Schools Proposal Disturbs Muslims; Baltimore County Schools Would Not Close For Holy Days

By Liz F. Kay A Baltimore County school board committee has made recommendations about religious holidays for the school system’s calendar, and a leader of the Muslim community said he is disappointed that it didn’t suggest closing for two Islamic holy days. One of the recommendations is to allow students to have two “excused absences” from school for religious holidays. But Bash Pharoan, president of the Baltimore County Muslim Council, has been lobbying to close schools on two Islamic holy days since 2004 because the system closes for the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. “The main issue is that the ad hoc committee failed again to recognize that the issue is about equality,” he said. “We want equal treatment.” State regulations already deem religious observance a “lawful absence,” along with illness or death of a family member. But the committee suggests that the county school system go a step further by petitioning the State Board of Education to amend its regulations so “religious observance would not mar a student’s official attendance record nor prevent any student from obtaining perfect attendance.” “Currently they are penalized de facto by the fact that their record indicates an excused absence,” committee Chairman Luis E. Borunda said. A state steering committee on minority achievement made a similar recommendation to the state board in 2004. Individual school districts set policies for recognizing perfect attendance, said William Reinhard, spokesman for the State Department of Education. For example, in Howard County, students are eligible for perfect attendance regardless of religious absences, according to published reports. Baltimore County schools spokeswoman Kara Calder said Friday that she was “not aware at this time of any schools in this system that calculate attendance using the lawful absence of religion as an exception.” Board members will discuss the recommendations tomorrow. If there is consensus, the recommendations will be sent to Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, said school board President Tom Grzymski. The committee’s other recommendations include: – Noting the Muslim holidays Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha on the calendar block of the days they are observed. – Having the school system refrain from scheduling exams on the two Muslim holidays. – Having the superintendent “make an effort to educate the county’s students on the significance of these holidays during the week preceding these holidays, or at an appropriate time during the school year.” – Having the superintendent monitor attendance at schools in areas where Muslims live. Grzymski said this is the first time during his four years on the school board that members have given the superintendent any direction before the calendar is set. Hairston has not yet appointed a calendar committee to develop recommendations for the 2007-2008 school year, Calder said. According to a school system rule, the committee should include representatives from the PTA Council of Baltimore County, the area education councils, the county student council and the teachers union. The superintendent is required to send his proposal to the county school board for approval a year before it takes effect, Calder said.

Muslims Must Abide By Uk Code, Says Cre Chief

MUSLIMS living in the UK must accept that British values include a commitment to freedom of speech, even if that means offending people, says the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality. Speaking in the wake of worldwide demonstrations against cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, Sir Trevor Phillips said that the right to offend was an “absolutely precious” part of British identity, which could not be bargained away. And he suggested that any Muslims who want to live under a system of Shariah law should leave the country. However, Sir Trevor – who has recently sparked controversy with his attacks on multiculturalism and calls on ethnic minorities to integrate – said that the other side of the coin of freedom of speech was that non-Muslims must accept the right of imams to denounce homosexuality in a way that many people find offensive. Sir Trevor told ITV1’s Jonathan Dimbleby programme that he wanted to promote a sense of “Britishness” among all those living in the UK. “What some minorities have to accept is that there are certain central things we all agree about, which are about the way we treat each other – that we have an attachment to democracy, that we sort things out by voting, not by violence and intimidation, that we tolerate things that we don’t like,” he said. “Short of people menacing and threatening each other, we have freedom of expression. We allow people to offend each other.” And that commitment to freedom of expression should also allow Muslim preachers to make comments about homosexuality that are offensive to broad segments of the British population, he said. “One point of Britishness is that people can say what they like about the way we should live, however absurd, however unpopular it is,” said Sir Trevor. “That’s why I believe that freedom of expression – including Muslim leaders’ right to say they think homosexuality is harmful – is absolutely precious. In the end, once we start to limit freedom of expression, the people who suffer most are minorities.” Sir Trevor rejected the idea that British Muslims should be allowed to live under Shariah law in their own communities. “I don’t think that’s conceivable,” he said. “We have one set of laws. They are decided on by one group of people, members of parliament, and that’s the end of the story. Anybody who lives here has to accept that’s the way we do it. If you want to have laws decided in another way, you have to live somewhere else.”

Norway: Norway Criminalizes Blasphemy

The Norwegian parliament has amended the Penal Code to criminalize blasphemy in the wake of the republication of Danish cartoons that lampooned Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) by a Norwegian magazine, Christian and Muslim leaders in Norway said on Tuesday, February 14. “Law 150-A, which has been approved by parliament, criminalizes blasphemy and clearly prohibits despising others or lampooning religions in any form of expression, including the use of photographs,” Norway’s Deputy Archbishop Oliva Howika told reporters after a meeting in Doha with Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. Howika was among a Norwegian delegation that also included the chairman of the Supreme Islamic Council in Norway, Mohamed Hamdan. “Under the new law, the crime of blasphemy will be punished either by a fine or imprisonment,” Howika said, promising Qaradawi to fax him a copy of the law after being published in the country’s official gazette. Hamdan regretted the burning of the Norwegian embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus, but said the government had blamed the magazine for the violent reaction. “The Norwegian government made it clear more than one time that it would not condone blasphemy,” he said. Last September, Denmark’s mass circulation daily Jyllands-Posten ran 12 cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). One of the photos showed the prophet as wearing a bomb-shaped turban and another showing him as a knife-wielding nomad flanked by shrouded women. Many European newspapers, including the Norwegian Magazinet, reprinted the drawings, triggering an outcry across the Muslim world and calls to boycott Danish products and Norwegian products. Any image of the Prophet — let alone biting caricatures — is considered blasphemous under Islam.? The editor of the Norwegian magazine at issue apologized to Muslims on February 10, for publishing the cartoons. Vebjoern Selbekk, who initially defended his January 10 publication of the cartoons in his magazine as an expression of press freedom, appeared before TV cameras shaking hands after his apology with Muslim leaders. Apology Accepted The delegation distributed copies of the magazine’s apology note to the Muslim minority after the meeting with the prominent Muslim scholar as well as an apology translated into Arabic from the minister of labor. “We accepted the apology in principle,” Qaradawi said. “We do appreciate the Norwegian stance which is different from that taken [initially] by Denmark. The Norwegian prime minister has condemned the cartoons at the very outset.” The Danish newspaper has apologized for offending Muslims, although not for printing the drawings. Four months after the publication, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Monday, February 13, met with a Muslim group to discuss the fallout from the cartoons crisis. He initially refused to meet ambassadors of Muslim countries to contain the crisis under the pretext of free speech. “Muslims want all people to live in peace, cooperation and love. We don’t call for strife. All people are created by God, so there was no need for this strife,” Qaradawi told reporters.. “We were deeply hurt by the cartoons. The Danish newspaper could have defused the crisis by offering an immediate apology to the Muslims. Had it apologized, the issue would have been resolved,” he said. He pointed out that there is a difference between “freedom of expression” and freedom of insulting” “Freedom of expression is all about expressing an opinion. In the cartoons case, there is no opinion counter-opinion,” he said. Qaradawi called anew on the United Nations to adopt a resolution banning blasphemy to head off similar incidents in the future. He also urged the European Union to criminalize blasphemy against any religion, including pagan religions. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is pressing for a ban on religious intolerance to be part of the bedrock of a planned new United Nations human rights body. According to the text of an OIC proposal, the new UN body should state clearly that the “defamation of religions and prophets is inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression” and that states, organizations and the media have a “responsibility in promoting tolerance and respect for religious and cultural values.”

Europe Struggles To Balance Free Speech, Limits On Expression

By C_sar G. Soriano LONDON – Outspoken London Mayor Ken Livingstone may not be reporting for work Wednesday at the city’s egg-shaped town hall on the banks of the River Thames. Unless he appeals successfully, he will sit at home, serving a four-week suspension for comparing a Jewish journalist to a Nazi concentration camp guard. The mayor – a veteran of many foot-in-mouth controversies – had argued he was exercising his freedom of speech. The Adjudication Panel for England ruled against him Friday and found the mayor guilty of bringing his office into “disrepute.” Livingstone has refused to apologize. The suspension “strikes at the heart of democracy,” he said. Newspapers from several countries have asserted a right to free expression – and inflamed Muslims worldwide – by publishing Danish cartoons that depict the prophet Mohammed. At the same time, European courts, lawmakers and religious groups are pressing for limits on expression. In recent speech cases: _An Austrian court last week sentenced British historian David Irving to three years in prison for denying the Holocaust in a 1989 speech. Prosecutors are asking the court to lengthen Irving’s sentence. Ten European countries, along with Israel, have laws against denying the massacre of Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II. _A German court on Thursday convicted a 61-year-old businessman of insulting Islam by selling toilet paper printed with the word “Quran,” the name of Islam’s holy book. The man, identified in court papers only as Manfred van H., also referred to the Quran as a “cookbook for terrorists.” _Britain’s House of Commons on Feb. 15 approved a ban on speech and writing that glorifies terrorism. _Nick Griffin, leader of the right-wing British National Party, was acquitted Feb. 2 on charges of using hate speech for describing Islam as a “vicious, wicked faith” and comparing immigrants to cockroaches. _British lawmakers on Feb. 1 rejected Prime Minister Tony Blair’s proposed law against insulting religions. Among the critics of the bill was comic actor Rowan Atkinson, who plays Mr. Bean on TV and in movies. He argued that the bill would have curtailed the work of entertainers. _A British tour of the hit musical Jerry Springer – The Opera was delayed for a year and has suffered poor ticket sales, producers say. A religious group, Christian Voice, has organized protests against the tour. Christian Voice says the play is blasphemous and an insult to Christians because it contains foul language and depicts Christ as a guest on a daytime TV show. Europe’s view of freedom of expression is “less absolute” than the view in the USA, where First Amendment speech guarantees are broad, says Daniel Simons, legal officer for Article 19, a London-based human rights group that defends freedom of expression around the world. “Americans are more distrustful of the government and concerned about government limitations on freedom of speech,” Simons said. “Europeans feel freedom of expression is one value, but respect the legitimate need to protect the feelings of other people. I suppose the experience of World War II has led people to be more concerned about racism.” In an interview with the BBC earlier this month, Agnes Callamard, executive director of Article 19, said free speech guarantees put the United States at one extreme and governments that practice censorship at the other. Europe is in the middle, she said. In most European countries, the state “attempts to strike a balance between the right to freedom of speech and the right to equality, and therefore freedom from discrimination,” Callamard said. Many of the objections to “anything goes” free speech have been raised by religious groups. “With freedom of speech comes responsibility. And one has to be sensitive to the people within a society, so there are limits to what can be said,” said Jon Benjamin of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the group that brought the complaint against Livingstone. Even Amnesty International, a longtime advocate of freedom of expression, has called for laws that prohibit “hate speech” following the Danish cartoon flap. Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the London-based National Secular Society, says he is worried about the chilling effect of limiting speech, especially when it is the result of pressure from religious groups. Wood’s group has lobbied against government restrictions on speech. “Most of the objections are coming from Islam,” he said. “It’s a very worrying development because the freedom of speech is an enlightenment value that Europe must cling to. In the end, it’s the best defense against religious extremism and (best way) to resolve questions in a peaceful way.”

Annan Says Protests Over Cartoons Being Fuelled By Extremists

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said protests over cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad that resulted in violent demonstrations by Muslims around the world are being fuelled by extremism. “Those who shout loudest or act in the most provocative ways, are not necessarily typical of the group on whose behalf they claim to speak,” Annan said yesterday, according to the UN’s Web site. “We must appeal to the majority to speak up and denounce those who disrespect values.” Religious and other leaders must promote discussion between Islamic and Western societies, Annan told a meeting in Qatar of the High-Level Group for the Alliance of Civilizations, a panel he set up last year to bridge gaps between Islam and the West. Protests have taken place in countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia and Turkey since newspapers in Europe earlier this month reprinted cartoons first published in September in Denmark. Any visual depiction of Muhammad is considered blasphemy, according to the teachings of Islam. One of the cartoons depicts Muhammad wearing a bomb in place of a turban. More than 20,000 people attended a rally yesterday in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi, the latest in a series of protests in the country over the cartoons, Agence France-Presse reported. At least five people have been killed in violence during rallies in Pakistan. Pakistan Arrests Police detained several political leaders in Lahore yesterday to prevent a protest march taking place. They included Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the head of a six-party alliance of Islamic groups in Pakistan, and Imran Khan, a former captain of Pakistan’s cricket team, who formed the Movement for Justice Party, AFP said. The 12 cartoons were first published in Denmark’s largest broadsheet, Jyllands-Posten in September. They were reprinted earlier this month in France, Norway, Austria, Germany and other counties sparking Muslim protests. Editors in European countries said they were defending freedom of expression by reprinting the cartoons. Carsten Juste, editor-in-chief at the Aarhus-based Jyllands-Posten, apologized for offending Muslims in a statement on the newspaper’s Web site Jan. 31. Violent protests earlier this month left at least 11 people dead in Libya, 16 people killed in Nigeria and 11 in Afghanistan. “Some of the violent reactions have encouraged extremist groups within European societies, whose agenda is to demonize Muslim immigrants or even expel them,” Annan said, according to the UN. “The republication of the cartoons, and the support for them voiced by some leaders in Europe, have strengthened those in the Muslim world who see Europe, or the West as a whole, as irredeemably hostile to Islam and encourage Muslims to always see themselves as victims.” Left to Extremists Without the efforts of groups such as the High-Level panel, the exchanges between Islam and the West will be left to extremists, Annan said. Retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and theologians such as Ismali Serageldin of Egypt and Mehmet Aydin of Turkey are among the members of the panel. Annan two weeks ago called on Muslims to refrain from violence over the cartoons. Muslims should accept the apology given by the Danish newspaper, he said Feb. 5.

US Muslims fight halal meat scam. Some stores sell meat that is falsely labelled as Halal

Of the many ways Musa Abdus Salaam could break the tenets of his Muslim faith, eating a cheeseburger might seem the least threatening. But one year ago, not long after he and his family dined on beef he purchased from a shop in Norfolk, Virginia, Abdus-Salaam learned they had unwittingly violated the Quran: His investigation revealed the store’s meat was not halal. “It is a major sin in our religion,” Abdus-Salaam said. Halal is the Muslim equivalent of kosher, a method of slaughtering, blessing and preparing food to purify it. Believers are willing to pay a premium for halal, and across the US, states and localities are targeting unscrupulous dealers who prey on their dietary devotion. The state of Virginia, home to 350,000 Muslims, is weighing three proposals. One would make selling halal knockoffs a misdemeanour punishable by up to $500 in fines. “In my research, I realised that Virginia does not have a programme to certify kosher or other religious foods,” said Kenneth Alexander, a state legislator who sponsored the bill at his constituents’ request. Fines or jail Other legislation would force vendors to offer certification information and a toll-free number or website for confirmation of halal and kosher foods. Violators could face up to six months in jail and $1000 in fines. The bills are pending in legislative committees. Last summer, New York enacted a law requiring halal food distributors to register with the state. Pending legislation would fine vendors caught possessing mislabelled halal items. Similar codes are on the books in a handful of states, including California, Illinois and Michigan, despite the misgivings of some who maintain that state governments should not be policing religious laws. In Virginia, growing communities are bringing Muslim needs to the forefront, said Imad Damaj, president of the Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs. Growing numbers He pointed to a 1994 survey that found 11 mosques between Richmond and northern Virginia. “Now there’s no less than 45,” he said, adding that the 9-11 attacks highlighted the American Muslim presence. “Now the community is more higher profile and more under the microscope, too.” Halal foods are vital for the expanding group. Halal means lawful and applies to anything from lunch meat to potato chips, depending on things such as additives and what something’s cooked in. Seafood is automatically halal while pork automatically is not. Other meats undergo a complex procedure. The Muslim population in the US is increasing Generally, the butcher must invoke the name of Allah while cutting the live animal’s neck; once the blood has drained and the animal’s heart stops, Abdus Salaam said, it is halal. Years ago, he was among many residents who travelled as far as Philadelphia to find properly prepared cuisine. Now halal foods – and their lookalikes – are popping up in grocery store meat cases, on carryout menus and in fast food drive-throughs. Difficult to decipher Scams have become common. Some vendors will blend regular meat with a little halal meat to justify Muslim-friendly labels and higher prices. Others simply lie, preying on Muslims’ trust and devotion, said Habib Ghanim Sr, president of the USA Halal Chamber of Commerce. “It’s not like Third World countries, where you can just slaughter a lamb in your back yard and feed the family,” he said, pointing out that halal meat has no special smell or appearance. “You wouldn’t know the difference.” His group is one of several sniffing out fakers. They ask questions such as which supplier one uses – guaranteed to trip up vendors unfamiliar with the tight-knit community of halal butchers and slaughterhouses. Sometimes it pays off. In 1997, authorities fined Springfield’s Washington Lamb Inc $10,000 after they found that the company was falsely claiming its products were halal. Federal agriculture officials can pursue litigation against a company for misbranding a product, considered a violation of the federal meat inspection act. Tricky laws “It’s not like Third World countries, where you can just slaughter a lamb in your back yard and feed the family. You wouldn’t know the difference” Habib Ghanim Sr President, USA Halal Chamber of Commerce But creating laws could put state governments in the touchy position of interpreting religious rules, said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He argued that it is up to community members to confront vendors. “That seems to me vastly more powerful an instrument than going and expecting some young district attorney to understand the complexities of this,” he said. Yet, without legal repercussions, proponents argue, it is impossible to ensure phony vendors would not resume business. That troubles Abdus-Salaam. His faith mandates that he ask forgiveness for eating non-halal food and promise never to do it again – a tough proposition with shady vendors pushing phony foods. The regional administrator with the Islamic Political Party of America is promoting Alexander’s law. “In our religion, if we see a wrong, we have to right that wrong,” he said. “We can’t just stand around and wish for it to go away.”

Thousands Protest Drawings In Karachi

By ASIF SHAHZAD About 25,000 people – some chanting “Death to America!” – rallied against the Prophet Muhammad caricatures in Pakistan’s largest city Sunday, but police prevented a rally in the eastern city of Lahore by arresting the religious ringleader and detaining scores of supporters. In Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and economic hub, where the provincial government has not banned such rallies, protesters also chanted “Down with the blasphemer!” and “End diplomatic ties with European countries!” No violence was reported. About 25,000 people joined the downtown rally organized by Tahafuz-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwat, a Sunni Muslim religious group, said Shaukat Shah, a Karachi police officer. The protest was the biggest in the port city since 40,000 rallied there Feb. 16 against the cartoons, which first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September but have been reprinted across Europe since. In Lahore, clerics, opposition lawmakers and religious school administrators were among 150 people arrested or detained without charge Saturday and Sunday in a bid to thwart the illegal protest, police official Amir Zulfiqar said. Pakistan banned such rallies in Lahore after several demonstrations turned deadly. Police blocked all streets leading to a central Lahore mall where the protest was to be held. Some 15,000 policemen and 3,000 paramilitary troops were deployed in the city, guarding major traffic intersections, government buildings, mosques and foreign consulates, Lahore police chief Khawaja Khalid Farooq said. Qazi Hussain Ahmed, a leader of a coalition of six radical Islamic parties, attempted to lead the rally but was taken away in a police vehicle after trying to break through a barricade, Zulfiqar said. Nearly 100 of Ahmed’s supporters chanted “Punishment for insulting the Prophet is death!” as they stood near the police blockade. There was no violence. Parliamentary opposition leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who was prevented by police from boarding a flight to Lahore from Islamabad, vowed that the protests would continue. “By arresting religious and political workers, the government displayed a dictatorial attitude which is condemnable,” Rahman said. “The government has shattered democratic values and by its steps it has strengthened those forces which have insulted the Prophet.” Protests targeting President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the United States and the caricatures are scheduled for March 3 – a day before President Bush visits Islamabad. Police also detained former cricket great Imran Khan, a lawmaker who now leads the Movement for Justice party, and 10 of his supporters near the venue of the planned rally, Zulfiqar said. The prophet drawings have ignited violent protests across the Muslim world that have killed at least 45 people. Muslims have denounced the drawings – one of which shows a prophet with a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse – as offensive to their religion. Muslims consider any physical representation of Islam’s prophet blasphemous. The caricatures were first published by a Danish newspaper in September, then reprinted by other Western media, mostly in Europe but by some U.S. outlets, in the name of free speech and news value. In Hong Kong, about 1,000 Muslims staged a peaceful rally in a downtown park Sunday. “Any insults to the prophets will hurt Muslims,” read placards held by some of the protesters. “Don’t abuse the freedom of speech.” “I cannot describe how hurt I feel. The Prophet Muhammad is not only the prophet we follow, but he is dearer to us than our own selves,” said Wael Ibrahim, an Egyptian sales manager who lives in the city of Shenzhen, across the border in mainland China. In Malaysia, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he had ordered the suspension of a third newspaper that published a photograph showing the cartoons. The Berita Petang Sarawak, the only Chinese-language evening daily on Borneo island, will be banned from publishing for two weeks, Abdullah said. The government earlier ordered the suspensions of the English-language Sarawak Tribune and Chinese-language Guang Ming newspapers for reproducing the cartoons.

Security Programs Strain Relationship Between U.S., Muslims

WASHINGTON (AP) – Nabil Amen wrote it off as mistaken identity the first time U.S. border agents handcuffed him as he returned home from Canada. When he had border-crossing troubles a third time, he decided to never leave the United States again. Amen, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Lebanon, is among a growing number of Muslim-and Arab-Americans who say they feel singled out by federal security practices that have chilled that community’s carefully nurtured relationship with the government. Federal authorities insist they do not target Muslims or Arabs because of their religion or race, and stress their commitment to building ties with those groups, partly to help with terrorism investigations. Yet recent disclosures of Bush administration domestic surveillance programs have put new strains on those communities’ ties with the federal government. “There are several incidents and policies that are unfairly targeting Muslims because of who they are – not because of what they did,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Washington. Awad said the rapport built up with the government since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “is at its lowest point because of these programs.” Federal authorities say their tactics are vital to preventing further attacks. “All investigations conducted by the FBI are based either in intelligence or criminal information,” FBI spokesman Rich Kolko said. “We do this in our efforts to prevent or detect an act of terrorism on the country, which is the FBI’s No. 1 priority.” Security experts say the government has to walk a fine line between protecting against terrorism and respecting people’s rights. Community leaders estimate that up to eight million Muslims live in the United States, two-thirds of whom are U.S. citizens. “The 9/11 hijackers were from the Middle East, they were Muslim, they were between 20 and 40 years old,” said David Heyman, homeland security director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Law enforcement can’t ignore this – they’ve got an obligation to protect the public. But they must do so with care.” Amen said he was told to step out of his car and was handcuffed the first time he was stopped, in December 2004, as he returned to his Dearborn, Mich., home after visiting relatives in Windsor, Ont. “The looks on my kids’ faces and my wife’s face – it was unbelievable,” said Amen, 47. “It’s changed my whole concept of life in this country.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials would not comment on the specifics of Amen’s case. “To take that type of action, we have got to have good reason,” said Kristi Clemens, the agency’s assistant commissioner. After detaining and deporting hundreds of Muslims and Arabs immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, federal officials have tried to repair the relationship through dialogues with community leaders and sensitivity training for investigators. But the rapport has been badly strained, the leaders say, by recent revelations of surveillance programs that target Muslim homes, businesses and mosques for terrorist links. The monitoring is in addition to policies that Muslim-and Arab-Americans believe target them for extra scrutiny at airports and border crossings. Another irritant was the FBI’s cancelling a program for helping agents relate better with the groups by teaching the investigators about their culture. Since Sept. 11, 417 people have been charged in federal terrorism-related cases, resulting in 228 convictions or guilty pleas, according to the most recent Justice Department data. Justice spokesman Bryan Sierra said the department does not categorize arrests by ethnicity or religion. Immigration data underscores the extra attention the government has paid to immigrants from predominantly Arab and Muslim countries since the attacks. Between October 1, 2000, and September 30, 2001, the U.S. deported 589 immigrants to 20 countries around the Middle East and Central Asia. In the next 12-month period, beginning weeks after Sept. 11, deportations to those nations rose to 1,674 and peaked at 1,759 in 2003. By last year, the number of deported immigrants to those countries had fallen to 1,167, according to Homeland Security Department data. Still, counterterrorism officials say they try to alleviate Muslim and Arab community concerns by meeting regularly with local leaders. “Over time, you get to know the people that you meet with,” said Brian Moskowitz, Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement top agent in Detroit, which has one of the largest Muslim and Arab communities in the United States. “It’s helped, in some cases, reduce the level of anxiety and fear in the community so that people will talk to us.” Added Dan Sutherland, the department’s civil rights and liberties officer: “I know that there are peaks and valleys in the government’s relationship with these particular communities, but I really am convinced that we’re seeing a level of engagement that is going to grow over time.” But a fresh chill has taken hold. “We thought we had established a constructive working relationship with them,” said Kareem Shora, legal adviser for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “We definitely took a couple of steps back.”

Conservative Christians Express Little Sympathy For Muslims’ Outrage

WASHINGTON – Many conservative Christians have long regarded the media as enemy territory, where traditional values are at best misunderstood and often mocked. So you might think they would relate sympathetically to Muslim outrage over the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. That outrage has sparked violent protests throughout the Islamic world. But concerns about the goals of radical Islamic leaders, a sense that a double standard pervades the Muslim media and a general distaste for organized violence have overridden any empathy most Christian conservatives might feel for angry Muslims. “Unfortunately, the protesters are hinting that the cartoonist might have been right,” said the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. “They’re killing fellow Muslims and destroying property. Maybe the radical protests are validating the cartoon instead of proving that cartoon wrong.” No Christian leader ever espoused violence to retaliate against Piss Christ, the controversial 1989 artwork — a photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine — by Andres Serrano, even though that riled many Christians, noted Gary Bauer, president of American Values and a longtime leader among religious conservatives. “I understand why any religious person would get upset if they think their faith is disparaged in a drawing or a cartoon,” Bauer said. “But… how can (the cartoons) engender a greater emotional reaction than the daily bombings and attacks by groups claiming to do them in the name of Allah? “It doesn’t look like a call for respect,” Bauer concluded of the Muslims’ protests. “It looks like a call for submission.” Indeed, many evangelical Christians see militant Islam replacing communism as the greatest global threat, said Allen Hertzke, professor of political science and director of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma. “They see this phenomenon as part of an orchestrated effort by what they call Islamo-fascists to take over the Islamic world,” Hertzke said. Then there’s the apparent double standard for acceptable religious satire in Muslim media, especially regarding Jews. Jews are routinely lambasted and stereotyped in the Muslim media. Hertzke recalled a Syrian TV program shown in Jordan that depicted Jews using the blood of children to make matzo. A recent cartoon on a Muslim group’s Web site showed Adolf Hitler in bed with Anne Frank, a teenage Jewish martyr during World War II, saying, “Write this one in your diary, Anne.” “Many evangelicals have very positive views toward Jews, and evangelicals support Israel,” said John Green, a professor at the University of Akron who specializes in religion and politics. “And it’s interesting that in the protests of these cartoons, the language quickly turned anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. That sends up a red flag for evangelical Christians.” Christian conservatives also generally echo the views of the Bush administration, which condemned the Muslim violence but backed off early criticisms of the cartoons themselves. President Bush pointed out that such are the vagaries of life with a free press. “The appreciation of pluralism is something that every religious group has to grow in,” Haggard of the evangelicals’ group said. “We evangelicals struggle with this issue every time we send one of our kids off to college. But we think pluralism is a high value…. Radical Muslim extremists have to grasp that pluralism is a fact of life for all cultures. We’re into a new world.”

Denmark: Denmark Makes Overtures to Muslims in Cartoon Row

Denmark has sent a video tape to Arab television stations in which Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller presents some initiatives aimed at easing global tensions over the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The message is that we have listened to reactions from abroad and now launch a number of forward-looking and constructive initiatives aimed at promoting respectful dialogue, a foreign ministry spokesman said yesterday.