Ethnic Minority Voters Deserting Labour

Poll: Blow For The Government Labour’s support among Britain’s ethnic minority voters has fallen, according to a new survey. It now stands at 58 per cent, down from 75 per cent in 2001. The Guardian/ICM poll published on Monday confirms earlier polls showing that Muslim voters in particular have defected from Labour in the wake of the Iraq war. Labour’s support has halved among Muslims, declining from 75 per cent to 38 per cent since 2001. The poll finds some ethnic groups have stayed loyal to Labour with 74 per cent of black people and 61 per cent of those of Indian-origin saying they will vote for the party. Support for Labour is lowest among people of mixed race, at 42 per cent it is more in line with the wider electorate. The Liberal Democrats, on 23 per cent, firmly push the Conservatives into third place as far as support from Britain’s ethnic minority groups is concerned. The Tories only register backing from 14 per cent of ethnic minority voters. Wider Findings The poll found that only 39 per cent of ethnic minority voters see themselves as “fully British”, regardless of how long they have lived here, and more than half say they have been a victim of name-calling or verbal abuse. One in five ethnic minority voters say they have considered leaving Britain because of racial intolerance. Nearly half say that when they hear people talking about immigrants they think they mean them, regardless of how long they have been in Britain. On a more positive note, the survey found higher than expected levels of trust in the police, health and education authorities to treat them fairly. The poll was undertaken to highlight the needs and experiences of Britain’s ethnic minority voters, and their relevance to the coming election campaign as Labour seeks a third term.

First Women-Only Mosque Opens In Amsterdam

A number of Dutch Muslim women opened Saturday, March 19, a women-only mosque in the metropolitan city of Amsterdam. Inaugurated by controversial Egyptian feminist writer Nawal El-Saadawi, the mosque is a part of a project carried out by the De Balie cultural center and the cultural development institute of the Forum organization, both financially backed by the government. The mosque is run by women from A to Z, with a woman leading the prayer and another raising the Adhan (call to prayer). The traditional curtains separating male and female worshipers in mosques disappeared from the novel mosque. Men were conspicuous by their absence though a few of them attended the inauguration ceremony out of curiosity and sat at the back. The project sponsors argue that it is a milestone as it will meet the “spiritual needs of Muslim women” and serve as a meeting point for “isolated” women away from male dominance. Saadawi took the podium, preaching against what she called the “oppression” of Muslim women and urging women to “resist” for equal rights with men. Saadawi faced an apostasy case in 2001 before an Egyptian court after she had been quoted by Egyptian newspapers as saying that hajj, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, was “a vestige of a pagan practice” and that Islamic inheritance law should be abolished. A spokeswoman for the De Balie center, who requested anonymity, told IslamOnline.net that Saadawi has been selected because “she set herself up as a paradigm for women liberalization and their struggle to lift the oppression.” She, however, said that the mosque has nothing to do with the woman-led mixed-gender Friday prayer in New York City on March18 . IOL correspondents says the project fits within the government’s tendency to boost what it sees as “liberal” Muslims against “extremists”. Diverting Attention Ahmad Al-Rawi, the chairman of the Union of Islamic Organizations in Europe (UIOE), said things like the woman-led prayers and the new women-only mosque are western attempts to distract Muslims’ attention from pressing issues facing them in the West. “Muslims [in the West] should rather be preoccupied with educating the young generations about their religion and protecting them from moral aberration,” he told IOL. Rawi underlined that Muslim women in Europe are in no way inferior to their male partners. “They [women] play a leading role in our organization and face no discrimination whatsoever,” he added. Marzouk Abdullah, professor of Shari`ah in the Islamic European University in the Netherlands, urged Muslim women in Europe to display good intentions, cautioning them against committing wrongdoing unabashedly. “We can never deny them their right to form an assembly to raise the awareness of the rights and responsibilities of women under Islam, if they are really for that,” he told IOL. It is a sort of clich_ to say that women are oppressed under Islam, but it is a fact to say that immigrant women in the country – particularly Muslims – are being discriminated against, Dutch Muslim female lawyer Famille Arslan told IOL on Monday, March14 . She said that Muslim women in the Netherlands take the brunt of religious discrimination and racial profiling in the labor market because of their attire and names. Muslims make up one million of the Netherlands’s 16 million population. Turks represent 80 percent of the Muslim minority. There are some 450 mosques in the Netherlands,1,000Islamic cultural centers, two Islamic universities and 42 preparatory schools, according to recent estimates. Press reports have underlined that Dutch Muslims were subjected to religious discrimination and racist attacks on their places of worship in 2004.

