Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line Inc. is being sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for racial discrimination in a workplace, an EEOC official said on Friday. EEOC filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the cruise line (NCL) in a Honolulu federal court representing seven or more Muslim employees of Middle Eastern descent who had worked aboard the Pride of Aloha in July 2004.

Anna Park, an attorney at EEOC in Los Angeles, said the workers were fired because they were deemed a security risk. She said the EEOC had investigated the matter in the past two years, and the suit was filed because it could not reach a resolution with NCL. EEOC is the plaintiff in the case representing the seven people, but more ex-employees may come forward, Park said. "We are in the discovery phase of the law suit right now. NCL has not been served the papers yet," she said.

NCL is a wholly owned subsidiary of Star Cruises Ltd. SCL, publicly listed in Hong Kong, is a core member of the Genting Group and 36.1 percent owned by Resorts World, which is, in turn, 57.7 percent owned by Genting Berhad. Susan Robison, a spokeswoman for NCL, said in an e-mailed statement on Friday that the cruise company was proud of its employment practices and record, and that it did not discriminate in hiring. "Our employees come from a very broad range of ethnic and religious backgrounds, which provides a wonderful diversity among our staff," Robison said.

She said the firings were probationary period dismissals, and NCL was confident that when the facts and circumstances surrounding them came out at trial, its actions would be judged to have been completely proper. NCL operates 12 cruise ships, which represents about 9 percent of the overall cruise capacity in North America in terms of berths.


Muslim fear of femininity surfaces in Australia

A Melbourne Muslim girl condemned by Islamic leaders for entering a beauty pageant has defied protests to be shortlisted for the Victorian final. Ayten Ahmet, 16, advanced to the top 26 of Miss Teen Australia yesterday despite an outcry from Victoria's senior Muslims. The Year 11 student said she entered the pageant to fulfil her modelling ambition, and was surprised by the objections. Parents Salih and Sarah Ahmet said their daughter was a typical teenager, and her faith was irrelevant to the contest.

Miss Ahmet, from Craigieburn, beat hundreds of hopefuls at an open casting session at Federation Square. A spokesman for Melbourne cleric Sheik Mohammed Omran last week branded the competition, which involves swimsuit parades, as a "slur on Islam". And Victorian Islamic leader Yasser Soliman said the contest did not conform with the teachings of the Koran.

Ms Ahmet, who plans to combine modelling with an accounting degree, said the criticism was disappointing and unnecessary. "I thought it would be good experience and an opportunity to have a bit of fun," she said. "The cameras are something I love."

Sherene Hassan, executive committee member of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said Sheik Omran's comments were unfair. "He is entitled to his opinion, but people should be aware he does not represent the mainstream Muslim community," she said. Ms Hassan said she felt beauty contests were exploitative, but she supported Ms Ahmet's right to make her own choice. Ms Hassan said she never judged women by the clothes they wore.

Mr Ahmet said the family respected their religion, but his daughter was entitled to participate. "We are not flying any flags, we are Australians first and foremost," Mr Ahmet said. "We live in a democracy, we respect the religion as well, and they are good kids and come from a good upbringing."

Two girls from next month's Victorian final will go on to the national final. The winner will represent us at Miss Teen World. Miss Teen Australia Victorian manager Carley Downward said she was surprised by the uproar.



A Charlottetown city councillor says he was disappointed to be told last week he couldn't throw candy from a float in last Friday's Gold Cup Parade because it was too dangerous. This was the first time Coun. Bruce Garrity could recall being asked to participate in the parade. He bought $8 worth of penny candy to throw into the crowd along the route. "It sure is taking the fun out of it," said Garrity. "I can remember parades in the past where we had our little kids when they were small, and somebody would throw the little gum at them or wrapped candy, and the kids always got a thrill at this."

Bans on throwing items from floats in parades are becoming more common across North America. Sibyl Cutcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Gold Cup Parade committee, told CBC News that anyone who applies to put a float in the parade is told nothing can be tossed into the crowd. Cutcliffe said the potential for injury is just too great. The major concern is children might dart out in front of floats to grab candy that ends up on the streets. Cutcliffe doesn't think the rule spoils the fun. "I think that the interest in the parade is in what's going by, not in what's coming out to them," she said. Cutcliffe said parade marshals are instructed to keep an eye out for would-be candy-tossers and tell them to put the goodies back in their pockets.

Garrity would like parade organizers to find alternative ways to distribute candy to the crowd. "The bottom line is we'll be more cautious. Maybe when we stop for the parade when there's bottlenecks, maybe we can do it then," he said. "Jump off the float and give some away. There's ways of doing these things."



Is it hate speech to quote what the Koran says? The State of Victoria seems to think it is

It is impossible to vilify Islam without also vilifying Muslims, because the two are indistinguishable, the Victorian Court of Appeal was told yesterday. "If one vilifies Islam, one is by necessary consequence vilifying people who hold that religious belief," Brind Woinarski, QC, told the court. Mr Woinarski was appearing for the Islamic Council of Victoria in the appeal by Christian group Catch the Fire Ministries and pastors Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot against a finding under Victoria's religious hatred law that they vilified Muslims in 2002. The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act defines vilification as inciting hatred, serious contempt, revulsion or severe ridicule against a person or class of persons.

Cameron Macaulay, for the pastors, argued that the act explicitly confined the prohibition to vilifying persons, not the religion - otherwise it could operate as a law against blasphemy. Instead, it recognised one could hate the idea without hating the person.

Justice Geoffrey Nettle asked Mr Woinarski: "There must be intellectually a distinction between the ideas and those who hold them?" "We don't agree with that," Mr Woinarski said. "But in this case it's an irrelevant distinction, because Muslims and Islam were mishmashed up together." Justice Nettle: "Are you saying it's impossible to incite hatred against a religion without also inciting hatred against people who hold it?" Mr Woinarski: "Yes."

Mr Macaulay said orders by Judge Michael Higgins against the pastors to take out a newspaper advertisement apologising and not to repeat certain teachings were too wide, and beyond his powers under the act. He said it was surprising that the pastors could hold the beliefs but not express them. "They are restrained by law from suggesting or implying a number of things about what in their view the Koran teaches: that it preaches violence and killing, that women are of little value, that the God of Islam, Allah, is not merciful, that there is a practice of 'silent jihad' for spreading Islam, or that the Koran says Allah will remit the sins of martyrs. "Contentious or otherwise, these are opinions about Islam's doctrines and teaching. Statements of this kind are likely to offend and insult Muslims but their feelings are not relevant under the act." Mr Macaulay said the act burdened free speech, contravened international treaties Australia had signed and breached the Australian constitution.

The act, amended in May, has been controversial. Opponents rallied against it outside Parliament earlier this month, and some Christians vowed to make it an issue at the state election. This case has been monitored by Christian and Muslim groups overseas, and at one point Judge Higgins had to assure the Foreign Affairs Department he was not considering jailing the pastors after a flood of emails from America.


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