Hrant Dink shot dead

Hrant Dink, an Armenian-Turkish journalist who won fame and notoriety for challenging Turkish nationalism, was shot dead in Istanbul yesterday.

If you’re not following events in Turkey closely, you might not have heard of Hrant Dink. Briefly: he was an ethnic Armenian but born and raised in Turkey. The genocide didn’t kill or expel all of Turkey’s Armenians, quite; there are still about 50,000 of them, mostly living in or around Istanbul. Dink was the editor of the Armenian community’s newspaper, Agos, and also its most prominent public intellectual.

Dink got into trouble with Turkish authorities for two things: he insisted on the reality of the Armenian Genocide, and he openly discussed the ambiguous position of ethnic and religious minorities in the Turkish state. Dink wrote about how, as a boy, he had to sing the Turkish national anthem every day in school: “I am a Turk, I am hard working and honest… happy is he who calls himself a Turk… great is our race.” It made him think, he wrote: who am I? If not a Turk, then what?

“As a child, I didn’t know what it meant to be Turkish or Armenian. At Armenian boarding school in Istanbul, I recited the Turkish credo every morning, but I was also told I should preserve my Armenian identity. I never came across my own name in school books – only Turkish names. As an adolescent, I heard the word ‘Armenian’ used as a swearword. As a Turkish citizen, I saw high-court decisions that referred to Armenians as ‘foreigners living in Turkey’. The Armenian orphanage that I worked so hard to establish was confiscated by the state.”

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Belgium yet again in turmoil over killings

In the night between May 6th and 7th 2006 five skinheads, coming from De Kastelein, a known extreme right café in West Flanders, beat up Raphaël Mensah, a fifty year old Parisian artist of Gabonese descent, and his thirty seven year old Belgian friend Alain Bouillon. Bouillon was heavily wounded and Mensah is now lying in a coma. According to Bouillon “the skinheads weren’t after money, they went after us because my friend has the wrong skin colour”. In fact, according to Belgian French-language La Dernière Heure, Mensah’s wallet was recovered on the crime scene with the 150 euros he carried on him still in it.

On May 11th, in an Antwerp street very close to where I used to live, an 18-year old man, Hans Van Themsche, went on a killing spree. His first victim, 46-year old Sonhul Koç, a Turkish woman who was sitting on a park bench reading a book, was heavily wounded. Van Themsche had shot her in the back from a distance of six meters (6.5 yards).

The second and third victims were both killed. They were a 24-year old Malinese woman called Oulemata Niangadou who worked as an au pair and the little Belgian girl she was looking after, two year old Luna. Van Themsche had spotted Oulemata and Luna walking down the street, he passed them, turned around and fired at them, in theirs backs, from point blank range. When he was later questioned about his motive for killing the little girl, he is reported to have said: “She was in the wrong place at the wrong time”. In all it took Van Themsche just four minutes to destroy three lives. He was stopped by a policeman who arrived at the scene and shot Van Themsche, apparently a willing target since he shouted “just shoot me”, in the stomach. Van Themsche is now in the hospital, but he will survive.
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Not Before Time

Brighton College, a modest private school in the South of England, has announced that Mandarin Chinese is to become part of school’s core curriculum from September. Now all it needs is for the state sector to follow suit:

In a clear sign of China’s growing economic and political clout, a British school has become the first in the country to make Mandarin Chinese a compulsory subject for all pupils…..

“One of my key tasks is to make sure that the pupils at Brighton College are equipped for the realities of the 21st century, and one of those realities is that China has the fastest growing economy in the world,” Richard Cairns, headmaster of Brighton College, said.

“This year China replaced Britain as the world’s fourth largest economy. We in Britain need to face up to this challenge, see it for the trading opportunity that it is, and ensure that our nation’s children are well-placed to thrive in this new global reality.

“A better understanding of the language and culture of China will be hugely to the advantage of the children of Brighton College.”

Another Thread

There is considerable speculation taking place at the moment about the nature of the connections (if any) between the British born bombers and militant jihadists in Pakistan. One of the names which keeps appearing is that of the group Jaish-e-Mohammad. Now this name should remind us that this is not the first time British-born Pakistani terrorists have caught the headlines: there is – for example – the case of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who attended English public school Forest School Snaresbroke, and then the London School of Economics, before graduating to assasination and, in particular the horrendous killing of Daniel Pearl. Saeed Sheikh is a member of Jaish-e-Mohammad. Pakistani police are claiming that Shehzad Tanweer met with convicted Church bomber and terrorist Osama Nazir. Nazir is in custody in Pakistan, and according to sources there has allegedly confirmed the meeting:

“Nazir, a member of the al-Qaida-linked Sunni militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, told authorities from jail Thursday that he met with Tanweer in Faisalabad, 75 miles southwest of Lahore, before his arrest.

It was not clear what the men discussed, or whether there was any connection between that meeting and the July 7 attacks against three trains and a double-decker bus.”

