Monday, February 11, 2008

Peter Hitchens: Archbishop not much worse than his government

The poor old Ayatollah of Canterbury doesn't actually deserve all the slime now being tipped over his modernised mitre. Just some of it. Of course it is absurd for the chief of the Christian Church in this country to cringe publicly to Islam. But at least Archbishop Williams is open about his unwillingness to defend the faith - as is his colleague, the wretched Bishop of Oxford, who recently announced that he was perfectly happy for loudspeakers to blare the Muslim call to prayer across that city.

Even on their own liberal terms, this pair are clueless about sharia and its scorn for women. It was exiled Iranian Muslim women who defeated a similar proposal in Canada. They had travelled thousands of miles to escape sharia law and didn't want it in Toronto, thanks very much.

Compare that with the Government, which poses stern-faced as the foe of "terror" and noisily jails figures of fun such as Abu Hamza while greasily pretending that there's no connection between Islam and terrorism. Gordon Brown's Cabinet has also quietly agreed that Muslim men with more than one wife can now claim benefits for these extra spouses - while bigamy remains a criminal offence for everyone else, punishable by up to seven years in prison.

More here

Archbishop, you've committed treason

My text for today is "Hold fast that which is good": 1 Thessalonians 5:21. These are words I heard so regularly in prayers at my Anglican girls' school that I have been unable to forget them. I draw them to the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems to have forgotten them. At least, he seems to be losing his grip on what is good in this country and, indeed, to be throwing it away with both hands in his curious suggestion that aspects of sharia should be recognised in English law.

In an interview on Radio 4 last Thursday, Rowan Williams said that the introduction of parts of Islamic law here would help to maintain social cohesion and seems unavoidable. Sharia courts exist already, he pointed out. We should "face up to the fact" that some British citizens do not relate to the British legal system, he said, and that Muslims should not have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty".

What he went on to say was more astonishing. He explained to the interviewer, in his gentle, wordy way, that a lot of what is written on this confusing subject suggests "the ideal situation is one in which there is one law and only one law for everybody". He went on: "That principle is an important pillar of our social identity as a western liberal democracy." How true.

However, he continued: "It's a misunderstanding to suppose that that means people don't have other affiliations, other loyalties, which shape and dictate how they behave in society, and the law needs to take some account of that."

Stuff like this is bad for the blood pressure, but I listened on. "An approach to law which simply said there is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said . . . I think that's a bit of a danger."

What danger? And to whom? The danger, surely, is rather the archbishop and those who think like him, who seem unwilling to hold fast that which is good. What is good and best and essential about our society ? it isn't merely a matter of "social identity" ? is the principle of equality before the law. That principle and its practice have made this country the outstandingly just and tolerant state it is; it is one of the last remaining forces for unity as well.

What is also good and essential to this country is the law itself. It has evolved over centuries from medieval barbarities into something, for all its faults, that is civilised. Our law expresses and maintains the best virtues of our society. Anybody who does not accept it does not belong here.

When other legal systems or other customs clash with ours, we prefer ours, to put it mildly. At least we should; what has troubled me for years is the way that exceptions and excuses tend to be made, in the name of multiculturalism, for practices of which we do not approve. Victoria Climbi‚'s terrible bruises were ignored because of assumptions about the cultural norms of African discipline. Last week it emerged that someone in government has sold the moral pass on polygamy: husbands with multiple wives in this country are now to get benefit payments for each wife.

In the midst of all this moral confusion and relativism, is the premier prelate in the land holding fast that which is good? Far from it. He is recommending multiculti legal cherry-picking, in which individuals would be free to choose the jurisdiction they preferred for certain matters. He even admits that his proposal introduces, "uncomfortably", the idea of a market in the law, "a competition for loyalty".

One encouraging sign is the almost universal fury that our foolish archbishop has aroused: he has miraculously united the irreconcilable in opposition to himself, from Christian extremists to mainstream Muslims, from Anglican vicars to godless Hampstead liberals, from Gordon Brown to backwoods Tories.

The archbishop and his few supporters insist that the media have misrepresented him and not many people have actually read the learned speech that he gave to a learned audience after his inflammatory radio interview. They are wrong. I haven't seen any serious misrepresentation in the media, and reading his speech several times doesn't exonerate him. Nor does it increase respect for his judgment, his command of English or his powers of ratiocination; he is woolly of face and woolly of mind.

