"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"

Father God, thank you for the love of the truth you have given me. Please bless me with the wisdom, knowledge and discernment needed to always present the truth in an attitude of grace and love. Use this blog and Northwoods Ministries for your glory. Help us all to read and to study Your Word without preconceived notions, but rather, let scripture interpret scripture in the presence of the Holy Spirit. All praise to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Please note: All my writings and comments appear in bold italics in this colour

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Is Europe Lurching to the Far Right?

Katya Adler, Europe editor, BBC

A banner of Austrian presidential candidate Norbert Hofer is covered with snow in Gnadenwald, Austria, April 27, 2016.
A banner of Austrian presidential candidate Norbert Hofer is covered with snow in Gnadenwald, Austria, April 27, 2016. Reuters

Extreme conditions - what explains the rise of right-wing populism in Europe, such as the success of Norbert Hofer in Austria?

A ripple of concern shivered across Europe this week in establishment circles after a right-wing populist candidate stormed to pole position in the first round of Austria's presidential election.

"Triumph for the extreme right," proclaimed Spain's El Pais newspaper. Britain's Guardian warned of "turmoil" ahead. Italy's Corriere della Sera bemoaned a victory for the "anti-immigrant far right" while Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung called on traditional political parties to "listen to this wake-up call!"

"The extreme right" - A bit hysterical, don't you think?

Most publications identified some link between Norbert Hofer's strong showing and Austria's centre-stage role in the EU's migrant crisis.

"In Austria, European governments see a mirror of their own future. Social tensions are rising," noted another editorial predicting the rise of Europe's far right. But this writer wasn't talking about Sunday's vote.

Trotskyist journalist Peter Schwarz penned his thoughts 16 years ago, back in February 2000, when the Freedom Party (FPOe) first joined an Austrian government.

At the time, the party's charismatic and controversial leader, Joerg Haider, had provoked condemnation at home and abroad with his praise for Hitler's Waffen SS, with his strong anti-immigrant stance and Eurosceptic views.

Thousands of demonstrators with banners and flags on their way to Heldenplatz on 19 February 2000 for a demonstration against the new Austrian coalition government between Joerg Haider's right-wing Freedom Party and the conservative Peoples Party
Thousands of demonstrators with banners and flags on their way to Heldenplatz on 19 February 2000 for a demonstration against the new Austrian coalition government between Joerg Haider's right-wing Freedom Party and the conservative Peoples Party, AP

The rise of Joerg Haider's Freedom Party in Austria 16 years ago prompted outrage - now there is little more than a raised eyebrow.

I was living in Vienna then and reported from amongst the tens of thousands of anti-Haider protesters chanting "Never again!" in Heldenplatz - the emblematic square in central Vienna where Hitler chose to celebrate the annexation of Austria in 1938.

Europe was appalled at the inclusion of the Freedom Party in government. For the first time in EU history, all other members imposed sanctions on one of their own.

Diplomatic relations with Vienna were frozen. Austria was ostracised.

Then. But not now.

Now European eyebrows are raised, but little more than that.

Rise of nationalists in Europe - graphic

Austria is hardly a novelty these days. Resurgent right-wing populist groupings shout anti-immigration and Eurosceptic slogans across much of the EU.

They find acclaim amongst large chunks of the electorate in Italy, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Greece, France and the Netherlands, for example.

So does this mean that Europe is veering to the far right? I would argue not.

A number of these political parties existed and enjoyed some popularity back in 2000 - such as the Danish People's Party, Italy's Northern League and France's National Front.

But what is very different now is that right-wing populists' bread-and-butter issues have become mainstream, (because of negligence by the governments of the day).

Socially acceptable

This, following a toxic shock to the European public - made up of the current migrant crisis and the 2008 economic downturn which fuelled the euro crisis.

Questioning (while not always decrying) immigration, integration, the euro, the EU and the establishment, while promoting a stiff dose of nationalist sentiment, is now entirely "salonfaehig", as German-speakers would say.

This literally means "passable for your living room", or socially acceptable.

And something else has been spreading throughout Europe.

Dissatisfaction, cynicism and outright rejection of traditional political parties (as well as business and banking elites), many of which have been in power in Western Europe in one way or another since the end of the World War Two.

This, and not far-right fervour, is arguably driving voters to stage ballot-box protests or to seek alternative political homes - to the delight of Europe's populist parties.

Members of the Greek far-right ultra nationalist party Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avghi)
Greece's Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn cannot be lumped with Britain's anti-establishment UKIP, AFP

But they vary enormously in their political make-up from far left, to far right, to right-wing populist. They have different values and objectives.

Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece cannot be put in the same political basket as anti-establishment UKIP, which campaigns for the UK to leave the EU.

Lumping these parties together as evidence of the rise of the far right is simply incorrect.

We also do not know if Mr Hofer will be voted Austria's president after a second ballot next month.

France's National Front has often flopped at the last hurdle in presidential and regional elections.

More accurate than a warning "to heed a wake-up call on the far right's march across Europe" would be to heed a wake-up call that Europe and many of its citizens are floundering and trying to find a voice.

Right-wing nationalism in Europe - a snapshot

Protesters trample a burnt European Union flag during a demonstration untitled 'To be members, or to be free?' and called by the right-wing parliamentary party 'Jobbik' against European Union in front of the European Union Parliament and Committee headquarters in downtown Budapest on January 14, 2012
Protesters trample a burnt European Union flag during a demonstration entitled 'To be members, or to be free?' and called by the right-wing parliamentary party 'Jobbik' against European Union in front of the European Union Parliament and Committee headquarters in downtown Budapest on January 14, AFP

In Austria, for the first time since World War Two neither of Austria's two main centrist parties made it to the presidential run-off

Denmark's government relies on the support of the nationalist Danish People's Party and has the toughest immigration rules in Europe

The leader of the nationalist Finns Party is foreign minister of Finland, after it joined a coalition government last year

In France, the far-right National Front won 6.8 million votes in regional elections in 2015 - its largest ever score

The far-right Jobbik party - polling third in Hungary - organises patrols by an unarmed but uniformed "Hungarian Guard" in Roma (Gypsy) neighbourhoods


There is the matter of perspective here that Katya has not addressed. Aside from the neo-nazi types, other far-right wing parties may appear to be extreme only because they contrast so greatly with the left wing governments that have been in place in much of Europe for many decades. From a right-wing perspective, some of them might be seen as 'far-left' governments.

From a 'centrist' position, most right-wing parties are not extreme, or even that 'far' right. Current governments, however, see themselves as 'the norm' or 'centrist', when that is clearly not the case.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Luxury – Not Poverty – in the Palestinian Authority

Luxurious living on the West Bank

Palestinian luxury
House of a Palestinian businessman. Looks like he's doing alright.

Alongside the slums of the old refugee camps, which the Palestinian government has done little to rehabilitate, a parallel wealthy Palestinian society is emerging.

In communities throughout the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, a surprising degree of luxury exists alongside the poverty. This study includes “A Photo Album of Palestinian Luxury in the West Bank,” offering a more complete picture of living standards there. The truth is that alongside the slums of the old refugee camps, which the Palestinian government has done little to rehabilitate, a parallel Palestinian society is emerging.

When we think of the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, we think of refugee camps like these:

Balata refugee camp near Nablus
Balata refugee camp near Nablus

Balata refugee camp near Nablus
 Balata refugee camp near Nablus

Beit Jibrin refugee camp in Bethlehem
Beit Jibrin refugee camp in Bethlehem

Jenin refugee camp
Jenin refugee camp

Deheishe refugee camp in Bethlehem
Deheishe refugee camp in Bethlehem

Palestinian Refugees
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines a refugee as someone who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) defines Palestinians as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” The descendants of male Palestinian refugees, including adopted children, are also eligible for registration. When the Agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services.

This unorthodox UNRWA definition of “refugee” eternalizes the Palestinian refugee problem. Sixty-three years is time enough for three, perhaps four, generations. Imagine the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of Jewish refugees who came to the U.S. after the Holocaust referring to themselves as refugees.

Moreover, given the UN definition of a refugee is someone “outside the country of his nationality,” how can there be refugees living within the Palestinian Authority?

As of July 1, 2014, 762,288 refugees were said to be living in 19 camps spread out in the West Bank. Over the past 67 years the UN and the U.S. have poured billions into the camps to upgrade living conditions. What Palestinian advocates like to call “camp shelters” are typically 4-5 story concrete apartment buildings with electricity, kitchens, satellite television and municipal garbage collection.  According to the UN, 99.8% of camp shelters are “connected to water networks” and 87% are “connected to sewerage networks.”

The Economist reported that by 2013 almost 70 percent of West Bank Palestinian refugees lived outside the refugee camps. However, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) seeks to maintain the camps and opposes and prevents refugee resettlement. As the PLO slogan goes, A Palestinian refugee never moves out of his camp except to return home (i.e., to Israel).

Unlike all other refugees in previous centuries who were absorbed in their countries of residence, the issue of Palestinian refugees remains on the world agenda due to a political decision by the Arab states to keep them as “refugees.”

After the 1948 war, Jordan and Egypt could have absorbed the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, which they controlled as part of their own countries. Yet the political motivations of the Arabs for keeping the Palestinian refugee issue alive are clear. Both Arab governments and the Arab League opposed granting citizenship to Palestinian refugees in their countries because it would undermine the use of the right of return to eliminate the Jewish state. The end result was that the Palestinian refugees became political pawns.

This fact was stated succinctly by the former head of UNRWA, Ralph Galloway: “The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the UN, and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders do not give a damn whether Arab refugees live or die.”

Moreover, calling these people refugees makes no sense. Few if any live in tent camps or temporary residences. Most own their homes and live in areas of towns that can be classified as working class neighborhoods. Rather than refugees, they are simply the recipients of assistance, mainly for education and health.

The Other Side of the West Bank Palestinian Story
There is more to this story, a side often overlooked. In communities throughout the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, a surprising degree of luxury exists alongside the poverty. After receiving billions of dollars in Western aid over many decades, major improvements are visible in the standard of living in the West Bank, as seen in newly-constructed buildings, late-model cars, and luxury items.

This study offers an often overlooked window into life in the Palestinian Authority. The empirical data, together with the photographic evidence sourced here, provide a more complete picture of living standards in the West Bank.  The truth is that alongside the slums of the old refugee camps, which the Palestinian government has done little to rehabilitate, a parallel Palestinian society is emerging.

Marwan Asmar, a Jordan-based journalist with a PhD in political science from Leeds University in the UK, described this phenomenon upon returning to the West Bank after 30 years:

There has been a total transformation since I was last in Howara in the West Bank in 1985. One can see a buzz of activity at the shops, restaurants, offices and cafes. This wasn’t the sleepy village I saw long ago. Buildings, villas, mosques and rest areas have been constructed everywhere. There is even a swimming pool.

This was certainly not the picture I had in mind. This was not the picture the media presents – of Palestinians surviving on daily wages of $2 as pointed out by the World Bank, of high unemployment and pockets of poverty. The people I spoke to here said many worked as laborers in Israel and were paid high daily wages. This is how they could build their houses, they told me.

As speculation continues about renewing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it is important to understand how the quality of life in the West Bank has improved and how a new Palestinian society is emerging – one that requires a changed perception of the reality of Palestinian life.

While the Arab world is in the throes of a major melt-down – with widespread violence and destruction in Syria and Iraq, together with serious instability in Lebanon and Egypt – daily life for Arabs in the West Bank offers a stark contrast to those scenes of violence and decline.

Palestinian Quality of Life in the West Bank – Indicators

Foreign Aid
Since the establishment of Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza in the mid-1990s, the U.S. government has committed approximately $5 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, who are among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid. Overall, Palestinians receive approximately $2 billion in aid each year. Palestinian economic analysts estimate that the PA has received a total of $25 billion in financial aid during the past two decades.

The CIA World Factbook reported the poverty rate in the West Bank as 18% in 2011, in contrast to Israel’s poverty rate in 2012 of 21%.

Life Expectancy
In 2015, life expectancy in the West Bank was 76 years.  This was notably higher than the life expectancy in Arab states of 71 years (in 2012), and the average life expectancy around the world of 70 years.

Infant Mortality
In 2015, the infant mortality rate in the West Bank and Gaza was 13 per 1,000 live births, compared with 27 per 1,000 live births in the Arab states in 2013 and 36.58 per 1,000 live births in the world in 2014.

In 2015 the literacy rate for people aged 15 and above in the West Bank and Gaza was 96.5%.

In 2011, when Palestinians were asked “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the education system?” 63.5% answered “satisfied”, a higher percentage than the U.S. (62.8), Netherlands (60.3), Sweden (61.6) or Japan (54.6).  The overall percentage in Arab states was 50.0%.

Water Resources
Palestinians insist that they suffer from water shortages due to Israeli policies. However, data shows that Israel has fulfilled all of its obligations according to the signed water agreements with the PA. The development of water supply systems for Palestinian communities has been carried out on an extensive scale, much larger than that called for in the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement.

From 1967-1995 (prior to the signing of the Interim Agreement), the total amount of water supplied to the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria increased from 66 to 120 million cubic meters per year. This additional water was mainly used for domestic consumption. During this period, the number of towns and villages connected to running water through modern supply systems increased from four to 309 communities. In March 2010, 641 of 708 Palestinian communities, which include more than 96 percent of the Palestinian population, were found to be connected to a running water network. Water supply networks for an additional 16 villages (encompassing an additional 2.5 percent of the population) were under construction.

Palestinians claim that the water consumption of the average Israeli is four times greater than that of the average Palestinian. However, this claim is not factually supported. In 1967, there was indeed a large gap in the per capita consumption of water between Israelis and Palestinians due to the ancient water supply systems that existed in the West Bank under British and then Jordanian rule, which needed upgrading. This gap, however, was reduced during the Israeli administration period and the difference is now negligible. The per capita consumption of natural, fresh water in Israel is 150 m3/c/y and in the PA 140 m3/c/y.

In Jordan and Syria, most towns and villages are still not connected to running water. In Amman and Damascus, water distribution takes place only once or twice each week. According to the PA, roughly 33.6 percent of their water leaks from internal pipelines, compared with 11 percent in Israel. Moreover, the Palestinians have violated their part of the water agreements by refusing to build sewage treatment plants (despite available international financing). Thus, raw sewage discharged from Palestinian communities flows freely in many streams in the West Bank.

Palestinian Employment in Israel
In 2014, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, published an article lauding Israeli employers for their treatment of Palestinian workers in Israel. The article stated, “Whenever Palestinian workers have the opportunity to work for Israeli employers, they are quick to quit their jobs with their Palestinian employers – for reasons having to do with salaries and other rights….The salaries of workers employed by Palestinians amount to less than half the salaries of those who work for Israeli employers.”

“The [Israeli] work conditions are very good, and include transportation, medical insurance and pensions. These things do not exist with Palestinian employers….Muhammad Al-Hinnawi, a construction worker, says: ‘I receive a daily salary of 70 shekels, without pension, and I have no other choice.’ By contrast, Thaer Al-Louzi, who used to work for an Israeli concrete factory, notes: ‘I received a salary of 140 shekels a day. Now, after I was injured, I receive a salary through the insurance.’”

According to Bassem Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, 92,000 Arabs from the West Bank work in Israel each day.

According to the 2012 Happy Planet Index – a survey conducted by the New Economics Forum to measure happiness around the world – the Palestinian Authority was the third happiest Arab country and the 30th happiest in the world, making the PA happier than many developed countries like the US, UK, Sweden, Australia and Canada.

Algeria – 52.2
Jordan – 51.7
Palestinian Authority – 51.2
Iraq – 49.2
Tunisia – 48.3
Morocco – 47.9
Syria – 47.1
Saudi Arabia – 46.0
Yemen – 43.0
Lebanon – 42.9
Libya – 40.8
Egypt – 39.6
Sudan – 37.6
Djibouti – 37.2
Comoros – 36.5
Mauritania – 32.3
UAE – 31.8
Kuwait – 27.1
Bahrain – 26.6
Qatar – 25.2

A Photo Album of Palestinian Luxury in the West Bank

Completing the Picture of Palestinian Life in the West Bank
Ramallah’s landscape is undergoing a transformation. Multi-story villas fronted by ornamental porticos and columns are rising on Ramallah’s hilltops along with glass and marble office buildings. There are newly paved roads. Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts opened Ramallah’s first five-star hotel. The 172-room, $40 million hotel boasts a head chef imported from Florence, a pastry chef from Paris, and a lobby bedecked in marble and Italian suede.

Across the West Bank, similar scenes are unfolding. Building cranes pierce the sky. Outside Nablus, new car dealerships sell everything from BMWs to Hyundais. In Ramallah, the Mercedes dealership does a brisk business selling luxury-class sports cars and sport-utility vehicles to wealthy Palestinians with sticker prices ranging from $100,000 to $200,000. The Hirbawi Home Center opened just outside Jenin. The five-story shopping mall cost $5 million. Fireworks marked the opening. On the fifth floor in-demand electric gadgets may be found: enormous TV screens, vacuum cleaners, espresso machines. The prices are not much cheaper than in Israel, perhaps except for the furniture. One can find china plates, crystal, and classical furniture. The chain’s CEO, Ziad Turabi, says, “We believe we can make a very handsome profit. Many people in the…territories have money but they have nowhere to spend it if they’re after quality. We offer them the best quality there is.”

This may not sound like the familiar description of the West Bank – the impoverished Palestinian village or the overcrowded refugee camp, a population sustaining itself on international aid. But it turns out that quite a few Palestinians consider a plasma screen, a surround sound stereo and comfortable chairs to be fairly essential items.

The West Bank
The West Bank: Cities and Towns Featured in the Photos


The Palestine Trade Tower in Ramallah
Palestinian Trade Tower, Ramallah

“In Ramallah it is difficult to get a table in a good restaurant. There are new apartment buildings, banks, brokerage firms, luxury car dealerships and health clubs.”34

Bank of Palestine in Ramallah
Bank of Palestine, Ramallah

Padico House in Ramallah
Padico House, Ramallah

There are a couple dozen more photos of modern office buildings, luxury resort hotels, and fabulous villas that should more properly be called palaces, here. Who is using all these hotels? It's mind-boggling.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

German Pastor Declares Himself an Anti-Semite


The Wiesenthal Center called for the pastor to be sacked after learning about the comments.

NEW YORK CITY— A pastor for the Lutheran Church in Bremen, Germany who boasted that he is an anti-Semite has prompted the Simon Wiesenthal Center to call for his dismissal.

The pastor, Volker Keller, who is a member of the Bremen city government council responsible for the integration of Muslims for the northern German city, sent an email to this Jerusalem Post correspondent, announcing his embrace of anti-Semitism.

He wrote: “Yesterday evening the anti-Semite Arn Strohmeyer delivered a lecture to me…Best wishes to Israel, Yours truly, Volker Keller, Antisemite.”

The trigger for Keller’s email appears to be a series of Jerusalem Post exposes on Strohmeyer’s alleged modern anti-Semitic views and the city of Bremen’s public funding for, according to critics, hate-mongering events in the Citizens’ House Weserterrassen targeting the Jewish state.

Volker Keller refused to answer multiple Post queries. Renke Brahms, the executive cleric for the Bremen Protestant Church, wrote to the Post by email that the church ”distances itself from every form of anti-Semitism and clearly supports the existence of Israel…

Pastor Keller sent a ‘sarcastic email’ and wanted to express that he is not an anti-Semite and feels wrongly defamed. The choice of this form was an extraordinary misunderstanding and is from our perspective, as well as Mr. Keller’s, a completely inappropriate reaction. We have made this clear to Mr. Keller that in his function he is not allowed to write such emails.”

Forgive me for being skeptical but why can't we see Pr. Keller say that?

Not 100% sure, but I think this is Pastor Keller's church
It is unclear why Keller feels defamed. Keller, who used his business church email to send his embrace of Jew-hatred note, co-founded an NGO called “Nord-Bremer Citizens against War.”

According to a Friday article in Die Taz daily in Bremen, the activists from Keller’s group participated in demonstrations in front of supermarkets in 2011 calling for the boycott of Israeli products. Strohmeyer, the obscure anti-Israel writer, can be seen in a photograph at the gathering near protesters showing orange slices dripping with blood under the slogan "Boycott Israel’s fruit." Keller declined to say if he supports a boycott of Israeli products. 

Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the human rights NGO the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Post by telephone: "This man [Mr. Keller] had no problem in communicating in an anti-Semitic way and should apologize personally for his quote. And short of hearing directly from him, we have no reason to believe that he doesn’t hold the views... he should be fired. This person with his state of mind should not have anything to do with integrating people in Germany’s democratic culture."

However, Cooper added that if Keller issues an apology to the parishioners of the church and the Jewish community for “expressing this non-Christian sentiment,” he should be allowed to retain his job.

Keller has refused to issue a public apology to the Jewish and Christian communities in Bremen. Brahms declined to respond to Cooper’s criticism.

Carsten Splitt, a spokesman for the EKD, an umbrella body for German Lutheran, Reformed and United churches, said he forwarded the Post queries to the former head of the EKD, Nikolaus Schneider, but Schneider said he did not wish to comment. Splitt added that Schneider “does not know Mr. Keller and it is a matter for the Bremen Church.”

Because of Keller’s role in the city administration, the anti-Semitism row has also raised eyebrows. Bremen is a main hub for anti-Israel hatred in Germany and a leader in boycott actions against Jewish products. Andre Städler, a spokesman for Bremen’s Mayor Carsten Sieling, did not immediately respond to a Post query.

Last year, Schneider and the German Protestant establishment grappled with the classic religious  "anti-Semitism of the church’ founder Martin Luther."

The 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation will take place in 2017.

“Luther’s view of Judaism and his invective against Jews contradict our understanding today of what it means to believe in one God who has revealed himself in Jesus, the Jew,” wrote the Church in a statement.

Brahms declined to answer Post queries about the continuity of religious anti-Semitism with the alleged contemporary anti-Semitism of Keller.

With the rhetoric that existed in the 15th and 16th centuries about Jews, it should not be too surprising that Luther was an anti-Semite. Not surprising, but disappointing and disquieting. I have come to believe that a true believer in Jesus Christ cannot be antisemitic but non-believers are often predisposed to it. Nevertheless, we all have blind-spots and I suspect this was one for Luther. I can only hope that he recanted that attitude late in life.

We can also hope that this is the case for Pastor Keller. It doesn't have to be, given the sorry state of the Christian Church in Germany, I suspect there are many Christian Churches in Germany with pastors who have no relationship with Jesus Christ whatsoever.

I once took a Lutheran woman, a German immigrant to Canada, to a Christmas play at my church. She was completely mystified by all the references to Jesus. She knew there was God, but, "who is this Jesus?", was exactly what she asked.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Muslim Gang in Philippines Beheads Canadian Hostage

Family devastated after John Ridsdel
killed by captors in Philippines
Abu Sayyaf militants had issued deadline for ransoms
on former Calgarian and 3 other hostages
CBC News 
John Ridsdel, a former Calgarian, was one of four people abducted in the Philippines last year. Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed reports that Ridsdel had been killed.
John Ridsdel, a former Calgarian, was one of four people abducted in the Philippines last year. Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed reports that Ridsdel had been killed. (@JBR10000/Twitter)

Family of John Ridsdel say they are devastated by his death at the hands of kidnappers in the Philippines. 

They say his life was "cut tragically short by this senseless act of violence despite us doing everything within our power to bring him home."

Ridsdel was one of four hostages, including fellow Canadian Robert Hall, held by the Abu Sayyaf militants since last September. 

The 68-year-old was described as semi-retired and was the former chief operating officer of mining company TVI Resource Development Philippines Inc., a subsidiary of Canada's TVI Pacific, where he was a consultant, a company officer said.

The kidnappers had issued a ransom deadline that lapsed Monday morning. Evidence of a beheading was found along a street in Jolo town in Sulu province, according to Jolo police Chief Supt. Junpikar Sitin.

Mourning a 'great guy'

In a statement from the family, Ridsdel was described as "a kind and gregarious person who touched everyone he knew with his enthusiasm and generosity. He loved life and lived it to the fullest with his family and friends at the centre.

"He was loved by all his friends and adored by his daughters, sister and extended family. He will be sorely missed for all our days to come."

Don Kossick — a colleague from his time as a journalist with CBC in Regina, Sask. — said he "really liked" Ridsdel.

"He was really a warm, generous person," Kossick said in Saskatoon, Sask. "When I saw his name come up with that first kidnap he was a part of, I thought, 'My God. What a situation he's caught up in.' "

Upon learning of the beheading of his friend, he said "my heart just crashed."

"He was a great guy," Sandy Hunter told CBC News. He was the best man at Ridsdel's wedding, and the two were former colleagues at CBC Calgary and Petro-Canada.

Hunter said he is grateful for the time they spent together dating back to the 1970s.

The two lost touch in recent years, Hunter said, partly because he became uncomfortable with Ridsdel's increased work in problematic areas.

Reaction from the PM

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also spoke out against the killing while at a federal cabinet retreat in Alberta.

"I am outraged by the news that a Canadian citizen, John Ridsdel ... has been killed at the hands of his captors."

"This was an act of cold-blooded murder, and responsibility rests squarely with the terrorist group who took him hostage."

Trudeau condemned the "heinous" act and said the Canadian government will work with the Philippine government to bring those responsible to justice. He also offered deepest condolences to Ridsdel's friends and family.

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose tweeted that she was shocked and saddened when she learned he was killed.

In a statement, Ambrose said, "Incidents like this should remind all of us that the threat of terrorism remains very real. We must stand with our allies in solidarity against terrorism, which remains the greatest challenge that the world faces today."

Former Liberal MP and longtime friend Bob Rae was among the first to respond to the killing.

Rae has been in regular contact with Ridsdel's family.

"It's hard. It's just very hard. I've been involved behind the scenes for the last six months trying to find a solution and it's been very painful," said Rae.

Seeking resolution

Officials in the Philippines had said earlier that government forces were moving to rescue the two Canadians and a Norwegian after their Muslim militant captors threatened to behead one of them if a huge ransom was not paid.

"Whether things could have been done differently, it's too soon for that to be said. Certainly the family did everything they could to try to reach a solution," said Rae.

His friendship with Ridsdel dates back to university in the 1960s. Rae said his friend had always been adventurous.

Canadian hostages Robert Hall John Risdel Oct 15 2015
Canadians Robert Hall, left, and John Ridsdel, middle, and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad appeared in a YouTube video appealing to the Philippines government to stop military operations. (Site Intelligence Group/YouTube)

There's no immediate word about the other three being held hostage.

The kidnappers reportedly demanded 300 million pesos ($6.5 million) for each of the foreigners, who were seized along with a Filipino woman by gunmen in September last year from a marina on southern Samal Island. The hostages were believed to have been taken to Jolo Island in Sulu, a jungle-covered province where the militants are believed to be holding several hostages.

Police identified the foreigners as Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, who was the resort's marina manager, Ridsdel and Hall, as well as a Filipino woman.

Officials said the president ordered the military and police to launch the rescue in the south of the country.

Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin condemned the beheading, blaming Abu Sayyaf militants who have been implicated in past kidnappings, beheadings and bombings.

"This is such a barbaric act by these people, and one would be tempted to think that they should also meet the same fate," Amin said by telephone.

Abu Sayyaf known for extortion, kidnappings

University of Calgary terrorism expert Michael Zekulin said it's not clear how the killing of Ridsdel will affect the other hostages.

"It positions them in terms of the next negotiation perhaps, where people take them seriously and maybe it will lead to a more successful negotiation the next time," said Zekulin.

Abu Sayyaf emerged in the early 1990s as an offshoot of a separatist rebellion by minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation's south.

The group — which Canada and other Western countries consider a terrorist organization — has relied on extortion and huge ransoms earned from kidnappings of mostly Western tourists and missionaries.

Jolo, Samal Island, John Ridsdel killed
Philippine officials said the hostages were taken at gunpoint during a late-night raid in September 2015 at the Oceanview resort on Samal island, in the southern Philippines. (Mapbox/Canadian Press)

Prairie upbringing

Ridsdel grew up in Yorkton, SK and is being remembered as a brilliant, compassionate man with a talent for friendship.

"He could bridge many communities, many people, many situations and circumstances and environments in a very gentle way," said Gerald Thurston, a lifelong friend who grew up with Ridsdel in Yorkton, Sask.

Thurston said Ridsdel is survived by two adult daughters from a former marriage. 

2 Leading Rabbis Agree - Messiah Coming Very Soon

Major Rabbi Predicts Christians Will Be Source of Torah in Coming Days of Messiah
By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz 

“For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language that they may all call upon the name of the LORD to serve Him with one consent. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia shall they bring My suppliants even the daughter of My dispersed as Mine offering.” Zephaniah 3:9-10 (The Israel Bible™)


On Wednesday afternoon, two of the greatest rabbis of the generation met and discussed how very close the Messiah is, and how Christians and Muslims have an important role to play in that process.

Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch (Photo: Flash90)
Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch
(Photo: Flash90)
Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch,Vice-President of the Rabbinical Court and the Head of the Edah HaChareidis in Jerusalem, paid a rare visit to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky at his home in Bnei Barak. They are two of the most prominent Torah figures alive today. Conversations between such great men have enormous significance and the Hebrew-language website Kikar Shabbat recorded the dialogue between these two great rabbis.

After warm greetings, the rabbis began to discuss the problems facing the Jews in this generation. Rabbi Kanievsky said that troubles were to be expected. “It is the days before Messiah,” he explained.

Rabbi Sternbuch agreed. “In the End of Days, those who fear God will despair and their hands will loosen from fighting God’s war against the sinners, and there will be no one to rely upon except God,” he said, adding, “We have to bring the Messiah.”

Rabbi Kanievsky answered that the Messiah should be arriving in the very near future. He quoted the Talmud (Megillah 17b) again, saying, “In the year after shmittah the Son of David will come.”

Rabbi Kanievsky was referring to a prediction he had made earlier in the year based on the Talmud. The shmittah (sabbatical) year comes once every seven years and ended this year on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. The year in which Rabbi Kanievsky predicted the Messiah would come, according to the Talmud, will end next Rosh Hashana, in September.

“The year after the Shemitta isn’t over,” he added.

Rabbi Sternbuch answered by quoting Jeremiah 8:2, which reads, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” – implying that according to the Talmud, the Messiah should have already arrived if it was truly coming in this year.

Rabbi Kanievsky insisted that the Messiah was indeed coming in this year. He opened the Talmud folio (Ketubot 112b) that contained the prediction and began to read out loud to Rabbi Sternbuch.

Father Gabriel Clean (Wikimedia Commons)
Father Gabriel Clean
(Wikimedia Commons)
Rabbi Sternbuch considered this and responded with a different source.

“We have an ancient authenticated hand-written manuscript from the Rambam (a Spanish Torah authority from the twelfth century), in which he says that before the coming of the Messiah, the Christians and the Ishmaelites (Arabs) will come to Israel,” he pointed out.

The manuscript the rabbi referred to is a recent version of the Rambam’s Mishnah Torah, recently published with restored sections censored by medieval Christian authorities.

Rabbi Sternbuch’s interpretation of the Rambam does seem to happening today. The creation of the State of Israel was a miraculous fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham, restoring the land of Israel to the Jewish people, but it also benefitted Christians, establishing a bubble of religious freedom in a region of the world that does not tolerate pluralism. Almost three million Christians come to Israel every year to visit their holy sites in a way that is not permitted in regions under Muslim rule, and the Jewish state is home to a considerable Christian population as well.

Gabriel Naddaf,  an Israeli priest of the Greek Orthodox Church, said in an interview with the Algemeiner that “the Jewish state is the only country in the Middle East where Christians can practice their faith free from persecution”, noting, “The Christian community in Israel has more than quadrupled since independence in 1948, from 34,000 to 158,000 in 2012.”

Though not as positive or as beneficial as the Christian connection, the Arabs have also multiplied in the Land of Israel as the Messiah approaches. Before the British Mandate, Palestine, a neglected corner of the Ottoman Empire, had barely 700,000 people living in the country. As the Jewish population increased between World War One and World War Two, the Arab population also increased by 120 percent.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky. (Photo: Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky
Photo: Yaakov Naumi/Flash90
Rabbi Kanievsky continued reading in the Talmud, which described yet another aspect of the days preceding the Messiah.

“In the days to come, all the non-fruit bearing trees in israel will bear fruit.” Rabbi Kanievsky explained, “When the Messiah comes, everyone will repent, and the people that ‘didn’t bear fruit’ will bear fruit and learn Torah.”

Rabbi Kanievsky seemed to be saying that in the Messianic era, Christians and Muslims will be a source of Torah learning – and this phenomenon is appearing as well. Many movements in Christianity are beginning to seek  out their roots in Torah and Judaism. Hebrew Roots and Bnai Yosef are growing movements that advocate doing Mitzvot and Torah study.

Both Rabbi Kanievsky and Rabbi Sternbuch are brilliant Torah scholars whose decisions regarding Torah law are unquestionably authoritative. When rabbis of this stature agree that the Messiah is imminent, it is clearly a sign to sit up and take notice.

Isn't it interesting that these Torah scholars include Christians in the equation leading up to the coming of the Messiah - even quoting scripture. What is interesting about it is that Jews don't believe that Jesus is the Messiah, yet the Torah seems to recognize Christianity as a bonafide religion. 

It appears the Rabbis don't necessarily believe in the Great Tribulation - 7 years of Hell on earth, revealed by the New Testament as coming before Christ returns. As part of that, the Antichrist will also appear before Christ's return. 

How do they reconcile that Christianity is mentioned in the Torah, but they don't believe in Christ as the Messiah? How do you explain Christianity without Christ? There's a disconnect there unless the Torah refers only to Christians after the Messiah appears.

2 Cor 3:
13.  We.... are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. (glory)
14.  But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.
15.  But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart;

16.  but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Report Slams Obstacles, Torture in Mexico Student Murders

Laurent Thomet

Independent investigators have issued a scathing report on the disappearance of 43 Mexican students, accusing the government of obstructing their probe (AFP Photo/Yuri Cortez)

Mexico City (AFP) - Independent investigators have issued a scathing report on the disappearance of 43 Mexican students, accusing the government of obstructing their probe and alleging that some suspects were tortured.

After a yearlong investigation ending this month, the foreign experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights were unable to resolve a case that has shocked the international community and sparked protests against President Enrique Pena Nieto.

While the mystery remains, the report calls for investigations into the conduct of federal police and the military on the night of September 26-27, 2014, when the 43 young men vanished in the city of Iguala, southern Guerrero state.

The experts also cited medical reports showing "significant indications of mistreatment and torture" against 17 of the more than 100 suspects detained in the case, with some claiming they received electric shocks in their testicles and bags were placed over their heads.

The attorney general's office later said it was investigating torture claims by 31 suspects.

A good part of the 605-page report -- the mission's second -- is dedicated to the "obstructions" that the experts faced from the authorities, which worsened starting in January.

Officials showed "little interest" in moving forward with new lines of investigation and it was "impossible" for the experts to reinterview 17 of the suspects, the report said.

"The group has also suffered a (media) campaign that seeks to discredit people as a way to question their work," said the report by the five-member panel -- two lawyers from Colombia, another from Chile, a former attorney general of Guatemala and a Spanish psychologist.

"These actions show that some sectors are not interested in the truth," Colombian lawyer Alejandro Valencia told a news conference.

- Torture claims -

Pena Nieto thanked the experts via Twitter and said the attorney general's office would analyze the report to "enrich its investigation."

Eber Omar Betanzos, a deputy attorney general for human rights, defended the investigation, saying prosecutors gave the experts "full access" and replied to 85 percent of over 900 requests for information.

The experts arrived in Mexico in March 2015 with the government's blessing. Their mandate was renewed once, but the government decided against giving them another extension, saying they were given ample time.

Prosecutors say the teachers-in-training were attacked by municipal police after the young men stole five buses that they planned to use for a future protest. Three students and three bystanders were killed on the spot.

The officers then handed over 43 students to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, which killed them and incinerated their bodies at a garbage dump in the nearby town of Cocula, according to prosecutors.

The experts say there is no proof the 43 students were incinerated at the dump, but Betanzos cited a new study claiming at least 17 people were burned there.

The remains of only one student were fully identified after they were found in a nearby river.

Claims of torture are among the most damning elements presented by the experts, with medical reports and statements from suspects claiming they were beaten after their arrests.

The suspects were usually detained "peacefully," but bruises appeared in medical reports after their arrests and some claimed to have received electric shocks on their tongues and genitals.

One said police put a rag up his nose and poured water on his face.

Betanzos said three officials from the attorney general's office are facing investigations.

- 'Satanic One' -

The report also raises new questions about the presence of soldiers and federal police in Iguala the night of the attacks, but it does not directly link them to the mass disappearance.

The experts were never allowed to interview 27 members of the 500-strong 27th army battalion based in Iguala, which monitored the students' movements and dispatched an intelligence officer who witnessed a clash.

They urged the authorities to investigate allegations that a soldier, nicknamed "The Satanic One," trafficked weapons for the Guerreros Unidos.

Another "key element" that needs further investigation is the "participation or knowledge" of federal police in the mass disappearance, according to the report.

Students in one of the five buses said federal police pointed their guns at them, prompting them to run away.

Federal police were also present when students were detained near a judicial building, while others manned a checkpoint at another location in the city and failed to help wounded victims.

But Betanzos said there was no evidence that federal forces committed crimes.

The motive for the attack remains unclear but the experts said authorities should investigate whether the students were assaulted because they inadvertently took a bus used to smuggle heroin.

Marguerite Barankitse - A World Class Hero


A deeply Catholic woman, Marguerite (“Maggie”) Barankitse is the founder of Maison Shalom, a complex of schools, hospitals, and a network of care extending throughout Burundi, and has focused on children’s welfare and rights while challenging ethnic discrimination. 

Born in 1957 in Ruyigi, southern Burundi, she grew up identified as a Tutsi in that ethnically divided country. After her father died when she was six years old, her mother raised Maggie and her brother, and she became a teacher.

When Burundi’s terrible civil war erupted in 1993, Barankitse, then 36 years old, had seven adopted children, both Hutus and Tutsis. She witnessed and was the victim of murderous attacks but survived.

She found herself caring for hundreds of children who had no one to care for them, prompting her to found Maison Shalom. It is believed she has affected, either directly or indirectly, the lives of 20,000 children.

She is the winner of many international awards, including the US$1 million Opus Prize in 2008.

Just today she was awarded the $1.1 million Aurora Prize, presented to her by George Clooney at a celebration of the 101st anniversary of the beginning of the Armenean genocide of 1.5 million people by the Ottoman Turks.

Marguerite Barankitse Aurora Prize
Marguerite Barankitse receiving Aurora Prize from George Clooney
Other prizes Maggie has been awarded:

1998 : « prix des droits de l'homme » (Human Rights award) of the French government
2000 : North-South Prize from the Council of Europe
2003 : World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child
2004 : Voices of Courage Award of the Women's Commission for Women and Refugee Children
2004 : Nansen Refugee Award
2008 : Opus Prize
2008 : UNESCO Prize
On November 24, 2011, Prize for Conflict Prevention presented by Kofi Annan.

You are a genuine modern-day hero, Maggie, and my hero of the year so far. God bless you!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Muslims Want Cross Removed From Swiss Flag

An immigrant group based in Bern has called for the emblematic white cross to be removed from the Swiss national flag because as a Christian symbol it "no longer corresponds to today's multicultural Switzerland."

Ivica Petrusic, the vice president of Second@s Plus, a lobbying group that represents mostly Muslim second-generation foreigners in Switzerland (who colloquially are known as secondos) says the group will launch a nationwide campaign in October to ask Swiss citizens to consider adopting a flag that is less offensive to Muslim immigrants.

In a September 18 interview with the Swiss newspaper Aargauer Zeitung, Petrusic said the cross has a Christian background and while the Christian roots of Switzerland should be respected, "it is necessary to separate church and state" because "Switzerland today has a great religious and cultural diversity. One has to ask if the State wants to continue building up a symbol in which many people no longer believe."

Would they object to a crescent moon and star?

In the interview, Petrusic said Switzerland needs new symbols with which everyone, including non-Christians, can identify. As an alternative to the current Swiss flag, Petrusic proposed the former flag of the Helvetic Republic which was officially introduced in 1799 and consisted of green, red and yellow colors. "Those colors are similar to the current flags of Bolivia and Ghana and would represent a more progressive and open-minded Switzerland," Petrusic said.


The proposal to change the Swiss flag has been met with outrage across the political spectrum and is sure to fuel anti-immigrant sentiments in Switzerland.

Sylvia Flückiger a councillor with the conservative Swiss People's Party (SVP) said the demands are: "Totally unacceptable. With our Swiss flag there is nothing to change. The next thing you know, they will demand even more, that we change our constitution."

Marianne Binder, spokeswoman for the center-right Christian Democrats (CVP) said: "This is just what was missing, that we need to change our flag. The Swiss flag is part of Swiss identity, precisely because it is inviting for all to want to be involved...even the immigrants."

Stefan Brupbacher, general secretary of the libertarian Free Democrats (FDP) said: "This is utter nonsense. The Swiss cross is an extremely successful and valuable global brand. It is a symbol of success and quality. We will tightly hold on to it, out of love for Switzerland."

The issue of Muslim immigration to Switzerland has been a hotly debated topic in recent years and the flag controversy is sure to add fuel to the fire.

The Muslim population in Switzerland has more than quintupled since 1980, and now numbers about 400,000, or roughly 5% of the population. Most Muslims living in Switzerland are of Turkish or Balkan origin, with a smaller minority from the Arab world. Many of them are second- and third-generation immigrants who are now firmly establishing themselves in Switzerland.

The new Muslim demographic reality is raising tensions across large parts of Swiss society, especially as Muslims become more assertive in their demands for greater recognition of their Islamic faith.

The ensuing controversies are fueling a debate over the role of Islam in Swiss society and how to reconcile Western values with a growing immigrant population determined to avoid assimilation.

Swiss courts have been jam-packed with Islam-related cases in recent years. In one case, Muslim parents won a lawsuit demanding that they be allowed to dress their children in full-body bathing suits, dubbed "burkinis," during co-ed swimming lessons. In another case, a group of Swiss supermarkets created a stir by banning Muslim employees from wearing headscarves.

Contentious Issues

In August 2009, the Swiss basketball association told a Muslim player she could not wear a headscarf during league games. In August 2010, five Muslim families in Basel were fined 350 Swiss Francs ($420) each for refusing to send their daughters to mixed-sex swimming lessons.

In September 2010, the secretary of the Muslim Community of Basel was acquitted of publicly inciting crime and violence. The charges were pressed after the 33-year-old made comments in a Swiss television documentary saying that Islamic Sharia law should be introduced in Switzerland and that unruly wives should be beaten. The judge said the defendant was protected by freedom of expression.

In November 2010, Swiss voters approved tough new regulations on the deportation of non-Swiss immigrants convicted of serious crimes. The measure calls for the automatic expulsion of non-Swiss offenders convicted of crimes ranging from murder to breaking and entry and social security fraud.

Also in November, Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said the approval or extension of residency permits should be closely linked to the efforts immigrants make to integrate themselves. "Compulsory schooling must be respected. Children should attend all courses and exceptions made on religious or other grounds, for example in swimming classes, should no longer be possible," Sommaruga said.

In December 2010, the Federal Commission on Women's Issues called for Islamic burqas and niqabs to be banned in government offices and in public schools. The government-appointed committee said the move would prevent gender discrimination.

In January 2011, a 66-year-old Turkish woman living in Bern was sentenced to three years and six months in prison for encouraging the father and brothers of her daughter-in-law to carry out an "honor" crime against her for her "risqué lifestyle."

In May 2011, voters in canton Ticino, in Switzerland's Italian-speaking region, collected enough signatures to be able to launch a referendum that would ban burqas, niqabs and other Islamic head dresses. If the referendum goes ahead, it will be the first time in Switzerland that citizens have been asked to express an opinion on burqas.

Also in May, Swiss Defence Minister Ueli Maurer said increasing numbers of Swiss Muslims are training in Islamic militant camps in countries like Somalia and Yemen. In an interview with the SonntagsZeitung newspaper, Maurer also said that under current Swiss laws it is difficult to prevent Islamists from raising funds.

Meanwhile, an administrative court in Bern is expected to rule on the fate of a minaret in the town of Langenthal. Minarets are the tower-like structures on mosques from which Muslims are often called to prayer.

Muslims in Langenthal, a town with a population of about 15,000, had been given permission to build a minaret five months before a constitutional ban on minarets took effect in November 2009, but opponents of the project say the earlier approval is now null and void. The case is still working its way through the Swiss legal system.

In November 2009 Switzerland held a referendum in which citizens approved an initiative to ban the construction of minarets. The initiative was approved 57.5% to 42.5% by some 2.67 million voters. Only four of Switzerland's 26 cantons or states opposed the initiative, thereby granting the double approval that now makes the minaret ban part of the Swiss constitution.

In July 2011, the European Court of Human Rights rejected two cases brought by Muslims against Switzerland's constitutional ban on building minarets.

A seven-judge panel at the Strasbourg-based court said that it would not consider the cases as the plaintiffs failed to show how the ban harmed their human rights and they therefore "cannot claim to be 'victims' of a violation" of the European Convention on Human Rights, which the court enforces.

The minaret ban represented a turning point in the debate about Islam in Switzerland.

The initiative was sponsored by the conservative Swiss People's Party (SVP), which says the minarets symbolize the growing self-confidence and intolerance of Switzerland's Muslim community.

The SVP has described the minaret is a "symbol of a religious-political claim to power and dominance which threatens -- in the name of alleged freedom of religion -- the constitutional rights of others."

The SVP has backed its claim by citing a remark by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has implied that the construction of mosques and minarets is part of a strategy to Islamisize Europe. The pro-Islamist Erdogan has bragged: "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers." Erdogan has also told Muslim immigrants in Europe that "assimilation is a crime against humanity."

Assimilation is a crime against humanity

In recent years the number of mosques in Switzerland has mushroomed; there now are over 200 mosques and up to 1,000 prayer rooms dotted across the country. Critics fear the mosques are facilitating the establishment of a parallel Muslim society -- one that is especially welcoming to Islamic fundamentalists.

Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Between the Lines - Burden of My Dreams

Burden of My Dreams is book one of a two part series called Between the Lines, by Janusz Siwinski. 

It is a thoroughly delightful biography of the early years of an extraordinary man. Born and raised in communist Warsaw, in the 1950s and 60s, Janek dreams of one day being free from the heavy oppression of communism, and free from the extreme poverty that plagued the masses and never seemed to improve.

Poland was occupied by Russians who were paranoid that everyone was out to destroy communism, so they kept a very tight grip on movement of people, not just to and from Poland, but even within the country. Any kind of change in your life was viewed suspiciously and required permission which was often not easily obtained.

Food was very scarce! People often had to leave work hours early in order to stand in line at a store that might have a loaf of bread to sell them. It was in this dreadful poverty and hopelessness that Janek grew more and more determined to get out from behind the Iron Curtain.

Janek was clever, courageous, and determined. He and his friend decided that the only way they would ever get permission to leave Poland for the west was to make the regime think that they were model communists. This they accomplished, and in their early 20s, the two men separately got permission to visit England. Neither had any intention of returning.

Janek made a big mistake, however, by marrying his sweetheart before leaving. He might have been able to get her out of Poland had he not married her, but Janek found out that because he did not return to Warsaw, his wife would never get permission to leave Poland for the west.

The rest of the story tells us how Janek lived and sought help to find a way to get his wife out. The plot becomes more and more intense as time goes by and Janek is running out of options. The extraordinary efforts to get his wife out led him into many situations that were simply terrifying. I was barely able to put the book down especially in the second half. 

I won't tell you more than that about the plot except to say it would make a thriller of a movie.

One of the most delightful aspects of the book was watching Janek discover the west. In London, he was captivated by the colours - the houses, the advertising in the tube, were all so stunning compared to the drab grayness of Warsaw. 

Janek was taken to see the Polish government in exile. A pitiful yet prideful government still thinking they were the legitimate government of Poland even though they hadn't been in the country for 20 years.

A move to Paris brought many new adventures and enchanting descriptions of the world's most romantic city. It also revealed some of its inherent ugliness in a couple of heart-breaking episodes.

Janek and his friends go on a road trip through Italy and delightfully take us along with them. For awhile, I did something that I did when reading The Count of Monte Christo about 10 years ago. I followed on Google Maps and Satellite view, the movement of the hero as he sailed around the Mediterranean and then into Marseilles.  I did the same for Janek and his friends as they travelled through Italy and across other parts of Europe. It was fascinating until the story got so intense I had to give it up and just read.

Putting the book down at the end of the story left me craving for more. I wanted to be back on the Champs-Elysees in a cafe having a croissant and cafe-au-lait, or a cognac, or a bottle of fabulous French wine with quirky, unpredictable, sometimes hilarious friends. I wanted to be on the road again through Italy and Austria to experience the food, the wine, the incredible views. I can hardly wait for the second book in the series.

Janusz Siwinski, the author, is a man I have recently gotten to know, a little, through a prayer meeting we both attend. Having met him, I can easily see him doing all the things he has written about. While living in Canada now for many years he still has a moderately thick Polish accent. This actually comes out a bit in his writing in what might appear to be a few spelling mistakes, but in fact, is simply what his accent looks like on paper. It's part of the charm of the book. I think I might just read it again.

Gary Wm Myers

Norway's Monster Wins in Court Against State

Mass killer Anders Breivik's human rights breached in prison, court rules

By Tim Hume and Olav Mellingsater, CNN

Oslo, Norway (CNN)Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik has won part of his lawsuit against the state over his solitary confinement in a high-security prison, a court announced Wednesday.

The Oslo district court found the 37-year-old's treatment in prison violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, prohibiting "inhuman or degrading treatment," and ruled that his conditions must be eased.

The court also ordered the government to pay legal costs of 331,000 kroner ($40,600) for the right-wing extremist, who killed 77 people in a shooting rampage and bombing attack in 2011.

Norway has the right to appeal the ruling. It has not announced whether it intends to do so.

The court dismissed Breivik's claim that the government had violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees respect for "private life" and correspondence.

The ruling outlined areas of concern in regard to the conditions of Breivik's confinement, which, taken as a whole, constituted a breach of his rights.

These included the duration of his isolation, and inadequate consideration of the mental impact of the regime. It also said the routine nude checks Breivik had to go through were not sufficiently justified from a security perspective.

But it did not give concrete directives on how the conditions should be changed.

Breivik's complaints

Breivik's case centers on the complaint that he is banned from contact with other inmates, has limited contact with prison guards and had had virtually no contact with anyone outside a professional capacity.

It claims his only visitor in a non-professional context has been his mother, before her death in 2013, and that during her visits, they only had about five minutes together when they could hug. His only other visitors were restricted to communicating with him through a glass panel.

His complaint claimed the approval process for visits was so strict that it effectively prevented visits, as were the restrictions on his mail, which denied him the opportunity to build relationships.

It also complained that he had been subjected to more than 800 nude inspections, some of which were carried out by female prison officers, and none of which had found anything.

This, I can agree with as being way over the top. With no visitors except professionals, how is he going to acquire anything contraband? These were obviously for the sake of embarrassing Breivik and for the amusement of the guards.

Boy, I wish my barracks rooms in the military had been this nice
State response

In response, the state legal team argued in papers submitted to the court that the high security restrictions placed on Breivik were appropriate given the seriousness of his crimes, and well within the limits allowed for under the European Convention on Human Rights.

It argued that Breivik was a very dangerous man -- a mass killer who was methodical, rational, and who had shown no regret for his actions.

The documents argued that restrictions, such as the time spent in handcuffs, had been gradually eased in line with ongoing risk assessments.

The defense documents claimed Breivik received regular visits from a "visit friend" and priest, and that he undertook correspondence studies with the assistance of a social worker.

Breivik had access to a computer, without Internet access, as well as writing tools, a TV and a PlayStation gaming console, the documents said.

An exercise room with a scenic view of a wall
They claimed that censorship of his mail was not in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, and was appropriate given the risk that he would contact far-right sympathizers and potentially encourage them to commit acts of violence or terrorism.

It only takes one Breivik to inspire another, state lawyer Adele Matheson Mestad told the court Tuesday.

Letters, phone calls to sympathizers

Mestad said that out of a total of 4,000 letters sent to or by Breivik, about 600 had been blocked by prison authorities. These were letters attempting to establish networks or encourage extremism, both in Norway and abroad, in countries including the United States, Britain, Russia and Poland, Mestad told the court.

The biggest category of correspondence blocked were mass letters to supporters -- people he didn't know personally, but with whom he was attempting to build networks due to their shared racist ideology.

Another category of blocked mail was sent to prison inmates, attempting to establish "brotherhoods" in prisons.

In my opinion, security trumps human rights, at least to a degree. The Norwegian judge doesn't seem to agree. I hope they appeal.

Hear Someone Insult Erdogan? Report It To Us, Says Turkish Consulate in the Netherlands

By Adam Taylor Washington Post

Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, listens to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a joint news conference in Ankara on April 16. Rouhani is in Turkish capital for a one-day official visit. (Burhan Ozbilici/AP)

What should someone in the Netherlands do if someone says something "derogatory" or "defamatory" about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan? According to an email sent out by Ankara's consulate in Rotterdam, Turkish organizations in the country should write in to report the insult.

This email, uncovered by Dutch news organizations Thursday, has sparked anger in the Netherlands, with the Dutch prime minister demanding an explanation from Turkish authorities. To Turkey's critics, the message seems to show that Erdogan, long accused of cracking down on dissent domestically, was now abusing antiquated European laws in a bid to silence his international critics.

"I am surprised," Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters in Germany during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "It's not clear what the Turkish government aims to achieve with this action."

The news of the email comes less than a week after Merkel herself announced that she would allow Jan Boehmermann, a German comedian and writer known for his acerbic style, to be prosecuted for a poem he had read on television about Erdogan. Boehmermann's poem was designed to crudely mock the Turkish president, accusing him of sex with goats and saying that Erdogan loved to "repress minorities, kick Kurds and beat Christians while watching child porn."

According to German prosecutors, at least 20 "private individuals" had filed complaints against Boehmermann after his poem aired on state broadcaster ZDF. At the request of the Turkish government, Boehmermann will now be prosecuted under section 103 of the German penal code, a section that decrees "whosoever insults a foreign head of state ... shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine."

Merkel has suggested that while her government will now work to change the law to remove this section, she had to respect the law as it stood. The Netherlands has similar "lèse-majesté" laws against insulting foreign heads of states, which is punishable by a maximum of five years in prison, though Dutch lawmakers are now working to remove them. Within Turkey, critics of the government have complained that since becoming president in 2014, Erdogan has abused a law that bars insults to the president, with almost 2,000 cases opened in less than two years.

While these cases have caused controversy, they also enjoy support from many in Turkey: One Turkish man facing charges for allegedly assaulting his fiancee recently suggested that the assault was sparked by his partner's insult to the Turkish president. According to Hurriyet Daily News, the man's fiancee was called by police to testify about the alleged insult to Erdogan, which she denied making.

The Turkish Embassy in the Netherlands has attempted to downplay the controversy about the recent email, suggesting that the message was being misunderstood and that they only wanted organizations to email the consulate to report racism or hate speech. According to a translation from the BBC, the letter had read: "We ask urgently for the names and written comments of people who have given derogatory, disparaging, hateful and defamatory statements against the Turkish president, Turkey and Turkish society in general."

There are about 400,000 people with Turkish origin in the Netherlands, and representatives of Turkish opposition parties say that critics of Erdogan have expressed concern that they could be targeted. On Twitter, Sadet Karabulut, a Dutch politician of Kurdish descent, dubbed the controversy a sign of "Erdogan's long arm in the Netherlands."

I hope Canada doesn't have such a law; I could be in big trouble. Erdogan is a very ambitious egomaniac; and that's the nicest thing I can say about him.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Muslim Prison Chaplains 'Encouraging Murder of Non-Believers'

Review commissioned by Michael Gove 
found extremist pamphlets and CDs 
in more than UK 10 jails in November
Hannah Stubbs
Getty Images

Muslim prison chaplains have routinely distributed Islamist literature, according to a leaked report.

A review which started in September, commissioned by Justice Secretary Michael Gove, found extremist pamphlets and CDs in more than 10 jails in November.

The material included homophobic and misogynistic sentiments and encouraged the murder of apostates - Muslims who leave or reject the religion, according to the Times.

The report on what was found has not yet been cleared for publication.

It is said to have concluded that many Muslim prison chaplains were under-equipped for counter-radicalisation work, "sometimes because they lacked the capability but often because they didn't have the will".

Prisoners at more than one jail were encouraged by chaplains to fund-raise for Islamic charities that had links to terrorism, according to the report, which warned that lax controls and senior level failings had allowed the problems to occur.

The Times reported that jails in England and Wales held 12,328 Muslim inmates at the start of 2016.

Convicted terrorists numbered 131 and a further 1,000 were deemed vulnerable to radicalisation.

Muslims make up 4.8% of the population but 14.5% of prisoners. Almost exactly 3 times the rate of non-Muslim Brits.

About 100 Muslim chaplains are employed full time in jails on salaries of up to £40,000 (about $45,000USD or $57,000CAD)

Pretty nice. Getting paid well by the British government to radicalize Muslims. Surely, that will make them better citizens.

Stunning Reversal of 275 Verdicts in Alleged Coup Plot by Turkey's Court of Appeals

Turkish court overturns 275 verdicts in alleged Ergenekon ‘coup plot’ trial

FILE PHOTO: Protesters are blocked by Turkish soldiers as they try to march to a courthouse in Silivri, where a hearing on people charged with attempting to overthrow Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist-rooted government is due to take place April 8, 2013 © Osman Orsal
FILE PHOTO: Protesters are blocked by Turkish soldiers as they try to march to a courthouse in Silivri, where a hearing on people charged with attempting to overthrow Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist-rooted government is due to take place April 8, 2013 © Osman Orsal

Turkey's Court of Appeals has rejected an Istanbul criminal court’s ruling on the so-called Ergenekon coup case, filed against 275 people over an alleged conspiracy to overthrow Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

The high court found a number of contradictions in the case, which was launched back in 2007 against people including ex-army chief Ilker Basbug, politicians and journalists. The court found flaws in the investigation, trial, collection of evidence and fair hearing for the accused, the Anadolu news agency reported. 

According to the court’s ruling, "There is no incidence of admission of 'Ergenekon terror organization' by the local court, it remains unclear who formed it [the alleged terror group], when [was it formed], failure of revealing its crimes and hierarchical structure, and its leader is also unknown."

In other words, there was no plot! Few people ever thought there was, I suspect, as it seemed obvious that Erdogan was replacing top military people with those more committed to Islam than to Turkey, thus preventing a possible coup when Erdogan began pushing Turkey toward Sharia. 

This is a stunning reversal as the Court of Appeals stood up to Erdogan and ruled in favour of law and order, and common sense. That will not sit well with Sultan Erdogan who wants Turkey to be a caliphate with an autocratic ruler - him. I would be surprised if several Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justices (Military Court of Cassation) are not replaced, one way or another, in the near future.

The Ergenekon case was opened when 27 hand grenades were discovered at the home of a non-commissioned officer in Istanbul, immediately prompting accusations that the explosives were allegedly intended to be deployed in a coup. 

Yeah, because that's all you need to bring down an entire government of a large country - 27 grenades!

The trial began in 2008, with nearly 300 people accused of membership in an organization dubbed Ergenekon. The 2,455-page indictment listed dozens of charges against the defendants, including an alleged plot to topple Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2003-2004, when he was the country's prime minister.

Eyebrows were raised when former army chief Ilker Basbug, who retired in 2010, was arrested in 2012 over an alleged plot to topple the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party government. Basbug became the highest-ranking officer in a massive probe into the alleged ultranationalist terrorist network, and along with 18 other defendants was handed a life sentence in 2013. "We can say it is really tragicomic to accuse somebody who commands such an army of forming and directing a terrorist group," Turkey's NTV network quoted him as telling prosecutors.

Turkish gendarmerie fire water cannon and tear gas as they clash with hundreds of protesters trying to enter a courthouse in Silivri near Istanbul on February 18, 2013. (AFP Photo)
Hundreds of protesters clash with police in Turkey amid mass trial 
Critics of the case said the charges brought against the accused were based on shaky evidence,  noting that the trial dragged on for a suspiciously long period of time. Court hearings regularly led to violent clashes between the defendants’ supporters and police.

The Turkish military staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and forced a pro-Islamist government out of office in 1997. Over the past weekend four senior military officials were dismissed from their posts.

You can bet that none of them were hard-line Islamists.