Sai Baba Tips Us the Wink

The Times of India reports:

BANGALORE: Hundreds of people descended on a merchant’s house in Bangalore on Friday to witness what they believe is a miracle – the Shirdi Sai Baba idol is purported to have opened its left eye.

…The devotee couple Babu (45) and his wife Lakshmi took the marble idol to clean on Wednesday evening to prepare for the Thursday puja.

The idol had some black mark on its left chin and the couple’s son Dhrupad, who was cleaning the eye, suddenly felt some change in the idol – the eyelash seemed moving. The devotees were astounded and stopped the cleaning work.

On Thursday morning, they found the left eye of Baba had opened.

Via Sathya Sai Baba

Texas Attorney General and JINSA to Promote Walid Shoebat at “Homeland Security” Conference

From a press release:

Former PLO terrorist, Walid Shoebat will join Counter-Terrorism experts from Israel in a Changing World Symposium: Preparing Law Enforcement Executives for the Future, a homeland security conference, being held in Austin, Texas at the Renaissance Austin Hotel (9721 Arboretum Boulevard) on July 21-22, 2008. Attending will be some 300 senior law enforcement officials from across Texas…Over the past decade, Shoebat has been on a mission of peace, traveling the country educating students, the public and law enforcement agencies on the mind set and dangers of Fundamentalist Islam.

The conference is being co-sponsored by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and is organised by JINSA, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

Shoebat’s “message of peace”, of course, is anything but: he is a virulent Christian Zionist fundamentalist who believes that Muslims are under the direction of the anti-Christ. Here’s Shoebat’s “expertise” at its finest:

I discussed this preposterous and ignorant exegesis at more length than it deserved here.

Shoebat’s website also includes a video produced by his son Theodore that expresses absolute hatred of Islam and science (Charles Darwin, naturally), and his belief that militarized Christianity is the answer to both (I blogged this here). The Jerusalem Post, among others, has also raised questions about Shoebat’s supposed past.

JINSA’s executive director is Thomas Neumann, who has a distinguished background in various high-profile American Jewish organisations. The board of advisers includes Kenneth Blackwell, John Bolton, Richard Pearle, and James Woolsey, among others such as Sheriff Kevin Beary, who featured on this blog a while ago. It may be recalled that someone had written to a local newspaper suggesting that Beary was an enthusiast of tasering because he was too fat to chase criminals; Beary used his official position to find out the writer’s home address, and he sent her a letter accusing her of slander.

Greg Abbott, meanwhile, is mainly known for a massive invesigation into “voter fraud” which turned up only a handful of cases (all black and Hispanic Democrats), and for defending the addition of “under God” to the Texas pledge of allegiance.

UPDATE: Keith Davies, Shoebat’s “handler”, has graced us with his presence in the comments section, see below.

Call for Libel Reform in UK and USA

A few days ago the centre-right think-tank Policy Exchange held a seminar on libel tourism, as it explains on its website:

Policy Exchange takes great pleasure in inviting you to a lunchtime seminar entitled “Libel Tourism – Does UK Law Need Reform?”…This growing phenomenon of “libel tourism”, where non-English citizens travel to England in order to press libel charges on US citizens whose work is protected under US law – shows the willingness of courts in this country to extend libel laws well beyond the boundaries of England. This has been seen by many as a great threat to the right of free speech in the West.

The case of Rachel Ehrenfeld and Funding Evil inevitably loomed large. Martin Bright wrote a short report for the New Statesman:

Sean O’Neill of the Times raised the concern that journalists were becoming increasingly cowed by threats from libel lawyers representing rich individuals and Islamists. Others on the panel, including Anthony Julius, were critical of newspapers which failed to take the fight to litigious individuals.

I now believe there needs to be a serious review of the law surrounding freedom of expression in this country. Joanne Cash, the libel barrister and Conservative parliamentary candidate for North Westminster, who was hosting the event, agrees with me. So watch this space.

I’m glad in particular to see Julius taking a stand against “litigious individuals”. Of course, there are some ironies here: in Decemcer Policy Exchange threatened to sue BBC Newsnight for libel – famously declaring it would battle the programme “to trial or capitulation” (although it hasn’t done either so far). And while Ehrenfeld’s British lawyer was denouncing Saudi libel tourism a few years ago, he was quite happy to help an Israeli academic engage in the same practice against an American-Palestinian last month – and I wonder if that more recent case got mentioned at Policy Exchange?

Meanwhile, the daftly-named but useful New York State “Libel Terrorism Protection Bill” looks set to become federal law in the USA, with Arlen Specter and Joseph Liberman  sponsoring the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008. They explain how this would work in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal:

Our bill bars U.S. courts from enforcing libel judgments issued in foreign courts against U.S. residents, if the speech would not be libelous under American law. The bill also permits American authors and publishers to countersue if the material is protected by the First Amendment. If a jury finds that the foreign suit is part of a scheme to suppress free speech rights, it may award treble damages.

UPDATE: Harry’s Place has more on the Policy Exchange seminar. And in the US, a similar Bill to that of Specter and Lieberman is currently being proposed to counter “religious defamation” claims.