Hackney woman told to remove burka by crown court judge

A judge has refused to let a Muslim woman in a full-length burka enter a plea until she reveals her face. The 21-year-old from Hackney, who is charged with intimidating a witness, said she could not remove the veil in front of men because of her religion. Judge Peter Murphy said however, she could not stand trial in the veil, which only reveals her eyes, because her identity could not be confirmed. The Judge argued that the principle of open justice overrode the woman’s religious beliefs, warning that a different person could go into the dock pretending to be her if she did not show her face. Stating that, “I can’t, as a circuit judge, accept a plea from a person whose identity I am unable to ascertain.” The woman’s barrister, Claire Burtwistle, told the court the woman was not prepared to lower her veil with men in the room and suggested a female police officer or prison guard could identify the defendant and confirm it to the court. However, Judge Murphy rejected the proposal and said: “It seems to me to be quite fundamental that the court is sure who it is dealing with. Judge Murphy adjourned the case for legal argument over whether the defendant should have to remove her veil.

Anti-Shariah Bill introduced in North Carolina

The state House Judiciary Committee sent a bill to the House floor today, even though no one – not even the sponsor – could come up with any evidence that it’s needed.

House Bill 640, sponsored by Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, would, according to the bill analysis, “prohibit the application or enforcement of a foreign law in a legal proceeding if doing so would violate a right granted by the North Carolina or United States constitutions.” It would also nullify provisions in contracts or agreements “calling for the application of foreign law or choosing a foreign venue…if it violated a constitutional right of a party.”

The first version of the legislation was passed by ballot initiative in Oklahoma. It specifically named Sharia, and was promptly blocked by a judge, who declared that unconstitutional.

Since then, newer versions of the measure in states from Arkansas and Texas to Indiana and Alaska have been more carefully worded. Cleveland’s version makes no mention of religion at all, and it wasn’t mentioned in committee.

But House Minority Leader Joe Hackney has no doubt. “It’s about sharia,” he said “It’s part of the far-right agenda. The extreme far right agenda.”

Muslim schoolgirls show that faith and fashion are not incompatible

In a first floor classroom in the Hackney campus of the London School of Fashion a small group of young schoolgirls are wrapping clothes on to tailor’s dummies. They are using conventional clothes in unconventional ways – turning ties into belts and baggy T-shirts into neckwear. The idea is to challenge traditional notions of normality in fashion.

The approach is a common one for aspiring designers but it feels especially appropriate for the 20 assembled schoolgirls, all of whom are British and Muslim and all of whom are in traditional Islamic dress.

The girls are taking part in an initiative called Faith and Fashion that is using the widespread fixation of Muslim women’s dress as a starting point for a discussion on how to create fashion that reflects a British Muslim sensibility. Sophia Tillie, the 28-year-old white, British woman who runs the scheme, converted to Islam while at university. She is now engaged in trying to examine how the concept of modesty – so essential to Islamic thinking – can be interpreted differently depending on the context of time and place.

Christianity and Islam race for prominence at Olympic Park

The Olympics is meant to promote solidarity – but the 2012 Games has become a question of faith for some in East London as Christianity and Islam vie to become the most visible religion around the 500-acre park. Muslim leaders have begun a charm offensive with residents in the borough of Newham over controversial plans to build a 12,000-capacity “super-mosque” on the edge of the Olympic Park. Trustees of the Abbey Mills Mosque conducted tours of the 18-acre site in West Ham last week to show they had “nothing to hide”, say their Westminster lobbyists. The tours are a prelude to a summer exhibition of plans for the _75 million mosque designed by architects Allies and Morrison, whose buildings include the Royal Observatory and the Royal Festival Hall. The mosque is likely to be Europe’s largest and four-times the size of Britain’s largest cathedral. Their proposal, which includes a 500-place Islamic school, has met with resistance from Christians, whose plans for an _80 million “mega-church” in neighbouring Hackney were rejected by planning officials last month. The Kingsway International Christian Centre, which claims to be the fastest-growing church in western Europe, wanted to build a church capable of holding 8,000 people – or five times the size of Westminster Abbey – after it was evicted from its home on the Olympic site.

Lies, Myths And Falsehoods: A Day In The Life Of The Bnp’s Stronghold

{Two months after council elections, far-right party says it has launchpad for Westminster} by Steve Boggan LONDON – The man from the BNP breezes up in a white linen suit looking like some latter-day Martin Bell and says: “Can you believe it? Two of our schools are having Muslim days tomorrow – on 7/7! It’s like chucking mud in people’s faces.” Fresh-faced and brimming with enthusiasm, this is Richard Barnbrook, the leader of the second-largest party in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham. In May’s local elections, Mr Barnbrook caused a big political upset by leading a group of BNP candidates to electoral victory in 11 wards. In political terms, it sent a message on immigration that the main parties are still struggling to come to terms with. For the BNP, it was something of a watershed – a foothold in Greater London that the party feels will pave the way for its first foray into the House of Commons. Two months on and there is no sense of shame among the people who voted BNP. It was no spur of the moment decision that was regretted the next day. If anything, there is a sense that the party might do even better next time. What is emerging, however, is that the election success was based on a campaign of misinformation and rumour-mongering on a huge and continuing scale. Housing ? Before the election, the party focused its efforts on promulgating the claim that the borough’s housing stock was being given to people from outside its boundaries, mainly asylum seekers and refugees. Mr Barnbrook and his colleagues also leafleted the electorate, telling them grants of up to _50,000 were being given by nearby Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney to encourage people to move into Barking and Dagenham, thus helping them to buy the cheapest housing stock. It is a claim all three boroughs deny. Hackney’s deputy mayor, Jamie Carswell, said yesterday: “I can say categorically that we do not give, and have never given, grants for people to buy houses in Hackney, Barking and Dagenham or anywhere else. It is an utter fabrication.” Unlike some BNP councillors around the country, Mr Barnbrook, a personable 45-year-old former teacher, takes his new role seriously. We accompany him during an “emergency surgery” at Barking town hall. He describes it as emergency because it is his first since taking office – no schools or community centres have so far allowed the BNP to use their premises. “It’s scandalous,” he says. “We have been democratically elected yet we are not being afforded our democratic rights and privileges. The ruling Labour group haven’t even given us computers that we are entitled to. And we are being denied information when we request it on matters like housing. When I asked for one set of figures, I was told they were on a need-to-know basis, and I didn’t need to know.” The only visitors to the surgery are Sandra, a 43-year-old mother of three, and two of her friends. Sandra is in tears because she is being evicted from rented accommodation as the owner wants it back. The situation has brought her marriage to the brink and one of her daughters is so worried that her hair is falling out. “I asked the council to help house us but I was told to wait until the day the bailiffs come, put our possessions into a van and then, once we’re homeless, to come to the council offices and they’d see what they could do,” she says. “But the worry is killing us.” In fairness to Mr Barnbrook, he does not play the race card, but after the interview, Sandra says: “If I was a refugee or an asylum seeker, you can bet I’d be housed by now. They’re taking up all the council houses, being given grants and furniture while local people go to the back of the queue.” And Mr Barnbrook nods in agreement. In fact, according to Barking and Dagenham, of its 20,250 council homes, just four are occupied by asylum seekers or refugees. “They’re flooding in,” Mr Barnbrook says later. “We checked the additions to the electoral roll and between May and July 5 there were 1,600 new additions and I can’t even begin to pronounce their names. They sound African.” Charles Fairbrass, the council leader, says he is exasperated by the BNP’s continuing claims that outsiders – usually foreigners – are being given housing stock before local people. The council has a policy of putting its residents first. “They are making these claims and whipping up racial tension,” he says. “Often, it is based on the colour of a person’s skin. There is a growing black middle class in London and many of them want to get on the property ladder. Because we have some of the cheapest housing in London, they choose to buy here. And when they buy ex-local authority property, people often assume that those properties are still local authority and they’ve been allowed to jump the queue.” Mr Fairbrass describes BNP council attendance as intermittent and their councillors’ performance as useless. “They have never debated anything or challenged committee reports. We have even set up induction classes for new councillors, but they have hardly attended any.” Mr Barnbrook admits that he and his colleagues are on a steep learning curve but they are taking lessons from more experienced BNP councillors from the north of England. “It’s true we don’t debate with them because there is no point,” he argues. “They make us put all our questions in writing and then the replies we get are pathetic.” Outside the chamber, however, the BNP seems to be winning the battle for many hearts and minds. Before the election the party put out leaflets claiming that burglaries were up 79%, robberies up 80%, violent crime up 61% and that 33% of the borough’s residents were now from minority ethnic groups. The Barking and Dagenham Post checked the figures and found that burglaries were down 11.7%, robberies up by 5%, rapes were down 10.8%, violent crime was up by 1.2% and around 15% of residents were from an ethnic minority. “The problem,” says the Post’s editor, Barry Kirk, “is that people seem to believe them. I don’t believe that the people of Barking and Dagenham are racist, but some of the claims the BNP are making about housing are causing a lot of upset.” Propaganda ? On the streets, the propaganda is working. Tommy Mann, 57, a steel erector, says: “I think the BNP are doing a good job. I didn’t vote for them because I was away, but I will in future. There are just too many immigrants and they all seem to be coming here. Other councils are buying houses here and shipping them in.” Emma Lewis, 18, has a mixed race daughter and does not like the racist element of the BNP, but she, too, says she would be more likely to vote for the party in future because of the housing issue. Her mother, Theresa Barnett, 43, says: “There are so many foreigners – asylum seekers and illegal immigrants – ahead of you when you try to get a council house. Local people just don’t get a fair crack of the whip.” Mr Barnbrook said his party campaigned first on housing, second on crime, third on education and only fourth on immigration. But it is impossible to separate the housing issue from race and that, in turn, fuels more disturbing – if incorrect – rumours. Chuma Mwanakatwe, 29, is shopping with her son, Moses, two and a half. Her husband, Paschal, is a staff nurse at a London hospital. “Someone told us that if they get more power the BNP would like to introduce a system of apartheid – separate schools for blacks and whites,” she says. “And that really scares me.” Backstory The BNP focused its Barking and Dagenham campaign on local concern over housing and changing demographics. It falsely claimed that the council had a secret scheme to give African families _50,000 to buy local houses . Attention on the area intensified after Barking MP Margaret Hodge claimed that eight out of 10 voters in her constituency were thinking of voting for the BNP – a warning widely criticised by Labour organisers who said it gave the party unwarranted credibility . The BNP picked up 11 of the 13 seats it contested and became the second biggest group on the council. Nationally the party gained 32 councillors i
n May.