Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/21/2010

Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/21/2010Under secret NATO plans, according to a leaked Afghan government document, peace negotiations with the Taliban should include an offer of asylum to the terror group’s leaders. The country that might grant asylum to the Taliban is not mentioned, but there are reports that Saudi Arabia is a likely refuge for them.

In other news, on a jet flying from LaGuardia to Louisville, passengers became alarmed when a young man started praying loudly, and seemed to have a bomb belt strapped to his chest. The plane was diverted to Philadelphia as a precaution, where it was discovered that the man was a devout Jew, and the “bomb belt” was actually his phylacteries.

Thanks to 4symbols, Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, CSP, Fjordman, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, JD, Lurker from Tulsa, REP, Sean O’Brian, Steen, TB, TV, Zenster, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Europe’s Biggest Telescope ‘Hit by Cuts’
New Off-Balance Sheet Rule: Little Impact on Wells
Army-Sponsored Report Suggests New ‘Police Force’
Can Counseling Prevent a Potential Honor Killing? The Rifqa Bary Case.
Democrats Propose $1.9T Increase in Debt Limit
Don’t Read Too Much Into Brown’s Victory Over Coakley
FBI Gets ‘Muslim Mafia’ ‘Smoking-Gun’ Documents
Frank Gaffney: Dangerous Accomodations
Jewish Teen’s Prayers Spark Jet Security Scare
Justices Gut Campaign-Finance Restrictions
Muslim Anger Over US Military ‘Jesus’ Scopes
Obama’s TSA Pick Withdraws
Oklahoma: Ten Commandments Monument Finds Home at Poteau Bank
Pat Buchanan Asks Why They Hate US, Gets the Wrong Answer
Preacher’s Toe Touches School Lawn, He Gets Arrested
The Democrats’ Technological Thuggery
Terrorist ‘Leader’ Gets Life
Europe and the EU
Belgium: Mosque Withdraws Request for Loudspeakers
Denmark: Muhammad Cartoonist Defiant After Attack
Denmark: Teen Fan Video Proclaims Love for Elderly Cartoonist
EU Commission ‘Embassies’ Granted New Powers
France: French Jews Want Their Original Surnames Back
Growing Warning From Europeans
Italy: Govt Probes Mozzarella Scam
Pope Calls Irish Bishops Back
The Rotten Heart of the Union
UK: Girl, 19, Left Battling Blindness After Taking Tamiflu (And She Didn’t Even Have Swine Flu)
UK: Muslim Police Say Islam Not to Blame for Terror Attacks
UK: Muslim Police in ‘Hatred’ Warning: Anti-Terror Tactics ‘Promote Islamophobia’, Say Officers
UK: Murdered Laura Ashley Girl’s ‘Jealous’ Ex-Boyfriend is Arrested
UK: Teenager Dies ‘After Experimenting With Legal Drug Meow Meow’
UK: What Young Sadist Said as His Brother Filmed Blood-Splattered Victim of Their Attack on Two Innocent Boys
Mediterranean Union
EU: Euromed Regional Assembly Tomorrow in Barcelona
Medicine: Rabat Academy and University of Messina Sign Deal
North Africa
Egypt: Killings of Christians, Anti-Mubarak Protest at UN
Egypt: Massacre of Christians, Committee to Verify Information
Egypt Fatwa Bans Quranic Cell Phone Ringtones
Terrorism: Algeria, Gendarme Officer Killed in Kabylie
Israel and the Palestinians
OECD Agreement Signed by Liberman in Jerusalem
Vatican Blames Israel for Driving Out Christians
Middle East
Agca: Turks Attack Local Press, Given Too Much Coverage
Al Arabiya Interviews Michael Jackson’s Brother
Analysis: Did the Long Arm of Iran Reach the Dead Sea Highway?
Death of Gay Activist Brings Turkey’s Attitude Toward Gays Into Focus
Energy: Syria: 25 Mln Cubic Metres of Gas Produced Per Day
Fighting Terrorism: Britain Ends Flights From Yemen
Louvre Not to Return Apollon and Jupiter Statues to Turkey
No Religious Reason for Child Brides: Saudi Cleric
Russia to Start Iran’s Bushehr Nuke Plant in 2010
Vatican Synod to Tackle Middle East
Yemen ‘Stops Issuing Visas at Airports’
South Asia
Asia: UN Panel Now Says Himalayan Glaciers May Not Disappear by 2035
Malaysia: Eight Arrested Over Church Attack
Mumbai Terror Suspect Warned of Attacks
Taliban Leaders ‘Offered Asylum’ Under London Peace Plan
Taliban Overhaul Image to Win Allies
Far East
Philippines: Catholic Church Criticises Acceptance of Gay Party in May 2010 Elections
Sub-Saharan Africa
Guinea Bissau: Drug Network ‘Used to Fund Extremists’
Kenya ‘Expels Jamaican Hate-Cleric Faisal Again’
Sudanese Journalist Sentenced to Lashing for Wearing Pants: There Were Tens of Thousands of Women Like Me
French Converts Want Freedom
Italy’s 2,000 Child Brides Every Year — Many Forcibly Repatriated by Families
Migrant Italy Complaint Dismissed
Spain: Immigration Part of Catalan Election Campaign
Spain: SMEs Associate Criminality With Immigration
Non-Stick Pan Chemical is Linked to Thyroid Disease

Financial Crisis

Europe’s Biggest Telescope ‘Hit by Cuts’

Sardinia project under threat, Hack says

(ANSA) — Cagliari, January 19 — A huge new telescope in Sardinia will not be able to start work because of Italian budget cuts, one of Italy’s top astrophysicists warned Tuesday.

“It is really disgraceful that, after spending some 67 million euros to build the great dish there are no funds to operate it,” said Margherita Hack.

Hack, 87, is one of the leading members of a committee that has been set up to save the Sardinia Radio Telescope outside Cagliari, the biggest and most sensitive radio telescope in Europe.

The future of the telescope is threatened because of an estimated 5% cut to the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF), which could be forced to choose between the Cagliari installation and other high-profile projects.

“This is another masochist absurdity of the Italian government, whose universities train researchers who can’t get permanent jobs and are forced to go abroad,” Hack thundered.

The Sardinia Radio Telescope, due for completion this year, was supposed to be pointed at the Northern Star and linked to two other Italian telescopes, one in Ferrara and one in Sicily, Hack pointed out.

“This would have formed one of the largest radioastronomy networks in Europe,” she said, part of a wider global system able to study the structure of the universe 13 billion years ago, “when the galaxies were just beginning to take shape”.

“This lack of interest in science and technology is a sign of culpable ignorance on those who govern us, which will turn Italy into a third-world country,” Hack claimed.

INAF chief Tommaso Maccacaro warned before Christmas that budget cuts would mean the institute, which showed the world’s sharpest increase in cited research papers last year, would have to make do on reduced funding of 90 million euros this year.

Some 95% of this would have to cover overheads and only 5% would be left for research projects, he warned.

This would lead to “painful” choices, Maccacaro said.

In order to find the money to run the Sardinian telescope, he said, Italy might have to pull out of the Arizona-based Large Binocular Telescope, one of the world’s most advanced optical telescopes.

Alternatively, Maccacaro said, it might have to close the Galileo telescope in the Canary Islands, breaking an accord with Spain and abandoning “the instrument that measured the distance from the farthest object ever discovered in the universe”.

Another possible victim of the cuts could be the innovative VST telescope Italy is supposed to give the European Southern Observatory site in Chile, he said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

New Off-Balance Sheet Rule: Little Impact on Wells

The new accounting standard requiring banks to bring assets back on balance sheet had a negligible impact on Wells Fargo. Despite having over $2.0 trillion of off-balance sheet assets, Wells consolidated just $10 billion of risk-weighted assets when the new standard took effect January 1. (See slide 17 in the bank’s supplemental earnings release)

[see image in article]

The idea behind the new accounting standard is to bring hidden assets back into the light of day so that regulators can insure proper levels of capital are held against them. With Wells, this appears not to be happening.

Last summer, the bank estimated the new standard would raise risk-weighted assets by $46 billion.* In its last quarterly filing, it revised the estimate down to $25 billion.** When the standard finally went into effect, the figure was just $10 billion.

Total off balance sheet assets, meanwhile, were over $2.0 trillion at the end of September. (see page 31)

One reason for the giant difference is that “conforming” mortgages comprise a bit over half of Wells’ off balance sheet assets. These are eligible for a government guarantee via Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae, argues the bank, so it needn’t consolidate them since they pose no risk to its balance sheet.

Chris Whalen of Institutional Risk Analytics has argued this may be inappropriate. Some of these mortgages may be rejected by government guarantors — a more likely prospect it would seem with FHA beefing up standards. That could force Wells to take loan loss reserves against them.

A bigger question is the $900 billion worth of off-balance sheet assets that don’t qualify for a government guarantee. If indeed it’s fair for Wells to say it has so little exposure here, the bank should explain why to investors.

Ironically, the ultimate off balance sheet vehicles are the GSEs themselves: Fannie, Freddie and Ginnie Mae (which securitizes FHA loans). Though backed by taxpayers, the nearly $5.0 trillion worth of mortgages they guarantee aren’t included on Uncle Sam’s balance sheet.

With mortgage lending almost wholly dependent on GSE guarantees at this point, more of the nation’s housing stock disappears off-balance sheet every day…

           — Hat tip: REP [Return to headlines]


Army-Sponsored Report Suggests New ‘Police Force’

Domestic agents could be used in ‘shaping an environment before a conflict’

A newly released Rand Corporation report proposes the federal government create a rapid deployment “Stabilization Police Force” that would be tasked with “shaping an environment before a conflict” and restoring order in times of war, natural disaster or national emergency.

But civil libertarians are worried just exactly what the force would do, domestically or overseas.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Can Counseling Prevent a Potential Honor Killing? The Rifqa Bary Case.

According to the Columbus-Dispatch, Rifqa has admitted that she’d been “unruly” when she’d fled her home, and the “family will try to resolve their issues with counseling.” In a statement read by Rifqa’s attorneys, ‘both she and her parents said they loved each other and believe counseling is the best route.”

Ahem. The family’s honor has now been slightly salvaged by Rifqa’s open admission (clearly, an admission that had been required) that she’d been…”unruly.”

Is it “unruly” to choose one’s own God, or to try and save one’s own life? I’m just asking. In any event, in grand American tradition, “counseling” is seen as an all-purpose, face-saving panacea, a way of avoiding a more superficial or harsher rule of law—a way of dealing with problems that are far beyond (or beneath) a judge’s purview. Thus, “The case plan for Rifqa and her parents says they should talk about their respective religions and visit and communicate regularly.”


One can only hope that the counselor in the Bary case will know a great deal about the nature of honor killings and the fate of apostates in Islam.

For example, in the tragic case of Toronto’s Aqsa Parvez, the counselors at the shelter for battered women to which she fled did not understand the dynamics involved in an honor killing family and, when Aqsa’s mother called to say she missed her, they simply allowed Aqsa to go; Aqsa went home and was promptly killed by her father and brother. Aqsa’s crime? She did not want to wear hijab.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Democrats Propose $1.9T Increase in Debt Limit

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Wednesday proposed allowing the federal government to borrow an additional $1.9 trillion to pay its bills, a record increase that would permit the national debt to reach $14.3 trillion.

The unpopular legislation is needed to allow the federal government to issue bonds to fund programs and prevent a first-time default on obligations. It promises to be a challenging debate for Democrats, who, as the party in power, hold the responsibility for passing the legislation.

It’s hardly the debate Democrats want or need in the wake of Sen.-elect Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts. Arguing over the debt limit provides a forum for Republicans to blame Democrats for rising deficits and spiraling debt, even though responsibility for the government’s financial straits can be shared by both political parties.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Don’t Read Too Much Into Brown’s Victory Over Coakley

Even if Brown were totally sincere about a return to constitutional ideals — his pro-choice views and support, in theory, for increased government control over medicine notwithstanding — the problem is that America’s entrenched government bureaucracy has gone over to the dark side. It is filled to overflowing with liberal-leftists. Any career constitutionalist bureaucrat is a pariah who will not be promoted, no matter who is running the Administration. That fact is not likely to change, for a variety of reasons, among them:

* Government employee unionization, which leans left;

* The double-standard applied to political correctness, vis-à-vis liberals and conservatives (the difference between Harry Reid’s gaffe concerning candidate Obama’s “light skin” and lack of “Negro dialect” compared to Trent Lott’s oblique racial allusion at the late Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party is but the latest example);

* Political appointees overseeing agencies and increasing staffs of liberal new-hires (as opposed to conservative appointees who commit to slowing growth and decreasing staff, thus in this case handing the liberal-left the advantage);

* Ongoing conservative whine-fests, as opposed to bold, new initiatives to address the nation’s problems;

* A liberal-left Governor’s Association, from which many candidates emerge and from which state counterparts to federal legislation are spawned;

* Mandatory workshops for government-employees typically aimed at promoting political correctness;

* A government culture that recruits and trains “change agents,” mostly aimed at ensuring a liberal-left status quo among citizens’ groups (“stakeholders”) and state and local affiliate organizations (e.g., police and sheriff’s departments, state education agencies, child protection service agencies, immigration offices, etc., all of which have counterparts in federal agencies and receive money from them);

* Public education and teacher-training systems that have aggressively promoted Marxist socialism for some 40 years, coupled to the people’s failure to retain substantive knowledge that at least embodied a few key contributions and ideas that eventually led to cherished American virtues. (How many parents or teachers, for example, can recite, off the top of their head, anything noteworthy about staples of our culture that everyone once knew: philosophers Aristotle, Disraeli, Sir Thomas Hobbes and the authors of the Federalist papers; artists Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Bonnard, Manet, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Sisley and Cézanne; or literary greats like William Makepeace Thackery, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Browning, Oscar Wilde, Cicero, Emily Brontë and Honoré de Balzac, to name just a few?);

* Failure of traditionalists and constitutionalists to insistently preserve American ideals in the media, coupled to the leftist media’s expansion and near-takeover of entertainment and news. (Why did we not place key constitutionalist advocates on the Boards of some of these organizations?);

* Public acceptance of appeasement and non-confrontation across-the-board (also known as “working within the system,” even when it’s rotten); and,

* Ignorance concerning the elements of real debate (most people believe debate to be a contest of memorized note-cards, bereft of any technique or understanding).

[Return to headlines]

FBI Gets ‘Muslim Mafia’ ‘Smoking-Gun’ Documents

12,000 pages on CAIR terror ties turned over in reply to subpoena

Responding to a federal subpoena served by the FBI, lawyers for a former Air Force special agent who conducted a private undercover probe of the Council on American-Islamic Relations have turned over thousands of pages of internal documents that allegedly confirm the D.C.-based Muslim group’s role as a front for terrorist groups that seek Islam’s domination over the U.S.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Frank Gaffney: Dangerous Accomodations

Scott Brown can’t get to Washington soon enough. In his victory speech on Tuesday night, the newly elected Senator from Massachusetts underscored a central plank in his campaign platform: “Let me say this: with respect to the people who wish to harm us, I believe — and I know all of you believe — that our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation. They do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime. And the message we need to send in dealing with terrorists: Our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, and not lawyers to defend them.”

This commonsensical approach to dealing with our enemies clearly found resonance with the voters of one of the most liberal states in the nation. Polls suggest on related questions about closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay and bringing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to trial in New York City, Americans across this country are of a similar mind. Yet, with each passing day it is evident that the Obama administration is committed to a very different course, one that is likely to get more of us killed.

For instance, we discovered yesterday that neither the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency nor the Secretary of Homeland Security were consulted before the decision was taken to allow Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab to lawyer-up in Detroit. We are told that, for some reason, local FBI agents — who had gotten a wealth of valuable intelligence in the course of a few hours with the alleged Christmas Day pantybomber before they told him he had the right to remain silent — believed they needed to Mirandize the terrorist before he went into surgery.

With that, on advice of counsel, Abdulmuttalab clammed up and — despite claims by the President’s Homeland Security Advisor, John Brennan, that plea-bargaining will elicit more cooperation from this jihadist — it now seems unlikely that such help will be forthcoming and, if it is, that it will be “actionable.”

Then, we learn that the State Department has decided to offer 14,000 of its “diversity visas” to Nigerians wishing to immigrate to this country. Never mind that Abdulmuttalab exemplifies a portion of that nation’s Muslim population that has embraced the supremacist, totalitarian ideology called “Shariah” by authoritative Islam, the same program that obliges its adherents to engage in jihad (or holy war). Randomly allocating visas to such folks assuredly increases the probability of inviting more of jihadists into our midst…

           — Hat tip: CSP [Return to headlines]

Jewish Teen’s Prayers Spark Jet Security Scare

Flight is diverted after religious item is mistaken for a bomb, police say

PHILADELPHIA — A U.S. Airways jet was diverted to Philadelphia International Airport Thursday after a praying Jewish man’s religious item was mistaken for a bomb, police said.

There were initial reports that a man may have been wired with “a device” and FBI and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials and a police bomb squad all attended.

However, when authorities boarded Flight 3079 from LaGuardia Airport to Louisville, they established there was no bomb on board.

Government sources also said the 17-year-old passenger had been “praying loudly” and that the flight was diverted out of an “abundance of caution.”

‘Some kind of device’

Officials said a passenger had become alarmed by seeing a man with phylacteries — boxes containing verses from the Bible — which observant Jews strap around their arms and heads as part of morning prayers.

“Someone on the plane construed it as some kind of device,” said Christine O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Police Department.

A man was escorted off the plane by law enforcement officers while the other passengers also disembarked. O’Brien confirmed that no one had been arrested and no one had been charged.

Senior law enforcement officials told NBC News that they believe the man was a “nervous flier” and said they did not believe the incident was related to terrorism.

[Return to headlines]

Justices Gut Campaign-Finance Restrictions

(Jan. 21) — The Supreme Court’s rejection of fundamental limits on election spending by corporations reaches far beyond the two court precedents overturned today.

In a fractured 5-4 majority, justices ruled that political-speech rights for corporations are equal to First Amendment rights for individuals. And they undercut at least a century of political reform by declaring that the special influence and access to power linked to big campaign spending from corporations does not amount to corruption.

The convoluted split in the ruling demonstrated a bitter divide over the issue, and also the complexity of campaign-finance law: Four justices dissented to all but Part IV of the majority opinion, one justice who backed the rest dissented to Part IV, justices wrote or joined two concurring opinions, and others wrote or joined two additional opinions that both dissented and concurred.

Part IV of the ruling, backed by all justices but Clarence Thomas, upheld an element of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act that requires sponsored televised election communication by anyone but the candidate to include a disclaimer saying who paid for it.

But other key parts of McCain-Feingold, which prohibited corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to pay for electioneering speech close to election day, and a 1947 law restricting corporate and union political spending, were gutted by a majority that found they violated the First Amendment.

“The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.

McCain-Feingold and earlier campaign-finance restrictions have a chilling effect on political speech, Kennedy said, because the threat of criminal prosecution or fines from the Federal Election Commission could prompt a speaker to “ask a governmental agency for prior permission to speak.” The restrictions, he added, “thus function as the equivalent of a prior restraint, giving the FEC power analogous to the type of government practices that the First Amendment was drawn to prohibit.”

The ruling reverberated across the political system, where it looked set to unleash a wave of new corporate or union-funded ads for and against candidates in this year’s midterm elections…

           — Hat tip: Zenster [Return to headlines]

Muslim Anger Over US Military ‘Jesus’ Scopes

Muslim groups reacted angrily late on Wednesday after it emerged that the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan were using rifle sights inscribed with coded Biblical references.

The company producing the sights, which are also used to train Afghan and Iraqi soldiers under contracts with the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps, said it has inscribed references to the New Testament on the metal casings for over two decades.

The British Ministry of Defense meanwhile announced it had placed an order for 400 of the gunsights with Trijicon but added it had not been aware of the significance of the inscriptions, in a decision criticized by the opposition Liberal Democrat party.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) called on U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to immediately withdraw from combat use equipment found to have inscriptions of Biblical references after it emerged that Trijicon has contracts to supply over 800,000 of the sights to the U.S. military.

Pentagon’s reaction

The Pentagon sought to defuse the brewing controversy, saying it was “disturbed” by the reports.

“If determined to be true, this is clearly inappropriate and we are looking into possible remedies,” Commander Darryn James, a Pentagon spokesman, told AFP.

The codes were used as “part of our faith and our belief in service to our country,” Trijicon said.

“As long as we have men and women in danger, we will continue to do everything we can to provide them with both state-of-the-art technology and the never-ending support and prayers of a grateful nation,” a company spokesman said on condition of anonymity.

The move appeared to be a direct violation of a U.S. Central Command general order issued after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that strictly prohibits “proselytizing of any religion, faith or practice.”

A whistleblower group that first alerted ABC News to the issue this week warned the practice was putting troops in harm’s way by raising fears of Christian proselytizing in Muslim-majority nations home to militants resentful of U.S. military presence.

“This is the worst type of emboldenment of the enemy that you can imagine,” Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder and president Michael “Mikey” Weinstein said in an interview.

Weinstein, a former White House legal counsel in Ronald Reagan’s administration, said his group would submit a filing in U.S. federal court in Kansas City, Missouri by Feb. 4 in a related case.

“Having Biblical references on military equipment violates the basic ideals and values our country was founded upon,” MPAC Washington director Haris Tarin said in a statement.

“Worse still, it provides propaganda ammo to extremists who claim there is a ‘Crusader war against Islam’ by the United States,” he added.

The shocking revelation raises fresh fears of Christian fundamentalism seeping through the U.S. military’s ranks.

“It’s got to stop. It’s wrong on a million levels,” said Weinstein. “This is massively endangering the lives and well-being of our members of the military.”

His foundation, he added, represents nearly 16,000 troops, the bulk of them Christians.

A Muslim-American soldier, who declined to be named due to fears of persecution, said he was “ashamed” and “horrified” by the writings on the gunsights of weapons he used during deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There are many other soldiers who feel as I do. Many are Protestant and Catholic and they fear reprisal just as much as I do for trying to stand up to the Christian bullies in uniform who outrank us,” he said in a letter dated Jan. 14 and addressed to Weinstein and his foundation.

According to photographs seen by AFP, the coded inscriptions include JN8:12, an apparent reference to John 8:12: “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

Trijicon, a defense contractor founded by devout Christian Glyn Bindon, vows on its website to follow “biblical standards” it says make America great.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Obama’s TSA Pick Withdraws

Major blow for White House under fire over handling of domestic terror threats

Erroll Southers, President Obama’s pick to head the Transportation Security Administration, withdrew today, claiming his nomination had become a lightning rod for those with a political agenda.


In Senate hearings, Southers had avoided giving a “yes” or “no” answer over whether he would unionize airport security workers. Unions across the U.S., however, have been lobbying hard for Southers’ confirmation.


DeMint, R-S.C., said it was a case of administration officials just refusing to provide the information that was needed about a candidate.

“And Mr. Southers was never forthcoming about his intentions to give union bosses veto power over security decisions at our airports. TSA screeners can already join unions, but collective bargaining would force TSA officials to ask union bosses for permission to make critical security changes. The Senate could have had an open and transparent debate this week to approve Mr. Southers, but apparently, answering simple, direct questions about security and integrity were too much for this nominee,” he said.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Oklahoma: Ten Commandments Monument Finds Home at Poteau Bank

POTEAU, OK — While LeFlore County Commissioners wait to hear the results of a Supreme Court decision, a Poteau County bank gives the go-ahead for a 10 Commandments monument to be displayed.

The monument that was intended for the lawn of the LeFlore County Courthouse was unveiled in its new location Wednesday. More than 200 people turned out to the Community State Bank event.

LeFlore county commissioners originally agreed to put the monument on the courthouse lawn, but they later decided to wait while the Supreme Court decided the fate of a similar monument in Haskell County.

Haskell County commissioners are appealing a ruling that the monument on the courthouse lawn in Stigler is unconstitutional due to the division of church and state.

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

Pat Buchanan Asks Why They Hate US, Gets the Wrong Answer

In “Why Are They at War With Us?” in Human Events, January 12, Pat Buchanan agrees with Barack Obama (although they are working, of course, from vastly different premises) that the global jihad is all the result of American actions, and that therefore changes to American foreign policies can end it. Buchanan ignores the Islamic imperative to wage jihad warfare against Infidels regardless of what those Infidels are doing or not doing.

Buchanan quotes Osama bin Laden’s explanation of why the jihadists are at war, but he does so from the standpoint of an ignorance of Islamic theology that assumes that bin Laden is stating the entire case here…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Preacher’s Toe Touches School Lawn, He Gets Arrested

Case brought after principal calls cops to silence Gospel

“Christians shouldn’t be arrested and charged as criminals for expressing their beliefs on public property. They have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in America,” said ADF-allied attorney Demetrios Stratis of Fair Lawn.

“A person cannot be charged with a crime just because a school official has a complete misunderstanding of the First Amendment or doesn’t like what that person has to say. We are pleased that we prevailed in court in getting these unwarranted criminal charges dropped,” he said.

According to the report issued yesterday by the ADF, Parker “was taken into custody after his toe touched the grass on the school’s side of the sidewalk. He was charged with trespass and disorderly conduct.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

The Democrats’ Technological Thuggery

The technology of force can also be thieving, manipulation and intimidation of any democratic or bureaucratic process, in this case as nationally exhibited by the Democratic Party. Force, as misused by the Democrats, is the application of violence, abuse of process, libel, slander, propaganda, theft and a variety of other criminal behaviors to gain and keep, through any means necessary, the power to rule, arrogantly and presumptuously, every miniscule facet of your waking life.

Democrats engage in this reprehensible, morally bankrupt, hypocritical behavior even as they breathlessly exclaim that their political opponents mean them harm. The example that springs most readily to mind is the bug-eyed, botox-paralyzed, Medusan visage of Nancy Pelosi as she feigned crocodile tears at the thought of those awful, mean “tea party” people waving imaginary Nazi symbols and somehow implying violence because they dared to oppose the socialization of American health care.

Meanwhile, as hand-wringing Democrats engaged in these histrionics, their union thugs were beating protesters in an effort to silence them. A supporter of socialized medicine bullied, assaulted and then bit off the finger of an older man who dared to oppose Obamacare. Supporters of amnesty for illegal aliens attacked Americans opposed to the invasion of their nation. Conservative protesters were pepper-sprayed and beaten by homosexual activists.

Republican protesters risk their well-being whenever they dare to stand up for their political beliefs — and the left-leaning popular media turn a deliberately blind eye to their Democrat fellow travelers’ crimes. While all this was going on, Democrats and the media were falling over themselves laughing to redefine “tea party” protesters as “teabaggers,” a sexually vulgar term that left-wingers across the mainstream media are now free to use with impunity. Winking and nudging your co-anchors while uttering the word is optional, incidentally.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


Terrorist ‘Leader’ Gets Life

Zakaria Amara is going to jail for life.

The 24-year-old Meadowvale man, who spearheaded a Meadowvale-based terror cell that plotted to detonate bombs in downtown Toronto and cause mass carnage, was sentenced this afternoon in Brampton court to life in prison with no parole for at least six years. In delivering sentence, the maximum allowed under Canadian terrorism laws, Justice Bruce Durno called the convicted terrorist “the leader” of the cell.

“This was not just a criminal offence; this was a terrorism offence with catastrophic and fatal consequences,” the judge said in his 90-minute ruling. “He did not (participate) as a foot soldier. He did so as the leader.”

Last fall, Amara pleaded guilty to knowingly participating in a terrorist group and intending to cause an explosion for the benefit of a terrorist group.

The judge said Amara was “the directing mind” and “motivator” of the group, which planned to bomb locations including the Toronto Stock Exchange and a CSIS building in Toronto in November 2006.

The plan, however, was foiled by police, who made multiple arrests in June of that year.

The judge noted the attacks were planned for 9 a.m. on a weekday, when people would have been arriving at work.

“If implemented, this would have resulted in the most horrific crime Canada has ever seen,” Durno said. “There certainly would have been multiple deaths and injuries.”

Court heard Amara recruited people, helped organize and lead a terrorist training camp, created a remote-control detonator, researched ways to make explosives and purchased three tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertilizer destined for truck bombs.

Amara and the majority of the group’s members were arrested in June 2006.

[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Belgium: Mosque Withdraws Request for Loudspeakers

There will be no loudspeakers on the minarets of the mosque in Beringen. The mosque association decided to withdraw their request for calls to prayer. The reason is the ‘great opposition’ against the plans. “The mosque association is startled by the great resistance,” says secretary Ahmed Koç, who is also alderman for SP.A. “The association received just negative reactions, not only from the Vlaams Belang in Beringen, but also from residents.”

