Gates of Vienna News Feed 8/12/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 8/12/2009I received several tips today about the woman in France who was banned from wearing a burkini in a municipal swimming pool in the Paris suburbs. She is a “person of French background” who converted to Islam, and now she plans to sue for her rights, claiming that she was “discriminated against”.

In other news — and this is both infuriating and discouraging — Yale University Press has decided not to include any Mohammed cartoons in a new book about, well, the Mohammed Cartoon Crisis. Not only that, the publisher rules out any other depictions of Mohammed, including some well-known images of the Prophet from Ottoman sources. They just don’t want to take the risk. Oy vey…

Thanks to 4Symbols, C. Cantoni, Fjordman, Gaia, Insubria, JD, Ron Mossad, Sean O’Brian, TB, TS, Tuan Jim, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
– – – – – – – –

A Tale of Two Kennedys
Christian Girl Says Her Muslim Family Will Kill Her
Defy America? Obama Will Find Out the “Hard Way”
Georgia Man Convicted on Terror-Related Charges
None Dare Call it Totalitarianism
Obama’s Diversions No Longer Work
Obama’s Chicago-Style Intimidation
Officials See Rise in Militia Groups Across U.S.
Silent No More! Voters Unleash Fury on Congress
U.S. Web-Tracking Plan Stirs Privacy Fears
Will Americans Follow Orders to Take Flu Shots?
Yale Press Bans Images of Muhammad in New Book
B.C. Liberals to Cut Over 6,000 Surgeries
Man in Provincial Court Following Attempted Robbery in Regina That Was Foiled by Bikers
Europe and the EU
Environment: Danish Wind Turbine Firm to Sack 425 in UK
France: French Muslim Woman Wearing ‘Burkini’ Banned From Paris Swimming Pool
Germany: Former Nazi Jailed for Life Over War Crimes
Germany: Father of Starved Toddler Refuses to Talk
Germany: Police Clear Animal Rights Protestors From Lab Site
Italy: Sardinia ‘Awash With Cocaine’ Says Actress
Italy: Northern League Wants Constitutional Amendment to Allow Regional Anthems and Flags
Italy: Fini : “Govt Cannot Take Parliamentary Power Away”
Italy: PM ‘Did Not Know D’Addario Was an Escort’
Italy: Court Clears Scolding Uncle
Italy: Fioravanti Walks Free as Conditional Release Ends
Italy: Church ‘Mortified’ By Berlusconi
Mohammed Drawing Now a Commercial Success
Muslim in “Burkini” Banned From France Pool
Pirates(?): Where Are You, Arctic Sea?
Russian Navy Joins Hunt for Ship
Spain: Boys Dream of Becoming Footballers, Girls Teachers
Spain: Religious Symbols Out of Schools, Public Offices
Spain: Objective is to Regain Gibraltar Sovereignty, Moratinos
UK: ‘Open Access’ To Universities Could Prove Fatal
UK: ‘Patriot’ League Plots More Clashes With Anti-Fascist Activists
UK: Baby P’s Father Says He Will Sue ‘Negligent’ Haringey Council
UK: English-Speaking Pupils Are a Minority in Inner-City London Primary Schools
UK: The Family of Nine Travellers Living in a £1m Home Paid for by the Taxpayer
UK: Too Proud Middle Classes Failing to Claim Their Benefits as Unemployment Hits 14-Year High of 2.4million
UK: TV Host Andrew Castle Tells Andy Burnham [Health Secretary]: ‘My Daughter Almost Died From Tamiflu’
Bosnia is Back on the Brink of Ethnic Conflict, Warns Hague
North Africa
Morocco: ‘They Feared for Their Lives’
Israel and the Palestinians
A Minor Revolution at the Head of Fatah, Barghouti Elected, The “Old Guard” Gives Way
Hamas Accuses PA of Torturing Prisoner to Death
Iran-Trained Security Chief Protected Carter on Trip to Gaza
‘Israel Should Drop Apologetic Tactics, Admit it is at War’
Jailed West Bank Leader Elected in Fatah Shakeup
Middle East
Deaths Mount Amid Yemen Offensive
French Pool Bans ‘Burkini’ Swim
Iran: Reformist Trials Likened to Stalinist Era
Jordan: Raped Girl Killed Over Family ‘Honour’
Kuwait: Govt ‘Foils US Army Base Plot’
Lebanon: ‘Hezbollah Plotting Attacks Abroad’
More Turkmen Gas for Iran, Less for Europe
Summer Swelter / PM’s Message to Iran: It’s Too Hot for War
Russian Women Use Rented Husbands for Support
Russians to Boost Abkhazia Bases
South Asia
Corruption Threatens to Stifle Universities in Central Asia
India: FBI Agent Testifies in Mumbai Terror Trial
Indonesia/Korea: Indonesian Students Learn Hangeul to Preserve Tribal Tongue
Pakistan. Christians Hit by Islamic “Purity” Pogroms
Far East
Cambodia: ‘Strictest’ Punishment: Duch
China: Murder at the ‘Reboot’ Camps
PLA Tests Battle Effectiveness in Modern Warfare Environment
S. Korea: Liberalize Entry Into the Service Sector
Australia — Pacific
Australia: Somali Sheik’s Alarm Failed to Wake US Up
Australia: Pull the Plug on Hezbollah TV
Australia: Couple Must Battle to Adopt Their Own Son
Don’t Shrink Wrap the Kids
Sub-Saharan Africa
Nigeria: American Agents Take Over Clinton’s Security
Somalia: Christian Orphanage Workers Beheaded
Travel Ban in Sudan Trouser Trial
Latin America
Fore! Chavez Takes Whack at Golfers
Canada: Hypocrisy on Refugees
Finland: Refugee Centres Work to Improve Relations Between Locals and Asylum Seekers
Greece: Migrant Arrests a Burden
Italy: Illegal Immigrants Top One Million, Says Charity
UK: Asylum Staff Are ‘Intimidating’
Culture Wars
A Presidential Medal Based on a Sex Life


A Tale of Two Kennedys

Two of the last three Kennedys have taken centre stage this week. Yesterday, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, died in Hyannis, Mass. Today, Senator Ted Kennedy is being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. For the last of the Kennedy sons, aged 77 and suffering from brain cancer, the ceremony in Washington is something of a valedictory.

After the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the Kennedy family had two paths before it — one represented by Eunice and her husband, Sargent, and the other by the last surviving brother, Ted.

On July 20, 1968—just weeks after RFK’s death — Eunice convened the first Special Olympics, a movement of dignity and hope for mentally disabled children. It was born of Eunice’s love for her mentally disabled sister, Rosemary; her firm defence of the dignity of every human life; and her deep Catholic faith. Eunice and Sargent (who also founded the Peace Corps and was the architect of many of the Great Society programs for the poor) changed the way we think about people with special needs.

Almost a year to the day after the first Special Olympics, Ted Kennedy drove Mary Jo Kopechne to her death at Chappaquiddick, Mass. From that point on, two paths diverged from the Kennedy compound. The Senator took the ignoble path of indulgence and irresponsibility. The Shrivers used their fame and wealth for the service of others, especially those at the margins.

In the 1970s, the Shrivers were a major political force. Sargent was the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 1972, and subsequently entertained both presidential and gubernatorial bids. Meanwhile, Ted marinated in the Senate, finally running for president in 1980 without any ostensible reason for doing so other than the fact that, as a Kennedy, he was entitled to it.

The Shrivers represented the old Democratic Party — economically liberal and culturally conservative. They were routed by the new Democratic Party — economically liberal and culturally libertine — of which Ted became the poster boy. The tortured relationship of the Catholic Church with the Democratic Party mirrored that cleavage. Eunice was the ideal of the Catholic in public life — passionately committed to the poor, defender of the weak, pro-life, morally upright and a woman of faith and family. But the party followed Ted.

The Shrivers were devout Catholics who lived their faith with integrity privately before bringing its implications to the public square. Before Alzheimer’s took its toll on Sargent, he was a daily communicant, attending Mass either in Maryland or in Hyannis, Mass., a well-worn rosary often in hand. He shared his Marian devotion with his wife; in a statement upon Eunice’s death, her family noted that “she was forever devoted to the Blessed Mother. May she be welcomed now by Mary to the joy and love of life everlasting, in the certain truth that her love and spirit will live forever.”

Such lines will not be written of Ted Kennedy who, as one of America’s most prominent Catholics, blazed the trail of making religious belief an entirely private matter. His debauchery was the opposite of the Shrivers’ piety. Having broken up his own family, he degenerated into a dissoluteness that reached its nadir on Good Friday, 1991, when instead of doing the Stations of the Cross at the local parish, he took his son and nephew out for a night of bar-hopping and skirt-chasing. The details of Ted’s behaviour that night were embarrassingly sordid. It gave rise to the joke that Senator Kennedy’s religion was so private he refused to impose it on himself.

But Teddy’s malign influence is no laughing matter. In many ways his Good Friday licentiousness was a harbinger for the decadent age of Clinton. The sexual license that Ted Kennedy lived most of his adult life had its public policy consequence in his fervent devotion to the cause of abortion — for any reason, at any time, preferably publicly funded. The very children that Eunice devoted her life to defending are less likely to see the light of day now, in large part due to the unrestricted abortion license her brother did more than any other to defend.

As Senator Kennedy continues to withdraw from public life due to his illness, the Kennedy clan is withdrawing, too. Bypassed by the Bushes as the most successful dynasty in American politics, the second generation Kennedys have achieved relatively little compared to their parents. When Ted goes, he will be celebrated as the most influential Kennedy of them all. But Eunice, without doubt, was the most noble.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Christian Girl Says Her Muslim Family Will Kill Her

A young Ohio girl in hiding in Florida says she fears for her life because she is a Christian.

Fathima Rifqa Bary left her temporary home in tears, begging social workers to not send her home.

She’s staying at the Orlando home of Pastor Blake Lorenz of Global Revolution Church. Bary says she ran away from her home in Ohio because she converted to Christianity and her Muslim father wants to see her die for rejecting his faith.

“They have to kill me. My blood is now halalh which means… because I am now a Christian,” she explained. “I’m from a Muslim background. It’s an honor, if they love God more than me. They have to do this.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Defy America? Obama Will Find Out the “Hard Way”

Here’s a pertinent observation one might find interesting: Comparing government employees with workers in the private sector. When the St. Anthony Bridge (I-35 West) collapsed in Minneapolis, killing 13 people, it had severed a major artery into Minneapolis. Experts feared that it would take at LEAST three years to rebuild at an astronomical cost. When Governor Tim Pawlenty announced he wanted it completed within 17 months, everyone scoffed at such improbability. But Pawlenty had guessed incorrectly.

It took but 13 months to rebuild the bridge. And it came in UNDER budget. Why? The job was turned over to the private sector.


Now let’s shift our story to Boston — home to the infamous “Big Dig.”

When excavation began in 1991, it was heralded as a jewel of engineering and vision. Then after years of cost overruns, delays, and myriad construction-related problems, the most expensive highway project in U.S. history was finally completed, save for an array of nettlesome side projects.


The $14.6 billion Big Dig took 14 years to construct— the most expensive highway project in U.S. history. And the Dig’s overall cost exceeded double the Panama Canal’s price in today’s dollars. And can you guess why? Of course; 60 percent of the project’s tab was federal— meaning the “sloth factor” was involved—and nearly every American taxpayer has felt the impact of the Big-Dig’s price tag.


Here’s the salient point: without consequences there can be no rule — no order of any kind. And without order there can be no discipline. And without discipline, there can be no accomplishment.

So analyze just about any government position. You just show up. You can be mediocre; you can slack off… watch the clock… do a crossword…surf the net. Who cares? There’s really no urgency to get anything done, because there are NO consequences, other than a murmur from your supervisor.

But the supervisor isn’t the owner; the supervisor isn’t the one PAYING you. It’s the government, which is a faceless, paper-shuffling bureaucracy, running on the taxpayer’s time and money. This is why big government has never been (and will never be) the answer to our nation’s problems. Can anything positive ever be accomplished if mediocrity is the norm, incompetence is tolerated, and excellence is non-existent?

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Georgia Man Convicted on Terror-Related Charges

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) — A jury convicted a 23-year-old Georgia man on terrorism-related charges Wednesday after deliberating for about five hours, prosecutors said.

Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, of the Atlanta suburb of Roswell, was found guilty of four counts of supporting terrorists and a foreign terrorist organization after a seven-day trial, said Patrick Crosby, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in a news release.

In June, a federal judge convicted Sadequee’s accused co-conspirator, Syed Haris Ahmed, of conspiring to provide material support to terrorism in the United States and abroad. Ahmed had been a student at Georgia Tech.

Sentencing for both Ahmed and Sadequee is scheduled for October 15, authorities said. Both could be sentenced to up to 60 years in prison, Crosby said.

“With this guilty verdict, a long and successful international counterterrorism investigation comes to a close,” said David Nahmias, U.S attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said in the news release.

“Defendants in the United States, the United Kingdom, Bosnia and elsewhere — all of whom conspired together to provide material support to violent jihad — are now safely behind bars. For that, we can be thankful.”

Sadequee, a native of Virginia who is of Bangladeshi descent, was living in Bangladesh in 2001, said prosecutors. They said he sent an e-mail seeking to join the Taliban and their fight against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Several years later, in late 2004 and 2005, Sadequee had returned to his family home in Roswell and “entered an illegal agreement — a conspiracy — with others to provide material support to terrorists engaged in violent jihad,” prosecutors said in the news release.

Ahmed and Sadequee were charged in the same indictment. Authorities alleged the two traveled to Canada in March 2005 to meet with three other co-conspirators they met online.

“While in Canada, Sadequee and his co-conspirators discussed their plans to travel to Pakistan in an effort to attend a paramilitary training camp operated by a terrorist organization, such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LET), as preparation for engaging in violent jihad abroad or in the United States,” the prosecutors’ statement said.

“They also discussed potential targets for terrorist attacks in the United States.”

In addition, authorities contended Ahmed and Sadequee made “casing videos” of landmarks in the Washington area, such as the U.S. Capitol, the World Bank Building and a Masonic temple.

The videos were found on the hard drives of at least two men who were convicted on terrorism charges in the United Kingdom. According to prosecutors, those two men were found to possess a large quantity of “violent jihad materials.”

Ahmed traveled to Pakistan in July 2005 in an attempt to enter a training camp, but his family and others convinced him to postpone that effort, according to Nahmias’ statement.

The day before Ahmed returned to Atlanta, however, Sadequee departed for Bangladesh, carrying items hidden in the liner of his suitcase, including an encrypted CD and a map of Washington that included all of the targets he and Ahmed had cased, authorities said.

While in Bangladesh, Sadequee conspired with members of a “violent jihadist organization known as al Qaeda in northern Europe,” prosecutors said. One of the men later was convicted of terrorism offenses in Bosnia and Herzegovina and is in prison there.

Meanwhile, the FBI was investigating Ahmed, who then was at Georgia Tech, in connection with the international terrorism investigation. Ahmed “made increasingly incriminating statements” during questioning, prosecutors said, and “efforts by the FBI to obtain Ahmed’s cooperation in the ongoing international terrorism investigation ended after the FBI discovered that Ahmed was surreptitiously contacting Sadequee, who was still in Bangladesh, to advise him of the FBI investigation and warn him not to return to the United States.”

Sadequee was arrested in April 2006 in Bangladesh on charges arising out of false statements he made in an April 2005 interview with the FBI at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, authorities said. He was indicted in Georgia in July 2006 and brought back to Atlanta in August of that year.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

None Dare Call it Totalitarianism

[Comments from JD: When all the dots are laid out like this, the picture is not pretty.]

I’m not going to make the case that America under Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress has become a totalitarian police state.

But, I will make the case that Washington is leading us in that direction.

What do you call it when the government asks its supporters to “snitch” on opponents of its policies?

What do you call it when the government wants to monitor broadcasts and establish itself as the guardian of “fairness” on the airwaves?

What do you call it when the government seeks to take over the private and personal health-care decisions of the people — establishing bureaucracies to make life-and-death decisions and banning unapproved transactions between doctors and patients?

What do you call it when the government hires and fires the top executives of major corporations and redirects their corporate policies?

What do you call it when government officials refuse to turn over documents necessary to establishing whether they are constitutionally eligible to hold office?

Now more than ever: Get “Taking America Back,” Joseph Farah’s manifesto for moral renewal, sovereignty and self-reliance.

What do you call it when the government funds political extremist groups that have broken the law in successful efforts to empower leaders?

What do you call it when the government turns the Census, designed as a tool to ensure representative government, into a weapon designed to spy on the most personal aspects of the life of citizens?

What do you call it when the government becomes the sole arbiter of whether you can keep some of any of the wealth you accumulated legally?

What do you call it when the government ignores the laws of the land and replaces them with the arbitrary whims of men?

What do you call it when the government picks and chooses winners and losers in the business marketplace?

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Obama’s Diversions No Longer Work

President Barack Obama thinks of himself as a master political manipulator. And why shouldn’t he? Since 2004, Obama has catapulted himself from unknown Senate candidate to occupant of the White House. And he has done so largely by mastering the art of diversion. When Republicans targeted Obama’s association with Jeremiah Wright, Obama diverted Americans by making a vague and infantile speech about race. When Hillary Clinton raised Obama’s inexperience in foreign policy, Obama diverted Americans by blabbing about “hope and change.”

Now, Obama is in trouble on health care. Americans simply don’t like his plan to gradually nationalize health care — the latest Rasmussen poll shows that just 42 percent of voters support Congress’ proposal, while 53 percent oppose it. And Obama is going back to his tried and true strategy: diversion. And as usual, he has picked his three favorite targets: race, ex-President Bush and the American people.

First, race. The Obama-Crowley-Gates explosion was deliberately planned and executed by Obama. Taking advantage of a presidential press conference on health care to rip the Cambridge police department and invoke racial profiling was a calculated strategy to distract Americans from the health care debate.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Obama’s Chicago-Style Intimidation

We are seeing a coordinated smear on those who oppose socialized medicine. Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse mislabeled them as “angry mobs of rabid right-wing extremists.”

The Obama supporters are trying to make it appear that those opposing socialism in health care are “manufactured” protesters, as falsely alleged by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, and in MSNBC’s Chris Matthews’ words, a “Brooks Brothers Brigade.” Majority Leader Harry Reid calls them “Astroturf” to pretend that those opposing Obama’s health care bill are artificial grass roots.

The opponents of socialized medicine are just ordinary citizens, many of whom (like Gladney) had never before attended a political meeting, and many who are alumni of the spontaneous tea parties. There is no evidence that they are organized and financed by the insurance companies, or even by the Republican Party.

On the other hand, there is evidence that Obama’s “punch back” tactics are organized. sent out a “Dear MoveOn member” e-mail stating: “We’ve got a plan to fight back against these radical right-wingers. We’ve hired skilled grass-roots organizers who are working with thousands of local volunteers to show Congress that ordinary Americans continue to support President Obama’s agenda for change. And we’re building new online tools to track events across the country and make sure MoveOn members turn out at each one.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Officials See Rise in Militia Groups Across U.S.

Militia groups with gripes against the government are regrouping across the country and could grow rapidly, according to an organization that tracks such trends. The stress of a poor economy and a liberal administration led by a black president are among the causes for the recent rise, the report from the Southern Poverty Law Center says. Conspiracy theories about a secret Mexican plan to reclaim the Southwest are also growing amid the public debate about illegal immigration. Bart McEntire, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told SPLC researchers that this is the most growth he’s seen in more than a decade. “All it’s lacking is a spark,” McEntire said in the report.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Silent No More! Voters Unleash Fury on Congress

Constituents boo, jeer as lawmakers defend Democrat health ‘reform’ plan

Americans are speaking up and confronting the President Obama and Democrat lawmakers with concerns about their health care “reform.”

Citizens are flocking to town hall forums across the nation and letting their representatives know where they stand. Meetings are filled to capacity while thousands wait outside for their chance to be heard.

[Comments from JD: Videos at URL above.]

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

U.S. Web-Tracking Plan Stirs Privacy Fears

The Obama administration is proposing to scale back a long-standing ban on tracking how people use government Internet sites with “cookies” and other technologies, raising alarms among privacy groups.

A two-week public comment period ended Monday on a proposal by the White House Office of Management and Budget to end a ban on federal Internet sites using such technologies and replace it with other privacy safeguards. The current prohibition, in place since 2000, can be waived if an agency head cites a “compelling need.”

Supporters of a change say social networking and similar services, which often take advantage of the tracking technologies, have transformed how people communicate over the Internet, and Obama’s aides say those services can make government more transparent and increase public involvement.

Some privacy groups say the proposal amounts to a “massive” and unexplained shift in government policy. In a statement Monday, American Civil Liberties Union spokesman Michael Macleod-Ball said the move could “allow the mass collection of personal information of every user of a federal government website.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Will Americans Follow Orders to Take Flu Shots?

Alarmist language sparking fears of mandatory vaccinations, quarantines

Alarmist language over possible outbreaks of swine flu as well as a series of moves by the federal government are fueling fears federal agents will soon be forcing citizens to be vaccinated — prompting one political party to launch a pre-emptive defense against any such effort.

The Constitution Party, a fast-growing alternative to the dominant Democratic and Republican parties in many elections, has come out strongly in opposition to any “mandatory injections” of “potential toxic (H1N1) ‘swine flu’ vaccine.”

Citing the Fourth Amendment, which says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons … shall not be violated,” Constitution Party National Committee Chairman Jim Clymer said the issue isn’t that complex.

“It comes down to the most fundamental of all freedoms. If government can force potentially dangerous substances into our bodies what, then, can’t government do to us?” he said.


Condemnation also has come from Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who cited the swine flu vaccination program in 1976. The effort killed more than two dozen people — not from the flu but from the vaccine.

Paul said he was concerned that “nearly $8 billion will be spent to address a ‘potential pandemic flu’ which could result in mandatory vaccinations for no discernable reason other than to enrich the pharmaceutical companies that make the vaccine.”


Clymer also cited the WHO recommendations that would provide, essentially, for an indefinite stay in a quarantine camp for those who refuse a vaccination. He said the procedures that follow a “Level 6 Pandemic” allow international precedent to override U.S. constitutional guarantees of freedom.

The party statement said, “All liberty-loving Americans should shudder at the WHO directives which state: ‘During a pandemic, it may be necessary to overrule existing legislation or (individual) human rights. Examples are the enforcement of quarantine (overruling individual freedom of movement), use of privately owned buildings for hospitals, off-license use of drugs, compulsory vaccination or implementation of emergency shifts in essential services.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Yale Press Bans Images of Muhammad in New Book

It’s not all that surprising that Yale University Press would be wary of reprinting notoriously controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a forthcoming book. After all, when the 12 caricatures were first published by a Danish newspaper a few years ago and reprinted by other European publications, Muslims all over the world angrily protested, calling the images — which included one in which Muhammad wore a turban in the shape of a bomb — blasphemous. In the Middle East and Africa some rioted, burning and vandalizing embassies; others demanded a boycott of Danish goods; a few nations recalled their ambassadors from Denmark. In the end at least 200 people were killed.

So Yale University and Yale University Press consulted two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism, and the recommendation was unanimous: The book, “The Cartoons That Shook the World,” should not include the 12 Danish drawings that originally appeared in September 2005. What’s more, they suggested that the Yale press also refrain from publishing any other illustrations of the prophet that were to be included, specifically, a drawing for a children’s book; an Ottoman print; and a sketch by the 19th-century artist Gustave Doré of Muhammad being tormented in Hell, an episode from Dante’s “Inferno” that has been depicted by Botticelli, Blake, Rodin and DalÃ.

The book’s author, Jytte Klausen, a Danish-born professor of politics at Brandeis University, in Waltham, Mass., reluctantly accepted Yale University Press’s decision not to publish the cartoons. But she was disturbed by the withdrawal of the other representations of Muhammad. All of those images are widely available, Ms. Klausen said by telephone, adding that “Muslim friends, leaders and activists thought that the incident was misunderstood, so the cartoons needed to be reprinted so we could have a discussion about it.” The book is due out in November.

John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, said by telephone that the decision was difficult, but the recommendation to withdraw the images, including the historical ones of Muhammad, was “overwhelming and unanimous.” The cartoons are freely available on the Internet and can be accurately described in words, Mr. Donatich said, so reprinting them could be interpreted easily as gratuitous

He noted that he had been involved in publishing other controversial books — like “The King Never Smiles” by Paul M. Handley, a recent unauthorized biography of Thailand’s current monarch — and “I’ve never blinked.” But, he said, “when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question.”

Reza Aslan, a religion scholar and the author of “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam,” is a fan of the book but decided to withdraw his supportive blurb that was to appear in the book after Yale University Press dropped the pictures. The book is “a definitive account of the entire controversy,” he said, “but to not include the actual cartoons is to me, frankly, idiotic.”

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]


B.C. Liberals to Cut Over 6,000 Surgeries

VANCOUVER — Vancouver patients needing neurosurgery, treatment for vascular diseases and other medically necessary procedures will wait longer for care as their health authority prepares to cut over 6,000 surgeries under the B.C. Liberals’ post-election plan for health care, New Democrats said Monday.

“This will result in thousands of patients suffering longer in pain and undermine the long-term capacity of public health care,” said Adrian Dix, New Democrat health critic.

Mr. Dix released a leaked document Monday that shows the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority is looking to close nearly a quarter of its operating rooms starting in September and to cut 6,250 surgeries, including 24% of cases scheduled from September to March and 10% of all medically necessary elective procedures this fiscal year.

The plan proposes cutbacks to neurosurgery, ophthalmology, vascular surgery, and 11 other specialized areas.

Further reductions in surgeries are scheduled during the Olympics, when the health authority plans to close approximately a third of its operating rooms.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Dix released a Fraser Health Authority draft communications plan listing proposed clinical care cuts, including a 10% cut in elective surgeries.

Mr. Dix encouraged local communities to fight to protect health care in B.C.

“I think everyone waiting for surgery is going to get bad news,” he said.

The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority confirmed the document as genuine, but said it represents ideas only.

“It is a planning document. It has not been approved or implemented,” said Anna Marie D’Angelo, health authority spokeswoman.

Dr. Brian Brodie, president of the BC Medical Association, called the proposed surgical cuts “a nightmare.”

“Why would you begin your cost-cutting measures on medically necessary surgery. I just can’t think of a worse place,” Dr. Brodie said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Man in Provincial Court Following Attempted Robbery in Regina That Was Foiled by Bikers

REGINA — A 22-year-old man remains in custody after an attempted robbery that was foiled by bikers on Monday.

Sean Robert Smith, 22, made his first appearance in Regina Provincial Court on Tuesday afternoon facing a raft of serious charges, including assault, threatening to use a weapon (a machete) during an assault, robbery with violence, robbery of a hat and bicycle with violence, and wearing a mask in the commission of an offence.

He also faces numerous charges of breaching court conditions, and a previous obstruction charge.

According to the Regina Police Service, two suspects, one armed with a machete, approached the Domo gas bar, located at Fourth Avenue and Albert Street shortly after 9 p.m. on Monday.

As the suspects were walking towards the business, they were spotted pulling out masks by a group of 10 motorcycle enthusiasts having coffee at a nearby coffee shop.

Forgoing their cups of java, the group stepped in to stop the would-be bandits. The suspect with the machete threatened one of the people while his accomplice escaped.

“In the meantime, a couple of these helpers jumped the bad guy, took the machete away and held him for police,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Wilkinson.

“So we have one in custody who will be facing charges of armed robbery, assault with a weapon and breach of a previous condition of release.”

No one was injured in the incident.

The Crown opposed Smith’s release from custody, and he was remanded until Aug. 19 to speak with Legal Aid.

Police are continuing their search for the second suspect.

Rob Hove, one of the bikers, told CJME he was having coffee with a friend at a Tim Hortons when they saw the robbery attempt at the gas bar next door. The men intervened, and held a suspect until police arrived.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Environment: Danish Wind Turbine Firm to Sack 425 in UK

LONDON — Vestas, the Danish maker of wind turbines, said Wednesday that it was cutting 425 jobs in England as a lack of demand forces it to shut two factories making blades.

Vestas said it was closing a plant in Southampton and one on the Isle of Wight.

“This commercial decision was absolutely necessary to secure Vestas? competitiveness and create a regional balance between production and the demand for wind turbines,” said Ole Borup Jakobsen, president of Vestas Blades.

Ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, workers at the Isle of Wight plant had staged an 18-day sit-it to protest at the planned closure.

The job cuts are part of plans by Vestas announced in April to cut 1,900 jobs in northern Europe.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

France: French Muslim Woman Wearing ‘Burkini’ Banned From Paris Swimming Pool

France’s struggle with Islamic dress moved to a Paris area swimming pool today after a 35-year-old woman was banned from bathing in the head-to-toe swimsuit known as the “burkini”.

The woman, identified only as Carole, was making her third burkini outing to the town pool at Ermainville, in the eastern outskirts of the city, when the chief lifeguard ordered her to leave.

She was said to be breaking hygiene rules but her ejection was seen as another episode in the battle between fundamentalist Muslims and a state that has banned head cover from schools and may curb face covering in public.

Carole accused the pool of illegal discrimination and immediately contacted police and the media. “Quite simply, this is segregation,” she said. “I will fight to try to change things. And if I see that the battle is lost, I cannot rule out leaving France.”

Police refused to accept the complaint, on the grounds that the lifeguard was enforcing rules that apply at all French public pools. Women must wear swimsuits and men must wear brief trunks, rather than shorts, which are said to be more likely to harbour bacteria.

Carole, who was born in a traditional French family before converting to Islam at 17, said she had bought her attire on holiday in Dubai. The burkini, designed by Aheda Zanetti, a Lebanese-Australian, has become popular in the Gulf but has caused controversy in public pools in Europe and North America. The swimsuit leaves the face uncovered but the body is clad in a tracksuit-like tunic and coat. The head and neck are covered with a cross between a hijab and a diver’s balaclava helmet.

“I thought that it could enable me to enjoy the pleasure of bathing without uncovering myself, as Islam recommends,” she told Le Parisien newspaper. “I understand that it might shock people, but I am annoyed because I have been told that it is a political matter. I didn’t set out to cause a stir. My only aim was to be able to go swimming with my children in a swimming pool,” Carole said.

The local authorities insisted that no politics were involved. “The lady was almost fully dressed,” Daniel Guillaume, head of sports facilities for the Seine-et-Marne departement, said. “The personnel simply applied the rules that are in effect in all pools in France: you wear a bathing suit and take a shower before entering the water.”

Some politicians want tougher measures to oppose a rise in body-covering by more orthodox Islamic women and Muslim demands for sexually segregated sessions at pools and other sports facilities.

“Maybe you can see the woman’s face in this ridiculous swimsuit, but it is obviously a provocation by a militant,” said André Gerin, a Communist MP from the Rhone area. “These women wearing their camisoles in public want to mark their difference. Going straight to the police station is clear proof that there is a political project behind this outfit,” he said. “No doubt this is the start of a new problem.”

Mr Gerin heads a 32-member parliamentary enquiry that opened last month to review the possibility of a law to bar Muslim women from wearing the face-covering burka, or niqab, in public.

President Sarkozy stirred fundamentalist anger in June when he sided with the review, saying that such dress was not a symbol of faith but a sign of women’s subservience and that it had “no place in France”.

At the start of the hearings, two academics described wearing the burka as a throwback to an archaic Islam and a type of cult-like behaviour, incompatible with modern France.

The move to legislate drew a violent response from foreign extremists. “Yesterday it was the hijab and today, it is the niqab,” said Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb of North Africa.

France caused a stir in the Muslim world in 2004 with a law barring the hijab headscarf and all other religious dress from state primary and secondary schools. The measure, which was implemented without protest, is strongly backed by the public, including a substantial number of the country’s six million Muslims.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Germany: Former Nazi Jailed for Life Over War Crimes

Munich, 11 August (AKI) — A former Nazi commander has been jailed for life for his role in the killing of 14 civilians in an Italian village during World War II. A Munich court on Tuesday found 90-year-old Josef Scheungraber guilty of ordering the killings, as a reprisal for the murder of two German soldiers.

Scheungraber was previously sentenced in absentia by an Italian military court to life in prison.

The killings took place in Falzano di Cortona, in Tuscany, on 26 June 1944.

Scheungraber denied the charges, saying he handed the victims to the military police and did not know what happened to them.

The court found Scheungraber, as a 25-year-old Wehrmacht lieutenant, had ordered the brutal killings in revenge for an attack by Italian partisans that left two German soldiers dead.

The verdict comes almost a year after the trial began and was expected to be one of the last Nazi war crimes trials to take place in Germany.

German soldiers shot dead a 74-year-old woman and three other men before forcing 11 others into a farmhouse which they then blew up.

Only the youngest — a 15-year-old boy named Gino Massetti — survived, and he gave evidence during the trial in Munich.

At the end of the war around 173,000 people were accused of war crimes and courts were convened both by the original western occupying forces of Great Britain, the United States and France, as well as by the German government.

However, only four percent, or 6,600 people, have been convicted. According to Deutsche Welle news service, of the total, around 1,100 were convicted of homicide.

Scheungraber ran a furniture shop, attended German veterans’ marches and recently received an award for municipal service after serving on the town council of Ottobrunn, outside Munich.

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

Germany: Father of Starved Toddler Refuses to Talk

The father of a three-year-old girl who died of starvation in Bavaria this week has refused to talk with the authorities and remained silent before a judge on Wednesday, as he was accused of negligent manslaughter.

His daughter was rushed to the hospital on Saturday after he and his wife called emergency services, but her heart stopped on Monday. An autopsy showed that she had starved to death, weighing “significantly less” than a normal child of her age, the authorities said.

The family was already known to youth services in the small town of Thalmässing. Officials visited them last autumn, reporting that the home was in a ramshackle state.

The girl’s 26-year-old mother is currently hospitalised and guarded by police after an emergency operation. She has not yet been questioned and police speculated she will be well enough for interrogation in the next two days.

Grandparents are caring for the girl’s four-year-old brother, who remains in good health, police said.

According to news magazine Der Spiegel, the mother had two other children who currently live in foster homes.

In a similar case, a Chemnitz judge sentenced a 25-year-old mother to eight years in prison on Wednesday on manslaughter charges for leaving her two-year-old son home alone in Kirchberg for three days over Christmas 2007. He also died of starvation.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Germany: Police Clear Animal Rights Protestors From Lab Site

Police in Hannover on Wednesday removed 26 protestors from a site where a pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim is slated to build a lab to test animal vaccinations.

Two women had to be dug out of the ground after entombing their feet in concrete at the site. Three other protestors trying to hide on the roof of a nearby structure, as well as a young man attempted to climbing 10 metres up an oak tree, were also taken into custody.

Since the beginning of last month, the protestors have occupied the site in protest to the construction of the lab by the pharmaceutical company. A police spokesman said Wednesday they were removed because their demonstration was “no longer a peaceful assembly.”

Police said the animal rights activists were aggressively trying to claim the territory for themselves by digging pits, building barricades and stone deposits on the grounds. They are there as part of a citizens initiative to keep labs that conduct tests on animals out of populated areas.

Other sites in the area are also being targeted by animal rights groups. On July 27, Hannover mayor Stefan Weil’s house was attacked with paint. Last week, a building of a veterinarian school was painted as well. Police are still investigating any possible connection to the Boehringer Ingelheim protest.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Italy: Sardinia ‘Awash With Cocaine’ Says Actress

Bari, 11 August (AKI) — Drug dealers from the southern Italian city of Bari are flooding the island of Sardinia with cocaine, actress Francesca Lana has reportedly said in phone intercepts held by prosecutors. Lana, 28, is among dozens of women linked to Gianpaolo Tarantini, a Bari businessman under investigation for corruption, abetting prostitution and supplying cocaine.

He allegedly paid women including prostitute Patrizia D’Addario to attend parties at prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s homes in the capital and Sardinia in late 2008.

“The Bari guys are filling half of Sardinia with cocaine,” said Lana in a taped phone conversation with an unidentified man, cited by Italian daily La Repubblica on Tuesday.

Lana was one of a number of young women who stayed with Tarantini at his rented villa in Sardinia last July and allegedly attended cocaine-fuelled parties.

Alessandro Mannarini, a Tarantini associate, who is also being investigated for allegedly supplying cocaine, told prosecutors: “There was so much cocaine around that summer that we realised we’d gone too far.”

Bari prosecutors have described the quantities of drugs circulating at Tarantini’s parties as “disturbing”.

In one rambling phone intercept, Lana says: “Those guys from Bari give drugs to everyone. Briatore knows it too.”

She was apparently referring to Formula One boss Flavio Briatore, who is not being investigated by the Bari probe.

Lana’s tapped remarks led to the arrest last Friday of Tarantini’s business partner Massimiliano Verdoscia.

Verdoscia and another Tarantini business associate, Stefano Iacovelli, were arrested on suspicion of supplying drugs for Tarantini’s parties.

In another telephone intercept, Lana is heard discussing with Mannarini a number of lines of cocaine that he was supposed to supply.

Tarantini has denied any wrongdoing and testified to prosecutors last month that it was Verdoscia and Iacovelli who supplied the drugs. Verdoscia and Iacovelli denied the claim.

None of Tarantini’s drug parties involved Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is not being probed by Bari prosecutors.

Tarantini allegedly supplied escorts to attend Berlusconi’s parties, including 42-year-old Patrizia D’Addario, who claims she slept with Berlusconi last November and has audio tapes and photos to prove it.

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

Italy: Northern League Wants Constitutional Amendment to Allow Regional Anthems and Flags

Constitutional bill presented to “recognise constitutional significance of identity symbols”

MILAN — The element of surprise has all but gone. After songs in dialect at the Sanremo festival and dialect exams for schoolteachers, the wave of popular — or populist — regionalism sweeps on. Each day, there is some new, and frequently bizarre, proposal. Leading the charge are, of course, the members of the Northern League. Today, it is the turn of Federico Bricolo and his associates. Mr Bricolo is the Northern League’s group leader in the Senate and the first signatory of a constitutional bill, in other words, an amendment to the Italian constitution. What’s behind the move? The aim is “to insert a second paragraph into article 12 of the constitution to recognise the constitutional significance of the identity symbols of each region, as represented by its flag and anthem”.

THE TEXT — It is not known how many Italians actually feel the need for this blazon of local identity, which would go to join the numberless municipal and provincial standards, or 20 new anthems to sing. The existing national anthem is the regular target of proposals to replace it with anything from the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” from Verdi’s Nabucco to Adriano Celentano’s “Azzurro”. Nevertheless, the Northern League wants to fill the gap left by the absence of an anthem for Lombardy, Veneto, Friuli or Venezia Giulia and has presented the following text: “Article 12 paragraph 1 of the constitution recognises the Tricolore as the symbol of the Italian Republic. However, the fundamental principles of the constitution do not include any official recognition of the identity symbols that characterise the regions”. According to the Northern League senators who presented the bill, the deficiency is inadmissible “in the light of the substantive enhancement of the regions’ political and institutional role effected by recent constitutional reforms. The extension of the material scope of regional regulatory competence has transformed regional authorities into territorial agencies with full political autonomy, promoting in the last analysis a direct relationship with citizens”. The senators point out that “in this historical phase of re-examining the territorial structure of the state in the internal context and at supranational level, it is more than ever necessary to recover the identity symbols that distinguish each region and contribute to strengthening citizens’ bond with the territory, which is an indispensable premise for any federal reform of the system”. This awareness is recognised institutionally in the reforms of the regional statutes approved since 1999. In the bill, we read that “in their first articles, they officially recognise the symbols which, by tradition, history and culture, contribute to the region’s identity”.

REACTIONS — Early reactions ranged from “they’ve been out in the sun” (Italy of Values) to “a silly season stunt” (Autonomy Movement). “It’s not an attack on the constitution by the League; just a silly season proposal to which you can reply ‘Long Live the Tricolore’“, said the minister for the implementation of the government’s programme, Gianfranco Rotondi (Christian Democrats for Autonomies). “Yesterday, they dreamed up regional wage differentials; today they’ve done a U-turn. Now, just to waste a bit more time, the Northern League senators are dragging out regional flags to fly alongside the Tricolore. I ask myself if they’ve any got time to waste”, said a critical Dario Franceschini of the Democratic Party (PD). PD senator Roberto Di Giovan Paolo added: “As Bricolo knows, even in the most federal states and systems, only one flag is flown and only one anthem is sung”. From the majority, the Autonomy Movement’s Carmelo Lo Monte was more receptive: “Highlighting the specific nature of northern and southern regions in the constitution is a very positive idea”. The People of Freedom’s (PDL) Maurizio Gasparre also said he saw no problems: “At this moment, I’m in Sicily and for years the Sicilian flag has been flying on the beach I go to. Is this a problem? Not for me. It doesn’t bother me at all, nor do I think it offends the dignity of the Tricolore. I repeat that I would invite everyone to calm down. It’s common practice nowadays at any civic event for regional flags and municipal standards to be flown with the Tricolore”. For Daniele Capezzone (PDL), the bill is an “out-of-season April Fool”. Predictably, the Northern League stands by the initiative. The minister for agriculture, Luca Zaia, goes so far as to associate it with “modernity”. Mr Zaia said: “I want to remind all those sanctimonious souls who think that the nation should be kept in a museum and stay the same forever that people and cultures change. You can’t be in the modern age part time, depending on whatever is convenient and what your ideological roots are”. Federico Bricolo himself thinks that “those who are critical of our initiative are wrong because flags, like anthems, are values for everyone. They are an asset for the country, symbols often more than a thousand years old, and it is right to recognise them. The argument is as valid for Veneto as it is for Sicily. These objections are unfounded and tendentious”. But the most tongue-in-cheek response came from one of Mr Bricolo’s majority colleagues, Osvaldo Napoli (PDL): “I would like to extend my congratulations to my friend, Senator Federico Bricolo, about whose journalistic flair I was uninformed. His brainwave of flags for the regions and, I presume, for provinces, municipalities and districts as well, has given the papers something with which to fill an entire page tomorrow, Thursday 6 August, when half the country will be relaxing on the sand or under a beach umbrella”.

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Fini : “Govt Cannot Take Parliamentary Power Away”

(AGI) — Rome, 3 Aug. — The problem of how to ensure a balance between the ability of the government to make decrees and Parliament’s right to intervene, precluded in “maxi-amendments” subject to a vote of confidence, is nothing new — as noted by Gianfranco Fini. However, this does not mean that “anyone in the government should think that they do not have to answer to Parliament” or that they are able to “take Parliament’s right and duty to supervise away from it.” The speaker of the Italian Chamber of Deputies reiterated this in an interview with the head of the lower house of Parliament, Beppe Leone, in taking stock of the legislative year for the Chamber’s satellite channel. Fini said that the issue “is one which concerns the government and parliamentary groups. It is important to realise that it is not an issue which simply arose in this legislature, but has been part of the debate on politics for at least two or three legislatures. I remember that in the past the Italian Head of State, who in those times was also President Napolitano, addressed the government at the time to bring to its attention the problem of the mechanism which emerges when the government uses its right to present a maxi-amendment to a decree which, as is also its right, it puts to a vote of confidence.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: PM ‘Did Not Know D’Addario Was an Escort’

Rome, 6 August (AKI) — The man accused of introducing prostitute Patrizia D’Addario to prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has told prosecutors the Italian leader did not know she was an escort, a magazine said on Thursday. The left-leaning weekly L’Espresso said Gianpaolo Tarantini, a Bari businessman, is under investigation for abetting prostitution and alleged corruption.

The magazine said Tarantini was reportedly questioned at length about drug use and prostitution by prosecutors in the southern city of Bari in the last week of July.

Tarantini was questioned by prosecutors for several days and made “admissions” concerning drug use and trafficking young women, the magazine said.

“During his interrogation, they spoke about everything: prostitutes, cocaine, parties and his relationship with Silvio Berlusconi,” the magazine said.

“Tarantini, who is being investigated for drugs, abetting prostitution and a series of crimes against the public administation, makes many admissions.”

L’Espresso said Tarantini was adamant the prime minister did not know that D’Addario and other women he invited to Berlusconi’s Rome residence Palazzo Grazioli or his Sardinian property Villa Certosa were prostitutes.

According the report, Tarantini also said Berlusconi had been “deceived” by the escort who had recorded her conversations with him.

“Faced with thousands of hours of recorded conversations Tarantini decided to collaborate, perhaps in the hope that he could avoid possible arrest,” the magazine said.

Tarantini, 34, has been accused of abetting prostitution by paying women to attend Berlusconi’s parties.

He was allegedly heard briefing D’Addario in a taped conversation before she met the prime minister in October last year.

“He doesn’t use condoms, you decide,” the transcript said. “But he won’t take you as an escort, you understand? He takes you as a friend of mine.”

Tarantini added during the conversation with D’Addario that, if all went well, Berlusconi would “settle up” in some way.

D’Addario returned to Palazzo Grazioli where she allegedly spent the night with the prime minister on the night of November 4. She purportedly recorded intimate details of their conversation that night and on a separate occasion when he showed her around his Sardinian property.

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

Italy: Court Clears Scolding Uncle

It’s OK to tell nephew to behave or face kick in the pants

(ANSA) — Rome, August 10 — It’s OK to tell a teenager he’ll get good kick in the pants if he doesn’t behave, Italy’s top court ruled Tuesday.

The Cassation Court, whose rulings set precedents, rejected the contention of the teen’s mother that the warning amounted to a real threat and a form of abuse.

“The statement cannot be deemed abusive, given the type of language used by the new generation,” said the court, upholding a previous decision by a Sardinian tribunal.

The court said Gavino S. a 55-year-old man from the city of Alghero, could not be accused of “threatening” his 15-year-old nephew Pietro S. and a group of his friends who were loitering in the stairs of their condominium.

The uncle’s order to stop making noise and go home and ensuing threat to kick them all in the pants was judged by the judges to be “incapable of sparking real fear” in the youngsters.

The uncle’s scolding “was only meant to censure, albeit rudely, the behaviour” of the youngsters, the court said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Fioravanti Walks Free as Conditional Release Ends

Will now be able to regain parental authority over daughter and obtain passport

ROME — Twenty-nine years after the Bologna bombing, the man — one of the three identified in court — responsible for the deaths has walked free. Valerio Fioravanti, the former extreme rightwing terrorist, has left his prison cell for the last time having served several life sentences for murder, including one for the bomb that went off on 2 August 1980. It was the one crime he always claimed he did not commit, although this is irrelevant to his legal position. Now he has paid his debt to Italian justice, he can apply to regain parental authority over his daughter and obtain a passport.

Valerio Fioravanti, who was 51 in March, is a free man, despite the obligatory “no end to penalty” printed on his files in compliance with the law. There were none of the reductions granted to those who “renounce” or “dissociate themselves” from armed struggle but he did enjoy benefits extended to all prisoners. Including lifers. After 26 years in prison (actually rather less because of the three months’ reduction for each year, another general benefit), prisoners who have exhibited “behaviour such as to provide certain evidence of reform” are entitled to conditional release. For five years, they do not have to return to prison, even at night, but they must stay in their municipality of residence and fulfil other conditions. Fioravanti, who was arrested in 1981, obtained conditional release in 2004. His punishment has therefore been “extinguished”, as the penal code puts it.

Dozens of other former rightwing and leftwing terrorists have been along the same path, which the other two found guilty of the Bologna bombings are also following. Fioravanti’s wife Francesca Mambro has been on conditional release for almost a year and Luigi Ciavardini, whose sentence was confirmed only in 2007, has been on day release since March. He has to return to the prison each evening but he can leave during the day. This might be why the “Associazione 2 agosto 1980” chose as their slogan for the 29th anniversary of the bombing: “Certainty of the penalty in Italy is reserved exclusively for victims and their relatives”.

It’s a bitter slogan but certainty in Italy envisages, according to the letter of the constitution and the criteria of legal codes, that one day the penalty can end, even for reformed lifers. Victims and their relatives may legitimately deplore the fact but these are the principles laid down by the law. In the case of the Bologna bombing, there is something else that animates the celebrations: the desire to defend a guilty verdict that is now a judicial truth, even though the initial group of defendants was much reduced. Many began to share doubts about the guilt of the three then youthful (one was actually a minor) neo-Fascists, even some left-leaning politicians.

In the land of impunity for bombers, Bologna is clinging onto the sentences handed down at five separate trials, upholding their legitimacy in the face of those who want to remove the adjective “Fascist” from the plaque in the station waiting room that commemorates the 85 dead. This is quite natural, but over time doubts have grown, fuelled by oddities that emerged during investigations and in court. To start with, there is the evidence of the main witness against Fioravanti and Mambro, an ambiguous figure whose reliability is to say the least questionable. But there is a final sentence. However open to criticism, it deserves respect like any other.

Those found guilty claim they are innocent but that is not what matters. What does matter is that even if it is taken as valid, the sentence does not tell the whole story. A piece is still missing. Even if the three youngsters placed the bomb (for what reason is unclear), the instigators and intermediaries who might have recruited them are nowhere to be seen. The individuals accused by investigators were acquitted verdict after verdict lost further pieces of the puzzle and the convictions of others who perverted the course of justice do not answer all the questions.

In other words, the final sentences do not satisfy those who seek justice for the dead on 2 August and who will continue to demand that the full truth be uncovered. It is unlikely that the revocation of state secrecy, which in fact has never been an issue in this case, will throw any new light on the bombing; neither does the Middle Eastern line of inquiry, the alternative to the neo-Fascist one, look set to convince magistrates to re-open the case. More complete conclusions are needed, or more convincing ones, although time marches on, and those officially responsible have paid their debt to justice. On the next anniversary, three decades will have passed but the truth about the Bologna bombing remains out of reach.

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Church ‘Mortified’ By Berlusconi

The Roman Catholic Church has expressed “unease” and “mortification” over revelations surrounding the private life of Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi.

In some of the strongest Church criticism to date, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops’ Conference condemned Mr Berlusconi’s “arrogant” behaviour.

His political party relies heavily on the support of Catholic voters.

However the prime minister’s reported dealings with younger women have not greatly damaged his approval ratings.

The editor of the Avvenire newspaper, Dino Boffo, wrote in an editorial:

“Have people been able to identify the Church’s reservations?

“It seems to me that… people have understood the unease, the mortification, the suffering that such an arrogant abandonment of a sober style has caused us.”


In a news conference last week, Silvio Berlusconi again dismissed criticism of his private life.

He said he had nothing to apologise for and no skeletons in his cupboard.

In an interview published on Wednesday in Il Giornale newspaper — which is owned by his family — the prime minister criticised photographers who shot pictures of his daughter’s birthday party at his Sardinian villa last week.

“I deserve to be left in peace: enough violations of privacy.”

The weeks of scandals have only slightly dented the Italian leader’s popularity.

He still enjoys a 49% approval rating and a majority in both houses of parliament.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

Mohammed Drawing Now a Commercial Success

Considered blasphemous by Muslims, one of the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed cartoons is a hit with collectors

Kurt Westergaard’s controversial drawing of Islamic prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban is proving to be big business for printers, art galleries and — not least — Westergaard himself.

Skanderborg’s Galleri Draupner, which will soon be exhibiting several works by Westergaard, indicated it has sold numerous autographed prints of Westergaard’s illustration.

B.T. newspaper reports that the gallery has asked famed auction house Sotheby’s in London to fix a selling price for the original drawing, which Westergaard is considering selling. A top American collector has appraised the illustration’s value at $150,000.

A Baltic-based printing company is also profiting from the work. It has sold 870 copies of the 1,000 copied and sells for $250 each.

The Jyllands-Posten Mohammed drawings were first printed in September 2005. The move touched off numerous violent protests worldwide from offended Muslims and resulted in extensive damage to several Danish embassies.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Muslim in “Burkini” Banned From France Pool

A swimming pool in France has refused entry to a young Muslim woman wearing a “burkini,” a swimsuit that covers most of the body, officials said Wednesday.

The pool ban came as French lawmakers conduct hearings on whether to ban the burqa after President Nicolas Sarkozy said the head-to-toe veil was “not welcome” in the secular country.

Officials in the Paris suburb of Emerainville said they let the woman swim in the pool in July wearing the “burkini,” designed for Muslim women who want to swim without revealing their bodies.

But when she returned in August they decided to apply hygiene rules and told her she could not swim if she insisted on wearing the garment, which resembles a wetsuit with built-in hood.

Pool staff “reminded her of the rules that apply in all (public) swimming pools which forbid swimming while clothed,” said Daniel Guillaume, an official with the organization which manages pools in the area.

Le Parisien newspaper said the woman identified only by her first name Carole was a French convert to Islam and that she was determined to go to the courts to challenge the decision.

“Quite simply, this is segregation,” the paper quoted her as saying. “I will fight to try to change things. And if I see that the battle is lost, I cannot rule out leaving France.”

Local mayor Alain Kelyor said “all this has nothing to do with Islam,” adding that the “burkini” was “not an Islamic swimsuit, that type of suit does not exist in the Koran,” the Muslim holy book.

France, home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority, has set up a special panel of 32 lawmakers to consider whether a law should be enacted to bar Muslim women from wearing the full veil, known as a burqa or niqab.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Pirates(?): Where Are You, Arctic Sea?

It simply does not make sense.

A 98-metre-long cargo ship, the M/S Arctic Sea, is reported to have been hijacked off the coast of Sweden, after which it is sighted again in the English Channel, and then it disappears without a trace.

Nevertheless, this is what has happened, in the age of satellites and radar systems, and in the waters of the European Union.

On July 20th, the Arctic Sea was anchored in the harbour of Pietarsaari on the West Coast of Finland. Three days later, in the early hours of the morning, it left with a load of 6,700 cubic metres of Stora Enso sawn timber toward Bejaïa in Algeria. Customs authorities in Pietarsaari say that nothing out of the ordinary had occurred while the ship was in port.

Three days later, the voyage of the Arctic Sea suddenly stopped off the coast of Sweden, between the islands of Öland and Gotland.

This is the version of the 15-man crew of the Arctic Sea of what happened then: The ship was in the area between Gotland and Öland at three in the morning on July 24th. Under cover of darkness, a rubber boat approached the ship, with the word Polis painted on the side. Between 8 and 10 hooded figures boarded the ship. They clubbed and tied up the night watchman and an engineer who had been on night shift. The hijackers, who claimed to be drug police, spoke English with an accent. They damaged the ship’s communications equipment, collected the mobile phones of the crew members, beat people, and searched for something.

After 12 hours, the hijackers left the ship, taking nothing with them. Their rubber boat curved away to the east.

Normally in a situation like that a sea captain would head for a nearby harbour in Sweden or Denmark; it is unlikely that getting Stora Enso’s lumber to Algeria was so very urgent.

However, the Arctic Sea simply continued on its way toward Africa.

“The fact that they did not go to port with their broken radios suggests that not everything was on the up-and-up”, says Kari Larjo, an experienced sea captain. “Nobody wants to sail without a radio.”

Larjo has all kinds of ideas of what might have happened.

“Maybe this might have been a small-scale altercation among criminals, and nobody wanted to have anything to do with the authorities”, Larjo ponders. “Criminal activity is certainly possible without the shipping line knowing anything about it. It would be a very big matter if the shipping line itself were involved in a crime.”

Ships the size of the Arctic Sea are required to have Automatic Identification System (AIS) signaling equipment, which makes it possible to follow the course of a ship even on a home computer.

The last time that the Arctic Sea was located with the help of AIS was on July 29th, which means that the equipment was working at least five days after the alleged hijacking — contrary to what the shipping company suggested.

The first news that emerged about the hijacking of the Arctic Sea was on the following evening — July 30th, both in Sweden and in Finland.

Since then, there has been no word from the ship. It is likely that the AIS device has been switched off. However, this would be a gross violation of international maritime rules.

The Arctic Sea is of interest to Finns, as it is carrying 6,700 cubic metres of Stora Enso lumber to Algeria. This is awkward, and also a considerable blow for Stora.

Kari Naumanen, who is responsible for Stora Enso’s wood exports to Algeria, says that the average price of the lumber on board the Arctic Sea is about EUR 200 per cubic metre, which adds up to EUR 1.3 million.

“Unfortunately, we have no knowledge of the ship”, Naumanen says, adding: “And the recipient of the lumber in Algeria is undoubtedly interested, considering that the goods have not arrived.”

Stora Enso has approached Victor Matvejev, CEO of Solchart Management, which is responsible for the ship and its cargo. So far it has been to no avail. Both the ship and Stora Enso’s lumber have vanished. This is most unusual in today’s Europe.

“Previously, this shipping line has always taken care of its business. Now there is no information at all. Naturally, plenty of wild theories develop”, Naumanen says, without going into specifics.

“We are waiting for the shipping line to give us more information. We still believe that the cargo will reach Algeria”, Naumanen says.

It is unlikely that hijackers, if there are any hijackers on the Arctic Sea — would be interested in lumber. Hijacking a massive cargo of wood would be a rather absurd thing to do. Who would buy it? There must have been something else on board the ship that someone was interested in.

From the end of last year through May this year it has sailed between Kotka on Finland’s south coast and the port of Oran in Algeria, carrying lumber from Finland. Then its Finnish harbour appears to have been moved from Kotka to Pietarsaari.

“A completely normal cargo ship, and a fully competent Russian crew”, says Markku Koskinen, head of traffic at the Port of Kotka. “I cannot understand what is going on.”

The forwarding agent for the Arctic Sea in the Port of Kotka is a Finnish company called Aug. Ljungqvist, but its representative Jouni Setälä knows nothing about the case.

“I don’t even know who ultimately owns the shp. We are in contact with Solchart, and with nobody else”, Setälä says.

A month before the hijacking, on June 24th, the ship was in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea located between Poland and Lithuania. What could it have been doing there, considering that it normally operates between Finland and Algeria?

“The ship was undergoing repairs at the Pregol shipyard in Kaliningrad”, says Denis Melnikov, an official at the Port of Kaliningrad.

Contact information for the Pregol shipyard is found, but nobody at the other end answered the phone.

It would not have been completely unheard of for someone in Kaliningrad to have hidden something on the ship; ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the area has become famous as a smuggling route for drugs and cigarettes, among other things.

Figuring out the ownership and management arrangements of the Arctic Sea is no simple matter, as they involve several different countries.

At first it was referred to as a Finnish ship, but that proved not to be the case. Then it was said that it was under Latvian ownership, but that also would seem to be erroneous, although until last year, the Latvian company Aquaship was responsible for the ship’s deliveries.

The vessel is registered in Malta, under the name of a Russian-owned company called Arctic Sea. Its website is in Russian, but its telephone number is answered by a person by the name of Paul Borello in Malta. He says that he is not at liberty to speak about matters related to the company. He promises to send an e-mail to the company’s management, but no word comes from there, naturally.

The ship’s security is handled by a Russian company Solchart Arkhangelsk, which has an address in Arkhangelsk. The company’s director Nikolai Karpenkov answers the telephone.

“Why don’t you ask these things in Finland?”

A representative of the ship in Finland advised us to turn to your company, because you are responsible for the ship’s security.

“That’s not exactly the way it is.”

That is all that Karpenkov will say.

Cargo handling in Finland is handled by Solchart Management, which has offices in the most expensive possible place in Finland — the district of Eira in Helsinki. The office is almost bare — a table, three chairs, a computer, and a safe, on which a large ship’s rudder is leaning. On the wall there are two paintings with maritime subjects and a sea map. Solchart Management was registered under that name in June. CEO Victor Matvejev answers the telephone.

“I am not in a position to say anything.” Beep, beep, beep…

Also listed as a person in charge of Solchart Management is Aleksei Starodubov, who says that he does not know where the ship or Matvejev might be. Soon Matvejev stops answering his phone.

“This appears to be a most extraordinary chain. No reliable information is available”, says Tuomas Routa, head of maritime security at the Finnish Maritime Administration. “Sailing out there in a ship without a radio. It sounds very strange.”

The expected time of arrival of the Arctic Sea in Bejaïa was early Wednesday morning, August 5th, at 1:00 AM Finnish time. On Wednesday morning Rjad Hadjal, harbourmaster at the Port of Bejaïa, answers the phone.

“The Arctic Sea has not arrived in Bejaïa. Our radio officer has tried to make contact with the ship, but has not succeeded.”

“Perhaps it will come in the afternoon. You can call again at that time.”

The ship had not shown up by Thursday afternoon, but Hadjal had heard a rumour that it might be “somewhere near the Spanish coast”.

There is no news on Friday, either. The ship is probably not even in the Mediterranean, as the Tarifa guard station in the Strait of Gibraltar has not seen it. The Spanish Coast Guard has said that it would immediately report to the police if the ship is located.

In Algeria, the ship’s cargo is handled by a company called Seacom. It’s contact person Sadaoui Mustapha has no idea what happened to the ship.

“What has happened to it?” Mustapha asks.

If I knew, I would say.

Also at a loss for answers is Noel Choon, director of the international anti-piracy organisation Piracy Reporting Centre.

“We must contact the ship’s captain”, Choong says. “Call again tomorrow.”

Well, did you make contact?

“No. We know absolutely nothing about this.”

It looks like a dead end. The Swedish police have had about as much success in investigating the case as they had with the murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme some years ago.

Or then, it is withholding some information for investigative reasons. So as the police are not saying anything, we can only speculate.

Perhaps the Arctic Sea is still hijacked. It might explain the complete silence on the part of the shipping company in the matter. By remaining silent, they could be protecting the Russian crew, while negotiations on a ransom for the men and for the cargo.

Might some of the members of the crew be in on the plot? But if the ship is still hijacked, where could it be going to? Perhaps far into the open sea in the Atlantic, from where the hijackers might escape with a valuable load. Perhaps.

Swedish security expert Tryggve Ahlman said in an interview with the Helsinki-based Swedish-language newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet that it is no small matter to acquire a rubber boat that can be used in hijacking a cargo ship. Nor is it easy to arm ten criminals with pistols and automatic weapons.

On the other hand, the suggestion that professional hijackers would have boarded the wrong ship suggests a lack of professional skill on the part of the criminals. And who would do something like that along the Swedish coast?

Or might the Swedish police have been the hijackers, as the crew suspected? A Russian journalist of Komsomolskaya Pravda speculated that it might have been Swedish revenge for the Battle of Pultava, where Russian Tsar Peter the Great humiliated the Swedish King Charles XII. When did that battle take place?

It must have been 1709.

Now we are really lost. Please answer our call soon, Arctic Sea.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Russian Navy Joins Hunt for Ship

Russia’s navy has been deployed to find a ship reportedly hijacked three weeks ago in the Baltic Sea.

Up to five vessels — reported to include nuclear submarines — will be involved in the search for the Maltese-flagged Arctic Sea, the navy confirmed.

It has a 15-strong Russian crew and was reportedly taking timber worth $1.5m (£900,000) from Finland to Algeria when it was boarded by gunmen on 24 July.

The Arctic Sea was last sighted off the north coast of France on 30 July.

British authorities say the 4,000-tonne vessel may have been spotted subsequently by a Portuguese coastal patrol aircraft, but its current location remains unknown.

Maltese authorities have said it is unlikely to be in the Mediterranean.

“It would appear that the ship has not approached the Straits of Gibraltar, which indicates that the ship is headed out into the Atlantic Ocean,” the Malta Maritime Authority said in a statement.

The Portuguese Navy too has said that the missing cargo ship has not passed through Portuguese waters.

Massive search

Russian naval commander Adm Vladimir Vysotsky told Itar-Tass news agency that all Russian navy ships in the Atlantic had joined the search for the vessel.

Operations will be centred on the patrol ship Ladny, which is part of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

UK authorities, which made contact with the Arctic Sea before it entered the busy shipping waters of the English channel, described the situation as “bizarre”.

“Who would think that a hijacked ship could pass through one of the most policed and concentrated waters in the world?” said Mark Clark of the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

“There didn’t seem anything suspicious when contact was made,” he added. “It could well be that a crew member had a gun put to his head by a hijacker when contact was made.”

The Finnish shipping line operating the ship reportedly said it was boarded by up to 10 armed men claiming to be anti-drugs police as it sailed through the Baltic Sea on 24 July.

But the intruders are reported to have left the vessel 12 hours later on an inflatable boat, and it is unclear who is in current command of the ship…

           — Hat tip: 4Symbols [Return to headlines]

Spain: Boys Dream of Becoming Footballers, Girls Teachers

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, AUGUST 10 — Most little boys in Spain dream of becoming a football star, one girl out of four on the other hand aspires to become a teacher, but all of them seem to have one clear objective: they won’t be like their parents when they grow up. This is what emerged from the study “What do you want to do when you grow up?”, carried out by the Adecco Foundation on 2,000 children under the age of 14 in the national territory. The results were quoted today by Europa Press. Regarding the boys, 31% of those interviewed aspire to a profession in the field of sport: in particular 18% aspires to becoming a footballer, the largest percentage, followed by those that want to work in a field that is connected to public security (10.7%) and science (10.1%). On the other hand, the job that has the most secure future in the hands of the girls is that of teaching (26.1%), the arts (13.9%), healthcare (13%) or something that has contact with animals (9.8%). Explorer, comedian, knight, astronaut, magician, ninja or boxer are the more curious professions to come out of the survey. A very small number of the children are set to follow down the paths that their parents chose, 93% declared that they did not intend to work in the fields their parents do. In any case the children seem to be quite bold in that one out of two, 57.1% of both sexes, is sure of being able to start their own company, compared to 42.9% who would prefer to work for third parties. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spain: Religious Symbols Out of Schools, Public Offices

(ANSAmed) — MADRID — The Spanish Government is to abolish all religious symbols from schools and public buildings, with the exception of symbols included in works which have historic, artistic or cultural value, said Justice Minister Francisco Caamano in an interview with Europa Press, cited by the media today. The law, which will include the principle of freedom of conscience for the first time, above all where conscientious objections are concerned, will be put forward by the executive after the summer break. “Our idea is that no religious symbols should exist in public schools, that there is a clear separation between religion and public life and the secularism of the State”, said the minister. “Although symbols and effigies, which make up part of our heritage, have historical-artistic value and are kept inside our public centres, will not be destroyed”. The law will not affect rooted traditions such as nativity scenes, and it will not be forbidden for students to wear a crucifix to school. The case of officially recognised Catholic schools is an exception, as the Spanish constitution and the Agreement between State and Church guarantees the respect for the culture and symbols of the Catholic religion. Caamano says that the future law aims to take “a step forward”, to avoid “confusion between public functions of the State and religious functions”. The reform aims to establish a system “with wisdom and sensitivity” which recognises religious pluralism and treats all religions on an equal basis”, while favouring “the separation of the functions of the Church and the State” at the same time. Caamano also says that the law will “legislate over freedom of conscience for the first time in Spain, modernise the register of religious bodies and organisations, incorporating the jurisprudence laid down by the courts in recent years into the legal system regarding issues such as religion in the armed forces, hospitals and schools”. The Justice Minister announced the reform before the European elections last June 9, which included the banning of religious symbols from public spaces and in all official acts, including swearing on the Bible and in front of the crucifix during the swearing-in of Ministers. It promises to generate fresh hostility in the fragile relations between the Zapatero government and the Catholic Church, which are already tense over the abortion reforms under review in the House and now close to being passed. The law, which is a reform of the current law dating back to 1980, will also regulate objections of conscience and the rights of those who do not profess any religion. It will allow the former only in cases recognised by the Constitution — conscientious objection to call-up to the armed forces — or those expressly set out in law. It will be granted to anti-abortion doctors only if the hospital is in a position anyway to guarantee the right to the voluntary termination of a pregnancy. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spain: Objective is to Regain Gibraltar Sovereignty, Moratinos

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JULY 22 — Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos called for “patience” and trust in government policies over the question of Gibraltar, in order to bring about Spain’s total repossession of sovereignty over the former British colony. According to statements made by Moratinos in an interview given on national radio, RNE, a day after his historic visit to the former colony , it is necessary “to win over the hearts and minds” of the Rock’s inhabitants for them to be able to accept Spanish sovereignty, which was handed over to the United Kingdom three centuries ago in the Treaty of Utrecht, and in order to create conditions for the resumption of talks with London. Moratinos’ visit, which saw him take part with his British counterpart Miliband and with the Prime Minister of Gibraltar, Caruana as a three-cornered dialogue over Gibraltar, was accompanied by harsh criticism from the Popular Party, which is accusing Spain’s historic claim on the territory. The Spanish minister stressed that his gesture of shouting “Gibraltar for Spain!” while on the Rock and in the presence of his British colleague and of Caruana, attests to the “nonnegotiable” defence of Spain’s claim to the island. The Foreign Minister is also said to be opposed to a shared sovereignty with the United Kingdom, which the PP came close to negotiating in 2002 with support from the PSOE. “Sharing was already a risky enough step, because up to now what we have been defending is full sovereignty “, the Minister noted.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

UK: ‘Open Access’ To Universities Could Prove Fatal

Record numbers of students are applying to university: so it’s already a lottery. Now new plans could mean that discrimination becomes embedded in the entire process.

First, Lord Mandelson wants students from poorer backgrounds to gain places on popular courses with much lower grades than candidates from high-performing schools. In his latest vision of access for all, disadvantaged applicants could be given a two-grade head-start.

For example, instead of having to achieve three A grades at A-level for medicine courses, bright pupils from low-performing state schools would need just two Bs and a C. This could also apply to courses such as English, history and law. In the rush towards “open access”, students from high-achieving state, grammar and independent schools will be penalised.

Second, British students, whatever their background, are likely to be disadvantaged as universities turn to overseas pupils. Students from abroad pay far more in tuition fees and are therefore prized “customers”.

Nearly 10 per cent of all students are now from overseas — up from 7 per cent in 2000 and there are no government restrictions on their numbers. The temptation is obvious: British undergraduates pay £3,225 each year in tuition fees, non-EU students pay £14,750.

This trend is ironic, given the Government’s repeated determination to attract 50 per cent of “home” teenagers on to university courses. Some of the best universities are already talking of closing places to UK students this year. Later this month, the annual scramble for last-minute places, known as “clearing”, will commence. At a time of tight funding, it is likely that spare clearing places will be allocated only to the lucrative overseas market. In contrast, the record numbers of home applicants could find that access for them has been capped — even though they may have gained good grades.

Universities must be open to all. No one would deny that the aim of helping bright children from poor backgrounds study at the highest level is laudable. It is right, too, that university students from overseas should be part of the exciting cultural and academic “mix”.

There is already huge wastage in the system, with many students dropping out of expensive degree courses — often because they are unsuited to university study. A staggering 22 per cent of all students fail to complete their courses, costing many millions in funding and wasted places. Such squandering of resources is little short of criminal, with places now in short supply.

I am sorry for any student who has to face the trauma of failing at university. But the Government must shoulder much of the blame for the way it has consistently encouraged teenagers to believe they have a right to a university education. Dropout rates are the worst at the new universities: the former polytechnics where the Government’s open-access policy has been at its most pronounced. At Bolton University, London Metropolitan, Thames Valley University and others, more than 40 per cent of students fail to finish their degrees. More than £800 million has been spent attempting to stop students like these from “dropping out”.

This is why places must be awarded on merit. Every month, there are reports of falling standards. Last week, universities were accused of “dumbing down”, as record numbers of first-class degrees (13 per cent of all degrees) were awarded. Our universities are respected the world over — hence the influx of foreign students. If high entry standards slip further, by allowing students with lower grades on to tough courses, the entire system will be fatally undermined.

Discrimination against independent-school applicants (many of whose parents, like myself, face a struggle to pay fees) and against hard-working students from state schools who achieve the right grades, is clearly unjust because all their hard work will be made to seem irrelevant. High-performing, middle-class students are at a disadvantage when applying to top universities, such as Edinburgh, because of repeated attempts at “social engineering”, using candidates’ postcodes as part of the application process. So even without Lord Mandelson’s latest initiative, the number of students from poorer backgrounds is slowly increasing.

The solution to a fair system of entry for higher education is to raise academic standards in all schools, including “bog-standard” comprehensives. It is a crime that after a decade of Labour prioritising education, so many teenagers still lack essential skills in English, maths and science — let alone are capable of achieving the all-round excellence required for university courses.

Instead of playing party politics and pandering to its core vote with phoney schemes like these, the Government should be doing its utmost to ensure school standards are raised across the board. Then the university system truly would be open to all. This is one nettle the Government consistently refuses to grasp.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: ‘Patriot’ League Plots More Clashes With Anti-Fascist Activists

Groups that say they are opposed to Islamist extremism are plotting fresh clashes with anti-fascist organisations this summer after violent battles between the two sides in Birmingham city centre led to 35 arrests over the weekend.

The English Defence League and Casuals United, two linked groups, are planning protests against what they see as militant Islam in Manchester, Luton, Harrow and other as yet secret locations, according to a website.

The move comes after their supporters fought battles with Asian men backed by Unite Against Fascism activists in front of shocked shoppers at the Bull Ring shopping centre.

In ugly scenes that began after the groups assembled at about 5pm on Saturday, wooden planks, bottles and placards were thrown, and groups kicked and stamped on victims on the ground while men engaged in fights.

“It was chaos,” said Hannah Taylor, 24, from London. “I had only come up to do a bit of shopping, and found myself in the middle of a full-blown riot. People with small children were running into shops for cover. The whole city centre just descended into some kind of war zone.”

Three people were injured and there were several reports of property damage, including to a car.

The conflicts began after backers of the English Defence League, which describes itself as “a mixed race group of English people, from businessmen and women, to football hooligans”, gathered outside Waterstone’s bookshop in a planned demonstration against militant Islam.

Unite Against Fascism mounted a counter demonstration, telling its supporters that “everyone in the area should come along and show these thugs that their brand of vicious racism is not wanted in Birmingham or the West Midlands”. Scores of police officers hemmed in the chanting protest group, which denies it is racist. There were violent skirmishes around the fringes of the demonstration.

The website of Casuals United yesterday used photographs of a man being kicked and stamped on the ground by Asian men as a recruiting aid for fresh protests. “Next time will be bigger now, thanks to the photos of the disgusting attacks on British people trying to speak up against extremists and their supporters,” it warned. “We will arrive unannounced and neither the police or the scum will know any details.”

Over the August bank holiday weekend, the group is planning a protest against a sharia court at Harrow central mosque and in Luton, which it claims is “home of some of the most unsavoury al-Qaida supporters in the UK”. Manchester city centre will be a target in early October, it says.

West Midlands police said that to prevent a repeat of Saturday’s disturbances, it would consider injunctions stopping potential troublemakers going to Birmingham and the surrounding area.

The threat of further trouble came as the government announced plans to reshape its policy towards the Muslim community in Britain, partly by pledging to tackle far-right extremism as well as Islamist extremism. Revised guidance is to be drawn up this summer on the operation of the £45m Prevent strategy, which is designed to challenge violent extremist ideology and disrupt those who promote it.

The fresh approach is expected to ensure that funding goes to a wider range of organisations, and a more explicit strategy to resist white racist extremism is also being developed.

“You speak to any Muslim on the street anywhere in this country and they will say they are as opposed as you and I are to extremism, to terrorism, but the frustration is that they are constantly linked with terrorism as a community as a whole,” said Shahid Malik, the Dewsbury MP and minister for cohesion. “We cannot dismiss or underestimate the threat from the far right. There are white areas which are severely neglected. What we want to do is engage in those white communities to make sure that they are listened to, they feel they are respected.”

Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Perry Barr, Birmingham, said yesterday that tensions between the rival groups needed to be taken more seriously. “I think the groups ought to know better, and certainly if there was going to be rallies by both these groups at the same time it would always lead to this sort of confrontation. My issue is not just that it took place, but that it took place in the city centre, where families and children were just going about their normal lives. To put that at risk is terrible.”

Chief Inspector Mark Payne, of West Midlands police, described Birmingham’s city centre as one that remained “a safe place to live, shop and visit”.

           — Hat tip: TS [Return to headlines]

UK: Baby P’s Father Says He Will Sue ‘Negligent’ Haringey Council

The father of Baby Peter is preparing to sue Haringey Council for failing to protect his son.

The father, who cannot be named, claims that he told social workers five months before Peter’s death in August 2007 that he was in danger from Steven Barker, the lover of the boy’s mother, Tracey Connelly. He also alleges that no background checks were made.

The authorities have said that they did not know that Barker, 33, was living with the mother of 17-month-old Peter Connelly in North London. Despite 60 visits by social workers and health visitors, they failed to spot the scale of the abuse inflicted on Peter. He had more than 50 injuries when he was found dead.

Before Connelly, 28, Barker and his brother Jason Owen, 37, were sentenced, a statement by the boy’s father was read to the Old Bailey. He described seeing Peter in hospital, “his little limp body lying there. He appeared to be asleep and I wanted to pick him up and take him home.”

Connelly is still refusing to accept any responsibility for the death of her son, telling friends that Barker was to blame. In letters to them from her prison cell she has claimed that she was a “doting” parent who simply fell in love with the wrong man and that she knew nothing about the abuse.

The pair have become such hate figures that, once released from their indeterminate prison sentences, they are likely to be given new identities and 24-hour security at an estimated cost of £1 million a year. Connelly could have her first parole board appearance in three years and Barker has been told that he must serve a minimum of 12 years. The Parole Board will primarily consider the threat that they pose to public safety but will also want to know what plans have been put in place to protect them.

If their legal teams convince a High Court judge that there is a threat to their safety, an anonymity order could be granted. They would then be moved to a safe house equipped with panic buttons, and plastic surgery would be considered.

Barker and Owen were convicted last November of causing or allowing the death of Peter, a charge that Connelly admitted. She was given an indeterminate sentence for public protection with a minimum of five years. Owen was given an indeterminate sentence with a minimum term of three years.

In May Barker was convicted of raping a two-year-old girl while Connelly was cleared of failing to prevent the attack. Barker was given a life term of ten years for the rape and a concurrent sentence of twelve years over Peter’s death.

Channel 4 News reported that social services were so concerned about Connelly when she was growing up that they had her placed on the child protection register when she was 11. Her biological father, a convicted paedophile, raped a minor in the Midlands in the 1970s.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: English-Speaking Pupils Are a Minority in Inner-City London Primary Schools

Children who speak English as their first language are now a minority in inner-city London primary schools, official figures showed yesterday.

Youngsters with a different mother tongue form a majority in primaries in 13 out of 33 London boroughs and in nearby Slough.

In inner London, 54 per cent of primary pupils and 48.5 per cent in secondary institutions do not speak English as their first language. This amounts to an astonishing 159,340 children.

Across the country, English is a foreign language to more than one in seven primary youngsters — almost half a million.

The figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families point to the major demographic changes over the past few decades. Around a fifth of pupils are from ethnic minorities — up from 11 per cent in 1997.

There are concerns that school finances are under strain as growing numbers of youngsters require help with English.

Heads’ leaders have urged the Government to fund schools adequately and give fair treatment during inspections to those with large concentrations of non-English speakers.

The figures show there are 14 council areas in which primary children with English as their second language are in the majority — 13 London boroughs and Slough.

In Tower Hamlets almost four out of five youngsters do not have English as their mother tongue. In other areas, including Leicester, Luton and Bradford the proportion is approaching 50 per cent.

For primaries overall, 15.2 per cent are non-native English speakers — up from 14.4 per cent last year.

The figures indicate that many recent migrants have settled in London. The lowest populations of youngsters with English as a second language are in the South West and North East.

Sir Andrew Green, of the Migrationwatch think-tank, said: ‘These figures confirm the huge impact immigration is having on our society.

When Government funds are as tight as they are, this is bound to have a negative impact as children with English as an additional language will need extra tuition.’

He added: ‘In inner London it’s hard to know who immigrant children are supposed to integrate with since they heavily outnumber local children.’

The figures reflect a five-fold increase in immigration since Labour came to power. Net immigration has increased from 48,000 in 1997 to 237,000 in 2007.

A DCSF spokesman stressed that the figures ‘only indicate the language to which the child was initially exposed at home, irrespective of whether they speak English fluently later on. It is only a relatively few recent arrivals for whom communication problems are acute.’

‘We are increasing funding in the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant to £206million by 2010, to bring students weak in English up to speed. We also equip schools to offer effective English as an Additional Language teaching for new arrivals.’

Yesterday’s figures also showed that the recession has brought the first rise in four years in the number of children qualifying for free school meals.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: The Family of Nine Travellers Living in a £1m Home Paid for by the Taxpayer

A family of travellers is living in a £1million house at taxpayers’ expense. John and Serena Connors and their seven children have their rent paid by housing benefit. Their landlady is trying to evict them because she claims they have caused tens of thousands of pounds of damage.

Her case is lent weight by a leaflet issued by the Metropolitan Police allegedly about the family, which claims they are suspects in a series of ‘distraction’ burglaries. But the parents, who have five girls and two boys aged four to 19, are determined to stay put and are threatening legal action over ‘racism against travellers’. The Connors moved into the home in February with the help of Barnet Council in North London. They are benefiting from the Local Housing Allowance, which was introduced last year to encourage private landlords to take in the homeless because of a shortage of council housing.

The council is under obligation to find them a large enough house, hence the family being placed in one of the most expensive areas. The property in Totteridge, which has been valued at nearly £1million, has five bedrooms and three bathrooms and lies on a usually peaceful street.

Businesswoman Sapna Bukhari and her IT project manager husband Zulfi, both 38, used to rent it to professionals for £4,000 a month. But with the market deteriorating they agreed to let it out to the Connors for £2,400 a month through housing benefit, after being assured that they were ‘good tenants’. Mrs Bukhari alleged: ‘Within a few weeks of them moving in, a radiator was pulled off the wall and the water from it made the ceiling collapse. ‘They failed to tell us about it promptly, they threatened me, my builder and my plumber, they abused me — calling me a “Paki” — and gave anti-Semitic abuse to neighbours. ‘ They’ve twice blocked the drains so sewage has flowed on to the pavement, have thrown food, clothes, cat excrement and all manner of rubbish into the gardens, and shout and scream vile obscenities. ‘They won’t even let the builders come in to carry out repairs. I’m worried the damage will cost tens of thousands.’ Mrs Bukhari went on to claim that she had run into problems with paperwork while trying to evict them because the Connors ‘seem to know the system’. ‘Social services are paying their rent but I’m sure they will not stump up for the damage’, she added. The police leaflet was issued by the Totteridge Safer Neighbourhood Team to all houses in the street except the Connors. Although the family is not named, officers apparently readily confirm to neighbours that members of it are involved. Headed ‘Warning’, the leaflet tells of thieves targeting homes by ‘asking to use your toilet and general stories of hard luck’. It says: ‘All will end in them trying to enter your house and steal anything they can get their hands on.’ It adds that the suspects are ‘from the travelling community’, and describes two teenage girls with Irish accents. Mrs Connors, who is originally from County Wexford in Ireland, agreed that the leaflet was targeted at her family but said: ‘I’m making a complaint to the police about this leaflet. ‘My kids are cheeky but they aren’t thieves. We haven’t damaged the house either. ‘The landlady doesn’t like traveller. It’s racism, I’m going to get her done for harassment.’ She added that she didn’t even want to live in the house and would prefer to be in a travellers’ camp. ‘They put people into places you wouldn’t put dogs into,’ she said. A spokesman for Barnet Council said anyone evicted for unreasonable behaviour would not be rehoused, and a source said they were not aware of the family ever asking for an alternative home. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said the force had not received a complaint about the leaflet.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Too Proud Middle Classes Failing to Claim Their Benefits as Unemployment Hits 14-Year High of 2.4million

An official inquiry into unemployment and benefit figures has been launched after it was revealed three quarters of a million middle-class unemployed are choosing not to claim welfare payments.