Rather chillingly, the above link on Jaish-e-Mohammad has the following under operational strategies: “Most Jaish-e-Mohammed attacks have been described as fidayeen (suicide terrorist) attacks”.

Latin: A solution to the EU’s language problems?

Speaking of the Classics, I recently discovered to my shock and amazement that in Belgium, students still study Latin in secondary school. My Dutch teacher was talking about the structure of secondary school, and described how there is still a Latin/Classical Greek track, as well as a Latin/Math track that students almost have to take if they plan to go into medicine or any advanced humanities.

Even more shocking, she defended this practice, claiming that it was quite clear based on the kinds of essays and work students do in university which ones had studied Latin. She was troubled when I expressed doubt that there was a causal relationship between the two.

Is this commonplace in Europe? I mean, my high school offered Latin, but only because New Jersey required two years of language and some students had already flunked all three modern languages offered. (And because the Romanian woman who taught French and German figured she could teach Latin too, so they didn’t have to hire anyone.)
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Suspicion and divided loyalties

Perhaps the most damaging effect of 9/11 and all that has followed will be its role in making divided loyalties one of the most dangerous things a person can have. From the beginning, while the ruins of the World Trade Center were still burning, any effort to hold non-trivial positions about terrorism and Islam were attacked. People opposed to the war in Iraq were branded as terrorist supporters, people unimpressed by a programme of reform in the Middle East imposed at the end of a gun were castigated, people who asked questions about whether there was more to things than “they hate us for our freedom” were branded as traitors.

Tariq Ramadan wrote a piece in Wednesday’s New York Times which must be read in this light. The key paragraph – the statement of where he stands – appears at the end:

I believe Western Muslims can make a critical difference in the Muslim majority world. To do this, we must become full, independent Western citizens, working with others to address social, economic and political problems. However, we can succeed only if Westerners do not cast doubt on our loyalty every time we criticize Western governments. Not only do our independent voices enrich Western societies, they are the only way for Western Muslims to be credible in Arab and Islamic countries so that we can help bring about freedom and democracy. That is the message I advocate. I do not understand how it can be judged as a threat to America.

But it is not that hard to see the threat in it. To encourage western Muslims to at once see themselves as having a place in the West and a role in the Islamic world is tantamount to asking them to divide their loyalties. To all too many people right now, divided loyalties are a synonym for treason. The charge of divided loyalties is an old one, and a very damaging one. It was once the most mainstream charge that people made against Jews. To see it revived today – against Muslims in Europe, against Mexicans in the US by the likes of Samuel Huntington, and yes, against Jews in many countries – is very, very troubling.
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Religious education in Europe

Following on from threads on Calpundit and Crooked Timber, and given that Europe seems to be at the centre of the debate over religious education in schools at present, what with the French headscarf debate and the proposals to add atheism, agnosticism and humanism to RE in British schools, I thought it would be interesting to get a picture of how the teaching of religion is handled in education systems across Europe.

Below the fold of this post, I’ve given my experiences of religious education at school in Britain and what I understand to be the present position. What I’d like is for our commenters and other contributors to add their experiences or knowledge in the comments box and we’ll see what sort of cross-continental picture we come up with. I’ll admit to being quite ignorant of the position outside Britain (though I know some of the system in France and Ireland) and hopefully we can all enlighten ourselves!
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At least no one can accuse me of being knee-jerk pro-French

My goodness, talking about the headscarf law has brought up some interesting discussion on the blogs. It appears that my mistake was to think that this was ever about improving the lives of Muslim girls. From the responses there is one thing that is clear – this law is about legislating conformity.

For example, from Lilli Marleen:

So who is wetting their pants about what French do in their schools and Germany – hopefully – will do soon after? The girls can go to school, all they have to do is to behave like anyone else.

I’m sure that will make a stirring addition to the EU constitution: You have the right to be just like everyone else, especially if you’re under age. Any failure to take advantage of this right will be punished in the law. It is exactly this sentiment that leads people to think xenophobia towards non-Europeans is a deep seated problem.
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France and the Headscarf: Now the real fighting starts

Yesterday, the French National Assembly voted for a ban on “conspicuous religious symbols” in public schools by a majority of 494 in favour to 36 against. With the bill polling at 70% favourable among the French public, neither major political formation saw any gain in opposition.

Votes against came from several quarters. Alain Madelin – the sole serious Thatcherite in the French government – voted against, as did Christiane Taubira – the first black woman candidate for the French presidency and the first candidate from an overseas department. The biggest block to vote against came from the French Communist Party where 14 members voted against, 7 for, and 3 abstained. The Communists are the only party whose leadership has consistently opposed this law. Back in November the PCF leadership concluded that: “Nous sommes contre une loi qui, sous couvert de la?cit?, aurait comme cons?quence de stigmatiser une population.” We are against a law that, under the cover of secularism, would have as its consequence the stigmatisation of a population.

Normally, I would say that any bill that is opposed by both Alain Madelin and the PCF has to be a good idea. But this time, the fringe politicians are right, and the mainstream is wrong.
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