Formation of the ‘Alliance for Open-Mindedness’: An attempt at inter-religious dialogue in a toxic political climate

Leading representatives of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim religious organisations, as well as the heads of employer associations and unions, and of umbrella associations in the fields of culture, sports and social welfare joined hands in the creation of the ‘Alliance for Open-Mindedness’. According to Zekeriya Altug, spokesman of the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany, the Alliance’s objective is to speak out against fringe movements – especially those from the populist far-right – claiming to represent the societal mainstream. This sentiment – a thinly veiled reference to right-wing protestors to chant ‘We are the people!’ at their anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rallies – was echoed by the leaders of the other confessional organisations. The Alliance conceives of itself as a civil society platform without any party affiliation, seeking to offer a space for religious and social dialogue. Under the header ‘human dignity shall be inviolable’, the Alliance issued an initial proclamation demanding a less hysterical debate on questions of immigration and integration that would remain mindful of fundamental commitments to human rights and to the German Basic Law.

Between Black and Immigrant Muslims, an Uneasy Alliance

Under the glistening dome of a mosque on Long Island, hundreds of men sat cross-legged on the floor. Many were doctors and engineers born in Pakistan and India. Dressed in khakis, polo shirts and the odd silk tunic, they fidgeted and whispered.

One thing stood between them and dinner: A visitor from Harlem was coming to ask for money.

A towering black man with a gray-flecked beard finally swept into the room, his bodyguard trailing him. Wearing a long, embroidered robe and matching hat, he took the microphone and began talking about a different group of Muslims, the thousands of African-Americans who have found Islam in prison.

“We are all brothers and sisters,” said the visitor, known as Imam Talib.

One thing stood between them and dinner: A visitor from Harlem was coming to ask for money.
A towering black man with a gray-flecked beard finally swept into the room, his bodyguard trailing him. Wearing a long, embroidered robe and matching hat, he took the microphone and began talking about a different group of Muslims, the thousands of African-Americans who have found Islam in prison.

“We are all brothers and sisters,” said the visitor, known as Imam Talib.

FBI, Muslims report progress over training materials

FBI officials say they are willing to consider a proposal from a coalition of Muslim and interfaith groups to establish a committee of experts to review materials used in FBI anti-terrorism training.

The coalition raised the idea during a Feb 8 meeting with FBI Director Robert Mueller, who met with the groups to discuss pamphlets, videos and other anti-terrorism training materials that critics say are either Islamophobic or factually incorrect.

“We’re open to the idea, but they need to submit a proposal first,” said Christopher Allen, an FBI spokesman who was in the meeting.
Groups at the meeting included the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Interfaith Alliance, and the Shoulder-to-Shoulder campaign.

Mueller told representatives of the groups that FBI experts had reviewed almost all of the agency’s training materials, including 160,000 pages of documents. More than 700 documents and 300 presentations were subsequently pulled from the agency’s training materials.
Materials that were pulled contained incorrect or imprecise information, were stereotypical, or “in poor taste,” the FBI said.

Dutch MP Asks Imams to Denounce Homophobia

1 Feb 2012

 

Education minister van Bijsterveldt has appealed to the country’s imams to speak out against homophobia. Recent comments from the Dutch Institute of Psychologists (NIP) and the country’s Moroccan-Dutch Alliance (SMN) organization have drawn attention to the difficulties that Moroccan homosexuals, particularly youth, face. The organizations commented that although there is “progress” with respect to homosexual acceptance, gay Moroccan youth are more likely to suffer from psychological problems.

Van Bijsterveldt declined to impose mandatory attention to homosexuality in elementary schools, saying that it is up to the school to determine curriculum in that respect. However he did call upon the country’s imam’s to support gay rights, as “It must really come from inside one’s own community.”

German President Wulff Appeals to Fight Prejudice

11.12.2011

On his trip to Doha, Qatar, the German President Wulff has called on Muslims and Christians around the world to tackle existing prejudices and unite in a fight against violence. According to Wulff, religious pluralism was an important foundation for a peaceful coexistence in diverse societies. In particular religious leaders should make some efforts to improve mutual respect. Wulff made his appeal during the “Alliance of Civilizations”-meeting in Doha, an initiative by the United Nations to combat mutual suspicion, fear and misunderstanding between Islamic and Western societies.

Controversy about Islam prayer at Ontario school continues

The Globe and Mail – July 8, 2011

More than two-thirds of the population that surrounds Valley Park, in Toronto’s northeast, have arrived in the past 20 years, primarily from India, Pakistan and more recently Afghanistan – reflecting Canada’s shifting urban demographics. The school draws many of its students from Thorncliffe Park, a one-kilometre horseshoe of apartment buildings packed with 30,000 people – a neighbourhood that is known for having the highest concentration of Muslims in Canada. Now it’s becoming known for something else: It’s at the centre of a growing debate over the place of religion in the public school system.

This week, a complaint about imam-led prayer sessions at the school has made unlikely allies of diverse religious interest groups and secularists, from the Canadian Hindu Advocacy to the Muslim Canadian Congress to the Canadian Secular Alliance.

From November to March, the pupils enter the cafeteria segregated by sex, with boys at the front separated from girls at the back. The imam stands at the front with a microphone and begins with a short lesson in English, usually about the importance of discipline or mutual respect, said a parent volunteer, and then leads a prayer in Arabic. Until a week ago, Valley Park’s three-year policy of accommodating Muslim pupils who wanted to pray during school hours had caused barely a ripple. Then the Canadian Hindu Advocacy complained that it violated a policy banning religious instruction in public schools, which raised a chorus of opposition as well as support.

Citizens Forge a New Alliance against “Islamicization”

9 February 2011

A number of neighborhood anti-mosque initiatives in Vienna are coming together to create a new anti-Islam federation, the “Pro-Austria Movement” (BPÖ), also called the “Federation against Islamic Multipurpose Centers and the Islamicization of Austria.” The new federation brings together four separate citizens’ initiatives (Dammstraße, Trostgasse, Rappgasse, and the “Garten-Gallier”) which had been fighting against the construction of Islamic cultural centers in their neighborhoods.

While in many cases, the Islamic associations in question have already received permits for the construction of their respective centers, these associations still hold out hope that they may be able to stop the construction before it begins. “As long as there aren’t any construction machines showing up, I still have hope,” said Hannelore Schuster, spokesperson for the Dammstraße initiative.

In general, these citizens’ initiatives have protested against the noise and the traffic that these centers would supposedly bring with them, however on their web pages the main theme is Islam itself. According to Cengiz Günay, from the Austrian Institute for International Politics, there is a growing “ethnicization of everyday conflicts,” and that there would not be the same problems were non-Muslim groups to be interested in building such centers. He says the centers function merely as a “village square” for many immigrants who do in fact come from villages, and are simply seeking a place in which to meet. Nonetheless, he says he understands the feelings of the local residents involved in the anti-mosque initiatives, and regrets that the situation has now escalated to an “all or nothing” mindset on both sides.

Compromise is increasingly unlikely in many of these local conflicts. In the Dammstraße case, the local Turkish Muslim association ATIB is no longer speaking with the citizens’ initiative, though the latter would not accept the building of a smaller center as a compromise in any case.

Schuster continues to believe that with the new federation they will ultimately win. She points to positive signs from politicians, and not only the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), who finance the federation’s website: following the Vienna elections, the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) has been increasingly “reasonable.”

New Turkish Movie Sparks Interreligious Controversy

3 February 2010
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre has called on the chancellors of both Austria and Germany to prohibit the new Turkish film, “Valley of the Wolves: Palestine,” characterizing it an “immediate danger to Muslim-Jewish relations.” Originally a popular Turkish TV series which has since been made into a number of movies, this latest one has been denounced as a “hate film” by Shimon Samuels, the director of international affairs of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. One of the last of the series, “Valley of the Wolves: Iraq,” equally created controversy for its portrayal of a Jewish-American army doctor involved in organ trafficking.

The President of the Vienna Israelite Community (IKG) Ariel Muzicant has equally criticized the “telling silence” of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) on the subject, calling it “unacceptable,” while stating that is it further proof that the IGGiÖ “is not interested in any kind of open interconfessional dialogue.” The President of the IGGiÖ Anas Schakfeh has responded by saying that Muzicant’s criticism is “absurd:” not only does the IGGiÖ not have the authority to prohibit the screening of a move, but it cannot either take responsibility “for everything, that occurs in the Islamic world.” Moreover, Schakfeh contented that the IGGiÖ was always open for interreligious dialogue, and that it had been the IKG which had unilaterally ended dialogue some time ago.

The movie was equally defended by the far-right Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), which denounced attempts to “censure art and culture,” and which defended the film on the grounds of promoting “a critical discourse” on even in the Middle East.

Dutch Politician to Establish Anti-Islam “Alliance”

Geert Wilders, leader of the right wing Freedom Party (PVV) announced
Thursday that he will establish and international umbrella organization
to “fight for freedom and against Islam”, ANP reports. The
International Freedom Alliance is intended to include individuals and
organizations from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany
and France, and to be formalized by the end of this year. According to
WIlders, IFA aims to operate between the traditional conservative
parties and what he called “unsavoury” far-right parties in these
countries.

Dutch muslims targeted in voting campaigns

Various religious and social organizations are addressing the Netherlands’ Muslim population in advance of national elections on June 9, 2010. While some organizations are encouraging active participation in the election, others are urging Muslims not to vote. Radical Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir set up a website and handed out flyers at Dutch mosques urging Muslims not to vote, as no candidate provides sufficient support for Muslims while their participation would legitimize the election.

Alternately, the Council of Moroccan Mosques in North Holland is urging Muslim participation in the election.  The Dutch Moroccan Alliance has produced a video and will send representatives into the community to speak Moroccan youth in an attempt to “get out the Moroccan vote.”