Sunday, September 07, 2008

British Soldier forced to sleep in car after hotel refuses him a room

A hotel that refused an injured soldier a room, forcing him to spend the night in his car, was backed into issuing a grovelling apology yesterday after receiving a barrage of abusive phone calls. The Metro Hotel, in Woking, Surrey, called the police as its phone lines were flooded with angry and threatening calls from the public. The attack on the switchboards came after it emerged that Corporal Tomos Stringer, 24, had been told that it was company policy not to accept members of the Armed Forces.

A soldier since the age of 16 and veteran of multiple tours in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan, Corporal Stringer had travelled to Surrey to help with funeral preparations for a friend killed in action. The corporal, who was not in uniform, presented his warrant card when asked by the hotel for proof of identity. After being refused a room, he had to bed down in his car, with his wrist, broken during a convoy ambush, encased in plaster.

Corporal Stringer's MP, Hywel Williams, Derek Twigg, the Defence Minister, and Bob Ainsworth, the Armed Forces Minister, have all written to the hotel. After a resolute silence, the hotel, owned by a company called American Amusements, finally issued a statement: "The Metro Hotel, Woking, sincerely regrets any upset caused towards Corporal Stringer and his family . . . The hotel management has always had an open-door policy to all its visitors and guests, including members of the military and Armed Forces." The receptionist had made a mistake, it added.

Corporal Stringer, of 13 Air Assault Support Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps, has returned to Afghanistan. His mother, Gaynor Stringer, from Criccieth, North Wales, told The Times: "I'm very, very angry. It's discrimination. They would never get away with it if it was against someone of ethnic origin." She added: "In America, they treat soldiers as heroes. We went to Disney World with Tomos and the whole family was moved to the front of the lines. Everybody was clapping and cheering. Here, soldiers can't even get a bed for the night."


Palin shows up the intolerant preachers of tolerance

Comment from Australia

Sarah Palin, you beauty. I haven't derived so much pleasure from politics since Pauline Hanson erupted onto the scene. Politics isn't principally about pleasure, of course, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't enjoy it when we can. Palin might win or lose, but she's already done plenty just by turning up. The visceral response to her from many on the left has been wonderful to watch.

To see why she disturbs them so much we need to look at the back story. For decades now, debate about political ideas, particularly where values are concerned, has been dominated by two terms: "diversity" and "tolerance". "People are different" was the most important precept of the 1970s cultural revolution, and we should all respect that. But gradually it emerged that some differences were more tolerable than others. A new orthodoxy arose, policed by academics and teachers, bureaucrats and journalists, which held that all beliefs and behaviour were to be tolerated - provided the tolerance police agreed with them.

This is why the appearance of someone like the gun-toting, anti-abortion Palin is invigorating, because it bypasses the control of such apparatus. (It will probably end in tears, but while it lasts it's a lot of fun.)

There always was a contradiction in the position adopted by the tolerance police. How could tolerance be held to be the supreme value when so much was not to be tolerated? The solution was to move certain beliefs and values beyond the pale of civilised discussion, and dismiss those who held them as outsiders, either fools or villains. (Or just laugh at them. A lot of the response to Palin has consisted of nervous sniggering.)

It didn't matter how many people held intolerable beliefs: they could be successfully outlawed because those doing the excluding had a pretty firm control of the transmission of ideas, in the media and universities and schools, and in government departments. So it was, for example, that debate over the length of jail sentences was considered within the pale, but discussion of the death sentence was put outside it. The same came to apply to smoking, immigration, the environment, welfare and climate change. For years it was difficult to remain a member of well-educated society if you wanted to propose certain points of view on these subjects.

The tolerance police knew they needed to keep alternative viewpoints out of public debate as much as possible. Once such views received a little oxygen, they feared, people might start to talk about them in public again. Which is why the unexpected appearance of a politician who unashamedly proclaims proscribed ideas is so interesting.

There have been many delights surrounding Palin this week. Something has been said already of the discomfit of left-wing feminists, who as always feel cheated when a conservative woman crops up on the political scene. "Sarah's not a real feminist," you hear them muttering. "A real feminist looks like . Hillary!" This is nicely reminiscent of the abuse that was heaped on Pauline Hanson by many Australians on the left, who simply ignored her feminist credentials. The fact that she was an independent person who had successfully combined work and family didn't count. Because of her political views, she could be dismissed as an outsider. Unfortunately she had somehow escaped onto the political stage, and it took a while to get her back into her box.

A big reason why Palin offends so many feminists is that she now has something most of them want but never had: a husband who is going to stay at home and look after the kids.

Palin's speech to the Republican convention would have been seen as rancorous a week ago. But in the event it wasn't, because she was responding to a barrage of insult and invective that had already been sent her way after the announcement by John McCain that she would be his running mate. In reacting as they did, the left legitimised a more aggressive form of rhetoric in the campaign. At the moment they must be wondering who will benefit most from this in the long run.

The important thing about Palin, as with Hanson, is that a fairly ordinary person has somehow made it into the public eye. We should celebrate this, no matter what happens next. She seems like someone from Republican central casting (which, of course, is why she got the gig); she has a big family and her husband is not only a member of the United Steelworkers Union but also a champion snow machine racer.

If you read her acceptance speech you would be struck by the fundamental absurdity of the way Palin is, in effect, running against her own party with all her rhetoric against the "Washington elite". But she has also touched a real nerve in her questioning of Barack Obama's lack of experience and achievements. As she put it on Wednesday: "My fellow citizens, the American presidency is not supposed to be a journey of personal discovery." Obama has had a dream run from the media, and it's only fair that someone in a position of prominence ask some tough questions about him.

Of course, it would be wonderful for a black man to become the president of the United States. But other than the colour of his skin and his smooth tongue, just what qualifications does he really have for the job?


Ninth Circuit Gets It Right: No Indian Religious Veto

Arizona Snowbowl is an alpine ski area, seven miles north of Flagstaff, which occupies 777 acres on Humphrey's Peak, amid the San Francisco Peaks in the Coconino National Forest. Organized skiing has existed there since 1938; ski lifts were built in 1958 and 1962. In July 1977, Arizona Snowbowl proposed more parking and ski slopes, new lodge facilities, and additional ski lifts, which the U.S. Forest Service authorized in December 1980. American Indian religious practitioners sued, arguing that use of "sacred" land violated the Free Exercise Clause, which bars government action that burdens religious beliefs or practices, unless it serves a compelling governmental interest that cannot be achieved otherwise. In May 1983, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected that claim: "Many government actions may offend religious believers, and may cast doubt upon the veracity of religious beliefs, but unless such actions penalize faith, they do not burden religion."

Although the Arizona Snowbowl case did not reach the Supreme Court, a challenge by American Indian religious practitioners to a Forest Service timber-harvesting and road-building plan in California did. In April 1988, Justice O'Connor, for the 5-3 majority, wrote, "Nothing . . . would distinguish this case from another lawsuit in which they (or similarly situated religious objectors) might seek to exclude all human activity but their own from sacred areas of the public lands. . . . Whatever rights the Indians may have to the use of the area, however, those rights do not divest the Government of its right to use what is, after all, its land."

Nonetheless, land managers, citing Clinton's 1996 "Indian Sacred Sites" Executive Order, "exclude[d] all human activity" from "sacred areas of the public lands" at Devils Tower National Monument and in the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming, in the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana, at Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah, and in the Plumas National Forest in California. Constitutional challenges by non-Indians were dismissed. In September 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Arizona's bar on using gravel from "sacred" private property was not unconstitutional because American Indian religion and culture are intertwined. In August 2007, the Ninth Circuit, relying on the Arizona case, upheld the Forest Service's ban on climbing at "sacred" Cave Rock at Lake Tahoe.

Meanwhile, in September 2002, to ensure its economic viability, Arizona Snowbowl proposed to make artificial snow with reclaimed water purchased from Flagstaff. When the Forest Service approved that proposal in June 2005, American Indian religious practitioners sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), enacted in 1993 to strengthen judicial review of government acts affecting religion. Although the Supreme Court ruled the RFRA unconstitutional as to States, it arguably remains applicable to federal actions. An Arizona federal district court rejected the claim; however, a Ninth Circuit panel held the plan tantamount to a government edict that Christian "baptisms be carried out with `reclaimed water.'" In December 2007, the Ninth Circuit reheard the case en banc.

In August 2008, by 8-3, the Ninth Circuit, relying on the Supreme Court's 1988 ruling, reversed the panel's decision, rejected the RFRA claim, and held that "[G]iving one religious sect a veto over the use of public park land would deprive others of the right to use what is, by definition, land that belongs to everyone." Left undecided was an issue federal lawyers, for unknown reasons, had failed to raise: whether the RFRA applies at all to federal land.

American Indian religious practitioners vow an appeal to the Supreme Court. Unless they are successful there, they may use neither the Free Exercise Clause nor the RFRA as a sword to close "sacred" federal land to the public. Undecided is whether they may use either as a shield to defend against claims by non-Indians that managing the government's land according to the demands of "religious objectors" violates the Establishment Clause.


Birthdays un-Islamic

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - When Hala al-Masaad invited her girlfriends over to celebrate her 18th birthday with cake and juice, the high school student was stepping into an unusual public debate. Is celebrating birthdays un-Islamic? Saudi Arabia's most senior Muslim cleric recently denounced birthday parties as an unwanted foreign influence, but another prominent cleric declared they were ok.

That debate has left al-Masaad with mixed feelings about her low-key celebration last month. She loves birthday parties, she says, because they make her feel that she has "moved from one stage of life to another." "But I sometimes feel I'm doing something haram," she said sheepishly, using the Arabic word for banned.

The Saudi ban on birthdays is in line with the strict interpretation of Islam followed by the conservative Wahhabi sect adhered to in the kingdom. All Christian and even most Muslim feasts are also prohibited because they are considered alien customs the Saudi clerics don't sanction. Only the Muslim feasts of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, which concludes the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, are permitted.

Elsewhere in the Muslim world, including in Egypt, Dubai, Lebanon and Iran, people routinely celebrate birthdays, especially for children. Among middle class and affluent families, parties can be elaborate, with cakes, toys, clowns, ponies and many presents. In Egypt, Prophet Muhammad's birthday is celebrated by handing out special sweets - in the shape of a doll for girls and a horse for boys. Even in Saudi Arabia, it's not hard to find Saudis who celebrate birthdays or stores that cater to putting on parties, despite the ban.

What makes the latest controversy notable is that it started when a prominent cleric, Salman al-Audah, said on a popular satellite TV program last month that it was OK to mark birthdays and wedding anniversaries with parties as long as the Arabic word that describes the events - "eid," meaning feast - is not used. That prompted a quick denunciation by Saudi Arabia's grand mufti and top religious authority, Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al Sheik, who said such celebrations have no place in Islam and gave a list of foreign customs he suggested were unacceptable. "Christians have Mother's Day, an eid for trees, and an eid for every occasion," said Al Sheik, who also heads the Presidency for Scientific Research and Religious Edicts, speaking to Al-Madina newspaper. "And on every birthday, candles are lit and food is given out."

There is no question that the television remarks by al-Audah, who is not employed by the country's religious establishment, contradicted several fatwas, or religious edicts, issued by senior Saudi clerics over the years. One such ruling, by the previous mufti, Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Baz, said Muslims should not emulate the West by celebrating birthdays - even that of the Prophet Muhammed, which is marked in most other Middle Eastern countries as a holiday. "It's not permissible to take part in them," he said. "Birthday parties are an innovation ... and people are in no need of innovations."

Still, some Saudis welcomed a loosening of the prohibition. "Allowing such celebrations can be an element that can strengthen ties among people and contribute to an increase in the happy occasions in our society," wrote Ibrahim Ba-Dawood in a column in Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper. Others, including several prominent Muslim scholars, issued statements backing the ban and denouncing al-Audah.

Sheik Abdullah al-Manie, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said al-Audah's remarks were a "slip of the tongue that he should retract." "We Muslims should have our identity that sets us apart and makes us proud," he said in a statement.

Some Saudis worry the controversy will be used by conservative members of the religious establishment, including the religious police, as a green light to crack down on all celebrations.

Despite the continuous fatwas against them, it's not hard to find merchandise for celebrating birthdays, anniversaries or even Western holidays like Valentine's Day. But bringing in the items can be tricky for shop owners. One store owner said it's hard to predict when shipments will be waved through and when they will be stopped. A month ago, an order of birthday balloons, hats and banners was confiscated, said the owner who did not want to be identified for fear of social repercussions. Still, business was brisk at one gift store recently, where parties can cost from $4,000 to $32,000, depending on the decorations, giveaways and number of guests. Customers can browse albums showing birthday wall decorations, table settings and cakes, and order party bags with coloring books, pens and school supplies.

One popular party game features a life-size papier-mache mannequin of a cartoon or storybook character, such as Cinderella - much like the pinatas popular at children's parties in the West. To get at the gift hidden inside, children take turns hitting it with a stick.

Buthaina Ba-Aqeel, 51, said she used to throw birthday parties at home for her children, but they were low-key and not on the same day the child was born - to avoid singling out one particular day during the year to celebrate. But another Jiddah resident, Riham Ahmed, 20, said she doesn't like birthdays. "It's enough to have two eids," said the economics major. "My birthday is a normal day. Even my parents don't congratulate me." Her sister, Arwa Ahmed, agreed. "I missed my 25th birthday by two days last month and only remembered it when I checked the calendar for prayer times," she said. "I don't like it when someone tells me happy birthday. It's like a reminder that I'm getting closer to death."



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 readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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