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...

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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Two-thirds of Protestant pastors consider Islam 'dangerous'

Saturday, December 26, 2009
Two out of three Protestant pastors believe Islam is a "dangerous" religion, according to a new survey from a Southern Baptist-affiliated research group.

The survey of more than 1,000 Protestant clergy by LifeWay Research, released last week found that 45% strongly agree with the statement "I believe Islam is a dangerous religion" and another 21% agree somewhat with it.

Evangelical pastors were more likely to agree with the statement than mainline Protestant pastors — 77 to 47%. Likewise, pastors with a bachelor's degree or less education are more likely to strongly agree than those with a master's degree — 64% to 37%.

"It's important to note our survey asked whether pastors viewed Islam as 'dangerous,' but that does not necessarily mean 'violent,'" said Lifeway president Ed Stetzer in a statement about the survey results.

'"Dangerous' can be defined in a variety of ways, including from the perspective of spiritual influence. Regardless of the definition, the numbers tell us that Protestant pastors are concerned."

The results of the telephone survey were based on a random sample of 1,002 senior pastors taken in October 2008 and had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

On Dec. 10, evangelist Franklin Graham told CNN that while he loves the Muslim people in countries he's visited with his Samaritan's Purse ministry, "I don't agree with the teachings of Islam and I find it to be a very violent religion."

Graham's comments prompted the Council on American-Islamic Relations to request a meeting with the evangelist. As of Friday (Dec. 18), he had not responded, said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.

USA Today, 21 December 2009
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Possible terror attack on Northwest jet

Friday, December 25, 2009
ROMULUS, Mich. - A Nigerian man claiming ties to al-Qaida tried to light a powder aboard a commercial jetliner before it landed Friday in Detroit in what senior U.S. officials called an attempted act of terrorism.

“He appears to have had some kind of incendiary device he tried to ignite,” a senior U.S. official told NBC News.

Two people noticed the attempted attack, and a third person jumped on the man and subdued him, an airline official told NBC News. The man was being treated at the burn unit of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, officials said.

Rep. Peter King of New York, the senior Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, who was briefed on the incident, identified the man as Abdul Mudallad, 23, of Nigeria. He said Mudallad was known in federal counterterrorism files and may have been on the government’s list of suspicious passengers banned from flying in the United States.

King said the incident raised troubling questions about airline security. “It must be looked into” how Mudallad was able to sneak a “somewhat sophisticated device” on board, he said.

The man told investigators that he wanted to set off a bomb over the United States and claimed to be connected to al-Qaida, the terrorism network responsible for the attacks that killed more than 3,000 people in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, counterterrorism officials said.

A counterterrorism official said the man, who was subdued by the crew of Northwest Air Lines Flight 253 from Amsterdam, left Lagos, Nigeria, on Thursday and boarded the Northwest flight in Amsterdam on Friday.

The timing of the attempted attack could be significant. It was eight years ago this week that a similar attempted attack was launched by a British member of al-Qaida who tried to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami by igniting explosives in his shoes. And the attempted attack comes on the same day that the Taliban released a video of a U.S. soldier it is holding captive in Afghanistan.

News organizations, including msnbc.com, initially reported that the government had raised the terrorism alert for flights after the incident. Those reports were inaccurate; the flight alert had been at orange before the incident.

Passengers removed, rescreened
Officials said Flight 253, an Airbus 330, was carrying 278 passengers. The Transportation Security Administration reported that the plane had been taken to a remote area of Detroit Metropolitan Airport and that all passengers had left the plane and were being rescreened, along with all the luggage on the flight. In addition, all passengers were interviewed, a TSA statement said.

Syed Jafri, a U.S. citizen who was on the plane flying from the United Arab Emirates, said he was seated three rows behind the passenger and saw a glow and noticed the smell of smoke. Then, he said, “a young man behind me jumped on him.”

“Next thing you know, there was a lot of panic,” Jafri said.

Rich Griffith, a passenger from Pontiac, Mich., said he was seated too far in the back to see what had happened. But he said he didn’t mind being detained on the plane for several hours.

“It’s frustrating if you don’t want to keep your country safe,” he said. “We can’t have what’s going on everywhere else happening here.”

President Barack Obama, who is on vacation in Hawaii, was informed of the incident Friday morning by his National Security Council staff, said Bill Burton, a spokesman for the White House.

An interagency meeting of senior intelligence, law enforcement and security was convened out of Washington to discuss the incident and possible measures to ensure that there no similar attacks, Burton said.

U.S. counterterrorism officials are particularly concerned in light of the 2006 London airline plot, in which British and Pakistani nationals conspired to carry out multiple suicide bombings on board trans-Atlantic flights.

Accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his cousin Ramzi Yousef were accused of plotting in 1995 to take down multiple airliners over the Pacific Ocean using explosive devices hidden in airliner lavatories.

The response to the attempted attack created an unusual tableau for people around the airport.

“I don’t ever recall seeing a plane on that runway ever before, and I pass by there frequently,” said J.P. Karas, 55, of Wyandotte, Mich., who was driving down a road near the airport when he spotted the jet, surrounded by police cars, an ambulance, a bus and some TV trucks.

Karas said that it was difficult to tell what was going on but that it looked as though the plane’s front wheel was off the runway.

NBC News, 25 December 2009
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Rapper gets punished for threatening Wilders

Friday, December 25, 2009
Rotterdam rapper Mosheb has been given 80 hours community service and a two month suspended jail term for threatening anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders in a rap.

The public prosecution department had called for 120 hours community service or 60 days in jail.

The text of the number, entitled Who's next, includes the rapper saying it will be 'bam bam' if he meets Wilders. The rapper also calls on Wilders to take back his words if he wants to stay alive and says 'this is no joke. Last night I dreamed I chopped your head off.'

The public prosecution department said the threat could reasonably lead to Wilders fearing for his life or that he would be subjected to violence.

According to news agency ANP, the court agreed with this conclusion and said the rap was threatening. 'A politician must be able to do his work,' the judges said.

Of the 424 incidents of threats against politicians made last year, 292 were directed at Wilders.

DutchNews.nl, 18 December 2009
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Parents refused right to name son Allah

Friday, December 25, 2009
In the latest battle over what people may legally call their children, the Swedish Tax Authority (Skatteverket) has ruled that the parents of a two-month-old boy in Skåne in southern Sweden may not call their child Allah.

According to the decision, Skatteverket does not approve “names that can give offence or be seen to cause discomfort for the bearer”. In this case, Skatteverket was “of the opinion that the name can be seen as objectionable for religious reasons.”

Skatteverket legal expert Lars Tegenfeldt told The Local that devout members of the public might take offense to certain names with highly religious connotations.

“God or Allah or the Devil is offensive to the public. Not me personally, but there are religious people who think so,” he said.

“Some religious names though, like Jesus, are normal,” he added.

There have been several high profile cases in Sweden over the authority's seemingly arbitrary decisions regarding first names it deems acceptable.

In 2007, for example, a couple was initially banned from calling their daughter Metallica (a decision later overturned), while authorities in another part of Sweden allowed a baby boy to be called Google. Other controversial names rejected by the agency have included Q, Token and Michael Jackson.

The parents told The Local they do not plan to appeal the Skatteverket's decision rejecting the name Allah.

The Local, 23 December 2009
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Demonstrators protest against CAIR street cleaning

Friday, December 25, 2009
A small group of demonstrators led by Americans Against Hate Chairman Joe Kaufman last Friday accused Broward County and the Town of Davie of supporting an organization with ties to Islamic terrorists.

A street sign in Davie sparked the anger of the demonstrators who protested in front of the Broward County Governmental Center in Fort Lauderdale on a rainy Friday afternoon.

The sign, at the southwest corner of College Avenue and Nova Drive, credits the Miami office of the Council on American Islamic Relations ( CAIR-FL) for its participation in a Broward County program to clear litter from an "adopted" street.

Kaufman said when he complained about the sign, a spokesman for the Town of Davie told him it would not be removed because CAIR had a Constitutional right to free speech.

"Freedom of speech is a poor excuse," Kaufman said to the demonstrators. "This is not about free speech. It's about terrorism."

The United States Department of Justice has linked Washington, DC-based CAIR to Hamas, which the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization. CAIR was named an unindicted co-conspirator during the federal trial in Dallas of the Holy Land Foundation, the largest Islamic charity in the United States.

"We're here to question Broward County's long-time affiliation with CAIR," Jeff Rubinoff, a Davie resident, said. Rubinoff accused the county of "complicity in supporting a terrorist organization."

He mentioned a CAIR fundraiser at the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center, the Broward County School Board naming CAIR-Florida representative Jawhar "Joe" Badran to a diversity committee and CAIR's Broward County bus ads that he said denigrated Jews and Christians.

"Broward County is once again finding themselves on the wrong side," Rubinoff said. "So far their ears remain closed and they turn their backs to us."

Calls to Broward County Mayor Ken Keechl and Davie Mayor Judy Paul on Friday, before the Jewish Journal went to press, were not returned.

"Too many people have been quiet about their concerns over Muslim extremism," said Rabbi Andrew Jacobs of Ramat Shalom synagogue in Plantation. Stopping it must begin locally, in Broward County, he said. It's time for people to raise their voices about the threat posed by CAIR, Jacobs added.

Muhammad Malik, executive director of CAIR-Florida's Miami office, said the organization wanted to bring out people to pick up litter from the street, like any other group.

Malik said he met with Davie officials and with administrators in the county's Adopt-A-Street program. Neither had a problem with CAIR's sign, he said.

Kaufman and Americans Against Hate "emotionalize" by having a rally on Hanukkah, Malik said. He said he didn't think the Town of Davie would be influenced by the demonstration.

Malik accused Israel of terrorism in the war with Hamas in Gaza. "There were some bad things happening on both sides," he said. "If we really were with Hamas, then I wouldn't be describing acts by Hamas."

Sun Sentinel, 22 December 2009
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Discrimination suit filed on behalf of African-American Muslim worker

Friday, December 25, 2009
CAIR-Chicago announced today that it has filed a complaint in federal court against USF Holland and YRC Worldwide Inc. on behalf of an African-American Muslim former employee. The complaint alleges that the man, Reginal Exson, suffered discrimination based on his race, religion and disability.

Exson worked as a truck driver for USF Holland out of the company’s Cook County location. Mr. Exson claims that a company representative made derogatory remarks regarding his race, such as “You are a black f***ing liar. I never met a black person that didn’t lie. It must be part of your gene pool.”

After sustaining extensive injuries on the job in an accident for which he was not at fault in November 2007, Mr. Exson says that the company refused to honor his doctor-recommended work restrictions and subjected him to discipline based on false allegations.

In addition to this discriminatory treatment, a worker’s compensation coordinator is alleged to have called Mr. Exson a “terrorist,” saying, “Did you think I was going to let you and Osama bin Laden get off with all this money that we’re paying you?” Another representative refused to recognize Mr. Exson’s right to pray pursuant to his religious beliefs, allegedly stating “I don’t give a damn about your religion or your prayers.”

Mr. Exson also says that his benefits provider, YRC Worldwide Inc. (the parent company of USF Holland), refused to properly compensate him for work-related injuries or accommodate his restrictions so that he could return back to work. Mr. Exson has not received any pay or benefits from the companies since March 2009.

“Employers must act to ensure that employees work in environments free from racism and anti-Islamic sentiments,” said Kevin Vodak, Staff Attorney at CAIR-Chicago. “Based on Mr. Exson’s allegations, the large trucking corporations involved in this lawsuit fostered blatantly discriminatory terms and conditions that no employee should have to endure.”

CAIR, 21 December 2009
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Students Report on Islam in Unique Course

Friday, December 25, 2009
AST LANSING, Mich., Dec. 11 (UPI) — A new course at Michigan State University teaches students how to deal with the complexities of reporting on Islam in a post-Sept. 11 world.

This semester, students wrote about holiday celebrations and about how Muslim students feel about American university life. They also analyzed news reports on Islam from around the world in the new, “Reporting on Islam” course at Michigan State University.

“[The course] definitely made me uncomfortable at times, but honestly, that is how I know it was worthwhile,” said Dan Redford, a student. “It helped me experience a part of the world and this country that I never had before.”

Students uploaded the stories they wrote and the photos they took to UPIU.com, a service of United Press International for university students. Professor Geri Alumit Zeldes said that she wanted the class to submit its stories to UPIU to “have an outlet, other than me, to share their stories.”

Of the 14 registered students in the course, half had at least one of their stories published online through UPIU. Student Andrew Norman’s story on Islamic punk music was featured in blog in The San Francisco Sentinel and Wall Street Journal.

Student Brian J. Bowe said that using Web tools such as Skype to talk to people in other countries helped “shrink the world,” an exciting aspect of the course.

“Those classroom interactions with people in places like Iraq, Iran and India enriched the experience for me,” Bowe said. “One of the problems in media portrayals of Islam is that we’re frequently talking about Muslims, but not to Muslims. Using technology, we were able to bridge cultures and have very profound dialogues.”

Students also talked to Muslims who live in Michigan as sources for some articles.

“I found our visit to [the Islamic Center of East Lansing] highly beneficial. I would have been timid about going there alone,” said student Jennifer Hoewe. “Since I was joined by my classmates and welcomed by those who attended the mosque, I felt comfortable enough to go again by myself later in the semester as part of an article I wrote.”

The new class comes as students across the United States are showing more interest in Islam and in academic topics affiliated with the faith. Three of the students in “Reporting on Islam” studied Arabic, two of them through the university’s Arabic department, which had roughly 150 students enrolled in classes this fall.

Several of the students in “Reporting on Islam” also are in the Muslim Studies specialization program, which was created by Professor Mohammed Ayoob after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The reporting course was just one of many offered this semester under this specialization, along with classes in arts and humanities, public affairs, religion, political science, anthropology and sociology.

“Reporting on Islam” is a good first step for many students to continue learning about the topic, said Zahkia Smith, a student.

“I think what’s most important coming out of this class is that the very best way to know how to report on Islam is to get involved and actually step into the Muslim community,” Smith said. “The class gives you the right tools. The completion of the class is the signal to dig further.”

“Reporting on Islam” is a pilot course offered jointly through Michigan State’s School of Journalism and its Muslim Studies program. It was started with a grant from the Social Science Research Council, a national non-profit group. In addition, the course is part of the Islam, Muslims, and Journalism Education program, a project on the Internet funded by the same grant that has a goal to generate accurate and balanced reporting.

Similar courses have been taught at other American university campuses, Zeldes said. For example, Marda Dunsky, instructor of Islamic World Studies at DePaul University, teaches the “Reporting the Arab and Muslim World” course.

UPIU.com, 24 December 2009
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Muslim police chef defeated in 'bacon roll' tribunal

Friday, December 25, 2009
A Muslim chef who lost a claim of religious discrimination against Scotland Yard after complaining he was forced to cook sausages and bacon faces a legal bill of more than £75,000.

Hasanali Khoja accused the Metropolitan Police of failing to consider his Islamic beliefs when he was asked to handle pork products as a catering manager at a police station.

The £23,000-a-year chef claimed suggestions by his bosses that he should wear gloves and use tongs left him 'stressed and humiliated'. Muslims are banned from eating pork under Islamic law.

But Mr Khoja, 62, lost his claim in May after a police employee told an employment tribunal how she saw Mr Khoja eat bacon rolls and sausages.

The Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) has now won a ruling ordering Mr Khoja to pay its costs, which total at least £76,200. In its costs claim, the Met said Mr Khoja 'knew that he had asked for a bacon roll two or three times for personal consumption before bringing his claim and throughout the conduct of his claim'.

'The fact that he had knowingly come into contact with pork products before bringing the claim shows that the claim had no reasonable prospect of success from the outset.'

Judge Michael Southam agreed and ruled Mr Khoja should pay costs, though these would be determined at a later date at a county court.

Mr Khoja, from Edgware, North London, who is still employed by the Met, claimed at a hearing in Watford that he could afford to pay only £80 a week as he has little income, lives in rented property and is struggling with £30,000 legal bills of his own.

But the court discovered he had sold another home last year, splitting profits of almost £200,000 with his wife and two sons.

The decision is another setback for the police chef, who believed he was on course for a large settlement when he launched his case in 2007.

Mr Khoja, who sits on a Foods Standards Agency advisory committee on Muslim issues, decided to take action after Scotland Yard chiefs placed him on unpaid leave for a year after his refusal to work with pork.

He said he was then given work in a different building but his role was downgraded.

But his case fell apart when another caterer, Mary Boakye, told the court she served him bacon rolls 'two or three' times at the Met canteen at Heathrow in West London.

When she told him she was surprised because his religion banned him from eating pork, Mr Khoja allegedly replied: 'I eat them once in a while.'

Another chef said he saw Mr Khoja once happily eat a sausage dish and told the court 'he was not as strict as some Muslims'.

Judge Southam also heard how Mr Khoja had made 'wild and baseless' allegations about a human resource manager, allegedly making racial facial gestures.

Mr Khoja is one of several ethnic minority staff to launch racial discrimination claims against Scotland Yard. The most high-profile was former Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, who last year accused Sir Ian Blair of excluding him from the upper echelons of the force because of his skin colour.

Mr Ghaffur retired after receiving an out-of-court settlement and dropped the allegations.

Daily Mail UK, 20 December 2009
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US group uses Times Square to promote Islam

Friday, December 25, 2009
An American Muslim advocacy group launched a massive advertisement in New York City's infamous Times Square on Tuesday in a bid to present to millions of Americans a "fair" and "accurate" portrayal of Islam.

The public service announcement, "I am Muslim, I am American," was launched by the New York branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and aims to show people that Muslims are a valuable part of American society.

The advertisement starts with the statement "Building Community, Serving Country" and features American Muslims from all walks of life, including a police sergeant, a Little League all-star, a human rights activist, a doctoral candidate and an attorney.

"This public service advertisement features ordinary American Muslims whose everyday lives are dedicated to building community and serving country," Faiza Ali, CAIR New York's Community Affairs Director, said.

Ali added that "this initiative is part of our ongoing effort to ensure that a fair and accurate portrayal of Islam and Muslims is presented to the American public.”

The campaign will run from Dec. 22 to Jan. 16, and will even be shown on New Year's Eve, when at least one million people are expected to crowd Times Square for celebrations and the infamous countdown, when the ball drops at midnight.

"We have more than 400 million people going through Times Square and we thought this would be a good opportunity to send out a positive message about Muslims," Ibrahim Cooper, CAIR's national communications director, told Al Arabiya.

And the message is simple "that American Muslims are a vital part of our society and people have an opportunity to learn more about them," Hooper said.

And for those who have never been to Times Square, Hooper explained that the advertisement will appear on the CBS Super Screen, which is a 26-foot by 20-foot full-motion screen, called a "JumboTron," and will air 18 times a day.

"We hope that the millions of people from around the nation and the world who view this public service announcement will return home with enhanced understanding of Islam and the American Muslim community," CAIR's National Executive Director, Nihad Awad, said.

And according to Hooper although the advertisement has only been up for a day it has already been well received.

"The reaction has been very positive and we have already had people showing an interest and donating online."
CAIR, 23 December 2009

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Muslims join Jews for Christmas Day Mitzvah

Thursday, December 24, 2009
DETROIT – Many Jews consider Christmas Day an opportunity to serve their community while Christian neighbors celebrate their holiday. This year, what's also known as Mitzvah Day in southeast Michigan is getting an added boost from Muslims.

For the first time, about 40 Muslims are expected to join 900 Jews for what they call their largest annual day of volunteering. Leaders say it's a small but significant step in defusing tensions and promoting good will between the religions — particularly on a day that is sacred to Christianity, the third Abrahamic faith.

Mitzvah Day, a nearly 20-year tradition in the Detroit area also practiced in other communities, is so named because Mitzvah means "commandment" in Hebrew and is generally translated as a good deed.

The new partnership stemmed from a recent meeting between members of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit — which said it was unaware of any similar Mitzvah Day alliances.

The Jewish groups organize Mitzvah Day, which consists of volunteers helping 48 local social service agencies with tasks such as feeding the hungry and delivering toys to children in need.

Victor Begg, chairman of the Islamic council, said he was seeking a public way for the two faith communities to "build bridges of understanding and cooperation," which led to joining the Mitzvah Day effort.

"The general public is what we need to give the message to, our entire community," he said.

Not only are most Muslims and Jews available to serve on Christmas Day, but leaders also recognized a shared commitment to community service. Charity in Judaism is known as "tzedakah." In Islam, it's called "zakat."

"It's an interesting parallel," said Robert Cohen, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. "Both of our faiths predispose us to engaging in this sort of thing."

Muslim and Jewish volunteers will work together at the Gleaners Community Food Bank in Pontiac, about 25 miles north of Detroit.

"We felt it was a perfect activity for people to be getting together like this because you work side by side with one or two other people as you're moving the boxes," Cohen said. "The grass-roots connection builds relationships on a personal level."

Cohen said the local bonds are important given global animosities. He said Muslims and Jews here "have serious differences about what happens in the Middle East," but that shouldn't be the only dynamic defining their relationship.

Begg added the two faiths can set an example in the Detroit area, which has historically large Jewish and Muslim populations.

"Whatever happens in the Middle East, we have no control over it," Begg said. "But here, our kids go to the same school, we work together. ... We need to focus on building an inclusive community."

Mitzvah Day is planned months in advance, so the number of Muslim participants is modest to start, but both groups expect it will grow. Next year proves challenging for Jewish volunteers because Christmas falls on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Details have yet to be worked out, though Cohen and others are considering moving Mitzvah Day. That would give Muslims the opportunity to try a solo run on Christmas, join Jewish groups on another day, or both.

"The bottom line is we really want to do it together," Begg said.

AP, 24 December 2009
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Britons Side with Banning Minarets in UK

Thursday, December 24, 2009
People in Britain are open to the idea of banning minarets, according to a three-country poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 37 per cent of respondents in Britain would vote in favour of a ban, while 25 per cent would vote against it.

In the United States, 21 per cent of respondents would vote to ban minarets, while 19 per cent disagree. In Canada, 35 per cent of respondents would vote against a ban, while 27 per cent would endorse one.
Within the frame of Switzerland’s direct-democracy system, a group of citizens or leaders of the eight cantons together can call a referendum to challenge a law approved by the federal legislature. The vote is decided with a simple majority.

Last year, the ultra-nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) gathered more than 113,000 signatures to force a nationwide referendum on banning the construction of minarets in Swiss mosques. The minaret—a tower from which the call to prayer is sounded—is a distinctive architectural feature of Islamic mosques. At this time, only the mosques in Geneva, Wangen near Olten, Winterthur and Zurich have minarets.
Last month, 57.5 per cent of Swiss voters cast a ballot in favour of banning the construction of minarets in Swiss mosques.

Taner Hatipoglu, president of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Zurich, expressed dismay at the outcome of the referendum, saying, "The initiators have achieved something everyone wanted to prevent, and that is to influence and change the relations to Muslims and their social integration in a negative way."

Polling Data
Suppose a similar referendum took place in [COUNTRY]. Would you vote in favour or against banning minarets in [COUNTRY]?

In favour
Would not vote
Not sure
Source: Angus Reid Strategies
Methodology: Online interviews with 1,000 Canadian adults, 1,004 American adults, and 2,002 British adults, conducted from Dec. 9 to Dec. 12, 2009. Margins of error range from 2.2 per cent to 3.1 per cent.

 Angus Reid Global Monitor, 22 December 2009
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Germans Anxious About Growth of Islam

Saturday, December 19, 2009
(Angus Reid Global Monitor) - Most people in Germany express a certain degree of anxiety over the growth of the Islamic religion and culture in the country, according to a poll by Infratest-Dimap released by ARD. 33 per cent of respondents are very concerned about this matter, and 29 per cent express moderate concern.
Germany is home to Europe’s second-largest Muslim community after France.

Last month, voters in Switzerland participated in a referendum which banned the construction of minarets in Swiss mosques. The minaret—a tower from which the call to prayer is sounded—is a distinctive architectural feature of Islamic mosques.

On Dec. 13, Thilo Sarrazin, a former Berlin finance senator and current member of the German Central Bank committee, said Muslim headscarves should be banned in Germany.

Earlier this year, Sarrazin was criticized after he declared: "A large number of Arabs and Turks in this city, whose number has grown through bad policies, have no productive function other than as fruit and vegetable vendors."

Polling Data
Are you concerned about the growth of Islam in Germany?
Yes, very concerned
Yes, moderately concerned
No, not concerned
Source: Infratest-Dimap / ARD
Methodology: Telephone interviews with 1,000 German adults, conducted in December 2009. Margin of error is 3.1 per cent.

Angus Reid Global Monitor, 19 December 2009
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Swiss minaret ban reaches European Court of Human Rights

Friday, December 18, 2009

A recent referendum in Switzerland placed a ban on minaret construction in the country. Now, a Muslim man living in Switzerland has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.

Algerian-born Hafid Ouardidi lodged the complaint with the human rights court in Strausbourg, saying the referendum violates the right to religious freedom. Ouardidi is a former spokesman at the Geneva Mosque.

The referendum passed in Switzerland after 57.5 percent of the country's citizens approved the measure in a November 29 vote. The Swiss national government urged its citizens to vote against the measure, which was supported by a campaign from the right-wing Swiss People's Party. The party opposed the "Islamisation of Switzerland."

One of Ouardidi's lawyers, Pierre de Preux, said that the Swiss government and all members of the European Council had been informed of the complaint.

"We will have both the plaintiff Hafid Ouardiri and the defendant, [the Swiss government], saying the same thing," de Preux told Reuters news agency. "The court is still free to decide whatever it wants, but it sure is going to help the request."

The European Court of Human Rights must still decide if it will accept Ouardidi's complaint.

mz/AP/Reuters, 16 December 2009
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The Hypocrisy of al-Demoqratia

Friday, December 18, 2009

So this is how democracy works?

In 2004, France banned headscarves and school principals chased after young "defiant" Muslim girls who continued to cover their heads in school. Now, following a national referendum, Switzerland has banned the construction of minarets, because minarets also somehow symbolize oppression. Thanks to the dedicated action of the far-right Swiss People's Party, the Alpine skies will be free from the snaking menace, which would spread intolerance and taint the splendor of Swiss architecture.

In between these two peculiar events, the targeting of Muslims in Western countries and the subjugation of entire Muslim nations all over the world has never ceased. Not for a day.

Moreover, the collective targeting of small or large Muslim communities in Western countries, and the deliberate abuse and degradation of Muslim individuals and Islamic symbols (from the Holy Qur'an to the Prophet Mohammed) has also never ceased.

Bizarrely, most of these actions have been done through "democratic" channels and justified in the name of democracy, on the basis of upholding the principles of secularism and Western values.

Many thoughts come to mind here; all unreservedly angry.

I remember when the word "democracy" used to resonate so loudly among Arabs and Muslims around the world. The more they were denied it, the more they yearned for it. University campuses in Cairo, Gaza and Karachi took their student union elections so very seriously. Innocent blood was spilled in clashes around campuses as students desperately tried to express their right to vote, to speak out and to assemble.

Those were the days, when al-demoqratia, Arabic for democracy, was the buzzword in the Middle East and beyond. Even Palestinian political prisoners held their elections, ever so faithfully, surrounded by highly fortified towers and under the deriding gaze of armed men in the unforgiving heat of the Naqab desert.

Arab and Muslim masses were keen on democracy to the extent that there was a near consensus that democracy, although a Western conception, could be distinguished from the many ills invited by Western interventions, imperialism and wars that scarred and continued to impair the collective Muslim psyche.

An entire school of Muslim thought was in fact established around the concept that democracy and Islam are very much compatible. Such a notion goes back to Egypt's Azharite scholar Rifa'a al-Tahtawi, who argued in the first half of the 19th century that the principles of European modernity were compatible with Islam.

"Al-Tahtawi's work influenced the philosopher Muhammad Abduh [1849-1905], another Azharite who is often described as the founder of Islamic modernism, which is captured in his statement that in Europe he found Islam without Muslims, while in Egypt he found Muslims without Islam," wrote German anthropologist, Frank Fanselow.

If one sets his prejudices aside to ponder this for a moment, one would realize the intellectual valor it takes to consider and even embrace commonalities with the very powers that have instilled so much harm and fear.

Even in their darkest, least proud moments, Muslim intellectuals and nations displayed impressive open-mindedness. They are hardly ever credited for that.

More recently, in Egypt, people tried hard to vote, in the face of beatings, public humiliation and imprisonment. In Palestine in 2006 the price was even higher — starvation. Gaza continues to endure under a medieval Israeli siege, ultimately because of an election.

Muslim communities in the West have long been considered the luckiest; after all, they live in the abodes of democracy. They drink from the fountain of rights and freedoms that never runs dry.

However, these idealized assumptions missed the fact that Western democracy was conditional. And unconditional democracy can only be a farce.

Much has been said to explain the West's faltering on its own commitment to democracy. No, the tragedy of September 11, 2001, is hardly the defining moment that created the growing chasm that made the West fearful of Islam. Despite all that has taken place since then — the constant spewing out of right-wing hatred, fanatic evangelical preaching and all the rest — America is still more tolerant than Europe. Nor was the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe a response in solidarity to America's woes.

Honestly, the French are not fond of Americans, nor are the Germans necessarily that passionate about the Swiss. But this didn't stop a German Christian Democratic state interior minister, Volker Bouffier, from making a "recommendation" to Muslim communities in his own country: "Naturally the Muslims in Germany have a right to build mosques. But they should make sure not to overwhelm the German population with them."

How do you overwhelm people with minarets? Is this a post-post-post-modernistic logic that we are yet to be informed of?

There are only four minarets in the entire country of Switzerland, a country with a population of approximately 7.6 million people. How overwhelming can that be? And aren't religious freedom and the freedom of collective and individual expression basic rights guaranteed by democratic values?

But this is hardly about a 4.8-meter tall minaret in the northern Swiss town of Langenthal. It's about the fact that the one who suggested the structure is a Muslim furniture salesman by the name of Mutalip Karaademi. He didn't know, of course, that his modest idea of adding a minaret to the community's mosque would generate a nationwide referendum, and an international "controversy."

Karaademi was not trying to "Islamificate" the Swiss. He just wanted his community to have a place for worship (as opposed to the unused paint factory it currently uses for prayer), to be able to express its collective identity without fear. Ironically enough, the Muslim community in Langenthal is mostly Albanians, refugees who fled Kosovo seeking escape and deliverance.

What a strange paradox: Muslims escaping to the West, physically and figuratively, only to find double standards, self-negation and, at times, pure hypocrisy.

For now, however, a new consensus is forming: democracy can be invoked and used against Muslims only, and not for Muslims. It can be manipulated to deny them their identity in Europe and their freedom in Palestine, to ensure their subjugation in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and to meddle in their internal affairs everywhere else.

Al-demoqratia, indeed.

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers, journals and anthologies around the world. His latest book is "The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle," (Pluto Press, London), and his forthcoming book is "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story." (Pluto Press, London), now available for pre-orders on Amazon.com.

Arab American News, 11 December 2009
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The allegedly growing domestic Muslim threat

Friday, December 18, 2009
There is clearly a concerted effort by the Government to claim loudly that the threat posed by radicalized American Muslims is increasing. Last week, The Los Angeles Times published a lengthy, scary story under the headline "U.S. sees homegrown Muslim extremism as rising threat," claiming that "Anti-terrorism officials and experts see signs of accelerated radicalization among American Muslims." Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned this month: "Home-based terrorism is here." When justifying his Afghanistan escalation at West Point, Obama warned of "extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror." And strangely, on Saturday, two articles with virtually identical storylines appeared -- one in The Washington Post and the other in The New York Times -- warning that American Muslims, for the first time, are now becoming a radicalized threat in the way European Muslims are.

At least from all appearances, these claims are being made exclusively on the basis of a handful of recent episodes involving American Muslims accused of having links to Al Qaeda and/or the Taliban. There is no data whatsoever offered to corroborate the claim of a "trend." Given the obvious dangers inherent in trumpeting threats from internal sources -- as well as the motives the Government generally has in disseminating such warnings and the motive it specifically has when escalating a war -- far more than a few anecdotes ought to be required before any of this is believed.

What's most striking about these "warnings" is that they virtually never examine the reasons why this would be happening. Why, after all this time, would American Muslims suddenly be more willing to engage in violence against the U.S.? To his credit, Scott Shane devoted several paragraphs of his NYT article to addressing this question, and what he finds is both highly significant and highly unsurprising:

[T]he continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the American operations like drone strikes in Pakistan, are fueling radicalization at home, [terrorism expert Robert Leiken] said. "Just the length of U.S. involvement in these countries is provoking more Muslim Americans to react," Mr. Leiken said . . . .
Like many other specialists, [Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce] Hoffman pointed to the United States' combat in Muslim lands as the only obvious spur to many of the recent cases, especially those with a Pakistani connection. "The longer we’ve been in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said, "the more some susceptible young men are coming to believe that it’s their duty to take up arms to defend their fellow Muslims."
A few analysts, in fact, argue that Mr. Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan -- intended to prevent a terrorist haven there -- could backfire.
Robert A. Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist, contends that suicide attacks are almost always prompted by resentment of foreign troops, and that escalation in Afghanistan will fuel more plots. "This new deployment increases the risk of the next 9/11,” he said. “It will not make this country safer."
The evidence proving this causation is now so overwhelming as to be undeniable.  Waging wars, occupying, and dropping bombs in Muslim countries is the single most counter-productive step that can be taken to combat Islamic extremism (indefinitely imprisoning them without charges is a close second).  It's akin to advising a lung cancer patient to triple the quantity of cigarettes he smokes each day.  Yet we continue to do it over and over, and then point to the harms we cause as reasons we need to continue doing it.  Our "counter-terrorism" campaign basically consists of three steps repeated endlessly:

(1) Interfere in or otherwise act aggressively in the Muslim world.
(2) Provoke increased anti-American sentiment and fuel terrorism as a result of Step 1.
(3) Point to the increased anti-American sentiment and terrorism as a reason we need to escalate our interference and aggression in the Muslim world.  Return to Step 1.

The coordinated campaign to hype the alleged "growing domestic Muslim threat" at exactly the time we are escalating our conventional war in Afghanistan and our covert Predator war in Pakistan is a perfect illustration of this process.   Basically, what Shane's article reveals is the shocking truth that waging war and otherwise interfering in Muslim countries for more a full decade radicalizes Muslims and drives some of them to want to return the violence.  Who would have guessed?

By Glenn Greenwald
Salon, 14 December 2009
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