Islamic cleric linked to U.S. charter schools involved in Turkey’s political drama

December 26, 2013

By Valerie Strauss

 

A Muslim cleric who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania and has been linked to a network of more than 135 public charter schools in the United States is believed to be deeply involved in the political drama that is unfolding in his home country of Turkey.

The reclusive cleric is Fethullah Gulen, who has been linked to charter schools in some 25 states and to other schools in dozens of countries around the world. Gulen, who has denounced terrorism and is said to believe in a moderate form of Islam, has lived in Pennsylvania for years. Gulen was until recently a close ally of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government has been deeply shaken by a corruption investigation.  The prime ministerjust replaced three of his key ministers after they were forced to resign in the scandal.

According to the Associated Press:

The corruption probe is one of the biggest political challenges Erdogan has faced since his Islamic-based party narrowly escaped being disbanded in 2008 for allegedly undermining Turkey’s secular Constitution…. Erdogan has denounced the investigation as a plot by foreign and domestic forces to thwart his country’s prosperity and discredit his government ahead of local elections in March. His government has won three elections since 2002 on the strength of the economy and a promise to fight corruption.

Turkish commentators believe the probe is fallout from an increasingly public feud and power struggle between Erdogan’s government and an influential U.S.-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whose followers are believed to have a strong foothold within Turkey’s police and judiciary. The two men, without naming each other, have been engaged in a war of words since the corruption probe was launched on Dec. 17.

The New York Times reported in this story that the corruption and bribery probe is widely believed to be under the control of Gulen followers, and it described the “powerful Muslim preacher” as being in command of “a network of businessmen, media outlets and schools as well as officials within Turkey’s police and judiciary. Gulen has denied involvement in the probe in Turkey, in which 24 have been formally charged, including the sons of two ministers in Erdogan’s government as well as the manager of the state-owned Halkbank.

Gulen has lived in the United States for many years. According to this Philadelphia Inquirer story, Gulen filed a lawsuit in 2007 in U.S. District Court seeking permission to live in the country legally after being denied a special visa by U.S. officials. In the suit his lawyers identified him as “head of the Gulen Movement” and an important education leader who had “overseen” the creation of a network of schools in the United States and around the world. He got a green card in 2008 and lives on a secluded compound called the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center in rural Pennsylvania.

The public charter schools in what is unofficially known as the Gulen network are believed to be operated by people — usually Turks — in or associated with the Gulen movement.  The schools, many of them with strong academic records, have different names and many of them are geared toward science, math and technology education. In Texas, for example, Harmony charter schools are believed to be linked to the network.

Some of the problems commonly cited with Gulen-inspired schools have affected the Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School in Anne Arundel County, which is has a strong academic record but has run into troubles cited last year by then district superintendent Kevin Maxwell. Though Maxwell supported a continuance of the school’s charter, he  said in June 2012 that the school had to hire qualified and fully certified teachers, reform the board of directors “to reflect the community it serves,” use appropriate procurement and bidding processes for outside contracts, follow board policy for the hiring of foreign nationals, and agree not to allow any of its contractors or subcontractors to “knowingly employ” anybody who has been investigated for criminal activity.

The  operators of schools believed to be in the Gulen network always deny being connected to the preacher’s movement  but state and federal officials have conducted various investigations over the years into such links.

A Harmony charter school was just given approval by the D.C. Public Charter School Board to open in Washington D.C.  Theola Labbé-DeBose, a spokeswoman for the charter school board, said in an e-mail that  ”there was very little discussion” about any possible connections to Gulen during the board meeting when the school’s application was approved.

Early this year, the Loudoun County School Board denied an application by a group of Turkish men seeking to open a charter school there because of questions involving curriculum and other operational issues. The applicants said they were using the Anne Arundel school as a model but had trouble answering basic questions to the board members’ satisfaction. The school would have been the first charter school in Northern Virginia if it had been approved.

During the application process, the board held hearings at which one speaker, Mary Addi, testified that that she and her husband, Mustafa Emanet, had worked at a Gulen charter school in Ohio, which was opened in Dayton with the help of one of the Loudoun charter applicants, Fatih Kandil. She said her husband, a Turk, had been been involved in the Gulen movement and that Turkish teachers at the Ohio school had to turn over 40 percent of their salaries to a secret fund used by the movement. Last January, during the hearings,  I asked Sinan Yildirim, listed as one of the members of the proposed school’s initial governing board, whether he and his fellow applicants are connected to Gulen and he answered: “We said no. They said yes. If they claim something they have to prove. And they can’t prove it.”

The FBI and the Departments of Labor and Education have  investigated whether some employees at some of these schools are “kicking back part of their salaries” to the Gulen Movement, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in this storyThe New York Times andCBS News as well as PBS have reported on the Gulen charter network, citing problems such as whether these schools give special preference to Turkish companies when handing out contracts.

Earlier this month, the FBI sent agents into the Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School in Baton Rouge, which is believed to have Gulen ties, according to this story on Nola.com, which reported that the agents left with boxes of unidentified material. According to the Web site, the school’s officials have denied any Gulen connection, but it said that “in 2011, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune reported that Pelican Educational Foundation, the nonprofit group that runs Kenilworth, does have various connections to the movement.”

 

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/12/26/islamic-cleric-linked-to-u-s-charter-schools-involved-in-turkeys-political-drama/

Islamic Banks, Stuffed With Cash, Explore Partnerships in West

December 25, 2013

By Nathaniel Popper

 

A noted Muslim law scholar, Yusuf DeLorenzo, recently pored through the books of Continental Rail, a business that runs freight trains up and down the East Coast.

Along with examining the company’s financial health, Mr. DeLorenzo sought to make sure that the rail cars didn’t transport pork, tobacco or alcohol. He was brought in by American investment bankers who want to take rail cars bought by Continental Rail and package their leases into a security. The investment is being built for banks that are run according to Islamic law, which, among other things, prohibits investments in those three commodities. If the cars are acceptable, or halal, the deal will be one of the first in the United States to be completed in compliance with Islamic law.

“It’s a new territory for all of us,” said John H. Marino Jr., chief executive of Continental Rail.

The deal is a sign of how banks that comply with Islamic law are making inroads into the global banking scene and how Western businesses are working to meet the expectations of those banks. The banks can’t find enough acceptable places to park their money, many industry insiders say, so investment bankers are scurrying to assemble deals.

Over the last 30 years, the Islamic financial sector has grown from virtually nothing to over $1.6 trillion in assets, according to data from the Global Islamic Financial Review, an industry publication. The financial crisis has only encouraged the growth. Industry assets grew 19 percent in 2011 and 20 percent in 2012, in contrast to the less than 10 percent growth at non-Islamic banks in most of the world.

Until recently, Islamic banks have largely put their money to work in the Middle East — or, if they invested in other parts of the world, in real estate. Real estate is among the most popular investments under Islamic law, also known as Shariah, because a deal can be structured that does not require interest payments, which are prohibited by Shariah. But as the banks grow larger they are looking for new, more diverse places to put their money.

The deal with Continental Rail is attractive because the rail cars will spin off lease payments, rather than interest, and can be bought in bulk. The cars are also in the United States, which will help bring geographic diversity to the bank portfolios. The deal was brokered by a newly created team at Taylor-DeJongh, a Washington investment bank, looking to bring money from Islamic banks to the United States.

There are similar pushes around the world. A few non-Muslim African countries, including South Africa, have recently been talking about raising money using the Islamic financial instruments known as sukuk, which function much like bonds. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain announced in late October that England planned to become the first European country to issue sukuk. The global bank Société Générale is preparing to raise money from Islamic banks in the coming months.

“There is a gap between all the money coming in to Islamic banks and the deployment of that money into real economic assets,” said Sayd Farook, the global head of Islamic finance atThomson Reuters. “A crazy amount of money has gone into their coffers and they need somewhere to invest it.”

The first modern Islamic banks were founded in the 1970s, motivated by the Quran’s ban on riba, which has been interpreted as any fixed payment charged for money lending. Islamic banks have focused instead on putting their money into real assets and property, and sharing any resulting profits from the performance of an asset. Muslim mortgages, for instance, are structured so that the bank buys the house and then sells it to the occupant slowly over time. Stocks are generally considered acceptable as long as the companies issuing the stock adhere to Islamic law; casinos, banks and weapons companies are forbidden.

Islamic banks have religious scholars, like Mr. DeLorenzo, review their operations on a regular basis. Yet some Islamic scholars have criticized the banks for straying too far from the spirit of the Quran into the speculative realms of Wall Street. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between a Western investment and a Shariah one. For instance, an Islamic bank’s fixed-deposit account ties up a customer’s money for a set period of time, like a certificate of deposit. Instead of offering interest, the account offers a share of the profit from its investments. The “profit rate” of a one-year deposit currently is 1.9 percent at one major Middle Eastern bank.

There is a debate among Islamic scholars about what qualifies as halal. “The industry is going through soul-searching,” said Ayman A. Khaleq, a lawyer specializing in Islamic finance at the Morgan Lewis law firm in Dubai. “It’s far from settled.”

But these problems have not stopped the flood of deposits into banks like the Sharjah Islamic Bank, which is named for the city in the United Arab Emirates where it is based. The bank has 24 branches, some of which offer separate spaces for female and male customers. From 2006 to 2012, deposits there almost tripled to about $3 billion.

Muhammed Ishaq, the head of the treasury division at Sharjah, said that the bank’s problem was not attracting money, it was figuring out what to do with it. “It’s not very easy when any financing needs to be backed by some kind of asset,” Mr. Ishaq said.

Real estate has been a very popular investment in the Islamic world, but when real estate was hit hard during the 2008 financial crisis, many investors were reminded of the need for more diverse portfolios. For many banks the answer is sukuk. Like bonds, sukuk make regular payments to investors. But unlike a bond, which is a money loan, sukuk are structured as investments in hard assets that generate payments.

The amount of sukuk sold each year has grown sixfold from 2006 to 2012, to some $133 billion, according to Thomson Reuters’s Islamic financial data service, Zawya. A joint venture between Dow Chemical and Saudi Arabia’s national oil company sold a $2 billion sukuk this year to raise money for an oil complex. But this is falling far short of the demand from banks. “There are serious supply-side bottlenecks,” said Ashar Nazim, head of Ernst & Young’s Global Islamic Banking Center.

Now there are several efforts to create more supply. The Bank of London and the Middle East was founded in London with Kuwaiti money to find these new investment opportunities. “They wanted a wider range of Islamic assets that could be originated away from the Middle East,” said Nigel Denison, the bank’s treasurer.

Yavar Moini, the former head of Islamic banking at Morgan Stanley, said he was establishing an operation in Dubai that would gather assets from around the world that can be packaged into sukuk, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do in the United States with mortgages. Mr. Moini said that “it’s the absence of sufficient product or opportunities for Islamic investors that drives them into the conventional arena.”

In the United States there have been a few attempts at sukuk. In 2006, a Texas oil company sold a $166 million sukuk to finance oil exploration, but the company went bankrupt during the financial crisis. Then in 2009, General Electric issued a $500 million sukuk tied to aircraft leases.

Taylor-DeJongh, the 30-year old, energy-focused investment bank, is hoping to take advantage of the shortage. Ibrahim Mardam-Bey, who worked on the 2006 Texas sukuk, joined Taylor-DeJongh at the end of 2012 and has built a team of five bankers working on Islamic finance.

One deal would provide financing for private toll bridges. The other, which is further along, will bundle the rail cars managed by Continental Rail. The team has already signed a deal to buy 1,000 rail cars in Pennsylvania, and is looking to acquire 5,000 more.

Mr. Mardam-Bey said that some American businesses were hesitant to take money from Islamic banks, perhaps a byproduct of negative associations with Shariah since the Sept. 11 attacks. But in the Texas deal, and in many others, that tends to fade as the financial possibilities become clear.

“The borrower was a Texan wildcatter who couldn’t spell ‘sukuk,’ ” Mr. Mardam-Bey said. “But at the end of the day when I brought the check he didn’t care if I prayed to Allah. He just wanted the money.”

 

Dealbook/New York Times: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/12/25/islamic-banks-stuffed-with-cash-explore-partnerships-in-west/?_r=0

Muslim Christmas Celebrations Gain Footing In America

December 24, 2013

By Omar Sacirbey

 

RNS – A generation or two ago, when America’s Muslims were new immigrants who made up an even smaller minority of Americans than they do today, the lights, trees, carols, gifts and festive spirit of Christmas were viewed by many Muslims as a threat to their children’s Islamic faith.

But these days, a growing number of Muslims celebrate Christmas, or at least partake in some ways, even if they don’t decorate their homes with trees and a light show. Indeed, many Muslim families have created their own unique Christmas traditions.

“I teach my three children, who attend public school and happen to be born into an interfaith Christian-Muslim family, that we absolutely do celebrate Christmas because we are Muslim,” Hannah Hawk of Houston wrote in an email. Rather than putting up a tree or lights, “we celebrate the reason for the season, Jesus, by studying all that is written about him in the Quran and by examining historical theories.”

The Hawks also give to charity, bake treats for neighbors, invite them to dinner, and wish friends, colleagues and teachers “Merry Christmas” with cards and phone calls. Hawk’s kids get together with Christian friends to perform various good deeds. This year, they will play songs (violins, viola, trumpet, cellos, bells) at a local community hospital for patients recovering from surgery.

To be sure, some Muslim leaders still criticize Christmas celebrations as assimilation gone too far.

Imam Muzammil Siddiqi, a former president of the Islamic Society of North America, has argued that Muslims should not celebrate Christmas because the holiday commemorates the birth of a figure revered by Christians as the Son of God, which violates Islamic beliefs.

“We should tell our children that we are Muslims and this is not our holiday,” Siddiqi said in comments posted at the website OnIslam.net. “This is the holiday of our Christian neighbors and friends.”

To protect their children from the attraction of Christmas, he said, Muslim parents should take advantage of Islamic camps and conferences established at this time of year for this very reason.

But others see a new generation of Muslims born or reared in the United States who feel secure enough to view Christmas as another tradition they can relate to, and to celebrate it in a wide variety of ways — as do their Christian neighbors.

“Muslims should join their Christian neighbors to celebrate Christmas,” said Rizwan Kadir, a financial adviser who is active in his Muslim community in suburban Chicago. “We also believe in Isa,” Kadir added, using the Arabic name for Jesus, “and he has a very special place in Islam.”

While Muslims don’t believe Jesus was crucified or that he is part of the triune Godhead, they do believe in the Virgin birth, and claim Jesus as a prophet — a predecessor to Muhammad — who ascended to heaven, and will return as part of the Second Coming.

Kadir adds that Muslims shouldn’t retreat from Christmas festivities. His family doesn’t put up a tree or lights, but Kadir does go to holiday parties at work, wishes friends and neighbors a “Merry Christmas,” and watches “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and “Home Alone” — a Kadir family tradition.

“To me, those are just fun things that people do around this time of year,” said Kadir. “It doesn’t make you a Christian. It doesn’t mean you’re compromising your faith.”

That view, however, has taken time to evolve.

Zeyna Ahmed, the American-born daughter of Egyptian parents, remembers that her mother liked some aspects of Christmas. But her father “stifled it.”

“Their way of holding on to their heritage was just pushing everything that was Muslim,” said Ahmed, who lives in Easton, Pa.

When her four children started asking why the family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, she felt it wasn’t adequate to say, “because we’re Muslim,” since “we also believe in Jesus,” Ahmed said.

So, for the last seven years, Ahmed, who is divorced, has celebrated Christmas with a tree, lights, and acts of charity. She also gets a menorah for Hanukkah and cooks a big meal on the last night.

“I want to expose them to different traditions,” Ahmed said, referring to her kids. “I feel like if you respect their holidays, they’ll respect our holidays. It develops mutual respect.”

Hawk agreed. “Christmas, like Ramadan, is the perfect interfaith footbridge for Muslim-Christian fellowship,” she wrote. “Both are the perfect times to hold interfaith vigils, pray together for peace, and pledge to uphold God’s message to spread goodwill and reach out to and help the less fortunate in our society.”

Some Islamic leaders have come on board, too.

Imam Talal Eid of Quincy, Mass., a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, cited the 13th verse of the Quran’s 49th chapter, which states that God created “peoples and tribes that you may know one another.”

And, he added, at a time when some Christians and Jews in America have fasted in solidarity with Muslims during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Muslims should reciprocate.

“This is not about theological details,” said Eid. “This is a matter of fellowship and social activity. There is nothing wrong with exchanging gifts and participating.”

 

Religion News Service/Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/24/muslim-christmas-celebrations_n_4494836.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

Lee Rigby killing: two British Muslim converts convicted of murder

The first Islamist terrorists to carry out their plan to murder on British soil without killing themselves in the process have been convicted of mutilating and attempting to behead a soldier, as the prime minister vowed to step up efforts to defeat the al-Qaida ideology of violence.

