News Feed 20101114

Financial Crisis
» Debt Crisis: Spanish Fears Amidst Irish Black Humour
» Portugal: International Beijing is Buying Our Connivance
» Blind Student Saves for Three Years to Buy a Guide Horse Because Her Strict Muslim Parents Consider Dogs Unclean
» Ground Zero Imam’s Union City Building is Put Into ‘Custodial Receivership’ Due to Bedbugs, Other Issues
» Muslim Who Shot Soldier in Arkansas Says He Wanted to Cause More Death
» Still Hating: Our Summer of Islamophobia
» U.S. Army Cracks Down on Unauthorized Violence
» Metro Vancouver Ethnically Much Different Than Experts Predicted in 1980s
Europe and the EU
» Austrian Press Likens Turkish Envoy to Debated German Figure
» Austria: Turkish Ambassador to Keep Post
» Demonstrators Protest U.K. Poppy Burnings Outside Mosques
» EU Grows Weary of Enlargement
» France: Excrement Thrown on Church in Avignon
» George Galloway ‘Can Stand in Scottish Elections’
» Goodspeed Analysis: Is Jensen What Norway Wants?
» Italy: Main Centre-Left Opposition Party Eyes Muslim Vote
» Italy: Free Palestine Protests Against Amos Oz in Turin
» The Jewish People vs George Soros
» UK: Dutch Lesbian and Nigerian Man Arrested at Altar Moments Before Sham Marriage
» UK: Join the Campaign to Keep Greenwich Mean Time
» UK: Man’s Severely Burnt Body Found After Explosion Rips Through Flat
» UK: Poor? Disadvantaged? Pull the Other One… The Rich, Rioting Students Are Unmasked
» UK: Police Told to Send Text Messages Because it is Too Expensive to Speak on Their Radios
» UK: Students Winning Thousands of Pounds in Refunds for Poor Teaching
» UK: Smith…a Decent Man Who’s Been Conned by the Fake Conservatives
» West Cannot Defeat Al-Qaeda, Says UK Forces Chief
Mediterranean Union
» Brussels-Vienna-Ankara
North Africa
» Egypt Frees Brotherhood Candidates
Israel and the Palestinians
» Israeli Student Attacked by Palestinians in Italy
Middle East
» IAEA Fears That Syria Will Follow Iran’s Steps
» ‘Islamophobia Rising’
» Muslim Cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad Arrested in Lebanon
» Saudi Arabia Blocks Facebook Over Moral Concerns
» Saudi Arabia’s Spot on the Board of UN Women a Sad Joke
» The Tragedy of Iraq’s Christians is That it Does Not Interest Anyone, Chaldean Catholic Says
» Top Tories Are Accused of ‘Abandoning’ Gay Briton After His Arrest by Syrian Secret Police
» Inquiry Into Police Requests for Data on Moslems Underway in Voronezh Rgn
South Asia
» “Islamic Love Jehad” Making Inroads Into Jammu: VHP
» An Ugly Reality — The Persecution of Christians in Malaysia
» Chinese Mine in Afghanistan Threatens Ancient Find
» Eight Suicide Bombers Killed in Foiled Taliban Plot to Blow Up NATO Base in Afghanistan
» Pakistani Bishops Urge Pope to Save Pakistani Woman From Execution
» Pakistan: Asia Bibi’s Conviction is an Incitement to Crime, Says Justice and Peace Official
Far East
» Japan: Islamic Community Lays Down Roots
Sub-Saharan Africa
» British Yacht Couple Kidnapped by Somali Pirates Are Finally Released After 388 Days of Captivity
» Libya Says No to Legislation on Asylum and UNHCR
» Xenophobia: What’s Gone Wrong in Denmark?
Culture Wars
» Building Bridges With Graffiti Art
» UK: Tribunal Fight for Christian Doctor Axed by Panel in Gay Adoption Row
» Phyllis Chesler: The Feminist Politics of Islamic Misogyny

Financial Crisis

Debt Crisis: Spanish Fears Amidst Irish Black Humour

“Market pressures are forcing Ireland to the edge of the abyss,” runs El País’ dramatic headline, as yields on 10 year Irish bonds rocketed to 9.26% on the morning of 11 November. With rumour rife that a Greek style bailout for the economically stricken country is imminent, the Spanish daily notes that this is not without consequence for its Eurozone partners. “Ireland is burning and the weakest economies of southern Europe fear that the flames will come creeping into their own territories.” While Spanish bonds hit 4.52% on November 10, Greek and Portuguese yields surged to 11.65% to 7.33% respectively. “Investors have spent several weeks criminalizing everything that smacks of European periphery,” the Spanish daily notes, adding that “to make matters worse the investment bank Goldman Sachs yesterday requested a rescue plan for Ireland and Portugal from the European Financial Stability Facility.”

Meanwhile, the front pages of Irish press are refraining from such blood curdling pronoucements. However, Irish Independent columnist Lise Hand reports that the mood in the national parliament is bleak. “‘It’s like the last days of the Roman Empire around here at the moment, Taoiseach,” quipped one opposition member to Irish PM Brian Cowen. “And yesterday,” writes Hand, “the Irish bonds soared to hitherto unimaginable heights and some of the uglier Masters of the Universe had the insolence to pronounce on Irish sovereign matters by proclaiming that only a general election would settle international jitters.” “Unfortunately for Caligula Cowen,” she concludes, “the impression continues to build that he is the head of a Nero Government which continues to fiddle about while the homeland burns.”

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

Portugal: International Beijing is Buying Our Connivance

Portugal, a nation battered by the crisis, is welcoming Chinese investment with open arms — as are Greece and France. But there’s a price to be paid for doing business with Beijing: the end the West lecturing China on democracy.

It was a very special Sunday morning indeed. Attended by the entire inner circle of major Portuguese corporate CEOs (Energias de Portugal, Banco Comercial Português, Portugal Telecom) at the Palácio das Necessidades in Lisbon, Chinese president Hu Jintao and Portuguese prime minister José Sócrates made no effort to conceal their satisfaction at the deals just signed by companies from both countries [see box below]. Not a word was said in public about sovereign debt purchases, but Portuguese diplomacy had ample cause for contentment. China is an emerging power to be reckoned with, and a little country like Portugal has everything to gain from a partnership with the Middle Kingdom.

Then again, there’s another side to doing business with Beijing. There is the issue of China’s growing influence in the world — and that of democracy and human rights going by the board. The whole quandary is how to reconcile these two conflicting aspects of the rise of the Chinese leviathan, and there is no consensual answer.

The consequences of rapprochement

Hu Jintao’s visit to Lisbon shows that Portugal is yet another stop on the road to the fulfilment of China’s global ambitions, the reason being that Portugal happens to be a member of the European Union. It would now be absurd to foment fears of economic partnership with China: besides, the Chinese manifestly treat us better than the markets in some democratic countries do.

Still, we mustn’t overlook the consequences of this budding rapprochement between Europe and China. A rapprochement which, incidentally, comes at the very time that Europe and the United States are gradually pulling apart. The geostrategic balance of the whole planet is now shifting in the wake of a war waged with euros, yuans and dollars. And this war spells the death of the Western dream of giving Beijing lessons in democracy. That is the biggest risk of doing business with China. Our oh-so-convenient forgetfulness poses a threat to Europe’s most intangible and yet most important asset: being viewed throughout the world as a realm of freedom.

The contracts and bilateral trade agreements signed by Chinese president Hu Jintao and Portuguese prime minister José Sócrates on 7 October in Lisbon amount to $1 billion (€718 million), according to estimates in the Chinese press relayed by Diário de Notícias. The Portuguese daily explains that Portugal and China signed four cooperation deals and nine trade agreements, involving companies such as Portugal Telecom, EDP, Huawei, Millennium BCP and ICBC. Even though the question of Beijing’s buying Portuguese debt was scrupulously avoided in the official statements, “it was discussed in the meetings that preceded the signing ceremony,” reveals the Lisbon-based daily, adding that “Portugal has already put on the market 93% of its planned bond issues for this year”. Meanwhile, new Portuguese newspaper i observes that the deals with China are but the first step towards the financial recovery of Portugal, which also aims to forge ties with other emerging markets like Indonesia and Singapore.

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


Blind Student Saves for Three Years to Buy a Guide Horse Because Her Strict Muslim Parents Consider Dogs Unclean

The 28-year-old’s strictly religious parents would not allow a dog in the house, considering the animal unclean.

But then Miss Ramouni stumbled across a website article about miniature guide horses in April 2008.

‘It was something that I never thought about for myself,’ she said.

The psychology student used three years of savings from her job at a Braille proofreading company to pay for a horse to be trained to act as her guide.

Since welcoming three-year-old guide horse Cali into her Dearborn, Michigan, home last year, Miss Ramouni has seen her life turned around.

Cali measures about 2ft 6in tall and has been taught to stand still indoors. She also helps Miss Ramouni get out of vehicles and move through crowds.

Her proud mistress said: ‘She is an awesome little horse. What I really want is to be able to take her places neither of us would have been able to go without each other.

‘Before Cali, I had given up. I got to the point where I thought, ‘I’m going to get nothing out of my life’. Cali has given me the confidence back I used to have as a kid.’

Born three months premature, Miss Ramouni lost her sight shortly after birth.

Among the challenges she had to overcome in order for Cali to stay at her home were getting a permit to place a large shed in her family’s garden and to find a farrier to look after the horse’s hooves.

Her friends warned her it would be a difficult thing to do.

But Miss Ramouni said: ‘The more everybody told me “No, don’t do it,” the more I wanted to do it,’ she said. ‘I got to a point in my life where I thought… “Why should I settle for something less than I can have?”

‘There have been so many obstacles. People said ‘You’ll never find a vet. You’ll never find a farrier.” I found them all.’

She added: ‘More than even the independence, I found that Cali showed me that there are possibilities.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

Ground Zero Imam’s Union City Building is Put Into ‘Custodial Receivership’ Due to Bedbugs, Other Issues

[Note: most reports on this story lead with the following edit:]

The bedbug-infested building owned by the imam embroiled in controversy over his request to build a mosque near the World Trade Center site has been placed into temporary custodial receivership by Hudson County Judge Thomas Olivieri, who cited a lack of improvements as the reason for his decision.

According to Tuesday’s decision, the custodial receiver, Raymond Bulin, will be in charge of using the October rent money to eliminate bedbugs from four apartments, cap sewer lines in the basement and improve the fire escape ladder.

The building, located at 2206 Central Ave., is owned by Feisal Abdul Rauf, who was sued by the city in late September for failing to address multiple health and fire code violations, from moldy bathrooms to a non-working fire alarm system.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Muslim Who Shot Soldier in Arkansas Says He Wanted to Cause More Death

Memphis man drifted to the dark side of Islamic extremism and then plotted a one-man jihad against his homeland

What I had in mind didn’t go as planned but Allah willing He will reward me for my intentions.

He planned for weeks, buying guns secondhand to avoid the FBI.

Then, to test whether the feds were watching, he bought a .22-caliber rifle over the counter at Walmart. He stockpiled ammo and practiced target shooting at empty construction sites.

By his own account, he was preparing for jihad.

From a black Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, a Memphis native, watched two soldiers in fatigues smoking outside a military recruiting center in Little Rock. He aimed an assault rifle out the window and fired.

Muhammad sped away, hoping to flee 150 miles to Memphis where he would switch cars. But a wrong turn in a construction zone led him to police.

He stepped out of the SUV wearing a green ammo belt around his waist.

“It’s a war going on against Muslims, and that is why I did it,” an officer heard him say. “You see how I gave up with no problem.”

Much of this account emerges from police reports and an 18-page mental-health evaluation contained in court files. But Muhammad tells a far broader, detailed story in seven handwritten letters to The Commercial Appeal. Taken together, those letters are not just an admission of guilt but a profession of failure for having not caused more death and destruction.

The letters, written in pencil between May and October, provide a rare glimpse into the thoughts of a self-described jihadist, according to one national security expert. Muhammad describes in his own words how he took his declaration of Muslim faith in a Memphis mosque; his motives for moving to Yemen and his attempt to travel to Somalia for weapons training; how and why he planned multiple attacks in the U.S, including ones in Nashville and Florence, Ky., that didn’t go as intended; and how he allegedly executed the Little Rock assault.

In his own words:…

           — Hat tip: Freyja [Return to headlines]

Still Hating: Our Summer of Islamophobia

After 9/11, Muslims Spent Nine Years Educating Neighbors, Coworkers About Islam

This summer, we rolled over and showed our ugly underbelly.

While hounds bayed over a not-mosque planned for not-Ground Zero, a nutty pastor in Florida threatened to mark 9/11’s ninth anniversary by burning the Qu’ran. People who in times of floods might volunteer to fill sandbags contributed to a different kind of deluge by staging loud opposition to the construction of mosques in their neighborhoods in Tennessee, in California.

We can still hate in America. We have this summer to prove it.

Imam Abdullah Antepli is a former Hartford Seminary student, former Muslim chaplain at Welseyan University, and now Duke University’s first Muslim chaplain. Right after college, Antepli left his native Turkey to avoid pressure to homogenize in a land once proud of its colorful tapestry of cultures.

We are not the same, we won’t ever be, and it suits us better to embrace our differences. As Antepli earned his education around the world, he discovered the golden truth about multi-faith efforts.

“Some of my most transcendental personal moments have not come in a mosque, not when I am dealing with a uniquely Muslim community, but when I am dealing in a cross-religious, cross-lingual society,” Antepli said. “That’s when I say, ‘Oh, my God. There you are.’“

The terrorist attack of 9/11 was a horrible way to be introduced to Islam because that act was not Islam. That was evil, and for nine long — and, up until the summer, fruitful — years, Muslims in this country made important inroads educating neighbors and co-workers about what Islam is not.

There should have been time to talk about what Islam is, but ignorance is an ugly beast and sometimes, the terrorists win. They may not kill our physical selves, but they kill the American tradition of standing together.

And then this cancer of a summer happened, and the beast arose again.

Antepli chose Duke over Princeton or Yale. He was drawn to the opportunity to serve the school’s 6,600 undergraduates, including its 500 Muslim Blue Devils. He became the face and voice of Islam for a land not overly familiar with his religion.

That has been challenging, to say the least. Duke Country is dotted with church signs that say things like “Hell is Full of Fags and Muslims.” Antepli has visited churches where, before he settles into a pew, someone asks him about the virgins he can expect in the afterlife.

