Friday, April 25, 2008

Brit Muslims have a duty to fight extremism

(Just found this article, connected to one of the directors of a new anti-extremism organisation in the UK called The Quilliam Foundation)


FOR 14 years Maajid Nawaz was a member of radical Islamist political group Hizb ut-Tahrir. But the law graduate, born in Southend, Essex, reviewed his stand while in jail in Egypt and now believes it is time British Muslims became more moderate. Here he explains why.

IT’S high time that we British Muslims stood up to put an end to the double standards of a vocal minority from within our ranks.

For far too long a culture of blaming others and protecting “our own” has been tolerated.

A new standard needs to emerge. Protecting “our own” means all the people of our country, not merely one religious faction.

Freedom of speech is a non-negotiable right. Just as some Muslims invoke this right when they attack freedom and democracy, others may invoke this right when drawing cartoons criticising our faith.

If Muslim sensitivities are a reason not to draw the cartoons, then others’ sensitivities are also a reason not to attack freedom and democracy.

We cannot have it both ways. Yes, people must be considerate of religious feelings but that discussion comes after accepting freedom of speech as a right.

If Muslims wish to protest against insulting Islam, let them begin with protesting Saudi Arabia’s destruction of national heritage sites linked to the Prophet Muhammad.

Freedom of religion is also a non-negotiable right. Just as British Muslims wish to invite others to Islam, they must accept the right of British Muslims to leave Islam. If our faith is so attractive, then what do we have to fear?


Source: The Sun

Why we should fear Italy's Northern League

When a xenophobic party succeeds electorally in one European country, it has a knock-on effect for all Europeans because immigration, asylum and integration policies are shaped at the EU level.

THOSE of us seeking just and humane race and immigration policies in the UK should be fearful of the knock-on effects of the Italian March 2008 general election, which secured a decisive victory for Silvio Berlusconi's Party of Freedom Alliance. Already, the anti-immigrant Northern League, which more than doubled its share of the vote (8 per cent, leading to forty-seven seats in the Chamber of Deputies and twenty-three in the Senate) has upped the ante, calling for deportation of foreigners and the formation of self-defence groups to fight 'immigrant' crime.

Kingmaker of Italian politics

The Northern League, led by the xenophobic populist Umberto Bossi, brought down a previous Berlusconi administration in 1996. It is once again the kingmaker in Italian politics, for, if it withdraws its support, the prime minister will lose his majority in both chambers. Hence, Berlusconi - the richest man in Italy and owner of all bar two of the commercial TV channels - has already hinted that the League will be given at least two cabinet positions. And in a further wink to the Northern League, Berlusconi has promised to set up camps for jobless foreigners, describing 'illegal immigrants' as constituting an 'army of evil'. Although Berlusconi's alliance includes the post-fascist Alleanza National (AN), led by Gianfranco Fini and Alessandra Mussolini, the torchbearer of Italian fascism today, according to Enrico Pugliese of the Institute of Social Politics, is the Northern League. It is the League 'that has absorbed a great part of fascist thinking, especially the racism', he told Reuters.


Source: Liz Fekete, editor of the Institute for Race Relations European Race Bulletin.

WWF Warns Arctic Ice Melting Faster than Predicted

Arctic sea ice is melting “significantly faster” than predicted and is approaching a point of no return, conservation group the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned in a new study.

The volumes of the Greenland Ice Sheet and ice in the Arctic Ocean were estimated at 2.9 million and 4.4 million cubic metres respectively in September 2007 — the lowest ever levels recorded, the organization said Wednesday.

The sea ice shrank to 39 percent below its 1979-2000 mean volume, it said.

“Recently observed changes are happening at rates significantly faster than predicted” by the 2005 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) and last year’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), WWF said.

The melting of arctic sea ice and the Greenland Ice Sheet was happening so fast that experts were now questioning whether the situation is close to “tipping point,” where sudden and possibly irreversible change takes place.

Source: Common Dreams

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Israel 'using psychological torture'

A somewhat shocking indictment of Israeli interrogation tactics (yeah, yeah, they're in a war, I know, but still ...).


Gheith Nasr, 18, of the Burj Luqluq neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, has not had the ideal preparation for his high-school graduation exams in a few weeks time.

Since January, he says, he has been arrested four times by the Israeli security services, accused of stone-throwing and vandalising security cameras in the Old City.

He says he has been detained each time for a few days in one of Jerusalem's interrogation centres, and then sent home under orders not to leave the house for another few days.

The muscular, but shy and inarticulate teenager says he regularly suffered violent treatment as interrogators tried to get him to own up to crimes he says he didn't commit - but one of his arrests stands out from the others.

"When I saw my mother being brought into the cell with handcuffs, I tell you, I would have told them anything just to save her, anything," he said.

Source: BBC News

Death of the guidebook

There's a really interesting comment piece from veteran travel writer, Chris Taylor, over at Australian newspaper The Age. Taylor reveals -- or talks about the revelations -- that many travel guidebooks are written by poorly-paid freelancers who have never been to the destination in question.

Who is to blame? Taylor says the industry itself ... and the rise of the Internet.


Underneath the self-promoting veneer of the guidebook industry, all kinds of things go wrong out in the field and for all kinds of reasons.

Accordingly, I have followed the controversy ahead of the publication of Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, by Thomas Kohnstamm, with amusement. Amusement because, if the Amazon description before the April 22 release of the book is anything to go by, Kohnstamm's account of a writing assignment in Brazil promises to be very funny. Amusement also because the official Lonely Planet response has been to attack the author as a rogue element, which amounts to blanket denial of any responsibility for what might have gone wrong on Kohnstamm's research trip.

Lonely Planet writer Jeanne Oliver challenged that response in a post on the company's internal authors' forum, which was leaked to the Sunday Herald Sun, describing Kohnstamm's coming book as "a car crash waiting to happen". Oliver has declined to make further comment, but as an industry insider, I agree with her. At present, the debate is playing out as a sparring match between Lonely Planet management and Kohnstamm, with Oliver's comments fuelling speculation that perhaps Lonely Planet is hiding some dirty secrets. The real issue, however, is not whether poor pay forces Lonely Planet writers to cut corners and accept "freebies", but endemic practices in an industry bloated with competing players. In this context, the surprise is not that the "car crash" happened but that it didn't happen sooner.

Guidebook publishers will deny this, but the travel publishing industry is bound to exploit demand for what is widely seen as a glamour job — travel and get paid for it. But with so many competing guidebook series, many titles do not generate sales revenue that justifies the legwork that results in genuine personal recommendations. Most publishers who make claims to the contrary are being disingenuous...


Read the full story here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Gervais agent wins £125k payout

(a story from my old agency and salutory lesson for owners trying to create 'talent agencies', without understanding the role and nature of agents/authors' relationship)


Ricky Gervais' agent, Duncan Hayes, has been awarded a payout of more than £125,000 from his former employers PFD.

Hayes, who represents a range of comedy performers and writers including Gervais and Stephen Merchant, was one of the 12 agents dismissed by PFD parent group CSS Stellar in October last year for gross misconduct.

The verdict in his favour came yesterday, following a one-day hearing at the London employment tribunal in February in which Hayes argued that PFD acted unlawfully in withholding his due wages and commission after his dismissal.

Following his dismissal Hayes moved to help found a new agency, United Agents, comprised almost entirely of former PFD staff. Hayes is the head of United Agents' film and television department.

More at The Guardian.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Journalism student gets university help via Twitter after Egypt arrest

A University of California at Berkeley graduate journalism student received help from the institution after sending out messages through Twitter while under arrest in Egypt, the San Jose Mercury News reports. James Karl Buck was arrested while photographing a demonstration in Egypt.

He sent out the message “Arrested” on microblogging service Twitter, and friends in his network quickly notified Berkeley and the U.S. Embassy. The next day a local attorney hired by his university got him out of jail, although his interpreter, who is not an American citizen, apparently remains behind bars.

(The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Migrant crime wave a myth - police study

(taken from The Guardian)


A wide-ranging police study has concluded that the surge in immigrants from eastern Europe to Britain has not fuelled a rise in crime, the Guardian has learned.

he findings will be presented to the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, tomorrow when she meets chief constables to discuss the issue. Several of them had complained that they needed more money to deal with increases in migrant populations in their areas. However, the study prepared for the Association of Chief Police Officers challenges claims that up to 1 million people from EU accession countries have caused a rise in criminality.

The report finds that, despite newspaper headlines linking new migrants to crime, offending rates among mainly Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian communities are in line with the rate of offending in the general population.

A senior source with close knowledge of the report said: "Any rise has been broadly proportionate to the number of people from those communities coming into this country. People are saying crime is rising because of this influx. Given 1 million people have come in, that doesn't make sense as crime is significantly down."

Source: The Guardian

Iran anti-vice chief 'in brothel'

(another classic from the Beeb)


Tehran's police chief, who was reportedly discovered in a brothel, has been arrested, it has been confirmed.

Local media have reported that General Reza Zarei was found with six naked women in a house of prostitution in the Iranian capital last month.

He has been taken to jail while his case is investigated, a spokesman for Iran's judiciary said.

Gen Zarei was in charge of enforcing Iran's strict anti-vice laws, which include a ban on prostitution.

State media had recently reported that Gen Zarei had been replaced as police chief in Tehran, but had not explained why.

Sex taboo

Iran has tough punishments for unmarried couples who have sex or behave in a manner considered immoral.

Young people have been jailed or flogged for dancing together at house parties.

The public dress code can be tightly enforced, with women barred from showing their hair or wearing make up or colourful clothes and men from wearing their hair long.

For years the hardline Iranian establishment never admitted that prostitution existed.

They now acknowledge the problem, though, and prostitutes are becoming more visible on the streets, correspondents say.

Source: BBC

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

China 'gold medal' for executions

(taken from the BBC)

The Chinese authorities put to death at least 470 people last year, but may have killed up to 8,000, human rights group Amnesty International has said.

Amnesty said the hidden extent of executions in China, where figures are secret, might mean the Olympic host was behind the bulk of them worldwide.

"The veil of secrecy surrounding the death penalty must be lifted," it said.

At least 1,252 people are known to have been executed in 24 countries in 2007, a slight drop on the previous year.
Just five countries - China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the US - were responsible for 88% of known executions in the world, Amnesty said.

About 3,347 people were sentenced to death in 51 nations last year and up to 27,500 people are now estimated to be on death row.

Swift justice

In its annual report on the death penalty, Amnesty International said China had executed more than any country last year, but warned that the real figure was likely to be several thousand.

"As the world's biggest executioner, China gets the 'gold medal' for global executions," said the organisation's UK director, Kate Allen.

The Candidates Answer!

Head over to Yoosk to see the London Mayoral candidates now answer my debate on their campaigns:

And feel free to post follow-up questions.

Next debates I'm considering: looking into virtual worlds and 'MMOs' (like World of Warcraft and EveOnline), the housing crisis in the UK, and nationalism & the far right.