The association says they’re very disappointed. “The members have the feeling that Muslims are not accepted,” says Koç. “What is possible in Heusden-Zolder, in Genk and elsewhere, is apparently not possible in Beringen.”

The Vlaams Belang flyer which was spread everywhere in Beringen this week, showing a minaret and a loudspeaker and a powerful ‘No’ now seems outdated. But the planned meeting of the party in Beringen, in which Filip Dewinter will also be present, will go on as planned next week.

           — Hat tip: TV [Return to headlines]

Denmark: Muhammad Cartoonist Defiant After Attack

By Henryk M. Broder

Four years ago, Kurt Westergaard triggered a bitter clash of cultures with his cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad. On New Year’s Day, a young Muslim from Somalia tried to kill him with a knife and an ax. Despite having to live under constant protection, the Danish cartoonist refuses to give up.

He supports himself with a cane as he stands in the hallway, staring at the demolished bathroom door. A sheet of particleboard has been nailed to the door to hold it together, but the indentations from the ax are still visible in the frame, where some of the wood was chipped off. In a few days, workers will install a steel door and an alarm system, and a pavilion will be built in the garden for the police officers assigned to protect him. Kurt Westergaard’s house has to be turned into a fortress.

Last Thursday was the first time Westergaard was back in his row house in the Danish city of Aarhus since the New Year’s Day attack, when a young man from Somalia broke into the house. Westergaard saw the man in the hallway, fled into the bathroom, locked the door and pressed his panic button, while the man tried to break down the door with an ax. The police quickly arrived on the scene, and it took only two shots to incapacitate the intruder.

Westergaard has returned to his house to pick up a few things he needs, so that he can continue working in the secret location where he is currently being housed. Although the names Kurt and Birgitte Westergaard are still printed on the doorbell nameplate outside, Westergaard now feels like a stranger in his own home.

His wife is cooking lunch in the kitchen: baked fish with black bread and tartar sauce. The table in the living room is set for eight: three police officers, two workmen, the Westergaards and their visitor from Germany. Whenever the doorbell rings, one of the officers from Danish state security gets up to see who it is…

           — Hat tip: Steen [Return to headlines]

Denmark: Teen Fan Video Proclaims Love for Elderly Cartoonist

Danger Romance with Kurt Westergaard may have been an apt title for video, after teen singer gets resulting threats

A teenage girl who made a fan video proclaiming her love and support for elderly cartoonist Kurt Westergaard has received a number of threats in recent days.

Nikoline Astrid Nielsen, 17, is studying media at high school and uploaded a video of herself singing her support for Westergaard to the tune of the Lady Gaga pop song, Bad Romance.

The song, re-titled ‘Dangerous Romance with Kurt Westergaard’, includes lines in Danish such as ‘I want your belly it’s so hot. You can draw, so draw a six pack.’ Nielsen also sings about how she’s willing to share his fame, despite the Middle East not leaving him in peace.

The video is quickly reaching the heights of notoriety in Denmark, similar to that of the viral internet hit by ‘Obama Girl’ during the US Presidential election.

Westergaard, 74, is currently under police protection following an attempt on his life in retribution for his drawing of a Mohammed cartoon.

Nielsen said she created the video in support of Westergaard after one of his watercolour paintings was banned from a charity auction in aid of Haitian earthquake victims. auction house refused to accept the donation over safety fears for their staff.

Galleri Draupner stepped in and offered to auction the painting and has had more than 50,000 visitors to their auction website in just 24 hours. The highest bid stands so far at 45,000 kroner for the painting, which features dragons and fairy tale images.

The owner of the gallery is the stepfather of Nielsen’s best friend, which inspired her to write her song of support for the cartoonist.

But following its rounds on the internet in the last few days, a hate group opposing Nielsen was set up on social networking site Facebook.

Some had published photos of accident scenes, with Nielsen’s face superimposed on that of the person being carried on a stretcher.

Nielsen has now forwarded the threatening emails and screen dumps of the offending messages and images to the police, who are investigating the case.

Westergaard, meanwhile, has yet to comment on his support from the unlikely source.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

EU Commission ‘Embassies’ Granted New Powers

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — The EU has converted 54 out of the European Commission’s 136 foreign delegations into embassy-type missions authorised to speak for the entire union.

The move follows the coming into force last year of the Lisbon Treaty, which has the creation of a new EU diplomatic corps as one of its main provisions.

All 136 commission delegations were renamed “EU delegations” on 1 January. But only the 54 placements were at the same time quietly given fresh powers in line with their new names.

The super-delegations have taken on the role previously carried out by the national embassies of the member state holding the six-month EU presidency at any given time.

As such, they now co-ordinate the work of the member states’ bilateral missions to the countries in question. The heads of the 54 delegations are also empowered to speak on behalf of the EU as a whole. But their statements have to be pre-approved by the 27 EU countries during meetings in Brussels.

“They are going to be a bit more political. They will provide the same function that was provided by the given [EU presidency] member state before,” an EU official said.

Eight of the new-model units are in Europe: Armenia, Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland and Ukraine.

Twelve are in Asia and the Pacific Ocean: Afghanistan, Australia, China, East Timor, Fiji, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Vietnam.

The rest is in Africa: Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zimbabwe and the delegation to the African Union in Addis Ababa.

Some of the far-flung outposts concentrate on distributing aid and also do ad-hoc projects, such as promoting European film in Fiji.

The 54 missions were selected by EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton following discussions with EU states. There is no deadline for the conversion of the rest.

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

France: French Jews Want Their Original Surnames Back

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, JANUARY 20 — Fears over a revival of the Shoah, latent anti-Semitism, and constant derision led many Jewish families to Gallicise their names in France in the 1950’s and 1960’s, following the Second World War. But today, amid the debate over Frances national identity, the Rosens want to go back to being called Rozenkopf, the Wolkowicz family want to get rid of their fictitious name, Volcot. They are the new generation of naturalised French citizens, who are demanding the right to reclaim the surnames disowned by their parents even though the war had been over for some time, and who are fighting a firm refusal by the Council of State. The paradox is that on one hand the law allows the Gallicisation of a foreign surname if a person wants to help his integration, but on the other hand the Council of State forbids the opposite, in the name of the immutability of the surname and the impossibility of adopting a foreign-sounding surname which arises from an archaic law dating back to the French Revolution. Tired of years of unsuccessful attempts, these French Jews whose families escaped history, as the notorious Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld describes them, have joined forces to form the Strength of the Name organisation, an initiative of a group of intellectuals, and entrusted their case to a legal firm. Lawyer Nathalie Felzenszwalbe says that they are simply asking for a symbolic return to their roots, they want to recover their surnames as a concrete mark of the often dramatic story of their parents, and they have no intention of putting into question their Republican identity. Why, they ask, should their surnames be less French than Basque or Breton surnames? The collective plans to make use of acts which recognise the implication of the French State in the deportation of the Jews. France, continues the lawyer, accepted the Gallicisation of their surnames as a kind of reparation over the wrongs which the Jews suffered during the French collaboration. However the Council of State has made it understood that it does not intend to amend the law and that it will examine requests on a case by case basis. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Growing Warning From Europeans

In Part 18, you heard from Dutchman Geert Wilders when he gave a speech in New York. You may enjoy the second section of his speech in today’s column. He makes no bones about it: the United States stands in the cross hairs of Islamic conquest.

“Now these are just numbers,” Wilders said. “And the numbers would not be threatening if the Muslim-immigrants had a strong desire to assimilate. But there are few signs of that. The Pew Research Center reported that half of French Muslims see their loyalty to Islam as greater than their loyalty to France. One-third of French Muslims do not object to suicide attacks. The British Centre for Social Cohesion reported that one-third of British Muslim students are in favor of a worldwide caliphate. A Dutch study reported that half of Dutch Muslims admit they “understand” the 9/11 attacks.

“Muslims demand what they call ‘respect’. And this is how we give them respect. Our elites are willing to give in. To give up! In my own country we have gone from calls by one cabinet member to turn Muslim holidays into official state holidays, to statements by another cabinet member, that Islam is part of Dutch culture, to an affirmation by the Christian-Democratic attorney general that he is willing to accept Sharia in the Netherlands if there is a Muslim majority. We have cabinet members with passports from Morocco and Turkey.

“Muslim demands are supported by unlawful behavior, ranging from petty crimes and random violence, for example against ambulance workers and bus drivers, to small-scale riots. Paris has seen its uprising in the low-income suburbs, the banlieus. Some prefer to see these as isolated incidents, but I call it a Muslim intifada. I call the perpetrators “settlers”. Because that is what they are. They do not come to integrate into our societies, they come to integrate our society into their Dar-al-Islam. Therefore, they are settlers.

“Much of this street violence I mentioned is directed exclusively against non-Muslims, forcing many native people to leave their neighborhoods, their cities, their countries.

“Our many problems with Islam cannot be explained by poverty, repression or the European colonial past, as the Left claims. Nor does it have anything to do with Palestinians or American troops in Iraq. The problem is Islam itself…”

[Return to headlines]

Italy: Govt Probes Mozzarella Scam

Rome, 20 Jan.(AKI) — The Italian government has found widespread abuse in the production of one of the country’s major exports, buffalo mozzarella cheese. Tests conducted by the agriculture ministry on 530 samples of the world-renowned cheese produced in the southern Campania region has found about 20 percent of the samples were diluted with cow’s milk and water.

As a result of the investigation, the government on Wednesday seized assets including production sites worth an estimated six million euros.

Italian police have confiscated 2 tonnes of buffalo mozzarella and sealed off six dairy farms near the southern city of Caserta, the centre of buffalo mozzarella production located outside Naples.

Italy annually produces about 33,000 tonnes of buffalo mozzarella worth about 300,000 million euros, according to Coldiretti, Italy’s largest agriculture business association. About 16 percent of the cheese is destined for export.

One of the companies allegedly involved in tainting the product is owned by Luigi Chianese, president of the Consortium for the Protection of Buffalo Mozzarella of Campania.

The Italian government has now taken over the organisation but Chianese has denied any wrongdoing and claims the data was flawed.

The government two years ago sealed off dairy farms after finding nearly one in five buffalo mozzarella producers were making cheese containg levels of cancer-causing dioxin above those set by the European Union.

High pollution levels have been attributed to illegal toxic waste disposal by organised crime.

The 2008 scandal prompted Japan and Korea to temporarily block imports of one of Italy’s best known culinary products.

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

Pope Calls Irish Bishops Back

Meeting might lead to Ash Wednesday letter on abuse scandal

(ANSA) — Vatican City, January 20 — Pope Benedict XVI has called the heads of the Irish Catholic Church to the Vatican on February 15-16 to discuss a response to two reports detailing child sexual abuse by priests in Ireland over decades, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Wednesday.

Lombardi said he could confirm the visit as reported by the Guardian newspaper but did not indicate whether the discussion would lead, as the Guardian said, to a letter to Irish Catholics to be read out the following day, Ash Wednesday.

Father Lombardi said the pope and the bishops would debate last year’s Ryan and Murphy reports into widespread clerical abuse across the Irish republic.

The pope first met top Irish bishops in the Vatican on December 11 when he voiced “outrage” at the contents of the reports and pledged to prevent any recurrence.

One Irish bishop resigned a week later and Benedict accepted his resignation. Three others have since presented their resignations.

The Guardian, in its online edition, reported Wednesday that Irish bishops received the invitation on Tuesday.

Citing a prelate who wished to remain anonymous, it said Benedict would speak to the bishops on the opening day of the meeting and on the second day meet with the heads of the Vatican doctrinal watchdog.

According to the Guardian, the pope is expected to outline a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics to be read out on Ash Wednesday.

At the Vatican meeting in December, the pope said he would draft such a letter after voicing his shock about the November Murphy report which detailed decades of abuse and cover-up in the Dublin diocese.

In May the Ryan report into the abuse of children in Catholic-run industrial schools and orphanages also denounced cover-ups over some 50 years.

On December 17 Benedict accepted the resignation of Bishop Donal Murray, former auxiliary bishop of Dublin, who had been in Rome for the December 11 meeting.

Msgr Murray was the first official to resign since the publication of the Murphy report.

Three other former Dublin bishops — Eamonn Walsh, Raymond Field and James Moriarty — resigned around Christmas.

The Murphy report, released November 26, found that the four failed to report child sex abuse to the police from the 1960 to the 1980s.

It listed 320 people who complained of abuse between 1974 and 2004 and said a further 130 complaints against priests in Dublin had been made since May 2004.

The archdiocese only started notifying civil authorities in 1995, it found.

The Murphy report found that Msgr Murray had acted “inexcusably” in shunting around a paedophile priest, Father Thomas Naughton, instead of reporting him in the 1980s.

Naughton recently received a three-year jail sentence.


After his meeting with the bishops and the heads of the relevant Vatican departments on December 11, Benedict vowed to get to the bottom of the scandal and make sure abuse could never happen again.

He noted that the the leaders of the Irish church, (bore) the ultimate responsibility for the pastoral care of children”.

Speaking out for the first time in the wake of the report, the pope said he was “shocked and anguished”.

He expressed his “deep regret for the actions committed by some members of the clergy who betrayed their solemn promises to God as well as the trust placed in them by the victims, their families, and society in general”.

“The Holy Father shares the sense of outrage, betrayal and shame felt by so many of the faithful in Ireland.

Benedict vowed “to find the best way to develop effective and sure strategies to prevent (such events) recurring”.

In the wake of the report, the head of the Irish Survivors of Child Abuse group urged Benedict to go to Ireland and apologise for his clergy’s behaviour.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

The Rotten Heart of the Union

by Henrik Ræder Clausen

There’s a lot invested in the European Union. Not only money (to the tune of €100 billion a year), also massive amounts of confidence from Europeans towards the Union, assuming that it will protect citizens / consumers from the evils of dangerous products, exploitative business and the dangers of the independent nation-state, all while protecting democracy and citizens’ rights. Former Chief Accountant Marta Andreasen has a discouraging tale to tell.

First, a bit of history. Marta Andreasen was hired in January 2002 as Chief Accountant responsible for the EU budget at large, with the specific additional task of initiating reform of an obviously deficient system of accounting that each year permitted billions of euros to vanish, pure and simple.