In answer, he hands them his Qu’ran and asks them to find the verse that promises virgins. In fact, it’s not there. My response? People generally don’t read their own sacred text, much less the holy verses of someone else. They prefer someone to spoon-feed them their religious beliefs because learning for themselves takes blood, sweat and tears. Ignorance is and ever will be easier. But that’s me talking, not Antepli.

Dawn pierces even the darkest night. As a Duke chaplain, Antepli befriended U.S. Rep. David Price, who invited him to deliver the opening prayer for a House session in March. That, in turn, has led to more contacts in Washington.

“The civic culture we have in this society is one of the best, shariah-compliant, in my understanding of Islamic theology,” Antepli said. “We’ve made huge progress. We’ve inspired the global community with our successes. And we have worked together, but the work is not done.”…

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

U.S. Army Cracks Down on Unauthorized Violence

November 8, 2010: The U.S. Army is making changes in how it operates at home. This is in response to major Nidal Malik Hasan’s murder of 13 people at Fort Hood on November 5th, 2009. This was the act of an Islamic terrorist, although the U.S. government initially tried to explain it as just the act of a lone madman. Now it’s realized that this is what terrorist attacks often are. Meanwhile, the investigation of Hasan revealed that he had not made a secret of his beliefs, and that many of his peers, subordinates and superiors had complained about his Islamic radical beliefs and actions. But nothing was done.

Several officers were punished, or investigated, for their role in allowing Hasan to do what he did. But the army also realized that there were institutional problems, and these were addressed, at least on paper, with the newly introduced rules. First, the army is conducting more thorough background checks. Not just to catch actual or potential Islamic radicals, but also gang members or radicals of any sort. This has already caught some questionable recruits, and, based on the few who got into the news, kept some dangerous, although otherwise qualified, applicants out of uniform.

The army is also attempting to deal with the atmosphere of political correctness that underpinned most of the bad decisions that enabled Hasan to stay in uniform, and even get promoted. In the army, as in any large organization, all the rules are not written down. In the army, many of the unwritten rules come in the form of “the commanders’ intent.” Sometimes this “intent” is spelled out, but in many cases, subordinate commanders have to figure it out. In the Hasan case, the commanders’ intent was that Moslem officers, especially doctors, were to be kept happy and in uniform. When in doubt, look the other way, and hope for the best. In the case of Hasan, no one expected the guy to turn into a mass murderer. But, then, Hasan’s superiors were encouraged to be optimistic about their Moslem problem child. So Hasan’s radical rants and abusive behavior towards non-Moslems was, if not ignored, then played down.

Commanders have now been ordered to pay attention to religious or political activities of their subordinates, and sound off if radical or dangerous behavior appears to be in the works. This is a lot to ask from officers who know that some bad publicity not only makes the army look bad, but damages career prospects.

Another new rule is less risky to careers. Given the large amounts of stress troops undergo from numerous tours of duty in combat zones, troops coming back (and going to) combat zones now have to undergo a “risk assessment” (mostly answering questions about their state of mind.) This is something that’s been going on for a while, but now is more intense. This is part of the growing effort to treat PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which has already benefited from the large amount of information collected from troops who have experienced a lot of combat.

Considerable recent research is showing that PTSD is a distinct form of mental distress. For example, research turned up the fact those who had killed someone in combat, were 40 percent more likely to show symptoms of PTSD, or similar symptoms found in those who suffered concussions from roadside bombs. Thus it is becoming clear that there are several different conditions here, all with similar PTSD symptoms, but not with similar effects on the brain. Each strain of PTSD will require a different type of cure. Finding these cures is increasingly important, since better diagnostic capabilities has made it possible to more frequently, and accurately, diagnose PTSD.

Some counter-terrorism researchers see a connection between PTSD and the kind of mental state often found in Islamic terrorists, or those inclined to violent behavior in the name of some religious or political beliefs. The assessments are trying to detect those who are strongly inclined towards unauthorized violent behavior. It’s a tricky business, because soldiers are conditioned and trained to undertake authorized violent behavior. Some of the other changes are needed, or annoying. Bases will improve their 911 (emergency response) procedures, while registration and regulation of private weapons troops keep on base have also changed.

Would any of this have caught Hasan before he went at it with his murderous intentions? Probably. Hasan made no secret of his Islamic radical attitudes. Some of his fellow soldiers reported this, but nothing came of this. Now, at least on paper, something should happen. But, already there are complaints about medical personnel being required to report troops who indicate potentially violent behavior. Civil rights groups are questioning whether the army can punish, or even investigate, troops exercising their constitutional right to free speech or practicing religion as they choose to. Commanders are caught between stopping another massacre, or getting accused (especially in the media, which loves stuff like this) of violating the civil rights of soldiers, and their civilian dependents living on base. Officers will be tempted to back off, rather than risk their career on a hunch. Commanders closest to the potential problem are supposed to pass their findings up the line, with the FBI now sharing this information. But the media will head for the source, and the officers in the line of fire know it.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Metro Vancouver Ethnically Much Different Than Experts Predicted in 1980s

VANCOUVER — What a startling difference 26 years can make, particularly when you’re talking about immigration patterns in Metro Vancouver.

I recently uncovered an old, yellowing Vancouver Sun clipping by the excellent retired writer, Doug Sagi.

It was a Saturday Sun feature from 1984 headlined: “As Canada’s Faces Change … We Seem to be Growing Up.”

The article detailed how British Columbians were accepting that immigrants were no longer coming predominantly out of Britain but also emerging from Holland, China and India.

At the time, Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney was about to be elected, while Bill Bennett served as B.C. premier, and things seemed to be going smoothly as 90,000 immigrants a year flowed into the country.

Italian Rudy Bonora, head of B.C.’s Brotherhood-Interfaith Society, told Sagi that racism was declining compared to when he arrived in 1956.

“We were called ‘wops’ then and the Chinese were called ‘chinks’ and the Germans were called ‘squareheads.’ You don’t hear that any more.”

In his feature, Sagi remarked on how Metro Vancouverites were enjoying boasting that they have “the largest Chinatown outside San Francisco,” and how residents were revelling in being able to dine out at Greek and Vietnamese restaurants.

This is how Sagi concluded his 1984 essay: “Some of us stop to think we may, possibly, be on the way to becoming quite an interesting country, a cultural mosaic like no other country on earth.”

Well, the future is now. And no one would deny it’s been “interesting.”

It is revealing to reflect on how Sagi and company imagined the ethnic evolution of Canada, particularly Metro Vancouver, and what has actually happened.

For starters, Canada now welcomes 250,000 immigrants a year, almost three times more than in the 1980s.

And when Sagi interviewed immigration officers, they predicted the largest source countries of newcomers to B.C. would be, in order: Britain, the U.S., India, Hong Kong and China.

That wasn’t a particularly accurate guess. Global geo-politics has been transformed by war, economics and changing regimes.

The reality is that the largest source countries for immigrants to B.C. are now, in order: China, India and the Philippines, followed by Iran, South Korea and Britain.

While people of British origin still account for roughly 57 per cent of the B.C. population and Germans make up about 13 per cent, the number of ethnic Chinese, South Asians and Filipinos has grown exponentially.

Meanwhile, Greeks — who once made up the 22nd largest ethnic group in B.C. — have fallen to 37th, behind Iranians.

When Sagi wrote his feature more than 25 years ago, no one seemed to be predicting perhaps the most remarkable shift of all: that eight out of nine immigrants to the province, or almost 40,000 a year, would choose to settle in Metro Vancouver.

As a result, Metro Vancouver — especially Burnaby, Surrey, Richmond and the city of Vancouver — are growing sharply distinct from the rest of B.C. Four out of 10 of Metro Vancouver’s 2.1 million residents now belong to a visible minority.

Where people of Chinese origin made up less than three per cent of the B.C. population according to the 1981 census, by 2006 they made up at least 11 per cent of all B.C. residents, and 20 per cent of all Metro Vancouverites.

Instead of boasting about having “the largest Chinatown outside San Francisco,” Metro Vancouverites now consider Vancouver’s Chinatown a faded enclave compared to the thriving Chinese-language malls in Richmond, where 44 per cent of the population is Chinese.

The so-called “East Indian” population has skyrocketed even faster than the ethnic Chinese community, from just one per cent of B.C. residents in the early 1980s to six per cent.

In Metro, people with roots in India and Pakistan, now referred to as “South Asians,” make up one in 10 people, including a significant one out of four of those who live in fast-growing Surrey.

In the more than 25 years since Sagi wrote his feature on immigration, here are just a few more of the “interesting” things that have occurred in Metro: …

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Austrian Press Likens Turkish Envoy to Debated German Figure

A Turkish ambassador’s remarks on Austrian integration policy have become a hot topic for news media in Austria with a daily likening Kadri Ecved Tezcan to a German figure who recently sparked an intense migration debate with a controversial book.

A columnist for Austria’s Die Presse, which published Ambassador Tezcan’s much-debated interview, wrote that “Austria now has its own Sarrazin,” referring to former Central Bank board member Thilo Sarrazin, who advocates a restrictive immigration policy and the reduction of state welfare benefits for immigrants in Germany.

In an interview with Die Presse, Tezcan said Turkish immigrants in Austria were treated like a virus and that leaders in the nation were not doing enough to help the 250,000 Turkish immigrants integrate. Both Turkey and Austria have played down any tension in ties and have said it was too early to judge the current state of relations as a “diplomatic crisis.”

However, Die Presse said Tezcan’s remarks have already provoked hysterical reactions by Austrian politicians and argued that the outburst revealed a political suppression of the issue. The daily said government officials were offended by Tezcan’s criticism of their political competence in dealing with the integration issue.

“Turkey now perceives itself as a big Eurasian player and does not want to be treated by the Austrian government only as the homeland of guest workers,” it added.

Common perception

Cengiz Günay, a political scientist and Senior Fellow at the Austrian Institute for International Relations, or OIIP, said in an interview with daily Der Standard that Tezcan’s remarks reflected what many in Turkey think given that many are disappointed by the anti-Turkish sentiments in the European Union, he said.

Wirtschaftsblatt, Austrian business daily, noted the harmonious economic relations with Turkey, warning of a possible “diplomatic crisis” in the event of Tezcan’s removal from office or a freeze in Turkey’s EU accession negotiations. “Turkey is booming and is lobbying with growth rates as sweet as Turkish honey,” the daily said.

Meanwhile, Tezcan found unexpected support from local administrations. Helmut Modlhammer, president of the Association of Local Councils in Austria, said he agreed with the Turkish ambassador.

“Local councils, federal states and the federal government, they all have failed in the context of integrating migrants,” Modlhammer said.

He also appealed to governors to be more active and for example aid in the prevention of what he called “ghettoization,” according to a report by Austrian Broadcaster ORF.

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

Austria: Turkish Ambassador to Keep Post

The Turkish ambassador in Vienna will not be removed from office — despite stressing he would relocate the United Nations (UN) from Vienna were he leader of the international organisation.

Turkish newspapers reported today (Fri) that the country’s government had no plans to dismiss Ambassador Kadri Ecvet Tezcan. The 61-year-old took over as Turkish ambassador in Austria just one year ago, but infuriated political leaders with a string of controversial claims made in an interview with daily newspaper Die Presse earlier this week.

Tezcan said children from families with a Croatian background were mostly doing better at schools in Austria “because they are welcome in the society for being Christians. Turks aren’t — that’s why they are constantly being pushed to the corners of society.”

The diplomat also attacked Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) Interior Minister Maria Fekter. Tezcan called on Fekter — who represents the party’s right-wing branch — to “stop interfering” in the integration process. The ambassador said it was no surprise there were just “police solutions” to the issue as long as the current interior ministry was in charge.

All five parties represented in the Austrian parliament but the Greens generally criticised Tezcan for his remarks. Alexander Van der Bellen, the Green Party’s foreign affairs spokesman, however praised the ambassador for his “refreshingly undiplomatic approach” and called on political rivals to openly discuss raised issues.

Turkish dailies have it that the country’s government had no intentions to reprimand or dismiss Tezcan after the interview made headlines across Europe. Heidemarie Gürer, the Austrian ambassador in Ankara, announced today that the Austrian foreign ministry did not ask its Turkish counterpart to dismiss Tezcan.

Austrian ÖVP Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said yesterday that he considered Tezcan’s statements as “insulting”. The foreign minister is, however, understood to be trying to avoid a worsening of the political and economic relationship between his country and Turkey.

Around 150 Austrian firms are currently doing business in Turkey, according to Marco Garcia, the Austrian trade commissioner in Istanbul.

Garcia said the number of Austrian companies considering to start operating in Turkey was on the rise since the country “offers business-friendly policies, safe legal structures and a booming stock market.”

The trade commissioner emphasised Austria was currently the eighth biggest investor in Turkey which started accession talks with European Union (EU) leaders in 2005.

Gastronomy company DO&CO, which is currently quoted on the Vienna Stock Exchange (WBAG), said only a few days ago it would enter the Istanbul Stock Exchange (ISE) next month.

Other major firms doing business in Turkey are oil and gas company OMV, Bank Austria (BA) and electricity provider Verbund.

Meanwhile, ÖVP Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Othmar Karas appealed on the Austrian government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the ÖVP once more to set up a integration affairs state secretary.

Karas said in an interview with the Kurier newspaper: “Only 10 of the EU’s 27 member states coordinate integration issues in the interior ministry.”

The European People’s Party (EPP) vice president also said: “We got problems (handling immigration and integration issues). They will not be solved by suggesting to banish the ambassador.”

Karas said political decision-makers must face the problems. “Hostility won’t lead to solutions, but mutual respect does,” he stressed.

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

Demonstrators Protest U.K. Poppy Burnings Outside Mosques

A British imam says he is “deeply hurt” by demonstrations outside two mosques protesting the actions of a Muslim group that disrupted moments of silence during Remembrance Day services and burned models of poppies.

On Friday, a mosque in Portsmouth on the south shore of England, had a poppy painted on the front of the building. On Saturday, protests were held outside two mosques.

“It deeply hurts me,” Muhammed Muhi Uddin told the BBC. “If they [the protesters] talked to us then we would explain where we stand.”

While Uddin said every group has a right to be heard, “it’s a matter of respecting each other.”

He denounced the burning of poppies during Armistice Day ceremonies Thursday.

A group called Muslims Against Crusades (MAC) were behind protests. On Thursday during the two minutes of silence, group members chanted, “British soldiers burn in hell,” and held signs saying, “Islam will dominate” and, “Our dead are in paradise, your dead are in hell.”

The group also vowed to disrupt Remembrance Sunday events in England.

MAC says it is “breaking the silence,” on its website. In an audio loop, voices chanting, ‘British soldiers, burn in hell” with the toll of a clock in the background is heard when the website is launched.

There are photos of children with the headline, “British soldiers kill one Muslim child every six hours.”

The group claims that statistic is “based on conservative estimates. Actual figures are likely to be much larger.”

There is also a video that starts with a still of Prince Harry in his military uniform, then shows what appears to be troops beating up and arresting civilians behind a wall. It then captures images of injured children ending with the words “Britain and its allies, the real terrorists.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

EU Grows Weary of Enlargement

For the European press, the publication of the annual “progress report” on prospective candidates for EU accession, has failed to dispel the general apathy that surrounds the question of enlargement.

“The heyday of European enlargement is well and truly at an end”, remarks Les Echos. The French business daily notes that on the 9 November in Brussels “(t)he change in attitude to the issue was apparent in the tone and words used by European Commissioner, Stefan Füle, who presented the report on the status of nine Balkan countries, as well as the applications made by Turkey and Iceland”.

According to the Les Echos, the Commission “has done little to move forward the applications of the nine countries that are knocking at its door, with the exception of the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Montenegro (FYROM), which has been awarded the status of candidate — a privilege not conferred on neighbouring Albania, which has been encouraged to do more to protect ‘the stability of institutions and safeguard democracy and the rule of law.’“

“Croatian accession in sight,” announces a delighted Vjesnik in Zagreb. Citing Commissioner Füle, the daily — which is close to the Croatian government — points out that “the last 100 metres of a marathon are always the most gruelling.” Most gruelling of all, Vjesnik notes, will be the last eight outstanding chapters in the 33-chapter negotiating process particularly concerning “the rule of law and the fight against corruption.”

Neither France nor Germany want to discuss the Turkey question

Novi List, another national daily, believes that Brussels “is waiting for Croatia to intensify its drive to combat high-level corruption, and to target scandals involving the ruling HDZ party, which has been accused of extorting funds from state companies.” Ongoing investigations have already implicated a government minister and the HDZ treasurer, as well as former prime minister, Ivo Sanader, who resigned for no apparent reason in 2009. In Poland, Rzeczpospolita argues that, Croatia aside, the EU has been “prudent and hesitant” in opening its doors to the new Balkan candidates. As for Turkey, which remains “an enormous problem for the EU,” the outlook is increasingly gloomy.

In Turkey, the press has barely raised the topic. Could it be that the Turkey is mainly focused on the anniversary of the death of Atatürk (10 November 1938), and is this yet another sign of waning enthusiasm for the EU? Hürriyet emphasises that the Commission was unhappy with Ankara’s failure to consult it on an amendment to the constitution approved on 12 September. The daily notes that the Commission report criticised the election threshold of 10% which parties must obtain if their representatives are to sit in national parliament, since because no EU state has such a harsh rule. According to the daily, this remark, which was absent from the 2008 and 2009 reports, is meant to encourage a greater Kurdish presence in parliament as a means to overcoming obstacles on the minority issue.

In Italy, La Stampa points out that dialogue between Brussels and Ankara “is apparently stalled over legal and political issues: the fate of the Kurds, unresolved disputes with Athens, human rights, and discrimination against women and religious minorities. However, the truth of the matter is that neither France nor Germany want to discuss the issue. And if these two countries are unwilling, no one will be able to put the application made on behalf of the Sublime Porte (ironic reference to the open court of the Ottoman sultan) back on track.”

We were overcome by feelings of weariness

More generally, “the EU has grown weary of enlargement,” notes Gazeta Wyborcza, explaining that apathy has been fuelled by the economic crisis and the significant influx of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants which followed the inclusion of both these countries in 2007. “The French, the Germans, and the Austrians are very reluctant to award rapid approval to new candidates. As a consequence, a number of Balkan governments, discouraged by the dwindling chances of accession in the next 10 years, are more likely to neglect the fight against corruption and violations of the right to free speech,” remarks the Warsaw based daily.

In this context, “the presentation of an annual report on enlargement and accession negotiations has become an empty and cliché-ridden exercise,” argues Der Standard. “Shortly after we ratified enlargement to the East and the inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria, we were overcome by feelings of weariness.” The Austrian daily goes on to point out that since then, whenever “the Commission certifies a number of small advances made by candidates like Croatia and Turkey — and more recently Iceland and Montenegro — it also highlights a number of unresolved political and economic problems. In fact, every one of these reports has resulted in heated public debate over Turkish accession.”

The widening rift over the question of enlargement has led us “to overlook fine details,” deplores Der Standard. “It is unfortunate that controversy over Turkish accession has obscured the fact that countries in the Balkans, the enlargement region closest to the Union, have made some major progress. […] And this is particularly important to Austria. We should give up bickering over Turkey and do more to prepare for the inclusion of small Balkan states in the EU — which will probably be well before the inclusion of Turkey.”

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

France: Excrement Thrown on Church in Avignon

I saw this story late last night while browsing through François Desouche. It’s one of many similar stories of church destruction and profanation. This time, however, the parish priest says it is connected to the recent brutal killings of Christians in Iraq. The following is from the local paper Avignews:

Wednesday, the church of Saint-Jean. Father Gabriel, the parish priest, speaks to the press almost in desperation. For several months his church has been the target of insulting and obscene graffiti, and of excrement… Last week the cypress tree next to the building (photo above) was set on fire, threatening the church itself. For the priest, “these acts have a direct connection with what has been happening in Iraq where Christians are being attacked.” Right away father Gabriel speaks of inter-ethnic tensions and denounces the “climate that is becoming more and more aggressive and violent because of a small group of young persons whose ages range from 12 to 16.” At first, father Gabriel thought it was a matter of “incivilities” by young idle neighborhood youth. Foolishness from teens trying to provoke.

Then, a few days before the burning of the cypress tree, a young person entered the church, in the middle of Mass, urinated on the floor and uttered these terrible words: “We’re going to burn you out, you and your church.” The priest filed a complaint at police headquarters on November 9.

How could such deeds perpetrated against a house of worship, whatever it may be, pass unnoticed by the public authorities? At City Hall, the chief of staff admitted he was “shocked and dumbfounded”. “We learned the facts through the press this very morning,” declared the spokesman at the mayor’s office. Dumbfounded by the deeds themselves but also by the absence of communication and the lack of information between the neighborhood and the mayor’s office… “We traced all the mail received in the office over the last few months, but there is nothing about the Saint-Jean church.”

Another reason for their shock is the fact that the archbishopric did not directly phone the mayor to designate these acts as “intolerable.”…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

George Galloway ‘Can Stand in Scottish Elections’

Galloway can stand for the Respect party in the next Scottish election after it agreed to changes at its annual conference.

The Respect party reversed a policy which stopped it from campaigning and organising in Scotland.

He said he was “buoyed up” by the change and by the party’s “confidence”.

Dundee-born Mr Galloway was elected MP in the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency in 2005 but failed to win a seat in May’s general election.

He had attempted to secure the nearby Poplar and Limehouse seat in London’s East End as a Respect party candidate.

Respect said it had not previously targeted Scotland because it was already represented by Socialists in Parliament but the political landscape shifted in 2007 when the Scottish Socialist Party failed to return any candidates.

Respect said the change was supported by about 80% of the vote but also said a final decision was yet to be taken on whether the party would fight the election.

Mr Galloway said: “I’m buoyed up by today’s vote and by my party’s confidence, even more so by the sentiment from the overwhelming majority of delegates and from supporters in Glasgow encouraging me to stand.”

           — Hat tip: 4symbols [Return to headlines]

Goodspeed Analysis: Is Jensen What Norway Wants?

Siv Jensen, the 41-year-old leader of Norway’s Progress Party, is something of a curiosity in socialist-inclined Scandinavia.

Her parliamentary office in Oslo sports a bust of former U.S. president Ronald Reagan and a small Israeli flag. She brags that her chief political hero is former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

“I think she is one of the toughest politicians ever,” Ms. Jensen said, who has been dubbed a “Norwegian Thatcher,” told the National Post this week, as she toured Toronto after attending an international conference in Ottawa on anti-Semitism.

“She handled some serious reform work in Britain. She may not have been popular at the time, but her reforms still stand.”

A breakthrough politician in her own right, who came within a whisker of seizing power in Norway’s September 2009 elections, Ms. Jensen appears poised to transform politics in her homeland.

With 41 seats in Norway’s 169-seat parliament, she heads the country’s second-largest party and led the Progress Party to winning its highest percentage of votes ever — 22.9%.

She recently changed her formal party title, from the more male-oriented “foreman” to “leader.” But, more importantly, she intends to overhaul Norway’s cradle-to-the-grave welfare system.

“We are a classical liberal party that is very much in favour of market mechanisms,” she said.

“I think those values are applauded by a substantial number of people. They are sick and tired of politicians taking more and more of their salaries in taxes and then redistributing them for whatever reason.

“The problem with this is you make people so dependent on donations through budgets that you end up unable to think for yourself. I want these people to be free, to make their own decisions, to take more control of their own lives. That means they have to take more control of their own income as well.”

It is a message that resonates with voters weary of high taxes and declining social services. But it’s also a message that has shattered the old politics of Europe, which used to be split between a conservative Christian democratic right and the social democratic left.

Europe has experienced its biggest shake-up since the collapse of communism with a surge of support for right-wing political parties such as the National Front in France, the Northern League in Italy, Geert Wilders’s Dutch Freedom Party in the Netherlands, the Swiss People’s Party in Switzerland and Hungary’s Jobbik Movement for a Better Hungary.

Last month the far-right Sweden Democrats, a populist, anti-immigration party with neo-Nazi roots, garnered an unexpected 5.7% of the vote in national elections, winning 20 seats in parliament for the first time.

While most new right parties are manifestations of local economic discontent, they share a perceived loss of national identity and an anger over immigrants and outsiders who threaten established cultures.

Ms. Jensen has earned a reputation for taking a hard-nosed stance on immigration. She has demanded immediate curbs to limit immigration to no more than 1,000 people a year and advocates tough new measures to force new immigrants to integrate more fully into Norwegian society.

It should be easy to revoke the citizenship of immigrants who defy Norwegian laws, she said.

“We need to be better at integrating the immigrant population,” she insisted. “I want Norway to be a free country — where everybody has the right to free speech, to experience democracy and is not afraid, where women have the same rights as a man.”

Norway, a small country of about 4.6 million people, is reeling under immigration from Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Somalia and Turkey.

Foreign-born immigrants now account for about 10% of its population.

“In Oslo, the capital, now, almost 25% of the population is foreign-born. And in many schools you will find 95% non-ethnics and, of course, that creates disturbances, problems and debates. Of course, we have problems with integration,” said Ms. Jensen.

“There are demands for not wanting to adapt to the mainstream society. They don’t want to stick to Norwegian law. Some argue that they want to implement shariah laws. In schools children are prevented by their parents from participating in gymnastics or swimming because there are other children there.

“We have forced circumcision going on, forced marriages. We have equality in Norway, but for many young women from certain countries, they don’t experience it. We would like them to.”

In last year’s election, Ms. Jensen received a groundswell of support when she objected to government attempts to accommodate Muslim religious sensitivities and traditions by permitting female police to wear the hijab.

She angrily warned Norway was facing “sneak-Islamization” and accused the other political parties of being cowardly and ignoring the problem.

She has branded radical Islam, a “dark and scary ideology” and declared its defeat “the most important fight of our time.”

“We are not going to allow special demands from any single group in society,” Ms. Jensen promised voters.

“We will enforce Norwegian law and Norwegian rules.”

The Progress Party’s fortunes have soared along with its tough anti-immigrant rhetoric.

In the 2005 election, the party’s television ads showed a long-haired youth in a hooded sweat suit, pointing a gun at viewers.

A caption beneath the picture read simply, “The perpetrator is of foreign origin!!”

At the time, Statistics Norway had compared crime rates and ethnicity and concluded non-western immigrants committed twice as many crimes as native Norwegians.

But Ms. Jensen insists you can’t “win election in Norway on this issue [immigration] alone.” Health care, infrastructure spending and schooling are the main issues people really worry about she said.

Still, strong forceful leadership is important and she has developed a Thatcher-like reputation for firmness in the 13 years she has been in the Norwegian parliament.

She wasted no time castigating the current Norwegian government for being the first in the world to officially recognize Hamas’s hold on Gaza, saying, “You don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

Two years ago, her party was the only one in Norway to publicly support Israel during its invasion of Gaza in December 2008. In interviews she has recalled being in Sderot in Israel when it was bombed.

The Progress Party also advocates abolishing development aid to the third world, saying most of the money is spent on “arms and luxury goods” for corrupt elites.

Tax relief tops the party agenda. It wants lower income taxes, lower alcohol taxes, lower taxes on cars and more money for pensioners, police and care for the elderly.

It also favours more oil exploration in the Arctic, to offset dwindling oil and gas reserves in the North Sea, and it questions the need for measures to combat climate change, dismissing predictions of global warming as unreliable.

Party members, who oppose capital punishment, also support proposals to make euthanasia legal in Norway, saying the terminally ill should be allowed to end their lives under controlled circumstances involving at least two doctors.

“The hallmark of a free society is individual liberty,” said Ms. Jensen. “Individual liberty is a fundamental requirement for human progress and prosperity.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Italy: Main Centre-Left Opposition Party Eyes Muslim Vote

Milan, 12 Nov. (AKI) — A leader of Italy’s Islamic community has launched an appeal to Muslims living in the northern city of Milan, urging them to vote in primaries on Sunday to elect the country’s main centre-left opposition Democratic Party’s leader.

The party is currently led by Pierluigi Bersani, and the primaries are an opportunity to gauge current grassroots support for his stewardship. Snap elections are looming in Italy since prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s key former ally, parliament speaker Gianfranco Fini, formed a new party this month and threatened to withdraw his support from the government.

Milan has 208,021 immigrants making up 16 percent of its population — more than double the national average of 6.5 percent, according to a September report by the Milan city council. Many of the immigrants are Muslims arriving from northern Africa.

Abdullah Paolo Gonzaga, who heads the Islamic Relief charity, has issued a call to Muslims in Italy on the website, telling them to take part in the Democratic Party primaries to elect the party leader and top regional officials.