In any case, you do not need to follow anybody's argument to understand that legally recognising aspects of sharia is either unnecessary or undesirable. If the aspects in question accord with English law (the Anglican archbishop is speaking of England, presumably), there is no need to offer any extra provision or recognition for religious courts. They are of no interest to the law. If they don't accord with English law, they are unacceptable and should be repudiated, or even prosecuted.

All this has nothing particularly to do with it being Islamic law at issue. The same would apply to any other religious law: Hindu, Mormon or wiccan. However, there is a lot to be said against sharia and the desire of a reported 40% of British Muslims to live under it. That explains, in part, the present outrage. Sharia is rightly feared here: it is disputed, sometimes primitive, grievously in need of reform and wholly unacceptable in Britain.

So what possessed this troublesome priest to stir up this predictable fury with his divisive and unnecessary suggestions? Why did he choose to speak not just in a quiet academic meeting but also in the public glare of The World at One? And cui bono? It has most certainly not been good for ordinary British Muslims, as they well understand. It has, however, given comfort to Muslim extremists, who will see this as the thin end of their Islamist wedge.

Williams's behaviour looks like vainglorious attention-seeking, but it is also something much worse. To seek to undermine our legal system and the values on which it rests, in a spirit of unnecessary appeasement to an alien set of values, is a kind of treason. It is a betrayal of all those who struggled and died here, over the centuries, for freedom and equality under the rule of law and of their courage in the face of injustice and unreason. Theirs is the good that we should hold fast and so of all people should the Archbishop of Canterbury. Otherwise, what is he for?


Talking CCTV cameras in Britain

Talking CCTV cameras have been installed at two Norwich parks with the aim of slashing anti-social behaviour. Eight cameras at Waterloo Park and one at Eaton Park have been connected to their own loudspeaker system and, through Norwich City Council's 33-screen, 500,000 pound CCTV control room, the voice of a camera operator will boom out across each park to tell off those causing a nuisance, committing low level crime and anti-social behaviour.

Norwich City Councillor Bert Bremner, responsible for community safety and cohesion, said: "It is a really positive thing for the city. "Waterloo Park has had its problems with attacks, graffiti and arson, especially at night-time, and we want to leave these places open for people to enjoy all the time. "These will be ways of embarrassing people and reminding them. Someone being told off for dropping litter will respond in a reasonable way, and I believe most people will say sorry and do something about it. There will be some that won't and, if the matter is serious, the police will follow it up."

The council, which used a 35,000 pound grant to pay for the installation of the high-tech talking system, is one of 20 areas to receive funding for the project ran in partnership with the government's Respect Unit. Six full-time operators man the cameras 24 hours a day and there is a direct communication link between the police and the CCTV control room. The talking cameras have been in operation for three months already and have been used by police on two occasions, including the theft of a woman's handbag.

"We want CCTV because it means people will use their parks and aren't frightened to be there," added Mr Bremner. "People are asking for it. We have surveyed the whole city and the response is incredibly positive. "We are not in a police state, we are in a democracy and people understand we are doing it for their safety. This will help make these places safe."

Although critics have likened the new talking system to the nightmare vision of the future George Orwell wrote about in his novel 1984, many people believe the advantages are worth it. The council's operations manager Gwyn Jenson said: "We have had some teething troubles, but that is because the system we are using is innovative and hasn't been used anywhere else in the country. "We are looking at the usage of the system and if it is a success, we'll look at expanding it further. But we think it is going to be successful and, if so, we will be looking to add the system to our other cameras across the city."

The council ran a poster competition with the city's schools to mark the launch and 12-year-old Hollie Rayfield-Brown from Colman Junior School came up with the winning design which will be placed at cameras in each park. Hollie was also given the chance to sit in Big Brother's chair and issue a telling off to a staged littering incident in Waterloo Park from the CCTV control room. Hollie said: "The poster took me about three lessons and I chose litter because if everyone dropped litter the world would be really messy. "I would wonder where the voice was coming from, but I think it's good because it makes people think twice about what they're doing."


Muslim mania

Islamophobia? It seems as if we are suffering more from Muslim-mania - an unhealthy obsession with all things Islamic, and a paranoid fixation with looking at the world from behind a veil. News that a leading awards panel has rejected a version of The Three Little Pigs for fear that "the use of pigs raises cultural issues" with the Muslim community, has been slammed as "multiculturalism gone mad". But similarly unhinged attitudes are now common in government reports.

Why does the Ministry of Defence think there is a shortfall in army recruitment? Apparently because of "prevalent views on current operations among ethnic minority communities". One might imagine that the Muslim youth of Bradford and Tower Hamlets packed the ranks before the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

What does the Home Office's official assessment see as the big problem it faces extending detention without charge to 42 days? Apparently, because Muslim community leaders expressed concerns about the impact on relations with the police. Presumably our Muslim-manic Home Office believes that burying habeas corpus would be OK if they were unconcerned.

Jacqui Smith has even officially renamed Islamic terrorism as "anti-Islamic activity". Never mind walking Hackney's mean streets, the Home Secretary appears most scared of treading on Muslim toes. All this can only reinforce divisions by treating Muslims as a race apart.

There are big Muslim communities in our cities - about 15 per where I live in northeast London - but the 2001 census put Muslims at just over 3 per cent of the population in England. How has 3 per cent of the public become a focus of public debate? This imbalance must have far less to do with "them" than with the rest of us. It reveals less about Islam than about the anxieties of mainstream British culture.

The clear and distinct identity of the Muslim community, embodied in the veil, makes it a visible symbol of the divisions and insecurities in Britain. But the obvious target is rarely the right one. Muslim-mania has become a sort of political veil behind which we can avoid facing up to some awkward home truths about our society.

Time to cure the body politic of this degenerative condition, stop obsessing about offensive images or playing word-games with terrorism, and start an honest discussion about the bigger questions facing society as a whole. What beliefs, if any, can we unite around today? What are we prepared to stand and fight for now? These questions remain unasked while our leaders tilt at the alternative straw men of Islamophobia and Islamofascism. The Three Little Pigs at least has a lesson about hiding behind straw to keep the wolf from the door.


Inquest jury blames NHS hospital for unlawful killing of mother

The "chaotic" storage of drugs at a hospital led to a woman who was in labour being given a powerful epidural anaesthetic in her arm instead of a saline drip. An hour after giving birth to a son, Mayra Cabrera complained of feeling dizzy and soon afterwards she suffered a fatal heart attack. Her husband was in the room as doctors fought in vain to save her life. More than a year after her death, the Great Western Hospital in Swindon, Wiltshire, admitted that there had been a mix-up with bags of intravenous saline solution and Bupivacaine. The painkiller should have been administered direct to her spine.

An inquest jury found the Swindon and Marlborough NHS Trust responsible yesterday for unlawful killing. It is believed to be the first such finding against an NHS trust, rather than a named person. Senior staff at the hospital face a possible prosecution after Wiltshire police said that they would reopen the investigation into her death.

After the verdict Arnel Cabrera, Mrs Cabrera's widower, called for a prosecution against the midwife who made the fatal error. In a statement he said: "Mayra was my love and my life. However, our life together was ripped apart by the action of a midwife who failed to check the fluid she gave to my wife. "The midwife's failure to accept responsibility or show any remorse for her actions has made me very bitter and angry. I cannot forgive her and now hope that the police and Crown Prosecution Service will prosecute her for manslaughter."

The NHS trust apologised unreservedly for the mistake and said that it had learnt its lesson. It supported a call by the coroner for improvements to the labelling and storage of drugs and for other measures to prevent a recurrence.

Mrs Cabrera, 30, was a Filipina midwife at the Great Western Hospital, where she gave birth to Zachary in May 2004. The handling and storage of drugs there was described as chaotic. David Masters, the Wiltshire Coroner, said that he would be writing to the Health Secretary recommending stricter controls on the handling and administration of drugs.

After 17 hours' deliberation at the end of the four-week inquest in Trowbridge the jury returned a majority verdict. It stated: "Mayra Cabrera was killed unlawfully - gross negligence/manslaughter - storage and administration."

