Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110113

Financial Crisis
»China Holds the Key to the Bringing the World Out of Recession
»Europe Fears Motives of Chinese Super-Creditor
»Eurozone Rates Held But Jean-Claude Trichet Turns More Hawkish
»Food Prices Set to Rise After US Cuts Crop Stock Forecasts
»Italy: Family Income Standstill, Purchasing Power Down
»Protests Mark “End of Tunisian Economic Miracle”
»UK: Petrol Price Rises Rake in £2bn for Treasury
»UK: Surprise, Surprise. No Change in Interest Rates
»Airline Pilot Holds Plane for Family of Murdered Toddler
»An Essay on the Power of the Media and Why They Lost Our Trust
»CAIR Says Poster Warning Against Helping FBI is Misinterpreted
»Communists Blame Shooting on Tea Party
»Illinois Jewish Congregation Makes West Bank Trip
»Is ‘Shadow Group’ Stalking Giffords?
»NBC 5: Muslim Woman Denied Ride on Greyhound Bus Because of Her Clothing
»Texas Rep. Berman Files Resolution to Ban ‘Religious or Cultural Law’
»Third Gun Control Bill Proposed Since Tucson Shootings
»You Got Terrorism! We Got Terrorism! Let’s be Friends and Fight Terrorism!
»EDL Woos Canada’s Jewish Far Right
Europe and the EU
»British Imam Charged With Raping Minor Boy
»Crazy Crazy Continent
»Dangers of Ignoring the Contrasts in Euro Hatreds
»Europe Goes Halal
»Germans Angered by Christian Persecution
»In France, Far Right Seizes on Muslim Street Prayers
»Islamic Group Plans to Double Number of Mosques in Germany
»Italy Condemns Nigerian Christian Attacks, Demands Action
»Italy: Valentino: Balestra, Bulgari, Sandrellis in Tax Probe
»Italy: Tensions Rise Over Fiat Referendum
»Italy: Fiat Due to Vote on Controversial New ‘Flexible’ Work Rules
»Murderers and Martyrs: The Difficult Struggle of Christians in the Orient
»Spain: Sentences for Planners of Attack Significantly Reduced
»Sweden Looks to Combat Islamophobia
»Sweden: Terror Suspect a ‘Normal Muslim’: Wife
»Swiss Stashes of Fashion Gurus, Film Stars and Entrepreneurs
»The Rise and Fall of Germany’s Left Party
»UK: Boy Stands by Imam Sex Attack Claim
»UK: Husband ‘Who Hacked Brother-in-Law to Pieces Caught When Bird Dropped Severed Thumb From the Sky’
»UK: Imam ‘Raped Boy, 12, As He Attended Mosque for Religious Lessons’
»UK: Man Arrested After Threatening to Blow Up Regent Street During Accessorize Siege
»UK: Nurse ‘Punched Dying Patient Who Walked With a Zimmer Frame’
»Serbia: Military Industry Conquers Third-World Markets
North Africa
»Algeria: Protests, Al Qaeda Leader Incites Demonstrators
»Protests in MENA Area: Governments Fear Domino Effect
»Tunisia: Brussels: Possible Stop to Advanced Status Talks
»Tunisia Riots: Reform or be Overthrown, US Tells Arab States Amid Fresh Riots
Middle East
»Saudi Arabia Now Forcing News Bloggers to Obtain Licenses, Promote Islam
»The Invention of “Peace” In the Middle East
»Turkey: How Democratic Are Our Muslims?
»Turkey: Süleyman the Magnificently Polemical
»Turkey: Where Islamists and Secularists Unite — and Where They Don’t
»Turkey: Response to ‘Porn Scandal’ By Istanbul’s Bilgi University Violated Academic Freedom, Protesters Say
»Turkish PM: Israel Must Remove Foreign Minister
»Wanted: 47 Al Qaeda Commanders Sought by Saudi Arabia — Including the Son-in-Law of Bin Laden
»Russian Orthodox Christmas: Silence on Martyrdom, A Call to Patriotic Values
»Muslim Chechnya Struggles to End Bride Kidnapping
South Asia
»Asian Threat Forecast in 2011
»Blasphemy Law: Pope’s Call Highlights Split in Pakistani Society
»Paedophilia ‘Culturally Accepted in South Afghanistan’
»Pak to Block Anti-Islam Websites
»Pakistan: “We Are Racist, Like Our Parents Were”
»Pakistan: Islamic Party Leader Warned Taseer’s Daughter
»Pakistan’s Fight Against the Taliban: The Crumbling Centre
»Thailand: ‘Send Us Cash or We’ll Rape Her Again’: Thai Sex Attackers’ Sickening Call to Mother of British Woman, 23, As They Assaulted Her
Sub-Saharan Africa
»350 Saga Cruise Passengers Ordered Below Decks After Their Liner is Chased Across Indian Ocean by Somali Pirates
»South Sudan and the Arab World: A Plot to Do Down Islam
»Immigration is Too High, Say Four in Five Britons
»Punishing the Victims of Islamic Gender Apartheid?
Culture Wars
»Canada: Reason, Not Religion, Behind Ban on Polygamy, Prof Tells B.C. Court
»Canada: Polygamy Ban Centuries Old, B.C. Court Told
»Canada: Dire Straits’ ‘Money for Nothing’ Should be Censored, Broadcast Panel Rules
»EU Sends Out £4.4m Diaries to Schools Which List Muslim, Chinese and Hindu Holidays… But Miss Out Christmas and Easter
»Switzerland: Should Incest Still be Considered a Crime?
»Muslims Being ‘Appeased’ By Crackdown on Christianity

Financial Crisis

China Holds the Key to the Bringing the World Out of Recession

The Communist Party and Chinese business leaders, with the support of their Western counterparts, could save the world from the crisis. But this means normalizing society, increasing wages and expanding the domestic market: only in this way, will corrupt officials lose their income. However, it is a dead end for Beijing. The analysis of a Chinese dissident.

Washington (AsiaNews) — As the new year 2011 arrives, everyone is concerned about what kind of year it will be. Everyone has already realized that China has reached the end of road for accumulating wealth by relying on providing cheap labor to export goods, which it has been pursuing since the Deng Xiaoping era. China’s domestic market has been shrinking relatively, while the disparity between the rich and poor has been expanding, along with expanding damage to the countries it exports to. All these problems have reached their limits.

The reactions from the countries that import Chinese goods have changed completely. By relying on the lobbying of big businesses which make profits from their China deals, it is becoming hard for the Chinese government to maintain this strategy of harming the others in an effort to benefit itself. The trade barriers of various Western countries have gradually increased for several years now. A few years ago, it was still happening in secrecy; the most typical cases were the European countries and Japan. They were using mainly non-tariff measures, such as custom checks and other roadblocks to increase the difficulty for Chinese goods to enter their markets. However, these measures did not really prevent the dumping of cheap Chinese goods, and thus were not able to promote the Chinese government to change its strategy of cheap export instead of expanding China’s own market.

Because the United States did not join in with the European model of non-tariff barriers, the pattern of world trade was not fundamentally changed. But, beginning last year, there have been increased pressures from public opinion in the United States. Although the lobbying groups of the big businesses spare no effort to the degree that there are always groups of them waiting to meet the speaker of the House, Congress still could not resist the pressure of public opinion. After all, this is a democratic country, unlike what happens in China where the fate of the whole country is determined by a few leaders. Now, the United States has had to begin taking a tough trade policy.

In this situation, even the Chinese leadership understands that they must make a fresh start. Its strategy of economic expansion must stop. It must enter a normal developing strategy of sustainable development. That means expanding the domestic market synchronized with economic growth, raising the public income level, reducing the growth rate, reducing the gap between rich and poor, and letting the expanded domestic market digest the surplus production capacity resulting from blocked exports.

These processes are the only way to ensure that, in the next few years, China’s economic decline will not develop to the extent of the Great Depression of the United States in the 1930’s. A direct cause of that depression was the sharp decrease in exports, which resulted in some businesses closing and deflation, followed by a chain reaction of more corporate failures and more workers losing their jobs. As soon as a domino chain reaction starts, it is hard to stop which brought the Great Depression.

China is now in a situation which is very similar to the USA then, but not identical. Back then, the U.S. domestic market was relatively saturated and it was impossible to raise wages rapidly to expand the market. However, the current situation in China is different. Over the years, the wage level has been held down deliberately while the Chinese currency RenMinBi’s exchange rate also has been suppressed deliberately. Objectively, there is great potential to expand the domestic market in China. This is the biggest difference from the United States Great Depression in 1930’s.

Another big difference is that China is not a real market economy. Its import model is full of non-tariff trade barriers. This policy is now one of the main reasons for the current hyperinflation. Specifically, imports are not smooth, so domestic and foreign markets cannot adjust themselves, yet the currency exchange rate cannot adjust itself either. Once the export growth rate is stopped or reduced while productivity growth has not diminished, inflation is the inevitable self-regulation.

To change this self-regulation model, we must change the unreasonable economic model and stop the rapid economic development which is harming others for itself. In other words, first we must stop the model which accumulates wealth by damaging the interests of ordinary Chinese people. Second we must stop the model which relies on exploiting the markets of the import countries to expand exports, so as to enable both domestic and foreign markets to self-regulate while steadily improving the income of the domestic working-class and expanding the domestic market in China. These policies can resolve hyperinflation in China within one year, and gradually lead China to the road of sustainable development.

This transformation of the economic model is good for the domestic and international economic relations. China’s working-class income will be increased, and everyone’s real income will increase after the inflation stopped. Thus, ordinary people could be living better, while society would be more stable than it is now. The expansion of the domestic market in China will have a positive result for the aftereffect of future economic development, which would show its vitality within a year or two.

The policies will produce important positive effects on the international relations. Exports to developed countries will be reduced, meanwhile imports increased, resulting in a reduction of trade surpluses, as well as a reduction of trade friction. It will help to restore the economic growth rate of developed countries, thus help pull them out of recession. After a year or two, the markets of the developed countries with their now growing economies will automatically expand their imports and in turn promote China’s exports. Thus the whole world could walk out of this economic crisis.

Why is such a happy thing for everyone so strewn with setbacks? Why do not so many economists and government policy makers understand? It is really not that they do not understand, but because they are looking at the issue from a different perspective. These measures will make most people benefit, but big business and their beneficiaries will lose money, so they do not see the benefit, thus could not understand. So it is really not due to understanding, but due to different stands.

A decline in exports is not what some people in China would like to see. These people are the businessmen who make a fortune from exports, and the corrupted Chinese officials who make big money from these businessmen. Therefore, the Chinese Department of Commerce does not want it, and most of the current bureaucrats in different levels do not want it. When high-quality imported goods enter the Chinese market, they will force China’s domestic producers to phase-out. The people who will be phased out during the industrial technological concentration and adjusting period, and the local Chinese officials who got rich by consuming these producers of cheap goods do not want it. Of course, the Western big businesses that made a big fortune by monopolizing the market of selling cheap goods do not want it either, including these economists they feed.

This is the true reason behind the phenomena that seems to have made so many smart people in the world become silly. However, the economic status is stronger than these people’s will. The democratic society in the West will not allow politicians and scholars to fool the people by pretend silly for a long time. So now the economic recession in Europe and the USA has finally forced the Chinese government to walk out of the hoax it built. The looming economic collapse of China, along with more and more people being in extreme poverty, is also forcing the Chinese government to stop its strategy of harming others for itself.

The expectation now is to see whether the big capitalists in China will be able to wisely accept this reality or not. If they accept it, then everyone will have better lives, except that these capitalists will lose some excess profit. If they do not accept it, then they will collapse with the Chinese Communist Party together. The prospect for them to flee to foreign countries is not very bright, because the Chinese people who have accumulated many years of hatred will not let them run away, and the international society which lost this chance to walk out of their crisis will not accept them in asylum neither.

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

Europe Fears Motives of Chinese Super-Creditor

Herman Van Rompuy, Europe’s president, said during a visit to Downing Street that the Chinese may have “political” thoughts in the back of their minds for coming to Europe’s help, and gave a strong hint that they are also engaging in currency manipulation. “When they buy euros, the euro becomes stronger and their currency a little bit weaker. That is not neutral in regard to their competitive position. But I go no further in this topic. It could be too delicate,” he said.

Mr Van Rompuy nevertheless welcomed the latest purchases of bonds from the eurozone periphery as a valuable gesture of support. “They invested even in some weak countries, so they are very confident in the solvency of some countries,” he said.

China has emerged as the transforming force in the eurozone debt crisis over recent days, pledging to use part of its €2.87 trillion (£1.82 trillion) reserves to safeguard global stability. The question is whether the Communist regime is hoping to extract strategic concessions in exchange.

The footsteps of a giant creditor were clearly felt in Portugal’s bond markets on Wednesday, and again on Thursday in Spain and Italy. Madrid sold €3bn of five-year debt at 4.54pc, a full percentage point jump from November but still below the danger level. Italy also enjoyed a benign auction.

The exact role of China is unclear. Chinese vice-premier Li Keqiang promised to buy Spanish debt during a visit to Madrid last week, reportedly up to €6bn (£5bn).

China was the secret buyer in a private placement of €1.1bn of Portuguese debt last week, according to the Wall Street Journal. Finance minister Fernando Teixeira dos Santos said China “may well have been” a key buyer in this week’s debt auction.

China was not the only force at work. Traders say the European Central Bank (ECB) acted aggressively behind the scenes, calling some 20 dealers to buy Portuguese debt in the secondary market. This created what amounted to a “short-squeeze” in Portuguese bonds just before auction, causing spreads to tighten dramatically and inflicting damage on market makers acting in good faith. City sources say this has caused some bitterness.

Charles Grant, head of the Centre for European Reform and author of a book on EU-China relations, said China’s top goal is to secure an end to the EU arms embargo, imposed after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. It rankles as humiliating treatment for a global superpower that has since changed profoundly.

The EU has refused to move on the sanctions until China ratifies the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, and China’s arrest of Nobel peace dissident Liu Xiaobo has further complicated matters…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Eurozone Rates Held But Jean-Claude Trichet Turns More Hawkish

The bank’s president Jean-Claude Trichet said evidence of “short-term” upward pressures on prices, mostly due to the cost of energy, had not “so far” affected the bank’s view on price stability but required “very close monitoring”.

The move marked a turning point in attitudes at the bank from a neutral stance to a leaning towards more tightening, although it left interest rates still at a record low of 1pc on Thursday. “Just when everyone thought that Mr Trichet would spend little time in discussing monetary policy … he proceeds to drop a rate bombshell,” said Marc Ostwald, a strategist at Monument Securities. “Make no mistake, the rather explicit threat on Euro area rates if the ‘temporary rise in inflation’ proves to be rather more trenchant is not an idle one.”

Economists at Citi now expect a rate rise in the second half of this year — probably before Mr Trichet’s term ends on October 31 — rather than the start of 2012. The euro rose 0.89p to 84.11p…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Food Prices Set to Rise After US Cuts Crop Stock Forecasts

Corn surged to an almost 30-month high in morning trading, after the US government cut forecasts for domestic inventories, tightening global food supplies, after adverse weather slashed harvests. The price of wheat also climbed.

Corn for March delivery advanced as much as 1.7pc to $6.42 (£4.08) a bushel, the highest price for the most-active contract on the Chicago Board of Trade since July 2008.

The contract extended yesterday’s 4pc jump and traded at $6.375 by 7am London time.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) lowered its estimate on the country’s corn harvest last year, widening the global production deficit by 14pc to 20.1m metric tons, from 17.2m tons in December. Stockpiles before this year’s harvest from the US, the world’s largest grower and exporter, will fall to 745m bushels (18.9m tons), the smallest since 1996, the USDA said.

US stockpiles will be “extraordinarily tight,” Luke Mathews, a commodity strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, said in a report. “Those tight stocks prompted record U.S. corn prices a few seasons ago.” Corn futures surged to a record $7.9925 a bushel in July 2008 as global supplies of the grain and other cereals including rice and wheat tightened. Concerns of food shortages sparked protests from Haiti to Egypt…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Italy: Family Income Standstill, Purchasing Power Down

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 11 — In the third quarter of 2010, the available income of Italian families remained at a standstill: in current values it registered zero change on the previous quarter. On an annualised base, it went up 1.4% (+0.4% in the first nine months of 2010). The news was reported by the national statistic institute (ISTAT) which highlighted how purchasing power, in the same period, recorded a drop of 0.5% both on a cyclical basis and on an annualised one (-1.2% in the first nine months of 2010). Despite this, spending by Italian families for final consumption in the third quarter went up 2.4% on the third quarter of 2009 and 0.8% on the second quarter of 2010. In the first nine months of 2010, ISTAT reports, the tendential growth was 2.2%, which was higher that that of gross available earnings (+0.4%).

As a result, families’ readiness to save fell: in the third quarter it was equal to 12.1%, down by 0.7% compared to the previous quarter and 0.9% on the third quarter of 2009, hitting the lowest level since the first quarter of 2000.(

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Protests Mark “End of Tunisian Economic Miracle”

Violent protests in Tunisia mark the end of an informal pact imposed by the regime — prosperity versus limited freedom — says Swiss Arab expert Hasni Abidi.

Thousands of lawyers went on strike in Tunisia on Thursday, a week after a police crackdown on protests against unemployment. A Tunisian graduate whose suicide attempt last month set off the initial protests died on Wednesday.

Mohammed Bouazizi, 26, set himself on fire in front of a government building in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, saying he was driven to the act after police confiscated his fruit and vegetable cart because he did not have the necessary permit.

Trade unionists said more strikes, protests, even attempted suicides took place in other parts of Tunisia on Thursday. Demonstrations against the Tunisian government were reported in Geneva (100 people), Lausanne (15), Paris (200) and Montreal (60).

Hasni Abidi: The scale of the protests is unprecedented in Tunisia’s recent history. And as students return to school and university it seems to be spreading. The regime’s biggest fear was to see schoolchildren and university students getting involved in the protests — and this is now happening.

Today there is a spiralling of protests and rebellions not just in the town of Sidi Bouzid where the protests started, but in other cities and among other groups of people…

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

UK: Petrol Price Rises Rake in £2bn for Treasury

The cost of oil will hand the Treasury a windfall in extra tax this year while motorists endure record petrol prices.

The Government will collect about £12 billion in tax on North Sea oil revenues — 20 per cent more than ministers had forecast, according to latest figures.

The prospect of the significant tax gain will intensify pressure on David Cameron to deliver on his promise to protect drivers from rising prices at the pumps.

