A former RAF Iraq veteran who converted to Islam has been arrested on suspicion of overseas terrorism offences in dawn raids by police officers on Friday morning. Stephen Gray was detained by counter terrorism officers “on suspicion of commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”.
Mr Gray, who also uses the name Mustafa, was held with two other men in Manchester as part of an investigation police said “centres on activity overseas”, rather than a domestic terror plot.
The 31-year-old, who served in the RAF Regiment a decade ago, had his passport confiscated earlier this year after officials judged he was “involved in Islamist extremist activity”. Officials warned he was “likely to travel overseas in the future in order to engage in terrorism related activity”.
A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police said “The investigation centres on activity overseas and there is no risk to any communities in Manchester.”
Today is a difficult time for Muslim charities in Britain. For all the hard work, there is a high risk of being reviled, smeared and branded a terrorist organisation.
The Palestinian Relief and Development Fund, known as Interpal, is one such charity. Interpal provides humanitarian aid, education, health and community development in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon. It celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) publicly recognises Interpal as an indispensable partner. With refugees fleeing Syria’s bloody conflict and a huge relief effort under way in Gaza in the aftermath of the latest war with Israel, their work has never been so vital.
But over the last 18 years, the charity has fought an extraordinary battle against the odds to keep running. Media speculation and a series of unsubstantiated and vicious allegations stretching back to 1996 accusing the group of supporting Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist organisation, has prompted three Charity Commission enquiries, all of which have cleared it of wrongdoing and misuse of funds.
All this seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The truth is that Islamic charities in the UK find themselves in choppy waters as they face extraordinary scrutiny and pressure. In recent weeks, as David Cameron awarded the Charity Commission extra powers to investigate “extremism”, this has escalated.
Recent research by the Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS) shows that youths of non-Western descent that were born in the Netherlands are still running behind social-economically in comparison with native Dutch youths. Education is said to play a crucial role in this social-economic backlog. Non-western youths enjoy a lower education on average and sooner leave school without a diploma. The CBS research also shows that youths who leave school early without a diploma tend to work less and for lower wager. This observation holds more strongly for non-Western youths than for Native Dutch youths.
Of non-Western youths those with a Moroccan of Turkish background tend to be the weakest group in comparison to those of for example Surinam or Antillean descent. The language spoken at home seems to be an influential factor. In homes were Dutch is not the main language of communication children tend to have a weaker starting qualification after primary school when they start high school. The report shows however that the second generation of non-westerners with a migrant background perform better social-economically and enjoy a higher education than the first generation.
The vast majority of the Dutch population don’t or scarcely ever have any contact with Muslims or are even open to the possibility. This was shown in a random survey among more than a thousand Dutch respondents commissioned by the EO, the Dutch Evangelical Broadcasting Station. 80 percent don’t or hardly ever have contact with Muslims. Of this percentage only 5 percent is said to be open to a the possibility of meeting Muslims.
The research was executed right after the rise of the terror group IS last summer. More than half of the respondents expressed that their view of Islam became more negative. 60 percent felt threatened, 20 percent of which felt personally threatened. The research didn’t show a differentiation between non-believers and churchgoers. Both are equally negative about Islam.
The debate over “British values” came to the fore in the wake of the “Trojan horse” affairs, and the realization that hundreds of British Muslim men – and some women – had become radicalised enough to join extremists in Iraq and Syria. The government has stressed “fundamental British values” must be taught and encouraged in schools. To this end, secular and humanist campaigners have welcomed an increase in inspections, saying that for too long the UK has allowed religious communities to “enforce their own values and traditions” on children.
But the school that has been recently inspected said that during a two-day inspection in October, Ofsted asked pupils “vaguely worded questions which produced vague responses”. “To make sweeping generalisations on the basis of their response is utterly unprofessional,” it said in a statement.
Suggestions that children were not protected from extremist views were “completely unfounded”, it said, adding that Ofsted’s findings regarding the role of women did not “reflect the school’s attitude”. The school said it was “natural” for an Islamic school to have a “primary ethos” based on Islam, but that did not mean it taught children that other faiths and traditions were “antithetical to Islamic teachings”.
The six private schools are all in Tower Hamlets, where the council said it had no jurisdiction over teaching and standards at independent faith schools and that its powers were limited to offering training and advice to schools.
Misrepresentative portrayals of Muslims and other minorities will not stop unless newspapers are threatened with sanctions, Mehdi Hasan said yesterday. The columnist and political director of the Huffington Post UK said the press has proven “singularly unable or unwilling to change the discourse, the tone or the approach” towards Muslims, immigrants and asylum seekers.
Hasan, who was speaking in a personal capacity at a media industry event hosted by Mindshare UK, said: “We’re not going to get change unless there is some sanction, there is some penalty. This is not just about Muslims; it is about all minorities.” He suggested advertisers would have boycotted newspapers over the publication of certain headlines about Muslims, had they been about other minorities. He said the practice was not just morally wrong, but also “dangerous and counter-productive […] because it increases alienation, […] and it also confirms the extremist narrative, the Islamist narrative that there is some kind of inevitable clash between the West and all of the Muslims living in the West, that there can never be any kind of reconciliation, that there is always going to be some kind of war between Muslims and non-Muslims.”
In addition to commercial pressure from advertisers and stricter press regulation, Hasan said a drive for greater diversity in the industry was essential to changing culture: “If you’re a Daily Express journalist writing some sort of anti-Muslim headline and the guy sitting opposite you is a Muslim it makes it much more difficult I would imagine.” Finally, Hasan called for “similar sized apologies for similar sized nonsense headlines”. He told the Guardian he is a proponent of front page apologies for incorrect front page stories.
The inclusion by the United Arab Emirates of some of the most respected Islamic organizations established within Nordic states and the UK on a list of groups – including al-Qaeda and the ISIL- suspected of having links to terrorism has triggered a wave of protest.
In the UK, the Muslim Association of Britain expressed its “total and utter condemnation” at the move. The President of the organization, Omer el-Hamdoon, said from its north London headquarters: “We openly question the basis under which this list has been compiled and we call on the UAE to explain why this questionable and objectionable decision has been taken. The action places the lives of ordinary Muslim people in danger as they may be targeted and treated as terrorists or become the victims of hate crimes.”
Issued by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the list included major terror groups such as al-Qaeda as well as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, as well as regional and local affiliates and smaller regional groups.
Yilmaz, 26, was one of the most high-profile Europeans to become a jihadi, travelling to Syria to live in the Islamic State and fight on behalf of the extremists. He gloried in the teenage fantasy of war – posting a series of Instagram photos of himself pouting at the camera on a motorbike, amid bombed-out buildings in his combat fatigues, AK47 slung nonchalantly over his shoulder. Miss Petalo was a recent convert to Islam, who fell in love with Yilmaz after seeing him on television, picturing him as a Robin Hood figure.
Last week their story took a remarkable twist when it was revealed that Miss Petalo had in fact returned to her hometown – after her mother travelled to the Turkish-Syrian border to bring the 19-year-old home from the jihadist-held city of Raqqa. The pair arrived back in the Netherlands on Wednesday, said Annemarie Kemp, a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor’s office. Clad in a niqqab, with only her eyes showing, the teenager – who has changed her name to Aicha – was photographed being driven through the town on her way to custody.
“Upon her arrival, Aicha was detained at once on suspicion of crimes threatening state security,” said Ms Kemp.
Miss Petalo is being held in a police cell – the prosecutor, Roger Bos, ruled on Friday that she should be detained for questioning for three more days. Mrs Verbert, 49, an administrator for BP, argued that her daughter’s flight to Syria was little more than teenage infatuation. On Monday the court will decide whether to press charges.
The police are now trying to get to the bottom of what Mrs Verbert’s daughter was really up to there. “We don’t know what she did over there, what her role was. Did she just stay at the home of the man she married there?” he said.
“Is she a victim or a suspect? Maybe she’s both.”
Two British citizens are understood to have been killed fighting for Islamic State in Syria. Abu Abdullah al Habashi, 21, and Abu Dharda, 20, both from London, are reported to have died in the Syrian border town of Kobani.
Al Habashi is believed to have made comments supporting Isis on social media and appeared in at least two propaganda videos posted online by the extremist group. He grew up in north London in a British-Eritrean family, and converted to Islam when he was 16. His family tried to convince him to return to Britain but he had said he was happy in the Middle East and there was no going back. Dharda, who is from a British-Somali background and grew up in west London, is understood to have travelled to Syria in December 2013 via Turkey.
About 27 Britons are understood to have lost their lives after joining the jihadists.
32% of the French population is Muslim, and the country is composed for 28% immigrants. These are the estimations of the French based on a public opinion survey published in The Guardian. The actual figures show that France is made up of about 10% immigrants and 8% Muslims. Sociologist Nacira Guenif-Souilamas discusses the reasons for these disproportionate results.
“This distorted view takes place within the context of evident misinformation. It allows for a racist ideology to develop and to transform into a self-fulfilling prophecy, that’s to say that one has created problems where there weren’t any. The Muslim becomes an ideal culprit, that which is inexorably linked… to crime, to the monopoly of social benefits, to the failure to comply with republican values or to the equality of men and women.”
Guenif-Souilamas also points to the very real consequences of these collective representations of French Muslims. She argues that a young woman who has a Muslim-sounding last name would have less of a chance of getting a job than another candidate whose last name sounds more Christian. “When we see that veiled mothers are prohibited from accompanying their children on school field trips because they could potentially be guilty of proselytizing, we can say that Islamophobia has invaded all strata of our society,” she says.
However according to demographer Michele Tribalat, the overestimation does not only concern Muslims or immigrants. She argues, “Public opinion has an extremely limited culture and statistical understanding…It is wrong about almost everything and not only about the proportion of Muslims or immigrants.”
“Actions or substantive arguments that enter into conflict with our convictions would not be important if our opinion came from knowledge and was not founded on social proof, that’s to say, on the beliefs of many,” said Tribalat.
However, she adds that “As the Islamic State triumphs in Syria and Iraq it is hard to deny the reality of worries that relate to Islam. The exaggeration of the Muslim presence in public opinion is at the center of these worries.”