NSA Spied on Porn Habits of Muslim ‘Radicalisers’: Report


NSA spied on porn habits of Muslim ‘radicalisers’: report

Alistair Barr
Opt-in: Under the British model, people would have to elect to be able to view pornography.National Security Agency collected evidence of online sexual activity and visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of six people the agency considered ‘‘radicalisers,” according to a new report. Photo: Jim Rice

The National Security Agency collected evidence of online sexual activity and visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of six people the agency considered “radicalisers,” the Huf-fington Post reported, citing documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The targets, all Muslims, are described in the document as examples of how “personal vulnerabilities” can be learned through electronic surveillance, and then exploited to undermine a target’s credibility, reputation and authority, the Post said in its report.

Among the vulnerabilities are “viewing sexually explicit material online” and “using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls,” according to the NSA document, dated October 3, 2012.

None of the six individuals targeted by the NSA is accused in the document of being involved in terror plots. The agency believes they all currently reside outside the United States, Huffington Post reported.

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However, the agency identifies one of them as a “US person,” which means he is either a US citizen or a permanent resident. A US person is entitled to greater legal protections against NSA surveillance than foreigners are, the report noted.

“The NSA scandal turns a dangerous corner,” Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, wrote on Twitter after reading the report. “I bet Washington is full of nervous people.”

The latest revelations come as the European Union reviews a commercial data-sharing agreement with the US known as Safe Harbor. One EU executive threatened to freeze the pact, which covers commercial swaps between US and European companies, information exchanged to limit international terrorist funding, and the supply of information on transatlantic air passengers.

Huffington Post released an appendix that was attached to the document which lists the argument each surveillance target has made that the NSA says constitutes radicalism, as well the personal “vulnerabilities” the agency believes would leave the targets “open to credibility challenges” if exposed.

One target’s offending argument is that “Non-Muslims are a threat to Islam,” and a vulnerability listed against him is “online promiscuity.”

Another target, a foreign citizen the NSA describes as a “respected academic,” holds the offending view that “offensive jihad is justified,” and his vulnerabilities are listed as “online promiscuity” and “publishes articles without checking facts.”

The Huffington Post said it withheld the names and locations of the six people and noted that the allegations made by the NSA about their online activities in the document cannot be verified.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/nsa-spied-on-porn-habits-of-muslim-radicalisers-report-20131128-2yben.html#ixzz2m1zTyWMN

Think the Tea Party Is Crazy? Europe’s Rising Neo-Fascism Is a Taste of What’s Coming If Austerity Prevails in America


Think the Tea Party Is Crazy? Europe’s Rising Neo-Fascism Is a Taste of What’s Coming If Austerity Prevails in America

Cutting social programs and government investment is a recipe for the growth of fascism.

     

American political dysfunction looks pretty bad — but just take a look at what’s going on across the Atlantic. A poisonous wave of right-wing, neo-fascist parties is emerging in response to the continent’s ongoing austerity and hugely ineffectual policy response to the resulting jobs crisis.

The U.S. could be headed in the same direction if the austerity-pushers have their way. Europe is a case study in what happens when mainstream parties on both the right and the left fail to deliver relief to the people. Extremists seize the opportunity to assert themselves, and things get ugly very fast.

Bringing countries together in the European Union was supposed to make violent nationalist conflict a thing of the past. Member countries were supposed to prosper economically. But now countries like Greece and Spain are fracturing politically and falling into a downward economic spiral.

The creators of the euro were like parents fixing an arranged marriage. They knew that they were locking together countries with very different economies and political cultures. But they hoped that, over time, the new partners would grow together and form a genuine bond.

The European Union was banking on three forms of convergence: economic, political and popular. At the time the euro was launched, there was much hopeful talk that a surge in trade and investment between the euro zone nations would create a truly unified European economy, in which national levels of productivity and consumption would converge on each other.

It was also assumed—or perhaps just hoped—that the euro would create political unity. Once Europeans were using the same notes and coins, they would feel how much they had in common, develop shared loyalties and deepen their political union. The designers of the single currency were also hoping that elite and popular opinion would come together. They knew that in certain crucial countries, in particular Germany, the public did not share the political elite’s enthusiasm for the creation of the euro. But they hoped that in time, this would change.

Enter reality.  At first, people saw most regulations and orders coming from Brussels as annoying and occasionally inconvenient. Rulings on things like what kind of fat chocolate may contain seemed objects of ridicule, not the stuff of revolution. The European Commission was seen as something distant with little day-to-day relevance for the lives of most citizens living within the European Union. But everything changed with the Great Recession of 2008. Ruinously destructive austerity policies took hold in the councils of Europe, notably in the form of economic austerity packages demanded of Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, etc. The consequences have been monstrous.

