Germans To Put Muslims Through Loyalty Test

By Kate Connolly Muslims intent on becoming German citizens will have to undergo a rigorous cultural test to gauge their views on subjects ranging from bigamy to homosexuality. Believed to be the first test of its kind in Europe, the southern state of Baden-W_rttemberg has created the two-hour oral exam to test the loyalty of Muslims towards Germany. It is to be taken on top of the standard test for foreigners wishing to become German citizens, which includes language proficiency skills and general knowledge. It also requires applicants to prove that they can provide for themselves and their families. Those applying must also have resided in Germany for the previous eight years and have no criminal record. Germany’s 15 other states will monitor the progress of the policy when the tests begin this week before deciding whether they wish to adopt similar legislation. The 30 questions, which have been set by a special commission, range from sexual equality to school sports and are meant to trigger a more detailed discussion between the applicants and officials. Until now, all applicants have simply had to tick a Yes or No box to answer whether they felt loyalty to Germany. But now they will be quizzed on their attitudes to homosexuality and western clothing for young women, and whether husbands should be allowed to beat their wives. Other questions covering topics such as bigamy and whether parents should allow their children to participate in school sports have been called “trick questions”, meant to catch people off guard. The state interior ministry said the test would be used to filter out Muslims who were unsuited for life in Germany. Those who answered “correctly” but later acted against expected behaviour, such as wife-beating, could have their citizenship removed. Critics say that the test is biased and discriminatory and that if Muslims are obliged to take it, so should all applicants for citizenship. Brigitte L_sch, a leading member of the Green party in the Baden-Wurttemberg parliament, called for the oral exam to be dropped, arguing that it inferred from the outset that all Muslims were “violent per se” and unable to abide by German law. “This list of questions is only to be used for applicants from Islamic countries. It is an unbelievable form of discrimination,” she said. “If Germans were asked some of the questions, they would find it difficult to answer them.” The European Assembly of Turkish Academics rejected the questionnaire as “strongly discriminatory and racist” against Germany’s three million-strong Muslim population, most of whom are Turkish. Kerim Arpad, an assembly spokesman, said: “The test is shaped by stereotypes and damages integration.” But Dieter Biller, of the foreign ministry in Stuttgart, the state capital, said the test would help bureaucrats to form opinions as to whether citizenship applicants were suitable or not. “It covers everything from sexual equality, violence, school sports and religious freedom,” he said. “How the applicants stand on the question of the attacks of September 11 will also be a key question.” Holland announced yesterday that it was introducing ceremonies for new immigrants as part of efforts to reduce racial tensions and to integrate immigrant communities. The government is worried that immigrants who do not move outside their ethnic or religious groups hamper integration and stoke fears of militancy. New Dutch citizens will also have to take an “oath of allegiance”.

In Germany, Immigrants Face A Tough Road

By Katrin Bennhold BERLIN Behind the sterile white brick walls of Brunnenplatz school, Ahmet Ruhi Cosgun dreams of a professional soccer career – not at a German club, but at Galatasaray in Istanbul. At 15, this son of Turkish immigrants knows just how unlikely that is. But international soccer stardom still seems more feasible than college in his native Germany. “If you didn’t have to go to university, I might try to become a lawyer instead – I think I’d be quite good at it,” said Cosgun, a black woolen hat pulled low over his forehead, as he leaned forward over a classroom table one recent afternoon. But a university, he added categorically, “is just not an option.” Brunnenplatz is in the heart of Wedding, a poor neighborhood that used to mark one stretch of the heavily fortified border with East Berlin. That wall is gone. But with three out of four students here of immigrant origin and at least half of their parents out of work, plenty of barriers remain. Europe’s failure to integrate a growing population of immigrants, many of them Muslims, starts desperately early: in education systems that still systematically neglect these and other disadvantaged children, trapping them in uneducated poverty and depriving them of a sense of worth and belonging. The daughters and sons of Turks in Germany, North Africans in France and Pakistanis in Britain are more likely to do worse in school, drop out and end up jobless than their German, French and British peers. Many are grouped together in poor schools and disproportionately few make it to universities. The result is anger – as the autumn rioting in France so powerfully illustrated – and a waste of youth and potential at a time when Western Europe shows lackluster growth and has an aging population. According to Andreas Schleicher, an education expert at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the precondition for turning Europe’s uneasy side-by-side with immigrants into a successful multicultural society is to build an education system that actively fights rather than perpetuates inequality of opportunity. “Immigration in Europe is still considered a problem rather than an opportunity, and nowhere is that more obvious than in education,” said Schleicher, who co-authored the recent study by the Program for International Student Assessment, which compared the quality of schooling in OECD member countries. School reform has been on the agenda in several European Union countries in recent years, as a combination of palpable tension in immigrant communities, the rise of terrorism and the need to remain competitive in a global economy has focused governments’ minds. Following the violence in its immigrant suburbs, the French government hastily presented an education reform bill on Dec. 1. But with the exception of the Scandinavian countries, where the education system largely alleviates the social inequalities suffered by immigrants, those inequalities are perpetuated everywhere else on the Continent, the student assessment study showed in November. In Germany, where immigrants now account for 22 percent of 15-year-olds, compared with 9 percent of the population as a whole, the inequalities are actually reinforced by the school system. Mention “integration” to Evelyn R_hle, one of Cosgun’s teachers, and she only manages a sad smile. “Disintegration, more like,” she says quietly, admitting that she is glad her son does not have to go to school in Wedding. In Wedding, R_hle says, immigrant children today speak poorer German and have less contact with German culture than when she started teaching 20 years ago. Many Muslim students, like Cosgun, go to Koran classes outside of school and speak only Turkish or Arabic at home. Meanwhile, the growth of digital television has made a host of Turkish- and Arabic-language channels available, intensifying language problems and nurturing identities that are informed more by the Israeli- Palestinian conflict or the war in Iraq than by the local German environment. “Some of these kids have never even been to Alexanderplatz,” a bustling square in the center of Berlin a 15-minute subway ride away, R_hle said. “They live in a parallel universe that has very little to do with the Federal Republic of Germany.” It is a fine line between tolerating, or even celebrating, cultural diversity and indulging a refusal to integrate, teachers here say. Unlike in France, where young Muslim girls are not allowed to wear a head scarf in public schools, girls at Brunnenplatz school carry their religious identity with pride. Deniz Celik, a soft-spoken 16-year-old of Turkish origin, matches the color of her head scarf with her Western garb, from sneakers to nose ring. But as parents multiply their demands to separate girls and boys in sports or take their children out of biology classes, teachers like R_hle worry that too much tolerance could become counterproductive – and that even more German parents will desert schools with high proportions of immigrants. Indeed, she says, the language skills of some of her German students have suffered, with many now routinely dropping definite articles in everyday speech. Some German boys are also imitating their Turkish counterparts in macho gestures. Much of the damage is done by the time the students arrive in secondary school, R_hle said. In Germany, kindergarten and other preschool activities rarely start before the age of 3. In school, classes tend to finish at lunchtime, sending students back to their families for substantial amounts of time instead of organizing activities during the afternoon as in most other countries. In addition, the educational fate of students is often decided between the ages of 10 and 12, when teachers recommend which of three tracks of secondary schooling they should attend. Only the top branch, called the gymnasium, paves the way to a university. The proportion of immigrant children who make it to this top track stood at 18 percent last year, compared with 47 percent for German students, government statistics show. The share falls to 12 percent for children of Turkish origin, the biggest immigrant group. Only 3.3 percent of immigrants who go through the German school system make it to universities. Meanwhile, 40 percent of immigrant children attend the lowest branch of secondary school, twice the German proportion. An estimated 19 percent end up in special-needs schools and another 19 percent leave school without diplomas, compared with only 8 percent of German students. “We are basically creating an army of long-term unemployed,” said Dagmar Beer-Kern, who is in charge of education in the government’s office for integration. “Rather than forcing teachers to find ways of maximizing the potential of immigrant students, the system has inbuilt mechanisms to offload problems to a lower level.” Many policy makers in Germany acknowledge that the system is not delivering the results it should. The assessment study was damning on Germany’s school performance overall and particularly damning on its inability to provide equal opportunities to underprivileged Germans and ethnic minorities. “If we were to sit down now to devise a school system for our society today, it would be a no-brainer: The three-track system is inappropriate,” said Klaus B_ger, senator for education and youth in Berlin’s city administration. “But education reform is an ideological minefield in Germany, so it’s more productive to focus on reform within the system.” While German politicians shy away from a bitter three-decade-old debate about introducing an integrated high school system, Cosgun and his friends in Wedding tell of the shame in being stuck in the lowest school track, the Hauptschule. “It’s embarrassing – it’s like you have a sign on your forehead that reads ‘stupid,”‘ said Cosgun. Outside the school, ask a group of his friends whose parents are out of work, and every single one raises a hand. Their own fate? “Our destiny,” says S_leyman Karaman, 16, matter-of-factly, “is Hartz IV,” shorthand for the welfare category for the long-term unemployed in a country with 4.5 million jobless. At the near
by Theodor-Plivier school, the headmistress, Angelika Prase-Mansmann, gazes through her office windows into a dense curtain of falling snow. “Snow is tempting – we had four teachers supervise during break today to break up fights,” she said. “Luckily no one got hurt today.” Fights are common, snow or not. Accumulated frustration and aggression will come out, Prase-Mansmann said. Eerily, the worst insult among boys in Wedding these days is “opfer,” or victim. Teachers say the term, which emerged about two years ago, has replaced more traditional invectives. “Are they victims? Yes. But it doesn’t help that they think of themselves as victims,” Prase-Mansmann said. “It’s a vicious cycle,” she added. “They know there are no jobs and that as foreigners they are the last ones to be hired, so they don’t really try and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.” German pupils completing the lowest school track are competing for apprenticeships and jobs with those from the middle track at a time when both are scarce. Unemployment runs at 10.9 percent, but for immigrants it is almost twice as high. The share of immigrants among those holding apprenticeships fell from 8 percent in 1994 to 5 percent in 2003. In some cases, teachers say, students are offered opportunities they do not take. R_hle tells of language tutoring sessions and educational trips that end up half-empty. Prase-Mansmann says her school has a teacher 15 hours a week to counsel seniors on jobs and apprenticeships, but few ever show up. Yet both agree that schools need still more funds and human resources to provide more individualized educational attention to immigrant children. Countries like Finland and Sweden, which performed well in the student assessment both overall and in integrating minorities, spend more money on schools and equip them with more and better-trained staff than their bigger European neighbors. They also teach all students together until at least age 14 and give students verbal assessments, rather than grades, in the early years. In Germany, some schools are trying to emulate some of these features. At Brunnenplatz, for example, the headmaster, Karl Reism_ller, fought long and hard to get special permission for a dual-track setup that blurs the line between the lowest and middle secondary tracks. He also wants to get parents teaching other parents German in casual conversation groups to “anchor the school in the community.” Many reforms in Germany’s decentralized education system have concentrated on the preschool and primary school levels. The number of all-day primary schools is rising and language training at the preschool level has intensified, especially in places like Berlin and Hamburg where immigrants are numerous. A growing number of primary schools also offer bilingual tracks to nurture native languages alongside German. And the central government is trying to establish more specialized teacher training and quality control for schools across the boundaries of the 16 states, which are responsible for education. At Erika-Mann, an all-day primary school, small groups of students are huddled over different tasks – a math problem, biology and reading exercises – with two teachers moving swiftly between them. Eighty-five percent of students here are of immigrant origin and about 40 percent of them come from unemployed households. But a full one-third of Erika-Mann students go on to the academic track, one-third to the middle track and only one-third to the bottom track. “If we can do this, anyone can,” the headmistress, Karin Babbe, said. “All children want to learn. You should see the excited faces of the first-graders on their first day of school. The trouble is that all too often this motivation is killed off.” According to Babbe, an energetic 51-year-old who seems to know the names of all her pupils, the key is self- confidence. Mahmod Hejazi, a shy 12-year-old whose Lebanese parents speak hardly any German, arrived at Erika-Mann 11 months ago, along with a fat file explaining that he suffered from learning disabilities and required special instruction. His new teacher, Heidemarie Tandel, worked hard to integrate him, bringing him up to speed with the class material in afternoon tutorials. The breakthrough occurred onstage last spring. “Suddenly he was no longer Mahmod, who is too shy to say or do anything, but a self-confident and feisty toad that saves a little girl,” Tandel recalled. Late last month, her petition to remove his special-needs status was finally granted by the authorities and Mahmod published his first article in the student newspaper. But so far schools like this remain scarce. One reason is that such efforts rely largely on the energy and tenacity of staff.

U.S. Says It Didn’t Target Muslims Mosques Among Sites Monitored For Radiation

By Mary Beth Sheridan Faced with angry complaints, U.S. officials defended an anti-terrorism program yesterday that secretly tested radiation levels around the country — including at more than 100 Muslim sites in the Washington area — and insisted that no one was targeted because of his or her faith. One official knowledgeable about the program explained that Muslim sites were included because al Qaeda terrorists were considered likely to gravitate to Muslim neighborhoods or mosques while in the United States. “If you were looking [for] the needle in a haystack, that’s the haystack you would look at,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. “You’d look at the [likely] targets and the places the operators were.” No indications of radiation were found at the businesses, homes, warehouses or mosques that were included in the program. The official said that radiation monitoring of the Muslim sites started after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and lasted through 2003. The focus on the Muslim sites, which was first reported last week by U.S. News & World Report, has stunned and angered officials at mosques and Muslim and Arab-American organizations. Two such groups have filed Freedom of Information requests, known as FOIAs, in recent days to try to learn which sites were monitored. They also have requested meetings with the FBI, which ran the program along with the Energy Department. “The problem [is] . . . it further gives the Muslim community a sense they are suspect, they are under the gun,” said Ahmed Younis, national director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Michael A. Mason, who oversees the Washington Field Office of the FBI, said in an interview that he hoped to meet next week with the groups. “We have not violated the law; we have not violated the Constitution; we have not gone on private property,” Mason said. He said that he could provide few details because the program remains classified but added that the monitoring devices involved were “passive,” roughly akin to holding a thermometer out the window of a moving car to measure the temperature. “It’s not like thermal-imaging a house, where you’re trying to figure out if they’re trying to grow marijuana,” he said. Officials emphasized that Washington wasn’t the only place where the program operated. Nor were Muslim sites the only focus: The program included airports, buildings and monuments that were considered possible targets for a terrorist attack, said the official familiar with the program who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There was no more intensive focus on D.C. than there was on several other cities,” he said. The testing began several months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when a series of events had convinced U.S. officials that another terrorist attack was imminent, the official said. Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in May 2002 on suspicion of planning an attack with a radiological dirty bomb; Osama bin Laden was threatening to strike again. In addition, documents discovered in Afghanistan indicated that terrorists could possibly use a U.S. mosque to hide radioactive material, said Jack Cloonan, a former FBI counterterrorism agent. Cloonan, who earlier was interviewed by ABC News about the program, said it was not clear which mosques might have been considered. The official familiar with the program acknowledged that “now it sounds like a crazy thing. But at the time it didn’t sound like a very crazy thing. . . . All the intel was saying, ‘An attack is coming, it’s likely to be al Qaeda, likely to be launched in a U.S. city, likely to involve a dirty device’. . . . Where would you go looking for that?” Authorities determined that in the past, al Qaeda terrorists or people close to them tended to live in Muslim neighborhoods or attend local mosques, the official said. That’s how some sites became included in a program, he said. Other sites were chosen because of specific intelligence information. Most of the testing was apparently done from nearby streets. But, according to U.S. News & World Report, in as much as 15 percent of the cases, officials had to go onto private property, such as mosque parking lots and private driveways, to get accurate readings. Officials involved with the program said no warrants were needed because they were in public access areas. But some Muslim activists said they were concerned. “We’d like our federal law enforcement agencies to know the American Muslim community stands firmly behind protecting our nation’s borders,” said Arsalan Iftikhar, legal director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of the groups that are seeking the addresses of the sites involved. “But, at the same time, we are not willing to give up our guaranteed constitutional and legal rights in order to do that.” He said his group constantly received phone calls from Muslims who believed they were under surveillance. But none had specifically mentioned possible radiation testing. U.S. News & World Report said that some officials believed the program, which involved property occupied or owned by U.S. citizens, was legally questionable. It quoted one unidentified source as saying that participants who complained “nearly lost their jobs.” Mason said that did not occur in the local FBI office. “No one in the Washington Field Office would ever be so threatened,” he said. “Never.”

