Muslim group in Germany demands ban on anti-mosque party

A far-right party which is organizing pickets outside German mosques should be banned, a leading Muslim group said Tuesday. Aiman Mazyek, secretary of the Council Council of Muslims, one of four main Islamic groups in Germany, added it was intolerable that the National Democratic Party (NPD) was able to obtain state payouts. He spoke in the central city of Erfurt where the Thuringia state chapter of the far-right group had earlier announced the anti-mosque parades, triggering plans by opponents for counter-demonstrations. Mazyek spoke just days after a Muslim woman was murdered in court by a right-winger as she was seeking justice against him for insulting her for wearing a head-scarf. Germany’s main parties have hesitated to seek a legal ban on the NPD after a 2003 bid was defeated in court. Under a law granting state aid to all parties in proportion to the votes they receive, the NPD has obtained government subsidies.

Egyptians cry racism in woman’s slaying in Germany

Thousands of Egyptian mourners marched behind the coffin of the “martyr of the head scarf” on Monday — a pregnant Muslim woman who was stabbed to death in a German courtroom as her young son watched. Many in her homeland were outraged by the attack and saw the low key response in Germany as an example of racism and anti-Muslim sentiment. Her husband was critically wounded in the attack Wednesday in Dresden when he tried to intervene and was stabbed by the attacker and accidentally shot by court security. “There is no god but God and the Germans are the enemies of God,” chanted the mourners for 32-year-old Marwa al-Sherbini in her hometown of Alexandria, where her body was buried after being flown back from Germany. “We will avenge her killing,” her brother Tarek el-Sherbini told The Associated Press by telephone from the mosque where prayers were being recited in front of his sister’s coffin. “In the West, they don’t recognize us. There is racism.” Al-Sherbini, who was about four months pregnant and wore the Islamic head scarf, was involved in a court case against her neighbor for calling her a terrorist and was set to testify against him when he stabbed her 18 times inside the courtroom in front of her 3-year-old son. Her husband, who was in Germany on a research fellowship, came to her aid and was also stabbed by the neighbor and shot in the leg by a security guard who initially mistook him for the attacker, German prosecutors said. He is now in critical condition in a German hospital, according to al-Sherbini’s brother. “The guards thought that as long as he wasn’t blond, he must be the attacker so they shot him,” al-Sherbini told an Egyptian television station. The man, who has only been identified as 28-year-old Alex W., remains in detention and prosecutors have opened an investigation on suspicion of murder. Christian Avenarius, the prosecutor in Dresden where the incident took place, described the killer as driven by a deep hatred of Muslims. “It was very clearly a xenophobic attack of a fanatical lone wolf.” He added that the attacker was a Russian of German descent who had immigrated to Germany in 2003 and had expressed his contempt for Muslims at the start of the trial. At its regular news conference on Monday, a German government spokesman Thomas Steg said if the attack was racist, the government “naturally condemns this in the strongest terms.” The killing has dominated Egyptian media for days, while it has received comparatively little coverage in German and Western media. MAGGIE MICHAEL reports.

Al Qaeda gives Austria ultimatum on hostages’ release

Al Qaeda’s North African wing said on Thursday it had given Austria three days to secure the release of some of its members held in Algeria and Tunisia in return for two Austrian hostages it was holding. The group said in a statement posted on an Islamist Web site that it had informed the Austrian government of the ultimatum which will start at midnight on Thursday, without giving a time zone. “Austria would be responsible for the lives of the two hostages should the deadline come and our demands are not met,” it said, adding that the demands and a list of the names of the prisoners were sent to Vienna through unidentified mediators. The group posted pictures of the man and woman, whom it says it seized on February 22, surrounded by armed militants in a desert area. The face of the woman who wore a blue head scarf was digitally blurred, apparently to abide with an austere interpretation of Islam which says women should cover their faces. Inal Ersan and by Mark Heinrich in Vienna

Ankara headscarf reform hot topic for Berlin’s Turks

Turkey’s plans to lift a ban on Islamic headscarves in universities has become a hot topic of conversation among young Turkish women in Berlin, home to western Europe’s biggest population with Turkish roots. Turkey’s parliament gave initial approval on Thursday to the move, fiercely opposed by a secular elite that fears religious encroachment on the state and moves towards sharia law. “It’s a human right to wear a head scarf,” said Derya Issever, a second-generation Turkish fashion student from Berlin’s southern district of Kreuzberg, the heart of the capital’s Turkish community. “But you’re more likely to see people wearing a headscarf here in Berlin than in the centre of Istanbul,” said the secular 25-year-old who was born in Germany. Many of the Turkish immigrants in Kreuzberg came from conservative Anatolia, where the headscarf is commonly worn, rather than the more Europeanized cities such as Istanbul and Ankara. Turkish culture flourishes here in cafes, grocery shops, clubs for young Turks, political groups and mosques. Sarah Roberts reports.

Judge: Philadelphia police can bar officer from wearing head scarf

PHILADELPHIA: A federal judge ruled that the city’s police department did not violate the civil rights of a Muslim officer when it forbade her from wearing a head scarf on the job. Kimberlie Webb, 44, who has been on the force more than 10 years, filed a discrimination lawsuit in October 2005 after the department said she could not wear a khimar at work because the religious symbol violated uniform regulations. U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III on Tuesday sided with the city and dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the police department did not discriminate or retaliate against Webb. “Prohibiting religious symbols and attire helps to prevent any divisiveness on the basis of religion both within the force itself and when it encounters the diverse population of Philadelphia,” Bartle wrote. “Under the circumstances, it would clearly cause the city an undue hardship if it had to allow (Webb) to wear a khimar.” In February 2003, Webb told her supervisor that her religion required her to wear the scarf, which covered her hair, forehead, neck, shoulders, and chest. When her request was denied, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In Germany, Citizenship Tests Stir up Muslims, and Public Debate

Brahms, beer and Beethoven are German, but can a Muslim head scarf be German too? Islamic communities throughout this country are beginning to wonder. What it means to be German is an excruciating riddle, not something casually broached in a cafe. But efforts to sharpen national identity through new citizenship tests have caused a furor over accusations that Muslims are being unfairly targeted for exclusion by questions concerning head scarves, arranged marriages, homosexuality and Israel’s right to exist.

Dutch Convert To Islam: Veiled And Viewed As A ‘Traitor’