Politically, the implementation of the euro-zone’s stability pact has been largely left in the hands of unelected bureaucrats—the so-called “Troika,” in particular the IMF and European Central Bank, operating out of institutions that are devoid of any kind of democratic legitimacy. They implement “fiscal rules” on the basis of some arbitrary numbers that have no foundation in economic theory or reality.

Here’s a perfect example. A former senior budget ministry official in the government of former French president François Mitterrand was recently revealed as being the inventor of a phony “rule” repeated by governments both right or the left that the public deficit should not exceed 3 percent of the national wealth. The French official had this to say when asked about the origins of the 3 percent rule:

“We came up with the 3% figure in less than an hour. It was a back of an envelope calculation, without any theoretical reflection. Mitterrand needed an easy rule that he could deploy in his discussions with ministers who kept coming into his office to demand money… We needed something simple. 3%? It was a good number that had stood the test of time, somewhat reminiscent of the Trinity.”

So highly paid unelected bureaucrats in Brussels pull magic numbers out of the air, and then policy makers use them to call for nations to cut welfare, wages, jobs and the like. The result? People have already started dying in riots in Athens, Madrid and Rome. Backlash in France produced Marine Le Pen’s surprisingly successful candidacy in the last French presidential election for the Front Nationale (FN). If the name sounds familiar, it’s because fascism runs in the family: She is the youngest daughter of the French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, former president of the FN and currently its honorary chairman. In last year’s French presidential election, she polled some 18 percent in the first round and finished in third position behind winner François Hollande and the previous incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Anti-EU parties of the sort Le Pen represents are on the rise across continental Europe. They are growing precisely because the mainstream parties conspicuously continue to ignore the prevailing social disasters they are imposing on their respective electorates.  As the New York Times recently reported, the far right is quickly gaining ground:

“In France, according to a recent opinion poll, the far-right National Front has become the country’s most popular party. In other countries — Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland and the Netherlands — disruptive upstart groups are on a roll.”

While the European leaders are now talking about moving to a fully fledged political union (a “United States of Europe”) they are doing so within a culture of austerity, which simply exacerbates the prevailing social stresses and leads to further populist challenges to the mainstream.

Time is not on the side of Europe’s policy makers. The stock of private debt remains very high and policy makers are beginning to fret about the possibility of a genuine Great Depression-style debt deflation leading to another lost decade. That was the hidden message behind the ECB’s recent cut in interest rates, although the real answer must surely lie in a fiscal response that will break the fall in incomes and preserve living standards.

That’s the main reason America has not seen a comparable rise in fascism. In this country, we still have institutions, such as Social Security and Medicare, which were designed during the New Deal and the Great Society and by and large work extremely well. Europe, unfortunately, seems determined for now to go in an opposite direction, reviving old historic enmities and rivalries in the process. That could be in store for us if we follow a similar route, which would make the Tea Party seem like a tea party in comparison.

Marshall Auerback is a market analyst and commentator.

Religious slaughter: Halal, Kosher; Only Deference to Religions Makes These Inhumane Practises Legal


Religious slaughter: Halal, Kosher; only deference to religions makes these inhumane practises legal.

Under EU law animals must be stunned before they can be slaughtered. This is one part of a noble humane effort to reduce animal suffering even when they are our food source. However there is a loophole to this empathetic law.

The EU allows “derogation from stunning in case of religious slaughter taking place in slaughterhouses”

So if you believe a cosmic deity wills it, rules on preventing animal cruelty do not apply to you. The notably irreligious Sweden is the only country in the EU with an outright ban on religious slaughter.

Halal slaughter poster

Halal slaughter poster
If not for religion, would this be allowed?

There is no other exemption, not for a moral belief or political beliefs; only religious faith. Only a belief system that you believe to be supported by divine will is a good enough reason to inflict animal cruelty.

The human race has a remarkable ability for empathy and compassion; extending past other human beings to members of different species. Even to our food sources. We may have to kill and eat them to survive but we do not wish to see unnecessary suffering in the process.

As humanity has advanced, our sympathy and empathy towards animals has increased. We have found new ways to reduce suffering and introduced laws and regulations to enforce this good practice. The human race by and large has come to a consensus on this issue.

compassion

compassion

Our compassion goes beyond our own species.

Only religions, with their practices and morals from the infancy of our species, stick rigidly to backward methods that create unnecessary suffering. As ever the trouble with fundamentally sticking to practices in ancient books; they do not keep up with the moral advances of mankind. The production of Halal and Kosher meat, involving the cutting of the animal’s throat whilst it is still conscious, does not conform to the standards of the 21st century but is allowed to appease the Islamic and Jewish communities.

Only religious groups have the influence and power to exempt themselves from legislation like this, putting fear into the minds of legislators. This has to end; there must be a common law for all, for the good of mankind. As well as every other species on this planet

EXPOSED! What the Beef Industry Pumps Into Your Dinner!


Revealed: What the Beef Industry Pumps Into Your Dinner

A common industry practice puts consumers at higher risks for eating food contaminated by deadly pathogens — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Photo Credit: © Lisovskaya Natalia/ Shutterstock.com

 If acclaimed authors Upton Sinclair (The Jungle), Jeremy Rifkin (Beyond Beef) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America) haven’t given you enough reasons over the last century to be wary of the meat industry, then a year-long investigation by the Kansas City Star may do the trick.

Mike McGraw kicks off the KC Star’s investigative series by introducing Margaret Lamkin, who has been forced to wear a colostomy bag for the rest of her life, after a medium-rare steak she ordered three years ago at Applebee’s was contaminated with a pathogen. The resulting illness destroyed her colon.

Of course we already know about E. coli and other food-borne pathogens; people have gotten sick from everything from spinach to peanut butter. But the news here is that what sickened Lamkin wasn’t just the meat, but a process the industry uses to tenderize it. McGraw explains:

The Kansas City Star investigated what the industry calls “bladed” or “needled” beef, and found the process exposes Americans to a higher risk of E. coli poisoning than cuts of meat that have not been tenderized.

… Although blading and injecting marinades into meat add value for the beef industry, that also can drive pathogens — including the E. coli O157:H7 that destroyed Lamkin’s colon — deeper into the meat.

By using this process (which according to the story, 90 percent of processors will use, depending on the cut), people are at a greater risk of exposure to life-threatening illness. And consumers have no way of knowing whether their meat has undergone this process.

Ending up with a fecal-contaminated burger is bad, but it’s just the beginning of what the investigation uncovered. Here are the other key findings, as McGraw writes:

•  Large beef plants, based on volume alone, contribute disproportionately to the incidence of meat-borne pathogens.

•  Big Beef and other processors are co-mingling ground beef from many different cattle, some from outside the United States, adding to the difficulty health officials have tracking contaminated products to their source. The industry also has resisted labeling some products, including mechanically tenderized meat, to warn consumers and restaurants to cook it thoroughly.

•  Big Beef is injecting millions of dollars of growth hormones and antibiotics into cattle, partly to fatten them quickly for market. Many experts believe that years of overuse and misuse of such drugs contributes to antibiotic-resistant pathogens in humans, meaning illnesses once treated with a regimen of antibiotics are much harder to control.

•  Big Beef is using its political pull, public relations campaigns and the supportive science it sponsors to influence federal dietary guidelines and recast steaks and burgers as “health foods” people should eat every day. It even persuaded the American Heart Association to certify beef as “heart healthy.”

Read the full investigation, and think about how this scenario fits into the larger picture of what we deem acceptable as a food system. Just last month Consumer Reports shared frightening findings about pork.

And there is a ray of good news. Ocean Robbins wrote today:

People are taking an increasing interest in the way that the animals raised for food are treated. In fact, a poll conducted by Lake Research partners found that 94 percent of Americans agree that animals raised for food on farms deserve to be free from cruelty. Nine U.S. states have now joined the entire European Union in banning gestational crates for pigs, and Australia’s two largest supermarket chains now sell only cage-free eggs in their house brands.

The demand is growing for food that is organic, sustainable, fair trade, GMO-free, humane, and healthy. In cities around the world, we’re seeing more and more farmer’s markets (a nearly three-fold increase in the last decade), and more young people getting back into farming. Grocery stores (even big national chains) are displaying local, natural and organic foods with pride. The movements for healthy food are growing fast, and starting to become a political force.

Investigations like the one done by the Kansas City Star are crucial for public education, as is support for the growing food movement that needs help in turning purchasing power at the market into political power that can affect decisions about food safety and industry practices.

