Concern grows in Britain over the practice of female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation, commonly associated with parts of Africa and the Middle East, is becoming a growing problem in Britain despite efforts to stamp it out. London’s Metropolitan Police, Britain’s largest police force, hopes a campaign beginning on Wednesday will highlight that the practice is a crime here. To make their point, police are offering a $40,000 reward for information leading to Britain’s first prosecution for female genital mutilation, Detective Chief Superintendent Alastair Jeffrey said. In Britain, the problem mostly involves first-generation immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. Police say they don’t have comprehensive statistics about the number of victims. But midwife Comfort Momoh, who specializes in treating them at London hospitals and clinics and who works with police, told the news conference she treats 400 to 500 victims every year.

Muslim activists’ message to Rutgers: Gender inequality goes beyond Islam

Islam is not the sole cause of inequality between men and women in the Middle East, two human rights activists said. That’s the message Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman and only Iranian to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, president of the U.N. General Assembly, sent a crowd of about 300 people at Rutgers University yesterday. “It is very important to inform the world about Islam,” Rashed Al Khalifa said. “Islam can absorb all the differences in the world. Concepts like jihad are against all principles we live and learn, and I can’t make justifications for it because we consider it an illness for our society.” Rashed Al Khalifa, who is from the Middle Eastern island Bahrain, also is a human rights advocate and lawyer. A descendent of the royal family there, she is the third woman and first from the Middle East to take the U.N. General Assembly presidential post.

The Telegenic Face of Conservative Islam

Early one gray Friday morning in late December, Mona K. left her parents’ house in a residential neighborhood in Alexandria, Egypt, and headed downtown to Al Amirat, a wedding hall facing the Mediterranean Sea. She was going to see Amr Khaled, a Muslim TV preacher. Khaled’s devotional programs are broadcast on Iqraa, a Saudi-owned religious satellite channel, and together with millions of other mostly young Muslims in the Middle East and Europe, Mona is a loyal viewer.

Denmark: Danish Imam Says Aim Was Peace In Cartoon Row

The controversial Danish imam accused of stirring uproar in the Muslim world over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed has defended his actions, saying they were aimed at forging peace, not causing bloodshed. “History will give us credit because of our efforts to keep Europe away from any further violence,” said Ahmed Abu Laban, the leader of the Islamic Community in Denmark, in an interview with AFP. Abu Laban, who is accused of instigating a mass campaign against Denmark in the Arab-Muslim world which sparked deadly riots that killed more than 50 people, said the protests were not the start of a clash of civilizations. “Some people would presume it is the beginning of a clash of civilization, but we call it the engagement of civilizations,” said Abu Laban. He spoke to AFP while attending the “International Conference for the Defense of the Prophet” organized by Muslim religious leaders and being held Wednesday and Thursday in Bahrain. Abu Laban brought the cartoon matter to Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the top Islamic scholarly institution, shortly after caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed were published in a Danish newspaper in September 2005. Abu Laban and other Danish imams then took a 43-page dossier on a tour of the Middle East, including the 12 controversial cartoons and three other pictures that had been sent to Muslims by anonymous people. “We sent our delegation to Egypt, we were trying to expand the platform of dialogue to the concerned people and more countries,” he said. In his view, Denmark became the focal point of Muslim rage because of the refusal of Danish leaders to heed the Muslim point of view in the controversy that pitted Western values of free speech against religious beliefs. Muslims believe any images of the prophet are blasphemous. “Denmark paid for the Islamic-European conflict,” said Abu Laban, the leader of the Muslim Faith Society in Copenhagen. Despite widespread calls for a formal apology, the Danish government refused, citing its belief in protecting freedom of speech. However, the editor of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper that initially published the cartoons eventually issued an apology. The cartoons included portrayals of the prophet wearing a time-bomb shaped turban and showed him as a knife-wielding nomad flanked by shrouded women. Initially passing with little comment, they were later reprinted in a Norwegian magazine and then by European, Arab and online media, prompting international uproar. Many Danish products were also the subject of widespread boycotts in the Muslim world. Abu Laban stressed that Muslims in Denmark, who make up about three percent of the population, suffer discrimination and that he was made a “scapegoat” by the Danish press for his role as a Muslim community leader. “We suffer marginalization… In the subconscious of most of the leaders in Denmark they reject us. This is the name of the game. They don’t like to deal with us like partners,” he said. “Our center (Muslim Faith Society) is the most important one,” he said. The Danish press “cannot attack somebody who is not known, so they decided to choose me as a scapegoat,” he said. “I predicted that the government will face trouble and will search for a scapegoat.” Five other Danish imams attended the conference with Abu Laban, which organizers said brought together around 300 scholars, preachers, heads of Islamic associations as well as Arab and Muslim community leaders from Europe. The aim was to explore a strategy that could prevent a possible repeat of the crisis sparked by the publication of the cartoons. “We are in the focal point in Denmark, under the constant attack by the global media. We are here because it has become a global issue for Muslims,” said Abu Laban. “This conference is not meant to expose or blackmail Denmark, it is a rather progressive attitude on how Muslims can be united in this noble cause, to honor and to guarantee the respect their Prophet deserves. Abu Laban also blasted Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen for his “ineffective” response to the crisis. “I am more concerned with the interests of Denmark than the prime minister. He is playing in a very ineffective way.” Abu Laban criticized the premier’s reaction to advertisements put out over the weekend by Arla Foods, a Danish-Swedish dairy firm, which was a victim of a Danish boycott. “The Arla Foods company denounces and rejects the cartoons published by the Danish newspaper, mock the Prophet Mohammed and refuses any justifications for the act,” the corporation said in full-page advertisements taken out in papers across the Middle East. Rasmussen said he “disagreed” with the campaign. “Yesterday, he criticized Arla Foods,”said Abu Laban. “If this campaign shows some respect… it should be encouraged, not the opposite.”

Security Programs Strain Relationship Between U.S., Muslims

WASHINGTON (AP) – Nabil Amen wrote it off as mistaken identity the first time U.S. border agents handcuffed him as he returned home from Canada. When he had border-crossing troubles a third time, he decided to never leave the United States again. Amen, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Lebanon, is among a growing number of Muslim-and Arab-Americans who say they feel singled out by federal security practices that have chilled that community’s carefully nurtured relationship with the government. Federal authorities insist they do not target Muslims or Arabs because of their religion or race, and stress their commitment to building ties with those groups, partly to help with terrorism investigations. Yet recent disclosures of Bush administration domestic surveillance programs have put new strains on those communities’ ties with the federal government. “There are several incidents and policies that are unfairly targeting Muslims because of who they are – not because of what they did,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Washington. Awad said the rapport built up with the government since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “is at its lowest point because of these programs.” Federal authorities say their tactics are vital to preventing further attacks. “All investigations conducted by the FBI are based either in intelligence or criminal information,” FBI spokesman Rich Kolko said. “We do this in our efforts to prevent or detect an act of terrorism on the country, which is the FBI’s No. 1 priority.” Security experts say the government has to walk a fine line between protecting against terrorism and respecting people’s rights. Community leaders estimate that up to eight million Muslims live in the United States, two-thirds of whom are U.S. citizens. “The 9/11 hijackers were from the Middle East, they were Muslim, they were between 20 and 40 years old,” said David Heyman, homeland security director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Law enforcement can’t ignore this – they’ve got an obligation to protect the public. But they must do so with care.” Amen said he was told to step out of his car and was handcuffed the first time he was stopped, in December 2004, as he returned to his Dearborn, Mich., home after visiting relatives in Windsor, Ont. “The looks on my kids’ faces and my wife’s face – it was unbelievable,” said Amen, 47. “It’s changed my whole concept of life in this country.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials would not comment on the specifics of Amen’s case. “To take that type of action, we have got to have good reason,” said Kristi Clemens, the agency’s assistant commissioner. After detaining and deporting hundreds of Muslims and Arabs immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, federal officials have tried to repair the relationship through dialogues with community leaders and sensitivity training for investigators. But the rapport has been badly strained, the leaders say, by recent revelations of surveillance programs that target Muslim homes, businesses and mosques for terrorist links. The monitoring is in addition to policies that Muslim-and Arab-Americans believe target them for extra scrutiny at airports and border crossings. Another irritant was the FBI’s cancelling a program for helping agents relate better with the groups by teaching the investigators about their culture. Since Sept. 11, 417 people have been charged in federal terrorism-related cases, resulting in 228 convictions or guilty pleas, according to the most recent Justice Department data. Justice spokesman Bryan Sierra said the department does not categorize arrests by ethnicity or religion. Immigration data underscores the extra attention the government has paid to immigrants from predominantly Arab and Muslim countries since the attacks. Between October 1, 2000, and September 30, 2001, the U.S. deported 589 immigrants to 20 countries around the Middle East and Central Asia. In the next 12-month period, beginning weeks after Sept. 11, deportations to those nations rose to 1,674 and peaked at 1,759 in 2003. By last year, the number of deported immigrants to those countries had fallen to 1,167, according to Homeland Security Department data. Still, counterterrorism officials say they try to alleviate Muslim and Arab community concerns by meeting regularly with local leaders. “Over time, you get to know the people that you meet with,” said Brian Moskowitz, Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement top agent in Detroit, which has one of the largest Muslim and Arab communities in the United States. “It’s helped, in some cases, reduce the level of anxiety and fear in the community so that people will talk to us.” Added Dan Sutherland, the department’s civil rights and liberties officer: “I know that there are peaks and valleys in the government’s relationship with these particular communities, but I really am convinced that we’re seeing a level of engagement that is going to grow over time.” But a fresh chill has taken hold. “We thought we had established a constructive working relationship with them,” said Kareem Shora, legal adviser for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “We definitely took a couple of steps back.”

German Businesses Watch Middle East Unrest With Concern

Boycotts across the Islamic world have targeted goods from European nations involved in the Mohammed cartoon row. Germany has the added worry of being involved in another serious dispute with main regional partner Iran. Escalating tensions in the Middle East over the Mohammed caricatures, the west’s nuclear stand-off with Iran and the election success of Hamas militants in the recent Palestinian elections are having an adverse effect on European trade in the region. Since the row over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed surfaced over a week ago, a boycott of goods from a number of European nations has been gaining ground across the Muslim world. In the first flush of anger, Danish products were the first to be banned as a response to the images of which first appeared in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten last year. In the days that followed, the images were reprinted in a dozen publications across Europe sparking further boycotts of goods from Norway, France, Italy and Britain. As the conflict continues, Germany now finds itself in the firing line as one of those countries involved in both the Mohammed dispute and the Iranian nuclear stand-off. One of the most important western trading partners in the Middle East, specifically in Iran, Germany has a lot to lose economically if relations between Islamic nations and the west deteriorate further. German businesses are already nervous and some predict that even if the areas of conflict are resolved, trade relations may be severely damaged. The importance of western trade with Iran has not been lost on the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As the threat of economic sanctions hangs over the Islamic Republic due to its decision to restart its controversial atomic research program, Ahmadinejad is considering a counter-strike against those involved in pushing for those sanctions. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad may implement his own sanctionsBildunterschrift: Gro_ansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad may implement his own sanctions Channeling the anger stirred by the Mohammed cartoons, the Iranian president aims to garner support from his Islamic neighbors by instigating his own trade embargos with the west. Denmark, as the main culprit in the cartoon row, is the first to suffer. Iran stopped the import of Danish goods on Tuesday. The harsh words coming out of Tehran aimed at the German administration may precede similar action towards Germany. For a country which has worked long and hard to develop such strong commercial relations with Iran and the Middle East as a whole, such a development is worrying. “Iran is Germany’s most important trading partner in the region,” said Jens Nagel, an expert at the German Federation of Wholesale and Foreign Trade, in an interview with the business weekly Manager Magazin. Only the United Arab Emirates carries more weight in business in Iran than Germany. Germany’s reputation in the region has been built on the quality of products and the good business relationships it has built up over years, something that is highly prized in Arab countries. Germany’s metal producers provides the raw material for Iran’s automotive industryBildunterschrift: Gro_ansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Germany’s metal producers provides the raw material for Iran’s automotive industry German businesses exported goods and services to Iran last year to the tune of about 4.5 billion euros ($5.38 billion), and did business worth about 450 million euros with both Syria and Lebanon. The main areas of trade have traditionally been chemical and industrial products and machinery. It is the metal industry in particular that could be most at risk if Iran were to retaliate to United Nations sanction by hitting back at its western trade partners. “Germany would be the western industrial nation to suffer most if economic sanctions went against Iran,” Nagel said. “German businesses deliver far more to the region than possibly Great Britain, France or Italy.” He added that the United States would not feel any effects as they had broken off economic relations years ago. Experts consider the economic fallout from the Mohammed caricature row to be a lot lower risk for Germany. Knee-jerk boycotts and short embargoes would not necessarily affect German trade to any significant degree in the Middle East. If and when the climate cools, analysts believe it will be “business as usual” for German companies doing business in the region. Many believe the current boycotts are unlikely to remain intact indefinitely. Partnerships in Middle East should hold firm “We have no indication that business connections have gotten worse between German enterprises and their partners in the Middle East,” said Jochen Clausnitzer, Middle East expert at the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK). Many German enterprises have maintained their long-standing partnerships in the region through personal interaction and trust. This is a base which cannot be destroyed so quickly — even if the outrage continues to surge through the region. “In the short term, sales of some European consumer goods producers could suffer,” Clausnitzer said. “However, on the other hand, western consumer goods in the region enjoy a high prestige.” Iran may seek to inhibit business The main concern for German businesses then remains Iran. Since the election of President Ahmadinejad, many top positions in the economy and management have been taken by new people and there is little connection between German businesses and those who initially paved the way for the business links the two countries have enjoyed until recently. Those in the new positions are also likely to receive orders from the president not to do business with Germany if relations deteriorate further. Any German involvement in sanctions against Iran would also see sales of products already in the Islamic Republic drop off dramatically. “Sanctions weld together the state and the population,” said Clausnitzer, suggesting Iranians would show support for their government by choosing not to buy German goods. However, Germany — and Europe as a whole — has a bargaining chip. If Ahmadinejad wants to carry out his promised infrastructure reform plans in Iran he will have to depend on the EU as a trading partner. In 2004, almost 50 percent of all imports into Iran came from Europe. The president’s election promises to fight poverty and youth unemployment would be a lot harder to fulfill if he were to be denied that.

Turkey: Turkish PM: Erdogan: We Have To Define The Limitations Of Freedom

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking on the Al Jazeera television channel yesterday evening, delivered a strongly worded message regarding what the caricature crisis coming out of Denmark may have in store for certain freedoms. “Freedoms are not without some limitations, these first must be recognized,” said Erdogan, who also noted that he was thinking about starting a process within Turkey of defining what the limitations are to certain freedoms, and ensuring that people and organizations respected them. “I am of the mind to start this process in my country. There are limits to every area, and these must first be defined, they must be recognized, and people must stay within them,” said Erdogan. On other fronts, Erdogan noted that while anti-semitism was counted as a human rights crime, “Islamaphobia” should also be counted as such, and that he wanted to work with the United Nations on this question. Erdogan also underscored the importance of calm at this time throughout the Middle East, delivering a “Friday warning” to Al Jazeera audiences about how critical it was that Friday mosque prayers not be exploited for the purposes of crowd incitement.

A Defiant Islam Rises Among Young Britons

Thursday’s Attacks Turn Attention To A Group Alienated From British Society. By James Brandon LONDON – Thursday’s coordinated terrorist attacks that killed at least 49 people have underscored competing forces within Britain’s Muslim community: a minority that advocates violence against Western targets, and those who want to coexist peacefully with Britain’s multifaith, multiethnic society. Since the bombings, the media and Muslims have been at pains to explain that most of the country’s 2 million Muslims are peaceful. “The Muslim community in Britain has a long history and is enormously diverse,” says Anas al-Tikriti, a member of the Muslim Association of Britain. But the attacks are turning attention to the increasing numbers of young British Muslims who are rejecting their parents’ traditional culture in favor of a radical and expansionist Islam. This strikingly Western version of Islam combines an independence of thought with a contempt for established traditional scholarship and a theme of teenage rebellion. “Getting involved in radical Islam is an emotional thing rather than a rational decision,” says Abdul-Rahman al-Helbawi, a Muslim prayer leader. “And it’s not a matter of intelligence or education – a lot of these radicals in Britain are very well-educated.” In Dalston market in north-east London on Thursday, “Abdullah,” a Muslim watch-mender and evangelist, was in a pugnacious mood. “We don’t need to fight. We are taking over!” he said. “We are here to bring civilization to the West. England does not belong to the English people, it belongs to God.” Two days later in a prosperous West London cafe, Mr. Helbawi pondered the attacks. “It’s not a surprise but I am still shocked,” he said. “How can they do this? London is a city for all the world. This is not Islam.” Hours after the bombings, Helbawi logged onto an Internet chat room run by British Muslim extremists. “They were all congratulating each other on the attacks,” he said. “It was crazy. They were talking about how they had won a great victory over the infidels, as if they had just come back from a battle.” Although so far, there is no evidence that British Muslims were involved in the bombs, there is little doubt that many British Muslims feel that Britain “deserved” the attacks for supporting the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. “Because Muslims explain the conflicts in Iraq, Kashmir, and Israel through Islam, every Muslim feels involved,” said Helbawi. “People watch television and see Palestinian women being hit and pushed around by Israeli soldiers, and get angry and feel that they have to do something.” But beyond anger, a sense of alienation often drives radical Islam. Many second- and third-generation immigrants find themselves cut off not only from their parents’ cultures but also from a British one that includes alcohol and looser sexual mores. “If you don’t drink, it really cuts you off from English society,” says Ummul Choudhury, a London-based Middle East analyst for the Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies. “The view of the older generation is also that you do not integrate. If you do, you are told you are betraying your culture and religion.” The resulting isolation makes it easier for young Muslims to develop a contempt for British society. “There is also a lot of racism toward white British people,” says Ms. Choudhury. “It’s not really something that people want to talk about, but there are definitely some things that Muslims say between themselves that they would never say in front of white people.” For frustrated and isolated young Muslims, radical Islam is not difficult to find. Girls in particular are often prevented from going out at night and can be easily drawn into online Muslim communities where they come into contact with other disillusioned Muslims from across Europe. One leading analyst of the Islamic diaspora even compares the lure of extremist Islam to 1950s teens listening to Elvis in an attempt to shock their parents. “The son of a Pentecostal preacher in Brixton was recruited by the radical Muslims,” says Nadhim Shehadi, acting head of the Middle East program at Chatham House. “This young man initially tried to upset his parents by becoming a rapper,” says Shehadi. “But when his parents stopped objecting, he became a jihadi instead.” The antiestablishment nature of this new Islam and its apparent status as an alternative to capitalism and secularism is also winning converts among native Britons. “People come to Islam from all walks of life. It’s not just middle-class people but also electricians, judges, and taxi drivers,” says Sara Joseph, the editor of “Emel,” a lifestyle magazine for Muslim women, who converted to Islam at age 17. “The main catalyst for conversion is often going out with a Muslim, although the primary factor is usually a search for spirituality.” While the estimated 1,000 British Christians, atheists, and members of other faiths who convert to Islam every year are often attracted by Islam’s clearly defined teachings, this minor trend is overshadowed by Muslims’ highbirth and immigration rates, which tomany Muslims promises increased political and social influence in the future. Indeed, taking advantage of Britain’s rapidly expanding and increasingly Muslim population are new parties that aim to promote ethnic and religious agendas. One is Respect, a left-wing party founded by former Labour MP George Galloway, that aims to unite Muslims and socialists around opposition to American foreign policy and globalization. Linked to the desire for increased political power are attempts by some radical Muslims to begin a process of Islamicizing British cities. Last month, Muslim groups in Glasgow petitioned the City Council to ban an Italian restaurant from serving alcohol to diners seated at outside tables. Hospitals in Leicester considered banning Bibles from hospital wards to avoid offending Muslim patients. In Birmingham, a group called Muslims Against Advertising began a campaign of painting over billboards that they deemed offensive to Islam – targeting ads for Levi’s jeans, perfume, and lingerie. But these small campaigns are polarizing public opinion along ethnic and religious lines – and creating support for Britain’s far-right groups, who present themselves as defenders of Britain’s hard-won freedoms.

American Muslims Gather In Dallas To Talk About Sharing Their Faith With Others

By Greg Flakus Dallas Hundreds of Muslims have gathered in Dallas, Texas for the Islamic Society of North America’s Third Annual South Central Regional Conference. The main goal of conference organizers is to build understanding with people of other faiths. Several hundred people came together in a hotel ballroom Friday to pray as the three-day conference got under way. Although men and women sat in separate sections of the hall, the Muslim cleric spoke to all believers, calling on them to be charitable toward their non-Muslim neighbors, not as a pretext for attracting them to Islam, but because that is what God calls on them to do. The message is similar to what might be heard in a Christian or Jewish service, because, as Muslim leaders are quick to point out, the three religions share common origins and beliefs. All three religions are based on belief in one God, yet many non-Muslims still regard Islam as an exotic religion. The theme of this conference is “Sharing Islam with our Neighbors,” and organizers note that this does not necessarily refer to proselytizing. The secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, says that the eight-to-ten million people of the Islamic faith who live in the United States today are in a unique position to help Americans understand this religion and its worldwide influence. “Muslims of America are an asset to America because they are bridge between America and the rest of the Muslim world and we take that role very seriously,” he said. Mr. Syeed says those Americans who embrace Islam also have a responsibility to bring about a better understanding of this country in the areas of the world where Islam is the dominant religion. “Muslims in the world have to understand that there is a Muslim population here who are practicing Islam in their day-to-day lives. Then, it is our duty to express, interpret and explain Islam to our fellow Americans, and it is our duty to explain America to our fellow Muslims,” he said. Muslims here feel a special bond with other Muslims in the Middle East and are concerned about the turmoil in that region. One of the main speakers at this conference is a State Department official who has come to explain U.S. policy in the Middle East. This conference also includes special sessions on the growth of Islam among American Latinos, including forums conducted in Spanish where people explain why they converted to Islam.