The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has welcomed Pope Benedict XVI’s apology for comments he made earlier in the week about Islam. Islamic groups called for an apology after the Pope quoted a 14th Century emperor’s views the Prophet Muhammad was “evil and inhuman” in a speech.
He is one of Muslim America’s rising young activists, yet he is reserved in his comments on caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, the Mideast conflict and the war in Iraq. Instead, Rami Nashashibi speaks out against Muslim-owned liquor stores, protests on behalf of Latino workers and denounces mistreatment of blacks by the criminal justice system. On Monday he joined Mexicans, Koreans and Poles in a massive march for immigrant rights. Such issues are not commonly associated with Muslim activism, but Nashashibi, 33, believes Islam calls on the faithful to focus on gritty problems in urban areas. For him, waging a war at home against poverty, gang violence and other modern plagues is key to uniting Muslim Americans.
A Danish newspaper will not face criminal charges over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that prompted international protests by Muslims, the country’s public prosecutor said. The drawings of Muhammad, an article and other cartoons published last September by Jyllands-Posten, Denmark’s biggest broadsheet, were neither “scornful” nor “degrading” of Muslims as a group and the newspaper can’t be prosecuted under the criminal code, Director of Public Prosecutions Henning Fode said in a statement issued yesterday. “The drawings that must be assumed to be pictures of Muhammad depict a religious figure and none of them can be considered to be meant to refer to Muslims in general,” the prosecutor said. There was no basis for assuming that the intention of one of the drawings, which depicted Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb, was “to depict Muslims in general as perpetrators of violence or even as terrorists.” The drawings sparked protests in the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia, and a boycott of Danish goods. Fode’s decision reaffirms a Jan. 6 ruling by a prosecutor in the city of Viborg who received a complaint against the newspaper. A number of organizations and individuals appealed the local prosecutor’s ruling, Fode said in the statement. Jyllands-Posten said the cartoons were published as a reaction to comments made by a Danish illustrator, who said he was afraid to draw the prophet for a children’s book as he feared he would become the target of threats by militants. The newspaper apologized for offending Muslims. `Scorn, Mockery, Ridicule’ The cartoons were reprinted by news media in Europe, and in other parts of the world including Egypt. While there’s no basis for prosecution in the case, Fode said, it’s “not a correct description of existing law when the article in Jyllands-Posten states that it is incompatible with the right to freedom of expression to demand a special consideration for religious feelings and that one has to be ready to put up with `scorn, mockery and ridicule’.” The decision can not be appealed further in Denmark, Fode said. Some 27 organizations and individuals appealed the original decision, including the Islamiske Trossamfund, an umbrella group for Muslim associations in Denmark, Copenhagen-based daily Politiken said today. “The lawyers that evaluated the case had no knowledge of Islam and its religious symbols,” Kasem Said Ahmad, a spokesman for the group, told the newspaper. “It’s slipshod,” he said, referring to the DPP’s decision. The groups may appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the newspaper reported.
Government plans that could see the closure of mosques suspected of inciting extremism have been attacked by Muslim leaders. Sir Iqbal Sacranie said the move would “criminalise an entire community for the criminality carried out by a few”. The Muslim Council of Britain secretary general made his comments in a speech to an east London conference focusing on the role of Muslims in the UK. But he added loyalty to the UK was not incompatible with the Muslim faith. Met Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur and the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer are among the other figures addressing more than 20,000 people at the Global Peace and Unity conference. Wider community Sir Iqbal described the government proposals designed to tackle terrorism the “single most dangerous piece of legislation”. Under the plans, police could seek a court order for the temporary closure of a place of worship if extremist behaviour or terrorist activity was believed to be taking place. Mosques were not specifically singled out in the proposal but most people would see the proposal as referring to mosques and trustees of mosques, the MCB has said. The comments follow a recent warning by the Association of Chief Police Officers that the plan could be seen as an attack on religion. Assistant Chief Constable Rob Beckley, who is responsible for community relations at the association, said if officers had suspicions about a particular mosque they would want to identify those responsible rather than close it down. Sir Iqbal also used his speech to call for a public inquiry into the 7 July London bomb attacks. The MCB’s Sher Khan said the gathering at the Excel centre fulfilled a “very important need to clarify to the wider community that British Muslims are part and parcel of the wider community”.
By Paul Farhi Washington Post Staff Writer Washington radio station WMAL-AM fired talk show host Michael Graham yesterday after he refused to soften his description of Islam as “a terrorist organization” on the air last month. Graham had been suspended without pay from his daily three-hour show since making his comments July 25. The station had conditioned his return to the midmorning shift on reading a station-approved statement in which Graham would have said that his anti-Muslim statements were “too broad” and that he sometimes uses “hyperbole” in the course of his program. WMAL also asked Graham to speak to the station’s advertisers and its employees about the controversy. But Graham refused both conditions, prompting the station to drop him. According to WMAL, Graham said “Islam is a terrorist organization” 23 times on his July 25 program. On the same show, he also said repeatedly that “moderate Muslims are those who only want to kill Jews” and that “the problem is not extremism. The problem is Islam.” The comments drew complaints and prompted an organized letter-writing campaign against WMAL and its advertisers by a Muslim group, the Council on American-Islam Relations (CAIR) of Washington. The protests led several advertisers to ask WMAL to stop airing their ads during Graham’s weekday show, although the station says it didn’t lose any advertisers amid the controversy. In a statement yesterday, Graham blamed CAIR for his firing and defended his comments: “As a fan of talk radio, I find it absolutely outrageous that pressure from a special interest group like CAIR can result in the abandonment of free speech and open discourse on a talk radio show.” Graham, in an interview last night, said he and the station had reached an agreement on terms of his return last week, but the station called back to withdraw. “It was a done deal,” he said. “They revoked it because, after further consideration, it didn’t contain an apology. And I will not apologize for something that is true.” Chris Berry, WMAL’s president and general manager, disputed Graham’s characterization, saying in an interview that “no one involved in this decision ever had any contact with anyone from CAIR.” Instead, he said, Graham was terminated because he violated station policy and disregarded “management direction” to redress it. Officials at WMAL, which is owned by the Walt Disney Co., had initially declined to take disciplinary action against Graham, defending his comments as part of the overheated rhetoric of talk radio. But that stance began to change as complaints about Graham’s remarks mounted. Graham, 43, is one of several conservative talk hosts featured on the station. WMAL (630 AM) also carries Rush Limbaugh’s and Sean Hannity’s nationally syndicated radio shows. Graham’s WMAL show is not syndicated. The station had hoped to work out an agreement that would return Graham to the air, Berry said, but it was evident by early yesterday that Graham would not agree to the station’s terms. He added in a statement: “Some of Michael’s statements about Islam went over the line — and this isn’t the first time that he has been reprimanded for insensitive language and comments. In this case, as previously, Michael’s on-air statements do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of station management. I asked Michael for an on-air acknowledgment that some of his remarks were overly broad, and inexplicably he refused.” In 1999, Graham was fired from a Charlotte station for saying that the killing of athletes was a “minor benefit” of the Columbine shootings. He apologized the next day. CAIR applauded WMAL’s decision. The organization had asked the station for a retraction or an apology, but “we didn’t get specific on what [Graham] should say,” said Rabiah Ahmed, a spokeswoman. “We were looking for an acknowledgment that his statements were anti-Muslim and hateful, and harmful to our community and our country’s image.” Berry said no permanent replacement for Graham has been chosen because the station until yesterday thought Graham would be returning to work. He said WMAL will try several hosts in Graham’s slot over the next few weeks. Graham has clashed with CAIR in the past. Last year, the group said comments he made on WMAL implicitly advocated violence against Muslims, and it cited him in a campaign called “Hate Hurts America.”
By MICHAEL SETTLE and BILLY BRIGGS LORD Stevens, former chief of the Metropolitan Police, was last night accused of stirring up racial hatred after he claimed British Muslim extremists were “almost certainly” responsible for the London bombings. Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London, insisted the ex-police chief’s claims were unfounded and threw suspicion on all Muslims in the UK. “He has, without doubt, stirred up racial tensions at a time when we need unity.” Sir Iqbal Sacranie, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, added: “I cannot imagine what prompted him to make these comments. Up until recently he has been working in an organisation that is trying hard to improve race relations, then he says something as problematic and unhelpful as this. It simply amazes me.” Police said yesterday there had been some incidents of religious or racially motivated hate crime since the attacks and one report involving a serious injury, although they gave no further details. In a newspaper article, headlined: “Young, clever . . . and British,” Lord Stevens wrote that any hope the attackers came from abroad was “dangerous wishful thinking”. He argued: “I’m afraid there’s a sufficient number of people in this country willing to be Islamic terrorists that they don’t have to be drafted in from abroad. “We have already convicted two British shoe bombers, Richard Reid and Saajid Badat, and there were the two British suicide bombers, Asif Hanif and Omar Sharif, who killed themselves in Israel.” The bombers, suggested the ex-police chief, would be “apparently ordinary British citizens, young men conservatively and cleanly dressed and probably with some higher education. Highly computer literate, they will have used the internet to research explosives, chemicals and electronics. They are also willing to kill without mercy – and to take a long time in their planning. They are painstaking, cautious, clever, and very sophisticated.” Lord Stevens claimed up to 3000 British-born or British-based people passed through Osama bin Laden’s training camps over the years. “Plainly not all went on to become active Islamic terrorists back in the UK. But some have. And others have passed on their training to the next generation.” He forecast the bombings would “unleash a tidal wave” of information from the Muslim community. However, Mr Shadjareh said Lord Stevens’s report “suggests there is a network of conspiracy among us and that many of us knew what was going on, rather than the fact this was done by a few misguided individuals”. He added: “Lord Stevens’s past as commissioner of the Metropolitan Police adds an air of reality to what he says, but where is his evidence? All this article does is justify anti-Islamic attacks.” George Galloway, the anti-Iraq war MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, also dismissed the peer’s claims. “He had no idea who carried this atrocity out, whether they were home-grown or flew in that morning . . . he wasn’t the commissioner on the day the explosion occurred, he is a retired police officer. He has no idea who carried out that crime. I would rather listen to the existing commissioner,” said the former Glasgow back-bencher. Asked at a press conference about the former Met chief’s comments, Brian Paddick, deputy assistant commissioner, said: “We are aware of Lord Stevens’s comments. Clearly, we are not ruling out any possibility as to who these suspects are.” Later, a spokesman for the Church of England came to Lord Stevens’s defence, saying it respected his authority on terrorism and his views expressed in the newspaper. “Lord Stevens is quite clearly talking about extremists, not the bulk of the Muslim community. What he is saying is something no-one would challenge. These are extremists and they do not adhere to the beliefs that members of the faith do. He has a far greater experience than most people on the matter.” The Association of Chief Police Officers in England said community relations in Britain were “reassuringly calm” in the wake of the attacks. Incidents reported by individual police forces included arson attacks on mosques in Leeds, Belvedere, Telford and Birkenhead which caused little damage. In addition, there was evidence of some verbal abuse in the street, and some criminal damage to cars, businesses and homes.
By Vikram Dodd and Alan Travis Hazel Blears, the minister responsible for counter-terrorism, said yesterday that Muslims will have to accept as a “reality” that they will be stopped and searched by the police more often than the rest of the public. Ms Blears told MPs that “there was no getting away from it”, because the terrorist threat came from people “falsely hiding behind Islam”. Her comments, on the day when leading British Muslim groups met to hammer out a strategy on maximising the Islamic vote for the election, provoked immediate condemnation from Islamic leaders. Massoud Shadjareh, chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said: “She is demonising and alienating our community. It is a legitimisation for a backlash and for racists to have an onslaught on our community.” The Home Office minister’s comments come at an awkward time for the Labour government. It is struggling to pass anti-terrorism legislation through parliament and preparing for a general election where the traditionally loyal Muslim vote is threatening to desert the party. Ms Blears was speaking at the Commons home affairs committee inquiry into the impact of anti-terrorist measures on community relations. “If a threat is from a particular place then our action is going to be targeted at that area,” she said, adding: “It means that some of our counter-terrorism powers will be disproportionately experienced by the Muslim community.” Statistics showed that of the 17 people found guilty of terrorist acts since 9/11 in the UK, only four of the 12 whose ethnic backgrounds were known were Muslim, Mr Shadjareh said. The Muslim Council of Britain was in discussions with the Home Office about what the minister had meant. Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the MCB, said he feared they legitimised anti-Muslim sentiment and warned the minister against scaremongering to drum up support for the new terror laws: “The remarks are thoroughly unhelpful as we’ve seen a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK. “It is wholly unacceptable if a government minister is using her office to scaremonger at the expense of our community to ease the passage of legislation designed to curb our civil liberties.” Ms Blears’ comments come after Monday night’s vote over controversial new anti-terrorism powers that could see suspects subject to house arrest. The measures provoked a rebellion that saw the government’s majority reduced to 14, and yesterday the bill reached the House of Lords. Ms Blears also cited new Home Office stop and search figures showing that the rise in the number of Asian people stopped under the Terrorism Act was no longer as sharp as those involving white or black people. Counter-terror stop and searches rose from 21,500 in 2002-03 to nearly 30,000 in 2003-04. Those involving white people rose by 43% from 14,429 to 20,637; those involving black people rose by 55% from 1,745 to 2,704 over the same period; and those involving Asian people rose 22% from 2,989 to 3,668. Ms Blears said the figures may reassure the Muslim community they were not being unfairly targeted but she said it was important for the government to develop a broader conversation with the Islamic community than just talking about the terrorist threat.
By John Deane, Chief Political Correspondent Britain’s most high profile police officer has called for the rapid introduction of a national identity card scheme as a tool in the struggle against terrorism. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens said there was an urgent need to enhance the authorities’ ability to check identities – and ID cards should be introduced “the sooner, the better.” At his monthly press conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Blair indicated that ID cards were moving up the political agenda rapidly. Mr Blair said: “I think that the whole issue of identity cards, which a few years ago were not on anyone’s agenda, are very much on the political agenda here, probably more quickly even than we anticipated.” In an interview for GMTV’s Sunday Programme, Sir John was asked whether the security of Britain’s borders is a problem. He said: “It is a problem. I think it is a recognised problem. This is why I think identification cards would be of great assistance. “Up to a year-and-a-half ago I would have been against identification cards because we had no certainty that the documentation used for identification cards could actually prove with certainty the identification of someone. “Biometrics, the use of eyes, the use of fingerprints is now a certainty in a way that never was before, so therefore identification, either whether it be on border controls or whether we have to deal with stop and search in the street, anti-terrorism kind of activity … would give a certainty we need. “And I’m very much in favour of that as is the Association of Chief Police Officers.” Reminded that last week Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt suggested that compulsory ID cards were “many, many years away”, Sir John replied: “Well, I disagree with her totally. “I think the sooner they’re brought in the better and as a professional police officer I have to tell you we need them … I’m afraid the minister is wrong. I have to say that we do need those ID cards now.” Sir John stressed that “proper border controls” were needed to help combat terrorism and crime. “We do need proper border controls, we do need proper immigration controls in this country. “The borders of this country have been porous and we can prove that with a number of cases which have had high profile recently. “I think that the drive towards ensuring that immigration, customs and the police are working together and on occasions working together with some of the excellent work done by MI5 in particular and MI6 is the way forward. “You’ve got to have some border controls which are there, which are obvious and which work.” Sir John was asked about Islamic fundamentalist preachers living in Britain who make provocative remarks about relations between the Muslim community and the rest of society. Sir John said: “We monitor what people say on a regular basis. If they in fact obviously break the law then we will do something about it there and then. “But a lot of these cases are on the very edge of the law in terms of breaking the law and in those cases we submit these comments to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Crown Prosecution Service to see whether people have breached the law. If they have breached the law we will take action.” Asked if the police were keeping a close eye on controversial London-based Muslim cleric Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, Sir John replied: “Very much”. Sir John was also asked about Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, leader of the London-based group Al-Muhajiroun, who this week said Muslims should not cooperate with their local authorities against other members of the faith. Sir John said: “I think any comments that talk about not assisting the police – because we’re there for the public, we’re there to ensure their safety – is not helpful.” Asked whether Sheik Omar should be deported, Sir John said: “Well again you can only deport people if they’re breached the law.” Sir John was also asked about this week’s major anti-terrorism operation in south east England. He said: “Well I can’t talk about the specific arrests because that would be totally wrong. But I think what we have to acknowledge is that we have to look at the reasons why people do want to come to this country – or are in this country – and do want to bomb people. “I think we’ve got to try and understand it more because unlike the IRA there is no kind of political head, no political people that we can negotiate with – this Al Qaida.”