Eric Pickles writes a letter to 1,000 imams to promote ‘Muslim British Identity’ sparks criticism

Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government is at the center of a new row has erupted between the British government and Muslim organisations after the minister responsible for community cohesion wrote to hundreds of imams calling on them to do more to tackle violent extremism and demonstrate "how faith in Islam can be part of British identity."
Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government is at the center of a new row has erupted between the British government and Muslim organisations after the minister responsible for community cohesion wrote to hundreds of imams calling on them to do more to tackle violent extremism and demonstrate “how faith in Islam can be part of British identity.” (Photo: Joe Giddens/PA/The Guardian)

A new row has erupted between the British government and Muslim organisations after the minister responsible for community cohesion wrote to hundreds of imams calling on them to do more to tackle violent extremism and demonstrate “how faith in Islam can be part of British identity”.

The letter, sent by Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, to every mosque in England, provoked an angry response from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which accused the government of peddling far-right arguments about integration. “Is Mr Pickles seriously suggesting, as do members of the far right, that Muslims and Islam are inherently apart from British society?” said Harun Khan, the deputy secretary-general of the MCB.

However the Prime Minister, David Cameron, intervened, saying that the council’s response showed that it – not Mr Pickles – had “a problem”.

Speaking at lawn mower factory in Ipswich, Mr Cameron said: “It’s absolutely right to write this letter, to say we all have a responsibility to fight extremism. Anyone who reads this letter will see that what he is saying is that British Muslims make a great contribution to our country.

Lady Warsi argues that while the letter was in fact positive, the timing and actions before the letter led to its failure: “The Muslim Council of Britain was one of a number of groups over which we never reached agreement, but one which nevertheless was never formally engaged with. I’m not here to defend the council. Unlike some colleagues, I never viewed it as extreme or dangerous. My criticism, which I have on numerous occasions discussed with it, is that it continues to produce a leadership that is neither equipped to represent, nor is genuinely reflective of, the contemporary aspirations of large sections of British Muslim communities. So while I welcome Eric’s attempt to reach out, the reality is that if you haven’t cultivated a friendship, if you haven’t fostered trust, then the chances of success are limited. A letter out of the blue to a mosque that is potentially affiliated to an organisation like the Muslim Council of Britain – with whom the government has refused to engage – creates a climate where even the most benign of correspondence can become toxic. It makes it appear as if the government is neither listening nor genuine in its intentions. And it provokes a negative response, irrespective of the true motive.”

[Full text of the letter is here.]

The New Museum Surveys Art From the Arab World

July 15, 2014

The Western media’s obsession with Middle Eastern conflict has made it easy for American audiences to mistake war and crisis as components of Arab identity. But if there’s anything that the New Museum’s newest exhibition, “Here and Elsewhere,” works to dispel, it’s the fallacy that any single portrayal can summarize the many cultural landscapes around and within the Arabian peninsula.

The exhibition, which opens Wednesday and runs until Sept. 28, documents the work of 45 contemporary artists of Arab origin, marking the first-ever museumwide group show of Arab artists in New York City. The show’s curators were careful to avoid making any blanket statements about art from the Arab world. “We’re looking at a very diverse group of artists who share a fascination with the question of truth through images,” says Massimiliano Gioni, the New Museum’s associate director and the exhibition’s co-curator. “This question is also a question of what constitutes an identity, and how an identity like Arab is constructed through images.”

“Here and Elsewhere” is on view July 16 to Sept. 28 at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, New York,

‘Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life and Identity’ by Shabana Mir

March 7, 2014


It should come as no surprise that being a Muslim American woman on an American college campus, surrounded by social pressures involving drinking and dating, makes for a complex young-adult experience. What’s surprising is that these conflicts are not much discussed.

Shabana Mir, who teaches global studies and anthropology at Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., spent 10 months in Washington during 2002-03. She interviewed 26 Muslim American women at Georgetown and George Washington universities about how their choices concerning dating, alcohol and clothing made them feel around their non-Muslim peers. Each woman had her own way of melding her two modifiers into a “third space” that is “neither stereotypically American, nor stereotypically Muslim.”

One theme of the book is a subtle current of dismay on the part of non-Muslim students, who tended to be misinformed at best and fearful at worst about interacting with Mir’s subjects. Here is the author’s summation of what one young woman experienced after deciding to go to parties where there was drinking but not indulge in it herself: “Though Fatima optimistically assumed that her peers would respond to her compromise and ‘just accept’ her teetotalism, the tolerance proffered by her peers was far shallower than the acceptance they received from Fatima because of the cultural power differential.”

The book may leave readers feeling confused about what it is young Muslim American women are seeking or needing from those peers. In any case, the reticence Mir found on both campuses is unfortunate in a university setting, where dialogue and mutual understanding should be the norm.

Washington Post:

New book: The Religious Identity of Young Muslim Women in Berlin

50023“The Religious Identity of Young Muslim Women in Berlin: An
Ethnography Study” by Synnøve K.N. Bendixsen

About the book:

The Religious Identity of Young Muslim Women in Berlin offers an
in-depth ethnographic account of Muslim youth’s religious identity
formation and their engagement with Islam in everyday life. Focusing
on Muslim women in the organisation MJD in Germany, it provides a
deeper understanding of processes related to immigration,
transnationalism, the transformation of identifications and the
reconstruction of selfhood. The book deals with the collective content
of religious identity formation and processes of differentiation,
engaging with the changing role of religion in an urban European
setting, restructuring of religious authority and the formation of
gender identity through religion. Synnøve K.N. Bendixsen examines how
the participants seek and debate what it means to be a good Muslim,
and discusses the religious movement as individual engagement in a
collective project.


“At last, a richly-textured, ethnographic study which takes
religiosity seriously. This fine study of young women’s involvement in
a particular, Islamic movement in Berlin illuminates the reasons for
‘the turn to Islam’ of a new generation in Europe. […] Marked
throughout by methodological and analytical sophistication, it
challenges many easy generalisations about how Muslims born and
educated in Europe appropriate Islam.” Philip Lewis, University of

Table of content:

A Note on Language and Sources
Situating the Field and Methodological Reflections Making Sense of the
City: The Religious Spaces of Young Muslim Women in Berlin
Negotiating, Resisting and (Re)Constructing Othering Crafting the
Religious Individual in a Faith Community Trajectories of Religious
Acts and Desires: Bargaining with Religious Norms and Ideals Making a
Religious Gender Order The Meanings of and Incentives for a Religious
Identification Conclusion Appendix 1: Situating the Movements Studied
within the Wider Islamic Field in Germany Bibliography Index

More information is available at the following site:

Seeing Islam in Global Cities: A Spatial Semiotic Analysis

Jerome Krase & Timothy Shortell, Department of Sociology, Brooklyn College CUNY NYC Turkish Day Parade

As noted by Krase and colleagues (Krase & Hum 2007; Krase & Shortell 2009, 2011; Shortell & Krase 2011, 2012), visual sociology of changing urban neighborhoods is not merely an aesthetic exercise of finding images to illustrate sociological concepts. Rather, it is an increasingly important way to investigate social change. Cities on every continent have been deluged by the rapid influx of large numbers of people and products from cultures different from native-born residents. Because of globalization, “cultural strangers” share common urban environments. Although these “strangers” frequently live within the same large-scale political boundaries, the real test of community takes place during the course of everyday life on the streets, in the shops, and public spaces of neighborhoods. At present, examination of the visual semiotics of difference is especially important as American and European cultures interact with Islamic cultures. Visual representations of Islam are common in the US and EU; these are generally negative and often derogatory, as a quick Google image search reveals. Local political talk about Islam tends to be critical and often panicked. Nativist politics are on the rise throughout the West and the central point of contention seems to be visibility. The “burqa controversy” in France and the conflict over a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan (the so-called “WTC mosque”) are recent examples of the disputes over urban public space involving representations of collective identity. Public space becomes the locus of the public sphere, where visibility conflicts—who is seen in public space—become disputes about who ought to be included in the national “public.” Using a spatial semiotic analysis, we investigate how the presence of expressive, conative, phatic, and poetic signs of recent Muslim inhabitants change the meaning of vernacular neighborhoods in global cities. Visual data from urban neighborhoods in the US and Europe will be presented as examples of different functions of semiotic markers, and exemplars of the data we collect using a neighborhood photographic survey technique. We discuss how these different functions interact with local policy to create interpretive landscapes, which can lead to dramatically different outcomes in terms of social conflict.