A Woman’s Experience Illustrates Europe’s Struggle With Its Identity Rabi’a Frank sees her Dutch home town through the narrow slit of the black veil that covers her face. The looks she receives from the townspeople are seldom kindly. On a recent winter afternoon, the wind tugged at her ankle-length taupe skirt, olive head scarf and black, rectangular face veil as she walked to her car from an Islamic prayer meeting in downtown Breda. Two blond teenagers on bicycles stared, their faces screwed into hostile snarls. Other passersby gawked. Some stepped off the sidewalk to avoid coming too near. She tried to act like it didn’t offend her. But it did. She knows what they think of Muslim women like her. “If you cover yourself, you are oppressed — that’s it,” said Frank, a lanky, 29-year-old Dutch woman who converted to Islam 11 years ago, about the time she married her Moroccan husband. “You are being brainwashed by your husband or your friends.” Or, you’re a potential terrorist. “Sometimes I make a joke and say, ‘Oh, you don’t have to be scared of me.’ ” Other times, she gets so fed up that she yanks up her hand under her robe like it’s a pistol and shouts, “Boom!” Frank spoke on a recent day in her living room in this city of 162,000 people near the Netherlands’ southern border with Belgium. “They don’t have the right to treat me different,” she said. “It’s like staring at someone in a wheelchair. It’s not polite. I’m human, even if you don’t like the way I appear.” This day-to-day struggle for acceptance on the streets of her home town is one woman’s confrontation with a deepening rift in West European societies, where the emergence of a 15 million-member Muslim minority is reshaping concepts of national and personal identity. Some European governments have passed laws they say are intended to help preserve national identity. Critics argue that the measures reflect Islamophobia and fears of terrorism triggered by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent transit bombings in Madrid and London. The Netherlands, with nearly 1 million Muslims, almost 6 percent of its population, is particularly on edge. The 2002 assassination of an anti-immigrant politician, Pim Fortuyn, by an animal rights activist was followed by the execution-style murder in 2004 of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who had just released a controversial film seen as anti-Islamic. A young Muslim radical admitted to the killing. A country with a history of tolerance is now adopting or debating some of the most restrictive anti-immigration and anti-Muslim laws in Europe. One proposed measure would ban women from wearing face veils, called niqab , in public. Another would outlaw the speaking of languages other than Dutch on the street. Immigrants must learn some Dutch, pass a history and geography test and, to get a feel for whether they can live in this society, watch a film on Dutch culture that includes two gay men kissing and a topless woman walking on a beach. Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch parliament, said he was drafting a bill that would ban all immigration for the next five years. “Our culture is based on Christianity, Judaism and humanism,” Wilders said in an interview in his tiny office in the parliament building in The Hague. “We should not be ashamed of it. This is who we are and who we should stay.” In Belgium, some cities have banned women from wearing face veils and burqas , which cover the entire body and face, in public places. A year ago, France barred women and girls from wearing head scarves in public schools. A London school district has imposed a similar ban. The Path of a Convert For natives such as Frank who have converted to Islam, the hostility is often greater than that directed at immigrants. “They think you are a traitor,” said Frank, whose thin, pale face is framed by long blondish-brown curls. “You’re not acting like a Dutch girl anymore. “I’m a Muslim, a woman and also Dutch,” she continued. “What upsets people is that I’m a Muslim first.” Frank can recall the instant she decided to wear a face veil: She had just stepped into Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport last year after making her first hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, and going to Medina, in Saudi Arabia. They are the holiest sites in Islam. It is more difficult, she said, to describe the evolution that took the former Rebecca Frank to her dramatic decision. It began at age 14 as teenage defiance. She developed a crush on a 16-year-old Moroccan boy named Ali who had moved to the Netherlands as a child with his parents. He was exotic, he was different — and, to the daughter of a Catholic mother and a Jewish father, he was off-limits. Over the years, as the relationship became more serious, Ali told Rebecca he could not marry her because she was not Muslim, even though he was not particularly religious. It’s not about Islam, he explained, it’s about culture. Without consulting him, she began reading books about Moroccan culture and Islam. Then she decided to read the Koran. “I felt like, ‘This is it,’ ” said Frank, whose parents were divorced and who, like many teenagers, was searching for an identity. When Ali took her to meet his mother and announced they planned to marry, his mother said she would “break both legs” if he did that, Frank said. Her future husband didn’t see his family for the next three months. Her own mother was so upset over the wedding that she brought flowers to the 18-year-old bride, broke down in tears and left before the Islamic ceremony began. Her father did attend the wedding. Clothing as a Statement Like most of her Muslim convert friends, Frank said, she found that the process of fully embracing Islamic thinking and dress was gradual. But eventually the clothing became the outward statement of her identity. “I smiled at all the Muslim women I saw in the streets,” she said. “But to them, I was just a plain Dutch girl with brown hair and blue eyes. I wanted to be recognized as a Muslim woman.” She changed her name from Rebecca to Rabi’a and began giving lectures about Islam. After she published an article on Islam in a local newspaper, a woman wrote her a letter demanding: “Go back to your own country.” “I’m in it now!” she thought angrily. The more Frank studied her religion, the more convinced she became that she should take the final step and wear not only a head scarf but a face veil. “It took me two years to convince my husband I wanted to do it,” Frank said. “He really didn’t want me to wear it because of the reaction when we go out together.” Frank had begun focusing on the words of one of the Koran’s foremost ancient interpreters, Rasulullah, who warned that “a woman who reveals her body” violates the tenets of Islam. During her pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia with her husband and mother-in-law, she covered her face in public for the first time. Far from feeling oppressed, she said, she felt liberated. “It’s like the song,” Frank said. She began softly singing the English lyrics of “The Veil,” a popular song on Muslim Web sites. They tell her, ‘Girl, don’t you know this is the West and you are free? / You don’t need to be oppressed, ashamed of your femininity.’ / She just shakes her head and speaks so assuredly. . . ./ This Hijab, this mark of piety / Is an act of faith, a symbol / For all the world to see. But on the streets of Breda, covered by her veil, Frank stands out as an anomaly — a curiosity to some, a freak to others. A few weeks ago, her middle son, 7-year-old Ismail, pleaded with her, “Why don’t you take it off? The children are laughing at you at school.” “I won’t take it off,” she insisted. “For me, it’s like driving a car without a seat belt.” She gazed out her living room window at the street that winds through her suburban enclave of brick townhouses and front gardens browned by winter frosts. “I am a Muslim,” she said with finality. “That’s my identity.”

The Murder Of A Turkish Woman In Berlin; A German Court Goes Face-To-Face With Honor Killings

By Sven Roebel Hatin Sürücü tried to live her own life — and may have been killed for it. The 23-year-old Turkish woman was shot point-blank in the face in February in Berlin. Many believe her own family was behind the murder and her brother is now on trial. When Hatin Sürücü was killed, walking on the sidewalk near her home in Berlin’s Tempelhof neigborhood, she was holding a cigarette. It was a French Gauloises, her favorite brand, and while emergency medical personnel tried to revive her with adrenaline shots and electroshocks, her cigarette slowly burned out between the middle and index fingers of her left hand. The photos taken by police at the murder scene in Berlin show many fine streams of blood flowing from the young woman’s head and merging in a dark, shiny pool. It looks almost as though someone had carefully combed Hatin’s long, dark hair as her head lay on the sidewalk. Her opened pack of cigarettes protrudes from the breast pocket of her corduroy jacket, a dark blue cardboard box with an advertising slogan printed on it in French: “Liberte toujours” — “Freedom forever.” The district attorney’s office in Berlin is convinced that Sürücü died on the evening of Feb. 7 because she had adopted the cigarette pack slogan as her own. Because she felt that being able to smoke in public was one of life’s ordinary freedoms. Because she had the courage to walk around without a head scarf. Because she felt it was her right to live in her own apartment and to disobey the men in her family — and to decide for herself who to love and who not to love. The murderer shot the 23-year-old Hatin Sürücü three times in the face, in rapid succession and at point-blank range, using a 7.65 mm pistol. It was like an execution. According to investigators in the case, the shots that killed this single mother of a six-year-old son represent the last stage in an Arab ritual intended to restore what the killer believed was the “family honor.” In a Berlin criminal court on Wednesday, three of her brothers will face charges of having maliciously killed their defenseless sister. Investigators believe that the defendants may have carried out the execution as part of a death sentence imposed by a “family council,” which assigned the role of executioner to the youngest son, 19-year-old Ayhan, while his brothers, Mütlü, 26, and Alpaslan, 24, were responsible for obtaining the pistol and planning the murder. The men have either denied the charges or refused to comment, but this isn’t the only problem authorities have encountered in the case. The case has long since become a matter of public debate that extends well beyond the articles of criminal law. Germans want to know what’s wrong with a country that has seen an estimated 50 so-called honor killings in the past decade. Why, people want to know, is Germany incapable of protecting its female citizens against violent attacks by Muslim husbands, fathers, or brothers? Some commentators have focused on the political symbolism that elevates the death of this attractive, modern woman to a kind of martyrdom, but they ignore the parallel world in which Sürücü was killed. If there’s any explanation for her death, the best place to look for it would be in Berlin’s heavily Turkish Kreuzberg district, where the presumed killers lived and where life follows two basic laws — the law of the neighborhood and the law of the Koran. On the one hand, there’s the Sürücü family’s four-room apartment on the fifth floor of a renovated building. The family prays five times a day and dogs, considered impure by devout Muslims, are barred from the apartment. Hatin’s archly conservative father, who comes from the Kurdish province of Erzurum in Turkey’s eastern Anatolia region, has lived in Germany for 24 years but hardly speaks a word of German. Her mother wears a head scarf, adding a veil when speaking with strangers. Ayhan, the suspected killer, grew up in this world. He is a well-behaved Muslim boy who honors his parents, text-messages secret love poems to his girlfriend and, even as a 19-year-old man, has no problem sleeping in a bunk bed in his childhood room. A different form of honor prevails in the streets of Kreuzberg. It’s the kind of honor that can be violated by as little as an unwanted glance into someone’s eyes. When this kind of honor is assailed, the way to regain respect might involve fists, knives, or even guns. Here, in the old territory of the notorious youth gang known as “36 Boys” after one of Kreuzberg’s zipcodes — Ayhan Sürücü is known by a different name. He calls himself “Carlito,” after the hero in the American gangster film “Carlito’s Way,” in which Al Pacino plays a melancholy former dealer who tries to start a new life, only to find his criminal past catching up with him. No one knows exactly how many times the Kreuzberg Carlito has rented the film, but at some point he must have adopted the notion of an “honorable gangster” as a way of life — one in which the laws of the neighborhood blended, fatally, with those of the Koran. At age 15, Ayhan was accused of throwing bricks at police officers during the May Day riots in 2000. (He complains that his friends sold him out to the police “for a lousy $500.”) Four months later he was caught handing out flyers proclaiming that “Jews and infidels” were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. Then he claimed that he was secretly in contact with Turkish Islamist Metin Kaplan’s “Caliphate State,” and in October 2001, apparently in an effort to provoke the authorities, he signed a document in which he claimed that he was “also a member of the PKK” — the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is fighting for a Kurdish state. Later he told the commission investigating his sister’s murder that many things in his family’s past “weren’t pretty.” His brothers, he said, “were not always happy in their marriages.” Nor was his sister Hatin. These unhappy circumstances had always made him wish for a different life, he said, a better life — just like his Hollywood hero, Carlito. The Carlito wannabe needed the right girl for his new lifestyle, and a neighborhood schoolgirl named Melek, 18 years old, seemed to fit the bill. Ayhan worshipped her like a goddess. He sent her text messages praising her “soulful gaze” and “sweet smile.” After dating her for all of four weeks he wanted to marry her. Melek’s parents weren’t so sure, especially when they heard that the young man wanted their daughter to wear a head scarf. On Feb. 7, the boundaries between Ayhan’s twin worlds dissolved. Melek later told the police about a strange conversation she had had with him: He said he was deeply unhappy and that he could only be happy were he to free himself from an old burden. Something terrible had happened in his family when he was 14, he said, something involving his sister. Ayhan apparently told Melek that if she knew what he had been through and witnessed, she would understand why he had to do something his older brothers should have done years ago: kill Hatin. Investigators now believe that Hatin was once raped by one of the men in her family. She was a victim of incest, and under her community’s crude code of honor it was not the rapist but the victim who should be held responsible. Melek said that on the evening of the murder, “Carlito” kept glancing at his watch, gave her E100, and said to pass the money to an acquaintance if she didn’t hear from him. The next day, the airwaves filled with news of Hatin Sürücü’s murder. That afternoon, Ayhan called Melek and told her to meet him at the Kottbusser Tor subway station, and the two then took the subway to the Bahnhof Zoo stop. While they sat on the train, Melek says, she asked him: “Ayhan, was it you?” and he answered, “Yes, I did it.” He spoke very quietly and rested his head on her shoulder, and they both fell silent for the rest of the trip. Only later, says Melek, did Ayhan give details of the murder — that he went to Hatin’s apartment and sat in her kitchen; that he noticed a prayer rug and was pleased his sister had apparently started to pray again; that he asked Hatin to walk him to the bu
s. Near the stop, Ayhan pulled out a pistol. Before pulling the trigger he allegedly asked Hatin whether she regretted her sins. Melek told the police that while Ayhan told her this story he mimed a pistol with his thumb and index finger and aimed at her head. Then, she says, he told her he panicked and ran from the scene, boarded a bus, and hid his blood-covered hand in his pocket. The bus passed the crime scene and Ayhan saw his sister lying on the sidewalk. The prosecutors in this case will want to know two things: Why Melek failed to report her boyfriend’s intention to commit murder, and how credible her testimony is. When Ayhan Sürücü was questioned by criminal investigators five days later, he swore, by everything that was holy to him, including his love for Melek, that he had nothing to do with the death of Hatin. One of the interrogators asked him which sentence he believes is appropriate for the murderer of his sister. Ayhan answered without hesitation: “May I be frank? If it were permitted by law, I would hang him — even if he were my own brother.”

Europe Battles Islam’s Rise, Via Head Scarves

By Mathew Schofield With immigration from Muslim countries rising throughout Europe, politicians across the continent are pushing for laws reining in the Muslim community. Often the legislation is being introduced by politicians who represent centrist and leftist parties that traditionally champion human rights. The movement has little opposition. When France’s 577-member National Assembly approved the head-scarf ban last month, only 36 legislators voted against it. The margin was just as one-sided when the Senate gave it final approval Wednesday, 276-20. Top French officials, including President Jacques Chirac, have said the ban will help preserve France’s secular national character. Muslims have become fair game for a number of European political factions. Feminists say the head scarf is a sign of the oppression of women. On the right, politicians say Muslims will tear apart the fabric of all that’s European.

Europe’s Muslims Treated As Outsiders

Fatima Yaakoub, 24 years old, born in Morocco, living in the Netherlands since she was 12, says she wants nothing more than to fit in. She works hard, cleaning offices in the early mornings, going to college during the day, taking English classes on weekends-trying to get ahead, trying to do what is expected of a good citizen in her adopted homeland. But three years ago, she began wearing a head scarf, the sign of a devout Muslim woman, and got a rapid education on how much of an outsider she remains.