A case of corruption had in 1999 brought down the European Commission led by Jacques Santer, and the clear message from the European Union was that now it was time for zero tolerance of irregularities and waste. After all, it is taxpayer money we entrust the European Union, not money earned by the Union directly. We should expect that money to be spent responsibly, or not spent at all.

Marta Andreasen was hired to put the required reforms into effect. However, she was dismissed after less than five months in office, a dismissal that led to a lengthy legal process, but no reform. This book is her account of what happened.

For the benefit of those who do not want to read the complete essay, my opinion is:

Well worth reading, 4 of 6 stars…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

UK: Girl, 19, Left Battling Blindness After Taking Tamiflu (And She Didn’t Even Have Swine Flu)

A teenage girl left disabled by the swine flu treatment Tamiflu did not even have the virus, it was revealed today.

Samantha Millard, 19, became critically ill after suffering a severe allergic reaction to the tablets, which she took on the advice of the controversial NHS helpline.

Within 72 hours of taking three pills, doctors put her on life support.

Samantha spent a month in hospital after developing the life-threatening Stevens Johnson syndrome, which causes the skin to peel off, and later developed toxic epidermal necrolysis syndrome, which has damaged her sight.

But tests at the hospital have since revealed that she never even contracted the swine flu virus.

Her devastated mother Debbie Van Horenbeeck is now seeking legal advice about the information given out by the NHS swine flu helpline. She believes that Tamiflu has not been tested thoroughly enough.


Doctors believe it will take up to two years for Samantha — who has lost a stone in weight — to recover and do not know if her eyesight will ever be restored.

She said: ‘It’s hard. I can’t bathe myself, I can’t dress myself, I can’t watch films and I can’t read books.

‘I sit in my bedroom with my sunglasses on, curtains closed and the TV on so I can hear it. I don’t know how long it will take for my eyes to heal.

‘I know I’m improving but some days it’s really hard to cope with it. I can’t cry — I have no tears.’

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Muslim Police Say Islam Not to Blame for Terror Attacks

Muslim police officers have rebelled openly against the Government’s anti-terrorism strategy, warning that it is an “affront to British values” which threatens to trigger ethnic unrest.

The National Association of Muslim Police (NAMP) claimed that ministers were wrong to blame Islam for being the “driver” behind recent terrorist attacks.

Far-Right extremists were a more dangerous threat to national security, it said.

The officers told MPs that Muslims were being “stigmatised” by the Government’s attempts to tackle terrorism, which was adding to “hatred” against entire communities.

In the official intervention, the association said the Government’s anti-terrorism policies could not “continue unchecked”.

The comments, made in a seven-page memorandum to a parliamentary committee investigating extremism, are embarrassing for Gordon Brown. They indicated that Muslim officers may be reluctant to take part in “hearts and minds” anti-terrorism campaigns.

The organisation, which represents more than 2,000 officers, was previously publicly backed by Mr Brown. The Prime Minister said the association was crucial to bridge the historic divide between Muslims and the police.

There have been growing concerns about the radicalisation of Muslims in Britain. The failed Detroit bombing on Christmas Day was carried out by an al-Qaeda-inspired extremist who had studied in London.

The Daily Telegraph disclosed last week that American intelligence agencies believed that Britain had the greatest number of Islamic extremists of any Western country.

It is thought to be the first time that the Muslim association, which was founded in 2007, has criticised government policy.

In an analysis of the Prevent strategy, which is a set of policies designed to stop radicalisation, the organisation claimed: “The strategies of Prevent were historically focused on so-called Islamist extremism.

“This has subjected the biggest black and ethnic minority community, and second biggest faith group, in an unprecedented manner, stigmatising them in the process.

“Never before has a community been mapped in [such] a manner … it is frustrating to see this in a country that is a real pillar and example of freedom of expression and choice.

“Our British system is a model for the world to follow, yet we have embarked on a journey that has put this very core of British values under real threat.”

The association warned there were “echoes” of the racism of the 1970s and 1980s which led to inner city riots. “We appear to have ignored the lessons learnt from these dark days,” the officers said.

There is growing criticism among Muslim groups of the government strategy, which was welcomed by mainstream police organisations.

The policies are aimed at stopping Muslims from becoming radicalised through measures such as sponsoring moderate community groups.

Ministers insisted that the strategy, which costs more than £140 million a year, had “real successes”. More than 200 people were convicted of terrorist offences in the past eight years.

But the NAMP claimed the policies had led to “hatred against Muslims” which “has grown to a level that defies all logic and is an affront to British values”.

The organisation said Prevent should focus on confronting far-Right extremists such as the BNP.

The memorandum warned that Muslims were subjected to “daily abuse” due to the strategy. “We must not diminish our British values further by continuing to allow such behaviour and polices to continue unchecked,” it added.

The Muslim officers believe the Government is wrong to blame Islam as the main driver of terrorist activity.

Research by “those convicted of terrorism acts shows Islam was not, and is not, a real driver but all our strategy seem to focus on is this un-evidenced view of Islam being the driver,” they said. The Government said that confronting Islamic terrorism was one of the key priorities of the anti-radicalisation strategy. Last night, the Foreign Office admitted that funding for counter-terrorism policies in Pakistan had been cut.

A spokesman from the Department of Communities and Local Government said: “The idea that we only focus on Muslims on terror issues is completely false.

“Muslims, like other faith groups, engage with government departments right across Whitehall, from health to education to work and pensions, to culture, media and sport. They rightly play a full role in our society, and across public and civic life.”

           — Hat tip: 4symbols [Return to headlines]

UK: Muslim Police in ‘Hatred’ Warning: Anti-Terror Tactics ‘Promote Islamophobia’, Say Officers

Muslim police officers have warned that the Government’s anti-terrorism strategy is an ‘affront to British values’ and encourages Islamophobia.

The National Association of Muslim Police (NAMP) told MPs that it was wrong to blame Islam for recent terrorist attacks and warned that far-Right organisations were a greater threat to national security than Islam.

In a seven page memorandum to a parliamentary committee investigating extremism, they said Muslims were being ‘stigmatised’ by Government initiatives to tackle terrorism which encouraged ‘hatred’ between communities.

They warned that these initiatives — part of the Prevent programme which is designed to prevent radicalisation amongst Muslim groups — could not ‘continue unchecked’.

In a submission to the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee, posted on the committee’s website, they wrote: ‘It can be argued that there is a connection in the rise of Islamophobia and our Prevent programme as it feeds on the stereotypes that the media and some right wing parties promote, i.e. all Muslims are evil and non trustworthy.

‘Our British system is a model for the world to follow, yet we have embarked on a journey that has put this very core of British values under real threat.

‘The hatred towards Muslims has grown to a level that defies all logic and is an affront to British values.

‘The climate is such that Muslims are subject to daily abuse in a manner that would be ridiculed by Britain, were this to occur anywhere else.

‘We must not diminish our British values further by continuing to allow such behaviour and policies to continue unchecked.’

The association, which has more than 2,000 members, said there was a ‘sense of frustration’ among Muslims that their concerns were not being heard and warned that ‘some serious damage’ to relations between religious communities may have already occurred.

There have been growing concerns about the radicalisation of Muslims in Britain. The failed Detroit bombing on Christmas Day was carried out by an al-Qaeda supporter who had studied in London.

But Muslim officers believe the Government is wrong to blame Islam as the main ‘driver’ of terrorist activity.

Its official intervention over the Prevent initiative raises the possibility that Muslim officers may be reluctant to take part in ‘hearts and minds’ anti-terrorist campaigns in the future.

The news will come as an embarrassment to Gordon Brown who has backed the association in the past, describing it as crucial to bridge the historic divide between Muslims and the police.

Prevent — which aims to stop Muslims becoming radicalised through measures such as sponsoring moderate community groups — was welcomed by mainstream police organisations when it was first proposed.

Ministers hailed the scheme — which costs more than £140million a year — as a ‘real success’ after more than 200 people were convicted of terrorist offences in the past eight years.

But Muslim groups have condemned the initiative as an ‘affront to British values’ which breeds ‘hatred against Muslims’.

It is thought to be the first time that the Muslim association, which was founded in 2007, has criticised government policy.

A spokesman from the Department of Communities and Local Government said: ‘The idea that we only focus on Muslims on terror issues is completely false.

‘Muslims, like other faith groups, engage with government departments right across Whitehall, from health to education to work and pensions, to culture, media and sport. They rightly play a full role in our society, and across public and civic life.’

           — Hat tip: 4symbols [Return to headlines]

UK: Murdered Laura Ashley Girl’s ‘Jealous’ Ex-Boyfriend is Arrested

The former boyfriend of an A-level student stabbed to death on an isolated towpath has been questioned on suspicion of killing her in a jealous rage.

Friends of Asha Muneer, 18, said she had recently started dating a new man and that as a result her ex had become ‘consumed with jealousy’.

They told how Miss Muneer — who worked part-time at a Laura Ashley clothes store — had a tempestuous relationship with her former partner.

They spoke of their relief that the ‘dysfunctional’ friendship had ended — and were pleased that Asha had started going out with clean-cut Sunil Bhardwaj.

Yesterday the distraught Mr Bhardwaj used a Facebook tribute page to tell of his fondness for Asha.

He wrote: ‘I will celebrate Valentine’s Day as we planned.

‘Just wish you were here to celebrate it with me.

‘I didn’t get to tell you how much you meant to me. You are my princess x.’

Miss Muneer was walking to meet friends at a branch of McDonald’s on the outskirts of Reading when she was killed in a frenzied knife attack on Monday night.

She was stabbed several times in the head and neck in the attack, which took place at around 8.30pm on a dimly-lit footpath running alongside the river Kennet.

Miss Muneer lived with her parents, four sisters and one brother in a three-bedroom house in Whitley, around a mile from where her body was found.

The family moved to Britain from Pakistan around 15 years ago. After initially settling in Bradford, they moved to Reading where Asha’s father Mohammad found work as a taxi driver.

The family’s neighbour Deirdre Drukker, 61, said Asha’s parents had worked hard to find a balance between the Pakistani and British cultures.

The retired teacher said: ‘They wanted to give Asha her freedom whilst still retaining traditional values.

‘But whereas her brother and sisters used to regularly attend a Muslim school in traditional dress to learn the Koran, Asha didn’t.’

Asha gained nine GCSEs at Reading Girls’ School. Friends said she had been in the top set for most subjects and had dreams of going to university and running a business.

However, they said that when she moved on to Highdown School and Sixth Form in nearby Caversham her personality changed.

One friend said: ‘She used to be really religious but then she started going out with boys and stopped paying any attention to her studies.’

Of Miss Muneer’s ex-boyfriend, the schoolfriend added: ‘I don’t know how she met him. He had money and used to say he would buy her a flat.’

The friend claimed the couple had a ‘dysfunctional’ relationship.

As police frogmen searched the waters of the River Kennet for evidence, Miss Muneer’s family issued a statement describing their pain.

They said: ‘Our family has lost a loving, beautiful daughter and we are trying to come to terms with how she died and the void that it has left in our lives.’

Tim Royle, head at Highdown School, told how Asha was studying economics, sociology and English at A-level.

He said: ‘She was a much-liked and talented student.’

Police arrested the 19-year-old ex-boyfriend at around 10pm on Tuesday. He is still being questioned.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: Teenager Dies ‘After Experimenting With Legal Drug Meow Meow’

A teenager died at a house party after experimenting for the first time with a dangerous drug available legally on the internet, friends said yesterday.

The body of Ben Walters, 18, was found sprawled beside a 28-year-old woman who is now fighting for her life in hospital.

Both are understood to have taken mephedrone, which is sold as a fertiliser but produces a similar euphoric high to ecstasy if ingested.

[Return to headlines]

UK: What Young Sadist Said as His Brother Filmed Blood-Splattered Victim of Their Attack on Two Innocent Boys

The full appalling details of how two brothers aged only 11 and ten tortured, beat and humiliated two innocent schoolboys were outlined for the first time yesterday.

A courtroom fell silent as their acts of savagery and depravity beyond comprehension were described.

The hush was broken by sobbing when ten seconds of mobile phone footage taken by the older brother during the attack was screened.


The horrific attack took place while the brothers were in foster care and despite the fact their family had been well known to social services for 14 years. The brothers were also both known to police. The ten-year-old ‘had the potential’ to become a psychopath, a child psychiatrist said.

[Comment from JD: WARNING: Graphic content]

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

EU: Euromed Regional Assembly Tomorrow in Barcelona

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, JANUARY 20 — The first Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (Arlem) will be created tomorrow in Barcelona, with a combined North-South presidency. Representatives from regional and local councils from thirty EU and Mediterranean countries will take part, with Committee members from the European Regions, representatives of EU associations which participate in the Euro-Med cooperation and their Mediterranean partner counterparts. The Committee of European Regions explained that the first institutive meeting will lead not only to the approval of the internal regulations but also a first final declaration, addressed to the Union for the Mediterranean (UPM). The new Assembly will be organised into commissions, which will deal with sectors considered to be priorities for the Upm, such as the fight against pollution, sea highways and the Solar Plan. The aim is not just to monitor the actions of the Upm but also to give an impetus, given the implications at a local level of the projects which have been announced. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Medicine: Rabat Academy and University of Messina Sign Deal

(ANSAmed) — RABAT, JANUARY 20 — The University of Messina and the Mohammed V-Souissi Academy of Rabat signed a cooperation agreement for physical medicine and physiotherapy to train doctors and physiotherapists. The agreement is part of the framework of the Tempus Meda Ecpir project (Education Curricula Project in Rehabilitation), which aims to promote the exchange of technical and operational expertise. The accord was signed by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Messina, Francesco Tomasello, and his counterpart at Mohammed V, Taieb Chkili, who announced the creation of two new degree programmes in Rehabilitation Sciences and Physiotherapy. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt: Killings of Christians, Anti-Mubarak Protest at UN

(ANSAmed) — NEW YORK, JANUARY 20 — Hundreds of Christians with Egyptian origins protested yesterday evening in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York against Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, accused of not having reacted in a resolute enough manner to the inter-religious violence on January against Egypt’s Coptic community. “We want justice, wére pacifists,” said Mariham Ishak, one of the many demonstrators who came to the UN headquarters carrying large wooden crosses with a black strip of mourning. “We are here because the Egyptian government does not protect us: it pretends not to see what is going on,” said Boushra Fargf. “Here in the United States Obama has condemned the violent attacks, but our own president has not said anything. Why is this?”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Egypt: Massacre of Christians, Committee to Verify Information

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, JANUARY 19 — A committee to verify how the organs of information are treating the story of the massacre of Christians in Nagaa Hamadi was set up today by President of the Supreme Council of the press Safwat El Sherif, with the intention of defining a national vision of the events, says press agency Mena, to ward off a tendency to drift towards sectarianism, which it is feared could be a result of the events. The committee also has the job of preventing the publication of unverified news or inaccurate journalistic services. The body includes President of the Union of Journalists, Makram Mohamed Ahmed, and another seven leaders in the profession: they include journalists linked to the pro-government press, and also one supporter of the Left, a Coptic journalist, a member of Parliament and a University professor. The Egyptian authorities have always described the massacre on Christmas night as a criminal act, linked to a previous episode of sexual violence against a twelve-year-old Muslim girl attributed to a Coptic youth, but not directly connected to inter-religious tensions or religious fanaticism. In his first interview on the case yesterday, though without mentioning it explicitly, President Mubarak repeated his appeal for national unity. The press, both government and independent, has mainly spoken about Egyptian victims of the shooting, without putting too much emphasis on the religious affiliations, and even the one Christian newspaper, Watani, has tried to maintain an objective point of view. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Egypt Fatwa Bans Quranic Cell Phone Ringtones

Egypt’s Grand Mufti issued a fatwa that prohibits the use of Quranic verses or the call for prayers as ringtones on the basis that they show lack of respect, according to a copy of the fatwa text obtained by Al Arabiya on Thursday.

Dr. Ali Gomaa, considered Egypt’s highest religious authority, argued that using verses from the Quran for ringtones violates the sanctity of the divine words.

The Quran came from God so that we can worship Him and it should be read or listened to with reverence,” Gomaa said in his fatwa. “Picking up the phone is sure to interrupt the verse and this is disrespectful to the holy book.”

As the phenomenon seems to be increasing amongst Egyptian cell phone users, observers argue that using Quranic verses for ringtones is considered by many a sign of piety and keenness to be in constant contact with God’s words.

“In this case, Quranic verses can be replaced with religious songs or poems that praise the prophet,” said the fatwa.

The prohibition, added the fatwa, applies to the call for prayers as well, not only because it shows disrespect, but also because it can give people the illusion that it is actually the time to perform the prayer.


The fatwa came after Dar al-Iftaa, the body in charge of issuing fatwas in Egypt, received many inquiries regarding the legitimacy of using Quranic verses and call for prayers as ringtones, said Dr. Ibrahim Negm, the Mufti’s advisor.

“To resolve the matter, the Mufti issued a fatwa prohibiting this because it implies a lack of respect for the holy words,” he told Al Arabiya.

“There is a verse in Quran that says that God’s words and rituals have to be glorified and treated with reverence.”

Negm added that another reason for the prohibition is that the Quran should be recited and listened to in a place that is pure and people often take their cell phones to impure places like, such as the bathroom. This violates the concept of tahara (physical purity) in Islam.

The fatwa, however, was not met with enthusiasm by all religious circles. Abdul-Razeq Afifi, head of the Salafist Ansar al-Sunna (Supporters of the Prophet’s Teachings) group in the Delta governorate of Monufia, argued that there is nothing wrong with using Quranic verses as ringtones.

Technology for Islam

We should use technology for the welfare of Islam,” he told Al Arabiya. “Maybe one single verse on a cell phone can change somebody’s life.”

Afifi argued that cell phones, as well as other devices, could be one of the many means God sends Muslims to help preserve the Quran and spread its verses.

“In one verse, God says that He sent the Quran and He is going to preserve it. Maybe He is telling us that this is one of the ways to preserve it.”

Afifi added that the Quran should in the first place be preserved in the hearts and minds of Muslims, but it is definitely better and more beneficial to preserve it through other various means.

Sheikh Ali Abdul-Baki Amin, Secretary General of the Islamic Center for Research at al-Azhar, opposed Afifi’s statements which he labeled an unacceptable justification and noted that this is not the first time this issue has been categorically rejected.

“Al-Azhar had already previously prohibited the use of Quran ringtones” he told Al Arabiya.

Amin added that al-Azhar, the world’s leading institute of Sunni Islam, plans to address Egypt’s service providers in order to work on banning the use of Quranic verses and the call for prayers as ringtones.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Terrorism: Algeria, Gendarme Officer Killed in Kabylie

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JANUARY 20 — A member of the Algerian gendarme was killed on Monday by an armed group in Kadiria (east of Bouira), Kabylie. According to reports in Algeria’s press today, the terrorists opened fire on the patrol in the village centre during celebrations for Algeria’s getting into the second round of the African Football Cup. A few days ago two officers, the military commander of Bejaia and a colonel of the DRS (Information and Security Department) were killed during a round-up operation in Kabylie. About twenty members of Islamic-inspired armed groups have been killed over the past month as part of several anti-terrorism operations, not only in the Berber region but also in the Tipaza zone, 60 km west of Algiers. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

OECD Agreement Signed by Liberman in Jerusalem

(ANSA) — JERUSALEM, JANUARY 20 — Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman and the Secretary-General of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Angel Gurria have signed an agreement regulating the immunities and rights granted to the OECD. The agreement, which regulates the legal standing of the organization’s activities in Israel, is a condition of membership in the organization, and is a significant milestone in Israel’s process of joining the OECD, Israeli Foreign Minister report. At the signing ceremony, Foreign Minister Lieberman stated that the OECD is one of the most exclusive and important clubs in the international arena, and that the signing of the agreement is an important step forward in the process of joining the OECD. FM Liberman expressed his appreciation of Secretary-General Gurria’s positive attitude regarding the inclusion of Israel, and that the OECD is an organization that deals with practical and tangible matters. He added that cooperation between the OECD and Israel can really change reality. Secretary-General Gurria stated that the signing of the agreement testifies to the preparations and to the continuation of progress in the process of including Israel in the OECD, which should be finalized in 2010. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Vatican Blames Israel for Driving Out Christians

But locals say Muslim intimidation, persecution is main factor

A Vatican document released yesterday blamed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s “occupying” of lands for driving Christians out and making life difficult for those who remain.

However, Christians here who fled their homes in Palestinian-controlled territory largely blamed Muslim intimidation for their plight in interviews with WND.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Agca: Turks Attack Local Press, Given Too Much Coverage

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 20 — At the press confernce organised by Ali Agca’s legal advisors to read out the contents of yet another statement by him, there were almost entirely foreign journalists. The way in which the Turkish media has covered Agca’s release has evoked outrage from many readers and viewers who have inundated the media with letters of protest. In their communications the readers and viewers say that Agca is just a common murderer who has sullied the name of Turkey throughout the world and who should be ignored and not end up of the pages of the newspapers and on television screens as if he were a hero or a film star. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Al Arabiya Interviews Michael Jackson’s Brother

In the first exclusive interview with an Arab Channel, Michael Jackson’s brother told AlArabiya TV on Wednesday that the King of Pop was on the verge of converting to Islam.

After spending more than one year in the Gulf region, Michael Jackson read a lot about Islam and was very affected by it, said Jermaine Jackson, singer, composer, and former member of The Jackson 5.

After he got back from Bahrain, Michael hired a team that was all Muslim,” he told Al Arabiya. “His behavior at the time also showed that he was very close to converting.”

Jermaine added that he was personally in favor of his brother converting to Islam and that he kept pushing him to do so.

“I believe that Islam would have helped him a lot. Had he converted, he would have been spared all the problems he had been subjected to throughout his life.”

In November 2008, The Sun reported that Jackson officially converted to Islam and held a ceremony in a friend’s mansion is Los Angeles where he wore an Islamic garb and an Imam’s hat to pledge allegiance to the new religion.

According to the paper, an Imam was summoned from the mosque to bear witness to Jackson’s declaration of Islam, making his conversion official.

In the same month, the Daily Mail reported that Jackson was spotted feeling “a bit down” by songwriter David Wharnsby and producer Phillip Bubal, who have both embraced Islam. They started talking to him about their beliefs and how they became better people after they converted.

They told him Islam was the solution to his problem and he began “warming up to the idea,” the paper reported.

Jermaine, who converted to Islam in 1989 after a trip to the Middle East, told the press earlier that after he performed his pilgrimage ritual in Mecca, he noticed that his brother started asking him a lot of questions about Islam.

Jermaine gave Michael many books about Islam which the latter read avidly. Afterwards, Jermaine added, Michael told him he was proud of him for finding something that could give him such strength and inner peace.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Analysis: Did the Long Arm of Iran Reach the Dead Sea Highway?

by Jonathan Spyer

The revelations of possible Iranian involvement in the attack on Israeli diplomats earlier this month in Jordan appear to offer the latest evidence of direct engagement by Teheran in subversion and paramilitary activity across national borders.

The Jordanian investigation is still in its early stages. But the suggestion by sources close to the well-respected Jordanian General Intelligence Department that the explosives used for the attack may have been brought into the kingdom by Iranian diplomats is certainly plausible. It would conform to similar incidents on which the fingerprints of Iran were later unmistakably identified. It would also fit the current pattern of Iranian support for destabilizing its regional enemies.

The Quds Force — the wing of the Revolutionary Guard which deals with activities outside of Iran — is known to maintain a presence in all Iranian delegations abroad. Representatives of this force have been identified with a number of high-profile attacks on Israeli, Jewish and US targets.

Most famously, the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires was found by Argentinean investigators to have been carried out under the direction of then-commander of the Quds Force’s Special Operations unit Ahmed Vahidi, and with the knowledge of then-Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The attack killed 85 people and wounded 151.

On October 25, 2006, Argentina’s state prosecutor issued arrest warrants for Rafsanjani, Vahidi, Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezai and a number of other officials in connection with the bombing.

The issuing of the warrants has done little to harm the careers of those concerned…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin [Return to headlines]

Death of Gay Activist Brings Turkey’s Attitude Toward Gays Into Focus

For 26-year-old Ahmet Yildiz, the choice to live openly as a gay man in Turkey proved deadly. Prosecutors say his father, charged with allegedly killing his son in what is being dubbed as the first gay honor killing, traveled more than 900 kilometers from his hometown to shoot his son in an old neighborhood of Istanbul. The case has drawn international attention and is putting the spotlight on Turkey’s attitude towards homosexuality.

The young physics student, Ahmet Yildiz, was one of the few openly gay men in Turkey, a country in which the military, the guardian of Turkey’s secular state, regards homosexuality as a disorder.

Yildiz represented his country at a gay meeting in San Francisco and wrote for gay publications in Turkey. Observers believe his activism is probably what got him killed.

His boyfriend, Ibrahim Can, was in their shared apartment when Yildiz was murdered.

He wanted to go out and buy some ice cream, he went down and just got into his car and I heard gunshots, he says. I looked down from the window I saw him being ambushed. He says he ran outside and screamed “Please do not die.” Can said his eyes were closed, when I shouted he opened for a second, he looked at me and then closed his eyes.

Can says before the shooting, Yildiz had repeatedly filed complaints at the local prosecutor’s office that he was receiving death threats from his family. Gay rights groups claim the prosecutor’s office did not investigate or provide Yildiz with protection.

The story was largely ignored until it starting getting attention by the foreign media. What resulted was a bout of national soul-searching underlining the tensions between the secular modern Turkey and a more traditionalist Turkey, in which conservative Islam increasingly holds power.

Oner Ceylan of Istanbul’s gay rights group Lambda says it’s a landmark case.

“I think it is important that people, that this fact, that a father can kill his son, simply because of his sexual orientation. That is an important awareness, because maybe they were cases before, but we just did not know,” said Ceylan. “We read in the news maybe a father killed, but we did not know why before. So I think its a very important step.”

Yildiz’s father is on the run and believed to be in hiding outside Turkey. As a result, the trial that began in September is on hold.

While Turkey’s aspiration to join the European Union is pushing the Muslim-rooted government to increase civil liberties for women and homosexuals, some remain nervous with a permissive attitude toward sexuality and gender roles.

Scott Long of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says reluctance by the authorities to punish violence against the gay community is not unusual.

“People who express their sexuality, people who differ from these cultural norms, from masculinity and femininity, are abused, are beaten, are raped, are excluded from the family,” said Long. “That there is violence at every level and most conspicuously that the government does not intervene to stop it.”

The country’s growing lesbian, gay and transgender movement is increasingly challenging violence against them.

Ceylan says its a long struggle, but education and patience are key.

“When you talk about violence people do not really exactly know what are you talking about. When you have the incidents, the cases and everything, then it more clear to them that inevitably there have been some human-rights violations. And with the police we have been trying to communicate with the city government, because the police reports to them,” he said. “I think we are making some progress, but these things are deep-rooted, so you cannot expect things to be just great within years or decades.”

The Yildiz murder has become an focal point for gays around the world to put pressure on Turkish authorities for change.

This video entitled “Ahmet Is Part Of My Family”, is circulating the Internet as part of a campaign by gays around the world to protest the Yildiz murder. Yildiz’z boyfriend, Can say he hopes the legal proceedings will not only put Yildiz’s murderer on trial, but put Turkey’s treatment of gays on trial, too.

I hope this court case will reveal the situation of homosexuals in Turkey to the whole world, he says. He says there are millions of gays living in Turkey, most hidden, some forced to marry women, some willingly married just to avoid loosing their respectability. He says he hopes the case will change attitudes.

A recent government study estimated one person dies every week in Istanbul as a result of honor killings. The victims are mostly young women, murdered by male relatives for such things as having illicit affairs, talking to strangers or even for being the victim of rape. Because gay honor killings remain underground, it is not known how many of those happen on a weekly basis.

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

Energy: Syria: 25 Mln Cubic Metres of Gas Produced Per Day

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, JANUARY 14 — In 2009, Syria’s gas output reached 25 million cubic metres of gas per day, and to the national production there is an additional 2.5 million cubic metres purchased daily by Egypt and transported by the trans-Arab gas pipeline. The Italian embassy noted in a newsletter that in December President Bashar al-Assad had inaugurated the South Central Gas Plant, in which natural gas will be treated from the Abu Rabah, Qumqum and Al-Fayyid fields. The plant’s productive capacity is 7.56 million cubic metres of natural gas per day, which will allow a total of 6.15 to 7.2 million cubic metres of gas to be obtained per day. The Syrian head of state has also recently inaugurated the first section of the Arab Gas Pipeline in the Homs province, which will make it possible to transport gas produced in Arab countries to Europe by way of Turkey, with which a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in August 2009. In November a plant for the production and transformation of natural gas was also inaugurated by the Hayyan company (joint venture between Syrian Petroleum Co and Croatia’s INA). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Fighting Terrorism: Britain Ends Flights From Yemen

( British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced on Wednesday the immediate suspension of direct flights from Yemen to London — because of terrorism fears.

