Reflection on news outlets calling an attack “terrorism” after Finsbury Park

Guardian journalist, Paul Chadwick, responds to concerns about what should be considered terrorism. He said he started calling the incident a terrorist attack early but it was not premature.

He says events can be called terrorist attacks if they involve “serious harm to random innocents, a location and/or victims with symbolic resonance, apparent intent to generate widespread fear, and a political purpose.” A political purpose means aims at pressuring government or intimidating populations, often stemming from nationalism, racism, or religious fanaticism.

He argues that journalists do not need to wait for courts and official pronouncements to call something “terrorism.” Based on witness reports, journalists on the scene at Finsbury Park decided to call the incident a terrorist attack.

In the case of the Guardian, at 2:01am, about two hours after the attack, the live blog contextualised the event by referencing recent terrorist attacks. The crime correspondent arrived on scene at 3:07am. The correspondent reported at 3:54am that counter-terrorism police were there and at 4:45 am reported that the Muslim Council of Britain described the incident as a terrorist attack. At 5:15am, Prime Minister Threresa May classified the event as “a potential terrorist attack.”

 

Judge rejects inmate’s suit seeking cleric from Muslim sect

SCRANTON, Pa. — A federal judge had dismissed a former inmate’s religious freedom lawsuit against a Pennsylvania jail, saying he had no right to a cleric from the specific Muslim sect he preferred–the Nation of Islam.

Courts have ruled inmates have a right to practice their religious, but that right isn’t unlimited and must be balanced against the jail’s ability to run safely and efficiently.  In this case, the judge agreed with an attorney for the jail who argued that the jail did offer Muslim services and religious items but the inmate didn’t participate because the cleric wasn’t affiliated with the Nation of Islam.

Businesses’ newly affirmed ability to ban headscarves likely to continue in Post-Brexit UK

On Tuesday (14 March), the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled against two Muslim women who claimed employment discrimination after being fired from their jobs for wearing hijab, modest religious dress which includes a headscarf.

British legal experts say that the ruling will automatically remain enforced in the UK until it has actually split from the EU. This process will take about 2 years. After this period, it is unlikely that a British court would overturn the ruling.

A related British court case in 2012 had the opposing outcome. A guard at Buckingham Palace successfully opposed the military’s opposition to his turban. While this court case does not directly overturn this ruling, it opens possibilities for future opposition.

A 2007 British airways ban on Christian crosses was also struck down in court because headscarfs and turbans were permitted for religious reasons. The grounds for this decision were that the ban did not treat religious groups equally.

UK employers and legal experts, however, do not see the ruling as a major reversal of British legal approaches of the past. One reason for this is that companies still cannot ban religious garb for any reason other than “neutrality” of uniforms, including if customers complain. The courts in the UK will still likely avoid extreme positions on individual cases.

Muslims organisations in the UK, including the Muslim Council of Britain, see the ruling as an affront to equality.

 

Sarkozy wants special jails, courts for terrorism suspects

Paris was once again put on high alert last Sunday after a car loaded with gas cylinders was found near Notre Dame cathedral in an incident that could have been an attack on a Paris railway station.

Security is a key topic in the presidential elections in 2017, as more than 230 people have been killed in militant Islamist attacks on French soil since January 2015.

Sarkozy’s comments come after French President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, took a swipe at his opponents this week, saying their hardline reactions to a wave of militant attacks demonstrated an intent to destroy France’s social model.

Sarkozy took an even tougher approach on Sunday by proposing to systematically place French citizens, suspected of having militant links, in special detention facilities in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD) 

“Every Frenchman suspected of being linked to terrorism, because he regularly consults a jihadist website, or his behavior shows signs of radicalization or because is in close contact with radicalized people, must by preventively placed in a detention center,” Sarkozy said in the interview.

 

Sarkozy, who announced last month his candidacy for the April 2017 presidential election, has said there is no place for “legal niceties” in the fight against terrorism.

According to French Institute for Public Opinion, Ifop, voters turned out to have most confidence in former Prime Minister Alain Juppe to guarantee security, with Sarkozy in second place, Prime Minister Manuel Valls in third, and Hollande a distant 8th.

French Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas said in a separate interview with the French newspaper on Sunday he planned to make proposals next week to Valls to ease prison overcrowding.

“I do not advocate creation of facilities dedicated to terrorists…The real challenge is to prepare the release of those who are sentenced for a short or medium term,” Urvoas said.

Court rejects Islam-influenced post-marital agreement

I have long argued that American courts should deal with Islam-related religious issues by simply applying existing American law, without any special rules either favoring or disfavoring Islam or Muslims. Sometimes that means Muslim claimants might win, for instance when they claim reasonable religious exemptions under existing American religious exemption rules (which are available to people of all religions), or when they enforce valid contracts or wills inspired by Islamic legal principles. Sometimes they should lose, for instance when their religious exemption claims are treated as unreasonable under existing American law, or when their contracts violate established American legal principles.

The court held that the contract was unenforceable — not because there’s something improper about working religious principles, or Islamic principles, into a contract, but because it violated established religious-neutral principles of family law:

As I’ve argued before, this is exactly the right approach for courts to take. Muslims are entitled to enter into contracts or leave wills that reflect Islamic religious principles — such as wills that leave more property to sons than daughters, or union contracts that provide for days off on Islamic holidays, or arbitration agreements that call for Islamic arbitration — just as Christians or Jews may enter into contracts or leave wills that reflect Christian or Jewish religious principles. But Muslims are bound by the same limits on contractual freedom as Christians, Jews, and others are. We can debate what those limits should be, especially in the complicated area of family relationships, but they shouldn’t be Muslim-specific limits.

Muslim cabbie sues St. Louis, taxicab commission over clothing rules

St. Louis – A Muslim taxicab driver is suing the city of St. Louis, the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission and a private security company, saying he has been harassed and arrested because he insists on wearing religious garb.

Raja Awais Naeem, who works for Harris Cab and manages a shuttle service called A-1 Shuttle, says his religious beliefs require him to wear modest, loose-fitting clothing and a hat called a kufi. But that garb has run afoul of the taxicab commission’s dress code for cabbies, Naeem claims in the suit filed Thursday morning in St. Louis Circuit Court.

Naeem, originally from Pakistan but now a U.S. citizen living in St. Louis County, said he has been told he must adhere to the commission’s rules requiring a white shirt, black pants and no kufi. Baseball caps are allowed, as long as they have no logo other than the taxi certificate holder.

He claims he has been harassed and had his taxi license suspended when he continued wearing clothing he says is required by Islam, including the kufi, a loose shirt called a kurta and loose-fitting pants called shalwar. Naeem said the clothing maintains modesty by concealing the figure.

Representatives of the city, the taxicab commission and Whelan either could not be reached for comment or declined to comment on the suit.

In his lawsuit, Naeem says he was written a citation by a Whelan Security guard in June 2011 for wearing “foreign country religious dress.” Other times he had his taxi license suspended or was told he would be arrested for trespassing if he worked in his religious clothing, he said.

He said he tried to seek approval from the taxicab commission to wear his religious dress, providing the commission an affidavit in October about the importance of the clothing he wears.

Naeem says he filed complaints with the Human Rights Commission of Missouri, which issued him right-to-sue letters on each complaint.

His suit seeks an injunction to allow religious dress for cabdrivers and civil damages including attorney’s fees and other costs.

 

St. Louis Post-Dispatches: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/muslim-cabbie-sues-st-louis-taxicab-commission-over-clothing-rules/article_5e88f07f-7c5e-5a89-85b6-fb4f67bb451d.html

NC Senate passes ‘Sharia law’ bill

RALEIGH — The state Senate on Friday passed a bill that would keep courts from recognizing Sharia law.

While proponents of the legislation said it would keep people safe from foreign laws, critics derided the bill as sending a message of intolerance and bigotry to followers of Islam.
The Senate had already approved the measure when it was attached to a controversial measure that would impose stricter regulations on abortion providers in the state. But the foreign law provision wasn’t sufficiently critiqued because abortion overwhelmed the floor debate, said Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Democrat from Durham.

Now called House Bill 522, the provision’s contents haven’t changed. It reminds judges that the U.S. and N.C. constitutions are the law of the land and no foreign law can supersede them. Sometimes international laws are used in court as evidence before a judge, or in written opinions. But this bill would stop judges from considering foreign law when it violates a citizen’s constitutional rights.

“Unfortunately we have judges from time to time … that sometimes seem to forget what the supreme law of the land is, and sometimes make improper rulings,” said Sen. E.S. “Buck” Newton, a Wilson Republican and the legislation’s Senate sponsor.

Though the bill doesn’t specifically mention it, Newton was clear during Friday’s session that the legislation targets Sharia law, a legal system based on the religious and moral tenants of Islam. Few Muslim countries apply the entire body of rules, instead choosing measures relevant to them. More than 60 countries use at least part of Sharia law in their governance.

Its improper use has “worked to deprive” U.S. citizens and immigrants of their constitutional rights, Newton said. There have been 27 reported cases around the country in which Sharia law has been used, he added.

More than 20 states have introduced legislation banning Sharia law or foreign law in state courts. Many bills – including North Carolina’s – would apply only to cases in which the application of foreign law would violate a person’s constitutional rights.

Sen. Ellie Kinnaird of Chapel Hill, a Democrat, said she thinks the bill’s sponsors don’t truly mean to inform judges that foreign law is unacceptable, but rather the people of North Carolina.

“I think the audience is really wider,” Kinnaird said.

 

Abu Qatada will be a free man in Jordan soon, his family predict

Abu Qatada’s family said on Monday they expected to have him home within days and expressed their hopes court proceedings against the controversial cleric would progress smoothly so he could soon return to normal life. Close friends claimed the decade-long fight to deport Qatada from Britain is unlikely to end in a jail term, and said in their opinion he would almost certainly be cleared by the Jordanian courts.

His was twice convicted in absentia for conspiring to engage in terrorist activities in Jordan, and courts there sentenced him to life imprisonment. The same charges were repeated at the State Security Court on Sunday, where Qatada denied all allegations.  His co-conspirators were sentenced and later pardoned by the king. It is this precedent which makes Abu Hanieh optimistic his friend will be freed.  The exclusion of evidence obtained under torture, the prerequisite for Qatada’s return to Jordan, is another reason. “It’s usual to get evidence by torture here,” said Abu Hanieh, who has been imprisoned many times.

I know Abu Qatada – he’s no terrorist by Victoria Brittain

The voluntary departure from Britain of Omar Othman, better known as Abu Qatada, is a triumph for the independence of the judiciary over this and previous governments’ high-profile attempts to send him to face a trial in Jordan, where the evidence against him was obtained by torture. Our judiciary has safeguarded a prominent political refugee who our society chose to persecute in a disgraceful way.

 

Since 2007 as many as 12 senior British judges in various courts have recognised the torture origins of the evidence against him, which successive prime ministers and home secretaries have, until a few weeks ago, publicly put all their political weight into ignoring. The US, aided by the UK, on behalf of its key ally Jordan, went so far as to kidnap UK residents Jamil el-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi on a business trip in Africa, torture them in Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, and take them to Guantánamo in order to interrogate them about Othman. When those men sued the British authorities for what they had done, parliament was persuaded to create secret courts to adjudicate on secret defences.

 

The British judges’ success is that the Jordanian government has now made a change in its law that applies only to Othman and no one else. In his case the burden of proof is now on the prosecutor to show that any statement made against him in court was not produced by torture or any other form of ill-treatment – a reversal of the previous situation. In addition, his safety in Jordan is enormously enhanced by the new conditions agreed, which include his detention in a civilian facility, the exclusion of the Jordanian intelligence service from any access to him, monitoring by an independent human rights body, and a commitment that Britain will be contacted if there are concerns.

 

But the most recent phase of this long saga has left poison in our society. The home secretary, prime minister, mayor of London, countless MPs – including senior Labour party figures – have led the media in reckless and prejudiced comments, making Othman the most demonised individual in Britain.

 

The mantra of the home secretary, Theresa May, that “this is a dangerous man, a suspected terrorist”, has been repeated so often that the facts have been forgotten. No one suggests Othman is physically dangerous himself. No one has charged him with anything, except the Jordanians with the torture-tainted evidence. No one has pointed to anything controversial that he is alleged to have said since the mid-1990s. At that time he aligned himself with Islamic revolutionary movements opposing regimes that have now fallen, or which barely cling to power.

 

Our security services and politicians turned this man into an Islamic counter-terrorism myth. If instead they had chosen to talk to him, as I have many times, they would have found that the man behind the myth is a scholar with wide intellectual and cultural interests. He wrote books while he was in prison. His home is filled with books. His children have excelled at school, with help and encouragement from his daily phone calls from prison.

 

I have been a friend of Othman’s wife and daughters for some years, and have had many opportunities to talk to him in prison and when he was at home on bail. I’ve been struck by his dignity and lack of bitterness over his family’s treatment, and I believe that, rather than being scapegoated, his moral standards could have been useful in engaging Muslim youth and healing the wounds in our divided society.

Anti-Shariah movement changes tactics and gains success

(RNS) When Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a 2010 ballot measure that prohibits state courts from considering Islamic law, or Shariah, the Council of American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit within two days challenging the constitutionality of the measure, and won.
But when Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a similar measure, one that its sponsor said would forbid Shariah, on April 19 of this year, no legal challenges were mounted.

Why the change?

 

The biggest difference is that the older bill — and others like it — singled out Islam and Shariah, but also raised concerns that they could affect Catholic canon law or Jewish law. Many early anti-Shariah bills also made references to international or foreign law, which worried businesses that the new bills would undermine contracts and trade with foreign companies.

 

The new bills, however, are more vague and mention only foreign laws, with no references to Shariah or Islam. They also make specific exceptions for international trade. All of that makes them harder to challenge as a violation of religious freedom.

 

“These bills don’t have any real-world effect. Their only purpose is to allow people to vilify Islam,” said Corey Saylor, CAIR’s legislative affairs director, of the more recent bills.

The change in language seems to have helped such bills advance in several states. And while these bills no longer single out Shariah, it is often understood that Shariah is the target, which many legislators make no secret of.

 

The driving force behind these new versions of anti-Shariah laws is “anti-Muslim bigotry plain and simple,” said Daniel Mach of the American Civil Liberties Union, speaking on a panel in Washington Thursday (May 16). To those agitating for such measures, “Islam is the face of the enemy,” he said.

 

To date, Oklahoma is the sixth state — joining Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Tennessee — to adopt a law prohibiting courts from using foreign or international law, with some exceptions, in their decisions.

 

This year, at least 36 anti-foreign law bills have been proposed in 15 states, down from 51 bills in 23 states in 2011. While most of this year’s anti-foreign law bills have failed, several others, have advanced: