This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Peace and Good Fellowship

"Instead of moving into peace with Israel, he's moving into peace with Hamas. He has to choose. Does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace, so far he hasn't done so."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

"[If Hamas does join a Palestinian unity government] they would probably allow Abbas to continue talking to Israel while insisting as they have in the past that any agreements require approval from the Palestinian public in a referendum."
Mark Heller, research fellow, Institute for National Security Studies, tel Aviv University
Inside the Hamas-Fatah unity deal (Infographics: Ynet / Photo: AP)
Photo AP/ Ynet

"I cannot find any sort of strategic bridge between these two players. The Palestinians will be in a very serious problem, not only with Israel but with the Americans and the Europeans as well."
"The ideological gaps, the political gaps and the cultural gaps [between Hamas and Fatah remained too distantly opposing for reconciliation.]"
Kobi Michael, former head, Palestinian desk, Israel's strategic affairs ministry

Funding that the Palestinian Authority depends upon from the United States could be imperilled by this move; the administration has hinted as much, and it seems logical enough that the PA representing Fatah has earned a clean bill of health with the Americans, but Hamas, whose charter reads the destruction of Israel leading to the restoration of the entire geography to Palestinians is considered a terrorist group.

The European Union, which has declared a fine distinction between the Hamas 'political' wing and the Hamas-Izz al-Din al-Qassem (terrorist wing of Hamas) will find themselves able to accommodate to the situation of a reunified Fatah-Hamas PA co-jointly administering the affairs of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, rather than cut off funding to them.

Of course the larger question is whether the much-ballyhooed reconciliation will actually bond. Since there have been previous such celebrated gestures which never did solidify to actual reality, and the distance between the two Palestinian 'governments' remained an issue of concern. When Hamas undertook the violent initiative to seize Gaza from Fatah in 2007 its actions were not those of a friendly competitor.

Their base ideology differs, although their shared hatred for Israel does not. Their methodology placed them at odds with one another; Hamas openly stating and acting out its viral opposition to the existence of a Jewish state on what it maintains is land dedicated to Islam and the Palestinians. And Fatah presenting to the world at large a partner for peace, willing to accept a two-state solution while instigating behind-the-scenes for Palestinian-ears-only incitements to violence.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas insists both sides are on the cusp of forming an interim government with presidential and parliamentary elections to be held "at the earliest six months after forming the government", for which he has been assured, he can remain president. While Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas government of Gaza stated "We agreed on a timetable to end the split", splitting into a wide grin of self-congratulation.

There is the simple fact of economics behind much of these theatrics. Hamas is starved for funding. Its lifeline of financial support through the Islamic Republic of Iran was cut due to disagreements relating to the Syrian regime's attacks on Sunni Syrians. And with the removal of the Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, Hamas's funding from that source was also struck, combined with its identification in Egypt as a terror group. Qatar's one-time magnanimity has never been repeated.

Hamas's cozying up to Fatah will ensure it can at least share more heavily in the funding the PA receives from all its traditional sources, including the United Nations. That it will not because the funding it withheld will no doubt result in the dissolution of the bonding ceremony. Unless the PA pulls back with the realization that it too will stand to lose some of the funding it relies upon, belying its insistence that it is prepared to present to the world as an independent state, one that is incapable of funding itself.

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Arctic Defence and Sovereignty

"[The Arctic is] a sphere of special interest [and Russia's goal is not only to restore its influence there] but to make it even stronger."
"We need to take additional measures so as not to fall behind our partners, to maintain Russian influence in the region and, maybe in some areas, to be ahead of our partners."
Russian President Vladimir Putin - Russian security council

"Unless we, the Arctic countries outside Russia, are there in equal strength, we realistically hand much of the Arctic to him."
"Aircraft, a training site and ships that can move in heavy ice ... You keep building on all of that, operate from positions of strength and keep making the investments necessary to do it."
General Rick Hillier, former Canadian chief of defence staff

Russia has been busy in the Arctic and it is serious about its influence and presence in the Arctic Circle. It has several million people living north of the Arctic Circle, and it has a history of Arctic exploration to match that of Great Britain's and Norway's. In the process of building up its military infrastructure including the refurbishing of two bases 50 km from the Finnish border, it is busy creating a new Northern Fleet intelligence unit.

To be staffed by 3,000 electronic warfare specialists, and involvement in developing unmanned surveillance airships and building a 3,000-strong naval aviation unit, Russia's determination to stand tall and unopposed in the Arctic is compelling. Enough so to make its neighbours very nervous indeed, given its propensity for aggressive, threatening action in pursuit of dominance of an area in which it has disputes ongoing for sovereignty rights.

The purpose of all that enhanced security is to ensure the protection of oil and gas production facilities from the potential attacks coming from "terrorists and other potential threats". Potential threats can be assumed to be competition from Arctic neighbours clamouring that they have rights, too, and "terrorists" can be seen to be any who dispute Moscow's right to claim rights they insist are incontrovertibly theirs.

Canada has more of a low-tech approach to the situation, with sovereignty patrols from the air and sea, and the first line of defence represented by the Canadian Rangers, some five thousand mostly Inuit residents armed with Second World War-vintage Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles. They form part of Canada's armed forces reserves, proudly doing their job to keep an eye on any unusual activities or sightings, which they then convey to the Canadian military.

Canada is constrained by economic considerations from its more ambitiously-stated intentions to defend the Arctic. The question is how Russia can manage to pay for all the advanced scientific and military equipment and installations it intends to place in the Arctic to defend and prosecute its claims. Russia's financial situation despite its vast energy reserves has been faltering lately. And there is the matter of its huge expenditure in Sochi to proudly show the world its prestige quotient.

Maintaining a build-up of military reserves on the border of Ukraine will cost it greatly, not only in sanctions values, but in maintenance costs, that will now extend to investment in Crimea. But that of course, is Moscow's problem. Canada's problem is contending with pressure from NATO to sign on to a co-ordinated response to Russia's aggressive militarization in the Far North. And its resistance to doing just that, by failing to agree on the inclusion of Arctic issues within NATO's purview.

The events in Ukraine have not covered Russia in glory, but they have diminished NATO's reputation simply because the situation, untenable as it is, is one where NATO will not physically intrude. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but its neighbours, fearful of Moscow's further designs, are. Norway wants to see NATO concern itself with Arctic issues as a counterweight to Russia's indomitable threats of dominance.

Why Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to be resistant to the inclusion of Arctic issues within NATO's agenda is not quite clear. A September summit to take place in Cardiff, Wales will certainly put the issue on the agenda. "The question is, can you trust Russia? Can any country say this shouldn't be on NATO's agenda?", asked one involved diplomat.

"No western or NATO country is going to risk a confrontation that could turn violent, and then escalate frighteningly over Ukraine -- viewed by most as 'far away and corrupt as hell'", stated Mr. Hillier of Russia's strategic priorities in enlarging its hegemonic comfort zone. Vladimir Putin accurately judged the constraints placed upon NATO with respect to confronting him on the Ukraine file.

But NATO members involved in the Arctic would prefer a more proactive role for NATO in the Arctic to deter Mr. Putin from attempting to pull off anything similar to what he has managed to do in Ukraine, utterly destabilizing the country, and threatening to incur even greater damage should it move from caution to full-throttle defence against the insurgency that the Kremlin has engineered to its advantage.

Canada, according to General Hillier, has focused well on the Arctic with a combination of fighter jets, satellite coverage, drones and underwater sensors for advanced warning of any possible intrusion. But three recommendations were advanced through the recently released Strategic Outlook, by the CDA Institute: Canadian participation in a ballistic missile system; creation of a maritime NORAD, and an adequate number of ships to patrol, to enhance Arctic sovereignty.

Placing the Arctic issue on the NATO agenda might be seen properly as yet another priority.

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Respecting Confederation's Institutions

"To welcome is to grow and to open oneself. In Quebec we are going to grow together."
"You will have the difficult but essential task of helping to heal the wounds of recent months by participating in the construction of an open, inclusive society proudly sharing an identity based on our language and our shared values."
"We have built Quebec together. Let us also build a common future around a shared sense of pride in our accomplishments. We are all proud Quebecers. There are so many things that unite us. It is time to work together again, as we have been doing in the last 350 years."
"Quebec is faced with profound, structural issues that go beyond a change in government. In short, we have been spending beyond our means for a long time. We thus have to act with strength, courage and determination to correct a situation that represents a threat for the quality of life of current and future generations."
"Ladies and gentlemen, it is no longer time for marginal, cosmetic measures. The time for difficult decisions has arrived."
"We are Quebecers proud of our history and unique identity. We believe that belonging to the Canadian federation and our shared citizenship with other Canadians are levers for the progress of Quebec."
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, Quebec City
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard waves as he is sworn in during a ceremony Wednesday, April 23, 2014 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard waves as he is sworn in during a ceremony on April 23, 2014 at the legislature in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)
On Wednesday in Quebec City, at the swearing-in ceremony of the new premier, the province's lieutenant-governor, the provincial representative in Quebec of Queen Elizabeth II was given proper prominence. The Canadian flag was no longer hidden. And the new Liberal premier of the Province of Quebec will begin undoing all the harm done to his province and to the larger Canadian identity fostered by the 19-month misrule of the Parti Quebecois whose raison d'etre was always the achievement of sovereignty.

In introducing his new 26-member cabinet in the National Assembly's Salon Rouge, the province discovered that there is now a new ministry; of "Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion" to replace the old Immigration Ministry of the province the PQ misused so divisively. Mr. Couillard spoke conciliatorily to the province's anglophone demographic so long marginalized, under-serviced and unappreciated for their contribution to the general welfare of Quebec.

Allaying the fears engendered by the statements and resolve expressed by former Premier Pauline Marois serving the interests not of the voters that put her in power, but those of the separatist party she served with passion, to the extent that many of those anglophones were readying themselves to move lock, stock and barrel out of a province they held dear, but which threatened their equality rights within Canada.

The new premier addressed the issue of economics challenging the stability of a province that overspends itself for social programs it can ill afford. With the highest debt of all provinces, the greatest government spending and the highest rate of taxation in Canada, a dire situation that requires stringent and dedicated attention to returning to the balance required to return the economy to health while still focusing on social issues of importance, like health care, eduction and employment.

The previous government led by Jean Charest pledged itself to overturning many of the political, social and economic ills that had long plagued the economy, and to begin he knew he would have to confront Quebec's powerful unions' attitude of entitlements beyond the reach of any government. And while he struggled to achieve an end he felt was required, he ran into the indomitable will of those very same unions.

But his government also fell victim to the corruption that was endemic to Quebec corporate interests and politics, and which when revealed to their full comprehensive embrace brought him the contempt of the voting public which saw no course of correction other than to punish the Liberals and return the Parti Quebecois to administering the affairs of the province. And that turned out to be a solution itself in need of a countervailing remedy.

Now that it has arrived, the province anticipates remedial action to benefit all its citizens. That being so, Premier Couillard has his work cut out for him.

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Breaking With Tradition

"A divorcee who takes communion is not doing anything wrong. There are some priests who are more papist than the Pope."
"It is an issue we are discussing in the Vatican, because a divorcee who takes communion is not doing anything wrong."
Pope Francis -- Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio

"We would neither confirm nor deny that -- this was a private telephone call made by the Holy Father and we would not divulge the details."
Vatican spokesman

"One of the most wonderful things in my life has just happened -- receiving a telephone call from none other than Papa Francesco. We're Catholics, we believe in God, and though we don't go to Mass every Sunday, every evening we thank the Lord for our family and our work."
Julio Sabetta, pastry chief, Argentina
Pope Francis kisses (inset) and waves to faithful in St. Peter’s Square during Palm Sunday Mass.

An Argentinian woman concerned that if she took communion she would be "violating Church rules", wrote to Pope Francis to inform him she had been refused communion by her local priest. The priest "told me that every time I went home, I was going back to living in sin", explained Jacqui Lisbona.

She had married a divorced man, though they were both Catholic. Under existing church law divorce and re-marriage are simply not recognized. Jacqui Lisbona could not take communion because she had married a divorced man and because they were prohibited from marrying in church and arranged instead for a civil ceremony; twice a sinner.

The couple has been married for 19 years. They have two teenage daughters. This was not by any means the first time Pope Francis had directly responded personally to an appeal from an individual whose soul was in a troubled state. On this occasion, the pontiff telephoned Ms. Lisbona at her home on Easter Monday where she lived in the central region of Santa Fe, Argentina.

Her husband happened to answer the telephone from the individual who introduced himself as "Father Bergoglio", apologizing that it had taken him so long to get around to calling after he had received the letter from the troubled woman. Under church law, unless a marriage is annulled, Catholics who remarry are seen to be living in sin, committing adultery, and thus refused communion.

But this pope has stated that divorced and separated couples should not be excluded from church events, raising hopes that he may take it upon himself to overturn the ban on divorcees receiving communion. Priests should "ask themselves how to help (divorced couples) from feeling excluded from the mercy of God", he has previously stated.

This man is a long-overdue breath of fresh air battling absurd constricting social/religious convention in a fusty institution that has too long been infested with corruption and sanctimony.

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The trouble for Hamas is that it is not alone. With the aid of Iranian funds and training, Islamic Jihad has built up a fighting force of 5,000 guerrillas with over 2,000 rockets. Those numbers are growing.
These groups are, it seems, outraged by what they see as Hamas's soft policy on Israel, and have pledged soon to resume hostilities against it.
Under the rule of the Hamas regime, the Gaza Strip has transformed itself in recent years into one of the world's most active terrorist havens, and this radical enclave is destined to burst.

Currently, Israel's government and defense establishment are choosing to contain, rather than uproot, the extensive terrorist infrastructure that has taken root in the Hamas-run enclave.

Hamas is so far cooperating with this approach. It is seeking to expand its local rocket production industry; increase the number of its gunmen, and consolidate its grip on power. All of these long-range goals require time and stability.

Israeli defense officials have acknowledged, however, that containment is a time-limited tactic.

A Hamas military parade in Gaza.

In addition to Hamas, Gaza hosts an array of radical Islamist armed organizations, such as Iran's direct proxy, Islamic Jihad, and a growing assortment of armed groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda -- all of which reject the legitimacy of a truce with Israel, and which seek to challenge it.

The ease with which smaller terror groups can challenge a ceasefire was apparent in recent days, when Gazan terrorists fired several rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot. The attack set off air raid sirens and sent civilians fleeing for cover. This assault was accompanied by a rocket-propelled grenade attack directed at an Israel Defense Force [IDF] patrol operating along the fence that separates Israel from Gaza. That attack failed to cause injuries.

The Israel Air Force [IAF] responded within a couple of hours, uncharacteristically launching daytime air strikes on targets in south and central Gaza.

Hamas, for its part, acted to restore the calm.

Hamas's desire for a break from direct conflict with Israel appears genuine.

According to Israeli intelligence estimates, Hamas has amassed over 5,000 short-range rockets and dozens of medium-range rockets that all can reach greater Tel Aviv, and place 70% of Israeli civilians in its range. There is little doubt that Hamas would like to build more rockets. Any renewed clash with the IDF, however, would put these assets in immediate jeopardy; the IAF would destroy them.

Additionally, Hamas is exploiting the calm to build extremely long attack tunnels into Israel. They stretch for more than a kilometer, and can be used to inject terror cells into Israel to carry out terror attacks or kidnap soldiers. Hamas pours millions of dollars into these tunnels. The IDF often discovers and destroys them.

Hamas's fighting divisions consist of some 16,000 gunmen. In a full-scale conflict with Israel, their fate would be compromised -- meaning that should war erupt, Hamas's very existence as a government could be undermined. Hence, Hamas seems to prefer to keep the truce going.

The trouble for Hamas is that it is not alone. With the aid of Iranian funds and training, Islamic Jihad has built up a fighting force of 5,000 armed guerrillas. Islamic Jihad has more than 2,000 rockets, and that number is growing. Should Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, give the order to Islamic Jihad, a confrontation in Gaza could quickly begin, leaving Hamas with the option of either trying to face down a fellow terror organization or joining it in a war against Israel.

There are also 4,000 or so members of smaller Gazan terror groups, each armed with its own mini-arsenal of rockets, bombs, and assault weapons. Many of these groups are loyal to the vision of Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri of an Islamic caliphate, and maintain ties with fellow jihadis in the neighboring Sinai Peninsula.

These groups are, it seems, outraged by what they see as Hamas's soft policy on Israel, and have pledged soon to resume hostilities against it.

Therefore, even if Hamas wanted to extend a truce for years, its ability to do so is seriously in doubt. Further, as Israel's policy of containment is founded on the idea of a deterred Hamas reigning in the other terror organizations, a failure by Hamas to do so would lead to a collapse of that approach.

It is for this day that the IDF is preparing around the clock. In the meantime, as Gaza continues to fester with radical terror organizations, its unfortunate population continues to pay the price.

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While the Palestinian Authority is calling on the international community to punish Israel for imprisoning Palestinians, its own security forces continue to hold hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinians in prison, some tortured, some without trial.
This year alone, the Palestinian Authority has arrested 357 Palestinians accused of security/political offenses, 42 of whom are university students.
Of course, the arrests continue to be ignored by the mainstream media in the West. This is a story that does not reflect negatively on Israel, so is therefore not considered worthy of being reported to Western audiences.
The Palestinian Authority's duplicity clearly has no limits.
On April 17, it marked "Prisoners Day" by holding rallies throughout the West Bank in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

On the same day, a report published by Palestinians revealed that the Palestinian Authority has arrested hundreds of Palestinians since the beginning of this year. The report pointed out that the Palestinian Authority continues to torture detainees.

"Prisoners Day" is an event that has been taking place for nearly two decades and is intended to express solidarity with the thousands of prisoners who are being held by Israel for security-related offences, including some of the worst terrorist attacks in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But as Palestinians were marking "Prisoners Day," a report released in the Gaza Strip revealed that since the beginning of 2014, this year alone, the Palestinian Authority has arrested 357 Palestinians accused of security/political offenses.

According to the report, prepared by the Hamas-run Ministry of Planning, all 357 detainees belonged to various Palestinian groups in the West Bank, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The report said that 42 of the detainees are university students. During the same period, Palestinian Authority security forces also raided and searched the homes of 60 Palestinians in the West Bank suspected of security/political offenses, the report added.

In March alone, Palestinian Authority security forces raided and searched 42 private and public institutions, businesses, hospitals and charitable organizations in the West Bank, the report continued. It also pointed out that the Palestinian Authority security forces were continuing to torture detainees.
Not surprisingly, the findings of the report were completely ignored by Palestinian Authority officials in their speeches and statements marking "Prisoners Day."

Of course, the arrests by the Palestinian Authority also continue to be ignored by the mainstream media in the West. This is a story that does not reflect negatively on Israel, so is therefore not considered worthy of being reported to Western audiences.

Instead, Palestinian representatives chose this occasion to heap praise on the Palestinian "heroes" and "fighters" in Israeli prisons, who have made "gigantic sacrifices for their people and cause."

The PLO's Hanan Ashrawi called for dispatching international commissions of inquiry to Israeli prisons to look into Israeli "violations" against the Palestinian inmates. She also went as far as accusing Israel of "war crimes" because of its "mistreatment" of the prisoners.

Most of the Palestinian officials told the crowds at the West Bank rallies that the prisoners are the true heroes of the Palestinians and that there would never be peace with Israel as long as one Palestinian remained in Israeli prison.

As the Palestinian Minister for Prisoners Affairs, Issa Qaraqi, put it, "There will be no agreement or peace or an extension of the [peace] talks until the gates of the prisons are opened and our prisoners are set free."

So while the Palestinian Authority is calling on the international community to punish Israel for imprisoning Palestinians, its own security forces continue to hold hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinians in prison, some tortured, some without trial. Yet, the Palestinian Authority does not see its actions as a violation of human rights and international law.

It is all right for Palestinians to detain and torture a fellow Palestinian. But apparently it is not all right for Israel to arrest and imprison anyone who harms its security or murders its citizens.
Further evidence of the Palestinian Authority's double-talk on the issue of prisoners and terrorism was provided one day before Palestinians marked "Prisoners Day."

At a meeting with Israeli MKs [Members of Knesset, Israel's parliament] in Ramallah, Mahmoud Abbas's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, announced that the Palestinian Authority was "completely opposed to violence by any party."

The Israeli MKs took Abu Rudaineh's remark as a straight and clear "condemnation" of a shooting attack that killed an Israeli police officer near Hebron in the West Bank two days earlier. Needless to say, the Palestinian spokesman had made no specific reference to the shooting attack.

Israeli police officer Baruch Mizrahi (upper right) was shot and killed by a Palestinian terrorist near Hebron on April 14, as he drove to a family celebration with his wife and four of their children. His wife Hadas Mizrahi was shot and wounded.

Still, for the Israeli MKs, this was sufficient evidence that the Palestinian Authority is opposed to terror attacks on Israelis and is therefore a reliable "peace partner."

The following day, however, the rallies and speeches marking "Prisoners Day" provided further evidence that the Palestinian Authority continues to glorify Palestinians who launch terrorist attacks against Israel.

The Palestinian Authority even went as far as condemning those who label the prisoners as terrorists. In the words of Qaraqi, the Minister for Prisoners Affairs, "We condemn attempts to distort the image of our prisoners by describing them as terrorists."

The Palestinian Authority told the visiting Israeli MKs that it is opposed to violence "by any party." Hours later, the Palestinian Authority told the Palestinian public that those who carry out terrorist attacks against Israelis are "heroes" and "revolutionary pioneers."

The Palestinian Authority complains that there are more than 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. But the same Palestinian Authority is trying to hide the fact that it is holding and torturing many Palestinians in its prisons.

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Netanyahu breaks off peace talks over Palestinian pact with Hamas. US may suspend PLO recognition

DEBKAfile Special Report April 24, 2014, 7:24 AM (IDT)
Another Fatah-Hamas unity pact
Another Fatah-Hamas unity pact
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday night, April 23,  that Israel is breaking off peace talks with the Palestinians pending reassessment of the process after Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah signed a unity pact with Hamas in Gaza City. A special foreign affairs and defense cabinet meeting takes place Thursday to decide how to handle this change in the Palestinian status. 

The United States informed Abbas that if Hamas and Jihad Islami, both listed as terrorist organizations, were co-opted to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Washington would discontinue its annual recognition of the PLO.

Fatah PLO members from the West Bank, headed by Azzam al-Ahmad, and Hamas, led by Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniya and deputy party leader Mussa Abu Marzuq, signed a pact in Gaza City Wednesday, April 23, to establish a unity government “within five weeks” and hold presidential and parliamentary elections in six months.

They carefully sidestepped the tough issues, such as the choice of prime minister, Hamas’s missile arsenal and the united government’s political strategy.

This is not the first power-sharing pact Fatah and Hamas have signed and is unlikely to be the last.
Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in advance that he must choose between peace negotiations with Israel and a unity accord with the radical Hamas, which is totally opposed to negotiations with Israel and refuses to renounce force.

Yet Netanyahu did nothing to prevent a Fatah delegation traveling from Ramallah to Gaza City through Israel. Neither did he follow through on his threat of sanctions against high-ranking Palestinian officials for their unilateral application to UN bodies in violation of their pledges to Israel and their peace broker, US Secretary of State John Kerry. Application of the travel sanction, for instance, would have stopped Assam al Ahmad from reaching Gaza City.

These questions, put by debkafile, betray the ridiculous state of the current Middle East peace process and the muddled, illogical steps pursued by Abbas, who seems to be firing frenziedly in all directions.
Two months ago, after posting Palestinian membership applications to 15 UN bodies, Abbas sent one of his trusties, Jibril Rajoub, to Tehran to start a dialogue between the Palestinian Authority and Iran.
He came back with a fresh assortment of gems: “If the Palestinians had a nuclear bomb they would drop it on Israel,”he remarked, and “Hitler could have taken lessons from Israel on how to build concentration camps.”

Yet he continued to travel around Israel on a VIP pass and was invited to speak on Israeli television and radio where he disseminated a message of moderation and tolerance in the name of his master.
Tuesday, April 22, Abu Mazen invited Israel reporters to his office in Ramallah to lay down new conditions for extending negotiations for three months beyond the April 29 deadline, although by then his representatives were on their way to Gaza City. One condition was to devote all future discussions to the question of borders.

He also announced that he was ready to dissolve the Palestinian Authority and hand the keys over to Israel, a threat which soon proved to be unfeasible.

Kerry and Netanyahu’s emissary to the peace talks, Yitzhak Molcho, say that hundreds of hours have been spent at the table turning over every last detail of the future borders of the Palestinian state, including Jerusalem, and laying out the areas to be swapped.

The demands, conditions, stipulations and decisions pouring out of Abu Mazen’s office in the last month or so have persuaded everyone concerned that the Palestinian leader’s mind is in a total muddle. No one in Jerusalem or Washington can figure out what he wants. And even his closest aides believe that he doesn’t know his own mind and are afraid of what he may dream up next.

In Gaza City, meanwhile, his Fatah and the rival Hamas celebrated their umpteenth unity pact in nine years, although not a single clause of any of the foregoing documents was ever implemented.
This one is different in one critical sense. Leaving aside its deleterious impact on the peace process with Israel, it means that Abu Mazen has publicly allied himself and his party with the fundamentalist Hamas, whose Gaza domain is under Egyptian army siege for abetting and hiding fugitive Muslim Brotherhood activists. Gaza’s Hamas rulers have granted the Brothers a base for running terrorist networks in Cairo and other Egyptian cities.

As an integral part of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas is also condemned as a foe by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. How to explain the logic of Mahmoud Abbas’s resort to such dangerous lengths to avoid peace talks with Israel by placing the entire Palestinian movement in opposition to the leading Arab governments?

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

From a Russian Horse's Mouth

"Of course we are concerned, because Ukraine is on the brink of civil war. Will we use them? [Russian forces massed near the eastern Ukraine borders] I can give you my personal assurance: our troops won't cross the Ukrainian border."
"It's the last thing we want. It would be a disaster. Not for the world community ... It would be a total disaster for the Russian identity."
Georgiy Mamedov, Russian Ambassador to Canada

Georgiy Mamedov, Russian ambassador to Canada, downplayed the latest expulsion of a Canadian diplomat from Moscow, calling the attaché a 'military spy' following a speech on the Ukraine crisis Tuesday in Toronto.
Georgiy Mamedov, Russian ambassador to Canada, downplayed the latest expulsion of a Canadian diplomat from Moscow, calling the attaché a 'military spy' following a speech on the Ukraine crisis Tuesday in Toronto. (Chris Young/Canadian Press) 
A very nice man, Mr. Mamedov. He scoffed a month ago at the very nonsense that Canadian newspapers were publishing, stating that Russia was on the cusp of claiming the Crimea as Russian territory after insinuating itself into the affairs of Ukraine when its president was deposed and a caretaker government installed. Russian fulminations over the 'criminality' of the 'fascists' who removed the Russian-approved president forespoke what was to come.

At that earlier time, Ambassador Mamedov claimed the media were doing a great disservice to the intelligence of the Canadian public, among them a sizeable ethnic contingent of Canadian-Ukrainians, feeding them absurdly slanderous propaganda. His motherland, he puffed, indignantly, had no intention whatever of interfering in Ukraine, let alone expropriating Crimea. But what Ukraine had done respecting Viktor Yanukovych was 'illegal'.

Russian forces, furthermore, massed on the eastern border were present there for the explicit purpose of deterring "vengeance" attacks against ethnic Russians who just happen to be living in Ukraine. Russia had no intention whatever of invading the eastern region of Ukraine. It just so happens that pro-Russian Ukrainians, Russian speakers and ethnic Russians are agitating on their own initiative to leave Ukraine and move into Russia's orbit.

Canadians are not ordinarily known to be rude and disrespectful, nor are they. On this occasion, an address by Ambassador Mamedov to a Toronto audience of business elites at the prestigiously influential Empire Club, the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress had bought a few tables at the lunch. During the speech and in the question-and-answer session following, they lobbed accusations and harsh questions at the ambassador.

Protester at Russian ambassador speech
A protester holds a sign as Russian Ambassador Georgiy Mamedov delivers a speech on 'Russia, Ukraine and Crimea - The Russian Perspective' to the Empire Club of Canada in Toronto Tuesday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

"Are you not embarrassed to represent a government that tells outright lies to the global community, to heads of state and to its own people ... and that provides safe harbour to murderers and thieves?", asked one Ukrainian-Canadian Congress member, while Paul Grod president of the congress, spoke of the ambassador's version of Ukrainian history as "fantastical". Definitely not admiringly so.

Mr. Mamedov skipped over the charge levelled by Ukraine and the United States that many of the pro-Russian armed militants refusing to surrender their hold on government buildings in eastern Ukraine just happen to be in point of fact, Russian soldiers. As for the disagreements between Canada and Russia that have resulted in the expulsions of diplomats, that was characterized dismissively as meaningless tit-for-tat.

The sanitized version of events, the description of the fraternal association between Ukraine and Russia, the intermingling of its people and customs, the inter-reliance on trade and industry, all mitigate for closer ties between the two countries in an aura of companionable friendship, certainly not the hostile attitude that Russia feels emanating from the current false leadership smacking of fascistic tendencies.

Matters were not helped when the Maidan protests that evolved around corruption became degraded toward revolution at the hands of extreme nationalists leaving the new regime with no constitutional foundation. The reality is, as Moscow sees it, the "only legitimate" leader is the one who was deposed. Matters came to a head when the regime moved to take away official language status for Russian.
A US state department presentation purports to show the involvement of Russian special forces in eastern Ukraine
A US state department presentation purports to show the involvement of Russian special forces in eastern Ukraine. Photograph: AP
"Then there was another revolution, in Crimea", he went on, to a chorus of scornful laughter from a segment of the audience. The annexation of Crimea, as far as Mr. Mamedov was concerned was just and reflective of history and heritage.

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"Save Us! We're on a Ship and I Think It's Sinking!"

The April 16 disaster off the southern coast of South Korea has struck a devastating blow to the country. An advanced, technological economy capable of producing goods and services for its population, proud of its collaborative advance with Western countries, yet incapable of mounting a rescue mission to save the lives of hundreds of vulnerable youth trapped in a vessel in frigid, unforgiving waters.
The orange sun begins to set above searchers and divers looking for bodies of passengers believed trapped in the sunken ferry near Jindo, south of Seoul. Photo / AP.
The orange sun begins to set above searchers and divers looking for bodies of passengers believed trapped in the sunken ferry near Jindo, south of Seoul. Photo / AP.
There has been a slight comparison with the sinking of a ferry in the Inside Passage off British Columbia where the Queen of the North hit a rock and sank rapidly with two deaths as a result. The water in the area is cold and considered treacherous; it is an isolated area. The mariner navigating the vessel in 2006 when it ran aground and sank was sentenced to four years' imprisonment for criminal negligence after a routine turn was missed causing a collision with a remote island.

Although that ferry had a capacity of 700 passengers and 150 cars, there were, on that occasion, only 101 passengers on board. But they all survived under extremely adverse conditions, with the exception of the two passengers who vanished to their death. As in the April 16 South Korean disaster, the captain of the Queen of the North was not on the bridge at the time of the accident. Winds gusted to 75 km/hr. The ship sank in an hour and passengers were evacuated into lifeboats.

In contrast, the Sewol's captain, Lee Joon-seok's judgement was to instruct the hundreds of teens from a single high school to remain where they were, not to go up on deck where they might have been saved. Over three-quarters of the 323 students on board the ferry are dead or missing. Almost two-thirds of the remaining 153 people aboard survived the sinking. Corpses are being steadily recovered since the week-end with low visibility and strong currents lifted.

Transcripts between the ship and shore related the uncertainty of the crew and particularly that of the captain, as to the correct course of action to take. An astonishing state of affairs. Where there were insufficient numbers of life jackets to be distributed, and some crew members surrendered their own to passengers without them. And lifeboats were not launched and passengers evacuated into them. But if the hundreds of young people had been assembled on deck they might all be alive now.

One transcript revealed a ship, Doola Ace, had been three kilometres distant from the Sewol, a mere eleven minutes after the distress call came in from the bridge. The Doola Ace was instructed to assist in a rescue. Twelve minutes later the Doola Ace reported the ferry wasn't in the process of evacuating its passengers. "We cannot move alongside if people don't evacuate", said the Doola Ace.

In another five minutes it radioed back again to say it was "right in front" of the Sewol, and still waiting to see any passengers it could evacuate from the ship; no one appeared on the deck. When the shore informed the ship once again to get its passengers up on deck, the bridge came back with the word that the captain had not yet made his final decision.

Park Hye-son, 16, an aspiring television screenwriter. Now dead, along with hundreds of her high-school peers. Her mother described how occasionally she and her daughter exchanged harsh words. Her memory haunts her with the time her daughter yelled, "I just want to die", and Lim Son-mi responded to her daughter: "Then why don't you go and die?"

In this Monday, April 21, 2014 photo, Lim Son-mi, 50, who works at a daycare center in Ansan, speaks during an interview in Jindo, South Korea. Her daughter Park Hye-son is among the 302 people dead or missing in last week’s South Korean ferry disaster. She said her 16-year-old daughter Hye-son wanted to be a television screenwriter. But Lim’s wages from working at a daycare center meant she didn’t have enough money to send her younger daughter to the writing academy she’d wanted to attend.
In this Monday, April 21, 2014 photo, Lim Son-mi, 50, who works at a daycare center in Ansan, speaks during an interview in Jindo, South Korea. Her daughter Park Hye-son is among the 302 people dead or missing in last week’s South Korean ferry disaster. She said her 16-year-old daughter Hye-son wanted to be a television screenwriter. But Lim’s wages from working at a daycare center meant she didn’t have enough money to send her younger daughter to the writing academy she’d wanted to attend.      AP Photo/Gillian Wong

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Power Nixing Power

"The shale became a lifesaver and a lifeline for a lot of working families. It has created more work for our business. There's jobs here for the first time in many, many years. Legitimate, good-paying jobs."
Dennis Martire, mid-Atlantic regional manager, Laborers' International Union, U.S.

"I've probably worked 15 jobs, and none of them nearly as stable as this one, or nearly as interesting. It's definitely changed the way I see my future. I see this as long-term employment."
Amy Dague, Wheeling, West Virginia

"The unions are powerful and influential. I understand the dynamic at play. It feels fairly short-sighted. This could leave the same sort of legacy as coal."
David Masur, director, Penn Environment
Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Mégantic, Que., Saturday, July 6, 2013.
Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Mégantic, Que., Saturday, July 6, 2013.     Photograph by: Paul Chiasson, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Amy Dague of Wheeling, West Virginia is working for a pipeline construction and maintenance company. She's more than content with the opportunity her year-old job has given her for independence and job security. Environmental groups are not pleased, not one iota. They cringe at the very mouthing of fracking as the new release mechanism for America's vast stores of gas and oil.

They see the Marcellus and Utica shale fields with their rich abundance of natural gas and oil lying deep underground in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia where over 6,000 new wells have been drilled in the past five years as a repetitive struggle reflecting that of their battle over the Keystone XL pipeline. Over which green groups and major unions have staked out opposing sides.
The Cowboy And Indian Alliance Kicks Off Week Of Protests Against The Keystone XL Pipeline
Native American tribal leaders host a traditional opening ceremony to begin a horseback ride as part of a demonstration against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline at the U.S. Capitol Reflecting Pool on the National Mall April 22, 2014 in Washington, DC. As part of its "Reject and Protect" protest, the Cowboy and Indian Alliance is organizing a weeklong series of actions by farmers, ranchers and tribes to show their opposition to the pipeline. (Getty

David Masur, for one -- and he is one with a multitude clamouring behind him for the U.S. administration to pay heed -- feels government and industry should invest more and create jobs through expanding wind and solar power. Biofuels like corn have just recently been given a partial thumbs-down for their worse-than-oil carbon emissions. Wind and solar have been proving to be not quite as efficiently useful as had been hoped.

And nor do the environmentalists swoon over energy provision through nuclear power. But it is Canadian 'dirty' oil in particular they gnash their teeth over in frustrated fury that there might be a chance that President Obama might give it the long-coveted green light to proceed with the building of the pipeline. Volatile fuels without the pipeline will continue to move via freight train option, a less safe alternative than pipeline.

It continues to move because nothing will stop the juggernaut of natural fuel exploitation to satisfy the needs of industry and the production, travel and shipping requirements of an industrialized economy. The U.S. imports more gas and oil from Canada than from any other single source, but a large amount of crude oil from Venezuela, along with a reduced amount of oil from the Gulf States. The United States' carbon footprint is huge, thanks largely to its coal-belching chimneys.

According to The New York Times, Canada makes hardly a dent in the global carbon-emissions issue. Statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency indicate that global emissions come in at 32.6-billion metric tons. China's output is the largest of any one country, at 8.7-billion, leaving the U.S. second at 5.5-billion. Coal-driven electric power plants were accountable, in 2011 for 2.8-billion tonnes, automobiles, 1.9-billion in the U.S.

And Canada? Total emissions for the year 2011 came to 0.6-billion tonnes. Estimated emissions annually from the 830,000 barrels of oil expected to move through Keystone XL should the pipeline eventually become a reality would amount to 18.7-million tonnes, an amount scarcely noticeable within the larger picture of worldwide emissions, let alone that of China's total or of the United States' carbon emissions.

American Republicans and some Democrats consider the pipeline to be a done deal, something that should logically not be in question. The thousands of construction jobs alone provide a convincing argument for its completion. American labour unions are champing at the bit, while environmental groups are hysterically trying to burn the bit.

Considering the newly-strained relations with a conflict-roiled Middle East and an irredentist Russia, either of which would be happy to issue an economic warning, a slap of political resentment, a crippling blow to the American economy, the outright reasonableness of acquiescing to the building of the pipeline, and a closer tie-in with Canada over the energy sector might seem a foregone conclusion.

It would be a hasty one, however, since it doesn't appear to be in the cards under the Obama administration, alert to the hue and cry raised by the very demographics that helped put Barack Obama into power.

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Hamas and Fatah unveil Palestinian reconciliation deal

BBC News online -- 23 April 2014
Fatah and Hamas officials meet at the Hamas prime minister's office in Gaza (23 April 2014) Fatah and Hamas officials said they planned to form an interim unity government within five weeks
Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have announced a reconciliation deal, saying they will seek to form a unity government in the coming weeks.

It comes as the peace talks between President Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel near collapse.

Hamas and Fatah split violently in 2007. Previous reconciliation agreements have never been implemented.

Israel's prime minister said Mr Abbas would have to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas.

"You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace; so far he hasn't done so," warned Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Abbas sent a delegation to Gaza for talks earlier this week.

The latest deal was announced on Wednesday at a news conference by representatives of Fatah and Hamas, an Islamist group designated a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the EU.

The factions said they planned to form an interim unity government within five weeks and hold parliamentary elections within six months.

"This is the good news we tell our people," Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas-led government in Gaza, told reporters. "The era of division is over."

The two factions have been at odds since Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in 2006, ousted forces loyal to Mr Abbas and Fatah in Gaza during clashes in 2007 and set up a rival government.

Shortly after the reconciliation deal was announced, five people were injured in an Israeli air strike in northern Gaza, Palestinian medics said.

Israel said it had targeted militants preparing to fire rockets. On Monday, seven rockets were launched from the territory into southern Israel.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Changing Horses

"We have to accept and the schools with a majority of Muslim parents have to accept -- as they do if they are Hindu, Sikh, Jewish or Christian -- that we also live within the United Kingdom."
"Alongside values that are religiously based there has to be a clear understanding that this is the U.K., and there are a set of values, that are indeed Christian based, which permeate our sense of citizenship."
Jack Straw, former Labour Cabinet minister

"My daughter tried to bring in an Easter egg for a friend and one boy grabbed it and smashed it against a wall."
"Another girl of about 11 brought in a little Easter bunny toy that she wanted to show her friends. They grabbed that off her too. All talk of Christmas and other non-Muslim festivals is banned. The teachers just turn a blind eye to it."
"Older boys are going around in these morality squads telling off girls if they do not wear veils."
Mother of student -- fearful of reprisals, unnamed
 "Wider, more comprehensive action is needed. These allegations need either to be substantiated and firm action taken, or to be shown to be baseless."
Peter Clarke, former head of Scotland Yard's Counter Terrorism Command

"If you bring someone in badged counter-terrorism then the interpretation of the situation is pretty obvious. The big Muslim community out there in Birmingham are going to feel a little uneasy that the person that Michael Gove has brought in is a counter-terrorist expert and not from an education background."
Albert Bore, chairman, local city council, Birmingham
Precisely, claims Tahir Alam, hardline Muslim Council of Britain activist. Himself accused of representing the "Trojan Horse" plot's ringleader, denying any role in the attempted and ongoing Islamicization of Britain, diminishing its culture, the celebration of its Christian heritage, the insistence of its universal law, he characterizes the investigation as a "witch-hunt", and the reasons for it, a "fabrication".

Birmingham City Council has stated confirmation that it was in the process of investigating 25 schools and a former school principal, Ian Kershaw, has been appointed to the investigation as the Council's chief advisor. Children who brought Easter eggs to class had the misfortune of having them 'confiscated' by "Muslim morality squads" patrolling Birmingham schools, according to press stories of events they followed up distressing to the children.

One of the students spoke of her experience to her mother, and her mother spoke to the Daily Express, informing the paper that groups of older students had been forcefully claiming the eggs in the hands of younger children, while teachers simply ignored the situation. Six schools in Birmingham have been implicated in what has been named as a "Trojan Horse" schemed by extremist Muslims to "Islamize" secular state eduction.

No mere conjecture this, the scheme has been replete with the illegal segregation of students according to gender, and discrimination being practised against non-Muslims, now in the minority status in their country of birth where an immigrant Muslim population has become numerous enough that some among them feel confident enough in those numbers to claim exceptionalism from the norm and to instill fear and caution among non-Muslims for fear of violent retribution.

A local Labour MP, Khalid Mahmood, explained that a small group of individuals was busy attempting to alter the ethos of schools by stealth. And in some instances, not so stealthy at all. The West Midlands Police has been brought in to begin the criminal investigation of a situation that began several months earlier. Michael Wilshaw, chief of the Office for Standards in Education is heading an inquiry to report to the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

And it is Mr. Gove's appointment of Peter Clarke, formerly head of Scotland Yard's Counter Terrorism Command to investigate intimidation claims that has raised a furore, with the chief constable of West Midlands Police describing the appointment as "desperately unfortunate". A decision, he claims, that would "inevitably draw  unwarranted conclusions from his former role as national co-ordinator for counter terrorism."

Seen, however, to be warranted.

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Taking Righteous Umbrage

"Being more confident about our status as a Christian country does not somehow involve doing down other faiths or passing judgement on those with no faith at all."
"Many people tell me it is easier to be Jewish or Muslim in Britain than in a secular country precisely because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths, too."
British Prime Minister David Cameron, article, Church Times

David Cameron and the Bible
David Cameron. Photograph: John Stillwell/AFP/Getty Images
"We respect the Prime Minister's right to his religious beliefs and the fact that they affect his own life as a politician. However, we wish to object to his repeated mischaracterising of our country as a 'Christian country' and the negative consequences for our politics and society that this view engenders."
"Although it is right to recognize the contribution made by many Christians to social action, it is wrong to try to exceptionalise their contribution when it is equalled by British people of different beliefs."
"It needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, who -- as polls show -- do not want religion or religious identities to be actively prioritised by their elected Government."
(signed) by 55 public figures, inclusive of writers Philip Pullman, Ken Follettt, Sir Terry Pratchett; Maureen Duffy; philosophers A.C. Grayling; Nobel Prize scientists, Sir John Sulston, Sir Harold Kroto, Prof. Steve Jones; comedians Tony Hawks, Richard Herring, Tim Minchin.

Great Britain, the sceptered Isle, has always been a fundamentally Christian country, first as a Catholic, then an Anglican nation; the Queen of England is head of the Church of England. Christianity has informed the heritage and the culture of the country. The sanctimony of the letter written by the 55 offended public figures was an illustration of left-wing claptrap, ultra-sensitive to the multicultural face of modern Britain.

Immigration has indeed altered the religious makeup of the country, as it welcomed for inclusion into its society a multitude of peoples from across the Globe, with a good many of them representing people from Britain's former colonial era. The signatories, in their condemnatory letter claim that aside from a "narrow constitutional sense", no evidence exists in justification of describing Britain as Christian in its religious character.

Huffing and puffing in indignation and railing against reality will not serve to make it less a reality; it serves only to illustrate how ridiculous people can be in bending themselves into pretzel-shape to gratify and endear themselves to those they perceive as underdogs or disadvantaged or simply minorities whom they themselves aspire to haul into an atmosphere of warm inclusiveness. And this attitude serves admirably to assure malign elements that have infiltrated Britain they're on the right track.

It's not just that Muslims have a perfect right to practise their religion just as anyone else should, in a free and equal society. The facts on the ground, however, point to the influence of numbers, and the numbers are growing, steadily, both by birth and through immigration as Britain's Muslim population steadily increases, and the universal laws of England are infiltrated by accommodating Sharia law, and Muslims insist on their 'rights' as Muslims, not as British civilians.

For Muslims the old adage of "when in Rome do as the Romans do" holds no attraction whatever, even as a civil courtesy. All countries value their heritage and their customs, their laws and their civil rights, and when the latter two are missing, and people see the advantage of migrating where they will be assured civil rights and equality under the law, they bring their heritage and their customs with them, usually to meld into the prevailing culture, but not necessarily.

With Muslims, the 'not-necessarily' option prevails, because in Islam it is not an option it is a requirement of the faith. And so a gradual adulteration of the welcoming culture and social system takes place and more and more attempts are made by well-meaning and ultimately naive people to satisfy the 'comfort levels' of the immigrants until the creeping upheaval of all that is recognizable transforms the welcoming society. And so it is with Islam.

Increase: By 2011 the Muslim population had grown to 2.7 million people or 4.8 per cent of the population
Increase: By 2011 the Muslim population had grown to 2.7 million people or 4.8 per cent of the population

With its clerics fond of preaching in their mosques that the time will come when Britain will be Sharia-led and an Islamist country. New statistics reveal that one in ten children is born to a Muslim family. Mohammed is the most common boy's name in parts of Britain. "It certainly is a startling figure. We have had substantial immigration of Muslims for a long time", explained David Coleman, Professor of Demography at the University of Oxford.

"Continuing immigration from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India has been added to by new immigration from African countries and from the Middle East. Birth rates of Muslims of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin remain quite high, although falling. There seem to be very low levels of falling away from religion among Muslims", an wry understatement if ever there was one.

Census data from 2011 show the number of people in England and Wales describing themselves as Christian fell from about 72% in 2001 to just over 59% representing a decline of 4.1-million people. There are 136 Muslim schools in Britain, 125 in the private sector, according to the Department for Education. A total of 1,600 mosques exist now in Britain. 
The large number of young Muslim children, according to Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain owes to the confidence Muslims place in Britain which they see as encouraging them to bring up their families there. "I just wouldn't want our fellow citizens to be alarmed by an increase in number", said he. 
"This generation is very much British. They feel very much this is their home. It's not about Britain becoming a Muslim country but about Britain enabling the practise of Islam, which gives confidence to the vast majority of Muslims. It's a great country to regard as our home." As long, that is, as no one in authority in Britain exercises the unforgivable effrontery to claim it to be a basically Christian country, culture, nation. For the time being.

"We wrote this letter as a result not just of one recent speech and article but of a disturbing trend", said Professor Al-Khalili, an Iraqi-born physicist, author and president of the British Humanist Association. Mr. Cameron's 'intervention', he stated, was part of a "disturbing trend". That disturbing trend being for a country to proclaim itself proud of its heritage.

Representing an abhorrent assault on the sensibilities of incoming cultures and religions?

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Praising Evil

"The fruit is good. The fruit is extraordinarily good. It is excellent."
"Can we say the tree is bad then? Purely from a logical standpoint, I would say no. I absolve Father Maciel. I do not judge him."
Cardinal Franc Rode, prefect, Congregation for Religious, Vatican City
Sex abuse scandal stains John Paul II's legacy
Pope John Paul II gives his blessing to father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ order, in this file photo. John Paul and his top advisers, like a succession of papacies beforehand, turned a blind eye to evidence that Maciel was a con artist, drug addict, pedophile and religious fraud. Sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church mar John Paul's reputation.  Photograph by: Plinio Lepri, The Associated Press
This was Pope John Paul's prefect in 2008, of the Congregation for Religious, speaking to Legion priests of a man he had absolved of his sins. That man who was so glowingly praised was revered as the founder of the Legion of Christ order, a pious man, an exemplary organizer, an astute businessman on behalf of the Roman Catholicism. This man was Father Marcial Maciel.

Who also incidentally was a well-known drug addict, child molester, a man of faith in good standing in the Vatican who was known to sexually abuse his seminarians, and a man who fathered three children; so much for the valour of celibacy. He founded the order in 1941, and seven years later the Holy See was in receipt of documentation from Vatican-appointed envoys and bishops in Mexico and Spain perturbed by the legitimacy given his ordination.

The documents spoke to Marcial Maciel's "totalitarian" characteristics, and of the 'spiritual violations' of the young seminarians in his care. The documents make clear that the Holy See was well advanced in its awareness of the man's drug, sexual abuse, and financial improprieties by 1956, when an investigation was ordered and he was suspended for a two-year period to give him the opportunity to seek drug-abuse counselling.

Still, the Vatican did nothing to remove him from office. He had had ample time and inclination to manoeuvre trusted Legion priests loyal to him into key Vatican offices, and he cultivated close relations with Vatican cardinals, Mexican bishops and Catholics of the wealthy social set. The orthodoxy of the Legion priests and Marcial Maciel's own capability in attracting new vocations and donations cemented the Holy See's patience with the man.

In 1994, John Paul gave praise to Maciel, describing him as an "efficacious guide to youth". John Paul's elite advisers were fierce in their support of the man, comfortable in believing that accusations levelled against him were "calumnies" attempting to blemish a saintly man. The Vatican archives are rife with documents citing praise of Maciel from influential bishops; they were leaked online in 2012 by some of his Mexican victims.

Two years from the time the Vatican eventually sentenced Marcial Maciel to a lifetime of penance and prayer for his sexual abuse forced on his seminarians, he was still being praised; when Cardinal Angelo Sodano in 2008 second in authority to the Pope, gave high praise to his spirit and the "humility" he had graced the situation with, in stepping aside.

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Inconceivable, Opaque Motivation

"We didn't need to fill in a load of paperwork last time I landed in Normandy. In fact, I didn't even need my passport. The French have never done anything on this scale before so it's been quite a shock. Most of the veterans are in wheelchairs or need walking frames -- so it's not as if they present any kind of security threat at all."
Ken Smith, 89, D-Day, Normandy veteran
The National D-Day Memorial

Britain and France have always viewed one another as competitors, sourly regarding one the other as inferior, and the citizens of each country excel in making nasty aspersions casting the other in a dim light. Traditionally, British cooking has been a matter of great hilarity to the food-fastidious French, and language is another touchy issue, with English being the lingua franca of a great swath of the globe even as a second language, leaving French to languish in second place.

Each had imperialist designs on the rest of the world, seeking hegemony and trade and leaving behind them a legacy of language and customs and bureaucracy that still tie their former colonies to the mother-country that dominated them for centuries. But when France has been in trouble, invaded by  hostile forces, Britain has usually gone to its rescue. As it did, distinguishing itself by its sacrifices during both World Wars.

Veterans of the First World War are long gone, but many still cling to their memories in their old age in Britain and look forward to yearly commemorating D-Day in France where they fought so bravely. Nine hundred members of the British Normandy Veterans' Association had planned to accompany thousands of others returning to the Normandy battleground for the June remembrance of the Normandy landings.
The National D-Day Memorial

Most of the veterans are in their 90s, reminiscing among others with their common experience is a legacy heritage they value. But this year, French authorities have given warning anyone without an official pass will be barred from entering the Carentan peninsula. The barricades will be manned, and an "anti-congestion" cordon will be erected around Calvados, Manche and Orne for traffic control and to meet security requirements.

Security requirements, against hordes of 90-year-old veterans whose country came to the aid of France? This year's is scheduled to be the last anniversary gathering that the Veterans' Association will recognize; it plans to disband in November. As secretary of the York branch of the Association, Mr. Smith, 89,  had to fill in 40 forms for those making the trip, given warning if the forms were not returned on time, no one would be permitted entry.

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