||Commission ‘Unaware’ of New Deadline for Greek Funding Gap
||Crisis: Troika Gives Greece 15 Days to Find 300 Mln Euros
||France and Germany Pressure Denmark on Finance Tax
||Germany: Exports Top €1 Trillion Despite Euro Crisis
||Greece Says Agreement Reached on Austerity Measures: ECB
||Greece: PM Reaches Deal With Party Leaders Over Bailout Terms
||Greek Talks Break Off Despite Looming Bankruptcy
||Greek Austerity Talks Stalled Ahead of Key Eurozone Meet
||Greek Future Hangs on a 300 Million Euro Thread
||Greek Debt Rescue Hits 625-Million-Euro Hurdle
||Greek Unemployment Passes 20 Percent, 48 for Youth
||Ireland Will Not Seek Writedown on Debt, Says PM
||King May Add to Gilt Stash in 50-Billion Pound Insurance Gambit
||‘News of Germany’s Strong Exports Isn’t Welcome Everywhere’
||No New Aid for Greece Beyond Current Bailout: Slovakia
||Portugal’s Official 2011 Trade Deficit Narrows Sharply
||Railing Against the ‘Fourth Reich’: Anti-German Mood Heats Up in Greece
||Record Number of Belgians Reliant on Food Parcels
||Spain Sees Economic Slump Deepening in 1st Quarter 2012
||Spain: Madrid Civil Servants Protest Spending Cuts
||Sweden: SAS Earnings Hit by Spanair Bankruptcy
||Drug of Choice: United States of Coffee Addicts?
||Her Highness Sheikha Moza: An Apology
||John Walker Lindh, The American Taliban, Seeks Irish Citizenship
||Kansans Called to Stand Against Sharia
||Milestone at University of Michigan: Muslim Chaplain
||Report Calls Muslim Terrorism a ‘Minuscule Threat’
||Saudi Prince Who Funded Harvard Program Visits
||Huffington Post Targets Quebec With French Site
||New Muslim Mosque Built for New Generations, Growing Community
Europe and the EU
||Airbus A380 Flaws Spark Saftey Checks
||An Undersea Passage Across the Gulf of Finland?
||Arctic Cold Wreaks Quirky Havoc Across Germany
||Austria: FPÖ Under Fire After Trip to Grozny
||Cyprus: Reunification: Talks to Continue on February 14
||Double-Barrel Profit Hike for Norway’s Statoil
||EU Commission Position Remains Same on Hungary
||France: Parfumier on Trial Today in Paris for “Racism”
||France: The Gueant “Controversy” Gets Dangerously Stupid: Liberty = Nazi Ideology?
||France: Car Breathalyzers to be Compulsory From July
||France: Depardieu to Star as Strauss-Kahn in Film
||French Minister Caves: Didn’t Mean Any Culture in Particular
||Germany Expels Four Syrian Diplomats (2)
||Germany Expels Four Syrian Diplomats (1)
||Hopes Fade for Unique Dutch Ice Race
||Meanwhile: Back in France …
||Mystery of Britain’s Largest Meteorite Solved
||Norway: Breivik ‘Addicted to Computer Games’
||Obama Moves Closer to Post-Religious Europe
||Revealing Conversation With German Diplomat: Did Spanish King Sympathize With Coup Attempt?
||Romania and Bulgaria Lagging Behind on Reforms
||Star Wars in Swedish Causes Fan Outrage
||Sweden: ‘Hugging’ Thieves Baffle Stockholm Police
||Sweden: 15-Year-Old Girl Abducted by Father and Armed Men
||Switzerland: Plans Revived for World’s Deepest Train Station
||UK: ‘Man Killed by Shotgun’ In Leeds Park
||UK: BBC News Chief: No “Value Judgements” About Abu Qatada
||UK: Charlene Downes’ Brother Arrested
||UK: Extremist Urged Benefit Claims
||UK: Islam Week: Message of Love
||UK: Ken Livingstone: I Have Never Told a Lie
||UK: Police Chief Thinks EDL’s Facebook Messsages Are Merely ‘Inappropriate, Brash or Insensitive’
||UK: Ray Honeyford
||UK: Tunstall Terrorist Recorded Inviting Muslims to Jihadi Training Camp
||UK: The Rule of Law in Britain is Diminished by the Furore Over Efforts to Deport Abu Qatada to Jordan
||UK: US Olympic Team Visit Mile End Stadium as They Choose Tower Hamlets as Their Base
||Muslim Council in Egypt Evicts 8 Christian Families, Seizes Their Property
||Tunisia: The Long Political Transition
||Tunisia: City Police Calls National Strike
||Demography is Destiny in Syria
||Iran Turns to Barter for Food as Sanctions Cripple Imports
||Israel’s Stance on Iran Could be ‘Catastrophic’: Moscow
||Jordan: Making a Call on Qatada
||Syria: Moscow ‘Concerned’ Over Qatar and UK Units in Homs
||Turkey: The Church That Politics Turned Into a Mosque
||Turkey: Complaint Filed Against Twitter User Alias @allah
||US Experts Warn of Israeli Attack on Iran
||A New Generation Aims to Revitalize Russia
||Antarctic Lake Could Reveal Evolution, New Life: Scientists
||Gorbachev: Putin Has Run Out of Gas
||Putin Wins Backing of Russia’s Religious Leaders
||Russian Cold Snap Kills 110: Ministry
||The Himalayas and Nearby Peaks Have Lost No Ice in Past 10 Years, Study Shows
||Turkmen Leader: Dentist Turned Enigmatic Strongman
||Buying Germany’s Hidden Champions: Takeover Could Signal New Strategy for China
Australia — Pacific
||Evidence of Cruelty Halts Sydney Abattoir
||Terrorism as Male Bonding
||As English Stops Being the First Language of Most London Children, Is Britain Ready for the Great Integration Challenge?
||Greek ‘Wall’ Is Negative Symbol, Turkey Says
||France: ‘Negro’ Remark Lands Parfumier in Court
||France: Gay Wedding Ceremony Aims to Push Law Change
||France: MPs Approve Public Sector Quotas for Women
||Swedes’ Anti-Gay Flyers Not Free Speech: Court
||UK: Boss of Football’s Anti-Racism Group is Branded a Racist After Calling Asian Fan a ‘Coconut’
||UK: Four-in-10 Children ‘Have Never Been to an Art Gallery’
||UK: Ken Livingstone: Tories Are ‘Riddled’ With Homosexuals
||UK: Six-Fold Rise in Underage Girls Given Contraceptive Implants Past Five Years
||YWC Still Stands Against Sharia Law
||Breaking the Code: Why Yuor Barin Can Raed Tihs
||Our Galaxy’s Giant Black Hole May Munch on Asteroids
||Sharks’ Scales Create Tiny Whirlpools for Speedy Swimming
||Study: Schizophrenia’s Hallucinated Voices Drown Out Real Ones
Commission ‘Unaware’ of New Deadline for Greek Funding Gap
“I am not aware of any extension of any sort,” EU commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio said Thursday in reference to reports of a 15-day deadline to cover a €300million funding gap. Tardio said there “a lot of new elements” for the finance ministers to discuss on Thursday, however.
Crisis: Troika Gives Greece 15 Days to Find 300 Mln Euros
(ANSAmed) — ATHENS — The troika has reportedly given Greece 15 days to find 300 million euros of cuts to avoid reductions to pensions after party leaders objected to this measure during marathon talks that ended early on Thursday, as daily Kathimerini reports. Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos flew to Brussels for a meeting of the Eurogroup in the hope that his eurozone counterparts would be satisfied with the fact that all other aspects of the reform program drawn up with the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund were agreed upon by the leaders of PASOK, New Democracy and Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). “I leave for Brussels with the hope that the Eurogroup will take a positive decision on the new program, on which the survival of the country for the next few years depends,” said Venizelos upon exiting Prime Minister Lucas Papademos’s office at about 6 a.m.
Venizelos took part in talks with the troika and Papademos that began at about 1 a.m. after the party leaders concluded their meeting, which had lasted almost eight hours. The negotiations between the prime minister and the leaders concluded that the government would have to find a way to make 300 million euros of savings in order to avoid 15% cuts to supplementary pensions and another 15% to basic pensions. The troika had projected 635 million euros of savings from reductions in state-backed pensions. Government sources told Greek media that 325 million would be cut from elsewhere, probably defense spending, but Athens is still looking for another 300 million in savings. The same sources said that the troika had agreed to give a grace period of 15 days for the savings to be found. The 50-page document details the austerity measures and reforms Greece will have to agree to secure a crucial 130-billion-euro bailout. It foresees savings of some 3 billion euros this year and another 10 billion until 2015. Many changes are also foreseen for the private sector. The monthly minimum wage, which is currently at 751 euros, is to be reduced by 22%. It will be cut by an additional 10% for those aged under 25 in a bid to tackle youth unemployment, which stands at around 40%.
France and Germany Pressure Denmark on Finance Tax
Nine EU countries urge Denmark to place financial transaction tax on the agenda while sceptical finance minister is accused of being in the pocket of banks
Pressure is mounting on Denmark after nine Eurozone countries demanded that the EU presidency place the drafting of a European financial transaction tax (FTT) on the agenda. The European Commission proposed the FTT in September last year, and while the government is concerned about its potential effect on growth, most of Europe’s major economies support the proposal.
Germany: Exports Top €1 Trillion Despite Euro Crisis
German exports topped €1 trillion for the first time in 2011, but fell at year-end as the eurozone debt crisis hit demand for goods made in Germany, official data showed on Wednesday. Europe’s biggest economy exported €1.06 trillion ($1.4 trillion) in the whole of last year, exceeding the one-trillion mark for the first time, the national statistics office Destatis said in a statement. Imports also rose to a record €902 billion.
Exports declined by 4.3 percent in December alone to their lowest level since April, as the effects of the region’s debilitating debt crisis increasingly made themselves felt, the data showed. And with imports also falling by 3.9 percent, Germany’s trade surplus — which had ballooned to €158.1 billion throughout the whole of 2011 — contracted to €13.9 billion in December.
The full-year data place Germany as the world’s number two exporter behind China which posted exports worth a total €1.432 billion and a trade surplus of €117 billion in 2011.
China, along with the eurozone’s second-biggest economy, France, are Germany’s main trading partners. But France posted a trade deficit of almost €70 billion in 2011. France has a structural trade deficit and is increasingly looking to the German model as a guide to raising competitiveness and exports.
Greece Says Agreement Reached on Austerity Measures: ECB
(FRANKFURT) — A deal has been reached among Greek political leaders on additional austerity measures demanded by EU-IMF creditors in return for a loan bailout, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi said Thursday. Draghi told a news conference that he had received a phone call from Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos just minutes earlier and “he told me that agreement has been reached and has been endorsed by major parties.”
Quizzed about the possibility that the ECB could take losses on its holdings of Greek government bonds, which it has amassed under its controversial bond-buying programme, Draghi refused to be drawn on the issue. But he pointed out that the ECB is “not a negotiating party” in the talks between Greece and its creditors over a write-down of its private held debt.
“Everybody has been talking about what the ECB could or could not do. But the ECB hasn’t said anything,” he said. Nevertheless, “it’s not our intention to violate the prohibition on monetary financing,” he insisted, referring to a policy whereby a government in effect prints money to boost liquidity. “All this talk about the ECB sharing the losses (is) unfounded,” Draghi said, added that “the vibrations that we’re getting is that the parties are pretty close to an agreement.”
Greece’s private creditors are being asked to write off about half of the 200 billion euros’ worth of government bonds they hold to help cut the country’s total debt burden to a sustainable level. The ECB has come under pressure to take losses on the Greek government bonds it holds as the restructuring by private creditors is unlikely to bring down Greece’s debt to the target of 120 percent of GDP in 2020 from 160 percent at present.
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal said the ECB had agreed to exchange the government bonds it purchased in the secondary market last year at a price below face value, provided the debt-restructuring talks have a successful outcome.
The ECB bought the bonds beginning in May 2010 in an effort to push down borrowing costs for Athens. The effort failed and Greece has in effect been locked out of the bond markets ever since, relying on funds from a first bailout in May 2010 worth 110 billion euros.
Greece: PM Reaches Deal With Party Leaders Over Bailout Terms
Government sources have revealed that a deal has been reached over how to find the 300 million euros in savings that the troika was demanding to prevent cuts to pensions that three parties in Greece’s coalition government were not willing to accept. An official in the premier’s office told Kathimerini English Edition that Prime Minister Lucas Papademos had held talks with New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras and a solution had been reached.
Samaras had objected to auxiliary pensions falling below 300 euros per month. He was supported by Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader Giorgos Karatzaferis. PASOK chief George Papandreou had objected to any shortfall being made up by cuts to basic pensions.
The government official said that the 300 million euros would come from cuts in defense spending and other areas but did not give any other details. A statement is expected shortly.
In a news conference, European Central Bank president Mario Draghi confirmed that a deal had been reached. “I received a phone call a few minutes ago from the Greek prime minister and he told me that an agreement has been reached and endorsed by the major parties,” he said. Draghi refused to comment on whether Greek bonds held by the ECB would be included in the country’s restructuring scheme.
Greek Talks Break Off Despite Looming Bankruptcy
BRUSSELS — Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos has failed to secure political backing for further austerity measures despite days of talks and a seven-hour-long meeting on Wednesday (8 February). Referring to an ongoing dispute on pensions reform, his office said in a statement that “there was broad agreement on all the programme issues with the exception of one, which requires further elaboration and discussion with the troika. This discussion will take place immediately, so as to conclude the agreement in view of the Eurogroup meeting.”
Papademos is under pressure from EU leaders and international financiers after already missing several deadlines. He needs the backing of the three coalition parties for the cuts to go ahead and for the EU to agree a second bail-out worth €130 billion. Without the money, Greece will default on bond payments in March.
A snap meeting of eurozone finance ministers is to take place on Thursday in Brussels at 6pm local time. For his part, Greek finance minister Evangelos Venizelos hopes he will have enough to put on the table for colleagues to approve the extra aid by the time they get down to business. “I leave for Brussels with hope that the eurogroup will take a positive decision concerning the new aid plan,” he told press prior to his departure from Athens to the EU capital.
The 50-page austerity plan includes a 22-percent cut in the minimum wage, a 32-percent cut in salaries for young employees and the sacking of 15,000 public sector workers.
The measures prompted new strikes and protests this week. But financial newswires report they still fall short by some €300 million in terms of demands by the so-called troika of lenders — the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The three factions in the coalition — the centre-left Pasok, centre-right New Democracy and right-wing Laos parties — are reluctant to sign up to unpopular reforms ahead of elections in April.
Greek Austerity Talks Stalled Ahead of Key Eurozone Meet
(ATHENS) — Greek leaders Thursday fell short of striking a deal on austerity cuts, even as their finance minister headed to Brussels Thursday for crucial eurozone talks on a new bailout to avert a debt default. Before leaving Athens, Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said he remained hopeful of winning the bailout loan from eurozone finance ministers.
“I leave for Brussels with hope that the Eurogroup will take a positive decision concerning the new aid plan,” Venizelos said. The three coalition partners in Prime Minister Lucas Papademos’ government held nearly eight hours of talks overnight on a rescue plan for the debt-strapped Greek economy, said Papademos’ office. They had agreed on all “points of the plan except one”, according to Papademos’s office.
The sticking point was “the reduction of pensions,” a government source told AFP after the marathon talks, which began Monday and broke up in the early hours of Thursday. Government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis said they still needed to cut 600 million euros, 325 million of which would be obtained by pensions cuts. “For the rest (275 million euros) our creditors have given us a 15-day delay to find a solution,” he added.
Greece’s politicians must reach a deal before their country can receive vital bailout funding from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. The bailout is vital to prevent Greece, a eurozone member, from defaulting on 14.5 billion euros ($19.2 billion) of payments to bond holders due on March 20. All eyes are on Greece amid fears a failure to meet its debt obligations could spark a domino effect that undermines the entire euro common currency project.
Greek Future Hangs on a 300 Million Euro Thread
Greek political leaders on Wednesday night were unable to come to agreement on a European Union demand for 300 million euros worth of pension cuts. The snag could jeopardize an EU aid package worth 130 billion euros — and Greece’s ongoing membership in the euro zone. Elsewhere, though, progress appears to have been made.
At stake is a €130 billion ($170 billion) bailout package, Greece’s future in the euro zone and the potential damage that a disorderly national insolvency could do to European banks and the global economy. A mere €300 million in budget cuts seems but a trifle in comparison.
That, though, is the amount by which Greek political party leaders have come up short in their weeks of talks aimed at fulfilling European Union demands that they push through additional savings worth €3.3 billion as a condition for the vast bailout. On Thursday, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos is off to Brussels for meetings to finalize the aid money. But the failure to agree on all the belt tightening measures sought by the EU has now put the bailout in doubt.
Greek Debt Rescue Hits 625-Million-Euro Hurdle
(ATHENS) — A debt rescue for Greece hit an 11th hour hurdle on Thursday over cuts of 625 million euros ($823 million) with eurozone ministers poised to meet on a package to avert default. Greek unions announced a 48-hour general strike in another campaign against the latest austerity cuts, following a 24-hour strike on Tuesday.
As officials said Greece had two weeks to find a solution, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos flew to Brussels with an incomplete deal on additional budget action which has left Greeks aghast. “I leave for Brussels with hope that the Eurogroup (of finance ministers) will take a positive decision concerning the new aid plan,” Venizelos said.
The sticking point was “the reduction of pensions,” a government source told AFP after marathon talks which broke up in the early hours of Thursday.
Greek Unemployment Passes 20 Percent, 48 for Youth
Greece’s jobless rate rose to a fresh record of 20.9 percent in November 2011 from 18.2 percent in October, statistics service ELSTAT said on Thursday, as the debt crisis and austerity measures took their toll on the labour market. This rise takes the number of unemployed in Greece to 1,029,587 people. It also represents an increase of 7 percent since November 2010, when unemployment was at 13.9 percent.
The number of employed fell by 9.4 percent (405,786 people) year on year and by 4 percent (164,506 people) month on month. The unemployment rate for people under the age of 25 reached 48 percent in November 2011.
Greek unemployment figures are not adjusted for seasonal factors. The average jobless rate in the 17 countries sharing the euro rose slightly to a seasonally adjusted 10.4 percent in November from 10.3 in October.
Ireland Will Not Seek Writedown on Debt, Says PM
Irish PM Enda Kenny has once again underlined that Ireland will not impose losses on the holders of Irish debt. “It’s very clear that Ireland has not sought and will not seek any writedown. We’ll pay our dues in full and on time,” he told Bloomberg TV.
King May Add to Gilt Stash in 50-Billion Pound Insurance Gambit
Feb. 9 (Bloomberg) — Bank of England Governor Mervyn King may pump another 50 billion pounds ($79 billion) into the U.K. economy today as he ramps up protection for a nascent recovery from the threat posed by Europe’s debt crisis.
The nine-member Monetary Policy Committee will raise the target for bond purchases to 325 billion pounds, more than a quarter of current outstanding gilts, according to 34 of 50 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. Fifteen economists forecast a 75 billion-pound increase and one no change. The bank will announce the decision at noon in London.
Indexes of services, manufacturing and construction all showed growth in January, suggesting the U.K.’s fourth-quarter contraction may not mark the start of a second recession. Still, officials in Greece are struggling to obtain the political assent needed to secure a second bailout and help stem turmoil in the euro area that has threatened Britain’s economy.
“It’s a choice of doing too much, and creating too much growth and inflation, or doing nothing, and scaring the gilt market while choking off the recovery,” said Alan Clarke, an economist at Scotia Capital in London. “Given the choice between those two extremes, I’d go with too much growth every time. So on balance, they’ll do another 50 billion.”
Policy makers have primed investors to expect another round of so-called quantitative easing after they completed 75 billion pounds of bond purchases this month. King said Jan. 24 the central bank has “scope” to add to stimulus, while Adam Posen said last week there’s a case for another 75 billion pounds.
‘News of Germany’s Strong Exports Isn’t Welcome Everywhere’
German exports reached an all-time record in 2011, a development that may lead to increased criticism of its trade surplus, with many countries arguing it worsens global imbalances. Editorialists say the country’s economy is already slowing and such criticism may be shortlived.
Germany continued to defy the global downturn in 2011, with one glowing economic report after the other, even as other countries in the euro-zone fell into recession and economies around the world struggled to find their footing. On Wednesday, the country’s Statistical Office announced that exports for the past year reached €1 trillion, representing 11.4 percent growth over 2010 and becoming the greatest amount in history. Some have even speculated that the crisis has benefited the German economy.
The largest growth was achieved in countries outside the common currency zone, which has been saddled with the debt crisis and stalled or shrinking growth. In non-euro-zone countries, exports increased by 13.2 percent, with deliveries within the currency bloc rising by 8.6 percent.
In emerging economies like China, Russia, India and Brazil, demand for the “Made in Germany” label is greater than ever before. They purchase German cars, power plants, heavy machinery and large quantities of high quality, highly specialized products that make the economy here buzz. Those exports helped the number of unemployed in Germany to drop to 3 million, the lowest level seen in 20 years.
As these countries’ economies continue to grow, they are increasing exports and also building up their own infrastructures — and are relying on German products as they do so. They often turn to German small- and mid-sized business for their technology and know-how.
No New Aid for Greece Beyond Current Bailout: Slovakia
(BRATISLAVA) — Slovakia opposes further aid to embattled eurozone member Greece, beyond a 130-billion-euro ($173 billion) loan package which Athens is trying to unlock, Finance Minister Ivan Miklos said Thursday. “We don’t want the volume of public resources (in the rescue package) to be increased above the already agreed 130 billion euros, we want any other increases to by funded through the participation of the private sector,” Miklos told reporters in Bratislava, ahead of a crunch meeting among eurozone finance minister later Thursday in Brussels.
“We also want Greece to take measures that will make its public debt sustainable — at 120 percent of GDP or slightly higher,” he said, adding that it would require not only restrictive measures but also structural reforms to boost economic growth.
Greece has been locked in talks with officials from the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank — also dubbed the “Troika” — on fresh austerity measures needed to trigger the release of the loan package. Greece needs the loan from the European Union and International Monetary Fund to meet debt payments due in March.
“Promises and declarations are not enough, we expect specific measures to be approved by the Greek parliament,” Miklos said. “If Greece won’t be willing to accept the Troika proposals, including salary cuts in the private sector, there won’t be any other alternative but default,” he added.
Slovakia, a former communist economy which joined the EU in 2004 and the eurozone in 2009, has repeatedly expressed its discontent about bailouts in the 17-nation currency bloc. It was the only member state that refused to participate in the first rescue package for Greece in 2010.
Portugal’s Official 2011 Trade Deficit Narrows Sharply
Portugal’s 2011 trade deficit narrowed 25 percent to 15.2 billion euros ($20 billion) as exports grew sharply in the bailed-out country, official data showed on Thursday. The state statistics agency INE said exports rose 15 percent to 42.3 billion euros while imports were little changed at 57.6 billion euros.
The government, struggling to stabilise the strained public finances with the help of a 78 billion euros EU-IMF debt bailout, is counting on exports to get the economy growing again as stiff austerity measures dampen demand. The economy is expected to shrink 3.0 percent this year. But December exports were down 15.4 percent from November at 3.2 billion euros, reflecting a sharp drop in sales to the EU, INE said.
Railing Against the ‘Fourth Reich’: Anti-German Mood Heats Up in Greece
Nazi flags are hardly a rarity at Greek demonstrations these days. Anti-German tirades on primetime television have likewise become a staple. In Greece, a consensus has developed as to who is to blame for the country’s economic misery. Age old stereotypes are flourishing.
Record Number of Belgians Reliant on Food Parcels
The number of people in Belgium who are dependent on food aid has reached alarming levels. Last December 117,440 Belgians were receiving food parcels. The figure is up 3,000 on the year. People who have to get by on a monthly income of less than 740 euros qualify for food parcels from the food banks. Food banks collect food from Belgian supermarkets and are also subsidised by the European Emergency Fund.
Alfons De Vadder of the Food Banks Federation: “Often our customers are single mums, people who have lost their unemployment benefit or immigrants.” Last year Belgian food banks received 13,385 tons of food. The share contributed via the supermarkets is getting smaller. Over half the food is paid for by the European Union.
Spain Sees Economic Slump Deepening in 1st Quarter 2012
Spain warned Thursday its jobs-starved economy will shrink at an even faster rate in the first quarter of 2012, plunging the country back into recession. Economy Minister Luis de Guindos gave the grim forecast, piling on the agony after the economy shrank 0.3 percent in the final quarter of 2011 with a soaring unemployment rate of nearly 23 percent.
“The first quarter will be tough, very tough, this quarter could probably be the worst, worse than the final quarter of last year,” the minister told Onda Cero radio. “Nevertheless I hope that the second quarter will be a bit less bad and that in the second half of the year we will already have a situation of stabilisation.”
A recession is broadly defined as two consecutive quarters of economic contraction. Spain emerged only at the start of 2010 from an 18-month recession triggered by a global financial crisis and a property bubble collapse that destroyed millions of jobs and left behind huge bad loans and debts.
“But the future is not written in stone, it depends on us,” the economy minister said. “That is where economic policy comes in: analysis, the measures we are taking, banking reform, labour market reform, the adjustment that has to be made in the regional governments’ public deficit,” De Guindos added. “That is what in some way must bring Spain back to the path of growth and job creation.”
The grim forecast added to the gloom cast over Spain’s future by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy the previous day, when he predicted that jobless queues will grow even longer. Spain’s unemployment rate hit a 17-year record of 22.85 percent at the end of 2011 — the highest in the industrialised world — as the number of job seekers shot above the five-million barrier.
“Unfortunately, these figures will not get better in the short term. More than that; in 2012 they will get worse,” Rajoy, who took power in December after his Popular Party won by a landslide in November 20 elections, told parliament. The Bank of Spain has forecast that Spain’s economy will shrink by 1.5 percent in 2012.
Spain: Madrid Civil Servants Protest Spending Cuts
Thousands of public sector workers took to the streets of the capital on Tuesday evening to protest cutbacks introduced by the cash-strapped Madrid regional government.
Plainclothes policemen and firemen in uniforms marched with teachers, healthcare workers and other civil servants, some accompanied by their families, under the banner: “The public sector is for all. No cuts.”
The regional government’s austerity drive includes increasing the working week from 35 hours to 37.5 hours, a measure labor unions calculate could deprive temporary and relief workers of some 8,000 jobs.
Sweden: SAS Earnings Hit by Spanair Bankruptcy
Scandinavian airline SAS said Wednesday it improved its operating profit last year but that it was dragged into loss as its former subsidiary Spanair filed for bankruptcy. The airline, struggling to cut costs to remain competitive, said even despite the exceptional items it trimmed its losses last year to 1.69 billion kronor ($253 million) from 2.22 billion kronor in 2010.
Drug of Choice: United States of Coffee Addicts?
Americans consume 400-million cups of coffee per day, making the US the leading consumer of coffee in the world. But is this love too dangerous? According to medical experts, the daily intake of caffeine should not exceed 300 milligrams, or 15 ounces, of coffee. One large cup of Starbucks exceeds an entire day’s worth. However, many Americans are far from restricting themselves to just one cup. Nutritionists are concerned that caffeine over-consumption jeopardizes the health of many Americans.
Her Highness Sheikha Moza: An Apology
Further to our article “First Lady’s luxury buys boost Agent Provocateur” (Jan 30), we would like to make clear that the “shopping spree” involving Her Highness Sheikha Moza and Michelle Obama that we referred to in fact never occurred, and that Her Highness has never been shopping with Mrs Obama, at Agent Provocateur or otherwise, and has never sought to have any part of New York closed off to enable her to shop undisturbed. We apologise for the distress and embarrassment this article caused.
John Walker Lindh, The American Taliban, Seeks Irish Citizenship
Irish American likely to settle in Ireland on his release if given citizenship
The father of American-born Taliban solider, John Walker Lindh, who is serving 20 years in prison, is petitioning for his son to be granted Irish citizenship. It is likely he will seek to settle there on his release.
Frank Lindh also believes that the Irish government could question his son’s treatment by American authorities if he was an Irish citizen.
When John Walker Lindh was captured in Afghanistan he told the soldiers he was Irish to try and disguise his US citizenship. His preferred name is now Abu Sulayman al-Irlandi (the Irlandi title refers to Lindh’s claim to be Irish).
The young man’s father, who is Irish American, spoke to Newstalk Radio about his son and his plan to get Irish citizenship. Frank Lindh’s mother is from Donegal.
Walker Lindh and his father visited Ireland in 1998 (see photo above) at the time “he found Irish people to be open and accepting,” according to a Broadsheet.ie report.
In his interview on Newstalk radio in Ireland Lind’s father stated tthat
- He believes his son will be released from his 20 yrs sentence in 7 yrs on parole.
- He hopes his son could live in Ireland when he gets out of prison.
- He says his son will not be safe in America. That’s why he hopes his son might be able to live in Ireland.
- He thinks many in America believe his son was involved in 9/11. He says that statements by Pres Bush & others have marked John out as a terrorist.
- He is working on getting Irish passports for all three of his kids.
- He expects no issue getting Irish citizenship for JWL
- He figures Irish govt should support him because of human rights issue in John’s case.
Last year, Lindh spoke at the University of San Francisco, School of Law and told of how his son was handling prison nearly a decade after being captured. In 2002, his son pleaded guilty to supplying the Taliban government and carrying explosives for them. He was charged with conspiring to kill Americans and support terrorists. Those charges were dropped in a plea agreement.
Lindh has been running a campaign to clear his son’s name. He maintains that Walker Lindh was falsely accused and claims that the media wrongly named him a terrorist.
He said his son was serving with the Taliban in order to protect civilians who were being victimized by the Northern Alliance.
Currently, Walker Lindh is being held in a special unit of a Terre Haute Indiana federal prison, which holds mostly Muslim inmates. Their communication with the outside world is limited.
At first, Walker Lindh was held in a SuperMax prison for a year. His father said he remembers his son being brought to see him in chains. However, now Walker Lindh can leave his cell and socialize with his fellow inmates.
Speaking at the Commonwealth Club in California for the first time since his son was captured in 2006, Frank Lindh spelt out his son’s story.
Lindh said, “This is the story of a decent and honorable young man, embarked on a spiritual quest, who became the focus of the grief and anger of an entire nation,” according to AlterNet.
The father explained that Walker Lindh has first become interested in Islam in 1993, and eventually converted when he was 16. His father said, “I thought he had always been a Muslim, and he simply had to find it for himself.”
At the age of 17 he travelled to Yemen where he studied Arabic. In 2000 he made the decision to travel to Pakistan to continue his study of Islam, memorizing the Koran with the aim of becoming a Muslim scholar.
In April 2001, he wrote to his father to tell him he was going into the mountains to get away from the heat. Lindh said, “What he didn’t tell us, what we didn’t learn until later, was that John was going over the mountains, into Afghanistan, intent on volunteering for military service in the army of Afghanistan.”
He continued, “John received infantry training at a government-run military training camp. But the training camp was funded by Osama bin Laden…John actually saw Osama bin Laden and met him on one occasion. He came away from those encounters very skeptical about bin Laden because John recognized instantly that bin Laden was not an authentic Islamic scholar based on what John himself knows.”
John Walker Lindh was captured near Tahar in early September 2001.
John was spotted and removed from the body of prisoners for questioning. The moment was recorded on video and later seen by millions on television.
In the video, Lindh sits mutely on the ground as he is questioned about his nationality by a CIA agent Mike Spann late rkilled by the Taliban.
“Irish? Ireland?” Spann asks.
Walker remains silent.
As shown on British Channel 4 news, Spann then asks Lindh, “Are you a member of the IRA?
“Who brought you here?… You believe in what you are doing that much, you’re willing to be killed here?” Spann asks.
He continued, “John received infantry training at a government-run military training camp. But the training camp was funded by Osama bin Laden…John actually saw Osama bin Laden and met him on one occasion. He came away from those encounters very skeptical about bin Laden because John recognized instantly that bin Laden was not an authentic Islamic scholar based on what John himself knows.”
John Walker Lindh was captured near Tahar in early September 2001.
John was spotted and removed from the body of prisoners for questioning. The moment was recorded on video and later seen by millions on television.
In the video, Lindh sits mutely on the ground as he is questioned about his nationality by a CIA agent Mike Spann later killed by the Taliban.
“Irish? Ireland?” Spann asks.
Walker remains silent.
As shown on British Channel 4 news, Spann then asks Lindh, “Are you a member of the IRA?
“Who brought you here?… You believe in what you are doing that much, you’re willing to be killed here?” Spann asks.
Kansans Called to Stand Against Sharia
A Kansas-based pro-family organization is encouraging people of faith to support a legislative effort to keep sharia law out of The Sunflower State. A radical Islamic organization known as the Islamic Circle of North America has lately been running paid radio commercials and billboards in Kansas City to promote its “National Sharia Campaign.” It offers a hotline and a website for people who want to know more about sharia law and Islam as a whole. But Donna Lippoldt of the Culture Shield Network (CSN) says the campaign is nothing more than Islamic propaganda aimed at whitewashing the negative aspects of Islam. “Sharia law says that a man can just declare that he is divorced, and a woman has no recourse; a man can have multiple wives, and a woman just has to be silenced and abused,” Lippoldt notes. She suspects that the Islamists are trying to head off Senate Bill 2087, which would prohibit the use of any foreign law in Kansas. However, she believes the measure can withstand the legal challenge that befell similar legislation in Oklahoma last year, when the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the American Civil Liberties Union successfully blocked implementation of an anti-sharia law that 70 percent of voters approved. “We believe that our Kansas Constitution will back us up,” the CSN founder asserts. “We are aware of what happened in Oklahoma, but I will tell you that there have been people in our capital, in Topeka, from the Muslim faith trying to influence the legislators to be very sensitive and that they do want sharia law implemented in Kansas.” So Lippoldt is calling on people of faith to stand against sharia in the name of Jesus Christ.
Milestone at University of Michigan: Muslim Chaplain
Mohammed Tayssir Safi began as the Muslim chaplain at the University of Michigan this semester. His position is the first endowed Muslim chaplaincy at a public university. Although the population of Muslim students is growing, there are only about 30 Muslim chaplains at colleges across the country. This semester, the University of Michigan became the first public university with an endowed position for a Muslim chaplain. “Muslims need to rely on somebody through times of hardship,” says Mohammed Tayssir Safi, who was recently hired for the chaplaincy. The university has an estimated 850 Muslim students on campus. The transition to college can be hard for Muslim students, who often come from tight-knit immigrant communities centered around mosques. Keeping their faith can be challenging because college life can glorify alcohol and premarital sex, which are forbidden by Islam. At a gathering of Muslim students at a Middle Eastern restaurant, Safi says, “There’s not a solid environment where a Muslim feels — perhaps ‘safe’ is the right word, not from violence but safe as in they feel safe and at home in being able to express themselves and who they are.”
Funding A Religious Position
Although he’ll work with students, Safi’s salary won’t be paid by the university. “The university is very supportive of the idea, but they can’t lend even a penny toward the cause because of separation of church and state,” says Chris Abdur-Rahman Blauvelt, chairman of the Michigan Muslim Alumni Foundation. Blauvelt reached out to fellow alumni and parents for donations through a crowd-funding campaign and raised $30,000 in a matter of months. With enough money for a part-time salary, Safi was hired. He’s now one of about 90 religious counselors on campus. They represent a long list of Christian groups, a number of Jewish ones and a Hindu mission. Reid Hamilton, president of the university’s Association of Religious Counselors, says it’s about time Muslims were represented in a professional capacity. “I think it’s vital that they be part of the whole religious conversation here on campus,” he says.
Report Calls Muslim Terrorism a ‘Minuscule Threat’
The threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism is “tiny” and often exaggerated by government officials, a leading anti-terrorism expert said in a report released Wednesday (Feb. 8).
Charles Kurzman, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a researcher at the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, said 20 Muslim Americans were indicted for violent terrorist plots last year, down from 26 in 2010. Kurzman’s report, “Muslim-American Terrorism in the Decade Since 9/11,” said that compared to the 14,000 murders in the U.S. last year, the potential for Muslim Americans to take up terrorism is “tiny.” In the 10 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 193 Muslim Americans have been indicted in terrorist plots, or fewer than 20 per year, Kurzman said.
[JP note: Better focus on all those right-wing extremists then.]
Saudi Prince Who Funded Harvard Program Visits
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud of Saudi Arabia-who donated $20 million to create the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard in 2005-discussed the future of the Middle East at a panel on Wednesday. His donation, one of his six multimillion dollar contributions to fund academic centers at universities around the world, has endowed four professorships and pushed the program to the forefront of the University’s efforts to improve teaching and learning and to promote international engagement at Harvard. “At Harvard, we’re talking about teaching and learning initiatives, but what this network does is provide us with partners to be able to take this teaching and learning initiative to new heights.” said Director of the Islamic Studies Program Ali S. Asani ‘77, referring to the other five institutions-Georgetown University, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Cambridge, the American University of Cairo, and the American University of Beirut-that received donations from the Prince and attended the conference.
Asani currently teaches an Extension School course in a “virtual classroom,” where he lectures and holds sections online with students from around the world. He hopes to offer this course to students at the College in the future, he said. Asani also said he believes that the program will encourage similar efforts in other areas of the University. “It has become a catalyst,” said Asani. “Fortuitously, it happens at a time when Harvard is rethinking teaching and learning and has new ideas about global education.” For Alwaleed, the donations were intended to promote an international dialogue between Islamic nations and the West, according to Asani. The initiative began as an effort to combat Islamophobia after September 11. “The whole idea behind these centers is to bridge gaps and bring people closer together. In the end, it’s about breaking misconceptions,” said Nadia H. Bakhurji, secretary general of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how much publicity we do, in the end, there is such an anti-campaign against Islam in general in the world.”
Each center has taken on different roles and specializations, which Georgetown director John L. Esposito said is vital to the overall mission. “All bases are being hit,” he said. “Our specific focus is on the interaction between religion and international affairs.” Bakhurji said she particularly admired the outreach initiatives taken by the University of Edinburgh. Hugh P. Goddard, the director, said that his center works within the context of Scotland and the United Kingdom. “Many [British] people don’t know much about Islam, if at all. Education is really the key. We are helping to address the gap with more accurate information,” he said. University of Cambridge Director Yasir Suleiman stressed producing credible information as a research center, not a think tank. “The purpose of our center is not to promote Islam or promote a positive image of Islam. Our image is to create knowledge and produce knowledge about Islam that is balanced, contextualized, and put out into the public sphere,” Suleiman said.
Though the Saudi royal family has been criticized for its repressive policies, Alwaleed is known as an international philanthropist and an advocate for women’s rights and an “evolution” towards democracy, according to Asani. “I think it’s human nature-freedom, liberty, and deciding your own fate. At the end of the day you have to have some structural political changes,” Alwaleed said during the panel. Among these changes, he suggested, would be a democratically-elected parliament that has authority.
Huffington Post Targets Quebec With French Site
The Huffington Post launched a French-language edition on Wednesday targeting Canada’s Quebec province — the fourth foreign version of the popular news and opinion website. Le Huffington Post Quebec joins the flagship US site and editions in Britain, France and one aimed at English-speaking Canada.
Quebec has a population of just eight million but Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington said its unique culture raises the need for a site distint from The Huffington Post Canada. “We want to be present in all of Canada,” Huffington said in an interview with AFP.
“Quebec is a very important part of Canada and has its own character, its own culture, its own institutions and we want to capture that through a dedicated site,” she said. Le Huffington Post Quebec is based in a tiny office on the 24th floor of a downtown Montreal skyscraper looking over snow-capped Mount Royal.
New Muslim Mosque Built for New Generations, Growing Community
Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin strides across the yard, gently takes the hand of little Bayan Hamado and guides her over to a group of Muslim men who are happily turning sod. “It’s for them, right?” Fortin says of the youngest Muslim children who are the inspiration behind a new Muslim mosque that will be built on Quadra Street in Victoria, across from Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre. Nearby, Bayan’s mother, Leticia Villalpando, proudly watches her four-year-old grasp a shovel during Friday’s ground-breaking ceremony, attended by more than 70 Muslims. “It’s so exciting,” the Victoria resident said. “I can’t believe it’s happening.” Many of the 1,200 to 1,500 Muslims in the Capital Region have been attending prayer services at two adjacent homes the Muslim community purchased in 1996, at 2216 and 2218 Quadra St.
Until last week, women and children attended lectures and prayer services in one house, while next door men prayed and attended classes and other activities at the mosque, which accommodated just 40 people. For that reason, space for prayers is rented at the University of Victoria and Gordon Head Recreation Centre. “You always see the churches, the synagogues,” Villalpando said. “For us it’s always (been) the houses. For us to have an actual mosque is very important.” Deconstruction of the houses began Monday to make way for the new Masjid Al-Iman. Construction will take about 10 months, and the three-level centre will feature prayer space for men and women, an activity room and a kitchen when it’s doors open at the end of October. Construction costs are estimated at $1.56 million, according to the Victoria branch of the B.C. Muslim Association’s project website. “The community is growing and that’s why we need a bigger space,” said Villalpando’s husband, Ali Hamado, Victoria branch treasurer. The new mosque will be four times larger and accommodate 160 people for daily prayers. “We are building it for our future generation, to be able to provide services for our Muslim community and the non-Muslim community as well,” said Hamado. “It will be a learning centre for those who would like to learn more about Islam.”
While other faiths are struggling to fill the pews of their churches, Greater Victoria’s Muslim community is booming. That is largely due to the 400 international Muslim students who come from around the world to attend post-secondary schools in the region, Hamado said. “Victoria attracts many people for many reasons — the weather, the safety and the friendliness,” he said. For details on the reconstruction project, please visit www.masjidal-iman.com.
Airbus A380 Flaws Spark Saftey Checks
European air safety authorities ordered safety checks last month on all 68 Airbus A380 passenger jets, reports the Independent on Thursday. Small cracks have been found inside its wings. The aircraft is the world’s largest. Airbus say said the cracks, found on brackets, do not affect the planes.
An Undersea Passage Across the Gulf of Finland?
Entering the train in Helsinki’s Pasila, passengers would be whisked to Tallinn in less than an hour. In other words, Helsinki and the neighbouring capital of Estonia would be in the same commuting area. Moreover, it would take only five hours to travel to Berlin. No queuing at the airport, no sulphur emissions from ships, no weather worries. Tractors from a factory in Central Finland would be carried by train directly to fields in Poland, without transshipment. Naturally this is all on the condition that Rail Baltica, the rail link from Tallinn to Poland, would have been completed.
The idea to build a rail tunnel between Helsinki and Tallinn is alive and well, at least inside mining engineers’ minds. It also continues to be one of the alternatives when civil servants are trying to imagine future traffic arrangements between the two cities. “It is nothing more peculiar than building a metro line in a tunnel”, says Regional Director Keijo Nenonen of the Geological Survey of Finland.
Arctic Cold Wreaks Quirky Havoc Across Germany
The bitter cold is wreaking havoc across Germany in unexpected ways, with the subzero temperatures freezing an ice cream factory, forcing gravediggers to use jackhammers and driving penguins indoors. But Hamburg can look forward to a party. Residents in the northern port city can look forward to the so-called Alstervergnügen frozen lake festivities, which will take place for the first time in 15 years this weekend.
Austria: FPÖ Under Fire After Trip to Grozny
The Freedom Party (FPÖ) has been harshly criticised for meeting with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.
It emerged yesterday (Weds) that a delegation of FPÖ officials travelled to Chechen capital Grozny to meet with the autocratic leader of the country which still suffers from the effects of several military conflicts and a dramatic civil war. FPÖ foreign affairs spokesman Johannes Hübner said his team’s intention was to make Chechnya a safer place. Speaking to a Chechen TV station, the member of the Austrian parliament (MP) said he was “impressed” by the Caucasian country’s progress.
The Austrian foreign ministry branded the FPÖ’s decision to travel to Chechnya as “absurd”. A spokesman for the ministry underlined yesterday (Weds) that the right-wing opposition party failed to inform Austrian authorities about their meeting with Chechen politicians and businessmen in Grozny. The foreign ministry also said that the journey of the FPÖ delegation was “politically irrelevant”.
Greens MP Peter Pilz said the FPÖ acted “irresponsibly”. Pilz said a parliamentary commission must investigate the background of the trip. He called on the FPÖ to clarify whether it financially benefited from the gathering with Kadyrov. Pilz said yesterday it seemed that the FPÖ was seeking new friends after its partnership with Muammar al-Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein.
Late FPÖ leader Jörg Haider, who founded the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) seven years ago, met with the late Libyan dictator several times. Haider, who died in a car accident in 2008, also travelled to Baghdad to meet with Hussein, the late leader of Iraq. The trip caused worldwide outcry while some observers claim that the Austrian right-winger may have spoken with a lookalike of the infamous dictator of the war-shattered Arabian country.
There are rumours that Gaddafi and Hussein agreed to finance several FPÖ election campaigns.
Cyprus: Reunification: Talks to Continue on February 14
(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, FEBRUARY 9 — The leaders of the two communities in Cyprus, president Dimitris Cjhristofias and turkish-Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu, will be meeting on February 14, in the UN protected area of Nicosia, in the context of direct talks to solve the Cyprus problem, as CNA reports. It will be their first meeting after a meeting in New York in late January with the UN Secretary General. Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. UN-led talks are currently underway with an aim to reunify the island.
Double-Barrel Profit Hike for Norway’s Statoil
The Norwegian oil group Statoil said on Wednesday that its net profit doubled in 2011 to 78.8 billion kroner ($14.3 billion) on higher prices and sustained output. In the last three months of the year, the group’s profit leapt to 25.5 billion kroner from 9.5 billion in the same period a year earlier, largely owing to capital gains from the sale of a stake in the Gassled pipeline network.
Statoil, which is the biggest northern European company by market capitalisation, said its sales had climbed by 22.5 percent last year to 645.6 billion kroner. It was also able to present a reserve replacement ratio of 1.17 which means it had discovered more energy sources than it had consumed and was in a better position for the future. In particular, Statoil found a giant oil reserve in the North Sea last year that might become the third-biggest ever discovered on Norwegian territory.
EU Commission Position Remains Same on Hungary
The EU commission Thursday said its position on Hungary “has not changed” as it is still awaiting a reply from Budapest in response to its decision to launch legal proceedings against the country due to concerns about certain domestic laws, relating to the central bank, the judiciary and data protection.
France: Parfumier on Trial Today in Paris for “Racism”
by Diana West
For years now, we’ve watched an increasingly totalitarian Europe arise in the courtrooms of infamous speech trials in Holland, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, France, England and elsewhere as dictatorial government authorities use the courts to maintain their political power against political rivals and freethinkers who dare call out the dishonesty and deceptions of the State. With the speech trial today of a fabled and elderly parfumier in Paris (described below), however, we see a strain of totalitarianism that is qualitatively different but equally sinister.
When parfumier Jean-Paul Guerlain (picture above) told an TV interviewer in 2010 that in order to create the popular perfume Samsara (“blends notes of ylang-ylang, jasmine, sandalwood, and tonka bean”) “for once, [he] started working like a negro,” he threatened no government power structure, he called out no deception. He made a banal comment, simply not worth parsing although it’s hard to resist noting that he chose the simile to convey something he is obviously proud of — a sustained and apparently arduous effort to create something beaitiful. But that is utterly and completely beside the point: The French state here is more and more inserting itself into the regulation of its citizens’ minds, not in an overt attempt to maintain political power (Wilders, Dewinter), not to destroy facts and principles that threaten its fabrications (Sabaditsch-Wolff, Hedegaard, Robinson), but rather, in the evil tradition of Communism’s relentless social engineers, to rewire all thought processes down to the most trivial. It is the totalitarian effort to create the New Man.
The Australian reports:…
France: The Gueant “Controversy” Gets Dangerously Stupid: Liberty = Nazi Ideology?
by Diana West
The French prime minister and his cabinet have stormed out of parliament after an opposition MP accused the rightwing interior minister of flirting with Nazi ideology.
The Socialist Serge Letchimy, from Martinique, questioned the interior minister and close Sarkozy ally, Claude Guéant, over his controversial comments this weekend that “not all civilisations are of equal value”, and his assertion that some civilisations, namely France’s, are worth more than others.
Letchimy (pictured above) said Guéant was “day by day leading us back to these European ideologies that gave birth to concentration camps”.
After a loud interruption of protests, he added: “Mr Guéant, the Nazi regime, which was so concerned about purity, was that a civilization?”
What a fat, gorgeous softball to bat out of the park — if only Gueant and his fellow ministers had just one single clue among them. This was the perfect moment to read Gueant’s original discussion, which as reported by AFP, was this:
“Contrary to what the left’s relativist ideology says, for us all civilisations are not of equal value,” Guéant told a gathering of right-wing students.
“Those which defend humanity seem to us to be more advanced than those that do not,” he said.
“Those which defend liberty, equality and fraternity, seem to us superior to those which accept tyranny, the subservience of women, social and ethnic hatred,” he said in his speech, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.
He also stressed the need to “protect our civilisation”…
France: Car Breathalyzers to be Compulsory From July
France is battling drink-driving by forcing every car driver, including visitors to the country, to carry a single-use breathalyzer kit from July. Officials at the transport ministry confirmed to The Local on Monday that the rules will apply to anyone driving on French roads, including foreigners visiting the country.
France: Depardieu to Star as Strauss-Kahn in Film
After months of rumours about a possible film covering the fall from grace of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, an American director has confirmed he plans to make a movie with Gérard Depardieu in the leading role.
French Minister Caves: Didn’t Mean Any Culture in Particular
by Diana West
France 24 updates the continuing Gueant controversy, which grew from an anodyne but heterodox remark by the French interior minister on Saturday that cultures which defend liberty, equality and fraternity (sounds like France) “seem to be” superior to those which accept tyranny, the subservience of women, social and ethnic hatred (Islam to a T).
Questioned on Sunday evening on France Inter radio, Gueant insisted he had not targeted “one culture in particular”.
Wow. That was quick. But not enough. Never enough.
French Muslims asked interior minister Claude Gueant on Monday to clarify his recent statement that not all civilisations have equal value — words that were widely interpreted in France as targeting Islam. …
“Clarify” means recant.
In a letter that was leaked to several French news agencies, the president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Mohamed Moussaoui, said that “many of our citizens of Muslim faith felt targeted by these statements… and let us know about it.”
Moussaoui went on to ask the interior minister, who is in charge of both the immigration and religion portfolio in Sarkozy’s government, to “reassure” Muslims that his speech was not referring to Muslim civilisation, “as was clearly portrayed by certain media.”
“Reassure” means retract, too — or else who knows what “many of our citizens of Muslim faith” might do next?
Whatever it is, chances are France 24 and its colleagues in French media won’t consider it nearly as “inflammatory” as anything Gueant says. The news organization adds in a little B-matter:
Germany Expels Four Syrian Diplomats (2)
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Thursday Germany was expelling four diplomats from the Syrian embassy in Berlin after the arrest of two men suspected of spying on regime opponents.
Germany Expels Four Syrian Diplomats (1)
Germany has expelled four Syrian diplomats, apparently in connection with the arrest of two suspected Syrian spies earlier this week. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also called Thursday for a new attempt to reach a UN resolution on the ongoing violence in the country.
Hopes Fade for Unique Dutch Ice Race
The Netherlands was picking itself up by its bootlaces Thursday as hopes faded that a near-mythical ultra ice skating race on frozen canals will become a reality for the first time in 15 years. Race organisers said Wednesday night the long-expected 16th Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities Race) was for now called off, as forecasters Thursday predicted warmer weather melting ice already formed on the route in northern Friesland.
“I don’t have good news,” race organiser Society for the Frisian Elf Steden (Eleven Cities) Wiebe Wieling told a packed press conference in the Frisian capital of Leeuwarden, broadcast live on national television. “It’s not happening at this point,” Wieling said. Royal Dutch Metereological Institute forecaster Rob Groenland added: “We are expecting the weather to warm up from Sunday.” “This is bad news for any hope that the ice will thicken,” he told AFP.
Meanwhile: Back in France …
by Diana West
Silvio Berlusconi’s finest 1/2 hour came shortly after 9/11 when he became the first and only Western leader to point out the duh-obvious distinctions between Western civilization and Islam — essentially, one culture enshrines liberty, one does not — and made the rather modest call for us to be aware of the distinction. For this he was pilloried, excoriated, heaped with scorn the world over, and beat a retreat rapido. (I discuss the episode at some length in The Death of the Grown-Up.)
This plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face observation thus successfully purged from the political mainstream, it became the hotly controversial domain of so-called “far right” political figures across Europe, from Filip Dewinter in Belgium to Geert Wilders in Holland to Oskar Freysinger on Switzerland to Heinz Christian Straache in Austria to Pia Kjærsgaard in Denmark and on into Italy, Britain, France, Germany and more.
Now, a French interior minister in Nicolas Sarkozy’s government has stepped onto the chopping block with the same message, albeit with more bite. Not only should we be aware of the distinction, we should protect our pro-humanity Western civilization. He made his “outrageous” comments on Saturday. Now, watch the dunications fly.
Suspense: Will he cave?
Mystery of Britain’s Largest Meteorite Solved
With a weight that rivals a baby elephant, a meteorite that fell from space some 30,000 years ago is likely Britain’s largest space rock. And after much sleuthing, researchers think they know where it came from and how it survived so long without weathering away. The giant rock, spanning about 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) across and weighing 205 pounds (93 kilograms), was likely discovered by an archaeologist about 200 years ago at a burial site created by the Druids (an ancient Celtic priesthood) near Stonehenge, according to said Colin Pillinger, a professor of planetary sciences at the Open University.
Pillinger curated the exhibition “Objects in Space,” which opens today (Feb. 9) and is the first time the public will get a chance to see the meteorite. The exhibition will explore not only the mystery that surrounds the origins of the giant meteorite, but also the history and our fascination with space rocks. As for how the meteorite survived its long stint on Earth, researchers point to the ice age.
“The only meteorites that we know about that have survived these long ages are the ones that were collected in Antarctica,” said Pillinger, adding that more recently, some ancient meteorites have been collected in the Sahara Desert. This rock came from neither the Sahara Desert nor Antarctica, but rather the Lake House in Wiltshire.
“Britain was under an ice age for 20,000 years,” Pillinger told LiveScience, explaining the climate would have protected the rock from weathering. At some point, the Druids likely picked up the meteorite when scouting for rocks to build burial chambers. “They were keen on building burial sites for (the dead) in much the same way the Egyptians built the pyramids,” Pillinger said.
Norway: Breivik ‘Addicted to Computer Games’
Confessed terrorist and mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik has been described as being “addicted to computer games,” spending thousands of hours on war-themed games in the years before he bombed Norway’s government headquarters and gunned down Labour Party summer campers.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported Thursday that police have found logs indicating that Breivik spent even more time on computer games than he’d admitted to under questioning. He’d said he spent around 8,700 hours playing the games between 2006 and 2010. Police found that between November 2010 and April 2011, Breivik spent 500 hours playing “World of Warcraft” alone. He had claimed he spent all his time in the months leading up to his July 22 attacks on planning them.
In addition to playing “World of Warcraft,” Breivik also played computer games including “Modern Warfare,” “Elder scrolls,” “Dragon Age” and “Warhammer.” Hans Olav Fekjær, a Norwegian psychiatrist and expert on addiction, told Aftenposten that spending so much time on computer games “will often be so damaging that it would be called addiction.”
Breivik has claimed that playing war games was merely “camouflage” for planning his terrorist attacks, and that to “reward” himself, he decided to devote most of an entire year to them.
His obsession with “World of Warcraft” reportedly began in 2006, when Breivik moved home to his mother’s apartment in Oslo. Police believe he played “World of Warcraft” up to 12 hours a day over a two-year period.
Probing fellow players
Aftenposten reported that police are probing all persons Breivik has been in contact with, and that includes other game players. Police are also keen on establishing whether Breivik played in a group.
“We’re retrieving information from the (games) suppliers,” prosecutor Christian Hatlo told Aftenposten. At times, Breivik was believed to have been logged onto two computers simultaneously for playing, and police are also investigating whether Breivik paid others to play for him.
“World of Warcraft” is called an MMORPG — Massively multiplayer online role-playing game — and considered the most popular game in the world with more than 10 million subscribers. Around 70,000 of them are in Norway. Fekjær said the game contains elements that make it difficult to give up.
“You play on a guild, or team, with others and there can be great pressure against withdrawing,” Fekjær told Aftenposten, adding that many players can “disappear” into the games virtual and aggressive world. Breivik has used terminology from the game in his so-called “manifesto.”
Obama Moves Closer to Post-Religious Europe
A quite unexpected hurricane has hit the Obama campaign ship. The President has done what is, on the face of it, a startlingly foolhardy thing. He has provoked outrage in the Catholic church and thus in that huge US constituency — now larger than ever due to a vast increase in the Hispanic community — which takes its Roman Catholic faith very seriously. One of the provisions of Obamacare’s Affordable Care Act which obliges employers to provide mandatory health insurance, is that such policies must cover the provision of contraceptive services. While churches and specifically religious institutions (such as convents presumably) are exempt, other places of employment run by the Church would not be. So a Roman Catholic school, university or hospital would be obliged to provide contraception for its employees even though this goes against its religious beliefs and teaching. The Obama administration is now facing opposition not only from the Republicans — who see it as a straightforward breach of the First Amendment right to freedom of religious observance — but from Democratic Congressmen and Senators many of whom come from states with large Catholic populations.
So why has the President chosen this high-risk path? The White House spokesman says simply that the administration is committed to giving women access to these services “no matter where they work”. In other words, this is an issue of equality: everyone must have the same access to identical provision even if they (knowingly) work for an employer who is opposed in principle to such provision. This is a classic case of government-backed equality vs individual freedom of conscience, of a kind with which we are very familiar in Britain. It is, in fact, a direct consequence of the uniformity which any national healthcare plan must involve.
But it is also a departure from the traditional American view (enshrined in the Constitution) that the government shall not interfere in the people’s right to religious assembly and practice. What the Obama White House has effectively decided is that religion can not be allowed to interfere with the secular values which government has decreed — such as the right to equality in contraception services. Religion itself is being firmly put in its box. If the state decides that contraception must be available to all, then no church or theological text will be allowed to stand in the way. Once again, the US is following where Europe leads: to a future in which all values will be determined and enforced by the state.
Revealing Conversation With German Diplomat: Did Spanish King Sympathize With Coup Attempt?
A newly declassified document from the German Foreign Ministry archive contains revealing new information about the failed 1981 coup in Spain. According to the report, Spanish King Juan Carlos apparently showed sympathy for the plotters in a private conversation with the German ambassador.
Romania and Bulgaria Lagging Behind on Reforms
BRUSSELS — Bulgaria and Romania still need to do more to tackle corruption and organised crime, the European Commission said Wednesday (8 February), in a refrain familiar since the two countries joined the EU almost five years ago. The European Commission reports, which are published twice a year, focus on a number of benchmarks that need to be addressed or improved upon.
And while Brussels notes that both countries have made “significant” steps to improve their judiciary systems, outstanding issues remain. Bulgaria’s courts and its prosecution services have improved but its courts still need to deliver more convincing results on corruption and organised crime.
Six magistrates were acquitted by court in six cases related to corruption and abuse of office in 2011, with another 28 magistrates currently involved in 27 other criminal proceedings. Ten have so far been convicted with another six receiving suspended sentences. The report also highlights allegations of electoral fraud, made by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, following the Bulgarian presidential and local elections of last October.
For its part, Romania still needs to improve its judicial transparency, tackle conflicts of interest, and continue its struggle against high- and low-level corruption.
Star Wars in Swedish Causes Fan Outrage
Star Wars, The Phantom Menace, is about to hit Sweden’s cinemas in 3D, dubbed into Swedish, a move which has infuriated die-hard fans and prompting them to lobby for a boycott of the film. “It fills me with disgust,” wrote daily newspaper Aftonbladet’s Magnus Edlund. “There are some things you know you should instinctively avoid, like jumping off a cliff, or hitting your temple with a hammer,” he wrote. And so it is, he claimed, with Star Wars in Swedish.
Edlund’s article has called for all fans of the series to boycott the film in an effort to prevent the other films in the Star Wars franchise from losing the appeal that comes with the original English dialogue. And the readers have responded in full force. A poll on the newspaper showed that 80 percent of voters were ‘disgusted’ with the dubbing.
Sweden: ‘Hugging’ Thieves Baffle Stockholm Police
A gang of tactile thieves in central Stockholm has embraced a new pickpocketing technique, leaving police baffled and dozens of victims stunned and phoneless. “Even men have fallen victim,” said Gunnar Thun of Stockholm police to newspaper Metro. “But in those cases it’s more of an embrace or a pat on the back.”
According to Stockholm police, one of the thieves usually approaches the victim, and without any words of greeting or warning, hugs the victim — sometimes even lifting them off the ground. Meanwhile, an accomplice who is aware of the location of the victim’s valuables, takes the chance to pinch things from his or her pockets.
Sweden: 15-Year-Old Girl Abducted by Father and Armed Men
A 15-year-old girl, taken into custody by social services last week, was removed on Sunday from her foster home by four armed men, one of which was her father. “I can confirm that we are dealing with a case of abduction. I can’t disclose more than that due to the sensitive nature of the case,” said Johan Frisk of the Jönköping police to daily Aftonbladet. According to the paper, the girl came to Sweden with her parents a few years ago.
She was removed from her home last week after social services found out that her father had been beating her. Local authorities placed her in a foster home in the nearby community of Sävsjö. But on Sunday four men armed with guns and axes turned up at the foster home looking for the 15-year-old. After overpowering and tying up the foster parents the men took off with the girl.
“It could be honour-related,” an anonymous source told the paper.
Switzerland: Plans Revived for World’s Deepest Train Station
Private investors are stepping in to save what could be a landmark project in Switzerland. Compared by enthusiasts to the likes of the Eifel Tower in Paris or the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, the Porta Alpina project envisages the building of a new train station at record depths of 800 metres.
The station would be located inside the world’s longest railway tunnel, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which is expected to open to the public in 2016. One of the world’s longest lifts would then link the station to the village of Sedrun. Locals are said to be enthusiastic about the project, which could see tens of thousands of tourists visiting the region each year.
The proposed site sits a little way along the mountain range from Andermatt, where Egyptian billionaire, Samih Sawiris, plans to build a new super-resort, and there is talk that one day the two attractions could somehow be linked. Sawiris said he would be sorry if this “unique construction” was not realised.
Despite 75 percent of local Graubünden voters approving cantonal contributions to the project in 2005, local government determined that it was unable to spend the 20 million francs ($21.98 million) needed to build what would be one of Europe’s most spectacular train stations. Nevertheless, Basel public relations entrepreneur Manfred Messmer, speaking on behalf of a group of investors, confirmed in a report by St. Galler Tagsblatt that he was very optimistic about the project.
UK: ‘Man Killed by Shotgun’ In Leeds Park
A man was fatally injured after being “stalked” and blasted in the face with a shot gun, a jury heard.
Gavin Clarke, 34, died four days after being allegedly shot by Afzal Arif in Savile Avenue, Chapeltown, Leeds, on August 8 last year.
Leeds Crown Court heard Mr Clarke was shot after leaving nearby Savile Park where he had been doing fitness training.
Arif, 23, is on trial for murder alongside Sohail Mahmood, 23, who is alleged to have helped by acting as a “scout” by identifying Mr Clarke.
Three others are on trial accused of helping the pair cover up their involvement in the shooting.
Paul Greaney, prosecuting, said the motive for the killing was still a mystery but it may have been to do with Arif’s relationship with one of Mr Clarke’s relatives.
He told the court that Mr Clarke had expressed concerns to his partner that Arif may have been beating her up.
Arif, 23, of Elford Grove, Harehills, denies murder but admits manslaughter. He has also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Sohail Mahmood, of Savile Road, Chapeltown, denies murder, manslaughter or conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Ibrar Din, 23, of Mexborough Street, Chapeltown, and brothers Shahid Hussain, 32, and Sajjad Hussain, 38, both of Harrogate Road, Leeds, all plead not guilty to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
UK: BBC News Chief: No “Value Judgements” About Abu Qatada
by Diana West
As readers know, I go back a long ways with Abu Qatada —hands down, my favortite jihadist ever since 2003 when he said the immortal words: “I am astonished by President Bush when he claims there is nothing in the Koran that justifies jihad or violence in the name of Islam. Is he some kind of Islamic scholar? Has he ever actually read the Koran?”
Now he’s back in the news — or rather his “extremistm” and fatness are due to instructions from on high that journalists mustn’t talk about them. Might imply a “value judgement.”
The Telegraph, via Andrew Bostom, reports
The BBC has told its journalists not to call Abu Qatada, the al-Qaeda preacher, an “etremist.”
In order to avoid making a “value judgment”, the corporation’s managers have ruled that he can only be described as “radical”.
Journalists were also cautioned against using images suggesting the preacher is overweight.
Like this one, I suspect.
A judge ruled this week that the Muslim preacher, once described as “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe”, should be released from a British jail, angering ministers and MPs.
Adding to the row, Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, yesterday insisted that Qatada “has not committed any crime” and said his release has nothing to do with the European Court of Human Rights.
A British court has called Qatada a “truly dangerous individual” and even his defence team has suggested he poses a “grave risk” to national security.
Despite that background, BBC journalists were told they should not describe Qatada as an extremist…
UK: Charlene Downes’ Brother Arrested
BREAKING NEWS — We have been told that Charlene Downes’ brother has been arrested after an alleged assault on one of the Muslim men tried for Charlene’s murder.
Given the fact that the takeaway shop remained a centre for grooming other young girls, it is no surprise if someone has taken the law into their own hands.
If Robert wants us to, we will demonstrate in support of him when he is taken to court, and we call on all patriots of all groups to join us.
UK: Extremist Urged Benefit Claims
An al Qaida-inspired extremist from Stoke-on-Trent called on British Muslims to claim benefits to raise funds for a terrorist training camp, a court has heard. Usman Khan, 20, was secretly recorded talking about plans to recruit UK radicals to attend the camp in Kashmir, London’s Woolwich Crown Court was told. He said there were only three possible outcomes for him and his fellow jihadists: victory, martyrdom or prison. Khan’s home in Persia Walk, Stoke-on-Trent, was bugged as he discussed plans for the firearms training camp, which was to be disguised as a legitimate “madrassa”, an Islamic religious school, the court heard. Discussing terrorist fundraising, he said that Muslims in Britain could earn in a day what people in Kashmir, a disputed region divided between Pakistan and India, are paid in a month. During the late-night meeting on December 4, 2010, Khan contrasted the action he was planning in support of jihad with the passive approach of Muslims like radical cleric Anjem Choudary.
