Birmingham mosque teachers jailed for Koran boy beating

Two Islamic school teachers who beat a 10-year-old boy with a stick for reciting the Koran incorrectly have been jailed for a year. Mohammed Siddique, 60, and his son Mohammed Waqar, 24, admitted willful cruelty to a child under 16. The four attacks took place at the Jamia Mosque in Sparkbrook, Birmingham, between May and June 2014, Birmingham Crown Court heard.

The pair, from the Tyseley area of the city, also face a teaching ban.

Sam Forsyth, prosecuting, said the victim was beaten with a plastic stick and given back-of-the-hand slaps by each of his tutors for “talking in the classroom” at a Birmingham Islamic centre. The boy was hit during four separate incidents, with photographs of his injuries showing “extensive” bruising to the back of his legs.

Judge Mark Wall QC told them: “These were not assaults committed in ignorance of how inappropriate it was to use corporal punishment such as this.” He added: “Acts of brutality of this sort which you each indulged in, with a stick, will not be tolerated.”

Islamophobic Britain: Where Muslim women are spat on, punched and covered in faeces

“I’ve been spat on in the street when I’ve worn my headscarf,” Sara Khan tells me. “I’ve been called ‘Osama Bin Laden’s wife’. I’ve had people come right up to my face effing and blinding – even when I was pushing my six-month-old daughter in her pram”.

Khan, who heads up anti-extremist organisation Inspire, is a female victim of Islamophobia in Britain. “It’s shocking. You’re just minding your own business. It’s completely unprovoked,” she adds. “It tends to happen after a terrorist incident, and you think, ‘what have I done?’ You feel angry you’re being associated with terrorists and extremists, but you also feel sad. It’s very dehumanising.”

Khan also tells me about one friend who had dog faeces put on her head, and another who was waiting at a bus stop, listening to her iPod and wearing a headscarf, when a man suddenly punched her. She was left with a black eye.

These are not isolated incidents. The Metropolitan Police has just released new statistics showing anti-Muslim hate crimes in Britain have risen by 70 per cent in the past year.

Tell Mama, an organisation that monitors Islamophobic attacks, says 60 per cent are directed at women, and happen on the street – as opposed to online.

Founder Fiyaz Mughal explains: “It’s because the more physical, abusive ones [attacks] are directed at visibility – which means the hijab (headscarf) and the niqab (full-face veil).

But Zia thinks the only real way to tackle Islamophobia is by changing British perceptions towards Muslims. “People think that women in full-face veils can’t speak English, but that’s simply not true. They think that women who wear the full-face veil are subservient. That they’re a danger; that they won’t interact with society. “We all need to have some responsibility in dispelling these myths and stereotypes. We need to get rid of the fear before we can live in far more tolerant society.”

Homegrown: NYT scrapped play over ‘extremist agenda’

A play exploring the radicalisation of young Muslims was scrapped by the National Youth Theatre over concerns about its “extremist agenda”, according to a newly-released email. The NYT’s artistic director Paul Roseby argued that Homegrown contained “no in-depth analysis, balance or debate around extremism. Instead [it] seems to be exploring where to place the hatred and blame”. The email was released via a freedom of information request.

Written by Omar El-Khairy and directed by Nadia Latif, Homegrown was inspired by the story of three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green in east London, who travelled to Syria to join Islamic State in February. It was due to be staged at a school in Swiss Cottage last month but was cancelled with 10 days notice, prompting outrage from the play’s creative team, who said “voices have been silenced without explanation”.

The theatre industry also expressed anger, with playwright Sir David Hare and actor Simon Callow among those demanding an explanation, in an open letter to the National Youth Theatre. The signatories said they were “deeply concerned” by claims the theatre may have been put under pressure to cancel the performance.

The play, which had a cast of 112 young people, mainly from ethnic minorities, was supposed to explore the motives of radicalised teenagers and attitudes to Islam in the UK. But in his email to the Arts Council, Roseby said the production was: “Clearly very one-dimensional in tone and opinion, without, as of yet, any intelligent character arcs justifying the content”.

Roseby also mentioned the use of “insensitive” and “inappropriate” language in the rehearsal rooms, and said that two parents had expressed “grave concern over the direction of the piece”. The complaints, he added, had led him to believe that the NYT had “to make a swift decision to prevent any damage or risk to NYT’s reputation and membership”. Latif said the email confirmed her suspicions about the reasons for cancelling the production.

UK hijabi competes in Clipper Round The World Yacht Race

Breaking down negative stereotypes, a British veiled Muslim woman is taking part in the world’s longest ocean race, proving that hijab has never been a barrier in the life of Muslim women.

“I’ve got my headscarf on, I’m going to do my prayers … go forth, the world is your oyster!” Noreen Rahman, maths teacher from Walthamstow, east London, told NBC news on Monday, August 31.

The 32-year-old Muslim woman aims to defy the negative misconceptions surrounding her faith and the hijab by participating in the 10th Clipper Round The World Yacht Race. Rahman is one of the 700 participants from 12 teams who will spend a year travelling the globe during the eight-stage race.

With a carnival-like opening ceremony and a parade under the iconic Tower Bridge on the sheltered waters of the River Thames, the race kicked off in London on Sunday. Participants from 44 countries started their journey from St Katharine’s Dock to travel 40,000 nautical miles. About 40% of the participants, who will travel 6,000 miles to Brazil’s Rio De Janeiro, have no previous sailing experience.

The world’s longest ocean race will see teachers, doctors, IT workers and students taking part, with ages ranging between 18 and 74. Taking the tough challenge, Rahman will be sailing across the Atlantic in Leg 1 of the race, as part of the Great Britain crew. “I am a traditional, Muslim Pakistani woman and I want people to know that we do not have to be restricted by the bubble society has put us in,” she told The Telegraph.

France won’t open arms to refugees like Germany

While refugees were applauded upon arrival at Munich rail station at the weekend it was business as usual on the French–Italian border.

Although Germany has basically scrapped EU rules and opened its doors to refugees travelling through Europe, France continues to send them back to Italy.

The French president vowed on Monday to take thousands of refugees but on the Italian border police said they are sending up to 200 refugees and migrants back to Italy each day, in line with the Dublin accords that state refugees must seek asylum in the EU country of arrival.

“This changes nothing,” said Philippe Castanet from the town of Grasse in France’s southern region of Provence, referring to Hollande’s call for binding refugee quotas. He vowed to turn back any foreigner who wasn’t holding the necessary papers.

It wasn’t the only contrast between France and Germany’s stance towards the ever-growing refugee crisis in Europe.

On Monday, Germany announced that extra housing would be built to accommodate refugees. There would also be language training and extra police, paid for out of an extra €6 billion that will be spent on dealing with the crisis.

Back in France a new tented camp will be built for migrants in Calais — but paid for with EU money.

Merkel has been unafraid to tell it how it is when it comes to a subject the governments of Britain and France are often desperate to avoid.

On Monday, she said that the “breathtaking” influx of refugees would “change” Germany in the years to come. It is hard to imagine Hollande daring to say those words, knowing they would be seized on by his right-wing opponents.

Public opinion in the eurozone’s two biggest powers also appears to diverge.

While opinion polls in Germany suggest people are largely in favor of accepting refugees, a poll in France published at the weekend revealed a majority of the public were against adopting Germany’s open borders policy — despite what the presence of 10,000 people at a pro-refugee demonstration in Paris on Saturday might suggest.

And it’s not just people in the two neighboring countries who differ in their stance towards refugees either. So too do some of the local authorities tasked with welcoming those fleeing war-torn countries.

While the mayor of Munich said his only concern was providing a safe haven for refugees, a mayor in France spoke out on Monday claiming he was only willing to accept Christian asylum seekers, out of fear that Islamist terrorists might sneak through disguised as Muslim refugees.

Hollande is keen to be seen standing side by side with Merkel, who has won plaudits for opening her arms to refugees .

“We cannot leave Germany alone to take on this responsibility,” Hollande said on Monday.

But despite his vow, France is unlikely to show the same kind of sympathy towards refugees and migrants as Germany has, for a number of reasons explains Jerôme Fourquet, a political analyst and pollster from Ifop .

Essentially the two countries face contrasting political and economic challenges, as well as levels of fears of Islamist terror attacks, that can account for the diverging stances towards refugees.

“One country is prospering and healthy, and the other is in the middle of an economic crisis,” Fourquet tells The Local.

“In Germany unemployment stands at 5 percent and there are whole sectors where they are in need of workers. But in France we have ten percent unemployment and it’s not falling.”

Fourquet also points out the difference in public finances between the two countries with spending balanced in Germany, unlike in France where the deficit is significant and the politicians talk of the need to balance books.

“German society is conscious of the fact that they need to find young foreigners to come and keep the economic machine working and pay for the pensions of older generation, Fourquet says.

“In Germany you have different company bosses who say they are ready to take on apprentices and trainees from the migrant population because we will need to have them in the coming years. You don’t have this kind of political discourse in France,” he adds.

“Here the birth-rate is not exactly flourishing but it is much more dynamic than Germany’s and more capable of renewing the generations.

“Yet France is struggling to find work for its young people, with youth unemployment in the country standing at around 25 percent. For a few years now in France, economic growth has not been enough to absorb young French people into the workforce. We are not creating enough jobs to absorb this demographic growth,” he said.

There are also significant differences between the two countries’ recent histories that have played a roll.”

“In Germany they have a past that weighs heavy on the country, regarding national identity and the rejection of foreigners,” Fourquet says.

“There is not this taboo in France.”

Germany also has a much more recent history of accepting large numbers of refugees and economic migrants, who fled the old Soviet bloc or moved on mass from east to west Germany after reunification.

And while France has its own tradition of welcoming thousands of refugees, notably the Vietnamese boat people and Algerians fleeing war, this has not been the case in recent years.

France is home to Europe’s biggest Muslim population and the question of the role of Islam in French society has never been more important since January’s Islamist terror attacks shocked the nation.

Although Germany has seen its own anti-Islam marches in Dresden, it has not experienced the terror that France did during three days in January.

“These refugees come from Islamic country at war, a fact which weighs on public opinion in France,” Fourquet says.

A poll published at the weekend revealed that 56 percent of French people interviewed believed that terrorists may be among the thousands of refugees heading into Europe.

It’s this kind of fear that Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National has helped to stoke in recent months.

Her party continues to ride the crest of a wave, with yet another poll on Monday suggesting she would make it to a second round vote in the 2017 presidential elections, knocking Hollande out of the running.

Fourquet says it’s not a coincidence that a country like Germany, where there is no strong far-right party, has been more welcoming to refugees.

But as reaction to the publication of the photo of the drowned Syrian boy shows, public opinion, and indeed government policy, towards the refugee crisis can change swiftly.

“Certainly the polls show that French people are less reluctant to accept refugees than before the summer, but even then we still have around 50 percent of people opposed to welcoming refugees, despite all the calls to take in more and the increased emotion,” Fourquet says.

But things could also change in Germany.

“If next year another 800,000 asylum seekers come into Germany, we cannot be sure there will be the same reaction,” the pollster warns.

Je Suis Charlie film-makers: ‘We have to put focus back on the dead’

The attack on Charlie Hebdo in January of this year left 12 dead and 11 more injured, a massacre carried out by Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, brothers who were linked to Al-Qaida in Yemen. A movement gathered, bringing four million French people to the streets in the days following the attack. Donations of at least $18m, in what Vanity Fair called “tragedy money,” have flowed in from supporters since.

