Interfaith Panel Denounces a 9/11 Museum Exhibit’s Portrayal of Islam

April 24, 2014


Past the towering tridents that survived the World Trade Center collapse, adjacent to a gallery with photographs of the 19 hijackers, a brief film at the soon-to-open National September 11 Memorial Museum will seek to explain to visitors the historical roots of the attacks.

The film, “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” refers to the terrorists as Islamists who viewed their mission as a jihad. The NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who narrates the film, speaks over images of terrorist training camps and Qaeda attacks spanning decades. Interspersed with his voice are explanations of the ideology of the terrorists, rendered in foreign-accented English translations.

The documentary is not even seven minutes long, the exhibit just a small part of the museum. But it has suddenly become over the last few weeks a flash point in what has long been one of the most highly charged issues at the museum: how it should talk about Islam and Muslims.

With the museum opening on May 21, it has shown the film to several groups, including an interfaith advisory group of clergy members. Those on the panel overwhelmingly took strong exception to the film and requested changes. But the museum has declined. In March, the sole imam in the group resigned to make clear that he could not endorse its contents.

The screening of this film in its present state would greatly offend our local Muslim believers as well as any foreign Muslim visitor to the museum,” Sheikh Mostafa Elazabawy, the imam of Masjid Manhattan, wrote in a letter to the museum’s director. “Unsophisticated visitors who do not understand the difference between Al Qaeda and Muslims may come away with a prejudiced view of Islam, leading to antagonism and even confrontation toward Muslim believers near the site.”

Museum officials are standing by the film, which they say they vetted past several scholars.

The terms “Islamist” and “jihadist” are frequently used in public discourse to describe extremist Muslim ideologies. But the problem with using such language in a museum designed to instruct people for generations is that most visitors are “simply going to say Islamist means Muslims, jihadist means Muslims,” said Akbar Ahmed, the chairman of the Islamic studies department at American University.

“The terrorists need to be condemned and remembered for what they did,” Dr. Ahmed said. “But when you associate their religion with what they did, then you are automatically including, by association, one and a half billion people who had nothing to do with these actions and who ultimately the U.S. would not want to unnecessarily alienate.”

For his part, Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, defended the film, whose script he vetted.

“The critics who are going to say, ‘Let’s not talk about it as an Islamic or Islamist movement,’ could end up not telling the story at all, or diluting it so much that you wonder where Al Qaeda comes from,” Dr. Haykel said.

The museum declined to make the film available for viewing by The New York Times.

The New York Times:

Marriage Debates Color Muslims’ Le Bourget

April 18, 2014


Muslim leaders opened France’s largest Islamic conference on Friday, April 18, amid a recent controversy surrounding the recent social debates in France regarding legalization of gay marriage and discussions on gender equality education in schools.

“From the point of view of the religious consciousness, marriage for all is something that is a real problem of consciousness,” Tariq Ramadan told BFM TV, reported.

“The issue of homosexuality should be asked in terms of philosophy life: I think it is something that goes against my faith,” he added.

Organized by UOIF, Le Bourget, the largest Islamic conference in France, opened on Friday.

Prominent Swiss Muslim intellectual Tariq Ramadan will attend the first day of the conference, which closes next Monday.

Themed “What values for a changing society? Man, family and community life”, the four-day conference discusses a host of topics of interest for the Muslim community in France.

The event is expected to draw 150,000 visitors annually, Le Bourget’s attendants will be able to visit a 15,000 square meter exhibition space in which typical products from the Arab and Muslim world will be displayed.

France is home to a Muslim minority of six million, Europe’s largest.

Last February, French Muslims went in mass protests against the legalization of gay marriage and gender equality teaching in schools considering it a “violation” of traditional family values.

The controversy erupted after gender theory, which promotes same-sex, was included in school education stirring fierce criticism by France’s conservative and right-wing groups.

Despite fierce opposition and mass protest across the southern European country, President Francoise Hollande signed the controversial marriage bill into law in May 2013.

After the legislation, France became the 14th country in the world to allow gay marriage.




Marine Le Pen, National Front Leader, Vows Pork-Free Menu Ban For French Schools

April 5, 2014


National Front leader Marine Le Pen has said her party will not pander to Jewish and Muslim children by offering non-Pork alternatives for lunch.

School canteens will no longer offer non-pork meal options in the 11 towns the far-right party won in local elections, because such arrangements are contrary to France’s secular values, she said.

“We will not accept any religious demands in school menus,” Le Pen told RTL radio. “There is no reason for religion to enter the public sphere, that’s the law.”

Considering pork is forbidden under Jewish and Muslim dietary law, her comments have sparked a significant backlash.

But she defended the decision saying it was necessary to “save secularism”.

Le Pen launched a fierce row before 2012’s presidential elections when she claimed all meat from slaughter-houses in the Paris region was prepared using Islamic halal traditions and non-Muslim consumers in the capital were being misled.

Her anti-immigrant party made historic gains in last week’s municipal elections, which was seen as a significant electoral breakthrough for the party.


Interview with Nadeem Aslam, Author of ‘The Blind Man’s Garden’

April 17, 2014cover_the_blind_mans_garden


“The Blind Man’s Garden” is the fourth novel to be published by the British–Pakistani author Nadeem Aslam. In this book, he returns to the days, weeks and months immediately following 9/11 and relates them from the perspective of a Pakistani family that is subsequently drawn into the ensuing war in Afghanistan. Claudia Kramatschek spoke to Aslam about his new novel.



Operation Trojan Horse: Now 25 Birmingham schools under investigation for alleged Islamic extremist takeover plot

April 14, 2014


The investigation into an alleged plot by Islamic extremists to take over schools in Birmingham has widened after more than 200 complaints were received by the city council amid claims that religious hardliners threatened to overthrow secular head teachers. Staff at one of the Birmingham schools targeted by Muslim hardliners in the so-called “Trojan Horse” plot were assaulted as part of a campaign against the school management, official documents show.

25 schools are now being investigated in the city which has appointed a new chief advisor to handle growing levels of public anxiety in relation to allegations resulting from Operation Trojan Horse.

Council leader Sir Albert Bore said the authorities had been in touch with counterparts in Bradford, West Yorkshire, and Manchester which also have large Muslim populations to discuss the issue although no schools outside Birmingham have been identified as subject to threats so far.

Parallel inquiries are being conducted by the police and the Department for Education (DfE), with education secretary Michael Gove appointing a former head of anti-terrorism to investigate an alleged plot by Islamic extremists to take over schools in Birmingham. Chief Constable Chris Sims, the head of West Midlands police has criticised the “desperately unfortunate” decision and warned that the appointment of Peter Clarke, the former head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, sent the wrong message about an investigation that followed claims religious hardliners had threatened to overthrow secular heads.

A report from Birmingham containing recommendations for schools locally and nationally will be published in July

Operation Trojan Horse refers to a leaked anonymous letter claiming to be sent between fundamentalists seeking to persuade Salafi parents to force out senior staff in Birmingham and replace them with those sympathetic to their Islamist beliefs.

Among the claims by whistle-blowers are that boys and girls are made to sit in segregated classrooms whilst sex education is banned. Many Muslim parents at Oldknow oppose what has been happening. “This is not supposed to be a faith-based school and we did not send our daughter to a faith-based school,” said one Muslim father, who has complained to his MP and to Ofsted.

It emerged yesterday that Bradford council had replaced the entire board of governors at Laisterdyke Business and Enterprise College, a secondary school with more than 1,000 pupils, amid reports of clashes between the head and Muslim governors. It is the third time that schools governors have been replaced in the city in recent months.

Bradford was cited in the Trojan Horse document as a possible place to influence education policy however the authority said there was no link with any of the incidents. A spokeswoman for Manchester City Council said there was no investigation in the city.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg warned against schools becoming “silos of segregation”. He said: “I am very concerned whenever I hear allegations that schools, funded by the taxpayer, become vehicles for the propagation of particular ideologies which divide young children and pupils off from other people in society.”

Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, accused Birmingham city council of being “complicit” in the alleged plot and attacked the purported ringleader, Tahir Alam, saying: “It is very appropriately named Trojan Horse – that’s exactly what he has been doing.”


The Independent

The Telegraph


Syria is now the gravest terrorist threat to Britain

April 10, 2014


Every month a new batch of British Muslims leaves the country to risk their lives in Syria’s brutal civil war that after three years of bitter conflict that has now claimed an estimated 150,000 lives.

Figures recently compiled by MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service, indicate that at least 500 British Muslims have travelled to Syria as jihadis, where they have met up with radical Islamist groups such as the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which seeks to create a hardline Islamic state in “liberated” areas of Syria and Iraq. But, so far as our national security is concerned, the real problem centres on the hard core of British jihadis – those who return to Britain as hardened fighters fully versed in the latest terrorism techniques.

The danger posed by them was highlighted this week by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, when she published her annual report on the Government’s strategy for countering terrorism. “The growing threat from terrorist groups in Syria,” she said, had been the most significant development in the fight against terrorism in the past year.

Mrs May’s remarks neatly summarised the conclusions reached by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC), whose latest assessment says that the threat to the UK from returning jihadis is equal, if not greater, to the long-standing threat posed by al-Qaeda terrorists based in the lawless tribal areas on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Apart from its closer geographical proximity, British jihadis have been drawn to Syria because, once they have entered the country, it becomes far harder for Western security agencies to disrupt their activities. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, constant surveillance by drones and other monitoring devices means al-Qaeda activists such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, the organisation’s leader, are limited in their ability to travel and to communicate with the outside world. In Syria, however, such constraints do not apply. The country’s Russian-made anti-aircraft missile systems mean that drones are unable to monitor or disrupt the activities of Islamist terror cells so that, so long as they are able to survive the conflict, they are free to travel and act with impunity.

But while it may be harder to track the jihadis when they vanish into the Syrian cauldron, that does not mean the authorities are not waiting for them when they emerge. At least a dozen of the 250 or so British jihadis who have returned home so far have been detained on terrorism-related charges, while others have been relieved of their passports to stop them joining overseas terror groups.


