Kenya: Police Fire On Cartoon Rally; One Wounded In Nairobi As Protest Continues Around The World

By Guled Mohamed Nairobi — Kenyan police shot at hundreds of people demonstrating against cartoons of Muhammad, wounding at least one, as protests across the Muslim world showed no sign of abating. Police in Bangladesh beat back about 10,000 people marching on the Danish embassy in Dhaka. Demonstrators also took to the streets in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and, for the first time, Latin America. The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad threatened more violence. A leading Saudi Muslim cleric called for no mercy in punishing anyone mocking the prophet. “So far we have demanded an apology from the governments. But if they continue their assault on our dear prophet Muhammad, we will burn the ground underneath their feet,” Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib said. At least 11 people have been killed this year in protests over the cartoons, one of which showed Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. They were first published in Denmark and then in other European countries and elsewhere. Muslims consider any portrayal of the prophet blasphemous. European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said religious sensitivities and freedom of speech had to be respected but the violent reaction was unjustified. With tensions high and the cartoons appearing in more newspapers around the world, some tried to calm believers. The imam at the heart of the row appeared to backtrack, saying Denmark was a tolerant country. “As a Muslim, I am heavily indebted to this country,” Imam Abu Laban said. In Indonesia, police questioned an editor after his tabloid, Peta, published a caricature of Muhammad. And Malaysia banned circulating or possessing cartoons of the prophet.

Legoland Is Burning

By Anna Reimann in Copenhagen While Danish flags are being burned and embassies attacked in Islamic countries, Muslim immigrants and Danes are coming closer together. Following the intense international scrutiny over Muhammad caricature affair, many are hoping to send the world a message of peace. Many people in Copenhagen find it difficult to understand why their small country has suddenly become the center of global attention. “I would never have imagined that this would create such an uproar. The Mohammad cartoons are now the only topic of conversation, even in Denmark,” says 50-year-old Knut M. as he stands at a sausage stand in Copenhagen, rubbing his hands together in the cold. It’s raining in the Danish capital and the wind howls through the narrow streets in the neighborhood near Copenhagen’s main train station. The TV images flickering behind the windows of apartment buildings show Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the building housing the editorial offices of Jyllands-Posten and scenes of angry Muslims in Afghanistan. On a newspaper stand in front of a kiosk, the cover of B.T. paper depicts a young girl asking her father: “Why do the Muslims hate us so much?” The Danes are afraid, writes the paper, afraid of attacks and afraid of war. Until now, this small Scandinavian kingdom in northern Europe enjoyed a tranquil, happy and untroubled existence. Lego used to be the country’s biggest claim to international fame, but Legoland has apparently burned down. In the Islamic world, the response to the cartoons printed in Jyllands-Posten depicting Muhammad might have been blown out of proportion, but they have been interpreted as a general assault on the honor of Islam. People in Copenhagen, however, are speechless over the reactions they have triggered worldwide. Arab shops line Vesterbrogade, a main street in downtown Copenhagen. Muhammad, who, like many of the foreigners here, prefers not to give his surname, runs a travel agency specializing in travel to North Africa and the Middle East. “Denmark has never experienced anything like this,” he says. Wearing a long black coat, he sits in front of a wall of travel brochures. “The whole thing makes me very uncomfortable. Why should they ruin everything? We’re such a peaceful country,” he says. For Muhammad, “they” are both the people who deliberately offend religious sensibilities and those who resort to violence, attacking Danish embassies and burning flags. “It hurts me,” he says. He might as well take down the light blue flyers in his window advertising tours to Damascus and Beirut, he says. He’s hardly sold a ticket in days. “I’m just waiting for all the excitement to blow over.” Tired of the dispute Denmark, a small country of only 5.3 million inhabitants, has been the center of global attention for the past two weeks. But many Danes are weary of the debate over the cartoons. After all, they say, Jyllands-Posten, Denmark’s largest-circulation newspaper, published the now-scandalous cartoons back in September 2005. Mefid, a 22-year-old taxi driver with a shaved head, doesn’t want to talk about the cartoons anymore. “You know, here in Denmark we’ve been talking about this for almost half a year now. Up and down, back and forth. And now, all of the sudden, the rest of the world has noticed us,” says Mefid, whose parents are Palestinian immigrants. Mefid has harsh words for the violence in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan. What’s happening there, he says, is a disgrace. “I apologize for the radical Muslims,” he says. Then, after a brief pause, he adds: “No one has the right to do these things.” Ali, whose family emigrated to Denmark from Afghanistan, is also ashamed of the fact that Danish interests are being attacked, flags burned and foreigners in Arab countries threatened, all in the name of his religion. He sits, smoking, with a Danish friend on a bench in front of a shopping center and says: “I’m shocked by the images.” His friend nods. Nevertheless, Ali, like many other residents of Copenhagen, believes that Jyllands-Posten printed the cartoons “because they wanted to provoke.” “Why else wouldn’t Jyllands-Posten have printed the Jesus cartoon?” asks Mikkel Velstrup, sitting with friends in a Copenhagen caf_. He’s referring to a series of cartoons depicting Jesus that an illustrator offered the paper in 2003, but that an editor rejected on the grounds that readers probably wouldn’t like them. “Something isn’t quite right there,” says Mikkel Velstrup. But, he adds, he has also noticed that people have been especially courteous to one another in Denmark lately — Pakistanis, Turks, Afghans and Danes — Christians and Muslims. “They were all lies” “It was tasteless, the fact that the papers printed them,” says Muhammad, the man from the travel agency. “Especially these days, when the populist, right-wing People’s Party is so strong and is already trying to stir up bad feelings about Muslims.” Knut M. also hopes that the affair doesn’t produce the wrong impression about Danish Muslims. “After all,” he says, “most Muslims who live here are very moderate.” He has absolutely no sympathy for people like Ahmed Akkari, an imam in the central Danish city of Aarhus, who has only added to the controversy over the cartoons. “He traveled to the Middle East and showed people the wrong cartoons, cartoons that were far worse. They were all lies,” explains Knut M. But there aren’t many of “those kinds of Muslims” in Copenhagen, he adds. But Knut M. is convinced that in Denmark, at least, the cartoon affair could have a positive outcome once all the excitement subsides: “Perhaps we’ll talk with one another more — immigrants and Danes.” He disapproves of the fact that Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen long refused to meet with ambassadors from Muslim countries. “I don’t want to question freedom of the press, but when the feelings of a religious community are hurt, we have to talk to one another and communicate,” he said. Knut M. believes that the recent demonstration against violence and in favor of dialogue on the square in front of Copenhagen’s city hall shows that the only thing everyone here wants is peace. “And just a bit of normality once again.”

Hezbollah Chief Urges Bush To ‘Shut Up’

By Sam Ghattas, Beirut THE leader of Hezbollah yesterday hit back at the US over claims Syria and Iran had fuelled protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Meanwhile, it emerged that an Egyptian newspaper had reprinted the cartoons in news story back in October without any apparent problems. Egyptian bloggers reproduced pages from the October 17 edition of Al Fagr, which had printed the cartoons in an article about the controversial images. The article had a headline which one blogger translated as “Continued Boldness. Mocking the Prophet and his Wife by Caricature.” Denmark, meanwhile, said it had temporarily closed its diplomatic mission in Beirut, which was burned by protesters on Sunday, and all staff had left Lebanon. The Danes also feared religious processions in Muslim countries to mark the Shi’ite festival of Ashoura would spill over into violence against its diplomats and soldiers after days of protests over the caricatures, which were first published in a Danish newspaper in September. About 2,000 hard-liners rallied and burned a Danish flag in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka yesterday. In Beirut, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah urged Muslims worldwide to keep demonstrating until there is an apology over the drawings and Europe passes laws forbidding insults to the prophet. The head of the guerrilla group, which is backed by Iran and Syria, spoke before a mass Ashoura procession. Whipping up the crowds on the most solemn day for Shi’ites worldwide, Mr Nasrallah declared: “Defending the prophet should continue all over the world. Let Condoleezza Rice and Bush and all the tyrants shut up. We are an Islamic nation that cannot tolerate, be silent or be lax when they insult our prophet and sanctities. “We will uphold the messenger of God not only by our voices but also by our blood,” he told the crowds, estimated by organisers at about 700,000. Police had no final estimates but said the figure was likely to be even higher. Speaking about the controversy on Wednesday, US President George Bush condemned the deadly rioting sparked by the cartoons and urged foreign leaders to halt the spreading violence. Secretary of State Ms Rice said Iran and Syria “have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes. And the world ought to call them on it.” Iran has rejected the US accusations. Syria has not commented publicly.

Intellectuals Condemn Mohammed Caricatures

Influential figures from the world of politics and the arts added their voices to the protests by Muslims worldwide over the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that were published in the European media as the holiest day for Shiites, Ashura, was observed in various countries. Polish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa condemned the publication of a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed by a top-shelf Polish national daily newspaper. The legendary freedom fighter of the 1980s anti-communist Solidarity trade union criticized the “disturbing activities of media in Poland, propagating texts impinging on the good principles of respect and value for religious convictions … which strike Muslims in a painful manner.” Two Nobel Prize-winning authors blasted the media that published the caricatures as irresponsible or arrogant in interviews with the Spanish daily El Pais. “It would not be a question of censoring oneself, but of using common sense,” said Portugal’s Jose Saramago, winner of the 1998 literature Nobel. “This was a conscious and planned provocation by a right-wing Danish newspaper,” said German Guenter Grass, who took the Nobel Prize in 1999. Grass described the Danish publishers of the caricatures as “xenophobic right-wing radicals” and the subsequent violent Muslim protests as “a fundamentalist response to a fundamentalist act.” “Where does the West take that arrogance to impose what must and must not be done?” Grass asked, stressing the relativity of the freedom of opinion in the West where the media are controlled by conglomerates “monopolizing the public opinion.” Others called for a redefinition of the freedom of expression that incorporates “standardized” universally-accepted religious taboos, prominent Muslim scholars said. “There are religious axioms which are enshrined in the well- established international norms and conventions, and the Western world does know they should be respected,” said Ibrahim Ezzedine, chairman of Jordan’s state-run Higher Media Council. The condemnation came as hundreds of thousands of Shiites and followers of the Hezbollah movement marched through the streets of Beirut’s southern suburbs in protest against the caricatures. Several thousand South African Muslims staged a demonstration in the streets of Cape Town. The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), the body that organized the march, handed to Danish Ambassador Torben Brylle a memorandum calling on the Danish government to apologize to Muslims around the world. Protests were also planned for Hong Kong, the city’s 70,000-strong Muslim community has announced. Meanwhile in Denmark, the newspaper at the centre of the ongoing row refuted reports that it planned to publish anti-Semitic or anti- Christian caricatures, the chief editor said Thursday. Jyllands-Posten’s editor Carsten Juste’s statement was published on the newspaper’s website after a Danish television channel reported that publication was pending this Sunday. Websites have in recent days been set up in Denmark and elsewhere offering people a chance to send an apology to Muslims offended by Jyllands-Posten’s publication as one group of Arab and Muslim youths apologized for the violence that followed the caricatures. The government continued efforts to defuse the crisis Thursday. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was “prepared to listen to all proposals,” a Rasmussen aide told Deutsche Presse- Agentur but was unable to meet Thursday with a parliamentary deputy of Turkish origin to discuss an idea of Turkey mediating in the ongoing row over the controversial Mohammed cartoons. In a related development, Aarhus police said they would not pursue a complaint of blasphemy filed against Jyllands-Posten over the publication last September of the controversial caricatures. In Norway, the Muslim al-Jinah Foundation filed a police complaint against Vebjorn Selbekk, chief editor of Christian weekly Magazinet that recently reprinted the Mohammed caricatures. In Iran, Vice President Isfandiar Rahim Mashaee denied US accusations that his country was inflaming Muslim anger against the West over the caricatures. “It’s a lie, 100 per cent baseless,” Mashaee told reporters after meeting with his Indonesian counterpart, Vice President Yusuf Kalla, in Jakarta. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday accused Iran and Syria of stoking anti-Western sentiment among Muslims for their own purposes. Attempts to publish the controversial caricatures in the Muslim world have met fierce opposition. Malaysian cabinet members demanded the immediate suspension of a major newspaper after it reprinted the caricatures. The editor of the English-language Sarawak Tribune had resigned Sunday after admitting to approving the publication of the caricatures. Station directors, editors and journalists were suspended from their posts at two Algerian television stations because their news programmes showed the Mohammed caricatures. An American university professor in the United Arab Emirates was fired after distributing among her students a copy of the caricatures, saying her action was within the rights of “freedom of opinion and expression.” Protests in the Muslim world took a back seat as Shiites celebrated their holiest festival, Ashura, that commemorates the martyrdom of Mohammed’s grandson, Imam Hussein, who they believe to be the prophet’s true successor. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shiites marched in the holy city of Karbala in tribute to Hussein who was killed in battle there in the year 680. Clashes between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in the western Afghan city of Herat left at least four people dead, while violence also clouded Ashura commemorations in Pakistan, where at least 12 people were killed and 20 wounded when two bombs ripped through a procession of Shiite Muslims in the Hangu district of North-Western Frontier Province, 245 kilometres west of Islamabad.

Niger: Thousands Protest Caricature Of Prophet Muhammad

Thousands of Muslims took to the streets of the capital of Niger this week as protests against the publication of controversial cartoon images of the Prophet Muhammad reached West Africa. Organisers said 50,000 people had turned out Tuesday in the dusty streets of Niamey after a call from religious leaders to press the government to cut diplomatic relations with Denmark, where the caricatures were originally published. An IRIN correspondent estimated the turnout at 10,000. Muslim rage has swept Europe and the Middle East after the publication of the caricatures, some showing the prophet wearing a turban resembling a bomb. And Niger’s Muslim leaders dubbed Denmark “an enemy of Islam.” “The amalgam knowingly maintained between Islam and terrorism is simply coarse and unacceptable,” said protester Elhaj Tahir Ousmane. “The provocation was too much, it is necessary to put an end to it by all means.” In northern Nigeria, where some states have adopted Islamic Sharia law, protestors took to the streets on Monday chanting “Allahu Akbar [God is great]” and burning the Danish flag. The caricatures, first published in September, angered Muslims in part because Islam bars any depiction of the image of the Prophet Muhammad. And many Muslims have called for boycotts of Danish goods, or held protests outside Danish facilities. In Niger, security forces looked on as Tuesday’s demonstrations passed off without violence. Ranked by the UN as the world’s poorest country, Niger is 98 percent Muslim and most Nigeriens practice a moderate form of Islam, often infusing local cultural practices into their worship. But in recent years, Nigeriens have become increasingly aware of a rise in fundamentalism, particularly in the east of the country bordering northern Nigeria. The United States military has chosen Niger as one of a handful of countries on the fringes of the Sahara desert for a half-billion-dollar programme for training security personnel in tackling terrorism.

Israeli Arabs Jump Into Cartoon Fray By Agencies

For the first time since the international crisis began, Israeli Arabs took to the streets yesterday afternoon to protest cartoons deemed insulting to the Prophet Mohammed that were published in the European press. At least 500 demonstrators gathered peacefully in the Galilee city of Nazareth. A procession set off from the Al-Salaam mosque toward the Basilica of the Annunciation, where Christian tradition says Mary was informed of Jesus’ impending birth. Sheik Raed Salah, a radical leader of the Islamic Movement, was to address the crowd later. “Allah is the only God, and Mohammed is his prophet,” loudspeakers blared as the march began. Meanwhile in the Palestinian Authority, hundreds of Palestinians stormed European institutions and burned German and Danish flags in Gaza City. About two dozen protesters stormed the German cultural center, smashing windows and breaking doors. Down the street, about 30 Palestinians threw stones at the European Commission building, and replaced the EU flag with a Palestinian flag, before police brought them under control. About 50 schoolchildren and teenagers gathered on one corner of the street shortly after to try to resume the attacks on the two buildings, but Palestinian riot police, armed with batons, pushed them back. The youths threw stones at the police, then fled. Later in the day, about 400 protesters marched on the European Commission building, accompanied by a loudspeaker car that blared, “Insulting the prophet means insulting every Muslim,” and urged merchants to boycott Danish products: “With our blood and souls we defend you, O Prophet.” Protesters also set fire to a Danish flag. Police set up a cordon at the building to prevent stone-throwing, but protesters heeded organizers’ appeals and didn’t attack. Most of the demonstrators were merchants who called for a boycott of European goods, and many carried small books of the Koran. Elsewhere in Gaza City, armed men with links to the Fatah Party handed out red carnations to students, nuns and the priest at a Roman Catholic school to apologize for other Fatah gunmen who threatened earlier in the week to target churches as part of their protests. Danish and French members of the international observer team at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt stayed away from Gaza on Thursday, and instead worked from the group’s headquarters in the nearby Israeli city of Ashkelon, said a spokesman, Julio de La Guardia. Meanwhile in Damascus, demonstrators set fire to the building that houses the Norwegian, Danish and Swedish embassies in Syria. While no diplomats were reported injured, these attacks were the most violent so far in the protests against the cartoons. The cartoons have caused a furor across the Muslim world, in part because Islamic law is interpreted as forbidding any depictions of Islam’s holiest figure. Aggravating the affront was one caricature of Mohammed wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. The cartoons were first published in Denmark, and then in newspapers elsewhere in Europe in a show of solidarity with freedom of the press. In Brussels, the European Union called on the Palestinian Authority to protect EU buildings from attack. Danish Foreign Minister Stig Moeller called the Damascus embassy attack “horrible and totally unacceptable” on public television. He said he telephoned his Syrian counterpart, Farouk al-Sharaa, “to tell him it was totally unacceptable that Syrian authorities have not been able to protect the embassy.” He said al-Sharaa said he regretted the incident. The United States condemned the cartoons, siding with Muslims outraged that newspapers put freedom of the press over respect for religion. “We … respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable,” said State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper. Major U.S. publications have not republished the cartoons. The U.S. response contrasted with that of European governments, which have generally accepted the newspapers’ rights to print the cartoons. The furor cuts to the question of which is more sacred in the Western world – freedom of expression or respect for religious beliefs. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, applauded the U.S. position. The State Department reaction “was a strong statement in support of Muslims around the world,” he said.

Newspapers Challenge Muslims Over Cartoons Of Mohammed

By David Rennie in Brussels Newspapers across Europe yesterday defended what one editor called the “right to blasphemy” by printing Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that have provoked fury in the Arab world. A slow-burning row over the cartoons, originally published in Jyllands-Posten in September, exploded after they were denounced by a senior Saudi Arabian cleric last week. Protests have included street demonstrations, flag burnings, death threats, bomb scares and a crippling consumer boycott of Danish goods by businesses in several Gulf states. That anger spread across Europe after the cartoons were published yesterday in France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Syria became the latest nation to withdraw its ambassador from Copenhagen, after Saudi Arabia and Libya. In France the front page of the France-Soir tabloid carried the headline “Yes, We Have the Right to Caricature God” and a cartoon of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian divinities floating on a cloud. Inside, the paper re-ran the Danish drawings. “The appearance of the 12 drawings in the Danish press provoked emotions in the Muslim world because the representation of Allah and his prophet is forbidden,” it said. “But because no religious dogma can impose itself on a democratic and secular society, France Soir is publishing the incriminating caricatures.” France has western Europe’s largest Muslim community, with an estimated five million people. Mohammed Bechari, the president of the National Federation of the Muslims of France, said his group would start legal proceedings against France Soir because the pictures were “hurting the feelings of 1.2 billion Muslims”. The drawings were originally commissioned by Jyllands-Posten from Danish artists after an author could not find an illustrator to depict Mohammed in a biography of the Prophet. The Danish cartoonists submitted a range of images, all banned by Islam, which strictly forbids depictions of the Prophet to avoid encouraging idolatry. One depicts a grinning, knife-wielding Mohammed flanked by two veiled women. Another, which appeared on the front page of Die Welt in Germany, and in La Stampa in Italy, shows the Prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban, topped by a hissing fuse. The Spanish newspaper ABC used a photograph of the original Danish newspaper, with its 12 cartoons. Die Welt also ran an editorial regretting a decision by the Danish newspaper to apologise for the upset caused. The Jyllands Posten has not apologised but its editor, Carsten Juste, said he would not have printed them “had we known that it would lead to boycotts and Danish lives being endangered”. Die Welt described the “right to blasphemy” as a key freedom of an open society. Roger K_ppel, the editor of Die Welt, said his main motive for running the cartoon had been the “news value of the story”. But he stood by the decision. “In our culture, we have a tradition that even our most holy things can be subjected to satire or criticism. Muslims have to understand that in our culture, the representation of a holy man has another meaning.” The Left-wing Berliner Zeitung daily printed two of the caricatures as part of its coverage of the controversy, but said Denmark should accept the boycott of its goods as the price to pay for freedoms of speech. “If we really want to protect our values, then we should respect this call for boycott and just accept the sacrifices they will incur.” Armed militants in the Palestinian territories this week warned Danish, Norwegian and Swedish citizens to leave the Gaza Strip and West Bank or risk being killed.

Muslims March Over Cartoons Of The Prophet

By Kate Connolly in Berlin A Danish experiment in testing “the limits of freedom of speech” has backfired – or succeeded spectacularly – after newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed provoked an outcry. Thousands of Muslims have taken to the streets in protest at the caricatures, the newspaper that published them has received death threats and two of its cartoonists have been forced into hiding. Jyllands-Posten, Denmark’s leading daily, defied Islam’s ban on images of the Prophet by printing cartoons by 12 different artists. In one he is depicted as a sabre-wielding terrorist accompanied by women in burqas, in another his turban appears to be a bomb and in a third he is portrayed as a schoolboy by a blackboard. The ambassadors of 11 Muslim countries called on Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister, to take “necessary steps” against the “defamation of Islam”. But Mr Rasmussen, the head of a centre-Right minority coalition dependent for its survival on support from an anti-foreigner party, called the cartoons a “necessary provocation” and refused to act. “I will never accept that respect for a religious stance leads to the curtailment of criticism, humour and satire in the press,” he said. The Danish debate over how to integrate Muslims has raged for years, with nursery school menus and women-only opening hours for swimming pools particular battlegrounds. But the cartoons satirising the Prophet have injected a dangerous new element into the controversy. “This is a pubescent demonstration of freedom of expression that consciously and totally without reason has trampled over the feelings of many people,” said Uffe Ellemann Jensen, a former foreign minister and member of Mr Rasmussen’s party. Carsten Juste, the editor of Jyllands-Posten, spurned demands that he apologise, saying he “would not dream” of saying sorry. “To demand that we take religious feelings into consideration is irreconcilable with western democracy and freedom of expression,” he said. “This doesn’t mean that we want to insult any Muslims.” Juste commissioned the cartoons after learning of the difficulties a children’s writer, Kare Bluitgen, had in finding an illustrator for his book on the Koran and the Prophet’s life. Bluitgen said all the artists he approached feared the wrath of Muslims if they drew images of Mohammed. Many cited the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by an Islamist as a reason for refusal. Juste said he wanted to counter growing “self censorship” and see how many cartoonists would be “bold enough” to draw the Prophet. One artist, Franz F_chsel, said he intended no offence. “But I live in 2005, not 905 and I use my quill in the way that Danish law allows me.” Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch MP famous for her criticism of Islam and author of the screenplay for Mr Van Gogh’s film Submission, supported the paper. “It’s necessary to taunt Muslims on their relationship with Mohammed,” she said. “Otherwise we will never have the dialogue we need to establish with Muslims on the most central question: ‘Do you really feel that every Muslim in 2005 should follow the way of life the Prophet had 1,400 years ago, as the Koran dictates?’ “

Europe Battles Islam’s Rise, Via Head Scarves

By Mathew Schofield With immigration from Muslim countries rising throughout Europe, politicians across the continent are pushing for laws reining in the Muslim community. Often the legislation is being introduced by politicians who represent centrist and leftist parties that traditionally champion human rights. The movement has little opposition. When France’s 577-member National Assembly approved the head-scarf ban last month, only 36 legislators voted against it. The margin was just as one-sided when the Senate gave it final approval Wednesday, 276-20. Top French officials, including President Jacques Chirac, have said the ban will help preserve France’s secular national character. Muslims have become fair game for a number of European political factions. Feminists say the head scarf is a sign of the oppression of women. On the right, politicians say Muslims will tear apart the fabric of all that’s European.

Headscarves In The Headlines

France is not the only country where headscarves have proved contentious. A number of countries already ban the garment from schools and other public buildings, while elsewhere it is the failure of women to don a veil which prompts outrage.

Singapore
Singapore, keen to avoid racial and religious tensions between its ethnic Chinese majority and the Malay Muslim minority, has banned the scarf from schools. The Singapore government believes the ban is necessary to promote racial harmony, but Muslims say it infringes upon their religious freedoms.

Germany
The issue has come to a head in recent months after Germany’s supreme court ruled that a school was wrong to exclude a Muslim teacher because she wore a headscarf. The judges declared that current legislation did not allow for such a decision, but added that individual states would be within their rights to make legal provisions to this effect.

France The French parliament is widely expected to approve legislation banning overt religious symbols – including headscarves – from schools. President Jacques Chirac believes such a ban is necessary to preserve the secularity of the French state.

Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority recently warned of “”grave consequences”” if women continued to appear unveiled.

Turkey
For the past 80 years Turks have lived in a secular state founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who rejected headscarves as backward looking in his campaign to secularise Turkish society. Scarves are consequently banned in civic spaces in the country.

Belgium
Two politicians, inspired by developments in neighbouring France, are hoping to push legislation through parliament that would ban the headscarf from state schools.

Russia
Muslim women last year won the right to wear the headscarf for identification photos, which was banned in Russia in 1997.

Denmark
A Muslim woman last year lost a high-profile court case against a large supermarket chain in Denmark after she had been fired for wearing a headscarf at work in 2001. The court ruled that her contract contained a dress code banning headgear.”