In the attached PDF is a small sample photographs that cover a tiny fraction of Islamic representations, these taken by Jerome Krase, that are part of our archive of galleries at:


download pdf

KraseShortell_SeeingIslamGlobalCities wfotos



Krase, Jerome & Tarry Hum. 2007. “Ethnic Crossroads: Toward a Theory of Immigrant Global Neighborhoods,” Pp 97-119 in Ethnic Landscapes in an Urban World, edited by Ray Hutchinson & Jerome Krase. Elsevier/JAI Press.


Krase, Jerome & Timothy Shortell. 2009. “Visualizing Glocalization: Semiotics of Ethnic and Class Differences in Global Cities.” Annual meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society. Baltimore.


Krase, Jerome & Timothy Shortell. 2011. “On the Spatial Semiotics of Vernacular Landscapes in Global Cities.” Visual Communication 10(3): 371-404.


Shortell, Timothy &  Jerome Krase. 2011. “Immigrant Islam: Politics of Representation and the Challenge of Seeing Collective Identity in Global Cities.” 10th conference of the European Sociological Association. Geneva.


Shortell, Timothy & Jerome Krase. 2012. “On the Visual Semiotics of Collective Identity in Urban Vernacular Spaces.” Pp  in Sociology of the Visual Sphere, edited by Regev Nathansohn & Dennis Zuev. Routledge.


Anti-Islam right-wing movement addresses German youth

Feb 1


So far, the activities of the „Identity Movement of Germany“ have been limited to the Internet, propagating anti-Islam videos and articles against Muslim immigrants. The right-wing movement calls the German youth to mobilize a revolution against the Islamization of Germany. Last week, the movement organized a street “flash-mob” in the historical center of Berlin using historical terms such as “reconquista” against the “Islamic invaders”. A number of pop features have been used to attract the interest of young Germans. The movement illustrates scenes released by movies such as “300” or “Avatar” that symbolize the protection of the pure and brave people against foreign invaders.

EDL leader Stephen Lennon jailed for 10 months for using false passport to attend Geller’s conference

The leader of the English Defence League has been jailed for using someone else’s passport to get into the United States.

Stephen Lennon, 30, pleaded guilty to possession of a false identity document with improper intention, contrary to the Identity Documents Act 2010, at Southwark Crown Court.

Lennon used a passport in the name of Andrew McMaster to board a Virgin Atlantic Flight from Heathrow to New York, but was caught out after his fingerprints were taken by customs officials.

He left the airport and entered the US illegally but left the country the following day, using his own passport to return to the UK.

The court heard that Lennon, who had previously been refused entry to the US, used his friend’s passport to travel to the country in September.


Latino Muslims Search for Identity, Community in the Bronx

In Masjid Annasr’s prayer space on a Saturday afternoon, Zaynab al-Samat is in a minority of one. A slight woman dressed in a pale purple abaya and matching hijab, she is the only Hispanic supplicant at this roomy northwest Bronx mosque that almost exclusively serves a local West African population.

Al-Samat, a native of the Dominican Republic, converted to Islam in 2010 after a long period of faith exploration as she became increasingly dissatisfied with the Catholic Church. Now, she says she has found a welcoming home here at Masjid Annasr, one of several West African mosques in Morris Heights, a majority-Hispanic area increasingly dotted with Ghanaian groceries offering Halal cuts of goat meat.


Still, al-Samat says that she hopes to eventually pray at a Latino mosque, a niche that doesn’t exist here in the Bronx. Though she is deeply involved at Masjid Annasr, managing religious classes for children and painting henna on holidays, what she lacks here is a Latino Muslim community in which to weave together her Latino culture and a faith that some Hispanics “think is for Arabs only,” she said.

Aisha Ahmed Hernandez is the founder of the Latin American Muslim Women’s Association, a south Bronx-based organization established in 2007. The group fields telephone calls from Latino Muslims looking for Islamic answers to their problems, be it turbulent marriages or troubled faith.


Hernandez also created a Facebook group, called “Muslims Who Speak Spanish,” that now counts almost 500 members, not all of whom live in New York. She established the group to get a sense of just how large the Latino Muslim population is and said she was surprised by the huge response.

Encouraged, she says she hopes that her still small-scale effort will blossom — drawing together a community in which Latino converts can negotiate a common identity and support each other through a conversion process that can roil family members.


In the meantime, Hernandez says she straddles two cultures. A frequenter of mostly African mosques like the one in which she converted more than 20 years ago, she still celebrates Catholic holidays with her Puerto Rican friends and family, she said.

French Rapper Finds Identity in Islam

News Agencies – August 26, 2012


Leading a double life, reversion to Islam has saved French rapper Regis Fayette-Mikano from falling victim to heroin, murder and suicide that ended the lives of his close friends.

Born in Paris, Abd Al Malik was raised in Neuhof, a neighborhood of Strasbourg, to a Catholic family. He also dealt with drugs, selling hashish at nightclubs and restaurants.

After falling with a hardline group for six years, Abd Al Malik grew disenchanted with a “simplistic” Islam. Abd Al Malik as well as many French rappers sings about racism, identity and the plight of the “banlieues,” France’s impoverished suburbs.

MPI Report Examines the Concept of National Identity in France and Its Impact on Integration Efforts

WASHINGTON — France has long faced a contentious debate of crucial importance for immigrants and their descendents — defining what it means to “be French,” a debate that flared in its recent presidential election in which a significant percentage of voters supported a platform critical of immigration and its effects on society. Though countries with rich histories of immigration such as the United States and Canada accept “dual belonging” at least in practice, this concept has been criticized and perceived as at odds with a person’s commitment to French identity.

Recent surveys of French immigrants, however, have shown the opposite to be true. These findings demonstrate that multiple allegiances are not an impediment to integration; it is possible to “feel French” and maintain links with one’s country of origin. However, because of external perceptions, native French citizens are far less likely to accept this adoption of French identity.

In /*French National Identity and Integration: Who Belongs to the National Community*/, sociodemographer Patrick Simon examines perceptions of national identity and the rejection of plural belongings in French society, which have created conditions for the marginalization of visible minorities. Simon, Director of Research at the Institut National d’Etudes Démographiques (INED) and a researcher at the Center for European Studies at Institut d’Études Politiques (Sciences Po), draws from the 2008-09 /Trajectories and Origins/ survey of 22,000 respondents in refuting the notion that the foreign born will weaken social cohesion in France.

While France is increasingly diverse, recent identity debates show little room for inclusion of ethnic minorities. This was again evident in the 2012 presidential elections, with 18 percent of the first round vote going to Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate whose platform espouses an anti-immigration platform, and outgoing French President Nicolas Sarkozy adopting similar rhetoric in his campaign.

Simon points to the need to create a new framework for equality, which includes updating the French concept of immigrant integration. Such changes remain a challenge, as newly appointed President Francois Hollande has pledged to keep the burqa ban, enforcing the idea that aspects of minority culture are incompatible with being French.

“For a majority of immigrants, embracing one’s ethnicity as part of one’s identity and being invested in and rooted to your host country are not mutually exclusive,” said MPI President Demetrios Papademetriou. “But as we see elsewhere, full integration efforts are hampered when the majority is unwilling to accept immigrants of diverse backgrounds as equal members of society.”

/*French National Identity and Integration: Who Belongs to the National Community*/ is the latest report produced by MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration that examines the current political and public debates over national identity and social cohesion. The Council is a unique deliberative and advisory body that examines vital policy issues and informs migration policymaking processes across the Atlantic community. A recently released Council statement, /Rethinking National Identity in the Age of Migration/, examines the roots of society’s anxiety over immigration and outlines 10 steps for fostering greater cohesiveness.

Today’s report and the Council’s earlier research on this and other topics are available for download at: