News Feed 20120319

Financial Crisis
» Greece: Exceptional Situation, Solidarity Needed, Almunia
» Greece: People Indifferent to Swap Success
» Italy: Treasury ‘Paid Morgan Stanley $3.4 Billion’
» Italy: Spread Ends on 278, Yield 4.84%
» Apple to Use Cash for Stock Dividend and Buyback
» DHS Terror Document Lists Yawning, Goose Bumps as Suspicious Behavior
» Frank Gaffney: Fund But Verify the Export-Import Bank
» Little Rock Airport to be Named After the Clintons
» The Quit and the Dead
Europe and the EU
» “Italy Rife With Corruption, Wrongdoing and Malpractice” Says Court of Auditors
» Arms Exports: Made in Germany
» Concern Over Threats to Paris Synagogues
» EU’s Catherine Ashton Compares Kids Murdered in France With Gaza
» France: Women’s Match Called Off Over Headscarves
» France’s Hollande Secures German SPD Endorsement on Europe
» France: Butchers Have a Beef With French Politics
» France: Four Killed at French Jewish School Shooting
» France: Four Dead as Gunman on a Motorbike Opens Fire at Jewish School in France
» France: Govt Steps Up Surveillance at Jewish Schools
» France: Man Opens Fire at Toulouse’s Jewish School, 4 Dead
» France: Toulouse: Sarkozy Declares Incident National Tragedy
» France: Police Link Scooter to Three Shootings
» Germany: Joachim Gauck Elected President
» Interest in ‘Halal’ Finance Growing in Italy
» Italy: Top Lombardy Official in Corruption Probe
» Italy: Trucker Strike Shuts Down Fiat Plants
» Italy: Fincantieri Shipyard Gets US Navy Contract
» Italy: Berlusconi Richest Man in Parliament, Income Records Show
» Rape Case Shames EU-Aspirant Ukraine
» Shooting Outside Jewish School in Toulouse, France; 5 Dead
» Swiss Hikers Die in Norway Avalanche
» UK: ‘Honour Code’ Supported by Young Asians, Poll Says
» UK: Conservative Councillors Branded ‘Perverse’ After Purley Islamic Centre Refused
» UK: Ken Livingstone: I Am Right — You Are All Wrong
» UK: Mosque Trust Doesn’t Want to Pay Traffic Bill
» UK: One-in-Five Young Muslims Supports ‘Honour’ Violence
» UPS Looks Set to Buy Dutch Rival TNT Express
» Viking Explorers Carried Fuzzy Stowaways, New Study Finds
» Viking Mice Marauders Swept Across Northern Europe
North Africa
» Algeria: AQIM Moves Base From Northern Mali
» Egypt: Obituary: His Holiness Shenouda III
» Libyan Police Too Scared to Arrest Cemetery Vandals Despite Capturing Three Who Desecrated Graves
Israel and the Palestinians
» OK, Treat Israel as a Democracy
Middle East
» Jordan: Tourism Loses $1 Billion After Arab Spring
» London 2012: Women or No Women? Dilemma for Saudi Arabia
» UAE: Italy Promoting Halal Food Certification
» UAE: Expat Dilemma: What Do You Do When the Mosque’s Too Loud?
» UAE: Europe Approves Camel’s Milk
South Asia
» India: Hindu Nationalists Attack Three Christian Communities
» India: Muslims in India Are Being Misled — Salman Rushdie
» Indonesia: Lady Gaga Fans Told to Return Tickets for ‘Un-Islamic’ Concert
» Italy Urges India to Ensure Hostage Safety
» Polls Open in Kerala: Outcome Crucial for Italian Marines
Far East
» Chinese Bloggers Are Gagged With Their Own Names
» Controversial Scientist Plans to Clone a Mammoth
Sub-Saharan Africa
» Nigeria: Warder Fires Shots Near Keffi Mosque
» Rwanda/Sierra Leone: Project Umubano is a Truly Remarkable Expression of the Conservative Party’s Core Values …
» A World of Refugees
» Another 295 Immigrants Rescued South of Lampedusa
» Norway’s Population Hits Five Million
» States (Countries) With Irish Migrants ‘Should Pay Tax’
Culture Wars
» John Sentamu’s Fall From Grace With Liberals Shows That You Criticise Gay Marriage at Your Peril
» Norway’s Businesswomen and the Boardroom Bias Debate
» UK: Is This the Most Anti-Christian Government in British History?
» UK: Sunday Trading is Just Another Attack on Christian Britain

Financial Crisis

Greece: Exceptional Situation, Solidarity Needed, Almunia

But Greeks to blame, not euro, EU competition chief

(ANSA) — ISTANBUL, MARCH 2 — Greece’s situation is an exception, mainly caused by the Greeks and not by the euro. Greece now will require Europe’s and Germany’s solidarity for a long time, which of course ask for guarantees. This statement was made by European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, on the sidelines of the Aspen Institute Italy conference in Istanbul. To the question whether Greece is left to itself and kept in a state that makes it possible to rescue Italy and Spain, or that Europe is really supporting the country, Almunia answered to the microphones of RAI that “Greece has its own kind of problems” and that its “situation cannot be compared with no other country in the eurozone,” not even those “that are receiving financial aid” like Ireland and Portugal. “I believe,” he continued from the Aspen Bosporus Dialogue, “that the Greek community is making a huge effort” and that “the government of Lucas Papademos, with the support of the two main parties, Pasok and New Democracy,” is launching “the reforms and instruments Greece needs. In any case, it will be a long process: reorganising the Greek manufacturing system, modernising the country’s public administration,” recover the tax yield and to make “products Greece will be able to export to the rest of the eurozone and other countries will take time.” During this time, Almunia said, Greece will require “solidarity: I believe that the agreements that have been reached in the past week show this solidarity.” Now “Greece and its authorities must accept their responsibilities” and “the countries that can and must continue to give their support to Greece should not listen to people speaking out” against this aid, the European Commissioner urged: “that would be a huge mistake” because “if Greece resolves its problems, everyone will benefit. It is in the interest of all Europeans.” Almunia, answering another question, denied that Europe is in some way responsible for the Greek situation: “the Greek government is mainly responsible,” he said, “because it has not done what it should have to take advantage of the opportunities created by the euro and to avoid the creation of imbalances in the Greek economy”, which has reached “an unsustainable debt level.” However, “the Greek society”, according to Almunia, “is also responsible” for the current situation: “the public authorities cannot solve the problems if society and business fail to contribute and collaborate.” Answering the question if the fact that Germany keeps asking Greece to make a bigger effort does not “create embarrassment” for Europe, Almunia said that “the sacrifices that are asked of Greece are asked by all members of the eurozone” and “in some cases by the entire European Union, not only Germany.” He admitted that Germany is still “the largest and most competitive economy with the most room to express solidarity through financial support. But it is logic,” he added, “that Germany “lays down conditions” to make sure that “its solidarity will produce results.” Thinking like “a German MP, a member of the German government or a German taxpayer, it is easy to understand that they want guarantees for their efforts,” Almunia concluded.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Greece: People Indifferent to Swap Success

Most Greeks indifferent about bond swap

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS — The Greek debt swap is a success and the Greek government, as well as several EU members, are pleased with the result. It allows the country to obtain the second 130 billion euro bailout package from its international lenders and to avoid a default. But most people in Greece are not interested in the whole affair, not even fully understanding terms like “PSI”, “swap” or “CAC”. Common people in Greece are in fact not at all affected by today’s triumphant announcement by Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, but continue to focus on the question how to make it to the end of the month. It is true, as many observers say, that the story of the treasury bond swap (PSI) has been going on for months and people have become accustomed to both the threats and the compliments made by the government. Most Greeks have given in to a type of impotent resignation, forming a “silent majority” which has never taken to the streets or has tired of doing so, realising that peaceful protests nor throwing Molotov cocktails and burning shops in the end have any effect. “Yes, I have heard about the bond swap but to be honest I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing for Greece,” admits retired nurse Elias Papadimitriou. “I must think about it. On the one hand I believe that all the money flowing to Greece is positive, but I think that it will not solve the problem of more than a million people without a job and of so many people who don’t even have enough to eat.” Pavlos Anastasiades, 37 years old, manager of an news-stand on the central Kolonnaki square agrees: “Even if Europe gives Greece another 130 billion euros, it won’t be of any use. Our corrupt politicians will take that money as well and our country will go bankrupt.” But where the normal people are indifferent or perhaps upset about the swap deal, the reactions of the politicians are naturally a different story.

“The agreement with private lenders has been closed with positive results, not only regarding the debt, but also regarding the future of the country and of our children,” said former Premier Giorgos Papandreou, leader of the socialist Pasok party for a few more days. “It is a provocation and a impudence from the side of Venizelos, Papademos and their friends to applaud this swap,” said Aleka Papariga, leader of the communist party (Kke), who added that “only the banks and creditors will gain from this. Thanks to this PSI, a new round of plundering of the Greek people will start in June.” According to Giannis Michelakis, spokesman of the centre-right Nea Dimocratia party (ND), “the positive development of the swap of bonds held by private parties shows why we support the government of Lucas Papadimos. Without our support, today’s result would not have been possible. Now we need measures to boost the economy, for which we need a new government with a strong backing from the population.” The leader of the Democratic Left party, Fotis Kouvelis, called the swap deal a “sigh of relief”, despite the fact that the fact that there are still issues that have “a negative impact, like the welfare funds and the small investments made by private investors.” The usually very sceptical Giorgos Karatzaferis, leader of the far-right Laos party, commented that “after what has happened, people in Greece must understand that we will not be able to ask money from the market for 10 or 20 years. We must understand that if Greece needs a loan, nobody will have any confidence in its treasury bonds. I really don’t understand the reason for so much enthusiasm,” he concluded.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Treasury ‘Paid Morgan Stanley $3.4 Billion’

Rome, 16 March (AKI/Bloomberg) — When Morgan Stanley said in January it had cut its “net exposure” to Italy by $3.4 billion, it didn’t tell investors that the nation paid that entire amount to the bank to exit a bet on interest rates.

Italy, the second-most indebted nation in the European Union, paid the money to unwind derivative contracts from the 1990s that had backfired, said a person with direct knowledge of the Treasury’s payment. It was cheaper for Italy to cancel the transactions rather than to renew, said the person, who declined to be identified because the terms were private.

The cost, equal to half the amount to be raised by Italy’s sales tax increase this year, underscores the risk derivatives countries use to reduce borrowing costs and guard against swings in interest rates and currencies can sour and generate losses for taxpayers. Italy, with record debt of $2.5 trillion, has lost more than $31 billion on its derivatives at current market values, according to data compiled by the Bloomberg Brief Risk newsletter from regulatory filings.

“These losses demonstrate the speculative nature of these deals and the supremacy of finance over government,” said Italian senator Elio Lannutti, chairman of the consumer group Adusbef.

Morgan Stanley said in a 19 January filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it “executed certain derivatives restructuring amendments which settled on 3, January 2012” and reduced its Italian exposure by $3.4 billion.

Mary Claire Delaney, a spokeswoman for the New York-based firm, declined to comment further. Officials at the Italian treasury in Rome declined to comment on the contracts.

Accounting Gain

Morgan Stanley had a gain of about $600 million in the fourth quarter related to the unwinding of contracts with Italy. That gain was a reversal of charges it took earlier in the year to reflect the risk that the country wouldn’t pay the full amount it owed, chief financial officer Ruth Porat said in a 19 January interview.

The $600 million gain accounted for about half the bank’s fixed-income trading revenue in the fourth-quarter, excluding a charge related to a settlement with MBIA Inc. and accounting gains tied to the firm’s own credit spreads.

As Italy’s borrowings rose beyond the 1-trillion-euro mark in the mid-1990s, the country started to use interest-rate swaps and swaptions, options to enter into a swap, to cut the cost of servicing that debt, a person with knowledge of Italy’s contracts said.

Swap Rates

Many bonds sold at the time had maturities of five or 10 years, some paying coupons of as much as 10 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Italy used swaps to spread its payments over 30 years or more, the person said.

The country also reduced its interest costs by issuing swaptions, using the income it received from selling the derivatives to pay debts.

