York Muslims Greet Protestors with Tea

27 May 2013

 

A potentially volatile situation was defused early last week when York Muslims met English Defence League (EDL) protestors with tea and custard creams, leading to a constructive dialogue on the basis of mutual rejection of violent extremism. The Muslim Council of Britain, one of the country’s largest Muslim groups, has since come out in support of the strategy.

 

Mohammed el-Gomati, a lecturer at the University of York, said of the dialogue: “Even the EDL who were having a shouting match started talking and we found out that we share and are prepared to agree that violent extremism is wrong.”

 

Though the EDL protest outside the York mosque was comparatively small, only about 6 people, the non-violent resolution of the situation, constituted on the basis of shared cultural preferences (tea and sweets) and a common rejection of extremism, is being heralded as a model for future efforts to engage in dialogue with local communities by the Muslim Council of Britain. A statement on the group’s website encourages Muslims to seek common ground with fellow Britons and to open mosque doors to the public in a spirit of openness.

 

The events in York came as the EDL launched a number of protests across the country in response to the Woolwich attack on Drummer Lee Rigby, which the EDL has blamed on Islam. Many Muslim leaders have condemned the actions of the Woolwich attackers as un-Islamic, including Ismail Miah, leader of the York mosque, who said: “What they’ve done in London is for their own reasons but there’s no reasoning behind it from an Islamic point of view.”

 

At Muslim LGBTQ retreat, attendees try to reconcile their faith and sexuality

There was speed dating, a talent show and a baby naming.

But there was also a locked Facebook page. And a strict rule: Attendees should not disclose the retreat’s exact location.

That’s because the 85 people who gathered in the Pennsylvania woods over Memorial Day weekend had come from 19 states and three countries for a somewhat surprising event: a three-day LGBTQ Muslim and Partners Retreat.

Some wore T-shirts that read, “Muslim + Gay = Fabulous.” They prayed. They attended workshops about pioneering progressive Muslims. Ever heard of Isabelle Eberhardt, a.k.a. Mahmoud Saadi, a convert to Islam who challenged gender norms at the turn of the 20th century?

And they held discussions on struggling to reconcile their faith with their sexuality, and their sexuality with their faith. (Many folks said that they face Islamophobia from inside the mainstream LGBTQ community.)

 

Boston, London, Paris attacks highlight intelligence dilemma as al-Qaida shifts tactics

Intelligence agencies that have succeeded in thwarting many of al-Qaida’s plans for spectacular attacks are struggling to combat the terror network’s strategy of encouraging followers to keep to themselves, use off-the-shelf weapons and strike when they see an opportunity.

In recent weeks — at the Boston Marathon, in the streets of London and in the shadow of one of Paris’ most recognizable monuments — young men allegedly carried out attacks with little help, using inexpensive, widely available knives and explosives from everyday ingredients. In each of the attacks, suspects had previously been flagged to law enforcement and deemed not to be a priority.

There are no indications that the suspects in the recent attacks were responding specifically to al-Qaida calls to act in a vacuum — but their alleged actions closely follow the lone wolf model that the network has been promoting.

A tough debate now rages within the intelligence community — previously focused on searching for al-Qaida cells — on how to assess red flags without violating basic liberties.

 

Among Muslims, Internet Use Goes Hand-in-Hand With More Open Views Toward Western Culture

Around the world, Muslims who use the internet are much more likely than other Muslims to have a favorable opinion of Western movies, music and television and are somewhat more likely to see similarities between Islam and Christianity, according to an analysis of a recent Pew Research Center survey.  

The survey of Muslims in 39 countries across the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa finds that a median of 18% use the internet in their home, school or workplace. However, internet use varies widely across the countries surveyed, ranging from just 2% of Muslims in Afghanistan to a majority (59%) in Kosovo.

In the 25 countries where there are enough Muslims who use the internet to permit more detailed analysis, the survey finds that internet users tend to be younger and better educated than Muslims who are not online. They also include a somewhat higher proportion of men. But statistical analysis shows that internet use is strongly associated with Muslims’ attitudes toward Western popular culture even when factors such as age, education and gender are taken into account. Holding all else equal, Muslims who use the internet are much more inclined to like Western movies, music and television, and they are somewhat less inclined to say that Western entertainment is harming morality in their country.

The survey also finds that Muslims who use the internet are somewhat more likely than those who are not online to see commonalities between their own faith and Christianity. Statistical analysis shows that internet use is associated with a more open attitude toward Christianity even when controlling for demographic factors such as age, education, gender, level of religious observance and participation in interfaith activities.

When it comes to interpretations of their own faith, however, internet use does not appear to make much difference in Muslims’ views. Regardless of whether they use the internet or not, majorities of Muslims in most countries surveyed say that there is only one true way to interpret their faith and that Islam alone leads to eternal life in heaven. Statistical analysis finds little difference between internet users and non-users on these questions.

In nearly every country where analysis is possible, Muslim internet users are more likely to say they enjoy Western movies, music and television. Differences in opinion between Muslim internet users and those who do not use the internet are particularly wide in Kyrgyzstan (where internet users are 35 percentage points more likely to have a positive view of Western entertainment), Senegal (+32), Russia (+32), Indonesia (+31), Tajikistan (+31), Bosnia-Herzegovina (+30), Azerbaijan (+30) and Tunisia (+30).

 

Ore. Muslim sues FBI, claims torture

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An American Muslim who says he was beaten with batons by prison interrogators while held in solitary confinement overseas for more than three months has sued the FBI and State Department, claiming the torture was done at their behest.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Oregon seeks $30 million and several injunctions against the U.S. government concerning its treatment of citizens overseas.

Yonas Fikre said he was held for 106 days in the United Arab Emirates after refusing to cooperate with Portland, Ore.,-based FBI agents in an interview in Sudan. The State Department has confirmed previously that Fikre was held in Abu Dhabi ‘‘on unspecified charges,’’ but said he was visited by State Department officials and showed no signs of mistreatment.

Two other Oregon Muslims who worship at the mosque have also alleged they were held overseas and were asked to become informants by Portland-based FBI agents. Both men have returned to Oregon.

The mosque has come under scrutiny before. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali American convicted of plotting to set off a bomb in downtown Portland in 2010, occasionally worshipped there. A decade ago, seven Muslims with ties to the mosque were arrested following a failed effort to enter Afghanistan and fight U.S. forces.

 

U.S. Delegates Visit Moscow for Insight on Boston Attack

Members of a Congressional delegation visiting Moscow to investigate the background of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects said Sunday that the attack might have been prevented by greater cooperation between the United States and Russia on intelligence issues and counterterrorism efforts.

But the lawmakers said they could not point to any specific misstep by the American or Russia intelligence services, and they did not offer any new insights into what motivated the suspects, two brothers with family ties in Russia’s North Caucasus, to commit the attack.

“Yes, it could have been averted,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who led the delegation and is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and emerging threats. “Not just by one mistake by the United States or one mistake made over here in Russia, but instead by making sure that both countries were working together on a much higher level.”

Adding an odd celebrity touch, the lawmakers were joined by the action-film star Steven Seagal, who has a following in Russia. Mr. Seagal had helped arrange meetings and even offered to take the lawmakers to Chechnya to meet Ramzan Kadyrov, the region’s leader, who has been accused of human rights abuses.

The Chechnya visit was called off for logistical reasons, but Mr. Rohrbacher thanked Mr. Seagal and said he was instrumental in securing some meetings, including a session with Dmitri Rogozin, a deputy prime minister. “I don’t know that he would have been available to us if not for Steven’s role,” Mr. Rohrbacher said.