30 ottobre 2009

The Dark Side of Dubai

The Dark Side of Dubai

Wednesday, 08 April 2009 07:02
by Johann Hari, Independent

Dubai was meant to be a Middle-Eastern Shangri-La, a glittering monument to Arab enterprise and western capitalism. But as hard times arrive in the city state that rose from the desert sands, an uglier story is emerging. Johann Hari reports

The wide, smiling face of Sheikh Mohammed - the absolute ruler of Dubai - beams down on his creation. His image is displayed on every other building, sandwiched between the more familiar corporate rictuses of Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders. This man has sold Dubai to the world as the city of One Thousand and One Arabian Lights, a Shangri-La in the Middle East insulated from the dust-storms blasting across the region. He dominates the Manhattan-manqué skyline, beaming out from row after row of glass pyramids and hotels smelted into the shape of piles of golden coins. And there he stands on the tallest building in the world - a skinny spike, jabbing farther into the sky than any other human construction in history.

But something has flickered in Sheikh Mohammed's smile. The ubiquitous cranes have paused on the skyline, as if stuck in time. There are countless buildings half-finished, seemingly abandoned. In the swankiest new constructions - like the vast Atlantis hotel, a giant pink castle built in 1,000 days for $1.5bn on its own artificial island - where rainwater is leaking from the ceilings and the tiles are falling off the roof. This Neverland was built on the Never-Never - and now the cracks are beginning to show. Suddenly it looks less like Manhattan in the sun than Iceland in the desert.

Once the manic burst of building has stopped and the whirlwind has slowed, the secrets of Dubai are slowly seeping out. This is a city built from nothing in just a few wild decades on credit and ecocide, suppression and slavery. Dubai is a living metal metaphor for the neo-liberal globalised world that may be crashing - at last - into history.
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* The Desert Blogger: Jamie Stewart's dispatches from Dubai

I. An Adult Disneyland

Karen Andrews can't speak. Every time she starts to tell her story, she puts her head down and crumples. She is slim and angular and has the faded radiance of the once-rich, even though her clothes are as creased as her forehead. I find her in the car park of one of Dubai's finest international hotels, where she is living, in her Range Rover. She has been sleeping here for months, thanks to the kindness of the Bangladeshi car park attendants who don't have the heart to move her on. This is not where she thought her Dubai dream would end.

Her story comes out in stutters, over four hours. At times, her old voice - witty and warm - breaks through. Karen came here from Canada when her husband was offered a job in the senior division of a famous multinational. "When he said Dubai, I said - if you want me to wear black and quit booze, baby, you've got the wrong girl. But he asked me to give it a chance. And I loved him."

All her worries melted when she touched down in Dubai in 2005. "It was an adult Disneyland, where Sheikh Mohammed is the mouse," she says. "Life was fantastic. You had these amazing big apartments, you had a whole army of your own staff, you pay no taxes at all. It seemed like everyone was a CEO. We were partying the whole time."

Her husband, Daniel, bought two properties. "We were drunk on Dubai," she says. But for the first time in his life, he was beginning to mismanage their finances. "We're not talking huge sums, but he was getting confused. It was so unlike Daniel, I was surprised. We got into a little bit of debt." After a year, she found out why: Daniel was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

One doctor told him he had a year to live; another said it was benign and he'd be okay. But the debts were growing. "Before I came here, I didn't know anything about Dubai law. I assumed if all these big companies come here, it must be pretty like Canada's or any other liberal democracy's," she says. Nobody told her there is no concept of bankruptcy. If you get into debt and you can't pay, you go to prison.

"When we realised that, I sat Daniel down and told him: listen, we need to get out of here. He knew he was guaranteed a pay-off when he resigned, so we said - right, let's take the pay-off, clear the debt, and go." So Daniel resigned - but he was given a lower pay-off than his contract suggested. The debt remained. As soon as you quit your job in Dubai, your employer has to inform your bank. If you have any outstanding debts that aren't covered by your savings, then all your accounts are frozen, and you are forbidden to leave the country.

"Suddenly our cards stopped working. We had nothing. We were thrown out of our apartment." Karen can't speak about what happened next for a long time; she is shaking.

Daniel was arrested and taken away on the day of their eviction. It was six days before she could talk to him. "He told me he was put in a cell with another debtor, a Sri Lankan guy who was only 27, who said he couldn't face the shame to his family. Daniel woke up and the boy had swallowed razor-blades. He banged for help, but nobody came, and the boy died in front of him."

Karen managed to beg from her friends for a few weeks, "but it was so humiliating. I've never lived like this. I worked in the fashion industry. I had my own shops. I've never..." She peters out.

Daniel was sentenced to six months' imprisonment at a trial he couldn't understand. It was in Arabic, and there was no translation. "Now I'm here illegally, too," Karen says I've got no money, nothing. I have to last nine months until he's out, somehow." Looking away, almost paralysed with embarrassment, she asks if I could buy her a meal.

She is not alone. All over the city, there are maxed-out expats sleeping secretly in the sand-dunes or the airport or in their cars.

"The thing you have to understand about Dubai is - nothing is what it seems," Karen says at last. "Nothing. This isn't a city, it's a con-job. They lure you in telling you it's one thing - a modern kind of place - but beneath the surface it's a medieval dictatorship."

II. Tumbleweed

Thirty years ago, almost all of contemporary Dubai was desert, inhabited only by cactuses and tumbleweed and scorpions. But downtown there are traces of the town that once was, buried amidst the metal and glass. In the dusty fort of the Dubai Museum, a sanitised version of this story is told.

In the mid-18th century, a small village was built here, in the lower Persian Gulf, where people would dive for pearls off the coast. It soon began to accumulate a cosmopolitan population washing up from Persia, the Indian subcontinent, and other Arab countries, all hoping to make their fortune. They named it after a local locust, the daba, who consumed everything before it. The town was soon seized by the gunships of the British Empire, who held it by the throat as late as 1971. As they scuttled away, Dubai decided to ally with the six surrounding states and make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The British quit, exhausted, just as oil was being discovered, and the sheikhs who suddenly found themselves in charge faced a remarkable dilemma. They were largely illiterate nomads who spent their lives driving camels through the desert - yet now they had a vast pot of gold. What should they do with it?

Dubai only had a dribble of oil compared to neighbouring Abu Dhabi - so Sheikh Maktoum decided to use the revenues to build something that would last. Israel used to boast it made the desert bloom; Sheikh Maktoum resolved to make the desert boom. He would build a city to be a centre of tourism and financial services, sucking up cash and talent from across the globe. He invited the world to come tax-free - and they came in their millions, swamping the local population, who now make up just 5 per cent of Dubai. A city seemed to fall from the sky in just three decades, whole and complete and swelling. They fast-forwarded from the 18th century to the 21st in a single generation.

If you take the Big Bus Tour of Dubai - the passport to a pre-processed experience of every major city on earth - you are fed the propaganda-vision of how this happened. "Dubai's motto is 'Open doors, open minds'," the tour guide tells you in clipped tones, before depositing you at the souks to buy camel tea-cosies. "Here you are free. To purchase fabrics," he adds. As you pass each new monumental building, he tells you: "The World Trade Centre was built by His Highness..."

But this is a lie. The sheikh did not build this city. It was built by slaves. They are building it now.

III. Hidden in plain view

There are three different Dubais, all swirling around each other. There are the expats, like Karen; there are the Emiratis, headed by Sheikh Mohammed; and then there is the foreign underclass who built the city, and are trapped here. They are hidden in plain view. You see them everywhere, in dirt-caked blue uniforms, being shouted at by their superiors, like a chain gang - but you are trained not to look. It is like a mantra: the Sheikh built the city. The Sheikh built the city. Workers? What workers?

Every evening, the hundreds of thousands of young men who build Dubai are bussed from their sites to a vast concrete wasteland an hour out of town, where they are quarantined away. Until a few years ago they were shuttled back and forth on cattle trucks, but the expats complained this was unsightly, so now they are shunted on small metal buses that function like greenhouses in the desert heat. They sweat like sponges being slowly wrung out.

Sonapur is a rubble-strewn patchwork of miles and miles of identical concrete buildings. Some 300,000 men live piled up here, in a place whose name in Hindi means "City of Gold". In the first camp I stop at - riven with the smell of sewage and sweat - the men huddle around, eager to tell someone, anyone, what is happening to them.

Sahinal Monir, a slim 24-year-old from the deltas of Bangladesh. "To get you here, they tell you Dubai is heaven. Then you get here and realise it is hell," he says. Four years ago, an employment agent arrived in Sahinal's village in Southern Bangladesh. He told the men of the village that there was a place where they could earn 40,000 takka a month (£400) just for working nine-to-five on construction projects. It was a place where they would be given great accommodation, great food, and treated well. All they had to do was pay an up-front fee of 220,000 takka (£2,300) for the work visa - a fee they'd pay off in the first six months, easy. So Sahinal sold his family land, and took out a loan from the local lender, to head to this paradise.

As soon as he arrived at Dubai airport, his passport was taken from him by his construction company. He has not seen it since. He was told brusquely that from now on he would be working 14-hour days in the desert heat - where western tourists are advised not to stay outside for even five minutes in summer, when it hits 55 degrees - for 500 dirhams a month (£90), less than a quarter of the wage he was promised. If you don't like it, the company told him, go home. "But how can I go home? You have my passport, and I have no money for the ticket," he said. "Well, then you'd better get to work," they replied.

Sahinal was in a panic. His family back home - his son, daughter, wife and parents - were waiting for money, excited that their boy had finally made it. But he was going to have to work for more than two years just to pay for the cost of getting here - and all to earn less than he did in Bangladesh.

He shows me his room. It is a tiny, poky, concrete cell with triple-decker bunk-beds, where he lives with 11 other men. All his belongings are piled onto his bunk: three shirts, a spare pair of trousers, and a cellphone. The room stinks, because the lavatories in the corner of the camp - holes in the ground - are backed up with excrement and clouds of black flies. There is no air conditioning or fans, so the heat is "unbearable. You cannot sleep. All you do is sweat and scratch all night." At the height of summer, people sleep on the floor, on the roof, anywhere where they can pray for a moment of breeze.

The water delivered to the camp in huge white containers isn't properly desalinated: it tastes of salt. "It makes us sick, but we have nothing else to drink," he says.

The work is "the worst in the world," he says. "You have to carry 50kg bricks and blocks of cement in the worst heat imaginable ... This heat - it is like nothing else. You sweat so much you can't pee, not for days or weeks. It's like all the liquid comes out through your skin and you stink. You become dizzy and sick but you aren't allowed to stop, except for an hour in the afternoon. You know if you drop anything or slip, you could die. If you take time off sick, your wages are docked, and you are trapped here even longer."

He is currently working on the 67th floor of a shiny new tower, where he builds upwards, into the sky, into the heat. He doesn't know its name. In his four years here, he has never seen the Dubai of tourist-fame, except as he constructs it floor-by-floor.

Is he angry? He is quiet for a long time. "Here, nobody shows their anger. You can't. You get put in jail for a long time, then deported." Last year, some workers went on strike after they were not given their wages for four months. The Dubai police surrounded their camps with razor-wire and water-cannons and blasted them out and back to work.

The "ringleaders" were imprisoned. I try a different question: does Sohinal regret coming? All the men look down, awkwardly. "How can we think about that? We are trapped. If we start to think about regrets..." He lets the sentence trail off. Eventually, another worker breaks the silence by adding: "I miss my country, my family and my land. We can grow food in Bangladesh. Here, nothing grows. Just oil and buildings."

Since the recession hit, they say, the electricity has been cut off in dozens of the camps, and the men have not been paid for months. Their companies have disappeared with their passports and their pay. "We have been robbed of everything. Even if somehow we get back to Bangladesh, the loan sharks will demand we repay our loans immediately, and when we can't, we'll be sent to prison."

This is all supposed to be illegal. Employers are meant to pay on time, never take your passport, give you breaks in the heat - but I met nobody who said it happens. Not one. These men are conned into coming and trapped into staying, with the complicity of the Dubai authorities.

Sahinal could well die out here. A British man who used to work on construction projects told me: "There's a huge number of suicides in the camps and on the construction sites, but they're not reported. They're described as 'accidents'." Even then, their families aren't free: they simply inherit the debts. A Human Rights Watch study found there is a "cover-up of the true extent" of deaths from heat exhaustion, overwork and suicide, but the Indian consulate registered 971 deaths of their nationals in 2005 alone. After this figure was leaked, the consulates were told to stop counting.

At night, in the dusk, I sit in the camp with Sohinal and his friends as they scrape together what they have left to buy a cheap bottle of spirits. They down it in one ferocious gulp. "It helps you to feel numb", Sohinal says through a stinging throat. In the distance, the glistening Dubai skyline he built stands, oblivious.

IV. Mauled by the mall

I find myself stumbling in a daze from the camps into the sprawling marble malls that seem to stand on every street in Dubai. It is so hot there is no point building pavements; people gather in these cathedrals of consumerism to bask in the air conditioning. So within a ten minute taxi-ride, I have left Sohinal and I am standing in the middle of Harvey Nichols, being shown a £20,000 taffeta dress by a bored salesgirl. "As you can see, it is cut on the bias..." she says, and I stop writing.

Time doesn't seem to pass in the malls. Days blur with the same electric light, the same shined floors, the same brands I know from home. Here, Dubai is reduced to its component sounds: do-buy. In the most expensive malls I am almost alone, the shops empty and echoing. On the record, everybody tells me business is going fine. Off the record, they look panicky. There is a hat exhibition ahead of the Dubai races, selling elaborate headgear for £1,000 a pop. "Last year, we were packed. Now look," a hat designer tells me. She swoops her arm over a vacant space.

I approach a blonde 17-year-old Dutch girl wandering around in hotpants, oblivious to the swarms of men gaping at her. "I love it here!" she says. "The heat, the malls, the beach!" Does it ever bother you that it's a slave society? She puts her head down, just as Sohinal did. "I try not to see," she says. Even at 17, she has learned not to look, and not to ask; that, she senses, is a transgression too far.

Between the malls, there is nothing but the connecting tissue of asphalt. Every road has at least four lanes; Dubai feels like a motorway punctuated by shopping centres. You only walk anywhere if you are suicidal. The residents of Dubai flit from mall to mall by car or taxis.

How does it feel if this is your country, filled with foreigners? Unlike the expats and the slave class, I can't just approach the native Emiratis to ask questions when I see them wandering around - the men in cool white robes, the women in sweltering black. If you try, the women blank you, and the men look affronted, and tell you brusquely that Dubai is "fine". So I browse through the Emirati blog-scene and found some typical-sounding young Emiratis. We meet - where else? - in the mall.

Ahmed al-Atar is a handsome 23-year-old with a neat, trimmed beard, tailored white robes, and rectangular wire-glasses. He speaks perfect American-English, and quickly shows that he knows London, Los Angeles and Paris better than most westerners. Sitting back in his chair in an identikit Starbucks, he announces: "This is the best place in the world to be young! The government pays for your education up to PhD level. You get given a free house when you get married. You get free healthcare, and if it's not good enough here, they pay for you to go abroad. You don't even have to pay for your phone calls. Almost everyone has a maid, a nanny, and a driver. And we never pay any taxes. Don't you wish you were Emirati?"

I try to raise potential objections to this Panglossian summary, but he leans forward and says: "Look - my grandfather woke up every day and he would have to fight to get to the well first to get water. When the wells ran dry, they had to have water delivered by camel. They were always hungry and thirsty and desperate for jobs. He limped all his life, because he there was no medical treatment available when he broke his leg. Now look at us!"

For Emiratis, this is a Santa Claus state, handing out goodies while it makes its money elsewhere: through renting out land to foreigners, soft taxes on them like business and airport charges, and the remaining dribble of oil. Most Emiratis, like Ahmed, work for the government, so they're cushioned from the credit crunch. "I haven't felt any effect at all, and nor have my friends," he says. "Your employment is secure. You will only be fired if you do something incredibly bad." The laws are currently being tightened, to make it even more impossible to sack an Emirati.

Sure, the flooding-in of expats can sometimes be "an eyesore", Ahmed says. "But we see the expats as the price we had to pay for this development. How else could we do it? Nobody wants to go back to the days of the desert, the days before everyone came. We went from being like an African country to having an average income per head of $120,000 a year. And we're supposed to complain?"

He says the lack of political freedom is fine by him. "You'll find it very hard to find an Emirati who doesn't support Sheikh Mohammed." Because they're scared? "No, because we really all support him. He's a great leader. Just look!" He smiles and says: "I'm sure my life is very much like yours. We hang out, have a coffee, go to the movies. You'll be in a Pizza Hut or Nando's in London, and at the same time I'll be in one in Dubai," he says, ordering another latte.

But do all young Emiratis see it this way? Can it really be so sunny in the political sands? In the sleek Emirates Tower Hotel, I meet Sultan al-Qassemi. He's a 31-year-old Emirati columnist for the Dubai press and private art collector, with a reputation for being a contrarian liberal, advocating gradual reform. He is wearing Western clothes - blue jeans and a Ralph Lauren shirt - and speaks incredibly fast, turning himself into a manic whirr of arguments.

"People here are turning into lazy, overweight babies!" he exclaims. "The nanny state has gone too far. We don't do anything for ourselves! Why don't any of us work for the private sector? Why can't a mother and father look after their own child?" And yet, when I try to bring up the system of slavery that built Dubai, he looks angry. "People should give us credit," he insists. "We are the most tolerant people in the world. Dubai is the only truly international city in the world. Everyone who comes here is treated with respect."

I pause, and think of the vast camps in Sonapur, just a few miles away. Does he even know they exist? He looks irritated. "You know, if there are 30 or 40 cases [of worker abuse] a year, that sounds like a lot but when you think about how many people are here..." Thirty or 40? This abuse is endemic to the system, I say. We're talking about hundreds of thousands.

Sultan is furious. He splutters: "You don't think Mexicans are treated badly in New York City? And how long did it take Britain to treat people well? I could come to London and write about the homeless people on Oxford Street and make your city sound like a terrible place, too! The workers here can leave any time they want! Any Indian can leave, any Asian can leave!"

But they can't, I point out. Their passports are taken away, and their wages are withheld. "Well, I feel bad if that happens, and anybody who does that should be punished. But their embassies should help them." They try. But why do you forbid the workers - with force - from going on strike against lousy employers? "Thank God we don't allow that!" he exclaims. "Strikes are in-convenient! They go on the street - we're not having that. We won't be like France. Imagine a country where they the workers can just stop whenever they want!" So what should the workers do when they are cheated and lied to? "Quit. Leave the country."

I sigh. Sultan is seething now. "People in the West are always complaining about us," he says. Suddenly, he adopts a mock-whiny voice and says, in imitation of these disgusting critics: "Why don't you treat animals better? Why don't you have better shampoo advertising? Why don't you treat labourers better?" It's a revealing order: animals, shampoo, then workers. He becomes more heated, shifting in his seat, jabbing his finger at me. "I gave workers who worked for me safety goggles and special boots, and they didn't want to wear them! It slows them down!"

And then he smiles, coming up with what he sees as his killer argument. "When I see Western journalists criticise us - don't you realise you're shooting yourself in the foot? The Middle East will be far more dangerous if Dubai fails. Our export isn't oil, it's hope. Poor Egyptians or Libyans or Iranians grow up saying - I want to go to Dubai. We're very important to the region. We are showing how to be a modern Muslim country. We don't have any fundamentalists here. Europeans shouldn't gloat at our demise. You should be very worried.... Do you know what will happen if this model fails? Dubai will go down the Iranian path, the Islamist path."

Sultan sits back. My arguments have clearly disturbed him; he says in a softer, conciliatory tone, almost pleading: "Listen. My mother used to go to the well and get a bucket of water every morning. On her wedding day, she was given an orange as a gift because she had never eaten one. Two of my brothers died when they were babies because the healthcare system hadn't developed yet. Don't judge us." He says it again, his eyes filled with intensity: "Don't judge us."

V. The Dunkin' Donuts Dissidents

But there is another face to the Emirati minority - a small huddle of dissidents, trying to shake the Sheikhs out of abusive laws. Next to a Virgin Megastore and a Dunkin' Donuts, with James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" blaring behind me, I meet the Dubai dictatorship's Public Enemy Number One. By way of introduction, Mohammed al-Mansoori says from within his white robes and sinewy face: "Westerners come her and see the malls and the tall buildings and they think that means we are free. But these businesses, these buildings - who are they for? This is a dictatorship. The royal family think they own the country, and the people are their servants. There is no freedom here."

We snuffle out the only Arabic restaurant in this mall, and he says everything you are banned - under threat of prison - from saying in Dubai. Mohammed tells me he was born in Dubai to a fisherman father who taught him one enduring lesson: Never follow the herd. Think for yourself. In the sudden surge of development, Mohammed trained as a lawyer. By the Noughties, he had climbed to the head of the Jurists' Association, an organisation set up to press for Dubai's laws to be consistent with international human rights legislation.

And then - suddenly - Mohammed thwacked into the limits of Sheikh Mohammed's tolerance. Horrified by the "system of slavery" his country was being built on, he spoke out to Human Rights Watch and the BBC. "So I was hauled in by the secret police and told: shut up, or you will lose you job, and your children will be unemployable," he says. "But how could I be silent?"

He was stripped of his lawyer's licence and his passport - becoming yet another person imprisoned in this country. "I have been blacklisted and so have my children. The newspapers are not allowed to write about me."

Why is the state so keen to defend this system of slavery? He offers a prosaic explanation. "Most companies are owned by the government, so they oppose human rights laws because it will reduce their profit margins. It's in their interests that the workers are slaves."

Last time there was a depression, there was a starbust of democracy in Dubai, seized by force from the sheikhs. In the 1930s, the city's merchants banded together against Sheikh Said bin Maktum al-Maktum - the absolute ruler of his day - and insisted they be given control over the state finances. It lasted only a few years, before the Sheikh - with the enthusiastic support of the British - snuffed them out.

And today? Sheikh Mohammed turned Dubai into Creditopolis, a city built entirely on debt. Dubai owes 107 percent of its entire GDP. It would be bust already, if the neighbouring oil-soaked state of Abu Dhabi hadn't pulled out its chequebook. Mohammed says this will constrict freedom even further. "Now Abu Dhabi calls the tunes - and they are much more conservative and restrictive than even Dubai. Freedom here will diminish every day." Already, new media laws have been drafted forbidding the press to report on anything that could "damage" Dubai or "its economy". Is this why the newspapers are giving away glossy supplements talking about "encouraging economic indicators"?

Everybody here waves Islamism as the threat somewhere over the horizon, sure to swell if their advice is not followed. Today, every imam is appointed by the government, and every sermon is tightly controlled to keep it moderate. But Mohammed says anxiously: "We don't have Islamism here now, but I think that if you control people and give them no way to express anger, it could rise. People who are told to shut up all the time can just explode."

Later that day, against another identikit-corporate backdrop, I meet another dissident - Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, Professor of Political Science at Emirates University. His anger focuses not on political reform, but the erosion of Emirati identity. He is famous among the locals, a rare outspoken conductor for their anger. He says somberly: "There has been a rupture here. This is a totally different city to the one I was born in 50 years ago."

He looks around at the shiny floors and Western tourists and says: "What we see now didn't occur in our wildest dreams. We never thought we could be such a success, a trendsetter, a model for other Arab countries. The people of Dubai are mighty proud of their city, and rightly so. And yet..." He shakes his head. "In our hearts, we fear we have built a modern city but we are losing it to all these expats."

Adbulkhaleq says every Emirati of his generation lives with a "psychological trauma." Their hearts are divided - "between pride on one side, and fear on the other." Just after he says this, a smiling waitress approaches, and asks us what we would like to drink. He orders a Coke.

VII. The Lifestyle

All the guidebooks call Dubai a "melting pot", but as I trawl across the city, I find that every group here huddles together in its own little ethnic enclave - and becomes a caricature of itself. One night - in the heart of this homesick city, tired of the malls and the camps - I go to Double Decker, a hang-out for British expats. At the entrance there is a red telephone box, and London bus-stop signs. Its wooden interior looks like a cross between a colonial clubhouse in the Raj and an Eighties school disco, with blinking coloured lights and cheese blaring out. As I enter, a girl in a short skirt collapses out of the door onto her back. A guy wearing a pirate hat helps her to her feet, dropping his beer bottle with a paralytic laugh.

I start to talk to two sun-dried women in their sixties who have been getting gently sozzled since midday. "You stay here for The Lifestyle," they say, telling me to take a seat and order some more drinks. All the expats talk about The Lifestyle, but when you ask what it is, they become vague. Ann Wark tries to summarise it: "Here, you go out every night. You'd never do that back home. You see people all the time. It's great. You have lots of free time. You have maids and staff so you don't have to do all that stuff. You party!"

They have been in Dubai for 20 years, and they are happy to explain how the city works. "You've got a hierarchy, haven't you?" Ann says. "It's the Emiratis at the top, then I'd say the British and other Westerners. Then I suppose it's the Filipinos, because they've got a bit more brains than the Indians. Then at the bottom you've got the Indians and all them lot."

They admit, however, they have "never" spoken to an Emirati. Never? "No. They keep themselves to themselves." Yet Dubai has disappointed them. Jules Taylor tells me: "If you have an accident here it's a nightmare. There was a British woman we knew who ran over an Indian guy, and she was locked up for four days! If you have a tiny bit of alcohol on your breath they're all over you. These Indians throw themselves in front of cars, because then their family has to be given blood money - you know, compensation. But the police just blame us. That poor woman."

A 24-year-old British woman called Hannah Gamble takes a break from the dancefloor to talk to me. "I love the sun and the beach! It's great out here!" she says. Is there anything bad? "Oh yes!" she says. Ah: one of them has noticed, I think with relief. "The banks! When you want to make a transfer you have to fax them. You can't do it online." Anything else? She thinks hard. "The traffic's not very good."

When I ask the British expats how they feel to not be in a democracy, their reaction is always the same. First, they look bemused. Then they look affronted. "It's the Arab way!" an Essex boy shouts at me in response, as he tries to put a pair of comedy antlers on his head while pouring some beer into the mouth of his friend, who is lying on his back on the floor, gurning.

Later, in a hotel bar, I start chatting to a dyspeptic expat American who works in the cosmetics industry and is desperate to get away from these people. She says: "All the people who couldn't succeed in their own countries end up here, and suddenly they're rich and promoted way above their abilities and bragging about how great they are. I've never met so many incompetent people in such senior positions anywhere in the world." She adds: "It's absolutely racist. I had Filipino girls working for me doing the same job as a European girl, and she's paid a quarter of the wages. The people who do the real work are paid next to nothing, while these incompetent managers pay themselves £40,000 a month."

With the exception of her, one theme unites every expat I speak to: their joy at having staff to do the work that would clog their lives up Back Home. Everyone, it seems, has a maid. The maids used to be predominantly Filipino, but with the recession, Filipinos have been judged to be too expensive, so a nice Ethiopian servant girl is the latest fashionable accessory.

It is an open secret that once you hire a maid, you have absolute power over her. You take her passport - everyone does; you decide when to pay her, and when - if ever - she can take a break; and you decide who she talks to. She speaks no Arabic. She cannot escape.

In a Burger King, a Filipino girl tells me it is "terrifying" for her to wander the malls in Dubai because Filipino maids or nannies always sneak away from the family they are with and beg her for help. "They say - 'Please, I am being held prisoner, they don't let me call home, they make me work every waking hour seven days a week.' At first I would say - my God, I will tell the consulate, where are you staying? But they never know their address, and the consulate isn't interested. I avoid them now. I keep thinking about a woman who told me she hadn't eaten any fruit in four years. They think I have power because I can walk around on my own, but I'm powerless."

The only hostel for women in Dubai - a filthy private villa on the brink of being repossessed - is filled with escaped maids. Mela Matari, a 25-year-old Ethiopian woman with a drooping smile, tells me what happened to her - and thousands like her. She was promised a paradise in the sands by an agency, so she left her four year-old daughter at home and headed here to earn money for a better future. "But they paid me half what they promised. I was put with an Australian family - four children - and Madam made me work from 6am to 1am every day, with no day off. I was exhausted and pleaded for a break, but they just shouted: 'You came here to work, not sleep!' Then one day I just couldn't go on, and Madam beat me. She beat me with her fists and kicked me. My ear still hurts. They wouldn't give me my wages: they said they'd pay me at the end of the two years. What could I do? I didn't know anybody here. I was terrified."

One day, after yet another beating, Mela ran out onto the streets, and asked - in broken English - how to find the Ethiopian consulate. After walking for two days, she found it, but they told her she had to get her passport back from Madam. "Well, how could I?" she asks. She has been in this hostel for six months. She has spoken to her daughter twice. "I lost my country, I lost my daughter, I lost everything," she says.

As she says this, I remember a stray sentence I heard back at Double Decker. I asked a British woman called Hermione Frayling what the best thing about Dubai was. "Oh, the servant class!" she trilled. "You do nothing. They'll do anything!"

VIII. The End of The World

The World is empty. It has been abandoned, its continents unfinished. Through binoculars, I think I can glimpse Britain; this sceptred isle barren in the salt-breeze.

Here, off the coast of Dubai, developers have been rebuilding the world. They have constructed artificial islands in the shape of all planet Earth's land masses, and they plan to sell each continent off to be built on. There were rumours that the Beckhams would bid for Britain. But the people who work at the nearby coast say they haven't seen anybody there for months now. "The World is over," a South African suggests.

All over Dubai, crazy projects that were Under Construction are now Under Collapse. They were building an air-conditioned beach here, with cooling pipes running below the sand, so the super-rich didn't singe their toes on their way from towel to sea.

The projects completed just before the global economy crashed look empty and tattered. The Atlantis Hotel was launched last winter in a $20m fin-de-siecle party attended by Robert De Niro, Lindsay Lohan and Lily Allen. Sitting on its own fake island - shaped, of course, like a palm tree - it looks like an immense upturned tooth in a faintly decaying mouth. It is pink and turreted - the architecture of the pharaohs, as reimagined by Zsa-Zsa Gabor. Its Grand Lobby is a monumental dome covered in glitterballs, held up by eight monumental concrete palm trees. Standing in the middle, there is a giant shining glass structure that looks like the intestines of every guest who has ever stayed at the Atlantis. It is unexpectedly raining; water is leaking from the roof, and tiles are falling off.

A South African PR girl shows me around its most coveted rooms, explaining that this is "the greatest luxury offered in the world". We stroll past shops selling £24m diamond rings around a hotel themed on the lost and sunken continent of, yes, Atlantis. There are huge water tanks filled with sharks, which poke around mock-abandoned castles and dumped submarines. There are more than 1,500 rooms here, each with a sea view. The Neptune suite has three floors, and - I gasp as I see it - it looks out directly on to the vast shark tank. You lie on the bed, and the sharks stare in at you. In Dubai, you can sleep with the fishes, and survive.

But even the luxury - reminiscent of a Bond villain's lair - is also being abandoned. I check myself in for a few nights to the classiest hotel in town, the Park Hyatt. It is the fashionistas' favourite hotel, where Elle Macpherson and Tommy Hilfiger stay, a gorgeous, understated palace. It feels empty. Whenever I eat, I am one of the only people in the restaurant. A staff member tells me in a whisper: "It used to be full here. Now there's hardly anyone." Rattling around, I feel like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, the last man in an abandoned, haunted home.

The most famous hotel in Dubai - the proud icon of the city - is the Burj al Arab hotel, sitting on the shore, shaped like a giant glass sailing boat. In the lobby, I start chatting to a couple from London who work in the City. They have been coming to Dubai for 10 years now, and they say they love it. "You never know what you'll find here," he says. "On our last trip, at the beginning of the holiday, our window looked out on the sea. By the end, they'd built an entire island there."

My patience frayed by all this excess, I find myself snapping: doesn't the omnipresent slave class bother you? I hope they misunderstood me, because the woman replied: "That's what we come for! It's great, you can't do anything for yourself!" Her husband chimes in: "When you go to the toilet, they open the door, they turn on the tap - the only thing they don't do is take it out for you when you have a piss!" And they both fall about laughing.

IX. Taking on the Desert

Dubai is not just a city living beyond its financial means; it is living beyond its ecological means. You stand on a manicured Dubai lawn and watch the sprinklers spray water all around you. You see tourists flocking to swim with dolphins. You wander into a mountain-sized freezer where they have built a ski slope with real snow. And a voice at the back of your head squeaks: this is the desert. This is the most water-stressed place on the planet. How can this be happening? How is it possible?

The very earth is trying to repel Dubai, to dry it up and blow it away. The new Tiger Woods Gold Course needs four million gallons of water to be pumped on to its grounds every day, or it would simply shrivel and disappear on the winds. The city is regularly washed over with dust-storms that fog up the skies and turn the skyline into a blur. When the dust parts, heat burns through. It cooks anything that is not kept constantly, artificially wet.

Dr Mohammed Raouf, the environmental director of the Gulf Research Centre, sounds sombre as he sits in his Dubai office and warns: "This is a desert area, and we are trying to defy its environment. It is very unwise. If you take on the desert, you will lose."

Sheikh Maktoum built his showcase city in a place with no useable water. None. There is no surface water, very little acquifer, and among the lowest rainfall in the world. So Dubai drinks the sea. The Emirates' water is stripped of salt in vast desalination plants around the Gulf - making it the most expensive water on earth. It costs more than petrol to produce, and belches vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as it goes. It's the main reason why a resident of Dubai has the biggest average carbon footprint of any human being - more than double that of an American.

If a recession turns into depression, Dr Raouf believes Dubai could run out of water. "At the moment, we have financial reserves that cover bringing so much water to the middle of the desert. But if we had lower revenues - if, say, the world shifts to a source of energy other than oil..." he shakes his head. "We will have a very big problem. Water is the main source of life. It would be a catastrophe. Dubai only has enough water to last us a week. There's almost no storage. We don't know what will happen if our supplies falter. It would be hard to survive."

Global warming, he adds, makes the problem even worse. "We are building all these artificial islands, but if the sea level rises, they will be gone, and we will lose a lot. Developers keep saying it's all fine, they've taken it into consideration, but I'm not so sure."

Is the Dubai government concerned about any of this? "There isn't much interest in these problems," he says sadly. But just to stand still, the average resident of Dubai needs three times more water than the average human. In the looming century of water stresses and a transition away from fossil fuels, Dubai is uniquely vulnerable.

I wanted to understand how the government of Dubai will react, so I decided to look at how it has dealt with an environmental problem that already exists - the pollution of its beaches. One woman - an American, working at one of the big hotels - had written in a lot of online forums arguing that it was bad and getting worse, so I called her to arrange a meeting. "I can't talk to you," she said sternly. Not even if it's off the record? "I can't talk to you." But I don't have to disclose your name... "You're not listening. This phone is bugged. I can't talk to you," she snapped, and hung up.

The next day I turned up at her office. "If you reveal my identity, I'll be sent on the first plane out of this city," she said, before beginning to nervously pace the shore with me. "It started like this. We began to get complaints from people using the beach. The water looked and smelled odd, and they were starting to get sick after going into it. So I wrote to the ministers of health and tourism and expected to hear back immediately - but there was nothing. Silence. I hand-delivered the letters. Still nothing."

The water quality got worse and worse. The guests started to spot raw sewage, condoms, and used sanitary towels floating in the sea. So the hotel ordered its own water analyses from a professional company. "They told us it was full of fecal matter and bacteria 'too numerous to count'. I had to start telling guests not to go in the water, and since they'd come on a beach holiday, as you can imagine, they were pretty pissed off." She began to make angry posts on the expat discussion forums - and people began to figure out what was happening. Dubai had expanded so fast its sewage treatment facilities couldn't keep up. The sewage disposal trucks had to queue for three or four days at the treatment plants - so instead, they were simply drilling open the manholes and dumping the untreated sewage down them, so it flowed straight to the sea.

Suddenly, it was an open secret - and the municipal authorities finally acknowledged the problem. They said they would fine the truckers. But the water quality didn't improve: it became black and stank. "It's got chemicals in it. I don't know what they are. But this stuff is toxic."

She continued to complain - and started to receive anonymous phone calls. "Stop embarassing Dubai, or your visa will be cancelled and you're out," they said. She says: "The expats are terrified to talk about anything. One critical comment in the newspapers and they deport you. So what am I supposed to do? Now the water is worse than ever. People are getting really sick. Eye infections, ear infections, stomach infections, rashes. Look at it!" There is faeces floating on the beach, in the shadow of one of Dubai's most famous hotels.

"What I learnt about Dubai is that the authorities don't give a toss about the environment," she says, standing in the stench. "They're pumping toxins into the sea, their main tourist attraction, for God's sake. If there are environmental problems in the future, I can tell you now how they will deal with them - deny it's happening, cover it up, and carry on until it's a total disaster." As she speaks, a dust-storm blows around us, as the desert tries, slowly, insistently, to take back its land.

X. Fake Plastic Trees

On my final night in the Dubai Disneyland, I stop off on my way to the airport, at a Pizza Hut that sits at the side of one of the city's endless, wide, gaping roads. It is identical to the one near my apartment in London in every respect, even the vomit-coloured decor. My mind is whirring and distracted. Perhaps Dubai disturbed me so much, I am thinking, because here, the entire global supply chain is condensed. Many of my goods are made by semi-enslaved populations desperate for a chance 2,000 miles away; is the only difference that here, they are merely two miles away, and you sometimes get to glimpse their faces? Dubai is Market Fundamentalist Globalisation in One City.

I ask the Filipino girl behind the counter if she likes it here. "It's OK," she says cautiously. Really? I say. I can't stand it. She sighs with relief and says: "This is the most terrible place! I hate it! I was here for months before I realised - everything in Dubai is fake. Everything you see. The trees are fake, the workers' contracts are fake, the islands are fake, the smiles are fake - even the water is fake!" But she is trapped, she says. She got into debt to come here, and she is stuck for three years: an old story now. "I think Dubai is like an oasis. It is an illusion, not real. You think you have seen water in the distance, but you get close and you only get a mouthful of sand."

As she says this, another customer enters. She forces her face into the broad, empty Dubai smile and says: "And how may I help you tonight, sir?"

Some names in this article have been changed.

Found on: http://1root.blogspot.com/2009/04/dark-side-of-dubai.html

29 ottobre 2009

Guantanamo Laureate

Obama threw many stones at Bush, and now lives in a glass house.
by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online

Over the last decade Barack Obama — in campaign mode for various state and federal offices — repeatedly denounced the Bush-era security protocols as either unlawful or of little utility. Indeed, few political figures made the case so unremittingly that the United States had gone rogue in its zealotry to fight terror.

To perpetual candidate Obama, there were no tragic choices, no hazy areas of human frailty, no recognition that well-intentioned public servants were doing their best under trying circumstances to keep Americans safe, and to do so as humanely as possible. Instead, the so-called “war on terror” became an easy target for a demagogue worried more about scoring political points than about understanding the plight of his country at war.

Rendition? Obama once called that “shipping away prisoners in the dead of night.”

Military tribunals? They were nothing more than a “flawed military commission system.”

Preventive detention of terrorists? To Obama that was “detaining thousands without charge or trial.”

How about the surge of troops into Iraq? “Not working.”

And the Patriot Act? “Shoddy and dangerous.”

But nothing so roused candidate Obama’s scorn as the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. To him, it was a “sad chapter in American history”; “a legal black hole”; “a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus”; etc. On the stump he serially caricatured it before cheering audiences as some sort of Soviet-style gulag. Not once but in succession he vowed to close it down by January 2010, to mark a symbolic year’s period of change in the era of Obama.

But that might not happen quite so easily. Around 50 to 60 prisoners who have been released have returned to some sort of terrorist activity — most recently the Guantanamo alumnus Yousef Mohammed al-Shihri, who was repatriated to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and was killed earlier this month in a terrorist operation at the Saudi-Yemeni border.

Apparently few foreign governments want back their own home-grown terrorists who have been caught on the battlefield — unless we pay huge bribes and quit worrying whether the released prisoners might be tortured or summarily executed upon their arrival home.

Indeed, many nations may have put themselves in a rough spot: If it was rather easy to slur the cowboy Bush as a Nazi-like jailer who wouldn’t close down his shop of horrors and release innocent suspects, it is harder to deal with a kinder, gentler Obama who wants to release terrorist-killers into their care.

Candidate Obama often sounded as if he had always assumed that Bush first created Guantanamo as a monument to his Constitution-shredding paranoia, and only later filled it with largely innocent prisoners. At one point Obama offered his Senate office to help lawyers sue on behalf of Guantanamo prisoners.

But as President Obama has discovered — just as he has dropped his campaign talk of ending renditions, tribunals, wiretaps, and intercepts, and of rapidly withdrawing from Iraq — Guantanamo is a bad choice among a number of worse ones.

In declared wars against uniformed enemies, we might — as we did during World War II — build POW camps and detain captured enemies until the peace was ratified. Even in nebulous wars like the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts, there were most often uniformed fighters, and formal written intentions, armistices, and declarations that marked the beginning or ending of hostilities.

But after 9/11, we faced an enemy that had attacked the continental United States in a deadly fashion beyond the ability of the Nazis, imperial Japanese, and Soviets, but without uniforms — or even conventional military forces as we had known them in the past. Yet al Qaeda and its Taliban sympathizers were not quite a handful of criminals who could be individually tried and convicted for terrorist acts, given that there were thousands of radical Islamists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border who had committed mayhem — both on the field of battle as combatants, and in foreign sanctuaries as architects of terrorism.

The ad hoc solution at Guantanamo sprang up, in other words, for want of a better idea of what to do with hundreds of such captured monsters. Were we to put them all on much-celebrated trials, with public defenders or publicity-seeking radical pro bono lawyers, with changes of venue to fairer jury pools in Berkeley or Madison, and with intricate legal disputes over contaminated evidence in Waziristan and lack of Miranda warnings in Kandahar?

The problems of Guantanamo’s existence transcend George W. Bush. That truth is evidenced by the reluctance of Obama himself to summarily close it down, and of his aficionados abroad to make his task easier by accepting their own detained nationals, and of his liberal supporters to extend the same sort of invective to him as they did to Bush for not shutting it down.

But there is one other problem with closing Guantanamo — perhaps the greatest of the paradoxes that will plague Obama. Since he took office, there has been a marked increase in Predator assassination strikes, both inside Pakistan and on its borders. Indeed, in just nine months Obama has approved more Predator strikes than did George Bush in three years. By some accounts, dozens, maybe hundreds, of terrorist suspects and their families have been obliterated from the air since January 2009. In a few cases, women and children near the intended targets have also gone up in the Hellfire-induced smoke; in others we have tragically hit the wrong targets and executed the innocent.

Yet once the Obama administration went down the path of redefining war as courtroom procedure, and assuming that the United States was somehow amoral in not extending habeas corpus and American jurisprudence to captured terrorists, then almost everything the United States does in our newly dubbed “overseas contingency operations” is ripe for legal scrutiny.

Personally, if I were a terrorist suspect, I’d rather be picked up by a Special Forces team in the Hindu Kush, be shipped to Cuba, have my case reviewed by military lawyers, be allowed a Middle Eastern diet, and be provided with a Koran and arrows pointing to Mecca than simply wait to have my head exploded without warning by a Hellfire missile, while sitting inside my mud-brick hideout in Waziristan alongside my soon-to-be-incinerated family.

When Bush ordered such Predator attacks, it was seen as part of a brutal war, in which the United States had few options to stop terrorists from committing another 9/11. In such a messy, horrific struggle, Predators — like Guantanamo — were seen as terrible choices amid more terrible alternatives.

But not now. An administration that wants to investigate former CIA officials for their part in Guantanamo, assures the Europeans and the UN that “Bush did it,” and has made the case that America’s name was sullied through unnecessary and cruel detentions, surely cannot become investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner in one millisecond from the skies over Pakistan. Sorry, no such leeway is allowed messianic moralists.

Even the charismatic Barack Obama cannot convince his liberal base for long that it is horribly wrong to waterboard Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the planner of the mass-murdering on 9/11, but perfectly fine to incinerate an al-Qaeda suspect along with noncombatants in his general vicinity.

In short, Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded for those who loudly promise to undo George Bush’s work, not to trump him.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

Source: http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson102909.html

23 ottobre 2009

Nicaraguan Bishop Warns of Possible Dictatorship

MANAGUA, Nicaragua, OCT. 22, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The vice-president of the Nicaraguan bishops' conference is stating that a recent Supreme Court decision could pave the way for President Daniel Ortega to take the role of a dictator.

Bishop Juan Abelardo Mata of Esteli affirmed this after the Supreme Court decided Monday to allow the re-election of the president in 2011, even though he is already serving his second five-year term.

The prelate asserted that "the sad reality is that for those in power the constitution is toilet paper."

The bishop expressed his opinion that "if Ortega is re-elected, dictatorship will be established" and there will be trouble for anyone "who opposes his interests."

He noted, however, that "on a juridical level President Ortega hasn't achieved anything because what they have done is tainted."

On Oct. 15, Ortega moved to declare an article impeding consecutive presidential re-election as unconstitutional.

This article, which limits the president to two consecutive terms, was judged "inapplicable" by the court on Monday.

Politicians and businessmen opposed to Ortega announced Wednesday that they will attempt to obtain the annulment of the court's decision which, according to Ortega, "is already engraved in stone."


19 ottobre 2009

DVD Marks Pius XII's Role in "Great Rescue"

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 18, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Marking the anniversary of Pope Pius XII's death in October 1958, a new documentary looks into the Pontiff's role in saving Jews from the Nazis.

"Pius XII and the Holocaust: The Secret History of the Great Rescue" is being sold by the Vatican Television Center.

The 30-minute documentary highlights the story of a Holocaust survivor who tells how he was hid in a convent in Rome.

It also includes firsthand accounts of Pius XII's clandestine efforts on behalf of the Jews.

--- --- ---

On the Net:

"Pius XII and the Holocaust": www.hdhcommunications.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=128&products_id=244

Permalink: http://www.zenit.org/article-27250?l=english

Confessions of a Gypsy Priest

Nothing Could Stop Father Muñoz Cortés

BARCELONA, Spain, OCT. 16, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Neither slaps from his father, nor his friends' ridicule, nor discrimination by some of his fellow seminarians, nor serious cancer were able to stifle this young gypsy's vocation to the priesthood.

Born 35 years ago in the marginal neighborhood of La Mina, in Barcelona, Juan Muñoz Cortés felt called to the priesthood at the age of 12, a call which was supported by a number of individuals, whom he holds dear in his heart, but also by intense spiritual experiences.

ZENIT spoke with Father Muñoz Cortés for this week's installment of God's Men.

ZENIT: When did you begin to feel the call to the priestly life?

Father Muñoz: In school I felt attracted to the figure of Jesus of Nazareth and I began to be interested in him, thanks to the religion teacher, a nun of the Daughters of Charity, with whom I had a chat.

One night, when I was 12, an image of Christ came to me, like a light, that was weeping the entire time, and I began to weep.

It was 3 a.m. I was in my room, next to my brother. My parents got up and asked me: "What's the matter with you? What's hurting you?"

And I answered: "I am crying with joy because in my head I saw a man with a beard and tears; he wore a crown."

Little by little I went discovering my vocation until one day a priest asked me intuitively: "Why aren't you a priest? Have you ever thought of the priestly life, of service to the community?"

I hadn't said anything to him before out of shyness and, at that moment, I blushed and I didn't know what to say. From then on, everything evolved.

Personal support is very important for an individual, a youth, to discover his vocation. Through the witness of priests, nuns and laymen, we can discover the vocation.

ZENIT: How did your family react?

Father Muñoz: When I told them I wanted to be a priest, they didn't like it. They said no, that I had to get married and have children.

I belong to the gypsy people and, for my family, to have a son who doesn't get married and has no descendants is somewhat shocking.

The fact that my family did not accept my vocation resulted in a crisis for me. There was a time when they wouldn't speak to me; I was even slapped by my father. He did not accept my vocation up to the moment of his death.

But then, in intensive care, after asking for the anointing of the sick and going to confession, he asked for my forgiveness and said: "I'm going with God and I will pray for you, so that you will be a priest; from heaven, I will help you."

I only replied that I forgave him and that he should go in peace with God. I think God wanted to give me this great witness of my father before he died. It was lovely. My father's death marked me a lot.

And now, thank God, it all goes well. My mother and my two brothers are very happy.

ZENIT: In your journey to the priesthood, did you have any doubts?

Father Muñoz: All my life, since I was 12, I had wanted to be a priest, but there were very many difficulties, of course.

For example I would hide when going to Mass because my friends laughed at me. I even stopped going to church for two years because I thought that the call to be a priest was an obsession of mine.

At that time, I went out with a girl. I told her that I had a vocation to the priesthood, but that I had doubts. She said she respected this but did not share in it.

However, the time came when I had to tell her: "I am very sorry, but I cannot go on: There is something like a hole between you and me, and the only thing that can fill my life is to serve others, the neediest, and to follow the way on which God has led me for years, which is to be a priest, to be with him very intensely."

She felt badly, and even went through a depression, but came out of it and now we get along very well. She is married, has children and, thank God, all has gone well.

ZENIT: What other difficulties did you face in the seminary?

Father Muñoz: The fact that my friends didn't accept me on entering the seminary affected me very much and has affected my vocation.

Moreover, I am a gypsy, and because of this I have felt marginalized by my companions of the seminary, and even by some priests who didn't accept me.

They said that we were always dirty, which is typical of what is said. Someone even told me that I had to go to the evangelical church because I was a gypsy.

However, you can see where I have arrived with the help of God, with my direct prayer to him, who has always helped me, and who said to me interiorly: "Do not worry, go forward, despite the struggles, despite the difficult moments, I am with you."

I believe that my success in being a priest has been the work of God.

I was ordained priest in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Sea, with two other friends; 1,600 people attended and some 140 priests.

And now I am the happiest person. I live the priesthood very completely, as if I had always sought this.

ZENIT: What was the hardest thing in this process?

Father Muñoz: The hardest thing was that, when I was already a deacon, doctors diagnosed that I had cancer. I was very shocked and had a crisis.

In fact, I discovered my illness in my dreams. In them, my father, who had already died and was next to a lady who was illumined, though I did not see her face, advised me: "Go to the doctor.'"

I explained this to my mother, who also encouraged me to visit the doctor. On the third day of having these dreams, I felt an intense pain, which frightened me. Then I did go to the doctor and he detected it.

It was a very aggressive cancer. The doctors told me I needed surgery, although there could be a lot of metastasis and I might not leave the operating room.

I rebelled against God. I asked him why when I was coming to my fulfillment, to what I had most dreamed about, to be a priest, I got cancer that could take my life.

Then I said to my spiritual director that I wanted to go to Lourdes and I entrusted myself to Doctor Pere Tarrés.

We went to Lourdes, we slept in an inn and were very cold, and the next morning we went to Mass in the grotto and went to the pools.

Just he and I were in the pools. When it was my turn to get into the water, I felt a strange sensation and began to weep.

One of the volunteers asked what was wrong with me. I told him about my problem, that I didn't want to die and that I was afraid. And he answered me: "You'll see how the Virgin will cure you; pray here."

He bathed me and I began to weep again. I stayed there a few minutes praying before the image of Lourdes, and I left there transformed.

Then I said to my spiritual director: "The Virgin has cured me, I feel much inner peace," and he was surprised.

On returning to Barcelona, friends who came to see me also asked what was the matter with me, and they said: "You are changed, you are as though illumined."

When the physicians operated, they saw there was no metastasis. I was not given chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and I do not take any medication, although they do continue with the checkups. For me, it was a miracle.

ZENIT: What experiences, positive and negative, have surprised you in the year and a half that you have been a priest?

Father Muñoz: I thought I would find more respect, love and dedication among my fellow priests, but I have felt somewhat disappointed on seeing a lack of union among priests, I don't know if it's a sort of loneliness because of the fact that diocesan priests live alone.

But at the same time I have met wonderful people who have supported me in everything; people of all kinds, of all cultures, of all races, young and elderly, from whom I have learned very much.

I have truly seen the face of God in these people. I had never imagined how God can talk through people.

Some persons, interestingly enough especially women, have impressed me a lot and have given me help of all kinds in becoming a priest -- spiritual, financial, etc.

I think of Mary Magdalene's relationship with Jesus; I imagine she consoled him many times and helped him with her words, when he felt misunderstood, unprotected and even alone, to get the strength and pray to God that his will be done.

I think too, for example, of a great friend, who now works in the bishop's offices. I was with him on the eve of my priestly ordination.

I couldn't sleep. We gave each other a hug, wept together and spoke about God, about the total surrender I was going to commit to, on consecrating my whole life to God and to the most needy.

And the most wonderful thing has been to attain the fullness of being a priest. I live this with very great intensity; at times words don't suffice.

I live very passionately dedication to the Eucharist. Sometimes I am overwhelmed on singing the Preface.

ZENIT: And what has impacted you the most in your priestly life?

Father Muñoz: The morgue. I am helping with the funeral services of Barcelona and have been very affected by people's grief, being able to transmit hope and faith in the next life to people who suffer the pain of the death of a loved one, who feel alone and abandoned by God.

[The fact] that they enter weeping bitterly and leave with faith, thanking me for having transmitted a living witness and message of Christ and hope in the next life, is what has most impressed me.

I have even officiated at the marriages of people I met in the morgue and I have made many friends who have started coming to confession with me and I have become a spiritual guide for them.

If a priest is a person who prays and gives himself to others, he is the happiest person.

[Interview by Patricia Navas; translation by ZENIT]

Permalink: http://www.zenit.org/article-27241?l=english

16 ottobre 2009

Africa: Gender Theory's Dangers Exposed

Expert Says Ideology Is Infiltrating Church in Africa

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 15, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A priest who is also a psychiatrist and an expert on social psychology is warning that the gender theory ideologies are infiltrating Christian institutions in Africa.

Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a consultor of the Pontifical Council for the Family and of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, told ZENIT that "thanks to the action of certain Christian institutions, the gender theory is being imposed progressively in society and in the Church" in Africa.

He asserted that "Africans do not want to be colonized by Western ideologies," and he deplored the fact that "topics of the gender theory continue to spread widely in the Church."

Archbishop Robert Sarah, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, affirmed this last week in an address to the Fifth General Congregation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops.

He called gender theory a "Western socializing ideology in relations between men and women."

"It is contrary to African culture and to the human truths illuminated by the divine Revelation in Jesus Christ," the prelate said.

He explained: "The idea of gender separates the biological sex of masculine or feminine identity in stating that it is not intrinsic to the person but is a social construct.

"This identity could -- and must -- be torn down to allow woman to reach an equality of social power with man and for the individual to 'choose' their sexual orientation. Man-woman relations would be governed by a struggle over power."


The archbishop warned that this "unrealistic and disincarnate ideology" denies God's plan, and upholds the "right to choose" as its supreme value, making homosexuality a "culturally acceptable choice."

This ideology, he continued, "puts pressure on the legislator to write laws favorable to universal access to information and contraceptive and abortion services -- 'reproductive health' -- as well as homosexuality."

Archbishop Sarah called this ideology "lethal" and warned that it "creates serious injustices and compromises peace."

In this sense, Monsignor Anatrella explained that in Africa "the cultivation of the sense of the family is very important and to give life to many children is inherent to the culture of this continent."

He continued: "Children are the wealth of the family and of society, but the experts of this theory claim, with Western prejudices, that three children per woman is already a very high figure that must be reduced."

"What the Africans say is that the child is the future of man," the priest pointed out.

Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, also lamented in the Synod the spread of the gender theory in Africa.

Last week he reported that this is happening through Christian institutions that are aligned with other international groups and agencies, such as the United Nations, UNICEF, UNESCO, and several non-governmental organizations.


Monsignor Anatrella stated that "in Africa, activists are carrying out these actions apart from the democratically elected representatives in national parliaments."

He added that the ideology is also spreading through formation sessions for priests, men and women religious and Christian laypeople.

In order "to receive international aid -- in the financial, health and educational realms -- most African countries are subjected, through different associations, to the gender lecture," the priest reported.

He stated that the effort of these activists, "for example, for health and the medical care of women," is translated only in terms of "reproductive health."

This notion of "reproductive health," Monsignor Anatrella stated, "is very problematic because it trivializes contraception and abortion and questions family values, excluding men from relations of cooperation with women and of procreation."

He stated that "African countries are also under pressure from Western countries that, in the name of equality of sexual orientations, try to present homosexuality as a model that can be realized in a couple and in marriage."

The priest continued: "For the time being, the majority of deputies are opposed to the views of a couple, family and procreation that do not correspond to African values. Unfortunately, these sorts of ideas and behavior continue to spread in Africa."

However, he affirmed that many African Christian communities are "more decisive and reactive" to these issues than others.

Archbishop Philippe Ouedraogo of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, affirmed this in his synodal intervention: "In general, our human and religious communities in Africa reject the codified juridical practice of many Western countries; they value the promotion of values related to the family and life."


14 ottobre 2009

Delaware 1st grader has 45-day suspension lifted

Just another example of how many complete idiots, shackled by rules, with no common sense, are in positions of power in our government.

By BEN NUCKOLS, Associated Press Writer

BEAR, Del. – A Delaware first-grader who was facing 45 days in an alternative school as punishment for taking his favorite camping utensil to school can return to class after the school board made a hasty change granting him a reprieve.

The seven-member Christina School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to reduce the punishment for kindergartners and first-graders who take weapons to school or commit violent offenses to a suspension ranging from three to five days.

Zachary Christie, 6, had faced 45 days in an alternative school for troublemakers after he took the utensil — a combination folding knife, fork and spoon — to school to eat lunch last month. Now, he could return Wednesday.

"I want to get him back as soon as possible. I want to put this behind him as soon as possible," said Debbie Christie, Zachary's mother. "But I also want him to know that he has a voice, and when things are not right, he can stand up and speak out against them."

A spokeswoman for the school district said more changes to the school system's code of conduct were possible in the coming months.

The punishment given to Zachary was one of several in recent years that have prompted national debate on whether schools have gone too far with zero-tolerance policies.

It was not the first such case in the Christina School District, Delaware's largest with more than 17,000 students, which includes parts of the city of Wilmington and its suburbs. Last year, a fifth-grade girl was ordered expelled after she brought a birthday cake to school and a serrated knife to cut it with.

The expulsion was overturned, and it led to a state law that gave districts more flexibility on punishments. But that law applied only to conduct that triggers expulsions, not suspensions.

School board member John Mackenzie told The Associated Press before the meeting that he was surprised school officials did not use common sense and disregard the policy in Zachary's case. The need for common sense to prevail over the letter of the law was a recurring theme among the boy's supporters and school safety experts.

"When that common sense is missing, it sends a message of inconsistency to students, which actually creates a less safe environment," said Kenneth S. Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a consulting firm. "People have to understand that assessing on a case-by-case basis doesn't automatically equate to being soft or unsafe."

Not everyone believed the school district was out of line.

Jill Kneisley, who runs the special education programs at Jennie Smith Elementary in Newark, said schools need to be vigilant about protecting students. If Zachary or another student had been hurt by the knife, she said, the district would have taken the blame.

"If we can't punish him, then what about kids that did bring (a weapon) for bad things?" Kneisley said. "There's more to the school's side than just us being mean and not taking this child's interests into account."

Several people spoke on Zachary's behalf, including some who said other students had been unjustly punished.

Dodi Hebert said her 13-year-old son, Kyle, was tormented throughout last year by a group of bullies who ultimately planted a knife on him. Kyle was ordered into the alternative school, but Hebert refused to send him there and home-schools him instead.

"You can't kick kids out of school for the kinds of things that are happening," Connie Merlet told the board. "This is a horrible thing to happen to our district, to be on the national news because you guys weren't paying attention."

(This version CORRECTS that the statements made on the school's need to protect students were made by special education teacher Jill Kneisley, not Jennifer Jankowski.)

Caritas work around the world

What Aid From 1 Country Means for Caritas

Victims of Natural Disasters Receive Assistance

ROME, OCT. 13, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Some 300,000 people affected by natural disasters that have in the last two weeks devastated regions of Asia and the Pacific are receiving humanitarian aid through the Caritas network.

Local Caritas agencies in Sumatra, Cambodia, India, the Philippines and Samoa are implementing in their respective countries the emergency plans devised to identify the most urgent needs of the victims and the most vulnerable areas.

In general, the priorities of those affected are similar: urgent food and health aid, drinking water, household goods, warm clothing, building materials and psychological-social support for victims.

In Sumatra, Caritas Indonesia (KARINA) is helping 7,500 households (some 40,000 people) in the areas most scourged by the earthquake of last Sept. 30. A Joint Caritas Response Team, specialized in emergencies, is working in the districts of Padang and Pariaman, where they have identified priority areas in the towns of Sungai Sariak and Lurah Ampalu.

In addition to these victims, the Caritas team is also helping 10,000 victims in parishes in the city of Padang. The total estimated cost of the first phase of the emergency plan of Caritas Indonesia is €235,000 ($348,510).

Among the ongoing emergencies in Asia, the one affecting the southern Indian states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, due to the heavy rains of the last few weeks, has the greatest number of victims. Around 18 million people are affected and 2.5 million have been displaced, while 250,000 homes have been destroyed.

Caritas India has responded to this emergency with a plan valued at €1.5 million ($2.2 million), with which humanitarian aid will be given over the next three months to a population of 35,500 families (some 200,000 people) in more than 700 localities of nine districts.

The activities included in this emergency plan include the urgent distribution of water and food and the furnishing of family allotments of hygiene products, as well as the distribution of household goods, clothes and blankets.

In Samoa, where the tidal wave of Sept. 28 left thousands of people homeless, Caritas has prepared an emergency response plan amounting to an initial value of €145,000 ($215,000) to help the most affected communities.

Caritas Samoa, which has the support of experts from Caritas Australia, reported that in addition to the distribution of basic aid to the victims, in this first phase of the emergency they are giving priority to the psychological-social support of those affected, the recovery of educational activities and the delivery of temporary shelters.

For their part, Caritas of the Philippines and Cambodia continues to implement their respective plans in response to the emergency caused in both countries by Typhoon Ketsana. Whereas in the Philippines, the Caritas network plans to assist a population of 50,000 victims over the next three months, in Cambodia the population being assisted numbers 13,000 people.

All these emergencies are being supported financially by Caritas Spain, which over the past two weeks has approved allocations amounting to €50,000 for the appeal made by Caritas India, €100,000 for the emergency in Sumatra, €50,000 for Cambodia, €20,000 for Samoa and €100,000 for the Philippines.

Permalink: http://www.zenit.org/article-27188?l=english

13 ottobre 2009

Right or Wrong? A Review of Constitution 101

Charles E. Rice | October 6, 2009


The health care debate makes sense only in the context of the transformation of our constitutional system. So let's do a quick review of Constitution 101.

The Constitution of the United States was the first creation in history of a national government with only limited, delegated powers. Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights and other documents involved only limitations on the otherwise unlimited power of government. The Articles of Confederation, under which the United States functioned from 1781 until the Constitution took effect in 1789, created essentially a confederation of semi-autonomous states. The Constitution created a real government of the nation, but a government limited to specified powers.

Under the Constitution, neither Congress, nor the Executive nor the Judiciary, had unlimited jurisdiction. Article I, Sec. 8, specified that "The Congress shall have Power" to legislate only on specified subjects. Incidentally, no power was granted to Congress to regulate health care as such. Nor was Congress granted a power over education, apart from special situations such as land-grant schools. The states retained all powers not delegated by the Constitution.

That constitutional system has gone the way of the bronze axe and the spinning wheel. One transformative event was the Supreme Court's definition in U.S. v. Butler (1936), that Congress' power to tax and spend for the "general welfare of the United States" was not limited to spending on the subjects on which Article I, Section 8, authorized Congress to legislate. But Congress' spending had to be for the "general welfare." Congress, however, has wide latitude to determine what is the "general welfare." While the Court said that the spending power was not a general power to regulate for public purposes, the Court has held that Congress can impose conditions on the subsidies it grants (South Dakota v. Dole [1987]). That power to regulate recipients of federal money is, to put it mildly, very broad, as General Motors, banks and other recipients of bailout money have learned. And as all of us will learn when the likely terms of Obamacare go into effect in 2013 (after Obama's reelection). There is no such thing as a free lunch. If you take the money, you take the controls.

