Speculations about radicalisation after Gaza convoy raid

Peter Neumann, director of the Center for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College, London University, said the Gaza convoy incident could prove to be a “tipping point” similar to the publication of U.S. abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, credited by analysts with deepening Arab and Muslim opposition to Western intervention in Iraq. “I’d expect a significant impact from this on radicalisation,” he told Reuters.

In Britain, Muslim activists reported fury at the incident. “My streets are in danger, and I say ‘streets’ meaning not just Bradford but the whole UK. This makes trouble for us peacemakers,” said Owais Rajput, a researcher at Bradford University in West Yorkshire, the home area of three of the four men who killed 52 people in the London attacks of 2005.

Abu Muaz of Call2Islam, a radical British-based Muslim group that seeks uncompromising opposition to Israel, said in the past two days there had been “a lot of anger among the youth.” “They ask what’s the point of just demonstrating? In the mosques, the imams don’t have a solution.”

Warning over record number of anti-Semitic attacks in Britain

A record number of anti-Semitic attacks is “deeply troubling,” Prime Minister Gordon Brown said today. More than 924 reports of bigoted violence and abuse — 460 of which were in London — were received last year by the Jewish Community Security Trust. The charity, which monitors anti-Semitism in Britain, said the figures marked the worst year since records began in 1984. They included violent street attacks, arson, egg-throwing, racist graffiti, website hacking and hate mail.

Researchers said the surge was fuelled by the ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces last January. Almost a quarter of incidents (23 per cent) included some form of reference to the conflict. The fighting was marked by protests around the world, including ugly confrontations outside the Israeli Embassy in Kensington.

Arson attack on Islamic charity shop in Glasgow

The Glasgow branch of Islamic Relief has been badly damaged by a fire which police say was started deliberately. Owners of the Islamic Relief store said the incident followed threatening phone calls made during its Gaza emergency appeal in January. Politicians and leading Islamic figures condemned the attack as “despicable” and said it was lucky no-one was injured as there are flats above. Around £80,000 worth of damage were caused in the suspected racist attack.

Osama Saeed, chief executive of the Scottish-Islamic Foundation said: “This also shows not just a misunderstanding of Islamic Relief’s humanitarian work, but also the growing threat of Islamophobia”. Two men, aged 26 and 34, have now appeared in court charged in connection with the fire.

The San Francisco Gate examines: Will Obama’s words matter to the Muslim world?

President Obama has been criticized for his approach to the Muslim world prior to his visit to Turkey, by those who see Obama’s promise to open a dialogue with the Muslim world as endemic of being soft on terrorism. Yet, others wonder why the president would waste time on words and glowing speeches, when imported policy is imminently needed. Others point to Obama’s virtual silence on Israel’s war on Gaza.

The criticisms are based around one major concern – actions speak louder than words. While scholars and intellectuals alike agree that Barack Obama has worked to set a new tone in US-Muslim relationships and a significant shift has been made since end of the Bush era, Munir Jiwa of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkely writes that Muslims are asking to be more active and participatory in public discourse, and the misunderstandings that have amounted over the past eight years must finally be addressed and talked about instead of ignored, and active mutual understanding over just talking about finding common ground will ultimately lead to resolution.

Interview with U.S. Author Steve Coll: ‘Osama bin Laden is Planning Something for the US Election’

US author Steve Coll spent years looking into Osama bin Laden’s family. Now, his new book provides a unique insight into the clan. SPIEGEL spoke with him about where the terrorist might be hiding, how his father got his start, and the unique romantic liasons pursued by one of his brothers. SPIEGEL: Mr. Coll, Osama bin Laden recently broke a long silence. He threatened Europe and called for the “liberation” of the Gaza Strip. How seriously should we take these missives? Do they tell us anything about him or about where he might be?

Imam cancels synagogue trip

The imam of Rome’s mosque has called off a first-ever visit to the city’s synagogue, which had been hailed as a historic step in inter-faith dialogue between Italian Muslims and Jews. The synagogue’s rabbi expressed concern over what he called alarming signals from Egypt pointing to opposition to the visit among Islamic scholars because of the recent blockage of the Gaza strip. Italian newspapers said the Rome imam, Ala Eldin al Ghobashy, had been contacted by al-Azhar University, and had been advised against the visit. Muslim leaders in Rome denied intervention from Egypt, and instead cited logistical problems, and that the visit had not been cancelled, but delayed.

Muslim Groups Protest Closure of Charity

The American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections has expressed its anger at the closure of the Muslim charity KindHearts by US authorities in February this year. KindHearts, the Ohio-based group was a $5 million-a-year charity with branches in Lebanon, Pakistan, and the Gaza Strip. It provided funds for water treatment plants and orphanages, but was shut down by federals authorities amid allegations that it was aiding Hamas. Pleas by American-Muslim leaders to US Treasury Secretary John Snow for guidelines on how to financially aid the Palestinian people without being accused of terrorism have been ignored.

Imams In Spain Say Muslims And Jews Must Confront Extremism

SEVILLE, Spain, March 23 — Scores of rabbis and imams gathered here this week to discuss what they called a deepening crisis in relations between Muslims and Jews, saying religious leaders must confront religious extremism and the failure to make meaningful progress on the conflict in the Middle East. The meeting did not produce any sweeping agreements, but it was nonetheless heralded by many participants as a breakthrough, bringing together religious leaders who have the potential to bridge the divisions between Muslims and Jews, but who rarely interact. Leaders who seldom cross paths despite living only minutes apart, like ultra-Orthodox rabbis from Israel and former members of the radical Palestinian group Hamas, spent four days in a hotel here sitting in the same rooms, eating the same meals and occasionally talking, guardedly at first, but increasingly freely as the conference progressed. You have some of the most fundamentalist people from both religions here, said Eliezer Simcha Weisz, a rabbi in Emek Hefer, Israel. These people would never sit together in Israel. The meeting, organized by the French foundation Hommes de Parole, which promotes dialogue between conflicting groups, included hostile exchanges and pointed arguments about terrorism, Israeli settlements and claims to Jerusalem. But it also led to some uninhibited displays of camaraderie, like rabbis and imams singing and dancing together during an impromptu musical performance in the hotel lobby near midnight. But sporadic displays of conviviality did not temper the underlying tension. At the opening ceremony on Sunday, the chief rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, noting that most Muslims are moderates, asked the imams in the audience: Why don’t you speak when Bin Laden invokes your religion to justify terrorism? Why don’t you express yourselves in a loud voice? Even discussions as seemingly innocuous as the virtues of peace often turned into arguments. No one can speak about peace while there is occupation, said Imad al-Falouji, a former Hamas member and one of the most prominent imams in Gaza, referring to the Israeli presence in the West Bank. But the participants appeared to agree broadly that tensions between Muslims and Jews had grown worse in recent years in part because religious leaders had lost their voice, allowing politicians, diplomats and, most worrisome, extremists to dictate relations between the two religions. Religion has been misused by the fundamentalists, who have taken over religion and made us hostages, said Andr_ Azoulay, a Jew from Morocco who is a senior adviser to King Mohammed VI. They could do so because we were silent. Rabbi Daniel Sperber, president of the Institute for Advanced Torah Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, said that religious leaders had many shared beliefs and might be able to reach agreements where diplomats had failed. We haven’t even begun to tap the resources of the religious world, he said. This is the first stage, trying to bring people together to establish some sort of common agenda. At the conclusion of the conference on Wednesday, the leaders issued a joint communiqu_ denouncing the use of religion to justify violence and urging respect for religious symbols, an apparent response to the recent protests of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The declaration also included an implicit condemnation of statements from Hamas and the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calling for the destruction of Israel. We condemn any incitement against a faith or people, let alone any call for their elimination, and we urge authorities to do likewise, the statement said. But the real value of the conference, most participants said, was in the informal meetings that took place in the hallways and at the dinner tables, allowing participants to put faces on people often portrayed as the enemy back home. Ashour Kullab, a Muslim leader from Gaza who had never spoken with a rabbi before coming here, said he spoke with two rabbis on the first morning of the conference. There were no problems with them, he said. They listened and I listened. They are my friends now. The encounter, he said, could never have happened in the Gaza Strip, where extremists do not tolerate friendships with Jews. If I go with them in the streets in Gaza, I might get shot, he said. The group first met last year in Brussels. In bringing the conference to Seville this year, organizers hoped to recapture some of the relative harmony that is said to have governed Muslim-Jewish relations here during the Middle Ages, when Spain was a Muslim-controlled territory called Al Andalus. That sense of cooperation seemed to find its way into many discussions. During a coffee break early in the conference, Stuart Altshuler, a rabbi from Mission Viejo, Calif., got into an angry dispute with Mr. Falouji, the imam from Gaza, over the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. But the two made up shortly after, saying they had benefited from the exchange. I was able to meet with Falouji from Gaza, Rabbi Altshuler said the next day. I’ve dreamed of a chance to do that.

Israeli Arabs Jump Into Cartoon Fray By Agencies

For the first time since the international crisis began, Israeli Arabs took to the streets yesterday afternoon to protest cartoons deemed insulting to the Prophet Mohammed that were published in the European press. At least 500 demonstrators gathered peacefully in the Galilee city of Nazareth. A procession set off from the Al-Salaam mosque toward the Basilica of the Annunciation, where Christian tradition says Mary was informed of Jesus’ impending birth. Sheik Raed Salah, a radical leader of the Islamic Movement, was to address the crowd later. “Allah is the only God, and Mohammed is his prophet,” loudspeakers blared as the march began. Meanwhile in the Palestinian Authority, hundreds of Palestinians stormed European institutions and burned German and Danish flags in Gaza City. About two dozen protesters stormed the German cultural center, smashing windows and breaking doors. Down the street, about 30 Palestinians threw stones at the European Commission building, and replaced the EU flag with a Palestinian flag, before police brought them under control. About 50 schoolchildren and teenagers gathered on one corner of the street shortly after to try to resume the attacks on the two buildings, but Palestinian riot police, armed with batons, pushed them back. The youths threw stones at the police, then fled. Later in the day, about 400 protesters marched on the European Commission building, accompanied by a loudspeaker car that blared, “Insulting the prophet means insulting every Muslim,” and urged merchants to boycott Danish products: “With our blood and souls we defend you, O Prophet.” Protesters also set fire to a Danish flag. Police set up a cordon at the building to prevent stone-throwing, but protesters heeded organizers’ appeals and didn’t attack. Most of the demonstrators were merchants who called for a boycott of European goods, and many carried small books of the Koran. Elsewhere in Gaza City, armed men with links to the Fatah Party handed out red carnations to students, nuns and the priest at a Roman Catholic school to apologize for other Fatah gunmen who threatened earlier in the week to target churches as part of their protests. Danish and French members of the international observer team at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt stayed away from Gaza on Thursday, and instead worked from the group’s headquarters in the nearby Israeli city of Ashkelon, said a spokesman, Julio de La Guardia. Meanwhile in Damascus, demonstrators set fire to the building that houses the Norwegian, Danish and Swedish embassies in Syria. While no diplomats were reported injured, these attacks were the most violent so far in the protests against the cartoons. The cartoons have caused a furor across the Muslim world, in part because Islamic law is interpreted as forbidding any depictions of Islam’s holiest figure. Aggravating the affront was one caricature of Mohammed wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. The cartoons were first published in Denmark, and then in newspapers elsewhere in Europe in a show of solidarity with freedom of the press. In Brussels, the European Union called on the Palestinian Authority to protect EU buildings from attack. Danish Foreign Minister Stig Moeller called the Damascus embassy attack “horrible and totally unacceptable” on public television. He said he telephoned his Syrian counterpart, Farouk al-Sharaa, “to tell him it was totally unacceptable that Syrian authorities have not been able to protect the embassy.” He said al-Sharaa said he regretted the incident. The United States condemned the cartoons, siding with Muslims outraged that newspapers put freedom of the press over respect for religion. “We … respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable,” said State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper. Major U.S. publications have not republished the cartoons. The U.S. response contrasted with that of European governments, which have generally accepted the newspapers’ rights to print the cartoons. The furor cuts to the question of which is more sacred in the Western world – freedom of expression or respect for religious beliefs. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, applauded the U.S. position. The State Department reaction “was a strong statement in support of Muslims around the world,” he said.

Denmark: Caricature Of Prophet Mohammed Outrages Muslim World

TUNISIA, (AFP) – Cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Mohammed in the Danish and Norwegian press provoked boycotts and angry protests across the Muslim world yesterday as interior ministers from 17 Arab countries called on the Danish government to punish the authors. “The council of Arab interior ministers strongly denounce the offence to Islam and the prophet published in the Danish press and ask the Danish government to firmly punish the authors of these offences,” the council said in a statement after a meeting in the Tunisian capital. Saudi Interior Minister Nayef Ben Abdel Aziz called on other Arab countries to recall their ambassadors from Copenhagen. Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador last week and a boycott of Danish products is under way in the kingdom. Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa said before the meeting that the European press “fears being accused of anti-Semitism, but invokes freedom of expression when it caricatures Islam.” The Moroccan Islamist newspaper Attajdid praised protests across the Arab world. “A strong cry of fidelity to this great prophet must emanate from Morocco,” the paper said. A council of 15 senior Moroccan theologians condemned the association of Mohammed with “execrable” actions “diametrically opposed to what the messenger of God came to fight against”. The 12 cartoons, entitled “The Faces of Mohammed”, originally published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September, were reproduced in the Norwegian magazine Magazinet on January 10. They include a portrayal of Mohammed wearing a time bomb-shaped turban and show him as a wild-eyed, knife-wielding Bedouin flanked by two women shrouded in black. The Algerian foreign ministry denounced the “outrageous injuries” to the prophet and warned that the cartoons were harmful to religious dialogue and relations between nations. Sudan turned down a visit by Denmark’s defence minister and urged all firms to boycott Danish products, the official news agency SUNA reported. In Gaza, a picture of Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was set alight during a protest outside the UN compound in Gaza City. Protestors also torched pictures of Israel’s acting prime minister Ehud Olmert and US president George W Bush while gunmen fired bullets into the air. “This barbarous offensive on Islam is the result of a campaign of incitement against Islam waged by Bush,” Nafez Azzam, a Jihad leader, told reporters.