Judge: case against Wilders’ anti-immigrant remarks will proceed

The Dutch public prosecutor started a case against the Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilder (PVV) in December 2014 on the suspicion of insulting a group of people on the basis of race and for inciting discrimination and hate. The initiative was caused by Wilders’ remarks about Moroccans during a political rally in which he had a crowd of followers chant for “less, less, less” Moroccans. 6400 complains were received, and eventually 61 parties remained, 56 persons and 5 organizations.

Wilders’ lawyer had argued that the case would be political in nature, because the court would give a political judgement about the PVV, her political program, and her voters. This would be a dangerous development, he argued. The court did not agree. While the case has “some political aspects” the court argues that it is eventually the judge who judges where the limits are. This judgement does not entail a judgement about “the sort of democracy the Netherlands should have”, but only about the discriminatory remarks.

The court also disagrees that by proceeding with the case the court would give a judgement about the policy of the PVV or would be limiting the political freedom of Wilders. So the case will proceed and start in two weeks at the heavily guarded court near Schiphol.

One in five Dutch people for closing mosques

22 % of the Dutch people would like all mosques in the Netherlands to close down, as the Dutch anti-Islam party PVV has proposed in the political program for the coming Dutch election. A small majority of 55 % is against the closing of mosques. One in ten of the Dutch people is for the unequal treatment of Muslims.

This came to light in a national poll conducted by I&O Research in corporation with the Dutch news paper Volkskrant and was held amongst 1.456 Dutch people from 18 years of age and older.

A link to the digital version of the research mentioned in this article can be found here:

http://www.ioresearch.nl/Portals/0/I%26O%20Research%20politieke%20peiling%20september%202016%20v3.pdf

Young Muslims practice less religion than their parents

According to a large-scale sociological research conducted by the University of Utrecht Muslim youth in the Netherlands are secularizing. Belief is less important to them then to their parents. They also practice the Islamic rules and practices less. Of girls of whom their mothers wear headscarves one third does not. Almost a third of the boys goes less to the mosque than their fathers.

The research does show however that the process of secularization is slower in comparison to Christian youth. Even though secularization is proceeding religion remains important to a large part of the Muslim youth. For tree quarters of them belief is at least as important to them as to their parents. “This identification as Muslim remains strong amongst youth but the practicing of religious requirements is decreasing”, according to professor of sociology Frank van Tubergen who conducted the research.

A link to the digital version of the research mentioned in this article can be found here:

http://www.trouw.nl/tr/nl/5091/Religie/article/detail/4378432/2016/09/17/Jonge-moslims-doen-minder-aan-geloof-dan-ouders.dhtml

Dutch anti-Islam party presents political program

The Party for Freedom (PVV), under the political leadership of Geert Wilders, the Netherlands’ most well-known anti-Islam politician, has presented a one-page political program for the upcoming elections. It is highly unusual for Dutch parties to present their particular programs in such a short and limited format. It seems the program has established somewhat of a record in this regard.

The PVV program contains controversial, but not new, political goals, including the closing of all mosques and Islamic schools, forbidding the Quran and headscarves, closing all refugees centers and canceling all the residence permits given to refugees. It also re-states the wish of the PVV for the Netherlands to become “independent again”, meaning to “get out if the EU”.

The program rejects the government policies of the Rutte II cabinet on all fronts and aims to undo some of the large retrenchments as well as to lower several taxes. The finances to take these measures the PVV want to cover by completely eliminating public broadcasting services and the funding for developmental aid, wind mills, art, innovation, and the like, stating that “in stead of financing the whole world and the people we don’t want to have here, will spend the money on the common Dutch people”.

Judge: Dutch news paper violated Muslim right to privacy

“De Volkskrant”, one of the main news papers in the Netherlands, has to pay a fine of 1.500 euro to Mohammed Rashid. Rashid’s picture featured in an article of the news paper on security at Schiphol Airport. According to the judge his right to privacy has been violated because of this act. But the judge did not conclude an official rectification was necessary.

The article called “Is Schiphol still safe?” featured a photo of Rashid that was taken without his consent as a visitor of the airport going through a stringent safety control by car. He did not accept what he perceived as a case of negative framing of Muslims and demanded a fine and rectification, demanding an expression of regret towards him, his family, and “the Islamic community of the Netherlands”.

The link below contains a video interviewing Mohammed Rashid and his lawyer for Dutch television about the court decision:

http://www.republiekallochtonie.nl/rechter-volkskrant-schond-met-foto-privacy-mohammed-rashid

Manhunt, arrest, and suicide of an IS-attacker keep Germany in suspense

Germany has been rocked by the protracted manhunt, arrest, and subsequent suicide of an IS-linked suicide bomber. The affair has not only thrown a bad light on local security forces, it has also highlighted the vulnerability of the large Syrian community caught beween the front lines of increased terrorist activity.

A convoluted arrest

22-year-old Jaber al-Bakr, a Syrian national recognised as a refugee in Germany since 2015, was arrested on October 10 after a two-day-long manhunt in the state of Saxony. In early October, American intelligence services had listened in on communications between al-Bakr and the Islamic State in Syria and informed their German counterparts of al-Bakr’s intent to carry out a major suicide operation against a German target.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article158754890/US-Geheimdienst-hoerte-Telefonate-von-al-Bakr-ab.html ))

The initial attempt to arrest al-Bakr failed, however, as the police let the suspect walk away from his apartment in the town of Chemnitz without stopping him. Al-Bakr subsequently sought refuge in the nearby city of Leipzig where he was taken in by three fellow Syrian refugees. When they became aware of his identity, the men subdued al-Bakr, tied him up with extension cables and handed him over to the local authorities.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutschland-entging-nur-knapp-einem-grossem-terroranschlag-14474885.html ))

Police found 1.5 kg of highly potent explosives in al-Bakr’s apartment. The substance of the type TATP was of the same make as the explosives used in recent attacks in Paris and Brussels.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutschland-entging-nur-knapp-einem-grossem-terroranschlag-14474885.html )) According to investigators, al-Bakr had planned to detonate himself at one of the Berlin airports, which he had scouted in late September.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/terrorverdaechtiger-amerikanischer-geheimdienst-lieferte-entscheidende-hinweise-zu-albakr-14482338.html ))

Failure to prevent the suspect’s suicide

Initial relief over the arrest quickly dissipated, however, as al-Bakr hanged himself in his prison cell two days later. After the lacklustre attempts to arrest al-Bakr, his suicide again cast an extremely negative light on local authorities, who were still under pressure for their unprofessional handling of right-wing demonstrations at Germany’s National Day earlier this month.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/tag-der-deutschen-einheit-in-dresden-draengende-fragen-an-die-saechsische-polizei-1.3189617 ))

After the arrest, it took police more than a day to begin questioning al-Bakr, for want of an interpreter. Although by the time of his death the young man had stopped accepting food and drink, torn the lamp off the ceiling of his cell, and attempted to manipulate the cell’s electric sockets, he was still not deemed to be at risk of committing suicide.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article158726169/Vor-dem-Tod-manipulierte-al-Bakr-in-der-Zelle-Steckdosen.html )) In this assessment, the prison authorities explicitly contravened the evaluation of the committing judge, who had attested al-Bakr suicidal tendencies.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/nach-dem-selbstmord-von-albakr-gefaengnis-in-leipzig-kannte-suizidgefahr/14682294.html ))

Radicalisation in Germany and contacts to the IS

Al-Bakr’s suicide complicates the ongoing investigation since no further details on his background or on potential accomplices and further members of the IS network can be obtained from him. Some insights might be provided by Khalil A., a 33-year-old Syrian in police custody: he let al-Bakr operate from his Chemnitz apartment.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutschland-entging-nur-knapp-einem-grossem-terroranschlag-14474885.html ))

Der Spiegel also spoke to al-Bakr’s brother, who is still in Syria. Alaa al-Bakr asserted that his brother had been radicalised after his arrival in Germany, by two imams at a Berlin mosque which he began to frequent for Friday prayers in spite of the 4-hour-long train journey from Chemnitz.((http://www.spiegel.de/video/jaber-albakr-bruder-des-terrorverdaechtigen-gibt-interview-video-1712594.html )) This view is apparently shared by German investigators. ((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/nach-suizid-von-jaber-albakr-sachsen-hat-es-nicht-verstanden-14482684.html )) So far, the identity of the imams remains unknown.

Al-Bakr’s connections to the Islamic State are becoming increasingly clear, however. Aside from the evidence drawn from the surveillance of his communications, al-Bakr appears to have spent several months in 2016 in Turkey and may have crossed over into Syria. Visits to Idlib as well as to Raqqa have been reported by some of his acquaintances.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/jaber-albakr-terrorverdaechtiger-war-monatelang-in-der-tuerkei-a-1116170.html,  , http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/nach-suizid-von-jaber-albakr-sachsen-hat-es-nicht-verstanden-14482684.html )) In spite of his travels, German intelligence services seem to have been unaware of al-Bakr’s plans until the tip-off from the American side.

Political discussion on vetting and surveillance

For the Syrian community in Germany, the past week has been a rollercoaster ride. The initial manhunt for al-Bakr once more put the refugees from the Syrian Civil War on the spot. CDU/CSU politicians demanded that all refugees be checked and vetted more thoroughly. Policing and intelligence operations for the protection against threats to public safety needed to play a more important role in all asylum procedures, or so they argued.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/is-will-deutsche-infrastruktur-angreifen-streit-um-fluechtlings-ueberpruefung-14475616.html ))

Whilst politicians from the SPD and the Greens denounced these proposals, some Syrians living in Germany supported such measures. They argued for instance that police surveillance of the social media activities of all refugees could help filter out black sheep and thus avert suspicion from the rest.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/syrer-albakr-soziale-medien-101.html ))

Repercussions on the Syrian community

Syrians also celebrated their three countrymen who de facto arrested al-Bakr.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/syrer-albakr-soziale-medien-101.html )). Politicians of various parties demanded that they be given asylum immediately and that they receive the Federal Cross of Merit, the highest honour bestowed by the German state.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/dschaber-al-bakr-bundesverdienstkreuz-fuer-drei-syrer-gefordert-aid-1.6320884 ))

The immediate consequences faced by the three men for their actions were, however, less benign. Before his death, al-Bakr sought to implicate them in his activities by claiming that they were his co-conspirators.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/dschaber-al-bakr-bundesverdienstkreuz-fuer-drei-syrer-gefordert-aid-1.6320884 )). While these allegations were not given credence by the police, the men have nevertheless left Leipzig and Saxony because of safety concerns.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/jaber-albakr-lka-sachsen-will-fluechtlinge-aus-leipzig-schuetzen-a-1116756.html )) Revenge might not just come from the Islamic State(( http://www.focus.de/politik/videos/begegnung-mit-terrorverdaechtigen-wollte-uns-toeten-syrer-die-zu-albakr-festnahme-fuehrten-aus-angst-untergetaucht_id_6073630.html )); al-Bakr’s brother also announced his wish to avenge the death of his brother.(( http://www.spiegel.de/video/jaber-albakr-bruder-des-terrorverdaechtigen-gibt-interview-video-1712594.html ))

This episode demonstrates the ways in which the Syrian community can easily become caught in the cross-fire between the Islamic State’s terrorist attacks emanating from a few black sheep among their ranks on the one hand and domestic political backlash on the other hand. The vulnerability of the three men that helped arrest al-Bakr highlights the need as well as the difficulties for social solidarity in the face of the terrorist threat. Having narrowly escaped its first large-scale Islamist attack, the true test for this solidarity still awaits Germany.

Finland: Islam in schools should contribute to anti-radicalization

Finnish pupils in elementary education have started their school year of 2016 with a new national curriculum. In Finland, every school is obliged to offer subject education in Islam for Muslim children, when at least three students would select it instead of the majority Evangelic Lutheran religious education or alternatively Ethics. Whereas until now the contents of teaching and learning for minority religion subjects (i.e. not Evangelic Lutheran) such as Islam, Baha’i, Mormonism etc. were determined in a separate document, the curriculum for Islam has been revised so that it is now for the first time included in the new national curriculum.

The change means that Islam as a school subject is now treated with the same degree of attention as all the other subjects are. As for each religious subject the curriculum is categorized into three different content areas; “Relationship to one’s own religion”, “Religious diversity in the world” and lastly “Good life principles”, the contents of Islam are hence comparable also with other religious subjects such as Catholicism and Judaism, ensuring equal literacy in their respective religions for students of these subjects.

The new curriculum aims at empowering the pupils of today to be able to deal with issues concerning the Finnish society in the early 21st century. The content areas outlined for the subject of Islam throughout the class levels 1-9 include for example reflections on religion as part of one’s cultural identity, the historical influence of Islam in the European culture, political Islam, inter-religious dialogue and religion in media and popular culture. Moreover, alongside with the traditional content-based learning the new curriculum emphasizes phenomenon-based learning in all subjects. Hence, for example in Islamic education children are encouraged to research and learn about current trends and phenomena in the society and analyze and critically think about them from the standpoint of their religion. The curriculum gives as well more space to co-operation across subjects, while for example visits to local worship places (e.g. churches or mosques) can be done together with Muslim and Christian student groups.

The importance of religious school education has been lately discussed in the Finnish media in terms of how it prevents radicalization and enhances social cohesion. The sociologist Karin Creutz commented in an interview that when Islam is taught in the schools, it will give tools and skills for the Muslim children and youth to understand and know their religion and hence avoid being drawn into radicalism and the dark-side of the violent Islamism, like the Islamic State. Also the Islam school teacher Suaad Onniselkä confirmed on a radio program what Creutz was as well had argued for, that Islam as a school subject will contribute positively to the construction of the Self-identity among Muslim children in Finland. Hence, according to Onniselkä, religion functions as an empowering element.

When Islam is now taught in schools on a comparable level with other religious subjects, it will support holistically the understanding of differences in religious structures and culture as such. Such a school education shall help to raise generations who will be enabled to build world peace. Yet, education in religious literacy should not merely be restricted to school children but should be expanded to the communal level, Creutz again argues. Thus, the general knowledge on religions and the discourse at the societal level should be more inclusive of aspects of religion as part of people’s lives in a world in which religions are falsely stigmatized in a pseudo-secularized society.

6 common misconceptions about Salafi Muslims in the West

Salafism, often referred to as ‘Wahhabism’, is widely regarded as a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam that fuels Jihadism and subjugates women. Some even lump ISIS and Salafism together—casting suspicion upon the thousands of Muslims who identify as Salafi in the West. After gaining unprecedented access to Salafi women’s groups in London, I discovered the realities behind the myths. Discover the six most common misconceptions about Salafi Muslims in the West below:

Misconception #1: They’re all foreigners

Salafism is often—rightly—associated with Saudi Arabia. Indeed, it was this country’s immense oil wealth that enabled it to spread its ‘Wahhabi’ brand of Salafism abroad from the 1970s onward. But we should not deduce from this that Salafism in the West is essentially an ‘Eastern’ or ‘Gulf’ phenomenon.

Groups that identify as Salafi in Britain are dominated not by Saudi migrants—whose numbers are actually very small—but by young people who were born here or who arrived at an early age. These include second- and third-generation Muslims—particularly South Asians—but above all, young Somalis and Afro-Caribbean converts.

 

Misconception #2: They support Jihadism and shari’a for the West

While aspects of their purist creed are shared by Jihadi groups, most—probably the vast majority of—Salafis in Europe are explicitly against terrorism. Not only that, but they tend to oppose all formal political forms of organisation, such as political parties and campaign groups. Although they believe that the shari’a is the best system, they do not seek to impose it on non-Muslim countries.

 

Misconception #3: They secretly support Jihadism and shari’a while publicly claiming to respect the law of the land

During nearly two-and-a-half years of fieldwork with Salafi groups, I never witnessed any explicit or implicit support for Jihadism, or calls for shari’a for the United Kingdom. I only ever witnessed condemnation of the former, and express prescriptions to obey the law of the land. While it is, of course, possible that Salafis moderate their speech in front of researchers, it would become almost impossible to keep this up after a few months of regular interaction. That’s why long-term participant research is so valuable.

Misconception #4: They are brainwashed

‘Brainwashing’ is typically understood as a coercive process that renders an individual powerless to choose an alternative course of action.  Although five decades of research on New Religious Movements have yielded no empirical evidence for the so-called ‘brainwashing thesis’, it is nonetheless often regarded as the primary reason why people become ‘Islamic extremists’.

I found no evidence of so-called brainwashing. On the contrary, I found that the Salafi conversion process was largely intellectual, rather than based on social or other pressures.

Misconception #5: They are the uneducated ‘drop-outs’ of society

Some argue that, while Salafis are not brainwashed, they are the downtrodden, alienated ‘drop-outs’ of society, whose lack of education makes them ill-equipped to make sensible, rational decisions about their lives.

My impression as a researcher was that these women are at least as likely as the general UK population to pursue higher education. Most of my interviewees had already started or finished university, and just one had no plans for further education. Most were also keen to launch or pursue existing careers.

Misconception #6: Salafi women are forced to wear niqabs (face veils)

Coerced veiling undoubtedly occurs in many societies, but I could not find a single case among the Salafi women I interviewed in Britain. I did, however, encounter many cases where women’s families tried to force them—sometimes threatening violence—to discard their veils and gowns, which they saw as ‘extremist’ or ‘the culture of the Arabs’. A few young women confessed to having actually concealed their niqab-wearing from relatives, wearing the veil only when at a safe distance from the family home.

Muslim and Christian make new Quran translation to show the two religions’ similarities

A Muslim and a Christian have made a new translation of the Quran to underline the similarities between their two religions.

The authors, who are also friends, said they hoped the text would provide “a tool of reconciliation” between Christians and Muslims.

Some 3,000 parallels between the Bible and Quran are demonstrated in the book, which has a split-page format.

Safi Kaskas, the Muslim co-author of the new book, said in a statement: “Most of the tension that exists in the West in the post-9/11 era is because Christians fear Muslims and their book, the Quran.

“This new translation was designed to be a tool of reconciliation between Muslims and the followers of other Abrahamic religions [Christianity and Judaism].

“In an environment of tension, working for reconciliation and peace is long overdue. If we are to prevent a much larger disaster from happening, we must work for a better understanding.”

He said some translations had wrongly given the impression Islam was intolerant of other faiths, saying this was not an accurate interpretation of the holy text.

Mr Kaskas started the project with Dr David Hungerford, a Christian, 10 years ago. The book is part of a project by Bridges to Common Ground, an organisation that aims to reduce Islamophobic attitudes among Christians.

Dr Hungerford said: “We hope this translation will lead people to understand that while there are differences between Islam and Christianity, there is also a tremendous bridge between Muslims and Christians.”

There are more than 100 mentions of Jesus in the text – who is known as Esa in the Quran.

“In today’s society, no one talks about this common ground among the Abrahamic faiths, much of which is centered around the person of Jesus of Nazareth,” Dr Hungerford added.