Thursday, February 28, 2013

  • How did supermassive black holes get so big? New data give a clue.

Scientists have now measured the spin of a supermassive black hole, describing the rate in terms of the energy needed to sustain the spin. These black holes are thought to occupy the center of virtually every galaxy.

By Staff writer / February 28, 2013
An artist's illustration shows a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun at the center, surrounded by matter flowing onto the black hole in what is termed an accretion disk in this NASA illustration released on Wednesday.
Courtesy of JPL-Caltech/NASA/Reuters

Supermassive black holes are thought to occupy the center of virtually every galaxy in the universe. They tip the cosmic scales at millions or billions of times the sun's mass.

The supermassive black hole in question spins furiously at the center of the Great Barred Spiral Galaxy, formally known as NGC 1365. It lies some 56 million light-years away in the constellation Fornax. The black hole at its center has 2 million times the mass of the sun.

Putting a miles-per-hour number on the rate of the spin is tough because a black hole has no real surface and no timing markers, explains Fiona Harrison, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and the lead scientist behind NASA's NuSTAR orbiting X-ray telescope, one of two X-ray telescopes that contributed to the discovery.

Instead, scientists describe the rate in terms of the energy needed to sustain the spin. This black hole's spin is sustained by an amount of energy equivalent to the energy released by a billion stars shining for a billion years, says Dr. Harrison, who is a member of a team reporting the results in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

"That's a huge amount of rotational energy," she says.

Indeed, it represents 84 percent of the maximum spin rate predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity, adds Guido Risaliti, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., who was the lead author of the paper in Nature.

The supermassive black hole's high spin rate provides a direct clue as to how it grew, researchers say.
"We believe that these black holes were born when the universe was only about 10 percent of its current age," said Arvind Parmar, mission manager for the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton orbiting X-ray telescope, during a press briefing Thursday afternoon. Back then, Dr. Parmar says, these objects would have tipped the cosmic scales at 20 or 30 times the sun's mass.
They can grow as galaxies collide and their central black holes merge. If both black holes are spinning in the same direction, the merger would result in a black hole with amped-up spin. Likewise, if the black hole continuously feeds on material in its host galaxy in what's called ordered accretion, the spin would accelerate as well. If feeding is random, however, spin rates would be relatively slow.

Thus, for this black hole, the results imply either constant feeding, a merger, or both, Parmar suggests.

Now that researchers have demonstrated that a supermassive black hole's spin can be measured, the next step is to observe these objects in ever more-distant galaxies that span a large stretch of cosmic time.

"This will allow us to probe the importance of accretion and the importance of mergers in creating the universe we see today," he says.

Measuring a supermassive black hole's rate of spin represents a 20-year-old problem in astrophysics that researchers were able to solve with three days' worth of observations from NuSTAR and XMM-Newton.

The X-rays appear thanks to energetic charged particles that are accelerated by a black hole's magnetic field. The particles form into jets that vault into space from the black hole's north and south poles, streaming for distances that can top 1 million light-years.

The region of a jet with the most intense X-ray emissions lies at the end nearest the black hole. These X-rays can in effect be reflected by the swirling disk of material falling into the supermassive black hole.

Meanwhile, the black hole's enormous gravity tugs on the very fabric of space-time itself as the object spins, distorting the disk of infalling material. The largest amount of distortion appears in the region nearest the black hole's event horizon – the point of no return for infalling material. This distortion shows up in the spectra of the disk material, carried by the X-rays that the material reflects. The brightest, most distorted spectra provide a measure of the black hole's spin.

Between the two telescopes, the researchers were able to measure iron's X-ray spectra from the black hole's vicinity with higher precision, in more detail, and over a wider range of X-ray energies than previous instruments could. This not only allowed them to zero in on emissions closest to the black hole, but it also allowed them to rule out competing explanations for the spectra they recorded.

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 After The Fall - Resuscitation!

"A lot of [Italians] still look at Berlusconi as their saviour, or at least the lesser evil. They might hate him. They might think he's a crook. They know about bunga bunga. But they see him as the only one they can trust who won't raise their taxes."
Robert D'Alimonte, professor, political science, LUISS University, Rome

Italy is once again in political deadlock. An economy still frail, sent reeling at the results of the general election which saw the self-aggrandizing sexual predator that is former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi on the brink of recovering his public office after a year's hiatus. One might imagine Italians in general feeling great relief at this man's retirement after rejection; representing a political laughing stock internationally as an intolerable burden for a proud people.

Not all that proud, evidently. Not too tolerant either, giving the anti-establishment Five Star Movement led by a former comedian turned political saviour, Beppe Grillo who grabbed 25% of the vote in the lower house of parliament. Where he will be able to spout his anti-Semitic diatribes characterizing Jews and Israel as parasites on the world body to his heart's content.

But it is Mr. Berlusconi's People of Freedom party that has triumphed beyond even his grandly confident expectations, as he is set, in partnership with the anti-immigration Northern League to take a high enough proportion of the vote for the centre-right to settle comfortably in control of the upper house.

While the technocrat, appointed Professor Mario Monti, who introduced various austerity measures so dreaded and hated by Italians, received a poor finish for his troubles on behalf of his country. Prudence is not beloved of the populace. A debauched sexual predator is far preferential to a man of especial integrity who brings economic pain to rescue his country's financial future.

At the very time that Italy shouts "grazia!", "grazia!", to a beloved pope soon to be replaced, it shouts welcome back to an aged Lothario whose bumptious ego finds favour in the Italian public. 
Italy "has become a corrupt society and culture and that, with the deep and broad Italianization of the Roman Curia over the past half-decade, similar patterns of incompetence and malfeasance had penetrated the Leonine Wall", stated papal biographer George Weigel.

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February 28, 2013 2:15 pm 
Beppe Grillo. Photo: Wikipedia

Italian elections were held earlier this week and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement Party garnered a quarter of all votes, making it the largest party in the country.

But the comedian turned politician’s rise isn’t good news for all, especially Israel. Grillo is a conspiracy theorist and provacateur who said of Israel during its 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza: “The killer of children is an assassin that must be put on trial for crimes against humanity.”

According to an article on the Israel National News website written by Italian journalist Giulio Meotti, Grillo has a history of launching incendiary rhetoric towards Israel and Jews. In the past he has said “all that in Europe we know about Israel and Palestine is filtered by an international agency called MEMRI. And behind MEMRI, there is a former Mossad agent. I have the evidence: Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, has used Arabic texts with independent translations and he discovered a completely different reality.” Then, according to Meotti, Grillo alluded specifically to a “Jewish conspiracy” and the need to “check” all information on the Middle East.

The list of insults continues. During one of his shows, Grillo once declared: “There is a saying that ‘where Attila has passed through, no grass will grow.’ We can say ‘where the Israelis have passed, no Palestinian will grow.’”

According to Meotti, the chairman of Milan’s synagogue, Davide Romano, went so far as to recently pronounce that “Grillo has a problem with the Jews.”

Grillo’s Facebook page and weblog is full of anti-Jewish attacks from Grillo’s readers, fans and supporters: “Israel is like Nazi Germany”, “I hope that someone will use any means to stop this killer state”, “The Jews are God’s cursed people”, “Zyklon B for you, peace and justice in Palestine”, “the Israeli leaders are monsters”, “Hamas is much better than all the Zionist governments.”

When not launching insults at Israel and Jews, Grillo tends to defend those who do. Of Mel Gibson he has said: “Israel is scary, her behavior is irresponsible.I said it. And I’m not drunk. I’m just scared for my children. Israel is behind the United States or the United States is behind Israel, which is the cause and which the effect?”

Of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Grillo said that his Iranian father-in-law explained to him that “the translations were not accurate …,” referring to Ahmadinejad’s constant calls for the destruction of Israel.

In general Grillo is an apologist for the Iranian regime, saying that the one described by the Western media is inaccurate: “Those who escape, are opposed to it. But those who remained do not have the same concerns that we have abroad. The economy there is okay, people work. It’s like South America: before it was much worse. I have a cousin who builds highways in Iran.”

Grillo has referred to the “Holocaust industry” and, Meotti concludes, has shown in his TV shows “a primitive hatred for Israel and  Western values.

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"The normal situation is to take money from the kuffar [non-believer]. You work, give us the money." — Anjem Choudary
A radical Islamic cleric who lives off the British welfare state has been filmed urging his followers to quit their jobs and claim unemployment benefits so they have more time to plot holy war against non-Muslims.

Excerpts of the speech, published by the London-based newspaper The Sun on February 17, have drawn renewed attention to the growing problem of Muslims in Britain and elsewhere who are exploiting European welfare systems.

In the video, Anjem Choudary -- a former lawyer who has long campaigned to bring Islamic Sharia law to Britain and other European countries (here, here and here) -- is recorded as saying that Muslims are justified in taking money from non-Muslims.

Speaking to a group of Muslim men, Choudary mocks non-Muslims for working in nine-to-five jobs their whole lives. He says: "You find people are busy working the whole of their life. They wake up at 7 o'clock. They go to work at 9 o'clock. They work for eight, nine hours a day. They come home at 7 o'clock, watch EastEnders [a British soap opera], sleep, and they do that for 40 years of their life. That is called slavery. ... What kind of life is that? That is the life of the Kuffar [a non-Muslim]."

Choudary urges fellow Muslims to learn from revered figures in Islamic history who only worked one or two days a year. "The rest of the year they were busy with Jihad [holy war] and things like that," he says.

Choudary continues: "People will say, 'Ah, but you are not working.' But the normal situation is for you to take money from the kuffar [non-Muslims]. So we take Jihad Seeker's Allowance."

At this point, Choudary takes a page from the late Anwar al-Awlaki, killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. In a 2006 sermon entitled, "Allah is Preparing us for Victory," al-Awlaki said that robbery and extortion of non-Muslims was the strategy the Islamic Prophet Mohammed prescribed for conducting Jihad, the central mission of Islam.

Al-Awlaki said: "Leave the farming to the people of the book [Jews and Christians], you go and spread the religion of Allah [through jihad]; they will farm and they will feed you; they will pay Jizya [extra tax], they will pay Kharaaj [tribute], if the sustenance of the Prophet Mohammed was through Ghaneema [plunder] it must be the best and better than farming, business, shepherding and better than anything else because Mohammed said: 'My sustenance comes beneath the shadow of my spear.'"

Accordingly, the British-born Choudary states that Muslims are entitled to welfare payments because they are a form of Jizya, an extra tax imposed on non-Muslims in countries run by Muslims, and a reminder that non-Muslims are permanently inferior and subservient to Muslims.

In another video, Choudary says: "We take the Jizya, which is ours anyway. The normal situation is to take money from the kuffar. They give us the money. You work, give us the money, Allahu Akhbar [Allah is great]. We take the money. " He then adds: "Hopefully there's no one from the DSS [Department of Social Security] listening to this."

Choudary, who is married and has four children, enjoys a rather comfortable lifestyle that is being paid for by British taxpayers, year after year. In 2010, for example, The Sun reported that he takes home more than £25,000 ($38,000) a year in welfare benefits.

Among other handouts, Choudary receives £15,600 a year in housing benefit to keep him in a £320,000 ($485,000) house in Leytonstone, East London. He also receives £1,820 council tax allowance, £5,200 income support and £3,120 child benefits. Because his welfare payments are not taxed, his income is equivalent to a £32,500 ($50,000) salary.

By comparison, the average annual earnings of full-time workers in Britain was £26,500 in 2012.
According to The Sun, the university-educated Choudary is "notoriously vague about whether he works or has other money coming in. He is understood to be employed by a Muslim organization on a shoestring wage, which allows him to claim income support and free time to spread his message. Asked during a radio interview this week if he worked, he replied: 'Well, what I do is my business. I don't think it is important.'"

During an interview with BBC Radio 5 on February 17, Choudary was equally evasive on his sources of income. (The radio interview begins at 00:57 in the video linked here.)

Although analysts are divided over the question of how many followers Choudary actually has, no one disputes the fact that he is far from alone in exploiting the British welfare system.

Consider the issue of polygamy. Although the practice is illegal in Britain, the state effectively recognizes the practice for Muslim men, who often have up to four wives (and in some instances five or more) in a harem.

Social welfare experts believe there are at least 20,000 bigamous or polygamous Muslim unions in England and Wales. If the average size of such a "family" is 15 people, these numbers would imply that around 300,000 people in Britain are living in polygamous families.

According to British law, a Muslim man with four wives is entitled to receive £10,000 ($15,000) a year in income support alone. He could also be entitled to more generous housing and council tax benefits to reflect the fact that his household needs a bigger property.

The result is that the more children produced by Muslim polygamists, the more state welfare money pours in for their wives and themselves. By having a string of wives living in separate homes, thousands of Muslim immigrants are squeezing tens of millions of British pounds from the state by claiming benefits intended for single mothers and their children.

Those women are eligible for full housing benefits -- which reach £106,000 ($250,000) a year in some parts of London -- and child benefits paid at £1,000 ($1,500) a year for a first child, and nearly £700 ($1,000) for each subsequent one.

Welfare payments are also sent abroad to support children who live outside Britain.

In December 2010, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, said that Muslim immigrants who send a portion of their welfare payments to families back home are "heroic." She also said the government should make it easier for them to send the money home, and called for tax refunds to encourage more immigrants to follow suit, "in particular those who paid for their children to be educated in the Third World."

Another point of contention involves British taxpayers who are spending millions of British pounds to house unemployed Muslim immigrants in luxury homes across the country.

In August 2012, for example, Palestinian refugee Manal Mahmoud was given a new taxpayer-funded property after she and her seven children trashed a £1.25 million townhouse they had been living in in Fulham, West London. Mahmoud, who came to Britain in 2000 with her husband before they split up, says, "I am entitled to live in a house like this, even if I don't pay for it -- and get benefits."

In July 2010, Somali asylum seekers Abdi and Syruq Nur and their seven children, after complaining that their home in the Kensal Rise area of Brent was in a "poor" area, were given a £2.1million house in Kensington (one of Britain's most exclusive addresses) at a cost of £8,000 a month to the taxpayer. After Nur lost his £6.50-an-hour job as a bus driver in 2009, the family is totally dependent on state benefits. The new home is believed to be one of the most expensive houses ever paid for by housing benefit

In February 2010, it emerged that Essma Marjam, an unemployed single mother of six, receives more than £80,000 a year from British taxpayers to pay the rent on a £2 million mansion in an exclusive London suburb located yards from the house of Paul McCartney. Marjam also receives an estimated £15,000 a year in other payouts, such as child benefits, to help look after her children, aged from five months to 14.

Marjam said, "I moved here at the beginning of the month as I'm entitled to a five-bedroom house. I was in a three-bedroom council house but I needed a bigger place once my new baby came along. So the council agreed to pay the £1,600 a week to a private landlord as they didn't have any houses big enough. I'm separated from my husband. He's a solicitor in Derby, but I don't know if he's working at the moment. He doesn't pay anything towards the kids. Things are quite difficult between us. The house is lovely and very big, but I don't have enough furniture to fill it."

In November 2009, it was reported that former Somali asylum seeker Nasra Warsame, her seven children (aged from two to 16) and her elderly mother are living in a luxury £1.8 million five-story house in central London. Annual rent for the house costs British taxpayers £83,200.

Warsame's husband, Bashir Aden, and another of their children, are living in a separate property in nearby Camden. He said they live separately because the family is too big to fit under one roof. His two-bedroom flat is also paid for by housing benefit. Both homes are equipped with statutory plasma televisions and computers.

In October 2008, it emerged that Toorpakai Saiedi, a mother of seven originally from Afghanistan, was living in £1.2million seven-bedroom luxury house in Acton, West London, paid for by British taxpayers. At the time, she was receiving £170,000 a year in benefits, including an astonishing £150,000 paid to a private landlord for the rent of the property, equivalent to £12,500 a month.

Saiedi's son Jawad, a student who admitted he spent most of his time driving around in cars and playing billiards, said, "When the council chose to put us here we did not say no. If someone gave you a lottery jackpot, would you leave it? When I heard how much the council was paying, I thought they were mad."

British taxpayers have footed the bill for the Moroccan-born Najat Mostafa, the second wife of the Egyptian-born Islamic hate preacher Abu Hamza, who was extradited to the United States in October 2012. She has lived in a £1million, five-bedroom house in one of London's wealthiest neighborhoods for more than 15 years, and she raised the couple's eight children there.

Abu Hamza and his family are believed to have cost British taxpayers more than £338,000 in benefits. He has also received £680,000 in legal assistance for his failed US extradition battle. The cost of keeping him in a British prison since 2004 is estimated at £500,000.

Fellow hate preacher Abu Qatada, a Palestinian, has cost British taxpayers an estimated £500,000. He has also won £390,000 in legal aid to avoid deportation to Jordan.

The Islamic preacher Omar Bakri Mohammed, a Syrian, obtained £300,000 benefits before being exiled to Lebanon. The money was provided to raise his six children, including Yasmin Fostok, a single mother who makes a living as a pole-dancer in London nightclubs.

In February 2013, a judge in London acquitted two brothers from Pakistan who swapped houses in an effort to defraud British taxpayers out of £315,000. The Pakistani couples, who have 11 children between them, submitted bogus tenancy agreements for 16 years.

Judge Neil Sanders said, "The two men dishonestly represented through their wives to the London Borough of Redbridge that this was a genuine rental arrangement." But, he said: "You have both worked hard in terms of making a life for yourselves and in many ways the greatest punishment is the loss of your good name."

As for Anjem Choudary, he was also filmed saying that Islam will take over Europe. He said: "Now we are taking over Birmingham and populating it. Brussels is 30% Muslim, Amsterdam is 40% Muslim. Bradford is 17% Muslim. These people are like a tsunami going across Europe. And over here we're just relaxing, taking over Bradford, brother. The reality is changing. We are going to take England: the Muslims are coming."

Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group.

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GENEVA, February 28, 2013 – UN Watch expressed shock over anti-Jewish remarks delivered by Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan at a UN summit for tolerance, and urged UN chief Ban Ki-moon — who was present on the stage yet stayed silent — to speak out and condemn the speech.

The Geneva-based human rights group also called on Erdogan to apologize, and hoped US President Obama would press him to do so.

Speaking yesterday before a Vienna forum of the Alliance of Civilizations, a UN framework for West-Islam dialogue, Erdogan called Zionism, the movement founded in 1897 for Jewish self-determination, a “crime against humanity,” likening it with anti-Semitism, fascism, and Islamophobia. click here for Turkish news report.

“We remind secretary-general Ban Ki-moon that his predecessor Kofi Annan recognized that the UN’s 1975 Zionism-is-racism resolution was an expression of anti-Semitism, and he welcomed its repeal.”

UN Watch urged all members of the Alliance’s High Level Group, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “to denounce remarks that fundamentally contradict the very purpose of a forum supposedly dedicated to mutual tolerance.”

“Erdogan’s misuse of this global podium to incite hatred, and his resort to Ahmandinejad-style pronouncements appealing to the lowest common denominator in the Muslim world, will only strengthen the belief that his government is hewing to a confrontational stance, and fundamentally unwilling to end its four-year-old feud with Israel.”

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 Disgraceful Diplomacy: EU Leaks and Secret NGO Processes 

 NGO Monitor February 28, 2013

According to a news story in the Jerusalem Post (Feb. 27, 2013), the Israeli political advocacy NGO Breaking the Silence was responsible for leaking the latest internal EU document condemning Israeli policy. The “EU Heads of Mission Jerusalem Report 2012,” which recommends various sanctions against Israel, was not shared with the Israeli government. Many of the claims and conclusions in it are based on non-verified statements and prejudicial opinions of NGOs, which themselves receive funding from the EU and European governments.

This highly irregular EU practice stands in stark contrast to good governance standards, which require consultation of a wide spectrum of political positions and expertise when formulating policy.

This episode, like numerous other instances of leaked internal EU documents, highlights the inappropriate relationship between European funders and their NGO grantees, which violates democratic and diplomatic norms. The secret cooperation between the EU and fringe NGOs produces damaging and ill-informed policies. This “echo chamber,” whereby the EU and European governments fund NGOs and then repeat their false, inaccurate, or misleading allegations in determining foreign policy, also exacerbates conflict between the EU and Israeli consensus positions.

NGO Monitor notes that Breaking the Silence was awarded a €166,538 grant from the EU for 2012-2013. It is unknown which other European-funded NGOs also had access to this internal EU document.

As seen in NGO Monitor’s freedom of information lawsuit against the EU, these are the same secretive backroom dealings that characterize the EU’s non-transparent NGO funding decision making.

Reportedly, in the next few weeks the EU will embark on a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative. However, the anti-diplomacy seen in the secretive cooperation with NGOs, behind the back of the Israeli government, threatens to further erode the EU’s credibility within Israel.

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US joins Russia in drawing ceasefire lines for ending Syrian war

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 28, 2013, 9:51 AM (GMT+02:00)
John Kerry on first foreign trip
John Kerry on first foreign trip
Incoming US Secretary of State John Kerry, on his first foreign trip, set forth what sounded like a new Obama administration policy for Syria in his remarks in Paris Wednesday, Feb. 27. They were accompanied by reports that the US was stepping up its support for the Syrian opposition. It would cover training rebels at a base in the region and non-lethal assistances and equipment, such as vehicles, communications equipment and night vision gear.

But Kerry’s remarks did not reflect a new policy but merely recycled old definitions which confirmed US disengagement from Syria, rather than “stepping up support” for the Syrian opposition “for the first time.” US supplies of nonlethal assistance to Syrian rebels date back to early last year. The US has moreover been training Syrian rebels in Jordanian bases near the Syrian border for more than a year to carry out three missions:

1. To seize control of Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal;

2. To create a pro-Western core command structure as a factor in post-Assad government;

3. To ward off the takeover of the revolt command by Islamist factions, including groups associated with al Qaeda.

It turned out that none of these three missions was actually achieved. The chemical weapons remained firmly in the hands of Assad and his army - which never used them, contrary to rebel claims; factions close to Al Qaeda grew stronger; and their role in the rebel command expanded as they were seen to be the best-armed and trained of any Syrian rebel faction.

The Obama administration finally came to the conclusion that the only way to contain Islamist forces and retain a modicum of American control over the rebels was to catch a ride on Russian President Vladimir Putin plans for Syria, even through they entailed preserving Bashar Assad in power through to 2014.

debkafile’s military and Russian sources reveal here for the first time that those plans hinge primarily on establishing armistice lines dividing the country into separate sectors and determining in advance which will be controlled by rebel factions and which by Assad loyalilsts. This is the first practical basis to be put forward for an accord to end the two-year old civil war between Assad and the Syrian opposition and it is designed to go forward under joint Russian-American oversight.

Our sources add that the teamwork between Washington and Moscow in pursuit of this plan is close and detailed. They have agreed to get together on the types of weapons to be supplied to each of the rebel groups and are sharing costs.

That is the real new American policy for Syria: It is based on Washington’s recognition of the new situation unfolding in Syria and the need to cooperate with Moscow, including acceptance of Assad’s rule, in order to salvage remnants of American influence within the Syrian rebel camp.

French President Francois Hollande showed he was quick on the uptake. No sooner had the Secretary Kerry departed Paris for Rome Wednesday, than Hollande was on his way to Moscow to scout out a role for France.

Labels: , , , , , EnglishSenior Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zeid killed in northern Mali: TV

Islamist hardliners in northern Mali pulled out of the towns they had ruthlessly ruled for nine months in northern Mali. (AFP)
Islamist hardliners in northern Mali pulled out of the towns they had ruthlessly ruled for nine months in northern Mali. (AFP)
A senior leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been killed in northern Mali: Algeria-based Ennahar television reported on Thursday.

The station said 40 militants including Abu Zeid were killed in the region of Tigargara in northern Mali three days ago. A French Defense Ministry official declined to comment on the report. Algeria did not confirm the killing.

France launched a whirlwind assault to retake Mali's vast northern desert region from AQIM and other Islamist rebels on Jan. 11 after a plea from Mali's caretaker government. The military intervention dislodged the rebels from several main towns they had occupied and drove them back into desert wilds.

Overwhelmed by the superior fire-power of the French air force and special forces, Islamist hardliners in northern Mali pulled out of the towns they had ruthlessly ruled for nine months, imposing an extreme form of sharia law.

They regrouped and reverted to guerrilla tactics, launching hit-and-run attacks against French or pro-government forces and resorting to suicide attacks.

AQIM has earned tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments for Western hostages taken to its strongholds in northern Mali.

