Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 12/19/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 12/19/2009I haven’t included a news article about it here, but the latest word is that Harry Reid has corralled all 60 votes needed to clinch the Senate version of Obamacare. If the House and the Senate can resolve their differences, we are on the verge of the biggest government takeover in history of a private sector function.

A cold wave has descended on Europe, with ice and snow causing chaos and several deaths on German roads.

In other news, a female journalist in Saudi Arabia has called for polyandry for Muslim women, to give them equal rights with Muslim men. Islamic authorities have roundly condemned her for her idea.

Thanks to Amil Imani, C. Cantoni, Diana West, Esther, Fausta, Insubria, JP, KGS, Sean O’Brian, TB, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Cyclists, Hasidim Split Over Bike Lanes
Penetration Even at the Pentagon: Muslim Spies Setting Muslim Policy
Europe and the EU
66% of Belgians for Buddhism Classes
Austria: Memorial to Nazis’ Homosexual Victims Cancelled
Copenhagen Was the MPs’ Expenses Scandal Writ Large
Copenhagen: The Sweet Sound of Exploding Watermelons
Czech Republic: New Party to Push for Direct Democracy
EU and Vatican Sign New Monetary Accord
Fraud in Europe’s Cap and Trade System a ‘Red Flag, ‘ Critics Say
French Halal Restaurants Try Gourmet Cuisine
Germany: Ice and Snow Cause Traffic Chaos
Growth of Radical Islam Halted in the Netherlands
Leaving UN Terror Blacklists Gets Easier
Spain: The ‘Five-Days-After’ Pill Available as of Today
Switzerland: Minaret Vote Was a “Lesson in Civic Spirit”
UK: Philip Davies MP Bombarded Watchdog in ‘Political Correctness’ Campaign
Vatican: Bishop Criticises Move to Beatify John Paul II
EU: Croatia a Member by 2011, Frattini Says
EU: End of Visas Pleases Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia
North Africa
Abul Gheit Stresses Egypt’s Right to Control Border
Israel and the Palestinians
EU: Palestinian State? The Sooner the Better, Moratinos
Film: EU Project Finances Films on Palestinian Women
Gaza is Not an Islamic Republic
Middle East
Another Targeted Killing Against Mosul’s Christian Community
Arab Journalist Seeks Polyandry for Women
Diana West: The “Surge” And “Success”, Pt. 1
Iran Rejects Reports of Iraqi Oil Well Seizure as Attempt to Harm Ties
Saudi Arabia: Crew Members Stranded in Muslim Holy City
Turks Threaten to Kill Priest Over Swiss Minaret Decision (Via Nrp)
South Asia
Afghan Soldiers and Police Fight Each Other
Afghan Elders to U.S.: Let US Do Fighting
Indonesia: A Thousand Islamic Extremists, Including Women and Children, Storm a Church Near Jakarta
Sub-Saharan Africa
Somalian Men Ordered to Grow Beards
Suspected Somalia Pirates Freed by Dutch Navy
US Arrests Three Africans in ‘Al-Qaeda Cocaine Sting’
Latin America
Venezuela Imprisons Judge Who Freed Banker Without Trial
Italy: Thousands of Suspected People Traffickers Arrested in 2009
Amil Imani: Christmas Spirit and Islam
There’ll be Nowhere to Run From the New World Government


Cyclists, Hasidim Split Over Bike Lanes

NEW YORK, Dec. 9 (UPI) — Two young cyclists in the Williamsburg neighborhood in New York have been charged with repainting a bike lane removed at the request of Hasidic Jews.

Quinn Hechtropf, 26, and Katherine Piccochi, 24, surrendered to police Tuesday and were charged with criminal mischief, the New York Post reported. They were given desk appearance tickets and released.

“We’re self-hating Jewish hipsters,” Hechtropf joked.

The neighborhood at the Brooklyn end of the Williamsburg Bridge has long been a major center of the Hasidic movement. In recent years, it has also attracted young artists.

The Hasidic community complained of the 14-block bike lane on Bedford Avenue. Leaders argued the cyclists speeding by were a safety hazard and also a moral one because T-shirts and skimpy bike shorts left too much of their bodies exposed by the strict standards of the local Hasidim.

           — Hat tip: Esther[Return to headlines]

Penetration Even at the Pentagon: Muslim Spies Setting Muslim Policy

The internal threat from Muslim extremists in the military extends to high-level Defense Department aides who have undermined military policy. In fact, one top Muslim adviser pushed out an intelligence analyst who warned of the sudden jihad syndrome that led to the Fort Hood terrorist attack.

An honored guest of the Ramadan dinner at the Pentagon this September was Hesham Islam, who infiltrated the highest echelons of the Ring despite proven ties to U.S. terror front groups and a shady past in his native Egypt.

As senior adviser for international affairs to former deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, Islam ran interference for the Islamic Society of North America and other radical fronts for the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood, the subject of my new book “Muslim Mafia.”

For example, Islam persuaded brass to sack a Pentagon analyst, Stephen Coughlin, after he advised cutting off outreach to ISNA, which he accurately ID’d as part of a covert terror-support network in the U.S. — something the Justice Department recently confirmed in a major terror finance trial.

Islam invited ISNA officials to lunch with the avuncular England, known by insiders as Gullible Gordon, who in turn spoke at ISNA confabs. Islam also helped set up a Pentagon job booth at one recent ISNA convention to recruit Muslim chaplains and linguists.

Most disturbing, Islam met regularly with Saudi and other embassy officials lobbying for the release and repatriation of their citizens held at Gitmo. He in turn advised England, who authorized the release of dozens of Gitmo detainees. Some have resumed terrorist activities.

No one really knew who Islam was when he was promoted — in fact, the Pentagon removed his bio from its Web site after reporters noted major inconsistencies in it — yet he was allowed to get inside the office of the Pentagon’s No. 2 official.

“In effect,” a senior U.S. Army intelligence official told me, “we’ve got terrorist supporters calling the shots on our policies toward Muslims from the highest levels.”

Meanwhile, politically incorrect prophets like Coughlin have been frozen out. After the betrayal at Fort Hood, the military could use his analysis of Islamic doctrine more than ever.

I attended a private briefing by Coughlin in February. In a PowerPoint presentation, he detailed how jihadists use the Quran to justify their actions. Some of his slides matched almost word-for-word Hasan’s own PowerPoint slides extolling the virtues of jihad and martyrdom. Both, for instance, quoted from the same Quranic passage known as the “Verse of the Sword.”

           — Hat tip: Fausta[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

66% of Belgians for Buddhism Classes

From Dutch: About 66% of Belgians want Buddhism as as option in religion classes. Buddhism is the third most well-known religion, after Catholicism and Islam, even before Judaism.

           — Hat tip: Esther[Return to headlines]

Austria: Memorial to Nazis’ Homosexual Victims Cancelled

Plans for a monument to homosexual and transgender victims of the Nazis in Vienna have been shelved — because artists could not find the right colour for it.

Hans Kupelwieser had won a competition 2006 with plans for a 20x20 metre water basin full of pink-coloured water and the word “Que(e)r” written across it to be placed at Morzin square.

But Social Democratic (SPÖ) cultural councillor Andreas Mailath-Pokorny said the project had been called off because of a failure to find a colour suitable for daily use. He said: “We really wanted it to become a reality.”

           — Hat tip: Esther[Return to headlines]

Copenhagen Was the MPs’ Expenses Scandal Writ Large

The futile climate-change negotiations at Copenhagen revealed the same contempt for the public as the scandal over MPs’ expenses, says Matthew d’Ancona.

What I loved about Avatar, James Cameron’s stunning new 3D movie, was its spirit of innovation, and the boundless energy of the imagination behind it. Only once did my heart sink, which was when the human-turned-tall-blue-alien, Jake, apologised to the local deity, “Eywa”, that his own race had not looked after their own “Mother” and that there was therefore no vegetation left on 22nd-century Earth. Even at the multiplex, you are made to feel guilty about the recycling box. There really is no escape, is there?

The Hollywood elite long ago made up its mind about climate change and the environmentalist agenda. So too, with differing degrees of enthusiasm, have the political elites gathered in Copenhagen for the past fortnight — like a student union meeting, only with motorcades. On Friday, I listened to the Today programme’s reports on the summit: carbon markets, government-to-government funding, and cash-for-temperature deals between the developing and developed nations. Lord Stern, the author of the 2006 Treasury review on the economic impact of climate change, said he was concerned that we were going to end up “two or three billion tonnes short”. I think he was talking about greenhouse gases and acceptable levels of emissions before 2020. But one can never be sure when environmental experts get going.

In all areas of public policy, of course, there is a gap between the specialist and the man on the street: a gap created by impenetrable jargon, vested interests, and the group-think of the decision-taking elites. But where climate change policy is concerned, that gap is a positive chasm. The breaking news at Copenhagen was provided by the intransigence of the Chinese, President Obama’s intervention on Friday, the frenetic efforts behind the scenes of Gordon Brown and the Australian PM, Kevin Rudd, and the weakness of the final “accord”. But, as acrimonious as the talks between nations were, the real story of Copenhagen was of planetary negotiating failure — not between heads of government but between governments and governed. This summit has dramatised the gulf between political class and public on the global stage as clearly as the expenses scandal did on the domestic scene. In a Danish city, 115 world leaders congregated to take decisions about the way the rest of the species will behave between now and 2050. Their deliberations have not been illegitimate — as heads of government, they are entitled to negotiate at such gatherings — so much as a waste of time.

Let us, just for the sake of argument, assume that the summiteers are right about the perils ahead. The changes under discussion at Copenhagen involve behavioural change on a truly epic scale: billions of people must live quite differently, and subordinate present prosperity and comfort to what they are assured are the interests of the future. No legislation or regulation — however strict — can force such a transformation.

People must therefore be persuaded, or the rules, and the laws, and the summits, amount to precisely nothing. And, to date, they are very far from persuaded. According to a Populus poll in The Times last month, less than half of Britons believe that human activity is to blame for global warming; an ICM poll for The Sunday Telegraph earlier this month found only slightly greater support.

This being so, it is odd that ministers have been so scornful about sceptics and those who do not sign up in every detail to their position. As environment secretary, David Miliband displayed the political focus and sinew needed to make cuts in carbon emissions legally binding: the world’s first such Climate Change Bill. At the same time, however, he seemed to think that because he had made his mind up, everyone else should simply step into line.

“I think that the scientific debate has now closed on global warming,” he declared in October 2006, “and the popular debate is closing as well.” The truth is that there were, and still are, plenty of dissenters in the scientific debate, and that the “popular debate”, as Mr Miliband described it, was, and still is, in its infancy. Yet his strategy was to ridicule those who didn’t accept his orthodoxy: they were, he said, “the flat-earthers of the 21st century”.

Now Mr Miliband’s younger brother, Ed, is at the helm of the reconfigured Department of Energy and Climate Change. In a speech last month, he at least acknowledged the problem: “To make these changes requires leadership from government, but it also requires us to build and maintain consent. To take that consent for granted is a mistake and to assume we can sustain change without it would be wrong in my view too.”

Just so. But if Miliband the Younger accepts this, why did he describe those who disagreed with him in the run-up to Copenhagen as “saboteurs”? To provide the context: he was attacking his political opponents, Nigel Lawson and David Davis, and was perfectly entitled to do so. None the less, his revealing choice of the word “saboteur” — disagreement equals vandalism — sent a clear signal to every member of the public who dares to wonder what all this is about, why the changes needed are so dramatic, whether the scientific consensus is as clear as ministers say it is. “Anyone who comes forward at this moment,” Mr Miliband continued, “and starts saying ‘We can stick our heads in the sand’ is irresponsible.” Again, the message was crystal-clear. You are entitled to your opinion, as long as it’s mine.

All this should be exercising David Cameron, too — although I suspect that he has a clearer grasp of the persuasive task ahead than do his Labour opponents. Ed Miliband has emphasised the need for “strong state action”; Mr Cameron, a student of the Nudge school of public policy, favours more subtle means of changing behaviour. He also knows that trust in politicians is at such a low ebb that, for now, any instruction or diktat emanating from Westminster and Whitehall invites suspicion, resentment or contempt.

If you want a “green revolution” — and the evidence suggests that you don’t — it must truly be from the bottom up. This Government’s strategy — to sneer at the doubters — is doomed, not only because doubt is the cornerstone of democracy but because, on this specific issue, the doubters are in the majority. Copenhagen marked the end of an era: it demonstrated the poverty and self-regard of elite politics, the introspection and self-congratulation of a political class still in love with itself because nobody else will love it. The lesson of 2009, from duck houses to green summits, was that that kind of politics is dead, and a new kind is needed. Any ideas? Meanwhile: Happy Christmas.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Copenhagen: The Sweet Sound of Exploding Watermelons

I take it all back. Copenhagen was worth it, after all — if only for the sphincter-bursting rage its supposed failure has caused among our libtard watermelon chums. (That’s watermelon, as in: green on the outside, red on the inside).

As Damian reports, on Twitter they’re all planning to cleanse Mother Gaia of their polluting presence Jonestown-style.

The Great Moonbat [George Monbiot, Guardian columnist] is sounding more unhinged than ever:

Goodbye Africa, goodbye south Asia; goodbye glaciers and sea ice, coral reefs and rainforest. It was nice knowing you. Not that we really cared. The governments which moved so swiftly to save the banks have bickered and filibustered while the biosphere burns.

And Polly Toynbee is blaming the whole fiasco on false consciousness.

Most leaders in Copenhagen were out ahead of their people. Most understand the crisis better than those they represent, promising more sacrifice than their citizens are yet ready to accept — while no doubt praying for some miraculous technological escape.

Sometimes we’re inclined to dismiss Polly as a loveable comedy figure, what with her lovely house in Tuscany contrasting so amusingly with her prolier-than-thou politics, and the never ending japesomeness of her deft, lighter-than-air prose. But you know what? When she reveals her true colours, as she does here, I think she’s really, really scary. Her whole article teeters on the brink of demanding an eco-fascist world government to save us all from ourselves.

She yearns, like a woman wailing for her demon lover, for the righteous apocalypse which will teach us the error of our ways:

What would it take? A tidal wave destroying New York maybe — New Orleans was the wrong people — with London, St Petersburg and Shanghai wiped out all at once.

What she really wants, though, as you see from the plaintive, yearning tone of this sentence is global dictatorship:

As things stand, politics has not enough heft nor authority.

One day, Polly dear. One day.

UPDATE: Christ on a bike! You thought Moonbat and Pol-Pot were barking. Wait till you read Johann Hari’s tearful summation in the Independent.

Throughout the negotiations here, the world’s low-lying island states have clung to the real ideas as a life raft, because they are the only way to save their countries from a swelling sea. It has been extraordinary to watch their representatives — quiet, sombre people with sad eyes — as they were forced to plead for their own existence. They tried persuasion and hard science and lyrical hymns of love for their lands, and all were ignored.

Does he mean the man in the bow-tie from Tuvalu who wept openly for his island’s fate but on closer cross-examination — as Andrew Bolt reported — turned out to live nowhere near Tuvalu (whose sea-levels, in any case, have not risen in several decades)?

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Czech Republic: New Party to Push for Direct Democracy

Prague, Dec 17 (CTK) — The new Party of Citizens’ Rights (SPO) will be pushing for strengthening direct democracy and it will also support reinforcement of foreign anti-terrorism military missions, according to its draft programme its chairman Milos Zeman presented Thursday.

Zeman, former Czech prime minister and former chairman of Social Democracy (CSSD), presented the party’s draft programme to the SPO preparatory committee members.

           — Hat tip: Esther[Return to headlines]

EU and Vatican Sign New Monetary Accord

(ANSAmed) — VATICAN CITY, DECEMBER 17 — The Vatican and the European Union on Thursday signed a monetary accord to govern the use of the euro in the papal state. According to the Italian bishops’ daily Avvenire, the accord implies that the Vatican will adopt before the end of next year EU norms in regard to money laundering and financial fraud. The new EU-Vatican accord replaces one signed at the end of 2000, which saw the Vatican adopt the euro as its legal tender. Until then the Vatican had linked its currency to the Italian lira, which in 1999 became a subunit of the euro and ceased to exist in 2002.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Fraud in Europe’s Cap and Trade System a ‘Red Flag, ‘ Critics Say

The top cops in Europe say carbon-trading has fallen prey to an organized crime scheme that has robbed the continent of $7.4 billion — a massive fraud that lawmakers and energy experts say should send a “red flag” to the U.S., where the House approved cap-and-trade legislation over the summer amid stiff opposition.

In a statement released last week, the Europol police agency said Europe’s cap-and-trade system has been the victim of organized crime during the past 18 months, resulting in losses of roughly $7.4 billion. The agency, headquartered in the Netherlands, estimated that in some countries up to 90 percent of the entire market volume was caused by fraudulent activities.

“These criminal activities endanger the credibility of the European Union Emission Trading System and lead to the loss of significant tax revenue for governments,” Rob Wainwright, Europol’s director, said in a statement.

Launched in 2005, the Emission Trading System seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — which many scientists believe contribute to global warming — by allocating carbon pollution allowances to member states to fulfill its obligations under the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol. Companies that emit less than their allowance can sell the difference on the trading market to firms that exceed their established limits.

But, according to a diagram of the scheme provided by Europol officials, the accused traders would open an account in a national carbon registry and then purchased emission allowances without value added taxes from other companies in other countries. Those allowances were then transferred to the country where they were registered before the accused trader moves them to an unregulated broker, selling the allowances on a trading exchange, often through various buffer companies. Finally, the accused trader charges the value added tax on the transaction but does not submit that money to authorities.

France has reportedly launched a criminal probe into four men who allegedly took part in the scheme, two of whom have been jailed.

It’s a lesson to be learned, critics of cap-and-trade say. Creating such a system in the United States would invite “corruption, illegality and criminal activity,” much as it has in Europe, said Max Schulz, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

“This is the problem with politicians trying to create a market for something that the free market otherwise doesn’t value,” Schulz said. “An emissions trading market is an artificially, politically-created market…

“If we pass a system like Europe has, we’re going to get all the problems Europe has experienced,” he said. “You’re asking for a lot of problems.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said it’s no surprise cap-and-trade systems are vulnerable to corruption.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

French Halal Restaurants Try Gourmet Cuisine

In a stylishly decorated restaurant in the heart of Paris, tucked between Bastille and Place de la Nation, Sophia Tabet is perusing a typical French menu, including foie gras, beef fillet and duck confit.

But unlike other French eateries, this one offers no wine list, and all food is prepared strictly in accordance with the principles of Islamic sharia law.

“We all eat halal food. It’s nice to have a change, to be able to eat French gastronomy that’s halal,” said Tabet, 29, a customer adviser at a large financial services company.

Tabet is on a girls’ night out with work colleagues at Les Enfants Terribles, one of a new breed of up-market halal restaurants that have sprung up in and around Paris, catering to a growing population of young Muslim professionals.

Born and educated in France, they have similar culinary tastes and social lives to their non-Muslim counterparts, but eating out can be a disappointing experience, restricted to cheap fast food outlets, or the vegetarian option on the menu.

