Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Terror attacks once again

Twelve days ago 12 Arab terrorists - Palestinians and some Egyptians - crossed the Egyptian border into southern Israel.

They raked an Israeli bus with fire, wounding about a dozen passengers, including children. Miraculously, no one was killed. One terrorist rushed up to a second bus and detonated explosives, killing himself and the driver. Fortunately, the bus had no passengers. They opened fire on a car, killing its female driver. They fired at a second car, killing its four passengers - two married couples on their way to a holiday in Eilat.

Two members of the Israeli security forces were killed in a firefight with the terrorists. Five Egyptians, including members of Egyptian border patrols, were shot dead after they opened fire on the Israelis, resulting in large anti-Israel demonstrations in Egypt.

The Israeli air force responded to the terrorist attack with attacks on the terrorist organisation responsible in Gaza. The terrorist organisation Hamas, which controls Gaza, arranged a ceasefire with Israel, but rockets from Gaza continued to fall on southern Israel. (As the Israelis say, "We cease, and they fire.")

As a result of rockets fired from Gaza since the terrorist incursion, 10 were injured, two seriously, when a rocket hit a synagogue in Ashdod. A civilian was killed and nine were injured, some seriously, in Beersheva. A baby was among the injured in Ofakim. Families in southern Israel were warned not to go more than 15 seconds from a bomb shelter.

Some people suspect the rocket barrage was ordered by Iran (which is continuing its nuclear development programme), possibly as a trial run for a massive rocket attack on the whole of Israel by Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Yesterday a young Palestinian terrorist allegedly planning to kill teenagers at a nightclub stabbed a taxi driver, drove the taxi at a policeman and stabbed five policemen and a security guard in Tel Aviv, leaving several seriously wounded.

Palestinians, who refuse to recognise Israel's right to exist or to negotiate with Israel, are to go ahead in the next couple of weeks with an appeal for the UN to recognise a unilaterally-declared Palestinian state.

The media spotlight at the moment is on Libya. News reports in the last two days say Libyan rebels have freed 11,000 prisoners, but 50,000 locked up since the insurgency began are still missing. Mass graves have begun to be discovered around former detention centres. Rebels are currently united in the search for Gaddafi; how united they will remain after he is captured or killed no one knows.

Whatever happens in Libya, people should be aware that another serious Middle East conflict may be in the offing.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Paralysed - but life is still sweet

From the day Matt Hampson was born, his mother knew he would be trouble.

There was the day he undid his baby seat, opened the car door and bounced down the road. They picked him up without a scratch. And the day he climbed scaffolding his father had erected to re-roof a cottage and launched himself on to the roof.

He started playing rugby at five and fell in love with the game. He played for England in their under-18s team and later for England under-21s.

One day during a training session he launched himself into a scrum and something went wrong. When he came round in hospital he was paralysed from the neck down and needed a ventilator to breathe. He was 20 years old.

I wrote about Matt two years ago. I mentioned how despite his disability he did charity work, coached youngsters, wrote a newspaper column and had his own website.

So why write about him again now? Because this week the Daily Mail printed an interview with him and his mother - an interview it called "one of the most moving interviews you'll ever read."

Today, six years after the accident, Matt is still paralysed. He is still on a ventilator. He still needs day-and-night care.

He has learned to write using a laser attached to his forehead beamed on to a computer screen. He has set up a foundation to support people injured through sport.

"I've never seen Matt despair," says his mother Anne. "Never. I have seen him tired and fed up, but he has always said life is precious. It's a different life now, but it's still precious. And I still have hopes for him; every hope that he will lead a happy life."

When Matt was in hospital, he would greet everyone with a smile. People would dread seeing him in hospital, but leave feeling uplifted.

"He's always had this instant effect on people," says his mother. "He makes them love him. He says life is still sweet.

"He has a plaque downstairs that says just that in Latin: omnia causa fiunt (Everything happens for a reason). That's what he believes. He thinks he's been put in this position to make an impact on the lives of other disabled people.

"He sees himself as privileged."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Down's syndrome babies may disappear

Dr Alberto Costa was a research associate in neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine. Hours after his wife gave birth to their only child by emergency Caesarean section, the hospital's clinical geneticist took him aside to break the news: his baby daughter had Down's syndrome.

Dr Costa held his daughter's hand and marvelled at her beauty. "We bonded immediately," he says. "Here was this new life in front of me and holding my finger and looking straight in my eyes. All I could think is, she's my baby, she's a lovely girl and what can I do to help her?" Shortly afterwards, he made a decision: he would devote himself to the study of Down's syndrome.

In the 16 years since his daughter Tyche was born, he has discovered that the drug memantine can help mice with the equivalent of Down's to overcome their difficulties and function normally. After countless experiments with mice, tests are now being done on young Down's adults, with encouraging results.

There are two problems with Down's research. The first is the limited amount of funding available. The US National Institutes of Health spends about $3,000 on research for every person with cystic fibrosis, but less than $100 for every person with Down's.

The second problem is more sinister. Soon there may be no Down's syndrome babies.

Hitherto in order to prove an unborn child has Down's, it has been necessary to take a sample of amniotic fluid, a procedure not without danger. Now scientists are perfecting tests which can prove if an unborn baby has Down's simply by inspecting a blood sample from the mother - tests which may become routine during early pregnancy.

You see, if an unborn child has something like Down's syndrome these days, it's so easy to have an abortion and try again.

You can read further details here. I'm grateful to Michael Cook, of BioEdge, for pointing out the story.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The courage of Leon Weinstein

Leon Weinstein, a young Polish Jew, was living in Warsaw with his wife and baby daughter shortly after the Germans invaded. "We got no chance," Leon told his wife. "But the little one, she is special. She must survive."

He chose a new, Gentile name for his daughter Natalie, put a crucifix around her neck, wrote on a piece of paper that he was a war widow unable to take care of her, left her and the note on someone's doorstep and forced himself to walk away.

He wound up in the Warsaw Ghetto. He did amazing things, talking his way out of the ghetto and smuggling weapons back inside.

When the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began, he was one of the fighters. He remembers running along rooftops, shooting at Germans with a machine gun. "Every five minutes," he says, "I could have been killed."

When the Germans began to destroy the ghetto and everyone in it, he hid in the sewers, too weak to lift a manhole cover to escape - until he saw his grandfather in a dream, telling him "You must keep going. You must. Don't stop."

With new energy, he managed to open a manhole cover and climb out. Looking like he might die and stinking of sewage, he found a couple who would take him in.

When the war was over, surviving Jews began to leave the country. Month after month Leon, a widower now, pedalled a bicycle from convent to convent, looking for his daughter.

Finally he saw a nun carrying a little, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl. "That's my daughter," he said. How could they know she was his, the nun asked. "She has a little birthmark near her right hip," he said. She had. Leon had found his Natalie.

They later emigrated to the United States.

Leon is now 101. (You can read a little more of his story by clicking here.)

He is frail now, but still mentally alert. Scarcely two hours go by during the day without he telephones his daughter. Every Friday night, they have their Sabbath meal together.

She speaks affectionately of her father. "To have a father with such courage," she says. "I owe everything to him. I owe him my life."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Truth and the culture of death

Last week I mentioned how pro-abortion activists were attacking pro-life crisis pregnancy centres in the UK. They mirror what is happening in the US.

The culture of death is getting desperate, American theologian Albert Mohler says on his blog. War, he says, has been declared on crisis pregnancy centres:

First in Baltimore and then in New York City, municipal governments passed laws intended to shut down or curtail the work of crisis pregnancy centers in their cities. The crisis pregnancy centers have been among the most important platforms for saving unborn human lives and reasserting human dignity. This is especially true in more recent years, as many of these centers have begun using sophisticated ultrasound imaging technologies in order to show pregnant women the unborn babies within them.

These centers are staffed by brave workers and an army of volunteers who are committed to counsel women against killing their unborn babies. The ultrasound images have been massively important in this counseling process. Once the woman sees the unborn life within her, the chances of that baby surviving to live birth are tremendously enhanced.

As one abortion rights activist famously declared "The fetus beat us." When the fetus is seen for what it really is, the mother has a much harder time deciding to abort it. Crisis pregnancy centers generally offer a variety of services, ranging from counseling and adoption services to medical care and support for new mothers. All this is too much for the abortion industry, which rightly sees crisis pregnancy centers as their increasingly powerful opposition. . .

Forty percent of all pregnancies in New York City end in abortion (and fully 60 percent of all pregnancies to African American women). Those horrendous and chilling percentages are evidently not enough for the abortion industry and its ideological supporters. They want to shut down crisis pregnancy centers or render them ineffective. . .

Now, city officials in San Francisco have launched their own effort to shutter crisis pregnancy centers, claiming the staff at the centers impose "anti-abortion propaganda and mistruths on unsuspecting women."

Albert Mohler concludes:

Crisis pregnancy centers deserve the support of all who cherish the sanctity of life, the defense of the unborn, and the right of free speech. As defenders of life, crisis pregnancy centers should be committed to nothing less than comprehensive truth-telling. It is the Culture of Death, not the Culture of Life, that fears the truth.

One further point: There is no doubt that ultrasound imaging equipment has been a valuable tool in the US in persuading women to keep their babies. Crisis pregnancy centres in the UK are generally staffed by unpaid volunteers and run by organisations not overburdened with cash. When are pro-life organisations in Britain going to be able to afford ultrasound equipment?

Monday, August 15, 2011

'I had to watch my baby die'

Sarah Capewell gave birth to her son in hospital. He was moving about, breathing unaided and had a strong heartbeat, his mother says.

But doctors wouldn't come and treat him because he was too premature. "They won't come and help, sweetie," the midwife told her. "Make the best of the time you have with him."

Miss Capewell watched her baby die less than two hours later. Staff at the hospital told her if her son had been born two days later, they would have tried to help him. She is now campaigning for a review of the medical guidelines.

Sarah Fisher was pregnant with twins. One of the twins, Emie, died when she was born at 21 weeks. Doctors told Miss Fisher she had an infection and the other twin would not survive. They recommended an abortion. Twelve hours before she had to give doctors her decision, Jacob put in an appearance at 23 weeks, weighing 1lb 4oz. Five months later, he has been allowed home - Britain's most premature surviving twin.

Mrs Emma Allen gave birth to identical twins at 23 weeks at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. There was no blanket policy at the hospital about resuscitating premature babies, so Mrs Allen was given the choice. She opted to go ahead. One twin died, but Charlie pulled through and is now five years old and thriving.

At present it is up to individual health trusts to decide whether to follow NHS guidelines on not resuscitating babies born before 24 weeks.

So should such premature babies be resuscitated?

London neonatal paediatrics professor John Wyatt, writing in Triple Helix, the magazine of the Christian Medical Fellowship, says estimates of gestational age can be inaccurate, and a number of factors can affect survival.

Doctors have a legal duty to do the best they can for each individual baby.

"These decisions are painful and difficult. But there is no reason for doom and gloom about premature babies. We should celebrate the successes that have been achieved, value the lives of those who have survived against all the odds, whether disabled or not, and look forward to future advances in the care of these vulnerable citizens."

Friday, August 12, 2011

Women and the need for truth

The Right to Know Campaign has produced a report saying that abortion providers are not appropriate organisations to provide pre-abortion counselling for vulnerable women - and Education for Choice claims women visiting counselling centres provided by faith-based and anti-abortion organisations are met with "scaremongering, emotive language and inaccurate information."

Right to Know points out that in 2010 more than 100,000 NHS-funded abortions were performed by private providers such as Marie Stopes International and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, worth an estimated £60 million.

It says BPAS and MSI are strongly driven by financial motivations, see success in increasing the number of abortions they perform, employ business development experts to promote abortion services, and have business plan objectives and targets to increase the number of abortions they perform.

It says marketing techniques are used to promote abortion to women, and the independence of counselling is compromised by the drive to encourage a decision for abortion.

Right to Know is backing an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill proposed by MPs Nadine Dorries and Frank Field which would guarantee that women considering abortion would have access to independent advice from someone who had no financial interest in the outcome of their decision.

The Guardian recently published an article headed "Pregnancy counselling centres found wanting. Evidence of poor practice and factually incorrect advice discovered following undercover investigation." The article itself contained incorrect information about abortion and has twice had to be amended.

Women posing as women considering abortion had evidently made visits on behalf of Education for Choice - a pro-abortion organisation if ever there was one - to 10 counselling centres operated by organisations like Life and Care confidential. It claimed to have found in most of them poor practice and factually incorrect advice, but appeared to provide little evidence of either.

Education for Choice's website says "Several studies have shown that having an abortion does not lead to psychological problems." For some reason, it does not mention the many studies that do.

