Monday, November 30, 2015

The Sp. Economy; Sp. Newspapers; The Pope; Global Warming; & Our Sunday market

THE SPANISH ECONOMY: Wonderful at the macro level, crap at the micro level. I read an advert yesterday for an admin job at €400 a month. Or €20 a day/€1.50 an hour. But the company does pay bus fares to its out-of-town location. Against that, they'll only employ you as an autonomo, for which privilege you'll have to pay c.€300 a month in social security taxes. Assuming you tell the tax office. This tells you all you need to know as to why people are seriously sceptical about President Rajoy's insistence that Spain is now the envy of Europe. Only in the same way, I suspect, as the UK's NHS is the envy of the world.

SPANISH NEWSPAPERS: These face serious competition at the national, regional and local levels. So, sensational headlines are essential. Fortunately for them - if you see what I mean - men keep killing their partners. Though not, I think, at a incidence worse than elsewhere in Europe. Nonetheless, as I've said before, this is the Spanish equivalent of the UK obsession with pedophilia. As things stand at the end of November, deaths are down on last year and well down, I think, on a few years ago. Something that seems to get overlooked in the reports.

THE POPE: It was interesting to hear him speaking out against corruption during his brief visit to Africa. Let's hope he's made the same speech within the Vatican. And that more heed will be given to it there than among Africa's leaders. One thing you can say about the residents of that city state is that they share the Pope's antipathy to poverty.

GLOBAL WARMING: It's a safe guess that the consensus at the Paris jamboree is that (undeniable) global warming is (deniably)man-made. Assuming targets are set and abided by, it's interesting to speculate on what might happen if the world continues to heat up despite the vast expenditure to contain it. I guess it's always going to be possible to argue that there's a lag of x years. Though, in a Times article printed at the end of this post, it's noted that Today’s gentle warming [is] progressing much more slowly than expected.

FINALLY . . . OUR SUNDAY FLEA MARKET: Our council is not famed for acting quickly. It took them years to address the problem of the vomiting, urinating kids of the weekly binge-drinking in the old quarter. So, I'm surprised they moved quickly to transfer this from Veggie Square to the street down by the (covered) market. Even better, they've banned both the selling of old clothes and shoes and the trading from a sheet on the ground. What next? A verdict of Not Guilty in the pending case of town-hall corruption? Query: Will we get a law suit from either the Rumanians or the local gypsies alleging racial discrimination? Probably not. This ain't the UK.


GLOBAL WARMING

The doom-mongers should look at the science

Those at the Paris climate-change summit fear nasty weather later this century, but the evidence is against them

Today in Paris, 147 heads of government will give speeches on what they agree is the world’s most pressing problem: climate change. Today is expected to be comparatively mild in Paris but cold and snowy in Scotland. Nothing especially unusual for November 30 over the past few centuries.

So, the problem they are discussing — not warming, but dangerous warming — has not yet manifested itself. It lies in the future. The climate has changed, for sure, as it always does, but not yet in a way that is harmful or unprecedented. As far as we can tell from satellites, global average temperatures are less than half a degree warmer than they were in 1979, when satellite data became available, though surface thermometers suggest a bit more warming.

This year looks likely to be a lot warmer than last, though still not as warm in both standard satellite data sets as 1998, the last time that a strong El Niño in the Pacific Ocean boosted the global air temperature a lot (surface thermometers say it will be warmer than 1998, once adjusted in various ways). The average trend over the past 35 years is 0.1 degrees of warming per decade according to the satellite data, less than 0.2 per decade according to the surface thermometers. Neither trend is fast enough to produce significantly dangerous climate change even by the latter part of this century.

The warming has been much slower than was predicted when the scare began. Nor is it evenly spread. The Antarctic continent has warmed hardly at all, and the entire southern hemisphere has warmed about half as fast as the northern. The Arctic has warmed more than the tropics, night has warmed more than day and winter has warmed more than summer. Cities have warmed faster than the countryside, but that’s because of local warming factors, not global ones: buildings, vehicles, industry, pavements and people trap warmth.

How unusual is today’s temperature? As I did this weekend, you have no doubt had conversations along the following lines recently: “Hasn’t it been mild? End of November and we’ve hardly had a frost yet!” All true. But then be honest: can you not recall such conversations throughout your life? I can. And here’s what the Met Office had to say about November 1938, long before I was born: “The weather of the month was distinguished by exceptional mildness: at numerous places it was the mildest November on record.” In 1953 November was even milder and there was no air frost recorded in Oxford in the last four months of the year at all.

I am not saying it has not generally become warmer, but that the variation dwarfs the trend. Let’s go back a little further, to the Middle Ages. It used to be argued by some that the “medieval warm period” of about a thousand years ago, when mountain glaciers retreated, vines grew further north and Iceland was widely cultivated, was confined to Europe. We now know from multiple sources of evidence that it was global. Tree lines were higher than today in many mountain ranges, for example. Both North Pacific and Antarctic Ocean water temperatures were 0.65C warmer than today.

Go back yet further, still within the current interglacial period, to the so-called Holocene Optimum of 6,000-9,000 years ago. Ocean temperatures were up to two degrees warmer than today, the Arctic Ocean was nearly or completely ice-free at the end of summer in many years, and the boreal forest in Siberia extended 150 miles further north than today. July temperatures were up to six degrees warmer than today in the Siberian Arctic.

Was this Holocene Optimum a horrible time of droughts, storms, disease and famine? Not especially. It was the period in which agriculture spread rapidly across the globe from five or seven centres of invention. Abundant rainfall in Africa led to lakes in the Sahara with crocodiles and hippos in them, surrounded by green vegetation in the monsoon season.

Today’s gentle warming, progressing much more slowly than expected, is also accompanied by generally improving conditions. Globally, droughts are declining very slightly. Storms are not increasing in frequency or intensity: this year has been one of the quietest hurricane seasons. Floods are worse in some places but usually because of land-use changes, not more rainfall. Death rates from floods, storms and droughts have plummeted and are now far lower than they were a century ago. Today, arid areas such as western Australia or the Sahel region of Africa are getting generally greener, thanks to the effect of more carbon dioxide in the air, which makes plants grow faster and resist drought better.

Besides, we have to make allowance for a human tendency to read far too much into short-term weather changes — and to assume that all change is bad. Consider this newspaper cutting: “The Arctic ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot. [There are] hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone.” It’s not from recent decades at all, but from 1922. Or this one: “The ice of the Arctic Ocean is melting so rapidly that more than one third of it has disappeared in fifty years”. From 1940.

In fact, the Arctic, and the world as a whole then cooled between 1950 and 1970, which then led to these headlines, all from 1970: “Scientists See Ice Age in the Future” (The Washington Post), “Is Mankind Manufacturing a New Ice Age for Itself?” (Los Angeles Times), “Scientist predicts a new ice age by 21st century” (The Boston Globe), “US and Soviet Press Studies of a Colder Arctic” (The New York Times) and (my favourite) “Dirt Will Bring New Ice Age” (The Sydney Morning Herald).

The 40,000 people meeting in Paris over the next 12 days are committed to the view that the weather is certain to do something nasty towards the end of this century unless we cut emissions. In this, they are out of line with scientists. A survey of the members of the American Meteorological Society in 2012 found that only 52 per cent agree that climate change is mostly man-made, and as to its being very harmful if unchecked, only 34 per cent of AMS members agree. The rest said they think it will be either not harmful or not very harmful.

Are we certain we are not overreacting?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Spanish Properties 1 & 2; The general elections; Sp. troops for Mali?; & A mistake?

SPANISH PROPERTIES 1: Spain has the highest proportion of flat-dwellers in Europe, says The Local, with 67% of them living this way. This compares with only 20% in the UK. Not surprisingly, Spain also has the lowest number of house-dwellers in the EU. But the Spanish are unusual in that 80% own their own properties. Indeed, what the article doesn't say is that Spain also leads Europe in the ownership of second and third homes. Again, usually (inherited) flats. Quite remarkable for one of the EU's 'poorer' members.

SPANISH PROPERTIES 2: According to one of the country's main evaluation agencies, there are now 389,000 empty new houses throughout the country, with a bias towards the south and east coasts, of course. And then there's a God-only-knows number of 'old properties'. Despite this, prices are now rising again in those places where people actually want to live. Not in speculative new developments on the edge of Madrid or other cities, for example. And I know for a fact that Brits are once again buying rural properties here in Galicia, after many doldrum years.

THE LOOMING GENERAL ELECTION: The over 50s were going to get a letter about their future public pension but the government has vetoed this as it doesn't want them to know how low this will be. Nice. And they'll probably get away with this.

SPANISH TROOPS FOR MALI?: The Spanish President has said that M. Hollande hasn't called him to seek an answer to the question of whether Spain will renew its offer to replace French troops there. And that he doesn't expect a call until after the elections. I'll bet he doesn't, as he already knows the answer.

FINALLY . . . . A TRANSLITERATION MISTAKE??: Private Eye recently published this street-sign tribute to the IRA hunger striker in, I think, Tehran. If it really is Farsi, not Arabic, then I believe its says Barby Sarndz, not Bobby Sands. But I'm happy to be corrected. Not that it matters.


RECOMMENDATION: If you can get hold of The Sunday Times today, read the wonderful Comment article on a chap in Bolton who fooled the entire greedy, duplicitous art world for 40 years with his astonishing forgeries. If you hurry, you can even get a copy of his memoir, written in gaol. Where he really shouldn't be.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Sp. judicial system 1 & 2; Religion 1 & 2; The Middle East; & The original EU con

THE SPANISH JUDICIAL SYSTEM 1: Well into judge Garzón's book Fango now, I realise that the system was designed by Robert Mugabe to ensure that neither he nor any of his mates would ever be successfully prosecuted for anything. If practice, if not in theory. Elements include: woefully inadequate resources; changes of court; replacement of effective judges; and constant attempts to slow down things so that a statue of limitations comes into play. And then there's the fact that national and regional politicians - as aforados - have the right to be tried in certain (superior) courts. Above all this, there's the constant political pressure through media campaigns. Finally, there's the thousands of presidential pardons granted each year to those dumb enough to not only get caught but also to hire lousy lawyers. All in all, something truly more appropriate for Zimbabwe than a modern European state of law. Not surprisingly, only 32% of Spaniards think their courts functional well. Well, that is surprising, really. 

THE SPANISH JUDICIAL SYSTEM 2: A while ago, a lawyer friend assured me that an accused person here has the legal right to lie. I was sceptical but this week the Minister of the interior, no less, told us that members of the Pujol family - accused of humungous corruption in Cataluña - have the right not only to defend themselves but also to lie when doing so. No oath that they're going to tell nothing but the truth, then. Not that anyone would believe them if there were.

RELIGION 1: I was rather surprised to see a centre-page El País article headed: Religion is not a subject. It could be if it were taught under the history of mythologies or something similar. In which case, the teachers should be selected for academic reasons and not designated by an archbishop. Spain's concordats with the Holy See must end as soon as possible. Of course, these sentiments have been present in Spain for decades but this is the first public attack I can recall.

RELIGION 2: Three Spanish women are to face a court in early 2016, charged with insulting the Catholic religion, or something like that. Perhaps "Provoking discrimination, hate and violence." Click here for the details I'm reluctant to post here. How about "Provoking laughter at the Catholic Church"?

THE MIDDLE EAST: I believe, though many don't, that ISIS can eventually be battered out of existence, though with what consequences no one knows. Against that, I don't believe the West can do much about much bigger issues that will mean regional warfare for many decades yet:- 1.The fundamental Islamic schism between Shiites (Iran) and Sunnis (Saudi Arabia), and 2. The sub-schism between the Wahhabi Sunnis and other Sunni sects. The former has been running for almost 1400 years but the latter is only 100 or years or so old. It's anyone's guess what these will yet produce - possibly an Iran-Saudi war - and what the consequences of developments will be. The sooner we move away from oil the better. Meanwhile, it's good to know that the running sore of Israel and Palestine is being rapidly healed. As if.

FINALLY . . . From a British eurosceptic:- 

How a secretive elite created the EU to build a world government

As the debate over the forthcoming EU referendum gears up, it would be wise perhaps to remember how Britain was led into membership in the first place. It seems to me that most people have little idea why one of the victors of the Second World War should have become almost desperate to join this "club". That's a shame, because answering that question is key to understanding why the EU has gone so wrong.

Most students seem to think that Britain was in dire economic straits, and that the European Economic Community – as it was then called – provided an economic engine which could revitalise our economy. Others seem to believe that after the Second World War Britain needed to recast her geopolitical position away from empire, and towards a more realistic one at the heart of Europe. Neither of these arguments, however, makes any sense at all.

The EEC in the 1960s and 1970s was in no position to regenerate anyone’s economy. It spent most of its meagre resources on agriculture and fisheries and had no means or policies to generate economic growth.

When growth did happen, it did not come from the EU. From Ludwig Erhard's supply-side reforms in West Germany in 1948 to Thatcher's privatisation of nationalised industry in the Eighties, European growth came from reforms introduced by individual countries which were were copied elsewhere. EU policy has always been either irrelevant or positively detrimental (as was the case with the euro).

Nor did British growth ever really lag behind Europe's. Sometimes it surged ahead. In the 1950s Western Europe had a growth rate of 3.5 per cent; in the 1960s, it was 4.5 per cent. But in 1959, when Harold Macmillan took office, the real annual growth rate of British GDP, according to the Office of National Statistics, was almost 6 per cent. It was again almost 6 per cent when de Gaulle vetoed our first application to join the EEC in 1963.
In 1973, when we entered the EEC, our annual national growth rate in real terms was a record 7.4 per cent. The present Chancellor would die for such figures. So the economic basket-case argument doesn’t work.

What about geopolitics? What argument in the cold light of hindsight could have been so compelling as to make us kick our Second-World-War Commonwealth allies in the teeth to join a combination of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Italy?
Four of these countries held no international weight whatsoever. Germany was occupied and divided. France, meanwhile, had lost one colonial war in Vietnam and another in Algeria. De Gaulle had come to power to save the country from civil war. Most realists must surely have regarded these states as a bunch of losers. De Gaulle, himself a supreme realist, pointed out that Britain had democratic political institutions, world trade links, cheap food from the Commonwealth, and was a global power. Why would it want to enter the EEC?

The answer is that Harold Macmillan and his closest advisers were part of an intellectual tradition that saw the salvation of the world in some form of world government based on regional federations. He was also a close acquaintance of Jean Monnet, who believed the same. It was therefore Macmillan who became the representative of the European federalist movement in the British cabinet.

In a speech in the House of Commons he even advocated a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) before the real thing had been announced. He later arranged for a Treaty of Association to be signed between the UK and the ECSC, and it was he who ensured that a British representative was sent to the Brussels negotiations following the Messina Conference, which gave birth to the EEC.

In the late 1950s he pushed negotiations concerning a European Free Trade Association towards membership of the EEC. Then, when General de Gaulle began to turn the EEC into a less federalist body, he took the risk of submitting a full British membership application in the hope of frustrating Gaullist ambitions.

His aim, in alliance with US and European proponents of a federalist world order, was to frustrate the emerging Franco-German alliance which was seen as one of French and German nationalism.

Monnet met secretly with Heath and Macmillan on innumerable occasions to facilitate British entry. Indeed, he was informed before the British Parliament of the terms in which the British approach to Europe would be framed.

Despite advice from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Kilmuir, that membership would mean the end of British parliamentary sovereignty, Macmillan deliberately misled the House of Commons — and practically everyone else, from Commonwealth statesmen to cabinet colleagues and the public — that merely minor commercial negotiations were involved. He even tried to deceive de Gaulle that he was an anti-federalist and a close friend who would arrange for France, like Britain, to receive Polaris missiles from the Americans. De Gaulle saw completely through him and vetoed the British bid to enter.

Macmillan left Edward Heath to take matters forward, and Heath, along with Douglas Hurd, arranged — according to the Monnet papers — for the Tory Party to become a (secret) corporate member of Monnet’s Action Committee for a United States of Europe.

According to Monnet’s chief aide and biographer, Francois Duchene, both the Labour and Liberal Parties later did the same. Meanwhile the Earl of Gosford, one of Macmillan’s foreign policy ministers in the House of Lords, actually informed the House that the aim of the government’s foreign policy was world government.

Monnet’s Action Committee was also given financial backing by the CIA and the US State Department. The Anglo-American establishment was now committed to the creation of a federal United States of Europe.

Today, this is still the case. Powerful international lobbies are already at work attempting to prove that any return to democratic self-government on the part of Britain will spell doom. American officials have already been primed to state that such a Britain would be excluded from any free trade deal with the USA and that the world needs the TTIP trade treaty which is predicated on the survival of the EU.

Fortunately, Republican candidates in the USA are becoming Eurosceptics and magazines there like The National Interest are publishing the case for Brexit. The international coalition behind Macmillan and Heath will find things a lot more difficult this time round — especially given the obvious difficulties of the Eurozone, the failure of EU migration policy and the lack of any coherent EU security policy.

Most importantly, having been fooled once, the British public will be much more difficult to fool again.


Alan Sked is the original founder of Ukip and professor of International History at the London School of Economics. He is presently collecting material for a book he hopes to publish on Britain's experience of the EU

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Sp. Military; Fraud news; Bankrupticies; A judicial advance; Never too late; & Nail wars.

THE SPANISH MILITARY: While Spain havers over its initial proposal to send troops to Mali to replace French counterparts, Germany has announced it's sending 650 soldiers to allow some of the latter to return to France for anti-terrorist duties. A bit embarrassing for President Rajoy but, as I've said, he does have a looming general election and this will outweigh all other considerations for the next month.

FRAUD NEWS: The latest - utterly predictable - scandal centres on subsidies for cinemas based on customer numbers. Lo and behold, these were inflated to the tune of many millions of euros. So cheeky/confident were the perpetrators, they reported the numbers before the relevant film was even out.

BANKRUPTCIES: These continue to happen, of course. And Spain's biggest ever is now unfolding before our very eyes. This is of Abengoa, a multinational outfit specialising in renewable energy and 'environmental services'. The government is expected to do whatever it can to prevent it collapsing ahead of the December elections. Though a bank-like bailout is thought to be too sensitive right now. Maybe in January. Abengoa owes huge sums to Spain's banks, with Santander leading the pack, at €1.56 billion. It's reported that none of them have provided for their imminent losses. Taxpayers - with €740 million at stake - can't make such provisions, of course. And we may yet have to fund a bailout.

A JUDICIAL ADVANCE: In a case in which a 90 year old woman sought permission to disinter Republican victims of Franco's murder squads, a judge has surprised everyone by pronouncing that she can go ahead. A first in determined-to-forget Spain. After her the deluge?

IT'S NEVER TOO LATE: Another nonagenarian has been prosecuted for scratching more than 20 cars badly parked in her barrio. A temptation which some of us have to regularly suppress. Especially when you can't park because drivers have left 2 or 3 metres between the cars in front of or behind them.

FINALLY . . . . NAIL WARS: I used to walk past a nail bar in our shopping mall in which an Asian chap occasionally had a customer. Yesterday, I saw it'd closed. I suspect this would have happened anyway but the poor bugger never stood a chance once a snazzy place called something like Global Nails opened right next door. It reminded me of a joke which features Burtons Tailors, Jacksons The Tailors, and 'Main Entrance'. Write for details. Though it's ruined now.


Query: How did my rather-easily-irritated elder daughter get past the 2 PIN numbers on my 'smart' phone to change the Notifications tone which was driving her mad?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Sp. military contribution; The Sp. timetable; Odd Sp. airports; Corruption; & The Sp. timetable.

THE SPANISH MILITARY CONTRIBUTION: A week or so ago, the Spanish government announced it had offered to take over patrol duties from France in Mali, so that French troops could be used back home against terrorists. Then came the incident in Mali and the offer was suddenly withdrawn. The French government says it's surprised and that it's awaiting clarification from its Spanish counterpart. Well, I think we know what this will amount to. Especially as there's a general election imminent 

ODD SPANISH AIRPORTS: I mentioned the 'ghost airport' of Castellón yesterday. Reader Sierra has cited a facility up in the Galician hills near the city of Lugo which I didn't even know existed. This is an airport built by the Nazis during WW2 in which the regional government is investing €55m to convert it into an 'Aero Transport Centre'. Some this total may well get to be used for this purpose. It will, it seems, be dedicated to the development of drones. And I thought we had quite enough funccionarios in Galicia.

CORRUPTION: The left-wing, campaigning judge, Baltasar Garzón, gives these as the perfect recipe for the appearance of skulduggery:-
  • A local planning officer with low ethics. (Hardly a rare creature)
  • A businessman with good connections to a political party
  • A city that's developing rapidly
  • A property market that's taking off
Well, he should know, having been in charge - until relieved of his responsibilities for being over-zealous - of at least a couple of the major cases of recent years.

FINALLY . . . THE SPANISH TIMETABLE: My elder daughter has visited me for a couple of days, en route to a tango session in Oporto. Taking her to the bus station this morning, I was surprised to see the number of people out and about at 7.30, given that this is the equivalent of 5.30 in other countries. I apologise, by the way, for writing 'the number' of people, when the standard (but wrong) phrase these days is 'the amount' of people. I simply can't override that bit of my education, 'back in the day'. Which reminds me, a Sky News reporter this morning - reading from an autocue - spoke of someone who'd been fatally murdered in Paris. As opposed to the unfatally murdered survivors, I guess.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Spain's treasures; Changing Spain; An airport deal; Breasts exposure; Russian propaganda; & Facebook again.

SPAIN'S TREASURES: The Local gives us 15 of these here. I'm pleased to say I've seen most of them. 

CHANGING SPAIN: My Ferrol friend and regular reader, Richard, has reminded me that Spain is getting better at allowing people to set up businesses and at making it "easier to pay taxes"(!). But very slowly. Per the World Bank, Spain has recently moved up one place in their rankings of ease of doing business and now rank a still-lowly 33rd. Things remain particularly bad for those wanting to set themselves up as an autónomo, or sole trader in UK terms. Not only is it mired in bureaucracy but also expensive, at c.€300 a month in taxes from the word go, even if you don't turn a penny. 

AN AIRPORT DEAL: The Local tells us here that the ghost airport down in Castellón is now not quite as useless as it was. A deal has been struck with Ryanair which will bring an income of €600,000 a year. To Ryanair, that is. As I say, I guess it makes sense to someone. In Spain, I mean. Ryanair's logic is obvious. At €10 each for 600,000 projected customers.

FRAUDULENT BRITS: Hard as it is to believe, there are Brits - surely all down on the south and east coasts - who indulge in benefit fraud. Essentially by forgetting to tell the UK government they've moved to Spain and lost their entitlements. Anyway, they've been warned they face jail sentences, like the woman who's just been given this treatment, after collecting €58,000 over 8 years.

CLEAVAGE v BOOBAGE: New to me but there seems to be a difference between these concepts. I guess everyone knows what the former is but here's the definition of the latter:- The exposure of vast amounts of breast in dresses that squish unattractively rather than hugging sexily. It's said that the former is for film stars and the latter for mere 'celebs'. I don't suppose many men care about this distinction.

FINALLY . . . RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA: Here, again, is the site of the European organisation which tracks Moscow's preposterous - and sometimes hilarious - disinformation. They can also be followed on Twitter. Whatever that is. At @EUvsDisinfo

FOOTNOTE: Another Facebook 'success' this morning. I got a friend acceptance from a lady in Madrid whom I now see has 1,360 'friends'. So I don't feel terribly exclusive and will now defriend her. Nice to see my spellcheck doesn't recognise defriend. Or spellcheck.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cataluña; Corruption; Brexit; Health services; Healthy food; Pontevedra shops; & Facebook.

CATALAN INDEPENCE: The principal driver of this - the President of the regional government - has a couple of major problems. Firstly, he's been blocked by one of his coalition partners from re-election as president. Secondly, his party is shrouded in corruption allegations. While this isn't very different from any other major party in Spain, he's decided to go with what may well be known in future as The VW Option - a change of name/'brand'. He's disbanding his CDC party and forming the Democracy and Liberty party. Good luck with that.

CORRUPTION: The perfect recipe for this, says judge Baltasar Garzón, is a combination of 'A civil servant responsible for urban development, a businessman closely linked to a political party, a growing town or city and a property market on the rise'. He should know; he's presided over some major cases. Being the victim of serious government dirty trick campaigns in the process.

BREXIT: For the first time, surveys suggest more than 50% of Brits support this. David Cameron continues to support staying in the EU, provided his demands for structural reform are accepted. Given that he must know which way the wind is blowing - in the direction of the collapse of the institution - I've begun to wonder whether his real purpose is to avoid the UK getting most of the blame for this, and losing out in the new inter-state trade agreements which must follow.

HEALTH SERVICES: There was a time when the UK national health service was the best in the world, if only because it was unique. There are many in Britain who think it still is and they're supported in this by virtually all politicians, who feel obliged to repeat this nonsensical claim whenever the elections come along. As anyone who's experienced one of Europe's health services knows, this belief/claim/lie is far from justified. This week, it's reported that the UK is in the bottom of the OECD third when it comes to 5-year survival rates in colorectal cancer, breast cancer and cervical cancer. And survival after hospital admission for a heart attack or stroke is also worse than in many OECD countries. Most European health schemes are, I believe, a mix of public and insurance scheme services, an option which is anathema in the UK, where 'insurance' is widely interpreted as 'privatisation'. Is there a public service anywhere in the world where discussion is as curtailed by (self)deceit and mendacity?

HEALTHY FOOD: " It is a fabulous racket", says the Guardian. Click here for the details of this claim.

PONTEVEDRA'S RETAIL SCENE: I wouldn't want to give the impression it's all closures. Many shops are taken over by new owners. These, though, all seem to be women who offer yet more expensive dresses and accessories. So, we have El Armorio de Audrey (Audrey's Wardrobe) or La Tienda de Raquél. (Raquel's Shop). One could be forgiven for suspecting these are not genuine outlets but fronts for drug money laundering purposes.


FINALLY . . . FACEBOOK: Someone asked me yesterday how to get rid of the French flag behind their foto. I said I hadn't the faintest idea, never having succumbed to the temptation to show solidarity in this way. But, then, I have a knee-jerk reaction to anything suggested by Facebook. Incidentally, yesterday I saw that an English chap had been befriended by 37 people, all of them women. So, I sent friend requests to the 5 most attractive, to see what would happen. Four of them immediately accepted my request. What this means, I really don't know. Other than it's easy to ring up the thousands of friends some pathetic folk feel the need for.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Changing Spain

Another single-subject post . . .

CHANGING SPAIN:

TheLocal notes that Spain has changed as follows in the 40 years since Franco's death:-

Women’s rights
During the Franco regime a married woman could not even apply for a passport or sign a contract without her husband’s permission. Today female university students outnumber male graduates and hold 40% of the seats in parliament. Women today account for 46% of the working population up from 30% in 1975.

Socially progressive
From the rigid and asphyxiating morality of the Franco regime and the stricture of the powerful Roman Catholic Church, Spain has become one of the world’s most socially progressive nations. In 2005 it became only the third country in Europe to legalise same-sex marriages.

Richer
Even taking into account the prolonged recession that ended in 2014 Spain has enjoyed an unprecedented period of prosperity. Economic output increased almost tenfold between 1975 and 2015 to around $1 trillion. Per capita income rose from US €2,800 ($3,000) to more than €28,000 ($30,000). Exports of goods and services more than trebled to 32% of GDP.

Fewer jobs
The main black point as regards the economy is the unemployment rate: up from a mere 5% in 1975 to a whopping 22% now.

And employment by sector has changed significantly since 1975. Just 4% of jobs today are in agriculture compared with 22% in 1975, 14% of employment is in industry and construction, down from 38%, while services employ 76%.

More tourism
Although the package holiday was invented in the 1960s under Franco, Spain's popularity as a tourist destination has gone from strength to strength. The number of tourists rose from 27 million the year Franco died to an estimated 68 million this year.

More cars
There were 123 cars per 1,000 people the year Franco died and more than 500 cars per 1,000 people today.

More people 
The population rose by 10.4 million to 46.4 million, mostly over a 10-year period as a result of an unprecedented influx of immigrants. In the decade before the 2008-13 crisis Spain received more immigrants proportional to its population than any other EU country.

Aging population
Close to 30% of the population was under the age of 15 in 1975; today it is 15%. Those over the age of 65 rose from 10% back then to more than 18% now

Smaller families
The average number of children per woman has more than halved to 1.3, one of the world’s lowest fertility rates.

Longer lives
Average life expectancy for men and women was 73.3 years in 1975; today it is 82 years. Spanish women now live to an average age of 85 years, almost the longest  lived in the world.

All this got me thinking about how things have improved, deteriorated or stayed much the same, at least in my provincial neck of the woods. This is what I came up with as a first stab. Additions/refutations welcome.

BETTER
  • Less Basque nationalism
  • Less ETA violence
  • Better road safety: Far fewer deaths on the roads, after intro of more testing
  • Some Benefits introduced or increased
  • New and improved roads and motorways (autopistas and autovias)
  • Ditto the trains
  • More high-speed tracks and trains
  • Driving generally
  • Variety of food in supermarkets, slight improvement
  • Number of 'academies' offering English classes
  • Internet access generally
  • Allegedly, some beneficial structural improvements in the economy

Pontevedra
  • The availability of spices.
  • Ginger in the fruit & veg shops
  • Shops selling loose spices
  • The pedestrianisation of the city centre
  • Motoring manners. Yes, honestly. All thanks to my example . . .
  • My internet service. Marginally.

WORSE
  • The economy
  • Higher unemployment: Now 22%, down from 26% but still awful. Even worse among the young at around 50%
  • Healthcare: Reduced levels of service. Longer delays, etc.
  • Higher inflation over the years than elsewhere in Europe
  • Lower real salary levels - Particularly among the young, the infamous mileuristas. €1,000/m for many years now
  • Reduced job security. Precariousness. Zero contracts.
  • The property market. Just recovering, perhaps, from a preposterous 15 years of boom and bust.
  • Taxes. Higher to pay for all the corruption, the banking scandals and mis-spending of governments of all stripes.
  • Levels of political and business corruption.
  • The number of expensive white elephant/vanity projects
  • TV. Still dreadful
  • Media freedom. Reduced under the quasi-Francoist PP party
  • More police 'tricks' to catch 'speeding' drivers. A revenue exercise

Pontevedra
  • Reduced parking
  • Far more bloody beggars
  • Fewer Asian restaurants. Only 'Chinese' now
  • The impossible one-way system in the city centre. Regular changes of direction
  • The devastated retail scene

NO PERCEPTIBLE CHANGE
  • Customer service. Still conspicuous by its absence. Possibly slightly better in some supermarkets. Some lip service elsewhere
  • The general attitude to time and to promptness. 
  • Noise levels. Still horrendous.
  • Street etiquette: There's still no respect for personal space
  • Bureaucracy
  • Levels of inefficiency
  • The amounts of paper reduced
  • The amoimt of photocopying necessary
  • The preference for face to face service
  • No real competition in the provision of utilities, despite the theory
  • The availability of foreign wines. Still as pathetic es ever.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sp. Democracy; Anti-Francoism; Sp. Aural Abuse; The EU; & Terrorism.

SPANISH DEMOCRACY: Despite the history of the last 40 years, The Guardian remains optimistic that things can only get better. Which is possibly true, even if it currently looks likely that - thanks largely to corrupt, independence-obsessed Catalan politicians - the even more corrupt, anti-democratic, very right-wing PP party will get back into (shared?) power in December. 

ANTI-FRANCOISM: The campaigning judge, Baltasar Garzón, has railed against the "quasi official silence" on the dictator's rule. "We have", he says, "a serious problem with coming to terms with what was done and in finding solutions". Garzón has initiated a petition aimed at the conversion of the appalling monuments in the Valley of the Fallen into a Civel War memorial. More here.

