Masked Men Occupy Roof of Islamic High School in Amsterdam

In Amsterdam Nieuw-West, where an Islamic high school was opened recently, two men with balaclava masks have climbed its roof and hung an anti-Islam banner. The men were eventually talked off the roof by the police and arrested for alleged disrupting public order.

The two men of 29 and 32 years old, were identified as members of the campaign group ‘Identitarian Resistance’ (Identitair Verzet). The group tries to ban immigration and ‘islamization’ and promotes the preservation of the ‘Dutch identity’. The extremist right group was founded in 2012 and have since then threatened to physically demonstrate at the ‘Refugee Church’ (Vluchtkerk) in Amsterdam for refugees whose asylum applications have been refused. The municipality of Amsterdam decided that the group was not allowed to do that because of the potential disturbance risk, but the group managed to catch the media’s eye. While on the roof, the men first hung a banner at the front of the school with the text “Salafism not welcome” (Salafisme niet welkom). After this banner was removed by one of the school’s employees, the men hung another banner which said: “Who sows Islam, will harvest Sharia” (wie Islam zaait, zal Sharia oogsten). They were also heard shouting: “Salafism, terrorism.”

While lessons at the school would start the next week, there were students present in the building for an introductory day. While Identitarian Resistance also ‘protested’ the installment of a new mosque in the city of Venlo recently, Pegida members in Leiden prevented children from an Islamic primary school from entering their school at the beginning of the new schoolyear. They hung a padlock around the fence, accompanied by a note and a picture of a skull that said: “The Islam is causing terrible attacks in Europe. You have to tackle the roots of the problem. That would also be closing Islamic schools.”

Sources:
http://www.hartvannederland.nl/nieuws/2017/politie-beeindigt-demonstratie-op-dak-islamitische-school/ https://www.metronieuws.nl/nieuws/buitenland/2017/09/mannen-protesteren-op-dak-islamitische-school https://www.metronieuws.nl/nieuws/binnenland/2017/08/islamitische-basisschool-leiden-doelwit-van-pediga https://kafka.nl/identitair-verzet-ontmaskerd/

Hijab debate splits feminists in Germany

In a new instalment of Germany’s long-running judicial battles over the hijab, the country’s highest court has in a new verdict upheld the legislator’s right to prohibit Muslim women from wearing the Islamic headcovering in certain circumstances.

 

Jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court

The Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) rejected the application for interim relief filed by a junior lawyer from the state of Hesse working at a local court. Her employer, referring to a 2007 ministerial decree, had refused to let her wear the hijab when interacting with the public in an official role.

The Court’s decision appeared to be a reversal on a previously more concessionary interpretation of legal texts, and a turn to a more categorical upholding of a quasi-laic principle of state neutrality. In previous rulings, the Court had invalidated a blanket ban on headscarves worn by teachers at public schools and also rejected demands to outlaw the headscarf at public kindergartens.

“The sight of other religious convictions”

Yet while the Court had stated in its verdict on the kindergarten case that no one had a constitutional right to “be spared the sight of other religious or ideological confessions of faith”(( http://www.spiegel.de/karriere/eilantrag-gegen-kopftuchverbot-juristin-scheitert-vor-gericht-a-1155852.html )), the present judgement seems to be based at least partly on the exact opposite reasoning. In somewhat convoluted phrasing, the judges assert that

it appears understandable if persons involved in a trial feel violated in their right to remain untouched by the cultic actions of a faith they do not espouse if they are subjected to the unavoidable compulsion of having to lead a lawsuit under the involvement of state representatives who identifiably project their religious or ideological convictions to the outside.((http://www.bundesverfassungsgericht.de/SharedDocs/Pressemitteilungen/DE/2017/bvg17-055.html ))

In other words, at least in the sensitive domain of the justice system, people do have the right to be spared the sight of other religious convictions.

A crossroads for feminism

The significance of the verdict is, of course, not simply juridical: whilst phrased in the arcane language of Germany’s specific legal doctrine dealing with the relationship between Church (or religion more generally) and state – the so-called Staatskirchenrecht – the import of the judges’ decision lies in the ways in which it touches upon the place allocated to Islamic religiosity and Muslim women in the German public sphere.

In this context, the issue of the hijab regularly becomes a crossroads for progressive politics. Most notably, as Meredith Haaf writes in a thoughtful article for the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/debatte-tuch-oder-tussi-1.3585227 )) – translated into English here – feminism continues to struggle over its positioning vis-à-vis the Muslim headscarf.

Combatting ‘sexualisation’

Internationally, influential NGO Terre des Femmes recently called for a global ban on hijabs for underage girls – a move that Haaf identifies as part of “the discursive stoking of discrimination against a section of the population”.

Terre des Femmes argues that the headscarf stigmatises girls and women as “seductresses and sexual beings”. Yet even if Muslim parents should indeed be acting upon this rationale, Haaf points out that many non-Muslims do the same by making their (often pre-pubescent) daughters wear bikini tops or by dressing them in ostentatiously ‘girlish’ clothing. Whether ‘oriental’ sexualisation is a more powerful force than its ‘occidental’ counterpart is thus far from clear.

Headscarf and patriarchy

Many feminists have nevertheless picked up upon the headscarf as the prime symbol and tool of patriarchal oppression in our age. In this context, a number of feminists have not shied away from entering a de facto alliance with the populist right.

In Germany, only the openly Islamophobic AfD party has called for a ban on the hijab such as the one demanded by Terre des Femmes. Needlessly to say, the AfD also supports a curtailment of women’s reproductive rights and a strengthening of the traditional family model – hardly an agenda that Western feminists have traditionally espoused.

Feminism’s rightward turn

Haaf takes particular aim at Emma, the long-standing leading German feminist publication. Founded by Alice Schwarzer, dominant persona of the German feminist movement, Emma’s editorial line (as well as Ms. Schwarzer’s personal politics) has shifted sharply to the right on matters concerning Islam.

Especially following the mass sexual assaults by predominantly North African men on New Year’s Eve 2015/2016 in Cologne, Schwarzer became very vocal in her description of Islam as a violent and inherently patriarchal ideology. In 2017, Schwarzer published an edited volume entitled The Shock: The New Year’s Eve of Cologne. In this work, Schwarzer and her co-authors assert that sexual violence is based on and legitimised (even called for) by the Qur’an.

‘Islamic feminism’

For her positioning Schwarzer has received harsh criticism from a feminist perspective. Khola Maryam Hübsch, journalist, Muslim activist, and author of the book Freedom under the Veil: What Islam Can Add to a Truly Emancipated Image of Women attacked Schwarzer for replicating the discourses and argumentative patterns employed by misogynistic Islamist extremism.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/koelner-silvesternacht-so-hilft-alice-schwarzer-den-islamfeinden-der-afd/60902 ))

Hübsch decried the fact that interventions such as Schwarzer’s essentialise ‘Islam’ or ‘the Qur’an’ and in this way “torpedo the attempts of all those Muslims who don’t tire of pointing to the obvious: particular verses need to be interpreted in textual and historical context. They must not be abused selectively for egoistically motivated behaviour.”(( http://cicero.de/kultur/koelner-silvesternacht-so-hilft-alice-schwarzer-den-islamfeinden-der-afd/60902 ))

Clashing feminisms

In many respects, Hübsch’s comments are expressive of a self-consciously ‘Islamic’ feminism, represented in Germany by voices such as Kübra Gümüsay. Islamic feminists highlight the ways in which mainstream feminism has – in their view – sidelined Muslim women by denying them agency and by conceptualising them as passive objects in need of saving.

Yet Hübsch’s account stressing the possibility of uniting feminism and the hijab is, of course, far from uncontested. Other Muslim commentators strike a very different note. Activist Zana Ramadani, author of the book The Veiled Danger, accuses mainstream feminism of having become politically correct and complacent. Ramadani sees Gümüsay and others as using accusations of Islamophobia and racism in order to silence critical voices raising uncomfortable questions about the nature of Islamic religiosity.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-und-frauenrechte-pseudo-feministinnen-mit-kopftuch ))

Reverting to ad hominem attacks against Islamic feminists, Ramadani asserts that “these ignorant headscarf women are part of an Islamist lobby that through trickery has managed to obtain the solidarity of not only leftist feminists. They have all been hoodwinked by the Muslim fake-feminists such as Gümüsay”.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-und-frauenrechte-pseudo-feministinnen-mit-kopftuch ))

The different meanings of the hijab

Thus, both sides castigate one another as having undermined feminism’s progressive credentials. In spite of the often lacklustre nature of the arguments employed – especially on the part of those blindly accusing headscarf-wearing women and their defenders of complicity with terrorism – neither side is necessarily completely wrong: the hijab may be imposed as an oppressive garment; yet it may also be freely chosen.

Thus, what is often difficult to understand and appreciate for both sides is the polyvalence of the hijab as a symbol. Those feminists who only conceive of the hijab as a symbol and a tool of domination fail to accept the fact that women may choose to wear the headcovering of their own accord. Those who see it as a potentially liberating object fail to see that it is at times violently imposed.

Religious obligations

Another facet of the problem is, however, even more difficult to conceptualise. Religious precepts are – at least in their traditional understanding – not based on free-wheeling ‘individual choice’ but on a communal tradition that is perceived as binding on the individual. To give but one example: Jewish and Muslim parents circumcise their male offspring – without the child having much of a say in it.

In a highly remarkable verdict in 2012, a German court condemned this practice as violating the child’s right to bodily integrity. While the legislator in Berlin quickly passed a law creating a loophole that allowed for the continued legality of religiously motivated circumcision of boys, the underlying point still stands: free individual choice and the belonging to a religious community may frequently clash.

The hijab as the norm

The same could quite well apply to many women wearing the hijab: it is true that an increasing number of women particularly in Western societies might make the individualistic choice to wear the Muslim headcovering. Yet in many cases, they will wear it because their families and their (Muslim) environment have signalled them that this is “the way things are to be done” in the community.

In many respects, Islamic feminists and their feminist antagonists both argue from the standpoint of a radical, individualistic choice: the former assert that Muslim women ‘choose’ the headscarf; the latter claim that Muslim women should be enabled to become true individuals by abandoning the garment.

Communal obligations vs. individual choice

Neither side tackles the much harder question concerning the place of communal obligations in an increasingly individualised society. Does it per se make people ‘unfree’ in a relevant way if they conceive of themselves as part of a religious community that is seen as imposing certain rules that go unquestioned by the community’s individual members and that thus curtail individual choice?

The framers of Germany’s Basic Law did not seem to think so: in their Staatskirchenrecht, they enshrined far-reaching guarantees for citizens to be able to belong to religious communities and to project their communal affiliations and beliefs to the outside, including in the public sphere. Yet as the recent verdicts given by Germany’s top courts reveal, the renegotiation and actualisation of these foundational principles in today’s context continues to be a challenge – especially in relation to Islam.

Forever in transit: New report highlights plight of Syrian refugees

For his reportage “Stranded. Refugees Between Syria and Europe” the writer Tayfun Guttstadt travelled to the cities of Turkey and along the Turkish-Syrian border. In conversation with Sonja Galler, he talks about the precarious situation faced by Syrian refugees, their legal status and Turkey′s lack of any kind of integration concept

Turkey is one of the most important transit nations for refugee flows en route to Europe. At the same time, Turkey has itself become a migration country in recent years: at around three million, the nation hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees worldwide. NGOs estimate the actual number of Syrians in Turkey is closer to 3.5 million, as not all refugees have been registered yet.

For the EU and the Turkish government, the six-figure number may first and foremost serve as an argument in a domestic and foreign policy game that both areplaying to serve their own political ends. But how are the refugees themselves faring? Those that are “stranded” in Turkey and decided to remain there for a wide variety of reasons.

The Hamburg writer Tayfun Guttstadt, who reported on the Gezi protests in his first book “Capulcu“, has resumed his travels and spent time talking to (among others) Syrian refugees between Istanbul, Hatay, Gaziantep and Diyarbakir about their lives, political views, hopes and disappointments.

Strong desire to return home

The resulting work is a densely narrated reportage, abundant with conversations with friends, casual acquaintances and people from all walks of life, sprinkled with observations and background information. It provides a manifold insight into the precarious social and legal situation of Syrians and other refugees in the country, people who fluctuate between staying and travelling on.

“Most refugees live in hope of being able to return soon. Others feel at home in Turkey, because for example the culture is quite similar, or they’ve found a job, or made friends. Others stay because they don’t know what else to do. Other reasons to stay are the fear of continuing illegally to Europe or doubts over whether things would be better there,” says Guttstadt.

Only a small percentage of the refugees are living in one of the camps set up by the Turkish government close to the Syrian border and from which only a few more than airbrushed images reach the public domain. Just as it is to other journalists, access is also denied to Guttstadt on his travels.

Poverty risk in the metropolis

The overwhelming majority muddle through in one of the country’s cities. There may be more opportunities here, but the risk of falling into poverty is also high: refugees often live in over-priced, cramped accommodation working without permits “for a pittance in industry or on a building site, fielding accusations that they’re taking work away from Turks and Kurds,” says Guttstadt.

Without a work permit – something that few employers go to the trouble of obtaining for their employees – access to welfare is barely possible. Child labour, in the textile industry for example, is also an issue. However, the authorities frequently turn a blind eye to illegal work or new businesses that haven’t been correctly registered.

But Guttstadt does include more positive biographies in his book and reports on wealthy individuals who have rented or even bought apartments and houses and who have relocated their businesses to Turkey. Artists, intellectuals and musicians gather in Istanbul, which has developed into one of the exile centres of Syrian intellectuals alongside Gaziantep and Berlin.

A peculiarity of the Turkish asylum system means, however, that in accordance with the Geneva Refugee Convention, the refugee status does not apply to Syrians for whom a special status was created in Turkey, which officially allows them to use the public health system and now the education system too. But there is often a lack of appropriate capacity to guarantee these promised rights.

In this context, the reportage also shines a light on civil society efforts: the local initiatives and aid organisations that offer support to the refugees, sometimes under makeshift conditions, trying to offer language courses and provide psychosocial support. Guttstadt also visits the controversial aid organisation IHH, predominantly active in the Sunni milieu – the offshoot of which was banned in Germany.

No integration concept

But we also hear the views of people on the street, taxi drivers and their highly subjective comments, which range from racist resentment through to understanding and expressions of empathy, show that in Turkey too, the issue is emotionally charged.

“First and foremost among nationalist AKP opponents, there is a commonly-held view that the Syrians are living the high life at the expense of the country’s citizens. The most vociferous supporters on the other hand are full of religious pathos, in which the needs and interests of the refugees barely play a role. Very few actors in Turkey recognise that the refugees deserve the same rights as any other person,” says Guttstadt.

Guttstadt also has unequivocal words of criticism for the Turkish government: “There is no discernible integration concept, the situation is characterised by emergency solutions. Always under the assumption that a few ‘guests’ have to be looked after just for a short while, because Assad will in any case be toppled tomorrow or the day after. None of the parties giving serious attention to the rights of refugees. The AKP uses a romanticised rhetoric, which barely conceals its political exploitation of the situation, above all in domestic and EU policy,” says Guttstadt.

The discussion concerning the naturalisation of Syrian refugees is also to be viewed in this context: It is “controversial because the AKP is doing all it can to fit the majority Sunni refugees – non-Sunnis only come to Turkey unwillingly – into its social model.”

Sonja Galler

© Qantara.de 2017

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

Islamic studies scholar Armina Omerika: “Muslims need new ways to approach their religious heritage”

The German Evangelical Church′s relationship with Luther shows Muslims that it′s possible to find and develop a way of engaging critically with your own religious tradition, says Islamic studies scholar Armina Omerika in an interview with Canan Topcu.

When did you first hear about Martin Luther?

Armina Omerika: I think I heard his name for the first time as a schoolgirl, in history lessons, but I don′t remember precisely when that was. For me, the figure of Luther is part of my general knowledge.

But many Muslims don′t even know about Luther′s existence, let alone his significance for Christianity – isn′t that true?

Omerika: I can′t say whether, what or how much each individual knows. And it certainly depends on a person′s educational background. The level of awareness of Luther among Muslims certainly also has something to do with the context in which they learn about Christianity.

In some Muslim societies – in the Middle East, for example – other forms of Christianity are more well known: Oriental Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. What people in Germany are often unaware of is that Muslim intellectuals in the Middle East actually studied the Reformation in depth during the 19th century, being sometimes even influenced by contemporary debates within German Protestantism.

Nevertheless, even people with a biographical connection to Christianity aren′t necessarily particularly well informed about Luther as a historical figure or his theological relevance.

From the viewpoint of an Islamic theologian, what stands out about Luther?

Omerika: The fact that Luther questioned the status of clergy keeps being picked up on by Islamic theologians – mainly because this institution doesn′t exist in Islam at all. In terms of the history of ideas, however, what is important to Islamic theologians is Luther′s image of Islam and Muslims and how it developed. It is well worth taking a closer look at the historical reception, the context and the reasoning behind such a negative image of Muslims.

In my view, it functioned as intra-societal criticism and had little to do with Muslims, particularly since Luther had absolutely no contact with Muslims; they weren′t part of his world. The criticism of Muslims was linked to criticism of the Catholic Church.

Is it actually important for Muslims today to study Luther?

Omerika: Yes, absolutely. One of the main arguments for studying Luther is the way he and his legacy are now being handled by Protestant theologians. The Evangelical Church in Germany, as well as colleagues in university theology departments, communicate and discuss Luther′s position on Jews, women, Muslims and social hierarchies quite openly. At the same time Christian theologians remain willing to pick up on other ideas put forward by Luther, building on them and bringing them to fruition.

The Evangelical Church′s relationship with Luther shows Muslims that it is also possible for us to find and develop a critical approach to our own religious tradition.

The current “situation” in the Islamic world is often explained by the fact that there was no Reformation there. So does Islam need its own Reformation?

Omerika: I don′t think calls for reformation contribute much to the theological debate. Luther′s thought and work should be seen as a reaction to a very specific historical context. And that context can′t be mapped onto present-day Muslim societies. The problems that without doubt exist in the Islamic world are entirely different to those that existed in the German principalities of the 15th and 16th centuries; the crises in Muslim societies are the result of many factors such as poverty, the battle for resources, post-colonial problems, an absence of the rule of law and insufficient democratic legitimisation.

As far as Islamic thought is concerned: yes, it needs to reorient itself, the traditional texts need to be re-read and historicised. Traditional modes of thought should be examined to see whether their methodological and epistemological bases still provide a firm foundation today. Not just the content, but the processes by which we engage with the content need to be re-examined. There needs to be some thought given to whether the positions taken in the past still offer adequate solutions for Muslims today. The answer to these problems does not, however, lie in a reformation modelled on historical examples from another age.

Muslims certainly need new ways to approach their religious heritage – with a view to the present and the future – but what they don′t need is the approach favoured by radical factions: drawing on the past, a time when there were entirely different social models. Nor however do they need to draw on the Reformation, which for all its benefits, remains a historical phase that can never be recalled.

Canan Topcu

© Qantara.de 2017

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin

European Muslim organisations react to terrorist attacks in Manchester

Condemnations coming from Muslim individuals and groups in the UK and in Europe have multiplied after the attacks in Manchester. Like their national counterparts, European Muslim organisations have expressed their firm condemnation of terrorism. 

On May 23, reacting to the terrorist attack in Manchester, the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe, based in Brussels, released a press statement. The Federation insists on the need for concerted efforts in the face of terrorist attacks which target the entire society :

Similarly, the European Muslim Union, based in Strasbourg, has also expressed its dismay and called for European Muslim communities to contribute to the prevention of radicalism in their midst :

“With dismay and shock, the European Muslim Union received the horrible news of another attack on the public in an European country. This latest attack, on a concert venue in the English city of Manchester, took the lives of more than 20 people and injured several others. EMU expresses their deepest condolences to the family of the killed persons and hopes for a speedy recovery of the injured.

Notwithstanding the identity of the perpetrators and their possible ideological and organisational background, this and earlier acts of nihilistic violence in European cities are the hallmarks of the latest and yet worst bread of terrorism which is even devoid of any kind of discernible goal or content. As such its only aim seems to be the stirring up of hate and resentment in the European societies and their respective components.

EMU states unequivocally: the European Muslims reject in their overwhelming majority any kind of criminal acts and their underlying ideologies. Furthermore, the protection and wellbeing of a peaceful public sphere and equal access for everyone to it is in their best interest. Therefore, EMU calls the European Muslims and their communities to remain vigilant against extremist groups, their actions and to maintain their absolute refusal to give them any support – even if only by not taking their danger seriously.

EMU calls on the Muslim communities in Europes and their most capable leadership to invest more energy, knowledge and resources in the prevention of any kind of radicalism in their midst. (…)”. (May,23)

These condemnations, made through press statements or via social networks, are expressed with the strongest terms and leave no doubt on the strong rejection of the terrorist attacks.

 

Sources :

http://www.emunion.eu/jupgrade/

Trump’s statement on Ramadan is almost entirely about terrorism

The Washington Post reports that President Trump issued a statement on Ramadan — a holy month of fasting and prayer for Muslims around the world — that focused primarily on violence and terrorism. In his statement, Trump called recent terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and in Egypt, “acts of depravity that are directly contrary to the spirit of Ramadan. Such acts only steel our resolve to defeat the terrorists and their perverted ideology.”

Read the entire article here

 

Why do the French Fear Islam?

Although Marine le Pen did not win the French presidential elections, the anti islamic discourses and practices will not abate. This essay explains why, focusing in particular on the lack of symbolic integration of Islam in France.

 

https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/forum/religious-freedom-in-france-s-presidential-elections/responses/why-do-the-french-fear-islam

British foreign office: Muslim Brotherhood is “fundamentally non-violent” and contributes to peace

On Monday, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued a report which argued that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood are the “best ‘firewall'” against violence in democratic transitions. This was their conclusion because, when individuals and groups are excluded from the political process and subject to repression, they may resort to violence.

This appears to reverse the government’s stance, as defined by the 2014 review of the Muslim Brotherhood by UK then-ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Jenkins. The previous assessment saw the Muslim Brotherhood as a gateway to a violent form of radicalisation.

The new assessment sees the Muslim Brotherhood as a necessary policy partner in the Middle East.

Some politicians have expressed concern over the new report, including the chair of the foreign affairs committee, Crispin Blunt.

Surveys allow new insights into Europeans’ rejection of Muslim immigration

Official condemnation of the ban

In the aftermath of President Trump’s executive order temporarily halting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, the liberal media has often looked for European moral leadership in an age of Trumpism.

Many of the continent’s politicians struck a similar tone, arguing for the need to uphold European values in the face of xenophobia and racism. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, as well as the leaders of the largest factions in the European Parliament, emphasised the EU’s willingness to stand up for “European legal culture and fundamental values”.(( http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20170131IPR60380/meps-firmly-condemn-us-travel-ban-in-debate-with-federica-mogherini ))

Similarly, the Bloc’s national leaders seemed to develop a common position against the Trump administration and its ‘Muslim ban’. At the gathering of the Union’s 28 heads of government in Malta earlier this month, UK Prime Minister Theresa May was rebuffed for what the continent’s leaders deemed her too concessionary stance vis-à-vis the incoming US administration.(( http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/eu-malta-summit-european-leaders-rebuff-theresa-may-bridge-donald-trump-us-angela-merkel-francois-a7561106.html ))

Sobering survey results

Against this backdrop, the results of a survey commissioned by Chatham House are sobering. Carried out between December 12, 2016, and January 11, 2017, the survey interviewed 10,195 participants from 10 EU countries, asking them about their preferences regarding Muslim immigration.

Across the continent, an absolute majority of 54.6 per cent agreed to the statement that “All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped”. The strongest rejection of Muslim migration came from Poland (71 per cent), as well as Austria, Hungary, Belgium, and France (all above 60 per cent).

Only in Spain and the United Kingdom does the share of those supporting drastic immigration restrictions fall below the 50 per cent threshold. And in no country does the proportion of those actively disagreeing with the statement that “All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped” rise above 32 per cent.

(Moderate) cleavages according to gender, age, and rural/urban divide

The survey results highlight that men are slightly more likely than women to favour shutting the door to Muslim immigrants (57 to 52 per cent). Among the 18 to 29 year-olds, the share of those supportive of a restrictive policy is lowest (at 44 per cent), while it is highest among senior citizens above the age of 60 (63 per cent).

Higher education levels correlate with decreased anxiety about Muslims: 59 per cent of respondents with only secondary education or less supported preventing further Muslim immigration, compared to 48 per cent of respondents holding a university degree. Finally, the rural population is slightly more critical of Muslim immigration than its urban counterpart.

While these factors are of interest, they nevertheless do little to change the overall picture. Across all groups and cleavages, there are solid majorities favouring a restrictive attitude to the immigration of Muslims, with only few categories falling below the 50 per cent threshold.

Comparison with the US

At first sight, these figures strongly mirror the opinions of the American public. In a Reuters/Ipsos survey conducted on 30 and 31 of January – i.e. shortly after the executive order was signed – 48 per cent of Americans asserted that they ‘agreed’ with the Executive order blocking refugees and banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.(( https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/02/polls-widespread-backing-trump-travel-ban ))

It is worth noting, however, that the Chatham House poll was conducted prior to President Trump’s inauguration and thus did not explicitly reference a ‘Muslim ban’. Rather, it spoke of curbing Muslim immigration in more general terms.

European support for the Muslim ban?

These differences in timing and in the question asked might have important repercussions for the interpretation of the survey data. Most notably, a position generally supportive of curbs on Muslim immigration does not necessarily translate into support for the US administration’s Muslim ban.

In Germany, for instance, 53 per cent of respondents expressed desire for a stop to the arrival of Muslims when questioned for the Chatham House survey. In an Ipsos poll conducted in early February, 2017, however, only 26.2 per cent of German respondents supported strict rules governing Muslim immigration on the model of President Trump’s executive order.(( http://www.wiwo.de/politik/deutschland/umfrage-deutsche-wuenschen-sich-mehr-trump-politik-in-berlin/19239790.html ))

This striking discrepancy might point to the fact that it is easier for some respondents to advocate for a blanket restriction on Muslim immigration as long as this remains a somewhat abstract policy. The concretisation of such restrictions in the form of the presidential executive order might drive home the starkness and injustice involved in such a ban. The recent events in the United States also provided powerful images of demonstrators and of families torn apart at American airports that might have swayed German public opinion.

Outsourcing the dirty work

Does this mean that the claim to moral superiority voiced by European leaders criticising the new American administration is justified, after all? Are Europeans and their governments true to their self-styled image of the upholders of ‘Western values’? – Arguably not.

Instead of stopping immigration at European airports – and thereby creating a media stir comparable to the aftermath of the US President’s executive order – the EU has relied upon agreements that outsource the ‘dirty work’ to third states removed from European shores and out of the sight of European citizens.

This is the substance of the EU-Turkey deal that closed the Balkans route; an approach that the EU now seeks to replicate with a second agreement involving Libya. Although the officially recognised government controls only a small sliver of the Republic of Libya, it has been identified as a suitable partner by the Europeans.

Nor have European leaders been deterred by the conditions reigning in the migrant camps in Libya, which a leaked report by German diplomats described as comparable to “concentration camps” in which daily executions are used “to make room for new arrivals”.(( http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/eu-malta-summit-leaders-warn-strand-thousands-refugees-libya-deal-concentration-camps-crisis-a7560956.html )) The European anti-immigration policies might be less eye-catching than Donald Trump’s showmanship; yet this does not make them any less deadly.

Helsinki Grand Mosque’s rocky road

When it comes to building mosques, Finland is not any different from other European countries in terms of opposition that such projects receive either from the side of the officials or the public. The Helsinki Grand Mosque project has been on-going since 2015 and now once again, debates over funding have put a spanner in the works.

The mosque project has been previously endorsed by the deputy mayor of Helsinki and it is led jointly by the Forum for Culture and Religion “FOCUS”, local Muslim associations and the recently established “Oasis” foundation. Trying to fill a desideratum in facilities and services that would bring the Muslims together and away from the undersized prayer rooms, the objective of the central mosque project is to construct a building complex of 20.000 m2 in size, including prayer halls and a community center that would organize activities and events for Muslims and non-Muslims alike and thus contribute and promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue and social cohesion.

The concerns over funding have been directed especially at the involvement of Kingdom of Bahrain as the financial coordinator. In December, an event with international guests were organized in Helsinki to celebrate the Independence Day of Bahrain. In connection to the festivities, one of the nation-wide daily newspapers Helsingin Sanomat reported in January about the current concerns of the city representatives over possible extremist background of Bahrain and those instances that have shown interest to provide support in collecting the needed funds. Security officials insist now on an investigation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs based on fears of extremist readings of Islam spreading to the country through the cooperation with Bahrain. This despite continuous assurances from one of the project coordinators Pia Jardi that the help from Bahrain has no strings attached in any every-day matters of the mosque/community center and the fact that the board members in the Oasis-foundation which was established for the administrative purposes of the project are all based in Finland.

Concerns about the mosque’s ability to welcome Muslim worshipers from different backgrounds were also expressed in a radio show Horisontti broadcasted by YLE. The youth civil activist Anter Yasa, argued that the imams for the mosque should be educated in Finland, receiving an academic degree and thus following the example of the country’s practice in educating priests. With his statement, he was opposing the possibility of the future imams receiving their qualifications from Bahrain which would in his understanding cause segregation instead of integration. Moreover, he maintained that the Muslim communities should rather turn to bank loans in financial matters than help from abroad. However, any ability of the small Finnish Muslim community comprising of somewhat 60 000 individuals to meet such financial obligations for a project of over 100 million euros was not addressed.

The chairwoman of the Young Muslims’ Union Helsinki chapter (Nuoret Muslimit ry), Nahla Hewidy was in turn pinpointing in the discussion the aspect of such mosque and especially its services as a community center being a necessity that would put Muslims and the youth in particular to equal footing with other major religious communities who already have such facilities. She maintained, that the project would enhance the welfare and spiritual development of those generations that struggle with identities between cultures and offer a them safe space where they would find recognition and acceptance.