Insults and attacks: Muslim students from Berlin experience Islamophobia on Holocaust memorial trip

Anti-Semitic prejudice amongst Muslim youth has become an issue of growing concern in Germany. Schools, while at times being the site of anti-Semitic hatred,(( http://www.taz.de/!5406125/ )) have reacted by expanding educational opportunities aiming to combat the hostility to Jews exhibited by some of their students.

Grass-roots project combating anti-Semitism

The Theodor-Heuss comprehensive in Berlin has mounted one such educational initiative. Its project group “Remembrance”, founded by teacher Sabeth Schmidthals, takes groups of students to various sites of Jewish life and persecution in Europe.

Schmidthals says that the starting point for her project had been an in-class reading of Inge Deutschkron’s autobiographic book I Wore the Yellow Star, in which the author recounts her experiences as a Jew living in the Third Reich. It was in this context that “I noticed how strong the prejudice against Jews and also against Israel really is”, Schmidthals says.

As a response, she took her students on a trip to Israel in 2015; in 2016, they visited France and Spain. In June 2017, she and twenty predominantly Muslim 16- to 18-year-olds made their way to Poland, stopping in Warsaw, Lodz, Lublin, and Krakow.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/theodor-heuss-schule-in-moabit-berliner-schueler-in-polen-rassistisch-beleidigt/19985282.html ))

Islamophobic assaults

In Poland, however, the remembrance of Jewish life and of the Holocaust was somewhat overshadowed by repeated Islamophobic assaults on Muslim group members. Hijab-wearing girls were particularly targeted, facing repeated insults as well as physical attacks: one was drenched in water, another one was spat at. A young man was threatened with a knife.

Some students were not served in shops, with shopkeepers asserting that they would only sell to Poles. Another female pupil was kicked out of a shopping centre when she spoke Persian on her phone. The group was also denied access to a synagogue in Lublin, with guards citing “security concerns”.

According to Schmidthals, a number of Polish bystanders stepped in to defend the group; yet they received no help from the authorities. When students sought to report some of the incidents at the local police station, they were laughed at.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/muslimische-schueler-in-polen-ich-wurde-angespuckt-die.1769.de.html?dram:article_id=389593 ))

Students’ reflections

Upon their return to Berlin, students voiced their astonishment at the events of their trip. One of them stated that they “had absolutely not expected something like this, especially not from a member of the EU.” A girl found it “very sad, because we came for them, in order to find out about their history.”(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/muslimische-schueler-in-polen-ich-wurde-angespuckt-die.1769.de.html?dram:article_id=389593 ))

The school has forged intimate links of cooperation with the Haus der Wannseekonferenz, a memorial site and foundation located at the Berlin villa where Nazi leaders decided on the “final solution” in 1942. Its director expressed dismay at the students’ experiences: “I am particularly shocked that it happened to adolescents who are entrusted to us for this trip, and on a trip dealing with this topic [the Holocaust].”(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/muslimische-schueler-in-polen-ich-wurde-angespuckt-die.1769.de.html?dram:article_id=389593 ))

The teacher echoed this sentiment, adding that “against the usual opinion that youth don’t care about this topic, especially not Muslim youth, I can say the exact opposite. The motivation is high.”(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/muslimische-schueler-in-polen-ich-wurde-angespuckt-die.1769.de.html?dram:article_id=389593 ))

Racism on an anti-racism trip

Berlin’s Minister for Education, Sandra Scheeres (SPD), condemned the incidents as “unacceptable”. A number of Polish-German organisations have written to the school to express their solidarity with the assaulted students.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/theodor-heuss-schule-in-moabit-berliner-schueler-in-polen-rassistisch-beleidigt/19985282.html ))

One can only hope that the events on their trip have sensitised students further to the plight that Jews have endured in Europe and still endure in many parts of the world today, and that their own experience with racism strengthens their resolve to reflect critically on all forms of racial oppression, including those directed at Jews.

Southern California Muslims warned to be on alert during end-of-Ramadan festivities, as threat of violence increases

As Ramadan approached, the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued an alert to all mosques and Islamic organizations nationwide, warning them to be vigilant after incidents of violence against Muslims in recent weeks and a year punctuated by an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes, hate incidents and rhetoric.

CAIR-LA has issued a similar alert for all mosques in Southern California, said executive director Hussam Ayloush.

“We’re asking mosque administrators to make sure the areas are well-lit and there’s adequate security available,” he said.

Google Search Is Doing Irreparable Harm To Muslims

Omar Suleiman, a Muslim American imam from Dallas and founder of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, is taking on the world’s largest search engine to stop it from spreading hate.

Suleiman and his team have been publishing reports on controversial topics in Islam ― like jihad ― in the hopes of influencing the search algorithm. His goal is to flood the search results with accurate information on Islam.  Basic searches for words like “Muslim” and “Islam” return reasonable results with links to reputable sites. But more specific terms, like “sharia,” “jihad” or “taqiyya” ― often co-opted by white supremacists ― return links to Islamophobic sites filled with misinformation.

The same thing happens with the autofill function. If a user types in “does islam,” the first suggestion that pops up to complete the query is “does islam permit terrorism.” Another egregious example occurs when a user inputs “do muslim.” The autofill results include “do muslim women need saving.”

 

Muslims question whether girl’s killing in Virginia was road rage, not hate crime

Islamic leaders are questioning Virginia detectives’ insistence that the beating death of a teenage Muslim girl appears to have been a case of road rage, saying the attack looks all too much like a hate crime.

Nabra Hassanen, 17, was bludgeoned with a baseball bat early Sunday by a motorist who drove up to about 15 Muslim teenagers as they walked or bicycled along a road, Fairfax County police said. A Hassanen family spokesman said all the girls in the group were wearing Muslim headscarves and robes.

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said there is a strong possibility the crime wouldn’t have happened if the teenagers weren’t Muslim.  CAIR called on Muslim communities to increase security during the holy month of Ramadan in light of the young woman’s murder and a string of other attacks in America and in Britain.

Road Rage Cited in Killing of Muslim Girl in Virginia

The Fairfax County Police Department are blaming “road rage” as the mostly likely reason, instead of a hate crime, in the killing of a Muslim teenager in Virginia whose body was found in a pond later.

Nabra Hassanen, 17, was killed on Sunday after she and a group of nearly 15 friends encountered a driver, Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, about 3:40 a.m., the police said in a statement.  The group of teenagers had been at a late-night event at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Va., and were headed back to the mosque after a trip to a fast-food restaurant.

Mr. Torres was arrested at 5:15 a.m. on Sunday and charged with the murder after the Ms. Hassanen’s body was found.

The commonwealth’s attorney for Fairfax County, Raymond F. Morrogh,  who is prosecuting the case, said Mr. Torres was arraigned on Monday and was jailed without bond.  Hate crime charges could still be filed as the investigation progresses, he said earlier on Monday, adding, “I wouldn’t rule it out until I see all of the evidence.”

The news of the young girl’s murder emerged against the backdrop of the British attack of a mosque in London.

Macron advocates for an Islam compatible with the Republic

President Macron and Interior Minister Gérard Collomb joined the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) for Iftar on June 20.

Macron first thanked the CFCM’s outgoing president Anouar Kbibech for his tenure, which was marked by numerous terror attacks. “Thanks to you, the nation’s unity was upheld along with the voice of reason.”

Macron added: “We live in a time where there is much to divide us, where everything could collapse…Our challenge is, of course, security, as we are faced with raging terrorism, but it is also moral and civilizational. And with this challenge, as part of your [CFCM] responsibilities, you play an important role. The State and public authorities will be with you to face these challenges. My presence here, tonight, by your side, is meant to thank you. Faced with the immense responsibilities that await us, you will have me by your side.”

He concluded: “No one in France should believe that your faith is not compatible with the Republic, no one should think that France and the French reject the Muslim faith. No one can ask French men and women, in the name of the faith, to reject the laws of the Republic.”

 

 

France, Britain to jointly combat online terror threat

The UK and France are moving ahead with a joint plan to fight terrorism, online hate speech, and to crack encrypted data.

Speaking together in Paris on Tuesday, President Macron and UK prime minister Theresa May said the two countries were renewing their counter-terrorism cooperation.

The plan includes possibly imposing fines on social media giants for not taking down flagged online hate speech quickly enough. They also spoke about prying apart encrypted messages, which posed broader questions on civil liberty and cyber security.

But Macron said they first wanted to make sure internet operators “delete any content promoting hatred and terrorism in any way.”

May echoed Macron’s views and said that while cooperation between their intelligence agencies was strong, more should be done to tackle the online threat.

“We are launching a joint UK-French campaign to ensure that the internet cannot be used as a safe space for terrorists and criminals,” she said.

May said the plan was to get companies to develop tools to identify and automatically remove the offending material. “Our campaign will also include exploring creating a legal liability for tech companies if they fail to take the necessary action to remove unacceptable content,” she said.

France currently has no laws for mandatory encryption backdoors, but instead allows for government hacking to access pre-encrypted data.

A 2015 Intelligence Act gives French intelligence officers blanket immunity to hack computers abroad and also enables them to break into systems at home. In 2016, the French version of a French-German joint statement on counter-terrorism also called for a ban on unbreakable encryption. The German version did not. The UK can already compel the removal of encryption via its 2016 investigatory powers act. The British government also has the power to hack anyone’s computer.

Pressure has been mounting for EU legislation on granting police forces access to encrypted data, with French and German ministers calling for an EU bill before the end of the year.

 

Macron proposes extension of counterterrorism powers

President Macron’s government proposed an expansion of authorities’ powers to fight terrorism, alarming civil liberties advocates even as defenders said the plans would help keep French citizens safe.

The draft law was introduced after a series of attempted terrorist strikes in Paris and Brussels in recent weeks and several bloody attacks in Britain that were claimed by Islamic State-inspired militants.

The changes proposed Thursday seek to wind down a state of emergency that gave French security officials broad powers and was imposed after the November 2015 Paris attacks, which claimed 130 lives. Some of those powers would be made permanent, including the ability to temporarily shutter places of worship that promote extremism and conduct searches with fewer restrictions. The draft also strips some oversight powers from judges and gives security officials more latitude to act without judicial review.

 “I think we have achieved a good balance,” Interior Minister Gérard Collomb told reporters after a meeting of the French cabinet Thursday during which he proposed the law. “The aim is to put an end to the state of emergency.”

 

Macron and his predecessor, François Hollande, have sought to end the state of emergency, which has been extended several times since the 2015 attacks. It is slated to expire July 15, although Macron has asked for it to be prolonged until November.

The proposal “tries to preserve the balance between controlling terrorism and respecting liberties,” French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said Wednesday on France’s TF1 television station. “We cannot give up what we are.” 

He acknowledged that the law was a work in progress, saying that consultation with parliament, where Macron has a majority, would “enrich the text.” Macron last month announced the formation of a terrorism task force that would streamline communication among branches of intelligence and law enforcement, an idea praised by terrorism experts.

 

Since November 2015, French police have conducted over 4,000 searches and raids using emergency powers and placed about 400 people under house arrest, according to statistics collected by Amnesty International.

 

French authorities accused of covering up Jew’s slaying by Muslim neighbor

A European Parliament member and prominent French intellectuals protested the omission of anti-Semitism from a draft indictment of a Muslim for the murder of his Jewish neighbor.

Frédérique Ries, a lawmaker from Belgium, on Thursday criticized French authorities’ handling of the investigation into the April 4 incident, in which Sarah Halimi was tortured and thrown out of her third-story apartment to her death, allegedly by Kobili Traore, who lived in her building.

“French authorities have treated her murder with icy silence,” Ries, who is Jewish, said in reference to the fact that Traore, who had no history of mental illness, was placed at a psychiatric institution and has not been charged with a hate crime despite evidence suggesting he killed Halimi because she was Jewish.

In a voice recording of the incident, Traore is heard shouting “Allahu akbar,” calling Sarah “Satan” and calmly praying after her killing, according to reports.

17 French intellectuals published a scathing criticism of the handling of the incident by authorities and the media.

“Everything about this crime suggests there is an ongoing denial of reality” by authorities, the intellectuals wrote, citing also testimonies of neighbors who said Traore had called Halimi a “dirty Jew” to her face and called her relatives “dirty Jews” as well in the past.

Many French Jews believe authorities covered up Halimi’s alleged murder to prevent it from becoming fodder for the divisive presidential campaign.