Mixed reactions to joint Syria air strikes by the US, the UK and France. NATO backs joint Syria strikes while UN appeals for restraint

    The UK has joined the USA and France in carrying out air strikes to suspected Syrian chemical weapons facilities on Friday. Theresa May's decision for Britain to join the strikes on Syria has met with mixed reactions.

    The Prime Minister said she judged the operation to be in Britain's national interest, adding that there was "no practicable alternative to the use of force".

    Her decision came despite demands from opposition parties that Parliament was consulted before any military action was launched.

    Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson backed the PM, writing on Twitter that the world was "united in its disgust for any use of chemical weapons, but especially against civilians".

    Other Tory MPs also publicly voiced their support, with Thornbury and Yate MP Luke Hall saying: "Speed is essential. A clear signal to anyone who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity."

    Newark MP Robert Jenrick said: "My thoughts are with our servicemen and women - and those of our US and French allies. The cost to President Assad of using heinous chemical weapons must be higher than any perceived benefit. I strongly support the PM's decision."

    Also backing the joint air strikes by the US, the UK and France was NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg. He said that the strikes would reduce Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime ability to further attack the local population with chemical weapons, according to a statement.

    "NATO has consistently condemned Syria's continued use of chemical weapons as a clear breach of international norms and agreements," Stoltenberg said in a statement.

    "The use of chemical weapons is unacceptable, and those responsible must be held accountable," he added.

    Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged the members of the organisation to show moderation in the prevailing "dangerous" climate and to respect international law.

    Guterres' remarks came during a Security Council meeting on Friday, shortly before the strikes were launched in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7.

    "I urge all member states to act responsibly in these dangerous circumstances," Guterres said.

    The Council has met four times this week to assess the Syrian situation but the sessions have ended without any agreements being reached.

    The debates have exposed the deep divisions between the US and Russia on the conflict, which led Guterres to say that "the Cold War is back - with a vengeance".

    Others who were against the strikes included Stewart McDonald, the Scottish National Party spokesman for defence, said UK forces had been engaged in "gesture bombing with no major international consensus".

    "Most worrying is that she has acted at the behest of presidential tweets and sidelined Parliament," he said on Twitter.

    "What does this new bombing campaign do to help move Syria towards peace? Nothing.

    "Instead, it has the potential to dangerously complicate the war, making matters on the ground worse for the people that the strikes are supposed to help. There is no peace strategy."

    Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also said questions remained about how peace could be brought to Syria.

    She tweeted: "My first thoughts this morning are with the service personnel called to action.

    "Syria's use of chemical weapons is sickening - but the question that the PM has not answered is how this action, taken without parliamentary approval, will halt their use or bring long-term peace."

    Lib Dem MP Tom Brake tweeted: "Theresa May had no right to deploy British forces in #Syria without Parliament's approval. There was no threat to the UK. Nor does she have a majority in Parliament.

    Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said Bombs won't save lives or bring about peace. In a statement he said: "Bombs won’t save lives or bring about peace.

    This legally questionable action risks escalating further, as US defence secretary James Mattis has admitted, an already devastating conflict and therefore makes real accountability for war crimes and use of chemical weapons less, not more likely.

    Britain should be playing a leadership role to bring about a ceasefire in the conflict, not taking instructions from Washington and putting British military personnel in harm’s way.

    Theresa May should have sought parliamentary approval, not trailed after Donald Trump. The Government should do whatever possible to push Russia and the United States to agree to an independent UN-led investigation of last weekend’s horrific chemical weapons attack so that those responsible can be held to account."

     

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    UK Mosques Urged To Recruit More Women

    By GRAHAME ANDERSON

    The ‘Women in Mosques Development Programme’ is a six-month pilot training and mentoring scheme designed to support potential female leaders. It's hoped  the project will help women navigate their way through the boardrooms of mosques and other third sector organisations.

    A Pilot Programme

    This pilot programme is one of a number of 2018 initiatives planned by the Muslim Council of Britain to support capacity building of Muslim communities. It comes in the light of recent research carried out by the Charity Commission, revealing men outnumber women in all charity trustee boards by two to one. In fact, many of the UK's mosques have few or no females at all on their trustee and management boards.

