In American Cities, No Mirror Image Of Muslims Of Leeds

By NINA BERNSTEIN After the four suicide bombers in London were identified last week, news accounts focused on life in the old mill town of Leeds, where they grew up: the immigrant enclaves, the high unemployment, the rising anger and alienation of Muslim residents. Some Britons grasping for an explanation pointed at those conditions, however tentative their link to homegrown terrorism. Mahendra Kumar Patel, the manager of Patel’s Cash and Carry in Jersey City, has immigrants of many ethnic groups as customers. That rough sketch of Leeds had a familiar ring for many residents of the Northeastern United States, where old mill towns in New Jersey and upstate New York have also drawn many immigrants to faded neighborhoods teetering between blight and renewal. Three of the suspects were raised in immigrant families from Pakistan and one from Jamaica. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are now home to at least 20 percent of the nation’s 219,000 Pakistani immigrants, and more than half of the 513,000 immigrants from Jamaica. But the differences between the suspects’ hometown and the depressed cities around New York are actually stronger than the similarities. Social conditions among British immigrants, for example, appear to be considerably worse than they are in the United States. The 747,000 Pakistanis in Britain, counted among its nonwhite residents, are three times more likely to be out of work than white Britons, according to one of several bleak statistics showcased in the 2001 British census. Forty percent of Pakistani women and 28 percent of Pakistani men are listed as having no job qualifications, and school failure among Caribbean blacks is triple the rate for white Britons, who constitute 92 percent of the population. In America, where few surveys even break out ethnic origins, a much rosier picture emerges from available figures. Pakistani household incomes in New York are close to the $43,393 median and exceed it in New Jersey – $56,566 compared with $55,145, according to 1999 figures, the most recent available. Jamaicans fare a little less well statewide, but have robust rates of household income and educational success in New York City, where they are concentrated. They have a clear edge: English proficiency in a place where one in four residents cannot speak it well, and where nearly half of the work force is foreign-born. While South Asian immigrants to Britain began arriving soon after World War II, they were part of a stream of temporary workers to a small, culturally homogenous country where they remained outsiders. In the United States, the pioneer immigrants from predominantly Muslim lands arrived mainly after 1980, many as university students, and like Caribbean blacks, entered a diverse country built on immigration. But demographics fall short of explaining terrorism. As details emerged about the British suspects’ relatively prosperous lives, experts and immigrant parents alike wondered how much collective benchmarks mean in predicting the extremism of a handful of angry people. Compared with Britain, “We definitely have a different dynamic going on here in the United States,” said Peter Skerry, a political scientist at Boston College. “I don’t know that that necessarily means we’re out of the woods – it doesn’t take very much for a set of individuals to adopt attitudes that could lead to a terrorist act.” Others, like Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center of Immigration Studies, which favors more restriction on immigration, point out that this important demographic difference is temporary: Since most immigrants to the United States from Muslim countries arrived after 1990, few of the children born to them here have reached adulthood yet. He found that more than 85 percent of the 100,000 children born in America to Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are under 20. In a Jersey City shop where fresh goat meat and comic videos in Urdu compete for shelf space, Zafar Zafar, a Pakistani father of three, echoed such concerns last week. Mr. Zafar, whose oldest child is 13, struggled in imperfect English to convey his horror at the case of Shahzad Tanweer, 22, the suspect described as a pious but fun-loving youth whose father owned a fish-and-chips shop in Leeds.

How Well Are American Muslims Fitting In? The Suicide Bombings In London Raise Questions Of Assimilation For The 3 Million Muslims In The US

By Howard LaFranchi Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor WASHINGTON – It’s called the “Virginia Jihad” case: Iraqi-American medical researcher Ali al-Yimimi, who preached in northern Virginia mosques and disseminated his radical thinking on the Web, was sentenced to life imprisonment last week. His crime: inciting followers, many of them young American-born Muslims, to a violent defense of Islam and war against the United States and its intervention in Islamic countries. Mr. Timimi’s sentencing in an Alexandria, Va., courtroom came against the backdrop of the London bombings, which British police now say were carried out by young British Muslims – and not foreign terrorists as in the case of the Sept. 11 attacks. They also say that the mastermind may have been a US-educated Egyptian chemist arrested Friday in Cairo. The London blasts not only brought the phenomenon of terrorists blowing themselves up to Western soil, but they raise new concerns of home-grown terrorism – not to mention a sense of dread about consequences among Britain’s predominately peaceful and moderate Muslim population of approximately 1.6 million. In the US, the attacks and events like the Virginia Jihad case are raising anxieties about immigrants and their allegiances in the midst of a rapidly expanding immigrant population. With a new report finding that births to foreign-born women in the US are at their highest level ever – nearly 1 in 4 – some experts are warning that the traditional rapid assimilation of immigrants risks breaking down – with potentially worrisome consequences. “Traditionally you had in the US an immigrant child learning to swim in a sea of native children, but increasingly it is the children of natives lost in a sea of children of immigrants,” says Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington. His research of US Census figures shows that in 2002, 23 percent of US births were to immigrant mothers – up from 15 percent in 1990. The figure is closer to 25 percent today, Mr. Camarota adds, and could approach 30 percent by 2010. The vast majority of those children are born to Mexican and other immigrant Spanish-speaking women – a fact that prominent experts like Harvard’s Samuel Huntington, of “clash of civilizations” fame, say presents its own special challenges. Camarota estimates that the US Muslim population is about 3 million, including converts. Other organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, put the overall number much higher, at perhaps 6 million. Based on a 2002 study of US immigrants from the broader Middle East, Camarota estimates around 600,000 children of Muslim immigrants in the US. These facts, set in the context of new twists in Islamic terrorism, are raising questions about how well the children of Muslim immigrants are being assimilated. In California, the issue arose last month in the Central Valley town of Lodi – with a community of some 3,000 Muslims, mostly Pakistani immigrants or their descendants – where federal agents arrested two residents, a father and a son, for allegedly lying about links to terrorist-training camps in Pakistan, and two local imams. The Lodi case roiled the city’s Muslim community, raising worries about the sudden national spotlight, and drawing professions of allegiance and love for America from the local Muslim residents. Such cases appear to be feeding a growing sense of concern among Americans about immigration, and about Muslim immigrants in particular. In a new survey published last week by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, Americans joined other Westerners in the perception that Muslims have a strong and growing sense of Islamic identity, and want to remain distinct from the mainstream culture. “What we’re seeing is a relationship between a perception of separatism among Muslims living in these [North American and European] countries and serious concerns about extremism,” says Carolyn Funk, senior project director for the international survey of Islamic extremism. The survey of 17 countries did find that approval of terrorist acts such as suicide bombings is falling in many Muslim countries, with more Muslims expressing concerns about the threat posed by Islamic extremism to their own country. Even Osama bin Laden is losing some of the shine he enjoyed in some countries, such as Morocco and Indonesia, although the survey shows esteem for him actually rising in Jordan and Pakistan. In Western countries with sizable Muslim minorities, the survey shows, concerns about unassimilating populations run parallelel to worries about extremist violence. In the US, where 70 percent said they worried about Islamic extremism in their country, half said they sensed an increasing interest in Islamic identity, and generally saw that as a bad thing. “The US is on the lower end [when compared to European countries],” says Ms. Funk, “but the same trend is there.” Americans seem to be of two minds about immigration, with a new Gallup poll confirming that ambivalence: It finds that a large majority of Americans think immigration is good for the country, while at the same time feeling that current levels of immigration are too high. For experts like CIS’s Camarota and others, those misgivings reflect a concern about the ability – or desire – of some groups to assimilate. At the same time, many Muslim community representatives say assimilation has become more difficult as Islamic extremism has risen to have an impact on the West. And they add that addressing the isolation and fanaticism that can feed homegrown extremism has to be the work of both the Islamic community and the broader society. “The challenges for immigrants, and in particular for Muslims, are more formidable in the post-9/11 era; the assimilation process is a much more difficult mountain to climb,” says Salam al-Marayati, national director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles. Comparing the assimilation process to something of a two-way street, he says there are essential roles for both the minority Muslim community and the majority society “to make sure that Islam and Muslims play a positive role in American pluralism.” He also says that public officials must do more to acknowledge the cooperation they are getting from and relationships they are building with the Muslim community. He notes for example that his organization is working with the Department of Justice and the FBI on an antiterrorism campaign that has resulted in community forums and training in 20 cities. But he says officials have never held the press conference acknowledging the program as promised. “All I can think is that there are political calculations that keep them from doing it,” Mr. Marayati says. If true, that would run counter to what many experts say is a key factor in preventing another attack on US soil: the cooperation and allegiance of American Muslims. Clearly many have played key roles in cases where law enforcement has been able to target activities with potentially violent designs. But some Muslims say more encouragement is needed. “There’s a lack of space for Muslims to contribute to the political and social spheres,” Marayati says, “and you end up with an exclusion of the American Muslim voice.”

Pushing For Islam In German Schools; Some German Schools Already Offer Islamic Classes In German

Germany’s many Muslim groups plan to unite under one umbrella in an effort to ensure that Islam can be taught in public schools, better integrating children and combating the influence of fundamentalists. “It is vital to resolve this problem and ensure that Islam can be taught in German in schools,” said Nadeem Elyas, president of one such group, the central council of Muslims, after a meeting of Muslim groups in Hamburg, northern Germany last weekend. “If we don’t, the next generation of Muslims will grow up without values, and if they don’t get their religious education in schools they risk being influenced by bad interpretations of the Quran,” he added. A Need For Integration Chancellor Gerhard Schr_der has been increasingly keen to improve the integration of Germany’s Muslims, particularly with overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey preparing to start talks to join the European Union. Legal moves have also been launched to crack down on fundamentalists in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, in which Germany was an unwitting rear-base for some of the suicide hijackers. Only last month, two Egyptian imams were banned from the country under new legislation aimed at so-called “hate preachers” suspected of trying to spread extremist ideologies. Constitutional Guarantees Religious courses for the estimated 600,000 Muslim children living in Germany are guaranteed under its constitution, the Basic Law. But the law provides only for the beliefs of “religious communities” to be taught in public schools and given the division of the Muslim community here, the Quran has not been accepted in the classroom. Muslim groups in Germany define themselves by the number of mosques under their jurisdiction, rather than by the number of people who are signed up as members, whereas the law only takes membership into account. Berlin Hesitates With education in Germany controlled by the 16 states, the federal government has sought to avoid the issue. In the most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, the authorities have for the last decade refused to allow Islam into the classroom because, they say, the main Muslim groups do not represent the entire community. “We plan to create a unified and democratic structure at the federal and state level,” said Elyas. He said six groups, accounting for around 70 percent of Germany’s Muslims, would join forces to have their religion taught in public schools. “Within a year, we will announce the project at every mosque and organization,” Elyas said. Some Snub The Idea However the biggest group in Germany, the Turco-Islamic Union (DITIB), representing an estimated 150,000 Muslims, appears to be snubbing the project. The need for momentum is great. For a few years, Muslims in some states have been trying to mount initiatives of their own but without great success. In Bavaria, Islamic instruction classes were set up in the 1980s but were only available in the Turkish language. Similar efforts were made in Schleswig-Holstein and the city-states of Hamburg and Berlin. A Promising Experiment Since August 2003, Muslim associations in Lower Saxony have come together under a Shura (council) to work out how to interact with the authorities and structure courses in Islam. “The experiment has been promising,” said Bernd Knopf, a spokesman at the federal office for integration. But an estimated 4,500 religious instructors will probably be needed. “The problem is that we can’t massively bring thousands of teachers into the country from one day to the next,” said Knopf. Some teachers are being trained in Turkey under an accord between universities from both countries, but in Germany itself the first-ever faculty aimed at completing such a task was only opened last year.

The Battle For German Muslim Minds

Police raids on Islamic schools may shake up fundamentalist cells, but officials agree that the right teachers are the best way to root out radical Islamic leanings among Germany’s Muslim youth. Weeks separated news of a police raid on an Islamic school in Frankfurt and the announcement that the University of M_nster had set up a department dedicated to educating Islamic teachers. But the two items reveal the two-pronged approach taken in Germany on what is becoming an increasingly important front in the country’s fight against terrorism: the battle for young Muslim minds. After being tipped off by a 9-year-old student, police in Frankfurt seized Jihadist literature and videos, among them one showing a beheading, from the school hosted in a Moroccan cultural center. The news follows efforts by officials in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia to shut down a private Saudi-financed school after fundamentalist leanings were detected in the textbooks. “The state has absolutely no authority in these schools, they can do what they want and that is very troubling,” Lutz Irrgang, who heads the Hesse State Office for the Protection of the Constitution, told DW-WORLD. Educating The Next Generation Of Islam Teachers Officials know that raids alone can’t root out radicalism in pockets of Germany’s 3.2 million-strong Muslim community. One of the best hopes remains ending the monopoly on Islamic teachings held by dubious Imams and teachers in courtyard mosques, and bringing Muslim children back into the educational mainstream. This week, the University of M_nster took a step in that direction when it announced the appointment of Mohammed Sven Kalisch, a Muslim theologian who converted to Islam as a teen, to head the university’s new department dedicated to educating future generations of Islamic teachers. The department, the first of its kind in Germany, is designed to bridge the mistrust between German educational authorities and the country’s myriad Muslim organizations. Kalisch, a favorite of both German educators and Muslim leaders, said he is fully aware of the way fundamentalist Imams use the Koran to send the wrong message. “By educating Islamic teachers we, of course, hope to work against extremist tendencies,” Kalisch said. Problems Begin After School School authorities in Berlin, Bremen, Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia have already added Islam religion classes as an option to similar course offerings in Judaism and Catholicism. Lower Saxony recently announced similar plans to test out Islam religion courses. The classes, taught by teachers who are practicing Muslims, offer Germany’s estimated 800,000 Muslim students the possibility of learning about their religion in a way that officials can keep tabs on. “It’s like our classes on Catholicism and Protestantism,” said spokeswoman Nina Schmidt. “By doing it in our school we can make sure that it’s taught from an academic point of view, that no fundamentalist teachings slip in.” The problems begin after school is over for the day, when many parents send their children to private Koran lessons. It is at these schools that the seeds of fundamentalism are planted, say law enforcement officials. Raids by police across Germany routinely turn up the type of videos and literature found at the Frankfurt school. Jihadis “rely more on indirect communication nowadays, like videos and tapes,” said Kai Hirschmann, co-director of the Essen-based Institute for Terrorism Research and Policy. “That communication often takes place through the Koran schools. Holy War At The School’s Friday Prayers But not only there. School officials in North-Rhine Westphalia were appalled at the material found in textbooks seized at the King Fahd Academy in Bonn. The academy, funded by the Saudi Arabian government, caters to the sons and daughters of diplomats, Arabic families who stay in Germany for long periods as well as children with German citizenship or permanent resident status. More than 300 textbooks were confiscated as part of a police investigation into the school’s fundamentalist tendencies in October 2003. The academy (photo), which opened in the quiet Bonn neighborhood of Bad Godesberg in 1995, had already suspended one teacher after he had allegedly called for Holy War against the West in Friday prayers. Bonn school officials reviewing the teaching material found in a study that students were taught that “the Muslim people’s existence has been threatened by Jews and Christians since the crusades and it is the first duty of every Muslim to prepare to fight against these enemies.” Though powerless to close the school, school officials were able to force at least 53 children with German citizenship or permanent residency status to leave the academy based on what they study. The cooperation between law enforcement and school authorities is by no means typical, but can sometimes be useful. Still, investigators say that the best methods are not frequent raids but education. “One of the best tools,” said Irrgang, “remains enlightenment.”

Once, Muslims And Labour Were Natural Allies. Not Now. All My Years Of Activism Have Achieved Little, And The Young Know It

By Pola Manzila Uddin For much of my adult life I have dressed modestly, in shalwar kameez and sometimes saris. Only when visiting places of worship or in the presence of elders did I ever feel obliged to cover my head. However, earlier this year, I wore a scarf on Umrah, a mini pilgrimage, and it somehow felt natural to keep on wearing it when I got home. For me, this was simply an expression of a deepening knowledge of my faith and of my self. The first time I walked into the House of Lords with it on, I could feel the surprise. Some of my Labour friends were wonderful about it. But for others, shock soon gave way to suspicion, and the questioning began. Why was I doing it? When would I stop? Was my scarf a sign of my support of the French schoolgirls who’d been banned from wearing the hijab? And even, had I become a “fundamentalist”? And this from people who had known me, and my politics, for years. It was as if they thought that one piece of silk cloth over the hair changed one’s personality. Since that first day, this little piece of cloth has even coloured how some people receive my work. When I launched a report into faith schools earlier this month, it was suggested that I had an “obsession”, and was demanding more Muslim schools. Even some people who knew that I had sent my own four children to a Church of England school interpreted a simple call for parity as an expression of my new “extremism”. I am disappointed that, after so many years of political activism, so little seems to have changed. But this is not simply a personal disappointment. No one can have failed to notice what the recent election results confirmed – that Labour has lost the confidence of the minority communities, especially Muslims. Take my part of east London: the Respect candidate, coming from nothing to securing nearly 20,000 votes in boroughs where Labour should have walked home. As a party activist for three decades, I am frustrated that the government has come to be seen as complacent. And as a Muslim I am dismayed that there is no strategy to address this loss of support. Everyone has a story about why they feel let down, especially in areas where Muslim communities have settled over decades. Too often one still finds an all-white hierarchy in the town hall presiding over ghettos. Muslims feel powerless to change their communities – communities in which male unemployment is unacceptably high, schools are failing their children, and where inequalities in housing and health persist. And we have to acknowledge the impact of the “war on terror” – the huge increase in the number of Muslims now being subjected to stop and search adds to the feeling that the whole community is being criminalised. For over 50 years the Muslims of this country went about their business, obedient to the core. Our parents’ generation worked, ate, slept, they tolerated being spat at and being told to “go back”. When my generation, their children, grew up, we spoke English, ate fish and chips and became defiant when told to “go back”. That is why so many of us became politically active in the late 70s and early 80s. The Labour party was our natural home. We fought shoulder to shoulder, challenging the fascists on our streets. Our generation believed that we had a stake in Britain; we believed respect and understanding was just around the corner. Labour raised huge expectations when it professed to understand and value the Muslim community. But after September 11 everything changed. Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has all but destroyed that partnership. The government does nothing to protect us from the onslaught of verbal and physical attacks we face every time there is another bomb explosion, or a further threat of terror attacks. There is a sense of vulnerability, that every savage act carried out elsewhere leads to repression of every one of us on the streets of Britain. It is in this atmosphere that new questions are asked about us, as though we had not been born or grown up here. Muslims are being challenged to prove that they are more British than anyone else. How women wear their clothes, the way men cut their beards and even the company we keep are all now up for debate. Just imagine these questions being asked not in a place of courtesy and kindness, and by your friends, but with real hostility. When one is not understood or respected, how can one begin to explain such complex and often personal choices? I am dismayed by the daily justifications demanded of us just so that some of us can be called “moderates”. Is this what we mean by integration? My 18-year-old son voted for the first time this year, and I know the talk among his friends was anything but Labour. By his age we were demonstrating against the far right; his peers are protesting against Labour – stop and search, anti-terror legislation, and the war in Iraq. We have to prove to them that they are valued by society and that their survival in the mainstream matters to us all. If we don’t, we may lose them to those vile preachers outside mosques and marketplaces. It is in this atmosphere that Shabina Begum’s fight to wear the jilbab to school came to court this week. The judge ruled that the school’s refusal to let Begum wear the full-length gown did not breach her right to education and religion. I wish this case had never come to court – not least because, once it had done so, no other ruling was possible. I admire the school’s commitment to meeting the needs of local pupils, 80% of whom are Muslim. The uniform policy was only implemented after consultation, and I would defend the school’s right to apply it. However, the school was wrong to cite health and safety concerns. This gives credence to the spurious, yet increasingly commonplace argument that Muslim girls are hampered by their clothes (and thus, by implication, by their communities and by their religion). This is absurd. In court it became clear that the school’s real concern was that Begum’s jilbab would create a hierarchy of piety among the pupils. I have seen for myself that where the majority of Muslim schoolgirls wear scarves there is peer pressure to comply. But the question we should be asking is, why is it that some of our young people are vulnerable to pressure to identify themselves as more Muslim than others? On my pilgrimage, I was struck by what is said as you enter Mecca (I paraphrase): “You are forbidden from covering your face.” And yet there were thousands who did. The fact that more young British Muslim women are choosing to wear scarves is not a phenomenon imported from aboard – what we have is what we have created. And in some respects we should welcome these developments, because they show that the Muslim community is returning to political activism, and trying to reclaim the agenda. For the major political parties this should be a time for reflection, because the clear message is that no vote is to be taken for granted. Labour must work out who it should be talking to within the community. Fine, talk to the imams, but also recognise that the vast majority will never see one except on religious occasions. Meanwhile there are professional men and women in every sphere who are denied a voice. Let’s give them a one. I have banged my head against this brick wall with colleague after colleague, with every institution and every figurehead. There have been too many reports – Swann, Macpherson, Parekh – and too much talk. I believe a new generation of Muslims is ready to represent the community at every level of government. We are in public view, just waiting to be called.

‘Bin Laden Deputy’ Slams Scarf Ban

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (CNN) –A tape recording attributed to Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, criticized France’s decision to ban Islamic headscarves in schools, and described it as “part of the West’s campaign of hatred against Islam.” “The decision of the French president to issue a law to prevent Muslim girls from covering their heads in schools is another example of the Crusader and envy that the Westerners have against Muslims,” said the voice in the audiotape broadcast Tuesday on the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite TV channel. “Banning the headscarves in France is in line with burning villages with its inhabitants in Afghanistan, bringing houses down on the heads of sleeping Palestinians, with killing children in Iraq and robbing their oil using false pretexts … (and) torturing [Muslims in the cells of Guantanamo,” the tape said. Al-Arabiya would not disclose how it acquired the tape from al Qaeda’s No. 2 man.