Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Romney Denies Prejudice Against Palestinians

Mitt Romney told Fox News that he was not criticizing Palestinian culture when he suggested that Israel’s economic success was due to its "culture" at a fundraiser in Israel on Monday.

"I’m not speaking about, did not speak about, the Palestinian culture," Romney told Fox’s Carl Cameron.

Romney came under fire from Palestinian leaders when he compared the GDP per capita in Israel to that in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, saying at one point, "Culture makes all the difference." Although he never specifically implicated Palestinian culture, he seemed to imply judgment, CBS News notes.

In a statement to the Associated Press on Monday, the Palestinian labor minister responded, "The statement reflects a clear racist spirit."

Romney's praise of Israeli culture backfired when he tried to contrast the standard of livings of Israelis and Palestinians living in areas controlled by the PA. CNN reports that Romney attempted to blame the liberal media for twisting his words, saying, "They’ll instead try and find anything else to divert from the fact that these last four years have been tough years for our country."

The truth is that Palestinians in Gaza suffer from both Israeli and Palestinian restrictions, but Romney wasn't likely to say this at a fundraiser in Jerusalem.

A hornet's nest

An organization called Jewish Voice for Peace has condemned Romney and is asking people to sign an open  letter requesting that he apologize to the Palestinian people.

Here is the letter:

To Governor Mitt Romney,

Your statements in Jerusalem regarding the growth of the Palestinian and Israeli economies were inaccurate and misleading. Israel's Occupation of Palestinian land makes it impossible for the Palestinian economy to succeed, not "cultural differences." Your comments were not a reflection of the values Jews, Americans, and our allies hold dear. We call on you to apologize to the Palestinian people for your willful lack of understanding of the facts on the ground and the racist assumptions behind them.

The organization admits that the Israeli GDP is ten times that of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. See their website here.

Related reading:  Liberal Jews Support Obama

Chinese Woman Saved 30 Abandoned Babies

A woman has been hailed a hero after details of her astonishing work with abandoned children has emerged.

Lou Xiaoying, now 88 and suffering from kidney failure, found and raised more than 30 abandoned Chinese babies from the streets of Jinhua, in the eastern Zhejiang province where she managed to make a living by recycling rubbish.

She and her late husband Li Zin, who died 17 years ago, kept four of the children and passed the others onto friends and family to start new lives.

Her youngest son Zhang Qilin - now aged just seven - was found in a dustbin by Lou when she was 82.

Read it all here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic Games, Media Hype and Government Ineptitude

By Lawsmith

The London 2012 Olympic Games have been a triumph of wastefulness, nannying government, corporatism, deceit and incompetence. Our writer Lawsmith asks, how could our political class have gotten it so wrong?

The first and only time I've met Boris Johnson was when we were on our bicycles at the traffic light at the bottom of King William Street in the City. I stammered: "Uh, good morning, Mr. Mayor." Play it cool. After a brief (and awkward) exchange, he pushed off, away from my sight and into eternity.

Months later, as the tangible effects of the Olympic Movement's month-long occupation of central London started to make themselves felt, my thoughts once again turned to my cycling buddy. After reminding yourself for a moment that Boris once gave some constructive criticism to the city of Portsmouth by saying it was "too full of drugs, obesity, underachievement and Labour MPs," and that barely two months ago he referred to the BBC – which, like that brainchild of the Blairite Labour Party, the 2012 Olympics, is state-run – as “corporatist, defeatist, anti-business, Europhile and… overwhelmingly biased to the Left”, I take the view that BoJo -- currently the Games' biggest cheerleader -- would be doing one thing, and one thing only if he were in opposition (if he were so inclined).

He would tear the government, the media, and anyone even remotely associated with bringing the Olympics here to shreds.

In his absence, others have tried. Most have failed to make a dent. Dominic Lawson, writing for the Independent, fired the opening salvo of reason against Olympics fever last month — writing a fairly broad-brush piece which covered most of the general criticisms of this circus (cost, inconvenience, armed police), he scored his best points at the ‘leftist’ BBC's expense: "[news coverage of the Games] really does make one feel as if this is North Korea,” he wrote, “rather than a country supposedly characterised by individualism and nonconformity."

Read it all here.

Related reading:  Olympic Disaster (Want to know why Her Majestic Queen Elizabeth II was not smiling?)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Quote of the Week - Actor Will Smith

“When people are afraid of religion they have to go back and get in touch with the Good Book.”-- Will Smith 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

An African American Friend on Obamacare

I've been following this healthcare deal for a while. I didn't like how it started off. I mean "you won't know what's in it 'till you pass it", what kind of foolishness is that? That's what I call a sucker's deal. Then the unreasonable infringements on religious conscience, not only upon individuals but institutions, definitely violate 2nd Amendment guarantees but mainstream media and the American public seem oblivious to it's effects. History shows, my friend, that politics is like chess: one move precipitates another. In this case it seems the forces of overgrown government are playing against an unsuspecting, indeed unconscious, populace. And the stakes are nothing less than freedom." -- Andre Cross

Friday, July 27, 2012

Carbon Capture and Storage

World-first experiment tests carbon capture and storage in Scotland

Adele Rackley

The critical stage of a world-first experiment, to monitor what might happen if CO2 leaks from an underground storage reservoir, was successfully completed under the seabed near Oban in Scotland this week.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is emerging as one of the front-runners in the search for climate-change mitigation strategies. The process involves capturing CO2 from power plants and industrial activity before it is emitted into the atmosphere and pumping it into deep sub-seabed reservoirs or geological structures for permanent storage.

Injection of CO2
The QICS experiment.
While leaks from storage sites are thought to be unlikely, all the potential risks of new technologies like CCS need to be investigated early in their development.

The project, led by Plymouth Marine Laboratory in collaboration with the Scottish Association for Marine Science and four other institutions, involved the injection of CO2 from a shore-based lab into shallow marine sediments so scientists could work out whether (and how) a leak from a CCS storage site below the seabed might affect marine life. The experiment also gave scientists a chance to assess various ways of monitoring for CO2 leakage.
The project is Quantifying and Monitoring Potential Ecosystem Impacts of Geological Carbon Storage (QICS). You can see the experiment in action on YouTube and learn more about QICS on the project web pages.

Source: Planet Earth Blog, June 29, 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Syria's Chemical Weapons

Syria has admitted it has chemical weapons and in what might have been a veiled threat against Israel, said it will use them if attacked.

The regime promised it would not engage in chemical warfare against rebels, who by all accounts except for that of the government are pushing President Bashar Assad out of power.

Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi “assured” the world that it has secured chemical weapons, which it previously has not admitted to be in its possession but never would be used "inside Syria."

Read it all here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pelosi and the Goddess Cult

Obama's Goddess Cult

By Grace Harley

This past week, I was invited to a conference at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. celebrating the inspirational accomplishments of high-profile women.  When I arrived, the welcome banner told me that it was sponsored by the National Journal, and certainly the program speakers were very impressive.  I sat in the conference room filled with attractive young women and a few brave but curious men, all eager to hear what words of wisdom would be imparted to hopeful future leaders.


I doubt that these last three mentioned ladies (Ms. Rabbitt, Representative Rodgers, Senator Hutchison) would be found on the long, long list of women who surround the Obama administration.  They do not fit the profile of "goddess."  In fact, just the opposite.  These competent, calm, and conservative ladies are just what a successful president should be seeking.

Obama's cult of goddesses will one day find that they no longer need any male to promote "the causes of women."  And he will find himself with no one to worship and no one to worship him.

Read the whole article here

Monday, July 23, 2012

Obama Blocks International Treaty for the Blind

The Huffington Post reports that "The Obama administration is blocking the creation of an international treaty designed to protect access to books and reading material for blind people in poor countries."

The treaty would aim to bring down the cost of blind-accessible media, such as Braille books and audiobooks, for those who are blind around the world.

The administration's effort to block the treaty comes after President Obama vowed to support an "international instrument" to ensure that blind persons globally have access to reading materials.

Related reading:  Dan Pescod of the World Blind Union on WIPO Treaty for BlindEmmanuel Meyer: Switzerland supports a WIPO treaty for blind persons; Alan Adler on World Intellectual Property Organization Treaty for the Blind

ObamaCare Counting on Citizens Obeying the Law

President Obama swore an oath to uphold the United States Constitution, but he has not done so. His health reform counts on Americans doing what he has failed to do. Assuming he is re-elected, he may be banking on income from penalties.

National Review Online
Publication Date: July 16, 2012

Last month's Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare left champions of that law breathing a sigh of relief, while its opponents—a majority of the public—were left frustrated. It seemed at first glance as though the chief justice's tortured opinion had saved the individual mandate, and with it the broader statute. But Obamacare's champions should take a closer look at what the Court left them with, because on their own terms, the law is now set to collapse.

Those who argued that the individual mandate was the linchpin of Obamacare's new health-financing architecture believed it would sustain that system by averting a so-called insurance death spiral. Obamacare effectively outlaws risk-based health insurance: It requires insurers to take all comers, even those who were previously uninsured, and when an uninsured person seeks to enroll, the insurer cannot take that person's health status into account when setting the premium. Under such rules, younger and healthier Americans would have very strong incentives to remain uninsured until they started to incur major medical expenses. Why buy insurance when you're healthy if you can get it for the same price later when you get sick? But of course, if healthy people don't buy coverage, insurers won't have the funds to pay benefits for the sick. They would have to raise premiums, which would only drive more healthy people out of the system, and a vicious cycle would emerge.

So how do you get healthy people to buy coverage when you have outlawed the economic incentives of traditional insurance? For Obamacare's designers, the answer was simple: outlaw the decision not to buy coverage too. The law created a legal obligation—in the words of section 5000A of the statute, "a requirement to maintain minimum essential coverage"—demanding that basically every American "shall, for each month beginning after 2013, ensure" that he and all his dependents have health coverage.

This mandate was backed up with a penalty, but the penalty was acknowledged by all to be low (far lower than the cost of health insurance for most people), and the law made it very difficult to enforce. So a rational person would simply pay the penalty instead of buying overpriced insurance, and pocket the money thus saved.

And yet the sponsors of Obamacare have contended that the law would bring about something close to universal enrollment in insurance anyway—because, the argument goes, Americans tend to fall in line with a perceived legal obligation, even when it is plainly against their self-interest to do so. We do what the law requires because it is lawful, without always pausing to calculate. It was the mandate, not just the penalty, that would avert disaster and bring people in.

This argument was always very dubious, but it was absolutely crucial to the case for Obamacare. And it was essential to the all-important CBO score of the bill. Instead of modeling behavior based on self-interest, as is the normal practice in micro-simulation, the CBO took a page from the school of "behavioral economics" and assumed that large numbers of young and relatively healthy Americans would sign up for Obamacare's insurance plans, thus holding down premiums for everyone else. Without this assumption, the CBO would have had to project far higher premium and subsidy costs (and therefore deficits too), and a far higher number of uninsured under Obamacare.

The CBO clearly understood the mandate to consist of the federal government ordering people to buy coverage. In a 2010 paper explaining its assessment of the mandate, the agency said the law meant that "nearly every resident of the United States will be required to have health insurance coverage." That paper also makes clear that the CBO understood the mandate and the penalty as two distinct if related components of the law, each with its own effect on public behavior, and that the fact of the mandate as a legal requirement was very important. The effects of the mandate would not just be a matter of math but would be influenced by people's inclination to be honest and "their desire to comply with the law" ordering them to buy coverage.

This understanding of the mandate, held by the CBO and by most of Obamacare's defenders, has been shattered by the Supreme Court's ruling. In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts plainly said that "the Federal Government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance. Section 5000A would therefore be unconstitutional if read as a command." It could be constitutional only if it was understood to simply levy a tax on the uninsured, Roberts argued, and so that is all that it can be understood to do.

Essentially, the Court struck down the mandate while retaining the penalty. So those champions of Obamacare who relied on behavioral economics to argue that the law's individual mandate could be sufficient to avert an insurance death spiral must now contend with the fact that the Court has closed off that argument.

In the wake of the Roberts decision, participation in Obamacare's insurance scheme is optional. Rather than a requirement to buy coverage backed with a penalty for violators, the law now offers Americans two equally lawful and legitimate options: buy expensive insurance (which Obamacare will make all the more expensive), or pay a modest (and still largely unenforceable) tax and just buy insurance for the same price later if you need it. Presented as a choice, not a command, this provision will invite a straightforward comparison, and for many Americans the choice it would pose would be a very easy one.

Obamacare was always going to lead to a disastrous meltdown of America's health-insurance system, but in the wake of the Court's decision, many of its former defenders should acknowledge this fact too. If you argued that the mandate was the linchpin of the system, and that it would work despite its low and unenforceable penalty because Americans are a law-abiding people, you should now see that the mandate as you understood it no longer exists. The CBO should certainly acknowledge this in its new score of the law's effects on federal spending and the uninsured, due out later this month.

Of course, this doesn't really make Obamacare optional, because although the law can no longer order consumers to buy what insurers are selling, it still strictly defines what insurers may sell. People would therefore only have a choice between Obamacare and nothing. Many will prefer nothing, but that's hardly a great set of options to choose from.

Obamacare is optional in a different, more important way, however. The November election will serve as a referendum on the law, which can be repealed in 2013 with new political leadership. The Supreme Court's decision has made the case for repeal even stronger.

James C. Capretta is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Yuval Levin is the Hertog Fellow at the Center and the editor of National Affairs.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dan Cathy Opposes Same-Sex Unions

Chick-fil-A seems to be making a point of trying to upset gay Americans.

Its president, Dan Cathy, said this week that his company was "guilty as charged" in response to a question about whether it opposed the concept of same-sex marriage—a forthright admission that surprised even those who have pointed out the fast food chain's financial ties to groups fighting equal rights for gays and lesbians.

"We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit," Cathy told the Baptist Press. "We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that."

In the past, Chick-fil-A has given millions to WinShape, a group that donates regularly to anti-gay organizations like Focus on the Family, a fact that has drawn increasing scrutiny from pro-LGBT rights consumers of late.

Read it all here.

God bless Dan Cathy!  Pray for him. Activists hate and target men such as this. You can be sure they will attempt to sue. One thing about Gay-Lesbian-Transgender and Bisexual activists - they never give up!  They are only satisfied when you concede that homosex is natural and even God-ordained.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Wall Street Journal Notes Episcopal Carnival

What Ails the Episcopalians - Wall Street Journal

Its numbers and coffers shrinking, the church votes for pet funerals but offers little to the traditional faithful.


July 12, 2010

Episcopalians from around the country gathered here this week for their church's 77th triennial General Convention, which ended Thursday. Although other Protestant denominations have national governing councils, the Episcopal Church's triennial gathering stands apart. For starters, it's one of the world's largest such legislative entities, with more than 1,000 members.
General Convention is also notable for its sheer ostentation and carnival atmosphere. For seven straight nights, lavish cocktail parties spilled into pricey steakhouses, where bishops could use their diocesan funds to order bottles of the finest wines.

During the day, legislators in the lower chamber, the House of Deputies, and the upper chamber, the House of Bishops, discussed such weighty topics as whether to develop funeral rites for dogs and cats, and whether to ratify resolutions condemning genetically modified foods. Both were approved by a vote, along with a resolution to "dismantle the effects of the doctrine of discovery," in effect an apology to Native Americans for exposing them to Christianity.

But the party may be over for the Episcopal Church, and so, probably, its experiment with democratic governance. Among the pieces of legislation that came before their convention was a resolution calling for a task force to study transforming the event into a unicameral-that is, a one-house-body. On Wednesday, a resolution to "re-imagine" the church's governing body passed unanimously.

Formally changing the structure of General Convention will most likely formalize the reality that many Episcopalians already know: a church in the grip of executive committees under the direct supervision of the church's secretive and authoritarian presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. They now set the agenda and decide well in advance what kind of legislation comes before the two houses.

Bishop Schori is known for brazenly carrying a metropolitan cross during church processions. With its double horizontal bars, the metropolitan cross is a liturgical accouterment that's typically reserved for Old World bishops. And her reign as presiding bishop has been characterized by actions more akin to a potentate than a clergywoman watching over a flock.

In recent years she's sued breakaway, traditionalist dioceses which find the mother church increasingly radical. Church legislators have asked publicly how much the legal crusades have cost, to no avail. In the week before this summer's convention, Bishop Schori sent shock waves through the church by putting forth her own national budget without consulting the convention's budget committee-consisting partly of laymen-which until now has traditionally drafted the document.

Whatever its cost, the litigation against breakaway dioceses-generally, demanding that they return church buildings and other assets-has added to the national church's financial problems. Many dioceses are no longer willing or able to cough up money to support the national organization, and its bank accounts are running dry. On Monday, for example, the church announced that its headquarters at 815 2nd Avenue in midtown Manhattan-which includes a presiding bishop's full-floor penthouse with wraparound terrace-is up for sale.

In the past, General Convention, for all its excesses, at least gave ordinary laymen a sense that they had a democratic voice in governing the church. But many Episcopal leaders have chosen to focus more on secular politics than on religion over the years. Donald Hook, author of "The Plight of the Church Traditionalist: A Last Apology," estimates that church membership has declined to fewer than one million today from three million in 1970. This is another reason, along with financial woes, to save money with a slimmed-down legislature.

And yet there are important issues at stake if laymen are further squeezed out of what was once a transparent legislative process. A long-standing quest by laymen to celebrate the Eucharist-even taking on functions of ordained ministers to consecrate bread and wine for Holy Communion, which is a favorite cause of the church's left wing-would likely be snuffed out in a unicameral convention in which senior clergy held sway.

Also in jeopardy would be the ability of ordinary laymen to stop the rewriting, in blunt modern language and with politically correct intent, of the church's historic Book of Common Prayer. The revisionist bishops who would hold sway over a unicameral convention in the future haven't hid their desire to do away with all connections to Thomas Cranmer, who was appointed archbishop of Canterbury by Henry VIII. He was a classic figure in the English Reformation. But today the man and his prayer book are deemed too traditional by some church bishops.

For some, the writing on the wall is already clear. On Wednesday, the entire delegation from the diocese of South Carolina-among the very last of the traditionalist holdouts-stormed out of the convention.

Mr. Akasie, a journalist and Episcopalian, lives in New York City.

Related Reading:  What Ails Bishop Stacy Sauls Ails Episcopalians

Church of England Denies Roman Heritage

For five centuries England has been in denial about the role of Roman Catholicism in shaping it. The coin in your pocket declares the monarch to be Defender of the Faith. Since 1558 that has meant the Protestant faith, but Henry VIII actually got the title from the Pope for defending Catholicism against Luther. Henry eventually broke with Rome because the Pope refused him a divorce, and along with the papacy went saints, pilgrimage, the monastic life, eventually even the Mass itself – the pillars of medieval Christianity.

To explain that revolution, the Protestant reformers told a story. Henry had rejected not the Catholic Church, but a corrupt pseudo-Christianity which had led the world astray. John Foxe embodied this story unforgettably in his Book of Martyrs, subsidised by the Elizabethan government as propaganda against Catholicism at home and abroad. For Foxe, Queen Elizabeth was her country’s saviour, and the Reformation itself the climax of an age-old struggle between God, represented by the monarch, and the devil, represented by the Pope.

Fear of Catholic Spain, the greatest power in Europe, gave Foxe’s story urgency. That fear escalated under the Stuart kings, for all of them married Catholics, and were suspected of favouring their wives’ religion. The prospect of a persecuting Catholicism imposed by an apostate monarchy fuelled Protestant anxiety. It led to Civil War, and the execution of King Charles I. Ironically, Charles was a loyal Anglican, but both his sons, Charles II and James II, did eventually embrace Catholicism.

Read it all here.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Pakistan's Ghost Schools

ISLAMABAD: A federal government education project worth over Rs8 billion, the Basic Education Community Schools (BECS), is stinking badly and feeding more than 8,000 ghost schools in the country, including the federal capital, a member of the Planning Commission and Board of Directors of the National Education Foundation (NEF) has revealed.

Planning Commission Member Mohayyuddin Marri told The News the funding of the BECS project had been stopped in the current fiscal year as the Planning Commission wanted its revision to check the irregularities and corruption.

When approached, NEF MD Nasir Hayat, who has been recently given this assignment, said his organisation had approached the Finance Ministry for the release of funds for recurring expenditure of the project. He said he did not know that the funding for the project had been stopped. Nasir Hayat, however, did not agree with the figure of ghost schools as quoted by Mohayyuddin Marri, who is also a member of the NEF BoD.Hayat said the figure of ghost schools was only around 800. He said he himself was not satisfied the way the project was being run in the past and for the same reasons, he recently issued a show cause notice to all the four provincial directors for their utter failure to effectively supervise the project.

Hayat said a total of 13,094 schools all over Pakistan were run under this project, whose two years extension was being sought by the NEF. According to Mohayyuddin Marri, more than half of these schools are ghost schools and the huge funds allocated for them go into the pockets of a few. Marri, who hails from Balochistan, said on papers there are 750 schools in Balochistan but on the ground one would hardly find 250.

Read it all here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Michael Cook
Editor, BioEdge

I thought that the shocking American documentary Eggsploitation had the last word on the exploitation of young women for their eggs. It showed that all over the world they are being promised lucrative sums "to make someone's dream come true". Some were racked by regret, some worried about cancer, some had suffered potentially fatal ovarian hyper-­stimulation syndrome (OHSS).

But when I heard the words "young woman", I never, ever, thought of a 15-year-old. That's how old a slum girl in Mumbai, Sushma Pandey, was when she first donated eggs for US$450. She did it three times. A year and a half later she was dead, presumably of OHSS. No one knows where the money went.

The clinic which retrieved her eggs boasts that it is a world leader and a specialist in gay surrogacy. It appears to have been targeted by a criminal gang which somehow dragooned young Sushma into donating. But the shocking thing about this case is that although it happened in 2010, the news has only emerged now. How many other 15-year-old girls in India (and other countries) are being ruthlessly exploited in this way? There could be thousands of them. Are some of them 14? 13? No one knows. No one cares. The important thing is to make sure that dreams come true: the dreams of IVF clinics for money and of Westerners for children.

Almost two years after she died, no one involved in the death of 17-year-old Mumbai woman Sushma Pandey is facing charges. Ms Pandey, who was unmarried, was earning 4,500 rupees a month working in a scrap depot. She had donated eggs three times in 18 months at an IVF clinic, the Rotunda Center for Human Reproduction. Two days after the third donation, she complained of severe abdominal pain. She died on August 10, 2010. At the time of her first donation, she was probably about 15 years old.

The story appears to have appeared in the press only because charges against her former boss were dropped in Bombay High Court.

The Rotunda Center describes itself as a "world-renowned infertility clinic", a "center of excellence in donor egg IVF and gestational surrogacy" (see YouTube video below), and "the only clinic in India that is LGBT-friendly". Its medical director, Dr Gautam Allahbadia, was responsible for the first successful surrogate pregnancy of twins for a gay couple in India.

Newspaper accounts describe a bewildering number of people involved in the death, but no one seems to be responsible for it. Ms Pandey's parents did not know that she was donating. Sunil Chaumal, the 49-year-old owner of the scrap depot, was charged with culpable homicide but has been discharged for lack of evidence. A woman named Noorjahan accompanied her to the clinic and posed as her guardian but seems to have vanished. Ms Pandey stayed in the house of a man named Iqbal Hussein and was driven to the clinic by another man named Rakesh Bhat, but neither of them has been charged. Dr Allahbadia claims that the girl presented fake papers which showed that she was above the legal age limit and that his clinic cannot be blamed.

The fee for egg donation is 25,000 rupees. Since Ms Pandey donated three times, she should have earned 75,000 rupees. The money seems to have disappeared.

The case highlights the fact that India has hundreds of IVF clinics which operate with hardly any regulation. A bill is being studied, but the Indian legal system works at a glacial pace and it is still far from becoming law. This death suggests that criminal gangs are dangling the carrot of easy money in front of potential egg donors, regardless of their age.

Jennifer Lahl, producer of the documentary Eggsploitation, said that Ms Pandey's death was typical. "What happened to Sushma Pandey is happening to women every day, all over the world. The infertility industry knows the seriousness of the health risks, yet objects to any oversight, to long-term studies, and to regulation, simply because it will compromise their profits." ~ Indian Express, July 12

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Quote of the Week - Pakistani Mystic Abdul Sattar Edhi

"People have become educated, but have not become human." -- Abdul Sattar Edhi

Priest Murdered by the Mafia is Beatified

Edward Pentin 
Don Pino Puglisi

On July 3rd, just days after the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI would beatify the Sicilian anti-Mafia priest Don Pino Puglisi, it became clear not everyone was happy with the decision. Police discovered a bomb in the form of a gas cylinder outside the entrance of a Centre in Palermo founded by the late priest.

“It’s a gesture that makes us realize that we must continue along this path, that we still have to learn all the messages and teaching of Blessed Puglisi,” said the Centre’s president, Maurizio Artale.

Giuseppe "Pino" Puglisi was a Roman Catholic priest who chose to serve in San Gaetano parish in Palermo’s poor neighbourhood of Brancaccio – his birthplace, also known to be a Mafia stronghold. Don Pino had been parish priest there for three years when, on September 15, 1993 – his 56th birthday – he was gunned down outside his home.

The day had been fairly routine: he had celebrated two weddings, went to a couple of meetings, met parents of soon-to-be baptized infants, and then attended a small birthday party thrown by his friends. But on returning home at 8:20 in the evening, a gunman shot the priest in the head soon after he got out of his car.

Don Pino was taken unconscious to a local hospital, but surgeons were unable to revive him. Local Mafia bosses, brothers Filippo and Giuseppe Graviano, were later found guilty of ordering the murder and received life sentences in 1998. One of the hired killers reportedly told the police that Don Pino had said, "I was expecting you", on seeing the gunmen approaching.

The murder of Don Pino took place at a time when the Sicilian Mafia was facing challenges from all sides. It had gained considerable influence under the corrupt Christian Democratic governments from the 1950s until the early 1990s when it bribed politicians, judges and officials.

But its influence was beginning to wane, and organized crime was becoming targeted by the “Maxi-Trials” – anti-Mafia proceedings led by magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Both magistrates paid dearly for their heroic work: Falcone, his wife and three body guards were killed in a massive bomb attack in May 1992. Paolo Borsellino replaced him, but he and five bodyguards were killed in a car bomb just two months later. Their murders came as the Mafia were setting off bombs throughout Italy and especially in Sicily.

But while these killings incensed the population, it was the murder of a Catholic priest that crossed the line and caused the greatest outcry. A group of Sicilian priests pleaded for Pope John Paul II to attend Don Pino’s funeral, but although that wasn’t possible (he had a previous engagement to attend to in Tuscany), he made a visit to Sicily the following year. During that trip, the pontiff praised Don Pino as a "courageous exponent of the Gospel”, said his death was not in vain, and warned that silence and passivity about the Mafia was tantamount to complicity.

Born to a working class family in Brancaccio on September 15, 1937, Don Pino’s father was a shoemaker, his mother a dressmaker. He began training for the priesthood at the age of 16, and following ordination in 1960, he served in various parishes, including one struck by a bloody vendetta. He then spent much of his time teaching religious education in schools, became a vice-rector of a seminary, and served in other run-down parishes in Palermo. He returned to Brancaccio to be parish priest of San Gaetano in 1990, despite being offered less rough Palermo parishes.

Once there, he routinely and fearlessly spoke out against the Mafia who controlled the area, and opened a shelter for underprivileged children. He tried to change his parishioners' mentality which, like much of Sicily even today, is conditioned by fear, passivity and omerta, an imposed silence. He was particularly forthright in his preaching, calling on his flock to give leads to authorities about the Mafia's activities. He refused money from them for traditional feastday celebrations, and would not allow Mafia "men of honour" to march at the head of religious processions.

But his efforts focused on justice, solidarity and rehabilitation, and were primarily directed at the young, whom he saw as the key to eventually freeing the region from the grip of organised crime. He took disadvantaged children off the streets and discouraged them from dropping out of school and becoming embroiled in a life of theft, drug dealing and selling contraband cigarettes. He implored them to take responsibility for their own lives, and founded the centre in Palermo to help them.

“Get rid of that which leads you down the wrong path,” he would tell them, while his favourite rhetorical question was: “And what if somebody did something?” -- meaning, perhaps, “You don’t have to follow suit.”

In his inevitable exchanges with the Mafia, he refused to award a construction contract to a firm they proposed to save the crumbling roof of the parish’s 18thcentury church. Seeing his exemplary life, his parishioners likewise put up resistance, and were similarly targeted, receiving death threats or vandalism to their houses.

Writing in Commonweal in 2002, Lawrence S. Cunningham described Don Pino's basic intuition of the Mafia’s ideology as “radically pagan and profoundly anti-Christian” and that his struggle “was a kind of exorcism in the name of the Gospel.” He even wrote a parody of the Mafia, devising a special Our Father for them. It reads:

O godfather to me and my family, You are a man of honor and worth. Your name must be respected. Everyone must obey you. Everyone must do what you say for this is the law of those who do not wish to die. You give us bread, work; who wrongs you, pays. Do not pardon; it is an infamy. Those who speak are spies. I put my trust in you, godfather. Free me from the police and the law.

Indeed, Don Pino was well known for his sense of humour, and at times even made light of the lack of support from the Church hierarchy. He was ordained by Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini from Palermo, who was said to regard communism as a greater threat than the Mafia and once even questioned the latter's very existence. According to the National Catholic Reporter, when asked by a journalist, "What is the Mafia?" the cardinal flippantly replied: "So far as I know, it could be a brand of detergent."

Don Pino saw it as necessary to challenge such attitudes, but to do it sensitively. "We can, we must criticize the Church when we feel it doesn't respond to our expectations, because it's absolutely right to seek to improve it," he said, jokingly adding: "But we should always criticize it like a mother, never a mother-in-law!"

The cause for Don Pino’s beatification and canonization opened in 1999 and has been expected for some time. As someone the Pope decreed had been killed in odium fidei (out of hatred of the faith), he will be declared a martyr and no miracle is required on account of his intercession.

During the homily of his last Mass, said for children about to receive Holy Communion for the first time, he used words which summed up his untiring efforts to defend human dignity in the face of violence – a stand that would lead him to facing that same violence, and paying the ultimate price.

“We have said: we want to create a different world,” he remarked. “Let us strive then to create a climate of honesty, of righteousness, of justice, which means the fulfilment of what pleases God.”

Edward Pentin is a journalist based in Rome.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Boko Haram to Christians "Convert or Die"

Heather Murdock

ABUJA, Nigeria - The Islamist militant group known as Boko Haram is now claiming responsibility for Sunday’s attack on a funeral that killed scores of people, including two prominent politicians. Through e-mails to journalists, the group is now demanding Christians convert to Islam and denies government claims that peace talks are underway.

Violence in Plateau State
Many parts of Nigeria’s Plateau State are on lockdown after a weekend of violence. Deputy Superintendent of Police Abuh Emmanuel says four local governments have 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. curfews, leaving the people only six hours a day outside their homes.

He blames ethnic Fulani herdsmen, who are mostly Muslim, for raiding villages over the weekend and later attacking a funeral for the victims of the earlier raids. The victims were mostly ethnic Berom Christian farmers and the two groups have been at odds over resources for years. Fulani leaders deny orchestrating the attacks, calling the accusations “propaganda.”

However, as a tense calm returns to the region, the Islamist sect known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the funeral attack, saying Christians should convert or they “will not know peace again.”

Abubakar Umar Kari, a senior lecturer at the University of Abuja, says Boko Haram’s involvement was a surprise as the group normally operates far in the north.

“Boko Haram has a very long reach," he said. "It has shown that it is capable of carrying out devastating attacks. It appears to have no bounds.”

Killing in raids, funerals
Death tolls for the weekend's violence range widely, but at least 58 people were killed in raids on Saturday and at least 22 killed at the subsequent funerals on Sunday, including two Plateau state politicians, Senator Gyang Dantong and Gyang Fulani, the majority leader in the state assembly.

Human Rights Watch has said Boko Haram violence can intensify ethnic clashes because economic and ethnic ties also fall squarely along religious divides.

Boko Haram communicates with the public by calling journalists from blocked phone lines or unverifiable e-mails. In the latest e-mail, the group called Nigeria’s new National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki's claims to have initiated peace talks with Boko Haram a “fresh lie.”

Kari says Boko Haram operates in secrecy and even if the security adviser was engaged in dialogue with the group, Boko Haram would most likely publicly deny it.

“They don’t want any kind of publicity associated with any meeting between them and the federal government," said Kari. "So I would not be surprised that even if there have been moves to talk to them - if there have been some rapprochements from the government’s side - they won’t come out too quickly to confirm it.”

Sectarian dispute
Nigeria is divided between a mostly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south. Increasing violence in the “Middle Belt” regions have led some cities like Jos, the capital of Plateau State, to divide themselves in kind, with Muslims and Christians saying they cannot live together.

Human Rights Watch says more than 4,000 people have been killed in sectarian violence over the past 11 years in Plateau State. Boko Haram began violent operations in 2009, and has since been blamed for more than 1,000 deaths including attacks on security forces, government buildings, churches, schools, newspaper offices and the local United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Abdulkareem Olayemi in Maiduguri contributed to this report.

Related Reading:  Boko Haram Killing Nigerian Christians

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Russia to Stop Shipping Arms to Syria

Carla Babb

A senior Russian defense official said Moscow will no longer sell any weapons to Syria until the situation there calms down, as a Syrian activist group said the death toll from the Syrian conflict has surpassed 17,000.

Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, the deputy chief of the Russian military and technical cooperation agency, said Monday that Russia will not sign any more arms deals, deliver any more weapons or ship any spare parts for weapons delivered earlier.

The United States and other world leaders have pushed Russia to stop helping Damascus crackdown on the opposition there.

In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin said the Syrian government and the opposition groups should be forced to enter negotiations.

"I am convinced that we must do everything possible to force the conflicting sides to find a peaceful political solution to all the disputed issues," Putin told a group of Russian and foreign diplomats in televised remarks.

His comments came hours after his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, met with a senior Syrian opposition leader, Michel Kilo, in Moscow.

Heavy toll of conflict

Russia's announcement that it will no longer send weapons to Syria comes as the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 17,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict since it began in March of last year.

Rami Abdelrahman said Monday that 31 died across Syria, including 11 Syrian army troops and 20 civilians and rebels.

He said there was heavy fighting and army shelling in the provinces of Homs, Idlib, Daraa and Deir Ezzor, and near Damascus.

"There is fighting everyday. It doesn't ever stop," Abdelrahman said.

Annan-Assad meeting

Meanwhile, the U.N.'s special envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Monday before traveling to Iran. The U.N. diplomat called the talks "constructive and candid."

"We discussed the need to end the violence and ways and means of doing so," Annan told reporters. "We agreed on an approach which I will share with the armed opposition."

Annan has been trying for months to implement a peace plan in Syria, but has admitted that the efforts have failed.

In an interview with German television broadcast Sunday, Syrian President Assad accused the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar of hindering peace and supporting what he called "terrorists."

The United Nations wants independent investigators to probe Assad's charges that terrorists, and not the government, are responsible for the violence.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.

Bishop Lawrence Says Enough!

Bishop Lawrence of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, in a private session of the House of Bishops on July 11, requested and received a point of personal privilege. During this time he expressed things for which he was grateful during this convention, the “intentional engagement in honesty and collegiality with fellow bishops.” He also expressed his “grievous concern” with changes to the canons through resolutions D002 and D019, which have to do with transgender identity and expression, as well as with resolution A049, which authorized a provisional rite for the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions. “These resolutions in my opinion,” said Lawrence, “are disconcerting changes to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church--to which every bishop, priest and deacon is asked to conform. More importantly they mark a departure from the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them, therein making it necessary for me to strongly differentiate myself from such actions.“ At the conclusion of this private session Lawrence told the House of Bishops that he would not be continuing in the remainder of the Convention. “I concur with the assessment of our canon theologian, the Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon, when he described the actions of this General Convention as ‘unbiblical, unchristian, unanglican and unseemly,’” said Lawrence. Bishop Lawrence will be sending a statement to diocesan clergy, which is to be read in parishes on Sunday, July 15, 2012.

“Our deputation and I appreciate the prayers of so many in the Diocese of South Carolina,” said Lawrence. “I know that some did not think we should attend the 77th General Convention, but I believe our presence and witness was important and even respected by many on both sides of the theological divide. As St. Paul states regarding his ministry, ‘…we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.’“ (2 Corinthians 4:2)

Read it all here.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Episcopal Bishops Adopt Prayers for Animals

The doctrine that all dogs go to heaven has been placed in limbo by the 77th General Convention. On 11 July 2012 the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church adopted a revised version of Resolution A054 “Authorize Rites and Prayers for the Care of Beloved Animals.”

The question of prayers for the souls of animals was brought to the convention by the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Church Music which submitted the text, “Various Rites and Prayers for Animals” for approval. However, the Convention’s Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music rejected “Various Rites” as a whole, and offered selected prayers for approval by the church.

The Bishop of Missouri, the Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith said the prayers provided by the Prayer Book committee “no longer express the desire for our animals to be part of the resurrection.”

The committee removed language from the proposed “Burial Office for a Beloved Animal”, that has the officiant say: “Give us faith to commit this beloved creature to your care, and hear our hope that we all may one day be reunited with our animals in the heavenly places, where you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.”

The new language for the office states: “Give us faith to commit this beloved creature of your own making to your care, for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen”

After Bishop Smith presented the resolution for debate, the retired Bishop of Alabama, Henry Parsley stated “I welcome the liturgy, but I have a question: Where do they go?”

“To heaven, where else,” the Presiding Bishop said.

Bishop Parsley responded, “Not the animals, but the liturgy. I will leave the animals to God, but where does it go in our liturgical book?”

Read it all here.

Islam vs Sacred Sites

Robert Spencer

What is it about Islam that leads so many Muslims to see their cultural patrimony as something to be despised and even destroyed?

Harking back to the Taliban’s destruction of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001, Muslims in northern Mali last week moved against their own country’s heritage. The Islamic supremacist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Religion) raised international concern when they began destroying some of the ancient shrines of Muslim saints in Timbuktu, “the city of 333 saints.” According to Ishaan Tharoor in Time magazine, “UNESCO, the UN’s cultural agency, says as many as half of the city’s shrines ‘have been destroyed in a display of fanaticism.’”

Why would a Muslim group destroy the tombs of Muslim holy men? “The destruction is a divine order,” an Ansar Dine spokesman explained; another added that they planned to destroy all the city’s ancient tombs, “without exception.”

UNESCO and the international media have portrayed Ansar Dine’s stance on this as unthinking fanaticism, contradicting Islam’s tenets: UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova declared that “the attack on Timbuktu’s cultural heritage is an attack against this history and the values it carries — values of tolerance, exchange and living together, which lie at the heart of Islam.”

Read it all here.

Related reading: Calls to Destroy Egypt's Great Pyramids

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Assad Attacks on Syrian Civilians Must Stop

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 9, 2012 – Defense Department officials are closely monitoring events in Syria, including the military exercises that began yesterday, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.

Media reports characterize the exercises as large-scale and simulating responses to external attacks on the nation’s forces.

“I don’t know that this military exercise suggests anything new about the conflict, or if it may simply be visual bravado on the part of the [Bashar] Assad regime,” Little said, responding to reporters’ questions during a regularly scheduled media briefing. Assad has ruled Syria since his father, Hafez al-Assad, died in 2000. The elder Assad had ruled for 29 years.

Little strongly repeated the department’s position on Syria, where the military has used lethal force in an effort to crush popular uprisings that began in January 2011. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon estimates that as many as 17,000 people have been killed in the violence.

“This regime continues to mount despicable attacks against Syrian civilians, and the violence that the regime is perpetrating must end,” Little said. Defense officials have not yet classed the exercise as “provocative,” he noted, but he added that judgment could change based on events.

“What we view as much more serious, at this stage, is the continued wanton murder of Syrian civilians,” he said.

Little responded to a question on reports that Russia will halt arms sales to Syria, saying he can’t confirm that information. “We welcome any move by any nation to stop supplying the Assad regime,” he said.

The press secretary noted defense officials also are closely monitoring events on the Turkish-Syrian border. Tensions between the two countries have escalated following Turkey’s June 22 report that Syrian forces shot down a Turkish F-4 fighter jet and its two-member crew.

“We hope that this terrible violence in Syria doesn’t spread,” Little said. “We understand Turkey’s concerns, and we’ll continue to work closely with our Turkish allies.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

SYRIA: Unprecedented Killing of Citizen Journalists

(RSF/IFEX) - 7 July 2012 - A total of 33 professional and citizen journalists have been killed since the start of the uprising in Syria in March 2001, Reporters Without Borders said today, after attending yesterday's meeting of the "Friends of Syria" in Paris as an observer.

The past few weeks have been particularly deadly, with around 10 citizen journalists killed since late May. Reporters Without Borders is also very disturbed to learn that freelance journalist Mohamed Sami Al-Kayyal was arrested in the coastal city of Tartus on 27 June. 

"'We firmly condemn the remorseless crackdown and accelerating cycle of violence in what is now a civil war," Reporters Without Borders said. "Freely and independently reported news and information are now an absolute necessity but they are unfortunately getting rarer and rarer. June saw the death of an unprecedented number of citizen journalists who have been sacrificing their lives to provide video footage of the uprising, the crackdown and now the military operations by armed groups fighting the ruthless Assad regime. 

"We would also like to stress the difficulty of verifying any information coming out of Syria. The regime has managed to impose a media blackout by posing many obstacles to visits by foreign journalists - who are exposed to great danger if they come - and by jailing Syrian professional journalists who refuse to relay government propaganda. As for the activists who try to report and document the regime's atrocities, they are hunted down relentlessly by the security services, which kill them or sometimes torture them to death." 

Following the war 

The latest victim is Wael Omar Bard, a citizen journalist who was killed in Jarjanaz, 40 km south of Idlib, on 26 June. Bard used to live in Saudi Arabia and it was there that he started supporting the Syrian uprising by posting information about it on social networks. Then he returned to his native Syria armed with just a video camera and started filming demonstrations and the regime's atrocities. 

According to the Doha Centre for Media Freedom, he was filming a clash between the regular army and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) when he was killed by a shot to the heart. Activists said that on the eve of his death he went back to the village where he was born, Teftanazz, 10 km northeast of Idlib. He went there to bury his brother, a doctor specializing in emergency cases who was murdered by intelligence officers. 

The citizen journalist Hamza Mahmoud Othman was fatally shot by a sniper in Homs on 21 June while filming the regular army's shelling of two of its districts, Jobar and Al-Sultaniyeh. He often posted videos online showing events in Homs, which has been the scene of violent fighting for many months. 

He was the brother of Ali "Al-Jedd" Othman, the citizen journalist who ran the Baba Amr press centre in Homs until it was destroyed in February and who was then captured by intelligence officers on 28 March. 

Bassim Darwish died on 15 June from the injuries he received two days earlier in an explosion while covering the bombing of Rastan, a town 30 km north of Homs, by two military aircraft. He was one of the founders of the Rastan press centre and had covered many demonstrations in the region as well as the regular army's operations. 

Ayham Youssef Al-Hariri, an anti-government activist since March 2011, was fatally injured by the blast from a shell in Deraa on 13 June. Another local activist told the Doha Centre for Media Freedom that Hariri had been filming the army's shelling of the Deraa district of Al-Sadd when he was hit by the explosion. 

Aged 35, married and the father of five children, Hariri had been imprisoned and tortured twice by intelligence officers. As well as gathering and distributing news, he organized demonstrations, delivered aid to the families of victims and helped smuggle government opponents across the nearby border into Jordan. 

Abdelhamid Idriss Matar, a 22-year-old student of agro-food engineering at Baath University in Homs, was fatally injured by a shot fired from a tank as he was filming an assault on Al-Qussair, a town 25 km south of Homs, on 31 May. He often filmed demonstrations and army operations, posting his videos on YouTube. 

Reporters Without Borders already reported the deaths of two other citizen journalists last month - Ahmed Hamada in Homs on 16 June and Khaled Al-Bakir in Al-Qussair on 10 June. 

The Coordinating Committee in Tel Rifaat, a town 20 km north of Aleppo, said Mohamed Hamdo Hallaq was killed by a shell while filming the army's bombardment of the nearby town of Azaz on 2 July. The Doha Centre for Media Freedom said a citizen journalist identified as Samer Khalil Al-Sataleh was killed during the shelling of Douma, a town on the western outskirts of Damascus, on 28 June. And the Syrian Journalists League said Ghias Khaled Al-Hmouria was killed while filming an FSA operation in Douma on 25 June. 

Nonetheless, due to the difficulty of obtaining information from Syria, Reporters Without Borders has not yet managed to independently confirm the deaths of the three people named in the previous paragraph or the fact that they were citizen journalists. 

Reporters Without Borders has confirmed that, as of yesterday, a total of 33 Syrian citizens and professional journalists have been killed in 
connection with their journalistic activities since the start of the uprising in March 2011. 

(. . .) 

Read the full report 

For more information:

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
47, rue Vivienne 
75002 Paris 
rsf (@) rsf.org 
Phone: +33 1 44 83 84 84
Fax: +33 1 45 23 11 51

Monday, July 9, 2012

C of E Bishops Urged to Do the Right Thing

A Statement from Forward in Faith
Jul 9, 2012

Forward in Faith is disappointed that the General Synod today resolved to adjourn the debate on final approval of the draft Measure to permit women to be ordained as bishops in order to give the House of Bishops an opportunity to rethink its recent amendments to the Measure. We call upon the House of Bishops to stand firm in the face of this unwarranted pressure and to return the draft Measure to the Synod in a form which will provide for the future of traditional Catholics and conservative Evangelicals in line with the clearly expressed mind of the Synod throughout this morning's debate.

TEC's Pansexuality Reaches New Heights!

It welcomes partners of homosexual clergy and wife swapping among the bishops (or someone needs a grammar lesson).

2012 General Convention of the Episcopal Church
Indianapolis, IN

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Blood Donors Needed

The American Red Cross is asking people to please call 1-800-RED-CROSS or visit us at redcrossblood.org to find a way to donate if they can," said Stephanie Millian, Red Cross director of biomedical communications. "We need people's help."

Oppressive heat and power outages created by recent storms in the East and Midwest cut blood donations, which were already low this summer. In June there was a nationwide shortfall, with donations down more than 10% across the country.

Please consider donating.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Pakistan Most Americans Don't Know

"People have become educated, but have not become human." -- Abdul Sattar Edhi, Pakistani mystic and Nobel Peace Prize Candidate

Alice C. Linsley

I have been following events in Pakistan fairly closely for the past 4 years. As a sovereign nation, Pakistan is only 64 years old and is torn by tribal conflicts, government corruption and religious radicals. Corruption within the police forces is widespread, ranging from accepting bribes for registering false complaints or avoiding charges, to intimidation of political opponents, and torture of religious minorities. In 2009 a young Christian, Robert Fanish Masih, who had been falsely accused of blasphemy was arrested and, according to his family, tortured by police. In an attempt to cover up the murder, the man's body was strung up in his cell and the police claimed that he had committed suicide.

Death All Around

Extensive floods in the summer of 2010 reportedly inundated 20 percent of the country and displaced or otherwise affected more than 20 million people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab provinces. The flooding, compounded by the security situation and hoarding, drove up food prices and certain staples became scarce.

Heavy monsoon rains during August 2011 affected over nine and a half million people and claimed an estimated 520 lives in Sindh and parts of Balochistan province. In Sindh province alone, 1.8 million persons were displaced by the floods; 495,000 of whom were still residing in temporary makeshift settlements across Sindh province in October 2011.

Usman Qureshi, a resident of a small village near Khairpur Nathan Shah, said, “I have been stranded here with at least 10 other villagers since yesterday after water inundated our village and we immediately need help and food."

Qureshi, who took shelter at the lone two-storey building in the village used his mobile phone to call for help: “We need help, water and food... We beg you to please contact rescuers and ask them to evacuate us.”

Efforts to deliver food and water to the flood victims were marginally effective. Many trucks were looted and their drivers beaten.

Muslims against Muslims contribute to the spread of violence. Sufi followers and their religious sites have increasingly come under attack by Taliban-aligned militants. This is compounded by the reported inability of the State to provide effective protection against such attacks. On 3 April 2011, a double suicide attack by the Tehrik-eTaliban Pakistan outside a Sufi shrine in Dera Ghazi district of Punjab province, left over 40 dead, including women and children, and more than 100 injured. On 5 March 2011, nearly ten persons were killed and over 40 injured in an attack at a mosque located in the compound of a Sufi shrine in Nowshera district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Many deaths and injuries have resulted from the US drone attacks in the tribal areas. These attacks have dramatically increased during President Obama's term, and US-Pakistan diplomatic relations have soured to the point that there is no trust on either side. Obama was encouraged to increase drone strikes by the Heritage Foundation, which also recommended cutting off aid to Pakistan.

While most Americans rejoice that Osama bin Laden was brought to "justice" by a crack force of Navy Seals, few consider how this incursion is felt as a slap on the face by many Pakistanis.

Political strategist Mike Baker observes: "The Pakistanis want what Obama gives to others at the drop of a hat -- an apology. But the problem is Obama usually apologizes for the actions of other people and the past [Bush] administration. He apologizes on behalf of the American people or for American policies from previous administrations. Have you ever heard him apologize for something he did or he ordered done?"

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani accused Obama of ordering drone strikes to boost his political image. "The United States is into the election year and Obama's decision has been aimed at gaining political mileage," the Prime Minister said during a press conference.

Gilani told Al Jazeera television, “First of all I want to inform you that we did not allow or give permission to fly drones from Pakistan."

Pakistan-US relations hit a new low after the Taliban attack on its embassy in Kabul and adjacent Nato headquarters which was reportedly organized in Quetta, Pakistan.  Then there was the Osama bin Laden episodes and speculation in Pakistan about the US military presence at Shamsi Air Base. US officials were quoted as saying that drone launches from Shamsi were halted after a dispute arose between the two governments over the CIA contractor Raymond Davis who killed two Pakistani citizens in Lahore in January 2011.

Light in the Darkness

Sadhu Sundar Singh, (1889-1929) was a Christian who converted from Sikhism. During his ministry, God used him to bring many to the light of Christ. Many miracles were performed by God through Sadhu. His witness is an inspiration for all Indo-Pakistani Christians who consider him a saint.

Christian churches have been the target of terrorist attacks in Lahore. Sohail Johnson, a witness who lives close to the churches, said that more than 1,000 worshipers usually attended the Sunday services. In Peshawar in the northwest, a suicide attack on a historic church killed 85 people.

The Pakistan Dawn provides this report of incidents:

On Aug 9, 2002 gunmen threw grenades into a chapel on the grounds of the Taxila Christian Hospital in northern Punjab, killing four including two nurses and a paramedic, and wounding 25 men and women.

In November 2005, 3,000 militants attacked Christians in Sangla Hill and destroyed the Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and United Presbyterian churches. The attack was over allegations of violation of blasphemy laws by Yousaf Masih. The attacks were condemned by some political parties.

In February 2006, churches and Christian schools were targeted in protests over the publication of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons in Denmark, leaving two elderly women injured and many homes and properties destroyed.

On June 5, 2006, a stonemason named Nasir Ashraf was working near Lahore when he drank water from a public facility using a glass chained to the facility. He was assaulted by Muslims for “polluting the glass”. A mob developed, who beat Ashraf, calling him a “Christian dog”. Bystanders encouraged the beating because it would be a “good” deed that would help them get into heaven. Ashraf was eventually hospitalised.

In August 2006, a church and Christian homes were attacked in a village outside Lahore over a land dispute. Three Christians were seriously injured and one was missing after some 35 people burned buildings, desecrated the Bible and attacked Christians.

In 2009, the Gojra riots took place which was a series of violent attacks against Christian minorities. In June that year, the International Christian Concern reported the rape and killing of a Christian man for refusing to convert to Islam.

In 2010, a Christian woman Aasiya Bibi was sentenced to death in a blasphemy case. The original incident involved a dispute over a trivial matter at a village of Sheikhupura district.

In March 2011, only two months after Governor Salmaan Taseer was killed, when in support of Aasiya Bibi he called the law a black law, Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was killed by gunmen after he spoke out against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

The same year in April, at least 20 people including police officials were wounded as 500 demonstrators attacked the Christian community in Gujranwala city.

In March 2013, Muslims attacked a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore, where more than 100 houses were burned after a Christian was alleged to have made blasphemous remarks. The incident took place in Joseph Colony in Badami Bagh area, where Sawan Masih was accused of blasphemy.

In November 2014, a Christian couple who worked at a brick kiln in Kot Radha Kishan (Kasur), were burnt to death in the kiln fire, ostensibly over blasphemy, but the case still lies in court and the reason is still not confirmed.

Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs, was killed because he was an outspoken opponent of the blasphemy law which has been used to arrest, imprison and execute religious minorities.

Sherry Rehman, the former federal minister for information, who also faces death threats for presenting a bill in parliament to amend the blasphemy law, said that Bhatti's murder “is a reminder to us all that we have not acted enough to protect our minorities.”

Humanitarian outreach does not characterize this Islamic Republic, with the exception of the Pakistani mystic Abdul Sitar Edhi, 84, who gave up everything to devote his life to helping Pakistan's poorest. He founded the nation's first and only private ambulance service which responds to all injured or sick persons regardless of their religion or social status. Edhi believes that Humanity's well-being must be the highest priority of all religions. He established Pakistan's largest network of shelters. None who come to the shelters is turned away. Currently the Edhi Foundation is a home for over 6,000 destitutes, runaways and mentally ill. Edhi says, "People have become educated, but have not become human." (Listen to his story here.)

Such wisdom, generosity and kindness are rare in Pakistani religious figures. Islam is a jealous mistress who shows little mercy. Most religious minorities, such as Hindus, Sikhs and Baha’is, are not able to register their marriages. The lack of a marriage registration makes it impossible to obtain passports or to exercise other civil rights, and affect legal recourse in matrimonial disputes.

An Islamic Republic

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world with a population over 187 million. It is the second most populous country with a Muslim majority. Approximately 95 percent of the population professes to be Muslim – of this 75 percent are Sunni and 20 percent are Shia. The remaining five percent includes Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus. All minorities in Pakistan have been subjected to intolerance and religious persecution, including kidnapping of non-Muslim girls and forced conversion to Islam.

In 1974, under severe pressure from clerics, Pakistan's first elected prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, introduced a constitutional amendment - known as the second amendment - which declared Ahmadiyya non-Muslims. Ahmadis are prohibited from professing to be Muslims or using Muslim practices in their worship or calling their places of worship "mosques." They may not propagate their faith in "any way, directly or indirectly". Each offence id punishable with imprisonment for up to three years and a fine. The Ahmadis are regarded as heretical because they do not believe that Mohammed was the final prophet.

Shortly after seizing power in a military coup in July 1977, General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq embarked on a process of Islamization of the Pakistan legal  system. As a result,  hadd offenses were  introduced into criminal law through four ordinances referred to as the Hudood Ordinances, and the Federal Shariat Court, was established with exclusive jurisdiction to examine whether a law is in accordance with Islam.

The introduction of the blasphemy laws in the Penal Code reportedly promoted an atmosphere of religious intolerance and contributed to the institutionalization of discrimination against religious minorities, particularly the Ahmadi community. The discriminatory nature of the provisions and the severity of the punishments have attracted widespread international criticism.

In 2008, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari expanded his cabinet with 40 members and inducted a very controversial Senator Mir Israrullah Zehri. A few months before, Mr Israrullah Zehri had stood up in the Senate and justified the crime of burying women alive by arguing in the upper house that ‘It is a Baluch tribal tradition (to bury accused women alive) and we have to respect it’.

Five women were buried alive in Baluchistan.  As it was reported, the girls were at the house of Mr. Chandio at Baba Kot village when Mr. Abdul Sattar Umrani, brother of the provincial minister, came with six men and abducted them with gun point. They were taken in a Land Cruiser jeep, bearing a registration number plate of the Baluchistan government, to a remote area in the vicinity of Baba Kot. There Abdul Sattar Umrani and his accomplices took the three girls out of the jeep and beat them before opening fire with their guns. The girls were seriously injured but were still alive. Sattar Umrani and his accomplices hurled them into a wide ditch and covered them with earth and stones. The two older women protested and tried to stop the burial of the girls who were plainly alive, but the attackers pushed them too into the ditch and buried all alive.

Names of victims
Ms. Fatima wife of, Umeed Ali Umrani, 45 years old
Ms. Jannat Bibi wife of Qaiser Khan, 38 years old
Ms. Fauzia daughter of Ata Mohammad Umrani 18 years
and two other girls, in between 16 to 18 years of age

In December 2010, at the request of the Government, the Council of Islamic Ideology reviewed the controversial blasphemy laws and recommended certain procedural changes with a view to preventing their misuse. Under the pressure of large rallies organized by hardline Islamic groups and religious political parties in protest against the bill in December 2010 and January 2011, the Government reneged on its commitment to review the blasphemy laws.Two high profile public figures – Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs were killed on 4 January and 2 March 2011, respectively, purportedly due to their overt opposition to the blasphemy laws.

Bhatti was a Christian and an outspoken critic of the misuse of the Blasphemy Law. 

Shahbaz Bhatti was shot dead just yards away from his mother’s house in broad daylight just 57 days after Mr Taseer was assassinated by his own guard on January 4, 2011. Bhatti suffered 30 bullet injuries in his chest, torso and head. Pamphlets were discovered at the scene of the assassination, in which the Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab claimed responsibility for the attack. The group claimed in the pamphlet that they had targeted Mr Bhatti for his opposition to the blasphemy law. Tahira Abdullah, a Pakistani minority rights activist, remained with the bereaved family for some time. She reported that the family was hysterical with shock and grief.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports:

While the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the rights of religious minorities, as well as other fundamental rights such as gender equality, freedom of expression and press, freedom of association and assembly, it effectively segregates the country’s citizens on the basis of religion. The Constitution proclaims Islam as the State religion, and binds the legal system to Islamic law by stipulating that no law should be repugnant to the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah, and that all existing laws should be brought in conformity. Fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of expression and press, are also subject to “any reasonable restriction imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam”. (From here.)

The Pakistan Taliban Grows Bolder

In April 2012, the Taliban pulled off the biggest jail-break in Pakistan’s history. About 150 militants stormed the central prison in Bannu and freed 384 prisoners. among them a man sentenced to death for trying to assassinate former president Pervez Musharraf.  Bannu adjoins North Waziristan.

According to an official, the militants arrived after midnight on pick-ups and attacked the prison housing after blowing up the main gates with rocket-propelled grenades. The attackers had accurate information about cells in which militants had been kept. The prison housed about 900 inmates at the time. The police official said the attackers appeared to be interested mainly in freeing the man who was on death row for an assassination attempt on former president Pervez Musharraf.
“We have released our men without losing a single man,” Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan said.

Pakistan is engaged in military operations against militants in the federally administered tribal area (FATA) and has not been very effective in addressing the Haqqani network's safe havens in Pakistan.

On June 7, 2012, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta expressed unhappiness with Pakistan’s progress in battling the Haqqani network in Pakistan. Dempsey acknowledged that Pakistan is battling other threats within the federally administered tribal area.

During a news conference in Kabul, Panetta said the United States was reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan following an attack on Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province, Afghanistan, earlier this week. FOB Salerno is the largest base in southeastern Afghanistan - it is highly fortified, and hosts extensive surveillance assets and a US rotary wing task force.

One contractor and dozens of service members were wounded in the attack, attributed to the Haqqani network. One soldier died three days later from wounds suffered during the incident. Members of the Taliban, including several individuals wearing suicide vests, launched a coordinated assault that breached the perimeter of the American facility. A suicide bomber rammed a vehicle packed with explosives into the base's fence, and attackers entered through the gap. Fourteen militants were killed in the assault.