Muslims, Sororities Explore Common Ground

SYRACUSE, New York (AP) — Gozde Demir says sororities are the most American you can get. But at first, she knew nothing about them. She was a freshman and a conservative Muslim from Turkey. As she walked to Syracuse University’s international center, she noticed the Greek-lettered houses and asked in her then-heavy accent just what they were for. Two years later, after some rejection and tears, she lives in one of them. When Althia Collins hears Demir’s story, she sighs. “I just wish we had found her first,” she says. Collins is the president of America’s first Muslim sorority, Gamma Gamma Chi, which inducted new members last month. For years, the Greek system has been edging away from simply white and Christian. Today, there are Hispanic sororities, Jewish, Asian, black and even lesbian sororities, each with its own answer to, “Where do I belong?” Now the latest twist is Muslim. Combining cultures Imani Abdul-Haqq keeps her bright headscarf closely around her. “I’m obviously Muslim, you know. I cover,” she says. But while out shopping not long ago, a clerk focused on her keychain instead, its three Greek letters stamped in classic green. “Oh, you’re in a sorority!” the clerk said. But not just that. The Muslim sorority is Abdul-Haqq’s own. The U.S.-born senior at North Carolina’s Guilford College founded Gamma Gamma Chi this summer. She’d been looking for a full, fun college experience, but she found it hard to be a good Muslim in the standard Greek world. “To not be part of something because you’re Muslim just shouldn’t be,” she says. The sorority, based in Alexandria, Virginia, mixes Greek accessories with its Islamic values. It has a secret ceremony and a special handshake, even tank tops, tote bags and printed coffee mugs. It also has interest from schools in 16 states. Gamma Gamma Chi arrived at the University of Kentucky with a formal presentation for about a dozen girls. “Maybe this will kill the stereotype of sororities — partying, drinking, you know,” says Kentucky freshman Naema Shalash. “It sounds pretty interesting.” But Gamma Gamma Chi does plan to party, in its own way. No men and no alcohol allowed. Group faces criticism The approach does get some criticism. Muslim men have written to Abdul-Haqq, “Why do you have to be like non-Muslims?” And some students say existing Muslim groups do just fine. “My only question is, why?” says Jameelah Shukri, a manager at the Al-Thalib student magazine at the University of California at Los Angeles. “We have our girl parties, we hang out, we live together. I personally don’t see the need to put Greek letters to it. But I guess if it’s increasing unity, more power to them.” Collins, the president and Abdul-Haqq’s mother, says Gamma Gamma Chi eventually will take part in campus Rush Weeks and perhaps even join the National Panhellenic Conference, an umbrella group of 26 women’s fraternities and sororities. The Indiana-based NPC says it doesn’t keep membership statistics based on religion. The headscarf will be the only way to tell Gamma Gamma Chi is a Muslim sorority, Abdul-Haqq says. But it will be an important symbol, too. “I would think seeing us getting to have fun and dressing cool, it would make people think, ‘Maybe I don’t have to set Islam aside,”‘ she says. “I can have fun and be Muslim.” Demir just wanted to feel American. “Some international students have their own little bubble,” she said as she curled up at a table in an off-campus teahouse not long after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. “They hang out with friends and say, ‘Why go out and feel uncomfortable?’ “I’m like, ‘No. I’m going to get this. I’m going to do this.”‘ Greek life is foreign concept More than 565,000 international students study on American campuses, according to a report released last month by the Institute of International Education. But advisers say Demir’s leap to Greek life is one few students try. The national Multicultural Greek Council represents groups that emphasize diversity, but its president, Denise Pipersburgh, knows of few international students who get involved. “The idea’s too foreign,” she says. Demir arrived at Syracuse and decided to sample all she could. If you don’t get out there, she thought, why live in the U.S.? But international advisers hesitated at sororities. “I was concerned about the kind of life and freedom they have,” says Fariba Rahmanzadeh, an adviser. Twenty-five years after arriving at Syracuse from Iran, she says she’s never been past the lobby of a sorority house. So as a freshman, Demir let Rush Week pass. On bid day, doors in her dorm were covered with the teddy bears and bright balloons of acceptance. But not hers. “I missed that,” she told herself. “I should have done that.” A year later, her English improved, her circle of friends grew and she joined Rush Week. She found a sorority she liked, a partying crowd. “They were like, ‘Oh my God, we love you,”‘ she says. Then they rejected her, and she cried. “Why do you care?” other international students asked. At the teahouse, the 21-year-old junior picks at a piece of cake, and at an answer. “Our understanding of Americans is Americans as white Americans,” she says. “As much as they liked me, it was still not good enough for me to be part of them.” Of course America is more than white, she says. “But think about it. If you’re just 18, you don’t have the maturity to say, ‘It’s the culture.’ You say, ‘It’s me. They don’t like me.”‘ In time, she visited another sorority, one that promotes itself as non-sectarian and multicultural. “I’m Turkish,” she told them up front. They liked her attitude, and she was in. Demir was quickly named the sorority’s multicultural and diversity chairwoman. (She asked that her sorority not be identified.) She plans to mentor other Turkish girls who might want to join sororities. During Ramadan, she tried to set up a special dinner at the sorority house with the school’s Muslim association. It fell through. “The Muslim group was not comfortable with it,” she says. Next year, Demir might try again.

German Authorities Close Islamic Center

By STEPHEN GRAHAM BERLIN – Authorities on Wednesday shut down an Islamic center once attended by a man who accuses the CIA of kidnapping him and sending him to a secret Afghan prison to be abused and interrogated. The man’s lawyer has linked the alleged kidnapping to the investigation of extremist activity at the center. The state government of Bavaria said Wednesday it was shutting down the Multi-Kultur-Haus association in the southern town of Neu-Ulm after it seized material urging Muslims to carry out suicide attacks in Iraq. Khaled al-Masri, a Kuwait-born German citizen who is suing the CIA for allegedly spiriting him to Afghanistan for interrogation, has said he visited the center several times before he was snatched. Al-Masri said he was taken while trying to enter Macedonia on New Year’s Eve 2003 and flown to Afghanistan, where he was subjected to “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” during five months in captivity, according to a lawsuit filed in a Virginia federal court. He was flown to Albania in late May 2004 and put on a plane back to Germany, he has said. Al-Masri has said his captors told him he was seized in a case of mistaken identity. His lawyer, however, has suggested that al-Masri was abducted because of his links to the Islamic association, which provided meetings, prayer rooms and other services for local Muslims. “In all interrogations, in Macedonia and Afghanistan, Khaled al-Masri was asked only about the Multi-Kultur-Haus in Ulm, about the people he knew there,” Manfred Gnjidic told Munich’s Abendzeitung newspaper last month. Al-Masri’s case has stoked debate in Germany about how to prevent terrorist attacks while safeguarding civil liberties. Federal Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, for instance, is calling for tougher laws so that anyone who has trained in camps in Afghanistan can be prosecuted. In remarks published Wednesday, Uwe Schuenemann, the interior minister of Lower Saxony state, floated a new idea: placing electronic tags on foreign extremists who cannot be deported to their countries of origin because they might be tortured. “That would allow the observation of many of the roughly 3,000 potentially violent Islamists, hate preachers and fighters trained in foreign camps,” Schuenemann was quoted as saying in the daily Die Welt. It was unclear whether federal officials would take up the suggestion. Electronic tags were used in 2000 on a trial basis in one German state with prisoners on parole, but have not been adopted more widely. Al-Masri claims U.S. agents questioned him about associates including his friend Reda Seyam, an Egypt-born German citizen under investigation by German federal prosecutors on suspicion of supporting al-Qaida. Al-Masri has denied any connection to terrorism. Bavarian Interior Minister Guenther Beckstein told The Associated Press on Wednesday that investigators had noticed al-Masri visiting the Multi-Kultur-Haus but called him “rather a marginal figure.” Beckstein’s ministry said the association was promoting extremist ideas and armed “holy war.” Security officials confiscated and searched the association’s premises in Neu-Ulm Wednesday and froze its bank account. There was no mention of arrests or the results of the search.

Us Latinas Seek Answers In Islam

By Christine Armario UNION CITY, N.J. – Jasmine Pinet sits on the steps outside a mosque here, tucking in strands of her burgundy hair beneath a white head scarf, and explaining why she, a young Latina, feels that she has found greater respect as a woman by converting to Islam. “They’re not gonna say, ‘Hey mami, how are you?’ ” Ms. Pinet says of Muslim men. “Usually they say, ‘Hello, sister.’ And they don’t look at you like a sex object.” While some Latinas her age try to emulate the tight clothes and wiggling hips of stars like Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera, Ms. Pinet and others are adopting a more conservative lifestyle and converting to Islam. At this Union City, N.J., mosque, women account for more than half of the Latino Muslims who attend services here. Nationwide, there are about 40,000 Latino Muslims in the United States, according to the Islamic Society of North America. Many of the Latina converts say that their belief that women are treated better in Islam was a significant factor in converting. Critics may protest that wearing the veil marks a woman as property, but some Latina converts say they welcome the fact that they are no longer whistled at walking down a street. “People have an innate response that I’m a religious person, and they give [me] more respect,” says Jenny Yanez, another Latina Muslim. “You’re not judged if you’re in fashion or out of fashion.” Other Latina Muslims say they also like the religion’s emphasis on fidelity to one’s spouse and family. But for many family members and friends, these conversions come as a surprise – often an unwelcome one. They may know little of Islam other than what they have heard of the Taliban and other extremist groups. That creates an inaccurate image, insists Leila Ahmed, a professor of women’s studies and religion at Harvard University. “It astounds me, the extent to which people think Afghanistan and the Taliban represent women and Islam.” What’s really going on, she says, is a reshaping of the relationship between women and Islam. “We’re in the early stages of a major rethinking of Islam that will open Islam for women. [Muslim scholars] are rereading the core texts of Islam – from the Koran to legal texts – in every possible way.” New views of women and Islam may be more prevalent in countries like the US, where women read the Koran themselves and rely less on patriarchal interpretations. “I think the women here are asserting more their rights and their privileges,” says Zahid Bukhari, director of the American-Muslim Studies Program at George- town University. ” Some Latina Muslims say they harbored stereotypes about Muslim women before deciding to convert, but changed their minds once becoming close friends with a Muslim. “I always thought, geez, I feel sorry for women who have to wear those veils,” says Pinet. Then she met her Muslim boyfriend and began studying the Koran with a group of Muslim women. She says she was impressed with the respect they received. “A women is respected because she is the mother, she takes care of the children, and she’s the one that enforces the rules,” Pinet says. “They’re the ones who are sacred.” Critics of the decisions of Latinas to convert to Islam say they are adopting a religion just as patriarchical as the Roman Catholic faith that many are leaving behind. “While it’s true the Latino culture tends to be more male-dominated, and there’s a tendency toward more machismo, I would venture to say it exists [in Islam] as well,” says Edwin Hernandez, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Religion at the University of Notre Dame. Latinos account for six percent of the 20,000 Muslim conversions in the United States each year, according to a report published by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Anecdotal evidence suggests this number may be rising. But that doesn’t mean it’s getting any easier for the women who make this choice. “At first it was anger and then more like sadness,” Nylka Vargas says of her parents’ reaction when she told them she was converting to Islam and began dressing more conservatively. “They would sometimes feel strange being around me.” Pinet’s family has been more accepting, but she too has encountered some resistance in her community. It’s as if you’ve betrayed your own kind,” she says. For some, the cultural differences are the most trying. “I can’t eat pork, I can’t wear [form- fitting] clothing, I can’t dance in the clubs, I’m not gonna attend church,” says Ms. Yanez, who is of Cuban and Spanish descent. “But I keep my language, and there’s still things that we do as Latinos that they don’t have to change.” Within the Islamic community, Latina Muslims report being warmly received, although language barriers sometimes exist for Latinas who only speak Spanish. There are few Spanish services at mosques and a limited number of Islamic texts in Spanish. Grassroots organizations specifically for Latino Muslims have been created in recent years. They function in part as an informational resource for new converts and but also as a support group for those who encounter difficulties at home. Ultimately, Latina Muslims say that time heals the divisions and angst their conversion sometimes causes among friends and family. “What I had to learn was patience,” says Vargas, whose family came to accept her religious beliefs after several years. “Sometimes things are not as we want them.”

Muslims Can Be Searched After Conference: N.Y. Judge

American Muslims attending a major religious conference in Toronto on Friday are concerned they’ll be subjected to extraordinary searches and delays by U.S. border guards when they return home. Their concern followed a ruling by a New York district judge on Thursday that such searches did not violate the U.S. constitution. Judge William Skretny wrote that Customs and Border Protection “had reason to believe that these conferences would serve as meeting points for terrorists to exchange ideas and documents, co-ordinate operations, and raise funds intended for terrorist activities.” “I believe in religious freedom, and I will not allow the federal government to intimidate me out of that belief,” he said. Last year, several dozen Muslims men and women were searched, fingerprinted, photographed and held for up to six hours before being allowed to cross back into the U.S. after a conference held in Toronto. The New York Civil Liberties Association took up their case. The association sought an injunction to prevent similar inspections following this year’s conference. It also launched a lawsuit demanding the state destroy any personal information retrieved through past searches. The judge did not grant the injunction, and threw out the lawsuit.

Netherlands Considers Burqa Ban

The Dutch immigration minister says she will look into the legality of banning the burqa, the robes worn by some Muslim women to cover their bodies. Rita Verdonk made the pledge after a majority in parliament said it would support such a ban. The proposal was put forward by independent politician Geert Wilders. “That women should walk the streets in a totally unrecognisable manner is an insult to everyone who believes in equal rights,” he said. “This law is a comfort to moderate Muslims and will contribute to integration in the Netherlands,” he added in a statement. His proposal is supported by two of the parties in the governing centre-right coalition, as well as the opposition right-wing party founded by the late Pim Fortuyn. Mrs Verdonk did not say when she might complete her investigation. If the Netherlands does decide to ban the burqa, it will be the first European country to do so.

Ärger Um Islamischen Religionsunterricht

The Muslim Community of Baden-W_rttemberg (IGBW) claims that the state government has reneged on its promises regarding Islamic instruction in the public schools. Agreements on model schools, teachers, and consultation with the group have been ignored, says representative Riad Ghalaini. (continued in German) Die Islamische Glaubensgemeinschaft Baden-W_rttemberg (IGBW) wirft der Landesregierung vor, bei der Einf_hrung von islamischem Religionsunterricht an ausgesuchten Schulen im Land, ihr Wort gebrochen zu haben. Verschiedene Vereinbarungen w_rden nicht eingehalten, sagte der Verbandsvorsitzende Riad Ghalaini. So w_rden beispielsweise die in der vorbereitenden Steuerungsgruppe getroffenen Vereinbarungen zur Auswahl der Modellschulen und der Lehrer nicht eingehalten, kritisierte Ghalaini. Zudem m_sse das Kultusministerium zun_chst die Vorstellungen des Dachverbandes ber_cksichtigen, bevor es Eltern empfehle, ihre Kinder in den Unterricht zu schicken. Der Hauptkritikpunkt der IGBW ist jedoch, die Lehrerauswahl durch das Kultusministerium. Abweichend von den Vorschl_gen des 10.000 Mitglieder umfassenden Verbandes habe das Ministerium im Schuldienst befindliche Lehrer ausgesucht, deren theologischer Hintergrund nicht gesichert sei. “Die religi_sen Kriterien m_ssten aber im Vordergrund stehen”, sagte Ghalaini. Aus Sicht der IGBW kann unter diesen Umst_nden allenfalls Islamkunde angeboten werden. Kultusministerium weist Vorw_rfe zur_ck Das Ministerium wies die Vorw_rfe zur_ck und sprach dem Verband das Recht ab, Entscheidungen mit zu f_llen. Als Dachorganisation erf_lle der Verband nicht die Kriterien einer Religionsgemeinschaft, wie sie die Rechtsprechung aufgestellt habe, so die Begr_ndung. W_hrend der Dauer des Modellversuchs dienten vielmehr lokale Elternverb_nde als Ansprechpartner. Zudem stellte das Ministerium fest, dass die von der IGBW genannten Dozenten nicht den Auswahlkriterien entsprochen h_tten. So h_tten zum Teil die Sprachkenntnisse nicht ausgereicht. Der zweite Antragsteller auf islamischen Religionsunterricht, eine alevitische Gruppe, werde dagegen als Religionsgemeinschaft anerkannt und habe deshalb ma_geblich an den Entscheidungen mitgewirkt. Die Aleviten haben einen eigenen Lehrplan. Der dritte Antragsteller – die Religionsgemeinschaft des Islam – ist aus Sicht des Kultusministeriums ebenso wenig eine Religionsgemeinschaft wie die IGBW. Ab dem Schuljahr 2006/2007 wird in Baden-W_rttemberg an zw_lf Modell-Grundschulen islamischer Religionsunterricht eingef_hrt.

Denmark: Cartoons Have Muslims Threatening Newspaper

Daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten has been forced to hire security guard to protect employees from angry Muslims, after it printed a series of cartoons featuring the prophet Mohammed. Death threats have forced daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten to hire security guards to protect its employees, after printing twelve cartoons featuring the prophet Mohammed. The newspaper has been accused of deliberately provoking and insulting Muslims by publishing the cartoons. The newspaper urged cartoonists to send in drawings of the prophet, after an author complained that nobody dared to illustrate his book on Mohammed. The author claimed that illustrators feared that extremist Muslims would find it sacrilegious to break the Islamic ban on depicting Mohammed. Twelve illustrators heeded the newspaper’s call, and sent in cartoons of the prophet, which were published in the newspaper earlier this month. Muslim spokesmen demanded that Jyllands-Posten retracted the cartoons and apologised. ‘We have taken a few necessary measures in the situation, as some people seem to have taken offence and are sending threats of different kinds,’ the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Carsten Juste, told national broadcaster DR. The same day as the newspaper published the cartoons, it received a threatening telephone call against ‘one of the twelve illustrators’, as the caller said. Shortly afterwards, police arrested a 17-year-old, who admitted to phoning in the threat. Since then, journalists and editors alike have received threats by email and the telephone. The newspaper told its staff to remain alert, but then decided to hire security guards to protect its Copenhagen office. ‘Up until now, we have only had receptionists in the lobby. But we don’t feel that they should sit down there by themselves, so we posted a guard there as well,’ Juste said. Muslim organisations, like the Islamic Religious Community, have demanded an apology, but Juste rejected the idea. He said the cartoons had been a journalistic project to find out how many cartoonists refrained from drawing the prophet out of fear. ‘We live in a democracy,’ he said. ‘That’s why we can use all the journalistic methods we want to. Satire is accepted in this country, and you can make caricatures. Religion shouldn’t set any barriers on that sort of expression. This doesn’t mean that we wish to insult any Muslims.’ Juste’s opinion was not shared by _rhus imam Raed Hlayhel, who gave an interview to the internet edition of Arabic satellite news channel al-Jazeera to protest the newspaper’s cartoons. Hlayhel told al-Jazeera’s reporter that he considered the cartoons derisive of Islam, and described one of the drawings as showing Mohammed wearing a turban-like bomb, and another as brandishing a sabre, with two burka-clad women behind him. Hlayhel said he did not understand how such illustrations could be printed with reference to freedom of expression, when Denmark did not tolerate the slightest sign of anti-Semitism. Al-Jazeera concluded that the drawings seemed bizarre.