Ragnar Árnason, professor of economics at the University of Iceland, says in an interview with the Icelandic newspaper Viðskiptablaðið January 7 that it is time to reconsider whether is serves the interests of Iceland at present to be a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA Agreement is an agreement between the EFTA countries Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein and the European Union which allows them to participate in the Union's Single Market but obliges them at the same time to adopt those of the EU's regulations and directives which concerns it and to pay a certain amount yearly to the Union's construction and development funds.
Mr Árnason says the situation has changed very much since the EEA Agreement was accepted by the Icelandic government a decade ago. He says it was probably the right decision to join the EEA at that time but now the EEA Agreement doesn't have the same importance for the interests of Iceland as back then. The Agreement is even in some ways starting to be harmful to Icelandic interests because of the regulations and directives attached to it (Still this is only a part of the total EU regulation burden). Tariffs have been lowered significantly in the world in the last decade and a special international institution, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), has been established to ensure this. Members of it have committed themselves not to raise tariffs. So even if Iceland would dismiss the EEA Agreement the Icelandic government could demand that tariffs on Icelandic export to the EU would not be raised on these grounds. At the same time the regulation burden attached to the EEA Agreement increased every year. Therefore it was time to rethink the situation and see if other options would perhaps secure the interests of Iceland better than the EEA or EU membership.
Mr Árnason doesn't think EU membership would serve the interests of Iceland. "What is the European Union?" he asks and answers his own question: "It's a customs union. It protects itself from outsiders with walls of tariffs. It is in many ways very reactionary. Those who control everything, the Central European states France, Germany, Spain and Italy, are not the countries of the free market and have never been. Those are countries which have cetralised their economy very much. Their economy is in many ways incomplete with much rigidity in the labour market. They have a very complex and wide-ranging system of subsidies and grants. State interference in the economy is vast. And in many ways the European Union is driven by dreams of past greatness; dreams of keeping Europe as a superpower. The result of all this is that growth in the EU is rather small compared to America and Asia."
Mr Árnason says the question is why Iceland, which has more growth than the EU, higher average income and enjoys certain independence and freedom, should want to join this company? What is to gain? To him the only argument would be that Iceland would have a little more influence on the regulations and directives it has to adopt through the EEA Agreement. He nevertheless says he has always found those arguments quite naive since it is not likely that much would change concerning that. The influence of Iceland would hardly be much within the EU. Mr Árnason points out that it ought to be remembered that the influence of each memberstate of the EU as such was in decrease but the impact of population and size was on the other hand increasing. This tendency was very much present today in the proposed EU Constitution and it was clear that this evolution would continue.
The interview with Mr Árnason has resulted in widespread discussions in Iceland. The common attitute is nevertheless that the EEA Agreement is serving the interests of Iceland and working fine. The response by the pro-EU movement was that Mr Árnason's speculations were stupid. The Eurosceptic side said this was a typical reaction for the pro-EU movement not wanting to discuss any other possibilities for Iceland than closer ties with the EU. Davíð Oddsson, the Icelandic Foreign Minister, said Mr Árnason's speculations were unexpected but certainly worth looking into as all other possibilities.
The Global War on Terrorism looks to be an ongoing struggle against a determined enemy. American policymakers should not forget that prior to al Qaeda’s 2001 strikes, the U.S. was already under siege in war fought without bombs. France’s School of Economic Warfare is just a reminder of a different type of threat that could be no less dangerous to America.
In the past four months, six Muslim women living in Berlin have been brutally murdered by family members. Their crime? Trying to break free and live Western lifestyles. Within their communities, the killers are revered as heroes for preserving their family dignity. How can such a horrific and shockingly archaic practice be flourishing in the heart of Europe? The deaths have sparked momentary outrage, but will they change the grim reality for Muslim women?The reality will not change, here's what the reality looks like for the next generation:
One of the unsettling truths about Hatin's death and the plight of many Muslim women is that it took the comments of three Turkish boys and the outrage of a male school director to get people to notice. When the murder first happened, it sent no shock waves through the mainstream German press. It only became big news when a group of 14-year-old Turkish boys mocked Hatin during a class discussion at a school near the crime scene. One boy said, "She only had herself to blame," while another insisted, "She deserved what she got. The whore lived like a German." The enraged school director not only sent a letter home to parents, but also to teachers across Germany. The letter ignited a media fury. Less known, however, is that the letter also hit a nerve among educators. "Teachers from across the country wrote back saying they had had similar experiences," Boehmecke said. They reported Turkish boys taunting Turkish girls who don't wear headscarves as "German sluts." "That's the part no one has written about. Clearly there is huge potential for similar violence across Germany," Boehmecke said. "Not just in the big cities, but all over. It's a problem many politicians haven't been willing to face."
Iyad Allawi says he dreamed for years of two things - toppling Saddam Hussein and establishing a democracy in Iraq. As an opposition leader and then interim prime minister, he helped achieve both goals. But as he prepares to leave office, Allawi worries that his country remains on the edge of a precipice.Yes, it is reassuring. He's a fine one to play Iraq's Washington, with his farewell comments warning Iraqis against sectarianism, his forthright manner and essential decency. Who ever thought Iraq would have a decent leader? The greatest favor he ever did Iraq was leaving quietly to become the loyal opposition. Thanks, Iyad. Your name will be burnished forever in the hearts of free Iraqis as the midwife of Iraqi self governance.
The danger Allawi sees is that the new Iraq's unity will be shattered by a wave of revenge and retribution - as a new government dominated by Shiites settles old scores with Sunnis, Baath Party members and secular Iraqis. Though a Shiite, Allawi describes himself as a "liberal person" who thinks that "religion should be between the human being and his creator." He fears this ideal of tolerance may not survive in the new Iraq.
"To get religion and politics mixed together could spell disaster for us, frankly," Allawi told me and my Washington Post colleague Anthony Shadid this week in what amounted to a farewell interview. He's afraid that the next government, dominated by a coalition of Shiite religious parties blessed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, will push its agenda so aggressively that the country will divide along its religious, ethnic and political fault lines. "If this happens, then this dream is dead," he said.
A measure of Allawi's concern is that he's not sure it will be safe for him to remain in Iraq. He has faced repeated assassination attempts since becoming interim prime minister last June 28, and as we were talking Wednesday afternoon, an aide told him the Defense Ministry had learned that day of a new plot to kill him with multiple car bombs. If the next government can't provide adequate security, Allawi says, he may move to another Arab country.
Allawi's comments could be taken as sour grapes, given that his party garnered only 14 percent of the votes in the Jan. 30 elections and finished a distant third behind the Sistani coalition's 48 percent and the Kurdish parties' 26 percent. And it could be argued, too, that as a former Baathist himself, Allawi was engaging in special pleading.
But Allawi didn't sound angry or bitter. In fact, he seemed almost relieved that his stewardship of the Iraqi transition government was coming to a successful end with the elections. I've known Allawi since 1991, back in the days when he was an anti-Saddam conspirator, and I don't think I've ever seen him as relaxed as this week - his round face often breaking into an easy smile.
What makes Allawi unusual among Arab politicians is that he is self-critical. He conceded, for example, that he could have done a better job in his campaign to co-opt Sunnis and ex-Baathists. Looking back, he says, he should have tried more "pan-Iraqi conferences," where "everybody looks everybody in the eye and starts talking about the country and unity."
And he wishes he had been able to make de-Baathification "a judicial rather than political issue," so that those with blood on their hands could be punished by the courts and the millions of other ex-Baathists could seek reconciliation.
Allawi's gift, in a land of conniving politicians, is that he is straightforward. He has been saying precisely the same thing about how to build a new Iraq ever since we first talked in 1991, when the idea of overthrowing Saddam seemed a fantasy. He has always argued that a stable Iraq could only be built on the foundations of the secular state that has been emerging since the 1920s - including its army and civil service. He was making that same argument this week, just as passionately.
I asked Allawi what he has learned over the past several years about Iraq's would-be benefactor, the United States. Was it true, I asked, that it was more dangerous to be a friend of America than an enemy? Allawi laughed and said that of course the United States had made mistakes, such as dissolving the Iraqi Army. "I think the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) itself was a mistake," he said. "But that is water under the bridge, really."
Allawi's friends say that he plans now to be a kind of secular opposition to the new religious-backed government. If things turn out as badly as he fears, he believes that his country eventually might turn to him to put things back together. You have to hope that Allawi is wrong, and that the new Iraq will find its own version of national unity. But it's reassuring to think that this decent man, who served his country bravely in a difficult time, will be around if he's needed.
Deport Saudi Diplomats on Religious Freedom Grounds? With the passage of the "Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004," it is now possible (according to section 5502, on p. 108) to deport "foreign government officials who have committed particularly severe violations of religious freedom." This is then spelled out to mean "Any alien who, while serving as a foreign government official, was responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom, as defined in section 3 of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998."
That section specifies "particularly severe violations of religious freedom" to meansystematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, including violations such as—
(A) torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment;
(B) prolonged detention without charges;
(C) causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or
(D) other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.
William West, formerly of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, writes me thatSuch violations are administrative (civil) statutes, not criminal statutes, and so are retroactive from the date of enactment of the law.
One can only speculate how many foreign government officials from majority Muslim countries might fall into this category, especially from places like Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority, Iran and a number of other authoritarian Islamic regimes who sponsor religious hatred against any religion other than Islam and even against moderate Muslims. The recent Freedom House report on the vitriolic Saudi-provided religious hate literature found in American mosques is just a beginning.
This is powerful new law, and it will be very interesting to see how the U.S. government enforces it.
Further, such violations would arguably also be human rights violations. That means that former foreign government officials who came to the United States and became naturalized U.S. citizens could, as human rights violators, be subject to revocation of that naturalization. This is provided for under Section 5501 (on page 107) of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. They are also subject to investigation by the Department of Justice's newly re-empowered Office of Special Investigations (Section 5505, on p. 108).
Reports from Turkmenistan say President Niyazov has ordered the closure of all the hospitals in the country except those in the capital, Ashgabat.
The order, announced by a government spokesman, is part of the president's radical health care policies.
Thousands of medical workers have already been sacked under the plan.
Civil rights activists have accused the president of sacrificing public services in favour of vast projects that glorify his regime.He sounds like Pol Pot. Yeah, army conscripts are a great substitute for doctors and nurses!
President Niyazov apparently took the decision to close the hospitals at a meeting with local officials on Monday.
"Why do we need such hospitals?" he said. "If people are ill, they can come to Ashgabat."
For the Turkmens, it means the end of a nationwide health service already on its knees.
There are few able doctors and little medicine in rural Turkmen hospitals, and last year President Niyazov sacked 15,000 medical workers, replacing them with army conscripts. However the local hospital was the only place for sick people to go - especially those without the funds to travel to Ashgabat for treatment.
The foreign community will be horrified by the decision.The Turkmen community may or may not be horrified. Its opinion is irrelevant in Niyazovistan.
President Niyazov is well known for his idiosyncratic orders, but it is extraordinary for a head of state to take such a step."Idiosyncratic"? "Idiosyncratic"?! How about "batshit raving monster loony dingbat"!
At the same time, the president has also ordered the closure of rural libraries, saying they are pointless because village Turkmens do not read.
Criticism of the president is not allowed in Turkmenistan, but civil rights activists abroad say he has destroyed social services while spending millions of dollars of public money on grand projects, such as gold statues of the leader and a vast marble and gold mosque, one of the biggest in Asia.