As swap rates, which typically track German bond yields, plunged after 2008 and option volatilities increased, Italy found itself owing its banks money on the derivatives as its bets unraveled.

The five largest U.S. swap dealers — Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. — have a combined net derivative counterparty exposure to Italy of $19.5 billion, filings show. When added to figures for European banks released in the European Banking Authority’s round of stress tests last year, the total rises to as much as $31 billion.

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

Italy: Spread Ends on 278, Yield 4.84%

Down from 281 Friday

(ANSA) — Rome, March 19 — The spread between Italian and German 10-year bonds ended Monday on 278 points, down from 281 Friday.

The yield was 4.84%.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]


Apple to Use Cash for Stock Dividend and Buyback

Apple announced Monday that it would pay a stock dividend of $2.65 a share in the fourth quarter and its board authorized a $10 billion share buyback, two moves that will use up some of its cash hoard of nearly $100 billion to reward investors.

[Return to headlines]

DHS Terror Document Lists Yawning, Goose Bumps as Suspicious Behavior

Bodily functions are now potential indicators of terrorism

A document from the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness lists banal bodily activities such as yawning, staring and goose bumps as “suspicious activity” indicative of terrorism.

The document entitled Terrorism Awareness and Prevention, is presented as a guide for both “residents and workers of New Jersey,” along with employees of federal, state and local agencies, on how to “assist in combating terrorism” by identifying “unusual or suspicious activities and behaviors.”

The guide encourages participants to “look for signs of nervousness in the people you come in contact with.” “Signs will become particularly evident in a person’s eyes, face, next and body movements.”

The document then lists examples of suspicious behavior indicative of terrorism, which include, “Exaggerated yawning when engaged in conversation,” “glances,” “cold penetrating stare,” “rigid posture,” and “goose bumps”.

Of course, any of these behaviors could be explained by a million other circumstances and the likelihood that they are indications of terrorist activity is virtually zero.

However, as we have seen from recent literature put out by the DHS or related law enforcement bodies, the standard for being characterized as a potential terrorist is getting broader and broader all the time.

Last month it was reported on the FBI’s “Communities Against Terrorism” (CAT) program, which encourages store managers and staff of numerous different businesses to report examples of suspicious activity to the authorities.

           — Hat tip: McR [Return to headlines]

Frank Gaffney: Fund But Verify the Export-Import Bank

Ordinarily, a question of whether to reauthorize the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) and to increase its loan limit would be about asuncontroversial a proposition as one could find on Capitol Hill. Ex-Im provides an important counterpart tothe government-guaranteed loans our international competitors use to encourage their industries’ exports. And it actually makes money for the Treasury.

This year, though, some of my friends among the fiscal conservative and strict constitutionalist communities are urging that the Bank’s authorization be allowed to expire or, at least, that Ex-Im not be allowed to increase the amount of loans it can make with government guarantees. They argue that we should not be extending credit at a time when we are broke, we should not be picking winners and losers, and that these sorts of transactions amount to crony capitalism and favor big businesses…

           — Hat tip: CSP [Return to headlines]

Little Rock Airport to be Named After the Clintons

(AGI) Washington — The airport in Little Rock Arkansas will be named Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport. The former fellow citizens of the state’s most famous couple have decided to honor the former president and his wife, the current secretary of state .

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

The Quit and the Dead

By Mark Steyn

Pamela Geller was struck by that ad The New York Times ran the other day, “It’s Time To Quit The Catholic Church”, an “open letter to ‘liberal’ and ‘nominal’ Catholics”. So she sent in her own ad, “It’s Time To Quit Islam”, an “open letter to ‘moderate’ Muslims”. Analogous artwork, same pitch, only difference being the intended target. The Times’ Senior Vice-President for Corporate Hogwash called to tell Miss Geller that — surprise! surprise! — they were way less eager to rush this one into print:…

           — Hat tip: TV [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

“Italy Rife With Corruption, Wrongdoing and Malpractice” Says Court of Auditors

Vat evasion among highest in Europe at 36%. “Illegal practices much more extensive than appears on surface”

MILAN — Wrongdoing, corruption and malpractice are “still remarkably present in Italy and their presumable dimensions are far in excess of what, often laboriously, actually comes to light”. The rueful reflection came from the president of the Court of Auditors, Luigi Giampaolino, at the ceremony to inaugurate the judicial year.

VAT — But corruption and wrongdoing are not the only problems. Fiscal probity, for example, lost ground all over Europe with the recession, registering an improvement in 2009 that was less marked in Italy. But compliance has fallen across Europe and VAT evasion in the Bel Paese at 36% is among the highest in Europe. The Court of Auditors points out: “Detailed analysis of value added tax alone reveals a tax gap for Italy of more than 36%, by far the highest for any of the larger European countries with the exception of Spain, where the gap is in excess of 39%”…

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

Arms Exports: Made in Germany

In an annual report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Germany comes in third among global arms exporting nations. The report says most of the world’s arms exports go to Asian countries.

A study released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that Germany is the world’s third-highest exporter of weapons, coming in behind the United States and Russia. Germany’s arms exports represent 9 percent of the global total, while the US accounts for 30 percent and Russia for 24 percent.

According to SIPRI’s report, a large part of Germany’s arms exports are submarines and frigates, with Greece, South Korea, and South Africa representing the most important trade partners.

SIPRI says that for the period of 2007-2011, global volume of arms imports increased by 24 percent compared to 2002-2006. Asian countries are leading the way among weapons importing nations.

India is the leading individual country for the 2007-2011 period, accounting for 10 percent in weapons volume. It is followed by South Korea (6 percent) China and Pakistan (5 percent) and Singapore (4 percent).

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Concern Over Threats to Paris Synagogues

Police have opened an inquiry after two synagogues in Paris received a threatening letter, a source close to the probe said Monday, making no link to a shooting at a Jewish school that killed four. The letter, reading “You are the people of Satan, Hell is waiting for you,” was received at one of the synagogues during the weekend and the other on Monday morning, the source said.

Monday’s attack saw a scooter-riding gunman shoot dead three children and a 30-year-old religious studies teacher at the school in the southwestern city of Toulouse.

The gunman opened fire on a crowd as children arrived for class, then charged onto school grounds. A fifth victim, a 17-year-old boy, was left in a critical condition. The gunman escaped. Rights groups and the government denounced the attack as anti-Semitic.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

EU’s Catherine Ashton Compares Kids Murdered in France With Gaza

Catherine Ashton

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission

Speech at the high-level conference Engaging youth—Palestine Refugees in the changing Middle East

(at the end) :

We are gathered here because we have recognised the potential of the youth of Palestine. Against all the odds, they continue to learn, to work, to dream and aspire to a better future. And the days when we remember young people who have been killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances — the Belgian children having lost their lives in a terrible tragedy and when we think of what happened in Toulouse today, when we remember what happened in Norway a year ago, when we know what is happening in Syria, when we see what is happening in Gaza and in different parts of the world — we remember young people and children who lose their lives. Here are young people who are asking not to be leaders of the future, but to be taken seriously as leaders of today. And it is to them that we should look and to them we should listen and it is to them that I pay tribute.

           — Hat tip: J-PD [Return to headlines]

France: Women’s Match Called Off Over Headscarves

A referee on Sunday refused to officiate a women’s football match, when players for one of the teams took to the pitch wearing Muslim headscarves, the club involved said. The official sent a report to the Languedoc-Roussillon league in the south of the country about the incident involving players from Petit-Bard Montpellier, who had been due to play Narbonne in the regional promotion tie.

The league must now decide whether to order the match to be replayed or to award a win to Narbonne. The two teams played a friendly match instead, with Narbonne winning 7-6. Football’s world governing body FIFA banned players from wearing the Islamic headscarf in 2007, claiming it is unsafe.

But football federations and even the United Nations have urged FIFA to lift the ban, maintaining that concerns about safety are baseless and that it discriminates against Muslim players, particularly when no such restrictions apply in other sports.

Iran’s women’s team last year forfeited a 2012 Olympic qualifier because players wouldn’t play without wearing hijabs.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

France’s Hollande Secures German SPD Endorsement on Europe

(AGI) Paris — Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande shores up his position in Europe. Having received the outspoken support of Spanish socialist leader, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, Slovakia’s premier-appointed Robert Fico, Hollande’s latest endorsement came from the German SPD’s Sigmar Gabriel.

Interviewed by French daily Le Monde, Gabriel characterised the socialist leader’s recipe for Europe as the right approach.

“[Hollande] is saying the right things, namely that the Pact is just half of the solution for Europe,” Gabriel said. Outside of the Merkel government coalition, the German SPD is making its support for the EU ‘Pact’ conditional to Berlin’s successful canvassing for taxation on financial transactions.

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

France: Butchers Have a Beef With French Politics

The French butcher who cuts and tresses your meat with care, and serves as city dwellers’ link to the land, is falling on hard times, unable to find new blood to keep his iconic image alive — as supermarkets and Arab butchers selling halal meat at cheaper prices thrive. The changes in this age-old industry reflect profound economic and societal shifts gnawing at France’s core, and have catapulted the butcher shop into the debate before presidential elections in April and May. President Nicolas Sarkozy has lamented the decline of the traditional French butcher and now wants all meat clearly marked — halal, kosher or French — while Prime Minister Francois Fillon has suggested the ritual slaughter of animals by Muslims and Jews is out of sync with modern times. The conservative leaders awoke to the topic after extreme-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen contended that Muslims have a stranglehold on butcher shops — and on the French way of life. With polls suggesting Sarkozy will lose to Socialist rival Francois Hollande, the president is racing after third-place Le Pen’s voters to bolster his chances at a second term.

Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire released data making clear that Le Pen was wrong when she said last month that all meat sold in the Paris region is halal. However, halal butcher shops run by Muslims have long been on the rise in the country with Western Europe’s largest Muslim population — while traditional butcher shops are in decline. So worrisome is that downturn that one such butcher, who specialises in top quality meats, poses nude for calendars to make the profession more sexy to the young. For his 2012 calendar, Yves-Marie Le Bourdennec is seen sitting on a stool, his back drawn with cuts like a cow — with a saucy but stern school marm wielding a pointer at his side. In a civilisational contrast, Muslim butchers, most with origins in former French colonies in North Africa, may play recordings of the Quran on Friday, Islam’s holy day — when they remain open — or display a Hadith, a saying of the prophet, pinned to a shop wall.


           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

France: Four Killed at French Jewish School Shooting

At least two children from a Jewish school in Toulouse, south-west France, were killed this morning after a man on a scooter opened fire. Parents were dropping their children off at the Ozar Hatorah school when the man rode up on the scooter and began shooting. One adult and three children were reported to have been killed while several more people were injured. Reports claimed the adult was a rabbi. The daughter of the school’s director is also alleged to be among the injured. Early reports are linking the shooting with an attack last week on three soldiers, two of whom were shot dead as they used a cashpoint in a town nearly 30 miles away from Toulouse. Sources at the school said the man was wearing a black helmet and rode away immediately after opening fire. Around 25,000 Jews live in Toulouse. The school, which has 200 pupils, describes itself as “religious” but modern, with its aim being to “form the French citizens of tomorrow, in harmony with their Judaism.” It states: “The Jewish school, because of its diversity, is needed more than ever before, in the heart of the city. Since the beginning of our people’s history, we have been bearers of a rich culture, and its universal influence has been shown throughout our history. We must continue this today.” Ozar Hatorah has a senior school and a kollel, a torah learning institute for married men.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

France: Four Dead as Gunman on a Motorbike Opens Fire at Jewish School in France

A man on a motorbike has opened fire outside a Jewish school in France, killing a father and his two sons and at least one other child, a Toulouse prosecutor has said.

Prosecutor Michel Valet said the teacher, aged 30, was shot dead along with his sons aged just three and six. He said another child aged between eight and 10 years old was also killed, while a 17-year-old was seriously injured. Mr Valet described a chilling scene in which the gunman “shot at everything”. One parent described the incident as “a vision of horror”. The shooting comes just days after two other incidents in which soldiers were gunned down by a man on a motorbike in the same region. Police stated there a similar calbre of gun was used in all three shootings, AFP reported, while Interior Minister Claude Gueant said on Monday there are “similarities” between the attacks. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who called Monday’s shooting “abominable” and “frightening”, quickly cautioned that it was too early to draw links between the attacks. “There are some similarities but it’s much too early to say if there is a real link or not. Only the police and the judiciary will tell us what conclusions to draw,” Mr Sarkozy told French radio.

Monday’s attack occurred as students were arriving for morning classes at the Ozar Hatorah school. The gunman opened fire at the spot were parents were dropping their children off. The city is now said to be in lockdown as police hunt the gunman. Some two hours after the attack, the children were still in the school. It was not clear if their parents were with them. Mr Gueant has ordered security to be tightened around all French Jewish schools after the attack. Mr Sarkozy said he is travelling immediately to the school, along with his education minister and the head of the CRIF, the umbrella representative group of Jewish organisations in France. François Hollande, Mr Sarkozy’s presidential rival, has also said he is on his way to the school. Mr Sarkozy called the shootings an “abominable drama and a “frightening tragedy”. Patrick Rouimi, the father of a child at the school, told AFP that a man opened fire on a group of people standing at a spot where children were picked up for the school. “I saw two people dead in front of the school, an adult and a child … Inside, it was a vision of horror, the bodies of two small children,” a distraught father whose child attends the school told RTL radio. “I did not find my son, apparently he fled when he saw what happened. How can they attack something as sacred as a school, attack children only sixty centimetres tall?”

The shooting occurred at about 8.10am, just ahead of the start of classes in most French schools. The gunman initially used a 9-mm weapon but it jammed, so he switched to a .45-calibre weapon as he went into the Toulouse school, police said. The gunman, wearing a helmet, fled the scene on a black scooter, witnesses told BFM. A correspondent for the news channel said people in the area were in “immense shock”. Freelance journliast Christopher Bockman told the BBC that Toulouse was in lockdown as police hunted the gunman. The Israeli foreign ministry has stated it is “horrified” at the news of the attack. “We are horrified by this attack and we trust the French authorities to shed full light on this tragedy and bring the perpetrators of these murders to justice,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP. France’s Grand Rabbi Gilles Bernheim has also expressed shock at the attack. “I am horrifed by what happened this morning in Toulouse in front of the Jewish school,” he told AFP, adding that he would leave immediately for the southwestern French city.

France has Europe’s largest Jewish community, estimated at up to 700,000 people. The head of the Jewish students union of France (UEJF), Jonathan Hayoun, called on the authorities “to reinforce security at Jewish schools and synagogues.” He also said in a statement that “anti-Semitic and racist speech has created a climate of insecurity for Jews in France”. Police in the area launched a major manhunt last week after the killing of three paratroopers and the wounding of another in two separate, but connected incidents. The perpetrator of both attacks fled on a motorbike. “One can’t fail to notice the similarities between the attacks on our troops in Toulouse and in Montauban and then this horrible attack on children this morning,” Mr Gueant said on Monday.

However a police official warned Monday that it was too early to draw solid links between the attacks “We’re in a heated atmosphere. It’s premature for this or that hypothesis to try to establish a direct link,” Didier Martinez, regional secretary of the SGP Police union, said on BFM-TV. Witnesses described how the killer had time to turn over one of the wounded men who was trying to crawl away and fire three more shots into him before getting back on his scooter and making his escape. Between 50 and 60 police officers, including anti-terrorist specialists, have been drafted in to the investigation. Senior military officials have ordered troops based in the region not to wear their uniforms outside barracks. Mr Bockman told the BBC that the soldiers who were targeted were of ethnic origin. He said it appeared the gunman was deliberately targeting ethnic minorities in the area.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

France: Govt Steps Up Surveillance at Jewish Schools

After shooting in Toulouse

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MARCH 19 — The French Interior Minister has today ordered “increased surveillance” in front of the country’s Jewish schools following an attack on one of the latter in Toulouse. Interior Minister Claude Guéant interrupted a visit in Mulhouse (in eastern France) and is expected to arrive in Toulouse (south-west) today.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

France: Man Opens Fire at Toulouse’s Jewish School, 4 Dead

Three children and a professor, the killer chased the victims

(ANSAmed) — PARIS — It only took a second at around 8am, at the Toulouse’s Jewish school in south-western France. A killer wearing a helmet and riding a black scooter opened fire on children at the daily gathering point. A 30 year old teacher (and rabbi) was killed, along with his two kids, aged 6 and 3, and another child aged 10. Two other children were also injured and have been taken to the hospital. According to the Prosecutor, the killer “opened fire on anything he saw” and then “he chased some children in the school”.

As was widely suspected from the very beginning, the killer was almost certain the same as the one who last week — also on a scooter — carried out two ambushes against soldiers in Toulouse and the nearby Montauban, killing three and injuring one. As was the case in the previous incidents, the man reportedly used two weapons: a 11.43-calibre pistol and a 9-calibre one. Investigators say that the second was used after the first jammed. President Nicolas Sarkozy called off all election campaign appointments to rush to the town, as did Interior Minister Claude Gueant and representatives of France’s Jewish institutions, starting from Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim. Orders were given to immediately step up security measures in front of the country’s Israelite schools. “Today is a national day of tragedy. This crime does not only concern the Jewish community. The entire national community is shaken,” said Sarkozy. The head of state announced that a minute of silence will be observed tomorrow in all schools in memory of the young victims of the attack.

“Children were killed in cold blood. They are not only your children, but also ours. Children cannot be killed in this way in the land of the Republic without being held accountable,” added Sarkozy, who stated that “everything possible will be done to arrest” the individual responsible for this crime.

The number of those dead and injured may still rise. The children, parents and teachers of the small private Jewish institute (for middle and high school students) in the Roseraie area are under shock. Searches being carried out over the past few days in the area following the soldiers’ shooting in Tolouse and Montauban have been transformed into a true manhunt. Some clues seem to be available: the first is a clear scar on the killer’s face, either a scar or a tattoo. However, his aims and reasons for carrying out these attacks are not yet known, but the man is clearly extraordinarily cold-blooded and knows the places where he carried out the attacks very well. In the attack on the soldiers, it seems that he had exchanged emails with one of them.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

France: Toulouse: Sarkozy Declares Incident National Tragedy

Minute of silence tomorrow in all schools

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MARCH 19 — “Today is a national day of tragedy. This crime does not only concern the Jewish community. The entire national community is shaken,” said French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, in Toulouse. The head of state announced that a minute of silence will be observed tomorrow in all schools in memory of the young victims of the attack.

“Children were killed in cold blood. They are not only your children, but also ours. Children cannot be killed in this way in the land of the Republic without being held accountable,” added Sarkozy, who stated that “everything possible will be done to arrest” the individual responsible for this crime.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

France: Police Link Scooter to Three Shootings

The same stolen scooter was used in three deadly shooting incidents in eight days in France, a police source said Monday after three children and a teacher were killed at a Jewish school. Police have also said the same gun was used in the attacks, drawing a clear link between the school shootings and the murder of three soldiers that have shocked France.

The shooting, which was immediately branded as an anti-Semitic attack, plunged the nation into shock. President Nicolas Sarkozy declared the murders a “national tragedy” as anti-terror police probed the third fatal shooting involving a gunmen wielding what police said was the same pistol in the Toulouse area in recent days.

France stepped up security at Jewish and Muslim schools following the assault on the Ozar Hatorah school, which local parents, rights groups and the government denounced as an anti-Semitic atrocity.

Two boys aged three and six and their father, a 30-year-old religious studies teacher who witnesses said tried to protect them, were gunned down, along with the 10-year-old daughter of the director of the school.

The gunman opened fire on a crowd as children and teachers arrived for class in the morning, then charged on to school grounds. A fifth victim, a 17-year-old boy, was left in a critical condition. The killer escaped on what witnesses said was a powerful scooter.

Last week, three French paratroopers — all of North African descent — were killed in two similar incidents in the same region, also involving a scooter-rider wielding the same powerful .45 calibre handgun.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Germany: Joachim Gauck Elected President

A Beautiful Sunday for Germany

Joachim Gauck is Germany’s new president after being elected on Sunday. The expectations for him are already unbelievably high, but he has a good chance of being a great head of state. He has experienced much of Germany’s turbulent postwar history firsthand, and as a former East German pastor, he knows the value of freedom.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Interest in ‘Halal’ Finance Growing in Italy

Milan conference, Deloitte viewing products respecting Sharia

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, MARCH 19 — Islamic finance has existed in Europe for more than forty years, with the United Kingdom one of the world’s leading countries in the field, and others, such as Malta and Luxembourg, also at the forefront. In Italy, where the sector is more or less non-existent, results of the first experiments are now beginning to be seen.

In 2009, for instance, Deloitte set up a sector dedicated to Islamic finance. “At the moment, we are developing products compatible with Italian regulations,” says Alberto Liotta, a director at the consultancy firm, a guest at a conference organised by Islamic Relief Italia. “Attention is mainly focussed on conventional financing instruments, such as leasing, the concept of which can be brought closer to those of Islamic finance”.

“In the West, there is strong financing demand based on religious principles as a result of the growth of the Muslim middle-class, due to interest in “halal” products by ethical finance and because there is a serious amount of money to be made,” says Alberto Brugnoni, a director at Assaif, another consultancy firm. “Major investment funds are also focussing on this not so much for interests as to diversify their portfolio”.

Yet although the issue has been discussed for a few years now, the time appears not yet right for the birth of a retail Islamic bank in Italy following the model of the Islamic Bank of Britain. “In truth, it would be possible to create it in Italy because the regulations here are harmonised with the rest of Europe,” says Valentino Cattelan, a sector expert and professor at Rome’s Tor Vergata University. “From an investor’s point of view, the problem is that it would not yet be very profitable business because of tax problems and because there is not yet a market considered to be useful”.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Italy: Top Lombardy Official in Corruption Probe

Construction payoffs alleged

(ANSA) — Milan, March 6 — The Lombardy regional council president from the Northern League political party, Davide Boni, is under investigation for corruption and bribery, police said on Tuesday.

Investigations are part of a previous probe into payoffs by the former mayor of Cassano D’Adda near Milan, who was arrested as a result.

Two other elected officials for the Region of Lombardy are also being questioned in the same investigation into zoning and building permit irregularities.

Depositions by a local architect regarding building corruption were the basis for investigations. Boni said on Tuesday that he was “unaware” of any wrongdoing and was “available for any clarifications” needed to assist investigators.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Trucker Strike Shuts Down Fiat Plants

Automaker losing market share due to inability to deliver

(ANSA) — Rome, March 16 — Fiat on Friday was forced to shut down three of its five plants in Italy due to a truckers’ strike that has blocked the arrival of materials and parts as well as the delivery of finished cars to dealerships.

A statement from Fiat said the strike was “de facto paralyzing automotive logistics, especially in central-southern Italy” and added that the labor action had already resulted in delaying production by some 20,000 vehicles and that it would be “very difficult to recover this during the year”.

The strike by truckers is against the pay and condition changes Fiat wants to impose in order to make producing vehicles feasible at the company’s Italian plants.

Friday’s closings involved Fiat’s Pomigliano, Cassino and Sevel plants, while the Mirafiori and Melfi factories were already closed in order to allow them to be revamped to produce new models, including those of Fiat’s partner Chrysler, which includes the Jeep marque.

Fiat has blamed previous strikes for its drop in sales and market share in Europe last month and said a further 10% drop was expected for March.

Sales of Fiat group cars in Europe plummeted 16.5 % over February 2011, which was close to double the overall fall in new car sales on the continent. This resulted in Fiat’s share of the European market shrinking to 7.2% from 7.8% in January.

However, this was still better than its 6.9% share in February of last year.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne and Chairman John Elkann were set to meet on Friday with Italian Premier Mario Monti and other government officials to brief them on Fiat’s plans for Italy. Speaking earlier this week the CEO said it was his intention to “reiterate what I have already said. We intend to continue with our investments according to plan. There is nothing new to add. We have confirmed our commitments and investments are moving forward”.

There is great concern in Italy, especially among unions, that Fiat may renege on its 20-billion-euro investment plan for the country and may even shut down its Pomigliano plant near Naples and historic Mirafiori factory in Turin.

These concerns were sparked by statements from Marchionne himself that Fiat, especially once it merges with Chrysler, could not continue to operate plants in Italy at a loss. He later said there were no closure plans and many observers saw the polemic as a ploy to muscle unions into agreeing to greater labor flexibility.

Marchionne also said he would not ask Monti for any state help or favors, including a reintroduction of the ‘cash-for-clunkers’ incentives offered in recent years that produced short-term results but failed to resolve the sector’s structural problems, including over-production capacity.

In a interview published last month by the Corriere della Sera daily, Marchionne said Fiat may be forced to shut two of its five plants in Italy if it cannot use them to produce cars to export to the American market at a competitive cost but added that Fiat had an opportunity to use its plants in Italy to meet the growing demand in the United States for the vehicles of its partner Chrysler.

Marchionne said that in order to make exports to the US feasible production costs in Italy needed to become more competitive and this meant ensuring that plants in Italy can be utilized “in full and flexible capacity”.

“(If this is not possible) we will have to withdraw from two of our five operating plants,” he said. The Fiat CEO as repeatedly said that Europe has an over capasity for automobile production and needed to reduce this by some 20%. In regard to labor relations, Marchionne said that some union leaders in Italy were more interested in politics and “talk too much in the media about Fiat and Marchionne and talk too little with us”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Fincantieri Shipyard Gets US Navy Contract

Two new-generation LCS ships budgeted

(ANSA) — Trieste, March 19 — Italian shipbuilding giant Fincantieri is playing a leading role in the building of two new-generation Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) that the United States Navy has ordered with a budget of $715 million.

The contract for the ships was awarded to a consortium headed by US defense colossus Lockheed Martin and is part of an over-$20-billion-program to acquire 55 LCSs by 2020.

The two ships, to be named USS Little Rock and USS Sioux City, are being built at Fincantieri’s Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin, which produced the first LCS prototype in 2008, the USS Freedom, the year before the state-owned Fincantieri acquired the American shipyard.

A third ship, the Fort Worth, is in an advanced stage of construction and should be ready for delivery in June. A fourth ship, the Freedom, has already been delivered.

The Lockheed-Fincantieri consortium will not build all 55 vessels, however, because Congress has decided to split the program between it and Austral USA, the American arm of the Australian shipbuilder.

The Little Rock and Sioux City will be followed by sister ships USS Milwaukee and USS Detroit. The former is currently in the early stage of production while the latter is in pre-production.

“Our program has benefited from the experience gained in building the Freedom, taking into account the requests made by the client, the rationalization of the productive process, investments already carried out and those planned to speed up production and boost efficiency, including doubling the production area with two new dry docks,” Fincantieri said in a statement.

Fincantieri CEO Giuseppe Bono said this latest commission from the US Navy “is very important and follows a recent $90-million order from the US Coast Guard. This is important not only because it guarantees continuity and value to our activities in America and the work done by the group’s Italian companies, that operates in the sector of naval components and systems, but because it is an indication of a recovery for the whole market, including the civil sector”.

The contract awarded by the US Coast Guard calls for Fincantieri to build 40 boats for delivery in the second quarter of 2013. Marinette Marine is the prime contractor and will build 50% of the boats at its ACE Marine facility in Green Bay, Wisconsin, while the remaining 50% will be completed by partner Kvichak Marine Industries of Seattle, at its shipyard in Kent, Washington.

The 40 ships are part of the 250 Response Boats — Medium (RB-Ms) that the Coast Guard plans to buy to modernize its fleet, of which 166 are now under construction.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Richest Man in Parliament, Income Records Show

Monti wealthiest life Senator

(ANSA) — Rome, March 19 — Income records released Monday showed that former premier Silvio Berlusconi was the richest man in parliament with over 48 million euros earned in 2011, eight million more than the previous year. Italian Premier Mario Monti made 1.5 million euros in 2011, making him the wealthiest Senator for life, a position he accepted in the run-up to taking the helm of a government of technocrats after Berlusconi resigned in November in the heat of the euro crisis. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, former Italian president and ex-governor of the Bank of Italy, was the second-highest-earning Senator for life with 691,832 euros. Senate Speaker Renato Schifani earned 223,939 euros, slightly more than House Speaker Gianfranco Fini who made 201,115 euros in 2011.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Rape Case Shames EU-Aspirant Ukraine

Last week she was raped, choked, thrown into a pit on a construction site and set on fire. In order to save her life, doctors have amputated her feet and her right arm. She has also lost her kidneys and 55 percent of her skin.

The case of Oksana Makar, an 18-year-old girl from Mykolayiv, on the Black Sea coast, has caused a furore in Ukraine. Her family has set up a website for donations to help them seek justice and pay medical costs.

But the horror of the assault has taken back stage to the fact police let two of the suspects walk free, in all likelihood because their parents had good connections with local authorities.

President Viktor Yanukovych and Ukraine’s general prosecutor Viktor Pshonka have now taken charge of the case and all three suspects are in custody.

But their reaction to events, which saw street protests and an eruption of anger on social media, masks a grave problem in Ukrainian society and politics — contempt for the law by people in authority.

“If you are the son or the nephew of someone with power, you can basically go around acting with total impunity. Nepotism and lack of respect for the rule of law is rife in Ukraine. If you look at Yanukovych’s son (Oleksander) — he has become one of the 100 richest men in the country since his father came to power. This kind of thing doesn’t happen in a normal country. This really is the borderland of Europe,” a Kiev-based EU diplomat told this website.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Shooting Outside Jewish School in Toulouse, France; 5 Dead

This incident comes days after three soldiers were shot dead by a man on a scooter in the same region of France.

A 30-year-old paratrooper was shot dead in a residential area of Toulouse just over a week ago, while two soldiers were killed and a third wounded as they used a cashpoint in the town of Montauban, some 29 miles away, on Thursday.

All the soldiers appear to have been ethnic minorities.

           — Hat tip: KGS [Return to headlines]

Swiss Hikers Die in Norway Avalanche

Five people died after an avalanche hit an expedition of Swiss nationals led by a French guide on a mountain in northern Norway on Monday, Norwegian authorities said. A sixth member of the group was dug out of the snow alive and was being treated in hospital, police said.

“It’s a man. His injuries are moderate and his condition is stable,” a hospital spokesman, Jan Fredrik Frantzen, told AFP. The nationalities of the five victims were not immediately clear.

Around 30 rescue workers, assisted by dogs and several helicopters, were searching for the missing expedition member, while F-16 fighter jets had also been deployed to help with observations of the site.

According to police, the avalanche occurred early on Monday afternoon at an altitude of about 1,000 metres on the Sorbmegaisa mountain in the Kåfjord municipality, and swept away half of a 12-member expedition in the area who were probably travelling on skis.

The expedition had split into two six-person groups each made up of five Swiss nationals and one French guide. Police said all of the 12 had been wearing radio transmitters, which helped the search.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

UK: ‘Honour Code’ Supported by Young Asians, Poll Says

Two-thirds of young British Asians agree that families should live according to the concept of “honour”, a poll for BBC Panorama suggests.

Of 500 young Asians questioned, 18% also felt that certain behaviour by women that could affect her family’s honour justified physical punishment.

These included disobeying their father, and wanting to leave an exisiting or prearranged marriage.

The results come as women’s groups call for action to stop “honour” crimes.

The poll, conducted for the BBC by ComRes, interviewed young Asians living in Britain between the ages of 16 and 34.

Asked if they agreed that families should live according to “honour”, 69% agreed, a figure that rose to 75% among young men, compared with 63% of young women.

           — Hat tip: Nick [Return to headlines]

UK: Conservative Councillors Branded ‘Perverse’ After Purley Islamic Centre Refused

TORY councillors have been branded “perverse” after rejecting plans for an Islamic Centre in Purley. The six voted against the proposal despite planning officers recommending the development be approved. And questions have also been raised as to why committee chairman councillor David Osland allowed “Mosquebuster” Gavin Boby to address the chamber, despite knowing of his links to the far-right English Defence League. Councillors further clashed at the meeting — policed by around eight Met officers — which ended in plans for an Islamic place of worship coupled with multi-faith community facilities defeated by an all-Conservative six votes to an all-Labour five. Mr Osland told the Advertiser it was not unusual for planning decisions to be split along party lines and that all Tory members defeated the plans based on parking and planning issues. He said Conservative councillors agreed the road leading to the proposed site was too “hazardous”.

However, figures released to the Advertiser by the London Ambulance Service show there have been no accidents in Russell Hill Place during the last year. When asked why he allowed Mr Boby — who the Advertiser last month revealed helped compose 600 opposition leaflets circulated around Purley by New Addington EDL member Frank Day — to speak, Mr Osland added: “Yes we did know about his background. “I didn’t ask him to speak. He went through the proper channels and was allowed to speak. I suspected he might try to get up to some nonsense and I brought it to an end. He is a horrible man and represents a horrible view of society.” He confirmed he has powers to prevent people from speaking.

Mr Boby, whom the Advertiser understands does not live in the borough, told the meeting the centre should be refused on traffic and parking grounds, before saying: “Islamic doctrine is unfortunately…”, at which point councillor Osland cut him off, saying: “I won’t hear anything about religion. I only listen to planning matters.” Mr Boby retorted: “You are bound by law…”, before Mr Osland interjected again, saying: “I’m not going to have any of that here.” However, Mr Boby had been given a three-minute slot prior to last Thursday’s committee meeting to share alongside Coulsdon resident Deborah Baggott, who also spoke against the application in Russell Hill Place, Purley. Usman Sadiq and Monir Mohammed, of the Purley Islamic Community Centre (PICC) group, were then given three minutes to argue for the centre. The committee heard 431 people responded to the planning application. Only 247 of these were from Purley and Kenley. A total of 213 were in favour while 218 opposed it.

Purley councillor Donald Speakman also spoke out against the application saying he opposed the “location” of it rather than the “principle”. But during an intense verbal exchange Labour councillor Bernadette Khan said: “I think when communities come together to show support it can only be a good thing for a borough.” Labour councillor Paul Scott added: “If the car park is so dangerous the council should have closed it long ago.” Following Tory councillors’ rejection of the plans he branded their decision “perverse”. Labour councillor Wayne Lawlor said: “It does smack of Islamophobia. Not that I would accuse them of that, but it sends out the wrong message to the Islamic Community. The Tories’ objections didn’t stack up.”

Tears could be seen on the faces of the local Muslim community, who attended in their droves and sat side-by-side with BNP members, as they left the town hall meeting. Following the meeting, Mr Sadiq said: “We are keen to carry on our project. There is a lot of momentum and community support for the project and this is just a setback.” Regarding Mr Boby’s permission to address the committee, he added: “I think we have to respect the views of the chair and if the chair accepts he was allowed to speak and has links with the EDL we respect the chair’s decision.”

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

UK: Ken Livingstone: I Am Right — You Are All Wrong

Ken Livingstone, Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London, held a secret meeting earlier this month with Jewish Labour supporters, the JC can reveal. But although the meeting was designed to build bridges, sources present at the dinner described the event as “frustrating” and “disappointing,” with Mr Livingstone refusing to give any ground on issues that have caused deep concern within the Jewish community. The former mayor, who is neck and neck in the polls with incumbent Boris Johnson, stood his ground on his decision as mayor in 2004 to embrace the Islamist cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who has condoned suicide bombing against Israeli targets. Mr Livingstone said he would be proved right on this issue, just as he had been proved right in the past on gay rights and talking to Sinn Fein. Challenged on his decision to take money from the Iranian state broadcaster Press TV, Mr Livingstone said it was important for him to get his views across to the Iranian people. He said his role at Press TV was equivalent to the one he once held as a columnist at the Sun.

The dinner was held on 1st March at the London Jewish Cultural Centre with around 25 people present, including Labour councillors and Rabbi Abraham Pinter from Stamford Hill.

Because of the sensitivity of the relationship between Mr Livingstone and the Jewish community, the talks were confidential and off the record. Guests were chosen to represent a wide range of Labour-supporters and Jewish groups and were not the “usual suspects” from the community leadership. Mr Livingstone was keen to emphasise that although he has been a consistent critic of Israel, he has always turned down invitations to visit authoritarian regimes across the Middle East. He recognised that Israel was a democracy, said he did not want to push Israel into the sea and repudiated any suggestion that his criticism of Israel was motivated by antisemitism. Although his preference was for a one-state solution, he said he was pragmatic enough to recognise that a two-state solution might be a more realistic outcome. The former mayor told guests he had employed an Orthodox Jewish nanny.


