Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/8/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/8/2009The situation in North Korea seems to be hardening. Kim Jong-il, presumably not in the best of health, has named his 26-year-old son as his successor. Meanwhile, hardline military officers have basically taken control. Two female American journalists have been sentenced to twelve years hard labor for the crime of entering North Korea illegally. And then there are those nukes…

In other news, Frank Gaffney calls Barack Hussein Obama “America’s first Muslim president”.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, CSP, Exile, Fjordman, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, Paul Green, Srdja Trifkovic, The Lurker from Tulsa, Tuan Jim, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
No Shortage of European Bedfellows for BNP
Out-of-Work Bachelors Struggle in Dating Game
Russia: Protests Against Putin Sweep Russia as Factories Go Broke
Senator: Oklahoma Stimulus Project Wasteful
Tajik Currency Plunges, Sinking Consumers and Businesses
Barack Obama Extends His Hand to Islam’s Despots
Frank Gaffney: America’s First Muslim President
My Response to Obama’s Cairo Speech
Obama’s Poor Choice a Cautionary Tale
Sotomayor’s Left-Wing and Racist Connections
Trading Equal Protection for Empathy
Europe and the EU
A Parody Song by Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt
Berlusconi Says Milan Looks Like Africa
Berlusconi on State Flights: Opposition Small-Minded
Berlusconi: 5 Photos of Villa Certosa Published in “El Pais”
Candidly Speaking: Ugly Vibes From Europe
Denmark: Right, Left Advance in EU Vote
EU: Europe’s Backlash
Finland: Protest Strongly in Evidence at the Polls in Finland and Elsewhere in the EU
Finland: True Finns, Greens Jubilant
Italian Muslims: Obama Speech Has Lessons for Italy Too
Italy: La Russa, More Soldiers in Cities for 12 Months
Spain: Reform to Ban All Religious Symbols From Public Space
Sweden: ‘Refugee Spy’ Remanded Into Custody
Sweden: Police Fear Disruption at NATO Military Exercise
Vote: Center- Right Parties on Top
Serbia: Biggest Export to Bosnia, Largest Import From Russia
Mediterranean Union
Eurabian Journalism
Italy-Libya: Gaddafi in Rome for Three Intensive Days
Libya: Italian School Marks 25th Anniversary
Israel and the Palestinians
Obama: Israeli Minister, Shoah-Nakba Parallel Immoral
Middle East
Ankara Slams Anti-Turkish Campaigns in In EU Parliament Vote
Lebanon: Elections, the Clout of the Christian Vote
Stakelbeck: Can Sanctions Stop Iran’s Nuke Program?
The Cairo Disaster
Russia Wheels Out the Evil Weapon of History
Turkmenistan in Energy Talks With Europe to Loosen Russian Monopoly
South Asia
Ten Killed in Thai Mosque Attack
Far East
Hardline Military ‘Taking Over in N. Korea’
N. Korea Sentences U.S. Journalists to 12 Years Labor
The Terrible Secrets of N. Korea’s Mt. Mantap
Australia — Pacific
Australia: ‘Hero’ Bus Driver Sacked for Coming to Woman’s Aid
Sub-Saharan Africa
Somali Rage at Grave Desecration
Germany: Vietnamese Immigrants in Mass Deportation
Global Warming and a Tale of Two Planets
Srdja Trifkovic: Obama’s Happy Muslim Rainbow Tour
‘The Muslim World’ — One-Way Multiculturalism.

Financial Crisis

No Shortage of European Bedfellows for BNP

The BNP has a wide choice of neo-fascist bedfellows to team up with in the European Parliament after voters delivered the far Right extra seats in nine countries.

Nick Griffin, the BNP leader and one of its two MEPs, is known to have links with anti-immigrant parties in Italy, Hungary and France — where the National Front lost seats but secured the election of its leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who at 80 becomes the oldest MEP.

An official group requires at least 25 MEPs from a minimum of seven countries to be entitled to a slice of the €26.3 million cake for political blocs as well as guaranteed speaking rights and automatic seats on important committees.

The gains for the far Right came in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania and the UK. Extremist right-wing parties lost ground in Belgium, Bulgaria and France but still won seats.

Despite the far Right’s success in many countries, it may struggle to reach the crucial benchmark of 25 MEPs, raised from 20 in the last session.

Prominent candidates for an alliance with the BNP, besides Mr Le Pen, include Jobbik (Movement for a Better Hungary), which won three MEPs with 15 per cent of the vote. The group is the founder of the Hungarian Guard, a uniformed paramilitary body. It campaigns on nationalistic and anti-immigrant themes, while denying being fascistic.

The Greater Romania Party won two seats, up from none, although it had five observer MEPs before the first elections in 2007 when Romania joined the EU and helped to form a short-lived far-right bloc in the last parliamentary session.

Called Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty (ITS), the group broke up after 11 months in a row about xenophobic insults. The Greater Romanian MEPs stormed out after remarks by Alessandro Mussolini, granddaughter of the war-time fascist ruler of Italy, who said that all Romanians were criminals. Now that Ms Mussolini has joined Silvio Berlusconi’s alliance of right-wing parties, there may be grounds for a rapprochement.

In Austria the Freedom Party, which picked up two seats on 13.4 per cent of the vote, will be another of those considered for a far-right grouping, as will the Greek Popular Orthodox Rally, or LAOS grouping, led by the journalist Georgios Karatzaferis. It doubled its representation from one to two MEPs, with about 7 per cent of the vote.

Other former ITS members include Attack in Bulgaria, with two MEPs, and Flemish Interest in Belgium, also now with two MEPs.

Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League also doubled its representation, from four to eight MEPs, but has a tradition of sitting with the right-wing nationalist/regionalist Union for Europe of the Nations (UEN) group in the European Parliament, along with the Danish People’s Party, which won two seats and is wary of linking itself with other extremists.

However, the UEN is breaking up, with Fianna Fáil from Ireland joining the Liberal group and several parties, incluing Poland’s Law and Justice and Latvia’s For Fatherland and Freedom (known for its support of the country’s Waffen SS veterans) set to join British Conservative MEPs in a new anti-federalist group.

One populist party that is likely to spurn a neo-fascist group that includes the BNP is the Freedom Party of the maverick Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who was banned from entering Britain and turned back at Heathrow in February for his offensive views. It won four seats in the Netherands to become the country’s second-largest party, but has so far kept a distance from other fringe parties across Europe in an attempt to appeal more to mainstream voters.

Despite the rivalry and factionalism on the far Right, anti-fascist campaigners view its gains in this election with deep concern.

“The far-right growth is a really bad sign, and this is clearly linked to the economic crash,” Gerry Gable, the editor of Searchlight, an anti-fascist monthly magazine, said. “This is the entirely predictable result of the social fall-out of the financial crisis. It is a particularly worrying trend.”

           — Hat tip: Exile [Return to headlines]

Out-of-Work Bachelors Struggle in Dating Game

Men held nearly 80 percent of jobs lost since December 2007

NEW YORK — Sean Hamilton considered stopping his search for that special someone when he lost his job in January.

With 90 percent less income and no unemployment coming in, the 34-year-old IT professional couldn’t really pay for a dinner date. And how would he explain his financial situation without coming across as a slacker?

“To speak plainly, chicks don’t dig a broke guy,” said the Dallas resident, now a part-time consultant. So he came up with a strategy: “I don’t bring it up.”

Men have been hit much harder than women by this recession. Close to 80 percent of the job losses since December 2007 were jobs held by men, according to economics expert Mark J. Perry, who analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics data. April unemployment was a seasonally adjusted 10 percent for men and 7.6 percent for women.

For some guys, unemployment is the last thing they want to reveal to a potential date. Even if men aren’t expected to pay for a date, they feel pressure from women who are looking for someone who is financially stable.

“A lot of men are very careful not to say, ‘I’m unemployed,’“ said Pepper Schwartz, chief relationship expert at “They say, ‘I’m working on this project. I’m taking a sabbatical from work’ or ‘You heard of GM declaring bankruptcy? I worked there.’ They find ways to make it sound like it’s not permanent.”

Hamilton said when he is pressed, he says he’s a consultant. He proposes cheap dates, like cooking an elegant dinner for a woman at her place.

‘You learn to keep things simple’

Christie Nightingale of Premier Match, with clients in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York, said an unemployed man is a harder sell. She used to be able to brag to her female clients that a man worked in hedge funds, for example.

Now she has to explain that he is a great match in other areas — looks, religion — “but, you know, he’s looking for a job.”

“I find that women are very accepting,” she said. “Some of the women are going through it as well. They have friends that have gotten laid off. It’s the times that we’re in.”

Colin Deeb, 25, who was let go from his computer consulting gig in November, said he has had some experiences where women “seemed a lot less interested the second I told them that I was not gainfully employed.”

But that has been rare for the aspiring actor from Brooklyn, N.Y. He said it helps that he is actively looking for work and going on auditions. And he’s gotten creative with dates — meeting for a bike ride, grabbing coffee or finding a cheap play.

“You learn to keep things simple when you’re not working as much as you would like to be,” he said. “Generally women have been OK with that.”

Simple has its limits, though.

Melissa Braverman, who blogs about dating, said she knows someone who was asked out on a walking date and considered it a turnoff. And in the last six months, she’s noticed that men don’t suggest meals. When they meet for drinks, they limit it to one hour. She believes it’s so she won’t order a second drink.

“The recession is almost becoming an excuse,” said Braverman, 35, of New York City. “Men don’t want to take the initiative, suggesting something fun that is inexpensive. It’s more well, ‘I can’t afford to take you out for a meal, let’s keep it brief.’ Unfortunately, a lot of times chemistry needs time to develop.”

Maintaining a positive attitude

Schwartz said unemployed men need to keep a positive attitude and show potential mates that they are stable: “ ‘I don’t have a job but I’m doing everything I can to find one. I own my own house.’ “

Being too cheap can be a turnoff for women like Virginia Wall, 40, who works in retail sales in Philadelphia. She doesn’t believe in coffee or drinks as a first date and expects the man to pay.

If he can’t afford to take her to lunch — nothing fancy, just a casual place to sit and get to know each other over a sandwich — then he probably shouldn’t be dating, she said.

“He shouldn’t bring someone in his life if he can barely take care of himself,” she said.

Sit out of the dating game, though, and you may miss out on the love of your life.

Christopher Floyd, 39, a photographer and video producer in Albuquerque, N.M., almost stopped communicating with a woman he met on eHarmony late last year because of his financial situation. His business has decreased 65 percent and he is trying to do a short sale on his home.

But his potential love match, Angela Sowers, 31, who works in human resources in Sacramento, Calif., persuaded him to give the relationship a shot. She flew out with friends to meet him and the two hit it off.

Floyd is moving to Sacramento next week and will live with her parents, so the two can date locally.

Sowers, who has had to foot the bill for a few plane tickets, said she isn’t too worried about his lack of income. She’s hoping he can get his business going in Sacramento.

“The relationship isn’t based on how much money he makes,” she said. “It’s who he is and what’s in his heart that matters to me.”

           — Hat tip: Paul Green [Return to headlines]

Russia: Protests Against Putin Sweep Russia as Factories Go Broke

From Vladivostok to St Petersburg, Russians are taking to the streets in anger over job losses, unpaid wages and controls on imported cars

Protests against Putin sweep Russia as factories go brokeFrom Vladivostok to St Petersburg, Russians are taking to the streets in anger over job losses, unpaid wages and controls on imported cars

Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, is facing the most sustained and serious grassroots protests against his leadership for almost a decade, with demonstrations that began in the far east now spreading rapidly across provincial Russia.

Over the past five months car drivers in the towns of Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, on Russia’s Pacific coast, have staged a series of largely unreported rallies, following a Kremlin decision in December to raise import duties on secondhand Japanese cars. The sale and servicing of Japanese vehicles is a major business, and Putin’s diktat has unleashed a wave of protests. Instead of persuading locals to buy box-like Ladas, it has stoked resentment against Moscow, some nine time zones and 3,800 miles (6,100km) away.

“They are a bunch of arseholes,” Roma Butov said unapologetically, standing in the afternoon sunshine next to a row of unsold Nissans. Asked what he thought of Russia’s leaders, he said: “Putin is bad. [President Dmitry] Medvedev is bad. We don’t like them in the far east.”

Butov, 33, and his brother Stas, 25, are car-dealers in Khabarovsk, not far from the Chinese border. Their dusty compound at the edge of town is filled with secondhand models from Japan, including saloons, off-roaders and a bright red fire engine. Here everyone drives a Japanese vehicle.