Immigrant Emancipation ‘A Growing Trend’

AMSTERDAM – Young Turkish and Moroccan mothers have the same opinions about combining work and family duties than women from other ethnic groups, research indicates. But the Dutch Family Council also said that the husbands of Turkish and Moroccan man have different opinions regarding emancipation, newspaper Trouw reported on Tuesday. The results of the study were being presented during a ‘Family Parliament’ at the Rotterdam city hall also on Tuesday. Dozens of immigrant families were to discuss with politicians the issue of parenthood in a multicultural city.

British Lords Defeat Anti-Terror Law

In a humiliating defeat for British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government, the House of Lords voted against the controversial anti-terror law, inflicting a series of blows on proposals to give the Home Secretary extensive powers over suspect terrorists. The Lords voted Monday, March 7, by 249 to 199 against the controversial bill, demanding judicial oversight of the extensive powers the government originally suggested be given to the Home Secretary, which ranges from electronic tagging to curfews and freedom of association, Reuters reported. “They have to be better than the awfulness of what is in this bill,” Helena Kennedy, a senior lawyer and peer in Blair’s Labour Party, said. The proposed law allows the government to place so-called control orders on persons it deems “terrorism suspects” on mere suspicion, imposing measures such as electronic tagging or even a form of indefinite house arrest without trial. If approved, the law would give the government powers unprecedented in peacetime to curtail the activities of both British citizens and foreign nationals’ suspects. It would replace an earlier law allowing “foreign terror suspects” to be jailed without trial, which Britain’s highest court of appeal struck down late last year after ruling it contravened human rights obligations. Adamant to pass the laws as they stand, Blair had rejected Conservative proposals to put a time limit on the measures, which sparked fears it would erode the country’s long-established human rights by targeting people on “mere suspicions”. “Reasonable Grounds” Giving the controversial bill the thumbs-down, the British Lords demanded a higher standard of proof before any restriction of movement could be imposed. In this regard, two amendments of the bill were pressed for by two members of the Liberal Democrats Party, according to the BBC News Online. One raises the standard of proof for making a control order from “reasonable grounds” for suspicion to a requirement that a judge must be satisfied on the “balance of probabilities” such an order is justified. Another introduces a requirement for the director of public prosecutions to deliver a statement to the court saying there was not reasonable prospect of a successful prosecution before an order was made. “Sunset Clause” “The speed with which this legislation is going through this House and has already gone through the Commons, I believe, is evidence enough that we need such a clause on the face of the bill,” said Lord Kingsland, the Shadow Lord Chancellor. He stressed that the opposition to the controversial legislation would also try Tuesday to introduce what he termed a “sunset clause”, which would see the bill lapse on November 30. Home Office minister Baroness Scotland, however, said the “sunset clause” would not be an appropriate step. “This Bill Should Not Be Seen As A Very Short Stopgap.” The Government’s failure to see off the opposition to the bill may force ministers to consider further concessions or risk losing its entire anti-terror bill. Scotland revealed Sunday that if the anti-terror proposals are rejected by the Lords, Blair plans to use the so-called Parliament Act to force them on to the statute book. It added that invoking the Parliament Act over house arrest plans would “expose ministers to renewed controversy at a time when they are desperately trying to rally opposition parties and their own MPs behind them”. Muslims in Britain are complaining that they are maltreated by police under the Terrorism Act for no apparent reason other than being Muslim, citing the routine stop-and-search operations. Senior British parliamentarians admitted last August that anti-terrorism laws are being used “disproportionately” against the Muslim minority.

Pushing For Islam In German Schools; Some German Schools Already Offer Islamic Classes In German

Germany’s many Muslim groups plan to unite under one umbrella in an effort to ensure that Islam can be taught in public schools, better integrating children and combating the influence of fundamentalists. “It is vital to resolve this problem and ensure that Islam can be taught in German in schools,” said Nadeem Elyas, president of one such group, the central council of Muslims, after a meeting of Muslim groups in Hamburg, northern Germany last weekend. “If we don’t, the next generation of Muslims will grow up without values, and if they don’t get their religious education in schools they risk being influenced by bad interpretations of the Quran,” he added. A Need For Integration Chancellor Gerhard Schr_der has been increasingly keen to improve the integration of Germany’s Muslims, particularly with overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey preparing to start talks to join the European Union. Legal moves have also been launched to crack down on fundamentalists in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, in which Germany was an unwitting rear-base for some of the suicide hijackers. Only last month, two Egyptian imams were banned from the country under new legislation aimed at so-called “hate preachers” suspected of trying to spread extremist ideologies. Constitutional Guarantees Religious courses for the estimated 600,000 Muslim children living in Germany are guaranteed under its constitution, the Basic Law. But the law provides only for the beliefs of “religious communities” to be taught in public schools and given the division of the Muslim community here, the Quran has not been accepted in the classroom. Muslim groups in Germany define themselves by the number of mosques under their jurisdiction, rather than by the number of people who are signed up as members, whereas the law only takes membership into account. Berlin Hesitates With education in Germany controlled by the 16 states, the federal government has sought to avoid the issue. In the most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, the authorities have for the last decade refused to allow Islam into the classroom because, they say, the main Muslim groups do not represent the entire community. “We plan to create a unified and democratic structure at the federal and state level,” said Elyas. He said six groups, accounting for around 70 percent of Germany’s Muslims, would join forces to have their religion taught in public schools. “Within a year, we will announce the project at every mosque and organization,” Elyas said. Some Snub The Idea However the biggest group in Germany, the Turco-Islamic Union (DITIB), representing an estimated 150,000 Muslims, appears to be snubbing the project. The need for momentum is great. For a few years, Muslims in some states have been trying to mount initiatives of their own but without great success. In Bavaria, Islamic instruction classes were set up in the 1980s but were only available in the Turkish language. Similar efforts were made in Schleswig-Holstein and the city-states of Hamburg and Berlin. A Promising Experiment Since August 2003, Muslim associations in Lower Saxony have come together under a Shura (council) to work out how to interact with the authorities and structure courses in Islam. “The experiment has been promising,” said Bernd Knopf, a spokesman at the federal office for integration. But an estimated 4,500 religious instructors will probably be needed. “The problem is that we can’t massively bring thousands of teachers into the country from one day to the next,” said Knopf. Some teachers are being trained in Turkey under an accord between universities from both countries, but in Germany itself the first-ever faculty aimed at completing such a task was only opened last year.

Dutch Government Passes New Terror Bill

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The Dutch government passed a new terrorism bill Friday, granting law-enforcement authorities far-reaching powers of investigation and allowing them to hold suspects for up to two weeks without charges. Intelligence agents will be able to use currently banned techniques such as infiltrating terror cells for undercover operations and telephone taps, a Justice Ministry statement said. They will also be allowed to use entrapment tactics, such as bogus sales transactions. The law must be approved by parliament. “There also will be more possibilities to gather information, detain suspects and conduct preventive public searches,” it said. “The events in Amsterdam and The Hague have made clear that wider powers to prevent terrorism are desirable.” The ministry was referring to the Nov. 2 killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, whose throat was slit allegedly by a young Muslim radical who associated with a suspected terrorist cell. In The Hague a few days after the murder, terrorist suspects wounded several policemen during a botched arrest attempt. Two young men holed up in a residential neighborhood for a day before surrendering. The new law also lowers the level of proof needed to hold a suspect believed to be plotting terrorist activity, said Justice Ministry spokesman Wibbe Alkema. The problem in the past, Alkema said, has been insufficient grounds to detain someone who could be preparing an attack. If the law is passed, authorities will have more time – up to two weeks – to build a case and bring charges. “In the initial stage of custody, there will no longer need to be serious suspicion, but only a reasonable doubt,” he said. “That could be someone who is believed to be involved with a network that has been under observation for some time.” One such case is that of Samir Azzouz, an 18-year-old Dutch Muslim on trial for allegedly plotting bombings of prominent Dutch landmarks. Prosecutors will be able to approve the use of spot searches of people and cars in public places that could be potential targets, such as an airport or a sports stadium, if there is suspicion of an attack plot.

‘I could scream with happiness. I’ve given hope and strength to Muslim women’; Schoolgirl tells Guardian of her battle to wear Islamic dress

By Dilpazier Aslam A schoolgirl who yesterday won the right to wear the Islamic shoulder-to-toe dress in school said the landmark ruling would “give hope and strength to other Muslim women”. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Shabina Begum, 16, described the court of appeal verdict against Denbigh high school in Luton as a victory for all Muslims “who wish to preserve their identity and values despite prejudice and bigotry”. After a two-year campaign by Shabina, Lord Justice Brooke found her former school had acted against her right to express her religion by excluding her because she insisted on wearing the jilbab. The ruling, overturning a high court decision which dismissed her application for a judicial review last year, will affect every school in the country. Almost a year after the French government banned “conspicuous” religious symbols, including the hijab, in schools, the judge called on the Department for Education to give British schools more guidance on how to comply with their obligations under the Human Rights Act. “I really feel like screaming out of happiness,” said Shabina, who was represented at the court of appeal by Cherie Booth QC. “I don’t regret wearing the jilbab at all. I’m happy that I did this. I feel that I have given hope and strength to other Muslim women. “I also feel a bit sad when I think why couldn’t this judgment have been made two years ago? In the end it’s my loss. No one else has lost anything.” Shabina had worn the shalwar kameez [trousers and tunic] from when she entered the school at the age of 12 until September 2002, when she decided it was against the tenets of her religion. When Denbigh refused her request to wear the jilbab, she was excluded, becoming the reluctant poster girl of a campaign that has been reported in 137 countries. “I thought it would be acceptable to wear because most people at the school are Muslim,” she said. “Then when I was refused I thought a month maximum. Then it just carried on. I get recognised when I go out and other people point to me. They say, ‘Are you that girl?'” Denbigh high school, which has a 79% Muslim intake, said it had lost on a technicality and the school was proud of its multi-faith policy. It said in a statement that it takes into account the cultural and religious sensitivities of pupils. Girls at the school were permitted to wear skirt, trousers or a shalwar kameez and headscarves, which complied with school uniform requirements. The statement said: “The policy was agreed by the governing body following wide consultation with the DfES, pupils, parents, schools and leading Muslim organisations.” The local education authority, Luton borough council, said all schools would now be advised to take pupils’ religion into account when imposing dress rules. Shabina, who was forced to switch to a school that did not prevent Muslim girls from wearing the jilbab, said her campaign had taken its toll. “I can’t be normal with friends if I do not go to school with them. I feel like my social skills have really been lacking. I do not really have many friends at my new school.” At times, even some of her peers cast doubt on her case. “Some of my friends said to me, ‘It’s not an obligation, why are you going to get yourself excluded because of it?’ I said that it is – look at verse number 3.59,” she said referring to the Qur’anic passage which she believes obliges Muslim women to cover their bodies bar their hands and face. In April last year Shabina’s mother died, a month before she lost her case at the high court. Excluded from school and fighting a daunting legal battle, she said the 12 months leading up to her mother’s death were the worst of her life. Her initial defeat did not come as a complete surprise. “Our solicitors told us we only had a 5% chance of winning the case because it’s a radical judgment. They would prefer the court of appeal to do that. After I heard that I felt like I had nothing else to lose.” In a statement after the judgment, Shabina added: “Today’s decision is a victory for all Muslims who wish to preserve their identity and values despite prejudice and bigotry.” She said the school’s decision has been “a consequence of an atmosphere that has been created in western societies post-9/11, an atmosphere in which Islam has been made a target for vilification in the name of the ‘war on terror’.” She told the Guardian: “I hope in years to come policy-makers will take note of a growing number of young Muslims who, like me, have turned back to our faith after years of being taught that we needed to be liberated from it. “Our belief in our faith is the one thing that makes sense of a world gone mad, a world where Muslim women, from Uzbekistan to Turkey, are feeling the brunt of policies guided by western governments. I feel I’ve made people question the jilbab issue again. “Both France and Britain are calling for freedom and democracy, but something as simple as the jilbab still takes two years to get okayed.”

Muslims face increased stop and search

By Vikram Dodd and Alan Travis Hazel Blears, the minister responsible for counter-terrorism, said yesterday that Muslims will have to accept as a “reality” that they will be stopped and searched by the police more often than the rest of the public. Ms Blears told MPs that “there was no getting away from it”, because the terrorist threat came from people “falsely hiding behind Islam”. Her comments, on the day when leading British Muslim groups met to hammer out a strategy on maximising the Islamic vote for the election, provoked immediate condemnation from Islamic leaders. Massoud Shadjareh, chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said: “She is demonising and alienating our community. It is a legitimisation for a backlash and for racists to have an onslaught on our community.” The Home Office minister’s comments come at an awkward time for the Labour government. It is struggling to pass anti-terrorism legislation through parliament and preparing for a general election where the traditionally loyal Muslim vote is threatening to desert the party. Ms Blears was speaking at the Commons home affairs committee inquiry into the impact of anti-terrorist measures on community relations. “If a threat is from a particular place then our action is going to be targeted at that area,” she said, adding: “It means that some of our counter-terrorism powers will be disproportionately experienced by the Muslim community.” Statistics showed that of the 17 people found guilty of terrorist acts since 9/11 in the UK, only four of the 12 whose ethnic backgrounds were known were Muslim, Mr Shadjareh said. The Muslim Council of Britain was in discussions with the Home Office about what the minister had meant. Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the MCB, said he feared they legitimised anti-Muslim sentiment and warned the minister against scaremongering to drum up support for the new terror laws: “The remarks are thoroughly unhelpful as we’ve seen a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK. “It is wholly unacceptable if a government minister is using her office to scaremonger at the expense of our community to ease the passage of legislation designed to curb our civil liberties.” Ms Blears’ comments come after Monday night’s vote over controversial new anti-terrorism powers that could see suspects subject to house arrest. The measures provoked a rebellion that saw the government’s majority reduced to 14, and yesterday the bill reached the House of Lords. Ms Blears also cited new Home Office stop and search figures showing that the rise in the number of Asian people stopped under the Terrorism Act was no longer as sharp as those involving white or black people. Counter-terror stop and searches rose from 21,500 in 2002-03 to nearly 30,000 in 2003-04. Those involving white people rose by 43% from 14,429 to 20,637; those involving black people rose by 55% from 1,745 to 2,704 over the same period; and those involving Asian people rose 22% from 2,989 to 3,668. Ms Blears said the figures may reassure the Muslim community they were not being unfairly targeted but she said it was important for the government to develop a broader conversation with the Islamic community than just talking about the terrorist threat.

British would-be shoe bomber admits plot to blow up plane

By Rosie Cowan, Steven Morris and Richard Norton-Taylor A British would-be suicide bomber yesterday admitted plotting to blow up a packed passenger plane in midair with an explosive device hidden in his shoe. Saajid Badat, 25, agreed to board and destroy an American-bound flight from Europe, three months after the 9/11 hijackers killed thousands in New York and Washington. But four days after he was given the deadly device in December 2001, he had a change of heart and backed out of the mission. However, he kept the bomb and police discovered its components, plastic explosive, a fuse and a crucial piece of evidence – detonating cord matching that found on convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid – when they raided Badat’s family home in Gloucester almost two years later, in November 2003. Traces of explosive were also found in his locker at the Blackburn mosque where he studied. Badat’s conviction marks the first admission of guilt by a British terrorist plotting an al-Qaida-style suicide atrocity. He originally denied the charges and was due to stand trial. But in a surprise change of plea at the Old Bailey yesterday, he admitted conspiring with Reid, who was jailed for trying to bomb a Paris to Miami flight in December 2001, and Nizar Trabelsi, who is in prison in Belgium for trying to bomb a Nato air base there. He will be sentenced on March 18. Scotland Yard said Badat had little choice but to plead guilty given the overwhelming evidence against him, the result of a three-year inquiry spanning 15 countries, and intensive surveillance by MI5 and anti-terrorist officers. Peter Clarke, Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner and head of the Met’s anti-terrorist branch, said: “This is a very important conviction, the culmination of a painstaking investigation lasting three years. It is a tremendous example of cooperation between international agencies and those in the UK. “Today’s conviction demonstrates the reality of the threat we are facing. Badat had agreed to blow up a passenger aircraft from Europe to the United States and was prepared to kill himself and hundreds of innocent people.” Intelligence officials and po lice chiefs are also concerned at how such a respectable young man was motivated to contemplate such a ruthless attack that they have asked the cabinet secretary, Andrew Turnbull, to examine how terrorists attract middle-class British Muslims. “We must ask how a young British man was transformed from an intelligent, articulate person who was well respected, into a person who has pleaded guilty to one of the most serious crimes you can think of,” said Mr Clarke. But Badat’s shy, softly spoken demeanour hid a dark secret. Detectives and intelligence sources believe Badat and Reid, a criminal from a broken home, met in terror training camps in Afghanistan, where Badat spent two years, significantly longer than most European-based operatives. It was there, anti-terrorist sources say, that Badat “underwent some form of radicalisation”. Reid and Badat no doubt bonded over common experiences and both were provided with almost identical bombs, destined to cause mayhem. In the end, Badat was not prepared to commit suicide, a reluctance intelligence agencies have discerned among other suspected terrorists they have monitored. The security services made the link between the three men when they established that Badat had used Belgian phone cards, found on Reid at the time of his arrest, to contact Trabelsi. Richard Horwell, prosecuting, said Badat had undergone terror training in camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he was given the bomb. He came back to the UK on December 10 2001. But four days later he sent an email “indicating he might withdraw” and he did not take the flight he had booked from Manchester to Amsterdam, from where he intended to fly on to the US with the bomb. Mr Horwell said Badat confessed on his way to the police station after his arrest. Bearded and wearing a grey sweater, the defendant spoke only to confirm his name and plead guilty during yesterday’s 15-minute hearing. In Gloucester, family and friends were in shock. His parents, Mohammed and Zubeida, moved to the city from Malawi around 30 years ago. Mr Badat worked in an ice-cream factory in Gloucester before he retired through ill health. Badat, one of four children, attended St James Church of England primary school, a minute’s walk from the family home. He attended the boys’ grammar school, the Crypt, where he gained 10 O-levels and four A-levels, in physics, chemistry, biology and general studies, before going to university. David Lamper, the Crypt’s headmaster, said: “He was a popular and diligent pupil.” After university he travelled abroad, ostensibly to study Islam. Friends said he visited Pakistan, India and the Middle East. During one of his returns to the UK he enrolled to study at an Islamic college in Blackburn. He met a young woman in Lancashire and friends said they intended to marry. When he visited Gloucester he attended the two local mosques and was seen as a rising star. One man who knew Badat through the mosques said: “He was one of the most saintly men I had ever met. He was a scholar who had studied our religion so devoutly that he could quote much of the Koran’s teachings word for word. “He was a quiet, reserved, respectful and sober man – you could never have imagined him as a terrorist in a million years. He respected people of all faiths and colours.”