Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20111203

Financial Crisis
»Croatia-Slovenia: Vote on Sunday Under Crisis Cloud
»Italy: Spread and Bond Yield Ease as Merkel Talks Tough
»Italy: Catania Councillors: Canteen Cuts to Pay Their Allowances
»Almost 130,000 Weapons Sold on Black Friday in the US
»Exclusive Video: Sandusky Interview With the Times
»Republican Candidate Herman Cain Will Suspend His Presidential Campaign
»With a New Imam, A New Outlook
Europe and the EU
»A French Minister of Arab Origin Says ‘There is No Such Thing as Moderate Islam’
»Extremism: The Internationalism of the New Far-Right
»In Sicily, Rice Farming Returns After Mussolini Had Dried Up Cultivation
»Italy: E. U. Gives Naples Two Months to Solve Rubbish Problem
»Italy: Monti to Meet President Obama
»Netherlands: Gay Rights Movement Has Won the Political Battle, Now for the Rest
»Norway: Breivik Contests Diagnosis, He Says He is Sound of Mind
»Obama Calls Netherlands Strongest Ally
»UK: The Clarkson Hunt
»UNESCO Inks Deal to Help Restore Pompeii
North Africa
»Egypt Salafist: Nobel Winner Mahfouz Inciting Prostitution
»Tunisia: Financing From IBRD to Develop Kasserine
»Turkey to Restore Historical Ottoman Mosque in Libya
Middle East
»Arabs Use Bribery to Gain UN Votes Against Israel
»Hard-Liners in Tehran Welcome London Embassy Staff’s Return
»If Saudi Women Allowed to Drive in 10 Years “There Would be No Virgins”
»Italian Archeologists Want to Help Put Iraq Back on Map for Culture Tourism
»Lebanon: Italy Funds Course for Blind Journalists
»Syria: UN Council Condemns Violations. Russia, China Oppose
»Turkey: Mystery Surrounds Decision to Turn Byzantine Church Museum Into a Mosque
»Zakho: Iraqi Islamic Extremists Attack Christian-Owned Shops and Properties
»Ukraine: First Mosque With Minaret Opens in Kyiv
»Ukraine: Kyiv’s Largest Mosque Opens After 17-Year Construction
South Asia
»Afghan Women Victims of Violence and Abuse Like Under the Taliban
»India: Karnataka: Christian Woman Arrested on False Charges of Forced Conversion
»India: Rev. Khanna: After Release, I’m Not Afraid to Go Back to My Church
»Pakistan: Senate Unanimously Condemns NATO Attack
»Row Over Pakistan Actress Veena Malik Nude ‘ISI’ Photo
Far East
»South Korea: Empty Cradles: The Alarm and the Commitment of the Korean Church
Latin America
»Russia and Cuba to Strengthen Military Cooperation
»Moroccans, Italians Arrested in Fake-Marriage Scam
Culture Wars
»UK: The National Secular Society Doesn’t Get it: Christianity is Integral to Our National Life

Financial Crisis

Croatia-Slovenia: Vote on Sunday Under Crisis Cloud

Possibility of Left in Zagreb, Right in Ljubljana

(ANSAmed) — ZAGABRIA/LJUBLJANA — It would appear that another two governments are going to fall victim to the financial crisis. Voting is due to take place on Sunday in both Slovenia and in Croatia, and both votes are marked by economic unknowns and the incumbent’s failure to force through necessary reforms. According to the polls, both parties currently in power in the two former Yugoslav states are heading for electoral defeat.

In Slovenia, where the Centre-Left government fell in September one year ahead of its term due precisely to the people’s opposition deep structural reforms with their accompanying cuts in social and pension spending, Janez Jansa, the leader of the Conservatives, would appear to be about to take over power. Jansa will, however, be forced to introduce those very austerity measures he has so strongly criticised when in opposition.

The situation in Croatia is similar: here the vote will take place after a full term of government, but all of the polls are pointing to defeat for the Centre-Right government under Pemier Jadranka Kosors. The reins of power should be grasped by Zoran Milanovic’s Social Democrats. The dominant issue in Slovenia’s election is the economy and the sovereign debt crisis of the euro member-states, which has hit the financial scene in Ljubljana too with interest rates on ten-year bonds at the unsustainable 7-per-cent mark. In Croatia, on the other hand, it has been the corruption scandals that have simmered for the past two years around the Conservatives of former Premier Ivo Sanader, who is now on remand in prison, that have aided the Left’s electoral chances. The Left has managed to come away unscathed from the various trials and inquiries.

Both of the hotly tipped candidates have promised austerity measures, while nonetheless attempting to keep a glimmer of optimism alive. “Cuts and savings, but keeping our living standards and creating 40,000 new jobs,” was the announcement made by Jansa in Ljubljana. Meanwhile in Zagreb, Milanovic was not quite as generous: “We shall have to make a lot of savings, and work harder: we will all have to go on a diet, but without painful cuts”.

The first job to be tackled by the two newly elected governments will be putting through financial legislation for 2012 with the aim of re-igniting the confidence of markets and of creditors. This necessity can be seen in the fact that the rating agencies have already downgraded Slovenia’s debt (Standard’s and Poor’s to AA-), while Croatia’s debt has been verging on junk status for a year now, at (BBB-).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Spread and Bond Yield Ease as Merkel Talks Tough

Italy faces ‘huge challenge’, fiscal union ‘on the agenda’

(ANSA) — Rome, December 2 — Italian bond yields and the spread with the German bund eased Friday as German Chancellor Angela Merkel assured markets that European leaders were preparing tough moves to keep the euro from shattering.

The spread between Italian 10-year bonds and their German equivalents fell to a two-week low of 438.8 points while the yield dropped to 6.59%, its lowest in three weeks.

Both measures are bellwethers of market confidence in Italy’s ability to pay down its huge debt, 120% of GDP.

Italian Premier Mario Monti is set to unveil a package of austerity and growth-boosting measures Monday after French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned Thursday night that “the European Union risks being swept away” by the debt crisis.

Merkel, viewed as the leading player in crisis-fighting moves that will be decided at an EU summit on December 9, told the Bundestag Friday that Italy faced a “huge challenge” to keep the eurozone from imploding. “It is responsible for its own future and the future of Europe,” she said.

Merkel reiterated that Germany was opposed to Eurobonds but said a European fiscal union was “on the agenda” of the December 9 summit.

“We’re going to Brussel with the aim of modifying the treaties,” she said, adding that the idea of German wanting to “dominate” or “split” Europe was “absurd”.

She also reaffirmed the independence of the European Central Bank, implicitly ruling out that it should become a lender of last resort.

European bourses rose by more than 1% after Merkel’s speech with Milan leading the way as the FTSE-Mib gained 2%.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Catania Councillors: Canteen Cuts to Pay Their Allowances

(AGI) Catania — The Municipal Council of Aci Sant’Antonio, near Catania, is aiming to buck the trend with new public service cuts. In response to requests, the Council has decided unanimously to propose cutting funding to various services, including school canteens, and to use the money thus saved to pay councillors’ allowances. The policy amendment has not yet been put to the vote at a Municipal Assembly, but was greeted with bipartisan assent when mooted. The President of the Municipal Council, Nuccio Raneri (MPA), said that “Unfortunately councillors are owed eleven months of back payments and the budget does not provide for a single euro for these payments. He described the amendment as “a form of protest by councillors against a budget they feel is not up to the mark.” . ..

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


Almost 130,000 Weapons Sold on Black Friday in the US

(AGI) Washington — On Black Friday, at the beginning of the x-mas season, weapon sales reached a new record high. 129166 weapons were sold, 32% more than last year. According to the FBI, about the 25% of the weapons sold were bought by first time buyers seeking personal protection. A good portion of the weapons was bought by women, who wanted to acquire personal protection or hunt like their male counterparts.

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

Exclusive Video: Sandusky Interview With the Times

The former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, in his first extended interview since he was indicted on sexual abuse charges last month, said Coach Joe Paterno never spoke to him about any suspected misconduct with minors. Sandusky also said the charity he worked for never restricted his access to children until he became the subject of a criminal investigation in 2008.

The failure by Paterno to have acted more aggressively after being told in 2002 that Sandusky had molested a 10-year-old boy in the showers of the university’s football building played a role in the head coach’s firing last month after 62 years at Penn State. Sandusky, in the interview, said that Paterno did not speak to or confront him about the incident.

Sandusky, in a nearly four-hour interview over two days this week, insisted he had never sexually abused any child, but he confirmed details of some of the events that prosecutors have cited in charging him with 40 counts of molesting young boys.

[Return to headlines]

Republican Candidate Herman Cain Will Suspend His Presidential Campaign

Republican candidate Herman Cain said that he was suspending his bid for the Republican presidential nomination to avoid news coverage that is hurtful to his family. Mr. Cain’s announcement came five days after an Atlanta-area woman claimed she and Mr. Cain had an affair for more than a decade, a claim that followed several allegations of sexual harassment against the Georgia businessman. Mr. Cain, whose wife stood behind him on the stage, made the announcement before several hundred supporters gathered at what was to have been the opening of his national campaign headquarters.Mr. Cain had surged in polls until news surfaced in late October that he had been accused of sexual harassment by two women during his time as president of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.

[Return to headlines]

With a New Imam, A New Outlook

Leader of Roxbury mosque says he brings a welcoming vision

He grew up as a preacher’s grandson in Oklahoma, attending Church of Christ services twice a week, until the pull of Christianity started to weaken. His teen years were spent spinning hip-hop music as a DJ, but that world came to feel hollow. Then he found the Koran, and William Suhaib Webb was transfixed. Now Webb, a year shy of 40, finds himself in Roxbury as the new spiritual leader of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the biggest mosque in New England. He started this week, and yesterday led his first jummah, the weekly congregational prayer Muslims hold on Fridays.

Webb’s unusual path to his new role is at the heart of his plan to make the mosque more inclusive, and reflects a broad desire by Islamic leaders nationally to dispel the perception of a rigid faith presided over by stern imams. That desire is evident, too, in the pop culture references Webb sprinkles into his sermons, from “Monday Night Football” to the Twilight vampire romance series. “He’s ushering in a new era in the Muslim community of young imams who have knowledge of classical Islamic scholarship, but who are born in America and familiar with American life, and who are able to connect with the youth,” said Safaa Zarzour, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America. The mosque had been seeking an imam for three years. Board members were familiar with Webb — and with his life story. That narrative appealed to them.

“There’s a huge dearth of qualified imams in this country,” said Nancy Khalil, a board member at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. “We wanted somebody who could relate to a diverse congregation.” Webb, who converted to Islam at age 20, said he comes to Boston eager to introduce his big tent philosophy to an ethnically diverse community in a city with a history rich in interfaith work. But he is also aware that he inherits a mosque with critics who accuse it of radical affiliations. Webb himself has confronted similar criticisms, with some suggesting he is a dangerous fundamentalist who harbors discriminatory views, while others from inside his faith excoriate him for being too accepting, too liberal.

Too many mosques, Webb said — though not necessarily the one in Roxbury — scare away some Muslims because congregations seem to exclude members of certain ethnicities or are led by imams who prove overly doctrinaire. “If we’re able to function together to some degree, then we become like a Muslim ‘Cheers,’ “said Webb, who is married to a Malaysian-born Muslim and has two children, ages 10 and 8. “If we can acknowledge that we have certain differences, even religiously, then we’ll be able to develop as a community.”

Webb started questioning his Christian faith as a youngster. Despite achieving popularity as a hip-hop DJ, he felt an emptiness. But hip-hop introduced him to African-American Muslims who stirred his curiosity about Islam. He checked out a copy of the Koran from his local library and studied the faith for three years before converting. Webb then studied under a Senegalese sheik in Oklahoma and later became imam at a local mosque there. From 2004 to 2010, he studied at Cairo’s Sharia College of Al-Azhar University, founded in the 10th century and considered a preeminent institution of Islamic learning. He graduated with multiple certificates in Islamic sciences, qualifying him to preach and teach, and says he’s memorized the Koran in Arabic (6,236 verses).

After his time in Cairo, Webb moved to the San Francisco Bay area, where he preached at local mosques and led spiritual retreats. He also established, a “virtual mosque” that showcases writings from him and about 20 Muslim scholars, who answer questions about jihad, dating, sex, music, women, and celebrating Western holidays. The site gets more than 10,000 hits a day, with some of the most commented-on articles including “Save the Sisters,” “Wifehood and Motherhood are Not the Only Ways to Paradise,” and “Taking Off the Hijab.”

Indeed, the role of women in Muslim communities, and how men treat women, are issues Webb grapples with frequently. He said he believes women can have active and leading roles in mosques, and said one reason he was attracted to the Roxbury mosque was because it had a woman on the board. Those views, in turn, appealed to the Roxbury mosque. Many Muslims regard Webb’s training at Al-Azhar University as a stamp of authenticity, but Webb cautions Muslims that Islam imported from traditionally Muslim countries is not superior to the faith as it exists in the United States. “We represent a different group of brothers and sisters now who are born in America, who went overseas to study for a number of years and realize that everything overseas isn’t necessarily right,” said Webb, who can seamlessly switch from English to Arabic. “I don’t have to be an Arab or a Pakistani to authenticate my Islam.”

In 2010, Webb was part of a delegation of eight North American imams who visited the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps and issued a statement condemning anti-Semitism and terrorism. “He was clear in his condemnation of anti-Semitism and evidenced considerable knowledge of the subject, and was helpful in clarifying many issues to the others on the trip,” Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding in New Jersey, said in an e-mail. Despite his big tent philosophy, interfaith work, and preaching against radicalism, Webb has been assailed by mosque critics as a homophobic fundamentalist.

Charles Jacobs, the president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a Watertown-based group that has long been critical of the Roxbury mosque, accuses Webb of belonging to the hard-line Salafi sect of Islam and referring to homosexuality as an evil inclination. Considering Suhaib Webb’s homophobic and otherwise fundamentalist views, it would be strange to see him embraced by Boston’s progressive community,” Jacobs said in a statement. Webb’s comments, posted on his website, were made in 2007 in response to an e-mailed question from a homosexual who wanted to convert to Islam. Webb acknowledged the comments, and said he regrets referring the questioner to an organization that purports to undo same-sex attraction. Webb said he believes sexual orientation is no reason to discriminate against someone’s right to worship, and that imams should offer guidance and compassion to gay congregants who seek it.

“If someone who’s a homosexual comes to the mosque, wants to pray, wants to worship, be part of the community, I have no issue with that,” Webb said. “Ultimately, people who have whatever inclinations in their life, no one has a right to bar them from their experience with God.”

Webb accused his critics of belonging to an “Islamophobia industry” that seeks to demonize Muslims. His foes, he said, cite his old statements while ignoring more recent remarks. “In Oklahoma, we say you can never judge a man till you walk in his moccasins. I would encourage them to come and meet me,” he said. Webb denied being a Salafi disciple and said he follows the Maliki Islamic school, which is followed mainly in North Africa. Some of Webb’s biggest critics are hard-liners who accuse him of compromising Islam and misleading followers with his positions on homosexuality, gender mixing, and other issues. In 2007, Webb left, a conservative online Islamic academy where he taught, and had a public clash with another teacher there, Sheikh Nuh Keller, also an American Muslim convert.

Online comments appended to a Los Angeles Times story about Webb earlier this year revealed the anger percolating toward him in some quarters. “This guy wants to destroy Islam from the inside, and he [wants] to turn mosques like churches where they come to eat food, and listen to music, and mingle with gays, men and women all together,” one commenter wrote. Webb dismisses such criticisms, referring to Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, who didn’t spurn adulterers and drunkards seeking help, offering compassion instead. “Religion is for people with issues,” Webb said. “Creating a comfortable space for people, and letting people know that I’m not here to indict you but invite you — that’s something that me and a few other imams in America believe is crucial to the sustainability as well as the dignity of Islam in America.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

A French Minister of Arab Origin Says ‘There is No Such Thing as Moderate Islam’

A French minister said there was no such thing as moderate Islam, calling recent election successes by Islamic parties in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia “worrying” in an interview published Saturday.

Jeannette Bougrab, a junior minister with responsibility for youth, told Le Parisien newspaper that legislation based on Islamic sharia law “inevitably” imposed restrictions on rights and freedoms.

Bougrab is of Algerian origin, whose father fought on the French colonial side during Algeria’s war of independence, and said she was speaking as “a French woman of Arab origin.”

“It’s very worrying,” she was quoted as saying. “I don’t know of any moderate Islam.”

“There are no half measures with sharia,” she added. “I am a lawyer and you can make all the theological, literal or fundamental interpretations of it that you like but law based on sharia is inevitably a restriction on freedom, especially freedom of conscience.”

She was reacting to electoral successes scored by the Ennahda party in Tunisia, the Justice and Development Party in Morocco and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has called for dialogue with such parties as long as they respect certain criteria, including the rule of law and women’s rights.

Bougrab conceded that ousted Tunisian and Egyptian rulers Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak had used the Islamist “threat” to win backing from Western countries, but she added, “We shouldn’t go to the other extreme.”

And she hit out at the 30 percent of Tunisians living in France who had voted for Ennahda in last month’s polls. “I am shocked that those who have rights and freedoms here gave their votes to a religious party,” she said.

           — Hat tip: Frontinus[Return to headlines]

Extremism: The Internationalism of the New Far-Right

Aftonbladet, Stockholm

A new Europe threatens to emerge in the shadow of the crisis: a continent dominated by despondency and a defiance of politics that that has paved the way for a resurgence of nationalism and Islamophobia. These are much more serious dangers than national debt figures, writes Aftonbladet.

Anders Lindberg

An unusual study, entitled “The new face of digital populism,” was published in early November by the think tank Demos, which asked 10,000 far right militants across Europe to explain how they viewed the development of society.

In constructing an analysis of the “new right” based on the reasoning of its members, Demos met with these activists in the environment where they are most at home, that is to say on social networks: most of their activity is on-line, although, from time to time, they do vote, demonstrate and display their commitment by other means.

The movement ranges from the troublemakers in the English Defence League to established political leaders, like Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Jimmie Åkesson in Sweden.

Disappearance of national identity

Its members, who have no confidence in politicians or in the judicial system, go to the polls with hardly any conviction that their votes will make any difference. Most of them are men — only a quarter of these militants are women — and most of them are young (two thirds of far-right netizens are aged under 30).

It is a cross-border digital movement, which paradoxically campaigns for the restoration of borders, and an international organisation made up of individuals that do not like foreigners.

The European far-right encompasses several trends and movements, and we should be reluctant to generalise. But it is clear that large sections of the population in Europe are worried about the disappearance of their national identity, which they consider to be threatened by European integration and globalisation.

Given that Europe has already experienced war and genocide, it should be immune to the lure of the nationalist road. However, it seems that this is not the case…

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

In Sicily, Rice Farming Returns After Mussolini Had Dried Up Cultivation

First brought to Sicily by Arab conquerors, rice farming was eliminated over the past century for Italian political reasons. Now a local “farmer-archeologist” has brought it back to satisfy local desires of Sicilian star chefs.

For the first time in a century, rice has returned to Sicily.

Angelo Manna, owner of the Agrirape farm in this central Sicilian town, has managed to launch an operation of archeological farming. “Rice arrived in Italy and Europe via Sicily, with Arab merchants,” Manna says. “They brought saffron too. It was a precious spice and it still grows here.”

Manna adds, only half jokingly: “Milanese saffron risotto, should be called Sicilian. All of it is ours!”

Despite rice’s famous requirements of wet and marshy lands — not exactly common on the relatively bare and dry Mediterranean island — Manna has tracked its past presence in Sicily through the memories of elderly locals and archived landlord registers.

Now, Manna and his father Giuseppe have succeeded in growing their rice with a half-dry cultivation system, gathering the first harvest earlier this month. The land is kept always wet, as it is for vegetables, but is not flooded…

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

Italy: E. U. Gives Naples Two Months to Solve Rubbish Problem

(AGI) Rome — Environment Minister Corrado Clini said, “the European commissioner, Janez Potocnik, has given Naples a two month moratorium before European Union sanctions are triggered.

We have very little time to intervene in a convincing manner, otherwise we will have a colossal fine that we will all pay, especially those whose fault it is not, which is those who are committed to the environment and that is the majority of the citizens.” In the two months allowed by Potocnik, Clini explained, “you can’t build an incinerator, if this were the technological solution, and in any case I doubt that incineration is the answer if it is not part of the total refuse cycle program.” .

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

Italy: Monti to Meet President Obama

Date for encounter not yet set, says U.S. ambassador

(ANSA) — Rome, December 2 — United States President Barack Obama is going to meet new Italian Premier Mario Monti but a date for the encounter has not yet been set, the American ambassador in Rome said Friday.

“They’ll certainly see each other,” Ambassador David Thorne said.

“We don’t know exactly when yet but the meeting is planned. It’s certain”. Former European commissioner Monti took over the helm of government as the head of a team of non-political technocrat ministers after Silvio Berlusconi resigned as premier last month, with Italy’s debt crisis threatening to spiral out of control.

Monti will see US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in Milan on Wednesday, on the eve of a two-day EU summit seen as crucial to the future of the euro.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Gay Rights Movement Has Won the Political Battle, Now for the Rest

The political battle for gay rights has been won, according to Henk Krol, editor of gay newspaper Gay Krant in free paper Spits on Thursday.

‘We have fought for equal rights before the law and won them,’ the paper quoted Krol as saying. ‘We can get married. The days of storming parliament are far behind us.’

However, this does not mean the gay rights movement can be broken up, Krol said. ‘The emphasis is no longer on equal rights… The movement must focus on social questions such as anti-gay violence and raising the acceptance of homosexuality within certain circles.’

Several months ago, the Gay Krant set up a hotline for gay people to report incidents of violence and bullying. So far, 200 cases have been reported.

According to research by the government’s socio-cultural planning office last year, just 9% of the Dutch population still have ‘serious objections’ to homosexuality, down from 15% in 2006.

Anti-gay sentiment is particularly prevalent in fundamentalist religious groups.

Nevertheless, one in five people don’t think gay people should be allowed to adopt children and one in 10 thinks same sex marriage should be abolished. Some 40% of the population feel uncomfortable if they see two men kiss in the street.

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

Norway: Breivik Contests Diagnosis, He Says He is Sound of Mind

(AGI) Oslo — Anders Behering Breivik, the killer of the July 22 massacre in Oslo, contested the judicial examination describing him as “paranoid schizophrenic”. One of his lawyers, Odd Ivar Groen, reported to the daily Verdens Gang, that his client wants to make known that he is not mad and that he intends to contest the examination. “We studied a large part of the examination — the lawyer said — reporting the conversation the accused had with the psychiatrists and Breivik noticed errors and misunderstandings, bat what worries him most is the fact that those who wrote the report have no knowledge of political ideologies” .

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

Obama Calls Netherlands Strongest Ally

THE HAGUE, 01/12/11 — The Netherlands is the strongest of the United States’ allies, President Barack Obama said during his meeting with Prime Minister Mark Rutet in the Oval office.

Many Dutch newspapers and other media reported that Obama called the Netherlands the most important ally of the US. In reality the president said: “Part of the reason we wanted to make this meeting happen is because we have no stronger ally than the Netherlands.”

The Dutch “consistently punch above their weight on a whole range of issues related to global security, Obama explained. “Prime Minister Rutte has been a strong supporter of NATO, as was his predecessor, and we have been able to work together on a whole host of issues.”

Obama went on to say the Netherlands was “one of our most important trading partners”, calling the economic relationship between the two countries “deep”. The Netherlands, in turn, is one of the largest investors in the United States. “It is very important that we coordinate with the Netherlands. On that score, obviously, we are both concerned about the situation in the eurozone,”

Rutte spokes more than 50 minutes with Obama, where he had been scheduled in for 30 minutes. He said ahead of the meeting he had come to the US basically to discuss three issues. “Jobs, jobs, and jobs.”

Secondly, said admitted, they discussed the eurozone. “It is the intention of my government to keep the eurozone intact”.

Rutte told the Wall Street Journal he continues to back the European central bank’s reluctance to step up purchases of Italian and Spanish government bonds, despite the turmoil in European financial markets. “I know some in the US are saying: have the ECB solve the crisis. Well, that would mean two things: you would have a lot more money in the system with the risk of inflation and….it would take off the pressure on Greece and Italy and others to reform.”

The two leaders also discussed the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago. Obama said the “extremely strong” relations between the US and the Netherlands made him hope to “have an opportunity at some point during my presidency to visit the Netherlands”.

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

UK: The Clarkson Hunt

So, Jeremy Clarkson then — or Jimmy Carr Redux. In that thread below quite a few of you fair-minded folk came to the supposedly sensible conclusion that Carr should be allowed to make his jokes and the lobbyists castigate him for it. Well, yes, but that’s to miss the point. If it were simple castigation, that’s fine. But it’s not. Always attached to the castigation, somewhere along the line, is firstly the demand for the miscreant to lose their job and secondly the involvement of the police. In the case of Clarkson it was an idiot union leader who said they were considering notifying the police. This isn’t simple castigation, its fascism. So too, to only a slightly lesser degree, is that they should be deprived of their occupations. Remember, it does happen — Keys, Gray, Ross plus a host of, um, lesser mortals, threatened with prosecution for making a joke, or forced to resign for having said something with which someone else fervently disagreed. Incidentally, I’m no fan of Clarkson and believe those public sector workers are justified in striking over their pensions (but that’s another argument for another day).

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UNESCO Inks Deal to Help Restore Pompeii

UN agency will help rebuild villas, walls felled by rain

(ANSA) — Paris, November 30 — The United Nations cultural agency UNESCO and the Italian government have agreed to join forces to restore rain-damaged Pompeii.

UNESCO said it would work with Italy over the next nine months to rebuild villas and other parts of the famed Roman site that have collapsed over the last year.

Under the deal, UNESCO will provide expert advice to the Italian government on how to upgrade conservation.

UNESCO’s assistant director-general for culture, Francesco Bandarin, said the project would be a “complex endeavour”.

Campania Governor Francesco Caruso told ANSA that a second deal had been signed with local business groups to safeguard the area outside Pompeii’s walls.

Last November there was a collapse in the House of the Gladiators which drew criticism from UNESCO and the European Union.

It was followed soon after by a collapse at the famed House of the Moralist, spurring further criticism from international conservation groups.

Last month there were another three minor cave-ins, including one at the House of Diomedes, after a fresh bout of heavy rain.

There was also an outcry when an eight-square metre section of a wall fell near the Nola Gate.

“Everything needs to be checked, otherwise there will be a series of more collapses,” site officials said.

The EU subsequently pledged to step up supervision of Pompeii and provide more funds in future to protect one of Italy’s most popular historic sites.

Pompeii was destroyed when a volcanic eruption from nearby Mount Vesuvius buried the city in ash in 79 AD and it now attracts more than two million visitors a year.

Polemics about looting, stray dogs, structural decay and poor maintenance have dogged Pompeii in recent years.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt Salafist: Nobel Winner Mahfouz Inciting Prostitution

(AGI) Cairo — A Salafist leader and parliamentary candidate in the city of Alexandria, Abdel Moneim El-Shahat, has said that Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian who won the Nobel Literature Prize, “incites promiscuity, prostitution and atheism”.

El-Shahat made the comments in a television interview on Thursday evening, in which he described novels such as “Midaq Alley” and the “Cairo Trilogy” as being set in “brothels and drug cirles”.

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

Tunisia: Financing From IBRD to Develop Kasserine

16 million euro allocated to five cities

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, DECEMBER 1 — The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) has allocated 32 million dinars (approximately 16 million euro) for implementation of development projects in the Kasserine Governorate. The projects will be implemented in five years in the cities of Sbiba, Sbeitla, Foussana, Thala, El Ayoun, Jedeliane, Heydra. The projects include repair of water distribution networks, construction of water supply networks, purchase of olive, almond and apple trees.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey to Restore Historical Ottoman Mosque in Libya

Hilmi Ozkazanc, an executive of a construction company, said Turkey was planning to start renovating Murad Agha Mosque in Tajura hamlet, near the capital, Tripoli.

Turkey would restore a mosque in Libya, a Turkish company executive said on Saturday. Hilmi Ozkazanc, an executive of a construction company, said Turkey was planning to start renovating Murad Agha Mosque in Tajura hamlet, near the capital, Tripoli. “We will come to Tajure again next week to see what we have to do in the mosque,” Ozkazanc told AA correspondent. Hilmi Ozkazanc said restoration would probably begin by the end of this year.

Ozkazanc visited Tajure together with Turkey’s Ambassador to Libya Ali Kemal Aydin. During the visit, Ambassador Aydin said, “Libyan people will establish the country that will be a model for the region, and we will help them.” The Murad Agha Mosque was constructed in Tajura, some 16 kilometers east of Tripoli, in 1552 by Murad Agha, one of the three commanders who joined the conquer of Tripoli Province during the Ottoman era and who later served as a governor in the province. The mosque has 48 marble columns, surmounted by a series of arches, horseshoe style, supporting the vaults. During his visit to Libya in September, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the mosque together with Mustafa Abd al-Jalil, the chairman of Libya’s National Transitional Council, and addressed people who gathered around the mosque to see him.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Arabs Use Bribery to Gain UN Votes Against Israel

While there is little need to provide incentives for most nations to vote against Israel at the UN General Assembly, some Arab states are nevertheless bribing countries that traditionally side with the Jewish state in order to make passage of anti-Israel resolutions more one-sided.

That according to Johnson Toribiong, president of the Pacific island nation of Palau, who was in Israel for an official state visit last week.

Toribiong told Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper that he was recently offered $50 million by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to start voting against Israel at the UN.

“We told them: ‘Forget it. We will not vote against Israel for anything in the world’,” Toribiong said.

Toribiong was accompanied by Iolu Johnson Abil, president of Vanuatu, another Pacific island nation. Palau, Vanuatu, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and a number of other Pacific micro nations are firm supporters of Israel at the UN as result of their strong Christian faith.

That nations are trying to buy UN General Assembly votes against other nations speaks loudly about the state of affairs at the world body. What speaks even louder is that these allegations of severe impropriety are being completely ignored by the UN and the international community.

And it’s not the first time.

When the Solomon Islands, another Pacific island nation, suddenly began voting against Israel in 2009, many wondered why. Like other Christian island nations, the Solomon Islands had always backed the Jewish state. Later it was discovered that Iran’s foreign ministry had bribed the impoverished Solomon Islands with a $200,000 check and technological aid.

           — Hat tip: PM[Return to headlines]

Hard-Liners in Tehran Welcome London Embassy Staff’s Return

(AGI)London- The 25 Iranian diplomats expelled from their London embassy were given a triumphant welcome at Imam Khomeini airport. Over one hundred men and women, including hard-line supporters of the Basij group, greeted the diplomats’ return with shouts of “death to Britain”. On Wednesday the UK Foreign Minister William Hague ordered the closure of the nation’s embassy in Tehran and Iran’s own in London, giving Iranian diplomats 48 hours to leave the country.

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

If Saudi Women Allowed to Drive in 10 Years “There Would be No Virgins”

Report compiled by one of nations most important Religious Councils, accompanied by a “scientific” analysis, sent to all members of the Legislative Assembly. Increase in homosexuality, prostitution and pornography.

Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies) — Allowing Saudi women to drive would result in an increase in homosexuality, prostitution and pornography and “there would no longer be any virgins” in the country. These are the allegations are contained in a report by the Majlis al-Ifta ‘al-A’ali, the largest religious organization in the country, sent to all 150 members of the Shura Council, the legislative assembly (advisory).

Attached to the dossier is a “scientific” report drawn up in collaboration with Kamal Subhi, former professor at King Fahd University.

The report is intended to be an assessment of the impact of lifting the Saudi Arabian ban on women driving cars, the only country in the world to impose such a ban, reviewed after the ruling that sentenced a 34 year old woman, Shaima Jastaniya to 10 lashes, because caught at the wheel of a car in Jeddah.

The revoking of the ban, says the report, would lead to a “moral decline within 10 years” leading to an increase in male and female homosexuality, prostitution and pornography and moreover “there would no longer be any virgins” in the country. As scientific evidence, Professor Subhi recounted what happened him in a café in a in a Muslim country (which he fails to name) where there is no ban: “All the women looked at me.”

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

Italian Archeologists Want to Help Put Iraq Back on Map for Culture Tourism

Iraq, tourist destination? The central city of Najaf will be declared cultural capital of the Islamic world in 2012, which is expected to help jump-start tourism in Iraq nearly a decade after the beginning of the American-led war to oust Saddam Hussein

Looking for some cultural travel next year? You may want to consider…Iraq. Italy has been at the forefront of protecting and restoring Iraq’s cultural riches as part of the country’s post-war reconstruction.

So while resources are pouring into restaurants, hotels and public infrastructure in Najaf, the Italian coordinator of Task Force Iraq, Massimo Bellelli, the scientific director of the Virtual Museum of Iraq, Massimo Cultraro, and Iraq’s ambassador to Italy, Saywan Barzani, have launched a new project — dubbed Abraham’s Hills — to train new antiquity restorers, tour guides, and museum clerks in the area of the ancient biblical city Ur, 400 kilometers south of Najaf.

The Italians are aiming to save archaeological areas across Iraq, to broaden tourist itineraries, and to promote the museum of Nassiriya and the Dhi Qar region. “This is possible thanks to the trust and relations we have built here through the years,” says archaeologist Stefania Berlioz…

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

Lebanon: Italy Funds Course for Blind Journalists

Newspaper An Nahar presents edition in Braille

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, NOVEMBER 30 — The Italian ambassador to Lebanon, Giuseppe Morabito, and Lebanon’s Social Affairs Minister, Wael Abu Faour, today opened the first course for visually impaired journalists in Beirut, an initiative to which the Italian Foreign Ministry has contributed 150 thousand euros.

In the context of the same initiative, newspaper An Nahar has presented the first edition in Braille of a newspaper in Lebanon. “The Italian contribution,” said Morabito, “is meant to support the Lebanese Social Affairs Ministry and its partners for a period of two years, enabling it to further develop this socially innovative initiative.” The diplomat added that he hopes the project will get more private partners to join in.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Syria: UN Council Condemns Violations. Russia, China Oppose

9 die in today’s repression, 4 wounded in shots into Lebanon

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, DECEMBER 2 — The UN Council for Human Rights has today condemned Syria for what it described as “extensive, systematic and flagrant” violations of human rights and of fundamental freedoms. But Russia and China reaffirmed their opposition, with Moscow defining the resolution as “unacceptable”. Meanwhile, on the streets of Syrian cities, nine civilians lost their lives today. The local coordinating committees of the activists have stated that the civilians were killed in Homs, Lattakia, Daraa, Hama and Idlib. There were also pro-regime demonstrations in various cities, with support for President Bashar al Assad being shown especially in Damascus, Jable’ and Tartous. According to the UN Human Rights Council, which has its headquarters in Geneva, since the beginning of the protests in March, no fewer than 4,000 people have been killed, of whom 307 were children or adolescents. The highest number of child casualties came in November, with 56 dead, according to Brazilian Professor Paulo Pinheiro, who chairs the International Independent Commission of Inquiry set up by the UN Council. The document of condemnation of the Damascus regime recommends that “the main UN organs should examine the report made by the Commission of Inquiry” — which accuses Syria of crimes against humanity — “and adopt the appropriate measures”. But the chances that the Security Council may adopt a decisive initiative seem more remote than ever, now that Russia and China — along with Ecuador and Cuba — have voted against the resolution. And a further six countries abstained — with 37 voting in favour. Italy’s Foreign Minister, Giulio Terzi, welcomed the condemnation “with satisfaction”. While the spokesperson for Italy’s Foreign Ministry, Maurizio Massari, announced that Mr Terzi will soon be meeting the Syrian National Council of opposition forces, saying that the meeting is being scheduled.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Mystery Surrounds Decision to Turn Byzantine Church Museum Into a Mosque

In its 1,700-year-old history, Hagia Sophia in the northwestern town of Iznik has witnessed many turning points. In 787, as a Byzantine church, it housed the Second Council of Nicaea, which restored the veneration of icons to Christianity. After the Ottoman conquest of the area, Hagia Sophia in 1331 was turned into a mosque, only to be destroyed in 1922 by the Greek army during the Greco-Turkish War.

Then, this November 6, the building, a museum and popular Iznik tourist destination, underwent its latest transformation: It officially reopened as a mosque.

The first call to prayer had resounded from its minaret five days earlier, on the evening of November 1. With a new wooden floor, carpets and a sound system for the minaret, Hagia Sophia was opened to Muslim worshippers during Kurban Bayrami, the Festival of Sacrifice, a four-day Islamic holiday that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, at God’s command. But a day after the holidays, the mosque remained half-empty during noon prayers. Hagia Sophia’s latest transformation has created controversy not only among archeologists, historians and politicians, but also among local residents.

“There are so many mosques in the city and around here,” said Irfan Karaman, who runs a small restaurant across from the Byzantine building. “In my opinion, it was utterly unnecessary to turn the Hagia Sophia into one as well.” He claimed that many people in Iznik feel similarly. “Before it was seven lira (about $3.83) to enter,” Karaman added, laughing. “At least now it’s free. It looks like our religion is cheaper than yours!”

Historian and documentary filmmaker Ömer Tuncer, also an Iznik resident, agrees. “This is a question of respect. What would Muslims say if the Al-Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem] was turned into a church now? The Hagia Sophia in Iznik is an important symbol in Christian faith, a place of pilgrimage,” Tuncer said. “It is clear that a building like this needs to be protected as a museum.” Acknowledgements of Turkey’s Islamic heritage and beliefs have become more frequent in recent years, but the conversion of Iznik’s Hagia Sofia does not appear to stem from any government policy by the ruling, Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party. Although the changeover from a museum has sparked national debate, the decision is seen as locally rooted. Attendants at Hagia Sophia, however, declined to speak with about the mosque opening.

Those siding with the conversion project argue that Hagia Sophia has never been a museum. “This historical building was used as a mosque for 680 years, and has been in disrepair ever since 1922,” Adnan Ertem, head of the central government’s Directorate of Religious Foundations, asserted to Turkish media. “To hear the Muslim call to prayer in this house of worship made us all happy.”

Apparently, the entrance fee charged to tourists in the past escaped the notice of Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinç, who also maintains that the building “was never a museum.” “It is possible that it was used as a church in the past,” Arinç told Turkish media. “But ever since the conquest of Bursa [in 1326], it has been used as a mosque.”

However, both the Governorate of Bursa, the administrative district in which Iznik is located, and the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism have listed and promoted the Iznik Hagia Sophia as a museum on their Turkish-language websites. The explanation could lie in a red-tape loop-hole, Tuncer hypothesized. “Just as with the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, there was never an official law to turn the Hagia Sophia in Iznik into a museum,” he commented. “That is why it is still listed as a mosque with the Directorate of Religious Foundations, but as a museum with the Ministry of Culture.”

After renovation of the building was finished in 2007, the Hagia Sophia was opened as a museum, and the local governorate placed a ticket booth at its entrance. Restaurant owner Karaman fears that the decision to turn the building now into an mosque will negatively impact the tourism sector, an important source of income for many Iznik residents. Representatives of the Ministry of Culture were not available to comment about the changeover, but Tuncer asserts that “[i]t is up to them to veto this decision, and to protect buildings like this one. When the church was turned into a mosque in 1331, it was a mere symbol of conquest, it happened in many cities,” he continued. “But in our times, this decision seems incomprehensible to me.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Zakho: Iraqi Islamic Extremists Attack Christian-Owned Shops and Properties

In a YouTube video images of the assault that took place yesterday in Iraqi Kurdistan, a few kilometres from the border with Turkey. The violence started after Friday prayers triggered by imam’s sermon. Christian personalities: since the Arab Spring, radical Islam is “more dangerous”.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) — A group of protesters linked to the Islamic extremist wing, composed mostly of young people, yesterday stormed several Christian-owned shops, a hotel and a beauty parlour. The violence erupted yesterday afternoon in the town of Zakho, about 470 km from Baghdad, Iraqi Kurdistan located a few kilometers from the border with Turkey, and caused the wounding of at least 30 people, including 20 policemen. The fundamentalist wrath was unleashed by the vitriolic sermon of an imam in the local mosque, after which punitive raids were launched across the city. Pro-government Kurdish factions have already responded to the onslaught of the xtremist groups, who burned at least six sites of the Islamic Party of Kurdistan in the city and surrounding areas.

A video posted on YouTube (click here to view it), shows the assault against Christian shops and properties. Local Christian sources interviewed by AsiaNews — anonymous for security reasons — were involved in the raid confirm that “hundreds of people, especially young people” destroyed “at least 13 liquor shops, but the number could reach 30. Witnesses added that “the police did not react” and it is likely that “the assault was pre-planned.” The extremist crowd, that carried out the attack in Zakho, then headed for Sumaili — town 15 km from Dohuk, the third largest Kurdish city — where once again exercises owned by Christians and Yazidis were targeted.

In Sumaili, said the source for AsiaNews, there are at least 200 Christian families who are now terrified. The violence continued in the Christian village of Shiuz, where 180 families live, and “ the Kurdish police intervened to restore calm only two hours later “. “The extremist crowd — he adds — chanted jihad, or holy war, and anti-Christian slogans.”

The Christian community in the region experienced a day of panic and terror at the hands of extremists and abandoned by local authorities. “These events — warns the source — lead to the faithful fleeing their native lands. In Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghdad, the police took steps to protect churches and places of worship. “

Iraqi Kurdistan has long been the center of a bitter conflict between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen for control of the lands and oil fields that surround it, the dispute also involves the Christian minority, who are victims of violence and vendettas. Iraqi Christian figures confirm that fundamentalist Islam — after the initial auspices related to “Arab Spring”, which led to a cautious optimism — has become “much more aggressive and dangerous for non-Muslims.” (DS)

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


Ukraine: First Mosque With Minaret Opens in Kyiv

It can accomodate almost 3000 believers.This enlightenment object is opened for all people at any time, head of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Ukraine Ahmed Tamim said.

To help people learn more about Islam, for all interested excursions and lectures will be organized. The mosque is built in the old part of the capital, in the district inofficially called “Tatarka.” Since old times it was the place of residence of dense population of Muslims.

[JP note: Dense is probably the mot juste.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Ukraine: Kyiv’s Largest Mosque Opens After 17-Year Construction

Kyiv: The biggest mosque in the Ukrainian capital has officially opened 17 years after construction began, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian and Tatar-Bashkir services report. Construction of the Ar-Rakhma Mosque started in 1994. Part of the structure was completed by 2001, when local Muslims began using that part of the mosque. The finished building can accommodate up to 1,000 worshippers. Ukrainian Mufti Sheikh Akhmed Tamim told journalists on December 1 that the most difficult problems the congregation has faced since 1994 were associated with bureaucratic procedures. He said some local authorities were reluctant to issue the necessary documents and permissions, which delayed the construction. Tamim said there are currently some 2 million Muslims in Ukraine, of whom 60,000 live in Kyiv. The new mosque was constructed in Kyiv’s historic Tatarka district, atop Shchekavitsya Hill. A community of Muslims — mainly ethnic Tatars — has been living there since the mid-19th century.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghan Women Victims of Violence and Abuse Like Under the Taliban

In Kunduz, local leader has acolytes throw acid on the members of a family because the father had refused to give his daughter in marriage. Speaking to AsiaNews, local source slams the country’s tribal Islamic culture, which continues to trample civil laws and human rights. More than 50 per cent of Afghan women in prison are there on adultery charges.

Kabul (AsiaNews) — As far as women’s rights are concerned, Afghanistan under President Karzai is no better than when it was ruled by the Taliban, as illustrated by the many cases of stoning, abuses and arrests of women on adultery charges.

Last Wednesday, a gang in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, reportedly indignant at a father’s refusal to give one of his three daughters up for marriage, sprayed the family of five with acid, sending everyone to hospital with burns. The father and the eldest daughter are in critical condition.

Although Afghan police began their investigation, local sources said that they are afraid to move against the perpetrators and that no arrest was likely. Eyewitnesses in the village where they incident occurred said that the head of the gang of attackers belongs to a local militia known as the Arbakis, set up to fight the Taliban in northern Afghanistan. For this reason, police and residents view them as above the law, and this despite a plethora of accusations against its members of summary executions, rape and violence.

The evidence is clear. Ten years after the fall of the Taliban, the country remains in the grip of radical Islam and tribal traditions, the source told AsiaNews. Most Afghans continue to view Sharia as the only law of the land. And women are the ones who are paying the price for that since they continue to be denied the right to go to school, choose their husband or get a job. When they become widows, they are also exclude by their family and lose their property.

A recent report by British association, Womankind Worldwide, noted that than 50 per cent of jailed Afghan women are accused of adultery. On 10 November, a group of men in Ghazni (138 km south-west of Kabul) incited by a local imam stoned to death two women, mother and daughter, on alleged adultery charges. The attack occurred at some 300 metres from the local police station.

“Sadly, women’s inferior status is rooted in families and traditions,” the source said. “Men are considered above everything and they do not accept the evolution of the status of women, who are deemed mere reproductive tools.”

In Afghanistan, the status of women in Afghanistan is erroneously linked to religion. The Qur’an does not ban women’s education. “In my school, most teachers are women,” the source explained. “Many girls go to elementary school. In order to improve attendance level in higher schools, we are providing girls with bursaries to induce their families to let them to study.”

Women’s cultural evolution varies from city to city. In Kabul, you can see many girls go to school, wearing a uniform and a coloured veil. However, in villages just a few kilometres from the capital, the situation is quite different.

“The mullahs are the strongest opponents to female education. Ten years after the fall of the Taliban, they continue to reject the little freedom granted to women,” the source explained.

“To change this country from the point of view of human dignity, we need a cultural revolution, not just political changes,” the source said. “Many Westerners think that the appointment of a woman governor in Heart is great progress. That is not the case. It is just window-dressing to show the government’s good intentions.”

What is more, “Western nations cannot just stop at removing the Taliban from power. To change Afghanistan, they must convince its rulers to invest in education and not only security. Only this way can a society that protects human dignity and human rights be promoted. Otherwise, the country will remain backward, making the ten years of US occupation and the war against terrorist worthless.” (S.C.)

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

India: Karnataka: Christian Woman Arrested on False Charges of Forced Conversion

Hers is the 41st case of anti-Christian violence in Karnataka since the start of the year. Global Council of Indian Christians president Sajan K George slams the government, police and Hindu extremists.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) — On the eve of Advent, a time of expectations and hope, Karnataka recorded its 41st anti-Christian incident of the year. A Christian woman, Mrs Janakiyamma, who is a member of the Bethel Ministry Church, was arrested. Her “only crime was to spread the word of God,” said Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), which “waits with hope for the time when the Christian minority in Karnataka will enjoy religious freedom as it is enshrined in the Indian Constitution”.

On Saturday, Mrs Janakiyamma was praying with her husband and other members of her church at a home in the outskirts of Kushalnagar village, in Kodagu District (Karnataka).

During the meeting, members of the Bajrang Dal and Sangh Parivar, two ultranationalist Hindu organisations, burst into the home, accusing those present of engaging in forced conversions. After they called the Kushalnagar police station, agents arrived and arrested the woman, who was taken later in the day to Madikeri Prison.

“When the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) is in power, police turns its back on Christians even if they are supposed to protect [all] citizens. The speed with which false accusations were made, and the repeated threats and acts of persecution against the Christian minority show a clear link between the government, police and extremists.”

Since 2008, Karnataka has been under a BJP administration, which has backed Hindu extremist groups and movements from a Hindu nationalist umbrella organisation, the Sangh Parivar. These groups include the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, all of which have carried out acts of violence against Dalits and Christians.

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

India: Rev. Khanna: After Release, I’m Not Afraid to Go Back to My Church

In an interview with AsiaNews, the pastor of All Saints Anglican Church says he was “the victim of a conspiracy,” but holds “no grudge”. The rev. Khanna spent ten days in jail for having baptized seven Muslims.

Srinagar (AsiaNews) — “I was the victim of a serious conspiracy, but I’m not afraid to return to serve my church and community”, says Chander Mani Khanna, the pastor of All Saints Anglican Church of Kashmir arrested for having baptized seven Muslims, shortly after being released on the night of December 1st in an interview with AsiaNews. The pastor was held in police custody for ten days at Kothi Bagh police station (Srinagar), under to art. 153A (people who promote disharmony, enmity or hatred based on religion, race, residence, language or caste) and 295A (people who offend the religious feelings of any class, with deliberate and malicious acts). He was arrested following a complaint made by the Grand Mufti of Kashmir, who had summoned him before an Islamic court after seeing a video of baptisms on YouTube. Below, an interview with Rev. Khanna by AsiaNews.

Rev. Khanna, what was the outcome of your trial?

I was the victim of a conspiracy, no Srinagar lawyer would take my case, the same legal group in Kashmir threatened all of its members to boycott me (see AsiaNews, 30/11/2011, “ Kashmir: Anglican pastor who baptised seven Muslims to be released “). Twice, the judge had to postpone the hearing to determine my bail. Eventually, they released me only with a warning not to leave the state. At the time of liberation, outside the prison, there were protests, and on my return home, I had to change cars twice to avoid being followed.

Tell us about the events that led to your arrest

In Kashmir, we Christians are a very small community, just 200-250 people against the majority of Muslims, yet we serve through our schools and our apostolate. We never go around proselytizing, we never invite people to convert to Christianity. These seven young men came to our church for almost six months, they wanted to listen attentively to the Word of God, and with great respect sat among the community during services. After a few months, they spoke to me of their desire to receive communion and become Christians. So, they began to follow catechesis, after which they received baptism before the whole community. These seven people freely chose to be baptized.

Do you regret celebrating the baptism?

Absolutely not. The baptisms were celebrated in broad daylight, before the whole community. I had no ulterior motives, or other matters of money. I am an ordained minister of the Church of North India (Anglican, ed) and an Indian citizen living in a secular country. As a minister of the Church, we have our own evangelical mission. The scriptures tell us to go and proclaim the Word of God and baptise. This is the commandment given to the Church, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Here in Kashmir we are a very small community, yet its like living in an Islamic state. A Koranic court summoned me and I went without any problems because I wanted to explain to them that I had done nothing illegal or unconstitutional.

Reverend, what would you like to say to the Muslims of Kashmir and those places where Christians are a minority?

I want to tell them that we are all sons of our father Abraham, who want to live together peacefully, and work to improve mutual understanding. There are many things that they do not understand about prayer. It is urgent that intellectuals and spiritual leaders sit down together and open a dialogue for the common good of all people. Giving communities more spiritual values, to help them understand and live together. The message of Christ is to spread love, not hate: that is why we want to express Christ’s love in our lives through our ministry.

Are you willing to return to your church, despite the threats?

Certainly. It is imperative that reconciliation takes place between the two communities, so we can understand and help each other. Both Islam and Christianity are religions of peace. I do not harbor a grudge against anyone, my prayer is that God can reveal the truth to them. There is no other power except that of the Good News of the Gospel, which in a free gift such as I have received, and I can bring people closer to God’s love

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

Pakistan: Senate Unanimously Condemns NATO Attack

Islamabad, 2 Dec. (AKI/Dawn) — Pakistan’s senate on Friday passed a unanimous resolution against Nato’s attack on a Pakistani checkpost, DawnNews reported.

The resolution was tabled by Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri. The resolution stated that in case of foreign aggression, the nation would stand united for the country’s defence.

The resolution moreover demanded that all resolutions that had been passed in the Senate relating to drone attacks and the war against terror should be implemented.

Furthermore, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that in the wake of the Nato attack, it had become difficult to remain on the same page with the United States.

Khar further stated that the decision to boycott the Bonn conference was well thought out and there was no possibility of reviewing it.

The Senate’s session was then adjourned to December 7

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

Row Over Pakistan Actress Veena Malik Nude ‘ISI’ Photo

A row has erupted over an image of Pakistani actress Veena Malik sporting the initials ISI on her arm, with FHM India insisting it is not fake.

It has caused a sensation in Pakistan for both the nudity and the initials of Pakistan’s controversial Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.

Pakistani media have quoted a spokesman for Ms Malik as saying she never took part in such a photoshoot.

But FHM India’s editor told the BBC that nothing had been doctored.

“We have video footage of the shoot as well as emails from Veena about how she’s looking forward to the cover,” Kabeer Sharma told the BBC’s Nosheen Abbas in Islamabad.

“The idea to have ISI written on her arm was mine, and it was Veena’s idea to have it in block letters,” he added.

He said that the image was intended to be playful, saying that: “In India we joke about this… if anything goes wrong… we say the ISI must be behind this.”

The ISI has been in the headlines in recent months after senior US officials accused it of supporting militants based in Pakistan’s tribal areas who target Western troops in Afghanistan.

In September the most senior US military officer Adm Mike Mullen said that the Haqqani militant network “acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency”.

Pakistan has vehemently denied such allegations.

Pakistan outrage

Correspondents say that the image, which is the cover of the December issue of the Indian edition of the global men’s magazine, has caused a storm in Pakistan with many people expressing outrage over the nudity and the boldness of the photo.

Many Pakistanis on the micro-blogging site Twitter are also expressing bemusement at the image.

The Express Tribune newspaper in Pakistan said a representative of Ms Malik had denied she posed for the shoot.

“Veena knows her limits. I know we have done quite bold stuff/shoots, those which are available on our website, but she knows her parameters,” Sohail Rashid is quoted as saying.

FHM’s editor said he had never heard of the representative and added that Ms Malik had not got in touch to ask him to modify or remove the image.

The actress has been at the centre of controversy before.

She caused outrage among conservative circles in Pakistan for appearing on the Indian reality show Bigg Boss in 2010. She hit the headlines again in March this year by challenging the views of a Pakistani cleric on television.

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

Far East

South Korea: Empty Cradles: The Alarm and the Commitment of the Korean Church

South Korea is one of the countries with the lowest birth rates in the world. A social and economic issue that must be addressed before it’s too late. The Bishop of Daejeon tells AsiaNews how the Church responds to this challenge: “We teach a new culture of life in the shadow of the Lord. But we also materially help families in need. “

Daejeon (AsiaNews) — Korea needs “a new culture of life. The Catholic Church always points this out, but for us Koreans it is a major challenge on the ground. We must strive to change social attitudes by example, teaching but also concrete help”, says Mgr. Lazarus You Heung-sik, bishop of Daejeon and president of the Episcopal Commission for Pastoral care for migrants.

The bishop is very familiar with the matter: “The problem of birth and of respect for life are central to the survival of our society. But there are many factors that threaten them: there is a cultural factor, of course, which, however, is in addition to a economic and labour system that penalizes births. The growth in standards of living is accompanied by an increased automation of industrial production, and this eliminates jobs: people are afraid, and think less and less of having children. “

Msgr. You fears are supported by data: out of a total of 222 nations world-wide, South Korea is 217th in annual birth rates. It has slipped downward in rankings yet again, rankings that have always seen the Koreans in the lowest places, where the average is 1.2 children per household, a figure similar to that of Taiwan, Japan and Macao, all countries with a high degree of well-being, but threatened by an aging population and social disintegration.

Having children, Msgr. You continues, “is the basis of Catholic teaching. Conjugal love has to pass through conception to make the family complete. The love of the Lord, then, does the rest. If you forget this factor it is useless to talk about anything else. Korean Catholics know this, but we’re trying to improve their sensitivity towards this”.

This stimulus does not pass only through good teaching: “We realize that the cost of living is a limit to births, and for about 10 years in my diocese we have been trying to help families with many children also from the material point of view. Each year, the Feast of the Holy Family, we give an award to the 5 largest families of the diocese. “

The award is consistent: “A scholarship to the tune of 5 million won (about 3 thousand Euros) for each winner. Funds that we collect through a collection among all the faithful, and we hope to continue to collect ever more generously. Life is a gift which should be fostered at all costs, and is a great challenge that we intend to win. “

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

Latin America

Russia and Cuba to Strengthen Military Cooperation

(AGI) Moscow — Moscow is considering strengthening its military relations with Cuba ahead of parliamentary elections in Russia.

Against the backdrop of a renewed Cold War climate, Russia and Cuba are planning to sign a deal for the construction of a plant where ammunition for both AK-47 assault rifles and other Russian-made assault rifles will be produced. The plant will be located within the Ernesto Che Guevara military base in Cuba.

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


Moroccans, Italians Arrested in Fake-Marriage Scam

One woman wed three men

(ANSA) — Palermo, December 2 — Italian police on Friday arrested 10 Moroccan and Italian men and four Italian women in connection with a fake-marriage scam to get papers to live in Italy.

One of the women, Rosa Cocuzza, was married to three Moroccan men but lived with none of them, police said.

The racket was run by one Italian man and three Italian women in Palermo, the Sicilian capital, while the marriages were celebrated in Morocco.

Each bogus spouse paid more than 10,000 euros to get married, police said.

Two of the four Italian women have been charged with bigamy.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

UK: The National Secular Society Doesn’t Get it: Christianity is Integral to Our National Life

Bideford Town Council has a long tradition of opening its meetings with prayers. But now one of the councillors, the atheist Clive Bone of the National Secular Society, has taken legal action against the Council’s habitual practice. According to the NSS:

The council chamber and council proceedings should be equally welcoming to everyone living in the local community, and should therefore be a religiously-neutral and secular place. Prayers should not be foisted on others serving the community as councillors.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said:

We are not seeking to deny anybody the right to pray, but we are challenging the appropriateness of prayers being conducted during council meetings.

Mr Wood said that those who didn’t want to engage in prayers have either to walk out of the council chamber or sit through the prayers feeling awkward and embarrassed. The NSS says prayers held at the beginning of town council meetings breaches the European Convention on Human Rights, and people of no religion were being indirectly discriminated against without justification. The NSS insists that prayers be disallowed, despite the fact that Bideford Council members have twice voted that they be retained. I think Mr Porteous Wood and the NSS should be told to grow up. They should at least extend whatever the atheist equivalent is to Christian charity to their fellow council members who want the prayers. What grown up, sensible, liberal-minded person could possibly claim to be “feeling awkward and embarrassed” at hearing a moment’s public prayer? I would feel embarrassed and awkward to have to sit through a meeting with the narrow-minded atheistic bigots of the NSS — but I would grin and bear it in the interests of live and let live.

A spokesman for the NSS, speaking on the Today programme, compared Bideford Council’s Christian prayers to “girlie magazines or Wicca prayers”, arguing that no one would allow either of those things in a council meeting. But Christian prayers cannot be compared with pornography or the superstitions of Wicca. Christianity is integral to our national life and so it has been for more than a thousand years. Such a ridiculous comparison — with paganism and porn — made by the NSS only shows the paucity of their intelligence and their lack of a sense of historical perspective.

We know that the NSS and the new brand of aggressive atheists and secularists desire above all the removal of all traces of Christianity from public life. They have declared this explicitly times without number, and almost always against the expressed wishes of the general public. Specifically, the NSS seeks to overrule the twice-expressed democratic resolutions of Bideford Council. There is a word for their agenda, and it is “totalitarian”.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]