The midwife accused of the mistake, Marie To, repeatedly denied having made the fatal blunder and said that she was unable to explain how the Bupivacaine had been connected to Mrs Cabrera's drip. Gerwyn Samuel, for Mr Cabrera, told her: "It is because you are blocking from your mind the blindingly obvious - that you put up that bag and that it was Bupivacaine."

Mr Masters said that he would be writing to the Health Minister, the Midwifery Council, relevant royal colleges and the General Medical Council to recommend that staff training and the storage and administration of drugs should be overhauled. He also wants the connectors for epidural drugs to be changed so that a mix-up would be unlikely to recur. He said: "The nettle needs to be firmly grasped. It is quite clear that what is needed is a firm and radical approach to tackle the problems raised. "Firstly we need equipment which can be only used for epidural use - giving sets, syringes, and infusion bags which can only be attached for epidural use. Because we are in a global market place the manufacturers have to look to Europe and not just UK requirements. This is something the Minister for Health should tackle."

Detective Inspector Ian Saunders, of Wiltshire Police, who led the original investigation, said that the evidence presented to the inquest would be reviewed. "The CPS will carefully review what has been said in these proceedings to see if any new evidence has come to light."

Lyn Hill-Tout, chief executive of Swindon and Marlborough NHS Trust, apologised for the blunder that killed Mrs Cabrera. She promised that the trust had learnt its lesson. "I want to reiterate our sincere and unreserved apologies to Mr Cabrera and Zac. The trust admitted liability for Mrs Cabrera's death as soon as possible. We sincerely hope that other hospitals will be able to learn from the bitter lessons that we have learnt. This tragic case should not have happened and one death is one too many.

"We wholeheartedly support the coroner in his call for better labelling of drugs by the manufacturers and most importantly the introduction of new special fittings which do not allow for drugs to be connected to the wrong route. "We can never bring Mayra back but we can do all in our power to ensure that there are no similar tragedies. We have been criticised for a number of failures, failures which we accept, deeply regret and from which we have learnt important lessons."

Mr Cabrera, whose work permit expires at the end of this month, is to ask the Home Office for permission to stay in Britain on compassionate grounds. His request was backed by the coroner, who criticised the way in which his case had been dealt with up to now.

Mr Masters said: "I find it quite extraordinary that this man has not had the benefit of knowing that he can stay in this country for the foreseeable future. I would wholeheartedly support his right to stay, had I any say in the matter. It seems to me that the red tape should be cut and thrown away and that should done quickly, sooner rather than later."


A British Muslim woman comments on the the flea-brained archbishop's support for Sharia law: "Look around the Islamic world where sharia rules and, in every single country, these ordinances reduce our human value to less than half that is accorded a male; homosexuals are imprisoned or killed, children have no free voice or autonomy, authoritarianism rules and infantilises populations. What's more, different Muslim nations claim to have their own allegedly god-given sharia. ... There is no agreed body of sharia, it is all drafted by males and the most cruel is now claiming absolute authority. In Pakistan, on the statutes are strictures on adultery introduced by the military dictator Zia ul-Haq. Women activists in that country have given their lives protesting against the injustice of those laws where women suspected of adultery, or rape victims, are punished in hideous ways and the man goes free. The Iranian theocracy changes its regulations from year to year, capriciously playing with the lives of females. .. Two Iranian friends chose to die rather than live under the demeaning religious orders. Go to Afghanistan if you fancy a 12-year-old bride – a practice approved by the mullahs. That's sharia for you. Many women, gay men and dissidents came to Britain to escape Islamic tyrants and their laws. Dr Williams supports those laws and, by default, makes the refugees victims again."

"Honor" abuse in the UK: "Up to 17,000 women in Britain are being subjected to "honour" related violence, including murder, every year, according to police chiefs. And official figures on forced marriages are the tip of the iceberg, says the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). It warns that the number of girls falling victim to forced marriages, kidnappings, sexual assaults, beatings and even murder by relatives intent on upholding the "honour" of their family is up to 35 times higher than official figures suggest. The crisis, with children as young as 11 having been sent abroad to be married, has prompted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to call on British consular staff in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan to take more action to identify and help British citizens believed to be the victims of forced marriages in recent years."

No comments: