Sunday, June 01, 2008

France: Unhappy Muslim husband divorces wife over lack of virginity

FRANCE plunged into a heated debate about its marriage laws today after learning that a court had annulled the union of two Muslims because the husband said the wife was not the virgin she had claimed to be. Politicians, feminists and human rights activists denounced the verdict, handed down last month but reported in the national press only on Thursday, as an affront to the legal equality of men and women and a violation of a woman's privacy.

The hoodwinked husband's lawyer responded just as forcibly that civil marriage was a legal contract. The court invalidated this one because the wife had lied about what French law calls an "essential quality" of a contracting party, he said.

Concerns about traditional Muslim views creeping into secular French law hung over the debate, but the strictly legal basis of the verdict forced critics to ask how two principles - contract fraud and sexual equality - could be reconciled. "It is profoundly shocking that, in our country, a marriage can be annulled on the basis of non-virginity before the marriage," Frederic Lefebvre, spokesman for President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing UMP party, said.

Prominent feminist Elisabeth Badinter said the courts should defend Muslim women, not pressure them. "The end result will be that some Muslim girls will rush to hospitals to have their hymens sewn back together again," she told France Inter radio.

Muslims make up about eight per cent of the population in France, which has vigorously defended its secular system against their occasional religious demands by banning Islamic headscarves in the civil service and in state schools.

Xavier Labbee, the husband's lawyer, denied that religion had anything to do with the verdict. "The law says that when there is an error concerning essential qualities of one of the spouses, an annulment can be sought," he said on LCI television. The same clause has been used in French courts to annul marriages in which one person discovered only afterwards that the other had concealed a divorce or had a physical or mental disability that made a normal sexual life impossible.

The rector of a large mosque in the northern city of Lille, where the case was tried, also denied Islam played any role. In Islam, Amar Lafsar said, "virginity is not a necessary condition for marriage". The religion preached chastity before marriage but Muslims could heed or ignore the message. "They're free," he told RTL radio. "They're in a country of law and liberty. Each is free to respond or not to the message."

Badinter said the verdict ignored the fact some traditional Muslim families shunned sexually active single daughters. Recalling some young women were even murdered in so-called "honour killings", she said the wife in this case "did not have the freedom not to lie ... she lied in self-defence." Laurence Rossignol, women's rights spokeswoman for the opposition Socialist Party, called the verdict unconstitutional. "If the civil code could produce such a decision, we have to change it urgently," she said.

Lefebvre suggested an appeals court review the verdict. "We are certainly not going to ask the wife to appeal, because if the verdict is annulled and the marriage is validated, that would probably not be good news for her," he said.


Earl of Devon bans homosexual marriages at his castle

The Earl of Devon, whose castle was a Royalist garrison in the English Civil War, is under siege from gay rights campaigners after banning same sex civil partnerships at his stately home. The 18th Earl, the master of Powderham Castle which is one of the oldest family houses in England, refused a request from two men to conduct their marriage ceremony behind his battlements. Lord Devon, whose family motto is Floret Virtus Vulnerata which translates roughly as "Virtue Flourishes (although) Wounded", said: "I am a Christian and therefore it [homosexuality] is objectionable to my Christian religion."

To avoid breaching the 2007 Sexual Orientation Regulations he has banned all civil marriage ceremonies whether they are gay or straight. "In order to stay on the right side of the law we have decided to do away with hosting civil ceremonies altogether at Powderham Castle. We are not the only place that has come across this issue," he said. The decision will cost the castle, on the banks of the Exe, up to 200,000 pounds a year in lost revenue. It was one of the most popular venues for civil marriages in Devon where the Earl, as a Vice-Lord Lieutenant of the county, represents the Queen at official engagements.

But Lord Devon now faces an investigation by the Treasury, which has granted Powderham Castle "conditional" exemption from inheritance tax because it is open to the public. Its regulations say that to obtain exemption the new owner must agree to look after the property and allow public access to it and that if the owner fails to fulfil their side of the bargain "the exemption is withdrawn".

Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of the gay rights organisation Stonewall, said: "We shall certainly be asking the Treasury about Lord Devon's inheritance tax exemption. "The inheritance tax regulations appear to suggest clearly that it should be withdrawn if his premises are not accessible to all members of the public without exception."

The house, built by Sir Philip Courtenay in 1390, has had a colourful history with one Earl executed for treason. The ninth Earl - who was responsible for the addition of a music room with the largest carpet in the world - fled to France in 1811 after being accused of sodomy. The Powderham website says in spite of being hounded into exile in France and America on account of his homosexuality, he was "dearly loved" by his tenants.

The castle was also home to Timothy the Tortoise, who died in 2004 aged 160 after earning the official title of Britain's oldest pet. The venerable creature, who served at sea during the Crimean War and was present at the Siege of Sebastopol as a ship's mascot, was found to be a girl in 1926. Mr Summerskill added: "We do think the Earl's approach is rather sad given the family history.

We hope at some point he will enter the 21st century, even if only at the speed of Timothy the Tortoise." Lord Devon, however, insists that the complaint to the Treasury is unfounded as he is not banning gays from visiting the house or its grounds but only from celebrating their civil partnerships under his roof.

Until last December, the country's 1,700 registrars of births, marriages and deaths were permitted to opt out of civil partnership ceremonies on religious grounds. However, their employment status changed with the introduction of the Statistics and Registration Act. Now designated as local government workers, they must carry out town hall orders.


Perfection demanded only from little Israel

Much of the world has disparaged Israel's celebration of its 60th year of independence (renewed independence, actually) by claiming, as one Connecticut newspaper columnist did the other day, that the country "was built over the debris of 400 destroyed villages and the sorrows of 750,000 people, both Christians and Muslims, expelled from their land."

Yes, Israel's re-establishment in 1948 had its dislocations, Jews going here, Muslims going there, and Christians caught in the middle. But not all these dislocations were expulsions. And if the whole Middle East is counted, there have been far more expulsions of Jews than of anyone else. In any case complaints about the dislocations in Israel's re-establishment presume that the planet was delivered to humanity straight from the factory with its national borders already marked on it and that the return of Israel was a smudge on the natural order of things. In fact, of course, most of today's national borders were established either by war or colonialism. Some make sense now; many still don't.

Even though its re-establishment in 1948 involved war, Israel can claim far more legitimacy than most countries. For unlike most countries today Israel was re-established by resolution of the international organization, the United Nations. Israel's neighbors refused to accept the U.N. resolution and immediately went to war against the new country, and then twice more, in 1967 and 1973, always to deny Israel's legitimacy. But unlike most nations victorious in war, Israel has either given back or has been looking for safe ways of giving away most of the territory it conquered.

As much as the dislocations arising from Israel's re-establishment obsess certain people today, they are tiny compared to dislocations that are hardly noticed anymore. For example, just a year before Israel's re-establishment, British-ruled India was partitioned, by act of Parliament and consensus among the colony's political classes, into Hindu and Muslim sectors, the former becoming independent India and the latter becoming Pakistan. This partition uprooted about 15 million people and cost about a half million lives, through ethnic violence, expropriation, and exhaustion. The resentments arising from the partition of India endure today and continue to cost as many lives every year as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does, but no one outside India and Pakistan seems to care.

Of course Europe, where criticism of Israel's anniversary may be strongest, has partitioned itself too many times to count, with peoples and nations pushed north, south, east, and west over the centuries. From Finland down to Yugoslavia -- whoops, Serbia now -- it is impossible to walk more than a few miles without crossing what, within the last 200 years, used to be a national border or without finding a town whose name wasn't different not long ago.

Anyone aggrieved that the areas that are supposed to become the Palestinian homeland -- the West Bank and Gaza -- are separated by 20 miles of Israel might check the map of the Indian subcontinent, where 1,500 miles separate what used to be the two Pakistans (now Pakistan and Bangladesh), or the map of Europe, where Russia's Kaliningrad province is 300 miles from Russia proper, cut off by Lithuania and Latvia.

While Israel, the size of Connecticut, is supposed to return to Syria the Golan Heights, smaller than Rhode Island, China is keeping the vastness of Tibet, which it seized in 1959. And, having made five states out of the territory it seized by war in 1848, the United States won't be returning Alta California to Mexico any time soon.

Traces of vanished, persecuted, dispersed, and murdered aboriginal peoples can be found in practically every country -- that's what Connecticut's Indian casinos are supposed to be about -- but everyone is forgiven except for the Jews, who instead are constantly ducking rocket fire and curses for clinging to their tiny strip along the eastern Mediterranean. Call it tribalism if you want, but that is to be blind to the tribalism that surrounds Israel, a tribalism that, unlike any Israeli tribalism, preaches extinction.

That Connecticut newspaper columnist approvingly quoted a letter written by a hundred anti-Israel British Jews denouncing the country's anniversary: "We will celebrate when Arabs and Jews live as equals in a peaceful Middle East." Of course such equality is to be attempted first not by democratizing Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, or Iran but by erasing the border that protects the smallest tribe so that it falls under the sovereignty of the very nations that drove it out and then three times waged war against it. Any such peace will be only the peace of the grave -- which has been the idea all along.


Australia: Traditional views about women are now a "disease"

A footballer as a hero of free speech: For readers not resident in the Australian State of Victoria, Sam Newman is a TV commentator on Australian Rules football. He is now in his 60s but was once a distinguished footballer himself. Comments below by Andrew Bolt

Don't like Sam Newman? Then argue back. Abuse him if you must. Take away your advertising, or - even better - just turn him off. Hell, Channel 9 can even sack him from The Footy Show if it figures his act is stale. But send him to a re-education camp? Which Maoists at the station thought of that particular "cure" for inconvenient opinions? That was Nine's executive director, Jeffrey Browne, actually.

With women switching off the boofy Footy Show and advertisers pulling ads to placate women offended by Newman's ways, the boss panicked. It's two months since Newman caused uproar by groping a half-dressed mannequin he doctored to look like Age football writer Caroline Wilson, but only now has Browne decided Newman did what he did because he is actually sick. But Browne doesn't just think Newman is sick in body, needing an indefinite break "to return to full health" after two big operations, one to remove his prostate. He seemingly also figures Newman is sick in the head, and has ordered "as a component of this rehabilitation" that he "undergo counselling to address, with professional assistance, the behaviour and issues that have attended what I now believe to be his premature return to the program". How offensive and absurd.

What is this "behaviour" that Newman must be counselled out of? It is not just the fondling of that mannequin, which was indeed plain nasty and boorish. It is that Newman genuinely holds - and has expressed - certain views that some influential people in particular do not like and think it a sin to hold. A sign of poor mental hygiene. One such opinion is that some women with powerful jobs in football were "liars and hypocrites" in their criticisms of him. Another opinion is that women in top football jobs have had little to contribute and, "for very little input they demand a lot of clout".

Such comments have made Browne as jumpy as a TV executive who's just learned he's lost his parking spot. "The Nine Network, in its entirety, is respectful of women," he protests.

And Newman will now be counselled - with that grim "professional assistance" - until his own thinking on women is "rehabilitated" to the standards Browne thinks healthy.

What makes this so offensive is that Newman is already in no doubt that a lot of people object to his views. After all, The Age has lashed him hysterically from its front page to its back, devoting to his alleged sins the kind of oh-my-god coverage it normally reserves for global warming.

Lawyers have sent him stiff letters demanding satisfaction, talkback jockeys have climbed on his back, co-host Garry Lyon has fronted him, his boss has disowned him, football executives have bounced him, and all in all it's been the most wonderful lynch party. So many professional denouncers have got their rocks off on Newman that you could build a pyramid over his body to rival Giza. That's called debate. And Newman, having gone through it, will either modify his opinions or stick to them, having considered the counter-arguments and rejected them.

His opinions may be right or, more likely, wrong - matters best left to each of us to decide for ourselves. But I am sure those opinions are sincerely held by an intelligent man, who should be allowed to hold them without now being deemed to be sick and in need of treatment. Bad opinions are best countered by arguments, not cures and counsellors.

But such is the militant temper of these group-think times that lawyers and men in white coats are called in by the powerful to do what their reasoning cannot. Some opinions must now be held by everyone - or else the treatment begins. What arrogance. What an abuse of power.

See how hard it is already for people to speak their frank mind, with so many cause-pushers so ready to denounce, abuse and sue, and so many battalions of thought-police ready to help them punish bad thinkers with fines or even jail - to win by force arguments they could not win by words.

To think we've even had Christian pastors dragged through months of hearings and mountains of legal bills for having simply quoted the Koran in ways that made some people laugh. Heavens, if I didn't have a rich boss behind me, paying lawyers, I'd probably have to shut up, too.

That's why Newman is still so loved even when so widely deplored. He reassures us there is still some freedom to say what the hell we think, and damn the consequences. But to be accurate: Newman reassures us most of that freedom when he is actually at his most outrageous - because he'd prove nothing by just baa-ing, would he?

Yet even Newman seems about to fall. Counter-arguments haven't swayed him, so it's off to the re-education camp. Excuse me, Mr Browne. Newman needs none of your "counselling" or "rehabilitation". He simply disagrees with his critics. If you don't like it, sack him. But pay him the respect of treating his views as the product of his reason, not as symptoms of bad "health". Or must I send some "counsellors" of my own around to "rehabilitate" your own unhealthy thoughts?



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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