Thursday, October 13, 2011

Texas Woman Sues Continental Over Turbulent Flight

She expects the airlines to control the weather? Maybe she listens to Al Gore too much

A Texas woman is suing Continental Airlines and three other carriers over mental trauma she says was caused by a turbulent flight, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Colleen O'Neal alleges that the October 2009 flight from College Station, Texas, to Houston -- a usually short flight that ended up taking more than two hours -- encountered extreme turbulence that caused her to fear for her life.

O'Neal experienced post-traumatic stress disorder and now fears flying, which has had a detrimental impact on her career, according to the suit filed Tuesday in Harris County district court.

Also named in the suit are regional carrier Pinnacle Airlines, which operated the flight; Pinnacle's owner, Colgan Air; and United Airlines, which recently merged with Continental.


Tall order to tame Muslim extremists

ONE of the great failures of the post 9/11 decade all over the world has been the attempt to de-radicalise Islamist extremists. I have just returned from a week in Indonesia and I have to report to you that de-radicalisation there has been a bust.

I spent an afternoon with two leaders from the Institute for International Peace Building, YPP in its Indonesian acronym. YPP runs a series of de-radicalisation programs in Indonesian prisons. Their verdict was that they have some success with foot soldiers, and very occasionally with failed field commanders, but virtually never with those they term "ideologists".

Unlike other de-radicalisation programs, their approach is not concerned much with theology and Islamic issues. When they are dealing with poorly educated people they will try to challenge the Islamist ideology, but overwhelmingly their focus is on helping inmates with a more practical view of life: how they can support their families or find a job.

Indonesian jails have been notorious as schools for terror. The Islamist extremists inside dominate prison mosques, are looked up to by other prisoners, can mobilise contacts outside to threaten their enemies and can bribe or harass guards into allowing access to mobile phones, Islamist literature and much of the paraphernalia of successful planning of terrorist operations.

The Indonesian government is pondering whether to build a jail specifically to house Islamist extremists. My YPP friends tell me this could be good or bad. It might make it much more difficult to separate the foot soldiers from the leaders and could easily backfire in a messy fashion.

My impression, after talking to people in many countries, is that almost everything Western governments do in their own societies under the rubric of de-radicalisation is a waste of money or makes things worse.

A story in Melbourne this week reported that de-radicalisation money was being used to employ an outreach officer to help a local mosque deal with residents' complaints about traffic snarls caused by Ramadan services. This may or may not be a useful way to spend taxpayers' money but it's hard to believe it will have the slightest effect on whether someone takes up terror. But it shows how difficult it is for governments to make any meaningful contribution in this at all.

As I have often written, and firmly believe, the overwhelming majority of Indonesian Muslims are naturally tolerant, pluralist, inclusive and believe in the rule of law. However, it is wrong to understate the problem of extremists. As my YPP friends told me, there are thousands of Indonesians who have been trained in jihadist values and some military techniques. That training has occurred in Mindanao in The Philippines, and within Indonesia in Ambon, Poso and other key locations.

Indonesia is intensely important to Australia. It has prospects for a good economic future and far more natural forces at work to blunt the sharpest edges of extremism than in the Middle East. Nonetheless, the practice of Islam in Indonesia is becoming more conservative and the numbers who practise intolerance, sometimes violently, are rising.

Here we come to one of the deepest conceptual questions about Islamist extremism: are we dealing with psychological pathology or with a hearts-and-minds strategy? Are violent extremists the psychological equivalents of members of Western cults or are they psychologically sound but have deliberately embraced an ideology of extremist Islam?

It is fair to say this is still an unresolved question among Western intelligence and analytical agencies. I think the numbers of intolerant Indonesians are simply too large for the cult analogy to hold up.

Islam is genuinely different from other religions in its inherent militancy, the call to its followers to create a political order according to the specific rules of Islam and in the interpretation of jihad as a violent struggle for Islamic supremacy that attracts at least a minority of Muslims. It may be a relatively small minority, but it is a minority big enough to cause endless trouble.

What is encouraging about Indonesia is that the good guys, who explicitly reject all this, are highly active. I don't mean liberal Muslims exactly. Except for a tiny Jakarta elite, who are more liberal than Muslim, liberal Islam has all but died out in Indonesia. I mean the small-c conservatives who believe in human rights and in the rule of law and who are willing to campaign for that vision as their interpretation of Islam.

I met a brilliant, dynamic young man, Fajar Riza Ul Haq, who heads the Maarif Foundation, which campaigns for Muslims to see human rights as integral to their religion. He told me that when he first broaches this concept with schoolteachers they typically find it objectionable, seeing it as a Western concept. Indeed, he accepts the analysis that Indonesian Islam is generally more conservative today than a decade ago, and becoming more conservative still. He doesn't equate being conservative with a propensity to violence, but he does think this conservative bent can be a precursor, as it were, to a more extremist view, that it shares a certain degree of cultural and even analytical commonality with the extremists' world view.