British-born Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale (Adebolajo has asked to be known as Mujahid Abu Hamza in court, and Adebowale has asked to be called Ismail Ibn Abdullah) were convicted of murdering Lee Rigby last May, after scouring an area around the Woolwich barracks hunting for a soldier to kill. One was set on the path to murder by a deluded belief that 9/11 was a Western conspiracy. The other told of his disgust at watching television in 2003 as Western missiles rained down on Baghdad in the battle to remove Saddam Hussein from power. The savagery of the murder, in which Rigby, 25, was repeatedly stabbed and hacked at the neck by a cleaver, shattered community relations when mosques were attacked. It was the first murderous attack in Britain by those motivated by the al-Qaida ideology of violence since the 7 July 2005 bombings of London’s transport system by four suicide bombers.

While convicting them of murder, the jury accepted their defence to a charge of attempting to murder armed officers who turned up to arrest them. Adebolajo and Adebowale claimed they charged at the armed officers clutching a machete and unloaded gun, not because they wanted to kill them but because they wanted to be shot dead and achieve martyrdom. The brother of one of the men convicted on Thursday of murdering Lee Rigby has told the Guardian that he believes the killing of the soldier in the street was justified by their Islamic faith. In remarks that a majority of British Muslims would regard as an extremist mutation of their religion, Jeremiah Adebolajo claimed his brother Michael had sought to “please Allah by fighting in his cause” in the barbarous attack in Woolwich, south London.

Witness Amanda Donnelly Martin was passed a warped handwritten note by one of Fusilier Lee Rigby’s murderers. Ms Donnelly Martin was at the soldier’s side, attempting to comfort him as he lay in the road when Michael Adebolajo handed her the note. It appears to be an attempt at explaining or justifying the barbaric murder – urging the removal of “so-called politicians” and making bizarre references to “international armed robbery” and “bewitching tongues”.

In full it read:

“To my beloved children, know that to fight Allah’s enemies is an obligation. The proofs of which are so numerous that but a handful of any of them cuts out the bewitching tongues of the Munafiqeen (hypocrites). Do not spend your days in endless dispute with the cowardly and foolish, if it means it will delay you meeting Allah’s enemies on the battle field. Sometimes the cowardly and foolish could be those dearest to you so be prepared to turn away from them. When you set out on this path do not look left or right. Seek Shaheed Ala oh my sons, so that you might be raised together and if it is Allah’s decree that you’re not to be in the hearts of green birds then be ready for to enter the university of Joosuf Sijn (sic) be patient there and be firm there and Inshallah you will meet your lord with him pleased with you. Verily Allah is with those who are patient. If I live beyond this day and you find me talking other than this then know that perhaps Allah has left me to stray. If you find yourself curious as to why carnage is reaching your own towns then know it’s simply retaliation for your oppression in our towns. Many of your people are aristocrats that directly benefit from invasion of our lands without material loss. Whereas the average Joe Bloggs working class man loses his sons when they’re killed by our brothers, when the heat of battle reaches your local street it’s unlikely that any of your so-called politicians will be at risk or caught in crossfire so I suggest you remove them. Remove them and replace them with who will secure your safety by immediate withdrawal from the affairs of Muslims. Muslims will trade with you on fair terms but understand that the days of your international armed robbery is (sic) drawing to a close. To humble yourselves willingly is better for you. May Allah guide your nation to the truth.

Michael Adebolajo “slayed” the soldier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in an attack meant to wreak carnage , a jury has been told. The jury went out shortly after 11am yesterday, returning to deliver unanimous verdicts which were greeted by sobs. Rigby’s stepfather, Ian, wiped away tears and put his arm around the soldier’s mother, Lyn, who was crying.

The mother of Michael Adebowale, one of the two men convicted of hacking soldier Lee Rigby to death has blamed “the evil ones” of Islam for luring her son into a world of fanaticism. Juliet Adebowale also spoke of her sorrow for the fusilier’s family, saying: “That poor, poor family have lost a son – but so have I”. His brother’s defence contrasts with the stance taken by their parents – of Nigerian Christian heritage – who have condemned their son’s attack. Jeremiah said he was close to his brother, and that their upbringing in Romford had not been deprived and there was a strong family focus on education. He dismissed claims Michael Adebolajo might have had a troubled family life.

They were “polite, nice guys” from strict Christian families. Michael Adebolajo’s passions were “music and football and girls”. Michael Adebowale was a “lovable, quiet boy” who enjoyed cooking Jamie Oliver recipes. Yet, during their teens, these two east London boys descended into a life of petty street crime and drugs, before converting to Islamic extremism which drove them to commit the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.

Jeremiah also sought to argue that the brutal murder of a young man was motivated by anger at western foreign policy – but dismissed the possibility that MI5 could be blamed because the security service had repeatedly tried to recruit his brother as an informant. The attack raised questions for MI5 and police, who had known of the men for eight years. Adebolajo has told those who have seen him since his arrest that repeated alleged attempts by MI5 to turn him into an informant had not played a part in the murder, which he blames purely on anger at western foreign policy. In 2010 Adebolajo had been arrested in Kenya, a gateway to terrorist areas in Somalia and it was claimed he was ill-treated with British complicity.

In the interview, Jeremiah – who says he was converted to Islam by Michael – adopted many of the views his brother expressed when he gave evidence at the Old Bailey. Asked if he was proud of his brother, Jeremiah said: “In that he is a Muslim and that he sought to please Allah by fighting in his cause and dying in his cause, then to this extent yes.”

Interviewed by the Guardian before the jury returned its guilty verdict on Michael, Jeremiah said he loved his brother more than he did a year ago, despite the Woolwich events. Counterterrorism officials continue to assess 2,000 individuals in the UK as posing a terrorist threat, a number that they say has remained roughly constant since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

Adebolajo became more extreme and took part in numerous Islamist protests in London. He also fathered six children, one born just four days before Mr Rigby’s murder. In 2006 he was arrested during a violent demonstration outside the Old Bailey, where fellow fanatics were on trial accused of soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred following the publication of a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper. In 2007 he was filmed by the BBC protesting outside Paddington Green police station after the arrest of another fanatic. He was holding a placard which complained of a “Crusade Against Muslims”. In 2008 he spent three months in custody after assaulting a police officer. The following year a video showed him ranting on a platform in front of young Muslims outside north London mosque. He told them: “Do not be scared of the filthy kuffar [non-believers]. They are pigs.”

Jeremiah argued that his brother’s act of murder was a “military strike” by a “soldier”, and in keeping with the teachings of the Qur’an. It is a claim British Muslims dispute, but he mocked them too, saying Muslims in the rest of the world regard Britain as having “blood on its hands”. He claimed his brother had been forcibly brought back to Britain from Kenya in 2010 after he tried to reach areas of Somalia controlled by extremist groups affiliated to the al-Qaida ideology. Jeremiah said: “My brother left to Kenya, to go and live in Somalia under the sharia. This was his choice. What the British government did is brought him back.”

The security services face questions over whether they underestimated the threat posed. The intelligence and security committee is investigating how much MI5 knew of the men’s activities. The men are believed to have acted alone. Adebolajo told jurors that he was a “soldier of Allah” and was obliged to obey the command of Allah. He described how he held the soldier’s hair as he hacked at his neck in a motion described by one witness as like a “butcher attacking a joint of meat”. Adebowale did not testify in his own defence and his police interviews were not heard by the court. Adebolajo’s barrister, David Gottlieb, began his closing speech by complaining that his client had been demonised as a “total monster” by the press and politicians. “I suggest to you this background of religion, race, class and politics has been a toxic mix and when you add in the word terrorism, as we have in this case, it made it impossible for rational people to think straight,” he told the jury.

Until recently Woolwich and nearby Plumstead hosted extreme Islamist preachers, such as Omar Bakri Mohammed, the self-styled sheikh responsible for Adebowale’s conversion to Islam, and Anjem Choudary, the founder of Al Muhajiroun who once counted Adebolajo in his following. The crossroads where Drummer Rigby was slain is also a five-minute drive from HMP Belmarsh, the high-security prison where many of Britain’s most committed Islamist terrorists are housed.

Killing to make a political point, to frighten the public and put pressure on the government of the day or as an expression of anger is murder and remains murder whether the government is a good one, a bad one or a dreadful one. What happened was designed to tear apart the oneness of Woolwich. It didn’t happen – people were brought closer, regardless of race or creed. And the reason that happened was because of what pre-existed this attack. People were disconcerted by what might happen afterwards but we had the links and the structures in place to show unity between Muslims, Christians, Sikhs – everybody. The community can remember [Lee Rigby] but it can also move on. Work by police and community leaders has indeed outwardly smoothed the troubled waters created by the murder. Farooq Murad, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “Muslim communities then, as now, were united in their condemnation of this crime. This was a dishonourable act and no cause justifies cold-blooded murder.”

Mr Justice Sweeney, the trial judge, said he would pass sentence after a key ruling by the court of appeal in January on the use of whole-life terms. He is considering sentencing the men to die in jail. In two recent cases he rejected crown demands for whole-life sentences, including a terrorist case where a Muslim man was murdered by a Ukrainian man who also staged a bombing campaign, who received a minimum term of 40 years.

 

The Independent:

The Telegraph:

The Guardian:

M&S apologises after Muslim assistant refused to sell customer alcohol

December 23, 2013

 

Marks & Spencer has apologised after a Muslim member of staff refused to sell a customer alcohol. “The issue arose after an unnamed customer at a London store was “taken aback” when an “extremely apologetic” Muslim checkout worker asked them to wait for another till to become available.

The customer told the newspaper: “I had one bottle of champagne, and the lady, who was wearing a headscarf, was very apologetic but said she could not serve me. She told me to wait until another member of staff was available. I was taken aback. I was a bit surprised. I’ve never come across that before.”

Drinking alcohol is forbidden in Islam, and some Muslims refuse to handle it. M&S said its policy applied to staff of all religions, not just Islam. The spokeswoman said: “Where we have an employee whose religious beliefs restrict food or drink they can handle, we work closely with our members of staff to place them in suitable role, such as in our clothing department or bakery in foods.

The case highlighted differences among retailers on whether religious staff should have to carry out certain jobs, the Telegraph said. Sainsbury’s guidelines say there is no reason why staff who do not drink alcohol or eat pork on religious grounds cannot handle them, the newspaper reported, while Tesco said it made “no sense” for staff that refused to touch items for religious reasons to work on a till. Muslim employees at Asda do not have to work on tills if they object to handling alcohol, while Morrisons said it would “respect and work around anyone’s wishes not to handle specific products for religious or cultural reasons”, the Telegraph said.

 

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/dec/23/marks-and-spencer-muslim-alcohol

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/10533728/MandS-faces-furious-backlash-from-customers-over-Muslim-policy.html

David Cameron describes death of Dr Abbas Khan in Syrian prison as ‘sickening’ as doctor’s body is flown back to UK

December 22, 2013

 

David Cameron has written to the mother of a British doctor who died in custody in Syria, describing his death as “a sickening and appalling tragedy”. Dr Abbas Khan, 32, was on the verge of being released when his family were told of his death this week. His relatives have said he was the victim of a political murder, but the Syrian government have called his death suicide. His body was flown back to the UK today and will undergo a post-mortem examination. In a letter dated December 20, the Prime Minister told his mother, Fatima Khan, that he and his wife Samantha were “so very sorry” to hear of her son’s death.

He branded the regime’s treatment of Dr Khan “despicable” and claimed it was “utterly unacceptable” that the UK was not able to support him.

The orthopaedic surgeon from London was captured in November 2012 in the ancient city of Aleppo after travelling from Turkey to help victims of hospital bombings. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it transported his body from Damascus to the Lebanese capital Beirut, where it was received by his mother Fatima Khan and British officials.

Mrs Khan, who has “110%” refuted claims that he committed suicide, broke down in tears when the coffin arrived. Mrs Khan has categorically denied claims made by Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad that he had killed himself. In the last few days the family revealed a letter in which the doctor expressed his optimism at being released, and his hopes of being home in time for Christmas.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/david-cameron-describes-death-of-dr-abbas-khan-in-syrian-prison-as-sickening-as-doctors-body-is-flown-back-to-uk-9020741.html

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/22/abbas-khan-body-flown-uk

Former government adviser believes warnings of extremist attacks were ignored

A former government adviser has hit out at the security agencies and the way they assessed potential extremist threats on British soil in the months and years before the killing of Lee Rigby.

Days after the conviction of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale for the murder of the Fusilier Lee Rigby, Jahan Mahmood, a former adviser to the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) in the Home Office, has decided to speak out over warnings of potential extremist attacks on British soldiers in the UK that he believes went unheeded.

Mr Mahmood, a historian and former lecturer at the University of Birmingham, specialising in the martial traditions of Afghan and Pakistani diaspora communities, had contact with the OSCT between 2009 and 2010 on a volunteer basis. He remembered one particular meeting on 27 January 2010 at a mosque in Birmingham, which involved five young Muslim men as well as the director of the OSCT, Charles Farr, and what Mr Mahmood called “another OSCT civil servant”.

Mr Mahmood said: “One of the young men responded by saying he was angered by the death of women and children in Afghanistan and, if given half a chance, he would go abroad to fight British soldiers in Afghanistan. Another member of the group intervened and said: ‘Why do you want to go abroad when you can kill them here?'”

While there is no evidence to suggest that any of the five men were involved in terror activities of any kind, the exchange remained lodged in Mr Mahmood’s memory.

Mr Mahmood’s motivation for setting up the meeting was to explore the link between gang and jihadi culture. He said that some of the men were drug users. He said he set up the meeting after one of the young men, called Sabeel, and expressed concerns about the vulnerability of his peers and particularly the attraction of jihadist materials.

After the Government come into power in 2010, there was a change in the Prevent strategy that began under Labour and was modified in 2011 to tackle radical ideology first and foremost, rather than what Mr Mahmood described as the more important problem of grievances within the Muslim community.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/former-government-adviser-believes-warnings-of-extremist-attacks-were-ignored-9020222.html

Lockerbie bombing police to visit Libya for first time

December 21, 2013

 

Following talks in Tripoli with Libyan prime minister Ali Zeidan, David Cameron said officers from the Dumfries and Galloway force had been granted permission to travel to the country. “I am delighted that the Dumfries and Galloway Police team will be able to visit your country to look into the issues around the Lockerbie bombing,” he told a joint news conference.

Although police investigating the murder of WPc Yvonne Fletcher – who was killed by shots fired from the Libyan People’s Bureau in London in 1984 – have visited three times since the revolution in 2011, similar access had not previously been given to the Lockerbie team. The only person to have been convicted of the attack, Libyan agent Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, died last year of prostate cancer, having been released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds after serving eight years of a life sentence.

Dumfries and Galloway Police want to investigate whether anyone else was involved in the attack, while the families of some of the victims remain convinced that it was nothing to do with Megrahi and he was an innocent man.

Two hundred and seventy people died when Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie on December 21 1988 – including all 259 people on board and 11 town residents – in what remains the UK’s worst terrorist atrocity.

In December last year, the Libyan administration said it was preparing to release all files relating to the bombing.

But Robert Forrester, secretary of the Justice for Megrahi campaign group, which wants an independent inquiry to look again at the conviction, dismissed the prospect of further investigations. “As far as I am concerned, the conviction was a gross miscarriage of justice and the efforts the police and Crown Office are making to locate other Libyans who may have colluded in the bringing down of Pan Am flight 103 amounts to little more than eye-wash,” he said.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/independentplus/indyplus-more-lockerbie-bombing-police-to-visit-libya-for-first-time-9020156.html

Bradford synagogue saved by city’s Muslims

December 20, 2013

 

It was around this time last year that the trustees of Bradford’s final remaining synagogue faced a tough choice. The roof of the Grade II-listed Moorish building was leaking; there was serious damage to the eastern wall, where the ark held the Torah scrolls; and there was no way the modest subscriptions paid annually by the temple’s 45 members could cover the cost.

Rudi Leavor, the synagogue’s 87-year-old chairman, reluctantly proposed the nuclear option: to sell the beautiful 132-year-old building, forcing the congregation to go 10 miles to Leeds to worship. It was a terrible proposition, coming just after the city’s only Orthodox synagogue had shut its doors in November 2012, unable to regularly gather 10 men for the Minyan, the quorum of 10 Jewish male adults required for certain religious obligations.

But rather than close, Bradford Reform Synagogue’s future is brighter than ever after the intervention of Bradford’s Muslim community, which according to the 2011 census outnumbers the city’s Jews by 129,041 to 299.

A fundraising effort – led by the secretary of a nearby mosque, together with the owner of a popular curry house and a local textile magnate – has secured the long-term future of the synagogue and forged a friendship between Bradfordian followers of Islam and Judaism. All things being well, by Christmas the first tranche of £103,000 of lottery money will have reached the synagogue’s bank account after some of Bradford’s most influential Muslims helped Leavor and other Jews to mount a bid.

At the start of December, Karim and other Muslims attended a Hanukah service at the synagogue. Yet until a year ago, Karim didn’t even realise the synagogue existed. “The Jewish community kept themselves to themselves,” he said. Since the last race riots in the city in 2001, there has been no sign to mark the building. “We didn’t want to be the cause of potential trouble, so we took the plaque down over 10 years ago,” said Leavor.

 

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/20/bradford-synagogue-saved-muslims-jews