Saturday, December 31, 2011

Scotland: A Case of Religious Discrimination?

An independent college in Scotland, sponsored by the Dubai royal family and whose stated aim is to promote multiculturalism, has sacked its Principal - Professor Malory Nye, 47.

Nye and his wife, Isabel Campbell-Nye, 42 - the Head of the Al-Maktoum College of Higher Education's English Language Centre - alleged they were sacked for being white and Christians, according to a report by the Daily Mail. They have alleged discriminatory practices on grounds of racial and religious bias as the reason for their dismissal.

In the report by the Daily Mail, Nye claimed the patron of the college - Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum , the Deputy Ruler of Dubai - did not favor efforts by both Nye and his wife, to give the institution a more cosmopolitan feel. Additionally, Nye also claimed that both Abubaker, the Director of Operations, and Mirza al-Sayegh, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Private Secretary to the Sheikh, were against his wife and himself continuing their work at the college.

"It is clear to me that there is collusion between these two individuals that I should be removed from my position on the basis that I am not an Arab and not a Muslim and that the person who has the role of principal should be Arab and/or Muslim," Nye was quoted as saying by the Telegraph.

Malory and Isabel Nye at wedding ceremony held at the college

India Leases N-Sub from Russia

MOSCOW: Russia has handed over the nuclear-powered attack submarine Nerpa to India following more than two years of delays, according to a senior naval official.

The signing ceremony happened yesterday at the Bolshoi Kamen shipbuilding facility in the (Far East) Primorye region where the Nerpa is now based, the official in the naval chief of staff told ITAR-TASS on Friday.

The report said an Indian crew would sail the Akula II class craft to its home base at the end of January after receiving it on a 10-year lease, in a deal that has angered Pakistan.

"All of the naval tests and performance checks have been completed, the Russian official said. The crew will begin making themselves feel at home on board the craft after New Year and start sailing it to India in the latter half of January.

The Nerpa will be the first nuclear powered submarine to be operated by India in nearly two decades after it decommissioned its last such Soviet built vessel in 1991.

India is currently completing the development of its own Arihant-class nuclear-powered ballistic submarines and the Nerpa`s delivery is expected to help crews train for the domestic boat`s introduction into service next year.

The Russian Pacific port ceremony was held on the same day a shipyard fire engulfed the Northern Fleet`s Yekaterinburg nuclear-powered strategic submarine in the Murmansk region on the opposite side of the country.

The Nerpa had initially been due tobe handed over to India in 2009 but experienced various problems during testing.

It suffered a mishap during trials in the Sea of Japan in November 2008 that killed 20 sailors when a fire extinguisher released a deadly chemical that was accidentally loaded into the system.

Media reports said that some of the vessel`s equipment malfunctioned during testing and that the weapons navigation system did not work to India`s specifications.

The 8,000-ton vessel can fire a range of torpedoes as well as Granat cruise missiles that can be nuclear-tipped.

India has promised not to arm the submarine with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles under its obligations to international treaties it adopted after conducting a series of atomic tests in the 1990s. But Pakistan is worried over the craft`s delivery.

"Rest assured, there will be no compromise in terms of maintaining the credibility of our deterrence", spokesman for Pakistan`s Foreign Office Abdul Basit was quoted as saying by The Asian Age newspaper this week.

The submarine is due to be commissioned as the INS Chakra in India under a 2004 agreement that had seen the South Asian country pay $650 million in construction costs.

Newspaper reports in India said New Delhi could end up paying as much as $900 million under the terms of the deal.

Russia supplies 70 per cent of India`s military hardware but New Delhi has been unhappy about delays to arms orders from Moscow and looked to other suppliers including Israel and the United States in recent years.-AFP

Source:  Pakistan Dawn

Friday, December 30, 2011

Quote of the Week - Socrates

"I teach them all the good I can, and recommend them to others from whom I think they will get some moral benefit. And the treasures that the wise men of old have left us in their writings I open and explore with my friends. If we come on any good thing, we extract it, and we set much store on being useful to one another." -- Socrates

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Egypt: Virginity Testing Detained Women

(EOHR/IFEX) - 29 December 2011 - The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) welcomes the 27 December decision of the Administrative Court of the State Council to ban the practice of subjecting detained women to virginity tests.

During protests on 9 March, Samira Ibrahim and 17 other girls were arrested and subsequently subjected to virginity testing. They all filed a lawsuit to overturn the decision of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) allowing the practice on detainees.

Mr. Hafez Abu Seada, the head of EOHR, emphasized that virginity testing on girls at military detention centers is a serious violation of personal privacy and does not comply with women's rights, either under Egyptian laws or international standards of human rights. The practice is considered an intimidation tactic that is used against Egyptian girls who participate in protests, although the right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed by all national and international standards of human rights. Both men and women achieved the Egyptian revolution together.

EOHR welcomes the decision of the Administrative Court of the State Council, viewing it as a victory for Egyptian women and part of the consolidation of their right to privacy. The SCAF should bring those who perpetrated the virginity testing to justice.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Afghanistan Operations Dec. 22-27

Compiled from International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Releases

WASHINGTON, Dec. 27, 2011 – An Afghan-led and coalition-supported security force captured a Taliban facilitator during an operation in the Pul-e ‘Alam district of Afghanistan’s Logar province today, military officials reported.

The facilitator moved weapons and explosives used in attacks against coalition forces. He also allegedly was involved in a car bomb attack in Logar province that killed one civilian and injured nine others.

One additional suspected insurgent was detained during the operation.

In other Afghanistan operations:

-- An Afghan-led force in Helmand province’s Garm Ser district captured a Taliban weapons facilitator who moved weapons throughout the province. No civilians were injured.

-- In the Zharay district of Kandahar province, an Afghan-led force detained two suspects while searching for a Taliban leader who moves supplies, emplaces roadside bombs and coordinates attacks against coalition forces.

In Afghanistan operations Dec. 26:

-- A coalition patrol discovered one anti-personnel mine, two rocket-propelled grenade warheads, two 82 mm mortar rounds, and homemade bomb-making components in Ghazni province’s Andar district.

-- A coalition patrol discovered four 82 mm mortars, one landmine and bomb components in the Now Zad district of Helmand province.

-- A combined force captured a Haqqani network facilitator and two other suspects in the Bak district of Khost province.

The facilitator supplied explosives to insurgents and conducted attacks against coalition forces.

-- A combined force in Baghlan province’s Baghlan-e Jadid district detained one suspect while searching for a Taliban leader who plans direct fire and roadside bomb attacks against Afghan forces.

In Afghanistan operations Dec. 25:

-- International Security Assistance Force Commander Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen traveled across Afghanistan to wish troops a happy holiday. “I know we can’t be with our families on Christmas Day, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, if I can’t be with my family, than standing here with you and serving with you,” Allen told troops at Forward Operating Base Shindand in Herat province.

“It’s not every day you get to see a general come here, especially on Christmas Day, to tell everybody they are doing a good job,” Marine Corps Sgt. John Mohlenhoff said.

Allen also visited troops at Camp Stone and FOB Andraskan in Herat province, and Camp Marmal and Camp Spann near Mazar-e-Sharif in Balkh province. “In a very real sense, this is a family you’ll never forget because of the things that you have shared, things that you do, and the cause in which we’re all engaged,” Allen said. “For the rest of your lives, you will share this moment together -- a moment when you were a part of something bigger than yourselves. Every one of you here is contributing to the liberation of a country and giving Afghanistan hope.”

-- A coalition force discovered a drug cache containing more than 900 pounds of marijuana in the Panjwa’i district of Kandahar province. All of the drugs were destroyed.

-- A combined force killed two insurgents and seized bomb-making material and grenades during a search for a Taliban leader in the Baghlan-e Jadid district of Baghlan province. A third insurgent died after self-detonating a grenade. The leader trains insurgents to use roadside bombs and provides explosives for use in attacks against Afghan forces.

-- In the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province, a combined force captured a Taliban leader and detained several other suspected insurgents. The insurgent leader provided equipment and trained fighters in the province.
-- A combined force in Kandahar province’s Zharay district detained two suspected insurgents and seized about five pounds of black tar heroin while searching for a Taliban facilitator who moves explosives and weapons throughout southern Afghanistan.
-- In the Nadir Shar Kot district of Khost province, a combined force captured a Haqqani network facilitator, detained one other suspect and seized multiple weapons. The facilitator moved and stored weapons throughout the area.

-- A combined force in Nangarhar province’s Pachir Wa Agam district captured a Taliban facilitator. who distributed weapons and munitions to insurgents for use in attacks in Jalalabad.

-- Allen, ISAF commander, condemned the suicide attack on a funeral ceremony in Takhar province that reportedly killed numerous civilians, including a member of the Afghan parliament, and wounded many others.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those affected with the loss of life and injuries in today's barbaric attack," the general said. "These attackers are cowards, callously targeting and killing families and friends who had gathered to mourn a loved one. Those responsible for this shameful act must only be interested in destruction, alienating themselves from the Afghan people. They are neither Afghan nor are they true Muslims.”

In Dec. 24 Afghanistan operations:

--Allen extended his and his command’s sincere condolences to the Afghan families who lost loved ones in the Baghlan province mine tragedy.

"Our hearts go out to the families of this tragedy and we will, of course, stand ready to provide any additional assistance necessary if called upon by the Afghan government," the general said.

The collapse of the mine in Nahrin district claimed the lives of 13 Afghans and injured another 12 workers. Provincial Reconstruction Team Pul-E Khumri provided medical and humanitarian support.

-- Combined forces discovered two drug caches in Kandahar province. The first drug cache was found in the Spin Boldak district and contained 11 tons of hashish. All of the drugs were destroyed and one person was detained. The second cache was discovered in the Panjwa’i district and contained about 300 pounds of marijuana. The drugs were destroyed.

-- A combined force seized four rocket-propelled grenades and some small-arms ammunition in Uruzgan province’s Tarin Kot district.

In Dec. 23 Afghanistan operations:
-- Afghan soldiers with the 1st Brigade, 205th Afghan National Army Corps completed a week-long independent operation in the Panjwa'i, district of Kandahar province. Operation Hope Hero 58 was the first of its kind in Kandahar province where the Afghan National Army has taken the lead in an operation to include planning, coordinating and executing the mission separately from their U.S. partners. The Afghan army worked closely with Afghan police, Afghan National Civil Order Police and Afghan National Defense Services to conduct clearing operations in the Kenjekak and Zangabad villages of the Panjwa'i district of southern Kandahar province. During the six-day operation, more than 400 Afghan National Security Forces discovered multiple caches containing a large amount of bomb-making material to include ammunitions, more than 10 pressure plates, ignition systems and more than 1,000 pounds of homemade explosives -- enough material to make more than 60 homemade bombs.

In Dec. 22 Afghanistan operations:

-- A combined force seized a drug cache containing 910 pounds of marijuana in the Daman district of Kandahar province. The drugs were destroyed.

-- In the Zurmat district of Paktia province, a combined patrol found 20 anti-personnel mines and 60 blocks of explosives.

-- Also in Zurmat, a combined patrol found five RPGs, three 82 mm rockets, 440 rounds of small-arms ammunition and one radio-controlled receiver. Security forces destroyed all of the items.

Source: Global Security

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Guidelines for British doctors asked to assist suicides

The British body for regulating doctors, the General Medical Council, has announced that it is working on guidelines for telling doctors what they should do if a patient asks for help in committing suicide. There is an increasing number of Britons seeking to go to Switzerland to seek death at suicide clinics. There will be a public consultation early next year. Niall Dickson, the Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said:

"The issue of assisted suicide is complex and sensitive. We already have clear guidance for doctors that they must always act within the law and assisting or encouraging suicide remains a criminal offence. This guidance will not in any way change the legal position for doctors. It is not our role to take a position on whether or not the law should be changed; that is a matter for the relevant legislature.

"We recognise however that there are a range of actions which could be considered as assisting in a suicide, such as providing information to a patient about suicide or providing practical assistance for someone to travel to a clinic such as Dignitas. Some of these actions may not lead to criminal charges but may still lead to complaints to us about a doctor's fitness to practise."

The guidance considers factors that might be relevant in determining the seriousness of each case, in the context of the different actions doctors may take in assisting patients who wish to end their lives. The new guidance will not cover euthanasia (in which a doctor's actions have directly led to a patient's death), as standards on this are clear.

The legal position of assisted suicide in England and Wales is unclear. It is clearly illegal, but there are doubts about whether charges would be brought against a doctor who assisted someone in a suicide. In 2010 Keir Starmer, the public prosecutor, issued liberalised guidelines which focused on the intention of the person assisting. There is a case currently in the courts which could raise the issue of whether doctors could help with impunity. ~ GMC, Dec 14, Guardian, Dec 15

Monday, December 26, 2011

"Season's Greetings" a Meaningless Slogan

Don’t let Grinches steal your Christmas by substituting meaningless slogans.

Michael Cook

Let’s imagine for a moment that Christmas had never happened and that the Roman Emperor Aurelian had succeeded in establishing the feast of Sol Invictus on December 25 back in the year 274 AD.

Instead of Christmas, we would have had the Feast of the Unconquered Sun. At this time of year, just after the winter solstice, the lantern beaming light and heat hangs low in the sky; the days are dark and cold. But day by day it climbs back, infallibly reaching its fiery zenith at the summer solstice six months later. Yay! High fives all around! This god has got more belts than Manny Pacquiao!

Had this happened, the colourless salutation “Season’s Greetings” might have conveyed something vaguely meaningful, especially if you’re shivering in the northern hemisphere. Something like: gor blimey, I can’t handle this brass monkey weather, but let’s hang in there and may the gods grant us a good harvest.”

It’s a hopeful sentiment, but not an inspiring one, a bit like the experience of eating tofu for Christmas dinner instead of tucking into mince pies and roast turkey. The sun rises and the sun sets; seasons come and seasons go. Whatever good or evil men do, the sun shines on them all alike with a divine indifference. For devotees of Sol Invictus, “Season’s Greetings” would have been a token of our inevitable submission to fate. This was the popular wisdom of the ancient world – from which Christmas has rescued us.

Whether or not you accept the Christian theological beliefs which underpin the celebration of Christmas, they have transformed Western society and they are in the process of transforming nations far from Bethlehem. Christmas, that is, the celebration of the moment in which the all-powerful creator of the Universe took on human flesh and entered human history, sends powerful, if unspoken, messages. Here are seven which are implicitly conveyed when we wish friends a “Merry Christmas”.

God cares. “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods, — They kill us for their sport.” This comes from King Lear, but it is the wisdom of paganism. Life’s a bitch, and then you die. What the Incarnation, as the theologians call the act of God becoming man, shows for all time is that the Creator cares about his creatures. As the carol says, “and he feeleth for our sadness, and he shareth in our gladness.” Jupiter, on the other hand, when presented with complaints about our sadness would probably say something like, “Yeah, whatever. Get over it. Stuff happens, you know.”

History matters. The ancients believed in the myth of the eternal recurrence, that history was not linear, but cyclic. Their cosmic fate was to live imprisoned in cycles which end in fire and then return in a new cycle, playing the same role over and over again. Its symbol is the dragon devouring its tail. But the implication of the Incarnation is that history is moving towards a climax which begins at Bethlehem. Our own participation in history makes a difference.

All men are fundamentally equal. We can get used to Christmas paintings of the manger, in which shepherds are rubbing shoulders with the Magi as they peer over Joseph’s shoulder. But the implications of this setting are immense. “With the poor, the scorned, the lowly, lived on earth our Saviour holy”: before the infant in the lowly cattle shed, distinctions of talent, rank and education are insignificant. All men are brothers.

Families are the cornerstone of society. Bethlehem suggested the ideal to which Christian families should aspire: a father and mother doting on their child, willing to make any sacrifice for his welfare. But the homely tenderness of this scene was virtually unknown in the ancient world. The Greeks and Romans were not strangers to domestic affection, but this was not the paradigm of their families. Without Christmas we would never have had the bubbly, loving warmth of the Cratchit family made famous in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Women have dignity. No women appear in Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. There are famous women in ancient history, but most of them are queens and empresses like Cleopatra and Zenobia. In Bethlehem, a simple village girl, Mary, is the central figure. Kings bow in homage to her and her child. In the Christian tradition, capacity for motherhood gives women an incomparable dignity. As Cristina Rossetti’s marvellous poem (and carol) says,

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

Children are special. The ancient world defined children by their powerlessness; they were just underdeveloped adults. But Bethlehem suggests that we should treasure their innocence and dependence. “Once in Royal David’s City” is a Victorian carol, but it expresses it nicely:

For he is our childhood's pattern,
day by day like us he grew;
he was little, weak and helpless,
tears and smiles like us he knew.

The fact that a defenceless child is the centre of the Christmas story also means that men and women are not to be valued by how productive they are, but simply because they are with us and share in a common nature. In the Gospel account this is underscored by the sequel to the Nativity, the Massacre of the Innocents by the vicious tyrant Herod.

