Earlier this week, a rubber dinghy overloaded with refugees attempting to flee Africa for the safety of Europe ran into difficulty. As the boat – travelling from Libya to the EU’s smallest state, Malta – began to sink, the Maltese army launched a 13-hour overnight operation to rescue the 112 passengers. Eight were airlifted to hospital for emergency treatment; the rest were suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and sunstroke.
This story is not unusual. Each week similar boats arrive on the country’s shores. Last month, the prime minister, Joseph Muscat, attempted to send two planeloads of Somali migrants back to Africa, without hearing their pleas for asylum – echoing recent suggestions of a “tow-back” policy in Australia – before the European court of human rights (ECHR) issued an interim ruling that this would be illegal. (Muscat has since said that he was never going to follow through with the push back; it was merely a stunt intended to provoke the EU into action).
Whether or not it was a stunt, the move reflects a government in despair. Before Malta joined the EU in 2004, immigration levels were negligible. Because it is located close to north Africa, it has now become a gateway for migrants seeking entry to Europe. In relation to its population, it receives the highest number of asylum applications in the world. This is partly because it’s so small – smaller than the Isle of Wight. The 17,000 undocumented migrants who have arrived in the last decade are equivalent to 2.7 million landing in Britain…
…To continue reading, visit The Guardian website here
In May, a Taiwanese fisherman was shot dead by the Philippine coast guard, having entered disputed waters. In response, Taiwan promptly embarked on naval exercises off the coast of the Philippines. It was China’s reaction, however, that raised eyebrows elsewhere: it quickly sent a flotilla to join them. “China will not tolerate the shooting of our fishermen,” declared an article in the Chinese newspaper, the Global Times.
There is an increasingly vocal debate about whether Taiwan, for all its fierce sense of democratic freedoms and claims to nationhood, is being reabsorbed by China—and whether the government in Taipei since 2008 is too easily letting this happen. The argument gets its force from the depth of the new commercial ties springing up between Taiwan, with its own proud record of manufacturing success, and the economic superpower which has suddenly arisen to its west. But barriers of all kinds are vanishing between the one-time adversaries. China does not recognise Taiwanese passports but residents can now travel between the two using “compatriot permits”: a Taiwanese friend of mine who recently visited mainland China on business told me of her identity crisis when she arrived at the airport with her permit, unsure of whether to join the immigration queue for “Chinese” or “foreigners.” She was given a withering look when she asked for clarification and directed towards the Chinese queue…
…To continue reading visit the Prospect website, here.
“There is a fundamental difference between religion – which is based on authority – and science – which is based on observation and reason,” said the world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking in 2010. “Science will win because it works.” Earlier this year, the famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins declared that religion is “a pernicious charlatan”, obscuring scientific fact. Science and religion are increasingly portrayed as competing world views, pitched against one another for ownership of the truth.
But it has not always been this way. “The very word ‘science’ means knowledge [from scire, to know] and, in the Middle Ages, theology was regarded as the queen of the sciences, the highest form of knowledge,” says Maurice Crosland, emeritus professor of science history at the University of Kent and author of the recently published book, Science Under Suspicion. In the Abrahamic traditions, scientific work was often driven by a desire to study God’s Creation. The Church was a major sponsor of science and significant discoveries were made by monks and members of the clergy. The Jesuits in particular contributed heavily to the fields of astronomy and seismology, the latter to such an extent that it is sometimes referred to as “the Jesuit science”.
On 13th May, Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce were released from their two-month prison spell, part of their eight-month sentences for perverting the course of justice. It will not have been what they envisaged when they swapped driving penalty points—an offence that 12 per cent of drivers would be willing to commit, according to a 2006 poll.
But leaving prison, and the end of their home detention in July, will not mean a return to normality. In theory, having a criminal record in Britain should not prevent a person from doing much, unless it is for violent or sexual offences. But in practice, the legal obligation to disclose a record, and the discrimination that follows, restricts access to everything from jobs to insurance, loans and travel. That has a huge impact on former prisoners—contributing, some argue, to Britain’s exceptionally high re-offending rate.
This has been recognised in recent legal changes. But in striking a balance between the public’s wish to know about criminal records, and the need for offenders to rebuild their lives, the law still does too little for former prisoners…
…To continue reading, visit the Prospect website, here.
The news bulletins we are getting about Nelson Mandela indicate that there has been a resurgence of lung trouble. I haven’t been to see him—I didn’t think they would want to be bothered too greatly—but I sent a text message to his wife, Graça.
My concern is that we are not preparing ourselves, as a nation, for the time when the inevitable happens. He’s 94, he’s had a rough time, and God has been very, very good in sparing him for us these many years. But the trauma of his passing is going to be very much intensified if we do not begin to prepare ourselves for the fact that this is going to happen at some time
At present, people who might want to offer criticisms about the political dispensation may be inhibited from doing so. People who might otherwise vote for different parties are constrained by the sense that it would be a slap in the face to Mandela. These issues are going to intensify what would in any case be a very traumatic experience.
We’ve had a similar experience before, when Chris Hani, leader of the South African Communist party, was assassinated in 1993. Our country nearly went up in flames. Mercifully it didn’t, partly because the apartheid government were sensible enough to realise they would have to ask Mandela, who was not yet president, to address the nation and appeal for calm. We have had a trauma of that intensity before, but this time it’s very difficult to know to whom the people could turn who would have the same charisma and authority to console and calm them…
…To continue reading my interview with Desmond Tutu, visit the Prospect website here.
“Humans are totally spiritual creatures,” says Dr Patrick Pullicino, a professor of clinical neuroscience at the University of Kent. When we look at the human body, “everything we see, to my mind, is basically spiritual; the physical is just a coating”. For Dr Pullicino – a Catholic, NHS consultant doctor and scientist – the scientific and spiritual worlds are very close. “When you start to understand atomic function, science meets the spiritual,” he says.
This view has become uncommon, however, as the two world views are consistently portrayed as being in conflict with one another. The theory that science and religion are opposed can be traced back to the second half of the 19th century, according to the Catholic historian of science Maurice Crosland in his new book Science Under Suspicion. More than a century later it is still widely accepted and has become more prominent in recent years, popularised by vocal scientists like Richard Dawkins.
At the end of December, a priest in a village in northern Italy pinned a notice to his church. Outrage and protests followed across the country. Women, suggested Father Piero Corsi, increasingly share the blame for domestic and sexual violence. They exacerbate household tensions with “children left to themselves, dirty houses, cold dishes, fast food and filthy clothes”. While he wrote that violence can never be excused, he linked it to the way women dress: “They provoke the worst instincts, which end in violence or sexual abuse. They should search their consciences and ask: did we bring this on ourselves?”
His ideas were condemned by everyone from the local mayor to the Vatican. The regional bishop advised the priest to take a rest from his duties. Corsi seemed genuinely taken aback by the strength of the reaction against him. And although some women’s rights groups urged him to resign, he merely issued a public apology before returning to work at his church in San Terenzo di Lerici, near La Spezia, in January, saying he had not meant to cause offence.
The UK’s National Interfaith Week, which included art exhibition Urban Dialogues, fell this year at a particularly poignant moment. With Gazans and Israelis 2000 miles away exchanging fire and living in fear of what one “side” might to do to the other, it was a sobering reminder of the importance of interfaith initiatives like this.
“We don’t want communities to go to their separate corners,” says Stephen Shashoua, director of the Three Faiths Forum (3FF) in London, which organized the event. “This is the time when people really need to come together, to ensure that these problems don’t spill out. We have created a shared space here.”
Recently, a small but growing number of documentaries have sought to explore the relationships between different religions and their followers. US TV channel CBS has aired a series of “interfaith specials” this year and there are number of exciting small-budget documentaries currently in the making. But if you really want to understand interfaith relations, there is one must-see movie: Disney’s Shrek.
At least, that is according to Fuad Nahdi, founder of Q-News, a Muslim current affairs magazine, and executive director of the Radical Middle Way, an organisation set up in the wake of the 7/7 bombings to promote a moderate understanding of Islam and provide an open environment for young Muslims to explore their faith. Based in the UK, Nahdi and his charity are now at work everywhere from Indonesia to Pakistan to the Sudan.
London cinemas are bracing for a fortnight of empty seats after the Olympic Games opens on July 27, losing sales during one of their busiest months, while half of the city’s theaters will take the night off.
“If we get a lot of gold medals as Team GB, a lot of people will be stuck to their TV screens,” said Philip Bowcock, the chief financial officer of Cineworld Group Plc (CINE) in London, the U.K.’s biggest cinema chain by share of box office revenue. “It will be challenging.”
More than six million visitors are set to attend the games, which run until Aug. 12, according to the London Media Centre, the capital’s official press hub for the games. Transport for London has advised commuters to reduce journeys or consider taking annual leave to ameliorate the increased burden on the city’s trains, buses and roads.