A major reason for Muslims to lend support to the Democratic Party is that it backs the construction of an official mosque in Milan. Italy only has one official mosque, the Grand Mosque in the Italian capital, Rome.

“Milan is the Italian city with the highest Muslim population, and which lacks a real mosque, thanks to the current city council,” Gonzaga said, quoted by

Muslims in Milan have for years sought to have their own mosque. The city’s conservative council has offered Muslims a series of makeshift venues to hold Friday prayers, most recently a velodrome on the outskirts of the city, claiming there is no suitable site to build a place for them to worship.

Muslims should also vote for centre-left candidates in local elections next March, Gonzaga said.

“We need to understand this is a major opportunity for Milan’s Muslim community and all its citizens to have a better city, “ he said.

“We have seen years of segregation and and passive acceptance of decisions that are often harmful and which are taken without any prior consultations,” he added.

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

Italy: Free Palestine Protests Against Amos Oz in Turin

(ANSAmed) — TURIN, NOVEMBER 12 — Today the Free Palestine movement protested two times against the Israeli writer Amos Oz in Turin. The first time this morning in the Regio Theatre, where the writer addressed 1,500 students in a lectio magistralis against fanaticism, and in the afternoon in the Luxemburg bookshop of Angelo Pezzana, a member of the Jewish community in Turin. In both cases leaflets were handed out against Israel and two banners were held up. One of these carried the text “Free Palestine. Boycott Israel”, the other listed the names of 1,800 Palestinians who died during the military operation Cast Lead in December 2008. Free Palestine also demonstrated in 2008 against the participation of Amos Oz, David Grossman and Abraham Yehoshua in the book salon, all Israeli writers who are considered to be pro-government. “These people waffle and refuse any debate”, said Pezzana, who added: “only people who are blinded by hate against Israel and deaf for any for dialogue can say, as these persons said today, that Oz is a warmonger”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

The Jewish People vs George Soros

Difference between a perpetrator and a rescuer. Between a collaborator and a hero

I spent yesterday evening in the company of a man whose grandfather spent much of the Holocaust dressed in a Nazi uniform. The difference between him and George Soros, is that he used that uniform as a disguise in order to find Jewish refugees and lead them to shelter.

And that difference is a profound one. It is the difference between a perpetrator and a rescuer. Between a collaborator and a hero.

Soros did not wear a Nazi uniform, but he might as well have, because he aided in the persecution of the Jews of Europe, without compassion, without guilt and without regret.

Various excuses have been made for his actions, and none of them hold the least bit of water.

Yes Soros was only a teenager at the time. So was my father, who nevertheless escaped to join the partisans, rather than accompanying a Nazi officer in his search for Jewish property he could loot. He had no choice? He certainly had a choice. Even in the worst of times, people still can and do make moral choices. And the choice for everyone, for Jews, Germans, Ukrainians, Poles, Frenchmen and so on down the line — was to collaborate with evil, or to do the right thing.

George Soros made the wrong choice then. As he has made the wrong choice over and over again. And he has never regretted any of them. And the one thing that clearly emerges from that, is that he has no understanding that evil is wrong. That participating in the persecution and murder of Jews is wrong. He didn’t know it back then, while the Holocaust was going on. He doesn’t know it today, when he helps set up and fund organizations like J Street, whose sole purpose is to help the Muslim terrorists who are murdering Jews today.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Dutch Lesbian and Nigerian Man Arrested at Altar Moments Before Sham Marriage

It was hardly a marriage made in heaven.

She was a lesbian from Holland and he was a man from Nigeria, with no right to live and claim benefits in Britain. Until their wedding was over that is.

But thanks to a sharp eyed vicar, this pair were arrested at the altar moments before they said their vows.

Police and Borders Agency staff hiding in the vestry leapt out and slapped them in handcuffs after a tip-off by the priest, Father Tim Codling.

‘Bride’ Roqsilmar Marti, 28, and ‘groom’ Abraham Akinola, 32, both pleaded guilty in Basildon crown court to conspiracy to commit an immigration offence.

Marrying a citizen of not only Britain, but of any European Union country, gives a non-EU national the right to live, work and claim benefits here.

Such sham marriages are a widespread problem, but Father Codling had become wise to such antics at his Church of England church, St John the Baptist in Tilbury, Essex.

And when the Dutch lesbian and the Nigerian man applied for their marriage banns on June 6 for a church wedding in August he realised the groom had given two different homes addresses on official paperwork.

The authorities were duly informed and lay in wait as the bride and groom arrived for the ceremony.

The court heard on Friday that Marti had been involved in a lesbian relationship for the past eight years, and that her worried female partner had flown to the UK and reported her missing on the day of the fake wedding.

Rotterdam-resident Marti, who speaks limited English, needed a translator in court. Judge John Lodge remanded the pair in custody and asked for reports into their background to be conducted so they could be sentenced at a later date.

A third man, Abdallah Magezi, 35, from Plumstead, south east, pleaded not guilty to conspiring to hold the sham marriage and will go on trial next year.

Father Codling said the number of weddings he carried out in his church had tripled following a Government clampdown of bogus weddings at registrar offices — although numbers noticeably dropped after the August arrests.

He began to suspect many of the weddings he carried out were bogus, but was legally powerless to stop them.

Father Codling said fraudsters were targeting his church because of its growing ethnic diversity and good train links with London making bogus marriage awaydays easy.

He said: ‘I think the vast majority of weddings we have at the church appear to be sham marriages. But the way the legislation works means if someone has been given a wedding licence I have to marry them.

‘We can only stop weddings if we have reasonable grounds to suspect they aren’t genuine.’

He said one suspect bride had stripped down to her underwear and the back of his church, pulled a wedding dress out of a black bin back and put it on, even though it was clearly twice her size.

He caught out another couple because when he asked the bride to repeat the vows, he began reading out train station names and she repeated them back.

And another couple walked off in opposite directions when their wedding was concluded.

Father Codling said: ‘I was asking the bride to repeat the vows and I just knew something wasn’t right.

‘So I started calling out the names of stations on the London to Shoeburyness line — Pitsea, Benfleet and Leigh-on-Sea, and the bride started saying them back to me.

‘She clearly couldn’t understand anything I was saying — I don’t think she even knew why she was in the church.’

Father Codling, 48, said that when he began questioning suspect weddings, his home was broken into and his wife threatened.

Detective Sergeant Andy Harvey of Essex Police said after the arrests in August: ‘Sham weddings are big business with the organisers charging £10,000 or more to arrange ceremonies and to pay ‘brides’ and ‘witnesses’.

‘The UK Border Agency and Essex Police are working closely to crack down on the criminals involved in these activities.’

Sam Bullimore of the Border Agency said: ‘Our immigration crime teams are cracking down on sham marriages all over the country.

‘If we uncover marriages that are not genuine, we will challenge them and prosecute where appropriate. Our main aim is to identify the organisers who profit from and fuel the demand for sham marriages, and destroy their criminal business.

‘We do not expect vicars or registrars to be experts in immigration law or spotting forged documents — that’s our job. But if they have any suspicions about whether a relationship is genuine, we urge them to get in touch.’

           — Hat tip: Bewick [Return to headlines]

UK: Join the Campaign to Keep Greenwich Mean Time

On December 3, MPs vote on the Bill which could abolish Greenwich Mean Time forever. Today, the Mail on Sunday’s Peter Hitchens launches a campaign against it.

Sooner than you think, we could all be living our lives on Berlin Time, an hour ahead of GMT in winter and two hours ahead of GMT in summer.

Such time is fine for that great and historic city, you might say. But Berlin is 580 miles and 15 degrees of longitude east of Greenwich, which means that the sun rises and sets there an hour earlier than it does in England.

The German capital, quite reasonably, does not fix its clocks to the time in Kiev or Minsk. Nor does it seem to suffer greatly by refusing to do so. So why should it be thought sensible for us to live as if we were far further east than we are?

And especially why should the people of the North of England and Scotland do so, when it will mean black darkness till around ten o’clock in the morning in the winter months?

According to Rebecca Harris, a chirpy, enthusiastic young Tory MP, this is a price worth paying for the many sparkling advantages of living our lives in step with Berliners. She believes that later, lighter afternoons in winter — and even later ones in summer — will make the roads safer, make old people less lonely, reduce crime, save energy and boost business.

She has all kinds of studies that appear to prove this, and is supported by a mass of pressure groups that agree with her.

My own impression is that many of these claims are pretty much guesswork. Shifting the clocks about changes less than you might think. The amount of actual daylight remains the same. It is just available at different times of day.


But Mrs Harris’s well-supported Bill is well on its way anyway, unlike several similar efforts on the subject over the past dozen years. These all ended in defeat, as did the 1968-71 experiment.

But this one is different. An active and busy lobby seems to have got behind this measure, as any careful student of the media will have spotted. How did all those breezy, uncritical articles come to be written? How did the Prime Minister find the time to imply his own support?

It goes before Parliament on Friday, December 3, and if passed it will trigger the first steps towards this momentous change, possibly separating us for ever from the Greenwich Mean Time which we invented.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Man’s Severely Burnt Body Found After Explosion Rips Through Flat

The badly burnt body of a man has been found after a suspected gas explosion ripped through a flat.

Neighbours have spoken of their shock after being woken by a ‘massive bang’ followed by their houses shaking.

The body was discovered in the loft of a first-floor maisonette in Battersea, south London.

After the explosion firefighters battled a blaze but were unable to stop fire devastating the block.

Dominique Fregiste, 17, said she felt her bed ‘shudder’ before she noticed flames billowing from the roof of the property on Crichton Street.

‘I was asleep when the explosion happened and the whole house shook,’ she said.

‘I thought someone had driven into the side of the house with a lorry.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Poor? Disadvantaged? Pull the Other One… The Rich, Rioting Students Are Unmasked

The six-man security team guarding Tory headquarters during the Millbank riot made a 999 call — but had to wait nearly an hour for police reinforcements.

They requested help at 1.50pm when they feared hundreds of protesters — who had broken away from the 52,000-strong march — would storm the building.

But by the time about 30 to 40 officers arrived, it was, according to a source, ‘too little, too late’. The failure to hold off the protesters at 30 Millbank, which is near the Houses of Parliament, was described by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson as an ‘embarrassment’. But the extent of the slow response to the disturbances has not been made clear until now.

The Met knew for weeks that thousands were due to march past the Conservative Party’s offices — but were still caught off-guard by the violence.

‘The security guys working at the building were left feeling acutely vulnerable,’ said a source. ‘There had been a chance for the police to get down in time to protect the building, because the protesters initially grouped outside Millbank Tower next door for 30 minutes, wrongly believing that building housed Tory HQ.

‘But the police didn’t come for nearly an hour and the opportunity was lost.’

Shortly after the first wave of rioters flooded the rear of the building, after forcing a reinforced glass fire door, others smashed down its glass front.

‘It all happened in front of the heavily-pregnant receptionist and she was left very badly shaken,’ said a source.

Over the following three hours, hundreds of rioters entered the building and caused tens of thousands of pounds of damage as they smashed windows, sprayed graffiti and destroyed office equipment.

Since Wednesday’s riot — during which a fire extinguisher was flung from the roof of 30 Millbank, landing inches from police — many questions have been asked about the social make-up of the protesters who occupied the building. Were they an unruly rent-a-mob, hell-bent on violence — or well-meaning students caught up in the dizzying excitement of civil disobedience? Probably a mixture.

On Friday a Guardian writer, John Harris, who does not appear to have witnessed the protest first-hand, wrote of speaking to an unnamed ‘Guardian colleague’ who was there.

He said: ‘He was also unimpressed by talk of an assembly of self-indulgent, bourgeois moaners: time and again, he said, he had bumped into people from such Northern towns as Bradford and Wakefield, who were students at FE colleges, angered to the point of fury by the Government’s axeing of the educational allowance.’

It is clearly difficult to chart precisely the social backgrounds of all 52,000 demonstrators. But after studying the video footage and learning more about some of those whose names have entered the public domain during the week, The Mail on Sunday has established a different picture. It seems the protest was distinctly southern-centred and middle class and that many of those involved had no experience of hardship or disadvantage.

Winchester & Wadham College, Oxford

Dressed in a hoodie, James Norrie was pictured last week at the front of the demonstration at Millbank Tower.

Hours later, the 22-year-old wrote on Facebook: ‘Why all the furrowed-brows over smashed windows from Cameron and Johnson now?

‘They were perfectly happy to engage in such acts with their fellow Bullingdon Club peers, and yet for what? Their own sickening self-indulgence. And yet neither act of vandalism is anything like of the same order of magnitude as what the Con-Dems are seeking to visit upon a whole nation.’

So it may come as a surprise to discover that last summer James completed a degree at Oxford’s world-famous Wadham College where alumni include former Labour leader Michael Foot and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

James was also a pupil at £30,000-a-year Winchester College, said to be Britain’s costliest public school.

His parents have an apartment in a stately home in West Sussex, and his father is majority shareholder in an investment company worth £25 million. James could not be contacted last night.

Fortismere School, North London

Liv Thurley was pictured laughing amid the rubble at the protest last Wednesday — which surprised her headteacher at Fortismere School in the affluent suburb of Muswell Hill in North London.

The 18-year-old lives with her parents in an £800,000 red-brick home.

Fortismere is one of the most sought-after comprehensives in London.

Admissions are so competitive that house prices in the catchment area are up to £150,000 higher than equivalent homes elsewhere.

Headmistress Helen Anthony said: ‘Anyone who absented themselves from school for the march has done so without my permission or knowledge.’

But Liv’s father Kevin, 49, said she had the day off and was probably there ‘because she was curious.’

Esher College, Surrey

Olivia Wedderburn, who admitted climbing on to the roof of 30 Millbank, is an 18-year-old student at Esher College in Surrey. The highly rated sixth-form college’s alumni include actress Keira Knightley.

Wedderburn lives in her family’s imposing £1.8 million townhouse on one of the most desirable streets of genteel Kingston upon Thames.

Her father Peter, 59, was a director of Reed Business Publishing but left to set up Kingston Bridge Communications, a successful events company and a PR consultancy.

Olivia maintains a web log called ‘Whatever Give A S***’ which advises readers to ‘check yourself before you wreck yourself’.

Last night Mr Wedderburn said: ‘I was perfectly happy for her to go. From what I understand she didn’t know where she was.

‘The students moved into the building after smashing their way in and she was carried with them.

‘She went up to the roof briefly but her friend with her had a panic attack and they spoke to the police and they let them leave.

‘An officer took her name but we haven’t heard from them so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.’

Asked how his daughter would afford higher education fees he said: ‘I suppose we’d be contributing but I’d expect Olivia would take out a loan as well.’

St Edmund’s Hall, Oxford

The day after the riot, Sky Herington, a student at Oxford, wrote on Facebook: ‘When they say cutback we say smash Millbank.’

She admitted to The Mail on Sunday she was inside 30 Millbank. Sky, 22, said: ‘I believe in direct action. That is the only way people will wake up and listen.’

Yet her radicalism is a far cry from her elite existence as a student at St Edmund’s Hall, which was founded in 1278 and is said to be Britain’s oldest undergraduate college.

Alumni include Sir Robin Day and Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. Her family live in a double-fronted house in Newton

St Margarets in Herefordshire. Sky gained five As at A-Level at nearby Fairfield High School, judged by Ofsted as one of the top ten state schools.

Extinguisher thug an ‘anarchist with dreads’

The thug who hurled a fire extinguisher 70ft off the roof of Tory headquarters is thought to be an anarchist with strawberry-blond dreadlocks in a black jacket — highlighted in TV news footage.

Police are examining the film in the hope of securing evidence to charge him with attempted murder. The extinguisher landed inches from policemen who said they would almost certainly have been killed if it had hit them. Police said the thug was one of a ‘hard core group of anarchists’ on the roof.

           — Hat tip: Nilk [Return to headlines]

UK: Police Told to Send Text Messages Because it is Too Expensive to Speak on Their Radios

Police officers are being ordered to send texts rather than speak on their radios because of the sums charged by the firm that owns the police communications network.

While chief constables face unprecedented cutbacks, the company that operates the system on which all the emergency services communicate has seen a massive rise in profits. Last year Airwave Solutions’ profit margin outstripped even that of mobile-phone giant Vodafone.

Airwave’s pre-tax profit was £170 million, a 26 per cent increase on the previous 12 months. It represents an eye-watering return of 45 per cent on the company’s £380 million turnover.

The company’s charges are said to be putting a severe strain on police budgets. Officers in one rural force have been told that a penalty charge of up to £2 a second is imposed as soon as the number of calls they make goes over a pre-arranged limit.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Students Winning Thousands of Pounds in Refunds for Poor Teaching

The financial compensation awarded has so far ranged from a few hundred pounds to £45,000.

And the country’s leading student watchdog has warned that complaints against lecturers and universities are set to rise as the tuition-fee cap increases from £3,290 per year to £9,000.

Student complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), which looks into compensation cases on behalf of students, have doubled since 2005, to more than 1,000 last year.

‘Having looked at the figures, complaints rise as fees rise — that is very likely to happen. That is already a trend we have seen over the past few years,’ said Rob Behrens, the head of the OIA.

The highest amount that the OIA has secured is £45,000, which was awarded to a postgraduate student last year. Some students are calling in their own lawyers to sue universities independently.

A Freedom of Information request by The Mail on Sunday found that universities refunded a total of almost £60,000 to 50 successful claimants last year.

Mr Behrens added: ‘One of the effects of tuition fee rise is that students will act like consumers and will demand more.’

           — Hat tip: Nilk [Return to headlines]

UK: Smith…a Decent Man Who’s Been Conned by the Fake Conservatives

For many years, most British Governments have followed a policy best called Fake Conservatism.

This involves loudly pretending to do what the public wants. But while the country is distracted by these stunts and spectaculars, the Cabinet gets on with its real task of turning Britain into a multi-culti socialist Euro-Province.


Well, now we have the same thing happening with welfare. Mr Blair’s New Labour Government is ably headed by his understudy David Cameron — while Mr Blair is on leave of absence addressing conventions of lavatory-paper makers. And among its many mini-Blunketts is poor old Iain Duncan Smith, a decent man fallen among liberals. IDS has indeed thought a lot about welfare.

But his colleagues forbade him to think about the real problem. This is that, since the catastrophic Labour Government of 1964-1970, the welfare state has deliberately encouraged parasitism, as well as flooding the country with professional social workers.

Nor can he actually do anything about the suicidal subsidy to single-mother families, which has helped destroy fatherhood and wreck our society.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

West Cannot Defeat Al-Qaeda, Says UK Forces Chief

General Sir David Richards, a former Nato commander in Afghanistan, said Islamist militancy would pose a threat to the UK for at least 30 years.

But he told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper a clear-cut victory over militants was not achievable.

The BBC’s Frank Gardner said the comments reflect a “new realism” in UK and US counter-terrorism circles.

Our security correspondent said such an admission five years ago might have been considered outrageous and defeatist.

Gen Richards, 58, took over as chief of the defence staff last month, after a spell as head of the British army.

He is due to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in London later as part of the UK’s Remembrance Sunday commemorations.

In his Sunday Telegraph interview, Gen Richards expressed confidence that al-Qaeda could be contained to such an extent that Britons could lead secure lives.

Gen Richards said: “In conventional war, defeat and victory is very clear cut and is symbolised by troops marching into another nation’s capital.

“First of all you have to ask: do we need to defeat [Islamist militancy] in the sense of a clear-cut victory?

“I would argue that it is unnecessary and would never be achieved.”

Gen Richards added: “But can we contain it to the point that our lives and our children’s lives are led securely? I think we can.”

He said the best weapon in the battle against al-Qaeda was the use of “upstream prevention” and the promotion of “education and democracy”.

He drew similarities between militant Islam’s “pernicious ideology” and that of Nazi Germany.

Gen Richards also admitted the Afghan people were beginning to “tire” of Nato’s inability to follow through with its promises to the country.

Britain has lost 343 soldiers in Afghanistan since 2001 but Gen Richards said their sacrifice had been worth it.

He said he saw no reason for Britain to intervene militarily in other countries like it had in Iraq and Afghanistan but added: “It would be barmy to say that one day we wouldn’t be back in that position.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union


The good news is that after the 12 annual progress reports Brussels has released on potential Turkish membership, Turkey’s chief EU negotiator, Egemen Bagis, heralded that “membership has eventually begun to smell.” And the other good news is that there is no bad news.

As always the report gives everyone something to chew on — something to celebrate, ponder, criticize, give pats on the shoulder over, toast and praise… In modern social science this is called “being analytical.” So be it…

Ironically, Minister Bagis did not hide his “general contentment” over the commission’s report which clearly talked about Turkey’s “failure to revive key reforms in areas including media freedom and human rights.” That “failure” was established after 12 reports from Brussels and eight powerful years of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP. But at least we can now smell membership!

Meanwhile, let’s hope that the Europeans do not copy Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s frequent reasoning and decide to take advice from the Vatican before deciding on Turkish membership. Most recently, Mr. Erdogan proposed taking advice from the Religious Affairs Directorate, or Diyanet, before Parliament moved to set the Islamic headscarf free on campuses.

Shortly after the prime minister’s suggestion, Professor Ali Bardakoglu, Diyanet’s president, said in an interview: “It would be against secularism to seek Diyanet’s advice before making laws. Our duty is to tell what is true about religion. For instance, alcohol consumption amounts to sinning. But it falls into the legislative jurisdiction to say under which circumstances alcohol consumption is illegal.”

Words of wisdom? No doubt. For some reason, I suspected too many typos when I read those lines. There were none. Then I joked to a colleague: “Professor Bardakoglu must be unhappy with his job.”

A week later, news reports told us that Professor Bardakoglu had been fired (and I am writing this several hours before Professor Bardakoglu spoke to the press about his departure).

Apparently, we need bureaucrats with better foresight in order to “smell” EU membership better. One such man is our ambassador to Vienna, Ecvet Tezcan, whose words in Austrian daily Die Presse did not only cause outrage among important Franks like Chancellor Werner Faymann and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, but also caused a mini crisis between Ankara and Vienna.

Pity… My dislike of the Franks who blocked the Ottoman march into the heart of Europe had started to subside after I read in fellow columnist Mustafa Akyol’s piece on Nov. 9 about how generously the Austrians welcomed with open arms and tolerated pious Turkish students. A day later, Ambassador Tezcan’s heart-breaking comments entered the public domain.

Mr. Tezcan was angry with Austria(ns) “because the freedom to swim naked existed but not to wear the Islamic headscarf.” Also, according to the interview published in Die Presse, because “he had been invited only by one Austrian family since he arrived in Vienna a year ago.”

When Die Presses reminded the Turkish ambassador that women’s employment rate in Turkey stood at a poor 39 percent, Mr Tezcan replied: “Oh, but housewifery too is a profession.”

Apparently, Mr. Tezcan is not happy in Vienna. He said that “he would not stay there a moment if he were the secretary general of the U.N. or the OSCE or OPEC.”

Naturally, tensions flared up in Vienna. But according to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, “those words were the ambassador’s personal opinion.”

I personally do not know whom to view with more credibility: a respected ambassador who claims there is no freedom to wear the headscarf in Austria, or a respected journalist who only two days ago praised Austrian freedoms for pious Muslims. I incline towards Mr. Akyol, not because he is an acquaintance and Mr. Tezcan is not, but because the ambassador’s other remarks look a little bit… errr less convincing.

For instance, I had not heard of a profession called housewifery. But if it exists, women’s unemployment rate in Turkey automatically falls to zero. Imagine a country where all of the nearly 40 million women have jobs! I expect the EU’s next progress report to note and praise this.

But I felt offended by the Austrians no matter how warmly they embraced the children of Fethullah Gülen in their beautiful, free country. They should send more invitations to Ambassador Tezcan. Some occasions could be inviting the ambassador to deliver a keynote speech at conferences on employment, women’s rights and diplomatic courtesy.

And a final word of caution to two of the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s heavyweights, Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu and Ambassador to Washington Namik Tan: Watch out for your seats as you now have a powerful rival in Vienna!

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

North Africa

Egypt Frees Brotherhood Candidates

Egypt has released three Muslim Brotherhood candidates running for the November 28 parliamentary elections, says a judiciary official.

The three candidates, along with 16 Muslim Brotherhood members, were arrested in the port city of Ismailia on Wednesday and Thursday.

The candidates were released on bail to appear in court at a later date, the official was quoted by AFP as saying on Saturday.

A total of 44 Brotherhood members will be also freed on bail ahead of court hearings on November 20, 21, and 23, AFP reported.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement, holds 88 seats in the 454-seat parliament. Its candidates run as independents.

It plans to contest for 134 out of the 508 seats up for grabs at the end of the month.

The religious-political organization was banned in 1954 — 26 years after its foundation — but has continued to play a key role in Egypt’s political arena.

The government accuses the group of seeking to take over the country and has passed a series of constitutional amendments in an attempt to curtail the Brotherhood’s ability to participate in politics.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israeli Student Attacked by Palestinians in Italy

Student in Italian university threatened by Palestinian students, one of whom was armed. Police fail to apprehend suspects. Israeli: They shouted ‘slaughter the Jews’

An Israeli student at the University of Genoa in Italy was harassed and threatened by Palestinian students last Tuesday, only to be ignored by the police.

Assaf, a 26-year-old Israeli architecture student, was eating at the cafeteria when Ibrahim Haji, a student from Gaza, came and began taunting him.

“He came towards me, punched me and said ‘why are you looking at me?’ I told him I wasn’t looking at him, and asked him to let me eat in peace,” Assaf said. “A minute later he was back, swinging a fork, and called me in front of everyone to come outside while cursing Israel and declaring his intention to kill.

I understood that I have to avoid this dangerous situation. I told my Italian friends, who were eating with me, that I’m going back to my room so as not to respond to this provocation. On my way out I turned to the cashier and told her, ‘Call the police. You heard the man threatening to kill,’ and she responded, ‘It’s not my job to separate Jews and Arabs.’“

‘I saw death in front of my eyes’ Assaf’s attempt to distance himself from the fight failed. Ibrahim waited for him outside and went for the attack. As Assaf tried to defend himself, Italian passersby stepped in to intervene and held him back. Ibrahim took the opportunity to draw a large kitchen knife. The Italian students tried to stop him.

“I saw death in front of my eyes. I broke free and ran into the storage in the kitchen and locked myself in. After a few minutes more Muslim students arrived and began shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great) and ‘Itbach el Yahud’ (slaughter the Jews). Later I understood that there are over 40 angry students there.

The Italians disappeared; they were scared to deal with them. I managed to get myself into the trash facility. I climbed a three-meter wall and jumped. I told myself it’s better to break a leg than to get killed.”

Assaf said that he went to the police but was ignored, until he turned to the community rabbi and additional Jewish families for assistance. “We filed an official complaint with the police, and they even informed the local investigation agency,” said Chaim Amar, a 28-year-old medical student who serves as a security officer at the local synagogue. “Unfortunately, nothing came of it so far.”

According to Amar, the police are familiar with Haji from previous violent incidents. It wasn’t his first time threatening the life of an Israeli student, and he reportedly harasses female Israeli students regularly. “It’s a matter of time before his next violent outburst,” Amar said.


           — Hat tip: DF [Return to headlines]

Middle East

IAEA Fears That Syria Will Follow Iran’s Steps

(ANSAmed) — NEW YORK, NOVEMBER 10 — There are growing suspicions that Syria, like Iran, might be developing an illegal nuclear programme. This is the fear of the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, who has said that he is ready to launch a special investigation into Syria as a result of President Bashar Al Assad’s reluctance to grant access to the country to UN inspectors. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Amano said that he was “open to a number of options” with regards to Damascus, and one of them, which is advocated by the United States, involves a special inspection of nuclear sites in the Arab republic.

Refusal by Damascus could lead to Syria being hauled in front of the United Nations Security Council and, like Iran, the country could face sanctions for failing to comply with the IAEA.

Syria’s nuclear history is a complex and mysterious one.

In 2007, Israeli fighter planes bombed a mysterious site along the river Euphrates. Israeli secret agents say that the Dair Alzour power station housed an atomic reactor with components made in North Korea, another country under “special surveillance” by the agency. Yet as George W. Bush recounts in his recently published memoirs, the then US President refused to sanction a raid, provoking the anger of the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. An initial IAEA inspection revealed traces of uranium particles, which suggests the possible production of nuclear material. Damascus has since blocked the subsequent investigations requested by the agency. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

‘Islamophobia Rising’

JEDDAH — Growing Islamophobia echoes the rise of anti-Semitism in the 1930s with US leaders resisting it, but Europeans abetting the trend for political gain, the head of the world’s largest Islamic group said.

