The roles of Muslims and ethnic minorities in the Grenfell Tower tragedy

The fire at Grenfell Tower killed more than 80 people. Many Muslims lived in and nearby the tower. Muslims residents and neighbours were instrumental in saving lives. The fire occurred after midnight. While many in the area were asleep, Muslims were often awake for the observances of Ramadan. Muslim residents awoke people in other flats and Muslim neighbours were among the first on the scene to assist. Muslim organisations, such as Muslim Aid, continued to be active in relief efforts.

The next evening volunteers held an iftar to allow Muslim victims and volunteers to break their fast. Many were working hard to support each other despite their fast.

Racial and economic discrimination may have contributed to the causes of the fire, as “it’s difficult to imagine this disaster–caused by a huge dereliction of duty and refusal to listen to residents’ concerns–befalling a community of white Britons.” Grenfell Tower was social housing provided by the government for people who require housing assistance.

Black and South Asian survivors felt that the government did not act as though they had a right to complain about the terrible safety conditions of the building prior to the fire.

Suspected revenge arson attack on Greater Manchester mosque after terrorist attack

A few hours after the terrorist attack in Manchester, the door of a mosque in the Manchester area was set on fire. Police are investigating the incident as a retaliation attack.

Luckily, no one was in the mosque at the time and, while the door was damaged, the fire did not spread.

The imam of the mosque, Mohammad Saddiq, was upset that people would target an educational and religious institution and says that the mosque has not been targeted in the past.

The terrorist attack in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert has been condemned by the Muslim Council of Britain, Manchester’s Ramadhan Foundation, and other Muslim leaders.

Blogger Mehdi Meklat caught posting anti-Semitic tweets

Mehdi Meklat, a 24-year-old writer/blogger has come under fire after revelations that he has for years been posting anti-Semitic, mysogynistic, homophobic and pro-jihadi tweets.

Meklat, along with writing partner Badrouine Said Abdallah, shot to fame through the Bondy Blog, a site created for and by sub-Saharan and North African second-generation immigrants seeking to celebrate “ethnic diversity” and insert “the stories from the ‘hood into the larger national debates.”

Meklat tweeted more than 50,000 offensive tweets from 2012 to 2014. Before the Césars he tweeted: “Bring on Hitler to kill the Jews.” Just before the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, he tweeted about the magazine’s editor Stephane Charbonnier “Charb, what I’d really like to do is shove some Laguiole knives up his …” He praised Mohammad Merah, who murdered Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse: “I find the phrase, ‘I love death the way you love life,’ of Mohammed Merah troubling in its beauty.” In blatant homophobia: “Long live the fags, long live AIDS under President Francois Hollande.”

Of far-right French politician Marine Le Pen, he wrote that he would “slit her throat the Muslim way.”

In a lengthy note on Facebook Meklat apologized for the posts while attempting to absolve himself of culpability, claiming to be victim of a time when Twitter was “a digital Wild West. A new object, almost confidential, where no rule was enacted, no moderation exercised.” 

He had tweeted under the name Marcelin Deschamps, inspired by French Dada artist Marcel Duchamp. The stunt, he said, was a commentary on the racism of France’s Old Guard, but “quickly became an evil villain … who couldn’t be stopped” in his attempts to “provoke.” The social media alter-ego had “nothing to do with me… It is now dead and should have never existed,” Meklat wrote.

“You have life on your side, you have your experiences, your wanderings, your loves, your past that sticks to your present, anchored in you. But it does not matter until you have no money. You are therefore a slave,” wrote Meklat with his writing partner Badrouine Said Abdallah in their recent novel Minute. As Meklat gained accolades for his creative projects, the media discovered his second Twitter account, but barely responded. That was until a French tweeter, identified by Le Monde as a teacher, expressed outrage at one of Meklat’s television appearances. The teacher pleaded, successfully, for the country to demand the author answer for Meklat’s obscene and offensive tweets.

The “Meklat affair” has also given fuel to France’s rising far-right, including Marine Le Pen’s niece Marion Le Pen, who placed the blame with France’s left-wing media.

 

The Bigotry That Armed the Quebec Mosque Attacker

TORONTO — On Sunday night, a gunman opened fire in a mosque in Quebec City, killing six people and wounding eight. Our prime minister, Justin Trudeau, called the shootings a “terrorist attack on Muslims.”

Worshipers gunned down in a mosque — people here more readily associate such news with the United States than with Canada. That this happened in Quebec City has shocked many of us, myself included.

In Quebec, Islamophobia manifested itself in a series of sensational cases, in 2007 and 2008, over the “reasonable accommodation” of religious minorities, Muslims in particular. The provincial soccer federation barred hijab-wearing girls on the pretext of safety. It took an official commission to calm public nerves. Its 2008 report, which had the eminent philosopher Charles Taylor as an author, found there was no crisis: Sensationalist media coverage had distorted perceptions, but Muslims were not making unreasonable demands.

I remain an incurably optimistic Canadian, and I want to believe that Canada is still not the United States. But as Sunday’s attack showed, we face the challenge of undoing the damage of years of suspicion and bigotry.

Ann Arbor police: Woman forced to remove hijab after man threatens to set her on fire

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – A woman was forced to remove her hijab after a man threatened to set her on fire with a lighter near the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor police said the incident happened in the 600 block of East William near S. State Street between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday.

Police said the man approached the victim and demanded she remove her hijab or he would set her on fire. The woman complied and was able to leave the area.

The University of Michigan is warning students to watch their surroundings. It issued a campus safety alert. The threat leaves most students, regardless of religious faith, disturbed.

Was Orlando Shooter Really Acting for ISIS? For ISIS, It’s All the Same

The revelation that the 29-year-old man who opened fire on Sunday in a gay nightclub had dedicated the killing to the Islamic State has prompted a now-familiar question: Was the killer truly acting under orders from the Islamic State, or just seeking publicity and the group’s approval for a personal act of hate?
For the terror planners of the Islamic State, the difference is mostly irrelevant.
Influencing distant attackers to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State and then carry out mass murder has become a core part of the group’s propaganda over the past two years. It is a purposeful blurring of the line between operations that are planned and carried out by the terror group’s core fighters and those carried out by its sympathizers.

Suspected Amsterdam-Paris train attacker spent seven years in Spain

A man armed with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle, a handgun and a knife opened fire on a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday before being overpowered by two passengers, both US soldiers. One of the soldiers, and another passenger, were both injured before the assailant was arrested. The attacker is believed to be Ayoub El Kahzzani – the name that French anti-terrorism authorities passed to their Spanish and other European counterparts on Friday night in order to carry out identity checks.

Spanish authorities described the suspect as “very radical and potentially dangerous”

Spain has information on this 26-year-old Moroccan national because he was legally resident in the country for seven years. Spanish anti-terrorism sources have told EL PAÍS that the suspect lived in Spain between 2007 and 2014, first in Madrid, then in the southern port city of Algeciras. He moved to France in March last year and from there traveled to Syria, allegedly to try to enlist with Islamic State. When he left Spain, Spanish authorities alerted the French intelligence services about his presence in France, describing him as “very radical and potentially dangerous.” He was also known to Belgian authorities.

El Kahzzani was legally resident in Spain, possessing a foreigner’s identification number, and his record shows that he was also arrested three times for drug trafficking, twice in Madrid and once in the Spanish north African exclave of Ceuta, the sources said.

For this Muslim scholar, the Chattanooga shooting brought a familiar sinking feeling

That was the first thought Omid Safi says went through his head when he saw news about the deadly shooting attack in Chattanooga on Thursday.

Mourners places flags at a growing memorial in front of the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee on July 16, 2015. Four Marines were killed on Thursday by a gunman who opened fire at two military offices in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before being fatally shot himself in an attack officials called a brazen, brutal act of domestic terrorism.  Credit: Tami Chappell/Reuters
Mourners places flags at a growing memorial in front of the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee on July 16, 2015. Four Marines were killed on Thursday by a gunman who opened fire at two military offices in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before being fatally shot himself in an attack officials called a brazen, brutal act of domestic terrorism. Credit: Tami Chappell/Reuters

Then came a familiar sinking feeling. “Not because the suspect is Muslim,” says Safi, who directs the Islamic Studies Center at Duke University. “When there is an act like this, it tends to undo all of the good work that has taken place in the community over the last years and months, and in particular in the month of Ramadan.”

More than just a Muslim punk band

Since setting up their band, The Kominas have come under fire from all sides: some punks say they aren’t real punks, while conservatives are critical of their politics. But who decides what punk is anyway? Isn’t the very essence of punk to push boundaries and upset the status quo? According to Richard Marcus, despite feeling ostracised by the white indie/punk scene and being the focus of media articles for reasons completely outside their control, the Kominas just keep on speaking their minds and making great music

Like any other creed, punk rock is widely open to personal interpretation. British punk of the 1970s was wildly different from American punk of the same period; New York punk was different from California punk, while Toronto’s punk scene was a sort of mash-up of all three. After nearly 40 years of listening to punk, the only generalisation I’m willing to make on the subject is that it’s more of an attitude than a style of music. Punk is a willingness to speak your mind and live with the consequences; it’s about taking chances and not accepting the status quo.

So using a catch-all phrase like “punk Islam” or Taqwacore (a name derived from the book of the same name by American author Michael Muhammad Knight) won’t give you an idea of a band’s nature, save that the members might share the same religious background. While using this term also seems to be fairly insulting (after all, how many “Christian punk” or “white punk” bands do you know of?), that hasn’t stopped the labelling from happening.

This is part of an overall syndrome that the band The Kominas was railing against in a recent post on their Facebook page: “There’s a lot of publicity that comes with Muslims performing normalcy for the West. ‘Oh wow, look at these Muslims who skateboard and are totally average,’ ‘hey, look at these Muslims who listen to & make music,’ ‘wow, this Muslim is just a normal shithead (just like me!)’. You can call it whatever you want (we would say tatti, but it’s your choice), we just wanted to say fuck that. We are more than a label. Fuck your binaries. Fuck all of them, fuck American:Muslim, Male:Female, white:other…” (Kominas Facebook page, 13 June 2015)

The Kominas have been associated with Taqwacore through both their association with Knight and with a documentary movie they were featured in, Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam. The movie was split between documenting “Islamic” punk bands touring together with Knight on an old school bus around America and a trip by Knight to Pakistan where he visited various Sufi shrines, the madrassa he had attended and the Kominas, who were in the midst of a two year sojourn in the country.

Breaking the mould

This was when I first ran into the band and over the years, I’ve stumbled across them on the Internet and been impressed by their music and what they have to say about it: why they perform and what punk means to them. Founding members Basim Usmani (bass) and Shahjehan Khan (guitar) started the band in 2005 when they met up at university in Boston. Karna Ray soon joined as drummer, and over the years, the rest of the band’s membership has shifted and evolved to where the original trio is now, augmented by Hassin Ali Malik.

While they have only released a couple of full-length CDs (Kominas and Wild Nights In Guantanamo Bay), a couple of singles (“BariyaN Ashiq Mizaj AkhaN TeriaN” and “Sharia Law in the U.S.A.”) and a six-song CD (Escape To Blackout Beach), they have garnered a great deal of attention. Some of it has obviously been from American media trying to get their heads around the fact young Muslims are in a popular music band, but mostly it is because of their appeal to people both in America and in South-East Asia. With songs written in English, Urdu and Punjabi, they can cross cultural boundaries few American-based groups even know exist.

However, that doesn’t mean they are universally popular. In fact, they come under fire from all ends of the political, musical and religious spectrum. In an interview given to Vanyaland, a Boston-based music magazine, Usmani touches on this when he mentions how they get flak from anti-religion Pakistani punks for being identified as Muslim and from Indonesian punks who say they aren’t real Muslim punks.

Of course, their politics – and maybe their existence – also upset conservatives of all types (political, religious and musical) at home. As evident from the quote above, they have strong opinions, which they don’t hesitate to express. However, that’s what a punk band is supposed to do – upset the status quo. Sure, there are punks out there who claim The Kominas aren’t punk enough because they play more than three chords and experiment with different styles and genres of music, but their approach to music and their lyrical content is pure punk. As definitive a figure as John Lydon (Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) has said the whole idea of a punk orthodoxy – that you can only listen to or play certain types of music to be punk – is ridiculous.

 

Can a Muslim be a punk?

Unfortunately there’s also the issue of colour: brown-skinned people from South-East Asia aren’t supposed to thrash about on stage with guitars and drums and their hair spiked up in Mohawks. They’re supposed to play sitars and other ethnic instruments. In an interview on the MTV website given earlier this year, Malik responded to a question about how being Muslim has impacted on the way the music community has treated them by saying he felt they were ostracised by the white indie/punk scene – as much as that scene even exists anymore.

The hardest thing for The Kominas is being treated like any other band. In reply to the same question above, Usmani said the press only seems to be interested in them when Islamophobia is in the news or as a token for an article about assimilation. Yes, they began life as a supposed Muslim punk band, (drummer Ray is a secular Hindu born in the States to academic parents) but they’re more than that. Not only are they breaking down stereotypes by playing music people of colour aren’t “supposed” to play, they are playing really good music.

The irony of an article like this one, of course, is that it only perpetuates the problem of them being treated like any other band. However, hopefully the release of their new album, Stereotype, later this year will garner them the attention they deserve as a band, not just as the Islamic punks from Boston. True to their punk natures, it will be released on their own label – most likely as a digital download from their website. Wherever you are, and whoever you are, make sure to grab a copy.

Fire destroys restaurant owned by terror suspect

July 14, 2014

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A fire has destroyed a New York restaurant owned by a man charged last month with plotting vengeance attacks against members of the U.S. military and the Muslim community.

Local media report that firefighters responded late Sunday night to a report of a fire at the former Mojoes Restaurant in Rochester.

Firefighters had to break down the boarded-up door of the building to get inside. Officials say the restaurant’s interior was destroyed.

In June, the restaurant’s 30-year-old owner, Mufid Elfgeeh, was arrested after federal prosecutors said he bought two unregistered guns from an FBI informant. Investigators say he plotted to kill returning U.S. troops for American actions overseas and Shiite Muslims over the civil war in Syria.

Elfgeeh, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Yemen, is being held in Monroe County Jail.