The inquiry, ordered by work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper, will study why so many unemployed in the deepest recession in decades are living off redundancy payments or savings but not claiming benefit.

“It’s fairly open. The key issue is establishing why there is a difference in the trends of the key figures,” a spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: TV Host Andrew Castle Tells Andy Burnham [Health Secretary]: ‘My Daughter Almost Died From Tamiflu’

The Health Secretary appeared on breakfast television this morning in a bid to reassure concerned parents after scientists warned that children should not be given Tamiflu.

Instead he was confronted by a GMTV presenter who claimed that the drug had almost killed his daughter.

Andy Burnham insisted that the Government was right to advise children to take the anti-viral drug despite a warning from researchers at the University of Oxford who called on the Department of Health urgently to reconsider its pandemic strategy.

But he was tackled live on TV by Andrew Castle, Britain’s fomer top tennis player, who said his older daughter, Georgina, had a respiratory collapse after being given the drug as a precaution during the containment stage of the pandemic.

“I can tell you that my child — who was not diagnosed at all — she had asthma, she took Tamiflu and almost died,” he said.

Georgina, 16, was given Tamiflu when five pupils at Alleyn’s School in south London were diagnosed with the illness in May.

Castle, also a BBC tennis commentator, said he feared for his daughter’s life as medical professionals backed away from the potentially contagious child.

He said: “Nobody checked that she had swine flu beforehand. The Health Protection Agency just handed it out at Alleyn’s School in south London and a lot of kids suffered in the school very heavily.

“We saw a respiratory collapse through it and it almost cost my older child her life.

“The doctor’s surgery wouldn’t take her. The doctor said ‘No, we can’t take her to A&E. So she’s just on the floor having this nightmare of a situation. A lot of people are in this situation. They don’t know what to do.”

Mr Burnham was forced to break off from defending Tamiflu to offer his sympathy. “It must have been a very worrying situation for you,” he said.

“But that was in a very different phase of the illness when we were seeing the scenes from Mexico and we were in what we call the containment phase, where we were trying to isolate every case and then give Tamiflu to those around those cases.

“We’ve got to keep things in proportion and people shouldn’t worry unnecessarily.”

He repeated that parents should not be worried if their child was taking Tamiflu for swine flu. Mr Burnham said the Oxford University research published in the British Medical Journal dealt with seasonal flu, not swine flu, and added: “That’s a very important distinction.”

He said: “Swine flu is a new virus, it’s early days and we’re adopting very much a safety-first approach to tackling the illness.

Given that swine flu had a disproportionate effect on children, he maintained that Tamiflu was “our only line of defence”.

Some 300,000 people in England, including children and adults, have received courses of Tamiflu through the Government’s National Pandemic Flu Service for England.

The study published yesterday warned that Tamiflu can cause vomiting in some children, which can lead to dehydration and the need for hospital treatment.

The researchers said children should not be given the drug if they have a mild form of the illness, although they urged parents and GPs to remain vigilant for signs of complications.

Parents of children with a compromised immune system or a condition like cystic fibrosis should discuss the harms and benefits with their GP, they said. But overall, the researchers said, children who were otherwise healthy could suffer more harm than benefit from taking Tamiflu or another anti-viral, Relenza.

The researchers also found that using anti-virals preventatively had little effect — reducing transmission of flu by 8 per cent.

The study was carried out in April and May — before the Government decided to stop using Tamiflu preventatively. Only those with suspected or confirmed swine flu are now getting the drug and are being urged to get access to Tamiflu through the Pandemic Flu Service, which is accessed online or via a telephone helpline.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Bosnia is Back on the Brink of Ethnic Conflict, Warns Hague

Bosnia is on the brink of collapsing back into chaos and violence as its ethnic tensions escalate, the shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague warned yesterday.

Fourteen years after the end of the war that tore apart the former Yugoslav republic, Mr Hague called for urgent action to prevent a new crisis gripping the Balkans. He warned that the situation risked turning Bosnia-Herzegovina into “Europe’s black hole”.

David Cameron’s unofficial deputy said that he was determined to cast a fresh spotlight on Bosnia, which is governed by a complex federation of Muslims, Serbs and Croats. He stressed that he was not forecasting a return to all-out war but said that violence was “not far below the surface” as the situation became “grimmer”.

In an interview with The Independent, he said he had been alarmed after a two-day visit last month to Srebrenica, where 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were massacred in 1995. Meetings with community leaders had demonstrated to him that the country was being “pulled apart”.

He said: “You would think you were going to a place where the people have moved on and communities have got together 14 years later. But actually the atmosphere is grim and it is very difficult for the refugees who lost all their menfolk to move back there — it’s a rather unwelcoming atmosphere. Politically, around them, their country is sliding backwards and further apart.”

Mr Hague, who also had extensive meetings with political leaders in a visit to Bosnia last autumn, said he feared the tensions could deteriorate into something worse. He said: “In some form [Bosnia] could break down — this is a country being slowly pulled apart.”

He was alarmed that Bosnia’s Serbian leadership was pressing for greater autonomy and eventual secession from the fledgling state, with Russian cash fuelling the renewed nationalism. It was also pressing for the closure of the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia, which oversees the peace agreement between its ethnic groupings.

Mr Hague attacked the “weak and confused” EU response to the “pressure to fragment the country” and said: “It is moving slowly in the wrong direction and — despite all the efforts and all the bloodshed and all the sacrifices there — it’s moving in the wrong direction without alarm bells sounding in most European capitals.”

He added: “The evidence is they [only] get together in Bosnia when there is some strong outside pressure on them.” The shadow Foreign Secretary denounced suggestions that EU peacekeepers could be pulled out of Bosnia, insisting: “There should be no talk of withdrawing European forces. A strong signal should be sent that Europe will not ignore this situation.”

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

North Africa

Morocco: ‘They Feared for Their Lives’

Oslo — Norway denied on Thursday accusations from Moroccan Olympic track champion Khalid Skah that Oslo’s embassy in Rabat kidnapped his children amid a custody battle with his estranged wife.

Skah, winner of the 10 000-metre race at the Barcelona Games in 1992, threatened to take the Norwegian government to an international court over the affair, which has triggered a diplomatic row between Norway and Morocco.

“We do not think we did anything reprehensible,” Norwegian foreign ministry spokesperson Bjoern Jahnsen told AFP.

Norway admits giving refuge to the two children, Selma, who was born in 1993, and Tarik, born in 1996, who have dual Moroccan-Norwegian citizenship, when their mother showed up with them at the Norwegian mission in Rabat.

At their request, the embassy let them leave three days later, officials said.

“They came to our embassy because they feared for their lives. We had good reason to believe them and (Foreign Minister) Jonas Gahr Stoere himself decided that they would be welcome to the (ambassador’s) residence,” Jahnsen said.

“After a few days, their mother and themselves asked to leave and we did not have to ask them questions about what they counted on doing,” he said.

Norway said it has lost sight of them.

Skah, who charges that his children were kidnapped on the night of July 18-19, said on Wednesday he would pursue Norway in international and European courts.

The former Olympian said Tarik and Selma had lived in Rabat since 2006 and that their Norwegian mother, Anne Cecilie Hobscot, left the north African country of her own will in 2007 to live in Norway.

Skah accused the Norwegian ambassador of acting “like a real gang leader when he kidnapped my children” and arranged to have them exit Morocco “in obscure and illegal conditions.”

“I am in anguish,” he said. “My children now are living under the pressure of the Norwegian government.”

Morocco summoned Norwegian Ambassador Bjorn Olav Blokhus on July 24 after it emerged that the two children were out of the country. Rabat charged that their departure was an “illegal exit from the territory” aided by “mafia-like networks”. –

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

A Minor Revolution at the Head of Fatah, Barghouti Elected, The “Old Guard” Gives Way

For the first time the leader of the Tanzim is part of the Central Committee. 15 “new faces” also elected to the 18 seats available. Barghouti, imprisoned in Israel, said to be in favour of two state solution.

Bethlehem (AsiaNews / Agencies) — A minor revolution has taken place in the Fatah leadership, as for the first time Marwan Barghouti (pictured) a leading figure in the Palestinian armed resistance and currently imprisoned in Israel, joins the Central Committee. With him many new faces have also been voted into the leadership of Fatah to the exclusion of the “old guard”. The results, still unofficial, point to first timers taking 15 of the 18 available seats.

The result of the Fatah Congress, the first in 20 years, exceeded expectations, which had pointed to the desire for a change in leadership, to tackle growing pressure from Hamas and corruption charges.

Barghouti, 50, already considered one of the candidates to succeed Arafat, perhaps the most prominent figure among the Palestinians of Fatah, is the head of the Tanzim, the militant wing of Fatah, and in that capacity has been condemned by the Israelis to five life sentences for attacks they define as terrorist. In the past, his release, as well as by Palestinians, was also sought by representatives of the Israeli Labour Party, who believe him to be the only person able to bring all the Palestinians to a peace agreement. This is spurred on by the fact that, unlike Hamas, Tanzim has never theorized the destruction of Israel.

In April, Barghouti wrote a letter to the Israelis, in which it called for a “total ceasefire” and was said to favour, “along with the vast majority of Palestinians, a peace that allows the coexistence of an Israeli state and a Palestinian state. And in the political program adopted last Saturday, Fatah affirmed “its adherence to the option of a just peace” with Israel, while reaffirming “the right of the Palestinian people to resistance against occupation, under the rules of international law.”

“These elections — said Mohammad Dahlan, one of the newly elected, and former head of security for Fatah in Gaza — open a new future for the movement, a democratic era.” Another “new face”, Jibril Rajoub, former aide to Arafat, spoke of “a coup against a leadership that had monopolised the movement for a long time without even presenting a report about its work”.

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

Hamas Accuses PA of Torturing Prisoner to Death

Hamas on Monday accused the Palestinian Authority security forces of torturing one of its supporters to death in a detention center in the West Bank.

The victim was identified as Fadi Hosni Hamadeh, 28, of the village of Assireh Shamaliyeh near Nablus.

He was arrested last June by the PA’s General Intelligence Service on suspicion of membership in Hamas.

Hamadeh’s body was discovered early Monday in his cell at the PA-run Jnaid prison near Nablus.

PA security officers claimed that an initial investigation showed that Hamadeh had committed suicide.

But the man’s older brother, Muhammad, strongly denied the claim, saying that Hamadeh could never have considered committing suicide because he was religious.

Hamas also dismissed the claim, saying Hamadeh, like most Hamas-affiliated detainees, had died as a result of brutal torture.

Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel said that “every Palestinian child has by now heard of the various torture methods used by the Palestinian security forces.”

He said that Hamas would never forgive those responsible for the death of Hamadeh and other detainees held by security forces loyal to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamadeh is the second detainee to die in a PA prison since the beginning of the month. On August 4, a top Hamas operative, Kamal Abu Toyamah, died in a Jordan hospital shortly after being released from a PA detention center in the West Bank.

Abu Toyamah was arrested by PA security forces in September 2008, but was released two months ago after a serious deterioration in his health.

His family and Hamas also accused the PA security forces of torturing him while he was in detention.

At least six Palestinians have died in PA detention centers in the past two years. Hamas and human rights organizations estimate that up to 1,000 Palestinians are being held without trial by Abbas’s security forces on suspicion of membership in Hamas.

           — Hat tip: Ron Mossad [Return to headlines]

Iran-Trained Security Chief Protected Carter on Trip to Gaza

Hamas has appointed a key Iranian-trained officer to command its VIP protection force in the Gaza Strip.

The commander was identified as Lt. Col. Mohammed Khalaf, a 36-year-old veteran of courses provided by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

‘Israel Should Drop Apologetic Tactics, Admit it is at War’

Israel should drop its apologetic advocacy and admit it’s fighting a war.

This is the message that Italian legislator Fiamma Nirenstein impressed upon members of the new Knesset lobby that she recently helped create, which aims to “strengthen ties between Israel and European parliaments.”

Nirenstein, a staunch supporter of Israel and a legislator for the party of Italian President Silvio Berlusconi, was the driving force behind the formation last month of Israel’s European Forum of the Knesset (EFK).

The new body — whose dozen-odd members include Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz, Daniel Ben-Simon and other notable lawmakers from across the political spectrum — is meant to serve as a counterpart for the European Friends of Israel, an umbrella organization for some 1,000 pro-Israel legislators from all over the continent.

But while the European body — in which Nirenstein plays a central role — aims to better Israel’s image in Europe, the Jewish Italian journalist and lawmaker has a different vision for the new Israeli counterpart.

The hostility that some Israelis feel toward Europe, she says, “is not hostile enough when one considers how hateful some European institutions are of Israel.” She says she expects the members of the new body to come to European forums and “attack ferociously those who call to demonize Israel.”

Apologetic tactics, she told Haaretz at her home in Gilo, Jerusalem, won’t work. “You Israelis must have courage to say you are at war and how much it costs you,” she proposed, despite the militaristic image of Israel that this may reinforce.

That is the tactic she says she would like to see used in countering the findings of the UN’s Goldstone Commission on alleged war crimes in Israel’s winter offensive in Gaza — “the new Knesset forum’s first major test.”

Israel also needs to “attack” EU funding for NGOs that “promotes bias and prejudice,” she avers.

In fluent Hebrew, she explains that she has for many years divided her time between Israel and her native peninsula. With her Israeli husband, news photographer Ofer Eshed, she raised a son in Jerusalem during the time of frequent bus bombings in the 1990s. Their neighborhood was hit by a mortar round during the second intifada.

These experiences, along with her European background, have afforded Nirenstein, 64, some understanding of both Israelis and Europeans, she says. She adds that she has acquainted herself with Arab culture while traveling extensively throughout the Middle East as a journalist for Italy’s most prestigious publications.

“Europeans can’t really understand a problem that involves terrorists shooting and then hiding behind civilians,” she argues. “They just can’t put themselves in those shoes.” Declaring that Israel is at war for its right for self-determination as a free society would have a greater impact than explaining the human shield predicament, Nirenstein proposes.

“You have to realize that Israeli society has something Europe longs for,” she says. “Europe is lost. It longs for a society of values defending its people, for a society which is still able to produce three children per couple. But you have to have the courage to say that you are different than Europe.”

This will naturally highlight the things that set Israel apart from Europe rather than what unites the two cultures, she concedes. “But pretending you are not at war is just a lie.”

The Arabs, she observes, have no problem admitting they are at war. “I sat with a Hamas leader in Gaza not long before a helicopter took out the organization’s co founder, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi,” she recalls with a faint ironic smile. “I have covered Camp David to Annapolis. I know them. I know that Israel has no partner.”

With funding from Pro-Zionist European Jews and non-Jews, the new Israeli forum Nirenstein helped create will seek to shift more attention away from the Palestinian issue to the threat posed by Iran.

As deputy chairperson of the Italian parliament’s foreign affairs commission, Nirenstein has had limited success in prompting Berlusconi’s government to intervene to block involvement of Italian firms in Iranian projects.

According to recent reports in Iranian media, Tehran is very close to signing a major deal with Italian industrialists for processing natural gas in deposits.

“I feel bad about the gas deal,” she says. “Germany and Italy are Iran’s two leading trading partners.” Opposition to this may be more successful now, she says, after the post-election riots in Iran “gave the world pure certainty that the regime in Tehran is a tyrannical and illegitimate entity even to its own people.”

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

Jailed West Bank Leader Elected in Fatah Shakeup

Bethlehem, 11 August (AKI) — Marwan Barghouti jailed for life in Israel on charges of organising the killing of Jews, was elected to a senior position in Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction on Tuesday. Barghouti, 50, who has denied the charges against him, is considered to be a popular figure among many Palestinians and was once seen as a successor to Yasser Arafat.

He was among 15 new officials voted into 18 contested central committee seats at the party congress in Bethlehem in the West Bank.

Mohammed Dahlan, a divisive figure who is disliked by Hamas supporters, was also elected, as some members of the Fatah lost their positions.

Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Queria suffered the most serious defeat in the elections, failing to secure a place in the Fatah central committee, according to preliminary counting.

Queria’s defeat came after he had enlisted hundreds of delegates to take part in the committee vote, in an attempt to strengthen his standing.

Abbas said the party, which is staging its first congress in 20 years, needed to show disillusioned voters a fresh start.

Of the 10 “Old Guard” members seeking re-election, less than half succeeded.

The movement headed by Arafat for 40 years before his death wants to shed a reputation for corruption and cronyism that led in 2006 to a stunning election loss to its Islamist rival Hamas.

Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah a year later, splitting the Palestinian independence movement.

About 2,000 delegates are attending the Fatah congress which began last Tuesday in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

Abbas, 74, was reaffirmed unopposed as leader in a show of hands but critics believe he is weak and that the congress may not strengthen his position.

Fatah is ready to negotiate a peace deal with Israel but it is struggling to reverse a decline in popularity among Palestinians.

Fatah is dominant in the West Bank, separated from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip by Israeli land.

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

Middle East

Deaths Mount Amid Yemen Offensive

The army in Yemen is continuing a major offensive against rebels in the north of the country, with at least 15 people killed in two days of fighting.

There were conflicting reports on whether the dead were civilians killed in an attack on a market or rebels.

Other reports say more have been killed in fighting in Saada, the capital of the province of the same name.

The offensive is an escalation of the long-running conflict between the Sunni government and Shia rebels.

The rebels, supporters of Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, operate in mountainous Saada province, near the border with Saudi Arabia.

The offensive came after the government vowed to strike with an “iron fist”.

State of emergency

The official news agency Saba said a state of emergency had been declared in Saada province, according to Reuters news agency.

Fighting between government troops and the Zaidi Shia rebels resumed in early 2008, six months after the government and rebels had agreed a ceasefire.

Hundreds of people have been killed since the rebellion broke out in 2004.

The president has accused the rebels of trying to overthrow the government.

The rebels accuse the government of corruption and discrimination, but are particularly angered by the government’s current alliance with the United States.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

French Pool Bans ‘Burkini’ Swim

French officials have banned a Muslim woman from swimming in a public pool while wearing a swimsuit that covers her entire body.

The woman had swum in July in the pool in Emerainville, east of Paris, in the “burkini” — a loose-fitting garment resembling a wetsuit with a hood.

But staff stopped her from swimming in August, citing hygiene concerns.

It comes as the government examines ways to limit burka use after the president said they reduced dignity.

France is home to Western Europe’s largest population of Muslims, with about 5 million living there.

At the pool, staff “reminded [the woman] of the rules that apply in all (public) swimming pools which forbid swimming while clothed,” pool management official Daniel Guillaume was quoted by AFP as saying.

The woman was a French convert to Islam, and had bought the swimsuit in Dubai so that she would not have to uncover herself to go swimming.

“Quite simply, this is segregation,” she said, according to Le Parisien newspaper, which identified her only as Carole.

“I will fight to try to change things. And if I see that the battle is lost, I cannot rule out leaving France.” [Please do. — Sean]

Emerainville Mayor Alain Kelyor said “all this has nothing to do with Islam”, adding that the swimsuit was “not an Islamic swimsuit” and that “that type of suit does not exist in the Koran”.

‘Prisoners behind netting’

In June the French National Assembly appointed 32 MPs to a six-month fact-finding mission to look at ways of restricting burka use.

In a major policy speech that month, President Nicolas Sarkozy said the burka — a garment covering women from head to toe — reduced them to servitude and undermined their dignity.

“We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity,” Mr Sarkozy told a special session of parliament in Versailles.

In 2004, France banned the Islamic headscarves in its state schools.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

Iran: Reformist Trials Likened to Stalinist Era

Tehran, 11 August (AKI) — Iran’s most senior dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, has compared the mass trials of government opponents and public confessions to the tactics of former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and other authoritarian rulers.

Hossein Ali Montazeri, an historic figure in Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979, was once the designated successor to the revolution’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini but fell out with Khomeini in 1989 over government policies, which he believed challenged human rights.

The Islamic scholar is now making headlines again, amid claims that protesters have been tortured, even killed in prison. Others have claimed that confessions were extracted under torture.

Montazeri currently lives in the holy city of Qom, and remains politically influential in Iran, especially upon reformist politics at a time of unusual upheaval in the country.

They say that history never repeats itself, but the similarities between what happened in Moscow’s courts in the third decade of the 20th century and what is happening today in the courts of Tehran suggest a grotesque similarity.

Police and judiciary officials on Sunday tried to calm the outrage in Iran over the deaths of detained protesters in prison, by acknowledging abuses and calling for those responsible to be punished.

Iran’s prosecutor-general Ghorban Ali Dorri Najafabadi called for those responsible for mistreating detainees to be punished and said that the protesters were never meant to be taken to Kahrizak prison which has been at the centre of abuse claims.

“Unfortunately, negligence and carelessness by some officials caused the Kahrizak incident, which is not defendable,” he told the state news agency.

“During early days, it is possible there were mistakes and mistreatment due to overcrowding in the prison.”

But a senior commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, which led the crackdown after thousands took to the streets to protest the June 12 election, was unrepentant and said that the three top opposition figures instead should be put on trial.