Putin’s new import law was designed to boost Russia’s struggling car industry, which has been severely battered by the global economic crisis. It doesn’t appear to have worked. In the meantime, factories in other parts of Russia have gone bust, leading to rising unemployment, plummeting living standards and a 9.5% slump in Russia’s GDP in the first quarter of this year.

An uprising that began in Vladivostok is now spreading to European Russia. Last Tuesday some 500 people in the small town of Pikalyovo blocked the federal highway to St Petersburg, 170 miles (270km) away, after their local cement factory shut down, leaving 2,500 people out of work. Two other plants in the town have also closed. The protesters have demanded their unpaid salaries, and have barracked the mayor, telling him they have no money to buy food. They have refused to pay utility bills, prompting the authorities to turn off their hot water. Demonstrators then took to the streets, shouting: “Work, work.”

Putin visited Pikalyovo on Thursday and administered an unprecedented dressing-down to the oligarch Oleg Deripaska, throwing a pen at him and telling him to sign a contract to resume production at his BaselCement factory in the town. He also announced the government would provide £850,000 to meet the unpaid wages of local workers. “You have made thousands of people hostages to your ambitions, your lack of professionalism — or maybe simply your trivial greed,” a fuming Putin told Deripaska and other local factory owners. But Deripaska had had little choice but to shut his factory, since Russia’s construction industry has now virtually collapsed.

Across Russia’s unhappy provinces, Putin is facing the most significant civic unrest since he became president in 2000. Over the past decade ordinary Russians have been content to put up with less freedom in return for greater prosperity. Now, however, the social contract of the Putin era is unravelling, and disgruntled Russians are taking to the streets, as they did in the 1990s, rediscovering their taste for protest.

The events of last week in Pikalyovo also set a dangerous precedent for Russia’s other 500 to 700 mono-towns — all dependent on a single industry for their survival. When their factories go bust, residents have no money to buy food. Seemingly, the only answer is to demonstrate — raising the spectre of a wave of instability and social unrest across the world’s biggest country.

Most embarrassingly for the Kremlin, the latest demonstrations took place just down the road from the St Petersburg Economic Forum, an annual global event designed to showcase Russia’s economic might and its re-emergence as a global power. But after almost a decade of high oil prices — until last summer — Russia has done little to invest in infrastructure, or to help its backward, poverty-stricken regions.

The uprisings began last December when thousands gathered in Vladivostok, demonstrating against the new law on car imports. To crush the protest, and sceptical as to whether the local militia would do the job, the Kremlin flew in special riot police from Moscow. The police arrested dozens of demonstrators and even beat up a Japanese photographer. In Khabarovsk, around 2,000 drivers staged their own noisy protest, driving in convoy with flashing lights to the railway station. Protesters dragged a Russian-made Zhiguli car to their meeting, decorating it with the slogan: “A present from Putin”. They signed it, then dumped it outside the offices of United Russia, Putin’s party.

Among locals, resentment against Moscow is building. “There is no democracy in Russia. They promise a lot. But they don’t listen,” Butov said. He added: “Medvedev isn’t my president. He’s never in the far east.” The Kremlin’s intransigence could provoke a major backlash, he predicted: “In the next few years there could be a war between the east and west of Russia.”

The protests have carried on, with demonstrators regularly taking to the streets in Vladivostok, including last month. Russians in the far east all own right-hand-drive vehicles, which are cheaper to import than the left-hand-drive models used and manufactured in European Russia.

Until recently, the Kremlin had been relatively successful at concealing the scale of the protests, imposing a virtual media blackout. But the demonstrations have become more difficult to ignore. In April Kommersant newspaper reported that angry motorists had called for Medvedev and Putin to be blasted into space, while others waved a banner with the playful slogan: “Putler kaputt!”, apparently comparing Putin, Russia’s prime minister since last year, to Hitler. The authorities were not amused and launched an investigation.

“Russians are a very forbearing people,” Yuri Efimenko, a historian and social activist in Khabarovsk said, sitting in a cafe close to the town’s Amur river, which forms part of the border between Russia and China. “There isn’t love towards the Kremlin, but there used to be respect. Now that’s gone,” he said. He added: “People have become more sceptical towards central power.”

According to Efimenko, there is little danger Russia will have a revolution. Instead of wanting to overthrow the Kremlin, most Russians want Putin to turn up personally and solve their problems — an age-old model in which Putin plays the role of benevolent tsar. Analysts believe there is little possibility of an Orange Revolution in Russia, or much appetite for western-style reform.

The big winner from the protests are the siloviki — the hardline military-intelligence faction, who advocate more state control of business, and want to get rid of the Kremlin’s remaining liberals. The big loser is Medvedev, the hapless president, who may be turfed out of the presidency when his term expires in 2012.

In the meantime, Putin has been promoting Russia’s indigenous car industry. Last week he took to the wheel of his Soviet-era Volga Gaz-21 car, giving Russia’s patriarch a lift. He also gave a £505m loan to help AvtoVAZ, a struggling Russian car factory on the Volga.

The Butov brothers, however, have a unanimous view of Russian-made cars. “They are crap,” Roma said. He recalled how last month Khabarovsk officials gave a free Lada to a war veteran, to celebrate the annual Victory Day on 9 May. “The veteran drove it for a mile. Then it broke down. He came to me and asked if he could swap it for a Japanese model.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Senator: Oklahoma Stimulus Project Wasteful

Photos show the guardrail along Lake Optima. The lake never filled to its designed capacity and is almost dry.

HARDESTY, Oklahoma — Many questions surround a planned million dollar guardrail, set to be paid for with stimulus dollars. The guardrail is supposed to replace the old one at Lake Optima in Texas County, a lake that officials say barely exists at all. The estimated price tag is $1.15 million and its part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works projects.

Guymon City Manager Ted Graham is critical of the proposal, saying the money could be better spent elsewhere. He said the lake does not have water in it and there’s really nothing there in terms of recreation.

“We all feel the county could use a million dollars in a lot better places than the Optima Lake….personally, I don’t think it should be done.” Graham said.

Graham would rather see the money go toward fixing county roads.

United States Senator Tom Coburn also disapproves of the guardrail. In fact, he’s trying to put a stop to this project. He sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about it, explaining that the lake does not exist.

The letter says, in part, “This decision sends a strong message that active, functioning Corps commitments elsewhere in Oklahoma are of lesser priority…it is difficult to comprehend the decision by your agency with respect to Optima.”

John Hart, Coburn’s spokesperson goes even further, saying, “This is what happens when politicians in Washington believe they know more about local projects than officials in Oklahoma. Decisions about whether to spend money on guardrails should be made by Gary Ridley, not by Congress or bureaucrats at federal agencies.”

Senator Coburn is actively trying to prevent this guardrail from happening.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designated 28 projects in Oklahoma as necessary under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In all, those projects will use up $83.7 million in stimulus dollars. The guardrail is one of those projects.

The Public information officer with the Corps, Gene Pawlik, explained the selection criteria concerning the guard rail. He says they picked projects based on the ability to quickly award contracts. They chose things that existed and were part of required maintenance.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will spend $4.6 billion on civil works projects, like the guardrail, throughout the country.

           — Hat tip: The Lurker from Tulsa [Return to headlines]

Tajik Currency Plunges, Sinking Consumers and Businesses

In a few months Tajikistan’s national currency loses 27 per cent vis-à-vis the US dollar. Wages lose purchasing power and imports are costlier for Tajik companies. Foreign trade balance gets worse as remittances from Tajiks working abroad fall.

Dushanbe (AsiaNews/Agencies) — The plunge of Tajikistan’s currency, the somoni, against the US dollar is rapidly eroding incomes and reducing the purchasing power of consumers and small businesses. In an increasingly impoverished country where hundreds of thousands of people are on the verge of hunger, experts wonder whether the devaluation is actually driven by big business profiting from the fall.

In May the somoni fell by 12 per cent against the American dollar. Since the beginning of the year, it has lost almost 27 per cent of its value against the US currency.

Sharif Rahimzoda, chairman of the National Bank of Tajikistan, said back in April that the bank had to allow a depreciation of the somoni to adjust to the falling currencies of Tajikistan’s main trading partners, Russia and Kazakhstan. Both countries have experienced devaluation by 25 to 30 per cent since last autumn.

Employees are the most affected because their wages cannot cope with rising prices, especially of imports.

As domestic consumption drops, small businesses are affected because they have to pay more for imports for dwindling sales. In some remote areas of the country some businesses have had to sell their goods at cost just to stay afloat.

By contrast, big export-oriented companies are profiting from the situation because they can sell their goods for hard currencies, whilst paying salaries and disbursing payroll and other taxes in somonis, which has the effect of reducing the value of employee salaries and taxes.

Given Tajikistan’s structural poverty, about 1.5 million Tajiks out of a total population of about seven million have emigrated, mostly to Russia and Kazakhstan with much of their earnings sent back home

However, according to the National Bank of Tajikistan, the volume of remittances received from migrant workers in Russia has dropped by 30 per cent during the first four months of this year, further depreciating the somoni, which was partly propped up by hard currency transfers made by migrants.

Moreover, a small number of entrepreneurs have been able to control market fluctuations in the Central Asian nation.

Rumours about a pending devaluation have already led to panic. People have lined up in front of banks and money exchanges to buy dollars.

Currency traders told Eurasianet that in such situations they get “unofficial orders” to stop operating on a variety of pretexts.

But many believe that such operations have not prevented big businesses from getting large quantities of hard currencies.

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


Barack Obama Extends His Hand to Islam’s Despots

The American President may not know it, but his ‘Muslim world’ is split by a war of ideas, says Amir Taheri.

What do you do when you have no policy, but want to appear as if you do? In the case of Barack Obama, the answer is simple: you go around the world making speeches about your “personal journey”.

The latest example came last Thursday, when Mr Obama presented his “address to the Muslim world” to an invited audience of 2,500 officials at Cairo University. The exercise was a masterpiece of equivocation and naivety. The President said he was seeking “a new beginning between the US and Muslims around the world”. This implied that “Muslims around the world” represent a single monolithic bloc — precisely the claim made by people like Osama bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who believe that all Muslims belong to a single community, the “ummah”, set apart from, and in conflict with, the rest of humanity.

Mr Obama ignored the fact that what he calls the “Muslim world” consists of 57 countries with Muslim majorities and a further 60 countries — including America and Europe — where Muslims represent substantial minorities. Trying to press a fifth of humanity into a single “ghetto” based on their religion is an exercise worthy of ideologues, not the leader of a major democracy.

Mr Obama’s mea culpa extended beyond the short span of US history. He appropriated the guilt for ancient wars between Islam and Christendom, Western colonialism and America’s support for despotic regimes during the Cold War. Then came the flattering narrative about Islam’s place in history: ignoring the role of Greece, China, India and pre-Islamic Persia, he credited Islam with having invented modern medicine, algebra, navigation and even the use of pens and printing. Believing that flattery will get you anywhere, he put the number of Muslim Americans at seven million, when the total is not even half that number, promoting Islam to America’s largest religion after Christianity.

The President promised to help change the US tax system to allow Muslims to pay zakat, the sharia tax, and threatened to prosecute those who do not allow Muslim women to cover their hair, despite the fact that this “hijab” is a political prop invented by radicals in the 1970s. As if he did not have enough on his plate, Mr Obama insisted that fighting “negative stereotypes of Islam” was “one of my duties as President of the United States”. However, there was no threat to prosecute those who force the hijab on Muslim women through intimidation, blackmail and physical violence, nor any mention of the abominable treatment of Muslim women, including such horrors as “honour-killing”. The best he could do was this platitude: “Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons.”

Having abandoned President Bush’s support for democratic movements in the Middle East, Mr Obama said: “No system of government can or should be imposed on one nation by another.” He made no mention of the tens of thousands of political prisoners in Muslim countries, and offered no support to those fighting for gender equality, independent trade unions and ethnic and religious minorities.

Buried within the text, possibly in the hope that few would notice, was an effective acceptance of Iran’s nuclear ambitions: “No single nation should pick and choose which nations should hold nuclear weapons.” Mr Obama did warn that an Iranian bomb could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. However, the Cairo speech did not include the threat of action against the Islamic Republic — not even sanctions. The message was clear: the US was distancing itself from the resolutions passed against Iran by the UN Security Council.

As if all that weren’t enough, Mr Obama dropped words such as “terror” and “terrorism” from his vocabulary. The killers of September 11 were “violent extremists”, not “Islamist terrorists”. In this respect, he is more politically correct than the Saudis and Egyptians, who have no qualms about describing those who kill in the name of Islam as terrorists.

