Würzburg train attack by young Afghan refugee puts Germany on edge

Germany has been rocked by what media outlets have called the country’s “first attack by [a] radicalised asylum seeker”.((https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/19/germany-train-attack-could-prompt-rethink-of-counter-terrorism-policy)) On the evening of July 18, 2016, a 17-year-old Afghan, who had arrived in Germany in the summer of 2015 as an unaccompanied minor, attacked passengers on a regional train in northern Bavaria with a knife and an axe.
The young man seriously injured four tourists from Hong Kong before the train ground to a halt on the outskirts of the city of Würzburg. After fleeing the scene, the attacker injured a fifth person with his axe, before being tracked down by special forces of the German police. The young man was shot dead when he appeared to charge the policemen with the axe.
Subsequently, Amaq, a news agency close to the so-called Islamic State, released a video showing the attacker pledging allegiance to the organisation with the words “I am a soldier of the Islamic state and about to begin a holy operation in Germany.” In his room, a hand-drawn copy of the IS flag was found, next to what appeared to be a farewell letter to his father, in which he announced his intention to kill infidels in order to make his way to heaven.

Precise motivation of the attacker still in question

The attack’s political significance lies above all in the fact that the perpetrator was a recently arrived refugee. Most worrying to many observers has been the fact that the young man seemed to be poised to become an example of a comparatively successful path: he had been supported by state youth services and had recently moved into the home of foster parents. Moreover, he had begun working in a local bakery in the village of Gaukönigshofen. Distraught local residents described the young man as “always friendly and nice” as they struggled to make sense of his deed and his death. ((http://www.morgenpost.de/vermischtes/article207916573/Der-Axt-Attentaeter-von-Wuerzburg-Immer-freundlich-und-nett.html))
Investigators have tried hard to make out a reason for the perpetrator’s apparent “turbo radicalisation” and the precise motive underlying the attack. A potential triggering moment appears to have been the death of a close friend in Afghanistan a few days prior. His behaviour reportedly changed after this episode; and the state prosecutor hypothesised that the 17-year-old might have wanted to avenge his friend by attacking the ‘infidels’ responsible for Muslim suffering. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-07/wuerzburg-axt-attacke-zug-pressekonferenz-staatsanwaltschaft))
The political fallout from the attack includes the Bavarian interior minister’s demand for tighter border controls,((http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-07/joachim-herrmann-csu-fluechtlinge)) as well as a wave of hate mail and death threats against organisations and volunteers working in the Gaukönigshofen area.((http://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article157229563/Ochsenfurter-Fluechtlingshelfer-erhalten-Morddrohungen.html))

The evolving nature of the security threat

In certain respects, the train attack mirrors recent attacks carried out in elsewhere the West. The assailant of Würzburg does not seem to have been overly devout, going to the mosque mainly on holidays and not on a regular basis.((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-07/wuerzburg-axt-attacke-zug-pressekonferenz-staatsanwaltschaft))
Moreover, as some observers have pointed out, the events in Orlando, Nice, and now the – comparatively low-casualty – attack in Würzburg blur the lines between terrorism and spree killing.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/psychologie-was-einen-terroranschlag-von-einem-amoklauf-unterscheidet-1.3085290)) This is especially true if the death of the assailant’s friend should reveal itself to have constituted a truly transformative moment, thereby giving the motive for the attack a decisively personal-psychological bent.
Finally, the events in northern Bavaria continue a trend in which individuals with only scant or no connection to terrorist networks commit attacks. In the words of leading German analyst Daniel Gerlach, “every criminal, every failure, every individual in the whole world with a penchant for mass murder can basically bestow a higher aim on their deed or somehow endow their deed with metaphysical significance by pledging allegiance to the Islamic State.”((http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/kanaluebersicht/446#/beitrag/video/2792332/Wie-sicher-sind-wir-vor-dem-IS-Terror))

News coverage and the “IS media trap”

These issues have been at the centre of criticism directed at the media coverage of the Würzburg train incident. German-Egyptian political scientist Asiem El Difraoui has pointed out that many media outlets have been swept away by a wave of hysterical reporting and are concomitantly unable to proffer any calm and meaningful analysis.
How much media reporting is indeed dominated by fears of the Islamic State, and how news coverage indeed works to amplify and aggrandise these fears was on ample display a few days later, when a shooting spree in a Munich shopping mall claimed 10 victims, including the shooter himself. TV, print, and online sources immediately began to report live on the unfolding events and continued to do so for hours without cease.
The almost universally held (and sometimes explicitly stated) assumption underlying this coverage was that this was an IS-linked terrorist attack – until it emerged that the shooter had collected newspaper clippings and books on school shootings and a history of mental health issues, including depression potentially linked to being bullied at school. As this article is being written, police and investigators are officially treating the Munich incident as completely unrelated to Islamic extremism.(( https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/23/munich-shooting-teenage-gunman-researched-killing-sprees-no-isis-links))
This exhibits why, according to El Difraoui, “we have walked right into the IS media trap”, with European news sources spreading panic and thus de facto “making propaganda for the IS”: “The media has created the fertile soil so that psychopaths believe in the IS’s mendacious doctrine of salvation. These lies would not be as big if the terrorists were not given so much space.” ((http://dtj-online.de/islam-versus-dschihadismus-wir-machen-propaganda-fuer-den-is-77574))

Wake up call for Muslim community leaders

Beyond that, El Difraoui also admonished Muslim communities and associations in Europe to be more proactive in matters of theological interpretation and also in their social engagement with often disaffected Muslim youth.
Drawing parallels to the commitment of Christian churches to offer a critical perspective on a purely hedonistic lifestyle in a consumerist society, El Difraoui encouraged European Muslim leaders to develop a “spiritual” challenge to jihadists: “The terrorists from Europe want to become something in this society, no matter what, and they let themselves be led astray by the IS. These boys don’t become Muslims but jihadists – because they don’t even know what Muslim spirituality is.”((http://dtj-online.de/islam-versus-dschihadismus-wir-machen-propaganda-fuer-den-is-77574))
In this respect, the condemnation of the train attack issued for instance by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) and its chairman Aiman Mazyek, as well as their call to stand united against any attempts to divide German society is important.((http://islam.de/27783)) Yet at the moment and amidst the current inauspicious political climate, the splintered and factious Muslim associational scene in Germany still struggles to provide the kind of leadership and public impact that would go far enough in this regard.

In Austria, an amendment to the “Islam Law.”

In Austria, Islam was recognized as a religious corporate body by the Hapsburgian Monarchy in 1914, later on it was also recognized by the Austrian state.

 
However, since recent upcoming radical terrorist groups like IS, the Austrian government partly changes or adds new provisions to the existing Islam law. For example Muslim holidays will be included into the “Christian” calendar. However, the new law forbids Muslim clubs in Austria to accept money from Muslim organizations outside Austria; additionally it also forbids Muslim clubs to support Muslim organizations outside Austria financially. Several Professors in constitutional law, like Theo Öhlinger, criticized the new amendment; according to him the new law would be against the freedom of Religion. Christians, Jews and Buddhists clubs are not facing the same requirements.The mentioned groups are allowed to support their religious groups outside Austria financially and also receive financial support from outside. The Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz defended the states decision by arguing, that currently some Muslim groups are a great threat to the Austrian government.

Muslim leaders ask for equal billing with Jewish holiday on Montgomery calendar

Muslim community leaders in Montgomery County this week asked that the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Adha be given equal billing as the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur on Montgomery’s 2015-2016 school calendar.

They described the issue as symbolic but important.

In 2015, both holidays will fall on Wednesday, Sept. 23, but a calendar draft does not give them the same weight. Yom Kippur — for which county schools will be closed — is listed beside the date. The Muslim holiday is included in a parenthetical notation: Eid al-Adha also falls on this date.

Muslim leader Saqib Ali asked at a school board meeting this week that the calendar be changed to say: Yom Kippur/Eid al-Adha.

“We need to see equal treatment,” Ali told the board. “Here is a case where, on a piece of paper — this is strictly a symbolic issue — but on this day when schools are closed, even on this day, the Jewish holidays are given sort of precedence or elevated.”

The calendar question comes after Muslim leaders have repeatedly asked that at least one of the two major Muslim holidays be recognized with a day off school in Montgomery.

This week’s calendar request, signed by six other leaders of the Eid coalition, “is a very, very minimal request,” Ali said. He said the convergence of the two holidays is a “happy coincidence” for Muslim families, but more is needed.

“If MCPS can’t list the holidays equally, if they won’t even grant that, then I think people are going to start asking questions about MCPS’s general attitude toward the Muslim community,” he said.

Board Member Christopher Barclay asked district staff to look into the request. He also said he believes a standard is needed for school closings.

New York City public school kids getting new Muslim, Lunar New Year holidays

February 4, 2014

 

Mayor de Blasio said Monday that he’d move forward with closing schools for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, two Muslim holy days, and for Lunar New Year. But he was hesitant regarding Hindu festival Diwali.

Appearing on WNYC’s “Brian Lehrer Show” on Monday, the mayor said he hadn’t taken a position on whether Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated in India and other South Asian countries, should be a day off from school.

But he said he’d move forward with closing schools for Lunar New Year and for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, Muslim holy days.

“It is complicated in terms of logistics and school calendar and budget. But it’s something I want to get done in a reasonable time frame,” he said.

 

NY Daily News:  http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/nyc-public-school-kids-new-holidays-article-1.1601237#ixzz2tY0E5Rjl

NYC schools could close to observe Muslim holidays

October 17, 2013

 

The city’s two mayoral candidates both support adding Eid celebrations to list of days schools are closed.

After a new mayor takes office in New York City next year, schoolchildren could very well have an additional two days off in observance of Muslim holidays. Both mayoral candidates, Democrat Bill de Blasio and Republican Joe Lhota, say they support the idea. If such a measure were to come to pass, the New York City school district would be the largest in the United States to grant the days off.

De Blasio said during a campaign rally with local Muslims on Wednesday that observing Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, a celebration during hajj, would help to recognize the city’s large Muslim population and wouldn’t take away from the education kids get.

“A child who has an exam on a day that right now is one of the Eid holidays, they’re either respecting their religious obligation or they’re doing what their education requires of them,” de Blasio said, according to the New York Daily News. “They can’t do both under our current system.”

About 13 percent of the city’s schoolchildren are Muslims, de Blasio added.

His Republican rival, former city transit chief Joe Lhota, also said that adding the holidays would be a good idea. Students would come to school on two other days to make up for the holidays, he said.

“We have a growing Muslim community in the city of New York and their religion needs to be respected as all other religions are respected,” Lhota said Wednesday, according to the Daily News.

Outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg opposes the idea. He has said that observing the holidays would take away from students’ education and open the door to similar requests from other religious and ethnic groups.

 

Al-Jazeera America: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/10/17/new-york-schoolscouldgetmuslimholidays.html

Muslim families push Montgomery County for school holiday to mark Eid al-Adha

October 14, 2013

 

Muslim families in Montgomery County are pushing to make the Islamic holy day Eid al-Adha a full-fledged school holiday.

Muslim leaders have started a petition in recent weeks and have won support from some elected leaders and religious groups. Montgomery County has a growing Islamic population, though there are no county or census figures on the Muslim community.

This year, the Eid al-Adha holiday falls on Tuesday. Some families plan to keep their children home from school, even though they will miss classes and sporting events. But they point out that school is closed for Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and for the Jewish holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“It’s like we don’t feel equal to other people who get their holidays off,” said Hannah Sharim, 14, who is a sophomore at Northwest High School in Germantown.

Former state legislator and co-chair of the new Equality for Eid Coalition Saqib Ali said this is a civil rights issue.

School officials said they give excused absences to students who are absent for religious holidays but that they can’t legally close schools for religious reasons. They said granting a day off requires a secular reason, such as minimizing the impact on instruction because of high absenteeism rates on a holiday.

The school board asked staff to examine attendance on Muslim holidays last year, but the numbers showed little impact on attendance.

In the 1970s, Montgomery schools began giving students the day off for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.

“Our understanding is that decision was made for operational reasons,” schools spokeswoman Dana Tofig said.

Muslim leaders object to the county’s focus on absenteeism to justify an official day off. Some families have often sent their children to school on the religious holiday so that they wouldn’t miss instructional time. But leaders said Christian and Jewish holidays haven’t been under the same scrutiny.

“We think it’s not right when there are different standards for different people,” Ali said.

 

The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/muslim-families-push-montgomery-county-for-school-holiday-to-mark-eid-al-adha/2013/10/14/82d971cc-34d8-11e3-89db-8002ba99b894_story.html

Teaching union furious as Islamic free school staff are told they must wear hijab even if they are not Muslim

Teaching unions have reacted with anger after staff at an Islamic free school were told they had to wear the hijab even if they were not Muslim. It was also claimed that teachers were dismayed that girls at the Al-Madinah School in Derby are required to sit at the back of the class raising fears over possible discrimination. Staff were reportedly spotted removing their headscarves as they left the premises at lunch time and claim they have been instructed not to wear jewellery or bring non-halal food with them to work.

 

The school, which is currently under investigation by the Department for Education over alleged financial irregularities, caters for 200 students aged between four and 16.

 

There are worries over practices concerning the discrimination between male and female pupils in the school, with the girls being told to sit at the back of the class regardless of whether they can see the board properly.

 

When it was founded last year it was claimed that half of students would be non-Muslim at the fully-subscribed school. Al-Madinah describes itself as having a “strong Muslim ethos” which it said would “give the school its uniqueness integrated with shorter holidays and longer school days to maximise opportunities for pupil achievement and success.”

 

No one at the school responded to requests to comment on the claims.

 

700 Muslims attend the End of Ramadan Festivities in Legnano

August 8, 2013

 

Despite the bad weather this morning, 700 Muslims “invaded” the sports field on via dell’Amicizia in Legnano to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

The event, for the second year in a row, was organized by the Cultural Italian-Arab Association of Legnano. The association was founded in 2005 and is chaired by Mustapha Lhamid.

Men, women and children, arrived around 8 o’clock in the morning; they gathered on the green to celebrate Eid Al-Iftar, the party that for the end of the period of reflection which takes place during the ninth month of the year, according to the Islamic lunar calendar.

The rain did not stop people from praying. In fact, all those present were positioned facing Mecca, creating a real human “carpet.”

The second most important holiday of the Islamic religion was meticulously planned: “At dawn they placed carpets and loudspeakers” says Lhamid “this was done in order to avoid discomfort similar to how we operate in the cultural center, also some volunteers pointed people to where to park their cars. After the speech of Imam and the time of prayer, came the time to celebrate all together, to share.”

Ramadan is a time of fasting and prayer: “The event taking place today is the celebration of the end of Ramadan, one of the two most important holidays in the Islamic religion” says the Lhamid. “Today, as last year, we welcome many of the faithful who are coming from neighboring countries. Until now we have never had any problems in our city. Ours is an association open to dialogue: in fact, we have also collaborated with many other Italian organizations. Multiculturalism is among our goals and that is why we are ready to get involved and participate in events organized by other local associations.”

 

Dutch Muslims Celebrate Ramadan 2013

July 11 2013

 

Dutch Muslims began celebration of Ramadan on July 10. The month coincides with summer holidays in the Netherlands, and many Muslims in the Netherlands spend Ramadan in their home countries. Those who spend Ramadan in the Netherlands attend social and cultural activities, including attending planned Iftar programs in local mosques. Major cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam have built Iftar tents in the most popular sites to welcome Muslim and non-Muslim visitors.

The president of the Federation of Turkish Islamic Culture (TIKDF) Arif Yakisir said that 143 mosques linked to the federation planned to organize Iftar programs every day.

Migrants to the Netherlands Send 8 Billion Euros Home Annually

April 4 2013

 

New research from the Dutch National Bank indicates that migrants send at least 8 billion euros a year to their countries of origin, mostly Turkey, Morocco, the Antillean Islands, Indonesia and Germany. The figure does not include transfers made via informal channels such as cash withdrawals from local banks during holidays.