British Muslims for Israel

14 April 2011

A group of British Muslims have founded a pro-Israeli organisation. Hasan Afzal of “British Muslims for Israel” recounts of many reactions of surprise and shock at such unexpected political activism. It was founded by young Muslim professionals in early 2011 who did not like the directions discussions took when it came to the Middle East conflict, in which many people questioned Israel’s right to exist. The group’s website enjoys increasing popularity.

Is the Complete Ban of the Face Veil the right response?

Jocelyne Cesari, Harvard University, Islam in the West Program

The ban of Muslim face veils voted last July went into effect in France on April 12 and two women have already been arrested by the police and one fined.

Muslim school girls have been forbidden since 2004 to don headscarves and it would be tempting to see the anti niqab law as an expansion of the previous law prohibiting religious signs in public schools.

But it is not the case: the 2004 law concerns all religious signs and public schools while the niqab law explicitly targets the face veil and applies to all public spaces.

Most importantly, while the ban of religious signs in pubic schools can be attributed to a very restrictive conception of French public space, there is more to France’s niqab ban, however, than an excess of authoritarian laicite. Similar debates and actions are found all over Europe. Some local municipalities in Belgium and Spain have already implemented burqa bans while some in The Netherlands and the United Kingdom are weighing similar steps (see This highlights the two Euro-wide reasons that are behind such a measure.

The first reason is a tendency in Europe today to conflate security issues and Islam. Although, not one French parliamentarian provided proof during debate that the niqab represents a danger for public order. Europeans view Muslims as threats, so their states respond with measures purporting to rid their lands of terrorism. The banning of face veils, as well as the previous Swiss decision to ban the construction of new minarets, is based on an assumption that conflates Islamic religious symbols with terrorism. But by painting enemies in religious and cultural terms, these measures expose an incapacity to identify the enemy in political terms.

Nevertheless, the niqab does represent a challenge for secular democratic spaces. There is no doubt that, sociologically and culturally speaking, such a dress code reveals an attempt to separate from mainstream society. It is as such incompatible with the face- to- face encounters that are constitutive of the citizenship status: when you vote, when you take part in a public debate or mobilization, when you pass an exam. Therefore, it can indeed be questioned and its use rightly restricted when such civic encounters occur.

It is regrettable that by linking together Islam and security, the real issue of integration of Islamic practices within secular democratic spaces are not really addressed. In this sense, a complete prohibition may not be the most efficient response to the few Muslim women who choose to adopt an illiberal life style in the midst of our liberal democracies.

Calling for an Open Debate of Evolution Theory and Islam Without Prejudice

9 April 2011

Following the controversy around evolution theory and Islam ( ), an opinion piece in the Guardian focuses the variety of Muslim opinions on evolution and the role of anti-Islamic sentiment in the debate.

In this piece, Salman Hameed calls for a more nuanced view on what Muslims think of evolution theory, as there is not one “official” stance, although many do find the theory challenging. But the critics who denounced the views of Usama Hasan, a lecturer and imam who defended evolution theory but withdrew his statements after receiving death threats, only fuel anti-Islamic sentiments, Hameed claims. Evolution theory was just another area after the headscarf issue where many non-Muslims will not be able and willing to understand Islam. Hameed therefore calls for a free debate of the theory among Muslims without having to fear any repressions or threats.

Home for the Aged to be Founded for German Muslim Retirees

8 April 2011

German Muslims are planning a new charity fund in order to establish Islamic homes for the aged and kindergartens, the Islamische Zeitung reports. Chairman of the Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, said the initiative would reflect the reality in German society, and it was a necessary step for Muslims. The same rights and duties as for Christian charities would apply.

According to Deutsch Türkische Nachrichten, Muslim elderly have different needs than non-Muslims. A pilot project in Offenbach near Frankfurt has therefore started an apprenticeship programme, training young men of migration background to become carers for the elderly. The programme focuses on culturally sensitive issues, language and customs, something that become especially important with people suffering from dementia. Apart from working at homes for the aged, graduates of the programme could also be employed in new projects like shared housing for intercultural groups.

First congressional hearing on the civil rights of American Muslim

Despite the comparative lack of attention, the session chaired by Durbin (D-Ill.) made history as the first congressional hearing on the civil rights of American Muslims. About 50 people waited in line for the door of 226 Dirksen Senate Office Building to open, including a half-dozen high school students who had been sleeping on the floor since about 7 a.m. It was 90 minutes shorter, with noticeably less security and media attention — and fewer fireworks. But Sen. Richard J. Durbin’s hearing Tuesday on Muslim civil rights featured the same partisan sparring and many of the same arguments as Rep. Peter T. King’s hearing on Muslim radicals just three weeks ago.

Like the Homeland Security Committee hearing chaired by King (R-N.Y.), Tuesday’s Judiciary subcommittee session attracted Muslim leaders, civil liberties attorneys, curious graduate students and advocates for everything from conservative Christian marriage to interfaith tolerance.

Nearly a decade after 9/11, anti-Muslim harassment cases are now the largest category of religious discrimination in education cases. In addition, there has been a 163 percent increase in workplace complaints from Muslims to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission since the 2001 attacks, Perez said.

The hearing seemed to crystallize some of the key arguments made in current discussions about Islam: The importance of Muslims cooperating with law enforcement vs. some Muslims’ wariness of officials who they suspect of entrapment. Concern about discrimination against Muslims vs. concern about Muslims being discriminated against in their own community for being too outspoken against radicalization. Whether the rise in anti-Muslim incidents is being overblown when the vast majority of discrimination complaints reported to the FBI are about discrimination against Jews.

Supreme Court turns down new appeals from men held at Guantanamo for 9 years

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has turned away appeals from foreigners seeking their release after nine years of detention at Guantanamo Bay.

The court on Monday rejected three separate claims asking the justices to review rulings against the detainees by the federal appeals court in Washington.

In 2008, the high court ruled that the Guantanamo detainees have a constitutional right to ask a federal civilian judge to review their cases and suggested that a judge could order their release.
But in a series of cases since, the D.C. Circuit has limited the authority of federal district judges and made it harder for the detainees to challenge their continued confinement.

The appeals that the court turned down Monday came from: Ghaleb Nassar Al Bihani, a Yemeni who served as a cook for Taliban forces and said he never fired a shot in battle; Fawzi al-Odah, a Kuwaiti who says he was an Islamic studies teacher, not part of terrorist forces; and Adham Mohammed Al Awad of Yemen, who lost part of his right leg in an air raid in Afghanistan but denied being an al-Qaida fighter.

Obama condemns killings at UN office in Afghanistan, offers condolences to victims

President Barack Obama is condemning the attack on a United Nations office in northern Afghanistan Friday. In a statement, Obama offered his condolences to those injured and killed, as well as their families. At least eight foreigners and four Afghan protesters were killed when a demonstration outside the office turned violent.

A Koran Burning Ignored in the U.S. Was News in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Thousands of protesters, enraged by the burning of a Koran at a Florida church, overran a United Nations compound in the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Friday, killing at least 12 people.

The incident that so enraged Afghans, the burning of a Koran after a mock trial in a small Florida church on March 20, was barely noticed in the United States but widely reported in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mr. Jones presided over the “International Judge the Koran Day” event, after which one copy of the Muslim holy book was “executed,” on camera, before 30 congregants.

NYC 12-year-old charged with recess hate crime, accused of trying to take Muslim girl’s scarf

NEW YORK — A 12-year-old boy accused of trying to rip the head scarf off a Muslim classmate during recess has been charged in New York City with a hate crime. Police and school officials say the boy has a history of harassing the 13-year-old girl, taunting her and threatening her on at least four separate occasions.

The police report says he asked, “Are you Muslim?” while trying to remove her scarf.

The girl suffered minor injuries. If convicted, he faces 18 months in juvenile detention.