Muslim cabdrivers at Minnesota’s biggest airport will face new penalties, including a two-year revocation of their taxi permits, if they refuse to give rides to travelers carrying liquor or accompanied by dogs, the board overseeing operations ruled Monday. The Metropolitan Airports Commission, which was responding to complaints about the liquor issue, voted unanimously to impose the penalties, which take effect in May. A large number of taxi drivers in the area of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are Muslim Somali immigrants. Many say they believe that the faith’s ban on alcohol consumption includes transporting anyone who carries it. Some also have refused to transport dogs, both pets and guide dogs, saying that they are unclean. The rules cover any driver who refuses a ride for unwarranted reasons. Under the new regulations, a first offense would result in a 30-day cab license suspension. A second offense would mean a two-year taxi license revocation. The current penalty requires only that drivers who refuse a fare go to the end of the taxi queue, which costs them time and money.
A month after the removal of six imams from a U.S. Airways flight spurred accusations of harassment, the federal government has given airport security trainers cultural awareness training about the Islamic pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. This year, an estimated 16,000 American Muslims are making the annual pilgrimage, called the hajj – including several hundred from Long Island. The grueling, five-day ritual, which began yesterday, is a religious duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.
Seventy-two Roissy airport employees were asked to give up their badges on the grounds that they belonged to or were close to fundamentalist Islamist organizations. For Nicolas Sarkozy, the main concern is “to take precautions in a zone where there are millions of passangers.” The following morning, Phillippe de Villiers, president of the Movement for France, opined that there are “probably still reserves of Islamist baggage carriers at Roissy.” De Villiers published a book last April stating that Islamists had taken control of entire zones of Roissy airport, most notably the baggage area. The employees’ lawyer, on the other hand, was livid. He claimed that the airport had no proof at all that the employees had done anything inappropriate. He called the whole incident base discrimination.
PARIS (AP) — One was a security agent once praised for finding a weapon in a piece of luggage, another handled baggage and a third delivered mail. All are practicing Muslims who worked at the main Paris airport – until their security clearance was revoked. They are among 72 people who had security badges taken back – and lost their jobs – over the past 18 months, caught in a campaign by French authorities to guard Charles de Gaulle airport against the risk of terror. The three are among 11 people who have gone to court challenging the loss of their security clearance. A hearing in the case is set for Nov. 10. “What did we do? I want to know,” said Abdelhamid Kalai, who worked as a baggage handler for seven years before being suspended last month. “Sometimes they accuse people because they’re Muslims,” said the 40-year-old father of three, who left his native Algeria in 1992. “We pay for the others.” Daniel Saadat, a lawyer representing four of the former workers, said the case is a stark example of discrimination against innocent Muslims caught up in security fears. Authorities say the situation arises from the need for zero risk at Charles de Gaulle, where 90,000 people work. Security concerns since the Sept. 11 attacks were boosted after British officials in August foiled an alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights. At Orly, the second-largest Paris airport, one or two workers have had their security badges rescinded in the past year, said Yvon Caratero, deputy chief of the Air and Border Police. The office of Jacques Lebrot, deputy prefect responsible for airport security, said 72 airport workers in all had lost security clearance since May 2005, a majority of them for having links to militant Islamic circles. Officials have not released specific details. An Aug. 17 letter reviewed by The Associated Press advised one airport worker at Charles de Gaulle of having an “attitude that could put airport security into question” and “behavior incompatible with obtaining (security) authorization.” An Oct. 5 follow-up letter said the employee’s security clearance was denied due to “elements of behavior and morality.” The decision said the person, who asked not to be identified, “presents a significant danger for airport security.” Saadat, the lawyer, said authorities had been asked for proof of wrongdoing. “So far, we have been shown nothing. The common ground is that they are Muslims.” Herve Bataille, 30, a security agent who converted to Islam 10 years ago, received a commendation letter in March 2005 for finding a weapon in hand luggage at his security checkpoint at Charles de Gaulle. A second letter praised his conduct during an airport visit by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy a month later. Today, he is out of work. Bataille freely talks of traveling to India, Bangladesh and Pakistan and being a member of the Tabligh missionary movement, which started in 1927 in India and is seen today as a potential source of radical Islam. Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001 with explosives in his shoe, attended mosques run by Tabligh. The French newspaper Le Parisien on Wednesday quoted Lebrot, the deputy prefect, as saying one airport worker who lost security clearance had “continuous contact” with a person “in direct contact with Richard Reid.” Bataille denies any connection to the shoebomber, as does another Tabligh follower, Karim Kherfouche, 29, who lost his security clearance and job loading planes with mail for Chronopost, a French speed mail service. Bataille and others said they were questioned about their religion, how they practiced it, and whether they had made a pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s holy site. “If it’s because you put your foot in Pakistan and those countries, then they’re lumping everything together,” said Bataille, who sports a trimmed beard. For Caratero, the police official at Orly, the emphasis is on the “potential danger” a worker represents. Saadat, the lawyer, said no one questions that authorities must ensure airport security. But, he adds, none of the workers who lost their security clearance have been detained for questioning. “If they have something on them, it would be criminal not to follow up,” he said.
By Andrew Burroughs Plans for the first mosque in Athens since Turkish rule under the Ottoman empire have been given the go-ahead by the Greek parliament. Over recent years immigration has brought hundreds of thousands of Muslims to the Greek capital. But while freedom of worship is guaranteed by Greece’s constitution as a member of the European Union, proposals for a new mosque have proved controversial in a country whose population is 96% Greek Orthodox. There are mosques dating from Ottoman times in the old part of Athens known as Plaka. The Fethiye or victory mosque dates back to 1458. But today these buildings are for tourists not for Muslim prayers. One is now a museum of Greek folk art. Athens is the only EU capital without a purpose-built place of worship for its Muslim population. The city’s 200,000 or so Muslims have been meeting in disused basements and whatever space the community can find. Technically these buildings lack proper legal permission to function as places of worship, though the city authorities, aware of the problem, have allowed meetings to continue while a solution is sought. Demonstrations In the run-up to the Olympics, and under pressure to portray Greece as internationalist and conciliatory, the then socialist government chose a site for a Saudi-sponsored mosque and Islamic centre east of Athens to be visible from the international airport. That provoked demonstrations by nearby residents of the staunchly conservative town of Peannia. Today there’s a small Greek Orthodox chapel on site, built to commemorate the protests which thwarted the mosque proposal. On special occasions a bell is rung, and on the hilltop a cross now defiantly looks towards the airport. “We are Orthodox Christians here,” says Angelo Kouias, a Peannia resident, involved in the protests. “We believe that when you arrive at the frontier of Greece it would be better to see a church to symbolise our country rather than a mosque.” “We don’t want another Kosovo here close to Athens,” says Dr Athanasius Papagiorgiou, a surgeon and president of the group which opposed the plan, the religiously conservative Association of St John. “Kosovo used to be a centre for the orthodox faith, and today it’s nothing.” Lost privilege Professor George Moustakis represents a different face of orthodoxy – a campaigner for interfaith understanding who joined a petition in favour of a mosque 17 years ago. “I’ve always opposed the connection of church and state here in Greece, which has meant the church took the decision about other denominations and other faiths and their buildings for worship,” he says. “Parliament has now voted and the church lost that privilege. So there is no problem about the mosque, the government supports it, so does the Orthodox Church.” With the church veto gone and support from the current centre-right government, Naim El Ghandour – who in daily life imports high fashion fabric designs – is the man coordinating plans for a new mosque to be built in the north of Athens. “The Muslims of Athens are Greek tax-payers and we have a right to pray in a respectful building,” he says “We’re asking the government for financial help. We’re not looking for foreign sponsors, this will be a Greek mosque for Greek Muslims.” The saga of the Athens mosque finds echoes elsewhere in Europe. The city of Grenada in Spain has just witnessed the opening of its first new mosque since the 15th Century when the Spanish re-conquered the Iberian peninsula from the Moorish Islamic rulers who built the historic mosques and palaces of Andalusia. The new mosque opened for worship only after two decades of objections from the local authorities on planning grounds. And in Italy a mosque planned for seven years in Colle di Val d’Elsa in a picturesque corner of Tuscany has divided the local community. There the local authority supports the need for a mosque but there have been objections from residents. It is a scenario likely to be repeated around the EU as the need for immigrant labour draws into the community those of a different faith, who then naturally wish to take up their equal right to a place of worship.