British crown jewels buried in biscuit tin during WW II

Queen Elizabeth II wearing the bejeweled Imperial crown leaves Westminster Abbey, London, on June 2, 1953. (AP)
Updated 13 January 2018
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British crown jewels buried in biscuit tin during WW II

LONDON: Precious stones from Britain’s crown jewels were hidden in a biscuit tin and buried at Windsor Castle during World War II, a BBC documentary to be shown on Sunday reveals.
Gems, including the Black Prince’s Ruby from the Imperial State Crown, were buried under a secret exit from the medieval castle used in times of emergency.
The operation, intended to ensure the priceless gems did not fall into Nazi hands, was ordered by Queen Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI. It was such a closely guarded secret that Queen Elizabeth, 91, who spent the 1939-1945 war at Windsor Castle for safety, did not know the details.
“What was so lovely was that the Queen had no knowledge of it. Telling her seemed strangely odd,” said royal commentator Alastair Bruce, who presents the documentary.
The details were unearthed by Oliver Urquhart Irvine, the assistant keeper of the Royal Archives.
Bruce told The Times newspaper that an “electric set of letters” from Owen Morshead, the royal librarian, to Queen Mary, King George VI’s mother, shed light on the mystery.
Morshead’s documents describe how a hole was dug in chalk earth and two chambers with steel doors were created.
The trap door, used to access the secret area where the tin box was kept, is still there.
Bruce discusses the crown jewels with Queen Elizabeth in an exceptionally rare conversation recorded for television. The monarch has never given an interview.
She described the Imperial State Crown, worn for the state opening of Parliament and weighing 1.28 kg, as “very unwieldy.”
“Fortunately, my father and I have about the same sort of shaped head. But once you put it on, it stays. I mean, it just remains itself.”
The sovereign said she had to keep her head still. “And you can’t look down to read the speech — you have to take the speech up. Because if you did, your neck would break, or it would fall off.
“So there are some disadvantages to crowns, but otherwise they’re quite important things.”
The crown, made for King George’s coronation in 1937, is set with 2,868 diamonds including 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and hundreds of pearls, including four known as Queen Elizabeth I’s earrings.
It also features the Black Prince’s Ruby, believed to have been worn by King Henry V in his helmet at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
“It’s fun to see,” Queen Elizabeth said. “The idea that his plume was put into the stone ... on his helmet. Bit rash, but that was the sort of thing they did, I suppose, in those days.”


Muslims in China’s main Islamic region fear eradication of their faith

Updated 16 July 2018
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Muslims in China’s main Islamic region fear eradication of their faith

LINXIA: Green-domed mosques still dominate the skyline of China’s “Little Makkah,” but they have undergone a profound change — no longer do boys flit through their stone courtyards en route to classes and prayers.
In what locals said they fear is a deliberate move to eradicate Islam, the atheist ruling Communist Party has banned minors under 16 from religious activity or study in Linxia, a deeply Islamic region in western China that had offered a haven of comparative religious freedom for the ethnic Hui Muslims there.
China governs Xinjiang, another majority Muslim region in its far west, with an iron fist to weed out what it calls “religious extremism” and “separatism” in the wake of deadly unrest, throwing ethnic Uighurs into shadowy re-education camps without due process for minor infractions such as owning a Qur’an or even growing a beard.
Now, Hui Muslims fear similar surveillance and repression.
“The winds have shifted” in the past year, explained a senior imam who requested anonymity, adding: “Frankly, I’m very afraid they’re going to implement the Xinjiang model here.”
Local authorities have severely curtailed the number of students over 16 officially allowed to study in each mosque and limited certification processes for new imams.
They have also instructed mosques to display national flags and stop sounding the call to prayer to reduce “noise pollution” — with loudspeakers removed entirely from all 355 mosques in a neighboring county.
“They want to secularize Muslims, to cut off Islam at the roots,” the imam said, shaking with barely restrained emotion. “These days, children are not allowed to believe in religion: only in Communism and the party.”
More than 1,000 boys used to attend his mid-sized mosque to study Qur’anic basics during summer and winter school holidays but now they are banned from even entering the premises.
His classrooms are still full of huge Arabic books from Saudi Arabia, browned with age and bound in heavy leather. But only 20 officially registered pupils over the age of 16 are now allowed to use them.
Parents were told the ban on extracurricular Qur’anic study was for their children’s own good, so they could rest and focus on secular coursework.
But most are utterly panicked.
“We’re scared, very scared. If it goes on like this, after a generation or two, our traditions will be gone,” said Ma Lan, a 45-year-old caretaker, tears dripping quietly into her uneaten bowl of beef noodle soup.
Inspectors checked her local mosque every few days during the last school holiday to ensure none of the 70 or so village boys were present.
Their imam initially tried holding lessons in secret before sunrise but soon gave up, fearing repercussions.
Instead of studying five hours a day at the mosque, her 10-year-old son stayed home watching television. He dreams of being an imam, but his schoolteachers have encouraged him to make money and become a Communist cadre, she said.
The Hui number nearly 10 million, half of the country’s Muslim population, according to 2012 government statistics.
In Linxia, they have historically been well integrated with the ethnic Han majority, able to openly express their devotion and center their lives around their faith.
Women in headscarves dish out boiled lamb in mirror-paneled halal eateries while streams of white-hatted men meander into mosques for afternoon prayers, passing shops hawking rugs, incense and “eight treasure tea,” a local specialty including dates and dried chrysanthemum buds.
But in January, local officials signed a decree — obtained by AFP — pledging to ensure that no individual or organization would “support, permit, organize or guide minors toward entering mosques for Qur’anic study or religious activities,” or push them toward religious beliefs.
Imams there were all asked to comply in writing, and just one refused, earning fury from officials and embarrassment from colleagues, who have since shunned him.
“I cannot act contrary to my beliefs. Islam requires education from cradle to grave. As soon as children are able to speak we should begin to teach them our truths,” he explained.
“It feels like we are slowly moving back toward the repression of the Cultural Revolution,” a nationwide purge from 1966 until 1976 when local mosques were dismantled or turned into donkey sheds, he said.
Other imams complained authorities were issuing fewer certificates required to practice or teach and now only to graduates of state-sanctioned institutions.
“For now, there are enough of us, but I fear for the future. Even if there are still students, there won’t be anyone of quality to teach them,” said one imam.
Local authorities failed to answer repeated calls from AFP seeking comment but Linxia’s youth ban comes as China rolls out its newly revised Religious Affairs Regulations.
The rules have intensified punishments for unsanctioned religious activities across all faiths and regions.
Beijing is targeting minors “as a way to ensure that faith traditions die out while also maintaining the government’s control over ideological affairs,” charged William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International.
Another imam said the tense situation in Xinjiang was at the root of changes in Linxia.
The government believes that “religious piety fosters fanaticism, which spawns extremism, which leads to terrorist acts — so they want to secularize us,” he explained.
But many Hui are quick to distinguish themselves from Uighurs.
“They believe in Islam too, but they’re violent and bloodthirsty. We’re nothing like that,” said Muslim hairdresser Ma Jiancai, 40, drawing on common stereotypes.
Sitting under the elegant eaves of a Sufi shrine complex, a young scholar from Xinjiang explained that his family had sent him alone aged five to Linxia to study the Qur’an with a freedom not possible in his hometown.
“Things are very different here,” he said with knitted brows. “I hope to stay.”