Brown also announced a series of other air travel security-enhancing features, including the creation of a new no-fly list, the expand of its million-name “watch list,” and the introduction of controversial full-body scanning machines in UK airports.

“We have agreed with Yemenia airlines, pending enhanced security, that they suspend their [two weekly] direct flights to the UK from Yemen, with immediate effect,” Brown said.

The prime minister, speaking in Parliament, described Yemen as “an incubator and potential safe haven” for terrorism. He said that British officials are meeting with their Yemeni counterparts in Yemen’s capital Sana’a in order to improve security.

A Yemenia spokesman told The Wall Street Journal that Britain had demanded that London-bound flights from Yemen stop in either Paris or Cairo for extra security checks, including unloading the plane of both passengers and luggage.

The Associated Press reports that security officials believe that three-quarters of the terrorist plots against the United Kingdom are planned in the western border regions of Pakistan. Yemen, too, is known to be an unwitting host to many Al-Qaeda cells. The recent attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner was carried out by a Nigerian student believed to have been radicalised in Yemen.

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

Louvre Not to Return Apollon and Jupiter Statues to Turkey

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 20 — Louvre Museum, a world-wide known museum located in the French capital of Paris that is home to unique art collections, has refused Turkish Izmir Municipality’s demand for the return of ancient “Smyrna Apollon” and “Smyrna Jupiter” statues to Turkey, as Anatolia news agency reports. Releasing a written statement on Wednesday, municipality of the Aegean province of Izmir said the museum claimed that “the statues had been acquired from the Turkish market via completely official channels in 1680”, and thus, they could not be returned. In response to Izmir Mayor Aziz Kocaoglu’s letter demanding the return of the artifacts, Louvre’s Director Henri Loyrette said the statues had been acquired from the Turkish market in an official way on behalf of King Louis XVI who had priviliged relations with Turkey at the time. “Contrary to what you expressed in your letter, international conventions do not envisage the return of artifacts that were obtained in accordance with the law centuries ago,” Loyrette said. Describing the French director’s reply “unsurprising”, Kocaoglu said he sent a second letter to the museum asking whether the artifacts could be accepted as “legal possessions”. “This is a long-term struggle. We will carry on with our determination to protect our cultural and historical heritage,” Kocaoglu said. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

No Religious Reason for Child Brides: Saudi Cleric

A senior Saudi cleric said the Prophet Mohammed’s marriage to a nine-year-old girl some 14 centuries ago cannot be used to justify child marriages today, a Saudi newspaper reported Thursday.

The comments by Sheikh Abdullah al-Manie, a member of the Council of Senior Ulema (scholars), followed the marriage of a 11-year-old girl to a man 68 years her senior.

Manie told Okaz newspaper that circumstances are different today from when Islam’s Prophet Mohammed married young Aisha.

Aisha’s marriage “cannot be equated with child marriages today because the conditions and circumstances are not the same,” Manie said.

The sheikh spoke as the case of a girl in the city of Buraidah, in al-Qasim province, marrying a man estimated to be 80 years old, sparked new criticism of Saudi Arabia not having a law banning child marriages.

Against her will

According to a report last week in Al-Riyadh newspaper, the girl was given in marriage by her father against both her and her mother’s wishes. The newspaper reported that the marriage was sealed by a dowry payment and had been consummated.

The father, who took 85,000 riyals (more than $22,000) in dowry, defended his decision to marry off his 11-year-old daughter even though his wife vehemently objected.

“I don’t care about her age,” he told the paper. “Her health and her body build make her fit for marriage. I also don’t care what her mother thinks.”

The father added that marriage at such an early age has been a custom in the Saudi society for a very long time and that he saw no reason why it should be a problem now.

“This is a very old custom and there is nothing wrong with it whether religiously or socially.”

Saudi Arabia’s legal system is based on Islamic Shariah law, which is defined by the Quran and other Islamic texts. Judges are all Islamic scholars and, instead of adhering to a modern written body of laws, base their decisions on their own interpretations of these texts.

Help requested

The case of Aisha, known to Muslims as “The Mother of Believers,” is often used by Saudi judges and clerics to justify child marriages.

The government’s Human Rights Commission said it was following the Buraidah case, which is currently being weighed by a local court.

“The mother of the Buraidah girl asked for our help, requesting that we become involved to help her daughter in getting a divorce,” commission head Bandar al-Aiban told AFP.

“The case is now in the hands of the legal authority, and I do not want to say anything before they make their decision, but I hope they will reach a decision very soon,” he said.

The groom has expressed his surprise at how the media has leveled harsh criticism against him and his family for marrying the girl.

“It is very simple. We didn’t do anything wrong. It is a valid contract that meets all the conditions for marriage? What’s the point of all this fuss?”

The groom has three other wives, all much younger, and they all have kids.

As for the bride, it is reported she repeatedly called for help and burst into tears.

“Save me. I don’t want him,” she cried.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Russia to Start Iran’s Bushehr Nuke Plant in 2010

Russia will start up the reactor at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant this year, the chief of Russia’s state nuclear corporation told reporters on Thursday, as Iran denied it had rejected a U.N.-brokered offer to exchange enriched nuclear fuel but it only want the swap to happen on stages.

“2010 is the year of Bushehr,” Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko told reporters after a cabinet meeting in Moscow.

“There is absolutely no doubt that it will be built this year. Everything is going according to schedule,” he said. Kiriyenko declined to answer a question on when exactly the plant would be started up.

Russia agreed in 1995 to build the 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plant at Bushehr on the Gulf coast in south-western Iran, but delays have haunted the $1 billion project and diplomats say Moscow has used it as a lever in relations with Tehran.

The atomic power station was once a source of disagreement between Russia and the West, which suspected the Islamic Republic could try to use it to build nuclear weapons.

But in recent years, the United States has dropped its opposition and says the plant removes any need for Iran to have its own enrichment program.

Russia says the plant is purely civilian and cannot be used for any weapons program as it will come under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision. Iran will have to return all spent fuel rods to Russia.

Staged swap

Iran meanwhile has not rejected the U.N.-brokered offer to exchange enriched nuclear fuel, but it wants a staged swap rather than a wholesale handover of most of its stockpile, foreign ministry officials said in comments published Thursday.

“Iran did not reject the principle of the exchange (of nuclear fuel),” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency.

His denial followed charges by Western diplomats that Iran had effectively rejected a proposal put forward by six major powers in talks in Vienna brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog.

“Our position has not changed from what we already expressed in the past — we are ready for a gradual exchange of fuel,” Mehr quoted foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, as saying.

But his comments suggested that Iran remains at odds over the proposals with the six powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

The IAEA plan calls on Iran to hand over most of its stocks of low-enriched uranium in return for the phased supply by France and Russia of nuclear fuel enriched to the higher level required for a Tehran research reactor.

Iran insists it will only hand over its stocks gradually as it receives the fuel.

Western diplomats in Vienna said on Wednesday that Iran’s insistence on a phased exchange effectively amounted to a rejection of the IAEA offer.

Western governments regard Iran’s prior handover of most of its stocks of low-enriched uranium as a central plank of the deal as it will provide reassurance that the stockpiles will not be covertly enriched further to the much higher level required for a nuclear weapon.

Iran has always denied any such ambition, insisting that its nuclear program is for civilian programs only.

But the IAEA said talks on its plan were still continuing, and that the offer to Iran remained on the table.

Formal response

The proposal, made last October, “which was supported by France, Russia and the United States, continues to be on the table,” said the watchdog’s spokeswoman, Gill Tudor.

“The IAEA is not in a position to discuss the views of the parties involved, but it is aware that they are considering the best solution,” Tudor added.

A Western diplomat in Vienna told AFP that Iran had effectively given a formal response at a meeting between its ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh and the IAEA’s new chief Yukiya Amano earlier this month.

According to the diplomat, Soltanieh had verbally reiterated the Islamic republic’s earlier position, including the insistence on a gradual swap.

The IAEA refused to say whether the meeting took place or discuss its possible content.

Another diplomat said it was unclear whether Iran had actually delivered a written response. But “certainly there was no agreement to the TRR (Tehran research reactor) proposal,” the diplomat said.

After the proposal was delivered to Iran in October, the powers gave it until the turn of the year to accept the deal but the deadline was ignored, prompting talk of fresh sanctions.

Mottaki has insisted that Tehran in fact has until the end of January to reach a uranium swap deal, stressing it will press on with plans to enrich nuclear fuel to a higher level itself if there is no agreement.

Mottaki gave the West a one-month “ultimatum” to accept the Iranian counter-proposal.

Iran is already under three sets of sanctions over its refusal to heed repeated U.N. Security Council ultimatums to suspend enrichment.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Vatican Synod to Tackle Middle East

Meeting to discuss Iraq turmoil, Israeli settlements, terrorism

(ANSA) — Vatican City, January 19 — The Catholic Church on Tuesday issued a framework statement for an October synod on its role in the Middle East decrying the turmoil unleashed by the war in Iraq and citing Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory as the main roadblock to peace in the region.

According to the so-called “Lineamenta” presented by Secretary General of the Vatican Synod, Nikola Eterovic, the 2003 invasion of Iraq “unleashed the forces of evil” upon both religious and political life in the country.

Among the victims of the turmoil, Eterovic said Iraqi Christians were some of the most vulnerable as members of the “smallest and most marginalized of the nation’s religious minorities”.

He said their plight had gone largely overlooked by international powers involved in the region and merited more attention.

The document also pointed to Israel’s “continued occupation of Palestinian territories as the main cause of hostilities between the two peoples”.

The Lineamenta said that it was up to their leaders, “with the help of the international community to take the necessary decisions in order to comply with the United Nations resolutions,” requiring Israel to stop building settlements in the occupied territories.

Asked if this position put the Church at odds with Israel, Eterovic said the Vatican stood behind the UN resolutions.

Pope Benedict XVI is an outspoken advocate of a two-state solution in Israel, proclaiming after a trip to the Holy Land last May that both Israel and Palestine “have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely”. ISLAMIC EXTREMISM ‘EQUALLY DANGEROUS FOR MUSLIMS’.

The Vatican’s statement went on to acknowledge the hurdles facing relations between Muslims and Christians in Middle Eastern Countries, which it said arose “primarily because Muslims don’t distinguish between politics and religions placing Christians in the delicate situation of appearing as non-citizens”.

The document gave the January 6 attack on a Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo, in which nine people were killed, as only the most recent example of the dangers facing Christians in Muslim countries.

In addition to non-secular government, Lineamenta pointed to the “rise of terrorist fringe groups in Islamic society, which threaten everyone Muslims and Christians alike”.

“This is a problem all three faiths of the Middle East have to confront together,” said Eterovic.

The Lineamenta suggested that Islamic extremism may also be roots in the trappings of contemporary society.

Eterovic explained that access to new media like television and internet played havoc with traditional religious values and “triggering violent reactions from some authority figures”.

But he said the challenge of reconciling modernity with spirituality was common to all of today’s religions and ought to provide common ground for greater understanding.

One of the main thrusts of the document issued Tuesday was an appeal to Middle Eastern Christians to be a part of the solution as cultural mediators.

The document urged them to help “knock down the walls of diffidence and hatred standing in the way of friendship with Muslims and Jews”.

It said they should take an active role in public life of the countries they lived in and above all resist the temptation to emigrate.

“Fortunately, Christians have remained in the Holy Land for over 2000 years, but there is a real Diaspora underway and we must do everything we can to stop it”.

The synod, entitled ‘The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Testimony’ will convene in the Vatican from October 10-24.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Yemen ‘Stops Issuing Visas at Airports’

Yemen is to stop issuing visas to foreigners arriving at international airports, state media has reported.

The move was to “halt terrorist infiltration,” Saba state media said.

The change will affect Western visitors, including those from the US, Canada and Europe, who had generally been able to get visas at airports.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, apparently trained a Nigerian man charged over the failed bomb attempt on a US plane last month.

There has been increasing pressure on Yemen to crack down on al-Qaeda in the wake of the 25 December plot.

According to the Yemeni defence ministry newspaper September 26, a military official said “granting visas to foreigners will take place only through the embassies of Yemen, and after consulting security authorities to verify the identities of travellers”.

This is to “prevent the infiltration of any suspected terrorist elements,” he was quoted as saying.

Six airports in Yemen receive international flights, AFP news agency reported.

Separately, the US said there were concerns that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was expanding its recruitment efforts “to attract non-traditional followers”.

The US Senate foreign relations committee, in a report released on 21 January into al-Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia, said there were concerns about some Americans who “had disappeared and are suspected of having gone to al-Qaeda training camps in ungoverned portions of the impoverished country”.

Law enforcement officials believed there could be as many as 36 US citizens who converted to Islam while in US prisons and travelled to Yemen in the past year, “possibly for al-Qaeda training”.

There were also up to a dozen US citizens who had married Muslim women and converted to Islam who had also gone to Yemen, but there was no evidence they had undergone training, the report said.

“But [officials] said they are on heightened alert because of the potential threat from extremists carrying American passports,” the report added.

The report said one official described them as “blond-haired, blue eyed types”.

“These individuals fit a profile of Americans whom al-Qaeda has sought to recruit over the past several years,” the report said.

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

South Asia

Asia: UN Panel Now Says Himalayan Glaciers May Not Disappear by 2035

In 2007, the UN-accredited group of experts said that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. The claim was followed by two years of discussion, but now some experts question their conclusion, saying that that kind of melting is “physically impossible”. The Indian government criticises “alarmist” claim.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Himalayan glaciers are melting, but will not disappear by 2035 as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an intergovernmental body accredited with the United Nations, a claim that was reiterated as late as last month’s Copenhagen conference.

Georg Kaser, from the University of Innsbruck in Austria, had warned that the 2035 figure was wrong, “so wrong that it is not even worth discussing”.

Four leading glaciologists had prepared a letter for publication in December arguing that a complete melt by 2035 was physically impossible.

“If you think about the thicknesses of the ice—200-300m thicknesses, in some cases up to 400m thick—and if you’re losing ice at the rate of a metre a year, or let’s say double it to two metres a year, you’re not going to get rid of 200m of ice in a quarter of a century,” said Jeffrey Kargel, from the University of Arizona

Some are now arguing that the panel accepted at face value assertions by Syed Iqbal Hasnain, in article published in 1999 in the New Scientist.

The IPCC’s practices were also challenged in a series of stories based on e-mails stolen from computer servers of the University of East Anglia in England and posted worldwide last year that showed climate researchers discussed keeping some scientific papers out of the IPCC report.

The panel’s report formed the basis for two years of global climate-treaty talks that led to the Copenhagen conference.

IPCC vice-chairman Jean-Pascal van Ypersele said that 2035 was an error and would be reviewed. However, it did not change the broad picture of man-made climate change. In his view, “one mistake in a 3,000-page report” cannot “damage the credibility of the overall report”.

In 2007, the IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, former US Vice President-turned environmental activist. Its chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, insists that the evidence for global warming, including melting glaciers, is “unequivocal” and rising human greenhouse- gas emissions were “very likely” the main cause.

However, the report’s claims have led to a heated debate and raised concerns, including political, because of the high regard the panel is held and the seriousness of its conclusions.

In India, Environment Minister called on the IPCC to explain “how it reached the 2035 figure, which created such a scare”.

In a press conference yesterday in New Delhi, the minister said, “Glaciers are a very serious issue. However, “to derive the conclusion that glaciers are melting rapidly and will disappear is alarmist and not necessarily based on facts.”

Himalayan glaciers are the source of the big rivers that supply water to millions of people in India and China.

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

Malaysia: Eight Arrested Over Church Attack

Kuala Lumpur, 20 Jan. (AKI) — Malaysian police have arrested eight suspects over the firebombing of a church earlier this month. Eleven churches across the predominantly Muslim country were targeted with Molotov cocktails, stones and paint in a series of violent incidents that highlighted religious differences.

The attacks followed a 31 December court ruling that overturned a ban on non-Muslims using the word “Allah” for God.

Federal criminal investigation chief Bakri Zinin said police were investigating whether the eight accused over the first firebombing were also linked to other attacks.

“Eight people have been arrested and they are believed to be involved in the arson attack on the (Metro Tabernacle) church. They have been remanded for seven days to facilitate investigations,” he told reporters.

Tensions flared after Malaysia’s High Court ruled that a Catholic newspaper, The Herald, could use the word Allah to describe God in its Malay language editions.

Some Muslim groups have argued that Christians using a word so closely associated with Islam could be an attempt to attract converts.

But other Muslim groups, such as the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) have said there is no barrier to Christians and Jews using the word Allah.

Malays, who are required to be Muslim in Malaysia, make up around 60 percent of the country’s population and there are substantial Chinese and Indian minorities.

The Malaysian constitution gives primacy to Islam but allows the free practice of other faiths and the government is committed to the promotion of racial harmony.

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

Mumbai Terror Suspect Warned of Attacks

Jonathan Miller exclusively reveals how David Coleman Headley — the American charged with plotting the Mumbai attacks — warned of possible strikes just weeks before, and talks to the friends who were publicly vilified.

David Coleman Headley is currently on trial in the US for helping to plan the Mumbai terror attack in which 170 people died.

Channel 4 News can now reveal how the American, known to friends as “Agent Headley”, led a double life in Pakistan planning the attack while warning others that an Indian bombing could happen “soon”.

Jonathan Miller writes.

A vast aircraft carrier is docked at the Indian naval base next to Mumbai harbour; dwarfing the cutters and frigates at anchor next to it.

As our ancient wooden tourist boat chugs towards the thronging quayside, the landmarks of the Victorian heart of the city lie dead ahead: the Gateway of India — a towering Moorish-Victorian archway — and the majestic, domed Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

The Mumbai harbour cruise skipper is watching me: “Navy base,” he says, pointing starboard. “No photos, sir, OK? No camera that way.”

David Coleman Headley, a white-skinned American-Pakistani, armed with a tourist camcorder and a GPS device, allegedly made an identical trip around Mumbai harbour. Maybe even in this very boat. I wondered if his skipper had warned him too.

Headley, aka Daood Gilani, accused of being the surveillance scout for Pakistani jihadi group Lashkar-e-Toiba — The Army of the Righteous — wouldn’t have been much interested in the naval base. That wasn’t his target, according to US prosecutors.

The Taj Mahal Palace was though. His alleged mission: to ensure that the attackers who would follow his guidance could kill as many people as possible.

When he took his harbour cruise — some time around April 2008, according to FBI investigators — Headley was hunting for landing sites for what would be remembered in India as 26/11, the devastating maritime terrorist assault on Mumbai in November 2008 in which 170 people died violent deaths and more than 300 were wounded.

The Indian carrier, pride of the fleet, and the cutters and frigates, with all their combined firepower, sat like useless white elephants as a handful of invading jihadis created mayhem nearby.

In this war, good human intelligence was the only meaningful form of defence…

           — Hat tip: 4symbols [Return to headlines]

Taliban Leaders ‘Offered Asylum’ Under London Peace Plan

Taliban leaders could be offered exile abroad and have their names deleted from a UN sanctions blacklist as part of a peace plan for Afghanistan to be unveiled in London next week.

A briefing paper on the Afghan government’s proposals seen by The Daily Telegraph says any peace deal may include “potential exile in a third country” for insurgent leaders.

The document does not name any country, but Saudi Arabia, which recognised the former Taliban regime, is believed to be a possible candidate to give leaders a new life.

The plan was endorsed by Afghan ministers and the international community in Kabul on Tuesday. It envisages a twin-track strategy aiming separately at foot soldiers and the leadership.

After eight years of intensifying fighting Nato commanders have acknowledged political negotiation is the only solution to the worsening fighting.

They are now backing a “carrot and stick” strategy of more troops to reverse the Taliban’s military momentum coupled with incentives for fighters to rejoin society.

International donors are preparing to pay hundreds of millions of pounds towards the scheme, with Japan and the US already allocating substantial budgets.

In the first phase, junior fighters, who commanders believe are mainly motivated by money, will be offered jobs, training and education if they lay down their weapons and renounce violence.

Further incentives could include pensions for older fighters and allotments of land.

Villages which persuade their men to give up their struggle will get a “peace dividend” of aid and development.

Fighters would be offered security and protection from reprisal, which has so far led to the deaths of many who have tried to defect.

A peace jirga, or tribal council, will be held by President Hamid Karzai after the London conference to kick start the plan.

A separate push will later target the Taliban high command. It could include giving them asylum or political positions if they lay down their weapons, break links with al-Qaeda and agree to abide by the Afghan constitution the paper said.

They would also see their names taken off a UN sanctions list of Taliban and al-Qaeda which has frozen their assets and blocked foreign travel. Any deal would also need their removal from United States “kill or capture” lists.

The report says: “The government reaches its hand out to the Taliban and other insurgent groups to offer them a dignified and respectful way to renounce violence and peacefully reintegrate into their communities and separate themselves from their past.”

The plan will be unveiled to the London conference on Jan 28 by Mr Karzai and his adviser Mohammad Masoom Stanakzai.

Mullah Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban deputy higher education minister who appears on the UN list despite now being a senator, said peace relied on talks with members of the insurgents’ ruling Quetta Shura.

He said: “I am sure dealing with the Taliban soldiers is not the solution. They are strongly linked to their commanders and trust them. First you have to talk to the most senior people.”

He said while Mullah Mohammad Omar remained the nominal head of the movement, negotiations now relied on his lieutenants in Quetta, Pakistan.

Robert Gates, US defence secretary, said earlier this week he doubted the Taliban high command would consider a settlement until the momentum of the insurgency had been reversed. He also questioned whether reconciliation with Mullah Omar was realistic.

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, another blacklisted former Taliban ambassador who spent several years at Guantanamo, said the reintegration plan was corrupt and would hinder peace efforts.

“While America is talking about peace talks, on the one hand it wants to divide the Taliban and buy some of them with money, and on the other hand it sends more troops for the war,” he said.

“These are all contradictory issues and no one can make decisions in such a situation.

“The Taliban say these are all a conspiracy against them and this will harden their position.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Taliban Overhaul Image to Win Allies

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban have embarked on a sophisticated information war, using modern media tools as well as some old-fashioned ones, to soften their image and win favor with local Afghans as they try to counter the Americans’ new campaign to win Afghan hearts and minds.

The Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, issued a lengthy directive late last spring outlining a new code of conduct for the Taliban. The dictates include bans on suicide bombings against civilians, burning down schools, or cutting off ears, lips and tongues.

The code, which has been spottily enforced, does not necessarily mean a gentler insurgency. Although the Taliban warned some civilians away before the assault on the heart of Kabul on Monday, they were still responsible for three-quarters of civilian casualties last year, according to the United Nations.

Now, as the Taliban deepen their presence in more of Afghanistan, they are in greater need of popular support and are recasting themselves increasingly as a local liberation movement, independent of Al Qaeda, capitalizing on the mounting frustration of Afghans with their own government and the presence of foreign troops. The effect has been to make them a more potent insurgency, some NATO officials said.

Afghan villagers and some NATO officials added that the code had begun to change the way some midlevel Taliban commanders and their followers behaved on the ground. A couple of the most brutal commanders have even been removed by Mullah Omar.

The Taliban’s public relations operation is also increasingly efficient at putting out its message and often works faster than NATO’s. “The Afghan adaptation to counterinsurgency makes them much more dangerous,” said a senior NATO intelligence official here. “Their overarching goals probably haven’t changed much since 2001, but when we arrived with a new counterinsurgency strategy, they responded with one of their own.”

The American strategy includes limiting airstrikes that killed Afghan civilians and concentrating troops closer to population centers so that Afghans will feel protected from the Taliban.

American and Afghan analysts see the Taliban’s effort as part of a broad initiative that employs every tool they can muster, including the Internet technology they once denounced as un-Islamic. Now they use word of mouth, messages to cellphones and Internet videos to get their message out.

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

Far East

Philippines: Catholic Church Criticises Acceptance of Gay Party in May 2010 Elections

On 12 January, the Supreme Court of the Philippines strikes down a resolution of the Commission on Elections and readmits gay and lesbian party. For Filipino bishops, the presence of such a party in congress will lead to the legalisation of same-sex marriage, sexual anarchy and the destruction of family values.

Manila (AsiaNews) — The Filipino Church has criticised the Supreme Court’s decision to readmit Ang Ladlad, a gay and lesbian party, from running in the next election after the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) banned it.

It is “not a good to have a separate category for gay rights,” said Fr Melvin Castro, head of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. For him, “There are more marginalized sectors like the fisherfolk and indigenous people who should be given a chance in Congress. All laws are intended for men and women, whether gay or lesbian.”

Filipino bishops agree. In their view, the presence of a gay party could lead to the legalisation of same-sex marriage, sexual anarchy and the destruction of family values.

Law Professor Adriana R. Montemayor of the Catholic University of Santo Tomas, Manila, explained that the constitution provides for the specific representation of “marginalised sectors of society” through political accreditation with COMELEC, but it is the Supreme Court that lays down the criteria to determine which sectors of society can be considered as marginalised. In addition, the court has to motivate its ruling and explain “the legal, sociological, political and religious implications in the long run in society” should Ang Ladlad be granted provisional or full political accreditation.

For Ang Ladlad leader Danton Remoto, “being gay or lesbian is neither a sin nor a disease. We should be protected.” COMELEC’s decision to exclude the party is a human rights violation, he said because the law protects all rights, including those relating to sexual orientation.

Expressing one’s homosexuality in public is banned under Article 200 of the revised penal code. Sexual relations between consenting adults within the privacy of the home are tolerated.

For the past ten years, the gay party has called on the government to approve a law against sexual discrimination. The party has complained about persistent discrimination against homosexuals in the workplace as well as violence by police and the military.

On 11 November, COMELEC decided to ban Ang Ladlad from running in the upcoming May elections. The commission argued that its presence was an offence to the religious principles of Christians and Muslims and that it did not have enough resources to run a nation-wide campaign.

The ruling was written by commission members Fr Nicodemo Ferrer, a priest from the diocese of Pangasinan, Lucenito Tagle, a former president of the Pastoral Council for the laity, and Imam Elias Yusoph.

“We are not condemning the LGBT,” the ruling said, “but we cannot compromise the well-being of the greater number of our people, especially the youth.” For Ferrer, “Homosexuals are looking for a way to separate themselves from the rest of society”.

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Guinea Bissau: Drug Network ‘Used to Fund Extremists’

New York, 20 Jan. (AKI) — A tiny impoverished African country is sitting at the crossroads of one of the world’s major traffic routes — a strategic port of call in the shipment of cocaine from South America to Europe. Guinea Bissau, which has fewer than 1.5 million people, sits on the west coast of Africa and is one of the poorest nations in the world.

According to a recent report in the Italian weekly, L’Espresso, Guinea Bissau is now being exploited by paramilitary groups and terrorists including Al-Qaeda, the Lebanese Islamist Hezbollah group and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country’s biggest guerilla organisation.

The US department of homeland security has also expressed concern about the country and the criminal exploitation of aircraft for the illicit drug trade.

Guinea Bissau has a history of political upheaval. Current leader president Joao Bernardo Viera first came to power on the back of a military coup in 1980 when he was head of the armed forces.

He was overthrown in 1999 but returned to win the presidency as an independent in 2005.

In July last year, the military government of neighbouring Guinea placed its army on high alert at all border posts after uncovering plans for an attack on the country.

It said that armed men linked to international drug cartels were gathering on its borders with Guinea Bissau and Senegal to the north and Liberia to the south.

An announcement on state-run national radio said drug cartels were believed to be behind the plans.

According to L’Espresso, the biggest source of illegal funds flowing into the former Portuguese colony is Hezbollah which is using drug smuggling network from South America to West Africa to finance its activities.

The magazine claimed that drugs are being shipped from Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil and moved into the country via its archipelago of 90 islands, with the aid of a deeply corrupt government and military and the complete absence of any controls.

According to United Nations reports, nearly 60 percent of the cocaine sold in Europe travels via West African states such as Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Guinea Bissau.

But it is no longer simply a question of drug smuggling. The main issue that is preoccupying countries like the United States is the growing role of Islamic extremists using drug running to finance their operations.

For almost 20 years, Farc has funded its ongoing insurgency through kidnapping and cocaine production.

The Taliban have also used the opium trade in order to finance its operations and arms stocks in the southern part of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s drugs industry reportedly accounted for more than half the country’s economy by 2007, with the country supplying more than 90 percent of the world’s opium, the raw ingredient for heroin.

International organisations have said the drugs trade is helping to fuel the Taliban insurgency, which is estimated to receive up to 100 million dollars a year from the trade.

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

Kenya ‘Expels Jamaican Hate-Cleric Faisal Again’

Kenya has attempted to deport controversial Jamaican Muslim preacher Abdullah al-Faisal for a second time in two weeks, a court has been told.

The government was ordered to produce Faisal, but state counsel Edwin Okello said: “The subject is no longer within the court’s jurisdiction.”

Mr Okello said the cleric, convicted in the UK for soliciting murder of Jews and Hindus, was heading for Jamaica.

Several countries have refused him a transit visa, leaving him stranded.

The government says Faisal is being deported because of his “terrorist history”.

Bomber connection

Faisal’s exact whereabouts was not immediately clear.

Officials say he had already left Kenya on a privately-chartered Gulfstream jet.

But Al-Amin Kimathi, leader of the Kenya Muslim Rights Forum, told the BBC the preacher was still at Nairobi airport.

Later, sources at the airport confirmed the plane had left but not until several hours after he had been due in court.

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

Sudanese Journalist Sentenced to Lashing for Wearing Pants: There Were Tens of Thousands of Women Like Me

On July 3, 2009, Sudanese journalist and activist Lubna Al-Hussein was arrested, along with 12 other women, for wearing trousers, under a law that metes out a punishment of 40 lashes for wearing “indecent clothing.” Refusing to plead guilty, Al-Hussein resigned from her position in the UN and waived her diplomatic immunity, demanding to be placed on trial, in what rapidly became a cause célèbre for women’s rights in Sudan.

Following are excerpts from an interview with Al-Hussein, which aired on Egypt’s Al-Mihwar TV on December 17, 2009.

To view this clip on MEMRI TV, visit

           — Hat tip: TV [Return to headlines]


French Converts Want Freedom

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, JANUARY 19 — A debate on the national identity, controversy over the appropriateness of a law forbidding Muslim women from wearing the full veil, the latest comment coming from Secretary General of the Elysee Claude Guean, who declared that anyone who wears the burqa is not French. An ever-more concerned France is having to answer to a Muslim community of over six million people, but the growing tension is leading to a new phenomenon, even though it is still marginal: the exodus of the believers who long to be able to practice their religion in the broad light of day, without having to hide or ask permission to go and pray. It is mainly French converts who claim that France is incompatible with Islam, who are not satisfied with the moderate version of the faith which they say prevails in France, and who take the drastic decision to emigrate. Dubai, the Emirates, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen are the favourite destinations of this new emigration, according to a report by Le Monde, as well as Great Britain, where everyone is free to practice their religion and nobody cares if you have a long beard, says Samy, a Parisian of Tunisian origins who went to Dubai from London, and who has had enough of celebrating Pentecost on Monday and working on the day of Eid, the feast of the sacrifice, and not being able to take time off from work for Friday prayers. Moussa, who converted eight years ago, and his French-Portuguese wife, also a convert, left for the Emirates, another example of voluntarily abandoning their roots, although they recognise that they miss their family and the baguette. Moussa wants to pray five times a day at the appropriate times, and he is angry with companies which refuse to allow Muslims a five-minute break but authorise cigarette breaks, and who, as happened to him, do not employ Muslims because they are afraid that during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, they will be less productive. For many Muslims it is also an issue of looking for professional opportunities elsewhere, admits Abdellak, who is about to leave the south of France to return to his country, Algeria, with three daughters who will finally be able to eat halal meat in the school canteen. The Imam of Bordeaux, Tareq Oubrou, explains that some people suffer from their religious beliefs because of the media climate and society, but he asserts that many come back after a few years because their visas are not renewed indefinitely, and also because they realise that basically France is a free country with considerable social advantages. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy’s 2,000 Child Brides Every Year — Many Forcibly Repatriated by Families

Arranged marriages commonest among Indians and Pakistanis. Wife “rescued” at Novara

MILAN — “We live with our brains split in two. One part is in our family’s homeland and the other is with our friends, who tell us to stay here and integrate into society”. The rift in the lives of non-Italian adolescent girls surfaces when they are thirteen or fourteen. According to the sociologists who interviewed them, this is when the first signs of conflict emerge. Up till a year earlier, they were able to bring their friends home and then they can’t. They find they can no longer go on school trips. Arguments flare up over clothes, make-up or too-skimpy tops. It’s the same story in Milan, Rome or Brescia. Girls grow up with two mindsets, not knowing which to follow. They told interviewers: “It’s impossible for us to plan the future”. Caught between two forces, they are unable to find a point of equilibrium. “Every so often, one drops out of secondary school”, says Mara Tognetti, who teaches immigration policy at Milan’s Bicocca university. “The families have taken them to their country of origin to get married”. In Bradford in the UK, 200 girls aged 13 to 16 from immigrant families vanished in a single year but there are no detailed statistics for Italy. The only estimate is from the national childhood documentation centre, which reckons that there are about 2,000 child brides in Italy every year.

UNDERGROUND MARRIAGES — Minors cannot marry in Italy but there is an exception. The juvenile court can authorise the marriage of a 16-year-old if there are serious reasons for doing so. For years, the childhood documentation centre has been recording such cases. In 1993, there were 1,173 weddings involving minors, a number that gradually declined to 209 in 2006, and then 156 in 2007, the last year for which figures are available. Campania is the region with most weddings involving minors: 77. The majority are between non-Italians, with immigrant communities from Pakistan, India and Morocco leading the list. Nevertheless, the figures only cover legal marriages. Experts say these are only a fraction of the total of family-imposed unions ratified by a religious ceremony in a mosque, or more often in the participants’ country of origin. Mara Tognetti notes: “Young second-generation women are, and will continue to be, an emergency. Unless there is intervention with more effective policies, the gap between the idea of the family imposed by the parents and the adolescents’ model will become unbridgeable”.

LATENT CONFLICT — Other figures give the measure of the potential risk. There are about 175,000 second-generation female adolescents in Italy. Mara Tognetti continues: “Arranged marriages concern only some communities: Indians and Pakistanis more than others, and to a lesser extent Moroccans and Egyptians”. Forced marriages are the worst case. The danger over the next ten years could be the “latent conflictuality” represented by young women who have acquired an education and integrate but live in tradition-bound families. “Many parents are not very well educated”, says Fihan Elbataa, from the Brescia branch of the young Muslims of Italy organisation. “This means they don’t know how to react when faced by situations they perceive as dangerous. They withdraw into themselves, become very strict and lay down rules aggressively. We try to coax them to communicate and to leave spaces for freedom”. In Brescia, several youngsters have left from home, temporarily or permanently, to escape rules laid down by their parents. Fihan Elbataa concludes: “I am sure that the families want what is best for their children. Their intentions are good but unfortunately they are in a context that is new to their way of thinking, and they have to change their methods as a result”.

SEEKING FREEDOM — Last Friday, a young woman was rescued in Novara thanks to the association of Moroccan women in Italy. The woman, who is 17 and has a four-month-old daughter, is a victim of violence in an arranged marriage. Currently, she is in a shelter in Rome. It was a neighbour who reported the situation since the woman herself had no idea who to turn to for help. Rebellion is complicated so young brides-to-be seek spaces in which to negotiate a compromise. It’s a desperate remedy, which came to light in the study that Mara Tognetti will publish next month. The research includes interviews with young women who have attempted to negotiate their fate: here is their testimony. A young Moroccan woman living in Milan: “I have agreed to my father’s request. I will marry a man from my country. But I asked to be able to choose a possible husband and see at least three or four”. These women cannot, or do not want to, challenge the family’s rules but they do want to keep a minimum of space for themselves. Another respondent is Egyptian. She, too, is a student in Milan: “They’ve chosen a man for me. I don’t object. but I did ask for two things. I wanted to see him before the wedding. And I also obtained an assurance, a sort of unwritten contract, so that after the wedding I’ll be able to stay at school and then go to university and get a degree”.

Gianni Santucci

20 gennaio 2010

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Migrant Italy Complaint Dismissed

European court strikes out case on mass expulsion to Libya

(ANSA) — Strasbourg, January 19 — The European Court of Human Rights has struck out a complaint against Italy over its mass expulsion of migrants to Libya in 2005 under a ruling published on Tuesday. The Strasbourg court dismissed the complaint partly because most of the applicants could no longer be traced and partly because it believed Italian lawyers had “invented” some of the 84 applicants.

The complaint filed in 2005 related to the government’s treatment of large numbers of mainly Palestinian migrants who had travelled by boat from Libya to Italy.

It said the Italian government had breached several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights by sending the migrants back to Libya en masse. It specifically alleged the government had violated a prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to life and a prohibition on the collective expulsion of aliens. But after ordering a handwriting expert to examine the signatures and powers of attorney signed by the applicants, the court concluded that at least 34 of applications had been completed by the same person. All bar one of the other applicants were missing. Some had absconded from holding centres and others had been released from detention after the custody time-limit expired. A further 14 applicants deported to Libya could no longer be traced by their lawyers, meaning the court had no evidence on which to decide whether the Italian government had violated the right to life or the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment. But the court noted that all the deportees had been given an individual hearing with legal representation and an interpreter prior to deportation, meaning Italy had not violated the prohibition on collective expulsion. Commenting on the decision, the Italian Refugee Council (CIR) stressed that the Court had not approved the Italian government’s actions. “Italy was not found guilty but neither was it acquitted over its mass deportation actions of 2005,” said CIR Director Christopher Hein.

“The Strasbourg court made no comment on the legality or legitimacy of those expulsions but struck out the complaint on formal matters”. Hein said he found it deeply worrying that the court’s decision had partly been based on the fact that those returned to Libya could no longer be traced. “If a person disappears, if a government forcibly repatriates someone and if this person can no longer be contacted, do they lose the right to justice?” The international humanitarian organization Save The Children also pointed out that the decision had been based on “technical shortcomings”. “The Court does not enter into the merits of the violations complained of, and therefore is neither confirming or denying that they were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment back in Libya,” a statement said.

But a senator with the regionalist Northern League party said the decision marked a victory for those who fought illegal immigration.

“By dismissing the appeal of a hundred immigrants, the Court has struck a blow for truth and justice: those landings were illegal,” said Angela Maraventano.

Meanwhile, the woman expected to become the next European home affairs commissioner expressed concern over the treatment of migrants and refugees seeking to enter Europe by sea, saying there had been “too many human tragedies”. Answering questions during a hearing at the European Parliament on Tuesday, Swedish nominee Cecilia Malmstrom recalled that European member states had an obligation “to protect those fleeing terrible situations in order to save their lives”. However, responding to a query by an Italian MEP, she acknowledged that “some EU countries are under a great deal of pressure from the Mediterranean”.

Malmstrom also accepted that agreements with Libya, the departure point for many African migrants seeking to reach Europe by boat, might be necessary.

“Libya is not exactly a democratic country but we have to reach agreement on some cooperation,” she said. “Some small steps forward have been made but we must concentrate on ensuring that it meets its obligations to treat each individual in a humane manner”. The Italian government has come under fire from opposition politicians, the Catholic Church and refugee organizations for a ‘push-back policy’ implemented last year as part of an accord it signed with Libya.

Under the agreement, boat migrants intercepted at sea by Italian patrols are forcibly escorted back to Libya.

Critics say Italy is violating its international obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention by sending potential refugees to a country that has no procedures for vetting asylum claims.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has rebutted criticism, arguing that the initiative is “in line with existing legislation”.

The Italian government says the proper procedures are in place in Libya and describes the policy as a success, pointing to the massive drop in the number of migrants arriving in Italy by boat.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spain: Immigration Part of Catalan Election Campaign

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 20 — The Secretary of the Catalan People’s Party, Alicia Sanchez Camacho, has announced that her electoral campaign in the regional elections in the autumn of this year will revolve around the fight against illegal immigration. Sanchez Camacho made her announcement in the wake of the heated debate that followed the town council’s decision of Vic (Catalonia), not to register the illegal immigrants at the registry office. The central government has called this decision illegal, because it violates the laws on foreigners passed by the Spanish Parliament in November. The town of Vic is governed by a majority formed by the Catalan socialist party, the democratic nationalists of ‘Convergencia i Union’ and independence party ‘Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya’. “Registration cannot be an open door for illegal immigration. Not everybody can enter Catalonia and Spain,” said Sanchez Camacho, quoted today by the press. The same slogan was used by the leader of the Popular Party (PP), Mariano Rajoy, in his electoral campaign for the 2008 general election. The government of the Municipality of Madrid, led by the PP’s iron lady Esperanza Aguirre, has endorsed the decision of the Municipality of Torrejon de Ardoz (Madrid) not to give a residence permit to immigrants who only have a tourist visa or who live in accommodation with a surface area of less than 20 square metres. The socialist government believes that this decision, as well as the initiative taken by Vic, violates regulations on immigration. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spain: SMEs Associate Criminality With Immigration

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 20 — Catalan entrepreneurs are demanding more police surveillance in Barcelona and harsher laws against criminality and the lack of security experienced by shopkeepers, tourists and citizens, which they attribute to immigration. “Barcelona has seen a rising tide of immigrants with their own problems and people from countries which certainly do not share the same ethical basis as we do. This has led to an atmosphere in which insecurity reigns,” the president of the Catalan Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (PIMEC), Josep Gonzalez, was quoted today by the media as saying. Gonzalez urged the Barcelona Town Council to request harsher regulations against delinquency and more urban police as well as an increase in the number of regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, involved in anti-criminal activities. The request was reiterated by a representative of the SMEs in a meeting with the PP spokesman in the Barcelona town council, Alberto Fernandez Diaz. According to Diaz, “many times immigrants are unfair competition for small businesses,” which are suffering more from the economic crisis. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]


Non-Stick Pan Chemical is Linked to Thyroid Disease

A chemical found in non- stick cookware and food packaging has been linked to thyroid disease.

The substance, PFOA, which is found throughout the home, has previously been branded potentially carcinogenic.

Now it has been further called into question by research which shows that those with higher levels in the blood have higher rates of thyroid disease.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]