Secularists in the Swiss canton of Zurich are up in arms over the introduction of a compulsory course on religion and culture in public schools.
ZURICH - The fastest-growing religious status in the central Swiss canton of Zurich is not Islam, but atheism. According to the most recent census, one in five Zurich residents professes no religion at all.
A part of this growing minority now finds itself in a showdown with the local education system. Followers of the Free Thought movement, who are committed to preserving the secular ideals of the Enlightenment, are up in arms over "Religion and Culture" classes recently introduced into local schools by the Zurich Education Department. Unlike the recently abolished Biblical history course, the new class is compulsory. It does not give denominational religious instruction, but rather imparts factual knowledge about world religions.
For Andreas Kyriacou, a neuropsychologist and member of Free Thought, this plan is unacceptable. "Children who have grown up in a home without religion will inevitably feel that they are missing something," he complains, adding that the course could pressure them to choose one of the religious identities presented in the course. He argues the canton's plans violate the Federal Constitution, which prohibits the government from forcing a citizen to participate in religious instruction.
Kyriacou, who also sits on the board of the Swiss Green Party, belongs to a group which is carefully monitoring the course's implementation. He believes the curriculum's content is too one-sided. The federal government originally agreed the course would teach general questions of ethical conduct, but now, it seems, it will only address religious views.
Kyriacou contrasts Zurich with the eastern canton of Grisons, which hired an ethicist from the University of Zurich to help develop its new school subject. There, the new course is named "Religion and Ethics."
Dark side of religion
The Zurich Public School Authority makes no secret of the fact that the world's largest religions are at the heart of the new course. "This course is not designed to provide a moral education," says department manager Brigitte Mühlemann. The development of value systems is a multidisciplinary task, she explains, and not one that should be left to a single class.
Zurich's education department refutes the Free Thinkers' claims. "This new school subject will not teach that being non-religious is inferior," says Mühlemann. The goal of the course is to teach children how to deal respectfully with religious questions and traditions. It will be done with sensitivity, she says, and the darker side of religion will also be discussed, as will secular values.
Mühlemann's argument is supported by the former District Councillor Andrea Widmer Graf, who first spearheaded the development of the new school subject five years ago. She says she was keen to see ethical issues dealt with in the course, but did not expect anything more than what is now in the curriculum and is "very satisfied" with it.
Andreas Kyriacou is not just criticizing the course's learning objectives. He says there have been flaws in its implementation. Although they are no longer explicitly teaching religion, many teachers in Zurich still have missionary objectives. Recently, a teacher in the rural community of Hombrechtikon caused a stir when he instructed his students that people of faith are superior to skeptics. The father of a student, himself a militant Free Thinker, filed a public complaint with Director of Education Regine Aeppli. She agreed the lesson did not correspond with the established curriculum for Religion and Culture.
According to Kyriacou, this is not an isolated case. Up to half of all teachers are still using the old model of religious instruction, according to an interim evaluation conducted by the Education Department. In many cases, the same teachers who were previously responsible for Biblical history are now teaching Religion and Culture. "They have not realized that this is a different subject," warns Kyriacou.
Mühlemann plays down the findings of the interim study. She says the results merely demonstrated that the subject is "very challenging" and that its implementation will take time. "We take these findings seriously," she says. Mühlemann adds that it is natural for those with a fundamental interest in the subject to want to teach the course on religion and culture. But this does not inherently prevent them from being objective, she says, noting that regulations bind all teachers to ideological neutrality in the classroom.
Read the original article in German
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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