We should send more Christmas cards. Western art was born on Christmas Day. We take for granted the human drama depicted on Christmas cards. But in other cultures, art was meant to be a faint reflection of unchanging, inalterable divinity. That’s why statues of Buddha depict him in a few stylised postures. Even Greek and Roman art presented idealised figures and seldom depicted ordinary life.

But art of the Christian era is based upon an altogether different philosophy: that all of human life has dignity because the Child of Bethlehem is both God and Man. Since then, everything in human life carries within it a spark of divinity and becomes a worthy subject for an artist. What sort of greeting cards would we have if the cult of Sol Invictus had survived? Probably much like we have now: images of snow-bound homes or decorative calligraphy. But nothing human, affectionate and tender.

So there you have seven reasons to say “Merry Christmas” with greater gusto in 2011. Let’s defy miserabilist Grinches who want to banish it from public life.

In any case, all this has happened before. Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas in England. In the 1640s the Long Parliament decreed that no holy days other than Sundays were to be celebrated. December 25 was to be observed with fasting and humiliation for the sins of countrymen who had turned the day into a feast, sinfully “giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights”. Shops and market were to be kept open for trading. Parliament was to meet for business on December 25. Christmas, said the Puritans, was a popish festival with no Biblical justification.

However, the Cromwell failed to convert Merrie England to miserabilism. As soon as Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, the Christmas bans were swept away. Mirth, mistletoe and plum pudding returned and the Christmas fast vanished. Season’s Greeting was no more in Fair Albion.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. Reprinted from here.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

British PM: "We are a Christian Country"

The Bible has given Britain a set of values and morals which it should actively defend, says David Cameron.

The following is the prepared text of a speech by British Prime Minister David Cameron, delivered at Christ Church, Oxford, last weekend for the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. In it, Mr Cameron says the UK is Christian country and that when Christians are confident of their own identity it provides greater space for other religious faiths too.

It’s great to be here and to have this opportunity to come together today to mark the end of this very special 400th anniversary year for the King James Bible.

I know there are some who will question why I am giving this speech. And if they happen to know that I’m setting out my views today in a former home of the current Archbishop of Canterbury and in front of many great theologians and church leaders they really will think I have entered the lions’ den. But I am proud to stand here and celebrate the achievements of the King James Bible. Not as some great Christian on a mission to convert the world. But because, as Prime Minister, it is right to recognise the impact of a translation that is, I believe, one of this country’s greatest achievements.

The Bible is a book that has not just shaped our country, but shaped the world. And, with three Bibles sold or given away every second, a book that is not just important in understanding our past, but which will continue to have a profound impact in shaping our collective future.

In making this speech I claim no religious authority whatsoever. I am a committed – but I have to say vaguely practising – Church of England Christian, who will stand up for the values and principles of my faith but who is full of doubts and, like many, constantly grappling with the difficult questions when it comes to some of the big theological issues. But what I do believe is this. The King James Bible is as relevant today as at any point in its 400 year history. And none of us should be frightened of recognising this. Why? Put simply, three reasons.

First, the King James Bible has bequeathed a body of language that permeates every aspect of our culture and heritage from everyday phrases to our greatest works of literature, music and art. We live and breathe the language of the King James Bible, sometimes without even realising it. And it is right that we should acknowledge this – particularly in this anniversary year.

Second, just as our language and culture is steeped in the Bible, so too is our politics. From human rights and equality to our constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, from the role of the church in the first forms of welfare provision, to the many modern day faith-led social action projects the Bible has been a spur to action for people of faith throughout history, and it remains so today.

Third, we are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so. Let me be clear: I am not in any way saying that to have another faith – or no faith – is somehow wrong. I know and fully respect that many people in this country do not have a religion. And I am also incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make our country stronger. But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today. Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend. The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option. You can’t fight something with nothing. Because if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything.

Let me take each of these points in turn.

First, language and culture.

Powerful language is incredibly evocative. It crystallises profound, sometimes complex, thoughts and suggests a depth of meaning far beyond the words on the page giving us something to share, to cherish, to celebrate. Part of the glue that can help to bind us together.

Along with Shakespeare, the King James Bible is a high point of the English language, creating arresting phrases that move, challenge and inspire. One of my favourites is the line “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” It is a brilliant summation of the profound sense that there is more to life, that we are imperfect, that we get things wrong, that we should strive to see beyond our own perspective. The key word is darkly – profoundly loaded, with many shades of meaning. I feel the power is lost in some more literal translations. The New International Version says: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror” The Good News Bible: “What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror”. They feel not just a bit less special but dry and cold, and don’t quite have the same magic and meaning.

Like Shakespeare, the King James translation dates from a period when the written word was intended to be read aloud. And this helps to give it a poetic power and sheer resonance that in my view is not matched by any subsequent translation. It has also contributed immensely to the spread of spoken English around the world. Indeed, the language of the King James Bible is very much alive today.

I’ve already mentioned the lions’ den. Just think about some of the other things we all say. Phrases like: strength to strength, how the mighty are fallen, the skin of my teeth, the salt of the earth, nothing new under the sun. According to one recent study there are 257 of these phrases and idioms that come from the Bible. These phrases are all around us from court cases to TV sitcoms and from recipe books to pop music lyrics.

Of course, there is a healthy debate about the extent to which it was the King James version that originated the many phrases in our language today. And it’s right to recognise the impact of earlier versions like Tyndale, Wycliffe, Douai-Rheims, the Bishops and Geneva Bibles too. The King James Bible does exactly that, setting out with the stated aim of making a good translation better, or out of many good ones, to make “one principal good one”. But what is clear is that the King James Version gave the Bible’s many expressions a much more widespread public presence.

Much of that dissemination has come through our literature, through the great speeches we remember and the art and music we still enjoy today. From Milton to Morrison and Coleridge to Cormac McCarthy the Bible supports the plot, context, language and sometimes even the characters in some of our greatest literature. Tennyson makes over 400 Biblical references in his poems and makes allusions to 42 different books of the Bible.

The Bible has infused some of the greatest speeches from Martin Luther King’s dream that Isaiah’s prophecy would be fulfilled and that one day “every valley shall be exalted” to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address which employed not just Biblical words but cadence and rhythms borrowed from the King James Bible as well. When Lincoln said that his forefathers “brought forth” a new nation, he was imitating the way in which the Bible announced the birth of Jesus.

The Bible also runs through our art. From Giotto to El Greco and Michelangelo to Stanley Spencer. The paintings in Sandham Memorial Chapel in Berkshire are some of my favourite works of art. Those who died in Salonika rising to heaven is religious art in the modern age and, in my view, as powerful as some of what has come before.

And the Bible runs through our music too. From the great oratorios like J S Bach’s Matthew and John Passions and Handel’s Messiah to the wealth of music written across the ages for mass and evensong in great cathedrals like this one. The Biblical settings of composers from Tallis to Taverner are regularly celebrated here in this great cathedral and will sustain our great British tradition of choral music for generations to come.

It’s impossible to do justice in a short speech to the full scale of the cultural impact of the King James Bible. But what is clear is that four hundred years on, this book is still absolutely pivotal to our language and culture. And that’s one very good reason for us all to recognise it today.

A second reason is this.

Just as our language and culture is steeped in the Bible, so too is our politics. The Bible runs through our political history in a way that is often not properly recognised. The history and existence of a constitutional monarchy owes much to a Bible in which Kings were anointed and sanctified with the authority of God and in which there was a clear emphasis on the respect for Royal Power and the need to maintain political order. Jesus said: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

And yet at the same time, the Judeo-Christian roots of the Bible also provide the foundations for protest and for the evolution of our freedom and democracy. The Torah placed the first limits on Royal Power. And the knowledge that God created man in his own image was, if you like, a game changer for the cause of human dignity and equality.

In the ancient world this equity was inconceivable. In Athens, for example, full and equal rights were the preserve of adult, free born men. But when each and every individual is related to a power above all of us and when every human being is of equal and infinite importance, created in the very image of God we get the irrepressible foundation for equality and human rights -- a foundation that has seen the Bible at the forefront of the emergence of democracy, the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of women – even if not every church has always got the point!

Crucially the translation of the Bible into English made all this accessible to many who had previously been unable to comprehend the Latin versions. And this created an unrelenting desire for change. The Putney debates in the Church of St Mary the Virgin in 1647 saw the first call for One Man, One vote and the demand that authority be invested in the House of Commons rather than the King. Reading the Bible in English gave people equality with each other through God. And this led them to seek equality with each other through government.

In a similar way, the Bible provides a defining influence on the formation of the first welfare state. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says that whatever people have done “unto one of the least of these my brethren” they have done unto him. Just as in the past it was the influence of the church that enabled hospitals to be built, charities created, the hungry fed, the sick nursed and the poor given shelter, so today faith based groups are at the heart of modern social action.

Organisations like the Church Urban Fund which has supported over 5,000 faith based projects in England’s poorest communities including the Near Neighbours Programme which Eric Pickles helped to launch last month. And St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in London’s Bishopsgate a building once destroyed by an IRA bomb but now a centre where people divided by conflict, culture or religion can meet and listen to each other’s perspective.

In total, there are almost 30 thousand faith based charities in this country not to mention the thousands of people who step forward as individuals, as families, as communities, as organisations and yes, as churches and do extraordinary things to help build a bigger, richer, stronger, more prosperous and more generous society. And when it comes to the great humanitarian crises – like the famine in Horn of Africa – again you can count on faith-based organisations like Christian Aid, Tearfund, CAFOD, Jewish Care, Islamic Relief, and Muslim Aid to be at the forefront of the action to save lives.

So it’s right to recognise the huge contribution our faith communities make to our politics and to recognise the role of the Bible in inspiring many of their works.

People often say that politicians shouldn’t “do God.” If by that they mean we shouldn’t try to claim a direct line to God for one particular political party they could not be more right. But we shouldn’t let our caution about that stand in the way of recognising both what our faith communities bring to our country and also just how incredibly important faith is to so many people in Britain.

The Economist may have published the obituary of God in their Millennium issue. But in the past century, the proportion of people in the world who adhere to the four biggest religions has actually increased from around two-thirds to nearly three quarters and is forecast to continue rising.

For example, it is now thought there are at least 65 million protestants in China and 12 million Catholics – more Christians than there are members of the communist party. Official numbers indicate China has about 20 million Muslims – almost as many as in Saudi Arabia – and nearly twice as many as in the whole of the EU. And by 2050, some people think China could well be both the world’s biggest Christian nation and its biggest Muslim one too.

Here in Britain we only have to look at the reaction to the Pope’s visit last year, this year’s Royal Wedding or of course the festival of Christmas next week, to see that Christianity is alive and well in our country.

The key point is this. Societies do not necessarily become more secular with modernity but rather more plural, with a wider range of beliefs and commitments.

And that brings me to my third point.

The Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country. Indeed, as Margaret Thatcher once said, “we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible.” Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities these are the values we treasure.

Yes, they are Christian values. And we should not be afraid to acknowledge that. But they are also values that speak to us all – to people of every faith and none. And I believe we should all stand up and defend them. Those who oppose this usually make the case for secular neutrality. They argue that by saying we are a Christian country and standing up for Christian values we are somehow doing down other faiths. And that the only way not to offend people is not to pass judgement on their behaviour.

I think these arguments are profoundly wrong. And being clear on this is absolutely fundamental to who we are as a people what we stand for and the kind of society we want to build.

First, those who say being a Christian country is doing down other faiths simply don’t understand that it is easier for people to believe and practise other faiths when Britain has confidence in its Christian identity. Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France.

Why? Because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too. And because many of the values of a Christian country are shared by people of all faiths and indeed by people of no faith at all.

Second, those who advocate secular neutrality in order to avoid passing judgement on the behaviour of others fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code.

Let’s be clear. Faith is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for morality. There are Christians who don’t live by a moral code. And there are atheists and agnostics who do. But for people who do have a faith, their faith can be a helpful prod in the right direction. And whether inspired by faith or not – that direction, that moral code, matters.

Whether you look at the riots last summer, the financial crash and the expenses scandal, or the on-going terrorist threat from Islamist extremists around the world, one thing is clear: moral neutrality or passive tolerance just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Shying away from speaking the truth about behaviour, about morality has actually helped to cause some of the social problems that lie at the heart of the lawlessness we saw with the riots.

The absence of any real accountability, or moral code allowed some bankers and politicians to behave with scant regard for the rest of society. And when it comes to fighting violent extremism, the almost fearful passive tolerance of religious extremism that has allowed segregated communities to behave in ways that run completely counter to our values has not contained that extremism but allowed it to grow and prosper in the process blackening the good name of the great religions that these extremists abuse for their own purposes.

Put simply, for too long we have been unwilling to distinguish right from wrong. “Live and let live” has too often become “do what you please”. Bad choices have too often been defended as just different lifestyles. To be confident in saying something is wrong is not a sign of weakness, it’s a strength.

But we can’t fight something with nothing. As I’ve said, if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything. One of the biggest lessons of the riots last Summer is that we’ve got stand up for our values if we are to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations.

The same is true of religious extremism. As President Obama wrote in the Audacity of Hope: “…in reaction to religious overreach we equate tolerance with secularism, and forfeit the moral language that would help infuse our politics with larger meaning.”

Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism. A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values.

But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them. We need to stand up for these values. To have the confidence to say to people – this is what defines us as a society and that to belong here is to believe in these things.

I believe the church – and indeed all our religious leaders and their communities in Britain – have a vital role to play in helping to achieve this. I have never really understood the argument some people make about the church not getting involved in politics. To me, Christianity, faith, religion, the Church and the Bible are all inherently involved in politics because so many political questions are moral questions.

So I don’t think we should be shy or frightened of this. I certainly don’t object to the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing his views on politics. Religion has a moral basis and if he doesn’t agree with something he’s right to say so. But just as it is legitimate for religious leaders to make political comments, he shouldn’t be surprised when I respond.

Also it’s legitimate for political leaders to say something about religious institutions as they see them affecting our society, not least in the vital areas of equality and tolerance. I believe the Church of England has a unique opportunity to help shape the future of our communities. But to do so it must keep on the agenda that speaks to the whole country.

The future of our country is at a pivotal moment. The values we draw from the Bible go to the heart of what it means to belong in this country and you, as the Church of England, can help ensure that it stays that way.

How is religion measured in the UK?

Reprinted from here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Let Peace Reign

Alice C. Linsley

As a Christian, I find myself contemplating the meaning of Christmas beyond the commercial trappings.  As an introvert, I have an aversion to crowded shopping malls, jammed parking lots, and holiday sales that attract aggressive shoppers.  I'd rather be home enjoying a roaring fire and listening to Handel's Messiah. I find the holiday rush and hustle disconcerting. Where is the peace so boldly proclaimed on greeting cards? Is there no contentment with simple things: a star-strewn winter sky, the fragrance of cedar and pine logs?

I agree with C.S. Lewis that the best policy for keeping peace on earth is to mind one's business. That being the case, I refuse to judge the extroverts who thrive in this hectic season.  They are free to pursue the fleeting glory of the season and I am free to avoid it as much as possible. 

All would agree that peace on earth is a good thing, beneficial to all except those who run guns and drugs. The "little mafias" around the world who intimidate, torture and kill will never be content with peace.  This year many children will have Christmas without their fathers because of these gangs of thugs.  In many places the "officers of the peace" are bought servants.  None will press charges because they know they will be killed. 

To proclaim "peace on earth" in such a world seems futile.  There is no peace.  There is no agreement on what peace looks like.  Yet as a Christian, I assert that Christmas is still one of the best holidays for those who seek peace.  And as to how it looks, consider the Infant Christ, undisturbed in the arms of His pure and holy Mother.  Contemplate this image well.  He comes meek and lowly, the very icon of divine peace offered to the world.  Receive Him and you receive peace on earth.

Related reading:  Christians are Christmas People

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Roadmap for Moral Renewal in Europe

Alejo José G. Sison  (Reprinted from here.)

At this time of the year, walking from my apartment to the University, shop-windows would usually be all decked in Christmas finery. But instead, what I find are closing-down sales, “for rent” signs and locales completely boarded up. It has been like this for the past couple of years that it feels like the new normal. Living in Spain, where growth has been flat and unemployment sky-rocketing, nothing different could be expected. But what do we do now?

That’s when I remembered Benedict XVI’s address to the Bundestag last September. I have been discussing it with some friends, yet it never occurred to me until then that it could contain both a diagnosis and a remedy for the malaise that afflicts Europe. How could the Pope’s speech present Europe with a roadmap to recovery?

A “listening heart” for politicians

In the recent general elections in Spain, nothing weighed heavier in voters’ choices than the perceived ability of candidates to get the economy up and running. That’s what we want our politicians to deliver: wealth and prosperity, period. As for the rest, we could very well take care ourselves. Only a few cast their vote on the basis of the candidate’s “listening heart”, the ability to “discern between good and evil” (cf. 1 Kg 3:9), so this issue never really arises in campaigns. Yet, as Benedict suggests, this is “what should ultimately matter for a politician. His fundamental criterion and motivation […] must not be success, and certainly not material gain. Politics must be a striving for justice…”

Not to be misunderstood, the Pope explains that material success is necessary, because otherwise, there would be “no opportunity for effective political action at all. Yet success is subordinated to the criterion of justice, to the will to do what is right, and to the understanding of what is right.” Certainly, there is nothing quite as dangerous as political success without justice, power without law. In that case, as St. Augustine remarked, nothing would distinguish the State from a band of robbers, or worse, from an instrument of destruction that could threaten the whole world, as the German experience with Nazism has shown. “To serve right and to fight against the dominion of wrong is and remains the fundamental task of the politician,” Benedict unequivocally asserts.

Democracy alone is insufficient

Having been brought into power in Germany through a democratic process, the Nazi regime itself is proof that “for the fundamental issues of law, in which the dignity of man and of humanity is at stake, the majority principle is not enough”. Although in most matters subject to law -- as in a state’s decision to form part of the European Union or to adopt the euro, for instance -- majority rule is enough to provide legitimacy, this does not always apply. Instead, when unjust laws put basic human rights under threat, such as the right of parents to educate their children, citizens have a duty to struggle and resist.

In modern liberal democracies, it may be fairly simple to acknowledge that the State and, by extension, its laws are not always right -- hence the possibility of challenging the State and bringing it to court, whenever it becomes too much of a nuisance. But, what is to keep such conflicts between citizens and the State from becoming mere contests of money, power or influence? Is there anything else in our disputes beyond conflicts of self-interest? Granted that “what is right and may be given the force of law is in no way simply self-evident today”, could we still claim that something in itself is right and just? On what grounds?

Not religion, but nature and reason

Surprisingly, Benedict does not posit religion, not even Christianity, as a source of law for society and the State. Instead, he puts forward the interrelation of reason and nature as the basis of a universal “natural law”, in keeping with the teachings not only of the Stoïcs, Romans and medieval Schoolmen, but also of some legal scholars of the Enlightenment, all of whom influenced the “Founding Fathers” of the Declaration of Human Rights and the drafters of the German Basic Law. Behind this is the conviction that reason itself is capable of discovering in nature the principles of its proper functioning, even without the help of religion and revelation. Not that religion and revelation are useless; they aid reason in discerning the laws of nature, although in principle, reason alone can also do this by itself. Thus, reason acts as the moral conscience, “Solomon’s listening heart […] that is open to the language of being.”

How “natural law” got de-natured

It is quite unfortunate that the very idea of “natural law” has been all but lost, confined almost exclusively within Catholic circles. This is due to the widespread rejection of the so-called “naturalistic fallacy”, according to which “an ‘ought’ [a duty or obligation] can never follow from an ‘is’ [a statement of fact], because the two are situated on completely different planes.” The problem, however, is that this inference itself is based on a reductive and therefore false concept of nature: a purely positivist understanding which sees nature as merely “an aggregate of objective data linked together in terms of cause and effect” -- as we find, for example, in the legal philosopher Hans Kelsen.

Positivism also views reason as limited to the realm of empirical science, to what is verifiable or falsifiable, while everything else, such as ethics and religion, is exiled to the realm of feelings and sentiments. “This is a dramatic situation which affects everyone, and on which a public debate is necessary,” Benedict observes. Furthermore, he establishes as the “essential goal” of his address the “urgent invitation” to launch such a public and political debate on these matters.

Europe and the ecological awakening

The positivist view of nature and reason is incorrect not in what it affirms, thanks to which we have scaled such heights of achievement in the sciences, but in what it denies. “Where positivist reason considers itself the only sufficient culture and banishes all other cultural realities to the status of subcultures, it diminishes man, indeed it threatens his humanity.” Nowhere is this more evident than in present-day Europe, where positivism has been installed as the de facto common culture and grounds for legislation. At the same time, gravely disappointed with the results of integration, not least in the economic sphere, Europeans increasingly turn their backs on this culture of “culturelessness” and embrace extremist and radical ideologies. Thus, we have shut ourselves from the light and the air of God’s wide world and set ourselves on course to a slow death by suffocation, to follow Benedict’s metaphor.

Since a few decades back, however, there have been signs of an awakening, especially among the young, in the face of all this irrationality. The Pope has sensed it in the extraordinary appeal of the ecological movement in Germany. It rests on the realization that nature “is not just raw material for us to shape at will, but that the earth has a dignity of its own and that we must follow its directives.”

Benedict agrees, but challenges the green movement by pointing out that there is also an “ecology of man”: “Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. […] [H]e is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is […] In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.”

Human beings, therefore, no less than the world that surrounds them, are subject to laws and norms that do not come from their own will. Where, then, do these principles originate? In response to Kelsen, Benedict asks, “Is it really pointless to wonder whether the objective reason that manifests itself in nature does not presuppose a creative reason, a Creator Spiritus?”

Only after this question is seriously considered can Europe embark on a moral renewal, in many ways much more urgent than mere economic recovery. We ought to remember that Europe was born at the crossroads “between Jerusalem, Athens and Rome —from the encounter between Israel’s monotheism, the philosophical reason of the Greeks and Roman law.” From this cross-fertilization have issued “[t]he conviction that there is a Creator God [that] gave rise to the idea of human rights, the idea of the equality of all people before the law, the recognition of the inviolability of human dignity in every single person and the awareness of people’s responsibility for their actions.” Together, they form the cornerstone of law that today, more than ever, ought to be defended.

To sum up: after a careful reading of Benedict XVI’s speech at the German parliament, here are some guidelines for the renewal of Europe:

* We should not choose our political leaders solely on their promises to bring us material well-being, but above all, for their moral rectitude or “listening heart”.

* Democracy has to abide by certain principles exempt from the majority rule in order to function properly.

* These universal principles pertain to “natural law”: they are conclusions that human reason draws from an attentive study of nature.

Europe will recover only to the extent that it reconciles itself with its “natural law” tradition and abandons the tyranny of positivism. In this regard, the ecological movement has already shown the way.

Alejo José G. Sison is a philosophy professor who specializes in Business Ethics at the University of Navarre. He is also president of the European Business Ethics Network (EBEN).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Syrian Journalists Arrested,Tortured

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 21 December 2011 - To describe 2011 as a turbulent year for Syria would be an understatement. As other regimes in the Arab world have fallen, President Bashar al-Assad has ruthlessly clung to power. At every step, media attempts to shed light on developments have been thwarted. The government has cracked down on local journalists and denied access to most foreign ones.

According to Ghias Aljundi, an exiled Syrian activist, "after the beginning of the Syrian revolution on 15 March 2011, press freedom suffered additional restrictions and dozens of journalists and bloggers have been arrested and tortured for . . . writing pieces about what it is happening inside Syria." He added: "There are documented reports that the arrested journalists have been tortured and forced to write articles in which they had to deny that there were protests in the country. Opposition websites have been blocked or hacked by the state-backed Syrian Electronic Army."

On the one hand, the Syrian government controls the media and uses it to boost its own legitimacy, but the current level of protests and uprisings, and the avenues for information-sharing opened up by social media developments, have made it impossible to fully stifle the flow of news.

According to the United Nations, more than 5,000 people have been killed since the uprisings started in March in Syria. In a number of moves to bolster his legitimacy, President Assad has made various changes to laws regarding the press. In April 2011, Assad removed an emergency law which allowed the state to control the media. In June, a few select foreign journalists were allowed to enter Syria, after having applied for, and successfully obtained, a visa. IPI reported on the numerous challenges faced by these journalists. President Assad passed a law earlier in August easing the tight regulations for journalists, making it more difficult to arrest or ban them. In October, Assad claimed that fundamental freedoms of the media must be recognised and article 11 of the decree states: "Any attack on a journalist will be treated as an attack on a Syrian government official."

Whilst these reforms are designed to create the impression that journalists are free to report in Syria, the reality is grimly different. According to a report by the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, entitled "Crackdown on Media Workers in Syria", 114 human rights violations took place against 99 journalists, bloggers and intellectuals between February and October 2011. The report details how journalists are intimidated and harassed because of their reports on the uprisings in Syria. It is unclear how many journalists and bloggers have been detained as many appear to have simply disappeared.

"Local journalists have been banned from moving within Syria and many of them have been interrogated or arrested for trying to visit other Syrian cities," activist Aljundi said. "The majority of Syrian journalists, who reported on the recent events in Syria, were exposed to a defamation campaign by the state-owned media or through pro-regime websites. As Syria is completely closed down to any reliable media or journalists, many of the Syrian journalists had to flee the country for their safety."

Even the few foreign journalists allowed to enter Syria have been restricted in terms of what they have been allowed to cover and where they have been allowed to go. For example, foreign journalists have been unable to cover the anti-government protests in Homs. Often, they were just given the state-sanctioned versions of stories.

With the lack of representative reporting in Syria and foreign media restricted, there has been a huge increase in blogs and so-called 'citizen reporting', but even amateur journalists are in danger. Security forces are targeting those with mobile phones at anti-government protests. They are also seeking to gather information about pro-democracy bloggers and protestors and flooding Facebook and Twitter pages of the opposition with pro-Assad messages.
(. . .)

Read the full report here.

For more information:

International Press Institute
Spiegelgasse 2/29
A-1010 Vienna
Phone: +43 1 5129011
Fax: +43 1 5129014

Quote of the Week - Ron Paul

"All of our children were raised in the Episcopal Church. Some [places] were fairly conservative but my wife and I thought the Episcopal Church advocated a position that we didn't endorse, so we left. And our children did not stay in the Episcopal Church either."--Texas Representative Ron Paul (Oct. 2011 Christianity Today interview)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

More Euthanasia, Assisted-Suicide Propaganda

Margaret Somerville (Reprinted from here.)

The Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on End-of-Life Decision Making recently released its Report to much media attention. The parts of that report we can all agree on, for instance, the need for much better access to palliative care and pain management for terminally ill patients, was not the media’s focus. The panel’s recommendation that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS) should be legalized was.

It has generated many calls for a national debate in Canada on these latter issues – mainly, I would guess, if not entirely, from people advocating the legalization of euthanasia. In entering such a debate and deciding whether they agree with this recommendation, it’s important for Canadians to understand the weaknesses of the Report.

The Panel’s mandate included the following direction: “The public would… benefit greatly from having a careful, balanced review of various pros and cons of decriminalization of physician-assisted death from well-reasoned ethical and legal standpoints.” The Report comes nowhere near fulfilling this mandate. It’s a pro-euthanasia manifesto – to paraphrase an advocate for disabled people speaking in another context, it’s “thinly veiled euthanasia and assisted suicide propaganda disguised as an expert report”.

This is not surprising in view of who the authors are. Many are well-known pro-euthanasia advocates and, as the Report is unanimous, one can assume all agree with this stance. The people I know whom the Panel lists as consulting to them are, likewise, pro-euthanasia -- three of them world-leading advocates.
It’s important to understand this is not a Report of the Royal Society of Canada, as many have mistakenly assumed, as that gives it an unmerited credibility. It’s a Report of an expert panel (only one member of which is a fellow of the Royal Society) set up by the Royal Society. The fairness and wisdom of the Royal Society’s choice of panel members must, however, be questioned.

The Report is very far from being a “balanced review” or adequately comprehensive. The arguments against the legalization of euthanasia and PAS are almost entirely absent. Issues are considered almost entirely at the level of the individual. There is almost no discussion of the impact of legalizing euthanasia and PAS at the institutional level -- in particular, the impact on healthcare institutions and professions, and the law – or at the societal level, in particular, on important shared values, such as respect for life. In fact, this value is not discussed, an extraordinary omission considering the topic of the report.

Discussion of abuses is deficient and selective

The discussion of the practices in jurisdictions that have legalized or allow euthanasia and assisted-suicide are seriously deficient and very selective so as to minimize the Report’s coverage of abuses, expansions of justifications for the practices, and other problems or controversies.

For example, the Report indicates there has been one case of the use of euthanasia on disabled babies in the Netherlands. This is probably correct in the short time since the Groningen protocol allowing such euthanasia was formally accepted. But, prior to that, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine documents 22 cases of babies with spina bifida being euthanized, which is not mentioned. Such “pro-euthanasia presentations” of the facts are concerning and misleading. Likewise, the availability in the Netherlands of euthanasia for children is not mentioned. The combination of euthanasia and donation of organs for transplant in Belgium and the recent case in Flanders of “joint euthanasia” of a terminally ill man and his healthy wife are ignored. And a survey of Belgian physicians who had carried out euthanasia, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, which showed 32 percent of those physicians had carried out euthanasia without the patient’s request or consent is never mentioned.

The system set up under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act is presented as largely problem-free. The literature describing problems, for instance, articles and book chapters by renowned pain specialist and head of palliative care at Memorial Sloane Kettering, Dr Kathleen Foley, and Dr Herbert Hendin, a New York psychiatrist specializing in suicide prevention, is likewise totally ignored.

And although Canadian psychiatrist Dr Harvey Max Chochinov’s research is referenced, his ground-breaking work in the psychiatry of dying people, what helps them and what they want, is not discussed.

Through the lens of individual autonomy

The authors make an assumption that individual autonomy, implemented through “informed choice”, is always the prevailing value and construct their case for euthanasia and PAS from there. They do not consider that for many people some other value might prevail – for example, respect for human life which requires that we don’t kill each other, except when unavoidable to save life -- and what line of argument and decision outcomes that would result in.

In short, the authors have adopted a basic assumption, from which, as they state, everything else they accept and recommend flows, without adequately justifying doing so and not even mentioning the possible alternatives.

The essential difference between the pro and anti euthanasia positions is that the former gives priority to individual autonomy over respect for life, the latter does the opposite. We should keep in mind, here, that we are not just talking about the value of respect for each individual human life, important as that is, but also, respect for human life in general. The authors refer to the Charter as the primary source of our shared values: Apart from any other claims on behalf of the value of respect for life, it is one of the values enshrined in the Charter.

There is a strong emphasis in the Report on the burden and healthcare costs of an aging population and the Report gives the impression that euthanasia and PAS will help to resolve this “problem”. The authors note that euthanizing people “in advanced stages of dementia” will be an issue to be addressed in the future. In other words, they don’t reject the possibility that this might be acceptable.

The Report doesn’t mention survey results, such as those from an Environics poll, which last year (2010) asked over 2000 Canadians what the government priority should be - legalizing euthanasia or improving end-of-life care, or both. Seventy-one percent said improving end-of-life care and 19 percent said legalizing euthanasia, and 5 percent said both (the remainder were Did not know/Neither).

What about elder abuse?

Because the Report seems to have a special focus on aging, I note that the Environics polls also showed Canadians are very concerned about elder abuse if euthanasia or PAS is legalized. The 2011 poll expressly asked about "elder abuse" and 76 percent of respondents said they were concerned about it, if euthanasia were legalized. The 2010 poll did not expressly ask about "elder abuse", but did ask a question where 78 percent of respondents said they were concerned that elderly persons (disabled and sick persons too) would be euthanized without consent. To another 2010 question, 63 percent said they were concerned elderly persons could be pressured to accept euthanasia in order to reduce health care costs.

The authors recognize their position involves an inconsistency in that they champion individual autonomy as the prevailing value, but clearly will place limits on its exercise and not recognize the validity of the choice to die of all autonomous, competent adults.

But, if individual autonomy trumps all other considerations, then why is there a need for any other justification for euthanasia? Simply wanting to be dead and consenting to it should be sufficient: “Over 70 and tired of life”, as proposed in The Netherlands, would suffice. And why, even, does the person need to be “over 70”? What about the broken hearted 18-year-old whose first love has abandoned her; why can’t she exercise her autonomy to have assistance committing suicide?

And if there’s a right to commit suicide, then there is a duty not to interfere with people exercising that right. How then can we justify treating people brought to an emergency room who have attempted suicide?

The usual “confusions” used to promote the case for euthanasia are all present in the Report: equating all acts and omissions; arguing there is no difference between killing and allowing to die; conflating intention and motive in relation to desired and unwanted consequences of pain relief treatment; and so on. The opposite arguments are not presented. And the fact that courts and others rely on these distinctions daily in making legal and ethical decisions is ignored.

The section on dignity, which the authors recognize is a prominent concept in the euthanasia debate, is especially biased to the pro-euthanasia arguments and inadequate. In particular, a 2008 major and very comprehensive research report on the concept by the US President’s Commission on Bioethics is not even mentioned.

The above criticisms are not comprehensive, many more could be articulated. Fortunately, in my view, there is a wealth of grounds on which the Report can be easily dismissed.

Margaret Somerville is founding director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Israel Releases 550 Palestinians

Israel has released 550 Palestinian prisoners in the second stage of a deal with Hamas that brought home one Israeli soldier after five years of captivity in the Gaza Strip.

Among those released Sunday were 55 minors, aged 14 to 17.

Israel released 477 Palestinians in October in exchange for Israeli army Sergeant Gilad Shalit who was captured in 2006 during a cross-border raid from Gaza into southern Israel.

The Israeli Prison Service says unlike the prisoners exchanged in October, none of the second group has been convicted of killing Israelis.

Also Sunday, the Israeli Housing Ministry began seeking contractors to build some 1,000 homes in the occupied West Bank.

The homes are part of a settlement plan announced earlier in the year. Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered construction to be sped up after the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO granted the Palestinians membership.

Israel opposes Palestinian efforts to join the U.N. in the absence of a negotiated peace deal.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.

Source: Global

Christmas Concert from Lebanon

Not to be missed!  Enjoy this delightful Christmas concert sponsored by The Lebanese National Higher Conservatory of Music

Choir: the Antonine University Choir, the NDU Choir and the Lebanese National Higher Conservatory Choir

Monday, December 19, 2011

USA Behind in ESG Investments

The US is falling behind other countries and regions in integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into mainstream investment decisions, largely due to perceived legal or fiduciary risks, experts said.

“There’s no question in my mind that Northern Europe has got sustainable investing in its sights,” Roger Urwin, global head of investment content for consultancy firm Towers Watson, told attendees of the ESG USA 2011 conference in New York on December 13.

Australia and the UK look to be next to jump on the ESG bandwagon, but there are “big and very ugly roadblocks in the US” to sustainable investing, he said.

The issue of fiduciary duty is a major barrier to the incorporation of ESG factors in investment decision-making in the US, said Jay Youngdahl, trustee for a $650 million benefit fund and a partner at law firm Youngdahl & Citti in Houston, Texas. A fiduciary duty is an obligation to act in the best interest of another party, in this context, the investors in a fund.

“It is holding it back,” he said. “It is a refuge for people who do not want to see ESG put into investments. It does not need to be. This roadblock is an incorrect roadblock legally.”

Any time trustees want to do anything in the ESG space, lawyers tell them this would be a violation of their fiduciary duties, Youngdahl said. “That’s wrong generally speaking,” he said. “On fiduciary duty, there is an extraordinarily high level of intellectually sloppiness that is a major problem for lawyers who work in this area.”

But the Occupy movement in the US has provided a spur to rethink many things, including fiduciary duty as it relates to ESG investing, Youngdahl said. “But it takes courage,” he said. “The American legal establishment at this point does not have that courage.”

In August, investment manager Pimco signed up to the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI) and adopted ESG integration into its overall investment process. But more market-leading investment firms need to follow in Pimco’s footsteps and commit to the UN PRI to create momentum in the US and foster widespread adoption, said Michael Burns, Pimco’s executive vice-president.

The firm had extremely strong management support for this initiative, and pressure from and endorsement by clients around the world “definitely accelerated the process”, he said.

“We’ve had a number of Northern European investors help us to understand at an early stage the value of ESG factors in investment decision-making,” Burns said.

During a review, Pimco discovered it was already taking a number of steps that were ESG-related, such as imposing a rigorous standard in evaluating the governance structures of companies. “We were just terrible at communicating it to the broader investment community,” he said.

But there are potential impediments for investment managers considering adopting ESG integration, including the fiduciary duty issue and the need for firms to become comfortable with the legal representations they will make about incorporating ESG, Burns said. For example, when signing on to the UN PRI, a company is making a representation about what it will do and companies need to understand the ramifications and be sure they won't expose themselves to liability.

“I think the legal uncertainty is something that makes some firms step away,” he said.

Another key issue is managers’ lack of information about investors’ true interest in ESG integration, with some investors opposing such initiatives.

“Being able to speak to that audience is equally important as being able to speak to the audience that’s very supportive and I don’t think many investment managers are willing to have those tough conversations,” he said.

Incorporating ESG also requires significant time, resources and training. “It is a costly investment, but it’s one we think will pay off over time,” Burns said.

Source:  Environmental Finance

H/T to Ron Robins MBA at Investing for the Soul. Ron has this to say: "In the US, the degree of scepticism about human induced climate change is much greater than it is in Europe. Just look at what the Republican presidential hopefuls say on this issue! Thus, such attitudes influence American's beliefs of the relevance of ESG issues.

Meanwhile, we all know that companies who lead in responding most effectively to ESG issues are generally 'best of sector,' both financially and in comparative stock performance."

430 Dead and Many Missing in Philippine Floods

Women holding their dead children

Tens of thousands in the Philippines have fled to higher ground, several hundred have been killed and many more are missing after a tropical storm in the area resulted in huge flash floods.

“Massive flooding has been reported over the region, especially in Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro City,” national disaster rescue agency head Benito Ramos told the BBC.

Much of the flooding occurred during the night while residents of the region affected were sleeping. The latest reports say as many as 430 people have been brought to funeral parlors around the country, but officials say the numbers might rise because many are still missing.

As many as 10,000 soldiers are reportedly helping with rescue efforts.

“I can’t explain how these things happened,” Military Spokesman Colonel Leopoldo Galon told the BBC. “Entire villages were swept into the sea.”

Read the full report here.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pope Benedict: First Human Right is to Life

Pope Benedict XVI has sent a powerful message for life to the world at Christmas time. Lifesitenews reports that, speaking at his Angelus address to thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's square, the Holy Father acknowledged the 63rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and said "Dear friends, on the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, remember that the first of all rights is the right to life."

Pope Benedict from the beginning of his pontificate has used many opportunities to raise the right to life, demonstrating his primary concern for what he considers the most basic human right.

Shortly after becoming pope, Benedict XVI noted that attacks on preborn children, which include abortion and destructive research on embryos, are "today's gravest injustice." In the first book he published as pope, Benedict emphasized that the fight against abortion must continue. Significantly he wrote, "There is no such thing as 'small murders.'"

In March of 2006, the pope stressed that, "as far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus" for political involvement is around the "non-negotiable" matters of life, family and parental rights in education. And putting the principle into practice, while visiting both the U.S. president and the Canadian prime minister in 2009, the Holy Father gave the right to life priority in the discourse.

In recent years the pope has become increasingly insistent that the Catholic Church take up ever more strenuously the fight for the right to life. "Guaranteeing the right to life is a duty upon which the future of humanity depends," he said in 2007. Also that year he noted that the right to life "must be supported by everyone because it is fundamental with respect to other human rights."

His most striking move, according to LifeSite, was an unprecedented call to all Catholic churches worldwide to join him in a vigil for all 'nascent human life' on November 27 last year.

Source: Youth Defense

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Red Cross May Advocate Abortion Rights

By Stefano Gennarini, J.D., and Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D.

New York, December 16 (C-FAM) A recently issued report from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent has caused concerns that the organization may start advocating for abortion rights.

In a section of the report on human rights IFRC quotes a widely criticized document issued by Anand Grover, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, which said, "States must take measures to ensure that legal and safe abortion services are available, accessible, and of good quality." The IFRC report goes on to editorialize, "But the real challenge is to find out how many states will indeed change their policies accordingly.”

This may lead some to believe IFRC could eventually declare abortion a human right as Amnesty International did in 2007. Amid much controversy, Amnesty International simply announced that endorsing abortion as a right was a "natural" outgrowth of its 2-year campaign countering violence against women.

Initially an external relations manager at IFRC told the Friday Fax the organization “definitely” did not consider abortion a human right. Gabriel Pictet, the manager of IFRC’s community health unit said, "IFRC did not change its position on abortion as a human right. To my knowledge it never had one."

Pictet said IFRC quoted the highly controversial UN special rapporteur’s document "because the issue of safe abortion is relevant to public health, to health inequities and to human rights. By ensuring access to safe abortions, rather than making abortions illegal and thereby unsafe, the likelihood of reaching the Millennium Development Goal 5 [improve maternal health] increases.”

IFRC has adopted the same position as pro-abortion groups at the UN who equate "unsafe" with illegal abortion, and invoke international development agreements to promote legal abortion. In fact, abortion can cause maternal health problems and even death. Moreover, the world's lowest maternal mortality occurs in countries where abortion is illegal, such as Ireland and Chile.

What’s more, abortion is never mentioned in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). UN member states rejected the term "reproductive health" within the MDGs on every occasion it was debated, precisely to avoid interpretations that it might include abortion. While UN agencies began asserting in 2008 that MDG5 includes a target on reproductive health, they cannot publicly assert that the target includes abortion.

For now, IFRC’s Pictet says, "Because abortion is a matter of personal conscience, it does not make sense for an international membership organization like IFRC to go beyond raising the issue."

The Geneva-based IFRC is a separate organization from the 150 year-old International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Whereas ICRC works in conflict zones and adheres to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, IFRC is supposed to take the lead in post-conflict and non-conflict humanitarian emergencies.

Both IFRC and ICRC are part of the Red Cross Movement whose mission is "to alleviate human suffering, protect life and health, and uphold human dignity especially during armed conflicts and other emergencies."

Source:  Friday Fax

Friday, December 16, 2011

Noted Atheist Dead at Age 62

Christopher Hitchens is dead.

The prolific journalist, well-known public intellectual and noted contrarian, who is perhaps most famous in the eyes of many Americans for his best-selling exegesis against religion, passed away Thursday at the MD Anderson Cancer in Houston, Texas. He was 62.

Read more here.

Dr. William Witt has written an excellent piece on Hitchens.  Read it here.

For information on Christians who have debated Hitchens, go here.

Obama's Foreign Policy Directive: Promote LGBT Rights

By Wendy Wright

GENEVA, December 16 (C-FAM) All federal agencies dealing with U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance must now promote lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. This new priority puts U.S. foreign policy on a collision course with religious freedom.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced President Obama’s sweeping directive to UN diplomats in Geneva last week. Along with the full-force of the U.S. government, a Global Equality Fund will equip foreign LGBT groups to agitate within countries.

Every federal agency engaged overseas, and “other agencies as the President may designate,” is directed to “combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad,” assist LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, leverage aid to advance LGBT nondiscrimination, respond swiftly to abuses of LGBT persons abroad, enlist international organizations “in the fight,” and report on progress.

A State Department official said, “We are not just having people . . . whose full-time job it is to occupy ourselves with concerns of human rights, but also people whose daily grind is, most of the time, spent on different things.”

This elevates LGBT above every other people group, including those persecuted for religious beliefs, promoting democracy and human rights, ethnic minorities, and women.

Asked by the Friday Fax if any other minority has this status, the State Department did not respond.

By one account, only nine countries do not discriminate in some way against LGBT individuals, such as donating blood or “higher age of consent laws.”

Obama’s directive comes as Nigeria debates a bill to protect marriage. The Catholic Medical Association of Nigeria denounced “the coordinated ferocity” by foreign governments and international groups “browbeating” legislators to adopt laws that are premised on “dubious science and ethical mischief.”

Reacting to Obama’s order, Oliver Kisaka with the National Council of Churches of Kenya told the CS Monitor, “God did not make a mistake; being gay is that person’s own perspective. Those who live as gays need help to live right and we should not be supporting them to live in a wrong reality.

“Society should reach out to gays and transgender people to help them out of their situation. They have not ceased to be God’s children and no one is a gone case.”

Clinton equated religious and cultural views on sexuality and gender identity with “violent practices toward women like honor killings, widow burning or female genital mutilation."

Tina Ramirez of the Washington DC–based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty told the Friday Fax, "The Administration is sticking its head in the sand when it comes to the conflict between gay rights and religious freedom. The failure of either the President or the Secretary of State to articulate how the international LGBT rights initiative will interact with religious conscientious objection is a recipe for conflict between the two. No one disagrees with Secretary Clinton's truism that religious freedom doesn't protect religiously-motivated violence against anyone. But the real issue, that neither the President nor Secretary Clinton talked about, is what happens when the LGBT initiative conflicts with sincere conscientious objection. Religious liberty is a fundamental human right protected in the United States Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and countless other human rights instruments; the Administration seems to be treating it as an afterthought."

Source: Friday Fax

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Congress Not Respected by Americans

Congress Given Lowest Rating in Gallup History; Americans Rate Members' Ethics Low, Very Low

A record 64 percent of American adults -- surveyed by Gallup in a poll released yesterday (December 12, 2011) -- rated the honesty and ethical standards for members of Congress as "low" or "very low." Those numbers mark the lowest rating that Gallup has measured for any profession since it began polling the question in 1976, according to the Yahoo website.

The 64 percent rating ties members of Congress with the 64 percent low rating that lobbyists received in Gallup's 2008 survey.

The low ethics rating is in line with the overall low regard the American public has for its lawmakers.

Members of Congress, lobbyists, car salespeople, and telemarketers round out the bottom tier of professions ranked by public perceptions of their ethics in the Gallup survey. Professions earning high ethics marks in the poll were nurses, pharmacists, medical doctors, and high school teachers.

The November 28 to December 1, 2011 poll of adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Source: Theology and Society

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dutch Crazy about Euthanasia

Straight from the “just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse” files come reports that the Dutch Health Minister admitted in their parliament recently that her department is “considering” setting up mobile euthanasia death squads.

Minister Edith Schippers is quoted in the UK Telegraph as saying that mobile units "for patients who meet the criteria for euthanasia but whose doctors are unwilling to carry it out" was worthy of consideration.

Instantly, many will be reminded of the SS Einsatzgruppen death squads that moved through towns on the Eastern Front following the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941. I hesitate to draw any further comparison with this dark and sinister period in European history, but this recent development is disturbing on a number of levels.

The suggestion that these mobile units would euthanase people where the local doctor was not willing to do the killing could constitute a serious breach of medical ethics. What if the doctor would not kill for sound medical reasons such as untreated depression or evidence of coercive pressure? Will his or her advice be sought and will his opinion and treatment plan prevail? It doesn’t seem that likely.

Already we have seen Dutch patients with Alzheimer’s being euthanased. But Dutch pro-euthanasia groups are known to want to expand the eligibility for euthanasia further; the UK Daily Mail reports the lobby as saying “that 80 per cent of people with dementia or mental illnesses were being ‘missed' by the country’s euthanasia laws’.” Missed? Is there a door-to-door search? Quick, hide Grandma in the cupboard!

Would the patient’s doctor even be told that the death squad was about to visit his patient? For the frail, elderly or those with depression or mental illness, the doctor may well also be the patient’s only advocate. Doctor shopping for a preferred diagnosis is one thing, but this is death as a door-to-door salesman!

A salesman it is. In Washington State, where assisted suicide is legal, advocates like the euphemistically titled “Compassion and Choices” provide advice to those seeking death in how to approach their doctor and what to do if he or she tries to talk the patient out of it or tries to defer the conversation. Their advice suggests that any answer other than supporting the provision of assisted suicide under their Dignity With Dying Act is unacceptable. But again, is it not a legitimate role of the doctor to avoid a direct answer on such a question with the aim of taking the time to conduct a proper medical and mental health assessment and the best outcome for the patient?

Of course, if you don’t get what you want, there’s always help at the other end of the phone: “... call Compassion; Choices of Washington and request a Client Support Volunteer who can help you achieve a peaceful, humane death.” One can easily imagine a similar line being adopted in Holland: “Your doctor said no. How terrible! Here, call the mobile hotline now!

Paul Russell is the Director of HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide and is based in South Auustralia. He is also Vice Chair, International Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Quote of the Week - Charles Raven

"It would be a great tragedy if the reframing of Anglicanism that we are seeing take hold in Africa and the Global South was to be subverted by Lambeth rebranding." --British columnist Charles Raven

Kiir's Daughter Marries Ethiopian, Ayok Reports and is Threatened

SOURCE: Arabic Network for Human Rights Information/IFEX - 12 December 2011 - ANHRI expresses its concern about Sudanese journalist Dengdit Ayok, deputy editor of the English-language newspaper "Destiny", who received a death threat via email for publishing an article critical of the country's president, Salva Kiir.

In November, Ayok was detained for two weeks and "Destiny" was suspended after publishing its first two issues, after it reported on the marriage of the president's daughter to an Ethiopian. The authorities deemed the article as "unethical to the profession of journalism". One of the reasons given for the decision, which was signed by the director of the Internal Security Agency in Juba, Akol Koor Kuc, is that it is noted that on many occasions, the newspaper continued reporting on "isolated topics that should not be published for the public".

Although five months have passed since independence, journalists in Southern Sudan are working without any legislative instruments that regulate the press and publications, or any code that guarantees the rights of journalists and protects them from detention and fines. Hence, the ruling authorities have full power to assess what is professional and objective and what deserves to be sanctioned with a detention or brought to trial.

"The closure of a newspaper and death threats for a journalist are not the best start for the authorities in Southern Sudan when it comes to addressing journalistic freedoms. As a matter of fact, it is obliged to behave differently than Northern Sudan, in terms of newspapers being confiscated, websites being blocked, and the detention of journalists. It is quite unfortunate that this nascent state pursues the same infamous practices," said ANHRI.

"The authorities must introduce a law protecting press freedoms and guaranteeing freedom of opinion and expression in its peaceful form, so as not to drift to the list of restrictive anti-press states," added ANHRI.

For more information:

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
10 Elwy Street
Apartment 5
Behind the Central Bank
Downtown Cairo
info (@)
Phone: +202 239 64058
Fax: +202 239 64058