Sunday, February 17, 2008

Multiculturalism is making Britain 'a soft touch for terrorists'

Britain has become a soft touch for terrorists, leading defence experts warn today. The world-renowned Royal United Services Institute has delivered an unprecedented attack on the Government's security policy. It warns that a failure to "lay down the line" to immigrant populations is undermining the fight against domestic extremism. It condemns the country's "fragmented" national identity and obsession with multiculturalism. And it accuses ministers of a "piecemeal and erratic response" to urgent threats to the nation and of starving the armed forces of cash to the point of "chronic disrepair".

The security think tank, which has unrivalled contact with senior political and military figures, urges ministers to abandon "flabby and bogus strategic thinking" and to make the defence of the realm the "first duty of Government". The bleak assessment comes as top security officials warn that planned job cuts could undermine the UK's intelligence performance. The Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS), which analyses information with GCHQ, MI6 and the Ministry of Defence, is facing the loss of 121 posts. DIS staff are central to the intelligence community and provide expertise on the development of weapons systems and arms proliferation, as well as support to UK operations overseas. John Morrison, the former Deputy Chief of Defence Intelligence, claims such losses - amounting to a staff cut of more than 20 per cent - would be "ludicrous" and seriously compromise large areas of its work.

The study also follows two blows this week to Labour's anti-terror strategy. Appeal judges have given an Algerian pilot the go-ahead to claim compensation which could run into millions for being wrongly accused of training the September 11 hijackers. And five young Muslim men had their convictions for terrorist offences quashed by the Appeal Court.

Laws making it a crime to possess extremist jihadi propaganda and literature could now have to be re-written and dozens more prosecutions could collapse after senior judges ruled that police and prosecutors must prove to juries that terror suspects not only possessed potentially dangerous material but were intent on using it in an attack.

In Wednesday's ruling the Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips stated that unless there was clear evidence of "terrorist intent", merely possessing or sharing extremist material did not amount to a crime. The law was designed to help police catch so-called "clean-skins" - would-be terrorists who have yet to carry out an atrocity but are in the early stages of planning one. But the effect of the ruling is that the police will struggle to build a watertight case against suspects based on such early planning or research for an attack, and will instead be forced to wait until plans are far more advanced - increasing the risk of a successful atrocity.

The Appeal Court ruling was the latest instance of counter-terrorist laws being defeated or watered down by senior judges, but RUSI's damning report raises fundamental questions over the Government's ability to protect Britain from the gravest threats. The work of a panel of senior military commanders, diplomats, politicians and academics, it contrasts the erosion of national confidence with the "implacability" of Islamist terrorists.

The study calls for a radical shake-up of government to take away oversight of security and defence from "the arena of short-term party politics" - in the same way that interest rates are now set independently of politicians. "The United Kingdom presents itself as a target, as a fragmenting, post-Christian society, increasingly divided about interpretations of its history, about its national aims, its values and in its political identity," it states. By contrast those who refuse to integrate into British society have a "firm self-image".

"This is a problem worsened by the lack of leadership from the majority which in misplaced deference to "multiculturalism" failed to lay down the line to immigrant communities, thus undercutting those within them trying to fight extremism. "We look like a soft touch. We are indeed a soft touch, from within and without."

The authors suggest the world is living through a "time of remission" between the September 11 attacks six years ago and a yet-worse future atrocity which will deliver "an even greater psychological blow". The British people are "uncertain" about wars abroad, fearful over security at home and doubtful over the "muddling" of responsibility for protecting them between Westminster and Brussels. "Repeated assertions by ministers that all is well, that the matter is well in hand and can be safely left to them to manage in-house, no longer carry conviction," the report warns.

Against this backdrop a serious decline in the armed forces has left Britain "open to ambush", with the military engulfed in an "atmosphere of chronic disrepair". The RUSI study echoes concerns raised by five former heads of the armed forces who spoke out against military underfunding in the House of Lords last year. It likens the lack of adequate spending on defence over the past ten years to "a breach made by the defenders themselves in the walls of their own city".

The report particularly condemns the savage cuts to the Royal Navy in recent years, accusing politicians of suffering from "sea blindness". The Navy has seen its fleet of warships and submarines as well as its manpower drastically reduced in recent years, and is struggling to maintain training in the face of crippling budget pressures. Britain now has a "bare-bones defence and security establishment", according to the report's authors, yet we lack the knowledge of future threats which would justify such a risk.

New threats are emerging besides Islamist terrorism - "ferocious" Russian nationalism, climate change and competition for resources - while international bodies which Britain relies on such as the United Nations, Nato and the EU are "weakening".

The report urges a return to "traditional alliances with the English-speaking world" - particularly the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Canada - adding: "Foul-weather friends are to be preferred to fair- weather friends; and the British people know precisely which are which."

It calls for oversight of security and defence to be handed to two new committees - one joint Lords and Commons group, chaired by a senior opposition MP, tasked with identifying gaps in security, and another within the Cabinet to coordinate activity across the whole of Government.

Tory security spokesman Baroness Neville-Jones said: "This report sends a powerful message to Government that leadership is badly lacking at a time of significant threat to our country. Conservatives agree that multiculturalism has been a disaster for national cohesion and has increased our vulnerability to the terrorist threat."

With the Government's long-awaited National Security Strategy due to be published within days, the damning attack by such respected experts will add to the intense scrutiny of policies on terrorism and defence. The Ministry of Defence rejected RUSI's warnings of military decline, saying: "The UK's Armed Forces have the ability to meet the broad range of tasks they may be required to undertake, often at short notice. "They have a battle-winning capability that is second to none. The broad range of capability gives us insurance against the inherent uncertainty of the future."


HEARTBURN: BBC is "racist"

[Black] Comedian Lenny Henry has attacked the lack of ethnic diversity in Britain's broadcasting industry. "When I started, I was surrounded by a predominantly white workforce, and 32 years later, not a lot has changed," he told the Royal Television Society. In his own field of television comedy, he added, ethnic minorities were "pitifully underserved".

Last year, BBC executives waived their annual bonuses for failing to meet their full diversity targets. Henry criticised the so-called "golden age" of television, citing such shows as Till Death Us Do Part and Mind Your Language. "TV producers of the '60s and '70s missed a great opportunity," he said in London on Thursday. "Rather than reflect the reality of multi-ethnic Britain, they chose a more xenophobic route - emphasising points of difference instead of similarities."

In a seven-point plan, he encouraged programme-makers to "be bold" in setting targets and appointing ethnic minority staff. "I'm not talking about cleaners, security guys, scene shifters or anyone wearing a uniform," he added. "I'm talking about decision makers, producers, directors [and] commissioners." However, he said advances had been made in children's television and praised the BBC for its "fantastic" range of presenters.

Last year, Cracker writer Jimmy McGovern accused the BBC of being "one of the most racist institutions in England".


White BBC Staffer Hits Back at Racism Accusation

A rather amazing show of spirit!

"An award-winning BBC reporter has accused Lenny Henry of insulting her white colleagues by calling for affirmative action employment polices at the corporation. The comedian claimed that racism was still rife within broadcasting and asked why ethnic minorities were often found only in menial roles.

But he was criticised by Olenka Frenkiel, a leading investigative reporter who has produced acclaimed reports for Newsnight, Correspondent and the Today programme. Ms Frenkiel concluded: "For goodness sake, campaign for a person to be Director General - not for a colour. I am still offended by Greg Dyke's lamenting of the BBC as `hideously white'. Why is it okay to vilify white people for their colour not black ones? It's insulting."


Britain: Gurkha restaurant told it cannot fly the Gurkha flag

But the Russian or Chinese flag would be fine! Gurkhas are mountain tribesmen from Nepal (North of India) who have served with distinction in the British army for 200 years. They are generally highly esteemed in Britain for their courage and loyalty to Britain. So it should be noted that the flag concerned is the flag of a BRITISH regiment! This really is a quite grievous insult.

"A former Gurkha has been banned from flying the regiment's flag from his Nepalese restaurant, but he has been told he can hoist the colours of the European Union.

