Sunday, September 24, 2006

Federal treasurer: Pope's critics 'stifling free speech'

Peter Costello has said Muslim critics of a recent speech by Pope benedict XVI have "lacked proportion" in their angry response and have tried to stifle free speech. The Treasurer, in a speech to be delivered today to a Christian lobby conference in Canberra, will also dismiss Islamic extremists' efforts to create caliphates bound by religious law, saying instead that the creation of a secular Muslim state in Turkey is a model that should be adopted by the modern Islamic world.

Earlier this month, the Pope triggered condemnation when he discussed Islam's tendency to justify violence. The Pope had quoted criticisms of the prophet Mohammed by 14th-century Byzantine Christian emperor Manuel II Paleologos.

Mr Costello says he "will not repeat the sentence because it would thoroughly detract from what I have to say". "But it was said 700 years ago," he says. "Read the speech and wonder at the reaction. In response, we are told, seven churches were set on fire on the West Bank and Gaza, and effigies of the Pope were hung and burned in Pakistan. "No doubt the fire bombers on the West Bank and the demonstrators in Pakistan would claim that their actions were incited by the 'insult' of the Pope's speech. "But one can't help thinking that there are some people who love to find an insult and have no concept of proportionality when they do so. "We are moved to think that there are other agendas here. And one of those agendas is to stifle free speech and legitimate open inquiry."

Mr Costello will tell delegates the Muslim world has an "outstanding example" of a secular state created last century in the nation of Turkey established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who commanded the Turkish victory at Gallipoli. "He should be held out as a model of leadership for the modern Islamic world," Mr Costello will say. Movements such as al Qaeda and its south-east Asian affiliate Jemaah Islamiah are engaged in a violent struggle to create Muslim caliphates, often dominated by sharia law. "They have a vision of a caliphate stretching across the Middle East toppling what they see as corrupt nation states and enforcing a more 'pure' version of Islam," Mr Costello says. "In our own region, the ambitions of Jemaah Islamiah is to create a pan-Islamic state stretching down and encompassing the southern Philippines, Malaya and Indonesia."

But Mr Costello argues the separation of church and state is good for society and should be embraced by the Muslim world. "I believe that a secular national state can be adopted by Muslim societies and, what is more, that doing so will lead to greater economic technological progress," he says. Mr Costello says Jesus Christ rejected any opportunity to seize political power, while Mohammed, who was persecuted for his religious teaching, formed an army, defeated those who had forced him out, made peace and instituted a government. The Treasurer has previously sparked controversy by condemning "mushy multiculturalism" and warning Muslim migrants who want sharia law to leave Australia


Australian Foreign minister hits out at Chavez 'rant'

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez resembled a dictator who lacked class during his "rant" at the UN in which he called George W Bush "the devil", Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has said. Mr Downer, who was at the UN General Assembly when Mr Chavez attacked the US President this week, said his comments reflected badly on Venezuela. He said Mr Chavez had dictatorial tendencies and compared him to Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

"The United Nations is a place where you can speak freely and America's a place where you can speak freely," Mr Downer said on US news network Fox in New York. "The irony of all of this is that Venezuela isn't. So here you've got a man who has got dictatorial tendencies ranting to the world. "I think the great mainstream of the international community expect better from political leaders than that."

Mr Downer said he was not surprised Mr Chavez received some laughs and cheers at the General Assembly following his comments. "I've seen it before with Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, and Dr Mahathir the former prime minister of Malaysia," Mr Downer said. "A lot of these people who get up there and denounce the free world and denounce the United States, they get a bit of applause. They get applause from like-minded people. "He can say what he likes but he has to live with the consequences of his words, and I just think in a country like Australia people look at a man like that ranting and it reflects very poorly on the whole of Venezuela that they've got a leader as classless as that in his political behaviour."

The US came under fire from several countries at the General Assembly. The day after Mr Bush defended his attempts to bring democracy to the Middle East, Mr Chavez said: "Yesterday the devil came here. And it still smells of sulphur today." Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attacked the Bush administration's "hegemony". Bolivia's left-wing president, Evo Morales, made a colourful anti-US statement by holding up a coca leaf, which is banned in the United States, to back his protest against the US handling of its war on drugs. Mr Mugabe also railed against the United States and Britain.

"It has been one of the most shrill displays of anti-Americanism in recent years," an ambassador on the UN Security Council said of the speeches. Despite calls from critics in the US to set up an alternative to the United Nations, Mr Downer said the body needed to work better. "It's too hard to set up. I think we've got to try to make the United Nations work a bit better," he said. "But I can understand how Americans feel and I feel for them. "It's easy to take a cheap shot at America."


His Eminence calls time on the Islam row

Cardinal George Pell, whose defence of the Pope's comments about Islam created uproar in Australia's Muslim community this week, has declared the debate to be over. "I think, at least in Australia, it is just rumbling quietly to an end," Sydney's Catholic Archbishop said yesterday. "Throughout the world? I suspect good sense will prevail there also. It's not a major challenge in Australia. The Muslim population here is quite a small population and overwhelmingly peaceful. "I think this Pope will continue to speak clearly and charitably. Very early he spoke about the importance of reciprocity."

Cardinal Pell earlier this week said the reaction of Muslims to comments made by Benedict XVI - in which the Pope quoted a Byzantine emperor using the words "evil" and "inhuman" in reference to Mohammed - showed the link in Islam between religion and violence. And he called on the nation's Muslim clerics to address that link instead of sweeping it under the carpet. Cardinal Pell said the rights Western countries extended to all citizens should be enjoyed by minorities throughout the world, including Christian communities in Muslim countries. He also said Europe needed to radically rethink its relationship with Islam, if it was not doing so already. What was required was "a genuine dialogue rather than just an exchange of pleasantries, so that we can agree to differ without using weapons. But it's quite different in Australia."

Cardinal Pell said his relationship with the Australian Islamic community was continuing as usual and he would be attending Islamic gatherings to which he had been invited. He also said he would be meeting a lawyer associated with the Bali Nine drug mules sometime in the next week or so.


Hands off our Reef

Queensland's tourism industry will fight an influential British think-tank that wants the Great Barrier Reef virtually closed. The Centre for Future Studies says visitors may have to win the right to visit the Reef by a lottery system by 2020. The same group - which claims Australians are not looking after the Reef for the long-term - also wants a host of the world's most popular destinations declared almost off-limits. The entire Greek capital of Athens and Italy's Amalfi coast are among those it says should be far more exclusive.

But the suggestion, contained in a report paid for by a British insurance company, has infuriated the local tourism industry and been outright rejected by Australian scientists and the Federal Government. About 1.8 million people a year travel to the Reef, generating $5 billion and keeping about 800 companies in business. And local experts say the ecosystem which comprises the world's largest living organism is in good shape.

But CFS director Frank Shaw - a man whose biography boasts of him owning a "bolt hole" in a Canary Islands tax haven - claims "economic goals" mean other problems are being overlooked. "There is a conflict between environmental concerns and commercial interests," Dr Shaw said. "Rising sea water temperatures are already damaging the Great Barrier Reef." His group's report also names Nepal's Kathmandu; the Florida Everglades, the Taj coral reed in the Maldives and Croatia's Dalmatian coast as places that should limit their tourism numbers. Tourists could be asked to enter a holiday lottery in which they could win or earn the right to holiday in a particular place.

But coral reef expert Terry Hughes, who directs the biggest coral reef institute in the world at Townsville's James Cook University, said the Great Barrier Reef was a big place and the tourism industry had little impact. "I don't believe there is a conflict between environmental concerns and commercial interests," Professor Hughes said. He said rising sea levels were unlikely to impact on the Reef. "It's already underwater and a few more centimetres, or even half-a-metre over the next few decades is not going to have a huge impact," he said.

Federal Tourism Minister Fran Bailey said tourism operators were ferocious defenders of the Reef's pristine environment. "They rely on the health of the Reef and so have become intimately involved in protecting that environment," she said.

The idea of having to compete for a chance to see one of the great natural wonders of the world - or not see it at all - outraged German tourist Susanne Heiduczek. Ms Heiduczek and her boyfriend Martin, both medical students, said experiencing the Reef was one of the best ways to make people appreciate it. "If people can't see the Reef, what will prompt them to fight for its protection?" she said.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said yesterday that tourism operators constantly monitored changes on the Reef in collaboration with groups such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority


No comments: