At Least 4,000 Germans Converted to Islam in 2006

The number of converts to Islam rose four-fold from about 1,000 in 2004. While previously mostly women followed their husbands into their religion, now converts come from all social groups and ages, across the board. There are approximately 3,22 million practising Muslims in Germany, the number of mosques is set to double shortly – and other new data also became available.

Muslim Woman with Headscarf is Allowed to Teach

STUTTGART – Overturning the legal ban on headscarfs in state schools in the state of Baden-W_rttemberg, the Administrative Court of Stuttgart ruled that Doris Graber, the 55-year-old Muslim teacher whose trial has become a test case and national cause c_l_bre, may continue to wear her headscarf while teaching, just as Catholic nuns are allowed their habits and other visible religious symbols when they teach.

Lies, Myths And Falsehoods: A Day In The Life Of The Bnp’s Stronghold

{Two months after council elections, far-right party says it has launchpad for Westminster} by Steve Boggan LONDON – The man from the BNP breezes up in a white linen suit looking like some latter-day Martin Bell and says: “Can you believe it? Two of our schools are having Muslim days tomorrow – on 7/7! It’s like chucking mud in people’s faces.” Fresh-faced and brimming with enthusiasm, this is Richard Barnbrook, the leader of the second-largest party in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham. In May’s local elections, Mr Barnbrook caused a big political upset by leading a group of BNP candidates to electoral victory in 11 wards. In political terms, it sent a message on immigration that the main parties are still struggling to come to terms with. For the BNP, it was something of a watershed – a foothold in Greater London that the party feels will pave the way for its first foray into the House of Commons. Two months on and there is no sense of shame among the people who voted BNP. It was no spur of the moment decision that was regretted the next day. If anything, there is a sense that the party might do even better next time. What is emerging, however, is that the election success was based on a campaign of misinformation and rumour-mongering on a huge and continuing scale. Housing ? Before the election, the party focused its efforts on promulgating the claim that the borough’s housing stock was being given to people from outside its boundaries, mainly asylum seekers and refugees. Mr Barnbrook and his colleagues also leafleted the electorate, telling them grants of up to _50,000 were being given by nearby Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney to encourage people to move into Barking and Dagenham, thus helping them to buy the cheapest housing stock. It is a claim all three boroughs deny. Hackney’s deputy mayor, Jamie Carswell, said yesterday: “I can say categorically that we do not give, and have never given, grants for people to buy houses in Hackney, Barking and Dagenham or anywhere else. It is an utter fabrication.” Unlike some BNP councillors around the country, Mr Barnbrook, a personable 45-year-old former teacher, takes his new role seriously. We accompany him during an “emergency surgery” at Barking town hall. He describes it as emergency because it is his first since taking office – no schools or community centres have so far allowed the BNP to use their premises. “It’s scandalous,” he says. “We have been democratically elected yet we are not being afforded our democratic rights and privileges. The ruling Labour group haven’t even given us computers that we are entitled to. And we are being denied information when we request it on matters like housing. When I asked for one set of figures, I was told they were on a need-to-know basis, and I didn’t need to know.” The only visitors to the surgery are Sandra, a 43-year-old mother of three, and two of her friends. Sandra is in tears because she is being evicted from rented accommodation as the owner wants it back. The situation has brought her marriage to the brink and one of her daughters is so worried that her hair is falling out. “I asked the council to help house us but I was told to wait until the day the bailiffs come, put our possessions into a van and then, once we’re homeless, to come to the council offices and they’d see what they could do,” she says. “But the worry is killing us.” In fairness to Mr Barnbrook, he does not play the race card, but after the interview, Sandra says: “If I was a refugee or an asylum seeker, you can bet I’d be housed by now. They’re taking up all the council houses, being given grants and furniture while local people go to the back of the queue.” And Mr Barnbrook nods in agreement. In fact, according to Barking and Dagenham, of its 20,250 council homes, just four are occupied by asylum seekers or refugees. “They’re flooding in,” Mr Barnbrook says later. “We checked the additions to the electoral roll and between May and July 5 there were 1,600 new additions and I can’t even begin to pronounce their names. They sound African.” Charles Fairbrass, the council leader, says he is exasperated by the BNP’s continuing claims that outsiders – usually foreigners – are being given housing stock before local people. The council has a policy of putting its residents first. “They are making these claims and whipping up racial tension,” he says. “Often, it is based on the colour of a person’s skin. There is a growing black middle class in London and many of them want to get on the property ladder. Because we have some of the cheapest housing in London, they choose to buy here. And when they buy ex-local authority property, people often assume that those properties are still local authority and they’ve been allowed to jump the queue.” Mr Fairbrass describes BNP council attendance as intermittent and their councillors’ performance as useless. “They have never debated anything or challenged committee reports. We have even set up induction classes for new councillors, but they have hardly attended any.” Mr Barnbrook admits that he and his colleagues are on a steep learning curve but they are taking lessons from more experienced BNP councillors from the north of England. “It’s true we don’t debate with them because there is no point,” he argues. “They make us put all our questions in writing and then the replies we get are pathetic.” Outside the chamber, however, the BNP seems to be winning the battle for many hearts and minds. Before the election the party put out leaflets claiming that burglaries were up 79%, robberies up 80%, violent crime up 61% and that 33% of the borough’s residents were now from minority ethnic groups. The Barking and Dagenham Post checked the figures and found that burglaries were down 11.7%, robberies up by 5%, rapes were down 10.8%, violent crime was up by 1.2% and around 15% of residents were from an ethnic minority. “The problem,” says the Post’s editor, Barry Kirk, “is that people seem to believe them. I don’t believe that the people of Barking and Dagenham are racist, but some of the claims the BNP are making about housing are causing a lot of upset.” Propaganda ? On the streets, the propaganda is working. Tommy Mann, 57, a steel erector, says: “I think the BNP are doing a good job. I didn’t vote for them because I was away, but I will in future. There are just too many immigrants and they all seem to be coming here. Other councils are buying houses here and shipping them in.” Emma Lewis, 18, has a mixed race daughter and does not like the racist element of the BNP, but she, too, says she would be more likely to vote for the party in future because of the housing issue. Her mother, Theresa Barnett, 43, says: “There are so many foreigners – asylum seekers and illegal immigrants – ahead of you when you try to get a council house. Local people just don’t get a fair crack of the whip.” Mr Barnbrook said his party campaigned first on housing, second on crime, third on education and only fourth on immigration. But it is impossible to separate the housing issue from race and that, in turn, fuels more disturbing – if incorrect – rumours. Chuma Mwanakatwe, 29, is shopping with her son, Moses, two and a half. Her husband, Paschal, is a staff nurse at a London hospital. “Someone told us that if they get more power the BNP would like to introduce a system of apartheid – separate schools for blacks and whites,” she says. “And that really scares me.” Backstory The BNP focused its Barking and Dagenham campaign on local concern over housing and changing demographics. It falsely claimed that the council had a secret scheme to give African families _50,000 to buy local houses . Attention on the area intensified after Barking MP Margaret Hodge claimed that eight out of 10 voters in her constituency were thinking of voting for the BNP – a warning widely criticised by Labour organisers who said it gave the party unwarranted credibility . The BNP picked up 11 of the 13 seats it contested and became the second biggest group on the council. Nationally the party gained 32 councillors i
n May.

Britain, Let’s Talk, Say Muslims

By Dominic Casciani The organisers insist it is a coincidence, but the fact that IslamExpo fell on the first anniversary of the London bombings was the powerful symbol British Muslims needed to say very publicly what they stand for. The $1.8m show at London’s Alexandra Palace could have been just another event where Muslims talks to Muslims about being Muslim. But instead the organisers found a simple formula of exhibitions, market stalls, and robust debate that very successfully managed to bring in a healthy proportion of white, non-Muslim people and, critically, create some dialogue. And so, while the two-minute silence came and went, and Britain reflected on how we find, in simplest terms, a way to all get on, the many different people at IslamExpo just got on with it. For Ihtisham Hibatullah, co-ordinator of the massive enterprise, this was what it was all about. Taking his guests through the entrance hall of a Bedouin-style tent, and a very lavish interactive history of Islam, he said the show’s mission was to give confidence to Britain’s Muslim communities.
Black in the Union Jack Stopping at a gallery of work by British Muslim artists, he said the images were a perfect way of understanding the reality of the modern world. “Islam is not just part of the East anymore,” said Mr Hibatullah. “It began there, but is now very much part of Europe, part of Britain. “Look at these pictures. Here is one of the Union Jack in the style of Islamic calligraphy. I don’t think the flag is the trade mark of the British National Party anymore, is it? “We are trying to give people a sense off Islamic history, of identity but, crucially, we are trying to provide means through which British Muslims can show how they have contributed to our society.” Among the thousands trooping through the doors of Ally Pally were an estimated 4,000 school children from all over the UK.
History comes alive In the marquee of Exhibition Islam, a touring organisation that takes historic artefacts into schools, children of all backgrounds crowded around Imtiaz Alam as he showed them a 16th century Koran. “It has been fantastic to be here and see the non-Muslim kids taking an interest,” said Imtiaz, who has received invitations from American and Australian organisations. “I am really glad that so many people have taken the time to listen and learn. “Every time we do our show, and we must have taken it to 250,000 people by now, we find a good reception. People want to learn and understand and appreciate what Islam means to Muslims.” And this was key for the diverse audience. While the tough lectures and deep thinking went on in some of the marquees, the biggest attraction for the children were workshops with a lighter touch. Khayaal Theatre Group was among those holding music and dance shows for the kids, drawing on traditional Islamic stories from around the Muslim world. Luqman Ali, founder of Khayall, has long campaigned among Muslim communities for them to use the arts to both understand themselves and forge links with wider society. “It is through story-telling and the universal values that they contain we can improve inter-cultural understanding and start dealing with issues like alienation, isolation and segregation,” said Luqman. “It’s through stories that people and civilisations better understand each other, rather than through dogma and doctrine.” Luqman said however that he had mixed feelings a year on from the bombings. “The consequences were not uniform – in some parts of society it’s been a catalyst for much more dialogue and for individuals to bridge the gap of understanding. “In other ways it has increased anxieties – I have times when I am optimistic and times when I am very pessimistic.”
New generation Intissar Khreeji-Ghannouchi shared Luqman Ali’s mixed feelings, saying the past few years had been an “emotional rollercoaster”. A recent Cambridge law graduate, Intissar is representative of a new emerging generation of confident Muslim women determined to take on prejudices stereotypes. “I think there is a lot of optimism created by this event – it shows how we can all overcome the actions of individuals [the bombers] who want to break the Muslim community away from the rest of society. “We need to find ways of having a genuine dialogue with each other and I feel IslamExpo is a very important step. Look at what you have here today – you have an opportunity to properly introduce people to Muslim culture. The public perception is very negative but if we are open, we can combat it.” Intissar said that she had personally found it frustrating to sometimes explain to non-Muslims why she wears a headscarf. “Then I started reminding myself that while it is a normal part of me, I should put myself in their shoes – they are curious and may not understand. I would be naturally curious about another culture and what it means. “I think since 9/11 we [the British] have had to think more deeply about identity. “This has been an invigorating experience but also one of urgency because Muslims now recognise that it is not enough to be passive.” And the pro-active stance taken by people such as Intissar was one that went down well with the non-Muslim visitors who had come to learn and talk. South London A-level students Laura Burtonshaw, Lucie Robathan and Katie Carpenter were among the significant number of non-Muslim visitors. They said they had been enormously enthused by the experience which had helped them understand the relationships between Islam and Christianity. “We really think it has been brilliant,” said Katie. “It is really what we all need to see and hear. I just can’t get over how friendly everyone has been.” Laura said the trio had been studying the roots of religion at school but the show had given them a real opportunity to really understand the daily lived-in culture of Islam. “The most important thing is that we find a way to learn and understand each other,” she said.

Spain Revisits Its Arab Past, Rebuilds Bridges With Muslim World

MADRID – Spain, the Western country most marked by Arab civilization, solemnly decided to reopen the annals of its Arab past and to rebuild the bridges with the Muslim world, demolished with the fall of Granada in 1492, by signing the founding charters of “la Casa _rabe”, and of the International Institute of Arab Studies and the Muslim World. The Arab League and the UN Alliance of Civilizations co-sponsor the two new institutions.

France Resists Ethnic Census

Contrary to certain Anglo-Saxon countries, France has historically refused to count its ethnic minorities, on the principle, engraved in the Constitution, that the Republic only recognises citizens “without distinction of origin, race or religion.” The Europe-wide debate over this rationale began in the 1990s, and the failure of the French model of integration gave new weight to arguments in favour of collecting data on dates of naturalisation, responders’ own and parents’ county of origin, and other attributes relating to racial and ethnic origins. The debate overstepped its EU-France boundaries, and began to rage within the French government. {(continued below in French)} La controverse, qui n’agitait gu_re que les d_mographes, a pris de l’ampleur _ partir de la fin des ann_es 1990, lorsque les pouvoirs publics fran_ais – sous la pression des instances europ_ennes – ont affich_ leur volont_ de combattre les discriminations. En mettant en _vidence les failles du “mod_le fran_ais d’int_gration”, ce combat a indirectement contribu_ _ nourrir des plaidoyers pour la reconnaissance des minorit_s dites “visibles”. Jusque dans l’outil statistique, o_ elles sont justement invisibles : “Il existe une source sp_cifique d’in_galit_s, qui est li_e _ l’origine ethnique et raciale. La strat_gie fran_aise d’indiff_renciation compromet l’observation et l’analyse des discriminations”, souligne ainsi Patrick Simon, chercheur _ l’Institut national des _tudes d_mographiques (INED). Le sujet divise au sommet de l’Etat. Dans le prolongement de son plaidoyer pour la discrimination positive, Nicolas Sarkozy s’est clairement prononc_ pour le comptage ethnique. “Je n’ai toujours pas compris pourquoi certains trouvent choquant que l’on r_pertorie en France les cat_gories de populations selon leur origine. (…) Si l’on refuse de reconna_tre la composition de la soci_t_ fran_aise, comment pourrons-nous int_grer ceux _ qui l’on nie leurs sp_cificit_s et leur identit_ ! Cela n’a aucun sens !”, s’est exclam_ le ministre de l’int_rieur, mardi 2 mai, lors de l’examen par les d_put_s de son texte sur l’immigration. Se posant en d_fenseurs du “mod_le r_publicain”, le chef de l’Etat et le premier ministre ont rejet_ toute initiative en ce sens. Ainsi ont-ils obtenu, d_but mars, le retrait d’un amendement s_natorial – adopt_ par les commissions des lois et des affaires sociales – visant _ ce que soit _tabli “un cadre de r_f_rence comprenant une typologie des groupes de personnes susceptibles d’_tre discrimin_es en raison de leurs origines raciales ou ethniques”. Ce “cadre de r_f_rence” devait _tre destin_ _ “mesurer la diversit_ des origines” dans les administrations et les entreprises de plus de 150 salari_s. Le d_bat, qui est intervenu _ l’occasion de l’examen du projet de loi sur l’_galit_ des chances, a tourn_ court. Par l’entremise du s_nateur (UMP) de Paris, Roger Romani, l’Elys_e a fait conna_tre son veto. Quant aux vell_it_s du ministre de l’emploi, Jean-Louis Borloo, et du ministre d_l_gu_ _ l’_galit_ des chances, Azouz Begag, qui s’_taient montr_s ouverts sur cette question, elles ont _t_ balay_es par un arbitrage de Matignon. Pour freiner ce mouvement, Jacques Chirac peut aussi compter sur Louis Schweitzer, qu’il a nomm_ _ la pr_sidence de la Haute Autorit_ de lutte contre les discriminations (Halde). Pour l’ancien directeur de cabinet de Laurent Fabius, le comptage ethnique est une m_thode “lourde de risques”, parce qu’elle ” nourrit une logique de s_paration de communaut_s”. “C’est l’histoire de la poule et de l’oeuf”, r_plique Jean-Ren_ Lecerf, s_nateur (UMP) du Nord et coauteur de l’amendement sur le “cadre de r_f_rence”. “Ce sont les discriminations qui nourrissent le communautarisme, et non l’inverse”, affirme-t-il. “Ignorer la r_alit_ des discriminations est un danger bien plus redoutable pour la France que le communautarisme”, rench_rit Roger Fauroux, ancien pr_sident du Haut Conseil _ l’int_gration et auteur d’un rapport sur “la lutte contre les discriminations ethniques dans le domaine de l’emploi”. Pour lui, le testing et le CV anonyme – des “outils majeurs”, selon M. Schweitzer – ne sont que des “m_thodes d_tourn_es”, que l’on utilise parce qu'”on ne veut pas regarder la r_alit_ en face”. Certains des plus fervents partisans du mod_le r_publicain en viennent eux-m_mes _ douter. “Lorsque le type d’application de mod_le conduit _ l’inefficacit_ et fabrique des exclus, je ne suis pas s_r que la fid_lit_ aux grands principes ait un sens”, affirmait le premier pr_sident de la Cour des comptes, Philippe S_guin, dans un entretien au Monde du 23 f_vrier, o_ il se montrait ouvert _ une forme de recensement par origine ou nationalit_, sous r_serve de confidentialit_. Le d_bat est _galement ouvert au sein des communaut_s religieuses. Alors que le souvenir des fichiers juifs de l’Occupation p_se lourdement sur ce d_bat, le pr_sident du Conseil repr_sentatif des institutions juives de France (CRIF), Roger Cukierman, s’est dit favorable _ l’instauration de cat_gories religieuses dans le recensement fran_ais. “J’estime que nous avons besoin d’informations. L’ignorance est mauvaise conseill_re et favorise les pr_jug_s”, a-t-il affirm_ dans un entretien au Figaro Magazine du 2 juin, tout en pr_cisant que ce “sujet complexe divise la communaut_ juive de France”. A l’inverse, le pr_sident du Conseil fran_ais du culte musulman (CFCM), Dalil Boubakeur, s’est d_clar_ r_solument hostile _ une telle r_forme : “Vouloir caract_riser les gens par leur religion, c’est se tromper de temps et de R_publique.” Pr_sident du Conseil repr_sentatif des associations noires (CRAN), cr?_ le 26 novembre 2005, Patrick Loz_s entend pour sa part se d_finir haut et fort comme “Noir”. “Refuser de prendre en compte la population noire dans les statistiques de l’Insee, c’est faire comme si elle ne comptait pas”, soutient-il. Si la couleur de la peau appara_t bien comme un facteur de discrimination, les Fran_ais d’outre-mer ne semblent pas pr_ts pour autant _ se ranger dans la m_me “cat_gorie” que leurs concitoyens d’origine africaine. Ce sujet tr_s sensible est l’un des obstacles _ l’instauration d’un comptage ethnique. Il en existe d’autres : “Quel sort r_server aux m_tis, dans une soci_t_ marqu_e par la mondialisation et le m_tissage ?”, s’est interrog_e Bariza Khiari, s_natrice (PS) de Paris, qui redoute, elle aussi, qu’une telle r_forme entra_ne “une communautarisation de la soci_t_”. Le projet du Parti socialiste promet la mise en place d'”un bilan de l’_galit_” dans les grandes entreprises et les administrations. Mais ce dernier n’int_grerait que “des statistiques en fonction du domicile des salari_s”. Compte tenu des fortes r_sistances et r_ticences que susciterait une _ventuelle r_forme, ses partisans revoient leurs ambitions _ la baisse. “On ne peut pas aller plus vite que la soci_t_”, rel_ve Patrick Simon, qui se “contenterait” d_sormais d’un avis de la CNIL permettant de “syst_matiser le recueil des donn_es sur le pays de naissance des parents dans tout l’appareil statistique”. Jean-Baptiste de Montvalon et Laetitia Van Eeckhout