France to ban full face veil
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's party, the UMP, says it will push for a law banning the burqa, the full-face Islamic veil, according to its parliamentary leader Jean-François Copé. "The issue is not how many women wear the burqa," Copé wrote in an article in the right-wing newspaper Le Figaro. "There are principles at stake: extremists are putting the republic to the test by promoting a practice that they know is contrary to the basic principles of our country.” He said the legislation will be enacted after consultation with Muslim communities "so that this measure is understood for what it is: a law of liberation and not a ban". Click here to read the rest...

Islamic march plan sparks outrage in military town

Saturday, January 02, 2010

LONDON (AFP) – A controversial Islamic group sparked a row in Britain Saturday after announcing plans for a march to commemorate civilians killed in the Afghanistan war through a town known for honouring dead soldiers.

Islam4UK says it wants to march through Wootton Bassett, which regularly sees hundreds gather in its streets as the bodies of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan parade through in hearses.

The town, which is close to the Royal Air Force base where soldiers' bodies are repatriated, has become a powerful symbol of Britain's war effort.

Islam4UK calls itself a platform for Al-Muhajiroun, a radical group now disbanded which used to be headed by Omar Bakri, an Islamist preacher barred from Britain for his views.

The march is expected to be held in the coming weeks and will feature symbolic coffins to honour Muslims killed in the conflict.

Islam4UK said on its website that the march would be "held not in memory of the occupying and merciless British military, but rather the real war dead who have been shunned by the Western media and general public".

It added: "It is quite extraordinary... that those military serviceman who have directly or indirectly contributed to their death are paraded as war heroes and moreover honoured for what is ultimately genocide."

A total of 108 British soldiers died in Afghanistan in 2009 compared to 2,038 civilians in the first ten months of the year, according to the United Nations mission in Afghanistan.

The news prompted anger from local politicians, who condemned Islam4UK leader Anjem Choudary.

"We are a Christian country and a traditional old English market town who honour very much our queen and country. We obey the law and pay respects to our servicemen who protect our freedom," said Chris Wannell, a Wootton Bassett town councillor and former mayor.

"If this man has any decency about him, he will not hold a march through Wootton Bassett."

The local police, who have to approve plans for the march, said there was "significant community concern" about it, adding they could apply for a banning order.

AFP, 2 January 2010
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Woman sues Atlanta police over hijab dispute

Wednesday, December 30, 2009
ATLANTA -- A Muslim woman is claiming in a federal lawsuit that she was dismissed from the Atlanta Police Department's civilian honor guard because she refused to remove her traditional headscarf.

Helen Lane says in a federal lawsuit filed this week that the head of the voluntary guard laughed at her when she told him she would wear her hijab at a September 2006 funeral. She said she felt "humiliated, hurt and was traumatized" by the laughter.

Lane, who is seeking $250,000 in damages, said she was told by another Atlanta official that "the hijab was like a swastika."

The city has denied the allegations and the honor guard has since been disbanded.

AP, 28 December 2009
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Doctor turns away woman wearing veil

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On Christmas day, a family doctor in Utrecht refused to allow a woman into his surgery because she was wearing a niqab, or burqa.

The 23-year-old woman had brought her baby to see the doctor. The three-month-old child had diarrhoea and had not drunk for several hours, a situation which is potentially dangerous in young baby. However, the doctor refused to see the woman because she was wearing Islamic dress, with her face covered.

The Equal Treatment Commission confirmed it has received a complaint from the woman, following a report in the newspaper AD. A spokesperson said the commission would definitely be dealing with the complaint, as a GP provides a service and should not refuse to see a woman on the ground of her religious expression. According to the commission this is the first time such a case has been reported.

The woman has also lodged a complaint with the GP's practice and the medical disciplinary tribunal.

RNW, 29 December 2009
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British Muslim executed by China

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

URUMQI, China – China brushed aside international appeals Tuesday and executed by lethal injection a British drug smuggler who relatives say was mentally unstable and unwittingly lured into crime.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "appalled" at the execution of 53-year old Akmal Shaikh — China's first of a European citizen in nearly 60 years. His government summoned the Chinese ambassador in London to express its anger.

China defended its handling of the case, saying there had not been documentary proof Shaikh was mentally ill. Beijing also criticized Brown's comments, but said it hoped the case would not harm bilateral relations. The Foreign Ministry called on London not to create any "obstacles" to better ties.

Shaikh's daughter Leilla Horsnell was quoted by the BBC and other British media outlets as saying she was "shocked and disappointed that the execution went ahead with no regards to my dad's mental health problems, and I struggle to understand how this is justice."

The execution is the latest sign of how China's communist government, with its rising global economic and political clout, is increasingly willing to defy Western complaints over its justice system and human rights record.

Last week, a court sentenced the co-author of a political reform manifesto to 11 years in prison in what rights groups called a direct rebuff to international pressure. Diplomats from more than a dozen countries were shut out of Liu Xiaobo's trial on subversion charges. The United States called for his immediate release.

Earlier in the month, China urged Cambodia to interrupt a U.N. refugee screening process and subsequently Phnom Penh repatriated 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers accused of involvement in ethnic unrest in western China.

Shaikh, a Briton of Pakistani descent, was arrested in 2007 for carrying a suitcase with almost 9 pounds (4 kilograms) of heroin into China on a flight from Tajikistan. He told Chinese officials he didn't know about the drugs and that the suitcase wasn't his, according to Reprieve, a London-based prisoner advocacy group that is helping with his case.

He was convicted in 2008 after a half-hour trial.

He first learned he was about to be executed Monday from his visiting cousins, who made a last-minute plea for his life. They say he is mentally unstable and was lured to China from a life on the street in Poland by men playing on his dreams to record a pop song for world peace.

The press office of the Xinjiang region where Shaikh had been held confirmed the execution in a statement handed to journalists.

In his statement issued by the Foreign Office, Brown said he condemned the execution "in the strongest terms, and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted."

"I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken," Brown said.

The Foreign Office said Foreign Minister Ivan Lewis on Tuesday had reiterated to China's ambassador, Fu Ying, statements by Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband condemning Shaikh's execution.

Brown had spoken personally to China's prime minister about the case. Miliband had earlier condemned the execution and said there were unanswered questions about the trial — including over whether there was adequate interpretation during the trial.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu responded that drug smuggling was a serious crime.

"We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the British accusation," Jiang told a regularly scheduled news conference in Beijing.

The official Xinhua News Agency quoted China's Supreme Court as saying Tuesday that although officials from the British Embassy and a British aid organization called for a mental health examination for Shaikh, "the documents they provided could not prove he had a mental disorder nor did members of his family have a history of mental disease."

"There is no reason to cast doubt on Akmal Shaikh's mental status," the Supreme Court was quoted as saying.

Xinhua said Shaikh was put to death by lethal injection. China, which executes more people than any other country, is increasingly doing so by lethal injection, although some death sentences are still carried out by a shot in the head.

The Beijing-based lawyer for Shaikh's death sentence review, Zhang Qingsong, said Tuesday he never got to meet with Shaikh despite asking the judge and the detention center for access. He said China's highest court never evaluated Shaikh's mental status.

According to Reprieve, the last European executed in China was Antonio Riva, an Italian pilot who was shot by a firing squad in 1951 after being convicted of involvement in what China said was a plot to assassinate Mao Zedong and other high-ranking communist officials.

"The death of Akmal Shaikh is a sad indictment of today's world, and particularly of China's legal system. ... We at Reprieve are sickened by what we have seen during our work on this case," said Sally Rowen, legal director of Reprieve's death penalty team.

Reprieve issued a statement from Shaikh's family members saying they expressed "their grief at the Chinese decision to refuse mercy."

The statement thanked supporters, including those who attended a vigil for Shaikh outside the Chinese Embassy in London on Monday night, along with members of a Facebook group that drew 5,000 members in just a few days.

The statement asked the media and public to respect the family's privacy as they "come to terms with what has happened to someone they loved."

Gareth Saunders, a British teacher who knew Shaikh in Warsaw, said his friend was cheerful but obviously very mentally ill. He said the last time they met in an underpass, Shaikh said he was traveling to Central Asia but would return in two weeks.

"I tried to contact after two weeks, no reply. that was the last time I tried to contact him," Saunders told The Associated Press.

AP, 29 December 2009
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Hearing canceled for Detroit Bomber

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
DETROIT (Reuters) – The first federal court hearing for the Nigerian man charged with attempting to blow up a Delta Airlines plane flying to Detroit has been canceled, a spokeswoman for prosecutors said on Monday.

U.S. Attorneys had been expected to seek a search warrant to collect a swab of DNA from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is being held in a federal prison in Milan, Michigan.

The hearing before U.S. District Judge Paul Borman was canceled at the request of prosecutors, according to court documents.

"The hearing has been canceled," said the U.S. Attorney's spokeswoman Gina Balaya. "I was not given a reason for the cancellation."

Abdulmutallab faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on a single federal charge that he attempted to blow up a crowded Airbus 330 as it approached a landing in Detroit from Amsterdam on Friday.

FBI agents have said the 23-year-old man was carrying a home-made bomb containing PETN, a highly explosive material contained in the plastic explosive Semtex.

Witnesses said Abdulmutallab attempted to set off the device under an blanket on his lap, causing popping sounds and a fire that was quickly extinguished by a flight attendant.

Bail for Abdulmutallab is scheduled to be set at a January 8 hearing in Detroit.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; editing by Chris Wilson)

Reuters, 28 December 2009
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Obama says 'systemic failure' allowed airline plot

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
HONOLULU – President Barack Obama said Tuesday "a systemic failure" allowed the attempted Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam. He called it "totally unacceptable." The president said he wants preliminary results by Thursday from two investigations he has ordered to examine the many lapses that occurred.

"There was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security," Obama said.

It will take weeks for a more comprehensive investigation into what allowed a 23-year-old Nigerian carrying explosives onto the flight despite the fact the suspect had possible ties to al-Qaida, Obama said.

"It's essential that we diagnose the problems quickly," the president said, interrupting his vacation for a second consecutive day to address the incident, with more anger this time directed at the flaws in the U.S. system.

The suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was on one advisory list, but never made it onto more restrictive lists that would have caught the attention of U.S. counterterrorist screeners, despite his father's warnings to U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria last month. Those warnings also did not result in Abdulmutallab's U.S. visa being revoked.

On top of that, airport security equipment did not detect the bomb-making devices and materials he allegedly carried on board the Northwest Airlines flight carrying nearly 300 people.

Obama said many things went right after the incident, with passengers and the flight crew subduing the man and government officials working quickly to increase security. He singled out his homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, backing her much-criticized comments that the attempted terror attack showed the aviation security system worked.

"As Secretary Napolitano has said, once the suspect attempted to take down Flight 253, after his attempt, it's clear that passengers and crew, our homeland security systems, and our aviation security took all appropriate actions," Obama said.

Napolitano received so much criticism for her Sunday talk show remarks that she did another round of interviews the following day to say the system did not work in preventing Abdulmutallab from getting on the plane with a bomb. But, she said, the response system did work after the man was subdued. She contends her remarks were taken out of context.

Republicans are questioning her judgment and a few have called for her resignation. The White House says her job is safe.

However, Obama said: "What's also clear is this: When our government has information on a known extremist and that information is not shared and acted upon as it should have been ... a systemic failure has occurred. And I consider that totally unacceptable."

The two reviews, which Obama said got under way on Sunday, are looking at airport security procedures and the U.S. system of terror watchlists.

"It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect's name on a no-fly list," Obama said. "Even without this one report, there were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together."

Had that happened, he said, "the warning signs would have triggered red flags, and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America."

AP, 29 December 2009
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Bishop says plans for Muslim school 'makes him weep'

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Rt Rev John Goddard, the Bishop of Burnley, suggested it would be more sensitive for the Islamic charity behind the project to consider a location in another part of the country.

His greatest fear is that the presence of the all girls’ school – which hopes to take 1,500 teenage boarders from around the world – might inflame Right-wing extremists and therefore “skew” the progress being made in integrating local communities.

The bishop also pointed out that both the Church of England hierarchy, and that of the Roman Catholic Church, deliberately held back from establishing their own new faith schools in the aftermath of the 2001 riots.

Bishop Goddard’s comments follow a warning by Gordon Prentice, Labour MP for Pendle, that the school, described as a Muslim 'Eton' for girls, would both damage existing schools and colleges in the area and stoke community tensions.

“The last thing we need is single-sex, single faith schools for girls,” he said. “It pulls against community cohesion.

“It makes me weep to think so much time, energy and effort has gone into the community to get people to mix together. [This] goes against all public policy.”

The Mohiuddin Trust, based in Birmingham, insists that its college would actually strengthen ethnic and cultural relationships within the community.

It was formerly known as the Al Ehya Trust, says on its website that it seeks to promote cohesion by “strengthening inter-community relationships”.

It was founded by Hazrat Pir Alauddin Siddiqui, an Islamic scholar based in Pakistan.

Amjad Bashir, the trust’s general secretary, said of the Burnley scheme: “This will be an international community college that will provide for the needs of Islamic women. It is not just some mad place where they are going to be brainwashed by nonsense.”

Bishop Goddard told The Daily Telegraph: “I’ve certainly got concerns, and I regret the idea of it because it distracts us from the most important task of integrating.

“Until other projects develop, the local schools are our best hope of delivering understanding and tolerance.”

He added: “I wonder whether it is the most sensitive placing of a school. I would worry about its impact on the local community and whether it would skew the positive things that are happening here.”

Since the Burnley riots local schools have been given a £250 million makeover, with a number of closures and amalgamations. Local councils have used the changes as a means of improving relationships between ethnic groupings.

Bishop Goddard recalled how in the aftermath of the riots the Church of England held back from pushing for a faith school. Similarly, the Bishop of Salford, the Rt Rev Terence Brain, decided not to seek the foundation of a Catholic Sixth Form College.

“We know our schools have a long way to go educationally, and we also know we have a long way to go culturally. But I think at the moment in Burnley we are in a process where we are developing our relationships with young people and we should do nothing to distract from that.

“I believe it would be a sadness if anyone now began moving towards a pattern of withdrawing children of one particular faith.”

The bishop said he would defend the right of any faith to establish a boarding school, but added: “There would need to be a strong commitment from the college, and I wonder how exactly they plan to integrate with the local community.

“It is incumbent upon them to say how that would happen because we do have those who wish to disrupt the increasing level of tolerance and integration. We have to balance the right to open a new school against the need for it be carefully integrated and properly monitored by Ofsted.”

Dr Mohammed Iqbal, a Mohiuddin trustee, said: 'At this moment it's difficult to offer a detailed response about the courses to be offered as we are still in the preliminary planning stages.

“We do, however, expect to offer a variety of skills and courses. A-levels are being considered but may not be available as soon as the college starts.

“Our objective is to offer young women the opportunity to empower themselves with better qualifications with the aim of improving chances of securing better employment.”

Telegraph UK, 22 December 2009
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Mosque burned to the ground by arsonists

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
CRADLEY Heath’s Muslim community is appealing for help after its mosque was burnt to the ground by arsonists.

A fire engulfed the Cradley Heath Mosque and Islamic Centre in Plant Street on Boxing Day destroying the building and the religious countless books inside.

It is the second time in five years that the building has been targeted by arsonists and police are hunting the culprits.

The West Midlands Fire Service first reported that the blaze on Plant Street had destroyed 'industrial units' in Plant Street but when the smoke cleared it became obvious the building was a mosque.

The mosque was a thriving part of the community with 400 worshippers using it and classes of children being taught there.

The worshippers are now trying to find a new place to worship as the new Mosque they have being building alongside the old one will not be ready for use for several years.

Basharat Ali, secretary of the mosque and education centre, said: “This is not the first time we have been targeted, there was a similar attack four or five years ago.

“The building has been completely destroyed and all the books we use with the children have been damaged by water.”

“He added: “The new building is under construction, it is a shell inside and it is due to open in a few years.”

Halesowen News, 29 December 2009
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Detroit bomber linked to London Mosque

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Associates of the 23-year-old Nigerian said that he visited the East London Mosque, in Whitechapel.

MI5 believe that the suspect could have developed links with other extremists during three years he spent in Britain studying at University College London. They will investigate where he worshipped and whether he was radicialised in the UK or elsewhere.

The East London Mosque secretary, Ayub Khan, said that it was "appalled" by Abdulmutallab's alleged attempts to blow up a plane on its way to Detroit. But it could not confirm or deny suggestions that Abdulmutallab visited the mosque.

Earlier this year, the venue was criticised for hosting a pre-recorded talk by Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric based in Yemen, who the US Department for Homeland Security said acted as a spiritual leader for three of the 9/11 hijackers.

At the time, the mosque said that it did not organise the event, and the group running it had hired out their facilities.

In a statement released yesterday Mr Khan, the secretary, said: "It goes without saying that the East London Mosque condemns in the strongest possible terms the alleged attempt to blow up a transatlantic airliner in the USA.

"The mosque has consistently spoken out against such acts, and will continue to do so.

"It is not the policy of the mosque to invite speakers who are at variance with this policy, and we try to ensure that those who hire out our facilities adhere to this principle.

"Given its community service to people of all faiths, the East London Mosque is appalled that it should be associated with such heinous acts.

"Over 20,000 people, of Muslim and other faiths, visit the mosque every week.

"They use the mosque for many different purposes including worship, weddings, and to use any of the 30 different projects and services that are based at our institution."

He added: "The mosque is open for the public to use on a daily basis. We have no membership like a church and therefore cannot comment on whether this individual came to East London Mosque.

"Our institution is a place where people are inspired to do good works for all people, of all faiths and none. We therefore are appalled by the alleged actions of this individual."

Telegraph UK, 29 December 2009
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Omer Mozaffar, a Pakistani Chicagoan, discusses James Cameron's "Avatar"

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
omer best.jpgI was born in Karachi, Pakistan, at a very young age. My beloved parents rode the huge wave that was the South Asian diaspora, landing here in Chicagoland, where I've been ever since. Thus, like many of my peers, I've been in a state of constant exile.

On the South Side of Chicago, I'm a Pakistani. In the rest of Chicago, I'm a Southsider. In the rest of America, I'm a Chicagoan. In the rest of the world, I'm an American. That is today's "normal," isn't it? We are simultaneously, unintentionally local and global.

Still, the most comfortable spot for me is a center seat in the anonymous darkness of a crowded theater on the opening night of a movie. If you are reading this note on Roger Ebert's blog, then perhaps you feel the same way.
As a child, my parents - new to this country - used to take me to the movies with them (rather than hire babysitters). The first movie I remember seeing was The Exorcist; I was about 3 years old. We also frequented Amitabh Bachchan releases at the Arie Crown Theater. I started watching Siskel and Ebert on Sneak Previews as a young grade schooler, perhaps because they were reviewing movies on Channel 11 (PBS). In all honesty, Siskel and Ebert were probably extensions in my mind of Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, and Mr. Rogers.
Two movies that would affect an entire population of my peers were released within days of each other in May 1977 - Star Wars and The Message (a biopic of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him) - and that pairing defines the symbiotic path that my life has taken since then: Movies and Islam. So, not only was my identity simultaneously local and global, my outlook was simultaneously permeated with movies and Islam.

The events of the past quarter century have compelled many of my Muslim American peers to make conscious decisions about their/our Islams. Consider being a young Muslim man or woman growing up through news reports about the First Intifada of the Palestinians, the Salman Rushdie affair, Not without my Daughter, Saddam Hussain's invasion of Kuwait, the Gulf War and subsequent decade long sanctions on the Iraqis, the genocide of the Bosnians, the release of Spike Lee's Malcolm X, WTC 1, the release of Schindler's List (not only because of its topic but also because Steven Spielberg spoke about the Bosnians), the Chechen war for independence from Russia, the Million Man March, the atrocities against the Albanians of Kosova, the rise of the Taliban, the arrest of numerous Muslims and Arabs under the bizarre Secret Evidence laws, the Second Intifada, the Muslim bloc-vote for George W. Bush in 2000 (specifically because he promised to repeal Secret Evidence).

Then, of course we had 09/11/01, John Ashcroft and the PATRIOT ACT (far worse than Secret Evidence), the so-called War on Terror, the lies involved in perpetuating the War, and most recently, the election of an African-American president named Hussein (who is constantly "accused" of being Muslim), from the South Side of Chicago.

Now, this list is definitely skewed and simplistic; the point here is to illustrate what is playing in the media from the perspective of a young Muslim man: it is a constant onslaught. The result is that many young Muslims felt rather pressured to choose to retain, reshape or abandon their Islams. In a nutshell, it was a tornado in the heart.

What did I do? Well, I would like to sound tough and say something like: not only am I from Karachi, but I'm from Chicago and thus put on my Islam helmet and ran headfirst into the fire. But, my active relationship with Islam wasn't made after 9/11. Rather, all the way back in 1993 I was sitting in a cafeteria at Stateville prison in Joliet (Illinois), as an extra for Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, and decided to read the Qur'an. It was that simple. When you're an extra in a movie, you sit and wait. And wait. And wait. So, you sit there and think. And chat. And think. And, I decided to read the Qur'an.

And, while the narrative structure of the Qur'an has left many westerners scratching their heads, seeking from it a Biblical/Classical structure, for me it was a perfect fit: I had already so thoroughly embedded a film-editing outlook to my outlook, the Qur'anic narrative not only seemed to match, it also informed my understanding of film. In my mind, to this day, it is hard to separate the two, as though they are that different. More than common narrative style, however, the two gave me sukoon (tranquility).

omar speaking.jpg

In the years since 9/11, I've been called upon to give lecture upon lecture to audiences across the country seeking to learn about Islam. I stopped counting at 200 lectures, including as many as 5 in the same day at 5 different locations. It is not easy. It is easy to speak about film. But, when speaking about religion as a believing practitioner, you have to keep from falling into hypocrisy, preaching what you do not practice. And, that in itself is next to impossible, especially with my own shortcomings in character. But, when speaking about Islam, the responsibility goes a step further: you are often expected to apologize for the atrocities committed by others.

There was a strange moment. In 1994, I was a film student at Columbia College Chicago and frequented the Downtown Islamic Center. One Friday, two Rabbis visited the Center. They came to condemn the actions of an Israeli Settler who walked into a mosque of Friday worshippers in Hebron and opened fire. Sitting there, I wondered why they needed to express their outrage, considering that anyone with any sense knew that Jews would never condone such an action; the outrage is assumed.

But, in these years of giving these (at times exhausting) lectures I have grown to understand that even though people know that your belief system calls you to the highest standards of character, they need still need to hear it.

I have been an instructor at the University of Chicago (incidentally in the same department where I first enrolled in "Film Study with Roger Ebert" so many years ago), and I have been a part-time professor at various colleges across the city in the past half-decade. In these years of lecturing, if I have discovered one thing, I have discovered that people need to see your humanity; people need to see that you invest your humanity in their humanity. People need for their hearts to be satisfied. People know your inherent goodness, but they still need to hear you say what they need you to say, for their hearts to be satisfied. And, the fact is that there are plenty of opportunists who find profit in vilifying you and/or your beliefs. In our increasingly shrinking, globalized world, we know that we are also becoming increasingly polarized and distant, forgetting that value of the human heart.

And, that brings me full circle. My heart races when I see a beautiful moment of cinematography. My heart races when I notice an excellent edit. My heart races when an actor or actress exercise the craft. But, when film takes me to worlds beyond my imagination it is far more exciting. And, when a movie takes my in-exile self into new worlds within the human heart, showing me dimensions of humanity and the human experience, it is as though the Divine is whispering through these visions of light.

Chicago Sun Times, 22 December 2009
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Britain's most violent football gangs unite against Muslims

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Their aim? To drive out Islamic extremism. Their weapon? The thugs of Britain's most violent football gangs

English Defence League protest march en route by train to Manchester from Bolton
Some of the most violent football hooligans in Britain head towards Manchester to support a march by the burgeoning English Defence League (EDL), while a woman dressed in a black hijab appears intimidated

On Platform One at Bolton station a mob of around 100 men punch the air in unison. The chant goes up: 'Muslim bombers, off our streets, Muslim bombers off our streets...'
Their voices echo loudly and more men suddenly appear; startled passengers move aside. The group march forward waving St George Cross flags and holding up placards. The throng of men around me applaud. A train heading for Glasgow draws up on the opposite platform and the men turn as one, bursting into song: 'Engelaand, Engelaand, Engelaand.'
Some of the men hide behind balaclavas, others wear black hoodies. A few speak on mobile phones, their hands pressed against their ears to block out the cacophony.
'It's already kicking off in Manchester. This could be tasty,' shouts one. These are some of the most violent football hooligans in Britain and today they have joined together in an unprecedented show of strength. Standing shoulder to shoulder are notorious gangs - or 'firms' as they are known - such as Cardiff City's Soul Crew, Bolton Wanderers' Cuckoo Boys and Luton Town's Men In Gear.
The gathering is remarkable, as on a match day these men would be fighting each other. But it is politics that has drawn them together. They are headed for Manchester to support a march by the burgeoning English Defence League.
The police are here in force, too. 'Take that mask off,' barks a sergeant to one young man. He does so immediately but protests: 'Why are they allowed to wear burkas in public but we're not allowed to cover our faces?'
'Just do what you're told,' the policeman snaps back.
An EDL demonstrator is arrested at Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester
An EDL demonstrator is arrested at Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester in October

'It's always the same these days. One rule for them and another for us. I'm sick of this country,' a man standing next to me says in a West Country accent.
He draws on a cigarette then flicks it to the ground in disgust. He starts to complain again but when the tannoy announces the arrival of the train to Manchester Piccadilly he raises his hands above his head and starts another favourite.
'Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves... Britons never, never, never...' His companions join in. As the train comes to a halt the crowd surges forward.
The carriages are almost full so the men pack themselves into the aisles followed by policemen speaking into radios. A group of lads drinking beer at a table eye the new contingent warily.
One man wearing a baseball cap clocks their fear and reassures them.
'It's all right lads, nothing to worry about. We're protesting against radical Islam. Come and join us.'
Further up the carriage another bursts into song.
'We had joy, we had fun, we had Muslims on the run,' he starts up. Nobody joins in and a couple of his mates tell him to 'shut up' as they point to a woman dressed in a black hijab sitting at a table.
A man standing close to her is masked and holds a placard. It has a picture of a Muslim woman crying with red blood streaming down her face. 'Sharia law oppresses women!' the slogan reads.
The rise of the English Defence League has been rapid. Since its formation at the start of the summer the group has organised nearly 20 major protests in Britain's cities, including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Luton, Nottingham, Glasgow and Swansea.
Its leaders are professional and articulate and they claim that the EDL is a peaceful, non-racist organisation. But having spent time with them, there is evidence that this movement has a more disturbing side. There is talk of the need for a 'street army', and there are links with football hooligans and evidence that violent neo-Nazi groups including Combat 18, Blood and Honour and the British Freedom Fighters have been attending demos.
Violence has erupted at most of the EDL's demonstrations. In total, nearly 200 people have been arrested and an array of weapons has been seized, including knuckledusters, a hammer, a chisel and a bottle of bleach.
As the EDL gains support across the UK, Muslims have already been targeted in unprovoked attacks. In the worst incident, a mob of 30 white and black youths is said to have surrounded Asian students near City University in central London and attacked them with metal poles, bricks and sticks while shouting racist abuse. Three people - two students and a passer-by who tried to intervene - were stabbed.
Following the Manchester protest, when 48 people were arrested during street violence, the Bolton Interfaith Council Executive issued a stark warning that race relations were under threat and Communities Secretary John Denham compared the EDL to Oswald Mosley's Union of British Fascists, who ran amok in the Thirties. In response to these fears, the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit, a countrywide police team set up to combat domestic extremism, has been investigating the EDL.
'The concern to me is how groups like this, either willingly or unwillingly, allow themselves to be exploited by very extreme right-wing groups like the National Front and the British Freedom Fighters,' Metropolitan Police chief Sir Paul Stephenson has said.
Welsh Defence League members burn an anti-Nazi flag in Swansea
Welsh Defence League members burn an anti-Nazi flag in Swansea

I had met the English Defence League for the first time in Luton three weeks before the Manchester demonstration. After several calls, key members agreed to talk on the condition that I did not identify them. We met at a derelict building close to Luton town centre. Eleven men turned up. All wore balaclavas, as they often do to hide their identities, and most had black EDL hoodies with 'Luton Division' written on the back. They'd made placards bearing slogans such as 'Ban the Burka'.
The group's self-proclaimed leader, who goes by the pseudonym Tommy Robinson, did most of the talking. A father of two, Robinson explained the background to the rise of the movement.
'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 these Muslim youths who've become extremely radicalised since the first Gulf War. This is because preachers of hate live in Luton and have been recruiting for radical Islamist groups for years. Our Government does nothing about them so we decided that we'd start protesting.'
Demonstration by the English Defence League in Birmingham
EDL demonstrators in Birmingham in September 

Robinson could barely conceal his anger as he explained that the spark for him had been the sight of radical Muslims protesting when soldiers paraded through the town on their regiment's return from Afghanistan in May.
Following the incident Robinson set up a group called United People of Luton and, after linking up with a Birmingham-based organisation called British Citizens Against Muslim Extremists and another called Casuals United (largely made up of former football hooligans), they realised there was potential for a national movement.
'We have nothing against Muslims, only those who preach hatred. They are traitors who should be hanged and we'll keep taking to the streets until the Government kicks them out.'
More than 100 divisions have been set up across Britain and a careful co-ordination means the EDL is becoming efficient and a potential catch-all for every far-right organisation in Britain.
Robinson admits that he has attended BNP meetings in the past. Another prominent member and administrator of Luton EDL's Facebook group is Davy Cooling, a BNP member. Sean Walsh, an activist for the EDL in Luton, is a member of the BNP's Bedfordshire Facebook group.
Even within the EDL there are concerns over links to extremists. A former member called Paul Ray recently claimed that the group had been hijacked by BNP activists, including a man from Weston-super-Mare, Chris Renton, who helped set up the EDL website. Ironically, Ray himself has extremist contacts, including a German former neo-Nazi who is friends with Northern Ireland Loyalist Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair.
Casuals United was the brainchild of Jeff Marsh, a convicted football hooligan from Cardiff City's Soul Crew, one of the most feared gangs in Britain. Marsh operates behind the scenes, orchestrating activities with both Casuals United and the Welsh Defence League, a sister group of the EDL.
The public face of Casuals United is another Welshman called Mickey Smith. An avowed football hooligan, he is banned from Cardiff City's football ground. Together, Marsh and Smith organise the 50 or so gangs actively recruiting members across the UK.
The EDL insists it is separate from Casuals United, but dig a little and it becomes clear they operate hand-in-hand. Joel Titus is a cocky but politically naive 18-year-old Arsenal fan of mixed race. He tells me that the EDL youth division he runs has over 300 members across the UK.
'We want to hit every town and city in Britain,' he says.
Titus became involved with the movement through Casuals United. And according to anti-fascism magazine Searchlight, his role is to recruit football hooligans.
He sticks to the 'peaceful movement' mantra but a text I later receive from him ahead of an EDL demo in London reveals his involvement with the hooligans. It reads: 'Right lads, the "unofficial" meet for the 31st (London) is going to be 12 o'clock at The Hole In The Wall pub just outside Waterloo Station. I will be there just before that. Remember lads were (sic) going as Casuals Utd and if you could obtain a poppy to wear it would make us look good even if we are kicking off. lol. Cheers lads. Joel "Arsenal" Titus.'
EDL members meet at a rendezvous pub
EDL members meet at a rendezvous pub before travelling to Manchester

Alarmingly, the EDL is becoming more sophisticated and those orchestrating its activities at the top are far more astute than its foot soldiers. I meet two of the EDL's key figures in a Covent Garden pub - a respectable looking man called Alan Lake, and a man who goes by the moniker 'Kinana'.
Lake is a 45-year-old computer expert from Highgate, north London who runs a far-right website called Four Freedoms. This summer he contacted the EDL and offered to both fund and advise the movement.
'Our leaders in this country no longer represent us,' he says.
Lake's aim is to unite the 'thinkers' and those prepared to take to the streets. He describes this marriage as 'the perfect storm coming together'. Lake says that street violence is not desirable but sometimes inevitable.
'There are issues when you are dealing with football thugs but what can we do?'
He criticises fascist organisations, however, and says he will only support the EDL so long as it doesn't associate with the BNP. When I ask about extremists hijacking the movement, he says: 'There are different groups infiltrating and trying to cause rifts by one means or another, or trying to waylay the organisation to different agendas. The intention is to exclude those groups and individuals.'
These men are outwardly intelligent and their political nous combined with the brawn of the casuals makes them a quasi-political force.
Britain's neo-Nazis realise this. For Kevin Watmough, leader of the neo-Nazi British People's Party and a former member of the National Front, the rise of the EDL is reminiscent of the Seventies.
'The protests remind me of the National Front marches, but I wouldn't march with the EDL because they have blacks as supporters,' he told me.
But other neo-Nazis have joined EDL demos. These include members of Combat 18 and the British Freedom Fighters, who later posted videos of themselves on the internet.
Watmough lives in Bradford and can recall the 2001 riots, which came about as a result of tensions between whites and Muslims. Bradford, along with Oldham, another tinderbox northern city that witnessed riots in 2001, is a stated target for the EDL and Casuals United in 2010. Tension is likely here and in other towns where the EDL is also promoting spontaneous flash demos and the occupation of building sites for new mosques.
Professor Matthew Goodwin, an expert on far-right organisations who has advised the Home Office, says that the police are right to monitor the EDL and to take them seriously.
'(The EDL) is now well-organised and not just a minor irritant. It has become a rallying point for a number of different groups and to have them marching through sensitive areas is a major concern.'
Communities Minister John Denham has also condemned the rise of the EDL: 'If you look at the types of demonstrations they have organised, the language used and the targets chosen, it looks clear that it's a tactic designed to provoke, to get a response. It's designed to create violence. And we must all make sure this doesn't happen.'
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The Nevada gambler, al-Qaida, the CIA and the mother of all cons

Saturday, December 26, 2009
The intelligence reports fitted the suspicions of the time: al-Qaida sleeper agents were scattered across the US awaiting orders that were broadcast in secret codes over the al-Jazeera television network.

Flights from Britain and France were cancelled. Officials warned of a looming "spectacular attack" to rival 9/11. In 2003 President Bush's homeland security tsar, Tom Ridge, spoke of a "credible source" whose information had US military bracing for a new terrorist onslaught.

Then suddenly no more was said.

Six years later, Playboy magazine has revealed that the CIA fell victim to an elaborate con by a compulsive gambler who claimed to have developed software that discovered al-Jazeera broadcasts were being used to transmit messages to terrorists buried deep in America.

Dennis Montgomery, 56, the co-owner of a software gaming company in Nevada, who has since been arrested for bouncing $1m worth of cheques, claims his program read messages hidden in barcodes listing international flights to the US, their positions and airports to be targeted.

The CIA took the information seriously, working with Montgomery at his offices and paying him an undisclosed amount of money. The "intelligence" Montgomery claimed to have found was passed on to the White House and homeland security where it kickstarted an alert that bordered on panic.

According to Playboy, Montgomery's claims caused the cancellation of British Airways and other flights supposedly mentioned in the codes.

Some officials were not at all surprised to hear the allegation that al-Jazeera was involved. The then defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, later vilified the station for "vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable" reporting of the US invasion of Iraq.

For months, the source of the information was kept under wraps within the CIA but once it became more widely known in the agency it immediately came under question. Playboy quotes one former counterterrorism official who attended a briefing on the source as being furious. He said: "I was saying: 'This is crazy. This is embarrassing.' They claimed they were breaking the code, getting latitude and longitude, and al-Qaida operatives were decoding it. They were coming up with airports and everything, and we were just saying: 'You know, this is horseshit!' "

Frances Townsend, a homeland security adviser to Bush, defended the decision to work with Montgomery. "It didn't seem beyond the realm of possibility. We were relying on technical people to tell us whether or not it was feasible. I don't regret having acted on it," she told Playboy.

But the doubts began to prevail as Montgomery refused to reveal how he was finding the barcodes, when no one else could, and he demanded $100m for the software. The CIA also began to wonder why al-Qaida didn't use emails and web pages to communicate with its agents.

Guardian News, 23 December 2009
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