It also says "Contrary to belief, there are no links between abortion and breast cancer, and a straightforward abortion will not lead to infertility." The link between abortion and consequent breast cancer is well documented, and abortion can lead to consequent infertility.

Said Lisa Hallgarten, director of Education for Choice: "We strongly urge the Department of Health to think carefully about removing women from the professional decision-making support currently offered by abortion providers, while the current alternative is a network of unregulated individuals, many of whom are in breach of good practice."

Life said: "We are wholeheartedly committed to offering the best service possible to women facing crisis pregnancies by providing them with non-judgmental, person-centred counselling and skilled listening in line with guidelines set out by the BACP [British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy], of which we are a member."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

England burns, and people wonder

The banking system has shown itself to be concerned only with what it can get. MPs have fiddled their expenses. The press has been guilty of phone hacking. There has been corruption in the police. If young people had any respect for authority, most of them have lost it.

And as Britain burns, night by night, some people are still wondering what has gone wrong.

Archbishop Cranmer writes: "It is quite moving to read of Sikhs in Southall guarding their gurdwara, and of those three Muslims in Birmingham who died trying to protect their property and community. It is reported that some of those involved in the violence are as young as 10 or 11, and that it is principally being perpetrated by those in their late teens - early 20s. This is the price we pay for moral relativism. Parents and teachers can no longer instruct their children in the difference between right and wrong, and so there is no distinguishing between good and evil. If it feels right and good, do it: the moral course of action is what the individual determines. The truth is what you make it, for there is no universal law of morality; no absolute standard by which all may be judged. And so we must tolerate the beliefs and actions of others even when they impinge upon the rights and liberties of others.

"Our politicians have spent decades dismantling the foundations of our moral order; fracturing and fragmenting the culture that made England cohesive and the United Kingdom coherent. They have created a culture of rootless individualism, for which we are now paying the price."

The cause of the problem, top and bottom, is that we are a nation away from God.

This world runs on laws; natural laws that cause the sun to come up in a morning and go down at night. Laws like the law of gravity. They're called laws because they work every time. If you jump off a high building, you won't break the law of gravity; the law of gravity will break you.

There are spiritual laws which are just as unbreakable. Here's one: as a man sows, so shall he reap (Gal 6:7). This nation is reaping what it has sown. But it has not yet gone so far that it cannot come back.

Christian organisations are pleading this week for Christians throughout the nation to pray. Says the Maranatha Community, in its appeal for prayer: "The current riots across the land hold up a mirror to the moral and spiritual sickness of our nation. The issues facing us today are not primarily political or social but spiritual. This is yet another manifestation of the consequences of our nation turning its back on God and His ways. . .

"We believe that God, in His mercy, is shining the light of His Truth on to the ugly wound of our nation which is in need of cleansing and healing."

The opportunity to pray, Maranatha says, is a God-given opportunity to bring hope to our nation. It is.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

When mourning will be turned to joy

Next Tuesday, Jerusalem will come to a standstill. There will be no public transport. Shops will be closed. People will gather at the Western Wall to pray and to mourn. Next Tuesday is Tisha b'Av.

Tisha b'Av - the ninth of the Jewish month of Av - has been a remarkable day in Jewish history. (The Jewish calendar does not coincide with the Gregorian calendar, so Tisha b'Av falls on a different date on the civil calendar each year.)

On Tisha b'Av, according to Jewish tradition, the Israelites were forbidden to enter the Promised Land for a further 40 years after the 12 spies came back with a bad report.

On Tisha b'Av in 586 BC Solomon's Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian exile began.

On Tisha b'Av in AD 70 the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans.

On Tisha b'Av in AD 135, the Bar Kokhba revolt ended when Betar, the last Jewish stronghold, was taken by the Romans.

On Tisha b'Av in AD 136, the Temple area was ploughed under by the Romans as Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city.

On Tisha b'Av in AD 1290, the Jews were expelled from England.

On Tisha b'Av in AD 1492 the Jews were expelled from Spain.

And Tisha b'Av in 1942 marked a mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, and the first killings at Treblinka extermination camp.

But Zech 8:19 prophesies a day when Tisha b'Av will be a day of rejoicing:

Thus says the Lord of hosts:
'The fast of the fourth month,
The fast of the fifth,
The fast of the seventh,
And the fast of the tenth,
Shall be joy and gladness and cheerful feasts
For the house of Judah.
Therefore love truth and peace.'

The whole chapter is about how the Jews will be gloriously restored in the Messianic age. Read it and marvel.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Something new inside

When a man finds Christ and believes, something happens inside. He still has the same name. He still lives in the same house, wears the same clothes and works at the same job. But he's a new man inside. "If anyone is in Christ," the Bible says, "he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."

He has the same National Insurance number and gets the same bills. He still loves his wife and children (more than he did before). He still enjoys life (more than he did before). He knows he belongs in this world, but somehow he feels he doesn't belong to it.

If you take a fish out of water, it will die, because it's out of its natural environment. If you put a man underwater, he will die, because he's out of his natural environment. A diver can exist underwater, but that's because he has an airline to the surface.

A man (or a woman, or child) who finds Christ can live in this world, and live a successful life: but that's because he can breathe the air of heaven. If he doesn't feel completely at home, that's because he's the citizen of another country.

When I was young, I had to do National Service. The young man in the bed next to me was a Christian.

In the evening, I would go out to the pub. When I got back, he would be tucked up in bed already. Having had a few beers, I would sit on the end of his bed and persuade him to sing The Old Rugged Cross. I didn't understand too much about it, but there was something about that old song that I liked.

After we were both demobbed, I was on holiday one year near his home town, so I looked him up. He invited me to his home the following Sunday.

He and his young wife had a simple home, but there was something different about it. They said grace before meals. Somehow that spoke to my heart.

A few years later, in a different place, in different circumstances, I was converted to Christ. I wrote and told the young man. He was pleased.

A lot later, I found out that when he was 29 years old, he died from a massive brain haemorrhage, leaving behind a wife and young daughter, which was sad. But he didn't just die. He went home.

As you get older, one by one friends and family disappear. Some of them go to heaven.

One day there's going to be a tremendous reunion. I'm looking forward to that. It really is going to be something.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Inquiry into sharia courts scrapped

A UK Ministry of Justice inquiry into the operation of Islamic sharia courts in Britain has been scrapped - because the Muslim courts refused to co-operate.

There are an estimated 85 sharia courts in Britain. The exact number is unknown. There is no objection to their providing mediation on religious matters, but there are concerns that they should not provide an alternative to British law.

Before last year's General Election the Ministry of Justice commissioned "an exploratory study of sharia councils in England with respect to family law." The Daily Mail reports that ministers have now abandoned the inquiry because the Muslim courts refused to help.

Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said the study "identified a number of challenges to undertaking robust research in this area. The study was therefore limited and adds little to the evidence base.

"The findings cannot be regarded as a representative assessment of the operation of sharia councils. Following expert peer review of the draft report, the Ministry of Justice decided not to publish the findings."

The Ministry of Justice said "The challenges to undertaking more robust research were that the councils are generally run on a volunteer basis, were short staffed and very busy, so there were practical difficulties in speaking with respondents.

"There was also reluctance to discuss the private work of the councils and respondents were wary of the stereotypical ways in which their organisations were represented in the media."

Jihad Watch writes: "Baroness Cox. . . noted the practice of rating a woman's testimony as half that of a man (from Qur'an 2:282, confirmed in Sahih Bukhari 1.6.301), and the gradual, unauthorised expansion of jurisdiction that saw Sharia courts ruling on 'family and criminal cases, including child custody and domestic violence.'

"To fail to follow through in this case is to concede that there are areas of Britain where British law is no longer supreme. And it will invite more stonewalling, more jurisdictional 'creeping,' and of course, more sharia courts doing all of the above, unless authorities throw down the gauntlet: If you cannot be investigated to authorities' satisfaction, you cannot operate.

"Most communities demand that much of their restaurants in some form - no inspection, no permit. That is also the least that should be expected of anything styling itself as a court, tribunal, arbitration board, and so forth."

Notices proclaiming "You are entering a Shariah controlled zone. Islamic rules enforced" have been posted on bus stops and street lamps in the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Newham, and a group of Islamists marched on Saturday from Leyton to Walthamstow calling for democracy to be replaced by sharia. This is considered to be the work of an extremist minority - but a poll of Muslim families showed that 40 per cent supported the introduction of sharia in Britain.

Baroness Cox has introduced a bill in the House of Lords which would make it a criminal offence for anyone to take over the rights of the state's criminal or family courts. What progress the bill will make remains to be seen.