He is also convinced, while avoiding conspiracy theories, that outside actors, especially elite players within Indonesian politics, intentionally stir up communal hostilities for their own political purposes. He comes originally from Solo, and while Solo is a centre for conservative Islam, it traditionally has not been the site of violent Islam-Christian clashes until recently. Fajar believes recent attacks on Christian churches have been carried out by groups from outside Solo who believe that, by engineering serious communal strife there, they can radicalise a large number of new jihadists, as my YPP friends told me happened in Ambon.

Fajar also reports a disturbing statistic: that 90 per cent of Indonesian youth, according to surveys, would be prepared to carry out violence in the name of Islam. That's an ambiguous result, hard to interpret because of the imprecise nature of the question, but it's not really reassuring.

That Fajar finds resistance among schoolteachers to his message on human rights shows how much work is still to be done. That he can generally talk them round over time, and that he is engaged in this work with energy and skill and commitment, is a powerful sign of hope.


Top British judge's furious attack on courts for using human rights laws to defy Parliament

British courts are using Human Rights legislation to knock down laws rightly made by Parliament, a Supreme Court judge said yesterday.

Lord Brown launched a furious attack on other judges for making ‘highly contentious’ rulings and ‘frustrating’ Government policy decisions.

His comments came as his court, against his wishes, overturned a ban on marriage visas for foreign nationals wanting to marry a Briton when either is under 21.

The rule was designed to protect against forced marriages involving vulnerable young women.

But by a four to one majority, the Supreme Court judges said it was a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to a ‘private and family life’.

This has been used by terrorists and hardened criminals to escape deportation simply because they have family or social ties in Britain.

Lord Brown, the only judge to dissent, said in his judgment that the decision should be ‘one for elected politicians, not for judges’. He wrote: ‘Article 8 is a difficult provision which has already led to some highly contentious, not to say debatable, decisions. Upon that I am sure we would all agree.

‘In a sensitive context such as that of forced marriages, it would seem to me not merely impermissible but positively unwise for the courts yet again to frustrate Government policy except in the clearest of cases. To my mind this cannot possibly be regarded as such a case. ‘Unless demonstrably wrong, this judgment should be rather for Government than for the courts.’

The court heard forced marriages were most commonly found in Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities and were used as a way of getting around immigration rules.

The rule, introduced in 2008, was challenged by two genuine couples who were barred from marrying in Britain. Diego Aguilar, a Chilean student, married Briton Amber Jeffrey before the rule came into force in November 2008, when she was 17 and he was 18. But ministers refused him the right to stay in the country because of their ages.

Briton Suhyal Mohammed was prevented from bringing his young Pakistani wife, Shakira Bibi, into the country because both were under 21.

The High Court ruled in favour of the Government, but its ruling was overturned in the Court of Appeal. And yesterday the Supreme Court upheld the Appeal Court’s ruling.

One of the judges, Lord Wilson, said it was a ‘colossal interference’ with Article 8 rights to force couples to live separately, or force a British citizen to leave the country. Lady Hale, Lord Phillips and Lord Clarke also upheld the judgment.

Lord Wilson said the Home Office had failed to prove the restriction was justified, despite accepting it had ‘a legitimate aim in deterring the practice of forced marriages and is rationally connected to that aim’.

But Lord Brown said the other judges had taken Article 8 even further than the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Similar age restrictions exist in Germany, Austria, Belgium and other European countries, he said. In Denmark both bride and groom must be 24 before they can wed if one is from overseas.

Dominic Raab, a Tory MP and human rights expert, said: ‘This is a patent example of the courts legislating to expand the right to family life. It goes beyond the European Convention, it goes beyond precedent in the UK or the Strasbourg Court and it is stricter than several other European democracies.

‘Yet again, unaccountable judges are substituting their view on what amounts to an effective immigration policy for that of elected law-makers, and on a wafer-thin basis.’

Immigration minister Damian Green warned that today’s ruling threatened to ‘put vulnerable people at risk’. He said: ‘This is another very disappointing judgment, which overturns a policy that exists and is judged to be consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights in other European countries.

‘The judges themselves agreed increasing the marriage visa age had a legitimate aim.’


Australian conservative leader should seize free speech as election issue

TONY Abbott has been gifted a new election issue that he should seize: a Labor Party ready to restrict political debate and valid expressions of view by the Australian people.

Labor's response to the Andrew Bolt case has been a wall of silence. There is no doubt, however, this is a Labor law and the judge's decision that further represses political debate is seen as a Labor value.

Unless overturned on appeal (if there is an appeal) this law will haunt Labor and constitute another chapter in the degeneration of its culture, a process now dangerously advanced.

Indeed, it is hard to find a more perfect example of the trap of political correctness and the legal-human rights culture of legislating for good behaviour than this application of the Racial Discrimination Act. It plays into Abbott's favourite political crusade: Labor's capture by elite special interests that patronise the Australia people and insist on laws that restrict debate in a way most Australians will not accept.

There is one certainty. Labor will pay a political price. This has yet to dawn on caucus because of the range of more serious problems that Labor faces.

But Abbott and shadow attorney-general George Brandis have taken the decision that counts. They intend to punish Labor on free speech and punish it hard. In Abbott's hands, however, this assumes a lethal import.

In his oped on this page on September 30, Brandis said: "If the Bolt decision is not overturned on appeal, the provision in its present form should be repealed."

There is no shadow cabinet decision to this effect. But Abbott and Brandis have consulted and, in effect, have decided. It signals a new cultural attack on Labor on grounds of political correctness.

This penetrates to values and Abbott loves a clash over values. Imagine his message: Labor wants to gag ordinary Australians (yes, the outsiders) who speak out against the values prescribed by the insiders.

The split between Labor and the Coalition seems to be wide. Brandis told The Australian yesterday: "If I was to become attorney-general in an Abbott government I would make defence of freedom of speech one of my most important priorities."

Only a fool could mistake such signals. If the decision by Justice Mordecai Bromberg stands, then Julia Gillard as PM should commission a review of the 1995 amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act that were relevant in the Bolt case.

Such a review would signal Labor's willingness to rethink the act. But it is improbable because these were Labor amendments and for many the Bromberg decision is exactly what the law was designed to achieve. Labor, in effect, is trapped. The defeat of Bolt, one of its hate figures, is seen as a victory for Labor values, for human rights and against hate speech and racial intolerance.

There would be uproar if Gillard signalled she was unhappy with the law or its implications.

The issue here is not Bolt. His articles contained many mistakes. Indeed, there is a persuasive argument on journalistic grounds that they should not have been published and former editor of The Age Michael Gawenda has said he would not have published them.

Nor does the notion of Bolt as free-speech martyr have the slightest traction, given that few other people have enjoyed the benefits of free speech for so long.

If the law were merely limited to race hate there would be no issue. But it isn't. The heading on Part 11 A of the act refers to "racial hatred" but, as Justice Bromberg said, its provisions are not restricted to racial hatred or racial violence.

Any argument this law is necessary to protect Jewish, Aboriginal or Muslim communities from racial hatred is false because the law extends far beyond such purposes. It makes behaviour unlawful in a racial context when it is likely "to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate". This is a conspicuously low threshold. Brandis describes it as a "grotesque limitation on ordinary political discourse".

Judge Bromberg sees the purpose of the act as being to promote tolerance in a multicultural society and he makes findings within this framework. In short, it is about respect in a multicultural society, a threshold lower than the defamation test. The certainty is that Australia's robust political discourse will sometimes fail this test.

Should Pauline Hanson have been subject to legal action for her comments about Aborigines? Or would this have only been counterproductive? How far should the state go as political censor?

The act has a series of exemptions on free-speech grounds including "fair comment" in the public interest. But Bromberg found Bolt failed to qualify because his articles were inaccurate (a completely valid call) and written in inflammatory language that used mockery, derision and cynicism.

This showed that Bolt "failed to honour the values asserted by the RDA" and that his articles reinforced "racially prejudiced views".

The core message is apparent. "Insufficient care and diligence" was displayed by Bolt in upholding the values of the act and, as a result, he was not entitled to exemption on free-speech grounds.

Prominent lions from the cultural industry are now cheering a finding that you can have free speech provided you meet the required standard of politeness. Yes, they are a farce.

Nobody pretends free speech is unfettered. Yet the limitations revealed by this judgment are significant. So is the reaction. What counts in Australia today is politics and ideology: the wider debate increasingly reflects the view that "provided I agree with you I will support your free speech, but if I don't then I will oppose it".

This strange mood is driven, above all, by the failure of the progressive forces to carry the nation with public hostility to carbon pricing the prime exhibit. This was the policy enshrined by the progressive forces, yet it is the policy that has ruined Gillard. The upshot is a tide of anger and resentment that rises and falls within Labor and its cultural backers.

Labor has stumbled into a print media inquiry that may be toothless, constructive or hostile to print media operations. Who knows?

Frankly, not Labor. Meanwhile many of its cultural backers are irrational about Abbott and fan hostility to shock jocks, the so-called Murdoch media, while betraying their resentment of an Australian public that still backs Abbott.

It would be a disaster for Labor to become party to the new political correctness. Doesn't Labor see this is not about Bolt? Doesn't Labor grasp that this issue plays directly into Abbott's entire political narrative? Doesn't Labor grasp that stifling debate is a sure loser with the voters?

And when will Labor get some mainstream common sense into its values? If it doesn't, it faces greater electoral erosion.



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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or 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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