New Dutch Muslim Cabinet minister accuses lawmaker of racially motivated political attacks

One of the first two Muslims appointed to a Dutch Cabinet post, Ahmed Aboutaleb calls himself a “foot soldier” in the cause of immigrant integration. And as a foot soldier, he expects to be a target, he said Wednesday. Since being sworn in last month as junior minister for social affairs, Aboutaleb and fellow Muslim Cabinet minister Nebahat Albayrak have come under sustained political fire over their dual nationalities. Anti-immigration lawmaker Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party won nine seats in the 150-seat Dutch parliament in elections last November, claims their dual passports – Aboutaleb has Moroccan and Dutch nationality, Albayrak Turkish and Dutch – mean they also have split loyalties. Aboutaleb rejects the idea, pointing out that Dutch citizens who collaborated with their country’s Nazi occupiers during World War II only had one passport.

The Islamic catacombs of Andalusia

The Muslim community of Spain and Andalusia is in halfway of a paradox. The so called garage Mosques portrait an image of clandestinely but at the same time every time that a temple construction project is submitted immediately the neighbours start to protest and the political forces erected obstacles.. However every Friday the 250.000 Muslims of Andalusia are in need of a proper place to pray. The garage-Mosques have to be considered as emergency solutions as most of them lack basic health conditions such as bathrooms and this should also be a good reason to fast-forward the building problems as sometimes a Mosque takes 20 years to be operative. Another problem is the dependency of foreign founds and therefore the obligation to follow a certain Muslim doctrine with all the perils that this may enclose.

Four Mosques thanks to the founds of Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Sharia

According to Mansur Escudero, president of the Islamic Council, Islam does not benefit from a strong and hierarchical structure like the Catholic Church which once again forces them to accept external help. In Andalusia, two of the Mosques (Fuengirola e Marbella) were financed by money coming from Saudi Arabia and a new one at Malaga is also being financed by the Wahhabism thought. The Mosque of Granada managed by the Islamic Community of Spain was supported by the King of Morocco and by the emirate of Sharya.

France’s Third Muslim School Opens

France’s third Muslim high school welcomed its first students on Monday, March 5, after a months-long battle with local education authorities. “We are very pleased,” Rachid Guergour, head of the Lyon Mosque, told reporters outside the Al-Kindi private school in the Decines suburb of the eastern city of Lyon, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP). The school, named after Muslim philosopher Yusuf Ya`qoub ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi (801-873), initially opened to one entry-year class. It will eventually cater to 140 students, making it the largest Muslim school in France. The school will cost some 700,000 euros a year to operate. It will mainly teach state curricula in addition to Qur’an, jurisprudence, Islamic civilization and history. The school got the green light to open last month after the French Higher Education Council (CSE) overruled a decision by the Lyon education board. The school was banned from opening its classes last September after the Academy of Lyon had argued that the school failed to meet hygiene and safety standards. But the Administrative Court in Lyon dismissed the Academy’s rationale as unsubstantiated. Victory Hakim Chergui, deputy head of the Al-Kindi association behind the project, hailed the school’s opening. “I will cry victory when I see our students’ results in the high-school exams. That is what matters,” he said. Guergour said that the Muslim school will be abiding by the French laws. “The judiciary has enabled us to reach a compromise,” he said. “We will continue like this, in full respect for the laws of the Republic.” Private Muslim schools were an urgent demand by many Muslim families in France, especially after the state banned hijab and religious symbols at public schools. A 2004 religious insignia law forced many French Muslim girls to enroll at schools in neighboring European countries or at private schools at home. However, not all girl pupils at the Muslim school wear hijab. Mohammed Minta, the local imam in charge of religious education classes, insists students will be free to dress as they please. France’s first Muslim high school opened in the northeast Paris suburb of Aubervilliers in 2001, and now caters to around 100 pupils.

Understanding the Other

The Standard (De Standaard) announces the beginning of a fifteen segment, three-week long series in its print and online editions exploring various aspects of Islam, including the Qur’an and shari’a law. Extensive excerpts of the Qur’an will be included in publications. The series will address taboos such as whether Islam is a religion of violence spread by the sword. The paper invites feedback from Muslim to respond to the misinterpretation of their faith by Dutch society. A relationship of misunderstanding between Muslims and the Dutch society, according to the Standard, must pass-this is the only path towards respect.

Rule against hijab stands: world soccer body

The F_d_ration Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, during its annual general meeting in Manchester, England, upheld its regulation against hijabs. FIFA’s prohibition became a point of public controversy after 11-year-old Ottawa soccer player Asmahan Mansour was ejected on February 25 from a tournament game by a referee.

L’islam, un recours pour les jeunes

Based on a long ethnographic study, L’Islam, un recours pour les jeunes focuses on the Islamic identities of French youth with North African or Turkish origins and working-class backgrounds. It asserts that young men and women’s religious paths are linked to experiences at school, within immigrant families and in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Young men complain of being labelled negatively at school and being pushed toward low-skilled jobs instead of the professional vocations and lifestyles for which they yearn. They are often in conflict with teachers or with career advisers and engage Muslim symbols to protest against school judgments. The book also insists on the deep differences between Turkish and North-African populations with working-class backgrounds. The Turkish populations settled in France later than North-Africans and subsequently their settlement has been more fragile. They want to preserve traditions and customs from their country of origin, a phenomenon reinforced by the high concentrations of Turkish populations in urban areas. Turkish parents’ aspirations influence their goals for their children, especially in relation to school, professional life and marriage. The second part of Kapko’s book discussed the response of local authorities to Muslim religious claims. For over a decade, changes in Muslim demands of local policitians in relation to religious practice have been noticed. In comparison to demands made in the 1980s by immigrant fathers which focused on the need for prayer space, the 1990s have seen new demands such as the right to wear the headscarf in public spaces, the participation of local politicians to seminars held by religious leaders, and accommodation of religious arguments during negotiations with local political leaders. This investigation shows that council representatives often only select the aspects of the demands that seem to suit their objectives -keeping public order, social integration-and ignore the religious content of the demands. In other cases discussed, religious intonations are not ignored but rather exploited by the local government. Government officials, who fear confrontations between ethnic groups in disadvantaged areas, are tempted to turn religious militants into unofficial mediators between immigrant populations and public authorities.

EU starts Agency for Fundamental Rights

European Union officials on Thursday launched the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights – the 27-nation bloc’s latest effort to stamp out intolerance as it struggles to absorb an unprecedented crush of immigrants. Officials said the new agency would expand the work of the Vienna-based European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia to forge an EU-wide human rights culture that respects people of different genders, cultures and faiths. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the new agency reflected the EU’s “deep belief in the central worth and dignity of each individual.” Underscoring how racism, anti-Semitism and crimes against foreigners remain entrenched in Europe, the monitoring center warned in December that Europe’s Muslims routinely suffered acts ranging from physical attacks to discrimination in the job and housing markets. “We must continue to attack these diseases,” said Franco Frattini, the EU’s justice and home affairs commissioner. “There are those who would exploit our differences. Therefore, respecting different cultures is vital, but respect for fundamental individual rights must prevail,” said Frattini, adding that the new agency would complement the work of the Council of Europe, the bloc’s top human rights body. “Europe has changed and is changing – the promotion of fundamental rights could be our identity for the future,” he said. Amnesty International called the new agency a good start, but criticized its “minimalist mandate that contrasts sharply with the serious scale and nature of human rights problems in the EU.” In a statement, Amnesty expressed disappointment that the agency was steering clear of some thorny issues, including police abuse, violence against women and the interplay between counterterrorism laws and basic rights and freedoms. “The Fundamental Rights Agency, despite its name, is a missed opportunity,” Amnesty said. The Agency for Fundamental Rights is expected to become fully operational later this year. Like the monitoring center, the new organization will track and collect data on violence and discrimination, advise EU headquarters and member states, and raise public awareness of the problem. Its interim director will be Beate Winkler, who has been in charge of the monitoring center since 1998. In an interview earlier this week with The Associated Press, Winkler expressed hopes that the new agency would produce “a culture where people have the feeling they are respected – where they don’t have the fear of being attacked because they are Muslim or a Jew.” “The two most important challenges for the 21st century are how are we dealing with the Earth, and how are we dealing with the humans living on the Earth,” she said. The human rights arm of the region’s largest security group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Thursday it welcomed the new agency. “The creation of the Fundamental Rights Agency will further strengthen the EU’s role in effectively protecting human rights,” said Christian Strohal of the 56-nation OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

Report on Racism and Xenophobia in the Member States of the EU

Executive summary: This report on racism and xenophobia in the EU is the first to be published since the creation of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) on 1 March 2007, following the extension of the mandate of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). This report, although published by the FRA, is not the FRA Annual Report. It is a report which was produced on the basis of the EUMC legal base and mandate. It covers information and developments on racism and xenophobia in the EU for the year 2006, in the thematic areas of legal issues, employment, housing, education, and racist violence and crime. In addition, there is a final chapter covering developments and policies at the EU level in combating racism and xenophobia.