France condemns mosque arson

Deploring soaring Islamophobia in France, President Francois Hollande has vehemently condemned an anti-Muslim attack that targeted a mosque in the southwestern French city of Auch, stressing that Muslims “should be able to practice their religion freely and safely.”

France “strongly condemns an act such as this which undermines the values of our Republic and our respect for beliefs,” a statement by the president was cited by the Local on Tuesday, August 25.

The president was condemning the arson attack that targeted Salame D’Auch Mosque in Auch on Sunday, August 23.

About 70% of the mosque was burned down when flames gutted the building and destroyed two prayer rooms and large parts of the roof.

No one was injured in the attack that has been ruled as arson by investigators.

Reassuring the Muslim community after the attack, Hollande said that “everything was being done” to ensure the perpetrators were caught and punished.

“Muslims in France should be able to practice their religion freely and safely,” he added in the statement.

On his part, Prime Minister Manuel Valls wrote on Twitter that he condemned the attacks “with full force.”

Sunday’s arson was not the first attack to target Salame D’Auch Mosque. Last January, bacon strips were thrown at the building of the mosque following Charlie Hebdo attack.

The arson attack comes at tense time for the country’s six million Muslims who have been facing increasing hatred since Paris attacks last January.

Reflecting growing anti-Muslim sentiments, the Paris-based Collective against Islamophobia in France organization revealed that Islamophobic acts in France have increased by 23.5 percent in the first six months of 2015, compared with the same period last year.

It warned that physical assaults increased by 500 percent and verbal attacks by 100 percent during the initial months of 2015, adding that women were among the first victims of Islamophobia.

In April, the National Observatory Against Islamophobia warned of an unprecedented increase in Islamophobic attacks in France during the first three months of 2015, rising by six-fold than in 2014.

Islamophobic actions soared by 500% compared to the same period in 2011, according to the observatory.

French gunman had ties to radical Islamist group

Ayoub El-Khazzani has been identified as the man who boarded a high-speed Amsterdam-to-Paris train with a Kalashnikov rifle before being tackled by passengers. The 26-year-old Moroccan man was on the radar of authorities in France, Begium and Spain, had ties to radical Islam and may have traveled to Syria. The attacker was identified by a French official close to the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, according to the Associated press.

Officials did not disclose a possible motive for the Friday attack, but Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that Spanish authorities had advised French intelligence about the suspect because he belongs to the radical Islamist movement. France had El-Khazzani on their security watch list.

Three people were injured, but no one died thanks to the quick thinking of American servicemen who overpowered El-Khazzani, who was armed with an assault rifle, nine magazines, a pistol and a box cutter.

The Americans- U.S. Airman Spencer Stone and National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos from Roseburg, Ore.- and their friend, Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento State University in California, were credited, along with British businessman Chris Norman, for subduing the gunman, knocking him unconscious.

US President Barack Obama has praised the passengers who stopped the gunman and telephoned them Saturday to commend and congratulate them, the White House said. “The president expressed his profound gratitude for the courage and quick thinking of several passengers, including US service members, who selflessly subdued the attacker,” the White House said in a statement.

El-Khazzani was being questioned Saturday by French counter-terrorism police who confirmed through fingerprints their suspicions that it was indeed El-Khazzani. He was transferred Saturday morning to anti-terror police headquarters outside Paris and can be held for up to 96 hours.

Cameron’s ‘knee-jerk’ policies will fail to root out hate preachers, blasts Muslim leader

Speaking ahead of the country’s biggest annual gathering of Muslims this weekend, Naseer Dean, the London head of the influential Ahmadiyya Muslim group, launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May.

He argued that Tory ministers had allowed for the radicalisation of 4,000 young British Muslims by failing to grasp the scale of the problem of religious extremism.

He accused the media regulator Ofcom of being “reactive” rather than proactive and attacked the Home Office for cutting off funding to vital services aimed at monitoring extremist preachers. And he called on the Government to “educate itself” about Islam so that “they have a better handle of what is going on in the mosques”.

Shortly after the General Election, the Prime Minister announced plans for tough new rules to tackle extremism, claiming Britain had become a “passively tolerant” society. But, in an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, Mr Dean rubbished the proposals as “a knee-jerk reaction”.

“They are expecting the local authority and everybody to be monitors and to snoop, which is not the way to go,” he said.

“They need to find out what is going on in the mosques and a lot of the clerics that are coming to the United Kingdom are being allowed to come here.” The group claims to be the “antithesis of extremism” and last month called for all children to have to pledge their loyalty to the UK in school assemblies.

Rafiq Hayat, president of the organisation, said: “The Ahmadiyya Muslim community is putting into practice the Islamic principles that gives peace, inclusivity, tolerance and progressive intellectual thinking pride of place.”

The intervention by Mr Dean risks upsetting the Government’s plans to crackdown on hate preachers.

Muslim Drag Queens, Channel 4, review: ‘a commendable film’

The cross-dressing Asif was one of three courageous characters who agreed to be filmed for this First Cut documentary Muslim Drag Queens (Channel 4). Courageous, because homosexuality remains a taboo in Islam and Asif has received death threats. The “Gaysian” club scene in London is clandestine, populated by young men who fear coming out not just to their families but to the wider Muslim community. In his Bhutto headscarf, Asif was on his way to a rally in memory of Nazim Mahmood, a doctor who committed suicide after telling his parents he was in a gay relationship. Muslim supporters were notable by their absence.

It could have been bleak, but this accomplished debut from first-time director Marcus Plowright, narrated by Ian McKellen, was everything a good documentary should be: powerful, often moving and expertly injecting the subject matter with a hefty dose of humour.

Asif was not afraid of controversy. In a deliberately provocative move, he dressed his alias, Asifa Lahore, in a burka and disrobed as part of his drag act. Yet it was a quieter moment that best illustrated his conflicted identity, when he was unable to hide his disapproval at fellow drag queen Ibrahim kneeling to pray in a pub.

There was one happy ending – Asif’s mother turned up to see him win an award for his LGBT campaigning, to tears all around. Too many documentaries are of the point and sneer variety – Channel 4 being one of the worst offenders with shows such as Benefits Street. This commendable film did the opposite, and it sparkled.