Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20111223

Financial Crisis
»Italy: Wage-Price Gap Biggest Since 1997
»A Muslim’s Christmas Wish
»CAIR: New Army Policy Will Allow JROTC Hijabs, Turbans
»Congressman Claims Michelle Obama Has a ‘Large Posterior’
»Historic Muslim American Newspaper Celebration Draws Hundreds to Nation’s Capital
»In Islamic Law, Gingrich Sees a Mortal Threat to US
»Iran, Taliban, Al-Qaida Liable for 9/11, New York Judge Rules
»Mich. Jews, Muslims Continue Volunteer Alliance
»Muslim Exchange Student Helps Promote Intercultural Understanding
»Pennsylvania: Muslim Author Cancels School Visit After Parents Threaten Protest
»Controversy Grows Over Veiled Threat
»Quebec Government Denounced by Opposition for Allowing Muslim Prison Workers to Wear Headscarf
Europe and the EU
»Exhibition of ‘Mosques in Germany’ Concludes at IIUI
»Italy: Vote on Arrest of Ex Govt Member for ‘Mafia Links’ Put Off
»Italy: Toscani Comes Up With Penis Calendar
»Italy: Rome Investigation Launched Into Neo-Nazi Group
»Mama’s Boy and Mass Murderer: Experts Disagree on Psychological State of Norwegian Killer
»The Late Roman Empire Was Not the Twilight of Popular Myth
»UK: Is Religion in Terminal Decline in Britain?
»UK: Lutfuhr Rahman Cabinet Member: I Luv My Weapons
»UK: Muslims’ Anger Over Off-Licence Go-Ahead — Community Leaders Say They Have “Not Been Listened to”
»UK: No Penalty for London Blogger Calling for Attacks on Jews…
»UK: Oh, All Right, Just One More Time …
»UK: Rabbi Defends His London Citizens Involvement
North Africa
»Tunisia: Judiciary Lifts Charges on Arafat’s Widow
Middle East
»How Can We Remain Silent While Christians Are Being Persecuted?
»Inside Syria’s Death Zone: Assad’s Regime Hunts People in Homs
»Saudi Arabia’s Invisible Hand in the Arab Spring
»Syria: Damascus Suicide Attack; State TV Blames Al Qaeda
South Asia
»The Perils of Journalism in Pakistan: Living in Fear of Intelligence Agents
Australia — Pacific
»New Zealand: Sonny Bill Misses Out on Muslims’ Top 500 Listing
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Nigeria: 2 ANPP Members Denied Bail for Crticising Kwankwaso
»UK: Illegal Immigrant Who Hacked Off Neighbour’s Head With Meat Cleaver Has His Sentence CUT by Six Years
Culture Wars
»The War on Christmas is Real, And the Atheist Barbarians Are Winning it
»Walter Reed (Military Hospital) Accidentally Bans Bibles
»I Lived as a Turkey for a Year

Financial Crisis

Italy: Wage-Price Gap Biggest Since 1997

1.5% wage rise against 3.3% inflation rate

(ANSA) — Rome, December 23 — The gap between Italian wages and inflation rose to 1.8 percentage points in November, its highest since 1997, Istat said Friday.

The annual wage rise was 1.5% compared to an inflation rate of 3.3%, the statistics agency said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


A Muslim’s Christmas Wish

By SAAD KARAMAT / The Los Angeles County resident is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley and an award-winning member of the Muslim Writers Guild of America.

World would benefit from more people following Jesus’ teachings.

Most people are often surprised to hear that Jesus is a highly esteemed figure in Islam. My friend once asked, “Is this a new idea within Islam?” thinking that, perhaps, Muslims recently concocted this notion. In reality, Jesus is not only considered a prophet in Islam (a fact many Christians are familiar with). In fact, Jesus is mentioned more times in the Quran, by name, than Prophet Muhammad himself— each time in the most elevated regard. Therefore, this Christmas, Jesus can be the inspiration for Muslims and Christians — and others, too — to build bridges of interfaith harmony and work together for the betterment of society. For example, Jesus taught, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). The intention of this statement? Jesus sought to impress upon the wealthy the need to share a portion of their wealth with the poor — if they wish to enter the “Kingdom of God,” or heaven. This teaching promotes social justice, ensuring that no person goes without the basic necessities of life, such as food, water and health care, while others enjoy the luxuries of life.

It is not promoting communism but, rather, human dignity and morality. Our current economy would likely not be in its degraded situation if the rich — including Muslims, Christians and even atheists — were mindful of Jesus’ lesson. Not only would our current economy benefit greatly from Jesus’ teaching, but also would the economies of so-called Muslim nations. Pakistan, for example, has some of the most distressing and unequal economic conditions in the world. I have seen people spending more than 1,000 rupees (approximately $11) for a meal in fancy restaurants, outside of which there are barefooted and emaciated beggars pleading simply for 3 rupees (approximately 3 cents) to buy a piece of bread for themselves or their children. The inequality is absolutely heart-wrenching. As a Muslim, I wish Jesus’ teachings were practiced in Pakistan and other countries where the less fortunate are often and sadly forgotten about.

Jesus’ teaching of caring for the less-fortunate includes compassion for the elderly. According to the Quran, Christ claimed, “God has raised me to care for my [parents]” (Quran 19:32). The number of elderly who are being cared for in nursing homes these days is remarkably high — which, in some cases can be beneficial and preferable to living, and dying, alone. Studies, however, show that the vast majority of elderly people prefer to spend time with their families rather than at nursing homes. If we all tried to be more like Jesus, we could work toward creating a society in which the elderly are — where possible — cared for by their own families, fostering an environment of love and reciprocity. I can also speak from personal experience that when grandparents are involved in the lives of their grandchildren, they benefit immensely. I considered caring for my grandparents an unparalleled privilege and blessing. In short, Jesus is one of the most pivotal figures in the history of mankind, as two of the world’s largest religions place him at a centerpiece. This Christmas Day, certain theological differences between Muslims and Christians will remain. These aside, Jesus’ teachings of caring for the less-fortunate and our loved ones are just a couple of the many teachings and examples of Jesus that we can use to work collectively for the social good and, in this process, improve our relations. Muslims and Christians, let’s make Jesus our inspiration to come together this Christmas Day. This is my Christmas wish.

[JP note: Santa says no.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

CAIR: New Army Policy Will Allow JROTC Hijabs, Turbans

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced today that the Department of Defense (DOD) will begin allowing Muslim and Sikh students who wear an Islamic head scarf (hijab) or a turban to participate in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC). In October, the Washington-based Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta after a 14-year-old Muslim student at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood, Tenn., was forced to transfer out of a JROTC class when her commanding officers told her she could not wear hijab while marching in the September homecoming parade.

SEE: JROTC’s Head Scarf Rule Keeps Tenn. Girl from Parade

JROTC Examines Rules After Headscarf Complaint

Video: Tenn. Muslim Student Not Allowed to Wear Hijab in JROTC (CAIR)

CAIR requested constitutionally-protected religious accommodations for the girl and for future Muslim JROTC participants.

SEE: CAIR Letter to DOD

In a December 19 letter sent to CAIR, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Larry Stubblefield wrote:

“I have been asked to respond on behalf of the Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta to your October 13, 2011 letter concerning Miss Demin Zawity’s request to wear a religious head covering (hijab) while participating in an Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) event at Ravenwood High School. Based on your concerns, the Army has reviewed its JROTC uniform policy and will develop appropriate procedures to provide Cadets the opportunity to request the wear of religious head dress, such as the turban and hijab. This change will allow Miss Zawity and other students the chance to fully participate in the JROTC program. Additionally, a representative from the U.S. Army Cadet Command will contact Miss Zawity and provide her the opportunity to rejoin the Ravenwood High School JROTC unit. The Army prides itself in being a diverse organization, comprised of individuals from many faiths and religions. We appreciate you bringing this matter to our attention.”

“We welcome the fact that Muslim and Sikh students nationwide will now be able to participate fully in JROTC leadership activities while maintaining their religious beliefs and practices,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

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CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-744-7726, E-Mail:; CAIR Communications Coordinator Amina Rubin, 202-488-8787, 202-341-4171, E-Mail:

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Congressman Claims Michelle Obama Has a ‘Large Posterior’

A congressman has landed himself in hot water after making some ungentlemanly remarks about the size of Michelle Obama’s behind.

Republican Jim Sensenbrenner was heard making the unflattering comments during a mobile telephone conversation at Washington DC’s Reagan National Airport. The rotund 67 year-old explained to the person on the phone how a woman had approached him at a church auction three weeks ago with nothing but praise for the US First Lady. Speaking loudly, he then reportedly went on to say: “She [Mrs Obama] lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself.” Mrs Obama, 47, who is said to undergo a gruelling daily fitness regime, has been involved in a prominent “Let’s Move” campaign against childhood obesity. But Mr Sensenbrenner accused the US president’s wife of hypocrisy for apparently failing to take her own advice. Since the comments were made public, he has backtracked and said he will be contacting the First Lady to apologise. A spokesman for the congressman said: “Mr Sensenbrenner was referring to the First Lady’s healthy food initiative. “He doesn’t think the government should be telling Americans what to eat. While he may not agree with all her initiatives, he plans to contact the First Lady’s office to apologise for his comments.” Mrs Obama has yet to comment on the remarks.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Historic Muslim American Newspaper Celebration Draws Hundreds to Nation’s Capital

It is estimated that one out of five D.C. residents is a Muslim or has a Muslim family member. With such a presence, the Muslim Journal, the oldest Muslim-American publication, recently came to the nation’s capital for a weekend of historic events. The festivities, themed Time to Be Grateful, featured three days of events including presentations highlighting the historical connections between African-Americans and Muslims. One presentation featured a one-man play staring Philadelphia police officer-turned actor-producer Ahmad Kenya. The play was about the nineteenth century life of Omar Ibn Sayyid. The monologue depicts the trials of Ibn Sayyid, a scholar from the West African Fulani state of Futa Torro, who in 1807 was literally one of the last Africans sold into slavery in the United States during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Ironically, the slave ship registered in Baltimore, reached its destination of Charlestown, S. C., days before the United States Navy began enforcing the 1807 Slave Trade Act, which made transport of enslaved people via the high seas a crime punishable by hanging.

This production was just one example of the history-telling featured during the Muslim Journal’s celebration. America’s Islamic Heritage Museum & Cultural Center, in Southeast D.C., also was recognized during the weekend events. Museum curator and founder, Amir Muhammad, spent 30 years chronicling the history of Muslims in America, a legacy dating back to 1312. For the past decade, Muhammad showcased his hundreds of historical artifacts as a traveling museum, making presentations to audiences around the world. Before a sold out crowd of over 500 at the Washington Grand Hyatt Hotel, Muhammad proudly accepted an award for his labor of love in which he has been aided by his wife, Habeebah.

Sharing the stage with Muhammad was the District’s Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). Norton welcomed the crowd of Muslim leaders and other dignitaries to the nation’s capitol.

“Muslim-Americans have a long history here in America, and I’m proud to be here with you,” said Norton. Ironically, days before the event Norton’s Republican colleagues on the House Homeland Security Committee, led by Congressman Peter King (NY), held a hearing scrutinizing the Muslim-American community for its members who promote or engage in violence. Why does Congressman King see fit to only focus on the Muslim community? That’s unfair,” said Norton to a receptive dinner audience. Norton’s point was underscored by the fact that conservatives in Congress have not called for similar hearings to investigate Jared Lee Loughner, accused of firing into a crowd waiting to meet Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D), killing six people, including a federal judge, and injuring Giffords and 13 others. “I am offended by this prejudice,” said Norton. Recognizing that many at the award program were fellow District residents and voters, Norton used the occasion to remind the audience that she has plenty of fight left and asked for support in her reelection campaign.


           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

In Islamic Law, Gingrich Sees a Mortal Threat to US

Long before he announced his presidential run this year, Newt Gingrich had become the most prominent American politician to embrace an alarming premise: that Shariah, or Islamic law, poses a threat to the United States as grave as or graver than terrorism. “I believe Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it,” Mr. Gingrich said in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington in July 2010 devoted to what he suggested were the hidden dangers of Islamic radicalism. “I think it’s that straightforward and that real.” Mr. Gingrich was articulating a much-disputed thesis in vogue with some conservative thinkers but roundly rejected by many American Muslims, scholars of Islam and counterterrorism officials. The anti-Shariah theorists say that just as communism posed an ideological and moral threat to America separate from the menace of Soviet missiles, so today radical Islamists are working to impose Shariah in a “stealth jihad” that is no less dangerous than the violent jihad of Al Qaeda. “Stealth jihadis use political, cultural, societal, religious, intellectual tools; violent jihadis use violence,”Mr. Gingrich said in the speech. “But in fact they’re both engaged in jihad, and they’re both seeking to impose the same end state, which is to replace Western civilization with a radical imposition of Shariah.”

New York Times, 21 December 2011

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Iran, Taliban, Al-Qaida Liable for 9/11, New York Judge Rules

NEW YORK — A federal judge has signed a default judgment finding Iran, the Taliban and al-Qaida liable in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Judge George Daniels in Manhattan signed the judgment Thursday, a week after hearing testimony in the 10-year-old case. The signed ruling, which he promised last week, came in a $100 billion lawsuit brought by family members of victims of the attacks. He directed a magistrate judge to preside over remaining issues, including fixing compensatory and punitive damages.

Daniels signed findings of fact saying the plaintiffs had established that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were caused by the support the defendants provided to al-Qaida. The findings also said Iran continues to provide material support and resources to al-Qaida by providing a safe haven for al-Qaida leadership and rank-and-file al-Qaida members.

During last week’s open-court hearing, family members of Sept. 11 victims sat through a four-hour presentation from attorneys who cited evidence supporting their claims that Iran actively assisted the hijackers of planes that crashed into the World Trade Center towers, at the Pentagon and into a field in Pennsylvania. Former members of the 9/11 Commission and three Iranian defectors also spoke.

It would be near impossible to collect any damages, especially from the Taliban or al-Qaida.

Iran has not commented on the ruling. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly denied any Iranian connection in the Sept. 11 attacks or with al-Qaida. Saudi Arabia had been knocked out of the lawsuit, but lawyers filed papers on Thursday to reinstate Saudi Arabia as a defendant.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Mich. Jews, Muslims Continue Volunteer Alliance

DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit area’s Jewish community is continuing a tradition of working with Muslims to serve their Christian neighbors while they celebrate Christmas. About 125 Muslims are expected to join about 800 Jewish volunteers Sunday for Mitzvah Day, the single largest day of volunteering by the Jewish community. It’s the third year for the team-up between Jews and Muslims. The volunteers will be helping 40 Detroit-area social service agencies at sites throughout the day. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit has sponsored Mitzvah Day for more than 20 years. This will be the third year that Muslims have joined the effort. Mitzvah means “commandment” in Hebrew and is generally translated as a good deed.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Muslim Exchange Student Helps Promote Intercultural Understanding

POYNETTE — Kae Fernandez, a foreign exchange student from the Philippines, was giving a talk to a group of elementary children and responding to familiar questions — “Have you ever seen snow?” “Do you have a McDonald’s there?” — when the topic turned serious. “What do you say when you pray?” asked Amelia Pickarts, 9, a fourth-grader at Poynette Elementary School. Fernandez, 16, who is Muslim, said later she was caught a little off guard by the specificity of the question but pleased it was asked. It cut right to the reason she’s here. Since August, Fernandez has been attending Poynette High School through a U.S. State Department program begun after Islamic extremists attacked the country on Sept. 11, 2001. The program aims to promote intercultural understanding.


           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Pennsylvania: Muslim Author Cancels School Visit After Parents Threaten Protest

Lisa Abdelsalam said she feels “like she swallowed posion” in the days since the threat of parental protests caused the Muslim mother and author to cancel a talk with students at A.M. Kulp Elementary School in Hatfield. “I have a such a sick feeling in my stomach,” said Abdelsalam, 48, who lives in Colmar with her husband and children, all of whom were or are North Penn students. Born in Lansdale, the 1981 North Penn High School graduate converted to Islam at 19, when she married her husband, who is from Egypt. As she has many times at many North Penn schools, she was scheduled to meet with several Kulp classes over four days earlier this month to discuss how she wrote and published her book, “A Song for Me, A Muslim Holiday Story,” based on her son Yoseph’s experiences at York Avenue Elementary in the 1990s.

“A Song for Me, A Muslim Holiday Story,” has illustrations based on pictures of the York Avenue school and details a Muslim boy’s efforts to fit into the holiday spirit at Christmastime.

A few days before her appearance at Kulp was to take place, Principal Erik Huebner called her. The principal, according to Abdelsalam, told her a few parents had complained about the program and threatened to bring in an outside group to protest if the classes went forward. “They did not want a Muslim or a Muslim book read in their classrooms,” she was told.

Abdelsalam, a longtime volunteer at Kulp where she previously served as president of the Home and School Association, and a current member of the district’s diversity committee, was taken aback. “I was serving pizza with these people last year,” she said. Huebner was supportive, said the author, and said she was welcome to come regardless of the protests. However, both she and the principal decided it was best to cancel, for the sake of the young students. “I didn’t feel it would be right; it wasn’t one day, it was four days over two weeks,” she explained. “It’s not a battle that should be fought in an elementary school parking lot.”, 22 December 2011

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


Controversy Grows Over Veiled Threat

Government talk of banning the niqab has some fearing a less tolerant Canada

When Minna Ella walks through the department store, she’s one of the few women who don’t get pestered by clerks trying to dole out free makeup and perfume samples. “They just look right through me,” the 35-year-old says. The reason seems clear. Whenever the mother of four leaves her house in Waterloo, Ont., she covers herself with a niqab, a Muslim veil that covers her from head to toe, leaving a slit for her eyes. She is one of an estimated 300 women across Canada living their public lives under the cover of this veil. Ella, who was born and raised in Ontario, says in the past few years, she has noticed a sense of growing anger and fear from Canadians. She says that’s particularly true since Quebec introduced Bill 94 in 2010. The bill, still working its way through the legislature, would require public employees, education and health workers, and anyone seeking government services, to have their faces uncovered at all times. The debate spread across the country and was the first in a series of moves Ella says have changed her experience of Canada. Earlier this month, Jason Kenney, the minister of immigration, citizenship and multiculturalism, announced that women will now be required to remove their face coverings during citizenship swearing-in ceremonies. Survey results from Forum Research showed widespread support for the move, with 81 per cent of respondents saying they agreed with it. In fact, a majority of the survey’s 1,160 respondents in every major category — sex, age, region and political persuasion — agreed.


           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Quebec Government Denounced by Opposition for Allowing Muslim Prison Workers to Wear Headscarf

(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) — The Quebec government, which said Tuesday it will allow Muslim women working in provincial jails to wear a head scarf, has been accused by the Opposition of caving in to an “excessive” demand. The Quebec Public Security Department passed the new rule after reaching a deal with Quebec’s human rights commission, following a complaint made four years ago. The ministry chose to enforce what it calls an “accommodation” rather than take the matter to the provincial human rights tribunal.

The Parti Québécois lambasted the government Tuesday for caving in to this “excessive” demand. “This is completely unacceptable,” said PQ critic for secularism issues Carole Poirier. “The guards are state employees and should not wear any conspicuous religious symbols, especially not in a jail where the neutrality of the state should be obvious.” The decision stems from a 2007 incident when a then-19-year-old Islamic Montrealer abruptly terminated training to become a Quebec prison guard after she refused to remove her hijab — a garment that covers the hair but leaves the face revealed. The woman [Sondos Abdelatif, pictured] had passed all preliminary tests and was about halfway through a training program at Bordeaux jail in Montreal when she was told she couldn’t wear her hijab on the job, for safety reasons. Citing her religious beliefs, the woman challenged the ban and eventually filed a complaint with the human rights commission. After a lengthy process, the commission found the Public Security Department rules were discriminatory.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Exhibition of ‘Mosques in Germany’ Concludes at IIUI

ISLAMABAD, Dec 22 (APP): A collection of photographs by German Photographer Wilfried Dechau, featuring rare glimpses of Mosques in Germany, concluded Thursday at International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI).Some stunning images of examples of Islamic architecture in Germany were exhibited with exquisite photographic techniques. The selection reflected both the artists’ shared approach to the chosen motifs and their artistic position.The show was organized by Embassy of Federal Republic of Germany in collaboration with IIUI.Wilfried Dechau travelled through Germany in order to capture places of worship of Islam in Germany in their urban context. His photos depicted the interior of the mosques,the atmosphere at Friday prayer, imams, children, men and women.

Wilfried Dechau visited different mosques in Pforzheim, Penzberg, Mannheim, Wolfsburg, Aachen, Karlsruhe, Hamburg and Stuttgart. The photographs were taken in March and April 2008. Wilfried Dechau’s photo reportage shows a collection of impressions on the theme of “Muslims and their Houses of Prayer in Germany. He rigorously pursues his goal of capturing the mosques and their settings in purely documentary form. With his choices of camera position and angle, his aim is always underscored by the inclusion of cars, streetlamps and the urban context. In this way, he positioned the mosque in relation to its surroundings.Monumentality is found, by contrast, in the more formal photographs of interiors and domes. With their splendid, delicate painted and mosaic ornaments, he made the pictures “majestic”. The character of the buildings is portrayed without photographic idealization or embellishment. The exhibition “Mosques in Germany” has already travelled both nationally and internationally to Indonesia, Turkey and Austria, Kuwait and some other places.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Italy: Vote on Arrest of Ex Govt Member for ‘Mafia Links’ Put Off

Cosentino accused of being ‘reference point’ for Casalesi clan

(ANSA) — Rome, December 21 — A House panel on Wednesday put off until January 10 a vote on a request from Naples prosecutors to arrest former economy undersecretary Nicola Cosentino on suspicion of corruption and collusion with the Neapolitan Camorra mafia.

The panel voted to give itself more time to examine new evidence presented at the last minute by Cosentino.

Next month’s vote is expected to be tight, with the position of former government ally the Northern League said to be critical.

Ex-Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party has said it will vote solidly in favour of their member and against his arrest.

If the panel votes for Cosentino’s arrest, the issue will then be put before a full session of the House, where the PdL is the biggest party.

The former PdL undersecretary, who denies wrongdoing, is accused of pressuring members of Italy’s largest bank Unicredit into providing financing for a shopping mall with alleged ties to the Camorra’s notorious Casalesi clan.

Prosecutors have claimed Cosentino was the “national reference point” for the Casalesis.

The Casalesis, whose fugitive leader Michele Zagaria was arrested earlier this month, became known to an international public thanks to writer Roberto Saviano’s bestselling 2006 book Gomorrah, later turned into a successful film that won second prize at Cannes.

Cosentino decided to resign last year after allegations of being part of a lobby that aimed to influence high-court judges in Berlusconi’s favour.

However, the former undersecretary did not give up his post as the ex-premier’s party leader in Campania, the region around Naples.

Cosentino was also accused by prosecutors in 2009 of links with the Camorra but parliament rejected an arrest warrant and Berlusconi turned down his proffered resignations from both his posts.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Toscani Comes Up With Penis Calendar

Ex-Benetton shock photographer follows up pubes edition

(ANSA) — Pisa, December 22 — Provocative former Benetton photographer Oliviero Toscani is courting fresh scandal with his 2012 calendar for a leather-tanning consortium showing close-ups of 12 penises.

Last year Toscani’s calendar for the consortium near Pisa featured women’s pubic areas, sparking protests.

Toscani’s entourage said Thursday he would unveil the new calendar at Florence’s anthropology museum on January 12 with pornstar Rocco Siffredi in attendance.

They refused to say who had posed for the calendar.

Past controversial Toscani pics have included a nun kissing a priest; a man dying from AIDS; an unwashed newborn baby with an umbilical cord attached; a bullet-ridden Bosnian war flak-jacket: a man slain by the Mafia lying in a pool of blood; gay men in affectionate poses; and an emaciated model who later died of anorexia.

His work for Benetton’s ‘United Colors’ publicity campaign also included attacks on racism, notably one with three almost identical human hearts, which were actually pig hearts, with the words ‘white’, ‘black’, and ‘yellow’ as captions.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Rome Investigation Launched Into Neo-Nazi Group

Religious leaders included on Stormfront ‘blacklist’

(ANSA) — Rome, December 23 — Rome prosecutors on Friday launched an investigation into a neo-Nazi organisation alleged to have compiled a blacklist of religious figures, politicians, journalists and judges.

The investigation into the white Supremacist organisation, Stormfront, is being led by prosecutor Pietro Saviotti who was briefed by postal police in the past few days.

The organisation is reportedly a branch of the international body founded by former head of the Ku Klux Klan, Don Black.

The blacklist includes: the Bishop of Turin Monsignor Cesare Nosiglia; Riccardo Pacifici, the President of the Jewish Community in Rome; Adel Smith, the President of the Muslim Union of Italy; and journalists Gad Lerner and Maurizio Costanzo.

According to a report in the daily La Repubblica, those on the list have been targeted because of their support for immigrants. (Photo: Gad Lerner)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mama’s Boy and Mass Murderer: Experts Disagree on Psychological State of Norwegian Killer

Psychiatrists evaluating the Norwegian man who killed 77 people this summer have diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenic psychosis. But a number of forensic psychiatrists disagree. They believe he has a narcissistic personality disorder — and can therefore be held responsible for his actions.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

The Late Roman Empire Was Not the Twilight of Popular Myth

By Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith

Far from being chaotic, Late Antiquity was stable and confident right up until the late 5th century

The ever excellent Ed West has this to say over at Telegraph blogs, while speaking about our current decline:

There are, of course, many other similarities between our age and the late Roman Empire: a declining birth rate, especially marked among upper-class women; a collapse in religious belief and the growth of a more vital and passionate monotheistic faith from the Middle East; a shrunken attachment to the ideal of the country — patriotism — and increased attachment to the state, a state which virtually all ambitious, educated people wished to work for.