The Prime Minister said yesterday that he understood the “pain” of motorists who face paying more than £1.30 a litre, or £70 to fill up the average family saloon. However, he did not make a firm commitment to introduce a fuel duty “stabiliser” — a Conservative manifesto pledge.

The Office for Budget Responsibility, the Treasury’s official forecaster, estimates that every $1 rise in the price of a barrel of oil earns the Government an additional £150 million in revenue over a year from the North Sea oil industry.

The Treasury’s economic plans in November were based on an official projection of $85 a barrel. However, rapidly increasing demand for oil on the world markets has pushed the price above $98 a barrel. According to calculations by The Daily Telegraph, North Sea oil revenues for this year will, therefore, be £1.95 billion above the £9.8 billion the Treasury had expected.

The eventual windfall could be even higher, with some analysts expecting prices to burst through the $100 a barrel barrier within days. Higher oil prices are also likely to earn the Government another £150 million in VAT, according to analysis of the OBR data. Revenue from fuel duty itself often does not rise when forecourt prices do because motorists use their cars less…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Surprise, Surprise. No Change in Interest Rates

The City has been on tenterhooks all month. And here it is, the news we’ve all been waiting for… No change in interest rates! Well, there’s a surprise. In recent polls of City economists, not one has predicted a rise in rates. And for obvious reasons.

The case for higher rates is not entirely unrepresented at the Bank of England. One member of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee, Andrew Sentance, has for some months now been calling for a monetary tightening to counter inflationary pressures, but he’s hugely outnumbered. The rest of the MPC is either neutral, or wants looser money still, through a new dose of quantitative easing.

For how much longer can the Bank continue to ignore the evidence of its eyes — that inflation is roaring away as if in the midst of a full scale boom? The Bank asks us to “look through” what it characterises as one off “price shocks” from rising taxes, devaluation and increased commodity and energy prices, to the promise of falling inflation a year from now, but the message is becoming a little lame. With each quarterly Inflation Report, the point at which inflation returns to target (which is meant to be 2 per cent) is pushed further into the future. The policy of ignoring “price shocks” outside the Bank’s control might be easier to stomach if the same approach was also applied the other way around. Logically, if the Bank is prepared to “look through” external pressures on inflation, it should have been doing the same with the sort of negative price shocks that were occuring in the years prior to the banking crisis — price disinflation from the Far East and the disinflationary effects of a strong pound…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Airline Pilot Holds Plane for Family of Murdered Toddler

A pilot showed an act of extraordinary kindness by delaying his plane by 12 minutes to ensure a passenger would be able to say goodbye to his murdered grandson.

The desperate passenger was rushing from Los Angeles to Aurora, Colorado to pay his last respects to his two-year-old grandson who had allegedly been attacked by his mother’s live-in boyfriend.

The little boy was later that night due to be taken off his life support machine ahead of donating his organs to up 25 people.

But his grandfather was in danger of missing his connecting flight from L.A. to Tucson, Arizona — until the Southwest Airlines pilot stepped in to help him…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

An Essay on the Power of the Media and Why They Lost Our Trust

Since the invention of the nightly news and media giants they have always been biased one way or another. The reason Americans did not really understand this is because there was no other option as to where they attained their information. There was no other product on the shelf for them to compare with. Americans could not shop for their news. Forty years ago when I was just a kid, there were only 7 channels to choose from and only three of those produced national news. There was not exactly a huge selection of media outlets to choose from. Today, with the internet and scores of competing news outlets on cable TV news and information is a shopping extravaganza for the public.

They were not successful because within the first three days as more and more information became known about the killer, the more clear it became that this murderer was not politically motivated but was instead a mentally deranged lunatic. I began to see the frustration in the talking heads as the story unfolded. They were no longer capable of managing this story. They had lost control of the flow of the information that previously could have been used to easily destroy any political opponent. They unleashed a torrent of blatant bias and unsubstantiated attacks against their political enemies while ignoring the hypocrisy of those they support. All while their torrent of insults and vilifying accusations flowed across TVs in America, the majority of Americans were receiving their news and updates on the story from other outlets on the internet, smart phones and social networking. Most received the news on their Facebook pages, smart phones and Yahoo news long before they got home from work to hear the evening news. The harder they tried to convince people that the Conservative movement in America was evil the more audiences began to tun them out because they had lost their credibility.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

CAIR Says Poster Warning Against Helping FBI is Misinterpreted

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said it will remove a poster from the group’s website promoting an upcoming conference that encourages people not to talk to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The poster, which appeared on the website of CAIR’s California chapter, features a sinister-looking FBI agent with the headlines “Build a Wall of Resistance” and “Don’t Talk to the FBI.” The poster was designed in the late 1970s or early 1980s and has been reproduced by various groups and activists since then in response to alleged harassment by the FBI and to protest grand jury subpoenas.

“I think it’s subject to misinterpretation,” spokesman Ibrahim Hooper told Fox News Radio when speaking about the poster. “We decided out of extreme caution to take it down.”

The poster was promoting a conference called “FBI Raids and Grand Jury Subpoenas: Know Your Rights and Defend Our Communities.” The keynote speaker is Hatem Abudayyeh, identified by CAIR as an activist and Palestinian community leader whose home was allegedly raided by federal agents in September.

The conference is scheduled for Feb. 9 at the East Side Cultural Center in Oakland.

Hooper conceded the poster “crosses the line,” but refused to renounce the artwork and blamed critics for fomenting what he called a manufactured controversy.

“The entire American-Muslim community is under the microscope right now with a cottage industry of Muslim bashers,” he said. “We’re used to this kind of attack by the Islamophobic hate machine and in this case there is some justification in terms of the possibility of misinterpretation of this poster.”

Hooper said CAIR is just one of many co-sponsors of the event and he had no idea who was responsible for the artwork. Hooper said he was unable to provide a list of the other co-sponsors.

An FBI spokesperson told Fox News Radio they were aware of the poster but would not comment.

However, former FBI assistant director Bill Gavin told Fox News Radio the poster is sending the wrong message to the Muslim community.

“It sends out a real negative attitude to the Islamic community of what the FBI is really all about,” Gavin said. “This is just a propaganda tool to try and thwart an active investigation into criminal acts by a would-be terrorist group.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Communists Blame Shooting on Tea Party

Also finger corporations, GOP, immigration laws, Sarah Palin

The tea party movement, immigration laws, the Republican Party, corporations and Sarah Palin are to blame for last weekend’s deadly shooting in Arizona, according to the Communist Party USA.

Just one day after Saturday’s shooting rampage, the CPUSA specifically fingered “the extreme right-wing tea party movement and their anti-government rantings and ravings” for helping to create “an atmosphere that allowed or even encouraged this attack.”

In an article on the groups website, the nation’s largest communist organization admitted that “we do not yet know the motivation of the crime.”

Still, the CPUSA blamed “the political leadership of Arizona and the Republican Party, who have fomented laws and policies that logically lead to violence.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Illinois Jewish Congregation Makes West Bank Trip

Members of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston visited Palestinian homes and Arab and Jewish organizations throughout the West Bank and Israel last month.

Rabbi Brant Rosen says he organized the trip “because I believe it is critical that American Jews make an effort to learn about the Palestinian experience from Palestinians themselves.”

Participants ranged from 24 to 75 years old, and included educators, doctors, attorneys and other professionals.

Rosen says most group members had visited Israel multiple times and he wanted them to challenge their understanding of the Middle East conflict by meeting with Palestinian families and civic leaders.

The Dec. 20 to 28 trip was reportedly the first time a Jewish congregational group has stayed overnight in a Palestinian refugee camp. Group members spent two nights in the homes of families in the Deheishe Palestinian refugee camp near Bethlehem.

“After playing with their children, eating with them, and sharing stories about our lives, I’ll never be able to read about violence in the West Bank without picturing the faces of the people we encountered,” said Danny Newman, 33, Chicago-area high school teacher.

Marjorie Frank, 75, former social work professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said, “I’m overwhelmed that I lived in Israel for 14 years and was totally oblivious. I knew Deheishe existed, but experiencing it was overwhelming. The family’s little boy put his arm around me every time I sat down, and we exchanged Facebook addresses.”

Participants visited sites including the Dome of the Rock; Jerusalem neighborhoods including the Arab community of Silwan; Hebron; Tel Aviv; and Jenin, which was the site of intense violence during an Israeli military incursion in 2002.

They met with religious and peace leaders including the Imam of the Al-Aqsa Mosque; a representative of Rabbis for Human Rights; members of the Bereaved Parents Circle and the Jenin Freedom Theater.

The trip was led by Aziz Abu Sarah, a Palestinian peace activist whose brother was killed by the IDF, and Kobi, a Jewish peace activist and former member of Kahane Youth, a Jewish extremist group who spent his youth in a West Bank settlement. Both have lost loved ones to the conflict.

The trip has provoked soul-searching among participants. “This trip has challenged the views that many of us have grown up with and has given us much to think about,” said Michael Shapiro, 72, former president of the Champaign-Urbana Jewish Federation.

Trip participants plan to organize public presentations in the area to share additional information about their experiences.

           — Hat tip: Freyja’s Cats[Return to headlines]

Is ‘Shadow Group’ Stalking Giffords?

Radical Marxists from Spain mimic Loughner’s identity

A close examination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ YouTube website indicates the congresswoman who was critically wounded Saturday in an assassination attempt in Tucson, Ariz., has a new stalker.

The stalker appears to be a Hispanic Marxist punk revolutionary group based in Spain that has linked to Giffords’ YouTube channel as an imposter.

The stalker group is now registered on Giffords’ YouTube website as a “Subscriber,” using a username that mimics the username of Jared Lee Loughner, the suspect in the assassination attempt, and a “look-alike” YouTube channel that is designed to resemble Loughner’s YouTube channel in appearance and content.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

NBC 5: Muslim Woman Denied Ride on Greyhound Bus Because of Her Clothing

A Chicago woman says she was denied travel on a Greyhound bus last month while wearing a full burqa and is looking for reimbursement from the company.

Jacqueline Pasha said she’s traveled by Greyhound for years and was floored when an agent wouldn’t let her board an Arkansas-bound bus to visit her family for the holidays last month.

“She said, ‘You look scary. There’s too much going on in the world today for you to be dressed like that. I can’t see your face,’“ the 31-year-old recalled.

Pasha said she offered to show her face to any female employee in private.

“I said, ‘Ma’am, I’ll show you my face, no problem.’ She said, ‘You might have something under there.’ I said, ‘You can search me in a separate room, said recounted.

Ultimately, the newly-married woman who has been a Muslim for about five years was sent home with her tickets and a suitcase full of gifts for her three children.

Pasha and her husband were in Chicago to find a new home, and her husband was going to continue the search for the roughly two weeks that Pasha was with her family.

Since the Dec. 20 incident, the couple has racked up bills for food and hotels. The couple wants Greyhound to reimburse them for those expenses and the unused bus ticket.

Pasha has since enlisted the help of the Chicago-based Council on American Islamic Relations, also known as CAIR. The organization says the state protects Pasha.

“They would not, in turn, accomodate her, which they are legally obligated to do under the Illinois Human Rights Act,” said CAIR spokeswoman Lindsey Stemm. “She’s taken a Greyhound multiple times and she’s never had a problem before. She’s spoken with officials on the phone who told her that not only should her face veil not be a problem, that they don’t even have a policy regarding face veils.”

A Greyhound spokesman denies Pasha’s claim.

“The customer who contacted you had a non-refundable ticket for travel on that specific day and when the customer indicated she no longer wanted to travel that day, we reissued her ticket,” said Bonnie Bastian, a Greyhound manager of media relations. “At no point did we refuse to allow her to travel on our buses.”

The Department of Human Rights is investigating and is expected to return a legal opinion soon.

           — Hat tip: Freyja’s Cats[Return to headlines]

Texas Rep. Berman Files Resolution to Ban ‘Religious or Cultural Law’

Berman: ‘If that includes Sharia law, then so be it’

Mimicking proposed legislation in several other states, Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) suggested a constitutional amendment prohibiting Texas courts from enforcing, considering or applying religious or cultural law. Though the joint resolution itself does not specify ‘Sharia Law’ — the practices governing Muslim life, including family, work and religion — it falls under the umbrella of banned rules.

“A lot of federal courts are referring to international courts and laws of other countries. We want to make sure our courts are not doing this, especially in regards to cultural laws,” Berman said. “If that includes Sharia law, then so be it.”

Ibrahim Hooper, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a D.C.-based civil rights advocacy group, says the resolution and similar legislation being proposed in Indiana are violations of First Amendment rights and are essentially hypocritical.

“Based on the proposal, he obviously must be against the Ten Commandments,” Hooper half-joked.

Births, deaths, wills and marriages that include a person’s faith would be null and void, including references to Jewish law in a marriage contract or specifying to be buried in a Catholic cemetery in a will, under the resolution’s logic, Hooper said.

While Oklahoma citizens approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting state courts from considering international law or Islamic law during case decisions, a federal judge struck down the referendum after a lawsuit backfired, calling the amendment an infringement on the U.S Bill of Rights. “What we are seeing is those that are trying to enact laws targeting the American Muslim community’s constitutional rights realize they are not going to pass legal muster,” Hooper said. “So they are finding backdoor, roundabout ways to accomplish the same thing.”

Berman is the author of several controversial bills this legislative session, including an Arizona-style immigration bill as well as a “birther” bill, requiring presidential and vice-presidential candidates to submit their original birth certificates to the Texas Secretary of State.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Third Gun Control Bill Proposed Since Tucson Shootings

Rep. Gary Ackerman, a Democrat from New York, is the third congressman to propose a gun control bill in the wake of the murders on Saturday. (The other two are also New Yorkers.)

His bill seeks to accomplish a goal other gun control advocates have tried and failed to do in recent years: close the “fire sale loophole,” which permits unauthorized gun dealers to sell firearms at gun shows and allows buyers to purchase them without an otherwise mandatory FBI background check.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

You Got Terrorism! We Got Terrorism! Let’s be Friends and Fight Terrorism!

By Barry Rubin

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remark about how the Arizona shooting is just like September 11 is such a superb example of everything wrong with Western policy toward the Middle East. Let’s summarize the issue by coining a phrase which sounds a bit Zen but has a very practical meaning:

The ear doesn’t necessarily hear what someone else’s brain thinks.

Or, to put it a different way, there are cultural or situational differences that make people think differently and interpret stuff in different ways. The job of the expert or diplomat or journalist is to make that translation effectively. Often, they fail.

And so Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may think herself clever by telling students in the United Arab Emirates that the Arizona shooting is comparable to the September 11 attacks and shows that America and the Arab world have a similar problem with terrorism.

She is doing Western-speak and particularly American-speak. This includes the concept of building agreement and defusing conflict by persuading your interlocutor that you have a lot in common.

You’ve got terrorism!

We’ve got terrorism!

Let’s get together and fight terrorism!

That sounds very effective…to somebody who doesn’t know anything. They might expect those Arab students to rise from their seats and say, “Hey, those Americans aren’t bad at all!”

In fact, if they don’t get up at the end of the session and say, “Those Americans are really stupid!” they’re probably saying something worse.

What this does is to reinforce the view that the West is hypocritical talking about revolutionary Islamism or Iranian aggression.

The fact that on one side you have virtually every media outlet calling for violence daily and on the other side virtually every media element decrying violence doesn’t matter.

The fact that on one side you have the vast majority of clergy advocating violence and a tiny few marginal figures doing so on the other side doesn’t matter.

The fact that on one side huge numbers of people cheer terrorists and on the other almost everyone boos terrorists doesn’t matter.

One, or at most two, crazies acting on their own with no popular backing or financing do not exactly compare with an organized group with thousands of members, with operations stretching from Morocco through Asia, being given safe haven by governments, with their world view constantly reinforced by massive religious and governmental institutions, and cheered on by millions of sympathizers or at least well-wishers!

Now here’s the bottom line. What is needed to fight terrorism like that within Western countries is better law enforcement and counterterrorist intelligence and actions…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]


EDL Woos Canada’s Jewish Far Right

The leader of the extreme right-wing English Defence League has urged members of a militant Jewish group in Canada to fight against Islam “for freedom”.

Tommy Robinson appeared by video link at a Jewish Defence League Canada rally in Toronto on Tuesday night.

He told the audience of around 50 JDL supporters that Canadians must “wake up” to the “Islamisation” of their country. Mr Robinson said: “We’re fighting for our children, we’re fighting for our freedom. Islam stands fundamentally against everything we stand for.”

It is thought Mr Robinson was first introduced to Meir Weinstein, national director of JDL Canada, by a mutual acquaintance and the pair have since spoken by telephone.

Mr Weinstein is believed to have been attracted by the EDL’s support for Israel.

Last year the EDL launched a “Jewish division”, encouraging members of the community to “lead the counter-Jihad fight in England”. An EDL pro-Israel rally outside the Israeli Embassy in London in October was supported by American rabbi Nachum Shifren…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

British Imam Charged With Raping Minor Boy

London, Jan 13 : A Muslim religious leader in Britain has been charged with raping a 12-year-old boy while he attended mosque for religious lessons, a media report said.

Mohammed Hanif Khan, 42, allegedly sexually assaulted the boy inside the Stoke-on-Trent mosque where he worked as the imam, the Daily Mail reported.

Khan is also charged with the attempted rape of and sexual activity with the boy’s cousin, who was 15 at the time, as he stayed over at his home one evening.

Khan, from Sheffield, appeared at the Nottingham Crown Court and spoke only to confirm his name and to enter not guilty pleas to all eight charges against him.

He is charged with three counts of rape, four counts of attempted rape and one count of sexual activity with a child, which allegedly took place between July and October 2009.

Prosecutor Tariq Bin Shakoor told the jury that Khan’s job as imam of the mosque was to lead prayers and to give Islamic education lessons to boys who attended evening classes there.

He said that in police interviews, the 12-year-old boy — who cannot be named — said he was singled out by Khan following the evening prayer on about half a dozen occasions.

“On each occasion it happened at the mosque, usually after the formal prayers in the main prayer hall. The defendant would request him to lay out his red prayer mat in a different part of the mosque. That is when the remaining prayer would be completed individually and not in congregation,” Shakoor said.

“He seems to suggest that usually the defendant would take him through the door marked ‘private’ and into the sitting room area, and into the room with cushions on the floor used by committee members.”

The prosecutor said the accused chose different places within the mosque that were not covered by CCTV cameras.

He said the boy described the defendant asking him before the alleged abuse, “Do you want some?” and when the boy replied in the negative, the defendant would say, “For God’s sake, just say yes”.

In October 2009, the boy told his father about the incidents.

The youngster — who is now 13 — said the abuse went on for around two months before finally coming to an end.

Prosecutor Shakoor said the last occasion happened Oct 16, 2009, when the defendant told him that he was going to take him somewhere else and “do it to him specially”.

He said the boy told police that the accused was considered a very important figure among the Muslim community.

“He gives an account of his knowledge of the defendant, his position, his roles in public life and how he perceived him to be a powerful man of high standing. His family trusted him and the defendant had a strong following. Such was that following that people would be prepared to die for him,” the prosecutor said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Crazy Crazy Continent

De Pers, 06 January 2011

“Europe destined for the madhouse”: De Pers believes that the EU “is in need of a course of psychotherapy.” The Dutch daily, arguing that Europe is abandoning its values and losing credibility, wonders which EU state should be interned first: Hungary, which has introduced scandalous media and tax laws, Greece where “it is perfectly normal to offer a fakelaki (little cash filled envelope) in exchange for a building permit,” France where “the absolutist Sarkozy increasingly resembles an 18th century despot,” corrupt Italy where it is almost impossible to be an independent journalist, or Belgium which “is no longer really a state, but a chaotic mess.”

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

Dangers of Ignoring the Contrasts in Euro Hatreds

It is now a commonplace in Europe to regard antisemitism and the more recent phenomenon, “Islamophobia”, as much of a muchness. Yet there are important historical distinctions between the hatred of Jews and anti-Muslim prejudice. While European Muslims are without question subject to discrimination and violence, no reasonable observer could claim that they face the prospect of a Final Solution-style extermination plan.

Ironically, the Berlin Centre for Research on Antisemitism cemented the marriage between Islamophobia and antisemitism at a conference just over two years ago. Despite its name, this is a body that has largely ignored both Islamic antisemitism and expressions of anti-Jewish sentiment in post-Holocaust Germany.

A week from now, the Moses Mendelssohn Centre, based in Potsdam, is sponsoring a second academic conference devoted to the “Concept of the Enemy Islam and Antisemitism” in the Bavarian city of Tutzing. In the past, the Mendelssohn Centre’s director, Dr Julius Schoeps, has rejected such comparisons as unhelpful but it seems there is now a new political climate.

Last month, Richard Herzinger, of the German daily Die Welt, neatly captured the wrongheadedness of Europe’s new political conviction when he stated that “it is not ‘Islamophobia’ that is the antisemitism of the 21st century, but antisemitism.”

Writing in Libération last November, the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner noted that the idea of Islamophobia originated in revolutionary Iran. In Bruckner’s view, allegations of Islamophobia allow Islamic radicals to blunt criticism of extremist Islam and rationalise the rejection of secular Western values. In short, “Islamophobia” is a gagging order. But Herzinger, Bruckner and the few journalists and academics who question the rhetoric of Islamophobia are a minority. The fact is, European societies have gone to great lengths to stifle any expression of anti-Islamic sentiment — even, some might say, at the expense of freedom of speech.

In 2008, for instance, the right-wing extremist Pro Cologne political party organised an anti-Islam conference. Thousands of demonstrators from all walks life took to the streets in protest against this “Stop Islam” event, prompting the city of Cologne to pull the plug on it…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Europe Goes Halal

The European Union, bowing to pressure from Muslim lobby groups, has quietly abandoned a new measure that would have required halal [religiously approved for Muslims] meat products to carry a label alerting consumers that the animals were not stunned, and therefore conscious, just before slaughter. With the exponential growth of Europe’s Muslim population in recent years, thousands of tons of religiously slaughtered halal meat is now entering the general food chain, where it is being unwittingly consumed by the non-Muslim population.

Muslims have the right to choose halal foods, but non-Muslims do not have the right to choose not to eat the ritually slaughtered meat.

Halal, which in Arabic means lawful or legal, is a term designating any object or action that is permissible according to Islamic Sharia Law. In the context of food, halal meat is derived from animals slaughtered by hand according to methods stipulated in Islamic religious texts. One such method, called dhabihah, consists of making a swift, deep incision with a sharp knife on the neck that cuts the jugular vein, leaving the animal to bleed to death without stunning. Of vital importance, according to the Koran, is that the animal’s blood flows from its body by “natural convulsion.”

Many non-Muslim veterinary experts say the method is cruel and should be outlawed. In Britain, for example, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), an advisory body to the British Government, says in a report that cutting an animal’s throat without stunning induces “significant pain and distress.” The FAWC also says: “Slaughter without pre-stunning is unacceptable and the Government should repeal the current exemption.”

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) says: “The BVA believes that all animals should be effectively stunned before slaughter to improve the welfare of these animals at slaughter. However, as long as slaughter without stunning is permitted, the BVA has argued for any meat from this source to be clearly labelled to enable all consumers to fully understand the choice they are making.”

Animal-welfare legislation in Europe requires that abattoirs stun all animals prior to slaughter unless they are being ritually killed according to the practices of a non-Christian religion. But critics say the religious slaughter exemptions are being abused and millions of cows, goats, turkeys and chickens are being slaughtered according to halal standards and then sold to unwitting, non-Muslim customers, providing producers with a large and profitable market.

In Britain alone, it is estimated that more than 150 million halal animals are killed each year. Critics say this number is far more than is needed by the Muslim community, and that the growing success of halal products in Europe is being driven by the fact that the non-Muslim public is unaware of the halal origins of the meat. They say the ability to sell halal meat products by stealth has opened up vast new markets across Europe, which, by extension, is leading to a huge increase in the number of animals slaughtered using halal methods. The European halal food market is currently valued at €50 billion ($67 billion), and is expected to grow by at least 25% by 2020…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Germans Angered by Christian Persecution

Many Germans voiced outrage following the New Year’s Eve terrorist attack on Coptic Christians in Alexandria. But despite the strong words, critics argue that Germany could do more to help Christians seeking asylum.

It’s not generally a simple matter for the representative of a religious splinter group with only 6,000 members to get an appointment with an important German politician. But, last Wednesday, all doors seemed to automatically open for Bishop Anba Damian.

David McAllister, the governor of the northwestern German state of Lower Saxony, had invited the spiritual leader of the Copts in Germany for a visit and greeted him warmly by saying: “Our solidarity is with those who are persecuted because of their faith.”

The next day, reacting to threats to attack Coptic Christians that had appeared on two radical Islamist websites, police officers were deployed to protect Coptic Christmas services in Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Berlin and Lehrte, Lower Saxony.

Like McAllister, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also called for solidarity with the Copts following the online threats. “We are all obligated to stand up for religious freedom,” she said on the weekend in her regular video podcast. A short time earlier, while giving an Epiphany speech in the northeastern city of Neubrandenburg, Merkel had called for “the persecution of Christians to be combated wherever it takes place.”

Volker Kauder, the parliamentary floor leader of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), also issued a strongly worded statement, saying: “It is a sad truth that Christians are mainly persecuted in countries where Muslims are in the majority.” Indeed, if Kauder gets his way, German development aid in the future will be “aimed at supporting Christian projects in countries where Christians are under pressure.” As a “sign of solidarity,” Kauder has also announced his plans to travel to Egypt as soon as possible, adding: “They need our help.”

Germany Reluctant to Offer Refuge

Yet German politicians have traditionally been reluctant to grant political asylum to persecuted Christians. A recent exception is a program launched in Germany over the last two years granting asylum to 2,500 Christian refugees from Iraq. But, for persecuted Copts, Germany has never been an easy refuge.

“The prospects in Germany are zero,” says Fouad Ibrahim, a Copt and retired professor of social geography at the University of Bayreuth, in northern Bavaria. More than anything else, he adds, that explains why asylum applications from Egyptian Coptic Christians are so rare.

In 2004, an administrative appeals court in the western state of Saarland ruled that “Christian Copts in Egypt are not subject to any political persecution as defined under (German) asylum law.” Indeed, according to Ibrahim, Copts hoping to escape religious persecution are better off trying their luck in Sweden, Canada or the United States, where the authorities are not as strict as they are in Germany.

Even in the case of converts — who Muslims view as traitors to God — not all German judges have ruled in favor of refugees. But some have. In May 2009, for example, an administrative court in the northwestern city of Minden ruled in favor of the asylum petition of an Egyptian woman who had come to Germany in 2005. The woman had converted to the Coptic faith two years earlier. When her ex-husband found out, he tried to take away their two sons. But the woman managed to leave Egypt with her sons in the nick of time.

The Religious Establishment Responds

Germany’s government is also aware of such cases, but so far only the country’s churches and human rights organizations have consistently criticized the persecution of Christians. Germany’s Roman Catholic Church, for example, has an initiative called “Solidarity with Persecuted and Hard-Pressed Christians in Our Time.” Stephan Ackermann, the bishop of the southwestern city of Trier, is in Jerusalem this week to investigate the situation Christians face in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

In the Protestant camp, Margot Kässmann, the former head of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), is one of the most vocal champions of assisting persecuted Christians. Last week, Kässman was a guest speaker at the annual convention of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party of Merkel’s CDU, held in the Bavarian resort town of Wildbad Kreuth. There, she pointed out that many people in Germany are unaware of the fact “that Christians are the world’s most persecuted religious group.” In addition to making declarations of solidarity, both the Catholic and the Protestant church in Germany sent high-ranking representatives to the Coptic Christmas services…

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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

In France, Far Right Seizes on Muslim Street Prayers

A call to prayer goes up from a loudspeaker perched on the hood of a car, and all at once hundreds of Muslim worshippers touch their foreheads to the ground, forming a sea of backs down the road.

The scene is taking place not in downtown Cairo, but on a busy market street in northern Paris, a short walk from the Sacre Coeur basilica. To locals, it’s old news: some have been praying on the street, rain or shine, for decades.

But for Marine Le Pen — tipped to take over from her father this weekend as leader of the far-right National Front party — it is proof that Muslims are taking over France and becoming an occupying force, according to remarks she made last month.

Her comments caused a furore as she seized on the street prayers to drive home the idea that Islam is threatening the values of a secular country where anxiety over the role of Muslims in society has deepened in the past few years.

More than two thirds of French and German people now consider the integration of Muslims into their societies a failure, pollster IFOP said in a survey published on Jan. 5. In France, where Islam is the second-largest religion after Catholicism, 42 percent saw it as a threat to national identity.

“This has become a key political issue,” said Frederic Dabi, IFOP’s head of research. “Street prayers and the perceived growing influence of Islam are seen as impinging on French values of secularism, communal living.”

Controversy over the street prayers has translated into growing confidence within the National Front, some 15 months before a presidential election likely to see a battle for votes between the far right and Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP party.

National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen has said he expects the party to outdo its electoral performance in 2002, when it knocked out the mainstream Socialist candidate in the first round of voting, but then lost to Jacques Chirac.

“These fears hang mostly on symbols: minarets in Switzerland, the niqab (full-face veil) in France, even the halal Quick menu,” Dabi said, referring to a fast-food chain which recently opened a range of halal-only restaurants in France and Belgium. “The far right is playing on these fears.”

Le Pen’s comments seem to be taking hold. A poll published by TNS Sofres this week, showed that support for National Front ideas has grown by 12 percentage points over the past year…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Islamic Group Plans to Double Number of Mosques in Germany

Germany’s Muslim community is planning to more than double the number of mosques in the country over the next few years, according to figures released by an Islamic institute this week.

“We have recorded 184 projects to build new mosques, of which some are already under construction,” Salim Abdullah, of the German Institute of Islamic Archives, told the AFP news agency this past week.

“We are talking here about buildings with a dome and a minaret, which are clearly recognizable from the outside, and not the 2,600 prayer areas housed in various buildings throughout the country,” Abdullah added.

Of some 1,200 institutions used as mosques in Germany, only 159 are recognizable mosques, serving a community that numbers over 3 million. The remaining are so-called “backyard mosques,” meaning they are in rooms in buildings that have other purposes or would not obviously appear to be mosques to unaware passers-by. In 2004, mosques with minarets numbered just 141.

The growth in the construction of mosques over the past two decades has made Germany one of the “best-equipped” countries in Europe for Islamic worship, Abdullah said.

Resistance to renovations

Plans to build one of the biggest mosques in Europe in the western German city of Cologne have been opposed by Christian leaders and far-right politicians.

The mosque is being planned by the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), Germany’s biggest Muslim group.

The Central Council of Ex-Muslims has also spoken out against the project. Speaking on German public radio, Mina Ahadi, chairwoman of the ex-Muslims group, argued that were already enough mosques in Germany.

“If more mosques are built, then women are put under increased pressure and even more children will be sent to school in headscarves, and become isolated,” she said.

Churches to mosques

While the number of mosques is growing, the doors are slamming shut at Christian churches across the country.

In recent weeks, a church in the Neukölln neighborhood of Berlin was sold for 550,000 euros to the Muslim Association of Intercultural Centers, which plans to turn it into what it calls a “house of peace.”

In future, the group says, the building will host prayer services, projects designed to promote integration, social advice services and career guidance.

           — Hat tip: Reinhard[Return to headlines]

Italy Condemns Nigerian Christian Attacks, Demands Action

Frattini says international community can’t ‘close eyes’

(ANSA) — Rome, January 11 — Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini demanded action from the international community after 13 people were reportedly killed in Nigeria Tuesday as a spate of attacks on Christians around the world continued.

Soldiers were deployed in central Nigeria after an assault on a Christian village, that came with at least 80 others already dead when bombings in the central city of Jos on Christmas Eve were followed by clashes between Muslim and Christian youths.

A series of recent attacks in the Middle East, meanwhile, culminated in a New Year’s church bombing in Alexandria, Egypt that killed 23 Copts.

“The dramatic news from Nigeria, where once again innocent lives have been destroyed by attacks targeting the Christian community, shows that the phenomenon of religious intolerance is widespread and of a vast scale,” Frattini said.

“The international community cannot and must not close its eyes. “We are all called on to take concrete, effective action to nip any form of interreligious violence in the bud, above all by supporting governments so that they take the necessary preventive measures and punish thugs and extremists.

“That starts with the European Union, otherwise the unrenounceable, universal principles of civilisation the European building stands on will fall”. Italy has been saying for months that more should be done to help embattled Christian communities around the world.

After the Alexandria bombing, Frattini said European aid should be tied to respect for human rights in countries where Christian minorities are under attack, having blasted the EU for not doing more to combat the persecution of Christians last month.

The EU is set to consider initiatives after Frattini and his French, Polish and Hungarian counterparts sent a joint letter to European Union foreign chief Catherine Ashton asking her to table the issue at a Janaury 31 meeting of foreign ministers.

Italy is also set to present a resolution to the United Nations on religious freedom which aims to stop this persecution.

It has the backing of the EU, while several non-EU countries have expressed “great interest”.

Pope Benedict, who condemned the New Year’s Day attack in Alexandria as a “cowardly attack against God”, has said Christians are the religious group that suffer most persecution around the world.

The situation is particularly worrying in Middle East, where Christians are leaving the region in increasing numbers, especially from Iraq, where they have been the victims of a series of bomb attacks.

Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines and Zimbabwe are among the other countries where there have been anti-Christian campaigns and attacks.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Valentino: Balestra, Bulgari, Sandrellis in Tax Probe

Some 700 names from HSBC Swiss whistleblower Falciani’s list

(ANSA) — Rome, January 12 — Design stars Valentino and Renato Balestra, jeweler Gianni Bulgari and actresses Stefania and Amanda Sandrelli were among some 700 people named Wednesday in a probe into suspected tax evasion from Italy to Switzerland.

Also on the so-called Falciani List — after HSBC bank Swiss branch whistle-blower Herve’ Falciani — were ex-showgirl Elisabetta Gregoraci, wife of former Formula One boss Flavio Briatore; legendary late filmmaker Sergio Leone; the head of the Rome branch of retailers’ association Confcommercio, Cesare Pambianchi; managers at defence system giant Telespazio; and a clutch of Roman aristocrats including Princess Fabrizia Aragona Pignatelli and Camilla Crociani, daughter of a key player in the 1970s Lockheed scandal that led to the resignation of Italian president Giovanni Leone.

News of the probe gained top headlines in leading dailies including Corriere della Sera, La Repubblica and La Stampa. Prosecutors said the 700 individuals, who had given their tax residency in the Lazio region around Rome, were accused of incomplete tax returns running into hundreds of millions of euros.

Italian tax police have been sifting through the ‘Falciani List’ since July to ascertain whether the Italians illegally held accounts with the Swiss branch of the HSBC bank and could therefore be guilty of tax evasion.

The close to 7,000 accounts in the British bank were said to hold an estimated $6.9 billion.

Details of the accounts, including not only the amounts but also the names of those who opened them, were obtained by the Finance Guard in May from Swiss authorities in connection with a probe being carried out by prosectors in Turin.

The information, dating back to 2005 and 2006, was originally obtained by Herve’ Falciani, who no longer works at the bank.

The 6,936 accounts on the list belonged to 5,728 Italian taxpayers of whom only 133 were registered companies or associations, the rest being private individuals.

Among the accounts, 132 had deposits of $10 million or more.

The Finance Guard said in May that some 51% of those on the ‘Falciani List’ were businessmen, 15% were housewives, 14% professionals — doctors, lawyer and journalists — 11% company managers, 4.5% retirees and 2% students.

The vast majority, 63%, were resident in the region of Lombardy, while 11% were in Lazio and 7% in Piedmont.

HSBC is the world’s biggest banking and financial services company and the eighth-biggest company.

It began in the mid-19th century as the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, based in the two Chinese cities, but was registered under its acronym in London in 1990 ahead of Hong Kong’s return under Chinese sovereignty and as a condition to acquire Britain’s Midland Bank.

HSBC currently has 9,500 offices in 88 countries and is listed on the London, New York, Hong Kong, Paris and Bermuda stock exchanges.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Tensions Rise Over Fiat Referendum

Red Brigade Symbols against Marchionne

Insults for Fiat’s CEO in Turin, as FIOM and CGIL meet in Rome. “No rift”, says Landini

MILAN — Tensions are rising in Turin four days ahead of the Mirafiori referendum. The words “

F*** you, Marchionne” together with the Red Brigades’ star symbol appeared on a large billboard in the centre of Turin as a long meeting was being held in Rome between the heads of the FIOM and the CGIL unions at the latter’s headquarters in Corso d’Italia. They were trying to agree on what to do if the referendum scheduled for 13 and 14 January approves the new contract for workers at the Fiat plant in Mirafiori. “The issue at stake has never been to find a technical solution, but how to ensure workers’ freedom to have a trade union and elect their own representatives,” said CGIL general secretary Susanna Camusso at the end of the meeting.

“There is no rift” between the CGIL and the FIOM metalworkers’ union, assured FIOM general secretary, Maurizio Landini. He said they had “talked the matter over, but still need to decide what to do next, and will continue to discuss this”.

Camusso continued: “On 28 January the national executive of the CGIL will take part in demonstrations all over Italy backing the FIOM strike and is committed to ensuring that it achieves maximum effect”. The CGIL leader also announced that together with the secretary general of the FIOM Landini, she would take part in the demonstration in Bologna, brought forward together with the strike throughout Emilia Romagna to 27 January, due to a bank holiday. “For us, this is one way of showing that we are not abandoning the workers”, said Landini. The two unions, both of whom criticise the agreement, thus presented a united front, so much so that the CGIL will join the metalworkers in the 28 January strike, with Camusso taking part in a public rally in Bologna on 27 January (the date was brought forward in Emilia Romagna due to a local bank holiday). The CGIL has explicitly asked Mirafiori workers to vote against the agreement, and the FIOM also admits that it isn’t encouraging anyone “to be a hero” by not voting, even though it still considers the referendum illegitimate, and says workers are being “blackmailed” to vote. The agreement is meanwhile backed by the welfare minister, Maurizio Sacconi, and the vice chairman of the manufacturers’ association Confindustria, Alberto Bombassei, who reject Landini’s interpretation. “It’s not a question of blackmail; the conditions of global competition simply impose certain rules”, said Sacconi. Bombassei agreed: “If you want to invest in Italy today, some conditions are inevitable. What Marchionne asked for isn’t blackmail, but only an attempt to tackle global competition”.

THE GRAFFITI — The graffiti against Marchionne with the five-pointed star was drawn in red paint on a large billboard in the centre of Turin, on the Corso Sommellier overpass. Other graffiti, also in red paint and including the five-pointed star, appeared on two billboards near the first one. “

you, Marchionne” read the first, while the other two bore the messages “It’s not us who should become Chinese” and “but the Chinese workers who should become like us”. Special branch DIGOS officers arrived on the scene and started investigations…

English translation by Simon Tanner

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

Italy: Fiat Due to Vote on Controversial New ‘Flexible’ Work Rules

Turin, 13 Jan. (AKI) — Workers at Fiat’s factory in the northern Italian industrial city of Turin were due to begin voting Thursday in a two-day referendum outside Italy’s long-established system of nationally negotiated collective contracts for the automobile-making sector.

Chief executive Sergio Marchionne has pledged to withhold 1 billion euros worth of investments in the plant that employs 5,500 people if he gets less than 51 percent of the votes in favour of his plan for more “flexible” work practices.

A similar workers’ referendum was approved by union members at Fiat’s Pomigliano D’Arco plant near Naples.

Marchionne has said new work practices would bolster productivity and make the carmaker more competitive with European rivals like Volkswagon and Peugot. He has repeatedly threatened to shut down plants in Italy if workers refuse to accept new rules.

Critics such as the left-leaning Fiom metalworkers’ union call the referendum “anti-union, anti-democratic, authoritarian and unconstitutional”.

Speaking from a state visit to Berlin on Wednesday, Italy’s conservative billionaire prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said Marchionne would be right to move production abroad if he fails to get a yes vote at the Turin assembly plant.

“It’s obvious that if this (the vote in favour of Marchionne’s plan) didn’t happen, clearly the company and business people would have a good reason to move to other countries. Let us hope this has a positive outcome,” Berlusconi said.

Marchionne in October said his company in 2010 would make at least 2 billion euros before taxes and one-time costs, but not a single euro cent of these profits came from Italian plants.

Fiat plans 20 billion euros of Italian investments through 2014 if separate factories agree to accords Marchionne says will improve efficiency.

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

Murderers and Martyrs: The Difficult Struggle of Christians in the Orient

Just moments after the new year began, a bomb outside a church in Alexandria killed 21 Coptic Christians. A week later, a Pakistani governor was murdered for standing by a Christian convict. The two cases dramatically illustrate the worsening plight of Christians in the Orient. By SPIEGEL Staff

Khalil Hamada Street is 20 meters (66 feet) wide. On one side stands the Coptic “Church of the Two Saints”; on the other side is a mosque. The church was built first, but the mosque followed just a few years later. And when the Christians constructed a new annex, the Muslims followed suit. Over time, the minaret has grown significantly higher than the church’s steeple. The mosque fills up five times a day after the muezzin makes his call to prayer; the church’s bells only ring twice a week.

“Heaven and earth are filled with heavenly peace,” the church’s members sang on New Year’s Eve. That was also the last thing Mariam Fakri heard as she exited the church with her sister Martina, her mother and her aunt. They were among the first to do so. After having spent the whole day cooking, they wanted to get home to break their fast with a celebratory meal. Miriam was 21 years old, and she was planning on getting engaged in a few days. In addition to her university studies, she also taught Sunday school to youths at her church. She was happy and easygoing, and she had many Muslim friends. Before heading off to church, she had written on her Facebook page: “2010 is over. I enjoyed experiencing this year. I have so many wishes. Please, God, stand by my side and help them come true.”

Then the explosion struck. Mariam died on Khalil Hamada Street under an image of St. Mark the Apostle holding a little church in his hand. The screws, screw nuts and ball bearings that had been packed into the bomb also tore into the other three women. The only member of the family to survive was Mariam’s father, who had been standing behind them. The next day, he had to identify his daughter. Her body was so horribly burnt he could hardly recognize her.

Soon thereafter, the four women were buried at the St. Mina Monastery along with 17 other victims, where they would soon be joined by two others. The monastery is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) outside Alexandria. Although it’s a special honor to be buried there, it was also one final indignity: For security reasons, the authorities had reportedly insisted that the burial be held outside the city. Thus, even in death, the Coptic Christian Mariam Fakri had to show respect for a state that had failed to protect her.

A Murderer’s Smile

Egypt is not the only Islamic country that lets its minorities and those who come to their aid fend for themselves.

Three days after the attack in Alexandria, roughly 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) to the east, an elegantly dressed man emerged from a coffee house in Islamabad. After having met up with a friend, Salman Taseer, the 66-year-old Muslim governor of the Pakistani province of Punjab, was on his way home to his villa in the northeastern part of Pakistan’s capital city.

But before Taseer could climb into his car, a burly man emerged from the group of his bodyguards, pulled out a gun and started shooting at the governor. When his fellow bodyguards — who initially stood there doing nothing — finally overpowered him, he merely stretched out his chin and smiled.

There, on the ground in front of Gloria Jean’s Café, lay a man shot more than 20 times, a man who had taken on some powerful opponents: bigotry, incitement and militant Islamism. Like Mariam, he too had posted a new year’s message online. “I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing,” he wrote on his Twitter page. And a few days later, he added: “Peace prosperity & happiness for new year … i’m full of optimism.”

The fear spread by Taseer’s enemies pursued him even after death. When his family wanted to bury him on the following day in observance of Muslim customs, even the state-appointed prayer leader refused to utter even the first verse of the Muslim funeral rites. A preacher from Taseer’s party eventually volunteered to fulfill the duty. And his supposed friend, the president of Pakistan, didn’t come to the burial — for security reasons.

A Bloody Reality

As little as the death in Islamabad and the massacre in Alexandria have in common, there is one thing that binds them. They make it clear that, at the beginning of the first decade after the 9/11 terror attacks, the “clash of civilizations” — used by Western political scientists as a theoretical paradigm — has become a bloody reality for Christians in the Orient. Islam is the majority religion in eight of the top 10 countries where Christians are persecuted, according to the “World Watch List” compiled annually be the Christian organization Open Doors. In seven of those countries, the situation deteriorated for Christians in 2010.

It’s not just the pope, bishops and patriarchs who are making more urgent calls than ever for these Christians to be protected. A growing number of politicians — ranging from US President Barack Obama to Volker Kauder, the parliamentary floor leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats — are intensifying their warnings. “We are already past the stage where we can merely express our dismay or our sadness,” complained recently appointed French Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie. She has demanded a coordinated European Union plan to protect Christians in the Middle East. The issue is to be placed on the agenda for an EU foreign ministers meeting scheduled for January 31.

Mere appeals, however, will not suffice. The situation is much direr than it was even a few months ago. The recent attacks in Egypt and Pakistan have both served as examples of just how weak the regimes in the Islamic world are. They may have anchored the protection of religious minorities in their constitutions, but they long ago lost the power to protect Christians and other minorities. Even the elites who want to do so have lost the power to make it happen.

A Solemn Vow

“You are free,” intoned Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, in a 1947 speech he delivered at the constitutional convention. “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed…” It was a vision of religious tolerance; it was a solemn vow.

When the new state drew up its penal code, it kept four sections which the British colonial masters had composed for India in 1860. They are still in force today. These sections penalize the defilement of sacred places, the interruption of religious gatherings, the desecration of cemeteries and intentionally insulting religious sentiments with up to 10 years in prison.

Between 1947 and 1986, there were only five convictions based on these sections. But in the 1980s Islamist Pakistani President Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, the general who had assumed his position after a military coup, strengthened the laws. He made it illegal to show disrespect to the Koran and to denigrate the Prophet Muhammad. The four sections devoted to protecting all religions were replaced with two new sections on blasphemy — focused entirely on Islam. One section carried a penalty of lifetime imprisonment; the other death. The West did nothing. As long as the Soviet army, the communist rival, remained next door in Afghanistan, the Americans had no problem with an Islamic dictator in Pakistan.

Abuse of the law began immediately. For someone to be convicted of blasphemy, it sufficed to have a “trustworthy” Muslim testify in front of a Muslim judge that the alleged violation of the law took place — without even having to say the exact words used in the insult. Even if Pakistan has yet to carry out a single death sentence for blasphemy, over the years, roughly a thousand Pakistanis have been charged with violating the two new sections of the penal code. Just last November, an illiterate Christian peasant woman named Asia Bibi was convicted of blasphemy for allegedly having denigrated the Prophet Muhammad during a fight with a neighbor…

Translated from the German by Josh Ward

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

Spain: Sentences for Planners of Attack Significantly Reduced

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 12 — The Spanish Supreme court in an appeal significantly reduced the sentences issued to 11 Islamic terrorists who in January 2008 planned to carry out a suicide attack on the Barcelona metro. The sentences for belonging to an armed group were reduced from eight and a half years to six years for each of the defendants. Between the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008, the Islamic group with members of Pakistani and Indian origin residing in Barcelona planned an attacked that aimed to provoke a large number of victims, following the indoctrination of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who is connected with al Qaeda.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden Looks to Combat Islamophobia

Sweden’s integration minister Erik Ullenhag is meeting on Thursday with representatives from the Swedish Muslim community to develop a strategy for combating Islamophobia in the wake of the Stockholm suicide bombing.

The suicide bombing in Stockholm risks resulting in suspicions being cast against hundreds of thousands of Swedish Muslims, Ullenhag writes in a debate article in the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.

He argues that it is unacceptable to blame an entire group for one person’s actions.

“We who believe in the Swedish values of openness and tolerance have a responsibility to fight the Islamophobia and prejudice which can follow in the wake of terror,” writes Ullenhag.

“We should never allow one individual’s act to result in an entire religion being seen as suspect or having a group saddled with collective guilt.”

He points out that “more than 99.9 percent” of Sweden’s estimated 400,000 Muslims are not among the list of roughly 200 violent Islamic extremists in the country identified by Swedish security service Säpo.

Ullenhag said he shared concerns expressed to him by Muslim students in the days following the December 11th suicide bombing in Stockholm that the blasts would affect perceptions of them and their families.

He also cites a recent study from Sweden’s Forum for Living History (Forum för levande historia) which found that tolerance among Swedish youth for Muslim, Jews, and Roma had decreased in recent years.

In an effort to counteract potential discrimination against Swedish Muslims that could result from the suicide bombing, Ullenhag is meeting on Thursday with a number of prominent leaders from Sweden’s Muslim community.

“The purpose of the meeting is to discuss how the government can deepen its work to combat discrimination and an increasing Islamophobia,” writes Ullenhag.

“I want to listen to the experiences of Swedish Muslims and talk about what we can do to reduce polarisation and stop barriers between groups and people from taking root.”

Ullenhag further emphasised that Sweden should never abandon its ideals of openness and tolerance in the fight against terrorism.

“If a suicide bomber succeeds in creating large divisions and increased intolerance — then terror has won,” he writes.

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

Sweden: Terror Suspect a ‘Normal Muslim’: Wife

The 37-year-old man being held in Sweden on suspicions of plotting a terror attack on a Danish newspaper is a “normal Muslim,” his wife has told a Swedish newspaper on Thursday.

He and three other men from Sweden believed to be behind the plot are nevertheless to remain in custody.

Attunda district court north of Stockholm on Thursday extended the detention of Sahbi Zalouti, a 37-year-old a Swedish citizen of Tunisian decent, on probable cause for suspicions that he was preparing terror crimes.

But in an interview with the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper, the current and ex-wife of Zalouti said they question the accusations against him.

“Maybe he’s met some bad people, but does that make him a bad person?” his wife told DN.

Zalouti is one of four men from Sweden who was arrested on December 29th in a joint Swedish-Danish investigation for hatching what Danish officials called a plan to “kill as many people as possible” in an imminent assault on the Copenhagen offices of the Jyllands-Posten daily.

Also on Thursday, a court in Glostrup near Copenhagen ordered that three other men from Sweden suspected along with Zalouti continue to be held in isolation until January 27th, at which time a judge will re-evaluate the remand order against them.

The three suspects held in Copenhagen include Munir Awad, a 29-year-old Swede born in Lebanon, 30-year-old Swede Omar Abdalla Aboelazm and 44-year-old Tunisian national and Swedish resident Mounir Dhahri…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Swiss Stashes of Fashion Gurus, Film Stars and Entrepreneurs

Valentino, Sandrelli and even Telespazio on list

ROME — Fashion designers, business people, film stars, jewellers, other retailers and company executives are in the taxman’s sights along with more obscure individuals who evidently preferred to tuck their savings away abroad. More than 700 people are under investigation in Rome for failing to declare some or all of their income. All feature on the notorious “Falciani list”, named after Hervé Falciani, the whistle-blowing banker at the Geneva branch of Britain’s HSBC. Falciani fled the bank with a list of account holders from all over the world, which he later handed over to the French authorities. The Italian section features 6,963 “financial positions” with total deposits of more than 6.009 billion dollars for the two years 2005-2007. Documents acquired by the Turin public prosecutor’s office and the financial police have been forwarded to the competent public prosecutor’s offices and inspections are under way in Rome. Those involved will be questioned by assistant public prosecutor Pier Filippo Laviani and his deputy Paolo Ielo, in the first instance to ascertain whether they took advantage of the “tax shield” amnesty and so settled any irregularities…

English translation by Giles Watson

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

The Rise and Fall of Germany’s Left Party

The Left Party’s leadership, old and new, at a ceremony on Sunday to mark the anniversary of the murders of communist leaders Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht. From left to right: Oskar Lafontaine, Gregor Gysi, Gesine Lötzsch and Klaus Ernst.

Not so long ago, the Left Party was hailed as a radical new force that would give a voice to millions of people who felt the country was no longer delivering social justice. But it has failed to build on its early success. Its charismatic founders have retired, its new leadership is weak and it is beset by in-fighting.

When Germany’s Left Party was founded in 2007, it looked destined to shake up Germany with a radical, populist social agenda that rapidly won support and shifted the entire political spectrum to the left — even Chancellor Merkel’s conservatives adopted shades of pink.

The emergence of a new political force left of the center-left Social Democratic Party threw the SPD into turmoil by attracting voters incensed at the welfare cutbacks pushed through by the SPD-led government in 2003 and 2004.

But the Left Party, formed out of an alliance between former eastern communists and disgruntled western Social Democrats and trade unionists, has not lived up to its early promise. Its current leadership is divided and weak, it is losing members as a result of intrigue and persistent quarelling in local party organizations, and it doesn’t have a convincing manifesto to take it into seven important state elections this year.

Its problems were highlighted last week by an ill-judged statement from co-leader Gesine Lötzsch in a guest commentary for a left-wing newspaper in which she said: “We can only find the paths to communism if we hit the road and try them out, whether in opposition or in government.”

The remark drew heavy criticism from rival parties but also from within the Left Party, which is keen to shake its associations with the communist party that ruled East Germany. It has also prompted fresh questions about whether the party’s current leaders are up to the job.

Departure of Patriarchs

“We don’t want to be and we won’t be a communist party,” Bodo Ramelow, the regional parliamentary group leader of the Left Party in the eastern state of Thuringia, told reporters, adding that the millions of people killed in the name of communism must not be forgotten.

The Left Party is looking increasingly rudderless these days. Last May, Lötzsch, from eastern Berlin and Klaus Ernst, a former trade union official from Bavaria, were elected as joint leaders after the charismatic patriarch of the party, Oskar Lafontaine, retired from national politics and his co-leader Lothar Bisky didn’t want to go on either.

The new leaders paled in comparison with their predecessors who had presided over impressive electoral gains in state elections. Lötzsch and Ernst were always regarded as a stopgap solution. But no one realized that they would be quite this bad.

Rarely has a German party risen and declined in such a brief period. When the eastern German Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) — the successor to East Germany’s Communist Party, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) — formed an alliance in 2005 with the smaller western German WASG party, the sky had seemed the limit.

Lafontaine, the former leader of the SPD who resigned as finance minister in 1999 in a power stuggle with SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, used the new alliance to mount a campaign of revenge against the center-left SPD he felt had abandoned its socialist roots.

He dreamed of turning the party into a central powerbroker in national politics, and he almost made it. In 2007, he offered then-SPD leader Kurt Beck a left-wing alliance that could have made Beck chancellor. One year later, Lafontaine declared: “The Left Party is governing from the opposition. We are determining the political agenda.”…

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

UK: Boy Stands by Imam Sex Attack Claim

A 13-year-old has told a court he was telling the truth when he claimed he was sexually assaulted at a mosque by his Sheffield-based imam.

The boy, who cannot be named, claims Mohammed Hanif Khan, 42, sexually assaulted him when he was 12 inside the mosque on Capper Street, Stoke on Trent.

Khan, of Owler Lane, Sheffield, denies eight charges, including attempting to rape the boy’s teenage cousin as he stayed over at his home one evening.

He is charged with three counts of rape, four counts of attempted rape and one count of sexual activity with a child, all alleged to have taken place between July 1 and October 16, 2009.

On Wednesday prosecutor Tariq Bin Shakoor told the jury the boy claimed in police interviews in October 2009 that he was singled out by Khan after evening prayer on several occasions, the first of which was around August 2009. He was sexually assaulted in various areas of the mosque which were not covered by CCTV, Mr Shakoor told the court.

Giving evidence from behind a screen, the boy said he attended the mosque for evening classes every weekday, arriving at around 6pm and leaving about an hour later.

The court heard the boy told police the last alleged assault, said to be on October 16, 2009, happened in a private room. When asked by the defence barrister, Robert Woodcock QC: “Did it happen at all?”, he replied: “It did happen.”

Mr Woodcock suggested on that occasion the boy was upset because the imam had thought he could smell drugs on him and questioned him about it.

He said: “He detected on you the smell of cannabis and asked you about it, didn’t he? Once again he made it clear to you that he thought you and (your cousin) were up to no good, didn’t he?” The boy replied “no” to both questions.

On Wednesday the court heard Khan was arrested on October 19, 2009. The case at Nottingham Crown Court was adjourned until Friday.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Husband ‘Who Hacked Brother-in-Law to Pieces Caught When Bird Dropped Severed Thumb From the Sky’

A husband who hacked his brother-in-law to pieces was caught when a severed thumb ‘fell from the sky’ after being dropped by a bird, a court heard today.

Mohammed Riaz, 33, allegedly kidnapped Mahmood Ahmad, 41, and tortured him to death in an attempt to track down his estranged ex-wife Nahid Ahmad.

He enlisted the help of five accomplices to kidnap, imprison and murder father-of-two Mahmood with a mechanical butcher’s saw, St Albans Crown Court heard.

His remains have never been found and the gang was only arrested after a member of the public found Mahmood’s severed left thumb in a car park.

A prosecutor told the jury that CCTV footage captured the digit falling mysteriously from the sky and police believe it might have been dropped by a bird which had picked it up.

Riaz, of no fixed abode, denies murder, conspiracy to kidnap, conspiracy to imprison and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Sharif Mohammed, 37, Faisal Chowdhury, 18, Arnold Alexander Yousaf, 18, and Armizada Hussain, 37, all pleaded not guilty to murder and conspiracy to imprison.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Imam ‘Raped Boy, 12, As He Attended Mosque for Religious Lessons’

A Muslim worship leader is accused of raping a 12-year-old boy during visits to a mosque for religious lessons.

Mohammed Hanif Khan, 42, is alleged to have sexually assaulted the boy inside the Stoke on Trent mosque where he worked as the imam.

He is also charged with the attempted rape of and sexual activity with the boy’s cousin, who was 15 at the time, as he stayed over at his home one evening.

Khan, who appeared in front of Nottingham Crown Court yesterday wearing a black suit, white shirt and red tie, spoke only to confirm his name and to enter not guilty pleas to all eight charges against him.

Khan, from Sheffield, is charged with three counts of rape, four counts of attempted rape and one count of sexual activity with a child, all of which are alleged to have taken place on various dates between July 1, 2009 and October 16, 2009.

Opening the case, prosecutor Tariq Bin Shakoor told the jury of six men and six women that part of Khan’s job as imam of the mosque was to lead prayers and to give Islamic education lessons to boys who attended evening classes at the mosque.

The court heard that the defendant asked the boy before the alleged abuse “Do you want some?” and when he replied in the negative, the defendant would say “For God’s sake, just say yes”‘

‘On each occasion it happened at the mosque, usually after the formal prayers in the main prayer hall,’ the prosecutor said.

‘The defendant would request him to lay out his red prayer mat in a different part of the mosque. That is when the remaining prayer would be completed individually and not in congregation.

‘He seems to suggest that usually the defendant would take him through the door marked “private” and into the sitting room area, and into the room with cushions on the floor used by committee members.

‘On occasions, then passing through another door in the big room, the classroom, going to the corner at the back.’

The prosecutor said the defendant chose different places within the mosque that were not covered by CCTV cameras, one of which was the area near the building’s bins.

‘He (the boy) said once it happened by the bins downstairs. That, he recalled, was the first time.

‘The defendant had asked him to place a bin bag into the bins then followed him into that area.’

The prosecutor said the boy described the defendant asking him before the alleged abuse “Do you want some?” and when he replied in the negative, the defendant would say “For God’s sake, just say yes”.’

It was in October 2009, shortly after the youngster told his father about the incidents, that the family also became concerned about his cousin as he had become reluctant to attend the mosque after spending the night at Khan’s home.

The prosecutor said the 12-year-old finally broke the news of the abuse to his father by telling him ‘Dad, in the mosque Sheikh Sahib has been taking my trousers down.’

The youngster, who is now 13, said the abuse went on for around two months before finally coming to an end.

The prosecutor said: ‘The last occasion it happened was on Friday October 16, 2009, after which the defendant told him that he was then going to take him somewhere else and “do it to him specially”.

The court heard that after that last occasion the boy completed his prayer and went to the toilet and washed himself before returning to class.

The prosecutor said the boy told police in his interviews that the defendant was considered a very important figure among the Muslim community.

‘In that interview he gives an account of his knowledge of the defendant, his position, his roles in public life and how he perceived him to be a powerful man of high standing.

‘He says his family trusted him and the defendant had a strong following. Such was that following that people would be prepared to die for him.’

The prosecutor said the defendant held the professional title Sheik Mohammed Hanif Haqqani Kareemi and had an ‘enormous amount of respect and authority, particularly within the Muslim community’.

He was arrested on October 19, 2009. When the 12-year-old boy’s family approached his cousin about the defendant he said: ‘He tried to take my trousers down.’

The prosecutor said the boy had spent the night at Khan’s home in July 2009 to help him pack prior to a house move.

It was as he was washing dishes that the defendant began to touch him in a sexual way around the groin, he said.

He is alleged to have told the boy: ‘Do you like this?’

The teenager, the prosecutor said, was in shock and did not know what to say and the defendant went upstairs.

Later that night, after Khan had shown the boy the room in which he would be sleeping, the boy found him lying on the bed and said Khan asked him for a massage.

He did what he was told, the prosecutor said, and the defendant then started to massage the youngster.

After producing a bottle of oil and rubbing it on the youngster’s bottom, the defendant then attempted to rape him, the prosecutor said.

When the boy objected the defendant stopped and left him alone, telling him the next morning that whatever happened and was said in the house should stay in the house.

The jury was told that the boy’s police interviews would be played to them through the course of the trial, as well as CCTV footage from inside the mosque.

The trial continues.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Man Arrested After Threatening to Blow Up Regent Street During Accessorize Siege

A large area of Central London was sealed off this morning after a tense siege in which a man barricaded himself in a Regent Street shop and threatened to blow himself up.

The four-hour stand-off began in the early hours when the perpetrator broke into a branch of Accessorize and threatened to harm himself.

On one of the sale signs in the shop, he scrawled the message: ‘I have a bomb in my case. Regent St. Oxford Circus going up.’

The 46-year-old surrendered to armed police at 5.15am, and was ordered to remove his clothing as he walked into the street which was reopened just after 8.30am this morning…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Nurse ‘Punched Dying Patient Who Walked With a Zimmer Frame’

A nurse punched a frail patient who walked with the aid of a Zimmer frame and was in the last stages of life, a hearing was told.

Emma Trubody, 36, is said to have thumped the 46-year-old man who began to cry before telling him his ‘crocodile tears’ would not help.

The patient, who has not been named, was suffering from kidney and liver failure. He died six weeks later.

Ms Trubody was working as a staff nurse at the Royal Blackburn Hospital in Lancashire when she hit the patient on the arm, the Nursing and Midwifery Council heard.

Patient A, who had a number of physical and mental difficulties, was being treated at the hospital when the incident occurred on September 6, 2008.

Earlier that day, Ms Trubody is alleged to have asked him: ‘Why do you keep p***ing on the floor?’

Pauline Cullen, a matron at the hospital, told the hearing: ‘The gentleman was dying.

‘It was clear from his medical notes he was dying because of the liver and kidney failure he had.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Serbia: Military Industry Conquers Third-World Markets

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, JANUARY 12 — The Serbian military industry is capable of fulfilling contractual obligations referring to exports in the field of weaponry and military equipment and thus take an important place in third-world markets, where former Yugoslavia was dominant, military experts assessed.

The agreements will enable a full use, as well as further revitalization and modernisation of Serbia’ production capacities, military analyst Zoran Dragisic and representative of the Center for the new policy center Goran Nikolic told Tanjug news agency.

Serbian Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac stated that there are ongoing negotiations with Kuwait to overhaul their Yugoslav-made M-84 tanks, and for the construction industry to work on some large projects, like the military hospital in Libya.

“This year is extremely important for the defence and the related industry because we wish to close more deals,” he stated, adding that the 2010 defence industry contracts totalled about USD1.2 billion.

“The very good news is that Serbia is making a comeback to the international market of weaponry and military equipment with full capacity,” said Dragisic, who believes that, in the years to come, the country “will have the opportunity to export even more, owing to the EU integration process.” Nikolic pointed out that Serbia’s military industry is the best part of the country’s metal industry, “taking into account that the metal industry is in terrible condition.” He said that six factories in the military sector work quite well despite the damages incurred in the 1999 bombing, adding that “export grows every year, and the deals are increasingly better as well.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: Protests, Al Qaeda Leader Incites Demonstrators

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JANUARY 12 — In an audio message released on the internet, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Abdelmalek Droukdal, alias Abu Musaab Abdelwadoud, has urged demonstrators and promises “revenge against the regime for the suffering of the Algerian people.” “Your struggle is the same as the ones that are in the mountains,” says the message, of which ANSA received a copy, but “if you want change, you have to adopt Sharia.” In his message (the authenticity of which has not been verified) Deroukdal, reported as having died in the last operation by the Algerian army in Kabylie, accuses “the corrupt Algerian system which forces its people into illegal emigration” and expresses “satisfaction over the honourable anger of the people.” “How can you explain that 50 years after independence, the Algerian people continue to live in the same — if not worse — situation that it suffered during the French occupation?” says Deroukdal.

“This situation is caused by a lack of Sharia,” the Islamic law, he adds, launching an appeal to the Imams and to all the citizens for them to make “the lay regime fall” and to join the demonstrators.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Protests in MENA Area: Governments Fear Domino Effect

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 11 — Following the tragic events in Algeria and in Tunisia caused by mass unemployment and the rising cost of living, many governments in the region are taking steps to fend off possible unrest in their own countries.

Libya’s government has recently decided to abolish all taxes on imported food products, especially on basic foodstuffs and on powdered milk for infants. Egypt has already faced its own “bread riots” in 2010, when price speculation cost the lives of ten people. The crisis ended after the government ordered the army to distribute flour and basic necessities to the population.

The food situation in Jordan is also a very serious one. The population has organised protest demonstrations for Friday against the government’s decision to increase fuel prices by six percent. The increase would have a knock-on effect on other prices and make life even harder for people.

In order to avoid similar events to those seen in Algeria and Tunisia over recent days, where many have died in rioting connected with rising prices, the King of Jordan, Abdallah II, today ordered his Prime Minister, Samir Al Rifai, to put immediate measures in place to alleviate the impact of rising costs on the citizens. Citing an official of the Jordanian government, the Al Jazeera website is stating that the Jordanian monarch recommended a greater level of protection for the poor and for the middle classes by giving them access to supplies and keeping prices as low as possible.

While the rate of unemployment continues to rise in the Hashemite kingdom, inflation is also increasing, standing at 6.1 percent in December. The King’s recommendations anticipate mass protests organised by the country’s opposition parties. Despite attempts by the opposition to cast Friday’s protest in a non-violent light, the country’s government — which has recently been buoyed by a confidence vote with a large majority — has placed itself on alert and sees a great challenge to the government’s future in the demonstration. According to the Al Arabiya news-site, the main objective of the protests is to overthrow the Al Rifai government, which is held responsible for the increase in fuel prices.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Brussels: Possible Stop to Advanced Status Talks

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, JANUARY 12 — The EU Commission, which has an EU Council mandate to negotiate a strengthening of relations with Tunisia ahead of a potential “advanced status”, is considering suspending the process. This is according to the director of the European service for external action, Hugues Mingarelli, who has been speaking during an extraordinary meeting of the delegation of European MPs for relations with North African countries held in Brussels.

As part of talks with Tunis, “one of the aspects is to increase political dialogue on governance,” Mingarelli said. “Now, in light of the events of the last few days, we are reflecting on a potential strengthening of relations. We can continue these talks, in support of democracy and to ensure that we no longer see events similar to those of recent days, or alternatively the best way to help the victims of the current repression might be the suspension”.

Mingarelli says that the issue is currently “being discussed” by the EU Commission. So far, Morocco and Jordan are the only Mediterranean partners to enjoy an “advanced status” in relations with the EU.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia Riots: Reform or be Overthrown, US Tells Arab States Amid Fresh Riots

Police in Tunis opened fire and shot tear gas in the air as stone-throwing youths breached a curfew and surrounded government buildings.

At least three people were reportedly killed, bringing to more than 60 the number said by human rights groups to have died in a wave of unrest in what was previously seen as one of the Arab world’s most stable and prosperous countries.

Four more people had already been shot and killed in Tunis’s suburbs on Wednesday night.

President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, 74, who has been in power since he overthrew his predecessor in 1987 sacked the interior minister on Wednesday but failed to quell calls for his resignation. On Thursday night Mr Ben Ali attempted to pacify protesters by saying in a television address that he would not change the constitution to allow him to run again when his term expires in 2014. He also ordered his security forces to stop using firearms against protesters and said prices for sugar, milk and bread would be reduced. However, as the president was speaking, promising an end to force, two people were killed as police opened fire on protesters, witnesses said. Hillary Clinton ended a tour of the Gulf with a warning that leaders who failed to carry out political and economic reform risked being cast aside.

“In too many places, in too many ways, the region’s foundations are sinking into the sand,” she said.

“Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries’ problems for a little while, but not forever. “If leaders don’t offer a positive vision and give young people meaningful ways to contribute, others will fill the vacuum.” Protests over unemployment and food prices have also broken out in Algeria, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, all countries with a high proportion of young people, many well-educated but jobless…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Saudi Arabia Now Forcing News Bloggers to Obtain Licenses, Promote Islam

Saudi Arabia has enacted stringent new regulations forcing some bloggers to obtain government licenses and to strongarm others into registering. In addition, all Saudi news blogs and electronic news sites will now be strictly licensed, required to “include the call to the religion of Islam” and to strictly abide by Islamic sharia law. The registration and religion requirements are also being coupled with strict restrictions on what topics Saudi bloggers can write on — a development which will essentially give Saudi authorities the right to shut down blogs at their discretion.

The new regulations went into effect on January 1, 2011. Fast Company previously reported on the law’s announcement this past autumn, but the actual reforms enacted were far more punitive than we were earlier led to believe. The exact specifics of the new regulations were not previously announced by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. What the new regulations center around is a legal redefinition of almost all online content created in Saudi Arabia. Blogs are now legally classified as “electronic publishing” and news blogs (the term is not explicitly defined in the Saudi law) are now subject to the same legal regulations as newspapers. All Saudi Arabia-based news blogs, internet news sites, “internet sites containing video and audio materials” and Saudi Area-created mobile phone/smartphone content will fall under the newspaper rubric as well.

Under the regulations, any operators of news blogs, mobile phone content creators or operators of news sites in Saudi Arabia have to be Saudi citizens, at least 20 years old and possess a high school degree. At least 31% of Saudi Arabia residents do not possess citizenship; these range from South Asian migrants living in poor conditions to well-off Western oil workers. All of them will find their internet rights sharply curtailed as a result of the new regulations. The most telling — and dangerous — detail in the new Saudi regulations is a provision requiring all news bloggers to provide the Saudi Arabian government with detailed information on their hosting company. This could easily allow the Saudi Arabian government to block access to a particular website across domains or to even force hosting companies to take dissidents’ websites offline.

Non-citizens will still be allowed to blog on non-news topics. However, all Saudi Arabian bloggers — both citizens and non-citizens — are “recommended” to register with the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Culture and Information. In addition, blogs are now defined as falling under the Saudi Press and Publications Law.

This requires all publications created in Saudi Arabia to “include the call to the religion of Islam,” not to “violate the Islamic Shari’a rulings,” or to compromise national security or “public order.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

The Invention of “Peace” In the Middle East

From warmongering Iran to Turkey which turns its back on the West, to Abu Mazen, the fake moderate — the race is on to erase reality.

How distant is the Middle East, and how fuzzy its image, an image which we tirelessly hope will give life to that dream of peace that inevitably evaporates again and again… Rather thanscrutinizing it from afar, we prefer to picture a scenario in which everyone will, in the end, want peace, in which the unyielding extremism of the Middle East is only a fantasy dictated by fear, and the menace it emanates a mere exaggeration. This springs from the desire to be left in peace, the same syndrome that convinces us to consider figures like Tarik Ramadan as a “moderate Islamic”, or to class as a dialogue between religions a situation in which, behind the scenes in London, the Islamic courts are gaining ground. We find it engaging that the most popular name in certain countries of the Old Continent is now Mohammed, or that the burqa is permitted in the name of multiculturalism, or we merely shake our heads when we hear that over 200 thousand people in Paris now live in polygamous families.

From our viewing point over the Middle East, the dangers of war are subject to censorship. The first object censored is Iran, with its future atomic bomb, with its advancing international hegemony and its atrocious attitude towards the rights of women, homosexuals, dissidents and freedom in general. The international community still insists on believing that dialogue is possible with Ahmadinejad, the raving rais whom we have repeatedly heard pontificating from the platform of the United Nations, inciting the President of the United States to convert to Islam and declaring his intention to kill all the Jews and extend the dominion of Islam throughout the world. In a month’s time, the meeting between Iran and the 5 + 1 group will try yet again, even although the regime, with its recent waves of arrests and purges, shows signs of rallying around the atomic project. No-one attempted to help the opposition after the fake election results, even although its size is unquestionable, given the fact that millions of people have been desperately demonstrating in the city squares for months.

The USA has remained in silence even in the face of the Iranian war games on the Strait of Hormuz, even in the face of the fact that Iran has extended its war front in Afghanistan, has prevented the pro-American faction that won the elections in Iraq from forming a government, imposing the reinstatement of the Prime Minister, Nouri al Maliki, and has made conspicuous investments in South America so as to foment an attitude which is now extremist and foster Anti-Semitic hate, of which President Chavez of Venezuela is an extreme example.

Iran is frightening, and this is why it is allowed to continue its advance undeterred, frightening us more and more as a result. And this deceptive judgment is spreading to Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and to the Palestinians.

Turkey, which is also the venue of the upcoming meeting of the 5 + 1 group, continues to be, in the collective imagination, the country that has played the role of trait d’union between the West and Islam, ever since the time of the revolution of Kemal Atatürk. The truth is that the secular revolution has been shelved to give leeway to an Islamist drift in which friendship and alliance with Iran wins through. The alliance with Syria, a country with which numerous commercial and military treaties have been signed, and even with Hamas, with which the Foreign Minister Davutoglu met last July, clearly reveal the path chosen by Turkey, whose political attitude is overtly pro-Islamic and has transformed its anti-Israel policy into a political flag. Last week, as a news Marmara ship was returning from its ill-fated mission to Gaza, it was greeted at the port by a crowd shouting “death to Israel”, an attitude in line with the repeated verbal attacks on the Jewish State by Erdogan, among which those against Peres himself at Davos.

As far as Syria is concerned, we like to think of it as a country that does not yet know which side to take and that, in the end, common sense will prevail, causing it to abandon the Iranian axis. Hillary Clinton has also reinstated the ambassadorship in Damascus, appointing Robert Ford, in the hope of influencing Bashar Assad. But he keeps on, unperturbed, on his merry way: continuous threats of war, intensive re-arming, a strategic summit in which, in the presence of Ahmadinejad — the guest of honor — both the supreme head of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal and, exceptionally, the head of Hezbollah, Nasrallah, met up with Syrians and Iranians. There has been no change of route: Syria has distinguished itself for the re-arming of Hezbollah which possesses more than 30 thousand missiles, for its aid to Hamas which now has missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv, and for its battle alongside Hezbollah to prevent the International Court from publicizing the result attesting to the guilt of the Lebanese Shiite militia in the assassination of the former Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, in 2005…

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

Turkey: How Democratic Are Our Muslims?

In my article yesterday, I mentioned Professor Hayrettin Karaman’s opinion on understanding today’s Turkey (daily Yeni Safak, Jan. 9)

Professor Karaman makes the following classification:

1) People interpreting religion mull over how secular and liberal democracy can go hand in hand with Islam. Some of them say: “No harmony and conciliation is possible between the two — if one exists, the other cannot — at least in full practice.” (Islamic traditionalists, C.Ü.)

2) If the pious are obliged to live in such an obligatory order (not completely Islamic, C.Ü.) they will maintain their faith and viewpoint and will conduct their practices within the bounds of possibility.

3) Another group (Islamic modernists) says, “Islam is nothing but faith, religious practices and ethics. In other areas, religious principles (explanations in the Quran, the sayings and practices of the prophet Mohammed) are not binding all the time. The pious in politics, law, economic, social, internal and civil areas follow the requirements of modern times (rules of liberal secular democracy) and Islam is not an obstacle to this.”

I believe we can develop an opinion about where the country is heading to, via this classification considering the segments voting for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and influential officials within the party.

Let me say it at the very beginning though, the Islam we are talking here is the living one. The Quran falls outside of this discussion. The article only analyzes the segments voting for the AKP. And it is never about those that do not vote for the AKP.

It is obvious that both traditional Muslims (who claim Islam is not compatible with liberal democracy) and modernist Muslims (who claim Islam goes hand in hand with democracy) do exist in Turkey.

And these masses give body to a conservative majority which has paved for the AKP to become the government.

When they are asked, as is the case anywhere in the world, almost all will say they want democracy.

However, if we examine whether they have internalized democracy, we see among a big part of our people, including those living a modern lifestyle, that they have yet to internalize democracy.

As perception paradigms of Turkish people about the world and culture are examined, we see intolerance toward the rights of others, democracy, and acceptance of others.

For conservatives, their culture is mostly formed around their perception of Islam and since they want to live and understand things in the frame of an Islamic paradigm, democracy is experienced as freedom to live one’s own lifestyle as far as conservatives are concerned.

“If the pious are obliged to live in such an obligatory order [an order not completely described by Islam- C.Ü.] they will maintain their faith and viewpoint and will do practices within the bounds of possibility.” (Hayrettin Karaman)

People adopting a modern lifestyle in Turkey have for a long time considered that they represent the majority and tried to permute conservatives for this reason. Their culture, however, has at least been closed to democracy as much as that of the other.

However, my claim is that Islamic traditionalists represent the majority among the conservatives feeding life into the AKP and that the AKP has to do politics by finding a middle-way on which traditionalist Muslims can maintain their faith and do practices as much as possible.

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

Turkey: Süleyman the Magnificently Polemical

A new TV soap has generated a massive reaction from conservative circles in Turkey, with claims that the Ottoman dynasty is portrayed in the show as both “indecent” and “hedonistic.”

The soap, titled “Muhtesem Yüzyil” (The Magnificent Century), is based on events that occurred during the reign of Süleyman I, also known as Suleyman the Magnificent.

Surviving heirs of the Ottoman dynasty and members of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, are among critics of the show.

Reactions started to flow in following the broadcast of the trailer, even before the first episode was aired on Jan. 5.

The Supreme Board of Radio and Television, or RTÜK, is reported to have received thousands of complaints, most of which focus on the Sultan’s alcohol consumption and activities in the harem with his concubines.

After the first episode was aired more criticism followed, with a number of people complaining the women were dressed in too western a style, and that some historical events were retold inaccurately.

Rumor has spread that a gay scene has been written into the script, which the producers of the show deny.

The first line of defense for the production team behind “Muhtesem Yüzyil” is the soap is a work of fiction based on real events, rather than a documentary of historical facts. Both Tims Productions and scriptwriter Meral Okay said criticism of the show was unfair.

“This is not a documentary for schoolchildren,” Okay said, adding that the Ottoman sultans had a harem and families. “They did not reproduce through pollination.”

The first stone to be thrown by a politician came from Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinç. “Those who try to humiliate the important people of our history by portraying them inaccurately should face retribution. What is necessary will be done,” he said.

“The 600 years of Ottoman history was not built on the harem,” said Parliamentary Group Deputy Head of AKP Suat Kiliç.

Several nongovernmental organizations and the Great Union Party, or BBP, have also reacted negatively to the soap, arguing that it represents an attempt to malign the Ottomans.

Protests against the show were held in several locations throughout Turkey over the last few days, with more taking place in Istanbul on Sunday.

Alperen Ocaklari, an organization related to the BBP, gathered in front of the mausoleum of Süleyman I at Süleymaniye Mosque, located on Istanbul’s historical peninsula, to read passages from the Quran and a press statement decrying the soap, calling it “separatist.”

A group of approximately 60 people blocked traffic on Istanbul’s D-100 Highway for 10 minutes with banners featuring slogans such as: “We were not divided for 1,000 years, you cannot divide us,” and “One flag, one state, all Muslims are brothers.”

A third group, the youth branch of the Felicity Party, or SP, and members of a group called Anatolian Youth Foundation gathered in front of the building of the TV station broadcasting the soap and blamed the managers for “portraying their ancestors as lustful people in harem rooms” and egged the building. The Anatolian Youth Federation made the news recently by stabbing a Santa Claus doll in protest of the New Year’s celebrations. The police were present in all of the protests but did not interfere with any of the three groups and all disbanded without incident.

Meanwhile, stories regarding a comic book portraying Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, in his youth are circulating through some press circles under such provocative titles as “Atatürk is beaten up,” or “This comic will be debated hard.”

While the comic book, titled “Genç Mustafa” (“Young Mustafa”), was released last November, it was not until a report from a news portal last Friday was published that the story of the book was picked by bigger press institutions.

In the comic there are images of Atatürk being arrested and tortured during questioning following allegations he assassinated the last Ottoman Sultan, Abdülhamit II.

There are other scenes in which Atatürk is portrayed as drinking, and praying.

“Do not think of the book as a documentary,” said Yalin Alpay, the book’s author. “It is a [work of] fiction in harmony with historical facts.”

Portraying Atatürk in documentaries and fictional works invariably raises debate in Turkey which last experienced such discussion with the release of the movie “Mustafa,” directed by journalist and documentary film maker Can Dündar.

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

Turkey: Where Islamists and Secularists Unite — and Where They Don’t

The big, angry men wanted to protest. They wanted to condemn, shout at the injustice. They wanted to boycott the newspaper they had been reading everyday for many years. All because a secular journalist had produced a documentary, “Mustafa,” portraying the founder of the Republic as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk “the man,” not Mustafa Kemal Atatürk “the flawless icon.”

The protestors were secularist Turks (not to be confused with secular Turks) who thought “Mustafa” could not be portrayed as a human being, with his merits and demerits, like every other human being. They probably thought “Mustafa” was not a human being; he never was a child, he never fell sick, never fell in love, never failed in love.

That was last year. But the new year brought similar scenes to a country that is always “changing.” Big, angry people gathered in protest to read passages from the Quran, blocked highways, egged the building of a TV station, threatened to boycott the corporation which owned that TV station, tore down public ads and sang the tunes of the Ottoman military band.

Just like the people who wanted to protest the documentary “Mustafa,” they were angry. They wanted to condemn, shout at the injustice. They wanted to punish the evil men. All because a TV station would (but has not yet) broadcast a soap they claim would portray the Ottoman dynasty as both “indecent” and “hedonistic.” The same protestors, a few weeks earlier, had stabbed a Santa Claus doll in protest of New Year celebrations in EU candidate Turkey.

The protestors, this time, were Islamist Turks (not to be confused with Muslim Turks) — who might brand themselves as “conservative” Turks; they were outraged especially because the not-yet-aired soap would feature the reign of Süleyman I, also known as Süleyman the Magnificent (hence the title of the soap, “The Magnificent Century”) as a period full of alcohol, women of the harem and other “hedonistic” flavors. The “conservative” Turks assumed that the cups the dynasty members drank from as seen on the trailer contained alcohol.

So far, there are discernable parallels between the two sets of public reactions against two different showbiz products, one featuring the founder of the Republic, the other a specific period (and sultan) of the Ottomans. We may say zealots are zealots on both extremes of the secularist-Islamist spectrum and shrug it off. Depending on our ideological leaning, we can either argue that Atatürk can be portrayed as a human being but Ottoman sultans cannot, or vice versa.

If we asked either camp, each would powerfully argue that they would tolerate Atatürk or the sultan being portrayed as anything or being criticized for human failings, but, in their case, the documentary or the soap was not about portraying or criticizing, but about “insulting.” In the first case, a poor “Mustafa” falling helplessly in love or failing to maintain a good marriage would be “insulting;” and in the second case a sultan drinking alcohol or enjoying his harem would have the same effect. This is the “zealots are zealots” part. But there is more.

The general line of reaction against “Süleyman the hedonist” has quickly become a matter involving governance. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinç obviously threatened the broadcaster when he said that, “Those who try to humiliate the important people of our history…should face retribution. What is necessary will be done.” Then the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s, deputy parliamentary group chairman, Suat Kiliç, said, “600 years of Ottoman history was not built on the harem.”

In a similar indication of governmental bias, the police, who have the habit of using extreme violence against student protestors, did not raise a finger to interfere in the crowds who had gathered to protest “The Magnificent Century” — the decent thing to do is not to use violence in either case. But the double standard principle was too visibly at work.

The AKP chaps and their conservative supporters should be able to understand the difference between documentary and fiction. The alarming fact is that “conservative” Turks do not have tolerance even for fiction when their “ancestors” are at stake — let alone religious figures.

They probably would not do as columnist Ismet Berkan suggested: For God’s sake, can you not just change the channel airing the soap you dislike?!

If they feel too annoyed at what the harem featured in Ottoman times, they can always argue that the harem was an academic institution. They can argue that sultans did not kill their own sons and brothers for power, or that they never had Christian mothers. They can even claim that history books are wrong when they say the Ottoman Empire had actually collapsed. No problem, all of that would give others generous reason to smile. But when “conservative” Turks flex their governmental muscles because someone portrays their “ancestors” a little less sacredly than they believe they should be — even in fiction — “public reaction” turns into first-class “governmental despotism.” That’s not “neighborhood pressure” — it is governmental pressure.

The producers of “The Magnificent Century” made a crucial mistake. Instead of portraying the Ottoman dynasty as alcohol drinkers and harem addicts, they should have featured more real events in history such as the burning of monk Nikolaos in 1554; the beheading of Constantinople Patriarch Cyrillos Loukaris by Sultan Murat IV in 1638; the strangling of Patriarch Cyrillos Kontares in 1639 and of Patriarch Parthenios in 1650; the beheading of Patriarch Parthenios III in 1657; and, most tragically, a scene featuring Patriarch Gregorius being hung at the middle gate of the Fener Patriarchate in 1821.

I am sure many fewer Turks would then object to such dramaturgy as “insulting their ancestors.” What’s all the bloodshed, after all, compared to drinking alcohol and going to the harem?

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

Turkey: Response to ‘Porn Scandal’ By Istanbul’s Bilgi University Violated Academic Freedom, Protesters Say

Students, scholars and outside supporters protested Monday at a scandal-hit Istanbul university, saying the firing of three academics over a student’s “pornography project” was a violation of academic freedom.

“Society is close-minded and so are the academics,” said mathematician Ali Nesin, who attended the protest at Istanbul Bilgi University, when asked by the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review why most academics who have been willing to be quoted by the media have supported limits to what falls under the realm of scholarly inquiry.

“Academic freedom is not the freedom to drink coffee in your office,” Nesin said. “It is [being able to] swim in dangerous waters.”

Participants in the demonstration demanded that the three academics be reinstated in their jobs and the situation be investigated by “an unbiased committee” according to the academic rules. They also called for what they described as the recent “terror atmosphere” on campus to be explained properly to students and faculty.

By firing the three faculty members for approving a student’s final thesis titled “The Porn Project,” protesters said, Bilgi was harming its own reputation as a modern and tolerant institution. They said the study of pornography-related texts is included within the scope of academic disciplines all around the world and should also be allowed in the projects of the faculties of Visual Communication Design and Photography and Video at Bilgi.

Better relations with union also demanded

University security tried to keep press off the campus during the protest, but were forced to allow them after demonstrators came to the gate chanting, “Let the police out, let the press in.” As a number of Bilgi graduates and other supporters were not allowed access to the campus, the press bulletins were read beside the gate. Students presented petitions that included their demands to management and then occupied the three stories of exterior walkways on the side of the E1 Building, where the affected faculties are housed.

Six separate press bulletins were read and distributed at the demonstration by the Sosyal-Is Union’s Istanbul Branch, “the unionized employees of Istanbul Bilgi University,” “scholars of the faculties of Visual Communications Design, Photography and Video and Cinema Television,” and students from various faculties. The demonstration did not solely focus on the pornography debate, with students also protesting the shutting down of faculties such as Computer Science and Political Economy and Social Philosophy due to them not producing enough revenue or “being ideological.” The students said so-called foundation universities such as Bilgi cannot seek profits according to the law.

Demonstrators also asked the school to reconsider its decision to require assistants to complete their doctorates within seven years, and to improve its relations with the union.

Academics who preferred to remain unanimous said since Bilgi became a member of the Laureate International Universities, the management has been trying to remove the unionized staff and replace them with its own people. Both staff and students repeated a rumor circulating Monday that said faculty members who took part in the protest would also be fired.

A ‘porn project’ on campus

The controversy that erupted over student Deniz Özgün’s final thesis, “The Porn Project,” which included footage of two people having sex, led to the dismissal of three lecturers at Bilgi. Professor I.D., who was the former head of the Visual Communication Design Faculty, and scholars A.P. and A.A.A. were fired Jan. 3 by the school administration, which also filed criminal complaints against them with a prosecutor’s office since pornography is a punishable offense under Turkish law.

The management announced these actions via e-mail and then shut down every e-mail account belonging to staff in the VCD Faculty and blocked all websites related to the faculty. This was done to block the creation of a unified stance on the issue, protesters said Monday.

On Jan 4, police raided the E1 Building, searched the rooms of the academics and copied the contents of their hard drives. Computers in the faculty’s computer lab were searched by the management and their hard drives were removed. Bilgi management then announced Jan. 7 that all final exams were cancelled apart from the final theses, something that was criticized by students and scholars as a violation of educational rights.

Turkish academics who talked to the press typically spoke out against pornography-related projects and research taking place in an academic setting. “It is not the place of a student to question academic freedom; that is an academic’s job,” Professor Oguz Adanir, head of the Cinema Television Faculty at Izmir’s 9 Eylül University, told daily Radikal. Speaking to the same publication Sunday, Professor Sevda Alankus, the dean of Izmir Ekonomi University, said she would try to stop such a project if it were proposed at her school.

The Daily News tried repeatedly to contact the Bilgi University rector’s office Monday for a comment on the issue but the call center said the office was not answering and the direct number provided was not open.

Pornography is not OK, but what about phone sex?

Istanbul Bilgi University is being called hypocritical by some columnists for its treatment of academics who approved a student’s “porn project” because the school’s funding initially came from phone sex lines.

Bilgi University founder Oguz Özerden owned a company, Alo Bilgi, that operated a variety of premium call-in phone lines, including those offering phone sex. Özerden told daily Hürriyet in 2002 that the company had partnered with the Turkish edition of Penthouse, the globally known pornographic publication, back in 1993 since their competitors were also in the business of sex lines, but the cooperation lasted only one month.

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

Turkish PM: Israel Must Remove Foreign Minister

Turkey’s prime minister, whose ties with Israel have been badly strained over the past year, has called on Tel Aviv to remove its hawkish foreign minister, whom he says poses an obstacle to Middle East peace.

Avigdor Lieberman is a polarizing figure in Israel and outside, with his outspoken skepticism about peace with the Palestinians and his questioning of the loyalty of Israel’s Arab minority.

He once said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak could “go to hell,” has called for executing Israeli Arab lawmakers who met with Palestinian militant leaders, has advocated bombing Iran and Egypt, and was even reprimanded this week by his own prime minster.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan called the Israeli minister “a problem at the head of Israel” in an interview broadcast on al-Jazeera Wednesday night.

“Israelis must rid themselves [of Lieberman] and that is surely their duty and not ours,” he told the network.

Israel and Turkey built strong military and economic ties over the past 15 years, and Turkey became Israel’s closest ally in the Muslim world.

Relations between the two soured, however, with the Turkish government’s increasingly vociferous criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. They hit an all-time low in May, when Israeli naval commandos killed eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent on board a Gaza-bound ship that tried to breach Israel’s naval blockade.

Israeli commandos said they opened fire in self-defense after meeting what they called unexpected resistance when they boarded the ferry carrying aid supplies to Gaza.

Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv and Turkish leaders denounced Israel repeatedly over the raid. Turkey has made an Israeli apology and compensation for the victims’ families a condition for improved ties.

“When the Israelis meet these conditions, we will reassess the situation [to renew relations],” Erdogan told the network.

The unraveling of relations with Turkey elicited some of Lieberman’s characteristically blunt talk.

He has likened Turkey to Iran on the eve of its 1979 Islamic revolution and said it was difficult to distinguish any difference between the anti-Israel “vitriol” of the two countries’ leaders today.

He countered a Turkish demand for an Israeli apology for the raid with his own demand that the Turkish government apologize to Israel instead for “supporting terror.”

Erdogan wants Israel to end its blockade on the Gaza Strip. Israel and Egypt blockaded Gaza after Hamas gained control there in 2007.

“[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s government is the worst or the least fortunate in the history of Israel,” Erdogan added in the interview.

           — Hat tip: DL[Return to headlines]

Wanted: 47 Al Qaeda Commanders Sought by Saudi Arabia — Including the Son-in-Law of Bin Laden

A group of 47 Al Qaeda commanders have been identified by Saudi Arabia — and they include the son-in-law of Osama Bin Laden.

All the men are believed to be living outside the country and were described as posing a ‘serious threat to the public’.

Suspect Muhammad Salim Barikan, who was thought to have been killed in a drone attack by the U.S., married Bin Laden’s daughter Fatima in 1996.

The Saudi Arabian interior ministry said: ‘Authorities have identified 47 wanted Saudis who are abroad and who adopt the deviant ideology.

‘One of their main goals is to establish terrorist cells inside the kingdom, to recruit Saudis and have them trained…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Russian Orthodox Christmas: Silence on Martyrdom, A Call to Patriotic Values

In his homily the Patriarch makes no reference to the persecution of Christians, the call to prayer for “national unity” and the “homeland”. President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin present.

Moscow (AsiaNews) — More than 150 million faithful, in about 30 thousand churches and 800 Russian Orthodox monasteries in 60 countries around the world celebrate Christmas today. Last night in Moscow, Patriarch Kirill celebrated the traditional liturgy of the Vigil in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in the presence of thousands of faithful and the President of the Russian Federation Dmitri Medvedev. In all, about more than 11 thousand faithful attended the liturgy in the capital. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as per tradition, participated in the Christmas Mass in a church in the province.

The Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated according to the Julian calendar. This is 13 days “behind” the Gregorian calendar, adopted by Catholics, Protestants, some Orthodox — such as the Ecumenical Patriarchate — and the secular world. In Russia, January 7 marks the end of abstinence from meat, sweets and alcohol, which began Nov. 28, and is a national holiday.

It is also a day of high alert after recent warnings of terrorist attacks against Christians throughout the world, especially the Copts in Egypt. 7 thousand security agents were mobilized in the capital alone. All places of Orthodox worship in the city, 286 churches and monasteries are patrolled by canine units, as well as the main underground stations.

Kirill and silence on Copts

There was widespread anticipation for Patriarch Kirill’s homily in the light of New Year’s bloody attack against the Coptic church in Alexandria. In his traditional greeting for the Orthodox Christmas, Kirill did not make any reference to the attack which killed 23 people Dec. 31. On 3 January, however, in a letter to the Coptic Pope Shenouda III, the Patriarch expressed his spiritual support to the community in the hope that “the terrorists are found and appropriately punished.” But in his homily last night there was no reference for the Coptic brothers. The Patriarch instead focused attention on the need to pray for values such as the “homeland”, “national unity” and “the Christian soul.” He stressed that people “now more than ever need the help of God, His love and His mercy.” “We believe and know that in answer to our prayers, our sincere faith, God enters into man’s life, holds him by the hand, strengthens the mind, body and soul.”

Politics and faith

The values to which the Patriarch referred are dear to the Kremlin. Christmas, especially in the last decade of Putin, an occasion for political and Church leaders to come together. The feast gives the opportunity to reaffirm an ever-closer collaboration that unites them in the name of a strong and united Russia.

Medvedev was present with his wife Svetlana in the cathedral in Moscow, where he exchanged greetings and gifts with Kirill. A few hours earlier he had sent greetings to all Russian citizens via Twitter. “Christmas brings us to the timeless values of love and goodness — the president said — these were used for centuries to strengthen the moral values and unity of the Russian people.” “These values even today are the foundations upon which our society can build a peaceful and constructive development of Russia.”

Prime Minister Putin, meanwhile attended the Christmas liturgy in the Church of the Veil of the Mother of God, patron of Turginovo in the village, north of Moscow in the Tver region, where his parents originally come from.

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


Muslim Chechnya Struggles to End Bride Kidnapping

The leader of Russia’s Muslim Chechnya region has admitted he is struggling to end the age-old practice of bride kidnapping, which conflicts with Russian law.

Ramzan Kadyrov is credited by the Kremlin with maintaining peace in Chechnya, a decade after separatists were driven from power in the second of two wars. But human rights workers say he is at the core of a radical Muslim revival and leading a violent crackdown on opponents.

“Local authorities are not fully in charge of this situation … Bride kidnapping has no place in Islam, nor in Russian law,” Kadyrov told a Chechen government meeting, in comments published on Wednesday on the official website.

Insiders and analysts say Kadyrov is facing increased pressure from Moscow to curb local traditions that violate federal laws after spiritual leaders in August ordered armed men to harass women who did not wear headscarves. The incident caused uproar among many Chechens.

Bride kidnapping, in which a woman is taken by a potential groom’s family and held captive until the wedding has taken place, is an ancient tradition across the North Caucasus and existed before Chechnya’s adoption of Islam some 250 years ago. But it is now widely associated in Russia with Islam.

Sometimes bride kidnapping serves as part of an arranged marriage, but often the future bride and her family are taken unawares.

Kadyrov referred to the attempted kidnapping of a young woman on Dec. 28 in the village of Geldagen, which sparked a physical fight between the families of the potential bride and groom after the woman put up resistance.

Kadyrov said he had sacked a local imam who had approved of the kidnapping.

Kadyrov has said publicly that he believes Islamic sharia takes precedence over Russian law, but has also repeatedly said he is committed to Russian rule. Such ambiguity has led some to say the region is evolving towards autonomy once again…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Asian Threat Forecast in 2011

Terrorism and insurgency will remain the top threats in Asia in 2011. Asian governments must work closely with the West to stabilise Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, increasing fatalities of Western forces in Afghanistan will put greater Western public pressure on the US and its allies to withdraw.

IN 2011, terrorism and insurgency will remain the tier-one non-traditional security threats in Asia. Located on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Al Qaeda continues to influence threat groups in Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia. While South Asia will appreciably suffer from terrorism in 2011, economic prosperity in Southeast and Northeast Asia will both pre-empt and counter the threat of ideological extremism and its by-product, terrorism. Nonetheless, with the exception of the terrorist and insurgent threats in South Asia, Asia is one of the world’s more stable and secure regions.

The Threat Environment

The global threat landscape will continue to pose significant challenges in 2011. A range of national security threats — missile and fissile proliferation, organised crime, especially narcotics, maritime piracy, and, insurgency and terrorism — will confront the world. The weapons of mass destruction programmes of Iran and North Korea, two defiant states, will challenge the West to act. Nonetheless, existing and emerging insurgency and terrorist campaigns will both dominate the media headlines, with political violence posing a serious threat to most governments and societies.

Terrorism and insurgency driven by left wing, ethno-political and politico-religious groups and movements threaten Asia. Except for left wing insurgencies in India and the Philippines, support for Marxist, Leninist and Maoist insurgencies will continue to be on the decline. Nonetheless, the potential for violence in Nepal and Bangladesh by left wing insurgent groups remain significant. The most active ethno-political insurgency in Asia is in Thailand waged by nationalist groups. The multiple groups in southern Thailand are coming under the greater influence of other Southeast Asian Muslim groups, especially Jemaah Islamiyah. With the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), peace has returned to Sri Lanka. The most significant threat of political extremism and violence to the world including to Asia stems from groups that seek to misinterpret and misrepresent Islam…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Blasphemy Law: Pope’s Call Highlights Split in Pakistani Society

Radical leaders and Islamic movements incite crowds and warn Christians against forming a party to repeal the law, a step that would bring chaos. The government denies it plans changes to the law. Civil society leaders appreciate Benedict XVI’s speech. Bilawal Bhutto defends minorities. Muslim intellectual calls for full religious freedom and a secular state.

Lahore (AsiaNews) — The Pope’s call on Pakistan to repeal the blasphemy law shows how divided the country is. Radical leaders and Islamic movements are inciting crowds, accusing Benedict XVI of plunging “the entire world into a deadly war”. The Pakistani government has categorically ruled out any amendments to the blasphemy law. At the same time, a group of self-styled young “liberal” attorneys has come out in defence of the blasphemy law, adopting increasingly extremist views. Yet other political and civil society groups as well as Muslim legal experts have described the Pontiff’s speech as “positive”, appreciating his call for religious freedom. Among the promoters of change, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has described those celebrating the death of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer as “the real blasphemers”, urging the government to protect minorities.

In Lahore yesterday, Jamaat-e-Islami leaders led protests against Benedict XVI for his speech. The party’s secretary general, Liaquat Baloch, dubbed the pontiff’s demand as “insane and a plot to threaten Pakistan’s Christian minority’s security”.

Baloch said his party would hold another rally in Lahore on 30 January, stating that the protests would continue until the parliamentary committee dealing with the issue was scrapped and the amendment to the bill, tabled by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) member Sherry Rehman, was dropped.

He added that Salman Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri, enjoyed the backing of “the entire nation” and that “proud and honourable” lawyers would secure his release.

A group of young lawyers from Punjab, who took part in the protests in 2007 and 2008 against then President Musharraf’s decision to sack Supreme Court Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, joined the fight to maintain the blasphemy law.

Born during the dictatorial rule of General Zia-ul-Haq (who had the blasphemy law adopted in 1986), these lawyers had hitherto been considered outspoken defenders of democracy and freedom. Now they embody the country’s slip towards fundamentalism.

They are led by 30-year-old Rao Abdur Raheem who in December set up a “lawyers’ forum”, called the Movement to Protect the Dignity of the Prophet.

The group claims to be independent and liberal, but they also believe that the blasphemy law is legitimate and that Mumtaz Qadri is innocent until proven guilty.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani categorically ruled out any amendment to the blasphemy law. He was backed by Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Shah, who disowned fellow PPP member Sherry Rehman, who is in favour of changes.

Islamic legal scholars have warned Pakistani Christians against forming a party to seek the repeal of the law. A Faisalabad Muslim leader told AsiaNews under anonymity that any attempt to cancel the law “would lead to confusion in society”.

However, moderate Muslim groups and leaders have praised the Pope for his speech, calling it a sign of hope. “I appreciate Pope’s thoughts. It is the need of the time to take a stand and promote religious freedom. I also back the Pope’s call to repeal the blasphemy laws since they have only been used for settling personal rivalries,” said Mullah Mehfooz Ahmed.

An example that illustrates the problem came yesterday, when two men, Muhammad Shafi, 45, and his son Muhammad Aslam, 20, were sentenced to life in prison and a fine for blasphemy. In fact, the accusations on which their conviction was based stem from arguments they had with another Muslim. Complicating matters was the fact that the parties to the disagreement belong to different Sunni schools, Deobandi and Barelvi.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the ruling PPP, also spoke out against the Salman Taseer’s murder and the progressive Islamisation of Pakistan. In his view, those celebrating the governor’s death are the “real blasphemers”.

Son of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the current President Ali Zardari, the young political leader slammed violence committed in the name of Islam. He also called for the protection of the country’s minorities. However, his equivocating attitude towards the controversial blasphemy law has been criticised by Shehrbano Taseer, the Punjab governor’s daughter.

Speaking to AsiaNews, she slammed the inconsistencies of the ruling party’s, her father’s party. She noted that in 2008, the PPP had proposed changes in those elements of the law that led to social and religious disharmony, but “demonstrations by religious groups against a pardon for Asia Bibi” undermined the party’s and the government’s agenda.

Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, told AsiaNews that the “government is clearly under pressure from the religious parties” and has done “a u-turn on [. . .] amendments to the blasphemy law.” Indeed, “There is a clear difference of opinion among the members of the Pakistan People’s Party”.

The only certainty according to Muslim intellectual Babar Ayaz is that “No democracy is complete if it is not secular”. Like the Pope, he believes that full religious freedom is necessary because no one can “impose their thinking [. . .] on others.”

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

Paedophilia ‘Culturally Accepted in South Afghanistan’

Older, powerful men boosted their social status by keeping boys as sexual playthings and the practice was celebrated in song and dance, a military study claimed.

British officers in Helmand requested the study to help them understand the sexual behaviour of locals and Afghan comrades after young soldiers became uneasy they were being propositioned.

American social scientists employed to help troops understand the local culture reported that homosexual sex was widespread among the Pashtun ethnic group in southern Afghanistan.

Strict separation of men and women, coupled with poverty and the significant expense of getting married, contributed to young men turning to each other for sexual companionship.

“To dismiss the existence of this dynamic out of desire to avoid western discomfort is to risk failing to comprehend an essential social force underlying Pashtun culture,” the report said. The study, called ‘Pashtun Sexuality’, said that as well as willing sex between young men, “boys are appreciated for physical beauty and apprenticed to older men for their sexual initiation”. The practice of ‘bache bazi’ or boy play, is known throughout Afghanistan, but is particularly renowned in the city of Kandahar next to Helmand, where prepubescent boys are widely admired. Western soldiers often report feeling unease at the attentions of their Afghan comrades, who are affectionate with each other and sometimes wear make-up…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pak to Block Anti-Islam Websites

Taking a grim view of the anti-Islam rhetoric that has increased on the Internet and is circulating via SMSs in the wake of the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Thursday ordered that all such websites be blocked within 24 hours.

The Interior Secretary has also been told to file cases against Pakistan-based persons indulging in propagating the “anti-Islam agenda”. Also, a committee will be set up with representation from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority and Federal Investigation Agency to monitor anti-Islam propaganda.

In zeroing in on such propaganda, Mr. Rehman has also appealed to the youth to report websites posting material against Islam and Pakistan. Following Taseer’s assassination on January 4, the Internet has seen feverish activity on issues thrown up by his murder including several Facebook pages in support of his assassin…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: “We Are Racist, Like Our Parents Were”

Growing up I was often told by my parents to stay out of the sun. Like most middle class Pakistanis, they were worried that the complexion of my skin will become dark if I spent too much time outside…

However, discrimination on the basis of the caste system has been abolished throughout the subcontinent, and European powers have long since stepped out of both India and Pakistan. Why then, are we still stuck in this old and absurd form of racism? Why are we unable to grow out of this discriminatory mindset and look beyond the color of a person’s skin?

The answer partly lies in the portrayal of beauty in our media. While many Indian actresses have a darker skin tone, not once have I seen a Pakistani actress who was not white. There are many Pakistani ads, songs and films that advocate the merits of having a fair-complexion. Even corporations are instilling and reinforcing this racism in our minds by promoting beauty products and creams aimed at making the skin fairer.

           — Hat tip: Kitman[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Islamic Party Leader Warned Taseer’s Daughter

The leader of an Islamic political party in Pakistan has warned the daughter of a murdered politician to “remember her father’s fate” and to stop supporting his cause.

Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, was shot dead by Mumtaz Qadri, a police officer, on January 4 because of his campaign to pardon a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Many Muslims celebrated the murder and marched in support of Taseer’s confessed killer.

Shadab Qadri, the leader of Sunni Tehreek, said the politician’s daughter, Shehrbano Taseer, 21, must stop speaking out against blasphemy laws.

“We read the statement of the slain governor’s daughter in a newspaper. She should refrain from issuing such statements and must remember her father’s fate,” Shadab Qadri said.

His organisation has also offered legal support to Mumtaz Qadri and financial help to his family “as he performed a great duty in the name of Islam”.

The killing shocked Pakistan’s small, liberal elite but has found support among its conservative population, who were told by imams that Mr Taseer wanted to open the floodgates to abuse of the Prophet Muhammad…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pakistan’s Fight Against the Taliban: The Crumbling Centre

THE assassination on January 4th of Salman Taseer by Malik Mumtaz Qadri, a commando in his security detail, contained a chilling message: the Barelvi sect of Islam has become a militant new force in Pakistani politics. Most Pakistanis are Barelvis. They have traditionally disavowed violence, followed the peaceful Sufi traditions of the subcontinent, and paid homage to scores of saints, big and small, at tombs across the country.

Mr Qadri is also a Barelvi. But when he determined to “punish” Mr Taseer for supposedly committing blasphemy—the governor of Punjab province had campaigned against Pakistan’s blasphemy law—Mr Qadri seems to have been influenced by the rise of firebrand Barelvi mullahs calling for all blasphemers (on their definition) to be killed. After Mr Qadri’s arrest, Barelvis marched in their thousands, along with co-religionists of other sects, parties and persuasions, shouting “death to blasphemers”. Lawyers showered rose petals on the murderer, and the policemen guarding him have uploaded approving videos of him on YouTube. A full-blown, all-party religious revival has erupted, a disturbing turn for both state and society.

The Taliban—who hail from the hardline Deobandi sect of Islam, close to the Wahhabism espoused by Osama bin Laden—have stoked the mainstream resurgence. Facing defeat by Pakistan’s army in the tribal areas of the north-west, the Taliban struck urban targets, including police stations and the army’s general headquarters. When the government persuaded Barelvi mullahs to condemn suicide-bombings as “unIslamic”, the Taliban assassinated them and bombed their mosques and Sufi shrines.

Yet the trauma has made the Barelvi leaders more militant, not less. The anti-blasphemy bandwagon makes common cause with the Taliban. Other groups have sensed an opportunity for an Islamic political revival, including non-Taliban Deobandi and Wahhabi groups. Two such groupings play a critical role in Pakistani politics.

The Jamiat i Ulema e Islam (JUI), a Deobandi outfit, is led by a pragmatist, Maulana Fazal ur Rehman. The JUI contests elections in the tribal areas, and is a coalition partner of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party. But Mr Rehman must heed hardliners inclined to abandon parliamentary politics and switch loyalties to the Taliban. So the JUI is against the “war on terror” because it is an “American” war. It has also condemned Mr Taseer…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Thailand: ‘Send Us Cash or We’ll Rape Her Again’: Thai Sex Attackers’ Sickening Call to Mother of British Woman, 23, As They Assaulted Her

A British woman described how she was gang raped for two hours in a Thailand hotel by men who then phoned her mother to demand money.

