Monday, February 28, 2005

Pope John Paul II: meetings with Radek Sikorski

'You expect him to have the charisma and manner of a monarch. But John Paul II has the presence of a kind old uncle who will help you out with pocket money'

Radek Sikorski recalls his private meetings with the Pope and pays tribute to the personal inspiration of a man who has always fought tyranny

Sunday Telegraph 27 February 2005

In the spring of 1992 – when I was a 29-year-old deputy minister of defence in Poland's first fully democratic post-war government – I was sent on an unusually delicate assignment. My boss, Poland's first civilian minister of defence, told me to go to Rome. There, I was to meet the Pope, and to ask for his assistance.

The Pope's visit to Poland in 1992
It was only weeks since the Soviet Union had collapsed and everything there was up for grabs. Lech Walesa, then the president of Poland, had embarked on a hare-brained scheme to acquire nuclear warheads from the former KGB. We did not know whether it was a provocation against our government or a genuine offer. Either way, Poland, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, would look foolish at best, a pariah at worst, if the scheme went through.

Still, despite our efforts to talk him out of it President Walesa seemed determined to go ahead. He is half Mahatma Gandhi, half village yokel, and it was impossible ever to know which side of his personality would predominate. He had been only barely dissuaded, at the very last minute, from sending a congratulatory letter to the leaders of the 1991 Moscow coup.

On the issue of buying nuclear weapons, we felt the Pope was the only person who could talk sense into him, get him to end the deal.

It wasn't difficult to arrange the meeting: foreign dignitaries had to wait months to see the Polish Pope, but for Poles it was easier. While in Rome at a Nato conference, I made a telephone call to a friendly priest, and the following day was shown into the Pontiff's study.

I started to explain my mission – but it turned out to be unnecessary. John Paul II nodded. "I know," he said. In fact, the Vatican knew everything – about the plan, about the nukes, about the military intelligence officers who were whispering in the president's ear. The Vatican's own intelligence service was obviously sharper than ours. By the time I got back to Poland, President Walesa had already stopped talking about the plan: Karol Wojtyla had changed the history of Europe again.

That trip to Rome was not, however, my first sight of the Pope. The first time was on the first day of his visit to Poland as Pope in 1979, a few months after his election. More than a million people had gathered on a disused airfield outside Gniezno, the city from which Catholicism had spread throughout Poland. For the first time in my life, I was taking part in a public event in Poland into which I had not been coerced. The police were nowhere in sight, yet perfect order reigned. Jubilant, we sang religious songs until the Pope's white helicopter descended from the sky. Karol Wojtyla was obviously delighted to be back in Poland. Even at the distance of 100 yards, he radiated good humour and strength. He told us: "Before I go away, I beg you: Never lose your trust, do not be defeated, do not be discouraged." We were not and we did not disappoint him. "We", the people, saw for the first time that we were more numerous than "them", the Communists. And then, when we got home, television reports showed only old women and nuns at the Pope's open-air masses. That combination – awareness of our numbers and tangible proof of Communist duplicity – helped to produce the Solidarity revolution the following year.

My second encounter with the Pope, at his summer residence in Castelgandolfo, during the years of Gen Jaruzelski's martial law, was more intimate. I had stayed in Britain as a political exile; the Communists took revenge on me by harassing my parents in Poland, and banning them from travel to the West. Through the intercession of a priest relative, they finally obtained their passports in order to go on a pilgrimage to Rome – where they saw me, and we saw the Pope together.

Before meeting the Pope face to face, you expect him to have the charisma, or at least the manner, of a monarch, some quirk to indicate that this is the head of the oldest organisation in the Western world. The prelude before being introduced – the Vatican officials, the Swiss guards, the high vaults of the ceremonial chambers – only heighten the expectation. But John Paul II himself has the presence of a kind old uncle who will listen to your troubles and help you out with pocket money. His is a charisma that breaks, rather than erects barriers.

Audiences are highly formal occasions and the Pope usually says little, instead encouraging his visitors to talk. He asked my mother about how she managed to travel from Poland and about my studies in Britain. She broke down in tears of joy. He blessed her and handed each of us – even my father, an incorrigible agnostic – a rosary with the papal coat of arms on the back of the cross. At this time, after two assassination attempts, and a tense period in 1981 – when John Paul II reportedly threatened to come to Poland if it was invaded by the Soviet Army – he was no longer jolly. He seemed more subdued and melancholy, as if disappointed in human nature. For us, he was the uncrowned king of Poland and we drank every word of encouragement he uttered.

I am always surprised by the contrast between the kindly man I remember and the picture painted of him in the Western media. Naturally, like any powerful man with a radical message, the Pope attracts enemies. But underlying many of the criticisms is a strain of ethnic prejudice that would be considered racist if the Pope were a Nigerian. In Britain, Richard Dawkins mocked Paul Johnson for "taking his orders from an elderly Pole", as if it is any worse to be an elderly Pole rather than a clapped out Englishman. A British biographer was "fascinated and appalled" by the "brief Polish interlude" in the Church's history.

"The Polish Pope does not like Western values," opined The Daily Telegraph. The Nation has called him a "Polish authoritarian" who "galvanised the international Right wing" and "destroyed the careers of activist Catholic leaders who challenged US military and business interests". The editor of The New Republic feared that the Pope's teaching might harm liberal society: "If you doubt this, visit Poland." The Pope's philosophy supposedly stems from his roots in a backward, patriarchal, authoritarian country with a reactionary Church hierarchy preserved by communism in a counter-Reformation time warp.

In fact, calling him a Polish Pope, in the sense of bringing a specifically Polish perspective into the Papacy, is correct – but not in the way that the critics imagine. The Poland in which Karol Wojtyla ascended the steps of his ecclesiastical career was indeed ruled by authoritarian, even totalitarian regimes, first Nazi Germany and then Soviet-imposed communism. Yet he was nurtured in opposition to them, which is why he makes such frequent and passionate pleas for respecting human rights. And while Poland is still poor, it is not especially illiberal.

Polish attitudes to contraception and abortion, as measured by public opinion polls, are very similar to attitudes expressed by Germans and Americans.

In fact, John Paul II's Polishness is reflected more subtly, in his emotional sense of history. His passionate pronouncements on behalf of multi-ethnic Sarajevo, besieged by the Orthodox Serbs, is explained by historical memory which went back 300 years: any Pole knows that Orthodox Russia destroyed the multi-ethnic Polish Commonwealth in the 18th century. On the other hand, would any but a Slav Pope have sent 10 cardinals to the celebrations of the millennium of Kievan Rus's Christianity in 1988? Would any other have supported so steadfastly the underground church in Lithuania, or the Uniate Catholics in Ukraine? Nor is his sensibility merely European: look, for example, at the special effort he made in Cuba.

Having spent three decades fighting a Communist regime, this Pope also knows the power of symbolic gestures. It took a Pole from Krakow on the throne of St Peter for a pope to visit Auschwitz, where Jews and Poles had suffered together. In 1986, John Paul II became the first pope to visit a synagogue. And if you don't have any divisions to send in, solidarity with the victims may be the best weapon.

The candles that simultaneously burnt in the window of his Vatican study, and of Ronald Reagan's White House, to grieve for Solidarity's suppression in December 1981, carried a more powerful message to the Kremlin than dozens of new missile silos. The few million dollars sent via Vatican accounts to Solidarity's underground cells were hardly significant as material support, but shored up the freedom fighters' morale.

The Pope's Polish experience – of rule by two godless ideologies, of war, genocide, poverty and revolution – chimes in better with the experience of most of the world's Catholics who do not, after all, live in the wealthy West. It is his experience of the transitory nature of regimes, power and wealth in his native land, that reinforces his insistence on personal, rather than collective or state-directed, pursuit of goodness. After all, for most of the last century, remaining personally decent while nasty regimes came and went was all that the average Pole could hope for. His Polishness also strengthened the Pope's solidarity (a word that crops up very often in his speeches) with the world's underdogs. Hence his condemnation of apartheid, his visit to a leper colony in Ivory Coast, and his meal with the Vatican's tramps. Even his pronouncements on international relations – his passionate belief that lasting peace can only be built on justice – may stem from his perceptions of the history of Poland, repeatedly the victim of realpolitik played by more powerful neighbours. "If you want peace, remember man," is one of his favourite maxims. Hence his advocacy of the Bosnians, the "Wandering Palestinians", and the Kurds.

I was reminded of my mission to Rome in February 2001, when two elderly Poles met at the Vatican: Pope John Paul II was receiving Poland's foreign minister, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski. Bartoszewski - an Auschwitz survivor, an inmate of Communist jails, an honorary citizen of Israel for his role in saving Jews during the war, foreign minister for the second time - had been summoned to offer his advice on the Pope's forthcoming trip to Ukraine, the first-ever by the Bishop of Rome. Only a Central European can appreciate the poignancy of such a conversation. Ukraine's Christians had recognised Rome in the 16th century at the time of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which included most of today's Ukraine. Centuries of persecution under both tsarist and Communist Russia followed. Now, a Polish Pope was consorting with a Polish foreign minister on how to make a papal comeback easy on local sensibilities. And the Ukrainian trip, in June 2001, was a smashing success: three years later, Ukraine carried out its own democratic revolution. It could have been a coincidence, or it could have been that Karol Wojtyla was making history again in ways that his Western critics barely understood.

Radek Sikorski is the director of the New Atlantic Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Winds of change....

Saudis feel winds of change
Kim Ghattas BBC News, Riyadh

12 February 2005

Many Saudis consider the elections as a good first step.
It has been an interesting week here in Riyadh, a week in which the Saudis have worked hard to try to project a new image to the world.
This is the birthplace of Osama Bin Laden. It is also the birthplace of most of the 11 September hijackers.
Since that day, the world's perception of this country has changed dramatically. Saudi Arabia is no longer seen only as a country of spendthrift princes and princesses, but as a nation that produced people filled with hatred for the West.
So when the Saudis announced they were holding a counter-terrorism conference, many people thought it was ironic. But all those who had been invited showed up, including senior security officials from the US and Britain.
A few years ago, it would have been impossible to question the importance of religion in everyday life or the ways of the religious authorities In his opening speech Crown Prince Abdullah used all the right buzzwords - fighting terrorism, tolerance, moderation, education - journalists from around the world here to cover the event were given better access than usual, ministers who are usually reluctant to agree to interviews gave press conferences and spent time answering questions.
We even got to see the Saudi special forces in action during a training exercise - the Saudis did everything to showcase their efforts in the battle against militants.
After all the negative publicity they have been getting over the last four years, this was their PR retaliation, and they were applauded by their traditional allies the Americans for clamping down on insurgents.
'Need for reform'
But the Americans and others have also said there is a need for political and social reforms.
And two days after the conference on terrorism, with all the international media still in town, the Saudis put on another performance.
The first round of nationwide municipal elections was held on Thursday.

Saudi society remains male-dominated
Even though women were excluded and the men only elected half of the council's members, it was still something of a milestone in this absolute monarchy. At the polling stations, many of those who had just cast their ballots wanted to tell me how they felt: they were happy, excited, proud; many said it was a first step towards democracy, but all of them said they wanted more change.
There is definitely a new openness here. People want to talk and once they start, there is no stopping them.
I have heard some pretty radical thoughts. One man in his mid-30s complained to me about the grip the religious establishment had on the country, he said they had destroyed Saudi Arabia and its culture and made everybody's life miserable.
His friends joined the conversation and all nodded in approval.
We were standing on a street corner next to a campaign rally and I was the only woman there. Five years ago, I would have been harassed by the religious police for mingling in public with men who were not related to me.
As a foreigner you have more leeway these days, but for Saudis, life is not so simple.
A couple in a car were recently detained by the religious police because they could not prove on the spot that they were husband and wife.
Segregation is strictly enforced in most places and Saudis face many restrictions in their everyday life, especially women, who cannot drive or do much without permission from a male guardian.

Women face many restrictionsThere are hopes that the small steps taken towards reform will become bigger, but no-one is quite sure where that will lead and if there will be a backlash from the religious establishment.
One young liberal Saudi I spoke to said that most of his friends were either leaving the country or thinking about doing so.
When you are reporting from Saudi Arabia, you tend to meet mostly liberal-minded people who have been educated in the West and want reform, they are accessible and they want to talk.
The religious crowd mostly stay away from the media. They know that what they have to say is no longer considered politically correct in a country that is trying to convince the world it is on the path towards more tolerance.
Most Saudis are still very conservative and deeply religious. A friend told me he had written a column in a Saudi newspaper complaining about how inconvenient it was that everything shut down five times every day for prayers - including the ticket counters at the airport, and that is how he missed an international flight.
A few years ago, it would have been impossible to question the importance of religion in everyday life or the ways of the religious authorities.
Most Saudis still do not.
My friend received an e-mail from a man who wrote that after reading the column, he had woken up his children for morning prayers and together they had called on God to destroy my friend because of his un-Islamic thoughts.
The man said destruction would take place within a few days. My friend saw the e-mail when he returned from a holiday, three weeks after the message was sent. He wrote back saying he was alive and well and that obviously, God was not listening.
But the Saudis I met over the past week are hoping that the rulers of Saudi Arabia are listening to them as they ask for more change.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Papiez: operacja i zdrowie

Jan Paweł II przeszedł udaną operację

Mikołaj Lizut, rps, pap, kai, iar, pap

Gazeta Wyborcza 24-02-2005

Operacja Papieża zakończyła się sukcesem, a stan Ojca Świętego jest zadowalający - mówią lekarze. Po wieczornym zabiegu tracheotomii - przecięcia tchawicy, który ma mu pomóc w oddychaniu - i przebudzeniu się z narkozy Jan Paweł II spędził noc w swoim pokoju w klinice Gemelli

Papież został przewieziony do swojego pokoju na 10. piętrze klinki Gemelli i nie będzie musiał spędzić nocy na oddziale intensywnej terapii. Po zabiegu jest przytomny i oddycha przy pomocy respiratora. Światło w apartamencie papieża zgaszono około drugiej nad ranem. Lekarz Jana Pawła Drugiego co pół godziny kontrolował funkcjonowanie urządzeń pozwalających Ojcu Świętemu oddychać.

Około południa spodziewany jest komunikat rzecznika Watykanu.

Zabieg tracheotomii przeprowadzono w całkowitej narkozie. Tracheotomia pozwoliła usunąć trudności w oddychaniu, jakie wystąpiły wskutek zaatakowania mięśni tchawicy papieża - powiedział w czwartek wieczorem koordynator ekipy medycznej leczącej papieża. Papież wyraził zgodę na zabieg. Przez jakiś czas nie będzie mógł mówić, bo po zabiegu powietrze przechodzi poniżej strun głosowych. Nie wiadomo jednak, czy rurka, która została umieszczona w jego tchawicy, pozostanie tam na stałe, czy też będzie można ją za jakiś czas usunąć. Lekarze, którzy dokonali zabiegu tracheotomii są "bardzo zadowoleni" ze stanu pacjenta - ujawnił w czwartek późnym wieczorem jeden z najbliższych współpracowników premiera Silvio Berlusconiego. Według niego, papież był po zabiegu przytomny i pogodny

Trzydziestominutowy zabieg przeprowadzony u papieża był nieodzowny w celu usunięcia przyczyn, dla których został pilnie hospitalizowany - podkreśliła w czwartek wieczorem włoska telewizja publiczna RAI.

Agencja ANSA pisze, iż życie papieża nie jest zagrożone, ale tym, co budzi zaniepokojenie ekipy lekarskiej jest fakt, że problemy z oddychaniem wystąpiły w odstępie zaledwie nieco dłuższym, niż trzy tygodnie. Może to być nie tylko wynik typowego o tej porze roku przeziębienia, lecz mieć związek z chorobą Parkinsona - twierdzą niektórzy neurolodzy.

Modlitwy wiernych

- Jesteśmy zaniepokojeni i modlimy się za niego - powiedział dziennikarzom oczekującym na wiadomości na temat stanu papieża z kliniki Gemelli przewodniczący Episkopatu Włoch, kardynał Camillo Ruini. Modły o zdrowie i siłę do przezwyciężenia choroby odbywają się w kościołach całych Włoch. Życzenia zdrowia dla papieża przesłali do Watykanu imamowie meczetów w Rzymie i Neapolu.

W czwartek o 11.15 watykański ambulans przewiózł Papieża do polikliniki Gemellego. Rzecznik Watykanu Joaquin Navarro Valls ograniczył się do lakonicznego komunikatu, że Jan Paweł II ma nawrót grypy i trafił na badania.

Włoskie media podawały sprzeczne informacje. Według Radia RAI Papież został wniesiony z karetki do szpitala na noszach. Inne źródła utrzymują, że siedział w fotelu i ręką pozdrowił ludzi. Jeden z wybitnych watykanistów powiedział nam, że o powadze sytuacji może świadczyć to, iż blokada informacyjna w Watykanie była wczoraj ściślejsza niż zazwyczaj w takich wypadkach.

Przed rzymską kliniką zaczęli gromadzić się wierni. Wikariusz papieski dla diecezji Rzymu kardynał Camillo Ruini wezwał do modlitwy za zdrowie Jana Pawła II.

Problemy zaczęły się w nocy ze środy na czwartek. Jan Paweł II miał dwa ataki duszącego kaszlu, bardzo niebezpiecznego dla starego człowieka cierpiącego na chorobę Parkinsona. Nieoficjalnie mówi się, że Papież ma też gorączkę, zapalenie gardła oraz symptomy przypominające zapalenie płuc.

Za wcześnie wypisany?

W czwartek rano było jasne, że Papież nie weźmie udziału w zaplanowanym na godzinę 11 konsystorzu w sprawie kanonizacji pięciu błogosławionych. W Sali Klementyńskiej Pałacu Apostolskiego zebrali się przebywający w Rzymie kardynałowie. Wszyscy wiedzieli już, że stan zdrowia Ojca Świętego bardzo się pogorszył. Czekającym w napięciu purpuratom kard. Angelo Sodano, sekretarz stanu Stolicy Apostolskiej, odczytał list Papieża: "Poradzono mi pozostanie w moim apartamencie i oglądanie spotkania w telewizji".

Gdy kardynałowie słuchali tych słów, osobisty lekarz Papieża Renato Buzzonetti uznał, iż stan zdrowia Jana Pawła II jest na tyle poważny, że trzeba go natychmiast przewieźć do szpitala. Wieczorem Papież trafił na salę operacyjną, gdzie przeprowadzono zabieg tracheotomii - przecięcie tchawicy i wprowadzenie w otwór dotchawiczny rurki, przez którą duszący się chory może swobodnie oddychać. Operacja trwała 30 minut.

Zabieg tracheotomii jest prosty, ale - jak ostrzegł prof. Giovanni d'Urso, specjalista chorób dróg oddechowych - "Wiąże się z nim znaczne ryzyko infekcji. Robi się otwór w tchawicy, ale w ten sposób pomija naturalny filtr". Profesor przypomniał, że choroba Parkinsona, na którą papież cierpi od ok. 13 lat, osłabia mięśnie aparatu oddechowego, co utrudnia oddychanie i odkrztuszanie.

Znany włoski watykanista Alceste Santini pisze w komentarzu na łamach dziennika "Il Mattino", że przed dwoma tygodniami Papież zbyt szybko opuścił szpital. Mówi się, że tym razem to nie zwykły nawrót grypy, lecz chroniczne kłopoty oddechowe, związane z chorobą Parkinsona. - Będziemy musieli się pogodzić z tym, że raz na jakiś czas Ojciec Święty będzie wracał do szpitala, żeby podreperować zdrowie - powiedział ojciec Konrad Hejmo, opiekun polskich pielgrzymów w Rzymie. O. Hejmo dodał, że osobisty sekretarz papieża arcybiskup Stanisław Dziwisz przekazał mu uspokajające informacje. - Nie ma powodu do obaw - zapewnił.

Dziesiąty raz w szpitalu

Obecna nagła hospitalizacja Jana Pawła II jest jego 10. pobytem w szpitalu. Chociaż w chwili wyboru 16 października 1978 Karol Wojtyła był najmłodszym papieżem w XX wieku, a także najsprawniejszym i najbardziej wysportowanym (media na Zachodzie nazywały go nawet "atletą Pana Boga"), to później właśnie na niego spadły najboleśniejsze doświadczenia spośród wszystkich biskupów Rzymu ostatnich wieków. Zapoczątkował je zamach na Placu św. Piotra 13 maja 1981, po którym Ojciec Święty po raz pierwszy trafił do rzymskiej kliniki im. o. Agostino Gemellego, która odtąd miała się stać dla niego "trzecią rezydencją" - jak sam to kiedyś dowcipnie określił - po Watykanie i Castel Gandolfo.

Po zamachu spędził tam trzy tygodnie, po czym znów tam go przewieziono po kilkunastu dniach z powodu zakażenia. Po raz trzeci Papież trafił do szpitala w 1992 r. z powodu operacji guza jelita, który na szczęście okazał się łagodny.

Czwarta wizyta była krótka - tylko kilkugodzinna 2 lipca następnego roku i wiązała się z rutynową kontrolą ogólnego stanu zdrowia po poprzedniej operacji.

Za piątym razem Ojciec Święty znalazł się w tym samym obiekcie w dniach 11-12 listopada 1993 r. w wyniku przypadkowego potknięcia się na posadzce w Pałacu Apostolskim. Było to silne stłuczenie, na szczęście bez poważniejszych skutków wewnętrznych, ale Papież przez kilka tygodni miał lewą rękę na temblaku.

