News Feed 20111006

Financial Crisis
» £7bn Rise for Greedy Eurocrats
» A Possible Scenario for the End of the Euro
» Bank of England Governor Mervyn King Says Financial Crisis Could be “The Most Serious We’ve Ever Seen, “ as Markets Rally for a Second Day on £75bn Quantitative Easing Plan.
» EU Urges ‘Coordinated Action’ To Recapitalise Banks: Barroso
» Greeks Strike, 20,000 March on Parliament
» Liberate Greece From Its Elites
» Ordinary Greeks Turning to NGOs as Health System Hit by Austerity
» The Ticking Euro Bomb: How a Good Idea Became a Tragedy
 
USA
» CAIR: DOJ Analyst Claims Muslims Threaten ‘Our Values’
» Hate, Money, Community: Exploring CAP’s Islamophobia Report With Wajahat Ali
» KU Professor Teaches Sharia Law at CGSC
» Protests Planned at GMU Law for Anti-Islam Speaker
» Saudi Passenger Disrupts Flight Bound for Indianapolis
» Wham, Bam, Thank You, Islam!
» White House Intervened to Block Notorious Islamophobes Addressing Security Conference
» Why Won’t Liberals Listen to Reason
» Worldwide Caliphate Rising?
» You’ve Got Asteroids: Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan Reborn as Space Rocks
 
Europe and the EU
» Italian Company Makes Plastic From Sugar Beet Waste
» Italy: Judiciary Under Pressure Acquits Knox
» Italy: ‘Come on Hot Chick(s)’ New Party Name Says Berlusconi
» Muslims in Spain Declare Jihad on Dogs
» Sweden: Petrol Station Slammed for Roma Discrimination
» Swiss Cantons Bid Farewell to Mushroom Inspector
» Technology: Samsung Aims to Block Apple’s Latest iPhone in Italy, France
» UK: EDL Leader Slams Academics’ Report
» UK: Oppose Racist and Fascist EDL ‘Angels’ At Downing Street
» UK: Southend Councillor Suspended for EDL Links
» UK: Watered-Down Terror Law Threatens Public, Warns Peer
» US Concerns Over Nuclear Smuggling Between Europe, North Africa
 
North Africa
» Attacks Against Coptic Churches, Part of a Plan to Expel Egypt’s Christians
» How Egypt’s Regime Ended
» Libya: Sirte Hospital Hit by NATO and NTC Bombardments
» Tunisia: Armed Libyans Arrested After ‘Illegally Crossing Border’
 
Middle East
» Erdogan Says Israel is a Threat to the Region
» South Africa: A Grand Mosque Rises
» Syria: After Amnesty Reported Her Decapitated, Zainab Al-Hosni Appears on TV
» Turkey: Israel, Greece and Russia Mobilising Over Cyprus Gas
» Turkey: Several Universities Still Insist on Headscarf Ban
 
Russia
» The Paradoxes of Russian Orientalism
 
Caucasus
» Chechnya: Gleaming City Rising From Ruins Can’t Hide Psychic Scars of a War
» Hollywood Stars Help Chechnya Leader to Celebrate His Birthday
 
South Asia
» Afghanistan: Police Trainers Have Little to Do in Kunduz
» Afghanistan: Girl, Eight, Sold as Bride to Police Officer
» Bishop Says Christians Increasingly Under Attack in Indonesia
» Charbaran 2: Been There: Done COIN … & Took Pics
» India’s Nuclear Future Put on Hold
» Indonesia: Islamic Movement Protests Against Shoppings Malls
» Pakistan: Armed Group Kills Christian Over Disputed Land in Punjab
 
Australia — Pacific
» Spreading the Word
 
Sub-Saharan Africa
» Nigeria: 1.2m Beggars Roaming Zamfara Streets — Gov Yari
» Nigeria: Religious Group Advises Oyo Govt Against Indiscriminate Demolition of Mosques, Churches
» Uganda: Arab Investors Pump Shs 12 Billion Into Local Bank
 
Immigration
» Germany Loses German Face
» UK: Theresa May Was Meowing Up the Right Tree on Human Rights
 
Culture Wars
» Archbishop Attacks Cameron’s ‘Gay Marriage’ Plan
» UK: If Gay Marriage is Recognised, Why Not Multiple Sharia Marriages?
» UK: Why Conservatives Should Support Gay Marriage
 
General
» Apple: Steve Jobs Has Died
» Comets Created Earth’s Oceans, Study Concludes
» Huge Mars Crater an ‘Intriguing’ Target for Next NASA Rover
» Internet Mourns the Death of Apple Founder Steve Jobs
» Remembering Steve Jobs: The Apple Generation Loses Its Visionary
» Steven Paul Jobs, 1955-2011
» Will the Aliens be Nice? Don’t Bet on It

Financial Crisis


£7bn Rise for Greedy Eurocrats

MONEY-grabbing Brussels bureaucrats brought fresh insult to hard-pressed British taxpayers yesterday by awarding themselves an inflation-busting 4.9 per cent rise in the EU’s annual budget.

Despite austerity cuts across Europe, and the Eurozone crisis, the European Parliament’s budget commission voted for an extra £7billion to take its total budget for 2012 to £114billion.

           — Hat tip: Kitman [Return to headlines]



A Possible Scenario for the End of the Euro

There are a growing number of people who have envisioned what the end of Europe’s common currency might look like. Most agree that it will be chaotic. But will it? We might actually not even notice that it has failed until it is long gone.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



Bank of England Governor Mervyn King Says Financial Crisis Could be “The Most Serious We’ve Ever Seen, “ as Markets Rally for a Second Day on £75bn Quantitative Easing Plan.

Dow Jones has a longer quote from that Channel 4 broadcast we mentioned earlier (19.30), where Mervyn King said that this was the worst crisis we’ve ever faced.

Quote: This is undoubtedly the biggest financial crisis the world has ever faced and it has continued now for four years. I do not know when it will come to an end. What I do know is that in order for it come to an end we have to find a way for imbalances to unwind, for the debts to be repaid and for the countries that need to repay debt to other countries to be able to export their way out of difficulty.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



EU Urges ‘Coordinated Action’ To Recapitalise Banks: Barroso

The EU executive is proposing “coordinated action” by the 27 European Union states to recapitalise banks, with efforts already under way, European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso said Thursday. “We are now proposing to the member states to have a coordinated action to recapitalise banks and get rid of toxic assets they may have,” Barroso said in an interview with Euronews TV. “We are determined to do everything necessary to ensure that Europe’s banks are able to play their essential role,” the Commission president said later in a separate statement.

“Recapitalisation efforts are well underway, additional efforts may be needed. Coordination at European level is of course essential,” he said at a short news conference held with visiting Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen. The European Commission, which runs day-to-day EU business, was monitoring the situation on a daily basis in collaboration with the European Banking Authority and national supervisors, Barroso said. He admitted “the situation in the market has changed” since the summer when only nine of scores of European banks failed stress tests. Another 16 just scraped through. But he did not answer questions on the proposed elimination of toxic assets and refused comment on the IMF’s suggestion that 100 to 200 billion euros are needed to recapitalise stretched banks.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



Greeks Strike, 20,000 March on Parliament

Athens, 5 Oct. (AKI/Bloomberg) — Greeks walked off their jobs across the nation and as many as 20,000 marched through Athens’ central square to protest prime minister George Papandreou’s 6.6 billion-euro austerity plan, challenging a government seeking European bailout funds to stave off default.

The 24-hour strike shut the Athens International Airport, causing 448 flight cancelations, and shuttered schools and archaeological sites to protest Papandreou’s plans to put 30,000 public workers on reduced pay, raise property taxes and cut pensions and wages.

“They are blaming us, firing us with the result that we won’t be able to live,” said Katerina Anastasopoulos, 53, who has worked at the Greek Transport Ministry for 28 years and joined the march on parliament. “They are taking away our livelihood, our life. We are all scared.”

Police estimated about 20,000 people, carrying banners and shouting slogans such as “Take Your Memorandum and Leave” marched through Syntagma Square, which is bordered by the parliament building on one side and Finance Ministry on the other.

Scuffles between Greek police and youths continued for more than two hours after protesters left and traffic resumed around the square. Greek police used tear gas to disperse the youths attacking officers with pieces of marble and plastic bottles. Two police officers were injured during the scuffles and nine people were arrested, according to a statement posted on the police website.

The country’s largest public-sector union, known as ADEDY and representing at least 400,000 state workers, called the walkout after European Union ministers signaled yesterday that they may renegotiate terms of Greece’s latest rescue, sending the nation’s stocks down the most in 17 months.

The demonstration defies calls by the government to show unity in the struggle to avert a default.

“We are at the worst circumstances under the worst conditions,” Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said at a news conference in Athens yesterday. “We are dependent on the aid and loans of our institutional partners. That is the situation of the country. And we must make superhuman efforts to win this wager of history.”

The ASE stock index rose 0.7 percent today in Athens after tumbling 6.3 percent yesterday, the most since May 2010. The yield on Greece’s 10-year bonds climbed 11 basis points, or 0.11 percentage point, to 23.2 percent, more than double the rate on July 21, generic pricing for euro-denominated securities shows. The government’s 4.59 percent bond due in 2016 rose to 36.6 cents on the euro from 34.4, cutting the yield to 33.9 percent.

The government is dependent on outside financing as the economy contracts and the unemployment rate stands at more than double Germany’s. The Greek state, which employs about 750,000, carries a debt load that will reach 356.5 billion euros in 2011, or the equivalent of 161.8 percent of gross domestic product, the highest in the EU and three times the ratio of Poland.

The strike followed a decision by euro area finance ministers to delay the release of the next 8 billion-euro loan installment under a 110 billion euro bailout approved in May 2010 until after Oct. 13. The government has enough cash to operate until mid-November, Venizelos said.

Violence during strikes in June caused 800,000 euros in damage to state property in Athens over two days as Papandreou battled for political survival in parliament.

The 59-year-old premier then won a confidence vote and backing for a new five-year package of budget cuts and state asset sales to secure further international aid by stemming defections from members of his Pasok party.

Venizelos introduced measures to plug the budget gap for 2011 and 2012, including a property tax approved by parliament on Sept. 27 and further cuts to pensions and wages for state workers, after inspectors from the International Monetary Fund and EU halted a review of Greece on Sept. 1.

Strikes and protests are common in Greece, and investors are likely to take notice only if participation is high, said Antonio Garcia Pascual, the chief southern European economist at Barclays Capital in London.

“It’s important to understand the degree of participation in these strikes,” he said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Air traffic controllers and employees at the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority were on strike, the first all-day work stoppage for aviation workers this year.

The General Confederation of Labor, or GSEE, the country’s largest private sector union that represents workers at state- run companies and utilities, also participated in the walkout and called a general strike for Oct. 19. Employees at Hellenic Railways Organization, Greece’s state-run rail company, and the suburban rail network surrounding Athens also took part in the strike, along with dockworkers, journalists, health-care and municipal workers.

Greece’s average unemployment rate is expected to climb to 16.4 percent next year from 15.2 percent in 2011, according to ministry forecasts. Germany’s jobless rate was 6.9 percent in September. The economy contracted 4.5 percent in 2010 and will shrink 5.5 percent this year, Finance Ministry forecasts show.

“We have taken decisions as a government and as a parliament but as a society we have not taken a clear decision,” Venizelos said yesterday. “Unfortunately our society, our country, is hostage to great contradictions.”

Europe’s financial leaders are fighting on multiple fronts, trying to repair Greece’s economy while insulating Italy and Spain and shoring up banks that the IMF says face as much as 300 billion euros in credit risks.

Ministers are considering reshaping a July 21 agreement that foresaw investors contributing 50 billion euros to a second rescue package totaling 159 billion euros. The original accord calls for debt exchanges and rollovers, with private investors facing losses of 21 percent, according to the International Institute of Finance.

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



Liberate Greece From Its Elites

De Volkskrant, Amsterdam

The emergency aid under consideration by Eurozone countries does not amount to a sustainable solution to the Greek crisis, argues economist Rens van Tilburg. We will first have to break the grip on power maintained by the country’s elites, whose privileges remain an obstacle to the fair distribution of economic sacrifices.

Rens van Tilburg

European leaders are preparing yet another “definitive” response to the euro crisis, at a time when even Chinese and American bankers have begun to plead for a reinforcement of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).

Of course, everyone is worried by the risk of Greek default, but the question is: should we be even more concerned about the path that European leaders are now taking? And this question is all the more pertinent because Greece’s real problem is in fact never mentioned, nor is anything ever done about it.

The problem is that the place you occupy in Greek society is not determined by your talents and level of dynamism, but by your background and your relations. Of course, societies are never really fully meritocratic or nepotistic. However, the Netherlands for example is mainly meritocratic, while nepotism is the rule rather than the exception in Greece, where the concentration of power and property in the hands of the elites is such that they continually succeed in reinforcing their position.

If nothing is done to combat the problem of nepotism, the Greek economy will never be able to settle its debts, regardless of their scale. Even if we came together to write off the current Greek debt, the country will only take on more loans once the slate has been wiped clean.

Politicians turn a blind eye to structural problems

And guess who will be asked to foot the bill for the next bank or Greek state bailout? Acting as the guarantor of structurally weak economies by augmenting the capacity of the EFSF will not minimise future problems, but only aggravate them further. As it stands, our political leaders are letting themselves be guided by the same sentiments that led them to authorise Greece’s adoption of the euro, even though it did not respect the criteria for the single currency.

“Allowing” Greece to leave the Eurozone in exchange for the writing off of its debts would enable us to avoid a future financial burden. But at the same time, it would mean leaving the Greek middle class on its own to confront its country’s problems: and we should be concerned about the well-being of Greece’s citizens, who are the main victims of the administrative chaos that reigns in their country…

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



Ordinary Greeks Turning to NGOs as Health System Hit by Austerity

Europeans and Westerners in general are accustomed to being asked to donate money to emergency aid NGOs to tackle medical humanitarian crises in Africa, Asia and other parts of the developing world where governments are too unwilling, poor or incapable to be able to help their own citizens. It is unheard of for aid groups such as Medecins Sans Frontieres or Medicins du Monde to have to take over the role of providing basic medical services from normal state or private providers in a Western country. But in the era of ever-tightening EU-IMF austerity, that is what is happening in Greece now, as the unemployed and HIV patients begin to turn up at temporary clinics that had been intended to come to the aid of migrants and refugees.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



The Ticking Euro Bomb: How a Good Idea Became a Tragedy

The Greek crisis has revealed why the euro is the world’s most dangerous currency. The euro was built on a foundation of debt and trickery, where economic principles were sacrificed to romantic political visions. The history of the common currency is the story of a good idea that turned into a tragedy of epic proportions.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]

USA


CAIR: DOJ Analyst Claims Muslims Threaten ‘Our Values’

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A prominent national Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization today call for “top to bottom” reform of reportedly biased government training on the topic of Islam. The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued that call following new revelations of biased training by a government official — this time an intelligence analyst with the U.S. Department of Justice — who claimed Muslim “civilians, juries, lawyers, media, academia and charities” threaten “our values.”

[…]

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



Hate, Money, Community: Exploring CAP’s Islamophobia Report With Wajahat Ali

The report released in August from the Center for American Progress — “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” — meticulously tunnels through the maze of anti-Islamic sentiment. Well-received by the mainstream media (and predictably denounced by Islamophobe bloggers and right-wing press), it’s a much-needed, ground-breaking work. Detailed and comprehensive — though an easy read — it ties together and pinpoints exactly what’s being said in the Islamophobe arena, who’s being paid to say it, and who’s paying them to say it.

But how well does it meet the hopeful expectations placed on it by the Muslim community?

Muslims looking for a quick-fix answer or a magic wand that will make Islamophobia go away will have to look elsewhere. There are no solutions here, but that’s a good thing. By purposefully avoiding any bullet-point strategic or tactical recommendations, the report will force Muslim individuals and policy makers to shake their complacency, apply their own creative mental rigour and draw up their own strategies. That makes it one of the most literally thought-provoking works in the contemporary Islamic discourse in recent years (and a real strength of the report). Muslim groups in general have a mixed record on rising to meet such challenges — so it remains to be seen how well-leveraged the report will become as a resource tool — but the foundation laid down in the report is immense.

[…]

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



KU Professor Teaches Sharia Law at CGSC

After attending his class on Sharia law, Professor Raj Bhala hopes U.S. Army Special Operations officers will have a better understanding of what motivates Muslim extremists.

“Should they encounter violent extremists, they can look at that person and say: I know that what you’re saying about your own political system is wrong,” Bhala said. Associate Dean for International and Comparative Law and Rice Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, Bhala recently published a book, “Understanding Islamic Law (Shari’a).” He is teaching an elective to Command and General Staff College students through a program funded by the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Bhala, an American Catholic, has practiced international banking law at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which twice granted him the President’s Award for Excellence.

Bhala started his class by explaining that Sharia law, meaning “the path,” has its source from the Muslim holy book, the Quran. Unlike western law, which often has inspiration from Judeo-Christian values, Bhala said religion and law are inseparable in the Muslim world.

“We don’t conceive of American law as a path to eternity,” he said. “It’s not a whole way of life for our public and private behavior.” Sharia law governs many things such as property law, business contracts, banking, sex crimes, drinking and stealing, and many others. The spectrum of what Sharia laws mean and how they are practiced vary for Muslims in non-Muslim countries and even Muslim countries. There are supporting texts, such as the Sunnah. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran, Bhala said, Sharia is the source of law. In Turkey, Muslim law is part of the culture for Muslim people, but not the principal source for the country’s legal system. After the Arab Spring, many countries are disputing the way these laws are practiced and enforced, Bhala said. “Every legal system has this kind of battle — what’s authentically in the constitution and what’s a reasonable extension,” he said.

Bhala said in the case of violent extremists, many times Muslims don’t understand Sharia or are manipulated with advice based on bad or politically motivated legal texts. “It’s an odd situation where there not only needs to be re-educating in the Muslim world, but also, we need to do the educating,” he said.

For Muslim women, Bhala said, it is not authentically Islamic to give women lower quality food or less education. Linda Ryan, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency student in the Intermediate Level Education class 2012-01, said she’s heard many misconceptions about Sharia law. “People have these perceptions about the Islamic religion, and a lot of it for me has been dispelled just by doing the reading,” she said. Lt. Col. Joe Cieslo, CGSC facilitator for the class, said Special Operations officers study Sharia law to better understand their operational environment. These include Special Forces, Civil Affairs and Military Information Support officers, formerly Psychological Operations. “They’re not part of the legal body, but have an influence,” Cieslo said of the Special Operations officers serving in Afghanistan. Cieslo said as part of counterinsurgency warfare, these Soldiers have the responsibility of helping local leaders rebuild their nations. “It just really helps understand the nuances of their society and culture,” he said. The program funded by the JFK Special Warfare Center and School allows for Special Operations officers to receive a master’s degree in global and international studies from KU while attending ILE at CGSC.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



Protests Planned at GMU Law for Anti-Islam Speaker

(Updated at 1:40 p.m.) A number of groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Arab Law Students Association and the American Constitution Society, will be participating in an “anti-hate” protest at the George Mason University School of Law in Virginia Square tonight.

The groups will be protesting a speaking engagement at the school by Nonie Darwish, an Egyptian-American author and speaker who has brought her anti-Islam, pro-Israel message to numerous college campuses in the U.S. and abroad. Critics call Darwish a “radical anti-Muslim Islamophobe” and point to a recent video of her speaking at a protest in Florida as evidence. “Islam is a poison to a society. It’s divisive. It’s hateful… It’s full of anti-Semitism,” Darwish said in the video. “Because Islam should be feared, and should be fought, and should be conquered, and defeated, and annihilated, and it’s going to happen… Islam is based on lies and it’s not based on the truth. I have no doubt whatsoever that Islam is going to be destroyed.”

Darwish, who is particularly critical of Islam’s treatment of women and minorities, was invited to speak at the school by the GMU student chapter of the Federalist Society and the Jewish Law Students Association. The controversy over her invitation has attracted attention from the popular Above the Law blog and a blog called “LoonWatch.”

GMU law dean Daniel Polsby was even compelled to weigh in on the controversy. In an email, Polsby told students that “the law school will not exercise editorial control over the words of speakers invited by student organizations, nor will we take responsibility for them, nor will we endorse or condemn them.” “Sometimes speakers are invited who are known to espouse controversial points of view,” Polsby wrote. “Just as speakers are free to speak, protesters are free to protest.” The protests are scheduled to start at 4:00 p.m. at Hazel Hall, Room 225, at 3301 N. Fairfax Drive. The speech by Darwish is scheduled to take place at 5:00 p.m., and is open to GMU law students only.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



Saudi Passenger Disrupts Flight Bound for Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS — Federal authorities are probing the actions of a Saudi Arabian man who tried to get into the cockpit of an American Airlines flight to here.

Indianapolis Airport police said Abdulaziz Mubarak Alshammari, 20, was pulled away from the cabin door by another passenger a half hour before Flight 1936 from New York to Indianapolis International Airport landed at about 10 p.m. Wednesday.

Alshammari, who said he is a student at the University of Indianapolis, appeared confused when flight attendants and police questioned him, according to a police report. Investigators photocopied a note Alshammari wrote in Arabic while on the plane.

           — Hat tip: KGS [Return to headlines]



Wham, Bam, Thank You, Islam!

Wham! Bam! Islam! is the name of a new PBS documentary looking at the success of The 99 series, in comics and cartoon, superheroes inspired by the 99 names of God in Islam. Directed by Isaac Solotaroff, it airs on October 13th and looks at the journey of Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti psychologist, in making this mission a reality, through concept, cartoons, DC Comics and now theme parks, all the time while being attacked by the Christian Right in the US and Islamic fundamentalists closer to home…

[JP note: See also this BBC report from 9 July 2009 containing an open letter from Al-Mutawa to his sons http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8127699.stm ]

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



White House Intervened to Block Notorious Islamophobes Addressing Security Conference

The CIA and Department of Homeland Security abruptly canceled a conference in August on homegrown U.S. radical extremism in what officials close to the issue say was an effort to block two conservative anti-terrorism experts from presenting their views. The conference was slated for Aug. 10 through 12 at agency headquarters in McLean and was to have been hosted by the CIA Threat Management Unit. It was organized by the intelligence subcommittee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

“The conference topic is a critical one for domestic law enforcement, and the sponsors — in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security — have decided to delay the conference so it can include insights from among other sources, the new National Strategy for Counterterrorism in an updated agenda,” wrote CIA police officer Lt. Joshua Fielder in an email announcing the postponement in early August.

According to people close to the conference, the event was ordered “postponed” after Muslim advocacy groups contacted the Department of Homeland Security and the White House about the scheduled speakers, who included Stephen Coughlin and Steve Emerson, both specialists on the Islamist terror threat. Mr. Coughlin, a former Pentagon Joint Staff analyst, is one of the most knowledgeable counterterrorism experts specializing in the relationship between Islamic law and terrorism. Mr. Emerson, head of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, is a leading expert on Islamic violent extremism, financing and operations.

One intelligence official said the conference was stopped after the White House learned that Mr. Coughlin and Mr. Emerson were speaking. This official said that to prevent the two experts from taking part in future conferences, the administration is drafting new guidelines designed to prohibit all U.S. government personnel from teaching classes on Islamic history or doctrine. The new rules also will seek to prohibit the use of federal funds to pay contractors for such training. “This is a big deal,” former FBI counterintelligence agent David Major said of the postponement. If new guidelines are used to block experts like Mr. Coughlin and Mr. Emerson, “we will be in ‘1984’ with ‘Newspeak’ on our society in total violation of the First Amendment,” Mr. Major said, referring to George Orwell’s classic novel, in which simplified language is used as a tool to support totalitarian rule.

Washington Times, 5 October 2011

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



Why Won’t Liberals Listen to Reason

by David P. Goldman

The left believes that a clever elite can fix all the world’s problems; conservatives accept that human error can lead to disastrous outcomes. Liberals fancy themselves rational in contrast to conservatives’ dour acknowledgment of tradition and tragedy. Why, then, is the left so impossibly, stubbornly, counter-factually dense when it comes to the state of Israel (among other matters)?

Liberal rationality is a pose. Knowledge is existential — that is, we tend to ignore facts that apply to a world in which we will not exist at all. I saw that before the 2008 banking crash, when I tried to warn the industry that a crash was inevitable. Most of them said, in effect, “If what you’re saying is true, then I shouldn’t have a job, so I won’t think about it.” Not long afterwards, most of them didn’t.

The left (and the European left in particular) doesn’t like certain facts because they are dying — literally. The triumph of the secular welfare state in Europe is associated with a catastrophic population decline. Three-fifths of southern Europeans will be elderly pensioners by mid-century. Of course, they’re going to go bankrupt. And Muslim society is fragile, and much of the Muslim world has entered a tailspin from which it won’t recover. The left clings to the magical idea that if only Israel would roll over and die, and validate the illusions of the Muslims, that somehow this horrific future might be avoided.

This is about as rational as the cargo cults of New Guinea after World War II. The sociologist Eric Kaufmann is an enlightened liberal, because he observes that liberalism is a self-liquidating proposition: “The weakest link in the secular account of human nature is that it fails to account for people’s powerful desire to seek immortality for themselves and their loved ones,” he wrote in a recent book titled Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Secular liberals don’t have children while people of faith do.

The existential irrationality of the liberals came to mind yesterday as I listened to Alan Dershowitz, Shelby Steele, and other distinguished friends of Israel on a Hudson Institute conference call. Hudson and Touro College are hosting a conference titled “The Perils of Global Intolerance: The United Nations and Durban III,” on Thursday, Sept. 22, across the street from the United Nations. Speakers will also include Ron Lauder, John Bolton, Elie Wiesel, Wafa Sultan, Ruth Wisse, and other dignitaries. It’s an important event, and deserves wide attention. (Note: Watch the proceedings live on PJTV, September 22.)

It seems so obvious when Profs. Dershowitz and Steele explain. The Palestine Authority won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Period. And as the Wall Street Journal pointed out Sept. 18:

“We are going to complain that as Palestinians we have been under occupation for 63 years,” Mr. Abbas said the other day. That’s another way of saying that the “occupation,” in Mr. Abbas’s view, began with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and not with Israel’s takeover of the West Bank and Gaza after a war that threatened Israel’s existence in 1967.

Abbas could not be more clear in his declaration that his objective is not to live side-by-side with the state of Israel, but to destroy it. What sort of concessions are supposed to appease that point of view? As for the Turks, anyone with two synapses that fire in the same direction understands that the Mavi Marmara incident was a set-up from the outset. Turkey’s ruling party sponsored the Gaza flotilla and packed the Mavi Marmara with fanatics intent on a violent confrontation with Israeli soldiers. Turkey deliberately provoked the violence so as to manufacture a crisis with Israel. Like Aesop’s fable of the wolf and the lamb, rational arguments will not persuade the predator to go supperless. An Israeli apology would merely whet the appetite of the wolves in Ankara.

Nothing will appease the liberals, however, because if liberal social engineering can’t fix the problems of the Middle East, the world will have no need of liberals. Tom Friedman, no matter what happens, will demand that Israel concede and apologize, as surely as a gumball will roll out of the machine when I crank in a quarter. Existential need trumps rationality, most of all among the self-styled priesthood of rationality.

Prof. Richard Landes’ new book Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience contains a marvelous discussion of the grandfather of all World Government schemes, Immanuel Kant’s “Universal Peace.” Kant, the supposed exemplar of Enlightenment rationality, wrote with cultish enthusiasm of “the realization of Nature’s secret plan to bring forth a perfectly constituted state as the only condition in which the capacities of mankind can be fully developed.” Reading what Kant actually wrote, we confront not a rational philosopher but a deluded dreamer. Scratch a liberal, bleed a millennial fanatic. My review of Richard’s book will appear in the next issue of First Things magazine.

I applaud what the Hudson Institute and Touro College are doing. We are so bombarded with insanity by the mainstream media that we need to go over the facts of the case, painstakingly and at length. And I admire this effort most of all because I have lost the patience to do that myself. Instead, I wrote a book showing why Islam will enter a terminal crisis, no matter what anyone proposes to do. My riposte to the liberals addresses their existential quandary. They need to be told: “You are going to die.” Liberalism has no future, literally speaking, for it proposes to solve all problems except for the human desire to exist in the first place, as Eric Kaufmann concedes. And we do not intend to go down with them.

Update: In a front-page editorial disguised as a news article, the New York Times denounces President Obama for NOT supporting the Palestinian “statehood” ploy: “President Obama declared his opposition to the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood through the Security Council on Wednesday, throwing the weight of the United States directly in the path of the Arab democracy movement even as he hailed what he called the democratic aspirations that have taken hold throughout the Middle East and North Africa.” Excuse me: “democratic aspirations” entail the destruction of the state of Israel? This is not just irrational, but creepy.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



Worldwide Caliphate Rising?

by Jerry Gordon (October 2011)

Europe, Globalization, and the Coming of the Universal Caliphate

by Bat Ye’or
Lexington Books, 2011
224 pp.

What Bat Ye’or laments as a foregone conclusion about dhimmitude in Europe may also have infiltrated this country with the condonment of the administrations in Washington and in major state capitals, the mainstream media and even non-Muslim religious bodies. However, there appears to be more resolve at the grass roots level here to fight this development, to stifle the spread of the universal Caliphate to this bastion of democracy and freedom. We have something that Europe doesn’t have-a written Constitution with a Bill of Rights — the First Ten Amendments — with the right to exercise free speech embedded in the First Amendment.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



You’ve Got Asteroids: Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan Reborn as Space Rocks

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were sleepless in space last month. It wasn’t the flesh and blood actors, but their astronomical counterparts — asteroid 12818 Tomhanks and asteroid 8353 Megryan — that made a cosmic rendezvous. The two asteroids, discovered seven years apart in different hemispheres, both happened to make their closest approach to Earth in September. The cosmic events reunited the space rock versions actors well known for co-starring in such films as “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.”

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU


Italian Company Makes Plastic From Sugar Beet Waste

A by-product of sugar beet production could prove a boon to the environment while reducing the world’s dependence on oil-based plastics. A small Italian company represents one of the newest advances in bio-plastics.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



Italy: Judiciary Under Pressure Acquits Knox

Corriere della Sera, 4 October 2011

“Amanda acquitted”, headlines Corriere della Sera, at the end of one of the most followed legal sagas in Italian history. American student Amanda Knox and her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were convicted in 2009 for the 2007 murder, in Perugia, of British student Meredith Kercher, after an alleged erotic game had gone wrong.

On Monday the court of appeal overturned the verdict for lack of evidence, sparking the public’s angry reaction. Pressure on judges was high, outlines Corriere: “Never before has the media aspect so far surpassed the judiciary. And the case had become an international one. The British media had sided with the victim, nicknaming beautiful Amanda ‘Foxy Knoxy’, just to emphasize her elusive slyness. The American media, however, were all for her. […] To counter the Italian and British media, the Knox family got help from press office to send out to the U.S. one image of an American girl as a victim of injustice.”

The case had even drawn the attention of US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who had pledged full diplomatic support to the Knox family. The US department of state immediately expressed its satisfaction at the court’s decision. Only one person has been so far convicted for the murder of Kercher — Ivorian born Rudy Guede, a small time drug dealer and drifter, sentenced to 30 years in 2008.

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



Italy: ‘Come on Hot Chick(s)’ New Party Name Says Berlusconi

Premier’s quip riles opposition

(ANSA) — Rome, October 6 — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday quipped ‘Come on Hot Chick(s)’ would be the best new name for his party.

The premier said he planned to change the name from People of Freedom “because “it isn’t in people’s hearts”.

“We’re open to suggestions, we’ll put out some polls.

“I’m told the biggest hit would be Forza Gnocca”.

Gnocca is a widely used term to describe an attractive young woman or women. It is also a vulgar term for female genitalia. The flamboyant premier is embroiled in several sex scandals and one trial in which he is accused of paying for sex with an underaged prostitute. The Forza Gnocca quip — a variation on the name of his first political party, Forza Italia (Come On Italy) — did not go down well with the opposition who accused the premier of “insulting Italian women” and “indulging in childish pranks while the country is in crisis”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Muslims in Spain Declare Jihad on Dogs

by Soeren Kern

Spanish authorities are investigating the recent deaths by poisoning of more than a dozen dogs in Lérida, a city in the northeastern region of Catalonia that has become ground zero in an intensifying debate over the role of Islam in Spain. All of the dogs were poisoned in September (local media reports here, here, here, here and here) in Lérida’s working class neighbourhoods of Cappont and La Bordeta, districts that are heavily populated by Muslim immigrants and where many dogs have been killed in recent years.

Local residents say Muslim immigrants killed the dogs because according to Islamic teaching dogs are “unclean” animals. Over the past several months, residents taking their dogs for walks have been harassed by Muslim immigrants opposed to seeing the animals in public. Muslims have also launched a number of anti-dog campaigns on Islamic websites and blogs based in Spain. In response to the “lack of sufficient police to protect the neighbourhood,” 50 local residents have established alternating six-person citizen patrols to escort people walking their dogs.

In July, two Islamic groups based in Lérida asked city officials to regulate the presence of dogs in public spaces so they do not “offend Muslims.” Muslims are demanding that dogs be banned from all forms of public transportation including all city buses as well as from all areas frequented by Muslim immigrants. Muslims in Lérida say the presence of dogs violates their religious freedom and their right to live according to Islamic principles.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



Sweden: Petrol Station Slammed for Roma Discrimination

The owner of a Swedish petrol station has been order to compensate a Roma woman after an employee told her to pay for petrol in advance, saying they had had “problems with the Roma in the past”. “I am very happy over the verdict. Above all I am grateful that someone was on my side for the first time. As far as I am concerned it has never been about getting compensation but getting satisfaction,” the woman said in a statement. The incident occurred in October 2009 when the woman arrived at the station in Örebro in eastern Sweden to fill up her car. When she got out of her vehicle an employee of the station came running out telling her that she had to pay in advance as the station had previously “had problems with the Roma”.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



Swiss Cantons Bid Farewell to Mushroom Inspector

A long-standing tradition has come to an end in two Swiss cantons whose citizens have previously been able to turn to a fungus expert to avoiding eating poisonous mushrooms. Mushroom inspector Paul Arnold, a guardian angel for mushroom pickers in central Switzerland’s Nidwalden and Obwalden cantons, has retired at the age of 70 and the authorities are not willing to pay for a replacement with public money, newspaper NZZ reports. For two decades, his job was to help mushroom lovers distinguish the good from the bad. The mushroom inspector would also help doctors in hospitals to identify unfriendly fungi in the leftover meals of poisoned patients.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



Technology: Samsung Aims to Block Apple’s Latest iPhone in Italy, France

Seoul, 6 Oct (AKI/Bloomberg) — Samsung Electronics aims to stop sales of Apple ‘s iPhone 4S in France and Italy, claiming the handset infringes on its patents, escalating the dispute between the two biggest makers of smartphones and tablets.

Samsung filed motions seeking the ban in courts in Paris and Milan, each citing two patent infringements related to wireless telecommunications technology, the Suwon, South Korea- based company said in an e-mailed statement today. Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S in Cupertino, California, this week and aims to start sales later this month.

The move adds to legal disputes that began in April, when Apple claimed Samsung’s Galaxy devices ‘‘slavishly” copied the iPad and iPhone. At stake is dominance in the fastest-growing segment of the $207 billion mobile-phone market, where Apple is competing against makers of handsets powered by Google’s Android operating system.

“It’s clearly part of this increasing mobile patent war that we’ve been seeing in recent months,” said James Cordwell, a London-based analyst at Atlantic Equities Service who rates Apple’s shares “overweight” and doesn’t own any. “What’s at stake is your long-term strategic position. It’s less about the country-by-country blockade.”

Steve Park, a Seoul-based spokesman for Apple, declined to comment on Samsung’s statement.

Samsung plans to file preliminary injunctions in other countries after further review, it said in the statement. Apple, maker of the iMac computer and the iPad tablet, is also one of the South Korean company’s biggest buyers of chips and displays.

“Apple has continued to flagrantly violate our intellectual property rights and free ride on our technology,” Samsung said. “IPhone 4S should be barred from sales.”

Apple introduced the iPhone 4S, equipped with a faster processor, a higher-resolution camera and a new software interface this week to help it vie with Google’s Android, which powers Samsung’s Galaxy phone and tablets.

At stake is leadership in the market for smartphones, which is projected to double by 2015, when 1 billion of the handsets will be sold, according to research firm IDC. While Apple is the single biggest smartphone maker, the Android coalition leads the market, accounting for 41.7 percent. The iPhone accounted for almost half of Apple’s sales in the most recent quarter.

“If Samsung just sits there doing nothing, they will end up letting Apple label them as a copycat,” said Choi Do Yeon, an analyst at LIG Investment & Securities Co. in Seoul. “Samsung will want to win something from any court, whether it’s a ban or an agreement from Apple to pay royalties.”

Apple earlier won backing from a Dusseldorf court that upheld a temporary ban on sales of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Germany, which Strategy Analytics forecasts will be Europe’s third-largest market for tablets this year. Samsung filed an appeal against the ruling.

In Australia, Apple has delayed the release of the product for two months by seeking a temporary judicial ban.

Samsung will abandon plans to sell the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia if it doesn’t win approval to sell it in the next two weeks, Neil Young, a Samsung lawyer, told Federal Court Justice Annabelle Bennett in Sydney this week. Missing the Christmas season would result in the new tablet being “dead,” he said.

Samsung avoided an injunction on its tablet computers in the Netherlands, where it was ordered by a court in The Hague to halt some sales of the Galaxy S, S II and Ace smartphones.

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



UK: EDL Leader Slams Academics’ Report

CLAIMS in an academic report that the English Defence League has “sustained connections to the BNP” have been denied by the group’s leader, Stephen Lennon. The report, by Dr Matthew Feldman and Dr Paul Jackson at Northampton University’s Radicalism & New Media Research Group, says that the EDL’s leaders and followers have “neo-Nazi methods” and connections to the BNP and other extreme-right groups. The academics also accuse the EDL of “engaging in doublespeak that powerfully questions their claim to be a single-issue, non-racist movement”.

But Stephen Lennon, who was last week convicted of assaulting a man at a rally in Blackburn in April, said he doubted the strength of the academics’ research. “All this academic research has been done on the internet and on Facebook,” he said. “They haven’t spent any time with the EDL, they haven’t come to any demos. If they want to get involved then fine. They haven’t got a clue at all. We’re not linked to the BNP. I was a member of the BNP for a year in 2004 but I left when I saw what it was all about. Yes we have members who are ex-BNP but they joined the BNP out of desperation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to say that there aren’t any racists in the EDL but we find out who they are and we kick them out.”

He also denied claims in the report that the EDL had received funding from the far-right campaigner Alan Lake, saying: “He has never been a member, he has never given us any money. “He spoke at two demos and he wore a suit, and all of a sudden he was a millionaire funder.”

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



UK: Oppose Racist and Fascist EDL ‘Angels’ At Downing Street

UAF is calling a protest against a planned demonstration by the English Defence League at Downing Street on Saturday 8 October.

The EDL is an organisation of racists and fascists — its so-called ‘Angels’ women’s divisions are no exception. They want to take their message of anti-Muslim racism and hatred to Downing Street. UAF is calling a counter-protest, which will be led by women, against the EDL racists and fascists. Join the UAF counter-protest to show your opposition to the EDL. Their poisonous racist and fascist ideas and their attempts to divide our communities and stir up hatred against Muslims have nothing to offer women — or men.

Details

Assemble Downing Street, London SW1 12 noon, Saturday 8 October. All antfascists and antiracists are welcome at the women-led counter-demo. Bring your banners and placards!

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



UK: Southend Councillor Suspended for EDL Links

A SOUTHEND councillor has been suspended from the Tory party after receiving praise for his support of an English Defence League (EDL) march in London.

Cllr Blaine Robin, ward councillor for Kursaal Ward, was suspended from the Conservative Party on Thursday as they launched an internal investigation into his links with the controversial protest group.

A video on video-sharing website YouTube appears to show EDL leader Tommy Robinson pointing out Cllr Robin in the crowd at a meeting in Southend earlier this year.

Between chants of ‘EDL, EDL, EDL’, Mr Robinson says: “I am proud that the first politician I have ever met who actually represents his constituents is a man outside, a black man, who is a local politician in Southend. It’s even greater to see that he has heard the free message of the English Defence League, not the distorted media attempt.”

           — Hat tip: Kitman [Return to headlines]



UK: Watered-Down Terror Law Threatens Public, Warns Peer

The Government is being “negligent” by watering down anti-terror laws just months before the London Olympics, a senior Liberal Democrat said today. Lord Carlile, speaking during the second reading of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill in the Lords, criticised the replacing of control orders with less tough restrictions on suspected terrorists. The Government’s former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation said he was persuaded to the view “that it would be negligent to remove relocation from the main provisions”. He added: “The protection of the public will be diminished.”

Home Secretary Theresa May has proposed that emergency legislation be kept on the stocks — which would allow, if rushed through Parliament, relocation of terror suspects. Lord Carlile called this a “clumsy proposal” and the “worst form of legislative disorder”. The Home Office stresses that the police and MI5 will be able to increase surveillance on terror suspects, including one man feared to have been plotting a Mumbai-style attack, once they cease to be subject to relocation orders. Home Office minister Lord Henley said: “Protecting the public from terrorism will always be this Government’s top priority.” Labour peer Lord Harris of Haringey criticised the Bill as a “shabby, tawdry compromise”. The Bill was given an unopposed second reading in the Lords.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



US Concerns Over Nuclear Smuggling Between Europe, North Africa

The hunt is on for the alleged Russian mastermind behind an Eastern European crime syndicate’s failed attempt to sell weapons-grade uranium to a North African who the US fears could have links to Islamist extremists.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]

North Africa


Attacks Against Coptic Churches, Part of a Plan to Expel Egypt’s Christians

In Upper Egypt, Salafis attack two churches are in less than three days. A plan hatched in Saudi Arabia would see Egypt come under an Islamic regime without any place for other religions.

Cairo (AsiaNews) — Recent attacks against Coptic churches in Merinab (Aswan) and Elmadmar (Sohag) are part of a strategy promoted by Saudi Arabia to use its petrodollars to bring the country under a radical Islamic regime, sources in Cairo told AsiaNews. The latter are fearful of a mass exodus by Egypt’s minority Christians.

On Sunday in Merinab (Aswan, Upper Egypt), more than 3,000 Muslims, incited by their local imam, set fire to the local Coptic church after they accused Christians of building it without a permit.

On Monday, a group of Muslims in Elmadmar, (Sohag province, Upper Egypt) tried to tear down Saint Mary Church, but were repulsed by police sent to rescue the Christian community. However, none of the attackers were arrested.

Today, about 500 Christians demonstrated in front of the Governatorate building in Bani Suef (Aswan) demanding the reconstruction of the church of Merinab and the governor’s resignation.

Sources say Egypt’s military is powerless against attacks by Salafis who use money and promises to turn people in the poorest regions of the country against Christians.

The extremist group is spreading across the Middle East, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Iraq, and Lebanon.

Salafis are taking advantage of the region’s instability to get caretaker governments to impose their ideology based on Sharia and Islam’s supremacy on other religions.

According to a recent report cited by the Assyrian News Agency (Aina), about 100,000 Christians have already left the country since Mubarak’s fall.

“The figure is an exaggeration,” sources told AsiaNews, “but many Copts are indeed leaving the country. In Upper Egypt, but also Cairo and Alexandria, many parish churches lay empty. People are afraid and believe that if the Muslim Brotherhood wins, there will be no place for Christians in the country.” (S.C.)

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



How Egypt’s Regime Ended

Autocracy has been one of the abiding themes of the Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany’s bestselling books, which tend to culminate in confrontations between ordinary Egyptians and latter-day pharaohs. There was the Big Man in The Yacoubian Building who demanded a 25 per cent cut on the income of any big businessman who wanted to run for the Egyptian parliament. When one aspiring candidate dared to complain, the Big Man, speaking from behind a screen like the Wizard of Oz, explained the system with a scarcely veiled threat: “We protect you from the tax office, the insurance office, the safety standards office, the audit office and a thousand other offices that could bring your project to a halt and destroy you in a flash”. “The president” put in an appearance in the climax of Aswany’s second novel, Chicago. Bearing the smile he had decided twenty-five years earlier looked photogenic, with his jet-black dyed hair and face “covered with layers of fine makeup so he would appear younger in photographs”, the seventy-five-year-old president was described with such precision that Aswany did not have to mention Hosni Mubarak by name.

Western readers familiar with Egypt’s autocratic rulers were stunned by the audacity of Aswany’s novels, in describing the abuse of power that traversed the Egyptian political system with such critical candour. His Egyptian readers, however, knew Aswany’s views from his weekly columns in the independent Cairo daily newspapers, al-Dustur and al-Shorouk. While it would be wrong to credit Aswany with predicting the Egyptian revolution that overthrew Mubarak in February 2011, his essays capture the issues and outrage that drove millions of Egyptians to demand the overthrow of the regime.

While volumes of his essays are in print in Arabic, On the State of Egypt provides Western readers with a small sampling of Aswany’s provocative writings in an excellent English translation by Jonathan Wright. Drawing on essays published between February 2005 and October 2010, the book addresses the social and political ills Egypt faced at the start of the twenty-first century.

The essays are grouped into three sections: The Presidency and Succession; The People and Social Justice; and Free Speech and State Repression. Aswany deploys all his talents as a creative writer, inventing fictive dialogues and novel scenarios to get his point across. He rages against hypocrisy and defends the rights of women and minorities in Egypt. He is particularly sharp in recovering Islam from the hands of Islamist extremists. With his trademark signature line at the end of each of his columns, “Democracy is the solution”, he effectively trumps the Muslim Brothers, with their slogan “Islam is the solution”, reminding Western readers of the importance of secular, or at least non-Islamist, political activists in the Arab world. It was, after all, liberal reformers who spearheaded the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011.

The ironic and detached tone of Aswany’s writings does nothing to diminish the sense of outrage that lay behind his political observations. He was relentless in his opposition to the making of a Mubarak dynasty and the presumed plans for Gamal Mubarak to succeed his father to the presidency. He threw his full weight behind the Egyptian Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei’s bid to challenge Mubarak for the presidency. He was categorical in condemning the routine practice of arrest and torture of civilians for their political views. He called on his fellow Egyptians to resist the culture of subservience to power, and to demand their legitimate political and human rights.

As for many in Egypt, the murder in June 2010 of the young blogger Khaled Said in Alexandria, beaten to death by plainclothes policemen, represented a turning point for Aswany. “The murder of Khaled Said in this brutal manner and the fact that the killers have escaped punishment plainly indicate that any police officer . . . can kill whomever he wants and the apparatus of despotism will step in at once to exonerate the killer”. He concluded the column, published in June 2010, in terms that should have warned all Western policy analysts that change was coming to Egypt. “The wave of protests sweeping Egypt from one end to the other today is essentially due to the fact that life for millions of poor people, which was already hard, has become impossible. The more important reason for these vehement protests is that Egyptians have realized that silence about justice will not protect them from injustice.” It was, of course, the Facebook group called “We Are All Khaled Said” that was the prime vehicle for organizing the demonstrations of the January 25 Movement that brought Mubarak down.

Recent polls in Egypt, taken since Mubarak’s overthrow, have highlighted the greater importance average Egyptians placed on economic grievances over political issues or human rights, in seeking the fall of the Mubarak regime. As Samer Soliman conclusively demonstrates in The Autumn of Dictatorship, his recent study of the political economy of Mubarak’s Egypt, the people were entirely right to be concerned about the parlous state of Egypt’s economy.

Originally published in Arabic in 2006 under a title which translates as “Strong Regime, Weak State”, Soliman’s book has been updated for this translated edition to reflect on the revolutionary movement of 2011 (though clearly his publishers rushed the translation into print before Mubarak actually fell on February 11). Drawing on Western social science and financial data gleaned from the balance sheet of the Egyptian general budget, Soliman provides a rigorous analysis of the chronic fiscal crisis that has plagued Egypt since the mid-1980s.

While the academic tone of his book might put off general readers, Soliman’s thesis is simple and persuasive. Since the mid-1980s, Egypt has been living beyond its means. Reliant on rents from Suez Canal revenues, the state’s limited oil resources and foreign aid, Egypt has in recent years experienced a decline in these sources of revenue, resulting in a prolonged fiscal crisis that has left the country with large budget deficits and chronic indebtedness. The Mubarak regime responded to the rapid and steep decline in state revenues by increasingly authoritarian means. The less the Egyptian state was able to meet the economic aspirations of the Egyptian people, the more repressive it became of their political and human rights. Paradoxically, the weaker the fiscal crisis left the Egyptian state, the stronger it made the Mubarak regime.

Soliman begins by looking at the growth of the institutions of the Egyptian state under Mubarak. Faced with diminishing revenues, the Mubarak regime responded by privileging those government departments that reinforced its hold over society — the Ministries of Interior, Culture, Religious Endowments and Education. While cutting the defence budget, Mubarak allowed the military to “invest in certain civilian commercial sectors, which had earned the army considerable financial independence from the national budget”. By giving the Egyptian military its autonomy, Mubarak no doubt laid the foundations for the army’s ultimate betrayal of the President when they refused to defend him against the demands of popular protesters in January 2011. Within government ministries, growing inequality between increasingly well-paid technical bureau staffers and ordinary ministry employees resulted in growing resentments between a thin layer of regime cronies and the vast majority of Egyptians.

The measures taken by the Mubarak regime to try to address the fiscal crisis transformed the government of Egypt into what Soliman terms a “predatory state” that seeks to maximize income by all means rather than to maximize provision to citizens. Provoking inflation by printing more money was a way to tax the poor and those on fixed incomes. Government borrowing increased national debt. When these short-term measures failed to resolve the fiscal crisis, the government was forced to introduce tax hikes — provoking predictable opposition from the general public, many of whom were living at or below subsistence.

Rather than provide for Egypt’s working classes, the regime increasingly struck a bargain with the country’s businessmen, giving more power to Egypt’s capitalists while gaining a new source of finance (as Aswany captured in his dialogue between the businessman and the Big Man in The Yacoubian Building). These were the people who stood to gain most by Gamal Mubarak’s alleged plans to succeed his father to the presidency — and who generated most resentment among educated Egyptians. “The growing political influence of businessmen sparked resentment among the intelligentsia and some segments of the middle class who were feeling increasingly marginalized”, Soliman concluded. These are the people who led the anti-regime movements of the first decade of the twenty-first century, culminating in the revolution of 2011.

Both Alaa al Aswany’s essays and Samer Soliman’s study reveal how much Western readers stand to gain from Arab scholarship. As the events of 2011 demonstrate the continued thirst for knowledge on a rapidly changing Arab world, it is to be hoped that more English and American publishers will commission important works of non-fiction from across the Arab world.

Eugene Rogan teaches the modern history of the Middle East at the University of Oxford and is the author of The Arabs: A history, 2009

Alaa Al Aswany

ON THE STATE OF EGYPT

A novelist’s provocative reflections

Translated by Jonathan Wright

202pp. American University in Cairo Press. $24.95; distributed in the UK by Eurospan. £19.95.

978 977 416 461 3

Samer Soliman

THE AUTUMN OF DICTATORSHIP

Fiscal crisis and political change in Egypt under Mubarak

Translated by Peter Daniel

224pp. Stanford University Press. Paperback, £19.95 (US $22.95).

978 0 8047 6000 3

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



Libya: Sirte Hospital Hit by NATO and NTC Bombardments

(AGI) Rome — The hospital in Sirte has been repeatedly hit during NATO and NTC forces bombardment, the International Red Cross informed the Catholic Missionary Agency, Misna. “The humanitarian situation is dramatic,” said Steven Anderson, who coordinated a Red Cross mission to Sirte on Monday, “parts of the hospital have been blackened by explosions and hit by bullets.”

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



Tunisia: Armed Libyans Arrested After ‘Illegally Crossing Border’

Tunis, 5 Oct. (AKI) — Tunisian police have arrested three armed Libyan citizens in the south of the country who have allegedly crossed the border from Libya, according to local media.

The Libyans were travelling in a jeep in the Tunisian province of Tataouine when they were arrested, according to news web site Atouf.

At the time of their arrest they claimed to have inadvertently entered Tunisian territory after taking a wrong turning, but police questioned the story when they found the suspects in possession of various types of weapons, the report said.

Investigators believe the Libyans may be connected to Al-Qaeda, whose members since the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have frequently crossed the borders separating Tunisia, Libya and Algeria.

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

Middle East


Erdogan Says Israel is a Threat to the Region

(AGI) Pretoria — According to Turkey’s premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Israel is a threat to its own region with its atomic weapons. On an official visit to the Republic of South Africa, Erdogan also accused Israel of being responsible for the “occupation” of the Palestinian Territories and of “state terrorism” in the Middle East, quoting the use of white phosphorous and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as the bombing of U.N. buildings .

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



South Africa: A Grand Mosque Rises

Written by Lucille Davis

It’s 400 years old, but is brand-new: a grand new mosque is rising steadily in the veld in Midrand, its four tall minarets soaring into the sky, encircling a huge dome. It can be seen from the freeway, its dome arousing the curiosity of passing motorists. A bit of digging online brings up a phone number, which leads to an appointment with the engineer. Ali Katircioglu, a Turkish property developer, is stomping up millions for the construction of the mosque. All the Turkish professionals on site call Katircioglu “Uncle Ali” — he is 75 years old and retired, but has spent the last two years in Joburg. He left behind his family, including his 13 grandchildren, to be on site and see the building rise from the ground, says the project manager, Orhan Celik.

The mosque, already a landmark, is even more spectacular from close up, with its painted dome rising 32 metres into the air, anchored by the four 55m tall minarets. It is built as an Ottoman structure, modelled on the fabulous Selimiye Camisi mosque in Edirne, Turkey. It is considered to be architect Mimar Sinan’s masterpiece and was completed in 1574. Today it is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Uncle Ali primarily wanted to build a school for Muslim children, but, of course, part of their education would be to attend mosque, so a mosque had to be built. He chose the Ottoman style because when the Ottoman Empire was expanding several centuries ago, it didn’t come as far down as South Africa, explains Celik. “He wants the children to see an Ottoman mosque.”

The mosque and school are to be complete by January 2012, with an attached clinic, an arasta, or row of shops and restaurant, to be complete by mid-2012. The charming Turkish headmaster of the school, Isak Turan, walks through the large courtyard, with its ground-floor arched veranda and first-floor arched windows topped by 21 small domes on three sides. The marble columns are spectacular, as are the finely patterned tiles that surround doorways along the interior of the veranda.

But this is just a teaser for what is to come: entering the mosque proper from a side door, with a view down a corridor, offers a spectacular sight — a tall ceiling, marble columns topped with gold leaf painted decorations, colourful patterned tiles reaching to the roof, marble floors. The doorway leads to a veranda — more tiled walls, more marble arches. Local materials couldn’t be found, says Celik, so all materials were imported from Turkey. Turkish calligraphers have also been imported. One layer inwards there is another high-ceiled passageway, with the women’s balcony overlooking it, the balustrade a delicate concrete lacework of stars and circles. Above it is a set of six arched stained-glass windows, depicting tulips in a blaze of colour, and imported from Turkey. Tulips are a symbol of the Ottoman Empire. The women’s gallery is marble floored.

Then it is time for the piece de resistance — the dome. As construction is ongoing, the main hall is filled to the roof with gumpoles, used as scaffolding, each pole cemented into the rough floor. They reach almost 32 metres into the structure, the height of the dome. Turan says the cemented-in scaffolding is used back in Turkey, and has been probably for centuries. In the middle there is no scaffolding, inviting one to stare upwards. The dome is painted in intricate detail, hours and hours of work going into it. It is ringed with a row of stained glass windows, below which is a circle of gold lettering going around the dome, depicting the 99 names given to God. The dome pulls the viewer upwards — it is indeed beautiful. Celik says that it posed a special challenge. The dome has a diameter of 24 metres and is 12 metres high, and is made of reinforced concrete. This means that it had to be cast in one go. “It took 20 hours to cast the dome — from 7am to 3am the next morning,” he says. A long casting pipe had to be found, stretching 45 metres from the ground upwards. The dome ranges in width from 200mm to 700mm. Once complete, the mosque will be able to accommodate 3 500 men and women, most of those men. Turan goes up a narrow curved staircase, to come out above the 21 domes, looking down on their lead roofs, beautifully fitted together. From this vantage point, there is a close-up view of the concrete minarets, with their delicate moulding at three points.

Celik says the minarets also posed a challenge. They are only 3 metres in diameter but contain two concrete spiral staircases, running one above the other, one up, the other down. In centuries past these were done in stone, but a special mould had to be made for these staircases. But this is not the top — there is another staircase leading further up. Over a low wall at the top, there is now a narrow balcony with a low balustrade, running right below the base of the dome. This is as close as you can get to the dome. From here, your voice echoes around the dome, bouncing back — it is a mighty, lofty space. Down below, the calligraphers work among the gumpoles, balancing confidently on planks on the topmost section of scaffolding, paintbrushes in hand.

Celik says that the mosque has three architects — the 400-year-old Sinan, the original architect; a Turkish architect, who was tasked with designing the Midrand mosque and who incorporated 75 percent of the original building into her design; and then a South African architect, who had to translate the plans into English so that they could be submitted to the City for approval. Small changes to the plan were made once work started, says Celik. Back on the ground floor, Turan shows off the large basement dining and conference hall. It has a stage, a central fountain, and an opening in the ceiling, letting in light. He points to the elegant four-storey school on the eastern edge of the 10ha site. It will accommodate 850 boys and girls, and when it opens in 2012 it will run grades 0 to 3 and grade 8 classes. There will also be boarding facilities for 200 children, and sports fields. Back at the grand entrance staircase, the walk to the car goes past young palms and a circular bed of roses, surrounding a fountain below the staircase. Mosque builders think big, plan boldly, and take their time to craft stunning places of worship. This is a place where your prayers will rebound up into the dome, playing there among the myriad colourful images and shapes. And more than likely be answered. Another visit is needed, of course, to gasp again at the dome when it is uncluttered by scaffolding.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



Syria: After Amnesty Reported Her Decapitated, Zainab Al-Hosni Appears on TV

Amnesty international had reported the young woman dead, killed after being tortured. On TV, she said she had fled home. Meanwhile, Assad issues decree for local elections before the end of the year.

Damascus (AsiaNews) — On 23 September, Amnesty International reported the death in prison of Zainab Al-Hosni, an 18-year-old woman who had been arrested on 27 July. On 3 September, her body was handed over to the family, decapitated and mutilated. According to the human rights organisation, she had been arrested to put pressures on her brother, Mohammad, an opposition activist who had gone underground but was eventually arrested on 10 September. His body was handed over to the family three days later. Zainab’s case quickly came to symbolise the suffering inflicted on prisoners by Syria’s regime and as such was denounced in many countries by human rights defenders.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Syrian television broadcast a video of a young woman, claiming to be Zainab Al-Hosni, showing her identity papers to the camera. She said that she was never in prison and certainly had not been killed. Instead, this Zainab said that she had fled home because her brothers had brutalised her. After hearing about her “death”, she decided to tell the truth and rebuke claims about her death, which in her view, had been concocted to further “foreign interests”.

The interview with the young woman has been rebroadcast several times in the past two days. Her family confirmed that the woman seen on television was Zainab.

The government-controlled Human Rights Network issued a statement calling on Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others to apologise to the Syrian people for their lies, which, it claims, had provoked violence against civilians and soldiers.

The matter raises some questions. First of all, if Zainab Al-Hosni was neither arrested nor killed in prison, whose body did Zainab’s family see on 13 September? In a statement, Amnesty International said it was looking into the matter, adding though that, whatever the case may be, Syrian authorities have to identify the mutilated body put on display on 13 September in the morgue of the military hospital in Homs.

Meanwhile, Syrian authorities, especially Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem and Presidential Adviser Butheina Shaaban, not to mention Syrian media, are jubilant about the Russian and Chinese veto at the United Nations Security Council against a draft resolution condemning Syria.

In Syria itself, the country is marking ‘Liberation Day’, the anniversary of the 6 October 1973 attack against Israel.

Syria’s opposition laments instead the United Nations’ failure to condemn the regime.

Against this background, President Bashar al-Assad announced this afternoon that municipal elections will be held on 12 December. The presidential decree refers to the new Local Administration Law, promulgated on 23 August, that set up a Local Administration Higher Council chaired by the prime minister.

Minister of Local Administration Omar Ibrahim Ghalawanji told state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) that the decree is evidence of the government’s seriousness and credibility as well as its commitment to have the elections conducted before the end of the year. The minister added that elections will bring changes to the lives of citizens.

Indeed, such elections would be a test of the regime’s credibility, but given the widespread insecurity across the country, it is questionable whether they can be anything but normal.

Given its attention focused on events at the United Nations, Syria’s opposition has not yet reacted to the announcement of local elections. Many expect it however to call on voters to boycott the poll.

In fact, it is likely that like in the past, these elections, usually ignored by international media, will be controlled by the Baa’th Party, since other parties have not been legally set up.

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



Turkey: Israel, Greece and Russia Mobilising Over Cyprus Gas

Tensions are rising rapidly in the eastern Mediterranean following the discovery of oil and gas around the island of Cyprus, whose northern part is occupied by Turkey. Cyprus and Israel, which recently discovered gas near Lebanese waters, sign a cooperation agreement. As Turkey protests, Russia sends ships on a three-month trip to the area.

Nicosia (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Turkey will continue explorations on the Mediterranean seabed off the coast of the Greek side of Cyprus, an official source said on Monday. The Piri Reis research vessel is equipped for exploration and stopped yesterday at the port of Famagusta for resupply. Diplomatic sources said it left afterwards to continue exploration in the south, contrary to earlier reports that said it was bound for the port of Izmir. The ship has completed its work on Block 12, a zone where Greek Cypriots have begun drilling for oil and natural gas.

Turkey and Turkish Cyprus (which is not recognised internationally) have signed an agreement with regards to the continental shelf to define their maritime borders with the goal of joint gas and oil exploration. However, some of the areas included in the agreement fall within a region claimed by the (Greek) Republic of Cyprus, a European Union member.

Cypriot President Dimitri Christofias said last Saturday that drilling for oil and gas would continue, despite Turkish opposition. For the Cypriot leader, his nation’s right to search for potential mineral deposits inside its exclusive economic zone is non-negotiable and that any foreign meddling is unacceptable.

The rush for gas began in June 2010 when a large gas deposit, named Leviathan, was found 130 kilometres off the northern coast of Israel. With an estimated 450 billion m3 of gas, such a discovery has the potential of making Israel a natural gas exporter, said the president of Noble Energy, the Houston-based company behind the find.

Lebanon reacted immediately to the announcement, claiming that the deposit was within its maritime borders, thus creating a problem over gas exports. The cheapest way would be to build a gas pipeline between Israel and Greece to Bulgaria, Italy and other Balkan nations. However, costs would be very high and the undertaking would be possible only if one or more countries accepted to purchase the gas for many years.

According to geologists, Leviathan is probably not the only deposit and that other fields could be discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean, as far west as Cyprus and as far north as Syria.

The situation has led to a major improvement in relations between Cyprus and Israel. President Christofias has already visited Israel, and his Israeli counterpart is set to visit the island nation shortly.

The two countries have also signed an agreement on delimiting their respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and on co-operating in oil and gas exploration in Cyprus’ EEZ, which has been undertaken by Noble Energy in cooperation with the US State Department and the US Embassy in Nicosia.

Cyprus also intends to act as a natural mediator between Lebanon and Israel in their dispute over Leviathan.

Yet, gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean are raising tensions that go beyond the Turkish-Cypriot dispute.

In Cyprus, newspapers are reporting increased Turkish aerial activity around the island, with nighttime research and rescue training operations. At the same time, Israel is monitoring Turkish moves with unmanned drones circling the drilling area.

Both Greece and Russia have backed the Cypriot position on the natural gas issue. Moscow also wants some licences to develop some of the fields and is in favour of a cooperation agreement with Cyprus.

The Russian aircraft carrier ‘Admiral Kuznetsov’ is expected in the eastern Mediterranean region next month, carrying a large number of Russian fighters. A submarine is also on its way for “patrol purposes” as part of exercises with other countries in the area.

The arrival of the Russians coincides with the expected announcement by Noble of its initial drilling results.

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



Turkey: Several Universities Still Insist on Headscarf Ban

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, OCTOBER 6 — Also in this academic year (2011-2012) several universities still impose a headscarf ban that was lifted by the Higher Education Board (YOK) in 2010 as Cihan news agency reports. Universities have gradually adopted the new regulation that allows headscarves to be worn in universities since the ban was eliminated in 2010. The latest developments on this front include the removal the headscarf ban from the Student Selection and Placement Center (OSYM) guidebook this summer and the ability of all university students to complete their September registration with headscarves.

However, some universities still permit professors to deny students with headscarves entry to class. Most of these universities, such as the Middle East Technical University, Ankara (ODTU), Hacettepe, Gazi, Ankara, Baskent and Atilim, are in Ankara. Entrance to these universities with headscarves is allowed, but depending by the attitudes of faculty deans and professors, students are not always allowed into classes or certain offices with headscarves.

YOK President Yusuf Ziya Ozcan issued a statement in March 2010 that warned universities which continue the ban that if they insist upon this position, YOK will open investigations into them. Ozcan stated: “Students cannot be kicked out of class because of headscarves. The lecturer must continue his lecture, and if he insists on kicking the student out, an official report must be prepared and sent to YOK.” Assistant Professor Yesim Yalcin Mendi, a lecturer at Cukurova University’s faculty of agriculture in Adana, told daily Zaman in an recent interview that she does not allow students with headscarves into her classes and that she specifically asks her students about the places they stay or with whom they stay in order to find out if they live in residences that are funded by religious organizations. Mendi explained that “the university rector lets us make our own decisions about students with headscarves. And my decision is not to take them into my classes.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Russia


The Paradoxes of Russian Orientalism

by Rachel Polonsky

Though he dropped out of Kazan University’s Faculty of Oriental Languages after his first year, Leo Tolstoy’s grades in Arabic and Turko-Tatar were good. It was history, which Tolstoy considered a “false science”, in which his examiners declared him a “total failure”. Tolstoy’s Professor of Turco-Tatar Letters was a Persian from the Caucasus called Mirza Kazem-Bek, who had been converted to Presbyterian Christianity by Scottish missionaries in the 1820s, changing his name from Muhammad to Alexander. Though he had rejected the Islamic way of life and thinking as “too fanatical”, and was a loyal subject of the Tsar, he proudly wore flowing robes and a silk turban in the streets of Kazan, and insisted on the Persian title “Mirza”, meaning “scribe”.

Mirza Kazem-Bek embodied the paradoxes of Kazan, a city on the Volga, less than 450 miles east of Moscow, which in its turn embodies the paradoxes of Russian Orientalism. As the Encyclopedia of Islam summarizes, Kazan was a Muslim Tatar khanate in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and had become a Russian university town by the nineteenth. One traveller remarked on its “strange blend of Russian sophistication and Asian simplicity, Islam and Christianity, Russian and Tatar”. As St Petersburg looked west, Kazan looked east. Alexander Herzen called it “the main caravansarai on the path of European ideas to Asia and Asian character to Europe”. For the first half of the nineteenth century, Kazan University (founded by imperial decree in 1804) pioneered orientology in the Russian academy, with the explicit purpose of training government officials for service in Asia (both within and beyond the borders of the empire). By the 1840s, the University had chairs in Mongolian, Kalmyk, Mandarin, Armenian and Sanskrit, and could boast, as one official in the Ministry of Education did, that it taught Oriental languages in a “depth and variety unsurpassed by any other institution of higher learning in all of Europe”.

For David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, Kazan University, despite all its explicit linking of academic scholarship with the governing interests of empire, complicates the “Saidian distinction between self and other”. In his highly readable study, Russian Orientalism: Asia in the Russian mind from Peter the Great to the emigration, he restores to the words “Oriental”, “orientology” (vostokovedenie), and “Orientalist” (vostokoved) the innocent “pre-Saidian” sense that they still have in Russian. Like other recent writers on Orientalism (notably Robert Irwin in For Lust of Knowing, 2006), he prizes his subject free of Edward Said’s mind-clamping schema by exploring Russia’s “imaginary geography” through the stories of scholarly and artistic lives, and of institutions of learning, in all their fragmentariness and flux.

His account (which is not strictly chronological) begins with the origins of Rus, and ends with a brief survey of how the Russian sense of a shared heritage with Asia is still ideologically potent under Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. Russia’s imaginary geography arises out of its real geography, in which forest and steppe, rather than East and West, were the original “self” and “other”. The East Slavs who settled the wooded lands on Europe’s north-eastern edges in the eighth and ninth centuries traded with the powers of the Baghdad caliphate, Persia and Byzantium; some paid tribute to the Khazars, an Inner Asian nomad nation of the steppe, whose elite had converted to Judaism. In the earliest Russian written sources, the monastic chronicles of medieval Kiev, the Turkic nomads of the southern steppe (the “wild field”) are presented as ferocious raiders. However, these nomads were also trading partners, and useful allies in internecine strife between Russian princes, who were sometimes married off to the daughters of Turkic khans.

In the first half of the thirteenth century, fiercer invaders swept across the steppe from further east. The marauding horsemen of Batu Khan (Genghis Khan’s grandson) burned their way across the southern grasslands and up into the northern principalities of Rus, which they subjugated for over two centuries. The Mongol overlords (called the Golden Horde by Russians) collected tribute and maintained order from their capital Sarai on the Caspian steppe. The Horde converted to Islam in the fourteenth century, but tolerated other faiths, exempting the Orthodox clergy from taxation in exchange for prayers for the khan. Though Rus continued to look to Byzantium in matters of religion, the Golden Horde had a lasting influence in politics, business and diplomacy. The words for “money” (dengi) and “customs” (tamozhnya) flowed into Russian from Tatar. As the historian Nikolai Karamzin (1766-1826) observed, referring to the autocratic ruling style of sixteenth-century Muscovy, “Moscow owes its greatness to the khans”. Karamzin’s own name, like the names of many other Russian families of ancient lineage — Yusupov, Ushakov, Dashkov — was of Tatar provenance.

It was in the reign of Peter the Great, when curiosity became a virtue, that Russia began to look at the East through Western eyes. Prompted by foreign advisers such as the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, who thrilled to the civilizational possibilities of Russia’s geographical position between Europe and China, the modernizing Tsar established the foundations for orientology. Yet, as Vera Tolz argues in Russia’s Own Orient, Russian orientology took until the end of the nineteenth century to evolve into a fully fledged academic discipline, uniting a community of scholars around a clearly defined set of ideas and a field of study. In the eighteenth century, Oriental studies in Russia amounted to a few Prussian schoolmasters — numismatists and linguists — hired by the ruler to grace the new Academy of Sciences. A more lasting legacy was left by a Moldavian prince, Dmitry Cantemir, born in an Ottoman vassal principality, who was sent to Constantinople as a young man, and instead of yielding to the luxuries of the waning empire’s metropolis, devoted himself to learning. In later years, as a pampered exile in Russia, Cantemir wrote a nuanced study of Islam, as well as the History of the Growth and Decay of the Othman Empire, which was translated from Latin into English (1734), German and French, and remained a standard reference on the Ottomans for a century, cited by William Jones, as well as by Gibbon, Byron and Voltaire.

Russian Orientalism is structured around the lives of individuals like Kazem-Bek and Cantemir, whom the author calls “representative”. In their diversity and eccentricity, and their often complicated ethnic and cultural origins, they reveal that until the emergence of academic orientology in St Petersburg at the turn of the twentieth century, there was no “representative” Russian Orientalism, but rather an endlessly varied unfolding of scholarly and artistic engagements with a multitude of imagined “easts”, interwoven in often surprising ways with the changing interests of the imperial state.

Schimmelpenninck van der Oye’s gift for apt and evocative storytelling comes into play in his chapter on Catherine the Great’s decorative Orientalism. It begins with the Tsarina’s stately passage in a train of gilded carriages to the newly conquered Crimean Peninsula in 1787, her silver jubilee year. For the court of the learned ruler who had, twenty years earlier, proclaimed Russia “a European state”, the Crimea evoked not only Russia’s origins (Prince Vladimir had reportedly been baptized in 988 in nearby Kherson), but also the worlds of ancient Greece and Byzantium. (Catherine’s grandsons were named Alexander and Constantine after the Greek conqueror and the Byzantine emperor.) Stage-managed with fantastic extravagance by Prince Grigory Potemkin, this journey of thousands of miles culminated with a cruise down the Dnieper river, and a final carriage procession across the steppe, with diversion provided by thousands of Don Cossacks, Kalmyk horsemen, and Crimean Tatar cavalry, and even a regiment of “Amazons”, female warriors from the ancient Scythia of Herodotus, regaled in neoclassical breastplates and white ostrich plumes. The symbolic high point of Catherine’s journey was a late spring sojourn in Bakhchisarai, the former capital of the Crimean khanate and a last remnant of the power of the Golden Horde. “I lay here in the summer-house of the khan / Amidst the infidel and faith Mohammedan,” the Tsarina wrote in a poem for her viceroy, “And disturbed from my sleep amidst Bakhchisarai / By tobacco smoke and cries . . . . Is this not paradise?” Even more appealing to the imagination of the Voltairean Catherine and her court than the picturesque Islamic world of the Thousand and One Nights was China’s Middle Kingdom, with its associations of reason, imperial power and exquisite taste in porcelain, embroidered silk and architecture.

Asian themes resurface powerfully with Alexander Pushkin’s Byronic “southern poems”. In 1820, Pushkin had just published the verse fairytale Ruslan and Ludmila (which combined themes from the Thousand and One Nights with Russian folklore), when he was exiled to the empire’s south-western frontier for a political poem that had circulated in manuscript. Pushkin’s travels in the Caucasus and the Crimea led to the narrative poems Captive of the Caucasus and The Fountain of Bakhchisarai, which brought him great acclaim, as well as a number of shorter lyrics inspired by the medieval Persian poet Sa’di. In the tradition of Catherine the Great, Pushkin kept a sure sense of what he called his European “taste and eye”, even in “the rapture of Oriental splendour”.

In the 1830s, wars against the Muslim tribes in the Caucasus inspired the poetry and prose of Mikhail Lermontov, the Decembrist exile Alexander Bestuzhev (who wrote under the pseudonym Marlinsky) and a number of other modish writers of travel prose, adventure fiction and verse. Their literary Orientalism has been insightfully explored by Susan Layton in Russian Literature and Empire (1995) and by Monika Greenleaf in Pushkin and Romantic Fashion (1995), but Schimmelpenninck’s account of the early nineteenth-century “oriental muse” usefully places these writers in the context of the developing Russian fascination with many different “easts”.

Poets do not reappear prominently in the story of Russian Orientalism until the Symbolist movement of the turn of the twentieth century. In Schimmelpenninck van der Oye’s account, the mid-nineteenth century belongs, for the most part, to scholars and missionaries: uncommon men, ready to cross both geographical and cultural boundaries, to confront doubts, and to change their minds. “Among all European nations, Russia is best qualified to study Asia”, wrote Count Sergei Uvarov in his proposal for an “académie asiatique”. As education minister under Nicholas I, Uvarov (notorious as the reactionary ideologue of “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality”) was a champion of orientology; he hoped the hierarchical traditions of the East would be a counter to European radicalism. As Vera Tolz writes, in Uvarov’s “imagined academy”, a “European critic” would work side by side with an “Asiatic lama”.

To the great sinologist Nikita Yakovlevich Bichurin (1777-1853), better known by his monastic name of Fr Hyacinth, Russia’s long border with China gave it an insurpassable advantage over Western Europe in the study of the Middle Kingdom. He remarked to the historian Mikhail Pogodin that the judgement of European scholars about matters concerning Central and East Asia “is no more reliable than that of a blind man about colours”. Hyacinth was a disreputable priest, but a fine scholar. He raised the discipline of sinology to such a level that by mid-century the study of China was more advanced in Russia than anywhere in Western Europe. Hyacinth was a Chuvash (of mixed Finno-Ugric and Turkic blood) and the son of a village deacon. Educated at the Kazan seminary, he spent many years in China as head of a diplomatic mission, neglecting religious and administrative duties for his studies. In the 1820s, he returned to St Petersburg, where he lived a loose life, and frequented literary salons with the prominent writers of the day. In 1830, Pushkin was refused permission by the secret police to accompany the priest on an expedition to China through the tea-trading frontier town of Kyakhta. (Pushkin never succeeded in crossing the border of the Russian empire, though he tried several times.) Two years later, Fr Hyacinth founded Russia’s first Chinese-language school in Kyakhta.

With its inauguration in 1855, the Faculty of Oriental Languages in St Petersburg University took over the growing field from Kazan. Its first dean was Mirza Kazem-Bek, who boasted that “nowhere else in Europe have as many orientologists ever gathered in one academic institution as here”. The special promise of Russian orientology that Uvarov and others since the early nineteenth century had asserted more as a figure of speech than a reality was only fulfilled in the last decades of that century. It is here that Vera Tolz takes up the story, in an erudite and closely argued interpretation of the significance of a remarkable group of scholars, known as the “Rosen school”. The Arabist Baron Viktor Romanovich Rosen became dean of St Petersburg’s Faculty of Oriental Languages in 1893. Though he was distinguished more for his achievements in academic administration, reviewing and teaching than for original research, Rosen was seen by his disciples as the founder of an “entire new school of orientology”, which gained international standing by focusing on Russia’s “own orient”. The most illustrious scholars in the Rosen school were Vasily Barthold, Sergei Oldenburg, Fedor Shcherbatskoy and Nikolai Marr, whose principal areas of study were Central Asia, Buddhism (particularly its living oral traditions within the Russian empire) and the Caucasus.

Tolz is concerned with “families of ideas” rather than with individual biographies, but she notes that though these men forged an authentic and distinctive “Russian” school of orientology, none of them was ethnically Russian. Rosen, a Baltic baron who grew up speaking German, was a fervent advocate of Russian as a language of scholarship among European orientologists. Tolz lays out, in all its complicated, often contradictory detail, the extent of their political and intellectual influence beyond the field of “science” in the early decades of the twentieth century. The ideas of the Rosen school shaped early Soviet policies towards ethnic groups in the Caucasus and Siberia. At a time when Russian imperial policies were being questioned in works such as Tolstoy’s sublime late masterpiece Hadji Murat, whose hero is a Chechen, the Russian imperial scholars and their “minority associates” were redefining certain ethnic groups as national communities, and creating a picture of Russia as a distinctive “political and cultural space”, open and multi-polar, in which there was no discernible boundary between East and West.

In the past decade, there has been vigorous argument among scholars (particularly in the journal Kritika) about the relevance of Edward Said’s ideas for Russian Orientalism. Tolz takes the debate in a new direction by revealing the traces of Russian Oriental studies in Said’s thinking. Though he did not know the work of the Rosen school directly, Said was heir to its particular style of thought through the mediation of the Marxist and postcolonial nationalist Arab intellectuals of the early 1960s. The Egyptian Anwar Abdel-Malek, who strongly influenced Said, studied in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and borrowed directly from Sergei Oldenburg’s critique of the relationship between knowledge and imperial power in Western European Orientalism. Having followed the course of grand ideas along a trail of footnotes, Tolz concludes that Oldenburg was in many ways a more important influence on Said than Michel Foucault, whom he explicitly invokes and who set the terms for Orientalism’s essentialized picture of the “West” and its polemical discussion of Orientalist “discourse”. Though the legacy of the Rosen school is in many respects contradictory, in particular in relation to the question of the development of “national consciousness” in the context of a state-framed empire like Russia’s, Tolz proposes that contemporary postcolonial scholarship be seen as a descendant of early twentieth-century Russian orientology.

Russian self-confidence about its unique academic advantages in this field reached its clearest expression in a remarkable series of lectures, “The History of the Study of the East in Europe and in Russia”, by Vasily Barthold, delivered for the golden jubilee of the St Petersburg Faculty of Oriental Languages in 1905. Barthold called Russia a “scientific world apart”, at once asserting the “scientific” nature of history, and Russia’s own, distinct “Oriental” cultural identity. He was a scholar of international repute. He contributed hundreds of entries on Central Asia, Crimea and the Caucasus — places beyond the field of inquiry for Western scholars — to the Encyclopedia of Islam, published in Leiden between 1913 and 1938. (One was the entry on the Russian city of Kazan.) The English Orientalist Edward Denison Ross wrote his obituary for The Times.

Stalinism and the Cold War combined to deprive Barthold and his colleagues of their rightful standing, both in Russia and abroad. Their discoveries fed the imaginations of the creative elite, and influenced the Eurasianists of the 1920s, who asserted Russia’s fundamental difference from Europe. They created images of the “East” — from the empire of Genghis Khan to the Caucasus — that directly inspired early twentieth-century Symbolist poets and “Eurasianist” thinkers as they reimagined Russia’s “exotic self” in poetry, mysticism, apocalyptic prophecy and anti-Western polemic, which invoked Scythia and the heritage of the steppe. A number of these writers explicitly rejected the ideal of the “European eye” and turned, as Tolstoy did in later life, to Indian and Chinese thought. Yet it was in the name of the “false science” of history, imported from Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, that the manifold aesthetic, philosophical and religious riches of the East, as well as Russia’s own Eastern origins, were first brought to light — in the lecture halls of Kazan and St Petersburg, and the staid periodicals of the Imperial Geographical Society.

Vera Tolz ends Russia’s Own Orient by gently suggesting that in Putin and Medvedev’s Russia, when it is fashionable again to emphasize Russia’s eastward-facing heritage, the intellectual legacy of the forgotten “Rosen school” — which used the tools of European “science” to study and celebrate non-European cultures and traditions — would make a far richer source of national inspiration than an aggressive revived “Eurasianism” that presents the West and its putative values as a threat to Russia’s distinct cultural identity.

Rachel Polonsky’s most recent book is Molotov’s Magic Lantern: Uncovering Russia’s secret history, 2010. She teaches in the Slavonic department at the University of Cambridge.

David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye

RUSSIAN ORIENTALISM

Asia in the Russian mind from Peter the Great to the emigration

298pp. Yale University Press. £25 (US $40).978 0 300 11063 0

Vera Tolz

RUSSIA’S OWN ORIENT

The politics of identity and Oriental Studies in the late imperial and Soviet periods

224pp. Oxford University Press. £55 (US $99).

978 0 19 959444 3

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

Caucasus


Chechnya: Gleaming City Rising From Ruins Can’t Hide Psychic Scars of a War

GROZNY, Russia — A spectacular complex of high-rise towers was inaugurated Wednesday in what once was the war-torn city of Grozny, with banners and flashing lights and celebrity guests including Vanessa-Mae on the violin.

The new Grozny City development is the centerpiece of a transformation that has changed the capital of Chechnya from the charred wreckage that was left after the wars of the 1990s and remained until only a few years ago. In place of bombs and artillery, Moscow is pouring billions of rubles into a postwar Chechnya to support and mollify its chosen leader, President Ramzan A. Kadyrov, a former guerrilla who once fought against Russian troops. The buildings look out from as high as 45 stories over an entirely new city, with parks and broad avenues, fountains and flower beds, and hardly a scratch to remind it of more than a decade of separatist warfare.

In place of the shattered and empty carcass that the war left behind, a sort of fantasy Grozny is almost complete, including a fairground and ice-skating rink and plans for a water park, a racetrack, a cultural center and a ski resort. “They finally realized that the war cost more,” Andrei Mironov, who works with the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial, said of the Kremlin. “The Chechen regime looks like a winner who gets money from a defeated country.”

The binge of construction and the emergence of a bright new Grozny are extraordinary developments in a republic with hardly any economy of its own. Unemployment stands at 85 percent, said Lyoma Turpalov, editor of Groznensky Rabochy, an independent weekly newspaper. But Chechnya subsists on huge subsidies from Moscow that are not publicly accounted for, he said. No matter how much the city is remodeled, however, the trauma of the war continues to torment its residents, said Taisa Isayeva, 40, a former journalist who now reports on human rights abuses. “You are judging by all this beautiful architecture but not by the psychology of the people,” she said. “Everyone talks about the new buildings. For 15 or 16 years we all lived through war. We were just about ruined. Ninety percent of Chechens are psychologically sick.”

For all the superficial trappings of peace and prosperity, Grozny can still be dangerous. It has been brought to heel by Mr. Kadyrov’s strongman rule but its peaceful streets thrum with suppressed violence. Police officers dressed in blue camouflage uniforms carry automatic rifles as they patrol the parks and coffee shops, the Academy of Beauty and Shoe Heaven, the pizza parlors and the tour agencies with posters advertising Mediterranean vacations.

Security was reported to be tight for Wednesday’s celebration, which also marked Mr. Kadyrov’s 35th birthday. Major roads were closed and there were reports that the police had gone house to house checking documents. The Colombian singer Shakira denied in a Twitter message that she had been booked to attend the grand opening of Grozny City, but Mr. Kadyrov insisted that she had been and said she was frightened away by human rights groups that report continuing kidnappings and torture. “Rights activists wrote a letter to Shakira telling her not to come to us, because the authorities here kill people, human rights are breached here,” he said in a statement reported by Agence France-Presse. “Only enemies of the people could write this.”

In return for its largess, the Kremlin has enjoyed relative stability in Chechnya in what is viewed in Moscow as a success for Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin’s policy of Chechenization.

The government in Moscow has ceded effective autonomy to Mr. Kadyrov and he is enforcing his own mandate that includes the imposition of Islamic standards, including a ban on alcohol and gambling and pressure on women to adopt Islamic dress. “They enjoy the current situation,” said Andrei Piontkovsky, a political commentator in Moscow. “They enjoy the fact that they are independent, plus getting generous money from Moscow.”

Mr. Kadyrov and his men, many of whom have themselves come in from the forests, have succeeded in suppressing much of the insurgency, making Chechnya now one of the more stable republics in the restive North Caucasus region. The epicenter of violence has shifted east to Chechnya’s neighbor Dagestan, where the independent Internet news site Caucasian Knot calculated that 315 people had been killed and 224 had been wounded in the first nine months of the year. The numbers in Chechnya were 81 killed and 103 wounded, a steep reduction from just a few years ago. Grozny’s builders are upbeat. “Our city now is characteristic of a metropolis on the level of Moscow and St. Petersburg,” said the chief architect, Nasukhanov Shadid. But for many of those who lived through it, the conflict continues. Zarema Utsiyeva, 38, a journalism professor, said the loss of both her son and her husband continued to haunt her. “Each person has his own war inside,” she said.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



Hollywood Stars Help Chechnya Leader to Celebrate His Birthday

Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed leader marked his 35th birthday yesterday with a lavish celebration in central Grozny featuring Hollywood stars and the opening of a skyscraper complex.

The celebration came amid concerns from activists that the territory under the rule of Ramzan Kadyrov remains rife with rights abuses. Mr Kadyrov had said he would fire any officials who tried to give him birthday presents as he did not want a big celebration, but two years ago the City Day of Grozny was conveniently moved to Mr Kadyrov’s birthday, and yesterday evening’s festivities were ostensibly to celebrate the city.

Central Grozny was closed off for the night, which also saw the opening of Grozny City, a collection of Dubai-style skyscrapers in the Chechen capital, where just a decade ago barely a building was standing. Mr Kadyrov shouted “Allahu Akbar” three times as the buildings were illuminated with hundreds of fireworks simultaneously detonating around their walls.

Mr Kadyrov took over as effective ruler of the republic when his father, Akhmad-Khadzhi Kadyrov, was killed in a bomb attack in May 2005. Since then, he has gradually a built up a three-pronged personality cult around himself, his father and Vladimir Putin, the man who won popularity in Russia by ordering an all-out attack on Chechnya. The main street of Grozny is now called Putin Avenue, and pictures of Kadyrov Snr, Jnr, and Mr Putin adorn almost every building in the capital.

After the opening of Grozny City, Jean-Claude van Damme was welcomed to the stage, where paid tribute to Mr Kadyrov. Although he referred repeatedly to “the country of Chechena” (sic), he recovered at the end of his speech to yell, “I love you Mr Kadyrov!” The assembled dignitaries applauded. Actress Hilary Swank, next on stage said she had been on a tour of the town. “I could feel the spirit of the people, and I could see that everyone was so happy,” she said. “Happy birthday Mr President.” Later, the violinist Vanessa Mae, who was paid a reported $500,000 (£324,000) to attend, performed.

There has been increasing concern among Russians about the enormous sums of cash that are splashed on lavish events in Chechnya. Earlier this year Mr Kadyrov invited footballers such as Diego Maradona, Luis Figo and Robbie Fowler to play against him in a football match in Grozny. Mr Kadyrov strolled into Grozny’s central mosque to speak with journalists before the concert yesterday and praised the development of Chechnya over the past few years. Asked where the money for all the spending in Chechnya comes from, Mr Kadyrov laughed. “Allah gives it to us. We don’t know ourselves where it comes from.”

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

South Asia


Afghanistan: Police Trainers Have Little to Do in Kunduz

A number of the police trainers due to leave for Afghanistan at the beginning of November may find their trip is cancelled, the Volkskrant reports on Tuesday.

It is currently unclear whether there is enough work for them at the police school in Kunduz, a defence ministry spokesman told the paper.

At the moment only three of the 19 trainers stationed there are actually giving lessons, the paper says. The other 16 are waiting to be sent back to the Netherlands because of a shortage of students and a lack of classroom space.

The Netherlands agreed to send a 500-strong mission to help train police officers in the northern province after pulling out of the military mission in the south last August.

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



Afghanistan: Girl, Eight, Sold as Bride to Police Officer

Girls are still sold as child brides in Afghanistan, despite laws banning the practice. Ten years after British forces entered the war-ravaged country, the Standard has uncovered shocking evidence of an eight-year-old girl who was married off to a policeman for cash. She was sold to the officer, in his twenties, in clear breach of laws introduced two years ago to protect women. She was then the subject of a remarkable battle that symbolises the plight of girls in Afghanistan. Her story vividly highlights the failure to bring about social reforms in the stricken nation, despite the long presence of British forces.

It is revealed ahead of tomorrow’s 10th anniversary of the first air strikes on Afghanistan and is a grim reminder of how once-high hopes for democracy, modern justice and social progress there have been dashed. It also comes a day after David Cameron renewed his promise to withdraw combat troops by the end of 2014. The Standard has been told disturbing details of the case by British advisers who are concerned that the girl is still in danger. They are angry that they are powerless to act.

The child was sold to a member of the Afghan border police, a state employee, within the past year by her father in the southern Helmand district of Garmsir. A price was agreed with the father and the marriage was duly solemnised in a ceremony with a mullah.

This was against Afghan state law on marriage but the ceremony gave legitimacy and status in the eyes of the communities and the families. It was agreed in the deal that the groom would not have sex with the bride until she had passed puberty. Under current law, the legal lower age for marriage is 16. After a few months, the father returned to the bridegroom’s family to complain. In breach of the contract, the husband had attempted sex with the child bride. This was referred, with the help of international advisers and counsellors, to the legal authorities.

The public prosecutor and the Haquq, the local arbitrator and a key figure in community justice in Afghanistan, were requested to consider a prosecution against the abusive husband. “The child was taken into custody,” said my source, a governance adviser from the international community. “She was examined by a US Marine doctor and was found to have been interfered with.” At this point, the authorities decided this was a matter not for the law of Afghanistan but community and tribal custom. The village elders decided that the husband had breached the agreement and so should pay the bigger bride price demanded by the father. They also ruled the child should return to her husband, whatever the risk to her health, happiness and even life.

In Afghanistan, despite the law against child brides, more than half of all girls are married before they turn 15, usually to settle disputes. On my recent visit of just under a month across Afghanistan — the third this year alone — I found that the trading of young girls as brides is far from rare. “Bride prices” are up to $20,000 and the big payers are those rich in opium, gangsters, middlemen and warlords. After the case of a three-year-old girl who was being prepared for marriage in October 2007, Afghan officials promised to crack down on the practice.

Tiny Sunam was pictured in a bridal veil as she was promised to her seven-year-old cousin Nieem. But the Standard has learned that such promises have not been honoured. A Unicef study from 2000 to 2008 found that more than 43 per cent of women in Afghanistan were married under age, some before puberty. In 2009 Human Rights Watch and Unifem, a UN agency, classified 57 per cent of all brides as under age, which is below 16. Despite the changes in the state law, not much seems to have changed since then because old tribal customs nearly always seem to trump the laws of the land — despite strenuous efforts by government and international agencies to educate tribal elders and local judicial figures, like the judge and the Haquq.

In 2009 an Elimination Of Violence Against Women law was passed. But this has only been implemented in 10 of the 34 provinces.

Now, in addition to concerns about Kabul turning a blind eye, Oxfam has issued a stark warning that if the Taliban comes back to power as part of a peace deal in Afghanistan, this could mean a catastrophic setback for the rights and fair treatment of women. Among them will be child brides.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of allied intervention to oust the Taliban regime and its al Qaeda sponsors from Kabul. But any fragile gains made by women since 2001 may now be endangered if the Taliban were to insist on their harsh interpretation of Sharia law as the condition for ceasing hostilities and entering a coalition government. More than 380 UK soldiers have died fighting the Taliban in a bid to stop Afghanistan being a safe haven for terrorists. Al Qaeda has largely been forced out of the country and over the border into Pakistan.

British forces took part in the Allied air strikes against the Taliban on October 7. Royal Marines from 40 Commando were sent in to secure Bagram airfield, near the capital Kabul, the following month. The first British casualty was Private Darren George, 23, of the Royal Anglian Regiment, killed in April 2002.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



Bishop Says Christians Increasingly Under Attack in Indonesia

The head of Indonesian bishops says Islamic fundamentalists in Indonesia are attacking Christians with impunity. Intolerance seems to be on the rise despite the fact that freedom of religion is guaranteed.

Indonesia’s most recent church bombing took place on September 25 in the town of Solo. Beni Asri has been arrested at his home town of Solok in West Sumatra for his alleged involvement in the attack, in which 27 people were injured. He is also suspected of having connections with members of a group founded by militant spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir who was jailed earlier this year. The 26-year-old Asri had been one of Indonesia’s four top terror suspects wanted for allegedly plotting an April suicide bombing that injured 30 police officers during prayer in a mosque in Cirebon.

In February this year, a 1,500-strong mob of Muslims set two churches alight and ransacked a third in the town of Temanggung, on Java island. They had demanded that a Christian man be sentenced to death for insulting Islam.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



Charbaran 2: Been There: Done COIN … & Took Pics

by Diana West

Whaddya know but I’m not alone in having Yogi Berra’s sense of deja-vu-all-over-again on reading this week’s NYT report on Charbaran, Afghanistan. Me, I just had a funny feeling about the place, about the repetitive motions US forces are going through, about the tired fruitlessness of it all — about those “ruins of a government center that the United States built earlier,” which was the tip-off to earlier, failed COIN efforts in Charbarn, as stitched together in my initial post.

But writer-photog-veteran Paul Avallone was there in 2008. He writes:

Gee, we coulda saved the Times (already heavily mortgaged) a ton of money just using my stuff from three years ago, June 2008. Yeah, as you write, nothing is changed. Except, back then, the heavily fortified, built-up district center was still standing. We (the 101st company I was with) called it home for a week. Here, I threw together a few photos. From THREE YEARS AGO. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Click through the images; I think you’ll get a kick, yeah, ‘cuz you’re right, NOTHING CHANGES. And I’ll bet the village elders in a couple of these images are whining about, and demanding, the same things to the GIs today.

Here is a look into Paul’s photo album from Charbaran, 2008:…

           — Hat tip: Diana West [Return to headlines]



India’s Nuclear Future Put on Hold

Safety fears derail plan to import reactors.

An increase in anti-nuclear sentiment after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in March has stalled India’s ambitious plan for nuclear expansion. The plan, pushed forward by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, aims to use reactors imported from the United States, France and Russia to increase the country’s nuclear-power capacity from the present 4,780 megawatts to 60,000 megawatts by 2035, and to provide one-quarter of the country’s energy by 2050. But now there are doubts that the targets will ever be met if safety fears persist.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



Indonesia: Islamic Movement Protests Against Shoppings Malls

Jakarta, 6 Oct. (AKI) — Members of the Indonesia’s Islamic Student Assocation (HMI) clashed with riot police during a rally in front of the Kediri Regional Representatives Council (DPD) office on Thursday.

“Open the gates or we’ll break them down,” protesters yelled.

The students were rallying against the mushrooming of modern shopping and karaoke centers in Kediri. The malls, they said, had caused the demise of other smaller shops.

Kediri, in eastern Java, is situated 105 kilometers southwest of Surabaya, the country’s second-largest city.

The students also demanded the closure of karaoke centers, which they said were centers for prostitution. The group urged members of the council to sign a statement saying they would close the businesses.

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



Pakistan: Armed Group Kills Christian Over Disputed Land in Punjab

Last night, Safdar Masih was shot to death; others, including children, were injured. The local Church had bought some land to build an orphanage, but the local land mafia laid claim to it. Police refuses to open an investigation into the affair.

Lahore (AsiaNews) — Safdar Masih, a Pakistani Christian living in Mian Channu, a town in Khanewal District (Punjab), was murdered Wednesday night over a land dispute. A dozen people were injured. According to sources, a local Church had bought the land to build an orphanage, but an influential local feudal lord, Muhammad Ali Durrani, tried to claim the land.

Local residents say the rich Muslim backs the land mafia and tried to take the land bought by the Church. On Monday, local residents submitted an application at the local police station against Durrani and his associates, but police tried to pressure them and threatened them to withdraw their complaint.

On Wednesday, arriving by car, armed men attacked locals, murdered Safdar Masih, and injured over a dozen other residents including children. They also took over the land. Police did not register a First Information Report (FIR) about the anti-Christian attack.

The Catholic Church in Khanewal has condemned the latest incident and called for immediate action.

“We strongly condemn this murder,” Fr Ilyas John from Khanewal said. “This is not the first incident of land grabbing in the district,” he told AsiaNews. “Influential feudals target the weak and the vulnerable.”

The local Church does not have a big congregation but bought the land to build an orphanage. However, it should have given greater consideration to the organizational capacity needed in taking such a step because “the land mafia in this region is very strong and they keep an eye on such projects as they are an easy catch,” the clergyman explained.

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

Australia — Pacific


Spreading the Word

A council is spending ratepayers’ money to make Muslims feel more at home, by funding workers to spread the word of Islam.

Darebin Council in Melbourne’s north is doing the hiring, using a grant from the Federal Attorney General Rober McClelland’s Counter Violent Extremism Fund. The successful applicant will be paid $66,000 a year. As a ratepayer Vicki Janson says the community was never consulted, and as the Deputy President of the Q Society — a group concerned with the Islamification of Australia — she’s outraged. “We’re for integration not segregation, and really for upholding what we would call Australian values,” Janson said.

The Attorney General sees the plan as a way of building a strong and cohesive society, and resilience in the community against extremism. The job description states that the officer’s role will be to “Strengthen the Islamic Society of Victoria and (find) how they can be more effective in the community”. Also to implement strategies that assist the Islamic Society to dispel myths and misconceptions about Muslims and Islam.

It’s an honourable pursuit, but should ratepayers be footing the bill to promote one religion over another? The Ratepayers Association’s Jack Davis asks “are we going to subsidise all these other religions for the same sort of thing?” Nazeem Hussein is spokesperson for the Islamic Council of Victoria and says the initiative is all about educating Anglo-Australians, not recruiting for the Islamic faith. “I think Australians do need to perhaps step out and understand people who aren’t from an Anglo-Saxon background. We do in Australia have a problem with not really understanding our diverse, multi-cultural, multi-religious groups that do exist within this broad society,” he said. “I think a lot of the critics actually have that fear or that lack of understanding about what it means to be Muslim and these sorts of people would actually be natural participants in this program.”

The Attorney General declined to be interviewed but in a statement revealed the Gillard Government has spent more than $9.7 million on similar initiatives to counter radicalisation in our communities — from sporting clubs to Islamic Associations and Arabic social services. However, no program like this for any other religious group has ever been run before, so the question that remains unanswered is why now? “This isn’t specifically targeted at benefiting a section of the community, it’s targeted at benefiting the whole community, so we need to keep that in mind,” Hussein said. The job description says nothing about having to be a Muslim to apply for the position.

[JP note: The Attorney General has obviously not been following events in the UK where it was discovered that such initiatives support the spread of extremism. See the TaxPayers’ Alliance report which concluded that ‘skilled policing and robust intelligence are the most effective ways of tackling violent extremism.’ There is also a massive risk of funding groups hostile to liberal, democratic values. http://www.taxpayersalliance.com/waste/2009/09/council-spending-uncovered-ii-no-5-preventing-violent-extremism-grants.html ]

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa


Nigeria: 1.2m Beggars Roaming Zamfara Streets — Gov Yari

Governor Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar of Zamfara State, has disclosed that no fewer than 1.2 million beggars (Almajiris) are roaming the streets of the state. The governor who was speaking to newsmen on monday as part of the celebrations of Nigeria at 51, Zamfara at 15 and Sharia at 12 on Monday in Gusau, said, “we have a long way to go to put things on the right path.”

Governor Yari who promised to modernise the sharia legal system practised in the state, confirmed that in the next six days there may be amputation of two persons sentenced by the sharia court in the state. According to him, the issue of street begging was something to be worried about as presently there are 1.2m beggars (Almajiris) roaming the streets of Zamfara State. He assured that very soon he would assist them (Almajiris) in having western education, while calling on wealthy individuals and organizations to assist as it has to be a collective responsibility. He maintained that very soon, government would arrest the situation (streets begging), adding that it was not an easy task.

On the situation of the state since he came in as the Governor of the state, barely four months, Governor Yari revealed that he met about 480 uncompleted projects with N42 billion debts in the state. He explained that a committee was set up to verify abandoned and uncompleted projects, which as of the time he was speaking to newsmen in the state, he had paid N15.2 billion to genuine contractors.

[JP note: The clock struck twelve and it was Sharia time!]

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



Nigeria: Religious Group Advises Oyo Govt Against Indiscriminate Demolition of Mosques, Churches

SOME religious groups, especially those whose buildings and worship centres have been marked for demolition by agencies of the Oyo State government over the recent flood disaster in the city of Ibadan, have appealed to Governor Abiola Ajimobi to carry out the demolition exercise with the advice and inputs from environmental specialists. They also counselled the state government that innocent people’s houses and those with authentic documents of their buildings should be given the opportunity to present them for thorough screen so as to prevent indiscriminate demolition of their buildings.

Members of the An-Sar-U-deen Society, Odo-Ona, on Apata road in Ibadan South-West Local Government Council, Oyo State, made this appeal when leaders of the Islamic group organised a press briefing to explain the reasons why their mosque, was marked for demolition by the officials of the State Ministry of Environment should not be pulled down.

The press meeting, which had in attendance some media organisations in the state was also attended by many Islamic faithfuls, community leaders, residents of Gada-Odo-Ona Apata Landlords Associations, as well as some youth leaders in the area. Speaking at the meeting, Alhaji Azeez Tunde Ladejo, the Chairman, AnSar-U-Deen Society, Odo-Ona, Ibadan, explained that they were not against the state government trying to do what would prevent future occurence of flood disaster in the city, but stressed that their position was that indiscriminate demolition of buildings by agents of the state government would not be good.

According to him, “as a religious group, we are also law abiding. As members of Islamic organisation with fear of God, we understand our duty to respect and abide with the rules and regulations of a constituted authorities like Oyo State government. “In fact, it is one of the tenets of Islams to pray for the success of legally constituted authority or government because we know that it is Almighty Allah that makes a leader or government. But what we are saying is that the demolition exercise should have a human face and government must make sure that there is no blind destruction or indiscriminate demolition of structures, buildings, and most especially, worship centres,” he advised.

Alhaji Ladejo said the officials of the Oyo State Ministry of Environment only marked the mosque without asking questions or thoroughly go through the building plans and other documents giving to them by appropriate agencies of the state government before a demolition mark was put on the mosque. The muslim leader said the state government should task either building experts or civil engineers to pay a visit to the area or supervise the Gada river properly to determine whether they ran foul of environmental law or went against physical planning before stigmatising the mosque as an illegal structure. “ Our mosque was not built on river path or on top of a canal or near a river bank. The approved document is here to butress our claim. The path of Gada river was changed and the water channel was directed towards our mosque by some people who built houses very close to the river bank. As a result of this human error, the river changed its direction towards the mosque before changing again toward the Gada bridge,” he stated.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



Uganda: Arab Investors Pump Shs 12 Billion Into Local Bank

Investors from the United Arab Emirates have invested Shs12 billion in the National Bank of Commerce, formerly Kigezi Bank of Commerce, with an objective of increasing shareholder dividends and introducing Sharia banking in Uganda. Sharia banking is where shareholders deposit money on their accounts without withdrawing and share dividends at the end of the year. The National Bank of Commerce board chairman, Mr Mathew Rukikaire, said Shs3 billion has already been received from the Arab investors and the balance is expected next year.

“The Shs12 billion investment in our bank has doubled the shares of all our shareholders. We are ready to take up the investor’s proposal of Sharia banking as long as the law is passed by Parliament,” Mr Rukikaire said. He also explained that the Arabian investment in the National Bank of Commerce accounts for only 25 per cent and the rest 75 per cent remains with the local shareholders.

More than 200 local shareholders hailed the management team for soliciting for the Arab investors and asked for special loans to help them invest in agriculture as a way of promoting food security and increasing their household incomes. One of the investors, Mr Ahamed Dagher, promised more donations to the National Bank of Commerce with an objective of economic empowerment to the local shareholders and ordinary citizens with accounts in the same bank. The majority shareholder in the bank, Mr Amos Nzeyi, said the coming of the Arabian investors into their bank is an economic blessing to the people of Kigezi sub-region who started this bank and to all Ugandans using this bank.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

Immigration


Germany Loses German Face

Germany celebrated the Day of German Unity

A local statistics agency prepared a peculiar “gift” for this date. It published the data showing that almost one fifth of the country’s population is immigrants.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



UK: Theresa May Was Meowing Up the Right Tree on Human Rights

Home Secretary Theresa May blundered slightly in yesterday’s speech, when she invoked a cat in her attack on the use of human rights laws by criminals and illegal immigrants.

May cited the case of a Bolivian who had overstayed in Britain and had used Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the “right to a family life”, to fight his deportation, on account of his having set up home with his girlfriend. One of the things the couple mentioned was that they had bought a cat together, and although the judge made a joke about the moggie — named Maya — it was not a consideration in the case. So he wasn’t allowed to stay because of a cat, May looked rather foolish, and the Twitterati spent the day making feline-related puns to prove how stupid the Tories were. Ho ho and guffaw — Radio 4 topical comedy will just write itself this weekend.

May’s people should have checked the facts — yet strangely no one laughing at this gaffe has anything to say about the 102 people, including violent criminals, who have used Article Eight to prevent deportation. This included a violent drug dealer who beat his girlfriend and failed to pay child maintenance — all of them allowed to stay here. It’s not stupid or illiberal to oppose some human rights law; it is not just because they throw up such obvious injustices, but because they are illiberal themselves, setting one human right (our right to be protected by the law, for instance) against someone else’s (the right to a family life). Of course all rights do this to a certain extent, but the recent laws are so vague and all-encompassing that no one knows what the law actually is, a state of affairs from which only lawyers (and a few scumbags) benefit.

One of May’s predecessors, Michael Howard, was once criticised in a similar way for claiming that a prisoner was allowed to obtain pornography in jail. In fact the claim, under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act — the right to freedom of expression — was rejected. Yet the very fact that a life prisoner could even bring such a manifestly unjust claim will in itself restrict people’s freedom. As with discrimination laws such as the recent Equality Act, which leave institutions and employers unsure of whether they’re breaking the law or not, so wide is the room for perceived wrongdoing, they take power away from individuals and hand them to judges and lawyers, who become arbitrators of our day-to-day lives.

Personally I don’t think anyone’s right to a family life trumps their requirement to obey the law of this country, but that’s just me, I guess.

But what’s curious is how the actual argument about human rights laws and illegal immigration is completely swallowed up by the humorous exaggeration. Certain subjects are only discussed in two ways — a low-brow, slightly moronic, Right-wing, tabloid interpretation, and the official complacent, liberal version. The former is populated by fictitious stories of offended Muslims, Christmas being abolished, and of eastern Europeans eating swans, to which we can add Maya the cat.

But these stories do draw on genuine concerns over real issues which should not be laughed at. The “right to family life” and other positive human rights undermine justice and the law; foreign criminals are allowed to stay here, to the bafflement of non-lawyers; illegal immigration is a very serious problem, with a backlog now running several hundred thousand strong. There is a real issue with ex-Trotskyite radicals in local government using multiculturalism as a pretence to replace Christianity with their own statist moral order. I don’t care whether Christmas is called Winterval; I do care when, for example, Catholic adoption agencies are forced to stop placing children because of the state’s equality laws.

Like political correctness, which most people who matter were able to dismiss as a mid-market tabloid obsession with nursery rhymes or euphemisms, but which was actually intended to change the public culture by making some thoughts literally unsayable, a huge social change is able to avoid scrutiny because attention is focused on the absurd and more mythical aspects. This is the Theresa’s cat fallacy; because an issue is sensationalised in the press, it is therefore of concern only to idiots, and so not important. The Home Secretary may have got her facts slightly wrong, but she was still meowing up the right tree.

[JP note: Purrfect.]

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars


Archbishop Attacks Cameron’s ‘Gay Marriage’ Plan

David Cameron is facing a backlash from religious leaders after saying he supported plans to legalise gay marriage.

The Prime Minister said “commitment” in relationships should be valued regardless of whether it involved “a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man”.

Speaking to the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Mr Cameron said: “We’re consulting on legalising gay marriage. To anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment.

“Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other.

“So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”

           — Hat tip: Kitman [Return to headlines]



UK: If Gay Marriage is Recognised, Why Not Multiple Sharia Marriages?

by Paul Goodman

In 2004, I voted reluctantly against civil partnerships (though I was all for equality in relation to life assurance, tax exemptions and so forth) because I was against the state compromising its practice in relation to marriage — in other words, that it takes place between a man and a woman, the usual practice in Europe for a very long time. Whether I was right in believing that civil partnerships have such an effect is debatable. That I am right in asserting that legalising gay marriage would do so is not. Such is David Cameron’s intention. “I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative,” he said yesterday.

This pleased my old friend Douglas Murray, who mocks other MPs that take a different view. He points out, doubtless correctly, that “few sights in politics are quite as risible as the male politician in full, puffing flight from an issue of basic gay equality”. Though I am no longer a politician, he takes an interest in my views — which are now of no public significance — and circumstances. “This time around,” he writes, “in opposing the government’s equal-marriage proposals, [Goodman] cites among other things the importance of canvassing Muslim opinion in any plan for equality. To call this disingenuous is to state the situation too generously”.

I’ve been puzzling over what I’ve written that could bear this construction. I think, though I am not sure, that Murray is referring to a piece I wrote on this site called “Gay marriage, and why CCHQ should carry out more polling”. Readers will see — since I have supplied a link to the piece, which my old friend omitted to do — that I indeed suggested canvassing Muslim opinion. However, they will also see that I no more stressed its importance than that of canvassing Roman Catholics and Anglicans (who may not share the views of their bishops, as I observed) and voters in marginal seats (who may hold no religious views at all). I ended by writing: “Does it really matter to most voters anyway?”

Quite why Murray quotes only one of the groups that I believe should be canvassed is another puzzle. I could write that to call this disingenuous is to state the situation too generously, but I will give my old friend the benefit of a doubt that he didn’t give me. I think — though again I am not sure — that the explanation may lie in the relationship between the Conservative Party’s views on Muslims and on his. (He once said that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”, and I told him that front bench members could therefore share no platform with him.) However, that is by the by, and I will try to make up any offence I’ve caused by not only giving Murray the benefit of the doubt, but by conceding much of his argument.

Its essence is that the meaning of marriage can change, and that the state should recognise this. It is not necessarily for the procreation of children (he’s right), nor is it the property of religion (right again). It may, as he says, “encourage more straight people back on to the marital path”, and “the making conservatives of gays” (I’d have thought more likely than not). All this I admit, and my old friend may be right when he claims of those who believe otherwise that “some people will seize any boomerang they can to resist the case”. However, he appears to have overlooked that in making his case he has seized one himself — and, furthermore, gone on to fling it, with the effect that flinging boomerangs tends to have.

For since the meaning of marriage can indeed change, why should the state not recognise, say, polygamous marriage? Edward Leigh has made the point: “There is no logical reason why the new alternative institution should be limited to two people. Why not three?” he asks. “Or 33?” To which my old friend responds: “All of which tells us more about his imagination than his logic” — an illustration of the knockabout debating skills which have made his platform appearances with Tariq Ramadan such a pleasure. But it is, note, a debating jibe, not a proper response. In effect, Murray is saying: “I can’t be bothered with an answer, so let’s move on rapidly to the next point.”

And since my old friend can’t be so bothered, I will supply him with one: nobody wants to marry more than one person. Unfortunately, that is where his case, so watertight to date, starts to come apart. For there is a group of people who want to marry more than one person — or, to be more precise, more than one woman. Namely, a percentage of my old friend’s old friends, British Muslims. I suspect it is a very small one, though he may disagree. But whether he does or not, the boomerang that he has dispatched comes hurtling back at his own head. “Few sights in journalism are quite as risible as the male journalist in full, puffing flight from an issue of basic religious equality”, as a Muslim set on the state recognition of multiple sharia marriages might put it.

Now I can rehearse Murray’s counter-arguments even before he supplies them — namely, that the two cases are different. The first involves the liberation of people, the second the oppression of women. And so on. But once he has opened the door to gay marriage, by what authority does he close it to multiple sharia unions? The only truthful answer is: none. This being so, it’s best to avoid the prospect altogether. Which can be done by applying a conservative principle less heard these days than it should be: leave well alone. If you don’t do so in relation to marriage, prepare not only for proponents of multiple marriages to come beating at the door, but for them to arrive with their lawyers. I am not one, and suspect that the courts would give them short shrift, but cannot be certain (and nor can you).

For clarity: both my old friend and I oppose making multiple marriages legal. Readers must judge for themselves whether legalising gay marriage would be more or less likely to make the law of unintended consequences apply. It is one of the great laws of life, and brings, I believe, a seriousness to what some readers may believe to be lunatic exchanges between two journalists obsessed by gays and Muslims. But I am no less vulnerable to that law than Murray, and must therefore admit: I may be wrong. In which case, I should show as benevolent an interest in his welfare as he has shown in mine. As I say, Murray has pursued Ramadan through the TV studios of Europe with even more zest than he has pursued me. If gay marriage is legalised, isn’t the next step obvious? I’m not sure which of the two would be more delighted.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]



UK: Why Conservatives Should Support Gay Marriage

David Cameron just told the Tory conference that he supported gay marriage “because I am a Conservative”. In last week’s issue of the Spectator, Douglas Murray said that the best arguments in favour of gay marriage are conservative ones. For the benefit of CoffeeHousers, here is Douglas’s piece.

In America a new generation of Republicans is challenging the traditional consensus of their party on gay marriage. They — as well as some of the GOP old guard like Dick Cheney — are coming out in favour. In Britain the subject is also back on the agenda with the coalition government, at the insistence of the Prime Minister apparently, planning a ‘public consultation’ on the matter.

Though not exactly political leadership, this nevertheless constitutes a change — not least in stealing the mantle of gay equality from the left. For decades it was presumed that conservatives could only oppose such moves. But as young Republicans like Margaret Hoover (author of American Individualism) are showing, that needn’t be the case. Indeed the best arguments for gay marriage are conservative ones.

But first there are the non-arguments. Among them are those claiming that giving gays the right to marry somehow destabilises heterosexual marriage. But divorce and adultery are the biggest underminers of marriage. Has any man abandoned his wife because of gay marriage? Then there is the slippery-slope argument. Tory MP Edward Leigh worries that if gays are allowed to marry, ‘There is no logical reason why the new alternative institution should be limited to two people. Why not three?’ he asks. ‘Or 33?’ All of which tells us more about his imagination than his logic.

Few sights in politics are quite as risible as the male politician in full, puffing flight from an issue of basic gay equality. As the campaigning lawyer Elizabeth Birch said when arguing with the three-times-married conservative representative Bob Barr in 1990, ‘Which marriage are you defending? Your first, your second or your third?’ The idea that marriage is solely for the procreation of children is equally dismissable. Plenty of straight couples, particularly older ones, do not marry to have children. They marry to form a deep, committed and publicly respected bond. In any case, if protecting the special nature of marriage were the true drive of anti-equality activists, then they might focus instead on those celebrity and ‘reality’ stars who transparently marry for the publicity. Perhaps campaigners should picket Katie Price’s weddings?

But true conservatives should welcome gay marriage. For its increasing acceptance across civilised countries represents not the making gay of marriage but the making conservative of gays. The desire of an increasing number of gay men and women to have their stable and lifelong relationships recognised equally by family, friends and society as a whole demonstrates the respect of individuals within, and towards, an important institution. Those who fear or dislike perceived aspects of gay life should particularly welcome gay acceptance into the marital fold. An aspect of male ‘gay life’ some heterosexuals claim to have a problem with is the perceived promiscuity. Whether this is in reality any more distinctive than among straight people, gay marriage offers a remedy, giving gays, like straights, a public and private path towards commitment. At a time when many heterosexuals are spurning the idea of marriage, here is a section of society positively lobbying for the right to respect and continue the institution. Perhaps gay marriage will encourage more straight people back on to the marital path?

Of course the argument most commonly made against gay marriage is the worst of all: the religious argument. Ignoring for a moment whether anyone really wishes to reinstate the practice of consulting ‘holy books’ for the specifics of law-making, the lack of consistency is extraordinary. A few months back I found myself debating a lady from the General Synod. The presence of a verse in the book of Leviticus was her justification for arguing against any rights for gays. ‘What about the imprecations against all sorts of dietary laws in the same book?’ I asked her. ‘What of the warning against the mixing of fabrics? What about that verse in Exodus, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live?”‘ ‘Well, I don’t know anything about that,’ she said. Citing scriptural authority raises not only problems of source, but problems with the reading of a verse.

Nonetheless, if gays are allowed to marry there should be give and take. Marriage equality should not be forced on religious institutions. Religious people of all denominations might keep making the argument within their faiths. But there is no more justification in the religious being forced to accept things they claim to be against their beliefs than there is in the religious forcing their beliefs on everyone else. That should be the quid pro quo. If the religious want to enjoy freedom from the secular, then the secular should be able to enjoy freedom from the religious. But the reasons for denying basic equality on religious grounds is not only inconsistent, it has become desperate. Some people will seize any boomerang they can to resist the case.

For instance, in 2004 the former Conservative MP Paul Goodman voted against the introduction even of the halfway house of civil partnerships, fearing their introduction would ‘compromise an institution which is an integral feature of our social ecology’. Mr Goodman, now executive editor of ConservativeHome, is a married convert to Catholicism. Six years on from the Civil Partnerships Act becoming law, there is no word on whether it has compromised the ‘social ecology’ of his own marriage. But like so many other opponents of equal rights, he has now shifted his case. This time around, in opposing the government’s equal-marriage proposals, he cites among other things the importance of canvassing Muslim opinion in any plan for equality. To call this disingenuous is to state the situation too generously.

The religious case against equal rights can — and probably will — be argued till the end of time. But the effort to deny equality to members of society on shifting religious grounds and nonexistent practical ones is a war on decency as well as on conservative sense. The government should lead the way against this, not with a drawn-out consultation but a clear demonstration of what belongs to the secular state and what belongs to the religious conscience. Future generations of married people, straight and gay, will thank them for it.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

General


Apple: Steve Jobs Has Died

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has issued the following statement:

“I’m truly saddened to learn of Steve Jobs’ death. Melinda and I extend our sincere condolences to his family and friends, and to everyone Steve has touched through his work. Steve and I first met nearly 30 years ago, and have been colleagues, competitors and friends over the course of more than half our lives. The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come. For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it’s been an insanely great honor. I will miss Steve immensely.”

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



Comets Created Earth’s Oceans, Study Concludes

The dirty snowballs known as comets might be the sources of Earth’s water after all, scientists say. Water is critical to life on Earth — life is found virtually wherever there is water on our planet. Researchers have spent decades debating where Earth’s water and other key ingredients of life came from. Prior studies had suggested that early Earth was dry, lacking water and other so-called volatile materials.

Now Earth-like water has been discovered in the small oddball comet Hartley 2, which the Deep Impact/EPOXI spacecraft flew by in November2010. This comet originated in the disk-shaped Kuiper belt, a region of the solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune, suggesting this is ultimately where much of Earth’s water came from. “When the Earth formed it was so hot that most volatiles escaped to space, so when the Earth cooled down it was dry,” said study lead author Paul Hartogh, a planetary scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany. “Water and other volatiles must have been delivered at a later stage.”

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



Huge Mars Crater an ‘Intriguing’ Target for Next NASA Rover

A giant crater on Mars destined to be the stomping ground for NASA’s next rover could provide a treasure trove of intriguing science finds, researchers say. NASA’s car-size, $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, also known as Curiosity, is slated to blast off in late November and arrive at the Red Planet in August 2012. It’ll touch down near the foot of a 3-mile (5-kilometer) high mountain in a massive crater called Gale. Curiosity’s traverses around Gale Crater and its central mountain should reveal a great deal about Martian history and the planet’s past potential to host life, scientists say.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



Internet Mourns the Death of Apple Founder Steve Jobs

He was the man who revolutionized the world of computers and put them into the palm of your hand. The iPod, iPhone and iPad are associated with his name. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has died at the age of 56.

The news was not unexpected. For years, Steve Jobs had been fighting a rare form of pancreatic cancer. In 2004 he underwent an operation, in 2009 he had a liver transplant and three times was forced to take time off from Apple, before finally stepping down from his post as CEO in August this year. Steve Jobs “died peacefully today surrounded by his family,” according to a family statement issued by Apple. The company’s web site displayed a portrait of Jobs with the years 1955-2011. In a statement, Apple said: “Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being… his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.”

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



Remembering Steve Jobs: The Apple Generation Loses Its Visionary

Apple visionary Steve Jobs has died at the age of 56 after a long battle against cancer. He was one of the great inventors of his time and an inspiration to an entire generation.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



Steven Paul Jobs, 1955-2011

Apple Co-Founder Transformed Technology, Media, Retailing And Built One of the World’s Most Valuable Companies

Steven P. Jobs, the Apple Inc. chairman and co-founder who pioneered the personal-computer industry and changed the way people think about technology, died Wednesday at the age of 56. His family, in a statement released by Apple, said Mr. Jobs “died peacefully today surrounded by his family.” The company didn’t specify the cause of death. Mr. Jobs had battled pancreatic cancer and several years ago received a liver transplant. In August, Mr. Jobs stepped down as chief executive, handing the reins to longtime deputy Tim Cook.

“Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being,” Mr. Cook said in a letter to employees. “We will honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he loved so much.” During his more than three-decade career, Mr. Jobs transformed Silicon Valley as he helped turn the once-sleepy expanse of fruit orchards into the technology industry’s innovation center. In addition to laying the groundwork for the industry alongside others like Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, Mr. Jobs proved the appeal of well-designed products over the power of technology itself and transformed the way people interact with technology.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]



Will the Aliens be Nice? Don’t Bet on It

By GARY GUTTING

The probability that there is intelligent life somewhere other than earth increases as we discover more and more solar systems that seem capable of sustaining life. The thought that there might be extraterrestrial intelligences (ETI) somewhere out there excites us and has led to organized efforts to contact any such beings. We have sent space probes with data about us, and we transmit signals with a structured content (like symbols expressing mathematical formulae) to what we hope will be an intergalactic audience. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence project (SETI) is obviously based on the assumption that the possible benefits of contact with ETI outweigh the possible harms. But do they?

But we do know this: for the foreseeable future, contact with ETI would have to result from their coming here, which would in all likelihood mean that they far surpassed us technologically. They would be able to enslave us, hunt us as prey, torture us as objects of scientific experiments, or even exterminate us and leave no trace of our civilization. They would, in other words, be able to treat us as we treat animals — or as our technologically more advanced societies have often treated less advanced ones.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt [Return to headlines]

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