“Before, eating halal in Paris, you were pretty much limited to pizzerias or kebab shops,” said Kamel Saidi, 32, who opened Les Enfants Terribles two years ago with his brother.

“I was born in France, I grew up in France and I was frustrated because I wasn’t able to enjoy good traditional French food,” he said.

Literally translated, halal means “permissible”, and defines foods that Muslims are allowed to eat under Islamic law.

Pork is strictly forbidden, as is alcohol, both as a drink or as an additive in cooking.

Halal meat must be slaughtered in the name of Allah and the animals’ throat slit to allow blood to drain before consumption.

For Muslims, this rules out a wide range of traditional French fare, but also restricts choice in the more cosmopolitan eateries, such as Thai and Chinese, that have become a feature of the French culinary landscape.

In a country famed for its rich cuisine and passion for food, halal can therefore prove something of a social handicap.

“What if you want to invite a colleague out? You can’t really ask a French non-Muslim to the kebab shop,” said Saidi.

National Identity

France recently launched a debate on the issue of its national identity, aimed at defining its essential unifying values and reclaiming a renewed sense of patriotism.

The conversation has zeroed in on France’s mainly Muslim immigrants, and the question of whether their presence is diluting France’s social and cultural character.

But lost in this debate are the growing number of second and third generation Muslims who share the tastes and aspirations of a modern non-Muslim youth, and are seeking to reconcile their religious values with a strong sense of Frenchness.

Dhieb Lagnab, 31, of Tunisian descent, recently opened a chic Thai restaurant, Le Wok Saint Germain, on Paris’ Left Bank, tapping into a growing urban trend for international cuisine.

“Personally, as a Frenchman, I don’t identify with my parents, but more with the young generation of French people who are opening Asian restaurants,” he said.

“The only difference is that in my case, it’s halal.”

France has Europe’s largest Muslim community, estimated at some 5 million people or 8 percent of the population.

Already, the market for shop-bought halal food products is valued at 4 billion euros ($5.90 billion) and growth is expected to reach 10 percent per year up to 2012, according to a study by Paris-based consultancy Xerfi.

For Saidi, the gamble has already paid off — two years after opening Les Enfants Terribles, he is fully booked every night, and plans to open a second venue elsewhere in the city.

“The demand is big, and professionals are really starting to feel it. Halal is starting to expand everywhere,” he said.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Germany: Ice and Snow Cause Traffic Chaos

The biting cold that has blanketed Germany in snow and ice caused chaos on the roads at the beginning of the weekend, killing at least two people and causing thousands of accidents, particularly in the west of the country.

Two people were killed in the far-northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. And police in North Rhine-Westphalia counted more than 1000 weather-related accidents since the beginning of the snow falls on Friday afternoon.

The plummeting temperature caused the breakdown of the power plant for chemical firm BASF in Ludwigshafen in Rhineland-Palatinate.

The temperature at the Funtensee lake in Bavaria dropped to -33.6 degrees. Northern Germany’s highest peak, the Brocken in the Harz mountain range, had its coldest December night in 31 years: -21.7 degrees.

However the German Weather Service (DWD) is forecasting an end soon to the bitter cold, with warmer air replacing low pressure system Vincent by the end of Sunday. Temperatures were set to creep back above zero by Monday and climb to about 5 degrees on Wednesday.

Police said a 24-year-old female driver died in a collision near Neumünster in Schleswig-Holstein after she skidded on snow around a curve into the path of oncoming traffic. Similarly a 52-year-old man in the same state went onto the wrong side of the road and was killed in a collision. His wife suffered life-threatening injuries.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, 20 people were seriously injured and another 85 suffered milder injuries in accidents. The cost of accidents was estimated at about €2.5 million.

In an ice-covered carpark in the Mendig region of the Rhineland-Palatinate, a 39-year-old woman slid into parked car, shunting it into a truck and causing serious head injuries to the truck’s passenger.

Police in Bavaria counted more than 200 accidents overnight on Friday, causing several injuries, though none life-threatening.

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

Growth of Radical Islam Halted in the Netherlands

Salafism, an ultra-orthodox Islamic movement, is no longer growing in the Netherlands, Dutch intelligence agency AIVD reported on Thursday.

Nordin Akhssay (31) is still different — but on the outside, he looks just like everybody else. “If people won’t accept you for who you are, you’d better be like they want you to be,” he said.

It is Akhssay’s faith that puts him apart from other people. Akhssay returned to the Netherlands in 2004 after spending 18 months abroad studying Arabic in Damascus and the Koran in Medina. He had married a devoutly religious woman who bore him a son they named Sayfuddin, meaning “sword of the faith” in Arabic. But when Akhssay returned to Helmond, a town of some 80,000 in the south of the Netherlands, he found his strict faith and long beard made it all but impossible for him to find a job. “I was turned down at every place I applied for one,” Akhssay said. “Sometimes they ended up picking someone who was obviously less competent than me.”

Salafism no longer on the rise in Netherlands

His 1609 publication Mare Liberum was part of a larger work in which Grotius investigated the nDutch intelligence agency AIVD published a report on salafism in the Netherlands on Thursday. The rapid growth of this fundamentalist Muslim movement has ground to a halt, the report noted. Salafist centres in the Netherlands have ceased to be a hotbed of terrorism. “People with jihadist ideals are barred from Dutch mosques these days,” an AIVD analyst said.

According to the AIVD, salafi still preach their “anti-assimilatory” and “intolerant and isolationist” ideals in more intimate settings.

Nordin trimmed his beard down a bit and was promptly hired, but was still greeted with suspicion at his new job. “People would address me using infantile language, thinking I couldn’t speak Dutch,” Akhssay said. He drew stares walking down the street in his traditional Islamic garb.

Some might call Akhssay a salafi. “If somebody wants to label me as such, that’s their business,” he said. Still, his appearance today does little to betray his faith. On the night of this interview, conducted at a hip diner in Eindhoven, he was wearing a striped sweater. His chin bore only the faintest of goatees.

Salafism, an ultra-orthodox Sunni Islamic movement which seeks to return to Islam’s earliest roots, is no longer gaining ground in the Netherlands. The salafi movement grew rapidly the last few years, with especially young people joining its ranks, but now that expansion has ground to a halt, Dutch intelligence agency AIVD concluded in a report it published on Thursday, titled Resistance and Counterforce.

The salafist gospel, or dawa, is meeting with growing resistance, the AIVD notes. Moderate Muslims have become more vocal, and the salafi themselves have also loosened up in their religious convictions. “The salafi lifestyle is very demanding for young people,” an AIVD analyst explained. “Once you start a family you don’t have the time to pray five times a day anymore.”

Salafi believe there is only one true, pure strain of Islam: that of the ‘pious predecessors’, or Salaf us Salah. These predecessors consist of the first three generations following the prophet Muhammad, who died in 632. The movement has its earliest roots in eighteenth-century Saudi Arabia but has since spread all over the planet. During the decolonisation of the Muslim world, some salafists combined their orthodox convictions with political activism. Al Qaeda traces its origins back to this politicised strain of Islam.

The first salafist groups in the Netherlands were formed in the 1990s, but they went relatively unnoticed until the attacks of September 11, 2001. Months later, in January of 2002, two boys from Eindhoven were killed under suspicious circumstances in Kashmir. According to the AIVD, they had been recruited to participate in violent jihad by a recruiter working in the Al Furqan Mosque in Eindhoven. The same year, 12 people were arrested on suspicion of recruiting people for jihad. The El Tawheed Mosque in Amsterdam and the As Sunnah Mosque in The Hague also got a lot of bad publicity, promoting the thinly veiled suggestion these Dutch salafist centres were practically Al Qaeda employment agencies.

Akhssay grew up in a Catholic neighbourhood in Helmond, attending a local Catholic primary school. He said his teachers there were the first to make him feel “different” When he went to a mosque for the first time in his life — the Omar Ibn Khattab Mosque, a local mosque affiliated with Al Furqan in Eindhoven — he didn’t even know how to pray properly. A fellow student from his school, Amr Nejjar, asked him over and introduced him to the close-knit community of youngsters attending the Al Furqan Mosque. He became a fanatical believer almost overnight, praying before sunset, studying and discussing tenets of Islam. “You really want to do your best at everything,” Akhssay recalled the time when he first found his faith. He may have become a believer, but by no means did he become acquiescent. When a jihadist visited his mosque, preaching the blessings of martyrdom, Akhssay retorted by asking him why he didn’t go off to fight jihad himself.

Studying in Saudi Arabia, Akhssay witnessed the break-up of the orthodox movement. He saw some salafi become increasingly politicised and more radical. Others felt good Muslims did not rebel against authority. Even the Dutch students in Medina disagreed on the matter.

On returning home in 2004, Akhssay faced a harsh welcome. Muslim extremist Mohammed B. killed Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in the same year. The word ‘salafi’ had become practically synonymous with ‘terrorist’. Al Furqan’s familiar imams were soon deported by Dutch immigration agencies.

Akhssay decided to adapt. “I am putting on a charade though,” he said. On the inside, he said he has not changed. Perhaps he does not frequent the mosque on a daily basis any more, but his son Sayfuddin attends an Islamic primary school, and he has named his second son Nasrdin, Arabic for “victory of the faith”.

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

Leaving UN Terror Blacklists Gets Easier

Switzerland and other countries have convinced the United Nations Security Council to simplify the delisting procedure for people affected by anti-terror sanctions.

With the creation of an ombudsman’s office, individuals or companies will have an independent review body to which they can submit their grievances and demand their removal from a blacklist.

Since 1999, the council has imposed on member states obligations that include travel restrictions, financial sanctions and arms embargoes against people and entities associated with al-Qaida and Afghanistan’s Taliban.

There are 500 names currently on the UN’s blacklist, but until now only a Security Council committee has decided who joins — or is struck off. There has been no independent delisting procedure for those affected by the sanctions.

Switzerland pointed out this shortcoming early on and in 2005 launched an initiative with other countries to correct this situation, criticised by various courts and parliaments as a lack of protection of individual rights.

Last year a concrete proposal to set up a review body was submitted to the council. It stipulated that sanctioned people or entities had the right to know why and the right to appeal.

The proposal was accepted on Thursday by the council. The new ombudsman, appointed by the UN secretary-general, will review cases independently and submit the reasons for decisions to the council’s sanctions committee.

“Paradigm shift”

Speaking for the group of nations that had backed the proposal, the Costa Rican representative on the council welcomed the decision, calling it a “paradigm shift”. He said the move was a “brave and decisive step towards a fairer and more transparent procedure”.

The group includes Denmark, Germany, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Finland and Norway.

The Swiss foreign ministry said in a statement that the rights of individuals would now be taken into account at the international level and the legitimacy of the United Nations system of sanctions would be strengthened.

It also promised that Switzerland would closely follow the implementation of the new resolution.

The lack of independent review body had been highlighted in the Swiss parliament.

Swiss role

Dick Marty, a senator for the centre-right Radical Party and a member of the Council of Europe, had tabled a motion demanding that UN sanctions no longer be applied if a person had been blacklisted for more than three years, no new proof had been supplied against that person and there was no way of appealing the decision.

Marty has had the sanctions procedure in his sights for some time. He also submitted a critical report to the Council of Europe, the continent’s human rights watchdog.

While the Senate unanimously accepted the motion, the government rejected it because Switzerland as a UN member was bound to apply the organisation’s sanctions.

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey promised though that Switzerland would attempt to ensure that a fairer procedure for the lifting of anti-terror sanctions would be introduced.

On Thursday Swiss diplomats said the Security Council decision should go a long way to answering Marty’s criticism of the sanction system.

Rita Emch in New York, (Adapted from German by Scott Capper)

The Youssef Nada case

Youssef Nada was placed on the UN blacklist in autumn 2001. The US government had accused al-Taqwa, which was founded in 1988 by its Egyptian managing director Nada, and his Syrian associate, Ali Himmat, of helping to fund Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.

Al-Taqwa was put under investigation shortly after the terror attacks on Washington and New York on September 11, 2001.

Swiss officials froze 24 Nada bank accounts and searched company officials’ homes and offices on November 7, 2001 — the same day that the organisation was accused by Washington of financing terrorist acts.

The company operated out of the southern canton of Ticino until it was liquidated in December 2001.

Nada and Himmat repeatedly denied any connection with Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network and accused the Swiss authorities of taking part in an American-led anti-Muslim campaign. After three-and-a-half years of investigations, the Swiss authorities dropped the case.

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

Spain: The ‘Five-Days-After’ Pill Available as of Today

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, DECEMBER 18 — Following the day after pill which was made legally available two months ago, as of today Spanish chemist shops will also be able to sell the five-days-after pill, an emergency contraceptive that can be taken in the 120 hours following an unprotected sexual relation. The pill, sold under the name EllaOne, will only be available with a medical prescription, unlike the day after pill. The contraceptive, which has been available since September in the UK, France and Germany, is not hormonal and acts on progesterone regulation sensors and is five times more powerful in inhibiting pregnancies compared to the post-coitus pill, which, as explained by the Spanish contraception Foundation, only works in the 72 hours following sexual intercourse. It comes in the form of a single pill which costs 32.78 euros and, according to experts, has secondary effects that are similar to those of the day after pill: headaches, stomach aches, tiresomeness, delay or lengthening of the hormonal cycle. Experts warn that the pill can only be taken in case of emergencies and should not be taken regularly. According to Isabel Serrano, president of the Family Planning Federation, it will be able to help to lower the number of abortions practiced in Spain, which in 2008 amounted to 115,000.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Minaret Vote Was a “Lesson in Civic Spirit”

Two weeks after voters approved a ban on minaret construction, the rightwing Swiss People’s Party deputy Oskar Freysinger gives his reading of events.

In French-speaking Switzerland Freysinger became the voice of the yes side. He recently defended the minaret ban, accepted by 57.5 per cent of voters on November 29, in a debate on the Arab television channel al-Jazeera.

Freysinger rejects outright the argument that the yes vote stemmed from fear and ignorance and he deplores the fact that people have used the result to attack direct democracy. The anti-minaret vote has provoked a huge amount of comment and criticism both in Switzerland and abroad. What struck you most from what has been said and written on this subject?

Oskar Freysinger: What stays with me, is that the focus slipped very quickly from minarets to direct democracy. Two camps emerged: the elite who said that direct democracy was anti-democratic and against human rights, which is a total paradox, and the defenders of popular rights, who, while recognising that it is not ideal, nonetheless think that the system is the best possible, because it allows people to feel involved and to have an outlet of expression.

In Europe, people envy us. I’ve received a huge number of emails from France and elsewhere. People regret that they do not have the instruments to allow them to express their will. In fact Switzerland, at the heart of Europe, has just given an incredible lesson in civic spirit, against the politically correct, against the elites, against the media and against the monumental pressure of uniform thought. That could give ideas to the people who surround us, and that is feared by the European intelligentsia. But are the people truly always right? Can they not also make mistakes?

O.F.: Let’s say it’s like the dogma of papal infallibility: the pope is always right in questions of faith, not in the absolute. The people are always right because the system makes them right. Determining who is right and wrong is always complex.

As a politician I have lost plenty of votes with the electorate. You have to accept it and deal with the situation, even if that is extremely difficult, as with the free movement of people [between the EU and Switzerland] today. A lot has been said about this being a vote based on fear. What is your take on that?

O.F.: Based on the thousands of messages and reactions I received, I can detect the tendencies. Throughout the campaign, it was not fear that dominated but a cool reflection, relatively specific and neutral in tone about what Islam is and its doctrinal incompatibility with our state based on law. On this subject I also received some information that was useful to me during the debate. It is not therefore a purely irrational and ill-informed vote, as has often been said.

As for the yes voters, some of them are proponents of self-determination who believe that our identity should be protected during this time of open borders which make it impossible to regulate migration flows. There was also the yes vote of the Catholics who did not follow their leaders, as well as a yes vote by women. Many of them told me that they never vote for the People’s Party, but that on this subject, they felt the threat of a particularly patriarchal religion. Several recommendations have been made, the creation of a constitutional court, a new article on tolerance, in a effort to “correct” this vote. What do you think of that?

O.F.: The decision of the people acts as law. If we want to change this article in a few years’ time because Islam no longer presents a problem, the people alone will be able to modify the situation. Replacing the vote by an article that covers everything, which would have the disadvantage of penalising all religions would be superfluous because tolerance is already enshrined in the Constitution and Swiss laws.

As for a constitutional court, it is a system imaginable in a country where the parliament alone determines the laws. But in Switzerland the people are sovereign. Introducing a system like that would go back to muzzling the people. In any case, what makes lawyers better able to distinguish what is for the best or worst for the citizens? What would you say to those who reproach you for having taken the risk, with this initiative, of destabilising the peaceful integration of Muslims in Switzerland, most of whom are non-practising, and making them turn inwards to their community?

O.F.: This complaint does not hold up. I distinguish three categories among Muslims. The non-practising, who, by definition, are free from religion and therefore indifferent to the presence or not of a minaret or even a mosque. Then there are those who live the religion as a personal choice and a private affair. These are the ones who pay today for the damage inflicted by the third category, that is those who do not accept that civil law should be placed above religious dogma. Financed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, this fringe, the most demanding, also bears a responsibility in this vote. The day after the yes vote, several extreme right parties in Europe welcomed your initiative. What are your ideological affinities and differences with these movements?

O.F.: I’ve heard this confusion with the extreme right and fascism for a long time. But the differences are substantial. The first is that the People’s Party defends democracy and the state of law absolutely without restriction. Another difference, we do not believe you should reject the other simply because he is different, that is racism and xenophobia.

On the contrary, the behaviour of a person who comes to Switzerland is not irrelevant. What gets us branded as racists is that we attack the dysfunctional behaviour imported through immigration. But it is the behaviour that we denounce, and not the colour of the skin or where the person comes from.

Carole Wälti, (translated by Clare O’Dea)

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

UK: Philip Davies MP Bombarded Watchdog in ‘Political Correctness’ Campaign

A Tory MP has bombarded the government’s equalities watchdog with a series of extraordinary letters about race and sex discrimination, in a one-man campaign against “political correctness”.

In the latest of 19 letters sent since April 2008, and likely to dismay equal rights campaigners, Philip Davies asks Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission: “Is it offensive to black up or not, particularly if you are impersonating a black person?”

In a postscript to the letter, he asks “why it is so offensive to black up your face, as I have never understood this”.

Davies, MP for Shipley and “parliamentary spokesman” for the Campaign Against Political Correctness lobby group, also asked:

  • Whether the Metropolitan Black Police Association breaches discrimination law by restricting its membership to black people. He compared this to the BNP’s whites-only policy, which the far-right party has now agreed to change.
  • Whether the women-only Orange prize for fiction discriminates against men.
  • Whether it was racist for a policeman to refer to a BMW as “black man’s wheels”.
  • Whether it was lawful for an advert for a job working with victims of domestic violence to specify that applicants had to be female and/or black or ethnic minority.
  • Whether a “Miss White Britain” competition or a “White Power List” would be racist, after Phillips justified the existence of Miss Black Britain prizes and the Black Power List. “Is there any difference legally or morally than publishing a white list? Do you think this entrenches division?”
  • Whether anti-discrimination laws ought to be extended “to cover bald people (and perhaps fat people and short people)”.

Phillips (or on one occasion an adviser) answered each letter at length, with the exception of the last query, to which the EHRC chairman gave a succinct reply: “The answer to your question is no.”

On the Metropolitan Black Police Association, Phillips said its membership criteria might be protected as a professional, trade or members’ organisation, although this would be for a court to decide…

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Vatican: Bishop Criticises Move to Beatify John Paul II

Vatican City, 18 Dec. (AKI) — Archbishop of the Belgian capital Brussels, Godfried Maria Jules Danneels, has criticised Pope Benedict XVI for what he considers to be special treatment for fast tracking the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II.

“I think that the normal procedure (for beatification) has to be respected. If the process itself moves fast, it is fine, but sainthood does not need preferential treatment. The process must take all the time it needs, without exceptions” said Danneels — also a cardinal in the Roman Catholic church — in an interview with monthly magazine ‘30 Giorni’.

“The pope was baptised just like all the others, thus the beatification procedure should be the same for all of those who were baptised,” he said.

Moves to beatify John Paul II received a boost when Benedict waived the usual five year waiting period for John Paul II, in May 2005.

After calls were expressed for the sainthood of John Paul II during his funeral in 2005, Danneels strongly opposed it.

“Of course I did not like people yelling ‘Saint Now’ during the funeral in St. Peter’s Square. It can’t be done like this. Some time ago, they even said this was all a previously orchestrated initiative and this is unacceptable. To carry out beatification by public acclaim is unacceptable,” said

Danneels made the remarks a day before Pope Benedict XVI is expected to authorise a decree which would pave the way for the beatification of John Paul II, who died in 2005.

The decision would move the pontiff one step closer to canonisation and full sainthood.

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


EU: Croatia a Member by 2011, Frattini Says

(ANSAmed) — ROME, DECEMBER 16 — Croatia as a member of the European Union “would be achievable by 2011”, said Italian Minister Franco Frattini in a hearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee at the Chamber of Deputies on the results of the European Council meeting last week. “Italy,” said the head of the Foreign Ministry, “is a leading country and we insisted on not blocking Serbia and Croatia’s path process towards integration.” He added that Croatia had been negotiating for two years and “by 2011 it will certainly become a member.” As concerns Serbia, on the other hand, the minister announced that on December 21 a group of young Serbians would be visiting the foreign ministry “for their first visit in the EU without a visa”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU: End of Visas Pleases Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, DECEMBER 18 — From midnight tonight visa requirement for visitors from Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia to the Schengen area will be abolished. Ahead of the coming into force of the new regime, the interior ministers of the three affected countries have issued a joint communiqué of celebration with their citizens. “With the abolition of the visa requirement, our citizens can now enjoy freedom of movement, thus confirming their membership of the European family”, the three ministers, Ivica Dacic (Serbia), Ivan Brajovic (Montenegro) and Gordana Jankulovska (Macedonia) said. Press agencies are reporting that the ministers have expressed their hope that citizens of Bosnia and of Albania “will have EU support for the freeing of their visa regimes as soon as possible”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Abul Gheit Stresses Egypt’s Right to Control Border

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, DECEMBER 18 — Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit has stressed Egypt’s full right to control its borders and keep its terriroty well-protected. In an interview with Al-Ahram Al-Arabi magazine out Saturday, reported by MENA today, Abul-Gheit said the Palestinian cause is close to the heart of every Egyptian, who sacrified a lot for the cause and it is ready to sacrifice even more but …..Egypt’s land and security are very precious. He regretted the fact that certain Palestinian leaderships seek to seize power which to them is more important than healing the rift between the Palestinians. He urged Palestinian leaderships to consider the consequences and repercussions of their acts. The idea of holding a peace conference in Moscow is still on the table, he added, and rejected a peace process that would result only in wasting time and holding futile talks. “French President Nicolas Sarkozy discussed with his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak during his visit to Paris in July means of reviving the peace efforts and Mubarak highlighted certain points that would render these efforts successful”, Abul-Gheit said. For these efforts to succeed, Abul-Gheit said the US should take action in the Middle East peace process and attention should be focused on pushing forward peace negotiations. The international community, especially the UN, should offer guarantees that a sanctioned final settlement would be reached, he said, adding that at this point the Palestinians would not fear to go ahead. Asked if the Middle East peace process would hamper the Union for the Mediterranean as happened with the Barcelona process, Egyptian Foreign Minister said the Barcelona process was economically motivated although the political work seemed to be the main player. He added that the union’s meeting at the foreign ministers level was halted because Arab top diplomats do not want to meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Projects of the union came to a standstill because so far members of the union’s secretariat and the secretary general — who are in charge of implementing the ventures — have not been elected, he said. He accentuated that the union’s secretary general and the general secretariat members will be elected ahead of the union’s summit to be held in Barcelona in June. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

EU: Palestinian State? The Sooner the Better, Moratinos

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, DECEMBER 18 — The sooner Palestine has its own state the better, said Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, speaking today at the presentation of a conference of the Spanish EU presidency, which will begin on January 1. “My dream,” said Moratinos, responding to questions by journalists on the role of the EU in the Middle East peace process, “it to see the creation of a Palestinian state, which lives in peace with Israel. The sooner it happens the better.” The Spanish presidency “will fight” to reach this objective, added the Spanish foreign minister, working in all ways possible with all parties involved and “encouraging” the Israelis and Palestinians to resume negotiations. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Film: EU Project Finances Films on Palestinian Women

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, DECEMBER 18 — The condition of women in the Palestinian Territories was the topic focussed on by four films financed by the EU with the Masarat project. The initiative, reports ENPI’s website (, aims to raise a debate about the role of women in Palestinian society and taboo subjects such as incest. This idea gave rise to four 15-minute documentaries, which were screened at dozens of associations, cultural centres, and universities, and also broadcast by local TV stations in the West Bank. The most successful film was a drama on incest and the code of silence for women who are victims, entitled “Golden pomegranate seeds”. Other topics discussed were adolescent love, with a story about a group of friends, while another was about the difficult situation of women farmers, who work in the field for entire days, and another focussed on the path between tradition and modern society summarised in a portrait of a 70-year-old iconoclast, who married for love, but wears a veil, is a widow and a foreman.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Gaza is Not an Islamic Republic

From Dutch: A Dutch journalist visits Gaza. At the border crossing he sees how the border guards throw out beer they’ve found in one foreign car entering Gaza. Fawzy Barhoom, Hamas spokesperson explains they need to be consistent. Alcohol is haram and banned in Gaza, and they can’t impose that on their own people without also asking foreigners to comply. “We are a moderate Islamic party, but we see to enforcing some important Islamic values. That is our duty.” The journalist’s conclusion: Gaza is not an Islamic republic, there’s no Sharia law there.

           — Hat tip: Esther[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Another Targeted Killing Against Mosul’s Christian Community

Gunmen kill a 30-year-old man on his way home. One attacker gets out of the car to make sure he is dead. The last liquor store is closed in the province of Babylon, and its owner is arrested. Iraq is drifting towards fundamentalism and the Islamisation of the country.

Mosul (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Mosul’s Christian community has suffered more violence. Zeid Majid Youssef, a 30-year-old worker, was killed in the western part of the city. One of his attacker got out of the car to make sure he was dead. In another sign that Iraq is drifting towards fundamentalism, authorities in the province of Babylon closed down the last liquor store in the area, this despite the fact that the separation of state and religion is enshrined in the constitution.

A few days after a double attack against churches in Mosul left an eight-day baby girl dead, anti-Christian attacks continue. Sources had told AsiaNews that community “was destined to die”.

The attackers drove up and shot dead Zeid Majid Youssef as he as entering his home after parking his car.

Mohammad Abdel al-Jabbar, who saw what happened, said that one of the criminals “got out of the car to make sure that he was dead” before the car took off “quickly”, execution style.

Local sources said that the young man was buried in the cemetery near the Immaculate Church, in Tahira. In the past, the building has suffered a lot of damage as a result of two car bombs.

The murder is part of a plan to “ethnically cleanse” Iraqi Christians through targeted killings.

Speaking with AsiaNews Mgr Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, had slammed what was happening as the national government and the local governatorate proved unable to stop events, and the city’s various ethnic groups, Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen, with possible foreign involvement, blamed each other.

In the province of Babylon, 90 kilometres south of Baghdad, the authorities closed down the last liquor store. It belonged to a Yazidi family, and the storeowner was arrested by police on Monday.

Firas Sardar, 25, said that his uncle “Mourad, 45, was stopped by some agents . . . Since then we have not seen him.”

The man’s son explained that plainclothes police officers intervened because “neighbours had complained about shouting and noise caused by clients.”

Firas Sardar said that Hilla, the capital of the province of Babylon, has only two Yazidi families, related to one another. Both have involved in the sale of alcohol for more than 40 years.

Until the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein, they were properly authorised to do so. At present, Islamic fundamentalists have grown in power and are exerting pressure to implement fully Sharia, Islamic law, which bans the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages.

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

Arab Journalist Seeks Polyandry for Women

Saudi journalist stirs row after publishing article in favor of polyandry for women in Muslim world

A Saudi female journalist stirred a row in Egypt after publishing an article in favor of polyandry for women.

The piece, published in the al-Masri al-Yaum newspaper, promotes the notion that women should be allowed to marry several partners, similarly to the right enjoyed by Muslim men. According to Islamic law, a man is allowed to be married to four different women at any given time, as long as he treats them equally.

However, journalist Nadin al-Badir suggested that polyandry be permitted to both women and men. The female writer also proposed that Muslim men be banned from marrying more women merely because they are bored with their current partners.

According to a BBC report Friday, a parliament member already filed a lawsuit against the newspaper for publishing the provocative item.

As could be expected, the article also elicited angry responses among Muslim clerics, who argued that the ideas presented in it are anti-Islamic and that the journalist had no right to attack tradition.

However, one cleric defended the article, claiming that it did not constitute an attempt to promote polyandry among women, but rather, it aimed to expose readers to the suffering of women as result of their husbands’ conduct.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Diana West: The “Surge” And “Success”, Pt. 1

The main reason the “surge” in Afghanistan is on is because the conventional wisdom tells us the “surge” in Iraq “worked.”

The problem is, the Iraq surge did not work. Yes, the U.S. military perfectly executed its share of the strategy — the restoration of some semblance of calm to blood-gushing Mesopotamian society — but that was only Step One. The end-goal of the surge strategy, Step Two was always out of U.S. control — a fundamental flaw. Step Two was up to the Iraqis: namely, to take the opportunity afforded by U.S.-provided security (Step One) to bring about both “national reconciliation” and, as the powers-that-were further promised, the emergence of a U.S. ally in the so-called war on terror.

Step One worked. Step Two didn’t. The surge, like an uncaught touchdown pass, was incomplete. The United States is now walking off the battlefield with virtually nothing to show for its blood, treasure, time and effort. In fact, another “success” like that could kill us.

Take the state of post-surge U.S.-Iraq investment lately in the news. Remember “blood for oil,” the anti-war mantra of the Left? “Blood not for oil” is more like it. Not only did Paul Wolfowitz’s prediction that Iraq would pay for its own reconstruction with oil revenue never come true; not only did the United States never get to fill up one crummy Humvee for free; but when Iraq staged one of the biggest oil auctions in history last week, U.S. companies left empty-handed. Russia, China and Europe came out the big winners.

“Strange,” said industry experts, which is one word for it. What’s also shocking is Iraq’s apparent willingness to denigrate the United States by showing favoritism to hostile nations (that sacrificed nothing in Iraq’s war), and disregard for American interests in the war’s (supposed) aftermath.

Such benefactor-abuse fits a pattern of what you might call Iraqi de-Americanization.

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]

Iran Rejects Reports of Iraqi Oil Well Seizure as Attempt to Harm Ties

TEHRAN, Dec. 19 (Xinhua) — Iran on Saturday rejected the reports that an Iraqi oil well was taken over by Iranian armed forces as an attempt to harm the relations between the two neighboring countries, the official IRNA news agency reported.

“Foreign media made unfounded allegation … and attempted to disrupt friendly relations between Iran and Iraq by propaganda campaign,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying.

“Iran and Iraq currently enjoy friendly and excellent ties,” he said. “Those who are not satisfied with such friendly ties between the two countries try to create rift by spreading improper language.”

300 Christian leaders accused of sexual abuse

From Norewgian: In the past 13 years, 300 leaders of Norwegian churches and Christian organizations were accused of sexual abuse. Only 30 denied the allegations.

           — Hat tip: Esther[Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: Crew Members Stranded in Muslim Holy City

Thirty Flyglobespan crew members are stranded in the Muslim holy city of Medina in Saudi Arabia.

The airline had a contract to carry passengers between Delhi in India and Medina for the Hajj pilgrimage.

Flyglobespan captain Bob Lee revealed that the crew members have been confined to their hotel for at least four days because, as non-Muslims, they are not allowed to move around the city.

           — Hat tip: Esther[Return to headlines]

Turks Threaten to Kill Priest Over Swiss Minaret Decision (Via Nrp)

Slap to religious freedom in Switzerland leads to threat over church bell tower in Turkey.

ISTANBUL, December 15 (CDN) — In response to a Swiss vote banning the construction of new mosque minarets, a group of Muslims this month went into a church building in eastern Turkey and threatened to kill a priest unless he tore down its bell tower, according to an advocacy group.

Three Muslims on Dec. 4 entered the Meryem Ana Church, a Syriac Orthodox church in Diyarbakir, and confronted the Rev. Yusuf Akbulut. They told him that unless the bell tower was destroyed in one week, they would kill him..

“If Switzerland is demolishing our minarets, we will demolish your bell towers too,” one of the men told Akbulut.

           — Hat tip: Esther[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghan Soldiers and Police Fight Each Other

Ahmad Fareed is not shy about his battle scars. As he slowly got up from a couch he was sitting in at an Afghan army base, he lifted up his long, brown shirt. A line of scar tissue ran from his sternum down to his waistline, where it disappeared into his pants. “An IED exploded while I was patrolling on foot near Deh Rawood,” he said. “The Taliban detonated it remotely.”

Fareed (21) may be out of action for a while, but he has not lost his lust for battle yet. “We will kill all these bomb-makers,” he said dryly. “I feel terrible being stationed so far from home, but we are doing this for our nation.” Like many Afghan soldiers stationed in the southern province Uruzgan, Fareed is from the north of the country.

Fareed doesn’t have the faintest idea when the Afghan military will be able to operate without international support, but governor Asadullah Hamdam wants armed forces to assume control in Uruzgan within thee years. President Hamid Karzai wants all of Afghanistan to follow in five. American president Barack Obama wants to start handing over responsibilities to the Afghans by 2011. The Afghan army is supposed to grow from 97,000 to 159,000 strong within the next 18 months. The police force is supposed to increase its ranks from 94,000 to 123,000.

Success in Afghanistan has remained elusive after seven years and 15 billion dollars in expenses. An extra 30,000 extra troops and an additional 7,000 soldiers from other Nato partners should now bring stability to the war torn country and they should educate Afghan police and military forces to take over and cape the country safe. Obama hopes to be able to determine whitin a year whether his new Afghanistan strategy is working.

“We are building the track right in front of the wheels,” said British brigade general Simon Levey, looking out over the largest military training centre in the country, near Kabul. Training is quick and dirty, Levey explained. “We are not building a Rolls Royce here. We are building a really rugged 4x4. It is all we need to beat the Taliban.” According to the general, 12,000 recruits train in Afghanistan every day already. The training grounds cover 20,000 square acres, encompassing twenty shooting ranges. New barracks, fit for thousands of soldiers, are currently under construction.

Recruiting new soldiers will not be the biggest challenge the Afghans face. Holding on to them is. According to the international command staff in charge of the military and police training programmes, 16 percent of Afghan soldiers leave the army annually. The drop-out rate is even higher within the police force. The generals do not want to speculate too much on the root cause of the problem, which is currently being investigated. Officers’ abuse of power is said to play a role, as is the long distance separating recruits from home, and their fear of combat.

Mohammad Khory (35) left the army after five years of service because he felt discriminated against. Six months after joining the Afghan air force he was stationed in Kandahar, in the perilous southern part of the country. Khory is a member of the Hazara ethnic group, which has long been subject to discrimination by the Pashtun and Tajik, the country’s two largest ethnic groups. “The Pashtun and Tajik always got the best weapons and the best rooms to live in,” Khory said, speaking of his time in the armed forces. “They were promoted more quickly and transferred to the safer parts of the country, while the Hazara were left behind in Kandahar.” When his commanding officer, a Pashtun, publicly accused him of supporting the Taliban, Khory decided to go AWOL.

He is now pleading the Hazara case with president Karzai. “If he disappoints me I will not hesitate to take up arms,” he said decidedly. “There is a silent majority out there waiting to take action against this government.”

Problems in the police force are worse than in the army, the interviewed generals said. Of the 94,000 police officers, only 25,000 to 30,000 have received specific training for their duties, even though they are exposed to the greatest risks. They are often charged with manning small, poorly protected posts in remote areas and are an easy prey for the Taliban. According to the Afghan Deputy minister Munir Mangal, 950 police officers were killed in the last nine months, while 300 Afghan soldiers were killed in the same period.

There are 1320 police officers stationed in Uruzgan, 600 of which have completed basic training. They have been unable to secure even the direct surroundings of the provincial capital of Tarin Kowt. The finding of the decapitated corpses of a 16-year old boy and a 28-year old man on the edge of the town earlier this month served as a morbid reminder of that fact. No one in the town dared collect their bodies, even after the mosque called upon the citizens to do so.

An additional 900 officers are supposed to join the ranks of the local police force within the next year. To speed up their training the eight-week programme will now compressed into a six week period, with the number of instruction-hours remaining the same. The programme includes a daily hour of writing lessons. After the recruits have completed the course, they are able to write their own name and that of their district. “Ultimately, they should be able to write reports for the local prosecutor’s office,” said Jeffrey van Horn, a Dutch major who is involved with the recruits at Camp Holland, the main Dutch base in Uruzgan. “But that is a long term goal.” To achieve it, the police will have to give the local population a sense of security, which will be difficult if it doesn’t weed out corruption and drug use from its own ranks first.

According to their international trainers, poor cooperation between the military and the police is also an issue. Mutual distrust runs high between both organisations. In a nutshell: the military feels all police are corrupt, while the police think the military doesn’t understand local issues, because they are commonly recruited in parts of the country far away from where they are stationed.

The distrust between army and police has led to violence twice this month in Tarin Kowt, when petty squabbling escalated into armed conflict. At least four civilians were killed and — according to some sources — more than ten police officers and soldiers as well. Only one man ended up in a holding cell on an Afghan army base: a soldier who failed to show when he was called upon to fight the police.

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

Afghan Elders to U.S.: Let US Do Fighting

As we flew in to Forward Operating Base Frontenac, the terrain was mountainous — jagged hills cropping up suddenly in the middle of southern Afghanistan’s lunar rocky landscape.

But the day — the whole trip — was like a flashback to Iraq. There was Admiral Mike Mullen speaking to the troops, telling them their new strategy is to protect the population, just as previous commanders had done with troops in Anbar, and Mosul, and Baghdad in 2006 and 2007.

“We can tactically win,” the admiral said. “But if we’re killing local civilians we’re going to strategically lose.”


Mullen pulled up his chair to their table, instead of sitting across the room from them at the executive table set up for him. Then he pulled out a notebook, and asked them to tell him what they need.

They did not hold back. For two hours, while Mullen’s staff kept cups of tea coming, the admiral heard everything from demands for a new dam (or two, if we Americans could swing it), to complaints that their young men need an army training facility built in Kandahar, instead of having to go all the way to Kabul, where the elders say their southern Pashtun ways make them the butt of abuse from Northerners.

But the most striking message of all was this: Stop fighting for us.

“You must understand our culture,” one said. “It’s insulting for you to die for us. We should be dying to take back our country, not you.”

That was the lead in to his demand that the Americans start sending more money and training their way. “One of your soldiers costs a million dollars a year. One of ours costs $6,000. So spend that money on us, and we get 165 of our soldiers for one of yours.” Mullen told him he had a good point, and carefully wrote it down in his green spiral notebook.

Of course, the elders did add that they wanted their forces to continue fighting alongside U.S. forces, because the Americans have air support. “If we are fighting with you, and we need an air strike, it comes right away,” one elder said. “If we’re on our own . . . “

Not so much, he essentially shrugged.

I’d never seen a four-star admiral taken to task like that. But that’s exactly what Mullen was looking for — the unvarnished, sometimes unrealistic demands of the locals that he doesn’t hear all the way back in Washington.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Indonesia: A Thousand Islamic Extremists, Including Women and Children, Storm a Church Near Jakarta

The building was near completion and was to be used for Christmas Mass. Local Catholics are afraid that more attacks could take place during the festive season. Police and local authorities urge Catholics to celebrate the service anyway.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — Last night a crowd of angry Muslims, including women and children, attacked the Church of Saint Albert, in Bekasi Regency, about 30 kilometres east of Jakarta. The situation is now under control but the local Catholic community is afraid of an escalation before Christmas.

Kurniadi is a member of the committee charged with the church’s construction. He told AsiaNews, “Suddenly, a bunch of bikers arrived in the area where the church stands.” They had banners and kerosene tanks. “We don’t know why we were attacked,” he said.

Kristina Maria Renteana, who was present when the Church was attacked, said, “The mob had about a thousand people,” not only men, but “women and children” as well.

Running around in cars and motorbikes is a tradition for Indonesian Muslims during “national celebrations.”

Last night was the first day of the Islamic New Year, the start of the month of Muharram. Local sources told AsiaNews, on condition of anonymity, that the “crowd was made of people from Tarumajaya and Babelan”, two villages in North Bekasi where Islamic extremists are a majority.

Saint Albert’s Church, a chapel that is part of Saint Arnold’ Church in Bekasi, was not yet finished. Started on 11 May 2008, it had the required building permit for places of worship and was 80 per cent complete. Workers had finished the walls and the roof. Only ceramic floor tiles had to be laid.

Although not yet finished, it was set to host Christmas Mass for the local Christian community.

Now it is damaged but police and government authorities have urged the parish priest, Fr Joseph Jagadwa, to go ahead with the Mass anyway.

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Somalian Men Ordered to Grow Beards

Al Qaeda-linked Islamist authorities in southern Somalia have ordered men to grow beards and shave off moustaches, officials and witnesses said on Saturday.

“In order to ensure the complete implementation of the Islamic sharia law in the region, we call upon all men to grow their beard and shave their moustache,” Sheik Ibrahim from the Shebab group told reporters in Kismaio.

“Anybody found ignoring the rules or breaking it will be punished accordingly.”

He said the order will be implemented in three days in the port town of Kismaio.

           — Hat tip: Esther[Return to headlines]

Suspected Somalia Pirates Freed by Dutch Navy

A group of suspected Somali pirates detained on a Dutch warship has been released because no country has agreed to prosecute them.

A Dutch defence ministry statement said the European Union had decided that the 13 detainees had to be freed because it was impossible to bring charges.

The suspects were seized in the Indian Ocean two weeks ago after allegedly attempting to attack a cargo ship.

They were put back on their own speedboat with some food and fuel.

They had been on board the Dutch warship Evertsen since early December after they were tracked down following the alleged attack on the Antigua and Barbuda-flagged cargo ship MV BBC Togo failed.

Regret at release

The European Union naval force said ladders, grappling hooks, nine automatic weapons, grenades and other ammunition were found on board their skiffs.

“The European Union has tried in vain since their arrest to find a country which would agree to prosecute them,” the defence ministry statement said.

“The defence ministry regrets that the European Union has not found a suitable solution,” the statement added.

Although the EU had signed agreements with the Seychelles and Kenya to help press charges against suspected pirates, “the two countries indicated they did not want to prosecute the pirates”, the ministry said.

Differences over laws concerning the arrest of pirates have hampered efforts to curtail piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

There has been just a handful of pirate prosecutions outside Africa.

Warships from around the world are patrolling the Indian Ocean to try to fend off attacks in some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991 and the lawlessness has spread from land to the water in recent years.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

US Arrests Three Africans in ‘Al-Qaeda Cocaine Sting’

A court in the US has for the first time charged suspected members of al-Qaeda with plotting to traffic cocaine in order to fund terrorism.

The three suspects, who are believed to be from Mali, were extradited to New York from Ghana.

They were arrested this week in an operation involving informants posing as Colombian leftist rebels.

The suspects allegedly offered al-Qaeda protection for moving cocaine from West Africa through the Sahara to Spain.

They arrived in the US on Friday and were ordered to be held without bail after a brief court appearance. They did not enter pleas to charges of narco-terrorism conspiracy and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, US officials said.

Washington has long been concerned about close ties between militants and the heroin trade in Afghanistan but the African case appears to show an expansion of both al-Qaeda’s global operations and the US response, The Associated Press news agency reports.

Lebanese cover

The US authorities say the men are associates of al-Qaeda’s North African branch and had told US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informants that al-Qaeda could protect major shipments of cocaine in the region, driving the drugs by lorry through the Sahara desert.

All in their 30s, the suspects were named as Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure and Idriss Abelrahman.

Unsealed court papers say Mr Toure and Mr Abelrahman at one point claimed the profits from the drug business would “go to their people to support the fight for ‘the cause’“.

The DEA infiltrated the group by using informants posing as supporters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc.

In particular, the DEA used a French-speaking informant posing as “a Lebanese radical committed to opposing the interests of the United States, Israel, and, more broadly, the West and its ideals”, court papers say.

The informant claimed in secretly taped conversations that the Farc were looking for a secure means of smuggling drugs through western and northern Africa on the way to Europe.

During the negotiations, the al-Qaeda suspects allegedly offered to move cocaine from west Africa to north Africa for about 3,000 euros ($4,200) per kilo.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Venezuela Imprisons Judge Who Freed Banker Without Trial

CARACAS — A Venezuelan judge arrested after releasing a banker imprisoned for nearly three years without a completed trial has been sent to a prison where her life is in danger, her lawyer said Friday.

Judge María Afiuni, 46 years old and with eight years on the bench, arrived Thursday afternoon at the National Institute of Feminine Orientation, a prison for women on the outskirts of Caracas, according to her lawyers.

Some critics say the arrest is further evidence of what they see as a collapse of checks and balances in Venezuela’s justice system under President Hugo Chávez, a self-declared socialist revolutionary who has been in power 11 years. Mr. Chávez staffed many courts with “transitional” judges, seen as friendly to him, that were never replaced, and he expanded the Supreme Court with allied magistrates.

“This government doesn’t care if she lives or dies,” said one of her lawyers, Sandy Guevara. “She’s in the prison with inmates she likely sent there.”

Officials at the Venezuelan Prosecutor’s Office, which ordered the arrest, didn’t answer telephones Friday afternoon.

On Dec. 10, Ms. Afiuni ordered Eligio Cedeño to be released on parole after reviewing his case and finding he had been in jail for 34 months without any conviction.

Ms. Afiuni’s lawyers say the judge was following the letter of Venezuelan law, which permits no more than two years of pre-trial detention. While Mr. Cedeño went on trial beginning in 2008, it was suspended after several months of deliberations amid procedural issues, and a verdict was never reached, according to lawyers and media reports.

Mr. Cedeño, who at the time of his arrest was the president of a Caracas bank, was charged with skirting strict foreign-currency regulations. His lawyers deny the charges.

On the same day Ms. Afiuni ruled to free Mr. Cedeño, police arrested her. The next day, Mr. Chávez called her a “bandit” on national television and said she should be jailed for 30 years for freeing Mr. Cedeño.

On TV, Mr. Chávez alleged that Ms. Afiuni and Mr. Cedeño together cooked up the plan to release him. He added that in the days of 19th-century South American independence hero Simón Bolívar, Ms. Afiuni would have been executed by firing squad for what she did.

Ms. Afiuni has been charged with corruption, accessory to an escape, criminal conspiracy and abuse of power.

Lawyers for both Mr. Cedeño and Ms. Afiuni deny government assertions that their clients were somehow working in league ahead of Ms. Afiuni’s decision to release him.

Mr. Cedeño, whose lawyers contend he was held because of his opposition to Mr. Chávez, hasn’t been seen publicly since he reportedly hopped on the back of a waiting motorcycle last week outside the courthouse.

His parole requires him to stay in Venezuela and return for a court hearing later this month. His lawyers say he left the country with no immediate plans to return, arguing that the judge’s parole conditions are no longer valid given her arrest.

Critics, including three United Nations human-rights experts, said Ms. Afiuni’s arrest is troubling and called for her immediate release. The Caracas Bar Association says it supports Ms. Afiuni’s order to free Mr. Cedeño and condemned her arrest.

Ms. Guevara, the attorney for Ms. Afiuni, said she had filed a motion Wednesday for the judge’s temporary release from detention, or to at least have her moved to a holding cell away from INOF, as the National Institute of Feminine Orientation is known. She expressed little hope of anything being processed quickly. Many courts close this week for the holidays and don’t reopen until early next year.

Ms. Afiuni is being kept in a cell apart from the general population, Ms. Guevara said. That has provided little comfort for Ms. Afiuni and her family, Ms. Guevara added, citing lawlessness in Venezuela’s prison system and saying guards are aware of Mr. Chávez’s anger toward her.

Attempts to reach the prison weren’t successful.

Last year in Venezuela, 422 prisoners were killed out of a total prison population of about 23,000 inmates, said the watchdog group Venezuelan Prison Observatory

           — Hat tip: Fausta[Return to headlines]


Italy: Thousands of Suspected People Traffickers Arrested in 2009

Roma, 18 Dec. (AKI) — A total 4,737 suspected people traffickers were arrested and 78 vehicles were confiscated this year in operations to combat illegal immigration, Italian tax police said on Friday in their annual report. The government has vowed to clamp down on the tens of thousands of people who enter Italy illegally each year.

Under a law enacted in July, people entering Italy without permission face fines of up to 10,000 euros and immediate expulsion.

Italian tax police chief Cosimo D’Arrigo presented the annual report, which covered operations to counter illegal immigration, trafficking and organised crime, as well as terrorism, money laundering, piracy and counterfeiting.

The report said tax police had uncovered a record 35 billion euros in unpaid taxes owed by 8,000 individuals and companies this year. The tax police also said they had confiscated suspected mafia assets worth 2 billion euros — twice the amount seized in 2008.

Tax police reported 397 people for illegal financial operations this year, compared with 314 in 2008. They seized 396.5 million euros and arrested 150 people in 310 anti-money laundering probes.

They also carried out 313 inspections of ‘money transfer’ centres suspected of involvement in financing international terrorism.

As recently last month, two Pakistanis who ran a money transfer business in the northern city of Brescia were arrested on suspicion of helping finance the Muslim militant group held responsible for the attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai in November 2008 that killed at least 170 people.

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


Amil Imani: Christmas Spirit and Islam

This is the time of the year that the air is filled with everything Christmas. There is something for everyone: gifts for family and friends, prayers at churches, and Christmas music everywhere. It puts me in a contemplative mood, particularly when I hear the delightful Christian refrain, peace on earth, goodwill to men. This is the gift I want. This is my Christmas. When there is peace on earth and all people dispense and receive good will.

Yet, I am saddened to see the world as it is, particularly with what Islam is doing to it, which is the exact opposite of working for peace and extending goodwill to all people.

My contemplation takes me to the genesis of Islam. Something I have come to view as a scourge of humanity, and here are a few of my random thoughts about the founder of Islam: the person who launched a religion that has denied peace to mankind right from the start, the person who advanced a religion that began with war, continues with war, and aims to carry on with bloodletting to the end of time. All this makes me think and shake my head in bewilderment.

Starting with the premise that an all-knowing powerful God is the creator of this awe-inspiring universe where we humans are an infinitesimally insignificant part of his creation humbles me. Muslims call this creator Allah—a recast of one of 360 idols in the pre-Islamic Idolatry of Mecca—and attribute numerous superhuman qualities to him. It is awe-inspiring to realize that a being of that description may indeed exist.

That leads me to some questions: Why would such an indescribably exalted creator, with his ascribed boundless wisdom and resources, pick an illiterate Bedouin to become his prophet for then and forever? The man himself, Muhammad, admitted in the Quran to his own illiteracy. Yet, Allah persisted in choosing this man? Was Allah bored with the rest of his universe and playing a joke on us helpless mortals? Or was it a case of Allah not being able to get any reasonably literate man to take the job?

I don’t have an answer to this or a bevy of other questions and the answers I have seen so far from Muslims are far from satisfactory…

           — Hat tip: Amil Imani[Return to headlines]

There’ll be Nowhere to Run From the New World Government

‘Global’ thinking won’t necessarily solve the world’s problems, says Janet Daley

There is scope for debate — and innumerable newspaper quizzes — about who was the most influential public figure of the year, or which the most significant event. But there can be little doubt which word won the prize for most important adjective. 2009 was the year in which “global” swept the rest of the political lexicon into obscurity. There were “global crises” and “global challenges”, the only possible resolution to which lay in “global solutions” necessitating “global agreements”. Gordon Brown actually suggested something called a “global alliance” in response to climate change. (Would this be an alliance against the Axis of Extra-Terrestrials?)

Some of this was sheer hokum: when uttered by Gordon Brown, the word “global”, as in “global economic crisis”, meant: “It’s not my fault”. To the extent that the word had intelligible meaning, it also had political ramifications that were scarcely examined by those who bandied it about with such ponderous self-importance. The mere utterance of it was assumed to sweep away any consideration of what was once assumed to be the most basic principle of modern democracy: that elected national governments are responsible to their own people — that the right to govern derives from the consent of the electorate.

The dangerous idea that the democratic accountability of national governments should simply be dispensed with in favour of “global agreements” reached after closed negotiations between world leaders never, so far as I recall, entered into the arena of public discussion. Except in the United States, where it became a very contentious talking point, the US still holding firmly to the 18th-century idea that power should lie with the will of the people.

Nor was much consideration given to the logical conclusion of all this grandiose talk of global consensus as unquestionably desirable: if there was no popular choice about approving supranational “legally binding agreements”, what would happen to dissenters who did not accept their premises (on climate change, for example) when there was no possibility of fleeing to another country in protest? Was this to be regarded as the emergence of world government? And would it have powers of policing and enforcement that would supersede the authority of elected national governments? In effect, this was the infamous “democratic deficit” of the European Union elevated on to a planetary scale. And if the EU model is anything to go by, then the agencies of global authority will involve vast tracts of power being handed to unelected officials. Forget the relatively petty irritations of Euro-bureaucracy: welcome to the era of Earth-bureaucracy, when there will be literally nowhere to run.

But, you may say, however dire the political consequences, surely there is something in this obsession with global dilemmas. Economics is now based on a world market, and if the planet really is facing some sort of man-made climate crisis, then that too is a problem that transcends national boundaries. Surely, if our problems are universal the solutions must be as well.

Well, yes and no. Calling a problem “global” is meant to imply three different things: that it is the result of the actions of people in different countries; that those actions have impacted on the lives of everyone in the world; and that the remedy must involve pretty much identical responses or correctives to those actions. These are separate premises, any of which might be true without the rest of them necessarily being so. The banking crisis certainly had its roots in the international nature of finance, but the way it affected countries and peoples varied considerably according to the differences in their internal arrangements. Britain suffered particularly badly because of its addiction to public and private debt, whereas Australia escaped relatively unscathed.

That a problem is international in its roots does not necessarily imply that the solution must involve the hammering out of a uniform global prescription: in fact, given the differences in effects and consequences for individual countries, the attempt to do such hammering might be a huge waste of time and resources that could be put to better use devising national remedies. France and Germany seem to have pulled themselves out of recession over the past year (and the US may be about to do so) while Britain has not. These variations owe almost nothing to the pompous, overblown attempts to find global solutions: they are largely to do with individual countries, under the pressure of democratic accountability, doing what they decide is best for their own people.

This is not what Mr Brown calls “narrow self-interest”, or “beggar my neighbour” ruthlessness. It is the proper business of elected national leaders to make judgments that are appropriate for the conditions of their own populations. It is also right that heads of nations refuse to sign up to “legally binding” global agreements which would disadvantage their own people. The resistance of the developing nations to a climate change pact that would deny them the kind of economic growth and mass prosperity to which advanced countries have become accustomed is not mindless selfishness: it is proper regard for the welfare of their own citizens.

The word “global” has taken on sacred connotations. Any action taken in its name must be inherently virtuous, whereas the decisions of individual countries are necessarily “narrow” and self-serving. (Never mind that a “global agreement” will almost certainly be disproportionately influenced by the most powerful nations.) Nor is our era so utterly unlike previous ones, for all its technological sophistication. We have always needed multilateral agreements, whether about trade, organised crime, border controls, or mutual defence.

If the impact of our behaviour on humanity at large is much greater or more rapid than ever before then we shall have to find ways of dealing with that which do not involve sacrificing the most enlightened form of government ever devised. There is a whiff of totalitarianism about this new theology, in which the risks are described in such cosmic terms that everything else must give way. “Globalism” is another form of the internationalism that has been a core belief of the Left: a commitment to class rather than country seemed an admirable antidote to the “blood and soil” nationalism that gave rise to fascism.

The nation-state has never quite recovered from the bad name it acquired in the last century as the progenitor of world war. But if it is to be relegated to the dustbin of history then we had better come up with new mechanisms for allowing people to have a say in how they are governed. Maybe that could be next year’s global challenge.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


WAKE UP said...

"...a female journalist in Saudi Arabia has called for polyandry for Muslim women, to give them equal rights with Muslim men. Islamic authorities have roundly condemned her for her idea."

Oh what a surprise.

In Hoc Signo Vinces† said...

@Copenhagen Was the MPs’ Expenses Scandal Writ Large

"The lesson of 2009, from duck houses to green summits, was that that kind of politics is dead, and a new kind is needed. Any ideas?"

Loads of movement forward for 2010here at GoV, hope Copenhagen marks the beginning of the end of neoliberalism.

X said...

Localism. Pulling most power back down to the most local level. All of our current problems stem from the centralisation of power in the hands of a very few people, who have no need or desire to listen to us.