Mr Obama may not know it, but his “Muslim world” is experiencing a civil war of ideas, in which movements for freedom and human rights are fighting despotic, fanatical and terrorist groups that use Islam as a fascist ideology. The President refused to acknowledge the existence of the two camps, let alone take sides. It was not surprising that the Muslim Brotherhood lauds him for “acknowledging the justice of our case” — nor that his speech was boycotted by the Egyptian democratic movement “Kifayah!” (“Enough!”), which said it could not endorse “a policy of support for despots in the name of fostering stability”.

In other words, the President may find that by trying to turn everyone into a friend, he has merely added to his list of enemies.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Frank Gaffney: America’s First Muslim President

During his White House years, William Jefferson Clinton — someone Sonya Sotomayor might call a “white male” — was dubbed by an admirer in the African-American community “America’s first black president.” Applying the standard of identity politics and pandering to a special interest that earned Mr. Clinton that distinction, Barack Hussein Obama would have to be considered America’s first Muslim president.

This is not to say, necessarily, that Mr. Obama actually is a Muslim, any more than Mr. Clinton actually is black. After five months in office and most especially after his just-concluded visit to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, however, a stunning conclusion seems increasingly plausible: The man now happy to have his Islamic-rooted middle name prominently featured has engaged in the most consequential bait-and-switch since Hitler duped Chamberlain over Czechoslovakia at Munich.

What little we know about Mr. Obama’s youth certainly suggests that he not only had a Kenyan father who was Muslim, but that he spent his early, formative years as one in Indonesia. As the President likes to say “much has been made” — in this case by him and his campaign handlers — of the fact that he became a Christian as an adult in Chicago, under the now-notorious Pastor Jeremiah Wright.

With Mr. Obama’s unbelievably-ballyhooed address in Cairo last Thursday to what he calls “the Muslim world” (hereafter known as “The Speech”), there is mounting evidence that the President not only identifies with Muslims, but may actually still be one himself. Consider the following indicators…

           — Hat tip: CSP [Return to headlines]

My Response to Obama’s Cairo Speech

In September 1976, I was asked to give a briefing to Defense Minister Shimon Peres’s political adviser, Asher Ben-Natan. At the close of our meeting I asked him: “What do you think is Israel’s main problem?” He answered: “We can’t lie as well as Arabs.”

In his Cairo speech, Mr. Obama said “I will speak the Truth, as the Quran Says.” But speaking the truth is not obligatory on Muslims—certainly not when dealing with non-Muslims. Indeed, according to the liberated Arab sociologist Sonia Hamady, admitted, “Lying is a widespread habit among the Arabs, and they have a low idea of truth.”

No less than the eminent orientalist Sir William Muir (1819-1905) said, “The sword of Muhammad and the Quran are the most fatal enemies of civilization, liberty, and truth which the world has yet known.”

Consider the untruth or hoax about the “Palestinian people”—a mere hodgepodge of Arab clans and tribes from the Middle East and North Africa, obviously devoid of any Palestinian culture or language. Professor Efraim Karsh quotes the eminent Arab-American historian Philip Hitti: “There is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not.” It was never “perceived as a distinct entity deserving national self-determination but as an integral part of a unified regional Arab order …”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Obama’s Poor Choice a Cautionary Tale

DESCRIBING what you do for a living is usually fairly straightforward. Maybe you’re a lawyer or an accountant, perhaps a plumber or an electrician. We all understand what these people do. A friend of mine recently came across someone who described herself as a “cross-cultural consultant”. What she did was not entirely clear but it had a warm and embracing ring to it.

That same ambiguity emerged last week when US President Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor as the next justice of the US Supreme Court. Obama made so much of her impeccable cultural credentials — she is the first Hispanic woman to be nominated to the nation’s highest court — and her brilliant life experiences that I wondered whether she was indeed a lawyer. Would her new business card recount her law degrees or simply read: Cross-Cultural Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States?

Why should we, in Australia, care about such matters? For starters, the nomination process for judges in the US gives you an idea of what happens when a judiciary is empowered to make sweeping social and political decisions that we entrust to our elected parliamentarians. The US Constitution delivers judges such power in spades. Accordingly, last week the nomination of Sotomayor was reported, analysed, criticised and debated in newspapers, in journals, on television, on radio. Her utterances were dissected on the internet and posted on YouTube.

Contrast the quiet process in Australia. Remember when the most recent new judge was appointed to our High Court? Many will struggle to remember the judge’s name. A small report here and there. Perhaps a longer feature about the new judge. Then we move on. And that is as it should be.

Not in the US. Appointing judges in the US is a political process. Obama’s nomination of the first female Hispanic to the Supreme Court has been slated as a political masterstroke, shoring up support from America’s fastest growing minority. Obama made much of her compelling life story: she was born to Puerto Rican parents and raised by a hard-working mother after her father died when she was nine; last week she was nominated to the Supreme Court. Truly a gripping tale of success. Republicans will need to exercise care in their criticism of her, for fear of alienating Hispanic voters.

Yet for all the excessive adjectives — an editorial in The New York Times managed to use “impressive”, “stellar”, “compelling” and “trailblazing” in one paragraph — a clever political appointment does not equal a fine legal appointment. A host of legal reasons suggest Sotomayor’s nomination is a textbook example of how politics infects and undermines the law. Appointed for life, Supreme Court judges can cement a highly political course for the nation’s most influential court well beyond a president’s stay in the White House. And Sotomayor’s nomination and likely appointment confirm that for the foreseeable future the old-fashioned job description of a colour-blind judge who applies the law objectively will no longer be applicable.

Consider Obama’s focus when he nominated Sotomayor: “Experience being tested by obstacles and barriers, by hardship and misfortune; experience insisting, persisting, and ultimately overcoming those barriers.” Understanding “how the world works and how ordinary people live” was, he said, a “necessary ingredient in the kind of justice we need on the SupremeCourt”.

Now consider what Sotomayor has said. “Our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging.” And this. “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion (as a judge) than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” And now consider the reaction had a white judge inverted the sentence to read that a wise white male would reach better conclusions than a Latina woman. Karl Rove was not the first person, nor should he be the last, to point out the glaring double standards here.

Obama’s nomination of Sotomayor is a lesson about the dangers of what happens when identity politics meets the law. So eager to move the Supreme Court leftward, Obama has legitimised a troubling form of reverse discrimination. This reverse snobbery says if you come from the wrong side of the tracks — a member of a minority who lived in poverty — you are now entitled to cast aspersions on the ability of those from a more fortunate childhood to be a good judge. Some will argue that this is just an overdue balancing of a historically unfair ledger. Not for fans of that argument the old saw that two wrongs don’t make a right. Revenge is sweet.

Like former president Bill Clinton, who told advisers in 1993 that “I want a judge with a soul”, Obama made his criteria clear in 2007 when he said: “We need someone who’s got a heart to recognise — the empathy to recognise what it’s like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old. And that’s the criteria by which I’m going to be selecting my judges.” Stand by for future nominations of judges on the basis of their colour, their disabled status, their former poverty and single motherhood. And if your aim is to create a truly representative judiciary, we may need a dumb judge who can empathise with the plight of the stupid.

Empathy is a fine quality for a host of professions: social workers, law reformers and the medical profession, to name a few. In a show of impressive empathy, Canada’s Governor-General recently tucked into a meal of seal heart with Inuit hunters. But to suggest empathy should define a good judge is to gravely misunderstand the role of judges. Equality before the law means the law is blind to colour or the size of one’s wallet. The judge has, in essence, a rather boring job description of understanding the law, applying precedents and interpreting the law. On this front, Sotomayor’s credentials are not so stellar, hence Obama strategists talk about controlling her “narrative”.

Alas, Obama’s determination to cement his identity politics on the Supreme Court is not surprising. When you vest a court with the power to make political decisions, to determine the ambit of vaguely described rights, judges are effectively seconded to affirm into law the political ideology of the politicians who appoint them. If those champing for an Australian charter of rights get their way so that judges will decide issues that are fundamentally political, we will end up with the same unfortunate and unseemly politicisation of our judiciary.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sotomayor’s Left-Wing and Racist Connections

Only about a month before she was nominated by Obama to the Supreme Court, Sotomayor participated in a forum on the subject of “How Federal Judges Look to International and Foreign Law Under Art. VI of the U.S. Constitution.” This is how she described it in documents given to the Senate.

It is not clear from this brief description what role she sees for foreign law in deciding U.S. court cases. But Sotomayor wrote the foreword for a controversial book entitled The International Judge. According to an analyst on the Foreign Policy magazine website, “Sotomayor took what seems to be a positive view toward the construction of international courts and legal institutions.” And her rulings suggest that “Sotomayor sides with those who believe that foreign case law should at least be considered when applicable..”


In another controversy, Sotomayor lists an appearance before the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, a left-wing group funded by the Open Society Institute of George Soros, the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, Ted Turner’s Better World Fund, and the Barbra Streisand Foundation. Sponsors of the American Constitution Society have included the ACLU Foundation, the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights, and the National Lesbian & Gay Law Association.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Trading Equal Protection for Empathy

When President Barack Hussein Obama named one of the most arrogant magistrates on the federal bench as his pick to replace retiring Associate US Supreme Court Justice David Souter, the media jumped on the off-key liberal choir by calling his choice “inspiring” even though the US Supreme Court she wants to join overturned 60% of her rulings. As Obama picked 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals magistrate Sonia Sotomayor on Wed., May 26, he referred to the far left jurist as a “moderate”—not because she made centrist decisions, but simply beccause she was brought to the federal bench by a Republican, George H.W. Bush (whose taste in judges, except for Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, seems to be seasoned with a left-handed salt shaker. Sotomayor served as a former New York City Assistant District Attorney for five years (i.e., a “grunt” lawyer with no decision-making authority or opportunties to advance in the DA’s office) before entering into private practice in New York. With absolutely no judicial experience, Sotomayor should never have been on anyone’s radar screen for a federal judgeship—most certainly not on a Republican’s.

In point of fact, she wasn’t. She was actually on a Democrat’s radar screen during the last year of Bush-41’s single term in office. Just as liberal Republican former New Hampshire Governor//Bush-41 Chief-of-Staff John Sununu picked Souter, liberal New York Democratic Senator Daniel Moynihan was allowed to pick two of seven federal judges in a compromise to keep Bush-41’s judicial appointments from being filibustered. Knowing her pedigree, Moynihan picked Sotomayor to fill the bench on the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Thus, Obama claims that a Republican president picked her is not true. She may, in fact, be the first federal court judge in US history picked by a US Senator and not a President.

And, of course, that’s why Marxist Democrats have fast-tracked her. Sotomayor, like traditional liberals, embraces identity politics which incorporates the principles of categorical representation (minorities are best represented by minority judges). Even more to the liking of the far left, she is an extremely radical judicial activist who has made it clear that in her view “law is made at the appellate level” of the federal judiciary. Sotomayor believes that federal judges have the right, through reinterpretation, to rewrite the laws of the land. In Sotomayor’s view, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights no longer fit the needs of the societal architects of an evolving world.


Looking closely at Sonio Sotomayor when the shroud of her public personae slips, we find a woman who is the mirror-opposite of the portrait of her painted by the liberal media. The media would have us see, through the prism of political-correctness, a compassionate, caring woman. They would have us believe she is a wise Hispanic woman who understands the plight of the poor because she came from poverty. (This, somehow, qualifies her to sit on the highest court in the land.) The reality is, one of her former liberal law clerks—now the legal afffairs editor for The New Republic—Jeffrey Rosen, observed that Sotomayor “…has an inflated opinion of herself, and…is a bully on the bench.” Another law clerk working on the 2nd Circuit (who asked not to be identified) said she’s “…not that smart and is a bully on the bench. She is domineering during oral arguments but her questions aren’t penetrating and don’t get to the heart of the issue.”

Law clerks aren’t the only ones who think Sotomayor is an arrogant bully. The current edition of the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary reveals how lawyers who have argued cases before the 2nd Circuit call her “nasty,” a “terror on the bench,” and “angry.” The criticism lawyers expressed about Sotomayor stand in contrast to her peers on the 2nd Circuit. Of the 21 judges evaluated in the Almanac, the same lawyers gave 18 Circuit Court judges positive to glowing reviews. Two judges received mixed reviews. Only Sotomayor received negative comments all of the lawyers who responded to the Almanac questionnaire.

Wendy Long of the Judicial Confirmation Network issued a statement in which she said “…Sotomayor is a liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written.’ In another statement she observed: “The records show she is far more of a liberal activist than even the current liberal activist Supreme Court.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

A Parody Song by Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt


From Tuan Jim: This might not be too useful — it’s actually kinda old, but I only just watched a subtitled version today (although I can’t actually provide subs — maybe a faithful contributor could?)

A parody song by Fredrik Reinfeldt (Sweden PM) — including some real quotes that I think you’ve featured before — very funny.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Berlusconi Says Milan Looks Like Africa

Ovation from 2,000 at concluding rally with Bossi. On government aircraft: “There’s someone behind this but I will be acquitted”

MILAN — It struck the premier as he “strolled round the city centre”. “As you walk round Milan, the number of non-Italians makes it seem as if you are in an African city, not somewhere in Italy or Europe”. Silvio Berlusconi’s musings on immigration earned him an ovation from the audience at the Palaghiaccio, 2,000 people who failed to occupy all the space booked for the concluding rally of his election campaign. To remedy the “unacceptable” situation, he said it was necessary to “proceed with the refusal of entry policy that has enabled us to avoid letting a single African into Italy in the last few days”.

Silvio Berlusconi’s day in Milan got off to an early start. He was out to attract floating voters and urge on the final push of Guido Podestà, the candidate for the presidency of the provincial authority, who faces tough competition from veteran Filippo Penati. At 7.40 am, the premier was already on the phone to answer questions from Telelombardia viewers. In reply to a question on government aircraft, he snapped: “It means nothing and the inquiry will be promptly shelved”. He then continued: “There is a Prime Minister’s Office rule that allows the premier to use government aircraft for security reasons and he can take with him, free of charge, anyone he sees fit to take. This is another issue that will backfire on the Left”. The premier added: “It’s clear someone is behind these attacks”.

Following a live broadcast from the studios of Mattino Cinque, Mr Berlusconi went on to 7 Gold and Milan Channel, accepting an invitation into the lion’s den. The lion in question is Rupert Murdoch, who used Sky to attack the prime minister over the VAT hike, “which was not the premier’s decision, but the unavoidable response to a request made by the EU to the Prodi government”. The atmosphere was very relaxed. Mr Berlusconi explained to reporters “that I invented this broadcaster, and it used to be called Telepiù”. He also took questions on the personal issues that have occupied the headlines over the past month. Referring to the Noemi story, he reiterated that “I would go to that party again but I have no intention of fuelling the smear campaign against Italy and myself”. All attempts to provoke the premier over his international gaffes failed: “I’ve never made any”, he pronounced. The Merkel incident? “With her, I have established a relationship of friendship and familiarity”. The remark at Buckingham Palace? “All I said was ‘Mr Obama, I suppose’. And the Queen did not lose her temper”. What about Obama’s suntan? “That was an unmitigated compliment”.

The premier’s day in Milan also saw him exchange warm hugs with Umberto Bossi, who mounted the Palaghiaccio platform to a tidal wave of applause. The prime minister is keeping in touch. “We have spoken every day during this election campaign. I thank him for being here and being a loyal ally, him and his ministers”.

There were further hugs and avowals of esteem for MEP Guido Podestà: “I’ve known him for 33 years. He worked in my group for 18 and then agreed to go into politics with me, earning immense respect at the European Parliament”. Mr Berlusconi is convinced: “He’ll win at the first ballot. At last, there will be an end to the discord and Milan’s three institutions will be working together”. Roberto Formigoni nodded in agreement, Ignazio La Russa — who has promised to shave off his beard and moustache if the People of Freedom fails to claim 40% of the vote — and Mariastella Gelmini applauded as Mr Podestà appeared closed to tears: “I pledge to act and act well against the No party”. Inevitably, his final remark was an appeal for a full turnout: “To our friends in the Northern League, I say that no one here will ever let you down”.

Elisabetta Soglio

05 giugno 2009

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Berlusconi on State Flights: Opposition Small-Minded

(AGI) — Roma, 4 June — “The investigation is ridiculous but it must be done because the case has been reported. This case shows the small-mindedness of the opposition” said Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi in an interview with ‘Mattino cinque’ on Canale 5. The case also shows “meanness and jealousy of these persons” he added.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Berlusconi: 5 Photos of Villa Certosa Published in “El Pais”

(AGI) — Madrid, 5 June — Under the headline “the forbidden photos of Berlusconi”, “El Pais” this morning published five photos of Villa Certosa which have been impounded by the Public Prosecutor of Rome. The faces of the guests on the photos have been made unrecognizable. On the first page the Italian premier can be seen outside the patio with three girls, one of whom wearing a miniskirt. Inside the Spanish newspaper there are pictures of Berlusconi with a girl on the side of his swimming pool, another of two girls sunbathing topless and one of a naked man in the pool. Reportedly one of the persons on the photographs made by Sardinian photographer Antonello Zappadu is the former Czech Premier, Mirek Topolanek in his birthday suit.

“El Pais” also wrote an article with the headline “Berlusconi naked”, in which the writer claims that “here Berlusconi is naked, not as a citizen but as politician: up to today his statements have been taken as jokes, today there is strong evidence that the Italian premier is jeopardising the future of Italy as constitutional state”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Candidly Speaking: Ugly Vibes From Europe

This is an article by Isi Leibler, that describes the growing anti-Semitism in Europe and spends good words on the Italian government and my work in the Italian Parliament!


Paradoxically, despite the alarming ongoing surge of Islamic religious and political extremism in Europe, the European Union and individual European countries seem poised for what could become the ugliest confrontation with Israel since the creation of the Jewish state. Crude threats are being conveyed to the Netanyahu government, making it clear that unless it capitulates to a series of demands, relations will be downgraded and boycotts may even be instituted. Unconfirmed rumors are circulating that the US State Department does not object to these European initiatives.

I was able to assess the situation firsthand in Rome when I accepted an invitation by World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder to participate in meetings with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state.

Coincidentally, at the same time, Der Spiegel, the leading German weekly, published a lengthy front-page feature follow-up on John Demjanjuk which created an enormous stir throughout Europe. The article posited that the alleged Ukrainian war criminal typified vast numbers of people throughout occupied Europe who, either because of virulent hatred or for personal gain, volunteered to murder Jews.

Without detracting from the prime responsibility of the Nazis for initiating and implementing the extermination process, Der Spiegel suggested the Holocaust could not have been implemented so effectively without the enthusiastic support and collaboration of major anti-Semitic sections of the indigenous population under Nazi occupation. It concluded that, to be more precise, the culpability for the Holocaust should be extended to encompass Europe as a whole.

One wonders if Winston Churchill had not become prime minister and the Nazis had conquered England, how the British anti-Semites would have behaved. Would they have behaved differently from their French counterparts? Under Nazi occupation would the British police, bureaucracy and volunteers also have collaborated in deportations and other actions which were a prerequisite for the gas chambers?

This has relevance for our contemporary situation. The ferocity and extraordinary resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe cannot simply be attributed exclusively to the impact of Muslim migrants or rage against Israeli policies. The anti-Israel tsunami which swept across Europe can only be appreciated in the context of the profound traditional hatred of Jews which, we now realize, only went into remission when the horrors of the Holocaust were unveiled. But half a century later it has reemerged with a vengeance, with the Jewish nation state acting as surrogate for anti-Semitism directed against Jews…

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

Denmark: Right, Left Advance in EU Vote

Euro-sceptic Danish People’s Party posted the biggest gain in the Danish vote in Sunday’s European election

Sunday’s election to the European Parliament turned into a victory for the two parties that performed best in the 2007 general election.

The Danish People’s Party and the Socialist People’s Party each picked up an extra seat and are the only parties to add representatives in Brussels after an election that saw the number of seats held by Denmark in the 736-member parliament reduced by one to 13 as a result of EU expansion.

The right of centre Danish People’s Party, third largest in the national parliament, and which ran on a platform of ‘Give Us Denmark Back’ posted an 8.5 percent advance — the largest of any party — and now has two MEPs. Party leader Pia Kjærsgaard credited the party’s long-time Euro-scepticism for the gain. ‘We haven’t just realised that Danes are sceptical of the EU,’ she said.

The Socialist People’s Party, riding on a wave of popularity after the last general election which saw it surge to become the national parliament’s fourth largest party, also went from one to two representatives. The party’s 7.9 percent electoral gain was second only to the Danish People’s Party.

Despite losing a seat, the Social Democrats held on to their top position with four MEPs and 21 percent of the vote. Hit hard by the decision by former PM Poul Nyrup Rasmussen not to seek re-election to the European Parliament, the party shed 11 percent of its support as part of an overall European bloodbath for the Social Democrats.

Three parties came away from yesterday’s election with no seats. The Social Liberals and the June Movement both lost their representatives, while the Liberal Alliance, participating in its first European election, drew just 0.6 percent, the smallest number of votes of any party.

Yesterday’s biggest surprise, however, turned out to be the voter turnout. Some 55.4 percent of the electorate cast a ballot, beating the previous record, set during the 2004 European election, by 2.5 percentage points.

While elections to the national parliament normally draw a voter turnout of over 90 percent, participation in European elections averages less than 50 percent. Yesterday’s high voter turnout was due in part to a referendum on the royal line of succession being held on the same day.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

EU: Europe’s Backlash

In local elections in England, Gordon Brown’s Labour party has been more or less wiped out, left without control of a single council even in its heartlands.

Britain is engulfed in political turmoil. And about time too. Prime Minister Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair two years ago, and has shown consistently poor judgement ever since. For reasons that must stem from a narrow and self-regarding character he is unable to admit to mistakes, but always justifies them, thus reinforcing these poor judgements. In local elections in England (i.e. not Wales or Scotland), his Labour Party has been more or less wiped out, left without control of a single council even in its heartlands.

In simultaneous elections for the European parliament in Brussels, Labour has done even worse. In a very minimal turnout of 34 percent, Labour received only 15 percent of the vote, lower than the Conservatives by a long margin and UKIP — the United Kingdom Independence Party, a ramshackle single-issue party aimed at getting the country out of the European Union. Third, after UKIP! This is really unprecedented. Socialism itself is becoming a thing of the past.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Finland: Protest Strongly in Evidence at the Polls in Finland and Elsewhere in the EU

These elections for the European Parliament, held in Finland and across the European Union on Sunday, proved to be the protest vote that the campaign had suggested was in the offing.

In Finland the protests manifested themselves in a landslide of votes for the leader of the True Finns Timo Soini, while elsewhere in Europe — for instance in The Netherlands and Austria — EU-sceptic and nationalist extreme groupings enjoyed big gains.

The election alliance forged between the True Finns and the Christian Democrats was far and away the winner of this poll.

By comparison, the members of the current four-party coalition government could claim no more than a defensive victory, and this, too, was reliant solely on the strong showing of a junior partner, the Greens.

The National Coalition Party and the Centre Party both suffered a defeat, and in the latter case it was a good hiding. Both lost a seat in the European Parliament.

In Timo Soini’s favour, it should probably be said that his decision to run for the European Parliament caused voter turnout to creep above 40%, even though the final figure fell somewhat short of the 41.1% recorded five years ago.

Soini offered a channel for popular protest.

Without his name on the ballot sheet, tens of thousands of voters might as easily have stayed at home.

But at the same time, Soini collected large numbers of votes from the traditional supporters of the Centre Party, the Social Democrats, and the Left Alliance.

The SDP — and indeed the entire left — should already be getting worried about their eroding support.

Even though we are wading through a recession, the leftist opposition appears incapable of channeling anti-government sentiment behind its own candidates, and instead Soini collected more or less the entire pot.

Things were different last time around: when Parliamentary elections were held in 1995 as Finland emerged from the last deep economic maelstrom, Paavo Lipponen led the Social Democrats — then also in opposition — to an election victory of record proportions.

The result posted by the Centre Party will probably be just good enough to ensure that Matti Vanhanen’s chair does not wobble from under him.

Nevertheless, by the time the next elections to Parliament come around the party’s support in the country will have to have grown considerably.

The government of the day usually has to pay the bill for recession in the form of dwindling support, regardless of what kind of elections are being fought.

Elsewhere in the EU, this fate befell governing parties to an even greater degree than was felt in Finland.

What effects might the election result have on the domestic political front?

The Centre Party may once again discover a need to raise its own profile, but in other respects these latest elections will not necessarily have any impact, for instance on cooperation within the government coalition.

With the sole exception of the Social Democrats’ leading vote-winner Mitro Repo, all those candidates who made it across the line as new or returning MEPs are experienced politicians or experts in international politics.

Even though each and every party had its share of celebrity candidates on the ballot, the public nevertheless chose professionals for the demanding political positions.

This is a signal that the voters — or those who turned out — took these elections seriously.

We should be grateful for this small mercy. Finland will be sending to Europe a solidly professional and experienced team. There is no cause to be embarrassed about them.

This election campaign will be remembered for the discussion of immigration that coloured the debate.

The situation in Finland is now the same as has prevailed in other “old member-states” for at least a decade or more.

Immigration and the potential problems it brings with it can no longer be suffocated into silence in the political arena.

In all other respects, the campaign discussions did not throw up anything particularly memorable.

Timo Soini will find from the European Parliament benches a good many kindred spirits from other member countries.

The assembly will have a larger and a louder minority in evidence.

The forward march of anti-EU parties will probably influence the intellectual climate of Europe along with the effects of the recession.

A cold wind is blowing in the face of immigration.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Finland: True Finns, Greens Jubilant

Finland will be sending representatives of two new parties to the Euro-Parliament: the True Finns and the Christian Democrats, who formed an election alliance. The Greens also won an additional seat.

One of the most-watched parties in the elections, the small True Finns Party holds only five seats in Finland’s Parliament. Party chair, MP Timo Soini — who secured a place as an MEP — has consistently grabbed headlines with a popular brand of Euro-scepticism. He was the runaway favourite among voters, collecting more than 130,000 votes.

He’ll be joined on the European stage with Christian Democratic Party Secretary Sari Essayah — a Finnish-Moroccan ex-athlete who won the World Championship in race walking in 1993.

“It was a very good alliance because we share the same values,” Soini told YLE News.

At the official election returns event hosted by YLE on Sunday night, the Green League’s new chair, Anni Sinnemäki, was warmly embraced by the party’s two MEPs after the party snagged a surprise second seat in the Euro-Parliament.

A jubilant Sinnemäki says the Greens can work fine with right-wing MEPs such as Soini. She also stressed that the result was a message from the public not to forget the environment.

“Solving both the financial and the environmental problems at the same time must require a co-ordinated European effort,” she says.

The Left Alliance, however, lost the one seat they had in Europe and came away empty-handed on Sunday.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Italian Muslims: Obama Speech Has Lessons for Italy Too

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 4 — The Muslim community in Italy has essentially said that US President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo on Islam contains important political lessons for Italy, too. “The Obama Presidency has among its main aims that of providing an opportunity for American Muslims”, observes Yunus Distefano, spokesman of Italian Islamic community, Coreis, as “they represent a virtuous example of the possibility of harmoniously joining Islamic faith and American citizenship, which is what Coreis has been trying to do in Italy for some time”. The organisation’s vice president, Yayha Pallavicini, chimed in, saying: “The hope of a new era, opened by a president who seems capable of reconciling different cultures, has been confirmed”. For Obama “religions are a unifying and pacifying factor, an important indication for Italian politicians from one of the greatest democracies in the world”, observes the President of the Association of Muslim Intellectuals, Ahmad Gianpiero Vincenzo, who also notes how according to a recent report from the European Agency for Human Rights, one in every two north African Muslims that live in Italy report having experienced at least one episode of discrimination: a result that is only better than that of Malta. “Here there is a racism problem regarding Muslims”, he adds, “and sea-borne immigration is identified with Islam but it only makes up 15% of the total. Furthermore, people insist on the strengthening of Christian values, forgetting that identities are strengthened through dialogue, whilst tension only breeds fundamentalisms”. “Obama spoke to a very demanding audience, who applauded him several times”, adds Mario Scialoja, director of the Great Mosque in Rome and formerly ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “As for Saudi Arabia, his choice to go there is a recognition of how much the country is doing to bring a halt to fundamentalism and in support of peace in the Middle East”. The spokesman of another Italian Muslim association, Ucoii, Ezzedine Elzir, also commented on Europe and Italy. “We hope, in time, to see real dialogue here as well. Islam is an integral part of our society, not a marginal reality from the outside. Obama spoke of religious freedom, but this must be across the world. In Italy, no white paper on religious freedom has yet been approved, and we find it difficult to build a mosque. The US president has shown great political skill and he went all the way to Egypt to meet the Muslim community, we hope that our politicians will also go halfway with us as we are nearer. And that they know how to quote the Koran”. “Obama made a speech which we have been anticipating for a long time”, observes finally Yousef Salman, representative of the Palestinian Red Crescent in Italy. Of course, he adds, his position “will go against the extremist stances of the governing Israelis who do not want peace and through their operation in Gaza have only bolstered extremists on both sides”. But the Palestinians, he concludes, “do not want anything more than the application of the UN resolutions”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: La Russa, More Soldiers in Cities for 12 Months

(AGI) — Rome, 28 May — The government could pass a decree to continue the deployment of soldiers in the city with a possible increase of up to 4,000 soldiers, announced Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa after a cabinet meeting in which “the lengthening and renewal of the decree for the use of the armed forces to provide protection in cities” was discussed. “Since the soldiers have been well received in the cities where they were deployed, the Defence Ministry’s proposal is to extend the decree for another 12 months,” said Minister La Russa. “We want to assure that there is no overlap and the Interior Ministry will continue to coordinate the project. We have heavily considered the caution that the head of state advised yesterday during the supreme defence council.” The increased soldiers, said La Russa, should be used in evening patrols and patrols on foot, but the total cost of the operation should remain the same, at 30 million euros per 6 months. “The discussion,” announced Minister La Russa, “will conclude in the next cabinet meeting”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spain: Reform to Ban All Religious Symbols From Public Space

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 4 — The Spanish government will ban all religious symbols from public spaces such as schools, hospitals, barracks, and jails and also in all official ceremonies as the swearing-in ceremony of Ministers, which was, until now, a Bible oath in front of a crucifix. This will take effect following the approval of a new law on Freedom of Religion and Beliefs which is under study by the Spanish government, as announced today by the Justice Minister Francisco Caamano, quoted by Spanish newspaper Publico. The regulation, which will reform the law in force since 1980, is aiming at “creating religiously neutral public spaces”. The law will also regulate (a first in Spain) conscientious objection and the rights of those that do not profess any religious creed. It will give the right to conscientious objection, explained the Minister, only in circumstances recognized by the Constitution and according to the rules set by legislators. In case of abortion, doctors who are conscientious objectors will only be admitted if the hospital will be able to guarantee that the requested termination of pregnancies will be carried out. The law, which will be presented before the end of the year, will also regulate the rights of non-believers with a subsequent set of rules. “This reform is not aimed against anyone, nor will it influence the agreements between the State and the Catholic Church”, said the Minister, “because, on religious matters, it is more open than the 1980 regulation”, strengthening religious pluralism, as provided for in the Spanish Constitution. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Sweden: ‘Refugee Spy’ Remanded Into Custody

A Chinese Uyghur who was arrested on suspicions of spying on refugees was remanded into custody on Friday by the Stockholm district court.

The 61-year-old man, who is a Swedish citizen, is suspected of having committed gross unlawful espionage, the most severe charge available under the law.

The court followed the prosecution’s recommendation and remanded the man into custody.

Both the prosecution and the man’s lawyer confirmed that he is Uyghur, an ethnic minority primarily residing in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang.

The group is Muslim, speaks a Turkish dialect and the Chinese government has identified several armed Uyghur separatist groups.

The man came to Sweden as a political refugee in the late 1990s and became a Swedish citizen in 2002.

Björn Hurtig, the man’s attorney, said he was unable to comment on whether the Chinese government may have leverage over the man, and if he is being blackmailed.

During the custody negotiations, which were held behind closed doors, the man was only referred to as X.

“X is on reasonable grounds suspected of unlawful espionage during the period January 2008 to June 3, 2009,” said chief prosecutor Tomas Lindstrand.

Hurtig communicated that the accused denied the charges as well as any criminal wrongdoing.

The Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs declined to comment on whether or not any measures have been taken against a foreign state due to the case.

“The foreign ministry has no comment on that issue,” said ministry spokesperson Barbro Elm to TT.

Prosecutor Lindstrand is expecting a long and comprehensive investigation and will request that the man remain in custody when the current deadline runs out in two weeks.

Formal charges must be filed by June 18.

The crime of ‘refugee espionage’ (flyktingspionage) is widespread in Sweden, according to Säpo, with a number of countries committing major resources to gathering information about dissidents who have fled their domestic borders for Sweden.

The crime is considered serious and is viewed as a threat to Sweden’s national security.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sweden: Police Fear Disruption at NATO Military Exercise

Swedish police have asked the military for assistance as peace activists from across Europe head to Swedish Lapland to demonstrate against a NATO aerial exercise.

NATO’s Response Force (NRF) will be in the northern reaches of Sweden on June 8th to begin an eight day exercise involving over 50 fighter jets and 1,000 soldiers from ten countries.

Sweden is not a member of NATO and peace activists from Germany, Finland and the UK are expected to descend on the country for demonstrations to protest against the exercise which has been given the name “Loyal Arrow.”

The police force has now appealed to the armed forces for assistance in coping with the demonstrations and warned of direct action aimed at disrupting the exercise.

Police fear that the anti-militaristic activities will include bomb threats, “serious” demonstrations and sea-based direct actions targeting the British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious which will be stationed outside of Luleå during the exercise.

The Swedish non-violent anti-militaristic network Ofog, which works for a world free of nuclear weapons and militarism, declared their position in a statement on Monday.

“Just like NATO we will be in the air, on the land and in the sea. We will do everything in our power to show NATO that their business is hideous and deadly.”

The group argued that “NATO is not a defensive alliance. It is the world’s largest nuclear weapons club and war machine.”

While Swedish forces are not participating in Loyal Arrow the country is a designated host country and is providing logistical support including air space, airports and areas to bomb.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Vote: Center- Right Parties on Top

PdL and PD blame slip on absenteeism

(ANSA) — Rome, June 8 — Center-right parties came out ahead in this weekend’s European elections in Italy as in the most of the European Union in a vote marked by absenteeism and concern over the economic crisis.

Although voter turnout was a record low for Italy it was still one of the best in the EU with two out of three, 66.5%, Italians going to the polls, down 6.4% percentage points from 2004.

In the EU as a whole, just over 43% voted.

In Italy, Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative People of Freedom (PdL) failed to make the gains it sought and even lost ground compared to last spring’s general elections.

With almost all votes counted, the PdL won 35.23% of the vote which was an improvement over the 32.4% won by its two main components — Forza Italia and the National Alliance — in the last European elections but below the 37.4% of the vote which brought it to power last year and much less than Berlusconi’s optimistic prediction of 45%.

The PdL’s main ally, the North League, was perhaps the big winner at the weekend breaking the 10% threshold to achieve its best result ever of some 10.21 %, compared to 5% five years ago and 8.3% in the 2008 general elections.

On the opposition, the Democratic Party (PD) raked in about 26.14% of the vote, compared to 31.1% in 2004, when it was part of the Olive Tree alliance, and 33.2% last year.

The Italy of Values party of ex-Clean Hands prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro was another big winner and collected 8% of the vote compared to 2.1% in 2004 and 4.4% in 2008.

The Union of Center (UDC) party of former House speaker Pier Ferdinando Casini won 6.51% of the vote, an improvement over 5.9% in 2004 and 5.6% last year.

All other parties, including those on the far Left and Right, failed to break the 4% threshold on a national level.

Both the PdL and the PD blamed their lower-than-expected results on absenteeism.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]


Serbia: Biggest Export to Bosnia, Largest Import From Russia

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, JUNE 5 — In the first three months of 2009, Serbia mostly exported in Bosnia, in the total amount of USD 268.4 million, and imported from Russia — in the amount of USD 726.5 million, the Republic Statistical Office has stated. After Bosnia, Serbia’s main export partners were Germany (USD 262.6 million) and Italy (USD 228.1 million). Apart from Russia, Serbia’s main import partners were also Germany (USD 547.6 million) and Italy (USD 451.8 million). Serbia achieved the most successful foreign trade with the EU member states, the amount of which was more than half of total trade, and the trade surplus was realized with former Yugoslav Republics — Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia. The largest trade deficit was with Russia due to the import of energy products, mainly oil and gas. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Eurabian Journalism

“Join EMAJ 2009

The Euro-Mediterranean Academy for Young Journalists Amsterdam 2009 is a 10-day, high-quality training course on Journalism and Intercultural Dialogue in which active discussions on current issues… Costs related to the event including travels, accommodation and meals will be covered.


Call for participants

You, as a media maker, play a crucial role in the distribution, selection and evaluation of information that reaches the general public. With this responsibility comes the risk of spreading stereotypes and reinforcing prejudice. There are many misconceptions about the West and

the Arab World, which through irresponsible journalism, can affect the public view within the two regions negatively. EMAJ aims to raise your awareness of “the other”, in order to help you create critical and balanced journalism…

Are you a young journalist living in an EU or a MEDA state?

Are you eager to learn how to produce better intercultural journalism?

Are you ready to face challenges of global migration?


A ten day workshop in Amsterdam, bringing together journalists from the EU and the MEDA countries (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey) with the goal of discussing prejudice and creating better, more nuanced, intercultural journalism. The theme of this year’s edition is migration. “

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Italy-Libya: Gaddafi in Rome for Three Intensive Days

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 5 — Everything is in place for Muammar Gaddafi’s 3 day visit of Rome and his numerous delegation (more than 300). Gaddafi’s agenda has been planned down to the last detail from his arrival in Rome on Wednesday June 10 at 10:00am to his departure on Friday 12. He will be met in the airport by Premier Silvio Berlusconi and there is a possibility that the visit may be extended to Saturday for unofficial meetings. Maurizio Massari, spokesperson for the ministry of Foreign Affairs, said during a presentation press conference that the visit will be “varied” and “in many ways, historic”. This visit comes in the wake of the strengthening of ties between Italy and Libya, revived by the Friendship and Cooperation treaty signed in Bengasi on August 30 2008 between Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Colonel Gheddafi in person. In political terms, the only appointment to be noticeable by its absence is that with AIRL (‘Associazione degli Italiani Rimpatriati dalla Libià, the association of Italians who returned home from Libya), representing Italians who were ‘thrown out’ of Libya in 1970 and all of whose properties were confiscated. Work is still going on behind the scenes for a potential meeting between Gaddafi and Libyan Jews, some 6,000 of whom have been thrown out of Libya since 1967. The meeting was requested by Gaddafi himself, but turned down because it coincided with Sabbath, on Saturday 13. Gaddafi’s first meeting will be in the Quirinale, where immediately after his arrival he will join Italy’s Head of State, Giorgio Napolitano, for breakfast. At 6pm of the same day Gaddafi will be expected in Palazzo Chigi to meet the premier along with Foreign minister Franco Frattini to sign a number of bilateral technical agreements that are a follow-up to the Bengasi agreement. The meeting will be followed by a joint press conference. On the morning of Thursday 11 he will meet Senate Speaker Renato Schifani, and at 12:30pm he will be holding a debate with students and teachers at ‘La Sapienza’ University. At 6:00pm he will move to the Campidoglio to meet Mayor Gianni Alemanno. His last day in Rome will also be quite busy. At 10:30am the Colonel will be met in Confindustria by its Chair, Emma Marcegaglia, who will introduce him to the Italian business elite who are eager to meet him. Catering to a personal request, Gaddafi will have an appointment in Rome’s Auditorium where he will meet female representatives of Italian politics, culture and enterprise. He will also meet the country’s minister of Equal opportunities, Mara Carfagna. Only 700 women will be allowed in, including Milan’s mayor Letizia Moratti. During his speech Gaddafi is expected to talk about the condition of women in his country, while minister Carfagna will focus on the state of African women. At 4:30pm the Libyan leader will meet the speaker of Italy’s lower house, Gianfranco Fini, before attending a round table with two former foreign ministers, Fini himself and Massimo D’Alema. At present there is no great prospect of a meeting in the Vatican. The list of Italian guests that are to be allowed into the spacious Bedouin tent which Gaddafi is having erected in the gardens of Villa Doria Pamphili, a traditional guest area of the Italian government, is being kept under wraps. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Libya: Italian School Marks 25th Anniversary

(by Francesca Spinola) (ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, JUNE 5 — The day to commemorate the birth of the Italian Republic was the occasion this year for the announcement in Tripoli of the inauguration of the new seat for the Italo-Libyan School ‘Al Maziri’. From the three storey building, that is not equipped with adequate space for physical activity, the facility named after the Sicilian-Arab poet Al Maziri will be moved a few kilometres from the city centre to the area of Janzur where the school is set to occupy a building that is more modern and better equipped for school needs. Announcing the move that was greeted with great satisfaction from the many Italians residing in Tripoli for work was Francesca Tardioli, Italy’s Consul General to Libya: “The Italian school is an important institution which needs to be supported and strengthened,” she explained, “in order to meet the didactic needs of the community, ensuring a high quality of education from pre-school to the scientific lyceum with modern methodology.” The ‘Al Maziri’ School has just celebrated 25 years of activity in Libya. It was 1983 when the leader, Muhammar Gaddafi granted permission to the Italian community for its creation. Now the school is host to many expatriate children, many of whose parents work for ENI, and has a teaching staff that numbers 15 people. But the school is also host to a number of Libyan students, 15% of the total, and children from mixed Italian-Libyan couples, about 30%. In the Italo-Libyan School of Tripoli, Libyan students have a 50% discount on fees and the school organises free afternoon Italian language courses; but the school also offers Arabic courses for both mother-tongue and foreigners. “When I arrived, in 2007,” the principal, Mario Borri Roselli, said “there were only 20 students, now there are 23 in the nursery school alone and we hope to reach a total of 140 students over all.” The new school complex will be inaugurated tomorrow in an official ceremony before Italian officials including the Ambassador to Libya, Francesco Paolo Trupiano, Consul General Francesca Tardioli, and the president of the school’s management committee, Angelo Madera, as well as representatives from the Libyan Department of Education. The new structure, which will also offer a school bus service, is equipped with spacious and modern classrooms and ample space for physical activity, a swimming pool and an external block for science and chemistry laboratories. “We hope to increase the number of students”, Consul Tardioli stated to ANSAmed, “through private support and our goal from the earliest levels of education to create a group of students that is educated within the two cultures and knows both languages well, which is important on both an individual level but also to the complex functionality of the country. We also hope to bring positive results to the Italian and mixed businesses that operate in Libya in the medium term.” The new seat therefore is perceived of by Libya’s Italians not as something that is finished, but as a project that requires commitment and support. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Obama: Israeli Minister, Shoah-Nakba Parallel Immoral

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JUNE 5 — Israeli minister and a member of the extreme right, Uzi Landau, has said on military radio that the reference made in Cairo by US President Barack Obama which parallels the tragedy of the Holocaust with the suffering endured by the Palestinians over recent decades (known as Al-Nabkà meaning catastrophe, the consequence of the foundation of the state of Israel) “is immoral”. Sidestepping, if only briefly, Premier Benyamin Netanyahu’s orders to his ministers to avoid commenting in dribs and drabs on Obama’s speech which was officially received by the government with a statement of wary approval, Landau also dismissed hope of a Palestinian state as being undesirable, at least at present. “A Palestinian state would today be like saying an Iranian state,” Landau said, pointing out the links between Hamas fundamentalists (in power in the Gaza Strip) and Tehran. Another member of the government, quoted anonymously by the press, complained of the omission of an explicit condemnation of Iran’s nuclear programme in Obama’s speech. The speaker of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) and Likud stalwart, Reuven Rivlin, did not on the other hand directly argue with the US president whilst today inaugurating a museum in the West Bank dedicated to the building of Jewish settlements in the area. These settlements “are today under great threat,” said Rivlin, immediately clarifying however that this statement “is not intended as a reply” to Obama after his repeated nò to the legitimacy of settlement building.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Ankara Slams Anti-Turkish Campaigns in In EU Parliament Vote

ANKARA — Turkey on Friday slammed European parties campaigning against its EU membership bid in the European Parliament elections, accusing them of “fanning xenophobia.”

Without giving names, the foreign ministry said Ankara was “following with regret the negative statements and rhetoric about Turkey’s European Union membership process in some countries.”

The statement denounced “meaningless formulae” to offer Ankara alternatives to full EU membership such as privileged partnership or broader cooperation between the 27-member bloc and Mediterranean countries.

“Turkey rejects that rhetoric which has nothing to do with good will,” the statement said.

“Using that rhetoric in election campaigns creates a climate misleading the European voter and fanning xenophobia,” it added.

The leaders of EU heavyweights France and Germany have been particularly vocal in their opposition to Turkey’s accession.

Far-right parties in other member countries have also campaigned against the mainly Muslim country’s membership aspirations as part of a broader agenda against the “Islamisation” of Europe.

The EU parliamentary elections began Thursday in Britain and the Netherlands and will end Sunday when most of the 27 member nations go to the polls.

In the Dutch vote, the far-right Party for Freedom — whose leader Geert Wilders has gained international notoriety with attacks on Islam — was the big winner, coming second in its first-ever campaign, according to exit polls.

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

Lebanon: Elections, the Clout of the Christian Vote

(by Stefano de Paolis) (ANSAmed) — BEIRUT — The number of Christians in Lebanon is steadily decreasing and those who remain are increasingly divided, but their political clout, and especially their choice between two opposing parties, will be a decisive factor in establishing the majority in Parliament after this Sunday’s elections. The Lebanese political system dictates that 50% of the 128 seats in Parliament will be given to Muslims, Shiites, and Sunnis, basically united but with their own internal rivalries. The other seats will go to Christians, some of whom are allied with pro-Western Sunnis and others with pro-Iranian Shiites. Today, Christians make up one-third of the nearly four million people in Lebanon. Their two main representatives are Free Patriotic Movement leader, Michel Aoun, and the leader of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea. Both have decided to continue with their historic rivalry, which started during the Lebanese Civil War in Lebanon from 1975-1990. Aoun, who in the 2005 elections received an unprecedented landslide, made a solid agreement with Shiite movement Hezbollah, which is supported by Syria and Iran and which, with the other important Shiite group Amal, forms the ‘March 8’ alliance. Geagea is allied with Sunni Saad Hariri, who leads the ‘March 14’ majority coalition, supported by the US and Saudi Arabia and which also includes important Christian leader, Amin Gemayel, leader of the Kataeb Party. A rivalry, which after the end of the civil war and in the subsequent ‘pax Syriana’ made a strong contribution to diminishing the political clout of the Lebanese Christian community through isolation and migration. Both leaders paid for the consequences of this: Aoun, who in 1988 as army commander declared the “war of liberation” from Syrian troops in Lebanon, was exiled to France in 1991. Geagea, an ‘ex-warlord’ at the time, was imprisoned in 1994 for war crimes; he remained behind bars for 11 years. After their return to the political scene in 2005 following the assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and after 29 years of Syrian domination over Lebanon, the two appeared to be willing to make a deal. Nonetheless old grudges flared up once again, with an ensuing fight to become the ‘champion’ of the Christian community, which includes Catholics, Maronites, Orthodox, and Armenians. However, if no one is betting on a decisive shift in Aoun’s support towards Geagea or vice-versa, the decisive factor in determining the balance of power could be the small Armenian community. With 150,000 voters, they have traditionally supported the majority. In this electoral campaign, Tashnak, the most important Armenian political party has clearly chosen to favour the alliance led by Hezbollah. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Stakelbeck: Can Sanctions Stop Iran’s Nuke Program?

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadenijad has compared his country’s nuclear program to a train with no brakes—and no reverse gear.

But some say there is still time to persuade Iran to change course—and without the use of military action.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is currently sponsoring legislation that seeks to turn up the pressure on Iran through new, stronger sanctions.

Their main target: Iran’s dependence on imported gasoline.

Can it work, and will the Iranian regime ever agree to give up its nuclear program under any circumstances? Watch my new report by clicking the above link.

[Return to headlines]

The Cairo Disaster

When a politician announces, at the beginning of a major speech, that he is going to be entirely honest with you, you should stop trying to protect your wallet. For it is time to defend your soul.

This aphorism occurred as I listened to the opening of Barack Obama’s major speech in Cairo. As I have argued previously, he is not an honest man but, instead, a demagogue. He plays games with reality in the course of weaving his rhetorical spells. To be clear: he is no Hitler, no Mussolini, with some vision of national or racial glory, cynically manipulating the crowds to purposes that are ultimately violent. Far from that.

Nor is he a Trudeau, precisely, with an inner contempt for the people he is pledged to serve, and his own agenda to put past them. I do not even think Obama suffers from the vanity of Trudeau, who may actually have imagined himself to be some sort of “philosopher king.”

Obama’s is a different, more insidious vanity. He acknowledges his rhetorical gift as a gift, but imagines the solutions to problems coalesce of their own accord in his presence. He is President Orpheus, the “poet king,” transforming nature with his music. The German weekly, Die Zeit, expressed this perfectly in a headline: “I am a dream!”

It is the failure to acknowledge hard realities that makes Obama dangerous. As a wise Texan of my acquaintance put it, “he is attempting to model himself on Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. But, it’s with a twist. He sees himself as the Great Mediator — the One who will step into every conflict around the globe, bring to bear his superior intelligence and teleprompted eloquence, and leave the parties in a warm embrace.”

Another old friend, the errant “neocon” David Frum, explained what is shocking in that Cairo speech: to find an American president no longer mediating domestic American conflicts, but rather, those between his own country and some of her deadliest enemies. This may be presented as “reaching out” but, in practice, it leaves his own side unchampioned, unrepresented, and in the end, undefended.

Moreover, he is playing this game with a child’s understanding of the history and the stakes.

The Cairo speech is loaded with historical howlers. Other writers have explicated his misconceptions about Israel, and Hamas; about the American history in Iran; even his ridiculous notions about America’s earliest engagements with Islam. With short space, I leave that to them, but will draw attention to two grand statements, so fatuous as to beggar belief:

“As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar University — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.”

And: “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition.”

No serious “student of history” could possibly have made either remark. The former is just bosh; the latter is incredibly offensive to Western Christendom, quite apart from the laughable anachronism.

It would be wrong to demean the real achievements of Islamic civilization to advance Western vanities. But also the reverse: it is wrong to demean the real achievements of Christendom, in the service of Islamic vanities even more absurd. And to do the latter, after presenting oneself as a Christian, is to sell out one’s whole society and being.

We may accommodate the playful, but the U.S. president was not being playful here. Or rather, he was playing with fire, as I know from some familiarity with the audience he was addressing. He was playing to the crowd, and in this case, playing to the tragic and self-destructive modern Arab propensity to blame every Arab problem on the machinations of outsiders.

By playing to that, Obama is selling out not only the democrats in the Arab and Islamic world, but every force and influence for self-betterment.

His English-speaking audience might note all the counter-balancing rhetoric about microloans and development and a woman’s choices. But for each of those, he announced some U.S. aid program that put the onus upon outsiders, again.

The speech did not merely miss an opportunity to speak the truth plainly. It sabotaged every effort to speak the truth plainly, to the darkest tyrannical forces in the Islamic world. It sold out America, it sold out the West, and it sold out the Muslims, too.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Russia Wheels Out the Evil Weapon of History

Distorting the facts about the Second World War may well be a prelude to a battle over a land corridor through Poland, writes Simon Heffer.

There are few things more dangerous or terrifying than when a nation, or the state apparatus that controls it, falls into the grip of a collective delusion. Such was the case in Nazi Germany, when a straightforward decision was taken to scapegoat Jews, Communists and, in the end, anyone else who didn’t agree with the prevailing madness, and persecute them to the point of mass murder. Stalin, in his own pursuit of totalitarianism, behaved similarly.

Some of us hoped that, in Europe at any rate, such absurdities were over; but a dispatch from The Daily Telegraph’s Moscow correspondent last week showed that the madness is back, in Russia at least, and with it the determination to abuse and manipulate history.

A research official in the Russian defence ministry has published an essay saying that Poland effectively started the Second World War by refusing to accede to Germany’s “modest” demands. We may take it that this man’s view reflects that of the Russian state; it is certainly widely interpreted as such.

Russia has been struggling with its idea of itself since the international humiliation of losing its empire nearly 20 years ago. For a time its sudden wealth — thanks to a high oil price and the value of other of its minerals — restored its amour propre. Although its rulers locked up people who sought to push democracy to its natural conclusions, such as the former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, poisoned troublemakers and threw the odd journalist out of windows, the money enabled it to offer the pretence of being a dynamic and powerful economy. Rolexed men in expensive suits climbed in and out of BMWs all over Moscow, and an idea was perpetuated that Russia could feel good about itself.

Then the oil price collapsed, soon after the militarily successful but diplomatically disastrous war with Georgia last year. Once more Russia was poor — with many of its greatest businessmen broke — and an international pariah. So now history, that much-abused weapon, is brought out of the armoury.

To the rest of the world, the Stalin era is one of shame for Russia. The country is seeking to change this. The cynical pact with the Nazis, concluded between Molotov and Ribbentrop a little more than a week before the outbreak of war, is now defended as an essential prelude to the defence against the “inevitable” attack by Hitler. It enabled Russia to occupy half of Poland and the Baltic States.

As the genocide or occupation museums in Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn all show (and I have visited them all), the miseries inflicted by the Communist occupier on Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians were vicious, bloody, murderous and had nothing to do with protection against Hitler. They were about the Sovietisation of Eastern Europe, a process interrupted by the Nazi invasion of 1941 but pursued with ruthless savagery after 1944-45. Oh, and by the way, Stalin was so reconciled to the “inevitable” Nazi invasion for which this occupation was a “preparation” that he ignored all warnings that it was coming.

The Russian view now is that if only Poland had let Germany have a land corridor to Danzig — then a “free city” but effectively German, with a strong Nazi organisation and surrounded on three sides by Poland in its new, post-Versailles boundaries — there wouldn’t have been a Second World War. That is such idiotic nonsense that only a regime founded on lies, as Putin’s and Medvedev’s is, could seriously attempt to peddle it. Whatever Poland had done, Hitler would have annexed it. It had been his plan since Mein Kampf. It was where Germany’s Lebensraum was to be. The Czechoslovaks had made concessions to him (forced by us, not least), and they were not deemed enough: occupation followed.

There is no point trying to reason with the Russians about how they ought to know this. They don’t want to know it. Reason doesn’t come into it.

Further proof of the madness comes in the suggestion by the Russian government that it is planning to pass a law to make it an offence for Russians (and, more sinisterly, for foreigners — though how that would work remains to be seen) to describe what happened in Poland and the Baltic States between 1939 and 1941 as an “occupation”. If you still cannot grasp how evil this proposal is, imagine if the German government were to do the same — saying that it would criminalise the statement that Nazis had occupied Poland (or France, or the Low Countries, or anywhere else) during the last war. Germany would become a pariah state overnight.

So why are we not exercised by Russia’s wicked distortion of the past? And what else is to come? Are we to expect a further revision of the view about the Katyn massacre of 1940, when, on Stalin’s specific order, 6,000 Polish soldiers were murdered by Soviet executioners? It is only in the last few years that the Russians have owned up to doing this, having hitherto blamed the Germans. Perhaps now they will blame the Poles for this too, possibly even speculating that it was a collective suicide.

In history there is a distinction between revisionism and distortion. The former makes a sensible reinterpretation of known facts, often with the support of additional and uncontestable evidence, such as newly unearthed contemporary documents. Distortion requires no new evidence, but can require the disregarding of facts we already know. It is clear what the Russians are doing: and I fear it is not merely to make themselves look good, or to rehabilitate Stalin and his ideas, or to use history to seek to humiliate a troublesome and fiercely independent neighbour.

When the Baltic States threw out the Russian occupier in 1991, a part of the former East Prussia annexed by Stalin — Kaliningrad, the former city of Königsberg — remained Russian. However, like that other Baltic city, Danzig, it now finds itself landlocked away from its motherland. Poland is to its south and west, Lithuania to its east. Are the Russians trying to tell us something? Is Russia about to make a demand for a land corridor through Poland to Kaliningrad, for the same reasons that Hitler sought one to Danzig 70 years ago? If so, is Russia intending to argue that the denial by Poland of land access to Königsberg could provoke a big international fight, and possibly terrible destruction, and that it would be Poland’s fault for not giving into a “modest” demand?

I simply don’t know. But when people start twisting history and wielding it as a blunt instrument without any provocation, we are wise to start asking ourselves why.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Turkmenistan in Energy Talks With Europe to Loosen Russian Monopoly

Russia and Turkmenistan squabble over gas sales depriving Ashgabat of US$ 2 billion in revenues in April and May, forced to shut down 195 fields. Human rights are set aside.

Ashgabat (AsiaNews/Agencies) —Turkmenistan wants to cooperate with the European Union in the energy field after Russia reneged on an agreement to buy billions of cubic metres (BCM) of natural gas from Turkmenistan at what was then a “European” price.

Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov is thought to have discussed the issue in a recent meeting with EU officials in Brussels. In addition to EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, Mr Meredov met EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

There have been no official comment but Piebalgs’ spokesman Ferran Tarradellas said that “it makes perfect sense for the Turkmen foreign minister to visit the EU capital from time to time.”

Mr Meredov came together with his country’s ministers for communications and trade for a regular meeting scheduled for 4 June under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Turkmenistan and Russia are at odds after Moscow backed out of an accord to buy some 50 BCMs of Turkmen gas annually at European prices in order block European buyers.

Originally the agreed priced was above US$ 300 but prices are coming down and Russia’s Gazprom said that it would only pay the current price which is around US$ 200.

Adding significant tension to their relationship was the unexplained explosion of a key pipeline connecting Turkmenistan and Russia in early April.

Turkmen sources accuse Gazprom for the blast, suggesting that it was done so that the Russian energy giant would not have to pay the higher price for gas.

Ultimately shutting down the pipelined has deprived Turkmenistan of gas export revenues (around US$2 billion in April and May) and forced it to stop gas extraction in 195 fields.

Still energy was already on the agenda of the talks in Brussels. In fact Turkmen authorities in Ashgabat had already told a visiting EU delegation it would set aside 10 BCM a year for the bloc’s planned Nabucco pipeline, to run from Turkey to Austria.

UE sources have said that Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is “furious” with Moscow, but that any further development must wait for the construction of the Nabucco pipeline.

The Czech EU Presidency informed the bloc’s member states that the Turkmen side had put off indefinitely the next round of the EU-Turkmen human rights dialogue, which the EU had hoped would take place ahead of the recent meeting.

Turkmenistan, along with Uzbekistan, has traditionally been the most resistant of the Central Asian states to Western influence, especially to Western demands for greater respect of human rights. This has favoured closer relations with Russia as well as China. But the European Union now seems less interested in promoting human rights.

For Ashgabat closer ties to the European Union means reducing its dependence on Russian pipelines to export its gas (some 50 BCMs annually).

At present Turkmenistan exports an additional 8 BCMs to Iran, but a new pipeline to China is set to start operating toward the end of this year (with a 30 BCM capacity).

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

South Asia

Ten Killed in Thai Mosque Attack

Suspected militants carrying assault rifles have killed at least 10 people and wounded 12 more in a mosque in southern Thailand, police say.

Gunmen opened fire on worshippers during evening prayers in the mosque in troubled Narathiwat province. The local imam was among the dead, reports said.

Three other attacks in Narathiwat this week have left three people dead.

More than 3,700 people have died during a five-year insurgency in southern Thailand’s mainly Muslim provinces.

“They opened fire indiscriminately at about 50 worshippers inside the mosque,” a police official said to AFP on condition of anonymity.

He said up to five gunmen entered the mosque in Cho-ai-rong district through the back door, although an army spokesman said there were two attackers who entered from separate entrances.


The attack comes amid a flare-up of violence in the troubled province in the last week.

Earlier in the day, suspected militants shot dead a rubber tapper in Rangae district and several soldiers were injured in a bomb blast in the neighbouring Rueso district, Reuters news agency reported.

Last week two people were killed in another attack by suspected militants in the province.

Previous attacks in the region, which borders Malaysia, have been blamed on Muslim insurgents.

But they tend to target people perceived to be collaborating with the Bangkok government, or to try to force Buddhist residents from the area and establish an Islamic state.

Thailand annexed the three southern provinces — Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani — in 1902, but the vast majority of people there are Muslim and speak a Malay dialect, in contrast to the Buddhist Thai speakers in the rest of the country.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe [Return to headlines]

Far East

Hardline Military ‘Taking Over in N. Korea’

Hardline xenophobic brass are gaining ground in North Korea after South Korean money dried up since the Lee Myung-bak administration was inaugurated, according to AERA, a weekly associated with the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun.

“During the 10 years of the left-leaning Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, nearly 1 trillion yen (approximately W13 trillion) including investment from civilian enterprises went to North Korea,” the weekly said. “Since the Lee Myung-bak administration’s inauguration, South Korea has become tight with money, and this has dealt a severe blow to the North Korean military.”

Some reports say that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il collapsed again in early May, which may have been the reason for bringing forward the nuclear test and haste to ensure the succession, AERA said. The weekly quoted intelligence officials as saying Kim is now too frail to work even for an hour a day.

Meanwhile, the New York Times last Wednesday said Kim Jong-il’s third son Jong-un’s path to power “is hardly assured: some intelligence officials believe that everyone from the North Korean military to Kim Jong-il’s eldest son may be plotting behind the scenes to derail the succession plans.”

“It also is not clear if a society that reveres seniority would accept such a young leader,” the daily added.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Or that in an essentially Confucian-inspired dynastic gov’t the 3rd son — not the first — is getting tapped for the job.]

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

N. Korea Sentences U.S. Journalists to 12 Years Labor

North Korea’s state news agency says a court has sentenced two female American journalists to 12 years of hard labor. The Korean Central News Agency said Monday that the court found the two women guilty of committing an unspecified “grave crime” and illegally crossing into North Korea.

Last Thursday, North Korean state media announced the start of the trial of Euna Lee and Laura Ling, reporters for the U.S. media company Current TV.

North Korean authorities arrested Lee and Ling in March while they were working on a story near the Chinese-North Korean border. U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Monday the United States is deeply concerned by the reported sentencing and is engaged through all possible channels to secure the journalists’ release. Last week, before the trial began, relatives and supporters of Lee and Ling held candlelight vigils in several U.S. cities and pleaded for leniency.

Since their arrests, political analysts have speculated that North Korea may use the pair as a diplomatic bargaining chip in disputes with the United States.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has dismissed the charges against the reporters as “baseless.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

The Terrible Secrets of N. Korea’s Mt. Mantap

North Korea’s nuclear tests and their results have been of great interest to us, but the way the lead-up to these two tests has been kept a secret in such a small country has been mostly overlooked. And there has been absolutely no information regarding human rights abuses or radioactive contamination in the area.

North Korea’s recent nuclear test, which followed the first one in 2006, is a disaster in itself. A nuclear test in a place like the Korean Peninsula, which does not have the deserts or wastelands and is densely populated, can cause serious damage like radioactive leaks. For its first test, which was on a relatively small scale, North Korea cordoned off the area and stopped trains from coming near for three months before the test. For the recent one, however, there were no such actions, and residents of the area went about their daily lives during the test period.

How were even the locals kept in the dark? The terrain around Mt. Mantap in Kilju, North Hamgyong Province, where the second nuclear test took place, rises to 2,000 m above sea level and is largely virgin forest, like at Mt. Baekdu. Building a large underground nuclear test facility in such a forest would require enormous amounts of manpower and investment.

But it has been virtually impossible to find any North Korean citizens who said they were involved in constructing the nuclear testing facilities. The 1994 testimony of Ahn Myeong-cheol, who served as a guard at a camp for political prisoners in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province, provides the only exception. Ahn said that from the early 1990s, young political prisoners from camps in Hoeryong, Jongsong, and Hwasong were taken to an underground construction site at Mt. Mantap and that he had always been curious about what the purpose was.

Mt. Mantap was a source of fear among the political prisoners. Once taken there, no one came back alive. Located just north of Mt. Mantap is the 16th political prisoners’ camp of Hwasong, notorious even in North Korea. Only the top class of political prisoners and their families are held here. According to rumor, Kim Chang-bok, a former chief of the People’s Armed Forces, and other top officials of the Workers’ Party met their end in Hwasong.

That the underground test site and the political prison camp are adjacent may be coincidental. But North Korean defectors are convinced that the underground nuclear test facilities were built using political prisoners. It is not a secret that North Korea has been employing political prisoners for dangerous construction work.

Hwang Jang-yeop, a former secretary of the Workers’ Party, testified that in the mid 1990s he witnessed the following event: Upon learning from the secretary of military supplies that dogs were to be used in the testing of newly developed weapons, Kim Jong-il ordered him to use humans; he would arrange for the use of political prisoners.

North Korean dissidents can expect to be treated worse than dogs by Kim Jong-il. The least popular major among the sciences in North Korea is said to be nuclear physics. Those who choose to major in the field have no choice but to move to Bungang District in Yongbyon for a life of confinement. Due to unprofessional management and lack of technology, residents there are often exposed to radioactive contamination and as a result suffer lingering illnesses, making the town a frightening place for scientists. On completion of the first nuclear test and in preparation for the second, there would have been people sent to the test site, which was contaminated with radioactive material, and the choice would have been obvious: political prisoners. The truth will come to light when the Kim Jong-il regime collapses, but there is the possibility of horrible disasters happening in the test site in Kilju, even as we speak.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Australia: ‘Hero’ Bus Driver Sacked for Coming to Woman’s Aid

EXCLUSIVE: A MADDINGTON bus driver described as a hero by his union has been sacked for coming to the defence of a female colleague.

Ken McMahon, 39, intervened on Wednesday morning when a drunken passenger he had kicked off his bus started harassing an off-duty bus driver on the footpath.

The 35-year-old woman, who was waiting to say hello to Mr McMahon, was a few feet away from the bus when the drunken passenger was told to leave. The incident occurred in Victoria Park and the woman was in uniform.

“He was attacking her and I went to protect her,” Mr McMahon told The Sunday Times.

“He took one swing and I hit him one time and stopped him in his tracks. He was a large, intoxicated and aggressive — an abusive male who was right in her face, fists clenched, chasing her down the footpath screaming all sorts of obscenities at her.”

Mr McMahon, who has been a bus driver for Swan Transit for 18 months and has martial-arts training, said company policy forbids him to leave his bus to aid anyone in trouble.

“So, I lost my job over the incident,” he said. “They called me in on Thursday afternoon and I was sacked.

“The lady is a close friend, so I clearly would not stand by and let the situation escalate to the point where she was physically battered.”

The Transport Workers Union described Mr McMahon as a hero.

Witness statements, including from the woman, support Mr McMahon’s version of events.

“Ken was the only one who came to protect me,” the woman said in a written statement to Swan Transit.

“No one walking on the street did anything.”

However, Swan Transit director Neil Smith said the woman was threatened verbally, but not physically, so Mr McMahon’s actions were an over-reaction.

“We dismiss very few people and we are extremely careful about the procedures we use to do so,” Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith said CCTV footage showed the woman under threat was walking away from the drunken male and speaking on her mobile phone.

He said Mr McMahon did not have to hit the drunken man.

“There would have been easier ways to restrain the person other than the way that went on,” he said.

“The violence used was completely disproportionate, even if there was a genuine problem.”

The matter is expected to go to arbitration in the next six weeks.

TWU spokesman Paul Aslan said he was disgusted by the decision to sack Mr McMahon for helping a colleague.

In April bus drivers threatened to walk off the job unless demands for greater protection were met. Mr Aslan said Mr McMahon’s dismissal could be the final straw, provoking widespread union action, including stopwork meetings and industrial action. He said Mr McMahon should be commended, not fired, for his actions.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Somali Rage at Grave Desecration

Since they began to capture large swathes of southern Somalia, radical Islamists have been undertaking a programme of destroying mosques and the graves of revered religious leaders from the Sufi branch of Islam.

The destruction of non-approved religious sites started last year when they began to knock down an old colonial era church in the town of Kismayo.

Most Somalis are Sufi Muslims, who do not share the strict Saudi Arabian-inspired Wahhabi interpretation of Islam with the hardline al-Shabab group.

They embrace music, dancing and meditation and are appalled at the desecration of the graves.

But al-Shabab sees things differently.

The group’s spokesman in the town of Kismayo, Sheikh Hassan Yaquub, told the BBC Somali Service that his movement considered that the memorials were being worshipped and that this was idolatry — banned by Islam.

“The destruction of graves is not something new: we target graves that are overdecorated and ones used for misleading people.

“We are not aiming at the sheikhs [religious leaders] and their standing in the society, but it is forbidden to make graves into shrines,” Mr Yaquub said.

Mosques closed

Grave are being desecrated wherever al-Shabab is in control.

The town of Brave is home to a number of minority groups.

Among them are the Sufi Bravenese, a Bantu group who speak a language unique to their town called Chimbalazi, similar to Swahili.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe [Return to headlines]


Germany: Vietnamese Immigrants in Mass Deportation

Amid high security, a group of around 100 Vietnamese have been deported from Germany. It was the first group deportation for years in Berlin. Refugee and human rights organisations protested against the move.

It is the first time that the European Union agency for external border security, Frontex, is financing a group deportation.

One hundred and three women and men as well as one child were put on a plane to Hanoi on Monday evening.

Around 200 demonstrators had gathered beforehand at Berlin’s Schoenefeld Airport to protests against the mass deportation. The case had attracted widespread public attention in recent days as many of the Vietnamese immigrants had been living in Germany for several years.

Human rights and refugee organizations had organised opposition to the deportation, warning that the immigrants could face reprisals if sent back to Vietnam.

“We are protesting primarily against the fact that we are deporting people to a country like Vietnam that violates human rights,” said Wolfgang Lenk, a Green Party city counsellor who turned out to support the protest.

He warned that any form of mass deportation usually meant that individual cases were not considered with sufficient care.

Despite a large police presence two demonstrators managed to enter the airport and were briefly detained by police, officials said.

Most of Vietnamese had been living in Germany without residence permission, the 26 others had been living in Poland. The deportation operation was organised in cooperation between the German and Polish authorities.

For many of the Vietnamese, the trip home is the end of a long and difficult journey. Lured by the promises made by people smugglers of a better life, many of these would-be immigrants paid huge sums of money to get to Germany, only to submit an asylum application that in most cases was rejected.

Nevertheless, the number of new arrivals from the Asian country has been growing, not just in Germany, but also in neighboring Poland and the Czech Republic.

About 85,000 Vietnamese live legally in Germany; the number of undocumented Vietnamese immigrants is unknown. Unlike this most recent wave of arrivals, the Vietnamese who arrived in the 1970s and 1980s succeeded in establishing a life for themselves. Those in what was then West Germany were “boat people” fleeing from the Communist regime; those in East Germany arrived as guest workers.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Global Warming and a Tale of Two Planets

Kofi Annan claims that global warming is already “killing 300,000 people a year”. The situation looks a little different in the real world, says Christopher Booker.

…Then there was the 103-page report launched by Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, on behalf of something called the Global Humanitarian Forum, claiming, without a shred of hard evidence, that global warming is already “killing 300,000 people a year”. But Mr Annan himself had to admit that this report, drawn up by a firm of consultants, was not “a scientific study” but was “the most plausible account of the current impact of climate change”.

Even this was topped by a report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claiming that world temperatures could rise this century by 7 degrees C, “killing billions of people worldwide and leaving the world on the brink of total collapse”. According to MIT, these projections are based on new evidence which has come to light since 2003.

Now for the other planet, the one the rest of us live on. Here all the accepted measures of global temperatures show that their trend has been downwards since 2002, declining at a rate that averages to about 0.25 degree per decade. Yet such a fall was predicted by none of those 25 computer models on which the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the rest of the Great and the Good rely for their theory of runaway global warming. Their computers are programmed to assume that as CO2 goes up, temperatures inevitably follow. But the graph below, where the variation of global temperatures from a 30-year mean is plotted against CO2 levels, shows the two lines clearly diverging, contrary to the theory. In this century, temperatures have fallen as CO2 has risen.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Srdja Trifkovic: Obama’s Happy Muslim Rainbow Tour

“As the Holy [sic!] Koran tells us, Be conscious of God and speak always the truth,” President Obama told his audience at the beginning of his much heralded speech in Cairo last week.

It was a remarkable performance: not a single significant statement he made on the nature of Islam, or on America’s relationship with the Muslim world, or on the terrorist threat, complied with the quoted command of the prophet of Islam.

Obama’s two immediate predecessors have done a lot of respectful kowtowing, of course. Bill Clinton declared before the United Nations in September 1998, “There is no inherent clash between Islam and America.” Three years and several thousand American lives later, President Bush said, “there are millions of good Americans who practice the Muslim faith who love their country as much as I love the country.” Four years after 9-11 he continued insisting “the evil” unleashed on that day “is very different from the religion of Islam,” and its proponents “distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against Christians and Jews and Hindus.”

Obama brings a new quality to the continuum, however. He is developing the theme in Islam’s heartland. He is doing it in a manner likely to raise geopolitical expectations that cannot be fulfilled, and certain to cement even further the Muslim myth of blameless victimhood. It is the greatest favor any recruiter for the cause of global jihad could hope for.

Is Obama deluded or mendacious? In view of his middle name and family history, the question is more legitimate than it would have been with Clinton or Bush.

           — Hat tip: Srdja Trifkovic [Return to headlines]

‘The Muslim World’ — One-Way Multiculturalism.

The speech nevertheless impressed many conservatives, including Rich Lowry, my esteemed editor at National Review, “esteemed editor” being the sort of thing one says before booting the boss in the crotch. Rich thought that the president succeeded in his principal task: “Fundamentally, Obama’s goal was to tell the Muslim world, ‘We respect and value you, your religion and your civilization, and only ask that you don’t hate us and murder us in return.’“ But those terms are too narrow. You don’t have to murder a guy if he preemptively surrenders. And you don’t even have to hate him if you’re too busy despising him. The savvier Muslim potentates have no desire to be sitting in a smelly cave in the Hindu Kush sharing a latrine with a dozen halfwitted goatherds while plotting how to blow up the Empire State Building. Nevertheless, they share key goals with the cave dwellers — including the wish to expand the boundaries of “the Muslim world” and (as in the anti-blasphemy push at the U.N.) to place Islam, globally, beyond criticism. The non-terrorist advance of Islam is a significant challenge to western notions of liberty and pluralism.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]