Monday, January 06, 2014
Multiculturalism in an English nightclub
Police investigating the death of a man shot dead inside a nightclub on Boxing Day have released pictures of two people they want to trace.
Hassan Mohammed Omer Isman, 31, from Poplar in east London, died in hospital after suffering multiple gunshot wounds in the West End club. The incident happened at 3am on December 26 during a private function in Shaftesbury Avenue's Avalon club.
Scotland Yard is appealing for information about Danny Walker, 32, and 30-year-old Gavin Allen. They believe Allen may have travelled abroad. Anyone who sees either man is urged not to approach them, but to call police on 999.
A 24-year-old man arrested on suspicion of murder remains in custody at an east London police station.
Two men - a 31-year-old and a 34-year-old - arrested on suspicion of murder have been bailed to a date in mid-February, pending further enquiries.
The Avalon Soho describes itself as a cocktail lounge with live DJs every night.
Its website says it is 'a revitalised venue that oozes creativity and class' which brings 'a unique and stylish vibe to the heart of the West End's party scene'.
A DJ who was at the event tweeted: 'RIP to the person who lost his life last nite in front of me. 'I don't know who you are but I wish god has taken you into his hands.'
A Metropolitan spokesman said at the time: 'Police and London Ambulance Service attended to find a man suffering from multiple gunshot wounds.
'He was taken by London Ambulance Service to hospital, where he died from his injuries.
'Detectives are continuing to appeal to anyone who was inside the Avalon nightclub at the event, or who witnessed events inside the club, to contact them.'
Congress Defends Religious Freedom for the Troops
It was a rare and welcome victory for religious freedom for our all-volunteer military. Congress approved—and President Obama the day after Christmas signed—the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This new law contains stronger language than ever before that assures our service members do not have to give up their own freedoms while protecting ours.
This new law contains some of Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) provisions to assure better implementation of freedom guarantees. In the past, the Obama administration has largely ignored protections for service members. This law provides clear deadlines for the Defense Department to issue new regulations. Military commanders should no longer be in doubt about America’s historic commitment to religious freedom in the ranks.
This underscoring of basic freedoms by our Congress should never have been necessary.
We have seen under this administration an unprecedented looking away as the basic rights of service members have been infringed. Political correctness seems to be the Order of the Day. This administration has been more interested in using the military as a laboratory for radical social experimentation than as the sword and shield of the republic.
The need to protect such freedom goes all the way back to Gen. George Washington in the Continental Army. When he assumed command of the Army in Massachusetts in 1775, he soon learned there would be an anti-Catholic demonstration by some zealots among the largely Protestant force. “Pope’s Day” had been observed for more than a century among New England Puritans. It featured sports and games, but it ended with a spectacle. An effigy of the Pope was stuffed with straw and live cats. Set ablaze, the screaming of the cats was said to be the screaming of the Popes in hell.
His Excellency put a quick end to such overt religious bigotry. He reminded his officers that the cause of America needed help, maybe from Catholic Quebec, surely from Catholic France. And he sternly forbade such a “childish” and “ridiculous” display. Washington put an end to Pope’s Day, not only in the Army, but in the nation at large.
This is a far cry from today, when Bibles have been banned at Walter Reed military hospital near Washington, D.C. Family Research Council (FRC) quickly sought congressional support to have those Bibles restored to our wounded warriors.
We have regrettably seen the U.S. Air Force Academy whipsawed by zealous atheizers. These people claim to be for religious freedom, but they jump at every opportunity to impose atheism in the ranks.
Prodded by Mikey Weinstein and his mirfs from the so-called Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Superintendant the Air Force Academy suddenly dropped “So Help Me God” from the Cadet oath. Too bad.
But with this new law, every Cadet and every Midshipman at every service academy should know: “So Help Me God” is protected speech. No one can take it away.
For assurance, these young military trainees can consult the National Park Service’s Mount Rushmore. Each of these Commanders-in-Chief took the Oath of Office as president. Each one placed his hand on the Bible and said: So Help Me God
With the passage and signature of the 2014 NDAA, the right of each member of the military to say “So Help Me God” in enlistment, in promotion, and in taking their initial oaths, has been written, so to speak, in stone.
