American Muslims in the 2016 Election and Beyond: Principles and Strategies for Greater Political Engagement

Muslims have yet to realize their full political potential through voting, organizing, and coalition building. More and more, however, a new generation of activists and community leaders is engaging the political process as full participants, motivated both by the desire to make a difference and a sense of civic duty. Ironically, Islamophobic rhetoric so common in the 2016 election cycle aimed at marginalizing Muslims may have given a fragmented community a rare common concern around which to mobilize, and a united party platform for which to cast their ballot. The mosque, a focal point of attacks, emerges as a gathering place for grassroots civic engagement, education, and community service. To realize their full potential, Muslims must build for the short term through education, local participation, and effective getout-the-vote campaigns. Muslims must plan for the long term by building a sustainable infrastructure for political mobilization, investing in more research on American Muslim voters, and cultivating an American Muslim civic culture.

Institute for Social Policy and Network: http://www.ispu.org/ame2016

Link to report PDF: http://www.ispu.org/pdfs/repository/ame2016.pdf

Judges Say NYPD Justified in Muslim Spying Records Request

NEW YORK — A New York appellate court has ruled the New York Police Department was justified in using a Cold War-era federal legal doctrine to deny releasing records about the possible surveillance of two Muslim men.

In a decision handed down Thursday, the panel of judges in Manhattan said heightened law enforcement concerns warranted the police department invoking the Glomar doctrine to neither confirm nor deny the existence of certain documents.

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/06/02/us/ap-us-nypd-surveillance-lawsuits.html

Reactions to multicultural Finnish society: Fear of social marginalization of ethnic Finnish men and bad vibes about sports

The newly report of the Finnish Government dealing with Finland’s internal security was discussed in the plenary session at the Parliament on the 24th of May. During the discussion, MP Teuvo Hakkarainen (Finns Party, Perussuomalaiset) expressed his concerns about the connection of Islamization to the internal security of the country. In his speech, which can be found in its full length in the verbatim transcriptions of the Parliament plenary session, Hakkarainen posed a question to the Minister of the Interior Petteri Orpo, asking, whether Orpo had considered the fact that due to the resettlement policies of immigrant refugees to certain rural areas the ethnic Finnish bachelors there could be marginalized in the society where as the immigrant Muslim men would take their place.

Furthermore, Hakkarainen argued that the biggest threat to Finnish internal security is the spread of Islamization. He doubts possibilities of integration for current Muslim immigrants, of whom most are men, based on demographic discrepancies between men and women especially in rural areas. Hakkarainen advocated in his speech rejecting further immigration and continued to argue, that the best way to fight Islamization is to secure the borders with barbed wire.

In May, Finnish media’s attention was also on another politician from the Finns Party, Seppo Huhta. The Green Party (Vihreät) and a local sports club in the town of Espoo announced a sports event, to which participants regardless of their national, political background were invited to enjoy a “multicultural baseball day”. Baseball in its Finnish version, is a very popular sports in the country and thus the event is aimed at teaching foreigners about this piece of Finnish culture.

Following the announcement, as a news article notes, Huhta had commented on the events facebook-page that the whole idea of a multicultural baseball was ridiculous since baseball, rather than ice hockey, is a national game. Moreover, in his comment – which, he maintains, he had made as a private person – Huhta wonders, how is it then even possible to make out of such a national game “multicultural” or “Mohammedean”. He claims that in reality the word “multicultural” now is restricted to mean only events and activities targeting Muslims and hence such events would not attract any Russian or even German immigrants.

Representatives of the Green Party noted that the object of the event is not to politicize sports. Huhta was criticized for his choice of words which allegedly have been harsh also before, for instance he is said to use the word “beard-child” to speak about Muslims. Afterwards Huhta commented that has nothing against anyone playing any sports, and actually sports would do good to Finns as well.

Expert on geopolitical conflicts, Alan Salehzadeh, urges to ban head scarves in schools and face veils in public spaces

Alan Salehzadeh, who has gained publicity in the past years as an expert on geopolitical conflicts and researcher for the Finnish National Defence College, urges in his blog for a ban on head scarves in schools and face veils in public spaces. Salehzadeh, an immigrant from Iran, has previously as well spoken out for issues that touch upon issues in multicultural Finnish society, such as migrants’ difficulties in the job market due to language skill requirements.

In his blog post from May 21st Salehzadeh maintains that in democratic Finland it is not acceptable that certain religious groups – with this implying to Islam – force their children to embrace a religion and at the same time force little girls to wear the headscarf to the school. He notes, that it creates inequalities between students for example when a girl who wears the headscarf is not able to attend gender-mixed swimming lessons. Hence, he urges for a citizens initiative that would call for a law which can forbid parents from determining their children’s dress style.
Salehzadeh argues that the headscarf should be allowed to be used only after the child has reached 18 years of age, which is the age of majority in Finland. However, he finds that even then, when a woman is able to decide for herself about her religious dress, face veils should be banned as they are not compatible with democratic values.

The issue of the face veil in the public space has been a topic of discussion also earlier this year, as MP Nasima Razmyar, like Salehzadeh with an immigrant background, expressed her concerns against the face veil in an interview. For Razmyar it would be necessary to ban the face veil in cases in which a woman is wearing it in her profession in the child education sector. Although she criticized the face veil as part of an employee’s dress in schools and nurseries, she extended her argument so that the face veil does not support the integration of its wearer into the Finnish society.

Former Muslims speak on social exclusion of those who leave Islam

Following the example of similar platforms in Great Britain, a blog called “Ex-Muslims in Finland” (Suomen Ex-Muslimit) has been running since 2015 providing information and experiences on leaving faith as a Muslim. The National Broadcasting Company YLE published a report on the two female founders of the blog and their accounts about social problems (former) Muslims face in their communities in Finland when they want to leave the Islamic faith.

The report accounts the women’s experiences as they struggle to tell their families about their choice while still “pretending to be a Muslim” by continuing some of the Islamic practices such as wearing the headscarf. The women report how especially in the Somali community, to which both belong, the social pressure from families, friends and the community restricts the freedom to make such independent choices. They note that sometimes as a preventive measure families have sent their children abroad to learn intensively about Islam if they notice that the child might be turning away from the Islamic lifestyle and religious practices.

Unlike in other countries such as Great-Britain, the women say that former Muslims in Finland tend to stay away from publicity to avoid negative reactions from their social environment. Another former Muslim of Middle-Eastern origin (male), accounts that in his home country the punishment for apostasy according to the Sharia law is death. The two women maintain that especially the situation of women is difficult in religious communities in Finland, as many rules such as dress codes restrict their lives. They additionally argue that the Qur’an does not acknowledge women as individuals with an agency but as bound to their functions in relation to their male family members.

The report unfortunately gives little space to other perspectives on the issue. One of them is a comment of a prominent journalist of Somalian origin Abdirahim Hussein. He notes that during his 22 years of stay in Finland he has not heard of any instances where a person who has declared leaving the Islamic faith would have treated badly by other Muslims. The report also included a short comment from the imam Anas Hajjar emphasizing that death threats and social exclusion are not accepted forms of behavior when a Muslim is having doubts in his faith but rather encourages to dialogue about the issue with the person in question.

A report launched on ethnic and religious discrimination against Somalis in Finland

The mission of Finnish Somali League held a press conference on May 27th to launch their newly published report on discrimination. The report is based on a survey directed at residents and citizens of Finland of Somali origin and tackled issues of verbal harassment, violent attacks and discrimination in the public sector. The aim of the survey was not to offer generalizing figures but to identify and investigate diverse discrimination experiences.

The report shows that out of 105 participants 80% had experienced discrimination and 80% reported having witnessed discriminating behavior towards other individuals of Somali origin. Moreover, 61% reported that the discrimination had been due to their Islamic religion and 31% reported their clothing to be the cause of discrimination. The survey’s narratives in open-end questions provide accounts of everyday struggles that residents and citizens of Finland with Somali origin experience. Especially racist accusations and verbal harassment were frequently reported. Yet, accounts on discrimination in public spaces such as denying access to services, being barred from entry to supermarkets and explicitly rejecting a job application due to the applicants head cover depict a detrimental picture of the current situation.

The full report in Finnish language can be downloaded here on the official website of the League.

Ramadan in Finnish refugee reception centers – compromises and opposition

Ramadan in summer times poses a dilemma for Muslims in the Northern countries. Daylight times are long and in some cities the sun does not even set at all. Different courses of action were taken in the the refugee reception centers in Finland to facilitate the fasting for the Muslim refugees currently waiting for their asylum decisions. For instance, In the reception center of Evitskog, run by the Finnish Red Cross, Muslims observing the fast were of 26 different nationalities, which caused discrepancies for their individual wishes in the times to start and to end their daily fast. Many of the men would namely fast according to the respective times of their home countries, and some according to the times in Finland – although in the high summer it would mean a more or less 20 hour fast. The director of the center commented in an interview that the staff was prepared to work extra hours to offer meals even in the night times, despite the lack of extra payment for those taking on extra night shifts.

In the reception center of Hennala however, the approach was slightly different. Special arrangements to serve food were not made, although there, unlike in many other centers where refugees have kitchen facilities to prepare their own foods, the daily meals are included in the service. Instead, those who wanted to fast were given “lunch packs” which they could warm up in microwaves and ovens for their evening meals and breakfasts.

Although the arrangements in some reception centers have not always been as flexible as they were in the case of the Evitskog center, the representative of the Finns Party Youth Wing Juha Karjalainen expressed his discontent with the fact, that even arrangements of any kind to facilitate and respect the refugees religious traditions and practices were made. In his post in the blog platform “Uusisuomi” he argued that the task of reception centers is to offer accommodation for the time of the asylum application is processed and not to facilitate special religious or cultural demands. Hence, Karjalainen maintained that as no one had forced the refugees to choose Finland as their destination country, the refugees are the ones who should make compromises and be flexible, not those working in the centers. Facilitation of religious practices such as fasting in Ramadan would in his view have a negative impact on integration as it sends the wrong message about the necessity of being flexible in one’s religious practices in a Christian but secular country such as Finland.

Sadiq Khan speaks for peaceful Islam at Trafalgar Square Eid festival

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/davehillblog/2016/jul/10/sadiq-khan-speaks-for-peaceful-islam-at-trafalgar-square-eid-festival

Just a few months ago, before the EU referendum triggered earthquakes across the UK political landscape, the Conservative party and its press allies were seeking, unsuccessfully, to portray Sadiq Khan, a Muslim, and at that time Labour’s candidate to become London mayor, as having questionable “links” with Islamist fanatics in one of the most poisonous election campaigns the country had ever seen.

 

On Saturday, Mayor Khan addressed an audience of thousands at London’s 11th annual Eid al-Fitr celebration in Trafalgar Square for the first time since taking office. He called for peace, unity and an embrace of religious freedom and diversity, describing this as one of London’s great strengths. He pledged zero tolerance of hate crimes, reports of which have risen in the wake of the EU leave vote, and he denounced “criminals who do bad things and use the name of Islam to justify what they do”.

 

The whole event received positive and rather lavish coverage from the Daily Mail – a far cry from April when Mail columnist and BBC Sunday Politics regular Isabel Oakeshott was recycling “troubling” stories of exceptional flimsiness to question Khan’s suitability for City Hall and her venerable colleague Max Hastings was declaring, absurdly, that Khan “represents a brand of socialism that is out of fashion even in Cuba”.

 

In reality, of course, Khan in office is turning to be nothing like what the Mail’s pundits predicted and has been putting campaign pledges to be “a Mayor for all Londoners” and a Muslim mayor who’d “take the fight to the extremists” into early effect. Only three weeks ago, he addressed the Pride in London festival from the same stage.

U.K. Should Do More to Block Islamic State Funding, Report Says

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-11/u-k-should-do-more-to-block-islamic-state-funding-report-says

 

The U.K. needs to do more to block funding sources for Islamic State, Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Sub-committee said in a report on Tuesday.

A coalition including the U.K. and U.S. has been targeting IS cash reserves, as well as conducting airstrikes against oil infrastructure controlled by the group, which faces “an increasingly desperate struggle to raise money,” the committee said. Even so, Britain’s contribution is “under-powered compared to our potential,” it said.

 

The U.K. has seen fresh wrangling over its role in creating the current instability in Iraq, that allowed Islamic State to prosper, following the publication of the Chilcot report last week. The inquiry, which took seven years to complete, concluded that Britain’s involvement in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was a failure and was carried out before peaceful options had been exhausted.

 

“The U.K. government is in a position to help Iraq develop effective abilities of its own to counter ISIL finances,” committee chair and MP John Baron said in the report, using an alternative name for Islamic State. “Much depends on blocking access to local and international money-making activities,” he said.

 

Demographic changes reflected in the Finnish name calendar

Name days are a tradition in Finland with roots already in the 14th century going back to the tradition of naming days of the year by Christian saints. Today, all Finnish calendars have a certain or several female and male names added to each of the days of the year and thus the “name day” can be individually celebrated by 84 % of the Finnish population. The National Broadcasting Company YLE reported in June, that Muslims names are to be added to the calendars in the future. Since the 1980’s new names have been added to the calendar by their frequency and since 2010 the requirement has been over 500 Finnish native speakers having the given name. The decision on which name will be added to the national calendars are made in the official calendar office of the Helsinki University and the calendars are updated accordingly every five years.

Minna Saarelma-Paukkala, lecturer in onomastics at the University of Helsinki, commented in an interview for YLE, that popular Muslim names such as Mohammed and Omar will be added to calendars. At the moment there are about 200 persons who are native Finnish speakers and have been named Mohammed, for the name Omar the number is over 100. Saarelma-Paukkala noted that although with the current demographic developments, also partly due to families of mixed cultures Muslim names will reach the requirement of 500 individuals, the addition of the name to the calendar will be discussed separately with the Muslim community as name-days are not an Islamic tradition.