A call by the controversial MP Geert Wilders to ban the Koran in the Netherlands has led to a flood of negative reactions from politicians and community leaders in the Dutch media today. Christian Democrat foreign minister Maxine Verhagen is quoted by ANP news agency as saying that Wilders has _exceeded the boundaries of decency’ with his comments. Religious freedom, like the freedom of expression, is the foundation of the Dutch constitution, he said. Verhagen has sent Dutch ambassadors abroad a copy of a letter in which the cabinet distances itself from Wilders’ comments. Statements by Wilders earlier this year that Dutch Muslims should rip up the Koran caused considerable anger in a number of countries. Integration minister Ella Vogelaar already made it clear yesterday that banning the Koran in the Netherlands is out of the question as far as the cabinet is concerned and will remain so. Wilders’ comments damage inter-community relations, she said.
President Nicolas Sarkozy hastily altered his month-old government on Tuesday, adding women, ethnic minorities and members of rival parties to his cabinet after the second round of the parliamentary elections. The president – reviled by many minority youths because of his law-and-order crackdowns and demeaning comments – gave two junior positions to women of immigrant origin. Rama Yade, a 30-year-old French woman of Senegalese origin, will be the youngest member of the government and in charge of human rights under Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Fadela Amara, whose parents came to France from Algeria and who founded an advocacy group for Muslim women (Ni Putes Ni Soumises), will be in charge of urban planning.
The appointment of two Muslim politicians to the new Dutch cabinet has reawakened a row in the country over dual nationality. Nebahat Albayrak and Ahmed Aboutaleb are both Dutch passport holders, but also have Turkish and Moroccan passports respectively. Right-wing opposition parties want to see an end to dual nationality. The row has led to a call for Princess Maxima, the wife of the Crown Prince, to give up her Argentine nationality. Ahmed Aboutaleb, from Morocco, is the State Secretary for Social Affairs in the new cabinet. Nebahat Albayrak is Turkish and becomes the State Secretary for Justice. Lowered popularity They are the first Muslims to reach the heart of Dutch politics. The opposition right-wing Freedom Party has objected to the new centrist government being allowed to have members with dual nationality. The outgoing right-wing Integration Minister, Rita Verdonk, said Princess Maxima, who is married to the heir to the Dutch throne, Prince Willem Alexander, should give up her Argentine passport. Opinion polls show the row over dual nationality has lowered the popularity of the new government. But Ahmed Aboutaleb is credited with helping immigrants to find jobs as well as pushing for more integration.
Dutch Muslims have criticised a government proposal to ban women from wearing the burqa or veils which cover the face in public places. Dutch Muslim groups say a ban would make the country’s one million Muslims feel victimised and alienated. The Dutch cabinet said burqas – a full body covering that also obscures the face – disturb public order and safety. The proposed ban would apply to wearing the burqa in the street, and in trains, schools, buses and law courts in the Netherlands. Other forms of face coverings, such as veils, and crash helmets with visors that obscure the face, would also be covered by a ban. Critics of the proposed ban say it would violate civil rights. The main Muslim organisation in the Netherlands, CMO, said the plan was an “over-reaction to a very marginal problem.”
The central challenge today is: integration by education, explained North-Rhine/Westphalia Prime Minister Juergen Ruettgers (CDU). Earlier, the cabinet approved a twenty-point “plan of action on integration”. The plan includes the development of an Islamic religious curriculum, in co-operation with Muslim organisations, to be taught in German by trained religious teachers and falling under the official school supervision system. The curriculum will be tested with pilot projects in Cologne and Duisburg. The plan of actions is also North-Rhine/Westphalia’s preparation for the forthcoming integration summit of the Federal Government on 14 July.
PARIS – French President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday accused newspapers printing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed of “provocation,” after yet another French publication put the contentious caricatures on its pages. “Anything that can hurt the convictions of another, particularly religious convictions, must be avoided. Freedom of expression must be exercised in a spirit of responsibility,” Chirac told his cabinet, according to a government spokesman.
By RASHMEE ROSHAN LAL LONDON: Here’s a hard, ugly fact: Just three four days to Election Day and Britain’s Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims are flexing lingual muscle, the only political organ in an Asian body made up of an estimated three-million people. But, here’s the beautiful fiction: the Asian vote can make or break disparate British politicians in at least 60 constituencies up and down the country. And another untruth: the Asian political voice is loud and clear and Britain’s politicians would be foolish to tune it out. So, there is lots of talk. Jagtar Singh of the Sikh Federation, the UK’s first and only Sikh political party with aspirations to represent the 336,000 Sikhs totted up by the census, tells TOI: “The Sikh vote matters in about 40 to 50 key constituencies, marginals, where there are a large number of Sikh votes and where there are (Labour) cabinet and junior Ministers that ‘depend’ on the Sikh vote.” Adds Hasmukh Shah of the VHP, which has aspirations to speak for the UK’s 750,000 Hindus, “The Hindu vote matters materially in at least nine key constituencies.” Says Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain, which is urging its 1.2 million co-religionists to ‘Help make the Muslim vote count’: “At least 11 constituencies have the highest Muslim vote. There, they can make a difference.” But here’s the sad reality, says Lord Bhikhu Parekh, leading academic and author of several books on the dilemmas of policy in multi-ethnic Britain.” Britain’s Asian community is politically unimportant. Unlike the Afro-Caribbeans, it has no cabinet or even junior ministers. It has no great leaders. If the Asian community matters, it matters only because of its numerical strength in some areas. At the end of the day, that doesn’t count for much.” Punters agree on the state of Asian political impotence. Many believe Asian political disinterest is starkly revealed by the shocking fact that Asians will not automatically support Asian candidates in at least four key constituencies. Instead, the Asian vote in Gujarati Muslim-dominant Blackburn, Sikh-dominant Wolverhampton South and Edinburgh West and Muslim-Hindu-dominant Leicester South is expected to go to white candidates. Explains Jagtar Singh: “I know we have Sandy Parmar, a Sikh woman married to a Hindu, standing in Wolverhampton South. But she is not a practising Sikh. The Sikh community would be loathe to lose its sympathetic MP, the Labour incumbent Rob Marris. He has done a lot on Sikh issues. Sikhs don’t care if their Wolverhampton South MP is Sikh or not. They do care that he is interested in Sikh issues.” Says Baan Singh, who is visibly disinterested in co-religionist and incumbent Leicester South MP Parmjit Singh Gill, “He may be one of ours, but what will we gain from voting for him?” Adds Zafar Sareshwala, a businessman from Ahmedabad, whoruns a financial services company in the Gujarati Muslim dominant north-western English constituency of Dewsbury, “It’s interesting that Gujarati Muslim Imtiaz Ameen, who is challenging Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in the Gujarati Muslim-dominant Blackburn constituency, may even lose his deposit. Gujarati Muslims would prefer to vote for the man who has done something for them, rather than voting for just another Gujarati Muslim.” Parekh says the palpable Asian disaffection with Asian candidates stems from the complete failure to make a mark by the seven Asian MPs in the last parliament. Says Parekh, “Out of all the Asian MPs, everyone who claims to speak for the community, there has been no political heavyweight, no one who could justifiably be seen as the Asian Paul Boateng.” Many agree Britain’s Asians are very far away from producing a Paul Boateng, Parekh’s reference to the articulate, highly-educated, urbane Afro-Caribbean Labour cabinet minister now destined to be Britain’s high commissioner in South Africa. Boateng is close to Tony Blair and enjoyed a glittering career as a lawyer before he rose to the very highest ranks of government. Laments Sareshwala, “the Asian marginalisation has happened because the British Asian is too preoccupied with making money.” He insists: “If UK Muslims, or British Asians as a whole want to matter, they have to adopt the Jewish model of empowerment. They need to get into important positions in the media. They need to join political parties at university level. The educated and talented Asian needs to go into politics rather than only trying to become rich.” But still the Sikh, Hindu and Muslim drumroll continues: make your vote count because it can make or break the government. Reading between the lines, that may be the British government of 2050, not the one elected in 2005.
Islamic preachers and other spiritual leaders from abroad could soon have to take courses to help them integrate better into Swiss society. The government proposal comes at a time of growing public debate about the role of Muslims in a multicultural society such as Switzerland’s. The justice ministry is planning to submit the plan to the cabinet within the next few weeks, according to the Federal Office of Immigration, Integration and Emigration (IMES).
Islamic leaders sceptical about scheme to discourage support for al-Qaida by vetting radical imams and assisting moderates By Hugh Muir Secret government plans designed to win the “hearts and minds” of young Muslims and dissuade the vulnerable from resorting to terrorism were strongly criticised by community organisations yesterday. Tony Blair has assembled a group of senior civil servants from nine Whitehall departments to work on a project, codenamed Contest, aimed at the 10,000 young Muslims whom officials fear may be sympathetic to al-Qaida. The project, details of which were revealed yesterday in cabinet documents leaked to the Sunday Times, would lead to an unprecedented level of government intervention in the political and religious practices of Muslim communities.
The General Assembly of the Moslems of Belgium introduced to the Court Friday arbitrage proceedings for annulment of the law of July 2004 creating a Commission in charge of the renewal of associations representing Islam. The same step aims to arrest the royal execution of September 23, 2004 before the State Council. The reason is “unacceptable” internal interference in the associations of Muslim worship. For the cabinet minister of religion, Laurette Onkelinx, one wants to be careful with these recourse. “The institution of the Commission is only to bring back peace within the community, which is torn on the renewal of the Assembly of the Executives of the Muslims of Belgium”.