    The initiative also comes after the Muslim Council of Britain recently launched ‘Better Mosques A Community Consultation’ – a nationwide project where anyone is welcome to submit their ideas on how mosques can become better in Britain today.

    Encouraging Talented Women

    It's designed to accelerate 15 Muslim female leaders into mosque and third sector trustee and management roles using a number of methods. These include assigning a mentor to each individual, and networking with mosques and charities actively looking to recruit female trustees and managers. Students will also receive bespoke media and Charity Commission guidance training. There will also be visits to  best practice mosques across the UK

    Opening Doors

    Back in February more than 200 mosques across the UK opened their doors to people on  of all faiths, on 'Visit My Mosque Day', facilitated by the Muslim Council of Britain, for the fourth year running.

    Prime Minister, Theresa May, attended the Maidenhead Mosque explaining: “This was a great opportunity to learn about Islam and see that it’s a religion of peace”. The Leader of the Opposition paid a visit to a local Mosque in Finsbury Park, while  the mosque at the centre of the Grenfell Tower response, Al-Manaar, welcomed London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who told the media: “This was a day to increase understanding and celebrate the important role mosques play in bringing the local community together.” The presence of all all three leaders was looked upon as also offering great encouragement to women.

    Five new mosques have opened their doors in Bradford in the past year taking their number up to around the 110 mark. The city will also become home to the UK's first mosque run by women, for women, if plans come to fruition. Of the 260,000 women in the city, some 70,000 are Muslim.

     Dr Shuruq Naguib, Lecturer in Islamic Studies, Lancaster University has said in support of the project: “It’s quite ironic Muslim women who in the past really changed the landscape of many Muslim cities with mosques that they built from their own wealth, which they managed and governed as the endowers today in the 21stCentury can’t find a place in the mosque, neither in its management nor in its spiritual space.

    “This mosque in Bradford is hopefully going to be a flagship, to show that a mosque is an egalitarian place, a place where men & women are welcome, but women are also encouraged to lead.”

    Creating A Good Balance

    Research carried in parliamentary briefing has shown at present in the UK around 15 per cent of women are involved in management of mosques. In the North 23 per cent of mosques have females on their board, compared with 28 per cent in the Midlands and 40 per cent in the South.

    Many community leaders believe this lack of diversity in mosques is unacceptable. The MCB as a pro-active group thinks it's essential for the management boards of mosques and third sector organisations in general to reflect the communities they serve in order to function effectively. They cite a  responsibility to ensure an intolerant attitude to women should not given the oxygen to thrive in any community

    Mujidat Mebude, Education Officer from Old Kent Road Mosque in London says, “My mosque values women and is open to all women from different backgrounds. Mobilising and training young women is vitally important to help develop beneficial services that our mosques provide across the country.”

    Support From The General Secretary

    Harun Khan, MCB Secretary-General, Harun Khan says: “Whilst the under representation of women in mosque management has been acknowledged for long enough, it’s time more tangible action is taken to ensure women are given equal and fair access in all aspects of mosque life.

    “We are aware there are a growing number of Muslim activists who are leading their university Islamic societies, running campaigns and driving forward their local youth groups. It is time we celebrate the immense contributions Muslim women are already making to our institutions, and ensure these contributions are also appreciated and find a home in the many mosques up and down the UK too.”

    Important Council Facts

    The Muslim Council of Britain is the UK’s largest Muslim umbrella body with more than 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations, mosques, charities and schools.

    The scheme will be reviewed on its completion, and there are plans to launch a similar programme for men at a later date.

    The ‘Women in Mosques Development Programme’will run between July and December 2018. Applicants can apply online by 30 April at www.mcb.org.uk/women-in-mosques

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    Sugar Tax Set to Sweeten UK Economy

    By GRAHAME ANDERSON

    The sugar tax will come into effect in the UK on 6 April to target population obesity. It's hoped younger adults will fully benefit, though the often controversial, measure is aimed at people of all ages to help reduce the adverse health and cost burdens of diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

    The Tax Broken Down

    There will be two bands to the Sugar-sweetened beverages tax or SSBs - one for soft drinks with more than 5g of sugar per 100ml, and a higher one for drinks with more than 8g per 100ml. The measure will not apply to all other high-sugar content drinks, like juices, or drinks made up of 75 per cent milk, though all are regarded as potentially dangerous to health.

