Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20111108

Financial Crisis
»Berlusconi Confident of Majority — “After Me, Elections”
»China: One Trillion Yuan Subsidies for Firms Hit by Export Slowdown
»France: Austerity Measures, VAT & Business Tax Hike
»German Government Reduces Taxes by 6 Bln Euro From 2013
»Greece: The Majority of People Want to Remain in Eurozone
»Italy: Borrowing Costs Hit Record as Berlusconi Teeters on Collapse
»Italy: Berlusconi Seeks to Win Back Rebels Ahead of Vote
»Netherlands: Bring Back the Guilder, Say 58%
»New Government — But No Respite for Greeks
»Spain: Possible 1 Bln EU Sanction for 22.6% Unemployment
»Spain: Possible “Gap” Of 600 Mln for Banca Valencia
»Swiss Help Tackle Czech Consumer Debt Mountains
»Technocracy is No Way to Go
»Top German Economist: ‘It’s in Greece’s Interest to Reintroduce the Drachma’
»Independence to Keep Convert From Islam as Prayer Breakfast Speaker
»Joe Frazier, the Former Heavyweight Champion, Has Died
»New Mosques Cropping Up in Chicago, Study Shows
»Stakelbeck: Muslim Homeland Security Advisor Accused of Leaking Sensitive Docs
»The Met Says ‘Open Sesame’
»Uncle Sam Wants You … To Know Which Way to Mecca
Europe and the EU
»Belgium: Trade Union Leader Threatens Jewish Schools Because of Israel’s Reaction to UNESCO Vote
»Bulgaria: Over 200 Mosques in the Rhodopes Celebrate Kurban Bayrami
»Dark Side of the Light
»Far-Right on Rise in Europe
»Italy: Berlusconi Tells Libero, Confidence Vote on EU Letter
»Italy: Palermo Dialogue Between Catholic Church and Imams
»Italy: Wine: Poor Harvest, Balsamic Vinegar Prices Soar
»Italy: Berlusconi Falls Short of a Majority in Key Vote
»Italy: Berlusconi Promises to Resign When Reforms Approved
»Netherlands: No Visa for PVV Parliamentarian, MPs’ Visit to Egypt Cancelled
»Norway: Industry’s Green Warriors Fight Losing Battle
»Spain: Elections: Zapatero “Disappeared” From Rallies
»Tintin: A Homage to Hergé That is Too Adventurous
»UK: David Miliband Warns Against Complacency Over Rightwing Extremism
»UK: Milly Dowler Killer Levi Bellfield Changes Name to Mohammed and Converts to Islam
»UK: The Independent Interviews Ed Miliband … and Calls Him David. Could This Get Any More Humiliating?
»UK: Why We Have to Get Over Our Fear of Islamophobia
»Kosovo: UN Head Voices Concern Over Anti-Serb Violence
North Africa
»Egypt: Army Accused of Copts’ Massacre Threatens 34 Copts With Trial
»Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood Rally at Massive Eid Prayers for God’s Word and Parliament
»Italy: Arab Spring: The Challenge for the New Islamist Governments
Israel and the Palestinians
»Israel: Temp Workers: 4-Hour General Strike
Middle East
»Iran: IAEA Report Says Tehran is Manufacturing the Atomic Bomb
»Israel Believes it Could Carry Out Strikes on Iran With Under 500 Civilian Fatalities
»Ponies Prove to be Popular in Iran
»U.N. Report Details ‘Credible’ Case That Iran is Working Toward a Nuclear Weapon
»U.N.: Iran Secretly Testing Nuclear Weapons, Violating Pact
»UAE: 100 People Embrace Islam in One Month
South Asia
»India: Deoband Seminary Issues Fatwa Against Birthdays
»India: Tips From Gallows for Muslims on Christening Babies
»India: Birthday Bashes Against Sharia: Darul Uloom Deoband
Australia — Pacific
»Wealth of Islamic Culture Bound for This Space
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Nigeria: Can President Tasks Muslims on Love for Fellow Countrymen
Culture Wars
»Survey: Sexual Harassment Pervasive in Grades 7-12

Financial Crisis

Berlusconi Confident of Majority — “After Me, Elections”

Alfano claims any other government would be unelected

ROME — “After me, only elections. No interim or broad-based governments with a puppet premier. I’ve got solid numbers and I’m not stepping down for Bersani, Di Pietro and Vendola. The opposition should vote for the crisis-containment measures presented in Brussels, and appreciated by everyone in the EU”.

Far from knuckling under, Silvio Berlusconi is in fighting mood (“Let’s cut the whining”). On the eve of this morning’s stock exchange test when all eyes will be on Piazza Affari, a confident premier claimed that he can still command a parliamentary majority to pass the measures demanded by international bodies, despite announcements of defections in the government coalition: “In the past few hours, I have verified that the numbers in Parliament are secure”. In a telephone link to an Azione Popolare convention organised by Silvano Moffa, Mr Berlusconi said “no one in this Parliament is capable of putting together a credible alternative majority”. The prime minister was unequivocal: “Italy has to face a dual threat from speculation in the markets and from political speculators seeking to use the crisis as a shortcut to power”. He concluded: “That is why I said that our friends who are leaving the majority at this time are enacting a betrayal not of us but of Italy”…

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

China: One Trillion Yuan Subsidies for Firms Hit by Export Slowdown

Beijing is set to help companies in need to counter slower exports. This could put stoke an already high inflation and reduce the purchasing power of hundreds of millions of people for the sake of growth.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Beijing might inject more than 1 trillion yuan (US$ 158 billion) to boost the economy in the next two months via annual subsidies from the Ministry of Finance, this according to the official China Securities Journal, which quoted a research report by the China International Capital Corporation (CICC). The measure is due to lower exports to Europe and the United States. Experts warn however the move might help companies but also push up inflation.

The injection of liquidity was necessary the report said because of the tight monetary policy the government put in place since October of last year to contain inflation.

The Finance Ministry typically offers subsidies to various industries and sectors in the last two months of each year. Even though it does not publicise these subsidies, they were estimated to be around 1 trillion to 2 trillion yuan last year.

Inflation now appears to have taken a backseat. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) has not raised interest rates or bank reserve requirement ratios (RRR) since July. Previously, it had increased them several times to control record level inflation.

Still, China could face resurgent inflationary pressure if it relaxes monetary policy too soon in order to help companies, experts believe. Although tamed, inflation has not been beaten as rising food prices attest.

“It is hard to say whether inflation pressure has been fully curbed or not, so we cannot relax money supply in the future to stabilise economic growth. Otherwise, it may add fresh pressure to inflation,” Fan Jainping, chief economist at the State Information Centre think tank, was quoted as saying.

Fan added that the Consumer Price Index might ease back to 5.5 per cent in October and inflation may cool further by the end of this year, after it dipped to 6.1 per cent in September, retreating further from a three-year high of 6.5 per cent in July. However, food price inflation is still in double digits, badly hurting middle-income earners and rural communities.

Overall, Beijing appears to be more interested in maintaining high growth rates. In fact, China’s economic growth is expected to slow to “only” 8.8 per cent in the fourth quarter of this year.

Li Daokui, an academic adviser to the central bank, said last week that China’s gross domestic product growth might moderate to 8.5 per cent next year from an estimated 9.2 per cent this year.

In October, the authorities unveiled new measures to encourage banks to lend more to small firms, which have been badly hit by the worldwide economic downturn.

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

France: Austerity Measures, VAT & Business Tax Hike

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, NOVEMBER 7 — A VAT hike, increases to business taxes and implementing pension reform a year earlier in 2017 are the key measures announced today by French Premier, Francois Fillon, who explained the details of a new austerity plan, allowing France to save 100 billion euros and achieve a balanced budget in 2016.

In particular, Fillon announced that the new plan will include a 5% increase to taxes paid by big businesses, a VAT increase for numerous products and services, and implementing pension reform one year earlier than previously planned (in 2017 instead of 2018). Pension reform calls for the retirement age to be increased from age 60 to 62.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

German Government Reduces Taxes by 6 Bln Euro From 2013

(AGI) Berlin — The government coalition parties, the CDU, CSU and FDP, have agreed to cut taxes by six billion from 2013. In announcing the agreement, Angela Merkel stressed that the measures aim to “strengthen growth in Germany,” while strictly maintaining the planned consolidation of public finances. The German government wants to use the tax cuts, which mainly benefit low earners, “to thank the people for the many losses suffered because of the international financial and economic crisis.” .

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

Greece: The Majority of People Want to Remain in Eurozone

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, NOVEMBER 7 — An opinion poll conducted by Public Issue company for Sunday’s Kathimerini indicated that despite the current problems, the majority of Greeks want to remain in the eurozone. The survey indicated that if Papandreou were to have forged ahead with plans to hold a referendum on whether Greece should stay or leave the euro, most Greeks would have voted for remaining in the eurozone. According to the poll, 68% of the 603 people questioned said they would have voted to keep the euro. However, Papandreou would have had a much harder task convincing Greeks to support the new bailout agreed with its eurozone partners on October 27. Only 31% of respondents said they would have voted for the terms of the deal, which would include more austerity measures, while 46% said they would have voted against the deal. The rest were undecided or would have cast a blank ballot.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Borrowing Costs Hit Record as Berlusconi Teeters on Collapse

Rome, 7 Nov. (AKI) — The cost Italy must pay to borrow money rose to a record on Monday as political wrangling in Rome creates uncertainly among investors.

The yield for Italian 10-year bonds rose to 6.64 percent from 6.37, the highest rate since the introduction of the euro currency.

Italy’s 1.9 trillion-euro debt is Europe’s second highest after Germany and the world’s fourth largest. While Germany has more debt, Italy’s economic growth is far more sluggish, creating concern that tax-revenue flow will be too weak to replenish the Italian Treasury coffers to enable the country to make debt payments.

The difference Italy must pay on 10-year bonds over its German European partner- known as a spread — widened to 488 basis points in early trading, its widest level since 1995. Germany has Europe’s most robust economy. All bonds issued by the 17-member monetary union are measured against Germany’s.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi insist’s he’s the man to put Italian’s financial house in order and economy back on track. But defections from his conservative ruling coalition may be a sign that it’s time for 75-year-old Bersluconi to go a year earlier than scheduled national elections.

Berlusconi’s government faces a Tuesday confidence vote on a public finance measure. He says the numbers in the coalition are solid, but further defections can bring an end Berlusconi’s rule, and perhaps his political career.

The billionaire media mogul has dominated Italian politics either as prime minister or opposition leader since entering the fray in 1994 amid a huge corruption scandal that shook up Italy’s post-World War II political system.

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

Italy: Berlusconi Seeks to Win Back Rebels Ahead of Vote

‘The numbers are not there’, says rebel MP

(ANSA) — Rome, November 7 — Premier Silvio Berlusconi was seeking to win back party rebels and the support of wavering MPs on Monday after a key minister questioned whether he still had a majority.

The embattled prime minister returned from the Group of 20 summit in Cannes on Friday to face defections in his party amid growing unease about his handling of the economic crisis.

Berlusconi held late night talks with key allies cabinet undersecretary Gianni Letti and secretary of his People of Freedom party (PdL) Angelino Alfano on Sunday amid speculation that the opposition will provoke a confidence vote in parliament to bring down the government on Tuesday.

Two PdL deputies, Alessio Bonciani and Ida D’Ippolito, announced their decision to leave the party on Thursday as the government came under increasing pressure from the International Monetary Fund and international leaders to carry out its pledged economic reforms.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni raised further doubts about the prime minister’s future on Sunday after MP Gabriella Carlucci abandoned Berlusconi’s party.

“The latest news leads me to think that the majority no longer exists,” Maroni, a member of the Northern League, said on a TV talk show.

“In a democracy you win and you lose”.

Isabella Bertolini, one of several MPs from Berlusconi’s party who last week demanded a broader ruling coalition, said on Monday if there is a confidence vote on 2010 budget measures Berlusconi will lose.

“The numbers are not there, there will be a great flight from the PdL,” Bertolini said during a TV interview. Bertolini spoke about the need to enlarge the ruling majority and include the centrist Christian Democrats (UDC) in the coalition.

There are varying estimates about whether centre-right deputies will vote against Berlusconi in the vote on public finance on Tuesday. On Sunday the premier said he had “counted the numbers” and he was confident he still had a majority.

He has accused rebel MPs of “betraying” the party and the country.

The 75-year-old billionaire media tycoon has rejected calls to step down and is adamant that he is the only leader to carry through the government’s proposed economic reforms.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Bring Back the Guilder, Say 58%

As the eurozone crisis continues, some 58% of the Dutch would like to return to the guilder, according to a new poll by Maurice de Hond. In May, just 51% wanted the guilder to return.

The poll also showed 51% believe Greece should leave the euro and 69% believe Greece will not meet its obligations on cutting spending.

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

New Government — But No Respite for Greeks

Eleftherotypia, Athens

The 6 November agreement on the formation of a government to be supported by both the left and right has temporarily put an end to the crisis prompted by the idea of organising a referendum on the Greek bailout. However, most of the problems faced by the Greek population will remain unresolved.

A deal has finally been struck. Under asphyxiating pressure from the country’s European creditors, Greece’s two main political parties have been forced to seek common ground. Their two leaders [Prime Minister George Papandreou and Antonis Samaras, who heads the main right-wing opposition party, New Democracy] have set aside their personal ambitions, at least temporarily, to approve an agreement for the formation of a government that will benefit from their combined support.

Faced with multiple political and personal pressures, George Papandreou will be forced to step down from his post as Prime Minister right in the middle of his mandate [he was elected in October 2009] — a choice that will be deplored by many of the members of his government and his party. There is no denying that this decision amounts to a major political and personal “sacrifice”…

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

Spain: Possible 1 Bln EU Sanction for 22.6% Unemployment

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, NOVEMBER 7 — Spain could face a fine of 0.1% of GDP, around 1 billion euros, because of the high level of unemployment in the country, which Eurostat sources put at around 22.6% of the active population, against an EU average of 10.2%. The news was reported today by the Europa Press agency, which quoted European sources. This type of sanction is part of the new economic governance package, which aims to redress financial and macroeconomic imbalances in EU countries. The finance ministers of the 27 EU members states are tomorrow expected to approve the list of indicators that will be used to measure imbalances. One of these will be employment levels. According to the text quoted by Europa Press, the assessment model featured in the document to be discussed by ministers is based on the average unemployment over a 3-year period. If the figure is above the 10% limit, sanctions are activated. Other indicators are thought to be public deficit (with a limit of 3% of GDP), public debt (60% of GDP), house prices, private debt and current account debt.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Possible “Gap” Of 600 Mln for Banca Valencia

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, NOVEMBER 7 — Spain’s national commission for market value has today suspended trading on the stock exchange of shares in Banca Valencia. The move comes after normal operations were disturbed following reports in today’s El Mundo newspaper that the financial body could have a 600 million euro gap in its budget. The paper says that the Bank of Spain is aware of the losses and is believed to have asked Banca Valencia for a recapitalisation and financial restructuring plan by the end of the year. Source say that the group does not have the level of solvency demanded in June by the country’s central bank, with its base capital in June at 7.36%, below the 8% figure demanded by the supervision body and the 9% imposed upon banks by the European Banking Authority. Shares in Banca Valencia, which is part of the Bankia group, were worth 0.87 euros at the close of trading on Friday.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Swiss Help Tackle Czech Consumer Debt Mountains

Consumers who fail to pay back their loans in time face exorbitant interest rates in the Czech Republic. As a result many of them resort to criminal activities.

The Czech justice ministry has launched an overhaul of the credit system hoping to ease the re-integration into society of former convicts. Switzerland is backing the reform as part of its aid to help eastern European countries transform into market economies.

Prague is arguably one of the most attractive cities for tourists and consumers in central and eastern Europe. But behind the glitter of shopping windows and fancy boutiques is another — ugly — reality.

Vaclav’s story in a common one. The 40-year old father lived lawfully, getting used to a steadily rising income and growing consumer demands, until he was caught off-guard by the economic downturn.

In a few years his debts totalled about SFr50,000 ($55,500) — no small sum considering that the average monthly income in the Czech Republic is just SFr1,200 and when most wage earners make hardly more than SFr800 a month.

No longer able to cope with the mountain of debt Vaclav resorted to fraudulent activities — and breached the law.

He ended up in an overcrowded prison, like other fraudsters in a similar situation. While justice was done it did not help Vaclav learn how to manage his personal finances, deal with the judiciary or reduce his debts…

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

Technocracy is No Way to Go

Il Sole-24 Ore, Milan

Governments of “experts” proposed in Italy and Greece could be good at taking emergency decisions, but would deepen European citizens’ diffidence towards ever more indirect democracy. To avoid this, politics must reclaim its role

Guido Rossi

The proposal — since withdrawn — by outgoing Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou for a popular referendum on austerity policies mandated by the European Central Bank definitively underlined that the real problem regarding the rescue of the euro is far more political than economic, and that the consensus of Europe’s citizenry will be required sooner or later.

In Europe, referenda have unfortunately shown that the citizenship of individual states are often reluctant to become European citizens. Take Denmark in 1992, when the Maastricht Treaty was voted down; or France and the Netherlands in 2005, which both rejected the draft of the European Constitution. Also worth remembering was Ireland’s initial 2008 refusal of the Lisbon treaty.

The real political crisis today concerns models of indirect democracy. They give citizens only the right to vote, while delegating all decisions to elected politicians. These elected officials, wherever one turns, seem incapable of making decisions for the common good…

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

Top German Economist: ‘It’s in Greece’s Interest to Reintroduce the Drachma’

Is reintroducing the drachma the only way for Greece to save itself?

Economist Hans-Werner Sinn is the president of the Institute for Economic Research (ifo), a leading German think tank in Munich. He spoke to SPIEGEL about the euro crisis, the growing uselessness of a bailout and a possible way back to the drachma for Greece.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Sinn, the Greeks have decided not to hold their referendum. They want to keep the euro and allow themselves to be rescued by Europe. Can we all breathe a sigh of relief?

Sinn: What politicians refer to as a “rescue” will not actually save Greece. The Greeks won’t ever return to health under the euro. The country just isn’t competitive. Wages and prices are far too high, and the bailout plan will only freeze this situation in place. So it’s in Greece’s interest to leave the euro and reintroduce the drachma.

SPIEGEL: How would that work?

Sinn: It must happen quickly. Greek banks will have to close for one week. All accounts, all balances and all government debt would have to be converted into drachmas. Then the drachma would depreciate.

SPIEGEL: In that case, Greek citizens would try to empty all their bank accounts as quickly as possible. There would be chaos.

Sinn: One would have to manage. Granted, there will be a localized storm; but, afterward, the sun will shine. Wealthy Greeks transferred their assets to safe havens abroad long ago. The money will come back to Greece only once Greece has re-established its competitiveness.

SPIEGEL: What sort of exchange rate do you envision between the euro and the drachma?

Sinn: If Greece depreciates (its currency) by around 44 percent, the nation will be about as expensive as Turkey. Then Greek products will start selling again, and tourists will start returning.

SPIEGEL: The money foreign banks and governments have already loaned to Greece would be gone. Are those losses bearable?

Sinn: Creditors would lose about half of their investments, but they’ve already accepted such losses (with the recent decision to give Greece a debt “haircut”). It wouldn’t be more than that.

SPIEGEL: What about European governments? What sort of losses would they face?…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Independence to Keep Convert From Islam as Prayer Breakfast Speaker

Independence officials have resolved to keep the speaker they’ve scheduled for an annual prayer breakfast, despite requests that he be replaced. Kamal Saleem, who describes himself a former terrorist who has converted from Islam to Christianity, is scheduled to speak Nov. 17 at the Community of Christ Auditorium. A prayer breakfast committee approached Saleem several weeks ago, said Independence Mayor Don Reimal. As word got around, some Independence residents appealed to the mayor to reconsider.

At a committee meeting last week, members decided to go forward.

“People are apparently afraid that he is going to insult or demean the Muslim community,” said Reimal, a committee member. Some also are concerned, Reimal added, that some might be inspired to harass local Muslims. “I don’t see that at all,” Reimal said. “This man’s story is about how your Christian faith can see you through adversity,” he said. “I have talked to people who have heard him speak, and they all believe him to be the real deal.”

No Independence funds are used to organize the annual breakfast, Reimal said, and all expenses are met by the $10 tickets sold. Saleem’s presentations are not about hate, said Jennifer Saleem, Koome Ministries’ communication director and Kamal’s daughter. “Our message is very clear, a message of love,” she said. Skeptics who go to his presentations usually end up as his fans, she added. Saleem’s website identifies him as a Lebanon native who was “breastfed Islamic radicalism by his mother and taught to hate Jews and Christians by his father.”

The site claims that Saleem participated in his first terror operation in Israel at age 7 and years later came to the United States seeking to radicalize American Muslims. But his perspective changed, according to the website, following a car accident. After being nursed back to health by Christians, Saleem converted to Christianity. Today, according to the site, he works to convince American Muslims to reject Islamic extremism. “He does not write good things about Islam,” said Shaheen Ahmed, a Leawood physician who helped form the Crescent Peace Society, a Kansas City area organization established in 1996 to promote interfaith relations. “A mayor’s breakfast should not have a person who is divisive. Why would you get somebody who is going to talk bad about one religion?”

Others don’t believe aspects of Saleem’s story. “He appears to be very much a fraud,” said Jim Everett, an Independence resident who has asked Reimal to reconsider. “He seems to have three different conversion stories. I think if I spoke to God, I think I would probably remember the details.” Still others are worried about a possible local reaction to Saleem’s message. The Rev. Josef Walker, pastor of Ridgeview Christian Church in Kansas City and a past president of the Independence Ministerial Alliance, said he was concerned Saleem’s remarks could perhaps prompt harassment of local Muslims. Such fears are genuine, added Ahmed. “Everybody knows that people right now have negative thoughts about Islam,” said Ahmed, who helped found the Crescent Peace Society following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing after initial fears it had been perpetrated by an Islamic group.

“Then you invite a speaker who is going to spread more negative feelings. Perhaps somebody who is not clear-minded could destroy a mosque and maybe hurt some people.” A recent fire that destroyed much of a mosque in Wichita may be an example, said Ahmed. That blaze continues to be investigated. According to a statement released by the Community of Christ, an international church based in Independence, the church plays host to the prayer breakfast each year as a community service. The church “does not endorse the perspectives of any particular speaker invited to participate,” the statement read, adding “we encourage people to join with us in prayers for peace and unity in our community.”

Despite her disappointment at Saleem’s scheduled appearance, Ahmed plans to attend. So do other Crescent Peace Society members, she said. “We want to make sure that the presentation of Islam is not one-sided,” she said.

The details

The 2011 Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast begins at 6:30 a.m. Nov. 17 at the Laurel Club at the Community of Christ Auditorium, 1001 W. Walnut St., Independence. For more information, call 816-325-7027.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Joe Frazier, the Former Heavyweight Champion, Has Died

Joe Frazier, the former heavyweight champion whose furious and intensely personal fights with a taunting Muhammad Ali endure as an epic rivalry in boxing history, died Monday night. He was 67.

His business representative, Leslie Wolff, told The Associated Press in early November that Frazier had liver cancer and that he had entered hospice care.

Known as Smokin’ Joe, Frazier stalked his opponents around the ring with a crouching, relentless attack — his head low and bobbing, his broad, powerful shoulders hunched — as he bore down on them with an onslaught of withering jabs and crushing body blows, setting them up for his devastating left hook.

[Return to headlines]

New Mosques Cropping Up in Chicago, Study Shows

Protests against new mosque construction have made headlines from New York City and Chicago to Los Angeles and Nashville. But despite the push-back in some communities, one new academic study shows the number of mosques in the U.S. continues to grow — especially in the Chicago area. It’s not easy to build a mosque in America these days. Media executive Malik Ali saw this firsthand back in 2004, when he sought approval to build a mosque in his hometown near Chicago. At a raucous three-hour public hearing in Orland Park’s Village Hall, Ali heard incendiary comments. “And now the war has been brought to Orland Park,” Michelle Pasciak said. “And Orland Park is facing a big injustice if this mosque goes through. You are bringing terrorism to our back doors where our children play.”

In the end, Ali won the vote — all the votes, actually — and the Orland Park Prayer Center now overlooks a soybean field and a Catholic cemetery. It is one of 15 mosques built in the Chicago area in the past decade, and religion scholar Paul Numrich says just that fact may be bigger news than the zoning fights that make the headlines. “I think this is the lesser-told story,” he says. “The story we hear is the controversy.” On a sabbatical last year from his job teaching world religions at an Ohio seminary, Numrich got in his 2005 silver Chevy Malibu and racked up 2,500 miles driving around the Chicago area. He counted 91 mosques. A quarter of them were built as mosques — many of them proudly so — a rate that far exceeds the national average. “What was really fascinating is, at times I was going down a street looking for an address, and out of the corner of my eye would see a mosque that was not on any list; it had opened up recently or had moved or something,” Numrich says.

It’s demographics that drive this story. An estimated 400,000 Muslims live in the Chicago area, many in wealthier suburbs. But some observers see something else going on here: a lesson in good old Chicago politics. Abdulgany Hamadeh is a pulmonologist who moved here from Syria 30 years ago. First a county board turned down his proposal for a mosque in suburban Willowbrook. But after a high-profile interfaith press conference, a meeting with the Chicago Tribune editorial board and some face-to-face schmoozing with county politicians, his revised plan got the votes. “You have to know the right people,” Hamadeh says. “You have to know the right channels of communication. And eventually, I think you need to be on the right path. And then you will get what you want.”

It’s a lesson the younger generation is quick to pick up on. In Chicago, the Muslim federation is recruiting young lawyers for a new “zoning task force.” Back in Orland Park, 34-year-old attorney Mohammed Nofal is a member of his mosque’s board of trustees. He also serves as a commissioner in neighboring Tinley Park and as the Muslim co-chairman of a local interfaith group. He says the mosques are assets to the community. He also argues that it was the specter of contentious mosque hearings that inspired many of his peers to get more involved. “[It’s] no different than how the young generation is taking the lead in the Muslim world and putting a new face on the Arab Muslim community,” Nofal says. “And this is the start of that.” At least three mosques are currently seeking approval to build in suburban Chicago. As for Numrich, the next time he hits the road in his Chevy Malibu, he expects to find even more.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Stakelbeck: Muslim Homeland Security Advisor Accused of Leaking Sensitive Docs

My latest report looks at a Muslim advisor for the Department of Homeland Security who stands accused of leaking sensitive government documents to the media. His goal? Spread false charges of “Islamophobia” against Texas government agencies .

He was sworn in as a DHS advisor by Janet Napolitano. Yet he’s a fan of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Muslim Brotherhood. And although Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert is demanding an investigation, DHS is not responding to my requests for comment. Watch the report by clicking on the viewer at the above link:

           — Hat tip: Erick Stakelbeck[Return to headlines]

The Met Says ‘Open Sesame’

A gorgeous salad-bowl-size ceramic dazzles the eye upon entry. The bowl suggests a highly refined and thoughtful curatorial choice as the first display in the reopened Islamic wing in New York’s Metropolitan Museum, as intentional as the galleries’ wordy new handle: “The Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia.” Creamy-hued with wispy dark calligraphy beneath the rim, the 10th-century object neatly embodies the virtues of early Islamic culture: aesthetic purity, affluence with austerity, and a fierce commitment to simplicity. Rippling outward, Islam reinvigorated such forgotten places as Nishapur in northern Iran, the pottery bowl’s hometown on the edge of Central Asia. Within a century, the town could spawn a savant for the ages like Omar Khayyám. The galleries tell an overall story, and many ministories on the way. It’s worth paying close attention to their message.

Closed for renovation since 2003, the Islamic department’s reopening is a huge event in the annals of culture, so it’s safe to assume that no detail is left to chance. The overall design, the choice of objects, their order of display, the high-tech lighting, and much else will be pored over, imitated, and critiqued for years to come. There are 15 galleries, with 1,200 objects on show at any time out of 12,000 in the full collection. What the objects say individually, and the argument they make collectively, are a state-of-the-art manifesto of museum philosophy in the new millennium. According to Navina Haidar, the supervising curator, a consideration that differentiates the present from previous eras is the “global audience of a place like the Met these days, through the Internet and easy international travel. In earlier times they addressed more local audiences. Now we are conscious that our audience includes large numbers of Muslims worldwide.”

So, we can assume, as we look at the show, that Muslim eyes aplenty will be looking, too, not least the many Muslims who live in or near New York. The Metropolitan is their museum equally. The curators have kept that in mind. When you think that they’ve updated their mission from merely enlightening the West about a “foreign” tradition, namely Islam, to also enlightening Muslims about the complexity of their own heritage, the show’s narrative looks even more interesting. Behind and to the left of the bowl stands a nine-foot-high monumental page of Quranic calligraphy from about A.D. 800, likely the biggest-ever Quran until modern times: a straight, exquisite testament to bibliolatry as a central art form in Islam. But on either side stand sandstone Mughal screens across windows that look onto a later gallery from the Mughal era. In catching sight of a multicolored 16th-century Delhi tunic, you glimpse a much more sumptuous and sophisticated Islam to come 700 years later, that of the Mughal emperors in India. Subtly but indelibly, the galleries make their first argument: this is what Islam began with, and here is where it went in a far-off future as it settled into deeper cultural pastures.

The galleries proceed in a circle above a kind of atrium of preexisting Greek and Roman statuaries. If you drift close enough to the windows, you glimpse the marble figures down below and you catch another subtle contextual message, namely that a great deal of Muslim culture grafted itself onto classical soil. Haidar points out the juxtaposition as a happy accident. “We were given an extra 20 percent of space, which allowed us to turn a long gallery into a circular one above the classical galleries.” However serendipitous and sporadic the message, this “multiculturalism” seeps into the visitor’s vision-and, with luck, into the vision of Muslims worldwide.

Though clearly demonstrated, the argument is not forced, or too pointedly made, that Islam channeled many other traditions. Hence two other entrances (or exits) to the new wing connect to the South Asian and the Orientalist Painting departments. The floor plan merely illustrates a manifest truth about Islamic history down the ages that the modern puritanical variety of Islam relentlessly denies. Islamic culture was a collaborative and cumulative effort, achieved in tandem with other “convert” cultures. A number of the galleries also show pre-Islamic objects. All of which explains the convoluted new name for the department-a menu of geographical spaces that doesn’t even include “Islam” or “Islamic” in the title.

So much for overarching themes. In the end, any museum experience stands or falls on the quality of the exhibits. Most dispassionate experts would probably concede that the Metropolitan Museum’s collection doesn’t quite equal the British Museum’s in, say, ceramics or the Louvre’s in armor-both those museums, after all, are in countries with past imperial footprints in Muslim lands. However, the sheer stunning opulence of the best objects in the Met’s galleries are simply matchless and gradually build to a transcendent encounter with some of mankind’s highest aesthetic achievements. In the Egypt and Syria Gallery, which covers the 10th to 16th centuries, the glorious five-color Mamluk carpet-the “Simonetti” (named after an Italian owner)—intoxicates the senses, breathing fiery reds and golds and luminous greens hemmed within integrated geometric medallion designs. If one knows nothing else about Egypt’s Fatimids than that they walked on such carpets, one can envy their lot.

Arguably, the Met’s collection is strongest in carpets and textiles, chief among them the Emperor’s Carpet, which once belonged to Peter the Great. It is a spectacular 16th-century Iranian knotted pile rug that interweaves, in reds, golds, and blacks, so many scintillations of detail-lions, tigers, serpents, palmettes, cloud bands, calligraphy-that the effect is like looking at a starry sky. Another celebrated textile can be seen in the Ottoman Gallery, a 16th-century kemha, or brocaded silk weave, featuring sinuous stems with protruding tulips and carnations, all in gold thread, kinetically swaying against a blood-red background. One can only imagine the ornate politesse of the human contemporaries of such fabrics.

Sometimes a single poetic object in its fractional way suggests the tenor of an entire era. The Met’s collection is full of such artifacts. Iznik chinaware from the Ottoman period, in particular the blue-on-white spouted jug with circular floral decorations, illuminates the tasteful elegance of its time; and the famed Damascus Room offers a kind of giant doll’s house for the imagination to inhabit. In the mimetic pictorial genre, the most outstanding artwork of its kind perhaps in the world is the Shah Tahmasp Shahnameh, or Book of Kings. Composed for one of Iran’s Safavid rulers who perennially sought legitimacy by comparing himself to the ancient kings of Persia, the radiant illuminations denote a pinnacle in the history of Islamic, indeed of any, art. They also precisely embody the message of the resplendent new galleries-that Muslim culture achieved its apogee as both a recipient and disseminator of broad influences from other cultures. The “Muslim” galleries belong to all of us, the Met’s message seems to say, for how else but through collaboration is such beauty born?

Melik Kaylan is a writer in New York.

[JP note: Sinister.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Uncle Sam Wants You … To Know Which Way to Mecca

by Diana West

Uncle Sam is getting a little weird. Make that a lot weird. Having dumped hundreds of billions of dollars into a sinkhole called Afghanistan — populated by misogynistic, pederastic, tribalistic and religiously supremacist primitives — to no avail, he has hit on a new plan for winning those ever-elusive Afghan “hearts and minds.”

Uncle Sam has decided that the answer lies in the latrine with the U.S. Marine Corps. No kidding. When nature calls, Uncle Sam has decided he wants every U.S. Marine equipped with a map and compass, or some other way of knowing direction. This is to ensure that no U.S. Marine in Afghanistan urinates in the direction of Mecca ever again.

Now, there’s a winning strategy.

It’s still OK, of course, to spread baksheesh (payola) indiscriminately, chase jihadis into twisting mountain gorges, clear any road laced with improvised explosives — blow up, even, and bleed all over the place. Just make sure your sense of direction is sharp when it really counts.

Take spitting. According to an article in the North County Times, the word is: Ix-nay on itting-spay toward ecca-May, guys. If there’s a pinch between teeth and gum while you’re hiding out in a cold valley, figure out where Mecca is (2,000 miles away) before letting anything out of your mouth. Oh, and when it’s time to catch some shut-eye “when sharing a base with Afghan army troops” — if you can sleep, given the frightening odds an Afghan National Army soldier might turn his gun on you — don’t, whatever you do, let your combat boots point toward you-know-where…

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Belgium: Trade Union Leader Threatens Jewish Schools Because of Israel’s Reaction to UNESCO Vote

Antwerp — A trade union leader in Belgium has threatened to take action against Jewish schools in retaliation for the Israeli government policy towards the Palestinians. Following the vote on Monday to grant the Palestinians full UNESCO membership and the subsequent Israeli government decision to accelerate settlement building and to freeze transfers of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, Hugo Deckers, secretary general of ACOD, the Socialist trade union for the education sector, sent an e-mail to the chief editor of the Jewish magazine Joods Actueel in which he welcomed the UNESCO vote and referred to the Israeli decision.

“If this is the (Israeli) reaction, I would be happy as union leader to bring the Jewish schools in Antwerp in the news. I fear you are going to scare,” he wrote.

In his response, chief editor Michael Freilich said: “This is yet another proof of the new anti-Zionist antisemitism in which Jews over the world are threatened and accused of actions on which they have no control.”

He continued: “We have said many times but will repeat it: Jews in our country are Belgians, Flemish. They have no influence on the situation in the Middle East.They do not go to the army, pay no taxes and cannot vote. Yes, they have an opinion about the conflict, and like everyone else they are free to express an opinion about anything and everything, whether the military action in Libya, the euro crisis or the situation in the Middle East. We live in a free country. To blackmail people because of their views or because of their religion is totally illegal.”

“The reaction of Hugo Deckers is scandalous and reflects very little respect for our democratic values and poor knowledge about the difference between a religion and a nationality,” Freilich added.

The Forum of Jewish organizations in Antwerp plans to lodge a complaint against the union leader.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Bulgaria: Over 200 Mosques in the Rhodopes Celebrate Kurban Bayrami

Thousands of Muslim Bulgarians thronged in over 200 mosques and smaller houses of worship in Eastern Rhodopes for the festive prayers on Kurban Bayrami (Eid al-Adha). The imams reminded of the basic Islamic values. The congregation offered a prayer to Allah for prosperity, mercy, peace for the whole of humanity. The central mosque in Kardjali was too small for all believers who came for the prayer early in the morning. Kardjali Mayor, Hassan Azis and the chair of the Municipal Council, Niyazi Shaqir also attended the prayer.

Kurban (offering) was prepared and handed out to the poor. Over 220 people received meat for the holiday. Bulgaria’s Prime Minister, Boyko Borissov congratulated the Muslims for their holiday and wished them health, success, long and decent lives. ?It is important for us to walk together, without hatred, and with tolerance for the differences along our common path of European recognition as a strong country that takes care of its citizens,” Borissov’s address reads.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Dark Side of the Light

The light bulb, a simple device made of glass, metal and ceramic that directly emits a wonderful, bright and warming light, must disappear from our lives. In favour of the so-called energy saving light bulb, which is said to save 80 percent more electricity than the so-called incandescent light bulb. So followed the decree by the European Union Parliament’s Committee on the Environment of 17 February 2009.

Where there is bright light there are also dark shadows — this critique has fallen on deaf ears when it comes to energy saving lamps. And here we are not even talking about bright light. But this does not alter the fact that there obviously is “a dark side of the energy saving light bulb”, which Thomas Worm and Claudia Karstedt explore in their book. For one, the energy saving lamp is everything except a lamp. Instead it is a small electrical device that contains a host of electronic parts, which increase in number the more the energy saving lamp tries to imitate the uncontested advantages of the incandescent bulb. Also, when it reaches the end of its life, the energy saving bulb becomes hazardous waste, and its environmentally and climate friendly disposal is no less problematic than the production of its original components.

Thomas Worm and Claudia Karstedt are right to title their study “lying light”, because there is little truth to what energy saving bulbs promise…

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

Far-Right on Rise in Europe

Study by Demos thinktank reveals thousands of self-declared followers of hardline nationalist parties and groups

The far right is on the rise across Europe as a new generation of young, web-based supporters embrace hardline nationalist and anti-immigrant groups, a study has revealed ahead of a meeting of politicians and academics in Brussels to examine the phenomenon.Research by the British thinktank Demos for the first time examines attitudes among supporters of the far right online. Using advertisements on Facebook group pages, they persuaded more than 10,000 followers of 14 parties and street organisations in 11 countries to fill in detailed questionnaires.

The study reveals a continent-wide spread of hardline nationalist sentiment among the young, mainly men. Deeply cynical about their own governments and the EU, their generalised fear about the future is focused on cultural identity, with immigration — particularly a perceived spread of Islamic influence — a concern. “We’re at a crossroads in European history,” said Emine Bozkurt, a Dutch MEP who heads the anti-racism lobby at the European parliament. “In five years’ time we will either see an increase in the forces of hatred and division in society, including ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and antisemitism, or we will be able to fight this horrific tendency.”

The report comes just over three months after Anders Breivik, a supporter of hard right groups, shot dead 69 people at youth camp near Oslo. While he was disowned by the parties, police examination of his contacts highlighted the Europe-wide online discussion of anti-immigrant and nationalist ideas. Data in the study was mainly collected in July and August, before the worsening of the eurozone crisis. The report highlights the prevalence of anti-immigrant feeling, especially suspicion of Muslims. “As antisemitism was a unifying factor for far-right parties in the 1910s, 20s and 30s, Islamophobia has become the unifying factor in the early decades of the 21st century,” said Thomas Klau from the European Council on Foreign Relations, who will speak at Monday’s conference.

Parties touting anti-immigrant and Islamophobic ideas have spread beyond established strongholds in France, Italy and Austria to the traditionally liberal Netherlands and Scandinavia, and now have significant parliamentary blocs in eight countries. Other nations have seen the rise of nationalist street movements like the English Defence League (EDL). But, experts say, polling booths and demos are only part of the picture: online, a new generation is following these organisations and swapping ideas, particularly through Facebook. For most parties the numbers online are significantly bigger than their formal membership.

The phenomenon is sometimes difficult to pin down given the guises under which such groups operate. At one end are parties like France’s National Front, a significant force in the country’s politics for 25 years and seen as a realistic challenger in next year’s presidential election. At the other are semi-organised street movements like the EDL, which struggles to muster more than a few hundred supporters for occasional demonstrations, or France’s Muslim-baiting Bloc Indentitaire, best known for serving a pork-based “identity soup” to homeless people.

Others still take an almost pick-and-mix approach to ideology; a number of the Scandinavian parties which have flourished in recent years combine decidedly left-leaning views on welfare with vehement opposition to all forms of multiculturalism. Youth, Demos found, was a common factor. Facebook’s own advertising tool let Demos crunch data from almost 450,000 supporters of the 14 organisations. Almost two-thirds were aged under 30, against half of Facebook users overall. Threequarters were male, and more likely than average to be unemployed.

The separate anonymous surveys showed a repeated focus on immigration, specifically a perceived threat from Muslim populations. This rose with younger supporters, contrary to most previous surveys which found greater opposition to immigration among older people. An open-ended question about what first drew respondents to the parties saw Islam and immigration listed far more often than economic worries. Answers were sometimes crude — “The foreigners are slowly suffocating our lovely country. They have all these children and raise them so badly,” went one from a supporter of the Danish People’s Party. Others argued that Islam is simply antithetical to a liberal democracy, a view espoused most vocally by Geert Wilders, the Dutch leader of the Party for Freedom, which only six years after it was founded is the third-biggest force in the country’s parliament.

This is a “key point” for the new populist-nationalists, said Matthew Goodwin from Nottingham University, an expert on the far right. “As an appeal to voters, it marks a very significant departure from the old, toxic far-right like the BNP. What some parties are trying to do is frame opposition to immigration in a way that is acceptable to large numbers of people. Voters now are turned off by crude, blatant racism — we know that from a series of surveys and polls. “[These groups are] saying to voters: it’s not racist to oppose these groups if you’re doing it from the point of view of defending your domestic traditions. This is the reason why people like Geert Wilders have not only attracted a lot of support but have generated allies in the mainstream political establishment and the media.”

While the poll shows economics playing a minimal role, analysts believe the eurozone crisis is likely to boost recruitment to anti-EU populist parties which are keen to play up national divisions. “Why do the Austrians, as well as the Germans or the Dutch, constantly have to pay for the bottomless pit of the southern European countries?” asked Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the Freedom Party of Austria, once led by the late Jörg Haider. Such parties have well over doubled their MPs around western Europe in a decade. “What we have seen over the past five years is the emergence of parties in countries which were traditionally seen as immune to the trend — the Sweden Democrats, the True Finns, the resurgence of support for the radical right in the Netherlands, and our own experience with the EDL,” said Goodwin.

The phenomenon was now far beyond a mere protest vote, he said, with many supporters expressing worries about national identity thus far largely ignored by mainstream parties.

Gavan Titley, an expert on the politics of racism in Europe and co-author of the recent book The Crises of Multiculturalism, said these mainstream politicians had another responsibility for the rise of the new groups, by too readily adopting casual Islamophobia. “The language and attitudes of many mainstream parties across Europe during the ‘war on terror’, especially in its early years, laid the groundwork for much of the language and justifications that these groups are now using around the whole idea of defending liberal values — from gender to freedom of speech,” he said.

“Racist strategies constantly adapt to political conditions, and seek new sets of values, language and arguments to make claims to political legitimacy. Over the past decade, Muslim populations around Europe, whatever their backgrounds, have been represented as the enemy within or at least as legitimately under suspicion. It is this very mainstream political repertoire that newer movements have appropriated.”

Jamie Bartlett of Demos, the principal author of the report, said it was vital to track the spread of such attitudes among the new generation of online activists far more numerous than formal membership of such parties. “There are hundreds of thousands of them across Europe. They are disillusioned with mainstream politics and European political institutions and worried about the erosion of their cultural and national identity, and are turning to populist movements, who they feel speak to these concerns. “These activists are largely out of sight of mainstream politicians, but they are motivated, active, and growing in size. Politicians across the continent need to sit up, listen and respond.”

Voting trends

As a political party, having tens of thousands of online supporters is one thing but translating these into actual votes can be quite another. However, the Demos survey found that 67% of the Facebook fans of the nationalist-populist groups which put up candidates — some are street movements only — said they had voted for them at the most recent election.

Further analysis found that female supporters were more likely to turn support into a vote, as were those who were employed.

[JP note: That the openly-antisemitic Guardian should issue a warning about the ‘racist’ far-right stretches credulity.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Tells Libero, Confidence Vote on EU Letter

(AGI) Rome — The Libero newspaper website reports that Silvio Berlusconi is not going to resign. The newspaper had spoken directly with the prime minister. The site reads: ‘On the phone with Libero the prime minister wrong-footed people who thought he was going to resign and revealed: “Tomorrow we have the vote on the financial report bill in the House, and then I will place a confidence vote on the letter submitted to the EU and the ECB. I want to the faces of those who are trying to betray me. I do not understand how they circulated rumours of my resignation. They are completely without foundation’,” concluded Berlusconi.

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

Italy: Palermo Dialogue Between Catholic Church and Imams

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO, NOVEMBER 7 — “All people aspire to justice and are attached to values. Religions must not lose sight of their duty, which must be to guarantee equality and truly to want peace”. This is according to Imam Mahmoud Asfa, the president of Italy’s Muslim Communities, who has been speaking today at a meeting entitled “Cross-religion and cross-culture”, which is being held in Palermo today and tomorrow and will end with the signing of a final document. The initiative has been organised by the regional authority of Sicily and by the Pontifical Theological Faculty of Sicily, in collaboration with COPPEM (the permanent committee for Euro-Mediterranean partnership of local and regional authorities).

“The uprisings in North Africa are proof that there is a hunger for justice and that dictatorships that generate suffering cannot have eternal life,” Imam Asfa added. “The role of religion must be to promote justice, paying attention to fundamentalism and extremism not only in Islam but also in other religions”.

Cardinal Paolo Romeo, meanwhile, said that “the Theological Faculty of Sicily has promoted initiatives favouring dialogue with Islam for some years. To this end, a Sicilian delegation has travelled to Iran and Iranian representatives were later received in Sicily. We must continue to spread and to admit men of good will, regardless of their religion”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Wine: Poor Harvest, Balsamic Vinegar Prices Soar

(ANSAmed) — ROME, NOVEMBER 7 — This year Modena’s Balsamic Vinegar Consortium issued a concerning report indicating a grape harvest at all time lows in terms of quantity (-15%, the worst in the last 60 years; source: Assoenologi), causing difficulties for supplies and causing a sharp rise in prices for Italian vinegar. Balsamic Vinegar is made with grape must and wine vinegar, by-products sold by winemakers when there are surpluses from production. This year due to a poor harvest, wine demand from wine and spirit producers will be high and there will be a tendency to stock up on wine in case of a poor harvest in 2012. Grape must and vinegar prices, which have become rare merchandise, are soaring. Grape must prices have increased by between 30% and 50%, while wine vinegar prices are up by around 40%. This will have repercussions on prices for Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, at a time when the economic crisis had already reduced profits.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Falls Short of a Majority in Key Vote

Opposition calls for his resignation

(ANSA) — Rome, November 8 — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi failed to carry a majority in a key vote in the lower house of parliament on Tuesday.

Berlusconi won a vote on a 2010 budget measure with 308 votes but there were 320 absentees in the house and one formal abstention.

The opposition immediately stepped up its calls for the 75-year-old prime minister to resign after the vote.

Earlier in the day key allies including his main coalition partner, the Northern League, urged him to resign.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Promises to Resign When Reforms Approved

Talks with Napolitano after parliamentary vote

(ANSA) — Rome, November 8 — Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday told Italian President Giorgio Napolitano he would resign once economic reforms were approved.

The 75-year-old prime minister informed Napolitano that he is aware of the implications of today’s vote in parliament.

The news was contained in a statement released by the president’s office after Berlusconi met the head of state.

The government’s latest economic reforms are expected to be put to parliament next week.

The statement was issued as Berlusconi left the presidential palace with Cabinet Secretary Gianni Letta.

Earlier opposition leaders stepped up their calls for Berlusconi to resign when he failed to carry a majority and the 2010 budget measure was approved by only 308 votes in the lower house.

There were 321 absentees and one formal abstention.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: No Visa for PVV Parliamentarian, MPs’ Visit to Egypt Cancelled

A visit to Egypt by parliament’s foreign affairs committee has been cancelled after MP Raymond de Roon from the anti-Islam PVV was refused a visa.

The committee had been due to travel to Egypt on Friday for a weekend working visit.

According to De Roon, he was refused a visa because of statements he made earlier about Egypt. ‘They don’t like the fact I described as ethnic cleansing the way 95,000 Christians have been driven out of the country since March 2011,’ Van Room is quoted as saying in the Telegraaf.

PVV leader Geert Wilders said the refusal to grant a visa to De Roon was a ‘scandal’. ‘It shows the new Egyptian regime is as barbaric as the previous one,’ Wilders is quoted as saying.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Norway: Industry’s Green Warriors Fight Losing Battle

The market for large-scale carbon-capture and storage technology, or CCS — the petroleum industry’s “secret weapon” in the fight against climate change — is “finished”, Norwegian business leaders have said.

State financial help was the Achilles’ heel of projects aimed at separating climate-warming carbon dioxide gas from industrial and natural gases and pumping it into underground salt caverns. Even in subsidy-strong Norway, the finance schemes that have enabled state entities to match the money of oil companies while shielding CCS builders like Aker Clean Carbon are on the wane.

“The market has disappeared. Today support from the authorities and agreement among energy companies is no longer in place,” Aker chairman Øyvind Eriksen told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv.

Other carbon-scrubbing contractors, including US, Canadian and Japanese players, have at some point been incubated by Oslo’s money while they hunted for the right large-scale solution for separating carbon from gas.

Just two years ago, world leaders descended on Bergen for a look at Mongstad and Kollsnes, the oil refinery and gas export terminal where a CCS plant has been built. Norway’s 5 billion kroner project, the Test (CCS) Centre Mongstad, was to help save the planet.

Two years on, investments have been put on hold citing safety fears over a key solvent. Elsewhere, parallel markets have created separate prices for carbon-emissions credits and undermined faith that CCS players would have something to sell, like storage, processing or emissions credits.

Government support now, too, has retreated amid Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, a second credit crunch that has prevented governments from fronting the billions of dollars required to get companies to build on speculation.

Last week, London cancelled plans for full-scale CCS offshore Scotland. The plan was to store industrial gases in an old oilfield.

Meanwhile, Aker Clean Carbon’s market value was made “zero” in the financial results released by parent industrial group, Aker Solutions.

A final government investment decision on Mongstad, where construction continues, is seen coming in 2014. There’s no timetable for the return of CCS in Scotland or Australia, where government help would have been decisive but has been put on hold.

Scotland, meanwhile, hosts what will likely be a sombre meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in January 2012. The “global financial crisis” overshadowed talk at the last IPCC meet in Panama in October 2011.

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

Spain: Elections: Zapatero “Disappeared” From Rallies

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, NOVEMBER 7 — “Nadie se acuerda de Zapatero” (No-one remembers Zapatero) is the headline in El Pais, while La Vanguardia goes with “Zapatero removed from the bill. The outgoing Prime Minister, the leader of the Socialist party seems to be a “desaparecido” (literally a victim of “forced disappearance”) in his PSOE party’s election campaign, with the party being led to the general election of November 20 by his former deputy and candidate for his succession, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba.

The Madrid press says that this is an unprecedented phenomenon in Spain’s fledgling democracy. The official campaign began three days ago but tonight’s live television face-off between Rubalcaba and the leader of the People’s Party, Mariano Rajoy, already constitutes the decisive moment. Yet the Socialist Prime Minister, who is still in power, has not been seen at any of the party’s meetings and no PSOE speakers have even quoted him. The reason for this is clear. The popularity of Zapatero, who has been undermined by three years of wavering policy amid a backdrop of crisis and unemployment figures of 5 million, almost 22% of the active population, is at all-time low in Spain. This has also led the PSOE to dangerously low opinion ratings, with the party some 17 points below Rajoy’s PP in voter intentions at the beginning of the campaign. In an effort to bridge the gap and motivate once more the millions of former PSOE voters who have been disappointed by “Zapaterismo”, Rubalcaba has to perform what El Pais calls a “triple death jump”, in an effort to “ensure that Zapatero’s time in government is forgotten”. As a result, Rubalcaba’s running partner on the socialist campaign for the last three days has been “old” Felipe Gonzalez, the “father” of the transition from the rule of Franco to democracy, and the country’s Prime Minister for 10 years in the 1980s and 1990s. The move represents an almost complete change in direction. Zapatero, the “young wolf” who unexpectedly won the Socialist primaries in 2000 and overcame similarly unpromising odds to win the general election of 2004, had done everything he could to eliminate the “Felipista” old guard from the party, saying that it was not “modern” enough and too “left-wing”. Now though, as ABC writes, “Rubalcaba hides the leader of the government”. Meanwhile, a cartoon by Toni Batillori in today’s La Vanguardia shows Rubalcaba disowning the Prime Minister in front of microphones: “Zapatero?… I’m sorry, I really don’t know who you are talking about”. According to ABC, “his cancellation at the hands of Rubalcabism does not mean only his physical elimination from the electoral process, but also that of the merest mention of his name in speeches by candidates. Quoting him is anathema and any reference to his legacy is a deadly sin”. But as La Vanguardia points out, “Zapatero is not an ex (yet): his is the leader of the Spanish government and the secretary general of the PSOE”. ABC says that the Socialist candidate’s electoral line seems to be “I have nothing to do with this man”. Yet the line is a difficult one. Until four months ago, Rubalcaba was the deputy Prime Minister, Interior Minister and spokesperson for the government of José Luis Zapatero.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tintin: A Homage to Hergé That is Too Adventurous

The new Tintin film is visually dazzling, but dazzle is not always the highest virtue in film-making, writes Charles Moore.

This review is late because I had not intended to write it at all. One look at the publicity stills for Steven Spielberg’s computer-animated film version of Hergé’s creation had convinced me that I would hate it. The film renderings of the characters looked like grotesque parodies of human beings, rather than the peaceful, beautifully drawn cartoons of the master. Research among fellow Tintin-lovers showed that this reaction was widely shared.

Our son, however, who is a much more learned Tintinologist than I, took a different view. Although the film was “far from perfect”, he said, it was “fully in the spirit of the original” and clearly composed by people who loved it: I should go. So, in order to prove that I am not in the 47 per cent of the adult population who regard the young as rude and frightening, I put on my 3D glasses, and went. Inevitably, I think, the original from which the film draws is not a single Tintin story. Its basic plot is that of The Secret of the Unicorn. But in that book our hero never leaves his native Belgium, which must make it unenticing for Hollywood. And although The Secret of the Unicorn makes the drunken seadog Captain Archibald Haddock the lynchpin of the narrative, this is not his first appearance in the Tintin books, and so he is not introduced. The moviegoer needs to meet him properly.

Spielberg solves this problem ingeniously by commingling The Secret of the Unicorn with The Crab with the Golden Claws, the book in which Tintin first meets Haddock (when the captain is, in effect, held prisoner on his own ship). This also allows the film to include the element of travel which is such an important part of the life of the boy-reporter.

Haddock and Tintin escape their enemies in an open boat, hijack a seaplane, crash it in North Africa, struggle through the desert, and end up in the teeming Arab port where a model ship, the third of the three which together disclose the secret of the Unicorn, is held by Sultan Omar Ben Salaad under bullet-proof glass. The great villain is the megalomaniac collector Sakharine who, in Hergé, is a harmless connoisseur. The evil Bird brothers, the bent antique dealers who, in the book, are prepared to kill to get the three ships, are written out of the film altogether. The denouement, in the cellars of Haddock’s ancestral Marlinspike Hall, comes from Red Rackham’s Treasure, the sequel to The Secret of the Unicorn.

All this is permissible. The Bird brothers are not interesting, as Hergé seems to acknowledge when, after reporting their escape from jail in Red Rackham’s Treasure, he never reintroduces them. Impermissible, however, is the insertion of Bianca Castafiore, the diva who first appears in King Ottakar’s Sceptre. She is dragged into the story solely in order to shatter Ben Salaad’s bullet-proof glass with her legendarily powerful voice. This is an insultingly small and irrelevant role for her. Besides, she does not even look right: she resembles nice Clare Balding rather than the monster of operatic egotism which Hergé invented.

But I digress (as Tintin fans are wont to do). The question is: “Does it all work?”

The first thing to say is that the physical representation of most of the characters is much more successful than I had imagined. Tintin himself, perfectly voiced by Jamie Bell, does not have a trace of the repulsive, would-be lovable, freckly American kid persona that I had feared would be foisted upon him. He is as absolutely straight, brave and virtually characterless as Hergé intended. Even more remarkable — for Anglo-American culture is often at its most disgusting in its sentimental rendering of animals — Snowy the dog is a wholly admirable creature.

The atmosphere is well created too. The film starts with a delightful credit sequence, and then opens up with a nice scene in a market square in which Hergé (unnamed) is doing a street painting of Tintin, which he turns round so that we can see it. It is the book original, the director’s homage to the miglior fabbro. From this moment, the action naturally progresses to Tintin buying one of the three ships at a market stall, and so the tale gets underway. Everything feels as it should. Things do not go on so well, though. The problem is that, for Hollywood and its computers, anything is possible. The tautness of the early adventure scenes, in which Tintin’s flat is ransacked and a man trying to tell him the secret is gunned down outside the door of his apartment block, slackens.

Instead, Spielberg starts to offer extravaganzas of action, like the scene in which Tintin and Haddock race down the slopes of the Arab port on a motorbike, blowing a hole in a dam, sliding down telephone wires and generally defying the laws of gravity. It sounds silly to complain about improbability in any story derived from a cartoon, but one reason the books are so good is that they operate according to the strict rules they have devised for themselves. Spielberg’s creation, by contrast, sprawls. I am sure many would praise it as “visually dazzling”. In my view, that is not really praise. Dazzle is not the highest virtue. In cartoons, completeness — the sense of an imaginary world imagined as well and fully as can be — is better. By the time Haddock and Sakharine are fighting it out with gigantic cranes in another harbour, one is actually bored. So was our son right? I think most people, or, at least, most men, will find the film fun. But the best purpose it can serve is to reignite interest in the books.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: David Miliband Warns Against Complacency Over Rightwing Extremism

Former foreign secretary praises Demos report into rise of far right in Europe

David Miliband has joined those warning about the rise of a new wave of far-right nationalist parties across Europe, saying that it is important to keep track of their ascent.

In a rare foray into international politics since his defeat for the Labour party leadership 14 months ago, the former foreign secretary praised a report by the thinktank Demos which revealed a mass of mainly young, male Facebook-based supporters of such groups, who often held vehemently antagonistic views about immigrants and, in particular, Muslims.

“This report is an important antidote to any complacency about rightwing extremism,” Miliband told the Guardian. “It shows that discontent with globalisation can fuel the politics of the right as well as the left. The Occupy protests have captured media attention but away from the public eye the hard right is also organising. The only way to defend the gains of globalisation is to understand its most dangerous critics, and this report helps us to do so.”

The rise of such parties, which now hold significant parliamentary blocs in well over half a dozen western European countries, from Italy to the Netherlands to Scandinavia, has a particularly personal element for Miliband, whose Jewish immigrant parents fled Nazi Europe. The Demos report sampled the views of more than 10,000 people who support such parties and street movements on Facebook pages, which for the 24 groups had a combined total of almost 450,000 mainly young fans. The breadth of such hard-right views means they are in danger of “becoming mainstream”, warned Emine Bozkurt, a Dutch MEP of Turkish descent who heads the European parliament’s anti-racism forum. She said: “In some countries, for example the Netherlands, it even becomes the majority because mainstream right or centre-right parties are adopting the rhetoric of nationalist-populist parties in an attempt to attract their voters.”

[JP note: Unscrupulous politician chasing the Muslim-bloc vote.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Milly Dowler Killer Levi Bellfield Changes Name to Mohammed and Converts to Islam

TRIPLE murderer Levi Bellfield is converting to Islam in jail. The thug who killed schoolgirl Milly Dowler has changed his name to Mohammed, prays to Allah five times a day and eats halal meat. But staff at Wakefield prison believe he has only switched to get special privileges. And others are convinced the cowardly 43-year-old wants to keep in with Muslim terrorists who recently caused him problems.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: The Independent Interviews Ed Miliband … and Calls Him David. Could This Get Any More Humiliating?

The Independent has a big exclusive story on its front page this morning. An interview with the party leader, the man Labour voters believe is a Prime Minister-in-waiting, setting out his core beliefs. He’s worried about inequality. He says that David Cameron “doesn’t get it” and that concern for the ordinary people is “not in his DNA”. He backs the protesters camped out in front of St Paul’s. It’s important stuff — a big Leftwards shift with a hint of class warfare.

But does it matter? Well, no. Unfortunately, whatever he says, Ed Miliband is so unimpressive that the very newspaper which interviewed him has forgotten his name. “That is why David Miliband should be commended for the warm words has given in today’s interview with this newspaper” says the Independent’s leader column, reflecting on their interview. John Humphrys and Harriet Harman have both made the same mistake of course, but this wasn’t just a slip in speech: this is in a national newspaper. Is there any more damning evidence that Labour picked the wrong leader?

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Why We Have to Get Over Our Fear of Islamophobia

‘Islamophobia is the new racism’ is now a seeming truism, or so Baroness Warsi and many others would have us believe. She claims that Islamophobia has ‘passed the dinner table test’ and that anti-Muslim prejudice is now normal and uncontroversial in respectable society. Warsi’s views are echoed by many British Muslims, who claim to experience such prejudice daily.

Like many a clever coining, the term ‘Islamophobia’ remains undefined and its existence uncontested. The first recorded use dates back to 1990 in the American magazine Insight, although its etymology can be tracked to the mid 1920s. Since then after being a sociological concept largely restricted to Britain its use increased exponentially when it was declared a new form of global racism by the UN in 2001.