Lubyanka was the home of the first Soviet secret service Ceka created in 1918. This is where enemies of the state were taken and became synonymous with torture and severe interrogation methods which identified spies, enemies of the state, economic sabotage and other so called crimes.

Now in Iran there are three trials underway and it appears that confessions have been extracted from the accused inside Kahrizak prison, methods that are once again reminiscent of the “Stalinist” regime.

Police chief General Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam acknowledged protesters were beaten by their jailers at the same facility and that the prison has since been closed down.

However he maintained that the deaths in the prison were not caused by abuse.

“This detention centre was built to house dangerous criminals. Housing people related to recent riots caused an outbreak of disease,” the official news agency quoted Moghaddam as saying. Protesters “died of viral illness and not as a result of beating.”

But outrage about what happened at Kahrizak has extended far beyond the political opposition, and influential figures in the clerical hierarchy have condemned the abuse of detainees and the three deaths known to have taken place there.

On Monday a defeated opposition candidate in Iran’s presidential election called for an investigation into allegations some protesters were raped in prison.

In a letter to former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mehdi Karroubi said senior officials had informed him of the “shameful behaviour” occurring in prisons.

Karroubi wrote that both male and female detainees had been raped, with some suffering serious injuries.

About 200 people arrested during the mass protests provoked by June’s disputed election, which saw president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad returned by a huge margin, are still in detention.

Four deputy ministers were dismissed by Ahmadinejad on Monday for allegedly sympathising with election protesters.

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

Jordan: Raped Girl Killed Over Family ‘Honour’

A 41-YEAR-OLD Jordanian man was charged with premeditated murder after his raped teenage niece was shot dead on Tuesday to “cleanse” the family’s honour, police said.

“The man was arrested and charged after he shot the 16-year-old girl eight times in different parts of her body,” in the Nasser area east of Amman, a police source said.

“The suspect, who was arrested while carrying his gun, confessed to the crime, saying that he wanted to cleanse his family’s honour after his niece was raped last year. She gave birth to a baby boy two months ago and her family kept the child.”

Murder is punishable by the death penalty in Jordan, but in the case of so-called “honour killings”, a court usually commutes or reduces sentences, particularly if the victim’s family urges leniency.

Between 15 and 20 women are murdered each year in Jordan in the name of honour, despite government efforts to fight such crimes.

Parliament has refused to reform the penal code to ensure harsher penalties.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Kuwait: Govt ‘Foils US Army Base Plot’

Kuwait City, 11 August (AKI) — Kuwaiti security forces have arrested six suspected members of an Al-Qaeda linked terrorist cell who were planning to attack a US military base, the interior ministry said on Tuesday. The plotters were also planning to bomb other “important facilities” in the oil-rich state, the ministry said in a statement.

All six suspects confessed to plotting attacks against the US military camp Camp Arifjan south of the capital, Kuwait City, as well as the headquarters of the internal security agency and other unspecified targets, according to the statement. The suspects were not named.

Kuwait is a staunch US ally, but Muslim militants in the country oppose the US military presence.

They have been blamed for killing a US Marine and one contractor in attacks since 2002.

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

Lebanon: ‘Hezbollah Plotting Attacks Abroad’

Comes amid war of words between Lebanese group, Israel

The Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist organization has decided to carry out attacks against Israelis abroad, including possibly assassinating high profile figures, Israeli defense sources told WND.

The information comes amid a war of rhetoric between Israel and Lebanon. Also, Israel yesterday advanced temporarily toward the Lebanese border following reports the militia has stockpiled 40,000 rockets in the area and is training its guerrillas to use missiles capable of striking Tel Aviv.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

More Turkmen Gas for Iran, Less for Europe

Turkmenistan plans to sell Iran 14 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year. Iran is willing to pay market prices. The two countries have recently shown to share common goals, for example over the Caspian Sea’s mineral riches.

Ashgabat (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Turkmenistan is planning to increase the amount of natural gas it exports to Iran from 8 to 14 billion cubic metres (bcm) per year. Iran, despite its huge oil and gas reserves, is hard pressed to develop them and so has opted to buy gas from abroad.

A new pipeline from the eastern Turkmen town of Devletabat to Iran will have a capacity of 12.5 bcm of gas per year and should be completed later this year.

Iran and Turkmenistan are also committed to increase the quantity of Turkmen gas exported to Iran to 20 bcm in the future.

Press reports also indicate that Iran is ready to spend more in an attempt to block European access to Turkmen gas.

Analysts suggest that the good relationship between the two countries is behind the current spat between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.

In a recent statement the Turkmen government blamed Azerbaijan for the unresolved status of the division of mineral rights in the Caspian Sea. It recently said that it plans to take its dispute with Azerbaijan to the International Court of Arbitration in Paris and to the United Nations General Assembly when it reconvenes in September.

However, Turkmenistan’s deals have left many experts wonder about the effective size of Turkmen deposits, which local authorities claim to be huge, but which have never been probed by foreign parties.

Turkmenistan has also reached a number of deals with China and will begin exporting 30 bcm by the end of the year, while the planned Turkmen contribution of 10 bcm to the EU-backed Nabucco pipeline project is only in the planning stages.

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

Summer Swelter / PM’s Message to Iran: It’s Too Hot for War

[Comment from Tuan Jim: not sure why it’s so hard to find a copy of the great photo of Netanyahu in the F-15 cockpit]

The journalists were summoned to see the scene that opened yesterday’s evening news: The prime minister, the chief of staff, and senior Air Force brass huddled around the cockpit of the F-15I (locally known as Thunder). A grave-faced Benjamin Netanyahu sat in the pilot’s seat, listening to explanations about the plane that might be attacking Iran within a year or two. Not that the word “Iran” was mentioned. There was no need.

The prime minister’s office joined up with the defense establishment to procure the photo-op, which took place at the end of Netanyahu’s thorough working visit at the Hatzerim Air Force base. Netanyahu met with a forum of senior officers, listened to presentations of operational plans, and then made his way to the aircraft display and the journalists.

The guest recited something about the IAF’s profound commitment to defending the State of Israel, but it was clear the photo-op was the main point — not only to the photojournalists, but to the assembled officers. “Just take a look,” one whispered to a colleague, “they’ll play 20 seconds of this in the news, and they’ll put a caption — a message to Tehran.”

What the footage won’t be showing is the great work invested in producing those images: The bodyguards, the red tape blocking entrance to “unauthorized” persons, dozens of top brass patiently waiting for the prime minister to complete his tour. And one thing you can’t see, of course, is the searing mid-August Negev heat, thirty-something Celsius in the shade. The prime minister’s aides rushed over with handkerchiefs from time to time so he could wipe off the pouring sweat, lest it dampen the message’s determination.

One has to wonder if Ahmadinejad, too, broke a sweat when he saw the footage. Or maybe this was the real message to Iran: It’s way too hot outside, forget about the war.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Russian Women Use Rented Husbands for Support

Is your man too busy to help you around the house? Well for women in Russia it is no longer a problem as they have a new service that allows them to rent a husband by the hour.

From fixing a shelf to changing a lock, rented husbands are proving to be the next big thing in Russia where the very lucrative business was launched in the northwestern city of St. Petersburg.

“Some women can’t even change a light bulb,” Alexander Yakovlev, who heads one of the renting offices, said. “I currently have 50 men to do this kind of work.”

For Boris Ivanov, who used to be the manager of a publishing house until he lost his job due to the financial crisis, working for as a rent-a-husband is a great way to earn an income.

“They only require a man who does not mind doing small household chores,” he said. “It pays well and secures a stable income.”

Those who launched the service expected to tap into the single women’s market but have found they have a large number of married.

“My husband is always at work,” said one of the married customers. “I can’t do everything on my own, so I call one the husband renting service.”

Prices depend on the service requested. Hanging a painting costs $ 6 while fixing a chair costs $ 8. The price of taking out the trash for an entire residential building reaches $ 130.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]


Russians to Boost Abkhazia Bases

Russia is to spend almost $500m (£300m) next year reinforcing its military bases in Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia, the prime minister says.

Vladimir Putin’s announcement came as he visited the region for talks.

He said Russia was committed to defending and financing the small strip of land in Georgia’s north-west corner.

Georgia reacted angrily to the visit, calling it “yet another provocation” and an attempt to “escalate tensions in the Caucasus region”.

The UK also condemned Mr Putin’s announcement, saying it ran contrary to wider international efforts to support a negotiated solution in the region.

Moscow officially recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia following the war a year ago between Russia and Georgia.

The only other country recognising the regions’ independence is Nicaragua; both areas are still widely considered to be part of Georgia.


Speaking ahead of the trip, Mr Putin said Russia would expand its bases in Abkhazia and build a “modern border-guard system” to guarantee the security of the two breakaway regions.

All this would cost about 15-16bn rubles ($463m; £280m), he said.

The build-up of Russia’s military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is regarded by Georgia as a clear violation of its sovereignty.

But, at a joint news conference in Sukhumi with Mr Bagapsh, Mr Putin said Russia’s stance would not change.

“Russia is showing and will show economic, political and, if necessary, military support to Abkhazia,” he said.

Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, also in Abkhazia, said Russia currently had a total of 3,636 military personnel in the region and “a bit less” in South Ossetia.

The Abkhaz government wants Moscow to build a big navy base south of Sukhumi, which could ultimately provide an alternative home for the Russian Black Sea fleet currently based in Ukraine, a senior Abkhaz official told the BBC.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

South Asia

Corruption Threatens to Stifle Universities in Central Asia

Students and families denounce the widespread practice in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan of asking for heavy “bribes” to guarantee a place in university, or to pass exams. As a result many deserving — but poor — young people, remain excluded, while the value of degrees declines. The opinion of experts.

Tashkent (AsiaNews / Agencies) — In the developing countries of Central Asia, a university degree often means the guarantee of a top quality job. But there are frequent complaints of corruption in access to courses and the passing of exams. Several professors have been placed under investigation, but some analysts comment that trials court sentences are not enough to eradicate the phenomenon.

In July, the head of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Ashgabat (Turkmenistan), a head of department of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Khujand (Tajikistan) and two university professors in Bishkek and Osh (Kyrgyzstan) were accused of corruption for accepting “bribes” from students.

In these three countries, students and their families have complained to Radio Free Asia that they are forced to pay for admission to university. For example, a young student had to pay 1000 US dollars to ensure he passed the entrance exam to the taxation law course at the University of Finance in Tajikistan.

Quite a low amount, if you think that in Turkmenistan the “entrance fee” to the most desirable course options, such as law, can amount to 40 thousand dollars. In the country the phenomenon is so widespread that it even has its own nickname: elaklyk, which literally means “thanks giving”.

In Kyrgyzstan many complain that there are price lists to overcome exams without studying.

The system could have disastrous effects on the future of these countries. In addition to preventing access to higher education to worthy but poor young people, (who often can only find work abroad as migrants), corruption risks granting degrees to many rich kids who do not study, with obvious detrimental effects on the value of the qualification.

Analyst Faridun Tajik Rahnavard comments that the problem can not be resolved by prosecution alone, because it is too widespread. He notes that high school and university teachers in these countries have low wages, 70 to 400 US dollars a month, and believes that it would be appropriate to increase them as a first step.

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

India: FBI Agent Testifies in Mumbai Terror Trial

Mumbai, 12 August (AKI) — Agents from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday gave evidence at the trial of the sole surviving gunman of the deadly Mumbai attacks.

The first witness, an FBI electronic engineer and forensic expert, told a special prison court that he had examined a satellite phone and three global positioning systems recovered after the attacks.

The downloaded data from the devices showed a number of maps and routes, including one that tracked the coast of Pakistan to Mumbai, the FBI agent told the court, under condition of anonymity.

“This route starts in the ocean near the Gulf of Karachi and it goes to Mumbai. The route was stored by the user,” he added.

Other locations found on the GPS system included areas of the Pakistani cities of Karachi and Rawalpindi as well as Mumbai, India’s financial capital.

The ten gunmen behind the Mumbai attacks (photo) which killed more than 170 people and wounded more than 300 others, are said by the prosecution to have come to the city by sea.

The only surviving gunman, Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, a Pakistani national, faces 86 charges, including waging war on India, murder and possessing explosives.

After initially pleading not guilty, Qasab later confessed that he was one of the gunmen. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

The trial is continuing despite his admission.

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

Indonesia/Korea: Indonesian Students Learn Hangeul to Preserve Tribal Tongue

The Dong-A Ilbo yesterday visited Caryabaru Elementary School in Indonesia, where students are learning the Korean alphabet “hangeul” to preserve the indigenous tribal language “Jjia Jjia.”

The school is located in the city of Bau-Bau on Buton Island, Sulawesi Province, with a fence colored blue like the ocean surrounding the island.

In the classroom where students were learning the tribal language, the blackboard was full of Korean characters, including those phonetically representing “kkaana (house),” “shigola (school),” and “boku (book).”

The Korean linguistic group Hunminjeongeum Society and the Bau-Bau city government last month signed a memorandum of understanding to introduce hangeul. The Korean alphabet was adopted as the city’s official language to transcribe the native language.

As a result, the tribe, which has no alphabet despite having as its native language Jjia Jjia, started using hangeul last month.

The Dong-A Ilbo is the first Korean media company to visit the city since the adoption of hangeul there.

When the Korean alphabet teacher asked students, “Who wants to read” at Buton’s sole elementary school, several raised their hands. A student read letter by letter, “kka,” “ah” and “na,” sounding quite natural.

Students there have learned Bahasa Jjia Jjia (the language of Jjia Jjia) written in hangeul. The class is offered once a week, but students have memorized all 24 vowels and consonants after just two sessions.

A student dictated the word “mesa (desk)” after the teacher read it. The teacher proudly said, “I asked students to memorize vowels and consonants after the first class, and they memorized the entire Korean alphabet in a week since they like hangeul so much.”

“I hear that Korean students find it difficult to learn hangeul. Our children here work hard to learn the alphabet on their own as they love it.”

On the island, high schools have also started offering hangeul classes in addition to those for Indonesian and English. Arabic has been dropped in favor of Korean since all island residents are Muslims and have learned Arabic to read the Quran.

A nine-year-old girl at the elementary school said, “My favorite subjects at school are the Jjia Jjia language taught in the Korean alphabet and math.”

When a Dong-A reporter wrote the girl’s name Sulis in Korean, she tried to copy it on her own.

Another 10-year-old girl was also hard at work learning hangeul. With her big eyes wide open, she read aloud words written in the Korean alphabet.

When the reporter jot down “Sarang hamida (I love you in Korean)” on her notebook, she articulated the words despite not knowing what they meant.

When the reporter read “Jjia Jjia” written in hangeul, students clapped and giggled. They seemed to find it interesting a Korean speaking their language with a strange accent.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Pakistan. Christians Hit by Islamic “Purity” Pogroms

Nine dead in one village put to fire and sword. It is the latest in a series of attacks against those whose only fault is that of not being Muslim. To the silence and disinterest of the rest of the world

ROME, August 5, 2009 — They threw stones, burned homes, and pursued those fleeing, firing wildly. In the end, nine people were dead. Seven of them have the same last name, Hamid, and belong to the same family clan as Fr. Hussein Younis, a Franciscan. They include two children (in the photo by Saqib Khadim, the coffins). Their only fault is that they were Christian.

It took place in Pakistan, in Gojra, in the province of Faisalabad in eastern Punjab. There are 1.3 million Catholics in all of Pakistan, and the same number of Christians of other denominations, out of a population of 160 million, almost entirely Muslim. But the intolerance against this small, poor, peaceful minority has become a fact of life, exploding at times into bloody aggression.

The latest episode was sparked by an innocent marriage celebration among Christians in Koriyan, a little village near Gojra. It was July 30. Interviewed by Lorenzo Cremonesi for “Corriere della Sera” on August 3, Fr. Younis recounts:

“As is customary, at the end of the ceremony in the church the guests tossed flowers, rice, a few coins as tokens of prosperity, and slips of paper with greetings or prayers written on them. The problem is that some Muslims started to claim that the slips of paper were pages torn out of the Qur’an, an extremely serious offense for Islam and even more serious in these times of fanaticism. Very soon insults and accusations were flying, and then stones. A few homes were set on fire in the afternoon. But the more serious violence exploded on the morning of Saturday, August 1, in Gojra, around the Christian neighborhood.

“Our people counted eight buses full of extremists who had come from outside the area. Unfamiliar faces, people armed to the teeth. Their slogan was that we Christians have the same religion as the American soldiers, and therefore we are enemies, we deserve death. First they threw stones, then they sprayed gasoline, and finally came machine gun fire and bombs. Here around me everything is burned, charred. The death toll could have been much worse if the Christians had not fled immediately. My relatives were not fast enough, and they were burned alive, trapped in the flames.”

The bishop of Faisalabad, Joseph Coutts, also interviewed by “Corriere della Sera,” commented as follows:

“It is clear that these pogroms have been organized by groups that, for the purpose of disrupting Pakistan, in addition to Afghanistan, are doing everything they can to sow violence. They have proven this to us with their attacks on major Pakistani cities, and are now moving on to attacks on Christians. The most serious fact is that now they are able to mobilize great crowds of faithful against us. I find this an alarming phenomenon, worse than the isolated bombing attacks on churches that have terrorized Christians since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001.”

The bishop recalls at least four anti-Christian pogroms that have seen the mobilization of large masses of demonstrators ready to use violence: “The first time in recent years was in 1997, in the village of Shanti Nagar. Eight years later, the attack was repeated in the town of Sangla Hill. Last June 30, there was one in the village of Bahmani Wala, in the region of Kasur, not far from here. And now in Koriyan and Gojra, they have set fire to dozens of homes.”

The pretext for the violence and persecution is almost always law 295, which in the name of sharia stipulates extremely harsh punishments, even life in prison, for those who offend the Qur’an or Mohammed. “The problem is that this law is used in a completely arbitrary way. Often the word of a Muslim citizen is enough to have a Christian put in prison without any concrete proof,” Bishop Coutts continues. The latest trial concluded last April 17 in Lahore, with the acquittal of two elderly Christians, James and Buta Masih. The two innocent men had spent more than two years in prison. It has been calculated that since 1986, the accusation has been used against 982 Christians. 25 of these were killed by Muslim fanatics.

After the latest massacre, the prime minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, appointed a committee of inquiry and announced compensation of 500,000 rupees, a little more than 4,000 euros, for the relatives of the victims.

Last July 6, compensation of 20,000 rupees was given to each of the 57 families whose homes were destroyed in the anti-Christian pogrom on June 30 in Bahmani Wala. The payment was given in the presence of three Catholic priests and other Christian leaders, in front of the village church used by the various confessions.

Before this, the Catholic Church had also suffered damage as a result of the suicide attack on May 27 against a police building in Lahore. The building was entirely destroyed, with 35 killed. But four of the adjacent buildings were also partially collapsed: the bookstore of the Daughters of St. Paul, and three Catholic junior high schools.

In March of 2008, the cathedral of Lahore was also damaged by the bombing of a nearby government building.

For three days after the latest pogrom, all of the Catholic schools of Pakistan were closed as a sign of mourning.

The bishops and the apostolic nuncio Adolfo Tito Yllana have repeatedly asked the Pakistani authorities to act in defense of the assaulted religious minorities. Their conviction is that a genuine martyrdom is taking place, with the Christians chosen as “scapegoats” by the hatred of Muslim fanatics. Similar pogroms in Pakistan have also targeted an Islamic branch banned as “heretical,” which numbers about three million followers, the Ahmadi.

In a telegram sent on August 3 to the bishop of Faisalabad, Joseph Coutts, and signed by the Vatican secretary of state, Benedict XVI expressed his sadness over “the senseless attack on the Christian community of Gojra City,” with the “tragic killing of innocent men, women and children.” And he appealed to the Christians of Pakistan not to give up the effort to “build a society which, with a profound sense of trust in religious and human values, is marked by mutual respect among all its members.”

In an interview with Vatican Radio, the nuncio in Pakistan said he had been “comforted by the words of forgiveness from a Christian whose home had been burned, and said: ‘Let us hope only that God gives them the light to see the right way’.”

The nuncio commented: “This is more powerful than any homily that I could give. Here there is the Christian spirit that always reigns among these suffering people.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Far East

Cambodia: ‘Strictest’ Punishment: Duch

PHNOM PENH — THE Khmer Rouge’s main jail chief told a war crimes court on Wednesday he would like the ‘strictest level of punishment’ — even death by stoning — for his crimes against the Cambodian people.

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, is on trial for overseeing the torture and execution of about 15,000 people at Tuol Sleng detention centre in the late 1970s.

The 66-year-old told the UN-backed tribunal that the country ‘can condemn me to whatever the highest level of punishment is’ after his likely conviction.

‘If there is a Cambodian tradition — like it existed in the past when people threw rocks at Christ to death — Cambodian people can do that to me. I would accept it,’ said Duch, who converted Christianity in the 1990s.

Duch has previously accepted responsibility for his role governing the jail and begged forgiveness for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But he has consistently rejected claims by prosecutors that he held a central leadership role in the Khmer Rouge, and says he never personally killed anyone during the brutal 1975-79 regime.

‘I will accept without challenges… all judgments which will be made by this chamber, the judgment of my role as the chairman of S-21 and all the crimes committed there,’ he said.

‘I am humble before the Cambodian people, I accept all of these crimes and would like the Cambodian people to condemn me to the strictest level of punishment. My life is just one life and cannot compare to those lives which were lost during the period,’ he added.

Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia’s cities in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia, resulting in the deaths of up to two million people from starvation, overwork and torture.

Speaking of those who lost family members, Duch said, ‘I accept their regret, their sorrow and their suffering.’

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

China: Murder at the ‘Reboot’ Camps

Deng Senshan had never skipped school, never been diagnosed with a mental illness and, according to his family, surfed the Web only on weekends.

Yet on Aug 1, the 15-year-old was admitted to a rehab camp for Internet addiction (IA), where, after being ordered to run 5 km as part of his “treatment”, he was beaten to death by counselors.

The tragedy has highlighted the worrying lack of supervision for the ever-growing number of private IA “reboot” clinics, some of which employ extreme and potentially lethal techniques.

China has around 320 million Internet users, the world’s largest online population, and, according to a China Youth Internet Association survey last year, 10 million are “teenage Web addicts”.

The association announced last week there were at least 400 private rehab clinics dotted across the country.

However, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said Tuesday not one is legally registered, while the nation has no official diagnostic method to assist doctors or clear guidance for parents worried about a youngster’s Internet usage.

Deng was booked to stay for 30 days at the Qihang Salvation Training Camp in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. According to an agreement his parents signed with the camp on his arrival, he was there to “stop his bad behavior, regain confidence and establish positive life attitudes”, while counselors were permitted to use any necessary approach to cure him as long as they did not abuse him or damage his health.

He arrived at 1 pm on Aug 1 and within 14 hours had been pronounced dead at a health center in nearby Wuxu, where he was sent “suffering a high fever”, according to camp staff. “He used to get good scores at school before he got hooked on online games last year,” said his uncle Li Jian in an exclusive interview with China Daily. “His parents and teachers tried several times to persuade him to cut down but he didn’t listen.

“Actually, my nephew’s addiction was not even severe. He had never skipped school and just surfed online during weekends. His parents just wanted to help him.”

The camp charged 7,000 yuan ($1,000) and promised to supervise Deng 24 hours a day for the first few days of training. But Li said the teenager, who graduated from Ziyuan County No 2 Middle School in Guilin last month, was put in solitary confinement within hours of his arrival and then brutally beaten after he was accused of running too slowly during an exercise.

His father, Deng Fei, who was called to identify the body at a Nanning funeral parlor, said the boy’s face was covered in blood and his wrists were bruised from the handcuffs he was forced to wear, said Li.

“Several counselors ordered Deng to run about 5 km but the boy didn’t finish and became rebellious. So he had some conflicts with counselors,” camp president Xia Zheng was quoted as saying in the Shanghai Morning Post…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

PLA Tests Battle Effectiveness in Modern Warfare Environment

(Chinese gov’t paper — but good for some POV stuff sometimes)

BEIJING: The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) started its largest-ever military exercise on Tuesday.

Experts say the exercise has already revealed new trends in the country’s military development.

It is the first time the PLA has mobilized four full divisions amounting to about 50,000 troops and deployed 60,000 pieces of heavy equipment up to a maximum of 2,400 kilometers from their bases, accompanied by army aviation units.

To test the mobility of the world’s biggest army, numbering nearly 2.3 million — which has not been engaged in a major military conflict for nearly 30 years — PLA headquarters selected four elite divisions from its Lanzhou, Shenyang, Jinan and Guangzhou Military Commands to carry out the two-month long exercise.

The PLA’s General Staff Headquarters said three of the divisions had glorious battle histories stemming from victories in the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and victories against US troops during the Korean War (1950-1953).

“They are required to improve PLA battle effectiveness in a modern warfare environment for the present and in the future,” Gong Fangbin, a professor at the PLA’s National Defense University, said Wednesday.

“Long-distance mobility is a key requirement for the armed forces to carry out anti-terror missions and operations to protect China’s overseas interests,” Gong said. The professor said the exercise also revealed a transformation of the country’s defense construction concept.

“China is less likely to face a large scale inland attack since no other countries — including the United States — want to take the chance of adopting military force in dealing with Chinese affairs.

“Instead, China is now in growing demand of smaller, agile task forces able to conduct precise joint operations,” he said.

According to PLA Headquarters the exercise, code named Stride-2009, includes coordination between army ground troops and aviation units.

“There are comparative weaknesses the PLA should overcome before it has real ability to conduct joint operations,” Gong said…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

S. Korea: Liberalize Entry Into the Service Sector

The Medical Devices Act bans the opening of an optical store without an optician’s license. The Public Hygiene Management Act prohibits the opening of a beauty parlor without the proper license. Even with the right qualifications or sufficient capital, a Korean cannot open such businesses or hire workers with licenses. Ownership of a license, however, allows the opening of just store. License holders have apparently toughened entry barriers to protect their interests.

It is also almost impossible to become a new gas provider since the service areas of established providers are thoroughly protected. Established gas providers — five in Seoul and 32 in other cities — have received protection from entry barriers. In the insurance guarantee market, Seoul Insurance Guarantee Company, which has monopolized the market for the past decade, has generated an annual surplus of 360 billion won (291 million U.S. dollars) over the past three years. Consumers’ rights have been frequently violated with the preservation of outdated entry barriers designed to protect providers despite the rapidly changing market.

If entry barriers are lowered, consumers stand to benefit more. Fierce competition among providers usually brings better quality, lower prices, and more jobs. If an experienced CEO hires several licensed opticians and establishes a national chain of optical stores, he or she can lower the price of glasses.

In the second half of this year, the government plans to significantly lower entry barriers in the service sector to better protect consumers’ rights and generate more jobs. The government had announced a review of licensing in September last year, but has failed to pursue related policies. Nevertheless, it should release details of its plan for lowering entry barriers and push it forward as scheduled.

If holders of professional certificates or licenses stick to a monopolistic style of business, they could be labeled as narrow minded. In line with the signing of free trade agreements with other countries, the domestic service market will be gradually open to foreign competition from next year. Since they cannot survive if they rely on entry barriers, certificate or license holders should pursue changes.

First, licenses or certificates given to doctors, pharmacists, designers and certified public accountants were created to protect consumers. The extremely strict method in which the license system has been operated, however, shows it mainly protects service providers, not consumers. License holders complain that lowered entry barriers will hurt consumers, not help them. This argument is a mere excuse, however. In September 2002, the Constitutional Court struck down Article 16, Clause 1 of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act as unconstitutional. The ruling said the article stipulated that only pharmacists could open drugstores. The national license system and provider-oriented monopolistic structure should undergo changes reflecting shifts in the market and continuously evolve.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Australia: Somali Sheik’s Alarm Failed to Wake US Up

IF you really want to depress yourself, type the name Sheik Hersi Hilole into Google, says David Penberthy.

He’s an Islamic scholar and Somali spiritual leader who, almost two years ago when still based in Sydney, was howled down as a rabble-rouser for issuing what his (Islamic) critics dismissed as a reckless, baseless warning about the radicalisation of young Somali refugees in Melbourne.

Hilole is now living and working in Singapore as an academic. No doubt he watched the events in Melbourne this week with a sense of weary despair. For, without wishing to prejudge the terror charges, the case the prosecution will try to prove could well resemble some of the scenario painted by the cleric in late 2007.

The trouble began for Hilole in April 2007 when he offered a candid analysis of the challenges facing the Somali community, particularly its youth, many of whom were struggling to adjust to life in Australia after escaping the horror of life in Mogadishu. But Hilole didn’t use that or their relative poverty in public housing in Australia to excuse the fact that some young Somalis were not just susceptible to but may be active with terrorist sympathisers. He warned it was dangerousand urged that something be done about it.

As the ABC’s PM program reported at the time, Hilole found himself ostracised by others in the Somali community who resolved that because of the furore they should stop talking to the media and turn in on themselves. Hilole kept on.

In an interview with this newspaper in late 2007, talking to the award-winning journalist Richard Kerbaj (who broke Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali’s “uncovered meat” outrage), Hilole lamented the fact that his initial warnings had been ignored.

Kerbaj wrote: “Young Somalian Muslims are secretly travelling back to their homeland to fight alongside al-Qa’ida-backed terrorists at the urging of hardline spiritual leaders in Australia.

“Somalian spiritual leader Hersi Hilole yesterday warned that young men returning from their jihad mission against the Ethiopian-backed Somalian government were more likely to consider becoming involved in a terrorist attack on Australia.

“‘Now when they come back, how are they going to join the rest of society?’ Hilole said. ‘There is a great danger that they could carry out any kind of terrorist activity here.’

“Sheik Hilole, chairman of the Somali Community Council of Australia, said hardline clerics in Melbourne continued to ‘prey’ on young Somalian men, whose welcoming attitudes to Wahabism — a puritanical interpretation of Islam espoused by Osama bin Laden — were a result of the ideology’s prevalence in their home country.”

Clearly a far-fetched scenario. Two months later, Hilole was warning again that he feared radical Islamists would use the defeat of the Howard government to capitalise on the more moderate domestic political climate.

“The extremists will try to take every advantage that they think will be possible and available for them, and they will most probably try to spread their ideas and recruit more people for their cause,” he said.

Again, Hilole copped it from most Islamic quarters, even though he had also accused the Howard government of exaggerating aspects of the Islamic threat for political gain. Despite that caveat, a lot of Islamic leaders clearly thought Hilole should just shut up.

Others, such as a former member of John Howard’s Islamic reference group, Indonesian Muslim spiritual leader Amin Hady, said it simply did not make sense to sideline the hardliners, as Howard had done when he excluded Melbourne-based cleric (and sceptic of Muslim involvement in the London bombings) Mohammed Omran from his group. “The government should use mainstream leaders to approach them (hardliners) and to bring them in line with the rest of the community members,” Hady said.

This reflected the view of most Islamic leaders, who shied away from the tough conversation that Hilole was trying to start.

They probably didn’t want to create a perception that there were members of their community who wanted to kill other people, and themselves, in the pursuit of holy war on Australian soil, even though that perception might have been based entirely in fact.

Hilole’s dismissal as some kind of fringe-dwelling doomsday prophet is a source of shame for Australia’s Islamic leaders.

It’s also a pity that the wider community did not listen to him, as he is exactly the kind of plain-speaking, excuse-averse guy that Australian Muslim communities need, rather than the lost-in-translation stylings of a Keysar Trad, who spent several hectic years complaining on behalf of Hilaly about the quality of the subtitles.

The Hilole case also demonstrates the problems a civilised nation such as Australia faces in acting on such a warning. In a society that tries to respect human rights and values freedom of religion and freedom of association, Hilole’s call could result in state action that would immediately be condemned as offensive to our values and laws.

In his own clunky way, Ibrahim Khayre has given fresh voice to Hilole’s warning in his comments this week about his nephew’s alleged involvement in the Holsworthy plot. He told The Herald Sun that Yacqub “fell in with a bad crowd” when he dropped out of school and left home, and blamed the police and social workers for blocking attempts by the family to make contact with Yacqub.

Clearly, it’s absurd to blame this boy’s subsequent actions on a couple of cops and social workers, and Khayre has been carved up on talkback and online for suggesting it.

But his point isn’t a world away from Hilole’s. And it prompts the question: what should have been done? Should the authorities have gone in and seized this kid, stopped him from attending this prayer centre? Should the prayer centre be shut down? Its clerics put under surveillance, jailed or deported, for preaching violent jihad?

The problem we have as a liberal democracy is that most of the people who care about “inclusiveness” would rather go to a multi-faith harmony celebration put on by the Uniting Church than confront the tough reality that, at some tiny mosque, they’re watching re-runs of September 11 and have no desire to be included in mainstream society.

What you do about that, I don’t know. But as the treatment of Hilole shows, pretending it doesn’t exist is the worst possible answer.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Australia: Pull the Plug on Hezbollah TV

THREE events have brought the words Muslim and terrorist together recently.

First, the arrest of several Somali and Lebanese-born Muslims who are alleged to have been plotting a suicide bombing attack on an Australian army base. Second, an ongoing project dubbed the “Lexicon of Terrorism”. Jointly run by the federal and Victorian governments, Victoria Police and Monash University academics, it is an effort to find the best way to refer to Muslim terrorists. At stake is the balance between accurately describing the identity and motivations of terrorists and the need to not alienate or cast suspicion on Australian Muslims.

Third is the recent finding by the Australian Communications and Media Authority that the ongoing broadcast into Australia of al-Manar, the television station run by Hezbollah, does not contravene ACMA’s anti-terrorism regulations.

How to describe the people arrested on terrorism charges last week is at the heart of the Lexicon of Terrorism project.

Polls have shown that since September 11, 2001, Muslims have felt increasingly marginalised in society. Terms such as “jihad”, “Islamist” and “Islamic terrorism’ are frequently felt as a slap in the face to Muslims, who feel they’re unfairly loaded.

Yet while a majority of Muslims aren’t terrorists, the majority of terrorists are Muslim, an uncomfortable fact that shouldn’t be ignored for the sake of political correctness. It is rare to find a Muslim terrorist who acts only for a secular, nationalist cause. The vast majority act, in part or wholly, according to their interpretation of Islam. We can decry this, but we shouldn’t deny it. Doing so removes the possibility of us understanding their motivations and thus, a pathway to prevent future terrorism.

“Islamist”, if understood properly, is a term that can be used without treading on toes. Islamists, a minority of Muslims, are those who see no distinction between Islam and politics. Violent Islamists, a minority of Islamists, are those who espouse or justify violence to achieve their religious-political goals.

Yet it’s is ACMA’s handling of al-Manar that says most about how equipped Australia is to deal with the terrorism threat.

Al-Manar is owned and operated by Hezbollah. Most famous for being a militia that fought the Israeli army for many years, Hezbollah refused to disarm after Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon to the international border in May 2000. That Israel no longer controlled any Lebanese territory — Hezbollah’s supposed raison d’etre — was confirmed by then UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

Hezbollah has also fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians; turned its guns on Lebanese civilians; bombed foreign embassies in Lebanon and elsewhere; kidnapped and held for ransom foreign civilians in Lebanon; and carried out multiple terrorist attacks in South America, the European Union and the Middle East. It is, unequivocally, a terrorist organisation.

Australia chooses to proscribe as a terrorist entity only Hezbollah’s external military wing. That means Hezbollah’s internal social, political and military wings are not considered terrorist entities by Australia.

This is a little bizarre, since Hezbollah’s leaders have publicly insisted there is no distinction between any wing. Australian law prohibits anyone donating to or raising money for any part of Hezbollah, because of the likelihood that money given, for whatever reason, will be used for terrorist purposes.

Thus, Australian law already de facto considers the entire Hezbollah organisation a terrorist entity.

ACMA’s regulations regarding terrorism are simple, though relatively weak. If a media outlet directly appeals for recruits for a terrorist organisation, or provides details as to how people can donate money for terrorist causes, it is to be banned in Australia.

This means that if a TV station glorifies terrorism, extols the virtues of suicide bombers, but falls short of directly appealing for recruits, ACMA considers it OK. Likewise, if people who have donated to terrorists are lionised, but funds are not directly solicited, ACMA doesn’t see anything wrong with it. This, according to ACMA, is the case with al-Manar.

ACMA watched the station for one week, looking in-depth at two of its shows. It found that al-Manar neither attempted to directly recruit people for Hezbollah nor solicit funds for the organisation. ACMA got it wrong.

It reported that al-Manar ran an advertisement soliciting funds for the al-Emdad Charity organisation. A little research reveals al-Emdad is a Hezbollah “charity” that gives money to the families of slain Hezbollah fighters. This is in contravention of Australian law.

But there’s a bigger issue at stake. Al-Manar has regularly broadcast material that incites people to violence, recruits terrorists and raises money for terrorist purposes. Such material is widely available on the internet. Just google al-Manar and MEMRI and you’ll find plenty of examples. (MEMRI is an organisation that monitors Middle Eastern media.) You’ll also find numerous examples of gross anti-Semitism, which contravenes Australia’s various racial hatred laws. Why ACMA chose to ignore this evidence — and why it chose to sample only one week of broadcast (and only examine in depth two programs) — is hard to explain and harder to justify.

But what is most amazing is that whoever drafts ACMA’s regulations believes it acceptable that an organisation that glorifies terrorism be broadcast into Australia at all.

In the same week it was revealed that Muslims living in Australia became radicalised here and plotted to carry out a terrorist attack, ACMA found it acceptable that other Australians be allowed to watch a TV station designed to do the same thing.

Most people, including most Muslims, would not be sucked in by al-Manar’s racist, violent indoctrination. But some might. These individuals are already vulnerable to radicalisation for any number of reasons. And that’s even more reason why a TV station such as al-Manar must be banned in Australia, as it is in the EU and America. While the Lexicon of Terrorism study quibbles about whether to use terms such as “Islamist”, or include “Muslim” and “terrorism” together, ACMA is allowing Australian Muslim youth the possibility of radicalising, and becoming the next Australian Muslim terrorists.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Australia: Couple Must Battle to Adopt Their Own Son

A SYDNEY couple will have to apply to the NSW Supreme Court for permission to adopt their own son, after the Family Court found that, in the eyes of the law, he was not theirs.

The case involved a couple, known in court documents only as Sharon and Paul, who were unable to conceive because Sharon had been treated for cervical cancer, the Australian reports. Before having treatment that rendered her infertile, Sharon had her eggs harvested and stored. One of these eggs was later mixed with Paul’s sperm, creating an embryo.

Sharon’s mother, Lauren, offered to carry the embryo for her daughter. The child, known as Michael, was born in October 2008.

Immediately after birth, Lauren handed the baby to Sharon and Paul, and they’ve been raising him ever since. The couple listed Paul as the father on the birth certificate, since he provided the sperm, while Lauren (his grandmother) had to be listed as the mother, since she gave birth.

Sharon and Paul went to court in April, to see if Sharon could formally adopt Michael.

To the family’s surprise, Justice Watts ruled on August 3 that not only was Sharon not the mother, but Paul wasn’t the father.

Under Section 60 (H) of the Family Law Act, couples who undergo artificial conception, using donated sperm or eggs are the legal parents of the children they conceive, regardless of whether they use their own sperm and eggs.

A wife who undergoes assisted conception is the mother, even if it isn’t her egg, and her husband is the father, even if it isn’t his sperm.

Justice Watts admitted that these results were “surprising” to all parties but came about because surrogacy law in NSW hadn’t kept pace with science.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

Don’t Shrink Wrap the Kids

EVERY generation prides itself on being smarter than the previous one.

We point to impressive medical advances, huge technological leaps, vastly improved lifestyles, better government, more progressive parenting and so on. But in some areas we are not so smart after all.

Last week The Australian reported on a new study that revealed an increasing number of children were being diagnosed with something called oppositional defiant disorder and other similar behavioural disorders. In the past decade the number of children diagnosed with these disorders has risen from 2.6 per cent to 6.7 per cent. The study by researchers at Macquarie University, to be published in the International Journal of Inclusive Education, found that the diagnosis of conditions such as oppositional defiant disorder had risen by 600per cent in mainstream schools.

Is it possible that the real sickness lies with a society that diagnoses an increasing variety of common childhood behaviour as a disorder? Perhaps we should label modern society as suffering from ODD: obsessive diagnosis disorder.

In 1980 the American Psychiatric Association came up with the label oppositional defiant disorder as a medical diagnosis for a child, as young as three, who exhibits at least four of eight behaviours, including being easily angered, arguing with parents, having frequent tantrums and deliberately annoying others.

Once upon a time children who behaved like this were labelled naughty. Now they are diagnosed with a medical disorder. But they are not alone.

The US surgeon general’s report on mental health published in the late 1990s lists a smorgasbord of disorders. While some are serious mental illnesses, such as the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, others are more imprecise, so imprecise I could easily attach the name of someone I know who, though perfectly normal, fulfils enough of the criteria of a disorder to earn a sickness label.

There is separation anxiety disorder for children who are deemed to cling too much to their parents; social anxiety disorder for children who have a persistent fear of being embarrassed in social situations, such as speaking in public; and a catch-all generalised anxiety disorder for children who worry excessively about upcoming events (“they worry about their academic performance or sporting activities”). If these are the tests, most of us are sick or surrounded by people who are.

As The New York Times has reported, more than six million American children with difficulties are diagnosed with serious mental disorders, a threefold increase since the early 90s. The Times reported: “There is little convincing evidence that the rates of illness have increased in the past few decades. Rather, many experts say it is the frequency of diagnosis that is going up, in part because doctors are more willing to attribute behaviour problems to mental illness and in part because the public is more aware of childhood mental disorders.”

There are certainly children whose behaviour is so consistently problematic and potentially dangerous as to demand a medical diagnosis and treatment. No doctor wants to do wrong by their patient, just as every parent wants the best for their child. But the modern tendency to draft nebulous criteria to diagnose medical disorders in children offers up its own broader diagnosis of a society obsessed with labelling a disorder any childhood behaviour that deviates from the norm.

