France criticised for denying cleric visa
International Union of Muslim Scholars voice outrage after President Sarkozy said Yusuf al-Qaradawi was not welcome.
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2012 10:16
The International Union of Muslim Scholars has criticised France for denying an influential Doha-based cleric a visa.
Egyptian-born Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, 86, had been invited to visit France next month by the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF).
"We are surprised, and we admonish France for refusing to grant Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi a visa. He is a moderate scholar who contributed to combating extremism in Islamic thoughts," said Sheikh Ali al-Qaradaghi, the union's secretary general.
But he told the AFP news agency that the Doha-based union "respects the sovereignty of states and their decisions as a principle," and expressed "hope that Qaradawi would be able to visit France, the country of civilisation and democracy".
President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Monday that the Qatar-based Sunni Muslim cleric was not welcome in France.
"I told the emir of Qatar himself that this gentleman was not welcome in the territory of the French Republic," Sarkozy told France Info radio.
Qaradawi backed Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and has launched a fund-raising effort for the Syrian opposition.
"I said that a certain number of people, who have been invited to this congress and who maintain or who would like to take positions that are incompatible with the republican ideal, would not be welcome," Sarkozy said.
The cleric is accused of having made anti-Semitic and homophobic statements and was banned from entering Britain in 2008. He has been banned from entering the United States since 1999.
Qaradaghi also said the union condemned the recent shootings in the French city of Toulouse in which three Jewish schoolchildren and a trainee rabbi were killed.
"It is not permissible to kill children, pastors, and priests, even during war time, so what if it was during peace, and in an allied country," he said.
"We consider France an allied country that had a major role in the Arab Spring, especially in Libya. We expect it to play a similarly strong role to liberate Syria," he said.
Adrian Hamilton: France is a deeply racist country, and Toulouse will only make that worse
The French have transferred their resentments from Jews to Arabs
FRIDAY 23 MARCH 2012
Barely had Mohammed Merah leapt from his bathroom widow in Toulouse yesterday, still blasting away with his gun, than politicians and experts were analysing just what it might mean for the President and the other candidates in the coming election.
It's unseemly. It's obscene. It has precious little to do with the facts of the case, the question of religion or the future of society in France. But it is what politics is now about, as much in France as the US.
And, of course, it does matter in electoral terms. Think back only two days when the gunman was thought to be a man of the extreme right, very probably a dismissed soldier, who was as eager to take his revenge on Muslims and blacks as Jews. Then it seemed as if the loser might be Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, and the question was whether Sarkozy could draw some of her support to him or whether the Socialists, under Francois Hollande, would reap the benefit.
Once the assassin was fingered as a Muslim with allegedly al-Qa'ida connections, however, the whole focus changed. Now it is Le Pen, despite the halt to campaigning during this time, who is on the offensive again with a rallying call to "fight this war against these politico-religious fundamentalists who are killing our Christian children, our young Christian men", and Sarkozy, already tacking hard to the right, who is caught trying to catch up.
On the one hand, he needs to be statesmanlike and, as President, above it all; on the other hand, he wants to garner the emotions and the votes of those who want to use this as a good reason for reducing immigration and putting Muslims within France in their place.
There doesn't seem much doubt which way Sarkozy, ever hyperactive, will turn. Even without an election, he has long been fierce in his opposition to immigration and his rejection of multiculturalism. As Interior Minister during the riots of 2005, he dismissed protesters as rabble. As President, he has urged new laws restricting the veil and halal meat.
For all the public statements over the past few days on the need for national unity, France remains a deeply racist country. The threat of Muslim terror has allowed the French to transfer their resentments away from the Jewish population to the Arab one, and to feel the better for it. But the sentiments are exactly the same and made only the worse by rising unemployment and slowing growth.
Mohammed Merah's trail of death will only serve to make such prejudices more publicly acceptable. Even the liberal left in France will find it hard to make him into a martyr for racism. They shouldn't be too thrown. Mohammed Merah's name may be no help, but his case is peculiar. It's not the kind of grand attack on society in the manner of the July bombings in London and which al-Qa'ida would normally seek to arouse.
Instead, there remains something very personal about these killings which would belie generalisations. Had the killer survived, the right could have continued to play on the statements and information which would have come out over the coming weeks of campaigning.
As it is, Merah wasn't taken alive, as the police had planned, but died in a peculiarly cinematic and unsatisfactory (for the authorities) way. The questions which will now surface will be as much about police incompetence as his support.
How, given that he was on the radar of the intelligence and security forces, was he not stopped sooner? Why were the police unable to capture him in the end? Why was the knowledge of his time in Afghanistan not joined up with suspicions about him at home? It is right that these questions are asked.
There is far too much talk about grander themes of race relations, ethnic differences and religious motivations, and far too little acceptance of the simple fact that these cases are uncommon, they have always occurred through history and society's best defence remains good policing, not draconian legislation.
Mohammed Merah should have been caught even before his first murder. Whether you blame the failure to do so on Sarkozy as head of government, the police or Muslim extremists will no doubt be the stuff of the election in the coming weeks.
It probably won't make that much difference. It will be economics, as always, not race which will probably determine the outcome. The nearest parallel to events in Toulouse is not the July 7 bombings here in the UK, but Norway.
Anders Behring Breivik, who killed over 90 people in a murderous spree last summer, is a right-wing fanatic from the opposite end of the spectrum to Merah. Yet Norwegian politicians and the media made little of this in the aftermath or even during his arraignment. Instead, they worked to bring the nation together in a solemn moment of mourning.
Sarkozy has the opportunity to do the same in France if he wanted to step back and up to be the voice of the French people in the way that President Clinton managed after the Oklahoma City killings in the US. One can't see him doing it. The temptations of electioneering are just too great.
It can't be said that it would be any different here.
Saudi students complain of racist slur in Poland
By RIYADH: SHARIF M. TAHA, ARAB NEWS STAFF
Published: Mar 19, 2012 00:44 Updated: Mar 20, 2012 19:05
Arab students in Poland, especially those from Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries, say they are being racially harassed by locals.
According to eyewitnesses, racist messages with slogans such as “Go home Arab terrorists” were being posted on the students’ houses in the city of Olisschen, near the Polish-Russian border.
The students have complained to their respective embassies. The Saudi ambassador in Warsaw, Walid bin Tahir Rudwan, is monitoring the situation and expected to meet with the mayor of the city and other officials.
Polish students created a site on Facebook calling for the expulsion of Arab students from the city. The Arab students reportedly tried to engage in a friendly discussion with them, but local media got involved and their editorial content was biased toward the Polish students.
In addition, their stories on the issue ignored developments in the Middle East, religious values in the region and spirit of freedom approved by all communities, including Arabs and Muslims.
Olisschen police have already arrested a 25-year-old pizza delivery man who used to stick racist posters on the doors of Arab students' houses.
Meanwhile, cultural attaches at Arab embassies have called on their students to exercise utmost care and caution and keep away from places where incidents might occur.
Europe's failure to integrate Muslims
Laws restricting Islamic symbols in the public sphere are fuelling political distrust and a shared sense of injustice.
Last Modified: 15 Mar 2012 07:56
Boston, MA - Eight years have passed since France's Assemblee Nationale launched the opening volley of a decade-long effort to reduce Islam's visibility within migrant-origin communities across Europe. In the last few months alone, an anti-burqa law was passed in the Netherlands, a new headscarf bill and restrictions on halal slaughter are under consideration in France, and a German Supreme Court ruling banned Muslim prayer in public schools.
As Muslims and non-Muslims despair about the prospect of long-term Islamic integration in 21st century Europe, disagreement over the urgency and necessity to restrict Islamic symbols in the public sphere - from clothing to architecture and food - is at the origin of a potentially grave misunderstanding.
Religion is not the primary factor of identity for most European Muslims, but the current atmosphere has enhanced a feeling of group stigmatisation and a shared sense of injustice where previously few bonds existed. This has fed a growing confrontation, foreshadowed in two competing narratives of victimisation dividing Muslims from non-Muslims in Europe, which continue to gain strength.
In the first narrative, "native" European populations are told by political parties that many mainstream Muslim religious practices - from headscarves to halal meat - are in fact insidious attempts to impose Islamic rules on non-Muslims and they must be halted. As the Norwegian right-wing terrorist manifesto unoriginally put it, the year is 1683 and the Gates of Vienna are under siege.
Against this narrative is the view, held by many Muslim community leaders, that European governments are uniformly repressive and intolerant of diversity. In that account, it is not 1683 but 1938 all over again. Prohibitions against mainstream religious symbols (minarets and headscarves) as well as less common practices (burqas, polygamy and forced marriages) are a harbinger of worse to come.
In reality, the relevant analogy is not 1683 Vienna or 1938 Berlin, but rather several crucial nation-building moments in between. In what are mundane but arguably critical domains for religious integration - such as mosque construction, the training of imams, chaplains, the availability of halal food and visas for the hajj - Muslim communities and European governments have begun to talk and to act in the Islam councils coming into existence across the continent. Thanks to the public nature of these consultations, Islam is no longer a black box to the general electorate.
This bears repeating in light of recent legislative efforts that adumbrate what Europeans already know well: Formal legal equality is not everything and emancipation is not irreversible. There is the growing danger that the modest accomplishments of religious integration will be undone before Muslims' incorporation has taken place. Europe's Muslims increasingly perceive the sum total of public debate about them as simple religious persecution - an uncanny admixture of the political distrust that drove the Kulturkampf and the religious resentment that fuelled traditional anti-Semitism.
In Germany, headscarf ban on public employees led one newspaper to run the headline "Mit Kopftuch nur als Putzfrau" (If you wear a headscarf, you can only be a cleaning lady), suggesting that the government was trying to keep Muslim women in menial labour positions. After the German high court's decision to ban Muslim prayer in public school, one German Muslim federation said that authorities were "trying to drive the Islamic religion out of all public spaces". The 1930s are also on the mind of Muslims elsewhere in Europe. Last year, a former presidential adviser in France called on fellow Muslims to start wearing a "green star" and when the French parliament considered a new headscarf ban, petitioners against the bill made explicit reference to the Nuremberg laws.
The tide of restrictions shows little sign of receding. Their pursuit is too electorally rewarding - and too politically risky to oppose. This is a path on which many politicians find rewards, but it is on a slippery incline. Few observers contest the danger of Islamic fundamentalism or its deadly consequences. But if the obsession with Islamic symbols formed part of a coherent national security agenda, it would be complemented by trust-building measures in one of the few areas where the state has real power to influence outcomes, for example guaranteeing religious liberty under the rule of law. Instead, a disproportionate focus on cases of extreme piety or excessive religious modesty has produced one self-defeating legislative measure after another.
Take the headscarf and burqa restrictions that have been endorsed to date. Their implementation will impact directly only hundreds or perhaps thousands of families at most, less than one per cent of the many millions in the countries where parliaments passed them. The few women living under the weight of burqas in countries with new prohibitions, furthermore, will now be banished to their apartments. The handful of girls forced to choose between their faith and a public education will rarely encounter their non-Muslim peers in a neutral setting. As for discussions of restricting halal slaughter, this will affect little other than the ability of Islamic federations to raise funds locally. Suitable meat would just be imported and there would be no diminishment of the foreign cash needed to fund local religious associations.
Those who would impose limits on Islam's presence in the public sphere have gone, in the space of a decade, from banning headscarves on behalf of women's rights to the questioning of basic practices of religious toleration, such as the right to ritual animal slaughter, or the construction of houses of worship, with or without a minaret. In Milan, when the Deputy Mayor attended a Ramadan break-fast last August, she was accused by her predecessor of "sending the wrong institutional signal" and of seeking "equality for Islam as a religion", which would lead straight to Sharia law.
While the best intentions of secularists, liberals, feminists or animal welfare activists are often at work in the formulation of these measures, their net effect is to sacrifice golden opportunities to impart republican values in a shared setting. And the impression remains that these advocates' passions are less stirred by the illiberalism of non-Muslims. The pursuit of progressive social and political causes, such as women's rights, animal welfare and free speech, can take on discriminatory overtones if they are not pursued with similar alacrity to bring reform to non-Muslim religious groups.
The wind and the sun
In July 1917, the former American president William Howard Taft gave a speech pondering the fate of Europe's Jewish minorities as the United States joined the Great War. Calling for the unqualified emancipation of Jews and for their integration into every last national community in Europe, Taft warned that "harsh and repressive measures have not helped" and worse, are "always harmful". Taft didn't appeal to the legacy of Enlightenment or even the American and French Revolutions to bolster his argument. He cited Aesop's fable of the contest between the wind and the sun in removing a man's coat from his back. The harder the wind blew, the closer the man held the coat to his body. Likewise, Taft wrote, "persecution and injustice merely strengthen the Jew's peculiarity in his adherence to his ancient customs, religion and its ceremonials".
His solution amounts to a Victorian aphorism - persuasion is superior to force - but that does not lessen the wisdom of the 7th century BCE: "It was only when the sun with its warm rays increased the temperature and created discomfort that the man removed his coat." Taft's counsel continues to resonate today. Populist gesticulation around headwear, street prayer or halal food cannot substitute for serious strategies of socio-political inclusion.
If European leaders don't step up to this challenge, finally, someone else will. There is a new pack of suitors on the continent. Qatar recently stepped into the French banlieues with a gift of €50m ($65m) investment and the courting of French Muslim elites. The ancestral nations of many European Muslims, especially Turkey and Morocco, have also intensified their outreach efforts. They've built elaborate institutions and consultative mechanisms of their own to stay in touch with and to protect what they consider to be increasingly vulnerable minorities. Even the US has developed programmes that aim to enhance the integration of European Muslims.
These other countries are wooing European Muslim elites into their orbits because they're often the only ones taking them seriously. If things continue like this, European governments will waste the opportunity to capitalise on recent political sacrifices and progress made in the name of integration and regress to an era before they began to take responsibility for their own citizens.
Once all of the low-hanging fruit has been picked - the last burqa banned, the last foreign extremist deported - European governments will still need to raise their game and forge consensus on the far more critical and hard-to-reach goal: A coherent integration policy that engages full constitutional rights and responsibilities for all citizens. For now, party competition and unfavourable public opinion seem to have convinced many European governments that those grapes are sour.
Jonathan Laurence is associate professor of political science at Boston College and non-resident Senior Fellow in foreign policy at The Brookings Institution. He is the author of The Emancipation of Europe's Muslims.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
Belgian mosque attacked, imam dies
By DON MELVIN | AP
Published: Mar 13, 2012 13:40 Updated: Mar 16, 2012 17:15
BRUSSELS: A mosque near Brussels was the target Monday evening of an arson attack in which the imam died, Belgian authorities said late Monday.
One man was arrested — a Muslim who said he was born in 1978 — in the attack on the mosque in Anderlecht, a suburb of Brussels, the Belgian capital, said Jean-Marc Meilleur, a spokesman for the Brussels Prosecutor’s Office.
“It seemed that this person showed up and pulled out a knife and an ax, and that he spread flammable products — petrol we assume — in order to start a fire and threaten the mosque occupants,” Meilleur said.
He said the man’s name and age could not be verified, as he had no identification papers. He said the man had been locked in a room by worshippers at the mosque before authorities apprehended him.
Marie Verbeck, a police spokeswoman, told The Associated Press that no other people were being sought in connection with the attack.
One other person was lightly injured, Meilleur said. He said the attack took place between 6 and 7 p.m. local time.
An Associated Press photographer at the scene saw fire damage and people gathered outside the mosque, some of whom were praying.
Le Soir newspaper said the imam, whom it reported to be 47 years old, died trying to put out the fire. Verbeck said she did not have the name of the imam.
Imam dies in arson attack on Belgian mosque
Police say suspect was taken into custody after Brussels mosque was almost entirely burned down.
Last Modified: 13 Mar 2012 11:48
A man has been killed and another injured in an arson attack on a mosque in Brussels, the Belgian capital.
"A suspect was taken into custody at the scene," police spokeswoman Marie Verbeke told the AFP news agency on Monday. She said the victim apparently died of smoke inhalation. "The mosque was apparently almost entirely burned down."
Public broadcaster RTBF and a stream of social media users said the victim was a 47-year-old imam and that a group of at least 50 people had gathered outside the Shia mosque.
Police confirmed this information and said they received a call at 6:45pm (1745 GMT) and the body was pulled out 45 minutes later.
A witness saw the suspect, a man, set fire to the building, Verbeke said, but no other details were immediately available about him.
Vincent Van Goidsenhoven, the mayor of the Anderlecht district, said the suspect had thrown a Molotov cocktail at the mosque, Belga news agency reported.
The area around the mosque, near Belgium's main international railway hub, has a large immigrant Muslim population.
Australian Muslim women must show faces for identity checks under new law
Anyone wanting a document witnessed in New South Wales must remove face coverings such as burqas or niqabs
guardian.co.uk, Monday 5 March 2012 08.53 GMT
Muslim women in the Australian state of New South Wales will be required to show their faces when they have documents witnessed under new identity check laws.
The laws – due to come into force on 30 April – will apply to statutory declarations and affidavits and cover anything that conceals a person's face, including motorcycle helmets, masks, veils, burqas or niqabs.
It follows a court case in which a woman wearing a burqa had a six-month jail sentence overturned on appeal last year because of doubts about her identity.
Carnita Matthews, 47, was originally convicted of falsely accusing a police officer of trying to remove her burqa during a random breath test. The conviction was overturned on appeal because the woman who made the complaint was wearing a burqa, making it impossible to tell whether it was Matthews.
Traffic laws were subsequently changed, and drivers who refuse to show their faces face being jailed for up to a year and fined $5,000 (£3,400).
The NSW state attorney general, Greg Smith, said the Matthews case highlighted the need for the rules to be clarified. "If a person refuses to show their face, an authorised witness must decline to sign their documents unless the person has a legitimate medical reason for keeping their face covered," he added.
"In some situations, it means individuals wearing full or partial face-covering garments will need to reveal their faces for the purposes of identification."
Witnesses who do not comply with the new requirements face a fine of $220. Smith said the more comprehensive identity checks would minimise the risk of fraud.
Aziza Abdel-Halim, the president of the Muslim Women's National Network of Australia, said the change would not have an impact on the community.
"The majority will accept it," she said, adding that it is a requirement in many Muslim countries. "Some will reject it, but they won't have a leg to stand on because the law is the law."
Abdel-Halim said it was no different to being required to confirm your identity by showing your face if you are sitting an exam.
David Bernie, the vice-president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, agreed, saying: "I really don't think this should cause any problems as long as a woman has the opportunity for a female JP to witness documents, and there are plenty of female JPs and solicitors in NSW."
There are around 90,000 justices of the peace in NSW who provide the service on a voluntary basis.
Islamophobia: Why we have to get over our fears
By Rania Hafez
Battle of Ideas
Monday, 7 November 2011 at 6:00 am
‘Islamophobia is the new racism’ is now a seeming truism, or so Baroness Warsi and many others would have us believe. She claims that Islamophobia has ‘passed the dinner table test’ and that anti-Muslim prejudice is now normal and uncontroversial in respectable society. Warsi’s views are echoed by many British Muslims, who claim to experience such prejudice daily.
Like many a clever coining, the term ‘Islamophobia’ remains undefined and its existence uncontested. The first recorded use dates back to 1990 in the American magazine Insight, although its etymology can be tracked to the mid 1920s. Since then after being a sociological concept largely restricted to Britain its use increased exponentially when it was declared a new form of global racism by the UN in 2001.
In its simplest form, and just going by the term itself, ‘phobia’ can be defined as ‘an intense but unrealistic fear that can interfere with the ability to socialize, work, or go about everyday life, brought on by an object, event or situation’. Adding the prefix ‘Islam’ therefore implies that this irrational fear is triggered by Islam and directed at Muslims.
But are we conflating run of the mill prejudice that a few may encounter with a national epidemic of irrational hatred against Muslims? Or is the cry of ‘Islamophobia’ simply a way of deflecting legitimate criticism of certain backward ideas associated with religion in general; and conservative Islam in particular? When we talk about Islamophobia, what is it we are really talking about?
Neither the simple definition nor the forensic academic investigation of the concept help to explain what we are really dealing with. Both mask the real issues behind Islamophobia. The easy appropriation of psychoanalytical approaches to fear suggest that indeed fear is the key issue. However, ‘Islamophobia’ expresses not a primitive fear of Muslims and Islam but several deeper anxieties that dominate British and Western political culture.
The first of these is a fear of conviction. Contemporary ‘post-modern’ morality encourages us to reject certainty in ourselves and others. We fear to confidently state our own convictions in case we are accused of bigotry, and we are anxious about others expressing their beliefs in case they are forced upon us. We may repeat the mantra that all perspectives and philosophies are equal, including beliefs held by others, but we shy away from a close examination of these beliefs for fear of losing the moral high ground of being non-judgemental.
In this cultural climate, Islam presents the West with a double challenge. Its adherents display a remarkably strong and not the slight bit ‘post-modern’ conviction in their faith, and its tenets seemingly contradict social and political Western values. Unwilling and unable to engage either with the faith or its followers, Islamophobia becomes a useful subterfuge.
This fear of strong ideas is connected with another fear. Fear of free speech.
There is no doubt that there is a deep-rooted ‘phobia’ in our society, but it is not of Islam. The fear that has gripped people is a fear of open debate and free speech. Across the spectrum, politicians may advocate for liberty and freedom of speech, but with caveats and ever stricter limits.
Both sides of the Islamophobia debate have argued for curbs on freedom of expression and free speech. The free speech of Muslim ‘extremists’ is curtailed in the interest of community cohesion. And the freedom to criticise Muslim fundamentalists or even Islam is chilled by charges of Islamophobia.
Fundamental to the fear of free speech is the fear of giving offence. We live in a culture where giving offence is deemed worse than grievous bodily harm. Some even argue that ‘hate speech’ itself harms the very being of those at whom it is directed. This doesn’t just betray the fear of argument and debate, but also the diminished view of individuals and groups particularly Muslims as not being capable of rational argument.
Not immune from the same fears, some British Muslims have jumped onto that very bandwagon, seeing it both as a useful way of deflecting criticism and an avoidance of defending their ideas. Much easier to hide behind the charge of Islamophobia! The danger for them is that in rejecting argument and debate they start to lose the ability the express their ideas with conviction and claim a legitimate public space for their beliefs.
Fear of conviction, fear of free speech and fear of offence are the hidden fears in the cry of ‘Islamophobia’. Overcoming these fears is the real challenge to all of us: Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Throughout October and November, The Independent Online is partnering with the Institute of Ideas’ Battle of Ideas festival to present a series of guest blogs from festival speakers on the key questions of our time.
Rania Hafez is a teacher educator and academic and founder and director of Muslim Women in Education. She produced the session Islamophobia: the new racism or liberal angst? at the Battle of Ideas festival.
Muslims protest at mosque attack
Nov 11, 2011 - 20:51
A dead pig and four pig heads have been found buried on the site of a future mosque in an anonymous anti-Islam attack, police say.
The attackers sent anonymous letters to the media in the region near the mosque site in the town of Grenchen in canton Solothurn.
In the letter they said they had also poured 120 litres of pig’s blood on the ground, saying it was a test of Muslim faith whether the mosque would be built on the land afterwards.
The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland said it "condemned the profanation of the site of a future mosque”, adding: “With this act, a line has been cross and Islamophobia has attained a new level.”
Grenchen mayor Boris Banga described the attack as “horrible and abominable”.
swissinfo.ch and agencies