[JP note: Blame the nanny.]

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

UK: Mosque Trust Doesn’t Want to Pay Traffic Bill

MUSLIMS raising £2.9 million for a new mosque are objecting to paying £35,000 to ease parking and traffic problems. The Noor Gilani Mosque Trust won planning permission for a new place of worship in Chaplin Road, Normacot, to replace the existing mosque, last year.

But Stoke-on-Trent City Council asked that the trust pay £15,000 towards a parking scheme and £20,000 towards traffic calming measures through a section 106 agreement, due to the scheme’s potential impact on highway safety. The trust claims this amount would be a “substantial burden” and has now asked for the financial contribution to be waived. Asif Mahmood, pictured, who has been secretary at the Mosque Trust for seven years and lives in Lightwood Road, said: “We are a charitable organisation and we have to arrange these funds ourselves, through charity events and our members. It’s self-raised money and we don’t have any funding from any other organisations. The council have been very fair to us but we are expecting to have this money waived.”

Council planning officers have recommended the parking scheme contribution be deleted because most worshippers live within walking distance. Plans for the mosque also include 39 new off-street parking spaces. The officers’ report states: “It is difficult to understand how on-street parking controls facilitated by this contribution would address the issues at hand when many of the worshipers would themselves be the potential beneficiaries of a permit scheme that would be implemented to control on-street parking. This supposition is reinforced by the fact that only three objections were received to the application of which only two expressed concerns on highway safety and parking grounds.”

However, the officers say the £20,000 contribution towards traffic calming measures is still required. As the mosque and its car park lie on opposite sides of Chaplin Road, there will be the potential for highway safety issues to arise once the building is in use. The proposed mosque will be three storeys high and built in a traditional Islamic style. The trust has so far raised £691,000 for the project. Bagh Ali, city councillor for Lightwood North and Normacot, said: “I don’t think the section 106 agreement was necessary. £35,000 is a lot of money, considering the mosque is being funded by the community. There won’t be parking problems. There are now mosques in Cobridge, in Tunstall and in Shelton. So this specific mosque will be used by the community in Longton. People will just be coming from the local area.”

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

UK: One-in-Five Young Muslims Supports ‘Honour’ Violence

MANY young British Muslims believe violence should be meted out to women who “dishonour” their families, it is claimed today. More than two thirds (69 per cent) of Asians aged 16 to 34 say communities should live according to “honour” or “izzat”. Nearly one in five — 18 per cent — said certain acts thought to shame families were justification for violence. The possible reasons included disobeying a father, marrying someone unacceptable or wanting to end a marriage. Honour-related violence can include acid attacks, abduction, mutilations, beatings, and death. But 94 per cent of those questioned said there was “never a justification” for murder. The issue of honour killings is investigated on BBC1’s Panorama tonight at 8.30pm. A study of police data by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation recorded over 2,800 honour crimes a year. Nazir Afzal, lead prosecutor on the crimes for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “We don’t know the true figure of honour killings. It’s anything between 10 and 12 a year in this country.”

Jasvinder Sanghera, of the charity Karma Nirvana, set up a helpline for women at risk. It receives around 500 calls a month but she says this is the tip of the iceberg. Of 500 Asians interviewed for the Panorama poll, 75 per cent of young men and 63 per cent of young women said families should live according to “honour”. One victim of an honour killing in Britain was Iraqi Kurd Banaz Mahmod, 20, of Mitcham, south London in 2006. For weeks she told police her family were trying to kill her. But her pleas went unheeded and she was strangled on the orders of her father and her uncle. A court heard the pair believed she had brought shame on her family by leaving her violent husband and starting a new relationship with an “unsuitable” man. The victim’s father, Mahmod Mahmod, and uncle, Ari Mahmod, were jailed for life in 2007. Cousins Mohammed Saleh Ali and Omar Hussain were jailed in 2010 for a minimum of 22 and 21 years respectively for the killing. A Home Office spokesman said: “We are determined to end honour violence.”

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

UPS Looks Set to Buy Dutch Rival TNT Express

The world’s biggest package-shipping group, United Parcel Service (UPS), is one decisive step closer to buying TNT Express from the Netherlands. Both sides reached a transaction deal on Monday.

US-based United Parcel Service (UPS) reached a deal with TNT Express to buy its Dutch rival for 5.6 billion euros ($6.77 billion), the companies announced in a joint statement on Monday.

The takeover will result in a dominant package-shipping operation in Europe with a potential to threaten the supremacy of the current leader in the sector, DHL Express of Germany.

“The transaction will recreate a global leader in the logistics industry with more than 45 billion euros in annual revenues and an enhanced, integrated global network,” UPS and TNT Express said in a statement.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Viking Explorers Carried Fuzzy Stowaways, New Study Finds

Between the eighth and 10th centuries, Vikings were exploring and spreading into Greenland, Iceland and Newfoundland. Now, a new study finds that these notoriously fierce people brought with them some fluffy stowaways: house mice.

Vikings appear to have brought the house mice with them when they arrived in Iceland and Greenland, according to a genetic analysis of the tiny rodents. The descendents of these Viking mice can still be found today in Iceland, though the Greenland mice died out and were replaced by their Danish cousins.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Viking Mice Marauders Swept Across Northern Europe

They didn’t rape and pillage or wear horned helmets, but Norwegian mice accidentally stowing away on Viking ships swept through almost as many countries as the fearsome humans whose ships they boarded.

That’s the conclusion from an analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from modern house mice (Mus musculus domesticus) living on Iceland and Greenland, which was compared with mtDNA extracted from mouse skeletons on the islands dating to the Viking heyday, 1000 to 1200 years ago. The sequences were also compared with mtDNA sequences from Viking mice in Norway and the UK.

“We show they got as far as Greenland,” says Eleanor Jones of Uppsala University in Sweden, who led the team.

On Iceland, the Viking mice are still thriving. The mtDNA extracted from Viking mice skeletons there was easy to trace in today’s Icelandic mice, mainly because the relative isolation of the country means that there have been few subsequent mouse invasions. “It’s exactly the same mitochondrial DNA, reaching right through from the ninth century to the present day,” she says.

It is unlikely that Viking mice made it as far west as Newfoundland, because only around 20 Vikings ever reached the island — and they probably stayed for only a year. However, Jones’ team lacked ancient mice from the island to test this.

In earlier research, Jones demonstrated how the Norwegian mice colonised much of the British Isles and Ireland. She says that they probably stowed away by accident in hay and grain kept in the ships for domesticated animals.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: AQIM Moves Base From Northern Mali

Algiers, 7 March (AKI) — Al-Qaeda’s North African branch has moved its base from northern Mali to Algeria’s far south, according to local media.

The Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), headed by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, moved because of the fighting between Tuareg rebels and Malian soldiers that has displaced thousands of people, Algerian daily Echourouk said.

AQIM moved to a camp 90 kilometers from the town of Timiaouine in southern Algeria in a mountainous area.

According to investigators, a new wave of violence is due to the group’s movement.

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

Egypt: Obituary: His Holiness Shenouda III

His Holiness Shenouda III, who has died aged 88, was venerated as the direct successor of St Mark the Evangelist and 117th leader of the Coptic Church; during 41 years in the role he strengthened his Church, but struggled to defuse tensions between his flock and Egypt’s Muslims.

St Mark, author of the second of the New Testaments’s four gospels, founded the Coptic Church in Alexandria in the first century AD. But after the Council of Chalcedon in 451AD, the Copts split from the Catholic Church over complex questions of the nature of Christ’s divinity. Unlike Protestants, they continued to believe in transubstantiation, and many of their rites appear similar to those of the Catholic Church, but the schism fostered more than a millennium of mutual suspicion. When Shenouda visited the Vatican in 1973, he was the first Coptic leader to do so for 1,500 years. With Pope Paul VI he signed a declaration of reconciliation between the two Churches. As delicate as this act of rapprochement was, however, it was as nothing compared to Shenouda’s principal task of managing the relationship between his Christian congregation and Egypt’s Muslim majority. Shenouda estimated that Copts numbered about 12 million of Egypt’s 80 million souls. Government sources tend to put the figure slightly lower, at around 10 per cent of the population.

Whatever the precise total, Shenouda found that leading a minority sect in a country with a history of Islamic extremism but led — until recently at least — by a military dictatorship, put him in an invidious position. If he beat the drum too hard in defence of his flock, he was seen as fomenting sectarian divisions. On the other hand, he could not stand idly by as Egypt’s Christians suffered often violent attacks. The delicacy of his standpoint was illustrated in 1981 when, prompted by outrage at failure of the government to rein in Muslim extremists, Shenouda criticised Anwar Sadat and found himself banished for four years to the desert monastery of Wadi Natrun. Thereafter, Shenouda worked more quietly to establish harmony between the faiths. It was a measure of his diplomatic skills that by the time of his death he was regarded with respect from all sides.

He was born Nazeer Gayed on August 3 1923, in Assiut, 200 miles south of Cairo. His family were Christian and Nazeer took an early interest in the religion, attending services and Sunday school throughout his teens. He studied History at Cairo University, graduating in 1947, and then had short spells in the military, as a journalist, and as a teacher. Following days spent giving lessons in English he proceeded to Cairo’s Orthodox Seminary to study by night. He joined the seminary as a teacher after completing his studies there, eventually being ordained as a priest in 1954. After his ordination he modelled himself on St Anthony, the 3rd-century ascetic, and took himself off to a monastery in the Eastern Sahara, living for some of the time on his own in a desert cave. Taking the name Antonius el-Syriani, Shenouda only ended his retreat in 1959, when he was summoned to become private secretary to Pope Cyril VI.

Three years later he was consecrated Bishop Shenouda and entrusted with running the Coptic seminary. Unlike other Churches, the Coptic faith has had no trouble recruiting worshippers or priests in recent years. Shenouda was a great advocate of reaching out to young Christians, and during his tenure applicants to the seminary trebled. When Cyril VI died in 1971, Shenouda was elevated to the See of St Mark and named His Holiness Pope Shenouda III. Almost immediately he was confronted with attacks on Copts, many of whom complained that police refused to investigate. Shenouda attempted to soothe his congregation while making appeals for tolerance (often drawing on passages from the Koran). He became friends with the moderate Islamic cleric Sheikh Mohammed Sayyid al-Tantawi and began many of his sermons and public speeches with the phrase: “In the name of the one God whom we all worship…” Such efforts did not stem extremist attacks, which steadily increased in number and violence into the 1990s, when they became so brazen and deadly (striking at tourists as well as Copts, notably at Luxor in 1997), that the government of Hosni Mubarak was forced to take action.

Shenouda had a good relationship with Mubarak, who had released him from internal exile in 1985. Indeed Shenouda decided that he could secure the best for his flock by influencing the status quo, not challenging it. This attitude sometimes saw him criticised by his own congregation as a puppet of Mubarak. More nuanced judgements suggested that Shenouda had arrived at a modus vivendi with Mubarak in which the Church was allowed a wide measure of authority within the Coptic community, in return for which it was expected to prevent Christians making “inflammatory” demands or staging “provocative” demonstrations. The worth of this uneasy compromise has come under increasing scrutiny, particularly since Mubarak’s demise. Since Egypt’s revolution, the country’s Christians have suffered a series of attacks. On New Year’s Day last year, suicide bombers struck a church in Alexandria, killing more than 20 worshippers. As the year unfolded Muslims and Christians began to fight running battles; one in May left 12 dead. Then, last autumn, more than two dozen people were killed as police fired on Christians demonstrating against worsening discrimination. As a steady stream of Copts fled abroad, Shenouda’s policy of understated diplomacy seemed to be disintegrating.

At Orthodox Christmas ceremonies this year, however, Shenouda was joined at Cairo Cathedral by leading Army generals and figures from the Muslim Brotherhood. “For the first time in the history of the cathedral, it is packed with all types of Islamist leaders in Egypt,” Shenouda said, welcoming them. “They all agree on the stability of this country and on loving it, working for it and working with the Copts as one hand for Egypt’s sake.” Shenouda was considered a conservative among Copts, refusing calls to relax rules which, for example, ban divorce except in the case of adultery. Leaders of the Church will now suggest three candidates to succeed him, whose named are written down and placed in a box. A boy then picks one name while wearing a blindfold, his hand guided by God.

His Holiness Shenouda III, born August 3 1923, died March 17 2012

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

Libyan Police Too Scared to Arrest Cemetery Vandals Despite Capturing Three Who Desecrated Graves

Police in Libya captured three members of an armed mob that desecrated British war graves in Benghazi — but released them after a few hours because they were ‘too dangerous’.

The extremists, who admitted smashing the gravestones with sledgehammers, belong to an Islamist militia with links to Al Qaeda.

During questioning, police were so nervous they made the men wear blindfolds so they would not be able to identify their interrogators.

‘We had no option but to release them, even though they admitted criminal damage,’ a senior officer told The Mail on Sunday.

‘We have no control over these men, they are too dangerous, they have more weapons. We have arrested members of this brigade in the past and their fellow fighters raided the police station to get them out.’

To worldwide outrage, this newspaper revealed two weeks ago that 150 memorials were systematically overturned, many of them shattered, while a sandstone cross was smashed.

It happened at a cemetery outside Benghazi, the headquarters of anti-Gaddafi forces during last year’s revolution.

Many of the servicemen buried there were members of the 7th Armoured Division, the Desert Rats, who helped turn the tide of the war in North Africa against Rommel’s forces between 1941 and 1943.

This newspaper has discovered that those responsible are members of a Salifist sect called the Rafallah al-Sahaty Brigade that follows an ultra-purist interpretation of Islam.

Soldier Sanad Albeidi, who filmed the desecration, said: ‘I realised they were from the Rafallah al-Sahaty.

‘I knew it would be too dangerous to try to stop them. I thought they might be going to dig up some bodies so I filmed them to get evidence.

‘I posted my film on YouTube so the world could see the damage these men were doing, and the insult to British war heroes.’

           — Hat tip: Nick [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

OK, Treat Israel as a Democracy

by Douglas Murray

A winning point for any friend of Israel is to compare Israel with any of its neighbours. On any measure — democratic, legal, let alone anything to do with rights — Israel is clearly in a different league from its neighbours. But a few weeks back I was on a panel with a critical left-wing friend of Israel who made an interesting point. “I’m fed up of hearing Israel compared with Syria and Saudi Arabia’ she said. “Israel is a democracy and democracies get held to higher standards.” Very true, I thought. Though people do need to realise Israel is rather better behaved than her autocratic neighbours, there is sense in this plea.

As it happens, I’ve been thinking about it rather a lot. My recent book on Bloody Sunday (the day in 1972 when British troops gunned down and killed 14 British citizens on the streets of a British city) has absorbed me on and off for 10 years. While working on it, I spent plenty of time immersed in what the UK did to fight its war against the Irish Republican Army.

Incidentally, I always find it cringe-making when Brits tell Israelis about Northern Ireland. As sure as the emergence of dietary matters in interfaith meetings, a point about how Israelis might learn from our experience in “the Troubles” is a cliché of British exchanges with Israelis.

This despite the fact that the differences are huge. The IRA, for all its brutality and callousness, never sought the destruction of the British state, or the annihilation of the British people. Its requests were impossible to grant and its tactics bloody, but moderate Republican parties existed throughout the Troubles and the IRA never wanted to drive us into the Channel. Nevertheless, Northern Ireland always comes up. So, in the spirit of response to my friend’s request that we judge Israel by the standards of other democratic states, and conforming to type, allow me one case comparison. I give it not just because so few friends of Israel know about this story, but because so few people outside the small number of us who care about the history of the Troubles know about it.

In the 1980s, British Military Intelligence set up something called the Force Research Unit in Northern Ireland. One of its purposes was to run agents and double-agents within the IRA. One of the agents was known as “Stakeknife”. This agent — who was outed in 2003 — was paid and “run” as an agent by the FRU. With his cover carefully protected, he rose through the ranks, eventually reaching the top of the IRA’s internal “nutting squad”. That is, he was at the head of the IRA unit tasked with discovering and dealing with — that is torturing and killing — suspected “informants”.

This was an extraordinary security coup for British intelligence. To have not merely infiltrated the IRA but to have infiltrated it so completely that, as well as numerous other agents, the Brits got a man to the top of the IRA’s internal security unit, demonstrated considerable infiltration success. But it had a striking cost. It meant that in order to protect Stakeknife’s cover and advance his reputation and prospects within the IRA , British intelligence allowed a man to torture and kill — and arrange for others to torture and kill — people British intelligence knew to be innocent, including a Belfast pensioner who was killed to protect Stakeknife’s cover. Some sources allege that many dozens were killed in this way during the Troubles. But the rationale was that these deaths were needed to keep British agents rising up the IRA’s ranks. It was just a shame if you were a poor patsy pensioner.

All this and more happened in what’s often called “the dirty war”. It certainly was dirty, to an extent still not fully known. But this is what the British state did, rightly or wrongly, to protect its citizens and to subvert, and eventually bring to the table, an organisation with murderous — though not genocidal — intentions. I could go on, could compare Israel’s behaviour to the US, France or any developed democracy. But I give this story to make one point: that when we compare Israel not with her despotic neighbours but with other democracies, she comes out rather well.

Douglas Murray is associate director of the Henry Jackson Society and author of ‘Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry’ (Biteback)

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Jordan: Tourism Loses $1 Billion After Arab Spring

The government is working on tourism projects in key areas

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN — Political turmoil hitting the region cost Jordan’s ailing tourism sector a staggering one billion US dollars in lost revenues, a senior official said today.

One year into the first spark of the Arab spring, Jordan stands amongst the countries to have suffered from lack of interest among European and other western tourists.

Speaking during a visit to the rock engraved cit of Petra, Tourism minister Nayyef al Fayyes said the government is working on reducing impact of lack of travellers on tourism projects in key areas.

Losses come from cancelled bookings and lack of passengers flow from nearby airports.

Jordan offers some of the most exciting destinations on planet with the rosy city of Petra and the Dead Sea standing at the heart of its attractive venues.

The royal Jordanian has recently decided to stop flying to a number of European and regional destinations due to lack of demand on these routs.

It will also retire some of its fleet as part of cost reduction plan to trim mounting losses.

Jordan had its fair share of protests ever since the waive of the Arab spring started blowing a year ago with activists calling for an all out war on corruption and constitutional amendments to stop nepotism and favouritism.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

London 2012: Women or No Women? Dilemma for Saudi Arabia

Strong pressure on Kingdom who never sent female athletes

(ANSAmed) — Rome, 19 March — Women or no women? This is the dilemma that Saudi Arabia has been facing for months ahead of the London Olympics. Time is now short. The Wahhabi kingdom will have to decide whether to send women for the first time in its history to the games. The President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, has expressed hope: “We are still discussing the details with them, but I’m optimistic that it can happen,” he said. It would be an epochal change for a country where women can not even drive a car or go to gyms.

Until recently, such a prospect would not even have been considered by the oil sheiks who follow an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islamic law. In fact, at the Beijing games in 2008, as in all previous editions, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the small sultanate of Brunei were the only states not to send even a single female athlete.

However, the atmosphere has changed after the Arab spring and the great upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East.

Stronger pressure has come from the IOC, as well as public opinion, for Ryadh to end its embarrassing and anachronistic veto, which apart from anything is not in the inclusive and anti-discriminatory spirit of the games. Qatar has already announced that it will send two female representatives to London. Ryadh at first agreed, but then reneged on the decision, indicating a harsh struggle that is taking place within the realm between liberals and the powerful Wahhabis.

Among other things, given the strong limitations to women’s participatin in sport, Saudi Arabia could not even find athletes to meet the standards and the Olympic qualifiers. In that case, however, the IOC may offer special invitations or find other solutions.

Last month, the international organisation, Human Rights Watch, asked the IOC to take a hard line against Saudi Arabia when it was again refusing to send female representatives to the Games.

The presence of women — said HRW — must be a condition for participating in the London games. However, it is unlikely that the international sports community would adopt such measures against the world’s leading producer and exporter.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

UAE: Italy Promoting Halal Food Certification

Aim to unite Italian excellence, respect religion

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, FEBRUARY 22 — The visit to the United Arab Emirates by a delegation from the Ministry for Economic Development and Invitalia, the government agency for the attraction of investments, has also been used to promote the certification of halal food, a new instrument focussing on the needs of Muslim clients, that opens up considerably to Muslim markets.

“The ministry is working on an ambitious project of halal certification, an instrument that allows a marriage of Italian excellence and the guarantee of production respecting Islamic rules, which brings significant potential for opening towards markets connected to precise religious principles,” the director of the department of trade internationalisation at the ministry, Patrizia Giarratana, told ANSA.

Halal Italia, the only Italian body for the voluntary certification of food and other products in line with legal Islamic requirements, which was created through a scheme proposed by Italy’s Islamic Religious Community (CO.RE.IS), has recently been recognised by the Emirati authorities and been signed up to the appropriate register. The recognition, which will shortly come into force, will open up the market of the entire Gulf area.

“It is an extremely significant result, considering that halal imports in the region reached 50 billion dollars in 2010,” said the chief executive of Halal Italia, Hamid Roberto Di Stefano.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

UAE: Expat Dilemma: What Do You Do When the Mosque’s Too Loud?

One of my first memories of Dubai is of standing on the rooftop of the Sheraton Deira hotel, watching the light change over the city’s rooftops as the sun went down. Suddenly, the azaan, or call to prayer, rang out from a distant mosque, the thin voice of the lone Imam quavering in the breeze. His voice was joined by another and another until the air vibrated with the sound calling the faithful to worship. To me, it’s one of the seminal experiences of life in Dubai. But then I don’t live close enough to a mosque to be woken up by its call just before sunrise every morning. Discussion about this broke out last week in the Letters column of Dubai-based tabloid 7 Days after a couple of expats wrote in to say how the loud morning call to prayer from mosques close to their villas was making their families suffer lack of sleep. A reader identified as “Offended Muslim” responded, “With all due respect to you and your religion, please be informed that it’s a Muslim country… How can you write a letter like this on a public forum?… I really have no words to show my expressions after reading your letter.” And indeed the obvious answer is: The UAE is a Muslim country. If you don’t like the sound of the azaan, don’t choose a home near a mosque.

But there are instances in which the azaan really is too loud. Expat Geoff Pound, who lives in the emirate of Fujairah, writes on his blog that this can be caused when a new mosque hasn’t had its amplifiers correctly modulated; when the mosque’s loudspeakers are turned in a new direction; when a new Imam gets overly excited; or when he holds the microphone too close to his lips (apparently the ideal distance is six inches). And, in those cases, concerned residents are advised to contact the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department (Iacad), which is the government body that oversees mosques in Dubai, and ask for an inspection. Believe it or not, there are national guidelines on the volume at which the azaan should be played and the job of the azaan, according to Grand Mufti Mohammed Alkobais, is “to inform and not to disturb.”

However, given what a sensitive topic it is, most expats are reluctant to make an official complaint. Last year, authorities twice checked the volume of a new mosque located in the largely expat compound The Meadows after receiving complaints that it was disturbingly loud.The interesting thing? According to the Imam, all but one of the complaints were from Muslims. The UAE practises a policy of religious tolerance, and that works both ways. If you’ve exhausted all other options and you really can’t see any beauty in the early-morning azaan, don’t complain to the newspaper: Do what everyone else does — move house.

Annabel Kantaria is a journalist who moved to Dubai long before most people knew where it was. She doesn’t ride a camel to work; has never seen a gold-plated golf buggy and only rarely has pink champagne for breakfast. Follow her on Twitter: @BellaKay

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

UAE: Europe Approves Camel’s Milk

But further testing necessary before EU market is open

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, MARCH 19 — Europe says ‘yes’ to camel milk: samples of milk from these desert mammals from the United Arab Emirates have been deemed suitable for export to European markets, an essential outcome paving the way for complete approval of a potential relationship between the EU and UAE for the product. Even though camel’s milk has been promoted as a “safe” food by European labs, final approval for exports is still subject to sanitary certification of the farms where the camels are raised.