    Sugary Truths

    Sugar has been found to carry low satiety, with the result of stimulating the appetite and assisting the promotion of weight gain. Intake of SSBs has been shown to result in dramatic increases in blood glucose and insulin concentrations. This contributes to glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, independently of obesity. In fact, based on scientific evidence The World Health Organisation has recommended a reduction of free sugars consumption from less than 10 per cent, to less than five per cent of total daily energy intake.

    Dr Max Davie, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "The sugary drinks affected by this tax have no nutritional benefit, often containing levels of sugar well above a child's daily recommended limit. These drinks are a major contributor to the high sugar intakes of children, particularly teenagers, and we are in no doubt that they are, in part, contributing to this country's obesity crisis."

    Gavin Partington, of the British Soft Drinks Association, disagrees saying: "There is no evidence worldwide taxes of this sort reduce obesity, and it is ironic soft drinks are being singled out for tax, when we've led the way in reducing sugar intake, down over 17 per cent since 2012.”

    International Comparison

    Such a tax in Mexico, France and Hungary has been hugely successful with purchases of sugary drinks decreasing between six to 27 per cent after the tax was applied. In the case of France and Hungary however, apart from all types of sugar sweetened drinks, both biscuits and confectionery products are all subject to extra taxation. The Organics council claims we will only be pretending to emulate success abroad as the UK legislation stands. In terms of reaching the daily limit - one 250ml drink of apple juice or the equivalent of six teaspoons of sugar will suffice. But of course, many people go well over this without even realising.

    Scientific Evidence

    Organics Council’s science committee member Dr Gonzalo Delgado says: “When it comes to public health policy decisions, it's essential these are based in solid scientific evidence. Sugar taxes can be useful to decrease sugar consumption, but they need to target all high sugar content and artificial sweetened foods, not only soft drinks as in the UK case. Consumers, and people in general, need to be well informed about current scientific knowledge, so they can make the correct choices in regard of their nutrition and health.”

    Malcolm Clark, a coordinator for the Children’s Food Campaign certainly agrees with the sentiments of the council stating: “The sugary drinks tax in its present form will not solve the UK’s childhood obesity crisis. We need other policy interventions including restrictions on marketing.”

    And for those looking to artificial sweeteners, experts say they are certainly not free of calories and also linked to glucose intolerance, weight gain, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.

    The Outcome

    The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates the levy could add 18p to 24p to the price of a litre of fizzy drink, if the full cost is passed on to the consumer.

    For further information around how The Organics Council work to protect the public through organic practice, research and campaigning, please visit the official website at www.organicscouncil.org

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    Counter Terrorism Police probe vile 'Punish a Muslim day' letters

    Counter Terrorism Police North East are investigating reports of vile hate mail  which is being circulated in Bradford telling recipients to “punish a Muslim”.

    The alarming  A4 letters contain a list of violent acts alongside a number of points for performing them on Muslim members of the community on a specific day.

    The letters have caused outrage and condemnation from politicians, activists and members of the community.

    Tell Mama, UK a charity which monitors hate crime, told the BBC it had received reports of people in Bradford, Leicester, London, Cardiff and Sheffield getting the letters.

    Tell Mama Director Iman Atta said: "This has caused quite a lot of fear within the community.

    "They are asking if they are safe, if their children are safe to play outdoors.

    "We have told them to keep calm and to phone the police if they receive one of these letters."

    She said a number of the letters had been posted from Sheffield and bore a similarity to letters sent to mosques in the UK and US in May 2017, which were also posted from Sheffield.

    "They are inciting violence against the Muslim community," she said.

    Bradford East MP, Imran Hussain also condemned the letters and 'condemns hate crimes in all its forms which seek to divide our communities'

    He said in his statement: "I have spoken at length to senior police officers including Chief Superintendent Scot Bissett from West Yorkshire Police and with Assistant Chief Constable Russ Foster from Counter-Terrorism Police in the North East, who have both assured me that the police are aware of these letters and that there is a serious and ongoing national investigation led by Counter-Terrorism Police and supported by local police.

    "I urge people to remain vigilant and if anyone receives or has received this letter, please contact the police and follow police guidelines to not pass the letter on to anyone else to prevent any contamination of evidence."

    A police spokesperson said: "Counter Terrorism Policing North East are co-ordinating the investigation at this time and will consider any potential links to existing inquiries.

    "Anyone with any concerns about a communication they may have received should contact their local police force."

     

     

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    Faith In The Organ Donation Register

    By GRAHAME ANDERSON

    Many UK Citizens Still Unaware Of The System

    Thousands of UK residents  are still unaware of regulations surrounding the organ donation register. Under the current system in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland anyone who wants to donate their organs after death has to 'opt in', through the donor card scheme. Organ donation is not compulsory following death, but consent has to be registered.

    Deemed Consent In Wales

    If a person living in Wales doesn't officially opt-out,  they will be regarded as having no objection to donation at death. But this soft opt-out is still triggering fierce debate in some quarters. Last June, Scotland said it would be introducing a similar system, known as presumed consent. In England, The British Medical Association has previously called for an opt-out system saying it was backed by almost two-thirds of the public. This is still under consideration.

    Organ Donation And The Law

    Two important laws currently govern organ donation and transplantation in the UK. These involve The  Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006 and The Human Tissue Act 2004 (England, Wales and Northern Ireland). Though introduced as new legislation four years ago, the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013 - came into effect in the principality on 1 December 2015, linked to a so called 'deemed consent system'.

    These differing systems can also potentially lead to the personal wishes of family members being over-ridden by those close to them, who perhaps weren't informed of their intentions. As a consequence, this is causing some consternation among differing religious denominations and the public generally.

    Individual Faith

    So what of religious beliefs? The Sikh philosophy and teachings give credence to both  giving and putting others first. This act of 'Seva' or selfless service aims to give without reward, a core belief of any Sikh.  Islamic law emphasizes the preservation of human life. This general rule  has been used to support human organ donation  provided the benefit outweighs the personal cost. The Koran however, has nothing to refer to with some scholars having differing opinions. There are around three million Muslims in the UK of course. They also make up more than a fifth of Birmingham's population. The Hindu faith cites the existence of life after death, and the ongoing process of rebirth. According to their teachings, The law of Karma decides which way the soul will go in the next life. Christians consider organ donation an act of love and a way of following Jesus' example.

    The Late Mr Om Parkash Sharma MBE, President, National Council of Hindu Temples has previously said: “Organ donation is in keeping with Hindu beliefs as it can help to save the life of others.” And more than seven years ago Sentamu Ebor, Archbishop of York, said: “The simple act of joining the donors’ register can help make the world of difference to those in need. I hope that everyone will consider whether they can give life to others after their own death.

    Telling Statistics

    Recent statistics show in the last nine months of 2017, there were 586 organ donors, with 20,000 people choosing to stay on the Organ Donor register.

    A total of 505 registered donors could not be made available for transplant in the last five years because of objections from relatives. To this end The British Medical Association have made it clear they firmly encourage family members to respect the wishes of the deceased. If an individuals wishes aren't known specially-trained healthcare professionals will approach the family for their authorisation to proceed, based on their knowledge of the potential donor.

    Jayne Fisher, team manager for the Yorkshire Organ Donation Services Team and a former Bradford Royal Infirmary specialist nurse for organ donation, added: "Every day in this country, three people die in need of a transplant. Yet across the UK and Bradford, one in three adults haven't considered organ donation, or decided whether they want to be an organ donor.

    Those Against The Current System

    The survey site YouGov has reported lots of people believing a deceased person's body should not become the property of the state. One contributor said: “This issue is a  very sensitive one and I feel it should be entirely voluntary.”

    Victoria from Staffordshire says: “Some of these choices are made by people on religious grounds, self-beliefs and their own morals. Just as we should not dictate how other people live, we should not dictate how they die”

    The Register

    The confidential NHS Organ Donor register is maintained by NHS Blood and Transplant. Donors can make their wishes known by either telling a close relative, writing in a will or document or by carrying a donor card.

    For more details and instructions visit:

    www.organdonation.nhs.uk

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