Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Muslim dickless Tracy shuns handshake with British police chief

Scotland Yard is at the centre of a new dispute over religious customs clashing with professional duties after a Muslim woman police cadet refused to shake hands with Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

The incident happened at a recent graduation ceremony where Sir Ian was inspecting a passing-out parade of 200 new recruits.

The woman, who has not been named, told officers just before the ceremony began that her strict Muslim beliefs meant that she could not exchange the traditional congratulatory handshake with the commissioner.

She also refused to be photograped with Sir Ian, reportedly claiming that she did not want the image to be used for “propaganda purposes” as the Yard endeavours to recruit more female Muslim officers. Sir Ian was said to be incensed when told of the woman’s refusal.

Training officers told the commissioner that they had “reluctantly agreed” with her request as they did not want to cancel or disrupt the ceremony at the Yard’s sports and conference centre at Thames Ditton, Surrey, last month. The parade was attended by hundreds of family and friends of recruits who had completed their 18-week basic training. One senior police source said: “This had never happened before and there are serious issues at stake. There is an inquiry into the matter.”

The woman took part in the parade wearing a hijab, explaining that her faith dictates that she must not take shake hands with or kiss a man other than her father and close relative. She assured training staff that her religious code would not prevent her arresting a man.The woman is understood to have begun patrol duties in West London as part of her two-year probation period while superiors assess her suitability for the job.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “This request was only granted by members of training staff out of a desire to minimise any disruption to other’s enjoyment, and to ensure the smooth running of what is one of the most important events in an officer’s career. The commissioner did question the validity of this request, and the matter is being looked into.

“The officer maintains that she puts the requirements of being a police officer above her personal beliefs and only exercises the latter when she has choice to do so.”

The Yard has allowed women officers to wear an adaptation of the hijab as part of their uniform since 2001. Commanders have been trying to recruit more Muslims but there are still only 300 among the Met’s 35,000 officers. Fewer than 20 are women.

The Yard faced controversy last year when a Muslim officer was excused from guarding the Israeli Embassy at the height of the conflict in Lebanon. PC Alexander Omar Basha was moved to other duties after claiming that he was afraid his Lebanese relatives could be targeted if he were seen on TV.

Tahir Butt, spokesman for the Association of Muslim Police, supported the woman’s behaviour. “The actions demonstrate strength of character, challenge social norms and educate others as to the diverse practices of communities of London,” he said.

Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said that the public should not be alarmed by the officer’s beliefs.

He said: “If she is called to a male victim who has been shot, the laws go out of the window. Muslim law will say, ‘Forget everything, save this life’.”



Not so fast says Jeff Jacoby

Did you know that a majority of American women now live without husbands? I didn't either, but last week the New York Times announced it on Page 1: "51% of Women Are Now Living Without Spouse."

Taken at face value, that's a pretty disquieting statistic. If society is to flourish and perpetuate itself, it must uphold marriage as a social ideal -- it must raise boys and girls in a culture that encourages them to eventually marry a partner of the opposite sex, make stable and loving homes together, and have children who will one day form successful marriages of their own. The news that most American women now live without husbands suggests that society's "ideal" is dwindling to a minority taste.

"At one end of the age spectrum, women are marrying later or living with unmarried partners more often and for longer periods," reporter Sam Roberts notes. "At the other end, women are living longer as widows and, after a divorce, are more likely than men to delay remarriage, sometimes delighting in their newfound freedom."

That delight is voiced by nearly every woman quoted in the story. "The benefits were completely unforeseen for me," says a 59-year-old divorcee, "the free time, the amount of time I get to spend with friends, the time I have alone, which I value tremendously, the flexibility in terms of work, travel, and cultural events." Such are the joys of non marriage, another woman exults, that "every day is like a present."

Roberts quotes William Frey of the Brookings Institution, who describes this apparently happy husbandless majority as "a clear tipping point, reflecting the culmination of post-1960 trends associated with greater independence and more flexible lifestyles for women." Well, maybe. Or maybe not. For when you try to pin down the numbers, Roberts's startling finding turns out to depend on some awfully strained definitions.

"Women," for example, isn't the word most of us would use to describe high school sophomores. Yet the Times includes girls as young as 15 in its analysis. Not surprisingly, girls who in many cases aren't old enough to have a driver's license are unlikely to have husbands. According to the Census Bureau's 2005 American Community survey, 97 percent of females between 15 and 19 have never been married. Incorporating nearly 10 million teenagers in the ranks of marriage-aged American "women" may be a good way to pad the number of those without husbands, but it doesn't make that number any more enlightening.

Actually, Census data show that even *with* the 15- to 19-year-olds, a majority of American females -- 51 percent -- are "now married." So how does the Times reach a contrary conclusion? By excluding from the category of women with husbands the "relatively small number of cases" -- in fact, it's more than 2 million -- in which "husbands are working out of town, are in the military, or are institutionalized." That startling Page 1 headline is true, in other words, only if the wives of US troops at war are deemed not to have husbands.

Marriage in America is undoubtedly less robust than it was 50 years ago. But it is not yet a candidate for the endangered-species list, let alone the ash heap. The Census Bureau reported last spring that by the time they are 30 to 34, a large majority of American men and women -- 72 percent -- have been married. Among Americans 65 and older, fully 96 percent have been married. Yes, the divorce rate is high -- 17.7 per 1,000 marriages -- and many couples live together without getting married. But marriage remains a key institution in American life.

Marriage advocates often grumble that everything is getting worse, writes scholar David Blankenhorn in his forthcoming book, *The Future of Marriage,* but it's time to acknowledge that some things are getting better: Divorce rates are declining modestly. Teen pregnancy rates are dramatically lower. Rates of reported marital happiness, after a long slide, appear to be rising. And a substantial majority of American children, 67 percent, are being raised by married parents.

By even wider margins, young Americans look forward to being married. The University of Michigan's annual "Monitoring the Future" survey finds that 70 percent of 12th-grade boys and 82 percent of 12th-grade girls describe having a good marriage and family life as "extremely important" to them. Even higher percentages say that they expect to marry.

The '60s, the sexual revolution, no-fault divorce, the rise of single motherhood -- there is no question that marriage has been through the wringer. Americans have good reason to be, as Blankenhorn writes, "in the midst of what might be called a marriage moment -- a time of unusual, perhaps unprecedented, national preoccupation with the status and future of marriage." Yet for all the buffeting our most important social institution has taken, it remains a social ideal: Boys and girls still aspire to become husbands and wives.


Australia to teach Muslims moderation

Young Muslims will be taught Australian-friendly Islam under a Federal Government plan to stop them falling prey to extremists. An approved Islamic curriculum will be rolled out by a consortium of universities, including Griffith University in Brisbane, to counter the teachings of Muslim firebrands who preach intolerance and hate.

The establishment of the $8 million national centre of excellence for Islamic studies comes amid outrage over comments by leading Australian Muslim clerics Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali and Sheik Feiz Mohammed. Sheik Hilali was universally condemned last year for comparing immodestly dressed women to uncovered meat that attracted cats. He has since threatened to run against NSW Premier Morris Iemma in the electorate of Lakemba in Sydney's southwest.

Sydney-born Sheik Feiz, who is now living in Lebanon, is being investigated by federal police for producing videos labelling Jews pigs and calling on young Muslims to die for Allah.

The proposed course will be open to anyone interested in Islam, including religious and community leaders. And while welcomed by the Muslim community, there is concern it could become a breeding ground for Islamic extremists. Yasmin Khan, a member of the Prime Minister's Muslim Reference Group, yesterday said proper background checks would be needed to make sure it was not hijacked by radicals. "I would hate to think that was a remote possibility," she said. "But you have to be prepared. There are complaints about university courses having a left-wing or right-wing viewpoint all the time."

Ms Khan said the course would look at Islam with a western perspective. "I don't know the exact mechanics of it, but it will be an opportunity to provide guidance in Islamic religion," she said. At the moment, anyone seeking advanced knowledge and understanding of Islam has to travel to the Middle East. The Australian-based Islamic classes will be held on campus at Griffith, the University of Melbourne and University of Western Sydney, as well as eventually via distance education. The initiative is part of the Federal Government's action plan to build on social cohesion, harmony and security.

A spokesman for Sheik Hilali said Muslims were tired of getting picked on. "We need to make sure that we are taken seriously . . . getting them to stop picking on us every time there's an issue but also in terms of acknowledging that there are strong (Muslim) candidates who are capable of serving this nation in the political arena," he said.


Instinctive Leftist bias at Australia's national broadcaster

Long-time ABC journalist Maxine McKew's decision to help Labor win the next federal election hardly enhances the national broadcaster's reputation as fair and balanced

Some truths are so self-evident that they are hardly worth debating. Yet one of these - that a certain bias shapes news and current affairs coverage at the ABC - still provokes outrage at the Ultimo/Southbank staff cafeterias. The bias, to be sure, is not deliberate; it's not as though Aunty's journalists sit around in dark corners and plan how they will slant their program in favour of their friends and causes. But there is little doubt that, notwithstanding their denials, most reporters and producers at the public broadcaster naturally dress a little to the Left.

Of course, there is a lot to like about the ABC. Its websites and the service provided by regional radio and News Radio are outstanding. Many journalists there - especially those who have no time for the union's "Vietcong-style industrial tactics" - are intelligent, extremely well-informed individuals who are almost always on the pace with breaking news. At a time when political and current affairs programs are being dumbed down on commercial television, it is heartening to know that at least one network takes ideas and public affairs seriously. On balance, the taxpayer is better off with the ABC than without it.

But when it comes to the quality of the news and current affairs programs, our public broadcaster could be so much better if a certain bias did not cloud so many stories. Sure, ABC TV and radio journalists insist they keep their political opinions to themselves and merely produce objective and truthful inquiry. But, like everyone else involved in the political process, ABC journalists also have strong views about pretty much everything, no matter how neatly they put such baggage aside on air. (Just ask Sydney and Canberra news readers Juanita Phillips and Virginia Haussegger, who pen opinion columns for The Bulletin and The Canberra Times respectively). When recently challenged about the corporation's Left flavour by a listener, ABC radio's Virginia Trioli (a former opinion columnist with The Age) told her Sydney audience that she no longer voted at elections: that's how she maintains her objectivity. It is a nice idea, but personal opinions don't start and stop at the ballot box.

ABC journalists, like journalists in general, may say that they never allow their opinions to shape their reporting. They may even see themselves as perfect arbiters of ultimate truth. But this is a pretension beyond human capacity. Sometimes, a journalist's personal views cloud their news reports, their choice of topics and their analysis. Again, it's not deliberate; it just happens.

Which brings us to the news that former ABC stalwart Maxine McKew will help Kevin Rudd and the ALP beat John Howard and the Coalition in this year's federal election. McKew, who was an ABC journalist for more than 30 years until she quit the national broadcaster last month, will now be a special adviser on strategy to the Labor Party.

She is hardly alone; at one time or another many ABC journalists have worked for the Labor party (think of Barrie Cassidy, Kerry O'Brien, Mark Bannerman, Alan Carpenter, Claire Martin, Mary Delahunty and Bob Carr, among others). In contrast, how many prominent ABC journalists have worked for the conservative side of politics in recent decades?

Now, McKew, like the aforementioned Labor-oriented journalists, will say in good faith that she never consciously went out of her way to favour the ALP and criticise the Liberals on air. After all, as Bob Hawke and Paul Keating will attest, ABC journalists often offend Labor as well as Coalition governments.

This is true. But this misses the point about real bias: it comes not so much from what party the journalists attack; it comes from how they see the world. A left-wing conspiracy is not necessary at the taxpayer-funded behemoth, because (most) ABC journalists quite spontaneously think alike. Former BBC staffer Robin Aitken once said he could not raise a cricket team of conservatives among staff at the British public broadcaster. Could an indoor cricket team be raised at the other Aunty? Not when so many ABC workers are creatures of a culture that is divorced from the thoughts and attitudes of mainstream Australia.

How else to account for the fact that ABC presenters often identify conservatives as such but not those on the other side of the ideological spectrum? Thus, according to Lateline's Tony Jones, the right-wing Mark Steyn is a "conservative polemicist", whereas the left-wing journalist Robert Fisk is "one of the most experienced observers of the Middle East". No left-wing labels are necessary. Perhaps conservatives need to be identified because in the world-view that prevails at the ABC, they are outside the mainstream.

How else to account for the fact that the one ABC show that challenges the prevailing orthodoxy is called Counterpoint: Michael Duffy's Radio National program, which airs conservative voices and ideas?

And then there's the ABC's Insiders. Although a conservative commentator is accommodated on the program every Sunday morning, he (either Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman or Gerard Henderson) is always outnumbered by two other more liberal counterparts and sometimes host Barrie Cassidy. The token conservative's input, moreover, is often regarded by the panelists not as a contentious contribution to the debate, but as a flat earther's fit of extremist nonsense. Incidentally, during its 15 years of existence, Media Watch has never been hosted or produced by anyone in the centre, let alone right-of-centre. Why?

All of this might also explain why certain stories that would appeal to a conservative audience are played down. For instance, during the week of Ronald Reagan's death in June 2004, Lateline virtually ignored the Republican president's life and times. No stories, no features, no debate. Nothing. Yet several months earlier Jones went weak at the knees remembering John F. Kennedy 40 years after the liberal leader's death. Instead of affording similar treatment to a conservative leader - much less having a debate about Reagan's place in history - Jones focused on tributes flooding in for another American legend who died that week (musician Ray Charles) and he browbeat Alexander Downer on the topic of Australia's (as it turns out) non-role in the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq.

Now, more honest friends of the ABC insist that we need Aunty to "balance" the so-called shock jocks on commercial radio and the right-wing columnists at News Limited newspapers. So, the argument goes, what difference does it make that ABC journalists are lefties? But those who hate talkback programs or The Australian's opinion page can take solace in the fact that they aren't subsidising Alan Jones or Janet Albrechtsen; taxpayers who subsidise the ABC to the extent of more than $800 million a year don't enjoy that peace of mind. Besides, the need for balance is there in the ABC Charter; it is the legislative quid pro quo for public funding.

Of course, there is nothing wrong in Left-liberal voices being heard on the ABC. It's just that there should also be a place for conservative, more contrarian, voices: and these should not be put on air with some sort of health warning. At the very least, there should also be a place for the silent majority: that is, a good percentage of the population to whom the ABC purportedly answers.


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