UK: Islam Week: Message of Love
Charity celebrates goodwill and understanding as the central message of its awareness week
Islamic charity to spread its messages of love during Islamic awareness week…
The Islamic Society of Britain (ISB), a charity dedicated to promoting positivity and inclusivity is launching Islam awareness week with a special focus on good community values and understanding. Established in 1990, the charity offers a flavour of how philanthropic and respectful Islamic values have been incorporated into Britain’s multi-cultural and multi faith society… and seeks to open up dialogue in society across different faiths and traditions. The charity says it especially seeks to open dialogue with Muslims about understanding their faith in a British context. The Islamic Society of Britain has announced Islam awareness week from March 12 to 18 will have the theme of love…
The charity initiated Islam awareness week in 1994, to raise awareness and remove misconceptions surrounding Britain’s second largest faith group. The charity presents Islam awareness week as an opportunity for all people to come together and address the dangers posed by such misunderstandings. During the week ISB encourages communities to volunteer their time to organise events celebrating dialogue, as well as promoting arts and culture. The charity believes that such events are vital to support good community relations.
Muslims contribute enormously to the economic and cultural fabric of Britain and also make substantial commitments to charity and voluntary work the year round as they do throughout the world.
The charity Islamic Society of Britain has been involved, for instance, in practical campaigns including helping homeless people with essential support and supplies. As such it is typical of the philanthropic efforts of millions of Muslims all around the world especially at times of the calendar such as Ramadan, a major focus at this time being a pledge of support for others and for charity giving. Charities such as Muslim Aid, for instance, are also heavily involved in ongoing humanitarian and sustainable development projects around the world, including providing emergency shelter, health services and other humanitarian services… The Islamic Society of Britain however, says it aims to be very much a community based charity encouraging British Muslim volunteers, from a wide variety of backgrounds, to take part in projects offering support for local communities.
[JP note: Love, but not as we know it.]
UK: Ken Livingstone: I Have Never Told a Lie
Quote of the year from Ken comes in tomorrow’s New Statesman, when the Greatest Living Londoner avers: “I think I have gone through my entire public career never telling a lie. I have made mistakes but I never knowingly lied.” As one editor I worked for used to say, faced with a particularly preposterous statement by a public figure: “This one I frame.”
UK: Police Chief Thinks EDL’s Facebook Messsages Are Merely ‘Inappropriate, Brash or Insensitive’
The Yorkshire Post (via Expose) has an interesting interview with Sir Norman Bettison, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, in connection with the specialist unit he has set up to monitor violent extremism on the internet. Bettison is one of the few leading police officers to have taken the threat from the English Defence League seriously, and he has readily used his powers under the Public Order Act to restrict the EDL’s attempts to mount intimidatory protests against the Muslim community. When the EDL demonstrated in Dewsbury last June, for example, West Yorkshire Police refused to let them enter the town centre to hold their intended rally outside the town hall and confined them to the station car park where they couldn’t do any harm. So it is regrettable that Bettison appears to regard the EDL’s presence on the internet as posing less of a threat than its presence on the streets. He is quoted as saying that there is “really quite a high threshold to cross into criminality” and that messages posted on the internet by the EDL rarely warrant prosecution, as they are merely “inappropriate, brash or insensitive”. Perhaps it’s just lack of resources — Bettison says his unit only has a dozen people — but it is difficult to believe that anyone who has monitored the continuous incitement to racial hatred and repeated threats of anti-Muslim violence that have been posted on the EDL’s Facebook page (see for example here, here and here) could come up with such a bland and inaccurate characterisation of the EDL’s role on the internet.
UK: Ray Honeyford
Ray Honeyford, who has died aged 77, was the unknown headmaster of a school in Bradford until, in January 1984, he published an article critical of multiculturalism and its effect on British education; widely accused of racism, he was subjected to a barrage of abuse, forced to take early retirement, and never taught again.
Honeyford had been headmaster of Drummond Middle School — where some 95 per cent of the pupils were Asian — for four years when he wrote his article for the Right-wing Salisbury Review. Local politicians and pressure groups responded with a campaign to get him fired; he received death threats, and had to enter his own school under police protection owing to the presence of pickets. His health, and that of his wife, began to suffer, and in December 1985 he accepted early retirement.
Honeyford’s article did not pull its punches, and his critics viewed some of his language as intemperate. He referred to “a growing number of Asians whose aim is to preserve as intact as possible the values and attitudes of the Indian subcontinent within a framework of British social and political privilege, ie to produce Asian ghettoes”, and “an influential group of black intellectuals of aggressive disposition, who know little of the British traditions of understatement, civilised discourse and respect for reason”.
UK: Tunstall Terrorist Recorded Inviting Muslims to Jihadi Training Camp
TERRORIST Usman Khan was recorded inviting fellow Muslims to his jihadi training camp in Pakistan. Khan’s attempts to recruit others to his cause were captured by bugs hidden by the security services at his Tunstall home. The 20-year-old was also heard talking about how state benefits could be used to fund the training facility, which he had set up with his fellow radicals. Khan is awaiting sentence at Woolwich Crown Court after admitting preparing for terrorist acts, along with two others from Stoke-on-Trent. Prosecutor Andrew Edis yesterday read excerpts from a conversation between Khan and an unknown man, which had been recorded at Khan’s home in Persia Walk, Tunstall, in December 2010. The two men discussed politics, ideology and their love of Osama bin Laden, who they described as “beautiful”. Khan then went on to talk about the terrorist training camp in Kashmir, which he and his colleagues Mohammad Shahjahan and Nazam Hussain had been funding. He invited the other man to come to the camp, arguing that training for armed jihad is preferable to engaging in dawah, or preaching, in the UK. Khan says: “Brothers should encourage other brothers to come. We’ve got something serious set up. If you want to see the set-up, go there, check it out. Invite brothers to come and check it out.” He said that once trained the jihadist could then return to the UK, with the only possible outcomes being victory, prison or martyrdom.
Khan also talked about the funding of the training camp in Kashmir, which had been disguised as a normal madrassa (an Islamic seminary). He explained that he could make more money on Jobseeker’s Allowance in a day, than he could earn in a month in Kashmir. Mr Edis said: “Khan’s intention is to supply money and people to something which is described as an existing set-up. “He had recently returned from Pakistan and we draw the inference that he had been there and he was going back there within a few weeks. He says that this set-up seems on the surface to be a normal madrassa, but the inference is that it is actually a place where firearms training takes place. It’s also quite clear that the hope is that there will be a significant number of UK citizens who will attend there. His concern is to make it clear that this is a serious project, which is in contrast to just sitting around doing nothing and watching videos.”
The court also heard excepts from a later conversation at Persia Walk, where Khan was discussing planting bombs in Stoke-on-Trent pubs with his fellow terrorists. Shahjahan, a 27-year-old, of Burmarsh Walk, Burslem, talked about doing “a little vigilante thing” involving two pubs, before the other cell members left for the training camp in Pakistan in January.
They questioned whether they would have to buy drinks as a pretext for their presence in a pub and discussed getting a white man to plant the bomb for them. This plot was never taken any further, as all four members of the Stoke-on-Trent cell were arrested on December 20, along with five others in Cardiff and London. Shahjahan, Hussain, aged 26, of Grove Street, Cobridge, and Khan admitted being engaged in conduct in preparation for acts of terrorism between November 1 and December 20, 2010. Mohibur Rahman, aged 27, of North Road, Cobridge, admitted possessing an article for a terrorist purpose. In total, the nine men involved in the network were arrested in police raids in December 2010.
UK: The Rule of Law in Britain is Diminished by the Furore Over Efforts to Deport Abu Qatada to Jordan
The British Parliament has lost sight of the noble principles that Strasbourg has upheld.
It has been very clear for a long time that something has gone wrong with British justice. A succession of Home Secretaries have targeted, at different times, each of the central principles that underlie the national system of law: trial by jury, habeas corpus, free speech, as well as the abiding tenet that there should be a strict separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive. This magnificent legal inheritance has been a guarantee of freedom and fairness in this country since the Middle Ages. But — as Tuesday’s wretched debate in Parliament about Abu Qatada demonstrates so nicely — this tradition is no longer of interest to the political class. Abu Qatada certainly seems to be a thoroughly undesirable and nasty piece of work. Tapes of his sermons were discovered in a flat used by one of the Twin Towers bombers. He is accused of being the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda in Europe, and is sought in his native Jordan for an attempt to murder tourists. Not merely that — he is on record as justifying suicide-bombing and, it is said, preaching anti-Semitism.
On top of everything else, there is the fundamental, stinking hypocrisy of a man who appears to have a contempt for human rights making use of the best British lawyers to guarantee his own freedom to live with his large family on British benefits.
Most of the above is an offence under the British legal system, which regards incitement to murder and hate crimes as very serious offences. Indeed, if even a fraction of what is claimed is true, it would surely have been an easy matter to press charges against Qatada and have him sent to jail for a long period. But this has not been the approach taken by the British Government. We have preferred not to press charges, instead holding him under the various forms of house arrest made possible by recent anti-terrorism legislation. More recently, we have attempted to deport Qatada to Jordan, but this strategy has rightly fallen foul of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg — which refuses to countenance the idea that any individual should be deported to a country that practices torture. Mysteriously, however, this decision has been condemned as an outrageous assault on British sovereignty, while the Strasbourg Court is under attack as an alien construction, hostile to British history, law, freedom and our national identity.
It is time that the case was heard for the defence. Certainly, it should be conceded that those who claim protection from the European Court are often suspicious or unattractive men and women, and many of them foreigners. Abu Qatada is a near perfect example of this kind of phenomenon. But the brutal truth is that obnoxious and unpopular figures are exactly those who most desperately need the protection of the law. Consider this: there is nothing on this earth more British than the instinct to stand up for the underdog or the pariah, however unpopular or unattractive he or she might be. And there is no institution — not even the MCC or the Lawn Tennis Association — more British than the European Court of Human Rights. It was inspired by Sir Winston Churchill, eager in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Holocaust to export the British system of fairness and decency. Churchill ensured that its founding document was drafted by a British politician, David Maxwell Fyfe, later to become a Conservative Lord Chancellor. Every single one of the great ideas that were to be embodied in the European Convention — freedom from torture, restraint on the power of the state, freedom under law — was an ancient British principle transferred on to the European stage.
It should be a matter of enormous national pride that an institution so profoundly British in its inspiration has refused to send an Arab fundamentalist (however despicable his crimes are alleged to be) to Jordan, where he might be tortured, or at best face the prospect of being sent to jail on the back of evidence acquired from a torture victim. Yet this decision has been greeted with horror by all three of our main political parties. Tuesday’s Commons debate, in particular, was a day of shame for Parliament, once famed as the cockpit of freedom and justice. MPs combined to demand that Britain flout the European Court. Only one solitary backbencher, Labour’s David Winnick, asked the obvious question: if Abu Qatada is such a bad egg, why not press charges and secure a sentence in court?
It is more than 60 years since Churchill made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton, Missouri, in which he defended the Western tradition of the rule of law. This is what he said: “We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which… through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, habeas corpus, trial by jury and the English common law, find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence.” Churchill was clear, too — as he wrote to a constituent in 1938 — that “the use of instruments of torture can never be regarded by any decent person as synonymous with justice”. In the immediate post-war era, with the memory of Nazi barbarism so clear, there would have been nothing even remotely controversial about such statements. They would have been accepted without demur by every right-thinking and decent person. Today, however, Churchill might be denounced as some eccentric, mad-eyed human rights fanatic if he repeated them. For over the past 15 years, the political elites of Britain and America have increasingly confined the right to a free trial to a minority of privileged citizens in their own countries.
Foreigners (and even some of their own citizens) have been subject to an improvised method of executive justice. Their rights have been denied and suppressed. Indeed, if only the MPs who sounded the alarm about Abu Qatada so stridently all this week had shown an ounce of the same outrage about Guantánamo or the victims of extraordinary rendition, they would deserve a certain amount of respect. It was Tony Blair who first made the disreputable argument that “the rules of the game have changed” and that the threat from al-Qaeda was so severe and unprecedented that terrorist suspects should be deprived of the protections granted to ordinary citizens. But Mr Blair was wrong for two reasons. First, by abandoning the rule of law, we have turned our back on the exact values that have brought honour, worth and distinction to Western civilisation. Second, we are according men such as Abu Qatada a significance and mystique they do not remotely possess. If he is guilty of the charges laid at his door, he is not, at bottom, guilty of terrorism. He is a common criminal, and should be treated as such. If this alleged hate preacher is such a menace, he should be brought to trial, asked to confront the evidence, and sent to jail. Anything less is a betrayal of everything that Britain stands for.
UK: US Olympic Team Visit Mile End Stadium as They Choose Tower Hamlets as Their Base
Children in Tower Hamlets will be able to watch the US Olympic team train at Mile End Stadium for this summer’s Games as the team invest a six-figure sum in the venue. Four times Olympic champion Teresa Edwards, who has retired from basketball and is now the team’s ‘chef de mission’ flew, in from the States this week, after it was announced that their track and field team will train at Mile End Park. She was joined by gold medallist relay sprinter Jon Drummond and sprint hurdler Benita Fitzgerald-Mosley, who will be training at Mile End Stadium. The pair spoke to more than 200 children, aged 11-14 from 30 Tower Hamlets secondary schools at Mile End Park Leisure Centre, on Tuesday. During the event called ‘Win with Integrity’ they encouraged them to get involved in sport and highlighted the importance of leading an active healthy lifestyle. Tickets will become available for school children during the Games to watch the athlete’s train at the stadium.
Ms Edwards and her team also took part in an official reception at Canada Square, hosted by the Canary Wharf Group and Tower Hamlets council, attended by Mayor Lutfur Rahman and other councillors. Ms Edwards, who visited the Olympic Park earlier in the day, said: “It was just beautiful. I can already see all the flags in there. “This time I won’t be competing, so for the first time I’ll be able to enjoy all the sights and look forward to getting a low down on Tower Hamlets.” Exactly how much the team is investing in Mile End Stadium is a tightly kept business secret, but the track, pole vault and high jump areas are being resurfaced and improvements made to the throwing cirles -which will be left behind for the community. Mayor Lutfur Rahman said: “It’s fantastic. Their investment into the stadium and commitment to engage with our young people will provide long lasting benefits.” The US will have bases across London for different parts of their Olympic team, including at the University of East London campuses in Docklands and Stratford. Langdon School is Poplar will be home to the Canadian Olympic team.
[JP note: Someone forgot to tell the Americans that Tower Hamlets is the UK’s first Islamic Republic and that Mayor Lutfur Rahman is a well-known Islamic extremist.]
Muslim Council in Egypt Evicts 8 Christian Families, Seizes Their Property
by Mary Abdelmassih
(AINA) — National and international rights groups have consistently criticized the recourse to the so-called “reconciliation meetings” — dubbed “Bedouin sittings” — that take place between Copts and Muslim assailant after every attack on Copts. The meetings are conducted under the auspices of state security. Last week a series of meetings were held by radical Muslims to decide on the fate of the Copts in a village in Alexandria, and Muslims insisted that the whole Coptic population of 62 families must be deported because of an unsubstantiated accusation levied against one Coptic man.
Copts in the village of Kobry-el-Sharbat (El-Ameriya), Alexandria, were attacked on January 27 by a mob of 3000 Muslims led by Salafi leaders, who looted and torched homes and shops belonging to Copts. The violence was prompted by allegations made by a Muslim barber named Toemah that a 34-year-old Coptic tailor, Mourad Samy Guirgis, had on his mobile phone illicit photos of a Muslim woman. Mourad denied the accusation and surrendered to the police for fear for his life. Muslims looted and torched his workshop and home after he surrendered to the police, and his entire family, including his parents and his married brother Romany, were evicted from the village. He is still in police detention. (AINA 1-28-2012).
Three “reconciliation meetings” were held at the El-Ameriya village police headquarters. They were attended by Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood representatives from neighboring villages, as well as church representative. Muslims demanded the eviction of all Coptic inhabitants from the village because “Muslim honour had been damaged.”
Many believe that the mobile phone story was fabricated as an excuse to start violence against the Copts. According to the police, the woman in question denied the story and no photos were found on Mourad’s mobile phone, according to Ihab Aziz, a Coptic-American activist who is presently in Egypt.
During the first reconciliation meeting it was agreed that only Copts who were directly involved with the Mourad incident would be evicted, and the church demanded compensation of two million pounds for the innocent Copts whose homes and businesses were torched on January 27. Muslims, especially Salafis from the neighboring villages, refused any kind of compensation and insisted on the eviction of all Copts.
On January 30 a Muslim mob attacked Copts in Kobry-el-Sharbat for the second time, and torched three Coptic homes in the presence of the security forces, “which took the role of an onlooker and made no effort to stop the violence,” according to Joseph Malak, lawyer for the Coptic church in Alexandria. “This proves that the assailants were not afraid of the security forces or the law.”
Muslim representatives demanded the eviction of the wealthy Coptic merchant Abeskhayroun Soliman, together with his four married sons and their families, accusing them of causing sedition by shooting in the air when Muslims broke into and torched their home while the family was inside. “No one was wounded due to the alleged shootings, which the family says never took place. The police authorities issued an arrest warrant for two of the Soliman sons,” said Ihab Aziz.
The Solimans have been in hiding with a Muslim family which saved them from their burning homes, and is presently giving them protection. Muslims threatened that if eight Coptic families were not evicted by February 3rd, all remaining 54 Coptic families in the village would be subjected to violence after Friday prayers. They called it “Friday of Eviction” and “Friday of Clean-up.”
On Wednesday February 1, a hastily organized reconciliation meeting was arranged by security authorities, and was attended by Ebeskharion Soliman and one of his sons.
The terms of the agreement which resulted were:
eviction of eight Coptic families, namely three of the Mourad families, in addition to five Soliman families.
selling of the assets of the wealthy Abeskhayron Soliman family within three months by a committee, under the supervision of Salafi shaikh Sherif el Hawary. Soliman has no right to get involved in the sale or even accompany a prospective buyer.
the Committee is to collect any money accrued from the sale of his land, properties, businesses as well as collect promissory notes pending from business transactions by the Soliman-owned chain of stores.
in case of non-implementation of this Agreement, all Copts in the Kobry-el-Sharbat village will be attacked, their homes and property completely torched.
Abeskhayron Soliman signed the agreement, which most Copts viewed as “humiliating.”
Father Boktor, who attended the meeting, described the reconciliation agreement as “utter injustice.”
Wissa Fawzi, member of the Maspero Coptic Youth Union in Alexandria, said that Soliman has nothing at all to do with the Mourad story, but signed the agreement to save his family and the Copts in the village, “otherwise there would have been a massacre of the Copts on that Friday.” He said that Security authorities pressured Soliman into accepting the terms of the agreement by threatening him with refusal of police protection for him and his family. “What constitutes the real crisis is the complicity of security officials in the process of displacement,” said Fawzi.
Copts in Kobry-el-Sharbat were stunned after hearing the news of the eviction of the “top Copt” in their community, whose wealth is estimated at more than 20,000,000 Egyptian pounds. “There is a feeling of humiliation and being completely under the mercy of the radical Muslims,” said Rami Khashfa of the Alexandria Maspero Youth Union “they are terrorized and are scared of the future. Copts in the neighboring villages are also scared.” He said that Copts in the village are thinking of moving elsewhere.
Speaking on US-based Christian TV channel Al-Karma, Magdy Khalil, head of the Middle East Freedom Forum, said that reconciliation meetings made up of Salafis and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and arranged by security officials are illegal and forced eviction is one of the crimes under international law. “Who gave them the right to form a committee headed by a Salafi to sell Christian property? This is thuggery and blatant targeting of Copts.”
Khalil called on the Coptic Melli Council, which is the civilian body that represents Copts in the Egyptian State, to protest this agreement and ask for the return of the Copts to their homes. “If we accept it, this will open the door for an avalanche of forced evictions.” He believes that radical Muslim have a bigger plan they hope to achieve by terrorizing the Copts, namely displacing and dispersing them from places with high Coptic population density, taking their property and weakening them economically..
Ihab Aziz, like many others, believes that “Coptic capital” is targeted everywhere in Egypt. He said that members of the Egyptian parliament have been made aware of the El-Ameriya forced displacement, and the issue will be brought before parliament shortly.
by Sam de Brito
So, in an attempt to counteract the bellicose hysteria about Muslims, Islam and the Middle East that seems to be generated or insinuated by many mainstream media organisations, I bin educamating meself. In order to do so, I’ve been listening to lecture series about those subjects by Professor Richard Bulliet of Columbia University, Professor Martin W. Lewis of Stanford University and a scholar named Dr Graham Leonard, who has lived in the Middle East for more than 35 years. All these dudes are whiteys, at least one is a Jew, two have spent long periods living in the region and it’s fair to say they know their stuff. Bulliet, for example, has done work on the Middle East for everyone from the US and Iranian governments to Time magazine and The New York Times. I’d also generalise and say they aren’t terrified of Islam, don’t see it as a “threat” — at least not one that will topple our Western way of life — and have a respect for the Muslim world … something that usually happens when you’ve experienced a people, rather than taken Today Tonight’s word on the matter.
Anyway, I found this fascinating — in fact, I dare say I have more in common with many Muslim brothers than I do with some of the people I see out on a Friday night, especially some of the d****** I dealt with on Australia Day. And the way I’m feeling at the moment about my life, I might see myself joining such an organisation — because it would give me hope, purpose and a feeling of being part of something doing great things in the world. The thing that would prevent my participation in the organisation would be MB’s attitudes to women, but on other subjects, well, I’d at least be sympathetic. If I was a poor, 20-year-old Muslim guy living in the slums of Egypt, I’d probably be there with bells on. Your thoughts?
Tunisia: The Long Political Transition
Ghannouchi reassuring, but opposition fears Islamic state
(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 8 — Today, there appears to be no remaining trace of the bread revolt. The very definition has disappeared from the Tunisian press. After exploding at the end of December 2010, the bread uprising of Sidi Bouzid was transformed at the beginning of January 2011 in to the “Thawrat al-karama wa al-hurriyya”, the “Revolution of dignity and freedom”, with protesters descending upon Tunis and the fall of the Ben Ali regime turning the uprising into what was called the Jasmine Revolution.
In the national press, the issue of political transition occupies the front pages and blacks out other developments in the country. Yet the issues that pushed young people in Sidi Bouzid to protest have not disappeared. They shared Mohamed Bouazizi’s frustration over unemployment and the rise in prices of basic goods such as bread, flour, sugar and milk.
“The pace of change is too slow,” says Amnesty International’s report on post-revolution Tunisia. This change has cost and continues to cost the national economy dear. The country’s most important economic indicators have never been so low, with the exception of the war years. The rate of GDP growth failed to exceed 0.2% in 2011, having reached 4.5% in 2010. The rate of unemployment is above 18% and continues to grow with the constant influx of Tunisian workers who had been in Libya. Around a quarter of the country’s population lives in poverty, on less than 2 dollars a day, according to figures from the Ministry for Social Affairs.
With such a bleak outlook, there is no little concern over the debate raging on the deal to divide the new Tunisian government’s institutional standing among the three leading parties from the elections held on October 23. The debate is hindering the task of re-establishing security, which in turn is fundamental to the country’s economic revival.
Tunisia: City Police Calls National Strike
The protest will last from Feb 20 to Feb 23
(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, 9 FEBRUARY — For the first time in Tunisia’s history, the police corps of Tunisian cities will be on strike in the framework of a protest on the national scale called by the police trade unions. The strike will begin on February, 20th and will continue until February, 23rd. According to Arabic-language Achourouk, 25,000 policemen and police officers will take part in the strike. Among other things, police corps are asking for a new charter of city policemen.
Demography is Destiny in Syria
Among the second wave of Arab Spring uprisings that followed Tunisia, Syria was the most spectacular “out of the blue” that suddenly arose in the face of the media and analytic community. Just days before Deraa exploded with protests last March, some analysts were still scrutinizing Syria’s circumstances and declaring the country to be immune from the Arab Spring. Nor did reporters who visited the country spot signs of a brewing storm.
In fact, throughout the Arab Spring, the media and experts repeatedly fell into the same trap of confusing the capital city with the whole country. On the eve of the Islamist landslide in Egypt’s elections various polls and informed individuals were putting the popularity of radical Salafis at between 5% and 10%. The Salafis have indeed won about 10% of the vote… but only in Cairo. Nationwide they took almost 30%, beating even those unrepentant pessimists who were betting on a Muslim Brotherhood spring. In some provinces they grabbed all of 50%.
This routine of the periphery ambushing the media and analysts during the Arab Spring and making a mockery of their reports and predictions has reached such grotesque proportions in Syria partly thanks to the media restrictions imposed by the regime, but mostly owing to the very peripheral nature of the Syrian uprising itself. This “peripheralism” has also laid waste to the best efforts of Iranian advisers who came to Syria to share with their Syrian colleagues the know-how accumulated by the regime in Tehran in crushing the Greens.
In truth, the escalation in Syria took by surprise only the people who never bothered to examine Syria’s population pyramid. It was no “out of the blue” to anybody even slightly familiar with the basic facts on demography and climate in the region. In the Middle East’s long list of hopeless basket cases Yemen is surely beyond competition. However, for quite a while Syria has positioned herself as a formidable contender for respectable second place.
In some respects, the seeds of the current disaster were planted as far back as 1956, when Youssef Helbaoui — head of economic analysis in Syria’s Planning Department — famously declared: “A birth control policy has no reason for being in this country. Malthus could not find any followers among us.” Since then Syria has been living in a state of one uninterrupted demographic cataclysm. The regime was so obsessively pro-natalist that in the early 1970s, the trade and use of contraceptives in Syria were officially banned. By 1975, the birth rate reached 50 live births per 1,000 people, with Hafez al-Assad asserting that a “high population growth rate and internal migration” were responsible for stimulating “proper socio-economic improvements” within the development framework.
Even when other nations in the Middle East began to take measures to curb their population growth as the danger of demographic collapse started to loom over the region, the regime in Syria was struggling to make up its mind on the issue. Only in recent years has the regime introduced some measure of family planning, but by now the sheer amount of population momentum accumulated in previous decades has kept the population swelling to new highs. It’s true that the average Syrian woman entering the child bearing age now is expected to have no more than three children in her lifetime. Yet, the sheer proportion of such young people in the population continues to propel the population forward. And the workforce is still expanding at a neck breaking rate of 4%.
Iran Turns to Barter for Food as Sanctions Cripple Imports
PARIS/TEHRAN (Reuters) — Iran is turning to barter — offering gold bullion in overseas vaults or tankerloads of oil — in return for food as new financial sanctions have hurt its ability to import basic staples for its 74 million people, commodities traders said Thursday.
Difficulty paying for urgent import needs has contributed to sharp rises in the prices of basic foodstuffs, causing hardship for Iranians with just weeks to go before an election seen as a referendum on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s economic policies.
New sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union to punish Iran for its nuclear program do not bar firms from selling Iran food but they make it difficult to carry out the international financial transactions needed to pay for it.
Reuters surveys of commodities traders around the globe show that since the start of the year, Iran has had trouble securing imports of basic staples like rice, cooking oil, animal feed and tea. Grain ships have been held at its ports, refusing to unload until payment can be received for cargo.
With Iran’s rial currency tumbling, the prices of rice, bread and meat in Iranian bazaars have doubled or more in dollar terms in recent months.
Iranian grain importers have in the past side-stepped sanctions by booking business through the United Arab Emirates, traders said, but this option was cut off by the UAE government in response to sanctions.
Iran has been trading oil in currencies like Japanese yen, South Korean won and Indian rupees, but such deals make it difficult to repatriate profits.
Deals revealed Thursday appear to be among the first in which Iran has had to result to offering cashless barter to avoid sanctions, a sign of new urgency as it seeks to buy food and get around the financial restrictions.
“Grain deals are being paid for in gold bullion and barter deals are being offered,” one European grains trader said, speaking on condition of anonymity while discussing commercial deals. “Some of the major trading houses are involved.”
Another trader said: “As the shipments of grain are so large, barter or gold payments are the quickest option.”
Details of how the barter deals work are still unclear as the payments problem is so new, and traders did not disclose the exact size of such deals.
Israel’s Stance on Iran Could be ‘Catastrophic’: Moscow
Israel’s hard-line approach to speculation that Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear weapon could have “catastrophic consequences”, a senior Russian foreign ministry official warned Thursday. “The inventions” concerning the possible development of nuclear arms by Iran “are increasing the tension and could encourage moves towards a military solution with catastrophic consequences,” Mikhail Ulyanov told the Interfax news agency on Wednesday.
Speculation has risen in recent weeks, driven in part by comments made by officials in the Jewish state, about the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran. Israel and much of the international community believe that Iran’s nuclear programme masks a covert weapons drive, a charge Tehran denies.
The “noise” about Iran’s nuclear intentions “have political and propaganda objectives which are far from being inoffensive,” said Ulyanov, head of the security and disarmament department in Russia’s foreign affairs ministry. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said last month that any decision by Israel on whether to attack Iran in a bid to halt its nuclear programme remained “very far away.”
However Israel’s chief of military intelligence, General Aviv Kochavi, told a security conference last week that Iran had enough radioactive material to produce four nuclear bombs. Widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power, albeit undeclared, Israel has supported tough sanctions against Iran but also insists on retaining the military option to halt its nuclear activities.
Jordan: Making a Call on Qatada
The Prime Minister, we are told, has been trying to reach the King of Jordan to see if some kind of arrangement can be made so that Abu Qatada can be deported legally and that no forms of torture-gained evidence will used against him in a Jordanian court. This seems like a sensible thing to do. But it is important that the government balances its counter-terrorism policy with its foreign policy.
Here is what I mean. Jordan is a friend of Britain, but the King is under tremendous pressure to reform. There are daily demonstrations against his rule and the protests are gathering pace. His reforms, meanwhile, have been limited and the country is running out of money. It is no longer unfeasible that Jordan could face what many other countries in the region has seen. So the King is doing what he and his family has done so well over the years — showing how indispensable he is to the West. He is revving up efforts on the Middle East Peace Process and is going to go out of his way to solve the Qatada problem for Britain. He will use the goodwill garnered — and money from the West and Saudi Arabia — to shore up his rule.
But if he does not undertake genuine reforms, his rule may be shakier than most people realise. And if swept from power, Britain could be seen — much as Italy was after cutting deals with Muammar Gaddafi to keep Libyan immigrants away from Italy — as only to happy to prop up the Middle East’s authoritarian rulers, and so not a real friend of the Jordanian people. This would be an awful outcome, especially after Britain’s role in Libya’s liberation. So while it may be the right thing to deport the troublesome cleric, we ought to ask: at what cost?
Syria: Moscow ‘Concerned’ Over Qatar and UK Units in Homs
(ANSAmed) — MOSCOW, FEBRUARY 9 — Moscow has announced that it will verify the news that there may by special troops from Qatar and the UK in Homs, Syria. An “alarming” aspect, said the spokesperson of Foreign Minister Aleksandr Lukashevich, commenting on the news reported by several international media. Unites of special forces from the two countries are reportedly present in Homs to give military advice to the rebels, news agency Interfax reports. The presence of British units on the side of the Syrian rebels is reported by The Guardian, which also mentions ‘rumours’ of American military actions. The Israeli website Debka writes about the alleged infiltration in Homs of military advisors from Britain and Qatar. The Israeli site does not supply further details regarding the origin of the information, only mentioning “exclusive sources”. Some of the reports released by Debka have proved to be reliable, but others were denied later.
Turkey: The Church That Politics Turned Into a Mosque
ISTANBUL — As worshipers knelt to face the Qiblah for noon prayers in the Hagia Sophia of Iznik last week, a caretaker beckoned to a couple of tourists tiptoeing around behind them.
“Look,” he whispered, pointing to a faded fresco on the wall, as the imam intoned the prayer and the worshipers faced Mecca. “It’s Jesus, Mary and John the Baptist.” The caretaker, Nurettin Bulut, a Culture Ministry employee, has been showing visitors around the ancient church in northwestern Turkey for three years, pointing out its Byzantine mosaics and relating its history as the venue of the seventh Ecumenical Council of Christendom and, later, as an Ottoman mosque.
Until three months ago, he was showing them around a museum, with a sign saying “St. Sophia Museum” posted outside, a ticket booth charging 3 lira, or $1.70, per visitor, and a strict ban on prayer enforced inside, just like in its eponymous sister church-turned-mosque-turned-museum in Istanbul. But in October, the Hagia Sophia of Iznik was closed to the public for several days of construction work by the Directorate General of Foundations, a department of the prime minister’s office in Ankara which manages historical buildings around the country. When it reopened in early November, a raised wooden platform had been set into the nave and covered with carpets, and green-and-gold plaques with Koran suras had been affixed to the Ottoman mihrab, or prayer niche. The museum sign was replaced with a new one reading “Mosque of Ayasofya,” the Turkish spelling of Hagia Sophia, and loudspeakers were hoisted on the Ottoman-era minaret. And with dawn prayer on Nov. 6, the first day of Eid al-Adha, the Hagia Sophia was reopened for service as a mosque.
The response from residents has been less than enthusiastic. On a recent weekday, only 18 men answered the call to noon prayer, huddling in a corner of the carpeted platform with the imam to perform their devotions.
Outside, local residents voiced bitterness over the conversion of the landmark, which sits on the main crossroad at the center of the historical town. “It’s completely unnecessary,” said Emin Acar, a local farmer enjoying the winter sun outside a teahouse within view of the Hagia Sophia. “We have plenty of mosques here,” Mr. Acar said, in remarks echoed by shoppers and strollers up and down the main street. “What we need are tourists, but they won’t be coming anymore.” The town, whose income depends largely on surrounding olive groves, had also begun to trade on its eminent place in the history of Christianity to attract faith tourism from the West. It was here in ancient Nicaea, as the town was then called, that bishops from all over the Roman Empire gathered to craft the Christian creed at the first Ecumenical Council in the year 325. Four and a half centuries later, the seventh and last of the Ecumenical Councils still recognized by most churches in the world today met in the Hagia Sophia of Nicaea in the year 787 to denounce iconoclasm, opening the door to a millennium of Christian religious art.
The site was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman conquerors of Iznik in the 14th century, but fell into disrepair and was abandoned long before the Turkish Republic was founded in 1923. Restored by district authorities and the foundations directorate in 2007, the Hagia Sophia became in the past few years the focal point of Christian tourism to Iznik. Last year, 40,000 foreign tourists visited the town, according to its chamber of commerce. “They came for the Hagia Sophia, but they won’t be coming anymore,” said Ilknur Gunes, who sells her hand-made jewelry a block from the ex-church. “If someone converted a historical mosque I wanted to see into a church, I wouldn’t want to go anymore, either. Historical sites should be kept as museums.”
Emerging from the Hagia Sophia, a German tourist, Claus Stoll from Stuttgart, said he did not mind the conversion, “as long as the building is preserved.” Turkish tourists were more skeptical. “It’s not a good place for a mosque,” said Gokturk Tutuncu, on an outing with his family from Istanbul. “It should have remained a museum,” Nilgun Tuna, visiting from Istanbul, said. “We should protect our historical heritage, and that includes the Christian heritage.” One young man from Istanbul, who declined to give his name, was in favor of the conversion. “And high time too,” he said. “Next, I want to see it happen in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.”
In the Iznik City Hall, across the street from the Hagia Sophia, Deputy Mayor Kenan Zengin of the Nationalist Action Party shook his head when asked about the conversion. “We had nothing to do with the decision,” Mr. Zengin said. “In fact, we were not even asked.” While the conversion was technically decided by the Directorate General of Foundations, the political decision was made by Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, local officials said. “We first heard of it when Mr. Arinc visited Iznik” in late September, Mahmut Dede, chairman of the local chamber of commerce, said in his office behind the Hagia Sophia, adding that the business community had initially been upset about the plan and publicly protested it. But after a chat with the local chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party, known as A.K.P., to which Mr. Arinc belongs, “We said, okay, if a deputy prime minister sees fit to do so, then let’s wait and see,” Mr. Dede said. “And now we are waiting to see what happens to Iznik” when the tourism season begins in April.
Mr. Arinc acknowledged his role in the decision last year on Olay TV, a station in Bursa Province, to which Iznik belongs and which he represents in Parliament. “This is the happiest day of my term in office, because I have contributed to such a good work,” he said according to a transcript posted on his personal Web site. Mr. Arinc said that, unlike the Hagia Sophia of Istanbul, the Iznik site had never been formally registered as a museum at the foundation of the republic, and thus remained by rights a mosque even though it had been not used as such for a century. He added that his office had turned down an earlier request from the Culture Ministry to take over the administration of the Hagia Sophia. “We told them that it is a mosque and that it cannot be used for any other purpose,” he said. His stance seemed to put him at odds with Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay, who has been at pains to foster the Christian heritage of Anatolia as a means of attracting faith tourism. “As the venue of two Ecumenical Councils, Iznik really has the potential to draw a lot of interest from all over the world,” Mr. Gunay said last year. “So we are trying to promote Iznik and to restore it.”
As of this week, three months after the conversion to a mosque, the Hagia Sophia was still listed as a museum on the Culture Ministry’s Web site. While these clashing approaches would seem to put the two ministers on a collision course, analysts say it is all part of the A.K.P.’s political strategy. “Even though it is generally seen simply as a conservative party, the A.K.P. in fact unites very different currents and views under its roof,” Adil Gur, a political analyst and owner of the A&G polling company, said by telephone this week. Within the cabinet, for example, Mr. Gunay represents a social democratic tradition, while Mr. Arinc speaks for the pious wing of the party, Mr. Gur said. He also mentioned Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin of the party’s nationalist wing and Egemen Bagis, the liberal and pro-Western minister for E.U. affairs, are further examples of the party’s internal diversity. The leaders of these diverging currents occasionally make “strong statements” for the benefit of their respective followers, Mr. Gur said. “At first glance, this can sometimes give the impression of fissures or infighting within the party, but it is in fact not so,” he added. “It is just the way the A.K.P. keeps all the diverging currents together in one party.” Outside the Iznik mosque, Fahri Ugur, a taxi driver, shrugged and ordered another tea from the corner store. “We had just begun to make a few pennies from tourism,” he said. “Now we can forget that again.”
[JP note: The politics that turned Turkey into a theocracy.]
Turkey: Complaint Filed Against Twitter User Alias @allah
User has 200,000 followers, sued by tv presenter
(ANSAmed) — ANKARA — A Twitter user has gained almost 200 thousand followers under the username “@allah”.
Charges have been filed against him and while the result of the case is uncertain, it has drawn the attention of an information website. The lawsuit against the account “twitter.com/allahcc” was opened by television presenter Serdar Tuncer, who claims that the more than 4,600 tweets sent by this tweeter mock the Islam and other religions and humiliate their faithful. Tuncer, who presents television programmes dedicated to Ramadan, as the website Bianet reports, has said that “the correspondence between the person called @allah (cc) and his readers” violates article 216/3 of Turkish Criminal Law on “denigration of religious values”.
The messages sent by “@allah”, listed in the complaints, include: “We have been god for so many years and we are still cooking pasta with tomato sauce.” “Fortunately, we created sour cherry.” “With my present mind I would not have created the little finger of human beings.” “Our side over here is very safe because there is no police.” The tweets contain “humiliation and insults against Islam and Muslims”, the plaintiff claims, asking the prosecution to focus on the article in Turkish law that sentences “anyone who openly denigrates the religious values of a part of the population” to imprisonment of from six months to one year, “where the act is sufficient to breach public peace”.
A lawyer concluded by the secular website, Efkan Bolac, said that no prosecutor will open a case for such a reason, because the tweets quoted as examples in the petition do not contain humiliation, hatred or a breach of public peace. The followers of @allah, according to the lawyer, could not be involved anyway: “Lodging a criminal complaint about 200,000 people because they read a certain account cannot find a response in law.” In a reply to the complaint written by “@llah” himself, he wrote with obvious deride: “Only god can judge me.” The lawsuit was opened a few days after Twitter announced ‘selective’ censorship of some messages if governments ask for it for legal reasons. Turkey, a country with a Muslim majority but secular constitution introduced by Kemal Ataturk almost a century ago, has had a moderate Islamic government for nine years, led by Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey is a model of democracy for the entire region, but is criticised on international level. The EU and OECD criticise internet censorship in the country for example: access to thousands of websites (the most reliable estimates range from 5,000 to 37,000, but some go as high as 1.2 million) is blocked due to their sexual content (like youporn) but also their political comments, like in the case of insults to the memory of Ataturk or statements issued by terrorists of the Kurdish PKK.
US Experts Warn of Israeli Attack on Iran
While America says it wants a peaceful resolution to tensions between Israel and Iran, some US experts say an Israeli military attack is possible — this year, in fact. And they are warning of devastating results.
US President Barack Obama had tried to calm tensions between Israel and Iran last Sunday with the words that Tel Aviv, as far as he could see, had yet “to make a decision” as to whether it would strike Tehran militarily. But it failed to stop Iran flexing muscles in a military exercise on its border with Afghanistan over the weekend. Tehran threatened retribution if Israel were to strike. Many think it will — especially against Iranian nuclear installations.
A New Generation Aims to Revitalize Russia
Russia’s young people are growing up with more freedom than ever. Twenty years after the end of communism, the first post-Soviet generation is transforming the country — whether the once and future president likes it or not.
Antarctic Lake Could Reveal Evolution, New Life: Scientists
Russian scientists said Thursday a probe to a pristine lake deep under the ice of Antarctica could bring revelations on the planet’s evolution and possibly even new life forms. A Russian team drilled down to the surface of Lake Vostok, which is believed to have been covered by ice for millions of years, in a breakthrough officially announced Wednesday by the Institute of the Arctic and Antarctic.
Scientists said that water samples to be taken from the lake later this year could reveal new forms of life, despite the extreme conditions. “We expect to find life there like nothing on Earth”, Sergei Bulat, a molecular biologist at the Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute, told AFP.
“If there is life there, it will be a form of life that is unknown to science. In that case we are talking about a fundamental discovery, a new page in our scientific understanding of life.” “We have discovered a new subject for science, no one has ever seen anything like this,” added Vladimir Syvorotkin, a geology and mineralogy specialist at Moscow State University. “Biologists will probably find some unknown bacteria that has adapted to such conditions,” he told AFP.
The lake’s sediment will also reveal changes to the Earth and its climate over the last 20 million years, said German Leichenkov of the Institute of Geology and Mineral Resources of the Ocean in Saint Petersburg. “For geologists, it is important to drill down and bring back the bottom sediments. They contain information about changes to the natural environment, the climate in the last 15 to 20 million years,” he told AFP. “We have very little information on this in the Antarctic and this could be a unique source of information.”
Working in extreme conditions in eastern Antarctica, where the average temperature is around minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit), the expedition drove a probe through the ice over many months, using kerosene as antifreeze.
“This is our technical victory. Drilling in such complex climatic conditions is difficult, plus the factors of high altitude and the strong ice,” said Leichenkov. “It’s an important technical and pyschological victory. It’s important to congratulate them with this, especially as there are no other victories. These people are heroes,” said Syvorotkin of Moscow State University.
Gorbachev: Putin Has Run Out of Gas
The first and only President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, has said that in his view the whole Russian system must change and Vladimir Putin is incapable of making this change, even though the PM will most likely win the presidential elections. Gorbachev was delivering a lecture at Moscow’s International University on Thursday and said that Vladimir Putin had done a lot of good for the country, but has already exhausted is reserves of political authority.
“Most likely Putin will manage to become president. But if he does not overexert himself and conduct things in a different way then everyone would walk into the streets. This is impermissible. People will take to the streets in our country if the situation does not change after the presidential elections,” Gorbachev said.
The former Soviet leader also said that in his view it was unlikely that Putin will change the whole system. “He will not manage it, with the newly-elected parliament, with the situation, with his entourage. They are all appointed and nepotism is rife there,” Gorbachev said.
Putin Wins Backing of Russia’s Religious Leaders
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has received the backing of Russia’s powerful Orthodox Church, its chief rabbi and top Islamic leader as he seeks a return to the presidency next month. Putin met the three religious leaders on Wednesday in the latest in a series of gatherings with leading cultural and public figures ahead of the March 4 vote.
“I would like to thank you. You once said that you are working as a slave in the galley,” Patriarch Kirill said at the meeting. “But with the only difference being that a slave lacked the degree of commitment to work that you have,” Kirill said in comments posted on Putin’s campaign website.
“Thanks to the Almighty, the country has been saved from ruin,” added Russia’s Chief Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin. “And one must add — with your direct involvement!” Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar for his part thanked Putin “for everything you have done for Jews.”
A series of mass protests that followed fraud-tainted December parliamentary election have posed the most serious challenge to Putin’s 12-year domination of Russia as president and head of government. The swelling wave of demonstrations and dip in Putin’s public approval ratings have prompted his team to seek the public backing of top celebrities and clerics.
Russian Cold Snap Kills 110: Ministry
Exceptionally cold weather in Russia has killed at least 110 people since the beginning of the year, the health ministry said Wednesday. “By this morning, 110 adults have died” from the cold, ministry spokesman Konstantin Proshin told AFP, adding that official data did not include children under 18 years of age.
An abnormally cold front sweeping across Central and Eastern Europe over the past week has also led to numerous deaths in neighbouring Ukraine as well as in Poland and Romania. In the southern Krasnodar region on the Black Sea, the authorities have closed schools amid severe weather conditions.
The Himalayas and Nearby Peaks Have Lost No Ice in Past 10 Years, Study Shows
The world’s greatest snow-capped peaks, which run in a chain from the Himalayas to Tian Shan on the border of China and Kyrgyzstan, have lost no ice over the last decade, new research shows. The discovery has stunned scientists, who had believed that around 50bn tonnes of meltwater were being shed each year and not being replaced by new snowfall.
The study is the first to survey all the world’s icecaps and glaciers and was made possible by the use of satellite data. Overall, the contribution of melting ice outside the two largest caps — Greenland and Antarctica — is much less than previously estimated, with the lack of ice loss in the Himalayas and the other high peaks of Asia responsible for most of the discrepancy. Bristol University glaciologist Prof Jonathan Bamber, who was not part of the research team, said: “The very unexpected result was the negligible mass loss from high mountain Asia, which is not significantly different from zero.”
Turkmen Leader: Dentist Turned Enigmatic Strongman
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, set to be re-elected with little contest on Sunday, has moderated the wildly eccentric personality cult of his predecessor but done little to change Turkmenistan’s reputation for isolation. The former dentist, 54, became president in 2007 after the death in late 2006 of Saparmurat Niyazov, who became globally notorious for excesses that included erecting a golden statue of himself that revolved to face the sun.
Despite now being in power for half a decade, little is still known about the matt-haired Berdymukhamedov’s personal background except that he took an unusual path to the top by rising through the ranks of the dental profession. The famous golden statue has now been moved from the centre of the capital Ashgabat and the country opened cautiously to foreign investment, with Russia, the European Union and China all eagerly eyeing its vast gas reserves.
Turkish and French firms have flocked to Ashgabat to take advantage of a multi-billion dollar construction spending spree on new hotels and government buildings. The authorities have coined the slogan “Era of Rebirth” to describe Berdymukhamedov’s rule and he is known locally as the “Arkadag” (Protector), a slightly more humble title than Niyazov’s “Turkmenbashi” (Father of All Turkmens).
But, critics say, the country remains without any political opposition while dissent is brutally supresssed, though officially he has halted one-party rule. Berdymukhamedov’s portraits adorn government buildings, hotels and shopping centres. Daily newspapers are littered with his images, as articles sing praises to his policies.
His books on medicine and horses have become best sellers in the country. In October last year he received the title of “hero” of Turkmenistan from the national Council of Elders.
Buying Germany’s Hidden Champions: Takeover Could Signal New Strategy for China
Concrete pump manufacturer Putzmeister is the first top-tier German company to be acquired by a Chinese company eager to get its hands on Western know-how, but it is unlikely to be the last. The acquisition could be the start of a new strategy as China tries to transform itself into a high-tech economy. And the Germans might even benefit too.
Evidence of Cruelty Halts Sydney Abattoir
Slaughtering has been halted at a Sydney abattoir after video evidence of animal cruelty.
The NSW food authority said in a statement on Thursday that it had seen disturbing video footage of what it described as “gross animal mistreatment”.
“The video shows the slaughter of sheep, cattle, goats and pigs that allegedly breaches the Food Regulation 2010 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979,” it said.
An investigation involving the RSPCA is underway, it says.
A spokeswoman for the NSW food authority said it received the video, taken at Hawkesbury Valley Meat Processors at Wilberforce, in Sydney’s west, on Wednesday.
“The video shows one of the staff members at the abattoir hitting a pig and there’s a cattle prod being used on cattle,” she told AAP.
“We’ve gone in and taken their stamps, which means they can’t slaughter any more animals, and then there will be an investigation into their processes.”
She said the operation employed about 20 people and did halal and non-halal slaughter.
A spokeswoman for the abattoir confirmed it was under investigation but declined to comment further.
The video was provided to the food authority by the ABC, the spokeswoman said.
The closure of the Sydney abattoir comes after videos showing the mistreatment of cattle in Indonesia halted live animal sales last year.
Steve Coleman, the CEO of RSPCA NSW, said the state’s food authority provided him with the footage on Thursday.
“I and the chief investigator have had a look at that footage and we have concerns, and we intend to launch an investigation commencing first thing tomorrow morning,” he told AAP.
Mr Coleman said the footage raised concerns about slaughter methods and animal handling practices at the abattoir.
It wasn’t the first time concerns had been raised about the operation, Mr Coleman said.
“We have certainly received complaints over the years,” he said.
Terrorism as Male Bonding
Sam de Brito
Some years ago, Columbia University Professor Richard Bulliet was engaged by several British police forces to review and write reports about allegedly jihadist materials seized during investigations in the cities of Leicester and Edinburgh … “The Leicestershire constabulary liked my report, recommended me to Edinburgh, Edinburgh obviously did not like my report and Edinburgh never paid me,” the professor said in his lecture series, History of the Modern Middle East, “and since that time, no one has sought my expertise. “I think it’s because I said ‘most of this literature is aimed at the overthrow of the Algerian government and I don’t see anything wrong with that,’“ Bulliet said to a hall full of laughing Columbia University students. If you’re new to Algeria, it might help to know that “official” (read, lowballed) unemployment figures in the country were put at 10.2 per cent last year, but unemployment among university graduates has hit 23.5 per cent, with 71,000 Algerian university graduates estimated to have moved overseas between 1994 and 2006. (Imagine what the real figures are.)
As part of his work for the police, Bulliet said he watched 20 to 30 video tapes put out by various unidentified Islamic groups, advertising their militant activities and looking for recruits. He also listened to audio tapes and reckoned, “There’s a special genre of Jihadist music. I don’t think anyone has really studied it, but it’s rather interesting. “It has to be unaccompanied male voices … it’ll start out with a baby crying, gunfire, bombs in the background, then this really jaunty melody will come along.” Aside from the tapes opening the professor’s eyes to the musical abilities of jihadists, he had something of an epiphany about what the attraction was to young men for the work done by militant Islamic groups. The tape he found most “suggestive” was a video made in Algeria, of which he saw more than a dozen different copies, some edited slightly for length.
“It was called The Ambush, one of the few that had a title. You start out tracking a handful of college-age men, and they’re going up into the mountains … They get up into the camp, and most of the film is related to life in the camp. You see them baking bread and sewing equipment and having a good time. It’s basically like Outward Bound, combined with a US Army ad. The whole idea is you’re with the other guys … you’re there, it’s male solidarity and finally you load up, you go down the mountain and you blow up an Algerian army convoy, then you zoom in on all the weapons you’ve captured and then, finally, you show the martyrs. And there you see, in split screen, the guys on your side who were killed, lying on their backs, faces up, pieces of white cloth tying the head, and then, on the other split of the screen, you see them back at the camp, joking and singing and baking bread. It’s really a notion of male solidarity, that you are with the youth and you were together, you camped together, you got to shoot guns together and some guys died and that’s sad and maybe it’s my turn next but there isn’t a mention of Islam, at least not a strong mention of Islam, anywhere in the tape,” Bulliet said.
As with my post last week about the Muslim Brotherhood, I guess what I’m trying to illustrate is how little separates your average Aussie bloke from your average Muslim — even a so-called terrorist. Imagine if Australia had a s****y, violent, corrupt, repressive government and you couldn’t find work, let alone go out on the piss and get silly — and it had long been this way. The you hear about a group which says, “Hey, let’s change this. Let’s go blow up some of the people who repress us, shoot some guns, but most of all, hang with all your mates doing cool s***!” You can’t tell me there wouldn’t be plenty of takers in Australia: you could fill a bus at most pubs, I reckon.
Now imagine that’s all you know; you’re unemployed, you’re no one, Islam isn’t some weird foreign thing, it’s the very crucible of your life, it’s the thing you respect more than anything, that gives you some structure and direction in the world. And then there’s this group of dudes who are heavy, serious, respected and they respect you, they give you juice, they give you gravitas and they let you blow up s***.
Tempted? I’m in no way trying to justify terrorist acts against innocent people — but there’s “terrorism” like the Bali bombing or 9/11 and then there’s trying to overthrow a repressive government like they have done in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and are attempting to do in Syria.
Up until a year ago, the dudes in the mountains blowing up the army convoys of any of these governments were called “terrorists” — so you be the judge of how porous that definition is. And then think about how different you, me and them really are
As English Stops Being the First Language of Most London Children, Is Britain Ready for the Great Integration Challenge?
by Neil O’Brien
There is a lot of discussion in the media about immigration, but relatively little about integration. Leaving aside how many people should come to the UK, or who they should be, shouldn’t we think a bit more about what happens to people once they get here? In other countries (I’m thinking of Canada in particular) the government and voluntary groups make big efforts to make people feel like they fit in. In the UK we have had a much more laissez-faire approach. By and large it has worked out OK: new migrants developed regional accents, adopted football teams, and felt British. But it doesn’t always work out. Some new arrivals don’t feel part of Britain, can’t communicate, get stuck in a ghetto, or struggle to get work. After a decade of faster migration, and with some level of continuing migration in the future, these issues are going to become more acute. I was set thinking about this because I was having a drink with some teachers the other day. One made the point that in her school roughly two thirds of the children had English as a second language. That prompted me to go and look up the statistics. I think they are quite striking, and tell us something about the scale of the integration challenge we are going to face in the future.
[JP note: No.]
Greek ‘Wall’ Is Negative Symbol, Turkey Says
BRUSSELS — Turkey’s EU affairs minister has described the Greek anti-migrant fence as a symbol of division between the Union and outside countries. Alluding to the Berlin wall, which used to separate western Europe from the Soviet bloc, Egemen Bagis told EUobserver on Wednesday (8 February): “It is not the time to talk about new walls in Europe — we need to talk about new bridges. Europe paid the cost of walls in the recent past and … everyone should work to build new bridges between different views, different cultures and different countries (instead).”
He added that “Turkey is a bridge between east and west” and that the Islamic country’s EU entry would “symbolise an alliance of civilizations.” Greece this week began construction of a razor-wire barrier on its 13-km-long land border with Turkey. The fence is designed to deter the thousands of irregular migrants from Asia and north Africa who come each month to seek asylum in the Union.
The European Commission has described it as “pointless.” A Brussels-based NGO, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, said it would be a “tragedy” if it keeps out people fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria.
The Turkish minister’s remarks come in the context of prickly EU-Turkey relations — accession talks stopped over a year ago and the EU refuses to start negotiations on visa-free travel.
“The citizens of Belize, Paraguay, the 190 million citizens of Brazil, or the citizens of Malaysia — with all due respect to them — can travel to the (EU passport-free) Schengen zone without a visa, but my citizens have to wait in line … it is not correct,” he noted.
The EU says it will start visa talks only if Turkey signs a pact on taking back illegal migrants. Bagis said the visa talks must come first: “Turkey is ready to initial the readmission agreement if the EU Council authorises the commission to launch visa facilitation talks leading to visa liberalisation.”
Greece is one of the main opponents of Turkey’s EU entry due to its occupation of northern Cyprus.
France: ‘Negro’ Remark Lands Parfumier in Court
Jean-Paul Guerlain will appear in a Paris courtroom on Thursday to answer for remarks he made in a television interview that provoked controversy in France and abroad. Guerlain, a descendant of the founder of the company that bears his name, was answering questions on the lunchtime news programme of France 2 in October 2010 about a new perfume.
“For once, I starter working like a negro,” he said. “I don’t know if negroes have always worked like that, but anyway…” In French, “pour une fois, je me suis mis à travailler comme un nègre. Je ne sais pas si les nègres ont toujours tellement travaillé, enfin…”
The comments quickly led to a wave of protest around the world, with threats of boycotts of the company’s products. Twitter users spoke of “colonial racism”, “Guerlain, the perfumer who stinks” and “the nauseating emanations of Monsieur Guerlain.” Politicians from left and right were also quick to condemn the remarks.
France: Gay Wedding Ceremony Aims to Push Law Change
The mayor of the southern Paris suburb of Villejuif will officiate at a marriage between two men on Saturday, although the union will get no legal recognition. Same sex marriage is illegal in France, although Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande has made changing the law one of his manifesto promises if he is elected.
The communist mayor of the town, Claudine Cordillot, hopes the symbolic marriage will help advance the cause of same sex marriage in France.
In January 2011, the country’s highest authority on the constitution, the Conseil Constitutionnel, ruled that “marriage is the union of a man and a woman.” The issue was brought to parliament in June 2011 but MPs voted against a proposal to change the law by 293 votes to 222.
France: MPs Approve Public Sector Quotas for Women
France’s lower house National Assembly on Wednesday approved a government plan to introduce quotas for the hiring of women to top public sector posts that will hit 40 percent by 2018. The law, which must still be approved in the Senate, requires the government to hit targets of 20 percent next year and in 2014, 30 percent from 2015 to 2017 and 40 percent from 2018.
Women currently account for 60 percent of public sector employees but hold only 10 percent of upper management positions. Government bodies that do not reach the hiring targets will face financial penalties under the law. France in October 2010 introduced a similar law mandating 40 percent representation of women on the boards of publicly listed companies within six years.
Swedes’ Anti-Gay Flyers Not Free Speech: Court
Sweden’s Supreme Court (Högsta domstolen) was right to convict four men of hate crimes for distributing homophobic flyers at a school, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled. According to the ECHR, finding the leaflets were “unnecessarily offensive” to be protected by free speech laws.
The men, who were aged between 19 and 24 at the time, distributed roughly 100 flyers into student lockers in a school in Söderhamn in eastern Sweden in December 2004. They were told to leave the premises at the time by school officials. The flyers contained messages discussing the mens’ views on homosexuality, which they referred to as “deviant sexual proclivity”.
The flyer also stated that homosexuals had “a morally destructive effect on the substance of society” and were responsible for the development of HIV and AIDS. According to the men, their objective was not to promote hate speech, rather to create a debate concerning the school’s objectivity in their education system.
The men were later accused of promoting hate speech, and the Supreme Court in Sweden convicted them in 2006 of agitating a minority community, stating that the men had given the students no possibility to refuse the flyers by leaving them in the lockers. Three of the men received suspended sentences, and were given fines ranging from €200 to €2,000 ($265 to $2650).
They four men then take their case to the European Court of Human Rights in January 2007, arguing the Supreme Court ruling constituted a violation of their freedom of expression. In a statement released on Thursday, the European Court declared the applicants’ complaint was “inadmissible as being manifestly ill-founded”.
The ECHR also noted that discrimination based on sexual orientation is as serious as those on “race, origin or colour”, and that the flyers had been unnecessarily offensive. It also stated that the Supreme Court’s sentence was reasonable.
UK: Boss of Football’s Anti-Racism Group is Branded a Racist After Calling Asian Fan a ‘Coconut’
A leading force in football’s battle against racism has been criticised after he called an Asian supporter a ‘coconut’.
Piara Powar, who is the executive director of the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) organisation, has been a vocal figure in the game’s recent rows.
But an exchange on Twitter has left Mr Powar, who is also Asian, embroiled in a race controversy of his own making.
Liverpool fan Parmjit Singh, 34, tweeted @piarapower: ‘Interesting how u haven’t given your opinion on the news that a £mufc fan was arrested on Wednesday for alleged racial abuse.’
He received a staggering reply from Mr Powar, who used Twitter’s private messaging function to contact Mr Singh, which said: ‘Get lost Singh. Have no false consciousness. Don’t be a coconut.’
Mr Singh was referring to Manchester United fan Howard Hobson, 57, who was today fined £200 for chanting racist abuse at a black Stoke City player during a match on January 31.
UK: Four-in-10 Children ‘Have Never Been to an Art Gallery’
The ‘culture starved’ generation emerged in a study of 2,000 parents of five to 12 year-olds throughout the UK. Four in 10 children have never seen the inside of an art gallery, while 17 per cent haven’t visited a museum with their parents. The research, which was commissioned by Visit Birmingham, also revealed that a quarter of children haven’t been to the theatre, while six in 10 have never heard or been to a classical music concert.
One in 10 kids hasn’t even left their home town to visit other cultural sites in the UK. And half of parents admit they make little effort to educate their children on culture or history, relying on schools to do so.
UK: Ken Livingstone: Tories Are ‘Riddled’ With Homosexuals
Ken Livingstone, Labour’s candidate for London mayor, has said that the Conservative Party used to be “riddled” with homosexuals and claimed Baroness Thatcher was “clinically insane” while prime minister.
Mr Livingstone also said he is refusing to watch the Iron Lady, a film that depicts Lady Thatcher’s experience of dementia. “I do not want to feel sympathy for her. I feel sympathy for the people whose lives she destroyed,” he said, describing the former premier as “clinically insane”.
UK: Six-Fold Rise in Underage Girls Given Contraceptive Implants Past Five Years
The number of girls aged 15 or younger having contraceptive implants has risen six-fold in only five years, official figures show.
Some 4,900 teenagers below the age of consent were given the devices last year, up from 800 in 2005/6.
Yesterday it was revealed how girls as young as 13 are having the implants fitted at school without their parents’ knowledge.
As part of a scheme to reduce teenage pregnancy, nurses are visiting nine Southampton secondary schools and two sixth form colleges to offer the implants, which are inserted in the arm and release hormones into the blood.
YWC Still Stands Against Sharia Law
by Matthew Heimbach, President, Youth for Western Civilization
People may say a great deal about Youth for Western Civilization, but I was surprised to read that the newest slur against us, in Monday’s editorial “Towson students should be more respectful,” called us cowards. YWC is always willing to go toe-to-toe with those who seek to undermine and destroy our civilization. We are not embarrassed or ashamed to openly stand against radical Islam (hence our protest last semester where we did hold signs and distribute literature to students). The very idea that writing “Kick Sharia Out of America” is controversial is absurd. YWC took a stand against an ideology that calls for the execution of homosexuals, third-class citizenship for non-Muslims (for those of you unschooled in the Islamic occupation of Western nations look up dhimmi), and a totalitarian regime that forces women to cover themselves or face being publicly beaten or executed. This is not an attack on Muslims, only the Islamo-fascist ideology. “Sharia Law Zones” in Muslim communities throughout Europe, honor killings, and home grown terror attacks have rocked the West into realizing the huge threat of Islamic extremism. Here in America many are blind to the creeping Sharia that has made its way into our everyday life. YWC is dedicated to awakening not only the campus, but the local community about the threat of Islamic extremism here in our own country. As my hero Geert Wilders once famously said about Islamization, “Enough is enough. We will defend ourselves with democratic means.” And that is exactly what YWC plans to do.
[JP note: From the comments section — Matthew Heimbach: Sharia has been stuck on stupid since the 7th century.]
Breaking the Code: Why Yuor Barin Can Raed Tihs
You might not realize it, but your brain is a code-cracking machine. For emaxlpe, it deson’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod aepapr, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm.
S1M1L4RLY, Y0UR M1ND 15 R34D1NG 7H15 4U70M471C4LLY W17H0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17. Passages like these have been bouncing around the Internet for years. But how do we read them? And what do our incredibly low standards for what’s legible say about the way our brains work?
Our Galaxy’s Giant Black Hole May Munch on Asteroids
The gigantic black hole at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy may be devouring asteroids on a daily basis, a new study suggests. For several years, NASA’s Chandra spacecraft has detected X-ray flares about once a day coming from our galaxy’s central black hole, which is known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A* for short). These flares may be caused by asteroids falling into the supermassive black hole’s maw, according to the study.
“People have had doubts about whether asteroids could form at all in the harsh environment near a supermassive black hole,” study lead author Kastytis Zubovas, of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. “It’s exciting because our study suggests that a huge number of them are needed to produce these flares.” Zubovas and his colleagues suggest that a cloud around Sgr A* contains trillions of asteroids and comets that the black hole stripped from their parent stars.
Sharks’ Scales Create Tiny Whirlpools for Speedy Swimming
Razor-sharp scales on their skin seem to make it easier for sharks to race through the water, by generating whirlpools that help pull them along, researchers say. This research eventually could lead to an artificial shark skin that enhances the swimming of underwater robots, the researchers add.
Harvard University bioroboticist George Lauder and graduate student Johannes Oeffner created a simple robot and placed real shark skin around it to study the skin’s properties. They discovered that the toothlike scales, called denticles, generated vortexes on the front edge of the skin, eddies that essentially would help suck the shark forward. “Leading-edge vortices are well-known in insect and bird flight,” Lauder said.
Study: Schizophrenia’s Hallucinated Voices Drown Out Real Ones
A new finding in brain science reveals that the voices in a schizophrenia patient’s head can drown out voices in the real world — and provides hope that people with the disorder can learn to ignore hallucinatory talk. The new research pulls together two threads in earlier schizophrenia studies. Many scientists have noticed that when patients hallucinate voices, neurons in brain regions associated with processing sounds spontaneously fire despite there being no sound waves to trigger this activity. That’s an indication of brain overload.
But when presented with real-world voices, other studies showed, hallucinating patients’ brains often failed to respond at all, in contrast with healthy brains. These studies pointed to a stifling of brain signals.
By analyzing all of these studies together, biological psychologist Kenneth Hugdahl of the University of Bergen in Norway found the simultaneous over-stimulation and dampening of brain signals to be two sides of the same coin. The findings help explain why schizophrenia patients retreat into a hallucinatory world. Now, Hugdahl wants to use this knowledge to help patients reverse that tendency.