Abu Zeid has been regarded as one of AQIM's most ruthless operators. He is believed to have executed British national Edwin Dyer in 2009 and a 78-year-old Frenchman, Michel Germaneau, in 2010.

Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler, in an account of his kidnapping by another Islamist cell in the Sahara, recounted how Abou Zeid refused to give medication to two hostages suffering from dysentery, one of whom had been stung by a scorpion.

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Government-sanctioned textbooks across Pakistan contain numerous examples of anti-minority and anti-Western language, prompting activists to encourage teachers to stop using them.

By Taha Siddiqui, Correspondent / February 28, 2013
This file photo shows a boy looking out of a classroom while attending school in Mingora, located in Pakistan's Swat Valley, 161 miles northwest of Islamabad.
Faisal Mahmood/REUTERS/File

Islamabad, Pakistan
In a public school located just outside the capital, a classroom of ninth-graders follows quietly along in their history textbooks as their teacher reads out loud about what happened shortly after the creation of Pakistan in 1947:
“Caravans that were on the way to Pakistan were attacked by Hindus and Sikhs. Not a single Muslim was left alive in trains coming to Pakistan.”

As the magnitude of the sentence registers with the students, the phrase “No Muslim was left alive!” echoes around the classroom from whispered lips. Students are clearly engaged with the subject and clearly disturbed with what history they have just learned.

The only problem? That description in the students' books is highly misleading.

Though the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 was indeed one of massive violence, Mubarak Ali, who has written several books on India-Pakistan history, says this is a one-sided account of events and an exaggerated version of the truth.  In fact, it was the Pakistani side where the communal riots started, and in reaction, Indians responded, he says, adding: "But very few trains were attacked. And many more made it alive, which is not taught."

Dr. Ali says that such content should be expunged from school books, much as India has managed to do.

"Instead of teaching Pakistani youth that Hindus from India are to be blamed for everything, textbooks should critically look at this communal violence, which can actually be traced to the way both Muslims and Hindus responded to British imperialism before the independence. We should not glorify this division but rather criticize it, because Muslims and Hindus coexisted peacefully for centuries before," he says.  

Across Pakistan, government-sanctioned school textbooks contain blatantly anti-religious-minority, anti-Western material. And many are worried the curriculum  is fueling intolerance, especially among youths – leading to violent behavior and even sympathy for the Taliban.

“Such textbooks try to create and define Pakistani nationalism in a very narrow sense. It tries to define it in term of an Islamic identity,” says Abdul Hameed Nayyar, a well-known historian, activist, and former physicist who is part of a Lahore-based campaign to encourage teachers around the country to raise awareness about this issue by calling it “the curriculum of hatred” and encouraging teachers to stop using the textbooks.

After the teacher finishes reading, he asks another student to continue reading aloud from the next chapter, which focuses on why Pakistan came into existence: "Narrow-mindedness of the Hindus and the conspiracies of whites led to the call of this Islamic country, Pakistan.”

When asked later about his opinion of Hindus and Christians, the student reiterates what his textbook said. “I think Hindus are against Pakistan, against Islam. Hindus are like that. And even the British and the non-Muslims – they still oppose Pakistan,” he adds.

That type of reaction is a problem, say activists, who note that school history texts are used by impressionable children and should be based in fact, not opinion, as students form their own ideas about the world. “These books try to show Pakistan and Muslims are victims of all kinds of conspiracy, from lots of people from many countries, which results in making people very paranoid,” says Mr. Nayyar. “And they become infused with narrowmindedness,” which can lead to extremism, he adds.

Each province has its own textbook board, which reviews and approves textbooks for use in both public and private schools.

The current curriculum came into use following the end of colonial rule and bitter break with India, which was considered an enemy.  Later, during the rule of Gen. Zial ul-Haq, the curriculum was further radicalized, introducing the Soviet war in Afghanistan as “a new front for jihad.” Haq’s vision was to Islamize Pakistan, inspired by Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Islam.

Nayyar, who co-wrote a 2003 study called “The Subtle Subversion” that points out historical faults in textbooks and how the inaccuracies affect children, has been struggling for more than a decade to change them. The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a minority rights organization, estimates that nearly every school in Pakistan uses the textbooks.

“During the early years of Musharraf [Pakistan’s last military dictator] rule, I was asked by the government to give in my recommendations to improve the curriculum, which were incorporated in the syllabus,” says Nayyar.

One of the changes he suggested and that was made was to redefine the word “jihad” in textbooks. Though the textbooks have it as “waging a holy war against infidels,” the literal meaning of the word means “struggle,” or “striving,” a meaning, he says, that deserves a much broader definition. He proposed that textbooks should explain that the term should refer to “fighting evils inside oneself.”
But his changes were short-lived.

Pressured by religious parties from whom he was seeking political support, Musharraf restored the original curriculum a few months later.

But the NCJP approached Nayyar recently, knowing he had led the fight to modernize Pakistan’s textbooks for years.

Now Nayyar and the NCJP have come up with an updated analysis of Pakistan’s curriculum in both public and private schools by detailing lessons from the books sentence by sentence, highlighting content that is biased against ethnic and religious minorities in Pakistan, as well as hypernationalism against India and the West.

In many chapters outlined by NCJP, modern Hindus are referred to as “gangsters” and Christians are referred to as “violent crusaders.”

According to the report, the hate content in textbooks has more than doubled since the last time they were revised. For example, some 30 Grade 5 to 10 textbooks published in Punjab,  examined in 2009, were found to have 12 instances of biased material that could be considered “hate content.”  In 2012, the textbooks underwent a curriculum revision. After another review, the total number of quantifiable instances of questionable or factually incorrect material went up to 33, according to Peter Jacob, the study's author.

When Pakistan’s Federal Textbook Board – a government body that authorizes and reviews content published in schoolbooks – was contacted, at first they denied that there was such content.
When a Monitor correspondent confronted them with the latest report by NCJP, Riaz Ahmad, head of the government curriculum committee, promised to look into it.

“We try our best to check such content, but since our society belongs to religious people, it is tough to bring [such] changes,” Dr. Ahmad says, adding that the curriculum has to respect the society it is being taught in.

In the meantime, some schools have begun to write their own textbooks. One such private school, Indus Valley School of Learning, based in Rawalpindi, has come up with its own curriculum. It has yet to find a publisher, which makes education here expensive, but appears to be promoting understanding among the youths studying here.

Yasmeen Ashraf, the owner and principal of the school, says, “ The extremism that we have seen in Pakistan can be beaten through the school, through the education system by properly developing curriculum."

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Experts: Dead PA Prisoner was Not Harmed

The PA terrorist who died in an Israeli prison was not beaten, tortured or poisoned, experts find. Cause of death still not clear.

By Maayana Miskin - Arutz Sheva 7
First Publish: 2/28/2013, 6:18 PM

Security prisoners
Security prisoners
Flash 90
Palestinian Authority resident Arafat Jaradat was not harmed before his death, a team of medical experts has found. Jaradat died in an Israeli prison over the weekend, sparking days of riots as PA Arabs blamed Israel for his death.

An initial autopsy confirmed that Jaradat had died of a heart attack, but did not find a cause. That autopsy also ruled out the possibility of torture.

More in-depth findings publicized Thursday confirmed that Jaradat had not been poisoned, either. The new data also reconfirmed that Jaradat had not been beaten or tortured.

The PA has pointed to Jaradat’s broken ribs and bruising on his upper body as evidence of torture. However, medical experts say the damage is consistent with attempts to restart his heart using CPR.
Paramedics and doctors performed CPR for 50 minutes in an attempt to save Jaradat’s life.

While the latest findings ruled out several options, the team has still not found a conclusive cause of death for Jaradat.

Professor Yehuda Hiss of the Institute of Forensic Medicine, Professor Affeck, head of medicine in the Health Ministry, and Professor Barshak, head of pathology at the Sheba Medical Center, all among Israel’s top experts, took part in the autopsy.

The United Nations has called for an “independent and transparent” investigation into Jaradat’s death once the autopsy is over.

More on this topic

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Frustration forces Western shift on Syria

Syrian rebel fighters Despite the US shift in policy, arming the Syrian rebels remains a thorny and divisive issue
The situation on the ground in Syria may be becoming ever more desperate but it is the West's response to the crisis that was in the spotlight here in Rome.

The new US Secretary of State John Kerry in particular was under pressure to demonstrate some shift in the US position.

For two years now there have been two timescales, two clocks running.

On the one hand there has been the pace of developments on the ground. The fighting has spread, civilian casualties have mounted and there has been an exodus of refugees to neighbouring countries, not to mention vast numbers of internally displaced people inside Syria.

On the other hand there has been the international diplomatic clock, always seemingly running slow, belatedly responding to events but never quite able to shape them.

There has been a growing realisation over recent months that this dual timescale is not working.
The Syrian opposition has become increasingly frustrated with the support, or what it sees as lack of support, that it is getting.

It wants arms - especially sophisticated anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems that it believes would even up the military balance on the ground.
John Kerry and Moaz al-Khatib Moaz al-Khatib, the Syrian opposition leader appeared underwhelmed by the US promise of aid
The Syrian opposition at one stage threatened to boycott this Rome meeting altogether if there wasn't going to be some sign of a step-change in Western policy.

Well, change there has been. The US secretary of state indicated Congress would be asked for $60m (£40m) of additional aid for the Syrian opposition.

But this was only the start. More interesting was Washington's new willingness to supply non-lethal aid - rations and medical equipment - directly to the military opposition to the Assad regime.

Other countries are making their own shifts. "Britain's policy couldn't remain static in the face of an ever-deteriorating situation," said the UK Foreign Secretary William Hague as he left the meeting.
Britain, he said, would be using any changes in the EU arms embargo on Syria to the full.

"We will send equipment that we haven't sent before," he asserted, but for now this will still not include weaponry, though he would not rule out the future supply of arms if the situation continued to deteriorate.

Moaz al-Khatib, the Syrian opposition leader, appeared underwhelmed by the US shift. He did not specifically ask for advanced weaponry but he did mention how unfair it was that Syrian government forces were still receiving arms supplies.

He also pushed the idea of humanitarian safe corridors; an idea that seems to have had a second coming, made more relevant perhaps by the fact that the Syrian opposition now holds more territory.
So diplomatic shift there has been but probably not yet enough to concentrate minds in Damascus.
The signals though are clear. Diplomatic patience is running out. Mr Hague spoke of "a new phase in our response to the crisis in Syria".

His next comment was interesting. He spoke of the balance of risks changing in Syria. He noted the extreme human distress in the country and the fact that the risk of wider regional instability was growing all the time.

"Our policy cannot remain static in the face of an ever-deteriorating situation," he concluded.
So the international calculus is slowly shifting. The debate on arming the Syrian opposition is not going to go away. Non-lethal military aid looks to be the next step for some governments.
The problem is that the arming debate is no simple one. More weapons may even up the contest but equally could increase the bloodshed in the short term.

How could weapons be kept out of the hands of extremist Islamist groups? And is it really true, as some have argued, that supplying weaponry will boost the influence of Western governments among groups that will have a key role in any post-Assad Syria?

Western arms supplies in Afghanistan and Iraq suggest a more complex answer.

One reason the diplomatic clock has been moving so slowly is, in fairness, that while terrible events have been taking place on the ground, there are probably no easy diplomatic answers to be found.

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Syria conflict: John Kerry extends US aid to rebels

 BBC News online - 28 February 2013
People search rubble for bodies in an area of Aleppo reportedly destroyed by a government missile strike The escalating carnage in Syria has increased pressure for western intervention
The US is to step up its support for the Syrian opposition as it fights to topple President Bashar al-Assad, Secretary of State John Kerry says. 

Mr Kerry said the US would provide direct support to rebel forces in the form of medical and food supplies.

He also promised an additional $60m (£40m) in aid to the opposition to help it deliver basic governance and other services in rebel-controlled areas.

Mr Kerry was speaking at a gathering of the Friends of Syria group in Rome.

The promise of direct, non-lethal aid to the rebels represents a shift in US policy on Syria, correspondents say.
John Kerry: "This funding will allow the opposition... to be able to rebuild" 

However it falls short of providing the weapons and munitions that the rebels say they need to defeat government forces.

Mr Kerry said the decision was designed to increase the pressure on President Assad to step down and allow a democratic transition.

"The US decision to take further steps now is the result of the brutality of superior armed force propped up by foreign fighters from Iran and Hezbollah.

"President Assad is out of time and must be out of power," said Mr Kerry, adding that the Syrian leader could not "shoot his way out" of the situation.

The $60m in aid to the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) represents a doubling of US support.

It was intended to help the opposition deliver governance and basic services in rebel-controlled areas, said Mr Kerry.

"As the regime continues to lose ground it will help the opposition extend stability and build representative government and the rule of law," he added.

The signals are clear. Diplomatic patience is running out and the international calculus is slowly shifting.
The debate on arming the Syrian opposition is not going to go away. Non-lethal military aid looks to be the next step for some governments.
The problem is that the arming debate is no simple one. More weapons may even up the contest but equally could increase the bloodshed in the short term.
How could weapons be kept out of the hands of extremist Islamist groups? And is it really true, as some have argued, that supplying weaponry will boost the influence of Western governments among groups that will have a key role in any post-Assad Syria?
One reason the diplomatic clock has been moving so slowly is, in fairness, that while terrible events have been taking place on the ground, there are probably no easy diplomatic answers to be found.

After the meeting, the European Union announced changes to its arms embargo on Syria, allowing EU states to provide armoured vehicles, non-lethal military equipment and technical aid to the rebels, but not weapons.

At the meeting with Mr Kerry, leader of the SNC, Moaz al-Khatib, said he was still frustrated by the lack of military help for rebel fighters.

He initially refused to attend the Rome talks in protest at a lack of international support for the Syrian rebels, but was persuaded after the US and UK indicated there would be specific promises of aid.
Mosque 'captured'
Speaking at the meeting Mr Khatib called on President Assad to make "one wise decision in your life" and stand down "for the future of your country".

Earlier this month he also suggested for the first time that talks with the Assad government might be possible, though that suggestion remains controversial among opposition groups.

The SNC says it plans to set up a government to administer rebel-held areas of Syria, primarily in the north of the country close to the Turkish border.

But a meeting to select the prime minister, scheduled for the weekend, was unexpectedly postponed on Thursday, and no new date has been set.

Meanwhile fighting in Syria continues and the humanitarian situation is worsening.
In the latest fighting, rebel forces have captured the historic Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, according to an activist group.

The mosque was damaged and its museum caught fire as rebels forced government troops to withdraw, UK-based activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Fighting also raged elsewhere in Aleppo's old city, including near the Palace of Justice, it added.
Aleppo - Syria's second city - has been a key battleground in the conflict.

Mr Kerry highlighted the fate of the city in his address, accusing President Assad of engaging in "ruthless attacks" with Scud missiles against rebel-held areas.

According to UN estimates, more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since the revolt against President Assad began nearly two years ago.

Opposition fighters have been constantly outgunned as President Assad's forces deploy tanks, aircraft and missiles against them.

Syrian rebel with an RPG launcher. The Syrian rebels say weapons and ammunition are what they need most 
The UN's refugees agency says the number of Syrians who have fled the conflict into neighbouring countries is now approaching one million, while two million have been internally displaced.

The World Health Organisation has warned of disease outbreaks and worsening medical services.
Earlier, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Friends of Syria were determined to "ramp up" assistance to the opposition.

"We are entering a new phase in the response of Western and Arab nations to the crisis in Syria," he said.

The Friends of Syria organisation has broad international support, but does not include Syrian allies Russia and China.

On Thursday Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks on Syria with his French counterpart Francois Hollande.

He conceded that there were differences in the positions of Russia and France, but said both had agreed that Syria should not be allowed to break apart as a result of the conflict.

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Protecting The Assassins

"The leaders of the present day Islamic onslaught on Denmark and the West make no bones about their intention to eventually impose [strict Islamic] Sharia law on the infidel population and, thus, reduce Denmark's indigenous population to a state of Dhimmitude -- that is, slaves in their own country."
Lars Hedegaard
This is seen as hate speech by those who are fully in support of overlooking the vast excesses of Islam. That is, Islam as a religion whose purpose is to subjugate in full surrender to its unique faith in the one true god all that it can sweep before its relentless juggernaut onslaught. Jihad accomplished through the medium of courteous invitation, or jihad through the experience of violent conversion. Either will do.

Islam has slurred itself through the latter-day expression of violent jihad. Those among the Islamists whose rash youth is impatient and cannot tolerate the slow expansion of Islam throughout a resistant world and whose inspiration is martyrdom and death to inspire in the uncouth non-Muslims a fear of offending Islam have brought an entirely new awareness to the world at large of the menace that it represents for their well-being.

That awareness was more than adequately addressed by the statement issuing from Lars Hedegaard. A statement which, as president of his country's chapter of the International Free Press Society, made him a target for insulting the religion that claims for itself the title of peace promoter and exemplar of love for one's fellow man.

There is a certain dissonance here to be sure; for it is also a religion whose advent caused a split in the succession and succeeding rituals and beliefs upon the death of the divine messenger of Islam. Any criticism of Islam is interpreted as an assault upon the Prophet Mohammad, and the penalty is that of a capital offense. Any diversion from 'pure' original Islam is seen as an assault on its legitimacy.

Between the major sects there is a stark animosity so great that each treats the other as an abomination to Islam, a stark, insulting, insufferable assault upon the verities and blessings of Islamic purity. The penalty of that state too is death, and death is delivered accordingly in great miserable heaps of bloodied bombed-out bodies.  Mosques may be sacred institutions but they too are fodder for destruction representing the distorted, degraded version of Islam.

While Mr. Hedegaard feared for the ongoing legacy of his country's culture and heritage being absorbed and subsumed by an introduced, alien religion whose purpose is to steadily infiltrate and overcome resistance to its eventual conquest, he became subject to a fatwa. Although he escaped the fate intended for him by assassination he writes that he will likely now be forced to live a hunted man, in secret places to protect himself from death.

It is not enough to issue fatwas against those who offend Islam. The 57 Islamic countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have been attempting for a decade within the United Nations to have legislation brought into universal law to criminalize "Defamation of Religions". Lest any feel this to be an innocuous drive, one that seeks to have all religious devotion of all creeds equally respected, this is precisely the intended ploy.

But were the criminalization of defamers of religions to become fact, it would be Islamist theocracies, Muslim-majority countries of the world that would pursue legal action under the auspices of the United Nations against any perceived offenders who dare take the name of Islam, its Prophet or any of its institutions in vain. The world of religion is fairly relaxed, other than for fanatics of any religion, over the commonly increasing occurrence of religious criticism.

With the exception of Islam. Which was amply demonstrated when the cartoons of Mohammad were published in Denmark, and the world of Islam went berserk, people were killed, and boycotts of Danish products were launched. When suspicion of a Koran being abused is aroused, riots ensue. When Muslims turn away from Islam and toward another religion countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran and Pakistan consider apostates eligible for the death penalty.

Recrimination, intimidation, accusations and criminal charges are hardly what the world needs to inspire greater respect in religion. If those whose scholarship impels them to preach to their followers that they should scorn and defile the religiously significant symbols of another faith feel justified in this approach, yet feel their own religion requires protection, they should be censured.

If those who feel they are singularly entitled to abuse the human rights of others because of a belief in the superiority of their religion are enabled to do so because the larger world looks on forgivingly, then we are aiding and abetting our own downfall.  Accommodation of the politics of intimidation will agree with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and help them institute a law criminalizing defamatory religious statements.

If we keep making excuses of misunderstandings between faiths being responsible for such awkward situations as mass atrocities, we aid and abet those politics of religious entitlements for one, denying them for all others. Left of centre thought has it that Islam is the underdog, that violence and tribal antipathies resulting in mass death can be overlooked in the greater interests of harmony.

We see this writ large in the hallowed halls of the United Nations where its human rights bodies regularly elect genocidal murderers like Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir, and Syria's almost equally murderous president, Bashar al-Assad to represent various human rights commissions, as upstanding delegates, not as the murderers and human-rights abusers that they are.

The appeasement of savagely violent Islamic terror groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al-Qaeda and Hezbollah in the hopes it will assuage their rage and soothe their emotional victimhood where they imagine themselves to be insulted and attacked by the West, will only encourage them to scurry about in their zeal to commit mayhem and mass slaughter the better to beat the West at its game.

And in allowing the steady migration of religious zealots to gain entry to Western-cultured countries of the world, where Muslims have preferred to leave their countries of origin to seek out preferential opportunities available to them in wealthy, advanced nations of the world, unlike the intellectual and social backwaters they come from and then find fault with the receiving culture and resolve to alter it to more accurately reflect their own, we are advancing our own cultural and spiritual demise.

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Aiding Syria

"We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind wondering where the support is or if it's coming. And we are determined to change the calculation on the ground for President Assad.  What has happened in Aleppo in the last days is unacceptable. It's pretty hard to understand how, when you see these Scuds falling on the innocent people of Aleppo, it's possible to take their notion that they're ready to have a dialogue very seriously."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
 Actually, it's pretty hard to take John Kerry and the Obama administration seriously. They've designated the al-Nusra Front as a terrorist group. And these are the very most successful of those groups aiding and supporting the Syrian Free Rebel Army. Just as the Alawite Baath regime of  President al-Assad is guilty of atrocities, so too is the al-Nusra terror group. And in aiding the rebels where is the cut-off point where al-Nusra won't be helped?

But from Berlin Mr. Kerry is indicating that he's washing his hands of Bashar al-Assad. "If the president of the country decides he isn't going to come and negotiate and he's just going to kill his people, then you at least need to provide some support for the people who are fighting" for their freedom. Mr. Kerry doesn't come right out and declare the American administration will begin providing weapons to the rebels, but the intent is clear enough.

Saudi Arabia is already putting its money where its mouth is, and has been for over a year. But things have ramped up, with arms being purchased from Croatia and shipped to the rebels on a larger scale; multiple planeloads of weapons including Yugoslav-made recoilless guns, assault rifles, grenade launchers, machine guns, mortars and shoulder-fired rockets to be used against tanks and other armoured vehicles.

Arming the rebels will also arm Palestinian Gazan terrorists who have been flocking to Syria to help liberate it from its tyrant.  They are on a jihad roll, joining the much-admired Jabhat al-Nusra, with the intention of creating a pan-Islamic state ruled by Sharia laws. And on the other end of the equation is the regime's military, with its Iranian Republican Guard advisers and with the dedicated strategic assistance of Hezbollah.

As though the situation is not horrifically, absurdly grotesque enough, with a regime succeeding in slaughtering an estimated 70,000 of its population and creating refugees of about a million Syrians, there is the added lunacy of the United Nations in all of this. With Ban Ki-moon on the one hand, wringing his hands in despair over Syria, and then standing by as the country was elevated to sit on two UNESCO human rights committes in November 2011.

But the absolutely most incredible was the more recent assignment of Bashar al-Assad as Rapporteur of the UN's Decolonization Committee. A recent decision to unanimously re-elect the Assad regime to a senior post on that committee charged with upholding fundamental human rights by opposing the "subjugation, domination and exploitation" of people.

There is John Kerry standing alongside British Foreign Secretary William Hague at a London news conference to speak of President Obama's "significant mandate" resulting from his re-election, and that the president "has been engaged in examining exactly in what ways we may be able to contribute."

"We have a lot of ideas on the table and some of them I am confident will come to maturity by the time we meet in Rome", he said. Other, unstated ideas "will take a little gestation period, but they're no less part of the mix." Russia and the United States appear to be unusually comfortable in their diplomatic efforts, in discussing Syria, of late.

Remember, Russia going out of its way to defend and support the Assad regime, inclusive of weapons transfers and Russian strategic instructors, and vetoing UN sanctions. In direct opposition, in fact, to what Mr. Kerry is proposing.  Their meeting, however, was extremely agreeable; evidence to be seen in the photo-op that followed.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meets Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on February 26, 2013 in Berlin. (AFP Photo / Maurizio Gambarini)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meets Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on February 26, 2013 in Berlin. (AFP Photo / Maurizio Gambarini)

With so much sweetness and light it is difficult to envision the dreadful plight of Syrian civilians whom the regime attacked a few days back with ballistic missiles, killing an estimated 141 people, over half of whom were children, in the northern province of Aleppo.  But why blanch, why flinch, this is life in the Middle East, where Islamists of one sect are at the throats of Islamists of another sect.

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