These events are covered in a new documentary, Je Suis Charlie, which premiered at the Toronto film festival this week. Directed by father-and-son team Daniel and Emmanuel Leconte, the film reuses clips from Daniel’s previous documentary, It’s Hard Being Loved By Jerks, to introduce a wider audience to the Charlie staff – including prominent cartoonists Charb, Cabu and Tignous – who were killed. Footage of the dead – working, arguing, singing karaoke in their downtime – is cut together with eyewitness accounts from the survivors of the attack.

“It was the first time I heard a gunshot,” says cartoonist Corinne Rey (known as “Coco”), who survived after being forced at gunpoint to let the masked attackers into the packed conference room. “It’s a really shitty noise. Nothing at all like the movies. Just ‘tak-tak’.”

Emmanuel Leconte says he and his father were keen to bring the attention back to the staff of the magazine. He believes the fundamental point – that no one deserves to die for exercising their right to free speech – has been lost in the debate since. “We have to put the focus back on them,” he says. “Everybody’s asking: ‘Is it politically correct to say this? Can we show the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo? What are they doing with the money?’

“What are you guys talking about? It’s a distraction. Everybody dived into that because they couldn’t cope with what happened.”

The Charlie Hebdo attack was followed the next day by the killing of police officer Clarissa Jean-Philippe in the Montrouge suburb of Paris by Amedy Coulibaly, an accomplice of the Kouachi brothers. A day later Coulibaly would kill a further four people at a kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes. The Leconte’s film pays tribute to these victims also. Emmanuel believes the combination of targets was symbolic.

“It was obviously part of a plan,” he says. “You attack a whole nation by attacking an element of culture – something that’s emblematic of an open society – such as Charlie Hebdo; attacking the police force – an institution; and attacking the Jews.”

Charlie Hebdo’s staff have not let the attack dilute the power – or, depending on your view, the offensiveness – of their work. In their latest issue, they include a selection of “the covers you were spared”. Among them two pictures that play on the image of the drowned Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi, to mock Europe’s adoption of the photos of his body as a totem for the migrant crisis. One shows Kurdi, face down in the san next to the billboard for McDonald’s– a Banksy-esque comment on the selling of consumerism to the poor. The other, published under the headline “The Proof That Europe is Christian” showed Jesus walking on water next to a drowning boy. The caption reads: “Christians walk on water, Muslim children sink.”

There has been outrage, especially in Britain and the US. But French journalists claimed the target of the cartoons’ satire had slipped in translation and the magazine’s artists protested that the joke had been misunderstood. “Buy yourself a brain,” Charlie illustrator Coco said to Society of Black Lawyers chair Peter Herbert after he called the magazine “a purely racist, xenophobic and ideologically bankrupt publication”. In truth, no amount of explanation from the Hebdo staff is going to quell the outcry over the use of that image in their work, even if the outrage strengthens their point.

Emmanuel believes this kind of reaction is why many people who became part of the Je Suis Charlie movement have found themselves conflicted over whether they “are Charlie” any more. “People rallied around emotion with Charlie Hebdo,” he says. “Charlie Hebdo loves to take the piss out of emotion as well. I think people are going realize: ‘I supported them and now they’re making fun out of this?’”

The magazine has always ridiculed the sacred, he says. “You can’t make a deal with freedom of speech saying: ‘Listen guys. I support you as long as you say this, this and this.’ That’s the wrong newspaper to do that with. They’re taking the piss out of everything. It’s just that the targets they are taking the piss out of have become more and more violent and out of hand.”

Daniel’s previous film, It’s Hard Being Liked by Jerks, quizzed the late Charlie Hebdo illustrators about the court case brought against them by the Muslim World League and the Union of French Islamic Organisations, which claimed the publication was racist. The magazine’s then editor, Philippe Val, was acquitted after the court ruled the magazine was ridiculing terrorists, not Islam.

It’s Hard Being Liked by Jerks was an intellectual exercise, says Daniel. Je Suis Charlie is very much an emotional one. “Killing cartoonists is killing France,” he says. “It’s like people felt like the fundamental values of the country were going to be strong forever. The shootings made them feel they weren’t.”

It is this that brought the millions into the streets, he says. “Four million people on the streets was the most important demonstration since the liberation of Paris. But it’s going to play a big role in the reaction against fundamentalism. [The killers] touched on something very deep in the French culture and the French identity.”

At Je Suis Charlie’s Toronto premiere, there are two special guests: the current managing editor, Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau, and Eric Portheault, the magazine’s finance manager. Both saw their colleagues killed, but survived the attacks. In the film, Portheault talks about how his dog came and lay across his face to protect him.

Before they take to the stage at the Bloor Street Hot Docs cinema, armed police are stationed in the lobby and at the back of the screening room. Riss addresses the crowd. “It’s always been hard to make Charlie Hebdo,” he says. “The events of January put our backs to the wall. We were wondering, could we continue? It became a real political struggle. But we want to continue to erase what the terrorists tried to do.”

Media fear of Islam ‘ obsessional’: France’s Houellebec

The fear-tinged portrayal of Islam in literature and the media has become “obsessional,” controversial French writer Michel Houellebecq said in an interview published on Sunday by British newspaper The Guardian.

Houellebecq’s latest work, Submission – a fiercely-debated novel which imagines a France in 2022 where Islamic law is enforced and French women are ordered to be veiled – appears this week in English translation. The stream of books and magazine covers playing on fear of Islam “has effectively become obsessional,” Houellebecq, 59, told the British daily. Asked whether his book was part of that, Houellebecq replied, “Certainly, certainly.”

“But I don’t feel like apologizing. It’s impossible to increase the proportion already given to Islam in the news. We’re already nearly at 100 percent,” he said.

Propelled to fame in France and then abroad for a string of ironic, misanthropic novels, Houellebecq was accused of inciting racial hatred in 2002 after he said Islam was “the stupidest religion.” He was acquitted of all charges and later said he had changed his mind upon reading the Koran and now felt Islam could be negotiated with.

Submission caused a storm when it was released in January, with some intellectuals saying Houellebecq’s provocation was irresponsible and had played into the hands of extremists and xenophobes. Its publication coincided with two jihadist attacks in Paris, one on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. The Guardian said Houellebeq was now under a round-the-clock police escort.

Asked whether he was islamophobic, Houellebecq said, “Probably, yes, but the word phobia means fear rather than hatred.” The fear was of terrorism, he said, “that it all goes wrong in the West; you could say that it’s already going wrong.” Even if terrorists were only a tiny number of people, “maybe very few people can have a strong effect. It’s often the most resolute minorities that make history,” said Houellebecq.

Anti-Islam rhetoric mars French refugee response

The arrival of the first group of an eventual total of 24,000 refugees in France has been tainted by the ongoing refusal of some mayors to accept Muslims, with one town claiming they “cut off boss’s heads”. Muslim leaders have blasted their “dangerous” words.

Further inflammatory statements about refugees by some mayors in France continued to mar the French response to the refugee crisis on Wednesday as well as infuriate the government and Muslim community leaders.

After two center-right mayors declared this week they only wanted to accept Christian refugees to keep out potential Islamist terrorists, there was even worse to come on Wednesday from the eastern town of Charvieu-Chavagneux.

A memo, unanimously approved by the council, said the town only wanted to accept Christian refugees because they “wouldn’t proceed to cut off the heads of their bosses”.

The town of Charvieu-Chavagneux, is home to around 8,000 inhabitants and stands just 15km from where Islamic extremist Yassin Salhi decapitated his boss in June, before trying to blow up a factory.

The council’s text went even further declaring that “Christian refugees will not put others in danger, they would not attack trains armed with Kalashnikovs and would not gun down journalists in an editorial meeting,” referring to the recent foiled attack by an islamist gunman on a train, and to the massacre at the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo in January.

The text also evoked a “war of civilization” and the “arrival en masse of jihadists on French territory”.

While the words of the council at Charvieu-Chavagneux are the most extreme, other mayors around the country have also expressed reluctance to accept refugees – a process which remains voluntary, so far at least.

National Front leader Marine Le Pen vowed that none of the 11 towns run her party would take in any of the 24, 000 refugees the president has agreed to accept over the next two years.

She claimed they simply didn’t have the means, but the suspicion is that anti-Islam sentiment may also lie behind the stance of a party seen by critics as being deeply Islamophobic and racist.

Even ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy has been stoking fears talking of the “risk of the disintegration of French society” due to the influx of refugees and migrants. The man tipped to make a bid for 2017 is presumably not talking about Christian refugees.

Members of the French government have strongly denounced the “dreadful” Christian-only stance, but Muslim leaders fear the damage may already have been done.

The Union of French Mosques strongly denounced the “dangerous” stance of the mayors accusing them of putting the newly arrived refugees at risk.

“These mayors are irresponsible and their words are dangerous especially in the context of this crisis, which is very difficult,” Mohammed Mraizika the secretary general of the Union of French Mosques told The Local on Wednesday.

“Whether refugees are Muslim or from another religion we have a duty to stand together and face up to this human tragedy,” he said.

Mraiziki said the words of the council in Charvieu-Chavagneux, were worse than Islamophobic.

“These people pour oil on the fire. They don’t think about the consequences of their words,” he said.

“Each time there is a statement like this, we notice a steep rise in Islamophobia and racism in France. It’s dangerous,” he said

The head of the Union of French Mosques added that France’s general response to the refugee crisis – which will see 24,000 taken in over two years –  is a step “in the right direction”, but warned that countries like France and UK must “take responsibility” for their foreign policies, which he believes have destabilized the whole of the Middle East region.

The refugee crisis comes at a particularly sensitive time for France, which is still living with the after-effects of the deadly January terror attacks in Paris and the threat of further atrocities.

Security remains high and the public remain on edge after several other foiled attacks including a thwarted gun assault on a church near Paris.

A recent poll revealed a majority of French people had the same fear as the mayor of the central town of Roanne Yves Nicolin, who said this week that he feared terrorists could enter France disguised as genuine refugees.

Since terror attacks in January, cracks have opened up in France’s “national unity” and tensions between the country’s five to six million-strong Muslim community and the far-right have grown.

Professor Hugues Lagrange, a specialist in Islam, from the CNRS think tank told The Local the suspicion towards Islam by many in France can partly explain why opinion polls continue to show a majority of the public are against taking in refugees from Syria and Iraq.

Lagrange says fear over the future of the country’s economy also weighs just as heavily on public opinion.

However, those involved in the efforts to welcome refugees in France insist the controversial views of the mayors of certain towns represent a tiny minority and should not smear the good work of the government and the French people.

“There are around 36,000 mayors in France. We know certain people will be hostile to foreigners, but the most important thing is that France as a whole is committed to a response that is not based on religion,” Christophe Harrison from the refugee support group France Terre d’Asile told The Local.

“We have never had such a large outpouring of generosity and solidarity as we have seen in recent weeks from the French public,” he added.

Femen protesters target ‘women in Islam’ conference in France – video

Two topless Femen activists with slogans on their bodies disrupt the speech of two imams during a Muslim conference focused on women in Islam, held in Pontoise, north-west Paris, on Saturday. The two women are dragged from the stage and kicked at one point by security guards. Both activists are in custody according to Femen.

Chelles: opening of the first Islamic finance agency

The first agency dedicated to Islamic finance is coming to Chelles, NorrAssur announced on Friday. The startup, up until recently only active online, specializes in Islamic finance and respects Islamic law, shariah, and most notably prohibits speculation and interest or investments considered taboo in society (tobacco, alcohol, arms…)

For the moment it offers only investment and insurance. It will open on Pierre Mendes-France Boulevard and will include a prayer room. NoorAssur states it is committed to opening twenty agencies by 2016.