Asbahadur Gurung, whose family served in the Army for 70 years, wanted to display his former regiment's colours above his restaurant, called The Gurkha. Council officials said the green and white flag was a form of advertising and refused him permission. But they advised him that he did not need permission to run up the flag of any country, the UN or the EU

The decision has angered Mr Gurung, whose father Mambahadur fought in the Battle of Kohima in Burma in the Second World War. "I was proud to serve the British Army for 28 years as was my father before me," he said. "We know the British people have a great respect for the Gurkhas and we thought a lot of people would appreciate the regiment flag."

Mr Gurung, 70, spent 28 years in the Queen's Gurkha Signals, eventually reaching the rank of captain. He added: "Our restaurant is called The Gurkha so we thought it would be quite appropriate to fly our flag. I don't understand what the problem is. It is not very good. I don't want to fly another flag or the EU flag - I didn't fight for the EU." ...

The local parish council had no problem with the flags and there were no complaints from local residents. But Purbeck council viewed the Gurkha flag as a form of advertising


Just some horrible Leftist pacifism at work, one imagines. It is absurd to call the flag advertising. It is a mark of justifiable pride. And Gurkha food is brilliant!

Herbal hope for Alzheimers?

A jar of browny-green goo is all it took to end Dr Stephen Minger's doubtsabout whether traditional Chinese medicine could teach anything to Western science. When a colleague walked into the leading stem cell scientist's lab at King's College London with a Chinese remedy that he believed could boost brain cell growth, and asked if he could test his theory on some neurons that Dr Minger had grown in his lab, he wasn't keen.

"My first thought was `you're not putting that on my cells'. But it turned out to be amazing stuff. It really stimulated the cells to grow; they grew like weeds," recalls Dr Minger, the ponytailed scientist who has has been in the spotlight since 2003, when his team created the UK's first lab-grown human embryonic stem cells. These are the "blank-slate" cells that have the power to turn into any cell of the body and may be key in producing more effective treatments for diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's.

But for all of his scientific credentials, Dr Minger is about to step out of the conventional and into the alternative. At the time of the "green-goo" incident, neither he nor his colleague had the time or money to investigate further the ancient remedy that produced such an astonishing effect. But the experience stayed with Dr Minger and he began to view Chinese medicine in a different light. If its remedies could make brain cells grow, could they help to treat diseases that destroy the brain such as Alzheimer's?

Now the Government has asked him to head a two-year project aimed at strengthening links between UK and Chinese scientists. He immediately thought of using the project as a way of probing the ancient cures of traditional Chinese medicine, often referred to as TCM, to see if they can be converted into modern treatments.

The project starts this month. Dr Minger will fly to Shanghai to bring together Alzheimer's scientists in the UK with Chinese researchers in the hope of mining TCM for new medicines for the disease. He believes that the traditional system, based on energy flow in the body, yin and yang, anecdotal evidence and treatments made from ground-up plant and animal products, can help evidence-based Western medicine. So do many drug developers in the West who are turning their attention to TCM in the hope that the thousands of remedies in its armoury may have tangible biological and therapeutic effects. "I think there are clearly active ingredients in some of these plant extracts which have potent biological effects," says Dr Minger. "It's not that surprising when you look at the fact that Taxol, a cancer treatment, originally came from yew, and aspirin from willow. Assuming that this project works, TCM could represent a whole new class of drugs that no one has had access to before."

He believes that there is a pressing need for new Alzheimer's treatments. "It is such a huge healthcare burden; it's projected to bankrupt most Western countries in the next 50 years. There are almost no therapies and the existing ones work only on a subset of people. Plus, in most cases, they only slightly slow the progression of the disease." Rebecca Wood, the chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, agrees that looking for potential cures in Chinese medicine could open up new avenues of treatment. "It's always worth looking at the unusual. We shouldn't assume we've got all the answers here. Just because something is traditional doesn't mean that it doesn't have active compounds in it."

In fact, experts estimate that one in four prescription medications used in the UK was originally developed from plants. Dr Paul Francis, a neuroscientist at King's College London and one of the Alzheimer's researchers who will join Dr Minger in China, points out that even some of the conventional Alzheimer's medications prescribed in the UK started off as shrubs. "If you look at the three drugs currently available, one of them came from daffodils and snowdrops," he says. Further, many current conventional treatments are based on Chinese herbal remedies, including a possible treatment for dementia.

In recent years the Chinese Government has invested huge sums into investigating whether its vast library of traditional remedies can be converted into orthodox treatments. "The Chinese are very committed to this," says Dr Minger. "They have state-run labs that are doing nothing except investigate TCM."

But developing conventional drugs from these ancient cures is not an easy process as a single remedy can contain many different plant ingredients. How do you know which one is responsible for the curative effect, and is this effect due to one ingredient or a combination?

The process starts with scientists identifying a remedy that they think may have therapeutic potential. Using modern technology - and working by a process of elimination - they test each fraction of the remedy for biological activity, discarding the pieces that have no effect. They continue until they have sieved the remedy down to a point where only a few chemical constituents remain, which they deduce must be the ones that elicit the therapeutic effect. Artificial copies of the active chemical are then made and tested on patients in clinical trials.

But why can't they just give patients the traditional remedies in their native form? Because, Dr Francis says, they are not guaranteed to have any medicinal effect, and, more importantly, they may be dangerous. No two traditional remedies are the same, he says, unlike a pharmaceutical treatment where each pill has an identical composition. The remedies also need to undergo conventional scientific testing to make sure that they won't interact with other medication. This involves a barrage of safety tests, test-tube studies and, eventually, trials in patients. "Any chemical, even a natural chemical, can have side-effects," says Dr Francis.

Dr Minger, who believes that East-West scientific collaborations are the way forward for UK researchers, says that he may also use it to investigate whether TCM holds any potential treatments for cancer. "China is going like gang-busters, particularly if you're thinking in terms of medicine and pharmaceuticals. In many cases their labs are as good, if not better, than labs here or in the US. A lot of Chinese scientists also are moving back. When you ask them why, they say it's too good a place not to be right now."

Does Dr Minger anticipate any culture clashes? "Most of the Chinese guys are Western-trained so it's not that difficult to work together," he says. Plus, much of their science is regulated to the same level as UK science. The only potential problem he sees is the traffic. "It takes for ever to get anywhere. When you're scheduling something, you have to pack in so much extra time to get from one place to another." And he has learnt from the green goo incident how important it is to have no preconceptions. "I think it just takes a little bit of open-mindedness


Britain: Expensive new home for four newts

Cheshire County Council is calling for a review of EU legislation after being forced to spend o60,000 to move four newts from a school development site. Great crested newts are an endangered species and are protected by EU law. When four were found on land at Fallibroome High School, Macclesfield, they had to be trapped, moved and have a new pond built to house them.

Councillor Barrie Hardern called the 60,000 pounds cost of the scheme before the school could build "ludicrous".

When the amphibians were found on the site where the school wanted to build new sports facilities and an extension a costly mitigation exercise had to be undertaken which meant a new habitat had to be built.

Natural England, the government body charged with protecting the newts said it is important to look after every colony no matter how small. But Mr Harden said: "I find it extraordinary that the law requires public money to be spent at such a ludicrous level."


Cheapskate Brits again: "Shortages of equipment were blamed yesterday for the deaths of British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as two coroners in separate inquests made withering attacks on the Ministry of Defence. One coroner attacked the MoD's "unforgivable" failure to supply basic equipment, and accused it of a breach of trust. Both inquests showed that an acute lack of equipment had played a part in the deaths of a young officer in Afghanistan and two soldiers in Iraq. Captain James Philippson, 29, of 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, was killed by a gunshot wound to the head on June 11, 2006, when his unit went to the rescue of other British soldiers who had come under fire from the Taleban in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan. His colleagues told an inquest in Oxford that they were "totally outgunned", and lacked basic equipment, including Minimi machineguns, rifles with under-slung grenades and night-vision kits."

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