“Big agribusiness would probably like us all to sit alone in the dark, munching on highly processed, genetically engineered, chemical-laden, pesticide-contaminated pseudo-foods,” Robbins writes. “But the tide of history is turning, and regardless of how much they spend attempting to maintain their hold on our food systems, more and more people are saying NO to foods that lead to illness, and YES to foods that help us heal.”

Are Factory Farming’s Days Numbered?


Good News For Animal Lovers: Factory Farming’s Days May Be Numbered

Two major grocery chains are ditching factory farmed meat — will the changes cause a ripple effect?

 

Photo Credit: © koko-tewan/ Shutterstock.com

This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

In one of history’s most stunning victories for humane farming, Australia’s largest supermarket chain, Coles, will as of January 1 stop selling company branded pork and eggs from animals kept in factory farms. As an immediate result, 34,000 mother pigs will no longer be kept in stalls for long periods of their lives, and 350,000 hens will be freed from cages.

Not to be outdone, the nation’s other dominant supermarket chain, Woolworths, has already begun phasing out factory farmed animal products. In fact all of Woolworth’s house brand eggs are now cage-free, and by mid-2013 all of their pork will come from farmers who operate stall-free farms.

Coles and Woolworths together account for a dominant 80 percent of all supermarket sales in Australia.

The move to open up the cages was fueled by “consumer sentiment,” and it has been synchronous with amajor campaign against factory farming of animals led by Animals Australia. The campaign features a TV ad, titled “When Pigs Fly,” in which an adorable piglet tells the story of animals sentenced to life in cramped cages, and then flies to freedom.

Meanwhile, in the United States, egg factory farms cram more than 90 percent of the country’s 280 million egg-laying hens into barren cages so small the birds can’t even spread their wings. Each bird spends her entire life given less space than a sheet of paper. And in a reality that does not please fans of Wilber or Babe, between 60 to 70 percent of the more than five million breeding pigs in the United States are kept in crates too small for them to so much as turn around.

There are laws against cruelty to animals in the United States, but most states specifically exempt animals destined for human consumption. The result is that the animal agriculture industry routinely does things to animals that, if you did them to a dog or a cat, would get you put in jail.

Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary, explains: “Most of the anti-cruelty laws exempt farm animals as long as the practices are considered to be normal by the agriculture industry. What has happened is that bad has become normal, and no matter how cruel it is, normal is legal.”

But here, too, change is coming. Undercover investigations have led to a $497 million judgment against the now defunct Hallmark Meat Packing company, and to the recent temporary shutdown of Central Valley Meat Company over what federal investigators termed “egregious, inhumane handling and treatment of livestock.” California and Michigan have passed laws that will phase in a ban on battery cages for hens, andnine U.S. states have joined the entire European Union in heading towards a ban on confining pigs in gestation crates.

Worried that consumers are starting to find out the truth about treatment of modern farm animals and will demand further changes, industry leaders are pushing for “ag gag” laws that would hide factory farming and slaughterhouse abuses from public scrutiny. Recently passed laws in Iowa and Utah threaten jail time for anyone working undercover and taking pictures or video of animals in factory farms without permission.

What don’t they want us to know? What are they trying to hide? What would happen if the veil was lifted and we saw the level of cruelty that has become the norm in U.S. industrial meat production?

poll conducted by Lake Research partners found that 94 percent of Americans agree that animals raised for food on farms deserve to be free from abuse and cruelty, and that 71 percent of Americans support undercover investigative efforts by animal welfare organizations to expose animal abuse on industrial farms.

Most farmers don’t try to be cruel to animals, but they do worry about how to cut costs. And so long as consumers are kept in the dark about the real source of their food, farm owners have no economic incentive to do more than the minimum necessary to appease regulatory authorities.

Want to take action? Join the Food Revolution Network, an online community dedicated to healthy, sustainable, humane and delicious food for all.

Or join the Humane Society’s campaign for farm animal protection, or Farm Sanctuary’s work for animal welfare legislation. Or if you want to save 100 animals per year, you can sign up for PETA’s free veg starter kit.

Europe Rejects Ban on Arctic Oil Drilling


Europe rejects ban on Arctic oil drilling

Moratorium on offshore drilling in the Arctic rejected by European parliament vote amid intense lobbying by oil industry

Greenpeace activists prepare to occupy Gazprom Arctic oil platform

Greenpeace activists prepare to occupy Gazprom Arctic oil platform. The EU has rejected a moratorium on drilling in the Arctic. Photograph: Greenpeace

The European parliament’s industry committee has rejected attempts to introduce a moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, overruling a contrary vote by its environment committee last month.

The key vote in the industry committee yesterday (9 October) instead proposed a new directive to ensure that companies have “adequate financial security” to cover the liabilities that could be incurred by any accidents.

Drilling companies would also have to submit to national authorities a safety hazard and emergency response report at least 24 weeks before the planned start of operations.

A plenary vote in December will now consider one surviving amendment from the environment committee vote, which would impel member states to refrain from licencing drills unless an effective accident response can be guaranteed.

The European Commission had initially proposed a binding EU-wide regulation, but the industry committee’s vote instead plumped for a directive, which member states can choose how to enforce according to their regional standards.

“Questions have been raised about the significant revocation and amendments of existing equivalent national legislation and guidance [a regulation] might entail,” said the parliamentary rapporteur, Ivo Belet (European People’s Party).

“Such redrafting would divert scarce resources from the safety assessments and inspections on the field,” he added.

British oil industry representatives used similar arguments, according to minutes of a stakeholder peer review meeting at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

“Implementing the Regulation would tie-up considerable resources in both industry and regulators … taking them away from the ‘front line’ where the hazards are,” representatives of Oil and Gas UK said.

After that meeting, the head of the European Commission’s coal and oil unit, Jan Panek, invited the Oil and Gas UK representatives to a separate bilateral meeting on the legal instrument and requirements in the regulation, which took place in April 2012.

Tip of the iceberg

Environmentalists suspect that this was the tip of a lobby iceberg. “This vote had the fingerprints of oil lobby all over it,” Greenpeace spokesman Joris den Blanken told EurActiv.

Amid intense industry lobbying, EurActiv has learned that the oil giant Chevron offered MEPs on the committee a free trip to its offshore Alba platform on 12-14 July, involving two nights stay in an Aberdeen hotel, helicopter trips to the platform, and several briefings.

But a Chevron representative informed EurActiv that the trip had not in fact gone ahead, due to “organisational reasons” on which she declined to elaborate.

Ivo Belet’s office said that he had “had the intention” of going on the package, but instead visited a platform in the Netherlands on a paid-for trip to GDF Suez’s K12B gas-producing platform which utilises carbon capture and storage techniques.

In March 2011, another shadow rapporteur on the committee, Vicky Ford (European Conservatives and Reformists), who tabled more than half of the 642 amendments on the report, visited a rig off the coast of Aberdeen paid for by the oil company ConocoPhillips.

Such trips are considered necessary and educational for legislators, and may not be luxurious, but environmentalists are wary of undue influence when MEPs adopt positions close to the industry’s interests.

A spokesperson at Ford’s office said that she had registered her trip on her European Parliament online declaration of interests but it was not mentioned there at the time of writing.

Camel operations in the Sahara

Oil producing countries such as Norway also pushed hard for the proposed regulation to be transmuted into a directive, because of the “massive administrative burden” and “complicated legal questions” it could raise, according to a Norwegian position paper, seen by EurActiv.

Norway’s deputy oil and energy minister, Per Rune Henriksen, went further, arguing that for the EU to claim jurisdiction over the Arctic by banning drills there “would almost be like us commenting on a camel operations in the Sahara.”

The EU sees itself as an actor in the Arctic because three EU countries have territory in the Arctic – Denmark, Finland and Sweden – while Iceland is an EU candidate.

The EU has in return applied for an enhanced observer seat on the Arctic Council, partly because climate change is a transboundary issue, affecting European weather patterns and fish stocks alike.

Gustaf Lind, the Arctic Council’s current chair, told EurActiv that “of course, as we have EU members, we can all say that we’re positive, very positive [towards the EU’s application] but we try to avoid reviewing specific applications in the media.”

Arctic resource race

The EU’s application comes as the continent’s ice has melted to its lowest level ever, carving the pristine region open for a resource race.

The US Geological Survey says that the region could be home to 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30% of its undiscovered gases, and gold and diamond mining companies also view its prospects with relish.

Arctic nations often bemoan a perceived southern hypocrisy that would prevent them from enjoying the same economic benefits from fossil fuel production that others have done.

Oil extracted from the Arctic emits no more greenhouse gas than that produced anywhere else but the region’s remote and hostile terrain could make rescue operations treacherous in the event of an accident.

Arctic futures

Gunnar Wiegand, a director at the EU’s External Affairs Action Service, told an Arctic Futures Symposium in Brussels on 4 October that he hoped EU legislation could inspire Arctic nations to firmer environmental legislation.

“The acquis [accumulated legislation] in the Arctic Council doesn’t go as far as any of the environmental legislation of the EU,” he said.

Maria Damanaki, the EU’s maritime commissioner, told the same conference that as the continent’s ice thawed, new opportunities could arise.

“Offshore drilling in the Arctic now becomes a viable option for big oil companies,” she said. “Arctic reserves could hold enough oil and gas to meet global demand for several years. This is a need the world economy has.”

“Though we may be greening the world economy, oil and gas remain vital for us and will do for some years,” she added.

Scientists are more concerned that the Arctic ice melt could raise sea levels, accelerate global warming by reducing the region’s ice reflectivity of solar heat, and change Gulf Stream currents.

If the Arctic’s summer ice melts completely, some scientists fear that methane hydrates currently frozen on the seabed could be released, causing a runaway and unstoppable greenhouse effect.

The Most Godless Place on Earth


Eastern Germany: the most godless place on Earth

East German atheism can be seen as a form of continuing political and regional identification – and a taste of the future

Germany Celebrates 20 Years Fall Of The Berlin Wall

A woman dressed as an angel waves from a roof top near the German Reichstag on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Photograph: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

They are sending missionaries to eastern Germany. A recent study called Beliefs About God Across Time and Countries found that 52.1% of people asked whether they believed in God identified themselves as atheists. This compared with only 10.3% in western Germany. Indeed, the survey was unable to find a single person under the age of 28 in eastern Germany who believed in God. Obviously there are some – I think I may have even met some once – but the survey was unable to find them. On the face of it this is an extraordinary finding and it is something that needs some careful explanation.

Different reasons are adduced for the absence of religion in the east. The first one that is usually brought out is the fact that that area was run by the Communist party from 1945 to 1990 and that its explicit hostility to religion meant that it was largely stamped out. However, this is not entirely the case. In fact, after initial hostilities in the first years of the GDR, the SED came to a relatively comfortable accommodation with what was called the Church in Socialism. The churches in the GDR were given a high degree of autonomy by SED standards and indeed became the organisational focus of the dissident movement of the 1990s, which was to some extent led by Protestant pastors.

In addition to an accommodation with religion, the party also deliberately created alternative poles of integration for the population. Young people were brought up in a highly ideological atmosphere and were required to undergo a so-called Jugendweihe – a sort of atheist confirmation. Interestingly, this ceremony has survived the end of communism and many young people still voluntarily enter into it. Equally, especially under Eric Honecker in the 1970s and 80s, an attempt was made to create a sort of “GDR patriotism”, in which figures from Prussian history such as Frederick the Great were put back on their plinths in East Berlin and integrated into the Communist narrative of the forward march of history. Martin Luther, Thomas Münzer and other figures from the Reformation were also recruited into the party.

Another factor is that religion in eastern Germany is also overwhelmingly Protestant, both historically and in contemporary terms. Of the 25% who do identify themselves as religious, 21% of them are Protestants. The other 4% is made up of a small number of Catholics as well as Muslims and adherents of other new evangelical groups, new-age sects or alternative religions. The Protestant church is in steep decline with twice as many people leaving it every year as joining.

If we were to follow the Weberian line on this, then a highly Protestant area undergoing rapid modernisation would almost automatically experience a process of radical secularisation going hand-in-hand with industrialisation, a process which was only speeded up by the communist obsession with heavy industry.

When we look at western Germany however, we see that there Catholics are in a majority and indeed, political power in West Germany has traditionally been built on western-orientated Catholic support for the Christian Democratic Union in the south and west. Indeed, the first chancellor of postwar West Germany, Konrad Adenauer, had been mayor of Cologne in the 1930s and even then was in favour of the division of Germany and a “Rhineland Alliance” as a sort of precursor of the European Union.

What all of this means is that rather than simply just being an area that was occupied by the Soviet Union and their satraps in the East German Communist party, the eastern part of Germany has an identity which – almost a quarter of a century on – continues to make unification more difficult than expected. Religious confession, or rather the lack of it, plays an important role in this. This has led some to talk of East German atheism as a form of continuing political and regional identification. For example, in 2000 the Catholic theologian Eberhard Tiefensee identified what he called an “East German folk atheism” which could be argued to constitute a substantial part of a regional identity against West German Catholic domination.

Secularisation processes are under way throughout the continent and the role of religion and the church in modernity are being questioned everywhere, from gay marriage to women priests to abortion and on to whether the EU should identify itself as a Christian entity. The question should perhaps be whether it is actually folk atheism that represents the future of Europe.