ROTTERDAM – National Coordinator for Anti-terrorism (NCTb) Tjibbe Joustra fears the effects of the tone that some prominent Dutch are taking in the discussion of Islam, he says in the AD on Monday. The paper claims that Joustra is referring to statements from MP Geert Wilders and Ehsan Jami, founder of the Committee for Former Muslims. But a spokesperson for Joustra says his comments were made in general, without reference to any specific individuals. Joustra says in the paper: “When someone says those kinds of things, I have mixed feelings about that.” “Radical statements like that can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for people who are on the verge of becoming violent.”
It’s not known exactly how many have converted to Islam in Germany Two of the men held in connection with a plot to bomb US military installations and other targets in Germany are converts to Islam. It has raised the question of whether converts are more likely to become radicalized. Perhaps just as shocking to many Germans upon hearing that the terrorist attacks planned could have been more deadly than those carried out in London or Madrid was the fact that two of three suspects taken into custody, Fritz G. and Daniel S., were Germans who had converted to Islam. It led Bavaria’s interior minister and premier designate, G_nther Beckstein, to argue that in certain cases, German authorities should keep an eye on people who convert to Islam. While there is no central register for converts, the conservative minister told the financial daily Handelsblatt last week that when “security forces learn of a conversion, they should establish whether it involves a liberal and humane form of Islam or an Islamist one.” The controversial suggestion has unleashed a discussion over the nature of conversion, religious zeal and the appeal that converts have to Islamic radicals.
On April 10, the German Muslim leaders announced the creation of a new umbrella organization: the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany (KRM). The KRM will unite the leadership of the four central German Muslim authorities: the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), the Islamic Council (IR), the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD) and the Association of Islamic Culture Centers (VIKZ). This decision came after ongoing discussion with German authorities on how to bring Muslims into a social contract with German society; this unified leadership has been undertaken with the hope of elevating Muslims to the position of respect and tolerance enjoyed by German Catholics and Protestants. The hope is that one unified voice will provide German Muslims with better leverage against the government on issues such as representation of Muslims in religious education curriculum, visibility in radio and television media, availability of halal meat, and the headscarf. Critics warn, however, against believing KRM’s claims to German Muslim sentiment. Only an estimated 10-15% of Muslims are affiliated with a mosque. Independent, secular, and feminist Muslims are likely to fall outside the breadth of the new umbrella organization. In spite of the leadership’s insistence that the KRM is welcome to all Muslims, it will undoubtedly have a conservative bent.
The Center for Turkish Studies in Essen sees an upcoming Islam Summit as an opportunity to improve the religion’s standing in Germany. Director Faruk Sen shared his thoughts with Deutsche Welle. The discussion on Islamic terrorism in the past several years has raised interest in Islam, said Faruk Sen, director of the Center for Turkish Studies in Essen, but attention has been limited to security matters, even though the overwhelming majority of Germany’s 3.5 million Muslims have nothing to do with terrorism.
KOBLENZ – The Civic Education Centre (Zentrum Innere F_hrung) of the German Armed Forces, Catholic and Evangelical camp priests, the women’s commissioners and the deputy chairman of the Central Council of the Muslims in Germany held a discussion in Koblenz. Among the topics were the appointment of a “camp imam” for the religious support of Muslims in the army, the preparation of soldiers for duty in Afghanistan, and the insufficient attention paid to Muslim women’s issues in the ongoing official integration discourse.
By Kate Connolly Muslims intent on becoming German citizens will have to undergo a rigorous cultural test to gauge their views on subjects ranging from bigamy to homosexuality. Believed to be the first test of its kind in Europe, the southern state of Baden-W_rttemberg has created the two-hour oral exam to test the loyalty of Muslims towards Germany. It is to be taken on top of the standard test for foreigners wishing to become German citizens, which includes language proficiency skills and general knowledge. It also requires applicants to prove that they can provide for themselves and their families. Those applying must also have resided in Germany for the previous eight years and have no criminal record. Germany’s 15 other states will monitor the progress of the policy when the tests begin this week before deciding whether they wish to adopt similar legislation. The 30 questions, which have been set by a special commission, range from sexual equality to school sports and are meant to trigger a more detailed discussion between the applicants and officials. Until now, all applicants have simply had to tick a Yes or No box to answer whether they felt loyalty to Germany. But now they will be quizzed on their attitudes to homosexuality and western clothing for young women, and whether husbands should be allowed to beat their wives. Other questions covering topics such as bigamy and whether parents should allow their children to participate in school sports have been called “trick questions”, meant to catch people off guard. The state interior ministry said the test would be used to filter out Muslims who were unsuited for life in Germany. Those who answered “correctly” but later acted against expected behaviour, such as wife-beating, could have their citizenship removed. Critics say that the test is biased and discriminatory and that if Muslims are obliged to take it, so should all applicants for citizenship. Brigitte L_sch, a leading member of the Green party in the Baden-Wurttemberg parliament, called for the oral exam to be dropped, arguing that it inferred from the outset that all Muslims were “violent per se” and unable to abide by German law. “This list of questions is only to be used for applicants from Islamic countries. It is an unbelievable form of discrimination,” she said. “If Germans were asked some of the questions, they would find it difficult to answer them.” The European Assembly of Turkish Academics rejected the questionnaire as “strongly discriminatory and racist” against Germany’s three million-strong Muslim population, most of whom are Turkish. Kerim Arpad, an assembly spokesman, said: “The test is shaped by stereotypes and damages integration.” But Dieter Biller, of the foreign ministry in Stuttgart, the state capital, said the test would help bureaucrats to form opinions as to whether citizenship applicants were suitable or not. “It covers everything from sexual equality, violence, school sports and religious freedom,” he said. “How the applicants stand on the question of the attacks of September 11 will also be a key question.” Holland announced yesterday that it was introducing ceremonies for new immigrants as part of efforts to reduce racial tensions and to integrate immigrant communities. The government is worried that immigrants who do not move outside their ethnic or religious groups hamper integration and stoke fears of militancy. New Dutch citizens will also have to take an “oath of allegiance”.
By Khalid Hasan WASHINGTON: American Muslims have expressed outrage following the assertion by popular right-wing Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that Muslim holidays should not be observed since America is a Judeo-Christian country. On the October 27 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly called the idea of closing public schools for the observance of Muslim holidays _absurd’. He made the remark during a discussion with Hillsborough County (Florida) Commissioner Brian Blair, who opposed the Hillsborough County School board’s decision to keep public schools open on Yom Kippur and Good Friday during the 2006-07 school year, a departure from the school district’s earlier practice of closing schools on those days. In December 2004, Hillsborough County Muslims, with the backing of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), asked the school board to close schools on the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr. Instead of giving students the day off on Eid-ul-Fitr, the school board voted to keep schools open on Yom Kippur and Good Friday during the 2006-2007 school year, arguing that the school district could close schools on days when a substantial number of students would be absent, but could not close schools specifically for the observance of religious holidays. Students however can take the day off on such occasions. In his discussion on the question with Blair, Bill O’Reilly said, So a Muslim wanted a Muslim holiday, which is absurd in a Judeo-Christian country. I mean we can’t be having Hindu and Buddha. I mean, come on. I mean this country is founded on Judeo-Christian traditions. Those traditions have been in play for more than 200 years. Christmas is a federal holiday. You know, somebody walks in and says, _Well, I just moved here and I want, you know, this Shinto shrine.’ And you’re going, _Well, look, this is a traditional American situation that we’ve done for hundreds of years.’ But now you knocked it out.
Michael Settle A PACKAGE of measures to steer young Muslims away from extremism and to get them to integrate better into mainstream British society was put forward by community leaders yesterday in response to the July 7 London bombings. Seven working groups set up by Charles Clarke, the home secretary, in the wake of the terrorist attacks recommended: A national advisory council of imams and mosques to teach English to imams, encourage more UK-born Muslims to become Islamic clerics so as to reduce the reliance on foreign-based ones and to advise mosques on how to prevent them being used by extremists; A national forum against extremism and Islamaphobia to provide a regular discussion point for Muslims to talk about issues as they affect their local communities, with access to government to “share outcomes and understandings”; and A nationwide road show of influential, populist religious scholars to explain the true meaning of Islam and condemn extremism. The home secretary praised the “constructive” work of the groups and said he broadly supported their proposals, announcing the government would spent _5m over the next 18 months to pursue them. “The initial take we have on the recommendations is overwhelmingly positive,” stressed Mr Clarke. Lord Ahmed, convener of the mosques and imams group, said of the proposed national advisory council: “For the first time we’ve had a debate in the Muslim community and in the mosques with the imams. They know we can’t continue to deliver sermons in Arabic and you can’t exclude youths and women from mosque committees.” The Labour peer added: “We can’t have illiterate people on mosque committees or people with criminal records on mosque committees, or anywhere near the mosques.” Lord Ahmed said that of the estimated 2000 imams in Britain, about 1700 were educated and trained abroad. Dominic Grieve, the shadow attorney general, described the ideas as “sensible . . . and well-intended”. But he added: “While helping create better community relations and understanding between Muslims and the wider community, one feature of these proposals is that public money should be spent on schemes promoting Islam. “We are concerned that this could cause resentment in other faith groups and be wholly counter-productive if it is distinct from other multi-faith initiatives.”
By Martin Wainwright Forget Superman, Wonderwoman and even the Incredibles. The new kid on the block from one of America’s “big two” comic publishers is a teenage Muslim from Bradford, where his father runs a successful chain of corner shops. Bucking the trend for largely negative portrayals of young Asians, particularly in the United States, Ali is an eager livewire whose arranged bride, Sofia, the source of much angst in early frames, turns out to be equally quick-witted, as well as a babe. The 40-page first episode of the story, Vimanarama, went on sale in Britain yesterday, after a launch on Tuesday in the US, where critics gave it a warm reception. Reviews commented on the cartoons’ “infectious sense of wonder” and gripping plot, “whether it’s in the rain-soaked streets of Bradford or in the brightly lit underworld at the end of the book”. The initially unlikely setting is down to the story’s British author, Grant Morrison, a major name in comic writing, particularly in the specialist field sold through outlets such as Forbidden Planet and Where the Wild Things Are shops. A Glaswegian, his 25-year career includes stories for Marvel Comics’ The X-Men and for Batman and Superman, whose publishers DC Comics have brought out Vimanarama. Morrison turned to Britain’s Asian community for a storyline during the aftermath of the World Trade Centre disaster, when the media were full of debate and discussion about Islam and the West. In a recent interview with comics website Newsarama, he said: “There are devout Muslims in the book and couldn’t-care-less Muslims, so everyone gets a shout.” But the story is primarily a ripping yarn, with Ali and Sofia discovering a subterranean world beneath Bradford when a crate of turkish delight cracks open a hidden entrance in one of the family’s shops. Promotional material from DC Comics sums up the plot as “a modern-day Arabian Nights in the form of a Bollywood romantic comedy set on a celestial stage”. The contents include fossilised demons, a 15,000-year-old Asian superman, and too many frames of pouring rain on Bradford streets for the local tourist board’s taste. While the comic has been welcomed as a positive promotion for the city, a spokeswoman said: “They seem to have got our weather mixed up with Manchester’s.” The story – in three parts costing _1.95 each – faithfully portrays the variety in the local British Asian community, with some women decorously wearing headdresses while others have jeans and trainers. American readers are given occasional cross-cultural references in case the setting all becomes too foreign: one double-page image by the story’s illustrator, Philip Bond, has the 19-year-old hero speeding into action on a mountain bike in front of a line of British Asian cheerleaders in short skirts and bobby socks. Morrison says that he immersed himself in research about Islamic history and theology, which figures in crisp word-bubble exchanges and the exotic population of the secret underworld. But the core of the story, he told Newsarama, should appeal to “anyone who’s ever been a teenager in the grip of immense and ridiculous forces beyond one’s control and understanding. Which is surely everybody who gets past the age of 12.”
By Waleed Arafa The ban on hijab has stirred a great deal of discussion that has gone far deeper than simply the issue of hijab. “Islamic Identity in European Communities: Abdications and Integration. A Reading in the Current French Scene” was the title of a two-day conference held at the Faculty of Economics and Political Sciences, Cairo University, as part of the Program for Dialogue of Civilizations. On February 18 and 19, 2004, intellectuals and specialists discussed the issues involved in depth, leaving their audience with a variety of perceptive opinions and questions to contemplate. Discussing “Place” &”Time” The furor over hijab became the mandatory gateway to most of the issues. Dr.Mona Abu al-Fadl began by mentioning the date of the first incident over hijab in France; the year was 1989. She attempted to link it to the global winds of change that were taking place during the period 1989 – 1992. Before then, Muslims had been present in France for years and years without a single problem concerning hijab. Later Dr. Amr Al-Shobaky discussed “Place”. France! Why France in particular and not Britain for instance? The answer, in his opinion, is based on the uniqueness of the French secular model versus other models, especially the Anglo-Saxon model. A third speaker, Dr. Salah Jaa’frawy, argued that secularism should not be used as a comprehensive excuse for such practices, because other European countries have certain tilts towards certain religious groups. The Christian Democratic Party, currently ruling in Germany , where Dr. Salah lives, is an example. He mentioned that there is a race amongst German states to formulate laws banning hijab. Dr. Pakinam Al-Sharqawy confirmed that some people in the West simply like to attribute the problems of Muslims to Islam, and then link the problems of Islam to the problems of Muslim women, finally they reduce all the above to a secondary issue like hijab. She firmly stated, “They are escaping the bigger questions because eventually they will find themselves equally as guilty of Muslims’ problems, and that is a responsibility they do not want to take.”