The Telegraph:

Exam schedule needs to change to take account of Ramadan, say teachers

April 16, 2014


Teachers’ leaders are calling for a review of the GCSE and A-level exam schedule next year to help Muslim students cope with a clash between it and Ramadan. Students who will have to fast during the exam period are bound to lose marks as a result, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ annual conference in Manchester was told today.

Discussions are being held between the ATL, the Joint Council for Qualifications and leading Muslim groups to see if any can be offered to the students – possibly by ensuring that students do not have to sit too many exams on the same day. Barry Lingard, of the ATL executive said: “For up to half a million students, Muslim students, we can see a very large problem looming. The observance of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar entails fasting from sunrise to sunset.”

Ramadan moves 10 days forward every year – which means it will clash with exams for the next five years. The last time this happened was 25 years ago when there were far fewer Muslims in the UK. Next year Ramadan starts on 18 June, the following year 7 June, and in 2017, 27 May.

Abdul Choudhury, from Tower Hamlets, added: “I have no doubt whatsoever that standards will be affected by this. We work so hard to get them maybe that extra mark or two but if they go into the exam without any water or any food it will have an effect on their results.”

Michael Turner, director of the JCQ, said: “We’re consulting on the exams timetable for 2015 and we will be looking at the impact of Ramadan on that timetable.”


The Independent:


Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation charity advisors ‘linked to Muslim Brotherhood’ – a group he himself condemned as pursuing ‘values that contradict everything we stand for’

April 14, 2014


Tony Blair has been accused of an embarrassing hypocrisy after reports emerged that his high-profile multi-faith charity has links to an international Islamist group which he himself dismissed earlier this year.

According to one international watchdog organisation, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation has two senior advisors with close links to the Muslim Brotherhood. The former British prime minister accused the Brotherhood of being in “pursuit of values that contradict everything we stand for”, and “taking the country away from its basic values of hope and progress”. The Tony Blair Faith Foundation says it exists to “help prevent religious prejudice, conflict and extremism”, and Mr Blair will be embarrassed by the link between its council members and a group he has been so critical of as Dr Ismail Khudr Al-Shatti, an adviser to the Kuwaiti government and a member of Mr Blair’s advisory council, is a leading member of the Islamic Constitutional Movement (ICM), the Kuwaiti branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Another adviser, the former Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina Mustafa Ceric, was reportedly tied to the Brotherhood through his membership of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), headed by Youssef Qaradawi, considered the Brotherhood’s intellectual leader, and whose extremist views led to his ban from Britain in 2008.

A spokesperson for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation said it had no knowledge of any link between its advisers and the Brotherhood, and said: “We are grateful for the contribution to our work of Dr Ismail Khudr Al-Shatti and Dr Mustafa Ceric.


The Independent:–a-group-he-himself-condemned-as-pursuing-values-that-contradict-everything-we-stand-for-9259397.html

Gay teacher resigns after parent protest

April 7, 2014


A gay assistant head teacher has reportedly resigned after parents complained that they did not want their children to “learn that it’s OK to be gay”. Andrew Moffat, author of Challenging Homophobia in Primary Schools, was targeted by a group of mainly Muslim parents in the dispute at Chilwell Croft Academy, in Birmingham, The Sunday Times reported.

Mr Moffat, who resigned from his post in December and will leave the primary school this month, said some Christian parents had also complained.

In a statement, the school said: “A minority group of parents… objected to some of the resource books being used in literacy lessons with some of the oldest children in the school, which explored relationships with different families. “The objections were primarily voiced by those whose own religion took an opposing stance to homosexuality.”

Mr Moffat, said that “Some Christian and some Muslim parents have told me they don’t want their children learning that it’s OK to be gay. I did come out at school in an assembly after a group of 11-year-olds held up a poster they made, with the heading ‘Gay is good’. It seemed like the right time to let the children know that they knew a gay person. Following my coming out, some parents from different communities complained to the school, but I maintain that my decision was the right one at that time.”

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: “If parents are coming from a particular religious group, whether it is Islamic or Christian, and they have a concern at what they might consider the promotion of homosexuality, the school’s position should be made clear to them.”


The Independent:

The Telegraph:

Case of British woman Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht jailed in Iran for criticising the country’s government on Facebook is ‘very worrying,’ says her local MP

April 2, 2014


A British woman has been locked up in Iran for five months after posting derogatory comments about the country’s government on Facebook and fears she will be executed, her husband has said. Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, 47, from Stockport has been charged with “insulting Islamic sanctities”, a crime which can be punishable by death. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it was “urgently” looking into her case. However, Britain currently has no embassy in Iran, making any negotiations more difficult.

Mr Taghipoor, who is currently in Iran, claimed that his wife’s arrest was over comments she had made on a Facebook group about the government being “too Islamic”, and that she had only been charged after a confession was extracted from her “under duress”. Facebook declined to comment. She is believed to have been detained ahead of a trial at Evin prison in Tehran, which is notorious both for its harsh conditions and for its housing of political prisoners.

Mrs Nobakht’s situation came to light after her husband approached his friend and former employer Nasser Homayoun-Fekri, who also lives in Stockport, who wrote a letter to his local MP Andrew Stunell.


The Independent: