripheries of Europe — even holding them solely responsible for their woes — is not “brotherhood”.

One can understand how Europe might suffer anxiety and even panic as it seeks to preserve its great cultural traditions, profit from the riches it covets in the non-western world, and retain the advantages gained over so many centuries of class conflict, colonialism and internecine war. But if it is to protect itself, would it be better for Europe to turn inwards, or should it perhaps remember its core values, which once made it the centre of gravity for all the world’s intellectuals?

[JP note: Orhan Pamuk, pompous, Turkish poster-boy for the European liberal left, with not much to say and saying it badly. It seems incredible that a Turk should be lecturing Europeans about tolerance, but there you have it in the puffed-up, topsey-turvey world of vapid, faux-intellectual posturing.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Tunisia-USA: Limited Trade, Algeria Main Partner in Maghreb

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, DECEMBER 23 — The volume of trade between Tunisia and the United States is only 4% of trade with the entire Maghreb. This was announced in a report of the American Department of State, which specifies that trade between Tunisia and the USA totalled 9.61 billion USD in 2009.

The report also points out that Algeria is the main commercial partner in the Maghreb with 71%, followed by Libya (17%) and Morocco (8%). This ranks Algeria on 23rd place on the list of global economic partners of the USA.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Shoah: Yad Vashem, Two Third of Victims Identified So Far

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, DECEMBER 21 — The number of Jewish victims of the Nazi regime who have been identified by researchers of the Yad Vashem memorial museum in Jerusalem has risen to four million, on an estimated total of six million victims. The announcement was made today by the president of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, who specified that in the past decade one and a half million people have been identified in the huge task of searching and digging for traces of the victims. “The Germans not only tried to exterminate the Jews, but to wipe out any memory” writes Shalev in a statement. He specifies that the priority of the institution he leads — the most important institution to keep the memory of the Shoah alive — is to “find the name and identity of each victim”.

Of the four million people who were identified so far, the memory of 2.2 million of them has been restored thanks to friends or relatives who survived the Shoah. Information on the rest was obtained thanks to the documentary work of historians. Shalev concludes that “we will continue our work of giving a name and an identity, as much as possible, to all six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis and their accomplices”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Caroline Glick: Slouching Towards Teheran

Two weeks ago, Iran scored a massive victory. Jordan, the West’s most stable and loyal ally in the Arab world began slouching towards the Iranian Gomorrah.

On December 12, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei met with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman and extended a formal invitation from Ahmadinejad for him to pay a state visit to Iran. Abdullah accepted.

According to Iran’s ISNA news agency, Mashei said that Abdullah’s visit will begin a new page in bilateral relations and that, “the two countries hold massive potential to work together.” Mashei added, “If Islamic states stand united, no country will be threatened.”

For his part, Abdullah reportedly said that his country recognizes Iran’s nuclear rights and supports its access to peaceful nuclear technology…

           — Hat tip: Caroline Glick[Return to headlines]

Saudi Police Shoot Dead Al Qaeda Suspect Disguised as Woman After He Opened Fire on Troops at Checkpoint

Saudi police have shot and killed a man dressed as a woman after he opened fire at the troops at a checkpoint southwest of the capital, Riyadh.

The kingdom’s Saudi Press Agency carried a police statement saying the shooter was traveling with another man in a vehicle in the Wadi al-Dawasir area on Friday.

It says the man, believed to be an Al Qaeda militant, stepped out of the car and started shooting at security officials who had asked for ID papers.

The police returned fire, killing the man. His companion was arrested.

The police said the case was under investigation.

Mansour al-Turki, the ministry’s security spokesman, said: ‘We have a strong suspicion it is Al Qaeda, but we are still trying to identify the dead man and questioning the detained suspect.’

Saudi security forces have stepped up their campaign against Al Qaeda after the Islamic militant groups’s Yemeni and Saudi wings merged in 2009 into a regional organisation, which claimed responsibility for the failed bombing of a U.S.-bound passenger plane last Christmas.

In November, Saudi Arabia said it had captured 149 al Qaeda militants over several months, who were raising money and recruiting members to carry out attacks in the kingdom, the world’s top oil exporter.

A wide counter-terrorism drive halted a violent Al Qaeda campaign in the Gulf Arab country which lasted from 2003 to 2006.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Christmas in Pakistan: Christian’s Demonstrations Postponed for Fear of Clashes

Proposal of bishops and representatives of the Protestant Churches. The possible postponement of events, however, does not stop the calls and proposals for an amendment of the blasphemy law. Catholics and Protestants are preparing for Christmas. Masses and processions planned despite the constant threats of Islamic parties.

Lahore (AsiaNews) — Respect for the Christmas and Islamic New Year has urged Pakistan’s Catholics and Protestants to ask that protest marches against the blasphemy law due to be held on December.24 and 31 be postponed. This amid fears of clashes and violence by Islamic parties, which has organized a general strike to oppose any amendments to the law on the same day. Meanwhile the Catholics in the parishes of the country are preparing to celebrate Christmas. This, despite the constant threats and the risk of attacks against Christians caused by the case of Asia Bibi.

The proposal to postpone the events emerged during the forum titled “Christmas and the state of Christians in Pakistan” recently held in Lahore, by Catholic bishops and representatives of the Protestant community.

Samuel Azariah, president of the Protestant Church of Pakistan said that the Christian community has always expressed its respect for the month of Muharram, the first month of Islamic calendar and this Christmas celebrations started on December 16. Azaria expressed concern over planned rallies for December 24 and 31, highlighting that the risk of clashes should be avoided at a time of joy for all.

The possible postponement of events, however, does not stop the calls and proposals for an amendment of the blasphemy law. The bishops and pastors have drawn up a revision of the law providing for the condemnation of the accusers , should the accused be proven innocent. Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan and head of the Commission for Dialogue and Ecumenism affirmed that “this Christmas comes at a time when the debate over the anti-blasphemy law is causing serious problems for the Christian community”. The prelate stressed that in these years the 180 Christians accused of blasphemy have been found not guilty by the courts.

Meanwhile, despite the increase in threats launched by Islamic extremists, Christians in Pakistan are preparing to celebrate Christmas. With its large Muslim majority, the birth of Jesus is not officially celebrated in Pakistan. However, December 25 coincides with the birthday of MA Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Christmas celebrations are tolerated and in many towns and villages the night before the Christians organize processions in the streets decorated for the feast.

Fr. Morris Jalal pastor of the church of St. Francis Xavier, tells AsiaNews: “This illustrates the challenges to which the Christian community is called the. We deal with many cases of persecution and intolerance in our parish because of the blasphemy law. “

Fr Jalal’s parish of serves approximately 7 thousand families, but this Christmas people will fill the Church like every year, regardless of the threats and fear of attacks. According to the priest between 10 thousand and 15 thousand people are expected. “Our church — he says — can hold up to 1,500 people and we organize the celebrations in the outdoor sports arena.” He stresses that these numbers increases the risk of attacks, but security will be handled discreetly by a few people, who will prevent people to see armed men during their midnight mass. “We are convinced — he continues — that the police can not protect us and there will be only five or six policemen on guard, we should be the ones to provide security arming our men. But I can not imagine a Christmas mass surrounded by armed youths. “

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

Indonesia: Christmas Decorations Are ‘Excessive’ And ‘Hurt Muslims’ Feelings’

Jakarta, 23 Dec. (AKI) — The top Islamic body from the world’s most populous Muslim country complained about over-the-top Christmas decorations in Indonesian malls and other places where the public gathers.

Decorations for Christmas have been assembled in an “excessive and provocative way”, said Muhyidin Junaedi, one of the chairmen of the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI), in a news report. “It should be done in a proportional manner as Muslims are the majority here, otherwise it will hurt their feelings.”

More than 85 percent of Indonesia’s approximately 250 million people are Muslim, while less than 10 percent are Protestant and Catholic.

Christmas, known locally as Hari Natal, is celebrated as a public holiday in Indonesia.

We received complaints from a number of malls’ employees who are forced to wear Santa Claus costumes which are against their faith. Such things should not have happened,’ Junaedi said in the report.

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

Pakistani Outposts Struck by Large Taliban Assault

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A Taliban group forced into a remote border area by Pakistani military operations struck back Friday with a large and highly coordinated attack against the government’s paramilitary forces, Pakistani officials said.

A senior security official said about 150 militants initiated the simultaneous attacks on five security outposts near the Afghan border, killing 11 members of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps and wounding 9. The militants fought hand-to-hand battles with the Pakistani forces at two of the outposts in Mohmand Agency and assaulted the three others with machine guns and rockets, officials said.

The militants may have been trying to forestall new attacks by the military, which has swept them from other nearby tribal areas into a relatively small area of Mohmand Agency and threatened a new offensive.

“Frankly, we didn’t expect an attack of this scale and magnitude,” said the senior security official, who added that the Pakistani forces had received a warning of an impending assault.

As violence has flared in Mohmand in recent months, most of the attacks against government forces have been smaller scale ambushes of patrols or remote assaults using improvised bombs planted along roads.

The senior security official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said that 24 militants were killed in the hours of clashes, although only 8 militants’ bodies were shown to the local news media.

“Our assessment is based on militants’ intercepts and chatter,” the official said.

The United States has directed most of its drone attacks in Pakistan against the Haqqani network of the Afghan Taliban, one of the most lethal groups attacking NATO and allied forces in Afghanistan, as well as that group’s local Pakistani allies.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has been focusing its military operations against groups like the one in Mohmand, which has been attacking Pakistani forces and increasingly singling out civilians allied with the government.

A government official said that Taliban fighters in the area had now been driven into a small mountainous area of Mohmand that adjoins the Bajaur tribal area in Pakistan and Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan…

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Ratzinger’s Best Pupils Are in Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan

They are the bishops Ranjith and Schneider. They follow the pope’s example in the liturgical camp more and better than many of their colleagues in Italy and Europe. One revealing test is the manner of giving communion at Mass

ROME, October 14, 2010 — In Sri Lanka, the bishops and priests dress all in white, as can be seen in the unusual photograph above: with the entire clergy of the diocese of Colombo, the capital, diligently listening to its archbishop, Malcolm Ranjith, who is likely to be made a cardinal at the next concistory.

In his diocese, Archbishop Ranjith has proclaimed a special year of the Eucharist. And to prepare for it, he gathered all of his priests for three days of intensive study in Colombo, where he brought in two outstanding speakers from Rome: Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, prefect of the Vatican congregation for divine worship, and Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, a member of the same congregation and an adviser for the office of pontifical liturgical celebrations.

Lang, German by birth and an Oratorian, was raised in Great Britain in the school of the great Henry Newman, who was beatified by Benedict XVI last September 19 in Birmingham. He is the author of one of the books that have provoked the most discussion in recent years, in the liturgical field: “Rivolti al Signore,” in which he maintains that the correct orientation in liturgical prayer is toward Christ, for both the priests and the faithful. The book opens with a preface by Joseph Ratzinger, written shortly before his election as pope.

Archbishop Ranjith, who before returning to Sri Lanka was secretary of the Vatican congregation for divine worship, was and is an enthusiastic admirer and promoter of the thesis of Lang’s book, as well as having the trust of Benedict XVI. Just like Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, not for nothing called “the Ratzinger of Spain” in his country, who was called to Rome by the pope to guide the Church in liturgical matters, a central objective of this pontificate.

Not only that. In order to offer more insight to his priests during the three days of study, Archbishop Ranjith brought in from Germany a Catholic writer of the first rank, Martin Mosebach, also the author of a book that has raised a great deal of discussion: “Eresia dell’informe. La liturgia romana e il suo nemico.” And he asked him to speak precisely on the Church’s disarray in the liturgical field.

All of this for what ultimate aim? Ranjith explained this in a pastoral letter to the diocese: to rekindle faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and to teach how to express this faith in appropriate liturgical signs…

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

Culture Wars

Catholic Church Strips US Hospital of Affiliation Over Abortion

THE HEAD of the Catholic Church in Phoenix has stripped Arizona’s largest hospital of its Catholic affiliation after he ruled that a decision to save the life of a mother by terminating her 11-week pregnancy was morally wrong.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted announced on Tuesday that St Joseph’s hospital can no longer be considered to be Catholic. The ruling breaks a relationship that stretches back to the hospital’s founding by Catholic nuns 115 years ago.

He has also excommunicated the member of the hospital’s ethics committee, which permitted the abortion to go ahead.

The decision brings to a head a dispute that has been building for several months over the termination, performed in November 2009, at St Joseph’s hospital and medical centre.

The case concerned an unidentified woman in her 20s who had a history of abnormally high blood pressure that was under control before she became pregnant. But doctors were concerned on learning of the pregnancy about the extra burden that would be placed on her heart, and they monitored her closely.

Tests showed that in the early stages of pregnancy her condition deteriorated rapidly and that before long her pulmonary hypertension — which can impair the working of the heart and lungs — had begun to seriously threaten her life. Doctors informed her that the risk of death was close to 100 per cent if she continued with the pregnancy.

Consultations were then held with the patient, her family, her doctors and the hospital’s ethics team, and the decision to go ahead with an abortion taken in order to save the mother’s life.

The hospital’s president, Linda Hunt, said following the bishop’s severing of relations that the operation had been “consistent with our values of dignity and justice. If we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, our first priority is to save both patients. If that is not possible we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case.”

Bishop Olmsted, however, drew on the advice of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ doctrinal committee, which distinguishes between direct abortions that are never justifiable and indirect terminations that happen incidentally as a result of life-saving medical procedures that can be allowed on narrowly-defined grounds.

In this case, the operation was deemed to be a direct abortion because the pregnancy was ended to ease the mother’s separate health problem.

“The baby was healthy and there was no problem with the pregnancy; rather, the mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St Joseph’s decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed.

“This is contrary to the teaching of the church,” the bishop said.

St Joseph’s has 697 beds and 5,000 staff and this year admitted 40,000 in-patients. It is world-renowned for its work on Parkinson’s disease and neurosurgery, and is regularly voted among the top 10 hospitals in the US.

Ms Hunt said that the hospital was “deeply saddened” by the church’s decision but that “we will be steadfast in fulfilling our mission”. In a statement, St Joseph’s said it would perform the same treatment again were the life of a mother in danger.

It is not known how the church hierarchy found out about the termination, as the hospital abides by a strict privacy policy.

The split will not affect the hospital’s income as the church does not fund it.

The only visible change that will be evident immediately is that the Blessed Sacrament will be removed from the hospital’s chapel and Mass will no longer be held there.

           — Hat tip: McR[Return to headlines]

Italy Calls on EU to Withdraw Schoools Diary That Leaves Out Christmas

Foreign minister labels omission an ‘indecency’ and demands the withdrawal of 3 million copies already distributed

Italy has demanded that the European Commission recall millions of diaries that are being distributed to schoolchildren throughout the EU because they do not mention Christmas but they do give the dates of other religions’ festivals, such as Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, and Sikh, Hindu and Chinese feast days. Silvio Berlusconi’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini, called the omission “an indecency”. In a message on his Facebook page, he said: “In addition to offending all the world’s Christians, it contradicts the fundamental principle of the freedom and dignity of all religious denominations, which is a basis of the European Union.”

A Commission spokeswoman said it had “realised the absence of some important European religious holidays, in particular Christmas”. She added: “The Commission understands the sensitivity of the issue and regrets this incident. This oversight will be rectified in future editions of the diary.” But she gave no indication that Brussels would accede to Frattini’s demand to recall the diaries, which, according to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, was contained in a letter to the commission’s president, Jose Manuel Barroso. The newspaper said Poland, another country with a large Catholic population, had also protested to Brussels about the omission.

Some 3 million copies of the latest edition of the Europe Diary have been sent to schools. The commission’s spokeswoman said its main purpose was “inform young Europeans as consumers and citizens on issues like rights, choices as consumers [and] climate change”. It was “an educational tool, not a calendar of events”, and the reference to religious events “only appears in the footnotes, together with references to other special days in relation to European culture and history”. The commission began sending out the diaries seven years ago. Christmas or no Christmas, it will be reluctant to recall and pulp the latest edition: the spokeswoman said it had cost €5.5m (£4.6m).

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Motor Vehicles Denies License to Muslim Woman

ST. THOMAS — A national advocacy group for Islamic-Americans is questioning the constitutionality of a V.I. Bureau of Motor Vehicles policy requiring Muslim women to remove their headscarves for their drivers license photos.

The Council on Islamic-American Relations, was contacted by St. Thomas resident Nailah Jamil, who wears a hijab every day. It covers her hair, ears and neck.

Jamil’s old drivers license had a photo of her taken before she began wearing the hijab, so to ensure that her public appearance matched her photo identification, Jamil went to the bureau to update her license.

She brought all the required documents, stood in line, paid for the new license, and went in to have her picture taken.

It wasn’t until that point in the process that anyone at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles said anything about the headscarf she was wearing.

The staff asked her to remove it.

“My only two options were to remove it or go down to the local mosque and get a notarized letter from the imam,” Jamil said.

“I was so shocked and dumbfounded,” she said. “I wasn’t able to get my license renewed unless I did this.”

She told the Bureau of Motor Vehicles employees it was discrimination and was told to return the next day to speak to a supervisor.

Jamil said she later spoke to Myrna George, assistant director of the department, about the matter.

“She told me not to call it discrimination. I said, ‘Well, what is it?’“ Jamil said.

George said she told Jamil it was one of the bureau’s rules.

“I told her it’s up to her what she wants to call it, but I have to follow the policy,” George told The Daily News.

Jamil said George told her it was a bureau policy that was adopted after the agency separated from the V.I. Police Department.

Bureau of Motor Vehicles Director Jerris Browne told The Daily News that the policy has been in the agency’s internal standard operating procedures since the bureau was a part of the V.I. Police Department.

Jamil asked to see a copy of the policy but said no one could produce a printed copy for her.

“When I asked for a copy, they told me it was nowhere in writing,” Jamil said.

Browne said he did not speak with Jamil and did not know why a copy of the policy was not given to her.

The Daily News requested a copy of the policy last week but did not receive one until Tuesday.

The policy does not require a notarized affidavit, which Jamil said the bureau staff expressly told her she needed.

Browne said that he cannot comment on what she was told, but that according to the policy, a notarized affidavit is not required; only a letter from a religious leader is required.

Jamil is refusing to get a notarized affidavit on principle and said the added expense and time for her to get the affidavit — when others do not have to — is discrimination based on her religion.

“I think it’s insulting, I really think it’s insulting,” she said. “Would you have to prove that you’re Christian? Would you have to prove that you’re of Jewish faith?”

The Council on Islamic-American Relations legal counsel Nadhira Al-Khalili sent a letter to Browne on Dec. 1, saying the bureau’s policy runs “contrary to all federal, state and local government photography guidelines, which provide for religious exemptions.”

“The headscarf worn by Muslim women traditionally covers the hair, ears and neck. The frontal view of the face is sufficient to identify a person in any type of picture identification. In fact, any attempt made to alter a person’s picture from their normal public appearance may cause them to be harassed and misidentified,” the letter said.

Forcing Muslim women to remove their head coverings would be a direct violation of their religious rights, which are protected under the U.S. Constitution, Al-Khalili said.

“Indeed, the State Department allows for a religious headscarf in passport photographs and visa requirements, as do all other Department of Motor Vehicles offices across the country,” Al-Khalili said.

According to the U.S. State Department’s website, a religious uniform may be worn in a passport photo if it is worn daily.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on Islamic-American Relations, said he is not aware of any other government agency that requires a notarized affidavit from a religious leader before allowing the hijab in a photograph.

“Someone’s personal declaration of personal faith should be sufficient,” Hooper said.

Browne said the Bureau of Motor Vehicles policy is not discriminatory because it applies to anyone who comes in for a driver’s license with their hair covered. He said the Bureau of Motor Vehicles staff requires Rastafarians who wear their dreadlocks wrapped to take their hair down and remove the wrap for their driver’s license photos.

“It’s not just for Arabs, you know, it’s for anyone who have their hair tied up,” Browne said.

He said Jamil still can have her photo taken with the headscarf, but she must get the required document first.

Daniel Mach, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said several U.S. Supreme Court rulings have found that such requirements are not necessary.

“The Supreme Court has stated on many occasions that one need not appeal to outside sources to confirm the sincerity of one’s faith,” Mach said.

For example, in a 1990 case, Employment Division v. Smith, the country’s highest court said it is not the court’s job to verify or judge a person’s faith or religious conviction.

“It is not within the judicial ken to question the centrality of particular beliefs or practices to a faith, or the validity of particular litigants’ interpretations of those creeds,” the Supreme Court opinion states. “Repeatedly and in many different contexts, we have warned that courts must not presume to determine the place of a particular belief in a religion or the plausibility of a religious claim.”

The ACLU has not yet gotten involved in Jamil’s case, but Mach said the Bureau of Motor Vehicles policy “is a concern, to suggest that someone must violate their faith simply to get a drivers license.”

Browne said he is forwarding the council’s letter to V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer for an opinion on the bureau’s policy. He also is drafting a response to the council’s letter, he said.

Hooper said he hopes an agreement can be reached.

“I think a clarification is in order on the policy,” Hooper said. “If it’s only used to apply to Muslim women that want to wear a headscarf, that would be a problem to us.”

He said the council wants to work with the V.I. government to facilitate a smooth transition to a policy that does not discriminate.

“Let’s just make it easier for people to go through that procedure,” he said. “Who’s going to judge what’s in somebody’s heart in any case?”No pictures (photographs) are taken at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles with head coverings. In order to take such pictures, written exception is accepted for religious purposes only. Applicant must provide written request on official letterhead of religious institution to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in order for this exception to be considered and/or granted. License pictures are not taken with exposed shoulders or spaghetti strapped clothing.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Religion: Respecting the Minority

Every year, researchers from the British Social Attitudes survey ask a representative sample of British people whether they regard themselves as belonging to any particular religion and, if so, to which one? When the survey first asked these questions in 1985, 63% of the respondents answered that they were Christians, compared with 34% who said they had no religion (the rest belonged to non-Christian religions).

Today, a quarter of a century on, there has been a steady and remarkable turnaround. In the latest 2010 BSA report, published earlier this month, only 42% said they were Christians while 51% now say they have no religion. Admittedly, some other surveys — including the last census — have produced different findings on these issues, usually to the advantage of the religious option. There is also a margin of error in all such exercises. All the same, and particularly since the trends in opinion over time seem well set, it is hard not to feel that this latest finding marks a cultural watershed.

This Christmas, for perhaps the first time ever, Britain is a majority non-religious nation. Most of us have probably seen this moment coming, but it is a substantial event nonetheless. It is undoubtedly a development that would have astonished our ancestors who built a Britain on the basis that we were and would remain a predominantly Protestant people. The victory of secularism would have flabbergasted them almost as much as the pope appearing on the BBC with his Thought for the Day.

The change ought certainly to inspire some national reflection, though there is no need for national breast-beating. After all, in most eyes, the BSA survey finding simply underscores things that have already become obvious. Today, our three political parties are led by two open atheists, and a prime minister who admits his faith comes and goes, a development impossible to imagine in other parts of a world, in which the loss of religion is not a uniform trend. The Britain of 50 years ago, in which religion was a far larger part of the social fabric and the national way of life, is a country we have lost.

What is more striking about the survey is how quickly the change has come — just a generation. It is not that long since everything shut on Sundays, since a majority went regularly to church of some sort, since all schoolchildren knew and sang hymns and studied the Bible even if they did not believe in it, and since the idea that public figures could be anything other than observantly Christian would have seemed unthinkable. It would be hard to say, by most yardsticks, that those were better times. They were certainly different ones. The direction of change is likely to continue. We must all get used to it.

None of this is to dismiss the religious or to disparage its institutions, let alone to imply that Christmas is unimportant. For all its secular and commercial excess, Christmas remains a surprisingly serious season, accentuated this year by the bleak weather. But it is to say that sensitive adaptation to the predominantly non-religious era is required on all sides. In many respects, Britain is handling that task quite well. Our national evolution into a less religious society is not without its skids and bumps. If anything, though, it is being managed with greater dignity than our parallel evolution into a less politicised one.

It is no more the place of a newspaper to impose a religious test on its readers than it was right for the British state to impose such tests on its office-holders in the past. In some sense, the protection of respect becomes more important with Christianity’s decline. When Anglicanism held unchallenged sway, after all, it was important to assert the rights of those who disagreed with it, whether as Catholics, nonconformists, non-Christians or as atheists. Today, as an era of non-religious ascendancy begins in Britain, the importance of tolerance towards the faiths is not diminishing but increasing.

[JP note: Gibberish.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


Holocaust Hegemony

. . . and its moral pitfalls.

By Sam Schulman

Last month, the Canadian journalist Richard Klagsbrun drew attention to a newly submitted Master’s thesis at the University of Toronto’s ed school: “The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education.” Proud author Jennifer Peto told a reporter for the Canadian Jewish News that Canada’s Jews push the Holocaust narrative because only “a victimized Jewish identity can produce certain effects that are beneficial to the organized Jewish community and the Israeli nation-state.”

Of course there is nothing novel about Peto’s view that Jews exploit the Holocaust, as can be seen in a casual rifle through past issues of the London Review of Books or the writings of left-wing scholars like Norman Finkelstein. The beauty of Peto’s formulation is that it can be used without alteration both by Holocaust-affirmers (like Peto) and Holocaust-deniers: The Jewish Lobby has been deploying Holocaust history (whether faked or real matters not) only to obscure the Gestapo-style tactics used to oppress Palestinians. But the real genius of Peto’s attack on Canadian Holocaust-educators is that it can produce the same effects as Holocaust-denial. The many admirers of the immediate object of her study — a long-established Holocaust-education tour of concentration camp sites in Europe — were hurt, shocked, and enraged.

Peto and her comrades in the anti-Zionist Israel-Apartheid movement don’t really care whether Holocaust education is disinterested or not. Their aims are bolder: the bloody dissolution of the state of Israel, among all the countries of the world. Distracted by Peto’s cruelty, the outraged defenders of the March of Remembrance and Hope pleaded (accurately) that their tour teaches “universal lessons of tolerance and empathy.” But they neglected to refute the underlying claim of the anti-Zionist movement: that Israel as a state deserves to be annihilated and its citizens dispersed; that Jewish citizens of Western democracies are bad Jews and disloyal citizens (of America, or Canada, or Sweden) if they believe Israel ought to exist; and that they are good Jews and good citizens only as long as they regard Israel as malign and unconnected to themselves (I cannot claim credit for the elegant terms “good Jew” and “bad Jew” — I borrow them from Professor John Mearsheimer).

The sad truth is that a real “hegemon” needs followers — and, measured by its effects, Holocaust education has none. Jennifer Peto is dead wrong: Far from being the creation of sinister Jews who wanted to be regarded as victims rather than “white,” Holocaust education was to be a gift from the Jewish community to the world at large. European Jewry was destroyed, but its legacy would be a redemptive technique that was intended to prevent future genocides of others. Kofi Annan described the ideal of Holocaust education perfectly last year in an op-ed: “a vital mechanism for teaching students to value democracy and human rights, and encouraging them to oppose racism and promote tolerance in their own societies.” The former U.N. secretary-general confesses that he thought Holocaust education should have helped “to prevent future acts of genocide,” but it has not: The op-ed murmurs the words Cambodia, the Congo, Bosnia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. Annan proposes to look into “better teacher training.”

The idea of Holocaust education really took off in 1993 with the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington. The notion is simple, and there is something ineffably ‘90s about the enterprise. Vice President Al Gore — an iconic ‘90s figure — explained how it was to work in a speech on the first anniversary of the museum’s opening: “In order to prevent such an atrocity from ever happening again, those who care must tell the story.” And that would be it. Give me a child, the Holocaust education movement said to the world, and after passing through my exhibits and taking one of my courses, I will give you back a woman like Samantha Power or a man like Warren Christopher or even Kofi Annan — a warrior against future genocides, or at least a person immunized forever against racism and the desire to murder thousands of civilians with a stroke of the pen.

The aim was lofty, and like so many ideas that germinated after the end of the Cold War, it seemed attractive because it didn’t demand much effort or expense. In Britain, Tony Blair’s government enthusiastically instituted a Holocaust Memorial Day in 2001. Remembering the Holocaust as a nation would, he said, “reaffirm the triumph of good” over evil. Home Secretary Jack Straw was confident that remembering the Holocaust suffered by the Jews would benefit all: “The universal lessons of the Holocaust make this commemoration day relevant to everyone in our society. We all have a shared responsibility to fight against discrimination and to help foster a truly multicultural Britain.” Starting in the ‘90s, many European nations (France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and a dozen others) unhampered by common-law traditions of free speech began to do their bit on the punitive side, initiating laws that forbade Holocaust-denial.

Holocaust remembrance and education is one of those ideas which really has been tried. If students learn any history at all, it is the history of the Holocaust. Genocide Studies has become an academic specialty and a fundraising bonanza, with professional organizations and prizes. Great books have been written and beautiful museums have been built — all in the conviction that they will prevent the production of future mass murderers and their willing executioners. Of course, people are only human and thus have produced versions of Holocaust study that are vulgar, distorted, oversimplified, inhumane, and unintentionally comic and undignified. But even shallow and trashy expressions of “Holocaust awareness” are not lacking in genuine piety and concern, and share the belief that they are engaged in a virtuous struggle against hate.

The Jews and the state of Israel were not much of a concern for the movement’s founders. It did not occur to anyone that anti-Semitism would reemerge, except among a few Holocaust-deniers. And as for Israel, its future was to be secured by the Oslo peace process, which was put on track by the same president who opened the U.S. Holocaust Museum in the same year of 1993, and shared some of the easy confidence of that decade.

The theory of Holocaust education, I think all except Jennifer Peto will agree, has been one of the great failures of our time. But it’s important to know how it has failed — and even more, to understand that our sentimental attachment to Holocaust memorialization can fail us with greater consequence in the future, as can our sentimental horror at those villains who deny the reality of the Holocaust. What happened as we learned about the Holocaust? Generally, nothing at all. Those politicians who speechified at the Holocaust Museum in the ‘90s looked the other way, just as their predecessors in the 1930s did, as mass murders continued to take place. On the anti-Semitism front, the Maginot line of Holocaust education, human nature has not only refused to improve, but seems to have gotten worse. In one European country after another, observers — non-Jewish observers — remark levels of anti-Semitism unprecedented since 1945, despite Europe’s generous application of the Holocaust-memorial carrots and Holocaust-denial sticks. Jewish populations in Sweden are leaving entire cities; the retired chief of Holland’s major conservative party last month advised Jews who are “identifiably Jewish” to leave the country, because the Dutch state cannot protect them from anti-Semitic violence. It’s not Holocaust-deniers who commit attacks on individual Jews in Dutch cities; far from it. The Amsterdammers who jostle and taunt Rabbi Raphael Evers on streetcars are well informed, shouting “Joden aan het gas“ — Jews to the gas chambers.

Holocaust education may have done more than fail. It might also have produced an unintended, but measurable effect that is even worse. One thinks of the little girl who objected to being taught the Ten Commandments in Sunday School: “They don’t tell me what I should do and they just give me ideas.” The current generation of university students — Holocaust-educated from the nursery on — have been given ideas. And on campuses around the world, not just in Protestant Europe, it is fair to say that the more the current student generation have been taught about the evil of the Holocaust, the more Israel seems to them to resemble Nazi Germany rather than itself. Even if we resist the false suggestion that Israel is conducting a genocide of Palestinians, our Holocaust-instruction has left us all with an equally false notion: that Israel was created by Europeans in the Middle East in order to make amends to European Jews for a European Holocaust.

The falseness of this idea is not merely a matter of historical interest; it is false in a brilliantly focused way. Because in fact, quite apart from the unbroken continuity of Jewish life in Palestine since antiquity, and the recurring affirmation of the connection of the Diaspora to the land of Israel, the creation of Israel was an event that coincided with the creation of most of the modern states of the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The Jewish state in Palestine was created by those who fought and won the First World War, not the Second; and its raw material was the same as the raw material of the majority of the members of the EU and the Arab League: the broken territories of the great colonial powers, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. The beneficiaries of this impulse were to create new states for Arabs and Arabic speakers throughout the Ottoman empire, for South Slavs, Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews, Armenians, Kurds, Estonians, Latvians, Ukrainians. Israel’s origin, then, is postcolonial, not imperialist. And those concerned with Israel’s survival should properly be concerned with the survival as free democracies of other postcolonial states on the periphery of tyranny elsewhere, such as Lebanon, Georgia, Ukraine, and even Lithuania and Poland…

[Return to headlines]