Friday, July 18, 2008

Christian doctrine offensive to Muslims, says Archbishop of Canterbury

Key elements of Christian doctrine are offensive to Muslims, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said in a letter to Islamic scholars. Dr Rowan Williams also spoke critically of the violent past of both religions and Christianity's abandonment of its peaceful origins. His comments came in a published letter to Islamic leaders, intended to promote closer dialogue and understanding between the two faiths.

However they come just months after Dr Williams was forced to clarify comments in which he said some parts of Islamic law will "unavoidably" be adopted in Britain. The comments are also made as the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference begins in Canterbury. Up to a quarter of bishops are boycotting the event, as the Anglican Church faces continuing division over the issues of women bishops and homosexual clergy.

The wide-ranging letter, which covers difficult issues including religious freedom and religiously-inspired violence is in response to a document written last year by Muslim scholars from 43 countries. Discussing differences between the religions, Dr Williams acknowledges that Christian belief in the Trinity is "difficult, sometimes offensive, to Muslims". The Trinity is the Christian doctrine stating God exists as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and conflicts with Islamic teaching that there is one all-powerful God.

Speaking about the history of the two religions, Dr Williams said they had been too often confused with Empire and control. He said: "Despite Jesus' words in John's gospel, Christianity has been promoted at the point of the sword and legally supported by extreme sanctions; despite the Qur'anic axiom, Islam has been supported in the same way, with extreme penalties for abandoning it, and civil disabilities for those outside the faith. "There is no religious tradition whose history is exempt from such temptation and such failure." He goes on: "What we need as a vision for our dialogue is to break the current cycles of violence, to show the world that faith and faith alone can truly ground a commitment to peace which definitively abandons the tempting but lethal cycle of retaliation in which we simply imitate each other's violence."

The 17-page letter, called A Common Word for the Common Good, is in response to a letter from Muslim leaders written last September. That letter, A Common Word Between Us and You, was signed by 138 Muslim scholars to declare the common ground between the two religions.

Dr Williams described the Muslim document as hospitable and friendly and added: "Your letter could hardly be more timely, given the growing awareness that peace throughout the world is deeply entwined with the ability of all people of faith everywhere to live in peace, justice, mutual respect and love." His own dense and meticulous letter did not mention sharia Islamic law at all. He received widespread criticism from politicians and other clergy for his comments in February and later told the General Synod he took responsibility for his "unclarity" and "misleading" choice of words.


Self defence now legally permitted in Britain

Home owners and "have-a go-heroes" have for the first time been given the legal right to defend themselves against burglars and muggers free from fear of prosecution. They will be able to use force against criminals who break into their homes or attack them in the street without worrying that "heat of the moment" misjudgements could see them brought before the courts.

Under new laws police and prosecutors will have to assess a person's actions based on the person's situation "as they saw it at the time" even if in hindsight it could be seen as unreasonable. For example, homeowners would be able stab or shoot a burglar if confronted or tackle them and use force to detain them until police arrive. Muggers could be legally punched and beaten in the street or have their own weapons used against them. However, attacking a fleeing criminal with a weapon is not permitted nor is lying in wait to ambush them.

The new laws follow a growing public campaign for people to be given the right to defend themselves and their own homes in the wake of a number of high profile cases. In 2000, Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer, was sent to prison for manslaughter for shooting an intruder in his home. Earlier this year, Tony Singh, a shopkeeper, found himself facing a murder charge after he defended himself against an armed robber who tried to steal his takings. During the struggle the robber received a single fatal stab wound to the heart with his own knife. The Crown Prosecution Service eventually decided Mr Singh should not be charged.

Until now people have had to prove in court that they acted in self defence but the changes mean police and the Crown Prosecution Service will decide on cases before this stage. Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, said that people would be protected legally if they defend themselves "instinctively"; they fear for their own safety or that of others; and the level of force used is not excessive or disproportionate. He added the changes in law were designed to ensure the criminal justice system was weighted in favour of the victim.

Mr Straw - and other Labour ministers - have previously repeatedly blocked attempts by opposition MPs to give greater protection to householders. In 2004 Tony Blair promised to review the existing legislation after he admitted there was "genuine public concern" about the issue. But his pledge was dropped weeks later after the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke concluded that the current law was "sound". Two Private Member's Bills on the issue were tabled by the Tories around the time of the 2005 general election, but both were sunk by the Government. In 2004, a Tory Bill designed to give the public the right to forcibly tackle burglars was also rejected.

The new self defence law, which came into force yesterday, is contained in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 and was announced by Mr Straw last September. He is understood to have decided new laws were necessary after he was involved in four "have-a go'' incidents, which included chasing and restraining muggers near his south London home. Opposition leaders said it offered nothing new and was merely the latest policy designed to appeal to core Tory voters.

In practice, householders are seldom prosecuted if they harm or even kill an intruder but the Act will give them greater legal protection. Nick Herbert, the Shadow Justice Secretary, said: "This is a typical Labour con - it will give no greater protection to householders confronted by burglars because it's nothing more than a re-statement of the existing case law."

Mr Straw said: "The justice system must not only work on the side of people who do the right thing as good citizens, but also be seen to work on their side. "The Government strongly supports the right of law abiding people to defend themselves, their families and their property with reasonable force. This law will help to make sure that that right is upheld and that the criminal justice system is firmly weighted in favour of the victim.

"Dealing with crime is not just the responsibility of the police, courts and prisons; it's the responsibility of all of us. Communities with the lowest crime and the greatest safety are the ones with the most active citizens with a greater sense of shared values, inspired by a sense of belonging and duty to others, who are empowered by the state and are also supported by it - in other words, making a reality of justice. "These changes in the law will make clear - victims of crime, and those who intervene to prevent crime, should be treated with respect by the justice system. We do not want to encourage vigilantism, but there can be no justice in a system which makes the victim the criminal."

It came as it emerged that homeowners could have to wait up to three days after reporting a crime to see a police officer, according to a leaked draft of the Policing Green Paper. It sets out new national standards for local policing for all 43 forces cross England and Wales. Callers to the police will be given set times within which officers will attend an incident. The paper says that this will be "within three hours it if requires policing intervention or three days if there is less immediate need for a police presence." However, the Home Office would not comment on the plans.


Grossly incompetent British examination marking

A head teacher is refusing to publish the results of some national curriculum tests after discovering such poor marking that pupils who performed strongly fared worse than poor students. Janis Burdin, a primary school head in Chorley, Lancashire, described the marking in numerous instances as “absolutely off the radar”. She said that the children’s grades would not be published until the papers were remarked.

An 11-year-old child who had performed much better than a classmate in the Key Stage 2 English test was marked lower. Child A wrote about Pip Davenport, a fairground inventor: “If he wasent doing enthing els heel help his uncle Herry at the funfair during the day. And had stoody at nigh on other thing he did was invent new rides. “Becoues he invented a lot of new rides he won a prize. He didn’t live with his mum he lived with his wife.”

This received one mark more than Child B who wrote: “Quickly, it became apparent that Pip was a fantastic rider: a complete natural. But it was his love of horses that led to a tragic accident. An accident that would change his life forever. “At the age of 7, he was training for a local competition when his horse, Mandy, swerved sideways unexpectedly, throwing Pip on to the ground, paralysed.” Both children were awarded five out of eight for sentence structure. Child A was given eight out of twelve for composition and effect while Child B received only seven marks.

Ms Burdin, the head teacher of Moss Side Primary School, said: “These two papers were both given Level 4. I would have given one a 5 and one a 3. These are the most extreme differences but there are many more discrepancies. The marking, especially for the writing exams, is absolutely off the radar.”

The concerns emerged as Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, was questioned by a committee of MPs about the administrative fiasco that has delayed the results of national tests for millions of schoolchildren. The serious concerns about the accuracy of marking could prompt thousands of appeals. Mr Balls refused to apologise when he appeared before the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee yesterday. He would say only that the situation was unacceptable and he was upset at what had happened.

The American contractor ETS Europe failed to have results of this year’s national tests for 11 and 14-year-olds ready for publication on time. ETS, which is being paid $330 million over five years to manage the Key Stage 2 and 3 tests, has faced a barrage of complaints from parents, teachers and markers. The results are being returned at least a week late. Those ringing ETS to complain have been unable to get through, and e-mails have gone unanswered. Barry Sheerman, the chairman of the committee, said that ETS was using some markers who had only recently passed their A levels. He told of one recent graduate who was the most experienced person on his marking team.

Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP for Harwich, told Mr Balls: “When your predecessor, Estelle Morris, quit when she realised the QCA had made a cockup over testing, I seem to remember she found the humility to say sorry. Will you be saying sorry?” Mr Balls said: “I don’t think that’s a correct description of what happened with Estelle Morris. What I’ve said is that it’s unacceptable.” Challenged again to apologise, he said: “I’m really upset, like you, about what’s happened and that’s why I’m having an inquiry.”

The hearing coincided with the publication of the terms of reference of an independent inquiry headed by Lord Sutherland of Houndwood into how the QCA has managed its responsibilities. Of the nine areas it will focus on, only one mentions the Department for Children, Schools and Families, asking whether it monitored QCA’s delivery appropriately.


Incorrect British TV dramas

You cannot portray what you want to portray in Britain:
"Broadcasters are failing to reflect ethnic diversity in the nation's favourite television programmes, according to a report out today. Shows including EastEnders, Coronation Street, The Vicar of Dibley and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? were accused of stereotyping ethnic minorities in the report commissioned by Channel 4. It concluded that today's "overwhelmingly white" broadcasters produced more specialist ethnic programmes in the past.

The report cited Asian corner shop owner Dev in Coronation Street and black single mother Denise, who had two children by two fathers in EastEnders, as examples of stereotyping and tokenism in soaps.

The study, by Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Equalities and Human Rights, was commissioned after the allegedly racist abuse of Shilpa Shetty, the Bollywood star, on last year's Celebrity Big Brother. It calls for a financial levy on every TV show to fund schemes aimed at fostering diversity.

Most white viewers said that broadcasters were doing a good job, but black and Asian ethnic groups did not agree. The report also found that Eastern Europeans, as relative newcomers to Britain, had no expectations of being represented.


Stalinist (crooked) statistics live on in Britain: "Ministers will defy public concern over gang violence by claiming today that crime is falling at a record rate. Even before the final figures for the British Crime Survey (BCS) were in, Whitehall officials had already begun drawing up plans to trumpet the reduction in offences, The Times has learnt. The survey, published today, will state that crime is falling in all 43 police forces in England and Wales and that the Government has exceeded its key target of cutting offences by more than 15 per cent since 2003. Its release comes at a time when the credibility of official statistics is being questioned. Senior police are worried about shortcomings in recording two major areas: knife and gun crime. Despite a recent series of stabbings, the survey will conclude that knife crime is stable. The researchers interview 47,000 people aged 16 and over about their experience of crime over the previous 12 months. They cannot capture the extent of knife crime because they do not interview under16s."

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