Szósty pobyt był znacznie dłuższy - trwał 29 dni. W 1994 r. Jan Paweł II upadł w łazience i złamał szyjkę miednicy. Od tamtego czasu zaczął mieć problemy z chodzeniem. Według zgodnych opinii specjalistów operacja nie została wykonana najlepiej i właściwie należało ją powtórzyć, na co jednak Papież nie chciał się zgodzić.

W 1996 r. Papieżowi usunięto wyrostek robaczkowy. W mediach pojawiły się wówczas głosy, że w rzeczywistości wcale nie chodzi o rutynowy zabieg, ale o coś znacznie poważniejszego (sugerowano nowotwór). W tym samym roku stały się widoczne objawy choroby Parkinsona, które z czasem coraz bardziej się pogłębiały, uniemożliwiając poruszanie się Papieża. Obecnie musi korzystać ze specjalnego wózka.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Re Saudi Arabia: three articles

Scot finally cleared of car-bomb killing

Relief for man who faced death penalty in Saudi Arabia

Scotsman 23 February 2005
A SCOT who faced beheading in Saudi Arabia for a murder he did not commit spoke last night of his relief at being officially exonerated, and called on the British authorities to try to find the real culprits.
Sandy Mitchell, 49, from Glasgow, was allegedly tortured in prison after being arrested and accused of murdering Christopher Rodway, 47, in a car-bomb attack in Riyadh on 17 November, 2000.
Mr Mitchell and William Sampson, 45, from Penrith, Cumbria, were allegedly tortured into confessing on Saudi television in February 2001 to having planted the car bomb. They were sentenced to death.
The pair were then given a royal pardon and released in August 2003, having spent more than two and a half years in jail. They retracted the confessions on their release.
At an inquest into Mr Rodway’s death yesterday, David Masters, the Wiltshire coroner, found nothing to link either Mr Mitchell or Dr Sampson to the fatal explosion.
It is the first time Mr Mitchell has been publicly exonerated and his voice shook as he described his relief. "It is great - just a load off my mind," he said. "It is the first time the authorities have officially said we are exonerated. It would have saved a lot of pain and torment if the Saudi authorities displayed the same degree of professionalism."
Mr Mitchell said the results of the inquest should force the British authorities to put pressure on the Saudi government to find the real killers.
He said: "It is very easy to get someone to confess under torture - it takes no art at all and eventually everyone will break. But getting someone to confess will not solve the crime."
Speaking from his home in Halifax, Yorkshire, where he lives with his pregnant wife and six-year-old son, he went on: "I would like the British authorities to find out who really killed Christopher Rodway - his family are entitled to that."
The Saudi authorities had claimed the two men were behind the bombing and others like it that were said to be part of a bloody turf war to gain control of the kingdom’s illegal alcohol trade. The men always maintained the bomb was planted by Islamic fundamentalists.
John Lyons, the MP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden, who fought for Mr Mitchell’s release, said the coroner should have ordered a police investigation to find Mr Rodway’s killers. "You cannot say a man was unlawfully killed and then do nothing about it," he said. "Mr Rodway’s family will want justice. It’s a matter of fact that Sandy Mitchell and Dr Sampson were tortured into making confessions.

Saudi Minister Says Women Could Soon Vote
By Michael Drudge
Voice of America 23 February 2005
The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia says the kingdom could give the right to vote to women in the next election.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal raised the prospect of women's suffrage at a conference in London on political, social, and economic reforms in the kingdom.
He noted that Saudi Arabia's first-ever elections for city councils, in which only men could vote, were held without problems this month. Prince Saud says the religious affairs ministry has determined there is nothing in Islam that prevents women from voting.
"The smoothness of the electoral process led our election commissioner to announce that he is recommending that women participate in the coming elections," Prince Saud said. "Therefore I would not be surprised if they do so in the next round of elections."
The prince did not clarify, but it is believed women will remain barred for the second phase of municipal council voting set for next Thursday. The final round of the municipal election cycle is planned for April.
Also attending the London conference was British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. He said the lack of reform in societies such as Saudi Arabia's can produce destabilizing effects.
"No nation can stand still, and the challenge for Saudi Arabia is to adapt to this changing world reality, while preserving all that is good and admirable in its society," Mr. Straw said. "For without reform, frustrated aspirations for change will fuel resentment and strengthen those forces who wish to destroy all that the society hold dear."
Both men noted that it took centuries for democratic traditions to evolve in Europe, and that Saudi Arabia is moving to modernize at a quicker pace.
Prince Saud pointed to suspicions in the Middle East about the reform agenda, which is a prominent plank in President Bush's policy toward the region. The prince also appealed for more understanding between Middle Easterners and the West.
"There is widespread suspicion among people in our region that Western calls for social and political reforms, which are not indigenous to our region, is intended to establish political dominance," Prince Saud said. "In order for us to cooperate fully, we must strive to correct misunderstandings, misperceptions and misrepresentations."
Prince Saud said his country, and the Muslim faith, have been unfairly tarnished as the source of Islamic terrorism. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden, and 15 of the 19 hijackers in the 2001 attacks against the United States were Saudis.
But the U.S. investigation into those attacks found no official Saudi government involvement, though it did fault the kingdom for doing little to curb fund-raising by al-Qaida.

US takes to the airwaves in hunt for Bin Laden

Declan Walsh in Islamabad
Guardian February 24, 2005

Spying hasn't worked, and neither has shooting. So America has turned to its great cultural weapon to flush out Osama bin Laden - television.
After a fruitless three-year hunt, the US is funding advertisements on Pakistani television which it hopes will touch the hearts of those close to the elusive al-Qaida leader.
As photos of Bin Laden and 13 other wanted men flicker across the screen a voice implores: "Who are the people who are suffering from terrorism? Our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters! Who can stop these terrorists? Only you!"
The 30-second ads, broadcast in Pakistan's five main languages, also dangle a $25m (£13m) carrot before potential informers - one that might soon double thanks to a new law passing through Congress.
The advertising blitz sees the US move into terrain already expertly exploited by al-Qaida. A videotape released last October, four days before the US presidential election, showed a vigorous-looking Bin Laden taunting President Bush. The message was broadcast around the world.
Last Sunday Bin Laden's bespectacled deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, featured in a second tape predicting a crushing defeat for the "crusader campaign".
The television war underscores the dismal failure of the manhunt that started when Bin Laden disappeared from the Tora Bora caves in Afghanistan in late 2001.
The US has since deployed satellites, spies and thousands of troops, scattered leaflets from planes and printed matchboxes bearing Bin Laden's image. Experts have scoured the plant and rock backdrops in his video appearances for clues.

Currently the chase is focused on the Afghan border, a 1,400-mile stretch of jagged mountains. The hunt relies heavily on Pakistani cooperation.
Last year President Pervez Musharraf sent 25,000 troops into South Waziristan, one of Pakistan's most lawless areas, to flush out al-Qaida militants sheltering there.
But although the army killed more than 200 militants - as well as dozens of civilians, stirring intense local anger - it found no trace of Bin Laden.
Now the al-Qaida group, led by an Uzbek militant, Tohir Yuldeshev, has been scattered into the surrounding districts, said a US official in Islamabad. "They are very tough and experienced fighters. But they are the al-Qaida shooters, not the leadership," he said.
The hunt is also constricted by President Musharraf's com plex political calculations. His support for the US is disliked, and his government has become sensitive about any direct association with American operations.
For example, a New York Times report last December which said CIA agents had established covert bases along the north-west frontier sparked furious denials. "We do not know any whereabouts of Osama, nor is there any question of carrying out a search operation for him by the US forces on our territory," said Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, the interior minister.
Now the US is pinning its hopes on money and media to provide the leads it needs. Although some suspect that Bin Laden has fled to a city such as Karachi or Quetta, the main target area remains the border area, where al-Qaida is supported by local tribesmen influenced by the teaching of radical mullahs. American officials believe their loyalty is based on cash as much as ideology. The tribesmen charge al-Qaida militants more than 10 times the going rate for food, lodgings and supplies.
Last November the Pakistani army paid four elders to cement a peace deal. The money was supposed to repay al-Qaida loans.
The rewards scheme might well work, said a defence analyst, Professor Rifaat Hussain. "Attempting to isolate al-Qaida from its sanctuaries is the right approach. They should have done it a long time ago," he said.
US officials admit the campaign is a shot in the dark when it comes to finding Bin Laden. Some diplomats argue that the publicity may glorify, not weaken, his stature among extremists. And there are no guarantees the campaign will even reach its target.
The border tribesmen, for example, are unlikely to see the adverts because they have no electricity. And though there is a radio version, the most respected station in tribal areas is the BBC World Service - which does not carry advertising.
Those who do hear the ads may be too terrified to talk - there has been a string of killings of suspected US informers in the tribal areas over the past year.
The "Rewards for Justice" campaign, which helped capture Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay, has paid out $57m to 43 people since 1984. So far the Bin Laden adverts have elicited 28 contacts, said a US embassy spokesman, Greggory Crouch.
But according to another official, the contacts were mainly crank calls, interview requests and media organisations looking for advertising.
"But it only takes one valid tip to make it all worthwhile," he said.
· Efforts to identify victims of the September 11 attacks in New York have ended, with 1,161 of the 2,749 victims still unidentified because of difficulties in getting DNA samples from remains.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Pope John Paul II: new book - extracts and an article

God saved me from the assassin's bullet

In a remarkable new book Pope John Paul II describes for the first time how close he came to death at the hands of a gunman and says he was saved by divine intervention

The Times 23 February 2005

POPE JOHN PAUL II has played a leading role in the history of the modern world. This extract from his new book offers an assessment of current affairs at the dawn of a millennium.
In writing this book, the Pope returned to the main themes of his conversations in 1993 with two Polish philosophers, Jozef Tischner and Krzysztof Michalski, founders of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. Those conversations were recorded and transcribed. They address themes crucial for the destiny of mankind.
The final conversation took place in the small dining room of the Papal Palace at Castel Gandolfo, Italy. (Our cover photograph shows the Pope sitting in the garden.) His secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, also took part.
What was the significance of the assassination attempt in 1981?
John Paul II: It was all a testimony to divine grace. Mehmet Ali Agca knew how to shoot, and he certainly shot to kill. Yet it was as if someone was guiding and deflecting that bullet.
Stanislaw Dziwisz: Agca shot to kill. That shot should have been fatal. The bullet passed through the Holy Father’s body, wounding him in the stomach, the right elbow and the left index finger. Then the bullet fell between the Pope and me. I heard two more shots, and two people standing near us were wounded. I asked the Holy Father: “Where?” He replied: “In the stomach.” “Does it hurt?” “It does.” There was no doctor within reach. There was no time to think. We immediately carried the Holy Father into an ambulance and set off at great speed towards the Gemelli hospital. The Holy Father was praying sotto voce. Then, during the journey, he lost consciousness. A number of factors would determine whether or not he survived, for example the question of time, the time it took us to reach the hospital: a few more minutes, some obstruction along the way, and it would have been too late. In all this, the hand of God is visible. Everything points towards it.
John Paul II: Yes, I remember that journey to the hospital. For a short time I remained conscious. I had a sense that I would survive. I was in pain, and this was a reason to be afraid — but I had a strange trust. I said to Father Stanislaw that I had forgiven my assailant. What happened at the hospital, I do not remember.
Stanislaw Dziwsz: Almost immediately after we arrived at the hospital, the Holy Father was taken into the operating theatre. The situation was very grave. The Holy Father had lost a great deal of blood. His blood pressure was falling dramatically, his pulse barely registered. The doctors suggested that I administer the Sacrament of the Sick. I did so at once.
John Paul II: I was already practically on the other side.
Stanislaw Dziwisz: Then he was given a blood transfusion.
John Paul II: That transfusion gave rise to further complications and delays in the whole process of recovery.
Stanislaw Dziwisz: The first blood was rejected, but there were doctors in the hospital who gave their own blood to the Holy Father. This second transfusion went well. The doctors who performed the operation did not expect the patient to survive. They paid no attention at all, understandably, to the finger which had been wounded by the bullet. “If he survives, we can do something about that later,” they said to me. As it happened, the wounded finger healed by itself, without any treatment. After the operation, the Holy Father was transferred to a recovery room. The doctors were afraid of infection, which in such a situation could have been lethal. Some of the Holy Father’s internal organs were damaged. The operation had been very difficult. As it happened, everything healed perfectly, without the slightest complication, even though such complex operations frequently do lead to problems.
John Paul II: In Rome a dying Pope, in Poland mourning . . . In Cracow the university students organised a demonstration: the “white march”.
Footnote: This is a reference to the procession held at Cracow on the Sunday following the attempted assassination. Tens of thousands of students and citizens took part, all dressed in white, to symbolise their opposition to the darkness of evil and violence. When I went to Poland, I said: “I have come to thank you for the ‘white march’.” I also went to Fatima, to thank Our Lady. O dear Lord! It was a hard experience. I didn’t wake up until the following day, towards noon. And I said to Father Stanislaw: “Yesterday I didn’t say Compline.”
Stanislaw Dziwisz: To be precise, Holy Father, you asked me: “Have I said Compline?” You thought it was still the previous day.
John Paul II: I knew nothing of what Fr Stanislaw knew. They hadn’t told me how serious the situation was. Besides, I was simply unconscious for quite some time. When I awoke, my morale was reasonably good. At least initially.
Stanislaw Dziwisz: The next three days were awful. The Holy Father suffered greatly. He had tubes and cuts everywhere. Nevertheless, his recovery was quite fast. At the beginning of June, he returned home. He wasn’t even required to observe a special diet.
John Paul II: As you see, I have quite a strong constitution.
Stanislaw Dziwisz: At a later stage, though, his system was attacked by a dangerous virus as a consequence of the first blood transfusion, or his general debilitatation. The Holy Father had been given an enormous quantity of antibiotics to protect him against infection. This significantly weakened his natural immune system. That was how a further illness could develop. He was returned to hospital. Thanks to intensive medical treatment, his state of health improved to the point where the doctors decided they could proceed to a further operation to complete the surgery carried out on the day of the attack. The Holy Father chose August 5 for this, the feast of Our Lady of the Snows, which is kept in the liturgical calendar as the Dedication of the Basilica of St Mary Major.
This second phase of treatment was equally successful. On August 13, three months after the attack, the doctors issued a medical bulletin to say that the hospital treatment had been concluded. The patient was definitively discharged from hospital.
Five months after the attack, the Holy Father returned to St Peter’s Square to meet the faithful once again. He showed not a trace of fear, nor even of stress, although the doctors had warned that this was a possibility. He said on that occasion: “Again I have become indebted to the Blessed Virgin and to all the Patron Saints. Could I forget that the event in St Peter’s Square took place on the day and at the hour when the first appearance of the Mother of Christ to the poor little peasants has been remembered for over 60 years at Fatima in Portugal? For, in everything that happened to me on that very day, I felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet.
John Paul II: Around Christmas 1983 I visited my attacker in prison. We spoke at length. Ali Agca, as everyone knows, was a professional assassin. This means that the attack was not his own initiative, it was someone else’s idea, someone else had commissioned him to carry it out. In the course of our conversation it became clear that Ali Agca was still wondering how the attempted assassination could possibly have failed. He had planned it meticulously, attending to every tiny detail. And yet his intended victim had escaped death. How could this have happened?
The interesting thing was that his perplexity had led him to the religious question. He wanted to know about the secret of Fatima, and what the secret actually was. This was his principal concern; more than anything else, he wanted to know this. Perhaps those insistent questions showed that he had grasped something really important. Ali Agca had probably sensed that over and above his own power, over and above the power of shooting and killing, there was a higher power. He then began to look for it. I hope and pray that he found it.
Stanislaw Dziwisz: I would describe the Holy Father’s miraculous return to life and health as a gift from heaven. The attempted assassination, humanly speaking, has remained a mystery. Neither the trial nor the attacker’s long imprisonment has clarified it. I witnessed the Holy Father’s visit to Ali Agca in prison. The Pope had already forgiven him publicly in his first speech after the attack. On the prisoner’s part I did not hear the words: “I ask forgiveness.” He was only interested in the secret of Fatima. The Holy Father received the attacker’s mother and family on several occasions, and often inquired after him of the prison chaplains. On the spiritual level, the mystery consists in the whole dramatic sequence of events, which weakened the health and strength of the Holy Father, but did not in any way impair the effectiveness and fruitfulness of his apostolic ministry in the Church and in the world. I do not consider it an exaggeration to apply in this case the famous saying: Sanguis martyrum semen christianorum — “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” Perhaps there was a need for that blood to be spilled in St Peter’s Square, on the site of the martyrdom of the early Christians.
Without doubt, the first fruit of that blood was the union of the entire Church in prayer for the Pope’s survival. Throughout the night following the attack, pilgrims who had come for the General Audience and an ever- increasing number of local people prayed in St Peter’s Square. In the following days, in cathedrals, in churches and in chapels all over the world, Mass was celebrated and prayers were offered for the Pope’s intentions.
John Paul II: I am constantly aware that in everything I say and do in fulfilment of my vocation, my mission, my ministry, what happens is not just my own initiative. I know that it is not I alone who act in what I do as the Successor of Peter. The sense of being an “unworthy servant” is growing in me in the midst of all that happens around me — and I think I feel at ease with this.
Let us return to the assassination attempt: I think it was one of the final convulsions of the arrogant ideologies unleashed during the 20th century. Both Fascism and Nazism eliminated people. So did communism. Here in Italy, the practice of elimination took on a new form, justifying itself by similar arguments: the Red Brigades killed innocent and honest men.
In recent years the world has seen the rise of “terror networks” that place the lives of millions of innocent people under constant threat. Striking confirmation of this was provided by the destruction of the twin towers in New York (September 11, 2001), the bomb blast in Atocha station in Madrid (March 11, 2004) and the slaughter at Beslan in North Ossetia (September 3, 2004). Where are these new eruptions of violence leading?
The demise first of Nazism and then of the Soviet Union signalled a failure. It revealed the utter absurdity of the large-scale violence that formed part of the theory and practice of those systems. Will we be able to learn from the dramatic lessons of history? Or will we be prey once more to the passions at work in the human spirit, yielding yet again to the evil promptings of violence?
Believers know that the presence of evil is always accompanied by the presence of good, by grace. As St Paul wrote: “The free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many” (Romans v, 15).
These words retain their relevance today. Redemption is ongoing. Where evil grows, there the hope for good also grows. In our times evil has grown disproportionately, operating through perverted systems which have practised violence and elimination on a vast scale. I am not speaking here of evil committed by individuals for personal motives or through individual initiatives. The evil of the 20th century was not a small-scale evil, it was not simply “homemade”. It was an evil of gigantic proportions, an evil which availed itself of state structures in order to accomplish its wicked work, an evil built up into a system.
All human suffering, all pain, all infirmity contains within itself a promise of salvation, a promise of joy: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake,” writes Paul (St Colossians i, 24). This applies to all forms of suffering, called forth by evil. It applies to that enormous social and political evil which divides and torments the world today: the evil of war, the evil of oppression afflicting individuals and peoples, the evil of social injustice, of human dignity trodden underfoot, of racial and religious discrimination, the evil of violence, terrorism, the arms race — all this evil is present in the world partly so as to awaken our love, our self-gift in generous and disinterested service to those visited by suffering.
In the love that pours forth from the heart of Christ, we find hope for the future of the world. Christ has redeemed the world: “By his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah. liii, 5).
“A CERTAIN concept of freedom, which has widespread support in public opinion at present, diverts attention from ethical responsibilities. Appeal is made today to freedom alone. It is often said: what matters is to be free, released from all constraint and limitation, so as to operate according to private judgment, which in reality is often pure caprice. This much is clear: such liberalism can only be described as primitive. Its influence, however, is potentially devastating.”

Other Extracts:

On Abortion

“IF MAN can decide by himself, without God, what is good and what is bad, he can also determine that a group of people is to be eliminated. Decisions of this kind were taken, for example by those who came to power in the Third Reich by democratic means, and then used their power to implement the wicked programmes of National Socialist ideology based on racist principles.
“Similar decisions were also taken by the Commmunist Party in the Soviet Union and the countries subject to Marxist ideology. This was the context for the exterminations of the Jews, and also of other groups, for example Romany peoples, Ukrainian peasants, Orthodox and Catholic clergy in Russia, in Byeloruss and beyond the Urals.
“At this point we cannot remain silent regarding a tragic question that is more pressing today than ever.
“The fall of the regimes built on “ideologies of evil” put an end to the forms of extermination just mentioned in the countries concerned. However, there remains the legal extermination of human beings conceived but unborn. And in this case, that extermination is decreed by democratically elected parliaments, which invoke the notion of civil progress for society and all humanity.
“Nor are other grave violations of God’s law lacking. I am thinking, for example, of the strong pressure from the European Parliament to recognise homosexual unions as an alternative type of family, with the right to adopt children. It is legitimate and even necessary to ask whether this is not the work of another “ideology of evil” — more subtle and hidden, perhaps, intent on exploiting human rights themselves against man and against the family.”

On Eastern and Western Europe

IT SEEMS to me that the most important contribution the countries of Central and Eastern Europe can offer is to defend their identity. These nations have preserved their identity and even consolidated it, despite all that was imposed upn them by the communist dictators. For them, a fight to preserve national identity was a fight for survival.
“Today the two parts of Europe — East and West — are coming closer together. This phenomenon, positive in itself, is not without risk. The principle danger facing Eastern Europe today seems to me to be the weakening of its identity. During the struggle against Marxist totalitarianism, that part of Europe went through a process of spiritual maturation, thanks to which certain values essential for human life have not declined there as much as in the West. In Eastern Europe, for example, there is still a strong conviction that God is the supreme guarantor of human dignity and human rights. So where does the risk lie? It lies in an uncritical submission to the influence of negative cultural models widespread in the West.
“For Central and Eastern Europe, where such tendencies can seem like a kind of ‘cultural progress’, this is one of the most serious challenges today. This, I am convinced, is the area where a great spiritual confrontation is taking place, the outcome of which will determine the face of the new Europe which is being formed at the start of the millennium.”

· Extracted from Memory and Identity: Personal Reflections by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on Friday at £12.99. © His Holiness Pope John Paul II, 2005
Order a copy at £10.39, plus £2.25 p&p from Times Books First, 0870 160 8080

German anger over abortion-Holocaust link by Pope


THE Pope’s new book stirred controversy in Germany as Jewish groups condemned passages in which he draws parallels between abortion and the Holocaust.
Paul Spiegel, the president of the Central Council for Jews in Germany, said yesterday that “the Catholic Church does not understand, or does not want to understand, that there is an enormous difference between mass genocide and what women do with their bodies”.
The Vatican rushed to the Pope’s defence, saying that he had been misinterpreted. But the German Greens, who are part of the ruling coalition, said that they were taking court action to ban Memory and Identity, an autobiographical summation of the 84-year-old pontiff’s life.
German law forbids any “offence to the memory of Holocaust victims”. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that in the offending passage the Pope had discussed the failings of parliamentary democracy and sought to make clear that “a course of action is not necessarily right because the majority have chosen to take it”.
The Pope observes that Hitler rose to power by democratic means and yet proceeded to exterminate millions of Jews. He adds that it follows that parliamentary majorities do not always make “morally just” decisions. “The example which springs to mind is abortion,” he says. “Whoever interrupts a pregnancy commits a grave act of tyranny against an innocent human being.”

Monday, February 21, 2005

Petra's new entrance...

Raiders of the Lost City

Petra is one of the strangest, most beautiful places in the world. Does it really need a tourist centre?

Jonathan Glancey

Guardian February 21, 2005

Raiders of the Lost City Petra is one of the strangest, most beautiful places in the world. Does it really need a tourist centre? Jonathan GlanceyGuardian February 21, 2005
It was 13 years ago that Edward Cullinan Architects won a competition to design a new visitors' centre at Stonehenge. Yet the centre - since the subject of a further design competition, won by Denton Corker Marshall - has still to be built, and the debate over exactly what it should offer visitors thunders on. Who is it for? How "accessible" should it be? Will it simply encourage ever more visitors to this besieged site? Why not just forget the whole thing, close all visitor "facilities" at Stonehenge, remove all mention of the standing stones from tourist "literature" and leave this special place alone for people to discover it as if for the first time?
Because the tourist industry is an invaluable revenue earner, that's why. And because certain historic monuments are etched into our pilgrim mindscape: Stonehenge is one of those sites that has to be visited, a kind of secular Mecca.
Petra is another: the ancient Nabatean trading city carved into the rose-red rocks of what, today, in southern Jordan is one of the world's best-known and most alluring tourist sites. Like Stonehenge, it remains a truly magical place. Like Stonehenge, it can be overwhelmed with visitors. And, like Stonehenge, this Unesco world heritage site is to be fronted by a new £3m visitor and interpretation centre, in this case sponsored by the Jordanian ministry of tourism and antiquities, funded by the World Bank, and designed by Edward Cullinan Architects, winners of an international competition held last year. Now the designs - in association with Bitar Consultants, a local multi-disciplinary design practice, and the British exhibition designers, Land Design - have been completed. Construction is due to begin in early 2006.
The architect in charge of the project is Roddy Langmuir, a High lander educated at Edinburgh and architect of the Archaeolink visitor centre, Aberdeen, and the gateway building to the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. He also worked for eight years on the Cullinan scheme for Stonehenge.
"Of course the project has been controversial," says Langmuir. "But the Jordanian government needs both the charisma and revenue Petra offers. What we've tried to do, as I hope you can see in the drawing [shown above right], is make sure that the visitor centre is tucked into the landscape. You could describe it as landscape architecture: it follows the contours of the site; it is faced, and to an extent built from, local stone. The building won't dominate the entrance to Petra - far from it - but will lead visitors gently in and out of the site without in any way damaging it. We're looking to maintain the aura of Petra as a lost city, a place to be discovered. It needs to reveal its secrets almost reluctantly to the visitor to keep the vital dramatic element of surprise."
The entrance to Petra, hidden deep inside a canyon, is through a famous cleft in the rocks, the Siq. It is best seen just before dawn, not simply to avoid the air-conditioned coach parties that turn up after hotel breakfast time, but to catch the first rays of sun to touch the almost surreally beautiful facade of the 2,000-year-old treasury building as they paint it rose red in front of your unbelieving eyes. And yet the true entrance to Petra is really the encampment town of Wadi Musa, a sprawl of pizza parlours, burger joints, internet cafes, shops selling traditional Nabatean trainers and Bedouin baseball caps, and brassy hotels with endless copies of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, filmed at Petra.
Wadi Musa is a bit of a mess. In an ideal world, the whole joint would be pulled down and replaced by a compact new town built in local stone. In this way, the approaches to Petra would be all but virginal, the city's magic restored. All new development would merge into the mesmerising landscape of this great rift valley.
For a visitor centre to work here, it needs more Petra and less Wadi Musa. The ancient city revels in truly dramatic contrasts between shadow and intense light, between compression and release, as the Siq, in places as narrow as a Venetian alley, opens up into spaces where horses can canter past pedestrians. It needs, as well, to capture something of the reason Petra was here, a defensive location eventually captured by Roman legions but, equally importantly, a secure international marketplace and a source of prized incense that had once made the city rich. It also needs to tell the story of how, in 1812, Johann Burckhardt, a Swiss explorer disguised as a Muslim pilgrim, became the first European in centuries to visit Petra, changing it for ever. Afterwards, Petra gradually became one of the most magnetic of all tourist destinations.
When Petra was made a world heritage site in 1985, Bedouins whose families had lived there for centuries, many in caves, were pushed into new villages that you can see if you climb up the narrow paths threading up from the ancient tombs, temples, colonnades and an 8,000-seat amphitheatre.
All visitors to Petra will need to pass through the new gateway. This begins with a ticket office and leads through five galleries, which can be bypassed by visitors in a hurry to get to Petra itself, given over to various displays and interpretations of the site. The first, adorned with huge reproductions of David Roberts' cinematic watercolours of Petra, will deal with "discovery" - from a largely European perspective. The second, Origins, will be an explanation of why Petra was built in such an exotic location; the third, Living City, will be devoted to displays of how people lived their daily lives in such an unusual place. The fourth, Disappearance, will explain why Petra only ever truly flourished for 400 or so years; while the fifth, Story Tellers, will allow today's archaeologists to show how new discoveries are still being made on site.
Visitors are then free to meet the guides swarming outside by the old Petra gate leading to the Siq. On their return, they climb up a ramp back into the new building, and pass into a drum-shaped tower at the centre of a courtyard garden. Here they will be able to look down on an interactive model of Petra to piece together in their minds the things they have just seen for real. The amphitheatre at the heart of the complex will be used for evening shows and performances, while the long stone wing projecting from it will house offices for the Petra site staff, and archeaologists.
Cullinans will surely give shape to a special and gently beautiful building at Petra. It is what the Jordanian government wants, and who can can blame it? In a world as dreamy as Petra, we might well abandon visitor centres everywhere and leave historic sites for visitors to stumble across. This, though, in a world of 850-seat Airbuses, is not going to happen. The visitor centre at Petra remains, as at Stonehenge, a perplexing challenge for architects worldwide.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Baby Boomers v Generation X in Iraq: learning lessons

Long article from the New Yorker at

Thursday, February 17, 2005

From seeds to diesel

Forget the tiger in your tank - Saudis harness seed power

Terry Macalister
Guardian February 16, 2005

A British company is to develop a seed-based car fuel in Saudi Arabia.
D1 Oils, which recently floated on the London stock market, has signed a 50-50 joint venture with a Saudi firm to create biodiesel for the world's biggest crude oil exporter.
The new fuel is to be produced from plantations of jatropha trees on land that used to be desert. The black seeds from conker-type shells produced by the plants will be picked and fed into special refineries to be built in Saudi Arabia.
The resulting fuel will either be used locally or mixed with crude oil and shipped to Europe to feed a growing demand for more environmentally friendly petrol.
"This venture will develop new industries in Saudi Arabia, which will, in turn, provide sources for new jobs and environmentally directed applications," said Sheikh Soued al-Blaihead, the chairman of D1's Saudi partner, Jazeera For Modern Technology.
"Helping to deliver a renewable energy solution to the world's most recognised petroleum-based economy is a huge achievement for our business," said the chairman of D1 Oils, Karl Watkins.
D1, which listed on the Alternative Investment Market in October, has built a biodiesel refinery at Nateby, near Preston.
It is already proceeding with other foreign schemes. At Chennai in India, D1 and partner Mohan Breweries are to plant jatropha trees on 100,000 hectares of land.
The British company also has a joint venture with Chuan Technology in Chengdu to develop a jatropha-based fuel for the Chinese market.
Jatropha is a better source of fuel than other plants such as rape or soya because it can grow in harsh environments and does not need arable land, according to D1. As the seed is inedible, it can be irrigated by treated sewage or other waste water.
Jazeera is to provide 5,000 hectares of land in Saudi with a further 100,000 earmarked for development if all goes well. Most of the initial investment of up to $10m (£5.3m) will come from Jazeera.
Ordinary cars can run on a small percentage of biodiesel mixed with fossil-based fuel. It is possible for vehicles to be developed that can run on 100% biodiesel.
D1 listed at 160p a share and was up 13p last night to end the day at 223.5p, partly on the back of planned expansion in India.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Arabic speakers wanted....

International Education: demand soars for Arabic speakers
Rick Smith
International Herald Tribune February 15, 2005
After Sept. 11, training soars for diplomats and academics
Paris. Just as Sputnik spurred a surge in Russian language training a half-century ago, Sept. 11 has made Arabic the language of choice for a new generation of ambitious diplomats and academics across the world. .

"Looking around, we see that we haven't been training enough qualified Arabic speakers," said Ahmad Fawzi, director of the news and media division of the United Nations in New York. "The language has been neglected."

Others agree. "Even in France, with a large population of bilingual Arab speakers to draw from, it has not been easy to find possibilities to study Arabic," said Philippe Cardinal, chief of communications at the Institut du Monde Arabe, the Paris-based cultural center supported by France and 21 Arab governments.

That is changing rapidly. The Swiss diplomatic service has doubled funding for Arabic instruction and the Dutch are making courses available to all diplomatic personnel. "In the past, Russian would have helped a job candidate more, but now Arabic is the highly sought language," said Sonja Kreibich, a spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin.

"Today we have more teachers of Arabic than we had students 10 years ago," said Michael Lemmon, dean of the U.S. State Department's School of Language Studies.

Two of the world's strongest programs in Arabic - London's School of Oriental and African Studies and the U.S. Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California - have seen surging interest. Enrollments have more than tripled since 2001 in London and are still growing, while Monterey added a third faculty in Middle Eastern languages.

"Arabic has now passed Japanese and Chinese for us," said E. Ulrich Kratz, head of the London school. "This may be the case for a number of years." .As with Russian in the 1950s, the campaigns seem necessary because the knowledge base in the West, by nearly all accounts, turned out to be alarmingly weak at a moment of crisis.

The plaintive call by Robert Mueller 3rd, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks for more capacity in Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages was so public that some intelligence professionals joked that it bordered on a breach of security. In the same vein, the British government said last year that it intended to produce 1,000 new Arabic speakers as soon as possible.

Officialdom has reason to be uneasy. According to the Modern Language Association in New York, only 0.5 percent of foreign language enrollments in U.S. universities were devoted to Arabic in 1998. But even after nearly doubling toward 1 percent in the wake of Sept. 11, Arabic still ranked in 2002 behind classical Greek, Latin and even American Sign Language. (Spanish led with 53.4 percent, following by French with 14.5 percent and German with 6.5 percent.)

The challenge is daunting because Arabic is so difficult and can make intelligence networks almost nostalgic for the cold war when they needed to develop Russian, itself a challenging language but one that is much more accessible to Western students. .

Part of the difficulty is that learning Arabic is actually a process of learning two languages. The written language, which is a simplified version of the classical language based on the Koran, must be mastered along with at least one of the many spoken dialects. Some linguists count as many as 40, but the four broad dialect groups are Levantine, Gulf, Egyptian and North African.

The U.S. State Department rates Arabic, along with Chinese and Korean, as a "superhard" language, a designation formalized late last year. It means that a student has to spend five to six hours a day of face-to-face instruction for two years to reach level three - a level that allows for basic professional functioning - on the U.S. government's scale of zero to five.

By comparison, Russian requires one year to reach that level; French and Spanish need only six months. .This intensive strategy for beefing up a nation's capacities in a language is fast and effective but expensive. The other major approach is through seed funding in schools and universities; it is much cheaper and more wide-reaching but the results are more random.

"Diplomatic and military programs don't have a large pool to work with, whereas universities and colleges have a large selection of students and you don't have to pay students a salary or benefits," said Kirk Belnap of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, who directs a two-year-old government-funded program to expand possibilities for learning Middle Eastern languages.

But the problem with this more gentle approach is the long lag time before any number of qualified speakers can be produced. ."It takes five to 10 years to transform a curriculum because you have to develop a cadre of Ph.D.s as teachers, library resources, and so on," said Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association in New York.

The number of students in Russian, for example, grew over the decades in response to a flood of funding for scholarships and university programs. .But the numbers reached some of their major peaks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, over three decades after Sputnik, when the strategic need first arose.

The current broad goal in many programs is to lift a significant population of students from level two - a minimal level of functioning and one that is within the grasp of most students - to level three.

The heights of level four, referred to as a "distinguished" command, and level five, which is native fluency, are usually scaled only by products of bilingual homes or by random prodigies.

Fawzi of the United Nations sees the effort as a process long overdue. "This goes beyond oil and politics," he said. "You're talking about hundreds of millions of people and there has to be a reaching out."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Report on Saudi publications in USA

The full text of this 95 page report, with quotes, is under