The combination of a few modern trends has brought us to this point. Start with modern-day parenting. For the past few decades, discipline has become a dirty word. Given the increasing reticence to discipline a badly behaved toddler or impose sensible limits on a 15-year-old, is it any wonder that there are more badly behaved, wayward children? So-called progressive parenting says a parent should aim to be their child’s friend rather than a parent who imposes draconian rules. The expectation is that a child will be a pint-sized adult with whom a parent can always reason. If only.

Two things are happening here. We end up glorifying a norm that suits parents and increasingly diagnose difference from that norm as a disorder. We seem to have forgotten that childhood behaviour naturally runs the full gamut that includes the consistently naughty, rebellious and rude.

Any family with more than one child can attest to the fact every child is different—some placid, some defiant—often exceedingly so. Reared in the same family, differences are often hard to manage and even harder to explain.

To suggest there is a norm from which any consistent deviation warrants a medical diagnosis points to another modern failing: the slow demise of personal responsibility. How much easier it is to slap a label on a wayward child than confront the need for parents to improve their parenting or expect a child to take responsibility for their actions.

And children are canny. Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental disorder. No one would suggest otherwise. But try telling your 14-year-old daughter to stop eating junk food and exercise more. The oft-heard refrain will be “you are going to turn me into an anorexic”. We risk encouraging a generation of young children with no mental disorders to search out labels to avoid taking responsibility for their own behaviour.

But the lessons from the Macquarie University study don’t end there. The study found that some schools in NSW “engaged in practices designed to inflate the level of student impairment” so that additional government funding flows to the school.

Linda Grant, one of the researchers from Macquarie University’s Children and Families Research Centre, said this was part of an international trend of “gaming the system”, where schools pursue extra funding by diagnosing behavioural problems.

The study’s results are a lesson in the perverse incentives of poorly directed government handouts. When schools are given additional funding based on the number of disabled students, the rational response is to inflate the number of disabled children by relying on over-diagnosis of disorders with ambiguous criteria.

As the study found, parents wanting to enrol their troublesome child in a regular class are encouraged to “tick the highest boxes” in applications for support.

No matter what the problem, government handouts are never a risk-free panacea. Whether government is handing out subsidies to make a green car, offering welfare to indigenous people or supporting payments to schools for disabled students, the money risks creating its own set of perverse, unintended consequences. The trick is to target funding carefully to those in need, without creating a new set of problems. Allowing money to flow to an increasing range of childhood behaviours, over-diagnosed as disorders, does nothing for children who will walk around with damaging labels. More important, it does nothing for the disabled who genuinely need more support.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria: American Agents Take Over Clinton’s Security

Anger in Abuja over treatment of journalists

NIGERIAN security officials are angry with the way they are being treated by their United States counterparts in the provision of security for the American… Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, who arrived in the country last night.

“Security operatives in Nigeria are virtually playing no role in the provision of security for the August visitor,” a source said last night.

Also, journalists in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are not happy with how they have been relegated to the background in the coverage of the visit.

Top government officials are in the dark over details of the visit, a move that has brought to the fore happenings during a similar visit by the 60th US Secretary of State, George Pratt Schultz, to the country in 1986 when Secret Service (SS) officials brought a dog to provide security for him in Lagos, the then capital.

A security official said last night: “It is unfortunate that we and those in the Foreign Affairs Ministry don’t know the details about her engagements here. The US Embassy is in charge. From security to other things you may think of. The embassy officials are in charge.

“We try to push for accreditation for at least 10 media houses to cover her engagements but they are insisting on accrediting just two. How the two will be allocated is what we don’t know yet and it is rather unfortunate that most Nigerian journalists may not be part of the show.”

Contacted yesterday, an Embassy official said: “Only two media organisations will be accredited to cover both the meeting with Chief Maduekwe and the Town Hall meeting with 15 civil societies and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).”

The official, however, said State House correspondents “will cover the talks with the President.”

Responding to accreditation enquiry yesterday, Musa Mohammed, the Information Officer at the Embassy told the Nigerian Compass on phone: “Nigerian journalists will have to depend on the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) for news while a private television station has also been accredited to cover the visit.

“We cannot accredit all media houses in Nigeria to cover the visit. We have decided to use NAN as a pool for the print media while a television station will also be accredited. So, you have to bear with us and get your stories from NAN.”

But, Nigerian journalists are angry because an Embassy official declared: “Mrs Clinton is in Nigeria in company of a league of foreign media representatives, both print and electronics and thus, we will not be able to accommodate local journalists.”

Mrs. Clinton is billed to hold bilateral talks over breakfast with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, at his residence in Mabushi District in the FCT.

She is also scheduled to visit President Umaru Yar’Adua at the State House during which “she will deliver President Barack Obama’s special message to her host on the relationship between the two countries and peace and security in the ECOWAS sub-region.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Somalia: Christian Orphanage Workers Beheaded

Militant linked to al-Qaida tells families of penalties for apostasy

Four Christians working in Somalia to provide services to orphans have been executed by beheading by al-Qaida-linked interests who told their families that is the penalty for apostasy.

The report on the outrage comes from International Christian Concern which said the executions happened sometime after the kidnapping of the Christians on July 27, but it only discovered the tragedy recently.

The organization identified the Christian orphanage workers as Fatima Sultan, Ali Ma’ow, Sheik Mohammed Abdi and Maaddey Diil. They had been kidnapped in the coastal Somalian town of Merca, about 50 miles from Mogadishu.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Travel Ban in Sudan Trouser Trial

A Sudanese woman charged with dressing indecently for wearing trousers has been prevented from travelling abroad.

Lubna Hussein says she tried to leave Sudan on Tuesday to visit Lebanon where she had been invited to appear on a television programme.

She says an airport official said her name had been put on a blacklist last Friday, the day she was invited to France by President Nicholas Sarkozy.

If convicted in a month’s time, she could face up to 40 lashes.

Ms Hussein resigned from a UN job that would have given her immunity, indicating she wants her trial it to become a test case for women’s rights in Sudan.

Ms Hussein said she was going to Lebanon to participate in a talk show hosted by Al-Arabiya television.

“If the intent is to prevent me from speaking or censor my words… they are then naive, because I can speak on the phone, through satellite, anytime,” Ms Hussein told the Associated Press news agency.

Under a 2005 peace deal between the mainly Muslim north and the largely Christian south, Sharia law is not supposed to be applied to non-Muslims living in the capital.

The BBC’s James Copnall in the capital, Khartoum, says it is not that unusual to see women — both Muslim and non-Muslim — wearing trousers in the city.

Ms Hussein says she has done nothing wrong under Sharia law, but could fall foul of a paragraph in Sudanese criminal law that forbids indecent clothing.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

Latin America

Fore! Chavez Takes Whack at Golfers

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has added golf courses to his list of “bourgeois” targets and government officials have begun the process of shutting down two of the country’s courses, according to The New York Times.

On a broadcast of his live television show last month, Chavez berated the sport, pointing to golf carts as an example of how lazy golfers are.

“I respect all sports,” said Chavez, who is an avid baseball fan. “But there are sports and there are sports. Do you mean to tell me this is a people’s sport?” The answer, which he provided himself, was no.

In Maracay, a town near Caracas where one of the targeted courses is located, officials plan to use the space for low-income housing or to turn it into a campus of Chavez’s Bolivarian University.

If the two planned closures go forward, they will bring the number of golf course closings over the last three years to nine, according to Julio Torres, director of the Venezuelan Golf Federation.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]


Canada: Hypocrisy on Refugees

Canada’s refugee-determination system is broken, and has been for decades. The question is how to fix it — and which of our politicians is brave and creative enough to accomplish the repairs?

Leaving a meeting Sunday with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the Mexican government was not to blame for the flood of asylum-seekers entering Canada from Mexico in the past four years. It was not the action or inaction of Mr. Calderon’s government that had compelled Canada to impose visa requirements on all visitors from Mexico beginning last month. The culprit was Canada’s lax refugee system, which practically invites illegitimate applicants to come, and seems unable to expel any — even those whose applications are turned down —once they are in the country.

Of the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who apply each year for refugee status in Canada, no more than 8% to 10% will ever be successful. If we used the strict definition of who is and is not a refugee employed by many other nations (and the UN), the success rate likely would be as low as 2% or 3%. Still, in the four to five years it can take to get a verdict, applicants will consume tens of thousands of dollars each in social programs. Many earn tens of thousands more under the table. (Work by refugee applicants is prohibited; still many manage to find it in the black market.)

We accept more refugees per capita than any other country in the world. And even if a refugee has his bid rejected, there is little chance he will be removed from the country thanks to the ridiculously dilatory appeals procedure open to failed applicants.

In short, once a supposed refugee is here, he or she is here for good in most cases. This laxity is legendary around the world, so it is little wonder our refugee system is groaning under the weight of what the PM called “bogus” claims.

But this is no surprise to any of the bureaucrats working within our system, or to the politicians of every party. Even the Liberals, who have been making political hay from the Tories’ July 16 decision to require visas of all visitors from Mexico, Colombia, Haiti, the Czech Republic and elsewhere, are well aware of the failings of our rules. After all, they tried to amend them in the 1990s only to run aground on the rocks of ethnopolitics.

From the beginning of this year until the middle of July, when Immigration Minister Jason Kenney implemented the new visa requirement, nearly 17,000 Mexicans and 3,000 Czechs arrived in Canada seeking refugee status. Since Mr. Kenney’s new rules came into effect, the flow has slowed to a trickle. Requiring visitors from suspect nations to seek a stamp of approval for travel from a Canadian official in advance of their trips — i. e., a visa — screens out most of the phoney applicants before they reach our shores.

The Liberals know this as well as the Tories. After all, they applied a visa requirement on Czech travellers, took it off, then reimposed it, all during their last 12-year stint in office — and all because they had exactly the same experience as the Harper government: The minute visa requirements are lifted, some countries begin overwhelming our refugee workers and boards.

Indeed, the Liberals saw the problem so clearly themselves that during the late-1990s, under their then-immigration minister Lucienne Robillard, the party tried to toughen the requirements and speed the deportation process. But loud squawking from the large immigrant and ethnic communities that sustain the Liberals — and from those groups’ backers in caucus— forced Mr. Robillard to abandon her plan.

Now the Liberals are hoping to score points with many of the same ethnic voters by hammering the Tories for doing a small fraction of what they themselves had proposed a decade ago.

This bickering must end. In a minority Parliament, the Tories are powerless to rewrite a refugee law in bad need of redrafting. They need the help of the Liberals or one of the other parties whose first instinct is to pander to ethnopols rather than protect the interests of Canadian taxpayers.

This shouldn’t be a political football. And with some sensible help from the Liberals, it need not be.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Finland: Refugee Centres Work to Improve Relations Between Locals and Asylum Seekers

Finland has recently witnessed worsening relations between asylum seekers and local residents. Personnel at refugee reception centres are now working to battle racism and improve cross-cultural interaction.

Recent problems between local residents and asylum seekers occurred in cities that are home to refugee reception centres. Last spring, a fight between asylum seekers and locals erupted in Rovaniemi, Lapland. There were also attacks at the reception centre in Kemi, also in Lapland. And a bomb went off at the center in Suomusjärvi, southwest Finland.

Such aggression is quite rare in Finland, but officials are concerned. They believe the attacks could have been sparked by a number of reasons, including the economic downturn. Violence towards foreigners also intensified during Finland’s financial crisis of the 1990s.

Meanwhile in Rovaniemi, the situation deteriorated when a group of asylum seekers began harassing women in the city. According to youth director Anu Rastas, locals in Kemi were aggravated by the behavior of some asylum seekers.

“It can be small things. One example is if an asylum seeker walks on the bicycle path and doesn’t allow others to pass,” she says.

Tearing Down Prejudices

Refugee workers are now trying to smooth things over. In Rovaniemi, discussions at the reception centre have eased tensions. Officials have also tried to combat racism by writing about refugees in local newspapers.

“Newspapers will tell the asylum seekers’ stories: where they come from and why they are here,” says Paula Lauhamaa, the director at Rovaniemi’s Refugee Reception Centre.

In Kemi, officials are trying to improve relations by including refugees in local activities like football.

“We have collaborated with many different organisations and officials. However just hanging out naturally with locals is a challenge,” says Sirpa Tervahauta, a social worker in Kemi.

Veikko Pyykkönen, who works for the Migration Division of the Ministry of Interior, says he believes information and daily contact will break down prejudices. The Ministry says it is concerned about the recent attacks against asylum seekers, but hasn’t planned to take official action to deal with the attacks.

“We all know what is right and what is wrong and how people should not be treated. We have to remember that asylum seekers are in a difficult situation. They have come from trying conditions and are living here in limbo,” Pyykkönen says.

Seeking Asylum a Human Right

Meanwhile, the Finnish Red Cross says seeking asylum is an international human right. The organisation is now working on multiculturalism talks to improve relations.

“We need more information for refugees and locals. We need collaboration with schools, and we need a media that is continually interested in this topic,” says Marisel Soto Godoy, a multicultural organiser at the Red Cross.

“One way to resolve these conflicts is to work openly and to be vocal. I think we are falling short of that right now,” she says.

Finland has signed international human rights agreements concerning asylum seekers. Currently nearly 200 people are waiting for a decision to be made on their asylum status at centres around the country. About half of the applications are rejected. This year, about one-third of the applicants have been granted refugee status or a residence permit.

Finland provides asylum seekers with shelter, food, healthcare and support for basic needs. Refugee reception centres also offer language and culture classes to asylum seekers.

The majority of asylum seekers in Finland come from Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan. Women make up just over one-fifth of the applicants. Meanwhile, the number of asylum seekers in Finland is growing. This year, for the first time, over 5,000 people are expected to request for refuge in Finland. Nearly all refugee reception centres are currently at full occupancy.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Greece: Migrant Arrests a Burden

Police cells become overcrowded; authorities look to new reception centers A number of senior police officers in Attica and other parts of Greece have written to their superiors to draw attention to the fact that a recent clampdown on illegal immigrants in the center of Athens has resulted in holding cells at police stations around the capital becoming overcrowded, Sunday’s Kathimerini has learned.

Sources said that in July alone, 2,550 undocumented migrants were arrested in Athens. The police holding cells in Attica only have room for several hundred suspects. As a result, some migrants have been transferred to regional police stations, which are also now reporting cramped conditions.

In their letters to police chiefs, the officers highlight that the migrants are being kept in unhygienic and unsafe conditions. They fear that a recent change in the law that allows illegal immigrants to be kept in custody for six rather than three months will only make the situation worse.

The Interior Ministry has been made aware of the situation, sources said, and is attempting to speed up the construction of three new reception centers in Aspropyrgos, west of Athens, in Ritsona, near Halkida, and in Evros, northeastern Greece. Sources at the ministry said that the Ritsona center could be ready in October, although local officials and residents have vowed to keep up protests against its construction.

Authorities aim to have the other two centers ready by the end of the year. Each camp is expected to house some 2,500 people.

A plan to build another center in the Keramoti area of Kavala, northern Greece, has run into problems due to opposition by residents.

Meanwhile, police sources indicated that the repeated operations to clear migrants that have been squatting in abandoned buildings has led to some of the immigrants simply moving to other parts of the city center.

The undocumented migrants who left the old appeals court building on Socratous Street in June, for instance, are now thought to be living around Koumoundourou Square. A number of migrants have also left the Aghios Panteleimonas district, where some residents and extremists have rallied against their presence, only to relocate around Attikis Square.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Italy: Illegal Immigrants Top One Million, Says Charity

Rome, 11 August (AKI) — Despite a tougher stance on immigration in Italy, immigrants have not been deterred from entering the country illegally. The Catholic relief organisation Caritas says the number of illegal immigrants now living in Italy has topped one million.

The figure is considerably higher than the number estimated by the United Nations’ Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which says there are 500,000 to 750,000 illegal immigrants in Italy.

“There will always be people searching for work from poor countries and this number is increasing,” a senior official from Caritas in Rome told Adnkronos International (AKI).

“Even with new immigration laws, they will find their way across the border.”

Caritas estimates the number of immigrants is higher than other figures, based on the demand for its services in offices located throughout Italy.

The organisation believes that for every immigrant working in the home as cleaning personnel or home help, there is at least one other illegal immigrant in the country.

“There will always be people working and living in Italy with out permits to stay,” the official told AKI.

He explained that a majority of these immigrants already live and even work in Italy but they do not have a permit of stay. They often work in the home or in elderly care.

Caritas has expressed concern about the exploitation of illegal immigrants by employers but under new immigration laws employers will be under more pressure to ensure their workers function legally.

Under the provisions of the new law passed by the parliament in July, people entering Italy without permission face fines of up to 10,000 euros and could be expelled immediately.

Anyone renting housing to an illegal immigrant faces up to three years in prison and there is also provision for citizen vigilante groups which are expected to be established soon.

Italy in May returned to Libya migrants rescued or intercepted at sea in international waters, triggering criticism from the Vatican and the United Nations refugee agency.

The repatriations followed a deal Italy struck with Libya last year to combat people trafficking in the Mediterranean.

European Union laws oblige the 25 countries that are part of the Schengen agreement to allow illegal immigrants to make two so-called mistakes, but there are fears that the new Italian law will make it easier to exploit this provision.

Caritas officials said they had seen an increase in the incidence of violence against immigrants recently following the introduction of the new law.

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

UK: Asylum Staff Are ‘Intimidating’

Illegal immigrants and foreign prisoners are failing to be removed from the UK because escort staff are “intimidating” them, a report has said.

The findings are revealed by the Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, Dame Anne Owers.

Inspectors monitored immigration escort staff involved in removing detainees from Heathrow Airport.

It says when officers escorting immigration offenders mistreat them, removals are more likely to fail.

The report cites the case of four Afghan detainees, who were initially willing to fly home.

Then, in what the report describes as an “unnecessary and intimidating” intervention, escort staff warned the detainees they would be “dealt with” if they were “naughty” on the plane. They refused to go.

Valid documents

Removals were also cancelled due to staff shortages and because nurses had not been booked to accompany detainees with health problems.

Sometimes detainees were flown back to the UK because their home countries said their paperwork was not in order.

On one occasion, escort staff taking a woman to Mozambique were themselves locked up after the authorities there questioned whether their documents were valid.

Dame Anne said: “This short report found worrying gaps and weaknesses in complaints and monitoring processes.

“It also found varying practice, with no evidence that the good and thoughtful approach of some staff was mirrored in clear and consistent standards of treatment, support and communication.

“This heightened the risk of ill-treatment or abuse, and was also likely to lead to failed removals.”

David Wood, director of the criminality and detention group at the UK Border Agency said anyone involved in the detention and removal of detainees was highly trained.

“Many detainees refuse to leave the UK voluntarily, even when the courts say they must. In some cases individuals become violent toward themselves, the public or our staff when it is time to go home.

“Detainee escorts have a very difficult job to do in carrying out what the public expects of the UK Border Agency in enforcing our immigration laws.”

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

A Presidential Medal Based on a Sex Life

When President Obama today awards a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to Harvey Milk, it may mark the first time in history that the nation’s highest civilian award has been granted primarily on the basis of someone’s sex life.

As the White House announcement explained, “Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official from a major city in the United States when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.” Yet Milk served in that office for less than a year, so that hardly qualifies him for the Medal of Freedom. Milk was also assassinated in November of 1978. But that cannot qualify him for this award, either — San Francisco Mayor George Moscone was killed by the same assassin the same day, but he will receive no Medal of Freedom. At least lesbian Billie Jean King, who will also be honored by Obama, was a genuine tennis star.

But Milk is famous only for winning one election, being murdered — and having sex with men. In his “gay rights” stump speech, Milk once said, “Like every other group, we must be judged by our leaders and by those who are themselves gay.” What can we conclude about the homosexual movement in America based on the life of Harvey Milk? I recently decided to find out by reading “gay journalist” Randy Shilts’ 1982 biography of Milk, “The Mayor of Castro Street.”

[Comments from JD: Warning: Graphic descriptions.]

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

4 thoughts on “Gates of Vienna News Feed 8/12/2009

  1. There is no point in having a guarantee of freedom of expression via a constitution if that freedom is not used because of FEAR.

    Far better and far less hypocritical it would be if Congress simply declared that amendment null and void, in keeing with the mores of this age.

  2. To paraphrase DP111…

    Far better and far less hypocritical it would be if Congress simply declared that amendment null and void, in keeping with the Moors of this age.

  3. Mark Steyn calls Yale’s decision “dispiriting” because it shows acceptance of the

    “general principle: that the most extreme interpretation of Islamic “law” now applies to Muslim and non-Muslim alike. As Pat Condell says, what other freedoms are you willing to surrender?”

    Yale’s motto is “Lux et Veritas”. Harvard’s is Veritas. Steyn’s recollection of a Yale sign during a sports event between the two schools is:

    “Your Veritas Sux if it Ain’t Got the Lux”.

    Yale has just put an Islmic bushel basket over its lux.

Comments are closed.