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said xenophobia directed at Muslim immigrants was taking hold, especially in Europe. Vote-seeking politicians were advancing extremist groups behind the anti-Muslim sentiment.

“This issue has become a political agenda item,” the Turkish head of the 58-member OIC told AFP in an interview, while stressing that Islam was also a European religion. What worries me is that political authorities or political parties, instead of stopping this, or fighting this, some of them are using this for their political ends, to gain more popular support in elections,” he said. — AFP.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Muslim Cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad Arrested in Lebanon

Police in Lebanon have arrested the radical Muslim cleric, Omar Bakri Muhammad, several days after a military court sentenced him to life in prison.

He was tried in his absence, accused of forming a militant group to weaken Lebanon’s government.

Omar Bakri Muhammad was born in Syria and also holds Lebanese nationality.

He lived in the UK for 20 years then travelled to Lebanon in 2005 amid a media storm over the London bombings. The UK excluded him from returning.

The British government said his presence was “not conducive to the public good”.

Lebanese security officials told news agencies that Bakri Muhammad had been arrested at his home in the northern city of Tripoli.

“He is currently being transferred to Beirut,” an official told the news agency AFP.

‘Terrorist acts’ Correspondents say it was not immediately clear why the authorities did not arrest Bakri Muhammad earlier.

He was among 54 people sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment in trials of militants who fought the Lebanese army in 2007.

He was convicted of membership of an armed group aiming to commit “terrorist acts” and plotting to kill Lebanese soldiers.

Speaking to reporters after the sentence was handed down he said he would “not spend one day in prison”.

“I will not hand myself in to any court. I do not believe in the law in Britain as in Lebanon,” he said.

Bakri Muhammad ran a radical Islamist group, al-Muhajiroun, from north London until it was disbanded in 2004.

He provoked outrage after the London bombings in July 2005 by saying he would not inform the police if he knew Muslims were planning such attacks.

He left the UK soon afterwards on what he described as a holiday to see his mother in Beirut, but while he was abroad the British government used its powers to ban him from returning.

           — Hat tip: DF [Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia Blocks Facebook Over Moral Concerns

An official with Saudi Arabia’s communications authority said it has blocked Facebook because the popular social networking website doesn’t conform with the kingdom’s conservative values.

The official said Saudi’s Communications and Information Technology Commission blocked the site Saturday and an error message shows up when Internet users try to access it.

He said Facebook’s content had “crossed a line” with the kingdom’s conservative morals, but that blocking the site is a temporary measure.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam and religious leaders have strong influence over policy making and social mores.

Pakistan and Bangladesh both imposed temporary bans on Facebook this year.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia’s Spot on the Board of UN Women a Sad Joke

NEW YORK—It took years to make the United Nations’ newest agency, UN Women, a reality, and then just one day to effectively kill it.

Death was effected by allowing onto its board a kingdom where women are not just infamously prohibited from driving but are also virtual minors who need a male guardian’s permission to travel and to have surgery — and must be covered from head to toe in public.

As one of two countries guaranteed seats as emerging donor nations, Saudi Arabia essentially bought its way onto the board of UN Women, which is dedicated to gender equality

around the world.

Just three days after securing an automatic seat, Saudi Arabia gave us a reminder of just how oxymoronic its place on UN Women is, when its team showed up at the Asian Games in China without a single woman among the 180-strong delegation.

Iran, another country with a dismal women’s rights record, lost its bid for election to the board of UN Women after furious back-channel diplomacy by the United States and its allies. Still, at the games, which started in China on Saturday, Iran will field 92 female athletes in its 395-strong delegation.

Welcome to the ugly world of wrangling over women’s rights records depending on whether “we” like you or not.

Don’t misunderstand — Iran deserves to be kept out of UN Women. Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi had warned just before the vote that it was a “joke” that her country was in line to get a place on the board. But she said the same of Saudi Arabia, rightly pointing out that its women’s rights record was worse than Iran’s.

It’s not as if the UN was unaware of that abysmal record. After all, who could forget the farce that ensued when a Saudi delegation appeared for the first time before the UN women’s rights panel in Geneva in 2008 and absurdly insisted that women in their country faced no discrimination?

But the most ludicrous claim came when the UN committee asked why Saudi men could marry up to four wives. With a straight face, a Saudi delegate — a man, of course — explained that it was to ensure a man’s sexual appetite was satisfied legally if one wife could not fulfill it.

Not surprisingly, then-UN special rapporteur on violence against women, Yakin Erturk, soon went to Saudi Arabia on a 10-day fact-finding mission.

So where was the outrage on voting day, Nov. 10, as Saudi Arabia’s “generous contribution” landed it on UN Women’s board?

Distracted, at best.

U.S., European Union, Australian and Canadian diplomats had been working hard to kick Iran off the list of 10 countries from the Asian region up for election to the board. Iran — which for weeks has been threatening to stone a woman for alleged adultery — does not belong on the board.

But it was disgusting to hear American ambassador to the UN Susan E. Rice celebrate Iran’s defeat and yet, when pushed on Saudi Arabia, say only that she would “not deny that there were several countries that are going to join the board of UN women that have less than stellar records on women’s rights, indeed human rights.”

Once again, women are the cheapest bargaining chips, thrown on the table to silence and appease allies and “major donors.”

Why are countries such as Saudi Arabia eager to join international bodies like UN Women? Because it translates into clout — membership in a powerful new agency — with very few obligations…

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

The Tragedy of Iraq’s Christians is That it Does Not Interest Anyone, Chaldean Catholic Says

Under Saddam Hussein, Christians in Iraq were around a million. Today, more than half have fled, living as refugees in other countries, in particular Syria and Jordan. Those who are left behind feel betrayed and abandoned by the government and the international community, with only one desire, to be able to live and worship in peace.

Birmingham (AsiaNews) — “There is now a real danger that Christians in the Middle East, and in Iraq in particular, of being exterminated, due to both persecution and large-scale emigration,” this according to Dr Joseph Seferta, an Iraqi-born Chaldean Catholic living in Birmingham, Britain, where he is a member of the Commission for Inter-faith Dialogue of the Archdiocese of Birmingham. He gave an exclusive interview to AsiaNews about the difficult situation Christians face in Iraq and across the Middle East. Here it is.

“I belong to the Chaldean Catholic Church, which makes up the majority of Christians in Iraq. Others include Assyrians, as well Syrian, Armenian and Byzantine Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox. Christians under Saddam Hussein totalled some one million, but now only half that number remains in the country, the rest having fled and are living as refugees, particularly in Syria and Jordan.

The atrocity committed by Muslim fanatics, which resulted in dozens of Syrian Catholics dead and dozens of others wounded, was a big blow to the struggling Christian minority. It has been followed by other assassinations of Christians in their homes and shops. All these fanatics (known by various names) in the Middle East and other Muslim-majority countries, are bent on imposing Shari’a and running Islamic states that have no place for Christians in them.

Christians in the Middle East, of course, predate Muslims by hundreds of years and go back to Apostolic Times. Since the 7th Century Islamic conquest, they have been made second-class citizens with hardly any rights at all. They have undergone many waves of persecution, which have greatly reduced their numbers and influence. They suffer prejudice and discrimination on a daily basis, while Muslim minorities here in the West enjoy full rights and have built hundreds of mosques.

Tragically, Iraq’s Christians had nothing to do with the American invasion, but they always wrongly get accused of siding with the “Christian” West. Now they feel both isolated and betrayed by their own government as well as the international community. They have always been model citizens, serving their country in every field, and their only desire is to be left alone to live and worship in peace. But they have become a soft target for extremists.

There is now a real danger that Christians in the Middle East and in Iraq in particular, of being exterminated, due to both persecution and large-scale emigration, unless something is done urgently to stem the tide and save them. Too many cannot bear their suffering any longer and are sick and tired of waiting for someone to come to their aid. People either do not know or do not seem to care about them. Even the recent Middle East Synod convoked by the Holy Father was a disappointment, due to lack of both unity and courage. It is now high time that the United Nations seriously tackle this huge problem, for otherwise we will end up with the catastrophe of an Iraq and even a Middle East devoid of any Christians.

In October 2007, 138 Muslim leaders issued ‘A Common Word between Us and You’, a substantive invitation to Christians to dialogue based on the commandments to love God and love one another, found in the Bible and the Qur’an. The problem is that no such thing exists in the Qur’an.

While love is central in Christianity, it is hardly relevant in Islam. The few Qur’anic verses that mention love mean something that is totally different from the New Testament. In the Qur’an, Allah’s love is conditional upon man’s blind obedience to his laws. Thus, we read in verse 4:107, for example, “Allah loveth not the impious and the guilty.”

Love in the Qur’an is just an attribute rather than a part of God’s very essence (as in “God is love”, 1 John 4:8). The concept of love of neighbour does not exist either. There is only love for fellow Muslims, who, for example, are told in 5:59, “Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends”, and in 9:29, “Fight those who believe not in Allah or his Apostle, even if they are the People of the Book [Christians and Jews] until they submit”.

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

Top Tories Are Accused of ‘Abandoning’ Gay Briton After His Arrest by Syrian Secret Police

Three senior Tories have been accused of ‘abandoning’ a Syrian-born Briton who is being held by secret police in Damascus.

Sebastian Akkam, 31, an openly gay shop owner, has been denied access to UK consular staff since his arrest last month. No reason has been given for his detention.

His brother Mohammed said Sebastian had been let down by British establishment ‘friends’ he identified as MP Alan Duncan and former MPs Richard Spring and Michael Portillo.

The trio have privately expressed surprise as to why their names are being linked to the case.

Mr Akkam, who changed his name from Abdo in tribute to Oscar Wilde’s pseudonym Sebastian Melmoth, runs a shop in Damascus which has a shrine to Wilde — a risky move in a country where homosexuality carries a jail sentence.

As a teenager he was held naked for several weeks and badly beaten by the secret police. In 2006 he moved to the UK and took out citizenship on entering into a civil partnership, now dissolved, with a British man.

Mohammed says his brother was anxious about returning to Syria to visit their sick mother but claims in a phone call last month, Mr Spring, a director of the British Syrian Society, said his passport would protect him.

It is thought Mr Spring met him on a few visits to the shop. Mr Duncan and Mr Portillo also only met him briefly on trips to Syria.

British officials have made great efforts to gain access but believe public protests would be counter-productive. Last night Mr Spring said: ‘This man is fully entitled to consular access.’

Mr Portillo did not return calls, but has said he ‘did not know Mr Akkam well’. Mr Duncan did not want to comment until he had the full facts. The Foreign Office is pressing Syria daily to gain access to Mr Akkam.

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


Inquiry Into Police Requests for Data on Moslems Underway in Voronezh Rgn

VORONEZH, November 11 (Itar-Tass) — Prosecutor’s Office of the Voronezh region, some 600 kilometers to the southeast of Moscow, has opened an inquiry into the legitimacy of police requests for registration data on the Moslem believers living in the city of Voronezh, a senior aide at the Prosecutor’s Office said.

The inquiry was opened pending a complaint filed by the leader of a local Islamic religious organization, who said the police had sent in a request to provide personal data on all the Moslems living in the city, the educational institutions where their children study, and the sources providing finance for the Moslem religious community, said the regional prosecutor’s aide, Mikhail Ussov.

The police claimed it needed the data “for examining the situation in Voronezh”.

Ussov said on his part queries of this kind run counter to the law on the freedom of consciousness and religious associations.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

South Asia

“Islamic Love Jehad” Making Inroads Into Jammu: VHP

Vishva Hindu Parishad has termed the recent movement of interfaith marriages in Jammu among Muslim boys and Hindu girls as an “Islamic Love Jehad” to induct Islamic domination in the region. “The exercise contains government patronage as everything is being done openly without any administrative

check to it,’ said Ramakant Dubey, VHP president sounding a warning that if immediate containment is not maintained against the ‘unholy practice’, Jammu people would have to rise for a rebellion.

“The only way to fight against jehad is jehad,” said Ramakant adding that present dispensation instead of making tall claims on national and international levels must look into the state affairs first.

“We submit a request to chief minister to take serious note of the unholy practice and rein in such exercise, failing which, Jammu would be left with no option but to revolt which may lead to damaging consequences,” said the VHP chief.

Quoting a recent example of a Muslim married man of three children in government employment having fleeced a Hindu girl into ‘love trap’ and tried to elope, VHP chief said that since the incident came into light only, many girls in the remote and hilly terrains are being subjected to such ‘jehad’ which is unaccountable.

He also referred to government’s apathy by putting up a deaf ear to the recent incident while acting indifferently in “Rajneesh’s alleged custodial death’ where a Hindu boy had married a Muslim girl and invited administrative ire.

“It is a well planned network of activity which starts with Muslim girls making close acquaintances with Hindu Girls in Jammu province and then paving way for Muslim boys to intrude and fleece the gullible girls into their love traps,” said the VHP chief holding government equally responsible in the act.

He said the practice is still in vogue in Ladakh where a large number of Bodh girls have been converted as the area now have more of Muslim domination than its own identity as Buddhists.

“Same is the modus operandii embarked by the majority community here in Jammu province which is a grave danger towards which parental and administrative vigil is needed round the clock,” said the VHP chief.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

An Ugly Reality — The Persecution of Christians in Malaysia

Under Malaysia’s modern, moderate, harmonious veneer is an ugly truth. What is *really* happening here is that a Muslim government and Muslim religious officials — acting with the state’s sanction — are viciously oppressing anyone who dares to question and/or leave Islam. The regular media even outside of Malaysia won’t touch this issue — Muslims have successfully put their ruthless religious persecution of ‘apostates’ and others beyond the pale and out of public scrutiny. Not that it would much matter to most Malaysians, who either approve their government’s religiously-based persecution, or couldn’t care less.

But the Christian, American-based network CBN is not so easily cowed, and has filed this report on Malaysia’s deplorable treatment of people whose sole crime is wanting to no longer be Muslims.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Living as a Christian in a Muslim nation can carry severe risks and suffering.

CBN News traveled to Malaysia — a country that presents itself as a model for Islamic moderation, yet has many former Muslims who say they are persecuted after finding Christ.

A two-hour journey from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur revealed an isolated encampment where some Christian converts say they’ve been taken in order to be forced back to Islam.

The Malaysian government calls the facilities — retreat centers. Muslims willingly come there to strengthen their faith.

CBN News spoke to one Christian who wanted to remain anonymous, in fear he would be taken back to one of the “faith purification” facilities.

“They were clearly angry and they wanted to kill me, but they did not harm me physically,” he recalled. “I know of many others. They force you to recite Islamic prayers and the Koran, to do all the things you’re suppose to do as a Muslim.”

“They’re trying to force us to believe what we can’t believe,” the man continued. “These re-education centers come from the power of darkness.”

Read the rest if you have the stomach for it.

The outside world probably could not care one bit about any of this, and Malaysians — well, we are cowards or worse, we quietly applaud what our own ‘government’ does. And even if the fragmented opposition PKR took over — an unlikely event to say the least — would they do anything to stop this? You know the answer as well as I.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Chinese Mine in Afghanistan Threatens Ancient Find

MES AYNAK, Afghanistan (AP) — It was another day on the rocky hillside, as archaeologists and laborers dug out statues of Buddha and excavated a sprawling 2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery. A Chinese woman in slacks, carrying an umbrella against the Afghan sun, politely inquired about their progress.

She had more than a passing interest. The woman represents a Chinese company eager to develop the world’s second-biggest unexploited copper mine, lying beneath the ruins.

The mine is the centerpiece of China’s drive to invest in Afghanistan, a country trying to get its economy off the ground while still mired in war. Beijing’s $3.5 billion stake in the mine — the largest foreign investment in Afghanistan by far — gets its foot in the door for future deals to exploit Afghanistan’s largely untapped mineral wealth, including iron, gold, and cobalt. The Afghan government stands to reap a potential $1.2 billion a year in revenues from the mine, as well as the creation of much-needed jobs.

But Mes Aynak is caught between Afghanistan’s hopes for the future and its history. Archaeologists are rushing to salvage what they can from a major 7th Century B.C. religious site along the famed Silk Road connecting Asia and the Middle East. The ruins, including the monastery and domed shrines known as “stupas,” will likely be largely destroyed once work at the mine begins.

Hanging over the situation is the memory of the Buddhas of Bamiyan — statues towering up to 180 feet high in central Afghanistan that were dynamited to the ground in 2001 by the country’s then-rulers, the Taliban, who considered them symbols of paganism.

No one wants to be blamed for similarly razing history at Mes Aynak, in the eastern province of Logar. The Chinese government-backed China Metallurgical Group Corp., or MCC, wanted to start building the mine by the end of 2011. But under an informal understanding with the Kabul government, it has has given archaeologists three years for a salvage excavation.

Archaeologists working on the site since May say that won’t be enough time for full preservation.

“That site is so massive that it’s easily a 10-year campaign of archaeology,” said Laura Tedesco, an archaeologist brought in by the U.S. Embassy to work on sites in Afghanistan. Three years may be enough time just to document what’s there, she said…

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Eight Suicide Bombers Killed in Foiled Taliban Plot to Blow Up NATO Base in Afghanistan

Eight attempted suicide bombers who tried to storm a Nato base in eastern Afghanistan have been killed in a two-hour long gunbattle, officials said today.

The Taliban claimed to be responsible for sending the group of militants to the base — their second assault on the Nato base and an adjoining airport outside Jalalabad city in six months.

But Nato forces and Afghan National Army (AN) troops scrambled to suppress the attack in a ferocious dawn gunbattle that saw rocket-propelled grenades launched at two helicopters.

Heavy fire: An Afghan National Army soldier fires during the two-hour long gunbattle that killed at least eight suicide bombers near Jalalabad airport

The battle, which was around 95 miles from Kabul, came as a bomb attack in the north of the country killed a further seven people.

The militants attacked the Afghan army checkpoint outside the Jalalabad base shortly after dawn, sparking a gunbattle that lasted at least two hours and involved Nato helicopters firing from overhead, said Sgt Abdullah Hamdard, a national army commander at the site.

A spokesman for the Nangarhar provincial government, Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, confirmed the attack and said eight assailants were killed — including two who were wearing explosives vests.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said there were 14 attackers and that 11 of them were killed, though the insurgent group typically gives inflated numbers.

Nato forces said in a statement that the base received fire but initial reports indicated no foreign or Afghan forces were killed.

Aim: Two Nato helicopters and AK-47 rifles were used to overpower the group of Taliban suicide bombers at the military base in Jalalabad

Scrambled: Afghan National Army soldiers rush towards the site of a gunbattle between Nato forces and Taliban insurgents

A photographer at the scene saw three dead bodies laid out, all in Afghan army uniforms, which militants often wear as a disguise.

An AK-47 assault rifle, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and a grenade were laid out nearby.

Mr Abdulzai said the area was secure by late morning and that they had killed all the attackers.

In June, militants assaulted the Nato base with a car bomb, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons but did not breach its defences. Eight militants were killed in that attack.

Aftermath: US and Afghan security forces gather at the site of a previous suicide attack in which three soldiers were wounded in Kabul on November 13, 2009

The base is about 75 miles east of Kabul on the main road between the Afghan capital and the Pakistan border.

In northern Kunduz province a bomb hidden in a motorbike exploded on a busy street in Imam Sahib district, killing seven people.

The bomb was detonated just as a vehicle belonging to a police official drove past. The official — Commander Mohammad Manan — was killed, along with one of his bodyguards and five civilians, said Abdul Qayum Ebrahimi, the district police chief.

Mr Ebrahimi said they believed the bombers had targeted Mr Manan.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Pakistani Bishops Urge Pope to Save Pakistani Woman From Execution

Rome, 12 Nov.(AKI) — Pakistan’s auxilary bishop to Lahore Bernard Shaw has implored Pope Benedict XVI to save a Pakistani woman sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old mother Asia is believed to be the first woman sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

“We send a heartfelt appeal to the Holy Father to pray, intercede, and speak out on behalf of Asia Bibi,” Shaw said an appeal launched on Friday via Vatican missionary agency Fides.

Shaw called on people around the world to “raise [their] voices, put pressure and use all means necessary” to save Bibi.

Bibi’s relatives announced on Monday there were appealing against the death sentence handed to her on Monday by a court in the town of Nankana, around 75 kilometres from the city of Lahore in eastern Punjab province.

Secretary to the Peace and Justice commission of the Pakistan church, Peter Jacob, condemned Bibi’s sentencing, calling it “an authentic outrage to human dignity and truth.”

Ashiq Masih, who is a field labourer, said his wife was accused of blasphemy after getting into an argument last year with a group of women when she was sent by the wife of a village chief to fetch water.

The other women challenged his wife and said it was sacrilegious to drink water collected by a non-Muslim.

Local clerics raised the issue with the police five days later and Bibi was arrested and charged with insulting the Prophet Muhammad, according to Masih.

Human rights activists want the blasphemy law repealed as they say it is often exploited by Islamist extremists or those harbouring personal grudges.

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

Pakistan: Asia Bibi’s Conviction is an Incitement to Crime, Says Justice and Peace Official

Peter Jacob, secretary of the Church’s Justice and Peace Commission, said the death sentence is unjust, that it does not take into account how the law is being abused. Nazir Bhatti calls on the government to cancel the sentence as it has done in the past for some of terrorists.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — “The sentence against Asia Bibi is a veritable incitement to crime. There was never any insult to Islam in the case and the judge did not take into account how the blasphemy law is being abused. So he came down with a harsh sentence,” said Peter Jacob, secretary of the Church’s Justice and Peace Commission, as he spoke to AsiaNews about the death penalty inflicted on a 37-year-old female farm worker by a court in Punjab last Sunday. “We absolutely condemn this way of doing things; we call on the government to intervene and stop the law from being abused,” he added.

Asia Bibi, mother of two, is the first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy. She has been in prison since last year. The trial judge accepted the prosecutor’s contention that she insulted Muhammad in a heated discussion with colleagues. In fact, all she did was to object to her fellow workers’ name-calling (infidel) and their attempt to get her to renounce Christianity. For this, Asia was beaten and reported to police in Ittanwali (Punjab) who arrested her on false blasphemy charges.

For Nazir S. Bhatti, who heads the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), Asia’s case is a clear attack on inter-faith dialogue because she was sentenced to death for her comment on Muhammad, not for any insult to the prophet.

“According to the constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the president of Pakistan or the interior minister have the power to withdraw any case,” Bhatti said. “There are examples of cases of terrorism withdrawn by the government of Pakistan. Why then the Pakistani administration is silent on Asia Bibi’s sentence?”

“In Pakistan, some 2.8 million Christians are treated as second class citizens, whilst Islamic government feel no shame to release Muslim criminals and terrorists,” he said.

Yet, despite the authorities’ silence, many figures in Pakistan’s civil society, both Christians and Muslims, are mobilising on Asia Bibi’s behalf as well as calling for the repeal of the blasphemy law.

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

Far East

Japan: Islamic Community Lays Down Roots

Muslims try to shake negative perceptions

Noon prayers at Tokyo Camii, also known as Tokyo Mosque, began peacefully with Imam Ensari Yenturk reciting verses from the Quran, while worshippers, who included a middle-aged Japanese man, bowed and offered prayers toward Mecca.

The Tokyo Camii & Turkish Culture Center in Shibuya Ward, notable for its Ottoman architecture and intricate Arabic reliefs, is one of the mosques located across the nation that serve a small but thriving Muslim community estimated to number around 110,000 to 120,000, including roughly 10,000 Japanese Muslims.

The Islamic community was recently offended by leaked counterterrorism files that revealed police have been identifying Muslim residents as “terrorist suspects,” an embarrassing incident that coincided with a heightened police alert for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum that wraps up Sunday in Yokohama.

But despite the incident, the Muslim community solemnly embraces its religion while trying to adapt to Japanese society.

“Terrorism is an activity that Islam doesn’t accept,” said Yenturk, who is also the director of Tokyo Camii, an institution that serves as a cultural hub for those interested in Islamic culture.

This sentiment is shared by many Muslim residents in Japan.

“Myself and many Muslims in Japan love this country and consider it our home. Why would we destroy our own home?” asked Ehsan Bhai, a founding member of the Islamic Circle of Japan, expressing displeasure at the recent leak of police documents.

Tokyo Camii, which was built in 1938 and is the second-oldest mosque in Japan, is open to worshippers and visitors of any nationality. It also hosts classes, Islamic “nikah” marriage ceremonies and conversions to Islam, which require two Muslim witnesses.

While relatively few worshippers visit Tokyo Camii to pray during regular weekdays, Yenturk said 400 to 500 Muslims, many from other parts of Asia, including Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, regularly attend the important Friday noon prayers.

Although Islam is regarded as the world’s second-largest religion after Christianity, Japan’s population remains small compared with their numbers in the United States, where 2.454 million reside, or Britain, with a community of 1.647 million Muslims, according to a 2009 report by the Pew Research Center.

According to studies conducted by Hirofumi Tanada, professor of human sciences at Waseda University in Tokyo, there were 58 mosques in Japan as of April 2009, although he said more were founded recently, bringing the total to around 60.

Most of these mosques do not boast the elaborate decorations and Islamic architecture of Tokyo Camii or the Kobe Muslim Mosque — built in 1935 as Japan’s first mosque — but are funded through donations and situated in nondescript houses and buildings featuring prayer rooms.

Although hard statistics do not exist, Tanada said he believed that besides the mosques, which he defines as being open for services year-round, there are probably over 100 “musalla,” or temporary locations where prayers are performed or congregations held, scattered across the country…

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

British Yacht Couple Kidnapped by Somali Pirates Are Finally Released After 388 Days of Captivity

Ransom of $1million believed to have been paid to Somali pirates

Couple released in Ethiopian border town Adado at 4am this morning

A British couple held for more than a year by Somali pirates have finally been released after a ransom was paid.

Paul and Rachel Chandler, who were seized in October last year while sailing from the Seychelles to Tanzania, were ‘tired but happy’ after being handed over to officials in Adado.

The couple, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, have now touched down in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, signalling an end to their 338 day ordeal that started when gunmen hijacked their boat.

The couple landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and were handed over to officials from the British High Commission.

In a statement, the family said: ‘Yesterday evening, we received the wonderful news that Paul and Rachel Chandler were to be released by the Somali pirates who had held them in captivity since October 23 2009.

‘The videos that were shown on television earlier this year indicated that they were coping with the conditions and were in relatively good health.

‘But we cannot yet be certain how the difficulties that they have had to endure in recent months will have affected them physically and emotionally.’

‘Throughout the protracted discussions with the pirates it has been a difficult task for the family to get across the message that these were two retired people on a sailing trip on a small private yacht and not part of a major commercial enterprise involving tens of millions of pounds of assets.’

Mrs Chandler’s brother, Stephen Collett, said: ‘We are very pleased at the news.’

Richard Neylon, a lawyer for the Chandler family, said: ‘I confirm that Paul and Rachel Chandler have reached a place of safety.’

TV footage showed Mr and Mrs Chandler, aged 60 and 57 respectively, walking unaided in Adado.

They were released at around 4am this morning at the small town on the Ethiopian border and were given mobile phones to make calls as soon as they entered the safety of the compound housing the administration headquarters.

Mayor of the town, Mohamed Aden, said the couple had been given breakfast.

He told Sky News: ‘They were tired but happy — I am very, very happy. We gave them a cold shower, we have them a breakfast.

‘Then we showed them to the community, and the community showed them they are sorry about what happened.

‘They apologised for the treatment they were subjected to in our neighbourhood.’

A Somali physician who saw the couple, Dr Mohamed Elmi Hangul, told Al Jazeera: ‘Aside from the deep emotional and psychological abuse they endured over the past 13 months, they are doing relatively well.’

Reports suggest that a ransom of up to $1million (£620,000) was paid to secure the couple’s release.

The money is said to have come from a mixture of private investors and the Somali government. The British Government’s policy is not to pay ransom demands.

The Foreign Office has not yet commented on the reports.

The Chandler’s release ends a 388-day ordeal which began on October 23 last year when their 38ft yacht was stormed by armed men.

A last message posted on the couple’s online travel blog read: ‘Please ring Sarah’ — thought to be a reference to Mrs Chandler’s sister.

News of their capture emerged four days later after a pirate contacted a news agency and said ransom demands would follow, sparking a long series of negotiations between the pirates and a host of UK and Somali government officials.

The Chandlers themselves also made a series of appeals for help during television interviews permitted by the pirates.

In them, the emaciated couple told of being beaten, starved and kept apart in makeshift tents.

The pirates also threatened to ‘burn the bones’ of the Chandlers if a rescue attempt was made.