The 23-year-old claims she was assaulted by a group of Swedes and Thais in a room near Patong Beach, in Phuket, after agreeing to go back for a party.

In a sickening phone call, her attackers told her mother back in Britain that they would rape her again unless they received money.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

350 Saga Cruise Passengers Ordered Below Decks After Their Liner is Chased Across Indian Ocean by Somali Pirates

Holidaymakers on a £2,000-a-head Saga cruise were ordered below decks when Somali pirates started to chase their ship.

The 350 guests were in the middle of a black-tie dinner when a speedboat drew up alongside their vessel.

One passenger said they were told to keep their heads down in case they were shot at and then had to sit on the floor with the doors barricaded.

The number of pirate attacks on vessels in the Indian Ocean has soared recently, with the raids netting gangs vast quantities of money.

The Spirit of Adventure was on its way from Madagascar to Zanzibar carrying the 350 passengers — mainly Britons — when the alarm was raised.

The captain sped up and attempted to outrun the inflatable boat, which eventually sped off.

After 53 minutes, the drama was over and dinner resumed.

Just three days before the scare, the passengers had been lectured on what to do in the event of a pirate attack.

Susie Browne, 73, from Enford, Wiltshire, told The Telegraph: ‘It was a really terrifying ordeal. We were eating dinner and then ordered below deck with our heads bowed.

‘The captain sped up and tried to outrun the pirates. We were told they had spotted pirates two miles behind us.

‘We were told to keep our heads down in case they shot us through the windows. Then we were told they were up beside us. Everyone was calm.’

The perils of travelling in the area have been highlighted recently by the plight of Paul and Rachel Chandler.

The couple, from Tunbridge Wells, were kidnapped as they sailed to Tanzania in October 2009 and held for more than a year.

Last April, pirates with rocket-propelled grenades approached the cruise ship Discovery and only left when the crew released razor wire.

It was the first time a Saga cruise has ever been targeted. Naval authorities were alerted about the boat after it was spotted on its long-range radar screens.

The holidaymakers who were looked after by 200 crew had paid £2,000 each for the two-week trip from Mauritius to Mombasa.

A Saga spokesman said: ‘The Spirit of Adventure was about 100 miles from Zanzibar when the captain spotted a small vessel approaching the ship at speed on the long range radar.

‘The captain put in place well-rehearsed plans for the Indian Ocean, taking on board security measures and alerting the naval authorities.

‘Because the unidentified dinghy appeared to be shadowing the ship, as an extra precaution the evening’s formal dinner was interrupted and passengers were told to go to the main lounge.

‘The mood was calm. All travellers in the Indian Ocean have a full security briefing. The captain sped up to full speed and the vessel went away.’

The spokesman added: ‘The meal was interrupted and then re-started. The soup was warmed up again.

‘At breakfast the following morning the captain was given a standing ovation. It is a very British way of doing things.’

The Spirit of Adventure was due to arrive in Zanzibar this morning. The Foreign Office said: ‘We are making enquiries.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

South Sudan and the Arab World: A Plot to Do Down Islam

THROUGH the lens of the Muslim Brotherhood’s slick Arabic-language website, the referendum on the future of South Sudan looks rather different from its portrayal elsewhere. The looming partition of Sudan is not, it says, the logical outcome of five decades of civil war. It is the fruition of a century-old Western ecclesiastical plot to close Islam’s gateway into Africa, and the start of a plan to break other Arab countries into feeble statelets so as to grab their riches.

A Brotherhood reporter in the southern capital, Juba, says he witnessed massive fraud in the voting, so turnout will not genuinely have reached even half the 60% threshold needed to validate the poll. Another article reports a fatwa, signed by 60 prominent Brotherhood clerics, banning Muslims from voting for southern independence…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Immigration is Too High, Say Four in Five Britons

Four out of five people want to see cuts in the level of immigration, a large-scale survey carried out for the Government has revealed.

More than half the population want to see numbers coming from abroad to live in Britain reduced by ‘a lot’, it found.

The poll, carried out for the Communities Department, showed that public demand for reducing immigration is overwhelming and growing.

It amounts to a warning from Whitehall to David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May that concerns over immigration — which played a central role in last year’s general election — have not gone away and are likely to lead to voter frustration if the Coalition fails to keep its promises.

Ministers have pledged to bring net migration — the number of people added to the population by migration each year — down to 1990s levels of under 100,000. In Labour’s last year in power, net migration was 215,000.

The Communities Department Citizenship Survey — a research project launched while Tony Blair was prime minister — attempts to measure ‘community cohesion’.

Its findings on immigration are notable because the survey was designed to ensure that ethnic minorities and Muslims were ‘robustly represented’ among those consulted.

Some 10,000 people were questioned, but pollsters then gauged opinions from a further 5,000 ethnic minority members and 1,200 Muslims before reaching their conclusions.

The survey found that 78 per cent of the population want to see immigration cut back. A quarter (24 per cent) would like to see immigration reduced a little, while 54 per cent said they wanted it cut ‘a lot’. Fewer than one in five — 19 per cent — said levels should stay the same. Only three people in 100 thought there should be an increase…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Punishing the Victims of Islamic Gender Apartheid?

She is marked for certain death.

Her final hearing takes place on Friday, January 14, 2011. If American Immigration decides to deport her back to her Muslim family in Africa, she will, without doubt, first be genitally mutilated and then honor murdered for insisting on remaining a Christian, for having fled an arranged Muslim marriage—and for having secretly married a Christian man.

I doubt she will be able to take her case to the United Nations. After all, that august body has condemned free speech/truth speech as hate speech, especially where Islam is concerned. Incredibly, presumably “progressive” European countries have increasingly launched criminal investigations against their own politicians, human rights activists, academics for daring to tell the truth about Islamic gender apartheid if that truth shows Islam in a negative light.

On January 24, 2011, the distinguished Lars Hedegaard, the President of the Danish Free Press Society and the International Free Press Society, will stand trial for telling the truth about Islamic gender apartheid. According to Ahmed Mohamud, the Vice President of The Danish Free Press Society, and Katrine Winkel Holm, Chief Editor of Sappho, the Society’s magazine, both Lars Hedegaard and Jesper Langballe, a member of the Danish Parliament, are accused of committing “hate speech.” Langballe exposed honor killings among Muslims; on December 3, 2010, he was convicted for doing so. As I noted in my piece at NewsReal Blog, Lars Hedegaard dared to discuss the great number of family rapes in areas dominated by Muslim culture.

I have published two major academic studies about honor killings and have written many articles about individual cases. I have also been called upon to testify in court cases for potential Muslim honor killing victims who are seeking asylum in America. Will I, too, someday be tried as a “racist”? Will such asylum seekers themselves be one day tried as criminals for exposing the horrendous violence they have escaped in the hope that the West will be a sanctuary for them? What will happen to them and to their advocates if telling the truth about Islam becomes a punishable offense in America?…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Canada: Reason, Not Religion, Behind Ban on Polygamy, Prof Tells B.C. Court

VANCOUVER Centuries-old laws banning polygamy in western cultures are rooted in the protection of women, children and men from the ills of multiple marriage and not just the imposition of Christianity on the masses, a law professor told a British Columbia court on Monday.

That will be an important distinction for a B.C. judge to consider as he decides whether Canada’s law against polygamy violates the religious guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms involving a case prompted by the obscure polygamous commune of Bountiful, B.C.

The provincial government’s own lawyer has conceded that, if the prohibition dating back to 1890 is in fact a religious law originally intended to impose Christianity onto society, it must be struck down.

But John Witte Jr., a law professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., said the origins of polygamy laws in the West extend far beyond religion.

“The prohibitions against polygamy are pre-Christian and post-Christian in their formulation,” said Witte, who was testifying for the federal government.

“Pre-Christian in that we have these formulations in Greek texts and pre-Christian Roman law. And post-Christian in that the architects of modern liberalism are making clear that if you want to respect rights, if you want to respect dignity, it is critical to maintain the institution of monogamy and prohibit and criminalize the institution of polygamy.”

Witte traced the history of marriage back to ancient Greece and Rome, and he said western cultures have consistently promoted monogamy and denounced polygamy for 2,500 years.

He said ancient Greek and Roman philosophers described monogamous marriage as “natural and necessary” to foster mutual love, respect and companionship among husbands and wives.

In contrast, he said the Roman emperors who established the first antipolygamy laws in the third century denounced the practice as “unnatural and dangerous,” placing it in the same category as rape and incest. In some cases, polygamy was punishable by death.

Witte said those early beliefs about marriage have informed every western culture since, from early Christians, the Catholic and Protestant churches, the Enlightenment — which eschewed religion and Christianity — and modern-day England and America.

“The Greeks and Romans are in many ways the forefathers and foremothers of our western civilization,” he said. “We received from them ideas of liberty, ideas of constitutional order, ideas of rights. … It is a fundamental part of who we are as western people.”

A B.C. judge has heard conflicting accounts of whether polygamy is harmful, with government lawyers arguing the practice inevitably harms women, children and society as a whole.

But the case is also examining the religious implications of the law — not only whether it infringes on the religious freedoms of polygamists, but also whether the law amounts to an illegal attempt to impose Christianity onto the Canadian public.

Tim Dickson, a lawyer for the court-appointed lawyer who’s arguing the current law is unconstitutional, noted many of the same cultures that banned polygamy also had laws against homosexuality, sodomy and interracial marriage.

Witte rejected the comparison, and he noted jurisdictions such as Canada that have legalized same-sex marriage still only allow same-sex monogamy.

“What many people who come from traditional teachings have recognized is that same-sex parties can enjoy many of the same goods as opposite-sex parties: mutual companionship and love, mutual protection, and today, with assisted reproduction and adoption, it’s possible that the goods of mutual procreation and education of children can be achieved by same-sex marriage.”

The B.C. government asked the court to examine the law after the failed prosecution of two leaders in Bountiful in 2009.

Winston Blackmore and James Oler are leaders of separate factions of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, a breakaway Mormon sect that continues to practise polygamy. The mainstream church renounced the practice more than a century ago.

Current and former residents of polygamous communities, including Bountiful, are scheduled to testify beginning next week.

Testimony is expected to continue until the end of the month, with closing arguments set for the spring.

Legal experts have predicted the case will eventually end up in the Supreme Court of Canada.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Canada: Polygamy Ban Centuries Old, B.C. Court Told

The centuries-old laws banning polygamy in Western cultures are rooted in the protection from the ills of multiple marriage and not just the imposition of Christianity on the masses, a law professor told a B.C. court Monday.

It will be an important distinction for a B.C. judge to consider as he decides whether Canada’s law against polygamy violates the religious guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — a case prompted by the polygamous commune of Bountiful, B.C.

The B.C. government’s own lawyer has conceded that, if the prohibition dating back to 1890 is in fact a religious law originally intended to impose Christianity onto society, it must be struck down.

But John Witte Jr., a law professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., said the origins of polygamy in the West extend far beyond religion.

“The prohibitions against polygamy are pre-Christian and post-Christian in their formulation,” said Witte, who was testifying for the federal government.

“Pre-Christian in that we have these formulations in Greek texts and pre-Christian Roman law. And post-Christian in that the architects of modern liberalism are making clear that if you want to respect rights, if you want to respect dignity, it is critical to maintain the institution of monogamy and prohibit and criminalize the institution of polygamy.”

Once punishable by death

Witte traced the history of marriage back to ancient Greece and Rome, and he said Western cultures have consistently promoted monogamy and denounced polygamy for 2,500 years.

He said ancient Greek and Roman philosophers described monogamous marriage as “natural and necessary” to foster mutual love, respect and companionship among husbands and wives.

In contrast, he said the Roman emperors who established the first anti-polygamy laws in the third century denounced the practice as “unnatural and dangerous,” placing it in the same category as rape and incest. In some cases, polygamy was punishable by death.

Witte said those early beliefs about marriage have informed every Western culture since, from early Christians, the Catholic and Protestant churches, the Enlightenment — which eschewed religion and Christianity — and modern-day England and America.

“The Greeks and Romans are in many ways the forefathers and foremothers of our Western civilization,” he said.

“We received from them ideas of liberty, ideas of constitutional order, ideas of rights… It is a fundamental part of who we are as Western people.”

The B.C. judge has heard conflicting accounts of whether polygamy is harmful, with government lawyers arguing the practice inevitably harms women, children and society as a whole.

Residents to testify

But the case is also examining the religious implications of the law — not only whether it infringes on the religious freedoms of polygamists, but also whether the law amounts to an illegal attempt to impose Christianity onto the Canadian public.

The B.C. government asked the court to examine the law after the failed prosecution of two leaders in Bountiful in 2009.

Winston Blackmore and James Oler are leaders of separate factions of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway Mormon sect that continues to practice polygamy although the mainstream church renounced the practice more than a century ago.

Current and former residents of polygamous communities, including Bountiful, are scheduled to testify beginning next week.

Testimony is scheduled until the end of the month, with closing arguments expected in the spring.

Legal experts have predicted the case will eventually end up in the Supreme Court of Canada.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Canada: Dire Straits’ ‘Money for Nothing’ Should be Censored, Broadcast Panel Rules

OTTAWA — The 1980s song “Money for Nothing” by the British rock band Dire Straits has been deemed unacceptable for play on Canadian radio.

In a ruling released Wednesday, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council says the song contravenes the human rights clauses of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code.

A listener to radio station CHOZ-FM in St. John’s, N.L., complained last year that the song includes the word “faggot” in its lyrics and is discriminatory to gays.

The broadcaster argued that the song had been played countless times since its release decades ago and has won music industry awards.

A CBSC panel concluded that the word “faggot,” even if once acceptable, has evolved to become unacceptable in most circumstances.

The panel noted that “Money for Nothing” would be acceptable for broadcast if suitably edited.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

EU Sends Out £4.4m Diaries to Schools Which List Muslim, Chinese and Hindu Holidays… But Miss Out Christmas and Easter

The European Union has sent millions of diaries to schools which list the dates of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish and Chinese festivals — but omit any mention of Christian celebrations.

In an extraordinary move, three million 2011 notebooks were printed at a cost of £4.4million to the taxpayer. Around 350,000 of the diaries have already been shipped to schools in the UK alone.

There is no record for Christmas, Easter or Lent — despite bureaucrats carefully listing the EU’s self-styled ‘Europe Day’ on May 9.

The EU was forced to apologise in the wake of the blunder as religious groups expressed their disbelief.

John Dalli, consumer commissioner said: ‘We regret this’ and apologised.

While the apology is general, there has been a specific, grovelling apology sent to the French government and to the French Catholic Bishop Conferences which had complained directly to Brussels.

European Catholic Commission spokeswoman Johanna Touzel described the mistakes ‘just incredible.’

‘Christmas and Easter are important feasts for hundreds of millions of Christians and Europeans.

‘If the Commission does not mark Christmas as a feast in its diaries then it should be working as normal on December 25,’ she added.

EU officials have described the diaries as ‘a rather gross error’ but were at a loss to explain how it might have occurred.

The diaries contain much information for modern-day youngsters aged between 12 and 16 — such as mobile phone costs, the dangers of the Internet and climate change.

German conservative MEP delegate Martin Kastler blamed’ aggressive atheism in the apparatus of the European Union-Commission’ and called it ‘unbearable.’

He added; ‘It is impudent to say that it was merely a mistake, however big. I demand that the responsible officials be called to account immediately.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Should Incest Still be Considered a Crime?

The Swiss government broke a taboo last year when it said it would consider lifting a ban on incest. The announcement launched a heated debate on the issue.

In September, the cabinet proposed revisions to the Swiss penal code, and as part of the update, said it favoured repealing various laws including the one on incest.

The government added that this would not necessarily lead to crimes going unpunished — such as unlawful sex with a minor — since these are covered by other laws.

However, the proposal met stiff opposition in parliament, mainly from rightwing and centre-right parties who see incest as more than a crime but something reprehensible from a moral point of view that is deeply anchored in our culture.

One reason for the lifting of the law, the cabinet argued, is the low number of times people are sentenced for incest — on average only three or four a year between 1987 and 2007.

Homayoun Bagheri: Yes. It’s necessary that such an important subject is discussed in a representative democracy.

H.B.: The biological aspect is important. The degree of inbreeding partly determines the probability for some diseases, or [could result in] having fewer children or lower life expectancy.

The degree of inbreeding must be distinguished. There are societies in the Middle East and Asia where marriage or sexual intercourse between cousins is no problem. Biologically, the mortality rate in such cases is one to four per cent higher than the average.

Incest between a father and a child or between siblings where it is probable that they share up to 50 per cent of the same genes — cousins it’s only up to one-eighth — can lead to four times more hereditary diseases than in the case of cousins mating.

In other words, the more genes in common, the greater the probability that something will go wrong.

H.B.: This claim is somewhat speculative. It’s possible that if incest had been much more common man’s evolutionary and social development would have taken a somewhat different course over the past 50,000 or 100,000 years, but evolution certainly would not have stopped.

In a few stages of man’s evolution there were higher degrees of inbreeding than we have nowadays. For example when populations were much smaller during the ice age or among island inhabitants.

H.B.: Certainly. You mustn’t only look at the biological aspects when discussing this subject, even though one can say that incest can be damaging genetically.

If one speaks of incest between parents and their children or between siblings it’s often thought that it happens among consenting adults. But one must be careful since the start of such relationships may have begun when one of the partners was a child. In these cases, one must consider the rights of children and their protection.

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


Muslims Being ‘Appeased’ By Crackdown on Christianity

But ministry leaders say people accepting faith ‘even after re-education programs’

It’s happening in Egypt, Pakistan and Laos as well as other Muslim-dominated nations in Asia and Africa, and its results are stark: a surge in attacks on Christian families and Christian churches. Now an analyst concludes that the attacks are being allowed, perhaps even encouraged, by government inaction in what is no more or less than the appeasement of radical Islamics.

Investigative journalist and the founder and executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism Steven Emerson says the pattern follows Islamic law.

“The Egyptian government [which has seen a series of recent attacks on Christians] hasn’t done what it is morally obligated to do, which is to provide protection for the Copts. Certainly the Copts are treated as second-class citizens. This is the classic dhimmi situation in a Muslim country,” Emerson observed.

“It doesn’t protect the large Coptic community perhaps to appease the larger Islamic community,” Emerson said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]