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.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Is Africa the new frontier of global terrorism?

  •  hours ago in Middle East
  • have ‘long way to go’ in lobbying West
    13 hours ago in Media

Is Africa the new frontier of global terrorism?

The scene of an explosion near the presidential palace in Somalia's capital Mogadishu. (File photo: Reuters)
A series of deadly attacks in East, North and West Africa has put Islamist militancy on the continent under the spotlight, raising the question of whether it is turning into the new frontier of international terrorism.

Kenya, Somalia, Algeria, Mali and Nigeria were the scenes of major terrorist attacks in 2013 – prompting leaders at this month’s Africa-Arab summit to pledge their commitment to tackling the problem.

Somalia’s al-Shabaab militant group, a hardline offshoot of the Islamic Courts Union that was removed from power in 2006 by the Ethiopian army, attacked on Sept. 21 the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing 61 civilians and six Kenyan soldiers. Four of the attackers were killed by security forces.

Al-Shabaab said the attack was retribution for Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia.

The Westgate atrocity was the second time that al-Shabab struck outside Somalia. In July 2010, it carried out suicide bombings that killed 74 people who had gathered to watch the screening of the FIFA World Cup final at two locations in the Ugandan capital Kampala.

The militant group said it was retaliating against Uganda’s participation in the African Union mission in Somalia.
Women carrying children run for safety as armed police hunt gunmen who went on a shooting spree in Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi. (File photo: Reuters)

Al-Qaeda, the Masked Ones and Ansar Dine

In North Africa, a major terrorist attack took place on Jan. 16 when the al-Qaeda-linked Mulathameen Brigade (the “Masked Ones”) attacked the Tigantourine gas facility near Ain Amenas, Algeria.

The group, led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, held more than 800 hostages in the facility. After four days, the Algerian army launched an offensive to rescue them. About 39 foreigners and 29 militants were killed, while 792, including 107 foreigners, were freed.

The group demanded that Washington release Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as “The Blind Sheikh,” and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani female with a PhD in neuroscience jailed in the United States on terrorism charges.

Belmokhtar, an Algerian who fought in Afghanistan and in his country’s civil war in the 1990s, previously masterminded a series of kidnappings in the Sahel.

Before establishing the “Masked Ones” in 2012, he was a leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which was formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.

Under AQIM’s umbrella, he kidnapped seven hostages - including four French nationals - from a uranium mine in Arlit, Niger, in Sept. 2010, and four European tourists in Mali in Jan. 2009.

Islamist militancy in the Sahel increased following the collapse of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in Libya in 2011. His Tuareg allies returned home to northern Mali with sophisticated weaponry to wage war against the Malian government.

By April 2012, the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) took control of much of northern Mali, and declared an independent state on April 6.

Newly-formed Islamist militant group Ansar Dine, led by Iyad Ag Ghaly - a former Malian Tuareg diplomat and a close ally of Qaddafi - initially supported the MNLA.

However, as soon as government forces were driven out from northern Mali, Ansar Dine turned against the MNLA. By July 2012, the latter had lost much territory to the Islamists, who began their push to capture the Malian capital Bamako.

It was at this time that the French government and regional powers sensed the danger of Mali coming under complete Islamist control. Following a request from the Malian government, the French army began an operation against Islamists on Jan. 11 this year. One month later, most territory was taken back.

Northern Mali has remained restive since, with remnants of Ansar Dine and other al-Qaeda affili
ates carrying out occasional attacks, the most recent of which was the killing of two French journalists in the city of Kidal.

Elsewhere on the continent, Islamist militancy has been very active in West Africa, particularly Nigeria, where Boko Haram is fighting to establish a “pure” Islamist state based on shariah law.
The group has killed hundreds of people in attacks on churches, schools, outdoor parties and military posts.

Most recently, it killed 40 students in an attack on the College of Agriculture in Gujba. In July, it killed 42 people in an attack on a school in northern Nigeria. In May, more than 22 people were killed in a raid on a military post, a prison, and a police station in Bama.

An image from a video footage by security cameras inside the Westgate shopping mall during the attack.(File photo: Reuters)

Boko Haram, al-Shabab connection

U.S. Africa Command Gen. Carter F. Ham told the New York Times in 2011 that he was “greatly concerned” that Boko Haram was seeking to connect with al-Qaeda-linked groups in North Africa.
Noman Benothman, a former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LFG), who joined jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan and fought to overthrow Qaddafi’s regime in the 1980s, told Al Arabiya that members of Boko Haram had travelled to Somalia, and were trained by current leaders of al-Shabab on how to use explosives and suicide bombers.

His information, he said, was based on a combination of intelligence and personal experience as a former militant.

While his group was fighting against Qaddafi, Benothman moved between Afghanistan, Iran and Sudan. He later denounced militancy and travelled to Britain, where he now works as a strategic analyst at the government-funded Middle East think-tank Quilliam.

Terrorism rising in Africa?

Terrorism is rising in Africa following the collapse of the regimes in Libya and Tunisia, said Benothman.

“The people who have taken the leadership of security services, including the intelligence and defense, have no clue whatsoever about the issue of terrorism. It’s going to take them at least 10 or 15 years to learn how to fight terrorism,” Benothman said.

He cited Ansar al-Shariya in Tunisia, which was established in 2011 and quickly gained the capability to engage the army.

“In order to determine whether terrorism is rising in the region or not, we need to look at whether there are new recruits, whether their capabilities have become stronger. The answer is yes indeed,” Benothman said.

The French intervention in Mali succeeded in retaking the country from militants, but has led them to disperse throughout the region, now posing a threat to many countries, he added.

“Africa in the very near future will be the main theater of counter-terrorism in the world, not Pakistan, Afghanistan or Yemen. Even from an international perspective, Western governments expect Africa to become the holster of terrorism in the world,” Benothman said.

Africa Command spokesman Fred Harrell disagrees, telling Al Arabiya News: “Africa is too large and diverse a continent for such a sweeping assessment. While you often hear about serious security problems in pockets, most of the continent is actually doing well.

We’re optimistic that our African partners will succeed in their efforts to build a more secure and prosperous Africa.”

He described al-Shabab, Boko Haram and AQIM as “transnational threats” that “endanger the safety and stability of Africa.”

Countering these threats “is in our common U.S. and African interests,” Harrell said.

Rescue workers carry the coffin of one of the hostages killed during a hostage crisis in a gas plant at the hospital in In Amenas, Algeria. (File photo: Reuters)

‘Classical jihadism’

Salma Belaala, an Algerian scholar specializing in North African Islamic movements, also played down the rise of Islamist militancy, telling Al Arabiya that terrorist attacks in Africa this year were simply the continuation of a longtime activity she called “classical jihadism.”

Belaala draws a distinction between different militant groups in North Africa. Belmokhtar’s “Masked Ones” are more “pragmatic” than the traditional AQIM. The former’s goal is to kidnap, blackmail, and take ransoms as a way of exercising influence on regional and Western governments.

“AQIM’s creedal ideology is: no ceasefire, no negotiation, and no peace. Its objective is to establish an Islamic state. Belmokhtar doesn’t seek an Islamic state, he wants power,” she said.

In November this year, Belmokhtar released four French citizens whom he had kidnapped in 2010, amid reports - denied by the French government - that a $28-million ransom was paid for their release.

A few days later, two French journalists were killed in northern Mali. AQIM is suspected of being the perpetrator.

As for Ansar Dine, which fought against the Malian government alongside Tuareg nationalist rebels, Belaala said its leaders have a military and secular background, having worked previously for Qaddafi.

“They’ve become Islamists by interest, trying to use Islamism to establish a state in Azawad with the help of the money and weapons obtained from Libya after Qaddafi’s fall,” she said.

However, despite the difference in motivation and strategic objectives, all militant groups in Africa share a common method of extreme violence, Belaala added.

Last Update: Saturday, 30 November 2013 KSA 14:58 - GMT 11:58

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Widespread Horror

"Traditional harmony among communities has been replaced by polarization and widespread horror. The population is enduring suffering beyond imagination. 
"The Central African Republic is becoming a breeding ground for extremists and armed groups in a region that is already suffering from conflict and instability. If this situation is left to fester, it may develop into a religious and ethnic conflict with long-standing consequences, even a civil war that could spread into neighbouring countries."
Jan Eliasson, United Nations deputy secretary-general
French President Francois Hollande, right, and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reviews the troops during a military ceremony, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, at the Invalides in Paris. France will send 1,000 troops to Central African Republic under an expected U.N.-backed mission to keep growing chaos at bay, the defense minister said Tuesday boosting the French military presence in Africa for the second time this year. ((AP Photo/Patrick Kovarik, Pool) )

The Central African Republic was a French colony until 1960. France now views it as being "on the verge of genocide". Over a half million of its 4.6-million population have become refugees, forced by conflict to abandon their homes, their farms, all their belongings and the life that has sustained them up until the present. Sounds like a reprise of Sudan in Darfur.

Central African Republic crisis -- African Union Troops

As a result France has announced a troop surge, while warning at the United Nations that the country was "descending into chaos", and in so doing "becoming a breeding ground for extremists". France has committed to tripling the number of its soldiers deployed to the Republic where fighting between Muslims and Christians has become endemic and dreadful in its consequences.

Former Muslim rebels who placed their man in power after removing the former president have refused to disarm, and are rampaging through mostly Christian areas of the country. France judges that its current 400 French forces are incapable of meeting the challenge in the country, planning to boost its numbers by an additional thousand soldiers to remain there for "up to six months".

Their role, according to Jean-Yves Le Drian, France's defence minister, would be a supportive one. The existing but lamentably ineffective African peacekeeping mission is to be the beneficiary of the increased French forces. "We cannot have a country fall apart like that. There is the violence, massacres and humanitarian chaos. It will be a short mission to allow calm and stability to return", said Mr. Le Drian.

FILE - In this Friday, March 22, 2013 file photo provided by the French Army Communications Audio Visual Office, French soldiers arrive at Bangui airport in the Central African Republic. France will send 1,000 troops to the Central African Republic under an expected U.N.-backed mission to keep growing chaos at bay, the defense minister said Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, boosting the French military presence in Africa for the second time this year. ((AP Photo/Elise Foucaud, ECPAD, File))
The UN Security Council was informed by Mr. Eliasson that it should plan to dispatch a UN peacekeeping force of at least six thousand troops to help cope with the five separate rebel groups that formed to march their alliance on Bangui to oust Francois Bozize, the former present, installing in his stead Michael Djotodia, in March.

Mercenaries from neighbouring Chad and Sudan are among the Muslim fighters. All of the combined militias have refused to surrender their weapons. They stand accused of murder, rape, mass looting and forcing villagers to abandon their homes by threats and by force. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has characterized the situation to be a "total breakdown of law and order".

In response to the Muslim assaults against Christian villagers, vigilante Christian militias have been formed, forced to protect themselves and fight back. Although roughly half of the Central African Republic's population is Christian and only 15% are Muslim, the psychopathy of fanaticism has infected the Muslims, slopping over from the conflict in Mali, in Somalia, in Tunisia, in Sudan, and taking inspiration from the terrorism inspired by the violently faithful toward jihad.

"The International community must take action before it is too late to ensure that CAR isn't catapulted into the international spotlight because it became a human catastrophe", cautioned Salil Shetty, head of Amnesty International. Easier said than done. Is there anywhere a more dysfunctional religious ideology than Islam with its imprecations called down upon others, its shrill calls to jihad?

French soldiers pictured on patrol in Bangui on October 23, 2013, are to receive reinforcements under a new agreement between France and the Central African Republic
The international community is being urged to save humanity from the slavering mad dogs of Islam intent on converting the world body to surrender to the only true religion. The trouble with this is that the faithful within Islam are at war with one another as well. Others may be exhorted to embrace Islam, but there is a very particular Islam that is the genuine one, all others to be shunned as heretical. And so, because of sectarian divisions, Muslims slaughter Muslims.

And in their spare time they turn their malevolence toward non-Muslims. Christians being particularly available, since most Jews living in those countries have long since been either pogromed out of existence or programmed to flee for their lives.

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The Incendiary Vendetta of the Press

"Instead of trying to "explain" the situation to Senate-weary Canadians -- even for the purposes of denouncing it -- Mr. Harper seems to have taken it as a given that it wasn't worth trying. And Mr. Wright, on Mr. Harper's behalf, set off in pursuit of The Perfect Outcome -- no matter how unlikely success was, and no matter how much bigger a mess he might create in order to get there.
This is what happens, perhaps, when openness and accountability (to borrow a phrase) are the last resort. In that sense, it's the perfect Conservative scandal: a fitting outcome for a party that has become everything it once hated; a party that wouldn't trust Canadians to cook a frozen lasagna."
Chris Selley, journalist, National Post
Apart from the pathetic allusion to 'trust' exemplified by a frozen lasagna, sometimes the pursuit of revealing the truth and reality is so fraught with the very real danger of a resolutely and intrinsically honest person's words being turned inside out and their otherwise-sound explanations completely distorted, it simply isn't worth the bother.

In the interests of fairness and giving anyone the opportunity to explain themselves, one automatically assumes innocence, before screeching "guilty as charged!" in civil discourse.

The problem here stems from the fact that in just about every instance news reporters and journalists are so biased against Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a man of principle and trustworthiness because of their disgruntlement that he will not play their game of easy availability for publishable quotes at their convenience and not his, that they celebrate each and every opportunity to exercise a distinctly unaromatic penchant for portraying him as other than what he actually is.

Three Conservative-appointed Senators and one (former) Liberal Senator have been found egregiously wanting in their dedication to the public weal, in their zealous and unethical expense claims to the Senate of Canada, milking the taxpayer for whatever they thought they could get away with, in expense and travel claims, per diems and housing allowances and anything else they could conceivably charge to the Senate's accounts to enrich themselves.

Their defence is that they assumed they were doing nothing wrong in their interpretation of loose Senate rules, designed with the understanding that all those named in trust to the Senate on the basis of past performance reflecting good citizenship and fealty to Canadian values would most surely reflect in their having respect for the responsibilities settling on their shoulders, among which would be an obligation not to rip off the public.

Mr. Harper is a man of strong ethical and moral principles. He has amply demonstrated those qualities time and again. His dislike for the media is obvious, and like others holding high political office before him, his dislike for news hounds has created a gulf between the Parliamentary press and the office of the Prime Minister, particularly Mr. Harper himself. Their resentment of his standoffishness to their professionalism which he obviously finds wanting in general, has led to a fairly unified striving among the media to cast aspersions, suspicion and blame on whatever he does.

The general public has responded to the extremely bad press and the accusations levelled or implied against the Prime Minister by echoing it in large degree. Most people do have a tendency to believe what they read, rather than use their intelligence to consider the source or weigh the evidence. A general aura of suspicion and dissatisfaction has resulted from all of this.

The political opposition has benefited hugely from this state of affairs. Their aspirations to take the place of the current office holder in the PMO are no secret

Before the issues now before the public took fire about Senate-ethics revelations, there was an announcement by the Auditor-General that he had found the government was unable to track over $3-billion that had been apportioned in the aftermath of 9/11 to combat terrorism. That appealed hugely to the oppositions' opportunity to make mincemeat in their public denunciations of the Conservatives' governing competence.

How could $3-billion be mislaid, unaccounted for; where could it be?

When the Prime Minister was urged to comment on the matter, he did, and reasonably enough. "There is some lack of clarity", he said, to expressions of derision in the House of Commons from the opposition. Mr. Harper explained that the Auditor-General hadn't suggested that anything improper had taken place with the distribution, or not, of the funding in question. A problem, instead, existed of categorization and reporting of spending between departments.

In 2001 the then-governing Liberals allocated $7.7-billion in a budget for new public safety and anti-terror provisions. Over the following seven years, a total of $12.9-billion had been set aside for anti-terror measures -- across 35 government departments and agencies. Of that total, the Auditor-General had been unable to adequately trace $3.1-billion. And while Treasury Board officials stated there were likely simple explanations relating to the unaccounted money, they hadn't any details.

They have since conducted a painstaking six-month search whereby a team within Treasury Board has tracked the spending and reconstructed the full $12.9-billion in allocations. They are now capable of accounting for all of the spending: "It was a monumental piece of work", one official said. One that perhaps should have been undertaken in a routine manner before the Auditor-General had perused the records, but hadn't been.

A routine that must surely have been assumed would have taken place by the Prime Minister. He has a country to run, with all the complexities that enormous task would entail. He cannot, no one could conceivably be expected, let alone be capable of, having their finger on everything, to the very last detail. Yet his critics clamouring for blood, would have it so.

An example in the missing billions was $246-million transferred from Citizenship and Immigration to the new Canadian Border Services Agency, the funding not at the time identified as being involved in the Public Security and Anti-Terrorism initiative portfolio. Funding "lapsed" in other instances; not spent for the purpose for which it was allocated, then returned to general revenues.

The Canadian Air Transport Safety Authority returned $132.6- million, as an example, to general revenues which had been earmarked for anti-terror initiatives, but never used. In stark contrast, by the time the Conservatives had apportioned billions in stimulous spending, tracking of funding had been improved, leading the Auditor-General to view that multi-departmental spending a success, with no discrepancies.

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Christian Science Monitor

Does Iran nuclear deal pave way for Syria compromise? Not so fast.

What allowed Iran and world powers to reach an agreement was avoiding matters where interests diverge -- like Syria.

By Staff writer / November 25, 2013

Syrian government soldiers stand on their tank, in Jouret al-Shiyah neighborhood, in Homs, Syria, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013. The Syrian regime and rebels will hold their first peace talks on Jan. 22 in Geneva, in an attempt to halt the nearly 3-year-old civil war, the same city that the Iran nuclear talks were held in.   SANA/AP

There's been some speculation in the wake of an interim agreement between Iran, the US and others on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program that the thaw in relations could lead to progress on other matters of dispute, like the civil war in Syria.
Staff writer
Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.

Iran and six world powers agreed over the weekend on a deal to limit the Tehran regime’s nuclear program in exchange for a partial lifting of economic sanctions.Peace talks between the Syrian regime and rebels have been announced for Jan. 22 in Geneva, the same city that the nuclear talks were held in.But the key to understanding progress on Iran's nuclear program is this: There was a middle ground available that allowed everybody to get something that they wanted. For Iran and its new centrist President Hassan Rouhani, who took office a little over three months ago with a pledge of more openness to the world and a stronger economy, there is relief from sanctions that have taken a huge bite out of the Iranian economy. For the US, there is a chance of reassurance that an Iranian nuclear bomb isn't looming, and at the cheap price of diplomacy, rather than the dear and uncertain one of war.

While it's far too soon to predict where US-Iran relations will be a few years from now, and whether this is really the first step towards the true detente that many are hoping for, this remains a relationship built on each nation's view of its own interests. And when it comes to Syria, the interests of the US and Iran could not be more divergent.

Syria's civil war has become a proxy for Iranian and Saudi rivalry in the region. The Saudis are eager for the secular-leaning regime of Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the Alawite offshoot of Shiite Islam that the Saudi religious establishment views as an assault on the purity of Islam, to fall. They want Syria's next government to be dominated by Sunni Arabs that will at the very least tolerate the flow of money from Saudi donors to jihadi groups in Syria. The US has been tacitly backing Saudi Arabia's play (the Saudis are angry that the US isn't arming Syria's rebels, but the US is on board in public with the "Assad must go" position).

The Iranians, meanwhile, are sending money, guns, and military trainers to help Mr. Assad survive, since his government remains a rare friend in the Arab world and they fear a long-term hit to their regional interests if he falls.

In short, Iran would still see the defeat of Assad as a disaster that could have destabilizing consequences for its only other close Arab friend, Iraq. Saudi Arabia, and the US, meanwhile, would view Assad's survival as a disaster. That doesn't present much ground for compromise.

For the Syrians themselves, it's also hard to see how these planned so-called "Geneva II" talks (following "Geneva I" in the summer of 2012, which accomplished nothing) will change much. The rebels are not willing to compromise yet on Assad remaining in power. Assad is unwilling to go - and there are no signs that his regime is willing to jettison him in exchange for the survival of its core. And the "rebels" aren't really anything approaching a united group - not ideologically, not in terms of command and control, and certainly not in terms of visions for the future. The whole question of who will speak for the rebels at Geneva remains a minefield.

This has been the state of play for some time. I wrote in October of last year that United Nations Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's musings about cease-fires and common ground leading to a negotiated settlement should not be taken seriously. I think that's still pretty much the case:
Brahimi is apparently telling reporters that he hopes a temporary cease-fire around the holiday, which starts on Oct. 24, will form the basis for a negotiated settlement to the war.
If he really believes that he will be sorely disappointed. There are simply no grounds for a negotiated settlement at this point. The rebels will not accept the survival of Assad's Alawite dominated Baathist regime, nor will the foreign sponsors in the Gulf of the increasingly well-armed Sunni Islamist component of the rebellion. Perhaps Brahimi is hoping that Assad and the regime hard core will use the cease-fire to negotiate their own arrests and seizure of their assets? Or perhaps the rebels, after so much bloodshed and threats from the government to lay wasted to their whole families, will decide that the current dictatorship really isn't so bad and pack it in?
Just as there isn't much common ground between Iran and the US on Syria - there isn't much common ground to be found between the rebels and the regime. At least not yet. Nations and groups will carry on pursuing their interests.

This has long been the way of things. If the current six-month nuclear agreement with Iran leads to a more durable breakthrough - one that sees Iran not hemmed in by sanctions, and countries like the US not afraid of possible nuclear proliferation - that will be thanks to focusing on areas of common interest and not the ones of inevitable dispute.

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Christian Science Monitor

Why Israel sees ‘historic’ Iran nuclear deal as dangerous appeasement

While the deal freezes growth in Iran’s nuclear capabilities, Israel says it doesn’t curtail Tehran’s ability to create a nuclear bomb in short order.

By Staff writer / November 24, 2013

As European and American diplomats rejoice about successfully negotiating an interim Iran nuclear deal, heralding the "historic" agreement with handshakes and hugs, Israel is decidedly unimpressed.
Yes, the deal curbs any growth in enrichment or stockpiles of enriched uranium, and includes daily inspections of two key Iranian enrichment facilities. But it leaves largely untouched Israel’s greatest concern: Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon in short order.

“The ‘breakout’ possibility has not been negated and the time for breakout … has not been prolonged,” says Ephraim Asculai, a veteran of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, who estimates that it would take only four to six months for Iran to test a nuclear explosive device, with an actual bomb soon to follow.

As a nation that prides itself on understanding Middle Eastern mentalities better than Western countries, and which already feels the sting of Iranian military power from Tehran-backed militant groups on its borders such as Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel has consistently warned Western powers of the dangers of trusting Iranian words without actions to confirm Tehran’s sincerity.

A central fear behind this attitude is the European appeasement of Nazi Germany that ended in the death of 6 million Jews.

In a deal that echoes loudly in Israel today, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain heralded the 1938 Munich Agreement as securing peace in exchange for allowing Hitler to annex part of Czechoslovakia. But Winston Churchill recognized the grave mistake, which soon paved the way for Hitler and his allies to take over much of Europe.

“We have suffered a total and unmitigated defeat,” said Mr. Churchill, who had to deal with the consequences when he succeeded Chamberlain two years later. “And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning.

Some say Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees himself as playing a similar role to Churchill, and is thus willing to take an uncompromising stand for what he sees as right and necessary, however unpopular it may be.

"What was achieved last night in Geneva is not an historic agreement; it is an historic mistake,” Mr. Netanyahu told his cabinet today, criticizing the world’s leading powers for easing the sanctions on Iran in exchange for “cosmetic Iranian concessions that can be cancelled in weeks.

While Israel had tentatively supported a diplomatic deal on Iran if coupled with sanctions, this agreement essentially only freezes rather than dismantles the Iranian nuclear military infrastructure and offers close to $7 billion in "sweeteners,"  says Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University.

“It’s a very disappointing deal," he says, citing rollbacks in Libya and Syria’s nuclear programs as closer to what Israel would have liked.

Israeli leaders made clear that an Israeli military strike is still possible, though President Shimon Peres struck a somewhat more conciliatory tone.

“I would like to say to the Iranian people: You are not our enemies and we are not yours. There is a possibility to solve this issue diplomatically. It is in your hands,” he said, calling on Iran to stop the nuclear program as well as the development of long-range missiles. “… if the diplomatic path fails, the nuclear option will be prevented by other means. The alternative is far worse."

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 Debkafile Logo

Enough enriched uranium in Iran for 4 nuclear weapons. N-Bomb awaits Saudis in Pakistan

DEBKAfile Special Report November 30, 2013, 11:38 AM (IDT)
Pakistan's nuclear-capable Hatf IX short-range ballistic missile
Pakistan's nuclear-capable Hatf IX short-range ballistic missile
Saudi King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were not won over by President Barack Obama's pledges in personal phone calls to the two Middle East leaders last week not to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. Their skepticism only grew. 
This development in the Iranian nuclear controversy finds two of the three leaders trapped in a credibility gap between their public pronouncements and the Iranian reality which has long overtaken them both.

Obama’s oft-repeated pledge is canceled out by most Western nuclear experts, who are convinced that Iran managed to advance to a capacity for producing four nuclear bombs, under cover of protracted diplomacy. In their view, the current first-step deal, followed by a comprehensive accord in six months' time, are merely an attempt by the six world powers to hold Iran back from expanding its arsenal any further.

The US president’s avowals are therefore hollow.

Saudi princes and officials have often said that if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon or reaches the threshold of this capacity, the oil kingdom will not lag behind.

All Riyadh needs to do now, say debkafile’s Middle East sources, is to invoke the agreement signed with Islamabad in 2004, under which Saudi funding was provided for Pakistan’s nuclear bomb program in return for some of the bombs or warheads produced to await Saudi Arabia’s call for their delivery, complete with the appropriate missiles.

Pakistan denies the existence of this transaction.

However, military and intelligence experts in the West are certain that although this transfer has not yet taken place, it will soon, in the light of the edge Iran has gained in its current negotiations with the West.

Therefore, Obama’s phone conversation with Abdullah was more concerned with keeping a nuclear bomb out of Saudi hands than out of Iran’s.

Since 2008, the Israeli prime minister has vowed time and time again to prevent Iran reaching a nuclear threshold, making it clear that the Israeli armed forces would be sent into action - if need be.
So his credibility deficit is on a par with Obama’s.

At the Western Wall, Thursday, Nov. 11, on Hanukkah eve, Binyamin Netanyahu paraphrased a popular festival song to declare: “We came to drive out the darkness and the largest darkness that threatens the world today is a nuclear Iran!”

What did he mean by those words, if not an intention to exercise Israel’s military option to “drive out the darkness?”

Maj. Gen. (res) Yakov Amidror – until recently National Security Adviser to the prime minister - wrote last week in The New York Times that Iran already has enough enriched uranium to make four bombs. “The Geneva deal, in short, did not address the nuclear threat at all,” he wrote.

Iran reached that point more than a year ago, so how to take the repeated pledges by the prime minister to “act itself, by itself” to prevent this happening?

Prime Minister Netanyahu has carefully avoided presenting the Knesset or the people with a clear picture of where Israel stands in relation to Iran’s nuclear program, has never laid out his policy on the question or depicted what the future may hold.

And so his “military option” has progressively waned in credibility both at home and abroad.

In Obama’s phone call to Netanyahu, debkafile’s intelligence and Washington sources report that the president described at length the US intelligence measures to be applied for verifying Iran’s compliance with the Geneva deal. He said that its findings would be referred to Israeli intelligence for a second assessment.

Obama also suggested a visit to Washington by an Israeli military intelligence delegation of nuclear experts to finalize the details of US-Israeli collaboration for verifying that Iran was living up to its commitments under the near accords.

When this US-Israeli dialogue reached their ears, the Iranians were furious. Thursday, Nov. 28, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, dropping the genial mien he assumed in Geneva, reverted to harsh Islamic Republican-speak when he said: “Never such a thing will happen and definitely we will not be in the room in which representatives from the Zionist regime will have a presence!”

It was clear that Tehran would boycott the technical discussion on the details of the Geneva accord if Israeli experts were to sit in a side room, a proposal which might also be extended to Saudi Arabia, as the two Middle East nations most directly at risk from an Iranian nuclear capacity.

Then, Friday, President Hassan Rouhani weighed in to further devalue the Geneva accord’s international worth. In an interview with The Financial Times, he said Iran would never dismantle its atomic facilities. Asked whether this was a "red line" for the Islamic republic, Rouhani replied: "100 per cent."

In other words, not only Netanyahu but Obama too can forget about any hopes they may have entertained of Iran shutting down its Fordo enrichment plant, or holding up the construction of its heavy water plant in Arak for the production of plutonium.

Tuesday, Nov, 26, two days after the six powers signed their first-step nuclear accord with Iran, Netanyahu called the security cabinet into special session which went on into the night to hear and debate briefings from IDF intelligence (AMAN) officers.

No word has leaked from that session, but some sources claimed anonymously that the ministers received the most optimistic outlook they had heard in years.

Before giving weight to such possible optimism, debkafile’s analysts recall AMAN’s 2011 prediction that Bashar Assad’s downfall was imminent, and its misreading of the situations prevailing in Washington and Tehran.

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Conduct Unbecoming

"I do not have a firearm. I'm still a police officer, but I'm in administrative support, so I work behind a desk. I've seen some of the comments about handling a firearm while on marijuana -- if I did [have a gun] it wouldn't affect my ability to carry out my duties."
"Yeah, I'm not getting high. If I smoke multiple joints, then I'm getting high. But if I smoke one, it does not get me high. What happens is that your body adjusts to the THC level. It would be the same as someone drinking one beer, the level of alcohol in your body is not enough to make you impaired."

"It calms me down. My autonomic nervous system and endocrine system comes to a resting state, and when it comes to a resting state like that, you're able to focus. There are so many symptoms of PTSD: hot flashes, panic attacks, anxiety, all of that is gone. I've been in stressful situations since I started to smoke marijuana and it's helped me immensely."

"Kids 8 to 12 years old trying to light me up, trying to light 20 of us up. On top of that, we've had other situations where I've had to shovel childhood friends into body bags. I've had to charge my sister.  I've had to charge my brother. There was a plot to kill me as of last year -- that's what led me to being diagnosed with severe PTSD. The guy had guns and he was going to shoot me."
"Yeah, my anxiety level is down, sleep is down, my energy levels are up. Before I couldn't even get out of bed. Now I wake up at 6 o'clock in the morning, and I'm up and let's get going. I have my coffee, I have my joint and start my day fully awake and fully aware."
RCMP Corporal Ron Francis, Fredericton

Cpl. Francis thought about it, obviously. He was on a desk job, a temporary placement, and he wanted to return to active duty with the RCMP. He had twenty years on the job. He likes his job. He doesn't particularly like many of the stressors of the job, particularly those that happen to have placed him a situation where he had to professionally confront the criminal activities of old friends from his home on the Kingsclear First Nation reserve, much less that of family members.

As an RCMP officer of long standing it cannot be unknown to him that to appear in a Mountie uniform in public smoking pot, isn't the most felicitous of activities. Cpl. Francis does have a licence for medical marijuana to help him cope with the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder he was diagnosed with last year. A condition which arose as a result of his professional activities, as far as he is concerned. His job conflicted with his personal life, in a manner of speaking.

He has felt aggrieved both by his condition, and by his claims that the administration of the RCMP has somehow failed him in particular and presumably others who may be in a similar situation to his own. His malaise compelled the authorities to assign him to a desk job to await full health recovery. His recovery to full health is conditional on the relief he experiences with the aid of a marijuana cigarette. One only at a time, he says.

It isn't clear why he felt it was incumbent upon him, as a veteran knowledgeable about the rules, presumably respecting of the reputation of the RCMP as a national policing agency, and the simple fact that marijuana, as a recreational drug enjoys a place in the current Criminal Code as a forbidden narcotic when it is not prescribed for medicinal use. Cpl. Francis had the certification he required to smoke pot, but why do so wearing his red serge uniform?

Cpl. Ronald Francis/CBC
Cpl. Ronald Francis/CBC    In this supplied video Cpl. Francis is shown smoking what appears to be marijuana
He allowed himself to be filmed in full uniform smoking medical marijuana. The purpose being to 'raise awareness' about PTSD in the RCMP. To what end? It would appear that the RCMP has been accommodating to his need. Perhaps the fact that he is not permitted to carry a firearm while he is using the drug is what disturbs him so greatly. He has not exactly been circumspect.

"I'm trying to draw attention to the fact that the RCMP fails to have a program in place for proper [PTSD] screening for their members and proper information for their families"... so what, exactly, does this mean? His action compelled RCMP officers to be dispatched to his home on the reserve to claim his uniform. Although Cpl. Francis remains a member of the RCMP, it was requested of him to surrender his red serge.

Ron Francis, as he arrives at RCMP J Division Headquarters to turn in his red serge uniform on Friday.
 Cpl. Ron Francis arrives at RCMP J-Division headquarters in Fredericton to hand over his red surge uniform on Nov. 29, 2013. (CTV Atlantic)

"The RCMP wants my uniform, that's fine, but they're not getting my [20 years of service] medal. The medal is something I've worked for and earned. It's hard when you've believed in something for so long and you have to turn it in because they don't like your medical prescription", he said. He has been on administrative duties for almost a year. Simply because, sensibly enough, officers using mind-altering drugs are barred from operational duties.

Operational duties would be described as "including carrying a firearm, or operating a police vehicle, as this could pose a risk to themselves, a co-worker or the public", according to RCMP spokesman Sgt. Greg Cox. A perfectly reasonable set of rules. "We are continuously working to strengthen the support we can offer employees affected by operational stress injuries", read a prepared statement, emphasizing, said Sgt. Cox, that the force considers PTSD as a serious workplace risk.

"The Commissioner has made it clear both publicly and to the employees of the RCMP that if you get sick or injured on the job, we will look after you -- and we will do it fairly", concluded the statement. Cpl. Francis has been placed on fully paid medical leave.

"Having worn a uniform myself, I think they made the right decision. And I think he should accept that as well because if you're part of an institution like that, whether it's the Canadian Forces or the RCMP, you have to understand the importance of the values and respect that the uniforms -- in particular the red serge, one of Canada's probably most respected world images -- you have to preserve that. I think reasonable accommodation should be given, and I think the Mounties were providing that to him,"Conservative MP Erin O'Toole, former captain with the Royal Canadian Air Force

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Don't Have To Like It: It's Reality!

"I am afraid that violent economic centrifuge is operating on human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, if not spiritual worth. Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests, it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16% of our species have an IQ below 85, while about 2% have an IQ above 130,. The harder you shake the pack, the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top."
"And for one reason or another -- boardroom greed or, as I am assured, the natural and God-given talent of boardroom inhabitants -- the income gap between the top cornflakes and the bottom cornflakes is getting wider than ever. I stress: I don't believe that economic equality is possible; indeed, some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity."
Boris Johnson, Mayor, London, England
The truth is, simply put, the morally elevating statement raised to the pinnacle of devotion to equality and in referred to hallowed in hushed tones as an "immortal declaration: that "all men are created equal" is all too often misunderstood. The American Declaration of Independence is a lovely document of high-minded assurance, but it is one that states simply that all men are equal under the law of the land and that they are free to engage in their pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, but there are no assurances that any of these aspirations will be achieved.

Nor does it mean that all of humankind is created with an equal endowment of genetic traits that would result in an even distribution of intelligence and capability among all persons. It is undeniable that within any society there are dullards incapable of grasping simple concepts, and there is the large middling group of individuals able to fend for themselves adequately, while beyond them exist those endowed with what might be considered more than their share of grey matter, enabling them to rise to the top of any society through their sense of curiosity, inventiveness and competence.

That rise does not necessarily result in people who assume power and more than their share of the goods of the world being outstanding citizens as human beings; many obviously are not, but they were capable of achieving office and riches by whatever means they employed, using their superior capabilities to attain what they set out to do. But to admit in polite company that we have more than our share of village dolts, and too few individuals interested in the world around them is to risk being labelled as indulging in "unpleasant elitism".

Mr. Johnson's speech which he addressed to the British Centre for Policy Studies as part of the Margaret Thatcher Lecture series, was as much and perhaps more, a cheering chorus for a free market economy and capitalism opening up the global economy to benefit as wide a range of populations as possible. Socialism and Communism were contrary ideologies attempting to counter capitalism and the end result was failure.

Individuals with disparate levels of intelligence and capabilities were to be treated as equal in the workforce, and they received, whether they were successful or failed at their enterprises, equal recompense. A kind of one-for-all and all-for-one. It didn't work. It is engrained in human nature that one is rewarded for the level of effort put into an economic-deriving activity. Those who were rewarded despite their lack of effort were complacently accepting, those who saw scant reward for prodigious effort were demoralized and stopped making the effort.

And lecturing them all, encouraging them on to perform and prove the thesis behind Marxism were the party faithful who used their hypocritical cunning -- in fact typical human behaviour --  to live in a manner nowhere near resembling that of the uncompetitive, unrewarding, dismal life of toil and scant self-respect they imposed on the great unwashed. To pave the way and ensure that no nuisance protests upset the apple cart as it was pulling into the town square, the intellectuals, the wealthy and the professionals were simply expunged from the scene.

There are two telling results from the experiment that took millions of lives and failed so spectacularly, an experiment in human and market manipulation that went gratingly against the grain that has been instilled in human nature from time immemorial. The Soviet Union eventually imploded. In North Korea, the old Marxist system prevails, the result being a grim police state, a shuttered kingdom as it were, an enforced misery of unfulfilled lives and malnutrition being the hallmarks, along with nuclear belligerence.

In China, North Korea's mentor-state, the elite were somewhat more discerning, but then they also had the burden of brutally manipulating infinitely greater numbers of people. The Chinese bureaucracy of Marxist ideology experimented just as the Soviet Union did, exhorting and exploiting their human capital and despite the deaths of millions of disposable people, who understood they must adore their tyrants or risk even greater numbers of people sacrificed to the prickly demands of their tormentors, finally surrendered to reality.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union led the remaining leadership to understand the depth of their dictatorial failure in a wholesale human-nature-manipulation experiment. Which hasn't stopped the current leadership from exerting a brutal autocracy that might be recognized as a kissing cousin to the former totalitarian rule; bullying and threatening and generally endearing itself to its former satellites who shudder uncontrollably at the very idea of having to resume that old union, frantically aligning themselves toward the West to fend off Eastern overtures.

China has recognized, just as Russia has, the advances to be made in the financial sphere through the relaxation of the old Communist ideals and the embrace of global capitalism. Their version is capitalism no matter the cause; unfettered and regulated only by the urge to grow itself into a giant of greedy entitlement, little different in fact from what is practised where the capitalist template was invented. And they have succeeded, perhaps beyond their wildest expectations. Hungering for even greater control of world trade.

Black Friday is becoming a universal event, to be celebrated not merely annually; but far more frequently. Capitalism makes a small percentage of those whose responding to its higher orders exemplifying success, rogues of immense wealth, social standing and power. Among them all or at least most of them there is a niggling sense of embarrassment at their own success. And this is the wretched little emotion that breeds philanthropy.

Apart from governments exerting the power of the state to exact a toll on such untold wealth in the manner of taxes so that a certain amount of those winnings can be redistributed at the state's will as it sees fit, grudging respect, as Mr. Johnson would have it, should be spared for the wealthy and no small amount of admiration at their success; they have earned it, in essence. By their determination, their enterprise, their capability, their intelligent manoeuvring.

"When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, they faced a top marginal tax rate of 98%, and the top 1% of earners contributed 11% of the government's total revenues from income tax. Today, when taxes have been cut substantially, the top 1% contributes almost 30% of income tax, and indeed the top 0.1% -- just 29,000 people -- contribute fully 14% of all taxation."
"That is an awful lot of schools and roads and hospitals that are being paid for by the super-rich. So why, I asked, innocently, are they so despicable in the eyes of all decent British people? Surely they should be hailed, like the Stakhanovites of Stalin's Russia, who half-killed themselves, in the name of the people, by mining record tonnages of coal?"

Envy, jealousy, two of the nastier emotions that humans are given to expressing when confronted by the good fortune of those who have managed to advance their aspirations into reality by sheer intent to succeed. But of course Mr. Johnson, a highly intelligent man and an accomplished one as well, knows that very well. Mr. Johnson is more than capable of not only describing and understanding a situation, and pointing out to others how that situation arose and why it should be accepted. But he also -- a rarity -- is able to offer a solution to those who begrudge others their earnings.
"It seems to me therefore that though it would be wrong to persecute the rich, and madness to try and stifle wealth creation, and futile to try to stamp out inequality, that we should only tolerate this wealth gap on two conditions: one, that we help those who genuinely cannot compete; and two, that we provide opportunity for those who can."
"Putin's Palace" File:Putin palace construction.jpg
Exterior of the palace under construction

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A Poison Chalice

"[The agreement] virtually guarantees continued and increased brutalities against the people of Iran, increased political incarcerations, more tortures, and more executions without any fear of backlash from the Western democracies."
"The petrochemical, automobile and precious metals businesses and markets inside Iran are virtually owned and controlled by the Revolutionary Guards' apparatus: [Supreme Leader Ayatollah] Khamenei and his close circle of thugs."
Iman Foroutan, spokesman, Iranian expatriate group The New Iran

"[The Saudis, Kuwaitis and other Gulf states fearing a nuclear Iran would] buy equivalent technologies to redress this grand strategic imbalance, thus triggering yet another regional arms race of a grander and more dangerous calibre and magnitude."
"...Not all [nuclear] sites are inspected daily and none of the engineering sites are included in the agreement."
Sami-Al-Farej, head, Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies

That's the view from the mindful and knowledgeable expatriates who escaped the pervasive fanaticism and persecution meted out by the Republic's ruling Ayatollahs, enforced by the Republican Guard, concerned about the future of the country they left behind, and the fate that awaits the population, inclusive of their extended families. Their concern is that of an atrociously abusive government, a known threat to its neighbours, possessing the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.

The ancient Middle East with its ancient tribal animosities and its traditional sectarian divides that dissolved into a more brutalized active bloodletting with the advance of jihadi martyrdom under the mass insanity of fundamentalist Salafist and Shia Islamism, has always presented as a volatile human powder keg. That powder keg has been kick-started toward a mass conflagration by the restlessness instanced by what appeared innocently enough as an "Arab Spring", and which has morphed into a springboard for fundamentalist Islamism.

The international community has found it relaxing to exhale its suspense in anticipation of growing crises. As though signing on to an initial negotiating formula with a totalitarian government which continues to insist on its sovereign and religious entitlements to threaten whom it will, and to support those threats with the realpolitik of accomplishing its goal of achieving nuclear warheads and the powerful ballistic missiles required to send them the distances considered to do the most good for their malevolent cause, is a matter of huge relief.

If one discounts the potential for a tsunami of death raining down from the skies and a mangled disruption of civil infrastructure, and concentrates only on the more immediate prospect of conducting profitable business and trade with an enterprising, scheming government with its own eye on assembling the funding it requires to reach its goal, while disarming the concerns of doubters, then the profit motive that European and Asian and North American profiteers are salivating at has created a boon.

None of this can be perceived in the messages emanating from the disaffected hardliners in Tehran not singing from the same playbook as the administration, or alternatively, coached to sing off key for the purpose of further distracting and disarming their detractors suspicious of their motives in the final analysis.

"It practically tramples on Iran's enrichment rights...  Uranium enrichment restrictions in the final stage and constraints in the first stage mean that enrichment in Iran is headed toward self shutdown", wailed lawmaker Ruhollah Hosseinina; the deal too vague for his liking, so conditional it threatened to a shutting down of Iran's invaluable enrichment program.

Not to worry; in stepped foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, noting some construction will continue at the planned Arak heavy water reactor. That is the site whose focus in the negotiations was to be completely shut down. Minor progress, he assured his critics in Tehran, could continue. A statement that appears in flagrant violation of the co-signed agreement, but obviously reassuring to those who believe no element in Iran's nuclear program should be consigned to the demands of foreigners.
un experts arak
Arak nuclear heavy water plant - Associated Press
American State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, however, parsed Mr. Zarif's statement, stressing that capacity will not increase at the Arak site. "It means no nuclear fuel will be produced and no installations will be installed, but construction will continue there. We're not sure exactly what he means by 'construction'. "But there will be no work on the reactor itself, no work to prepare fuel for the reactor or do additional testing of the reactor."


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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Fundamental Values

A Palestinian man who immigrated to Canada and his wife operate a private daycare in Montreal. The owner's wife and two of the personnel who work for them wear niqabs. There are thirteen parents who pay to have their young children looked after in the daycare. The fact that the three daycare workers wear the niqab in public seems of no concern to them. They appear to have been satisfied with the quality of care their children have received.

Someone, it seems, snapped a photograph of the children in the care of the black-clad women whose faces were covered, revealing only their eyes. The children appear to be behaving like children everywhere do, obedient to the wishes of their minders who are taking them for a walk to a nearby Verdun public park. They haven't returned to the park with the children since the day the photograph was taken. And since that photo was taken, some of the parents have removed their children from the daycare.

The photo was taken without permission and posted online on Facebook. It had eight thousand hits. And a whole lot of comments. Some of which were just plain disgusting. Many, though expressed cultural shock at the sight of two women dressed in a manner that elicits both pity and reproach when anyone in the West sees photos taken somewhere in the Middle East or Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Reaction was swift, heated, sometimes horribly uncivil, but universally condemnatory.

It's not difficult to understand why many people would be taken aback at the unusual sight of two burqa-clad (chador and niqab) women, herding children dressed for the outdoors in Canada. It is the polarizing view of an ordinary Canadian scene superimposed with a restrictive, patriarchal custom demeaning to the dignity, safety and independence of women characterized by the black-clad minders.

Quebec, under the Parti Quebecois government, has recently distinguished itself by reaffirming its secularly societal character with the proposal of a new charter. It shed its deeply religious heritage during the social upheaval of the Silent Revolution. The Catholic Church became a background element of choice in a society that had decided to remove itself from the constant daily intrusion of religion in their lives; religion became a private affair.

And most Quebecers prefer it just that way. It grates against their sensibilities to see overt symbols of religion, any religion. But in all probability in particular any religion other than what they were historically accustomed to. Come to my country, to my province, to become a citizen and be prepared to absorb and to reflect my values and my customs. Add them to your own if you wish and welcome to it, but leave the religious aspect private, in the background.

The francophone population has patterned itself on its original homeland of France. And France is a stoutly non-religious society that maintains a strict divide between church and state. It is in this way that it maintains the egalitarianism that it prides itself on; everyone equal, liberty for all. And so, although France, like all European countries, has absorbed a large infiltration of Muslims migrating from their countries of origin, the expectation is that the French culture will predominate.

To that end the Paris Appeals Court has overturned a high court decision in favour of the head scarf-wearing employee, and it has affirmed that a private nursery school was justified when it fired an assistant director who had refused to remove her head scarf while she was working at the school. A head scarf, not something that covers the face, but that covers the hair, the top of the head, the neck of the wearer.

The hijab is a common enough sight in Canada. Worn by many women who are practising Muslim. It does signify that they worship Islam, but it is a chosen cultural and conditioned expectation that pious and not-so-pious Muslim women wear the headscarf. It must suit their view of themselves in reflection of their surrender to Islam. And although it is an obvious sign of their faith, it is a fairly unobtrusive one.

The complete face covering like the burqa which consists of a total screened face covering incorporated into an overall body covering, and the niqab, worn in conjunction with the chador, the all-enveloping body garment, do not have a place in Canada. This is a habitude that is isolating, rejectionist, anti-social, and completely alienating. In a civil society people have an obligation to one another as human beings.

We communicate with one another by voice and vocabulary but also by body language, eye contact and the human involuntary and voluntary greetings conveyed by our facial muscles. When we encounter other people it is incumbent on us as civil human beings to acknowledge the presence of others. A nod, a smile, a spoken word, even silence and a turning away of the head indicating disinterest is a form of communication preferable to the absence of any sign of humanity.

In France, a woman by the name of Fatima Afif who worked at the Baby Loup nursery school was fired for refusing to remove her head scarf. French laws ban head scarves in public school classrooms and face-covering veils in public places. No laws exist to regulate religious garb in private institutions, schools or places of work. Muslims, understandably see those laws as restrictive, infringing on their religious freedom and freedom of expression.

On the other hand, they chose to emigrate to a country whose laws long predated their migration there. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights opened a hearing in another case where a Muslim woman is contesting the face veil ban. The French government's Observatory of Laicite, guides official action respecting secularism, plans to issue its own guide on the issue.

There are many groups in France; political parties, social workers and other professionals who fear the country's constitutional guarantees of secularism is being undermined by immigration. Its increasingly diverse population, particularly the growing and already-large Muslim population appears to be having that effect, and the point is to head it off, to preserve the country's own values.

The same can be said for Canada.

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The U.S. Formula

"...An agreement without a strong human rights component sends a very clear message to the Iranian government, and the message is: so long as you don't develop a nuclear weapon you're free to kill and imprison your citizens without any repercussions.
"From a moral perspective, it makes no sense, and I'm worried that the same message is being delivered to the Iranian government; as long as you don't threaten your neighbours and are not externally aggressive, you can be as aggressive as you want, internally, domestically, to your own population."
Kaveh Shahrooz, Iranian-Canadian Toronto lawyer
Well, that's a perspective from an expatriate Iranian. The Iranian community within Canada has its internal concerns for the well-being of extended family members within the country of their birth. They left Iran looking for a future elsewhere because they objected to the government that had taken power in Iran, to its agenda, its ideology, its use of religious fanaticism to deceive, demoralize and destroy the human rights of their citizens.

The oppressive regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran which victimizes any of its citizens who fail to heed the orders of the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to be appropriately pious in attitude and attire, and to worship only the Shia version of Islam approved by the ruling ayatollahs has created a society of fearful, secretive opposition. The Islamic Revolution that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini brought to Iran slaughtered a hundred thousand recalcitrant Iranians as it settled into power.

The murder of political prisoners, the imprisonment, torture and killing of political opponents, of homosexuals, of those practising an unapproved religion like the Baha'i, the number of state executions, all mark Iran as an oppressive, criminal regime. Its extraterritorial ambitions have been expressed in many ways, not least in their creation of the martyrdom-cult terror group Hezbollah whom they dispatch when they wish to embark on international atrocities.

Their support of a regime in Syria that has been patterned on their own style of brutal tyranny, is an expression of their irredentist values. Irrespective of these observable and proven facts the international community led by the United States has focused on one element among many: President Bashar al Assad of Syria is given a free pass to continue the conflict against his own people as long as he surrends his chemical weapons store, after using them quite successfully.

And Tehran's ayatollahs and the Republican Guard which keeps them in power to preserve their own power status and collection of illicit gains through what should be and once were state-owned enterprises, which they took personal possession of to enrich themselves, are not held to account for their deadly persecution of their own people, let alone their financial support of terror groups, using them for their own nefarious purposes, so long as they promise to temporarily suspend nuclear advances.
DIPLOMACY WORKS. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaking during a press conference on November 24, 2013 in Tehran. AFP PHOTO / HO / IRANIAN PRESIDENCYDIPLOMACY WORKS. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaking during a press conference on November 24, 2013 in Tehran. AFP PHOTO / HO / IRANIAN PRESIDENCY
With the arranged and approved election of Hassan Rouhani, the Republic continues as it always has, under the guise of changing its course to reflect a more sensitive state, while it has executed more Iranians than ever before in a shorter time frame. And President Rouhani has seen fit to appoint a key figure involved in the massacres of thousands of Iranian dissenters -- the murders of political prisoners in the late 1980s, which represents a crime against humanity -- Moustafa Pour-Mohammadi to the ministry of justice in Iran.

This is the new American formula for dealing diplomatically with nuisance regimes that threaten to upset the international applecart of civil relations. Tehran's surface cooperation on the nuclear file is the focus of Washington's solution to what has been an impending disaster of a nuclear-armed Republic of Iran, a reality that has set its neighbours on the edge of existential concern, borne out by the threats that emanate from the regime.

And the those who feel they have more than adequate reason to distrust the sincerity of the Iranian regime are subjected to criticism, that they are more interested in war than peace, achieved by diplomatic means. As though Iran is not skilled in the use of diplomacy to achieve its warring ambitions. They are the nay-sayers, the champions of conflict, while the secretive overtures to appeal to Tehran to ramp down its immediate ambitions are the champions of peace.

This is, after all, a country that achieved its current nuclear installations by stealth and secrecy, by the illegal enrichment of uranium, which the new agreement has handily given a stamp of legality to, in the greater interests of reaching an amicable accord with an unamiable, taciturn, would-be world power that instructs its followers to chant "Death to America!" at every opportunity to ensure that the message remain alive and well. A message that America is blissfully oblivious to.

"We are not seeking regime change and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear technology", assured President Barack Obama, that his administration was set on restoring the regime to its "rightful place in the community of nations", during several speeches to the United Nations general assembly. The trouble, of course, is that Iran is not quite so interested in assuming what Mr. Obama assumes to be its 'rightful place in the community of nations', it is consumed with its entitlement to lead the community of nations.

So, move right on over, Mr. Obama, make place for Iran, where Washington can continue to sit at its feet, to fulfill the aspirations of Tehran. It's the trajectory the Obama administration appears to have set in its seemingly deliberate disregard of stark realities.

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Unsavoury Animal Products

November 28 editorial cartoon
The Ottawa Citizen, Editorial Cartoon, 28 November 2013

"More than 6,000 restaurants and grocery stores (in addition to 800,000 individuals) have joined the Protect Seals boycott of Canadian seafood. They are making it clear that the Canadian annual commercial seal hunt is an unacceptable business practice undertaken by Canada's fishing industry."
"Canada's sealers make much more money from exporting seafood to the United States than they do from killing seal pups, and this gives us a lever".
Chefs for Seals, United States 
 Seal product ban upheld

The World Trade Organization has just brought down a ruling in favour of the European Union, giving it the benefit of "public moral concerns" of the animals' welfare. Canada plans to appeal the ruling within the 60 days' opportunity. But it doesn't much look like anyone other than Inuit and Newfoundland's traditional seal hunters are interested in prolonging a way of life that brings a few extra dollars to sealers' basic earnings.

The Humane Society of the United States, an impressively powerful lobby group for animal welfare and conservation is largely behind the effort to boycott Canada's seal hunt in the United States, and politicians there are listening not merely politely, but because there are votes there; like the environmental lobby in general such lobbies have the ear of those lawmakers who can make things happen, or not.

Seals, as it happens, are not endangered, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists harp sales as being at "least concern" status, while the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans indicated in a 2011 report on the status of Northwest Atlantic harp seals: "The current population is at its highest level seen in the 60-year time series."

It's estimated that there are eight million harp seals inhabiting Newfoundland's east coast, representing a figure 400% higher than the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' 1950 estimate. Of the annual total allowable catch between 1971 and 2013, sealers managed to harvest on average roughly 65% of the total allowable. The Northwest Atlantic harp seal is considered hugely predatory; to preserve fish stocks that they prey upon some population control is required to mitigate the obvious ecological impact.

The seals represent a major impediment to the potential of regenerating Newfoundland's traditional fish population. The explosive growth rate of harp seals sees no boundaries without culling. The European Union, despite its resistance to Canadian seal products sees no problem itself in seal culling for the protection of its own fish stocks. But this is a typical kind of action on the part of the European Union; protecting its own needs while huffing and puffing over what they see wrong in the solutions brought to bear by those outside their purview.

Since it makes no commercial or practical or conservationist sense to continue to reject the Canadian seal hunt, environmentalists and animal rights lobbyists resort to the emotional appeal, and it works. Though it makes little sense, and represents the epitome of irrationality. Inhumane practices in the animal slaughter industry to provide populations with the end products that they savour at their dinner table are rightfully decried. Factory-type farming is by its very nature cruel.

But the seals are free agents, living their natural lives unrestricted, free to roam where they will. They are harvested just like any other edible commodity that human beings bring to their dinner table. And they are harvested humanely; the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the World Wildlife Fund consider the hakapik, the club used by seal hunters (Inuit use harpoons), to be an efficient, humane tool. The slaughter of newborn seals is no longer an issue; it is outlawed.

Unless and until the world turns to transiting from an globally omnivorous appetite to one focusing on vegetable matter exclusively, in a virtuous recognition that animals slaughtering other animals for consumption causes distress to those animals sacrificed to the appetite of the animals considering themselves to represent a higher order of organism, the issue of seal hunting will remain an absurd and illogical conceit.

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