News on Islamophobia: Racism on the rise in Europe
- Racism on the rise in Europe
In Norway, England, the Netherlands, Russia, and especially Austria, racist and Islamophobic movements are on the rise.
Billy Briggs Last Modified: 02 Sep 2011 18:24
In the wake of the atrocities in Norway perpetrated by Anders Behring Breivik, it is still unclear whether he was part of a wider conspiracy, but alarm bells are now ringing across Europe about the threat from far-right extremist groups. With no end in sight to the economic crisis afflicting many nations, the growing fear is that voters are increasingly attracted to far-right parties, many of whom have been building support by opposing immigration and stirring up hatred of Muslims.
In Norway, the right-wing Progress party garnered 23 per cent of the vote in the last election, making it the second-largest. And a recent poll found that half of all Norwegians favour restricting immigration. This did not go far enough for Breivik, who believed that the forced deportation of Muslims should be government policy, a radical political view he formed over time by participating in extreme online forums where he discussed his beliefs with like-minded individuals across the world.
The 32-year-old Norwegian made his thoughts clear in a 1,500 page document he wrote before embarking on his killing spree. Shortly before he detonated his bomb in Oslo and then killed 68 people on Utoeya, Breivik emailed his document to 1,003 of his far-right contacts, including extremists in England whom Breivik boasted to have forged links with in recent years in his opposition to Islam.
He particularly admired the English Defence League for its anti-Islam stance, and - according to the respected anti-fascist magazine, Searchlight - posted a message on its website in March this year. Using the pseudonym Sigurd Jorsalfare after a Norwegian king who led a Crusade in the 12th century, Breivik wrote: "Hello. To you all good English men and women, just wanted to say that you're a blessing to all in Europe, in these dark times all of Europe are looking to you in such [sic] of inspiration, courage and even hope that we might turn this evil trend with islamisation all across our continent."
Searchlight said that Breivik had been in contact with both the EDL and its Norwegian counterpart, the Norwegian Defence League (NDL), a claim denied by the EDL whose leadership condemned Breivik's crimes.
The EDL has always insisted it is a peaceful protest group which opposes militant Islam, but since its inception in 2009, violence has erupted at many EDL demonstrations in Britain.
Stephen Lennon, who was convicted last week (Monday) of leading a street brawl involving 100 soccer fans in the English city of Luton in August 2010, is one of the founders of the EDL and during an interview with Al Jazeera in 2009, he explained why the group formed in Luton, the city where he lives: "For more than a decade now, there's been tension in Luton between Muslim youths and whites. We all get on fine - black, white, Indian, Chinese - everyone does, in fact, apart from some Muslim youths who've become extremely radicalised since the first Gulf War. Preachers of hate such as Anjem Choudary have been recruiting for radical Islamist groups in Luton for years. Our government does nothing, so we decided we'd start protesting against radical Islam, and it grew from there," he said.
While the EDL has been largely unsuccessful in gaining public support - mainly due to the fact that its core consists of football hooligans - there is concern that the group could be inspiring other unstable individuals who oppose Islam. The EDL has been pro-active in building links across the world and claims to have support from - aside from people in Norway - Holland, France, Sweden, USA and Israel, among others.
Indeed, the EDL embraced the Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders, whom Breivik also cited in his writings. Wilders is virulently anti-Islam and leads the Party for Freedom, Holland's third-largest party. He is a controversial figure who antagonised the Muslim world by calling for a ban on the Quran, which he likened to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. Despite this, Wilders was voted politician of the year in 2007 by the Dutch press, and his Freedom Party went from winning nine seats in the 2006 election to 24 in 2010, taking a larger share of the vote than the Christian Democrats.
Austria has a Freedom Party (FPO) too, with a similar political outlook. The party is led by Heinz-Christian Strache, who has been successful in drumming up support by opposing Islam and immigration.
In 2008, the FPO and Alliance for the Future (BZO) jointly secured almost one-third of the electorate's vote during the 2008 election. Campaigning against the "Islamisation" of Austria, the two parties secured 29 per cent in a result viewed as a horrifying development by many people across Europe. Both parties ran highly xenophobic campaigns, particularly the FPO, which pledged to set up a ministry to deport foreigners and whose leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, mocked homosexuals and described women in Islamic dress as "female ninjas". The FPO also wishes to revoke the Verbotsgesetz, an Austrian law enacted in 1947 that bans the promotion of neo-Nazi ideology.
Strache has been at the centre of controversy, and pictures surfaced in 2008 showing the FPO leader wearing army fatigues and clutching what appeared to be a gun in a forest. The images were allegedly taken at a neo-Nazi training camp in his youth, but Strache denied this and said they were from a day out paint-balling. He was also photographed apparently giving a three-fingered neo-Nazi salute in a bar, though he said he was only ordering three beers.
The FPO has tried to distance itself from extremism, but the party was founded by two former SS officers, Anton Reinthaller and Herbert Schweiger. In 2008, I interviewed Schweiger - who died this past July - at his home in Austria a few weeks before he was due to appear in court on charges, for the fifth time, of promoting neo-Nazi ideology.
Described to me as the "Puppet Master" of Austria and Germany's far right, Schweiger, 85, was remarkably sharp-minded and remained proud of his Nazi views. He was a lieutenant in the Waffen SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, an elite unit formed in the 1930s to act as the Führer's personal bodyguards. After escaping a POW camp during WWII, Schweiger returned to his homeland, Austria, where he lived openly from 1947 and became heavily involved in politics.
He was a founding member of three political parties in Austria - the VDU, the FPO, and the banned NDP. During our interview he also admitted to involvement in terrorism and training a far-right cell comprising of Burschenschaften (right-wing brotherhoods founded in universities) who were fighting for the reunification of Austria and South Tyrol, now part of Italy, in 1961.
"I was an explosives expert in the SS so I trained the Burschenschaften how to make bombs. We used the hotel my wife and I owned as a training camp," he said. Thirty people in Italy were murdered during a bombing campaign. One man convicted for the atrocities, Norbert Burger, later formed the now-banned neo-Nazi NDP party with Schweiger. Schweiger's involvement earned him his first spell in custody in 1962, but he was acquitted.
Schweiger gave support to the FPO, saying that Strache was correct with his strategy in opposing Islam and immigration. Schweiger said that despite his age, he still travelled widely both in Austria and Germany to teach "the fundamentals of Nazism" to underground cells of neo-Nazis whom, he claimed, had infiltrated mainstream political parties such as the FPO.
The FPO disputed this, but according to Vienna's Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DOW) - which monitors neo-Nazi activity - the party has strong links to neo-Nazis through the Burschenschaften, many of whom are members of Strache's party.
The Burschenschaften were banned by the Allies after WWII, but reformed in the 1950s. In 1987, Olympia, one of the most extreme fraternities, nominated Rudolf Hess for the Nobel Peace Prize. Senior members of the FPO are Burschenschaften, including Strache and Martin Graf, who was elected deputy president of the Austrian Parliament after the election, despite vociferous opposition from concentration camp survivors. The FPO's Andreas Molzer is also Burschenschaften and has met with the British National Party in London. Graf, Strache and Molzer all strongly denied having links to extremists and the FPO said that it only wishes to revoke the Verbotsgesetz because it believes in upholding freedom of expression.
Wolfgang Purtscheller, a revered author and journalist who has spent his career exposing Austria's far right at great risk to his life, said that neo-Nazis have learned by the mistakes of their past, and are now working to build public support within the mainstream parties:
"You had people like Schweiger - the puppet master in the mountains for half a century - able to form political parties while teaching people to make bombs, and the Burschenshaften with its history of terrorism and links to the mainstream parties. These are the intellectuals who hold the positions of power in Austrian society, in the police, the judiciary and in parliament. The neo-Nazis have learned by the mistakes of their past and are now working to build public support within the mainstream parties. Imagine what could happen if the FPO gets rid of the Verbotsgesetz."
The FPO continues to do well, and last October the party's vote surged when it took 27 per cent of the vote in Vienna's provincial election. Later that month, the FPO hosted a two-day conference attended by far-right factions from across Europe, including representatives of the Sweden Democrats, Italy's Lega Nord and the Danish People's Party. Strache has succeeded in making the FPO "respectable", and last week he sacked a party official who responded to the Norwegian murders by declaring that the real danger was Islam, not Breivik.
Russia is another nation experiencing an upsurge in racism and anti-Islamic sentiments. A number of neo-Nazi groups have sprung up in recent years, the most extreme of which have attacked and killed foreigners and immigrants from Chechnya, Tajikstan, and Caucasian nations that were once part of the USSR.
This past July, Amnesty International reported that racially-motivated violence remained a serious problem in Russia. The AI report said that, according to data from the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis, 37 people died as a result of hate crimes during 2010. The authors wrote:
"In April, Moscow judge Eduard Chuvashov was killed, reportedly by members of a far-right group, after he had sentenced several perpetrators of hate crimes to long-term imprisonment. In October, 22-year-old Vasilii Krivets was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of 15 people of non-Slavic appearance. The extent of the problem was brought into sharp focus shortly before the AI report was published when five members of one of Russia's most vicious neo-Nazi gangs were jailed for committing 27 murders. They belonged to the Nationalist Socialist Society North and were handed life sentences at Moscow City Court. The string of killings included the videotaped decapitation of one of their own gang members."
During the trial, the court heard how the gang targeted dark-skinned victims. They were also convicted of decapitating one of their own whom they suspected of being a police informant and stealing money from the gang's funds. The decapitation, during which they donned clown masks and sang a patriotic song, was videotaped and posted online. Following the case, a group of nationalists announced a coalition with Russia's third-largest political party, the Liberal Democrat Party, which is committed to protecting Russian people and their interests.
Breivik, who murdered 76 people, said he was committed to protecting Europe from Islam. He claimed that two cells from a network he was involved with were still active. It remains to be seen if the 32-year-old was a lone wolf, but it would appear that the far right is on the march.
Billy Briggs is a freelance journalist. His work has appeared in the New Statesman, The Guardian, the Sunday Times and other publications around the world.
Islamophobia, Zionism and the Norway massacre
Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman condemned Breivik's ideology, but he is still an enabler of Islamophobia.
Ali Abunimah Last Modified: 02 Aug 2011 12:50
In a Washington Post op-ed last week, Abraham Foxman, the National Director of the Anti Defamation League, likened the hateful ideology that inspired Anders Behring Breivik to massacre 77 innocent people in Norway to the "deadly" anti-Semitism that infected Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries.
This is a parallel that I, and many others who have been observing with alarm the rise of anti-Muslim incitement in the US and Europe, have made frequently.
Does this mean that Foxman - head of one of the most hardline and influential pro-Israel lobby groups - has found common ground with the Palestine solidarity movement?
That would be a good thing if it helped to fight the growing scourge of racist incitement. But by criticising the ideology that inspired Breivik, and pointing the finger at a few of its purveyors, Foxman appears to be trying to obscure the key role that he and some other pro-Israel advocates have played in mainstreaming the poisonous Islamophobic rhetoric that has now - Foxman himself argues - led to bloodshed in Norway.
Pointing the finger
Foxman describes, in his Washington Post article, "a relatively new, specifically anti-Islamic ideology" which Breivik used to justify his attack. "Growing numbers of people in Europe and the United States subscribe to this belief system", Foxman writes, "In some instances it borders on hysteria. Adherents of this ideological Islamophobia view Islam as an existential threat to the world, especially to the 'West.'"
"Moreover", Foxman explains, "they believe that leaders and governments in the Western world are consciously or unconsciously collaborating to allow Islam to 'infiltrate' and eventually conquer democratic societies."
Just such irrational beliefs underpin the hysteria about "Creeping Sharia" - the utterly baseless claim that Muslims are engaged in a secret conspiracy to impose Islamic law on the United States. So prevalent has this delusional belief become, that legislative efforts have been mounted in about two dozen American states, and have been passed by three, to outlaw Sharia law.
Foxman points the finger - as others have rightly done - at extreme Islamophobic agitators such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, co-founders of "Stop Islamisation of America" - whose hate-filled writings Breivik cited in his manifesto.
So far, Foxman has it right. But then he drops a clue about what really frightens him:
"One bizarre twist to Breivik's warped worldview was his pro-Zionism - his strongly expressed support for the state of Israel. It is a reminder that we must always be wary of those whose love for the Jewish people is born out of hatred of Muslims or Arabs."
Who does Foxman think he is kidding? There is nothing "bizarre" about this at all. Indeed Foxman himself has done much to bestow credibility on extremists who have helped popularise the Islamophobic views he now condemns. And he did it all to shore up support for Israel.
After Norway, Foxman may fear that the Islamophobic genie he helped unleash is out of control, and is a dangerous liability for him and for Israel.
Zionists embrace Islamophobia after 9/11
Many American Zionists embraced Islamophobic demagoguery after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Their logic was encapsulated in then-Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu's notorious assessment that the attacks - which killed almost 3,000 people - would be beneficial for Israel.
Asked what the 9/11 atrocities would mean for US-Israeli relations, Netanyahu told The New York Times, "It's very good", before quickly adding, "Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy" and would "strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we've experienced terror over so many decades, but the United States has now experienced a massive hemorrhaging of terror".
In order for Israel and the United States to have the same enemy, the enemy could not just be the Palestinians, who never threatened the United States in any way. It had to be something bigger and even more menacing - and Islam fit the bill. The hyped-up narrative of an all-encompassing Islamic threat allowed Israel to be presented as the bastion of "western" and "Judeo-Christian" civilisation facing down encroaching Muslim barbarity. No audience was more receptive than politically influential, white, right-wing Christian evangelical pastors and their flocks.
Sermons of hate
"Since the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon, on September the 11th, American politicians have tripped over themselves to state that the vast majority of Muslims living in the United States are just ordinary people who love America and are loyal to America. Is that true? Is that really true?"
That is the question Pastor John Hagee, leader of an evangelical megachurch and founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), posed to his followers whom, he said, were becoming more concerned as "mosques appear across the nation".
In a series of sermons soon after the 9/11 attacks which he titled "Allah and America," Hagee began a relentless campaign of inciting his followers to fear and hate Muslims and Islam (videos of Hagee's sermons can be found on YouTube.
Hagee has emerged over the past decade as one of the most prominent Christian Zionist supporters of Israel. His sermons are broadcast on dozens of TV channels and he influences millions of Americans.
As his "Allah and America" sermons progressed, Hagee's answers became clear: "In the Qur'an, those who do not submit to Islam should be killed. That means death to Christians and death to Jews. Now I ask you, is that tolerant? Is that peaceful? Is that a sister faith to Christianity?"
After reading and distorting "selected verses from the Qur'an, which is the Islamic bible, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, to increase our understanding of the basis of their faith," Hagee claimed, "the Qur'an insists that no matter how mighty a nation is, it must be fought until it embraces Islam."
And, apparently knowing that his congregation may hate and fear only taxes as much as Muslims, Hagee told them that the Qur'an's message to Muslims is "when you get into the government, tax Christians and Jews into poverty until they submit willingly to Islam. Sounds like the IRS [Internal Revenue Service], but not faith."
Then he offered this warning: "Politicians who are telling America that Islam and Christianity are sister faiths are lying to the people of this country. There is no relationship of any kind between Islam and Christianity. None whatever."
At every step, Hagee exhorted the faithful that Islam and Muslims were not only a danger to the United States, but specifically to Israel - a country to which they should offer unconditional support.
This sounds a lot like the ideology of generalised fear and loathing of Muslims that Foxman condemned in the Washington Post.
Islamophobic fearmongering, demonisation and dehumanisation, from the likes of Hagee, and bellowed continuously on cable channels and radio stations across America, enabled the US government to legitimise invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and expand wars from Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia. These took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Muslims, under the guise of a "war on terror" - all the while as presidents hosted White House iftars.
What makes Breivik's attack so shocking and new is that he turned the Islamophobic rhetoric against the white citizens of the Euro-American "homeland", those whom the officially-sanctioned military slaughter of Muslims abroad was ostensibly meant to protect.
Foxman welcomes Hagee in from the fringes
While Hagee offered his zealous support to Israel (he founded CUFI in 2006), not all of Israel's supporters returned the love. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, warned in 2007 that the pro-Israel Jewish community's embrace of far-right ideologues would drive away young, socially-liberal Jews from supporting Israel. He feared it could endanger the bipartisan support Israel always enjoyed in the United States by identifying it with what Yoffie saw as extremist elements.
Yoffie focused his criticism on Hagee, "who is contemptuous of Muslims, dismissive of gays, possesses a truimphalist theology and opposes a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict." He worried about the warm reception Hagee was receiving at conferences of Jewish Federations all over America.
One influential figure who didn't share Yoffie's fears about Hagee was Foxman, who told a reporter from the Religion News Service in March 2008, "I don't have to agree with anybody 100 per cent in order to welcome their support, as long as their support is not conditioned on my agreeing with them on everything or accepting them 100 per cent."
When it came to light during the 2008 US presidential campaign that Hagee had said in a 1999 sermon that Hitler had been sent by God to drive the Jews to Israel, Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain repudiated Hagee's endorsement. But Foxman was quick to offer Hagee absolution, issuing a statement accepting the pastor's "apology".
Foxman's embrace of Hagee does not even mark the lowest point of his dalliance with Islamophobic extremists. Recall last summer - in the run up to the US midterm elections - the hate campaign targeting a proposal for an Islamic community centre planned for lower Manhattan in New York City.
Dubbed the "Ground Zero Mosque" by its critics, it became a cause celebre for the Republican Party - and some gutless Democrats - who claimed that building the institution close to the former site of the World Trade Centre would be an insult to the memory of victims.
The hate campaign was notable for unprecedented anti-Muslim rhetoric that exceeded anything heard in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 attacks. While New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg earned plaudits for defending the right of American Muslims to build the Islamic centre where they wanted, Foxman and his Anti-Defamation League caused consternation when they backed the bigots and came out against the project.
And who was it who helped take a little-noticed plan for a community centre and turn it into "a national political spectacle?" None other than Pam Geller and Robert Spencer - as the Washington Post reported at the time- the same Islamophobic extremists whom Foxman now blames for fueling the kind of hatred that inspired Breivik to kill.
Rescuing Zionism from Islamophobia
Foxman's claim that Breivik's support for Israel is "bizarre" is a brazen attempt to deflect attention from the alliance that Foxman and leading Israeli politicians have made with the most racist Islamophobes - ones Foxman accurately likens to anti-Semites.
To be clear, Israel and Zionism have always been racist toward Palestinians and other non-Jews, otherwise how else could they justify the expulsion and exclusion of millions of Palestinians solely on the grounds that they are not Jews? It is the virulent, specifically anti-Muslim trend that has been particularly pronounced since 2001.
But the rot has already gone too far. As a recent article in Der Spiegel underscores, Europe's far-right anti-Muslim demagogues have found many allies and admirers in Israel, particularly within the upper echelons of the ruling Likud and Yisrael Beitenu parties.
And the feeling is mutual: European ultra-nationalists, such as Dutch Islamophobe Geert Wilders, have put support for Israel's right-wing government at the centre of their politics.
Islamophobia welcome in Israel
While the world was united in horror at Breivik's massacre, several commentators in Israel's mainstream media were much more understanding of his motives, if not for his actions. An oped on Ynet, the website of Israel's mass circulation Yediot Aharonot, stated that "the youth movement of the ruling Labour Party" - of which many of the youths murdered on Utoya island were members - "is an organisation of anti-Israeli hate mongers".
An editorial in The Jerusalem Post offered sympathy for Breivik's anti-Muslim ideology and called on Norway to act on the concerns expressed in his manifesto, while an op-ed published by the same papersaid that the youth camp Breivik attacked had been engaged in "a pro-terrorist program".
Meanwhile, an article in the American Jewish newspaper The Forward noted that on many mainstream internet forums, Israelis expressed satisfaction with Breivik's massacre and thought that Norway got what it deserved.
Clear warning signs
Foxman cannot claim he didn't see any of this coming. Back in 2003, I interviewed him for an article about the inclusion of Yisrael Beitenu and other parties in Israel's governing coalition, parties that openly advocated the expulsion of Palestinians. Foxman's attitude was as indulgent toward those racists and would-be ethnic cleansers as he was to Hagee's hate-mongering a few years later, and it is those same Israeli parties that have forged the closest ties with European and American anti-Muslim extremists.
The continued lurch towards extremism in Israel, and among many of its supporters, underscores the truth that anyone who wants to dissociate from ultranationalism, racism and Islamophobia, also has to repudiate Israel's state ideology, Zionism. Universal rights and equality for all human beings are concepts that are anathema to both.
With his panicked and belated jump onto the anti-Islamophobia bandwagon, Foxman hopes we won't notice, and that organisations like his can continue defending Israel's racism free from the stain of the deadly anti-Muslim extremism they have done so much to promote.
Ali Abunimah is author of "One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse", and is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada.
Hooligans attack Islamic center in north Serbia
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: Aug 1, 2011 14:30 Updated: Aug 1, 2011 14:30
BELGRADE, Serbia: Police say assailants have smashed an Islamic center’s windows in a city in northern Serbia.
Police say five attackers used wooden poles to smash the entrance door and another window on the center in Novi Sad early Monday.
Local Muslim religious leader Mirza Murati says the attack was an “act of vandalism and attack on all Muslims.”
He says “we thought this was behind us, but Muslims still feel insecure.”
Police say a search for the attackers is under way.
Serbia has seen a rise in far-right extremism since the ethnic wars of the 1990s’. Extremists have attacked foreigners, ethnic minorities and gays.
Norway: Muslims and metaphors
After the Norway attacks, as after many others, Muslims were the first to be blamed.
Hamid Dabashi Last Modified: 31 Jul 2011 12:59
Norway: Muslims and metaphors, part two
The dichotomy between Islam and the West is fictitious, yet it is accepted by both the Left and the Right as real.
Hamid Dabashi Last Modified: 03 Aug 2011 11:30
'Clash' thinking has consequences
BY DAVID H. SCHANZER
DURHAM -- For years, a group of American authors, bloggers, pundits and activists have mischaracterized our conflict with al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations as part of a broader "clash of civilizations" between Muslims and Western society.
This clash, they claim, is not just about preventing terrorist attacks, but about stopping a global Islamic movement that threatens the very foundations of Judeo-Christian society.
The consequences of this way of thinking have come to roost in the Norwegian tragedy. The accused killer, Anders Behring Breivik, endorsed their world view. Indeed, the footprints of their thinking are all over his manifesto.
Islamophobes distance themselves from Breivik
As the media discovers more about the man behind the Norway attacks, connections to outspoken US Islamophobes are found.
Jim Lobe Last Modified: 26 Jul 2011 13:51
Norway attacks: Terror from the right
The Norway attacks provide a chance for introspection for those who bash Muslims.
July 26, 2011
Fox Doesn't Even Know Who They're Using To Smear Muslims
July 25, 2011 1:12 pm ET by Matt Gertz
Petition Calls Op-Ed by Harvard Summer School Instructor Offensive to Muslims
Article advocated for steps such as disenfranchising non-Hindus as a means of combatting terrorism, provoking outrage and calls for his ouster
By LEANNA B. EHRLICH, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER
Published: Wednesday, July 27, 2011
A group of Harvard students have started a petition calling on the University to sever ties with Subramanian Swamy, a Harvard Summer School economics instructor who wrote an op-ed against Islamic terrorism that many have called offensive and inflammatory.
In an article published July 16 in the Indian newspaper Daily News and Analysis, Swamy recommended demolishing hundreds of mosques, disenfranchising non-Hindus who do not acknowledge their alleged Hindu ancestry, and banning conversion from Hinduism.
The op-ed came in response to a series of bombings in Mumbai that killed 23 on July 13.
“The first lesson to be learnt from the recent history of Islamic terrorism against India and for tackling terrorism in India is that the Hindu is the target and that Muslims of India are being programmed by a slow reactive process to become radical and thus slide into suicide against Hindus,” Swamy wrote.
His op-ed spurred over 200 people to sign a petition condemning Swamy and calling on Harvard to end its relationship with him.
“These are statements you’d expect a demagogue on the extreme right to say,” Umang Kumar, a student at Harvard Divinity School, said, “but a professor who comes here, who got his Ph.D. from Harvard?”
Kumar and Sanjay J. Pinto, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology and social policy, organized the petition with a small group of peers and then emailed it out to an initial group of 80 students.
“Both of us decided we really needed to take action,” Pinto said. “His comments are wrong on many levels. They put forth a vision of Indian society in which not all religious groups are welcome, which is very different from the India that both of us know.”
In an interview with The Crimson, Swamy said that he is a religiously tolerant person.
“I can’t condemn all Muslims. I’m not against them,” Swamy said. “I never said Muslims as a whole are terrorists.”
However, the petition accuses Swamy of using the July 13 bombings to write a piece that is inflammatory towards Muslims.
“Swamy has exploited this event not only to promote a vision of Indian society based on Hindu supremacy, but to disparage and cast suspicion on the entire Muslim community in India,” the petition states.
At the Summer School, Swamy teaches Economics S-110: “Quantitative Methods in Economics and Business” and Economics S-1316: “Economic Development in India and East Asia.”
In a statement sent by a spokesperson, Donald H. Pfister, the dean of Harvard Summer School, said that the school will examine the issue.
“At this point we have only a basic awareness of the situation and have not been contacted by the organizations involved," Pfister said. "Professor Swamy is a long-time member of the Harvard Summer School faculty who previously was a member of the Department of Economics here. We will give this matter our serious attention."
Pinto and Kumar plan to deliver their petition to the Harvard administration early next week.
“Swamy draws a lot of prestige and legitimacy from his position at Harvard,” Pinto said. “If the Hindu right were to come into power in India, he could very well be someone who takes up a position in government, so I think it’s important for members of this community to play a part in discrediting him and saying, ‘No, he does not represent us.’”
In India, Swamy leads the Janata party, a political party that held the majority of India’s Parliament decades ago but has since fragmented. At Harvard, he earned his Ph.D. in economics in 1965 and has served as an assistant and associate professor.
Swamy said that the Indian response to his op-ed has been positive.
“I don’t think anyone in India, except the left wing, has been upset by my article,” he said. “There has been wholesale support.”
But the backers of the petition were hardly supportive of the piece.
“Not allowing Hindus to convert to any other religion, not allowing other groups to vote unless they proudly declare their Hindu ancestry—it’s honestly kind of absurd,” Pinto said.
Kumar and Pinto both said that while freedom of speech is an integral part of a thriving academic community like Harvard, Swamy’s comments crossed a line.
“They stereotype an entire population of people,” Pinto said. “How can this man who expresses these views, who’s basically saying that India should only be for Hindus and not for other people, and denigrating all Muslims, how can he teach students at Harvard?”
—Staff writer Leanna B. Ehrlich can be reached at lehrlich@....
Swamy Op-Ed Stokes Furor at Harvard
JULY 27, 2011, 5:58 PM IST
By Paul Beckett
The idea of a clash of civilizations – a phrase typically used to denote what some see as a winner-takes-all battle between “western values” and fundamentalist Islam – is now a topic of debate here and in the U.S. thanks to an extraordinary op-ed by political gadfly and Harvard Summer School teacher Subramanian Swamy.
His controversial piece, published in DNA, a Mumbai newspaper, July 16, followed the most recent deadly bombings in Mumbai. Police have no suspects but are focusing their attention on an Indian Islamist group called Indian Mujahideen.
Mr. Swamy, however, doesn’t note that, so far, there is no one to blame or any apprehended suspects. His column includes such inflammatory statements as “Muslims of India are being programmed by a slow reactive process to become radical and thus slide into suicide against Hindus.” He suggests that only Muslims in India who “acknowledge that their ancestors were Hindus” should be allowed to vote. We might pause here to note that India, under its Constitution, is established as a pluralistic society.
Mr. Swamy, in a telephone interview from Harvard, said that he didn’t have a process in mind whereby Muslims could profess to their Hindu ancestry but he wanted to know that, if asked, they would say “yes.”
For good measure, he accuses Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress party, of being “semi-literate.” When asked to define semi-literate, he said it was somebody who “can just read and write.” That would appear to define literacy, but he termed her semi-literate because to be fully literate she “would have read some books, read some philosophy, have a world view.”
He also suggests in the op-ed that the Kashmir Valley be settled with ex-servicemen to demonstrate a sort of civilian shock-and-awe campaign that would establish it as Hindu and Indian once and for all.
Oh yes, he also wants to make it illegal to convert from Hinduism. If that sounds unconstitutional, he clarified in the interview that this would only apply to induced conversion.
In the piece, he also brings in the Jews, noting: “If the Jews could be transformed from lambs walking meekly to the gas chambers to fiery lions in just 10 years,” then India can solve its “terrorist problem” in five years.
When asked if that might be offensive to Jews, he said in the interview that he is a “great supporter of Israel.” He also noted that his brother-in-law is Jewish, his son-in-law Muslim, his sister-in-law Christian and his wife Parsi.
Mr. Swamy’s views have stoked several protests, including a petition circulating at Harvard seeking that the storied university repudiate his remarks and terminate Mr. Swamy’s employment as a summer Economics teacher. The petition accuses him of being a “bigoted promoter of communalism in India.”
It adds: “The highly insulting and stereotypical nature of his comments suggest that he cannot be trusted to regard Muslims — and no doubt other groups–with anything but a jaundiced eye.”
The Harvard Crimson, the university’s newspaper, said in an article dated today that 200 signatories had signed the petition. The article said that the dean of Harvard Summer School will examine the issue.
“Professor Swamy is a long-time member of the Harvard Summer School faculty who previously was a member of the Department of Economics here,” a spokesman for the Dean was quoted as saying. “We will give this matter our serious attention.”
When asked if he planned to continue teaching at Harvard, Mr. Swamy said: “Let others decide and tell me.” In the interview. he characterized his critics and those who signed the petition as “Communists; they are all pro-Soviet.”
Islamophobia is a challenge
“We must learn the lessons of history.” Defying Conservative Party leadership, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi gave a speech on the extent of Islamophobia in Britain. “You could even say that Islamophobia has now passed the dinner-table test,” she said.
Speaking in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman, Baroness Warsi defended her speech, saying: “I think that Islamophobia is a challenge; a challenge, which I felt, needed to be raised. And I raised it in a fairly wide-ranging speech.”
The daughter of Pakistani immigrants, Baroness Warsi entered the political scene in 2007 with a storm and became the first Muslim woman to serve as a British government cabinet minister. She is also co-chair (Warsi is keen on avoiding use of the term “chairman”) of the Conservative Party.
While it is true that Warsi’s strong conservative views do not strike a cord with everyone, she has broken some of the barriers that face Muslim women entering British politics. “It was a real novelty for a Muslim woman to be in politics,” she said.
Warsi stressed that for British society to progress and mature, a resurgence of faith, inter-faith dialogue and the building of community links are imperative. She believes that David Cameron’s much criticized “Big Society” program is already in action. She stated, “People from my own Conservative headquarters were out yesterday in Clapham helping clean up, so what you saw was a small part of the community causing havoc and a larger part of communities coming together and saying ‘this is unacceptable.’”
Commenting on the recent UK riots, Warsi said those “odd, slightly left voices like Ken Livingstone -- who has, let’s not forget, his own political campaign to run for London mayor” do not represent the voice of mainstream politics, which condemned the riots and looting.
Warsi also spoke to Sunday’s Zaman about her own experience of politics.
I asked Baroness Warsi about her life in politics so far.
“I’ve always been involved in politics, right from my college days. I was the vice president of the Students’ Union. And as far as in terms of front-line politics, my career has not been as long. I stood as the candidate in Dewsbury in 2005. But I suppose throughout my life, political issues have always interested me and I spent a lot of my life volunteering. Whilst I was working as a solicitor I spent some time with the local Registration Council and I volunteered at the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. I spent years mentoring younger people into careers, so politics loosely has always been a part of my life. But in terms of front-line party politics, it’s probably been much more recent.”
What is the importance of being a visible Muslim in the public eye?
“Well, it’s true [about being a visible Muslim] and [is] important for Muslims in all aspects of public life and professional life, whether that’s doctors, lawyers, accountants, and civil servants. The thing in politics is that you become much more visible because of being Muslim. And I think at a time when there is so much derision about faith, and particularly Islam, it is important to have people who are going about their ordinary lives but who happen to be Muslim. I think it takes away the lazy stereotyping, which is used by some communities.”
What about the challenges you face as a Muslim woman in politics?
“The challenges you face for going in to politics as a woman is the same for women from whatever background you come from. Predominantly, I think it is harder for women to go in to politics; women find the culture around politics much more difficult. I think more and more women coming in to politics will change that culture and that ethos. I think the Conservative Party has made true strides from moving from having nineteen female MPs to having 49 today. I think having Muslim women elected to Parliament, as well as appointed to Parliament, in the House of Lords, will help increase [bring] others because women will then look at those women and think, ‘that’s a career that I want’. Whereas in the past, if I look back at maybe six or seven years ago after I stood for election in Dewsbury, it was a real novelty for a Muslim woman to be involved in politics. Now, it’s less of a novelty, and the less of a novelty it becomes the more likely younger
women are to take part.”
Recently, Baroness Warsi visited Bosnia on the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. “Srebrenica is a name that now resonates around the world as a lesson in the consequences of unchecked evil,” she said in a speech. At the start of this year, she defied the Conservative Party to make a speech about the extent of Islamophobia in Britain. In her speech, she claimed that racism towards Muslims had become “socially acceptable” and had “passed the dinner-table test.”
Commenting on this event, she remarked, “We must learn the lessons of history. I think that Islamophobia is a challenge; a challenge which I felt needed to be raised. I raised it in a fairly wide-ranging speech.”
What do you think about the debate surrounding the burqa, especially regarding its being banned in several European countries?
“You see, I have a very clear view in relation to what women can and cannot wear. Ultimately, I think it is a choice for women. Women can choose to wear what they want. That is the society that we live in, and if that offends -- whether they think women don’t wear enough clothes or they think women are far too covered up -- then that’s really not a matter for other people to make judgments about. And it’s not for governments to intervene and legislate on. What the most important thing is, are these women making the right choice? I think we can get too hung up about what people choose to wear.”
Baroness Warsi commented on the recent UK riots during the course of our discussion.
Much of what Baroness Warsi does is based on working to build stronger relationships within communities. When we spoke with her she was on her way to Birmingham, where three men had been killed in a hit-and-run incident while trying to protect a gas station from looters. When discussing the rioters, the Tory’s “tough on law and order” line can be seen in her views, but so too can her belief in strong communities and the roles individuals must play in them. Warsi continued:
“If you listen to what many of the council leaders have been saying, many of the people who are engaging in the acts were not connected to youth clubs in the first place. Many of them had criminal records in the past. This is not a protest and at no point have I heard any young people saying, ‘I’m here because my local youth center may or may not be cut because of its funding.’ To look for a justification of this criminality, burglary and looting, I think it is in the interests of the politically opportunistic.
“The leader[s] of the Labour Party and Lib Dems have come out and made it very clear that this is a case of criminality. In terms of mainstream politics and politicians, they’re absolutely united on this. Now you maybe hear the odd slightly left voices like Ken Livingstone who has -- let’s not forget -- his own political campaign to run for London mayor. But if you listen to Dianne Abbott or David Lammy and people from all sides of the political spectrum, it is very, very clear: this is criminality.”
What is your position on immigration, especially given that your parents are immigrants themselves?
“My position on immigration is that any country at any time needs to divide how many people it needs from outside its own country to resource what our needs are in Britain [its own needs are]. At the time fifty years ago when my father came to the country from Pakistan, the mills in the northern towns needed workers. He came here to fill that need and also to make a better life for himself. But I think that we have to judge carefully. When we have people who are unemployed -- and actually what you’ll find is that predominantly those people who find it most difficult to get jobs are actually second and third generation [descendants of] immigrants -- you have to make the decision to work for the people in this country [first].
“If there is one job and there is a young British Turkish person and [a] person in Turkey who both want that job, then I’m going to think about the British Turkish person because he is British. Or if there was a British Pakistani and a person in Pakistan going for the same job, then again I’m going to choose the British Pakistani. However, we are always committed to ensuring that we have the best people from around the world whether they’re scientists and pioneers or skilled workers here in Britain to make this country a great place to live in.”
Here is probably the most anticipated question for a Turkey-based newspaper: should Turkey join the EU?
“I would be delighted for Turkey to join the EU. Britain is Turkey’s main supporter for joining the EU and we continue that support for them. We look forward to working with Turkey in the future as an EU member.”
Warsi also expressed wishes to work more closely with the Turkish community in Britain and said she looks forward to establishing these new links.
Europe’s racists sail new waters
By Simon Kuper
September 2, 2011 10:50 pm
The Marais neighbourhood of Paris has experience of anti-Semitic rants. The Marais was very Jewish until 1942. Today there are plaques everywhere – in our local park, on our local school – commemorating murdered children.
Fashion designer John Galliano was arrested here in February after an alleged anti-Semitic rant in local bar La Perle. Galliano says he has “no recollection”. On September 8, a Parisian court delivers its verdict. Christian Dior has already sacked him. This is a familiar ritual. A famous person – Lars von Trier, Charlie Sheen, Silvio Berlusconi – makes anti-Semitic comments, and the world sits up. That’s because these remarks, especially when made in Europe, occur before a certain backdrop: those plaques on schools. The question is whether incidents such as Galliano’s reveal a disquieting reality. How strong is anti-Semitism in Europe now?
Polls suggest it is still powerful. This year, the German political foundation the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung surveyed intolerance among 8,000 Europeans in eight countries. Some highlights: 69 per cent of Hungarians agreed that “Jews have too much influence” in Hungary; most Portuguese and about a quarter of French, Germans and Britons said that “Jews in general do not care about anything or anyone but their own kind”; and 72 per cent of Poles and nearly half of Germans believed that “Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era.”
Two years ago the US’s Anti-Defamation League found that 31 per cent of European respondents blamed Jews for the global economic crisis. (Pollsters had interviewed 3,500 Europeans in seven countries.) In the same survey, 74 per cent of Spanish respondents said: “Jews have too much power in international financial markets”, and most Austrians said Jews still talked too much about the Holocaust. Reading this stuff, you wonder what you’d find if you monitored topical conversations in European bars beyond La Perle.
But anti-Semitism comes in strong and weak forms, and in Europe now it is mostly weak. Erik Bleich, political scientist at Middlebury College in Vermont, author of The Freedom to Be Racist?, says few Europeans today think about Jews much. Consequently, he explains, if you ask people about Jews, “you are likely to get answers that reveal more anti-Semitism than these people actually feel on most days”.
Bleich adds: “There are people who hold anti-Semitic views, but they generally don’t hold them intensely. They don’t fear that Jews are going to threaten their livelihood or culture or any of the things that people truly worry about.” Not even many anti-Semites today want Hitler back.
Bleich proposes other gauges for measuring anti-Semitism. For instance, can European politicians make anti-Semitic comments without suffering consequences (no), are there large anti-Semitic parties in Europe (none any more), do states have laws against anti-Semitism (yes), and can Jews in western Europe live integrated lives and hold high public office (yes). Also, every European country recognises the state of Israel. Pushing for a “two-state solution” in Israel, as Europeans do, hardly seems genocidal. These gauges suggest quite weak anti-Semitism.
For most European racists today, anti-Semitism is a habit rather like nose-picking: something best not done in public. In their hearts, these people dislike Jews, but as a rabbi friend of mine says, “Who cares what’s in their hearts? As long as they don’t act on it.”
Europe’s far-right parties provide further evidence of today’s weak anti-Semitism. They have all but ditched Jew-baiting. Marine Le Pen, new leader of France’s Front National, embraces Jews. The Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders, who once lived on a kibbutz, loves Israel. Last year the Sweden Democrats, Belgian Filip Dewinter and Heinz-Christian Strache, head of Austria’s Freedom party, made a bizarre far-right pilgrimage to Israel’s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem. Strache posed for photographers in an Israel Defense Forces combat jacket. (Some recalled previous pictures of Strache in paramilitary outfits, amid young neo-Nazis circa 1990.) Similarly, the American nativist leader Glenn Beck has been holding rallies in Israel.
In short, even far-rightists are ditching anti-Semitism, which was only tarnishing their brand. Bleich says, “The electorate is not really susceptible to the appeal that Jews are the primary threat to European society. In fact, coming out and saying that is generally the way to completely discredit yourself as a political leader.” Instead, far-right parties prefer to talk about their best-selling product: Islamophobia.
Galliano’s rant doesn’t betoken a strong re-emerging anti-Semitism in Europe. Rather, the ritual frenzy that follows anti-Semitic remarks is the way European society affirms its taboo against anti-Semitism. In fact, the very existence of this taboo may inspire people in creative professions to break it. In their jobs, these people get praised for work that’s “shocking” or “transgressive”. They sense that attacking Jews ticks those boxes. When they do it, and get a bad response, other potential miscreants are reminded to try anti-Semitism only in the safety of their own homes. By contrast, Islamophobia is still allowed out in public.