It is perhaps something of a truism to compare our own age with the period of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Funnily enough, when researching my thesis, which had a chapter about Saint Augustine, I read quite a lot about what historians call Late Antiquity. Late Antiquity is a fascinating period, and for two reasons. Firstly, it is full of surprises, and secondly it is full of excellent sources, chief of which to my mind is Augustine himself. We know more about Augustine than any other ancient person (with the possible exception of the Emperor Julian) and through him we find a point of entry into the world of Late Antiquity; it is only hundreds of years later that we have a similar insight into what people were thinking and feeling, when we reach the confessional writings of the seventeenth century.

So, what can we learn from the twilight of the Roman Empire? For a start, it is a mistake to think of it as a twilight. The Empire was substantially intact at the death of Theodosius the Great in 395, and even after 410, when Rome had been sacked by Alaric the Goth, Augustine makes clear in The City of God that he thinks that Rome, though suffering a reverse, is by no means defeated. Indeed, contemporary historians now think that while the fall of the North African provinces was a huge blow, which occurred in the year of Augustine’s death, 430 AD, it was only the two subsequent failures to win them back, in 461 and 468, that doomed the West. So, even into the second half of the fifth century, people in the Roman Empire may well have been confident that the Empire was going to survive, just as it had survived the very difficult period in the third century before the accession of Diocletian.

What is very clear from reading Augustine, and even Jerome, is a strong sense of belief that these men had in the Roman idea, which was for them summed up in Virgil’s immortal line put into the mouth of Jupiter: Imperium sine fine dedi. “I grant them imperial rule without end.” Augustine and Jerome were Christians, but this idea made perfect sense to them. Rome was immortal, granted immorality not by Jupiter but by Divine Providence. Moreover, the other Virgilian tag about Rome’s role in the world, Parcere victis et debellare superbos — “to spare the vanquished and to conquer the proud” — would have made perfect sense to Christians as well.

So the world of Late Antiquity, it seems to me, had a very clear idea of itself and what it was for. This, it strikes me, is in marked contrast to our own world, which may talk of values, but rarely says what those values are. But if that is the case, why did the Western Empire collapse, for collapse it undoubtedly did? The real reason, as far as I can judge from my reading, was internal weakness caused by incessant civil wars. Roman fought Roman until the Western Empire effectively ran out of troops. The Eastern Empire was much less prone to Emperor assassination, usurpation and civil strife. But the West was essentially destroyed by its own military rulers. Alaric, after all, was, though barbarian born, a Roman general, in the pay of the Roman Empire, who sacked the City because he had not been properly paid. One of the Western Empire’s last effective military leaders was Stilicho — half Vandal, but emphatically Roman — murdered by his own son-in-law the ineffectual Emperor Honorius. These people, Goths and Vandals, did not want to destroy the Empire, rather they wanted to take it over from within, and by the fifth century had more or less succeeded. Stilicho was a pretty good ruler and general, but internal divisions did for him. In the sixth century Italy was to be devastated not by Goths, but by Justinian’s Roman armies, trying to reconquer the peninsula for the government in Constantinople.

Jerome, incidentally, in one of his letters, laments the fact that the Empire trusted men like Stilicho; I think the Empire’s mistake was not in trusting Stilicho, but not in trusting him enough. He might just have saved the West. But what are the lessons for us? Going back to Ed West’s concerns about immigration and asylum seekers, people who come to Europe from Afghanistan generally do so, I would have thought, because they want what Europe has, rather than because they wish to destroy Europe from within. Yes, there are Trojan horses in our midst, but these people are relatively few and far between; the vast majority of immigrants want to integrate, surely, as much as Alaric and Stilicho did. I am reminded of something a lady who knew a great deal about the Middle East said to me at the time of Rowan Williams’s now famous Sharia Law speech. She told me she had had women ringing her up all day, all saying the same thing: “Doesn’t the Archbishop realise that we came to Britain in order to get away from the oppression of Sharia? And now the very person who should be resisting Sharia is trying to force us back into it.” If you have read this far, you might agree with me that this is a long and rambling post. My conclusion is that like Augustine, we need to have confidence in our national myth; without it, we are lost. But we are not lost yet.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Is Religion in Terminal Decline in Britain?

by Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari

Is religion fading in Britain? According to the latest influential British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA), just released this December, half of us Brits do not belong to any religious grouping or affiliation. What’s more, more than half (56%) of those who identify themselves as belonging to a religion never attend religious services. The ratio gets worse for the young: 65% of 18-24 year olds do not affiliate to a religion, compared with 55% of the same age group (18-27) in 1983. Previous reports had already raised a number of interesting issues to humanists and a number of challenges to faith communities. Between 1983 and 2009 British attitudes towards religion, Christianity in particular, shifted significantly. For example, those who professed no-religion rose from 31% in 1983 to 51% in 2009. Those who identified as Christian fell from 66% in 1983 to 43% in 2009. And those who identified as belonging to ‘other’ religions rose from 2% in 1983 to 5% in 2009. Perhaps less surprising was that women, the old and less educated were more religious compared to men, young and better educated people.

There is no dearth of people who, with gleeful smiles, have long-expected that religion will have a slow but certain demise. The growth of New Atheism has joined a chorus of humanists and secularists advocating that religion should be “countered, criticised, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises”. In 2008 a group of them came up with a £140,000 advertisement campaign on London’s bendy buses and across England, Scotland and Wales, with the message that “there is probably no God…now stop worrying and enjoy your life”. In a tit for tat advertisement the Christian Party came up with the rebuttal: “There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life”. Ignore the word “probably” and “definitely” from these adverts and you expose a great divide that splits the population down the middle.

It is true this decline of religion is not only in Britain, but across Western Europe. According to the Centre for the Study on Global Christianity at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts: “Every major religion except Islam is declining in Western Europe.” What we are talking about here the decline of organised religions that have existed for millennia (not the new religious movements, beliefs, faiths or cults). To be more specific, for Europe, this is about the three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — all originating from the same source, Prophet Abraham’s pure monotheism. In spite of some secondary differences on theology and rituals, these three religions have left a legacy at the heart of European life. Britain having a predominantly Christian legacy, any shift in social attitude towards religion here is primarily about Christianity. However, as Judaism and Islam are now integral parts of British life, the social trend affects them as well. And in our hurry to distance ourselves from religion’s failings, we ignore its many successes too — particularly in a time of social hurt and economic confusion, when the need for belief and belonging is more crucial than ever. We risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater, if you will.

Take the issue of education. Education is at the heart of human progress. There would be little or no modern education system without the Biblical (New and Old) Testaments, as well as the Qur’anic injunctions ‘to learn’. Monasteries, synagogues and mosques have been at the heart of the historical educational infrastructure that has helped shape the learning we have today. The cross-fertilisation of the pedagogy and philosophy of Christian Europe with the Islamic world shaped European Renaissance and Enlightenment. Al-Khwarizmi invented algebra to work out religious inheritance laws, whilst Isaac Newton wanted to discover and describe the perfect mathematical order of the Creation. Religion provided the inspiration for their works. Any Muslim with basic Islamic knowledge would be aware that the first revealed word of the Qur’an was ‘Read’. Albert Einstein in his speech, ‘My Credo’, in 1932 said: “To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious.” (Einstein: A Life in Science, Michael White and John Gribbin, p. 262)

No-one can deny the fact that religion has been used to create intolerance, not only between people but within the same religious groupings, too. Europe faced this in the past; the Inquisition and Spanish Reconquista were blots on its history. The sectarian killings among Muslims in some countries and Al-Qaeda’s terrorism in recent times remind us how Islam is constantly in danger of being used in un-Islamic way. In fact, all religions can be used to foster fanaticism and hatred. While this is unacceptable, we should not accuse religion itself per se. The fact is, in human history more killings and cruelty had been carried out for political conquests, economic greed, perverted sense of nationalistic or racial superiority and ideology than for any “religious” notion. Religion is often a convenient scapegoat used by those who wish to cloak their actions in some form of righteousness, by rulers who wish to stir up a populace. The 20th century wars, destruction, banishment of people, ethnic cleansing and other cruelty has surpassed probably all the so-called ‘religious’ atrocities of the past.

As for the question whether God exists or not, this has perturbed the human mind throughout time, including even Abraham’s quest for God. Is there any scientific or empirical evidence to prove or disprove this existence? There is none. Science is not in the business of finding ‘truth’, let alone finding God. Science is about statistical probabilities based upon the experimental evidence. All scientific experimentation is subject to errors, because of confounding factors and multiple parameters. The ‘truth’ of Newtonian physics was no longer held to be absolute once it was taken over by Einsteinian physics. However this ‘truth’ of the last century is now being questioned because of the recent experiments at CERN (in search of the so-called Higgs Boson “god particle”). When a new ‘truth’ comes up, the previous ‘truth’ gives way. There cannot be orthodoxy in science.

The nature of the scientific method — which has undoubtedly led to much technological advancement over the few centuries — is that it cannot answer many questions, let alone the most difficult question of the existence of God. Probability, not truth, is science’s language and jargon. An empirical approach can never answer the question whether or not the universe was created by an external force or whether it emerged from forces within itself. One cannot test this scenario. The most that those who reject the idea of a creator can offer are ‘theories’. This is not about rubbishing science and its method: I come from a background in Physics. Nor is it to deny the respect for those who try hard to understand the processes that drive the universe and the nature of things — as Newton and Einstein both did in their time. It is about reminding ourselves of the limitations of science and conclusions one can infer from it. To apply science beyond its remit is bound to bring unnecessary disrepute to both itself and its practitioners.

The question is how does religion know that there is definitely a God? Well, there is no ‘proof’ here either. Religion starts with belief, based on the same message from all the Prophets who were known as truthful in their life. Religions, particularly Islam, demand critical autonomy from its adherents in order to see the observable world, the ‘ayat’ or signs in the creation. Prophet Abraham observed these signs, used his critical autonomy, and ‘discovered’ God. The Qur’an is replete with exhortation to keep an open mind, observe, reflect, contemplate and act for the benefit of all humans and the creation. Religion’s premise is different from that of science. Religion, when properly understood, brings ease of heart and mind and teaches love and care for all. People of faith are less likely to suffer from the confusion of ‘uncertainty’ in life.

Religion may be on the decline in Europe, but it is flourishing among some communities and in many other parts of the world. Religion can be a source of tranquil hearts and inspiration for fight against tyranny, inequality and injustice. For arguments sake, even if there is no God, human beings need one to behave responsibly on Earth.

* Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is a parenting consultant ( He is a founding member of The East London Communities Organisation (TELCO), Chairman of the East London Mosque Trust, and former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (2006-10).

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

[JP note: I imagine all articles by Bari should come with the spurious disclaimer that he is not an extremist.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Lutfuhr Rahman Cabinet Member: I Luv My Weapons

Oh dear — here’s the social networking website that Cllr Rania Khan forgot! The picture above, of a rather ferocious-looking hand dagger, is taken from Rania’s pages on the “Hi5” site. In the caption beneath it, Lutfur Rahman’s cabinet member for culture declares: “This is wat i m takin about. I knw its not lady like, but i luv my weapons.” However many “weapons” has Rania got, I wonder? The one in the pic alone is almost certainly worth two years if she’s caught with it in the street…

There’s also a delightful outbreak of homophobia (completely unprecedented on Planet Rahman, of course.) Beneath a shot of a young man with his arm round another one, Rania tenderly declares: “My cozn’s gone batty brav.” Batty is of course slang for gay in leading progressive circles, such as school playgrounds, English Defence League demonstrations, and the vocabularies of Lutfur Rahman supporters. And I’m sure the reason the two lads are holding a rose in their picture can’t be anything to do with mocking other people’s sexual orientation.

Other pictures on Rania’s site include one of the extremist cleric Zakir Naik, banned from Britain after saying that “every Muslim should be a terrorist,” and Rania herself with publicity material from the hardline Islamic Human Rights Commission, which busies itself with attacking the prosecution of such notable victims of British imperialism as — er- Abu Hamza. Visit soon before she takes them down! Rania was a keynote speaker at last month’s Fem 11 conference; one of the top subjects on the agenda was defeating violence against women. The possession of instruments of violence by women, however, seems to be something she’s held rather more mixed views on. Let’s hope Rania has grown up a bit since posting these pics — they are six years old. But when she put them up, she was only a few months off becoming a councillor. And her ghastly English is almost as bad for someone who’s supposed to be promoting high cultural standards. None of it will do much for Lutfur’s attempts to deny his links to Islamic extremism. Is there a single member of the mayor’s inner circle, I wonder, who is not a complete embarrassment?

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Muslims’ Anger Over Off-Licence Go-Ahead — Community Leaders Say They Have “Not Been Listened to”

Leaders of the Muslim community have said they have “not been listened to” by Town Hall licensing chiefs in a row over a new off-licence in Finsbury Park. The licensing committee granted permission for Finsbury Supermarket, in Seven Sisters Road, to sell alcohol last Thursday despite a petition by 750 people opposing the bid. The shop is next door to Muslim Welfare House bookshop and near Finsbury Park Central Mosque. Toufic Kacimi, director of Muslim Welfare House, stressed it was not a religious issue, but rather one about good neighbours. He said objectors were not represented properly at last week’s hearing, as they did not understand the procedure and could not match a solicitor hired by the grocery store. “We don’t want a war with our neighbours but that’s what’s happening,” he said. “This problem wouldn’t have happened if the panel had listened to our concerns properly, because a lot of people in this area have the same concerns about crime rising if there is more alcohol sold here.”

Muslim Welfare House has said it will now approach Town Hall Labour leader Councillor Catherine West and Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn with its concerns. “We have already had issues with a broken bottle being left nearby since they started selling alcohol on Friday,” Mr Kacimi added. Finsbury Supermarket owner Kayar Mustafa said the shop would insist on identification from “even those who are clearly over 18” and would refuse to serve drunks. It has cost us a lot of money to fight Muslim Welfare House, and we are just small businessmen trying to make a living,” he added. “We had a delay to our alcohol licence for a month when Muslim Welfare House decided to take us to the Town Hall and that cost us £10,000 in total. We cannot afford that again.” Cllr West said: “I am very happy to talk to Muslim Welfare House and I can understand the problem. We want to protect the community and in general there is a link between alcohol and crime levels.” Mr Corbyn said he would be meeting Muslim Welfare House to discuss the issue. “There are already plenty of off-licences in Finsbury Park,” he added.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: No Penalty for London Blogger Calling for Attacks on Jews…

Antisemitic blogger escapes prison term

A London blogger who wrote that Jews must be “attacked wherever you see them” on the Scotsman newspaper’s website has escaped jail, after pleading guilty to posting the comments.

Mohammed Sandia from Wembley said Jews were a “genetically mutated inbred tribe. Jews are not fit to breathe our air and should be attacked wherever we see them. Throw rocks at their ugly, hooked-nosed women and mentally ill children, and light up the real ovens.”

He changed his plea to guilty after initially denying the charges in November 2010. Sheriff Gordon Liddell expressed regret he could not impose a longer custodial sentence, suggesting a short sentence would “only have the effect of turning you, in your own eyes, and in the eyes of your supporters, into a martyr. I choose not to do that.”

Sheriff Liddell opted to defer sentencing for 12 months. Last week, Sandia appeared again in court, and was admonished — leaving him with a criminal record but no substantive penalty.

The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities director Ephraim Borowski welcomed the sentence as an “outspoken condemnation of Sandia’s outrageous and abhorrent postings on the Scotsman website, and a clear signal that the law will not tolerate the abuse of freedom of speech to spread hatred.”

Mr Borowski’s deputy director, Leah Granat, said: “The police and prosecutors have been fantastic — this case breaks new ground in establishing that the distributed nature of the internet does not offer protection from prosecution. The Scotsman is in Edinburgh, complaints were made in Glasgow, and Sandia was posting in London.

“This required cross-border co-operation to track down the computer [of the poster] and who it was used by. “

The Scotsman’s digital editor, Stephen Emerson, said that Sandia’s posts had been removed “five minutes after being posted.

“We make every effort to ensure offensive comments are removed promptly from the site, and co-operated fully with police throughout this investigation.”

           — Hat tip: Freedom Fighter[Return to headlines]

UK: Oh, All Right, Just One More Time …

Well, people do keep asking for another look at this little number… The colourful orange character, incidentally, has just been signed up by Catholic Voices, where he’ll feel very much at home.

PS: Some people have asked why I’ve had a go at Catholic Voices. Perhaps I shouldn’t have, since there are so many decent young Catholics supporting it — but I don’t trust the organisers.

Tags: Archbishop of Canterbury, Muppets

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Rabbi Defends His London Citizens Involvement

Senior Masorti rabbi, Jonathan Wittenberg, has robustly defended his participation in last week’s London Citizens multi-faith event, which was also attended by senior members of the East London Mosque. Rabbi Wittenberg maintained that had he not attended “there would be no Jewish voice at all. There are people in this country who never hear a Jewish voice. The face of the Jew is very easily demonised.” He acknowledged that he had never directly challenged the views of London Citizens’ deputy chair, Junaid Ahmed of East London Mosque, who gave a speech at the height of Operation Cast Lead paying tribute to Hamas terrorists. Rabbi Wittenberg said he did not realise which members of the ELM would be at the London Citizens event in a Hackney church last week. He did not and had never intended to go on the “multi-faith peace procession” with the mosque’s chairman, Mohammed Abdel Bari, and had only attended the service afterwards, where he gave a short talk on Chanucah and lit a candle. He said he did not “seek to confront people with a record of difficult views” like Mr Bari or Mr Ahmed, but would challenge abhorrent views if he were presented with them directly. “The Middle East has never, ever come up for discussion. We discuss what’s good for citizens of London.I am cautious. I have boundaries. I do not, consciously, share platforms with people who preach hate. That might even include fellow Jews. It happens, because occasionally, I am confronted by something I don’t expect, and then I consider it my duty as a Jew to challenge it. To hide away also has its dangers.”

Of Mr Ahmed’s views on Hamas, Rabbi Wittenberg said: “I was not involved in following that up, but nor did I at any point endorse his views, I certainly do not. I find them abhorrent.”

But he added: “The difficulty comes when you are invited to be somewhere, you don’t know who else will be there. At what point do you say no? It’s not a simple question. “Do you say: ‘I won’t come because in the place where somebody else worships, a year ago, something bad was said’? My view is sometimes one has to take risks, but should never do things that undermine the integrity of Judaism.” Some members of Rabbi Wittenberg’s New North London Synagogue have spoken in favour of his involvement. Micah Gold, who is also a member of the Citizens Group, said: “The East London Mosque is a legitimate Muslim community serving and supporting thousands of Muslims struggling to get on in the poor East End of London — some of our families know what that was like.”

[JP note: Useful idiot.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Tunisia: Judiciary Lifts Charges on Arafat’s Widow

Had been accused of attempted corruption by Trabelsi clan

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, DECEMBER 23 — Sohua Arafat, the widow of Palestinian leader Yasser, is no longer under the arrest warrant issued in October by the Tunis court, according to the French-language Tunisian paper Le Quotidien. Yasser Arafat’s widow had been accused — after statements made by members of Leila Trabelsi’s (wife of former Tunisian president Ben Ali) clan later proving false — of attempted corruption as part of the building of the Carthage international school. After being charged Sohua Arafat left Tunis, where she had been living for a long time, for Malta to then move to Egypt, where she is currently staying.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

How Can We Remain Silent While Christians Are Being Persecuted?

A new evil is sweeping the Middle East and the Foreign Office is failing to confront it.

Father Immanuel Dabaghian, one of Baghdad’s last surviving priests, is expecting a quiet Christmas. To join him in the Church of the Virgin Mary means two hours of security checks and a body search at the door, and even then there’s no guarantee of survival. Islamist gunmen massacred 58 people in a nearby church last year, and fresh graffiti warns remaining worshippers that they could be next. The Americans have gone now, and Iraq’s Christian communities — some of the world’s oldest — are undergoing an exodus on a biblical scale.

Of the country’s 1.4 million Christians, about two thirds have now fled. Although the British Government is reluctant to recognise it, a new evil is sweeping the Middle East: religious cleansing. The attacks, which peak at Christmas, have already spread to Egypt, where Coptic Christians have seen their churches firebombed by Islamic fundamentalists. In Tunisia, priests are being murdered. Maronite Christians in Lebanon have, for the first time, become targets of bombing campaigns. Christians in Syria, who have suffered as much as anyone from the Assad regime, now pray for its survival. If it falls, and the Islamists triumph, persecution may begin in earnest.

The idea of Christianity as a kind of contagion that is foreign to the Arab world is bizarre: it is, of course, a Middle Eastern religion successfully exported to the pagan West. Those feet, in ancient times, came nowhere near England’s mountains green. The Nativity is a Middle Eastern story about a child born to a Jewish mother, whose first visitors were three wise Iranians and who was then swept off to Egypt to escape Roman persecution. His Apostles later scattered to Libya, Turkey and Iraq, to establish the Christian communities that are now under threat. For most of history, they have coexisted happily with Muslims: dressing the same way, even celebrating each other’s festivals. The rise of the veil, and other cultural dividing lines, is a relatively modern phenomenon.

These dividing lines are now being made into battle lines by hardline Salafists, who are emerging as victors of the Arab Spring. They belong to the same mutant strain of Sunni Islam which inspired al-Qaeda. Their agenda is sectarian warfare, and they loathe Shia Islam as much as they do Christians and Jews. Their enemy lies not over a border, but in a church, synagogue or Shia mosque. The Salafists may be detested by the Muslim mainstream. But as they are finding out, you don’t need to be popular to seize power in a post-dictatorship Arab world — you just need to be the best organised. The West is so obsessed with government structure that it doesn’t notice when power lies elsewhere, and Islamist death squads are executing barbers and unveiled women in places like Basra. Two years ago, the idea of such bloody sectarianism would have sounded like a macabre fantasy in a country as civilised as Egypt. After al-Qaeda bombed a church on New Year’s Day, Muslim elders sat in the front pews forming a human shield and defying the terrorists. But moderate Egyptians are now losing this power struggle. The killing has started, with another 25 Copts murdered in October. Tens of thousands of Egypt’s Christians have already joined their Iraqi counterparts in exile: as Iraq proved, one death can lead to a thousand emigrations. The Salafists are finding it staggeringly easy to realise their fantasy of a “purer” Egypt.

The Arab Spring was always going to mean danger for religious minorities, unleashing the Islamic extremists who previously were kept at bay. For all their evil, the old secular tyrants abused their victims equally, whether they wore the cross, hijab or skullcap. This year’s revolutions are marked by the utter absence of any leaders-in-waiting. History has repeatedly shown how, under such circumstances, regime change can be followed by a descent into sectarian chaos. Extremists can easily start fights along religious or ethnic lines by assassinating a leader, or blowing up a shrine. The result can be civil war (as with Bosnia and Rwanda), even leading to partition (as with India and Cyprus). The Foreign Office has been typically slow to recognise the gathering threat, despite repeated warnings. The biggest one of all came a fortnight ago, when the Archbishop of Canterbury opened a gripping debate in the Lords about the widening persecutions, and what the Government ought to do. Lord Patten, the former education secretary, revealed that he spent a year failing to persuade the Foreign Office to help a group of Anglicans in the Anatolian peninsula, who are banned from worshipping in any public place. “‘The answer was no,’ he said. ‘They would not approach the Turkish government to ask, ‘Please can you ease up a bit?’“ But when German Catholics were having trouble in the same place, Angela Merkel’s government intervened immediately, working with the Turks to send a Catholic priest to hold public worship.

So why the British reticence? It might be that the Foreign Office sees this as part of a soppy equalities agenda, unworthy of diplomatic attention. Those who have raised the issue directly with William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, say he is unenthusiastic. When Mr Hague visited Algeria recently, he did not raise its ban on any Christian activity outside state-licensed buildings. When challenged, ministers deplore persecution in general — but, seemingly, not so much that they’d do something like pick up the phone to Ankara. Yet there is plenty Britain can do. Countries could be denied aid until Christians (or Jews, or Sunnis) are allowed to worship freely. British diplomats could be empowered, even instructed, to advocate freedom of religion. When a peer of the realm alerts the Foreign Office to some persecuted Anglicans, a red alert ought to sound. Mr Hague might even publish an annual audit of religious freedom in various countries, making clear its importance to Britain. It might make its own estimate about the scale of the flood of refugees.

The Foreign Office did not realise the full evil of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans until it was too late: it did not take civil tensions seriously enough. It can do better now, making clear that it regards religious cleansing as an emerging evil that ought to be confronted wherever it is being incubated. Article 18 of the UN Charter of Human Rights guarantees freedom of religion — and yet outright religious oppression is quietly ignored, from Saudi Arabia to the Maldives. For ages, Iran has been able to persecute Baha’is with a minimum of fuss kicked up in the West. The ayatollahs are now turning the screw on Christians, with 300 arrested in the past year. Speaking in that House of Lords debate were men to whom the idea of religious cleansing is anything but abstract. Lord (Dolar) Popat fled Uganda when Idi Amin turned on the Indians in 1971. Hindus, he said, are taught that it is a sin to be prejudiced against anyone. But it is “an even greater sin to witness persecution, then sit back and do nothing to stop it”. Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, said his parents were once victims of the same evil that now confronts Christians. He quoted Martin Luther King: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” Our friends in the Middle East are all waiting to hear from HM Government. Perhaps, in the new year, it might have something to say.

[Reader comment by andredestmartin on 23 December 2011 at approx. 09:52 am.]

A noted historian, commenting on the policy of HMG in the 19th century remarked that: “The Foreign Office always preferred the gentleman Turk to the swarthy Christian.” And so it was, after the First World War, that the allies stood idly by, watching the Christians of Asia Minor being massacred in Smyrna, and then arranged for the remnants to be moved to Greece. In the Second World War, the Germans managed to cleanse Kosovo of most of its Christians, but the job had to be finished off by NATO just over ten years ago. The Christians in Iraq were protected by Sadddam Hussein, but the West finished him off, leaving the Christians to their fate; and now most of the remaing governments in the Middle East which were not actively persecuting Christians have fallen. Outside the Lebanon, only Assad remains, but it looks as though he won’t last long. I don’t believe the Governments of Britain or America are in any way capable of helping the Christians of the Middle East, except, perhaps, to allow them to settle in the West as refugees. What is happening now is simply the logical culmination of policies which go back centuries. In fact, since the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the political interests of the West have never really favoured the well being of Oriental Christians.

[JP note: HM Government will remain silent — this is after all the hyper-dhimmi UK and it would not do to upset the masters.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Inside Syria’s Death Zone: Assad’s Regime Hunts People in Homs

The regime in Damascus is using snipers to hunt down its own people. Rebels on the ground in besieged Homs, the site of some of the most extreme brutality, say the international community is hesitating to help Syrians out of fear that it will trigger a civil war. But the threat is merely propaganda from ruler Bashar Assad, they claim.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia’s Invisible Hand in the Arab Spring

How the Kingdom is Wielding Influence Across the Middle East

by John R. Bradley

On October 4, a brief, ominous release came from the state-controlled Saudi Press Agency in Riyadh acknowledging that there had been violent clashes in the eastern city of Qatif between restive Shiites and Saudi security forces. It reported that “a group of instigators of sedition, discord and unrest” had assembled in the heart of the kingdom’s oil-rich region, armed with Molotov cocktails. As authorities cleared the protesters, 11 officers were wounded. The government made clear it would respond to any further dissent by “any mercenary or misled person” with “an iron fist.” Meanwhile, it pointed the finger of blame for the riots at a “foreign country,” a thinly veiled reference to archrival Iran.

Saudi Arabia has played a singular role throughout the Arab Spring. With a guiding hand — and often an iron fist — Riyadh has worked tirelessly to stage manage affairs across the entire region. In fact, if there was a moment of the Arab revolt that sounded the death knell for a broad and rapid transition to representative government across the Middle East, it came on the last day of February, when Saudi tanks rolled across the border to help put down the mass uprising that threatened the powers that be in neighboring Bahrain. The invasion served an immediate strategic goal: The show of force gave Riyadh’s fellow Sunni monarchy in Manama the muscle it needed to keep control of its Shia-majority population and, in turn, its hold on power.

But that was hardly the only advantage King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud gained. The aggression quelled momentum in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich eastern province among the newly restive Shia minority who had been taking cues from Bahrain. The column of tanks also served as a symbolic shot across the bow of Iran: The brazen move was a clear signal from Riyadh to every state in the Middle East that it would stop at nothing, ranging from soft diplomacy to full-on military engagement, in its determination to lead a region-wide counterrevolution…

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Syria: Damascus Suicide Attack; State TV Blames Al Qaeda

40 killed,100 injured; 14 killed in ongoing repression,activists

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT — A few hours after the arrival in the Syrian capital this morning of the first team of Arab League observers tasked with preparing the ground for the entire Arab League mission, the centre of the city was shaken this morning by two bomb attacks which Syrian state-run television claims were carried out by two Al Qaeda-linked suicide bombers. The provisional death toll stands at 40 dead and over 100 injured. In contrast with the nearby Lebanon and Iraq, Syria has rarely seen suicide attacks, and today’s has occurred in an extremely tense situation in the country, after ten months of anti-regime protests violently repressed (over 5,000 killed according to UN figures) which over the past few weeks has led to armed uprisings in some regions, such as Homs, Deraa and Idlib. Today, as has become usual every Friday on the day of Muslim community prayer, protests are underway in a number of parts of the country and anti-regime activists report that at least 14 civilians were killed this morning — for the most part in Homs — on the “Friday of the Death Protocol”: the name is in reference to the protocol signed by the Arab League and Syria on the details of the Arab League observers mission.(

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

The Perils of Journalism in Pakistan: Living in Fear of Intelligence Agents

For the second year in a row, Reporters Without Borders has named Pakistan the most deadly country in the world for journalists. The biggest threat is not terrorists, but the intelligence service, a prominent talk show moderator alleges. The same man just received an ominous warning via text message.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

New Zealand: Sonny Bill Misses Out on Muslims’ Top 500 Listing

Senior Islamic figures here say they are disappointed that All Black Sonny Bill Williams failed to make this year’s list of 500 most influential Muslims ranked by the Royal Islamic Strategic Centre in Jordan. Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand senior vice-president Javed Khan said a formal letter would be written to the centre advising them of “the existence of New Zealand’s Muslim superstar” and ensuring Williams makes next year’s list. The only New Zealand Muslim to make this year’s list is federation president Anwar Ghani, who appears alongside Muslim kings, preachers and sheikhs. The top 50 were ranked, with the other 450 named in 14 categories such as scholarly, political, business, media and celebrities and sports stars. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah again topped the list and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI climbed from fifth last year to second place. Mr Ghani was named under the “administration of religious affairs category” for agents of change responsible for founding or directing institutions that influence the religious affairs of Muslims.

The centre described Mr Ghani as having done “considerable work” in “building bridges with the Government as well as with the broader New Zealand population and leaders of other faiths”. Mr Khan said it was an honour for the federation’s president to make the rankings twice in a row, but Williams also deserved to be on the list. “Sonny Bill Williams is probably the most famous Muslim in New Zealand and, in a Rugby World Cup year, has brought the faith to prominence,” Mr Khan said. Williams converted to Islam in 2008 after attending prayer services at a Sydney mosque. “I think the only reason he was not included in the list is because these people are not aware of the existence of New Zealand’s Muslim superstar and we’ll be writing to them to make sure he’s there next year.”


1 King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia (1 last year)
2 King Mohammed VI of Morocco (5)
3 Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey (2)
4 King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein of Jordan (4)
5 Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran (3)
  Influential Muslim celebrities and sports stars
1 Zinedine Zidane, soccer (France)
2 Muhammad Ali, boxing (USA)
3 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, basketball (USA)
4 Hashim Amla, cricket (South Africa)
5 Ma Yue, wushu (China)

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria: 2 ANPP Members Denied Bail for Crticising Kwankwaso

Two prominent members of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) publicity committee for Kano State, Shehu Isa Direba and Anas Abba Dala are facing trial before a Sharia Court for criticising Governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso’s directive to all former local government council bosses and for alleged slander against the governor’s Chief of Staff, Dr. Yunusa Dangwani. The two politicians were denied bail twice — Wednesday and yesterday, even after several entreaties to secure their freedom. The duo were first arrested and detained at Nassarawa Police Division within the Kano metropolis about two weeks ago but were later released on bail, following the intervention of some ANPP chieftains in Kano.

At the court’s sitting yesterday, the two politicians were arraigned before the Unguwa Uku Sharia Court for alleged utterances capable of inciting the public against the state government. Shehu Direba on a radio political programme had criticised the governor’s directive that all former council chairmen during the Shekarau-led administration should return their official vehicles, while Dala on the same platform, alleged that the doctorate degree the chief of staff to Governor Kwankwaso claimed to have acquired was not academically acquired. Direba, in his comment said the former council bosses did not commit any offence by not returning the official vehicles allocated to them since “the law clearly provides for that” and therefore, urged them not to return the vehicles.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


UK: Illegal Immigrant Who Hacked Off Neighbour’s Head With Meat Cleaver Has His Sentence CUT by Six Years

An illegal immigrant who raped a nanny and decapitated his neighbour had his life sentence cut by six years today.

Algerian Mohamed Boudjenane, 49, assaulted the Filipina woman and shaved off her hair before killing Lakhdar Ouyahia, 43, in the belief the two were having an affair.

Boudjenane was captured on CCTV carrying the head of Mr Ouyahia in a plastic bag on a bus to Regents Canal in Maida Vale, West London.

The headless corpse was found wrapped in a duvet two days later at the back of a supermarket near Boudjenane’s home in Kilburn, North-West London.

The Algerian showed police where he had thrown the head in a canal and police divers recovered it from the water.

But he claimed he had no memory of hitting Mr Ouyahia with a hammer and hacking off his head with a meat cleaver.

Boudjenane was convicted of murder, two counts of rape and false imprisonment by an Old Bailey jury in 2008.

It also emerged Boudjenane was still claiming dole when he should have been thrown out of the country in 2001.

Judge Christopher Moss QC jailed the Algerian for life, with a minimum term of 22 years.

But the murder conviction was quashed last year after the Court of Appeal ruled the trial judge had misdirected the jury on psychiatric evidence.

When the case was referred back to the Old Bailey in September this year, Boudjenane pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

The Recorder of London, Judge Peter Beaumont QC, jailed him for life with a minimum term of 16 years after hearing he suffered from a ‘paranoid and delusional disorder’ at the time of the killing.

He said: ‘Given the extreme nature of the violence perpetrated both before and in carrying out the killing, the protection of the public, and indeed the elimination of risk to the public, is paramount.’

However, the fresh psychiatric evidence meant there should be a ‘substantial reduction’ in the minimum term originally imposed, he added.

The sentence will run concurrently with the 15-year jail term imposed in 2008 for the rape and false imprisonment offences.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

The War on Christmas is Real, And the Atheist Barbarians Are Winning it

There are two wars on Christmas: one public and baloney, one conceptual and terrifying. The first usually involves a group of “Bah! Humbug!” atheists trying to ruin everybody’s fun. Take this story from Santa Monica, California. For decades Palisades Park has displayed traditional religious tableaux at Christmas — the Virgin and Child, the three wise men, shepherds etc. But this year a lottery system was introduced to allow other religious groups to compete for spaces. Incredibly, a bunch of atheists won and were permitted to put up images of Satan, Jesus and Father Christmas, with the tagline: “37 million Americans know a myth when they see one… What myths do you see?” All good family fun.

Anti-social displays of bad taste are becoming common in the United States of America. The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue reports the following outrages: “In a South Carolina cancer center, a 67-year-old volunteer Santa was evicted because of the “different cultures and beliefs of the patients we care for” … In an elementary school in Stockton, California, poinsettias were banned but somehow snowmen were permitted; they justified their censorship by saying there was a Sikh temple in the city … A skeleton St. Nick was found hanging from a cross on the grounds of the Loudoun County Courthouse in Leesburg, Virginia.”

Getting over-excited about this sort of thing is, of course, exactly what the perpetrators want. The kind of tragic busybody who takes the time to write a letter protesting a display of poinsettias as an affront to multicultural tolerance probably spends Christmas horribly alone and is just desperate for attention. The best thing to do is to ignore them (as so many public officials have done). Or else, you could wait until they fall asleep after a marathon Battlestar Galatica session and then cover their entire front lawn in a pattern of poinsettias that reads, “Merry Christmas.”

More worrying is the insidious conversion of the religious festival of Christmas into a purely cultural phenomenon. Christians on both sides of the Atlantic have noticed with dismay that the commercial aspects of the season have been elevated (I saw crackers on sale in September) while its spiritual dimension has been squeezed out of the public sphere. I’ve said it before and I’ll write it again: the Founding Fathers never intended for faith to be excluded from public or political life. America might lack England’s established church or continental Europe’s pervasive Catholicism, but it was founded by Christians along Christian principles with the express intention of building a more Christian commonwealth. It is, at risk of sounding pedantic, a Christian nation in all but its absence of national church.

And yet the decision to ban members of the US House of Representatives from using the words “Merry Christmas” when addressing their constituents speaks volumes about the changing status of Christianity in American society. In the last few decades, it has been relegated to one religion among many, while the festival celebrating the birth of its founder has become a jolly excuse for a day off work. Modern Christmas, for most people, is about as sacramental as St. Patrick’s Day. The subversion of Christmas has as much to do with free market consumerism as it does the judicial conspiracies of the Left. Liberal preacher Eric D Barreto, writing for HuffPo, makes this wise observation, “When the Christmas season begins with pepper spray and shoving matches on Black Friday, when physical altercations break out over parking spots at the mall, when we obsess about the language of Christmas rather than its meaning, then we have certainly lost our way.” Thinking along similar lines, Christian skeptic Rachel Held Evans concludes, “The best thing that could happen to this country is for Christ to be taken out of Christmas — for Advent to be made distinct from all the consumerism of the holidays and for the name of Christ to be invoked in the context of shocking forgiveness, radical hospitality, and logic-defying love.”

But what Barreto and Evans miss is that the reduction of Christmas to profit is inseparable from a concerted intellectual effort to discredit Christianity as a worldview. Writing as guest editor of the New Statesman, Richard Dawkins — the Ayn Rand of the New Atheism — admits that he personally loves the “cultural legacy” of Christmas: “I’m happy to sing real carols, and in the unlikely event that anyone wants me to read a lesson I’ll gladly oblige — only from the King James Version, of course.” Dawkins has no intention of destroying Christmas. He would prefer to appropriate it and, by stripping it of its spirituality, reduce it from an experience of the divine to “just another holiday”. The world Richard Dawkins wants to live in is a little like the dinosaur room in a museum: full of the bare bones of old ideas, stripped of their flesh and devoid of life.

The real war on Christmas is not the effort to deprive it of a place in the public sphere, which is more like a set of small, localised skirmishes. No, the real war is the effort to strip the festival of its meaning. Christmas isn’t about brandy eggnog and mince pies, generous presents and bad TV. It’s about the birth of Jesus Christ. Take away that central truth and you are left with a holiday that lacks a message. Take away that message, and the system of morals that flows naturally from it, and you risk stripping America of its ethical foundation. There is no better example than the decision of the dean of Washington and Jefferson College to approve the display of a Christmas tree covered in condoms. This is the future: the joyless abuse of the hollow remnants of Western civilisation. It is a future that, like the rubber covered tree, points to sterility and death.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Walter Reed (Military Hospital) Accidentally Bans Bibles

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is backtracking on an order that banned family members from bringing Bibles and other religious materials to injured soldiers and a religious organization is demanding an explanation.

Issued on the date of the official consolidation of the region’s two military medical centers, the memo on visitor and patient policy contained a section stating “No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.” The Sept. 14 memo came from the desk of Rear Adm. Matthew L. Nathan, commander of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

A spokeswoman for Walter Reed told The Washington Examiner on Friday that the policy was “written incorrectly,” and that a ban on religious items was never enforced.

“Family can and always have been able to bring in any religious materials,” said spokeswoman Sandy Dean, adding that the hospital provides chaplain services for many faiths.

The medical center rescinded the policy in early December after the Family Research Council brought it to the attention of several members of Congress who then contacted Walter Reed.

“It should have been more thoroughly reviewed,” Dean said.

But FRC President Tony Perkins is skeptical.

“If you can’t get it right in a memo [from the commander], who can you trust?” he said.

The religious organization has now filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for copies of all communications regarding the making of the policy.

The policy was signed by Nathan’s chief of staff, C.W. Callahan. But Dean said a “group of people” wrote the four-page memo and could not attribute the line on religious items to one person.

Dean said the policy’s intent was to “preserve people’s religious rights,” but many have lambasted the wording, saying it was a far cry from that intent.

Iowa Rep. Steve King, one of the Republican congressmen who initially contacted Walter Reed, said through a spokeswoman that he’s not surprised the medical center is taking weeks to rewrite its policy after rescinding it this month.

“It’d be easy for me to write it — but obviously they need someone other than the original author to come up with a new idea,” he said.

Dean said she did not immediately have an update on the status of the rewrite but said officials were being careful “that the policy we do come out with is respecting everyone’s religious rights.”

           — Hat tip: McR[Return to headlines]


I Lived as a Turkey for a Year

You lived with wild turkeys in rural Florida for over a year. How did it all begin?

I had been experimenting with the imprinting phenomenon — in which young animals become attached to the first moving object they encounter — for years, with many types of birds and mammals. Wild turkeys are difficult to come by, so when I lucked upon some wild turkey eggs I decided: OK, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Did you learn to talk “turkey”?

They sort of taught me their language. Researchers had identified 25 to 30 calls in wild turkeys that I was familiar with. But I learned that wild turkey vocabulary was much more complex than I had realised — within each of their calls were different inflexions that had specific meanings. For example, they had an alarm call for dangerous reptiles, but what I learned was that in that call there were specific inflexions that would identify a species of snake. Eventually when I heard a certain vocalisation I knew without question they had found a rattlesnake.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]