They had been sailing around the world on their yacht, the Lynn Rival, for several years when they left the Seychelles on October 22.

Their route took them near Somali waters notorious for pirate attacks on ships and smaller boats.

After their seizure, the pirates demanded $7million (£4.35million) for their release, but that figure is thought to have dropped towards the $1million mark.

It also emerged that the crew of a Royal Navy vessel was forced to watch the couple being kidnapped.

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary replenishment tanker Wave Knight, carrying 75 merchant seamen and 25 Royal Navy sailors, was within sight at the time.

Military officials insisted the crew could not have acted without endangering the couple’s lives.

In November last year, the couple appeared on Channel 4 News to say their captors were ‘losing patience’ and that they could be killed within a week.

Their last appearance came in May, when Mr Chandler called on the new coalition government to make a statement on whether it would assist the couple.

He said: ‘I would like to say “congratulations” to David Cameron first. As the new Prime Minister we desperately need him to make a definitive public statement of the Government’s attitude to us.

‘If the Government can help, and I think they should, then we would welcome that and would they please do so.

‘But either way they must make a statement so that we know where we stand.’

According to Professor Mohamed Omar Dalha, deputy speaker of the parliament in the East African state, the pirates had been on the brink of backing down and releasing the Chandlers on compassionate grounds after their health deteriorated alarmingly.

Hostage negotiator Andrew Mwangura said he believed an initial payment was made two months ago to the gang who have held the couple for more than a year.

He added that it was thought the British sailors were finally released this weekend once a second balance payment had been transferred to the pirates.

The maritime official, who runs the Kenya-based East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, said: ‘We have been expecting a development for some time and we are now hearing word that the couple have been released.

‘We are still waiting to confirm everything with our sources on the ground, but I believe a significant ransom payment was made some time back — perhaps two months ago.

‘I believe that was followed by a balance payment made this month.

‘If it is true that the couple have been released then that would suggest the pirates have kept their side of the bargain and freed them once the second payment had been transferred.’

Friends of the Chandlers were delighted that the couple finally been released and looking forward to them coming home.

Jacqueline Charlton, a neighbour of the Chandlers, said: ‘It hasn’t really sunk in yet. We can stop wondering now.

‘It’s been such a long time. They’ve been given a punishment worse than most criminals.

‘We’ll be very happy to see them back.’

Mr Chandler’ sister spoke of her ‘happiness’ at the news that her brother and sister-in-law Rachel had been released.

Mother-of-three Jill Marshment, 70, said she was ‘absolutely delighted’ from her home in Bredon, near Tewkesbury, Glos.

Mrs Marshment declined to comment further until she had spoken to the couple.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]


Libya Says No to Legislation on Asylum and UNHCR

(ANSAmed) — GENEVA, NOVEMBER 12 — Today in Geneva Libya rejected the recommendations, given in the context of a UN examination, to adopt legislation on asylum and to sign an agreement on the presence of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the country.

Tripoli also rejected the advice to abolish the death penalty and to guarantee equality to women in word and deed.

The recommendations on asylum and the UNHCR had been formulated by countries like the USA and Canada, as part of the periodical examination of the human rights situation in Libya, last Tuesday in Geneva. Tripoli also rejected the advise to abolish the death penalty, but at the same time delayed its reply to the request to adopt a moratorium on executions ahead of the abolition of the death sentence. Libya — in its answers to the 97 recommendations made by the UN member States during the examination — also rejected the recommendation to adhere to the 1967 Protocol of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. All in all, Libya has accepted 66 recommendations (almost all those that were signed by countries with which it has friendly ties), and rejected 25 (mainly those signed by Western countries). Other requests that were rejected include the equal treatment of women in word and deed, presented by Israel.

Libya announced on June 8 that it will close the UNHCR office in Tripoli; later the presence of the UNHCR was accepted but only to deal with existing cases. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Xenophobia: What’s Gone Wrong in Denmark?

The Danish parliament has recently toughened up laws regarding family reunification for immigrants. German daily Frankfurter Rundschau fears that this marks yet another step towards in an openly aggressive anti-immigrant policy, one which could spread throughout Europe.

Hannes Gamillscheg

Once upon a time there was a small country in northern Europe that was proud of — and esteemed for — its liberal, humanitarian attitudes, which served as a model for others. That country was Denmark. Now the Danish are making headlines with their xenophobic policies and Europe’s harshest immigration regulations, which are a mockery of liberal broadmindedness. They are setting an example again, only the ones applauding them nowadays are from the other end of the political spectrum. “The decisions we are making now will soon serve as a yardstick for other countries too,” boast Danish rightwingers, and past experience shows that may well be true.

Calls to check the influx of “non-Western” foreigners are spreading like wildfire across Europe. And Denmark is spearheading the crusade. The government had already outdone all the others by requiring that spouses from outside the EU be at least 24 years old before even applying for family reunification in Denmark. In future, they will also have to have a certain number of “points” to qualify for admission.

Calling Islam a plague and a terrorist organisation

And the way the scoring system is rigged, non-academics from Third World countries are bound to fail — which is of course the whole point: “Some people are simply not supposed to make it into our country,” says Prime Minister Rasmussen. Copenhagen has already set the hurdles for permanent residency and naturalisation so high that, for all intents and purposes, immigrants without a university degree don’t stand a chance. Henceforth similar regulations will apply to those who assert their human right to start a family. Partners are welcome only if they are of use to Denmark. For the rest, the border’s closed till further notice.

There’s no denying the problems caused by the failed integration of some immigrant groups. But the solutions Danish politicians have been concocting for years have poisoned the atmosphere and nurtured a mindset that would still be unthinkable in most other countries. Where else could members of parliament call Islam a plague and a terrorist organisation, or say Muslims murder their daughters if they can’t hand them over to be raped by their uncles, without being swept out of office by a wave of public outrage? In Denmark even the grossest violations have become so common that most people just shrug them off now. And these immigrant-bashers [the Danish People’s Party] happen to be the faithful majority-makers for the centre-right coalition government.

Few make a stand against the xenophobic mainstream

So the liberalminded role model has morphed into a cautionary tale. How could it come to this? Not for objective reasons, at any rate. The proportion of immigrants from “non-Western” countries is comparatively low, at six per cent; the “ghettos” many of them inhabit are pretty, green housing estates; Denmark is not plagued by unemployment or a high crime rate.

And yet right-wing populists have made it big by relentlessly agitating against immigrants, the right-of-centre parties have already won three elections on the highly effective anti-immigration ticket; and for fear of renewed electoral setbacks, even social democrats and socialists are now toeing the xenophobic line. Only one social-liberal party and one left-wing party, which, combined, hold less than ten per cent of the vote, are making a stand against the xenophobic mainstream.

Empty coffers and recurrent scandals

The upshot is an endless series of laws and rule changes aimed at making life harder for immigrants. And every time it looks as though the crackdown has gone as far as it could possibly go, the government finds yet another screw to tighten: e.g. halving welfare benefits for the first seven years in the country, cutting benefits for parents if their children do not behave. Particularly among youths from hard-to-integrate groups, this ongoing exclusion is breeding a disaffection with Danish society that could morph into hatred. How, even centre-right politicians ask, are these immigrants supposed to integrate if they wake up every morning to hear that they are a problem.

And yet keeping the “migrant problem” simmering has kept the centre-right camp in power for nearly ten years now. With the next elections coming up in 2011, empty coffers and recurrent scandals have dimmed the coalition’s prospects of winning again. So once again they are playing the immigrant card that has already turned up trumps at the ballots three times running — to the detriment of integration and the values that once distinguished Denmark.

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

Culture Wars

Building Bridges With Graffiti Art

Graffiti art seen as resource in addressing issues of multiculturalism, community cohesion.

We hear government officials, academics and politicians talking about the problems of multiculturalism and community cohesion, but I feel they have left one resource untapped when it comes to finding solutions: art. In fact, I often make the bold statement that graffiti art has the power to change the world.

Art that is bursting outside of conventional art spaces, outside of galleries, and is quite literally spilling onto the streets is an amazing means of connecting people. Murals I have painted on busy street corners have brought people together as every day perhaps thousands ponder the messages of the art I create.

Those who have seen my work say it brings together the best of both worlds. My pieces are an amalgamation of two almost opposite extremes, in terms of art forms at least. I take street art, born on the streets of the West, and combine that with a sacred, classical style of Islamic script and patterns — introducing this art form in places where I have permission to paint.

This is my personal attempt at challenging the notion of the “clash of civilisations”. The art I create actually merges two civilisations and communicates a unique message that we can be inspired by spirituality and faith, but that we should learn to apply these to modern life. We can deal with contemporary issues and connect with others in doing so.

In the post-9/11 world, Islam has come under the spotlight and is often portrayed negatively by the media and misunderstood by non-Muslims. Amid the negativity, I feel encouraged to stick my neck out even further, go against the grain and express who I am without any insecurity hindering my efforts. Despite this hype about Islam, I feel good about being a Muslim living in the West. I can be inspired by my faith, yet also contribute to developing a harmonious society.

It’s an important time to challenge these stereotypes and encourage real dialogue between ordinary people with different ideas, identities and backgrounds, not leave it to faith leaders sharing tea and biscuits.

Art is one way of facilitating this dialogue. In my art, I convey principles — peace, justice, brotherhood and respect — that I believe are fading away from our modern societies, but which I highlight to make people aware that they do in fact share common principles. For the average Joe or Jane who travels to work during rush hour traffic, and for local residents who walk past a particular mural every day, I want the walls that carry my messages to come alive and remind people of these shared principles.

Man has forever told his story by carving or scratching his message into a wall in a public space. Graffiti has been around for thousands of years, way before the spray painted subways of New York. So before we throw out the baby with the bathwater and view graffiti as something that is only for mindless youth, I ask everyone to stop and realise that we are all graffiti artists. It is an innate part of man’s nature. After all, when we are on the phone and we have a pen in our hand, what do we do? We create our own graffiti.

Let’s harness the energy and power of the spray can, and use our public spaces to convey something colourful and meaningful to deal with some of the problems we face in the world today.

Mohammed Ali is a UK-based artist whose work can be seen at This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Tribunal Fight for Christian Doctor Axed by Panel in Gay Adoption Row

A Christian doctor ousted from a council adoption panel after refusing to endorse gay couples is taking her case to an employment tribunal, claiming religious discrimination.

In a case that could go all the way to the European courts, Dr Sheila Matthews said there was ‘no reason’ the council could not find a compromise to accommodate her views.

She has now resigned from her £72,000-a-year post as a community paediatrician, claiming her career has been irreparably damaged.

Dr Matthews blames political correctness for creating a ‘hostile climate’ for Christians, adding: ‘It is getting really scary.

‘The anger I feel is not only for me but for lots of other people of faith who feel they have to choose between their beliefs and their job.’

Her case, which starts tomorrow in Leicester, follows that of Eunice and Owen Johns, a couple from Derby who were banned from fostering because of their traditional Christian views about homosexuality.

Dr Matthews says her objections to gay adoption are based on scientific findings as well as biblical teachings.

The 50-year-old mother-of-one was appointed as medical adviser to one of Northamptonshire County Council’s two adoption panels six years ago.

She medically examined couples who applied to adopt to make sure they were healthy enough to provide a child with long-term care. She then reported to the ten-strong panel made up of councillors, social workers and lay people, of which she was a full member.

The panel then interviewed applicants before members voted on whether the prospective adoptive parents should be recommended.

But the final decision in all adoption cases was made by the council’s head of children and young people’s services, who was not bound by the panel’s advice.

Dr Matthews’s problems arose in January 2009 when a gay couple applied to adopt, the first such case since the introduction in 2006 of equality laws that required adoption agencies to consider homosexual candidates in the same way as heterosexual ones.

Dr Matthews, a Christian since she was a teenager, said she had concluded after years of research that gay households were not as good for vulnerable children as a father and mother.

Rather than voting against the gay applicants, however, she told the head of Northamptonshire’s adoption team that she would abstain.

In April last year, however, she was summoned to a meeting with the head of children’s services. A month later, she was removed as a full member of the panel.

In August, the NHS Primary Care Trust, which had allowed her to continue as the medical adviser without voting rights, replaced her in this role. In March this year she resigned.

Dr Matthews said the council had acted unreasonably as only a tiny number of cases involved gay couples, and it would have been easy to allow her to abstain or find a substitute for her on the panel on those occasions.

Her case is being backed by the Christian Legal Centre and she is being represented by human rights lawyer Paul Diamond.

Andrea Williams, of the Christian Legal Centre, said: ‘It cannot be right that a doctor of such standing is forced from her role on an adoption panel just because of her professional and Christian views.’

A Northamptonshire County Council spokesman said: ‘It is inappropriate to comment on this matter at this stage’.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]


Phyllis Chesler: The Feminist Politics of Islamic Misogyny

Studying honor killings is not the same as sensationalizing them — but Columbia University professor Lila Abu-Lughod disagrees. Moreover, she believes that indigenous Arab and Muslim behavior, including honor-related violence, is best understood as a consequence of Western colonialism — perhaps even of “Islamophobia.”

On October 25, 2010, at the American University of Beirut, Abu-Lughod admonished feminists who ostensibly sensationalize honor killings, a position which, in her opinion, represents “simplistic, civilizational thinking.” She “warned that an obsessive focus on the so-called honor crime may have negative repercussions” and that “people should be wary of classifying certain acts as a distinctive form of violence against women.” (Her remarks are summarized in a press release published by the university. According to the university, the article on which the speech is based will be published early next year in Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies.)

Abu-Lughod opposed the “concept of clear-cut divisions between cultures, which she viewed as a form of imprisoning rural and immigrant communities,” and suggested that focusing on “honor crimes” allowed “scholars and activists to ignore important contexts for violence against women: social tensions; political conflicts; forms of racial, class, and ethnic discrimination; religious movements; government policing and surveillance; and military intervention.”

What kind of feminism does Abu-Lughod represent? She is a post-colonial, postmodern, cultural relativist, a professor of anthropology and women’s and gender studies who does not believe in universal standards of human rights. However, her allegedly feminist work primarily serves the cause of one nationalism only — Palestinian — and of one tradition only — Islam/Islamism.

Abu-Lughod has long held the positions she expressed in Beirut. According to her 2002 article in The American Anthropologist, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?,” Abu-Lughod believes that wearing the Islamic veil signifies “respectability” for Muslim women. More, it can be “read as a sign of educated, urban sophistication, a sort of modernity.” She writes,…

[Return to headlines]