My FRC colleague, Tony Perkins, is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. Tony commended the brave stand of Coast Guard Admiral William Lee. The admiral boldly said if he knew one of his young men had attempted suicide, he would not hesitate to offer that suffering sailor a Bible.
Tony said of Congress’ passage of the 2014 NDAA: “Defending America’s freedom shouldn’t mean surrendering theirs.” This is especially the case when the Constitution they swear to defend guarantees the first freedom of all Americans.
Marines delay female fitness plan after half fail
Men and women ARE different
More than half of female Marines in boot camp can't do three pullups, the minimum standard that was supposed to take effect with the new year, prompting the Marine Corps to delay the requirement, part of the process of equalizing physical standards to integrate women into combat jobs.
The delay rekindled sharp debate in the military on the question of whether women have the physical strength for some military jobs, as service branches move toward opening thousands of combat roles to them in 2016.
Although no new timetable has been set on the delayed physical requirement, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos wants training officials to "continue to gather data and ensure that female Marines are provided with the best opportunity to succeed," Capt. Maureen Krebs, a Marine spokeswoman, said Thursday.
Starting with the new year, all female Marines were supposed to be able to do at least three pullups on their annual physical fitness test and eight for a perfect score. The requirement was tested in 2013 on female recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., but only 45 percent of women met the minimum, Krebs said.
The Marines had hoped to institute the pullups on the belief that pullups require the muscular strength necessary to perform common military tasks such as scaling a wall, climbing up a rope or lifting and carrying heavy munitions.
Officials felt there wasn't a medical risk to putting the new standard into effect as planned across the service, but that the risk of losing recruits and hurting retention of women already in the service was unacceptably high, she said.
Because the change is being put off, women will be able to choose which test of upper-body strength they will be graded on in their annual physical fitness test. Their choices:
—Pullups, with three the minimum. Three is also the minimum for male Marines, but they need 20 for a perfect rating.
—A flexed-arm hang. The minimum is for 15 seconds; women get a perfect score if they last for 70 seconds. Men don't do the hang in their test.
Officials said training for pullups can change a person's strength, while training for the flex-arm hang does little to adapt muscular strength needed for military tasks
The delay on the standard could be another wrinkle in the plan to begin allowing women to serve in jobs previously closed to them such as infantry, armor and artillery units.
The decision to suspend the scheduled pull-up requirement "is a clear indication" that plans to move women into direct ground combat fighting teams will not work, said Elaine Donnelly, president of the conservative Center for Military Readiness and a critic of allowing women into infantry jobs.
"When officials claim that men and women are being trained the same, they are referring to bare minimums, not maximum qualifications that most men can meet but women cannot," Donnelly wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Awarding gender-normed scores so that women can succeed lowers standards for all. Women will suffer more injuries and resentment they do not deserve, and men will be less prepared for the demands of direct ground combat."
The military services are working to figure out how to move women into newly opened jobs and have been devising updated physical standards, training, education and other programs for thousands of jobs they must open Jan. 1, 2016, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman. They must open as many jobs to women as possible; if they decide to keep some closed, they must explain why.
Military brass has said repeatedly that physical standards won't be lowered to accommodate female applicants. Success for women in training for the upcoming openings has come in fits and starts.
In fall 2012, only two female Marines volunteered for the 13-week infantry officers training course at Quantico, Va., and both failed to complete it.
But the following fall, three Marines became the first women to graduate from the Corps' enlisted infantry training school in North Carolina. They completed the same test standards as the men in the course, which included a 12-mile march with an 80-pound pack and various combat fitness trials such as timed ammunition container lifts and tests that simulate running under combat fire.
Officials had added specific training for female recruits when the pullup requirement was announced in December 2012, and they came up with a workout program for women already serving.
Military testing for physical skill and stamina has changed over the decades with needs of the armed forces. Officials say the first recorded history of Marine Corps physical fitness tests, for example, was 1908 when President Theodore Roosevelt ordered that staff officers must ride horseback 90 miles and line officers walk 50 miles over a three-day period to pass. A test started in 1956 included chinups, pushups, broad jump, 50-yard duck waddle and running.
The first test for women was started in 1969: A 120-yard shuttle run, vertical jump, knee pushups, 600-yard run/walk and situps.
As persecution of Christians intensifies, freedom of thought is at risk
Much of the world has just celebrated the most sacred Christian holiday, yet persecution of Christians has never been fiercer, especially in the Middle East. The birthplace of Christianity threatens to become a land without Christians.
Other faiths also suffer varying degrees of persecution — Jews, Hindus, Bahai’s, and Muslims, the latter sometimes even in Muslim countries. However, nonbelievers also are often mistreated. The lack of religious belief is less likely to be punished by communist and former communist regimes which discourage, often violently, competing transcendent world views. But such systems punish almost all independent thought in politics and elsewhere for being, well, independent. Moreover, atheists and other freethinkers are particularly at risk in theocratic systems, and especially aggressively Muslim states. The International Humanist and Ethical Union recently published its second annual report, Freedom of Thought 2013: A Global Report on the Rights, Legal Status, and Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists, and the Non-religious.
America’s Founders enshrined religious liberty in the U.S. Constitution because they understood the imperative of freedom of conscience and thought, and the necessity of every person to respond to their understanding of the transcendent. Although the latter most often is reflected in theism embodied by the major global religions, a failure to believe is no less fundamental. And punishing a lack of belief is as great a violation of conscience and the very essence of the human person as persecuting someone for holding religious convictions.
The two sides of religious liberty are, in many ways, the canary in the mine for individual freedom. If a state is unwilling to respect a person’s most fundamental and intimate views, his or her Weltanschauung, the foundational beliefs which govern his or her life, then government is unlikely to respect other beliefs, including dissident political opinions. And if it refuses to leave people alone in their beliefs, it is unlikely to leave them free to act. Argued IHEU, “when thought is a crime, no other freedom can long survive.”
Freedom of Thought 2013 addresses the status of the non-religious — “whether they call themselves atheists, or agnostics, or humanists, or freethinkers or are otherwise just simply not religious.” The report cites a 2012 global survey in which 13 percent of people declared themselves to be atheists and another 23 percent said they were not religious. Non-belief, like belief, cannot be privatized. Instead, the failure to believe implicates a variety of liberties: assembly, association, belief, conscience, expression, religion, and thought. Fundamental to most beliefs is both sharing them with others and acting on them in one’s own life.
Unfortunately, governments routinely violate the liberty not to believe. Concluded IHEU: “the overwhelming majority of countries fail to respect the rights of atheists and freethinkers. There are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prohibit them from holding public office, prevent them from working for the state, criminalize their criticism of religion, and execute them for leaving the religion of their parents.” At stake is not just occasional inconvenience, but sometimes life itself.
Restrictions are many. “In some countries, it is illegal to be an atheist. For example, every citizen of the Maldives is required to be a Muslim and the penalty for leaving Islam is death.” IHEU figures that “in effect you can be put to death for expressing atheism in 13 countries,” all Muslim.
More common, according to the report, “are the criminal measures against expressing atheist beliefs.” The toughest punishments, including death, are applied to “blasphemy laws that outlaw criticism of protected religions or religious figures and institutions.” Pakistan implemented its blasphemy law in 1988 and has prosecuted more than 1000 people of very different beliefs. Lesser penalties attach to “hate speech” and other commentary. According to Freedom of Thought 2013: “These crimes — of expressing ‘blasphemy’ or offending religious feelings — are still a crime in 55 countries, can mean prison in 39 of those countries, and are punishable by death in six countries.” So-called blasphemy also can be used as evidence of apostasy, which is more likely to carry the death penalty.
Persecution often fades into discrimination, less virulent but still offensive to basic human rights. Noted IHEU: “Other laws that severely affect those who reject religion include bans on atheists holding public office, and some governments require citizens to identify their religion — for example on state ID cards or passports — but make it illegal, or do not allow, for them to identify as an atheist or as non-religious.” Especially in Muslim nations, family law often is governed by Shari’a courts implementing Islamic law.
Moreover, “Religious privilege is one of the most common forms of discrimination against atheists.” Much of this is tangible, especially state funding for religious education and other activities. Rather more controversially the organization includes “religious discrimination, or religious privilege, in this report even when its supporters claim it is merely ceremonial or symbolic.” The latter is common in the U.S. and, argues IHEU: “what it symbolizes is the state’s preference for religion and the second class status of the non-religious.”
Not all persecution emanates from government. As against religious minorities, extra-legal violence is common and governments often do little or nothing in response. There is little practical difference between state actors doing the killing and failing “to hold violent non-state actors to account,” as detailed in Freedom of Thought 2013.
Some religiously faithful may be inclined to dismiss the freedom not to believe. However, Matt Cherry, the report’s lead author, emphasizes that “the fight for the rights of the non-religious [are] inextricable from the fight for the rights of the religious.” All possess a fundamental right of belief and conscience, and an equally fundamental right to act on belief and conscience.
Government practices vary dramatically around the world. The IHEU uses five categories: Free and Equal, which means no known cases of discrimination (few nations meet this standard); Mostly Satisfactory, which means some limited, anomalous, or symbolic religious preferences (the U.S. falls into this small group); Systematic Discrimination, which means various restrictions on free expression, some religious privileges, and occasional limits on criticism of religion; Severe Discrimination, which means severe restrictions on expression and activities of non-religious, significant religious privileges, and limits or even prohibitions on criticism of religion; Grave Violations, which means tyrannical control over belief and expression, treating ideology as theology, and turning the state into a de facto arm of religion.
Obviously, one can disagree over details. For instance, the descriptions offered suggest that some cases of “severe” discrimination are less severe than others. Sometimes the designation seems exaggerated, even though discrimination/privilege remains real and inappropriate. For instance, state churches in Europe are obnoxious anachronisms, but appear to have only a limited impact on people’s liberties.
Similarly, unfair treatment in European countries has a different feel than in Muslim nations. In the survey Denmark and Germany join Turkmenistan and Zimbabwe among states judged to suffer from “severe” discrimination. However, one suspects that most freethinkers would note a marked difference between living in the first two and the second two.
Moreover, in a world in which a majority of people are religious it should not surprise that social, cultural, and governmental institutions often reflect those religious beliefs. Hence America’s “Mostly Satisfactory” rating. No doubt this kind of assumed Christianity sometimes makes atheists and other nonbelievers feel uncomfortable, though broader cultural practices might be more important in that regard than anemic state symbols such as the declaration “In God We Trust” on coins. (Absent America’s founding history, such examples likely would not withstand constitutional scrutiny today.) While inappropriate, they remain relatively limited infringements on liberty comparable to many other challenges of living in a diverse, even fractious society.
Nevertheless, Freedom of Thought 2013 addresses a genuine and very serious threat to liberty. Governments the world over impose many limits on the most basic freedoms of belief, thought, and expression. Moreover, it is easy to ignore the negative, even deadly impact on individual lives if one shares the majority’s religious or other worldviews.
Basic human rights are at risk when the nonreligious and independent thinkers of all sorts are targeted by state institutions. Indeed, in Islamic states nonbelievers are at greater risk than Jews and Christians, whose faith at least is recognized by the Koran. Far too many nations punish independent thinking. Those who believe in human liberty as the basis for human flourishing have an obligation to defend everyone’s rights.
IHEU judges 46 countries (counting the Palestinian territories) as involving “severe discrimination.” Although a few seem improbable entries in this category (Denmark, El Salvador, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Iceland, New Zealand), others are more obvious additions, such as Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Burma/Myanmar, Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, India, Israel, Kazakhstan, Laos, Russia, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and more.
However, the greatest problems come from the 29 nations categorized as guilty of “grave violations.” These states cover the globe.
Afghanistan: Limits on freedom of expression and assembly, apostasy and blasphemy punished by death, law based on Islam, discrimination against nonreligious, religious privileges.
Bangladesh: Restrictions on freedom of expression, blasphemy and criticism of religion punished, law based in part on Islam, religious privilege, violence by non-state actors ignored by state.
Brunei: Freedom of expression restricted, law based on Islam, government promotion of Sunni Islam, punishment of blasphemy and criticism of religion,
China: Significant limits on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, restrictions on religious liberty, privileges for communist ideology.
Comoros: Pervasive discrimination against non-Muslims, prosecution of apostasy and blasphemy, significant privileges for Muslims.
Egypt: Infringement of free expression, blasphemy prosecutions limit criticism of Islam, violence by non-state actors against nonreligious left unpunished.
Eritrea: Brutal suppression of virtually all independent expression, including of theists and atheists alike.
Gambia: Severe limits on free expression and assembly, penalties for apostasy and blasphemy, ban on advocating secularism, religious privilege.
Indonesia: Freedom of expression limited, especially for the non-religious, government discrimination against religious minorities and non-believers, atheist groups cannot officially register, blasphemy punished, Islam privileged.
Iran: Freedom of expression and assembly severely restricted, law based on Islam, apostasy and blasphemy punished by death, pervasive discrimination against nonreligious, privileges for Islam.
Iraq: Freedom of conscience, expression, thought, and religion frequently violated by government and affected by sectarian violence, law based on Islam, privileges for religion and especially Islam, apostasy punished.
Jordan: Restrictions on freedom of belief, expression, and assembly, law based on Islam, family status determined by Shari’a courts, apostasy, blasphemy, and criticism of Islam punished, official identification and government employment require religious identification, privileges for Islam.
Kuwait: Some limits on freedom of association and assembly, law based in part on Islam, apostasy and blasphemy punished, privileges for Islam, illegal to register a non-religious organization.
Libya: Increasing restrictions on free expression, law based on Islam, Shari’a law governs family life.
Malaysia: Restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, law based on Islam, apostasy and blasphemy are punished, Islam is promoted and other beliefs discriminated against, illegal to create non-religious NGO.
Maldives: Limits on freedom of expression, citizenship tied to Islam, law based on Islam, apostasy, blasphemy, and criticism of Islam punished, privileges for Islam.
Mauritania: Citizenship tied to Islam, law based on Islam, apostasy and blasphemy punished, discrimination against non-Muslims and privileges for Islam.
Morocco: Significant limits on free expression, penalties for criticizing Islam, ban on nonreligious organizations, privileges for religion.
Nigeria: Freedom of expression violated, apostasy and blasphemy punished in some states, law based on Islam in some states, religious privileges.
North Korea: No freedom of expression, association, or assembly, quasi-state religion centered around the Kim family.
Pakistan: Freedom of expression frequently violated, blasphemy and criticism of religion punished, law based in part on Islam, family law controlled by Islam, Islam privileged, state actors ignore or collude in non-state violence against non-Muslims, applications for national identification cards and passports require religious identification.
Qatar: Significant limits on freedom of belief, expression, and assembly, apostasy, blasphemy, and criticism of religion punished, law based on Islam, illegal to register non-religious group or advocate secularism, family law controlled by Shari’a, Islam privileged as the state religion.
Saudi Arabia: No freedom of belief, expression, or assembly, law based on Islam, apostasy and blasphemy are death offenses, criticism of Islam punished, registration of nonreligious groups or advocacy of secularism illegal.
Somalia: Law based on Islam, freedom of expression restricted, death imposed for apostasy and blasphemy.
Sudan: Significant restrictions on free expression, death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy, illegal to create nonreligious organizations, law based on Islam, pervasive privilege for Islam.
Syria: Severe restrictions on freedom of expression, religious privileges, family law based on religion, limited liberties observed in the past are “being violated on a massive scale by all sides” in ongoing civil war, which has developed “a strong sectarian religious dimension.”
Swaziland: Limited freedom of expression and assembly, privileges for religion.
United Arab Emirates: Severe restrictions on freedom of belief, conscience, and expression, law based on Islam, the state religion, family law based on Shari’a, apostasy and blasphemy punished, Islam privileged, illegal to register non-religious group or advocate secularism.
Yemen: Significant limits on freedom of belief, expression, association, and assembly, Islam the state religion and source of law, apostasy and blasphemy punished, privileges for Islam, illegal to register non-religious group or advocate secularism, discrimination against non-Muslims.
The world, while seeming to grow freer in certain ways, obviously remains a very unfree place in important aspects. Unfortunately, the majority of the world’s population lives in nations which do not fully protect freedom of conscience. No crusade for freedom of thought is going to succeed overnight. But U.S. officials should include the liberty of non-believers in Washington’s human rights dialogue with other nations.
Moreover, the rest of us should work to protect freedom of conscience abroad. Not by coercing and invading other countries, but by convincing, encouraging, pestering, pushing, pressuring, and embarrassing. All of us, from citizens to policymakers, have a stake in expanding liberty for those around us.
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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.