SPANISH AURAL ABUSE: Well, well, well. Not before time, some Spanish folk want to reduce the level of noise in restaurants here. "Oír es Clave (Hearing is Key) has launched a campaign - Comer sin ruido or 'Dine Quietly' in English - calling on Spanish restaurants to implement a series of simple changes to improve their sound quality". Ojala (Alhamdulillah)! This is especially important for we foreigners trying and failing to understand several Spanish friends all talking/shouting at the same time. Something which may take even longer to eradicate. More on this here. Meanwhile . . . "The Dine Quietly website includes a list of 20 restaurants where patrons will be guaranteed a headache-free meal in a nice, quiet atmosphere." These are located around Spain and there's even one in Pontevedra - naturally our most expensive venue. Book now. There might be a rush of guiris

THE EU: A "gigantic sham"??. Well, this commentator thinks so. And I've always thought so. Or at least an impossible dream, pushed through at a ridiculous pace and without a democratic mandarte, in the face of age-old national realities, now being amply demonstrated. As long-term readers will know, I've frequently claimed, the EU will surely one day collapse under the weight of its internal incongruities, a process which now seems to have begun. A sampler from the article: "If national borders may be reinstated by individual governments, and EU budget rules can be thrown out whenever circumstances require, what does the authority of the EU Commission and Council and Parliament amount to? Possible answer: a largely useless, self-perpetuating, massively overpaid bureaucracy presiding over Potemkin institutions whose deliberations count for nothing when the lives of real people living under real governments are at stake". And another: "So the crucial question cannot be put: how do you subsume the contradictory wishes and needs of different countries, each with its own mandated government, under one super-European authority which has no democratic mandate at all?" Well, you can't, of course.

P. S. I initially typed 'Scam', instead of 'Sham'. Surveying the history of huge EU frauds, this might have rung just as true.  

FINALLY . . . . TERRORISM: Here's the complete text of another fine article from Niall Ferguson in today's Times:- 

The three-headed monster ushering the world to hell 

It is usual for horror to be followed by hysteria. The unusual thing about the Paris massacre of November 13 is that the most hysterical reactions have been thousands of miles from the scene. 

The calmest man I met last week was Bernard-Henri Lévy, the swashbuckling philosopher, who had just flown in from Paris. Over dinner in New York he was far more interested in discussing the latest success of the Kurdish peshmerga against Isis (also known as Islamic State).

By contrast, it was American politicians who appeared to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ben Carson, one of the frontrunners in the race for the Republican party’s presidential nomination, called for new “screening mechanisms that allow us to determine who the mad dogs are”. 

His rival Donald Trump vaguely threatened to do “things . . . that we never thought would happen in this country”. 

Yet mental disturbance is sometimes more dangerous when it is repressed. “The terrible events in Paris” were a “setback”, declared a haggard and at times wild-eyed President Barack Obama in a press conference that was painful to watch. 

Bernie Sanders, who dreams of winning the Democratic nomination, offered the Corbynesque analysis that “the disastrous invasion of Iraq” was wholly responsible for “the rise of al-Qaeda and Isis”. 

John Kerry, the secretary of state, offered yet more confused causation by suggesting that January’s mass murder of staff at the Charlie Hebdo magazine had, if not “legitimacy”, then at least a “rationale” because the magazine had made people “really angry”. 

Let’s come off the prescription medication. The world faces three distinct threats: an epidemic of jihadist violence, most of it in the Middle East, north Africa and south Asia; uncontrolled mass migration from these places to Europe; and the emergence of a fifth column of Islamic extremists within nearly all western societies, including America. 

We must take care to distinguish each component. 

The jihadist epidemic is mostly happening outside the West. Of the 10 most bloody conflicts in the world since 2010, seven are in countries that host Islamist groups (Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya). The total death toll due to armed conflict in those countries between 2011 and 2014 is close to 280,000. In the same period, terrorism around the world has accounted for an estimated 89,000 deaths, of which 80,000 can be attributed to Islamist groups.

The violence is growing, perhaps exponentially. Last year alone, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, 32,658 people were killed by terrorism, compared with 18,111 in 2013.

The two most deadly terrorist groups were Boko Haram and Isis, which were responsible for half of all fatalities.

Nearly four in five attacks occurred in just five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria. But the plague of jihad extends as far as the Malian capital, Bamako, where Islamist gunmen took over a hotel on Friday.

The violence is growing, perhaps exponentially. Last year alone, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, 32,658 people were killed by terrorism, compared with 18,111 in 2013. Islamist gunmen took over a hotel on Friday. Yes, what happened in Paris was horrific. But all the other terrorist atrocities of the past two months were committed outside Europe: in Nablus, Baghdad, Kabul, Ankara, Borno, Sinai, Beirut and Yola. 

There is clearly an urgent need to end the civil war in Syria, the country suffering the worst violence. But let’s not kid ourselves. Even if Obama recalled David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal to run a counterinsurgency campaign against Isis similar to the one they ran against al-Qaeda in Iraq, and even if he put Henry Kissinger in charge of a Syrian peace conference, the jihadist epidemic would still infect a dozen other countries. 

Threat No 2 is a wave of mass migration to Europe that has been triggered by the Syrian crisis but is by no means exclusively Syrian or even Middle Eastern. Data from the United Nations high commissioner for refugees shows that Syria is one of 10 countries where recent conflict has led to massive population displacement. Such statistics as we have on the “country of origin” of asylum seekers in Germany show they come not only from Syria but also from Albania, Afghanistan, Iraq, Serbia and Eritrea. 

At present, continental Europe has almost no way of controlling this influx, which grows larger with every passing month. The 1951 refugee convention binds European Union member states to accept refugees.

Although the German government has now restored the Dublin regulation — which stipulates that asylum seekers can claim asylum only in the member state in which they entered the EU — in practice the entire apparatus for assessing applications has collapsed, as has the hotly contested scheme to redistribute asylum seekers between countries.

One country after another is defecting from the Schengen system of borderless internal travel, but border fences cannot be rebuilt overnight. In any case, it is the external border that is the real problem. The Schengen area has 6,000 miles of land borders and 27,000 miles of sea borders, across which about 220,000 people poured in October alone.

Meanwhile, Americans obsess about their 2,000-mile border with Mexico — even though net flows across the border are now from the United States to Mexico. Even if every single one of the newcomers to the EU were an angel in human form, this would be a disaster, not least because continental labour markets are notoriously bad at integrating foreign-born workers. And no one should underestimate the domestic political backlash.

The third threat is again quite distinct from the other two, though it is not wholly unrelated. That is the threat of a fifth column within western societies of young Muslims who join or at least sympathise with groups such as Isis.

The overwhelming majority are not refugees from Syria or anywhere else. Many are the children or grandchildren of an earlier wave of economic immigrants from former colonies. They are EU citizens. The biographies of the Paris terrorists tell the story.

What links the three threats is the fact that as many as six of the terrorists spent time in Syria and at least two of them were able to use the refugee route through Greece to return to France undetected. This does not mean that the Syrian war or the immigration crisis were necessary for the Paris attacks to happen. Young Muslims are being radicalised all over the western world without going anywhere near Syria.

Americans who think they will be safer by excluding refugees are missing the point. The United States too has its fifth columnists. The Tsarnaev brothers, responsible for the Boston marathon bombings, were little different from the Abdeslam brothers. The ancient Greeks believed the gates of Hades were guarded by a monstrous three-headed dog. Like Cerberus, the monster we confront today has three heads: rampant jihadism, uncontrolled mass migration and homegrown extremists. To defeat it we shall need to keep our own heads very clear indeed. 

Niall Ferguson is Laurence A Tisch professor of history at Harvard and the author of Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist (Penguin)


Saturday, November 21, 2015

SPANISH FASCISM
You don't have to get far into Garzón's 507 page tome on corruption since 1939 to appreciate that Franco's fascism didn't end with his death. This is essentially because, to this day, no one has paid a price for crimes committed during almost 40 years of dictatorship. And nor have all the symbols of this fell period been eradicated from Spanish life. 
Worst of all, the monumental insult of the cathedral and mausoleum in the Valley of [ some] of the Fallen hasn't been blown to smithereens, along with the man's corpse. Next month, residual worshippers of Franco will gather there to honour his birthday. (Or his death. Who cares?). And at least 16 churches around Spain will 'celebrate' Masses for his putrid soul. Before that, they will gather on the anniversary of the death of the son of the dictator who ruled Spain in the 1920s. Can you imagine this happening in Germany?
Has this got anything to do with modern Spain? Well, yes. The corruption of the Franco era has continued untramelled since then - under governments of both the right and the left - reaching its jaw-dropping apogee in the phoney boom years after the introduction of the totally inappropriate Euro currency.
And the government currently running Spain comprises the children and grandchildren of fascist leaders. Unsurprisingly, they retain family attitudes to humane measures such as the identification of the graves of executed Republicans. And, of course, to the opportunity to seize with 3 hands the opportunity to make millions - billions even - from their ministerial positions. With total impunity, if ever caught out and processed through the courts to an inevitable presidential pardon. As in the Third World.
One day, the fatalistic attitude attitude of the Spanish to this - literally - state of affairs will change. And this will finally become an even better place in which to live.
BTW . . I never set out to write this post. It must have been lurking below the surface.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Islam; Terrorist claims; A possible response; Spoken French; Male lies; & Iberia from above.

ISLAM: There are 2 very relevant articles at the end of this post. Both are from the Times, the first an editorial and the second a Comment article, by the Usama Hasan mentioned in the editorial:- 1. The battle is on for Muslim hearts and minds. 2. The Islamic Reformation. You might want to consider giving them wider exposure. I lived in both Iran and Indonesia before they were taken over by fanatics. In more than 7 years, I never experienced a single incident resulting from a twisted version of Islam. And I don't know anyone who did. I'm an atheist with many theist friends (and relatives). God help us to achieve this everywhere and for everyone. (Irony).

TERRORIST CLAIMS: There may well be a rational case for it but it still grates when it's reported that ISIS 'claims' rather than 'admits' responsibility for horrific crimes. The explanation, I understand, is that ISIS believes it helps them to take responsibility for attacks carried out by other nutters.

RESPONSE TO TERRORISM: Here's an idea - Why not cancel the irreligious consumerist excess which is Christmas? And at least rid us of all the bloody ads that first appeared weeks ago.

SPOKEN FRENCH: All the media attention has reminded me I'm not a fan of this, disliking its nasality. Which you might think is rich, coming from a Scouser. But I shed my (Gaelic-influenced) pronunciation many years ago, without really trying. That said, I had a French partner for 8 years and I adored her accent when she spoke English. I still would if she hadn't decided to quit Spain to go back to France. But before doing so, she managed to teach me how to pronounce the French 'u' sound. And I taught her how to say Natalie Wood properly.

MALE LIES: I read recently that one of the favourite untruths of men trying to bed women (not much of a challenge these days, I suspect) is that they own an upmarket sports car. I once gave a lift to a young woman to a party in my Morris 1000 (GT, 4-wheeled model, as I used to say) and managed to convince her I had a Porsche Carrera in my garage, kept for special occasions. But there was no malevolent intent beyond humour, as she was a friend's girlfriend. It was embarrassing to have to tell her I was joking. But she was OK.

FINALLY . . . THE IBERIAN PENINSULA FROM SPACE: Project Nasa has produced stunning fotos of Spain and Portugal from 1,000, 500 and 250 metres. Click here to surprise yourself with how green the west and north of Spain are. Not to mention wet at times.

1. The battle is on for Muslim hearts and minds

How do we condemn atrocities carried out in the name of Islam without alienating the majority of moderate Muslims? Of all the people killed by terrorism last year, 51 per cent were slaughtered by just two organisations: Boko Haram and Islamic State. Although white supremacists have killed more Americans this year than any other extremist group, nearly all global terrorism is committed by people claiming to act in the name of Islam.

That’s the reality. A second reality is that once all the victims of the Paris attacks have been named, many more Muslims will have been killed than carried out the attacks: the two Saadi sisters celebrating a birthday, the Algerian violinist stopping off at a restaurant on his way home, the Moroccan architect dining out with his new wife, and so on and bloodily on. Muslims were also the victims of attacks on Nigerian mosques earlier this year by Boko Haram, on peace demonstrations in Turkey by Isis, and on the Hazaras minority in Afghanistan by the Taliban. If Muslims are the principal perpetrators of terror, Muslims are also the most terrorised. The coexistence of these two realities creates a problem in agreeing on the causes of extremism and how to tackle it. 

The problem is easily posed: how do you identify, challenge and destroy the basis of Islamist terror without implicating and alienating millions of Muslims? It is a dilemma that western governments with large Muslim minorities have been blundering around for the past decade. And there’s an added complication — to most non-Muslims the link between a religion and violence committed in its name is beyond doubt. But to many Muslims such a link appears to single them out. So when, as this week, a French Muslim of Tunisian descent tells reporters that Isis are “fascists” and that their actions “have nothing to do with Islam”, are we to congratulate him or contradict him? 

Every person with a gob on them seems to know why terrorism happens. This week Ken Livingstone, new political life breathed into him by Corbyn’s zombie leadership, was across the airwaves blaming western foreign policy. Somehow he had not noticed the paucity of Islamist attacks on American targets. The veteran Trot and posterboy for the LRB-reading classes, Tariq Ali, opined that Middle East terror would go on as long as, among other things, Israel existed, so it was rather pointless bemoaning it. Better, one presumed, for us to try to persuade the Jews of Israel to give up their state than to persuade the Islamists to give up their suicide vests and butcher’s knives.

I am not sure how influential such throwbacks are, but something I was involved with the week before the Paris attacks worried me. I had been invited to address a conference at the School of Oriental and African Studies on the question of Muslim integration. I was talking on the subject of free expression. At one level it was a brave attempt by lay Muslims to get people of different beliefs to debate with Islamic scholars and academics. But, comparing notes with other guest speakers as well as my own experience, I soon realised that the secondary agenda, intended or not, was an attack on the whole idea of deradicalisation. It was apparently just another aspect of western prejudice against Muslims — the true cause of terrorism. 

So Professor Christopher Bagley, a Muslim convert, said that calls for integration represented “a strong undercurrent of racism and xenophobia regarding religious minorities”. 

Dr Rizwaan Sabir, a lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, attacked the moderate Muslim Qulliam Foundation which was being “used as a strategic asset by the British state to undermine political Islam at home and abroad”. 

Dr Katherine Brown, of King’s College London, opposed “counter radicalisation efforts that unreflectively presume that western society and feminism had benefitted Muslim women”, when their real problems were “discrimination, poverty and Islamophobia”. 

For Waqas Tufail, of Leeds Beckett University, counter-terrorism was “fundamentally racist by explicitly targeting specific minority groups and ultimately leads to the further alienation and marginalisation of an already demonised and criminalised group”. Note here how the word “criminalised” makes being a criminal something that is thrust upon you rather than chosen.

Chris Allen, from Birmingham University, was the most ingenious of all. In his “Tackling Extremism, Reinforcing Islamophobia” talk he seemed to suggest that the very way in which politicians talked about tackling Islamophobia “reinforced the public’s fears and anxieties about Islam”. 

 This is so misconceived that it’s hard to know where to start. But whatever the government says or does, this is the stuff being taught to young people with barely a challenge in colleges, universities and community centres. It’s the approach that says, in essence, that Muslims are victims of an Islamophobia that caused radicalisation and that consequently any attempt to deal with radicalisation which does not admit this is, in itself, Islamophobic. 

This is the warped context in which many well-educated young Muslims will view the government’s Prevent strategy to tackle extremism. It is one thing to subject the entire population to electronic surveillance — if there’s rigorous independent scrutiny I can live with that. It’s another thing — as has been mooted — for the state to go around banning preachers from the internet, vetting people from working with children because of their perfectly legal political views, and drawing up blacklists and banning orders on non-violent (if horrid) groups which are mostly Muslim. These acts will be seen as restrictions on basic freedoms and will become the focus of resistance. They are manna from heaven for the decadent academic critics of government who, as I have seen, believe that their enemies are almost anyone but Islamist extremists. 

But I worry that these acts are the greatest gift to the recruiters of jihadists. Look, they will say, how shallow is the kufr’s commitment to freedom! Better, much better, to wage a war of ideas on campuses and in schools, against the apologists and relativists. Fight speech with better speech, idea with better idea. 

As Quilliam’s Usama Hasan showed in The Times yesterday[below] there are people around who will be good allies in this fight and who have as much to lose.

2. Give us time: this is Islam’s reformation

People often ask when Islam will have a reformation. The truth is that Islam is in the middle of a reformation right now — which arguably began in the nineteenth century. The Christian Reformation took several centuries, so we need to allow Islam time to adapt to the modern world.

The Ottoman royal decrees of 1839 and 1858 abolished poll taxes on non-Muslims and gave equal citizenship rights to Jews, Christians and Muslims. This was followed by the scrapping of traditional Islamic punishments as well as ending the death penalty for apostasy from Islam. Isis follows a fundamentalist and selective reading of scripture which is ahistorical and heretical. They are linked to Islam and the Koran in the way the Ku Klux Klan and Anders Breivik are linked to Christianity and the Bible.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims detest Isis, and are its daily victims. Anti-Muslim bigots and Islamist extremists ironically agree that Isis somehow represents Islam: it is essential that we don’t play into the hands of extremists, whether Islamist or far right, with this false assertion.

The Islamist movements of the 20th century, representing just one of many possible expressions of political Islam, were rooted in anti-colonial sentiment but became dominated by fundamentalism and anti-western hatred, derailing progress towards a genuine reformation.

Thinkers, theologians and activists in Muslim-majority nations are contributing to the reformation, often at great danger to themselves from intolerant, militant extremists. The issues they are grappling with include universal human rights; shared values with other religions and philosophies; gender-equality; the status of minorities; the separation of mosque and state; a critique of Islamic scripture; and the promotion of scientific and rational thinking. What all of them, and I, agree on is that Islam needs to be reconciled with the modern world and interpretations of Islam need to be normalised.

To quote one of these reformers, the Turkish scholar Recep Senturk: “The [Ottoman] declaration of 1839 may be seen as the first Islamic human rights declaration in the modern sense . . . [and when the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was announced in 1948] Turkish scholars of Islamic law, such as Kazim Kadri and Ali Fuat Basgil, said that it was consistent with Islamic law and thus deserved the support of Muslims . . . The work of ancient prophets and philosophers can be seen as achievements towards a universal concept of [the] human.”

Although the Ottoman reforms of the mid-19th century introduced equality for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and abolished traditional punishments such as stoning to death, flogging, amputation and even crucifixion, it is the fundamentalist regimes of the 20th and 21st centuries that have reinstated some of these abhorrent practices. These regimes include those of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, northern Nigeria — and now Isis.

The Muslim women’s movement Musawah (meaning “equality” in Arabic) campaigns for gender-equality in Muslim family law. It is beginning to have an effect. In 2004, the millennium-old Mudawwana code of family law in Morocco was updated to the “New Mudawwanah”, which gives women more rights.
The leading Sunni theologian Abdullah bin Bayyah recently launched a global movement for the “Promotion of peace in Muslim societies” and has been especially critical of Isis. He has also endorsed a “shared values” approach to modern citizenship, where religious and secular ideologies work towards common goals in everyday life.

The newly launched Raif Badawi Freedom Foundation calls for the promotion of fundamental liberties such as freedom of speech, expression and religion in the Arab world.

The task of reformation is primarily for Muslims. However, friends of the Muslim world who would like to see a genuine enlightenment within Islam, can help by promoting genuine reformers and challenging extremists and their apologists. It is also important that fundamental liberties are supported, especially against the military dictators, absolute monarchs and fundamentalist theocrats in the Muslim-majority world: this will empower reform-minded theologians, thinkers and activists to help to bring about change. Too many are forced into silence by intimidation, imprisonment or assassination by regimes that enjoy varying degrees of western support.

The good news is that Muslim intellectual discourse is moving in the right direction and the barbarism of Isis has helped enormously to undermine the extremist narrative. The Islam of the future, if it is to survive, will be based on liberty, equality and fraternity: a fitting tribute to this week’s martyrs of Paris.


Usama Hasan is an imam, and senior researcher in Islamic Studies at the Quilliam Foundation think tank

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