In its simplest form, and just going by the term itself, ‘phobia’ can be defined as ‘an intense but unrealistic fear that can interfere with the ability to socialize, work, or go about everyday life, brought on by an object, event or situation’. Adding the prefix ‘Islam’ therefore implies that this irrational fear is triggered by Islam and directed at Muslims. But are we conflating run of the mill prejudice that a few may encounter with a national epidemic of irrational hatred against Muslims? Or is the cry of ‘Islamophobia’ simply a way of deflecting legitimate criticism of certain backward ideas associated with religion in general; and conservative Islam in particular? When we talk about Islamophobia, what is it we are really talking about?

Neither the simple definition nor the forensic academic investigation of the concept help to explain what we are really dealing with. Both mask the real issues behind Islamophobia. The easy appropriation of psychoanalytical approaches to fear suggest that indeed fear is the key issue. However, ‘Islamophobia’ expresses not a primitive fear of Muslims and Islam but several deeper anxieties that dominate British and Western political culture.

The first of these is a fear of conviction. Contemporary ‘post-modern’ morality encourages us to reject certainty in ourselves and others. We fear to confidently state our own convictions in case we are accused of bigotry, and we are anxious about others expressing their beliefs in case they are forced upon us. We may repeat the mantra that all perspectives and philosophies are equal, including beliefs held by others, but we shy away from a close examination of these beliefs for fear of losing the moral high ground of being non-judgemental.

In this cultural climate, Islam presents the West with a double challenge. Its adherents display a remarkably strong and not the slight bit ‘post-modern’ conviction in their faith, and its tenets seemingly contradict social and political Western values. Unwilling and unable to engage either with the faith or its followers, Islamophobia becomes a useful subterfuge.

This fear of strong ideas is connected with another fear. Fear of free speech. There is no doubt that there is a deep-rooted ‘phobia’ in our society, but it is not of Islam. The fear that has gripped people is a fear of open debate and free speech. Across the spectrum, politicians may advocate for liberty and freedom of speech, but with caveats and ever stricter limits.

Both sides of the Islamophobia debate have argued for curbs on freedom of expression and free speech. The free speech of Muslim ‘extremists’ is curtailed in the interest of community cohesion. And the freedom to criticise Muslim fundamentalists or even Islam is chilled by charges of Islamophobia. Fundamental to the fear of free speech is the fear of giving offence. We live in a culture where giving offence is deemed worse than grievous bodily harm. Some even argue that ‘hate speech’ itself harms the very being of those at whom it is directed. This doesn’t just betray the fear of argument and debate, but also the diminished view of individuals and groups particularly Muslims as not being capable of rational argument.

Not immune from the same fears, some British Muslims have jumped onto that very bandwagon, seeing it both as a useful way of deflecting criticism and an avoidance of defending their ideas. Much easier to hide behind the charge of Islamophobia! The danger for them is that in rejecting argument and debate they start to lose the ability the express their ideas with conviction and claim a legitimate public space for their beliefs. Fear of conviction, fear of free speech and fear of offence are the hidden fears in the cry of ‘Islamophobia’. Overcoming these fears is the real challenge to all of us: Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Throughout October and November, The Independent Online is partnering with the Institute of Ideas’ Battle of Ideas festival to present a series of guest blogs from festival speakers on the key questions of our time. Rania Hafez is a teacher educator and academic and founder and director of Muslim Women in Education. She produced the session Islamophobia: the new racism or liberal angst? at the Battle of Ideas festival.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


Kosovo: UN Head Voices Concern Over Anti-Serb Violence

New York, 7 Nov. (AKI) — United Nations Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon on Monday expressed concern over security in Kosovo and the increased attacks on minority Serbs and their property.

In a report prepared for the Security Council, Ban said that incidents against minorities in Kosovo have increased by 24 per cent in the past three months covered by the report.

Ban said the worsening of the situation was partly to blame on Kosovo authorities’ decision to send special police and customs officers at two northern border crossings with Serbia, Brnjak and Jarinje.

Kosovo Serbs who, like Belgrade, oppose Kosovo independence declared by majority Albanians in 2008, responded by setting up road blocks in predominantly Serb-populated north, blocking movements of NATO troops (KFOR) and European Union mission in Kosovo (EULEX).

The tensions in the north, “negatively reflected on the overall security situation” in Kosovo, Ban said.

In the past three months there have been 13 cases of vandalism against Serb Orthodox Christian churches and cemeteries, 13 cases of stoning vehicles with Serbian registration plates, 63 Serb homes were damaged and there have been 47 cases of burglary and theft of Serb property, the report said.

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

North Africa

Egypt: Army Accused of Copts’ Massacre Threatens 34 Copts With Trial

The detainees, who include teens under 16, are accused of attacking security forces during Coptic demonstration on 9 October. Spokesman for Egyptian Catholic Church calls the army’s move absurd because they will effectively judge their own actions. The military continues to deny responsibility for the 27 dead and more than 200 wounded.

Cairo (AsiaNews) — The same army that slaughtered 28 Christians on 9 October and is currently investigating itself has decided not to release 34 Copts held since the clashes, including teens under 16 and some who were wounded. Others have been held since 30 October. All are underfed and without proper medical care.

For Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, any trial would be absurd. “The military cannot court-martial civilians, especially since they are a party in the case.”

The clergyman hopes that with the elections on 26 November, the military will give up power and accept the voters’ verdict.

Some Muslims were also arrested following the deadly demonstrations. Laila Soueif, university professor and mother of activist Alaa Abd El Fattah, decided to go on a hunger strike this Sunday to protest her son’s detention.

In a blogpost he smuggled out of prison on Thursday, El Fattah wrote that he got a proposition from his interrogators to be released provided he does not criticise Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawy, head of the military council.

“It was a small concession that I rejected. How can I face my family if I had accepted it,” he wrote.

On 9 October, thousands of Copts demonstrated in front of the Maspero state TV building, demanding justice in the case of a church burning in Aswan Province (Upper Egypt).

At the rally, unknown gunmen began shooting soon after the start, causing the military to react. Some eyewitnesses said they saw soldiers deliberately fire on demonstrators and crush some with armed vehicles. The final toll included 27 people dead and more than 200 wounded.

The Egyptian Armed Forces continue to deny any responsibility for the incident, blaming extremist groups for infiltrating the demonstration. They also accuse protest leaders of inciting the crowd against security forces.

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

Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood Rally at Massive Eid Prayers for God’s Word and Parliament

Three weeks ahead of parliamentary vote in Egypt, the MB and Islamists, no longer hindered by Mubarak repression, mobilise supporters at Eid celebrations using verses from the Quran, flags, children’s toys and visits to the dead

Millions of Egyptian Muslims honoured one of the most important religious duty of the year, morning prayers to celebrate El-Adha Eid, in mosques and public squares around the country early Sunday morning. This marked the first El-Adha Eid celebration after the outbreak of the January 25 revolution and the ousting of Hosni Mubarak from power. A year ago, the press in Egypt marked Eid, as they did for thirty years, by reporting on where Mubarak performed the morning prayer and which high-level public figures stood by his side as he did so.

In fact, the ousted president celebrated the previous Eid ritual at the Police Mosque in Cairo with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and a slew of top government ministers and National Democratic Party (NDP) officials. Mubarak and a host of his men performed what was to be their last public prayer together just weeks before the January uprising swept them from power, and eventually sent many to prison.

On Sunday, Field Marshal Tantawi, who assumed power from Mubarak on 11 February, was the leading Muslim man in the country facing east to Mecca in order to pray to Allah, as believers do when they reconfirm their Islamic faith five times a day. The field marshal performed the Eid prayers along with a number of generals from his ruling military council and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar at the Army mosque in Cairo. Interestingly, both the Eid celebrations in 2010 and 2010 fell just weeks from two sets of parliamentary elections which represented milestones, though in disparate ways, in the contemporary history of Egypt.

The 2010 elections were, by independent accounts, the most rigged elections that took place during Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship; and anger that resulted from widespread fraud that favoured his NDP played a key role in pushing public hatred of the regime to boiling point, hastening its demise in January. Meanwhile, the 2011 contest stand to be the first in modern Egyptian history to pass without systematic and widespread fraud, vote-rigging and state sponsored violence against opposition candidates.

Last year, as Eid approached, Mubarak’s State Security Intelligence (SSI) was busy rounding up political opponents in a campaign of public intimidation. During those holy days, the SSI focused its wrath and repression, as it did time and again for most of Mubarak’s tenure, on the mass-based Muslim Brotherhood organisation who were the largest political opposition force to his rule in the country. Egyptians who are sympathetic to the group’s politics had to walk through government checkpoints if they wanted to pray at Eid in a mosque or a venue that was led by Brotherhood activists and preachers. This year, the tables have turned.

While Mubarak lays confined on a hospital bed awaiting the completion of his trial for murder and corruption, and while the police force still tries to recover from the powerful beating it received at the hands of Egyptians during last January’s uprising, it is the Muslim Brotherhood, and to a lesser degree their cousins the Salafists, who have set the tempo both for the Eid celebrations, as well as the vote. The Brotherhood have spent the last few months mobilising their half-million plus members for intense electoral campaigns up and down the Nile river, which the group hopes will deliver it 40 per cent of the seats in the next Parliament. They have been wooing voters not only with their trademark slogan of “Islam is the solution”, but also with the tangibles of meat and vegetables that they sell to poor Egyptians at half the market prices. Brotherhood community stands and mobile vendor units offer impoverished and underfed shoppers a kilogram of meat — that sells for LE70 at a regular butcher — for prices as low as LE30.

In the run up to Eid poor Egyptians typically expect the rich to donate alms in the form of slaughtered sheep and cows, allowing them to eat meat at least in one of the four days of the holiday. Whereas last year Mubarak’s rich NDP candidates took the responsibility of feeding the poor on the first day of Eid, the Brotherhood and Islamists have taken this task upon themselves in this year’s festivities, flooding some neighbourhoods with the rare source of protein in order to demonstrate a commitment to alleviating poverty.

In the months since the fall of Mubarak, Brotherhood-friendly preachers have made their way back into some strategic mosques that the SSI kept them out for years, such as Mostafa Mahmoud mosque in Mohandessin in Cairo, using the podiums to recruit new converts and give confidence to hard-core supporters. Ahram Online reporters wanted to take a first hand look at how the Islamists, especially the Brotherhood, might operate on the ground on the morning of Eid, so we went to a mass prayer sponsored by the group in one of Cairo’s lower middle class neighbourhoods, Abbassiya.

As the sun rose Sunday morning, thousands of men, women and children made their way on foot and by car to attend prayer service held outdoors along an avenue running adjacent to the Faculty of Engineering at Ain Shams University, one of several events the Brotherhood organised in this part of central Cairo. The group had partnered with the missionary organisation Al Jamiyya Al-Shariya in hosting the prayers and advertised the event through large banners that carried the names of the Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party, its political wing in the elections. These hung at key hard-to-miss intersections in the neighbourhood days ahead of Eid.

Despite the considerable presence of the Brotherhood in the area over the years, Abbassiya has never been one of its strongest branches in the capital city. Brotherhood volunteers, however, seemed to be well prepared for the challenge. Dozens of organisers welcomed the worshippers by distributing hundreds of flags bearing the colours of the Egyptian flag on one side and the logo of the Brotherhood and their party on the other. For children coming with their parents, they gave out bags of toys. Worshippers found the street’s pavement where the prayers were to take place covered with massive rugs that the local Brotherhood organisation rented from companies that provide services for weddings and funerals.

Female organisers directed women and young girls, who clearly outnumbered males attending the prayers, into a big school yard off the main prayer venue, where a tall concrete fence separated them from the men.

The Imam who delivered the Eid prayers’ sermon meticulously and eloquently pushed the Brotherhood’s worldview and campaign slogans over the course of his twenty-minute speech, while refraining from using the word “elections” in order to shield the Brotherhood from any criticism of using a universal religious holiday for electioneering. The Imam chose the prophet Mohamed’s farewell speech to Muslims months before he died as a topic of his sermon. The farewell speech was a clever choice by the preacher, who might have wanted to give a pitch for the Brotherhood’s campaign platform; many theologians and historians consider this particular sermon to comprise the essential guidelines for politically managing a state according to the principles of Islam.

The Imam reminded worshippers that the prophet laid out concrete barometers on how to conduct business in the social, political and economic realms in his final speech. “The prophet taught us that respecting the sanctity of human life and private property must be the foundation of any society that abides by the Islamic faith. In the world of economics, the prophet made it clear that interest rates that lenders charge are the source of all evil in society and that any government that respects the Islamic religion must therefore abolish them. Society cannot function properly,” he continued, “without a strong nuclear family which guarantees that individuals are raised properly on a sound Islamic basis.”

The Imam reminded worshippers that they must strive to build a strong Islamic “system” in Egypt and around the world in order for Muslims to be able to combat what he described at the West’s concerted war against the prophet’s creed. He also accused Egyptians who hold on to secular ideas of government of being agents of Jews, Christian crusaders and western colonialism. “The colonial powers might have packed and gone home but they left us with a fifth column made up of dictators who speak our tongue and eat the same type of food we eat but serve the wicked interests of foreign disbelievers.” The massive banner behind the speaker seemed to fit appropriately with his anti-western rhetoric: Next Eid, we will pray in Jerusalem.

Worshippers remained solemn for the most part during the sermon. As people headed home to eat meat at the end of the prayers they were met by replenished stocks of flags and toys. In less than five minutes, the crowd had finished off the volunteers’ supply of treats. A lone supporter of the liberal Wafd Party stood giving out stickers for the party’s candidate in the area. The crowd walked off with Brotherhood flags and Wafd paraphernalia. Meanwhile, an elderly NDP supporter left the event in frustration at the change in his party’s fortunes, and the rise of the MB. “The Brotherhood distributed meat to some people in the area,” the NDP man said. “But they did not cover all the poor people in the hood. We in the NDP might not have been able to feed people regularly or properly, but at least we made sure that everyone had meat on the first day of Eid.”

Nationally, the Brotherhood and the other Salafists seemed to have used the Eid prayers to push, whether directly or indirectly, their campaign goals. In Tanta City, in the governorate of El-Gharbiya in the western Nile Delta, the Brotherhood’s candidates attended prayers in the city’s football stadium with thousands of worshippers and managed to steal the show.

In the same governorate, Salafist volunteers hit not only the big cities such as Tanta and Mahallah, but walked through small villages distributing campaign propaganda. In fact, Salafists, in their rush to find voters, broke one of the rules that constitute a defining part of their moral code of ethics — discouraging common people from spending too much time weeping over the graves of the dead — by campaigning at entrances to cemeteries which are usually loaded with visitors on the first day of this Muslim holiday. Like the Brotherhood, Salafists volunteers from parties such as Nour also distributed flags with the names of their parties to potential voters, as well as toys and baloons to children.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Italy: Arab Spring: The Challenge for the New Islamist Governments

(ANSAmed) — ROME — Democratic slogans in the countries of the Arab Spring have now been traded for green flags, the symbolic colour of Islam. This is taking place in Tunisia, where Islamist party Ennahdha won the first elections organised following the fall of former dictator Ben Ali, while Egyptian electoral polls for the vote on November 21 indicate a landslide win for the Muslim Brotherhood, a party which was illegal until a short while ago. Arab dictators, according to an analysis in Moscow-based daily Novosti, made common use of the practice of dramatising the Islamist risk to terrorise the West and obtain greater moral and material support. And the victory of the Islamists in the Arab Spring countries has been greeted with concern by the West. Despite this, it is unclear what kind of influence Islam will have on the new democratic life in the Arab Spring countries. Much of this influence, underlined the daily, will depend on the history of each country, the current political situation and the success or failure of “westernisation” in each of the countries involved. The Russian daily ruled out the creation of theocratic, Iranian-style Muslim states — since the majority of Arab countries are Sunni-conservative — and believes that the adoption of a Turkish-style Islamic state is most likely. Revolutionary leaders, explained the daily, have sworn loyalty to democratic values. Tunisia’s Ghannouchi, the big winner in the first elections in the country following the fall of Ben Ali, promised to follow in the footsteps of the contemporary Turkish model, based on limiting religious power. This is the same model proposed by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during his most recent tour of the Middle East, during which he called for secular constitutions. The complicated economic situation in many Arab countries could be an obstacle to these ambitions, according to Moscovski Novosti, and could even lead to a radicalisation of the political situation. Only time will tell whether or not the Turkish style of democracy will be successfully applied or not. The status of women will be the first test for the future government of the Arab Spring countries, explained the daily. However, Islamist victories should not be a source of fear for the West: the first thing that the Muslim Brotherhood will do in Egypt will be fight Al Qaeda and establish good relations with the West, where they will have to sell oil, gas, cotton and promote the tourism sector. Egyptian political Islam, concluded the daily, is about to face its most difficult test in its history, transitioning from the past illegal status forced upon it to the new challenge of governing a large country.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israel: Temp Workers: 4-Hour General Strike

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, NOVEMBER 7 — Israel’s union confederation Histadrut today opened a confrontation with the government of Benyamin Netanyahu, calling a general strike to defend temporary employees. The number of people working under a temporary contract has risen sharply over the past years, both in the private and the public sector. The strike was scheduled to start early this morning and continue for at least one day.

But last night a labour tribunal authorised only a 4-hour general strike, during which transport, public offices and many schools came to a halt. The Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv was closed for two hours, after which the situation returned to normal. Next Thursday the involved parties will turn once again to the labour court to see whether compromises have been reached in the meantime. Meanwhile, the dispute remains open, said Histadrut secretary-general Ofer Eini.

Most private guards, secretaries and cleaning staff are contract workers. But in the past years teachers, nurses and social workers joined this group. They are paid lower wages and do not benefit from social security. Referring to the protest staged by the ‘indignados’ which spread to Israel as well this summer, Eini said that “the question of contract workers is the driving force of social injustice in Israel,” because it leads to worse working conditions. The economic newspaper Globes writes today that the real national product for employees in Israel increased by 9% in the past ten years, while real wages decreased. One of the reasons for this erosion, according to Globes, is the sharp rise in the number of temporary workers, estimated at hundreds of thousands. Therefore Histadrut has decided to protest against the government and against employers.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Iran: IAEA Report Says Tehran is Manufacturing the Atomic Bomb

Leaks on the contents of the UN nuclear watchdogs report which will be published later this week. Iran claims it is an American plot, the documents are “manufactured”. Israel: an attack against Iranian installations “increasingly likely”. Invitations from Russia and France to seek solutions through diplomatic channels.

Beirut (AsiaNews) — Yet to be formally published, but already leaked, the report by the UN nuclear agency (IAEA) says that Iran is secretly pursuing the construction of an atomic bomb. The news is bound to hike international tension, because it confirms the Israeli fears and therefore renders more credible the threat of an attack against Iranian installations, termed “most likely” by the same Israeli President Shimon Peres.

The IAEA report, which should be presented tomorrow or Wednesday, according to rumors, contains evidence that Tehran has the technology, resources and tools to build a nuclear weapon and that is carrying out covert actions to achieve this end.

This would refute the claims of the Iranian authorities, repeated today that the country’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes, such as the production of electricity and healthcare instruments.

The question of an attack against Tehran’s nuclear installations has been the subject of discussion in Israel for a week, not only in newspapers and television, but also within the government. And, according to Haaretz, the majority of 15 members of the Israeli security cabinet remain opposed to an attack, for now.

A hypothesis that is worrying. Today, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described any attack as “a very serious error, which could have unpredictable consequences,” adding that diplomacy and not the launching of missiles are the way to solve the Iranian nuclear problem. Similar considerations made by the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who added that new sanctions could be imposed on Tehran. Statements that reinforce Beijing’s no to a military intervention in Iran.

Tehran is reacting in a rather uncoordinated fashion. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi claimed it to be a smear campaign carried out by the United States. An important ayatollah Seyyed Ahmad Khatami, quoted by the State Press TV said that the IAEA would lose credibility by publishing documents “fabricated” under pressure from the United States who want to create a negative atmosphere around Tehran. And that Iran will give an “overwhelming” response against any conspiracy. For his part, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an interview with the Egyptian Al-Akhbar said that the United States fear Iran’s growing military strength “different from that of all other countries in the region.”

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

Israel Believes it Could Carry Out Strikes on Iran With Under 500 Civilian Fatalities

Israel believes it could carry out military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities and suffer fewer than 500 civilian fatalities were Tehran to retaliate, the country’s defence minister said on Tuesday.

Ehud Barak raised the prospect of military action with Iran once again as he hinted that splits in the international community over imposing sanctions regarded as crippling enough by Israel could leave the Jewish state with no option but to take matters into its own hands.

The warning came as a report by UN weapons inspectors into Iran’s nuclear activities was made public, concluding that the Islamist regime is closer to building an atom bomb than ever before.

Mr Barak conceded that the price of air strikes against Iran would be high, with Iran retaliating by firing long-range missiles at Israeli cities and encouraging its allies Hizbollah and Hamas to unleash their vast rocket arsenals at the country.

But he insisted that claims of huge destruction in Israel were overblown and that the country could survive the retaliation.

“There is no way to prevent some damage,” he said. “It will not be pleasant. There is no scenario for 50,000 dead, or 5,000 killed — and if everyone stays in their homes, maybe not even 500 dead.”

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Ponies Prove to be Popular in Iran

Though Qur’an describes betting as ‘evil, unclean and Satanic,’ the sport of kings has been permitted

As Rio Collection galloped across the finishing line, Sardar hooted with joy and high-fived his friends.He had just won 200,000 rials (almost $20). Not by “betting” on the horse, he insisted — betting is illegal under Iran’s Islamic law — but by “predicting” Rio Collection would win. “I knew he would win. I predicted correctly,” said the 18-year-old. Under Islamic sharia law, gambling is generally seen as illegal and Sardar’s wager, made with a friend, was actually not permitted. But thanks to certain religious rulings, many race-goers are permitted to put money on the horses legally as long as they are “predicting” through official channels.

The Qur’an describes gambling as “evil, unclean and Satanic” and people found guilty of illegal gambling in the Islamic Republic can be sentenced to flogging and jail. However, three forms of gambling are permitted under Islam, said a cleric consulted on the matter by Reuters. “All forms of gambling are haram (forbidden by Islam) except for horse racing, camel racing and archery,” said Mohsen Mahmoudi, a cleric at a north Tehran mosque, adding that those manly, warrior sports were all encouraged by the Prophet Mohammad.

But technically, he added, only the archery contestants and riders of the horses or camels in the races are permitted to bet.

To make it possible for spectators to take part, the Equestrian Federation of Iran sought permission from senior clerics known as “sources of emulation,” to whom Shi’ite Muslims turn for guidance on moral issues. “In negotiations with some sources of emulation, we finally managed to receive permission to bet on horses under certain conditions,” said Ebrahim Mohammdzadeh, an official at Tehran’s horse-racing committee.

The way it works is that jockeys authorize the horse-racing committee to place bets for other people on their behalf. In pre-revolutionary Iran, horse riding was considered an elite sport. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi — the last shah who was overthrown in the 1979 uprising led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — was a keen horseman and aimed to expand racing.

After the revolution the idea fell out of favour and today there are only four racetracks in the country. Camel racing — popular in some Arab countries across the Gulf — is not a significant sport in Iran and archery has no great popular following.

The 2,000-capacity Nowruzabad track off a major highway to the west of Tehran is the only track easily accessible to the population of the capital. It hold races over a 10-week season each year. Despite its limited availability, people from many walks of life crowd the “predictions” office next to the track in Nowruzabad where legal betting takes place inside a building where an electronic screen advertises: “Make a prediction, win a prize.” Inside, a dozen women, wearing obligatory headscarves, sit behind windows, taking predictions and paying out winnings. As well as a computer screen with race details, each has a basket into which they toss the takings.

Prediction tickets can be bought for as little as 10,000 rials (around $1) with no official upper limit, although large bets are rare. Odds are not given before the race and returns are calculated afterwards. People can also place bets on horses through the federation’s website, but that misses out on the spectacle. As the horses pass the finishing line, the spectators — including dozens of women — jump up from their seats near the track and rush to the predictions office to see how much they have won and place money on the next one. “I just paid 50,000 rials. I hope I can win something,” said Erfan, 15. “I always buy prediction tickets from this office but my dad bets directly with others,” he said. “He once won 30 million rials.”

Betting among individuals is not legal but still goes on. Wearing loose black trousers and speaking with a strong local accent, Sardar, a carpenter, said he chose not to buy prediction tickets as winnings were limited. “People are reluctant to place big bets with the prediction office,” he said . “Big bets take place unofficially and the winnings are exchanged from hand-to-hand.” The really big bets happen at bigger tracks, particularly at the 10,000-capacity Gonbad-e Kavoos hippodrome in northern Iran. “Last year someone won $75,000 there in a bet,” a race official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Cleric Mahmoudi warned of the dangers of gambling. “The bettor makes gains easily, without working and this causes others to lose money with consequent dissatisfaction and grief,” he said, pointing out one reason Islam regards gambling as “haram.” Most of the people buying prediction tickets legally from the racetrack office did not seem concerned, however. “I just lost 30,000 rials but I had a lot of fun,” said fine arts student Tamanna, 30, showing her ticket printed with a line that says cash spent buying the ticket goes to support the horse races, rather than in the hope of winning. Of the total money coming into the official betting office, some 70% is given out as winnings with the remaining 30% going to cover the costs of racing. “I had a great time,” Tamanna said. “In a way we are donating this money to help develop the races.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

U.N. Report Details ‘Credible’ Case That Iran is Working Toward a Nuclear Weapon

United Nations weapons inspectors released a trove of new evidence on Tuesday that they say makes a “credible” case that “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device” and that the project may still be under way.

The long-awaited report, the harshest judgment that the International Atomic Energy Agency has ever issued in its decade-long struggle to pierce the secrecy surrounding the Iranian program, has already rekindled a debate among the Western allies and Israel about whether increased diplomatic pressure, sanctions, sabotage or military action could stop Iran’s program.

The report offered no estimate of how long it would be until Iran would be able to produce a nuclear weapon. But it laid out the case that Iran had moved far beyond the blackboard to create computer models of nuclear explosions in 2008 and 2009, and conducted experiments on nuclear triggers. The report said that starting in 2000, the Iranians constructed a vessel to conduct those tests, which was not shown to inspectors who visited the site five years later.

Those tests “are strong indicators of possible weapon development,” it said.

[Return to headlines]

U.N.: Iran Secretly Testing Nuclear Weapons, Violating Pact

Reprints & PermissionsIran has been pursuing nuclear weapons since before 2004, testing detonators and other components that have few uses other than for a nuclear bomb, says a report released Tuesday by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency.The report, sent Tuesday to 35 nations on the IAEA’s board, says Iran, which signed the Treaty on Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, is violating its agreement. Congressional leaders called for crippling sanctions on Iran’s financial institutions and oil industry and nations that do business with it.”The IAEA has turned on a big, red, blinking light and siren and they’re rallying attention worldwide to the Iranian threat,” said Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the subcommittee on terrorism and non-proliferation of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”We are close to running out of time,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”Congress can ratchet up” pressure on Iran by passing additional sanctions bills that target Iran’s energy sector, which could “cripple the regime’s ability to continue its nuclear program,” Ros-Lehtinen said.Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., said the USA should punish Russian and Chinese firms that do business with sanctioned Iranian entities. The problem, Sherman said, is theState Department and multinational corporations want modest sanctions that won’t disrupt the world economy.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

UAE: 100 People Embrace Islam in One Month

DUBAI — As many as 100 people from different nationalities converted to Islam in October this year at the Information Centre of Dar Al Ber Society on Al Dhiyafa Street, Bur Dubai.

Hundreds of people, from all nationalities visit the centre on a daily basis to know about Islam. The number goes up day after day, and more people understand how tolerant, merciful and suitable for all times and places the teachings of Islam are, according to a senior official. “Non-Muslims have a good chance to meet new Muslims and listen to many conversion stories from their compatriots in their own languages; such a way proves an astounding success in imparting the right message of Islam,” said Yusuf Al Saeed, Director of the centre.

In August, the centre announced that over 1,000 people from different nationalities converted to Islam this year so far.Yusuf Al Saeed, Head of the Islamic Information Centre, said 1,521 people, including 548 men and 973 women, embraced Islam in 2010 compared to 1,059 — 309 men and 750 women -in 2009. “Of the new Muslims hailing from 16 different nationalities, the Philippines topped the list with some annual 80 per cent, followed by Indians and Chinese.” The list of other nationalities spans Britain, America, Germany, France, Italy, Romania, Russia and Holland. “People are touched by the merciful instructions of Islam which orders its followers to be honest, fair and kind to all people, without considering their religion, race, language and colour,” he said.

The centre spares no effort in organising lectures, classes and courses on Islam. It also prints and distributes thousands of books and audio-visual cassettes and CDs on Islam.

Lectures are also held in Chinese, Russian, Tagalog, English, Urdu, Hindi and Arabic at the masjids, shopping malls, labour camps, clubs, as well as punitive and correctional centres.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

South Asia

India: Deoband Seminary Issues Fatwa Against Birthdays

The leading centre for Islamic studies in India, and one of the most famous in the world, slams the practice of celebrating birthdays, a “tradition of Western countries” that is contrary to Sharia.

Muzaffarnagar (AsiaNews/Agencies) — A leading Islamic seminary, the Darul Uloom Deoband (pictured), has advised Muslims against celebrating birthdays, issuing a fatwa saying that Islam does not permit the practice, which is a “tradition of Western countries”.

Responding to a query of a student, the fatwa department of the country’s biggest Islamic seminary said that Islam does not permit such celebrations as they are against the Sharia.The query was made in reference to the birthday celebration of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of the Aligarh Muslim University.

“Muslims should not follow the tradition of Western culture of celebrating birthdays as it against the Sharia,” Vice-Chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband, Maulana Abul Kasim Naumani said.

Naumani added that even the Islamic seminary does not celebrate the birth anniversary of the Prophet Mohammed, the founder of the religion.

Deobandi (literally of the city of Deoband) is a Muslim religious movement present in the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan that follows the Hanafi legal school (madhhab).

Their main institution is a seminary in the Indian city of Deoband, in Saharanpur District (Uttar Pradesh), about 140 km northeast of Delhi.

The school, the Darul Uloom Deoband, was established in 1865 by Hajji Muhammad ‘Abid Husayn and three other Islamic scholars. It is considered one of the foremost religious schools in the Muslim world.

It hosts up to 1,500 students and its library is endowed with some 70,000 traditional legal books, prints and manuscripts.

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

India: Tips From Gallows for Muslims on Christening Babies

AHMEDABAD: There are tips from the gallows in the Sabarmati Central Jail on how to re-name those Muslims, whose names are not in accordance with the Islamic traditions.

A Muslim cleric, Mufti Abdul Qayyum Mansuri, who has been sentenced to death in the Akshardham temple terror attack case, has penned down a book on ‘Islamic names’ which advices Muslims to christen their children.

Mufti, who belongs to the Tabligh Jamaat which is a puritan school of thought, has also expressed a strong opinion in the book that all those whose names are found to be in deviation from the Islamic, Quranic and Arabic traditions should be re-christened. The cleric also advises that Muslims should steer clear of the trend to adopt fashionable and modern names. Mufti’s book ‘Islami Naamon ka Guldasta’ (Bouquet of Islamic names) contains more than 1,500 Muslim names mainly in Arabic language and derived from various expressions used to describe Allah, the prophet and his companions apart from other important figures in Islamic theology and mythology. The convict has collected 480 names from the religion’s history and more than 1,000 names in Arabic and words used in the Quran.

Mufti, who was running a riot relief camp and managing a charitable hospital in Dariapur area, was arrested in 2003 in the Akshardham temple attack case wherein 34 persons were killed. He was sentenced to death along with two others by a Pota court in 2006. Gujarat high court confirmed the death sentence last year, but the Supreme Court has stayed hanging. The book condemns the trend of naming Muslim babies after film stars and calls for a restraint on “search for new and fashionable names that do not have any meaning, because in this process people deviate from correct spellings and pronunciations.”

Citing the holy book frequently, the cleric stresses that the tradition of spoiling names should be abolished. “Because Islam does not like this, and the Quran prohibits it in clear words,” he writes and requests to adopt “good names.” He also tells the community to consult an Islamic scholar before christening babies.

Mufti justifies his advice to change names on the ground that Prophet Mohammed used to change names of his companions and supporters whose names he found incoherent.

[JP note: It is all incoherent — that’s the trouble.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

India: Birthday Bashes Against Sharia: Darul Uloom Deoband

MUZAFFARNAGAR: Darul Uloom Deoband has advised Muslims against celebrating birthdays, contending in a fatwa that Islam does not permit such a practice which is a “tradition of western countries”. Responding to a query of an AMU student, Darul Uloom said that Islam does not permit such celebrations as they are against the Shariat law. The query was made in reference to the birthday celebration of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of the Aligarh Muslim University. “Muslims should not follow the tradition of western culture of celebrating birthdays as it against the Shariat law,” vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband, Maulana Abul Kasim Naumani said on Sunday. Naumani added that even the Islamic seminary does not celebrate the birth anniversary of Prophet Mohammed.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Wealth of Islamic Culture Bound for This Space

FOREIGN Minister Kevin Rudd first heard about the proposed Islamic Museum of Australia from his counterparts in Turkey and Senegal. Seven months after the idea came to public attention via an Age article, the $8 million project is only $1.5 million short of starting the first building stage in a former bottled water factory in Thornbury. So widespread and positive has the publicity been that the museum has already had 20 offers of exhibitions from organisations believing the museum is already open, though that is expected to take two years.

These three facts testify to the energy and skill of its founder and director, Moustafa Fahour, who last week left his job at the millionaires’ club of Macquarie Bank to take on the museum full-time. From palatial 101 Collins Street to threadbare carpet and the vast dusty spaces of the Thornbury factory, from the salary of a division director to none, is a big step for someone just turned 30, whose wife Maysaa — the museum’s chairwoman — is expecting their third child.

But Mr Fahour, whose brother Ahmed (the Australia Post chief executive) is the museum’s patron, says it is time to put something back into the community. “Like the Jewish, Chinese, Italian and Hellenic museums, it will benefit all Australians,” he said. “And, given the Islamophobia, our aim is to focus on Islam’s positive contribution.” The museum will give visitors an insight into the Australian Muslim experience — from the Macassan fishermen in the 1600s to the Afghan cameleers who helped open up the interior to the latest migrants. “Most people don’t know that Burke and Wills had Afghan guides for their expedition in 1860,” Mr Fahour said.

It will also display Islamic art and architecture, explain basic Islamic beliefs and highlight the contribution of Muslims to knowledge over 14 centuries. There are already a few treasures on the walls, such as traditional calligraphy by Ahmed Eid, which won an international award in 2007. It will be joined by a range of exhibitions, from local artists to major international visiting displays. Designed by a Muslim architect, it takes its inspiration from Australia’s red centre, and uses contemporary themes rather than the minarets and domes that Mr Fahour says people expect. He and three associates have just returned from a 12,000-kilometre odyssey across Australia, exploring the breadth and depth of the Muslim history in this country, and experiencing local ways in six states. “I’d never been to the outback before, never slept in a tent or a sleeping bag,” he said. He might suspect there are many other firsts awaiting him.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria: Can President Tasks Muslims on Love for Fellow Countrymen

Lagos — Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), has urged Muslim leaders to manifest the teachings of sacrifice and love for their fellow countrymen as Islam demands. Oritsejafor, in his Eid-El-Kabir message to Muslims, urged the Muslim Ummah to use the occasion to continue to preach peace and unity to their followers and display love toward one another. The CAN President called on Islamic leaders in the country to use the occasion to re-orientate the minds through the preaching of tolerance and the fear of God to the militants.

He also urged members of the Boko Haram sect to use the occasion of this year’s Eid-El-Kabir to embrace permanent peace. “Violence ultimately does not help any situation, instead it aggravates it. They should embrace peace because the progenitor of the Islam is said to be a man of peace who had advocated peace as a basis for the practice of the Islamic faith.”

According to him, religion should inculcate in any individual the virtues of love, humility and peaceful co-existence with neighbours, irrespective of differences being the hallmarks of godliness. The CAN President emphasised that without peace there would not be any meaningful development in any part of the country. He charged adherents of the Islamic faith to pray for the peace of the nation at all times. (NAN)

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Survey: Sexual Harassment Pervasive in Grades 7-12

During the 2010-11 school year, 48 percent of students in grades 7-12 experienced some form of sexual harassment in person or electronically via texting, email and social media, according to a major national survey being released Monday by the American Association of University Women.


In all, 56 percent of the girls and 40 percent of the boys said they had experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment during the school year.


The survey asked students for suggestions on how to reduce sexual harassment at their schools. More than half favored systematic punishments for harassers and said there should be a mechanism for reporting harassment anonymously.

[Note from Egghead: Under any criminal prosecution, the Fifth (Due Process) and Sixth (Confrontation Clause) Amendments to the United States Constitution would apply.]

           — Hat tip: Egghead[Return to headlines]


Feli said...

Dispatches FULL Documentary

Britain’s (MUSLIM) Sex Gangs