Inspections by European Commission scientists in January last year flunked the sanitary conditions at the camel farms and offered guidelines to bring them into line with the requested parameters. The next inspection will not be carried out until next year, but UAE labs are already working at full steam to meet EU standards. The European market holds enormous potential for camel’s milk, nicknamed “the white gold of the desert” in Arab countries, as well as all products derived from it. Not only derivatives such as yogurt and cheese, but also sophisticated sweets and foods like milkshakes, cappuccinos and expensive lines of chocolate. The potential outside of the region, in Europe and worldwide, is extremely high. The FAO estimates the worldwide market volume for camel’s milk to be 10 billion dollars.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

South Asia

India: Hindu Nationalists Attack Three Christian Communities

All the incidents took place in West Bengal, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh in the last week. In all cases, police arrested the victims, not the attackers. For the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) president, Lent, Advent and Christmas are when minority Christians suffer the most.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) — Three anti-Christian attacks were recorded in West Bengal, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh just in the past week, the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported. Like Advent and Christmas, Lent is a time when Hindu ultranationalists tend to intensify their harassment and terrorising of minority Christians. For GCIC president Sajan George, the situation shows the “total lack of justice towards Christians who are increasingly vulnerable.”

On Wednesday, police in Burnpur (West Bengal) arrested five members of the Brethren Gospel Pentecostal Church after some residents of the village complained about their prayers.

Although police released them, they were forced to re-arrest them when Hindu ultranationalists complained. This time the five Christians were charged with violating various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including those against “causing communal disharmony” and “unlawful assembly”.

On Monday, some 30 activists from the Bajrang Dal, a Hindu nationalist group, broke into a private home in a slum in Govindpuri (South Delhi). After dragging out Rev Jagdish, a Pentecostal clergyman, they called police and had him arrested. He was released, but only after he signed a pledge not to visit that home again or conduct prayer meetings.

On Sunday, other Bajrang Dal activists stormed a house church in Multai, Betul District (Madhya Pradesh), accusing Rev Motilal Gujare of engaging in forced conversions.

When the local police arrived, they arrested the clergyman and a member of his congregation, Prakash Masih, citing Section 298 of the Penal Code, which bans “Uttering words, etc., with deliberate intent” [. . .] of wounding the religious feelings of any person”.

“Hindu radicals enjoy political protection,” Dajan George said. “They feel so strong that they fabricate charges to harass the Christian community. In order to satisfy nationalist feelings, police arrest innocent Christians without a fair trial.”

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

India: Muslims in India Are Being Misled — Salman Rushdie

New Delhi: Acclaimed writer Salman Rushdie, author of the controversial ‘The Satanic Verses’ as also bestsellers like ‘Midnight’s Children’ and ‘Shame’, on Saturday denounced “disgraceful vote bank politics” being practised in the country and said “95 per cent of Muslims in India are not interested in violence being done in their name”. Returning to India two months after he was stopped from attending the Jaipur Literary Festival, Rushdie spoke at the concluding dinner at the two-day India Today Conclave at the Taj Palace Hotel here.

The event was marked by tight security presence but devoid of the kind of protests that had marred the Jaipur event by radical Muslim groups protesting his visit. Rushdie, who was happy at the “lack of interest and protest in my visit” this time around to his land of birth, was, however, severe on politicians of the subcontinent, both in India and Pakistan, who pandered to “religious fanaticism” and indulged in “political opportunism”, an allusion to those who cancelled their speaking engagements at the conclave because of his presence.

Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, as well as Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan, stayed away citing “other engagements”. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf leader said he could not come to the same venue as Rushdie who had done “immeasurable hurt to Muslims” with his allegedly blasphemous references in “Satanic Verses”.

Rushdie said “Deobandi bigotry” and “kneeling to mullahs” had not worked for the Congress, alluding to their recent loss in the state elections during which the party was accused was trying to win over Muslims in Uttar Pradesh with inducements of job quotas and other blandishments. Rushdie, who addressed a packed hall that greeted him with frequent applause, spoke out strongly against “public apathy”, against violence and intolerance of cultural freedom, saying: “Freedom is not absolute, if you don’t defend it, you lose it…

If you give in to the threat of violence, there won’t be less violence, there will be more.” Rushdie began by joking at being “promoted” as the keynote speaker at the closing gala dinner after Imran Khan dropped out. But he then proceeded to target Imran with his verbal barbs, describing him as a “dictator in waiting”, a person who is not very well read (“during his playboy days in London he was known as ‘Im the Dim’“) and also one who lied about not knowing that he would be here as the organisers had told him about his presence as far back as last month.

Rushdie said “immeasurable harm” was caused to Islam by terrorists who attacked India, by Osama bin Laden who had taken refuge in Pakistan and by fanatics like those who killed former Punjab governor Salmar Taseer, whose son, writer Aatish Taseer sat on the dias with Rushdie and was in conversation with him. Rushdie said common people were more sensible than their leaders and 95 per cent Muslims in India were not in favour of the violence and the things being said in their name. “India always had a long and hoary cultural and religious tradition of accepting free speech. Everyday, there is a price for hooliganism by bigots,” he said, taking a dig at the “disgraceful votebank politics taking place in India”.

Rushdie said the customs ban on the import of “The Satanic Verses” in the age of the internet was absurd and said there was apparently no bar on his controversial book being published in India. He said his notion of freedom was the freedom to propagate ideas, even though it might offend a particular individual or group, as long as it was done in a civil manner, without threat of violence. “A writer is the adversary of power, but power is so scared of the writer that it ends up strengthening the writer,” Rushdie said. Asked whether India matched Pakistan in intolerance, Rushdie responded: “However bad things get in India, they will be worse in Pakistan.”

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Lady Gaga Fans Told to Return Tickets for ‘Un-Islamic’ Concert

Jakarta, 19 March (AKI) — A prominent member of Indonesia’s highest Islamic authority said Muslims should stay away from an upcoming Jakarta concert by American pop star Lady Gaga who he said aims to undermine the values of the world’s largest Muslim country.

“[The concert is] intended to destroy the nation’s morality,” said Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) chairman Cholil Ridwan, who added that he had never watched the singer perform and only heard of her “reputation” second-hand.

Cholil said Lady Gaga’s sexy manner of dress and dance should be considered un-Islamic.

“She’s from the West, and she often shows her private parts while performing,” Cholil said.

He said the 25,000 fans who purchased tickets for the 3 June concert leg of the “Born This Way Ball” tour should return their tickets. The show sold out in around two hours when tickets went on sale on 10 March.

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

Italy Urges India to Ensure Hostage Safety

Indian FM says will do ‘everything possible’

(ANSA) — Rome, March 19 — Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi on Monday underlined to Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna the “absolute need” to safeguard the lives of two Italian tourists kidnapped by Maoist rebels in eastern India Saturday.

Krishna promised Terzi India would “everything possible at all levels” to try to effect a “positive solution” in the case.

Paulo Bosusco, 54, and Claudio Colangelo, 61, were seized while trekking in Kandhamal district.

There has been no word from the rebels, who are involved in a bloody, decades-long guerilla war against the Indian authorities, since a deadline for the local government to meet 13 demands passed late on Sunday.

These included the release from prison of three Maoist leaders and the end of an offensive against the rebels in the state, which the local authorities are said to have suspended.

The Italian ambassador to India said Monday he was “optimistic” the hostages would be released.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Polls Open in Kerala: Outcome Crucial for Italian Marines

AGI) Rome — Polls opened this morning in the electoral district of Piravom, in the Ernakulam district of Kerala. These are “supplementary” elections to replace the defunct local representative T.M. Jacob but which have instead turned into a crucial ‘test’, not only for the South Indian State and the soundness of Sonia Gandhi’s Congress Party, with the leadership of Governor Oommen Chandy, but also for the case of the 2 Italian Marines. During the morning, 35% of the voters have already turned out at the polling stations which will close at 5 pm local time and 1:30 pm CET. The total number of voters are 183,000 and they will have to chose between 2 contenders: Anoop Jacob, the son of the deceased Jacob, and the candidate of the LDF Communist opposition, M.J. Jacob. The ‘Communist’ Jacob has repeatedly challenged the Congress Party and already in 2006, he was victorious over T.M. Jacob by over 5000 votes. However, the soundness of Gandhi’s party is very important for the Congress that, without Piravom, would lose 3 seats in the State Parliamentary Assembly.

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

Far East

Chinese Bloggers Are Gagged With Their Own Names

Blogging for many people in China is the main form of open and (relatively) free communication. But users have started hushing up, as all entries must now be made under a real name.

Microblogs have become a hit in China. Over 250 million people use weibos, microblogs in English. Weibo is China’s most prominent message platform, as Twitter is blocked, and it is extremely popular among the county’s youth. The platform allows users to read messages sent by others and also write messages themselves.

“I am on Weibo every day. I post new comments every day. Microblogs have opened up a window of communication for us all,” says one user.

Information spreads like wildfire on Weibo — even information about topics that are barely covered in the state media; Information, for example, on the political drama surrounding former top Communist Party member Bo Xilai who was removed from office as party head of Chongqing last week.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Controversial Scientist Plans to Clone a Mammoth

South Korean Hwang Woo Suk was long regarded as a cloning pioneer — until he was charged with having faked much of his stem cell research. Now, he is back with a new project: he wants to clone a woolly mammoth.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria: Warder Fires Shots Near Keffi Mosque

Lafia — There was apprehension in Keffi in Nasarawa State, after a prison warder fired a shot during the Friday Muslim Juma’at prayers at the Central Mosque adjoining the palace of the Emir of Keffi, Alhaji Muhammadu Chindo. Witnesses said a warder at about 2pm, fired a shot in the air to disperse worshippers in front of the mosque, while escorting some inmates in a prison van from the court. “He just fired into the air to disperse worshippers so that the van in which they were conveying the accused persons could pass through”, said a witness. He added that the worshippers ignored the gunshot, and continued with their prayers, but that upon completion of their prayers, they attacked the vehicle which was still at the premises, and beat up the warden and other officers present. It was gathered that the warden was stripped naked. “The officers tried to escape, but the crowd did not allow them”, a witness said. He said the angry mob later stormed the prison, and destroyed part of it. The witness added that the mob attempted to burn the prison, but were dispersed by some prison officers, who shot into the air.

A team of policemen and soldiers, it was gathered, was drafted to the prison to tackle the situation. The police authorities in state confirmed the incident, but the Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Cornelius Ocholi refused to release the warden’s name, saying, “his name is not known yet.” Ocholi said signals sent to the police stated that the warden fired the shot while he was at the gates of the prison. He said the signal added that, “A worshipper left, and headed towards the prison, and officers tried to stop him, but he pushed on. So they fired a shot into the air to stop him because they did not know his motive. So, other worshippers stormed the prison, throwing stones and bottles. They even injured a police sergeant, who was there to maintain order.” He said calm has returned to Keffi, adding that the police are on top of the situation.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

Rwanda/Sierra Leone: Project Umubano is a Truly Remarkable Expression of the Conservative Party’s Core Values …

Stephen Crabb is MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire and a Government Whip.

The Party is now recruiting volunteers for Project Umubano 2012 in Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Now in its sixth year, Project Umubano is a truly remarkable expression of the Conservative Party’s core values: voluntarism, compassion, enterprise and an outward-focus. It is also combines a lot of fun and hard work. Umubano brings together the most diverse groups of Party members and supporters, working for two weeks each July in challenging environments alongside African partners focused on tackling the root causes of poverty. (A video snap-shot of last year’s project can be viewed here)

The scope of the Project continues to grow in response to requests from our partners. There is a strong focus on training to ensure there is a lasting benefit to the work we do.

In a number of Project areas we require specialist skills and experience: Healthcare, Law, Business & Finance, and parliamentary support. But there is also a wide range of opportunities for the generalists among us. The Umubano English language teaching programme in Rwanda, led by Wendy Morton remains the largest single part of the Project, and there will also be teaching opportunities in Sierra Leone through our partner Street Child of Sierra Leone. Our sport project will also operate for the first time in Sierra Leone under the leadership of FA-qualified coach Stephen Ogden who has been at the forefront of our football and cricket coaching in Rwanda in previous years.

One of the highlights last year was the success of our workshops for Rwandan entrepreneurs, led by Fiona Bruce MP. This will continue with the addition of a specific Introduction to Finance training programme. Strengthening Parliament and civil society goes hand-in-hand with developing a market economy. Last year a team of researchers led by Anita Boateng and Emma McClarkin MEP trained staff at the Rwanda Senate. We hope to return there in July with an expanded team. There will also be a Community Group Advocacy Project working with NGOs that focus on the survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

With ages ranging from late teens to early seventies, our volunteers come from all kinds of background and from right across the UK. Every Umubano volunteer finds that they have something special and unique to contribute. Operating outside of our comfort zone brings out the very best in the whole team. Whatever skills and experience they all bring, Umubano volunteers all share our Party’s strong commitment to social action and international development. It is this enthusiasm and commitment which ensures that Project Umubano goes from strength-to-strength and continues to make a modest but real difference in two of the poorest countries on earth.

Project Umubano 2012 runs from 7th-21st July in Rwanda and Sierra Leone. For further information and application form, email

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]


A World of Refugees

By Daniel Greenfield

The old paradigm that a country has the right to decide who enters it has been decisively overturned in Europe, it’s under siege in such first world countries as America, Canada, Australia and Israel by the creed that says it’s the human rights obligation of every nation to accept every refugee.

Given a chance, a sizable portion of the third world would move to the first, a minority because of oppression and a majority because the opportunities and freebies are much better there. Even low ranked first-world nations still find themselves swamped with refugees looking to move in.

The news is no better in Canada or Australia, it’s certainly no better in Europe where the EU sees mass migration as a convenient way of completing its project of dissolving national identities. Encouraging separatism at the regional level is one way of doing it, but mass fragmentation of nations gets the job done even more thoroughly and comprehensively.

The EU is working off another melting pot model, much like the national governments who think that they can create a pliable left-leaning electorate by opening up the borders. What they actually end up creating is chaos and chaos eventually becomes order. The only question is whose order it will be. It isn’t likely to be their order, which leaves few options.

Westerners have become the ultimate refugees, lost at home, refugees in their own countries, wanderers in their own cities. The same processes that have turned their countries into superpowers are now drowning them in their own effluvia. And the citizen of the first world often finds that he seems to belong less in his own country than the refugees flooding it. He has become a displaced person, a familiar enough feeling to many of his new neighbors who are also victims of ethnic and religious conflicts. But while the conflicts they have fled are official, his conflict is not. He is the victim of a nameless conflict that cannot be named, of a colonization that cannot be described as such and of the ethnic cleansing of his national identity and the theft of his future.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Another 295 Immigrants Rescued South of Lampedusa

(AGI) Rome — The Coast Guard and Navy have rescued another 221 immigrants enroute towards the Sicilian coast. The first 114, crowded on a nine-meter dinghy, were taken aboard a patrol boat about sixty miles south-east of Lampedusa. The first sighting had arrived from the Maltese SAR, but the La Valletta authorities did not intervene. A second rubber dinghy, with 107 immigrants and on the verge of sinking, was intercepted at about 90 miles south-east of the island. The tug-boat Asso30, which had already gone to the aid of the boat in distress (that with 5 victims) in the Channel of Sicily, took on the passengers. A AB212 Navy helicopter, sent by air patrol commander Bettica, is continuing in the meantime to search for other vessels which, according to the SOS sent via satellite telephone, are also in distress. In the waters covered by Maltese Search and Rescue, another 74 immigrants have been rescued by a Tunisian fishingboat.

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

Norway’s Population Hits Five Million

As Norway’s population continues to boom, the number of inhabitants in the country is set to reach five million on Monday, according to Statistics Norway.

In recent years, two thirds of Norway’s population growth has stemmed from an increase in immigration, while a third of the increase comes from more babies being born, Statistics Norway said.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

States (Countries) With Irish Migrants ‘Should Pay Tax’

COUNTRIES that benefit from Irish emigration should pay a tax to the Irish State in return, sociologist Fr Micheál Mac Gréil SJ has said.

The Jesuit priest, who addressed the annual St Patrick’s Day pilgrimage on Máméan in Connemara’s Maamturk mountains, said current emigration was symptomatic of a free movement of labour that had become an “international scandal”.

Weaker countries like Ireland would “never develop” while there was a “push-pull” factor attracting young people to stronger economies, he said at the weekend.

“The push is the crisis at home, the pull is the opportunity abroad,” which was reflected in an Irish Times survey on emigration on Saturday, Fr Mac Gréil noted.

The survey showed 59 per cent of emigrants left by choice, while 41 per cent said they were forced to leave.

Fr Mac Gréil, former professor of sociology at NUI Maynooth, said he did not blame young people for leaving, either by choice or circumstance, and many were “great ambassadors for Ireland”.

“But the reality is that it is a great loss for the country, and it would be better for young Ireland to be on the dole — and be creative — than to be emigrating,” he said.

Fr Mac Gréil emphasised he was not in favour of a “centralist socialism that curtailed freedom of movement”, as this was to punish individuals for an issue that was “determined by globalisation”.

“When it costs the State an average of â‚85,000 to educate people to third-level, it is time that host countries paid a tax in return for the benefits accruing,” he said.

By the same token, Ireland should then be prepared to pay a tax to developing countries whose citizens — trained in areas such as medicine — are employed here.

           — Hat tip: McR [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

John Sentamu’s Fall From Grace With Liberals Shows That You Criticise Gay Marriage at Your Peril

by Brendan O’Neill

The extent to which gay marriage has become a measuring stick of moral decency is clear from the fate suffered by the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu. There was a time when Sentamu was fawned over by commentators-with-a-conscience. These right-minded folk, though essentially Godless, loved this energetic bishop and his banker-bashing, Mugabe-mauling publicity stunts. Yet as soon as he opened his gob on the matter of gay marriage, and said he was opposed to it, his stock in the chattering-class world plummeted with eye-swivelling speed. Now Sentamu is a figure of ridicule in respectable circles. He’s still popular with the public, but elite opinion-formers openly scoff at the idea that he should take over from Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury. Be warned: if you take anything other than a nodding-dog approach to the issue of gay marriage, your reputation will be ripped to shreds.

Three or four years ago, Sentamu would have been a shoo-in as your average Islingtonian’s favourite future Archbishop of Canterbury. They went wild for him when he cut up his dog collar on live TV in protest against Mugabe. They leapt for joy when he started laying into bankers and their “massive bonuses”. As a measure of how much he was loved by liberals, in 2007 Sentamu came second in Channel 4’s annual search for “the most inspiring political figure of the year” (he lost out to the now late anti-war homeless man, Brian Haw). Back then, not liking Sentamu was a very lonely business. I should know. In my online magazine spiked we labelled him “the Kerry Katona of the Church of England” (because of his love of self-publicity) and we got a fair bit of flak for that.


           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

Norway’s Businesswomen and the Boardroom Bias Debate

As the EU begins a three-month consultation on whether there should be quotas for women in the boardroom, Harriet Alexander asks whether Norway’s quotas could work in Britain.

Mimi Berdal is a woman who knows how to smash through a glass ceiling.

In fiercely egalitarian Norway, where women are required by law to make up 40 per cent of board memberships, Mrs Berdal is the postergirl for women in business. The most gilded of her country’s “Golden Skirts” — women who sit on multiple boards — she was at one time on the board of 90 different companies, making her the country’s most sought-after female executive.

Yet despite being a high-profile beneficiary of Norway’s pioneering policy, the 52-year-old has mixed feelings about a controversial new EU initiative to spring more women into boardroom roles. Indeed, the smartly-suited blonde lawyer argues that it would be better if quotas were not necessary.

“On principle I do not believe in too much regulation on the private sphere,” she told The Sunday Telegraph. “It would have been much better if this had happened on a voluntary basis.

“Some women, including myself, feel that law regulation in private companies is a complicated issue,” she said, adding that it would be better for the boardroom balance to evolve naturally.

Mrs Berdal’s caution may come as a shock to those who praise Norway’s business community as a model of how to propel more women into the boardroom. Across Europe only 13.7 per cent of board members from large firms are women, while in Italy the figure falls to a mere 6.1 per cent. In Britain 15.6 per cent of FTSE 100 board directorships are now held by women.

Mrs Berdal’s comments come in the wake of this month’s launch by Viviane Reding, the EU justice commissioner, of a three-month consultation on how to redress the gender imbalance in the boardroom. Member states, business organisations and firms are being canvassed for their views as “stakeholders”, and asked what sanctions could be used against companies which fail to meet gender targets.

However, while critics say quota schemes are both ineffective and patronising to women, the tone of the consultation paper suggests Ms Reding has already made her mind up on the matter.

Nowhere does the paper ask whether quotas are a good idea in principle; instead it poses questions such as: “Which objectives (eg 20 per cent, 30 per cent, 40 per cent, 60 per cent) should be defined for the share of the under-represented sex on company boards?”

Ms Reding, a feisty ex-journalist from Luxembourg, is not afraid to lecture other European nations on the importance of progressive polices. In 2010, she sparked a furious row with the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, when she likened his plans to deport Roma immigrants to the policies of the Holocaust. “Personally, I am not a great fan of quotas, but I like the results they bring,” she told The Sunday Telegraph…

           — Hat tip: The Observer [Return to headlines]

UK: Is This the Most Anti-Christian Government in British History?

by Paul Goodman

First, Ministers announced that the consultation on gay marriage would not be whether to carry it out but how to do so. Next, they confirmed that they do not supporting the claimed right to wear a cross at work. And today we learn that George Osborne has decided to tear up the Sunday trading laws (forget the flannel about “suspending” them: the move will be permanent). This initiative is being applauded by all right-thinking political journalists and think-tankers on Twitter as I write, and is therefore obviously mistaken. (Tim has also pointed out that the Foreign Office is rather backward about coming forward over the persecution of Christians abroad.) Not all churchgoers oppose gay marriage, or believe that Christians should have the right to wear a cross at work, or are opposed to relaxing the Sunday trading laws…but a lot of them object to one or the other or two or all three.

David Cameron and Osborne must either be confident that they already have the churchgoing vote wrapped up for 2015, or else be trying to write off as much of it as possible. The alternative explanation — that they are tone-deaf to what Christians think — is too absurd to contemplate. The question posed by my headline is doubtless one for John Rentoul, but I suspect that some churchgoers will now begin to ask it in earnest.

[JP note: John Rentoul is famous for posing questions to which the answer is no.]

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

UK: Sunday Trading is Just Another Attack on Christian Britain

by Christine Odone

Who could begrudge the Treasury a new creative idea to stoke the economy? Relaxing Sunday trading laws during the Olympics looks like just the ticket: millions of tourists will go from the men’s swimming finals on Sunday to Selfridge’s or from the women’s volleyball semi-finals to Westfield mall — spending money and kick-starting the sluggish economy along the way. Why then do so many of us feel uneasy about the plans?

Look at the wider picture. The Coalition wants to legalise gay marriage but refuses to push through a tax break for married couples. Government lawyers are defending the right of employers to ban staff from wearing a cross to work. Plans are afoot to remove bishops from the House of Lords. An ex-councillor fights to ban prayers as part of the formal proceedings of local council meetings — and wins. A couple with a sterling record of fostering children is banned from further fostering because of their Evangelical Christian views on homosexuality.

It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to spot a pattern here: at every turn, Christianity in Britain is coming under fire. No wonder Church leaders are up in arms over Sunday trading — they suspect that this measure is not a temporary one but a stealthy attack on keeping Sunday “special”. When George Osborne admitted he would be studying the impact of the change in the law (“maybe we’ll learn lessons from it”), I’m not alone in hearing alarm bells: if it brings in enough to his coffers this man is prepared to dispense with the (very modest) trading restrictions of the Sunday Trading Act 1994. Who does Osborne and co think we are? 24/7 consumerists or people with an inner life? One day in seven to keep for faith and family does not seem a great deal to ask. But these are hard times, and tolerance for religious sensibilities in limited supply. I fear Sundays will never be special again.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]