Many factors contributed over the years to the centralization of power in Washington. But in the past eight months, Congress' use of its spending power, and President Obama's unprecedented executive edicts, have so expanded federal power that it amounts to an extra-constitutional coup. The federal takeover of health care, one-sixth of the economy, is essential to the success of that coup. It would open the door to federal controls not only on what medical care you can receive but potentially also on what you eat, how much you weigh, your exercise regime, the level of heat and noise in your home and whatever else might affect your health and therefore the cost of your health care to the taxpayers. The framers of the Constitution would be surprised, to say the least.

Health care, however, is not the only centralizing initiative in Congress. Another example is H.R. 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 (SAFRA). It advanced under the radar while everyone was talking about health care. SAFRA reduces the financial options of students seeking higher education. It passed the House and now is in the Senate Health and Education Committee.

The federal government now subsidizes student loans through the Federal Family Education Loan program (FFEL), which offers subsidized loans to students from private lenders at low interest rates, and through the Direct Loan program (DL), in which the Department of Education is the lender and the funds come from the U.S. Treasury. The Higher Education Act sets the terms and conditions on FFEL and DL loans. FFEL was created in 1966. Over 2,000 lenders participate in FFEL, serving 4,400 institutions, with $70 billion in loans this year. The DL program, established in 1993, serves 1,700 institutions, with $22 billion in loans this year.

SAFRA would terminate FFEL and shift all federal student loans, including Federal Direct Perkins Loans, to the DL program. SAFRA would also create nine new programs and otherwise increase federal involvement in early education, school construction, etc. On September 10th, 40 current and former presidents of state, regional and national financial aid associations alerted House and Senate committees to problems involved in implementing SAFRA as early as the 2010-11 school year.

Beyond those implementation issues, SAFRA would be a huge expansion of the DL program. It would dismantle a system that has worked fairly well for four decades. It would eliminate private sector jobs as well as consumer choice, competition among lenders, and existing programs to reduce defaults. For non-wealthy high school seniors, SAFRA would make their potential for federal student loans depend entirely on approval by government bureaucrats or contractors retained by government. One concern is that the predictably voluminous SAFRA regulations could provide openings for covert political or other illicit discrimination against borrowers or recipient schools. A more obvious concern is that "Congress," in the words of Representative Paul C. Broun (R-GA), "has no business putting taxpayers on the hook for defaulted student loans when the private sector would gladly bear this risk."

The objections to federal takeovers of the private sector do not arise from constitutional archeologism. Those takeovers violate the social principle of subsidiarity: "Just as it is wrong to withdraw from the individual and commit to the community at large what private enterprise and industry can accomplish, so too, it is an injustice, a grave evil, and a disturbance of right order for a larger and higher organization to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower bodies. This is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, unshaken and unchangeable, and it retains its full truth today. ... The true aim of all social activity should be to help individual members of the social body, but never to destroy or absorb them" (Pius XI, "Quadragesimo Anno" no. 79).

"Subsidiarity," said Benedict XVI, "is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state" ("Love in Truth," no. 57).

When they elected Notre Dame's most obsequiously honored alumnus, the American people voted for both hope and change. They are, indeed, getting one of those. Congressman Broun asked the question about the change that, so far, has no answer: "When will the massive spending and Federal takeover end?"

US Bishops: Heath Package Still Funding Abortions

Urge Congress to Keep Working

WASHINGTON, D.C., OCT. 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. bishops are expressing dismay that current bills in the health care reform debate still have Americans paying for abortions with their taxes.

In a letter Thursday, three officials from the episcopal conference reiterated three criteria that the bishops want to see protected in health care reform.

Bishop William Murphy, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; and Bishop John Wester, chairman of the Committee on Migration, signed the note.

They called on Congress to: "Exclude mandated coverage for abortion, and incorporate longstanding policies against abortion funding and in favor of conscience rights. [...] It is essential that the legislation clearly apply to this new program longstanding and widely supported federal restrictions on abortion funding and mandates, and protections for rights of conscience."

"No current bill meets this test," the bishops affirmed.

Furthermore, the letter asks Congress to make "quality health care affordable and accessible to everyone, particularly those who are vulnerable and those who live at or near the poverty level."

Finally, the statement encourages "effective measures to safeguard the health of immigrants, their children and all of society."

The bishops expressed hope that legislation could meet the criteria set by Catholic social teaching.

"However," they wrote, "we remain apprehensive when amendments protecting freedom of conscience and ensuring no taxpayer money for abortion are defeated in committee votes."

Sifting the jargon

E. Christian Brugger, a senior fellow in ethics at the Culture of Life Foundation, published an essay that gives a careful analysis of the bills and laws in question.

He noted that President Barack Obama himself made a false statement to Congress on Sept. 9 when he said, "[U]nder our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions."

The falsity of the statement, Brugger explained, "is cleverly disguised."

At the end of his analysis, the ethicist concludes: "[A]bortion will be available for federal funding under both the private option and the government subsidized exchange options.

"Presently, because of the Hyde Amendment, only abortions in extreme situations -- e.g., rape, incest, threat to the life of the mother -- can be federally funded.

"If HR 3200 and its counterpart in the Senate are voted into law, the federal government, with our money, will go from funding a very small number of abortions annually to funding almost all our country's annual abortions."

--- --- ---

On the Net:

Bishops' letter to Congress: www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/2009-10-08-healthcare-letter-congress.pdf

E. Christian Brugger's essay: www.culture-of-life.org

Permalink: http://www.zenit.org/article-27134?l=english

Authors Say Pope Is Right About Condom and AIDS

Write Book to Set Record Straight

ROME, OCT. 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI caused a media storm on his way to Africa in March by saying that condoms are not the solution to AIDS. An African cardinal, the relator-general of the synod of bishops on Africa that is under way, brought the same storm a few days ago, reiterating the same point.

In the context of this turmoil, ZENIT spoke with Doctor Renzo Puccetti and Cesare Cavoni, a bioethics professor, who are in the process of publishing their book "Il Papa ha ragione! L'Aids non si ferma con il condom" (The Pope Is Right: AIDS Is Not Stopped With Condoms).

Puccetti contended that the accounts of Cardinal Peter Turkson's statements can be classified as "the umpteenth case of distortion of the message."

"In the first place, the cardinal did not make a moral evaluation of the issue; at the same time, in his statements, he said nothing against the constant moral teaching of the Church," the doctor affirmed.

He added, "When the president of Uganda gave a green light to the ABC -- Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condom -- strategy, which was very effective in combating the AIDS epidemic and was later taken as a model with the same success in other African countries, he said rather similar things to what the cardinal said: Life cannot be put at stake entrusting it to a fine coat of latex."

Yes or no

Puccetti acknowledged that it is not easy to give a categorical answer to the question of whether the condom serves to stop AIDS.

"It isn't easy to answer categorically," he said, "but if I must say that the condom serves to halt AIDS in generalized epidemics, the answer I can give according to the body of available scientific knowledge is 'no.'"

For the condom to work, the doctor continued, "man would have to be not much different than a rat in a cage in which, before each copulation, someone dons the condom. In that case, the condom might be useful."

"But as man is not a rat, does not live in cages and there are no professionals ready to burden him with the condom, one must not be surprised then that the theoretical efficacy does not occur on the spot in real life," Puccetti added.

Trampling principles

The authors explained their book stems from a "sad verification" that the media often "deforms" the facts.

"The book stems from this sadness and, also, from the anger of seeing fundamental principles of correct information trampled," Cavoni said. "At the same time we felt it an imperative to give the public the facts as they occurred and, in some way, open the eyes of public opinion, so that it does not take as fine gold clumsy instrumentalizations, perpetrated by ideological motives, superficiality, or both factors."

"The reading of the book makes extremely evident the progressive distortion of the message, including additions, omissions, substitutions," Puccetti added. "[...] In the second part of the book, we summarized as best we could the gamut of knowledge offered by the international scientific literature in regard to the clinical application of prevention through promoting the use of the condom.

"We have paid special attention to the numbers, because we believe they can be the basis for a shared discussion outside the religious orientation."

Ears to hear

Cavoni contended that the media uproar in March can be attributed to false information.

"All the major national and international newspapers launched themselves, directly or indirectly, against the Pontiff, guilty of having said that condoms do not resolve the problems in Africa but rather aggravate them," Cavoni recalled. "The criticisms were escalated the moment the most ferocious observations arrived on the part of several European government exponents, including the resolution of the Belgian Parliament that requested that the Pope deny what he had affirmed.

"The fact is that one presumes that whoever takes such strong positions, knows what the Pope really said, but it wasn't like this. All were talking but few had listened. So much so that, subsequently, many scientists confirmed the concepts Benedict XVI expressed."

Virtual reality

The author lamented that it still holds true: People believe what they hear on TV or read in the newspaper.

"The media acquires a very powerful principle of authority," he said. "If, therefore, things, events, the news presented are based on partial reconstructions or bits of reality, the reader will receive the gift of a deformed reality, which does not correspond to the truth. With this technique one can even create a virtual reality parallel to the real one. [...]

"We are not speaking of a nebulous objectivity, of impartiality. No, we are talking about the fact that I must be present on the scene of the event about which I write. And if this isn't possible, given that in the specific case, not all journalists can be in the Pontiff's entourage, at least I must take the trouble to listen again, word for word, to what the Pope really said and why he said it.

"Instead, many trusted what they heard being said about an initial, incorrect text. The rest is the typical story of misinformation."

[With information from Antonio Gaspari]
Permalink: http://www.zenit.org/article-27128?l=english