Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110424

Financial Crisis
»Ireland: ECB-Forced ‘Run on Our Banks’ Led to Bailout
»Classified Military Files Offer New Insights About Guantánamo Detainees
»Doctors Clear Giffords to Attend Shuttle Launch
»FBI Identifies Suspect in Attempted Bombing at Colorado Mall
Europe and the EU
»Finland: New Government — New Policy Towards Israel?
North Africa
»Egypt: Mubarak to be Moved to Cairo Military Hospital
»Libya Rebels Say Oil Firms Can Resume Work Soon
Israel and the Palestinians
»‘Heinous Act Against Jewish Worshipers’
Middle East
»Security Forces Kill 9 Syrians in Sunni District
»John Sentamu: Is the Big Society Big Enough to Offer Shelter to Refugees?
Culture Wars
»UK: Is This Equality? As a Lawyer, I Never Thought I’d Have to Defend Christians in a Christian Nation
»Headlines From the Year 2020 (Part VI)

Financial Crisis

Ireland: ECB-Forced ‘Run on Our Banks’ Led to Bailout

Frankfurt’s ‘murky role’ in bailout must be explored says McCarthy

Economist Colm McCarthy has said that there are “widespread suspicions” that the European Central Bank fostered a run on Irish banks to force the last Government to seek a bailout from the EU-IMF.

In the Sunday Independent today (below and page 23), Mr McCarthy says that the ECB behaved in a “bullying fashion” towards Ireland by threatening to withdraw liquidity support and “fostering” a run on the banks.

Mr McCarthy also said that any further inquiry into the banking crisis in Ireland should explore the “murky role” of the ECB in events leading up to the exit of Ireland from financial markets and resort to EU-IMF financing in November 2010.

His comments follow the publication of a quite sensational account by former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan in which he claims that the ECB forced Ireland into the bailout.

In an interview to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 today, Mr Lenihan has also accused members of the ECB executive of “betrayal”. He criticises some ECB governing board members for the “damaging” manner in which they briefed some media about Ireland.

But the state secretary at the German finance ministry, Jorg Asmussen, told BBC Radio 4: “It was made very clear to the Irish Finance Minister that it was not just about Ireland. The functioning of the currency union was at stake.”

It emerges in the programme that when EU finance ministers met in Brussels on Tuesday, November 16, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, pressed Mr Lenihan to hold a press conference immediately after the meeting to announce an application for aid.

Mr Lenihan responded: “I refused and said I wouldn’t participate on that basis; that my Government had the sovereign right to decide how it conducted these discussions.”

Mr McCarthy, an economist at UCD, has said the Government should now consider publishing full records of ECB communications with the Irish authorities throughout the affair. “It is high time, too, for automatic publication of ECB council minutes,” he said.

A report on the BBC programme, published by the Irish Times yesterday, is re-published in full in the Sunday Independent today on page 20. It sheds significant new light on the traumatic events which led the Government to request assistance from the EU-IMF.

The “widespread suspicions” to which Mr McCarthy refers were commented upon by an Irish academic, Professor Gary O’Callaghan, of Dubrovnik International University, in February in a paper entitled: ‘Did the ECB cause a run on the Irish Banks?’

Professor O’Callaghan said: “A systemic run on Irish banks was the cause of the November crisis and that it probably resulted from public musings by ECB members on the need to curtail liquidity support to banks.”

In the three months up to November last, the banks in Ireland had lost ¿125bn in deposits. A further ¿75bn of deposits left in December after the EU-IMF bailout.

The BBC programme recounts how, on November 8 and 9 last, Mr Lenihan met European Commissioner Olli Rehn in Dublin. At the time, the position of the Government, in public and private, was that Ireland was fully funded up to mid-2011.

Mr Lenihan recalled: “The Commission felt that Ireland should be given a chance to see whether it could survive. I don’t think the Commission was anxious to bounce member states into a programme. That was my strong impression from my discussions with commissioner Rehn.” Earlier this month, Mr Rehn’s spokesman said of his visit: “He didn’t want to push the authorities in one sense or another.”

Both Danny McCoy of Ibec, the employers’ body, and Jack O’Connor of Siptu, who met Mr Rehn separately, said the commissioner had communicated the ECB’s unwillingness to continue its support of the banking system indefinitely — but had given no hint whatsoever that the situation would change within days.

The EU’s position contrasted with that of the ECB, according to Mr Lenihan.

The ECB had been ratcheting up pressure on Ireland the more Irish banks tapped its short-term liquidity funding. That, he said, “gave the governing council [of the ECB] the opportunity to intervene and comment — and they commented with great vigour”.

He went on: “While I found Mr [Jean-Claude] Trichet very helpful throughout the crisis, I have to say I could not say that of all of his colleagues. Some of them were inclined to brief newspapers in their own member states, giving them an assessment of the Irish position, which I viewed as damaging.”

The suddenness of the move in mid-November also appears to have been unexpected for Ajai Chopra of the IMF. He was in Brussels for the week beginning November 15 to discuss wider European issues with the EU. He was scheduled to continue on to Frankfurt but instead cancelled the Frankfurt meetings and flew to Dublin in the middle of the week.

Replying to a question as to whether he supported seeking external assistance at that time, the governor of the Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, replied that: “By the very first days of November it had become absolutely clear to me that this was the way to go.”

As speculation intensified over the weekend of November 13 and 14, a series of denials by Cabinet members was made. Dermot Ahern, flanked by Noel Dempsey, appeared on television describing reports to that effect as “fiction”.

Their ministerial colleague at the time, Eamon Ryan, simply told the BBC that the denials were not true. He went on to say that these denials did “huge damage” and that “there was a huge loss of confidence among the Irish public about what they were being told”.

It subsequently emerged Mr Ahern and Mr Dempsey were operating on briefing notes from the Department of Finance at the time.

At a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels on Tuesday, November 16, the pressure on Ireland had become intense. State secretary at the German Finance Ministry, Jorg Asmussen, who attended the meeting, said: “It was made very clear to the Irish finance minister that it is not just about Ireland. The functioning of the currency union was at stake.” At that meeting, Mr Asmussen’s boss, Wolfgang Schauble, Germany’s finance minister, pressed Mr Lenihan to hold a press conference immediately after the meeting to announce an application for aid.

Mr Lenihan responded: “I refused and said I wouldn’t participate on that basis; that my Government had the sovereign right to decide how it conducted these discussions.”

Denials continued on the Wednesday, up to and including Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Then on Thursday, November 18, Mr Honohan appeared on RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland programme to state frankly that there would be an aid package amounting to tens of billions of euro.

This intervention came, he said, when he learned the night before that an editorial was to appear in the Financial Times newspaper “saying effectively that people should be planning on bank runs”.

He was concerned about the possible effect it would have on financial stability and said he needed to provide reassurance. Asked if he had consulted the Government on the radio appearance, he said: “No, I operate an independent role here.”

By that point, dozens of officials from the EC-IMF-ECB were in Dublin and the formal application for assistance was made three days later on Sunday, November 21.

Mr Lenihan also gave a graphic description of his feelings when the bailout talks were concluded. “I’ve a very vivid memory of going to Brussels on the final Monday to sign the agreement and being on my own at the airport and looking at the snow gradually thawing and thinking to myself, this is terrible. No Irish minister has ever had to do this before.”

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Classified Military Files Offer New Insights About Guantánamo Detainees

A trove of more than 700 classified military documents provides new and detailed accounts of the men who have done time at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba, and offers new insight into the evidence against the 172 men still locked up there. Military intelligence officials, in assessments of detainees written between February 2002 and January 2009, evaluated their histories and provided glimpses of the tensions between captors and captives. What began as a jury-rigged experiment after the 2001 terrorist attacks now seems like an enduring American institution, and the leaked files show why, by laying bare the patchwork and contradictory evidence that in many cases would never have stood up in criminal court or a military tribunal.

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Doctors Clear Giffords to Attend Shuttle Launch

Mark Kelly, Rep. Giffords’ husband, tells Katie Couric in exclusive interview to air Monday how his wife is progressing

(CBS News) In an exclusive television interview that will broadcast Monday on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, astronaut Mark Kelly shares with CBS News Anchor and Managing Editor Katie Couric that his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, has been cleared to attend Friday’s launch of the space shuttle Endeavour.

Couric sat down with Kelly in Houston ahead of the shuttle launch, and he shared details about how his wife is progressing as she recovers from the brain injury she suffered following the January 8 shooting in Tucson, Arizona.

Kelly said of Giffords’ ability to leave her rehab: I’ve met with her doctors, her neurosurgeon and her doctors. And…they’ve given us permission to take her down to the launch. I’m excited about that, yes.”…

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FBI Identifies Suspect in Attempted Bombing at Colorado Mall

The FBI issues a nationwide alert in a search for Earl Albert Moore, 65, who was seen on surveillance video. Officials say he is probably armed and dangerous.

Reporting from Denver— The FBI identified a 65-year-old man with a raft of aliases as the suspect in the attempted bombing of a suburban shopping mall on the anniversary of the Columbine massacre and issued a nationwide alert Sunday, warning that he is probably armed and dangerous.

Earl Albert Moore is the lone suspect in the case, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said. It listed five aliases for him and said he had an “extensive” criminal background.

One week before Wednesday’s attempted bombing, the FBI said, Moore had been released from federal prison after serving a sentence for armed bank robbery in West Virginia.

Authorities found a pipe bomb and two propane tanks while extinguishing a small fire in the Southwest Plaza food court. The mall is less than two miles from Columbine High School, where in 1999 two students killed 13 people before turning guns on themselves. The mall, which can have as many as 10,000 shoppers at its busiest, was evacuated for hours.

There was no explicit link to the high school massacre, but the timing made people suspicious and anxious. The local school district restricted access to 25 schools as a precaution.

Attention swiftly turned to grainy pictures captured by surveillance cameras of a balding man with a mustache who was spotted leaving the area at the time of the attempted bombing. Investigators were not able to identify him until Sunday.

It remained unclear whether Moore was still in Colorado. In a statement, the FBI said it was conducting a nationwide hunt and asked the media to distribute images of Moore.

The agency said Moore is about 6 feet tall, weighs 200 to 220 pounds and has a gray mustache and multiple tattoos, including one of a viking. His aliases include Earl Buchanan, Morelli Buchanon, John Lindzy, Donald Morelli and Gary Steele.

Authorities urged anyone with information about his whereabouts to call 911 or the Jefferson County tip line at (303) 271-5615.

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Europe and the EU

Finland: New Government — New Policy Towards Israel?

The Finnish parliamentary elections resulted in a massive victory for the True Finns. The party managed to increase the number of its MP’s from a mere 5 to a whopping 39 making it the third largest party in the Parliament. The sabre-rattling party campaigned against the closed circle of the top three parties and will now undoubtedly use its mandate to change several aspects of the current political order. The changes will be felt across the board, but for those interested in monitoring the relations between Finland and Israel, the future is more interesting than ever.

Unlike its Nordic neighbors Norway and Sweden, Finland has traditionally been friendly towards Israel. Only during Erkki Tuomioja’s reign as foreign minister, Finland showed some unprecedented signs of hostility. In a famous interview in 2001, Tuomioja compared Israeli defensive actions to the Nazi persecution of European Jewry. As it looks now, Tuomioja’s Social Democratic Party will be part of the new government.

Tuomioja’s multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism run counter to True Finns’ world view. Tuomioja, who as foreign minister, seemed more like an Amnesty International appointed advocate, would have a hard time adjusting to a government led by the likes of Timo Soini, a friend of Israel and Jussi Halla-aho, whose views on immigration and foreign aid do not mix well with Tuomioja’s positions.

It seems unfathomable that the leadership of True Finns would allow Tuomioja back in the driver’s seat as far as Finland’s foreign policy is concerned. However, similarly to Tuomioja, True Finns opposes NATO membership, whereas the incumbent foreign minister, Alexander Stubb is an ardent advocate of Finland joining the organization.

Unlike Tuomioja, True Finns wants to cut foreign aid and is not willing to succumb to UN or EU -mandated foreign policy. Finland is a small country and has limited amount of leverage in world affairs. However, being a member of an important group of a diminishing number of well-run European economies, it has the ability to make a difference in many important issues.

However it’s likely that the current foreign minister and a popular politician, Alexander Stubb will continue to run the foreign ministry. Stubb is a media-driven politician who is often unwilling to reevaluate existing policies and instead refers to EU and the UN as the two organizations that Finland should follow.

True Finns has the political capital to challenge many existing policies which have never been scrutinized. For example, Finland’s sizable and unconditional aid to the Palestinians might be revised under the new government. Moreover, its unlikely that the new government would be pressured into cutting defense ties with Israel simply because organizations such as ICAHD Finland regularly petition the government to do so.

Jussi Niinistö, a security advisor for the True Finns and a strong candidate to become the next minister of defense, recently stated that Finland should increase its defense spending. If one is to look at the list of True Finns MP’s and assuming that the deliberations preceding the forming of the new government go according to True Finns’ wishes, we will likely see a shift toward a foreign policy which will reflect well on the long-standing relations between Finland and Israel.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt: Mubarak to be Moved to Cairo Military Hospital

The former Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, is to be moved to a military hospital in Cairo after a doctor declared him well enough to travel.

He has been in hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since falling ill during questioning about corruption allegations and protesters’ deaths.

Prosecutors said the 82-year-old was supposed to go to Tora prison hospital, but it was not ready to receive him.

The military council that took power in February is under pressure to try him.

Mr Mubarak’s two sons, Gamal and Alaa, along with a number of senior officials and business figures close to him are already being held at Tora prison.

Condition ‘stable’

For the past two weeks, the former leader has been in a private wing of a hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh after being admitted with heart problems.

But the public prosecutor, Abdul Maguid Mahmoud, said Mr Mubarak was now fit enough to be transferred to the Mazraa hospital at Tora prison.

He will first be moved to a military hospital in the capital, the International Medical Centre, and then to the prison hospital once proper preparations have been made. The facility is not equipped with intensive care facilities that could deal with any sudden deterioration of his heart condition.

Once there, Mr Mubarak will face questioning over allegations of corruption, including charges that his government supplied gas to Israel at below market prices.

He will also be questioned about his role in ordering the violent response to anti-government protests, in which more than 800 people died.

The prosecutor’s office cited a doctor’s report as saying Mr Mubarak could be moved without endangering his health, as long as he was given appropriate medical treatment.

An official source cited by the state news agency Mena said he could be transferred to the military hospital with 48 hours.

The BBC’s Jonathan Head in Cairo says many Egyptians doubted that the country’s new military rulers would be willing to hold the man many soldiers regard as a war hero to account for the abuses of the old regime.

But the incarceration of his sons, many of his closest associates and now Mr Mubarak himself may push those doubts aside, he adds.

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Libya Rebels Say Oil Firms Can Resume Work Soon

Rebels say production halted after Gaddafi attacks

BENGHAZI, Libya, April 24 (Reuters) — East Libya’s Zueitina and Sirte Oil companies will be able to resume work as soon as the areas where they operate are secured, a top rebel oil official in said on Sunday.

Rebels have fought a fierce back-and-forth battle with forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on the road between the eastern cities of Ajdabiyah and Brega for over three weeks, forcing much of the civilian population to evacuate.

Getting the companies in those areas running again would be a boost for the insurgents, but to do so rebel forces will likely need to muster the firepower to dislodge better-armed and trained government loyalists from the area.

“For Sirte Oil and Zueitina, we have people ready to move in as soon as they are safe to move,” Wahid Bugaighis, appointed head of the National Oil Company by the rebel national council, told reporters in Benghazi.

“If we are liberated and the situation is stable, then they are ready to go back,” he added.

The main oil fields under rebel control are the Sarir, Nafoora and Misla fields, all owned by the Arabian Gulf Oil Company (Agoco).

Rebels said they were forced to halt production after troops loyal to Gaddafi attacked the Misla field.

Bugaighis said the opposition would not be exporting any more oil until they were able to repair the damage at Misla and that oil at a storage terminal in Tobruk would be used mainly for a refinery there.

“Presently we are not replenishing any storage in Tobruk,” he said.

Bugaighis said a damage assessment at Misla was complete and workers were preparing to do repairs. He said it would take at least a month to get back on stream, but even that estimate was rough because reconstruction planning was still under way.

Agoco said separately this week it could not give a timeline for resuming production given the scale of the damage at Misla and the lack of safety there.

Bugaighis said rebels were studying “alternatives” to reinforce security at the oil fields they control, but declined to give details.

Breathing Space

Eight guards were killed in an attack on a pumping station along the pipeline between the Sarir field and a port in Tobruk this week, he said, while adding that the attack would not affect the pumping or use of the pipeline.

The loss of Brega, which supplied natural gas to Benghazi, has forced rebels to import more diesel fuel from abroad to run a power plant north of the rebel stronghold, Bugaighis said.

He said electricity output from the plant has been cut by about a quarter to save fuel.

“This is to give us some breathing time between arrivals of tankers. We didn’t have this problem when the gas was supplied to the plant, but now we have to supply it by sea and get it from abroad,” Bugaighis said.

He said rebels made about $129 million from their only shipment of crude oil, but had to pay $75 million for a single cargo of gasoline.

“You have to put things in perspective,” he said. “You don’t go far with $129 million.”

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Israel and the Palestinians

‘Heinous Act Against Jewish Worshipers’

(VIDEO) Details remain unclear hours after Palestinian police officers open fire on group of hasidim at Joseph’s Tomb, killing one, injuring two others. PM Netanyahu urges PA to act with heavy hand against perpetrators, while Palestinian sources claim it is still uncertain whether shooting was intentional

Shooting attack or unintentional mishap? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned on Sunday evening the shooting incident at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus that killed 24-year-old Ben-Yosef Livnat and injured two other Hasidim, calling it a “terrorist attack.”

In his statement, Netanyahu urged the Palestinian Authority “to take harsh steps against the perpetrators who committed this heinous act against Jewish worshipers who were on their way to prayer.”

Netanyahu also said that he had spoken with the victim’s aunt, Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat and sent his condolences to the family.

The Palestinian Authority has yet to issue an official statement in response to the incident, but several Palestinian sources claimed that it was still uncertain whether the shooting was intentional.

The only Palestinian official to comment on the affair was Nablus Governor Jibril al-Bakri. According to al-Bakri, “Around 5:45 am five Israeli vehicles with some 30 passengers arrived at the scene.

“They divided into two groups and began throwing stones at Palestinian police officers guarding the vicinity,” he said.

No suspects arrested

The governor added that the police officers shot in the air, and the worshippers began fleeing in their cars while hitting the road block. However, Al-Bakri did not explain how Ben-Yosef and three other Hasidim were injured in the incident.

Meanwhile, the IDF and Palestinian security apparatus continued to probe the fatal incident in an attempt to unfold the events as they occurred.

Earlier, Palestinian security forces spokesman Adnan Damiri denied reports that claimed Palestinian forces arrested the police officer responsible for the shooting.

In an interview with a Palestinian radio station Damiri claims that Palestinian security forces collected testimonies and were investigating the incident, adding that Israel has yet to establish any kind of inquiry.

As of Sunday evening, two Hasidim remain hospitalized in Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva. One is in serious condition while the other sustained moderate injuries. A third man was released from the hospital shortly after the incident.

[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Security Forces Kill 9 Syrians in Sunni District

AMMAN (Reuters) — Syrian security forces and gunmen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shot dead at least nine civilians on Sunday in a sweep on the coastal town on Jabla, the Syrian human rights organization Sawasiah said.

The forces deployed in the old Sunni district of the mixed town on the Mediterranean coast following a pro-democracy protest against the autocratic rule of President Bashar al-Assad the previous night.

Assad, who succeeded his late father as president in 2000, is from Syria’s minority Alawite sect, who form a majority in Jabla and have generally stayed away from the protests demanding political freedom and an end to corruption although independent Allawites have condemned the killings.

Sawasiah, an independent organization, and another human rights activist in contact with Jabla, said security forces also raided the house of Zakraiya al-Akkad, a physician in Jabla, after he spoke Al Jazeera television about the killings in his hometown.

In the coastal city of Banias to the south, protest leaders said they would cut the main coastal highway unless the siege on Jabla was lifted.

Rights campaigners said they feared that Assad’s forces were preparing a similar attack on the town of Nawa after reports of bulldozers and military vehicles heading there after thousands called for the overthrow of Assad at a funeral for protesters killed by security forces.

Electricity and communications had been cut off in parts of Nawa by the evening and residents, some armed, erected barriers in the streets in preparation to defend against attack.

“Long live Syria. Down with Bashar!” mourners chanted, their calls audible in am earlier telephone call during the funeral in Nawa, 25 km (15 miles) north of the city of Deraa where demonstrations against Assad’s rule erupted last month.

“Leave, leave. The people want the overthrow of the regime.”


At least 100 people were killed across Syria on Friday, the highest toll in five weeks of unrest, when security forces shot protesters demanding political freedoms and an end to corruption in their country, ruled for 41 years by the Assad dynasty.

Another 12 more people were killed on Saturday at mass funerals for the slain protesters, and rights campaigners said secret police raided homes near Damascus and in the central city of Homs on Sunday, arresting activists.

Assad assumed power when his father died in 2000 after ruling Syria for 30 years. The hostile chants in Nawa on Sunday reflect a steady hardening of the demands of protesters who at first called for greater freedoms but now seek his overthrow.

International condemnation of Assad has also intensified. Western criticism was initially muted because of lingering hopes that Assad might implement genuine reform and because revolution in Syria would reshape the political map in the Middle East.

An eminent jurists’ group said on Sunday the U.N. Security Council must investigate “mass killings” by the security forces which it said may warrant prosecution by the International Criminal Court. Human Rights Watch also called for a U.N. investigation and for international sanctions on Syria.

“Those ordering and carrying out these attacks, including those firing live rounds into crowds, must be held criminally accountable,” said Wilder Tayler, secretary-general of the International Commission of Jurists.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens of people were arrested by security forces after the demonstrations on Friday, including nine in Idlib province, four in Syria’s second city of Aleppo and five in eastern Raqqa province.

Mansour al-Ali, a prominent figure from the minority ruling Alawite sect, was arrested in Homs after he spoke out against the shooting of protesters, an activist in Homs said.

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John Sentamu: Is the Big Society Big Enough to Offer Shelter to Refugees?

In 1973 I was forced to flee Idi Amin’s brutal regime. I found compassion and care in Britain. Today, I want to live in a society that holds out the same hope for fugitives

The events of the first Easter were told against a social backdrop of violence, injustice, migration, and the desperate search for safety. Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover that week, a festival that recalled their forebears’ desperate flight from Egypt as refugees. Generations before, their ancestors had gone to Egypt as economic migrants. In the past weeks, as the turmoil in the Middle East has played out, Egypt has once again found itself a refuge for those seeking sanctuary. Having made historic changes in its own political settlment, it is admitting fugitives from the conflict in neighbouring Libya.

Today, no country should have to act alone, and those states affected by recent political upheaval are assisted by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. International arrangements are in place to ensure that victims of violence and torture, and any in need of international protection, are given a chance both of surviving immediate crises and of finding security for the future.

The persistence of violence and injustice anywhere is regrettable but the international agreements to protect refugees are a mark of human progress, and indeed arise from a virtue common to many religions — the virtue of hospitality to the stranger and the alien.

In stretching economic times, it is not surprising that those who foot the bill for humanitarian provision should, along with others, have to find ways of increasing efficiency and cutting costs. But I hope that, as a nation, we are as committed as ever, even now, to those values which have made Britain great, among them a firm conviction that it is our duty to come to the aid of the oppressed, and to offer protection where it is needed.

Immigration and asylum is an area of moral debate where there is often more heat than light. This week, for example, we have seen France closing its border with Italy to prevent desperate new migrants fleeing unrest in North Africa reaching its territory.

But to assess whether there really is a refugee or migration “crisis” we must consider the evidence carefully. And one key area of research must surely be into what happens to “failed” asylum-seekers who are returned to their country of origin. More notice needs to be taken, I believe, of increasingly unpalatable evidence from countries like Congo and Cameroon that some returnees from the UK, including those with young children, are subjected to imprisonment, torture, abuse and starvation. By the time we learn of their appalling fate, it is too late to say, “we got it wrong”.

The UNHCR recently released a report which found that during 2010 some 358,800 asylum applications were made in the 44 industrialised countries. The US, France, Germany, Sweden and Canada were the largest asylum recipients in 2010 and accounted for more than half of all asylum applications received by these 44 states.

But applications for asylum in industrialised countries are more than 40 per cent lower than they were 10 years ago and many have raised concerns that this is partly due to tighter immigration controls which are stopping refugees from seeking protection in these countries. The fact is that globally there are no fewer refugees than before: it is just that most refugees continue to be assisted in poor countries.

Tunisia and Egypt, for example, despite the turbulence of recent weeks, have both recently pledged to allow the thousands of Libyans fleeing the escalating conflict to enter their territory. Meanwhile, some hundreds of thousands of Ivorians fleeing the recent violence in Cote d’Ivoire have received assistance in eight West African countries. Let us hope that the conflict there is truly coming to an end now, but for the time being the number of people who have become refugees as a result of these conflicts in West Africa alone is equivalent to the total number of asylum applications that the UK has received in the last five years. In 2010, the UK received its lowest number of asylum applications since 1989.

Given that the number of asylum-seekers and refugees who end up in the European Union is now relatively small, it is particularly important that we respond to individuals who do seek sanctuary in our countries in a principled and compassionate way. This should include providing protection to all those fleeing persecution or escaping situations of conflict and widespread human rights violations, and providing adequate support to those in the asylum system so that they can meet their essential living needs.

When the public-spending cuts bite, it should not be the most vulnerable of all who suffer. It usually falls to local refugee groups, and often to churches, like many I visit in the north of England, to support those who are struggling to live on the meagre levels of support offered to asylum-seekers. How “Big” is our “Big Society” in relation to these people? There will always be those who need our protection and our support — are we big-hearted enough to accept this? It would be tragic if, because of misplaced fears over immigration numbers, we shut our doors to those seeking sanctuary from persecution.

In 1973, I myself was a refugee who had to escape Idi Amin’s brutal regime in Uganda. Many of my contemporaries were not so lucky. I was received in Britain with great compassion and care — it was almost a home from home. Yes, one room in a communal house sufficed for me, my wife and daughter. However, I recall the struggles of surviving on the very limited financial support available at the time, and I also recall the generosity of those who went out of their way to make us welcome. I would like to think that those genuinely needing protection today find that Britain is no less committed to help than its partners in the international community.

Easter for Christians is a time of rebirth, resurrection and good news. I would like to see that message transformed into something very practical, human and down-to-earth. I want to belong to a society that treats its vulnerable people with respect, and which holds out the hope of a new life for those who have been battered, bruised and abused. This is a desire I share with many fellow travellers, those with and without belief in God. Let Easter be a time of hope for everyone — but especially the broken, the homeless, the fugitive and the destitute.

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Culture Wars

UK: Is This Equality? As a Lawyer, I Never Thought I’d Have to Defend Christians in a Christian Nation

I wanted justice to be done and believed that our great British legal system, founded on Christian principles, would secure such justice.

I never imagined that my skills as a lawyer would be used to defend Christians for following their faith in 21st Century Britain.

In the UK, Christians are beginning to experience discrimination that leads to them being marginalised and losing their jobs. Over the past three years more than 100 have suffered after wearing a cross, sharing their faith, even offering a prayer.

Why is this? I believe it is because, as a nation, we have forgotten our history and Christian foundations — our very identity. The legal and political elite tell us that we have now ‘grown up’ and are a secular nation.

This rings hollow for many of us. Even those who might not attend church regularly still — the majority of them — identify with the great faith that shaped our nation.

Christian principles are clear-cut and easy to understand. They espouse life, joy, forgiveness, freedom, tolerance and justice. These principles are good for all and we are poorer as a society when we reject their source.

The social reformers of the 19th Century who made Britain great — Wilberforce, Fry, Peel and Rowntree, among others — were compelled by their love for Christ and built on the foundations of preachers such as Wesley and Whitefield of the 18th Century.

Most of the great advances in public life, in healthcare, education and social provision, came as a result of Christian conviction.

Biblical principles of justice transcribed into the statute books helped to maintain true tolerance within our society, the dignity of every human being and the call to great sacrificial public service.

Yet since the middle of the last century the Christian framework that shaped our culture has come under increasing attack.

As a young barrister in the Eighties I had the privilege of knowing Lord Denning — a judge famous for doing the right thing — and every three months I would enjoy fish and chips with him at his local pub in Whitchurch in Hampshire.

What was it that informed Lord Denning? It was his notion of Christian justice. He once proclaimed: ‘Without Christianity, there can be no morality, there can be no law.’

Yet modern legal and political thought, particularly under the Blair/Brown regime but continuing under Cameron and Clegg, has been dominated not by Christian principles, but by liberal secular humanism, exemplified in the equalities legislation of the past decade.

Contrast Lord Denning with Lord Justice Munby, and his statement in a recent Christian Legal Centre case: ‘Although historically this country is part of the Christian West, and although it has an established church which is Christian, there have been enormous changes in the social and religious life of our country over the past century. Our society is now pluralistic and largely secular.

‘We sit as secular judges serving a multicultural community of many faiths . . . The laws and usages of the realm do not include Christianity, in whatever form. The aphorism that “Christianity is part of the common law of England” is mere rhetoric.’

Has Lord Justice Munby forgotten the whole of our nation’s history?

While appearing to have the noble aim of upholding personal dignity, equality laws passed in the past decade have acted as a political lightning rod to eliminate Christian morality from the workplace. In essence, they are being applied unequally.

Take marriage. Marriage as traditionally understood no longer has any special status in the law and yet it is the first building block for a stable society. We have exchanged the ideal of marriage between a man and woman for ‘All relationships are equal’.

As the new morality is enforced by the State, the fear of appearing ‘phobic’ has led to many public bodies conducting ‘Middle Age’ witch-hunts against anyone who dares speak or even think differently.

Eunice and Owen Johns were foster parents with an impeccable record. Their fostering application, for children aged between five and ten, stalled because they couldn’t sign an equality policy which meant that they would be prepared to ‘promote the practice’ of homosexuality.

The judges said there might ‘be a tension between equality provisions concerning religious discrimination and those concerning sexual orientation’.

Where this is so ‘the equality provisions concerning sexual orientation should take precedence’.

The fear of appearing ‘phobic’ has led to many public bodies conducting ‘Middle Age’ witch-hunts against anyone who dares speak or even think differently. The Equality and Human Rights Commission intervened in the case and said that there was a concern that children placed in the care of people such as Eunice and Owen Johns might be ‘infected’ with their views.

It has all gone too far. It is time to turn the tide. I don’t believe the great and ordinary British people want this kind of liberal-tyranny.

We want our freedom back. People should be free to debate, state and hold the view that a child needs a mother and a father without feeling ashamed or sidelined.

We don’t want preachers arrested or Christian registrars forced from office because they can’t, in conscience, officiate at same-sex civil partnership ceremonies.

We don’t want doctors and magistrates to lose their jobs because they believe that vulnerable children are best raised in a home with a mother and a father, or our children put in isolation because they refuse to take off a purity ring.

I could go on. The liberal tyranny does not stop at the family but invades any manifestation of the Christian faith in the public arena.

It leads to a nurse of 38 years being taken off frontline nursing because she won’t take off her two-inch cross; it leads to an electrician being told to remove the palm cross he has had in his van for 15 years.

These cases are the tip of the iceberg. Most go unreported. It was the sense of injustice that led us, three years ago, to set up the Christian Legal Centre and its sister organisation, Christian Concern. Are we as a nation really prepared to let go of our Christian roots? Well, I am not, not without a fight.

There cannot be a Big Society without a Big Story.

This nation’s great story is based on that of Jesus Christ. At Easter, we celebrate how, faced with a world that had rejected Him and gone its own way, God reached out in love, at the cost of His own life, to bring reconciliation at the most fundamental level — a reconciliation to Him.

Christians for generations have responded to this story of new life, hope and sacrifice by giving themselves in acts of service to our great land.

Surely it is time to embrace and accept them, noting that true tolerance is accepting the difference, not silencing or eliminating them from public life.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


Headlines From the Year 2020 (Part VI)

  • Chinese consumers complain about atrocious manners and lack of basic Mandarin grammar at U.S. call centers
  • EU Chairman Muhammed ibn-Sultan calls in NATO troops to quell rebellion of Christians in northern England
  • UN Security Council condemns Israel for not undertaking any military operations for over three months, “which is evidence of secret preparations to conquer the Arab countries”
  • Gold hits $1 million per ounce, still holding at price of a good men’s suit

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]